Kamara

Fulham’s Premier League hopes rest on history repeating itself

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“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

In 2008, Fulham FC produced one of the greatest three-match stretches the bottom of the Premier League table has ever seen. In what is known throughout Fulham lore as The Great Escape, the club retained its Premier League status.

With just the disastrously poor Derby County below them in the table and the club five points from safety, Fulham popped off consecutive season-ending wins against Manchester City, Birmingham City, and Portsmouth to avoid relegation.

The win over Manchester City was nothing short of a miracle. Down 2-0 after just 21 minutes, 64th-minute substitute Diomansy Kamara produced a double for the ages along with a penalty from Danny Murphy to begin their mountain climb.

It was a David Tyree moment, one that will live in club history no matter where Kamara’s career were to take him in the aftermath (namely, nowhere).

Then, after a comprehensive 2-0 win over Birmingham behind goals from American Brian McBride and Erik Nevland, it was set up for the final match of the season.

With Fulham and Reading tied on points and Reading scheduled to take on hapless Derby, it was win and you’re in, lose and you’re almost certainly down.

They did it, as Murphy’s 76th-minute header was enough to put Fulham past Portsmouth and the Great Escape was complete.  Just two years later, under Roy Hodgson’s guidance, the team would go on to defeat Juventus in by far the club’s greatest-ever win and eventually make the Europa League final.

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American striker Brian McBride was a key component in Fulham’s 2007/2008 Great Escape, saving the club from the drop.

All of this is in the history books. It’s done and dusted. But it’s still relevent.

Why? Well, this year the Whites find themselves in a undeniably similar position.

Almost eerily so.

Having risen so far from their position of relegation that fateful 2008 spring, the club on the River Thames now finds itself again staring the drop in the face.  This time around they are bottom, without the cushion of a Derby County to buffer them from the basement.

But with a trip to Manchester City next on the fixture list, things are looking similar to their Great Escape. At the time of the 2008 City match, Fulham were five points back of safety. Currently, they sit four back of Crystal Palace in 17th, but it might as well be five given their horrific -35 goal differential which will be virtually impossible to overcome.

And who was the man in goal when Kamara rifled home the winner six years ago? A 20-year-old Joe Hart, who now ironically plays for Hodgson on the England squad.

This time around, there are plenty more matches for Fulham to pick up points before the end, including crucial 6-pointers against Norwich City and Crystal Palace.

No, the problem this time around isn’t time, even if they are running out of clock fast. The problem is simple: they’re not very good.

Fulham don’t pass the eye test. In fact, they flunk it quite miserably. They had a massive opportunity against fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City, in which three points would have put them in a pole position to escape.  Instead, they were beaten up and down the pitch in a disappointing 3-1 loss to a team that hadn’t scored in five games.

Thing is, that 2008 team wasn’t very good either, and they burned chance after chance to save themselves much before the home stretch.

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If Fulham replicate their Great Escape this season, Ashkan Dejagah’s winner against Newcastle could get lost in the story.

On March 29, 2008 they took on Derby County – proud owner of just one win all season and 10 total points – and conceded an 80th minute goal to draw 2-2 and drop 2 critical points.  Or like on February 9, when Fulham fell 1-0 to Middlesbrough who ended the year just 3 points above the drop.

Go back even farther, and it took Hodgson (appointed on December 30 for the fired Lawrie Sanchez) nine matches to earn his first win.

But, there’s hope. With the club’s official Twitter account essentially spamming the hashtag “#believe”  the past few weeks, they went out and firmly defeated a Newcastle club mired in turmoil. Despite the slim 1-0 scoreline, Newcastle hardly threatened and Fulham picked up their first win under Felix Magath, first league win since New Years Day, and first league clean sheet since December 8.

And that, too, has precedent from six years ago.

Two weeks before the miracle at Manchester City, on April 12, Fulham soundly put Reading to rest on the road 2-0 (again from Nevland and McBride) to plant the seeds of what would come. They’d fall 2-0 at eventual Champions League runners up Liverpool the next week, but the Reading match was an incredibly important fixture.

Often overlooked for the flashier three-game season-ending stretch when narratives of the Great Escape are recalled, the win at Reading was an enormous victory. They led nearly the whole way, and rattled the crossbar three times outside of their two goals. The victory was their first in the league away from home all season, and their fourth league clean sheet of the campaign.

The similarities are there. The opportunities are there.

Make no mistake: at the moment, Fulham are a very safe bet to be playing in the Championship next season. The point is, that’s also what we thought in the spring of 2008.

Manchester City confirm $22.5 million signing of Claudio Bravo

FOXBORO, MA - JUNE 10:  Claudio Bravo #1 of Chile passes the ball during a 2016 Copa America Centenario Group D match between Chile and Bolivia in the first half at Gillette Stadium on June 10, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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It’s done.

Claudio Bravo, 33, has signed a four-year contract at Manchester City as the club announced his $22.5 million transfer from Barcelona on Thursday.

[ MORE: Saints close to Boufal deal ]

Bravo flew in to Manchester earlier this week and Pep Guardiola finally has the goalkeeper he’s been craving as he revealed the Chilean international is someone “he’s admired for a number of years.”

With Joe Hart given the cold shoulder and veteran Willy Caballero handed the starting spot in goal for City’s first two Premier League games of the season, it always seemed likely that a goalkeeper was lined up.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Speaking to the club website about his move to City after spending the last two seasons at Barcelona, Bravo is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“I’m very proud to be joining Manchester City. I know the Club is building something very special and I hope I can be part of many successes in the coming years,” Bravo said. “I have followed City’s progress in recent years and obviously know some of my new team-mates from the Copa America.

“It is not easy to leave a club like Barcelona where I had two fantastic years, but the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola was too good to refuse. Now I will challenge the other great goalkeepers the Club has and together I hope we can win many trophies.”

So, now the picture is even clearer for Hart as despite Bravo claiming he is at the Etihad Stadium to “challenge the other great goalkeepers” they have, we all know he is the new numero uno. Hart will have to find a move elsewhere if he wants to play regularly but his options are running out with Everton’s manager Ronald Koeman saying they are no interested in signing Hart.

Over the last two seasons Bravo has split time with Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barca but the man who has already made 100 appearances for Chile and has won back-to-back Copa America titles is now ready to be a bonafide star as he enters the prime of his career.

Comfortable with the ball at his feet and a sublime shot-stopper, Bravo’s acquisition is another key moment in Guardiola’s masterplan at City.

The Spanish coach has now spent $260 million on John Stones, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Marlos Moreno, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Bravo this summer.

Four games into Pep’s tenure as City’s boss the Citizens are perfect with four wins as they’ve qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages.

Drinkwater stays at champion Leicester, signs 5-year deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City is closed down by Bertrand Traore of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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LEICESTER, England (AP) Danny Drinkwater has become the latest Leicester player to commit his future to the English champions.

[ MORE: Solo ban about much more ]

Leicester said Thursday the midfielder has signed a new five-year contract. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have also penned new deals this summer.

Drinkwater, a former Manchester United player, was a regular for Leicester in its run to the Premier League title last season, helping him earn a call-up to the England squad.

Hope Solo’s ban from USWNT about much more than “coward” comments

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 5: Goal keeper Hope Solo #1 celebrates with Julie Johnston #8 of U.S. Women's National Team during the second half of a friendly match against Japan on June 5, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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On Wednesday the news broke that U.S. Soccer had banned Hope Solo for six months from the USWNT and had terminated her contract as a member of the national team.

In truth, we all saw this coming.

[ MORE: Boufal to Saints close ]

The official reason given by Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, was that Solo’s comments following the USA’s shock defeat on penalty kicks to Sweden in the quarterfinals at Rio 2016 were “unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players.”

Solo, 35, said that Sweden played like “a bunch of cowards” and argued that “the best team did not win.”

Were the comments out of line? Yes. Were they in the heat of the moment? Yes. Were they worthy of a six-month suspension from the USWNT? No.

Then again, this whole episode is about far more than Solo basically lambasting Sweden for being a long-ball team. This storm has been brewing for some time with multiple incidents of indiscretion leading to this inevitable outcome.

Gulati said as much.

“Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action,” Gulati added in the statement.

Solo is currently locked in a legal battle with a half-sister and nephew over alleged domestic violence — Solo continues to claims she is innocent — from 2014, while there was also the incident in 2015 involving Solo and her husband, Jerramy Stevens.

The latter was arrested and charged with a DUI after he and Solo took a team mini-van from the USWNT hotel in California and drove around the streets before being pulled over outside the team hotel by police with Solo reportedly dragged from the scene kicking and screaming. Solo was banned by U.S. Soccer for 30 days on Jan. 31, 2015 for that incident but was recalled by Jill Ellis for the 2015 World Cup and was a star during the USWNT’s World Cup win.

Those two unsavory incidents coupled with the huge wave of negativity from the people of Brazil at Rio 2016 — home fans booed Solo constantly and chanted “Zika” every time she kicked the ball after she posted several pictures on social media showing her preparing for the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil — were enough for U.S. Soccer to act in this manner when Solo gave them yet another reason to investigate her.

USWNT head coach Ellis flew to Seattle with Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer’s secretary general, to deliver the news of the suspension and although Solo will still be able to play for Seattle Reign FC in the NWSL (U.S. Soccer is reportedly handing her three months severance pay on the contract they terminated which also includes her salary for NWSL play) she will miss two upcoming games for the USWNT in 2016.

Will the USWNT be weaker without Solo? Of course they will. She has been one of the greatest players in women’s soccer history and probably the greatest-ever goalkeeper. Yet, Gulati and U.S. Soccer had to make a firm stance after giving Solo chance after chance to clean up her act.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 03: Hope Solo #1 of United States looks on during the Women's Group G first round match between the United States and New Zealand during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 3, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

 

It doesn’t take a master decoder to work out the subliminal message buried in Gulati’s comments in the statement released by U.S. Soccer.

In a nutshell it says: enough is enough. You were on your last chance and you blew it. It is highly likely than since January 2015 Solo has been repeatedly warned that if she steps out of line again there would be severe consequences.

Right now Solo will not be available to play for the U.S. until Feb. 2017 and even then it seems highly unlikely she will return. After a distinguished career on the pitch, Solo’s erratic behavior off it has finally caught up with her.

The lengthy ban for her outspoken rant against Sweden was undoubtedly excessive and there is a big question mark about the notion of free speech here. She spoke her mind vehemently about her distaste towards Sweden’s tactics but it wasn’t like Solo swore or used discriminatory language when speaking about Sweden. She just didn’t agree with their tactics.

Yet, that “coward” rant was likely the final straw in a long line of indiscretions which even Solo, perhaps one day, must admit have painted both herself and U.S. Soccer in a poor light over the past few years.

Enough is enough. The punishment for this specific outburst may seem harsh to many but it likely marks the end of Solo’s glittering, controversy filled, USWNT career.

Southampton agree club-record fee of $28 million for Sofiane Boufal

Sofiane Boufal
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Southampton look set to smash their transfer record as Moroccan international Sofiane Boufal is close to sealing a move to St Mary’s.

ProSoccerTalk understands that Saints have agreed a club-record fee of $28 million with Ligue 1 club Lille for Boufal and the attacker is now discussing personal terms with the side who finished sixth in the Premier League last season.

[ MORE: Solo suspended by USWNT

It is believed there is still some way to go in the deal before Boufal, 22, is unveiled at Saints — it could be early next week ahead of the summer transfer window slamming shut at 7 p.m. ET on Aug. 31. — with the player currently in the latter stages of recovering from a knee injury he suffered at the end of last season.

With Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool all linked with Boufal in the past, this signing would represent a major coup for manager Claude Puel (former manager of Lille from 2002-08) and also boost Southampton’s attacking options following the loss of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle over the summer.

Boufal could be the latest in a long line of shrewd European pickups from Saints who have benefited greatly over the past three seasons from giving stars of other European leagues a chance in the PL (see: Mane, Sadio.) then selling them on to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United for huge profits.

The Paris-born attacker shone for Lille in France’s top-flight last season, scoring 11 goals and adding four assists following his move from second-tier Angers where he came through the youth system. Born and raised in France, Boufal chose to represent Morocco at international level and he has already placed twice for the Atlas Lions after making his debut in 2016.

If the deal does get over the line, as expected, then what type of player may Southampton be getting?

Boufal has skill and trickery similar to Riyad Mahrez and the directness of a Yannick Bolasie. He can play out wide or centrally and his creativity is his main trait. That is something Saints need as they’ve scored just once in their opening two games of the season and they look to be lacking a cutting edge in the final third heading into their first-ever appearance in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League.

This could well be another masterful signing from Saints’ now famed analysts in the “black box” room at their Staplewood training ground.