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The English Football Thread

Started by Steve,

How Guardiola should remodel his Manchester City squad



Manchester City enjoyed back-to-back Premier League titles under Pep Guardiola and completed a domestic treble last season but 2019-20 has seen a lack of quality in key positions lead to them all but conceding the title to Liverpool. City have lost seven games (so far), which is more than the prior two seasons combined and this season, have conceded eight more goals compared to last season, with ten games yet to play.

While the gap between City and Liverpool is an astonishing 25 points, from a statistical point of view City have been a bit unfortunate and Liverpool more fortuitous.

Regardless, now’s a good time to take stock of where City are as a team and how they may try to shake their squad up like they did in 2017, when they shipped out ageing players and brought in a raft of brilliant younger options.

The squad that Pep Guardiola adopted in 2016 was the third-oldest in the Premier League at the time.


The initial reinforcements were a mix of youth, peak-aged players, and those who were brought in to allow Guardiola to have an influence on the squad early on. Whether they have reached their potential or not, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Claudio Bravo, Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito all ticked a lot of boxes.

Still, City were the fourth-oldest in the league in terms of average age of players fielded in Guardiola’s first season. In the summer of 2017, City wanted as many as nine signings but ended up with five, who all lowered the average age and raised the quality, with ageing full-backs moved on and the likes of Ederson replacing Willy Caballero and Bernardo Silva replacing Jesus Navas.

The average age fell significantly to the sixth-youngest in the league. The outline of a dominant City side began to form, with a focus more on youth and players at the peak of their powers that would win plenty in the following seasons.


City pipped Liverpool on the final day of last season to secure the second title of Guardiola’s reign, using just 21 players in the league (the league average is 24.5).

While the City squad is built with strength in depth in mind, Guardiola does stick to fielding the players he trusts. Broadly, he plays the experienced internationals instead of young players (a strategy which has brought huge success) but even so, certain experienced internationals can also find themselves less trusted than others.

For example, after Fabian Delph’s red card in the defeat at Leicester in December 2018, he played just 10 Premier League minutes over the rest of the season. John Stones and Brazil right-back Danilo also found themselves on the outside looking in during the run-in. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva became Guardiola’s go-to wingers, at the expense of Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne’s injury struggles kept him out, too. City use a small pool of players by design and for various other reasons, they can quickly find themselves using an even smaller core of players for weeks on end.

Just 22 players have been used so far this season but more surprisingly, the age of the squad has slowly crept up again — the passing of time does that, funnily enough — with City again finding themselves among the eldest teams in the league — the fourth-oldest overall.


Looking at that data within-season only tells part of the story, however, as the league itself has seen a shift recently. This season’s squad would have been bang on the league average back in 2016-17 but over the past couple of seasons, the average age of sides has been nudged down. This season is the first in which half the league have fielded a team with an average age of less than 26.

The age of the squad is one thing but the squad itself, despite the City Football Group’s large volume of player ownership, is pretty thin, all things considered. Despite there being so many players who could play for City, it feels like those such as Daniel Arzani (on loan at Celtic) and Pedro Porro (on loan at Real Valladolid) are not currently at the level to contribute to City, and are more likely to be sold on for a profit.

From an overall season point of view, City’s attack is the best it’s ever been under Guardiola — City create more expected goals (or xG) than any other side — although the trends noted earlier are worthy of attention when football resumes.

The defence is the key cause for concern for City’s management hierarchy. This is the weakest the team has been at the back since Guardiola arrived and shouldn’t be so flimsy that the injury of one player — Aymeric Laporte, in this case — can seemingly throw everything into disarray. Fernandinho took on Laporte’s role like a duck to water but in his advancing years, he can’t always be called upon to plug City’s gaps.

Overall, this is a City team who are healthy but do need strengthening in some key positions. It should also be noted that there is not such a pressing need to boost their homegrown quota this summer. In short, Premier League squads can have no more than 17 overseas players in their squad and this season, City have 17.

In fact, they had to cancel a proposed move for veteran Spanish keeper Asier Riesgo in favour of former England international Scott Carson. And had they been able to sell Nicolas Otamendi last summer, they would have been far more likely to bring in a new overseas centre-back as an alternative to top choice Harry Maguire.

Next season, City will have much more wiggle room, with Claudio Bravo and David Silva expected to leave at the end of their contracts, Leroy Sane lining up a move to Bayern Munich and, possibly, Otamendi and even Joao Cancelo moving on. City could bring in four or five new overseas players. To top up the squad to 25 (or at least the 21/22 level), they would need top-class English players or under-21s (who do not count towards the limit of 25). At the moment, the most viable options are Sterling, Stones, Kyle Walker and Phil Foden. So while they are always sought-after, there is no especially pressing need to buy local players this summer.

The squad below includes the main players who have featured for the club this season and a couple of others who, potentially, could feature for the team in the near future for one reason or another.


Starting in goal, Ederson will be City’s No 1 for quite some time and behind him, a few players will sense an opportunity with Bravo’s contract set to expire. Aro Muric has already returned from an unsuccessful loan spell at Nottingham Forest and counts as a homegrown player, which at least means he won’t take up an overseas spot. The American Zack Steffen is potentially another CFG buy-to-sell player. With Carson’s loan from Derby ending, City may want another similarly-profiled keeper (homegrown/experienced) for continuity. Joe Hart, anyone?

At left-back, Angelino was a cut-price cover option and given his time at Leipzig is going well, he could be one of the shrewdest buy-backs in CFG history, making the club a hefty profit if they do sell him this summer, although his €30 million clause is harder to meet in the current climate.

City would need to reinvest those funds at left-back, however, given Benjamin Mendy’s lack of fitness holding him back from nailing down a starting berth and expectations around Oleksandr Zinchenko — another value signing — fading somewhat during a tricky season.

Laporte is the only natural left-footed centre-back option, with the others all right-footed. City hope to sign at least one central defender this summer. Stones has found himself out of the squad more and more this season, with Guardiola concerned about his focus. Otamendi came close to leaving the club last summer and has had a disappointing season.

Eric Garcia impressed on his first-team outings this season and may be given additional minutes next year but at 19 years old, is still one for the future. Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 18, is similar to Garcia in that he’s one for the future but might be a useful rotation piece in cup competitions next season.

Tosin Adarabioyo, impressing on loan at Blackburn, has just a year left to run on his contract after the summer and while a dire financial situation could make him a handy option, selling him and reinvesting the money seems a more likely outcome. Philippe Sandler, on loan at Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht, is another who has an outside chance of contributing to City in the future but similarly to Adarabioyo, he could be sold on.

Fernandinho may well continue in defence as Laporte’s partner once we resume the season but that only serves to highlight that cover is certainly needed.

The ghost of Dani Alves’ shock snub in 2017 continues to loom over City’s right-back position; Walker has always been a trusted option and will continue to be despite some recent concerns but Joao Cancelo, who signed last summer to replace the wantaway Danilo, is already being linked with a move away. The Portugal international is a great example of City’s squad-building realities: he is experienced at the top level for both club and country, his price tag reflected a level of supposed assurance, and he should be a huge asset to the squad — but he has struggled to adapt to City’s style and has barely played.

Holding midfield is a curious position for City, too; Fernandinho is still their best option but he has not played there since last season and may well never go back. Rodri has not had the ideal debut season but the coaching staff expected some ups and downs and he is being taught, effectively, to press and tackle like Fernandinho — not an easy task. Gundogan has the ability to run games from there and may even be a better option than Rodri on his day but is more likely to partner the Spaniard in a double pivot than replace him.

Gundogan has also been used as a “free 8” but has, perhaps understandably, not been able to consistently replicate what De Bruyne and David Silva offer. With David Silva leaving ahead of next season, De Bruyne and Foden are the only two remaining players likely to consistently play there, unless City strengthen their attack and move Bernardo Silva back.

The case could be made here that with Silva leaving, City need to strengthen with an attacking midfielder. Guardiola has talked up Foden as Silva’s replacement and he will be held to that by fans and media alike but a new signing who can share minutes with Foden would be ideal — although perhaps fanciful.

Discussing City’s lack of depth starts to look a little silly when it comes to the front line: by signing a replacement for the likely outgoing Sane, they could put Sterling back on the right, competing with Riyad Mahrez, and use Bernardo in midfield. Of course, Sterling could still be used on the left in some games, and that variety is sure to help him, as well as City.

There is also some hope that highly-rated youngster Jayden Braaf could be promoted, but beyond some strong concerns about his attitude, he is also much more inconsistent than Guardiola demands. Only a completely new financial reality (one which inhibits new signings) is likely to accelerate his progression.

Finally: No 9. While Sterling and others have moonlighted at times, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are the only two out-and-out strikers that City have played in the Premier League since Kelechi Iheanacho in 2016-17. Aguero only has a year left on his current deal and given the current market, it would make sense to keep hold for as long as possible.

The jury still feels out on Gabriel Jesus and City have been looking for a new No 9 for over a year but he’s still just 23, is working incredibly hard, and his underlying numbers are remarkable. Jesus’ non-penalty xG — the quality of chances he gets for himself — are the highest in the league with 0.83 per 90 minutes, some distance ahead of Sergio Aguero’s 0.71. When (or if) he sharpens his finishing, he has what it takes to lead the line for City. In the current market, it makes very little sense to move him on.

The argument could be made that City are a long-term injury away from a striker crisis but that threat has remained the same since Iheanacho left in 2017 and with Sterling for back-up if required, City likely have enough here for another season — with an eye on a replacement for Aguero within the next few windows.

All in all, this is what the City squad is likely to look like next season, with the key areas that need strengthening highlighted.


With the help of Smarterscout, a site that gives detailed analytics on players all over the world, we can shortlist some potential options for City in the three core positions.

At left-back, City need a player capable of contributing to attacks, comfortable taking on a high volume of possession and able to dribble with the ball at their feet.

Among the top options on Smarterscout were Bayern’s Alphonso Davies and Real Madrid’s Marcelo — both deemed unlikely targets in this exercise — but the six names below offer a good mix of players in the prime of their careers, those who are a little younger and just coming into their peak, and a young option from the Netherlands.


Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro is likely a player very few are unfamiliar with at the moment: in the three games since the Bundesliga’s return, the Portugal international has scored three goals, giving him eight for the season, the best of his career.

Guerreiro fits the Guardiola mould perfectly for a full-back, as he’s previously spent time as a central midfielder in 2016-17 with Dortmund, making him adept at dropping infield when required.

Betis’ Alex Moreno and Atalanta’s Robin Gosens have similar profiles according to Smarterscout, with the former a more adept dribbler. Playing in Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta team has exposed Gosens to similar tactical concepts employed by Guardiola, as there’s a similar level of modularity, where players can swap positions and roles on the pitch on the fly. Gosens’ familiarity with this way of playing would make bedding into City’s team potentially a little easier.

Alex Grimaldo is a player who has been linked with City in the past and is a key attacking outlet for Benfica from left-back. Last season was Grimaldo’s best from an attacking point of view: four goals and 12 assists in a season in which Benfica won the title and there’s something to be said of his durability also — he has missed just 24 minutes of domestic football in the last two seasons.

Ben Chilwell was very close to becoming a City player last season until the plug was pulled in late April and at 23, would be a perfect buy to build for the future. England’s current starting left-back would likely command a hefty fee to move from Leicester but would prove a worthwhile investment if City can get the best years of his career from him, and of course, represents another much-needed homegrown option.

Lastly, Owen Wijndal is a player younger than both Zinchenko and Mendy but his starting berth for Alkmaar suggests he’s developing well for his age. Wijndal, like Gosens, doesn’t seem like a very frequent dribbler but his scores on Smarterscout for link passing and receiving in the penalty area are maxed out, suggesting that he’s involved a lot for a left-back in getting on the ball, and making attacking runs up the field to get involved in the attacking phase — both useful skills for a City left-back.

City need options at both centre-back sides: back-up for Laporte and a potential starter on the right side. With the centre-back options, the key qualities are being able to carry and pass the ball out of the back, and also some ability to defend. Having a physically robust defender who can win their duels out of possession will add an extra dimension to the dynamic play required when on the ball.

Again thanks to Smarterscout, we have a shortlist of five players. While the likes of Raphael Varane or Leverkusen’s Edmond Tapsoba would be ideal, the following are all slightly younger and, to varying degrees, able to contribute now but also anchor City’s back line for years to come.


Milan Skriniar is the first option and at 25, is the oldest player on the list. Having accrued over 8,000 minutes for Inter Milan in the last three seasons, he has plenty of experience at a good level of European football. Despite Smarterscout not fancying him that much as a right centre-back, the reason is that the majority of his minutes have come on the left side of defence. Regardless, Skriniar is right-footed and fits the age profile well for City.

Benfica’s Ruben Dias is a player that interests City but with a €100 million release clause in the contract he signed during the winter, that may dissuade the powers-that-be from bringing him to the Etihad. Again, Smarterscout isn’t a huge fan of Dias’ ability from a defensive perspective but he’s an able carrier of the ball and is one of the more able forward-passers on the list.

Stefan Posch is a well-rounded option, carrying and passing forwards at decent rates compared to other right centre-backs playing at a Premier League standard, although the fact he is relatively weak in aerial duels may count against him. He’s one to watch during the rest of the Bundesliga season.

Another option from Serie A is Nikola Milenkovic, who’s played the most domestic minutes out of all of the options. He is just 22, but a great dribbler and similar to Posch in that he’s an active defender — looking to win the ball back if it’s near him — with Dias and Skriniar less so. On paper, Milenkovic may fit the mould perfectly for what City are looking for.

The last couple of options are likely too young for City to become starters but are worth a mention nonetheless. Boubacar Kamara is not yet 21 but has 5,000 minutes under his belt for Marseille, splitting his time between centre-back and defensive midfield. That versatility would help cover a couple of positions in City’s squad and may make him a longer-term replacement for Fernandinho.

Wesley Fofana may be in the shadow of Arsenal’s William Saliba at Saint-Etienne but, at 19, is shaping up to have solid career. The 99/99 rating for defending quantity is intriguing, making Fofana one of the most active defenders in Europe. Whether that hunger to win the ball back means he’s poor positionally would require some intense video scouting but he is sure to be on City’s long scouting lists somewhere.

At left centre-back, a fit-again Aymeric Laporte will take up as many minutes as possible but an understudy would be useful to have in the squad.


Pau Torres is the most experienced option on the list, with a release clause of €50 million. City had made tentative enquiries back in the winter but the lines of communication have gone cold. Torres is an adept dribbler and passes forward more than the others on the list but is relatively weak in the air. Sources close to him had hoped for a big move this summer, possibly to Barcelona or Arsenal, after the Euros, but, of course, things are up in the air now.

The other three options are less well-rounded. Ben Godfrey’s included mainly as there might be value in getting him on a lower fee should Norwich get relegated from the Premier League. While it may not show through in the Smarterscout data, Godfrey is a decent long passer and plays in a Norwich team whose approach to playing out of the back isn’t a million miles away from what City try to do.

Elias Cobbaut plays for Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht and with the former City captain at the helm, City are likely to get as honest a scouting assessment as possible as to whether Cobbaut would be a good fit or not. With the ball at his feet, Cobbaut is an able dribbler and progressive passer, it’ll be the off-the-ball actions that determine the quality of the fit.

Dayot Upamecano, a “man-mountain range” in the words of Rapha Honigstein, rounds off the left centre-back shortlist. Upamecano is a very active defender, who is more than comfortable carrying the ball out from the back and is the best individual tackler on the list. Upamecano is predominantly right-footed, so could also provide cover on the right side of defence, too.

Away from the defence, the rest of the squad is relatively well-stocked, apart from at left wing. With the aforementioned Sane transfer to Bayern in the pipeline, a proven replacement is required to contribute minutes and, more importantly, goals. Again, this shortlist is a mix of players that are well known, those that have some following, and a couple of wildcards.

The metrics in the table below relate mostly to scoring and getting into dangerous positions from the wing. The attack rating is powered by a player’s contributions to goalscoring, either through getting into good positions to score goals themselves, creating chances for others, or getting the ball into threatening positions. The dribble rating rewards players for beating more difficult-to-beat opponents, giving credit to those who beat the odd man in a game but impacts those who are consistently taking on and beating poor one-vs-one tacklers.


Despite mainly being deployed on the right wing, Serge Gnabry has featured on the left to equally deadly effect — just ask Chelsea and Spurs in the Champions League this season. Gnabry’s pretty much good at everything that’s required from Guardiola and at 24, is only going to get better. City are among the teams to believe swap deals will be prominent this summer and they could do worse than swap him for Sane. He’s also homegrown as he came through at Arsenal.

Despite also playing fewer minutes at left wing compared to his primary position as an attacking midfielder, Jack Grealish features due to his great attack rating. Without Grealish, Villa would no doubt be in a tougher position than the one they currently find themselves in. His shooting volume and ability to receive in the box is likely driven by team effects (i.e. Villa not being a great attacking side) and the bigger question marks are whether he’s a player who needs complete freedom to thrive, or if he can play in a well-regimented tactical system. Even if he’s not an option on the wing, he could bolster the free 8 roles.

