Shahid Khan is American, bought Fulham, is probably not the end of English soccer

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Shahid Khan was born in Pakistan, but the Jacksonville Jaguars owner is American. Thanks to a fortune accumulated in the auto parts business, Khan is also a billionaire. And as of Friday, he’s the sixth American owner in the English Premier League.

Mohamed Al Fayed, a man who has bankrolled Fulham’s rise and subsequent stabilization in the Premier League, has sold Fulham FC to Khan, ending his 16-year stewardship of the West London club. Under his watch, Fulham rose from the third division to the Premiership, where the Cottagers have spent the last 12 years. The club has had some close calls with relegation (memorably in 2007-08), but over the last four years, Fulham have never finished lower than 12th, with a record seventh place finish 2008-09 leading to a Europa League final the following season.

Those efforts will live on a Cottager legend, but right now, it was time for Al Fayed to move on. From his statement on the club’s website:

But now is the right time for me to retire and spend time playing football with my grandchildren. I am sad but proud of our achievements. I am very grateful to Fulham’s fans, the most incredible fans in the world. They have given me their support and affection whenever they have seen me at home games. I would never let them down. I have passed the Club to a talented, honest and highly capable man who respects Fulham and its traditions. He is a great sportsman.

From said sportsman:

Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me.  I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans.  My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of. We will manage the club’s financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham’s future.

The reference to Craven Cottage is the best thing Khan could have said on Day 1. The venue is synonymous with the club. Any attempt to move away or significantly change the 25,700-seat ground on the Thames would destroy the club’s identity, ruining the very thing Khan’s bought into.

What this means competitively for Fulham and Cottagers is unclear, though Reuters’ reporter Simon Evans does a good job of painting what Khan’s ownership will be like:

New Fulham chief Shahid Khan, thePremier League’s latest foreign owner, is likely to break the mould and be one of the most open and public of billionaires to take control of one of England’s top flight clubs …

 “He is kind of a rock star with the fans,” Alfie Crow, editor of theJaguars’ fan blog ‘Big Cat Country,’ told Reuters.

“He comes out to practice, interacts with the fans and talks to them. He is very much out there and engaged. He has really energised people.”

 Any trepidation Jaguars fans initially had about the team’s new owner quickly dissipated as he won them over with his charm, not to mention a thick handlebar mustache and flowing hair that is a marked change from the staid image of the traditional NFL owner.

Not everybody covering the sale took Evans’s approach. Perhaps predictably, The Guardian’s David Conn used the moment to deride the qualities and motives of U.S. owners, undoubtedly sending shots down the throats of thousands of readers playing the David Conn drinking game:

Football, loved around the world, is here, in the land where it began 150 years ago, selling some of its most “storied” clubs to billionaires from the US, just about the only country which has never been entranced by the game.

As they have arrived, to own Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Sunderland and now Fulham, these shrewd and calculating billionaires have rarely convincingly explained what is driving this gradual US takeover of our soccer. …

This is becoming a critical group now, six clubs of 20, takeovers never planned, barely explained. At the same time more football people are outspokenly lamenting the imbalance between the clubs as global investments and the weakness of the England team, representing a sport still organised country by country. The long-term implications of overseas, predominantly US, mostly financially acquisitive ownership have not been considered; the clubs have just been sold, one by one.

Conn is consistent in his use of Americans as a type of boogeyman symbolizing everything wrong with the non-German soccer world. Many of his arguments are compelling, and those problems may very well exist, but his use of U.S. ownership as a strawman undermines his points, portraying a bias that made his Friday commentary inevitable the moment Fulham posted their announcement.

I doubt Khan is not a member of a cabal of American businessmen intent on striking the last blow of the American Revolution, the one that would ruin a communist sport the U.S. hates more than an empty revolver or a line at the McDonald’s drive-thru. In all likelihood, he’s just a man who wants to own a team in the Premier League, and among the people in the world who have both the means and desire to do so, it’s not that surprising he happens to be American. The U.S. is a huge, rich, sports-mad country with a relatively large class of people with ridiculous levels of disposable income. At some point, this becomes a function of probability, not the bi-product of a plan to destroy “our soccer”.

Sarcasm aside, there is something worth discussing in this “six clubs of 20” dynamic. The simplest assumption is that these people have bought into the Premier League because they covert something in either the business or sport, but in time, is it possible these owners may come together to secure their investment? Will a more American model be imposed on the league? And to what extent would the non-U.S. owners even object to that?

