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Right man, right time: Why Sam Allardyce is perfect for England

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Sam Allardyce is expected to be named as the new England manager in the next 24 hours on a two-year contract.

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This decision has split opinion but I believe the English Football Association have made a fine choice.

Quite simply: Allardyce is the right man for the job at this specific moment in time.

As soon as England decided to name an Englishman as their new manager, Allardyce, 61, was the standout choice.

Looking at some of the reasons why “Big Sam” is the man to rebuild England following their devastating exit from EURO 2016, it starts to become quite clear why the FA have tagged him to be the chief of a mammoth reclamation project.

Allardyce will need to instill belief, self-confidence and discipline into the Three Lions. If he heard that in the interview process he will be thinking ‘good’ because he’s done that wherever he has managed before. If anyone can restore hunger to England’s players, something which looked to be severely lacking this summer under Roy Hodgson, it’s Allardyce.

The fact of the matter is, Allardyce has overachieved with every team he has managed. Look at the facts.

He took Bolton Wanderers from the second-tier to the Premier League’s upper echelons, attracting players like Ivan Campo, Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha to Lancashire. He left Wanderers in 2007 but in eight years he had transformed them with his use of ProZone and other advanced technology which allowed him to get the most out of his scant resources.

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He then had a brief stint at Newcastle United where he clashed with owner Mike Ashley but it wasn’t exactly disastrous as they were midtable. He joined Blackburn for two years from 2008-10, rescuing them from a perilous situation and finishing in the top half of the table in his only full season in charge. After that he led West Ham United to promotion from the Championship to the Premier League and although criticized for long-ball tactics by his own fans, he worked with what he had and stabilized the Hammers as a PL club, building a base for Slaven Bilic to take to the next level.

Joining Sunderland in 2015 he again showed his penchant for being a master of reclamation as he kept the Black Cats up with a game to spare after they were left in a mess by Dick Advocaat. He went back to basics and found ways of grinding out results, by being horrible to play against a clinical in attack.

Now, that’s all well and good but what does it prove? To me it proves Allardyce has got the most out of the resources at his disposal wherever he has gone.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Chelsea at the Stadium of Light on May 7, 2016 in Sunderland, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

He has some simple philosophies that he shares in his autobiography and also openly speaks about in the media. He is a brash character from northern England who speaks his mind and has a presence about him when he walks into a press conference. You sit up and take notice.

From a soccer point of view, he has strong values in setting his teams up to be organized and tough to beat. Ask anybody who has watched his teams play regularly. They will tell you it isn’t always the most riveting to watch but he will get results and you will hardly see one of his teams collapse after leading. His players stand up and fight for each other and England need that now more than ever as they look to bounce back from a huge disappointment. They need to become hard to beat and not throw away games at pivotal moments.

In fact, looking at stats released by Opta, Allardyce’s teams have won 64 percent of their games in the PL when they’ve scored the first goal. He is a big believer in strong defensive performances, in protecting what you have. When you look at England’s results at EURO 2016 — giving up a late goal against Russia to draw 1-1 then losing to Iceland 2-1 in the Round of 16 after going 1-0 up — this is something they badly need.

Allardyce is also flexible when it comes to formations. He is not so rigid where he will play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 consistently but he likes to mix it up. That shows that you have a manager who is confident in his own ability to organize players into shapes and systems because he believes they all want to work with him and under him. They often do. It is very rare you here a player speak poorly of Allardyce. He is honest and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. That is exactly what this young England team needs.

I remember sat at a Sunderland game against Crystal Palace last season where they won 1-0 thanks to a late Jermain Defoe strike. Allardyce played Patrick Van Aanholt and Billy Jones as wing backs and totally nullified the threat of Palace’s wingers Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. He had done his homework and wasn’t afraid to tweak things as the game went on and that’s just one example of how he’s a thinking man’s coach, no matter if his gruff demeanor and penchant for chewing vast wads of chewing gum suggest otherwise.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland celebrates staying in the Premier League after victory during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

We are talking about a man who has vast experience in game management and isn’t afraid to try new things. He’s spoken about how he has embraced transcendental meditation for well over a decade to switch off and given the stresses and pressures of the England job, he will be doing a lot more of that in the months to come.

