New angle allows us to circle back on, re-tell Eden Hazard’s ball boy “assault”

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If you’re a 22-year-old professional athlete and you resort to kicking something out of the hands of an 17-year-old, you’ve made a big mistake. I think most reasonable people would agree. It doesn’t matter if that kid is the teenage embodiment of Eric Cartman. The moment you decide to resort to that violent act — whether you eventually make contact or not — you’re in the wrong. You’ve made a bad life choice.

That’s the subtext of yesterday’s Eden Hazard discussion. The Chelsea star, frustrated by the asinine actions of a juvenile ball boy, swung his right foot under the person we now know as Charlie Morgan. He jarred the ball loose and tossed it to the goalkeeper while the teen recoiled against the sideboards.

At least, that’s what yesterday’s replays showed. For those of us who weren’t watching in real time, we were given a view from behind that very clearly shows a player kicking out before the person on the ground reacts by rolling away.

Today, we get another GIF, one that gives some credence to commenter claims Hazard “just” poked the ball away:

Hazard’s shin may have still made contact with Morgan’s ribs (the contention I made yesterday), but the reverse angle forces us to acknowledge: That may not have happened. And if it did, it’s not enough to justify the weight of the original outrage.

In one sense, that matters. A lot of people have made that contention all along, coming to the defense of Hazard. Most of us saw that as reflexive Chelsea fans who would support a player even if he shot an intern with an air rifle. As it turns out, they may have been correct Chelsea fans who may or may not support a player who shot an intern with an air rifle. Such is fandom — such is the type of skewed dialogue we get when dealing with the passions of blind devotion — but it’s important to remember those passions aren’t always wrong. Next time this happens, it might do some good to stop, listen, and talk it out (in more civil tones).

But in another sense, none of that matters. There is a reason Eden Hazard apologized to Charlie Morgan. It’s because he knows he was wrong, in the same way we knew the moment this happened he was very, very wrong. He allowed a 17-year-old to get the best of him, kicked out, and rightfully will be suspended. The second his right foot starts to come down on Morgan, he’s wrong, no matter the result.

source:  Some have tried to mitigate that by claiming a 17-year-old is not a “boy” – irrelevant pettifogging. In the divide between manhood and childhood, there’s no doubt where Morgan falls. Nobody’s calling Morgan the infant some conveniently imagine when they read “boy.” Nobody’s trying to portray him as fragile and unaccountable. But he is still a boy, just as all 17-year-old males are. They can be big and unmanageable, but their still young, naive, and nowhere near as physically capable as the 22-year-old version of themselves will be. Hazard gets no credit for kicking an old boy instead of a young one.

This also isn’t the best time for the I told you sos. Within 24 hours this has gone from something unfathomable to the type of jokes were any impassioned opinions become woefully disproportionate. Save your vindication for something that matters.

More than that, the evidence we had near-24 hours ago we pretty strong. If this had been in a courtroom, we would have had photographic evidence, witness testimony, and a confession. And Hazard would have been convicted.

source: Getty ImagesThankfully, this wasn’t an actual trial, so just as we do every time new views surface, we stop, reconsider, and potentially correct our narratives. The idea that Hazard nailed Morgan in the side — the idea we had reason to believe after yesterday’s game — is very possibly wrong. At the same time, there is a reason Hazard apologized.

Now, instead of looking like a complete idiot, Hazard looks like a well-meaning moron. The felony becomes a misdemeanor. He didn’t kick the kid, nor does it appear he was careless with his poke. But it was still a terrible decision, and as immature as Morgan was in denying that ball, Hazard was more immature by concluding kicking out at a ball in the hands of a boy was a viable tactical decision. Having played organized soccer for most of this life, there is no way he could have been under the at-the-time misconception his actions approached acceptable.

In light of the new camera angle (which, I’m told, was shown live), it’s hard to think this all isn’t overkill. Hazard made a mistake, and he needs to be suspended. But the photo shows some consideration in his actions. His apology showed remorse. And the ball boy provided sufficient provokation.

Action needs to be taken to illustrate Hazard’s decision is unacceptable, but will this turn into the career-defining mistake I defined in yesterday’s post? Thankfully, no.

