Kyle Bonn

Getty Images

Solskjaer details focus on mental health of players during shutdown

Leave a comment

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about the need for his players to concentrate not just on their physical fitness during the coronavirus shutdown that has leagues across the world on hiatus, but also for the need to make sure players maintain their mental spirit as well.

“We shouldn’t forget these are players used to playing in front of thousands of people and training every day with their team-mates,” Solskjaer said to the Daily Mail via a videoconference from his home. “They’re missing that competition, so they’ve got to look after themselves, the mental health side, as well as the physical fitness. That’s one of the big things – just look after yourself and do what you can. I know loads of players are contributing financially and mentally, even just by ringing round and talking to different people and helping out.”

Plenty of studies have been done about how the lack of competition can affect recently retired players, and that same concern has clearly been conveyed by Solskjaer as he looks after his Manchester United players while the government orders everyone to stay in their homes.

In fact, he’s even told them to take a complete break from football to maintain their competitive spirit once the Premier League returns to action.

“Don’t even think about it,” Solskjaer said regarding his advice for Manchester United players on how much football to concentrate on, “because you can’t just focus on ‘I have to be ready in two-and-a-half or three weeks’ all the time. You need an off-period and I want them to have April more or less relaxed because, if we’re back in May, I want them really ready to work again.”

While that’s what he prefers his players’ mindset to be, he himself is keeping a close watch on the situation. “That’s the biggest challenge, probably, the unknown,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “Not knowing when we’re going to start. You want to hit it when you get going, but is it in six weeks’ time or is the league going to be starting at the end of May, mid-June, is it not going to start?”

But, while there are plenty of challenges for a coaching staff to manage, Solskjaer also takes positives. “The biggest difference for most of us is that when you’re a footballer you don’t really get to spend much time with your family. That’s been a big plus, if you’re allowed to say that anything has been a big plus in this situation.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: West Ham, Brighton, Leicester City all on the prowl

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A number of Premier League clubs are using the coronavirus shutdown to take a closer look at transfer targets around Europe and even the globe, with ample time to discuss business and review tape.

According to Greek publication Sportime, Leicester City is looking closely at the possibility of replacing either Ben Chilwell or Ricardo Pereira with both the Foxes’ full-backs becoming hot commodities this season. They have reportedly identified Greek international Konstantinos Tsimikas of Olympiakos as a possible option. The 23-year-old has impressed this season, including good performances in Champions League games against Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur, boosting his value to a reported $28 million.

Tsimikas was linked with Rangers in late 2019, but with his value increasing since then, he could be out of their price range now. The Sportime report states that while a couple of Serie A clubs are on his heels as well, the player is specifically interested in a shot at the Premier League, giving Leicester City a leg up on the competition. With his contract expiring at the end of the 2022 campaign, the time is now for Olympiakos to sell and receive solid value.

According to a report out of Australia, Brighton & Hove Albion is set to pull the trigger on a deal for young Sydney FC midfielder Cameron Peupion. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a deal is so close, “the next training session Peupion takes part in is likely to be with Brighton.”

The 17-year-old reportedly had a trial with Brighton after the U-17 World Cup where Australia qualified for the knockout stages before being downed by eventual finalist France in the Round of 16. The report does not state how much Peupion would set Brighton back but says he is extremely close to joining fellow Aussies Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan with the Seagulls. The report also name-drops former Brighton player Paul Reid who is now an assistant coach with Sydney FC as one of the driving forces behind the deal.

Spanish publication AS reports that West Ham has shown the most interest among a small group of suitors for Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez. The 23-year-old center-back has earned under 1,000 league minutes so far this season and is looking elsewhere for more playing time. Everton and Arsenal are both mentioned in the report as following Nunez as well, who has turned down a contract offer with his current deal expiring in the summer of 2023. He reportedly has a $32.6 million release clause in his current deal, which is partly the motivation for the club hoping to extend him.

Everton has struggled to get young Italian striker Moise Kean going on the field after securing him last summer from Juventus, but the 20-year-old still has clubs wishing to buy low and return him to his former self. Roma is reportedly one of those clubs, according to Italian tabloid Il Messaggero, with Kean’s performances for Juventus still on the Serie A side’s mind. He exploded onto the scene as a 19-year-old, earning him a trio of caps for the Italian national team.

The report states that Roma is looking for a new striker, a sensible move considering the team’s only true strikers, Edin Dzeko and Nikola Kalinic (who is on loan from Atletico Madrid), are 34 and 32 years old respectively. This could push them to explore Kean, and while Everton will likely push back as the striker is still just 20 years old, the Toffees could be tested if Kean desires a return to his home country.

UEFA entertaining Financial Fair Play relaxation amid coronavirus difficulties

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With clubs around Europe impacted financially by the coronavirus shutdown, UEFA is considering changes to its Financial Fair Play rules to accommodate those that cannot meet the break-even standards required by the current guidelines.

With the current financial climate and some clubs struggling to maintain a balanced book, clubs may require owner investment to keep the businesses afloat.

“A working group has been set up to look at how club licensing/FFP might need to adapt to take account of the extraordinary challenges that clubs face, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” UEFA said to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The situation is evolving fast and the working group is continuously monitoring the situation with the aim to come to a proposal in the coming weeks.”

Manchester City has been punished for previous Financial Fair Play rules after owner Sheikh Mansour allegedly covered up an injection of cash into the club as sponsorship income. The AP report states that Man City’s case will not be impacted by any changes to FFP since the violations occurred between 2012 and 2016.

However, owner injections could be temporarily overlooked, according to long-standing FFP proponent Javier Tebas who is the president of the La Liga in Spain. “If those people want to invest a lot of money into football … to reduce the debt levels of clubs, well I think that would be studied and I think that could be possible,” Tebas said in the AP report.

UEFA has already pushed back its club licensing deadlines for the 2020/21 season since it is currently unclear when that season will officially begin.

Qatar says it’s working to protect laborers from coronavirus

Getty Images
1 Comment

BERLIN — The Qatari government said Tuesday it has implemented widespread measures to protect immigrant workers from the coronavirus, after a German documentary highlighted that ongoing construction of World Cup infrastructure raised the risk of infections.

The government said in a statement to The Associated Press that it is providing free healthcare and a salary-guarantee for those workers affected by the virus, and is bringing a daily shipment of food and protective equipment into the industrial area where immigrant laborers reside.

The response came after the documentary reported on severe food shortages for the workers and an increased risk of infection due to cramped conditions inside a quarantined part of the Industrial Area district outside Doha.

Retail shops and bank branches in shopping malls are closed as Qatar bids to contain the virus. The Persian Gulf country has reported over 1,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with some 130 recoveries and four deaths.

But work on construction sites continues as Qatar gets ready to host the World Cup in 2022. Migrant workers are driving the effort.

Qatar, like other Gulf Arab nations, relies on foreign laborers to build its mega projects and highways. They take the jobs to earn incomes they never could back home, though abuse and maltreatment have been reported for years. Many live in cramped, dormitory-style housing.

The Qatari government told the AP on Tuesday that “1,000 trucks loaded with goods enter the Industrial Area daily” and that food, water, masks, gloves and hand sanitizers are being delivered to workers.

An outbreak of COVID-19 infections led the state to close off the zone between Street No. 1 and Street No. 32 of the Industrial Area in a bid to contain the virus last month. Affected workers told German broadcaster ARD that they are effectively imprisoned in the lockdown area with little to eat and little protection against the virus. Social distancing is not possible for the workers.

Footage shot with mobile phones showed empty supermarket shelves and workers rushing to receive supplies from a government delivery.

The broadcaster said it spoke to workers from Nepal, Bangladesh and countries in Africa. They all asked to remain anonymous because of fears of retribution for speaking out about their conditions. Some expressed fears they would not receive their salaries.

The Qatari government told AP it had set up dedicated health centers to treat patents with COVID-19 in the Industrial Area, as well as three checkpoints for testing and screening. Treatment would be free and “those who do not have a valid work visa will also be treated free of charge without fear of detention or financial penalties.”

It said it would “guarantee that all residents who are in quarantine or undergoing treatment will receive full salaries on schedule.”

It also said it was limiting the number of people in accommodation rooms to four, and introducing social distancing measures at work, “such as staggering entry and exit of workers to and from their workplace, limiting all bus capacity to a maximum of 50 percent and ensuring masks and hand sanitizers are available at worksites.”

Last week, a number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Fair/Square, Human Rights Watch and Migrant-Rights.org urged Qatar Prime Minister Khalid bin Khalifa Al Thani to protect migrant workers during the pandemic.

“Qatar has made promising commitments to support migrant workers during this unprecedented crisis, including earmarking funds to cover quarantined migrant workers’ wages, and setting up a hotline for grievances,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, more than ever, such promises need to be implemented.”

Bundesliga reveals plans to restart in early May

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In an interview with the New York Times, Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert said that the German top flight is targeting an early May return to play from its coronavirus shutdown, with teams already conducting training sessions.

Seifert said that while he does not expect fans to be able to return to stadiums by the end of the calendar year, games will go on ahead in empty stadiums.

“We are part of the culture in the country, people long to get back a short piece of normal life, and that could mean the Bundesliga plays again,” Seifert said. “This is why we have to play our role here, and that means to support the government and to talk with the government about when we will be able to play again.”

Germany has the fourth-most positive COVID-19 identifications, but one of the lowest death rates in the world as the country provides a model for a health care system designed to absorb a pandemic.

Seifert said in the interview that the league has estimated around 240 essential personnel are required to put on an individual league game, from players to coaching staff to officiating crew to medical staff and beyond. The league has set up a task force to develop a logistical plan for putting on games safely, while another works on developing a “hygiene plan” to allow for repeated congregating during training and matches, also devising a plan for if someone involved tests positive.

Seifert highlighted the importance of returning to play, saying that “we are all fighting to survive” and estimating that cancelling the season could cost upwards of $815 million.