Big time soccer involves big time prices

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There was a lot of talk on social media this morning about this weekend’s English Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City. While the pure talent the two sides will bring to the Emirates make the meeting compelling, the issue at hand had nothing to do with the particulars of the matchup. Instead, the point was one-third of Manchester City’s away allocation being returned to Arsenal unused. Many Citizens supporters who would normally make the trip to London elected not to fork over the £62 (just under $100) price.

High ticket prices at Arsenal aren’t news. Seats at the Emirates are notoriously pricey and a constant source of fan frustration. An index created by The Guardian earlier this year showed Arsenal’s season passes to be the most expensive in the Premier League, with Tottenham’s entry-level package (the second-most expensive in the league) over $400 cheaper than Arsenal’s lowest offering ($1,581).

Of course, the reason Arsenal can charge those rates is because people are willing to pay. Through nine home games this league season, Arsenal is averaging 60,094 attendees per match. Their stadium’s capacity is 60,361. If prices are prohibitive, they’re still not high enough to make an impact at the turnstile.

That’s why it makes it difficult to take Arsenal to task for their pricing. You may feel their prices are excessive and I may feel their prices are excessive, but if they’re able to consistently play before near-sellout crowds, we seem to be wrong. The club has tickets to sell. They sell. And that’s the point.

Not that such policies do Arsenal any favors with their fan base. With each price hike, a few more Gooners are pushed away from their team, financially unable to attend games (note: season ticket prices did not go up at the Emirates this season). While in the United States we’ve come to begrudgingly accept franchises as businesses, in England the most-diehard of fans still consider the club as an extension of the community. That may be a bit too naive for modern times, but it’s a view that resonates through clubs’ core support. It is — in terms of community relations — a fact, not a misconception. Arsenal should not only recognize this but also recognize it’s rarely good business to alienate your more ardent supporters.

That Arsenal is in focus on this issue also underscores the concerns fans have with the club’s spending policies. Though Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in the world, their record transfer fee of £15 million (matched this summer in purchasing Santi Cazorla) is relatively low by elite team standards. The club’s also seen the likes of Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Samir Nasri leave over the last two years. Other talents like Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor left before. If the fans’ money isn’t going to buying or retaining players, then where’s it going?

These are all symptoms of England coming to terms with the Premier League’s unbridled capitalism, symptoms we have come to live with in the States. We’re used to our sports leagues not only raising prices but seeking more exorbitant sponsorships and kickbacks from governments. We don’t like it, we complain about it on Twitter and Facebook, but we aren’t surprised when ticket prices also go up despite most North American sports leagues capping spending on player wages.

Could we have the same discussions that are taking place in England? Yes, but to what end? This is the gambit we’ve bought into, literally. Unless you stop buying tickets, you’re contributing to the problem (to the extent you see it as a problem at all).

It’s easy for me to say these things because my job provides me access to Major League Soccer games (though my game day experience is much different from yours). Still, I can’t remember the last time I went to a professional sports event where I paid the full ticket price. I just don’t think it’s worth it. The last time I paid for a sports ticket was to a Portland Rain WPSL game in late summer (I believe it cost me $5 to see both the Rain and the Timbers’ U-23 team).

Of course, I’m not really a fan, either. I don’t have favorite teams. Even when I paid that $5 price this summer, I was there to work, not cheer. I don’t know what it’s like to feel an attachment to a club that’s so deep I’m compelled to buy season tickets, even if that means taking out a credit card just to do so. I’m not speaking from a point of empathy.

But at some point — if this is a real problem and not just an inconvenience — fans need to bite the bullet and (as they do in Germany and other countries) and stay away.

If Arsenal was only drawing 50,000 per match, their pricing policies would change.

Transfer rumor wrap: Messi to Man City; Aubameyang to Chelsea

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Manchester City are said to have “stepped up” their interest in Lionel Messi.

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A report from the Daily Record claims Man City met with representatives of Messi, 30, last week with the Argentine superstar reportedly unhappy with life at Barcelona after watching Neymar leave, plus legend Andres Iniesta yet to agree to a new contract.

The report goes on to claim that Messi’s new contract last month was announced before it was signed and it has yet to be formalized with Barca offering him wages over $1.4 million per week.

With Neymar leaving Barca for PSG, anything now seems possible and Man City certainly hold the ace if Messi was to ever leave Barcelona with Pep Guardiola on board.

Would the deal for Messi be a new world-record transfer deal, surpassing Neymar’s move to PSG? It is mooted that the deal could be a free transfer if Messi doesn’t sign the new deal and he could join for free ahead of the 2018-19 Premier League season.

After Barcelona lost 5-1 to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup to open up this season and they continue to struggle to bring in Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele to replace Neymar.

Will Messi leave Barcelona? It always seems highly-unlikely. Yet, with Pep around and Man City able to afford to pay him whatever he wants, if he leaves Barca they seem like the most likely club he will join.


In what could be another big-money move to the Premier League, Chelsea target Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has admitted he is still thinking about leaving Borussia Dortmund.

Earlier this summer it appeared that Aubameyang, 28, was heading to the Chinese Super League while Chelsea and AC Milan were both reportedly interested.

However he remained at Dortmund and the Bundesliga’s golden boot winner last season scored in their opening day win against Wolfsburg on Saturday and has five goals in three official games for BVB to kick off 2017-18.

Speaking to Radio Montecarlo Italy, the Gabon international said the following about his future.

“I am still reflecting on whether I should leave or not. This club and these fans are incredible, but if I want to grow, I feel I need to leave,” Aubameyang said.

Intriguing.

With Chelsea still trying to offload Diego Costa, who is currently exiled in Brazil and staying away from the club, they will soon have an open slot up front. Costa is likely to join Atletico Madrid before the transfer deadline on Aug. 31, with a loan move elsewhere to be arranged until January when Atleti’s transfer ban ends.

Judging by Alvaro Morata’s rusty display for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, plus only having Michy Batshuayi in reserve, Antonio Conte will want to strengthen his forward options considerably. Aubameyang ticks all the boxes and it is expected Dortmund would accept an offer of around $90 million for the forward.

Burnley sign Chris Wood; Swansea reportedly agree Clucas fee

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Burnley have signed New Zealand striker Chris Wood from Leeds United in a club-record deal believed to be worth $19.4 million

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The Clarets announced on Monday that Wood, 25, has arrived at Turf Moor from Leeds on a four-year deal after he scored 27 goals in 44 games for the Elland Road club in England’s second-tier last season and 44 goals in 86 appearances in all competitions for Leeds over the past two seasons.

Wood’s arrival will be seen as a direct replacement for Andre Gray after Burnley sold him to Watford for $24 million last week.

“My ambition has been to play in the Premier League for years,” Wood said. “I’ve had tastes of being in there but I’ve never had the chance to give it a proper bash. Coming here I feel I’ve got a proper opportunity to do that. I’ve never started a Premier League game and this what I want to do.”

Alongside Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes Burnley boss Sean Dyche now has a bruising trio of strikers to choose from as Wood’s main attributes are his aerial ability, powerful shot and hold up play.

Wood has previous PL experience with West Brom and Leicester City in the past, scoring twice in 13 appearances across his spells with those two clubs.


Elsewhere Swansea City have started to splash some of the Gylfi Sigurdsson cash (he signed for Everton for $62 million last week) with multiple reports stating the Welsh outfit agreeing a fee with Hull City for midfielder Sam Clucas.

Clucas, 26, impressed throughout last season in Hull’s midfield and it is believed the two-way central midfielder will cost Swansea around $20 million.

After losing Sigurdsson and Jack Cork, Swansea boss Paul Clement has now added some extra steel to central midfield as the Swans look to bounce back from their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United over the weekend.

The deal is expected to be announced in the next 24 hours.

Preview: New-look teams collide as Man City host Everton

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Manchester City welcome Everton to the Etihad Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with two Barcelona legends colliding on the sidelines.

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Both Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman have spent big this summer to rebuild their respective teams and both Man City and Everton secured shutout wins on opening weekend.

For City it has been all about strengthening their defense with Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo all arriving this summer. Everton have added Gylfi Sigurdssson, Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez to share around the goalscoring responsibility after Romelu Lukaku‘s departure.

In team news Man City have both Ilkay Gundogan and Mendy fit, while Everton will be without Ross Barkley who is recovering from a groin injury ahead of his expected departure from the Toffees in the next 10 days. New club-record signing Sigurdsson will play at Man City, Koeman confirmed.


What they’re saying…

Pep Guardiola on Man City being favorites: “It’s the same expectation as last season. But after 4-0 for Manchester United, we are less favorites. And when we lose one game, we are not definitely favorites. When we lose three games in a row, we are not favorites. So it’s simple.”

Ronald Koeman on getting a shutout: “If we get a clean sheet on Monday I don’t know if it will be a miracle. Maybe it will but we do know we are strong defensively, our defensive organisation is strong. The key to getting a good result is what we do when we have the ball and that’s what our preparation will be about. You have different ways to play, we will look at the best way to get a good result.”


Prediction

Expect an open, entertaining game with City doing most of the pressing. Everton will take a while to click in attack, while City have no problem in that department. 2-0 to Man City.

Neymar slams Barcelona; Mbappe kicked out of Monaco training

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It is all happening in Ligue 1.

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Fresh from dazzling on his home debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday Neymar — he scored twice, had two assists and generally pulled of some ridiculous skill, especially for his second goal — has launched a scathing attack on those in charge of Barcelona.

Speaking to reporters after the game the Brazilian superstar, who joined PSG from Barca in a world-record $262 million 10 days ago, revealed that many of his former teammates are not happy with the way the Catalan club is being run.

“I spent four beautiful years there and parted happy But with them [the board], no. For me, they are not the people who should be there, for the direction of Barca. Barca deserve much better,” Neymar said. “I cannot speak now I am in another team. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I see my old team-mates sad, and it’s that which makes me sad because I have a lot of friends there. I hope that things will improve for Barca and that they will become a team that can rival others.”

Intriguing from Neymar, especially with reports Lionel Messi’s representatives met with Manchester City as the 30-year-old is reportedly becoming disillusioned with life at the Nou Camp following Neymar’s departure and Andres Iniesta yet to agree a new deal.


Down at Monaco 18-year-old star Kylian Mbappe is in a bit of trouble.

Mbappe, rumored to be heading to Real Madrid or PSG in a huge $210 million deal, was kicked off the training field after clashing with teammate Andrea Raggi in training last week.

The French international striker was sent home from training and did not feature in their victory over Metz last Friday.

Mbappe has yet to play in Ligue 1 with his future with the French champions in jeopardy and although Real Madrid remain interested, PSG are the frontrunners to sign Mbappe.

It seems like incidents such as this could speed up any potential move with the teenager set to become the second-most expensive player in history.