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Volume 6 No. 212

Events and Attractions

The "NBA circus" rolled into Manchester, England Tuesday night to "lay on a thrilling basketball party," according to Anthony Jepson of the MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS. All-Star Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City "put on a show for the Manchester Arena crowd." While the preseason game between two teams from "the biggest and best league on the planet didn’t quite have the same cache or pulling power" as the U.S. vs. Great Britain football game last year, NBA chiefs "are happy their relationship with Manchester has proved a valuable means of spreading their basketball message internationally." However, while the event "wasn’t a sell-out and concerns had been voiced about the cost of some tickets," around 13,000 turned out "for a taste of the American sporting experience -- mascots, cheerleaders and all." Durant "thinks the city deserves a regular-season NBA game -- and wants to be a part of it." Durant: "It is a great atmosphere here and the fans have been unbelievable. They deserve to have a regular-season game here. It’s been to London and hopefully they expand it and I’d love us to be one of those teams that came back" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 10/9).

: In London, Jamie Jackson reported in between the first and second quarters, Rumble, an "anthropomorphic" bison who has his own website, searched out ManU's Rio Ferdinand and "in mock adoration knelt before him to ask for an autograph," which he "duly furnished." There were also "humorous boos" when Man City's Jack Rodwell was shown on the big screen and "a loud cheer" when former ManU player Andy Cole "was featured during the opening quarter." The NBA "got the grandstand finish it hoped for," with the Thunder winning 103-99 (GUARDIAN, 10/8). Also in London, Sheen & Upal reported ManU "teenage sensation" Adnan Januzaj and teammates David de Gea and Ferdinand "were among the star-studded cast who spent a night of the international break watching some of the finest basketball players on the planet." ManU's Darren Fletcher and Cole "were also among the crowd," while Man City's Patrick Vieira "flew the City flag" alongside Rodwell. EPL side Hull City's Curtis Davies, Tom Huddestone and Jake Livermore were also "at the game." The "biggest cheer" was reserved for Manchester’s own John Amaechi, "one of the first British stars to play in the world’s best basketball league" (DAILY MAIL, 10/8).

The BMW Open tennis tournament in Munich, Germany "has found a new organizer," according to the SID. Host tennis club MTTC Iphitos said that it "has signed a deal with agency MMP GmbH and its Managing Dir Michael Mronz until '16." MMP "will replace previous organizer Charly Steeb GmbH, which had to file for bankruptcy at the end of August." Steeb reportedly "still owes 2013 BMW Open champion Tommy Haas part of his starting fee." The '14 edition of the ATP event will take place from April 26-May 4 (SID, 10/9).

FA Chair Greg Dyke claimed on Wednesday that the English game was being undermined by the influx of foreign players, saying the English game had become “a finishing school for the rest of the world.” Dyke also set out key principles which he believed the English game needed to adhere to should it flourish in years to come, saying, “In recent years it is the pace of change which has provided us with our biggest challenges.” In his role as FA chairman, Dyke has made one of his first priorities tackling the issue of the lack of Premier League players available to play for England. Figures reveal only about a third of top-flight footballers are eligible to play in the Premiership. Dyke, speaking Wednesday at the opening day of the Leaders in Football Summit in Chelsea, said, “In my first key speech as chairman, I set out what I believe to be the biggest immediate challenge to the English game, namely the shortage of English players playing regularly within the Premier League or other leading European leagues. My view is that this wasn’t helping the England team. And I agreed with the PFA when they said in quite a prescient report a few years earlier, 'What is at stake is not just the future of the England team but the fundamental right of English players to rise as far as their talent can take them.'"

FINISHING SCHOOL: Dyke went on to say, “That right is now denied. The truth is that we have become a finishing school for the rest of the world at the expense of our own players. I made it clear that day that I believe this was my No. 1 priority, and I was deliberately narrowed and focused in my analysis.” In his speech, Dyke laid out the key principles that he believes the English game needs to stick to going forward to sustain its popularity at all levels, in the face of stiff challenges such as the popularity of alternative sports, increased bureaucracy, and reduced Local Authority funding. These include maintaining the “universality of the game” so that there are strong links between all levels of the game, whether it is a game at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea, or playing in the park; that the top end of the game should support grassroots football; and to cherish the national and int'l game.
John Reynolds is a writer in London.

Liga MX President Decio De Maria said that the U.S. and Mexico should mount a joint bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup. “I hope we can go together,” De Maria told an audience at Wednesday's "Changing Times: World Football in Transition" session of  the Leaders in Football Summit in Chelsea. However, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, also a FIFA exec committee member, said any notion of the countries co-hosting 2026 was “premature.” De Maria’s idea is for Mexico to host a handful of games, with the bulk being played in the U.S., pointing to the countries’ social and geographical ties. However, Gulati said the U.S. bidding team for the 2022 World Cup was still upset about the decision to award it to Qatar, citing it as “controversial” and that it was still undecided if the U.S. would bid for future World Cups.

U.S. MAY SEEK COMPENSATION: Gulati also added there had been no decision as to whether the U.S. would seek compensation because of the flawed bid process around 2022. Gulati said, “Previously, co-hosting would be entertained when the infrastructure in a particular country wasn’t sufficient to host a World Cup, which is why Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and Holland bid together. For a country like the U.S. that wouldn’t be necessary. But I don’t want to rule out some of the things Decio mentioned.” Questioned whether the U.S. TV networks would roll over and accept the likely switching of the Qatar World Cup from the summer to winter, Gulati said there was a major issue with broadcaster’s commitment to the NFL. Gulati said, “It really comes down to what is in the contractual agreement, and I don’t know what is in those contracts. FIFA obviously does, the American broadcasters do. It is clearly a difficult time to be playing [in the winter] for American broadcasters which have commitments to the NFL.”

MLS POPULARITY: Another issue in the panel debate was whether the MLS (Major League Soccer) had reached a tipping point in terms of its popularity -- though this was dismissed by Gulati. Gulati: “I am not sure we are at a tipping point. The growth of the game is unstoppable. It’s not like what it is like in England, Brazil or Germany, yet. It’s not like the NFL or baseball, yet, but it’s 18,000 people a game and not many leagues around the world can say that."
John Reynolds is a writer in London.

World football leaders said that the key to successful management is being “humble” and “treating players with respect,” but the English national game is being threatened by English player’s reluctance to play overseas. West Bromwich Albion Manager Steve Clarke, Ajax Marketing Dir Edwin Van Der Sar, former French int'l Louis Saha and former Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado talked about some of the key challenges facing today’s players and managers during the "Pitch Perfect: Insight and Analysis From the People That Matter" session at the Leaders in Football conference in Chelsea. One of the issues which came up on the panel discussion is the potential problem of managing rich football players and motivating them. Clarke, whose team recently beat ManU on the road in the Premier League, said, “I think it is quite easy to be honest. As long as you treat them with respect and treat them with honesty, the players will come and work for you. They have the money and the security and all you are asking them to do is show their talents on the pitch. If you trust them to do the job, I think you can get good results by and large.”

HELPS TO BE HUMBLE: Van der Sar, a former ManU goalkeeper, said he had some sympathy with the modern day footballer, saying it was “not always easy to deal with” the riches and media attention on offer to top level footballers. Salgado said that the key to managing rich footballers and those with egos is having a humble manager. Salgado, whose career included a stint at Blackburn Rovers in England, pointed to the example of his time as part of a team of "Galacticos" at Real Madrid, which included David Beckham, Luis Figos and Roberto Carlos, and said the management skill of Vicente del Bosque was crucial to its success. Salgado said, “Dealing with 25 bastards is very difficult,” adding that management was a “lonely job” coping with different personalities and egos. Salgado added, “We were so lucky to have Vicente del Bosque to run the dressing room with Figo, Zidane and Roberto Carlos. And he was the most successful manager for Real Madrid in the last 40 years because he was so humble. He loves football and is a real gentleman.” Saha agreed, highlighting his move from ManU to Everton, a smaller club, saying the management at Everton made him feel as though the move was not a drop down in level.

HITTING THE ROAD: The panel was also asked its views on English player’s reluctance to play abroad, which contrasts with the flood of top Europeans who are lured by the riches of English Premier League. Some observers believe the flood of foreign imports is harming the English domestic game. Salgado said that Spanish players playing abroad had helped the national team. He said, “If you go for the money it is only the Premier League and German league right now, so it is so comfortable for the English players to stay here. But at the same time, I think when players go out they start to come back to the national team with a new experience.” He said English players should follow the lead of Swansea’s Michu and Chelsea’s Juan Mata and build up their skills by playing abroad, which would help the English national team. Saha echoed his comments, saying that its star players playing abroad had made the French team “stronger” over the years. The likes of Zidane and Marcel Desially, who played in foreign leagues, helped France win the World Cup in '98.
John Reynolds is a writer in London.