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Win or lose Champions League final, not much changes for Spurs

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Whether Tottenham Hotspur win or lose Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, 24 players, a coaching staff and an entire fanbase will be feeling the emotional weight of having gone through the wringer of the biggest, most important game in all of club soccer, but precious little will have actually changed about where the club goes from there.

[ MORE: Similar paths led Klopp, Pochettino to date with destiny ]

When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed to replace Tim Sherwood back in 2014, the objectives on which he would be judged were clear: stabilize the first-team squad after a period of unsettling turnover, and get the club back into the Champions League by the time the new stadium was set to open (whenever that would eventually be). As would become the calling card of Pochettino’s tenure, things moved quicker than expected and he needed just two seasons to get them there, and now it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the Champions League without Tottenham in it (three straight seasons with another on the horizon, and a trip to the final).

In that way — and so many others — Pochettino has normalized success at a club starved of such satisfaction for the longest time, for much of its tortured existence. “Spursy” used to be finding the worst, most painful way to fail; now, it’s facing up to some of the biggest clubs in the world without an ounce of fear and seeing themselves as every bit an equal — it’s the most tangible way in which the team represents its manager. Win or lose, this doesn’t change.

[ MORE: How will Spurs, Liverpool line up for Champions League final? ]

If we’re all presently in agreement that Pochettino has done a masterful job to massage an already-short, then injury-ravaged, squad and guide it (somehow) to this game, that won’t have changed and suddenly become untrue based on the result of 90 (or 120) minutes against. If he was on the shortlist for every managerial vacancy in the world, he’ll still be there after a defeat.

Having endured two straight transfer windows without signing a single player, followed by the season (and three-fourths) away from home that would never end, followed by the injury crisis brought about by the lack of transfer dealings, followed by stoppage-time deficits (or deficits that nearly were) into the final seconds of the quarterfinals and semifinals, Spurs’ season has already gone to the brink of falling apart in that cruelest, most painful way imaginable, only for Pochettino’s men to drag themselves through to the other side as lilywhite heroes time and again. Win or lose, that incredible ride doesn’t get erased.

[ MORE: Liverpool: Spurs matches “the toughest games we’ve played” ]

On the other hand, Spurs upsetting the applecart and knocking off Liverpool — the heavy favorites that they are — wouldn’t change the fact that Pochettino’s project is still just that: a project now ahead of schedule, but still with far to go.

The goal was never to get to this one final, on this one day, in this one season; it was always to set the club up for long-term sustainability, so as to claim their place as one of the Premier League’s elite in the same way we now think of Manchester City and Chelsea, and the way we used to think of Manchester United and Arsenal. Part of those club’s present-day narratives are down to their own hilarious failings, to be sure, but another (not insignificant) part is down to being a dysfunction operation in comparison to what’s been happening at White Hart Lane.

Win or lose on Saturday, none of it changes.

[ MORE: Report: Maurizio Sarri to be released from Chelsea contract ]

It should be said, in the interest of fairness: Saturday’s showpiece in Madrid does have the feeling of a crossroads moment for the club.

A number key figures could very well move on in the summer. Toby Aldeweireld, who has a $31-million release clause in his contract going forward, and Christian Eriksen, who could be one of any number of stars headed to Real Madrid, are chief among them. Their theoretical departures would, of course, allow for necessitate a bit of transfer activity to breathe new life into the squad — something Spurs fans desperately crave — but with it would come a sense of tearing down and rebuilding a core group that has traced a trajectory beyond anything once thought possible.

To shed the tags of “bottlers” and “sure, finishing above your rivals is nice, but you still haven’t won a trophy” by winning the Champions League trophy — the trophy — at the expense of Liverpool, and before Man City or Arsenal could do it, would be the cherry on top of the ride of a lifetime. This might be as good as it ever gets for Spurs, which means one or two things has gone horrifically wrong in the future, which makes this present moment mean that much more.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.