Ronald Koeman Given Time to Solve the Everton Crisis he Largely Created


London — From the biggest investment in Everton’s history to a vote of confidence in the manager by 2 October: this season was always liable to test Ronald Koeman’s managerial skills, given the number of new faces, the sale of Romelu Lukaku and a punishing schedule, but few would have anticipated him floundering so badly, so quickly. It is he, not Everton, who must implement change during the international break.

The Dutchman retains the “total support” of Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s major shareholder, and the 54-year-old should have time to correct the malaise that has gripped Goodison Park when he is largely but not entirely responsible for the team’s regression. It is also important for Moshiri to demonstrate that faith and patience in a manager, a consistent theme of Bill Kenwright’s ownership, has not become prone to regular upheaval since he came on board. Not that the billionaire’s statement to Sky Sports’ Jim White was without flaws.

Moshiri blamed injuries, European exertions, mental and physical fatigue plus a tough fixture list for a run of form that has left Everton two points above the relegation zone. Sunday brought a fifth defeat in eight matches as Burnley executed Sean Dyche’s game plan to perfection. The “only unexpected loss”, said Moshiri, leaving the unfortunate impression that defeats against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United were not, despite having spent almost £140m on seven additions to the first-team squad this summer. It may have been diplomatically prudent for Moshiri but it would be inaccurate to exclude Koeman from the list of reasons for Everton’s toils.

Stubborn, confusing team selections have produced consistently laboured and passive performances this season. A lack of pace, balance and threat has been a recurring theme of an Everton team who veer between defeated and dull. There was no width in the Europa League draw against Apollon Limassol last Thursday. Koeman had three wide players, Nikola Vlasic, Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman, on the bench. Worryingly for the manager, when he tried to rectify the issues by starting Oumar Niasse and Vlasic against Burnley it yielded the same failing.

Again, however, his decisions contributed to another subdued display and underlined his tendency to dispense with the easy option – young homegrown talents such as Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny – while favouring signings he pushed for. Morgan Schneiderlin, Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson have struggled, although Everton’s £45m record signing has been isolated on the left after a pre-season spent pushing for a move from Swansea City. “Both of us like to play more centrally,” Sigurdsson told a Sunday newspaper before the Burnley game. The other player he was referring to was Wayne Rooney, who has also had limited opportunities in a central role and paid the price for the team’s failings with a substitute’s role on Sunday.

Rooney contradicted Koeman last week when insisting a lack of confidence was not the root of Everton’s problems. The manager had claimed otherwise when accusing his players of being afraid to play football in the costly 2-2 draw against Apollon. His new-look team have certainly appeared inhibited as they attempt to gel, only for poor results to provoke a change in approach by the manager, who told Everton to play more direct on Sunday.

Michael Keane, one of the players who has suffered a loss of confidence according to Koeman, said: “I think everyone expected more than we have given so far: the players and the staff, not just the fans. We know we have been disappointing as a team and need to improve. Expectations from fans are one thing but the main thing is what we expect of ourselves and in a few games this season we have fallen below those standards.

“I did not think that was the case [against Burnley]. We just need to show that bit of quality and, hopefully, we will do that soon. I thought the game plan was good. We had them on the back foot, we just lacked that final bit of quality, that good cross or good finish. We have been 1-0 down previously and collapsed but I did not feel like we did that. We got back on the front foot.”

Koeman does have solutions to Everton’s faults at his disposal with the exception of the most glaring of all – an adequate replacement for Lukaku, who has scored three more Premier League goals for Manchester United this season than his former club have managed collectively. Recognition of this error in the transfer market is arguably what protects the Everton manager from greater pressure from within.

Kenwright, the Everton chairman, gave Steve Walsh a consoling pat on the back as the club’s director of football stared at the Goodison pitch on Sunday and absorbed another damaging defeat. The Everton hierarchy were well aware of Lukaku’s intentions to leave before the end of last season and had time to locate an alternative striker once Olivier Giroud, Koeman’s preferred target, decided to stay at Arsenal. Instead six weeks and £45m were spent on a deal for Sigurdsson, who may well justify Everton’s investment in the long term but was not a priority acquisition with Rooney and £23.6m Davy Klaassen in place.

Any mention of Everton’s summer spending brings a dismissive retort from Koeman, who with some justification will respond with the net spend argument. After £140m and 14 games, however, he should be much closer to justifying Moshiri’s decision to lure him from Southampton on a £6m-a-year contract.

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Emre Can’s Stellar Rise Shows how Jürgen Klopp is Transforming Liverpool


London – In the 130-second press conference that followed Arsenal’s latest capitulation at Anfield Arsène Wenger admitted his team were physically, technically and mentally inferior to Liverpool. It was a damning critique no doubt but, had he held court longer, the Arsenal manager could have given a fuller account of Liverpool’s dominance under Jürgen Klopp.

The Liverpool manager tactically outsmarted Wenger in taking his Premier League record against Arsenal to 10 points from a possible 12. Not that Klopp’s three-man midfield and three-pronged attack should have come as any surprise to the Arsenal manager after selecting Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka as his supposed midfield shield.

The victors were sharper and stronger, a reflection perhaps of a pre-season schedule geared to winning the all-important Champions League play-off and passage to the lucrative group stage. Their mental edge, Klopp claimed, stemmed from players wanting to prove to themselves they could replicate the highs of the Hoffenheim performance four days after it. It is also a sign of the unity Liverpool possess under their manager, something Arsenal patently lacked throughout their 4-0 defeat.

