Roundtable: Can Man City create dynasty?

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As we continue to break down Manchester City’s Premier League title-winning season, it is time to look at some bigger picture questions around Pep Guardiola‘s latest masterpiece.

Is he creating a dynasty? Where does this City team rank, all-time? How can they improve?

[ MORE: PST’s coverage of Man City’s title win ]

With that in mind the Pro Soccer Talk got together in a roundtable format to discuss Man City’s title win. Here it goes…


What has been the most impressive thing about this Man City team this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: The way Pep’s tactics and philosophy have clicked into place. That doesn’t just happen. City were a long way off a Pep team last season but it takes hard work on the training ground on the small details and all of the players to buy into Pep’s philosophy. They did and it worked splendidly well.

Nick Mendola: The consistent dominance in the deepest league in the world. Forget style for a moment and look at the numbers.

Kyle Bonn: I would have to say the team’s grasp of Pep’s tactics. Last season they just flat out didn’t get it. It never clicked, and that seemed like a huge problem going forward into the long-term. But this year, they’ve slapped the puzzle together and made it work in pretty stunning fashion considering how out of sync things appeared last year.

Dan Karell: (Until recently), it’s been the overall consistency in league play. Man City was dominant from the start and aside from this recent run of form, it has remained the dominant force in the Premier League.


Does the amount of money Guardiola has spent take away from their achievement?

Prince-Wright: A little. It will always be there with City because they’ve come such a long way in such a short space of time and that is down to the huge financial backing from Abu Dhabi. Still, you can chuck money at it whatever way you like (ahem, Man United…) and it doesn’t guarantee success. Guardiola has a plan and he has been lucky enough, as he often says, to acquire top players who can carry out what he wants.

Mendola: It’s a ton of dough, yes, and outspending rivals should make a team the favorite to win the league… but I have a hard time saying a couple hundred million bucks is the reason a team won the league in such impressive fashion with a month-and-a-half to spare.

Bonn: I don’t believe so no. Many top teams in the Premie League either spend similar amounts or at least have the means to do so. It’s easy to nitpick amounts spent, but it’s still very hard to dominate such a competitive league the way they have.

Karell: Not at all. If you want to win in world soccer, you pretty much have to spend, and Man City has not only spent big but spent smartly. Also consider that one of the biggest signings for Man City, Benjamin Mendy, has missed the entire season with a torn ACL and is just returning to fitness.


Are we seeing the start of a new dynasty in the PL? Three titles in seven seasons is impressive, but does it feel like they can easily repeat this success for the next few years?

Prince-Wright: It does. It really does. Manchester United and Chelsea are the only teams to win back-to-back titles in the PL era (United won it three times on the spin twice) but no team has successfully defended their title in a decade. That shows how competitive it is each season and in City’s case they didn’t do well at all the season after winning their first two PL trophies. This feels different and given the finances Pep will get to spend this summer to make City into genuine favorites for the Champions League, plus the likes of Sterling, Sane and Ederson all being so young, there is a real possibility they will dominate the PL for many years to come.

Mendola: Maybe, sure, but the amount of money being spent by Chelsea and Manchester United isn’t going to die down, and Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Spurs… there are a lot of teams who can catch fire for a season.

Bonn: No. Dynasty doesn’t fit Manchester City’s success. Obviously much of how the league views City also has to do with their success in Europe, which at this point is minimal. Especially this year potentially going down to a Premier League team paints them as beatable. It feels like ages ago that Sergio Aguero’s miracle goal won them the league, and they have plenty of work ahead to establish themselves as a “dynasty” like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United did.

Karell: Maybe. This team definitely has some legit pieces who could win titles for many years, but there are still questions about some of the older players and whether they can keep up the pace in the future. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling will be around for years as will Kevin De Bruyne, but Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho are all on the wrong side of 30 and play in crucial positions in the spine of the team. Finding replacements for them (though Gabriel Jesus seems terrific so far) will be necessary for Pep Guardiola to keep this team at the top of the Premier League


Which player has been the most important for City this season?

Prince-Wright: I want to say Kevin de Bruyne, and it probably has been, but I’m going with David Silva. You can pick KDB, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Ederson, Aguero… they’ve all been very important in their own ways. But Silva has made everything tick and his play has set the tone for the entire team. Defenders give him the ball and he gets things going from that slightly deeper role and he’s still found time to pop up in the box and score or assist. KDB has been the star but City aren’t the same team when Silva is missing.

