Why the Jets gave Joe Flacco a new team before Cam Newton signed with one

Another veteran QB found a new home in 2020 NFL free agency who isn’t named Cam Newton. The Jets signed Joe Flacco to a one-year deal, a move announced by his agent. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the contract for the former Ravens and Broncos starter has a base worth of only $1.5 million with incentives maxing out at $4.5 million.

Flacco, 35, is recovering from neck surgery to correct an ailment that cut short his lone season in Denver. The 2007 first-rounder and Super Bowl 47 MVP for Baltimore didn’t want to retire and now can get to stick around in the league for at least another season, if he proves to be healthy enough.

Meanwhile, 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton, released by the Panthers in March, remains a free agent and still the best veteran QB on the market. So why did the Jets take a flyer on Flacco instead, given that he also carries a level of recent injury history mystery?

DECOURCY: NFL should boot proposed onside kick change right off the planet

First, Flacco, who has made plenty of money in his career and once was the highest-paid QB in the NFL, settled for relative little money to keep playing for someone. Second, after his time with the Broncos proved, pre-injury, that he no longer could be counted on as a starter, Flacco clearly settled on being a willing backup behind 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold in New York.

Flacco’s deal is similar to the last QB of first-round note to sign. Jameis Winston, the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, went from Buccaneers five-season starter to settling for a $1.1 million base salary plus incentives to back up Drew Brees with the Saints late last month.

For Newton, as the 2015 NFL MVP, reports are it’s been difficult for him to accept both a lesser deal and one that doesn’t come with a real chance to compete for a starting job. So far, the Patriots and Jaguars have held firm on rolling with second-year third-day picks Jarrett Stidham and Gardner Minshew, respectively, instead of wanting to bring Newton or another viable veteran alternative into the mix.

The Redskins (Ron Rivera and Scott Turner) and Broncos (Mike Shula) are Newton’s best remaining coaching staff fits. But Washington has Dwayne Haskins and already traded for former Panther Kyle Allen to compete with him, while Denver is gung-ho on Drew Lock, far removed from Flacco, to the point that it doesn’t want him looking over his shoulder.

Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains, who oversee the Jets’ offense as coach and coordinator, needed more of a regular pocket passing type behind Darnold. Before Flacco, the Jets’ best No. 2 option was David Fales. When Darnold had mononucleosis early last season, their backup situation was badly exposed.

Newton as a unknown quantity to teams because of his durability was never really a fit for New York. Jets general manager Joe Douglas also is vary familiar with Flacco’s makeup and skill set. Douglas started as a longtime scout with the Ravens from 2000 to 2014, and Flacco was drafted by Ozzie Newsome in the middle of that tenure.

Is it shocking that Newton hasn’t found a fit with any team, even at the lowest price? Yes. Is it surprising that the Jets would roll the dice with Flacco as a No. 2 instead of considering Newton? In their current situation, not at all.

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The inspirational – and tragic – story of Steve Kerr

His father was murdered by jihadi gunmen and after he stood up to Michael Jordan (and got a punch in the face), he changed basketball history…The incredible story of Steve Kerr, an unlikely star of The Last Dance on Netflix

  • Steve Kerr’s story was a brilliant tale to emerge from Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’
  • Not highly recruited as a youngster, he was ‘an overachiever’ who excelled 
  • He hit big shots, such as the 1997 Finals winner, and was the ultimate role player 
  • Since retiring, he has revolutionised the game as Golden State Warriors coach
  • Comparisons to Pep Guardiola are apt given their impact on respective sports 

For many, Netflix’s ‘The Last Dance’ series highlighted the greatness of Michael Jordan, showed his win-at-all costs mentality and his flawless NBA Finals record of six wins from six visits.  

But for Steve Kerr, he got a front row seat for the action as a team-mate during the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat from 1996 to 1998. He saw one of sport’s great dynasties unfold in front of his very eyes – and used that to build one of his own as a coach. 

