Steven Caulker:’ I’ve sat here for years hating myself … This year was nearly the end’

11 hours ago

The QPR defender talks powerfully about his struggles with mental illness, his addictions to gamble and drinking and why he is thankful still to be alive

Steven Caulker has a narrative to tell and, as hard as it is to hear, it is best simply to listen. His stream of consciousness veers from scoring on his England debut less than five years ago and the thrill at potential being realised to the horrific mental health issues that have almost aimed it all in the period since. A player who, from the outside, seemed blessed with talent and possibility speaks of desperate anxiety and self-loathing.

He contemplated killing himself in his darkest moments with his track one of self-destruction. Attempts at escapism expense him hundreds of thousands of pounds, wages frittered away in casinos. Then came the drinking is targeted at numbing the pain. The 25 -year-old detects himself recollecting the times spent in custody watching CCTV footage of his misdemeanours, his lawyer at his side, and not recognising the vile person on the screen.

Football is still coming to words with mental illness and Caulker, an international and a last lingering reminder at Queens Park Rangers of financially misguided days as a Premier League club, has been an easy target. He is not seeking to make excuses or win sympathy. These are details he determines painful to recount. Ive sat here for years disliking myself and never understand why it is I couldnt merely is just like everyone else, he tells. This year was almost the end. I felt for large periods there was no light at the end of the passageway. And yet he has not placed a gamble since December, or touched alcohol since early March. The mending process that they are able restore him to the top level is well under way, with this interview, one he sought out, potentially another step on the road to recovery.

A little under a year ago Caulker had spoken to the Guardian about a life-changing week were used in Sierra Leone, of humbling yet inspiring charity work with ActionAid that had provided him with a sense of perspective. He returned to be galvanised under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Loftus Road and, having spent the previous season on loan at Southampton and Liverpool unfulfilling stints which fuelled his latent insecurities was ready to give his all. Early season performances against Leeds and Cardiff suggested confidence had been restored, reward for a summer of incessant fitness work.

The trigger that would send him spiralling to rock bottom would be injury. He tore his groin at Barnsley and played in pain for weeks, dreading a spell back in rehabilitation, before succumbing to an associated hip grievance. I owed it to QPR to try, he tells, but I was naive thinking I could still perform with the tear. He has not played since last October, with the period marked by personal turmoil and, merely of late, revival. Talking publicly, he suggested, may point younger players towards trying assistance if they find themselves treading the same route, or experiencing the same sense of desertion, in a brutal industry. The real hope is the workout, as brave as it is, may ultimately prove more cathartic for Caulker himself.

He recognises his football ability as a gift but also a curse. It took him from Sunday League at 15 into the Premier League four years later, to the 2012 Olympics with Great Britain and into Roy Hodgsons England side for a friendly in Sweden subsequently that year. His talent has persuaded some of the most respected managers he is worth seeking. Yet, while he could still get away with it on the pitch, he lived in denial. It was more than six years into his career before he accepted he needed help. You always think you can rein it back in again and the money provides a false sense of security. But at Southampton I realised, mentally, I was gone. I wasnt playing, my career was going nowhere and I had to reach out to someone. The doctor there tried to help me but others were just telling me got to go on the pitching and express myself.

There was no understanding as to what was happening in my head. I know theyd brought me in to do a job and they werent there to be babysitters. Simply like at QPR, I needed to justify the money the latter are paying me but I was in a state and, at some phase, there has to be a duty of care. Football does not deal well with mental illness. Maybe its changing but the support mechanisms are so often not there. Ive spoken to so many players who have been told to go to the Sporting Chance clinic and theyve rejected because they know, if they take time off, theyll “losing ones” place in the team. Someone steps in and does well, so youre run. That dissuades people from get assistance. You feel obliged to get on with things.

I would recommend chaps to speak to the PFA, to speak to their administrator, and not be scared about being dropped if they are feeling like I did. Be brave enough to say you need help before its too late. The nervousnes Id always needed something to take the edge off. Football was my escape as a kid but that changed when I was chucked into the first team as a teen and suddenly football came with pressure. My way of dealing with it, even in the early stages of my career, was gambling. Im an addict. Im addicted to winning, which people say is a positive in football but certainly not when it extends to gambling. I was addicted to trying to beat the organizations of the system, because you convince yourself there is a system to it and you can beat it. You can never get your head around why you arent.

Steven Caulker, here celebrating after scoring on his England debut in 2012, says his football ability is a gift but also a curse. Photo: Michael Regan/ Getty Images

He has played 123 hours in the Premier League and for eight clubs with the same, horribly familiar cycle of insecurity and self-destruction seeking him to each. There is always a catalyst to the nosedive. The sleepless nights, sat up till 5am replaying every bad decision Ive ever constructed in my life, fretting what will be next Tottenham sent me to Bristol City on loan at 18 and they set me in a flat in the city centre surrounded by nightclubs, two casinos opposite, the kind of money Id never seen in my life, and no guidance whatsoever. I was pulled once by a member of staff and told Id been spotted in the casino at 3am but their posture was: What you do in your spare time is your business. Just dont let it affect your performances out on the pitch.

At Swansea a year later it was an injury which brought it all to the surface, and Spurs sent me to Sporting Chance to sort myself out while I was retrieving from my knee but I wasnt ready. I hadnt experienced enough pain to stimulate me want to stop. I was gambling heavily when I went back to Tottenham, staying up to crazy hours of the night in casinos. I guess never feeling good enough played a big part in that. I never felt I was on these levels as any of the first-teamers but a big win in the casino and money in my back pocket might change that. Being dropped rattled me even more because football was what I had relied on to make me feel better. So then the gamble was every single day. The ache of losing all my fund, combined with the dishonor and remorse, feed away at me. So Id drink myself into oblivion so I wouldnt have to feel anything. I was numb but I was out of control.

The chairman, Daniel Levy, eventually attempted him out on a post-season trip to the Bahamas. He just said: The style you act is unbelievable. You either sort yourself out or run but I can assure you, if you leave, youll be going down , not up. I was young, stupid. I took it as a challenge, a chance to prove him incorrect. I was so immature. So I went to Cardiff and, for six months, everything was amazing. I was captain, the manager, Malky Mackay, knew I had some issues but offered to be there for me. I felt wanted, so there was no gambling , no heavy binges but the second he was sacked, all the demons is coming. Thats all it took. Even before we played the next game, Id persuaded myself nothing would be the same. Thats the kind of catastrophic believing Ive had to address.

Steven Caulker, here playing for Tottenham against Arsenal in 2010, says he made a big mistake leaving Spurs. Photo: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

I ended up at QPR that summertime, 2014, trying to hold it together, but the trigger there came in the second game when we were flailed 4-0 at Tottenham. That feeling arriving off the pitching at White Hart Lane, knowing marriage been embarrassed and that Levy was sitting up in the stand thinking: I told you so There was no denying it any more. Id made a big mistake leaving Spurs. I should have stayed and sorted myself out. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. It just pounded in my head: sadnes, unhappines, unhappines. From that moment I was gone, even if I never wanted to accept it, and everything just escalated. Id go for days without sleeping. I dont know how I survived it. That year was an absolute nightmare.

It was a vicious circle. Wed lose at the weekend and the fans would get at me, and Id be transgressing. I really wanted to help us get results but we werent good enough and Id walk away taking responsibility in my head for the whole teams failings. I couldnt sleep, worrying about what had happened. The only relief I observed was in alcohol. It would stillness the voices of doubt and self-hate, temporarily anyway, but Id be too intoxicated to go into develop, and the blackouts Id have no memory of anything. It could be Monday and Id have no memory of what had happened since Saturday night. Id wake up, roll over and look at my phone, and thered be texts from people saying: Did you really do this last night? The administrator wants to see you. It was petrifying because I didnt know what had happened.

There were occasions when he would wake up in a police cell. He winces when asked how often “hes having” been arrested, embarrassed to acknowledge the above figures, but the drunk and disorderly offences would flare up from London to Southampton to Merseyside. Sometimes Id be sat there with the police and my lawyer, watching the CCTV footage of what Id done, and I didnt recognise myself. I couldnt believe the person or persons I was. Its so hard to accept I could be like that. In Liverpool I was waking up in the middle of the night throwing up, people were blackmailing me, club proprietors and bouncers: Pay fund or well sell this story on you. And I had no idea what Id even done on those blackouts. I eventually told the club I couldnt function and needed to go back into rehab.

Things might have improved last season under Hasselbaink had the hip injury, diagnosed as a week-long issue that became a complaint which prompted five different prognosis , not rendered him helpless once again. Id expensed the club 8m, was one of the top earners and one of the few left from the Premier League, and people had no explanation why I wasnt performing. Why I was absent. It aimed up as my toughest year ever. I couldnt develop. My girlfriend lost her mother and was grieving while living with someone struggling with craving. My son, who lives with his mother in Somerset, is now at school so Id run months without find him. He had always been my safe place. There was no release.

QPR and my agent tried to push me towards Lokomotiv Moscow in January, saying it would be a fresh start. Portion of me thought the money they were offering could solve all my problems but why would being on my own out in Russia help? I had no idea how to break the cycle and is available on Moscow while still injured simply felt a recipe for disaster. The administrator, Ian Holloway, was actually telling me to bide. Id been in its term of office close to tears, so he told: How anyone could think sending you there would be a good idea is beyond me. You need to get yourself right. I appreciated him for that but, for the club, I can see why it was appealing to be shoot of me but I was in no fit nation to move and eventually pulled the plug on it.

Id had one last gamble and lost a hell of a lot of money in December. A last blowout. It was at that point I ultimately accepted I could not win; that there was no quick fix , no more daydreaming I could save the world through one good night on the roulette wheel. It was all a fiction that took me away from having to feel anything. I contemplated suicide a lot in that period. A dark day. Everything Id gone through in football, where had it taken me? All the guilt, the shame, the disgrace, the public shame in the papers and for what? I could cling to my son, to what Id done in Africa, or the properties Id bought my family, but Id blown everything else. I reckon Ive lost 70% what Ive earned. When you lose that amount of money, the remorse thats so many lives you could have changed. There was no escape , no way out, other than to leave.

Steven Caulker tells: In Liverpool I was waking up in the middle of the night throwing up, people were blackmailing me, club owners and bouncers. Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

But, in the moments of clarity, I knew I couldnt do that because of my son. I havent gambled since but the drink filled the void for a while. I was scared and didnt feel like there was anywhere else to turning. Rehab didnt run before so why would it work now? I stupidly took convenience in the alcohol but it ended up deepening the depression. It was relentless from every slant. Until 12 March. Thats the day I lost my driving licence. Thats when I realised my life had become unmanageable.

Caulker was ordered to pay 12,755 in fines and costs at Slough magistrates court at the end of March and was banned from driving for 18 months, having refused to blow into a breathalyser after police were called to a car park near Windsor Castle. I knew I was over the limit, I knew Id get the ban but I didnt want to tell my mothers Id fucked up again. What if I had driven the car out of the car park and killed someone? No, that was it. Ive been up before a judge four or five times. No more second opportunities. Its a jail sentence next. I was still injured and unable to play, so I signed off sick. I went to see a specialist who diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. He prescribed me drug and we put together a plan where I would take some time away to sort myself out.

He and his girlfriend travelled to Africa and India, helping in orphanages, homeless shelters and schools where the suffering was exposed and obvious. He has attended countless Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and has reached out to support workers in video games such as Clarke Carlisle for advice. He has not touched alcohol since his arrest in March. He takes medication, a mood stabiliser to try to balance my highs and lows, and address that chemical imbalance which makes my behaviour so catastrophic, twice a day. Golf is a new, more constructive vice.

People tell Ive done all this because Ive had too much money hurled at me but I know teens without a penny who have the same addictive traits as me. Whether I played football or not I would still be suffering from this illness, simply without the public pressure and mortification. Addiction does not care. I am a man of extremes. People dont see me doing the extra train, feeing right, going to the pool every night to get fit, attending the anonymous sessions, doing the charity run. That is still me. That is who I am. But I get fucked by these other demons and I desperately need something in the middle. I feel like Im getting there now, that things have finally changed.

Im doing interesting thing only to remind me to stay on track. I could be relying on taxis to get me everywhere while Im banned but Im use modes of public transport. Im living in one of the properties I own in Feltham, back where I grew up, to build me recollect how hard I had to work to get out of here aged 15. Its a reminder that, if I continue to unravel, I wont improve my position again. Money covers the fissures. It can be evil. It prolongs the agony.

QPRs players reported for pre-season last Friday but Caulker, who has one year to run on his contract and has been training all summer with the former league player Drewe Broughton at Goals centre in Hayes, had been signed off until July. Life at the club had degenerated into an endless creek of internal disciplinary hearings and, despite Holloway having made clear his desire to retain the centre-halfs services, his future will not be at Loftus Road. What happens next is all a little bit confounded, all a bit unclear, he says. The manager has texted me several times offering his support and saying he wants me at the club but my new representative has been informed by the owners Im not welcome back.

For too long Ive detested everything about myself and I needed to learn to love myself again. I miss the game like crazy. I dont feel as if Ive enjoyed playing football since Cardiff. I dont wishes to form my name into Google and just see a listing of humiliating narratives. I want people to remember I am a footballer who was good enough to represent his country at 20 and still has 10 years left in the game. At 40% of my ability, I was playing at the top level. Now I feel good mentally and I want the chance to show people, including my son, what I am truly capable of. Wherever the opportunity develops, Im only thankful still to be alive.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

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She could have been a top US soccer player. Problem was, she was undocumented

3 days ago

Allyson Duarte was good, worked hard, and dreamed of playing soccer at a top US college. But she soon learned talent means nothing when you dont have papers

She came to America to chase a soccer career only to learn that talent means nothing here when you are undocumented. Now 25 -year-old Allyson Duarte sits inside an airport named Reagan, gazing at a city called Washington, and wonders which politicians will ruin their own lives next.


Through a giant window at Reagan national airport she can see the US Capitol gleaming in the late-day sun. The day before she had been inside under its dome with 1,000 other Dreamer- undocumented high school graduates brought here as children like her- asking Congress to pass a Dream Act that protects high school and college graduates without criminal records.

But as she waits for a flight back to Texas, where she has lived since eighth grade, she worries that supportive words from representatives and senators might not be enough, a legislative solution won’t be reached for Dreamer and he will be shipped back to Mexico.


Who are Dreamers?

Dreamers are young immigrants who would qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival( Daca) program, legislated under Barack Obama in 2012. Most people in the program entered the US as children and have lived in the US for years “undocumented”. Daca dedicated them temporary protection from deportation and work permits. Daca was only available to people younger than 31 on 15 June 2012, who arrived in the US before turning 16 and lived there endlessly since June 2007. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and the largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. Donald Trump cancelled the program in September but has also said repeatedly he wants Congress to develop a program to “help” the population.

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What is the American Dream any more? Once she thought she knew. That was back when she was 13 in Veracruz, Mexico, wanted nothing more than to access the US soccer system, go to college and play professionally. She believed the American Dream all the way through high school in McAllen, Texas, where she had a 3.8 grade point average and an ability to play almost stanceon the field. She thought those things alone would get her into almost any top soccer school, until she realise those colleges sometimes flew to away matches and because she had no government ID she wouldn’t be able to get on the planes. If she couldn’t fly, she couldn’t play college soccer.

By the time Barack Obama generated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012 letting her to procure a work permit( that lets her fly) her chance to play college football had passed.

” I was this close ,” she says, leaning forward in her seat, pinching her thumb and index fingers virtually together.” That’s how I started questioning meritocracy and the American Dream. I had to grapple with their own problems of not having access to the American Dream .”

Then she slumps back in the chair, sighs heavily and gazes in silence at the city that has reduced people like her to a television talking point.

As a child, Duarte loved soccer, playing it every day on the street outside her mothers’ home in Veracruz. She didn’t care the other players were all boys. She could play rough. She could play fast. When she was 12 she joined a local women’s club. The players were all 18 and essentially adults. But playing with them stimulated her realize how good she could be. She was convinced she could play professionally.

Allyson Duarte on the field. Photograph: Allyson Duarte

Her problem was that Veracruz offered few soccer opportunities for a girl. If she actually hoped for a soccer career, she realized she’d have to come to the US, play on a big youth team them go to a top college where the professional coaches and scouts would see her. Her father was already in the US, having left when she was eight to find work in McAllen. She longed to join him. When she was 13, he arranged for her to come along with her mother and friend. Three days later she started seventh grade. She knew only three English words: hello, blue and baseball.

She excelled in her new country, quickly learning English. Within weeks, she had stimulated her middle school’s team and joined the top local club squad. She went on to McAllen high school, a local girl’s soccer power, where she played well, switching between midfield and assault. She excelled at cross-country. It was not an easy transition, however: many of the girls on the team were white, and she struggled to bond with them. When white team-mate bluntly asked on a bus trip-up:” Are you a citizen ?” She froze, then replied:” I’m a resident .”

” I didn’t want to be exposed ,” she says.

Duarte put up with everything for a purpose. She was sure she was doing all the right things to get to a top soccer school. Then, starting her sophomore year, the college coaches started going. She could tell they were interested by the way they watched her play. But when she talked to them her hopes dropped. They explained that their schools did not devote full scholarships to women’s soccer players. They fund they could offer would not cover her full tuition. She told them she was undocumented and they told her that because she’d have to fly sometimes it would be hard to offer a scholarship to a player who couldn’t make all the matches.

” They need you full-time if they are going to recruit you ,” Duarte says.

She was crushed. When her senior season ended, she quitted soccer and deleted her Facebook account cutting all contact from her high school life.

” Since I couldn’t play football I went into a deep depression ,” she says.” So I merely walked away .”

Duarte enrolled into the only school she could afford, their home communities college, South Texas College, that didn’t have a football squad. Two year later, she transferred to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where she was able to get an academic scholarship. She visited the football coach-and-four who seemed interested in having her on his team. Though he had already given out his scholarships, he invited her to practice with the hope she could play the next year.

At McAllen high school, Allyson also excelled at cross-country. Photo: Allyson Duarte

Her abilities had eroded, though. Those two years away had robbed her of speed and agility. The coach-and-four had brought in several players from Europe and she couldn’t help but see irony in the fact that someone who had never lived in the US before could have an opportunity that she- nearby residents for almost 10 years at the time- could not. After a few days she stopped coming to the practices.

Her love for soccer had disappeared.

‘It’s extremely heartbreaking when you hear narratives like this ,” Doug Andreassen, head of the US Soccer’s Diversity Task Force, when recently told abut Duarte’s plight.” It happens a lot and there’s nobody there to help them. There’s nobody at the colleges to help them .”

Andreassen says he talks to many young players like Duarte, undocumented teens with great ability who have come to the US from soccer-playing country level have visions of going to American colleges. He tries to be honest when he satisfies them, explaining that their immigration status might be an impediment though doing so can be difficult.

” I don’t want to crush their dreamings but I have to be realistic ,” he tells.” I don’t want to send them down the road leading to letdown later on .”

He desperately wants the system to change.

Duarte does too, though she has a new passion. Philosophers move her the style football once did. She loves the writes of John Rawls, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua and Enrique Domingo Dussel- people who challenged the ideas of justice, classism and imperialism. She detected her dream had changed. She wants to go to graduate school where she can develop her notions. She has chosen the two schools to which she wants to apply most: Penn State and City University of New York Graduate Center.

But is again she is held back, this time because her work permit expires next autumn. If Donald Trump has his route and Daca is cancelled, she frets she will be sent back to Mexico and won’t be able to complete her graduate program. This reality has stimulated her an activist- a Dreamer determined to not lose two dreams before she turns 26.

” I should be on the Mexican national team now ,” she says.” But one of the things I’ve learned is you have to enjoy the moment. You can’t set it all on one thing. You have to keep moving .”

She gazes once more at the Capitol , now a blaze white in the fading afternoon. In the background, the airport PA announces gate changes and boarding hours. She doesn’t seem to hear. Instead she stares through the glass wondering if the people in Congress understand what already she has lost and what more she has to lose. A bigger question might be: do they even care about the American Dream?

Whatever it is.

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Manchester City’s plan for global dominance

12 days ago

The long read: Football has already been transformed by big money but the businessmen behind Man City are trying to build a global corporation that will change the game for ever

On 19 December 2009, Pep Guardiola stood and wept in the middle of Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The 38-year-old Barcelona manager clasped a hand across his face as his body gave way to huge, shoulder-heaving sobs. Zlatan Ibrahimović, the club’s towering Swedish striker, wrapped a tattooed arm around Guardiola’s neck and then gave him a vigorous push in order to jolt him out of it. But Guardiola could not stop. It was a strange place for the world’s most celebrated football coach to break down: Barcelona had just won a game that few people watched on television to secure one of football’s most obscure titles, the Fifa Club World Cup. But the victory secured an unbreakable record: Barcelona had won all six titles available to any club in a single year. That is why Pep was sobbing.

Back at home in Barcelona, it was a bittersweet moment for Ferran Soriano. A hairdresser’s son from the city’s working-class district of Poblenou, Soriano had become one of FC Barcelona’s top executives – and had helped build what could now claim to be the greatest football team the world had ever seen. “I was happy, but it was also painful not to be there when the team reached its pinnacle,” he told me. Instead, he picked up the phone and called Guardiola.

