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Should Serge Aurier’s baggage impact Tottenham move?

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By Rob Dauster

Serge Aurier is everything that Tottenham needs in a right back.

He’s pacy. He’s strong. He’s attack-minded. He’s the prototype of what manager Mauricio Pochettino looks for in a fullback; Kyle Walker at half the price.

[ MORE: All the latest transfer news

Anyone that watched Kieran Trippier struggle to do anything against Chelsea early in the season is already well aware that kind of speed out wide is something Spurs are missing, potentially the difference between competing for the top four and competing for a title.

Serge Aurier also comes with a significant amount of baggage, not the least of which is an issue getting a visa and work permit to actually enter the UK.

He was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer outside a Paris nightclub. He received a two-month jail sentence and is currently appealing the ruling. In November, he was not allowed to enter the country for a Champions League group stage match against Arsenal.

But assuming he wins his appeal, and assuming the reports linking the want-away PSG defender with Tottenham — according to L’Equipe, terms have been agreed upon and Aurier has already undergone a medical — are true, then the bigger issue Spurs chairman Daniel Levy faces is the fact that he’ll be bringing in a player with a documented history of using homophobic language.

For those that are unaware, last spring, during a Q-and-A that Aurier did on the app Periscope, the Ivorian insulted a number of his teammates and called then manager Laurent Blanc “une fiotte,” which, in French, translates to “f—-t”.

After initially denying that it was him on the video, Aurier released a half-hearted apology, attempting to clear the air with his teammates and coaching staff:

“I made a big mistake, I am here to say sorry to the coach, the club and my team-mates, and to the supporters because they are the most important people,” he said. “I want to apologize especially to the coach, I can only thank him for all he has done for me since I arrived in Paris. He wanted me and since I came here everything has gone really well. I owe him a lot and that is why I apologize sincerely to him for what was said, which I deeply regret.”

“I will accept any sanction the club impose on me regarding this incident. I made a mistake, it was unforgivable and I am ready to face all the consequences.”

Nowhere in that statement does Aurier apologize for the use of homophobic language. Nowhere in there does he accept responsibility for the pain he caused LGBT PSG fans that had to hear him say those things. Nowhere does he acknowledge that using that word is wrong.

And therein lies the problem.

Every time a member of the LGBT community hears homophobic language like this, it triggers something in them. They hearken back to the days when it wasn’t okay to be gay. It reminds them of every time they were discriminated against for their sexual orientation. The mere presence of Serge Aurier on Tottenham’s roster will do this to LGBT Spurs supporters.

Think about it like this: How many times have you found yourself lying awake at night, replaying the most awkward, embarrassing and painful moments of your past over and over in your head?

Now imagine having that feeling every single time you watch your favorite soccer club play simply because they decided to sign a player that may actually be homophobic. Imagine being put into a position where you have to decide whether or not to continue cheering for your club because something as normal as hearing an announcer say the right back’s name reminds you of every single person that has hated and ridiculed you for who you are.

Sports are supposed to be the place we go to get away from all of that, particularly at a club like Tottenham, where the Proud Lilywhites supporters group’s rainbow flag was clearly visible on every television broadcast from White Hart Lane:

Ben Daniels and Michael Caley of Cartilage Free Captain, SB Nation’s Tottenham website, wrote a sensational piece on this topic and I encourage everyone to go read it.

Where I differ is that I do not believe that Aurier is off-limits to the club, but that is assuming the player is willing to make amends, to become a face fighting for equality within the league.

According to reports in France, PSG’s chairman punched a door over the lack of sincerity in Aurier’s apology. Compare that to Manchester United star Paul Pogba, who has spoken openly about respect that gay footballers deserve and shaved “#EQUAL” into his hair to support the cause.

Frankly, I’m not sure even that would be enough. Anyone can read a PR crafted apology when they know millions of dollars and a career’s worth of earning power is on the line.

Sit Aurier down with the LGBT supporter’s groups. Reach out to at-risk, LGBT youth. An apology is not as impactful as educating someone with his platform as to why using that language is such a problem.

Because I promise you Aurier is not alone in thinking it is OK to call people “f—-t”. I can also promise you I’m not the only one that is thankful that I didn’t have a platform and an app that could broadcast everything I said in my late-teens and early-20s to the entire world.

People should be allowed to make mistakes like this as long as they learn from them. Young athletes saying ignorant things should be a teaching point. Getting through to Aurier means reaching all the people that pay attention to what he has to say.

Which is why Tottenham, should they opt to sign Aurier, have a responsibility here.

But it’s about more than forcing an apology and a few public appearances. It’s more than a couple of well-produced twitter videos featuring

Aurier trying to make amends.

It is on the club to make Aurier prove that he wants to learn, and that he truly understands what he did and why it’s wrong.

And if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t deserve a place at Tottenham, and the club should be ashamed of putting the pursuit of a trophy ahead of the people willing to spend their life supporting Spurs without one.

 

Man United hosts Juventus to headline Champions League Tuesday

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The stars align at Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United hosts Juventus at the forefront of the Champions League slate.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face his old club and his old manager, while Paul Pogba also takes on his former team as the top spot in Group H is on the line. Ronaldo is back in Champions League action since September 19 when he was controversially sent off, earning a one-match suspension he served in a 3-0 win over Young Boys.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told the players after throwing away a late lead against Chelsea to “use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.” They’ll take on a Juventus team that’s slightly banged up, missing Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira all out injured. Manchester United also has its own issues, with Alexis Sanchez unavailable with Mourinho confirming he’s “not fit” although no other injury information was given.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Manchester City travels east to take on Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Group F is crowded through two matches, with City in second a point behind Olympique Lyon at the top. Kevin De Bruyne is in the squad after returning from injury over the weekend, coming off the bench for 32 minutes of Premier League play against Burnley. They’ll look to attack a Shakhtar defense that choked away a 2-0 lead against Lyon last time out. City has Kyle Walker available as well, announced as part of the matchday squad.

Bayern Munich visits AEK Athens having returned to winning ways over the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg. It’s a welcome sight for Niko Kovac, who was under fire for a terrible stretch of games, but now the Bavarians have a positive result to take with them on the road. Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez were both on the scoresheet, with the Polish international grabbing a brace.

Ajax takes on Benfica in Amsterdam as the Dutch side looks to extend its lead at the top of Group E. They’re tied with Bayern on points, but hold a slightly superior goal differential. Since falling to PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie play, they have blown out Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, and Heerenveen 11-0 over their last three games. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already has 10 goals this season across all competitions, and former Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic is right behind him with 9.

Real Madrid has its best chance to turn around the poor run of play as they host Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid has not won since September 22, a run of five matches that consists of four defeats. The club broke a scoreless streak of over 450 minutes last time out in a 2-1 loss to Levante, but the pressure has only increased on head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Other matches

Young Boys vs Valencia
AS Roma vs CSKA Moscow
Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

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While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.

Emery still searching for improvement after Arsenal win

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Arsenal won its 10th match in a row across all competitions with a 3-1 victory over Leicester City, with Mesut Ozil playing the starring role.

Still, Unai Emery isn’t fully pleased with the performance.

[ WATCH: Ozil sets up 2 beautiful goals in Arsenal win over Leicester City ]

Arsenal fell behind 1-0 thanks to a Hector Bellerin own-goal, and the Gunners boss is concerned about his assessment of the 90 minute performance. “Different halves, every match is difficult,” Emery said after the match. “First half we didn’t control the match with possession and positioning.”

Ben Chillwell got behind Bellerin and sent in a cross to the middle of the box, to which goalkeeper Bernd Leno reacted, but the cross clipped off Bellerin’s foot and past the wrong-footed goalkeeper. Arsenal responded with a 3-goal wave, as Ozil scored the first and set the next two up in brilliant fashion.

“We are happy because we are progressing. We need to play with organization but also with heart. We are beginning to play with heart. When you continue to improve your demands are very high. We need to control the matches more than we are doing now.”

The win pushed the Gunners to fourth in the Premier League table, above rivals Tottenham on goal differential. Emery said in order to have success long-term and maintain their Champions League positioning, the players need to be flexible.

“First half we didn’t play well but then we played with quality and heart. This feeling together is very good. We need the number 10 position sometimes with Mesut Ozil and sometimes with Aaron Ramsey. We can’t play with both sometimes. Last match was away and we played it with two strikers. Today Mesut was very good but I believe in every player and different positions for the players.”

West Ham midfielder Yarmolenko out six months after Achilles surgery

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West Ham announced on Monday that midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko would miss around six months after undergoing successful surgery on his Achilles tendon.

Yarmolenko was carried off on a stretcher in the 40th minute of West Ham’s 1-0 loss to Tottenham on Saturday. He appeared to catch his studs in the penalty area turf and went to the ground.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Leicester City 3-1 ]

The Hammers released a statement confirming the surgery was “successful” and that he would miss around six months. That likely leaves Yarmolenko out for the rest of the season, unless he returns for the final month or so.

The 28-year-old Ukranian international joined West Ham this summer from Borussia Dortmund for a reported $23 million, and had just cracked the starting lineup after coming off the bench for the first four matches of the season. He had a brace in a 3-1 win over Everton, but has otherwise struggled to find the back of the net.

Yarmolenko was expected to be a major part of the West Ham squad this season, with a significant amount of top flight and international experience. Yarmolenko has 80 caps for Ukraine, with 36 goals to his name. He is a versatile player, able to play either on the wing or centrally, and his injury will likely mean more minutes for Michail Antonio who has started just one match for West Ham in their last five.