Has José Mourinho already got third-season syndrome at Manchester United? | Jamie Jackson

2 days ago

The Portugueses criticism of his players after defeat to Fenerbahce on Thursday provoked memories of his unravelling at both Chelsea and Real Madrid

Jos Mourinho may have felt he had to give his Manchester United players a very public rollicking following Thursday nights debacle at Fenerbahce. To get to this point so early in his tenure, though, shows the crisis that threatens to engulf United unless results and performances are turned around quickly.

In his 16th competitive fixture, Mourinho oversaw a 2-1 loss in a Europa League group game that was a quasi-disaster of disjointedness that featured his players losing the plot 69 seconds in when Moussa Sow opened the scoring.

Mourinho decided he had no option but to question the teams commitment and effort: the base elements any professional footballer has to possess. It shows the slide Mourinho and his side are on. For any manager, the exposure of players the men on whom their own success or failure depends in the media is the nuclear option. Sir Alex Ferguson rarely did this during 27 years at the club.

Yet afterwards the Portuguese compared Uniteds effort to that of a summer friendly. These are strong words which may be deserved but was this really the cutest play given footballers fragile egos and his own high-maintenance style?

The problem Mourinho has is his track record of blowing up at clubs. Some may view his response at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium as evidence he is entering his own particular thirdseason syndrome two years early.

Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind were singled out for criticism by their manager after Thursdays loss. Photograph: Tolga Bozoglu/EPA

The term is shorthand for Mourinhos inability to last longer than that at any club, though it is an approximation as he did go into a fourth season in his first Chelsea incumbency. The point, though, remains: Mourinhos CV does not show a man who has brought stability in the previous seven tenures of a 16-year career. The concern for United and supporters is his mood music after only four months at the club. It is starting to strike the same note as last seasons doomed final months at Chelsea, at Real Madrid and towards the end of the first spell in west London.

It means any justified criticism of his squad is viewed via that prism. Uh-oh, here he goes again, seasoned Mourinho watchers must think when hearing the latest rant against his United charges.

His previous post ended last December when Chelsea sacked him for losing a dressing room filled with highend players. Cesc Fbregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are among those who are thought to have tired of Mourinhos managerial antics. A dismal title defence and a string of defeats caused him to lambast the squad after losing to Leicester, saying they had betrayed his work. The net result: Roman Abramovich, the owner, chose his squad over Mourinho and the Portuguese left the club three days later.

His disquiet had shown itself as early as August last year when, after a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, he said: Im not happy, I cannot say I had 11 players performing at the same time. Two or three of them their individual performance was far from good. I blame myself for not changing one of them. I kept him in the game for 90 minutes.

Sound familiar? This was Mourinho after the 2-1 derby defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford on 10 September. Even our central defenders [Eric Bailly and Daley Blind], who were top-class until today, lost easy balls. What I told them at half-time was: For some of you, it looks like you are trying to do what I told you not to do. I made a couple of [selection] decisions because I thought the individual qualities of certain players would give me what I wanted. But I didnt get it.

The two he was referring to were Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, who started the match but were hauled off at half-time. In one post-game briefing after just the fourth league outing under him Mourinho managed to question directly four of his players. Luke Shaw was also hung out to dry in the next league match Septembers 3-1 defeat at Watford.

At Real, Mourinho had fractious relations with Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Kak and Pepe. His first Chelsea stint soured in similar fashion, with Claude Makelele claiming there were problems between Mourinho and John Terry, though both captain and the club strongly denied this.

At United, Shaws treatment in particular has not gone down well in the dressing room, while the managers attitude towards Bastian Schweinsteiger has also raised eyebrows. When he was appointed, Mourinho told the former Germany captain he should train with the youngsters. He may have had a good reason but to then reinstate Schweinsteiger to first-team sessions as he did this week sends a mixed message to his squad.

Bafflement was the main impression given off by the side that went down to Fenerbahce. On too many matchdays, United seem befuddled and comatose: not the norm for a Mourinho team.

That is until last year at Chelsea. The hope will be United are not at the start of a similar capitulation. Mourinho has stated he wishes to stay at Old Trafford until the end of his three-year deal, at least. Yet at the moment him seeing out that contract appears in the balance.

It can all change, of course. The solution, as always in football, is simple: start winning consistently and playing well. Do this and harmony returns. Then having to choose whether to bawl out players in front of the microphones is removed.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal story heading for a final, unhappy paragraph | Richard Williams

16 days ago

Arsne Wenger watched Arsenal defeated on the opening day against Liverpool and it proved the Frenchman and his side have lost the tough approach that brought them league titles

It is rare that a good novel fails to extol its promise on its opening page. Which is why the crowd at the Emirates Stadium were so distraught at the final whistling last Sunday. As opening pages of a new football season go, this one could be endlessly parsed for meaning and omen, but with only one conclusion: the insipid nature of Arsenals football in recent seasons seems likely to continue, along with a regular drowning of illusory optimism in an ocean of disappointment.

Here was the football equivalent of the post-modern classic that begins: You are about to begin reading Italo Calvinos new novel, If on a Winters Night a Traveller The message from Arsne Wengers Arsenal was that their followers were about to begin a new season of watching Arsne Wengers Arsenal, with all that has come to mean since they last won the league 12 years ago.

On a glorious early August afternoon in north London, the first line of Samuel Becketts Murphy seemed even more appropriate: The sunlight shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Writing in 1938, a year in which Arsenal won the league title under the largely hands-off management of the former journalist George Allison, Beckett might have foreseen the passive approach Wenger would take to the summer transfer window, failing to correct his teams long-established deficiencies with a series of half-hearted bids for unsuitable targets.

Afterwards the Frenchman merely 90 minutes into the new campaign, but already ashen-faced offered the conventional excuses. The squad was short, he told. Short in numbers, short of fitness. There were absences through injury, including Per Mertesacker, Gabriel Paulista, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere, and through other significant players Mesut zil, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny being granted widened holidays after reaching the later stages of the European Championship.

After the convulsive 4-3 defeat by Liverpool, Wenger could justify the extended break for those players by pointing to the hamstring injury suffered during the match by Aaron Ramsey, who had returned to action after appearing in the quarter-final of the Euro and will now be unavailable until September. No one can say, of course, whether another weeks remainder would inevitably have prevented the Welshmans injury, but the sight of Koscielny sitting in the stands seemed to confirm a pervasive softness in the clubs mentality.

When Gary Neville claimed that the absent centre-back would not have been able to prevent the goal with which Adam Lallana gave Liverpool the leading and shattered Arsenals composure, he was wrong: even a half-fit Koscielny would not have been able permitted the passageway of indecisive defending that instantly preceded it.

It seemed symbolic that Wenger should announce Mertesackers elevation to the club captaincy, in succession to the departed Mikel Arteta, a couple of weeks after the German centre-back suffered a knee trauma that will probably keep him out for four months.

No doubt Mertesacker will fill the role admirably, but of more immediate important is leadership on the pitch during the vital going weeks. There is something to be said for the approach of Bill Shankly, who reacted to the absence of injured players by carrying on as if they did not exist, concentrating his energy entirely on organising his available forces, an attitude Jos Mourinho was reported to share.

Life sometimes seems to be too easy for Wengers current generation, whose reaction to adversity or even momentary letdown has never seemed to be that of the kind of bred-in-the-bone winners cherished by certain other managers.

All too often the reaction from Giroud to a header over the bar from a good posture or from Ramsey to a close-range shoot skewed wide is a telegenic astonishment, the hands created to the face, eyes wide and mouth open in a theatrical expression of dismay with simply a clue of rueful laughter that suggests the influence of a malign and quixotic fate rather than mundane technological failings.

At the end of Sundays defeat, a smiling Santi Cazorla could be seen sharing a hug with Philippe Coutinho, whose two goals had done such damage caused to Arsenal. The Spaniard seems to be a cheerful fellow as well as a fine footballer, but it would surely have been wise to postpone the expressions of fraternal warmth.

Like letting Theo Walcott take the penalty he had just won, with all too predictable outcomes, it offered evidence of the managers failure to prioritise the kind of mental strength and leadership once represented by Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira.

It is surely time to stop offering him the ritual thanks for his modernising influence on English footballs daily habits and to hold him to account instead for what Arsenal have become since his patron, David Dein, stepped down from the board nine years ago.

Deins departure removed the only voice capable of asking constructive the issue of the approach of a administrator who let Gilberto Silva and Lassana Diarra go from central midfield while spotting neither Paul Pogba nor NGolo Kant fellow Frenchmen, at that as potential replacements, and whose faith in a succession of young forwards Carlos Vela, Marouane Chamakh, Jrmie Aliadire, Ryo Miyaichi, Yaya Sanogo, Nacer Barazite, Park Chu-young demonstrated unfounded.

The knack of maximising the talents of players discarded by other big clubs Vieira by Milan, Dennis Bergkamp by Internazionale, Thierry Henry by Juventus also seems to have deserted him. Alexis Snchez and zil are extremely fine footballers, but in Arsenals colourings they are doing little on a consistent basis to attain Barcelona and Real Madrid regret opting for upgrades.

Wengers past decade has furthermore demonstrated that, in football at least, good husbandry can be an overrated virtue. Arsenal constructed a 60,000 seat home at a cost of 390 m. But where once they had a proper football ground, vibrant with history and designed to allow the fans passion to influence the mood of a match , now they have an elegant bowl where the feelings are easily disengaged and the most familiar one is dissatisfaction.

No manager currently working in the Premier League has more control over his surrounding than Wenger. Last Sunday it was his only job to put out a team capable of making a persuading start to the season on their own ground. Now, a week subsequently, he goes to the home of Leicester, the underdogs who decisively beat them to last seasons title with a chance to set things right.

As the pages turn ever more quickly, the concluding chapter of his time in north London is approaching the final paragraph and it grows harder to believe in a happy ending.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Tiemoue Bakayoko: a deft midfield monster who could become a superstar at Chelsea

17 days ago

Tiemou Bakayoko made an inauspicious start at Monaco, with his attitude questioned, but under Claude Makeleles guidance he has developed into a player of spectacular potential

There was a period not so long ago when Chelsea could have looked at Monacos midfield and congratulated themselves on their foresight, since Tiemou Bakayoko was being maintained out of the French clubs starting lineup by another youngster who was on Chelseas volumes and still is.

Mario Pasalic, a Germany-born Croatia international six months older than Bakayoko, has belonged to Chelsea since joining from Hajduk Split 3 years ago but has yet to contest a single game for them. Instead, like most of the speculative investments in Chelseas vast player portfolio, he has been rented out to others via a series of loan moves, including one the season before last to Monaco, where for the first several months of the campaign he was regularly selected ahead of the player on whom Chelsea have just splurged a fee that could rise to 39.7 m.

That is not to tell Chelsea would have been better advised to put more trust in Pasalic, who may leave Stamford Bridge for good this summer. Rather the point is to underline that it is never easy to know how young players are going to develop. At 22 Pasalic is a handy player who did well again on loan at Milan last season and looks likely to have a fine career. Bakayoko, meanwhile, has become more than that, a deft monster who can stomp or glide through topclass midfields and could be heading for superstar status. That evolution owes much to Bakayokos somewhat tardy waken and the influence of a former Chelsea midfielder, Claude Makelele.

Back when Pasalic was get picked ahead of him, Bakayoko seemed to be at risk of being written off at Monaco. The club, who are among Europes shrewdest recruiters and developers, bought the player as a 19 -year-old from Rennes for around 6m in 2014 but a year later the manager, Leonardo Jardim, had become exasperated by the midfielders failure to progress. That feeling began to form pretty fast after the players infamous debut in August 2014, when Jardim amazingly selected Bakayoko to start against Lorient ahead of the club captain, Jrmy Toulalan, merely to repeal the vote of confidence after 32 minutes and haul off the floundering, furious teenager.

It was more than two months before Bakayoko started another match and, thereafter, the rest of his season was marred by trauma, inconsistency and a relationship between player and manager that Bakayoko admitted was a little broken. Bakayoko felt he was being treated unfairly while the manager believed the player was not helping himself, occasionally turning up late for meetings and not always training with full intensity.

