There will be a mixed response to news of Harry Maguire’s inclusion in England’s starting line-up against Italy this evening. Some will rage, some will laugh, some will sneer and, away from the mob, some will simply question whether Gareth Southgate is right to pick a player who has been in such poor form lately.
It makes perfect sense, though. With less than two months to go before the World Cup, a Nations League match against the European champions at San Siro represents the type of examination Maguire badly needs. The big question is whether he is ready for it.
Maguire has played just 11 minutes of Premier League football, as a late substitute for the injured Lisandro Martinez against Arsenal, since being dropped after United’s calamitous 4-0 defeat by Brentford on August 13. And it has escaped nobody’s notice that United’s defending has tightened up considerably since Erik ten Hag dropped the club captain.
“Clearly it’s not an ideal situation,” Southgate said at last night’s pre-match news conference when asked about the lack of football played so far this season by Maguire, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell and others. “We’re only a few weeks on from pre-season, so physically, if they’ve had a few 90 minutes, that’s fine. Another seven to eight weeks, that does become more complicated.”
“But (Maguire) is an important player for us and it’s important to back our best players. Whatever reputation I have, I’m putting it on there.”
It was a brave statement. Soon after taking over as England manager in 2016, Southgate said he would “never pick on reputation”. He felt he had seen several of his predecessors do that — not least during his own playing career — and was determined to select his teams on merit.
There is always a danger in taking that kind of statement too literally. Form is a nebulous concept. So is reputation and so is merit. In Southgate’s mind, Maguire’s performances for England over the past five years merit trust.
Whether at club or international level, coaches have to weigh up all of these factors and others, such as physical condition, confidence, experience, know-how and of course the opposition and the tactical plan. Picking a team on reputation alone would be a nonsense. So would picking a team entirely on form.
Southgate’s success as England manager — and, yes, leading an underachieving nation to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final should be considered a success when you consider the team’s undistinguished record over the previous five decades — has been based on a strong, resilient defence.
Maguire has been integral to that. Along with John Stones, who has also faced regular calls to be dropped after falling out of form and favour at club level, the former Leicester defender has been a mainstay of this England team. While the chemistry in midfield has been a persistent concern, the centre of defence, generally speaking, has not.
“He is our most dominant aerial centre-back,” Southgate said of Maguire. “He and John are incredible with the ball — the amount of pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments because we don’t always have that midfield pivot player who can progress the game. It means there’s a huge amount more pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well and those two are as good as any in world football at doing that.”
As Southgate points out, we are not just talking about humdrum qualifying matches. We are talking about performing under severe pressure against a range of opponents in two major tournaments.
At the 2018 World Cup, Maguire was a revelation, surprising those of us who were sure he would be a weak link. At the Euros, particularly against Germany, Ukraine, Denmark and Italy in the knockout stage, he performed superbly, barely putting a foot wrong. The UEFA technical committee named him alongside Leonardo Bonucci in their team of the tournament.
Maguire celebrates scoring against Ukraine in the quarter-final of Euro 2020 (Photo: Getty)
You could count Maguire’s poor performances for England on the fingers of one hand. Clearly the same is not true of his United career, but he was still one of their better performers in his first two seasons at Old Trafford; no, he didn’t look like the next Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic or indeed much like a United captain, but he performed more competently and consistently than most in a team that was improving while still lacking a clear tactical identity.
Maguire’s form for United collapsed last season, but he was far from alone in that regard. In a team that lost its way entirely, the £80million ($89.5m) man was inevitably among a handful of players who bore the brunt of the criticism. Making mistakes and struggling to impose any kind of leadership over a disconnected group of players, he became the butt of derision, a one-man meme. Funnily enough, that never seems to do wonders for a player’s confidence.
It was interesting to read Giorgio Chiellini’s thoughts when he was asked about Maguire in an interview with The Times this week. “I am sad for Maguire’s situation because he’s a good player,” the Los Angeles FC and former Italy defender said. “They require too much of him. Just because they (United) paid £80million for him, he has to be the best in the world every match? It’s not right. The value of the market is dependent on many aspects you can’t control. It’s not your fault.”
Of course, nobody was expecting Maguire to be “the best in the world every match”, but there is some truth in what Chiellini said. Even during Maguire’s first two seasons at United, there was a tendency to judge him negatively in the context of his transfer fee — particularly in comparison with Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk or Manchester City’s Ruben Dias.
“Him and Stones are a good duo,” Chiellini added. “OK, maybe Maguire is not Rio Ferdinand, but he’s good enough.”
Maguire has endured a tough season so far with United (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
To this point, Maguire’s performances for England have reflected that. As last season went on, Southgate took the opportunity to look at Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings, Ben White, Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori, planning for the future, but Maguire has remained central to his plans for the World Cup.
Maybe it would be different if Southgate wanted to play much higher up the field, the way Erik ten Hag intends to at United. But the way England play has suited Maguire — and vice-versa.
But Wolves head coach Bruno Lage had it right when he was asked recently about Kilman’s England prospects. “Max needs to remember that managers always want to choose the guys that we trust,” Lage said. “I need to choose the best XI and the England manager needs to choose the best XI and the people he trusts.”
The word “trust” is important. Southgate isn’t picking Maguire on reputation. He’s picking a player based on trust that has been built up over five years. It’s loyalty, but it’s not blind loyalty.
Quite clearly that loyalty is being tested by Maguire’s struggles at United, where he now faces a battle to win his place back from Martinez. But for a national team coach, there is a clear benefit in going with players and characters he knows and trusts — and who know the system — rather than being swayed too heavily by fortunes at club level.
Of course, performances at club level count for a lot, but we have had decades of seeing England managers flip-flop between one player and another, picking the flavour of the month, blown by the wind of popular opinion (and yes, at times standing steadfast against it) and going from one tournament to the next — sometimes even from one game to the next — without the slightest sense of continuity.
Southgate is different. There has been stability to his England in terms of ideas, personnel and tactical structure.
Maguire is one of those who have represented that continuity since he made his debut just under five years ago. If we are talking about reputations, you could argue Maguire’s has been built more on his performances for England than for Leicester or United.
As such, he is a curiosity in English football, a player whose best performances have come not in the Premier League or Champions League, but on the international stage.
That is why Southgate finds himself willing to stake his reputation on Maguire. Because his belief in the player is not based on reputation, name or status. It’s based on performances in an England shirt. For as long as that remains the case, Plan A will remain unchanged. But it will be put to the test in Milan this evening.
All the top stories and transfer rumours from Friday’s national newspapers…
Four Barca players suffered injury problems on the same day with the national team
The UEFA Nations League tournament saw some good and bad news for the national teams, but the club most unhappy was likely Barcelona.
In the Netherlands’ 2-0 away defeat to Poland, Francky De Jong and Depay were both replaced because of injuries to their thigh muscles, both players from Barcelona.
On the other hand, in France’s 2-0 home win over Austria, Kounde was substituted with an injury after playing only half of the first half, while Dembele, who came on late in the game, was also reported to be in pain by Bayern Sports reporter Ben Ayad.
Thus, today alone, four Barça players suffered injuries in the UEFA Nations League matches.
Manchester United’s wage bill surpasses Man City’s to set all-time Premier League record
Manchester United announced their financial results for the last financial year yesterday and their wage bill reached a Premier League record of 384.2 million pounds.
The Mail said United’s £384.2 million wage bill in the last financial year gave them the highest ever in the Premier League, up £61.6 million or 19.1% on the previous year, breaking the previous record of £354.6 million held by Manchester City.
Manchester United paid Juventus £13.5 million to bring in Cairo last summer, and they also paid £77 million and £36 million to sign Sancho and Varane respectively, with Cairo earning £500,000 a week and Sancho and Varane both earning £350,000 a week.
In addition, Manchester United’s net loss in the last fiscal year was £115.5 million and net debt rose to £514.9 million, while total revenue was £583.2 million.
Qatar will be flexible in law enforcement during the World Cup, drunkenness, bare shoulders, etc. will not be imprisoned
According to British media, the Telegraph reported that the Qatari government will relax restrictions on alcohol consumption during the World Cup, so fans no longer have to worry about being jailed by police for drinking too much.
As an Islamic country, Qatar has relatively strict legal restrictions on alcohol and gender issues. Under local law, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage are considered illegal, and public intoxication can be punished by up to six months in jail. In addition, in terms of dress and style, such as public displays of affection, revealing clothing and other situations can also be arrested.
However, according to officials inside the Qatar World Cup, the Telegraph has learned that local laws on alcohol consumption will be relaxed during the upcoming World Cup and that vendors will be allowed to sell beer outside World Cup venues.
In addition, the organizers have informed local police in Qatar that they want them to be flexible in enforcing the law during the World Cup. An insider said: “Some minor violations will not attract fines or imprisonment, but the police will first come to the person concerned to verbally ask him to comply with the appropriate regulations. If someone takes off his shirt in public, the police will come and ask him to put it back on, there is a tolerable space.”
But the report also mentions that if there are fireworks or fights at the venue that could cause harm to others, regardless of the outcome, the person could be fined and disqualified from watching the World Cup in Qatar.
Giroud becomes the oldest goalscorer in France’s history
Giroud scored the second goal for France in the 2-0 home win over Austria in the 5th round of the UEFA Nations League.
Data from the well-known statistics agency Opta said that Giroud, who was 35 years and 357 days old on the day of the goal, became the oldest goal scorer in the history of the French team.
The previous holder of the record was Roger Marche, who was 35 years and 287 days old when he scored against Spain in December 1959.
Barcelona dreams of signing back Lionel Messi next year, the player will make a decision after the World Cup
Barcelona is still eager to sign back Lionel Messi, but the conclusion still needs to wait.
Romano said that Barcelona is very keen to return Messi next summer, Messi himself will make a decision after the World Cup in Qatar this year.
Messi’s contract with Paris will expire next summer, but previous reports have pointed out that the contract has a one-year extension option.
Wanda announces separation from Icardi: it is painful, but I will not make any explanation
Icardi’s wife Wanda Nara confirmed in a post on social media that the two of them are now in a state of separation.
Icardi moved to Galatasaray from Paris Saint-Germain on loan this summer and now after months of marriage rumors with Wanda, their love story looks to be over.
In a post via social media, Wanda wrote: “Nowadays moments like this are very painful for me, but considering all the attention I have received and all the rumors that have appeared in the media, I prefer to be the one to tell you.”
“I have nothing to clarify, and I will not explain this separation. I ask for some understanding from you, not just for my own sake, but more importantly, with our children in mind.”
France 2-0 Austria
France hosted Austria in the 5th round of UEFA Europa League A. The referee of the match was Ekberg. In the first half, Kounde retired with injury, Tchouameni hit the frame with a wonderful reverse hook, Griezmann’s close range shot was blocked and Mbappe’s long range shot was confiscated by the goalkeeper. In the second half, Mbappe broke the deadlock, and Griezmann assisted Giroud to break the goal with a header, finally, France 2-0 Austria.
Netherlands 2-0 Poland
Poland hosted the Netherlands in the 5th round of UEFA Europa League A. Alejandro was the referee on duty for this match. Shortly after the first half, Dumfries assisted Gakpo to score the first goal. In the second half, Depay was injured and couldn’t hold on and was replaced. Milik missed a good chance in front of goal after a cross from Frankowski. Janssen then assisted Bergwijn to seal the win. Lewandowski was average in the whole match. The match ended with Netherlands beating Poland 2-0 away from home.
Belgium 2-1 Wales
Belgium faced Wales at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels in the 5th round of UEFA Europa League Group D. The referee for the match was Parabijk. In the first half, De Bruyne and Batshuayi exchanged passes. In the second half, Moore’s header gave Wales an equalizer; Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was sent off with a red card late in the game. Finally, Belgium defeated Wales 2-1 at home.
Croatia 2-1 Denmark
Croatia faced Denmark in the 5th round of UEFA Europa League Group A at the Maximeil Stadium in Zagreb, with Massa as the referee. In the first half, Gwadiore’s header missed the target and Eriksen’s heavy shot made a danger. In the second half, Sosa broke the deadlock with a shot, Eriksen equalized with a shot, and then Majerle came on as a substitute and scored the winner. In the end, Croatia beat Denmark 2-1 at home to achieve a double victory and move to the top of Group A of the UEFA Europa League.
Thomas Tuchel has been left in post-Brexit visa limbo over his ability to remain in the United Kingdom following his sacking by Chelsea.
Elliot Anderson could soon swap international allegiance from Scotland to England after his rapid rise at Newcastle United.
Greg Norman has been accused by US lawmakers of “pimping a billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money” and of spreading “propaganda”.
The captains of England – and a host of other nations – could be banned from wearing their OneLove armbands at the World Cup.
Mansfield have brought their League Two fixture against Walsall on Saturday October 15 forward from 3pm to 1pm in a bid to tackle soaring energy pricesin the UK.
UEFA are set to abandon plans to expand the European Championship to 32 teams in time for the 2028 competition, which is on course to be held in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Arsenal duo Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Odegaard should be fit for the North London Derby next weekend.
The net is closing fast on two Gallagher Premiership clubs with Worcester Warriors resigned to being suspended from the league, as Wasps need to find £2m in 20 days.
There is a huge scramble among agents to sign up Arsenal record-breaker Ethan Nwaneri.
The signing of Lionel Messi has generated Paris Saint-Germain an extra €700m (£612m) in income due to commercial deals.
Former Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has claimed he was blocked from signing ex-Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum.
Gerard Pique had a special clause in his Barcelona contract to ensure that he earned more money than Sergio Ramos.
Manchester United’s football director John Murtough insists the level of spending seen this summer will not be repeated by the club after the wage bill hit record levels.
Everton and Scotland are waiting to discover the extent of Nathan Patterson’s injury after the defender was carried off on a stretcher while on international duty.
US Soccer is seeking to join the UEFA Working Group in supporting compensation for workers at the Qatar World Cup.
The animated opening sequence to episode five of his documentary series, The Pogmentary, depicts Paul Pogba reflecting upon all he has achieved in his life. The cartoon has him striding up a staircase and, once on the top step, flinging open heavy double doors embossed with the World Cup trophy and images of his children. Through the golden frame, he spies the summits of mountains he has yet to scale as his career enters his next phase.
He sprints forward, parting the clouds as he goes, and joyfully leaps over a chasm to be greeted by his family. There waits his wife, Zulay, with the couple’s two boys, the youngest clad in a onesie and the other clasping a football. His mother, Yeo Moriba, stands behind Zulay with Pogba’s twin older brothers Mathias and Florentin, Guinea internationals both, glowing with pride at her shoulder.
“No matter the challenge, my family will always be there,” narrates the France midfielder. “This family that I created, (and) the one that watched me grow up. This year I’ll need them.”
From left: Yeo Moriba with her sons Mathias, Florentin and Paul Pogba in 2019 (Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP via Getty Images)
Pogba is referring to the 2021-22 season ahead, the last to be covered by his existing contract at Manchester United. Rumours of interest from Real Madrid and Juventus were swirling at the time the documentary was filmed, while United continued to imply they had not given up hope of convincing the Frenchman to stay.
And yet, while the player experienced plenty of frustrations over that last season at Old Trafford, he has been confronted by far more daunting challenges over the calendar year of 2022. This has been his annus horribilis, one wrecked on the pitch by injuries which have frustrated attempts to revive his reputation at new club Juventus and threaten his ability to help France defend their World Cup title when the tournament in Qatar begins in November.
While he played in a Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid in March, his home in Manchester was burgled while his children slept upstairs. A month later, he lost his agent, friend and sounding board, Mino Raiola.
In between those incidents, and out of the public eye until exposed five months later, Pogba claims he had been subjected to yet more trauma. On international duty in Paris, he says he was driven to an apartment in Chanteloup-en-Brie, a suburb to the east of the capital, by people he considered childhood friends. There he says he was held at gunpoint by two strangers and allegedly blackmailed over accusations he had paid a marabout — technically a Muslim holy man, but with connotations of a north African witch doctor — to curse his international team-mate Kylian Mbappe, suggestions he denies.
The threats have allegedly pursued him from Paris to Manchester to Turin in the months since, and it emerged last week that the Juventus player has been living recently under police protection. Now, perhaps most unsettling of all given how tight he once considered his family unit, Pogba has seen his brother, Mathias, among five people arrested over the alleged extortion attempt.
The Pogmentary was supposed to offer a snapshot of life as one of the more high-profile footballers on the planet, providing an insight into the trials and tribulations that have helped forge the man, but it has been made to look rather tame given everything that has played out in reality since the release of Season One.
The sinister plot lines of L’Affaire Pogba, being played out daily in France at present, increasingly appear too outlandish for words.
The injuries feel the most conventional aspect of Pogba’s traumatic year.
His final season at United was blighted by a torn thigh muscle. The three-month hiatus over the winter while he undertook his rehabilitation in Dubai encompassed the tail-end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure and the early toils suffered by Ralf Rangnick at Old Trafford.
He played 16 games for club and country once recovered, only to succumb to a calf problem sustained in the 4-0 defeat by Liverpool in mid-April. That nine-minute appearance at Anfield represents his last competitive action.
Pogba trudges off at Anfield on April 19 (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Pogba initially opted against surgery, hoping a more conservative approach might see him return well in advance of the announcement of France’s squad for the World Cup around November 9. Then, on his second individual session working outside back at his club, he complained of discomfort and the original strategy was out of the window.
He went under the knife earlier this month with, optimistically, an eight-week recovery period ahead. Juventus do not expect to have him available before the new year even if France have not yet given up hope entirely that he will be fit for the tournament. “I know Paul well and he will do everything he can to recover as soon as possible and be with us in November,” said the national coach, Didier Deschamps. “But time is short and he will only join us if he is fit and competitive.”
There may be a Pogba-shaped hole in France’s midfield this month, starting in Thursday’s Nations League tie against Austria, but there will clearly be no free pass back into their line-up at the World Cup.
In normal circumstances, the possibility of being denied involvement in the tournament would constitute reason enough to lower Pogba’s mood. In reality, it almost feels incidental; a subplot to the main crises.
The loss of Raiola, who had guided him since his youth-team days at United and had been such a significant influence on his career, would have been hugely unsettling. The Dutch-Italian agent, who had stepped back from everyday duties since being diagnosed with a serious illness in January, died in April at the age of 54.
The Brazilian lawyer Rafaela Pimenta, Raiola’s business partner for 20 years and a figure Pogba refers to as his “second Maman, la Maman de Business” in his documentary, has effectively taken on the agent’s client list and played a significant role in smoothing the player’s return to Turin. She is close to Pogba and his young family and continues to fight his corner.
But Raiola had always provided another layer of protection. Without him, the player inevitably appears more fragile. And, as the events of the last few months have demonstrated, he is under attack.
The outside world was initially oblivious to everything Pogba and his family had endured until it emerged in late August that criminal investigations were well underway in Italy and France into allegations of an extortion plot. There has been a remarkable drip-feed of information since, leaked to media in France by sources close to the case, casting light on an alarming series of alleged incidents dating back to mid-March. Some police sources have told outlets that the constant revelations risk damaging the case but, given Pogba’s vaulted status and the wild nature of some of the allegations, the flow of stories has hardly been stemmed.
Five men were charged last Saturday, after several days in custody, with involvement in a plot to extort money from the player and currently remain in detention awaiting trial. Four, aged between 27 and 36, were charged with “extortion with a weapon in an organized gang”, “arrest, kidnapping, confinement or detention in an organized gang with a view to preparing or facilitating the committing of a crime, followed by a voluntary release before the seventh day” and “participation in a criminal association for the preparation of a crime”. All deny all of the charges.
Mathias Pogba, 32, was charged with “extortion in an organized gang” and “participation in an association of criminals with intent to prepare a crime”. His lawyer, Yassine Bouzrou, has indicated his client contests the charges. Indeed, according to information sourced by the French newspaper Le Monde, all five of those indicted claim to have been the victims of pressure, threats and reprisals from a second circle of blackmailers.
The Pogba brothers together in 2019 (Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP via Getty Images)
France’s Central Office for the Fight against Organized Crime (OCLCO) in Nanterre has called its investigation Operation Penalty. There have been suggestions the authorities hope to make further arrests. This process is ongoing.
Paul Pogba’s account of the events of the night of March 19, four days after the burglary at his home in Manchester, was submitted to officers from the OCLCO on August 9.
The midfielder had been back in Paris that March preparing for France’s friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa, in which he would earn his 90th and 91st caps, and had spent time that evening with a childhood friend, referred to as Boubacar C. in transcripts seen by Le Monde, on the Renardiere estate in Roissy-en-Brie, an eastern suburb of the capital close to where he grew up.
Pogba had intended to return to his hotel in the city centre but, at around midnight, the player reportedly told the OCLCO they were joined by three other acquaintances he recognised from his youth — Adama C. and the brothers Roushdane and Machikour K. — and, instead, driven to a flat in nearby Chanteloup-en-Brie. According to French news outlet Franceinfo, the apartment had been rented out in the name of one of the four, a figure whose permanent residence is in Dubai.
There, Pogba says he was forced to turn off and hand over his mobile telephone. Three of the four then left the flat before two hooded figures unknown to Pogba, both wearing bulletproof vests and brandishing assault rifles, were granted entry to the property.
In Pogba’s testimony to the investigation — details of his interview were initially reported by Franceinfo and subsequently backed up by transcripts seen by Le Monde — he claims Roushdane K. instructed him to pay €13million (£11.4m; $12.9m), including €3m in cash, to cover the alleged protection the two armed men had been discreetly providing from afar over his 13-year professional career.
The player was still digesting that demand when it is claimed the two new arrivals raised their weapons and warned him that, if he did not comply, they would disclose the reputationally damaging contents of a USB stick in their possession.
The memory device apparently contained evidence that Pogba had paid a marabout to cast a spell on his opponents as well as his France international team-mate, the Paris Saint-Germain striker Mbappe.
Pogba and Mbappe at France’s training base in Clairefontaine in March (Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)
“I was scared,” Pogba reportedly told the investigation. “The two guys pointed their guns at me. Given I was being held like that at gunpoint, I told them I’d pay. They shouted: ‘Shut up, look down (at the floor)’. One of them spoke in Roushdane’s ear. When the two hooded guys left, Roushdane told me I had to pay otherwise we were all in danger.
“Roushdane said what had happened was normal when you are a famous footballer, but that I had to pay because he had vouched for me.” Pogba claimed he was not permitted to leave the premises until 4am.
The quartet’s own testimonies, submitted in their respective interviews with investigators and reported in the French media, pinpointed various occasions when they were submitted to threats and actual reprisals over the months that followed. According to information obtained by Le Parisien and backed up by Le Monde, Boubacar C. claimed he had been confronted by three hooded men. Mamadou M. had his car burned out. Roushdane K. was shot in the hand. His lawyer, Daphne Pugliesi, has insisted her client “says he himself is a victim” of a wider blackmail conspiracy.
They all deny the charges against them stemming from that night in mid-March.
In the days after his alleged ordeal, Pogba, perhaps unsurprisingly, said nothing to the outside world. His international team-mates remained oblivious to it all. He conducted media duties at the squad’s training base at Clairefontaine, including an interview with Le Figaro in which he spoke about the burglary he had suffered the previous week at his home in Manchester. There was no mention of the alleged incident in Chanteloup-en-Brie. Deschamps only became aware much later that there may have been issues.
But, behind the facade, Pogba was clearly fretting for his family’s safety.
There have been suggestions in Le Parisien that he did make one attempt to pay the money, only for his bank to block the hefty transaction after it was flagged as suspicious. According to Reuters, the player told the investigation that, at some point in the spring, he did make a payment of €100,000, but that was clearly inadequate as he still subsequently saw the alleged blackmailers in Manchester.
Following Pogba’s return to Juventus, it was said they visited him again, loitering at the gates of the club’s training ground for around six hours one day in mid-July. The Italian club’s security staff opted against calling the police largely because they recognised one of those at the entrance to be Mathias and actually found his presence reassuring.
Paul later confirmed to the investigators that he had identified his older brother, who had not been at the flat on the outskirts of Paris, among those waiting to speak with him outside the training complex. Unnerved, the World Cup winner alerted the club’s lawyers that same day.
On July 16, he filed his complaint in Italy and the first investigation was launched. The authorities in France duly followed suit on August 3.
Mathias Pogba was a journeyman footballer, a veteran of stints at 13 clubs in eight countries. Where his brother, Florentin, made a name for himself as a centre-half with Saint-Etienne and later had two years in the team at Sochaux, Mathias, a striker, flitted largely across the lower leagues from Scotland to Slovenia.
He played 66 times for Welsh club Wrexham in the fifth tier of the English domestic game and, slightly higher up the pyramid, 56 games for Crewe Alexandra. He scored on his first and last appearances for Crewe in League One.
Florentin, Paul and Mathias Pogba at the MTV EMAs at Wembley in 2017 (Photo: Tristan Fewings/MTV EMAs 2017/Getty Images)
His career became increasingly nomadic, with brief stays at Manchego Ciudad Real, Lorca and Racing Murcia in Spain, and 13 minutes at Tabor Sezana in Slovenia, all since 2019. He was released by his last club, ASM Belfort, over the summer. The forward, like his twin Florentin, gained recognition with Guinea, the country of their birth, but, in truth, his career was unremarkable and rather fizzled out.
He and Paul, three years his junior, were always close. They had lived together in Manchester while Mathias played at Wrexham — “He was a good flat-mate, no problem,” the older brother told The Guardian — while Raiola played a small role in smoothing a subsequent move from Crewe to Pescara in Serie B back in 2014. “I don’t see him as ‘Paul Pogba’ like everyone else,” said Mathias. “For me, he’s my little brother. I’m fiercely proud of him.”
The twins were ensconced with the family group travelling around the team at the World Cup in 2018, revelling in the national side’s progress. They were regulars in the stands at the rescheduled Euro 2020 three years later. When Pogba scored a stunning goal in the quarter-final against Switzerland in Bucharest, he told his documentary: “I looked up to my right to find my brothers (in the crowd).”
Mathias, who has worked as a consultant for L’Equipe TV and made regular appearances on the Spanish football show El Chiringuito (who delighted in linking Paul with Real Madrid), was shown head in hands as his younger brother’s subsequent mistake presented the Swiss with their equaliser.
As late as March this year, their bond appeared to remain strong with all three brothers present for the launch event for the Golden Score association, a body founded by Mathias to support and advise athletes once their playing careers end, at Paris’ Shangri-La hotel. Yet, in the period since, there has clearly been a fracture.
The family celebrate France’s World Cup victory in Russia (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
In his testimony to police, as widely reported in the French media, Mathias claimed to have only learned on July 13 of the blackmail threat made to his brother in March. At around the same time, he and two of the suspects had guns pointed at them by several men in a car in Roissy-en-Brie, with one of those in the vehicle shouting out: “Tell your brother to find a solution quickly”. Mathias duly travelled to Turin where Paul spotted him, with other members of the group of childhood acquaintances, outside Juventus’ training ground.
They did not speak that day and communication effectively ceased thereafter, with the France midfielder apparently twice changing his mobile number in the weeks that followed.
Mathias, frustrated by his brother’s silence, was staying with their mother, Yeo Moriba, when it is claimed she was visited at her home by the four suspects on July 31 and urged to convince her youngest son to meet the €13million demand. Moriba is understood to have received another visit while in Nice a little under two weeks later with lawyer Pimenta, aware of the various alleged incidents, duly filing a complaint against Mathias for “extortion in an organized gang”.
Thereafter, the older brother’s complaints were actually played out on social media, truly exposing the Pogba Affair to the outside world for the first time.
He took to TikTok, Instagram and Twitter on August 27, and promised “big revelations” about both Paul and Pimenta, as well as Mbappe — a reference to the marabout at the heart of the alleged blackmail threat. “My brother’s team-mates and his sponsors deserve to know certain things in order to decide, in full knowledge of the facts, if he really deserves the admiration, respect and love of the public,” he said. “All this is likely to be explosive and to make a lot of noise.”
In a statement released the following day, lawyers for Pimenta, Paul and Moriba — who, as reported by AFP, was also interviewed by the OCLCO as they gathered evidence for the investigation — said: “Mathias Pogba’s recent statements on social networks are unfortunately not a surprise. They come on top of threats and attempts at extortion against Paul Pogba.” The press release also confirmed that the authorities in Italy and France had opened their own investigations over the previous month.
Mathias, when later in police custody, claimed he had posted the videos out of fear of the armed men and to force his brother to reopen a line of communication. Friends and acquaintances of the 32-year-old, including Macky Sylla, who had worked with him at the charity 48h Pour La Guinee, have suggested such an outburst was distinctly out of character. The figure taking to social media was alien to them.
Mathias insisted none of this was about money, accused Paul of “wanting to play the innocent” and being a “traitor”, claimed he had “almost died” because of his brother, and appealed directly to Mbappe.
He followed that up two days later with another video and lengthy thread in which he referred, again, to the marabout and suggested that, whether one believed in the practice or not, his brother’s willingness to consult one “implied some wickedness”.
Paul had reportedly confirmed to the OCLCO that he did pay a marabout but only as he was seeking to protect himself from injury. According to Franceinfo, when interviewed for a second time in late August, he told the investigation he had consulted the ‘witch doctor’ for the good of a non-governmental organisation working on behalf of children in Africa and that he believed his older brother’s involvement was as a result of pressure exerted by third parties.
