Manuel Pellegrini piles the pressure on Manchester City ‘keeper Joe Hart

Leave a comment

Following Manchester City’s 3-2 defeat to Cardiff City last Sunday, new manager Manuel Pellegrini hasn’t been pointing the finger of blame at his players.

But ahead of City’s clash with Hull City on Saturday, (7:45am ET, watch live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra) he has been speaking about City’s goalkeeper Joe Hart.

England’s no. 1 has had a shaky few weeks for his country and for City, with noticeable mistakes creeping into the 26-year-old ‘keepers play. So at a time like this you would expect the full support of your manager to help you get through that sticky patch… right?

Not so much.

“For the moment Joe will continue being our goalkeeper,” Pellegrini said. “But I know and I spoke with him and he knows he must be quickly in the best shape again – his top form. I think he is a top goalkeeper. I’m sure that he will do it again.”

So, not exactly a rousing seal of approval from the 59-year-old Chilean manager. But with the former Real Madrid, Malaga, River Plate and Villarreal manager still trying to establish himself as the authority figure at City, what did you expect?

Hart should have done better with Fraizer Campbell’s first goal that put Cardiff 2-1 up last Sunday, he misjudged a corner that allowed the Cardiff striker to score at the back post. And just over a week before that he was at fault for Scotland’s opener at Wembley as James Morrison’s routine shot squirmed underneath him.

(MORE: Expect Joe Hart to get more scrutiny after his performance against Cardiff City)

This alarming trend has continued for quite some time now, and Hart’s slump is entering months rather than weeks. This season is Hart’s seventh as a regular in the Premier League and Pellegrini has perhaps found a reason why he’s been struggling of late.

“He is a young goalkeeper who has arrived at the top maybe too young. He needs to improve a lot and Xabier Mancisidor [City’s new goalkeeping coach] will improve it,” Pellegrini said. “For a goalkeeper 22 or 23 is young [Hart’s age when he established himself]. But he has the quality to do it. That’s why he’s the No1 in England. We have all the trust in him and he will also be critical of what he’s doing and he will improve.”

Pellegrini is confident Hart will regain his best form and these comments are nothing but a subtle kick up the backside to help the England international reach the top once again. Hart will be doing that himself, often the camera pans to him during the game to reveal plenty of sour expressions emblazoned across his face.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Even though Hart has suffered some high-profile errors of late he still made an incredible double save from a Ronaldinho penalty during a friendly last February, as England sealed their first win over Brazil in 23 years and Hart was lauded for his performance. He’s young for an international goalkeeper but struggles like the mini-slump he’s going through at the moment will more than likely make him a better ‘keeper.

But the most important factor to come out of Pellegrini’s comments on Hart is that he’s working under a new goalkeeping coach. Many will know that for a ‘keeper, familiarity breeds success. Having your routine changed and altered after years of working with the same coach can, at first, have a negative effect as you adapt to new training methods. But in the long run it should make Hart even better.

City and England hope so.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

Photo by Visual China/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
Leave a comment

It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.