Another department where Klopp overshadows his Arsenal counterpart was demonstrated by the performance of Emre Can: individual development. The Germany international was outstanding in Liverpool’s midfield, as was the case in the Anfield defeat of Hoffenheim, where Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum also overran their abject opponents. Can’s contribution, creatively and defensively, underlined why Klopp would rather keep the player for what could be the final season of his Liverpool contract than bank a fee with his Anfield future unresolved.

Throughout the Liverpool squad there are individuals whose form and influence have risen markedly under Klopp. If the reason for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s discontent at Arsenal is his sluggish personal development, and not the contract terms on offer, then he would be forgiven for eyeing the opposition ranks with envy last Sunday. Can has flourished this calendar year despite playing with injury last season and harboring some reservations over his role in the team – a factor in his new contract remaining unsigned.

“It was a big, big performance against Arsenal,” said the 23-year-old, who has entered the final year of his deal. “A big compliment to the team. I think everyone did great and I think you can’t play much better than that. Don’t forget we were playing against Arsenal. When was the last time that Liverpool won against Arsenal 4-0? The performance was just great. Of course it will give us confidence and now we go into the internationals and everybody’s happy. It’s a good start now but we have to keep working.”

Juventus have been regularly linked with the former Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich midfielder. However, Klopp hopes a realization of his importance to the team, one that has returned to the European elite, and the potential for further development will encourage Can to commit to a new deal that the manager wishes had been resolved months ago. There was no evidence of the midfielder having problems with his offensive instructions against Hoffenheim and Arsenal, or in the aftermath of Sunday’s resounding victory.

“The manager expects that from us midfield players and I tried to do it,” Can said. “Of course I can’t do it every time but I tried to do it more often than last year. It’s worked good so far. I think you could see on Wednesday that we played a high tempo and again against Arsenal. You could see that we worked very well in pre-season from the two games. Everybody feels good, everybody feels in good shape and that’s very important.

“If you see the bench, we are strong, we are deep. We are strong in the squad. Divock Origi was not in the squad against Arsenal and he’s a great player, so you see just how strong the squad is. We have confidence and we are playing good football. Our performance was good but we need to keep it up. It’s just the start.”

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Trent Alexander-Arnold Fears No One in Bid to Be a Big Name at Liverpool


London- Trent Alexander-Arnold introduced himself to Franck Ribéry last week with a challenge from behind that left the seven-times Bundesliga champion on his backside and glaring at his marker. He was met with an impassive stare but would get to know all about the 18-year-old defender as Liverpool impressed not only in attack when beating Bayern Munich 3-0 at the Allianz Arena. Arrival announced to the former France winger. He will not be the only one this season.

“I try not to pay too much respect to the players I am playing against,” says Alexander-Arnold, confirming precisely what that early exchange with Ribéry in Munich had indicated. “I think that is what can affect you. You have to go out there and focus on yourself and not who you are up against. It was obviously going to be a tough task going up against a world-class player and one of the best. You just have to see it as a chance and that is what I do every time the manager picks me. I just have to take the opportunity and show why I deserve that chance. I tried to do that against Bayern.”

Unsurprisingly, there was no feedback from Ribéry. The teenager adds: “He didn’t say anything [about the foul] and I didn’t think of asking him for his shirt as a souvenir or anything. I just went straight into the changing room because that is what I am used to doing. The whole game was tough for all of us, they are an excellent side but we stuck to our task well and finished how we wanted to. You could see from our attacking play against Bayern there are a lot of exciting things to come in the near future.”

The near future for the boyhood Liverpool fan, who grew up close to the club’s Melwood training ground in West Derby, is expected to involve the third Premier League start of his career when Jürgen Klopp’s team begin the new campaign at Watford on Saturday.

Nathaniel Clyne has missed most of pre-season with hamstring and back problems while Joe Gomez has been deployed at centre-half and full-back this summer. Alexander-Arnold is not favourite to start at right-back at Vicarage Road by default. Long thought of as first-team potential by Liverpool’s academy coaches, he underlined his promise in 12 appearances for Klopp’s side last season and has continued his development in pre-season. Clyne was destined to face a serious challenge to his starting role from Alexander-Arnold this season regardless of fitness.

“I’m not sure whether I will get that opportunity but I am hoping to take it if I do get it,” Alexander-Arnold says. “There is still time before the first game and I will be fighting for that position, as will all the other lads. There are a lot of strong players here and we could put two different teams out at the start of the season. But hopefully the chance comes. You just hope for the opportunity. If I do get told I am playing against Watford I will look to take that chance.”

A starting role on the opening day would be fitting reward for Alexander-Arnold’s efforts this summer and for the sacrifice he made. Having broken into Klopp’s squad last season it was decided he should miss the European Under-19 Championship in July despite featuring regularly for England in qualifying. The reasoning, which also applied to Tom Davies at Everton, was that Alexander-Arnold needed a rest before embarking on a full pre-season at senior level.

The decision has paid off, albeit while leaving a bittersweet taste as England lifted the trophy for the first time in their history with a 2-1 defeat of Portugal.

Alexander-Arnold explains: “I played a lot during the qualifying games and to not be there to lift the trophy with the team was a little bit … it hurt a little bit. I watched the whole tournament and I thought we deserved to win it. I was watching like a fan on the edge of my seat, hoping we would dig deep and get that win. When they did I was made up to see them lift the trophy. I spoke to the lads and wished them all the best with the celebrations. I said it was a shame not to be there but the focus during pre-season was to focus on club football and that is what I have done.”

England lies ahead. The immediate aim for Alexander-Arnold is to follow Klopp’s instructions on how to secure his place at Liverpool. “The main piece of advice is about my defending,” says the former under-18s captain, who is also comfortable in central midfield. “It is a big part of the game and first and foremost I am a defender so to try to nail that down he has been helping me throughout the pre-season. I hope I can improve some more.”

