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Chelsea’s U.S. owners suffer debut season flop despite huge outlay

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Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Chelsea v Real Madrid - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - April 18, 2023 Chelsea co-owner and chairman Todd Boehly before the match REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Chelsea’s American owners saw their last hope of any glory in their first season crumble on Tuesday when the club they bought in a deal worth 4.25 billion pounds ($5.28 billion) last year were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid.

Marooned in the unfamiliar bottom half of the Premier League, Chelsea are at risk of their worst domestic league finish in nearly 30 years and they also fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup and League Cup.

Their only chance of qualifying for next season’s lucrative Champions League by winning the competition has also now evaporated after Real’s 4-0 aggregate quarter-final win following a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

The prospect of a drop in income is raising fears among Chelsea fans that some of the club’s best young players will be sold to meet financial rules.

The spectacular slump in the 2022/23 season – during which Chelsea have had three different coaches – stands in contrast with the string of heady campaigns under previous owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

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He was forced to sell the club by Britain’s government last year following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Chelsea were the most successful team in England in the period between Abramovich buying the club in 2003 and its sale in 2022, a run that included two Champions League triumphs in 2012 and 2021 and five English league titles.

That track record – and the surge in global support for the west London club along the way – explained Chelsea’s appeal to a consortium led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly and backed by Clearlake Capital, a private equity firm.

BIG SPENDERS, LOW SCORERS

On top of the deal to buy the club last May, they have invested a further 550 million pounds on players, spending in the January transfer window more than all the clubs in the top divisions of Spain, Italy, Germany and France combined.

But somehow they failed to buy someone capable of scoring goals on a regular basis with a gamble on former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failing at almost the first test.

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Chelsea have scored 30 goals in 31 league games so far. By contrast, table-topping Arsenal have scored 74 and second-placed Manchester City have found the net 78 times.

Tuesday’s blank was the fifth in six games in all competitions.

With no spearhead for their attack, Chelsea’s managers this season – Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and now caretaker boss Frank Lampard – have all struggled to turn a collection of expensive stars and home-grown talent into a cohesive team.

Chelsea fans have turned their frustrations on the owners of the club and some were photographed remonstrating with Boehly in his executive box after last weekend’s 2-1 home defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion. British media said an upset Boehly talked to players in the dressing room after that result.

Now he and his fellow owners – none of whom had experience of running a major soccer club before they bought Chelsea – face the huge decision of who to hire as the club’s next coach.

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Candidates include former Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique, who coached Spain at the World Cup in Qatar. Such a high-profile manager would represent a big change in approach after the hiring of Potter from modest Brighton last September.

Regardless of who takes over, a return to Europe’s biggest stage seemed a distant prospect for the disappointed Chelsea fans streaming out of Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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Sancho back in training with Man United after positive meeting with Ten Hag

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Jadon Sancho was back training with Manchester United for the first time in 10 months, with a club source confirming the winger and manager Erik ten Hag have resolved their differences following their public fallout last year.

Sancho and Ten Hag had a positive meeting at Carrington Training Centre and the two have decided to draw a line under last season’s drawn-out argument, the club source said.

The 24-year-old Sancho made just three appearances for United last season, spending the second half of the campaign on loan to Borussia Dortmund after his relationship with Ten Hag soured in September.

Ten Hag had left the winger out of his squad for United’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal, saying Sancho’s performances in training had not warranted a place in his team. Sancho immediately lashed out on social media, accusing Ten Hag of making him a “scapegoat.”

He was banished from the first team and trained with United’s youth squad before returning to his former club Dortmund in January, where he shone during their Champions League semi-final victory against Paris St Germain, earning praise from Ten Hag. Dortmund were beaten by Real Madrid in the final.

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“(Sancho) is a very good player… he showed why Manchester United bought him and he showed he represents a high value for Manchester United, which is good,” Ten Hag told reporters following Dortmund’s 1-0 win over PSG in the first leg.

“I’m happy for Jadon, for the performance, and we’ll see what is going to happen in the future.”

Sancho will not travel with the team to Norway for their pre-season opener against Rosenborg since he began training later than the other players but the club source said he would be available for selection after that.

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood replaces Ndidi at Leicester

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Wilfred Ndidi who has just left Leicester City will have another Nigerian blood replacing him.

Leicester has never been without a Nigerian since Ahmed Musa joined in 2016. Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho joined in 2017.

Another Nigerian blood, Caleb Okoli, a centre back, has just been signed from Italian  Serie A side Atalanta on a five-year contract. Born in Itali, Caleb Okoli is Igbo and Yoruba by descent.

The 22-year-old, who spent the last season on loan at Frosinone Calcio, represented Italy at the European Under-21 Championship last year.

“I think now is the right moment (for me) to make a step forward and a very big one. I’m very happy with the choice I made, so I’m very excited to start in the Premier League,” Okoli said in a statement. The clubs did not disclose financial details of the deal.

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