Sports

Mar 252016
 
Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996

Arsenal “need” Arsene Wenger and the Gunners boss should be able to choose when he leaves, says the club’s second largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov.

Wenger should also be involved in “planning the succession process”.

“The club must retain its major symbol and main asset – manager Arsene Wenger,” said the Russian businessman.

But despite the public backing, Usmanov added that Arsenal had been “haunted” by failure for many years and “cannot win” this season’s Premier League.

Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the sixth season in a row and lost to Watford in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

They are third in the Premier League, 11 points behind leaders Leicester and have not won the title since 2004.

Wenger, who has been at the club since 1996, has had his position questioned and his team’s performances criticised in recent weeks.

Usmanov, who has increased his stake in Arsenal above 30% said: “I believe that Arsene Wenger is a great coach and Arsenal have to give him the opportunity to plan the succession process and leave his legacy when he deems it necessary. Arsenal need Arsene Wenger.”

Speaking to Rossiya24 TV channel he added: “Failures have been haunting Arsenal for many years now, they cannot become the EPL champions. This has led to some discontent with Wenger’s position as a manager. “

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The redemption of Luis Suarez

 Posted by at 3:39 PM
Mar 252016
 

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World Cup 2014: Uruguay’s Luis Suarez bites Chiellini

Remember when Luis Suarez was the most vilified man in football?

When the Uruguay striker bit the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during a group game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it sparked a frenzy.

Twenty months later, the drama has subsided. Suarez is now making headlines as one third of Barcelona’s potent strike force.

The 29-year-old will return to competitive action for his country in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Brazil on Friday, for the first time since receiving a nine-game ban. BBC Sport looks at his evolution during his absence.

‘A dangerous mind that can never be rewired’

Even before the World Cup in 2014, Suarez was no stranger to controversy – or biting his opponents. At Ajax, the striker had chewed on PSV’s Otman Bakkal. At Liverpool, he had done the same to Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. During his time at Anfield, he also received an eight-game ban after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra, then with Manchester United.

The Chiellini incident stoked the fire.

BBC Sport’s story attracted a record 3.2m readers, while more than 107,000 tweets per minute were sent in relation to the incident. The UK’s newspapers did not hold back in their condemnation of Suarez’s actions.

Luis Suarez’s bite during the 2014 World Cup dominated the back pages of UK newspapers

The denial, the apology, the Anfield exit

At first, the Uruguay camp went into lock-down and refused to accept the bite had happened. It was even suggested the whole event was an English media witch-hunt against the Liverpool striker.

However, Suarez issued a statement four days later admitting he had bitten Chiellini and “deeply regretted” the incident. A four-month ban from footballing activity followed.

Three weeks into his suspension, Suarez left Liverpool, with four years remaining on his contract, and made his £75m move to Barcelona.

Crisis management

When Suarez was presented as a Barcelona player in August 2014, he revealed that he was seeking help from a psychologist to prevent him from biting in the future.

Alongside this, Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said he had never had any doubt about signing Suarez, who the club had targeted for months, after his actions at the World Cup.

“It’s a classic way of responding to a crisis,” according to brand expert Alun James, managing director at Four Communications.

“When someone does something wrong in a public place, they go through an apology. You need to say ‘I’ve let myself down’, while getting others to put perspective around it. You then demonstrate action to improve the situation.

“The thing to then do is keep out of trouble.”

More goals, less bite

Suarez completed his four-month ban and was finally able to make his Barcelona debut in a 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid on 25 October 2014. And soon, the La Liga club’s now famous three-pronged attack was firmly established.

Alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar, the trio – nicknamed MSN – led the Catalans to the treble last season with 122 goals in all competitions.

This season, Suarez has added 43 goals to his own personal tally. And no biting to report.

A new improved Suarez, then?

Luis Suarez told a press conference on Tuesday he was “controlling” his anxiety and nerves

Perhaps.

Suarez has addressed his controversial past in several recent interviews, and has said he wants to be remembered for his goals, rather than the “bad things”.

Speaking before Uruguay’s game with Brazil in Recife, Suarez said: “I am going to have the same attitude. I will still run, still pressure, still argue but with moderation, like I am doing now at Barcelona.”

But will the general public be able to forget about his much-publicised past?

“If he’s playing well, they’ll make allowances,” says forgiveness expert Professor Ann Macaskill from Sheffield Hallam University.

“This is a really talented guy, so people can rationalise this behaviour. People are also able to distinguish the crimes. Biting someone’s shoulder is slightly ludicrous, whereas if someone’s involved with a court case, that’s more shocking and harder to forgive.”

Have you added the new Top Story alerts in the BBC Sport app? Simply head to the menu in the app – and don’t forget you can also add score alerts for the Six Nations, your football team and more.

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Netherlands v France

 Posted by at 6:56 AM
Mar 252016
 

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The Netherlands’ friendly against France will be stopped after 14 minutes for a minute’s silence to remember Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

Former Ajax and Barcelona star Cruyff, who famously wore the number 14 shirt, died of cancer aged 68 on Thursday.

The decision to halt Friday’s friendly was announced by the Dutch football association (KNVB) following the death of their former captain and coach.

Both the Dutch and French teams will wear black armbands in tribute.

There will also be a minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of the 34 victims of the Brussels bomb attacks in Belgium on Tuesday.

Cruyff, who was named European footballer of the year three times, helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.

He also won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971 and coached Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992.

“Words can hardly be found for this huge loss,” the KNVB said after his death was announced.

French friendly overshadowed

Netherlands coach Danny Blind’s top-level playing career was launched by then Ajax boss Cruyff.

Blind has been hampered by the withdrawal of several players for the double header against France and England, who host the Dutch at Wembley on Tuesday.

Stoke City midfielder Ibrahim Afellay and Sunderland defender Patrick van Aanholt could feature after being called up earlier this week as replacements.

PSV Eindhoven pair Davy Propper and Jurgen Locadia pulled out on Monday, and miss out along with Arjen Robben, Daryl Janmaat, Erik Pieters and Ron Vlaar.

Afellay was a surprise omission from the original squad, while Van Aanholt could make his first international appearance in more than two years.

The Netherlands were World Cup semi-finalists in 2014, but have failed to qualify for Euro 2016.

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Czech Republic 0-1 Scotland

 Posted by at 5:35 AM
Mar 252016
 
Ikechi Anya scored his third goal for Scotland, on the occasion of his 18th cap

Scotland withstood heavy early pressure to record an impressive friendly win over Euro 2016-bound Czech Republic.

Ikechi Anya’s breakaway goal after 10 minutes, reminiscent of his strike in Dortmund against Germany, proved to be the decisive moment in Prague.

Scotland might have had a second had Alan Hutton been awarded what looked like a clear-cut second-half penalty.

But Gordon Strachan’s preparations for the World Cup qualifiers began with only a second-ever win over the Czechs.

They return home to face Denmark in another friendly at Hampden Park on Tuesday, with further matches in June against Italy and France before they begin World Cup qualifying against Malta in September.

Stiff opposition

Scotland manager Strachan spoke before the match of having picked difficult friendly opposition to help his players develop ahead of more meaningful fixtures.

The Czechs certainly provided a stern test, reinforcing their status as winners of a tough group in the Euro qualifiers.

They bombarded Allan McGregor’s goal in the opening 20 minutes, only for the Hull goalkeeper to produce a string of saves to deny them.

Allan McGregor was in sparkling form for Scotland, making a string of good saves

He palmed Tomas Sivok’s header round the post after Borek Dockal had smashed a free-kick off the bar.

A diving save to tip away Martin Frydek’s rasping shot was the other highlight after Anya had bemused the home supporters by slotting Scotland in front.

The Watford man raced onto Ross McCormack’s through ball down the left flank and finished strongly, first time, with his left foot.

Second-half improvement

The Scots’ first-half display was littered with slack passes and a lack of concentration.

But they began to get the Czechs’ measure and became more composed as the match progressed.

A flurry of substitutions on both sides also had a disruptive effect but Scotland looked assured in the second period and might have gone further ahead when substitute Matt Phillips saw his header from a Robert Snodgrass cross saved by Tomas Koubek.

But McGregor was called upon once more to make another top-class intervention, turning an effort by Lukas Marecek round the post.

Learning experience

Ross McCormack held the ball up well for Scotland and created Anya’s goal

Although the Scotland management team had stressed this was not an exercise in experimentation, Strachan took the opportunity to give Aberdeen midfielder Kenny McLean a debut.

Playing just behind McCormack, McLean found possession hard to come by in what was a tough introduction to international football, which lasted 57 minutes.

McCormack, given a rare chance in his first cap for two years, also lacked service but played a crucial role in Anya’s goal, showing great strength and weight of pass to play the winger through.

There were late debuts too for striker Tony Watt and defender Paul Caddis, which would have told the manager little about their ability to handle this level of football, but offered them a moment to savour.

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