Sargent describes how it felt to score first Bundesliga goal

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Less than 12 months after signing his first professional contract, Joshua Sargent accomplished his dream of playing in the Bundesliga. Seconds later, he was on the scoreboard.

Just 88 seconds after coming on, Sargent provided a header to put the ball across the goal line and score his first Bundesliga goal in a Werder Bremen 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. Sargent found the back of the net again two weeks later, against strong opposition in RB Leipzig.

[READ: “Pity” Martinez pictured in New York]

Following a short trip back to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Sargent joined up with his teammates in South Africa for some warm-weather training during the Bundesliga winter break.

Sargent is looking for another taste of first team action as Werder Bremen resumes the Bundesliga season at Hannover on Saturday. Should Sargent continue to get regular minutes for either or both the Werder Bremen first or second teams, expect him to get another call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for its European-based friendly matches in March.

‘Pity’ Martinez arrives in U.S., even with no official ATL UTD announcement

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Atlanta United hasn’t officially announced the signing of Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, but the talented Argentine attacker is in the U.S. now anyway.

Martinez posted a selfie of himself at Times Square in New York City, likely getting his first taste of anonymity after a star-studded run with River Plate in Buenos Aires.

[READ: Bielsa admits to spying all his “rivals”]

Following the rescheduled second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, Martinez and River Plate both confirmed to media post game that he was departing River Plate for Atlanta United, but despite this, the MLS club still hasn’t made the new official on their end. It’s unclear what the hold up is, whether it is transfer fee, agents fee, or Designated Player related. For the record, the LA Galaxy announced in December that it was re-signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a Designated Player contract, knowing all along that they couldn’t start the next MLS season with more than three DPs.

Previous reports out of Argentina have stated that Martinez’s transfer to Atlanta United could cost the club as much as $14 million including the base transfer fee to River Plate, agents fees, and potential add-ons.

A year ago, Atlanta United announced its club record signing, Ezequiel Barco, then-19, during the MLS Superdraft, but there was no Designated Player announcement at the league’s annual weekend symposium this year. Atlanta United has a challenge on its hands if Miguel Almiron isn’t sold to Europe this offseason. Under current MLS rules, it can’t have more than three players signed to Designated Player contracts.

Perhaps it could loan Barco, who struggled at times last season, or loan Martinez elsewhere, because Josef Martinez seems a lock to be in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

Either way, Pity Martinez’s arrival in the U.S. could be a sign that an announcement could come soon from Atlanta United.

Reports: Chelsea edging closer to signing Higuain

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The transfer window appears to be heating up as we head towards the close in the next two weeks, with the first of many dominoes about to fall.

According to The Telegraph and reports out of Italy, Chelsea have now made an official offer to Juventus for Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on-loan with AC Milan. If confirmed, the report states that Chelsea will effectively take over Higuain’s loan for six months, and then the Premier League side will have the option to keep Higuain on loan for another 12 months or buy him outright.

[READ: Derby County stuns Southampton in FA Cup]

Higuain and Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri have history, as Higuain had arguably his best club season under the Italian manager at Napoli. Higuain scored 36 goals in Serie A, by far the top scorer in the league in 2016, which led to a $102.6 million move north to Juventus. However, it’s been an up and down time in the North of Italy for the Argentine. He scored 24 goals with Juve in his first year with the club but finished with just 16 last year before the Italian giants signed Cristiano Ronaldo, which effectively meant Higuain had to look for a new home.

News that a deal is close to completion is a big turnaround from a few weeks back, when even as Higuain struggled at Milan, the two sides didn’t seem close to breaking apart, and Juventus reportedly was insistent on recouping some of their transfer fee. However, following the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday, it appears both sides are ready to move on.

Higuain coming to Chelsea may be the first domino to fall. With Sarri getting his preferred striker, that frees up Alvaro Morata to return to his native Spain, although he’s reportedly set to join Atletico Madrid, instead of his former side Real Madrid. In addition, Chelsea has been shopping Michy Batshuayi, the top target for AS Monaco, where he would reunite with Thierry Henry, his former assistant coach with the Belgian National Team. The Telegraph reported that Chelsea wanted to recoup some of the $51.5 million it spent on Batshuayi but at this point, it’s looking more likely that he’ll move to Monaco on-loan or for a cut-rate fee, with his current loan to Valencia likely to be terminated shortly.