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Morgan Schneiderlin: ‘Now It’s Up to Us, the Everton Players, to Do the Job’


London- Morgan Schneiderlin is a graduate of the Ronald Koeman school of blunt talking. “You can buy as many players as you want,” he says of the unprecedented investment in Everton’s first team and the possibility of six new faces featuring against Stoke City on Saturday. “But if you don’t have a good performance, it’s for nothing.” Time, then, for the manager’s new-look team to start gelling.

The Premier League opens amid greater optimism than usual this year at Goodison Park, where season tickets sold out three months ago, though it has been tempered in the past month. Since Wayne Rooney became Everton’s sixth summer signing on 9 July, only the free agent Cuco Martina has arrived and Koeman’s frustration that three transfers remain outstanding – Gylfi Sigurdsson, a new striker and left-sided defensive cover – was evident following Sunday’s friendly against Sevilla. “I heard every time that ‘Everton is spending £100m, £100m, £100m’, but I saw the list and I think we’re 16th in the league for spending and we got £95m for Lukaku,” he said. “We’ve only spent £7m. It’s a different picture than the media is talking.”

Koeman’s argument ignores the growing wage bill but his team’s performances have strengthened his case that expectations do not tally with the current make-up of his squad, even in pre-season. Everton were pedestrian in both legs of their Europa League third qualifying round win over Ruzomberok of Slovakia and the manager’s search for balance, creativity and pace continued during the 2-2 draw with Sevilla. Schneiderlin’s optimism remains intact, however, and he objects to what he believes is a rush to judgment.

“You can’t judge us now,” says the French midfielder. “You will have to judge us by September or October. First of all the transfer window is not finished and I believe we are going to add more players before then. Also, I don’t think one player in the Premier League is going to be 100% and reaching his peak on the first game of the season. I don’t think one team is going to be 100% either. I don’t think it’s possible to judge us yet. You can do in a couple of weeks but not now.

“Since Sunday I have heard a lot of remarks about pace. You have to judge that but I think we have good players. Like I said, we will see on 31 August what players are going to come in but, for the moment, it looks good. Of course we need one or two more pieces to get the puzzle right but it will come.”

The 27-year-old was part of the first wave of big spending by Everton this year when he arrived from Manchester United in a deal worth up to £24m in January. What he was sold then by Koeman, the chairman Bill Kenwright and the major shareholder Farhad Moshiri has been backed up by this summer’s recruitment.

“I spoke with a few clubs in January and then, when I spoke to Everton, they told me straight away that they have ambition, that they wanted to do something great in the summer to improve the team and to break into the Champions League in the next few years,” says Schneiderlin. “So I was very convinced by the way they were speaking and the way they see things. That’s one of the main reasons I came here.

“It’s very nice for the football club. I think for a long time Everton didn’t get as many players or have as much transfer activity as this season, so it’s very exciting for the club. It’s very nice to read about in the paper and everything but now it’s about talking on the pitch. Everyone can be excited but now it’s up to us, the players, to do the job.”

Even without a successful resolution to the Sigurdsson saga and quest for a new striker, Koeman faces a challenge to integrate half-a-dozen signings into a team seeking to improve on last season’s seventh-placed finish. Schneiderlin believes recruiting players with European and international experience will hasten the process.

But with games against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United following Stoke in the Premier League, and a Europa League play-off against Hajduk Split home then away on Thursday and Thursday week, the demands are constant.

“It will take time,” cautions the former Southampton and United midfielder. “We need to know each other better, to know players’ movements, their strengths, their weaknesses and where they like the ball to be played. It takes a bit of time to get there and you need the games but we also need to do it quick because the season starts now. You could see in the friendlies and the Europa League qualifier that we are not 100% yet in the way we are playing.

“It is important we get to know each other off the pitch as well. We had two training camps that helped and a trip to Tanzania where we were away for a week and got to know each other better, but we are talking and working together every day on the training pitch. We can always have a coffee together too to get to know each other but it’s like every co-worker – sometimes you become good friends and socialise together and sometimes not.”

Koeman has not set his Everton players a target for the season other than to compete for European qualification and share the responsibility of replacing Lukaku’s goal threat following his move to Old Trafford. “It was not so great for us that Romelu might move but we wish him good luck,” says Schneiderlin. “Hopefully, that will free more players to score goals because last year we relied on him a lot for scoring goals.”

The Everton midfielder adds: “We want to do better than last season so that means breaking into the top six. That’s our ambition but there are hopefully going to be extra games with the Europa League so we will have to see how we cope. I think we have a squad that’s big enough to cope but we will have to see.

“We want to progress and get to know each other better. There has been a lot of movement this summer with players coming in. Yes we want to break into the top six but a lot of teams have strengthened this summer so it is going to be a very interesting season. I will be able to tell you more about the strength of the team after a couple of weeks and a few more games but the aim is to be better than last season.”

Schneiderlin was talking at an Everton in the Community football session. Everton in the Community uses the power of sport to inspire people across Merseyside and improve their life chances

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Ronald Koeman Seeks Finishing Touch to Everton’s £150m Spending Spree


London- Everton’s spending will break the £150m barrier should they finally meet Swansea’s asking price for Gylfi Sigurdsson but the cost of challenging the Champions League clique is likely to rise higher. Not even the return of Wayne Rooney to Goodison Park, with his throwback goal in Tanzania, deflects from the need to reconstruct Ronald Koeman’s attack following the exit of Romelu Lukaku. The finishing touches of an unprecedented spree could prove the most important.

Rooney announced his second coming as an Everton player on Thursday in a style reminiscent of what is commonly regarded as the first, beating Gor Mahia’s Boniface Oluoch with a shot that carried echoes of that last-minute winner against Arsenal in 2002 – minus the drama, the occasion and the little kiss off the underside of the crossbar.

He played at centre-forward in the pre-season friendly against the Kenyan champions and up front is where Koeman believes Rooney can have the greatest influence. But he wants more at the focal point of his attack than the former England captain and Sandro Ramírez, a 22-year-old about to embark on his first season in the Premier League.

Olivier Giroud has been heavily linked with a move from Arsenal, though Everton face stiff competition from Borussia Dortmund for him. Sigurdsson could operate behind the French striker with Rooney plus AN Other either side. Ross Barkley could, arguably should, be that significant other but his Everton future grows increasingly bleak with his contract unsigned.

Productivity replaced phenomenal as the Everton manager’s catchword last season with Koeman regularly lamenting a lack of it in the final third. Only Lukaku was exempt from the coach’s criticism in that regard. The Belgium international became the first Everton striker since Gary Lineker in 1985-86 to score more than 20 league goals in a season, his total of 25 including strikes in nine successive home games – equalling a club record set by William Ralph “Dixie” Dean in 1934. Now the one productive piece of Everton’s attack belongs to Manchester United, a team they are striving to overtake.

Lukaku’s goals are not the only hole that Koeman must fill to turn stated ambition into genuine achievement. Barkley was Everton’s second highest scorer in the Premier League last season with a mere five goals. Séamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas were joint third with four apiece. “That’s not enough,” said Koeman when sat alongside Rooney at the former United captain’s unveiling on Monday. “I prefer to have several players with 10-15 goals than only one scoring 25. That’s what we need to improve and Wayne can bring productivity to the team.”

From where? Koeman made it clear in discussions with Rooney before the transfer, and again in public this week, that he will play in one of four positions up front. “A player with Wayne’s quality,” he explained, “can be a 10 behind the striker, have a free role from the left, a 9, a 7. These are the positions where Wayne will play.”

José Mourinho stated something similar this time last year, insisting Old Trafford’s leading marksman would not be considered for midfield duties, before gradually ushering him out of the first team following a 3-1 defeat at Watford in September. That was the fifth Premier League game of Mourinho’s United reign.

The Everton manager is adamant that at 31 – 32 in October – Rooney has been written off prematurely as a leading striker for club and country, his demise exaggerated, his reinvigoration possible at Goodison. And Koeman is not one for sentiment, as Barkley has discovered repeatedly to his cost.

Farhad Moshiri’s investment and Steve Walsh’s work as director of football have transformed Everton’s transfer operations this summer. The swiftness of their recruitment has impressed almost as much as the change in ambition and resources. Goalkeeper, central defence and central midfield have all undergone significant upgrades with Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen respectively. The former Southampton defender Cuco Martina is expected to join the recruitment drive on a free transfer and will provide cover with Coleman recovering from a double leg fracture.

In attack there is a lot resting on Rooney turning back time and Sandro making a seamless transition from La Liga, where he scored 14 goals in 30 appearances for Málaga last season before Everton activated his inviting £5.2m buy-out clause. The Spain Under‑21s international is one of the few forwards in Koeman’s squad with both pace and a potent goalscoring record at the highest level. He can also operate across the front line, giving the Dutch manager an array of options but still no obvious replacement for Lukaku and what he brought to the team.

Everton, of course, possess emerging striking talent in Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, both of whom will be looking to build on a triumphant summer with England at the Under-20s World Cup in South Korea. Kieran Dowell, another of Paul Simpson’s victorious England side, offers creativity in midfield provided he can convince Koeman to promote him from the under-23s once the competitive season begins.

With Yannick Bolasie unlikely to return from a serious knee injury until the turn of the year, there remains a lack of pace and movement on the left, something that will not be remedied by Rooney taking the free role that his manager mentioned. Unsurprisingly, however, Koeman is unafraid of the challenge of assembling his expensive unit. “We know we will have more pressure than last season,” he said. “I’m in football a long time and I don’t remember working one season without pressure. That’s good. If you want to win titles, you need to deal with pressure.”

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World Cup Win Offers England Under-20s Players No Guarantees at Clubs


London – It rains on a ticker-tape parade to remind England’s Under-20s that it will be easier to conquer the world than the obstacles that litter their path to regular Premier League football but they can take comfort from the roots of their triumph in South Korea. Sunday’s World Cup success, England’s best return on the international stage since 1966, repaid a willingness of the Football Association and Premier League to act on concerns over youth development in this country. A change in attitude at Premier League clubs could bring further reward.

Lewis Cook, the England captain, had only just hoisted aloft the Under‑20s World Cup following victory against Venezuela in Suwon when the debate began over the future prospects for Paul Simpson’s players – with a tone of inevitable, understandable foreboding.

The 13 players who featured in the final for England ran up a combined total of 1,094 minutes in the Premier League last season, roughly the equivalent of 12 matches, with Cook having the most, with 431 minutes in the Bournemouth midfield. The match-winner Dominic Calvert‑Lewin, only the third Englishman to score in a World Cup final, comes next with 346 minutes for Everton followed by his club-mate Ademola Lookman on 287. The time then slips away to Josh Onomah’s 17 minutes for Tottenham Hotspur while seven of those who played on Sunday did not play a single minute of Premier League football last season.

The suspicion that the final could have been as good as it gets for some in the England team deepened when the goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, fresh from making a fine and crucial late penalty save, admitted that his future at Newcastle United was uncertain having spent last season on loan at Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership.

