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.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”

 

 

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Napoli, Celtic, Sevilla in action

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Five more UEFA Champions League playoff first leg games take place on Wednesday after Liverpool, CSKA Moscow, APOEL and Qarabag all recorded wins on Tuesday to take them one step closer to the UCL group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic host Kazakhstan’s Astana at Celtic Park hoping for a big first leg lead with the Scottish champs aiming to make the UCL group stage for the second-straight season under former Liverpool boss Rodgers.

A tasty clash at the Stadio San Paolo sees Napolo host Nice in what is the best tie in the UCL playoff round. Can Lorenzo Insigne down Mario Balotelli and Co.?

Elsewhere Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir have the likes of Gael Clichy, Gokhan Inler and Emmanuel Adebayor as they try to upset Sevilla, while Greek giants Olympiacos host Croatia’s Rijeka, Israeli champs Hapoel Be’er Sheva do battle with Slovenian champs Maribor.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all five matches.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff first legs

Napoli vs. Nice
Cetlic vs. Astana
Olympiacos vs. Rijeka
Istanbul Basaksehir vs. Sevilla
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Maribor

SERIE A 2017-18: 5 key players signed in the off season

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ROME (AP) Here’s a look at five offseason signings to watch in the upcoming Serie A season:

LEONARDO BONUCCI

Considered Italy’s top defender – which is saying a lot for a nation that prides itself on its great defenders – Bonucci’s transfer from Juventus to AC Milan could alter the balance of power in Serie A.

While Bonucci clashed often with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri last season, his decision to leave the six-time defending champion was still surprising.

The 30-year-old Bonucci brings leadership qualities and will allow Milan coach Vincenzo Montella to employ a three-man defense that promotes the center back’s excellent passing skills.

Bonucci’s transfer fee topped 40 million euros ($45 million), and he signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Milan won the last of its 18 Serie A titles in 2011 – just before Juventus’ current reign started.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI

One of Italy’s top young players, the 23-year-old winger will provide a new attacking dimension for Juventus following a move from Fiorentina.

Also capable as a playmaker, there was pressure for Bernardeschi to take the No. 10 shirt that Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero wore at Juventus. Bernardeschi cautiously chose No. 33 instead, saying he needs to show that he “deserves” No. 10 in the future.

Juventus paid a transfer fee of 40 million euros ($45 million) for Bernardeschi and signed him to a five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

BORJA VALERO

Another Fiorentina export, this Spanish passing wizard could provide Inter Milan with the touch of class that it lacked during a tumultuous campaign last season that included four managerial changes.

At 32, Valero has long been overlooked by Spain’s national team but he was a fan favorite at Fiorentina.

The bald-headed midfielder’s vision on the pitch can be compared to Andrea Pirlo’s skills, although he’s not as precise on free kicks as the former Italy international.

ANDRE SILVA

Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, the 21-year-old Silva has been compared to a young Fernando Torres, the former Spain striker currently playing for Atletico Madrid.

At AC Milan, the tall forward should be a constant danger on set pieces inside the area.

Silva has already scored eight goals in just 13 matches for his national team.

He also scored 21 times in 44 matches for FC Porto last season, before joining Milan in a transfer that cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO

Mattia De Sciglio’s transfer from AC Milan was not greeted with too much enthusiasm by Juventus fans.

The fullback was brought in as a replacement for Dani Alves, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain, and supporters believe it’s a downgrade.

But De Sciglio is reliable at either right or left back and is still developing at 24 years old – even though he made his Serie A debut at 18.

It will be interesting to see if De Sciglio can prove the doubters wrong, and if he can fit into Massimiliano Allegri’s preferred three-man defense.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf