Theo Hernández’s Move to Real Clouds Gentleman’s Agreement with Atlético


London – It has been called a number of things over the years: a gentleman’s agreement, an unwritten rule, a non-aggression pact. But since the sale of Santiago Solari from Atlético to Real Madrid in 2000, no first-team regular has moved directly between the two clubs. In a footballing world dominated by obscene money, media manipulation, agents and even transfer bans, there seems little room for honoring tradition these days, but between the Madrid clubs, there does seem to be a special bond. Chairmen and directors of both clubs share a meal before each derby, and often greet each other like old friends. It is hard to imagine the same being true in Manchester or Milan.

Some have suggested that the pact is a myth, but when rumors emerged in 2012 of Real making a move for Atlético’s Radamel Falcao, their then-manager José Mourinho explained that “there is a non-aggression pact. I think it’s a forbidden subject.” When Antoine Griezmann was asked about a potential summer switch earlier this year he said: “Madrid is impossible compared to my club. I believe that they have a pact between them.”

So when Real Madrid announced last week that they had signed Theo Hernández from Atlético for an initial €24m, there were a few raised eyebrows. Admittedly Theo might not be regarded a first-team regular; indeed – unlike his father Jean-François and brother Lucas – who made 24 appearances for Diego Simeone’s side last season – the 19-year-old has never made a competitive appearance for Atlético despite being with the club since the age of 11. But after last year’s breakthrough season on loan at Alavés, there is no denying that the deal is not without significance, and is seen in many quarters as the most important transfer between the two clubs since Hugo Sánchez’s move to the Bernabéu in 1985. It is certainly the most expensive.

So why did Atlético let him go? In truth they had little choice, owing to a release clause in Theo’s contract. After he “repeatedly rejected the proposals to renew” – according to a bitter statement from Atlético – and attracted interest from others including Manchester City and Barcelona, his agent, Manuel García Quilón, made it clear in May that he wanted to sign for Real. Gentleman’s agreement or not, Atlético had no choice but to sell, even to their local rivals, although according to reports in Spain, Real have added more than €2.5m to the transfer fee in performance-related bonuses – something they were not obliged to do – as a gesture of goodwill to their neighbors.

Prior to the beginning of last season, Theo had not even made his professional debut. On his right hand, he has recently tattooed five numbers, one on each of his fingers, and one on his thumb – 28816 – to remind him of the date that he did grace La Liga for the first time, on 28th August 2016. That professional debut with Alavés was a drab 0-0 draw against Sporting Gijón, but Theo has since admitted “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.” In his second game, he helped Alavés to a famous 2-1 over Barcelona at the Camp Nou. “I thought that playing in the first division would be a bit harder,” he has since admitted.

That tattoo is a daily reminder as to how far Theo has come in such a short space of time. It will serve him well among his new superstar team-mates to keep a sense of humility and retain the work ethic which has catapulted him from relative obscurity to one of the most exciting players in Europe. Off the pitch he can appear shy. His manager at Alavés last season, Mauricio Pellegrino, now at Southampton, protected him somewhat from the spotlight, and even likened him to “a child”. But there is no hiding at the Bernabéu, as he found out when his unveiling went a little awry.

Physically at least, Theo appears already fully grown. Standing at 6ft1in, he is strong in the air and the tackle, but it is his pace that sets him apart: his long legs mean he has a preposterous stride and top speed. Often the only thing to stop him is the byline – the only defender to make more successful dribbles in La Liga last season was Atlético’s Filipe Luís.

In many regards, he is not too dissimilar from a young Gareth Bale, a raw, attacking left-back who loves to get forward. Many times this season he has left defenders for dead in the way the Welshman has become famous for, seizing on a loose ball and then simply setting off. On one occasion against Barcelona in February he ran the length of the pitch, leaving defenders in his wake, only to be foiled by Marc-André ter Stegen. No doubt he is relishing the prospect of playing with Bale, as well as learning the finer subtleties of his role from arguably the world’s best left-back, Marcelo. Theo will get plenty of opportunities to deputize for the Brazilian with Fábio Coentrão moving on to Sporting Lisbon on loan, and he could also play further forward as a left winger if necessary.

His left-foot is a potent weapon, fizzing crosses and set pieces into the box. In the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, he scored a delicious direct free-kick to level the scores, a dipping effort that found the top corner from 25 yards out. Equally, against Real Madrid in October he was a menace, providing an excellent assist to give Alavés the lead.

Theo’s rise has not been without incident. Eligible for both France and Spain, it is thought he has now chosen to represent the latter internationally, despite representing France at every age group since the Under-18s, a decision that has reportedly left France officials furious.

On the pitch as well, there is a discipline problem: Theo’s eagerness often gets the better of him. He received 14 yellows and two red cards in 38 appearances last season, meaning that in 39 percent of matches he went into the referee’s notebook.

Room for improvement then, but it is easy to see why Real Madrid paid up, why they handed Theo a whopping six-year contract, why president Florentino Pérez showered him with complements at his official unveiling on Monday evening at the Bernabéu. The fee of €24m looks a snip for a player that has all the tools to become the world’s best full-back. What is less clear is that if this is the beginning of a new era between Real and Atlético. Previously Los Blancos steered clear of signing Atlético’s finest players. Time will tell as to whether Theo’s deal is an isolated incident because of his release clause and the fact he made his name away from Atlético, or if the two clubs’ gentleman’s agreement is now dead.

The Guardian Sport

Do Chelsea Really Need New £34m Signing Antonio Rüdiger?


London- Since arriving in London, Antonio Conte has had one definitive wish: to sign a centre-back schooled in his homeland. In Antonio Rüdiger, to an extent, he has finally got that man.

Yet, Conte would have preferred Leonardo Bonucci and there is a lingering sense that Chelsea have again had to settle for second best in this transfer window, even after winning the title so convincingly. They have stumbled over a number of targets this summer – most notably Romelu Lukaku – and the manager is unimpressed.

Rüdiger has been linked with the club for some time now but his arrival seems like a move designed to appease Conte in the short term. Chelsea needed to make a signing and, while a transfer for Monaco midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko remains close, a deal for the Roma defender has proven more straightforward.

Conte has been keen to bolster his backline with a player who can quickly adapt to his tactical demands and, in that sense, Rüdiger should fit the bill. However, the 24-year-old Germany international is far from the finished article. After moving to Roma from Stuttgart in 2015, he took some time to adapt to a league that, from a defensive standpoint in particular, is different to any other.

While his versatility is certainly an asset, it has also held him back. He has often been asked to cover at full-back, which has restricted him from a run of games in what is clearly his strongest position. Thirteen of his 25 starts in Serie A last season came at either right or left-back, and while he is capable in both roles, Rüdiger is a centre-half.

A relatively meagre rating of 6.78 from full-back last season rose to 7.00 when he was stationed at the heart of the Roma defence, but such a modest figure shows he still has plenty of room for development. He looked more comfortable when deployed in a back three under Luciano Spalletti last season and his ability to play either side of the middle man is likely to have been key to Conte’s interest. It will offer Chelsea the opportunity to shift César Azpilicueta to a right wing-back role too, which would internally upgrade another position within the squad.

Conte’s relentless coaching has improved players such as Bonucci and, more recently, David Luiz. Rüdiger has the potential to develop in the same under Conte, but it remains an expensive risk to take on a player Chelsea don’t really need. He has the physical attributes to make a success of his time in England but his timing in the tackle is questionable: he committed as many fouls per game as he made tackles last season (both 1.7). No Roma player was penalised more often than Rüdiger, which is a rare statistic for a defender to top. He picked up seven yellow cards and one red in 26 league appearances, as well as a further dismissal in the Europa League.

Over the last two seasons, Rüdiger has committed more individual errors leading to a shot or goal than any other Roma player (six), and the third most of any outfielder in Serie A in that time. All in all, he took more time to settle in Rome than his new employers will hope to give him in London.

Rüdiger’s arrival also spells trouble for the young defenders currently at the club. Nathan Aké has has already been allowed to leave – making a £20m switch to Bournemouth – while the futures of Kurt Zouma and forgotten man Andreas Christensen – who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach – have been cast into doubt. Zouma has had his injury problems in recent times but Christensen has really impressed during his time in the Bundesliga and would have hoped to make an impression at the Bridge this season. They both may have to seek opportunities on loan if they are after regular action.

The difference in quality between the three players makes Chelsea’s decision to spend £34m on Rüdiger seem curious. While Zouma spent the majority of last season on the sidelines, he started 21 Premier League matches the campaign before, with tackles per game (1.3) the only key metric in which he fared worse than Rüdiger’s (1.7) figures from the 2016-17 season. Indeed, the 22-year-old Frenchman averaged more interceptions (1.6 to 1) and clearances (5.3 to 3), and he committed considerably fewer fouls (0.4 to 1.7) and was dribbled past less often (0.3 times per game to 0.7).

Christensen also averaged fewer tackles than the new man (1.5) but at the expense of far fewer fouls (0.6), while his anticipation – 2.3 interceptions per game – and distribution are far superior to Rudiger’s. In fact, his pass accuracy of 91.5%, from 62.8 passes per game, was the third best in the Bundesliga last season, and well in excess of Rudiger’s 83.3%. The Danish international is still just 21, but he has only missed six Bundesliga matches over the past two seasons, while also picking up valuable experience in both the Champions League and Europa League.

Rudiger’s acquisition will send a message to players on the fringes at Chelsea that it will be increasingly difficult to make the breakthrough. That, of course, is no new experience for youngsters at the club. However, like David Luiz before him, the new signing has matured over the last year or so. Chelsea will hope he can follow suit and iron out the mistakes and indiscretions that, on paper, make his signature seem like the panic buy the Brazilian’s was billed as last summer – when he was signed for £34m.

The Guardian Sport

Sol Campbell: ‘I’m Prepared to Go to a Non-league Club and Just Get a Win Bonus’


London- During his playing days Sol Campbell went about his business, on and off the pitch, with ice-cold assurance, so it is gripping, on a warm afternoon in west London, to hear him speak with burning desperation about his desire to become a manager. The former England defender may look relaxed as he sips a cappuccino outside an Italian restaurant off the King’s Road but it soon becomes clear that he is at his wits’ end about, as he puts it, “building another career”. Campbell has standing, qualifications and coaching experience but he cannot make the breakthrough and such is his frustration that the 42-year-old is willing to offer his services for free.

“It’s proving difficult and if I have to start at the bottom, I will,” he says. “People may think that I just want to manage in the Premier League but I’m prepared to go to a non-league club, and if they can’t pay me a salary just pay me a win bonus. I’m up for that. I won’t be up for that four or five years down the line but definitely for the first year, as long as it’s a good club with ambition. I’m itching to start, I just need a chance, even just an interview in which I can say: ‘Take me for free and I’ll show you what I can do.’”

It was in May 2012 that Campbell called time on a playing career that earned him 73 caps and two Premier League titles with Arsenal and he has largely spent the proceeding five years preparing for a life in management. A course with the Football Association of Wales earned Campbell a Uefa pro licence and then in February he took up an invitation to become assistant coach of Trinidad & Tobago, working alongside the former Wrexham, Swansea, Crewe and T&T centre-half Dennis Lawrence as part of the island’s attempt to qualify for next summer’s World Cup.

“It’s going really well given the budget and infrastructure we have is limited,” says Campbell. “With the head coach Dennis, Stern John [a fellow assistant coach and a former T&T striker] and a few others, the quality of training has been excellent and we’ve gone toe to toe with some of the big countries only to have been let down by some interesting decisions from officials.

“I go over in two-and-a-half-week blocks and usually eight days before the game we’re building up for. I mainly work on the defensive side but I’m also there to add a general level of quality to the setup. I’ve enjoyed the challenge.”

Alongside his work in the Caribbean, Campbell has visited Italy to watch training sessions at Sampdoria and Milan and travelled to the United States to observe his former Arsenal team-mate Patrick Vieira manage New York City. Each experience has been enriching and strengthened not only Campbell’s desire to manage but his openness to doing so abroad. To that end he is planning to develop his language skills. “A little bit of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French,” he says. “Something that gives me a base to work from.”

