Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

Leave a comment

VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

Mourinho tells players to be like Federer, don’t use turf as excuse

Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP
Leave a comment

When Manchester United take on BSC Young Boys in the two sides’ UEFA Champions League group stage opener on Wednesday, they’ll do so on an always derided artificial playing surface, in the Swiss capital city of Bern.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Speaking in Tuesday’s press conference, Man United manager Jose Mourinho was quick to insist he won’t be using the undesirable surface as an excuse should things go wrong at Stade de Suisse, nor will he allow his players to do so. He even evoked the name of the great Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time and a Swiss himself, as the model example of adaptability — quotes from Bleacher Report:

“I don’t want to use [the artificial turf].. as a possible excuse for a poor performance. Everybody knows it is different but we are in Switzerland, the home of one of the best ever tennis players, and I’m pretty sure the big man [Federer] sometimes is not happy to play on such a surface but he has to play and he has to win.

“Everybody knows he has a favorite surface, but he has also to win on other surfaces. So we have to do it.”

That’s easy for Mourinho to say, as he can easily and conveniently blame his players for not adapting or performing in the event of a draw or defeat.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re a full month into the 2018-19 Premier League season, which means we can begin — yes, only just now — to make more definitive statements about where everyone is headed for the season.

Not much change at the top of the power rankings this week, but plenty of movement in the middle and bottom thirds…

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

20. Burnley — Bottom of the table after four straight losses, Sean Dyche worked an unthinkable miracle last season but he might not survive another month of results like the one just completed.
Last week: 16
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

19. Cardiff City — Nailed-on favorites to be relegated before the season started, the Bluebirds haven’t shown anything to suggest they’ve got a trick up their sleeves. Their stay in the PL will, however, be lucrative, if brief.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20

18. Huddersfield Town — Teams wishing to avoid relegation must beat other sides in the relegation battle — Cardiff, for example. The Terriers couldn’t do it a couple weeks ago, followed by five more points dropped against Everton and Crystal Palace.
Last week: 18
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

17. Newcastle United — Three straight losses is better than four, but not by much. The Magpies get something of a free pass for facing Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal in consecutive games. The fact they lost each game by one goal (all 2-1)? Encouraging.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 18

16. West Ham United — The four teams below them in these rankings — and the real-life table — have been so bad that all the Hammers needed was one win to move from last place (with zero points) to outside the relegation zone.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Fulham — Lost 3-0 to Man City this weekend. They’re supposed to lose 3-0 to Man City.
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 17

14. Southampton — Only six goals conceded in five games is a top-six defensive record that could keep Saints up on its own. Only six goals scored, however, is firmly in the bottom half — dull and painful to watch, at best; a half-dozen defensive mistakes from relegation, at worst.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. Leicester City — Hammered by Bournemouth at the weekend, the Foxes undid any goodwill they might have accumulated in a narrow defeat to Liverpool pre-international break. Plus side: games against the Reds and Man United out of the way.
Last week: 10
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back draws, against Fulham and Southampton, in games Chris Hughton would have targeted as winnable fixtures.
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

11. Crystal Palace — Snapped a three-game losing skid by beating Huddersfield, now the Eagles need to avoid being the lesser side against which Newcastle breaks out of its early-season slumber.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 13

10. Everton — Sure, half the team was out due to injuries or suspension, but losing 3-1 to the last remaining team without a point remains an unavoidably bad look.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 11

9. Wolves — After spending wildly in the summer, Wolves took just two points from their first two games in the PL. Back-to-back wins, against West Ham and Burnley, have shown they’re perhaps a cut above the relegation battle.
Last week: 8
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

8. Spurs — Back-to-back defeats, against Watford and Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is outside the top-four (and -five) just like that. Harry Kane isn’t scoring (just two goals this season — zero in the defeats), and no one else has stepped up to fill the void.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

7. Manchester United — Wins over Burnley and Watford are nice, but let us know when they’re ready to handle a giant like Brighton.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Bournemouth — Pop quiz: Who’s the fifth-place side in the PL table right now, ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal? ‘Tis the Cherries.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 12

5. Watford — No longer perfect, no longer unbeaten. The hard work begins now, with a winnable trip to Fulham. The fall from fourth — where the Hornets currently reside — could be quick.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — The only non-top-two team with three straight wins. The problem is, of course, the season-opening losses to Man City and Chelsea have them sitting seventh nonetheless.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 9

3. Chelsea — Pop quiz no. 2: Who’s the current PL leaders? ‘Tis the Blues, so why aren’t they no. 1 (or 2) on this list? Does Arsenal count as a signature win in their second week under a new manager? Probably not, so we are in a holding pattern until they take on Liverpool in 10 days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 4

2. Man City — It still feels blasphemous to not have them no. 1, but Pep Guardiola knows it’s not necessary to blow the doors off everyone in August and September in order to win the title; that it’s more important to pace yourself for the whole of 10 months, if you want to win the Champions League.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — Speaking of signature wins, going away to Spurs and completely controlling and dominating the game was a surefire signal of intent from Jurgen Klopp‘s men. What they did against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily count for these rankings, but it shows they’ve got staying power.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Juve’s Douglas Costa banned 4 games for spitting

Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus winger Douglas Costa has been banned for four Serie A matches after a spitting incident on Sunday.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

The Brazil international was sent off near the end of Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sassuolo after he spat at midfielder Federico Di Francesco. Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

The Italian soccer federation announced his ban Tuesday, with the winger set to miss matches against Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Costa has already apologized for the incident on social media — via Google Translate:

“I would like to apologize to all of Juventus fans for this misleading reaction in today’s game. I also apologize to my teammates, who are always with me in good times and bad. I was ugly, I am aware and I apologize to everyone for it. I make it clear that this isolated attitude does not match what I have always shown in my career.”

Zlatan gets Thor treatment for game day giveaway (video)

lagalaxy.com
Leave a comment

There’s something about Zlatan Ibrahimovic saying, “This is the new Greek god. This is Zlatan,” that leads you to believe it’s not the first time he’s had this thought.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

Ibrahimovic is the subject of a classic Costacos Brothers poster to be given away at the LA Galaxy’s Sept. 29 match against Vancouver.

If you’re not familiar with the Costacos Brothers, well, your bedroom growing up really missed out.

From “Kelly’s Heroes” to “Czechmate,” the Costacos were trusted with plenty of creative license in a bygone era.

Bygone for everyone besides Zlatan. Bit jealous we can’t get our hands on one.