Keep Politics out of Sport? Don’t Make me Laugh


London – Barcelona’s decision to play the October 1 match against Las Palmas in an empty stadium smacked of choosing points over principles, and overlooks the fact that sport has always found room for protest.

When it came down to it, FC Barcelona – mes que un club, remember – could not bring themselves to go all in. The threatened loss of six points – three for the defaulted match, three more as a penalty – was enough to persuade them to stage their match against Las Palmas behind locked doors in a deserted Camp Nou, while outside the streets of the city rang with the echoes of violent confrontations between police and voters in an independence referendum ruled illegal by the national government.

The club’s decision was an important one. Barça is a powerful international symbol of Catalan identity. A refusal to play Sunday’s match would have added tinder to the fire of the independence movement. But they compete in a league where their final standing against Real Madrid has been measured in the last three seasons by two points, one point and three points. So they took the safer option, leaving Gerard Piqué who has never made a secret of his Catalan pride, to join up with the Spain squad and face uncomfortable questions about divided loyalties.

Meanwhile, fans who had voted for independence pointed to the example of Welsh clubs competing in the English league as evidence that independence from Spain would not have to mean ejection from La Liga. Few would want an entirely autonomous Catalonia to incorporate a future of Barça competing in a domestic mini-league made up by FC Girona, Gimnàstic de Tarragona and Lleida Esportiu.

Keep politics out of sport? Don’t make me laugh. Politics infiltrates sport at all levels. Think about the decision to start next year’s Giro d’Italia in Israel. For one partner in the deal, that’s obviously a matter of money – €17m, apparently. For the other, it represents valuable image-polishing. This is not quite the same as launching the Tour de France in Yorkshire, which was not, the last time I looked, surrounded by walls aimed at keeping out people from Lancashire or County Durham. Or there’s Qatar, whose appalling treatment of migrant workers on the 2022 World Cup stadiums was exposed – not for the first time – by Human Rights Watch this week. Do we really think the Qataris are investing so heavily in football, at home and abroad, out of a sheer love of the game?

The coming days might tell us whether FC Barcelona has a further role to play in the dramatic reawakening of old regional tensions and whether the events of October 1 will join the line of football matches that played a part in shaping history, a phenomenon that could be said to have begun in 1969 with a conflict between El Salvador and Honduras that became known as the Football War.

Tensions between the two countries had been heightened by the migration to Honduras of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, leaving a country one-fifth the size of its neighbor but with a population 40 percent greater, prompting the Honduran government to enact reforms intended to keep land out of the hands of immigrant farmers while expelling Salvadoran laborers. The fuse for open conflict was lit when the two countries met in the qualifying tournament for the 1970 World Cup.

The first match was held in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where the visiting players were kept awake by crowds letting off firecrackers and breaking windows in their hotel. The home team won by a single goal, prompting an 18-year-old girl watching at home in El Salvador to take her father’s pistol from his desk and shoot herself dead. Amelia Bolianos was given a state funeral, her coffin accompanied by the president of the republic and the players of the football team.

When Honduras arrived in San Salvador for the return leg a week later, the welcome included rotten eggs and dead rats thrown through their hotel windows. They made their way to the Flor Blanca stadium in armored cars, passing through angry crowds holding portraits of the dead girl. El Salvador won this one 3-0, which meant that the tie progressed to a play-off on neutral ground in Mexico City. El Salvador won 3-2 with an extra-time goal from their right-winger, “Pipo” Rodríguez, a qualified civil engineer, a few hours after their government had dissolved diplomatic relationships with Honduras in protest against further mass expulsions.

Two weeks later the Salvadoran army and air force launched an invasion which drew a swift response. The war lasted 100 hours and killed 3,000 people, the majority of them civilians, before both sides obeyed a ceasefire call from the Organization of American States. Three months later El Salvador beat Haiti in a play-off to reach the 1970 finals in Mexico, where they lost all three of their group matches.

Twenty years later Red Star Belgrade traveled to meet Dinamo Zagreb in a Yugoslavian league fixture in the midst of rising fervor among Serb and Croat nationalists. Rioting between the home fans and 3,000 visiting supporters continued during the match itself and the game was on the verge of being abandoned, with several players having made it to the safety of the dressing rooms, when Zvonimir Boban, the Dinamo playmaker, kicked a police officer. Although criminal charges were brought and a suspension cost Boban his place in Yugoslavia’s team at the 1990 World Cup finals, his gesture made him a folk hero to his fellow Croats during the bloody war that raged from 1991 to 1995, by which time he was starring for Milan and sending part of his salary back home to help the fight against Serbia.

Back in Mexico City, the black-gloved fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 and the raised hand of Diego Maradona in 1986 were political statements, the first an explicit protest against racial injustice in the United States and the second an implicit response to England’s victory in the Falklands War. Two years ago the flag of a notional “Greater Albania” was flown from a drone into the Belgrade stadium where Serbia and Albania were playing in a Euro 2016 qualifying match, provoking fights among players and fans that led to the match being abandoned.

Like those examples, last weekend’s Barcelona affair and Donald Trump’s continuing assault on the take-a-knee movement in the NFL show that sport cannot seal itself off from the stresses and strains of the real world. From the anti-apartheid boycotts of the 1960s to the demonstrations against holding a grand prix in Bahrain, it offers a useful theater for protest. And those who complain about the temporary inconvenience are seldom on the side of the angels.

The Guardian Sport

Thousands Rally in Barcelona against Secession as Spanish PM Vows to Halt Independence Drive


Thousands of people staged demonstrations in Barcelona to protest against the Catalan government’s push for independence from Spain as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to stand against the move for secession.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.

That includes the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow the central government to take control of the governance of a region “if the regional government does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution.”

“The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions, but for that to happen there will have to be some rectifications (by Catalan leaders),” he added.

Many in the crowd in Barcelona gathered in a central square carried Spanish and Catalan flags. Some chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to go to prison.

Sunday’s rally comes a week after Puigdemont and other separatist leaders of the Catalan government held a referendum on secession that Spain’s top court had suspended and the Spanish government said was illegal.

The “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, though less than half of the region’s electorate voted. Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence anyway and is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday “to report on the current political situation.”

Large rallies were held Saturday in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to demand that Rajoy and Puigdemont negotiate to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades.

Pro-union forces are hoping to gather more steam with Sunday’s protest in Barcelona after a series of large businesses, including Catalonia’s top two banks, announced they were relocating their headquarters to other parts of Spain. Other companies are reportedly considering leaving Catalonia to avoid being cast out of the European Union and its common market in the case of secession.

The Catalan authorities say around 90 percent of those who voted supported a split from Spain. Madrid says secession is illegal under the Spain’s 1978 constitution. Residents of Catalonia who oppose secession largely boycotted the vote.

The crisis is a political test for Rajoy, who has been uncompromising. Some 900 people were injured during the vote when police tried to disrupt voting, firing rubber bullets and charging crowds with truncheons.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

“I hope that the Catalonia that makes pacts, is moderate and for many years contributed to Spain’s economic growth and improvement in welfare and wealth returns. It can’t be in the hands of extremists, the radicals and the (far-left secessionist party) CUP,” he said.

However, Rajoy ruled out using mediators to resolve the crisis and also said the issue would not force a snap national election.

From Barcelona to Irbil


My British neighbor has been anxious for days. He has been following up on the news on the television and internet. He has a feeling of imminent disaster. He has forgotten all about the Brexit and his current and future concerns. He ignored the conference of the conservative party and daggers hidden behind smiles. He is preoccupied by a much greater and more serious issue. What will happen to the Barcelona football club if Sunday’s referendum ended with the declaration of Catalonia’s independence? That would be a disaster. The prestigious team will no longer be part of the Spanish league and it will also no longer be part of the European league that has cemented its status as a major club.

My neighbor is very serious. He believes that a handful of Catalan politicians do not have the right to gamble with the fate of a club that is considered one of the symbols of their modern history. He also does not recognize the right of the voters to determine the fate of this success story. This issue is no longer about a city or a region. It is about those who loved the vision of generals, who brandished the club’s flag. He said that peoples should not be swept by national and popular tensions every time ballot boxes are opened. The Catalans should remember that some of those who achieved glories with Barcelona FC came from other nationalities and played under different flags.

I tried to persuade him that this issue is greater than the fate of a football club. He said that he is not worried about that. The Europeans have abandoned the habit of civil wars and of drawing borders with blood. The Yugoslav file was a passing incident and an exception to this rule. The institutions of the Old Continent have overcome world wars and the demise of the Soviet Union, whose remnants are gathering dust in museums. Furthermore, economic facts will soon cool the hotheads and break down the aura of the populists.

My neighbor does not believe that Catalonia will jump off the Spanish train that it has been riding for five centuries. Its previous attempts have failed. In addition, it is standing in a good position and it is the best among Spanish regions. It also stands out from among European provinces. Its popular differences do not need to be underlined. Its successes are clear in the industrial, economic and touristic sectors. Its culture is not under threat and its capital, Barcelona, is a jewel in the European crown and one of the most economically and culturally dynamic cities.

Catalonia’s story seems to be indeed odd. Have old wounds been reopened among its people? Have they coincided with the anti-centralism sentiment and the rise of the populists and their exceptional ability to influence followers through social media? Has globalization helped awaken small identities and this leaning towards isolation? Are these the same winds that have blown through Quebec and Scotland and which will blow again in Spain’s Basque Country if Catalonia indeed succeeds in gaining independence?

The Catalans can use the excuse that international laws speak of the rights of people to determine their fate. It is clear however that this right is granted to people who are suffering under occupation or to minorities who are threatened by genocide at the hands of a bloody tyranny. This definitely does not apply to Catalonia.

Of course, we cannot deny that Franco’s Spain weakened the Catalan voice and cracked down on their language and culture, but Franco is now languishing in the tombs of history.

Every population or group has a wounds left over from history. Catalonia cannot speak of exceptional suffering in the past decades. It cannot compare itself to the Kurdistan region that suffered through the Anfal operations that left 180,000 dead and the destruction of several villages. Barcelona cannot speak of suffering at the hands of “Chemical Ali.” Madrid has not and will not stop paying the salaries of the Catalan employees. Catalonia is lucky that it does not carry such wounds and scars.

Europe and the terrible Middle East cannot be compared to each other. We are part of the most fragile region in the world. We drink from the streams of fear and we teach that to our children. Our maps are weak as are our constitutions. If the winds blew away a dictator, the country will be overrun by countless militias.

Every time a Kurdish leader speaks of independence, an earthquake takes place. Border drills are staged. Fears that other minorities will follow their lead. The drums of war start beating.

Yesterday, European experts observed the Catalan referendum. They clearly said that Catalonia’s independence, should it happen, will not lead to the establishment of an independent state. Madrid considers the referendum unconstitutional and illegal. The European countries will not recognize any state that arises from it. Force is not the solution to confronting millions of voters. Force favors the extremists. Dialogue is the only option. Some experts believe that saving Spain’s unity deserves considering other options, such as a confederate system.

It is likely that Haidar al-Abadi and Masoud Barzani followed the Catalan referendum. The two men know that our culture does not believe much in the tango, where each dancer has to coordinate his steps with his partner. They know that our culture does not favor a marriage between equals or permits a smooth divorce. All this does not however merit threats or preparing for war. Iraq and the Kurds have suffered enough. New bold ideas are needed. Saving Iraq is worth searching for several options, including possibly a confederacy.

The story in Catalonia is greater than a match between Barcelona FC and Real Madrid. The story in Baghdad is greater than the tensions between Irbil and Baghdad. Admitting the failure of coexistence is a fatal blow to countries and their borders. Coexistence must be saved, even if that requires difficult decisions. It not yet too late in Madrid and Barcelona or in Baghdad and Irbil.

Guardiola: My Debt to Andrés Iniesta and how he Opened my Eyes on Tactics


Barcelona – Late summer 2008. Barcelona lose 1–0 in Soria against little Numancia on the opening day of the league season. A tough baptism for the debutant coach, Pep Guardiola, made all the harder when the result isn’t much better in their second game against Racing Santander, a 1–1 draw at the Camp Nou. Two weeks into Guardiola’s career in charge of Barcelona’s first team and they still haven’t won.

Pressure builds, the criticism is intense. But Guardiola remains steadfast. Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez, then two virtually unknown players from Tercera División, Spain’s fourth tier, are in the team. There are doubts, of course. Concerns.

In the media, it seems that only one voice defends the manager, but at least it is the voice: Johan Cruyff. That softens the blow, his authority alone enough to challenge the doomsayers, but still they prophesise doom. “This Barcelona looks very, very good,” Cruyff writes in his weekly column for El Periódico de Catalunya. “I don’t know what game the rest of you watched; the one I watched was unlike any I have seen at the Camp Nou in a long time.”

Cruyff, the great ideologue of the Catalan club, its philosopher king, had seen Guardiola coach the B team and was impressed; now he stands against the tide, alone in defending him. “The worst start to a season in many years. Just one goal scored, and that was a penalty. That’s an inescapable truth, numerically speaking,” he admits. “But in footballing terms, this must be read a different way. And Guardiola is the first to read it differently. He’s no novice, lacking expertise, and he is not suicidal. He watches, he sees, he analyses and he takes decisions.”

Guardiola himself agonized over those decisions too. He was holed up in his Camp Nou office, down in the basement where there was no natural light, going over the situation again and again, rewinding and replaying the videos, re-reading his notes, wondering what to change but convinced of one thing: his idea, Cruyff’s idea, had to be maintained. He would persevere, however hard it became. And support was about to come from an unexpected source.

He was still going over it, endlessly, when he heard a knock at the door. “Come in.”

“Hello, míster.”

A small figure poked his head around the door, and spoke calmly. “Don’t worry, míster. We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, OK? We’re playing brilliantly, we’re enjoying training. Please, don’t change anything,” said Andrés Iniesta.

Guardiola couldn’t believe it.

The request was short, but heartfelt, deep. It caught Guardiola off guard, barely able even to respond. If it was a surprise that anyone should seek him out to say that, it was even more of a surprise that it was Iniesta, usually the silent man. And then he closed the door and left.

That’s Andrés. He doesn’t say much, only what he really has to. It’s like scoring goals: he doesn’t score often, either. But when it’s needed, there he is.

Guardiola will never forget Cruyff defending him in print. And he will never forget Andrés appearing at his door. He’ll never forget that they were right, too. At the end of the 2008–09 season, Barcelona had won six titles. All six.

“People usually think that it is the coach who has to raise the spirits of his players; that it is the coach who has to convince his footballers; that it is his job to take the lead all the time,” says Guardiola. “But that’s not always the case. It wasn’t the case at the Camp Nou for me, and in my first year at Bayern Munich something similar happened as well. It’s not often things like that happen and when they do, they rarely come to light. People always think the coach is the strongest person at a club, the boss, but in truth he’s the weakest link. We’re there, vulnerable, undermined by those who don’t play, by the media, by the fans. They all have the same objective: to undermine the manager.

“You start, you lose at Numancia, you draw with Racing, you just can’t get going, you feel watched and you feel alone and then suddenly, there’s Andrés telling me not to worry,” Guardiola continues. “It’s hard to imagine, because it’s not the kind of thing that happens and because it’s Iniesta we’re talking about, someone who doesn’t find it easy to express his feelings. And after he’d gone, I asked myself: how can people say that coaches should be cold when they make decisions? Impersonal? That’s ridiculous! How can I be cold, distant, removed with Andrés? Sorry, no way. Eighty-six per cent of people didn’t believe in me [according to an online poll]. Lots of people wanted Mourinho. We hadn’t won, hadn’t got going. And then Andrés comes and says that! How am I supposed to be cold? It’s impossible. This goes deeper. This isn’t cold, calculated, and nor should it be. There’s no doubt: Andrés will play with me, always. Because he’s the best. And because things like that don’t get forgotten. Why did he come to my office? I don’t know.”

Lorenzo Buenaventura is a part of Guardiola’s coaching staff, in charge of physical preparation. He has followed Pep from Barcelona to Bayern and from there to Manchester City. He shares this memory with Pep now, offers up an answer too.

“Why? I suppose because that’s the way he felt; I suppose because it mattered to him,” he says. “Andrés doesn’t do anything he doesn’t truly believe in; he does it because it feels right to him. He’s genuine, always.” Guardiola concedes: “Maybe he spoke out because he could see that there was a method we were following, that everyone was training well, that we explained to them why we did things the way we did, and above all because that was the kind of football that he had been brought up on, ever since he was little.”

“There were other players who sent us little messages,” Buenaventura insists. “That’s true,” Guardiola admits. “But Andrés’ message was powerful. How could I forget that? I can still see him standing there at the door, looking at me. Telling me we play very well. And then he left. I thought: ‘Well, if Andrés says so …’”

Andrés and Cruyff were proven right; Guardiola’s decision to maintain that philosophy was vindicated. In week three Barcelona scored six against Sporting Gijón and never looked back; everything fell into place, it all worked so smoothly. Within a few months, they had become a model to aspire to. Not just because of the results – no one had won a treble in Spain before, still less six trophies from six – but because of the way they played, the way they treated the ball, fans, even opponents. Theirs was a different approach, a way of seeing and expressing football that was embodied by players like Iniesta.

“We never seem to treat Andrés the way we should; we don’t seem to recognize him. He’s the absolute business as a player,” Guardiola says. “He never talks about himself, never demands anything, but people who think he’s satisfied just to play are wrong. If he thought he could win the Balon d’Or one year, he’d want to win it. Why? Because he’d say to himself: ‘I’m the best.’

“I think Paco defined him perfectly,” Guardiola says. Paco Seirulo was Barcelona’s former physical coach, the man from whom Lorenzo Buenaventura learnt; now Guardiola makes Seirulo’s description his own. “Andrés is one of the greats. Why? Because of his mastery of the relationship between space and time. He knows where he is at every moment. Even in a midfield where he’s surrounded by countless players, he chooses the right path every time. He knows where and when, always. And then he has this very unique ability to pull away. He pulls out, then brakes, then pulls out again, then brakes again. There are very few players like him.

“There are footballers who are very good playing on the outside but don’t know what to do inside. Then there are players who are very good inside but don’t have the physique, the legs, to go outside. Andrés has the ability to do both. When you’re out on the touchline, like a winger, it is easier to play. You see everything: the mess, the crowd, the activity is all inside. When you play inside, you don’t see anything in there because so much is happening in such a small space and all around you. You don’t know where the opposition is going to come at you from, or how many of them. Great footballers are those who know how to play in both of those environments. Andrés doesn’t only have the ability to see everything, to know what to do, but also the talent to execute it; he’s able to break through those lines. He sees it and does it.

“I’ve been a coach for a few years now and I have come to the conclusion that a truly good player is always a good player,” Guardiola says. “It’s very hard to teach a bad player to be a good one. You can’t really teach someone to dribble. The timing needed to go past someone, that instant in which you catch out your opponent, when you go past him and a new scenario opens up before you … Dribbling is, at heart, a trick, a con. It’s not speed. It’s not physique. It’s an art.”

Lorenzo Buenaventura says: “What happens is that Andrés brakes. That’s the key, the most important thing. People say: ‘Look how quick he is!’ No, no, that’s not the point. It’s not about speed, about how fast he goes; what it’s really about is how he stops and when, then, how he gets moving again.”

Guardiola adds: “Tito Vilanova defined him very well. Tito used to say: ‘Andrés doesn’t run, he glides. He’s like an ice hockey player, only without skates on. Sssswishhh, sssswishhh, sssswishhhh …’ That description is evocative, very graphic, and I think it’s an accurate one. He goes towards one side as if he was skating, watching everything that’s going on around him. Then, suddenly, he turns the other way with that smoothness he has. Yes, that’s it, Andrés doesn’t run, he glides.”

Guardiola adds: “Sometimes in life, it’s first impressions that count and the first impression I have of Andrés was the day my brother Pere, who was working for Nike at the time, told me about Iniesta. I was still playing for Barcelona myself and he said: ‘Pep, you’ve got to come and see this kid.’ It was before the final of the Nike Cup. I remember getting changed quickly after training and rushing there, dashing to the stadium. And yes, I saw how good he was. I told myself: ‘This kid will play for Barcelona, for sure … he’s going to make it.’ I told myself that, and I told Pere that too.

“On my way out of the ground after that final when Andrés was the best player on the pitch, I came across Santiago Segurola, the football writer. I said to him: ‘I’ve just seen something incredible.’ I had this feeling that what I’d just witnessed was unique. That was my first impression of Andrés.

“But later,” Guardiola admits, “I came to really value something else Andrés does, something that he had made me see with time: the importance of attacking the center-backs. No one does it. But watch and you see it. If the central defender has to step out, everything opens up; the whole defense becomes disorganized and spaces appear that weren’t there before. It’s all about breaking through lines to find space behind them. Open, then find.

“For example, we set up our attack so that Leo Messi could attack the central defenders,” Guardiola explains. “We had to attack in such a way as to get the ball to Andrés and Leo so that they could attack the central defenders and that opened them up. When we managed that, we knew that we would win the game because Leo scored goals and Andrés generated everything else: dribbling, numerical superiority, the ability to unbalance the game, the final pass, both to the outside and filtered through the middle. He sees it all and he has that gift for dribbling that’s so unique to him. That dribbling ability is everything today. And it was Andrés who opened my eyes to the importance of an inside forward or midfielder being able to dribble too. If he dribbles, if he carries the ball and goes at people, everything flows. With time, I saw that.”

The Guardian Sport

Transfer System Isn’t Perfect but Premier League Plans Don’t Make Sense


London – The news that Premier League clubs are considering closing the transfer window before the season starts is not a particular surprise. Complaints from virtually everyone in the game are long-standing that transfer business dragging on alongside actual football provides too much of a distraction as rumors fly, agents scheme and players sulk.

Philippe Coutinho’s situation was the most prominent recent example: a back injury was the official reason for his unavailability for Liverpool’s first four games, not Barcelona’s looming with an enormous pile of cash.

There was already plenty to do in the first month of a season: formations to mull over, players to assess, panics to calm, the optimism of pre-season shattered or inflated. On top of this managers have to deal with constant questions about who is leaving and who is coming in, the implication being that buying players is the one true way to solve any problem a team might have.

Few had a good word to say about the state of affairs. “It would have helped us this year,” said Jürgen Klopp when asked if the window should have shut earlier. “It’s a huge mistake from Uefa,” said Pep Guardiola this summer. “I think the market should finish when we start the season. It’s too long, too large.” And back in 2015 Arsène Wenger said: “Does it bother me the window is still open? Yes, because it creates uncertainties. At the start of the season everybody should be committed, not half-in, half-out.”

The sense that the whole thing is a media construct is difficult to escape, all leading up to the “event” of deadline day as exasperated Sky Sports reporters stand in car parks, bringing the nation news of what amounts to admin being completed in the buildings behind them, presumably strongly considering the life choices that led them to this point.

Changing the parameters of the transfer window would simply bring that forward but it would at least eliminate the absurdity of those times when matches are played on August 31. This year deadline day fell in the middle of the international break, which provided even more japes.

And yet the opportunity to sign players while games are still going on can be a positive too, simply because managers can make more informed decisions on what works and what does not. We are all aware that pre-season games mean little, so why should teams make decisions they are stuck with until January based on them?

“You can look at it either way really – whether it’s glass half-full or empty,” Derby County’s manager Gary Rowett told the Guardian recently. “It would make life a lot easier if the transfer window finished the day before the season starts but I think there’s an advantage in that, if you’re three or four games in and you feel like you’re missing something, you’ve still got an opportunity to strengthen.”

It makes sense. A manager might think his team are fine throughout the summer but once they play some real games he might realize the midfield is no good or the center-forward has lost his touch or the player earmarked as a wing-back cannot handle the running. A few weeks in August with the transfer window still open might not be ideal but at least it gives teams a chance to fix things based on reliable evidence.

Additionally this change would not actually solve many problems if only Premier League clubs agree to it. Any attempt to implement this change across Europe would be a logistical impossibility, given the different times at which seasons begin. Had the English transfer window closed on August 10 this year, it would still have been open for the rest of Europe for another three weeks, meaning Coutinho would still have been looking up flights to Barcelona. At least this way, if a player makes such a scene or an offer so big arrives that a club has little alternative but to sell, they can still replace him: if Premier League clubs treat themselves as an island and end only their own window early, they could be left with the worst of all worlds.

Of course the alternative is to scrap the transfer window altogether and return to the days when moves could occur throughout the season. Panic-buying would be eliminated and Daniel Levy could spread his work over weeks rather than cramming it into one day. It is worth remembering, too, that transfer windows take away the option for poorer clubs to raise quick cash by selling a player.

But do we really want that? Would Wenger, Guardiola and Klopp really welcome the distraction of being asked in every press conference about transfers, rather than just in August and January? At least this way they – and we – can broadly concentrate on actual football between September and December, then February and May.

The way the transfer system is set up is a far from perfect. Perhaps removing transfer windows altogether would ultimately be beneficial. But Premier League clubs voting to end it early simply because it makes things less messy for them feels like a halfway house that could simply create more problems.

The Guardian Sport

MCN to LOL: the New Super Forward Lines Set to Dominate the Champions League


London – When Paris Saint-Germain signed Neymar from Barcelona for £198m this summer they not only broke the transfer record but also destroyed one of the most successful attacking trios of all time.

Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez – nicknamed MSN – had terrified defenses across Spain and Europe for the past three years before PSG managed to lure the Brazilian to the French capital and then add Kylian Mbappé from Monaco to form their own super forward line.

That trident has now been given its own name MCN (with Edinson Cavani completing the lineup) while in Spain there is still the BBC of Real Madrid (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo). As for Barcelona, they recruited Ousmane Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund and even though they have not yet been given an official nickname, someone jokingly suggested LOL.

Whatever the lineup there seems to be a plethora of superb forward lines across Europe and as the Champions League kicked off The Guardian Sport takes a look at the 14 strongest of the teams involved.

Paris Saint-Germain (rating 9.5/10)

“He could become the next Pelé. He has no limits.” Hyperbolic or not, Arsène Wenger has a point, Kylian Mbappé has everything; terrifying speed, unerring finishing and an alarmingly quick change of direction. Worryingly for the rest of Europe this simply amounts to more of the same for PSG. Between Mbappé’s pace, Neymar’s irresistible swagger and Edinson Cavani’s ninja-like movement, Unai Emery’s front three have a variety of ways to insight panic and potentially provide an avalanche of goals. Assuming, that is, the clinical Cavani of the spring holds off the infuriatingly wasteful Cavani of last autumn. Are they good enough to lead Paris to Kiev? €465m says they are.

Barcelona (9/10)

For many, it was the best front three of all time but it has gone. No more MSN. Neymar will be missed by Messi and Suárez, off the pitch as well as on it where they were good friends. The president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, described Neymar’s departure as an “opportunity” to tilt the balance back towards midfield and some agreed – they had lost a little of their identity, so dominant were the front three. And yet €145m has been spent on a player who, in theory, is a direct replacement (if a downgrade) on Neymar. It could less a frontline of three, though, with Messi now playing deeper as a playmaker, passer, dribbler and goal scorer in one. It’s legitimate to ask how long Suárez has left and just how good Dembélé will be remains to be seen but this is still potentially a hell of a forward line. Because Messi is … well, Messi.

Manchester City (9/10)

Pep Guardiola’s embarrassment of glittering forwards means Sergio Agüero, the Premier League’s most prolific goalscorer since 2012, may struggle to be a regular pick against continental rearguards, yet Saturday’s demolition of Liverpool may make the manager think twice before putting the Argentinian on the bench again. The manager’s difficulty in packing in all of his attack-minded talent is further illustrated by Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva now operating in a less advanced role as quasi-traditional central midfield string-pullers. Raheem Sterling is a further quick-footed forward who may receive unwanted bench time under the midweek bright lights of the Champions League. No defence will fancy facing this cadre.

Real Madrid (9/10)

Time for Real Madrid to change the channel? For so long, it was the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) up front, with Zidane admitting that they were non-negotiable picks if fit, but no more. One newspaper has taken to calling them the bbC on the basis that only Ronaldo is really worth the title any more, while the performances of Isco – since he was given a chance in place of the injured Bale last season – make things far less clear cut now, as he dropped in behind the forwards and led them towards a double. Madrid looked a better team with that shift in style and personnel. With a more populated midfield came control and less of a counterattacking style. Add to that the emergence of the brilliant Marco Asensio, plus Zidane’s taste for rotation, and it’s not clear what their preferred forward line is now. One thing is for sure – it’s supremely talented.

Juventus (9/10)

The group of forwards who propelled Juventus to the final last season was already exceptional. Paulo Dybala is a one-of-a-kind talent, Gonzalo Higuaín a world-class No. 9, and Mario Mandzukic a furious competitor who recently scored one of the greatest goals in European Cup history. If Juan Cuadrado was perceived as the weak link, then how about the mercurial Douglas Costa – a man with a half-century of appearances in this competition – as an alternative? Federico Bernardeschi is new to this stage but has the talent to thrive in a deep-lying role.

Bayern Munich (8.5/10)

Robert Lewandowski is still there, as is Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman and Franck Ribéry – and perhaps that is part of the problem. While the Pole is at the absolute peak of his game, the people around him seems to be stagnating or possibly be on the way down. Bayern are favorites to win the Bundesliga and are expected to go far in the Champions League but all is not well in Bavaria. Last weekend, they lost 2-0 to Hoffenheim and looked a little devoid of ideas (although admittedly against a very compact side). Lewandowski recently criticized the club for not spending more than €40m on any player – for which he was rebuked by the club’s chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – but maybe the striker has a point. Müller appears to have lost his magic and it still remains to be seen whether James Rodríguez, a two-year loan signing from Real Madrid, can find a way back to his 2014 World Cup form.

Chelsea (8.5/10)

Chelsea’s forward line has changed complexion without Diego Costa in the ranks – the Brazil-born striker has not been included in their Champions League squad – but, in Álvaro Morata, they still boast a Spain international of pedigree to lead the line. He will work defenders in a different way but his threat has already been clear in the Premier League and, once Eden Hazard is fit and firing, and with Willian or Pedro stretching teams on the right, Antonio Conte has a potent front three. The worry is a lack of depth. Michy Batshuayi has been only a bit-part player and the failure to secure Fernando Llorente on deadline day as a very different kind of option could still be felt.

Liverpool (8.5/10)

As Hoffenheim discovered to their cost in the play-off second leg, Liverpool possess forwards capable of obliterating opponents in the Champions League. There was no clearer demonstration of the speed of thought and movement in Jürgen Klopp’s attack than the devastating 21-minute spell at Anfield that secured Liverpool’s passage into the group phase. The intelligence of Roberto Firmino, the skill of Sadio Mané and the pace of Mohamed Salah provided an ideal balance and, with Philippe Coutinho returning to the fold, the supply line will only improve.

Manchester United (8.5/10)

This frontline has already returned eight goals in four Premier League outings with José Mourinho’s headline summer signing Romelu Lukaku registering half of those. As Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s direct replacement to an attack that fired United to the Europa League title, the Belgian adds greater pace and a lesser tendency to drop deep. This allows Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial more chance to cut the opposition apart, a threat Champions League opponents are sure to study. It is the addition of the holding midfielder Nemanja Matic that may be key to the line flourishing as the Serb’s penchant for clever passes is creating opportunities that did not exist last season. Juan Mata’s guile and Jesse Lingard’s directness can be potent weapons from the bench, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to add yet another dimension once fit.