Allardyce is called “Big Sam” for a reason and that’s not just going back to his days as a bruising central defender.

He has the ability to galvanize teams and help them achieve more than they should. He has never been afforded the opportunity to work with such a talented group of players as he will with England.

Going forward, it may not be the most exciting product to watch but Allardyce will get results. I think he may surprise a few people too because now he has great players to work with and his tactics may be slightly different than before.

Allardyce’s beliefs of strong defense first will always remain but now he has the job he’s craved, let’s see if he can repair a damaged England side by going back to basics. Right now, he is perfect for what they need.

La Liga head takes on FIFA over expanding Club World Cup

La Liga president critical of FIFA
MICHAEL BUHOLZER/AFP via Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) FIFA’s determination to have a bigger role in club football worldwide is troubling the head of the Spanish league.

Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, fears FIFA expanding the Club World Cup and providing a fresh windfall for a group of elite clubs will exacerbate financial disparities between teams and harm football.

The FIFA men’s club competition is due to swell from an annual competition with seven entrants to an event featuring a 24-team group stage from 2021.

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“The major risk would be the Club World Cup,” Tebas said through a translator in London. “They want to have it every two years. I don’t know how far they wish to go.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is considering offers from companies willing to provide financing for the competition, which is due to have a new name for its pilot edition. Tebas believes it could pose a greater challenge to European football than attempts by clubs to break away to form any Super League.

“FIFA … stopped being regulators and organizers for national teams and start to organize other kinds of tournaments which compete directly with the national leagues and this is something that concerns me because we had a balance, an ecosystem between the different leagues in Europe and different continents,” Tebas said.

“In Europe we have the Champions League and now we have an intruder who might disrupt that balance. There was already a threat of that in Europe, even though I think the risk of that has dropped significantly with the Champions League, but I think this could have an impact on the value of international competitions.”

Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has formed the World Football Club Association, which has been formulating plans for new competitions of its own. Those proposals only emerged in reports after Pérez met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in November.

Eight European teams are due to feature in the new Club World Cup, including Real Madrid due to its 2018 Champions League victory.

“The idea of creating new super World Cups for super clubs could be very damaging for Real Madrid and for major clubs,” Tebas said. “It’s something he’s not taking into account and I don’t really see a future for these competitions. I don’t think there’s a real passion for these kind of events. I think when people discuss this they realize it’s damaging for them.

“I always ask why we should change a system of strong international competitions… if it’s not broken, why try to fix it?”

But Infantino is determined to elevate the status of FIFA’s club competition and provide significant income to the finalists.

“We’ve seen how the Premier League has grown significantly over the last few years,” Tebas pointed out. “La Liga has also grown significantly and why would we want to change that? Why would we want to put that at risk with these sort of ideas? It’s like building castles in the sky.”

While concerned about Infantino’s plans, Tebas is supportive of UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin who has clashed regularly with his FIFA counterpart.

“If Ceferin defends European football as I have seen with national league and championships in balance, which is the current trend, I welcome this clash, this confrontation,” Tebas said. “An organisation like FIFA is supposed to be a regulatory body. They draft the different calendars and when we need to play. Sadly, from organising World Cups, they are talking about Club World Cups and having that every two years.

“That is not an option because it would change the status quo. This can’t happen. This sort of confrontation will never harm us if it goes along the path Ceferin is trying to defend.”

Tebas has been a regular critic of governments using their wealth to finance clubs, particularly Qatar at Paris Saint-Germain and Abu Dhabi at Manchester City. Both teams have been punished by UEFA for breaching spending rules and City is subject to a fresh investigation that could lead to a Champions League ban.

“One of the major issues in European football is related to (financial) doping,” Tebas said. “Because when we have clubs being financed by states then that has an impact on salaries and that means in other countries with more strict economic controls like Spain and Germany clubs cannot actually ask the state for extra financing to pay those salaries.

“This causes inflation and people think about creating other competitions because Florentino Perez and other clubs are always saying we need more money to maintain our players.”

That isn’t necessary, according to Tebas.

“I don’t think we are helping football in any way if we generate wealth and it just goes straight back to the big clubs,” Tebas said. “But that’s what’s happening, the major clubs share out the large part of the income among their players.

“In the end instead of having 12 Ferraris, they have 15. Instead of having 10 Lamborghinis they have 12. We’re dealing with major clubs generating a huge amount of money. So our aim is to redistribute that wealth. It’s not a case of creating new competitions because anything there would only benefit large clubs and channel wealth to the major car manufacturers.”

One of Tebas’ frustrations closer to home is the Spanish football federation thwarting his bid to take La Liga games overseas. But the federation has just staged its reformatted Super Cup in Saudi Arabia despite criticism of the kingdom’s human rights violations and its role in the murder of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in 2018.

Saudi Arabia has also been linked to the pirating of sports broadcasts from Qatar-owned beIN Sports to undermine its neighbor as part of a wider regional diplomatic dispute.

“The Saudi Arabian government has a policy whereby they improve the image of the government through sport – whitewashing their image,” Tebas said. “We should not forget what happened in the Turkish embassy.

“We should not forget these things. This happened in an embassy, not a pub and this is very serious, at least in my opinion. Money is not the only thing that matters.”

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

Follow AP’s global sports correspondant Rob Harris on Twitter.

USMNT left back Robinson a surprise target for AC Milan?

AC Milans wants USMNT back Robinson
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AC Milan has identified an American as a potential answer to its left back depth issues.

Hampered by Financial Fair Play concerns, the Rossoneri could be offloading Ricardo Rodriguez to Fenerbahce and chasing a replacement.

The future No. 2 to left-sided wizard Theo Hernandez? It could be Antonee Robinson.

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The England-born USMNT back is in his second season with Wigan Athletic, making a permament move from Everton this summer after a loan move in 2018/19.

From CalcioMercato.com:

“The boy is American, he has already given his go-ahead to AC Milan but at the moment he has been put on stand-by… The executives like him and it’s a bet with good potential at low cost. For now, he has to wait.”

It’s a risky move; If Milan doesn’t qualify for Europa League or Champions League, minutes behind one of the most highly-regarded left backs in the world would be scarce. The 22-year-old Hernandez has six goals and two assists in 17 appearances since arriving from Real Madrid (He’s real good).

Then again, if they don’t qualify, Hernandez might want out of Milan.

Robinson, 22, has seven senior caps for the USMNT and is a major hope to solve a problematic position for Gregg Berhalter’s program.

Only one of those caps came under Berhalter, who otherwise hasn’t called up the Olympic-eligible left back in favor of Daniel Lovitz and Tim Ream.

Robinson has also played a little left mid for the Latics this season, scoring a goal in 28 Championship matches.

Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 24

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There’s no time to languish in weekend losses, revel in big wins, or — like half the Premier League’s teams — scratch their heads about draws.

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A delightful midweek match week arrives Tuesday before the weekend’s FA Cup fourth round scraps, and we’re quite pleased to reap the rewards.


Can Arteta get a statement win at Stamford Bridge? [ STREAM ]

  • Chelsea v. Arsenal, Tuesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta was denied a statement win when these sides met on Dec. 29, a 1-0 lead turned into three dropped points due to some tactical nous from Frank Lampard. Arteta is not mincing words about the import of the return affair at Stamford Bridge, calling it a “must win” against the uneven Blues.

Invincible Watch [ STREAM ]

  • Wolves v. Liverpool, Thursday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Our unscientific ranking says this is the fourth-toughest test of the 16 remaining in Liverpool’s quest for Premier League immortality as an unbeaten team. Wolves played Liverpool to the bone at Anfield, falling on a Sadio Mane 42nd minute goal.

Red Devils rebound on tap [ STREAM ]

  • Manchester United v. Burnley, Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Whatever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks, Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Liverpool was not encouraging. The Red Devils also learned that Marcus Rashford is out 2-3 months, not weeks, and Burnley’s woeful defense will be feeling a lot better about this fixture than it did last week. So, of course, we should expect Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood to have a field day, right?

Can Eagles, Saints push for Europa? [ STREAM ]

  • Crystal Palace v. Southampton, Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Palace has had an uneven season with plenty of injuries, but held off Man City to grab another point at the weekend. That’s ninth place and 30 points, two more than surging Southampton, and Sheffield United’s 33 points provide the seventh place standard. Three points here sure would be nice for either. (Big announcer voice) But only one can take all of them.

Another Brucie Bonus at Goodison Park? [ STREAM ]

  • Everton v. Newcastle United, Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

When these two matched up on Dec. 28, there were 42 shots but only one goal. If this one is nearly as entertaining, get your proverbial and actual popcorn ready. Steve Bruce‘s Magpies have made a habit of surprising this season, and it’s not like they used up attacking legs while defending deep versus Chelsea.

Sixteen matches toward immortality: Ranking Liverpool’s remaining tests

Liverpool chasing unbeaten Premier League season
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Sixteen matches toward immortality.

Liverpool is now unbeaten in 22 league matches, and no claims of LiVARpool or xG luck can take much away from that.

The Reds have been dominant, their relentless players focused on the right things and showing insane stamina in making PL opposition miserable.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Let’s also note that the Reds are likely to be one of the greatest title winners even if they lose a couple matches. Arsenal drew 12 matches during its Invincibles season, so there’s a part of this that feels more about outdoing Man City’s 2017/18.

That’s a conversation for another day, though; Today’s talk is about weighing the challenges associated with the 16 obstacles on the road to an unbeaten league season.

Now these could change a bit as fixtures are rearranged for FA Cup purposes, but this list feels pretty good given the current state of play.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

Currently scheduled for March 21, days before an international break, you’d peg the Palace fixture as a win. If Liverpool or Palace are in the FA Cup, however, and this match is moved elsewhere on the calendar, it becomes more of a challenge.

Same is true for the Brighton away date, which may fall between the UCL quarterfinal second leg and an FA Cup semifinal. Liverpool may be in both competitions.

14. West Ham at home, Feb. 24 — A full six days after the UCL first leg in Madrid, the Reds will be rested enough.

13. Newcastle away, May 17 — If the Reds get to Decision Day needing a draw or better against the Magpies, bring champagne.

12. West Ham away, Jan. 29 — A bit odd because of the rescheduling from the Club World Cup placing this days before a visit from Saints to give the Reds four matches in 12 days.

11. Southampton at home, Feb. 1 — The fourth of those four matches in 12 days.

10. Norwich City away, Feb. 15 — We know Liverpool takes matches one at a time and this one comes on two weeks rest, but there’s always the chance the Reds are a bit ‘off’ with a trip to Atletico Madrid up next.

9. Watford away, Feb. 29 — Leap year vibes. Nigel Pearson‘s men are playing better, but this still feels too much to ask of the Hornets.

8. Burnley at home, April 25 — Like the Brighton match above, this one could be really tough and sandwiched between an FA Cup and Champions League match day….

7. Aston Villa at home, April 11 — If Liverpool gets past Atleti, it will face the Villans between UCL quarterfinal match days.

6. Bournemouth at home, March 7 — Days after the FA Cup fifth round date, the currently-struggling Cherries will hope Liverpool doesn’t have Atleti put away and concerns about the March 11 visit from Diego Simeone’s men for the UCL Round of 16 second leg.

5. Chelsea at home, May 9 — The season’s penultimate fixture comes against a team which challenged the Reds properly at Stamford Bridge. It could also be days after the UCL semifinal second leg.

(Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

4. Wolves away, Thursday — Wolves have an extra day’s rest and no FA Cup worries this weekend (though it can be argued neither does Liverpool, with a less-than-meaningful trip to Shrewsbury Town). This is a tough one.

3. Everton away, March 14 — Sandwiched between the UCL second leg v. Atletico Madrid and a possible FA Cup quarterfinal, a derby is a derby and Carlo Ancelotti‘s the top Everton tactician in some time. Jurgen Klopp won’t be goofing around with backups this time, will he?

2. Arsenal away, May 2 — You laugh now, but if the season makes it to Match No. 36, the Gunners will be one of the last three with a chance to defend their status as the last unbeaten team in PL history.

It would be a very live Emirates, and possibly come between the Champions League semifinal legs (We’re also assuming Mikel Arteta continues his steadyinf of the Gunners defense).

1. Man City away, April 4 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.