Soriano had overseen Barcelona’s finances for five years until 2008, and the club’s record owed much to the ideas he had developed after running a US-style political campaign to bring a group of swashbuckling, sharp-suited young men to power at elections for a new board of directors in 2003. He had even written a book, La Pelota no entra por azar (“The ball doesn’t go in by chance”), in which he argued that Barcelona’s success – and, by inference, that record – was the result of good, creative business management. Vicious political infighting had driven him to resign from the club the previous year. But even before that, he had seen one of his more ambitious ideas – to set up franchise clubs in other countries – thwarted at Barcelona. This was a step too far for a club owned by 143,000 voting fans, firmly rooted in their city and Catalonia.

But Soriano’s big idea has now been brought to life by two men who were watching very closely on the night Guardiola wept in Abu Dhabi: one is a member of the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and the other is Khaldoon al-Mubarak, a youthful executive and adviser to the royal family. With their backing, Soriano is now upending football’s established order by building its first true multinational corporation – a Coca-Cola of soccer.

That corporation is City Football Group (CFG). It already owns, or co-owns, six clubs on four continents, and the contracts of 240 male professional players and two dozen women. Hundreds more carefully picked teenagers and younger children who aspire to greatness play in CFG’s lower teams. The longterm ambition is huge. The company will trawl the world for players – shaping and polishing them in state-of-the-art academies and training facilities across several continents, selling them on or sending the best to the clubs it will own (and improve) in a dozen or so countries. Supplied and shielded by the vessels around it, the flagship of this new football flotilla – Manchester City FC – will continue its already startling rise to become the world’s greatest club.

That is the Soriano idea – or at least, a simplified version of a complex plan. The corporation is only four years old, but it is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful forces in the world’s favourite sport – watched with awe, envy and fear by those who wonder if it could become football’s own Google or Facebook.

In a game where top players cost £200m, televised matches attract audiences of hundreds of millions and club owners are among the wealthiest potentates on the planet, no expense is spared in seeking any competitive edge. Once upon a time, money alone was enough to make the difference (if it was spent wisely), but that is no longer the case, in part because there is so much of it sloshing around the game.

When Manchester City won the Premier League in 2012, Sheikh Mansour was widely accused of “buying the title for £1bn” – the amount of money he had poured into City since purchasing the club four years earlier. It was City’s first major trophy in 36 years, and grown men cried when Sergio Agüero’s goal in the penultimate minute of the season’s final game secured the title. Mansour watched it on television: he had only ever been to one match at City’s Etihad stadium, and did not enjoy the fuss his visit caused. In the hours that followed, his phone hummed, filling up with 2,500 messages.

Man City CEO Ferran Soriano. Photograph: Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

But this was also the end of an era. European football’s regulator, Uefa, had brought in new rules designed to stop clubs spending much more than they earned. Critics dismissed Mansour as a spoiled hobbyist, and even today some wonder to what extent his “private” ownership might become an instrument of Abu Dhabi’s soft power. But his few public statements made it clear that he had bought City – and ploughed money into it – as a genuine, long-term investment because “in cold business terms, Premiership football is one of the best entertainment products in the world”.

The ambition, then, was double – he intended to win at both football and business. But with the Uefa spending brake, that was about to become much tougher. He needed something new. Could City win without losing money?

In fact, when Soriano’s gang of smart young businessmen took over Barcelona in 2003, it was a loss-making club. As finance chief, Soriano helped deliver a spiralling “virtuous circle” of high investment, trophies and then even higher revenues. Forceful and analytical, he had built and sold a global consultancy business by the age of 33; at Barcelona, where he was nicknamed both “the Panzer” and “the Computer”, he made a strong-willed but sensible counterpoint to the club’s mercurial president, Joan Laporta. But Soriano also saw Barcelona as something far bigger than a city club, while realising that the global football business itself was poised to enter a new era. In 2006, at a talk Soriano delivered at Birkbeck College in London, he presented 28 slides that set out his early vision. Thanks to the phenomenal growth in their worldwide fan bases, he noted, big clubs were being transformed from promoters and organisers “of local events, like a circus” into “global entertainment companies like Walt Disney”. If big clubs seized the opportunity to “capture the growth and become global franchises”, they would soon stand apart from their rivals, creating a new, world-conquering elite.

“He thought, and thinks, in a different way to most other people in football,” says Simon Chadwick, now a professor at Salford University, who had invited Soriano to give the talk at Birkbeck. At the time, Soriano himself was disappointed to find English football so in thrall to a model in which managers such as Arsène Wenger and Alex Ferguson appeared to run their own clubs, while “the level of conceptualisation of the business model was zero”. Even the language was telling. “They called the coach ‘manager’, as if he managed everything,” Soriano recalled.

With his abrupt departure from Barcelona in 2008, Soriano’s dream of turning that club into a global franchise, with a first satellite team in the US, was definitively dashed. Instead, Soriano threw himself into running an airline, Spanair. But five years after his presentation in London, as Mansour sought a fresh competitive edge, both on and off the field, Soriano found himself, in October 2011, sitting down for a 7am meeting in a Mayfair hotel with the globetrotting New York lawyer Marty Edelman – who was tempting him back into football.

Edelman had been drafted on to City’s board by Mansour, working alongside his appointed chairman, the US-educated Khaldoon al-Mubarak, from the very beginning. Edelman, a real estate expert, was already a trusted adviser in Abu Dhabi, and the choice of an American was an early sign of the club’s new cosmopolitanism. Soriano initially brushed off City’s advances. He was used to associating Manchester with its glittering rival United, and he still distrusted what he called “the stereotype of the rich owner”. (In his book, he had even described City as a club that provoked “savage inflation” through “irrational investment”.) But the two sides were slowly discovering shared values. Chief among them was ambition – and with that came a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Even then, it was an off-and-on affair. Meetings followed in Paris and Abu Dhabi, before, in April 2012, Soriano was sneaked through Manchester airport (where the club says it “can get people in without anyone knowing they have arrived”) and taken to a room at the Lowry Hotel booked in someone else’s name. A former rugby second-row forward, Soriano is, at 6ft 3in, difficult to hide. By now it was a mutual seduction, with City wanting to persuade him that, with Mansour’s long-term commitment, the club could be as great as Barcelona. Soriano, in turn, pitched a mould-breaking plan that required deep pockets, imagination and a steady nerve. Both sides agreed that City should aspire to being the world’s top club – a position long held by either Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United. “And I mean number one – not number two or three,” Soriano told me.

The idea of becoming the world’s biggest club was not just vanity or business machismo. Soriano had spotted long before that a tiny group of elite clubs would capture the new global market, but he also wanted to build something “far bigger”. Football clubs, he pointed out, were massive brands but absurdly small businesses: a team with a global following of 500 million fans might have an income of only €500m. “That’s one euro per fan,” he says, “which is utterly ridiculous.” In business terms, this was “a combination of a lot of love and, literally, no love” – because fans in, say, Indonesia spent nothing on their club. “So what can we do? The answer was pretty simple, maybe too simple, but very bold. You have to be global but local. You have to go to Indonesia and open a shop.” He outlined his idea for a corporation that would have both a global brand – in Manchester City – and lots of local brands, developing talent through a network of clubs that would also provide a pipeline of players for City. He knew this might sound far-fetched. “If I had pitched this idea to Real Madrid, the answer would be ‘you’re crazy’ – and that is actually what had happened in Barcelona,” he told me.

But City was already going through a revolution, and was ready for more. For Edelman, the plan put flesh on the skeleton built with Mansour’s millions. “Any great idea needs to have a host, right? And we were a great host,” Edelman told me at his Park Avenue offices. “You couldn’t take Ferran’s idea and just put it on a blank sheet.” Soriano’s idea (which he now terms his “artistic challenge”) was a way of taking Mansour’s original vision – summed up in his early pledge to build “a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars” – and putting it “on steroids”, in Edelman’s words.

Soriano started work as CEO of Manchester City on Saturday 1 September 2012. Two days later, he arrived in New York to create a new football club. This meant paying $100m (£74m) for a spot in Major League Soccer (MLS), the professional league for the US and Canada, and building a team from nothing. Seeking a local partner, Edelman eventually took Soriano to see Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, the owners of the New York Yankees. The brothers had inherited their baseball team, but Hank is a soccer fan who played at college and coached his local high-school team. It was one of the quickest deals Edelman had ever seen struck, taking “about 15 seconds” to agree it. “It just worked,” he told me. The Yankees took 20% of the new team and offered their stadium as a temporary home. (It still is, though it takes 72 hours to transform it from a baseball field into a soccer pitch.) The team, baptised New York City Football Club, began playing in 2015. Forbes now values it at $275m (£205m). To fans it is “NYCFC”, or simply “New York City” – a marketer’s dream. “Our brand is perfect, because it is ‘City’ and we know we can add that word to any city,” observed Soriano, who began his working life marketing detergents.

Man City global reach map

When I first visited the Etihad campus in March, the wall behind the reception desk bore the shields of City, NYCFC and two other clubs: Melbourne City, and Yokohama F Marinos, a Japanese club in which CFG owns a minority stake. Melbourne Heart, as the Australian club was originally known, had only been founded in 2009. It won its first major trophy last season, just two years after City bought it and changed its name, and changed its colours to sky blue. “It’s like being a start-up tech firm, and Apple buying you,” Scott Munn, the club’s founding CEO, told me. East Manchester, in this analogy, will become the Silicon Valley of soccer. A modest cluster of other football businesses is even forming in the area – making the Californian analogy even more apt.

By the time I returned two months later, City had bought yet another club, this time in Uruguay – Atlético Torque, a second-division side that was founded in 2007 and became professional only in 2012. At the company’s annual staff meeting in May, a representative from the new outpost began his presentation with a map of South America and a large arrow pointing to Uruguay. “Nobody knows what is Torque. Nobody knows where is Torque,” he admitted, only half-jokingly. (It is in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo.) “In this room we have as many people as go to a Torque match.” The ambition, however, was for the club to rise to the first division, finish in the top four and qualify for continent-wide competitions – and this in a country that produces world-class players such as Barcelona’s Luis Suárez or Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Rather more mysteriously, the club also aimed to “sign and register players from all across South America”. The latter was the result of a cold statistical analysis, which had revealed that Uruguay was the biggest per-capita exporter of professional footballers – an astounding £25m-a-year business. And this was despite the fact that many small clubs often sold talented players cheaply when they were still teenagers. “It’s astonishing,” Soriano said. “We are big, and will hold on to them longer” – making them even more valuable.