Marcus Thuram is shining at Monchengladbach and, despite also mainly being a striker, performs well on the wing. His dribble rating of 98 is the best of all players on the shortlist, and eight goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga show a player capable of both creating and scoring, another requirement of a left winger for City.

Mikel Oyarzabal and Leon Bailey are both names who’ve been publicly linked to the club in recent months. The former’s numbers don’t exactly pop off the page but he looks like a solid contributor for Real Sociedad, and sources close to the player indicated last summer that he was primed to move to City if Sane’s move to Bayern had gone through. Bailey’s season has been blighted by injuries but in limited minutes, his underlying numbers look solid. He’s another whose durability should be questioned — starting just half of the games on offer in the last three Bundesliga seasons. He was high on City’s shortlist when they eventually plumped for Mahrez in 2018 but his chance may have passed.

Harvey Barnes is a bit of a wildcard and might not be the first name on everyone’s lips but he shares a lot of similarities with Sane. For a start, Barnes is rapid, both with and without the ball. Looking at his Smarterscout ratings, he’s potentially a bit of an underrated contributor to Leicester’s attack from the left wing and has contributed six goals and six assists so far this season. Predominantly right-footed, Barnes would be comfortable cutting inside, like City’s forwards so often do, although teams have managed to frustrate Sterling this season.

Cody Gakpo is a younger option again. Similar to Barnes, he has seven goals and six assists, but in fewer minutes, giving him a higher goal contribution per 90 minutes played. This is his first full season at PSV but given the difference in strength of the leagues, it might be too much of a step up to contribute a lot in season one — but expect to see Gakpo at a top European side before long.

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Newcastle could spend big on transfers without penalty, accounts suggest



Mike Ashley’s parsimony might have held Newcastle United back but the club’s latest accounts show that his frugality also means any new owners could still spend heavily, even in an era of financial fair play.

While the Premier League’s FFP regulations prevent the sort of short-term spending spree that followed the sale of Chelsea or Manchester City, the top flight’s limit of £105 million of cumulative losses over a three-year rolling period does still leave room for prospective new owners to underwrite notable funding.

In Newcastle’s case, their accounts for the year up to June 30, 2019, which were released in the past few days, highlight that their margin for spending is one of the greatest among top-flight clubs.

Should the Amanda Staveley-led consortium looking to acquire the club receive Premier League ratification, then in a solitary season, they could feasibly look to spend between £100 million and £150 million in the transfer market without worrying about FFP breaches.

In theory, that number could prove to be even higher, although it is difficult to fix an exact figure. These latest accounts are for the 2018-19 campaign — not the current one — and the entire football industry is yet to discover the extent of the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, even if the specific figure is hard to establish, a club that has recorded a profit in eight of the past nine years — with the 2016-17 campaign in the Championship the only exception — is ideally placed to absorb expenditure on transfers. That is not the same among other clubs trying to break into the elite. Everton, for example, made losses of £111.8 million last year, meaning any future investment owner Farhad Moshiri makes must be made with FFP in mind.


For Newcastle, their profit after tax in 2018-19 was £34.7 million, up from £18.6 million the year before. The club’s wage-to-turnover revenue is just 54.9 per cent, the sixth lowest in the Premier League and well below their target ceiling of 60 per cent. And, aside from the £111 million of long-term interest-free loans owed to Ashley, Newcastle are debt-free.

Justin Barnes, Ashley’s close associate, was tasked four years ago with streamlining Newcastle and ensuring the club was in an attractive, saleable position. On the evidence of the latest accounts, that is exactly what he has done.

Yet, while the landscape for potential squad investment appears favourable for prospective new owners, Staveley’s consortium would not inherit a club without issues should they receive Premier League approval for their takeover.

For a start, match-day revenue this season is almost certain to have declined from the £24.8 million taken last season.

While Newcastle’s mean average attendance in 2018-19 was 51,116, their median gates have reduced by almost 3,000 to 48,248 during the current campaign. Physical attendances have, anecdotally, appeared far lower than that anyway and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) also claims that the club confirmed to them that 5,000 season ticket holders forgave their annual passes last summer.

Although that means there are likely to still be about 30,000 season ticket holders — about 20,000 of whom are on long-term price-freeze deals — the attendance issue became so acute that, in December, about 10,000 additional half-season tickets were given away free of charge. Even if there is the expected spike in interest for season tickets if Ashley leaves, match-day revenue — which makes up 14 per cent of the club’s overall turnover of £176.4 million — will be reduced for 2019-20.

That will be further exacerbated by the fact Newcastle still have five home matches remaining this season. No refund schedule has been communicated by the club, despite the Premier League confirming all fixtures will be behind closed doors. The issue could be left for new owners to resolve if they do take charge.

Not only have direct debit payments continued to be taken for 2019-20 season tickets but some fans on long-term plans have also seen their money — often amounting to hundreds of pounds — taken for the 2020-21 campaign.

There are doubts as to whether any matches will be in front of fans at St James’ Park next season — meaning a sixth of the club’s annual revenue may disappear — yet, despite the uncertainty, Newcastle have still not outlined to supporters when, or indeed if, they will be reimbursed.

With the majority of the club’s non-playing employees on furlough — the government is paying 80 per cent of their wages and Newcastle are topping up the rest — box-office staff have been unavailable to answer fan queries, while there has been no correspondence from managing director Lee Charnley to supporters.

From a purely business perspective, the furloughing of staff has reduced costs over the past two months, potentially alleviating losses. However, drawing from the public purse has led to criticism. The prospective owners have already indicated they would bring employees back off the public payroll.

If optics are the issue when it comes to furloughing, particularly with the playing squad and coaching staff yet to take a pay cut or wage deferral, then economics is the concern when it comes to club debt. As of June 30, 2019, Newcastle’s only outstanding debt was £111 million owed to Ashley, a figure which would be wiped out as part of the £300 million price agreed for the purchase of the club.

However, the confirmation that Ashley repaid himself £33 million last season — to return funds he loaned the club during the 2016-17 Championship campaign — could potentially impact upon Newcastle’s ability to navigate the financial turbulence caused by the coronavirus. The club’s cash reserves decreased from £33.8 million to just £14 million. That £19.8 million year-on-year loss could have been lower had Ashley not reclaimed that short-term loan, potentially leaving Newcastle with greater leeway to mitigate against the current challenges.

Yet Ashley’s austere approach also highlights growth opportunities for Newcastle’s revenue streams.

First of all, the club’s commercial revenue stands at just £26.2 million, down £500,000 on the previous season, a drop which the club said was due to “the success, in the prior year, of the three Ed Sheeran concerts” at St James’. Amazingly, that 2018-19 figure is £1.4 million down on 2006-07 (£27.6 million), the year before Ashley took control.


In fact, although Newcastle’s revenue has grown by £89 million since 2007, that appreciation has come almost exclusively from an increase in Premier League TV money, rather than any other income stream.

According to Swiss Ramble, a respected football business blogger, Everton (£41 million), West Ham United and Leicester City (both £36 million) all made substantially more than Newcastle commercially last year, while Manchester United recouped almost 10 times as much from sponsorship tie-ups.


To show how far Newcastle have fallen behind in this area, their commercial revenues can be compared to Tottenham, whom they previously outperformed. In 2006-07, the year before Ashley became involved at St James’ Park, Tottenham made £25.4 million from this revenue stream, £2.2 million less than Newcastle. Last year,  Tottenham made £135 million commercially, five times the amount of Newcastle’s equivalent returns.

This summer, Newcastle’s main shirt sponsorship deal with Chinese betting company Fun88 is due to expire while they also need a new sleeve sponsor. And, although a one-year extension is believed to have been provisionally agreed with Puma to supply the kit next season, a long-term partnership can still be put out for tender.

With both their shirt sponsor and supplier deals each believed to be worth about £6.5 million a season, there appears to be room for appreciation, particularly considering that more than half of top-flight sides reportedly have more valuable annual headline commercial deals.

What’s more, Ashley’s Fraser Group paid £1.1 million to the club for advertising at the stadium last season, where, at one count, there were more than 130 Sports Direct hoardings, which Newcastle have stated increased to £2 million for the current campaign. Whether there is scope to recoup greater revenue by attracting other sponsors to advertise at the stadium is unclear but could be explored.

What these accounts also underline is the necessity of regular Champions League football to dramatically change Newcastle’s financial situation. The Athletic understands that the club’s prospective owners have commissioned detailed financial forecasting models and they too recognise the importance of Newcastle appearing in Europe when it comes to materially increasing turnover, profitability and therefore the club’s potential value.


According to Swiss Ramble, Tottenham have earned approximately £195 million from playing in the Champions League over the past four years, while Newcastle have received just £4.5 million from European involvement during the entire Ashley era, with their sole continental competition appearance in the 2012-13 Europa League.

Newcastle’s broadcast revenue was £123.9 million in 2018-19 and came almost solely from the Premier League but the six clubs that played in Europe last season received between £34 million (Arsenal, who reached the Europa League final) and £98 million (Liverpool, who won the Champions League) from their continental exploits.

Finally, Newcastle’s accounts also show that their profits in recent years have largely been driven by impressive player sales. While Ashley’s willingness to adopt a buy-to-sell model has affected Newcastle’s on-field performance, it has helped improve the balance sheet.

Newcastle’s net transfer spend was just £400,000 in 2018-19 — it is £48 million this season — and that was largely due to the sales of Aleksandar Mitrovic (£22 million), Mikel Merino (£10 million) and Chancel Mbemba (£6 million). Subsequently, Ayoze Perez was also sold to Leicester City for £30 million, too.

The club is still owed £48 million in transfer fees by other clubs, with those deals agreed in instalments, while Newcastle themselves must still pay out £12 million for players they have bought. That is despite Ashley having attempted to pay as many transfer fees upfront as possible, given the legacy of Freddy Shepherd’s chairmanship, who departed with millions of pounds still owed by the club on previous transactions.

Ultimately, what Newcastle’s latest accounts show is a club well-placed for investment from prospective new owners. Many believe that Ashley’s approach stymied the team for years but, paradoxically, it has also left Newcastle as a more attractive proposition to those with the ambition to grow the club.

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Pochettino: No team changed English football like my Southampton side



Former Southampton and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino believes he and his coaching team are responsible for deep changes in how football is played in England.

Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins as Southampton coach in January 2013, and quickly built a new, young team which played an attractive high-tempo style, with possession and pressing key attributes as they first avoided relegation, then established themselves in the top half of the Premier League over the next 18 months.

Speaking on La Liga TV show Guillem Balague’s Talking Football, to be aired on Sky Channel 435 on Monday at 8pm (BST), the Argentinian shares the idea that he and his staff revolutionised thinking on the game in England, well before Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool in October 2015, or Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City the following summer.

“Football in England changed with that Southampton team of 2013-14, there is no other team that had as big an impact in changing the mindset,” Pochettino says. “We arrived at a club with a president like Nicola Cortese who gave us what we needed to create something unique in English football. Our ability to adapt to a completely different environment was incredible. We found a group of players who wanted to learn from the experiences we brought from Spanish football, and with the quality to play a different style of football to that which everyone in English football was used to. Young players started to appear, and people started to trust in young players, also in the English national team.”

Pochettino also says that, as Espanyol coach from 2009 to 2012, he and his collaborators Toni Jimenez, Jesus Perez and Miguel D’Agostino had introduced a positive way of playing the game which was later followed by other teams in La Liga and Europe.

“At Espanyol, we were the first coaching staff who started to teach exercises to bring the ball out from the back,” he says. “The facts are there. Just watch any game from around 2010 and 2011, the ball is played out from the goal. When previously it was always hit long. We started with that, and many people are a bit surprised. Everyone talks of Barcelona, Madrid, Milan. No, no, it was Espanyol, with Ernesto Galan, Jordi Amat, Raul Rodriguez, David Lopez, Didac Vila, Victor Ruiz, Raul Baena, Juan Forlin, Javi Marquez. Many of those players grew up with a style of play and philosophy different from modern football played today.”

Pochettino saved Espanyol from relegation on arrival as coach in January 2009, including a run of eight wins and a draw in 10 La Liga matches. By December 2010 they were challenging towards the top of the table, only for the club’s perilous financial situation to mean key defenders Ruiz and Vila were sold in the winter transfer window.

“I remember very well a conversation with the board in December, when we were fourth, and we received offers from Milan and Napoli for Vila and Ruiz,” Pochettino says. “I told the directors to wait six months, until the end of the season. We’ll do well, they will get more experience, and we’ll sell these players for even more money. They said fine, but how do we pay the next paycheque for Carmelo the groundsman, or Ramon the masseur? I’m not talking about the players, but people who need their salary every month to buy a pair of shoes for their kids.

“It was a necessity to sell. We replaced them with Victor Alvarez and Jordi Amat. We finished the season in eighth place, with two 18-year-old kids (Amat and Alvarez). People then said we lacked ambition, this and that about the coach. Bad people take advantage, enemies, in such situations, people who were against what we were trying to do.”

Further important players left over the next 18 months, including striker Dani Osvaldo and Cameroon goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, and Pochettino and his coaching team were sacked in November 2012 with the team bottom of the Primera Division table.

“Looking at the situation we were in, we should not have stayed that season,” Pochettino says. “We stayed, a bit because of the love we felt for the club, knowing it was going to be very difficult. Things had changed over the previous six months, we had to change the philosophy. We had to bring in people with experience. In making that change, we were no longer doing what we had done well. That generated this negativity, and in the end, the results meant we had to leave.”

This experience with Espanyol has certain similarities to Pochettino’s time in charge of Tottenham from summer 2014 to November 2019, when the team made huge initial progress but then stalled due to financial restrictions — in this case, Tottenham’s move to a new stadium hampering their ability to strengthen a team that reached the 2019 Champions League final.

Now regularly linked with returning to the Premier League with Manchester United or Newcastle United, Pochettino suggests in the La Liga interview that any new employer must understand that hiring him means bringing in his staff, too, to help manage all the elements required for a successful team.

“The manager used to take care of practically everything, but he had less tasks and responsibilities,” he says. “Today the responsibility is so big that you need five or six leaders, in different areas. And that the players, the squad, the club who hires you must know that this coaching team has leadership, a heart and a brain that commands with everybody involved. The idea of one leader, with everyone else just subjects who obey, that is long gone now. Modern football clubs need the leadership of a coaching team, not just one manager.”


Pochettino says he could return to Espanyol at some point, but sees his next club as being one capable of challenging for trophies, even if that is not the only way to judge the success of a spell in charge of any team.

“That moment will arrive when we (he and his coaching team) have to win a trophy,” he says. “Society only recognises the one that wins a title and lifts it. We are in this fight to try to do that. But we have lifted many ‘trophies’. When you leave a good impression with the people you worked with, helped people to progress or when people are proud to have worked with you — they are also trophies that must be celebrated.”

During the 45 minute conversation with Balague, Pochettino also recalls his time as a player at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, when his coach was current Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa.

“I was not only lucky to have a coach like Marcelo, but also to live in a dressing room with these type of leaders who taught you every little detail,” he says. “I remember arriving at the team hotel and it was time to eat, but you did not sit down until the senior players had told you where to sit. If you poured out some water, you had to serve them before yourself. That was manners. There were many rules that you picked up that way.”

As Bielsa’s Newell’s team won the 1990-91 Argentine Primera Division and 1992 Torneo Clausura, part of his method was to take the squad to closed camps at a military school outside the city of Rosario.

“We trained at the military school on Friday morning, and slept there until Sunday when we played,” Pochettino says. “There was just one phone, for everyone, including the students there. We were all different but we had to open up and understand how to live together, and accept things, even if you did not like it. It was a way to generate this strength, which you need in the end. Football is a collective game.

“In the last 10 years, things have changed, and not for the better. It has become more individual, but football was born from a collective spirit. That is why I like rugby a lot, the spirit they have maintained, almost amateur-like. In rugby, the biggest figure still needs the smallest figure to be successful. The most talented player still needs the defender, the worker, to do his job well.”

Pochettino says he sees a key challenge for the modern coach is preparing today’s player to keep a clear head and make the correct decision in high-pressure environments.

“In the decisive moments the stress, pressure and atmosphere grows, and you need cold blood to make the best decisions to win tournaments,” he says. “You try to give the players the tools so that in these decisive moments, they don’t feel the stress so much. It is different from other sports, like golf or tennis. In football you can have 80,000 people shouting at you in the most important moment, when you have to make the right decision. That is why football is such a complex sport, and psychology in football is different than for any other athlete. Whether you are going for a trophy, or you are fighting against relegation, the stress leaves its mark on your body. That is when you fall back on your habits, that helps you to deal with the emotional load.”

