Wilshere Watch: It’s becoming an international break tradition in England

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I’m not a smoker, but every once in a while, you’ll catch me on a bar patio sharing a cigarette with a friend. Thankfully, nobody can makes selling pictures of my clandestine habit. If they did, my life would start to be as absurd as Jack Wilshere’s.

The Arsenal midfielder has become English soccer obsession (we’ve talked about it before), and when the international break hits, the nation’s media are given license to play into their own ugly habit. The second the Three Lions assemble, Wilshere starts dominating headlines, regardless of whether he’s done anything to warrant the coverage.

This week, England could qualify for the World Cup. They could also slip and be relegated to UEFA’s playoffs. Wayne Rooney’s returning to a team whose striking options are so thin Rickie Lambert’s  getting a regular call-in. Ashely Cole’s out, Joe Hart’s in crisis mode, but what’s the main talking point?

Why, it’s English Iniesta, of course. On The Guardian’s football page, Wilshere coverage is right below Gus Poyet’s appointment, a story that led the site early afternoon Eastern time. The angle? A player saying his nation has a bright future, according to the headline.

The Telegraph had a Wilshere story leading their football page. Their angle saw the midfielder reflecting on his immaturity in the face of his smoking scandal.

The Independent is more subdued in their Wilshere-philia, the smoking coverage linked half-way down their main football page, while The Daily Mail’s web page has taken a surprisingly modest route, tying the smoking incident into Wilshere’s hopes to contribute at next summer’s World Cup. The BBC chose the player’s thoughts on Rooney and Daniel Sturridge as their obligatory Wilshere-related content, featuring it under their lead story.

There’s no breaking news here, though on an international break’s Tuesday, there’s little breaking news in general. Something has to fill that void, though it’s curious that across a number of English outlets, the choice to fill the void is the same. Throw Jack Wilshere into that spot.

Wilshere did apparently speak to the media today, so his relative availability is a factor here. But given he didn’t say or do anything newsworthy today, getting so much mileage out of his quote implied anything said by a prominent athlete deserves this kind of placement. Are athletes really such discerning commentators that stating the obvious (i.e., Rooney and Sturridge are positive additions) qualifies as a story?

Perhaps not, but when it’s international break in England, the person behind the words becomes more important what’s being said. It’s always Jack Wilshere. It’s always about Arsenal’s much-hyped hope. And implicitly, it’s always about the extent to which a 21-year-old is embodying the hopes of his national team’s fans.

Which, of course, is terribly unfair. Wilshere’s just a player, one that has enough struggles to deal with beyond undo expectations being fueled by what’s becoming a media trope.  He doesn’t need one cigarette made into a scandal any more than he needs one sub-par performance in Ukraine held up as an exemplar of his career trajectory. At some point, all he needs is room to be 21 years old.

But it’s the international break. Every country has their points of interest. Just like U.S. media has their old chestnuts (remember all the Landon Donovan talk when he wasn’t even in the team), England has theirs. With David Beckham and John Terry no longer on the scene, there just aren’t as many default angles anymore.

If that means putting Jack Wilshere front-and-center based on a sneaky cigarette and some quotes, so be it. At this point, it’s standard operating procedure.

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester United: Match-winner Rashford injured

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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  • No shots on goal for Benfica
  • United puts four on frame
  • Man Utd out-passes Benfica 522-237.

Marcus Rashford scored the lone goal of the match, then limped off injured in Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Benfica in UEFA Champions League action at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday.

United is close to wrapping up a knockout round berth with the win, leading Basel by three points, CSKA Moscow by six, and Benfica by nine.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho got his managerial start at Benfica when he replaced now-Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes in 2000.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Rashford’s free kick from the left fooled young Benfica backstop Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and was caught out of goal.

While retreating toward his end line, his two-handed catch carried him and the ball into the goal despite the efforts of his outstretched paws.

Report: Landon Donovan mulling U.S. Soccer presidential run

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl has been all over the turmoil at United States Soccer since the men’s national team’s embarrassing World Cup qualifying ouster last week.

The latest is that many interested observers are encouraging American legend Landon Donovan to run against Sunil Gulati in February’s presidential election.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Donovan retired from playing for a second time in 2016. He’s invested in Premier League club Swansea City and tried his hand at broadcasting as well.

According to Wahl, Donovan issued no comment when asked whether he is seriously considering a run for president. Gulati didn’t confirm that he’d run for a fourth term — the maximum tenure — during his post-World Cup failure conference call, but strongly lauded his credentials for another stint.

Wahl had previously reported that lawyer Steve Gans has the required letters of nomination to run against Gulati.

While Gans would challenge Gulati and perhaps make for interesting debate and a bellwether of the appetite for change amongst the constituency, Donovan’s name would likely be enough to swing some voters regardless.

Without making any judgments about the job Donovan would do, think of it as a big entertainment name like Dwayne Johnson amongst Democrats or Donald Trump amongst Republicans who might upturn eyebrows amongst folks thinking, “Maybe we need something different.” The name value isn’t the same but perhaps it’s less polarizing to compare the runs of Jesse Ventura and Al Franken, or Jack Kemp and Steve Largent instead.

A Donovan run would likely keep U.S Soccer’s cozy relationship with Major League Soccer while perhaps emboldening those who seek big changes within the youth structure (Donovan was part of the U.S. residency program which was recently canceled in a sort of “We did it” nod to academies). His experience is varied and his network exceptional.

Donovan for President? Maybe!