Mendola: It’s Kevin De Bruyne, though there’s an argument to be made for Leroy Sane. The German on the left side has been the target for so much of Guardiola’s attack. And whatever freedom De Bruyne can manage, often on the right, is somewhat tied to that.

Bonn: Ederson. A ball-playing goalkeeper is so important to Pep’s system, but also that goalkeeper must be, you know, a good goalkeeper. This is where Claudio Bravo failed, and it was a massive problem. Now that Ederson has the goal locked up *and* can play the team out of the back to perfection, the ball movement flows beautifully.

Karell: It’s got to be Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian has been a maestro in the midfield and thanks to Fernandinho’s strong work cleaning up loose balls behind him, de Bruyne has the freedom to create and set the tempo, leading to goals goals goals.


And which new arrival has had the biggest impact in their debut campaign at the Etihad?

Prince-Wright: Ederson. His array of passing with his feet is unreal. Kyle Walker has done well too but the Brazilian goalkeeper was the calm, possession based stopper Pep wanted after the Claudio Bravo experiment went badly wrong. If you want to find out more about Ederson, here’s a piece on him from myself after I met him earlier this season.

Mendola: Ederson, who exemplified Guardiola’s plans for the goalkeeper position (and showed us why Claudio Bravo was a thought). It might’ve been Benjamin Mendy or Aymeric Laporte with health and a full season, but it’s certainly not Kyle Walker and neither Danilo nor Bernardo Silva played enough to make it count.

Bonn: Ederson, clearly. But at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll pick someone new to talk about here. Kyle Walker was a no-brainer for Pep to snatch and slide right into his system, and it’s gone exactly how most would have expected: brilliantly. Walker is a perfect fit for Pep’s style, and his importance to the squad can’t be overstated

Karell: Ederson. He’s come in and completely dominated the position, ensuring that Claudio Bravo wouldn’t play again. Not only a gifted goalkeeper defensively, Ederson’s ability to pick out a pass from 50+ yards away has effectively given Man City an extra midfielder on a field full of them.


Be honest, after last season did you think it would be possible for Guardiola’s team to dominate this league by sticking to his playing philosophy?

Prince-Wright: No. I didn’t think they could do it. I picked City to win the league but winning it is one thing and winning it with this style is another. A joy to watch.

Mendola: Dominate? No, but there was enough in how they played to imagine they’d be able to contend for the title this season. Kudos to City’s hierarchy for not flipping their collective lid after finishing 15 points behind Chelsea’s first year boss last season.

Bonn: Nope. Not one bit. Between their lack of understanding of the tactical setup and their inability to defend, there was no reason to think this team would end up here.

Karell: Yes. I predicted from the start that Man City would win the Premier League and they lived up to the lofty expectations set by fans and the media (and they themselves, surely). Man City was the best team on paper coming into the season and they proved it on the field too, playing their way.


Where, if anywhere, can this Man City team improve? Where do they need to add new players in the summer?

Prince-Wright: Bringing in Fred to be the long-term replacement for Fernandinho is a good move and I still think they need another new center back with Vincent Kompany not getting any younger and John Stones struggling. Apart from that, pretty set, but they have to keep an eye on the Sergio Aguero situation with the Argentine stating again he will leave in 2020 at the end of his contract to go back to Independiente.

Mendola: Benjamin Mendy returning to health fixes the left back issue, and competition for Kyle Walker at right back isn’t a bad idea. I’d vote for improvements on John Stones and either growth from or competition for young Gabriel Jesus behind Sergio Aguero (who is 29).

Bonn: They probably need to thin the wing-back ranks to get more consistency, but also they need another striker. They’re lucky Sergio Aguero has made it through the season unscathed, because the squad lacks another target man. With Aguero about to summit 30, they could use the insurance. Also, the midfield could use some support as Fernandinho has been spectacular so far but he has nobody who can play that role and Gundogan is injury prone.

Karell: Of course they can improve. The fact that the team was winning games 4-0 and 5-0 masked some defensive issues and they certainly need to get younger in their spine, with Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany all 30-years old or older.


Finally, where will this City team go down, all-time, in PL history? The best team ever?

Prince-Wright: Third best behind the Invincibles and United’s 1998/99 side. Chelsea’s great teams will be in the conversation too but we always remember the more stylish teams and City fall into that bracket. If they had won the UCL, then they would’ve been the best PL team ever.

Mendola: Just behind Arsenal’s Invincibles and United’s 1998/99 squad? Chelsea worth a shout? It’s either The Invincibles or this team, and I’m leaning heavily toward City. Arsenal’s unbeaten team dropped points 12 times despite finishing the league season unbeaten, and City is already 20 goals worth of differential ahead of their pace. The style is similar, but the league is better and deeper now. This season is nuts.