Bakayoko, who was rejected by Frances prestigious Clairefontaine academy at 14 partly because local schools report indicated he was hard work, but who recovered to build great strides at Rennes, was going through another awkward stage. That pattern continued into the next season, when Pasalic, rather than Bakayoko, tended to play in the position vacated by Geoffrey Kondogbia, sold to Internazionale.

Timou Bakayoko, in action for Monaco against Juventus, can stomp or glide through top-class midfields. Photo: Franck Fife/ AFP/ Getty Images

In January 2016 Monaco appointed Makelele as technical director and the former midfielder made nurturing Bakayoko one of his missions. That was the right influence at the right time because Bakayoko had realised he needed to focus more and had got into contact with one of his former mentors at Rennes, Yannick Menu, to ask for advice. If Menu was the gentle guidebook, Makelele was merciless. He needs confidence but in order to be consistent in his performances he also sometimes needs to be straightened out, jolted, Menu subsequently explained. He can slip into a convenience zone very quickly because Tiemou is a peaceful person , not a rager.

Bakayoko, encouraged by Menu and challenged by Makelele, to work together to get the best out of himself: no longer could his attitude in educate be questioned and he enrolled in boxing class and began to follow a strict diet. He added muscle to his tall frame and consistency to his game. He suffered fewer traumata, became cursedly difficult to shunt off the ball and loped with it dangerously from box to box. Quickly he became essential to Monaco. When he overwhelmed Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta in central midfield as Monaco beat Paris Saint-Germain early last season, it was a powerful indication of the campaign that was to come from player and squad, a beautiful step towards the fulfilment of extraordinary potential.

That victory against PSG was also especially satisfying for a Paris-born player “whos been” failed a trial at his hometown club at the age of 11 but likes to wear the No14 as a tribute to the arrondissement in which he grew up in Frances capital city. His mothers are Ivorian and, if Didier Deschamps had not awarded him his first senior cap in March, Bakayoko might have ended up playing internationally for the same country as the player he has always said he would like to resemble, Yaya Tour.

There are similarities between the styles of the two players but Bakayoko will need to start scoring regularly before any comparing becomes tolerable. But then Tour took a little time earlier in his career to be seen as an unstoppable attacking force and, indeed, once endured a patchy season at Monaco. Bakayokos role at Monaco even during his marvellous last season made him the least assaulting midfielder in an exceptionally offence-oriented side. Bakayoko, one feelings, can get even better. He could prove a spectacular addition to Chelsea if he is encouraged to add goals to his game for the purposes of the relentless prodding of Antonio Conte.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Anonymous letters and menaces: How racism came to stalk US youth soccer

1 month ago

For players as young as eight on Idahos Juniors FC, the possibility of abuse when they step on the field is very real. And they are from from unique

Why Hector Bellerin told no to Pep Guardiola and Manchester City | David Hytner

1 month, 19 days ago

Arsenal right-back was perfect fit for Citys new director a young player with Barcelona DNA and an education in the Premier League

The overtures started around February time, when Manchester City had announced that Pep Guardiola would become their new administrator at the end of the season. Guardiola wanted a full-back with searing pace and assaulting instincts, somebody to build the play out from the back, and he wanted Hctor Bellern of Arsenal.

To Guardiola, it was the perfect fit a young player with Barcelona DNA and an education in the Premier League. These days, there is little doubt that, at only 21, the former Barcelona youth-team player is the finest right-back in England. Bellern was named in last seasons PFA Team of the Year and this month he was shortlisted for the Fifpro World Team of the Year, alongside only one other Premier League defender Chelseas David Luiz. The squad will be announced in January.

And so City began Operation Bellern. They opened talks with his people and sought to sell the merits of the be removed from a playing perspective. Above all, they made it clear they would be able to offer him a massive wage far in excess of anything Arsenal would grant him. The transfer fee would not be a problem. The message from City was that they were prepared to pay whatever it took.

Other clubs were interested in Bellern, including Barcelona, Manchester United and Atltico Madrid. But City were the most persistent. By far. They refused to take no for an answer. And they had the cash to be extremely persuasive.

