After so much humiliation, England a source of pride, unity

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) — So often the source of letdowns and embarrassments, England’s soccer team is a unifying force among players and the nation.

At least in some sections of the country riven by economic, political and social divisions that led to Brexit, reaching the World Cup semifinals is a welcome distraction from the charged atmosphere. It’s a chance to clamber onto traffic lights, fling beer in the air and toast the success of the footballers in an outpouring of delirium not witnessed across England since the last century.

For the first time since the 1990s, England is in the last four of a major tournament. England will play Croatia on Wednesday for a place in the final after beating Sweden 2-0 Saturday.

“The chance to connect everybody through football and to make a difference to how people feel,” England coach Gareth Southgate said, “that is even more powerful than what we are doing with our results. That is very special. I would imagine there is a big party at home. Not for us.”

There is still much work to do if England is to reach its first World Cup final since lifting the trophy on home soil at Wembley in 1966.

But Southgate believes he has instilled the humble mentality in the dressing room that is required to keep the journey going all the way to Luzhniki Stadium next Sunday. Humility has replaced the hubris that defined the celebrity-obsessed David Beckham-era where the furthest the team reached was the quarterfinal stage of any tournament. Just look back on how Harry Maguire, who headed in Saturday’s first goal, reported for England duty for the first time last year with his clothing in a black trash bag rather than designer luggage.

Ambitions appeared to be thwarted for so long by a culture of entitlement as England gloried in the hype and status of being the birthplace of soccer without backing it up with results. And as players started to collect millions in salaries from their clubs, commitment to the national team was called into question.

“We don’t have renowned world-class players yet,” Southgate said, “but lots of good young players who are showing on the world stage that they’re prepared to be brave with the ball, try to play the right way, have shown some mental resilience now.”

At the start of his tenure in 2016, Southgate realized he had to deliver an important message to his players: Any success with England will be greater than anything achieved with their clubs.

“They have been prepared to park their club rivalries at the door,” Southgate said. “We’ve talked about how important it is to have that spirit.”

Also, how to recover from adversity. One of the lowest points for English soccer came two years ago — days after that European Union referendum in Britain — when a team coached by Roy Hodgson was humiliated by Iceland.

“Under pressure they suffered,” Southgate said. “They will have days when they are not able to cope with things.”

But experiencing the misery at Euro 2016 as players — or as a fan in the stadium like Maguire —helped a Harry Kane-led England advance relatively serenely to its first World Cup semifinal since 1990, according to Southgate. England even managed to beat Colombia in the round of 16 on penalties, halting a run of five successive shootout losses at tournaments.

The victories in Russia are also reversing an anomaly. England hosts the world’s richest soccer competition — the Premier League — but hasn’t been able to produce a national team to match. Southgate was on the last England side to reach a semifinal, at the 1996 European Championship, when the team anthem was “Three Lions.” The “football’s coming home” lyric is back in vogue in Russia, ringing out from stadiums to bars among the few thousand fans who defied the logistical challenges to follow the team.

“We have a good balance and the team are together,” 53-year-old England fan Andrew Court said outside the stadium in Samara where Maguire and Dele Alli scored the goals against Sweden.

Southgate, though, is looking beyond the hollow “Football’s coming home” concept.

Reflecting a studious approach, the platform gained from his greatest day in soccer was used to deliver several powerful messages on Saturday. Above all, Southgate wants more Englishmen playing alongside the Premier League imports.

“The more remarkable thing is that we’re in a semifinal,” Southgate said. “We only have 33 percent of the league to pick from. So that is still a huge problem for us, and we’re playing some young players who are barely established at their clubs, never mind international careers.

“But we feel that they’re able to play the way we want to play, playing huge pride, playing with no lack of quality, showing the sort of mentality to work for the group,” he said.

And it’s a group that, Southgate emphasizes, reflects the diversity of England and cuts through the economic divide in England where so much wealth is centered in the south.

Southgate has singled out the less affluent northern towns where players like Maguire are from.

“All of these players come from different parts of the country,” Southgate said, “and they’ll be youngsters watching at home from the areas that they come from. They’ll be inspiring.”

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Premier League player Power Rankings are back after a frantic Week 5 of the 2018-19 season.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

With a bevvy of fine individual displays after the international break, we have plenty of top talents to choose from.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list. Simple.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Even
  2. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool – New entry
  3. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  4. Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth) – New entry
  5. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – New entry
  6. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 4
  7. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 4
  8. Jorginho (Chelsea) – Down 2
  9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  10. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Up 5
  11. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) – New entry
  12. Ruben Neves (Wolves) – Even
  13. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Even
  14. James Milner (Liverpool) – New entry
  15. Glenn Murray (Brighton) – Up 4
  16. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – New entry
  17. Willian (Chelsea) – New entry
  18. David De Gea (Man United ) – New entry
  19. Josh King (Bournemouth) – New entry
  20. Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham) – New entry

Total transfer spending of top teams revealed

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It’s not about how much you spend, it’s about what you spend it on, right?

Well, sort of.

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How much have the top clubs on the planet spent to assemble their superstar squads?  In short, a ton. But the deeper analysis shows a clear trend: Premier League clubs are dominating the money spent in the transfer market to assemble their rosters.

The guys over at the International Centre for Sports Studies – CIES Football Observatory, have calculated the biggest spenders on the planet in terms of purchasing their current squads, and eight of the top 20 are from the PL with seven of the top 11 from England’s top-flight.

Take a look at the list below as four of the top six clubs come from England.

Manchester City at the top of the tree having spent $1.14 billion to assemble their current squad, PSG are in second with a spend of $920 million, while Manchester United sit in third after spending $918 million. Liverpool after fourth after dishing out $823 million to put together their current roster, Barcelona have spent $807 million and Chelsea sit sixth after spending $786 million.

Focusing on the Premier League specifically, you can see how much each of the current 20 teams have spent to assemble their squads.

Biggest takeaways: Southampton and West Ham should be doing a lot better, while Bournemouth, Watford and Wolves are punching well above their weight.

FIFA not happy with La Liga’s USA plans

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President of FIFA Gianni Infantino doesn’t seem impressed with La Liga’s plans to play a regular-season game in Miami in January, 2019.

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Barcelona, Girona and La Liga have applied to the Spanish Football Federation to move their match on Jan. 26, 2019 from Girona’s home stadium to Miami, Florida in a bid to attract new fans.

It would be the first-ever La Liga game played overseas, but Infantino isn’t a fan of the idea.

“I think I would prefer to see a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S,” Infantino said in a statement to ESPN. “In football, the general principle is that you play a ‘home’ match at ‘home’, and not in a foreign country. There are procedures in place for these things, so we will wait to receive anything official and then we’ll look into it. There are rules, regulations, that everyone complies with. In particular, such a proposal has to be approved by the respective associations, by the respective confederations and FIFA should also express a view on the matter, not least since it would have implications for football at global level as well.”

With FIFA having to approve the move, is that the end of this?

Probably not, but it is clear that this game would cause plenty of problems as the Spanish players’ union have already expressed serious concerns about moving games to the U.S. and elsewhere to try and grow their global brand.

The head of La Liga, Javier Tebas, has hit out at Infantino about his comments and clearly wants to game to go ahead. Yet U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF, the Spanish Football Federation and FIFA would all have to give it the thumbs up.

“I will remind the President of,  that in the , 3 teams of Canada participate, and he T is the current champion, and also in Canada there is another professional league,” Tebas said.

I see where Tebas is coming from but come on, comparing teams from Spain to Canada  playing games in the USA is a huge stretch. It appears La Liga remains desperate for this idea to work but there’s certainly a lot of schmoozing that needs to be done in the coming months to make a Spanish top-flight game in Miami a reality.

Ivan Gazidis leaves Arsenal for AC Milan

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One of the worst kept secrets in soccer is out: Arsenal’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has left the club to join AC Milan.

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Gazidis, 54, will join the Italian giants on December 1, with Arsenal promoting Raul Sanllehi from head of football relations to head of football and Vinai Venkatesham, currently their chief commercial officer, now their managing director.

The former MLS deputy commissioner has been the CEO at Arsenal for the past 10 years, overseeing their move to the Emirates Stadium and trying to help Arsene Wenger bring the glory days back for the Gunners.

With Wenger out over the summer and Gazidis appointing Unai Emery as their new manager, the Englishman was thought to be instrumental in the rebuild of the club. Instead, he’s walked away to join AC Milan.

“For the last 10 years I have been privileged to dedicate myself to this great club. Arsenal is entering a new chapter and I have done everything I can to ensure that it is strongly placed to take on that challenge,” Gazidis said. “This includes world-class facilities and outstanding leaders in every sector who carry the values of the club, including, of course, Unai Emery, Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham in whom I have enormous faith.”

There has been plenty of criticism of Gazidis and Arsenal’s majority owner, Stan Kroenke, as many fans of the Gunners believe they are purely focused on profit off the pitch rather than building a winning team on it.

Gazidis went on to state that although leaving Arsenal was the toughest decision of his life, he believes he can help AC Milan return to past glories.

“Although it is very hard to do – the hardest decision of my life – I believe that, after 10 years, it is the right time for me to step aside to allow new leadership, energy and ideas to take the club forward into this exciting new era. I believe in the positive force of change, both for me and for the club. While this is the most difficult and challenging course for me, I am excited to see what the future holds for this great club.

“After so many years at Major League Soccer and Arsenal, I am now looking forward to joining one of the world’s other great clubs, AC Milan, and working to restore it to its rightful place in football. Until then, I will continue to devote absolutely all my energy until my last day to ensure an orderly transition for the benefit of Arsenal Football Club.”

Why has Gazidis left now? One of the main reasons could be that Kroenke recently upped his stake in the club after Alisher Usmanov sold his shares, and perhaps Gazidis was being moved on as they try to freshen things up throughout the club.

That said, Arsenal and Gazidis have acknowledged the fact that the latter decided to leave the club so it seems like it was his decision.