Bonn: It’s hard to slide then in anywhere definitively at this point, but I think they slide in around 3rd. Really tough to argue they go anywhere below that given the sheer dominance. I don’t think they make it above the Invincibles, but they would be a good battle for Man United in the late 90’s or Chelsea’s 04/05 team.

Karell: I think they’re certainly in the top 5 of the Premier League’s history of teams. Their offensive dominance and flair for the beautiful has been fun to watch. I think they’re behind the 04/05 Chelsea team and Arsenal Invincibles but it’s certainly a ridiculously good team and one that will be talked about for many years to come.

Olosunde, Parks headline newcomers in latest USMNT roster

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The U.S. Men’s National Team will have three good opportunities to assess talents over the coming weeks, and a number of new faces to get closer glances at.

On Sunday, the USMNT announced its 22-man roster ahead of the country’s friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland and France.

Among the notable names to be included by manager Dave Sarachan are Matthew Olosunde of Manchester United, Benfica’s Keaton Parks and Julian Green, who hasn’t made a national team appearance since 2016.

Meanwhile, the selection of forwards from Sarachan features a lot of youth, including Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent, Paris Saint-Germain’s Tim Weah and


Goalkeepers: Alex Bono, Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath

Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Matthew Olosunde, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Jorge Villafana, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders: Joe Corona, Julian Green, Weston McKennie, Keaton Parks, Christian Pulisic, Rubio Rubin, Tim Weah

Forwards: Andrija Novakovich, Josh Sargent

Mario Balotelli earns first Italy call up since 2014 World Cup

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Mario Balotelli‘s career has been anything but routine, however, the veteran striker has regained his confidence in Ligue 1 and revitalized a career that once looked like it was headed for absolute stardom.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup title ]

The 27-year-old was recalled to Italy’s national team squad on Saturday for the first time since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, courtesy of new Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini.

Mancini and Balotelli has a long-standing relationship, after the two first connected at Inter Milan and then Manchester City.

The Nice striker has re-captured his form in France over the past two seasons, scoring 43 goals in all competitions during that span.

With Italy not qualified for this summer’s World Cup, Mancini and Co. have the opportunity to explore new players, and in Balotelli’s case, revisit old ones.

The Azzurri will take on Saudi Arabia on May 28, before meeting France and the Netherlands on June 1 and June 4, respectively.

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira “very close” to Nice contract

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Patrick Vieira’s tenure in Major League Soccer has brought about significant improvement in his New York City FC side, but his current club will have to forge its progress without the Frenchman.

[ MORE: Man City defender Vincent Kompany talks with PST ]

Pro Soccer Talk can confirm reports out of France that the former Arsenal midfielder is in contact with Ligue 1 side Nice to become the club’s next manager, however, Vieira hasn’t finalized a deal yet.

This story was first reported by French outlet L’Equipe on Sunday morning.

PST has learned through several sources that Vieira is “very close” to signing with the eighth-place French side from 2017/18, and a deal is expected to be completed within the coming days despite Vieira’s commitment to NYCFC.

Vieira’s contract with NYCFC runs through the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season.

Another source close to the situation told PST that Vieira will likely take over his new post prior to the start of this summer’s World Cup in Russia, which begins on June 14, pending finalization of a deal with Nice.

Meanwhile, Nantes — who recently parted ways with manager Claudio Ranieri — has also had interest in Vieira’s services. Nantes finished one spot behind Nice in the final Ligue 1 table this season.

The French transfer window doesn’t open until June 1, despite the Premier League’s recent shift to a May 17 opening and August 9 close — prior to the opening kick off of the season.

Other top European leagues, including La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A have all continued their June 1 start dates for the summer transfer window — which runs until the final day of August.

Former Nice manager Lucien Favre has already found a new destination with Borussia Dortmund, who will once again be involved in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Nice features a number of top-rated players at the moment, including notable transfer targets Mario Balotelli, Jean-Michael Seri and on-loan defender Marlon Santos (Barcelona).

Vieira joined NYCFC in 2016, after previously being involved in parent club Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad (EDS) as a coach.

He played professionally from 1994 to 2011, including a lengthy stint internationally for France, which featured a 1998 World Cup win and runner up in 2006 to Italy.

Since taking over in the Bronx, NYCFC has become one of MLS’ elite sides, and currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference and MLS table on 24 points through 12 matches.

The 41-year-old Frenchman recently received some interest from Arsenal over the London side’s vacant managerial position left by Arsene Wenger, however, Vieira suggested that the approach from the Gunners was a mere gesture of courtesy.

Vieira has previously been linked to a number of European jobs, including Saint Etienne and Southampton, neither of which came to fruition.

Small clubs cross fingers for World Cup windfalls

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TORCY, France (AP) The ideal scenario for the club where Paul Pogba played football as a kid might go something like this: The France midfielder shines so brightly at the World Cup that a money-no-object club – for argument’s sake, let’s say Real Madrid – decides that it cannot live without him and pays a nine-figure fee to shake him loose from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup win ]

US Torcy, the amateur club in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba’s photo still hangs proudly in the canteen serving fizzy beer and fresh croissants, could then sit back and wait for a fat check from Madrid to land in its bank account.

Not all the money that will change hands after the World Cup, as clubs trade players who distinguish themselves on football’s biggest stage, will line the pockets of selling clubs, agents and the players themselves. A little slice – far too little, some argue – of the likely deluge in post-World Cup transfer fees will also trickle down to football’s grassroots, to unpretentious, volunteer-run clubs like Torcy where kids take first steps toward their big dreams of making a career in football.

Pogba’s move from Italy to Manchester in August 2016, after he burnished his star credentials in France’s run that summer to the final of the European Championship, was like hitting the jackpot for Torcy. Because Pogba spent a year at Torcy in his formative years, FIFA’s transfer rules entitled the club to 0.25 percent of the then-world record fee of 105 million euros ($116 million) United paid to Juventus. The windfall for Torcy was about 300,000 euros ($330,000).

Torcy’s president, Pascal Antonetti, won’t discuss the exact amount, citing a non-disclosure agreement he says he signed with United. But the money was enough to buy three new minibuses to transport Torcy’s players to matches and training. The club now also allows itself the luxury of getting hotel rooms for its teams when they play away from Paris, so they’re not exhausted by travel on the day of their games. And it has kept some of the money in reserve, just to be safe.

“The club is protected from an eventual financial problem, just so long as we don’t get delusions of grandeur and spend the money recklessly,” Antonetti said in an interview with The Associated Press on a recent weekend when the club hosted a two-day cup competition for kids’ teams from around Europe, among them Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and other famous clubs.

“We won’t be buying cars for each of our senior players in the first XI, for example,” he added. “We’ve kept our head on our shoulders and our feet on the ground.”

These so-called “solidarity” payments recompense clubs for training and educating players who later, as professionals, become valuable, money-spinning commodities. FIFA’s transfer regulations stipulate that when a player contracted with one club moves to another club in another country, up to 5 percent of the fee must be set aside and distributed to clubs that nurtured him, from ages 12 to 23.

In Pogba’s case, United paid not only Torcy, where he played for a year at age 13, but also his first boyhood club, US Roissy-en-Brie, also in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba grew up. The club says it received about 400,000 euros and has spent some of it on two new minibuses, movable goals and other equipment.

Still, such payments to the grassroots represent only a drop in the ocean of money splashing around professional football. In 2017, spending on international transfers soared to $6.4 billion, FIFA says. But only a sliver of that – $64 million, or just 1 percent of the total – went to breeder clubs as solidarity contributions, according to FIFA’s report on the 2017 transfer market .

Antonetti, the Torcy president, is among those who say solidarity payments aren’t generous enough.

“We get only a tiny slice of a transfer like Paul Pogba’s,” he said. “The financial windfalls aren’t sufficiently redistributed.”

And not all the compensation that should be paid to training clubs actually reaches them, FIFA says. It says it has a task force looking at ways to make solidarity payments “more efficient and easy to administer.”

Still, there’ll be plenty of small clubs around the world crossing fingers that players they nurtured will shine in Russia, because a big transfer at the top of the football pyramid can be life-changing for clubs toward the bottom.

When Premier League champion Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January from Bilbao in Spain, it paid 689,000 euros – about 1 percent of the total fee – to SU Agen, the club in the defender’s hometown in southwest France where he played to age 15.

Laporte didn’t make France coach Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad . But his childhood club, previously loaded in debt, is now flush thanks to his transfer, its future assured, says its president, Jean-Claude Brunel.

The money is funding renovations to the club house, with a new television and a better kitchen, as well as a new minibus and uniforms for Agen’s players. Carefully managed, the remainder should ensure the club’s survival well into the next decade, Brunel said in a phone interview.

“It has allowed us to be serene and to look beyond tomorrow,” he said. “Before, we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.”

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup