Warzycha 2

With new, ambitious owners in Columbus, Robert Warzycha’s hourglass never had much sand

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If anyone out there liked Robert Warzycha’s chances of remaining in place as the Columbus Crew manager, that person would certainly define “optimistic.”

Truly, the surprising part is that Warzycha survived as long as he did in Columbus. That may look odd considering the man’s 70-59-41 overall record; in a league built on foundations of parity, nothing north of .500 can be labeled egregiously poor.

But Warzycha simply had too many things going against him. That starts, of course, with the recent takeover by new owner Anthony Precourt, who purchased the team from Hunt Sports Group (the club’s original owners) in late July. New owners, almost by definition, mean new energy and renewed ambition, so the old guard always has reason to fear.

Warzycha was even further behind in the game. To start, he was going backward; his first season, 2009, was easily the best of his five years in charge. And that was with the team Sigi Schmid built (and won the MLS Cup with in 2008).

Even then, Warzycha found a way to punctuate his debut year as a pro manager on a real downer, never mind the Supporters Shield just had just been claimed. The coach notoriously chose to leave Guillermo Barros Schelotto on the bench as the playoffs opened at Real Salt Lake. It backfired, as Columbus tumbled in the series to the eventual champs, and Warzycha’s regard around Crew Stadium began a long, slow decline that he never managed to arrest.

Discontent grew in 2010 and 2011 as the Crew made the playoffs but fell out of the first round both years. Things regressed further in 2012 when Federico Higuain’s arrival helped inspire a late-summer run and reach for the playoffs that was just this side of heroic – but one that fell short. The Crew failed to make the playoffs for the first time in Warzycha’s tenure.

Things were looking increasingly bleak for post-season joy in 2013, which meant Warzycha was about to go five seasons without a playoff series win. That’s practically indefensible in MLS, even for a club on a tight salary budget.

Meanwhile, the no-nonsense Polish manager had trouble building any corner of support; he wasn’t the lovable, quotable figure that Schmid had been. That means he as no media darling; fairly or not, that helps. Nor was he a fan fav, which can also assist in prolonged employment.

(MORE: Crew fire Robert Warzycha, name Brian Bliss interim boss)

Beyond the bottom line, Warzycha had even more working against him. For instance, he had more protection under HSG, historically cautious and conservative in personnel dealings. Going from cautious to eager and ambitious was practically a pink slip in itself. (Fans, by the way, sometimes tossed pink slips into the air during his pre-game introduction at Crew Stadium, hardly an endorsement the new man in charge wants to see.)

Stylistically, the Crew was something less than pleasing on the eye. Warzycha’s teams were mostly build from grinders. They were hard to beat because they were so well drilled, so tightly organized back to front. But while teams like Real Salt Lake and Portland learned to win in high style, and while teams like Los Angeles and New York won their respective shares through star power, most success around Columbus lately was about grit, grind and Higuain’s expertise.

That’s fine if you’re winning; it’s an easy target when success is middling or worse.

It wasn’t enough, apparently, to avoid a second consecutive year beyond the playoff velvet rope (in a league where it is still easier, mathematically, to make the playoffs than to miss). All totaled, you just had to know that Warzycha’s days were numbered.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.