After moving to Espanyol in 1994, the long-haired central defender quickly became a key figure in a team which made a big impact in La Liga’s top half through the late 1990s and won the 2000 Copa del Rey.

“You cannot choose to be a leader, neither can you just point to one,” he says when asked if leaders are born or made. “I felt it, but in a natural way. I did not try to act in a certain way, I did what I felt, what I always did naturally. That transmitted calm or security to my team-mates so they could use the talent that they had, and take the correct decisions. ‘Calm’ is a strong tool. It gives you control in a stressful situation, a roadmap to do what you need to do.

“When you show nerves, it means you do not have a way to resolve a problem. When you manage a group of people, you must show that you know what you are doing, that all is under control. Even if you know it is not. That is the most important thing.”

Pochettino left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001, when Espanyol needed money from his transfer, later returning for two more seasons which included another Copa del Rey victory in 2006.

“Winning a Copa del Rey with Espanyol was more important even than some other teams winning a European Cup,” he says. “I loved the club and was really committed to playing in the city where you were always in the shadow of Barcelona. It was always about going against the flow.”

His playing career ended sooner than he had expected. When Ernesto Valverde arrived as Espanyol coach in summer 2006, the 34-year-old defender with the big character was not in his plans.

“I cried then. I am a guy who cries a lot, not when I lose a game, but for emotional reasons,” Pochettino says. “Ernesto’s decision was understandable. I have spoken with him since and we have a good relationship. These are decisions that football coaches have to take. I would manage it differently myself, but I don’t say it was managed badly. It hurt as I thought I could play maybe another season more. But it helped me to be able to widen my vision and do other things. The decisions coaches take can generate many ‘ghosts’: some are real, others don’t exist. I learned a lot about how to manage myself as a coach, to understand these situations.”

Guillem Balague’s Talking Football interview with Mauricio Pochettino airs Monday at 8pm BST on La Liga TV.

La Liga TV, featuring ALL live matches from Spain’s top flight, is available FREE to Sky UK customers during the entire month of June.

To sign up, visit premiersports.com and enter promo code: BACKTOWIN

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Aston Villa academy player Bradley Young stabbed in park



Aston Villa’s promising academy striker Bradley Young was stabbed at a Solihull park on Friday evening, The Athletic can reveal.

The 17-year-old, who plays for Villa’s under-18 side, was treated at the park and taken to hospital after the attack, which happened near to the football pitches in Elmdon Park just before 9.30pm.

Young’s injuries were not life-threatening and he is now on the mend. West Midlands police confirmed that three people were arrested and have been released on bail until later this month.

A statement was issued over the weekend saying that “a man aged 24 has been arrested on suspicion of wounding and drugs possession, while two others, a man and a woman, have been held on suspicion of wounding”.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear but will continue to be dealt with by the police. Villa are aware of the incident but were unavailable for comment.

Young is yet to feature for the Villa’s senior side or under-23s but he is recognised as one of the most talented teenagers rising through the ranks at Bodymoor Heath.

Young has grown up close to the Solihull area and has been trying to forge a career at Villa since leaving school two years ago. He turns 18 in August and is known to first-team staff, who closely monitor the progress of development players to see whether they should be promoted into a higher age category or integrated into training sessions with the seniors.

A regular for the under-18s, Young has scored four goals in 16 appearances in the Under-18 Premier League and his tough and fearless style has stood out in his displays. He may be slight in appearance but there is a resilience to his game that makes it difficult for opponents.

Villa’s academy is currently undergoing a major overhaul as the club looks to fill the under-23 side with teenagers full of potential rather than players heading towards the age limit cut-off.

Young is a player who has a chance to kick on and develop, and is already in good company with star under-18 performers Carney Chukwuemeka and Aaron Ramsey. The 19-year-old striker Indiana Vassilev has shown this season there is a pathway into the first team for talented youngsters.

Anyone with information about the incident has been asked to contact West Midlands Police via Live Chat at www.west-midlands.police.uk, via 101, or via Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, quoting log 4209 of May 29.

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The Telegraph

Friday June 5 2020

Football Nerd

Why dribbling is more valuable than ever and no longer football's 'lost art'


By Daniel Zeqiri

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire has been a key part of Man Utd's ball progression this season CREDIT: REUTERS

Through football's coronavirus hiatus, we are committed to providing a weekly newsletter of facts, analysis and retrospectives. If there is a topic you want us to cover please email sportnewsletters@telegraph.co.uk. Above all, stay safe.


Dribbling and tackling are habitually described as football's two lost arts, but a quick survey of the Premier League suggests the primal skill of taking the ball and running straight at the opposition is still prized.

Analysis of Bundesliga football has observed fewer tackles per game since the sport's resumption post-lockdown, which could offer the division's best ball-carriers even more incentive to take players on.

Top flight football returns in England with Aston Villa v Sheffield United on June 17, and there can be no doubt that Villa's chances of survival rest at the feet of Jack Grealish.

Grealish's cavalier style and bravery both to receive the ball under opposition pressure and ride agricultural challenges has delighted neutrals. The sight of an outstanding individual rescuing a team also resonates with the Roy of the Rovers motif embedded in English football's psyche.

Grealish has drawn 127 fouls from opposition players this season, 34 more than Wilfried Zaha who has drawn the second most. Grealish has been fouled more than Adama Traore and Richarlison combined.

There are several ways of measuring the effectiveness of dribbling. One metric in which Grealish shows up well is Progressive Carrying Distance, the cumulative distance travelled towards the opponent's goal with ball at feet across the season.

Grealish is second in the league in this metric, carrying the ball 6,972 yards since the start of the season. Only Zaha has posted a higher number, with Adama Traore and Harry Maguire rounding out the top four. Yes that's right, Harry Maguire.

age mistmatches graph


Maguire is the only central defender in the top 10, so this method of distribution is both striking and highly unusual. When we talk about defenders playing out from the back, we tend to focus on line-breaking passes and long switches of play. The ability to drive forward with the ball is an overlooked skill. 

Maguire's 6,187 yards carried also reflects a tendency of Manchester United's opponents to sit deep. Teams dropping off to cover the speed of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James offer Maguire the invitation to begin one of his forays forward. 

Since Michael's Carrick retirement, United have lacked a top class distributor in deep midfield so Maguire stepping in to this area of the pitch could well be born of necessity.

In fact, there might be occasions when passing early and circulating the ball with the minimum of touches is preferable. A centre-back carrying the ball before passing can make things more congested for the receiver. 

Do these numbers mean Maguire is one of the league's best dribblers? Not quite.

Maguire has played every minute of United's Premier League season so his cumulative numbers are bound to swell. When Progessive Carrying Distance per 90 minutes is calculated, Maguire drops to 43rd - though that is still neck and neck with Nicolas Pepe and ahead of Giovani Lo Celso. 

Moreover, you do not actually need to beat an opposition player to record a Progressive Carrying Distance. 

When it comes to Players Dribbled Past across the whole season, Zaha remains well out in front 145 and you can rest easy...Maguire is nowhere to be seen in the top 10. 

Traore is a commendable second with 127 and his Wolves team-mate Diogo Jota is fourth with 72, which makes it plain to see why Nuno Espirito Santo's team have such a slippery and dangerous attack.

Sandwiched between them is Norwich's Emi Buendia, who could be one of the bargains of the summer for those seeking a dexterous and creative midfielder. As well as gliding past players, Buendia's Expected Assists per 90 minutes is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez. No wonder many judges consider Norwich the best ever team to be bottom of the Premier League.


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Pick of the week


"The presence of Kane and Son means Spurs will be a different side in June to what they would have been in April. Although lots of the focus will be on the availability of the England captain, it is Spurs’ ability to use Son which is the game-changer for Mourinho. Kane will score goals in any system, so the tactical shape is not necessarily compromised with or without him. It is Kane’s strike rate which makes him so important. "

Jamie Carragher on why Tottenham are lockdown's big winners - can they make the top four?

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As much as I despise United, I have to give big big credit to Rashford. He is a great example how to be humble and use the fame, connections and money in good way to help others and promote goodness.

In a football world full of divas and adults who act childish, Rashford is a nice change of pace and reminds me of old school strikers like Didi or Etoo who used their football achievements to do something good outside of football too. 

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Exclusive: Williams to be offered new deal by Manchester United



Manchester United are set to offer Brandon Williams a major new contract to reflect his status as a first-team player.

Williams currently earns £4,000 per week and United plan talks on a significantly improved deal that would see the 19-year-old paid in keeping with his role in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

Williams agreed his latest contract in October after playing twice for the first team, but his rapid progress this season, which caught many by surprise, has meant a renegotiation is necessary.

He made his debut as a substitute in the Carabao Cup win over Rochdale, followed by a first start away to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League, and has now featured 26 times, including nine Premier League starts, this season. Williams scored in the 3-3 draw at Sheffield United and has moved comfortably between left-back and left wing-back, even playing on the right flank at times.

He is expected to be an important figure on United’s run-in once the season resumes later this month, having gained high praise from Solskjaer at various points. After a stirring performance in the 4-0 win over Norwich City in January, the United manager said: “His hunger is a lesson for everyone who wants to be a footballer, the attitude he’s showing. It’ll be up to him, myself and the club to keep him that hungry. I don’t expect him to change because he’s got the heart for it.”

Later that month, United predecessor turned pundit Gary Neville wrote on Twitter: “I like Brandon Williams. He has that look in his eye of someone that would eat his opponent’s nose to win the match. Keep going, kid! Oh, he can play football, too, which is always a bonus.”

Solskjaer added: “He’s been absolutely outstanding since he came in. Every challenge we’ve put in front of him he’s tackled head-on.”

His impact has been noted at international level, too. Gareth Southgate is understood to believe Williams has the potential for full England honours. He impressed on his debut for England Under-20s this season and is expected to be called up by Aidy Bothroyd for the under-21s at the next opportunity.

Williams is from north Manchester and joined United’s academy aged seven. He has long told friends of his burning desire to make it at the club. Such was his ambition to play for United, he rejected loan offers last summer in the hope of breaking into the senior squad.

That single-mindedness has paid off and even though the speed of his acceleration into the team was unexpected, his high standards prompted figures within the club to speculate he had surpassed Luke Shaw as their best left-back at one stage.

Shaw responded with a series of excellent displays but the comparison now provides a reference for Williams’ negotiations. Shaw, as a full England international, is paid £190,000 per week.

United are very careful with players who come through their academy however, and Solskjaer subscribes to a philosophy where emerging talents are not given too much too soon. United’s manager took an early interest as far as Williams was concerned and his relatively modest current earnings reflect the club’s firm position.

When Williams signed his last contract in October his determination was to secure a place in Solskjaer’s side rather than gain a big pay rise on his previous deal, which had been his first as a professional.

But United made plain that further talks would take place once his position in the first-team had solidified and negotiations are now in the works. It is accepted that Williams is due a serious upgrade, with contemporaries earning considerably higher salaries. It is well known that Diogo Dalot, for instance, receives around £50,000 per week.

Williams is fully fit and ready for the restart of the Premier League, having kept busy during lockdown with regimes set by United’s sports scientists. He even roped in an unlikely companion for sessions, as revealed by coach Kieran McKenna.

“I think it’s important the players feel that sense of connection,” McKenna told United’s website. “I’ve tried to ring quite a few, especially the younger boys, to make sure they’re OK, and try to stop Brandon Williams tackling his dog on a regular basis!”

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Newcastle, Sunderland and shows of outright contempt for fans


Oh Sunderland and Newcastle!

It really wasn’t meant to be like this. As June approached, Newcastle fans were brimful of optimism that the long, drawn-out sale of their club by one universally reviled, despotic, tyrannical owner to another would finally be completed. They would be free to dream of a brave new dawn, a happy future in which Neymar was banging them in for fun up front and they were spending endless hours on the internet angrily pointing out London-based media agendas, typing the words “what about” more often than is humanly necessary and unconvincingly arguing that war crimes, beheadings and human rights abuses aren’t really anything to be concerned about if they are carried out in a way that doesn’t really affect you.

With no sign of the handover being completed, they remain on tenterhooks, the collective mood even more furious than usual as they accuse Newcastle’s hierarchy of a “dereliction of duty” for something that does affect them: the club’s ongoing refusal to loop them in on plans for season tickets and money already spent on them. With the remainder of the current campaign set to be played behind closed doors, card-holders understandably want to know if they’ll be getting refunds for matches they have paid for but will be unable to attend, while the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust also wants season ticket payments for the 2020-21 campaign suspended.

“Without supporters, Newcastle United does not exist,” it wrote. “We have previously contacted Newcastle United to express our concerns at the lack of action to assist its supporters in a time of need during this unprecedented global health and economic crisis. You have called on the fans of Newcastle United for support so often over the years and when we called for you to stand by your supporters, you did nothing.” Unsurprisingly, considering the outright contempt in which Newcastle fans are held by the club’s owner, no reply has yet been forthcoming, despite other top-flight clubs having reassured fans that they will be refunded one way or another for games they won’t get to see.

Newcastle supporters should perhaps be careful what they wish for, as their neighbours have made sure to keep fans well-informed about what will be happening with their season tickets, prompting further anger. The Basket Case club in whose direction other Basket Case clubs tug their forelocks, Sunderland announced they won’t be refunding season ticket holders if the season isn’t cut short and their three remaining home games are played behind closed doors. They will instead offer fans a pass to stream the matches at home, which is much the same as an airline refusing to refund that expensive ticket you paid for a now-cancelled flight to New York, but showing you some video footage of Central Park and the Statue of Liberty instead.

In an astonishing show of contempt, Sunderland have also told fans who renew their season tickets for the next campaign there will be no refunds for behind-closed-doors then either, only the same offer of a streaming pass which at £10 costs considerably less than a ticket. “What about families who have three or four season tickets in the same household? It’s nonsense,” thundered supporters group chief Michael Ganley. Despite claiming to be “in dialogue” with fans, Sunderland have yet to provide any satisfactory answers, but may well suggest each family member watches on a different device to ensure everyone gets maximum bang for their buck. 

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CAS General Secretary offers update on Man City appeal against UEFA ban

Matthieu Reeb, the General Secretary for the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has confirmed that Manchester City's appeal against their UEFA sanctions began over video conference earlier today.

City are appealing UEFA's decision to fine them around £25m and issue a two-year ban from European competition, including the Champions League, for 'serious breaches' of Financial Fair Play regulations.

The hearing, conducted remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, is closed to the public and media, and will take place from today (Monday June 8) until Wednesday (June 10).

According to AFP, Reeb confirmed that the hearing has begun and that the video conferencing arrangement is not posing any problems.

"The hearing has started well and the video conference is working well," Reeb is quoted as saying.

AFP also claim Reeb added that a verdict could be announced in July, as City wait eagerly to discover their fate.

He said: "Following the hearing, the Panel will deliberate and will start drafting the Arbitral Award containing its decision. It is not possible to predict at this time how long this process will take."

Other reports say City may have to wait until August to learn the verdict, but both City and UEFA would be keen to discover the result of the appeal before next season's Champions League competition begins.


Imagine if these tossers get away with it. 

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Herrera: I said ‘Jose, I’ll man-mark Hazard, even follow him to the bathroom’



Ander Herrera is casting his mind back to the half-time break in the away dressing room in Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

During an abject first 45 minutes in April 2018, Pep Guardiola’s champions-in-waiting had sliced Manchester United apart, racing into a two-goal lead. They were, by then, one half of football away from sealing the Premier League title against their fiercest rivals. Jose Mourinho, a long-time antagonist of Guardiola, would surely have seen it as a personal affront.

And then came the interval. Taking their seats in the dressing room, United’s players let loose. It is hard to overstate City’s excellence in that first half. They teased and tormented their rivals. The home fans sang “Championes” and blue smoke bombs permeated the air. Many United supporters watching on feared that scoreline might double in the second period.

“Me too, me too, as a player,” Herrera sighs. “It is true. I remember at half-time, the dressing room was a funeral. The first 45 minutes, they were amazing. I remember saying to my team-mates, ‘At least we need to go out there and make some tackles. Let’s go and make it difficult for them. We are going to make it nasty for them’. But, in my opinion, they were not humble enough after half-time and we are Manchester United. I think they didn’t think about that. When you are playing the biggest club in the UK, one of the biggest in the world, you cannot sleep even for 10 or 15 minutes because in 15 minutes, we went 3-2 up. Paul Pogba scored two and was amazing. It was probably Alexis Sanchez’s best 45 minutes at Manchester United.

“After the game, we knew they had some T-shirts prepared to say, ‘We did it in the derby day’ so, I think sometimes Karma works! OK, we were not champions but we did not let them do it on derby day, as they wanted to.”

Herrera lets out a little giggle and briefly pauses. In the coronavirus pandemic, he has been deprived of these days of sporting exhilaration and, now at Paris Saint-Germain, he is coming to terms with the dispiriting reality whereby French football has been called off until next season. Legal challenges have arisen, most notably from Lyon, who stand to miss out on European qualification. PSG remain in the Champions League after qualifying for the quarter-finals just before the lockdown but in the absence of domestic football, players will be acutely short of match fitness if the two European competitions do resume in August.

“We do not know what is going to happen,” Herrera says. “We don’t know if we will play the Champions League or not. We do not know if the government is going to allow us to play in France. This is a mess but we, my family, are in Spain, so we are fine. Lyon and PSG are not in the best situation. They took the decision too soon. I think it was too quick to cancel and finish the league. They could have waited a little bit longer to see what was going to happen, and now we can see with Germany and Spain starting back up and they have even pushed the first games before they were expected to be.

“We will try our best to prepare by training — probably we will play some friendly games — but it will never be the same (fitness level). It is all we can do; to try to compete between ourselves in training. I agree with the president of Lyon, who said a few weeks ago that the situation is horrible for French teams. It is not fair. But the government decided to finish the league and we have to adapt.”

Herrera is an unusual interviewee in modern football. He does not obfuscate in his answers and he does not shirk topics. A regular in the stands at his boyhood team Real Zaragoza, he describes himself as “a football fan as well as a football player” and it is why an interview with him often feels more like a conversation than a prod and poke exercise.

He admits he finds the idea of football played behind closed doors “horrible” but he is quickly theorising about how the sport may differ. He is hoping to hear more conversations between coaches, players and referees through the TV screen. He expects teams who press fast and high, such as Liverpool, to find life more difficult without supporters urging them on, while the Bundesliga has thrown up more away wins than home ones so far since its resumption.

Herrera says: “Some teams really feel the atmosphere of their fans. Liverpool are one example. Osasuna in Spain get a lot of points because the stadium is small, the fans are really close to the pitch; because they put pressure on the referee. Every team will suffer in this situation but there are some examples where they will suffer even more. It is going to be a new sport. For example, I think more penalties will be scored than before. When you train penalties, you normally score but in the game, it is a different pressure because of the fans.

“My view is that football without fans is nothing but we are realising now that football is a business. It is going to be horrible for football fans and football in general but we have to find ways to enjoy it. The most important thing is that the virus, step by step, disappears. A lot of people make a living through football, so I hope it is the shortest time possible without fans.

“Now in Spain, they talk about the chance to play with 30 per cent of fans, which would be OK, I think. Some bars and restaurants can open at 50 per cent capacity, so why in a stadium which is so open, outdoors, you cannot have some people? Of course, you have to respect distancing. People must travel sensibly and go an hour before, in small groups. It would need to be organised well but it is better than nothing. Everyone has to put their hand up to help in this situation.”

Back home in Zaragoza, Herrera put his hand up early. He made a sizeable donation and collaborated with local councils to organise funding and shopping for local elderly residents shielding during the pandemic. It is a mission he has embarked upon with his usual enthusiasm and zest. One former colleague at United privately compared Herrera recently to former Liverpool defender and now pundit Jamie Carragher; in his enthusiasm for the sport, his depth of knowledge and, in the nicest possible way, he is always talking.

Over an hour-long conversation with The Athletic, he speaks openly about his five years at Manchester United. He details the “disagreements” with Ed Woodward that led him to leave on a free transfer last summer, reflects on the management of Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while also offering his opinions and insight on some of United’s most contentious players, including Pogba and Sanchez.

First, to the good times.

It can be easy to forget, amid the heightened emotions and all the setbacks, that Manchester United have enjoyed some rather good days over the past seven years. After signing for the club in the summer of 2014, coinciding with the arrival of Van Gaal, Herrera featured in many of these happier times. He started the League Cup final win over Southampton and subsequent Europa League final defeat of Ajax in 2017. He assisted Anthony Martial’s winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final victory against Everton in 2016 and then scored the winner as Tottenham were beaten at the same stage two years later.

Among United supporters, he is probably most fondly remembered for a series of duels against Chelsea, where Mourinho, having reinvented Herrera as a snap-at-your-heels midfielder, challenged the Spaniard to man-mark Eden Hazard. Most successfully, it came to fruition in a 2-0 victory over Antonio Conte’s title-bound side in April 2017. On the day, Herrera made one goal, scored another and threw a blanket over Chelsea’s main man.

Herrera says: “Jose and I both knew Hazard was the best player, by far, in the Premier League at the time, so if we wanted to win that game, we needed him not to touch the ball, or at least as little as possible. That’s what we agreed. I said, ‘Jose, I am ready if you need me to man-mark him, to follow him everywhere. If he wants to go to the bathroom, I will go with him because I want to win the game’. The most important thing in football is that my team wins, because then I go to sleep happy. It does not matter what you have to do, as long as you respect the rules and don’t do anything illegal.”

Ander Herrera, Eden Hazard, Manchester United, Chelsea

A month before, Herrera’s lines blurred a little.

United went to Chelsea in the FA Cup and his man-marking job on Hazard saw him receive two yellow cards and a dismissal inside 35 minutes. Despite the defeat, player and manager viewed their tactical plan as a success. “We were playing very well,” Herrera recalls. “We lost 1-0 but we had control of the game. Hazard was not playing really good that day. In a very strange decision by the referee, he sent me off around the halfway line. It was not even a violent foul. It was a normal foul; one of those you have 20 or 25 of in every game. But we knew after that game we did something good and we were going to get it right.”

On those days where you get it right for Mourinho, what is he like to play for?

“Mourinho is the best manager in the world when things go well. The relationship with the players, the way he treats everyone; I really liked his training sessions. Also, with (long-time assistant) Rui Faria, they were a fantastic team together. But it is also true, when he loses, he does not take it in a good way. That is true. And he accepts that! He does not hide from it. We have a great relationship. The first year was fantastic, we won three titles. The second year, we won 84 points in the Premier League and came second. We lost the FA Cup final but we played much better than Chelsea (that day), if you remember that game.”

The third season, however, was a calamity. United sacked Mourinho a week before Christmas as the team languished closer in points to the relegation zone than to the top of the table.

“It is true the last six months was a bit different,” Herrera begins, “because he had some disagreements with the club and the team was a bit, you know… when you see your manager has some confrontations with the club, you do not perform the same way. It is true. Everything affects the training session, everything affects the daily work.”


From the outside, I suggest, it appeared the problems began on the pre-season tour in the US and every Mourinho press conference seemed to add to the brewing tension.

“Yeah, I agree,” Herrera says. “Something was happening between him and the club. But I was just a player. I am no one to tell you or find out what happened (between them). I was just trying to do my job. But it is true, the same as you saw at that time, we were seeing the same. Something was happening between him and the club.”

A little more under the radar, something was happening too — between Herrera and the club.

The midfielder’s contract was due to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season and it came as a surprise last spring when Herrera’s time at the club came to a close. It was particularly strange given his role in the instant recovery under interim manager Solskjaer, starting in significant victories at Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester and Chelsea before the Norwegian was given the job full-time.

Herrera starts by explaining Solskjaer’s impact: “The first thing to say is I do not like to make comparisons between managers, particularly as I had a great relationship with Mourinho. As soon as Ole came, he brought that smile to the dressing room. He was ready to listen to the players, he was more like a friend. He was a man who had, not long ago, been a United player. Everyone connected really well with him.

“He is, honestly, one of the best people I have found in football. I am still in contact with him because he is fantastic and deserves to be successful. You do not find too many people like him in football; someone so honest, so ready to help, always by your side. It doesn’t matter the situation; as soon as you work and give everything, he is there for you. That was his first quality; to connect very soon with the dressing room.”

Why, then, did Herrera leave behind a manager he likes so much? Reports suggested that PSG offered a bumper contract and at the age of 30, a five-year deal naturally appealed.

“It was not about money,” Herrera insists. “It was not about the duration of the contract offer. In my opinion, I waited too long (for an offer) and deserved more attention from the club. I was a player that gave everything. I never complained. I never went to the media to complain about anything. I never put a bad face to any manager, to any member of the board, and they waited until I had five or six months left on my contract.

“That’s why I had some disagreements with them. I tell you this but I also tell you that it is part of football, part of life, nothing personal at all. But you ask the question and I give my point of view, as a professional player.”

It seems, therefore, that it may have been a different resolution had United been proactive, rather than reactive?

“Yes, absolutely,” Herrera agrees. “I thought they were going to come two years before my contract finished, like most other clubs do. I expected them to come to sign a new contract after my club Player of the Year award in 2017 but they waited until I had six months left on my contract. I just felt sad. But, I repeat, and I really want you to put this so clear in this interview — that it is part of football, part of life. This is only professional and I have no personal problem with them.

