Tuesday’s big stories
Football treading on thin ice
Make no bones about it: the UK is in a perilous situation. The coronavirus pandemic has yet to peak. And things looks set to get worse: the government are not ruling out removing support and childcare bubbles.
‘He is a key member of our squad’ – Arteta confirms Xhaka will stay after Chelsea pre-season defeat
Set against the above context, footballers, generally-speaking, are in a privileged position. They have a job and can actually enter their workplace.
Yet, it seems a day does not pass without a footballer or a football club either clumsily circumnavigating - to coin a phrase that entered the vernacular last summer - the spirit of the lockdown or breaching the most basic of its rules.
Celtic are the latest club to fall foul of a coronavirus outbreak. Christopher Jullien tested positive following a training break in Dubai that the club insists was within the rules and spirit of the lockdown. That misses the point. Surely a club of Celtic's global standing understand the optics of a jolly to Dubai while the rest of the country toils under the weight of a pandemic. If they didn't, they surely do now. Their infraction came after a slew of coronavirus missteps during the FA Cup weekend, including a less than socially-distanced welcome for Tottenham at Marine FC and some ill-advised dressing room high jinks after Chorley's 2-0 win against Derby.
The Bhoys were forced to play their Scottish Premiership match against Hibernian without Neil Lennon, his assistant John Kennedy and - inclusive of Jullien - 14 first-team players. Credit to them, they drew, but now sit 21 points behind Rangers having played three games less.
There is a growing body of evidence that footballers and their clubs are incapable of policing this issue, and so it is of little surprise that while - according to the BBC’s Dan Roan - elite sport is not yet in the “last chance saloon”, patience is wearing thin. There is, of course, a wider question here: should elite sport be continuing in the current climate? Probably not. However, that makes the flagrant disregard for the rules all the more maddening.
Mesut Ozil’s social media manager needs a pay rise
Mesut Ozil has produced a PR masterclass since his expulsion from the Arsenal squad. He was at it again on Monday evening when he more-or-less served notice that his next club will either be Fenerbahce or an MLS club.
Ozil, or more likely his social media manager, have used the medium to set the agenda on his long, drawn out exit from The Emirates, and it is likely no coincidence that Ozil’s pronouncements on the social medias came just hours after his boss Mikel Arteta had given his say on the midfielder’s exit:
My understanding is that nothing has changed from the last press conference. That Edu and the club are having some conversations about the near future and the long-term future. And when we know something we will announce it.
Arteta on Ozil transfer from Arsenal - 'nothing has changed'
Granted, Arteta said nothing of note, but that was perhaps intentional to spike the story. It would be understandable if the Gunners boss wanted to draw focus away from his jettisoned, highly-paid midfielder and towards his side's recent uptick in performances and results.
Yet, Ozil retrained the media's eye once again on his future and subtly - yet definitely - applying pressure on the club to get his future sorted during the current window.
The subtlety of this applied pressure was best summed up in this tweet:
Why? Well, Kadıköy is the area in which Fenerbahce reside.
Barca's financial mismanagement strikes again
Martin Braithwaite was bought as an emergency cover last January. He was bought for a short-term emergency. Short-term being the operative word. Yet, Barcelona, in their enduring wisdom, tied him down until 2024 and inserted a release clause that *checks notes* stands at €300 million.
Now there is only one club foolish enough to sign the Dane for 300 of the largest Euros and he is already contracted to that club. Anyway, the club reportedly want rid but the former Middlesbrough man - which may have something to do with being a former Middlesbrough man - knows when he is on to a good thing and is staying put.
"There is no possibility of going out on this winter market, nor at the end of the season. Next season I will continue to fight for my goals," A Bola reported the forward as saying.
"I like the club to look for other players in the market. It is normal for a club like Barcelona, which aspires to have the best in the world. There must be internal competition. It doesn't scare me, it motivates me," he added.
It probably scares Barca, mind.
HEROES AND ZEROS
HERO - ELITE PETTINESS
Jim Gannon sends zero Christmas cards and credit to him.
ZEROS - JOBS FOR THE BOYS
Phil Neville - who has barely excelled in his managerial career thus far - has, it appears, himself another job, as the boss of David Beckham's Inter Miami.
Now Neville may develop into an excellent manager but it very much feels like a job for the boys this one.
IN THE CHANNELS
Apropos of nothing.
Luis Suarez, with Jim Gannon levels of pettiness.
Alfie Devine became Tottenham's youngest-ever player and goalscorer in the 5-0 win against Marine in the FA Cup.
Jose Mourinho likes him:
He’s a kid that basically is a midfield player but with an instinct to appear in finishing zones and to score goals. We like him and, of course, for him today is a special day.
Here is The Athletic's article on the young player.
There is more Masters snooker, with Neil Robertson taking on Bingtao Yan and Mark Selby facing off against Stephen Maguire.
Elsewhere, we will have live commentary of Sheffield United against Newcastle, Wolves and Everton, and Burnley taking on Manchester United.
What challenges will Wiegman face as new Lionesses head coach?
Arsenal cancel trip to Florida Cup after Covid outbreak