“2 + 2 = 5” ProSoccerTalk’s exclusive interview with Fulham owner Shahid Khan

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Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the new top dog at Fulham, is a strict businessman.  At the time of his purchase, he told those in charge at Fulham that they would be free to do their jobs, but if the results weren’t there, he wouldn’t be merciful and kind.

Khan and his epic mustache joined the likes of Randy Lerner, the Glazer family, and Stan Kroenke as American owners in the Premier League.  While he clearly connects his American heritage with the English game, there’s an overwhelming desire to succeed.  The American game is important, but the success of Fulham is now even higher on his list.

It’s clear Khan speaks in the language of business, but he has an incredible passion for not just sports but the fan experience.  He can be seen at Jaguars fan events speaking with eager supporters, and is incredibly accessible to the media.  His ability to market is second to none, and he’s gotten the fanbase in Jacksonville more excited than ever about their NFL team.

Now he’s passing that along to Fulham.  Former owner Mohamed Al Fayed gave everything he had to the club, but he mostly conducted business in private.  Khan respects everything Al Fayed gave to the club, but his approach differs.  The fans are important to him, and it reflects in his actions.

ProSoccerTalk’s Kyle Bonn got to chat with Mr. Khan about his new ownership venture, his feelings on the game in the United States and how he believes the two sports teams he owns will coexist.

With Mohamed Al Fayed having such an integral role in bringing Fulham up to the Premier League, is he going to be sticking around the club in an ambassador or honorary role?

SK: “Well the transition is complete, but he’s a major part of the history of Fulham.  In all likelihood Fulham wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for him, the investment he made, and the love and passion he had.  So he’s a real part of the club and he can be around as little or as much as he’d like.  Even for the last several years he was really not around the club, but he’d be welcome around whenever he’d like.”

source: ReutersWith your ownership of Fulham as well as the Jaguars, do you have an overall plan to cross-promote these teams, and will they be more separate entities or will they coexist strongly?

SK: “They’re definitely separate entities, and you don’t want to have any confusion about that.  But having said that, we have a number of opportunities to have corporate partners that would like to take part in both.  I had several guests at the Real Betis friendly at Fulham who came over to get a chance to work with or sponsor Fulham and then also be able to do it with the NFL game in London or back in the U.S. with Jacksonville.  So we have a unique space that I think is going to help both teams, but there can’t be any confusion – they are on their own.  Both of them we can use a relationship to develop fan bases.  With Jacksonville in London, we had started last year with the Union Jax fan club, and when Fulham happened they picked up several thousand members that day.  Fulham will definitely be playing friendlies starting next year in Jacksonville; it’s a very soccer crazy atmosphere so they’re delighted to have Fulham coming.  There’s opportunity, but both of them have to exist on their own and improve on their own.”

There are American owners in the Premier League, but you are one of the most accessible to the public.  Do you think that with your new connection, you’re in a position to help spread the excitement of the game of soccer to American sports fans and help grow excitement about the game with those who may not have been previously interested?

SK: “I can only speak for myself, but yes.  We have an opportunity where Fulham and the Jaguars stand on their own, but we also have an opportunity where 2 + 2 = 5.  A unique place where we can offer opportunities at both clubs for the fans because of the relationship.”

Soccer has a much larger following in this country than it ever has before, but it still struggles to cement itself in the average American sports fan’s household.  Do you think it could compete with sports like baseball in the near future or is that a hard sell?

SK: “I think putting a quantifying number on it to compare to baseball, I think I’m in no position to answer that, but I can tell you that soccer is on the upswing.  I see that from the number of people I’ve known for years – we never talked about the Premier League or soccer, and now Fulham happens.  In Jacksonville, I talked to people about how they can get Fulham apparel or when is the friendly, so there’s a huge amount of interest.  So soccer in the U.S. is definitely on the upswing, and NBC is on the ground floor with broadcasting the games, and we’re counting on the fact that what NBC sees in soccer is correct.”

Fulham have a legacy of an American connection.  Some fans refer to it as “Fulhamerica.”  Did this attract you to the club at all and would you consider giving a harder look at American players because of this past?

SK: “I think that’s a part of Fulham’s history which I think is great, but Fulham has a lot more that made it the perfect club for us at the perfect time for us.  The Premier League is very competitive like the NFL, so you want to get the best players.  They (the American players) were great for Fulham, but moving forward we want to get the best players.  Hopefully some of them are Americans, that would be a great connection.”

The style of promotion and relegation is so engrained in the fabric of soccer, except here in America it’s somewhat foreign.  Do you think that concept should be applied here to Major League Soccer or other sports in the United States?

SK: “I don’t think it would work.  There’s something very unique about the concept of promotion and relegation, but in the U.S. it doesn’t make sense.  The sport I know, at least from a business standpoint is the NFL.  What makes it unique and exciting year after year is the competitive balance – the draft, a hard salary cap, scheduling, etc – you can’t have those with promotion and relegation.”

Between the Premier League and the NFL, do you see any similarities between the two, and do you have a favorite?

SK: “They have a lot in common. We’re talking about two leagues at the top of their sport.  Obviously very passionate fan bases, large TV or media revenues, so there’s obviously a lot in common.”

Could you see a Fulham player ever being turned into a kicker for the Jaguars?

SK: *laughing* “You know, that is an interesting idea.  (Jaguars kicker) Josh Scobee was talking to me about it last week.  We talk about it for fun when we have a friendly here next year to try that.  Josh actually used to play soccer with Clint Dempsey, so he shared a lot of similarities.  Moving forward, how you evaluate talent can cross the game.  Nobody really knows how they compare but this would be an interesting way of finding out.”

I didn’t know Josh played soccer with Clint!

SK: “He told me he gave up his hopes of professional soccer once he played with Clint, he thought he couldn’t make it, so he figured he’d better get good at kicking a ball for football.”

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

[ MORE: Kamara to La Liga? ]

The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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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.