Mbappe, for his part, appeared reassured after speaking with his international team-mate by phone. “He called me and gave me his version of the story,” Mbappe said on the eve of PSG’s Champions League group game against Juventus earlier this month. “It is his word against the word of his brother. I prefer to trust the word of a team-mate.
“He (Paul) already has certain problems and it’s not the time to add to them. We’ll see how it all goes, but I’m pretty detached from all that.”
The last comment made by Mathias in the public domain was delivered on his behalf by his lawyer, Richard Arbib, on September 9. With two judges having been appointed to investigate the allegations of extortion, the former striker’s lawyer said in a statement that his client wanted “to state emphatically that he is totally unaware of any extortion attempt against his brother, Paul Pogba.”
“It is clear that the difficulties experienced by the Pogba family are the result of external threats,” he continued before stressing that, “more than anything else”, Mathias was seeking to make up with his younger sibling.
That has not been forthcoming.
Mathias presented himself to the investigation last midweek and was formally charged and taken into pre-trial custody on Saturday. His lawyers are challenging his detention and attempting to secure his release, pointing to his clean criminal record, the presumption of innocence and the fact he was not present during the alleged incident at the flat in Chanteloup-en-Brie. At the time of writing, he remains in custody.
That familial unity portrayed in the Pogba documentary has long since been shattered.
While Paul Pogba steps up his rehab and still yearns to feature at the World Cup in two months’ time, the saga that l’Affaire Pogba has become rumbles on towards a trial.
All the top stories and transfer rumours from Thursday’s national newspapers…
Barça official: El Mundo violated the club’s reputation and confidentiality and is studying legal measures
Barcelona FC officially released an announcement in response to the report of Spanish media “El Mundo” which exposed the inside story of Messi’s contract renewal.
Barça official announcement
With regard to the information published today in El Mundo, FC Barcelona expresses its indignation at the leakage of certain parts of the information in the judicial process. The club also regrets that this information and documents were not shared with the parties when the media boasted of having “access to a large number of Barça’s documents and emails”.
In any case, the article violates the club’s reputation and confidentiality by creating public documents that are not relevant to the investigation of the case. For this reason, and in order to protect the rights of FC Barcelona, the club’s legal department is already studying the appropriate measures to be taken.
Thomas Tuchel is keen to get straight back into management
He would be interested in the Bayern job, should it become available. He would even be ready to lower his salary and earn less than he did at Chelsea to coach in Munich.
Bayern suffered four consecutive rounds of winlessness in the league, and the managerial position of Nagelsmann has become a hot topic of discussion in German football recently. The latest news from German media “Sports Illustrated” says that the German manager Tuchel, who just stepped down from Chelsea, is interested in coaching Bayern.
Thomas Tuchel doesn’t want to take a break from coaching and is very eager to taking over another team. The Bayern job is very attractive to him and he would accept a lower salary that in the Premier League.
Merson called Maguire to apologize for his comments
Paul Merson, who previously said in an interview that Manchester United’s £80 million payment for Maguire was “ridiculous”, recently revealed that he called Maguire to apologize for saying such a thing and said that as a pundit, he sometimes has to criticize players like Ronaldo who are 100 times better than him.
Manchester United bought Maguire from Leicester City for £80 million that year, setting a record transfer fee for a defender. When asked for his opinion on the transfer, Merson said in an interview with Sky Sports at the time, “Harry Maguire’s £80 million transfer fee is ridiculous, ridiculous.”
Maguire was named captain by Solskjaer in his first season at Manchester United, but he was very poor last season. In recent weeks of the new season, Maguire has been out of Tenhaag’s starting XI, with Varane and Lisandro Martinez being the regular centre-back pairing in recent days.
“I don’t want those comments I’ve made ((past criticism of Maguire)) to be right – I’d rather be wrong.”
“I want England to win the World Cup and I want Maguire to score the winning goal, that’s my opinion and I called Rodgers to ask if he could give me Maguire’s number.”
Merson admitted that he was a little too over the top with his comments about Maguire, though this is not the first time he has made a lapse in judgment.
When Manchester City paid £55 million for De Bruyne in 2015, Merson called the transfer “a joke”, and when Liverpool signed Salah two years later, he was not impressed.
“I’ve probably said 50 times how great De Bruyne is, but people still come to me (because of the previous comments).”
“I don’t like to hear people say things like ‘he’s stupid, sack him, he’s simply brainless’, I have a good understanding of soccer, even if sometimes I make mistakes.”
“If you talk to me about politics, I don’t have a clue. But soccer I’ve played all my life, so I can say I understand it.”
“The hardest thing about being a pundit is that you sometimes have to criticize one of the best players in the history of soccer, and Ronaldo is really 100 times better than me, (but as a pundit) I have to say that with him, Manchester United can’t win anything.”
39-year-old North Macedonian star Pandev retires
On September 22, North Macedonia star Pandev announced his retirement.
“I don’t have the enthusiasm to train anymore, and after that I’m going to devote myself to my family.”
Pandev started his career at Bellasica in the 2000-01 season, joined Inter in 2001, then moved to Lazio and other teams before rejoining Inter in 2009. After that, he joined Napoli, Galatasaray, Genoa and Parma, among others.
During his career, he played 644 club matches, scored 139 goals and gave 75 assists.
At the national team level, he led North Macedonia to their first ever European Cup. He scored 39 goals in 122 matches for the national team.
Shakira: Separating from Pique was probably the darkest moment of my life, I tried to hide it from my children
In an exclusive interview with ELLE magazine, Shakira spoke about her relationship with Barcelona centre-back Gerard Piqué. Pique’s relationship with Shakira has broken down after he cheated on her earlier.
I want to talk to you about this dark moment. You used words like “I feel like I’m drowning”. How did you deal with the breakdown of your relationship?
Well, it’s really hard to talk about in person, especially because this is the first time I’ve talked about this situation in an interview. I’ve been quiet and just trying to deal with it all. Well, yeah, it’s hard to talk about it, especially because I’m still going through it, because I’m in the public eye, because our separation is not like a normal breakup. So it’s been hard not only for me, but for my kids as well. Incredibly difficult. There were paparazzi out there, in front of my house, 24 hours a day, every day of the week. I had no place to hide from them with my kids except my own house. You know, we can’t walk in the park like a normal family, or go get ice cream, or do any activity without the paparazzi following us. So it’s hard. I tried to hide the situation from my kids. I try to do that and protect them because that’s the number one priority in my life. But then they hear something at school from a friend or they read something unpleasant and unpleasant online, and it just affects them, you know?
Currently it seems that you and Peek are in a custody battle over where the children should be. Is this an accurate reflection of the current situation?
Honestly, the local Spanish media is portraying it in an ugly light. And aggressive towards my children. They don’t deserve to be watched or watched every second, to be photographed at the end of the school day, or to be followed by paparazzi. They deserve to live normal lives. Everyone is second guessing all these aspects of our, and more importantly our children’s, lives, many of which aren’t even real. No matter how it ends, he is the father of my children. We have an obligation to do what we can for these two incredible boys, and I believe we will figure out what is best for their future, their own life dreams, and what is a fair solution for all involved. I would also appreciate it if we had the space to do this privately.
I do want to ask about the breakdown of your relationship. Picker is already in a new relationship. It sounds like you didn’t want your relationship to end, and it’s surprising that it has. How did you come to understand that you wouldn’t be together anymore?
I think these details are somehow too personal to share, at least for now – everything is so raw and new. All I can say is that I put everything I had into the relationship and my family. Before my kids started school, I lived a real nomadic life – I lived my whole life as an artist, traveling constantly, going all over the world, touring, doing shows, promoting, setting up schools in Colombia, and recording in different countries around the world. Even in the first years of my relationship with Pique and when I gave birth to my first son, Milan. I took him everywhere with me from the time he was 2 months old.
FIFA23 explode eggs again! Players can control the popular American drama “soccer coach” skipper and team
Soccer game FIFA23 will soon be available, the game official exploded eggs again, players can use the characters and teams of the popular American drama “Football Coach” in this game.
Soccer Coach” has a good reputation and won several awards in the United States, the main character Ted Lasso (Ted Lasso) coach and the team he coaches Richmond (AFC Richmond) is very popular.
In the FIFA 23 game, players can use Ted Lasso to coach Richmond in career mode, join the Premier League or any career league.
In addition, Richmond can also be selected in career mode, online friendlies and seasons, where the team’s home stadium, Nelson Road Stadium, will also be restored in the game.
Juve set a two-month deadline for Allegri, also contacted Conte
According to journalist Tancredi Palmeri, Juve set a deadline for Allegri, two months if Juve is not able to turn the tide, Allegri will be fired, while Juve also contacted Conte, who is open to returning to Juve.
The journalist said that Allegri, in addition to the recent poor record and coaching performance, the interview with Sconchetti is to create a new rift with the Juve hierarchy, Allegri to their own perspective for the current situation and difficulties of their own, to do the personal side of the communication. But this interview did not get permission from Juve’s communication director Claudio.
It is reported that Nedved did not push for the immediate dismissal of Allegri, but wanted to give Allegri a deadline. It is worth mentioning that when Allegri first stepped down at Juve, Nedved was the very person who wanted him to leave.
The Juve hierarchy wants to give Allegri a final two months to prove himself until the World Cup interval. If Juve is not able to meet the goal of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League and an improved league performance before the start of the World Cup, then Allegri will be fired.
Agnelli was the first to give the collective decision on Allegri’s stay to the board on Friday. For now the transitional solution of reserve team boss Montero leading the team on a temporary basis remains the most likely, and Juve’s side is hoping that Zidane will take over rather than replace Deschamps in charge of the French team after the World Cup.
What is perhaps most notable is the connection with Conte, who was contacted by the Juve side, who did not reject the possibility of returning to Juve and is open to a possible return next season. It is reported that on the Juve senior side, Elkann and Nedved want Conte to return, while Agnelli does not want Conte to return, but if external factors and return conditions allow, Agnelli will have to accept the option of Conte’s return.
Conte’s current contract expires in 2023, Conte previously did not negotiate with Tottenham to extend the contract, he postponed the renewal talks until January next year.
Phil Jones may have played the last game of his Manchester United career
According to ESPN’s Manchester United team reporter Rob Dawson, Phil Jones may have played the last game of his Manchester United career.
The reporter said: “Phil Jones may have played his last game for Manchester United. He will likely be allowed to leave the team quietly when his contract expires next summer. He almost retired during the new crown epidemic.”
“Phil Jones stayed at Carrington this summer for an individual training programme while the full squad went on a pre-season tour. His potential transfer in the summer fell through due to his health and with no definite time frame for his return, Tenhag didn’t think it made sense to register him.”
Phil Jones, 30, has not been in United’s Premier League squad this season and his contract is set to expire next summer.
Dembele hopes to be a World Cup debutant
Barca striker Dembele spoke to French media outlet RMC about the last 5 years, his reasons for staying at Barca and working with Mbappe in the national team.
About the last 5 years When I first joined Barca I was as young as everyone else, I went out sometimes back then, but not as much as people think. I hurt my hamstring many times and my trainer kept telling me that if I didn’t put in more effort the injury would come back. And with the help of Coman and Xavi, things got better and better. From then on, I rarely got injured.
From 2017 to 2021, I wasted a lot of time and lost five precious years of my life. Koeman’s arrival at Barça was a turning point and I had to work hard to prove I was important.
Now I feel good at Barça, I have the trust of the whole team, the whole club, and I am happy, which is good. Because I’ve been through a lot in the last five years.
Now everyone is talking about my game and no longer saying that I play for money. It was my dream to play for Barca and I’m happy that I can achieve it day by day.
Talking about France and the World Cup
Our goal is to successfully defend our title, but we still have to be very cautious and some teams are very strong. For me, there are no weak teams anymore, you can beat every team or lose to every team. It has become more difficult, but I think France will compete for the title in Qatar.
We have to keep working hard because there is still a long way to go before we reach the top. There are a lot of good players in the team at the moment and I will continue to work hard so that I can be stronger and fly higher.
Talking about the impact of becoming a dad on life, at the moment I don’t realize it, it just happens. It’s great, we’re all growing up and becoming a dad means more responsibility.
KFC apologises for executive’s threat to Mbappe and France national team
KFC considers suspending sponsorship of the French team because of Mbappe’s cool-headed behavior
The vice president of KFC France, one of the “official partners” of the French national team, said that he would firmly defend KFC’s sponsorship rights in the French national team, and that the company might end its sponsorship activities with the French national team and the Ligue 1.
Alain Béral, vice president of KFC France, said in an interview that the disagreement between Mbappe and the French Football Federation has nothing to do with the sponsor: “We pay some very clear sponsorship fees and we will resolutely defend our rights if needed. If the player does not want to fulfill the sponsorship contract, then the company will terminate its sponsorship for the French Football Association and Ligue 1.”
Mbappe first called for the French Football Federation to reopen negotiations with the player’s portrait rights in March of this year. He skipped a photo shoot this week with official sponsors of the French national team, including Uber Delivery, KFC, Coca-Cola and others.
Koulibaly: Africa is the continent of perseverance and determination, it’s time to win the World Cup
Recently, Senegal captain Koulibaly was interviewed about his outlook on the World Cup.
Koulibaly said Africa is a resolute and daring continent, and it’s time to win the World Cup.
Koulibaly said, “We still remember the disappointment of the ’18 World Cup, because we could have done better. I was really very sad to go home without even making it out of the group stage.”
“For me, it’s a good moment for African countries to win the World Cup, and the continent is a very resilient and determined continent. Of course, because we are now African champions, every opponent will be careful to play against us and it will be more difficult for us.”
Milan may offer for Rennes winger Doku in the winter window
According to the Italian media Football Market, AC Milan may make an offer to Rennes for Belgian winger Doku in January next year.
The 20-year-old Doku, who came from Anderlecht’s youth system, moved to Rennes for 26 million euros in October 2020 and has made 10 appearances for the Belgian national team so far, scoring two goals and playing with the team in last summer’s Euros.
Now reports from Soccer Market claim that Milan are currently monitoring Doku’s performances and could make an offer to Rennes for the Belgian international in the winter transfer window next year.
Doku’s current contract with Rennes expires in 2025 and he is currently valued at €20 million on the German transfer.
Antonio Conte is being linked with a sensational return to Juventus.
Frenkie de Jong has revealed he never wanted to join Manchester United in the summer despite his future at Barcelona being up in the air at the time.
Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag told new boys Tyrell Malacia and Antony to “take it easy” on each other after their previous battles in Holland.
Sergio Busquets looks set to call time on his 22-year career with Barcelona amid interest from David Beckham’s Inter Miami.
Chelsea and Manchester United are among five European clubs interested in signing Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham this summer, according to reports.
Luiz Felipe Scolari revealed bust-ups with Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka led to his sacking as Chelsea boss.
RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol has left the door open on a potential January switch to Chelsea, who reportedly bid for the Croatian’s services in summer without any success.
Aston Villa face a defensive injury crisis after Lucas Digne suffered an ankle injury that is likely to keep him sidelined for several weeks.
Memphis Depay has hit out at his lack of game time for Barcelona, claiming that ‘it is not enough.’
Those in the camp of Harry Maguire reportedly feel that he has been let down by the players and staff at Manchester United.
The new government is considering putting plans for an independent football regulator on hold and giving the game a fixed deadline to come up with an acceptable alternative.
The Football Association is prepared to accept that some FA Cup ties may have to be played without replays this season to ease fixture congestion.
Arthur Melo has recruited a physiotherapist, a fitness coach and a nutritionist to work with him daily as he looks to impress Jürgen Klopp and forge a lengthy career at Liverpool.
Barcelona have declared they will pursue legal action after details surrounding Lionel Messi’s contract talks were released in the Spanish press.
American teams could take on the Champions League winners with Uefa planning to revamp the Super Cup into a four-club mini tournament.
Almost two-thirds of lower-league clubs would consider earlier kick-offs to reduce floodlight usage amid the cost-of-living crisis, according to a survey.
Uefa’s statement apparently blaming Liverpool supporters for causing the delay to the start of the Champions League final in Paris was prepared a considerable time before the day of the match.
Ambitious English side Doncaster City have used an ancient claim over their national status to apply for a place in next season’s Scottish Cup.
On the eve of Liverpool’s pre-season tour of Asia in July, Jurgen Klopp was asked about ongoing speculation linking Jude Bellingham with a move to Anfield.
“He’s not on the market, so that’s the first problem with that player. Actually, it’s the only problem with this player,” he smiled.
Klopp is a huge admirer of the Borussia Dortmund midfielder but signing Bellingham this summer was never a realistic proposition for Liverpool. Having already lost prolific striker Erling Haaland to Manchester City, the German Bundesliga club had no intention of selling another one of their prized assets.
The landscape will be different next summer, however. Bellingham will have two years remaining on his contract, as things stand, and if that is the case, Dortmund’s resolve to keep him is set to be severely tested.
City boss Pep Guardiola, for example, described Bellingham as “exceptional” after he delivered a commanding performance in last week’s 2-1 Champions League win over Dortmund at the Etihad. On Saturday, he clocked up a century of appearances for Dortmund in their derby triumph over Schalke — a remarkable achievement in itself given he only turned 19 in June.
The battle for Bellingham is already underway.
What is Dortmund’s stance? Which of his suitors have the edge at the moment? And why is this teenager in such high demand anyway?
“Jude is very happy at the club, he is very committed to us,” Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl recently told UK broadcaster BT Sport. “Hopefully he can stay, next season and for a long time. We try to keep our best players. Jude is one of those and we try to keep them for as long as possible.
“But in the end, money is another aspect and England pays a lot more than Germany. We have to renew our philosophy every year.”
Senior sources at Dortmund have dismissed suggestions they are already resigned to losing Bellingham next summer. They insist there has been no contact with Liverpool — despite some reports suggesting talks between the clubs have already taken place.
Dortmund, who bought him from Championship side Birmingham City for an initial fee of £25million (now $28.5m), rising to £30million, in July 2020 intend to offer him improved terms in the hope he will sign a contract extension and continue his eye-catching development in Germany.
However, if Bellingham does push for a move, Dortmund are adamant he is valued at around €150million (£131.6m, $149.4m). That would make him the most expensive British footballer in history. Unlike Haaland’s transfer to City in June, there is no release clause involved. His family never gave an indication that they wanted one — confident in Bellingham’s ability to the point that interested teams would pay what was required when the time came for him to take the next step.
“The club (Dortmund) have done loads for me and made me feel very welcome since I first came and gave me the opportunities to develop even further. To look past that and into the future would be disrespectful,” Bellingham said, diplomatically, when questioned last week.
Liverpool’s interest in Bellingham dates back nearly a decade.
He was in the under-11s at Birmingham when he travelled up to Merseyside with parents Denise and Mark for a two-day stint at their Kirkby academy. During his stay he made a lasting impression on staff, not only with his ability but with his maturity as he took part in a training session and was given a tour of the facilities.
Liverpool were hoping to convince his family to relocate the two-hour drive north from the Midlands. If it had worked, they would have enrolled Bellingham in Rainhill High School. At that time, signing him would have cost around £9,000 in compensation.
Matt Newbury, now their head of senior academy recruitment, knew Bellingham’s rich potential well having previously worked for Birmingham before making the move to Liverpool in 2012. They made their pitch and waited patiently for an answer.
However, when it came there was disappointment. His parents had opted against uprooting the family and he stayed put at Birmingham. Around the same time, City and Chelsea also pursued him.
Liverpool respected their decision and continued to keep close tabs on his progress as he went on to become Birmingham’s youngest ever first-team player, at the age of 16 years and 38 days, in August 2019. Within a year, he was breaking records in the Bundesliga.
He had stood out a mile from under-eights level onwards. By the age of 15, he was training with the first team.
Birmingham have always refused to go into the specifics of the deal they struck with Dortmund. However, they do have a sell-on clause guaranteeing them a share of any future transfer fee which club sources have said remains higher than five per cent.
Bellingham playing against Wayne Rooney during his time at Birmingham (Photo: Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)
Bellingham grew up idolising Anfield legend Steven Gerrard and has spoken of his pride at being named among the top five midfielders in the world by the now-Aston Villa head coach. He has also developed a close bond with current Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson during their time together on international duty.
“I like the way he plays. I like his personality, which is the most important thing. I like the way he conducts himself. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. The sky is the limit for him, really,” says Henderson. The respect is mutual. Bellingham has described Henderson as the most professional player he has played with for England.
Liverpool’s recruitment staff view Bellingham as the complete box-to-box midfielder. He ticks all the boxes and it’s an area of Klopp’s squad that will be in need of a serious revamp after this season, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and James Milner all set to be out of contract.
After Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni opted to join Real Madrid instead of them this summer, Liverpool didn’t pursue an alternative — at least, not until their injury crisis really cut deep late in the window. They ended up agreeing a season-long loan for Juventus’ Arthur Melo on deadline day. Part of the reluctance to commit funds in August was down to the fact that other targets they wanted, such as Bellingham, simply weren’t available.
There is a fear the price of any deal — both in terms of the fee and wages — could escalate significantly if he lights up the World Cup this November and December. However, there appears to be little prospect of being able to get an agreement in place with Dortmund before the tournament begins two months from yesterday.
Putting in the groundwork with Bellingham’s father, who continues to have a major influence on his son’s career, is currently viewed as a priority for his suitors.
Manchester United were the English club who came closest to landing him before he signed for Dortmund.
At the time, mum Denise headed out to Germany to live with him, while Mark, who had juggled his police career with being a prolific goalscorer in non-League football for clubs including Halesowen Town and Stourbridge, stayed in the Midlands with their younger son Jobe, now 16, who recently agreed his first professional deal — also with Birmingham. The move to Germany was sorted out with the help of sports lawyer Oliver Hunt from the firm Onside Law, as per Hunt’s own Twitter account.
The Bellinghams visited United’s training ground prior to a deal being agreed with Dortmund. Staff remember Mark being thorough and professional, asking questions about daily operations and the sustainability of managers.
United had watched Bellingham play 46 times at the various levels since the age of 12 and the message that kept coming back was that he was a player to be signed immediately. The reports, which had a strong focus on where he received the ball and how he moved with it, were glowing.
Football director John Murtough struck up a relationship with Mark that continues to this day. United tried to sign Bellingham when he was 15 but a package could not be agreed and the family had a loyalty to Birmingham.
By the time Bellingham broke into Birmingham’s first team, United already had huge amounts of information on him. Assistant manager Mike Phelan travelled to watch him play live in a home game against West Bromwich Albion. He sat with Birmingham’s owners that day, who were open to selling the youngster in order to ease the club’s financial problems.
Phelan told United’s then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that Bellingham was a player of the potential of Gerrard and Paul Scholes.
For the family’s visit in March 2020, Solskjaer, who was desperate to land Bellingham, put together a committee in a bid to present a compelling case.
Technical chief scout Mick Court had an array of Bellingham youth-game footage overlaid on video of United first team in action, detailing how he might function in various formations — for example, at the foot of a midfield diamond or off the right. He prepared to explain to the family where United saw him fitting in and which facets of his game they would help him to improve.
Coach Michael Carrick, a former United and England midfielder, worked on the psychological factors of moving a family almost 100 miles north to Manchester from the Midlands. Going through Bellingham’s interviews, Carrick was struck by his football intelligence — he gave detailed, tactical answers rather than trot out cliches.
United wouldn’t include a guarantee of appearances in a contract offer as they felt that would have set a dangerous precedent. However, they put together a data-led presentation about the youngsters who had moved from their academy into the senior setup, such as Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay, and how the minutes given to graduates at United was among the highest in Europe.
Ultimately though, not all of what was prepared was used. Murtough led the process and gave a tour of facilities. Industry sources feel United’s Carrington base is no longer enough by itself to lure top talents, especially when set against training grounds at other top Premier League clubs.
Sir Alex Ferguson was present to shake hands with the family but rather than an extended audience with United’s great manager, their meeting was only brief. Some at United felt Bellingham, despite being 17 years old, was worth more than the £30 million price Dortmund ultimately paid, and advocated for a bigger financial push to get an edge.
Former United captain and midfielder Bryan Robson, who is part of an advisory group at the club, said: “We thought we had him and he would have been a great signing for us. But he definitely has it in him to become a great player for England.”
Ultimately, agency sources believe Bellingham and his family had long earmarked a move to Germany as the perfect stepping stone for him. Fellow England youngster Jadon Sancho had blossomed at Dortmund after leaving Manchester City at the same age.
Dortmund’s presentation was also highly persuasive.
Bellingham celebrates scoring against Manchester City in the Champions League last week (Photo: Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images)
They made Bellingham a promise before he signed and have proved true to their word. “They told me, ‘If you come here, we’ll develop you, you’ll get game time and you’ll be an international in two years’,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
He added: “Ideally you want to play for the club you support your whole life but you also want to reach the heights and fulfil your potential.”
United feel his choice was not a negative towards them, but a pragmatic decision for his career, and that the recruitment department’s focus and dialogue with his family had at least put them in a two-horse race with Dortmund. They have continued to add to their Bellingham file and their admiration for him has grown during his two years in the Bundesliga.
The same goes for Chelsea, who were also heavily in for him before he signed for Dortmund. He certainly fits their new Todd Boehly model, in terms of both age and talent. Chelsea need a midfield succession plan with N’Golo Kante (31) and Jorginho (30) both out of contract next summer. Although they did address that to an extent this summer with the signings of youngsters Carney Chukwuemeka, 18, and 19-year-old Cesare Casadei.
Real Madrid arguably have less need for Bellingham, given the impressive impact of Tchouameni, who is 22, alongside 19-year-old Eduardo Camavinga. They also have Federico Valverde, who is 24. But Luka Modric, 37, can’t keep on defying the ageing process and the current European champions would certainly have the cash to compete with Premier League clubs for Bellingham.
One added consideration for them is Brexit, given that La Liga regulations only allow three non-EU players on the field. However, that situation was recently eased by Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior obtaining Spanish citizenship.
The biggest compliment you can pay to Bellingham is that he is not a specialist. In an age where we forensically examine a player’s profile to see what makes them stand out, he belies such categorisation into a single trait.
He is a generalist. An all-rounder. A versatile young player who can operate anywhere in midfield — and perform near enough any action on the pitch.
After making the move to Dortmund in that 2020-21 pre-season, people asked whether he could hold his own as a defensive midfielder in a double pivot. No problem. Left or right side of a midfield three? Of course. Able to push on further into an attacking midfield role? You bet.
It’s testament to how crucial Bellingham has become for Dortmund that no player clocked up more game time than he did across all competitions for them last season. A total of 3,787 minutes across 44 appearances — all of them starts — is evidence enough that he has developed into the crucial player in their team.
In case we need reminding once more, Bellingham is still just 19 and playing with a maturity beyond his years. No teenager has been trusted to play more minutes across Europe’s top five leagues since the start of last season, with him edging ahead of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, who turned 20 early last season.
Bellingham possesses plenty of intangible qualities that you simply cannot capture in the data. His maturity, composure, and leadership all stand out as traits required to perform at the top level, where he already has plenty of experience.
His display against City in the Champions League last week was his 18th appearance in the competition — the most by any English teenager. Defining Bellingham as a box-to-box midfielder might do him a disservice, suggesting he is simply able to shuttle up and down the pitch with continued energy.
For the record, he is able to do that, but there is more nuance to his game. Looking at his touch map below across European competitions last season, you can see he would get involved in Dortmund’s build-up within central areas in his own half, but in attacking phases of play he would drift into half spaces or wide areas to receive the ball and support his full-back — depending on his role within the game.
While Bellingham did contribute eight assists in the Bundesliga last season, it would be crass to appraise his direct attacking numbers in any way — given his role in the Dortmund team. Instead, we could work back to break down his overall contribution to his team’s attacking play via his shot-creating actions.
Using data from StatsBomb via FBref.com, the shot-creating actions metric includes the two offensive actions made prior to a shot being taken — whether that be passes, dribbles, shots, or drawing fouls.
While Bellingham did, as stated, play more minutes than any of his team-mates last season, it is interesting to see the spread of actions that contributed to Dortmund’s attacks.
Bellingham does not simply play the pass to his team-mate, he commits opposing players with his weaving dribbles in central areas, opening up space elsewhere for colleagues or drawing fouls to set up another attack. His 3.3 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes last season was among the top five per cent of all Bundesliga midfielders.
One trait that will be suited to the high-pressing style of the Premier League is Bellingham’s work off the ball. As you can see above, his defensive actions contribute well to his team’s attacking play, turning the ball over in dangerous areas high up the field. That will be music to the ears of a manager like Klopp.
Here is an example of this from early in last month’s season-opening league game against Bayer Leverkusen, whose centre-back Jonathan Tah recovers the ball in a congested area.
Bellingham is relentless in pressing that extra yard to get tight to Tah…
…before lunging in to nick to ball away, releasing team-mate Youssoufa Moukoko in the process.
As Moukoko turns, Bellingham has continued the press to push forward and provide a passing option — you can see him pointing to where Moukoko could drop the ball back to.
Instead, Moukoko flashes it across the box to Karim Adeyemi, whose shot is initially saved…
…before it is bundled in by Marco Reus for what turned out to be the winner.
And look there in the six-yard box. Who in a yellow shirt has put in the extra yards to follow up on this threatening situation? Bellingham.
It is a goal where he will accrue no direct credit to his attacking numbers, but his defensive intensity and off-ball running were integral to the scoring of it.
Data similarly cannot capture a player’s technique — their appreciation of space, the way they receive or strike the ball.
Even a quick look at a video would show that Bellingham has the technical quality that will keep him at the very top for the rest of his playing career. Put simply, he does the simple things very well.
At just 19 years old, it’s scary that we need no more convincing of his quality.
Bellingham’s family have previously set up two companies which are registered in the UK, Belloball and Bello & Bello Limited. This summer, the latter submitted an application to have ‘Jude Bellingham’ trademarked. It would cover everything from clothes to cosmetics and smartphone cases.
Part of them planning for his return to England? The commercial opportunities for such an articulate young player with such remarkable ability are certainly vast. He’s ambitious, he wants to win the biggest prizes and he is surely destined to grace the Premier League at some stage.
The when and the where are yet to be determined.
It will take deep pockets and a project as compelling as the one that took him to Dortmund to come out on top.
All the top stories and transfer rumours from Wednesday’s national newspapers…
Ronaldo is eager to play in the World Cup, but also wants to continue playing in Euro 2024
When attending the Gala Quinas de Ouro 2022 ceremony held by the Portuguese Football Federation, Ronaldo said he was eager to play in the Qatar World Cup and also hoped to continue playing in the Euro 2024.
Ronaldo, 37, is Portugal’s all-time leading scorer and this winter’s World Cup in Qatar will be his fifth World Cup appearance.
There are claims that the Qatar World Cup may become the 37-year-old Ronaldo’s last tournament, to which Ronaldo said at the award ceremony, “I hope to play in the Qatar World Cup, but also eager to continue to play in the 2024 Euro.”
In this ceremony, Ronaldo got a special award for being the player who scored the most goals at the national team level in world football. When he took to the stage to receive the award, Ronaldo said, “I am proud to receive this award, I never thought I would be able to achieve this one day, I thank all the people who have helped me in my career, it has been a long road, but I would like to say that the road is not over, I will continue to take more responsibility and face more pressure.”
“I’m grateful to the Portuguese Football Federation and look at the teams we have today, futsal, youth teams, women’s football are all great. I hope to continue playing for the national team for a longer period of time, I’m still motivated and my ambition is still high. There are a lot of good young players in the team today and I want to be part of the World Cup and the Euros and I feel happy. Many of the people present at the awards today are players I have played with and some who are playing with, and I am proud to be part of the changing times. Wakata even joked with me that ‘you have played with just about everyone until you have been until you are old'”.
Ronaldo has played 189 matches for Portugal, scoring 117 goals.
Grealish not expected to extend his contract with Manchester City next season
Jack Grealish has told those around him that he doesn’t expect to stay at Manchester City beyond next summer and has already asked his agent to search for potential new clubs.
Manchester City’s $100 million man Jack Grealish had a successful season under Pep Guardiola as he and City won the Premier League title, which is an impressive feat for any player.
However, many saw his numbers and fans still felt a bit of a loss considering the $100 million City spent.
Last season, he played only 26 games in the Premier League, scoring three goals and earning three assists.
In other games, he made 13 appearances, scored twice and got one assist, so he didn’t contribute much to the team.
Atletico Madrid fan insults Vinicius after holding up monkey doll in Madrid street
An Atletico Madrid fan posted a video on social media saying that he was beaten up on the streets of Madrid, but the incident started when he insulted Real Madrid winger Vinicius by raising a monkey doll in public.
Vinicius was racially insulted by Atletico fans before the start of the Madrid derby last weekend, and the Brazilian star responded by dancing with his teammates to celebrate his goal during the match.
An Atletico fan recently insulted Vinicius, who recently suffered a racist attack, by taking out a monkey doll in the streets of Madrid and dressing it in a white t-shirt representing Real Madrid and tying it with a Real Madrid scarf, but the fan was then beaten up and posted his experience on social media.
World newspaper broke the news that Messi 20-year contract renewal requirements
10 million euros renewal bonus, can leave the team at any time
Western media “World” broke the news of Messi’s requirements when renewing Barcelona’s contract in 2020, including the requirements of three years of contract years, 10 million euros of signing bonus.
In 2020 Messi was once eager to leave Barca for other teams, but eventually in the efforts of the then Barca president Bartomeu, Messi finally stayed in the summer of 2020. But Messi, who was eager to renew his contract with Barca a year later, did not stay as Laporta promised and eventually had to leave for Paris due to Barca’s poor financial reasons.
Le Monde exclusively revealed the various demands made by Messi when he renewed his 20-year contract.
A new contract of at least three years, expiring in 2023.
10 million euros in renewal bonuses.
a special private box for his family at the Camp Nou, as well as Suarez.
Lionel Messi still retains the right to leave at any time, with a breach of contract clause of only a symbolic 10,000 euros
Compensation for Messi’s sacrifice of salary reduction during the epidemic, which has a 3% interest rate
A private jet for the whole family to use during Christmas.
If there is a tax increase in the new contract, the club will be responsible.
It is reported that Barca basically agreed to all the requests from Messi’s side, except for two conditions, that is, the leave anytime clause (reduced breach of contract requirement) and the renewal bonus of 10 million euros. This is why Messi did not agree on a contract extension with Barca in 20 years at that time.
After Laporta became Barca’s president, the new board executives likewise rejected the conditions on Messi’s part. El Mundo said that Messi’s team then probably changed their conditions and in fact the two sides had agreed on a contract extension, but the inability of La Liga to pass Messi’s new contract (financial factors) eventually led to Messi leaving Barca.
Reese James dyes his hair pink
Recently, Reece James took to social media to post a photo of himself training with England and can be seen dyeing his hair a new color.
In the photo, James dyed a strand of his hair pink, which looks very conspicuous. He followed the photo with the caption “Be yourself” and a “heart” emoji.
England’s next match will be away to Italy.
Mbappe took part in the marketing photo shoot of the French team
Mbappe, who caused an uproar over his portrait rights, reportedly took part in a marketing campaign for the French team.
Mbappe said on Tuesday he refused to participate in any marketing activities for the French team, after he attended a seminar organized by the French Football Federation, which had previously promised to revise the national team’s portrait rights agreement.
This is not only a matter of the team’s portrait rights, but also of its marketing obligations. Based on the discussions between the president of the French Football Federation, Le Graet, and some executives, the French Football Federation finally promised to “revise as soon as possible the original agreement governing the portrait rights of its national team players”. The meeting was organized after Mbappe announced in a statement that he does not intend to participate in Tuesday’s marketing campaign, said a source from the newspaper L’Equipe.
The issue is crucial for the French Football Federation, as Tuesday’s group photo is a necessary shot to allow the French team’s sponsors to prepare the ads to be shown during the World Cup. Mbappe participated in the event as normal as any other player and completed all the necessary filming. Mbappe’s boycott on the issue of the national team’s portrait rights, launched since March, highlights his opposition to the agreement signed by the French Football Federation in 2010 on the subject: he demands that players be allowed to have the right of censorship over the federation’s partners and that their portrait rights be used more fairly.
Nottingham Forest officially announced that 22-year-old Bosnia and Herzegovina goalkeeper Adnan Kanuric has officially joined the team.
Nottingham Forest released an announcement on the team’s official website: The team confirmed the signing of young goalkeeper Adnan Kanuric, let’s welcome him to the team!
The 22-year-old Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper, born on August 8, 2000, already has experience playing in England after two years with Stoke City before moving to Slovakian side Cered in 2020. He arrived from Bosnia-Herzegovina side Sarajevo on a free transfer and made two appearances in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers at the beginning of the 2021/22 season.
The young goalkeeper was born in Austria, but eventually chose to play for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team. The player will play for Nottingham Forest U21, but will always train with the first team.
Welcome to Nottingham Forest, Adnan! (End of announcement)
This is Nottingham Forest’s 23rd new recruit this summer. Nottingham Forest is currently 19th in the table with 4 points from 1 win, 1 draw and 5 losses after 7 games in the EPL this season.
Mourinho banned for one match, no chance to lead team to Inter
It’s official, Roma manager Jose Mourinho has been banned for one match and will not participate in the next round of Serie A against Inter Milan.
The Italian Court of Arbitration for Sport has announced that Mourinho has been banned for one game for entering the field of play in the 7th round of Serie A at home against Atalanta by means of a red card for violating the rules by abusing the opposing players.
This means Mourinho will not be on the sidelines in the 8th round of Serie A, which will be played against his old team Inter Milan.
Di Maria banned for two games, no match against Bologna and Milan
It’s official, Di Maria, who was sent off in Juventus’ match against Monza, has been banned for two matches.
In the 7th round of Serie A away to Monza, Di Maria was red carded for elbowing an opponent, an act that was deemed violent by the Italian Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Di Maria was banned for two matches as a result.
In this case, Di Maria will not play against Bologna in the 8th round of Serie A and Milan in the 9th round.
Lewandowski is honored to wear the captain’s armband in the colors of the Ukrainian flag for the World Cup
Lewandowski took a photo with Shevchenko and said he was honored to wear the captain’s armband in the colors of the Ukrainian flag for the World Cup.
Today Ukrainian star Shevchenko handed the captain’s armband in the colors of the Ukrainian flag to Polish captain Lewandowski and asked him to take it to the World Cup. This is a token of appreciation for the Polish captain’s support to Ukraine after the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
On his personal social media, Lewandowski posted a photo with Shevchenko and posted: “Thank you Shevchenko. It’s great to see you! I’m honored to carry this captain’s armband in the colors of the Ukrainian flag to the World Cup.”
Russia will not participate in the Euro 2024 qualifying draw due to UEFA ban
It’s official, the Russian national team will not participate in the group draw for the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
The Russian Football Federation said this was due to UEFA’s decision in February to suspend the Russian national team and clubs from competitions under the UEFA umbrella, by default “until further notice”.
The suspension follows a joint ban by UEFA and FIFA over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
FIFA: Honduran player Quaye doped in World Cup qualifier, banned for 18 months
FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) issued an official announcement that Honduran player Quaye will be banned for 18 months for violating FIFA anti-doping regulations during the World Cup qualifying tournament.
FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) has released an official announcement on its website: 24-year-old Quaye from Honduras tested positive for clostebol after a FIFA 2022 World Cup™ qualifier in Qatar on February 2, 2022. It is also a prohibited substance under the FIFA Anti-Doping Code.
The sanction was imposed after the player admitted the violation and an agreement was reached between the player, FIFA and WADA. As such, the sanction is final and binding.
As Quaye’s suspension prior to the issuance of the decision has been counted towards the 18-month suspension period mentioned above, the player’s suspension will last until August 1, 2023.
Chelsea have sacked their commercial director Damian Willoughby over a series of “inappropriate messages” sent to football finance agent Catalina Kim that put a proposed multi-million pound investment project at risk.
Chelsea will re-open talks with candidates for the club’s sporting director role this week with Bayer Leverkusen’s Tim Steidten and Leeds United’s Victor Orta understood to have been discussed.
The number of venues in England competing to host games at Euro 2028 has been cut to 10 with the likes of Arsenal, Leeds United and Leicester City already ruled out.
Bayern Munich and France defender Benjamin Pavard has hinted he could be interested in a move to the Premier League where Chelsea and Manchester United are both keen.
Sven Botman has withdrawn from the Netherlands U21 squad because he wants to focus on securing a regular place in the Newcastle line-up.
A football manager at the heart of a stunning blackmail case is being investigated by the Football Association after the trial collapsed last week when he refused to give evidence against those he had accused.
Aminata Diallo is alleged to have searched online for “how to break a kneecap” and “dangerous drug cocktail” before an attack was made against her former PSG team-mate Kheira Hamraoui.
Football supporters at the World Cup in Qatar will only be able to purchase non-alcoholic beer during and at half-time in matches during the winter tournament.
Brazil great Roberto Carlos has revealed he agreed to a move to Chelsea in 2007 and only had to sign the contract before the deal collapsed.
Former Chelsea youngster Miro Muheim has revealed he was dumped from the Hamburg team in comical fashion after spending too long on the toilet and arriving late for a training session.
James Rodriguez could be set for a tricky third reunion with Rafa Benitez who is being linked with a role at his new club Olympiakos.
A leading sports official has spoken of an endemic culture of bribery and corruption in the Olympic movement, claiming he was involved in paying bribes to IOC members to secure Taekwondo’s place in the Games.
Premier League clubs are embroiled in disputes over how much each team should contribute to extra cash destined for the EFL, with the big six wanting it split equally but smaller clubs wanting them to pay more because of their additional revenues from European competition.
Fifty LIV Golf players have written to the chairman of the Official World Golf Rankings asking for retrospective points and warning of a conflict of interests among the governors.
Former West Ham forward Andriy Yarmolenko has called on all sports governing bodies to follow football’s example and ban Russia from competing internationally.
Migrant labourers in Qatar continue to suffer living in poor conditions just two months before the World Cup kicks off.
Christian Pulisic has revealed he was let down by former Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel after being benched during the closing stages of their victorious Champions League campaign in 2020-21.
Mauricio Pochettino wants Tottenham and France captain Hugo Lloris to be his first signing if he is confirmed as the new manager of Nice.
Bruno Fernandes has revealed he was “really angry” when a potential move to Tottenham fell through months before his eventual transfer to Manchester United was completed.
Tottenham and England defender Eric Dier is so worried about fan behaviour in English football that he has banned his mother from attending away games.
Lisandro Martinez and Cristian Romero have been left stranded in the UK because of delays to their visas for entry to the United States caused by the closure of the US Embassy during mourning for Queen Elizabeth II.
Christian Eriksen has revealed he was disappointed to hear jeers from Brentford fans when he returned to the club with Manchester United earlier this season.
Former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez is tipping Fernando Torres to have a managerial career after impressing him during a recent coaching course.
Fabio Cannavaro is set to take on his first job in Italy after agreeing to become the next head coach of Serie B side Benevento.
Memphis Depay insists he is enjoying life at Barcelona after rejecting the chance to join Chelsea over the summer.
The government is being accused of aiding the asset-stripping of crisis club Worcester Warriors after Sport England approved the transfer of ownership of their stadium to a new company which retains its income.
Love Island’s Jacques O’Neill has been offered a route back into rugby league after being approached to represent his home county Cumbria when they face Jamaica in a World Cup warm-up next month.
Russia’s former F1 driver Nikita Mazepin says he has no interest in racing under a neutral flag.
The dressing rooms at Signal Iduna Park are buried deep in the stadium.
Fresh coats of emulsion aside, they haven’t been renovated properly since the ground’s opening in 1974.
Nothing that has happened to Borussia Dortmund since has left a mark down there. Not the great industrial decline in the Ruhr Valley in the 1980s and the mass unemployment that followed. Not their Icarus-like rise and fall of the 1990s, nor the rebirth under Hans-Joachim Watzke and climb back towards the top of the game.
