After raw deal at Chelsea, Ancelotti’s 5th Champions League is redemption years in the making

3 Comments

By the fifth time, even winning the European Cup can get to be a little routine.

That’s what Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti did yesterday by defeating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final yesterday, cementing himself at the very top of not just managerial history, but soccer history altogether.

However, it seemed that in the waning hours of Madrid’s victory night, as the dust settled on his third Champions League title as a manager, this could be Ancelotti’s most important of them all.

The 54-year-old Italian won two European Cup titles as a player, captaining a legendary AC Milan team in the late 1980’s that destroyed the competition.  He’s used to domination.

So once he left his comfort zone after managing AC Milan to two more titles, it was clear he was headed for greatness. But even Ancelotti isn’t immune to bumps in the road.

Roman Abramovich hired Ancelotti in 2009 still trying to replace the gaping hole he had created after his falling out with Jose Mourinho, a void that Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, and Guus Hiddink all failed trying to plug.

But Ancelotti was the man for the job, leading Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2010 in his first season on the job, becoming the first Italian manager to win the Premier League and proving he wasn’t just a one-team band.

Winning outside a comfort zone is a difficult thing to do, and after a total of 13 years at AC Milan, he proved his worth at not just another club but another league altogether, the mark of a man at the top of his profession.

He won the FA Cup as well, making him only the second-ever non-British manager alongside Arsene Wenger to lead an English team to the domestic double.

The next year Chelsea struggled somewhat, falling to fifth place after a poor run of form. He engineered a remarkable turnaround, as Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, but once again Abramovich couldn’t help himself.

source: AP
Ancelotti’s ability to adjust to Atletico’s neutralization of Cristiano Ronaldo is a token of his genius.

The Russian hammer came down again, and Ancelotti was left out in the cold, brutally sacked for the second time in his managerial career.

It harkened back to his short time at the helm of Juventus, when word of his firing came down at halftime of their final Serie A game of the year while he still had an outside shot at winning the title.

But the Italian, just like his club last night, didn’t wallow in his misery, but immediately began laying the groundwork for building himself back up.

“Sometimes I make mistakes,” Ancelotti admitted following last night’s game. “The team bounced back and we have been able to do what we set out to do at the start of the season.  This feels like something even bigger than winning the World Cup.”

After last night’s managerial masterpiece, one must sit and wonder if Chelsea, who haven’t exactly done poorly since he left, would be sitting atop the European landscape had he remained.

Instead, Real Madrid are instead the ones benefiting from his genius, as he struck oil thrice with his substitutions.  The true stroke of brilliance came on his first two, bringing on Isco and Marcelo for the ineffective pair of Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira.  The double change came with a half-hour yet to play, and against a team that had neutralized so many of Real’s threats all season long, they had time to settle in.

Marcelo was brilliant down the left, key because Cristiano Ronaldo had been silenced. Isco brought instant life to the midfield in an area where Khedira had become a black hole. The German holding midfielder looked uncomfortable going forward, completing a horrid 68% of his passes, giving away nearly half of the 28 he attempted. His replacement, in half the time, connected on 43 of his 48 pass attempts and created two chances.

His third substitution of Alviro Morata for Karim Benzema was less hailed, as Morata didn’t exactly have an obvious impact on the game, but the physicality he brought was an unheralded addition.  At a time in the game when Atletico’s legs looked ready to fall off, Morata committed five fouls in his short time on the pitch, creating space for his brethren on the ball.

But Ancelotti’s most genius move of all came in the form of a player he didn’t substitute. Having been chopped down by analysts for his atrocious finishing, Gareth Bale had actually been one of Real’s best players aside from in front of goal. He was slicing up defenders both on the ball and off it, and it was only a matter of time before the world’s most expensive player found the back of the net.

Ancelotti’s refusal to remove Bale in a match where Atletico focused much of their energy on their hack-a-Ronaldo strategy paid off tenfold.  While he flubbed three brilliant chances in regulation, it took extra time before a bit of luck plopped him in the perfect position to finish Di Maria’s deflected shot.

Real Madrid have themselves a gem at the helm.  His calm demeanor and ability to adjust to any given situation was evident during his time quarterbacking AC Milan’s midfield, and now again proves vital on the Champions League stage.

Ancelotti still has plenty of work to do, still without a La Liga title in his two years at the Bernabeu, an especially painful void after essentially throwing away the table’s top spot down the stretch this year.  But it was obvious the Champions League – not the domestic titles – was the club’s top priority this season.

And while Chelsea aren’t dead in the water without the Italian leading the way – they themselves won Champions League glory in 2012 after his departure – let me finish by handing you this little nugget to chew on. Real Madrid brought in seven new players last summer, and it showed early.  The club took a bit of time to settle in.

However, it’s those that left Madrid that tell the story.  Each of the four players that left won a trophy with their new club – Mesut Ozil at Arsenal, and Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, and Raul Albiol at Napoli.  The only one who failed to win a trophy after leaving Real Madrid last summer: Jose Mourinho.

And that, my friends, is revenge served up cold, the only way Carlo Ancelotti likes it.

How can PSG sign Neymar from Barcelona?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The biggest transfer deal in soccer history is probably also going to be the most complex.

With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules halting Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and many others from spending even more cash over the past few seasons, talk of Neymar’s potential $255 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG boggles the mind.

How can PSG pull this off and not break UEFA’s FFP rules? Well, here’s a deeper look at the numbers and how it could work.

If Neymar’s transfer did go through and his wages are as astronomical as reported — all-in the transfer fee, wages and other fees would top $586 million, with wages of over $50 million per year — then PSG have to bring in some huge finances from sponsors, ticket sales and move on some other players, right?

