Rafa Benitez and Newcastle finally part ways, what next?

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In the end it was no surprise that Newcastle would let Rafa Benitez leave the club. It was a relationship that painfully never worked and it still seems a rather odd choice and turn of events that Benitez went to the Magpies in the first place.

Benitez’s 3 year reign ended this past weekend after he was critical of the board and was quoted as saying that he didn’t see a way forward for the club- he is right.

The Spaniard has been incredibly loyal to Newcastle, what other manager who has just come from Real Madrid takes over a team in the English Championship? After getting the Magpies promoted he simply wasn’t given the budget for Premier League football. At the same time he was able to keep the club up, but they still finished in the bottom half the table this season.

Benitez and club owner Mike Ashley just never got along and it usually came down to a power struggle about money. Benitez wanted experienced quality players whilst Ashley was happy to spend little but bring in youth so they could be sold for much higher rates, the exact strategy it seems that Monaco have adopted over the last few years.

Tick tock and with Benitez’s contract running out day by day, he refused to sign a one year extension and his reign is over. He was more or less loved by the fans and at the end of the day only wanted a transfer budget befitting a team that are trying to finish in the top half of the Premier League. Ashley just wanted a team that would survive in the Premier League. He still has that but for how much longer? And the rift between Ashley and the fans seems to have grown much wider.

So who is the favourite to take over at St. James’ Park? That name is Mikel Arteta currently the number 2 at Manchester City. Other names that have been mentioned are Claudio Ranieri, Gary Monk, David Moyes and Jose Mourinho. Perhaps Mourinho’s name doesn’t look right in that list but Mourinho is actually the second favourite to take the job given that Ashley may finally sell it to middle eastern billionaires, if that happens then even more change will happen for the Magpies.

As for Benitez he may just take a year off before looking at his options again, there is little doubt that he will be back with a major team again and perhaps will want to prove Newcastle wrong for letting him go.

 

From Real Madrid to PSG- Are major European clubs ignoring the special one Jose Mourinho?

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Jose Mourinho has been out of a job since being sacked as Manchester United manager back in December and while he is adamant that he will be back coaching soon, it doesn’t seem that way at all. One could, with all validity wonder if the same European super clubs have had enough of the special one?

One huge telling point was when Mourinho was linked with a return back to Real Madrid. And it almost made sense given how poor the club had been under Santiago Solari. True Solari could not be wholly blamed for Madrid’s chaotic season but his name simply did not scream ‘big enough’ for the club. Madrid were not getting the desired results and Mourinho was out of a job.

There was talk and then a feeling that Florentino Perez the Real Madrid president would go back to Mourinho. It’s true that his style the first time around did not seem to fit the club, but with Mourinho comes trophies- there have always been trophies before the inevitable meltdown. But this time Madrid passed and before you could say French football legend- Zinedine Zidane was back at the same club he had walked out on the summer before. Mourinho had been ignored.

There was talk he could go back to Portugal and coach Porto where the glory all started. But Mourinho himself dismissed this idea. Then there was the Bayern Munich link but despite Novak Kovac’s up and down season in his debut one for the club, Bayern did win the league and he doesn’t look like he will be going anywhere.

The links continued- how about PSG? The job would surely have been the perfect fit for Mourinho who would have had a bottomless pit of money to buy whoever he wants. But PSG turned round and gave current coach Thomas Tuchel a new 3 year deal.

Once Juventus had parted ways with Massimo Allegri this seemed to open up the door for Mourinho to seamlessly join the biggest and best club in Italy where he would be reunited with Cristiano Ronaldo. But Juventus appointed Maurizio Sarri instead.

So now we arrive at a point where all of the vacancies at the big clubs have long but gone. It just makes that question even more intriguing- where will Mourinho go next?

That club could be Newcastle United, a club that never would have been linked with Mourinho even six months ago. The change is that the Magpies might be taken over and a cash injection that much to rival PSG could be on the cards, with the club seeing a major overhaul.

All of this could sound ideal for Mourinho apart from the fact that even when clubs get taken over and are thrown pots of money at them it takes time to adapt and become used to winning league titles- it did for Manchester City. For Chelsea it was quicker, but then again by that point Arsenal were fading in the mid 2000s and Chelsea’s only legit rival was Manchester United.

Now the Premier League is incredibly hard to win and next season it should be a two way tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool. As for Mourinho if he does join Newcastle, will he be around to see the club reap the benefits, before his 3rd season syndrome kicks in?

Football is a party and for now it feels like Mourinho does not have an invitation.

