Playback: Trade deals the new norm?

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TRADE DEALS THE NEW NORM?

Alexis Sanchez went to Manchester United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan went to Arsenal. No money was exchanged. Everyone was happy.

Will a “swap deal” become the new normal in years to come?

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One of the biggest swap deals in soccer history took place earlier this week with Sanchez getting out of Arsenal with less than six months left on his current contract, plus Mkhitaryan escaped under-appreciation (mostly in the form of Jose Mourinho) at Old Trafford.

The swap deal, or “player trade” to use U.S. sporting parlance, is still incredibly rare in the Premier League and in other soccer leagues across the world, Major League Soccer aside. There were no swap deals in the summer window in 2017, but there have been relationships building up across the globe with certain teams willing to do business with others in a chain.

Think Celtic to Southampton to Liverpool. Or Everton to Sunderland and vice versa. Patterns are emerging but straight-up swap up deals are still rare. For now.

This high-profile swap got me thinking: with transfer fees spiralling from the ridiculous to the incredulous over the past 12 months, could clubs become more amiable to swapping players in certain situations rather than dishing out their cash? Look at Arsenal’s pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It is said Borussia Dortmund want cash plus Olivier Giroud in the deal and for Arsenal it may make sense to offload another player rather then splashing out more cash.

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True, it’s not like clubs, particularly in the PL, are hurting for dollars. Deloitte’s study into finances of clubs (in terms of their revenue generated) across the globe in 2016-17 revealed that 14 of the 30 richest clubs in the world are from the PL. But with Neymar heading to PSG for $265 million, Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for $197 million and Kylian Mbappe on the move from Monaco for $190 million to PSG once the 2017-18 season is over, you can understand why clubs are cautious about the recent sharp rise in transfer fees.

These days a solid international player will cost upwards of $35 million. There are still ways of being creative for mid to lower-level teams in the PL but there has been more than an inkling of stock-piling of players at the wealthiest clubs for quite some time.

Player agents may not be happy with this suggestion of more frequent trade deals as the obligatory 10% fee from a transfer fee (if the player didn’t request a transfer) would obviously evaporate. But surely the agent, and his client, would make this “loss of revenue” back when it comes to being handed a higher salary? Sanchez’s reported contract at Man United of close to $19.8 million per year (after tax) is proof of this.

These swap deals obviously won’t always be the most viable option, but in a time when European soccer looks to the American sporting market for inspiration when it comes to growing sponsorship deals, social media presence and a changing landscape when it comes to fandom, the PL and other leagues could do a lot worse than see the removal of inflated transfer fees which would in turn see more money kept within clubs and used to improve stadiums, youth academies and reduce ticket prices.

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Of course, this revolution in trade deals could simply see the money just floating straight to players and agents instead of between clubs, but there is a suggestion that wages aren’t rising as steeply as transfer fees.

It’s just a thought, but this swap deal suggests it could be the way to go in the future to try and reduce the huge transfer fees and level out the playing field a little. Yes, huge clubs would still sign plenty of the best players because they can pay bigger wages and signing-on fees, but maybe we will see the clubs take back a little of the power and see more players entering the final years of their contracts eager to stick with their current club rather than shopping around.

The Sanchez-Mkhitaryan deal seems to be a rare case of two international stars both wanting to move at the same time and both of their clubs willing to let them leave believing they got the better end of the deal. Who says that can’t continue to happen in the future if clubs start to plan further ahead once their stars only have 18 months left on their current deal?


WHO IS ON THE MOVE?

With just a week left in the January transfer window, it’s been a little quiet in the Premier League, apart from the huge Sanchez-Mkhitaryan swap and the blockbuster deals for Virgil Van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho at the start of the month.

[ LIVE: Transfer window show – Jan. 31 on NBCSN, online via NBCSports.com ] 

We can certainly expect plenty of movement in the final seven days of the window. Before we go all Craig David (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) and map out exactly what will happen each day between now and the window shutting on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. ET, here’s a look at the 10 players we expect to see on the move.

  1. Guido CarrilloPro Soccer Talk understands Southampton have had a club-record $27 million bid accepted, and personal terms could be agreed by Friday. Quincy Promes will be expensive, but his arrival would mark a superb January window for Saints.
  2. Daniel SturridgeWith Inter Milan sniffing around and Sevilla said to be interested, surely Sturridge will swap Liverpool’s bench for regular action as he tries to make England’s 2018 World Cup squad?
  3. Pierre-Emerick AubameyangArsenal appear to be closing in on the Borussia Dortmund striker but with Olivier Giroud said to be wanted in exchange (maybe initially on loan) by the German club, it could get a little messy. Still, a $70 million deal is in the works.
  4. Aymeric Laporte – A young, powerful central defender who is good with the ball at his feet. Sounds perfect for Pep Guardiola at Man City, right? It appears City are ready to pay Laporte’s $86 million release clause and they do need help defensively. Watch this space.
  5. Jonny Evans – Both Arsenal and Man City want Evans and reports suggest West Brom could lose him for just $4.2 million should they get relegated due to a release clause in his contract. Can Alan Pardew afford to let his captain leave? A big bid surely means yes, as Egyptian defender Ali Gabr is lined up as a replacement.

GREAT RELEGATION BATTLE

We all know that Manchester City are 12 points clear atop the Premier League table and it will take a serious collapse and some incredible form from Manchester United, Chelsea et al. to catch them, but at the other end of the table things are far from straightforward.

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Just six points separates Swansea in 20th to Watford in 10th (who now have a new manager in Javi Gracia after Marco Silva was fired), with just four points between the bottom three and the top half of the table.

Fans of 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams will be sweating most nights between now and the final day of the season on May 13.

Take a look at the table below with 14 games to go as we get a breather for a week with no PL action until Jan. 30 due to the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

Even Everton must be a little concerned given their recent bad form and clubs such as Swansea, West Brom, Palace, Bournemouth and West Ham all picking up big wins.

We focus on the big boys throughout most of the season due to the big name stars, the titanic clashes and the scramble to finish in the top four and the riches of the UEFA Champions League, but the biggest battle of them all will take place for survival.

Historically this could well be the biggest, and tightest, battle against relegation that the PL has ever seen.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

Queiroz: Iran has one ‘match point’ left in World Cup group stage

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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…