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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

Gerardo Martino to leave Atlanta United

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Atlanta United have announced that Gerardo “Tata” Martino will leave them at the end of the 2018 Major League Soccer season.

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Martino, 55, has been heavily linked with taking charge of the Mexican national team, with reports suggesting that he will be appointed after the final day of the 2018 season.

It has also been reported that the former Argentina and Barcelona coach is not in contention for the vacant USMNT head coach position because he doesn’t speak English fluently.

In a statement released on their website, Atalanta revealed that “the club will immediately begin a detailed global search for a replacement” after “amicable negotiations between Atlanta United and Martino regarding the option to extend his contract” where he made the decision to move on for personal reasons.

“This was not an easy decision to make, I have enjoyed my time with Atlanta United very much and am proud of what we have accomplished together in such a short time,” Martino said. “The decision was not made for financial reasons, negotiations with the front office were transparent and fair. It was simply the right move for me and my family at this time. The opportunity to build a team from the start does not come along often, and I am grateful to the club and to the fans for putting their trust in me to establish a solid foundation here in Atlanta. What is most important now is that the focus remain on our goals for this season.”

Martino has led Atlanta to back-to-back playoff berths in their first two campaigns as an MLS franchise, with ATL currently in first place in the Eastern Conference heading into their final game of the season at Toronto FC on Sunday.

Atlanta are the heavy favorites to win the East and also clinch the Supporters’ Shield and their arrival in MLS, under the stewardship of Martino, has been one of the great success stories in MLS history. With Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba and Barco stars in Georgia, the Argentine coach has created one of the greatest attacking machines MLS has ever season with Martinez setting the single-season goalscoring record with 30 goals in 2018 with one game to go.

They’ve also recorded the highest-ever average attendance during the MLS regular season, with an average of 53,002 fans packing the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to create a phenomenal atmosphere.

Martino’s departure was expected but it will leave a huge hole for president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra to fill.

Report: Spurs to extend stay at Wembley

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Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly hanging around at Wembley Stadium for another few months.

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Their home game against Manchester City next Monday (Oct. 29) was their last scheduled Premier League encounter at their temporary home, but a report from The Times states that their Nov. 24 game against Chelsea and the Dec. 5 clash with Southampton will both move to Wembley instead of being at their new stadium at White Hart Lane.

Spurs were meant to play the first game in their new 62,000 capacity home on Sept. 15 against Liverpool but issues with the “critical safety systems” saw the grand-opening delayed and it appears the new venue may not open until the festive period at the earliest.

Per the report, Spurs must tell the FA over the next few days if they want to move the games to Wembley and make plans for that to happen.

“The club must tell the FA by Thursday if they want to move the fixtures. They have until early November to inform the governing body if they also want to stage the league game against Burnley at the national stadium on December 15. They have agreed an option to use Wembley until Christmas and are scheduled to host Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers within three days over the holiday period. Tottenham have said that nothing has yet been decided and they have still to inform the FA of their plans.”

With their home UEFA Champions League group stage games in November already confirmed to take place at Wembley, it seems likely that Spurs will continue to take their time and make sure everything is spot on at their new home before moving in. At this point, why rush? January seems like the perfect time to make the move into the new stadium and start afresh in 2019.

Champions League predictions: Week 3

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The third round of games in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League group stage take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Manchester United host Juventus, Liverpool head to Red Star Belgrade, Man City travel to Shakhtar Donetsk and Tottenham play at PSV Eindhoven as the four Premier League clubs enter the pivotal double-header matchweeks.

[ MORE: United v Juve headlines UCL Tuesday ]

Below are the score predictions for the UCL games on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Tuesday

Group E
Ajax 2-1 Benfica
AEK Athens 1-3 Bayern Munich

Group F
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-2 Manchester City
Hoffenheim 2-1 Lyon

Group G
Real Madrid 4-1 Viktoria Plzen
Roma 3-0 CSKA Moscow

Group H
Young Boys 1-3 Valencia
Manchester United 2-2 Juventus

Wednesday

Group A
Club Brugge 1-3 Monaco
Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Atletico Madrid

Group B
PSV Eindhoven 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Barcelona 1-2 Inter Milan

Group C
Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 Napoli
Red Star Belgrade 1-3 Liverpool

Group D
Lokomotiv Moscow 1-2 FC Porto
Galatasaray 1-0 Schalke

Mesut Ozil lauds Arsenal’s “sexy football”

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Mesut Ozil and Arsenal put on a “sexy” second half display to beat Leicester City 3-1 on Monday, as the Gunners extended their winning streak to 10 games in all competitions and seven in the Premier League.

Ozil, 30, captained Arsenal and put in a silky display as he scored an equalizer right on half time, then orchestrated a thorough dismantling of Leicester’s defense in the second half.

First, his perfect through ball found Hector Bellerin who crossed for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make it 2-1, then moments later Ozil’s clever flick sparked a flowing move into life as he then dummied a ball into the box before using the outside of his left foot to audaciously flick it into the path of Aubameyang to wrap up the win.

Arsenal’s playmaker took to social media after the game and gave a pretty accurate assessment of what went on.

“I think we played some sexy football tonight. Proud captain of this team and this club!” Ozil said.

Unai Emery handing Ozil the captains armband seems to be a bit of a masterstroke, with the German star having a tough time off the pitch over the past few months due to his ongoing dispute with the German FA after retiring from the international game following their 2018 World Cup failure.

Ozil had a slow start to the season at Arsenal and was subbed off by Emery regularly but it appears he is know the heartbeat of the Gunners attack once again and he looks hungry to lead the team who are currently on the crest of a wave. Ozil has now scored four times in his last six games for the Gunners and after signing his new contract in the summer the former Real Madrid star looks settled under Emery.

It is still too early in the season to see whether or not Ozil and Arsenal are set to mount a serious title or top four challenge but the early signs under Emery are encouraging.

Yes, defensively they are coughing up plenty of big chances and Leicester could feel aggrieved to not be handed a penalty kick but going forward Arsenal are in fine form and Ozil is the main man behind the “sexy football” which looks sharper, quicker and more dynamic under Emery.

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