“They had a different idea about the club, about the team, and I respect that 100 per cent. Even if I see Ed Woodward tomorrow, I’ll give him a hug because it is life. I had a great relationship with him. He is a very good man but we had some disagreements with our point of views about the team and about the club. That’s it.

“Every time I wore the United shirt, I was so proud. Every time I walked into Old Trafford, I was so proud to be part of that. I remember Sir Alex Ferguson used to travel with us sometimes for Premier League or Champions League games. When he is there, you feel this amazing aura, this sense in the room. You can feel how important he has been for the club. On that first day I signed for the club, I was in shock because I was signing for the biggest club in England — one of the top three or four in the world — and Sir Bobby Charlton was there waiting for me at the training ground. My dad (Pedro) was even happier than me.

“Dad played 200 games in the Spanish first division but Sir Bobby was one of the great players for him growing up. We were so thankful for the club and how I was treated for five years. In spite of what I told you before, how I was a bit sad for the final two years as they didn’t come to sign a new contract, I don’t have one bad word for the club.”

Herrera has adapted quickly to life in France, learning another language and securing a league title. United, meanwhile, did seem a midfielder short for much of the first half of this campaign, although they are now bolstered by the return of Pogba and January addition of Bruno Fernandes.

“When I stop playing football and when I am older,” Herrera says, “I do not want to regret anything. I don’t have time to think about what could have happened. I am thinking about the next day, the next challenge, because we have the best job in the world. It is as simple as that. I want to enjoy every single day of my career. And when you wake up every day and train with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos — players who could win the Ballon d’Or one day — it is very easy to enjoy.”

As has become the norm in his career, a new manager has taught him a new position, as Herrera filled in at right-back for Thomas Tuchel earlier in the campaign. Herrera evolved his game from attacking playmaker under Marcelo Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao to a more regimented role for Van Gaal’s United, before becoming more defensive again under Mourinho.

It was under Bielsa’s guidance that Herrera first caught United’s eye, impressing Ferguson and club scouts in a mesmeric Bilbao display on the night the Basques won 3-2 at Old Trafford in a Europa League last 16 tie in 2012. United came close to signing him under David Moyes but then sealed the deal with Van Gaal in 2014. He has now built up a star-studded cast of coaches.

“But I do not want to be a manager — and I will tell you why. The manager is probably the most unfair position in football. You can work so hard —you can give your life, you can think about the opponent, you can work 24 hours — and after all that, if the ball hits the post and goes out, probably you will be sacked.

“I cannot say, ‘100 per cent, never’ because you never know, but I am not thinking about that. I probably will have a position in football because it is my life but to be a manager, it is so difficult. I like to have some empathy with managers and it is so difficult to have a dressing room, to try to control 23 or 24 egos. Every player has his dad or his mum who thinks he has to play every game for 90 minutes, every player has a brother who thinks he can do it better than the manager. What I know is that the managers I have played under are examples for other coaches.


“It was a big change, from Bielsa to Van Gaal.  They are both offensive coaches. They want to win games through possession but the way they do it is completely different.

“Bielsa wants players moving all the time, looking for space, breaking the defence by running into space. Van Gaal wants order and control by staying in your position and controlling that space on the pitch. Bielsa wants movement all the time and he does not understand possession of the ball if it is not to score goals. If you are winning 2-0 or 3-0, he wants you to score the fourth or the fifth because he does not understand football in a different way. He just wants you to keep attacking. If you are winning, he thinks the best way to close the game is to keep scoring goals. Van Gaal, he thinks differently. When you are winning 1-0 or 2-0, he wants to control the game, he wants to keep the ball and not put the ball at risk.

“I had a lot of conversations with Van Gaal, because I was used to playing under Bielsa. Whenever my team-mates had the ball, I was looking for the space and to move all the time. But after one or two months, I realised Van Gaal was looking for a different thing. He wanted me to stay more in the position and keep the ball.

“It was amazing to have those conversations with Louis, because he is like a teacher for other managers. He was very receptive. He has an image in front of you guys, the media. It is sometimes true that in front of some people or the media, he can look very rude (direct) as he is a strong man. But I found a man with a huge heart. That is my experience with him — a great person.”

Herrera’s former team-mate Wayne Rooney recently suggested Van Gaal was harshly dismissed by United two days after winning the 2015-16 FA Cup final. Could he have gone on and built a great United team?

“No one knows,” Herrera says. “What I do know is Mourinho came and we won three trophies the next season. We were successful when he left, that is the truth. I enjoyed it with Van Gaal but under Mourinho, I found a new position on the pitch and learned to do new things.”

Herrera’s success under Mourinho was not shared by all of his team-mates. Most notably, Sanchez arrived midway through the 2017-18 season. Yet the Chilean forward, currently on loan at Inter Milan, scored only five goals for United. Inside the dressing room, Herrera watched on as bewildered as the rest of us.

“Sometimes, in football, there is no explanation for every single thing that happens,” the midfielder says. “Alexis is one of them. He came from Arsenal. He used to win games by himself for Arsenal. I remember watching him because Arsenal were our rivals for titles and the top four. I saw them losing games 2-0 and Alexis would score two and they’d win the game. He’d score the winning goal.

“It shows football sometimes has no explanation. How can a player, who one month before, two months before, is the best player by far in a big team like Arsenal… then he comes to United and he doesn’t perform? I have no explanation.

“He trains good, he is a good professional, he tries to improve. In training sessions, you can see his quality. He scores a lot of goals. In front of the goalkeeper in training, he was lethal, scoring goals, goals, goals. He fights if he loses the ball, he runs back and wins the ball, so he had everything to succeed at United, and he didn’t do it. The only thing I can tell you is that I have no explanation.”

It would not be a conversation over recent times at United if Paul Pogba is not mentioned.

The Frenchman was once described by the Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport as an “NBA athlete with Brazilian feet”.

“But I would add something else,” Herrera interjects. “‘An NBA athlete with Brazilian feet and the combinations of a Spanish midfielder’. He can combine really well — he can do one-two, very quick at high speed. He does have a good attitude.

“I give you my opinion: I don’t know what other players say but he is a midfielder that has everything. If you see other midfielders in the world, they may have some qualities — control of the ball, long shots, passes, tackles, box-to-box — but Paul can do all of this, plus head the ball, score goals, make recoveries, one against one… everything.

“But of course, if you want to become the best midfielder in the world, it is about consistency. You have to do it day in, day out. He is a good guy. He wants to do it. He does train well. He has to do it every day.”

Herrera senses similar potential in United strikers Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, who have both, in periods of this campaign, demonstrated renewed quality and consistency.

He says: “They have the quality to be among the top 10 in the world. Why do we admire Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or Hazard, who I also think is one of the best in the world? We admire them because they keep that form for a long time. If they do it, they will become… maybe not Messi or Cristiano, because they are unique in the history of football… but they can be top five or top 10, but they have to do it for a long time and keep it up.

“It is the same for Paul. Rashford is on his way to doing it. And Paul can be the best midfielder in the world if he keeps playing those games where we are all amazed by him. But to keep it at that level is the most difficult thing in football. To keep at it it Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, every time.

“If those three can do that, Manchester United will win the Premier League soon, for sure.”

Johnnyeye and Atomiswave like this

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47 minutes ago, MoroccanBlue said:

Verdict in July.

Worth noting, verdicts take typically between 3-6 months. 




As long as they get to serve 2 years without CL its all good.....the fine is worth jack shit.

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With such a quick verdict timing, I can't help but think City brought nothing to the table. Nothing refutable against the evidence UEFA had, hence the quick verdict.

Least I'm hoping. 

Atomiswave and Vesper like this

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6 minutes ago, MoroccanBlue said:

With such a quick verdict timing, I can't help but think City brought nothing to the table. Nothing refutable against the evidence UEFA had, hence the quick verdict.

Least I'm hoping. 

That or Sheik Mansour doubled the bribe.

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2 hours ago, Vesper said:

That or Sheik Mansour doubled the bribe.

Nahh they are in the spot light, many parties have eys on this now. They are fucked my friend.

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2 hours ago, MoroccanBlue said:

Dele Ali banned for one game due to his coronavirus tweet. 

Great. Misses United match 

Corrupted fA swooping in to save Utd a CL spot. I still don’t get why such a political Organisation like FA is allowed to run the PL. should be managed by a commercial organisation in which every club has same voting rights. Like in Germany where DFB who are just as corrupted have nothing to say over DFL who are running the league. 
Still, might have dodged a bullet. Spurs are better without Ali anyway.

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