Those playing statistics are indicative of a league where financial pressures and incentives do not encourage patient development and risks on young talent; and of a competition where some owners are more concerned with grabbing additional money from the broadcasting revenue pool than the international fortunes of what to many is a foreign land. But the efforts to clear the pathway for homegrown talent in the Premier League cannot be dismissed with England the world champions at under-20 level, even if the long-term benefits are yet to be seen at senior level.

For the FA victory in South Korea rewards its decision to bring uniformity to England coaching at all age levels, to seek greater cooperation with Premier League coaches and to improve team cohesion via their St George’s Park base. Six of Sunday’s squad featured in England’s European Championship success at under-17 level in 2014 with four – the Golden Ball winner Dominic Solanke, Jonjoe Kenny, Woodman and Josh Onomah – starting against Venezuela. More recent and arguably more important changes have taken place within the Premier League as it attempts to counter accusations it is to blame for England’s lamentable record.

England has not had a problem in the past producing talent that can deliver up to under-18 level. The problem, articulated by a procession of Premier League managers, is the lack of competitive opportunities for players in the 18-21 age bracket. “Spain are developing men at that age while England’s players become overprotected,” said one. There appears little to no chance of the Football League allowing Premier League ‘B’ teams into its midst, as in Spain, but competition has improved at that age level following consultations with leading coaches in recent years.

Last season brought the introduction of Premier League 2 as a replacement for the under-21 Premier League, exposing youngsters to competition against under-23s, relegation and promotion between the two divisions and play-offs in the second tier. It was not a cure-all by any means but a start and one that ended with Everton winning the title before sending five players off to the Under-20 World Cup. There was also a 20% increase in playing time for homegrown debutants in the Premier League last season, 716 minutes on average, compared with 596 minutes in 2015-16.

David Unsworth, Everton’s under-23s coach, played for England when they finished third at the 1993 Under-20 World Cup and was one of four from that squad to graduate to the senior side. He was a rare voice in support of the much-criticised Checkatrade Trophy last season, arguing that any competition that heightens pressure on academy players should be embraced. But ultimately, he insists, it is individual quality that will determine how many of Simpson’s squad establish themselves in the Premier League.

“They have to enjoy this moment because it can be once in a lifetime,” said Unsworth. “They should enjoy it and go away and rest. Then they need to come back flying for pre-season – and I’m sure they will. All five of them are great lads and are desperate to be part of what is going on at our club. They have to keep proving themselves. Just because they have come through our ranks it doesn’t mean they have a divine right to play in our first team. They need to prove it every single day in training and they need to earn their places. They’ll all give it their best to get there.”

It encourages Calvert-Lewin, Lookman and Kenny, whose performances in South Korea showed Everton do not need to enter the transfer market this summer to sign cover for the injured Séamus Coleman, that Ronald Koeman was prepared to trust the club’s young talent last season. The same goes for Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham but it needs many more to follow suit for England’s world champions to build on their achievement. “English football people say you have to look out for young players, that maybe they can play 15 or 20 games but not more,” Koeman said last season. “They are afraid.” Sunday offered an alternative.

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Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk Blunder Is Damaging Setback for Jürgen Klopp

Football Soccer Britain - Southampton v Leicester City - Premier League - St Mary's Stadium - 22/1/17 Southampton's Virgil van Dijk Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

Transfers are not part of Peter Moore’s remit as Liverpool’s new chief executive and the club’s alleged tapping up of Virgil van Dijk predated his official start date in the job, but his first Premier League meeting in Harrogate on Thursday will have been awkward regardless. Southampton are not the only member club to regard an emissary of Fenway Sports Group with skepticism and suspicion.

Liverpool’s owners, including John W Henry and the chairman, Tom Werner, were heavily involved in the damaging decision to withdraw interest publicly in Van Dijk on Wednesday, 24 hours after Southampton complained to the Premier League of a clandestine approach and 48 hours after it emerged the Holland defender favoured a move to Anfield over Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.

In a statement Liverpool claimed that “recent media speculation” was the source of “our regret”, which raises the question of why the plug was pulled on this summer’s transfer priority when countless targets who have been mentioned in the media have ended up at Anfield in the past. The evidence that Southampton allegedly have against Liverpool – Van Dijk meeting Jürgen Klopp in Blackpool, text messages from the manager to the player – suggests FSG would be justified in fearing an investigation into its club’s conduct should the Premier League take the complaint further. That could still happen, with the Premier League having written to both clubs to request their version of events. It is also worth noting that Liverpool withdrew their interest in a £60m-rated transfer, one that was months in the planning, following communication with Southampton earlier in the day.

Liverpool are under a transfer embargo at academy level for the next two years – the second year suspended – having been found guilty of tapping up a 12-year-old schoolboy from Stoke City and offering him and his family inducements.

Five years ago it was Fulham who received an apology from Liverpool after they reported the Anfield club to the Premier League for making an illegal approach to Clint Dempsey. Fulham were particularly aggrieved by a report on FSG’s website that claimed the USA international had joined Brendan Rodgers’ squad. It took a personal apology from Werner to Fulham’s then owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, followed by a letter from Liverpool’s then managing director Ian Ayre that stated: “Our club can do better and we pledge that it will,” before officials at Craven Cottage withdrew the complaint.

FSG is said to be concerned at the impact of the Van Dijk approach on Liverpool’s reputation, hence the sudden U-turn. Its dubious record in dealing with other clubs – whether on transfers or seeking to end the collective sale of overseas broadcasting rights – suggests an inability to learn from mistakes is the bigger problem.

