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July 30, 2019

Could Valencia Lose Its Sporting Director and Manager Over Transfer Spat With Owner Peter Lim?

Tyler Everett July 30, 2019
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UPDATE: Mateu Alemany will remain the club’s sporting director for the foreseeable future after all. Following a meeting with owner Peter Lim in Singapore on Friday, apparently, everything’s OK, per a club statement.

Valencia is making sure Real Madrid/Gareth Bale and Barcelona/Neymar (which somehow already feels like ancient history) are not the only soap operas in Spain this summer.

In fact, by the end of this week, even Madridistas and Blaugrana supporters might be impressed by the drama at Valencia.

As the reigning Copa del Rey champ and one of four La Liga clubs that punched a ticket to the 2019-20 Champions League, Valencia should be entering the upcoming season on a roll. We’re talking about a team that last season won seven of its last 10 in La Liga and made it to the Europa League semifinals (not to mention beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final).

But the momentum from that late-season surge and an until-now solid summer could be long gone by the end of the week.

The club’s sporting director, Mateu Alemany, his right-hand man, Pablo Longoria, and Manager Marcelino are all reportedly on the verge of leaving the club over a dispute with Singaporean owner Peter Lim.

Alemany, Lim clash over transfers

According to Libertad Digital, the clash dates back to an urgent meeting attended by Lim, Alemany and club President Anil Murthy on July 19 in Singapore. That’s when Lim unilaterally decided that the club would not be making any more signings this summer.

Alemany strongly disagreed, to the point that there were widespread reports in Spain on Monday that he was on his way out. And the expectation in some corners was that Longoria and Marcelino would side with him and follow him out the door if he were to leave.

A meeting between Alemany, Longoria and Murthy – who is seemingly acting on Lim’s wishes — lasted all day Monday. The two continued the conversation, which began over the weekend, today.

For what it’s worth, according to As, Alemany said on his way out of the team HQ on Monday after a five-hour discussion, “We are talking. I have always seen myself here and wanted to be in Valencia. It is positive that there is dialogue and things are being discussed and we are searching for solutions to the problems, but they have to be resolved.”

As if Monday’s talks were lacking for intrigue, a crowd of fans gathered outside the site of the meeting chanting about their preference that Alemany stay.

Could José Mourinho get involved?

If that weren’t enough, on Tuesday morning, some began to wonder whether none other than Jose (the Special One) Mourinho would be Marcelino’s replacement if – and this remains a big if – one is needed.

It goes without saying that Mourinho would bring juust a bit more spice to an already explosive situation. This is a good place to point out that Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is a partner in Lim’s private investment company, Meriton Holdings, and has had *a number of clients sign with the club over the years.

Not so fast

But by Tuesday afternoon, despite Valencia not releasing an official statement on the matter, the storm appeared (emphasis on appeared) to be blowing over, with Alemany returning to work. Even if Alemany, Longoria and Marcelino stay put, it will be fascinating to monitor what’s left of the club’s summer.

It’s hard to say what the coming weeks hold for Valencia. But a team with this much going for it on the field — and one that is in the Champions League for the second year in a row — should never have any reason to be concerned about sporting director and coaching vacancies two weeks before the season starts. The drama over the weekend – and the fact that so much of it played out so publicly – is the latest reminder of the unfortunately volatile nature of the club’s situation at the highest level.

In conclusion – and we should probably end every article related to offseason player/coaching news in Spain this way – stay tuned.

UPDATE: Speaking of the uncertainty here, Valencian publication Super Deporte’s latest report, as of 5:20 p.m. Eastern, claimed that Alemany is set to fly to Singapore to discuss the matter with Lim personally.

So seriously, stay tuned.

*For an in-depth look at Mendes’ perceived influence on Valencia, check out this breakdown from 2015 by BBC and Sport360 writer Andy West.

Jill Ellis Resigns as USWNT Coach

Peter Nolan July 30, 2019

Two-time Women’s World Cup winning coach Jill Ellis is stepping away from the USWNT, according to Jeff Kassouf of Equalizer Soccer.

Ellis will still remain with the team through their five game victory tour this summer.

According to Equalizer, Ellis is stepping down of her own accord. Neither Ellis nor USSoccer has released a statement as of this writing.

