UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League - Semi Finals Draw

Champions League rights shift hands in Britain, triple in value

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Sky Sports is out of the Champions League game in Britain come 2015-16, but the big question is how will affect your soccer. In North American, we get neither Sky Sports (England’s current rights holders), ITV (part of the current, shared package), or BT Sport, where the contract will be rest until the 2017-18 tournament. Yet with the telecom giant playing over $1.4 billion dollars for the rights to broadcast Champions and Europe League in Britain, this is bound to have some influence on what you watch.

Consider what Sky had paid for the right to the tournament through 2014-15 – a three-year deal worth £400 million (or, $640 million). BT (British Telecom) Sport’s willingness to most-than double the previous price means a lot of money will trick down throughout Europe, with UEFA’s distributions to Champions League clubs likely to climb as a result of the sharp increase in the price of England’s rights. For those wary of the increasing divide between haves and have-nots, this isn’t good news.

More money will end up on the “in” side of the Champions League divide, those clubs who are habitual qualifiers able to calcify their spots among Europe’s elites. That’s already happening now, but as new deals like BT’s come into effect, the speed of that transition should increase.

Likewise, those on the inner circle — the clubs that make the knockout round every season, will see even more money. Each knockout round participant received between $4.7 million (Round of 16 exits) and $31.8 million extra (champions Bayern Munich). With BT’s huge outlay, there’ll be more money to go around.

In the long run, that means more money for the big boys to spend, a greater consolidation of talent, and the increased stature of Champions League as competition for the world’s elite talent.

At the same time, it’s senseless to lament the such mundane changes in the soccer landscape, especially when they represent that logical course of events. The Champions League is quickly becoming the soccer world’s premier commercial product, it’s annual footprint putting it in-league with the World Cup’s once very four years, cash-in all at once approach. As such, increased broadcast rights are inevitable. For a company like BT Sport looking to undermine Sky’s decades-long hegemony, over paying for Champions League is seems natural.

“We bid with a clear view of what the rights are worth to us. It seems BT chose to pay far in excess of our valuation,” a Sky spokesman said, via The Guardian. “We take a disciplined approach and there is always a level at which we will choose to focus on something else. If we thought it was worth more, we’d have paid more.”

“They would say that, wouldn’t they?” BT Retail Chief Executive John Petter said. “Secretly, I’d expect them to be kicking themselves and full of regrets this morning.”

The practical implications are what should be more worrisome than the price. With this deal, UEFA competitions are going to take a big shift away from terrestrial (read: free) broadcast in England, with ITV being cut out of the loop.

UEFA has reportedly insisted the finals of both competitions remain free-to-air, and BT has said every British team will be available free at least once per year, but with the new rights deal, it appears British fans will join their American peers, being dependent on some kind of pay service.

With us viewers in the States needing cable television (and sometimes, premium packages) to get all our soccer, we know: It’s not that bad. But for people in Britain, it could be a subtle, meaningful change.

West Ham loses ex-Hammer of the Year Cresswell for four months

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Aaron Cresswell was one of the stalwarts of the last two Premier League campaigns, a good crosser capable of lung-busting runs and the occasional brilliant shot.

So it’s a significant blow for West Ham United to be without him for the next four months.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Cresswell has played in 75 of the Hammers’ 76 PL matches since arriving from Ipswich Town in 2014, and was injured in a 50/50 play against Karlsruher SC this weekend.

He may not need surgery to repair the knee ligaments, but is out nonetheless.

From WHUFC.com:

Head of Medical and Sports Science Stijn Vandenbroucke explained that Cresswell had undergone a scan and will consult a specialist in central London early next week. The medical team will then take a decision whether or not the defender requires surgery.

“Whatever course of action we decide to take, Aaron faces a period of rest, followed by treatment and rehabilitation and he will be out for a period of between three and four months,” said Vandenbroucke.

Left back isn’t a position of strength for most teams, and West Ham doesn’t look to be an exception.
Vandenbroucke also issued an update on Manuel Lanzini, saying the club won’t know his status until the attacker returns from Argentina duty. Lanzini was injured with Argentina’s Olympic team while preparing for the Games in Rio.

 

Borchers ruptures achilles tendon, leaving Timbers without best back

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10:  Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers passes the ball against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the first half of their MLS match at StubHub Center on April 10, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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FOX analyst Stu Holden said it right after it happened, and it’s true: Nat Borchers has torn his achilles tendon and is out for the season.

The Portland Timbers back with the big burly beard was injured late in the first half, and had to be stretchered off the pitch. Amobi Okugo took his place for the rest of the match, which finished 2-1 to the Galaxy.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

It’s a big blow for the Timbers, whose regular season struggles are an annual occurrence. The 2015 MLS Champions are currently in the West’s seventh position, and Borchers has been one of their best players in each of the last two seasons.

Borchers is 35, and in his second season with the Oregon set after 211 appearances for Real Salt Lake.

The achilles is a brutal injury to return from at any age. Whenever, he’s done Borchers will exit MLS in the select company of winning an MLS Cup for at least two different teams in separate decades (2009-RSL, 2015-PDX).

Aubameyang admits there’s one club that could move him: Real Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is tackled by Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is among the best strikers in the world, and somehow doesn’t get as much praise as his peers.

If he ever gets his dream transfer, that would certainly change.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Aubameyang, 27, is contracted to Borussia Dortmund until 2020, but admitted there’s a club that could make him antsy.

The reigning African Player of the Year — he of the 39 goals in 46 matches last season — is loving his time at Borussia Dortmund. That said, Real Madrid.

From EUROSport:

“The only club to leave Borussia Dortmund for is Real Madrid. But not now.

“Sometime I want to play for Real Madrid, which is one of my big goals in my career. But at the moment everything is great.”

Aubameyang could approach otherworldly numbers next season — we’re thinking 50-plus goals — with the additions of Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle to BVB’s already strong squad (which did lose Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels this offseason).

And with Ousmane Dembele in the fold and looking very good, perhaps BVB is prepared to reap the rewards of an Aubameyang sale after this season?

Big day in Stoke: Potters capture Joe Allen and Egyptian prodigy

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Stoke City got one for now and another for the future on Monday, announcing the purchase of Joe Allen from Liverpool and Ramadan Sobhi from Al Alhy.

Allen, 26, had been with the Reds since 2012 after more than a decade in the ranks of Swansea City. The midfielder helped Wales into the semifinals of EURO 2016.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Swansea was linked with matching Stoke’s bid, but Allen moves onto a new home at the Britannia Stadium.

From Stoke City’s site:

Chief Executive Tony Scholes said: “Joe is a player that Mark has admired for a considerable amount of time. Therefore when we became aware of the possibility of bringing him to the Club it was something that we were determined to do.

Sobhi, 19, is a lesser known entity full of promise. At 19, he already had six caps and a goal for Egypt, and has made 71 appearances with 17 goals for Al Alhy in the Egyptian Premier League.

The fee could reach $7 million with incentives.

From Stoke City’s site:

“We are absolutely delighted to have signed a player of Ramadan’s undoubted quality and potential. He’s a special young talent who is excited about the prospect of making an impact in the Premier League and we’re looking forward to giving him that platform.”

Stoke has quietly been amassing assets for some time, and made a strong push last season before finishing ninth. If Allen can combine well with Giannelli Imbula, perhaps Stoke can continue its rise up the PL pecking order.