Sergio Agüero Has Been Left Feeling Like a Second-Class Citizen

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London- It isn’t easy sometimes understanding why Pep Guardiola gives the impression that he is never fully satisfied with Sergio Agüero, and it is even more perplexing when we cannot be too far away from the Argentinian going into the record books as the most prolific scorer in Manchester City’s history.

As it stands, Agüero’s 170 goals in their colours leave him seven short of the highest total and, to put it into context, it took the record holder, Eric Brook, 11 years to accumulate that number, from 1928 to 1939. Agüero is just starting his seventh season in Manchester and is almost there already.

Even last season, when we were repeatedly told he was having a bad year, it was difficult to follow the logic. A bad year? Agüero managed 33 goals in all the different competitions, more than any other player in England with the exception of Harry Kane. It was one hell of a bad year.

There is no getting away from the fact, however, that at the same time Agüero is chasing down that 177-goal target his mind must be filled with a little self-doubt on the back of the club’s attempts to sign Alexis Sánchez – an upgrade, in the eyes of Guardiola – and the questions it leaves regarding his own position.

Not just when it comes to City, either. Agüero, the scorer of 33 goals in 82 caps for Argentina, did not play a single minute of his country’s goalless draw against Uruguay in the early hours of Friday. Even when his team were searching for a late winner, the Argentina coach, Jorge Sampaoli, decided he could get by without the City striker.

Yet the fact Agüero was even on the bench was actually progress, of sorts, bearing in mind Argentina’s games in June against Brazil and Singapore. Sampaoli, a few weeks into the job, left Agüero out of the entire squad and it might surprise you how uncontroversial that decision was. When the Argentinian sports daily Olé ran a poll in March asking which players should be dropped, 80,000 readers responded: Agüero had 86% of the vote.

Agüero, in other words, is going through a difficult and challenging period, for club and country. The two go hand in hand and this is why nobody should just pass off the latest stories about his discontent in Manchester as assumptions and hearsay on the back of City’s attempts to bring in another elite forward.

On the contrary, it has been apparent for some time that the relationship has been strained and that it predates the move for Sánchez. There is no warmth, little chemistry, not a lot of interaction. Agüero is no longer a mandatory pick and that, in turn, is threatening to have repercussions on his international career. The word in Argentina – where they are not exactly short of front players – is that nobody should just assume he will automatically be picked if or when the albiceleste get to the World Cup.

Amid all that nonsense with the steward at Bournemouth last weekend, the more relevant detail was that Agüero was left out of City’s starting lineup to accommodate Gabriel Jesus (just as he was last season). Agüero then headed off for international duty and when he returns to Manchester this coming week it will be in the knowledge that, if Arsenal had not dug in their heels, Sánchez could conceivably have supplanted him in the team to face Liverpool on Saturday. Of course Agüero is going to be wondering what all this means. Of course there are going to be moments of insecurity. Which footballer in that position would not feel that way?

If you find it all rather confusing, then join the club. Agüero was still the first player Zlatan Ibrahimovic mentioned – apart from himself, naturally – when he was asked recently to identify the best striker in the Premier League. Nobody has scored more goals for City in less time, or done more to elevate the club to a new level. He is still only 29, the age when many strikers reach their top level, and it is easy to understand if he feels bruised when the previous City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, treated him so differently.

The Chilean used to talk about Agüero being third on the list of modern football greats, outperformed by only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and even if he was applying a little top-spin you knew why he was saying it: fluffing up the player’s ego, playing on the fact that all footballers, but strikers in particular, tend to do better when they are high on confidence.

Guardiola has taken a different approach entirely and it has been obvious ever since he replaced Pellegrini that the new manager did not care greatly if the players he disappointed were the ones with the greatest presence and personality.

Agüero scored 11 times in his first six games for the Catalan. Sure, there were compliments from Guardiola but, equally, there were follow-up remarks that stopped you in your tracks. What an important player, Guardiola would say, then a few sentences later there would be a line that felt puzzling and incongruous when it was unprecedented to hear a City manager, even one as forthright as Roberto Mancini, question Agüero’s contribution.

Even when Guardiola was invited to praise his player it was never articulated with the warmth that would be evident later on in his eulogies about Jesus or some of his other signings. To begin with, it wasn’t something you would necessarily pick up on. Then, after a while, it stood out like a sore thumb.

Is Agüero still the same player? Maybe not quite, but if there has been a slight deterioration it is only in the tiniest of fractions and the manager must take a degree of culpability, too. Guardiola’s demands that a 30-goals-a-season player change his style of play might form part of a tactical masterplan. It has also jarred the player’s confidence and created a situation where Agüero feels unfairly maligned, where he has started to feel sorry for himself and has been snatching at some of the chances he would ordinarily have been expected to put away. However it is dressed up, it is difficult to think of it as good man‑management.

Where all this leads is not so clear but a player of his standing would be within his rights to contemplate leaving in January, especially if there is an attempt to resurrect the failed deal for Sánchez. Until then, however, Agüero doesn’t really have a great deal of choice, this being a World Cup year, other than trying to prove his manager wrong.

He is more than capable of doing it. Yet it is also easier said than done sometimes when a player, especially a star player, feels unappreciated by his manager and, in fairness to Agüero, he is not alone when it comes to thinking his manager should cut him some slack. Jesus has bags of potential, undoubtedly. For now, however, there are not many people at City who would agree that the Brazilian is the superior player. Not yet, anyway.

The harsh reality for Agüero, however, is that if it were not for Jesus breaking a metatarsal at Bournemouth in February then it is more than likely the younger man would have finished that season as the team’s principal striker. Sánchez was seen by City as another central attacker. Jesus, already established as one of Guardiola’s favourites, occupies the same role and, at most, there is space for only two players in that position. Agüero, City’s record scorer in waiting, could be forgiven for wondering where he was supposed to fit in.

Hazarding a guess at Kylian’s prospects

Amid all the transfer business of the last week, what do we make of Chelsea’s surprise swoop – amid not a great deal of top-level competition, I would strongly suspect – for a 22-year-old midfielder from Ujpest of the Hungarian league?

The surname might be familiar: Kylian Hazard , previously of White Star Brussels and Zulte-Waregem in Belgium, who has been added to the Chelsea development squad even though you would ordinarily expect someone of that age to be in the manager’s first-team plans.

All for the greater good, perhaps, but it does leave a slightly awkward question about whether Chelsea would have given him a second look if he were not Eden Hazard’s younger brother and nobody should be surprised if the new signing makes precisely the same number of appearances as Thorgan Hazard, another sibling, managed in his three years on the Stamford Bridge payroll. That number being zero.

Anybody else suspect Chelsea are doing everything they can to make sure Eden does not entertain any thoughts of leaving? No doubt the club are also keeping tabs on 14-year-old Ethan, the youngest Hazard brother, currently to be found in the academy at AFC Tubize, just south of Brussels, and surely destined for a move to SW6 soon. But it does make me wonder what the younger players in the development squad, namely the ones who are there for orthodox reasons, think about it all.

Shame Roy wasn’t keen enough on FC

It is difficult not to admire the chutzpah of FC United of Manchester – the breakaway club formed after the Glazer family’s takeover of Manchester United – during those seismic days in 2005 when Roy Keane had trashed his team-mates on MUTV, fallen out spectacularly with the Old Trafford management and suddenly found himself out of a job.

The story is recounted in a new book, Red Rebels, by the club’s founder, John-Paul O’Neill, and tells how Keane’s first offer of alternative employment came in the form of an old-fashioned knock at the door and an invitation to be part of the new movement.

It was worth a go and Keane, you might be surprised, did not react too badly to two FC representatives wandering up his drive to ask if he wanted to join the fledgling club in the second division of the North West Counties Football League. Keane took a number and promised to think about it – “Would I have to do everything the manager tells me?” – before deciding in the end that the Scottish Premier League with Celtic might be a slightly better standard (insert your own joke here).

What a pity. Keane would have fitted in neatly with the idea of punk football and climbing up the ladder of English football (FC are only two stops off the Football League now). It would also have been a delight to see the reaction of Sir Alex Ferguson – a man who always seemed startlingly paranoid about FC’s success – on hearing the news. Just a guess, but I doubt he would have taken it well.

The Guardian Sport

Premier League at 25: the Best Player – Eric Cantona

London- We can’t be putting Tina Turner on for just any old hero, nor merely for the most skilful. And the toughest, longest-lasting or most prolific can go whistle because only one player can be serenaded as simply the best and it must be the one who has done more than any other to shape the Premier League years. Show us another player who has radiated as much influence as Eric Cantona and we will show you a figment of your imagination.

The rebranding of English football’s First Division as the Premier League coincided with the dawn of Manchester United’s imperial age. Before that they had been champions seven times in 89 years; since then they have won 13 of 25 available titles. There is a fair chance that followers of Manchester’s red team would be (much less numerous and) still harking back to the black-and-white era if it were not for Cantona, the enigma who exploded doubt.

When Cantona moved from Leeds United to Old Trafford in November 1992 the sole certainty was that it was shocking. Even Alex Ferguson could not believe his luck when United’s chance inquiry about buying the Frenchman did not result in the Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson slamming down the phone. Cantona had joined Leeds only the previous February but was already an idol to the Elland Road faithful. His panache and strength of will had helped the Yorkshire club to hold off Manchester United to win the last title before the introduction of the Premier League and he then scored the first hat‑trick of the newfangled top flight when Leeds thrashed Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 just a couple of weeks after his three goals in the Charity Shield victory against Liverpool.

But Wilkinson, who had acted decisively to sign Cantona when Sheffield Wednesday dithered, was not convinced that a game could be built around a player whom he saw as a wild card. Wilkinson is the last English manager to win the title but must also be remembered for his unwitting contribution to Ferguson’s survival and the transformation of Leeds’ arch-rivals into the Premier League’s dominant force. Leeds got £1.2m from the Cantona deal, and a queasy feeling that may never fully heal.

But the transfer was mostly about Ferguson’s gut. There were, in fairness to Wilkinson, good grounds for believing Cantona’s arrival at Old Trafford might have worked out another way and destabilised Ferguson’s team. The player had more baggage than a travelling circus and his stays at clubs tended to be short and spectacular before ending with someone getting a face full of custard pie. Even United players had concerns, Lee Sharpe summing them up by blurting: “Yeah, right, the bloke’s a total nutter.”

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But Ferguson, under pressure to deliver the title in his seventh year in charge, erred on the side of adventure. “I’m not interested in all the tittle‑tattle … we all have to remember that he is a truly gifted player.”

United were eighth when Cantona strode in and were finding goals hard to come by. Dion Dublin, the striker signed the previous summer, was out with a broken leg and United could not persuade Sheffield Wednesday to sell David Hirst. It was unclear how Cantona would fit into the team; in the end Ferguson sort of sacrificed his son to make way for the Frenchman, Darren’s run of starts for United coming to an end after Cantona’s arrival, as, with Bryan Robson injured, Brian McClair dropped into midfield so the newcomer could be deployed up front with Mark Hughes.

