THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
Heartwarming scenes in Manchester last night, as punchy minnows Paris Saint-Germain rolled up to the Etihad, strung seven men across their six-yard box, and blocked everything City could throw at them. Well, almost everything.
Guardiola 'more than satisfied' as City show resolve to beat PSG
We got three goals in the end, and they were all precisely correct. PSG got theirs after springing a counter-attack, with The Greatest Front Three In The History Of The Game™ all involved and Kylian Mbappe rounding things off with a nutmeg. And then City came back at them, worked the overloads, pulled the defence out of position, and made beautiful tap-ins from beautiful cut-backs. All just as everybody planned.
Still, there's something weird about watching PSG play like this. Seven lads and a goalkeeper playing defence at one end; three playing attack at the other. This may have been the most sensible way to set up for this particular game, but it doesn't seem very superclubby. Superclubbish. Superclubesque.
Or, as our Graham Ruthven points out here, particularly Pochettino-like. Of course, Manchester City aren't typical opponents: unusually good in general, unusually good at keeping the ball. And Marco Verratti was missing, and Angel Di María only on the bench. But we're guessing that neither PSG's owners nor PSG's manager want, in an ideal world, to be fielding a broken team that plays big games on the break.
The contrast was a stark one. City, missing their biggest ever signing, their most inspirational genius, and their brightest young thing, were fluid, controlled and thrillingly coherent, which shouldn't work as a compliment but absolutely does. PSG, who had all three present and correct, were making the best of things. Now, playing on the break isn't an inherently incorrect way to try and win a football match. If these two teams meet in the knockouts, and PSG give it another go, it might even work: City can get opened up on the break and that front three are capital-B Brilliant.
But it sits awkwardly with the general swagger of being a superclub. It's all very well distorting the whole fabric of the game around your massive chequebook, but that's not going to help you keep the ball. Building a superclub and building a superteam are two very different projects.
Spinning Through The Rolodex
Quick, write down the name of every out-of-work manager in men's football that's spent a bit of time with a big club in the last, ooh, five years. Maybe they won something. Maybe the vibes were good. Maybe they were sacked when the vibes turned sour. Done? Good. What you have in your hand there is, more or less, the shortlist for the Manchester United interim manager position.
Football content thrives on speculation, like mushrooms in dark and damp. What has actually happened is boring, mundane, bound by reality; what could happen, that's the good stuff. For this reason, Manchester United looking for a manager is about the most exciting thing in the world. It's a speculation bonanza. And credit to United, they seem to be getting right into the spirit of things.
So, per the Telegraph, United have a five-man shortlist for the interim gig. There's Ernesto Valverde, who won La Liga with Barcelona. There's Rudi Garcia, who won Ligue 1 with Lille. There's Lucien Favre, who we can assume gets on with Jadon Sancho quite well. And there's Ralf Rangnick, who gave the Red Bull franchises their wings and invented modern football. Sort of.
Rangnick is currently doing strategic things at Lokomotiv Moscow, but the rest are all out of work. If the Telegraph know who the fifth name on the list is, they aren't telling. There were reports yesterday that Italy coach Roberto Mancini has turned the job down, a crime against comedy and narrative for which he must pay.
Managerial appointments are always in part a reaction to the last guy, and you can see certain commonalities between those four, beyond their availability. A substance, a heft to their coaching reputations, precisely the sort of thing that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lacked, whatever his plus points. After the loss to Watford, David de Gea lamented that United didn't know what to do with the ball. Here are some coaches who can absolutely tell you.
On balance, and for all that Rafa Benítez chafed against the word "interim" while at Chelsea, this seems quite a sweet gig for any wandering coach. Two-thirds of a season, some wonderful footballers, and hardly any expectations beyond "make things better". If things don't go well, you can shrug, blame the dysfunction of the club, and go on with your life. If they do, then who knows? The last bloke who came in just to cheer things up a bit ended up staying for years.
'Thunderball' - Klopp and Thiago on Spaniard’s screamer
A Vision Of The Future
Remember the Super League? Seems like years ago now. Of course, not everybody's given up on the idea, and we all know that something similar will come roaring back at some point. But in the wake of last April's failed breakaway attempt, in among all the laughter and finger-pointing, the UK government did promise a fan-led review of football governance. And here it is!
Just the 162 pages to get your teeth into there, although the report's author, Tracey Crouch, summarises the state of things neatly in her introduction:
"The Review concluded that English football’s fragility is the result of three main factors — misaligned incentives to 'chase success'; club corporate structures that lack governance, diversity or sufficient account of supporters failing to scrutinise decision making, and the inability of the existing regulatory structure to address the new and complex structural challenges created by the scale of modern professional men’s football. Football is sport but it is also big business. As the game has grown and developed its governance has failed to grow and modernise with it."
The biggest proposal is not a new one. The idea that English football should have an independent regulator, rather than the FA telling itself what it should and shouldn't be doing, has been knocking around for years, But this is the most serious and hopefully compelling case for it. Crouch writes, "Now is the time for an independent regulator to take on the reform that fans have been crying out for but which the authorities have failed to deliver, and it needs to be done now."
To go along with this new regulator, which would oversee a licensing system for the men's game, Crouch proposes various other adjustments: a 'golden share' for fans that permits them to protect their club against name changes, relocations, and so on; a transfer tax on bigger deals, to be distributed down the pyramid; and a reorganisation of parachute payments.
Fair Game, an alliance of clubs agitating for reforms, has called this "a momentous day" for English football. The Warm-Up, a regular morning column from Eurosport, reckons this all looks extremely promising, and will be developing further thoughts once we've woken up a bit more. Now comes the hard part: seeing how much of this can be stuffed through Parliament.
IN OTHER NEWS
Bit weird that we call them daisycutters, no? One of the first things you notice about a football pitch is the total absence of daisies. Maybe Thiago's killed them all.
Burnley have a reputation, at least partly deserved, as something of a throwback within the glitzy Premier League. But according to the Athletic's Andy Jones, the signing of Maxwel Cornet has been a textbook example of sensible transfer business: lots of scouting, lots of planning, lots of thought, and a full effort across the whole club to make it work.
Cornet had been on Burnley’s radar for a number of years. They had multiple reports on the player over numerous seasons. He impressed the club’s recruitment team and he fitted the profile that Sean Dyche was looking for — particularly his versatility. Dyche wants his small squad to be able to operate in multiple positions.
Happy birthday to Johnny Rep, one of the free-floating total geniuses of that Netherlands side. No Dutchman has scored more goals at World Cup finals, though of course his medals from 1974 and 1978 are both silver rather than gold. Still, those titles with Ajax and Saint-Etienne probably make up for it.
Some Europa? Don't mind if we do. As ever, there are too many games to contemplate, let alone list here, but Celtic, Rangers, Leicester, West Ham and Tottenham will all be up to something. And Galatasaray v Marseille sounds potentially exciting.
Assuming he hasn't been asked to become interim manager of Manchester United, it'll be Andi Thomas again tomorrow. (If you're reading, Ed, call me. My rates are reasonable and I played a lot of CM01/02 back in the day.)
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You can watch a free livestream of the 2021 Ballon d'Or ceremony on eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app on Monday night. Join us from 19:30-21:00 GMT as the best male and female players on the planet are crowned in Paris (stream available to UK users only)
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