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After Champions League exit, what now for Manchester United?


As the final whistle blew at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, Manchester United’s fans must now prepare for life without the UEFA Champions League for quiet some time.

That’s the reality.

David Moyes’ men put up a brave fight against Bayern Munich, but bowed out of Europe’s elite club competition at the quarterfinal stage after losing 4-2 on aggregate to the reigning champions. More than likely, United’s 17-straight years in the UCL will come to an end next season.

(MORE: Bayern Munich ease into UCL semis, as Man United crash out)

Now that United are out of Europe, their chances of qualifying for the UCL next season are slim to none as they’re currently seven points off the Premier League’s top four with five games to go. When asked about the possibility of that next season, this is what Moyes had to say.

“Well, we’ve not got Champions League football. That’s the way it looks,” Moyes said with a resigned look on his face. “I believe that it’s not far away, it will hopefully only be one year. With the way we are going to rebuild and our focus know is to get a team that will make sure we are back in this competition because it is a great competition, we’ve really enjoyed it and there’s no shame in going out in the quarterfinals to Bayern Munich tonight. The players have played really well, it shows the quality we’ve got. So we we regroup and build towards being back in the competition again.”

But what about the future?

With United’s rebuild in the post-Ferguson era experiencing serious growing pains, Moyes must now struggle through the transfer market without having the luxury item of Champions League soccer to dangle in front of prospective new signings. The 50-year-old Scotsman doesn’t see that as an issue. But what about the board and the owners who are now considerably out of pocket with UCL cash out the window?

source: AP
Patrice Evra looks on, as Bayern’s players celebrate beating scoring another against Man United.

“The club is looking to spend the right money on the right player if they become available. It has nothing to do with Champions League football,” Moyes said. “Any players that we’ve quietly discussed with are more than happy to join Manchester United. They are all keen to come, because it is a short thing, not a long thing [being without UCL soccer], that are all very keen to join such a great club.”


United’s fans must know curb their lofty ambitions, as their side will now face an uphill struggle to qualify for the UCL in the foreseeable future. Moyes actually praised his players after the defeat to Bayern. Yes, he is going to publicly stick up for his squad, but even if he’s lambasting his side for what he called ‘schoolboy errors’ in letting Bayern back into the game so quickly after United had taken the lead, his attitude doesn’t evoke what a United manager is all about. Being positive about crashing out of the Champions League isn’t something fans will take to.

So often Sir Alex Ferguson was ruthless in widespread changes he made at various spells of his 26-year tenure in charge of Man United. Moyes needs to do that now, as even one of his most experienced players acknowleged they just aren’t good enough.

“It’s obviously not good enough, we’ve said that over the last few weeks. It is not good enough because this club should be in the Champions League,” midfielder Michael Carrick said. “It was going to be tough tonight, but the reason we aren’t going to be in the Champions League next season is not because of tonight. It is our league form throughout the season, we take responsibility for that. It has been over a long period of time now that we have had too many bad results, and ultimately we will pay for it.”

Carrick went onto say that his side will be back rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite in no time. But how are United going to do that?

source: Getty Images
If David Moyes is given the chance to redeem himself, a daunting rebuild awaits at Old Trafford.

They must rebuild ruthlessly and efficiently, as the $100 million plus that the UCL brings into the clubs coffers has now vanished for next season. The need for Moyes to get creative with his signings and deliver success in the top four is crucial, if he’s even given that luxury. Rumors continue to swirl that the Scot will be ‘one and done’ in terms of years in charge at Old Trafford, as the man Sir Alex Ferguson handpicked as his successor has failed miserably in his first season in charge.

Let’s not beat around the bush.

Did we know it would be difficult to replicate Fergie’s success with an aging team? Yes. But did anybody honestly see United finishing outside the top four, which they will likely do, this campaign? No.

If Moyes is given the opportunity to redeem himself next season, which in all honesty he should, after signing a reported five-year deal to take charge of the Red Devils, he must bring in two new central defenders, a left back, one more top striker and a true holding central midfielder. Veteran defenders Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will all move on, and better replacements than Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are needed at the back. In attack, a foil to Wayne Rooney is what Moyes needs, as Robin van Persie’s injury-hit season has exposed his age and Danny Welbeck isn’t top, top class. In midfield the big-money signing of Marouane Fellaini always seemed like a risky one, and overall the Belgian has had a poor season. United need to invest in a midfield warrior in the engine room. Adding those five players, which is neither going to be easy or cheap, will help Moyes get this legendary club back to where it belongs.

Notice I said help, because the real job here is for Moyes to rally around and inspire his current crop of underachieving superstar’s that will remain at Old Trafford past this season. Psychologically, the tribulations of this season will have a huge impact on the confidence and belief amongst the United squad.

All is not lost, but as we saw against Bayern, and so often in the Premier League this season, United’s glory days are well and truly over. That famous ‘glory, glory Man United’ song could have a hollow ring to it for quiet some time, as a monumental rebuild is well and truly underway.

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).