In Cantona’s first start United beat the league leaders Norwich City 1-0. He scored in each of his next four matches, including a 4-1 victory against Tottenham. But it was a pass against Spurs that demonstrated his most precious contribution to United: his flipped chip with the outside of his right foot to Denis Irwin for United’s second goal in that game encapsulated how he freed his team-mates from the anxiety that had hobbled them, inspiring them with his conviction that together they could be great.

“He just had that aura and presence,” said Paul Ince. “He took responsibility away from us. It was like he said: ‘I’m Eric, and I’m here to win the title for you.’”

United went on to win their first title since 1967 by 10 points. Then they signed Roy Keane to give Cantona an even more solid platform on which to perform. They won the league again, with Cantona their top scorer despite missing five matches through suspension. He also scored twice in the FA Cup final win against Chelsea and was named PFA player of the year. And he underperformed in Europe, establishing another recurring trend for Premier League teams.

Cantona’s impact on the next season’s title race was sensational in a different way. United were chasing down the upstarts at the top of the table, Blackburn Rovers, when a red mist descended on Cantona and he jumped into the crowd at Selhurst Park to dispense street justice. Later, in a more formal procedure, the FA hit him with an eight-month ban. Nerves infected a United team shorn of their strutting leader and they allowed Blackburn to creep over the line for the title.

When Cantona returned from his ban, against Liverpool the following October, he brought back the certainty. He created one goal and scored another in a 2-2 draw. And when he returned to Selhurst Park for the first time since his kung-fu lesson, he scored twice in a United victory. His temper may have been brittle but his mentality was to conquer. In the second half of the 1995‑96 season, United won five matches 1-0, Cantona scoring the decisive goal each time. He demanded a big stage to hog. After the title was clinched he completed the Double by scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Liverpool.

It was no surprise when Cantona, after being given the armband to go with his guru role, led United to the 1996‑97 title, the fourth in his five years at the club. But his next step was a shock. A week after lifting his latest crown, Cantona, aged 30, announced that he was retiring from football forthwith. No one had seen it coming. But his work was done. He had proved that he and United could be masters of their own destiny.

The Guardian Sport

Police, Stewards Should Stop Treating Football Fans as the Enemy

football

London – The outcry against the treatment of Manchester City fans at Bournemouth is a reminder – heavy-handed police and stewards should be shown the red card, writes Nick Glynn in the Guardian Sport.

It’s great. Your football team scores, first minute, last minute, last minute of injury time, any time. There are 30 seconds of ecstasy, exuberance, jumping around, hugging people you would never hug anywhere else. It is accompanied by smiles, laughter, singing.

For 99.99 percent of football fans, violence could not be further from their minds. Goals are rare in football – I am a lifelong Birmingham City fan, I know this. This is not rugby, or cricket, or tennis, where players score with dreary repetition. This is football, where you can watch a brilliant 90-minute game where there isn’t a single goal.

I remember shaking the hand of a Millwall fan when they beat Leicester away with an 87th-minute goal and saying to him “It’s the best feeling in the world”. He was shocked, expecting me as the police bronze commander for the match to have some sort of action taken against him. Decades earlier I remember rescuing one of my colleagues from the Coventry pen in the Spion Kop at Leicester, as he tried to stop their fans singing George and John’s Sky Blue Army, like singing was some sort of dangerous pastime.

There has been an outcry about the recent treatment of Manchester City fans (and Sergio Agüero) at Bournemouth on August 26 – after Raheem Sterling scored a 97th-minute winner. To be clear, pitch invasions are wrong, but there is a difference between a pitch invasion and joyful celebrations momentarily spilling over the white line and on to the turf – and that is where a bit of common sense is needed.

It is always interesting to watch the reaction of stewards and police officers when a goal is scored. I see fear, anger, aggression, sometimes panic. For many, it seems the overriding desire is to stop a perfectly normal and natural human reaction to a rare event, rather than taking a few steps back, a few deep breaths, remaining calm, and observing and giving half a minute for things to calm down.

And the crowd almost always will calm down, especially where the situation isn’t aggravated by stewards and police officers diving in and unnecessarily intervening. When players go to their own fans to celebrate, don’t worry – there’s nothing to worry about. The fans will be safely back in their seats in a minute, and the players will be getting on with the game.

The reaction of stewards and police officers to goal celebrations is symptomatic of a wider problem with the rules and regulations that govern football fans, and the way that authorities treat them as a group. Many regulations apply only to football fans, and please, don’t try to claim we all deserve it. We don’t.

The Football (Offenses) Act 1991 was written in the flawed and biased times after the Hillsborough disaster, when the public were conned by a tabloid newspaper’s lying headlines and the perception supported by politicians of the time that all football fans were “scum”, capable of urinating on dying fans.

Those lies are perpetuated in the Football (Offenses) Act and the underlying sentiment of dislike and suspicion of football fans is preserved in its use by the police and stewards across the country. We’re all hooligans, deep down, goes the thinking.

Some of the laws that govern football are ridiculous. The rules on pitch encroachment are too broad. We want to prevent pitch invasions, not criminalize and throttle someone who steps over a line by a few centimeters while celebrating.

Throwing coins can blind someone or cause other serious injury. If the individuals who throw coins can be identified, I welcome the full force of the law being used. Technically, within the “missile throwing” provisions, throwing the match ball back on to the pitch can be a criminal offense. So can throwing the ball to the kid who desperately wants to be the one who throws the ball back on to the pitch. Simply drinking alcohol in sight of the pitch is a criminal offense. The rules are outdated and ridiculous.

Now that the Hillsborough victims and their families are finally on their way to seeing real justice, and trials of safe standing are finally on the cards – at last – a review of the Football (Offenses) Act and other relevant rules and regulations that cover football is long overdue. Inconsistencies in how football is policed and stewarded cannot continue. It is time for an independent, national review.

As for headlocks – as suffered by the fan on the pitch at Bournemouth last weekend, who Agüero seemed so keen to help – there is no need for a review or new laws. Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 makes it clear that force used by the police, and anyone else, including football stewards, must be reasonable in the circumstances. Force has to be proportionate to the threat being dealt with.

Headlocks are not outlawed (any use of force could be reasonable in the right circumstances), but the only circumstances that could justify use of a headlock are where the violence or risk being averted is so serious that causing death or really serious injury to the “assailant” would be justified.

Make no mistake, headlocks can kill. Therefore justification for their use is rare. A simple reminder of that fact to police officers and football stewards might be enough to avert an easily avoided tragedy.

*Nick Glynn is a retired senior police officer. He is an expert witness on police use of force, and was a football commander and adviser for nearly two decades.

The Guardian Sport

Kylian Mbappé Going Home to Paris with Sights on Neymar Partnership

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Paris – When Kylian Mbappé completes a move to Paris Saint‑Germain which values him as the second most expensive player ever, he will return to the city where it all began. Just over a dozen years ago a young Mbappé begged his father to sign him up at the local club of the suburb where they lived in the French capital.

The team was non-league AS Bondy, where Wilfried Mbappé, a former player, was the coach. Wilfried was reluctant to bring his son under his wing there, fearing he would not be objective. Yet such was Kylian’s persistence that Wilfried gave in to the five-year-old and the boy made such a first impression that he was promoted to play above his age group. When the elite academy INF Clairefontaine offered Kylian a scholarship a few years later he was again pushed up, this time among the best prospects of his generation.

Single-mindedness as well as talent has put Mbappé on the path which leaves him poised to join PSG on loan from Monaco with an agreement to make that a permanent deal worth up to €180m (£167m) next summer. At Clairefontaine Mbappé sometimes felt the training had not been enough and he would secretly practice behind the dormitories, deep into the night, phone in hand to light his trail. Even his free time there was filled with football. He was known to watch four games in a row, often featuring Real Madrid, who around that time invited him to Spain and asked Zinedine Zidane to give him a tour of their facilities.

Although the adolescent Mbappé hid the extra training from his supervisors, he could do nothing to prevent scouts from across Europe spotting his ability. There was the speed at which he glided past opponents, the ease with which he cut inside from the left wing and scored from anywhere in the box. There was also, his coach at the time recalls, a signature move that could one day define his spontaneity in the way Zidane’s turn defined his genius.

“His dummies,” says Jean-Claude Lafargue, academy director at INF Clairefontaine. “With both feet. They’re the same now as when he was 12. He seems to go one way and hop, suddenly he’s accelerated the other.”

Mbappé’s family, cautious about an early move abroad, refused all advances from clubs and agents, letting the prospect hone the skills that last season made him the youngest ever scorer in a Champions League semi-final. Mbappé turned down offers from Real Madrid and PSG and settled on joining Monaco in July 2013, where he stole Thierry Henry’s records as the club’s youngest player to appear and score in Ligue 1.

Many clubs felt wrong-footed on Sunday evening when reports of a transfer to PSG filtered through, having thought they were leading the chase. Mbappé had not explicitly requested a transfer, training and communicating as usual while his club negotiated his sale. Once he and his entourage, who felt let down at the start of last season after they believed Monaco’s board had indicated Mbappé would consistently start matches, realized the club had decided to sell him, they unequivocally voiced their preference for PSG.

Money must have been part of the thinking but that would be out of line with how Mbappé has handled his career, having snubbed much more lucrative moves to stay at Clairefontaine and then join Monaco. The chance to stay in Ligue 1 and return to his region of birth have played a significant role in the 18-year-old choosing PSG. Four years ago Mbappé’s parents refused a transfer to Madrid because they did not want to risk their son feeling homesick, and this summer offers from foreign clubs were ranked below PSG’s for the same reason.

Yet PSG was also a choice rooted in a desire to challenge himself in a more competitive environment, with better players than Monaco have been left with following the sales of Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Tiémoué Bakayoko and others on the back of last season’s remarkable title triumph.

Mbappé’s ambition is identical to his prospective new club’s, namely to win the Champions League, and after PSG apparently found a way around article 72 of financial fair-play regulations to land Neymar for £198m and now Mbappé it looks a realistic prospect. Only twice have the world’s two most expensive signings been paired at the same club, each time at Real Madrid, when Zidane joined Luís Figo in 2001 and Gareth Bale was introduced to Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013. On both occasions Madrid won the Champions League the following year.

The switch to Paris will significantly accelerate Mbappé’s development, according to Lafargue. “He can win two years by moving to PSG,” is how his former academy director puts it. “It is a step higher because the environment is more competitive, but he knows some of the players from playing in the national team and will adapt easily.”

Mbappé’s hopes of securing a spot in Didier Deschamps’ France team at next year’s World Cup can arguably be strengthened at PSG. He will be surrounded by talented attackers from Neymar to Julian Draxler, Javier Pastore, Ángel Di María, Lucas Moura and Edinson Cavani.

Although leaving Monaco was not Mbappé’s priority this summer, he and his father made plans and have thought about how a partnership with Neymar may work. Both players are primarily deployed from the left flank but the 18-year-old Mbappé finished last season at Monaco as a second striker alongside Falcao, and wants to be more a central striker than a winger.

That transition, also undergone by Henry, appears to be the next step in Mbappé’s development. “Players like Kylian always want to be in the heart of the action,” Lafargue says. “At academy level he only wanted to play on the wing so as to initiate attacks with the ball in his feet. When he turned professional he gradually understood the importance of off-the-ball runs and spatial awareness. Now, even after one full season in Ligue 1, he has realized he can be in the thick of things if playing as center-forward, getting himself in more dangerous positions thanks to his positioning without the ball. This is the area where has improved the most since he left us.”

