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England’s managerial post: one bloody impossible job

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Back during the 2006 World Cup, each day’s first business was to remember which German city I was in. Such is the go-go, train-travel intensive pace of covering a World Cup.

On the days I awoke in glorious and underrated Hamburg, where the U.S. team was based, my next steps were toward the nearby town center for strong coffee, quick eats and a fast newspaper catch-up session.

And that’s where, on a sunny summer day, I learned how wonderfully, comically impossible the England managerial job really is.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England side was failing to properly impress in Germany. He had already announced plans to step down after the World Cup, and the headline writers would soon be bashing England’s laggard performance and the outgoing manager: Sod off, Sven, and don’t come back wrote the Daily Star. The Sun was more succinct: Goodbye, tosser.

But that wasn’t the revelation, not the “aha moment” of clarity where I understood the impossible slog that awaited any England boss.

Steven McClaren had already been named to successor. England was not yet out, so Eriksson was still officially in charge on the morning I saw this headline in one paper from London:

You read it here first: McClaren must go!

I stood and giggled. And I understood. Nothing will ever be good enough. Not for England’s perpetually inflated sense of its soccer self.

Here was a piece declaring all the reasons why McClaren’s reign over the Three Lions was already fatally flawed – all based on speculative personnel politics. You could say they were right in the end – but you also could argue self-fulfilling prophecy on a grand scale might be at work.

Yes, Roy Hodgson now faces the insurmountable England managerial mountain. The untenable media scrutiny is bad enough. (Remember, Luiz Felipe Scolari could have had the job in 2006 but was essentially scared away by media meanies.) But it’s the inflated expectations, the feeling that England should always do better and perennially underachieves – never mind if England does just fine, all things reasonably considered.

Eriksson went to two World Cup quarterfinals and a Euro quarterfinal, not too shabby for a country of England’s size. And they despised that guy!

In the wonderful book Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski devoted an entire chapter to the England soccer condition. Essentially, they wrote, England does fine considering its size – even if the prevailing public winds blow hard of underachievement. And based on a wide sample of results, they write, there is rarely a reason to believe that something better is in the works in the next World Cup or Euro Championships. And yet, believe they do. Habitually.

And should we list the England men who have been wildly overrated? Nothing straps the anchor chain around a manager’s ankle like players who aren’t really all that on a global scale – yet they are lauded as world beaters when combined with these fellow overrated men.

What does that mean for the manager? I think we know.

So I’ll just say it here, and be the first to do so:

Roy Hodgson must go!

Honestly, I don’t even know why. But I’m sure someone in England will tell me soon.

This is a great history I dug up of past England managers, and how their buses got sideswiped along the England managerial motorway.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET