Shadow of Pep Guardiola Made Carlo Ancelotti a Man out of Time at Bayern


Munich – When Bayern Munich came to London in March to face Arsenal, following one 5-1 victory and just about to register another, everything seemed rosy in the kingdom of FC Hollywood. Sure, their football in the Bundesliga had hardly been edge-of-the-seat stuff, but Carlo Ancelotti spoke confidently, almost bullishly, of his team before the game in the press room at the Emirates Stadium.

He talked of his side approaching their physical best and of their “real energy”. It felt like his plan to take them back to Champions League glory – the reason that he was appointed to replace Pep Guardiola in the first place – was coming together at the right time. It felt like Bayern could be becoming Ancelotti’s team at last.

Once we walked up into the stands to see Bayern go through an innocuous 15-minute warm-up in the chill of a north London evening, it became clear that was perhaps less the case than the Italian would like to believe. The players immediately organized themselves into a high-tempo rondo – the piggy-in-the-middle one-touch game so beloved of Guardiola that set the tone in his reign from the very beginning. For all the world’s media, the indelible mark left on the squad by the Catalan tactician was plain to see.

It is living in the shadow of Guardiola that has ultimately cost Ancelotti his post at Bayern. The club’s management always knew there would be a drop-off in intensity when Guardiola – to their disappointment – left, and there was even the suggestion in some quarters that might not be a bad thing. Working under Guardiola is demanding and some of the squad, notably Franck Ribéry, had become tired of his micro-management.

Yet those players who breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the back of his three-line whip perhaps came to crave its return. They went from being kept on a short leash to being allowed to run around the park for hours. Still, as Bayern have underachieved this season, there has been a lot of dishonest revision of Ancelotti’s attributes, or apparent lack thereof.

Some have even gone as far as to suggest he does not do anything. This is plainly nonsense – ask Paris Saint-Germain, who mourned his loss for a prolonged period after his 2013 departure. Ancelotti showed PSG what being an elite club was all about, getting the players into the habit of recuperating and spending time with each other at Camp des Loges – just as the great Milan teams did at Milanello – and persuading the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic that the club were for real. “Paris lui doit tellement” – Paris owe him so much – said the headline in Wednesday’s L’Equipe, on the eve of that ultimately ruinous defeat at Parc des Princes. For those who thought Ancelotti has no eye for detail, there was even the anecdote that he ordered ball-boys for training in his time at PSG to minimize the dead time between exercises.

Tactical nuance, however, clearly is not his thing, and this began to frustrate the German champions’ squad – and those upstairs, who had seen Guardiola create a discernible Bayern brand of football. International observers may keep coming back to Guardiola’s failure to take Bayern back to the Champions League final in his three-year spell, but locals will remind you the football that the team produced in that time was out of this world.

Such peaks were the product of no let-up. That is not Ancelotti’s style, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge knew that when he appointed him. The lack of dazzle in Bundesliga action did not cause any initial alarm – if underwhelming domestically meant having plenty left in the tank for the final stages of the Champions League, then that was a price that Bayern were prepared to pay to allow Ancelotti to work his magic.

The majesty with which they overwhelmed Arsenal was all too brief, though, and the awful second half performance in the quarter-final, first leg against Real Madrid was the beginning of the end for the coach. Rummenigge may have spent a long time bemoaning the officiating in the second leg at the Bernabéu but deep down, he knew what he saw at the Allianz Arena the week before – his team, faced with a setback against a high-quality opponent for one of the first times that season, and with absolutely no answer to it.

Accordingly, Bayern went into this season with what amounted to a lame duck head coach, with the hope that he would keep everything shipshape until Julian Nagelsmann could arrive with a new energy next summer. A series of disjointed performances, a pertinent loss to Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim and scarcely-concealed rebellion in public comments by Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski and, after the humbling in Paris, Arjen Robben has brought things to a head sooner than Rummenigge or Uli Hoeness would like.

Whether right now is the right moment for Nagelsmann is questionable – he is a prodigious talent but still only 30. In the meantime, Bayern have turned once again to Jupp Heynckes, appointing him manager for the fourth time since 1987. During his last stint, he led Bayern to win the treble in 2013. In his fourth stint, Heynckes will not only be required to bring in new ideas to the club, but he will have to quickly put a lid on any dressing-room unrest.

Ancelotti will walk away with his reputation largely undamaged, and that is fair. He was maybe the right type of coach for Bayern at completely the wrong moment.

The Guardian Sport

Gareth Southgate Must Give Freedom a Chance after Numbing England Spectacle


London – Put out more flags. Dust down the red and white jester’s hat. Root out the gumshield, the crumpled Yekaterinburg metro map. And prepare to head once more into that strangely grueling territory between bruised and fearful cynicism and the eternal quiver of tournament hope.

England have booked their place at the World Cup in Russia after surely the most meandering, flaccid qualification victory yet devised by any England team. Slovenia were beaten by Harry Kane’s goal but make no mistake – this was both a dreadful game of football and a numbing spectacle for those loyal supporters still willing to drag themselves out on a Thursday night to enter the vast money-rinsing concrete cauldron of the Wembley entertainment complex.

Victory may have sealed qualification, but it also deflated further any realistic expectations of what might happen when England get there. This should be of great concern to the Football Association. There are only so many times even England fans will be prepared to pay £40 for the pleasure of throwing paper airplanes at the pitch, which brought the loudest cheers of the night right up until Kane’s finish in stoppage time.

At the end England’s players gathered in the center circle and wandered around applauding the empty red plastic seats and the backs of people queuing to leave while the PA burbled gamely about the prestige friendlies to come. As an image of England football 2017, and the slow, gilded death for what was once football’s most compelling theater, it is probably quite hard to beat.

England were at least terrible in a grimly fascinating way. Gone are the days when a poor England team sent it long, seeking out the head of some game forward battering ram. Here they were terrible in the new style, passing to each other but setting out with two lumbering central midfield wardrobes shielding a defense threatened only by its own misplaced passes. In the opening hour they produced a performance so lacking in purpose and precision it was like watching a piece of performance art, a 45-minute Warhol-style short film called Wembley Angst No94.

