Jack Wilshere pictured smoking, Arsene Wenger’s not happy

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In most countries around the world, photos of a superstar sportsmen smoking a cigarette wouldn’t be a big deal.

But in England on Friday, there’s been what many would call a ‘storm in a teacup’ after Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere was photographed smoking outside a bar earlier this week.

Wilshere, 21, is one of English brightest young talents, and has been slammed by many for the act.

Speaking on Friday morning, Wilshere’s spokesman insists he wasn’t smoking the cigarette, just joking around with friends.

Here’s the picture snapped up by The Sun. What do you think?

“Jack was with team-mates and friends,” a representative said. “One dared Jack, who does not smoke, to momentarily hold the cigarette as part of a prank. Jack absolutely didn’t smoke the cigarette, and nor does he condone smoking. Jack is utterly committed to fitness and a healthy lifestyle.”

Then finally the rep had this to say: “In no way is this picture an accurate reflection of his attitude towards smoking.”

(MORE: Premier League Breakdown – Kyle Martino: Jack Wilshere must step up)

Okay, but still, it was a pretty silly thing to do out in public, as Arsenal’s players had a night out to celebrate their 2-0 win over Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday. In the game Wilshere was only used as sub, and many are questioning whether or not he will still be a regular for the Gunners throughout this season.

Which seems ludicrous.

Speaking on Friday morning, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger condemned the actions, and said he’s planning to speak with Wilshere about

“I disagree completely with that behavior,” Wenger said. “I don’t know really what happened, so I will need to have a chat with him about that. There are two things – first of all when you are a football player you are an example and as well you don’t do what damages your health. The fact is that you can damage your health at home, you can smoke at home and you can drink at home, and nobody sees it, but when you go out socially you also damage your reputation as an example.”

Does all this talk of ruining his reputation and setting a bad example seem a little over the top? I mean, after all, it was only one cigarette.

But Wilshere is a role model for millions, and many would argue he is England’s future captain. Wenger spoke about English cultural and how this story wouldn’t have even been a big deal in many nations around the world.

“Yes of course things are different, in England especially,” Wenger said. “I must say as well, English society is very sensitive to smoking, much more than France, more than in southern (European) countries, so it is a bit more shocking here than it is somewhere else.”

Whatever you think about this, Wilshere is a supreme talent who does have a bit of an edge to his game and the way he lives his life. Many will applaud that, but today expectancy levels on globally renowned athletes are high. One little slip up is all it takes to get rid of a desirable image.

I expect this to blow over relatively quickly, but Wilshere will now think twice before he, reportedly, lights up in public again.

But it has to be said he’s not the first, and won’t be the last, Premier League start to be caught smoking. Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Dimitar Berbatov and Mario Balotelli have all been caught in the past.

Is this really such a big deal?

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

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

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

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Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.