Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup deserves big time credit

1 Comment

Michael Laudrup deserves credit, big time credit.

After delivering Swansea City their first major trophy in the club’s 100 year history this past spring, journos across the globe (myself included) pegged him to leave the Liberty Stadium for a more prestigious throne.

It was a move he seemed destined to make.

After all, three of his previous four club managerial appointments (Getafe, Spartak Moscow, Mallorca) had been one-and-dones. Only his first managerial stint, at boyhood club Brøndby, extended beyond one season.

He moved on for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of ambition and an inability to deal with boards, chairmen and owners who didn’t give him what he wanted. The later, of course, was largely a product of the former. Michael Laudrup simply wants to win.

That was the clear objective when the Dane arrived in South Wales last summer. His influence was immediate, bringing in a collection of high value, low cost players – Jonathan de Guzman (free loan), Chico Flores (£2 million [$3m]), Michu (£2 million [$3m]), Ki Sung-Yueng (£6 million [$9m]), Pablo Hernandez (£6 million [$9m]) – who would prove pivotal to the club’s League Cup triumph and 9th place finish in the league.

It was that success that raised eyebrows amongst big clubs across the globe. “Yes, there were clubs – a couple of big ones as well – who wanted me,” Laudrup said.

Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, Fenerbahce and Monaco were among the superpowers reportedly interested in bringing Laudrup to the next level. Yet with the lure of managerial riches and Champions League football, Laudrup signed a one year extension in March to continue managing the Swans.

But even after that move, many believed Laudrup might still be on his way out of Swansea. So when word hit papers that Laudrup was entangled in a bitter dispute with chairman Huw Jenkins over transfer funds, rumors regarding the manager’s pending departure kicked in to overdrive.

As Swans supporters gnawed their collective fingernails, the club started making moves.

First was the decision to bring in Jose Canas from Real Betis on a free. Then the Swans brought in cover at center-back, buying Juan Amat from Espanyol for £2 million ($3m), and at attacking midfield, signing Alejandro Pozuelo from Betis for £400k ($603k).

Despite the activity, the cut-rate prices didn’t seem to suggest that Laudrup was winning his transfer fund battle over Jenkins. That began to change last week when Jenkins matched his most expensive signing from 2012-13 by dropping £6 million ($9m) on Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

Today, however, it became crystal clear that Laudrup had gotten his way when Swansea smashed their transfer record by agreeing to a £12 million ($18m) deal to sign Ivory Coast international Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnhem. Signing Bony, who was the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season having scored 31 goals in just 30 matches, is a clear statement of the Swans’ intent to compete at the highest level.

And with that, all is well in South Wales. Laudrup has his signings and the board has a manager who they don’t need to worry about resigning. “[I]t wasn’t about saying I wanted this, this and this. Or I want £18m, £21m or £24m. It was about knowing we had to strengthen our team,” Laudrup told the South Wales Echo.

So credit to both sides on working through turmoil, but especially to Laudrup for fighting off the sweet smell of a big club move when it seemed easier than not to do so.

“Yes, there were clubs – a couple of big ones as well – who wanted me,” Laudrup admitted. “But I didn’t have to speak to anyone because I want to stay here. Please, never again ask me about my future – it’s a waste of time.”

Well, then. That settles that.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

Photo credit: Chelsea FC / Twitter: @chelseafc
Leave a comment

Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.