Countdown of the EFL play-off finals greatest games: 10-6

This is the weekend when the nation usually stops to watch some of the finest, most frantic and fraught matches on the English football calendar.

The play-offs rarely disappoint, and so – in their absence – Sky Sports has been speaking to many of those who helped make past games so memorable.

  • Play-off finals greatest games: 15-11

Here you can enjoy our countdown from 10 to six, featuring two last-minute winners, a teenage penalty-scoring hero, and another Wembley screamer.

Let’s begin…

10 – Bolton 4-3 Reading – Division One play-off final, 1995 – “You get nothing for finishing second”

Reading hold the unfortunate record of being the only team to finish second in England’s second tier and not get promoted. With the Premier League – then the Premiership – reducing from 22 teams to 20, only Middlesbrough gained automatic promotion in 1995.

That forced Reading into the play-offs and two goals in the first 12 minutes from Lee Nogan and Adrian Williams had them dreaming of back-to-back promotions and their first-ever season in the top flight. But when your luck is out, it is really out.

The Royals should have been home and dry when Stuart Lovell stepped up to take a penalty 10 minutes before half-time, but he missed and Bolton rallied.

Owen Coyle and substitute Fabian de Freitas forced extra-time and momentum proved key, as goals from Mixu Paatelainen and a second from De Freitas turned the game on its head.

Reading’s player-manager Jimmy Quinn did his best to lead by example and pulled a goal back late on, but the damage was done. It really was not Reading’s year!

9 – Rotherham 2-2 Leyton Orient – League One play-off final, 2014 – “I was hoping his trousers would drop below his kneecaps as he ran down the touchline”

This game had it all: A second-half comeback, a 30-yard Alex Revell lob against his former team, penalties and almost a flash of Steve Evans’ underpants.

So comfortable were Leyton Orient with their 2-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from Moses Odubajo and Dean Cox, that Evans said some O’s players “thought they were already in the Championship, the way they were behaving”.

Evans fired his players up and within 10 minutes of the second half, Revell poked home to pull one back. If that was scrappy, his equaliser five minutes later certainly was not.

That sent Evans sprinting down the touchline, with his belt just about preventing an embarrassing Wembley wardrobe malfunction.

“I was so hoping his trousers would drop below his kneecaps, but he just managed to drag them up in time as he ran down the touchline,” then Orient boss Russell Slade said.

Embarrassment spared, Evans and his team regained their composure to win the resulting penalty shoot-out and earn Rotherham a second successive promotion.

8 – Charlton 2-1 Sunderland – League One play-off final, 2019 – “These Charlton players write their legend!”

Two play-off titans who are no strangers to each other. Twenty-one years on from their notorious 1998 meeting, they met again at Wembley, desperate for an exit from a league arguably too small for them. It was a gruelling season in England’s third-tier though, with Luton and Barnsley going up automatically.

Sunderland had been vying for automatic promotion all term following heavy investment, while Charlton won seven of their remaining eight regular-season games, setting the stage for a mouthwatering battle between the two former Premier League clubs.

The Black Cats faced their second trip to London in a matter of weeks following their agonising defeat to Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy final, played in front of a record crowd of 85,021. Anyone who has seen Sunderland Till I Die on Netflix knows exactly what happened next…

“These Charlton players write their legend!” screamed Gary Weaver from the commentary box, as Patrick Bauer won the game in the 94th minute. Two famous finals, two famous wins for the south London club.

“We just kept pushing and pushing and thankfully got that goal,” boss Lee Bowyer said. “My emotions got the better of me, but the fourth official told me there was only six seconds left and I knew they wouldn’t score in that time – so we could relax!”

7 – Crystal Palace 1-0 Sheffield United – Division One play-off final, 1997 – “David Hopkin looking to curl one… Absolutely amazing!”

With half a minute to go, it was more relief than joy for Crystal Palace when captain David Hopkin sealed a 1-0 victory to beat Sheffield United and win promotion to the Premier League. “I was relieved that it wasn’t going to extra time!” the Scotsman admitted.

“I remember the ball being cleared to the edge of the box, and running towards the ball and hitting it early. It was a fantastic finish on a fantastic day, on the back of a very successful season we were having.”

Hopkin had enjoyed a stand-out campaign in south London, also scoring a key goal in the semi-final second-leg defeat to Wolves, which helped them progress to Wembley. “I spoke to somebody at Palace, and they said ‘You have to remember you got two Player of the Year awards, you scored in the semi-final and then the final… and then you left!'”

He arrived at Leeds, who paid £3.25m for his services. But his heart still belonged to Palace, and just four years after leaving, Hopkin returned to Selhurst Park for a second stint. “It’s a fantastic club and I have fantastic memories,” he added. “It’s a club that will be with me and my family for the rest of my days.”

6 – Birmingham 1-1 Norwich – Division One play-off final, 2002 – “Steve Bruce had us replicating the walk to the spot!”

Darren Carter promoted Birmingham to the Premier League with his match-winning penalty against Norwich in 2002, writing himself into Blues folklore. The Solihull man always had his heart set on taking a spot-kick thanks to boss Steve Bruce and his meticulous planning.

After downing Millwall over two semi-final legs, fifth-placed Birmingham set up a Millennium Stadium final with sixth-placed Norwich, which went down to the wire in front of 71,597 fans. Luckily, Bruce had put extra emphasis on penalty taking in his pre-match preparations.

Reflecting on the win, and asked if he wanted to take part in the shootout, Carter said: “Yes – I always get asked that question and people are always astonished by my answer. We practiced them all the way up to the final, Steve Bruce had us replicating the walk from the halfway line.

“He wanted us in a routine. We were taking penalties after every training session and I always felt supremely confident. I had no nerves, even when we got to the shooutout. To this day, I have Birmingham fans coming up to me and asking if they can buy me a coffee or a drink, it’s the same for my dad!

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Mauricio Pochettino Q&A: Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and what’s next

Mauricio Pochettino sat down with Sky Sports News’ Paul Gilmour to reveal his plans for his next job in management.

Pochettino is the number one choice for Newcastle’s prospective new owners to be the next manager at St James’ Park and they are willing to pay him £19m a year to take charge of the club.

The former Tottenham manager, out of work since last November, is keen on a return to the Premier League.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Pochettino discusses:

  • Being open to managing a club outside the top six
  • His friendship with Jose Mourinho
  • Why the Premier League must finish the season
  • Getting to know Sir Alex Ferguson

You have been out of football since November. What have you been getting up to?

“When I left Tottenham, the first thing I did was travel to Argentina. I spent 10 days there seeing my parents and family, who I haven’t seen for five years. Then I watched a little bit of football in Argentina….. [Diego] Maradona, [Gabriel] Batistuta. It was an amazing time.

“Then I went to Qatar to watch the World Club Cup, and then back here. It went by too quickly. We went into lockdown in early March. The time ran very fast for us.”

Is the gardening leave period at Tottenham now over? If so, are you ready to return?

“I was ready before now. The most important thing in football is to move on quick, to adapt to the new reality. Of course it is painful when you leave a club after five and a half years, working so hard to develop and achieve objectives. But that is football. It goes by very quick. You need to move on. But we feel very well, that we have recovered from the not so good days. We are full of energy in our bodies, in our minds, to try and provide a new project with all our knowledge and show our passion in football.”

How soon will it be before we see you back in a dugout?

“I don’t know. In football, every minute counts. The most important thing is we are ready. We are open to listen and see what happens.”

How is coronavirus impacting on potential job offers?

“It’s difficult to know – there is a big question mark over how it is going to impact football. Of course, everyone can see how it is going to impact the economy, which massively affects the clubs. That is going to affect people involved in football – as little as possible I hope. The companies that provide football entertainment, they are suffering. Our responsibility is to understand the situation and show solidarity. In the end, we all participate in this business.

“I was listening to the chairman of the Bundesliga, he said that football was going to help the people to move on and distract them from this terrible virus. It has started to change the mentality in everyone, including mine. I was very scared at the beginning because the most important thing is your health and to protect our players, their families and all of the staff. That is why we have started to respectfully move on. I am very positive about finishing the Premier League and other leagues like La Liga and Serie A. We need to finish. That is going to benefit not only the clubs but also players and society, to begin to introduce ourselves into this new normality.”

Would you like your next job to be in the Premier League?

“I love England. My idea is to keep living in London but at the same time I am open to different countries, to listen and see what happens.”

It was your progression with Tottenham that saw you linked with Manchester United in recent years, and the potential Newcastle owners being interested at the moment. What factors are important to you for your next job?

“I need to behave in the way that I did on my first day as a coach. There are two things that are most important – one is the people, the fans that are behind every club. That is the structure that keeps alive all the companies that provide the entertainment that is football. The other is the ideas of the clubs. Every single club and company have different cultures, different philosophies, different ways of working. They all have different plans for success. To be successful at one club you need to win the Champions League or Premier League, but for others it is to finish in the top four or six.

“In the end, when we are waiting for a new offer, and we are capable of providing what a club expects from us, we are going to be very happy. Then the important thing is like what happened at Tottenham, that we create a unique philosophy together.

Daniel took the decision to part ways and find a different management, we can only be respectful. It did not change our perception or relationship.

Pochettino on Daniel Levy

“When you sign a contract, when you already have an offer from some club and are so happy, the people that offer the new contract – chairman, sporting director – they are your best friend. You are in love. But you know, we feel very proud because after five and a half years, I keep the same relationship with Daniel and all the people that were involved. Okay, we all feel disappointed that it finished like this, but that is football. We will always have a great relationship and be friends forever. The decision to sack me, to leave the club, it is not going to change the memories that we made together. This period was incredible – I was so happy to have the opportunity to share with it everyone working at the club.”

It sounds like you left on good terms. You said recently you’d go back at some point. Is that quite unusual in football – to leave a club but still have that feeling? Have you spoken to Daniel Levy since November?