Napoli (8/10)

If we were assessing only starters, then Napoli’s score would be higher still. Dries Mertens’s emergence as a No. 9 has upgraded Napoli into a relentless scoring machine, with Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón carving in from either flank. Undersized they might be, but these “Marvellous Smurfs” have made Napoli into Serie A’s most prolific side. Arkadiusz Milik can provide strength and aerial prowess when a different tack is required but there is a lack of depth on the flanks.

Atlético Madrid (7.5/10)

Antoine Griezmann stayed, insisting it would have been “dirty” to leave Atlético amid their transfer ban. He is the star, a special talent, and miles ahead of his team-mates. Who he plays with is still unresolved: Ángel Correa impresses from the bench, skillful and clever, more subtle than the rest, but tends to be less significant as a starter. Yannick Carrasco plays wide rather than in a forward line but is fast and talented. The 33-year-old Fernando Torres offers a physical presence but is now used less by Diego Simeone. Kevin Gameiro is, in theory, the most likely to threaten with his pace, directness and finishing, yet even he inspires some doubts. Luciano Vietto may get a second chance but so far Simeone appears unsure. Vitolo will arrive in the winter to play wide. Chelsea’s Costa is the man they really want and the feeling is mutual but there is still no sign of that becoming a reality.

Monaco (7.5/10)

To say Monaco escaped the summer relatively unscathed seems ludicrous. But despite losing the effortless guile of Bernardo Silva and the lightning Mbappé, this is the case. Marquee sales are occasionally a necessary part of the way Monaco conduct themselves and these were losses they foresaw – keeping Thomas Lemar and Falcao are sizable victories. The shrewd additions of Stevan Jovetic and the bulldozing Baldé Keita as well as the burgeoning talent of Rony Lopes allow Monaco to retain much of the youthful exuberance, technical panache and attacking flair of last season. Underestimating Leonardo Jardim would be a terrible mistake to make twice.

Borussia Dortmund (7/10)

A potent front three, but without the devastating speed and trickery of the departed Ousmane Dembélé, lacks a little something compared with best forward lines in Europe. Christian Pulisic, only 18, has accepted the challenge of replacing Dembélé in Dortmund’s starting XI with Maximilian Philipp starting on the left and Andrey Yarmolenko also to be integrated following his £23.1m transfer from Dynamo Kyiv. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still the focal point of the attack with Marco Reus out yet again with another long-term injury. Milan wanted Aubameyang this summer but he stayed and has looked sharp. “It is proof of what a professional player he is,” said the Dortmund chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, after the Gabon striker’s five goals in five games this season. The new manager has several options from the bench too, including André Schürrle, Alexander Isak and the 17-year-old Jadon Sancho, who joined from Manchester City in the summer.

Roma (7/10)

For now we can only guess at Roma’s first-choice attack under Eusebio Di Francesco. Appointed in the summer, he has not yet had a full squad at his disposal. Patrik Schick arrived at the very end of the transfer window, while Alessandro Florenzi – who has played at full-back in recent seasons, but previously operated as a wide forward – is just back from a cruciate tear. Edin Dzeko was Serie A’s top scorer last season but he will miss the assists provided to him by the departed Mohamed Salah.

*The Guardian Sport

Champions League: Group-by-Group Analysis


London – Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all look likely to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, but Tottenham have been dealt a harsh hand with favorites Real Madrid. The Guardian Sport examines the draw with a group-by-group analysis of who will likely qualify to the next round and who will leave the tournament early:

Group A
Benfica, Basel, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow

José Mourinho will be pleased with the draw, no doubt. United have bought wisely in the summer – Romelu Lukaku has added goals and will be joined by Zlatan Ibrahimovic if they get through the group – and Nemanja Matic looks an inspired piece of business to strengthen the midfield. Benfica are still the best Portuguese team in the competition despite selling Ederson, Victor Lindelof and Nélson Semedo this summer. Bruno Varela is a very good replacement for Ederson and they have kept Pizzi and Álex Grimaldo. CSKA, meanwhile, have had a relatively poor start but have improved in the past few weeks. Igor Akinfeev has finally kept a clean sheet in the Champions League after 11 years of failing to do so and in the new manager, Viktor Goncharenko, they have a more attack-minded man in charge compared to Leonid Slutsky. Basel, who have just been hit by the retirement of club legend Matias Delgado could well finish bottom. Ricky van Wolfswinkel now leads their line.

Prediction 1 Manchester United 2 Benfica 3 CSKA Moscow 4 Basel

Star player Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)

Group B
Bayern Munich, Anderlecht, Paris St-Germain, Celtic

All eyes will be on the French club this season as they have finally, after years of trying, made the kind of signing that should see them elevated to the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The impact of Neymar’s arrival on PSG cannot be overestimated and it is easy to forget now that they came within minutes of eliminating Barça last season, even without the brilliant Brazilian in their team. In Bayern they have a superb group opponent but are the German champions stronger than last season? Arguably not with Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso having retired. Corentin Tolisso has arrived from Lyon for £36.4m and James Rodríguez joined on loan from Real Madrid, but he has struggled to recapture his 2014 World Cup form. Celtic can probably snatch third place from Anderlecht – and possibly trouble Bayern and/or PSG at home – but this, sadly, looks like quite an uneven group.

Prediction 1 Bayern Munich 2 Paris Saint-Germain 3 Celtic 4 Anderlecht

Star player Neymar (PSG)

Group C
Chelsea, Roma, Atlético Madrid, Qarabag

Atlético Madrid are the team to beat considering their Champions League record of two finals in the past four years. They are working under a transfer ban and have had to loan out their only summer signing, Vitolo, who arrived from Sevilla for £31.8m. At least Antoine Griezmann decided to stay. Chelsea looked out of sorts against Burnley and then back to their defensive best in their 2-1 win against Tottenham, however Antonio Conte had two attempts at the Champions League at Juventus but was eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2012-13 and at the group stage the following year. Roma have had a summer of wholesale changes under their new sporting director, Monchi. Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger (to Chelsea) and Francesco Totti will be hard to replace but they have brought in 10 players. Qarabag became the first team from Azerbaijan to qualify for the group stage. The manager, Gurban Gurbanov, has been there since 2008 and prefers to play three up front with the South African Dino Ndlovu as the focal point.

Prediction 1 Atlético Madrid 2 Chelsea 3 Roma 4 Qarabag

Star player Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)

Group D
Juventus, Olympiakos, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon

A horribly competitive group with Juventus favorites having eliminated Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season. Both teams, however, have lost important players with Leonardo Bonucci joining Milan in a shock move and Neymar jumping the Barça ship for Paris Saint‑Germain. Juve looked defensively shaky in the Italian Super Cup defeat against Lazio but they still have a superb squad and have added Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a whopping £35.7m. There is unhappiness among Barça fans after a summer during which they failed to secure Marco Verratti and signed the former Spurs midfielder Paulinho instead. They are still pursuing Philippe Coutinho and have signed Ousmane Dembélé, though. Olympiakos should finish third and are enjoying a renaissance under their new manager, Besnik Hasi. The Greek club have spent almost £20m on players this summer; Sporting, third in Portugal last season, will struggle to compete against the other three teams and Jorge Jesus’s side could still sell the midfield linchpin William Carvalho.

Prediction 1 Juventus 2 Barcelona 3 Olympiakos 4 Sporting

Star player Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Group E
Spartak Moscow, Liverpool, Sevilla, Maribor

An even group with Liverpool slight favorites ahead of Sevilla, who are on their third manager in three years. Sevilla, who beat Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League final, now have Eduardo Berizzo in charge and while they have sold Vitolo to Atlético they have signed Éver Banega, Jesús Navas and Nolito. Jürgen Klopp has assembled a squad with an enormous amount of speed up front but they are still suspect at the back. Spartak were outstanding last season as they won their first title since 2001 but are 11th in the league and Massimo Carrera (Antonio Conte’s former assistant) may get the sack. The Dutch winger Quincy Promes, though, is a huge threat. Maribor have won one of 12 Champions League group games in their history and the former Leeds manager Darko Milanic has a huge task to improve on that record, especially as they have lost their best player, the attacking midfielder Dare Vrsic, after failing to agree a new contract.

Prediction 1 Liverpool 2 Sevilla 3 Spartak Moscow 4 Maribor

Star player Sadio Mané (Liverpool)

Group F
Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, Manchester City, Feyenoord

There can be no excuses for Pep Guardiola this season. He has spent more than £220m this summer with an astonishing £128.5m on full-backs. They should qualify comfortably but already, this season, Everton have exposed weaknesses at the back. Napoli are one of the most exciting sides in Europe, Maurizio Sarri’s side crushing Nice 4-0 on aggregate in the play‑offs. Goals can come from everywhere with Dries Mertens, José Callejón, Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik and Marek Hamsik all in the squad. Shakhtar won the Ukrainian league by 13 points last season but they have lost their best Brazilians, such as Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa, in recent seasons. Playing in Kharkiv rather than Lviv should help the atmosphere. Feyenoord won the Dutch title for the first time in 18 years last season under Gio van Bronckhorst but they are now without arguably their three most influential players in Dirk Kuyt (retired), Terence Kongolo (Monaco) and Rick Karsdorp (Roma).

Prediction 1 Manchester City 2 Napoli 3 Shakhtar Donetsk 4 Feyenoord

Star player Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Group G
Monaco, Besiktas, Porto, Leipzig

One of the more even groups with, frankly, all teams capable of going through. Monaco are the favorites despite losing some of their key players, with Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiémoué Bakayoko all joining Premier League clubs. And there has been the saga about Kylian Mbappé’s future. Not helpful. Porto have a new manager, Sérgio Conceição, and have sold the prolific André Silva to Milan but have retained the even more prolific Tiquinho Soares. Rúben Neves, of course, has joined Wolves. RB Leipzig will make their Champions League debut having kept Naby Keïta and Emil Forsberg but they lost their first league game of the season, against Schalke, and looked lackluster. Big-spending Besiktas will hope to do well as part of their president’s plan for a more global profile. They have won the past two league titles and have a competitive team with this summer’s additions of Álvaro Negredo, Pepe, Jeremain Lens and Gary Medel among others.

Prediction 1 Monaco 2 Porto 3 RB Leipzig 4 Besiktas

Star player Youri Tielemans (Monaco)

Group H
Real Madrid, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Apoel Nicosia

The reigning champions look favorites to complete the first hat-trick of European Cup wins since Bayern Munich in 1974-76. All their stars have stayed and are now being pushed to even greater heights by younger players such as Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos. Dortmund are still a force to be reckoned with but there is no doubt the departure of Ousmane Dembélé has cast a long shadow over the club. Thomas Tuchel has been replaced by Peter Bosz as manager while Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang is staying and Julian Weigl is fit again. Spurs’ chances probably depend on whether they can perform at Wembley and why shouldn’t they be able to now that they are playing league games there, too? In Harry Kane and Dele Alli they have a pairing that can hurt most defenses. Apoel are likely to finish last in the group, having lost Pieros Sotiriou, their top scorer last season, to FC Copenhagen.

Prediction 1 Real Madrid 2 Borussia Dortmund 3 Tottenham 4 Apoel

Star player Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

*The Guardian Sport

Death Toll in Spain Terror Attacks Climbs to 16 after German Victim Dies


The death toll from the twin terrorist attacks in Spain two weeks ago rose to 16 after a German woman succumbed to her injuries on Sunday.

She was left in a critical condition when a militant drove the rented vehicle into crowds in Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas boulevard on August 17.

That attack has now killed 14 people, and two others die during the driver’s getaway and in a separate car and knife assault in the Catalan coastal resort of Cambrils.

More than 120 people were wounded. Authorities said 24 remain hospitalized, five in critical condition.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona in a show of unity.

Emergency workers, taxis drivers, police and ordinary citizens who helped immediately after the attack led the march.

They carried a street-wide banner with black capital letters reading “No Tinc Por,” which means “I’m not afraid” in the local Catalan language.

The phrase has grown from a spontaneous civic answer to violence into a slogan that Spain’s entire political class has unanimously embraced.

Spain’s central, regional and local authorities tried to send an image of unity Saturday by walking behind emergency workers, despite earlier criticism that national and regional authorities had not shared information about the attackers well enough with each other.

In a first for a Spanish monarch, King Felipe VI joined a public demonstration, along with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and other Spanish and Catalan regional officials.

How a Shadowy Imam Evaded Scrutiny and Forged the Barcelona Cell

Ripoll, Spain — He sometimes wore jeans and dressed like a “hipster,” and had only a short beard. He was unfailingly courteous and studiously discreet. And it seems that he trained the young men he lured into his terrorist cell to behave in much the same way, carrying on double lives that betrayed little of their real intentions.

Abdelbaki Essati, the shadowy imam who the authorities believe was at the center of last week’s terrorist attacks in and near Barcelona, Spain, appears to have been a master of deception. His associations with terrorists reached back more than a decade, but he managed to evade the scrutiny of authorities and the suspicion of many in Ripoll, the small town in northern Catalonia where he showed up last year to offer his services.

Mr. Essati’s technique, according to terrorism experts, was taken right from the playbook of the Al Qaeda recruiters with whom he had first come into contact at least 11 years ago. It now appears that he used those methods to carefully select and groom young recruits, but for ISIS.

“He was really nice, charming, really polite, but he was too polite, too correct,” said Wafa Marsi, 30, who grew up with the older members of the cell the imam forged in the town.

“Usually you can get a sense of a person by their look, their smile, but you couldn’t with him,” said Ms. Marsi, who also described his appearance. “And that is why I did not trust him.”

Mr. Essati died on Aug. 16, when the explosives he was manufacturing with the help of some of his young recruits blew up in their safe house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona. Court records show that the police later retrieved a book belonging to the imam from the rubble with the inscription, “Soldier of ISIS in the Land of Andalucia.”

But even after his death, Mr. Essati’s spell over the young men remained so powerful that the plot he put in motion went forward the next day without a bomb, ultimately killing 15 people.

How Mr. Essati slipped through the checks meant to protect the public from would-be terrorists speaks to the lack of communication between Spanish national and Catalan regional law enforcement and the judiciary.

But it also shows the skill of an experienced terrorist recruiter, one who appears to have been trained in keeping a low profile so that no one would think to look into his background.

If they had, they would have found only that he had been convicted once of drug trafficking. That is an important reason Mr. Essati was able to fly under the radar of Spain’s counterterrorism authorities; he had no charges or convictions for terrorism-related offenses.

Yet Mr. Essati had been known to the Spanish judicial and counterterrorism authorities for at least 10 years, according to Fernando Reinares, the director of the Program on Global Terrorism at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, which keeps an extensive database of Spanish militants based on court records and other official sources.

“Abdelbaki Essati had some kind of contacts, dating back a decade ago, with facilitators of the Madrid train bombing network based in Catalonia and, subsequently, while in prison, with a member of that same terrorist network,” Mr. Reinares said.

The Madrid train bombings killed more than 190 people and wounded hundreds more.

In the aftermath of last week’s attacks, regional and national law enforcement authorities and politicians are sniping at each other for failing to cooperate more closely. Their relationship was already strained because of Catalonia’s effort to win independence from Spain.

Catalan law enforcement authorities have long complained that they are not allowed to work on their own with foreign intelligence organizations such as the C.I.A.

Another problem appears to be that information gleaned by counterterrorism intelligence operatives that does not result in charges or convictions is not systematically made available to local law enforcement.

Records of behavior in prison — increasingly understood as an important factor in radicalization — also appear not to be widely shared.

While there is an Islamic Council of Catalonia that vets imams, it was not asked about this imam, its coordinator, Jamal Elattouaki, said.

The mayor of Ripoll, Jordi Munell, said that the local police should have gotten more warning about the dangers presented by Mr. Essati.

“The information that someone had did not arrive where it should have,” he said, adding that the Spanish government had not passed it on to the Catalan authorities.

Meanwhile, Spanish police officers denounced Catalan officials for “marginalizing in a painful way” the contribution of Spain’s national and military authorities during the investigation and manhunt.

Mr. Essati was born in Morocco in around 1970 in a small village in the Chaouen region near the northern city of Tangiers. Little is known about his early life. He told the mosque in Ripoll where he worked until the end of June that he was married and had nine sons.

He did not mention that he had acquaintances who had been convicted of terrorism-related offenses or that he had served time in prison on drug charges.

In 2006 his name surfaced in a case against a group of men accused of recruiting mujahedeen to fight in Iraq. At least one of those men had also helped conspirators involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings to escape.

Mr. Essati’s documents or copies of them were found at the home of one of the accused recruiters, Mohamed Mrabet Fahsi, who claimed he had the papers because of his work at a local mosque. The court ultimately dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

Mr. Essati shows up next in the public record, this time in court himself, responding to charges of drug trafficking committed in 2010, according to the Spanish judicial authorities.

He was sentenced to four years in prison. There, he became friendly with Rachid Aglif, known as “El Conejo” (the Rabbit), who was serving 18 years for his involvement in the Madrid bombings.

An order for Mr. Essati’s expulsion from Spain upon release from prison was overturned by a judge in 2015, who said that he had shown “employment and an effort to integrate.” He was freed and he dropped from view.

He re-emerged in early 2016 in Belgium, home to the ISIS cell that carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels around that time.

There is no information suggesting that Mr. Essati had contact with the group, but Belgian authorities say they are currently looking deeper in to Mr. Essati’s background and movements.

The New York Times

Arrests in Morocco over Links to Barcelona Attackers

Casablanca- Moroccan authorities have arrested two people suspected of links to the alleged perpetrators of the terrorist attack in the Spanish city of Barcelona as police in Morocco and Spain continued to coordinate in the probe into the assault that shook the country last week.

The two suspects have been detained in the cities of Nador and Oujda in northeastern Morocco, amid reports that police are searching for a third suspect in Casablanca.

The man detained in the city of Nador is a 28-year-old with suspected ties to one of the members of
the cell of young Moroccans behind the Barcelona attack.

He was a resident of Ripoll, the small town in northeastern Spain where many members of the cell were living.

The second detainee, 34, lived for 12 years in Barcelona and is suspected of links to ISIS and of plotting to attack the Spanish embassy in Rabat.

Both suspects were arrested on Sunday.

On Monday Spanish police shot dead 22-year-old Moroccan Younes Abouyaaqoub, whom they had identified as the driver of the van that ploughed through crowds on Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona last Thursday, killing 13 people and injuring 120.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the van attack and a separate deadly assault, hours later, in the coastal resort of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.

Moroccan security forces have gone on alert since the attacks in Spain and Finland this month after Moroccan immigrants were involved in both assaults.