England did improve after the hour mark but by then they had a lot of ground to make up from a standing start as the game congealed early on into another game just like the other games. Jordan Henderson had the ball quite a lot, worrying about from side to side, always looking back into the yonic safety of his defense. Midway through the half England produced a stunningly terrible free-kick routine, working the ball very slowly backwards and finally teeing it up for Henderson to perform a spectacular falling-over air-kick on the edge of the area. Grimly, Slovenia cleared.

Only Marcus Rashford seemed really interested in trying to run forward quickly. Raheem Sterling ran quite a lot. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And that was pretty much that for the most soft-pedaled minor chord moment of qualification imaginable, given a spark of life at the death by Kane’s opportunism.

What now then? One thing is clear. England does not expect. It has been more than a decade since the national team had the luxury of traveling in a state of doomed optimism, the mood ever more stricken since that golden, foolish summer of 2006 when the world was still young, when Crouchie did the robot with Prince William, and when the idea of some grand Premier League talent-legacy waiting to be spent died for good on the fields of Stuttgart, Cologne and Gelsenkirchen.

The challenge now for Gareth Southgate is not to try to reach the World Cup final. It is to produce a team that people actually want to watch. This has been a deathly qualification, with only 16 goals scored and a feeling of having spent endless hours watching England’s furrowed and fearful back five play a variety of keep-ball.

From here it seems absolutely clear Southgate needs to take a chance, to chuck out the Dan Ashworth handbook of mind-bogglingly dull and outmoded possession football, to accept that playing with adventure, life, pace, and risky attacking vim might revive not just the dwindling England brand but his own managerial career.

In their current guise, watching England is like watching a 12-round under-card split decision wrestle-off between a pair of ponderous 15st taxi drivers, the craft-free double defensive midfield bolt the managerial equivalent of tucking both your shirt and your vest into your underpants.

What is the point of playing this way? From here to next summer every moment of Southgate’s time should be devoted to trying to wring the most out of what he does have, a spritz of genuine forward talent in Kane, Dele Alli and Rashford. He needs a midfielder who can pass. And he needs to trust his defense to carry the ball forward.

Success for this team would involve simply playing with a little freedom, exploring their own limits and refusing to leave the competition until they have at least been beaten by a demonstrably superior team. Score some goals. Produce at least one performance that lets everyone feel giddy and stupid and deluded for four days in June.

There is a wider issue here about international football itself. When the away fans in Malta last month sang against their team, they weren’t angry or incensed or spoiling for a fight. They were taking the mickey out of the whole thing: England, us, them, the enduring disjunct between a domestic league of such screeching urgency and a national team who have withered in its shadow. Take note, Gareth. It is when they stop booing you really want to start worrying. For now England will travel with hope, as ever. But not much of it.

The Guardian Sport

Egypt Qualifies for FIFA World Cup for First Time in 28 Years


London – Egypt qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the third time in its history on Sunday after defeating Congo 2-1 in Alexandria.

Liverpool striker Mohammed Salah scored his country’s two goals, giving Egypt the victory that allows it to play in the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

Egypt becomes the second Arab country after Saudi Arabia and the second African country after Nigeria to qualify to next year’s tournament that is hosted by Russia.

Egypt had previously played in the 1934 and 1990 World Cups, both of which were hosted by Italy.

With Sunday’s victory, Egypt managed to avoid the play-off round. They ended the group stage of the qualifications with 12 points from four victories. They only lost once. They ended their campaign four points ahead of the nearest competitor in group E that included Ghana, Uganda and Congo.

Egypt had taken the lead against Congo with a Salah goal in the 63rd minute. The crowd of some 75,000 fans then had to endure some tense moments after Congo equalized in the 87th minute, but a Salah penalty in the fourth minute of added time sealed Egypt’s qualification to euphoric celebrations across the country.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, telephoned later on Sunday Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to congratulate him on his country’s achievement.

More Arab countries could join Egypt and Saudi Arabia in Russia next year if Tunisia and Morocco earn draws against Libya and the Ivory Coast respectively in next month’s African play-offs.

Syria will meanwhile face Australia on October 10 to determine whether it will reserve a place for itself in the Asian play-offs.

The draw for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup will take place in Moscow on December 1.

England Reach the World Cup again – Can they do Better this Time?


London – England have qualified for the tournament in Russia and are so far unbeaten in their group but that does not guarantee they will have a successful tournament. Here we chart how they have got on after winning in 1966

Mexico 1970
England qualified as holders and finished second in their group, behind Brazil, the eventual winners. That meant a quarter‑final against West Germany. Sir Alf Ramsey’s side led 2-0 before losing 3-2, with Gerd Müller’s goal ending England’s hopes of retaining the Jules Rimet trophy.

West Germany 1974
For the first time since England entered the qualification process, in 1950, they failed to reach the finals. They had to beat Poland in a Wembley qualifier in October 1973 but despite taking 36 shots, forcing 26 corners, hitting the woodwork twice and having four efforts cleared off the line, they simply could not find a way past the Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, who was infamously dubbed a “clown” by Brian Clough at half-time.

Argentina 1978
England may have had a different manager in Ron Greenwood but for the second time in succession they failed to reach the finals. It came down to goal difference, with the Italians booking their ticket thanks to their 6-1 defeat of Finland.

Spain 1982
England required victory against Hungary at Wembley in November 1981 to reach their first World Cup in 12 years and managed it thanks to a slightly clumsy Paul Mariner goal. At the tournament they started well with a 3-1 victory against France. A goalless draw with West Germany meant Greenwood’s men had to beat the hosts to advance to the semi-finals. They drew 0-0.

Mexico 1986
Bobby Robson’s side qualified with relative ease, topping their group thanks to an undefeated record of four wins and four draws. In Mexico, Gary Lineker’s six goals guided England to the quarter‑finals, where they were undone by Diego Maradona through fair means and foul.

Italy 1990
Robson led England to a second successive World Cup finals after they finished second in their qualifying group. At the tournament, a Paul Gascoigne-inspired side reached the semi-finals and came home as heroes.