Whereas highlight reels focus on Mbappé’s finishing and dribbling, what he does in between these snippets may be his biggest asset, in the timing of his runs and intelligence off the ball. Wilfried Mbappé, not one to lavish his son with praise, acknowledged Kylian spots pockets of space one does not even see from the stands.

This skill contributed to Monaco boasting one of Europe’s most prolific attacks last season and could greatly benefit Neymar and allow Mbappé to succeed as a center-forward. In that role Mbappé would offer mobility across the front three in a mold similar to what the Brazilian enjoyed at Barcelona.

The greater spotlight and pressure may be on Neymar but Mbappé faces expectations as never before. He deserves reasonable patience but it would seem unwise to bet against him stepping up to the challenge, as he has done ever since that first practice session at AS Bondy.

The Guardian Sport

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

Can

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.”

The Guardian Sport

Vincent Kompany: When I Came to Manchester City it was Bouncing

Kompany

London – Vincent Kompany is entering his 10th season in England and, at 31, the Manchester City and Belgium captain happily admits he is no longer the player he was when he joined from Hamburg under Mark Hughes.

City supporters need not worry, this is not a lament about age or injury slowing him up. Kompany simply feels he has changed during his time in Manchester by virtue of joining exactly the right team at exactly the right time.

“This club has given me so much, and I think I have given a lot back,” he says. “I didn’t really expect any of this when I came to England but there’s a relationship now that’s going to grow and go further. Once I finish playing I’m still a Manchester City player for the rest of my life, that won’t change.

“At the moment I’m half-player and half-fan, that’s why I spend a lot of my spare time at the academy watching the kids. There is a real vision for the future here, a long-term plan. Only the very best clubs are able to pass the baton of continuity down through the generations.

“Manchester United were able to do it because Sir Alex Ferguson stayed so long. Maybe you see Barcelona and Bayern Munich doing it now and I think that’s what we are on the verge of putting in place.”

Continuity was not something that struck Kompany when he arrived in Manchester for the 2008-09 season with Pablo Zabaleta and, on deadline day, the new record signing, Robinho. “When I came to City there was a gap in the dressing room with regard to the club’s history,” he says. “There was not a lot from the previous generation, Dunny [Richard Dunne] was maybe the only one in a position to tell us what players like Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov had done for the club. If you stay long enough you get to hear about all the club legends but it is more powerful when there is a direct link through the present players.

“Nothing lasts forever in football, Zab and Joe Hart and others who were heroes at the club have gone now but I’m still around to provide a link to what we achieved in the last 10 years and hopefully players will come after me and do the same.”

Two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup are what Kompany has helped City achieve. That is an abundances of riches compared to what went before, yet considering the level of investment it does not quite represent the level of dominance the club owners seemed to envisage. “If you put everything into perspective it’s an incredible achievement,” Kompany says. “First of all because you don’t end 25 years of football and financial dominance by another team just by saying: ‘We want to catch up,’ you need to put a lot of work and effort into it, as well as money. Second, this is the Premier League and it’s very competitive.

“No team here is going to win eight titles in a row. We had to scramble and fight to get the first one and then we got a second to confirm things. Since then we have been in the mix with other clubs, and that’s progress. It’s not as if any one team has been dominant over the period.”

Kompany cannot help but smile when he thinks back to the club he joined compared to the slick operation City are now. “I can’t forget about the noise in the dressing room,” he says. “It was loud. You couldn’t imagine anything more opposite to what I was used to in Germany. You would have to be quiet there and focused on the game. Even reading a book, which I thought was sensible, would be too much for the manager.

“Then I came to City and the place was bouncing. People playing pranks. Robinho and the kit man would be taking the mickey out of each other. Robinho and Elano would be doing keepy-ups with rolled up socks, making the rest of us feel like amateurs. I couldn’t do anything like that, I just joined in by doing a few push-ups instead.”

Gradually, Kompany adapted to this new environment, even learning to accept a heated dressing room as a positive sign. “Quite often there would be massive arguments at half-time if the game wasn’t going well,” he says. “Then if we turned it round in the second half we would all be embracing each other at the end. Like we were after the [first title-clincher] QPR game. The scenes in the dressing room during and after that match will stay with me forever.”

Things have calmed down a bit since and what Kompany notices most in his present manager is an ability to read a game in progress and make subtle but effective changes. “I would say Pep Guardiola’s No1 quality is that he sees the technical and tactical aspect of a game really fast.

“Sometimes when you are in a game it is hard to figure out what is going on, especially with players you don’t know, but he can break it down pretty quickly and then solve the issue. It’s not about genius it’s about having the skill to get the message across in a way the team understands it. His previous teams have been successful because of that.”

Everton are the visitors to the Etihad on Monday and any relief Kompany might feel at not having to face his Belgian team-mate Romelu Lukaku – scorer of the goal that earned Ronald Koeman’s side a point last season – is tempered by the memory of Wayne Rooney scoring what many regard as one of the best Premier League goals with his overhead kick against City in 2011.

Everton’s new(ish) striker has described it as one of his greatest goals and Kompany had a perfect view. “Top strikers do things at unbelievable times and that goal was a testimony to Wayne’s talent,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it anyway because in that game I absolutely had him in my pocket. I played a really strong game and then he pulls the overhead kick and I’m thinking: ‘Oh, come on …’ but I have a lot of respect for Wayne. He’s got the ability to recognize when he needs to get in the box.

“Even that goal he scored against Stoke last week, I don’t think many other players would have done it. We can all play the pass he played, maybe even head it like he did, but the hard bit is understanding that this is the moment I need to go. He has that timing, he sees things quickly, and just like the overhead kick it’s something that sets him apart.”

The Guardian Sport

Saudi Crown Prince: Fans Get Free Entry to Watch National Team’s Football World Cup Qualifier against Japan

Saudi

Jeddah – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, announced on Saturday that fans will be granted free entry to watch the Saudi Arabian national team’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Japan.

The match will be held at the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Sports City in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The Crown Prince made his gesture in recognition of the Saudi fans’ support of their national football team.

Head of the sports general board Mohammed bin Abdul Malek Al Sheikh expressed his gratitude to Prince Mohammed’s gesture, thanking him for this “support that acts as a major motivator for the players of the Saudi team to qualify to the World Cup.”

He added that this reflects the Crown Prince’s constant keenness on sports to motivate them to achieve the best possible results at all international events and to represent their country as best as possible.

He also hailed the effective role the fans play in spurring on the players, wishing the national team success in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted by Russia.

Head of the Saudi football federation Adel Izzat said that Prince Mohammed’s gesture is an extension of his interest in the youth and sports sector.

He credited the Crown Prince for helping the federation overcome several obstacles in its mission to achieve its goals.

Japan leads Saudi 2-1 in the two-leg qualifiers. The first game was played in November 2016.

Another Early-Season Breakdown for Arsenal but No Sign of Any Change

Mesut Özil, Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny after Arsenal fell 4-0 down at Anfield – the latest in a series of horror shows in recent seasons. Arsenal

In the thick of Arsenal’s chronic breakdown at Anfield on Sunday it did not take long for football’s splurging social commentary to begin establishing just how bad this was compared with other abhorrences. How rotten exactly are things in the state of Arsenal? As bad as the 8-2 at Manchester United? On a par with the season they were dismembered by vicious scorelines at Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea? Worse than an aggregate 10-2 thumping from Bayern Munich? More embarrassing than imploding in fright at home to Swansea or Watford or Aston Villa?

Hereby hangs Arsenal’s sharpest problem. Scanning through the past five years to pick out the performances that were especially awful is instructive. This is not an exercise in recalling the common or garden soft defeats at Stoke or West Brom, but a search for the goriest of horror shows. This involves the type of ordeal to leave observers wondering how much longer, how much worse, how much more intolerable, how many times it is possible to repeat the same mistakes without wanting to smash the place up and sweep everything out to start afresh.

This was a subjective exercise but a rough count tots up 20 such occasions over five years. That tells of a damning sense of paralysis, a club constructed in such a way they cannot change the record no matter how screechingly discordant their most annoying songs sound. If Arsenal turn on their internal radio and hear a tune they loathe which taunts them by infernal repetition, they just do not have it in them to change the station. Think about it: 20 times in five years with no radical reaction.

Arsenal have managed to respond to setbacks in their own way. They usually regain enough composure to qualify for the Champions League (missing out only once, last May) and to have earned the sweet salve of three FA Cup victories out of four attempts. But real, profound change, the kind to reset the club as one with ambition to believe in, the kind that creates a team resolve that does not look as if it is made of straw ready to be obliterated by a mere puff of wolfish intent from any opponent, remains a long shot.

The greatest concern to those who care about Arsenal is the fact that getting lacerated by Liverpool with a reasonably strong if weirdly imbalanced selection does not necessarily represent depths significantly lower than other nadirs they have skulked around in the past. If the club did not feel the necessity to address serious issues at any of the previous 19 calamities, why suddenly feel pushed to do things differently after No20?

Which introduces the other major problem. For a long time Arsène Wenger has been a lightning rod for the issues that dog the club. What Arsenal did or did not do in terms of management alone started off as an elephant in the room. But now there is an entire herd of them. One can hardly see the wall on the other side for doleful elephants, great big creatures squishing all their complaints against each other. They have become noisy, too, which is understandable.

The difficulties are manifold. At the top of the business the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, has never shown any inclination to take active control of goings-on. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, who called for a “catalyst for change” a few months ago, is unable or unwilling to challenge the status quo. The manager presides over a set of players who play as if they either do not know what they are supposed to be doing, cannot do what they are asked to do or do not wish to – a mere three games into the season. To be too tactically sunk and low in determination to perform basic tasks is a desperate recurring theme. Quite what was going on inside the heads of Alexandre Lacazette or Sead Kolasinac as they watched from the bench is hard to fathom. Quite how Jens Lehmann kept any kind of calm counsel is harder still.

Behind the scenes the scouting department and the men detailed with arranging contracts and dealing in the transfer market are failing. Numerous players are out of contract this summer or next and it has not gone unnoticed that recent purchases recommended by the StatDNA data business Arsenal bought supposedly to give them a competitive edge have struggled and are among those Wenger seeks to offload. Elsewhere the marketing and commercial gurus strain to strike deals that compare well with their rivals.

It is not as if this kind of situation was freakish. A flaky run exposing basic problems in the team’s structure and motivation was not exactly unpredictable. Perhaps the shock for Arsenal is how quickly it manifested itself this season.

Can they enforce the changes needed to turn a club that looks unhealthy into one that is radiant and positive? It will not be easy, simply because there appear to be so many departments that are underperforming, complacent, overwhelmed (or any combination of). The probability of any substantial remodelling is wafer thin. There is no reason to believe a change of management, ownership, chief executive or a wholesale shake-up of team personnel or dynamic is around the corner.

The herd of elephants have nowhere obvious to go.

(The Guardian)

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

Clockwise from the left: Raheem Sterling, Arsene Wenger, Harry Kane, Antonio Conte, and Frank de Boer.

1) Guardiola learning from Sterling, rather than vice versa
After Raheem Sterling again came to the fore, for the second time in six days, it was inevitable that Pep Guardiola would face questions about the in-form winger. What was not quite so expected was the Manchester City manager’s revelation that he has not been inspiring Sterling in training but that it has, in fact, been the other way around. “I learn from him,” Guardiola said. “The players improve the managers, believe me. The players have the talent, the talent from Sterling to dribble one against one, two against one, I am not involved in absolutely anything about that.” Guardiola insisted he cannot teach Sterling’s instincts in front of goal, saying that is purely his “talent”, but how then do his players improve? “I don’t know, maybe you improve, maybe you have to find another manager, I don’t know,” he said, grinning. Ben Fisher

2) Conte tries to reassure Chelsea he won’t walk out
Tension has been festering at Chelsea all summer, born of frustrations in the transfer market, but Antonio Conte has at least attempted to reassure the club’s support that his future will be at Stamford Bridge regardless of the board’s successes over the next four days. “My message for the fans is: I’m totally committed to the club,” he said. “Totally committed to improve my players. I’m a coach, not a manager. When you want to strengthen your squad, you have to give your opinion and speak with your club, but then the club goes into the transfer market to try and sort the situation. To try and help us. Sometimes it is possible. Sometimes it’s not possible. But I must be focused with things on the pitch and continue to work with my players.” That was not the outburst of a man likely to stomp away from a new two-year contract in a huff this week if things go poorly. Dominic Fifield

3) What next for Crystal Palace? The return of Allardyce?
Managers do not last long in the Premier League. I know that, you know that, Claudio Ranieri knows that. Nevertheless, the news that Frank de Boer is in danger of losing his job at Crystal Palace after four games in charge is pretty astonishing. Yes, Palace have been terrible under the Dutchman, no more so than against Swansea City on Saturday when they deservedly lost a third league match in succession, performing in a manner that was as shoddy as it was toothless, but a new approach – one that is also meant to benefit Palace in the long term in regards to how they nurture young talent – was always going to take time to bed in and having taken a leap of faith the least Palace’s board could do is hold their nerve longer than they appear willing. And what if they do sack De Boer– persuade Sam Allardyce to return? Good luck with that, Steve Parish. Sachin Nakrani

4) Saints should sell Van Dijk unless the circumstances are just right
The official line from Southampton is that they expect Virgil van Dijk to remain in their employment beyond transfer deadline day on Thursday. That makes perfect sense if: (a) the club are convinced that the player will swallow his disappointment and resume performing at his imperious best; and (b) the club have enough money to improve their misfiring attack without selling their best defender. If those two conditions cannot be met, then Southampton should sell Van Dijk this week, even to Liverpool – especially if they could get Daniel Sturridge as part of the deal. Paul Doyle

5) Arsenal brought a paintbrush to a gunfight
Liverpool will swarm plenty of teams this season, but few will collapse with Arsenal’s alacrity. It is important to state how well the hosts played at Anfield, and this must reflect how well they prepared because there are no secrets to Liverpool: they are fast, hard and aggressive, especially at the start. Yet Arsenal sauntered about cluelessly, bringing a paintbrush to a gunfight and the hiding they received was richly deserved. Arsène Wenger will take most of the flak, but his board and players are culpable too. Daniel Harris

6) Will Old Trafford finally make some noise under Mourinho?
What will it take for the Old Trafford atmosphere to rise above the lukewarm? José Mourinho was critical of the noise levels at home last season and was at it again after the win against Leicester on Saturday, making an unprompted half-joke that he knew Marcus Rashford had scored because it was the first time he had heard the crowd. The clearly premeditated point came as no surprise to anyone who, a couple of minutes after Marouane Fellaini had made victory certain, saw Mourinho turn to the fans behind his dugout, cup his ears and shrug his shoulders. The disappointments of the post-Ferguson era may well have taken a cumulative toll but there is clear evidence that Mourinho is taking United in the right direction and perhaps he is right to wonder whether everyone might pull together a little more. United are going well, but there will be days when they need the kind of push he feels they are not receiving. Nick Ames

7) Merino reminds Benítez of Xabi Alonso
If the cold war between Rafael Benítez and Mike Ashley is far from over, victory against West Ham United prompted a temporary resumption of normal life with the manager answering questions about pure football rather than internecine politics. These included a query as to whether Mikel Merino, the Spain Under-21 midfielder and Borussia Dortmund loanee, who excelled in central midfield, showcasing some defence splitting passing, reminded him of Xabi Alonso. “There are similarities with Alonso,” Benítez said. “They’re both Basques and they’re similar because of the way they read the game. Alonso’s long passing was better but Merino is more mobile and dynamic.” Aleksandar Mitrovic simply remains a liability. The scorer of Newcastle’s third goal could well receive a retrospective red card for an off-ball elbow on Manuel Lanzini. While it will be no surprise if Mitrovic departs Tyneside this week, Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham seems almost as uncertain. Louise Taylor

8) Heaton the reason why Kane’s ‘August drought’ continues
Harry Kane has scored a goal for Spurs in August; against AEL Limassol in a 2014 Europa League qualifier. So let that be the end of that talk. He is still to get one in the Premier League for sure and the wait will continue for another year after several chances came and went against Burnley. As with the question over whether Wembley affects the Tottenham team, it is tempting to speculate whether this quirky statistic might have been playing on Kane’s mind. Was he nervous? Unlikely. Was he too keen to score? Perhaps. But the most prominent factor in his failure to find the net was the positioning and anticipation of the Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton. In fact, when Spurs forced the game too much at 1-0 up in an attempt to kill the Wembley hoodoo for good, Kane stayed calm and did the rational, optimal thing. It’s what he always does. He’ll be back in the goals soon enough.Paul MacInnes

