ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS

Premier League coaches may face loyalty test in face of Paris Saint-Germain

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Everybody at the highest levels of the soccer world knows the nature of the game, so your manager if one-year gets a call from one of Europe’s elite clubs, there’s no use begging for loyalty. There’s no laying on a sob story where hopes and dreams become weights and expectations. If you’re at Everton and Manchester United come calling for your coach, you sigh, hand over the phone, and go find Roberto Martínez.

Paris Saint-Germain isn’t Manchester United, but there are few clubs in world soccer that offer a better job. A spectacular city, strong league, good talent base, Champions League soccer and an AmEx black card with “WHOEVER WE WANT TO BE” below the number? What more could you ask for, especially given the patience they showed Carlo Ancelotti over the past season-plus?

Thus it’s no surprise names like André Villas-Boas, Michael Laudrup, and (of course) Guus Hiddink have been linked with the position at the Parc de Princes. Hiddink’s also said to be close to a contract extension with Anzhi Makhachkala, so the Dutch vagabond may be merely be leveraging his Qatari friends to get more money. There is, after all, a reason he ended up in Dagestan in the first place. Add in Hiddink’s recent failures with the Russian and Turkish national teams, and he looks like the contractor you hire after a last minute cancellation.

Laudrup is a more intriguing proposition. The Danish playing icon has becomes a bit of a wanderer himself, having coached in four places in the last six years. His current position at Swansea City saw him lead the club to the League Cup, an unexpected honor that will see the Wales-based English Premier League side into Europe next season.  Of course, Swansea faded in the season’s last months, finishing with more losses than wins and a negative difference. Added to his larger body of work, and PSG looks like a huge step up for Laudrup.

That’s not meant to demean the Swansea boss. PSG is just a very high standard. They’re capable of luring coaches like Carlo Ancelotti. When you’re working at those heights, you don’t need to accept unnecessary risk. The Parisians could go from Jurgen Klopp to Antonio Conte to Vitor Pereira, offering their job to every hot and accomplished coach in Europe. There’s a long list of bosses sitting near the top of their leagues that would listen to PSG’s call.

All of which brings us to André Villas-Boas, who just finished his first year at Spurs. Although Tottenham failed to replicate their top-four finish, they claimed more points in 2012-13 then they did the previous season. Given the obstacles Villas-Boas overcame (namely, losing Luka Modric), few would have blamed him if Spurs let the top four drift away.

Given his age, his experience at Porto, and our new context on his Chelsea struggles, “AVB” seems a fine choice for Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, if they were targeting a man to enact a long-term vision, there may be no better candidate. At 35, Villas-Boas still has youth’s blind ambition, a passion that match’s PSG’s potential.

The bigger question, one that also applies to Laudrup, is whether Villas-Boas would want to leave his new job after only one season. For each man, it’s not an uncommon thing, with Villas-Boas leaving Porto and Chelsea before seeing year two while Laudrup’s Swansea tenure is tied for his longest since leaving Brondby in 2006. Both men have ambitiously climbed the coaching ladder, and with each experiencing recent failures (Chelsea for Villas-Boas, Spartak Moscow for Laudrup), there new club’s faith wasn’t necessarily a given.

Turning your back on that type of job — a Premier League post, where recent success has eliminated initial doubts — is no frivolity, especially after you’ve settled in. And after their 2012-13 seasons, both Villas-Boas and Laudrup have settled in. Neither persist in an evaluation phase. Their clubs are pushing into 2013-14 with confidence.

To turn their backs on that would take a special offer, one that would have to be handled with care lest any bridges be burned. Even then, there will still be a question of loyalty. Do you give your current club one, maybe two more years in appreciation for the opportunity? Or do you expect them to understand, as Villas-Boas did with Porto two years ago, that a club level of club only comes knocking every so often?

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
AP Photo
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

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On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

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The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

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Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.

VIDEO: Will Ferrell is feeling guilty – “I got Jose Mourinho fired”

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Sometimes there’s just something you have to admit.

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It sounds better if you say it out loud and get it off your chest. This is one of those moments for comedian, actor and now part-owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Los Angeles FC, Will Ferrell.

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Joining the Men In Blazers this week the self-proclaimed soccer nut joked that he was the one who actually got Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea.

For real. Watch the video above to see Ferrell’s admission as he explains exactly what happened.

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Just seven months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho was dismissed by the west London club in December.

NOTE: Severe tongue-in-cheek mode activated.

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN with the U.S women’s national team — aiming for a fourth-straight Olympic gold — featuring heavily in live broadcasts.

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The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson admits child sex charge

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Adam Johnson arrives with girlfriend Stacey Flounders at the Crown Court on February 10, 2016 in Bradford, England. The Sunderland FC midfielder, aged 28 and from Castle Eden, County Durham, is on trial having previously denied three counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming. He has one daughter.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
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Premier League winger Adam Johnson has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child, but the Sunderland player has denied two other charges.

Johnson, 28, appeared at Bradford Crown Court in Yorkshire, England on Wednesday and admitted the sex count and another count of grooming.

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The former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger is an England international but has denied two other charges of having sex with a girl under the age of 16.

Up until Wednesday Johnson had pleaded not guilty but following legal talks he agreed to admit to two of the charges.

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The trial over the charges Johnson has denied will be held this Friday and a jury has been sworn in. The initial trial date of Aug. 3, 2015 was adjourned.

Johnson was originally arrested in March 2015 over allegations he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

He played eight times in the final months of last season after the allegations became public, plus he has made 20 appearances in all competitions for Sunderland this season.