“I spoke with him last Saturday but during the last six months we have always exchanged messages. He was very painful the day he took the decision, we were too, but like I told him from day one because maybe we will repeat the same conversion with the new people if any offer arrives. I need to behave in the same way when you sign me, when you show all your love, that maybe the day you believe we need to split. If in this five and a half years, the relationship was always building in respect and loyalty, that is football. Daniel took the decision to part ways and find a different management, we can only be respectful. It did not change our perception or relationship. We had some amazing memories. I am a person who holds onto my good memories and put the bad ones in the bin.”

Jose Mourinho said you would be welcome back any time. What have you said to him?

He is a good friend. We will keep a good relationship in the future.

Pochettino on Jose Mourinho

“We talked. He is a very good friend. He was always nice with me when I started my career with Espanyol and he was with Real Madrid. You always remember this type of act. I respect him like a professional, he is one of the greatest coaches in the world. And of course, now I wish him all the best. We will keep a good relationship in the future.”

Going back to the next job, at Tottenham you formed a reputation for playing an entertaining brand of football, but always on a budget. Is a job with more investment and money for transfers something that appeals to you?

“I don’t think too much about that. For me it is about the human capital, that you need to stick with us. After that all is possible, you can deal with everything. If we are going to talk about budgets or money, football is not about that. Of course it helps but when you start to work towards your objectives, you need to be clever in the way that you are going to sign this. If you want to win the Champions League and Premier League or be competitive, you need to be creative, clever and assign a philosophy that is different to others.”

Would you ever consider a job at a Premier League club outside the top six?

“The problem is which club are top six? It always changes. Today Tottenham and Arsenal are not in the top six. You need to respect all the clubs. They are all working so hard, investing and spending money. They all assign a new strategy each season to reach the top four, top six or top eight. You cannot underestimate any person, any institute or any club. That is why the Premier League is one of the toughest – all the clubs have the capacity to find a way to be competitive.”

What was it like being linked with Manchester United throughout your time at Tottenham and receiving praise from Sir Alex Ferguson?

“They are two different things. The rumours are there but we don’t listen too much. We try to be natural when living in this business. Of course when some coach is doing well, you take the headlines and people start to link you with different jobs. That is not interesting, it’s not important. The other thing is talking about a person like Sir Alex Ferguson, who I always admired from a distance. When you get to know him you admire him more and realise why he was very successfully. Not only in winning trophies but also in the way he managed people. That is the key point for him. What I want to say, he is a person who knows the human side is so important. For his strategy, to create an organisation so capable of winning trophies and being so successful.”

What were the North London derbies like, coming up against the likes of Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery? Was it strange that both you and Emery left around the same time?

“They were always special. I am a passionate person, my coaching staff are the same. We always lived the derby in a very passionate way. We enjoyed playing against Arsenal a lot. I have a lot of respect for Arsene Wenger. When we arrived at Tottenham six years ago the perception, feeling and input we received from our fans was, ‘please beat West Ham and not only beat Arsenal, but after 23 years we need to finish above them, and please reduce the gap to the top four because our dream is to play Champions League’.

“When you look back, maybe it’s not going to be a trophy, but to change this perception and reality was so tough. When we achieved that it was a big step in the mentality of the people at the club. Then after three or four years of playing Champions League regularly and being above Arsenal, the reality was there. We needed time to win titles and our aim was always the Premier League or Champions League. That didn’t happen but there was a lot of things that we feel very proud about. Maybe we were very close to winning a title.”

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Jones Knows: Timo Werner’s tumbling xG opens up market for 12/1 first goalscorer

Have the links with Liverpool turned Timo Werner’s head somewhat? Our tipster Jones Knows analyses his tumbling xG numbers and recommends a 12/1 first goalscorer alternative for RB Leipzig.

The Bundesliga might well be back, but it didn’t bring any ‘betting booms’ as my headline promised last weekend.

RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund’s inability to implement my theory of second-half goals being banged past weary returning defenders didn’t cop any gold. A losing recommendation, yes, but there was promise there as we got to learn about how teams are shaping up after the mid-season suspension.

  • What is going to happen to unsettled bets?
  • Play Super 6 – Bundesliga special!
  • McInally’s Bundesliga predictions

We must get back on the horse as another weekend of Bundesliga is along to satisfy our punting needs and wants.

My eyes are focused in on two of Sunday’s fixtures.

Remember, whatever I tip, I back. We’re in this together.

  • Do check out the Profit & Loss record for full clarity on the results. Current returns are: +6.5

Schalke vs Augsburg, 12.30 kick-off: 1pt on 0-0 correct score at half-time (2/1 with Sky Bet)

Usually when two out-of-form teams meet, the enthusiasm levels are low. Not mine.

Unlike many punters, I can happily feast upon a snooze-fest of a football match if there’s a price to be seized upon.