USA 1994
Graham Taylor’s one and only qualifying campaign as manager was a disaster. They were pipped to the two qualifying places by Norway and Holland and Taylor, who died earlier this year, became a figure of ridicule and humiliation.

France 1998
A defeat against Italy at Wembley was the only stain on a near‑perfect run in the qualifiers for Glenn Hoddle’s side, with a goalless draw against the same opponents in Rome sealing England’s place at the finals. There they faced Argentina in the last 16 and lost on penalties following a match including Michael Owen’s stunning goal and David Beckham’s needless sending off.

South Korea and Japan, 2002
David Beckham’s dramatic free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford sent Sven Goran-Eriksson’s side to a tournament where they got revenge over Argentina before eventually being knocked out by Brazil, via Ronaldinho’s free‑kick, in the quarter-finals.

Germany 2006
The “Golden Generation” secured their place by finishing top of their qualifying group. At the tournament, they flattered to deceive, eventually exiting via a quarter-final defeat, on penalties, to Portugal.

South Africa 2010
Fabio Capello side qualified with ease, winning nine and losing one of their group games. If only their performances in South Africa were as convincing – England stumbled into the knockout stages where they were thumped 4-1 by Germany.

Brazil 2014
Yet again England impressed in qualifying, going through their group undefeated. But, again, they were terrible at the tournament, failing to progress to the knockout stages after losing against Italy and Uruguay and drawing with Costa Rica.

The Guardian Sport

How England Can Find World Cup Spark and Repair Disconnect with Fans


London – The sense of anticlimax was inescapable. Gareth Southgate had spent his evening on the touchline dodging paper airplanes, tedium-induced origami, and blocking out occasional spasms of booing from the home support, and was left to plead for patience after the match. It matters not that plenty of nations would love to be in England’s position. Argentina are in real danger of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970 after drawing with Peru in Buenos Aires. Holland are third in their group and in peril, while even the European champions, Portugal, are facing up to the likelihood of a play-off. The same fate almost certainly awaits Italy. England, in contrast, have emerged unbeaten through another qualification campaign and yet the mood was almost apologetic.

Southgate, asked if he was enjoying himself a year into his tenure, mustered a rueful smile. “Well, weirdly, I am,” he said. “Although I’m not certain I’m standing here thinking: ‘Wow, isn’t it brilliant to have qualified for a World Cup,’ feeling all the love. But I get it, I get it. I go back to the first objective being to qualify, and we have done that. Now we look at how we build, evolve and improve. In international football you don’t have a chequebook of hundreds of millions of pounds to spend. So we have to coach and work to improve people and the team, and that is the great challenge. I get how people are feeling about us at the moment but I also believe in the potential of these players. I want to build a team that the country are proud of.” Now Southgate has Sunday’s qualifier in Lithuania and, at best, four friendly fixtures before he must select a squad for the tournament in Russia. So what areas must England address most urgently if they are to repair the disconnect between team and support?

Conjure some kind of creativity in central midfield

Adam Lallana should have played again for Liverpool by the time England confront Brazil and Germany, Fifa’s top-ranked sides, in friendlies next month and will be reintegrated immediately at international level, but he will find his reputation has soared in absentia. England’s shortcomings are felt most keenly in a lack of creation. Everything was a plod on Thursday, as it has been so often in a qualification campaign littered with slow starts, with the shepherding of the ball as labored as the movement of the players when confronted by massed defense. Oh for a bit of zest, some incision, a burst of quality in the pass. Lallana’s forte is his movement, and his front-foot urgency and aggression in the pass will make a difference. Southgate must wish Jack Wilshere had not slipped so far down the pecking order at Arsenal, for all that he cannot rule out the 25-year-old still making a late case for involvement. “We’re in a position where there’s no way we would dismiss any creative player,” he said. “But, of course, people have to be playing at a good level.”But where are the other options? Has, say, Harry Winks done enough to suggest he can be the answer? Is there anyone else out there? Southgate believes there are players in the system who will go on to impress at the highest level, but they are 18 months to two years away from being ready. So, if the personnel are out of reach, a system of play must be employed that taps better into what qualities the current collective do possess.

Is there scope to explore a back three again?

Arguably England’s most persuasive performance under Southgate’s stewardship was the narrow, and unfortunate, defeat by Germany in March when the manager experimented with a back three with some success. Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane started in Dortmund behind a pair of midfield anchors, and with the energetic Dele Alli and Lallana supporting Jamie Vardy. There was width and pace from full-back and proper bite on the counterattack. It was a tactic to which the team resorted in the latter stages against Slovenia on Thursday when the visitors went for broke, and it may be an approach that ekes the best from this group against more fancied, enterprising opponents at the finals. England will surely be more of a threat on the break against better teams than they are when asked to break down opponents. Germany and Brazil will test that theory.

Pray English players benefit from involvement in the Champions League latter stages

Southgate was at pains to point to this group’s lack of experience – “they’re young players and most of them have never been to a World Cup so this is a big moment in their careers”– and acknowledged they will find themselves in the company of sides laced with Champions League and league championship winners. That rather overlooked the reality that, in Cahill and Ryan Bertrand, he has two European Cup winners, not to mention players who have claimed the Premier League with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. But he was right in hoping the likes of Marcus Rashford and Alli, Kyle Walker and John Stones, sharpen their skills in the Champions League this season and thrive at that level. “The younger lads are playing more big games in the Champions League and, if they get to the latter stages and maybe the finals, all these big-pressure games will help this squad,” said Cahill. “We’ve held our own against the likes of Spain and Germany but to have the knack to go on and win those games … that’s something we can learn. To kill teams off when we’re playing well. That’s the gap.” Game management in highly pressurized occasions is something that has to be learned. The more familiar this group’s key players become with tense elite contests, the more likely England are to make an impact in Russia.

So, if we acknowledge we cannot be like Spain, can we be like Iceland?

“Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months?” asked Southgate on Thursday night. “No, we’re not.” But, if we can accept England’s options are not going to blossom unexpectedly, can we not at least aspire to be like Iceland at the World Cup? Not necessarily in style, but in structure, playing to a distinct and clear plan that brings the best out of those available? Iceland’s strength at Euro 2016 was an unswerving belief in their approach and an ability to implement a relatively simple gameplan. The approach only took them so far, of course, and they were found out by France. But, by then, they had seen off England and reached a quarter-final. Southgate would thrill at the prospect of doing likewise in the context of recent tournament traumas. Yet another troubling aspect of England’s qualification is that, for all the talk of progress, on the pitch a clear plan and thought process have not always been evident. The management team feel a plan is being implemented. They believe they are drumming it into the players at every get-together. Yet it is not always easy to notice from the outside looking in. If the supporters can identify what the team are trying to achieve, maybe the skepticism will recede.

The Guardian Sport

Everton’s Lukaku-Shaped Hole Leaves Praise of Summer Buys Looking Hollow


London — An ancient cliche was conspicuous by its absence when Everton’s owner, Farhad Moshiri, gave Ronald Koeman a vote of confidence the other day. Older football followers in particular might have noted that in reporting it hardly anyone used the word “dreaded”.

Presumably it is safe to say votes of confidence are still dreaded, because no manager particularly wants one and they still tend to mean what they always meant, that the stay of execution will be terminated anyway if results cannot be quickly improved.

But the V of C itself does not seem to belong in the Premier League era; it is a throwback to the dim and distant past and the sort of relationship between chairman and manager encapsulated in The Damned United when Jim Broadbent spells out the facts of football life to Michael Sheen in the middle of the pitch at a deserted Baseball Ground. The facts of football life being that managers are easy to remove and easy to replace, and therefore occupy the lowest rung of importance on the payroll, way below the players.

Things have changed a little since, not least owing to Brian Clough proving some of his former employers wrong. Managers are held to be highly important these days, and paid on that basis, with contractual safeguards to deter all but the most trigger-happy of chairmen from dismissing them on a whim. But what is also new in the present era is the fortnight-long international break, an uncomfortable period for any club going into enforced inaction on the back of a poor result, and Moshiri probably acted wisely and fairly in stating the club’s position clearly at the outset to try to give Koeman and his staff some backing and breathing space.

Whether Koeman deserves it after a disappointing start to the season remains a matter of lively debate, though Everton’s unfortunate opening serves to highlight another aspect of modern football, namely that it is difficult to gauge a club’s development on the field from its perceived success in the transfer window. Each year before the summer trading finishes a notional league table is drawn up based on comparative spending and quality of acquisition. Some clubs are judged to have bought well, others to have bought badly, and still others will be accused of not buying at all. Then the actual season commences, and within weeks these projections based on expenditure will be shown to be useless.

Remember Manchester City being mocked for spending a fortune on full-backs? Now those very acquisitions are being credited with the success of Pep Guardiola’s gameplan at Stamford Bridge, albeit with Fabian Delph standing in for Benjamin Mendy. Chelsea themselves were deemed to have had an underwhelming summer of transfer business, yet apart from the first-day shambles against Burnley seemed to be putting some impressive results together until injury struck Álvaro Morata.

Everton remain the attention grabbers here though, for they appear to have fallen into the trap of enjoying spending the proceeds of Romelu Lukaku’s sale without remembering why Manchester United were willing to fork out £75m up front. They were widely considered to have had a productive summer, at least up to the point where they admitted they would not be getting hold of Olivier Giroud. Koeman was praised for acting early and decisively, and the captures of Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane were greeted as signs of ambition and proof that the club was investing for the long-term.

Wayne Rooney’s return could not be dressed up in quite the same way, and the inactivity after missing out on Giroud must have been disappointing for a manager who continually stressed his desire for a goalscoring target man to replace Lukaku, but the window appeared to end happily when Everton parted with a record fee to sign the long-term attacking target Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Except when the season started it became clear that not only Rooney and Sigurdsson but also Davy Klaassen had been signed for the same position, while the gaping hole left by the departing big fella in front of them had not been filled. Not even Koeman, it transpires, can see Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Sandro Ramírez maturing in time, and Rooney, just as Manchester United watchers warned, simply looks over-mature.

Burnley, in contrast, received few accolades for activity or imagination in the market over the summer, even though they broke their transfer record by paying Leeds £15m for Chris Wood. The New Zealand striker seemed to be just a duplication or a slight upgrade on players the club already possessed – the same could also be said of Jack Cork, Jon Walters, Charlie Taylor and Phil Bardsley – but the key here seems to be that Burnley had a good balance and a strong work ethic and quite sensibly decided not to disrupt anything.

Burnley are now being hailed as a tight, well-disciplined unit who play as a team and fight for every minute of the 90. Nothing new there – that was pretty much their hallmark last season – yet suddenly they are finding points easier to come by and proving troublesome opponents for even the biggest clubs. All on a modest budget with no great dramas in the transfer window. Sometimes, in fact, the size of some clubs’ budgets gets in the way. Arsène Wenger said a couple of years ago that people would have laughed if he had nipped over to France and come back with Riyad Mahrez, because people expected Arsenal signings to cost at least £10m. Maybe Koeman felt the same when it came to replacing £75m Lukaku. He said he wanted a target man but didn’t get his wish, yet Burnley picked one up for £15m, while Spurs landed the admittedly 32-year-old Fernando Llorente for a little less.

That is not to suggest either would have solved Everton’s problems, or even that Wood’s goals have been behind Burnley’s rise to sixth place. Just to point out that options are always available. The manager who claimed he didn’t want to go down to option C or D after missing out on Giroud has been left with his option Z, otherwise known as Oumar Niasse. It is unclear what Moshiri thinks about that, though plain to see that, despite bringing in half a dozen new players over summer, Everton failed to address the most notable departure.

Collectively that is quite an embarrassment for a club that pinched Steve Walsh from Leicester to head up player recruitment. No one imagined it would be easy to replace Lukaku; there are not many players of similar size and ability around, and whoever Everton brought in might have found it difficult living up to his predecessor’s strike rate. But Lukaku was always going – whatever else Everton say they cannot pretend they were caught on the hop. And after only seven league games two of the most frequently asked questions around Goodison over the past few years – are Everton a one-man team, and however will they manage without Lukaku? – now have answers. They just happen to be unflattering ones, and there are three months to wait for the next transfer window.

