TUESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Ighalo set to end one of football’s truly strange transfers

It began with coronavirus, and by the sounds of things it’s going to end with coronavirus.
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When Manchester United had opened the cupboard marked ‘good strikers available for transfer’ and found it bare in January, they turned to Odion Ighalo, the former Watford striker who had spent the previous three years in China. It was, by any mark, a panic transfer, because they needed someone and he was the best they could find.
It’s almost tricky to remember all the way back then, but in January and February COVID-19 was broadly a problem associated only with China and parts of Italy, so even though Ighalo signed on transfer deadline day, he was kept away from United’s training ground for the first couple of weeks and was only allowed to actually play his first game on February 17.
In itself, it was quite a heart-warming story. Here was a man who was seemingly quite happy playing in China – the reasons for which are not really any of our concern – but who supported United as a boy so when he got a sniff of the move, it felt like a lottery win. He took a pay cut to make the deal happen, and accounts of his nervousness while it was being negotiated are really quite endearing.
But now, it seems, his time at Old Trafford is coming to an end. Reports indicate that, with his loan deal set to expire on May 31 and discussions about extending that at ‘an impasse’, he will return to China and his club Shanghai Shenua, a strange spell at United being curtailed in a strange manner. Of all the events that have occurred and all the plans that have been ruined by this virus, this is relatively low down on the list, but it will still be a slightly sad, and very strange addition to the overall coronavirus story.
Further reports suggest that Ighalo will be offered a new contract worth £75million over four years, which is very decent cheese for anyone but particularly for a centre-forward who will turn 31 in a few weeks. So the temptation is not to feel overly sorry for him…but, if you’ll forgive us a little sentiment, it’s a shame it had to end this way.

WSL and Championship seasons called off, who knows what happens now

The fear was always that the women’s game would be more adversely affected by the coronavirus crisis than the men’s, and so it has proved with the decision on Monday to call off the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship seasons, and to decide the final standings…somehow.
The FA had asked clubs whether they would be able to complete the season under the present circumstances, and by the sounds of things the answer that came back was a resounding ‘no'.
The FA said in a statement:
Following overwhelming feedback from the clubs, the decision to bring an end to the 2019-20 season was made in the best interest of the women’s game. This will also enable clubs, the FA Women’s Super League & Women’s Championship board and the FA to plan, prepare and focus on next season when football returns for the 2020-21 campaign. Supporting the welfare of the clubs and players will continue to be our primary concern throughout this process, which also involved a robust and thorough examination of the logistical, operational and financial challenges that the game currently faces
Now begins the ‘untangling a box full of charging cables’ task of actually deciding how the season will end. Points per game would see Chelsea leapfrog Manchester City at the top of the WSL and be awarded the title, but this is more complicated and arguably unfair than in most other leagues: only a little under 72% of the season has been completed, and some teams haven’t even played each other once (Chelsea and Everton, for example), let alone twice, which complicates things rather. Voiding the whole thing seems desperately unfair. Deciding relegation on the current available evidence as well, given that Liverpool are only a point from safety.
In short, it’s a mess. Or at least has the strong potential to be a mess.

AZ appeal to UEFA over Eredivisie curtailment

Speaking of messes, it seems the fallout from the ending of the Eredivisie season doesn’t finish with Alan Pardew technically not being relegated with ADO Den Haag despite them being largely pants.
When the Dutch authorities decided to curtail the season, everything was voided, meaning no promotion, no relegation and no title. But because the Eredivisie is not an island, certain things did have to be decided, such as the automatic Champions League place which under normal circumstances would be awarded to the champions.
It was decided that Ajax would take that place, as they were top at the time of voiding, despite only being top on goal difference above AZ Alkmaar with nine games of the season technically remaining.
AZ, as you might imagine, are firmly unimpressed by this, but you do get the feeling that their protests might be in vain. They have apparently written to UEFA asking them to challenge the decision, on the basis that they beat Ajax twice this season and that goal difference is not a worthy standard of separating teams. All of which does ring a little hollow because that has been the standard of separating teams for the whole season so it does seem a bit off that they’re only complaining about it now.
The KNVB, the Dutch FA, aren’t for moving though, saying in a statement:
We decided the places in European club competition next season on the basis of three criteria: transparency, objectivity and sportsmanship. We are keeping the rankings and Ajax is number one.
All we can say is: good luck lads, but don’t get your hopes up.

IN OTHER NEWS

These are uncertain/confusing/frightening/unprecedented/strange times (delete according to the most frequently used at the start of a business email), so we all need some comfort, and the Twitter account @ftbllrswanimals certainly provides that. Here’s their frequently-posted clip of a dog being flagged offside.

RETRO CORNER

Twenty-one years ago today, Manchester United won the Champions League. So, with apologies to our Bavarian readers, here are the final few minutes with the German commentary. The deflation in their voices when Solskjaer scored is genuinely quite heartbreaking.

HAT TIP

Puskas’ contributions were delivered many, many years after his playing career ended and a journeyman coaching run took him across Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. Then, almost unfathomably for a character of his esteem, the footballing titan found himself coaching South Melbourne in Australia’s National Soccer League during the late ’80s and early ’90s. But despite his celebrity — and successes — Puskas’ tenure has become an almost forgotten chapter in Australian football history.
For ESPN, Joey Lynch explains why there’s a statue of Ferenc Puskas in Melbourne.
Good news: in these uncertain/confusing/frightening/unprecedented/strange times, you at least have Andi Thomas: he’ll be bringing you the Warm-Up tomorrow.
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