There are no aphorisms or slogans stencilled on the wall, nor even a hint of black or yellow.
An unvarnished table sits in the middle of the floor with two or three feet of space either side, while iron hooks line the walls. The only clue as to what lies above comes from the tiny stickers with each player’s name and photo on, placed next to those hooks, telling you who changes where. Otherwise, this could be any dressing room at any level of the game in any part of the world.
And Dortmund want it that way.
The first-team players spend just a few days a month at Signal Iduna Park, so available funding has been better directed towards the club’s training facility, but it’s meant that as this temple of football has grown and been expanded — new parts were bolted on in the 1990s and then again before Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup — these dressing rooms have remained locked in time.
The dressing rooms sit deep beneath the stadium at Signal Iduna Park (Photo: Seb Stafford-Bloor)
What a privilege to be there.
It must be such a special place on a matchday. Football may have evolved, but the minutes waiting for the referee’s knocks are the same. Studs tapping on the floor, nervous hollering bouncing between the walls, the stands high above rumbling with anticipation. Imagine that. The surge of adrenaline, the heart rate.
What a place to be.
Especially ahead of a Rivierderby.
The Dortmund-Schalke rivalry simmers with a deep animosity that only geographical proximity can incubate.
In the minutes before kick-off, as yellow and blue clouds of pyro rise out of opposite stands and converge into a thick cordite fog over the pitch, that dressing room must be ready to break through its walls.
Carsten Cramer is one of Dortmund’s managing directors and has been at the club since 2010.
He’s forthright and precise when he talks, even in a second language. On the eve of the weekend’s game, in a suite high above the stadium on a dusky Friday, he’s holding up one of the club’s famous black and yellow shirts to a room of journalists.
“It’s a very simple message,” he says. “It’s no coincidence the club’s name is on the top (across the shoulders) and not the player’s name (which is printed further down, below the numbers). The club is the message.”
Cramer believes what he’s saying. In a sport dominated by the few and where the finest players now march to the wealthiest clubs at ever-earlier ages, finding affirmation in identity can seem like a necessary refuge. In the German Bundesliga, which offers atmosphere, affordability and fan experience as a counter-weight to Bayern Munich’s decade of domestic dominance, that’s probably even more true.
Cramer is a realist. He understands what’s happening elsewhere in the global game and how Dortmund’s place within it is challenged by the migration patterns and developing trends. But he’s defiant and convincing.
“We have been playing football for 113 years,” he says. “We did so with Erling Haaland and without Erling Haaland. We did it with Robert Lewandowski and without him, and the club is still able to attract 81,000 people. We are always sold out.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing with Cramer.
He’s slender and dressed all in black and while he’s cordial and warm and happy to grant an audience, he punches out sentences in German-inflected English with absolute conviction. It’s compelling. Especially so with Signal Iduna Park looming through the window behind him.
The ground is a wonder. Inside, it’s like something that has been chiselled out of a coalface. It’s dark and heavy, and even with nobody else there it has a distinct gravity.
Die Gelbe Wand, the Yellow Wall, is its world-famous south stand, and walking on those steps feels more like an invasion than barging through the dressing-room door.
The capos’ platforms are there, alongside the crude, circular drum-holders. It’s the stadium’s engine room, its heartbeat; in less than 24 hours, it will be a valley of smoke and fire and noise, a vivid symbol of the city’s love and loathing.
When full, Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall is one of the most striking sights in European football (Photo: Seb Stafford-Bloor)
Jurgen Klopp should never have been allowed to coach in such a stadium. Combining his rhetoric and personality with Signal Iduna Park’s potency seems at best ludicrously unfair and at worst deeply irresponsible. On all sides, the roof slopes down over its sharp-banked tiers, meaning the noise that rises out of those stands is sent back down towards the pitch. The noise must be unholy.
After the game, I ask United States international Giovanni Reyna who the Dortmund leaders are during a derby. Who beats their chest? Who growls? I want him to tell me it’s Jude Bellingham, so that I can confirm what I think I’ve seen and mine a valuable little paragraph from the occasion. No chance. He doesn’t know. It was just too loud on the pitch to hear anything above that barrage of noise.
Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga, with five wins and two losses from seven games (Photo: Seb Stafford-Bloor)
And that’s how the 2022 Revierderby starts: loudly. When the players’ studs have clattered and that knock has come on the dressing-room doors, the two teams walk down the sloping tunnel, towards the light, and out into a furnace of colour, sound and seething local hatred.
What is the Bundesliga? Whatever it may be, its spirit dwells in those moments — those flourishes of spirit and expression. It has its challenges and its problems and its conundrums to solve, but it’s a league of matchdays in which context matters only so much as you allow it to.
Fundamentally, it’s a league that can really move you. There are experiences to be found within it that can stir the soul, and this is unquestionably one of them.
I’m new to it. I’ve only lived in Germany for a few years now and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
At first, I tried to learn the league. I read books and watched games and absorbed everything I possibly could, only to find that really — as is true everywhere — the country’s footballing culture is only discoverable in person. It’s at the end of a train line or outside a stadium. It’s in listening to someone tell you how they fell in love with a club or why fan ownership matters to them.
That process, I’ve learned, is going to take years, decades.
The other thing I’ve learned recently is that, yes, when they call you late at night, the police really do ask if you’re sitting down.
Most of my year has been spent in England.
In early February, a frantic 24 hours ended back in the hospital where I was born, with a doctor closing the door behind him and telling me my mother had two inoperable brain tumours and they were investigating a further mass in her right lung.
I knew something had been wrong. In late 2021, she had complained of pain in her shoulder. It was probably just a pulled muscle, she said, and for me not to worry. As autumn turned to winter she started to fall over, too. She’d phone and laugh in that self-deprecating way of hers, describing how she’d had to be scooped up by a stranger, but “don’t worry, you know the council doesn’t grit those roads when it’s icy”.
But in February our delusion fell apart. Doctors rarely tell you someone is going to die. Instead, they use words like ‘palliative’ and ‘symptom control’ which sound nicer but which somehow give you even less hope. I’m an only child and she was long-divorced, so I moved to England, lived out of a bedroom at my father’s house and held her hand as she walked towards the end.
I don’t know if I was a good carer. I learned to sort the drugs every day and I got better at the cleaning and cooking while we waited for the hospice workers to arrive. One month became two, two became three. What a strange existence.
I always thought football would be my sanctuary. In my mind, if something like that ever happened, I thought I would be one of those people to find solace in the game’s powerful meaninglessness. Perhaps I’d lose myself in the recesses of a new league. Maybe I’d affect a lilt in my voice when talking about Italian football or roll my Rs too much after a weekend of La Liga. Maybe I’d become insufferable and lose my remaining friends.
No, as it turns out. If there is a metaphor to employ, it’s probably that of living underground and between two rooms separated by a long, dimly lit corridor. In one room, you sleep, eat and try to complete your work at a reasonable hour, in the other you watch a disease tear through someone you love. In the long corridor, you actually care about nothing else at all.
At the beginning of May, hospice care relieved me and I went back to Hamburg. I was home to see Tottenham beat Arsenal in the north London derby and to feel quite connected again. The Monday following, like every other Spurs supporter, I was watching Arsenal’s game at St James’ Park. It was May 16 and an own goal had just put Newcastle in front. They were excellent. They spent that night banging away at Arsenal’s half-fit defence and anyone watching knew — just knew — how that game was going to finish and what its implications were going to be.
How wonderful. Not the result or experience, but just that sense of investment again. It’s actually a privilege to care deeply about football and I’d never realised. All of that adrenaline and tension, the way you shift and twitch in your stadium or sofa seat… that’s not guaranteed. But it was back and it was overwhelming.
And then the phone rang.
Truth be told, once the police ask if you’re sitting down, you don’t really hear much else. You don’t hear them tell you that they have very bad news or that your mother has died. I noticed Bruno Guimaraes scoring a second for Newcastle — I have no idea why I didn’t turn the television off — but I have little memory of anything else, other than the officer sounding young and nervous and full of compassion.
The days and weeks afterwards were the same. A lighter, easier experience, but a numbing, bureaucratic trudge through official procedure and organisational hoops. It has left me in standby mode.
I function outwardly as normal — at least I hope so — but my emotional responses are bizarre. To football, too, which has grown this new set of associations. Tottenham games remind me of my mum — not her laugh or her voice or the many things she did for me, but her death and the fact I wasn’t there when it happened.
It won’t last forever, at least not in the same way, but it is a strange place to be left in.
Being a neutral in a stadium is such a privilege. Being a neutral during a derby is especially so because you notice so much more.
Long after the south stand has settled down and the pyro fog has melted away, you can see it ripple in time with the action on the pitch. Not quite with the violence of those old terraces, which would jerk people back and forth, metres at a time, but enough to be a sonogram of the game itself.
When nothing is happening, little clouds of smoke puff rhythmically out of the stand, betraying a thousand crafty cigarettes.
Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Schalke boosted their prospects as they aim to win their first title since 2012 (Photo: Seb Stafford-Bloor)
Dortmund and Schalke hate each other. It’s not rivalry, it’s loathing. Dortmund against Bayern is a business rivalry. These games are part of an eternal feud. They are two flawed teams, too. Dortmund are fast but open, and in the first half they are disconnected in attack and vulnerable on the break. They also lose Marco Reus, whose ankle ligaments are damaged in a tangle with Florian Flick. The stadium sags with disappointment as the 33-year-old is carried from the pitch in tears, his last chance at a World Cup suddenly in jeopardy.
“Auf wiedersehen!” mock the Schalke fans in the corner, setting light to their bright red flares and stoking the feud. The rest of the ground seethes with fury, sending a noise that rises up across the pitch, high above the players and into the layer of cordite hanging in the air.
Signal Iduna Park was filled with smoke and fire on Saturday for one of Germany’s most hostile derbies (Photo: Seb Stafford-Bloor)
After half-time, word spreads that Augsburg are leading against Bayern and Dortmund’s search for a goal grows more tense.
Schalke revel in their role as spoiler. Won throw-ins become fist-pumping victories and a chiselled-out corner draws a mighty roar from the visiting fans. Every Dortmund attack that dies fortifies Schalke’s defence further and with just 12 minutes left, this seems likely to be another day when the gap shows — when Bayern either dig their way out of another hole or somehow find a way of winning even in defeat.
With 11 minutes left, that changes.
Youssoufa Moukoko escapes his marker to score at the foot of the Yellow Wall and draw an extraordinary noise from the stadium. It’s guttural and frenzied, the kind that straightens your back and hits you square in the heart.
The 17-year-old is almost overcome by what he’s done and runs to the corner, before spreading his arms, closing his eyes and roaring at the sky. He’s quickly lost under a pile of Dortmund players, but as they celebrate in a far corner, the beer continues to spray from every part of the ground. Above and below, to one side and the other, it’s as if Signal Iduna Park is weeping hysterically for joy.
Moukoko, 17, earned Dortmund an important win as they adjust to life without Erling Haaland (Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Moukoko might be the game’s next great centre-forward. It’s possible. He’s also charming and has one of those warm, expressive faces. Sometimes players let you down with their flippancy. You watch what they do during a game and see what it appears to mean to them, but then the media training locks that all away. Not for him, though.
In the mixed zone afterwards, his eyes danced as he fielded questions. He knew exactly what that moment meant — to him, to them, to everyone in that tiny, spartan dressing room and beyond.
As he talks, Schalke staff haul containers of kit to their team bus and, at one point, a battalion of police even stomp through the stadium underpass with shields and batons in pursuit of distant sirens. When he finishes his interviews, Moukoko sits on the steps above the dressing room, texting while he waits for his car to appear and the supporters outside to melt away from the stadium into the bars and restaurants and then, finally, back into their lives.
It is the final act of a quintessential piece of Bundesliga theatre.
To some, this league is uncompetitive and short of the star power that drives a competition such as the Premier League. But to others, its games feel more like spectacles, part of something larger than what the final league table looks like each May. It has the capacity to reach people, regardless of where their loyalties lie, and that is something truly rare.
Derbies are always rich in those qualities, but that seems indicative of the tone of the German game as a whole. It’s comforting in its depth. It’s full of dedication and stories of sincerity. Nothing about the visible symbols of all that commitment — the flares, the noise, the fire, the cheap travel and tickets — are suggestive of this being just a distraction, either. It’s a place to actually be, not somewhere just to hide and recover while the weather changes, and perhaps the truth behind football’s enduring appeal is exactly that.
Recently, I read an article that compared grief and the process of recovery to the act of climbing down a mountain. That’s a simple but compelling metaphor and it makes enough sense: everyone has to find their own route, in their own way and in their own time.
If there is a flaw, perhaps it is in the implication that once down, somebody can just leave the mountain behind and walk away from their grief, never to see it again.
It might be better, for instance, to find ways of living with the inevitability of sickness and loss, and of challenging whatever it leaves behind. Whether that be sorrow, regret or anger — probably all three, all at the same time — the counter would seem to be something enlivening, something that blows the dust from your eyes.
And there are definitely places in football where you can do that.
All the top stories and transfer rumours from Tuesday’s national newspapers…
Mbappe’s photoshoot protest leads French Federation to promise changes
Mbappe refused to attend the French national team’s group photo shoot due to portrait rights issues, according to AFP.
French media reported that the French national team will take a group photo this Tuesday, but Mbappe refused to attend the event, still due to the issue of portrait rights.
The report reveals that the French national team group photo involves several major sponsors, including Uber Eats, KFC, Coca-Cola and others.
In March, Mbappe and other players did not participate in training as well as sponsorship activities at the Clairefontaine Training Center due to player portrait rights issues, as a protest against the portrait rights agreement between the national team and the French Football Federation. The president of the French Football Federation had previously held a meeting with Mbappe and other French players, and Mbappe’s lawyer had said they would not give in on the issue
French Football Federation official: will soon revise the player portrait rights-related agreements
The French Football Federation officially announced that it will revise the agreement related to the portrait rights of players as soon as possible in order to protect the interests of all parties to maximize.
The official announcement of the French Football Federation
Following a successful discussion between the executives of the French Football Federation (FFF), the President, the national team coach and a marketing executive, the FFF has committed to revise the agreement on the portrait rights of its national team players as soon as possible.
The French Football Federation is pleased to be able to develop a framework for the agreement that protects its interests while taking into account the legitimate concerns and worries unanimously expressed by the players. (End of announcement)
Previously, Mbappe had made it clear that he refused to participate in the group photo of the national team due to portrait rights concerns.
Real Madrid will renew the contract with the Emirates, can earn 70 million euros a year
According to journalist Łukasz Bączek, Real Madrid will renew their contract with their chest advertising sponsor Emirates, which could amount to 70 million euros per year.
Łukasz Bączek, who belongs to Sportico, a media outlet that covers sports business, said that the new contract between Real Madrid and Emirates will be for three years, from the 23-24 season to the 25-26 season. The current 22-23 season is the same amount of sponsorship as the previous contract. The new contract can be considered as a 1+3 contract.
Meanwhile, the new sponsorship contract between Real Madrid and Emirates will be €70 million per year, with a bonus clause of €7 million if Real Madrid reaps the relevant title glory.
Emirates has been the sponsor of Real Madrid’s chest advertising since the 2013-14 season and has been since.
Piqué clashed with Xavi in the dressing room last week in the Champions League
According to the Daily Sport, Gerard Piqué clashed with Xavi in the locker room last week because he was unhappy with the lack of playing time.
The report said that last Tuesday during the Champions League away match with Bayern, Xavi and Piqué clashed in the locker room, Piqué complained that he had too little playing time: “I didn’t even have to participate in the rolling game” (jugar petanca: a rolling game, which Xavi would make the players play in training), Xavi When he heard that, he called him out in front of the whole team. Harvey’s response is said to have been, “You’re not going to do that either.” The relationship between the two sides remains strained, per body.
Currently, Barca has newly signed centerbacks Christensen and Conde, as well as two young centerbacks, Eric Garcia and Araujo, which puts Pique last in the starting lineup and makes him the top paid player on the team (per body note: according to professional portal Capology, Pique’s salary is 52 million euros per season), far more than De Jong and Busquets’ 37 million This means that Piqué has finally become the most popular player in the Barcelona game. This means that Piqué has finally become a problem for Barça.
FC Barcelona acknowledges the existence of this problem because it is not beneficial on a competitive level or on a financial level. Therefore, the feeling that exists in the Barça office is not surprising: “Let’s see if Pique keeps his word.” Barça hopes that Piqué will be consistent with the statement he made and take steps to end his Barça career as soon as possible. Even if it means willingly serving as a substitute to make way for fresh blood.
Piqué has said in 2021: “We have hit rock bottom. If I need to leave to get fresh blood, I’ll leave”, “If Koeman told me tomorrow I had to leave, I’d leave soccer”, “I won’t play for any team but Barca”, and “I will retire at Barca, but never as a substitute”.
Collins waited for 25 minutes in the tunnel after the match to apologize to Grealish in person
According to the Mirror, in order to apologize to Grealish in person, Wolves defender Collins went into the player’s tunnel and waited for 25 minutes after his team’s Premier League match with Manchester City.
As a result of the flying kick to Glalish, Collins was red carded in the first half of the match between Wolves and Manchester City, and Glalish was subsequently treated by the team doctor.
It is reported that after the match between Wolves and Manchester City ended and both teams showered and changed clothes, Collins waited for Glalish in the player’s tunnel, expressing his apologies, saying he didn’t mean to do it, while stressing that he was going to fight for the ball.
The Mirror said that Glalish accepted Collins’ apology, but the England attacker told his City teammates that Collins’ vicious scramble was actually the one that caused his leg the most pain.
Collins faces a three-match suspension for the violent act against Glalish.
Manchester United will try to bring in Griezmann in January
According to ESPN, Manchester United are considering bringing in Griezmann in the winter window.
Griezmann could move in January next year if Barcelona and Atletico Madrid can’t negotiate a buyout for Griezmann’s loan period. According to ESPN, if that’s the case, Manchester United will seize the opportunity to try again to bring in Griezmann, who they were interested in in the summer.
Griezmann only made 1 start for Atletico this season because Atletico didn’t want to pay Barca a 40 million euro buyout fee. Media reports say that Manchester United is one of the EPL teams that will be looking at Griezmann’s future.
Senegal international Keita Balde banned for two months
The Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) learned today that its international player Keita Balde has been suspended for two months. He currently plays for Spartak Moscow, a Russian Premier League club.
The decision by the Italian National Anti-Doping Tribunal comes after the player was suspected of violating doping control procedures while still playing for Serie A club Cagliari.
The Senegalese striker, who now plays for Spartak Moscow, is expected to serve a two-month suspension until Dec. 22, 2022.
Senegalese international Keita Balde has been banned by the Italian National Anti-Doping Tribunal until December 5, 2022, following an alleged doping control violation while playing for Cagliari.
Under the current disciplinary code, any doping-related sanction requested by another national sports association or football federation is automatically accepted by FIFA and must be endorsed by all member associations.
No banned substances were found in the samples taken from the player Keita Balde on the same day.
The Senegalese Football Federation (FSF), which has already spoken with the player, is closely monitoring the development and will inform the follow-up in consultation with its medical team.
As a result, the FSF has announced that the player will miss the national team training session in Orléans on September 19, 2022.
Van Dijk: Won’t hold back at club for World Cup
The Netherlands will face Poland away in the UEFA Nations League, and captain Van Dijk said in an interview that he will not hold back at his club to play in the World Cup.
The center-back was unable to captain the Netherlands at Euro 2021 due to a knee injury, and despite his success on the club side, he has yet to play in a major tournament with the national team. He hopes to lead Van Gaal’s side in Qatar and the 31-year-old is keen to play in the World Cup.
Van Dijk said in an interview, “I would love to go to the World Cup, but being prepared is not focused on not getting injured. I want to be able to keep playing, stay healthy and have a good time.”
Liverpool’s form has been up and down recently and lost 4-1 to Napoli in the Champions League group stage. Liverpool managers said it was the worst season of results in seven years.
Meanwhile, Van Dijk refuted any suggestion that Liverpool’s poor start to the season was due to players thinking about playing in the World Cup: “We are not in that situation and I can assure you that is definitely not one of the reasons.”
Jorginho offered himself to join Barca
but Barca is not considering bringing him in at the moment
According to Marca, Barcelona is not currently considering bringing in Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.
Recently, some media said that Barcelona is considering to bring in Jorginho, Marca said that the fact is that Jorginho proposed himself to join Barcelona, but Barcelona is not considering to bring in this one player at the moment. Jorginho’s contract expires in the summer of 2023 and he will be a free agent at that time.
In addition, Marca said that if there is no accident Busquets will leave Barcelona next summer, Barca will look for a replacement, but not Jorginho.
Barca is considering bringing in Asensio
Barcelona are reportedly keeping a close eye on Real Madrid striker Asensio, considering bringing in the player.
One player Barca is considering signing in the future is Asensio. In addition to Asensio’s ability, there are other factors that have Barca keeping a close eye on Asensio, namely his contract with Real Madrid expires next summer. Asensio is also not a Real Madrid starter this season, and may not renew his contract with Real Madrid.
It is understood that Barcelona will consider bringing in Asensio, which is due to Asensio’s age, level and tactical adaptability. Asensio is currently 26 years old and Barca considers him a mature player while he still has a long career ahead of him. In addition, Asensio scored 12 goals last season to illustrate his strength.
In addition, there is another factor that should not be underestimated: the good relationship between the player’s current agent Mendes and Barça president Laporta
Arsenal wants to buy Locatelli
According to Italian media “Evening Mail”, Arsenal wants to bring in Juve midfielder Locatelli.
The Evening Post said that Locatelli is no longer a non-sale item for Juve. If the Italian international can’t regain his form and win back Allegri’s trust, he could be on the move at the end of the season.
Arsenal are interested in Locatelli and could take the Italian international if they can offer 40 million euros. This figure is considered to be the appropriate price.
Canavaro is close to reaching a coaching agreement with Serie B Benevento
According to Italian journalist Romano, former Guangzhou and Chinese men’s soccer team manager Fabio Cannavaro is close to taking over Serie B side Benevento.
Canavaro, 49, has been idle since he left the Guangzhou job last September, but according to Romano, the former Ballon d’Or winner is ready to start his coaching career in Italy, and talks with Benevento are going well and an agreement is close to being reached.
Benevento is currently 13th in the Serie B table with 2 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses.
Manchester United are ready to make a January move for Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos, who was linked with Newcastle over the summer, and is also being tracked by Bayern Munich.
Barcelona are plotting a rare raid on Real Madrid as they will look to sign forward Marco Asensio when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Leicester City’s board are considering Brendan Rodgers’ future at the club but compensation for him and a potential replacement could be an issue as they are also under pressure to reduce their cost base due to FFP regulations.
The CIES Football Observatory claims Manchester United have overspent by £209m on players since July 2012, ranking ahead of Juventus and PSG as the worst culprits in the transfer market.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is set to ban controversial high-strength painkiller tramadol following a series of harrowing stories about its addictive tendencies.
Premier League clubs will insist on FA Cup third and fourth round replays being scrapped as part of plans to increase financial support flowing down to the lower levels of English football.
Captain Luke Donald is plotting narrowed fairways and long rough for next year’s Ryder Cup in Italy to try and negate the United States’ big-hitters.
Paul Pogba has revealed he was held at gunpoint by two men who demanded £11m from him in a July incident which has now seen five suspects detained, including his brother Mathias.
Mike Tyson has revealed an ongoing battle with nerve issue sciatica after recent concerns over footage which emerged of him being forced to use a wheelchair, and also causes him to be unable to talk.
Russia has urged UEFA to ban the manager of Ukraine, Oleksandr Petrakov, for not remaining politically impartial after he said he would like to fight Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.
Kylian Mbappe has forced the French Football Federation into an embarrassing climbdown in their dispute over image rights, with his failure to appear at a photo-shoot followed hours later by the FFF saying work was ongoing over a new agreement.
Liverpool will make a further move for Real Madrid’s young star Fede Valverde, potentially in January according to reports in Spain.
Brazilian wonderkid Joao Gomes says he has the “greatest desire” to play for Liverpool as rumours continue to swirl about the midfielder leaving Flamengo for the Premier League.
Marcus Rashford is “hopeful” he will be back to full fitness in time for Manchester United’s derby clash with City on October 2.
Bruno Guimaraes has paid tribute to Newcastle boss Eddie Howe, claiming he has turned “water into wine” since his arrival at St James’ Park.
Udinese midfielder Tolgay Arslan’s house was robbed of £10,000 worth of items while he was scoring for his side in their Serie A win over Inter Milan.
Nyck de Vries has confirmed holding talks with Red Bull chief Helmut Marko over his future in F1.
Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitchell Goldhar has confessed young star Oscar Gloukh, a reported Celtic target, could be on his way out of the club in January after talks with the player’s camp.
Celtic loanee Vassilis Barkas has revealed he is loving life at FC Utrecht after getting a chance to reignite his international career with a recall to the Greece squad.
“Maximo” was the word Roberto Firmino used when telling dentist Dr Robbie Hughes what shade of white he wanted his teeth to be. The Liverpool forward was in the market for a new smile and Hughes was the man to deliver it, leaving Firmino with a set of pearly whites that garnered as much attention as his goals.
“White is white but they’re over-white, man,” was the verdict of BT Sport pundit Ian Wright after watching Firmino celebrate scoring Liverpool’s fourth goal in a 4-2 win over Crystal Palace.
That was October 2016, when Philippe Coutinho was pulling the strings for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s own teeth were au naturel. A year later, the Liverpool manager also sported a new smile — a few shades down from maximo but noticeable enough for some fans to describe Klopp’s new teeth as “like a new signing”.
Jurgen Klopp in September 2022 (Photo: ANP via Getty Images)
Fast forward to 2022 and the list of players who’ve had their teeth whitened/straightened/changed beyond all recognition has become almost as lengthy as those who’ve bleached their hair or turned limbs into art.
But just how important is image to footballers? Does it go beyond the surface level of simply wanting to look good? Can it actually help them perform on the pitch? And how much of a difference does it make to their earning potential beyond the sport?
“It’s very individual so there’s no one reason why people do it,” says former professional footballer Fraser Franks, who retired at the age of 28 due to a heart defect and now runs mentoring firm B5 Consultancy, working with clubs and players. “For me, whether it was the boots I wore, how I wore my socks or how my kit fitted, that to me, mentally more than anything, made me feel good.
“There is a phrase: look good, feel good. I think sometimes taking pride in your appearance might clear your mind a bit, whereas if you feel scruffy or haven’t looked after yourself, maybe you feel that your performance will be a bit like that.”
Gary Lineker was known for reacting to a bad run by getting his hair cut. “It makes no sense,” he told the High Performance Podcast. “Except it’s amazing how many times it worked. It probably kicks out the negative vibes that you’ve got in your head.”
Gary Lineker as a Barcelona player in 1986 (Photo: David Cannon /Allsport)
Perhaps that explains why many clubs will allow barbers into the training ground in the days before a match. And why one Premier League club came under pressure from players to secure a COVID-19 testing kit for their barber at a time when national lockdown restrictions were only just starting to ease.
While many might suspect this preoccupation is due to oversized egos, Franks believes it can be a sign of insecurity. “Particularly in the Premier League, there are so many cameras on these players, they’re in magazines, everyone’s appearance is up for comment. A lot of these are just young guys who are quite insecure.
“If you’re in a changing room — and I’ve seen this plenty of times — and someone has an insecurity, that is often picked on a bit. Someone’s hairline, their teeth possibly… Multiply that by millions of people watching you.”
“He’s got memes and Twitter accounts, people commenting all the time,” says Franks. “Social media doesn’t help because everyone has an opinion and you can hide behind anonymity.
“You can say something really hurtful to someone but if it doesn’t come under the Twitter policy of what offence really is then there’s no real consequence to it. As much of a beautiful place as social media can be it’s also a very toxic place. So there’s more to it than being a bit flash or wanting to look a certain way.”
Feeling confident when walking out onto the pitch is crucial to performance. According to sports psychologist Dan Abrahams, a player lacking confidence will be inhibited: “Players not showing for the ball, players hiding, players a bit slower off the mark, not finding that bit of space, being a bit weaker in the challenge.”
Building that confidence can entail different things for different players. For Real Madrid’s Caroline Weir, at least part of it comes from her pre-match makeup routine. “Training will always come first in terms of making you the player that you are,” she said in an interview last year. “But I’m one of those players who likes a strong image. From my lashes to my nails — my makeup routine is different on a matchday to normal days. For me, that just makes me feel good and I think that helps me feel confident.”
Caroline Weir playing for Real Madrid in August 2022 (Photo: Oscar J Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
She’s not alone. Before this summer’s Euros, England’s Ella Toone made sure she had her nails and false eyelashes done. By the time the Lionesses had battled their way to the final, neither had survived. Though Toone later said she was “gutted” not to have them in place for the big game, it had no noticeable effect on the Manchester United forward who scored England’s wondrous opening goal. But getting them re-done was top of her to-do list following that historic win at Wembley.
For Liverpool’s Shanice van de Sanden, applying her trademark lipstick is a crucial part of her matchday preparation. “I will never play any game without it,” she said during the 2019 World Cup. “It’s what makes me feel the most comfortable.” At the same tournament, Brazil legend Marta emerged for a game against Italy wearing bright red lipstick. When asked about it after the game she explained: “I always wear lipstick. Not that colour, but today I said, ‘I’m going to dare’. The colour is of blood because we had to leave blood on the pitch. Now I’m going to use it in every game.”
Marta playing for Brazil in February 2022 (Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images)
Perhaps it’s as much about self-expression as it is about confidence, then? An innate desire for players to be understood for who they are as well as what they are?
“All of us, if we look good will probably feel good about ourselves,” says Gary Bloom, sports performance psychotherapist at Oxford United Football Club and author of Keep Your Head in the Game. “That includes being at the gym or whatever we need to do. There’s a famous philosopher called Jacques Lacan who reckoned that all of us have a desire to be understood by the world. And it’s an impossible thing — nobody can ever understand us. We can’t even understand ourselves.
“But that is a very strong desire: to be understood by the world, and hoping that somebody will understand how we feel by our appearance is a very strong thing.”
Johnny Gorman is a former professional footballer who played for Northern Ireland at the age of 17. When his playing career unravelled faster than anyone expected, he pursued a new path in psychology, completing his master’s degree this summer. “In every dressing room I’ve been in there’s always been a few players who have been obsessed with how they look,” he says. “And that’s right down to what socks they wear, what tape they put around their socks to what boots they wear, how large or small their shorts are, how their hair looks, if they put a wristband on or not.
“I’ve seen players sit in front of a mirror before they’re about to go out and play to get their appearance right. And there are some players who just do not care. They don’t care if their shin pads look like cricket pads. They’ll go out and perform and their image will not come into it at all. I think Paul Scholes once went and got a pair of boots from Sports Direct before a game for Manchester United. So I’m sure he didn’t give any consideration to how he looked when he was playing football.”
Paul Scholes and David Beckham had a different approach to their image (Photo: Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Gorman says that perhaps in some cases the difference can come down to playing position, and by extension, personality type. “I was a winger — anywhere attacking — and for me the game was always about confidence. I know from people I’ve played with that if, as a kid, someone wanted to be an attacker and score goals and be a flair player, their personality type is maybe someone who’s more interested in standing out for other reasons, as well as for their footballing ability.
“You’re more likely to get a winger, attacking midfielder or flair player who is interested in expressing themselves because that’s just the way they are as a person. And if you’re in an environment where your manager and the club you play for are quite disciplined, one of the ways you can express yourself is through your image and how you look.”
Fraser Franks was part of the Chelsea academy setup as a young player and recalls the day he turned up to training in a pair of white boots. “I was a defender and not the most technically gifted. I remember a coach looking at my boots and going, ‘Cor, you’ve got to be some player to wear those’. I took them back to the shop the next day and got a black pair because I didn’t want to be seen as flash.
“But I think things have evolved. If you want a player to feel good on the pitch, you have to let them express themselves, whatever that looks like. If you want a creative player, let the person be creative — let them wear whatever colour boots they want or have their hair however they want.
“We’ve often labelled that as being a bit of a ‘fancy dan’ or ‘he cares too much about his image’, but I don’t see any real relevance in that. If you feel good, you’ll play better. If that means looking good, taking pride in your appearance, then I’d be all for it.”
Jack Grealish is filmed by fans after signing for Manchester City in 2021 (Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)
For sports psychologist Jeremy Snape, the extreme level of scrutiny placed on players is part of the equation for those who place high importance on their image. “There are 30 cameras around the stadium and tens of millions of ‘reporters’ on their phones waiting to pass judgment, so the scrutiny feels greater than it’s ever been in sport or in life. The consequences of making a mistake can be viral and career-defining.
“So anything that a player can do to make themselves feel more comfortable, confident and prepared going out onto the pitch — whether that’s their hair being straight or their shirt being tucked in — is going to be important because they’re walking out into the spotlight.”
As well as being important for players mentally, it’s hard to ignore the fact that their image can also be important for them commercially. In Memphis Depay’s book Heart of a Lion, the Barcelona forward writes that in his PSV days, he’d do 200 abdominal exercises every day. “Based on the idea that it’s a double-sided sword: a strong body is essential at top-level football and looking good helps with winning commercial deals.”
“There’s no question there is,” says Steve Martin, global CEO of M&C Saatchi, when asked if there is a link between a player’s commercial earning potential and the way they look. “That’s been around for 50 years really. You hark back to when footballers started to look at their image and transcend the sport, to become more iconic figures rather than just footballers playing for a certain team in a more narrow market. You can go back to George Best on that, he was the trigger point for it.”
George Best and fiancee Eva Haraldsted outside his clothes shop in Manchester in 1969 (Photo: PA Images via Getty Images)
Martin spent the early part of his career working at Adidas, where he was involved in signing David Beckham to the brand — someone he says is probably the biggest example in recent times of a player whose image was carefully curated and planned with the specific aim of elevating him beyond football.
Not that it stopped Beckham from being himself.
It was April 2001 when he shaved his hair into a Mohican that made headlines around the world. Initially planned as a one-off for a cover shoot in The Face magazine, which would be shaved off the next day, Beckham decided he quite liked it. Brian Clough was among those to feel otherwise, claiming the Manchester United man looked “more like a bloody convict than an England captain”.
So, why did he do it? “This is me,” he told The Face. “I am not doing it to create attention. It’s just me.”
“At that time, he was prepared to take risks,” Martin tells The Athletic. “He didn’t care because he believed in fashion. He loved it. That wasn’t a forced conversation. There was a lot of other stuff planned out that was maybe a bit more contrived, but actually, it evolved pretty organically.”
Martin believes that image is measured differently these days, and that the emphasis on looks has lessened as a result. “Maybe in the old days, it was all about looks and a bit more cliched. Now, there’s much more depth to it. There’s always going to be that fashion, lifestyle and looks element, but it’s way more than that now. For any player, there needs to be a much greater social purpose aligned to how they go about their business which means they’re more commercially viable to a club. And as a result, the individual can benefit.”
The key, agrees Misha Sher, who is global head of sport, entertainment and culture at MediaCom, is for players to recognise that image has evolved beyond just aesthetics. “Ultimately, it’s about what that individual represents in popular culture,” he says. “Brands are interested in working with talent as a conduit to connecting with people. And the way you connect with people is through individuals who have cultural relevance.
“Because of the way society has evolved — social media, the way that talent can connect with audiences around interests — all of that has elevated the need to go beyond aesthetics. Being known, loved and admired for the types of things people can connect with is directly linked to talent’s ability to generate commercial revenue today.”
Looks are still important, says Sher, but while they were once a major factor behind commercial success, there are now many more elements that drive marketability.
Martin uses the example of Marcus Rashford as someone who has “changed the game significantly” with his campaigning to help fund free school meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and his ongoing work to help tackle child poverty.
Marcus Rashford’s image transcends football (Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)
“If I was advising a player now, I’d say to be very smart in how you create your image; make sure it’s managed, but also make sure it’s real and that it comes from the heart. That’s why Rashford’s was so good because it was so real. And that created an image around him that changed everything for him. In every commercial conversation that we were having around some of our big football partners, we were talking about him. We’d never have done that before.”
“I know that there were a lot of players briefing agents after that to say, ‘I need to stand up for something. I want a cause I can get behind’, whether it’s a social cause, or whatever because they’ve seen the impact that can create. So it’s definitely changed the game. It’s not just about looking like a great clothes horse, there’s way more depth to it — four dimensions as opposed to one.”
Where Beckham succeeded was in having an image that has endured — even now, nine years into his retirement. “It can’t just be a flash in the pan,” says Martin. “In terms of commercial impact, if you were to have a plan and an ability to stand out and get behind something, it is going to make your commercial value better to your club, which allows you to negotiate better contracts etc. You also then put yourself in the shop window for brands.
“But image now is not just about how you look, it’s more about what you stand for, how you behave, how articulate you are, how organic and real you are, how transparent, and all those great values of why brands and clubs want to associate with you.”
Before everything else, though, comes performance on the pitch. And for some, new teeth, freshly cropped hair or false eyelashes are precisely what it takes to be their best.
The Gunners took the lead on 17 minutes as Bukayo Saka‘s corner was headed into the far corner off the post by defender William Saliba. Then the lead was doubled 11 minutes later as Granit Xhaka floated a cross into the box and Gabriel Jesus emphatically headed home the second.
Shortly after the break, Fabio Vieira, on his full Premier League debut, made it 3-0 with a dipping shot from 25 yards. Mikkel Damsgaard’s low shot was kept out by Aaron Ramsdale, but Brentford offered little else as Arsenal returned to the top of the table by a single point ahead of Man City and Tottenham.
1. Arsenal have a ‘stroll in the park’
It was the tweet that manager Mikel Arteta used as motivation from this fixture last season when the teams met most recently in February.
“Nice kickabout with the boys,” striker Ivan Toney tweeted after Brentford’s 2-0 win in August 2021, and the recent Amazon documentary showed Arteta using a screenshot of that comment in his prematch team talk seven months later, helping inspire a 2-1 victory at home.
Sunday’s 3-0 win at Gtech Community Stadium will arguably have given the Gunners more satisfaction, however, given they were utterly dominant from the outset, never looking in danger after William Saliba headed them into a 17th-minute lead.
All three goals were excellent in their construction and execution, Gabriel Jesus heading in Granit Xhaka’s cross 11 minutes later, before Fabio Vieira killed any prospect of a Brentford comeback with a dipping drive four minutes into the second half.
Toney, who was this week celebrating his maiden international call-up and becoming the first Brentford player to make an England squad since Les Smith in 1939, barely had a kick all afternoon. As the Arsenal fans sang late on: “Ivan Toney, a stroll in the park.”
2. Vieira steps up on full debut
This looked a tricky full Premier League debut on paper for Vieira. With Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe ruled out through injury, Arteta turned to his £34 million summer signing from FC Porto to play as a right-sided No. 8 in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 system.
Brentford’s fierce pressing and physicality seemed to be a tough challenge for Vieira, who is not the biggest in stature, and centre-back Ben Mee sought to given the Portugal U21 international an early taste of what was in store with a robust challenge that sent him crashing to the turf.
However, the 22-year-old grew into the contest, linking play well and helping Arsenal maintain a level of near-total control throughout. The highlight was a fine 25-yard strike which clipped Brentford goalkeeper David Raya’s left post on its way in to cap a promising individual display. Vieira is the first player to score on his Arsenal debut from outside the penalty area in the Premier League era.
3. Arsenal stay top into October
One of the question marks about this Arsenal side is their ability to recover from adversity. Losing at Manchester United last time out was their first defeat of the season, but this was an emphatic response, exhibiting a level of control which showed that chastening experience at Old Trafford is already a distant memory.
With Chelsea, Liverpool and United all not playing this weekend, Arsenal had a chance to create even more distance between themselves and their traditional top-four rivals. It is very early days — and those sides obviously have a game in hand — but it will do plenty for the confidence of a group often accused of fragility to see themselves eight points ahead of Chelsea and nine clear of Liverpool.
They were even comfortable enough to bring on Ethan Nwaneri — who at 15 years, 181 days old becomes Arsenal’s and the Premier League’s youngest-ever player. In fact, he was unable to change with the rest of his teammates because he is still a minor.
The international break means Arsenal will be top going into next month, but the first day back pitches Arsenal against third-placed north London rivals Tottenham. They can attack that huge task from a position of strength.
Brentford: Raya 7, Hickey 6, Ajer 6, Jansson 6, Mee 6, Henry 6, Dasilva 6, Janelt 5, Jensen 5, Mbeumo 5, Toney 5.
Subs: Onyeka 6, Damsgaard 6, Baptiste 6, Wissa 6.
Arsenal: Ramsdale 7, White 7, Saliba 8, Gabriel 7, Tierney 7, Partey 8, Xhaka 8, Saka 8, Vieira 8, Martinelli 7, Jesus 8.
BEST: Granit Xhaka. Used the ball intelligently — exemplified by setting up Jesus for Arsenal’s second — and revelled in the greater attacking freedom afforded him in a slightly modified midfield role.
WORST:Mathias Jansen. Unable to help give Brentford a foothold in the game as Xhaka and Thomas Partey ran the show for the visitors in midfield
Highlights and notable moments
Nwaneri would go on to set a record on his debut.
After Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. was criticised for a dancing celebration last week, Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus showed solidarity with his Brazil teammate when he scored the second goal.
The Gunners were in complete control and Fabio Vieira’s stunning strike shortly after the break made it 3-0.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, on playing Nwaneri: “It was a pure gut feeling. I met the boy (and) really liked what I saw. Per Mertesacker and the academy staff are giving me really good information, Edu as well. I met him, he’s trained a couple of times with us. Yesterday he had to come because we have injuries, especially the injury of Martin (Odegaard), and then I had that feeling from yesterday that if the opportunity could come that I was going to do it and I just done it. It’s another step, another experience. In your career all the steps are not going to be forward. After that maybe he needs three backwards to go another forward, but I think he deserved it. It sends a really strong message about who we are as a club as well.”
Xhaka told Sky Sports: “We have a different mentality this season. we kept going and are training like we play and have class with the players that can make a difference. You have the class in the front and they make the difference. More than happy we are in a good way but a long way to go.”
Jesus told Sky Sports: “From the start we showed what we want to do in the game, create chances and score. That is what I believe we did. He found me for the goal and I am so happy to play with him, he is an intelligent and quality player. The celebration was for my guy Vinicius Jr., it needs to stop and it was for him.”
Brentford boss Thomas Frank: “We lost 3-0, to the No. 1 in the Premier League. I said before they are a top side. I think we performed quite well, not 10/10 but if you want to win or get something out of the team flying, you cannot concede the first from a set piece and then the second one… We lost the game, I hate losing. They are top of the table so you cannot argue with that, they have done brilliant. Looking at the quality, they must be title contenders.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Via Squawka: Arsenal’s previous 10 Premier League goals had come via the left foot, with Saliba’s header breaking the streak.
– Via Opta: Saka has been directly involved in 37 Premier League goals for Arsenal (18 goals, 19 assists), now the second-most of any player while aged 21 or younger for the club in the competition, overtaking Nicolas Anelka (35) and only behind Cesc Fabregas (63.)
– Mikkel Damsgaard had Brentford’s second shot on goal in the 72nd minute, with the first coming in the 5th minute.
– Brentford made all four substitutions by the 76th minute, with Arsenal not doing one until the 78th.
This was Arsenal’s 6th shutout win by a 3+ goal difference since 2020-21. That ties the team’s total such wins in the 7 seasons prior.
– It was the first time recording four wins in a five-game road span (all competitions) in one season since April-May 2021.
– Nwaneri, born on March 21, 2007 (a year after the Emirates stadium was built), became both Arsenal’s and the Premier League’s youngest-ever player at 15 years, five months and 23 days.