FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
1. Koscielny on strike
And you thought your club was having a dodgy pre-season. Laurent Koscielny exploded a bomb under Arsenal’s campaign before it had even begun yesterday when the club captain refused to travel to America for the club’s summer tour - so intent is he on being given a free transfer back to France. I mean, you have to laugh, don’t you?
Koscielny has understandably angered a lot of Arsenal fans by choosing the nuclear option after nine years of basically keeping quiet and working hard. If anything, though, he should be applauded. Can a more perfect metaphor be imagined for a lack of leadership at the club than the captain refusing to get on the plane to America? Laurent, thank you for making this job easy.
Arsenal’s statement on the matter was short, to the point, and utterly self-defeating:
Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel to the US for our pre-season tour. We are very disappointed by Laurent’s actions, which are against our clear instructions. We hope to resolve this matter and will not be providing any further comment at this time.
The club managed to achieve two things in 44 words: 1) Failing to strip him of the captaincy and thereby missing the chance to send a proper message about discipline, and 2) Admitting publicly that he had taken this course of action and thereby driving his potential price down.
Koscielny’s actions also seem ill-thought-out. He’s managed to trash his reputation at a club he has represented with distinction for almost a decade and when it comes down to it, with one year on his contract Arsenal are either entitled to keep hold of him or sell him for a fee. Unless some promises to the contrary have been made along the way - which would explain why Koscielny is suddenly acting like Nicolas Anelka.
In fact, so out-of-character is this behaviour, it does lend legitimacy to the fact that this is symptomatic of some deeper malaise at Arsenal: if even Koscielny is ready to go on strike to leave, how bad must things really be? Let’s remember, this is a club which has failed to sign a single senior player this summer, have struggled to reach agreement for a Celtic left-back and offered a derisory £40m for Wilfried Zaha; a club led by an absentee owner and a new power structure with everything to prove.
And in fact, Koscielny is only the latest manifestation of Arsenal’s leadership problems. Their list of captains since Patrick Vieira comprises either players who ended up engineering an exit (Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie), were constantly injured (Mikel Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker), both of the above (Koscielny) or were William Gallas (William Gallas).
The most headline-grabbing London strike since Bob Crow departed to the great trade union office in the sky is clearly a complex issue. Which has left everyone involved looking pretty silly.
2. Griezmann gone?
Image credit: Getty Images
There was big news in Spain last night as Barcelona paid the €120 million release clause for France star Antoine Griezmann, according to L'Equipe at least. A saga which has dragged on so long it could have its own film (let’s not give him any ideas) now appears close to a conclusion with the funds expected to be credited in La Liga’s account by Friday evening.
If they’d used Monzo, Barca could have him signed up already but when that money does finally come through, Griezmann’s lawyer will visit the Atletico Madrid offices and inform them that his contract has now been terminated, allowing him to sign a five-year deal at Camp Nou.
It’s a deal which likely suits all parties concerned. Atletico Madrid have already signed wonderkid Joao Felix as his replacement, and joining an attacking lineage that includes Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Falcao and Diego Costa it’s clear Atletico know a striker when they see one. Barca get a World Cup winner and world class forward. And Griezmann gets to link up with fellow documentary maker Gerard Pique and make a gripping miniseries about life in Barcelona. On Netflix in 2020. Probably.
3. AFCON semi-finals set
The final four are now known at the Africa Cup of Nations after the final two quarter-finals took place on Thursday.
Madagascar’s amazing run was ended by Tunisia in a 3-0 win which sets Alain Giresse’s team up with a semi-final meeting with Senegal.
There was drama in the other quarter-final as Ivory Coast lost on penalties to Algeria, with Wilfred Bony and Serey Die failing to score.
IN OTHER NEWS
The residents of Marseille won’t be asking, “Accrington Stanley, who are they?” anymore after losing to the League One side 2-1 in a barely believable friendly yesterday.
Yeah, that’s not even a bad Marseille team:
The Warm-Up is getting fuzzy memories of seeing Ajax play away at Luton in 2004 which a team that included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart. You have to love pre-season.
And to one player who hasn't managed to go on strike...
HEROES AND ZEROS
Heroes: Orlando City supporters
MLS supporters tend to have an insufferable streak but we do have to credit Orlando City fans for their ingenuity last night when their US Open Cup quarter-final against NYCFC went to spot-kicks.
After their opponents chose the empty end of the Orlando stadium to shoot towards, the home fans promptly sprinted from the opposite end to fill the vacant stand.
And of course they won the shoot-out.
Zero: Ramy Bensebaini
The aforementioned AFCON quarter-final between Ivory Coast and Algeria was also notable for this extraordinary piece of playacting by Bensebaini as he tried to get Wilfred Zaha sent off.
There’s no football on today but it’s men’s semi-final day at Wimbledon and we’ll have live coverage of Novak Djokovic v Roberto Bautista Agut and Rafa Nadal v Roger Federer right here. Plus it’s Stage 7 of the Tour de France and you can watch that live from 10am on Eurosport 1 and Eurosport Player.
Unlike Laurent Koscielny, I'll be back on Monday!