Jill Ellis USWNT coaching record

After an interim stint as manager, Jill Ellis was appointed as permanent coach of the USWNT in May 2014.

From there, she guided the national team to two World Cup titles (2015, 2019). She won CONCACAF and FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year honors in 2015.

Was Jill Ellis a good coach?

Frankly, yes.

Ellis has her critics. The 2016 US Olympic finish — the worst-ever for the team — is a blot on her resume. However, the English born manager has to be credited with keeping the US program on track to win this year’s World Cup despite a swirl of publicity relating to the team’s Equal Pay Lawsuit against USSoccer, as well as the back and forth between co-captain Megan Rapinoe and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ellis’ near-constant experimentation, which continued up to the World Cup semifinal and final, had some critics scratching their heads. In particular, her decision to start Sam Mewis over Lindsey Horan raised howls of protest among the USWNT cognoscenti and casual fans alike. But Ellis had the last laugh, as Mewis performed very well on the biggest possible stage.

In the wake of that 2016 Olympic disappointment, Ellis set about broadening the USWNT’s playing style, a process that led to more than a few bumps in the road. Ellis sought to turn the U.S. into more of a possession-based side, rather than a team that got by on speed, strength, and athleticism.

Ellis, now 52, felt that the likes of 2016 Olympic Champions Germany, along with France, and England, among others, were too good to beat with that approach – and so began a three year “Mad Scientist” phase for the coach.

She tried and discarded a three-back set featuring career-long midfielder Allie Long. Ellis sometimes struggled with a problem most of her rival coaches would have given their eye teeth to try solving: what to do with so many fantastic players?

By the time the World Cup rolled around this June, Ellis had settled on playing dynamic attacker Crystal Dunn at left fullback, even though Dunn can be a nightmare from the forward or attacking midfield position.

Ellis landed on Julie Ertz as the team’s defensive midfielder, although she teased the possibility of using the Best 11 World Cup 2015 defender in the back right up until the WWC kicked off.

Silky smooth attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle emerged as one of the rising stars of the women’s game. A share of the credit has to go to Ellis, who never wavered in her belief that Lavelle, despite missing considerable time through injury in the World Cup buildup, could bring that something different the USWNT was lacking.

Ellis also stuck to her guns when she decided that Alex Morgan flanked by Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath was her best front line, despite the presence of Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, and Mallory Pugh.

Jill Ellis USWNT coaching record

Ellis, a longtime assistant who took over from Tom Sermanni in May 2014, walks away as the only coach to have won the Women’s World Cup on two occasions.

She retires with an outstanding record of 102 wins, 7 losses, and 18 ties.

Ellis, who coached more games than any other USWNT coach, will take charge of the team through its five-match Victory Tour, beginning Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, when the World Cup Champions face the Republic of Ireland.

Who will be the next USWNT coach?

There is no obvious successor in place, as Ellis was when the decision to terminate Sermanni was made.

And then we have the issue of the General Manager. As with the Men’s National Team, USSoccer has created a system in which the person named to the newly created position of General Manager will lead the coaching search.

Earnie Stewart was eventually named as the GM on the Men’s side, after a delay that left the USMNT rudderless for a long year, before Gregg Berhalter was finally named.

That cannot happen with the women’s team, not with the 2020 Olympics just around the corner.

Given the proximity of the Olympics and the increased investment in the women’s game by a number of the traditional European powers – seven of the eight quarterfinalists were European – whoever takes on the mantle of GM needs to nail this hire.

It really is difficult to speculate on the next coach without knowing the identity of the GM but with all 23 of the U.S. World Cup Team coming from the NWSL, it makes sense to look to the domestic league for Ellis’ likely replacement.

The most respected and experienced coaches in the league are Paul Riley, of North Carolina, Vlatko Andonovski of Seattle, and Laura Harvey, of the Utah Royals. Jim Gabarra is out the league at the moment but he has a long career in U.S. Women’s soccer behind him and could possibly emerge.

We will be keeping an eye out for future developments.

Manchester United’s Asia Tour: Four Things We Learned

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Manchester United’s pre-season tour in Asia came to an impressive halt with a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. By maintaining a perfect 100% record and winning every single game down under, the atmosphere’s drastically changed since that dreadful final day nightmare in May.

Now, it’s not like everything’s suddenly fixed with a slew of pre-season victories. There are still persisting issues which demand some fixes, but some positives encourage promising signs. Here are four things we learned from the pre-season tour.

1. Mason Greenwood will get more chances to impress

A refreshing positive from the pre-season tour has been how the youngsters have shone through in exhausting conditions. Tahith Chong,  Angel Gomes were both delightful to watch, but Mason Greenwood, I’m looking at you.

After having made his debut for United last season, he looks much sharper and stronger. The 17-year-old netted his debut senior goal in a smart tap-in against Leeds United but also showcased Van Persie like style with an emphatic winner against Inter Milan.

With Greenwood, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the option to shuffle around his tactics. While most people struggle to decide what to do in their lives at his age, Greenwood’s scoring goals for fun. He was quick going forward, while also clinical in front of goal. He also didn’t shy away from displaying his swagger (just look below how he bamboozled Inter’s Milan Skriniar).

As Romelu Lukaku’s on the verge of leaving and no proper right-winger brought in, deputizing Greenwood as a make-shift right-back or super-sub centre-forward will diversify the effectiveness of United’s attack.

2. Paul Pogba still the man to build around

So Paul Pogba’s summer was an eventful one. First, he went to China to boost his brand image, but also reiterated the need for a “new challenge” after being slagged off by fans. Exit rumours came aplenty, but Solskjaer’s remained firm on wanting to influence his attacking movement through him.

To his credit, Pogba’s actually looked sharper than usual in the pre-season tour. He was energetic, vocal and packed with positive creativity in the hunt for goals. Sure, there were a few boos occasionally, but the Frenchman thrilled the fans by bossing the midfield game during the tour.  

He’s taken new-boy Aaron Wan-Bissaka into his wing, superbly linking with him on the right. Pogba also influenced the new signings’ assist against Leeds United. Moreover, he played deeper, helped control possession more and also contributed defensively.

Yeah, he’s a problem child, but Pogba’s still the world-class star to build around to get the sparks flying again.

3. Manchester United need a leader in defence

So one thing which is obvious despite the glorious pre-season tour is United still need better defenders.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka displayed some strong defensive-work, a much-needed upgrade over the erroneous Ashley Young. Victor Lindelof– amidst a knock- was also assertive, while Luke Shaw solidified his spot for the regular season.

However, a world-class defender is still needed. Granted, United only conceded one goal in the Asia tour but looked shaky on numerous opportunities. Perth Glory, Leeds, Inter all fielded their weaker attackers, but still Marcos Rojo, as well as Phil Jones, looked uneasy. Tottenham Hotspur almost exposed the defensive frailties, but pre-season blues restricted them from handing out a thrashing.

Be it the heavily-linked Harry Maguire or anyone else, United need a stronger leader to hold the defensive line. They need someone to bully strikers, lung into clearances to make life easier for David de Gea. Inflated fees be damned, a top defender must be prioritized above anything else in this transfer window.

4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s positivity is a good thing

There’s a clear parallel to Manchester United’s pre-season tour this year than the gloomy atmosphere under Jose Mourinho last season. The difference is Solskjaer.

Now, I don’t regard him as good tactically as his recent predecessors. However, there’s something addictive about his irresistible positivity. OGS got dealt with persistent hard-hitting questions regarding incoming or outgoing transfers, despite him promising a rebuild last season.

However, he never lost his cool, answering every question without compromising anyone in his squad. As a result, he’s made Pogba a happy chap again by entrusting all his resources upon him. Unlike Mourinho, the players actually love giving their 100% for him, which was displayed in some tireless, energetic performances.

His upbeat attitude is why OGS will always have the fans backing him and even though he’s unlikely to win a big trophy anytime soon, he’s the man to usher United on the road back to the top.

HPS MLS Pod Episode 7 with Kevin Minkus

Avatar July 30, 2019

A bit of delay on this getting published, but the HPS MLS Pod is up!

Joining Harrison Hamm this week is Kevin Minkus. Covered…

  • (0:43): Atlanta United, Pity Martinez, and their ideal tactical set-up
  • (14:00): The rise of the Revs
  • (23:15): Slightly out of date now, but reviewing some of the week’s biggest rivalry games
  • … and more.
Listen to “HPS MLS Podcast Episode 7 with Kevin Minkus” on Spreaker.
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