The Guardian Sport

Antonio Conte is Not Alone in Brushing Up His Football English


London — Antonio Conte was snapped on the beach this week basking in the Italian sun, taking time off during the international break. Cue a few jokes about budgie smugglers, whether Diego Costa was invited and why, after a year in England, Conte was caught reading a book called Football English: Soccer Vocabulary for Learners of English, by Tom Challenger.

The book is a practical guide to football-specific phrases and terminology. It is broken up into thematic chapters – there is one for coaches and one for training – and set at three levels of difficulty. It is not a phrasebook, though. It is written entirely in English, so one needs a basic understanding of the language before one can start. “There’s nothing special about football English,” says Challenger, presumably referring to the vernacular rather than the book. “Within that community of speakers, however, they use particular phrases more often than others and I tried to identify those in the book.”

Challenger teaches English as a foreign language in Vienna, where he lives with his wife and trilingual child (German, English and Hungarian). His book was the result not of a gap in any market but a desire to improve his CV as a teacher. Over two years he hand-built a database of articles, press releases and interview transcripts from which he worked out the most commonly used terms.

“The idea is to give you the most useful language,” Challenger says. “The first chapter, for example, deals with what wages are and the fact in the UK we quote the salary per week. I think they should know what a cone is, what a marker is, what the outside of the boot is, because we tend to say boot rather than the outside of the foot. They should know what the difference is between manager and coach. Though that’s not really well defined.”

Conte, after the transfer window he has just had, can probably identify with that final statement. For Challenger, who was not aware of his newfound tabloid infamy when the Guardian spoke to him, what started out as a résumé enhancer has become a nice little earner (with an emphasis on the little). He self-published online and copies of the book are printed on demand. He estimates that, given the hours worked and the copies sold, he has made at least minimum wage from his endeavours.

Sales have also been rising year on year and Challenger suspects word is getting round in an industry increasingly using English as a second language, whether in the UK or not. “There’s actually a lot of English teaching going on within Premier League academies,” he says. “I also noted the Man United soccer school franchise bought 150 copies at one point. But it’s useful, too, for players in Austria who might want to learn English before a possible move or for players in a new league who use English as they adapt to the domestic language.”

Given the exposure provided by Conte, Challenger may expect an extra boost in sales yet. And as for the Italian, there is no shame in brushing up further on his football English. The intricacies, after all, can often be subtle. “One phrase that’s difficult to explain is ‘being let go’,” he says. “In many languages they won’t have a different word for leaving your job because it was your fault or just because of bad luck. In German, in fact, they don’t have that word.” Wonder if that is also true in Italian?

The Guardian Sport

Football is Heading for Trouble Over Brain Injuries Caused by the Ball


London — In happier times, there was a story Eric Harrison used to tell his players at Manchester United, as the coach who helped bring through the Class of ’92, about a piece of advice he once received from the centre-half he regarded as the hardest man he had ever seen on a football pitch.

George Curtis will always be best remembered as John Sillett’s managerial partner on the day Coventry City won the 1987 FA Cup. Yet for Harrison’s generation in the 1950s and 1960s he was the kind of centre‑half who could trouble even the most granite-jawed opponent. Harrison played with him on their national service and was always fascinated how a man of 5ft 11in won so many headers against players who were well over 6ft. “No problem,” Curtis explained, “early in the game, when the first ball comes up the middle, I don’t head the ball. I head the back of the centre-forward’s head against the ball – and he doesn’t usually come back for more.”

Harrison liked what he heard so much he adopted the same tactic, as you might expect for a man whose nickname during 10 years as a wing‑half at Halifax Town was “Chopper”. Harrison, by his own admission, saw every header as a personal challenge, no matter what was in the way.

Yet it had its consequences. His wife, Shirley, told me a story recently about her first pregnancy and the arrival of their baby daughter, Kim. Harrison was in another part of the hospital that day, suffering one of his regular concussions, and missed the birth. That one wiped him out for three days.

He is 79 now and the most famous players from his list of successes Old Trafford are still in thrall of their old coach. Yet it hasn’t been easy for anyone when they have called in to see him this year. “Eric still talks about them – Giggsy, Beckham, Scholesy, the Nevilles – but he doesn’t recognise them now,” Shirley explains. “He recognises me and his daughters, but not even the grandchildren. The players have all been to visit but it wasn’t the Eric they knew. Scholesy, in particular, found it really hard. They all did. It was upsetting for all of them.” Beckham had turned up with a carrot cake he had baked with his children and a bottle of whisky. Afterwards, he sat in his car and wept.

By now, you have probably read about Harrison’s deteriorating health and the inevitable concerns that maybe he has suffered from what the coroner in Jeff Astle’s inquest described as “industrial disease”, namely dementia brought on by heading the ball.

Nobody can be sure if there is a connection but, as Shirley acknowledges, it is something she and her family have to consider when there are so many stories of other former pros from bygone eras – in particular, players who were renowned for their heading ability – who have suffered the same way. Astle’s family have led the campaign for greater research, first featured in this column in March 2014, and maybe we are finally getting somewhere now the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association are planning to commission a study to examine the risks and see what can be done.

Yet it has been a bewilderingly slow process, to say the least, bearing in mind it was actually 2002 when the two organisations announced there would be a joint 10-year research programme and I wonder how Kevin Doyle feels about that now football has a story of a modern player who has been forced to retire, on medical advice, because heading the ball was causing persistent headaches. Doyle’s announcement follows what he describes as “numerous” concussions, including two this season, as a player who was always renowned for his aerial ability, scoring a high percentage of his goals that way at Reading, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Colorado Rapids. He is 34 and says his doctors have advised him to end a career that also features 64 caps for the Republic of Ireland to “avoid the possibility of these symptoms becoming more serious and permanent”. The risks are simply too great.

At least he has got out now, rather than subjecting himself to any more punishment, and hopefully that will mean no further problems, whereas there once would have been a time when a footballer in that position would have been encouraged to carry on regardless. Yet it always comes as a jolt when a professional sportsman is advised to quit on medical grounds and particularly in Doyle’s case when many of us, I imagine, might presume there is not a great deal to worry about from heading the ball in today’s game.