(MORE: But what about that silly Michael Jackson statue?)

That’s an interesting discussion to have, but it’s entirely hypothetical. Hypothetical and paranoid, given the lack of evidence supporting the notion. Right now, the only major difference between today’s Premier League and Friday morning’s is Fulham’s owner, somebody who is likely to have resources, views, motives, and reactions that are completely independent of his five American colleagues. Not all Americans are the same, and not every American’s intent on imposing a set of values on the Premier League.

Whether he succeeds or fails, Khan’s time at Fulham is more likely to be defined by his distinctions from Malcolm Glazer, Stan Kroenke, John Henry, Randy Lerner, and Ellis Short. And as Evans describes, Khan is likely to completely different from a typical U.S. owner, a man who could more like to the man he’s replacing than the group into which he’s been lumped.

Martino angry at Corona absence from Mexico squad

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New Mexico boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino did not hold back when asked about Jesus “Tecatito” Corona’s absence from the Mexico squad for the upcoming international break.

Corona pulled out of the squad due to an ankle injury he has apparently been playing through at his club side Porto. Still, Martino said he wished for Corona to travel to San Diego to meet up with the squad despite the injury as he is hoping to meet as many of the players in person and get to know them better.

“On Sunday, I spoke with him twice, once early in the morning and the other in the airport,” Martino explained to Azteca Deportes. “In the morning, I manifested the idea that even with impossibility [of playing with] the injury he had, we needed him to be with the group to get to know each other, it being the first meeting we’d have had. He didn’t have to train or play if he couldn’t, but we needed him to be here. At first he said yes and then on midday on Sunday, he called to say he’d thought about it and that his ankle wasn’t right and that he preferred not to travel.”

While Martino said that ultimately the decision was Corona’s to make, he made sure to note that “he’s [Corona’s] done something wrong” and that “he knows there will be repercussions in the future.”

“No one goes gun in hand asking them to come in and when they decide not to come we move on and keep going with the group that does want to be here,” Martino explained.

The Mexico boss also succinctly described his decision to leave LAFC striker Carlos Vela out of the squad, saying simply, “I don’t meet up [with the players] to make pacts. I had to take a decision and name the squad list and in that list I decided that Carlos shouldn’t be in.”

Just two months ago, upon officially receiving the job, Martino had described Vela as a “world class player.”

FA to investigate after coin thrown towards Chelsea’s Barkley at Goodison

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The FA has announced it is launching an investigation into the claims that a coin was thrown in the direction of former Everton player Ross Barkley during his return to Goodison Park with current club Chelsea.

The announcement confirmed that the FA has reached out to both clubs to make them aware of the investigation and procure any relevant information they may have regarding the incident.

Everton also announced it is conducting its own investigation of the incident at its home park. “We are investigating the alleged incident and reviewing footage,” Everton said in a statement. “If anyone is found responsible for this or other such incidents, the club will take robust action.”

Barkley transferred to Chelsea in January of 2018, and this was his first match back in his old stomping grounds. Everton won the match 2-0 to reach the 40 point mark and also pile pressure on Blues manager Maurizio Sarri.

The alleged coin assault came just two days after the FA, Premier League, and EFL issued a joint statement reminding “all supporters to carefully consider their behavior” at the weekend’s games and “all games in the future.” The statement came after a number of high-profile crowd disturbances, including a fan who ran onto the field and attacked Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, plus another pitch invader who shoved Manchester United defender Chris Smalling during a match against Arsenal.

Euro 2020 qualification set to begin Thursday

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With the international break upon us, qualification for Euro 2020 is set to begin, with 55 countries spread across 10 groups to determine who will make the final field of 24 that will take place in the main event in the summer of 2020.

As the group stage draws nearer, we take a look at the important matches that will begin qualification play through the first three competitive days of the international break in round one of qualifying.

Austria v. Poland

Bayern Munich teammates Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba will go head-to-head as Austria hosts Poland in Vienna. Lewandowski hasn’t scored for the national team since a pre-World Cup friendly last summer, and the visitors will be looking to put a poor World Cup behind them for good. As the two highest-ranked teams in Group G, there will be plenty of eyes on this match between two teams who haven’t met in over a decade.

Belgium v. Russia

The two favorites in Group I go head-to-head to kick off the competition as two teams fresh off happy World Cup memories clash in Brussels. Both of these teams failed to win their UEFA Nations League groups, meaning Euro qualification is their only method of entry into the final competition. Kevin De Bruyne misses out for Belgium, but the rest of the star-studded Belgian roster is intact. The Russians are looking for a new goalkeeper after the international retirement of Igor Akinfeev, and the three men called up to replace him have a combined 12 caps between them.

Slovakia v. Hungary

In surely one of the most hotly contested groups of Euro 2020 qualification, Slovakia and Hungary meet hoping to get the jump on one another as they compete with Croatia, Wales, and Azerbaijan for a slot in the final tournament. Hungary has not won a competitive road match since 2016, and they have scored just one goal against Slovakia in their last five tries. Marek Hamsik, fresh off his move to Chinese club Dalian Yifang, leads the lines for Slovakia in this critical match.

England v. Czech Republic

The two favorites in Group A meet to see if either side can get a leg up on the other four teams early. England will be without John Stones and Luke Shaw due to injury, but otherwise most first-choice players are fit. Jadon Sancho may get a chance to continue his stellar club form on the international level, while Callum Hudson-Odoi is with the squad as well. The Czech Republic called up just 18 players, including Burnley forward Matej Vydra, one of only five players on the squad with over 20 international appearances.

Portugal v. Ukraine

Group B has three main contenders, and two of them will meet on Friday looking for an early advantage. Cristiano Ronaldo is in great club form and was rested in the latest Juventus match as they lost for the first time all Serie A season. All the usual suspects are back for a ridiculously experienced Portugal team that hopes to defend its Euro 2016 title. The squad features five players with at least 50 caps, including three with over 100. Ukraine, meanwhile, is without the injured Andriy Yarmolenko who tore his Achilles back in October. Coach Andriy Shevchenko made the bold decision to leave experienced defenders Yaroslav Rakytskyi and Yevhen Khacheridi at home, with their 104 caps more than the entire defensive unit currently in the squad.

Spain v. Norway

An absolutely loaded Group F begins play on Saturday as Spain hosts Norway in Valencia. While Spain is considered the favorite for the group, the rocky and disappointing World Cup journey and spotty Nations League performances leaves them considered vulnerable heading into qualifying, and with Sweden, Norway, and Romania all considered contenders for that second spot, Luis Enrique’s squad will have to be on top of its game throughout. Enrique has left out Real Madrid struggler Isco as well as Atleti pair Koke and Saul in favor of greener players like Iker Muniain. On the other side, Norway boss Lars Lagerback has an inexperienced squad captained by West Brom midfielder Stefan Johansen.

FULL ROUND 1 SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)

Thursday, 3/21

Kazakhstan v. Scotland – 11am
Cyprus v. San Marino – 1pm
Austria v. Poland – 3:45pm
Belgium v. Russia – 3:45pm
Israel v. Slovenia – 3:45pm
Macedonia v. Latvia – 3:45pm
Netherlands v. Belarus – 3:45pm
Northern Ireland v. Estonia – 3:45pm
Slovakia v. Hungary – 3:45pm

Friday, 3/22

Bulgaria v. Montenegro – 1pm
Albania v. Turkey – 3:45pm
Andorra v. Iceland – 3:45pm
England v. Czech Republic – 3:45pm
Luxembourg v. Lithuania – 3:45pm
Moldova v. France – 3:45pm
Portugal v. Ukraine – 3:45pm

Saturday, 3/23

Georgia v. Switzerland – 10am
Gibraltar v. Republic of Ireland – 1pm
Malta v. Faroe Islands – 1pm
Sweden v. Romania – 1pm
Bosnia & Herzegovina v. Armenia – 3:45pm
Italy v. Finland – 3:45pm
Lichtenstein v. Greece – 3:45pm
Spain v. Norway – 3:45pm

Inter handed suspended sentence for more racist chants

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MILAN (AP) — Inter Milan has been handed a suspended sentence of having one of its stands closed for a match after its fans were again found guilty of racist chanting.

The Italian league says in a statement that “a significant percent” of supporters in the stand in question were heard racially abusing AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie during Sunday’s derby victory, in the seventh and 39th minutes of the first half.

The sentence will be suspended for a year but will be added onto any additional punishment if Inter’s fans commit more racist abuse during that period.

It is the second time this season that Inter has been sanctioned for racial abuse.

Inter was forced to play two games in an empty stadium in January after a Dec. 26 game at San Siro was marred by racist chants aimed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.