Tom Sermanni was shocked by his firing as USWNT coach. (AP)

Gulati: Sermanni’s firing based on ‘underlying issues,’ but questions remain

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Tom Sermanni is as surprised as anyone by his dismissal from U.S. women’s soccer head coaching duties.

He was, after all, 18-2-4 in his 15-month tenure at the helm of the world’s No. 1 team. But results weren’t the heart of the issue, according to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. A difference in philosophies on where the team is headed ultimately cost the Scotsman his job, which is what caught him most off-guard.

“I wasn’t aware of any major issues around the place, and perhaps that was my lack of insight,” Sermanni told NBC Sports. “I don’t know; it wasn’t something that I had on the radar. I thought the team was headed in the right direction and we were building up a strong squad.”

Gulati, however, said U.S. Soccer “needed to go in a different direction.” The news was delivered shortly after the U.S. women defeated China 2-0 on Sunday in the first of two friendlies this week. It comes a month after the Americans saw their 43-game unbeaten streak snapped, and endured their first three-game winless streak in 13 years after an ugly display at the Algarve Cup.

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Tom Sermanni had no idea he was even on the hot seat. (Getty Images)

But that tumultuous week in Portugal – which included a historic 5-3 loss to Denmark – wasn’t the problem, Gulati said Monday. There were “underlying issues” that were both stylistic and personality-driven.

Sermanni guided the team to an unbeaten 2013 record, but more importantly gave young players – and previously uncapped veterans – chances that they previously didn’t get. He was willing to make changes consistently and try new pairings and formations.

And ultimately, that could be what cost him his job.

“Change can cause discontent, generally, of course,” on an individual level, Gulati said.

He says that there was no player uprising nor one specific event that led to Sermanni’s firing, and reiterated praise for Sermanni’s upstanding character.

“This isn’t a group of players coming and seeking us out.”

The U.S. women excelled under former coach Pia Sundhage, whose greatest trait was managing a group of superstars and maintaining just enough collective chemistry to make them all gel. Gulati reiterated that Sermanni is a “class guy.”

Sundhage was a free spirit, and there was a perception that players, on the whole, admired her as more than a coach, but a friend. There was camaraderie and chemistry. Sermanni is laid back as well, but in his own way.

“Tom does have a unique style and Pia’s is very different,” Gulati said. “What I would say is the demand both of all of us for the women’s program, and in some way of the women’s team itself, fits very well with certain styles and not so well with, perhaps, other styles.

“But that’s also individual players. It’s rare that everyone in a particular team finds a style that they buy into, but it’s important that they collectively buy into the direction and how you are moving forward, and we had some concerns there.”

Somewhere along the line, though, the powers that be – Gulati, USSF CEO Dan Flynn, and at least some players – lost faith in Sermanni’s still-developing vision.

Sermanni’s implementation of new talent like 21-year-olds Crystal Dunn and Morgan Brian look like they will both pay immediate dividends at the 2015 World Cup and in several cycles to follow. One eye on winning now, one eye on development – that was the message when Sermanni was hired, and that was what, on the surface, he was doing.

“We wanted someone who could continue to guide the women’s national team at a high level and keep us at the right place internationally, which is right now at the top, and also to become involved in a broader scope on player development,” Gulati said on Oct. 31, 2012, when Sermanni was announced as the new U.S. coach.

Those comments came after a two-month search that involved over 30 qualified candidates.

Gulati on Monday didn’t deny that player development is always part of the job, regardless of who is coaching or when. The search for a new coach is already underway and could take several weeks or more. Just as she did when Sundhage left in 2012, Jill Ellis will serve as interim coach, starting Thursday when the U.S. plays China again in San Diego (11 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra).

Sermanni said he was previously unaware of any discontent among players, but he “would doubt if it was just solely Sunil” who made the decision to fire him.

“I stand to be corrected, but I’m an open communicator with players over the last 16 months or so, whether in individual meetings or casual meetings. I’ve certainly stated from Day 1 that if players did have any issues, whether they be soccer-related or other, that my door was always open.”

Players have been noticeably silent since the coaching change, with only goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeting a departing thank you to Sermanni as of Monday afternoon:

ESPN’s Julie Foudy reports that players were instructed not to use social media to address the firing.

Seven or eight players visited Sermanni after the news dropped, the Scotsman said, and a few others sent emails.

The United States women’s program continues to be a paradox. “Win now” will always be a priority, and that’s how it is for any of the world’s best teams, male or female. The team’s No. 1 priority is to win the 2015 World Cup. That’s been the goal since the U.S. women walked off the field on July 17, 2011, after losing to Japan in the World Cup final. The Olympics, which the Americans have championed three consecutive times, pale in comparison to the World Cup.

But this is a team in transition, marked by a core group of veterans and a promising batch of early-20-somethings who continued to get looks under Sermanni.

source: Getty Images
Tom Sermanni talks to Jill Ellis, who will serve as interim USWNT coach. Could she take over permanently? (Getty Images)

When games kick off in Canada next summer, it will have been 16 years since the U.S. last won a World Cup.  Yet this team, by however funny a system, has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last six years.

Without a doubt, the recent small stretch of results raised concern for how 2015 would play out.

But struggles will happen within any team – “there are bumps in the road,” Sermanni reasoned Monday after a short few hours to sleep on the news – and they happen to even the best. That 2011 U.S. team was the last of 16 to qualify for the World Cup after lethargic performances throughout 2010 gave way to a qualifying mishap (Sundhage kept her job then, by the way).

Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year and two-time World Cup winner, doesn’t make much of her American rivals’ recent struggles.

“The first eight teams in the world, they are so close, everybody can beat everybody — [it is] details that decide winning or losing,” Angerer said last week. “So the U.S. didn’t have a good tournament; in 2007 we finished in eighth place at the Algarve Cup and won the World Cup so it doesn’t matter.”

Sermanni is moving on graciously, returning to his home in Los Angeles to figure out what’s next. He calls himself a “philosophical person,” and says he’ll evaluate what he could have done better in his year and a half at the helm of the U.S.

“The reality of a head coaching career is that tomorrow you could be out of a job and there might never be another job that props up for you. This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve ever been let go from a job. It’s a new experience for me.”

What’s next for the U.S. women will be a highly-scrutinized 14-month build-up to the World Cup in Canada, under a yet-to-be-determined coach. Whether or not this decision pays off won’t be known until July 5, 2015 – the World Cup final in Vancouver. But the ramifications will resonate well beyond that, for better or worse.

Manchester City continues to trim squad with Mangala, Nasri deals reportedly likely

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 05:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City smiles with Eliaquim Mangala during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match against Paris Saint-Germain at the Football Academy training ground on April 5, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola has brought in a full band of reinforcements to Manchester City this summer, and now he must make room.

With Joe Hart almost certain to move to Italian club Torino in the next few days, a few other City players banished by Guardiola may be set to depart as well.

Manchester City can only include 17 foreign players on its Champions League roster, meaning it must leave off two of the 19 currently with the club. With Hart leaving, that is one less homegrown player on the roster. That is leading Pep Guardiola to try and find new homes for the likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Samir Nasri.

France Football reports that Mangala could be headed back to his former club FC Porto on loan, and according to reports in England, the Manchester club might be forced to eat wages in order to make that happen. Tottenham is apparently also interested for a permanent move, but they’d likely want him at a price significantly cheaper than the $55 million City paid for him just two years ago. Other clubs reportedly in for Mangala include Valencia and Napoli, with the former having just sold Shkodran Mustafi to Arsenal and would likely be searching for a replacement.

According to a number of reports in Spain, Samir Nasri has piqued the interest of La Liga side Sevilla. Nasri has seen his playing time at City decline for a number of years, and in the process was ousted from the French national team. According to AS, with the possibility of Nasri’s all-out exclusion from the City squad, he has interest from the Spanish club as well as Besiktas in Turkey. Like Mangala, however, Nasri’s hefty contract is forcing City to consider much of his wages as sunk.

Nasri’s departure is less imminent, however, considering Guardiola’s praise of him after the 3-1 win over West Ham on Sunday. The Spaniard said Nasri could stay, and while the player appreciated the sentiments, he also admitted a switch is yet possible. “Yes, there could still be movement,” Nasri said. “It depends on a lot of things in fact. There’s been a lot of speculation. Things that are true. Things that are false too because they’ve never shown me the door or anything like that.”

Even Stevan Jovetic has been looking for a way out of the Etihad, but a possible move to Fiorentina apparently was nixed over a disagreement on wages.

Joe Hart’s agent confirms loan move to Torino

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Joe Hart of Manchester City warms up prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart‘s Manchester City departure seems all but complete.

According to a report in Italy, the goalkeeper’s agent has confirmed a loan move to Torino is complete pending a medical.

“Yes, Joe Hart will play for Toro,” agent Jonathan Barnett told Tuttosport. “It’s all done, the goalkeeper said yes to the Granata and now Manchester City have given the green light. It’s all true, it’s secured. Tomorrow Hart will have a medical in Turin.”

Earlier Monday, it was reported that Hart was considering the offer but had not decided yet if this was the right course of action. Reports over the last week have stated the 29-year-old has been looking to leave Manchester City after being benched by Pep Guardiola, but preferred a permanent move to a loan due to the uncertainty for his family that comes with the short-term nature of a loan.

To back this up, Sky Sports reporter Gemma Davis tweeted that Hart has been given permission leave the England squad to travel to Torino for a medical. This is unlikely to affect Hart’s place in the England team, given they do not play until Sunday.

After two games in Serie A play, Torino sits seventh in the league table with a win and a loss so far. 30-year-old Daniele Padelli has started both games in goal, playing the full 90 minutes. Padelli has been the main man for Torino since his arrival in 2013, missing just a chunk of games two seasons ago when benched early in the year.

Reports: Nigel de Jong preparing to leave LA Galaxy for Galatasaray

Los Angeles Galaxy's Nigel de Jong, right, strikes the ball in front of San Jose Earthquakes' Quincy Amarikwa during the first half of a MLS soccer game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Multiple reports across both the United States and the Netherlands have claimed Nigel de Jong is close to a move to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

A report by AD writer Maarten Wijffles states that De Jong is currently in the country for talks. However, while L.A. Times writer Keith Baxter confirms that a deal is in progress, he claims the player is still currently situated in the United States and has not left for Turkey yet.

According to reports in Turkey, Galatasaray began its interest in De Jong only recently, when Newcastle enforcer Cheick Tiote apparently failed a medical. Other reports citing sources with Newcastle and the player have disputed this, saying talks instead broke down over personal terms.

De Jong had only joined Los Angeles at the end of the January transfer window, moving from A.C. Milan after the termination of his contract. The 31-year-old Dutchman made 18 appearances for the Galaxy and did not score a goal.

Between Tiote and De Jong, the Turkish club is clearly targeting a certain style of player. De Jong has been known throughout his career as a midfield enforcer, sometimes on the border of dirty play, and that did not change during his short time in Major League Soccer. He made several cringe-worthy tackles, including one in April on Darlington Nagbe that caused many to fear for Nagbe’s career until it was revealed he suffered just a sprained knee. Another in early July earned De Jong a straight red card against Vancouver in early July.

The Dutchman was thought to be taking over Steven Gerrard‘s Designated Player spot next year after his retirement at the end of the current season, but De Jong’s departure means the Galaxy could have an open DP slot next season.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.