Felix Magath’s blueprint to save Fulham revolves around the fans

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When Felix Magath first arrived at Fulham’s training ground at Motspur Park in February, the players knew only of his reputation.

And they were afraid of it.

Nicknamed “Saddam” the German had a reputation for being not just a disciplinarian, but a dictator, working his players to the precipice of exhaustion to get them in shape for matches.

“That was a problem,” Magath admitted in his prematch press conference ahead of this weekend’s game at White Hart Lane. “The players read a lot of things and they were afraid.”

They had reason to be afraid. They had been leaking second-half goals at an alarming rate, suggesting the squad was running out of steam too early, and neither Rene Meulensteen nor Martin Jol before him had been able to plug the dike.

They were just 1-0 down to Manchester City at halftime – they lost 5-0. They were in a scoreless draw with Southampton until the 65th minute – they lost 3-0. They were scoreless at the Emirates at halftime – they lost 2-0.  They fell to Liverpool, Newcastle, Swansea, and Tottenham all in the last 10 minutes.

So the front office brought in the man who would plug the gap.  The man who would whip them into shape.

Except he didn’t.

Sure he wakes them up at the crack of dawn – to eat breakfast together.

Sure he sticks them in a basement – to make phone calls.

Felix Magath’s strategy to save Fulham from the drop concentrates on reminding the players what really matters: the fans. They’ve been stuck in the Fulham call center to thank fans for renewing their season tickets with personal phone calls.

He’s invited fans to come attend open training sessions and then dine with the players for lunch after.

And it’s worked.  Just watch the elation when they score a goal.  Lewis Holtby’s made a habit of acknowledging the fans after every score, whether it’s by his doing or not. Pajtin Kasami is a hug machine. Hugo Rodallega’s cried – twice.

Holtby will likely return to Tottenham Hotspur after the season, especially if the club is relegated. Why should he care? He has no real reason to, yet he does. Magath has instilled into this club what should really matter to the players.

Because when it comes down to it, if the club is relegated the players can get another job, they can go to another team, they can sign another contract.  But the fans can’t. And when Magath focuses on that, it all becomes clear.

This doesn’t just apply to Fulham, mind you. It applies to all the clubs fighting for relegation, but this club has made it clear that the reason they’re fighting against the drop is for those in the seats, not those on the pitch.

For the Whites, it may just save their season, and they have the German “dictator” to thank.

“The players work with us,” Magath said behind his funky looking glasses, “not only me, but my athletic coach and my assistant coach – and they realize that we are not monsters.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s not so bad.” It won’t be, if they stay up.

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

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Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

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Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal field set

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is down to one non-MLS entrant after LAFC fought past Sacramento Republic’s dogged effort to make it two, twice equalizing en route to a 3-2 win.

[ MORE: TFC extends Bono ]

Louisville City won a battle of USL sides in Wednesday’s final day of fifth round action, knocking off Nashville SC by a 2-1 score.

Now attention turns to the quarterfinals, where USL champions Louisville City will face the Chicago Fire on July 18.

All four quarterfinals will be staged on that day, and the winner of Louisville-Chicago will face the winner of the duel between Philadelphia Union and Orlando City.

The other side of the bracket shows Houston Dynamo against Sporting KC, and LAFC against the Portland Timbers.

Chicago and KC have won the cup an MLS-best four times each, while Philadelphia has finished second twice.

The remaining quarterfinalists have not advanced to a USOC final.

Sprawling translated Emery interview talks PSG, Guardiola, more

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has given a sprawling interview, translated by France Football News, in which he discusses his history and his philosophies.

The interview was conducted after Emery was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain but before he was hired by the Gunners.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

It’s a fascinating read, with Emery going deep into his relationship with Neymar, the need for PSG to get an “A-ha” goal for its history books, and much, much more.

The interview is with Marti Perarnau, the author of “Pep Confidential,” and there are plenty of good nuggets regarding the Manchester City boss, as well as Rafa Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, PSG, Real Madrid, and Barcelona.

It’s fairly clear that Emery figured he’d be going to a new league, and he certainly seems like a guy fit for a project like succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. For one thing, he’s proud of his team’s style.

That’s something valued by the North London set, and Emery pointed out that Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Pep Guardiola at Man City had to fail before they succeeded.

Let me say this: PSG played well and won. Many people don’t value that enough and believe that it is easy. But what happened to us? We lacked competitiveness in important moments. Why? Because this team is not confronted with enough moments of adversity in the league. Being competitive also means being faced with adversity. One has to suffer like Simeone’s team to win. One has to suffer like Pep’s team to win in England.

My team had two basic principles: having possession and pressing. That was the basis. Having the ball, and winning it back as fast as possible. I should add a little nuance. I’m talking about having possession and not positioning because there are moments where you can win the ball through positioning, and others where moving out of position can surprise the opponent. And like Guardiola says, if you have to win with a long ball from the goalkeeper towards the striker and that the forward scores with his ass, then so be it! We work like that as well.

And here’s just a quick nugget on the importance of playmaking, and how good players make a coach look better.

During his first match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes, we get corner. Neymar takes it quickly and Kurzawa scores. We hadn’t worked that at all with him. Afterwards, I told Neymar, “My work is limited to your strokes of genius.”

Love it. Arsenal seems like it’s in good hands. Read the full interview here.