But the ideal scenario for Campbell would be to secure a job in England, because he has a young family, so he can continue his ambassadorial work with Arsenal and because that is where he spent the entirety of a playing career that began at Tottenham Hotspur in 1992, ended at Newcastle United in May 2011 (he officially called it a day 12 months later) and in between earned him a reputation as one of the finest central defenders of his generation. Familiarity breeds comfort but for Campbell the search for a post on these shores has become increasingly disheartening.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of agents to help get the word out that I’m available but so far there’s only been tentative inquiries,” he says. “Some clubs may be thinking: ‘We don’t want to talk to Sol because of his history,’ but that’s what an interview is for – meet the person and get to know what he’s actually like. If I don’t impress you in an interview then fine, but at least give me that chance. That’s all I want; to talk to a chairman or owner about my philosophy and what I can do for their team. I’m a winner. I love to build. I’ve got great ideas. I’ve got the passion. I’m very diligent, and if given a chance I’ll work my rear end off to be a success.”
Campbell’s passion is emphatic and what also catches the attention is his mention of “history”, which, it becomes obvious, is in reference to his outspokenness on British football’s attitude to race. In an interview with the Guardian in September 2013, Campbell suggested “archaic” attitudes to black players in this country would force him to begin his coaching career abroad and six months later, in an extract from his biography that appeared in the Sunday Times, he accused the Football Association of being “institutionally racist”.

In both instances it can be argued Campbell has a point, and as for opportunities for black coaches the situation has, if anything, got worse. In September 2013 there were four British and Irish BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) managers working across England’s 92 professional clubs – that figure is now down to two: Chris Hughton at Brighton & Hove Albion and Keith Curle at Carlisle United. Last month Heather Rabbatts stood down as a nonexecutive director of the FA because of her frustration at the lack of British black coaches in football.

Campbell would, then, be within his rights to stand by his views but he is keen to stay away from such controversy. “I don’t want to rub anyone up the wrong way,” he explains. “I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want to keep banging the same drum. I’m a doer and I just want to do it. Whatever attitudes, prejudices, stereotypical ideas that are in front of me, I will break them. But the only way I can break them is by getting a job, and if I need to start in the gutter, I will start in the gutter and work my way up. Money isn’t an issue.”

And how would a Sol Campbell-led side, here or abroad, perform? “Very defensive but amazing on the counterattack,” he says. “Like Arsenal of old.”

There follows a chuckle, with Campbell clearly aware that replicating the style of play that made him, Vieira and others not only title winners under Arsène Wenger but invincibles is easier said than done.

Campbell is serious, however, when tackling the assertion that one reason he may struggle to break into management is because of the widely held view that great players generally fail to become great managers. “Zidane. Cruyff. Rijkaard. Pep. Even Deschamps – they’ve all achieved a heck of a lot as managers and they were all great players,” he replies. “So no, I’m not buying that. It’s about being given a chance, that’s all I want. And once I get into the system, that’s it, I’ll be flying.”

The Guardian Sport

John Terry Out of His Comfort Zone, Ready for New Chapter at Aston Villa


London- John Terry needed no reminding of the day when he was booed off by Aston Villa supporters while lying on a stretcher. It was 11 May 2013, and has gone down in the history books as the game when Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all‑time leading goalscorer. For the visiting captain, however, it was a less enjoyable experience. “I think the [chant] was ‘let him die’,” Terry said, laughing while wearing his new Villa tracksuit.

Outside of Stamford Bridge, where Terry spent 22 years and racked up more than 700 appearances, there have been plenty of insults thrown at the central defender over the years. Villa Park, where Terry will be playing next season after signing a one-year contract with the Championship club, was no different in that respect. “Quite hostile” is how Terry described his memories of playing at the ground. “I’ve been on the receiving end of that [atmosphere] and thrived on it,” he added.

Both parties will take little time to patch up their differences, now that they are on the same side. That is how football generally works and on that same theme it was interesting to hear Terry’s answer to a question about whether after everything he has achieved in his career, including winning 15 major trophies at Chelsea, he feels fully appreciated in the game. “Maybe not. I don’t know,” he said. “I think that’s a decision for you guys [the media] to make, or the supporters. I’ve run out at Villa Park many times and given as good as I’ve been given and wound people up, and I understand that.

“But when I walk down the street, whether it be a Tottenham supporter or an Arsenal fan, they will say: ‘I don’t particularly like you but you’re a good footballer and I appreciate what you’ve done in the game.’ That’s the message. But what I do get a lot when you spend time and have photos with people’s kids is: ‘You’re actually a nice guy.’

“People see you in a way and put you in a bracket of ‘right, he’s an arsehole.’ But that’s not me. You grow up over the years as well, and you live and learn as a human being, as a professional and a player. I’ve given as good as I’ve got over the years from supporters all over the country and at the end of the day when I retire, if they turn around and say, ‘He was a decent player,’ that will do me.”

By Terry’s own admission it will be a strange feeling to wear another club’s shirt and experience everything that comes with being the new boy. He flew out to Portugal with Steve Bruce, the Villa manager, on Monday afternoon to join the squad on their pre-season training camp, and was dreading the thought of having to sing in front of everyone as part of the sort of initiation ceremony that he has enjoyed laughing at over the years at Chelsea.

At the same time, Terry said that he was genuinely excited at the prospect of a move that “takes me out of my comfort zone”. There were no shortage of offers on the table for him, but Terry claimed that joining another Premier League club was out of the question, because he was unable to contemplate playing against Chelsea next season. Teams in China and Major League Soccer also showed an interest, as did Villa’s bitter local rivals, Birmingham City.

Terry admitted that he got himself into a bit of a state over the decision – “I pretty much wasn’t sleeping” – before Bruce convinced him with his regular text messages that Villa was the right move.

“I wanted it to be that once I decided, then I was 100% in,” Terry said. “I’m not 50-50 or 70% – Aston Villa will get 100% of John Terry this year.” With Terry expected to earn around £60,000 per week on a contract that has an option to be extended for another 12 months – plus huge incentives to be paid if Villa win promotion – the former England international will be picking up a Premier League salary in the Championship. Bruce believes, however, that Terry is “worth every penny” because of the contribution he can make as a leader as well as a player to a squad that finished 13th in the second tier last season and struggled to handle the level of expectation.

For Terry, who turns 37 in December, that challenge cannot start quickly enough. “It’s down to me to perform week in, week out to prove to the players I can still play. I’m not one of them players at the end of his career looking for a pay day. I would be somewhere else if that was the case. The ambition, really, is to get us back to the Premier League and if I can, then that would be an unbelievable achievement.”

The Guardian Sport

Wayne Rooney: A Manchester United Great Who Departs to Muted Applause


London- The oddity of Wayne Rooney’s glittering 13-year Manchester United career is that he departs for Everton to only muted applause. Despite a record that features a glut of trophies and personal achievements a strong sense of “Ta-ra Wayne, it’s about time” prevails among supporters.

This can be traced to the perception Rooney never adopted the fitness regime required to reach the heights of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and the disquiet he caused when twice in three years nearly exiting the club.

This is a footballer who last season passed Sir Bobby Charlton’s mark to rank as United’s record scorer with 253 goals; a footballer who claimed five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Europa League, the FA Cup, three League Cups, the Fifa Club World Cup, was twice PFA Young Footballer of the Year and voted the 2010 PFA and Football Writers Player of the Year; a footballer who arrived as the 18-year-old starlet who seemed destined to become a global great and registered a debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce in September 2004; a footballer whose aerial volley against Manchester City Sir Alex Ferguson described as the best he witnessed at Old Trafford in 26 and a half years as manager.

That finish came in February 2011 and Rooney’s fall in the eyes of many of the United congregation began with the saga of four months before. On 20 October 2010 Rooney questioned United’s ambition when stating he wanted to leave. Further insult to this injury came when his preferred destination emerged: Manchester City, many fans’ bitterest rivals. Two days later came a scarcely credible Rooney U-turn. This featured him agreeing a new contract at United and apologising to Ferguson and team-mates for his behaviour.

It began the reservations among United devotees, though. The bottom line was Rooney had doubled his salary to £180,000 a week and so his questioning of the club was viewed as a cynical act of brinkmanship aimed at squeezing the best terms possible.

Rooney vowed to rebuild trust with supporters but in the six years since the relationship has remained uneasy, suffering a gradual, irreversible decline.

This was accelerated in summer 2013, following Ferguson’s retirement that May. Towards the end of the campaign Rooney had fallen out with the manager and entered the close season again wishing to depart despite David Moyes now being in charge.

This time another fierce rival – Chelsea – was his intended new club. In autumn 2010 the faithful had not wanted Rooney to go. Now, though, unconditional love was replaced by an acceptance that it might be best if he did.

When the episode once more closed with the Liverpudlian staying and the following February he agreed a bumper new deal – a basic £250,000 a week – this killed any lingering love felt for him among a large constituency of fans.

This erosion of affection was caused by another factor: the perception of a steep decline in Rooney’s powers. In February 2014 he was 28 and should have been at his peak. Yet despite that campaign ending with 17 league goals, his highest tally in the following three years – 12 – came the next season, with the last two featuring eight and five.

It is rare now to hear unqualified praise for Rooney the player. Mention the man-boy who arrived in August 2004 and it is different. United fans freely gush about the menacing tyro whose blistering turn of pace and firebrand mentality tore up contests.

This last point is of particular note. Perhaps the most telling observation Moyes made during an ill-fated tenure of 34 league matches was what he told Rooney when persuading the forward not to go to Chelsea. “He came up to my house. I said to him: ‘If you ask me what’s missing – I think you’ve gone a bit soft,’” the Scot said.

Moyes’s view proved prescient. The late-career Rooney is a footballer whose mental edge has become as dulled as the zip that was also once a prime asset.

Under José Mourinho last season the fall-off was dramatic. Suddenly Rooney’s legs were heavy and he was reduced to a lumbering spectator of many of the games he played in.

Mourinho may have executed a shrewd ploy when replacing Louis van Gaal last summer. In an opening press conference the Portuguese killed any notion Rooney could move back into midfield, stating “with me, he will never be a No6”. Mourinho insisted Rooney remained a finisher, watched as he managed one goal in his first seven matches and dropped him for a 4-1 win over Leicester City on 24 September. This ended Rooney’s status as an automatic starter and United’s captain eventually lost his England place and with it leadership of the national side.

To find Rooney’s last moment of unadulterated brilliance in a United shirt rewind to 15 March 2015. This was also, though, a microcosm of Rooney’s chequered time at the club as it began with a Sunday newspaper splash that featured him being knocked out in his kitchen by Stoke City’s Phil Bardsley.

In the afternoon Rooney responded with a vintage goal in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at OId Trafford. Collecting the ball near halfway Rooney was again the rampaging force of his youth as he made a mug of Eric Dier with a veer to the left, before allowing Hugo Lloris no chance.

The recent revelations that Rooney lost £500,000 in a casino illustrated his private life still lacks cast-iron discipline. But, in time, memories of the off-field indiscretions and slights against United should fade.

Then fans will surely recall how the £27m that Ferguson paid Everton for Rooney allowed them to witness the best years of his generation’s finest domestic footballer, a player who has a case for being one of the greats in the United firmament.

The Guardian Sport

Everton Hoping Early Deals Can Help Them Bridge Gap to the Top Four


London- There is no doubt which Premier League club have made the quickest start in the race to do business in the summer transfer window. One might not go as far as Robbie Fowler, who believes Everton’s resolve and targeted investment are making the rest of the league look stupid, though there is plenty to admire in the way Ronald Koeman and his club backers go about their business.

Everton have made five major signings before most clubs are properly back from their holidays, although Henry Onyekuru will be going straight out to Anderlecht on loan. The others offer straight-down-the-middle solidity, almost literally since Koeman has brought in a goalkeeper, centre-half and striker. Everton set their transfer record when they signed Jordan Pickford for a fee that could rise to £30m, though the former Sunderland player has long been regarded the best English goalkeeping prospect around and if he fulfils his potential he will soon start to look a snip even at that price.