It is an easy assumption to make and I must confess I was one of those who thought the dangers had largely been removed once football phased out those heavy, leather balls, often saturated in water, that have been blamed for the issues relating to previous generations. That, however, might be a common mistake because if you listen to some of the experts who have been studying these cases it is a complete red herring.

The balls might be lighter these days but that just means they travel much faster. The game is getting quicker all the time and that means more crosses are being made and more headers are necessary. There might not be the same kind of physicality compared to the days, to quote Harrison, when “trying to break opponents in half” was part of your average Saturday afternoon. But the greater speed also means there is a higher risk of players taking accidental bangs to the head.

Willie Stewart, the neuropathologist who examined Astle and likened what he found to the brain of an old boxer, calls it a “lazy characterisation” to think of it as merely a problem of the past. Many people still do, however, and maybe that explains why the authorities in England have chosen to look the other way for so long, never taking the trouble to confront the evidence properly.

It is certainly worth recounting what happened after the FA promised the Astle family in 2002 that it would treat the issue as a high-level priority. Instead the family received two letters and did not hear from the governing body for 12 years until Greg Dyke, the then chairman, had the decency to apologise on behalf of a previous regime. The first letter was from the FA’s solicitors to advise against legal action. The next could easily be described as a sweetener – a tactic the FA used many years later with various sexual-abuse victims – by offering free tickets for the next England friendly, albeit with the rider that it would be difficult to squeeze them all in. Two seats was the limit.

Thankfully, there are other countries where they have devoted time to these studies without leaving the impression they had to be pushed into seeking answers. One study in New York found that players in their 30s who headed the ball 885 to 1,550 times a year had significantly lower water movement in three areas of their brains and those who did so more than 1,800 times tended to do notably worse in memory tests. American sports have been much quicker to recognise the dangers of concussion and when it comes to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease caused by repeated blows, Boston University announced last week there had been a significant breakthrough diagnosing it in living humans rather than having to identify it posthumously, as was previously the case.

The United States feels so far ahead in terms of its research, its response (heading has been outlawed for under‑10s since 2015) and its understanding that the people playing sport have a right to know the risks. It might not change the way they play, or what their coaches demand, but at least they would be in possession of the facts. Doyle moved to Major League Soccer in 2015. It doesn’t reflect well on English football that he might still be going up for headers every Saturday, come what may, if he had stayed put.

Burden of proof on Ox to show worth

Who did Gareth Southgate mean when he admitted being dissatisfied with his latest England squad and volunteered the information that “one or two players” did not warrant their places judging by their club performances so far this season?

Southgate was too gentlemanly to say but nobody should be surprised if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain featured prominently in the thoughts of the England manager after a run of form that has merely confirmed the view here that Arsenal did extraordinarily well to coax a transfer fee of £40m out of Liverpool.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is a curious player because he certainly does not lack admirers. Arsène Wenger wanted to keep him at Arsenal and, as well as Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, Antonio Conte had him on his wish-list for Chelsea. Roy Hodgson spoke highly of him during his time as England manager and Southgate keeps selecting him.

At the same time, it is not always easy to understand the attraction and the difficult truth, looking back over his Arsenal years, is that it is trickier even still to recall a key fixture when Oxlade-Chamberlain has played the leading role. He has started only one game for Liverpool, a Carabao Cup tie, and if there are hidden layers it is time he found a way to bring them out. Oxlade-Chamberlain is 24 now and at that age no footballer should want to be talked about for mere potential.

The Guardian Sport

Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Action


London – 1) Hughton hankers after firepower

Chris Hughton, the Brighton & Hove Albion manager, said it all when he highlighted how his team had not been “out of sight” against Arsenal, just as they had not been against Manchester City on the opening weekend of the season. On both occasions, the final scoreline of 0-2 hinted at respectability. Which, in truth, was Brighton’s priority. The gap to the Premier League’s top six clubs yawns like a chasm and Hughton’s approach at the Emirates Stadium – an approach born out of necessity – was characterised by damage limitation. Hughton used a 4-5-1 system and, even after Nacho Monreal’s early opener, Brighton did not come out. Their lack of firepower remains a worry. It was the fourth time in seven league matches that they had drawn a blank. However, their season will not be defined by away games like this. David Hytner

2) Vardy’s body needs some respite

After an uneasy start to the season, in which Leicester City have earned a meagre five points, Craig Shakespeare can find some respite before they host West Bromwich Albion on 16 October. The same applies for Jamie Vardy – omitted from the England squad – who will be given a steroid injection to solve his hip problem this week. His manager defended the striker’s decision to play through the pain barrier for his club but not country. “The idea for us and for England is he comes back once he’s had that little bit of a break raring to go again,” Shakespeare said, adding that medical staff from both parties had discussed the issue. “It’s never been questioned, Jamie wants to play for England and for Leicester. The time now: it’s right to give him this break, just to give a little bit of a rest, to fully recover from this injury.” Ben Fisher

3) Conte needs to find a plan B

Antonio Conte returns home to Italy for a few days over the international window seeking “a rest”, but he will spend the next fortnight stewing on the defeat to Manchester City. He has retained a league title as a manager before, though never in a division where the elite are quite this reinforced. At Juventus in 2012 he had been braced for a renewed challenge from Milan. “But, instead, they sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain, so they became weaker,” he said. “It wasn’t simple second time, but it was easier. Here, from last season to this, you have big teams becoming bigger.” Manchester City demonstrated as much at Chelsea’s expense on Saturday, and Manchester United, only off the top on goal difference, appear just as imposing. Therein lies the justification for Conte’s frustration, aired within Stamford Bridge over the summer, at the need for more significant squad strengthening to keep ahead of the rest. The head coach always knew life was going to be harder this time round. Saturday proved it. Dominic Fifield

