Conte insists he isn’t worried about Chelsea future

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Antonio Conte cut a despondent figure on the sidelines and in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at home against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

During the loss he saw his side give up a 1-0 lead and squander several chances to score, then make basic defensive errors as he kicked a water bottle in disgust as his time is running out at Chelsea, a club renowned for giving managers a short leash when things start to go wrong.

That defeat all but confirmed Chelsea will not be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season with the Blues eight points off the top four with seven games to go following a disastrous run of five defeats in their last seven Premier League games.

What now for Conte and Chelsea?

Asked if he feared for his future at the club beyond this season, the Italian coach remained defiant despite many believing he will depart at the end of the current campaign.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know about this, but we didn’t speak about a project,” Conte said. “I don’t know, you have to ask the club, not me. I repeat, my task is to work, and I know that I work, 24 hours, for Chelsea, me and my staff. This is our task. Then the club has to take the decision. But I repeat, I am not worried about this.”

The way Conte nonchalantly shrugged off those questions about his own future is nothing new. He’s been doing it for months.

That’s what happens when you question the direction of the club and the player recruitment policy at Chelsea (which he has little to do with) time and time again.

Conte is, first and foremost, a coach. He is there to get the best out of this squad of players and without any European distractions he did that superbly last season by securing an unlikely Premier League title. Chelsea had an edge to them last season and didn’t suffer from fatigue as they always seemed to find a way to defend resolutely or be clinical when it mattered. That winning mentality has evaporated almost as quickly as Conte produced it.

This season it has been very different and Conte’s demeanor has been in stark contrast to the fiery, charismatic Italian coach who led Chelsea to glory in his debut season in England. He has had issues with Diego Costa which saw his elongated departure from Chelsea cause plenty of unrest, plus veterans Gary Cahill and David Luiz have both found themselves out of favor under the Italian and rumors about the futures of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois continue. Add into the mix his apparent displeasure that more money wasn’t spent last summer and Nemanja Matic was sold over his head and this has been brewing for some time with Conte chipping away at the hierarchy whenever he can and also trying to protect his own legacy whenever possible.

If Conte wins the FA Cup (his side face Southampton in the semifinal later this month at Wembley) and finishes in fifth place, a few points out of the top four, it is still not a bad campaign for the Blues. They still made it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and Lionel Messi was the difference as they fell to Barcelona in the Round of 16. If he leaves at the end of this season, Conte will be able to hold his head high and his reputation won’t be tarnished. Chelsea could be set for another few seasons of struggling to finish in the top four but Conte will be fine.

Asked if he has been able to get the best out of the squad at his disposal this season, here was Conte’s intriguing response.

“Yeah. I am sure about this,” Conte said. “We are working very well, very hard and the commitment of the players is top. Despite this you stay in this position… we must be a bit worried about this.”

Chelsea’s defeat to Tottenham was perhaps the final nail in Conte’s coffin as he will likely get his wish to depart the West London club at the end of this season, but whether or not it’s on his terms remains to be seen.

Conte has one more season left on his current deal and insists he will honor that contract. But with his mind clearly elsewhere and the likes of PSG and the Italian national team said to be lining him up, Chelsea know he will not resign and forfeit a sizable compensation package (around $9 million) that would come his way if he was fired by Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board.

The waiting game for who will flinch first is well and truly on and there seems to be no way that Conte will walk away on his own accord.

Chelsea’s issues run deeper than just another PL club facing a slump the season after winning the title. Conte won’t be around to figure out exactly how his, and Chelsea’s, bubble has burst.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?