The club then paid roughly the same amount, £25m going on £30m, for the 24-year-old Michael Keane, another proven performer at the right age with no shortage of admirers and a promising future. By Everton standards this is a huge level of investment, particularly as the Holland midfielder Davy Klaassen has also been signed for around £24m, but as soon as someone meets Southampton’s asking price for Virgil van Dijk, or perhaps when Romelu Lukaku finally gets his inevitable move to a club in the Champions League bracket, Everton’s outlay is likely to be dwarfed.

It has not all been big spending either. Picking up Sandro Ramírez from Málaga for a fee of around £5m could be the sharpest piece of business of the summer so far, even if it is unlikely the former Barcelona striker on his own will be able to fill the hole Lukaku leaves. To an extent Everton have been rebuilding in the knowledge that they will have to react and reshape once their leading scorer departs, and to an extent they have been spending in the expectation of a large fee being received before the end of the window. They will probably need to recruit again once Lukaku goes. Koeman is still an admirer of Gylfi Sigurdsson and there are even reports of a move for Olivier Giroud, though regardless of what happens later in the summer it is never a bad idea to have your principal targets identified early and to bring them in with a minimum of fuss in time to take part in a full pre-season.

Were there a prize for this sort of thing, Everton would have just put themselves in pole position, with other clubs still dithering and debating at the back of the grid. Perhaps Everton also deserve some sort of industry award for having the foresight to recruit Steve Walsh from Leicester as football director and head of scouting. Football does not work quite like that, however, and one has to assume that the real prize Everton are after is a place in the top four. “It will be a big season for us,” Sandro said on arrival, possibly a little prematurely. “Everton have made some big signings, I’m excited about being able to compete here and win plenty of silverware. Hopefully we can achieve that aim of getting into the Champions League.”

Any player is entitled to be optimistic upon joining a new club for a considerable fee, and there is perhaps no harm in being unrealistically so, but were this an Alfred Hitchcock film the menacing music would now be building to a crescendo. Were it a Vic and Bob show there would be tumbleweed rolling across the set. Players do not generally move to Everton to win “plenty of silverware”. That has not been the case since the mid-80s, and even then the revival under Howard Kendall was a relatively short-lived affair, bookended by underachievement and far less distinguished managers. In the 21 years Sandro has been around Everton have not won a thing. Their last glimpse of silverware was the 1995 FA Cup, a couple of months before he was born.

Everton have a capable, go-ahead manager, it must be admitted, and a top-four finish seems an achievable ambition for a club of Everton’s stature and spending power, yet it cannot have gone unnoticed that Arsenal and Manchester United managed to miss out last season. That’s the Arsenal currently vying with Real Madrid to pay more than £100m for Kylian Mbappé, and the Manchester United who boast the world’s most expensive player in Paul Pogba and could well end up paying a similar amount for Lukaku.

It was put to Koeman when he arrived on Merseyside this time last year from Southampton that there seemed to be little anyone could do to elevate Everton beyond fourth-best team in the north-west. They would never be able to match the spending power of the Manchester clubs, and could hope to overtake Liverpool only on the few occasions when standards at Anfield slipped. The manager did not disagree, though Leicester had just won the league at the time so anything seemed possible.

What happened in Koeman’s first season at Goodison was that the six clubs with regular Champions League experience strengthened and improved, leaving an improved Everton still best of the rest, a nailed-on seventh. That is not good enough for Koeman, never mind the owners or fans, but it is not difficult to see the same pattern repeating itself this season. This time Everton will have to cope with the demands of the Europa League, too. They may even try to win it, and take the Manchester United route to Champions League qualification, though such a plan would inevitably have implications for their league aspirations. José Mourinho, with all the resources at his disposal, ended up having to prioritise at the end of last season. It is unlikely that Everton would be able to prosper on two fronts, and it will be interesting to see how Koeman approaches the European competition.

Yet for now, before a ball has been kicked, Everton followers can at least take satisfaction in their club doing something right. They should be a tougher proposition this season, and with their fighting spirit and the ability to make Goodison a difficult place to visit, they could prove a surprise package in 2017-18. As long as everything continues to go to plan. Any unpleasant surprises, such as potential buyers driving down Lukaku’s price or perhaps even looking elsewhere for a striker, could make life more interesting still before the start of the season.

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Rachel Yankey: ‘There Aren’t Enough Female Managers. Barriers Need to be Broken Down’


London- Would Rachel Yankey like to become the first female manager in the Premier League? “Look, it’s not an ambition of mine. It’s not as if I sit there and think ‘that’s what I want to do’. If I was good enough to go in there and get a job … but right now, I’m nowhere near good enough.” So that’s not a no, then.

Once the record caps holder for England, the winner of six League titles and nine women’s FA Cups, recipient of the OBE and, still, one of the few names in women’s football to have widespread public recognition, Yankey can also do a passable impersonation of a politician. But while she may not be willing to give an interviewer a headline, she is certainly doing everything within her capability to change the perception of female coaches in the national game (and yes, that means the men’s version of it, too).

There are, as it stands, 29 women in England in possession of a Uefa A coaching licence. This compares with a total of 1,484 men. In the women’s professional game, the England team is managed by a man, Mark Sampson, while of the 20 clubs in the two tiers of the Women’s Super League there are only five female managers. In the men’s game, there is not a single female coach at any of the 92 league clubs.

Yankey is giving interviews as the figurehead for an initiative, launched by the online bookmaker Betfair, to fund 50 female coaches to their Uefa B badges. It comes alongside the FA launching its women’s “Gameplan for Growth” this year which announced a head of women’s coaching development to focus on the recruitment and deployment of female coaches in England.

For many years already, Yankey has been ploughing the furrow herself. She took her Uefa B licence while playing for Arsenal and is in the process of taking her Uefa A qualifications, in the hope of tipping that coaching total up to 30. She has coached at a grassroots level since she was a teenager. She has also presented no fewer than 60 episodes of Footy Pups, a CBeebies TV show that combines the adventures of an animated football team with Yankey teaching real-life skills to a group of mixed-sex primary school children.

“The whole way through my career, even when I was a 16-year-old at Arsenal, I’ve played football but I’ve coached kids as well,” she says. “I’ve always worked in schools and, I suppose, in the latter stages of my career, particularly at Arsenal these past few seasons, it’s been more about teaching the youngsters what was important.”

