Mauricio Pochettino will stay on as manager of Southampton Football Club

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SOUTHAMPTON — In a packed press room at St. Mary’s Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino announced he will remain in charge of the Premier League club.

The Argentine boss, 41, was rumored to be heading out the door alongside Executive Chairman Nicola Cortese who left on Wednesday, after he’d previously stated he would leave if the mastermind behind Southampton’s recent success walked out.

However as the national press descended on Southampton to hear Pochettino’s decision, the exciting young manager made a massive U-turn as he decided to stay on at St. Mary’s.

“I am staying as Southampton Football Club manager,” Pochettino said. “I have a professional responsibility to everyone.”

Disaster has been averted at Southampton, for now, as the South Coast club can at least count on its manager being around for the foreseeable future. Pochettino took the opportunity to thank Cortese for getting him involved in the project at Saints and revealed his shock about the Chairman’s departure.

“First of all I want to show my complete gratitude to Nicola Cortese from me and my staff for bringing us to the club,” Pochettino said. “It has surprised me quite a bit, and like everybody I knew nothing about his departure. What’s quite clear is that I have a very good relationship with Nicola Cortese, he agrees with my decision to stay. He only asked me for one thing, that’s to win on Saturday.”

Cortese left on Wednesday, after transforming Saints’ fortunes from League One basement boys in 2009 to excelling in the top ten of the Premier League. Owner Katharina Liebherr has now stepped in as non-Executive Chairwoman in Cortese’s absence and Southampton have begun their search for a Chief Executive Officer to replace Cortese.

Pochettino spoke briefly with owner Liebherr after she took over the everyday running of the club, but Pochettino revealed he has no idea whether she intends to sell the club.

“No, we just spoke briefly,” Pochettino said. “She wanted to see me and say hi and show me her full support. She transmitted her full trust and support to me and my staff and people working at this club.”

But what about Pochettino’s U-turn after stating last May he would leave Southampton if Cortese walked? As now he has decided to stay without the man who appointed him.

“The situation right now is completely different,” Pochettino said. “We are in the middle of our project at Southampton Football Club. Nicola knows of my decision to stay. It shows I am fully committed.”

(MORE: Nicola Cortese resigns as Southampton Chairman, manager Mauricio Pochettino could follow)

Cortese — an Italian banker who aided German billionaire Markus Liebherr with the acquisition of the club back in 2009 for $20 million when they were on the brink of extinction and bottom of English soccer’s third-tier — has walked away from the project which has seen him turn Saints into a top 10 PL club after they were down and out. The club is now worth an estimated $180 million after a dramatic rise.

ProSoccerTalk can reveal that Liebherr’s daughter Katharina, who assumed control of the club when her father died in 2010, will not move to England and will remain in Switzerland. She is currently in the United Kingdom heading up the search for a successor to Cortese, after yesterday revealing she was desperate for the Swiss-Italian maestro to stay.

“With great regret we have accepted the resignation of Mr Cortese,” Liebherr said. “He has done a wonderful job at the club and we very much wanted him to stay. A search has now begun for a successor. In the meantime, it is business as usual and we will ensure that the manager, the team and all the staff at the club have all the help and support they need.”

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Cortese’s departure has created a huge level of instability at Southampton.

Branded a controversial and brutal figure by many, Cortese, 45,  has led Southampton’s charge up the English soccer pyramid following the sudden death of Markus Liebherr. Following that setback, Cortese has ruthlessly transformed Southampton into one of English soccer’s great success stories of recent times after back-to-back promotions from League One saw them return to the top-flight in 2012-13 and establish themselves as a forward-thinking club this term.

After sacking Nigel Adkins and Alan Pardew ruthlessly in the past, Cortese always did what was right for the club, and his appointment of Pochettino obviously follows that trend. Pochettino celebrates a year in charge at Southampton this Saturday, January 18, and after making his name as a promising young coach at Espanyol in La Liga he’s turned Saints into a promising outfit which relies on a much-admired high-pressing style with a plethora of teenagers already present in the starting XI.

With Pochettino staying on board, rumors of a quick-fire sale and Southampton being stripped of all its assets are unfounded, for now. The Saints are currently enjoying their best spell in decades, with the team pushing for only their second top ten finish in PL history after their best-ever start to a top-flight season to begin the 2013-14 campaign.

But the futures of several first-team stars is apparently up in the air, 18-year-old Luke Shaw is attracting the interest of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, while England internationals Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana could all leave in the January transfer window.

For now, the storm has passed at St. Mary’s.

But with rumors swirling about the club being sold and the search for a new inspirational leader to take the exceptional progress Cortese made to the next level, turbulent times could still be ahead for the Saints.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia