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Brighton & Hove Albion: From the brink to the big time

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20 years ago Brighton & Hove Albion were battling for their lives at the foot of English soccer’s fourth division.

The Seagulls survived and now they’re soaring.

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On Monday Chris Hughton’s squad sealed promotion to the Premier League for the first-time in history as Brighton are back in the top-flight once again after exiting in 1983.

There will be plenty of fun next season in the English seaside resort as “Sussex by the Sea” will be belted out by Brighton fans across the Premier League.

It’s been a long, hard, and often dark road back to the top but Brighton are the latest example of a club being rewarded for coming back from the brink, rebuilding sensibly and eventually being back by wealthy owners, such as Hull City, Swansea City and Stoke City. 

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Their South Coast rivals Southampton and Bournemouth, who were both in administration and at the bottom of the third and fourth tiers respectively less than a decade ago, are perfect examples for Brighton to follow. Next season there will be three South Coast clubs in the Premier League (barring an almighty collapse from Bournemouth in the final weeks of the season) and with Plymouth and Portsmouth both securing promotion to the third-tier this weekend after similar tales of administration and woe, we’re in the midst of the English Channel’s soccer heyday.

Back to Brighton, though, and their suffering was particularly brutal both two decades ago and also in recent seasons.

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After securing a 1-1 draw on the final day of the 1996-97 fourth division season against Hereford United (Robbie Reinelt scored a late equalizer to keep them in the Football League at Hereford’s expense as the Seagulls needed a win or a draw) they then controversially moved from their Goldstone Ground home and had to play at Gillingham for two years, a town over 70 miles from Brighton.

Eventually they secured a lease to play at the Withdean Stadium, a council-owned athletics track which was converted into a stadium by temporary bleachers and had a capacity of under 9,000. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Withdean will tell you of its bizarre quirks and the fact that some fans were sat some 50 yards behind the pitch, behind a long-jump pit and running track, made it an uncomfortable setting. Brighton’s kit sponsor back then was “Skint”, the record label of local DJ Norman Cook (AKA the world renowned Fatboy Slim).

In England, being ‘skint’ is a colloquial term for having no money. That was exactly the case for Brighton as fans were just happy to have a club and that was about it as long-time chairman Dick Knight tried desperately to bring in funds.

Hamstrung by their temporary home, Brighton nonetheless rose up through the leagues to the second-tier on two occasions and they eventually financed their stunning 30,000 capacity AmEx Stadium through current chairman Tony Bloom who took over from Knight, the man who saved them from extinction. However, the stadium move was delayed by over five years as planning permissions were turned down and court battles took place.

Brighton’s fans are used to being patient and seeing the future of their club hanging in the balance. Gaining promotion to the Premier League will now secure their future for generations to come.

Before this season the Seagulls came close to promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13 and 2013-14 but lost in the play-off semifinals on both occasions, leaving supporters frustrated and the owners going back to square one to try and rebuild the playing squad with their dream of reaching the top-flight so close, but yet so far.

Over the past two season Hughton has delivered a solid, dependable side and Brighton agonizingly lost out on automatic promotion to the PL on the final day of last season with a draw at Middlesbrough who were instead promoted automatically ahead of Brighton on goal difference. Brighton then once again lost in the playoff semifinals (the third time in four seasons) but this season they’ve been pretty much ever-present in the top two and they’ll seal the Championship title with a win at Norwich City on Friday.

Brighton have been knocking on the door to the Premier League for much of the past four years and now it has finally opened you can expect them to hand Hughton plenty of funds to help them become an established PL outfit as they look to take on bitter rivals Crystal Palace.

They’ve been to the brink and back and like we’ve seen with plenty of others PL teams promoted in the past few years, that’s usually a recipe not only for success but also perspective as they plan ahead for the next challenge.

When you’ve come from the depths of the fourth division, had no stadium and seen the abyss of non-league starring at you in the face, battling against relegation in the Premier League (which will almost certainly be Brighton’s task next season) suddenly doesn’t seem that scary.

