Bengtsson highlights darker side of youth academy soccer

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“There’s something very, very wrong with the way of treating players and the mentality of how we see if you’re strong enough.”

From time to time, we see words like those used to describe American football. There we’ve come to expect battlefield metaphors to extend beyond the field. They may seem excessive, but you know what you’re getting into when you play a game that involves body armor.

We don’t expect those words to apply to soccer, but for Martin Bengtsson, a former player on Sweden’s U-19 national team, they’re his warning to young players whose dreams of stardom obscure the reality of club youth development. They’re a message from a man whose academy experience had him cut his own wrists.

Back in 2004, Bengtsson was signed by Italian powerhouse Inter Milan. He was 17 years old. As he told the BBC’s World Football program, his time at the club became like “prison.”

“I needed to escape and the razors became my way out. I cut as hard as I could, I needed to get out … I was really sick, I heard voices and I started to lose the feeling of whether it was night or day. What I remember is that I was walking around in a big cloud and I couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Not every player can be Lionel Messi, swept from Argentina as a 13-year-old to Barcelona’s idyllic La Masia. Some players are merely swept away. Most fail, and as they do, they persist in environments where the main measuring stick is whether a club’s investment in you will be rewarded.

The players are separated from their families. They’re learning new languages and cultures – how to be on their own at a very young age. Often they’re dropping out of school.

For Bengtsson, the cultural shift seems to have ben too much. Moving to the intensity of Italy’s soccer world from the relatively placid surroundings of Sweden, Bengtsson was surprised at club discipline that punished the entire team for individual mistakes. He reacted strongly when returning from time with Sweden to find song lyrics thrown out and his guitar privileges taken away.

For many, this type of discipline would be expected, particularly in the world of professional team sports – particularly at the level of Inter Milan. But that doesn’t mean that world is for everybody.

Bengtsson’s reaction may have been more severe than most, but thousands of young men across the globe are going through the same process. Many will succeed. Most will not. A few will risk falling into the same depression as Bengtsson.

As much as people envy professional soccer players, their paths are not without risk. If they stray off course, somebody’s not always there to guide them back on the road. Even if they’re only 17 years old.

Bengtsson recovered. He moved away from soccer. He’s currently a musician back in Sweden, part of the punk rock group Waldemaar. He’s also an aspiring novelist.

FIFA approves Simunovic switch from Croatia to Bosnia

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has approved a change of nationality for Croatia-born defender Jozo Simunovic to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina in its push to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

FIFA says it informed the Bosnian federation on Tuesday that its players’ status panel granted the request to change eligibility.

The 22-year-old Simunovic has Bosnian family roots but represented neighboring Croatia at youth level.

Simunovic could switch teams under FIFA rules because he never played a competitive game for Croatia’s senior team.

The Celtic player can now be selected next month in Bosnia’s squad for World Cup qualifying games away to Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bosnia is third in its group, one point behind Greece in the runners-up spot, which can earn a playoff place.

Premier League in USA: Checking in on Manchester clubs, Spurs

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Three Premier League giants are continuing their tours in the United States of American with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all competing in the International Champions Cup.

[ MORE: Latest PL preseason news ]

Man United and Spurs have both played twice in the ICC, while Man City play their second game Stateside on Wednesday against two-time reigning champions Real Madrid.

Tottenham and Man City will face each other in Nashville on Saturday to finish up their preseason tours of the USA.

Below is a look at the latest action for Spurs, City and United.


Manchester City vs. Real Madrid – Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena

After losing to Manchester United in their opening preseason game in Houston, Texas last week, Pep Guardiola‘s men will step up their preparations against the might of Real Madrid. With Danilo and Benjamin Mendy now on board (the latter is recovering from a small injury so will not feature), plus Kyle Walker and Ederson with Bernardo Silva on a break after appearing at the Confederations Cup this summer, Pep is likely to have two new full backs and a new goalkeeper on show in this one.

[ MORE: Kylian Mbappe to Man City?

Youngster Phil Foden dazzled against Manchester United at NRG Stadium last week and should be given plenty of chances to impress in preseason. Real Madrid are without Cristiano Ronaldo for these games but Zindeine Zidane’s men still have plenty of firepower, even though their big names failed to dazzle in the penalty kick defeat to Man United over the weekend in Santa Clara, Calif. Spanish clubs do start preseason later than PL teams due to the La Liga schedule.

Guardiola coming up against Real Madrid is always a tasty affair and City will then complete their U.S. tour by facing Tottenham Hotspur in Nashville on Saturday. Real face arch-rivals Barcelona in Miami on Sunday before then facing the MLS All-Stars in Chicago on Aug. 2.


Manchester United vs. Barcelona – Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

In their four games Stateside this summer United have a 100 percent record and Jose Mourinho has hailed the trip as “magnificent” for preparations and a game against Barcelona the “perfect” way to end things.

After beating Man City 2-0 and then Real Madrid on PKs after a 1-1 draw, Mourinho will face a familiar foe in Barcelona and United will meet them in a repeat of the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfer deals

Mourinho will continue to rotate his team as new signings Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof have both impressed so far and the Red Devils have switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera will not feature after picking up knocks, while Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo remain out long-term.

Barca beat Juventus 2-1 at MetLife Stadium on Saturday with Neymar scoring twice in the first half and the Brazilian’s future is the main question for the Spanish giants as Paris Saint-Germain reportedly line up a world-record bid to sign him. Expect a packed house at FedEx Field just outside Washington as United aim to end their preseason tour of the U.S. in style.


Tottenham 2-3 AS Roma – at Red Bull Arena, New Jersey on Tuesday

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men battled back from 2-0 down to tie it up late, but then Roma scored in stoppage time to win the International Champions Cup clash.

All of the big guns started for Spurs but it was Roma who took the lead with Diego Perotti scoring from the penalty spot after a harsh handball call on Spurs’ U.S. national team youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers. Tempers flared up throughout this game as Harry Kane thought he should have had a penalty kick and then lunged into a tackle, while on the sidelines Mauricio Pochettino was close to losing his cool. Maybe that was down to some uncharacteristic lackluster defending from his side…

Roma went 2-0 up in the 70th minute when Cengiz Under finished calmly but Spurs rallied late on as substitute Vincent Janssen hit the post but fellow sub Harry Winks tapped home the rebound, then Janssen equalized in stoppage time as it looked like Tottenham would grab a draw. However, Marco Tumminello struck in the 92nd minute (despite looking to haul Kevin Wimmer to the ground in the process) to grab the win for Roma in front of a raucous RBA crowd with plenty of Tottenham fans turning out to see their team in action.

Take a look at the video highlights below from the wild friendly, while next up for Spurs is their final International Champions Cup game in Nashville against Manchester City on Saturday. Roma play Juventus on Sunday to finish up their U.S. tour.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanches to Man United; Lemar, Fabinho off

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Just 24 hours after Jose Mourinho confirmed he wanted to sign a central midfielder and a winger the names of potential signings are already starting to fly in.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfers

Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich is the latest midfielder to be linked with a move to Manchester United, according to the Independent.

The Portuguese teenager almost arrived at Old Trafford last summer but instead joined Bayern Munich before impressing in Portugal’s triumph at EURO 2016.

Despite being one of the hottest young properties in Europe Sanches found minutes hard to come by under Carlo Ancelotti and it is believed he is available for $56.1 million.

Sanches agent happens to be Jorge Mendes, the agent of Mourinho, and with the youngster clearly brimming with talent, can he become the latest Portuguese import to flourish under the Special One?

AC Milan are also said to be interested in the two-way midfielder but with United said to be chasing Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, they may be after a center mid more suited to the defensive side of the game.


It looks like Monaco are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to selling their star players from last season.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday vice president Vadim Vasilyev revealed they are in talks with Kylian Mbappe over a new contract, while Thomas Lemar and Fabinho will not follow the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the exit door at the Stade Louis II.

“Fabinho and [Thomas] Lemar are essential players, they will stay with us,” Vasilyev said. “We have kept all of the key players we intended to keep.”

Vasilyev admitted that they have “important offers” for Mbappe but are hopeful he will remain a Monaco player for at least the upcoming season.

As for Fabinho and Lemar, the former was linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, while the latter was said to be on his way to Arsenal in a $60 million deal.

Fabinho can operate at right back or in central midfield and Mourinho has already said he wants to strengthen in that area of the pitch. Lemar is comfortable out wide, primarily on the left, and would add an extra cutting edge to Arsenal’s attack, especially if Alexis Sanchez was to leave this summer.

Can Monaco really stand in the way of these players as they look around and see three stars from last season bagging big money moves to Manchester City and Chelsea?

Barcelona “confident” of signing Philippe Coutinho

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Barcelona are said to be “increasingly confident” of adding Philippe Coutinho despite Liverpool’s insistence he is not for sale.

[ MORE: Coutinho agrees deal with Barca? 

Coutinho, 25, has become the main man at Anfield over the past season and although Jurgen Klopp has reaffirmed the Brazilian playmaker is not going anywhere, Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that Barca still believe a deal can be done.

The Spanish giants are said to be readying a bid of $116 million for Coutinho to test Liverpool’s resolve after an earlier bid was reportedly turned down, while reports in Spain suggest that Coutinho has already agreed personal terms with Barca over a move.

Barcelona’s push for Coutinho could suggest that Neymar’s potential world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer, but where could Coutinho fit in at the Nou Camp?

He would be perfect as a playmaker in Ernesto Valverde’s team and with Andres Iniesta no spring chicken, Barca need to look at filling his considerable shoes long-term. Coutinho excelled last season in the PL, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists as he battled back from a mid-season injury to help the Reds return to the UEFA Champions League.

Coutinho can either star in a central playmaking role or could be a direct replacement for Neymar if he was to leave for PSG this summer.

Just imagine Coutinho threading through passes to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with the trio jinxing around defenders. Ahem, stop drooling.

Yet Liverpool’s stance remains clear: he is going nowhere. Klopp spoke about his future last week and confirmed he had a word with Coutinho during preseason but wouldn’t reveal the details of the chat.

Coutinho only sign a new new five-year contract in January but such have been the quality of his performances in setting the tempo of their play and delivering exceptional set pieces, plus scoring stunning long-range goals, the biggest teams on the planet are often linked with the former Inter Milan and Espanyol star.

Turning down Barcelona would be tough for any player and if the Catalan club do offer over $100 million for Coutinho then Liverpool will perhaps have to pay serious attention. When they sold Luis Suarez to Barca in 2014 there were extenuating circumstances around the deal, but Coutinho is about to enter his prime and could be the leader of Liverpool’s trophy push for many years.

If he is sold then it says plenty about their ambition to re-join Europe’s elite and would be a hammer blow for Klopp who has already struggled in the transfer market this summer as top targets Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have yet to arrive with both valued at over $80 million by their respective clubs.

Coutinho certainly has the talent to be a star for Barcelona but the Brazilian leaving Anfield would be one of the biggest shocks of the summer. That said, does anything really surprise us anymore in this crazy transfer market?