And that’s my feeling surrounding the chances of no goals being scored in the first-half between these two with 2/1 just about in my price range in terms of how short I’m likely to play. To my eye, this price should be nearer even money.

  • You can follow all the Bundesliga action live on skysports.com. Get your fix with minute-by-minute coverage and reports from the weekend’s biggest games, including live blogs on Wolfsburg v Dortmund & Mainz vs RB Leipzig​​​​​.

Schalke may just be two points off a European spot in the Bundesliga but having watched them in the 4-0 defeat against Dortmund last weekend, that gap is likely to widen over the coming weeks.

Since losing 5-0 to Bayern Munich in January, Schalke have failed to win a single game since, drawing four, losing three and scoring just twice in those seven matches. The suspension of the season hasn’t helped their confidence levels either with their patterns of play in the final third really unimaginative in the Dortmund defeat, registering an xG of just 0.41.

I’d be expecting David Wagner to set his team up in a very risk-free style, making sure things are kept tight at the back as on current form the chances of his team scoring twice in a match is very unlikely. A scrappy 1-0 win will do him just fine.

This tactic is also likely to be employed by their low-scoring opponents, who have yet to score an away goal since returning from the winter break.

It’s easy to see why they’ve put together a four-game run of blanks on the road judging by their attacking numbers in their 2-1 home defeat to Wolfsburg last weekend. Apart from their goal, via a set-piece, they created just 0.3 xG from open play – a worrying number, especially for a team playing at ‘home’.

I’m expecting a very cagey, low-quality affair, especially in the first half.

One developing trend to keep an eye on in this new look behind-closed-doors football world we live in now is the lack of early action or goals in matches.

  • Play Super 6 – Bundesliga special!

Eight of the 10 matches since the restart didn’t see a goal scored before the 25th minute and two of the three goals that did occur were from the penalty spot. Yes, the sample size is small, but a lack of pre-kick-off buzz generated usually by the atmosphere could produce some tedious and chess-like first 20 minute of matches.

I’m expecting this clash to go down that very route.

Mainz vs RB Leipzig, 2.30 kick-off: 1pt EW on Kevin Kampl to score first (12/1 with Sky Bet)

My eyes have been alerted to the first goalscorer market where the Bundesliga’s second top scorer Werner is taking a fair chunk out of the market at a very skinny 9/4. One of the keys to finding a path to profit in any kind of betting is to play in markets where the favourite is too short.

Werner may have found the net 21 times this season in the German league but his numbers since the winter break suggest he’s struggling to maintain his hot-streaks of earlier this season.

A return of just three goals in his last nine games wouldn’t exactly fuel even his biggest followers to take 9/4 on him opening the scoring. In fact, he hasn’t scored first in a game since the 3-1 win over Hoffenheim in December – a run of 12 games where if you’ve been taking the 9/4 each week you’d have gone skint.

  • Why Timo Werner is in demand
  • ‘Werner ready to join Liverpool’

His underlying data – looking through his expected goal numbers – also brings forward the argument that his goal threat isn’t worthy of such a short price. As seen from the graph below, there’s a big downgrade on his numbers since a mid-season purple patch of nearly averaging 1.0 goal a game – last weekend against Freiburg he produced an xG of just 0.25.

Werner is without question the chief creative force in this Leipzig side and one of the most talented players in the league but since the turn of the year he has played slightly deeper and wider, which could be an explanation of the decline in numbers. Or perhaps the media speculation, linking him with Liverpool, has turned his head somewhat? Either way, his tumbling metrics open up the first goalscorer market.

The obvious play would be take the prices on offer about the central striker for Leipzig which is likely to be Yussuf Poulsen after he found the target last weekend in the 1-1 with Freiburg. However, he’s never struck me as the most convincing in front of goal, plus, Patrik Schick could replace him as the focal point. If that was the case then the former Roma man would be a serious player at 11/2 after scoring seven goals in his 16 games since arriving over the winter.

But at the current prices, the bet has to be midfielder Kevin Kampl at 12/1.

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Carlo Ancelotti discusses Zinedine Zidane, Everton and management with Jamie Carragher

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher, Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti takes us through his stellar managerial career and reveals how Zinedine Zidane changed his footballing philosophy.

Ancelotti’s successful playing career in Italy has been followed by an even more impressive managerial one, taking up his first role at Reggiana before going on to some of the world’s best clubs, including Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

  • Everton’s Dogs of War relived: 25 years on
  • Can Carlo Ancelotti end Everton’s 25-year trophy wait?
  • Gylfi Sigurdsson targets strong Everton finish

He also had a two-year spell with Chelsea between 2009 and 2011, and returned to the Premier League earlier this season to take over at Everton.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports pundit Carragher for The Football Show, Ancelotti reveals all about his coaching career so far plus an insight on how he managed some of the famous players he has worked with…

Finding space for Zola at Parma

“Parma was the first top professional team that I managed and I had [Gianfranco] Zola in that period. At the beginning, I was playing 4-4-2, I was not playing with a No10 in that period so in the first game of the seaso I tried to put him [Zola] on the right side like a winger. He didn’t like it a lot, he did well in my opinion, but he would like to play in the middle. So having [Hernan] Crespo and [Enrico] Chiesa in front, I found space for him on the right side, but he was not so happy.

“At the same time, he had an opportunity to go to Chelsea and in the January market, he chose to go there and I let him to go.”

‘Zidane changed my idea about football’

“With Zidane, I tried to change my idea about the system. Zidane is the first player who gave me the possibility to change the system and play in a different way. So when I had Zidane, in the first year at Juventus, I played with a system of 3-4-1-2, having [Alessandro] Del Piero and [Filippo] Inzaghi up front and Zidane a little bit behind. The second year, I played with a back four but keeping two strikers in front and one No10 like Zidane.

“Zidane changed my idea about football, I was so focused before Juventus on 4-4-2 and after with Zidane, I changed, I wanted to put him in the best position for him to let him be more comfortable on the pitch.

Teams managed by Carlo Ancelotti

“In my playing career, I had [Nils] Liedholm [at Roma] who was one of the first managers who played the zone, but it was not 4-4-2, it was back four but in midfield, we didn’t have a specific position. Then after that, I had [Sven-Goran] Eriksson in Rome and he played 4-4-2 and [Arrigo] Sacchi in Milan, so I started training and having the idea to play 4-4-2.

“And this idea changed after Parma when I had Zidane, I wanted to have him in a comfortable position for him.

“The experience at Juventus was good in my opinion because I understood really well how the club has to work for the manager so the club gave to me a lot of support in this. It doesn’t matter if they fired me at the end of the second year, until the last day in Juventus, I understood how the club has to work for the manager, to support them, to help them in front of the players, to give the manager the power that he needs to manage the players.”

‘Milan felt like home’

“First of all, I think the fact that I was in Milan as a manager having played there, I knew the structure of the club, I knew some of the players there because some of the players I managed at Milan were my team-mates, like [Paolo] Maldini, [Demetrio] Albertini, [Alessandro] Costacurta so this helped me at the beginning to help build a good period in Milan.

“I was really comfortable in Milan because the support that I had was really strong support. I felt in Milan like I was at home, like a family.

Trophies won as a manager

“The final match against Juventus [in the Champions League], it was a good rematch for me, but it was not revenge. I think it was really important for me that victory because the Champions League in 2003 was my first trophy and for this reason, it was really important.

“I think it was the right decision from both sides [when deciding to leave for Chelsea]. It was not so difficult because after eight years, I needed to change and at the same time, maybe the club needed to change so we decided to together. It was the right time to decide, I wanted to have a new experience outside of Italy so I had the opportunity to go to Chelsea. But it was a good decision, it was not difficult to choose.”

‘Chelsea were a really fantastic team’

“The second year was more difficult, but the first year was really fantastic. The club had the goal for the Champions League, but the fact that in the first year we won the Premier League and the FA Cup was really important and really exciting.

  • Chelsea’s 2012 CL triumph: Lampard’s memories
  • Tomori lifts lid on Lampard’s Chelsea

“The second year was more difficult, I think, because we had some problems. We had [Didier] Drogba with malaria and these kinds of problems. We started really well and we finished really well but the middle of the season was not so good.

“Drogba was fantastic. In the first year, he scored 36 goals but to mention Drogba means to forget [Nicolas] Anelka, for example, [Florent] Malouda, Joe Cole, [Salomon] Kalou, Michael Ballack in the middle, [Michael] Essien, Deco and at the back, Alex, [Branislav] Ivanovic, Ashley Cole so the team really, really was a fantastic team.

“When I arrived, the team was there, I didn’t build the team, so I was really excited to train these kinds of players with this kind of power. Imagine when you needed to prepare set pieces, you had John Terry, Alex, Drogba, Ballack to jump so it was not so difficult to score on set pieces.

“I’m not surprised [to see Lampard as a manager] because as a player, Frank had fantastic tactical qualities. I’m waiting now for Terry as a manager, now he’s an assistant, but I think they both have the qualities to be a good manager. Of course, Frank is doing really well at Chelsea now.”

Comparing Italy and England

“It is more enjoyable [managing in the Premier League], definitely. There is less pressure here from the supporters and the atmosphere is better in England.

“I came back to Italy after nine years and it didn’t change a lot, the pressure is the same and with the supporters, there is a lot of violence. Italian football is trying to change but it is not easy to change the culture of a country where unfortunately there is still violence and assault.

“Here in England, the people in the stadium, and I’m talking about only in the stadium, are more respectful.”

‘As a manager, you have to try Real Madrid for one day’

“I think when you are a manager, you have to try and manage Real Madrid one day in your life. I spent two years there and it was an unforgettable experience because I think Real Madrid is the best club in the world for the image that they have outside.

“Everywhere we went, in every country, there were a lot of people there who wanted to see you, to support the team so it is an unforgettable experience, a top organisation, a fantastic training ground and a fantastic team at the time when I arrived.

  • Are Real Madrid targeting another rebuild?
  • La Liga Q&A: How Spanish football plans to return

“The team had some problems in the past years when I arrived there. The fact that they were not able to win the Champions League for 12 years was like an obsession for them because Real Madrid was used to winning a lot of Champions Leagues. I had the luck in the first year to win it [in the 2013/14 season].

“You don’t have to build a team around Cristiano Ronaldo and as I said with Zidane, you have to put them in the more comfortable way on the pitch. I don’t think you have to build strict tactics with this player defensively because there are players who are more involved in the attacking phase and there are players who have to be involved more in the defensive phase.

“Of course, they have to work together because the team is the most important part of the game, but strikers like Ronaldo who are able to score every single game, you don’t have to give too much information defensively.

“It is the easiest way to be a manager, to manage a fantastic player because they are professional, they are serious, they have personality, they are motivated so it is the easiest way.

“Sergio Ramos also has a fantastic quality. I think his best quality he has is not tactically, it’s not technically, it’s character and the personality that he has and the ability he has to motivate the people around him, like his team-mates. Ramos during that period was important for this, he was always at the top when the game was important and in the key moment of the games.”

Returning to the Premier League with Everton

“First of all I wanted to come back to Italy [after leaving Bayern]. I had an experience at Napoli and it was a good experience there but if I had to choose a league, I wanted to come back to the Premier League for the atmosphere you feel here and the atmosphere the Premier League has.

“The fact I had the opportunity to come to Everton was really important. Everton is a club with a fantastic history, fantastic tradition and they have a goal to be at the top. We are trying to, if we are able after the COVID [shutdown], we will try to do our best.

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Matt Hancock says Government want grassroots football back ‘as soon as we safely can’

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government wants grassroots football to return ”as soon as we safely can”.

In the daily coronavirus briefing, Hancock said: “I very much hope we won’t have to wait for a vaccine before grassroots football returns.

“We’re putting in place things like testing and tracing, whilst allowing more social distancing measures to be lifted. We want grassroots football back as soon as we safely can.”

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, added that the public may have to play football with rule changes before a vaccine is found.

“So I definitely hope that football will be available – possibly with some degree of change of how it’s played, there may have to be some ways we think it through – in advance of a vaccine,” Professor Whitty said.

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Mental Health Awareness Week: Nigel Adkins highlights importance of talking

In Mental Health Awareness Week, former Hull and Southampton manager Nigel Adkins tells Sky Sports News’ Roger Clarke how transitioning from player to coach helped him realise the importance of speaking up about your troubles.

If you’re affected by issues related to mental wellbeing or want to talk, please contact the Samaritans on the free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.

“Routines, attitudes, behaviours, exercise, nutrition, sleep, social distancing.”

It’s become a mantra for Nigel Adkins over the last eight weeks, and as football’s return remains shrouded in uncertainty, it’s one he hopes can benefit players too.

His daily #breakfastwithnige Twitter videos give all the chance to follow the Adkins diet. His cheery morning pep-talks encourage us to accentuate the positive. To quote one: “The past is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present. Make the most of the day everybody.”

Good morning. Routines, attitudes, behaviours, exercise, nutrition, sleep, social distancing. @mushtomuscle #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek #thankateacherday #breakfastwithnige #SocialDistancing pic.twitter.com/61XeE1VcIg

“I just started to put a few posts out just from experiences I’ve had,” he says. “I transitioned out as a player. Many players are going through that now, out of contract.

“I’ve been out of work the last 11 months as well.

“You need to find a routine but if you don’t you just lie in bed all day thinking ‘what is your purpose?’ So everyone needs to have a purpose…

“Football players go into work, they have a routine, everything is done for them.. and then football stops, that routine changes and it’s about how you can keep a routine going.

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“I’m just trying to share some of the experiences I’ve had and maybe do some silly things as well and put a smile on someone’s face.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to an abrupt halt in March, the issue of players’ mental health has come into sharp focus.

As many as 1,400 players could be out of contract at the end of the season, clubs face precarious financial futures, and there are health concerns over a return to training. Mental Health Week comes at a time when many in the game will be looking for support.

“The more you talk, the better it is,” Atkins says. “I was a player and then a physiotherapist and you become more aware of the issues that go on with players and the help that can be found.

“The LMA has some great advice on mental health, and the PFA which is so important. So there’s more advice out there and help and guidance.”

Adkins has been out of the game for nearly a year since leaving Hull, and is determined return to management.

He has been making the most of his spell away. As well as his daily Twitter videos and exercise routines, he has been learning German, keeping a journal, and listening to motivational podcasts.

“I’m utilising my time as best as possible to learn and study to prepare myself,” he says.

That includes taking tips from the likes of rugby coaches Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones, and inspiration from the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance – “you can learn about building high-performance teams, the infrastructure behind the scenes.”

All of which he hopes to put into practice if and when he returns. There have been offers from home and abroad. He says he wants to wait for things to settle down before taking the next step.

Ideally, that would be in the Premier League where he’s previously managed with Southampton and Reading, though he thinks taking a club up from the Championship is his most likely route to achieving that.

When the call does come, Adkins will take the advice he’s offering to all players concerned for their futures right now – “be ready”.

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Barry Bennell: Former football coach charged with nine sexual offences

Former football coach Barry Bennell has been charged with nine sexual offences.

Bennell, also known as Richard Jones, appeared via videolink at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on Monday morning to face charges relating to two complainants, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Geoff Fryar, head of the complex casework unit of CPS Mersey Cheshire, said: “The Crown Prosecution Service can confirm that Richard Jones, aka Barry Bennell, on Monday appeared at Warrington Magistrates’ Court via video link from
HMP Littlehey.

“At the hearing Jones, 66, was charged with nine sexual offences in relation to two complainants.

“He has been charged with one count of buggery and six counts of indecent assault in relation to one complainant and two counts of buggery in relation to the second complainant.

“The CPS made the decision to charge Mr Bennell, a former football coach, after reviewing a file of evidence from Cheshire Police relating to allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse.”

Bennell previously worked as a coach for Crewe Alexandra and a scout for Manchester City.

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Steve Bruce and Raheem Sterling say Premier League should not resume before end of June

Steve Bruce and Raheem Sterling have warned players may not be fit enough to resume the Premier League season until the end of next month.

Newcastle manager Bruce has joined Watford counterpart Nigel Pearson in voicing concerns about Project Restart and a targeted return date in mid-June, ahead of Monday’s expected vote on a return to training in small groups with social distancing.

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UEFA are hopeful major European league can finish by the end of July but should the Premier League not resume until late June it would be difficult to complete the remaining 92 league games in time.

“We’ve listened to what has been said and, with the precautions taken, we will get back to work and start phase one,” Bruce told The Telegraph.

“Can we get to that stage where we can have all the players on the pitch together? We don’t know yet.

“Phase one will be mainly fitness work, four or five players on a pitch. Let’s see how we get on [and hope there are no infections].”

Speaking in an interview with US women captain Megan Rapinoe on his Youtube channel, Manchester City winger Sterling said: “You can’t come back in with one-and-a-half or two weeks (of training).

“You’d need a full four to five weeks, especially if you’re going to go back into competition, when you’re literally paid to win and it’s going to count for something. You do need to do that preparation – you can’t just go straight in.”

The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic and Bruce says there are widespread concerns from managers over how quickly players are expected to find recover full fitness.

He added: “We need enough preparation time to get these players into shape or they are just going to fall down like a pack of cards.

“Most of the managers have the same concerns. We would need at least six weeks. I don’t see how we can play games until the back end of June.”

Bruce revealed his squad are due to undergo testing on Sunday and should the results all come back negative then the side will return to training following their two-month break on Tuesday.

A meeting of Premier League captains was held last Wednesday and Bruce says his squad are relaxed about a return to training but he insisted players deserve respect should they opt to stay at home.

Bruce said: “If a player refuses to come in or play, I have sympathy for that and would understand it. Most of my players are happy with it.

“There was a captain’s meeting the other day as well and as a squad they are happy with the measures that are being put in place. You have to respect everybody’s personal views on it.”

Supplement: Does Bruce have a point?

Sunday Times football correspondent Jonathan Northcroft speaking on the Sunday Supplement…

“He has a big point. This is one of the big obstacles. I do think that June 12 date may be the first thing to go in Monday’s Premier League meeting.

“The end of June sounds more realistic to me. June 26, which is now being mooted, looks a more realistic date for a restart.

“This will be a four to five-week period of packed fixtures, so injury risks are going to be a big problem.”

PL ‘Project Restart’ Q&A: Decision imminent

Premier League clubs will hold their latest emergency conference call on ‘Project Restart’ on Monday. Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Bryan Swanson answers the key questions…

Is a return to training close?

Yes, but clubs are required to agree to Premier League protocols.

A vote will be required over the first phase of training – small groups with social distancing – and nothing more advanced.

At least 14 clubs must approve these new measures.

If the majority of clubs agree on Monday’s conference call, players can return to a sterile non-contact environment later in the week. It’s important to stress: This is about the first phase of training and nothing further than that.

A return to training, on a socially distanced basis, has been discussed this week between club captains, managers, the Professional Footballers’ Association [PFA] and League Managers Association [LMA], and concerns have been raised by some senior players.

Clubs had to conduct a COVID-19 focused occupational health risk assessment by Friday [May 15], record its results and make those results available to the Premier League on request.

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Marvin Sordell says BAME coaches need more interview opportunities

BAME coaches need more interview opportunities for jobs in football rather than than “the same people having the same opportunities time and time again”, says former Watford striker Marvin Sordell.

Only five of the 91 managers at Premier League and English Football League level would be considered to be from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, despite the percentage being far higher among players.

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Sordell, who last week joined the Football Association’s inclusion advisory board (IAB), says it is vital for BAME communities to see a viable pathway to a career on the touchline to avoid football management becoming a closed shop.

“You see a lot of the same managers getting appointed, it’s a generation and a collection of these managers that are put into these jobs that come into circulation,” he said.

“I want to use my voice for good, and to give widespread opportunities, not just to the same people that have the same opportunities time and time again.”

The IAB sets out in its ‘In Pursuit of Progress’ mission statement that it “will mandate all partners to include suitably-qualified diverse candidates on shortlists”.

The EFL adopted the Rooney Rule into its regulations for the 2019-20 season following an 18-month pilot scheme. Clubs are obliged to report to the league after a recruitment process about whether they followed the regulations.

Championship side Luton were the most recent EFL club to part ways with a manager after Graeme Jones left by mutual consent last month.

The club have yet to start a recruitment process and when Jones left a spokesman said: “When we have more concrete knowledge about the recommencement of the 2019-20 season or the start of 2020-21, we will then reconsider our position with regards to the football management structure. Meanwhile, applications for any of the positions will not be considered or reviewed at this time.”

Sordell said: “One of the reasons people are pushing for the Rooney Rule is just to get an opportunity.

“No one is asking for handouts, no one would want to be given an opportunity they don’t deserve, but sometimes the best person for the job doesn’t necessarily have the opportunity to be in the room to represent themselves.

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Leeds’ Ben White: EFL future star

Ben White is set to be a future star in English football after impressing for Leeds during a loan spell from Brighton.

Here, Sky Sports’ EFL pundits Keith Andrews and Andy Hinchcliffe assess the 22-year-old’s attributes and tell us why he is such a special talent…

In Marcelo Bielsa, has he found the right coach at the right time?

Andrews: I think so. I think the way he’s gone about his career, the way he’s been advised by whoever is around him, but also Brighton Football Club have got this path perfect for him. The steps he’s taken in his career, for me, has been nigh-on perfect. Go to Newport, earn your stripes. Get beat up a little bit in League Two because it’s more physical.

Next step, Peterborough. More of a ball-playing League One side where risks are taken at the back – they are renowned for it. Then it’s the Litmus test. If you go to Leeds United, you have to replace Pontus Jansson who is a cult hero at that football club. How do you react week in, week out to playing at that type of level, that type of intensity and he’s passed them all with flying colours.

Hinchcliffe: You look at what Bielsa has done for every player at Leeds. He’s revolutionised how they play, how they think about the game as well. Look at Kalvin Phillips. Ben White will be challenged mentally as well as physically because it’s a hard regime Bielsa runs but he’ll also ask a lot of questions of him tactically. He’s played him in midfield; remember Guardiola did that with John Stones and Stones didn’t look completely comfortable with that whereas White – OK, it is the Championship – wasn’t fazed by that because he’s working on his intelligence, his spacial awareness.

It’s very difficult for a centre-half. I know what it’s like as a full-back stepping into midfield; the picture changes completely. White stepping into midfield looked like a midfield player. So again, coming into the stage of development he’s in, the timing of working with someone so intense, so experienced, he’ll learn so much. Graham Potter must be thinking this is brilliant. He’s out playing successful football with Leeds, he might well get them promoted, he comes back to me a better player because he’s been working under Bielsa.

Do his attributes make him comparable to any previous Premier League defenders?

Andrews: I think when you look at the profile of him as a centre-half, the thing that sticks out is what he does on the ball and the comparisons maybe in recent seasons are John Stones, Rio Ferdinand when he was a young player. That elegant way they have of stepping out from the back and picking the right passes more often than not.

Hinchcliffe: I totally agree with Stones and Ferdinand but also, you put a bit of John Terry or Gary Cahill in there, which I think he’s got, imagine the centre-half. I would say, if you’ve got a centre-forward on the edge of the box, looking to drill a ball goalwards, is he going to throw himself in the way? And he will throw himself in the way. He doesn’t just see himself as a ball-playing centre-half.

You are putting pressure on a player who is well thought of anyway but you start thinking Stones, Ferdinand, Cahill, Terry, people start thinking this guy is the new Franz Beckenbauer. He’s earned his stripes in the lower leagues and I think that’s hugely beneficial to him but clearly the talent that he’s got, he’s a Premier League footballer and he needs to play against Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane. He needs to play against these world-class centre-forwards because Premier League centre-forwards are a different animal compared to anything else he’s faced.

After his loan spell at Leeds, can he make it into the Brighton team?

Andrews: For me, he’ll be in that Brighton team next season without a shadow of a doubt because with the market the way it’s probably going to go in the summer, I don’t think they will get the price that would make them sell. When you look at the profile again, what attributes has he got? He’s Graham Potter’s type of centre-half. We’ve seen it in his Ostersunds side, we’ve seen it at Swansea and the centre-half he bought at Brighton, Webster, has similar types of characteristics, so you can tell the type of centre-half he likes. I would imagine Ben White fits really nicely into that.

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