WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORIES

Title challenge or bust for Solskjaer?
The signing of Raphael Varane is huge for Manchester United, and huge for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
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Bringing in Jadon Sancho was exciting, but Varane’s arrival could be even more significant.
The Frenchman is one of the world’s best defenders, and has been for many years. And the news of his arrival comes just days after Solskjaer signed a contract extension at the club.
That means that this season is absolutely huge for the United manager now. No longer will it be enough to secure top-four finishes with some occasional decent performances while utilising a scattering of young players.
The arrival of Sancho and Varane means a title challenge should be the expectation, and now we’ll learn whether Ole is really the manager to pull the club back to the summit.
Alderweireld bids adieu
It was the spring of 2019 when Mauricio Pochettino warned Tottenham fans to expect a “painful rebuild” if they were to sustain the period of relative success he’d overseen in north London.
Daniel Levy didn’t listen then, but two disappointing seasons and a toxic Jose Mourinho tenure later and he’s finally come around to the idea.
Spurs fans best hope that it’s not too late.
Toby Alderweireld is the latest big name to leave north London, ending a six-year stay in which he made 243 appearances at the heart of the Spurs defence.
The 32-year-old has gone for an end-of-career pay packet (with half an eye on selection for next year’s World Cup) and joined Al-Duhail in Qatar, and he will go with the blessing of Tottenham’s supporters after a spell that coincided with the club’s most successful spell in the Premier League era. And that was no coincidence.
Alderweireld’s departure follows hot on the heels of Erik Lamela and Danny Rose. And whether or not Harry Kane makes his much-rumoured move away from Spurs later this summer, the squad now barely resembles the one that finished top three in the Premier League for three straight seasons.
Whether this new Spurs generation can reach such heights is doubtful. But the rebuild needed to happen and, even though it’s two years late, at least Levy has finally figured it out.

IN OTHER NEWS

If you’re booed off in a pre-season friendly then you know the relationship with the fans is broken.
That was the reality for Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United, who trudged down the tunnel at half-time of a warm-up game against Rotherham to a chorus of boos from the few travelling fans.
Bruce’s side may have gone on to draw the game 1-1, and a pre-season match by its very nature is more about fitness and giving test runs to tactical plans than the result. But to be booed by the club’s own fans before the season has even started is a sign of things to come as unrest continues to fester amongst the fanbase.

IN THE CHANNELS

Erik Lamela never became the player that Tottenham Hotspur hoped they were signing back in 2013.
But Lamela loved Spurs. And as a result, much of Spurs loved Lamela. For after all, football (and sport in general) isn’t truly about the raw numbers and success on paper, it’s about entertainment and how it makes you feel. And players like Lamela certainly make you feel.
The legendary broadcaster Michael Parkinson summer this whole thing up perfectly in an interview with Irish outfit Second Captains in 2014 when he said:
It's not war, or death, or famine – it’s not that at all. It’s the opposite of that. It’s to persuade us of a life outside of that… that’s why sport’s important.
And whether it was through a rabona, a reckless challenge, a sharp elbow challenge or an eleventh unnecessary ball-roll in succession, Lamela captured the attention of the Spurs fans.
It was probably time for Lamela to move on from Spurs, although it would be little surprise if he tears it up for Sevilla – he certainly has the talent to do so.
But his departure has also given Twitter the chance to do what it does best:

RETRO CORNER

The ongoing men’s football tournament at Tokyo 2020 offers a chance to relive one of the great campaigns in Games history.

HAT-TIP

Gigi Wijnaldum has opened up on the extent of the abuse he received in England, much of which he says came from Liverpool’s own fans.
The open and honest interview has been met with a predictably toxic reaction. And it is that reaction that is the centre of Melissa Reddy’s feature column for the independent in which she calls for fans to “just listen”.
We beg footballers to swerve the cliches and to give us an authentic window into the people they are. Wijnaldum told us how he felt and we told him he’s wrong. We took his words and twisted them as his defence for leaving to earn the money he deserves at PSG, on a contract that offers him and his family security for the next three years.
Read the full article here

COMING UP

The second round of Champions League qualifying continues this evening, with Celtic the headline British club in action. The Bhoys’ hopes are hanging in the balance following a 1-1 draw at home to Midtjylland in the first leg.
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