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Similar paths lead Klopp, Pochettino to date with destiny

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MADRID – They hail from Germany and Argentina and are respected and admired across the world mainly because of one thing: they are genuine.

Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are leading the new wave of lovable, charismatic managers and have redefined how to build a strong culture and identity at a Premier League club.

[ MORE: Full UCL Final preview ]

They let their emotions pour out on the sidelines. They speak with passion in press conferences. They love their players unconditionally. They are human and fans understand them. They are relatable. The kind of blokes you would enjoy sitting down the pub with to grab a pint and talk about the game. They come across that way in front of the TV cameras and they are like that behind-the-scenes when journalists speak with them on or off the record. They are just normal guys living their dreams.

The latter cannot really be said about Pep Guardiola, so Klopp and Pochettino are the lovable characters who speak the game in the same language as the fans who adored their players. The names of Pochettino and Klopp were sung loud and proud in the streets of Madrid in the lead up to this final and they will be sung long after Saturday’s grand finale.

The similarities between the way Pochettino and Klopp act is at times startling, and both were cracking jokes and smiling on the eve of their finest moment as a manager. For one of them…

“There are two clubs in the final who have built step-by-step. I respect a lot what Poch and Tottenham have done,” Klopp said when speaking to the media before the final. “They are a very talented group but what they did together, how they improved together, we had to do it a different way, but in a way it is still similar. Two proper teams in this final. It’s a real football final, now both have to deal with that because it makes the game pretty intense… We’re really looking forward to a proper game I’m sure.”

That respect was reciprocated by Pochettino, as he hailed the German coach for reaching a third UCL final in his career and a second-straight trip to European soccer’s biggest game.

“For Jurgen to be here 10 months ago and be here again now is special. I admire Jurgen a lot. He’s a very good example. Maybe he has been a little bit unlucky, but it is the third time he is going to arrive at this final – the most difficult thing is to arrive at the final,” Pochettino said. “Sometimes the universe is with you, sometimes it’s against you. But to arrive in a third champions league final? I admire him a lot. Of course we are in football because we want to win but I think the journey to the final of the Champions League is the most important and the most difficult thing.”

Respect has been earned and they respect one another.

[ MORE: Kane fit? | Klopp positive ]

Their paths to get to this date with destiny have been similar. The way expectations have been altered at their clubs is down to them and the vision they’ve shared with their players and the way it has been carried it. Off the pitch both teams have moved forward in terms of stadium development, while Liverpool’s financial muscle and global appeal still puts them far ahead of Spurs in terms of the resources they have.

Whatever happens on Saturday both clubs have done things the right way.

Pochettino arrived in England in January 2013 and took struggling Southampton to an eighth-place Premier League finish in an 18-month spell before joining Tottenham in the summer of 2014, as he led Spurs to the League Cup final, four-straight top four finishes and now a UCL final. He did this with a young, hungry team with a clear playing style which punched above its weight time and time again.

Klopp arrived in England in October 2015 at Liverpool and his first game as Reds boss was at Tottenham against Pochettino. Since then Klopp has taken Liverpool to four major finals – the Europa League, Champions League and League Cup — but lost three of them, and his side came agonizingly close to winning the PL title ahead of this showdown in Madrid. The have spent big over the last 12 months to get them to the final stage, winning trophies, and now they must deliver.

Both have led their teams on an upward trajectory in impressive fashion, dragging the fans and everyone connected with their clubs along on the journey with them. But one thing evades them…

A trophy.

The debate over whether Klopp or Pochettino’s respective reigns have been ‘successful’ continues to end with, ‘but yeah, what have they won?’ and of course silverware is important.

[ MORE: How will the teams line up?

But the close-knit feeling in the squads they’ve created, the high-press, hard running playing styles they have ushered in as the new norm across the English game and the hope they’ve returned to their fanbases cannot be overlooked. Because of Klopp and Pochettino, fans of both clubs believe anything is possible.

And they’ve done all of that without pissing people off (for the majority of the time) and with smiles on their face.  Respect has followed the long, hard hours on the training ground.

Whichever manager wins the Champions League the wider soccer community will be delighted for them. Whichever manager loses will have their support amid major disappointment.

But, finally, one of them will hush the naysayers as they hoist the European Cup into the humid Madrid sky on Saturday evening.

Whatever happens in Madrid, Klopp and Pochettino won’t change one bit. And that is why they are loved.

Everton reportedly set for sale of $28M Lookman

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Will Everton regret its failure to find the right fit for Ademola Lookman at Goodison Park?

The Toffees are set to sell the 21-year-old striker to RB Leipzig this summer for just $8 million more than they paid Charlton for her services, according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: De Gea wants captaincy ]

Lookman scored five goals with four assists in a half-season loan for RBL in 2018, but could not find regular feature time for the Toffees upon his return.