Eden Hazard can put Real Madrid back on the map after £88m deal is completed

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Football’s worst kept transfer secret saga has finally been completed and Eden Hazard has joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in an £88m deal.

That deal could rise to £130m after add ons and Madrid will be relived to have got their man, a player that they had originally targeted at the beginning of the decade. In fact it was Zinedine Zidane still youth coach at Madrid that asked the then Madrid manager Jose Mourinho to go for Hazard, alas Mourinho didn’t but Madrid usually get what they want in the end.

After a frustrating season at the Bernabeu the fans will be happy with the clubs first major summer transfer and Hazard should be able to fill the missing magic at the club. He is the ultimate play maker and surely will only improve with the club the longer he stays. Hazard and Madrid seem like the perfect fit and Hazard’s objective apart from scoring goals and setting them up will be to deliver Madrid only their 3rd La Liga title in the past 9 seasons.

Hazard is obviously looking forward to a new chapter in his life and was respectful also to the Chelsea fans and his club, he had this to say: “I hope you understand I had to pursue my next chapter, just as each and every one of you should when you have the chance to pursue your dreams. Leaving Chelsea is the biggest and toughest decision in my career to date. Now it’s in the open I would like to put on record one thing was always clear to me, I have loved every moment at Chelsea and not once did I ever consider, nor would I have left for any other Club.

Hazard went on to say: “Even when we were not playing well, I tried to do my best and this has been thanks to your amazing support. Chelsea and especially Chelsea fans will always be special to me and next season I will look for your results first. I hope that we are drawn against each other in the Champions League next season and every season so we can meet again. I must thank the owner Mr Abramovich and his board for helping me realise not one, but two dreams, my first in becoming a Chelsea player and today my second, becoming a player at Real Madrid.”

It will be interesting to see how Hazard will develop within the team and it is sure that Luka Modric will be some kind of mentor to the player. At the same time Hazard has years of experience and make no mistake Zidane will make it clear to the team that Hazard is the big fish, he is the stardust and in that Real Madrid’s set up will be formed around the Belgian player.

El Clasico the match Madrid play against Barcelona just got that much more interesting as Real Madrid clearly mean business once again after a chaotic season.

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Roma’s Hot Seat: The Contenders

With Roma on the prowl for a new manager following a disappointing season in the nation’s capital, many of Italy’s tacticians have been linked with a move to the giallorossi. After missing out on the Champions League, the Roma brass are looking for fresh ideas, and start anew once more. Here are the current contenders for the job, including the favourites, a couple long-shots, and everyone in between.

1) Sinisa Mihajlovic (Bologna) 

The Bologna manager is arguably the likeliest to become Roma’s boss next season, and has demonstrated he has the personality to coach one of the league’s top clubs in the future. After replacing Pippo Inzaghi half-way through the season, the Serbian tactician steered Bologna to safety with ease, and made the most of their limited roster.

Instilling an offensive 4-2-3-1, Mihajlovic took Bologna to another level, and inevitably catapulted them from the relegation zone to a respectable tenth place finish. Prior to his arrival, Bologna looked a side devoid of an identity, and appeared set to go down to Italy’s second division.

Under his guidance, offensive talent Riccardo Orsolini stepped up, scoring four goals and registering one assist in his last six appearances, and gave a glimpse of what’s to come to the rest of the calcio world. Following his strong finish, Bologna exercised their option to purchase him completely from Juventus.

Other than getting Bologna firing on all cylinders in the final third, Mihajlovic, much like it has been the case his entire managerial career, introduced new-found solidity in the midfield with his double pivot, and laid the foundations at the club for next season. Should he join Roma, as it’s largely being reported, expect the Serb to do the same and continue his progression as a young manager.

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2) Marco Giampaolo (Sampdoria) 

The Sampdoria boss has long been regarded as one of the peninsula’s up and coming tacticians, and has continued his development at Sampdoria this past year. While this season ended in disappointing fashion for the blucerchiati finishing outside the European places, Giampaolo made strides forward, and continued to implement his possession-based game in Genoa.

Bringing his trademark 4-3-1-2 no matter the club he’s at, he may prove to be a good fit for a stuttering giallorossi side. This season, Roma lacked invention in the final third, and played much of the season looking lethargic in possession. However, just like Mihajlovic, Giampaolo is relatively untested at the highest level, and is yet to prove himself in the upper echelon of Italian football. With Roma looking to get back into the Champions League as early as next season, hiring Giampaolo is a risk they may not be able to afford.

It’s also important to note that Milan are also in the running for the tactician, and are arguably the front-runners for his signature. In any case, don’t expect Giampaolo to be the man to restore Roma to their former heights.

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3) The outsiders

Outside of Mihajlovic and Giampaolo, a host of other names have been linked to the Roma hot-seat, albeit less seriously. If recent reports are to be believed, Shaktar’s Paulo Fonseca has been coveted by the Roma management, and could be brought in this coming summer. Like Giampaolo, Fonseca values possession-based football, and has done wonders with his Ukrainian outfit in recent years, especially in the Champions League. Despite being a long shot for the time being, he’d be an impressive appointment, all things considered.

Another name linked to the side is Sassuolo’s Roberto De Zerbi. After impressing at Benevento in his first season in Serie A, De Zerbi was appointed as Sassuolo’s manager. Despite the neroverdi’s limited roster, the Italian tactician guided them comfortably to a 12th place finish, all-while playing progressive football with a strong Italian base. Much like the other candidates, De Zerbi is unproven but has demonstrated he’s one of the nation’s most forward-thinking managers.

Other names that have been vaguely linked to Roma are former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso, who Francesco Totti is reportedly pushing for, and Jose Mourinho. However, these links should be taken with a heavy grain of salt, and are arguably meant more to sell papers than anything else.

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Have Manchester United made a huge mistake giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer manager’s job?

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Let’s admit it we all believed that Manchester United made the right decision in sacking Jose Mourinho in December and bringing in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After coming into the team the Norwegian with a smile wider than Manchester embraced the ethos of the club and they went on a 10 game unbeaten run which included knocking PSG out of the Champions League, the good times had returned to Old Trafford, or so we thought.

Since signing a 3 year permanent contract Manchester United’s form has dipped so bad, that it is worse than Mourinho’s first three months of the season and would place the club in 19th place in the league. A 4-0 loss at Everton was supposed to be the worst pick of the bunch. But how about drawing at bottom club Huddersfield or better still losing at home to Cardiff by 2-0 who had already been relegated themselves. It was Cardiff who were the first team to be beaten by Solskjaer’s United side winning 5-1 away from home just before Christmas, how things had changed.

One has to wonder if United have not performed a classic knee jerk reaction. Should they have waited until the end of the season to make a judgement whether Solskjaer was the right man for the job?

Mourinho no matter how talented as a coach he is had to go, he was never the perfect fit for the club that much was evident. And yet he left with the memory of winning the Europa League, the Carabao Cup and placing United in their highest position of 2nd since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Indeed since Mourinho was sacked United have taken backwards steps and will not be playing in the Champions League next season which has got to hurt.

Many would put the blame at the players, and it is clear that half of the first team squad could be sold on in the summer. Quality players who are simply not performing well for the club week in week out. Once the new manager syndrome eroded and the club dropped their first points under him, the confidence was taken from them like a sweet shop owner who forgot to lock the doors adjacent to a school.

What United have done in the cold light of day is replace a world class manager with a proven track record and trophies with a manager who wins trophies with Molde in the Norwegian league. Had Ole never played for United then he would never have been considered and this seems like the most fatal mistake for Ed Woodward and his United staff.

This isn’t to say that the future looks bleak. After all with a clear out of players that could do the club good, but the problem is that they will want to attract the calibre of players that are at Champions League level, a competition they are not in. Next season sadly looks like being a long and testing one for the club and it will be fascinating to see if Solskjaer can prove his doubters wrong and bring the results in.

Is Jose Mourinho nearing the PSG job?

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Love him or dislike him football doesn’t quite feel the same without the special one Jose Mourinho involved in it, and no Russian punditry doesn’t count. It is obviously only a matter of time before Mourinho is back in management, but with what club will it be for?

With the Premier League and La Liga seemingly ruled out for the time being it seems that Mourinho’s next move could either be to go Italy, he is loved at Inter Milan or perhaps a new fresh challenge in France’s Ligue 1.

A few weeks ago Mourinho was being linked to French giants Lyon, this made sense given that the PSG job looked like a total no- no given how strong the club had been under coach Thomas Tuchel in his debut season.

The problem with Lyon is that they have regularly been a good 20 points off of PSG’s pace. Could the presence of Mourinho and a fresh cheque book really make a difference and end PSG’s dominance in France? It would make for a great challenge for Mourinho, who has never really taken a risk in football since joining Inter Milan a decade ago.

But time is short and quick in football and now Tuchel at PSG is under pressure. Since news broke of Mourinho possibly going to Ligue 1 PSG were knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester United, a team in transition and a team PSG had beat in England in the 1st leg 2-0. PSG had bottled it once again ran the headlines and to be frank it felt like they did.

Then the club missed out on a domestic double by losing the Coupe de France final to unfancied Rennes, all of a sudden PSG won just one trophy this season and have lost countless times as the season comes to an end. It has been a bittersweet one for Tuchel even if PSG did win the league.

The cracks are there that weren’t a few months ago, indeed coming into the new year Tuchel and PSG seemed like the perfect fit. No body is talking about it but surely the threat of Mourinho lurks around the corner for Tuchel.

At the same time Mourinho has had two complete meltdowns in his last 2 jobs and PSG must be weary of that. Has Mourinho learned from those experiences and more importantly is he willing to learn. Just for the circus of it all having Mourinho in Paris seems great for football, but Tuchel may well still be the right man for the club if they give him time.

 

Jose Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan where he is loved

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The Special One Jose Mourinho is still head hunting for a job after being sacked at Manchester United last December. Just a few weeks after his departure Mourinho was being linked to a return to his native Portugal, possibly with Benfica.

Of course the thought of Mourinho coaching Benfica after his success with Porto never looked like being a realistic option. That would be like Mourinho returning to Italy to coach AC Milan after his incredible success at rivals Inter. All you do in that process is tarnish fans memories of what had been before and it rarely works out with a smile on your face.

But let’s face it football misses Mourinho, even the negative side of Mourinho, glum face, no wins and arguments with players and officials. Modern day football has enough room for Mourinho and lets not forget his incredible successes. Say what you will about Mourinho, his presence does win trophies.

The latest news on Mourinho has come from left field and does feel like a surprise. Apparently he is interested in coaching in France’s Ligue 1. But with the PSG job unavailable, what other options does Mourinho have? Well there is Lyon who have always been a huge club and have had a solid season and have very decent players. They are currently in 3rd place trying to chase down 2nd placed Lille. But they are also 25 points behind PSG.

Lyon of course dominated French football in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row but the money that PSG has now has changed the ball game in France. The other club he is being linked to is an even greater surprise- Monaco. Now of course Monaco did win Ligue 1 in 2017, but they are a selling club and much of that team has disappeared including the great Kylian Mbappe who was snapped up by PSG. Now Monaco are just trying to survive in Ligue 1.

Of course the destination of Monaco would greatly suit Mourinho but it is questionable whether he will be able to add to his trophy haul by going there. Plus how much disrespect can one man in Leonardo Jardim be shown? Sacked earlier in the season to make way for Thierry Henry. He was brought back in just a few months later when it was clear that Henry was not cut out for the job. Are we seriously suggesting he will be tossed aside once more to make way for Mourinho?

If the truth be told Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan. Inter do have a lot of problems but at the same time they have shown great signs this season and if he was given a decent transfer budget together with the contacts he has maybe he could make something of it once again in Milan. Just think for a second how loved Mourinho is at Inter and love is what he really needs at this time.

It was evident again this past weekend when he was reunited with Inter when an all star team played an all star Tottenham side to open up Tottenham’s new season. Mourinho was the happiest that the public had seen him in quite a while.

The bottom line is that managing Inter and being back in Serie A would not be an easy job, and the club would have to challenge a Ronaldo led Juventus. But at the same time he would walk into  a city and club that 100% respect him.

Does he leave the memories as they are or does he come back for a second helping. In part when he did with Chelsea he got immediate success with another league title, but by the end of his reign there it had turned nightmarish and that is something that even after 3 years has not left Mourinho’s legacy.

Paul Pogba is wrapped up in such an enigma even he doesn’t know what club he wants to play for

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Rewind four months ago, it is the beginning of December and Paul Pogba, a moody Paul Pogba arrives for training at Manchester United. He doesn’t want to be at the club, not because he doesn’t like the club or like playing in the Premier League but because. well, let’s say he’s not on best friends terms with the manager Jose Mourinho. There have been coded tweets about it, face gestures and Sky Sports once caught some tension in United’s training session between Pogba and Mourinho. There is a constant grey cloud over the club and Pogba wants out.

Pogba has friends in Europe, many friends who are influential and such is his CV which includes playing for Juventus and winning a World Cup with France last summer that his options are wide open. A few months ago there are hints that he will leave United for Barcelona, Lionel Messi seems interested and Barcelona is a million miles away in terms of happiness for Pogba than United with Mourinho in charge. The flirtation seems genuine. But like a professional that he is Pogba will sit it out, maybe something will change.

