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Seven Ironman triathlons in seven days? Saints legend explains why

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Southampton legend Francis Benali is on a mission. In the past five years he has taken part in two huge challenges for charity, and the third starts on Apr. 29 and is his most demanding yet.

7 Ironman triathlons in 7 days. Yep, you read that correctly.

Benali, 50, has set himself a goal of raising £1 million ($1.3 million) for Cancer Research UK in his post-playing career, as the 13-year Premier League veteran, who spent his entire 16-year career at hometown club Southampton, pushes his body and mind to the limits with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then a 26.2-mile run each day, for seven days.

Let that sink in.

The “IronFran 2019” challenge will take him on a journey through England from Manchester to Southampton, and will take place from Apr. 29 to May 5, as it will finish with him completing the Southampton Marathon after seven gruelling days.


You can donate to support Benali by clicking here, or on the link above, as he aims to raise over $1.3 million to help Cancer Research UK. 


Talking to Pro Soccer Talk about what spurs him on each and every day during these challenges, Benali revealed he thinks about the individuals and families suffering with cancer. That pushes him on to keep going.

“I have paid a visit to the local cancer ward at Southampton General Hospital recently and I’ve met a number of children, a few of whom are planning to be part on the last day of the challenge [the Southampton Marathon on May 5],” Benali said. “We’ve been touched by it as a family and we have had close friends who have either been diagnosed or lost to this awful disease since starting the first challenge a few years ago. That drives me on and reinforces the efforts we are trying to make on the fundraising side to enable the researchers and the scientists to find ways of treatment and ultimately to find a cure.

“That is very much a factor in my mind. Knowing that I’ve got a few aches and pains and may not want to go training or continue through a session, when your mind flips to people that are fighting this disease and who are affected by this terrible illness, not just the individuals themselves but their families and friends as well, it has a massive impact. It certainly drives me on and spurs me on during the difficult moments.”

(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

A fiery left back during his playing says, Benali was a huge part of Southampton staving off relegation year after year in the 1990s, as the hometown hero led the battles at the Dell alongside the likes of Matt Le Tissier and James Beattie. He epitomizes the spirit of a true battler.

In recent years he’s turned his attention to raising money for Cancer Research UK with extreme endurance challenges, and has pushed himself to the limit by running between every Premier League stadium in 2014, covering over 1,000 miles on 21 consecutive days. In 2016 he then travelled between all 44 teams in the top two tiers of English soccer in just two weeks, covering 1400 miles which meant running a marathon then cycling at least 75 miles every day

Benali has now been training for months for IronFran, which is billed as his final big challenge to get over the £1 million marker as his current fundraising total now stands at just under £700,000.

As he enters the final days of his preparation for the incredible challenge, Benali admitted that making sure he gets the desired rest and refuelling in-between Ironman’s is just as challenging as completing the physical disciplines each day.

“I am really racking up the hours and distance on a daily basis to have the last final push to try and get my body accustomed to the pain and the aches I know are going to come on the challenge itself, and I know they will probably be a lot worse than what I am feeling now,” Benali explained. “It’s just getting my mind and body used to that uncomfortableness of the training and getting out of bed, and keeping moving really. I know from the previous experiences from the other challenges, it is sure as hell going to be the case. It is not just the physical and mental challenge of each of disciplines each day, it is as much a challenge to refuel and get the calories back in and start and get a good enough recovery process in. Including sleep, and what will be a lack of it, in order to get up the next morning to do it all over again the following day.”

The soccer world has rallied around Benali, just as it did in his previous two challenges in 2014 and 2016, with former and current professionals, Premier League and Football League clubs and personalities across the game in the UK and the world helping to spread the word about this mammoth challenge.

Benali admitted the support has been amazing to witness but ever the professional, he wants to make sure he finishes the challenge and do what he set out to do.

“It is wonderful to know you have that level of support and the well wishes coming in from colleagues and people I work with now,” Benali said. “At the same time it brings a pressure. I’ll be honest. The pressure to deliver the challenge, in my head, and complete it. The fundraising target is the main goal, but at the same time I ultimately want to complete what I set out to do. That certainly brings a few sleepless nights as well in my own mind.”

Credit: Chris Cole/ALLSPORT

Asked if he fancies taking his incredible endurance events Stateside, Benali, of course, mentioned some of the toughest event as capturing his attention for the future if he fancies another big challenge.

“I’ve seen some stuff in America, with the Race Across America (RAAM) with cyclists, which is an incredible event. I’ve seen the Badwater Ultramarathon is something that looks right out there on the limits of extreme challenges,” Benali said. “There is stuff I’ve seen in the U.S. that has certainly captured my attention. Maybe one day I might be able to run, or get permission from my wife Karen, to give me the green light on something like that. We will get this challenge out of the way first.”

Benali has never shirked a challenge, and throughout his career in the Premier League he dug deep to keep his hometown club in the top-flight against all the odds and was a machine at left back for Saints.

With Southampton in their own relegation battle heading into the final weeks of this season, Benali believes the club he loves can pretty much seal their place in the Premier League by beating Newcastle on Saturday at St James’ Park (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Just like his challenges, the battle is far from over for Saints.

“I always thought two more wins would do it prior to the victory against Wolves last weekend, so I think having seen Cardiff’s victory against Brighton, that really throws them in the mix and keeps us in contention of being in a relegation place,” Benali said. “I’ve always had that confidence in Ralph Hasenhuttl and the squad to survive and stay up this season, and that is no different right now. Three points and a big victory at Newcastle would be a big step towards survival. I think that would probably be enough given the games that are left and the run-in that Cardiff have. Fingers crossed it will all go well for Saints, and it will be a great game for everyone to watch.”

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

(more…)

De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.

Cameroon fire Seedorf, Kluivert

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Upset with how the national team was bounced from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the Cameroon Football Federation has taken a drastic and surprising measure.

[READ: Reports: Trippier set to join Atletico Madrid]

The Cameroon FF (FECAFOOT) announced on Tuesday that it had dismissed head coach Clarence Seedorf and his coaching staff, which includes Seedorf’s former Netherlands and Ajax teammate Patrick Kluivert. Seedorf and Cameroon were defeated 3-2 by Nigeria in the Round of 16, knocking The Indomitable Lions out of the tournament.

Cameroon had won the last AFCON tournament and were set to host again, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) removed the tournament from Cameroon due to the anglophone political crisis.

Seedorf signed a four-year contract last August, bringing Kluivert along with him in his first attempt to coach international soccer. However, it appears that the bosses in FECAFOOT expected more from Cameroon at the AFCON, and the results have embarrassed the federation enough to sack a promising coach.

The news should be a boost to club teams across Europe, which could pick up two of the top young coaches with a ton of playing experience, both of whom are free agents.