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?

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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.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

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Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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