The ‘no good and racist’ Zenit fans just won’t shut up

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Zenit fans are mad at the media for distorting their racist, homophobic manifesto, apparently making the understandable mistake of describing its racism and homophobia.

In the words of the great Brian Fontana: “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.”

On Monday, Zenit’s largest supporters group (Landscrona) posted a letter on its website saying the absence of black players is important to the club’s Eastern and Northern European roots, also claiming “sexual minorities” should not be signed by the club.

Steve already covered it here but according to Landscrona, he and the rest of the media are doing a hit job on the well-intended fan group.

Per ESPN FC:

The new statement read: “Unfortunately, it has become clear to us why many players refuse to speak to journalists. There have been numerous out-of-context headlines, distorted quotes and labels applied that go beyond reasonable limits.

“We once again strongly reject any accusations of racism. [The manifesto] does not mention anywhere that we believe that the people of certain countries and religions do not have the right to play for Zenit.”

The new statement quotes a line from the manifesto stating that European players should be prioritised and adds: “THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT IS A TABOO. To sign players from Latin America, for example, only makes sense if there has first been an honest, professional effort to sign a player from Russia, or Europe.

“We, as the most northerly club of all the major European cities, have no mental association with Africa, just as we have no association with South America or Austalia or Oceania. We have absolutely nothing against the people of these or any other continents, but we want a Zenit team primarily made of players who share our spirit and mentality.”

The language is softer, and to a lot of people, this is would be similar to selective policies employed by some otherwise aggrandized clubs (Athletic Bilbao) if we didn’t have reason to suspect this is just coded hate.

But this reframing is still ridiculous on a basic, human level. It’s one thing to recognize a natural affinity to things to which you’re connected, but to imply people in St. Petersburg have “no mental association with Africa” is insane.

There’s a clear, obviously, perhaps excessively mundane connection Russians have to Africans. They’re all people. I don’t have deep roots with anybody in Ghana, but it’s not too difficult for me to recognize our basic commonalities.

And once you think along those lines, it becomes very difficult to see why a club in Russia should (as the fans suggest) draw a huge circle around St. Petersburg and say “people within this area represent what Zenit is about.” That’s not to say there aren’t compelling reasons to want players with legitimate connections to the club to be brought into the team, but Zenit fans are extending those connections to Finland and Belarus.

Not to mention they’re now being incredibily disingenuous about their motives.

From Christopher Samba, the Congolese defender who left Blackburn for Anzhi Makhachkala last season:

“I’m not surprised,” Samba said, according to BBC Sport. “Everybody knows Zenit supporters are no good and racist. They are living in another century. It’s a sad day for Russian football. In this time we have different communities and countries that constitute teams. If they can’t accept that then they are never going to progress.

“It’s really sad. It’s slowing down the process of Russian football being a better league. I hope the Russian federation do the necessary to sanction it.”

Zenit’s a club with major ambitions, as evidenced by their purchases of Axel Witsel and Hulk. But thanks to their fans, they may soon be the most-hated team in the world, and while management tries to distance the club from the extremists, right now the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Zenit is hate.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

(more…)

De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.