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez didn’t make the batch of backstops, odd given his one-time switch to the USMNT from Mexico. That made him automatically cap-tied to the U.S., but Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio.

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

Report: German publication has full FIFA corruption report

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The unedited 2014 report into World Cup bidding published by Michael Garcia has been ‘leaked’ into the press by German publication Bild.

FIFA had released a 42-page version of the report that claimed to clear corruption allegations against Qatar. This “suppressed” report is over 400 pages.

Garcia quit his job as investigator with the FIFA ethics committee in 2014, saying he believed progress in reforming FIFA had slowed considerably.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Bild said it will publish more information and the full report on Tuesday, but the BBC notes a couple interesting facets of the initial release:

  • “Three Fifa executive members were flown to a party in Rio in a private jet belonging to the Qatari federation before the vote for 2018 and 2022 hosting rights.”
  • “Bild’s report includes details of a $2m (£1.6m) sum allegedly paid to the 10-year-old daughter of a Fifa official.”

Before you overreact, the 10-year-old is an incredibly gifted footballer.

The reporter who filed the story says the report shows no proof of a bought bid, but that it is like “a puzzle.”

Giggs has “to put up with” no managerial interviews

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How much is playing experience worth to a manager?

Comments from Ryan Giggs have us contemplating that question as the legendary Manchester United man wonders why he hasn’t gotten a shout to manage a Premier League squad.

Giggs, 43, says he’s only spoken with Swansea City regarding a managerial spot since his 2014 stint as interim boss of Manchester United. That’s surprising given the Welshman has been linked with seemingly every job in the British Isles.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

“I spoke to Swansea. It didn’t work out. Because I have said I want to go into coaching and management every job that comes up I am linked with..and then I miss out on the job without having spoken to anyone! That’s frustrating, but that’s football. …“I have done the apprenticeship I have just not done the real thing yet.” (Manchester Evening News).

With respect to his on-field prowess, which at times was nearly peerless, should players like Giggs really be surprised when they don’t get top-end offers? Given the big money nature of the Premier League, why should any club trust it’s future to an unknown?

Patrick Vieira was a heck of a player but started his time in the first chair by going abroad to New York City FC. Even Paul Clement gave Derby County a go before getting a look at Swansea last season.

Now Giggs will probably point to fellow Wales and Manchester United alum Mark Hughes, who was named to Wales and Blackburn posts straight out of his playing career.

But for every story like that, there’s Steve Bruce working for Sheffield United in the old Division One, or Jaap Stam going into the Championship with Reading and having some success in building his name. On the negative side, there’s Gary Neville being thrust into a La Liga role without First Team experience.

So while there’s no guarantee that Giggs isn’t beating down the doors of openings in lower leagues, it seems more likely that he has the option of continuing to wait for someone to bet on his name and potential in the Premier League, or to go for any number of jobs in the lower tier to prove his mettle. There’s risk there, too, to be sure, but he’ll be more easily forgiven for failure in a lower spot than in a higher spot. But from the outside, it’s not something Giggs has “to put up with,” rather a choice.

And to his credit, Giggs feels his work in acquiring his coaching licenses while a player and studying under Louis Van Gaal should be enough for a gig. He’s also fine waiting, according to the article, which is totally acceptable (not that he’s looking for our approval). But we’d love to see former players like Giggs at another squad.

Chelsea sells Traore to Lyon for $11 million

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Chelsea has officially sold exciting attacker Betrand Traore to Lyon.

Traore, 21, spent last season on loan at Ajax, helping the club to the UEFA Europa League Final.

The 40-times capped Burkina Faso winger scored four goals in 16 appearances for Chelsea in 2015-16, and has 22 goals in loan seasons to Vitesse and Ajax.

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The fee is said to be more than $11 million. Traore joined Chelsea’s academy in 2010 after coming up with Auxerre.

Chelsea will earn 15 percent of any future sale of Traore, and also have the right of first refusal should another team make an offer for the attacker.

Lyon currently has held onto Alexandre Lacazette, and has Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and captain Maxime Gonalons amongst its stars. Adding Traore will only help the club’s ambitions in Ligue 1 as well as the Europa League.