In Italy, the next domino to fall is Genoa’s Krzysztof Piątek, who is set to take Higuain’s place at AC Milan. Piatek has been the revelation of Serie A this season, with the Polish international scoring 13 Serie A goals in 19 games, just one goal behind Ronaldo. It’s unclear what the transfer fee will be for Genoa – Piatek joined the club last summer – but it’s likely to be a big one considering the premium on goals these days.

Once Higuain moves and the dominoes fall, we’ll see how it affects the rest of the Premier League, with other players becoming available as the transfer window enters its final weeks.

Henry’s Monaco draws 1-1 with Vieira’s Nice in French league

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PARIS (AP) Old friends Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had to split the points as Monaco drew 1-1 with French Riviera rival Nice on Wednesday in a scrappy match featuring three video reviews.

Winger Allan Saint-Maximin put Nice ahead in the 30th minute and 17-year-old defender Benoit Badiashile equalized shortly after halftime, becoming the youngest scorer in the French top flight this season. Badiashile’s header from a corner was deemed to have crossed the line by the use of goal-line technology.

[MORE: Ligue 1 scores, schedule]

Henry and Vieira are in their first seasons coaching in France, but they go way back and hugged warmly before kickoff.

Living next to each other in London, they blossomed with Arsenal and were part of the famed “Invincibles” side which went a whole season unbeaten in the Premier League. The Frenchmen also won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000, as well as playing together in the 2006 World Cup final.

Having started their illustrious careers as teenagers on the French Riviera – Henry with Monaco and Vieira with Cannes – they have come full circle as coaches.

Monaco had chances through Aleksandr Golovin and Rony Lopes, only for Nice to strike against the run of play following a sloppy mistake from Youssef Ait Bennasser. After he gave the ball away in midfield, Saint-Maximin took it off him easily and shrugged off defender Jemerson before shooting confidently past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

The goal was awarded before being checked and confirmed by referee Benoit Bastien using VAR. Moments before the interval, he consulted VAR again to send off Nice striker Ihsan Sacko for a late challenge on defender Benjamin Heinrichs.

“There’s a lot of frustration and questions about the decisions. The red card is very harsh,” Vieira said. “It wasn’t a dangerous action and it had a negative impact on us.”

Bastien used VAR for the third time to award a penalty in the 75th, ruling that Badiashile impeded right back Youcef Atal when images suggested Atal initiated contact with Badiashile before tumbling down.

Benaglio guessed correctly to keep out Saint-Maximim’s spot kick. Monaco almost won it near the end when Radamel Falcao hit the post with a curling effort.

“A point isn’t enough for us, but we could have been sat here talking about a defeat,” Henry said. “I have no opinion about the VAR, those are their decisions. Diego saved the penalty – so much the better for us.”

Monaco has not won at home this season and is 19th – only one point ahead of last-place Guingamp, which beat Rennes 2-1 at home.

OTHER MATCHES

VAR also played a key role elsewhere as Saint-Etienne equalized with a penalty in a 2-1 home win against Marseille.

Referee Antony Gautier awarded the penalty in the 56th after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda upended forward Wahbi Khazri.

Gautier then changed his mind after the linesman signaled Khazri was offside when receiving the pass, but further confusion ensued as he then consulted VAR and re-awarded the penalty, which was confidently tucked away by Khazri.

There was no debating Khazri’s late winner, struck ferociously from 20 meters past Mandanda. It was his 12th league goal of the season and leapfrogged Saint-Etienne over Lyon into third place ahead of their local derby on Sunday.

Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman headed Marseille ahead early on from Florian Thauvin‘s excellent cross. The defeat increases the pressure on ninth-place Marseille and its coach Rudi Garcia after a string of poor performances have left fans disgruntled and angry.

In other matches, forwards Moussa Dembele and Nabil Fekir netted late on as Lyon rallied to draw 2-2 at Toulouse.

Nimes moved into 11th spot after winning 1-0 at home to Nantes.