It would be breathtakingly hypocritical of other Premier League clubs, or any professional club for that matter, to condemn Liverpool for sounding out a potential recruit. Equally, it is fair to accuse FSG or those who run the club on its behalf in England – the president, Mike Gordon, the sporting director, Michael Edwards, and Klopp – of turning what should have been a major statement of intent in the transfer market into a shambles. The warning signs did not emerge on Monday. It was 20 April when the Liverpool manager, discussing how Anfield is a more attractive proposition for recruits this summer, said: “The talks we’ve had so far are very positive. That doesn’t mean it will all work out but they are really positive and they all see the progress. That’s good.”

Klopp has missed out on a key defensive target before Liverpool had approached Southampton with a bid. Van Dijk may now question Liverpool’s commitment to a deal that always appeared problematic given he is under contract at Southampton for another five years. Liverpool have alternative central defensive targets having been conscious that Van Dijk would look elsewhere if Champions League football were not on offer – Burnley’s Michael Keane, Hull’s Harry Maguire and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly are among them – but can ill-afford further blunders as they strive to build on last season’s progress. Efforts to sign Mohamed Salah have also stalled in recent days with Liverpool reluctant to meet Roma’s asking price.

It was only last week that Moore, on his first day as Ian Ayre’s successor, stated that Liverpool “won’t be spending £100m just because Manchester City has spent £100m”. But Liverpool, and FSG recognize as much, do need to invest £100m-plus in a squad that will be competing, Klopp hopes, for the Champions League and Premier League title next season. Considering Liverpool were offering £28m for Salah at the time and had treated a £60m target to a day out in Blackpool, Moore’s attempted contrast with City’s expenditure was somewhat inaccurate. City’s ability to get two signings worth £78.3m over the line with a minimum of fuss – Bernardo Silva and Ederson – is another contrast that reflects poorly on Liverpool.

There remains plenty of time and money for Klopp to enhance his squad of course but, without another dramatic turn of events in the Van Dijk saga, the rebuilding will continue without the player he wanted for the cornerstone of Liverpool’s defense. A severe and avoidable setback.

(The Guardian)

Liverpool’s Divock Origi: ‘Maybe If I Wasn’t a Footballer I’d Be a Psychologist’

Divock Origi says: ‘I’m very interested in how the brain works and the different personality types. At Liverpool I can say who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. We have both.’

Divock Origi calls it his “resource” – a memory bank of highs and lows that is extensive for a 22-year-old and drawn upon regularly. It contains a World Cup emergence offset by European Championship torment, a leading role at Liverpool snatched away by injury and now, as Jürgen Klopp’s team inch towards Champions League qualification, fierce and occasionally unforgiving scrutiny. It allows Origi to handle the emptiness of a bad day at the office and will, he insists, aid his development into a world-class striker. It also reflects his fascination with the workings of the mind.

Origi is fluent in four languages. “That’s not bad,” he admits, modestly. He learned Swahili and English in the family home (his father, Mike, played 120 times for Kenya and enjoyed a successful club career in Belgium), Flemish growing up in Ostend and French after signing for Lille aged 15. He reads three books a month “sometimes in English, sometimes in Dutch and mostly about psychology. Maybe if I wasn’t a footballer I’d be a psychologist.” And he is not averse to bringing his hobby into work.

“I’m very interested in how the brain works and the different personality types,” he explains. “I get my friends to do personality tests and I see what type they resemble. At Liverpool I can say who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. We have both. I started to study psychology but had to stop when I got into the first team. I’m still really interested and watch a lot of TED TV, where people speak for 15 minutes about how they communicate or the subjects they study. Maybe when my career is over I’ll go back to it, you never know.”

It did not require an amateur psychologist to gauge what was on Liverpool minds following Sunday’s goalless draw with Southampton. Klopp’s forward line was criticized for failing to break through overtly defensive opponents as Liverpool failed to win a third consecutive home game. Sadio Mané’s absence with a knee injury was again telling with pace and fluidity missing in the final third and Origi, as the Senegal international’s replacement, attracted much of the flak.

A fit-again Daniel Sturridge threatens Origi’s starting role at West Ham United on Sunday but, after he spent the majority of the season on the bench as Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino led the Champions League pursuit, it was always a difficult ask for a striker with Origi’s different attributes to fit seamlessly into the attack.

“Difficult is a big word,” he says on his transition from the bench. “It is different. For a big part of the season the team played with the same front three and it is different if I’m in the middle from when Roberto is there. I’m lucky that we have so many quality, intelligent players who can go deep, come to the ball, pass, score; but it is different. I think I’ve had some good games and some less good games. It is important for me now to play and to get more consistency. The more you play with the other players the more you understand them and they understand you, and that’s very important.”

Unsurprisingly, given his cerebral nature and high ambitions, the off days linger with Origi whether they occur on a match day or in training at Melwood. He admits: “When you are a footballer you eat, sleep and breathe football. If I have a bad training session I can go home and do whatever I want but you still feel an emptiness. The one thing you want to do is play and perform good. Even after a training session when you don’t play as you wanted to, you go to sleep and when you wake up the morning isn’t the same. You played badly, you feel an emptiness. But I think whenever I’ve had a less good period I’ve come out of it stronger. You analyse even more what you didn’t do well, you start focusing more on the things you can do better and you push yourself to improve.”

It is then that Origi delves into his invaluable resource. Just as Liverpool’s tally of 70 points and position above both Manchester clubs and Arsenal can be overlooked in the aftermath of a disappointment such as Southampton, so the young striker’s contribution and experience are worth considering amid the tension of the Champions League race. Origi has made more appearances in all competitions for Liverpool this season than any other player – 41 – and with 10 goals he has reached double figures for the second time since arriving from France in 2015.