Not quite.

Under the interpretations of FFP rules, the sums are added up each season and the players’ value is amortized over the length of their contract. So, if the contract for Neymar was split up over five years PSG would put that down as $50 million per season, plus whatever they owed on the transfer fee if they were paying it off in installments.

A little more manageable, if still absurd.

When it comes to Neymar’s release clause set to be triggered, that usually means all of the cash is needed straight up. Tricky. What is more likely is PSG will pay $100 million and then stagger the rest of the fee over a five-year period, if Barca agree to it.

There are always many, many complexities to these type of deals, and especially with Neymar’s former club Santos potentially having a sell-on clause and many other factors such as loyalty fees, bonuses, agent fees and more.

PSG chairman Nasser al Khelaifi will have plenty of work to do to get this deal done and there are also reports in Spain that the Qatari government could enter into a separate agreement to pay Neymar his wages.

That said, under the FFP rules, one thing to remember is key: clubs have to bring in what they are spending but they can still make losses of up to $34.9 million per season under the current rules.

With PSG owned by a company which is essentially the State of Qatar, UEFA will automatically investigate a team where 30 percent or more of their revenue is supplied by a company linked to the owner. PSG have already been sanctioned heavily in the past with huge fines, restrictions on how many players can play in a UCL season and having their spending capped in 2014-15.

It is likely PSG’s Qatari owners, Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, will have alternative revenue from sponsors and commercial deals already lined up to help deal with the issues Neymar’s arrival could have in terms of FFP.

These sums are huge and the complexity of this deal is obvious, but if Neymar did join PSG then his marketability would surely see them recoup plenty of cash in other ways.

Therein lies the golden rule to all of this: you have to speculate to accumulate.

Somehow PSG believe this transfer fee and Neymar’s wages would be money well spent. Whether or not that is the case we will have to wait and see, but the answer is that this deal could happen, even under the rigid restrictions of FFP.

PSG would have to work hard to balance the books and bring in extra revenue, but their owners are better placed than most to make that happen.

Chelsea’s Pedro suffers “multiple fractures” to face after collision

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea are confident that Pedro will not be out for an extended period of time even though the Spanish winger suffered “multiple fractures” to his face.

[ MORE: Mexico lose to Jamaica

Pedro, 29, collided with Arsenal’s David Ospina in Chelsea’s 3-0 win against the Gunners in Beijing on Saturday and it turns out his injury is worse than first feared.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s International Champions Cup game in Singapore against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Antonio Conte revealed that Pedro has returned to London.

“The situation was more serious than I thought because I hoped it would only be concussion and instead he had multiple fractures,” Conte said. “With a mask, and in around 10 days, he can come back to work with us.”

Plenty of Chelsea players have been forced to wear a protective mask in recent years with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Pedro all donning the Zoro look after suffering facial injuries.

The Spaniard could be ready for the FA Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembly on Aug. 6 but with Eden Hazard already out injured for the opening weeks of the season after requiring ankle surgery this summer, Conte won’t want to risk Pedro unless he needs to.

With Alvaro Morata set for his first minutes in a Chelsea shirt against Bayern, plus Michy Batshuayi and Willian in good form against Arsenal with fine goals, Conte should have enough to keep things ticking over for the time being and the opening weeks of the season.

Liverpool target Naby Keita involved in horror tackle

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This could be quite disturbing.

RB Leipzig’s training session was cut short on Monday after Liverpool target Naby Keita, who Leipzig insist is not for sale, reportedly clattered into Diego Demme with a “horror tackle.”

The challenge was so bad it ended the session and photos have shown Demme leaving the pitch with the help of others and his knee bandaged up.

Keita, 22, is said to want out of Leizpig and the Guinea international wants to join Liverpool who have reportedly had a $85.9 million bid turned down from the box-to-box midfielder. Keita has a release clause of $62.5 million in his contract, but that doesn’t kick in until next summer.

Until we know all the facts about what happened, this could have just been a routine training ground tackle which Keita mistimed.

That said, given all of the current speculation around his future and the player also said to be extremely frustrated with Leipzig’s stance, cynics out there are suggesting this could be one way of Keita forcing through a move to Liverpool.


 

 

Man City sign Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for $68 million

Twitter/Man City
1 Comment

Manchester City continues to splash cash like it’s going out of fashion.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid

Left back Benjamin Mendy, 23, has arrived from AS Monaco for $68 million and he has linked up with his new team in Los Angeles as they continue their preseason tour of the U.S. with a game against Real Madrid.

Pep Guardiola has now brought in five new players this summer with goalkeeper Ederson, right backs Kyle Walker and Danilo, playmaker Bernardo Silva and now Mendy costing over $267 million combined.

Here’s what the French international defender had to say after agreeing a five-year deal at City.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City,” Mendy said. “They are one of Europe’s leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football. I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful.”

City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, said Mendy was “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs” and their “number one target in this position.”

Mendy has burst onto the scene at Monaco over the past 12 months, helping them to win the French title last season and also reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

The powerful left back makes surging runs forward and is as adept in attack as he is in defense. That’s obviously important in a Guardiola side as he expects his full backs to come inside, possess the ball and offer an attacking threat. Mendy ticks all the boxes.

City were knocked out of the UCL at the Round of 16 stage by Monaco with Mendy and fellow new signing Silva obviously impressing Guardiola, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined Chelsea for $55 million as a fine Monaco team has been broken up once again.

Monaco’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

With Walker and Danilo at right back, plus Mendy at left back and Ederson in goal, City have strengthened their defense considerably this offseason. Ederson’s debut against Manchester United left plenty to be desired last week, but there’s no doubting City’s full back areas have been upgraded considerably.