Premier League Playback: AVB’s snappy attitude, ‘Le Toon’ flying, are Chelsea back?

Leave a comment

AVB’S BEEN THREATENING THIS FOR A WHILE

After Andre Villas-Boas heated rant at journalists following Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Manchester United on Sunday — for apparently hounding him and calling into question his professional following Tottenham’s 6-0 drubbing at Manchester City last weekend — I have to say, I wasn’t surprised.

At the start of the season, following Spurs’ 1-0 North London derby loss on Sept. 1, I was on the end of a sharp snap back from AVB after questioning his sides lack of creativity. Not a rant, but his reply did take me and some other writers by surprise.

I dug out the article I wrote that day, as the extract below proves that Villas-Boas has been threatening to blow a gasket for a while. Sunday’s outburst against the Daily Mail has been brewing.

In the post-game press conference I specifically asked AVB about the lack of cutting edge in the first few games of the season, as Tottenham have scored just twice in three games, with both goals coming from the penalty spot. Is there a lack of creativity?

“I think that is a false question,” Villas-Boas replied. “I don’t think there is a good argument. We came to Arsenal and created lots of chances, obviously there are players that are different from others. There are players that are box-to-box, players that are more creative and have that ability to link up with others.”

There was a shortness and arrogance in the way he uttered the sentiment above. He’s been on guard from the start of this season.

So, the million dollar question: was AVB right to publicly call out journalists who questioned his professionalism and managerial abilities?

The video evidence of him losing the plot is below. This has been building up all season, especially with the pressures of a monumental rebuild after selling Gareth Bale resting heavy on his shoulders and word on the street is AVB must deliver a top four spot this season, otherwise he’s out of White Hart Lane. With his side stalling and spluttering to gather momentum, the Portuguese manager will be pleased to see his team respond well on the pitch as arguably they should’ve beaten United at the weekend.

AVB is a wounded animal right now, hence the attack on journalists. As yours truly knows all too well, it’s not unusual for Villas-Boas to act like this. With ‘sacking season’ in full swing and seven managers in eight days losing their job in English soccer, no wonder the young boss is on red alert and standing up for his name. After all, what is a manager without a glowing reputation? With what some would call an immature snap back at journalists, Villas-Boas may have damaged his beyond repair.

Premier League Schedule – Week 13

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Chelsea 3-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Everton 4-0 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Hull 3-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Man City 3-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Newcastle Utd 2-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Tottenham 2-2 Man Utd Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-0 Fulham Recap and watch here

ALLEZ LE TOON!

Following their impressive 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, 18 of Newcastle’s 19 goals this season have been scored by Frenchman, only Ligue 1 side Lyon have had more French scorers!

“Value for money” in Ligue 1 has been the buzzwords around Newcastle for many months and Alan Pardew has certainly picked up a few gems who are now settled, fit and showing exactly why the Magpies hopped across the English Channel to go shopping in the January window last year. Will he do the same this season?

Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy are dazzling week in, week out and with a decent run of fitness and form, all of a sudden Newcastle are in the hunt for a top four spot. Pardew, rightly so, has quelled any talk of Champions League qualification but is keen to keep the good run going as his side have now won fourth straight and look to be bouncing back from last seasons dismal Europa League affected campaign. Can the Magpies keep it up? We shall wait and see. But don’t be surprised if you hear La Marseillaise belted out from the Gallowgate End before the end of this season….

CHELSEA OF OLD SHINES THROUGH

Trailing Southampton 1-0 at half time on Sunday, Mourinho masterminded yet another Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge in the league. Shrewd, succinct but not at all subtle, the answer came from Demba Ba’s introduction as the Senegalese striker aided Fernando Torres’ constant hounding of Southampton’s two central defenders after the break.

It worked a charm. As I sat in my seat behind the benches at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, a sense of intrigue filled me as I saw Ba ready to come on at half time.

Mourinho’s switch to 4-4-2 saw Ba and Torres pester Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte into knocking the ball long and stopped the Saints building from the back. Ba’s arrival was a simple switch but one that perhaps only Mourinho would make so suddenly at half time. He has confidence in his ability to break down a game and has often substituted players in the first half of matches to try and unsettle and break down the game plan of the opposition. He’s called the ‘Special One’ for a reason, he’s a master tactician.

In the second half it was like we’d been transported back to 2005 with Marty McFly and co. as Mourinho reverted to hassling the opposition into giving the ball away and then ramming it back down their throats just like he used to do with Didier Drogba as the chief architect. Southampton couldn’t deal with the direct approach.

We changed to the 4-4-2 and I think we gave Southampton a different game, a game that they didn’t expect. I think it was difficult for them to cope with the situation. We were not producing enough. I tried to give the opponent a new problem, one they were probably not ready for. They like to play it from the back, the fact we played with two strikers pressing Fonte and Lovren, I think they started going long and that allow my team to start creating chances. – Jose Mourinho post game after his shrewd tactical switch

So, as the title of that classic movie I referenced a few lines above states, is it “Back to the Future” for Chelsea if they’re going to win the title this season? It worked on Sunday against a talented Southampton… let’s see if it works again the rest of the campaign.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at the weekend action from the Premier League.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.

World Cup bribes, death threats: Corrupt world of FIFA

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
3 Comments

Hour after hour in a New York City courtroom, the schemes to corrupt world soccer are spilling out.

The millions of dollars in “inducements” to secure contracts to televise matches. The bribes sought by FIFA executives with the power to determine World Cup hosts. The death threats for cooperating with investigators.

It took the intervention of the U.S. Department of Justice to disrupt years of embezzlement by officials who abused roles in the global soccer governing body, FIFA, to enjoy a gilded lifestyle. Two years after a sprawling investigation of FIFA led to waves of arrests that shook soccer, the trial of three men is underway and about to enter its second week.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

Though the trial in Brooklyn is dealing with corruption allegations before new FIFA leaders emerged in 2016, officials still prominent in soccer are not untouched by the evidence already heard in court – particularly relating to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Here is a look at the talking points from the first week of the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men on trial pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for prestigious tournaments:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Swept up in a second wave of arrests at the same hotel in Zurich in December 2015. As president of South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of reform who could clean up FIFA before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president detained along with Napout at the Baur au Lac hotel close to FIFA’s Swiss headquarters.

STAR WITNESS

More than 40 other officials, business executives and entities have been charged. Many have pleaded guilty, hoping to receive reduced sentences, including Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of the Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, who is a star witness for the prosecution.

QATAR WORLD CUP

No decision has proved more toxic for FIFA than the 2010 vote that handed the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The bid has been stained by suspicion of wrongdoing for years, although FIFA has been unable to uncover evidence it says would warrant stripping the Middle East of its first World Cup.

Usually quick to defend their integrity, the Qataris have been silent on the fresh claims of vote-buying divulged in court.

According to Burzaco, three South Americans were among 22 FIFA executive committee voters who took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which beat out the United States in the final round of voting in December 2010.

[ MORE: Busy week for PL big boys ]

A rule-breaking voting pact between Qatar and the Spain-Portugal campaign in the 2018 bidding – twice investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee but unproven – was given fresh credence in court by Burzaco, a trusted associate to the late former FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona, to whom he channeled bribes worth millions.

Grondona was the most influential of South America’s trio of FIFA voters, and would surely have been indicted but for his death in July 2014. The other two voters, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, were indicted by U.S. prosecutors in 2015 but have avoided extradition from their home countries.

Burzaco testified to conversations and incidents with Grondona in 2011, including a confrontation about media reports of bid bribes with Qatari officials at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.

An angry Grondona, Burzaco testified, later complained he got into “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million while two others had fooled him and got $75 million. Those two, the court was told, were Teixeira and Sandro Rosell, a former Nike executive and then-president of Spanish club Barcelona who had business ties to Qatar.

FIFA has not directly commented on last week’s courtroom allegations, inevitably waiting for the conclusion of the trial. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has come under fresh attack in recent weeks by neighboring countries that have severed diplomatic ties with the emirate.