It is fair to say then that Yankey is as well-placed to talk about development within our national game as anyone. Her analysis is that the barriers to expanding the number of female coaches are manifold, but not necessarily insurmountable, the main problem being less an absence of qualifications and more a lack of jobs at the end of it.

“It costs quite a lot of money to get on to your coaching courses,” she says. The cost of training for a Uefa B licence, for example, is £1,000; for Uefa A it is £5,000. “By the time you get to your A licence, that’s taking football very seriously. That’s you saying you want a job that’s going to repay [the debt]. Now, are there the jobs out there, the opportunities for women where you’re going to actually get something? I’m not sure.

“I suppose it takes open-minded, brave chairmen and women to offer those opportunities. Because everyone wants that experience. When you look at the Premier League, if a team needs a manager it’s always the same names going round. So I think you have to be quite a strong person to offer a job to the new person. I know this is not what we’re talking about but it’s also the case with the number of black managers. There’s not enough black managers, there’s definitely not enough female managers. Why is that? I don’t know, but those barriers need to be broken down.”

Yankey does not want positive discrimination and is firmly against token appointments – she would like a situation where the best candidate gets the job. Having more women with coaching credentials, she says, will help to establish a more level playing field.

Yankey left Arsenal last winter after 11 years and 151 appearances and currently has no club. Now 37, she firmly insists she has not retired as a player. But hidden under the table across which we are talking is a complicating factor, the blooming bump containing her first child, due in August. Yankey says she has not made a decision about when she might return to the game but has had conversations with WSL clubs interested in taking her back.

Speaking with Yankey feels like talking to an Olympian or a footballer from an age well before academies and image rights. The way in which she approaches most questions about her career is simply to talk about the enjoyment the game has given her. It is a reminder that this is the same person who, at the age of eight, shaved off all her hair and called herself Ray so she could get a regular game when only boys’ teams were available. It is obvious she is also motivated by giving things back. And there is a sense that, despite all her trophies and accolades, Yankey feels she has not been able to do all she would have wanted to do in the pro game.

This is particularly the case with her international career which, after 129 caps, came to an abrupt end under Sampson in 2013. “I feel that I could have been given more of an opportunity to offer what I had as a footballer. Not just on the pitch but off it. I feel that I could have been offered more of an opportunity to give that to the team. But again, that’s the manager’s choice.”

As much as Yankey is animated by football at the highest level, she is similarly passionate about what happens in the school playground. To change the perception of female coaches, she says, to change the perception of women’s football at the professional level, it is necessary that football is understood as a game for both sexes, and that starts with children.

“There are many things we need to do to make sure that it’s seen as OK for females to play football, and seen as the norm for that to happen at an early age. The amount of parents I’ve spoken to about Footy Pups where they have told me their son or daughter has gone out into the garden and the first footballer they have wanted to be was a female. That’s got to be a massive change.

“But at the same time you hear some of the youngest kids say things like ‘football is for boys and ballet is for girls’. And I wonder: ‘where have you got that from? You must have got that information from somewhere …’ I think the governing body, the coaches, the school teachers, the parents, everybody has to play a part. It has to be done together, we all have to appreciate that football is a game for all and that anybody can play it.”

That is not to say that different genders cannot bring different qualities to the game. Despite several attempts, Yankey will not endorse my plan for a gender-neutral form of football. “Once you get to a certain age men can kick the ball further, men can run faster. So no, not for me.” But on the other hand, she believes that women coaches could bring more than just technical skills to some of those 92 football clubs that currently see fit to look elsewhere.

“I think there are different ways to coach. I think there can be a different way of thinking, a different way of seeing things. Perhaps [female coaches can bring] more empathy. You’re talking to players and understanding what’s going on, how they’re feeling. As a manager you’ve got so much pressure, maybe women handle pressure in a different way. I’m not saying either is right or wrong. But I think there are different ways, so to have a coaching team that is diverse is surely better than everyone being the same.”

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Romelu Lukaku: £75m is Never a Bargain but Everton Striker is Worth It


London- Romelu Lukaku has been an obvious transfer target ever since he turned down the lucrative contract Everton offered him in March, doggies in shop windows have been less conspicuously for sale, yet when reports began to emerge that Manchester United were confident of a £75m deal it still came as something of a surprise.

Chelsea had been thought favourites to sign him, for a start, and with Everton insisting no agreement has yet been reached with United there is still a chance a significant bid will arrive from that quarter.

Some are even suggesting Everton are keen on opening an auction to drive the price higher. Many at Everton believed a return to Chelsea was on the cards, and when Lukaku gave his reasons for stalling on a new deal at Goodison – “I don’t want to stay at the same level, I want to improve and I know where I want to do that” – it seemed reasonable to assume that the club now managed so impressively by Antonio Conte was the one he had in mind.

If so, especially as Conte may have played a part in edging Diego Costa towards the door, Chelsea could be embarrassed if United manage to tie up a deal for Lukaku this weekend. Costa will not be staying, Chelsea need a goalscorer and United seem to believe they are on track to sign a reliable one for considerably less than the £100m Everton were asking. Should Lukaku turn up in red and not blue at the start of the season, José Mourinho will have put one over his successor as Chelsea manager before a ball has been kicked, without even having to pay over the odds.

Of course, it is hard to dress up a fee of £75m as any sort of bargain, though in the present climate Lukaku is probably worth it. He scored 25 Premier League goals last season, he is only 24 years old and at his best he can terrorise defences through sheer physical presence and power. He is not exactly a new Didier Drogba but he is a close approximation, and for a coach like Mourinho who likes to play with a big, obvious target at the front he was always going to be of interest once Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ruled out.

The Swede was hugely successful at Old Trafford last season though his game is based on anticipation, timing and getting on the end of things. There were times last season, even with Ibrahimovic up front, when United became bogged down through a shortage of creativity in midfield. Lukaku is not a remedy for that – there were occasions when Everton were similarly ineffective – though he is the type of player who can produce something unexpected when he receives the ball, even in unpromising situations. Lukaku can make things happen, often on his own, and once he finally makes the step up to a club in the Champions League bracket his confidence will only improve if he can establish himself as the main point of attack.

At that level he will be tested as never before, and after three years spent as the big fish in a relatively small pool at Everton he will have to stand comparison with some of the best strikers in the world.

He is not as quick as Kylian Mbappé or as unstoppable as Luis Suárez, and perhaps he does not possess the all-round game of a centre-forward such as Robert Lewandowski. Yet Lukaku is four years younger than the unsettled Bayern Munich player, he can score with both feet and is strong in the air, and there is plenty of time and scope for further improvement. Everton are certainly going to find him hard to replace, and to judge by their interest in Olivier Giroud they are not even looking for an identical type of striker.

Prolific goalscorers who are 6ft 2in and around 15st are simply not that easy to come by. Because of his imposing stature it is easy to characterise Lukaku as a blunt instrument, a big fella up front, a prominent target at which to aim hopeful long balls. He can operate in such a way, in fairness, he has good touch and positional awareness and can not only hold the ball up until support arrives but usually play a decent pass to set up an attack.

Yet Lukaku is more like a youthful Wayne Rooney than a reincarnation of Duncan Ferguson. He is at his best with the ball at his feet, running at defenders and more often than not making inroads through his pace and control. The possibility of Lukaku linking up with players of the calibre of Juan Mata and Paul Pogba is quite an exciting one, and should the United move go through there is every chance of him becoming an instant crowd favourite at Old Trafford through his appetite for work and willingness to take on defenders. At Everton opponents would frequently detail two players to look after him, and that in itself would often create useful space for somebody else.

Lukaku probably knew all along he would be faced with a choice between his former club and his former manager. Contrary to reports suggesting the parting from Mourinho at Chelsea was acrimonious, the pair have retained respect for each other over the past three years. Mourinho said at the time that Lukaku aged 20 was not ready to be Chelsea’s first choice striker, and Lukaku aged 24 has accepted the wisdom of that.

“Choices were made by me, not by them [the Chelsea hierarchy],” the player has said. “Three years ago I was not ready, but several good seasons have changed the situation.” Everton have been principal beneficiaries of those seasons, and they stand to make a handsome profit on a player they signed for £28m but always accepted they had little chance of keeping indefinitely. Everyone will gain, in fact, except the club or clubs that end up missing out. Lukaku arrives for the next stage of his career in peak condition.

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No Sign of Austerity in Premier League’s Never-ending Transfer Spree


London- Liverpool and Everton were first, Arsenal have just joined them, and Huddersfield Town managed it twice in the same week. The transfer window still has the best part of two months to run and the real horse-trading is yet to start, but this looks like it could be the summer when almost every Premier League club sets a transfer record.

Perhaps such a development is a logical and inevitable corollary of the new television deal, the one responsible for making English clubs richer than ever before. Perhaps it is simply a matter of inflation, not just prices going up all the time but the follow-on effects from, say, the benchmark set by Romelu Lukaku changing clubs for around £75m.

Huddersfield are cited above as an example of the way even newly arrived members of the Premier League are raising their financial game (the Terriers have just added the £11m Steve Mounié from Montpellier to their squad between completing the £8m+ captures of Aaron Mooy and Tom Ince and spending lesser amounts on Scott Malone and Mathias Jorgensen), though really, what choice do smaller clubs have when the more established sides in the league are already nudging their spending to around the £100m mark?

Even a thrifty outfit such as Burnley – current transfer record £13m for Robbie Brady – will have to join the action soon or risk missing out. They have £25m of Everton’s money banked from the Michael Keane transfer, and the centre-back will need replacing.

Maybe, to the excitement of Sky Sports News, clubs spending more than ever before is simply going to be an annual feature of the English summer, like queues at Wimbledon or jellyfish massing off the south coast beaches.

Real Madrid will usually end up topping the list for buying individuals – they still look more likely than Arsenal to go past £100m for Kylian Mbappé – though the Premier League’s badge of honour continues to be a peculiar willingness to spend more money in total than anyone else. In terms of transfer fees and wages, the English league pays all the way down, and continues to do so even though only two or three clubs at most can win anything and this country now struggles to keep up with continental standards in the Champions League or acquit itself well in international tournaments.

As an economic model the Premier League ought to be unsustainable, yet the excitement and unpredictability it produces is enjoyed around the world and the television income keeps going up. People were talking about the bubble bursting two decades ago, though it never did. It just became bigger and harder to ignore. The decline of England as a force in world football suggests that, at a sporting level, the model is unsustainable – while Gareth Southgate was recalling Jermain Defoe to take Wayne Rooney’s place in the national side, Didier Deschamps was struggling to accommodate all the exciting young talents the oft-derided French league was producing – though no one seems to care.

International football is exciting for only a couple of weeks every two years anyway. Once the season starts the Premier League enthrals every weekend. Or so the theory goes. The trouble with existing in a bubble is that it is too easy to overestimate one’s popularity with those outside it.

Just ask Theresa May. Since the general election the news agenda in this country has largely featured stories about financial inequality and hardship. The gap between the public and private sectors, for example. The inadequacy of pension plans. The steady lowering of real-term incomes set against rising inflation. Austerity, in other words, and all that goes with it.

Football might be useful as a form of escapism from the greyness of everyday living, it has performed that function for well over a century, though for most of that time it managed to remain close to its community roots. Something that used to be tangible and readily accessible is now becoming exclusive and remote. Is there really an appetite at the moment for all the top teams to spend more than ever before on players who are already so fantastically well-rewarded they find it difficult to intersect with real life?

“They’re a bunch of overpaid tossers,” one respondent stated to a new survey of how much our major sports are admired and trusted. “I grew up watching a bunch of local lads who had come from nothing. Now they are not local any more, they don’t care.” Another football fan said he probably would not go again. “When I used to go as a kid the atmosphere was electric. Now there’s so much money in it, it doesn’t feel real any more.”

Those may not be typical views, and in some respects they are overly harsh. Footballers might be overpaid by any sort of metric that takes in normal jobs or levels of remuneration, but they do not start out as tossers. How they might behave once they are insulated from the rest of society by wealth and celebrity status is a subtly different consideration. Most did not ask to live in gated mansions, they simply ended up there as a result of a natural desire to make the most of their talent.

