Redknapp admits QPR are relegated

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Harry Redknapp’s an optimistic guy, but even the QPR manager admits that his side’s dreams of a miraculous escape from relegation are over after a 2-0 home defeat today by fellow Premier League strugglers, Stoke City.

“It looks in tatters doesn’t it? But we’ve got to try to win a game or two. We’ve got to go to Reading next week and try to win. We’ve got to keep going,” Redknapp told the BBC.

QPR are ten points behind fourth-bottom Aston Villa with four games to play. “It looks almost impossible,” he added. In the unlikely event that Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday, both QPR and the bottom club, Reading, will officially be playing second-level soccer next season. Reading host QPR a week tomorrow.

Reading and Wigan also lost today, so all three clubs in the Premier League danger area tasted defeat.

Redknapp, formerly in charge of West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham and a rumored England managerial candidate not so long ago, doesn’t exactly sound  thrilled with the caliber of the roster he inherited from Mark Hughes last November. “People say this team will come straight back up – that’s rubbish. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said, adding that he would not quit: “What am I going to do, play golf every day?”

Seen as a savior after turning round Tottenham in 2008-09 and keeping little Portsmouth in the Premier League, Redknapp has won only four of his 21 league games in charge. And then there was the tabloid story about QPR’s players treating a warm-weather training trip to Dubai as if it was a bachelor party. QPR did beat west London neighbors Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on January 2. But in truth, any fanciful notions the club had about mounting an escape for the ages were gone when Wigan scored from a last-minute free kick to snatch a 1-1 draw two weeks ago. That was the sort of demoralizing blow that is a momentum-killer.

What now for a club with a very recent history of acute financial and ownership turmoil? Their owner since 2011, Malaysian low-cost airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, is a rich man. And he might have to be. Fernandes said this week that a recent $23m loan the club have taken out is to be put towards a new stadium, not to ease any short-term money problems.

But QPR are a reported $140m in debt and there is no doubt that the wage bill is far beyond what a club with an aging 18,000-capacity home could normally support, despite all that lovely broadcast rights lucre that keeps flowing the league’s way in ever-increasing amounts.

Wanting the club to become a serious Premier League presence after their first year in the top-flight since 1995-96 ended in a panicky last-day survival, Fernandes threw money at the roster. Despite his best intentions, he ultimately fostered the conditions for the same sort of managerial instability, profligate spending and ridiculous player turnover that has previously proved catastrophic for other Icarus-like Premier League clubs who chased the dream down the years.

According to soccerbase.com, QPR have signed 28 players plus two loanees since the summer of 2011. Well-known, expensive names among them, with a decent pedigree: Ji-Sung Park, Bobby Zamora, Christopher Samba, Loic Remy. Former West Ham and England goalkeeper Rob Green arrived last July – then was replaced after three games when QPR suddenly signed the Brazil international and Champions League winner, Julio Cesar, from Inter Milan.

We’ll wait to see just how disastrous QPR’s lavish spending will prove for the club. Much may depend on how easy it is to offload the high-earning, low-achieving veterans in the close-season. Meanwhile, little Southampton, Norwich and Swansea are all going to stay up – comfortably and without breaking the bank. And how many of their players could the average fan name?

 

 

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.