9) Brighton badly need a striker before the transfer window shuts
For a team yet to score a goal after three matches, the biggest problem Brighton & Hove Albion face is to try to solve the shortage of striking options. Chris Hughton did not shy away from the fact that his team did not even have a centre forward on the bench as they tried to engineer a match-winner at Watford. Unluckily, one of their main summer targets, Raphael Dwamena, failed a medical last week. “It’s not a usual set of circumstances, but all you can do is move on from that and go to the next set of targets,” says Hughton. He acknowledges that is easier said than done with the market unrecognisable from the last time he was in Premier League football. “I’ve not seen a jump in the [transfer fee] levels like we have seen this summer,” the Brighton manager says. The clock is ticking to recruit a striker before the window shuts. Amy Lawrence

10) Does Pulis deserve to be ‘slaughtered’ by his old fans?
Tony Pulis may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it would be fair to say that freeflowing, expansive attacking football has never been his thing, yet it still felt strange to hear the Stoke City supporters at the Hawthorns turning on their former manager and a style of football that they accepted for many years. “Tony Pulis, your football is shit,” was the chant that surfaced from the away end on several occasions. Pulis spent seven years at Stoke in his second spell, taking the club back into the top flight for the first time since 1985. By the end he had outstayed his welcome – the fans were no longer willing to tolerate direct, uncompromising football when Pulis had better players at his disposal, which is fair enough. Whether Pulis deserves to be publicly slaughtered in the way that he was at Albion on Sunday, however, is another matter. Stuart James

(The Guardian)

Ceferin Talked About a Salary Cap – but Could it Ever Happen?

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London- It is not often the contents of Mladina magazine get picked up outside the leafy surrounds of Ljubljana but the former journal of the youth wing of the Yugoslavian Communist party is now the most respected political magazine in Slovenia. It is therefore a natural place for the Slovenian president of Uefa, Aleksander Ceferin, to give an interview and by talking about the prospect of a salary cap he made sure more people listened than just his fellow countrymen.

“In future, we will have to take into serious consideration the possibility of limiting clubs’ budgets for players’ wages,” Ceferin told Mladina. “The wealthiest clubs are only getting richer and the gap between them and the rest is getting bigger.”

As part of a more wide-ranging discussion about politics, elites and inequality, Ceferin was keen to point out that any such plans would meet resistance. “Those who have the most money are the strongest and have the best connections in the media,” he said. “If we succeed, it will, in my opinion, be a historic change.”

For many football supporters, the idea of a wage cap is a prize not unlike the holy grail; transformative but almost certainly impossible to obtain. A fixed amount of money to spend on players each year could ensure the financial security of football clubs and, more excitingly, create a prospect where every club had a realistic chance of becoming champions of their division.

Ceferin did not become Slovenia’s most celebrated sporting administrator without possessing political ability and he was right to hedge his remarks. Imposing a total salary cap on football, whether it be across Uefa competitions or European domestic leagues, would not be an easy sell. Not least because those clubs who are already successful and have a turnover substantial enough to pay for a squad better remunerated than their rivals would find it difficult to understand why they should give up that advantage.

But the truth is that greater financial regulation comes in many shapes and sizes. It already exists across most sports, including English football. Football League clubs are working under what might be described as a soft wage cap, the Salary Cost Management Protocol, whereby clubs in League One must spend no more than 60% of turnover on wages and clubs in League Two no more than 55%. At a higher level, Uefa’s own financial fair play system limits the amount of financial losses any club can accrue over a given period.

Both of the systems in English football directly address the first of the issues that might concern supporters listed above; namely, the financial security of clubs. Limiting losses and ensuring a sustainable level of spending is something with which most fans (though there will always be exceptions) can agree. But to the second point, that of creating a greater competitive balance within a league, these measures could be said to work actively against it; ensuring that rich clubs have an advantage locked in over poorer clubs.

According to one person who works in the field of financial regulation in football, Ceferin was talking to a particular audience. “Ceferin’s remarks are basically currying favour with people from smaller leagues,” he says. “Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Ireland, these leagues are his constituency.”

By mentioning a wage cap, Ceferin can show smaller countries he is aware of a structural imbalance but he is unlikely to be able to do anything about it. “It may be that Uefa are thinking of reforming FFP to make it stronger,” the expert says. “But if you take what he’s saying at face value, a hard cap with a few exceptions, practically speaking it wouldn’t be possible. It’s nonsense to imagine.”

While a hard wage cap, as enforced in the NFL, might address competitive balance (though at the same time often ensures clubs are unable to create a sustained period of success) it would be almost impossible to enforce in football. Regulation as applied by Uefa, for example, would not necessarily apply in domestic competitions. There would then be the issue of how to apply a wage cap across divisions while ensuring promotion and relegation continue. Low tax rates would become even more attractive for players and their agents (allowing Luxembourg to build on their recent footballing success against Rangers, perhaps, but proving a bane for other countries). And that is without even considering the legal wrangles that would have to be worked out via the European court of justice, which presides over FFP.

A hard wage cap remains as much of a mirage as it has always been and big clubs will continue to be big. However, according to one expert, we should be grateful for the small blessings, namely that FFP is doing the job it was supposed to do. “It might sound trite,” he says, “but a lot of the reason FFP gets criticised is because of its name. Fair play means competitive balance to most people and they assume it’s there to address that but actually it was brought in to stop clubs going bust and it’s been incredibly successful at that.”

The Guardian Sport