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.

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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.

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Liverpool in talks to activate Minamino’s release clause

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On the face of it, this move makes perfect sense for everyone concerned. Especially Liverpool, who get a bargain.

Multiple reports state that the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks to sign Japanese winger Takumi Minamino from RB Salzburg.

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Minamino, 24, has a release clause of just $9.5 million and it has been reported that he will move to Liverpool in January with talks going well over a five-year contract.

RB Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund confirmed talks are ongoing about the transfer, with Bayern Munich and Marseille also said to be interested in signing the tricky winger.

“I can confirm that there are talks with Liverpool at the moment. It is an honor [for us] to see the caliber of clubs who are interested in our players.”

Minamino’s goals, pace and trickery pushed Salzburg to within one game of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and he impressed against Liverpool in both games in the UCL group stage as he scored at Anfield and gave their defense plenty of problems in the return game. His skillset would perfectly suit the way Liverpool play with his direct running, pace and nose for goal seemingly perfect for Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

With Klopp and his RB Salzburg counterpart Jesse Marsch hugging on the sidelines after Liverpool’s win in Austria on Tuesday, plus Klopp’s kind words on the job the American coach is doing at Salzburg, it’s safe to say there’s a strong connection between the two teams and their styles of play are very similar.

That’s an even better reason for Minamino to head to Liverpool as the Japanese star would slot in seamlessly and he would become the third former RB Salzburg player at the Reds alongside Naby Keita and Sadio Mane.

From the style of play of both player and the club, to the small transfer fee, this works out very well for everyone involved. Even Salzburg will be happy to become known as a feeder club to Liverpool and Europe’s other big boys as that will help them with their future recruitment.

Raul Jimenez’s future at Wolves uncertain

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Raul Jimenez has been talking about playing for one of Spain’s big boys.

That sound you can hear is Wolves fans everywhere sobbing.

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The Mexican striker was quoted by Spanish outlet Marca saying that he would one day like to return to Spain and play for one of the La Liga giants.

“I would never rule out returning to Spain. I have good memories, and I would like to go back at some point,” Jimenez said. “I want to try out LaLiga once more, as I didn’t get to play much the previous time. Returning is not off the agenda. I have played at the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu.”

Jimenez, 28, previously played for Atletico Madrid before moving to Benfica who loaned him to Wolves in the summer of 2018, and he has since made the switch to the West Midlands permanent for $40 million.

However, his manager Nuno Espirito Santo has moved to calm down fears the El Tri star will move at the end of this season.

“What he is doing is amazing – every day of his life is dedicated to Wolves so we are delighted with it,” Santo said. “Being ambitious and dreaming is something all of us have. But our present is very good with Raul here.”

The powerful Mexican striker has been superb over the past two seasons and has proved to be a phenomenal target man in the Premier League. He’s scored 32 goals in 71 appearances in all competitions for Wolves, leading them to an FA Cup semifinal appearance and seventh-place PL finish last season and his goals this campaign (15 in 27 appearances in total) have catapulted them into the top six and the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Aside from his goals Jimenez’s hold-up play has been vital to Wolves’ success.

It is worth pointing out that Jimenez revealed he is very happy at Wolves but the fact he is so ambitious and fancies moving on to either Real Madrid and Barcelona is a good thing for the club. This means Jimenez is striving to improve and do all he can to take his game to the next level.

Yes, Wolves will be desperate to keep hold of the Mexican star who is a fans favorite at Molineux. But if he continues to score goals and one of Spain’s big boys, or a title-chasing team in the PL, were to come calling, can they stand in his way?