This is where football is at the moment. It doesn’t seem real any more. Players probably feel it just as much as frustrated or envious spectators. Or perhaps it is the case that after a decade of austerity it is life that seems real, or difficult, or poorly-paid, and football a frivolous exercise in money-squandering. The bottom line is that a dangerous disconnect has built up between football clubs and their communities. Clubs know this, and many have started neighbourhood initiatives or community charities to try to represent themselves as something other than mere visitors from planet wealth.

It is far too simplistic to complain there is too much money in the sport, just as it would be foolhardy to predict an imminent crash, but for most of its existence professional football has been proud to call itself the people’s game. The Premier League can hardly make that claim any longer – more clubs will break their transfer records this summer than will use their money to make admission prices more affordable – and it will not be immune if the people begin to decide it is time to get real.

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Chelsea Winded by Romelu Lukaku Blow, Antonio Conte Will Demand Answers


London- The first thing to acknowledge is that there is time for Chelsea to make a success of this transfer window. It is the first week in July, not the last in August. Those within the club’s recruitment department can justifiably point to the late arrivals of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso last year, and the impact both players had on the team’s title success, as evidence that significant additions can be plucked from the ether right up to the cut-off.

And yet, not for the first time, they have made a rather undistinguished start in attempting to capitalise upon their status as champions. Suggestions Romelu Lukaku had broken off from a holiday to undertake a medical overseen by doctors dispatched by Manchester United to the University of Los Angeles, such a favourite pre-season training haunt of José Mourinho’s teams over the years, left the striker’s suitors in London winded. Perplexed even. All summer the assumption had been that the Belgian’s innate desire to return to Stamford Bridge would be key to securing him from Everton.

But somehow, maybe as a result of complacency on Chelsea’s part, or, as the club would have us believe, upon the advice and influence of the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, they have been bypassed.

There may be public attempts to deflect blame for this failure this failure over the weeks ahead, and an insistence that the man they do end up signing for a huge sum to replace Diego Costa – Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata, Andrea Belotti from Torino, or even an Alexis Sánchez or Sergio Agüero from a direct Premier League rival – had always been their first choice. But the reality is Antonio Conte had been pinning his hopes on Lukaku leading the line.

Those reports in Belgium, that the Chelsea manager had been in regular contact with the Everton forward over recent weeks detailing his tactics for next season and making plain just how key he considered Lukaku to his game-plan, have never been contested. The player himself expected to return to south-west London. The manager anticipated welcoming him back into the fold.

Now Conte will stride back into his office at Cobham on Sunday infuriated at Raiola’s influence but also demanding an explanation for the board’s apparent inertia over recent weeks. Sources in Italy, while aware the manager is distinctly unimpressed with the summer’s business to date, do not believe his sense of exasperation will prompt a resignation.

Indeed, he is understood to blame the agent and Lukaku himself for their defection. Yet the Italian’s contract extension which has been on the table for months remains unsigned. Neither will he be appeased by the club permitting him to add Davide Mazzotta, his opposition scout with Italy at Euro 2016, to a coaching staff shorn of Steve Holland. Instead, he will require answers.

Why was a formal bid for Lukaku submitted so belatedly to Everton and at a value effectively well below that proposed by United? Why, for that matter, is Willy Caballero – a reserve goalkeeper secured under freedom of contract following his release at Manchester City – still the only player added to the champions’ squad?

What is the hold-up with the medicals delaying the arrivals of Tiémoué Bakayoko from Monaco and Antonio Rüdiger from Roma? And the state of play on negotiations for Alex Sandro at Juventus? Big-money transfers can be tediously protracted and complicated but it is too simplistic to suggest the club are waiting to shelve the old Adidas training gear and parade an array of signings in glittering Nike kits.

The manager had hoped the bulk of the buying would be achieved early so he could fling them into the gruelling routine of double training sessions, and settle them into a squad who depart for a three-game tour of China and Singapore on 18 July. Some should have arrived by then – Bakayoko and Rüdiger are close – but the prospect of Chelsea departing for east Asia with Michy Batshuayi, a bit-part player last term, as their principal forward is suddenly very real.

The manager bears some blame given his rash text to Diego Costa, subsequently made public by the disaffected striker, indicating the Spain international has no future at the club. The player, who scored 20 top-flight goals last term, has started bidding farewell to his club-mates and if, as anticipated, Atlético Madrid submit a first formal offer for him over the next few days, he will most likely be absent on Monday, when the rest of the first team return to Cobham.

Chelsea were dismayed about Conte’s text message last month, not least because it wrested away a modicum of control that they might have had over determining Costa’s future. Maybe they have been awaiting the striker’s departure before actively moving for a replacement. Yet that SMS exchange served to expose the tension which has always been there, to a certain extent, between manager and hierarchy.

For all those late successes in securing players at the end of August last year, the Italian had cut a frustrated figure through most of the summer transfer window. Likewise, he had hoped his mid-winter business would amount to more than merely welcoming back Nathan Aké from a loan spell at Bournemouth. Now he returns to find a squad trimmed of John Terry, Asmir Begovic, Aké, Bertrand Traoré, Christian Atsu, Dominic Solanke, Kasey Palmer and Tammy Abraham – admittedly, by no means all senior players in the manager’s immediate plans – with considerable strengthening required.

It can still be achieved. Break the club’s transfer record to secure Sandro, and then sign a Morata, Belotti or Sánchez, and the manager may be appeased. Yet, until that is achieved, the suspicion will nag that Chelsea are allowing momentum to drain away yet again.

It happened in 2010 after Carlo Ancelotti’s Double-winning first season at the club, when they waited until January to secure the arrivals of Fernando Torres and David Luiz, first time round, to build on previous success. Then there was the summer of 2015 when Mourinho was dissatisfied with Pedro as his main addition. That was the close season when money was lavished on Baba Rahman, and relative small change spent on Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector. It was hard to escape the sense that eyes had been taken off the ball.

That cannot happen again. Conte would not tolerate such a strategy, particularly with a return to the Champions League ahead. He hopes to challenge in that competition, not merely make up the numbers. Lukaku may have eluded them, but Chelsea must still make the market their own. For Marina Granovskaia and Michael Emenalo, there is much work to do.

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