Arsene Wenger

Champions League Reaction: Celtic get glamor, Arsenal handed tough task

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After the extremely well-balanced UEFA Champions League draw in Monaco on Thursday, plenty of reaction has started to filter through.

Europe stood still to watch on as giants from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and elsewhere found out which sides they would face in the group stages of the 2013-14 Champions League.

Of all the British sides Arsenal were handed the toughest draw as they face Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli in group F.

(MORE: Champions League Draw; English clubs happy, as Spanish and Italian giants clash in group stages)

Chelsea’s boss José Mourinho will be happy that his side avoided any huge European rivals, as they were placed with Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest. And Manchester City’s fans will breathe a huge sigh of relief as they managed to skip the dreaded “Group of Death” for the third-straight year. However Manuel Pellegrini’s side do face reigning Champions Bayern Munich and tricky tests against Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow.

While Celtic only qualified for the group stages in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday evening by overturning a 2-0 first leg deficit against Kazakhstan side Shakhter Karagandy in the play-off round. James Forrest’s last minute strike sealed a 3-0 win to book the Glasgow clubs place in this seasons competition.

Here’s what Hoops manager Neil Lennon had to say after the draw.

NEIL LENNON

“I think it’s the best and the worst draw we could’ve got,” Lennon said. “In terms of glamor I don’t think it comes any better than Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan. In terms of football it was probably the most difficult group we could have got. We can really go and enjoy this tournament now.”

Last season Celtic beat Barcelona 2-1 at home in the group stages and advanced to the last 16 where they were defeated by Italian champions Juventus. Lennon is looking forward to more great European nights this term.

“They are three great footballing arenas, three great clubs with fantastic pedigree in the competition,” Lennon said. “Locking horns again with Barcelona and we’re really looking forward to three more great nights at least at Celtic Park.”

However the difficulty of Celtic’s task isn’t lost on the Northern Irishman, as Lennon hopes to lead his side to the knockout stages for the second season in a row.

“There’s just so much to savor form the draw. But from a footballing point of view it’s going to be difficult to come through the first phases of the group.”

JOHAN CRUYFF

Three-time European Cup winner and Dutch legend Johan Cruyff spoke about his hometown side Ajax and their incredibly tough draw in group H alongside AC Milan, Celtic and Barcelona.

“They’re all old winners, it looks to me like a really exciting group,” Cruyff said. “I think it’s a fantastic thing for football that these people get to play against each other. “

Ajax finished third in the group stages last year to qualify for the UEFA Europa League and finished above Manchester City. Cruyff wants to go one better.

“That’s the aim, we have a very young group and they play nicely together,” Cruyff said. “Last season they showed that they are capable of knocking Manchester City out of European football so let’s hope we do that again.”

VINCENT KOMPANY

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany seemed to be pretty content with his sides draw this season. The 27-year-old Belgian skipper took to Twitter as City aim to make it past the group stage for the first time since qualifying for Europe’s Premier club competition.

OLIVIER GIROUD

While Arsenal’s French striker Olivier Giroud acknowledged the tough group the Gunners have been handed as they face last years runners-up Dortmund as well as Rafael Benitez’ Napoli side and Marseille in group F.

Why is Jose Mourinho upset with his Man United coaching staff?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to kickoff during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho was visibly upset during Manchester United’s 1-0 Europa League win against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

Why, I hear you ask?

[ MORE: Wenger to coach England? ]

Well, it all centers around his coaching staff as Zorya’s lineup surprised Mourinho and his players, most notably Paul Pogba, were incredible confused.

At the beginning of the game Mourinho yelled towards his coaches and looked bemused alongside Pogba. After the game, which Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s lone goal decided, Mourinho explained what the problem was all about.

“It was set pieces, organisation, they changed their team before the game,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba was a bit confused with the changes and obviously I want my assistants to take care of all the details.”

Mourinho was in discussions with assistant manager Rui Faria and Pogba but he was seen staring moodily at analyst Giovanni Cerra and then he took his frustration out on the bench.

The former FC Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager is a stickler for details and after spending many years as an assistant manager himself, he expects every meticulous detail to be spot on from his assistants.

Turns out there is a small margin for error when Mourinho is your boss.

With United winning three games on the spin after losing three in a row, Mourinho isn’t getting ahead of himself but anything other than a convincing win over Stoke City this Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m ET online via NBC Sports) will not be greeted warmly.

One final note: it’s worth remembering that Mourinho has turned on his staff at other clubs before when things weren’t going so well…

Wenger says he is open to coaching England, “one day”

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Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years in charge at Arsenal on Saturday but is the Frenchman setting himself up for his next gig?

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch flourishing ]

Wenger, 66, only has a contract through the end of this Premier League season and it is unknown what his plans are beyond next summer, with Wenger saying he will not make a decision about his future until after this season.

At a press conference on Friday ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Burnley this Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) Wenger was asked if he would consider taking over the now vacant England national team job following Sam Allardyce’s disgraceful departure after an undercover newspaper investigation earlier this week.

Wenger certainly didn’t turn down the notion of him becoming England’s next manager.

“My priority is to do well here (at Arsenal). It has always been my club and one day if I am free, why not? For now I am focused on the job,” Wenger said.

A follow up question then asked why he wasn’t ruling it out.

“I rule nothing out because I want to work and I want to do well,” Wenger said. “I accept as well that it can finish tomorrow. It is a love story and a love story you always expect it to last forever, but you know it can stop every day.”

So, Wenger is up for the England job. No surprise there.

After 20 years living and working in England, it is hard to imagine anybody else currently working in the game who has had more influence on English soccer. From his tactics, dietary advice and professionalism, the modern game in England has much to thank Wenger for.

As his contract situation rumbles on at Arsenal, England could do a lot worse than hiring Wenger. How would this work though, if Wenger was to take charge of England next summer?

Well, with Gareth Southgate placed in caretaker charge for the next four games in 2016, he could hold a similar caretaker role for the one games scheduled before the end of the 2016-17 season — Mar. 26 again Lithuania at Wembley — and then Wenger could take over. If he failed with the Three Lions, would it taint his legacy at Arsenal? Probably not. Taking the job wouldn’t be much of a risk for Wenger. After poor tournament displays in recent years, the only way, surely, is up.

Wenger is almost seen as an honorary Englishman within the game and with England’s national team in desperate need of a confidence boost and to try and get the best out of their talented and young squad, maybe Wenger is the man. You would have thought Wenger coaching the French national team next would make more sense but if the opportunity is there, maybe England will wait it out over the next few World Cup qualifiers and wait for Wenger to become available next summer.

Of course, him leaving Arsenal at the end of the current season is still a massive “if” as it seems likely he’ll be offered a new deal soon but this is a situation we should watch carefuly as Wenger continues to rule out “one day” coaching England.

Maybe that day will come soon than most of us think.

Remember: At 12:30 p.m. ET, this Saturday, Oct. 1, NBCSN presents a new Premier League Download: Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger, hosted by The Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett to celebrate 20 years at Arsenal. Promo video is above.

NYCFC’s Vieira gets big praise from Houston counterpart

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 22:  Former professional football player and Western Union Pass Ambassador, Patrick Vieira, speaks with press at the Beyond Soccer Series Powered By streetfootballworld at Thomson Reuters Building on June 22, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Beyond Soccer Series)
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Beyond Soccer Series
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How long we’ll continue to see Patrick Vieira in Major League Soccer is anyone’s guess, but it’s taken less than a year at his first managerial gig to impress a whole bunch of people.

One of those is Houston Dynamo coach Wade Barrett, who matches wits with Vieira when New York City FC hits BBVA Compass Stadium for a Friday night match.

[ MORE: JPW catches up with Vieira ]

After a glittering playing career at Arsenal and Inter Milan amongst other sides, Vieira ran Manchester City’s reserves between 2013-15. Now in the dugout leading a senior team for the first time, Vieira hasn’t skipped a beat, leading NYCFC to a playoff spot and a legit chance at a first round bye in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Barrett sees the genius in his 40-year-old opponent.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“You see teams that get stuck just doing one thing over and over again, I don’t want to say they get figured out, but sometimes they run out of options,” Barrett said. “You see a coach like him, he’s made adjustments in games, moved pieces around, and I think that’s really important in this league, is to be able to adjust.

“Patrick’s come in and he’s done very well. He’s got his group playing a very effective style.”

Barrett’s a first-year boss himself, guiding Houston to a 4W-4L-9T record since taking over for Owen Coyle in late May. That’s a significant improvement for the Dynamo, who are still destined to miss the playoffs.

“It’s very special” — Wisconsin defender set to take on USMNT, Mexico

Credit: UW Athletic Communications
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Macroeconomics. Soccer practice. Portuguese class. Match versus Rutgers.

All that, and then Sam Brotherton can get down to preparing for Giovani Dos Santos and Jozy Altidore.

The University of Wisconsin captain and New Zealand national teamer has one heck of a week ahead of him.

“It’s been pretty tough trying to balance at all, but I’ve had a lot of support from the university and thankfully my professors have been understanding,” the 6-foot-1 center back told ProSoccerTalk.

[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]

Following this weekend’s match between Wisconsin and Rutgers, Brotherton will hop on a plane to meet head coach Anthony Hudson and New Zealand in Nashville. The Kiwis are Stateside for an Oct. 8 match against Mexico in Nashville before heading to Washington for an Oct. 11 date with the USMNT at RFK Stadium.

Credit: UW Athletic Communications
Credit: UW Athletic Communications

This isn’t a bizarre story of a tiny national team finding a college kid with an ancestral tie and giving him a call; Brotherton is off to tangle with two of CONCACAF’s best in a match that will hopefully better prepare New Zealand for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Brotherton will enter the trip on his 20th birthday, and on the path for caps Nos. 7 and 8. He’s the only amateur player on a team with West Ham defender Winston Reid, Leeds United striker Chris Wood, and Portland Timbers backstop Jake Gleeson.

It’s no secret that Brotherton has the skill set to be a professional player now, and his call-ups to the national team in the summer before his freshman year had pro clubs on alert. But Brotherton had signed to play for head coach John Trask at a very good school at Wisconsin, and that meant something to him.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

“It was a decision I had to make, and I felt that I had made a commitment to the school,” said Brotherton, whose father was educated at Oxford. “I’ve always been passionate about my education and wanted to get my degree so I felt I wanted to give college soccer a try, start off here at Wisconsin and see where it went.”

Brotherton is one of a bevy of young New Zealand players plying their trade in the NCAA Soccer game. Xavier’s Cory Brown was the Big East preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Saint Francis Red Flash senior defender Francis de Vries is an All-American, and Stuart Holthusen was First Team All-MAC at Akron in 2015.

The University at Buffalo has a Kiwi head coach and four players, including goalkeeper Cameron Hogg, who played with Brotherton on the U20 team.

“Sam has always been a leader in any side he stepped into,” Hogg said. “From Auckland to the national U20s, he’s always been a leading voice even if he wasn’t wearing the armband.”

Wisconsin is 4-2-1, the longtime MLS assistant Trask running the Badgers program to a solid start. Trask has started the sophomore in 24 matches, including a freshman season that saw Brotherton named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and had his teammates recognizing a leader.

[ MORE: Man Utd-Zorya recap | Zlatan reacts ]

“Sam is one of the few sophomores that I’ve named captain,” Trask told PST. “It’s rare in a team. Sam has just got it. His presence as a person and the quality of his play, every guy on the team said he should be our captain. I’ve got a ton of time for him.”

“Sam is an excellent center back and he’s incredible in the air,” said Adam Lauko, who graduated from Wisconsin in 2015. “On top of that he is mature beyond his years and a well-respected leader. He’s a great guy to be around as well.”

2015 was an insane ride for Brotherton, as the kid went from scoring at the U20 World Cup to his freshman year in Madison. Two days after that season ended, he earned his first full national team cap when he played in a 1-0 win over Oman.

“It was amazing,” Brotherton said. “It’s really quite hard to put into words. It’s very special. I was so fortunate that it happened so young in my career. It’s an honor, but it makes you want to work even harder.”

Being a center back means having the opportunity to learn from Reid, a man with 19 caps and 175 appearances for West Ham. All but 28 of those have come with the Irons in the Premier League, and Reid was chosen the Hammer of the Year in 2012-13 and the New Zealand Footballer of the Year for 2014.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines ]

“Rugby is the main sport in New Zealand, but Winston has increased the awareness and popularity of football,” Brotherton said. “He’s a great player and a great guy. A lot of guys look up to him, and every time you get in camp with him it’s great to learn off someone like that.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10: Chris Smalling of Manchester United looks dejected as Winston Reid of West Ham United celebrates as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on May 10, 2016 in London, England. West Ham United are playing their last ever home match at the Boleyn Ground after their 112 year stay at the stadium. The Hammers will move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Fellow New Zealand defender Reid (center) celebrates scoring the match-winner in the final match at the Boleyn Ground (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

When New Zealand won the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, Brotherton started all five matches. He went 120 minutes in the final as the Kiwis won in penalty kicks, but still came back to school at Wisconsin.

“With all his international call-ups and how difficult our business school is, we’re still optimistic he’s going to be an Academic All-American in addition to a soccer All-American,” Trask said. “He knows I won’t stand in his way when the moment’s right. I still think he can learn at the collegiate level while also pushing his degree. It’s a very unique situation.”

Brotherton said he’s grateful to Trask, who he calls “a winner”, and Wisconsin for allowing him to pursue his international career. He praises Hudson’s preparation and tactical acumen, and admits that he’s open to playing professional in Europe, North America, or wherever the best opportunity lies.

[ MORE: Southampton draws in Israel ]

And if that’s home?

“I love going to the beach,” Brotherton said. “I spearfish a little bit, and I definitely miss being close to the sea.”

That’s all in the future, though. Brotherton has a busy week ahead of him, as Wisconsin looks to go 3-1 in Big Ten play with a home win over Rutgers before he goes to hopefully start in front of thousands of passionate Mexico and USMNT fans in two gigantic stadia.

“All players look forward to playing in big games in front of some good crowds,” Brotherton said. “It’s exciting and those opportunities don’t come around too often, so it brings the best out of you as a player.”