The biggest storyline out of North Rhine-Westphalia this summer is one that promises to keep giving throughout the entire 2013-14 season.
Robert Lewandowski, the Borussia Dortmund striker who notched an outlandish 35 goals in all competitions last season, was temporarily denied his dream move to rivals Bayern Munich this summer.
Despite the single year remaining on Lewandowski’s contract, Dortmund preferred to forgo the $40-46.5 million (€30-35m) transfer fee in favor of keeping their star man for one last season.
The decision was bold.
One one hand, it risked infuriating Lewandowski.
On the other hand, it was the ultimate compliment – telling a player that he is so good that the club is willing to eat a huge chunk of money to keep him for one season.
So naturally, everyone wanted to know – how would Lewandowski the situation?
Would he continue to dominate? Or would his on-field performances slack? Even worse, would he become a cancer in the dressing room?
These are questions that will persist the entire season. This past weekend, we found some early answers as Lewandowski and BVB defeated Munich 4-2 in the German Super Cup.
On the pitch, Lewandowski did not score but was nevertheless consistently dangerous, energetic and looked to be his typical self.
Off the pitch, the Polish international said all the right things – mostly.
“I will give everything I’ve got for Dortmund,” Lewandowski said. “It does not matter what happened. I am not interested about that on the pitch. When I am out on the pitch, then Dortmund is all I think about. I want to give it all I’ve got and be successful.”
But it wasn’t all cotton candy as Lewandowski hinted at where some lingering drama resided. “I feel fine in the team, but with other people I do have a problem. That is a difficult issue.”
Conventional knowledge suggested the statement was directed at Dortmund CEO Aki Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc, who were the decision makers that put Lewandowski’s dream move to Bayern on hold.
Watzke, addressed the striker’s insinuations to German tabloid, Bild: “It’s obvious Robert is focused on me, but I need to make decisions for the good of the club. I can accept that Robert bears a small grudge against me.”
And therein lies Dortmund’s goal for the season – keeping Robert’s grudge small.
Given the gossip mill since Chelsea fired Mourinho in January, that’s not a hard thing to buy, and Koeman is angry that LVG was kept out of the loop. Reports claim that Van Gaal had drawn-up plans for 2016-17 with him on the day he was let go.
“If Louis was not told about getting the sack until after the FA Cup final, then Manchester United as a club don’t deserve a medal for the way they treated him.
“If you know a little bit about the business at the highest level in football, then you know that these kind of deals are not done overnight.”
Koeman hedges his words with conditionals, but there’s little doubt what he means. Managers generally stand together when it comes to dismissals, but it’s nice to see someone stand up for LVG’s treatment (whether he deserved to be canned or not).
It’s Sunday morning, a time to reflect and enjoy some rest, coffee and “Meet the Press”, so why not let your imagination wander as I tell you exactly how the 2016 Premier League season will play out?
Anyone will tell you that the world of football is a copycat affair, one where the latest big thing — counter attacking, the 4-5-1, false nines — often runs wild.
So if the next year of club football goes similar to the latest campaign, from remarkable fairy tale runs to powers dropping off and the UCL not going according to early season forecasts, how will it all look?
Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are incredibly busy in the summer transfer window, and City wins a massive bidding war to scoop up Paulo Dybala for a cool $120 million. Chelsea nabs Breel Embolo, United gets Romelu Lukaku, and Liverpool signs Christian Pulisic. But it’s not just the youngsters, as no one wants to miss “the next Jamie Vardy“. Well, almost no one. Nineteen teams sign a non-league striker. Arsenal does not, as Arsene Wenger decries reactionary big money signings with the Gunners sitting in first at the close of August as one of two unbeaten sides. He buys four midfielders and a backup goalkeeper “just in case”.
Tottenham Hotspur begin the season well and are the darlings of Europe by mid-January after escaping a group of death with Real Madrid, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk. However, a late April draw makes it impossible for them to catch the Premier League’s top side, and Mauricio Pochettino focuses on the UEFA Champions League. Spurs shock Atletico Madrid in the UCL final, qualifying for the 2017-18 tournament despite losing their last five PL games and finishing fifth, behind Arsenal on goal differential but depriving the fourth-place Gunners of the UCL. Wenger says his club was “unlucky” because some guys got hurt.
Reigning champions Leicester City start with some stumbles, and Claudio Ranieri goes from lovable leader to “over his head” manager despite Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante being joined at the King Power Stadium by Sandro Ramirez. Ranieri is ungratefully canned in December for being too nice to the team doctors and shaking too many hands at press conference. Still, the Foxes make a run to the UCL quarters where they fall to PSG, finishing eighth in the PL.
Southampton, Swansea City and West Ham United tempt their supporters with strong campaigns but can’t crack the Top Four, which isn’t a problem for Stoke City. That’s because led by CONCACAF defender Geoff Cameron, Ligue 1 relative unknown Nampalys Mendy, Algerian playmaker Ryad Boudebouz and National League striker Elliott Buchanan (formerly of Bishop’s Stortford, as we all know), the Potters rise to the top of the Premier League. They lose to Arsenal twice, but win every other game with a remarkable counter attacking style as “new” manager Marco Hugheso endears himself to the world with his odd habit of banging a gong and saying “silly sing, silly song”.
A movie is cast, with Ranieri playing Hughes, and Kante, Mahrez, Wes Morgan and Vardy being asked to star. Three accept, but Vardy says, “This film idea is derivative and fails to live up to the lofty example set by my personal idol, Roberto Benigni. Ciao Bella, Get Benigni.”
Somehow it’s shocking to see Chelsea finish 12th despite last year’s struggles, as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard show true character in purposely scoring into their own net during a December match against Manchester United, two days after swearing a blood oath that they are doing their best for manager Antonio Conte, who is soon fired with Chelsea in 20th.
Liverpool looked set to make a title charge, but is left scratching their heads when Jurgen Klopp celebrates a Merseyside Derby goal from Christian “Still Here, Guys” Benteke by jumping so aggressively that his momentum carries him into outer space, where he takes the helm of Moonventus, leading the Old Lunar Lady to its 23rd Milky Way Premiership title. The club can’t regroup under new manager Steven Gerrard.
Frank de Boer takes over at Everton, but the hire goes awry before a late-season manager change happens too late for the Toffees to survive an inexplicable drop to the Championship. Caretaker boss Louis Van Gaal decides to stick around for a season in the second tier in an almost unprecedented move. Sunderland fires Sam Allardyce after a woeful start, and Rolland Courbois can’t save the day as two more PL mainstays are relegated along with Middlesbrough. That means two Northeast sides go down, while one comes up.
West Brom and Crystal Palace finish 14th and 15th. Tony Pulis hails it as a remarkable success for his Baggies, who sometimes take naps on the pitch during the final five matches. As for Palace, Alan Pardew wears leisure suits to every game and claims Palace are “dancing on the edge of the Top Four, just really unlucky when you consider well-regarded I am.”
Ah, but what about Manchester United and Manchester City? It’s a dogfight between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, and by the end of the season Mourinho refuses to answer questions with anything other than facial expressions and quotes from “Ocean’s Eleven”. City finishes second to United thanks to goal differential, as Mourinho oddly benefits from Chelsea malcontents Costa and Hazard scoring all those own goals in December.
Steve Bruce leads Hull City to an 11th place finish in the Premier League, wearing a tuxedo to every game because “Life’s a big wedding party”. Bournemouth buys Neymar, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thiago Silva, but all are injured for six months and Eddie Howe still leads the side to safety. Watford is mired in the relegation fight for the first half of the season, but swaps sides with also relegation-threatened Malaga and both sides survive as the Hornets bring back Quique Sanchez Flores for the final four months. Burnley actually finishes in 18th, but is allowed to finish 17th because manager Sean Dyche “scares the ever loving heck” out of everyone.
“I am thinking that I have to start thinking. It’s a logical question for you to ask after a defeat like the one we’ve suffered today.
“We had the chance to become champions, we didn’t take that chance. We need to continue working, I have to think things out on my part – that’s what I’m doing now.
“What is clear to me is that nobody remembers the losers. We have to get over this and heal our wounds.”
With so much turnover in the Premier League already this season and few jobs open, where would Simeone go? He’s a football junkie, not someone we’d expect to “take a year off”, and his passion for Atleti still makes it feel unlikely he’d leave the club at all.
That said, he’s conducted some monumental reorganizations around the Vicente Calderon, and the energy it takes to do such a thing may have him considering whether he should try his luck at another locale (especially if Antoine Griezmann and other big stars find new homes).
A league superstar scored a hat trick, but so did a new face. Two surging and surprising clubs drew in Colorado, and two stumbling powers went head-to-head in New England.
Montreal 3-2 L.A. Galaxy
The big names came out to play in Quebec, as Didier Drogba, Giovani dos Santos, Ignacio Piatti and Steven Gerrard all played part in a thriller. Drogba was the key, setting up a goal before scoring at the very end of stoppage time to lift the Impact past the Galaxy. Then again, you could make a pretty valid argument that L.A. goalkeeper Brian Rowe was the key, because… dude:
The Sounders have seen a lot of penalty calls against them this year, but this one will make fans think there’s a conspiracy against them. With a 1-0 lead, a Seattle clearance pegged Erik Friberg in the gut, catching him in a clear act of ball playing hand. Lee Nguyen converted the penalty, and Femi Hollinger-Janzen scored late to give the Revs a much-needed win and sink Seattle further down the “Why?!?” rabbit hole.
Colorado 1-1 Philadelphia
There wasn’t much brewing until late between the two conference leaders, who kept hold of their No. 1 seeds after Sam Cronin and Brian Carroll traded goals in the final five minutes of play in Colorado.
New York Red Bulls 3-0 Toronto FC
Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the fastest hat trick to start a match in Major League Soccer history, while the reigning MVP had to leave the game with a non-contact injury. Gonzalo Veron saw red for RBNY, but it did not help TFC get back in the game. To make things worse for TFC, Will Johnson made a PK only to miss when forced to retake for encroachment.
Columbus 4-3 Real Salt Lake
Hola, Ola. Ola Kamara scored a hat trick around a Justen Glad own goal as the hosts scored four uninterrupted goals as the Crew and RSL played a pair of busy halves in Ohio. Joao Plata had a goal and an assist for the visitors, while Jordan Allen and Luke Mulholland also got on the board.
Elsewhere Vancouver 1-1 Houston — RECAP Chicago 1-1 Portland
Sporting KC 0-1 DC United —RECAP San Jose 0-0 FC Dallas