BROADCASTERS’ BRIBES

While the probity of the World Cup vote has been thrust back into the spotlight, much of the evidence so far relates to how officials sprayed illegal cash payments to secure broadcasting rights in the Americas.

Leading broadcasters have been implicated by Burzaco’s evidence about the trail of bribes, including Fox Sports (United States), Televisa (Mexico) and TV Globo (Brazil), which deny wrongdoing.

SLIT-THROAT GESTURE

The most dramatic moment in the opening week of the trial saw Burga accused of threatening Burzaco by making a slashing motion on his neck as the witness testified. Burga claimed he was scratching his throat but still had his bail conditions tightened. Burzaco earlier disclosed he became the target of death threats after it emerged he was cooperating with authorities.

SUICIDE

A former Argentine government official, Jorge Delhon, killed himself hours after the court was told he took millions in bribes in exchange for handing out television rights.

Jorge Delhon, a lawyer who worked in the administration of former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez, dealt with the now-defunct government program Futbol para Todos (Football for All), which broadcast local soccer matches on public TV. Burzaco implicated Delhon in taking bribes.

POLITICAL LINKS

The close ties in South America among lawmakers, judges and soccer leaders are becoming clearer.

In a series of WhatsApp messages detailed in court Wednesday, Napout revealed his links to the current state president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.

Napout passed on to Burzaco a request from Cartes’ private office to buy eight tickets for Argentina’s game against Iran at the 2014 World Cup. Around that time, Napout also noted CONMEBOL had been in a legal case with a businessman and that Cartes “resolved the entire trial and did it all because of me.”

Cartes also advised Napout to “stay close” to Grondona of Argentina to fulfil his ambition to lead CONMEBOL, the WhatsApp messages revealed.

When Argentina reached the semifinals, Napout asked Burzaco to get four tickets for Paraguay’s attorney general to buy. In a WhatsApp message, Napout tells Burzaco, “we have a trial over there. There are two judges mad because I refused” to get tickets.

CURRENT OFFICIALS

The desire by FIFA to characterize the trial as dealing with officials long banished from world soccer is made harder when officials currently influential in the game are mentioned in court.

FIFA’s current finance committee chairman, Alejandro Dominguez, was referred to during the trial on Wednesday as “not a very successful businessman (who) will probably request” a bribe.

Burzaco, the prosecution’s star witness, said he was told this about Dominguez by Napout in early 2015. Napout is a Paraguayan like Dominguez, and his predecessor as CONMEBOL leader.

Under current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Dominguez is a key ally in Zurich as one of FIFA’s eight vice presidents and was rewarded with being made chairman of the finance panel.

Among many soccer officials whose photographs Burzaco was asked by prosecutors to identify on Tuesday were Sunil Gulati, the most influential American at FIFA, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari who heads French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and broadcaster beIN Sports. Al-Khelaifi is under criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected bribery linked to FIFA awarding beIN broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

The U.S. has not accused Gulati or Al-Khelaifi of any offenses.

EVADING JUSTICE

Several soccer officials indicted in 2015 are absent from court as they fight extradition to the United States:

– Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago): Charged in May 2015, four years after quitting as a FIFA vice president to avoid sanctions in the bribery case connected to a presidential election. Later banned for life by FIFA for misconduct during the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding process.

– Marco Polo del Nero (Brazil): Despite being charged with corruption, remains president of the Brazilian federation and met with FIFA’s Infantino during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee after missing meetings and was then indicted in the U.S. in December 2015.

– Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay): President of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, when he resigned for receiving $130,000 in payments from a former FIFA marketing partner. Wanted in the U.S. on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes linked to marketing and television contracts, Leoz’s extradition was finally approved by a judge in Paraguay last week just as the FIFA trial was getting underway in Brooklyn.

– Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil): A former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president in 1974-98, Teixeira quit as Brazilian federation head and a FIFA executive committee member in 2012 as corruption allegations mounted.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA