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Di Canio offered to sacrifice himself but Sunderland owner refused

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Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has revealed that following the outrage that ensued over his appointent as manager of the Black Cats, he offered to walk away from the Stadium of Light.

As most will recall, Di Canio’s political alignments – and in particular his alleged affinity for fascism – were all the rage following his appointment by chairman Elliot Short. Things got so heavy that the Italian manager told Short, in his own special ‘Di Canio speak’, that he was happy to part ways if that’s what the owner wanted.

“I told him, ‘Tell me what I have to do. Bye bye. No problem, because I do not want to be a problem for the club’,” Di Canio told the Independent on Sunday. “If I don’t represent a problem for you I am okay, I am ready to handle the pressure. It is no pressure for me.

“All day rubbish me, I don’t care. It is my life, but if you think ‘mmm, probably yeah, I let you be free’, I don’t want nothing and I go’.

“He said, ‘Absolutely, you have to stay. You are our man.’

“That for me was enough. Refocus. I will never forget what he did. He gave me a big chance of my dream to become manager at the top level. . . . In this moment, he did not give up, he gave me 100 per cent, 200 per cent support. He convinced me to stay because he said you are our man. He is the owner, he picked me. I can’t forget for the rest of my life, no matter what happens in the future.”

Retaining Di Canio has proven to be a good decision by Short as the manager has taken seven of a possible 12 points since arriving at the Stadium of Light. In his very first match as boss, Di Canio let his presence be known as he jumped, dance, chest-banged, knee-slid and fist-pumped his way to a 3-0 shellacking of rivals Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Di Canio’s antics and inspiration erased the crippling lack of confidence that draped the Black Cats during the final days of Martin O’Neill’s reign. If the win wasn’t enough to convince Mackems of his personality and ideals, his post-match comments concerning his mother, who passed away exactly one year before the win, endeared him to the Sunderland faithful. “Before the kick-off, I saw the face of my Mama smiling. . . . Mama was special today, so my dedication goes to her today, to my Mam.”

Following the derby win Di Canio kept the good times rolling with a deserved 1-0 victory over Everton. It was a match that set off raucous celebrations at the Stadium of Light and sealed the Toffees fate of not qualifying for Champions League. Perhaps high on confidence, the Black Cats were stung by Villa 6-1 the following week before coming from behind to snag a point last Monday night against Stoke.

With two matches left to play in the 2012-13 season, Sunderland are still in the thick of a relegation battle. Three points above the drop on 38 points, a home victory today against Southampton would secure the Black Cats a spot in next year’s Premier League.

And with a difficult final match away at Tottenham, Di Canio’s side will be hard-pressed to take all three points today.

If Sunderland are unable to stay up Di Canio could find himself right back on the hot-seat. But if so, he’ll remain dedicated to the Sunderland cause. “Next year I hope I can be here. You never know what is going on in life.”

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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