The next time I saw Soriano – at his holiday apartment in the small Catalan beach resort of Tamariu – it was July, and he had closed yet another deal just a day earlier. For €3.5m (£3.1m), City had purchased 44% of Girona, a club in Spain’s top division. This was a far bigger fish. As he sat on a balcony overlooking the bay in shorts and a T-shirt – pulling data on fan numbers and television rights out of a battered laptop – Soriano looked happy (and not just because, in Tamariu, he can make work calls from his balcony and then pop down to join his two “Mancunian” infant daughters on the beach).

“When we agreed the price last year, it was in the second division. Now it’s in the first,” he said. On 29 October this year, with help from players loaned by Manchester City, the newly promoted team convincingly beat Real Madrid in their first meeting. The injection of CFG cash and know-how at Torque has had an even more dramatic effect. Last month it finished top of Uruguay’s second division, meaning it has already been promoted – just six months after it was bought.

Soriano is convinced that football will eventually become the biggest sport in almost every country in the world, “including the United States and India,” he says. So how far will CFG go? “We’re open. In Africa we have a relationship with an academy in Ghana. And we’ve been looking at opportunities in South Africa,” he said. CFG already has a close relationship with Atlético Venezuela in Caracas; Soriano also mentioned Malaysia and Vietnam. The limit, he suggested, was two or three clubs per continent. But the next major purchase may well be in China, where the group is “actively looking” to buy a club.

In October 2015, China’s football-loving president, Xi Jinping, visited City’s Etihad stadium; two months later, Chinese investors bought 13% of CFG for $400m (£265m), valuing the whole at $3bn. This was probably well over 30% more than Mansour had pumped into it (no exact figures are available). Soriano has been watching the dramatic, chaotic evolution of Chinese soccer – a pet project for Xi – ever since he arrived in Manchester. At first, Soriano was put off by rumours of chaos and corruption, and then by a price bubble. “The market is now more rational and the league is more structured,” he says.

Xi wants China to create 50,000 special “soccer schools” within 10 years – partly to get deskbound schoolchildren fit – and to make ready 140,000 pitches. Soriano sees an opportunity to teach millions of children soccer, which “might be bigger than the business of Manchester City”. It is a reminder that CFG – which recently put $16m into a joint venture to own and operate five-a-side urban pitches in the US – is interested in the entire sector, not just clubs.

Chinese president Xi Jinping, Man City striker Sergio Aguero and then prime minister David Cameron at MCFC’s Etihad stadium in Manchester in 2015. Photograph: Sergio Aguero/AP

CFG is not the only owner of multiple clubs – and some other teams are experimenting with modest forms of integration – but the others are largely just investment portfolios. CFG is the only owner that has consciously established a single corporate culture around the world, which in some cases extends to wearing the same sky-blue shirts. Fernando Pons, a sports business partner at Deloitte in Spain, sees this as a prime example of what consultants have dubbed “glocalisation” – a concept that implies taking a global product, but adapting to local markets. “A Girona or New York City fan will almost certainly also become a City fan,” he said. It also means that the advertising for Nissan, SAP and Wix that is seen at the Etihad stadium in Manchester will be replicated in Melbourne or New York – and that players from the US or Australia will be able to travel off-season to the world’s most advanced training centre, built on 34 hectares of land beside the Etihad and equipped with sophisticated extras such as hyperbaric and hypoxic chambers that can simulate high altitude or boost blood oxygen levels.

What seems to excite Soriano most, however, is the vast pool of players and the range of clubs they can play in. CFG almost certainly already owns the contracts of more professional soccer players than anyone else in the world, and that number is only set to go higher. So while “entertainment” and running clubs is the group’s first business, he explained, “business number two is player development”. The inspiration is Barcelona’s famous and much-copied Masia youth academy, which, for about €2m each, produced legendary players such as Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Guardiola. At today’s prices, the same group would cost closer to €1bn. “We are globalising the Barça model,” Soriano said.

The logic behind this was made even more clear – in the same week we met in July – by the widespread amazement over the £198m fee that the Qatari owners of Paris Saint-Germain had agreed to pay Barcelona for the Brazilian star Neymar. Transfer records are smashed almost yearly, and Soriano now sees this inflation as an inevitable part of the game, now driven not by wealthy owners but demanding fans.

“Why is that? It’s very simple: the industry is growing,” he explained. “Ultimately, it goes back to the clients – these are the fans, who want to watch good football and are ready to pay. So clubs have more money to spend, but the number of highly skilled or top players generated each year does not change.”

“This is a typical ‘make-or-buy’ challenge. You can’t buy in the market, so you have to make,” Soriano said. “This means spending a lot of money – on academies, coaches, but also in transfers for young players. It’s like venture capital in that if you invest 10 million each in 10 players, you just need one to get to the top who is going to be worth 100 million.”

For Manchester City, the expanding web of CFG clubs solves a particularly English problem, which occurs when promising footballers hit 17 or 18. Soriano calls this “the development gap”, and it may explain why England’s national team performs so badly. “If the player is top quality, he needs to play competitive football to develop. It’s not only for the technical aspect of the game, but also for the pressure. The under-21 or under-19 competitions in England don’t provide this, because games aren’t in front of a lot of fans and there isn’t enough competitive tension,” he said. If Spain and Germany are much better at developing players, he says, it is because clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have reserve teams that play in their countries’ second or third division against other professional clubs – not in a separate league, as English youth teams do. “If you manage a boy who has talent and is promising, who is 18 or 19, you can have him training with the first team, but playing in the second, where games are difficult, competitive and you play before crowds of 30,000.”

MCFC players in training at the City Football Academy in Manchester. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Because Premier League clubs are not allowed to field second teams, the primary way to develop promising young players who are not quite ready is to loan them to another club, usually in a lower division; Manchester City, for example, currently has around 20 players out on loan. But once a player is loaned out, the parent club loses control over their development – as Chelsea can testify, having bought up so many young players that more than 30 are on loan at 24 different clubs. At worst, this leads to the warehousing of players and the ruining of promising careers. CFG’s integrated web of clubs, all (in theory) playing the same style of football, is meant to solve that. “In this system we control exactly what they do. The coaching is exactly the same. The playing style is exactly the same,” Soriano said.

If this vision works out, successful players will progress from, say, Torque to New York, and then to Girona, and then – eventually – to Manchester City. CFG will not “own” them, since they will belong to the individual clubs, who must compete against outside bidders and pay transfer fees where appropriate. But CFG clubs will have insider information on the players, who can, in turn, be confident of fitting in with the style at all the other CFG clubs – while transfer income will end up back in a single corporate pot. In May, club officials gave me the example of the Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy, who joined Melbourne City in 2014 and was the team’s player of the year in his first two seasons. CFG decided Mooy was good enough to play in England, and Melbourne sold him to Manchester City for £425,000 in June 2016. But Mooy did not play for the club – he was immediately loaned to Huddersfield Town, who were then a second-division team. After helping them win promotion to the Premier League, Mooy was then sold to Huddersfield – for £10m. The deal shows how CFG can leverage its insider knowledge of players to simply trade them, even if they never actually play in Manchester. The profit from this one transaction, incidentally, was some 40% more than it cost to buy the entire Melbourne club.

Hiring Pep Guardiola was always part of Soriano’s big plan – though enticing him to Manchester required time and patience. One of Soriano’s first City hires was Barcelona’s former director of football, the man responsible for buying new players and helping to choose coaches, Txiki Begiristain. “Immediately we went to talk to Pep, because Pep was the best coach in the world,” Soriano told me. Guardiola had just left Barcelona and was determined to enjoy a sabbatical year in New York. “So we said: ‘OK, come next year’,” Soriano recalled. “And [the next year] he said: ‘I’m sorry, I want to go to Bayern Munich’. So we said: ‘OK, come in three years.’ And he came.” This kind of patience is only available when your owner has no need to cash in and, in a fast-moving sport where fans demand instant results, knows how to play a waiting game.

Guardiola’s prime task is to meet Soriano’s definition of a “number one” club by winning at least one title per season. “That doesn’t mean you win every year, but that in five seasons you win five trophies. It means getting to April with possibilities of winning the Premier League and playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League,” he explained. City have only managed the latter once – in 2015/16, the season before Guardiola arrived – but the target implies winning the Champions League every four years.

Sheikh Mansour (front right) with chairman of Manchester City FC Khaldoon al-Mubarak (front left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (front centre) at a training camp in Abu Dhabi, 2017. Photograph: Victoria Haydn/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

But an implicit part of Guardiola’s job, away from the merry-go-round of matches and press conferences, is to help engineer something that may ultimately prove more valuable – a recognisable and entertaining playing style across all of CFG’s teams and players. Again, the model comes from Barcelona, where players moved seamlessly from junior teams to the Camp Nou because all had learned the same Cruyff-style soccer. In the CFG model, clubs and academies in a dozen countries should be doing the same – creating a frictionless supply line of players who automatically know how to play Pep-style and can slip in and out of the group’s teams. Soriano says that will allow “a more seamless movement of players”, with the best ending up at City.

This may prove more challenging than it sounds. On a warm August afternoon this year, as smoke rose from dozens of tailgate barbecues in gravel-covered parking lots, I joined fans wearing the sky-blue colour of NYCFC as they trooped into the New York Red Bulls stadium in Harrison, New Jersey. David Villa – the 35-year-old former Barcelona player – led them to a 1-1 draw in what has already become New York’s “classic” football derby. But this was relatively scrappy football – the kind played in the second or third divisions of England or Spain.

A few days earlier, I had watched coach Patrick Vieira – who moved here from managing City’s “elite development” under-23 team – train his squad on a pitch in leafy Westchester County, north of New York City. When I asked Vieira, a former Arsenal captain who finished his playing career in Manchester, if his team – whose salaries, under MLS rules, are capped well below Premier League level – always played “City football”, he admitted that it did not. “You can’t play the same football in New York as in Manchester, because of the players,” he said. “What we have in common is a philosophy to play what we call ‘beautiful football’ – the offensive game, to try to have possession, create chances, score goals and play attractive football. The level will be different, but the philosophy tries to be the same.”

As CFG grows and its impact is felt around the world, its rivals are beginning to fear its size, and hover, hawk-like, over its accounts. Javier Tebas, the outspoken lawyer who presides over Spain’s La Liga, clipped CFG’s wings when it appeared on his territory this summer, accusing Girona of misrepresenting the details of five players loaned by City. The club was forced to increase the accounting value of those players – a measure that, given Spain’s budget cap system, left Girona with 4% less money to spend on players’ wages. “We had to correct certain market values … so that loaning of players did not represent unfair competition,” explained Tebas. Girona are still trying to get that decision overturned.

At the Soccerex football business conference in September, Tebas took aim at Manchester again, accusing City of circumventing the rules by taking hidden state aid in the form of sponsorship contracts with public companies from Abu Dhabi. (He had similar complaints about Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners, who he claimed were “pissing in the swimming pool” of European football.) In Tebas’s view, what is provoking inflation in transfer fees and player wages is not fan demand, but Gulf cash and so-called “state clubs” – including “Manchester City and its oil”. City not only denied this, but threatened to sue him – and Uefa has ignored Tebas’s demands that it investigate the club’s finances. But the vocal hostility from the head of a league dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona is a sign that the latter two – whose not-for-profit, member-controlled structure prevents them taking the CFG route to global expansion – are starting to feel threatened.

Man City star Kevin De Bruyne (centre) during their recent victory over Swansea City. Photograph: Thomas/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

But Tebas’s suggestion that CFG uses its muscle to push the regulatory boundaries is not without merit. In 2014, Uefa punished City with a €20m fine for breaking the financial fair play rules in previous seasons. The Australian league, meanwhile, introduced new rules last year after CFG circumvented the league’s ban on transfer fees between clubs with a ruse that one critic dubbed “farcical”. Manchester City bought a local player called Anthony Cáceres – “outbidding” Australian clubs by paying a transfer fee – before loaning him straight to Melbourne. The league responded by banning the practice for the first year after signing.

The same ownership whose deep pockets have enabled these global ambitions may also be a source of further difficulties – in part because the desire to protect Abu Dhabi’s image looms large at CFG. This has become more challenging as the emirate’s ambitious mega-projects, such as the collection of museums on Saadiyat Island, attract the attention of human rights organisations, who accuse the UAE of violating the rights of migrant construction workers. When emails from the Emirati embassy in Washington were leaked earlier this year, among them was a memo revealing that CFG’s directors had fretted about a proposal to build an NYCFC stadium on parkland in Queens – where there was already public opposition to such a project – out of fear that stadium critics would attack Abu Dhabi’s involvement, targeting its attitude to “gay [rights], women, wealth, Israel”. The project was abandoned, and NYCFC still does not have its own stadium.

There is a central paradox to the economics of football. While the global business has long expanded at annual rates of 10% or more, few clubs have ever made much profit, let alone paid owners an annual dividend. Even the mighty Premier League clubs have, jointly, posted pre-tax losses in three of the last five seasons. And yet the price of clubs keeps rising. Mansour, for example, was estimated to have paid around twice as much for City as the previous owner, the exiled former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, had done just 15 months earlier.

Soriano says that sports franchises are exposed, week-in, week-out, to such relentless competition that they are driven to constantly reinvest profits – meaning that owners only really make money by selling. Others see football clubs as a “rarity” for ultra-rich collectors – with billionaires queueing to join the small, exclusive club of those who own famous clubs. These are also incredibly resilient assets: Manchester City, founded by vicar’s daughter Anna Connell to keep working men off booze and brawling in 1880, is one of many now in their second century. “How many companies that were on the New York stock exchange in 1917 still exist?” Soriano asks.

Ultimately, value comes from combining talent and emotion – meaning players and the fans who adore them. This is the “love” Soriano talks about, which CFG must turn into money if it is to become the successful multinational corporation that the owners want. If Guardiola ever sobs for City – something only likely if he wins another Champions League trophy, which Soriano hopes will happen this season – then fans of one of England’s most historic football clubs will happily give themselves up to adoration. Many more might follow them.

But CFG’s multinational corporate model somehow obliges us to take a more hard-nosed view of how much this “love” is really worth. Will CFG ever match a Coca-Cola, Disney or Google for size or value? Manchester City will have to win many more games, and many titles, before that happens – by which time, if the model works, other football multinationals might have appeared, all of them transforming love into money at a global scale. In the hard world of business, of course, there is only one way we will ever find out the “true” monetary value of CFG’s global juggernaut, on the day Mansour, or someone else, sells the company, and the market renders its own judgment – and puts a price on all that love.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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MLS preview: why the Hudson River Derby isn’t this weekend’s big game

15 days ago

The two best teams in the West meet on Saturday, and Dallas and Colorado should serve up a treat for the fans

Colorado and Dallas clash in game of the weekend

This is a real lip-smacker. Dallas have surged to 40 phases, and stand clear at the top in the West. Colorado are on their tail, three points back but with three games in hand. Colorado are unbeaten in 14 games; Dallas have won four of the last five. Dallas score objectives, and plenty of them; Colorado have the leagues best keeper and a superb defensive record, having conceded merely 13 all season. Forget the derby in New York: this is the weekends biggest game.

Its a difficult game to predict , not least because Dallas have the unfortunate they are able to capitulate when things arent gone wrong. Their home kind is awesome, but all six of their defeats this season have come away from Toyota Stadium, and they havent managed a objective in any of them. When theyre good, theyre very good; when theyre bad, theyre horrible the 5-0 recent thumping by Seattle a case in point.

But they come into this one after sneaking a 1-0 US Open Cup victory over their competitors Houston on Wednesday. Fabian Castillo followed up his breathtaking rabona assistance against Chicago with a last-minute objective at BBVA Compass Stadium, and set Dallas into the last four.

Colorado, who didnt play in the week, might offer a stylistic contrast from Dallass all-action style. In the is a lack of the influential Jermaine Jones, coach-and-four Pablo Mastroeni might be happy for his team to sit in, protect Tim Howard, and take their chances when they come.

Possession can be your friend, Mastroeni said in the week, but it can also be your greatest enemy. As weve learned this year as well, some of our adversaries best opportunities came from us turning the ball over in bad regions.

The Hudson River derby, part three

Two weeks after New York City FC and the Red Bulls is in conformity with their second derby of the season, were at it again. The conference-topping NYC FC travel to Harrison for the latest instalment of a growing rivalry.

Dont expect another 7-0, though. The Red Bulls havent been in the best of form lately, and things came to a head with some selection terms from their captain after their 2-2 depict against Philly last week. Dax McCarty slammed his team-mates for having no spine, and Sacha Kljestan told: We played like sons , not humen.

Just in case his on-field tactics dont work up, coach-and-four Jesse Marsch got the mind games in early, and encouraged Sundays referee to disregard any antics from NYC FCs stars. If[ David Villa ], Pirlo or Lampard get touched, they go down, they depict pollutes, they draw yellow cards, Marsch said. Its an epidemic across the league of these referees who simply want to give the benefit of the doubt to star players. Well ensure who gets assigned to this game and well see if he can handle the business.

Vieira, on the other hand, has been relaxed in the build-up, and its easy to see why: his side have won five of the last six, and theyre three clear of Philly at the top of the East. Things seem to be coming together for the team: Frank Lampard has been among the goals, David Villa is as reliable as ever, and No1 draft pick Jack Harrison has brought energy and dynamism in midfield.

Lampard has been maligned, perhaps unfairly, for not playing enough since joining from Manchester City last year, but the former England star is in fine kind. Im loving playing at the minute, Lampard said. Being injured is frustrating for anyone. I was especially frustrated. I couldnt do what I wanted to do, and thats contribute and score goals and help the team.

Dont bet against another objective on Sunday.

Orlando Citys new coach to watch the Lions

Orlando City have a new man at the helm. Jason Kreis, the former Real Salt Lake and NYC FC coach, was announced as Adrian Heaths replacing earlier this week, and will watch from stands as the Lions aim to end their four-match winless run against Columbus. He takes over officially on Monday, so Bobby Murphy and Anthony Pulis will continue in the interim.

Kreis was unveiled at a press said he wasnt concerned right now with outcomes. Hes taking a longer-term opinion, and the message to fans was simple: dont expect Orlando to win MLS Cup any time soon. The most immediate priority for me is an off the pitching issue, Kreis said. I need to get with the team and dictate to them and try to spell out clearly our vision for the club going forward, what it is going to mean to be an OCSC member, and ask the players if thats what they want. If you want to be here it requires a certain sum of commitment and sacrifice, and, if you do not want to be here, we need to learn that quickly and move you on.

Columbus, one place back of Orlando in ninth, have attempted to solve some of their defensive issues by signing Norwegian defender Nicolai Naess from Stabaek in Norway. The Crew have mined a rich seam in the Norwegian Tippeligaen its where Steve Clark and Ola Kamara came from but Naess wont have completed his paperwork in time to feature against Orlando.

I think Nicolai, for such a young age, has played a number of top-flight games in Norway, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter told. Being 23, we assure a lot of potential in him. Hes not afraid to put his body in front of the ball and adversaries. He plays with a lot of passion and a lot of attempt while still being a skilled defender.

An upgrade at centre-back was needed ever since Gaston Sauro sustained a knee trauma in late May, but with Columbus riding a seven-game winless streak, more acquisitions are likely required, particularly in assault. The Crew have won merely three of 19 league games this season, and as we enter the second half of the season, specific comments on their report card are clear: must do better.

Montreal look to get going at home against Philadelphia

It was big news in Quebec: Real Madrid were in town to train with the Impact. There were hugs between Zinedine Zidane and Didier Drogba, and the hope for Montreal is that some of Reals stardust will rub off on a talented squad thats hit the skids in recent weeks.

For the Montreal Impact it means a lot that Real Madrid are developing here, given the history of the club, Drogba said. Its important to see how such a major team go about the performance of their duties. Real Madrid is a really great club and an extremely prestigious one. Its an honour to have them here.

The Impact have gone off the boil after a good start to the season that insured them pick up four wins from the first six. Since then, theyve managed simply two wins from 13, which isnt good enough for a squad containing the quality of Drogba, Igancio Piatti, Dominic Oduro and Lucas Ontivero. Drogbas form, though solid, has dipped from the earlier heights, and the team seems to be treading water just now. Its imperative they do more at Stade Saputo.

In the second half[ of the season] we need to improve our home record, without question, coach Mauro Biello told. We have to be much better and maximize our phases. If we can do that and continue the form weve had on the road, well be contending with the top squads in the East.

They take on a Philadelphia Union squad that, alas, wont be going to a third straight US Open Cup final. Fabian Herbers tied things up for Philly at the end of 90 minutes against New England Revolution on Wednesday, and after a goalless 30 minutes of extra time, it went to penalties. Andre Blake couldnt repeat his heroics from earlier in the game, though, and when Brad Knighton stopped Sebastian Le Toux and CJ Sapong, the Revs went through to the semi-finals.

Coach Jim Curtin had only kudo for Blake, named an All-Star earlier this week. I dont like when he makes saves, to be honest, because I feel theres things we can do to prevent[ the shoots ], Curtin told. At the same time, when we do get broken down, hes there to bail us out. Hes playing in top form. Theres no astound that he is an All-Star this year and will be starting against Arsenal.

Real Salt Lake take over San Jose after historic conflict against Inter

Fans of MLS may have perturbed to hear that RSL had pulled, and later reinstated, the credentials of a Salt Lake Tribune journalist who was felt to be insufficiently positive about the team, but we got back to football matters on Tuesday when RSL entertained Inter in a mid-season friendly in Utah.

The game created a little piece of history: it was the first time Salt Lake have faced a European club at the Rio Tinto Stadium, and just the third day overall. Stevan Jovetics audacious last-minute backheel devoted Inter a 2-1 win, but video games, which featured a number of Inters top stars, including Samir Handanovic, Miranda and Mauro Icardi, was notable for the performance of RSLs children, many of whom were called up from the USL affiliate Monarchs, and the eye-catching showing of Jordan Allen, who opened the scoring in the first half.

When he plays that stance he does things differently than our other No10s, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said of the homegrown starring. Were able to get into behind a little bit more and cause the defense some problems. Jordan is learning the things that he is able to be successful with. Now hes able to play quicker. Hes learning really fast and I believe his ceiling is actually high and hes getting better and better.

In spite of some arousing assaulting talent, RSL have cooled off just recently, and have just one win in seven. A gap is beginning to open up between them and the top three. Right now, its a busy hour of the year, Cassar said. Its a period where we need to get results and get points and set ourselves in a position for the playoffs. I fully believe that if we take care of that, the other things will fall into line.

The up-and-down Quakes are 6-7-6 this season, which is classic mid-table sort, but such is the depth of quality in the Western Conference, they find themselves down in eighth, merely two places off the bottom. And the evidence for Friday nights televised clash points to a home win: the Quakes havent won away all season, and RSL are unbeaten at home.

Last week San Jose got their first win since June 25, a fiery 2-1 victory against Toronto, and coach-and-four Dominic Kinnear reckons that might kickstart their season. Things were against us in all regions of the evening, but the position was fantastic, Kinnear told. This is the type of game that could certainly be a turning point. The dubious red cards presented to Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero in the TFC were reported the coming week to have been repealed, although were still is looking forward to official confirmation from the league.

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Carlo Ancelotti the archway firefighter who always pays his route | Richard Williams

2 months, 1 day ago

Latest book about Bayern Munichs new director says he saw the end coming early at Chelsea and Real Madrid, and discloses the unstinting admiration of Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The captains of industry and cultural rainmakers who form the usual casting of a weekly-newspaper feature titled Lunch with the FT tend to use the opportunity to make a public demonstration of their ascetic personal habits. A small salad and a bottle of sparkling water is usually enough to induce the point about what disciplined lives they lead.

Not Carlo Ancelotti.

When the man who has won the European Cup twice as a player and the Champions League three times as a manager sat down with an FT journalist last week at a favourite Italian eatery in Mayfair, he began by ordering an 82 bottle of Guidalberto, a red wine from Tuscany. I dont need to try it, he told the waiter. I know this wine.

The contents of the bottle vanished, along with a selection of starters and a doubled order of lobster with tagliolini. You like grappa? Ancelotti asked the journalist, who prepared to honour the FTs custom by paying the bill with a twinge of anxiety when it came to a few pennies short of 250. He got out his card, merely to discover that Ancelotti had already come to an arrangement with the proprietor. No fuss.

At Ancelottis home, you always eat well, Adriano Galliani says. The long-serving general manager of Milan, Galliani was the buffer between Silvio Berlusconi and Ancelotti during the latters eight years as the team administrator, from 2001 to 2009( quite a accomplishment, given that in the past 20 years Berlusconi has hired and fired 13 managers , not counting caretakers ).

Galliani is one of the witness whose evidence appears in Quiet Leadership, Ancelottis new volume of semi-autobiography. Co-authored with the management studies expert Chris Brody and the former Chelsea director of football operations Mike Forde, it is probably intended to be racked in the business studies shelves at airport bookshops. But like its predecessor, published just as Ancelotti joined Chelsea in 2009 it is also a treasury of anecdote and insight.

Everyone likes the man who is about to take over at Bayern Munich, which is why the books other voices include Cristiano Ronaldo, Alex Ferguson, Paolo Maldini, John Terry, Alessandro Nesta and David Beckham. They all have affectionate things to say about him as a human his personal warmth, his tactical flexible, his humour, his tendency to lapse into Italian on the rare occasions when he loses his mood in the dressing room but their narratives, and his, create a picture of one style of managing a football squad: a rational approach to the job of operating a team amid the climate of lunacy found at the top of the European club football pyramid.

At Real Madrid, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain, however, rationality is generally in short supply. There is nothing he would love more than to recreate the sense of family he enjoyed with Milan, involving himself in a long-term project, but age and experience please give him a philosophical posture to the whims of proprietors such as Roman Abramovich, presidents such as Florentino Prez and directors of football such as Leonardo, an erstwhile friend by whom he feels betrayed.

At Chelsea he was impressed by the requirement to attend 10 meetings to discuss his ideas before being offered the job. He won the Doubled straight away but in his second season, he writes: I find the end coming months before it did, just as I would subsequently at Madrid. He[ Abramovich] would try to convince me, with all my experience to the contrary, to be stronger, tougher and more rigorous with the players. Ive heard it before and Ive heard it since, but he was wrong they are all wrong. What they hire me for is to calm the situation at a club by building its relation with the players. At some later stage that is not the approach they want any more and the relationship with the owners not the players, but the owners begins to worsen. They hire me to be kind and pacify with the players and then at the first sign of trouble along the way thats the very characteristic they point to as the problem.

Those who think of him as soft might come away from the book watching virtue in a willingness to listen to the believes of others and to step back when necessary. He lets Terry take on the job of persuading Didier Drogba to stop diving and exaggerating traumata, knowing that the lesson in English football etiquette would come more powerfully from an English player. He describes consulting Andrea Pirlo on the revolutionary positional shift that turned a very good player into a great one.

He is impressed when Beckham, before making a deal with Berlusconi and Galliani for a loan period with Milan, calls him up first. He is smart enough to know that, with his profile, it could be that he is being pressed on to a manager for reasons other than football. So he contacted me directly and would like to know whether I wanted him to come to Milan. I told him Yes. We trusted one another to speak the truth.

He is, however, a pragmatist. If Berlusconi wants to come to the dressing room to tell his gags, he writes, I have to understand that it is his dressing room. When Ronaldo indicates that he does not want to play alongside another striker in a 4-4-2 formation, Ancelotti thinks to himself: Who am I to argue? How can I change the position of a player who scores 60 aims a season? So I had to find a solution.

If he moves to a club that does not want him to bring his own support staff, he simply adapts. Bringing in tried and trusted lieutenants sounds sensible, he writes, but presumably they were also at your side when you were sacked from your previous task. I giggled at that, and thought of the newspaper pictures of Rui Faria at Jos Mourinhos side this week, while the Portuguese provocateurs negotiations with Manchester United were going on.

Ferguson writes that he tried to persuade Ancelotti to succeed him. It didnt quite work up, he says. Another time, maybe. Thats an interesting statement which might even turn out to be prophetic, bearing in mind the fact that Ancelotti has some experience of putting out Mourinhos fires.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has played for and admires them both, and who currently appears certain to start next season in Uniteds colours, makes an interesting comparing between the Italian and the Portuguese. Jos Mourinho knows how to treat a footballer, he says, but Carlo knows how to treat a person. He also pays the bill.

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Tottenham’s Harry Kane strikes four in 6-1 thrashing of Leicester

2 months, 10 days ago

Spurs Harry Kane scored four goals to take the lead in the Golden Boot standings while Son Heung-min added two in their sides 6-1 stunning win at Leicester

A team does not necessarily need a title to depict their class, although Tottenham Hotspur do crave one. Spurs demonstrated their excellence at the King Power by swatting aside last seasons champs with regal aplomb and, in the process, Harry Kane struck four goals to enhance his chances of being crowned as the Premier Leagues top scorer for the second season in a row. His tally for the campaign stands at 26, two more than Evertons Romelu Lukaku with one round of matches to go. Spurs cannot catch Chelsea but they have no intention of stopping their glory hunt.

Son Heung-min contributed to the rout here by scoring Tottenhams other two aims. That amounted to six damaging blows to Craig Shakespeares prospects of landing the Leicester managerial chore on a permanent basis. Ben Chilwell scored for the home squad but that was no consolation to their caretaker manager. There are no positives, said Shakespeare. We were totally second-best.

Shakespeare should not be judged too harshly on this performance, as the main cause of this thrashing was Tottenhams exceptional slickness and their encouraging bloodlust. Mauricio Pochettino had demanded his team maintain their high standards despite the title being beyond them. They had faded at a similar stage last season once Leicester get beyond their reach so the Argentinian wanted to see evidence of a positive evolution since then. His wish was granted, and this time Leicester were left looking like a rabble.

Our attitude and internal motive was good, said Pochettino. We have been talking a lot about why we finished so badly last season. This type of performance shows that the team is improving and has learned a lot from last season. This is fantastic.

Leicester constructed the better start but began to tremble as soon as Spurs bared their teeth. That was the beginning of a nightmare for Yohan Benalouane, including with regard to, as the centre-back was made to look ditzy by Spurs artful attackers. Especially Kane. The striker threatened to open the scoring a couple of times before he eventually did so in the 25 th minute.

Toby Alderweireld uncovered flat-footedness in Leicesters rejigged defence by falling a long pass over them from deep inside his own half. Christian Fuchs, a makeshift centre-back, failed to cut it out and Benalouane undermined the offside strategy. Son took advantage, scampering on to the ball before playing a square pass to Kane, who scored from close range.

Spurs began to run amok. They increased their lead 11 minutes later with a sumptuous objective, an intricate move culminating with Dele Alli scooping the ball over the head of Benalouane before Son swept a volley into the net from 10 yards.

At half-time Shakespeare had to find a way to stop the bleeding, at the least. He introduced Islam Slimani for Shinji Okazaki and Leicester made a strong start to the second period. In the 59 th minute their uprising assembled momentum when Chilwell scored with impressive equanimity. Hugo Lloris had rushed out of his box to intercept a pass to Jamie Vardy but Leicester kept possession and when the ball was played to Chilwell, the 20 -year-old sidestepped a defender and stroked it into the net from 12 yards despite Eric Diers attempt to clear off the line.

Belief in a home comeback lasted four minutes. That is how long it took Spurs to re-establish their superiority. Alderweireld cantered down the right and floated a cross to the back post, where Victor Wanyama headed it back across to Kane, who nodded in from two yards. Eight minutes later Son struck again, ridiculing Wilfred Ndidi at the leading edge of the box before sweeping a low shoot into the net. The uprising had been quashed with imperious style.

Kane was not finished. He had his eyes on a personal prize as well as an emphatic team triumph. He rifled in a low 20 -yard shot to complete his hat-trick, then fired in his fourth in time added on. That was the first four-goal haul of his career and he acknowledged he was driven by his pursuit of Lukaku at the top of the scoring charts.

Id be lying if I said I wasnt, he said. I was looking to take it into the last game, but now Im in the driving seat. Im not resting on my laurels, and Ill go to Hull[ on Sunday] looking to get four more hopefully.

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Lucas Leiva: a role model who is leaving Liverpool after 10 rollercoaster years

2 months, 16 days ago

The Brazilian, who has joined Lazio, was heavily criticised where reference is joined from Grmio in 2007 but earned the respect of his team-mates and the 30 -year-old will be sorely missed in the Anfield dressing room

Lucas Leiva had heard the lament many times before but it was still a astound when it was repeated at his testimonial dinner by Jrgen Klopp. An atypical Brazilian “wouldve been” politest summary of the Liverpool managers on-stage tribute in April, when he devoted thanks that he could at least rely on Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to sprinkle the team with ingenuity and flair. It ran unsaid but Liverpool could rely on the duo less-heralded compatriot for almost everything else.

The Liverpool squad have lost their longest-serving player with Lucas 5m transfer to Lazio. The club is not losing its most gifted or decorated player and many is likely to be bemused by any fuss over the midfielders departure after 10 years but Klopp is losing an asset that he, and Liverpool managers before him, came to trust implicitly and value for his influence on and off the pitch.

That Lucas remained at Liverpool long enough to have a testimonial tribute and Klopp was the fifth director to appreciate its own contribution reflects a successful fight for recognition. He exits having constructed 346 competitive appearances for the club he joined from Grmio for 5m in 2007 and with a certain degree of respect that would have been difficult to see during his initial conflicts in Rafael Bentezs team. Lucas competed with Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano for a central midfield stance and was judged by their lofty criteria. The shouts of shoot, shoot whenever Lucas took possession in his final game at Anfield, against Middlesbrough on the last day of the season, when Liverpool reclaimed entry into the Champions League, underlined how far his relationship with supporters had come.

Lucas was an attacking midfielder where reference is joined from Gremio for 5m in 2007. Photo: Bevilacqua/ Rex Shutterstock

Its been an incredible 10 years, said Lucas that day, after being presented with a memorial trophy by Kenny Dalglish. We all is well aware been a little bit like a rollercoaster, a lot of ups and downs, but Im so proud to wear this shirt every day of my life. This club stimulated me better as a person, as a player, I have two kids born in Liverpool. For sure, my kids will be really proud when they grow up, come to Anfield and watch games, and know their dad played for Liverpool.

The words, and the ovation they triggered, were heartfelt. Lucas and his family have always intended to return to Brazil when his playing days objective but have subsequently considered maintaining a base in Liverpool too, such is their affection for the club and the city. A rollercoaster has its downs and being booed by a section of the Anfield crowd against Fulham in November 2008 was the worst moment, he later acknowledged. There was hardly an interview with Lucas during his early years on Merseyside that did not reference criticism from the crowd.

A cruciate ligament injury expense the midfielder the opportunity to play in two Wembley finals under Dalglish and two years of his international career. Liverpools merely trophy during Lucas hour at the club, the 2012 League Cup, arrived three months after he suffered the trauma in the quarter-final victory at Chelsea. His participation in the beaker run was enough for Lucas to take great pride in his wins medal, presented to him at Melwood after Dalglish and the then director of football Damien Comolli had ordered an extra one.

The battle for acceptance extended to Liverpool managers too with the exception of Bentez, who signed him and stood by him throughout. Klopp, like Brendan Rodgers, did not have Lucas in his first-choice schemes but turned to him at key moments. Having been selected in central defense ahead of established defenders last season, Lucas created a dominant human of the match showing when restored to midfield against Everton in April. His reaction on the final whistle demonstrated how much it meant to someone from Dourados, Brazil, to win one last Merseyside derby, and silenced perhaps even his own doubts about contributing at the highest level.

Lucas applauds fans after an FA Cup tie against Plymouth in January, when he wore the captains armband. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/ Reuters

Behind the scenes there was no doubting the extent of Lucas contribution in the Liverpool dressing room. Fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese he took the lead in helping foreign importations resolve , not least Coutinho whose happiness on Merseyside has brought reassurance for Klopp amid the reported interest from Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. Lucas hurled himself into ambassadorial responsibilities for the Liverpool Foundation, the clubs charity arm, with equal relish.

As captain Jordan Henderson reflected following the Anfield derby last season: Any person joining Liverpool who is looking for a role model or an example to follow then, for me, you look no further than Lucas Leiva. In simple terms he sets the standard of professionalism and posture of what it is to be a Liverpool player. In the dressing room there is no one who is respected or admired more.

I guess from the outside he is often portrayed as being the go-to person for our lads from his own country or any Spanish or Portuguese-speaking players who join Liverpool but that does him a massive disservice. It doesnt even scratch the surface of his influence. I came from the north-east and the help and support he gave me initially and still gives me to this day is massive. It doesnt matter to Lucas whether youre from Runcorn or Rio, hell make time for you and look to offer his experience to help individuals or the team when its needed.

Lucas has more to offer aged 30 than a bit-part role on the pitching at Liverpool. Klopp, despite the jokes at Liverpools atypical Brazilian, recognised as much with some reluctance.

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For all the Russia 2018 describe razzmatazz, darknes cast by Olympics takes off gloss | Martha Kelner

2 months, 22 days ago

Moscow stages the World Cup draw on Friday but Russias systematic doping at Sochi 2014 and beyond has undermined what should be footballs crowning glory

The darkness will be thick and the temperature below freezing in Moscow when the first ball is drawn but the historic snow-dappled domes of St Basil’s Cathedral remain visible from the Kremlin palace even at night.

As a set for the World Cup describe it is a perfect showcase, the imposing houses of the fortified complex and Red Square totemic of Russian power and influence. There are Christmas suns, an ice skating rink and hot sausage stallings in the shadow of one of the most uncompromising political regimes of the modern era.

That contrast between fun and fear will be embodied by next summer’s World Cup. A chance to watch Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to follow England around this vast country but also the knowledge that the host country has serious questions to answer on its attitudes to race, sexuality and human rights. It is understood Vladimir Putin, although not a football fan, will provide an opening address at the depict, keen presumably to take advantage of the political capital on offer.

For all the understandable wariness of Russia 2018, Moscow has offered a window into what the World Cup may be like when it gets under way on 14 June. Access has been closely controlled by the security services but an army of volunteers, decked in red, demonstrated an eagerness to please and experiences have been mostly positive.

The foreign media, often cast as an foe faction by Putin, were treated to a special performance by the Moscow State Academic Theatre and offered gifts of notepads and Russian dolls from the 11 host cities.

” There is an exhilaration about the World Cup ,” one local said.” People are looking forward to it and want to put one over a present- but perhaps not as much as before the Olympics when it was thought it could change how the world viewed Russia. They’ve learned how incorrect the latter are .”

Sochi 2014 and the systematic doping that blighted that event and at least the three preceding Olympics has only reinforced negative views of Russian culture, its attitude towards athletic and fair play. On Thursday evening, as Gordon Banks and Fabio Cannavaro spoke of their pleasure at being chosen by Fifa as draw deputies, news filed through of another two positive narcotics tests from Russian athletes at London 2012. Of 226 samples collected from Russian athletes who participated in London and retested, 21 have been dirty.

Vitaly Mutko, the country’s athletics pastor at that time, is now not only Putin’s deputy but the head of the Russian FA and will be a key figure at the describe. This is despite the publication this week of diaries belonging to the Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of the Moscow drug lab, which detail sessions with Mutko and offer the strongest evidence yet that Mutko fully knew of the systematic doping programme.

The rehearsal for the 2018 World Cup depict at the Kremlin. Photo: Matthias Hangst/ Bongarts/ Getty Images

While Mutko may be on borrowed period pending farther revelations, it is too late now for there to be any realistic prospect of Russia being stripped of the World Cup.

At the hotel where Fifa executives are remaining, Michel D’Hooghe, the chairman of the medical committee, was at pains to insist doping control would be kept out of the hands of the hosts.

” The anti-doping control is likely to be done by medical officers of Fifa not Russia- nothing will be in the hands of the Russian organisers ,” he said.” With the rumours around Russia it’s one reason more to say we devote nothing of the doping control to Russian physicians, to the Russian authorities, to the local organising committee .”

Nevertheless, there is understandably widespread disquiet about a country guilty of such craven cheating being given the honour of hosting football’s biggest showpiece.

Even before the doping program was uncovered, the style Russia came to win the 2018 bid was the subject of much consternation. It was Gary Lineker who revealed to a group of British journalists that England would be knocked out in the first round of voting despite being among the favourites to host.

He violated ranks from assembled dignitaries in Zurich in December 2010 to express his abhorrence. Most of the Fifa executives who voted on Russia and Qatar 2022 have been uncovered as having been part of an organisation characterised by bribery and corruption.

It was only six months ago Lineker tweeted:” Fifa bidding process created a murky world where favour/ bribes were just thrown around. Stinks .”

So his decision to accept the governing body’s invitation to co-host the describe alongside the Tv presenter Maria Komandnaya prompted some created eyebrows.

Some commentators believe Lineker’s involvement is wrong because it gives a cape of legitimacy to the governing body. If Lineker, once such an ardent critic, is willing to align himself with it then things cannot be so bad, surely?

The golden boot win defended himself.” There is a new guard ,” he said.” If it were still Blatter and his brigade I would not have done it. I was approached by[ Fifa’s technical development director] Marco van Basten and[ deputy general secretary] Zvonimir Boban. They are two good football people. I hope and think Fifa is changing. New people deserve a chance to prove it is, we will see .”

Whether the world will offer the same olive branch to Russia as Lineker has to Fifa remains to be seen.

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Golden Aim: Esteban Cambiasso for Argentina v Serbia& Montenegro( 2006) | Gregg Bakowski

3 months, 2 days ago

It took 25 pass for Argentina to score their second in a memorable World Cup 2006 win but for Jos Pkerman it was the realisation of years of work

There can be few things in life more satisfying than watching years of hard work culminate in one fleeting but beautiful moment. In 2006 Jos Pkerman stood in the technological region at Gelsenkirchen and experienced just that, bathing in the warm glow of fulfilment as he saw the stars align in 54 glorious seconds.

Two years earlier, Pkerman had been entrusted with the Argentina job, succeeding Marcelo Bielsa, with whom he shared many deeply held beliefs about how the game should be played. The appointment induced perfect sense. Pkerman could try to improve on the fine but flawed work of his meticulous predecessor but better still, he would be working with players whom he had helped to sculpt into steely winners in his role as the under-2 0 coach.

Between 1994 and 2001 he supervised a golden era of Argentinian youth football, winning the World Youth Championship three times in four tournaments. It was an unprecedented period of success with Juan Pablo Sorn, Esteban Cambiasso, Pablo Aimar, Juan Romn Riquelme, Javier Saviola and Maxi Rodrguez among the players whom Pkerman schooled in a highly effective kind of possession football that he hoped would serve Argentina well in the future. Underpinning his doctrine was the keenly held belief that a composed approach will always be rewarded more richly than a hurried one.

This was something he tried to drum into his under-2 0 players on a personal level as well as a tactical one. He left Aimar, among his most heralded players in 1997, on the bench for the final of the World Youth Championships in Malaysia, apparently with the sole intention to teach him the lesson that haste, whether on the football pitch or in progressing a career, isnt always the best style forward. Having had to wait for his chance to manage Argentina after a career that weaved in and out of football following the early curtailment of an undistinguished playing career, Pkerman knew the value of patience.

There were signs in the buildup to the 2006 World Cup that Argentina could be a force with a manager at the helm who knew the players so well. None more so than at a raucous Estadio Monumental on 8 June 2005, when just under 50,000 fans bore witness to a devastating first-half display in which Argentina danced around a spellbound Brazil, their rhythmic passing providing a joyous backing way as they raced into an insurmountable 3-0 lead against the world champs to seal World Cup qualification. There was also a rare glimpse of peak Riquelme, with the enigmatic playmaker swivelling away from Roque Jnior with graceful ease before unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard ten-strike into the top-left corner.

Freeing Riquelme to influence games as a imperil metronome was the chief reason that Pkermans side were so easy on the eye in Germany. There had been criticism in Argentina that Riquelme was often have been able to get away with too much in matches, paying scant regard to tracking back and scoffing at the idea of winning back possession. But the truth is that by playing one or both of Cambiasso and Javier Mascherano behind him, most of the time Riquelme didnt need to.

When Mascherano stole the ball with Ivory Coast on the attack and Argentina only 1-0 up in the first group game in Germany, they looked perfectly set for a scald counterattack. Instead, Argentina took eight considered touches, never accelerating the move until within striking distance. It was Riquelmes wand of a right boot that set up Saviola to stab home. The patient approach had worked again and given us a clue of what was to come. It appeared Pkerman had come up with the magic formula. The grumblings of acceptance for Argentinas style of possession football afterwards would become a chorus following the game against Serbia and Montenegro.

Among Argentina advocates there was a whiff of anticipation about what was possible against Serbia and Montenegro. Two years earlier the same sides, containing a good portion of the players lining up in Gelsenkirchen, had met at the Athens Olympics, which Argentina went on to win. The rating? Argentina 6-0 Serbia and Montenegro.

Perhaps that is why Argentina had a swagger about them from the start. Six minutes into the game, a delicious move on the left resulted in Saviola bursting into the box, where he poked the ball across to Rodrguez to jab home and prompt Diego Maradona, high up in the stands, to begin merely the first of his many crazed festivities that evening. It would take a further 24 minutes for the lead to be increased, but it was a period in which Argentinas grip on the game became so unbearably tight that something had to give. It did. The most wonderful objective, as Hernn Crespo described it.

Diego Maradona celebrates during Argentinas mesmeric display of possession football against Serbia& Montenegro. Photograph: Achim Scheidemann/ EPA

It begins in much the same way as the second goal scored against Ivory Coast, with the opponents pocket being picked while on a dangerous-looking attack. On this occasion it is Rodrguez who does the pilfering, chasing back and hooking the ball away from Mateja Kezman, in full gallop. He then demonstrates he has the intelligence to match his industry, floating off into space and dragging three opponents to the left of the pitch before popping a little pass back to Sorn, who takes them out of the game by coming back inside.

The patient pas continues over to the right-hand side of the pitching, with Mascherano, Riquelme and Cambiasso all getting a touch and appearing to move in slow-motion as their adversaries huff and puff around them. The ball , now on first-name terms with Argentinas midfield, is worked back over to the left in sophisticated style, never in danger of being stolen away. Its at this point that you become aware that the unhurried motion of both players and ball has begun to mesmerise.

There is an opportunity to quicken the two attacks as the ball arrives over on the left again but these Argentina players, schooled as they have been by Pkerman to be patient at all hours, demonstrate their intelligence, choosing to shun the first opportunity to attack down the left wing and instead frustrate their opponents to the degree that five Serbia and Montenegro players are drawn towards the ball as Argentina play it backwards again. Now, this is when the slow-slow-quick approach kicks in, with Mascherano fizzing a pass out to Sorn, who is hugging the touchline, before find Saviola, the catalyst for the deadliest part of the attack. He explodes inside from the touchline and plays a cute one-two with Riquelme, who for all his influence on the game, plays only a minor role in this wonderfully-crafted aim.

Saviola picks up the return from Riquelme( pass 22 in case youre interested) and curls the ball out towards the edge of the box, where Cambiasso is lurking. Its not an easy pass to control, bouncing awkwardly in front of a player who had only come on 12 minutes earlier, as a substitute for the injured Luis Gonzlez, and had never been famed for his attacking prowess. But sometimes in life, moments arrive that hint at perfection and must not be undo. There is a sense that Cambiasso was acutely aware of this as his first touch, a feathered dink with the outside of his left foot, feeds Crespo perfectly. The big striker then depicts incredible deftness himself, taking one delicious touch with his left instep, delaying to allow Cambiasso to catch up, and then teeing him up with his right heel. Impeccable link-up play.

Crespo said afterwards that he knew that something great was happening as the move was gradually and skilfully stitched together behind him. Perhaps Cambiasso did too, and it is why, when the series of 25 pass was nearing its glorious end, neither player dared shirk the responsibility of assuring to it that it was given the final prosper it deserved.

There is utter exhilaration and intense relief as Cambiasso drills the ball high into the net. In some routes goals the hell is built through patient passing moves are similar to 147 transgress in snooker. As they reach their denouement, the pressure mounts. Dont ruin it, must have been the recurring believe as Cambiasso and Crespo realised it was up to them to do justice to what had gone before them. They did not. As Cambiasso raced off to celebrate, clutching his shirt with two hands, Pkerman roared his approval from the sidelines, having watched his team score a aim that he had helped make possible by drumming into them the value of possession when many were still kids.

It would have particularly pleased Pkerman that it was Cambiasso, the epitome of a team player, “whos” the right place at the right time to score one of the great squad goals. There were echoes of the recently passed Carlos Albertos iconic goal for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final in Cambiassos effort, merely with an even greater number of passes and a finish that was not as emphatic but still exhaustively assertive. A decade after it was scored, this goal is now considered by many as being the precursor to tiki-taka, when possession itself became a potent weapon in football.

It still haunts many Argentina fans that the class of 2006 did not go further than the quarter-finals, with Pkerman accused of blundering against Germany, going against his principles and substituting his pass master Riquelme for the more defensive qualities of Cambiasso in the 80 th minute and thus ceding the attacking initiative. Germany went on to equalise as Argentina became far less assured in possession. They lost on penalties, of course. Worse still, they disgraced themselves as a fight broke out at the end.

A fight breaks out at the end of Germanys victory over Argentina on penalties at the 2006 World Cup. Photograph: Frank Augstein/ AP

Pkerman resigned after the defeat. It is a great disgrace. His methods had imbued Argentina with the kind of on-the-ball authority that would serve Spain so well in their period of dominance between 2008 and 2012. But Pkerman can be proud that his team created something wonderful in Gelsenkirchen, something he deserved to oversee and take credit for given his key role in developing the players who induced it happen. The fact that it took a while to arrive built it all the more beautiful.

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Celtic beat Lincoln Red Imps to put Champions League slip-up behind them

3 months, 9 days ago

Celtic beat Lincoln Red Imps 3-0 to seal a 3-1 win on aggregate following the shock 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the Champions League qualifying tie

Lincoln Red Imps will prove nothing more than a footnote to the tenure of Brendan Rodgers at Celtic.

There should never have been any real doubt about that, the obvious raising of eyebrows after the Northern Irishmans first competitive game in charge of the Scottish champions resulting in defeat in Gibraltar aside. Celtic were the overwhelming favourites to turn this Champions League qualifying tie around on their own turn and duly did emphatically. In front of a close-to-capacity mob, Rodgers presided over a summertime stroll that was over as a competition within half an hour.

Even Celtics manager, in time, may raise a smile when the issue of Gibraltar is raised. Scottish football has not yet sunk to depths where glaringly limited sides such as the Red Imps can prevail over two legs. The next round, where Astana of Kazakhstan lie in wait, will provide Rodgers and his humen with a different exam entirely. Yet, Rodgers has visibly raised high levels of optimism during the course of its early weeks in post.

I was delighted with the attitude of the players, Rodgers said. I was delighted with the way we took to the game right from kick-off. We scored three but I believe their goalkeeper stopped it being doubled figures.

I am pleased to qualify. That was the objective here. The intensity from the start was outstanding.

By round three, Celtic hope to have added necessary depth of talent to a lopsided squad. Rodgers has targeted a centre-back and a winger as matters of priority. We have another difficult tie-in, on a plastic pitching, but we will be ready for it, Rodgers said of Astana.

Rodgers had not so much been taken aback by the scale of reaction to last weeks loss in Gibraltar as refused to cow to it. The former Liverpool manager played down any sense of first-leg shock and, in doing so, staunchly refused to scold his players. That approach was notable and perhaps admission of shortcomings of his own, the deployment of two holding midfielders among them. Within one Glasgow half, Rodgers sense of calm had been fully endorsed.

Celtics set-up was altered here. A three-man defense was utilized, with Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembl afforded opportunity to stake their suit as a forward pairing.

The hosts swarmed around the Red Imps from kick-off. Celtic believed they had a 10 th-minute penalty, only for the referee to alter his decision and award a free-kick instead. Griffiths flamed that over.

Within seconds, Callum McGregor had crashed a shot off the crossbar.

Already, there was inevitability attached to Celtic squaring the affiliation. McGregor was denied again with 18 minutes played, this time by a terrific low save from Ral Navas. Mikael Lustig was to provide the opening objective, the Swedish defender swivelling before turning the ball home. Red Imps had earlier failed to clear a Stuart Armstrong free-kick from Celtics right flank.

Griffiths soon doubled the Celtic advantage. The striker, so prolific last season, continued this theme with a fierce drive from 18 yards. Only 25 minutes into the game, it was already a matter of how many Celtic would choose to score. Red Imps were chasing shadows.

Patrick Roberts notched the third and one are worth praise, despite the lowly level of opposition. The Manchester City loanee danced through the visiting defence, playing a neat one-two with McGregor before rendering an equally composed finish. Roberts was the standout musician of the opening period and a constant menace to a bamboozled Red Imps defence.

Celtics superiority entailed the second half was always likely be an exercise in “re going through” the motions. It duly transpired as such. Red Imps had brief flirtings with the edge of the Celtic penalty area but never seemed to have the faith or talent to make that presence counting. At the other aim, Navas saved brilliantly when Griffiths bore down on goal.

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