Is Arouna Kone the answer for Everton?

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The biggest transfer rumor out of Goodison Park these days is that the Toffees may soon sign Wigan striker Arouna Kone for a fee in the region of £5-6.5 million ($7.5-9.8m).

So the question has to be asked – Is Kone the answer for Everton up top?

My immediate reaction is one that I’ve held for many, many months: Yes.

I’ve been an admirer of Kone’s since he arrived at the DW Stadium last summer and, in his second match, stripped Southampton defender Jose Fonte in the 89th minute and proceeded to dribble the length of the pitch before slotting past Saints’ keeper Kelvin Davis.

The goal had been coming Kone’s way the entire match as the Ivorian repeatedly found space and ripped shots on the opposition’s cage.

Six weeks later Everton went to Wigan for what should have been an easy three points and Kone was absolutely suffocating. He opened the scoring ten minutes in, heading home a Shaun Maloney cross.

Thirteen minutes later and Kone was at it again, skunking Leighton Baines on the Everton by-line and crossing to Franco di Santo, who fired into the roof of the net.

The onslaught lasted the entire 90 minutes with Kone shredding the Toffees defense and springing his counter-parts left and right. Man on fire.

The two sides met again on Boxing Day and, once again, Kone was relentless.

Speed. Skill. Vision. Desire. He had it all going. And while, this time around, the Latics were outplayed by Everton, Kone still got on the score-sheet.

But I didn’t hate. I just admired.

I simply wanted that kind of zest leading the line at Everton. Nikica Jelavic was not getting it done and Victor Anichebe, despite drastic improvement, did not seem like ‘The Answer’ up top. So when Kone went on to finish his debut season with 11 league goals and five assists (13 and 7 in all comps), I was sold.

‘Everton need to buy that man,’ I told myself.

A few weeks later Roberto Martinez was crowned successor of David Moyes and, at that point, I was damn well sure the Toffees were in great shape to make that dream a reality.

But, time has a funny way of changing things and now, I’m not so sure.

As always is the case with Everton, it all starts with finances. While £5-6.5 million is a drop in the bucket for most English clubs, it is significant investment for Everton. As such, a transfer for that amount means that the player who is acquired must play a position where the club is truly hurting.

While striker is a position where Everton currently lacks top talent and could definitely improve, the Toffees are in much greater need of a creative central midfielder, a center-back (to provide cover for an aging Sylvain Distin), and a winger (preferably a right sided player so Kevin Mirallas can take up a more central role). Of course, if Marouane Fellaini and/or Leighton Baines is sold, additional cover will be required in the center of the park and at left-back.

Those are the needs that take precedence so spending £5-6.5 million – which could easily be half of Roberto Martinez’ transfer budget this summer – seems misguided.

Is Kone worth that kind of fee? Probably. But keep in mind that at the age of 29, the Ivorian is no spring chicken.

Plus, just because Kone did well in his debut season in the Premier League does not mean he will excel this year. Sophomore seasons are notoriously difficult in England as the bloom is off the pumpkin and defenders are now wise to a striker’s previously mysterious ways.

Just ask Nikica Jelavic. After scoring 9 league goals in 13 matches after his arrival in January 2012, he managed only 7 goals in 37 contests this past season.

After that kind of performance, many Evertonians are ready to close the book on Jelavic. This would be a mistake.

The Croatian may have struggled last season but a lot of his woes came down to being unlucky. He worked hard and got himself into good positions but the ball simply did not go into the net. Expect Jelavic to come into this season with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove, which is exactly the kind of hunger Everton want up top.

If Jelavic continues to under-perform, Victor Anichebe can get the job done. The Nigerian avoided major injury for the first time last season and was a force to be reckoned with up top. Perhaps he lacks the finesse of the league’s top strikers but Big Vic gets the job done. And he’s a nightmare to mark in the box.

That being said, if Martinez is hell-bent on bringing a new striker into Goodison Park then he needs to dig deep into Bill Kenwright’s pockets and get the chairman to pony up for a top striker who is undoubtedly better than Jelavic and Anichebe.

So is Kone is the answer for Everton. It’s debatable. But for me, that kind of money would be better used on another Wigan player, like Callum McManaman, Shaun Maloney or James McCarthy.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 2-1 Switzerland win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

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One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

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The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

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After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

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After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.