Yes, the $28 million is still a decent fee, but Lookman is an English striker with U-20 World Cup-winning experience, and was given just three starts from his 21 appearances in the Premier League for Marco Silva‘s men last season (posting two assists in 601 minutes.

Lookman prefers to play left wing, but also operates on the right. Everton has Richarlison, Bernard, and Theo Walcott amongst a relatively deep wing corps.

The stats seem to show that Lookman simply had trouble getting the ball at Everton in comparison to RBL. Maybe he needs to be a bigger part of the show, and we’ll find out whether he can do that with Tyler Adams and Co. in Leipzig.

De Gea hopes for Manchester United captaincy

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Given his seemingly biannual links to returns to Spain and bigger paydays, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea preach up the badge.

Aside from a stumble late last season, however, the 28-year-old has been a dynamo at Old Trafford for several managers.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

He’s also been through the wringer from his early days struggling to find his form in the Premier League, and now has 362 appearances in the Red Devils shirt to go with trophies from the PL, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League.

So, yeah, he’s qualified to lead. And as we wait for United to announce his new expensive contract, De Gea is speaking out on his delight in captaining the team and hopes of doing so on a full-time basis.

From Sky Sports:

“I need to show that on the pitch and try to help the young guys know what Manchester United means and that’s important. We have to improve a lot. We are Manchester United; we need to fight for trophies.

“When you put on this badge, that’s what it means – fight for everything, give your best and bring the team again to the top.”

Is there a case to be made for anyone else on the current roster? Probably not, at least not in the form of players who will be expected to suit up nearly every match.

Chicago adds 2010 World Cup qualifying hero Bornstein

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There’s probably part of you who thinks Jonathan Bornstein is on an MLS staff somewhere, that he’s about 46 years old, and the news that he’s joined the Chicago Fire means he’s taken a coaching role like Josh Wolff (who is only 42. Don’t age shame).

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

And we’ll admit that “Chicago adds Jonathan Bornstein” gave us similar vibes, because, hey, didn’t this cat score an amazing, World Cup berth-clinching goal against Costa Rica at RFK in 2009? Yes! He was! I was there with my sister and a couple of buddies, and it was awesome.

Bornstein was, however, just 25 then and a member of Chivas USA (That was an MLS team, young bucks). Bob Bradley drafted him out of UCLA and turned him into a left back.

Now 34 and still a left back, Bornstein spent 2010-present outside of the United States. He’s played in Mexico for Queretaro, Tigres, and Atlante, as well as Israel last season with Maccabi Netanya. He won a Copa MX, a Supercopa MX, and an Apertura title while south of the border.

From Chicago-Fire.com:

“We began pursuing Jonathan back in January but, unfortunately, his insertion into the lineup made him too invaluable to his former club,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodrίguez. “In addition to providing a steady presence and competition on the field, we believe Jonathan will be an excellent mentor for our younger players.”

As a returning USMNT international, even no caps since 2011, Chicago had to send $50,000 to Columbus for the top spot in the allocation order.

Bornstein will hope to help Chicago turn around a miserable season which began with such promise. Chicago has been extremely unlucky this season, with a difference of minus-11.7 between expected goals and goals scored.

And I will continue to remember nearly throwing my beverage miles into the air from the upper deck at RFK. Thanks for the memories, Jonathan.

Barcelona exec on Neymar: “We aren’t looking at it”

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Neymar’s reported discontent at Paris Saint-Germain has caused rumors to fly this summer about if he could leave, and where any potential destinations could be.

His old club Barcelona is thought to be a major contender to rescue the Brazilian superstar from his misery, but that may be dead in the water after Barcelona vice president Jordi Cardoner again claimed the club has no interest in his return.

“The president already spoke about it,” Cardoner said from Tokyo where the club is in preseason. “There is no Neymar saga. There is a lot of talk and he doesn’t appear happy there but we aren’t looking at it.”

This is not the first time Cardoner has gone public to deny Neymar rumors. Even as far back as last October, Cardoner said “No one on the Barcelona board has talked about the possibility of bringing back Neymar, right now we can’t talk about it because no one has even mentioned it.”

Cardoner is not the only Barcelona member talking down a potential Neymar return. New arrival Antoine Griezmann also made statements claiming the club would struggle to make it happen even if they wanted to. Speaking about possibly linking up with Neymar with Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid striker spoke highly of Neymar’s playing ability, but admitted it would take some significant time to complete. “We have to get it done first because it is a difficult transfer, but he is a great player,” Griezmann said from Tokyo.

Neymar has had a troubled past 12 months, facing rape charges in Brazil, suspensions in both European and domestic French competitions, and even taking Barcelona to court last year for payments he believed he was owed.