Belgium’s youngest World Cup goalscorer says: “At Lille I played one season there as the No9 who was leading the team, and that was a hard time, then I played in the World Cup quarter-finals as a 19-year-old main striker, played big games in the Europa League, had less good moments, injuries, going to the Euros and not playing – all of these things are now coming together and giving me a resource to go back to. It is not the same as when I was 20 and it’s more like playing off excitement.”

It is only 13 months since Origi made himself indispensable to Klopp with a series of outstanding performances, not least home and away against Borussia Dortmund in an epic Europa League quarter-final. A starting role beckoned in a European final for his club and a European Championship for his country until an appalling foul by Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori damaged the striker’s ankle ligaments. Both the injury and the defeat by Sevilla, one that cost Liverpool a ticket to this season’s Champions League, strengthened Origi’s resolve before this campaign.

“For me at the time it was a hit,” says Origi of the Funes Mori foul, one he recovered from in time to make the bench in Basel. “I worked so hard off and on the pitch. I could see every game that I was working better – the Stoke game, Dortmund and then the derby. Sometimes you need a bit of luck but I could see things I had been working on starting to come off and at that time there was even talk in Belgium of me being the main striker going into the Euros. The Europa League final was coming up too. I was close to achieving a very big thing but then the injury comes. These are things you cannot predict.

“I wanted to do everything I could to be involved in the final but I still had problems with the ankle. The ankle was still shaky when I went to the Euros so I needed time to recover but the people closest to me were very supportive. I am also a religious person and these things made me stronger. If I look back now, I am sure I am not far from reaching that level again. I think I am definitely stronger than I was last year because of this experience. For the club it was very disappointing to reach two finals and lose them both but we came into this season knowing we had fewer games and had to use this to our advantage and try for the Champions League. We all have big ambitions as players and as a club Liverpool always has to think big. We will give everything to make it happen in the next two games.”

The Champions League represents the next step in the development of Klopp’s Liverpool. On an individual level the target is equally clear in Origi’s eyes. “For me it is simply to be a world-class striker,” he says without arrogance. “I know it is a hard road but I am already in a big club, I know how it works, I’m already in my second year and I have the experience of the Euros and the World Cup. I have performed in big games, had less good periods, I have the experience of playing as a No9 for Liverpool and having the weight and pressure of a really big club on you. In the first six months these are all things that hit you hard but in the end it helps you. I am only 22 and I have processed all these moments and they will help me to reach my goal.”

(The Guardian)

Steven Gerrard: There’s a Showboating Mentality in Academies


London – Steven Gerrard insists judgment should be reserved on his attributes as a coach until his tactical decisions, his leadership from the sidelines and his mistakes have been thoroughly examined. That will come next season as manager of Liverpool Under-18s, where judgment on what is required has already been made. “There is a showboating mentality through academies,” claims Gerrard. “My teams will be physical.”

The first of what Gerrard hopes will be several managerial steps at Liverpool was confirmed on Thursday with a fixed role with the under-18s. The current under‑18s manager, Neil Critchley, will lead the under-23s next season, with Mike Garrity – who has been in the post since Michael Beale moved to São Paulo in December – becoming part of Critchley’s backroom team. Both have been shadowed by the former Liverpool and England captain since he returned to the club in February.

The academy director, Alex Inglethorpe, made the appointments in consultation with Jürgen Klopp, who has been closely involved in Gerrard’s transition from star captain to coach of starry-eyed youngsters. “Jürgen’s been the key behind all this,” acknowledges the 36-year-old, who will be assisted by the current under-13s coach, Tom Culshaw, and the rehab fitness coach Jordan Milsom. It was the Liverpool manager’s idea to give Gerrard an initial floating role across all academy age groups and, impressed by the hours and the work put in, considers the fledgling coach ready for the next, more challenging step.

Gerrard explains: “I spoke to Jürgen and we agreed after a few chats that the 18s was the right age group because it still gives you a bit of a spotlight with the coverage it gets but it is a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and grow and learn. Every manager and coach I have spoken to has said I will make loads of mistakes, and your first job is better to be away from the cameras. The other offers I got [managing MK Dons], it would have been learning on the job at the deep end and I probably wasn’t ready for those jobs. I might have been but I didn’t want to take any risks, especially when there is no timescale or plan of where I want to be in a certain time, so the 18s made sense.

“It has been really good so far. I have been shadowing five or six coaches at the academy and been mentored by Steve Heighway and Alex as well. I am still waiting to start in terms of being a No1 coach that leads a team. Shadowing is a bit different, I am more in the background. I haven’t had to make any big decisions, or any substitutions, formations or tactics yet.”

Shadowing has not contained Gerrard’s influence entirely, however. The former midfielder was immediately struck by the lack of physicality at academy level, a frequent lament from many Premier League managers while the Football Association strives to improve the technical abilities of English talent. In an under-18s fixture against Manchester City in March, he called for – and received – greater intensity from the Liverpool players as City were beaten for the first time in 28 months. Gerrard demanded the same the following week against Manchester United – old habits and rivalries die hard – and the 2-2 draw proved a ferocious encounter. Adam Lewis, a lifelong Liverpool fan who idolizes Gerrard, was sent off after 30 minutes for a dangerous tackle.

“We work on 50-50s,” Gerrard jokes. “As a player I got many, many tackles wrong and went over the top a few times and I had to apologize. That is not something I want to put into young players at all but you have to prepare them for the top level and the top level is physical and demanding. It is not just about tackles and competing. It is about trying to prepare them for the last five or 10 minutes of games when it is hard and your legs are burning and your heart is burning and it is not a nice place to be in as a player. You have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that. I hate watching footballers and football when there is no physical side and you don’t compete.

“There is a showboating mentality through academies. A lot of kids think they have to do 10 lollipops or Cruyff turns to look good or stand out. We all love a bit of skill and talent but the other side of the game is huge. I have to try and prepare these players for careers in the game. Not all of them will play for Liverpool’s first team but I feel if I can help them to compete in the other side of the game it will help their careers. Maybe it [showboating] comes from computer games, I don’t know. There are a lot of skilful players that young players try and emulate – probably too much instead of playing to their own strengths. They try and model their game on players like Ronaldo whereas you have to look at yourself and say: ‘What have I got? What are my strengths? How can I improve my weaknesses and become a player in my own right?’”

Gerrard, who expects to complete his Uefa A license by the end of this season, continues: “I like streetwise footballers. I think all the top players come from the street, that type of player. The kids in our academy are coming into an unbelievable place to work, they are getting boss food, they are getting picked up and the full-time lads get a lot more money than we got when we started. There is a case that they get a bit too much too soon. They get into a comfort zone of working in a lovely place and then it is a big shock for them when they have to move on or get released. I’ve seen a lot of players come out of the academy with huge reputations and go into the Melwood dressing room. Then it is sink or swim and a lot of them sink.”

The intensity of Liverpool youth fixtures is not all that has changed since Gerrard returned from LA Galaxy. He himself has had to tailor his coaching methods under the tutelage of the club’s academy director. Gerrard explains: “Alex has been first-class and I’ve had a lot of feedback. He’s been honest and straight with me. He has spoken to me about my body language on the side in coaching sessions. He also talked to me about my coaching voice. He wants it to be the same as it was when I was a player, when I was captain.”

Unsurprisingly, Gerrard has found aspiring youngsters to be “a bit shy” in the presence of Liverpool’s commanding former captain. “But once they know you are approachable they get comfortable very quickly,” he says. “We have to wait and see [what his strengths are as a coach] but you have to be approachable. The best managers I worked with were all very approachable, honest and fair, and always gave me feedback whether it was positive or negative.”

There is a danger, of course, that a coach of Gerrard’s status will be measured by the immediacy of results at under-18 level and not on player development. He accepts it comes with, if not the job, then his decision to pursue a career in management when so many of his peers have kept away. “None of that worries me or scares me,” he says. “If it is my fault we get beat that’s fine. It’s about the players and their development.

“I’d love to see a player I coach make their first-team debut because it is a life-changer. Making your debut for a club this size changed my life and I’ll be pleased for that kid and his family because it is an unbelievable thing to do. Making my debut here was one of the best days of my life. But they will have to fight for it because it is not easy.”

The Guardian Sport

Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola: If We Do Not Score in Monaco We Will Go Out

Pep Guardiola, pictured with Sergio Agüero, says of the first leg against Monaco ‘it is special for football when two teams play like that’.

Pep Guardiola said Manchester City will be eliminated from the Champions League if they fail to score in Monaco, despite holding a 5-3 lead from an extraordinary encounter at the Etihad Stadium.

The City manager vowed to maintain his commitment to attack at Stade Louis II on 15 March after a breathless first leg against the French league leaders, who twice led and missed a penalty before conceding three goals in 11 minutes late in the game. Even the Monaco coach, Leonardo Jardim, said he enjoyed the spectacle, if not the final result.

Guardiola described the contest as “beautiful” and an example of what can happen “when two teams want to be the protagonists” but also revealed mistrust of the City defense against the highest scoring team in Europe’s top divisions. After Nicolás Otamendi, John Stones and Willy Caballero endured a difficult night against Radamel Falcao and the eye-catching 18-year-old, Kylian Mbappé, the City manager admitted he could not send his team out to defend a 5-3 advantage in Monaco.

“We attack in small spaces and defend huge spaces behind, that’s why the people contracted me to come here,” Guardiola said. “It is special for football when two teams play like that. I am happier than my colleague from Monaco because at 2-0 [two goals behind] we are out. If one team can score a thousand million goals, it’s Monaco. They arrive with six or seven players in the box and it is tough to control that on the counterattack.

“Of course we have to improve. The first goal was a mistake, the second was a mistake but today the lesson is that we never give up. We were lucky in some aspects of the second half and very unlucky in some aspects of the first half. They will attack more and more and we have to defend better. But we will have our chances. We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. We are not going to defend that result. We now know each other better. We will adjust some things, they will adjust some things but we have to score goals. If we don’t score a goal in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

Guardiola refused to comment on the Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz’s decision to book Sergio Agüero for a perceived dive over Danijel Subasic in the first half when the Monaco goalkeeper made contact with the striker inside the area. “Next question, next question, next question,” he said. “I want to go to Monaco.”

Agüero, who scored twice and set up Leroy Sané’s fifth goal for City, commented: “He touched my foot but these are things that happen. The referee told me that he wasn’t going to give it. It happens and sometimes you can get it wrong but you have to accept it.” The Argentina international also reiterated his intention to remain at City beyond this season. “I’ve always said I want to be here at the club. I’ve always said that at the end of the season it won’t be my decision. The truth is that with these things it’s the club that handles everything and obviously it’s always my intention to stay.”

Hundreds of City fans missed kick‑off because of problems gaining entry to the stadium, accounting for the empty seats dotted around the ground at the start of the game. Guardiola’s squad flew to Abu Dhabi after the game for warm-weather training, with the manager adding: “I am satisfied it is 5-3 because we could be sat here out of the competition because the line was so fine. Now we will go to Abu Dhabi and rest for the Huddersfield game and Monaco.”

(The Guardian)