The way many major transfers work is that the interested club plug away through intermediaries, outlining what they can offer and, once the player is keen, they go in through the front doorway with an official bid to his employer. It never got to that point with City and Arsenal over Bellern.

Arsenal had get wind of things and their stance was resolute: Bellern would not be for sale at any price. Arsne Wenger joked on Friday morning that City were good clients, having previously taken Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Tour, Samir Nasri, Gal Clichy and Bacary Sagna from him. But, he added, those days were over.

Today, we can give fiscal gratification and supporting aspirations and values that can stimulate the players happy at this club, Wenger told, as he prepared for his squads trip to City on Sunday. Before, due to the Emirates Stadium build, perhaps the financial gap was too big a difference to maintain our players. We could not compete. We had to sell players.

It was Bellern who told no to City and the riches on offer, because he wanted to stay at Arsenal. In November he signed a six-and-a-half-year contract, worth 115,000 a week but, the Guardian understands, he could have got substantially more at City.

Bellern bided for a number of reasons, including a slightly unusual one in 21 st-century football the sense of loyalty that he feels towards Wenger and the club. He has not forgotten how the manager stood by him after his disastrous full debut in the Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund in September 2014 and his poor performance in the loss at Stoke City in December of that year.

Moreover, Bellern considered how a number of former Arsenal players had fared since their departures. He thought about Clichy, Sagna and Nasri together with Cesc Fbregas and Alex Song. Has the grass been greener for the first three at City? Did Fbregass dream return to Barcelona really work up? Song also went to Camp Nou, and he did not enjoy regular football.

You can understand why City tried to sign Hctor over the summer because he has developed into a superb talent, told Terry Burton, who was the head of coaching at Arsenal between 2012 -1 4, where “hes working with” Bellern. Im sure he will continue to be a target for clubs of Arsenals standing. Theres not many better right-backs around to have.

Am I astounded that he turned down more fund from City to stay at Arsenal? In the general climate, yes. But in Hctors suit , no. Hes an intelligent player and he understands that if he continues to be the best right-back in the Premier League, Arsenal will reward him again in the next contract. He is sensible enough to realise that hes on fantastic wages for a 21 -year-old and farther rewards will come with continued success.

Hctor feelings loved at Arsenal and I think hes one of those that does need to feel loved. Hes constructed a lot of good relations at the club and Arsenal are barely the worst one in the world to be playing for. Hes made some good decisions. One was signing for Arsenal when he did, as a 16 -year-old in 2011, and another has been staying with them now.

Burton, the head of emerging talent at Southampton, recollects the time when Bellerns decision-making was not quite as sound. He talks about the concept of danger and reward, which has long been central to his coaching in other words, when and where it is worthwhile to take a risk.

We fell out after a NextGen European youth game in Marseille[ in October 2012 ], Burton told. We required a describe and it was 0-0 in injury-time. Hctor tried to nutmeg someone just outside of his defensive third and they transgressed away to score the winner. I devoted him a rocket, which he took. Hes a great lad and hes got a really great attitude. It was an important learning situation, which allows you hammer home the point. Young players have to learn game management.

Bellerns pace and determination to attack were marked where reference is arrived at Arsenal from Barcelona; he was a winger at the time. But the club saw that he could be converted into a right-back, and they worked hard on the defensive side of his game.

Could he defended the back post? Burton said. Was his body shape right? Was he aware of people coming in on him? Could he back in and jumping and defend at the back post. With his pace, could he get out and shut people down in broad the regions and block crossings? But it was also in possession, and to its implementation of turnovers. He took a lot of chances in defensive areas. It was that decision-making, because he did turn the ball over quite a bit in his defensive third. He needed the awareness that his first pass, in certain areas, had to be a safe one.

Bellern has come to tick all the boxes the velocity of his developing has been astonishing and, having committed to Arsenal, he has emerged as a emblem of Wengers latest project. Bellern has talked of Arsenal feeling like home and how signing the new contract was the right thing in order to be allowed to do. He believes Arsenal are get stronger each year and closer to the title. City will watch him on Sunday with a degree of regret.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Chelsea ready to sanction PS6 0m sale of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG

1 month, 24 days ago

Chelsea are ready to sanction the sale of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG after the Chinese Super League club tabled an offer worth up to 60 m for the Brazil midfielder

Chelsea have sanctioned the sale of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG after the Chinese Super League club , now managed by Andr Villas-Boas, formalised their long-standing interest and tabled an offer worth up to 60 m for the Brazil midfielder.

The Premier League leaders is cognizant of the fact that bid on the working day the latter are fined 100,000 by the Football Association for the portion they played in the touchline melee in stoppage day at Manchester City this month. The level of that sanction reflected current realities it was their fifth charge of failing to control their players within 19 months City, who had two players sent off, must pay only 35,000 but did mean Chelsea avoided a points allowance for recurred any infringement of rule E20a.

The incident has, however, served as a reminder to Antonio Contes side that the threat of the most severe punishment is real as they seek a 10 th successive Premier League win, at Sunderland, on Wednesday. They are expected to be without Oscar for that game on Wearside, with the Brazilian understood to have told his team-mates he will leave at the end of the month. The 25 -year-old had started the first five Premier League games of Contes tenure, but has been reduced to a bit-part role since and has played 36 minutes, encompassing four substitute appearances, of the nine-match winning run.

Villas-Boas, who endured an unhappy eight-month spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, is a long-time admirer and had first attempted to sign the attacking midfielder, then with Internacional, for Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2012 merely for the Brazilian to opt to move to Chelsea in a 19.5 m bargain. He has constructed 99 Premier League starts in the period since and won the Premier League, Europa League and League Cup. But, having grown frustrated on the fringes at Chelsea of late, he will now take over the lucrative new challenge in China.

Both Guangzhou Evergrande, coached by another former Chelsea manager in Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Jiangsu Suning, who built their own interest known last summer, had continued to way Oscar, but Villas-Boas is confident he will be able to deflect any late rival bids and secure the player. Oscar will join his compatriots Hulk and Elkeson at Shanghai SIPG and expects to double his wages in China. Hulk, who is believed to earn more than 300,000 a week, is currently the clubs record signing at 48 m, though that fee will now be eclipsed by the offer submitted for Oscar.

It will be the second January in succession that Chelsea generate a substantial fee for one of their Brazilian contingent, having sold Ramires to Jiangsu Suning in last seasons mid-winter window. That deal was worth in excess of 20 m, with the player signing terms worth around 200,000 a week.

This sale would award Conte considerable leeway in the market as he seeks to reinforce his squad, with interest likely to be expressed in the Southampton centre-half Virgil van Dijk. That potential move is more likely to progress at the end of the season, with the Dutch defenders club reluctant marketers. Regardless, the sale of Oscar will rule out any transfer for Cesc Fbregas mid-season, with Conte having reiterated on Tuesday that the Spaniard remains an important player.

Conte, more used to Italys winter break, is about to experience his first festive its own programme of matches, with the Sunderland game a first of five in 22 days. As part of his preparations for that period he will seek to dissuade his squad from arranging a formal Christmas party amid the cluttered schedule, though he has uncovered he is more than happy for his players to enjoy a beer immediately after games.

David Luiz posted a video on Instagram on Sunday of the post-match celebrations in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge after the hard-fought 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion, with the footage proving Costa dancing with a brew in hand. The head coach has apparently sanctioned one post-match drink, when players are still effectively burning calories after their exertions out on the pitch. After the game, for rehydration, you can beverage Coca-Cola, or one brew, Conte told. Its good for recovery. But one. Not a lot. And, after you finish the game, you must drink it quickly , not an hour after the end.

Yet, while the club organise a festive event for the players and their families, Conte is more circumspect over his squad conducting their own pre-Christmas jaunt, conscious that focus must be on retaining the teams current momentum.

Im sure I have great professionals in my players so, with that the suit, I dont believe a coach-and-four or a director can say: Do this or Dont do this, said the Italian, who will develop his players on Christmas Day. I have great professionals and I know they will have the very best stance and behaviours in this situation. But, I must be honest, Id favor they stayed at home and celebrated with the family. Not[ have] a great party.

We are preparing to celebrate with our families during the week before Christmas, to stay together with most children, with our families, and on the 26 th we play the game[ against Bournemouth ], a tough match. So maybe a glass of red wine one on Christmas Day is good.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Cheick Tiote, former Newcastle and Ivory Coast midfielder, dies aged 30

2 months, 1 day ago

The former Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiot has died following a reported heart attack while training with his club in China

The former Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiot has died after reportedly suffering a heart attack while developing with his club in China.

The Ivory Coast international joined the Chinese League One side Beijing Enterprises in January having spent seven years at St James Park. The 30 -year-old was reported to have collapsed at the training ground on Monday and been taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

I can confirm that my client Cheick Tiot sadly passed away today after collapsing in training with his club Beijing Enterprises, his agent, Emanuele Palladino, said in a statement. We cannot say any more at the moment and we request that his familys privacy be respected at these difficult times. We ask for all your prayers.

A statement from Beijing Enterprises added: During a routine train conference at 6pm today, Ivory Coast player Cheick Tiot suddenly fainted and the club instantly rushed him to hospital, but unfortunately efforts to save him failed and he passed away at 7pm. The players relatives have been informed. Beijing Enterprises football club conveys its deep sorrow and profound condolences for Mr Tiots untimely death.

It is understood that Tiot has been living in China on his own since leaving the north-east in January and his wife Madah is expecting their third child this week. His former manager at Newcastle, Alan Pardew, said he was devastated by the news.

From the moment I arrived at Newcastle Cheick was a wonderful presence around the dressing room and his performances on the field often defied notion, said Pardew. There were days when he must have covered every blade of grass on a football field.

None of us will ever be borne in mind that incredible day when our Newcastle team came from 4-0 down to draw an unbelievable Premier League game against Arsenal, with Cheicks incredible aim. I loved him. He was everything that you want in a Newcastle player. Life is not fair sometimes and I will remember Cheick Tiot as a giant of a midfielder whom I loved to manage.

His former Newcastle team-mate Demba Ba, who had a spell in China but now plays for the Turkish club Besiktas, was among the first to offer his condolences. May Allah dedicates award you jannah brother Tiote, he tweeted.

Demba Ba (@ dembabafoot)

may Allah dedicates grant you jannah brother Tiote

June 5, 2017

Newcastle released a statement which read: We are devastated to have learnt of the tragic passing of Cheick Tiot at persons under the age of simply 30. The thoughts of everyone at Newcastle United are with Cheicks family, friends, team-mates and everyone connected with the clubs he represented.

The Newcastle manager, Rafa Bentez, told: It is with great sadness that I have this afternoon learned of Cheicks death. In all the time that I have known him he was a true professional, dedicated and above all a great man. Our hearts go out to his family and friends at such a sad time.

Cheick was one of the best we had in terms of his attitude, the former Newcastle player Peter Beardsley told BBC Radio 5 live. He had a wicked sense of humour, he was top class and he will certainly be missed in this city.

Beardsley, who is still on the staff at Newcastle, added: He was flat out every day in training and was a brilliant instance to the children at our club. He loved a tackle – he wasnt horrible, but very aggressive. Every hour he saw the ball he went for it.

On Tiotes goal against Arsenal, Beardsley added: It was an unbelievable volley and it couldnt have happened to a nicer person. I can still assure him running up the end of the pitch. He must have operated 70 metres to celebrate with the fans.

Tiot began his career in his homeland with Bibo before moving to Anderlecht as a teen. He also played under Steve McClaren at Twente in the Netherlands before joining Newcastle in 2010 for 3.5 m, going on to stimulate more than 150 appearances.

Newcastle United FC (@ NUFC)

We’ll never forget you, Cheick. pic.twitter.com/ c8aO6EyW5w

June 5, 2017

Goodnight brother, You will be missed. My heart goes out to his family. Gone too soon #RIPcheiktiote, wrote his former Newcastle team-mate Papiss Ciss.

Tiot won 52 caps for Ivory Coast and played in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

A statement from the Professional Footballers Association read: Desperately sad news that Cheick Tiot has passed away, aged just 30. Our supposes are with his family, friends and former team-mates.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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

2 months, 2 days 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.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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

2 months, 5 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.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Manchester City’s plan for global dominance

2 months, 14 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.

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