Manchester City Champions League masterclass shows all not well for unsettled Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

Man City’s head coach Pep Guardiola, left, and PSG’s head coach Mauricio Pochettino at the end of the Champions League game at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 25 November 2021

Manchester City Champions League masterclass shows all not well for unsettled Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

  • A move to Manchester United for the Argentine, to be replaced by Zinedine Zidane in Paris, could well be the best solution for all concerned
  • Revered and respected by his peers, Zidane could revitalise PSG and allow Pochettino the opportunity to rebuild a United side that is underachieving

LONDON: For all the will, and ambition, of a manager, sometimes the fit of a club is not quite right.

No matter how much Mauricio Pochettino insists he is happy at Paris Saint-Germain, the speculation of a move to Manchester United will not go away.

Not now - even with the surprise appointment on Thursday of Ralf Rangnick as the Old Trafford club’s interim manager until the end of the season - and not until someone is eventually chosen as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s permanent replacement.

Pochettino remains a leading candidate for that role.

And despite his belief that his PSG players won’t be distracted by what happens over the next six months, footballing history has often shown that commitment and quality don’t always come to the fore when there are rumours about a manager’s position, whether positive or negative.

Midfielder Ander Herrera, who ironically joined PSG from United on a free transfer in 2019 after five years at Old Trafford, said: “We are convinced…we know he is focused on the season and our club and to try to get the best from the team. 

“We are not distracted at all [by the situation]. Since the first day I came here, everyone loves to talk about that, everyone loves to make rumours about that. That doesn’t affect us at all.”

That is up for debate given their insipid and disjointed display in the 2-1 loss at Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

It was a result that saw Pep Guardiola’s side top the group and the French side finish runners-up and facing a potential tougher last-16 opponent.

City had the balletic attacking brilliance and cultured ball players that Lionel Messi and Neymar once had alongside them during their heyday at Barcelona. 

Now they were merely passengers, observers to a Guardiola masterclass that deserved a greater margin of victory for the English Premier League champions.

Based on his success during five years at Tottenham Hotspur, Pochettino forged a reputation of building sides with a strong work and team ethic. That is not visible in a PSG outfit that seems unbalanced, unconvincing and needs to earn their victories.

In the first half they had just three touches in the opposition's box, compared to City’s 23.

Blessed with enviable individual talent, and despite taking a fortunate lead through Kylian Mbappe, they were often unravelled by a City team missing the injured Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and £100 million signing Jack Grealish.

In Bernardo Silva, the hosts had a player described by Gabriel Jesus - who scored the winning goal after a Raheem Sterling equaliser - as “one of the best players in the world right now”. The Brazil striker also said "nobody is selfish" in the City team.

The hashtag #PochOUT! was soon trending on Twitter after the defeat, with Pochettino criticised for being too defensive, lacking creative ideas and unable to get more out of a frontline of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe that was laboured rather than lethal.

Pochettino felt PSG “suffered” against City, while Herrera said Guardiola’s side had the quality to “kill you”.

But captain Marquinhos offered an insight into his own side’s failings as he added: “The Champions League, it’s that you’ve got to know how to play against the big teams.”

Right now, PSG are unable to do that.

With the Champions League coveted by their Qatari owners, this does not bode well for the rest of the campaign, nor Pochettino’s future.

Just two seasons ago Thomas Tuchel led them to the Champions League final, where they were edged 1-0 by Bayern Munich. Four months later he was dismissed with the best win percentage in Ligue 1 history.

PSG should be ready to challenge for the trophy now, but look a level below their European rivals.

Pochettino has to address that. Results will determine whether he remains in Paris or that, when United make their decision at the end of the season, the Argentine is their first and best choice.

While PSG have decided not to let Pochettino leave mid-season, he will also be aware that Zinedine Zidane had been discussed as a replacement - and would prove popular with fans and the owners.

A decade ago, when Qatar was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, they brought on board a raft of stellar names to raise their profile and enhance their chances.

Guardiola and Saudi Arabia’s superstar Sami Al-Jaber were among them. But it was the signing of Zidane that was seen as the pivotal moment in helping them succeed against all odds.

The Frenchman is often named the footballing hero for many of those at the forefront of sporting change in the Middle East.

As a gifted player for clubs such as Juventus and Real Madrid and his national team, Zidane was iconic and inspirational, a legend.

But he was admired in the Gulf too because of his Arab roots - a Muslim of Algerian Kabyle descent.

Zidane would be the prestige signing for the Qataris a la Messi - or Guardiola in coaching terms when he took over at City and transformed them with style and success.

With 11 trophies in his first managerial job at Real Madrid - across two spells and five years - he would also be the biggest winner since Carlo Ancelotti had a 16-month spell in 2012.

In lifting three successive Champions League titles, Zidane managed to get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to show he could handle big names, and the challenge and expectation of managing a big club.

By adopting a more aggressive and attacking approach, imagine what he could do with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe if he was persuaded to stay?

While Madrid still seem favourites to lure French striker Mbappe when his contract runs out next summer, perhaps having Zidane in charge could sway him to remain for just a little longer.

As he admitted previously: “If you're a boy and you're French, your idol is Zidane.”

Mbappe, 22, will also have seen how Benzema flourished under Zidane’s tutelage to become one of the world’s best strikers again at 33.

Revered and respected by his peers with tough demands, Zidane could revitalise PSG - and allow Pochettino the opportunity to rebuild a United side that is under-achieving, but still has so much potential. Eventually, this would appear a perfect fit - and a fait accompli.

Israel heads to Olympics as Palestinian delegation calls for exclusion

Updated 22 July 2024

Israel heads to Olympics as Palestinian delegation calls for exclusion

  • Summer Games in French capital open Friday against backdrop of heightened security concerns
  • Palestine Olympic Committee sent letter to IOC chief Thomas Bach asking him to ban Israel

TEL AVIV: Israel’s Olympic delegation flew to Paris on Monday as the Palestinian contingent called for banning the Israeli athletes over the war in Gaza.
The Summer Games in the French capital open Friday against a backdrop of heightened security concerns and growing international outrage over the death toll and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.
The Palestine Olympic Committee said Monday it sent a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach asking him to ban Israel, citing the bombings of the besieged strip as a breach of the Olympic truce.
The letter “emphasized that Palestinian athletes, particularly those in Gaza, are denied safe passage and have suffered significantly due to ongoing conflict.”
It said “approximately 400 Palestinian athletes have been killed, and the destruction of sports facilities exacerbates the plight of athletes who are already under severe restrictions.”
In its statement, the committee also referenced the recent opinion by the UN’s top court finding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories illegal.
Ahead of the flight to France, Israel Olympic Committee President Yael Arad called it a “victory” that the team’s 88 athletes were participating in the Games.
“Our first victory is that we are here and going, and that we didn’t give up and have been competing in hundreds of competitions since October 7,” Arad told journalists at Ben Gurion airport.
She was referring to the date of the unprecedented Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that started the war, which has led to protests around the world.
French organizers have stepped up security in Paris where the Israeli delegation will be subject to strict security protocols.
“It’s no secret that these Olympic Games are a little more difficult for all of us. But we have full confidence in the organization of security,” Arad added.
Speaking at the same conference, judoka Inbar Lanir acknowledged that Israeli athletes have become mired in controversy over the war, but added they were “used to” it.
“My part is to connect everyone by sports. It’s above all politics and wars and hate. So, I’m feeling safe and I’m excited to represent my country.”
French lawmaker Thomas Portes sparked a political row over the weekend by saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
But French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday Israeli athletes were “welcome in France.”
Some pro-Palestinian protesters and activists in France and the United States, as well as Palestinian sports clubs and the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, had joined a call for the IOC to limit Israel’s official participation in the 2024 Summer Games over the war in Gaza.
In March, the head of the IOC coordination committee for Paris 2024, Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant, said it was “out of the question to imagine” sanctions on Israel over its war in Gaza, as Russia and its Olympic Committee were over the invasion of Ukraine.
The Olympic Games in Paris will take place from July 26 to August 11.
Several Israeli competitors are in contention for medals, including taekwondo athlete Avishag Semberg, who was a bronze medallist at the 2020 Olympics, gymnast Artem Dolgopyat, who secured Israel its first gymnastics gold in 2020, and Lanir, a 2023 world champion in her category.
Eight Palestinian athletes are also taking part in the Paris Games.
The October 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 116 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 44 who the military says are dead.
Israel’s military offensive has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
According to the Israeli military, 327 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

India coach Gautam Gambhir backs Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma to play at 2027 Cricket World Cup

Updated 22 July 2024

India coach Gautam Gambhir backs Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma to play at 2027 Cricket World Cup

  • Gambhir begins his tenure this week with a tour of Sri Lanka that includes three T20s and three one-day internationals
  • Kohli and Sharma had announced their T20 retirements after India’s World Cup triumph in the West Indies on June 29

MUMBAI: New India coach Gautam Gambhir has backed star batters Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to continue playing in the long term, even possibly at the 2027 Cricket World Cup in South Africa.
Gambhir begins his tenure as Indian men’s team coach this week with a tour of Sri Lanka that includes three T20s and three one-day internationals.
Kohli and Sharma had announced their T20 retirements after India’s World Cup triumph in the West Indies on June 29. While Kohli is 35 years old and Sharma is 37, Gambhir backed both to continue playing for India in tests and ODIs.
“I think they have shown what they can deliver on the big stage, whether it’s the T20 or ODI World Cup. One thing I can be very clear of is that both have a lot of cricket left in them,” Gambhir said on Monday. “With the Champions Trophy and a big tour of Australia (coming up), they will be motivated enough. And then, hopefully, if they can keep their fitness, the 2027 World Cup as well.”
Both Kohli and Sharma have been included in India’s ODI squad for the Sri Lanka tour, with the latter back leading the side.
Gambhir and Kohli have had highly publicized spats in the past, especially in the Indian Premier League.
The first came in 2013 when Gambhir was captain of Kolkata Knight Riders with another in 2023 when he was leading Lucknow SuperGiants. Kohli was part of the Royal Challengers Bengaluru on both occasions.
“My relationship with Virat Kohli is not for the public. It may be good for TRP (during IPL), but it is between two mature individuals,” said Gambhir. “He is a thorough professional and a world class athlete, he is a world class player. I have always said that.
“On the field, everyone has the right to fight for their own team, but at the moment, we are representing India and I am sure we are going to be on the same page – to make India proud. I have huge respect for him as a player and it is going to continue. Hopefully, we can work together really well.”
Suryakumar Yadav has been named the new T20 captain, taking over from Sharma as India looks to build toward the 2026 World Cup, with young batting star Shubman Gill his vice-captain.
That shuts out Hardik Pandya, who was vice-captain at 2024 T20 World Cup. Pandya had also led India in T20s since 2022.
“Hardik is still a very important player for us. We want him to be fit and be the player he can be for India. Those all-round skills are very difficult to find and fitness obviously has been a challenge for him over the last few years, which makes things a little difficult for the coach or even the selectors,” said Ajit Agarkar, India’s chief selector.
“You obviously want a captain that is likely to play all the games. We (also) think Suryakumar Yadav is a deserving candidate and has the necessary qualities to succeed as captain. Over time we will see how he develops into this role as the next World Cup is only in 2026.”
Yadav, though, missed out on India’s ODI squad, with keeper-batter Rishabh Pant making a comeback to the format. Pant was involved in a car accident in December 2022 and missed 18 months before returning to India’s T20 side for the World Cup.
“We haven’t discussed Surya for ODIs at this point. Shreyas Iyer is back and Lokesh Rahul is back too (for ODIs),” Agarkar said. “They had a great World Cup (2023). Rishabh is back as well, so there is quality in the middle order.
“Regards to Rishabh again, before his unfortunate accident, he’s been a key player for us. Now that he’s back, you want to get him around the group again, playing again.”
Indian team officials are aiming to manage the workloads of different players through the upcoming season, with a tour of Australia beginning in November and the Champions Trophy early next year.
As such, star fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been completely rested for the Sri Lanka tour after his stellar performances in the T20 World Cup.
“Workload management for someone like Bumrah is very important. He is a rare bowler that anyone would want. You want him to play important games,” said Gambhir.

Ukraine’s Natus Vincere clinch Counter-Strike 2 championship at Esports World Cup

Updated 22 July 2024

Ukraine’s Natus Vincere clinch Counter-Strike 2 championship at Esports World Cup

  • Side defeated G2 in best of 3 showdown 2-1 to claim $400,000 prize

RIYADH: Natus Vincere of Ukraine etched their name in the esports history books on Sunday after overcoming G2 to win the Esports World Cup Counter-Strike 2 competition.

Global audiences and another capacity crowd at the SEF Arena in Boulevard Riyadh City enjoyed an exciting battle as the two teams faced off in an all-European showdown — the first in an Esports World Cup Grand Final.

With both registering impressive performances and eliminating some CS2 heavyweights en route to the final, the match closed out week three of the Esports World Cup.

With a $400,000 prize and vital EWC Club Championship points at stake, NAVI came from behind to win the best of three grand final 2-1 and clinch the CS2 title.

Reflecting on the victory at the Esports World Cup, iM of NAVI said: “It feels amazing to win — we took this tournament seriously. We had high expectations from the start and we kept the same standards throughout. To win the tournament is a great feeling — for me individually and for us as a team — because it shows that the hard work we’ve been putting in is paying off.

“G2 played some very good CS2 tonight. They provided a type of test we’d not experienced this week until the grand final. But we came back and we’re delighted.”

For NAVI, winning CS2 capped off a memorable week in Riyadh. Since the 15-team $1 million tournament began on Wednesday, the Ukranian club beat FURIA 2-0 in the opening stage before overcoming FaZe Clan 2-0 and MOUZ 2-1 in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

The NAVI lineup consists of: b1t (Valerij Vakhovsjkyj, Ukraine); Aleksib (Aleksi Virolainen, Finland); jL (Justinas Lekavicius, Lithuania); iM (Mihai Ivan, Romania); and w0nderful (Ihor Zhandov, Ukraine).

