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Sunderland confirm Sam Allardyce talks with England

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Big Sam is closing in on one of the biggest coaching jobs in the game.

Sunderland have confirmed that the English Football Association has held talks with their manager Sam Allardyce about becoming the next manager of the English national team.

[ MORE: No approach for Klinsmann ]

Allardyce, 61, is said to be the favored choice of the FA to replace Roy Hodgson after he stepped down following England’s dismal EURO 2016 campaign which saw them beaten by Iceland in the Round of 16.

Other bookies favorites to take charge of England are Eddie Howe, Steve Bruce, Jurgen Klinsmann and Arsene Wenger and multiple reports claim than the FA favor an Englishman taking the role

Sunderland released the following statement on Wednesday to address the situation:

The Football Association contacted Sunderland AFC to seek permission to speak with our manager as part of what was supposed to be a confidential discussion process with potential candidates for the position of England manager.

At Sam Allardyce’s request, we agreed to this.

Sam is very much key to our plans. After what was an extremely challenging season, we are keen to see a period of stability, both on and off the field, and we want him to remain as manager of our football club.

The ongoing speculation over Sam’s position is extremely damaging to Sunderland AFC, particularly at this crucial time of the season and we urge the FA to respect the disruption that this process is causing and bring about a swift resolution to the matter.

Allardyce interviewed for the position of England manager in 2006 but Steve McClaren was instead handed the job. He was overlooked when both Fabio Capello and Hodgson were subsequently appointed but now it seems as though his time has arrived to take charge of the Three Lions.

He is a manager who has received plenty of stick for his supposed route-one tactics and although his methods may be direct, Big Sam has overachieved everywhere he has been. Sure, his tactics may not be the most beautiful to watch but it gets results. Is there really much difference between the style of play of Leicester City last season and Allardyce’s teams?

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland thumbs up on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Sir Alex Ferguson has backed Allardyce for the job and the former chief executive of Manchester United, and current vice-chairman of the FA, David Gill, is also a close friend of Allardyce.

Gill is part of the three-man committee along with chief executive Martin Glen and technical director Dan Ashworth who have been tasked with picking a new England manager.

At Bolton he got them promoted to the Premier League and took them to Europe. He brought West Ham United back to the top flight and stabilized them n the top-flight and most recently with Sunderland he arrived midway through the 2015-16 season and kept the Black Cats in the PL against all odds.

No man will tick all the boxes but Allardyce seems to tick the most from the criteria the FA is supposedly looking for. He commands a room when he walks in, has a direct way of doing things and you know where you stand with him. He is a proper bloke and a real soccer man.

He has always been forward thinking when it comes to using sports science — he was one of the first managers to use the ProZone technology — and his teams are always solid units which are defensively sound and play with passion.

After their EURO 2016 debacle, England could use some strict directions and an injection of passion from Big Sam.

Is he the best candidate?

Howe is deemed too young by many but will still be a fine choice to implement the FA’s long-term plan to give England a DNA which sees it play attractive, possession based soccer. Bruce is out of the same mold as Allardyce in that he’s old school and has always overachieved wherever has been.

Klinsmann is obviously a star name and helped to restructure German soccer and is currently doing the same with the U.S. setup. Wenger is a long shot but hasn’t ruled out speaking with the FA as the long-time Arsenal coach has just a year remaining.

Only time will tell if the FA select the right man for the job but Allardyce would certainly tackle the challenge head and use all of his experience to try and deliver a positive tournament result for England at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET