Connect with us

Premier League

Iwobi and Everton colleagues seek another emotional last-day escape

Published

on

Everton go into their final-day fixture at home to Bournemouth on Sunday with their proud 69-year presence in the top flight of English football depending on a repeat of the two last-day escapes of the 1990s that are part of the club’s folklore.

Victory at Goodison Park will ensure a 121st top-flight season – a record unmatched anywhere in the world – while a draw or even defeat will see Everton safe if Leicester City and Leeds United fail to beat West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively in the simultaneous 1530GMT kick offs.

Everton are currently on 33 points to the 31 of their relegation rivals. The previous lowest total to avoid the drop was the 34 of West Bromwich Albion in 2005 but Everton fans won’t care a jot about that if they survive, having averted the danger of the drop only on the penultimate weekend last year.

Things looked bleak again this season as the introduction of Sean Dyche for the sacked Frank Lampard brought only a hint of “new boss bounce” until the astonishing 5-1 win at high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion two weeks ago transformed the league table and the Merseyside club’s whole mindset.

The 99th-minute equaliser in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, fittingly scrambled home by a combination of three centre backs, supplied a massive injection of belief and edged them marginally clear of the drop zone.

Advertisement

The only sour note was yet another injury for striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has missed most of the season.

His brief return coincided with Everton’s upturn in form as they finally had a focal point in attack and fans will pray that he can recover from a hamstring strain for Sunday’s game.

GREAT ESCAPES

The atmosphere at Goodison will be febrile, with no doubt much talk of the club’s other two great escapes from the early days of the Premier League.

The first came in 1994 when needing to win their final game at home to Wimbledon to have a chance of staying up, they looked dead and buried as they trailed 2-0, only to scramble a 3-2 win that, thanks to other results going their way, saved them.

A year later they won the FA Cup and finished sixth in 1996 but in 1998 it was another nail-biting finale as, 1-0 up in their final game at home to Coventry City, they missed a penalty and conceded a last-minute equaliser only for their rivals to falter elsewhere and allow them to survive on goal difference.

Advertisement

These relegation flirtations, however, have been the considerable exception, rather than the rule.

As founder members of the league in 1888, Everton have spent just four seasons outside the top flight – 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s. Their 69-year unbroken run since 1954 is second only to Arsenal’s (1919) but the last of nine league titles came in 1987 and their last trophy was a fifth FA Cup 28 years ago.

The mid-1980s was their most successful period, with the European Cup Winners’ Cup claimed alongside two league titles, an FA Cup and a host of near misses.

Recently, though, clubs such as Bournemouth, Brentford, and Brighton, who for over a century were distant blips in the rear-view mirror, have suddenly caught and quickly overtaken Everton, despite The Toffees continuing to spend eye-watering amounts.

POOR RETURNS

Since Farhad Moshiri bought the club six years ago over 700 million pounds ($883.47 million) has been spent on players with almost laughably poor returns.

Advertisement

A similar outlay is going on a new stadium, with chairman Bill Kenwright and board member and former crowd hero Graeme Sharpe still advised by police to stay away from home games for their own safety, against the backdrop of reports of new investors ready to step in.

That supporter anger will be put to the side for a few hours on Sunday, though, as the faithful give their all to help lift the players to the win that guarantees keeping them up.

“When I became manager here we wanted to connect with the fans, we wanted an on-pitch connection,” Dyche said.

“I think the commitment to the cause is evident and the fans are playing their part. That’s the connection we want, and we’ll need that this week.”

-Reuters

Advertisement

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.

Premier League

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

Published

on

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.”

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

“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.

Advertisement

“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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

Reuters/AFP

Continue Reading

Premier League

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

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

“(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

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Premier League

Another Nigerian blood replaces Ndidi at Leicester

Published

on

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.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Most Viewed