FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES
Three From Three
Three warm-up games, three wins, and England are in a "very good place". That's according to Sarina Wiegman, who is a happy manager as the big tournament nears.
Women's World Cup Qualification UEFA
Wiegman hails 'tremendous' Lionesses after perfect campaign
But no coach is ever completely satisfied, and Wiegman, on the basis of these three wins, has plenty to think about and some big decisions to make. Having spent much of her time in charge demanding "ruthlessness" from her players, the sight of England failing to take three big early chances against Switzerland will have been a concern. So too the drop off in intensity that followed.
But as against the Netherlands and Belgium, England ambled through the first half and then exploded through the second. This says lots of good things about England's strength in depth, their conditioning, and their capacity to keep asking new and difference and increasingly awkward questions of their opponents. Ella Toone and Alessia Russo impressed from the bench against the Netherlands; Chloe Kelly did the same last night against the Swiss.
The flip side of that is the suspicion that England's starting line-up doesn't pick itself. Last night, with Beth England on the bench and Ellen White in Covid isolation, Russo was given the chance from the start. And she took it, scoring the opener and impressing for all 61 minutes she was on the pitch. It was one of those performances you get ahead of international tournaments, a statement of intent and a demand for a starting place. Selection headaches are good headaches, so the cliche has it. But they are still headaches.
And how to solve the problem of these slow starts? Easy enough, according to Wiegman. Just play quicker. "We had to speed up the game in the first half, the ball tempo was too low, and then they can organise all the time. We did that better in the second half and they got more tired." England's first game is against Austria next Wednesday. Whoever makes the eleven, expect them to set about their business at 100 miles an hour.
The Family Silver
Would you like to buy part of Barcelona Football Club? If so, now is probably a good time. Get yourself down to Camp Nou, see if you can't wangle your face onto the corner flags. We've got our eyes on a couple of things. Gerard Piqué's Training Socks, brought to you in association with The Warm-Up.
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Everything's for sale, even things that don't exist yet. 10 per cent of their TV rights for the next 25 years have gone to an investment firm called Sixth Street Partners, and the club has also flogged off 49.9 per cent of their licensing and merchandising division. That second deal, as far as we can tell from reports, doesn't come with a time limit. But selling off half of all merchandising money in perpetuity, just to be able to register Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie, sounds like an incredibly peculiar thing to do. We're going to assume that we've missed something somewhere.
The short-term impact is that Barcelona as a business won't vanish in a puff of IOUs and recrimination - June 30 was deadline against which next season's salary cap will be calculated, which meant they needed to be as not skint as possible. Longer term, though, we have to assume that this will mean less money coming in than other clubs, which will in turn make Barcelona even less capable of competing against Premier League wage offers. And even more sympathetic to the idea of a Super League, if they weren't already all in.
What to do, then? Lean harder on young players, tick. Pick up free transfers, tick. Remind potential signings that this is Barcelona, that this is more than a club, that these shirts were imbued with magic by Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola and Leo Messi, who couldn't be kept. Tick tick tick. Appropriately enough, those shirts are now sponsored by Spotify, world leaders in the underpayment of artists. Selling the future to fund the present: what could possibly go wrong?
Happy Days Are Here Again
When a new Manchester United manager takes up their position, there are certain traditions that must be respected. And one of the first things that always happens is that we receive reports, filtered through the press, of just how refreshing the new guy's training sessions are, compared to the last guy's work.
Right on cue, here's Melissa Reddy over at Sky Sports. "The biggest changes multiple United sources have noted are how immersive the manager is during sessions and time spent with the ball during drills. Ten Hag leads every element of training, which is a departure from recent history at Carrington. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would watch on as Kieran McKenna, Michael Carrick and Mike Phelan conducted the workouts. The nature of them was tagged as 'basic' and 'giving too much freedom with little correction'."
And the other last guy? "Chris Armas orchestrated sessions under Ralf Rangnick, which were 'very jargon-heavy and focused on what to do without the ball.' Neither manager would regularly stop drills to ensure it was being done correctly, and for differing reasons, the authority of both was never concrete."
To be clear, we're not snarking at the reporting here. And we're sure the sources are having a great time. But this is Manchester United, and so we can't help but see disaster lurking behind every word. The difference between "The Dutchman steps in each time a directive is not carried out properly, guiding players through exactly how he wants it to be done" and something like 'he's a control freak that doesn't trust his players and stifles their imagination' is one of emphasis. The same story told by a happy source and an angry one. A winning source and a losing one.
Here in Ten Hag's golden honeymoon summer, everything feels refreshing and new. This will last for as long as it takes something to go wrong. The real test of whether this manager will last longer and do better than any of the others will come later, mid-crisis, when we find out if he's earned enough buy-in from his players to take them through and out the other side. It is perhaps unfair to conclude that United's dressing room is unusually toxic, but it certainly seems, at least from the outside, to be astonishingly fragile. See you back here in six months.
IN OTHER NEWS
Here's Fernandinho's farewell letter to Manchester City. More modernist poetry in footballing open letters, please.
A very happy birthday to Patrick Kluivert and to Ruud van Nistelrooy, both born on July 1, 1976. Good of them to have their careers more or less consecutively, so as not to get in each other's way. When Kluivert scored the winner in the 1995 Champions League final, Van Nistelrooy was playing the Dutch second division with Den Bosch, mostly as a midfielder. And though they picked up 148 international caps between them, they never appeared together at a major tournament.
You can see the difference in the kits. Kluivert's best work for Ajax came at the end of the short shorts era, while Van Nistelrooy's time at Manchester United marked the last days of the baggy shirts.
Over to the Athletic, for one of their signature all-encompassing deep dives. This time Laurie Whitwell and colleagues are looking at why Romelu Lukaku's big move back to Chelsea didn't work out. You'll know the broad strokes - the interview, the team picture - but it's another reminder that management, squad construction, and ultimately a team's entire transfer policy can rest on some very squishy questions.
Does a player feel wanted? Respected? Loved? And how do all the other players feel about their feelings? A football team operates at a tactical level, and also at a physical level, but before and above that all it is a web of egos and neuroses, desire and disdain, focus and distraction.
"Like with many big-name acquisitions at Chelsea, there is always a lot of talk about whether the player is a 'club signing' or the 'manager’s signing' … But Tuchel was very much behind the acquisition of the striker, making it clear to Lukaku when Chelsea began to step up their interest about how much he wanted him. There were a lot of calls during the European Championship last summer before he signed the five-year deal. Tuchel thought the player could help Chelsea win the Premier League again."
Close readers of the Warm-Up may have noticed that we accidentally put today's games in yesterday's edition. Sorry about that. Hibs against Burton Albion is actually happening at brunchtime today. And England vs Israel in the U19 Euros is this evening.
We'll be spending the weekend apologising to every Warm-Up reader individually. Expect us over some time tomorrow afternoon, and expect Michael Hincks here on Monday.
‘You never get bored with winning’ – Wiegman overjoyed as Lionesses qualify for World Cup
‘This is just the start’ – England boss Wiegman warns Lionesses not to rest on laurels
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