Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – tough friendlies ahead

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Tough friendlies ahead

Jurgen Klinsmann giggled when someone at the table mentioned that his U.S. Soccer team in 2012 had faced three teams in the FIFA Top Ten: Russia, Italy and Brazil.

“Mexico is not in the Top Ten?”

It was a funny moment, hearing Klinsmann stick it to the main U.S. rival just a little.

But the bigger point was well taken. Among the swell promises when Klinsmann came on board 16 months ago was a schedule chock full of high-level matches. It looks like 2013 (and beyond) will look no different.

For instance, Klinsmann hopes to face Germany at some point in 2013. Clearly, this would be a special one for Klinsmann, who helped that country win a World Cup and later coached Germany to a third-place World Cup finish.

“I would love to see that happen,” he said. “We would love to have every big soccer nation come to us and play a friendly.”

As to that one, he said the Germany contest “is looking good.” Venue? Somewhere in the United States, he said.

This is the kind of match he wants to play in the States, for a number of reasons. But a bit of running joke through the breakfast conversation was last month’s trip into Krasnodar, Russia (pictured), to play one of Europe’s better sides. If they’ll play in Krasnodar …

“We take them on wherever.” he said.

There is one biggie of a friendly that Klinsmann would, however, like to make a road trip: he would love nothing more than to play a friendly in Brazil I 2013. Trouble is, the calendar presents a big obstacle. It’s already full, and that’s too bad.

The United States will not be involved in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. That’s a bummer. (Remember about 18 months back, when Bob Bradley and everyone around U.S. Soccer kept telling us how important the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup was? It wasn’t just the Gold Cup itself, it was that a spot in the Confederations Cup went to the winner.)

That means the United States misses out on an exploratory to trip into Brazil next year. Teams love getting a hands-on look at stadiums, training sites, accommodations, etc., removing some of the mystery from the big, ultimately important trip ahead to Brazil in 2014. The more players involved in this hands-on “site inspection,” the better.

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So Klinsmann hopes to fill the void by taking the team to Brazil for a friendly. (This is all assuming that things go well and the U.S. qualifies, of course.) But with the 2013 calendar stuffed, any trip into Brazil would probably be in January of 2014 – at the end of that year’s January camp.

“Even if it’s playing local teams. Even if it’s not a national team, we’ll do a training game or whatever. Just to see it, facility-wise how it all works out. To try things out down there, to test it out.”

There is one date open this year, a FIFA international fixture date in November. Klinsmann says that’s not an option, however.

“If you look at the calendar of the European players, if you tell them you are going to play in Brazil, the clubs will do everything possible … officially they have to release the players. But they come up with all kinds of stories. So, before you have 10 cancellations, you might as well [play in Europe]. It’s really crucial that you have games and that you have those players.”

So assuming the United States does not finish 4th in final stage qualifying (and then facing a play-in match), Klinsmann will use the November double fixture date for a pair of friendlies in Europe.

“Then clubs are all fine, the players are all released. Clubs on board.”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Landon Donvan’s career crisis)

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.


 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.