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Premier League Preview: Fulham

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Fulham rose from the lowest tier of the English game, making the journey from bottom to top in just five years and reaching the Premier League in 2001. The ascent was largely thanks to the support of Egyptian billionaire and club legend Mohamed Al Fayed. Al Fayed just this summer has cashed out, selling his debt-free club to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. Fulham reached the Europa League final in 2010, losing in heartbreaking 2-1 fashion in extra time to Atletico Madrid as they were in search of their first major trophy. It’s been a bit downhill since then for the club. American entrepreneur Khan will now lead the club into battle for the first time this season, looking to return to the table’s top half following last year’s edgy 12th place finish that saw a late-season slump almost slide the club into a tight battle for relegation.

Transfers in: GK Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma, Italy), D Sascha Riether (FC Koln, Germany – loan made permanent), D Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao, Spain), M Derek Boateng (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine), M Adel Taarabt (Queens Park Rangers, England – loan)

Transfers out: GK Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea, England), D Chris Baird (free agent), M Simon Davies (free agent), F Mladen Petric (free agent)

source: ReutersKey Player: With the Fulham squad in a bit of a state of flux, and hardly a soul left from the 2010 Europa League run, their key addition last summer up front remains vastly important. Management convinced Manchester United cast away Dimitar Berbatov (pictured) to join the ranks, and he promptly fired 15 Premier League goals.

A former Golden Boot winner at Old Trafford, Berbatov is a quiet fellow off the pitch, avoiding the media spotlight whenever physically possible, although you wouldn’t know it by his emotions on the field. He’s developed a fiery on-field relationship with Bryan Ruiz and young winger Alex Kacaniklic, the latter of whom Berbatov has taken under his wing and is often seen forcibly instructing during matches.

Usually clad in long sleeves and the occasional gloves, Berbatov caught the attention of the Premier League last season when, during a Fulham-wide goal drought, Berbatov scored and promptly ripped off his shirt to reveal an undershirt with the message “Keep Calm and Pass Me The Ball.” Such a mantra is a fantastically accurate description of the forward’s playing style, often wowing crowds with his on-the-ball skills of control and placement, but sulking if he doesn’t receive enough touches.

Now 32 and in the final season of his 2-year contract, it remains to be seen what will happen to Berbatov after this season, and it certainly will be a key talking point throughout the year. For the time being, however, he without a doubt holds the key to the Premier League’s top 10 for Fulham.

Manager: Dutchman Martin Jol will be entering his third year in charge of the London club. While fan opinion on him remains mixed, there can be no doubt that Jol has brought both shrewdness and ambition in the transfer market.

Aside from Berbatov, Jol isn’t afraid to splash the cash, like he did on Deadline Day for Costa Rican attacking midfielder Ruiz in his first summer in charge. He has also found gems in the depths of the market, such as last season’s loan for right-back Sascha Riether made permanent this summer for pennies on the dollar.

Jol is a genuine manager, often forming a good relationship with both the fans and players such as he did during his time at Tottenham Hotspur where he was sacked much to the dismay of many fans at White Hart Lane. It remains the same while he strolls the touchline at Craven Cottage, but improvement will be necessary or Shahid Khan himself has stated he will hold those in the skill positions responsible.

Outlook: Following the 2007/08 season which saw the Whites escape relegation on goal differential (known to fans as the Great Escape which required defeats of Manchester City and Portsmouth in the final two weeks to stay up) Fulham has found success previously unknown to the club. Along with the Europa League run in 2010, they’ve also finished in the top half of the league three of the last five years, something which they’ll be aiming for again this season.

Having brought in a few key players who will crack the starting lineup, Jol has yet to finish filling out a thin and porous squad, and without a few more additions it’s hard to see a top 10 finish, especially with a few well-placed injuries. However, rumors of the addition of Darren Bent swirl around the banks of the Thames, and the former England striker alongside Dimitar Berbatov could see the side make its way back to the coveted top half.