And yet while the focus was on Jordan for much of the 10-part series, a look at his gambling, the murder of his father James and stand-out moments like the famous ‘Flu Game’ in Utah, it was Kerr’s own story – both tragic and inspiring – that perhaps stood out most to those unfamiliar with the Bulls’ dynasty.  

Steve Kerr (left) emerged as the people’s champion from Michael Jordan’s ‘Last Dance’ series

The defining play of Kerr’s Chicago Bulls career came with a late shot to win the 1997 Finals

It was no coincidence that social media was awash with messages of Kerr jerseys from that three-peat era shooting up in demand on Monday and people anointing the 54-year-old as their new favourite player after watching the series finale.  

Kerr was not a Hall of Fame player, he was smaller than a lot of his team-mates and opponents and was never the first or second best player on a team in his 15 years in the NBA.

And yet coming away from ‘The Last Dance’, Kerr stood out. He was personable, relatable and had managed to carve out a niche for himself as the ultimate role player for Jordan in Chicago. He accepted his status, learned how to win with just ‘five or six shots’ per game and became what he himself termed an ‘overachiever’. 

That assessment may be a tad harsh on himself but further highlighted the selflessness that Kerr has carried forward into his coaching.

Kerr remains the only NBA player in the last 50 years to lift the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy in four straight seasons, following up his three-peat with the Bulls under Phil Jackson with the 1999 title under Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs.  

In the game today, Kerr is respected as a fine player in his day but all the documentary did was remind the masses – in the US alone episodes generated viewing figures of almost 13 million per week – of his immense value. 

Nothing has come easy for Kerr, on or off the court. His father Malcolm was brutally murdered in Lebanon, while serving as the president of the American University of Beirut when Kerr was just 19.  

Kerr (right) was not highly recruited as a teenager and described himself as an ‘overachiever’

STEVE KERR CAREER 

PLAYER

1988-89 – Phoenix Suns

1989-92 – Cleveland Cavaliers

1992-93 – Orlando Magic

1993-98 – Chicago Bulls

1998-2001 – San Antonio Spurs

2001-02 – Portland Trail Blazers

2002-03 – San Antonio Spurs 

COACH 

2014-PRESENT – Golden State Warriors

HONOURS 

8 x NBA champion (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2015, 2017, 2018) 

1997 NBA 3-point champion 

2016 NBA coach of the year 

Kerr was born in Beirut and spent much of his childhood there. It was particularly dangerous for American citizens at the time amid ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and episode nine of ‘The Last Dance’ saw Kerr emotionally reflect on how he discovered the tragic news that two gunmen, who were members of the Shia Lebanese militia called Islamic Jihad but posing as students, shot his dad in the head on January 18, 1984. 

It is not something he opens up on often, making his candidness and openness in the Netflix series about receiving a call in the middle of the night while at college in Arizona particularly striking.  

He ‘threw himself into basketball’ as he grieved, his mother said in episode nine,  and he became fiercely determined to make it in the NBA despite the limited hype around him. 

His dad was a big basketball fan at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and so Kerr’s motivation was set. Despite the prospect of playing alongside one of the greatest to ever play the game wholly remote in 1984, when barely anyone tried to recruit him, Kerr was not giving up. 

That fighting spirit translated well to viewers and while Kerr appeared mild-mannered, it was a famous bust-up with Jordan that ultimately secured respect from his team-mate. 

One particular practice work-out became heated as Jordan goaded Kerr and eventually he snapped back, punching him in the chest, much to the surprise of Jordan. 

Jordan responded by punching him in the face, something he later apologised for, but for Kerr, it was one of the best things to happen to his career. From then on he had respect and he was trusted to go into battle. 


Kerr mastered the art of being a role player and is the only player in the NBA in the last 50 years to win four consecutive championships – three with the Chicago Bulls and one win San Antonio

Jordan was demanding of team-mates but Kerr stood up to him, got punched in a practice session and from that point on he had earned his stripes and got Jordan’s respect

That trust was never better encapsulated than Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals against Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz. 

Jackson called a time-out with the score tied at 86-86 and with 28 seconds left on the clock, a play was to be drawn up to try and clinch the game and avoid a Game 7. 