Just before Christmas it did, and whilst this may sound cruel, Pogba and United’s players got an early Christmas gift when Mourinho was sacked. It may not have been what they wanted- we won’t know until they decide to write their inevitable autobiographies- but it was most certainly what the players needed.

When it was announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer former legend with the club would take over, there was relief around the dressing room. The Norwegian may not be the right man for the club, but he was the perfect man for the club right now, right bang in this situation. Since December he has proven that he is the right man for the club and for the next 3 years as he signed a deserved full time contract. He has worn a smile that could have warmed Christian Bale after a press interview and it is no coincidence that Pogba has looked back to his French international best.

Even when Pogba has played bad, he’s played well for Solskjaer. Even when Pogba saw red or threw a strop, Solskjaer has defended him. The manager has more knowledge of human psychology in one finger nail than Mourinho has in a lifetime and it has worked wonders. Plus of course United do have very good players, they just needed motivation and needed to be told that the best form of attack is to attack.

And yet Pogba remains coy on his future. There are reports linking him to Zidane’s Real Madrid, we say Zidane now because it is clear since his return to Madrid the club have turned a corner and will mean to do serious business in the summer. Pogba could fit an attacking midfield role at the Bernabeu perfectly for the club. You get the feeling if a firm offer came in Pogba would say thanks very much and leave. Of course maybe the pinnacle of his football would be at United who are now set on a course to relive some of the glory days of the past.

But maybe Pogba doesn’t entirely know what Pogba wants. What he shouldn’t do like many have before him is join the worlds best team thinking that trophies will naturally come.

When you think like that the joker card of football will ultimately play its hand.

 

Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku is finally the player he always wanted to be

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Maybe all Romelu Lukaku needed was a manager who believed in him in order to get the best out of the Belgian. Because there can be little doubt that Lukaku has just gone a few levels up over the past few weeks.

Lukaku has always been able to plug goals away even at Everton he was able to make an impact where he scored 25 league goals in his final season with the club. It was that season that prompted United to spend upwards of £75m on bringing him to Old Trafford.

Lukaku repaid in his debut season knocking in 27 goals and it meant a lot to a player who was now being coached by Jose Mourinho, the same manager that discarded him at Chelsea and sold him to Everton. Lukaku had worked so hard that he was able to say with his goals, that Mourinho had indeed made a mistake in selling him in the first place. Now both worked together, but Lukaku didn’t look like a happy man under the Portuguese. That has changed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer though.

In Lukaku’s last 3 games for Manchester United he has scored 6 goals- 2 in each game. He got the winner against Crystal Palace where United ended up winning 3-1. Then surprisingly they struggled against Southampton at home, having to come back from a goal down. With the match poised at 2-2, Lukaku got the winner- another three points which took the Red Devils back into the top 4.

But Lukaku’s crowning moment would be saved for the Champions League, this is the competition that the 25 year old wanted to play in and to prove himself. It’s all very well scoring some goals in group games, but you can be judged harshly for not delivering in the knock out rounds when it really matters. Lukaku delivered.

United had lost the first leg against PSG 2-0 at home, still Solskjaer’s only defeat as United boss in almost 3 months in charge. The club looked dead and buried, game over. And yet there was hope and positivity in the ranks, even Sir Alex Ferguson flew out with the team to support them.

What happened was a bit of history for the side- who went on to win 3-1 in Paris. No club had come back in the Champions League from a 2-0 home 1st leg match, that all changed and Lukaku was at the heart of it.

He opened the scoring after just two minutes and then scored again to put his side 2-1 up. But he had proven that he could now score at the highest level and will be certain to start more games for the club against the best teams.

It feels like Lukaku has been around forever, but at only 25 he is yet to reach the peak of his potential, and he has his best years ahead of him. It really could have gone either way for him, a good player never reaching his potential, but with the right coach it feels like the best of Lukaku is yet to come and that should be frightening for any of United’s rivals.

EPL Game of the Weekend – Man Utd vs Southampton

lukakuWhen Man Utd parted company with Jose Mourinho back in December and brought in club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a caretaker basis, many assumed this was little more than a nostalgia act – a chance to see Ole back at the club for a time while the hierarchy went about searching for a permanent successor to the Portuguese boss. However, in the time since Solskjaer’s return, United have gone on a run of 13 wins in 16 matches, tasting defeat only once – and this run of form has led many to assume that the 46-year-old will be given the job on a permanent basis at some point between now and the start of the 2019-20 campaign. This past weekend, the Red Devils welcomed Southampton to Old Trafford in what would turn out to be a modern-day classic game. Continue reading