4) Everton need to go back to basics

Everton’s struggles continue. While not replacing Romelu Lukaku’s clinical finishing is obviously a problem so, too, is Ronald Koeman’s defence. Michael Keane was signed in the summer from Burnley for £30m. But statuesque defending made Burnley look more like Barcelona as they combined for a total of 24 passes through nine players for Jeff Hendrick to apply the finishing touch past Jordan Pickford. Morgan Schneiderlin allowed Hendrick to ease past him, leaving Pickford stranded, and the lack of desire from the Frenchman and the unit as a whole shows a defence badly out of form. At this stage last season Everton had conceded four goals and kept three clean sheets. They have now conceded 12. If Koeman cannot bring his side back to basing their success on being difficult to beat then, regardless of how well his expensive attacking force play, Everton will continue the struggle. Graham Searles

5) Huddersfield crash back down to earth

Amid a cornucopia of perks, the downside to being a footballer is that you have to do your growing-up in public. So far in his short career Dele Alli has attracted derision for some naughty challenges, a rude gesture and, on Saturday against Huddersfield Town, a devious dive. Those deeds were varying degrees of bad. But if they are the worst things that this 21-year-old has done while rising to the top of a fiercely competitive profession, and if he learns from them, then who among us can honestly hold them against him for long? As for Huddersfield, they entered this match with the second best defensive record in the Premier League, but ended with their first home defeat in the league this season. “They’re one of the best teams in the league. You could tell that,” the Huddersfield midfielder Aaron Mooy said after the defeat. Paul Doyle

6) Hodgson wants his players to show their mettle

Crystal Palace’s hammering at Manchester United makes it seven defeats from as many Premier League games, 17 goals conceded and none scored. Chelsea visit Selhurst Park on 14 October. So, how is the spirit among Roy Hodgson’s players? “It’s been excellent,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to get more fractious because we put our messages across quite strongly and there will be some on the field who don’t pick up those messages as quickly as others. But that’s nothing I can’t deal with.” Yet the manager will again be without three key figures for Chelsea’s visit. “[Christian] Benteke won’t be back for a few weeks, so we still won’t have a recognised centre forward. Wilf Zaha probably won’t be back [each has a knee problem]. Ruben Loftus-Cheek [ineligible] can’t play. So it’s got to be the lads I put out there who go out there and run their bollocks off, if you excuse my expression, to try to do the best job they can possibly do,” Hodgson says. It may get worse before it gets any better. Jamie Jackson

7) Lack of finishing power haunting Klopp’s men

Time was when Newcastle v Liverpool was a match anticipated like no other. Two aggressive teams who were seemingly interested only in attacking and with centre-forwards who could be relied upon to deliver in front of goal. The thing is that time was more than 20 years ago. While Liverpool’s aspirations have not changed much in that time, namely a first league title since 1990, Newcastle had to recalibrate theirs long ago. The death of Freddy Shepherd last week, and his commemoration at this match, served as a reminder of the Magpies’ Icarus-like brush with the Premier League title in 1996. For Newcastle, this draw will have given them encouragement in their ability to hold out against better sides. For Liverpool, the failure to convert chances, once again, haunts them, like that clock that has been ticking for 27 years. Conrad Leach

8) Pellegrino needs a rethink on forward options

There is an argument that Southampton’s attackers lost so much confidence under Claude Puel last season that it will take time for Mauricio Pellegrino’s ideas to take hold. But after this defeat by Stoke City, concern is growing about Pellegrino’s flexibility. Southampton’s two wins have come against Crystal Palace and a 10-man West Ham, and scoring five goals in seven matches has not exactly set pulses racing at St Mary’s. Pellegrino has favoured a 4-2-3-1 system and Shane Long started as a lone striker against Stoke, with Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini both on the bench. Long’s tireless running can be useful in that role, but his selflessness is rendered ineffective by the inability of Southampton’s creative players to take advantage of the space created by the Irish forward. Might it be time for Pellegrino to think about pairing Long with Austin or Gabbiadini? Jacob Steinberg

9) West Brom treading water despite money spent
There was a feeling that West Brom had made some brilliant signings when the transfer window closed, and the excitement around the Hawthorns was tangible. A month later the view about Albion’s activity in the market has not changed but the same cannot be said for the mood. Albion sit 10th, which is respectable enough, but the broader picture shows only three wins from 19 league matches and, perhaps most frustratingly for the supporters, no shift in the way the team plays, despite £40m being spent. Tony Pulis is never going to ask his teams to open up and play gung-ho, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the group of players at his disposal should be capable of coming up with a better way of holding on to a 2-1 lead than time-wasting almost throughout the second half. The tactics were overly negative and came back to bite Albion when Watford scored a 95th-minute equaliser. Stuart James

10) Clement’s cupboard is bare in attack

It was always likely to be a difficult season for Swansea after the departures of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Their combination was pivotal in Swansea’s fight to stay up and it is no surprise they are toiling without them. Paul Clement could not hide his frustration after the defeat to West Ham, which pushed Swansea into the bottom three. The manager was pleased with his team’s composed passing in midfield but he was unhappy with their decisions in the final third and critical of his forwards for their timidity. Wilfried Bony had one effort before being taken off at half-time, while Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew were quiet. Yet Clement must also shoulder some of the blame. Swansea created nothing at the London Stadium and three goals in seven games is damning. They lack imagination and width and will be in huge trouble if nothing changes. Jacob Steinberg

The Guardian Sport

Didier Deschamps: I Apply my own Style and Have Not Taken Anything from other Coaches


London – In an extract from a new book France manager Didier Deschamps discusses leadership, talent and creating a link with his players based on trust.

Didier Deschamps is sitting opposite me in a hotel bar in Monaco and is explaining the art of leadership. “I don’t think you just become a leader,” he says, leaning forward in a low armchair and sipping an espresso. “You can’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Right, now I’m going to be a leader.’ I think it is something that’s in you, that you’re born with, and which develops. Some people have that character, that personality and it comes naturally. You can’t force it. It has to be authentic and natural. Innate. It comes from you, your early years, your attitude as an adolescent, how you are with a group and as the one who influences things.”

In the past Deschamps has credited Aimé Jacquet (France’s World Cup-winning coach) and Marcello Lippi as great influences. He spoke of Jacquet’s man-management skills and Lippi’s tactical smarts. But when I ask what he has taken from different coaches, he snaps. “I didn’t take anything!” His fist slaps into his palm to make his point. “Everything you go through has to fit in with the way you are and your own ideas. You wouldn’t be able to do today what coaches did when I was a player. I say something to my son and he tells me I’m prehistoric. You have to live in your time, be of today.”

This is one of the key lessons that Deschamps is keen to impart. Leaders may be born but adaptability can be developed. And for managers today it could be the most important of all. Just because one plan worked at a certain time with a certain group is no guarantee that the same plan will work again elsewhere.

“The key thing is knowing how to adapt,” he says. “Adapting to the group that you have at your disposal; adapting to the place where you’re working; adapting to the local environment. This is crucial: adaptability. It means being aware of the strengths and weaknesses inside the group; being aware of all the outside factors that can influence your sphere; and adapting to all of that, then modifying what you’ve done and not being afraid to change.”

Deschamps is talking on a personal level but the same is true of today’s modern, behemoth companies. PayPal began as a cryptography company, Google used to sell its own search technology to other search engines and Facebook started out as a campus-only social network. Apple was not the first to create a smartphone, a tablet computer or a digital music player: they just did it better than others. They all adapted to capture new value in the market. Deschamps’s job is to do the same.

During his 15 years as a coach – at Monaco, Marseille, Juventus and with France – Deschamps has had to adapt. Some players in the France squad were not even born when he lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy at the Stade de France in 1998. He openly admits that managing millennials today is a challenge and not just in the sporting context.

“The role of the leader is much more complex today,” he says. “In society at large mentalities have changed. In any professional sphere an 18-year-old wants everything and they want it straightaway because they feel strong. They have mastered new technology which gives them a certain power over generations above them. And these days an 18-year-old has no qualms about wanting to take the place of someone who’s 30 or 40, who has experience. These days there are no borders; kids feel strong and confident. They have a desire to explore and to conquer. These can be good things but there can be a bad side as well.”

This often involves an entourage whose motivations may not always tally with the player’s best interests, or a social network that provides the player with a link to fans and additional commercial revenue. These are outside influences that never concerned Deschamps as a player. “They see players as a cash cow and that cow has to keep giving milk.” Deschamps gives an example of the player who has been dropped and whose agent tells him, “The coach is an idiot” and demands a move straightaway. He has seen it happen.

“One of the words I hear a lot is injustice,” he continues. “But what is considered injustice for them may not be something you agree with. So it all becomes a question of how you interpret words and where you put your cursor on the importance of words. For a lot of young guys these days, very quickly they will say that’s totally unfair.”

This may be familiar to those who work with millennials in a non-sporting environment. They are accused of being entitled, narcissistic and unfocused, attitudes that confound their managers. Social networks have created a generation who crave instant recognition. Technology empowers them to challenge authority.

Simon Sinek, a British-American author and motivational speaker, urges leaders today to understand how social media also affects behaviors. Engagement with social media releases dopamine, the same chemical triggered by smoking, drinking or gambling. Dopamine is addictive and social media gives people access to that hit. As this generation switch their craving for approval from parents to their peers, so they rely on social networks: for likes, retweets and shares.

“As they grow older we’re seeing that many kids can’t form deep-meaning relationships,” Sinek said. “Many friendships are superficial; they can’t rely on them; their friends may cancel on them. They don’t have the right coping mechanisms for stress, so when it comes in their lives they turn to a device and not to a person.”

That means a different type of management is now required. It’s one that involves an exchange of views, an understanding of opinions and a mutual trust. As Deschamps tells me how he builds that trust I am surprised by the rigor with which he approaches his role.

He thinks about every word he utters, and is acutely aware of his body language and how he delivers his message. “It’s not just about the words you use, but the way you use them, and the message that puts over. Also your face too and the way you project your message. If you’re telling the group to stay calm, be good, and you have beads of sweat dripping down your forehead, you’re in trouble …”

Deschamps takes in as much as he can. He has created a circle of trust that both empowers the group and provides him with more information to make better decisions. This is how he gains an edge.

Every new player called up to the France squad has a one-on-one chat with Deschamps. He tells them what he thinks of them, what he wants from them and warns them what to expect in the future. Once that player is an international, the way people look at him will change forever as will expectations from his support structure, team-mates, opponents and the media.

Deschamps ensures that all players have a copy of his Code of Conduct in their rooms at Clairefontaine, the French training center. In it he asks them to respect the jersey and the national anthem, to display an open and friendly attitude, to be genuine and humble and, in a section on how to handle the press, to remember that “your behavior, attitude and words shape your image as it is replayed to the public by the media, which are an unavoidable and indispensable part of your journey. They mold the image that you show to the entire country, so be professional with them, too.”

You can get a gist of his message from how Deschamps defines talent. He thinks all young players have potential, not talent. “Talent doesn’t exist in young players. Talent is something that you are able to show at a high level over a period of time. We’re talking about consistency, that’s talent. Talent has to be confirmed. It’s the confirmation of potential. It’s getting to the top and maintaining that level over a period of time.”

The player needs to understand his message. “What I don’t want them to think is that if they have to come to Clairefontaine they have made it. This is only the first step.”

Deschamps then keeps an eye on how they settle in with the squad, not just on the pitch but off it. It’s very interesting for me to watch that. Deschamps will give a youngster a wider margin for error, but he will not accept a lack of effort, a lack of determination or a lack of desire.

“If it happens they get a warning and I see how they react. It comes down to a relationship based on trust,” he says. “The role I have as national team coach is about having a moral contract. I don’t pay these guys, their club does, which is why I’m talking about a moral engagement. It’s about creating a link based on trust. The human relationships these days have become almost as important as what’s on the pitch.

“Being a manager is about recognizing talent and knowing how to use it in the right context. You need to spot that thing which tells you, ‘He’s the guy who can bring me what I need here’. Your choices are human investments; you have to put time in, to get to know them better. They have different lives, personalities, cultures, backgrounds, even views on life. So you have to be able to tune in to their station. Man-management has become extremely important.”

This is where the dialogue comes in; not always face-to-face in his office, but sometimes the odd word on the training ground or during a meal. It’s all considered and thoughtful. The information on his players is out there, available to us all. “What interests me is knowing the man behind all that.”

The Guardian Sport