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”

Southampton’s chairman leads Team Europe to 2016 World Cup of Hockey final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team Europe Ralph Krueger looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Yeah, you read that headline correctly.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

The chairman of Premier League side Southampton, Ralph Krueger, is currently the head coach of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and against all the odds he’s led his side to the final in Toronto.

Krueger, 57, has a strong hockey background after being the former coach of the Swiss national team and the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL following a 10-year playing career in Germany.

The former German national team player, who hails from Manitoba, Canada, has certainly made the most of his few weeks back in hockey and away from the day-to-day running of Saints. As for Southampton, yeah, they’re coping just fine, racking up four-straight wins in all competitions, scoring nine times without conceding. What a week for Krueger on all fronts.

Before the prestigious hockey tournament began Europe (which is comprised of players from eight countries other than Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic who all have individual teams competing) were 33-1 outsiders to win it all but they now face off against star-studded hosts Canada in a best of three final with the first game taking place on Tuesday.

Europe beat Sweden 3-2 in Overtime on Sunday to book their spot in the final against a Canadian side they lost to in group play. Whatever happens in the final, Krueger has led Europe on a fairytale run through the competition with wins over the USA and the Czech Republic surprising everyone.

It’s not often the soccer and hockey worlds collide (I mean, our interview with Wayne Gretzky at White Hart Lane and the fact that most NHL teams warm up by juggling a soccer ball is about as close as it gets) but this is a pretty cool achievement from someone now thought of very highly in both sporting realms. Krueger is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. From the books he’s written on leadership and positive thinking, to being part of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and his exploits in both the hockey and soccer worlds, he is once again impressing in Canada by leading a team of underdogs to great things.

And of course you can keep up to date with all the latest news from the World Cup of Hockey with our friends over at ProHockeyTalk.

West Ham’s owners release statement as slump continues

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  West Ham players look dejected as James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores their third goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is off to its worst start in a Premier League season with five defeats from their opening six games.

All is not well at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea? ]

After being hammered 3-0 by Southampton on Sunday the joint-owners of the Hammers, David Gold and David Sullivan, have commented on the current slump on the pitch, as well as plenty of issues in their new home.

Since West Ham moved to the former stadium for the 2012 Olympics in London there have been plenty of issues with fans and stewards involved in ugly scenes as the row about standing at games continues.

There’s no real suggestion that Slaven Bilic‘s job is under immediate threat — after all, Bilic guided the Hammers to a seventh-place finish last season in his first year in charge — but the Croatian manager acknowledged after their fourth-straight defeat in the Premier League that the situation is not a good one.

In a statement on their website, the owners had the following to say:

There is no question that this has not been the start to the season that we were looking for but rest assured we are doing everything we can to fix the situation. The facts are there for everyone to see. We know we are letting in too many goals and not scoring enough, but be assured we will sort the problems out.

There have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses and know that Slaven and his team will be working even harder on the training ground this week to get things right. We have got to remain positive. These are the same players that helped us enjoy such a memorable final season at the Boleyn Ground.

We know this is a difficult time for our supporters at the moment but we want to thank you personally and wholeheartedly for staying with the Club. We will turn our season around. These are tough times but as Mark Noble said over the weekend, this is the time that the West Ham United family needs to come together. We can’t thank you enough for the impeccable way you pulled together and supported the team yesterday.

Our fans have always shown over the years the amazing support they have for the team and we have no doubts they will get behind the players even more over the coming weeks. We stated last week that we would be putting measures in place to make the London Stadium experience something everyone can be proud of and we would like to thank all our supporters for their support in this regard.

Supporters can rest assured that we will not be slowing our efforts despite the match against Southampton being completely trouble-free, and we will not stop working until everyone feels they have a Stadium to be proud of – on and off the pitch. We would like to thank all fans for their incredible support and continued cooperation.