The Premier League transfer season rolls on despite the World Cup, and two big names are on the world’s market now that Chelsea has officially waved goodbye to two big names.
Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o will leave the club after just one season at Stamford Bridge, while Ashley Cole will not be offered a new deal at the club despite being one of the club’s all-time outside backs.
Neither move is a major surprise, with Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho vocally none-too-pleased with his striker depth last season and Cole’s age a factor. The England back was left off the World Cup roster as well.
The contracts of the former England full-back and the Cameroon striker, both 33, expired on Monday, and neither was offered fresh terms.
“Cole has a very strong claim to be the club’s greatest player of all time in his position,” read a statement.
“Chelsea thanks Ashley for the fantastic service throughout his eight years here and for helping to bring so many trophies home.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle United will attempt to solve their massive midfield problems with the addition of Ajax captain Siem de Jong. The 25-year-old is the brother of forward Luuk de Jong, who went on loan to Newcastle last season, but has a much more accomplished resume.
It’s a six-year deal for the No. 10, and rumors of an $8 million fee abound. Siem de Jong has performed well in Europe as well — not currently a concern for Newcastle — and will restore some hope to the suffering club.
Controversial coach Marcelo Bielsa will take charge of ambitious Lille for next season, signaling his return to French football after a chaotic end to his spell with Marseille.
Lille said in a statement on Sunday that Bielsa will replace interim coach Franck Passi on July 1 and has been given a two-year deal.
“Marcelo Bielsa is without a doubt one of the most respected and influential coaches in the world and it’s a huge satisfaction for Lille,” said Marc Ingla, a club director. “It also proves the ambition of our club.”
A former Argentina manager, Bielsa is highly rated as an innovative, attack-minded leader who brings the best out of his players.
With Lille hiring Bielsa, Lyon already settled into a new stadium, Marseille recruiting aggressively under new American ownership and Monaco challenging Paris Saint-Germain strongly, next season promises to be an even more competitive one in France.
A more entertaining one, too, now that Bielsa is back and likely to give the French media plenty of headlines.
Bielsa stunned fans and the club’s directors when he quit Marseille last season, after just one game of the new campaign. The 61-year-old Argentine was taking charge of his second season and was a fan favorite when he suddenly quit.
He was out of contract but had struck a verbal agreement with the president to extend his tenure.
Then, just before putting pen to paper on his new deal, he changed his mind, alleging that Marseille officials amended the terms of the agreement at the last minute. He had previously publicly criticized Marseille’s president in a vitriolic outburst during a news conference because he was angry at the club’s transfer policy, saying it had signed players over his head.
Controversy seems to follow Bielsa, who in football circles earned the nickname “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa), due to his driven personality, single-mindedness, tough talking and relentless determination to do things only on his terms.
In the summer of last year, he quit as coach of Italian side Lazio – just two days after the Italian club announced it had signed him.
In football terms, Bielsa made much of his reputation more than a decade ago.
At club level, he won three Argentinian titles with Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield – reaching the South American Copa Libertadores final with Newell’s in 2002. Later on, he also guided Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League and Spanish Cup finals in 2012.
With Argentina, he won gold at the 2004 Olympic Games and led Argentina to the Copa America final the same year.
Lille’s new owner Gerard Lopez, the president of the finance group Genii Capital and former president of the Lotus Formula One team, previously spoke about Bielsa in glowing terms.
Lopez recently took over from Michel Seydoux – a French businessman and film producer who was club president since 2002 – and Lopez is keen on rebuilding Lille with talented young players in the same way Monaco has done.
On the final day of the transfer window last month, Lille signed six players aged 23 or under. Dutch forward Anwar El Ghazi, who joined from Ajax, scored his first goal for the club on Saturday.
The club’s scouting network is also likely to be very strong in South America, with Bielsa working closely alongside Luis Campos – who is an advisor to Lopez.
Campos previously worked with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and then for three years as a technical director with Monaco.
The well-connected Campos oversaw the arrival of several promising young players at Monaco – including highly rated attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva – and they have blossomed so much that Monaco is top of the league and has scored more than 100 goals overall this season.
Lille is playing catch up.
Although Lille qualified six times for the Champions League during Seydoux’s tenure and clinched the league and cup double in 2011, results have dropped and the northern French club is currently in 14th place.
The club’s youth system – which produced players such as Chelsea star Eden Hazard – has not been so successful in recent years and this will also be an area for Bielsa to improve.
“My friend, I take the decisions, you analyze my decisions. You have to take a decision before [the game], to the best solution. It was what I did. If you don’t agree, you can write it.
“What I hear in the last 10 days, about how people, ex-players, journalists, treat Arsene Wenger is unacceptable.”
This not a particularly kind stretch for Wenger’s Arsenal, and the Gunners do look set for a seventh-straight exit from the UCL at the Round of 16. Still, Guardiola does have a point when accounting for the fact that Jurgen Klopp, Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho have all seen poor stretches this season.
Yes, Wenger has been at Arsenal much longer than his peers in the Premier League, but the cyclical criticism of the French boss is exhausting and exhaustive. Two decades in one location provides enough data to call someone a legend or brand him a disappointment. It’s a downtime right now, and perhaps the right time to change bosses. But people seem particularly happy to burn Wenger.
It’s one of two Tuesday first legs, with big names like Fernando Torres, Javier Hernandez, and Antoine Griezmann all set to feature in the other.
Manchester City vs. Monaco
How they got here: Man City finished second to Barcelona in Group C, winning two of six matches, while Monaco won Group E over Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, and CSKA Moscow.
History: Tuesday will be the first meeting of Man City and Monaco.
The plot: Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich saw him bounced at the semifinals of three-straight UCL tournaments, and his last final came in 2011.
The subplot: Will Yaya Toure’s City resurgence extend into Europe? How about Radamel Falcao getting some PL revenge? And watch out for Premier League rumor mill men Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Moutinho.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid
How they got here: Bayer finished second to Monaco in Group E, and Atletico won five of six group stage matches in summiting Group D.
History: The clubs swapped home wins in the 2015 UCL — Atleti progressed after penalties — and drew a pair of UEL matches in 2010.
The plot: Neither side is tempting its usual spot on its domestic table, and both Diego Simeone and Roger Schmidt would be thrilled to progress in Europe.
The subplot: Simeone has won the Europa League, and is chasing his third UCL final in four seasons. … Bayer attacker Chicharito is hot again, with five goals in his last three Bundesliga matches, after waving off MLS rumors.