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The Players Are Doing It for Themselves, Not Us (Published 2020) – The New York Times

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Rory Smith On Soccer
The joy of elite soccer is real. So is the pain. And that’s true even when no one is watching.

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Kylian Mbappé’s smile was real. His Paris St.-Germain teammates had gathered in a circle around him, bouncing and dancing and celebrating their progression to the club’s first Champions League final.
Their numbers kept swelling as stragglers and latecomers, those who had been sidetracked by media commitments or had to make their way down from the stands, arrived. Abdou Diallo has been in Lisbon as a spectator thus far; he had not played a minute of either of P.S.G.’s games. But when he reached the circle, he sprang off a teammate’s back and launched himself into the middle of the throng.
His joy was real, just as Lyon’s was, when its remarkable victory against Manchester City was confirmed. Just as Bayern Munich’s was, as each and every goal went in against Barcelona. Just as Neymar’s was, when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting sealed P.S.G.’s place in the semifinals.
The converse has been no less true: the despair of Atalanta, as its dreams were snatched away in injury time; the glassy-eyed shock of Barcelona, as its time came to an end in agonizing slow motion; the anguish of Raheem Sterling, rocking on the turf as he tried to compute quite how he had missed. All of that pain was real.
It should not need to be said that soccer loses something without fans. Of course it does: Their absence strips it of a sense of occasion, spectacle, urgency. The noise of a crowd functions, essentially, as a Greek chorus, an emotional barometer, a form of voiceless narration of events as they unfold. It tells us — fans, distant, and players, present — how, what and when to feel.
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