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Eight-year-olds used as ‘flare mules’ at Premier League matches

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A survey commissioned by the Premier League reveals that eight-year-olds have been used as “mules” to smuggle flares and smoke bombs into games on behalf of older relatives.

The survey of 1,635 supporters also claims that a third of British football fans have been affected by flares and smoke bombs at stadiums while 86 percent are concerned for their safety.

Pyrotechnic incidents have risen sharply in recent years. In 2010-11 eight events were recorded. One year later that number grew to 172. And within the first three months of this season, the Premier League has already recorded 96 such events.

“It’s the biggest concern we’ve got among fans at the moment,” Cathy Long, head of supporter services at the Premier League, told BBC Sport.

“There have been incidents across the world where people have had bad injuries or died. We’ve been lucky that our leagues haven’t had such major issues yet, but we want to stop that from happening.”

Damian Green, the policing minister, has echoed these sentiments, predicting that if they continue to go uncontrolled “someone could get killed.”

The use of pyrotechnics is common in European football (pictured) with many fans believing they add to the sense of atmosphere in a stadium. Consequently, fans in Britain, eager to see the excitement levels ramped up and aided by the increasing feasibility of purchasing pyrotechnic paraphernalia, will stop at nothing to sneak the goods into stadiums.

The prevalence of flares and smoke bombs has triggered phrase the phrase ‘no pyro, no party’ to become omnipresent in Britain.

“The European influence is very, very strong,” explained Football Supporters’ Federation caseworker Amanda Jacks. “I’ve no doubt people think pyro creates a better atmosphere and enhances supporting their team. Whether or not that’s true, it’s illegal.

“Rather than seeing ‘no pyro, no party’ I’d like to see ‘pyro could mean prison’ and that’s a very real possibility if fans are convicted of using pyrotechnics. They might end up seeing Christmas inside a cell.”

The clubs involved with the most pyrotechnic incidents (five) in 2013-14 were Manchester United, Everton and Wigan Athletic, according to a study by the UK Football Policing Unit.

The backlash to pyrotechnics is yet another talking point in the conversation surrounding atmosphere in Premier League stadiums. Many clubs and fans are looking for new ways to improve the celebratory nature inside stadiums, which includes designated standing sections and fan groups devoted to songs and chants.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.