When asked about the reasons behind their consistent form and brilliant performances, jL said: “We showed a mental edge over our opponents. We went behind in matches this week but showed resilience and came back every time. This is a credit to the psychology of this team.

“We’ve also been in great form over the last six months. Winning here this week shows that we’re doing things right — both between tournaments and when we’re out there competing.”

The Esports World Cup is running from July 3 to Aug. 25 with 22 tournaments across 21 titles throughout its eight-week duration. Week four begins on July 23 with three tournaments taking place daily until July 28.

Pandya fitness issues cost him India T20 captaincy—selector

Updated 22 July 2024

Pandya fitness issues cost him India T20 captaincy—selector

  • Explosive Indian batter Suryakumar Yadav was named skipper for India’s T20 format for Sri Lanka tour 
  • Pandya, who was vice-captain during last month’s T20 World Cup, has suffered from fitness problems 

Mumbai: Hardik Pandya lost out on India’s T20 captaincy to Suryakumar Yadav because of concerns over his availability after frequent injury absences, India’s chief selector Ajit Agarkar said Monday.
Explosive middle-order batsman Suryakumar, 33, was last week named Rohit Sharma’s successor in the T20 format for India’s white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, which begins Saturday.
All-rounder Pandya, 30, was Rohit’s deputy during India’s T20 World Cup triumph last month but he has suffered from fitness problems and missed the 50-over World Cup last year with an ankle injury.
“Fitness has been something that he’s struggled with,” Agarkar told reporters in Mumbai alongside new coach Gautam Gambhir.
“As selectors, it becomes difficult then. The thought behind it was that we want someone who is likely to be available more.”
India begin their Sri Lanka trip with the first of three Twenty20 internationals on Saturday and Pandya has reportedly opted out of the three subsequent one-day internationals.
He was “still a very important player,” Agarkar said. “And that’s what we want him to be, those skill sets are hard to find.”
Agarkar praised Suryakumar’s captaincy credentials.
“He is one of the best T20 batters in the world,” said Agarkar.
“We feel that Surya has all the necessary qualities to be a good captain.
“We wanted a captain, who is likely to play all the games.”
Suryakumar would remain solely a T20 player, said Agarkar. Rohit has retained the 50-over captaincy.
Gambhir explained his coaching philosophy, speaking to reporters for the first time since succeeding Rahul Dravid.
“I think it is important to give players the freedom, that’s what I believe in,” he said.
“The best relationship is built on trust. I can promise that the most important thing is that they will always have my back.”
Rohit, 37, and Virat Kohli, 35, both quit T20 internationals after the World Cup.
Gambhir, a former India teammate of both Kohli and Rohit, expects the veteran pair to remain key figures in the Test and 50-over teams.
“Both those guys have a lot of cricket left in them,” Gambhir said, adding he hoped they are motivated to feature in the 2024/25 tour to Australia and next year’s 50-over Champions Trophy.
Retirement is “a very personal decision” he added.

Former Tottenham boss Redknapp joins forces with UAE-based ‘Green Goals’ campaign

Updated 22 July 2024

Former Tottenham boss Redknapp joins forces with UAE-based ‘Green Goals’ campaign

  • The initiative by company Fuelre4m looks to harness the power of football to drive sustainability and environmental change

DUBAI: UAE-based clean-fuel technology firm Fuelre4m have announced a partnership with Harry Redknapp — former Tottenham, Portsmouth and West Ham football manager — as part of their “Green Goals” campaign.

The initiative aims to utilize former football stars to raise awareness and action for sustainability.

“With the global football industry emitting over 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, more top players need to join in to make a bigger impact,” Redknapp said recently.

“Football’s carbon footprint is massive, and players do have a responsibility to help. They can do more by getting involved in green campaigns, pushing for eco-friendly stadiums and clubs, and using social media to spread awareness and influence fans.”

“Football has the power to inspire millions,” he added. “If we can use that influence to promote sustainability, we can make a real difference. That’s why I’m excited to be part of Fuelre4m’s ‘Green Goals’ campaign.”

Rob Mortimer, managing director of Fuelre4m, highlighted the significance of Redknapp’s support.

“Having Harry Redknapp on board is a game-changer. His influence in the football world is immense, and his support for our campaign underscores the importance of sustainability in sports,” he said.

“Harry’s involvement will undoubtedly motivate players and fans to take action, amplifying our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuels.”

FuelRe4m has developed a fuel-reforming technology that enhances the combustion process in engines, the company stated.

By breaking down impurities and complex hydrocarbons in liquid fossil fuels, the Re4mx technology is aimed at ensuring a more efficient and cleaner burn.

This results in increased power output, lower fuel consumption, and a significant reduction in harmful emissions.