In those game-closing moments it was typically Jordan who took the limelight. He was the best player and could do things others would never be able to pull off. And yet, he knew the Jazz were going to double-team him, meaning the play had to be for someone else. 

Scottie Pippen was the team’s second best player but while Jordan was sat down for the time-out, he turned to Kerr and urged him to ‘be ready, this is your moment’. It was Kerr’s time to win it all. 

‘I’ll be ready,’ Kerr shot back like a hyperactive child. ‘I’ll be ready.’

What happened next became one of the defining plays of Kerr’s entire career. 

Pippen stood tall from the inbound to find Jordan outside the arc and, as expected, he was met with a double-team from Bryon Russell and John Stockton, who was supposed to be on Kerr. 

At San Antonio, Kerr (right) worked under legendary coach Gregg Popovich and along with working under Phil Jackson in Chicago, Kerr had honed his ability to be an elite NBA coach

He took over the Golden State Warriors in 2014 and transformed stars like Stephen Curry (left)

Jordan broke between the double-team before kicking it out to Kerr who was wide open from 17-feet away. He caught, rising in his shooting motion, and sank the shot with ease. Jordan had told Kerr that it was his moment and he was right. A late dunk from Toni Kukoc sealed the win but it was Kerr’s jumper that sealed the Bulls’ fifth championship. He was the hero. 

That moment of trust has always stayed with Kerr, and Jordan’s willingness to defer in big moments to team-mates, and he used it as Golden State Warriors’ coach in a conversation with star man Kevin Durant.

Durant is one of the best players in the NBA right now and yet during a time-out Kerr cited Jordan and wanted his main man to do similar in ‘trusting’ the role guys, the Warriors’ own versions of Kerr. 

‘When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a play-off game,’ Kerr began to Durant. ‘He just kept trying to score and he was scoring but we weren’t getting anything going. Phil Jackson said “who’s open?”. John Paxson was. 

‘I want you to trust your team-mates early. What you’re doing is getting to the rim then trying to kick out. I want you to trust the first guy.’  

But it is not just Jordan anecdotes and pep talks with star players that have made Kerr an all-time top five NBA coach. What he has done can be compared to Pep Guardiola in football in revolutionising his sport. 

In one famous exchange with Kevin Durant, Kerr uses a Jordan analogy to get the Warriors forward to trust his team-mates, just like Jordan had done with Kerr in Utah back in 1997

Durant helped form part of a dynasty with the Warriors and Kerr is considered a top-five coach

Guardiola’s tiki-taka style turned Barcelona into one of football’s greatest ever teams from 2008-12 and he has since transformed Manchester City into one of the most attractive sides in the world.  

On the other hand, Kerr, with his work on three-point emphasis, building a dynasty of young stars from inherited draft picks and taking away the reliance of a dominant center, will go down as a revolutionary for those that follow him. 

In Jackson and Popovich, Kerr got to work under two others that rank in the top five of all-time and, along with his self-improvement as a player, his grief is something he has been able to channel into coaching thanks to his former coaches’ influence. 

‘I really realised from [Popovich] and [Jackson] that I could use my experience as a kid and growing up to my advantage as a coach,’ Kerr told the New York Times in 2016. 

‘And connect with players and try to keep that healthy perspective. Keep it fun, and don’t take it too seriously.’

As Kerr, 54, stands before basketball fans now, here is a man with eight championship rings. He is far more than the role player loved by Bulls fans in the Jordan era.  

There are cross-sport similarities between Kerr and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Kerr has revolutionised the NBA like Guardiola has football and deserves immense credit

Kerr turned Steph Curry into the first ever unanimous NBA MVP (most valuable player) in 2016. He formed the ‘splash brothers’ with Curry and Klay Thompson and they have put themselves into the position of being the greatest shooting back-court in the history of basketball.  

But while there have been stars such as Curry, Thompson, Durant and Draymond Green, he has also made players such as 2015 draft pick Kevon Looney a key role piece – nobody is better than Kerr for mastering such a role.   

He took charge in 2014, got his feet under the table having been a general manager prior with the Phoenix Suns, and within a year he was back lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

In fact, the success was unrelenting, under Kerr the Warriors have had five straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning three and losing one to LeBron James’ Cavaliers in 2016 as well as last year, when injury struck down Thompson and Durant against the Toronto Raptors. 

Kerr is an intellect who has carried on his dad’s legacy in speaking out for activists on political issues. But much of his story comes down to ‘being ready’. He was ready that night in Utah in 1997, was ready in his debut season with the Spurs in 1999 and was ready when he took over the Warriors in 2014. 

He may have spoken highly about Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp in the past but if Kerr steps into the light with anyone from football, being the Guardiola of the NBA fits best.  

The Warriors won their first championships since 1975 once Kerr took over as head coach




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The most bizarre ideas we've heard to get football going again

Completing the Premier League season on Guernsey? Turning your head away during a tackle? And how on earth do you practice social distancing at a corner?! The most bizarre ideas we’ve heard as football tries to get back on track

  • Football is in suspended animation amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic
  • Plans to restart the Premier League season in June are inching towards fruition 
  • But the location and exact nature of how this will happen remains up in the air
  • Guernsey, Europe and Australia have all been suggested as neutral venues
  • A whole host of anti-Covid rule changes have been mooted for football’s return
  • Shorter halves, spacing at set-pieces and playing in masks are just some of them
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Football finds itself in uncharted waters amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with the game across the world in suspended animation as humankind deals with this deadly threat.

In England, we’re inching towards a return with Premier League players returning to training in small groups this week ahead of a potential return to action in June.

But it hasn’t yet been finalised how and where the season will be completed with plenty of questions still to be answered on matters of health and safety.

We’re all desperate for Premier League grounds such as Anfield (pictured) to open again and the season to be concluded, even if it will almost certainly be without fans in attendance

The search for solutions amid the crisis has certainly led to some left-field thinking from taking the Premier League abroad to various rule changes.

Sportsmail takes a look at some of the more bizarre suggestions to enable football to make a comeback and how feasible they are.

Premier League Island

One of the major talking points as the Premier League tries to make a comeback is where the remaining 92 matches of the season should be played.

Initially, the idea of selecting between eight and 10 neutral venues, away from residential areas to dissuade fans from congregating outside, was mooted.

But there was major pushback from the clubs, who were unwilling to cede home advantage even for a behind-closed-doors match amid concerns over sporting integrity.

It forced the Premier League to return to the government and seek permission to use all 20 grounds and we’re still waiting for a final decision.

It has been suggested that picturesque Guernsey, which is free of coronavirus, host the remainder of the Premier League season

In the meantime, Guernsey deputy Gavin St Pier has raised the intriguing possibility that Premier League matches could be hosted there.

Guernsey has gone nearly three weeks now without a coronavirus case and just a handful of active cases remain, suggesting it has beaten the disease.

So when an islander tweeted about the scenario of moving the Premier League to the Channel Islands for the remainder of the season, St Pier didn’t dismiss the idea.

An islander from Guernsey raised the possibility in a tweet over the weekend

Guernsey deputy Gavin St Pier didn’t dismiss the Premier League Island idea out of hand

He replied: ‘If anyone is seriously interested, I am sure we could have sensible dialogue about how to plan and execute safely – so off the wall and a bit crazy but would not dismiss out of hand…’

The idea of having a Premier League Island arrangement sounds pretty wacky but it could prove the safest way if cases of coronavirus continue to mount on the mainland.

Assuming sufficient accommodation was available, it would be logistically easier to quarantine the players and staff on an island.

Less than 45 minutes each way?

Logistics to get games completed are one thing. Tampering with the rules of the game quite another.

But that didn’t stop PFA chief Gordon Taylor suggesting that the length of games be reduced to less than the traditional 45 minutes a half.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this month, Taylor said: ‘We don’t know the future but we do know what propositions have been put, what ideas have ben put – the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way, talks of neutral stadiums.’

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor was ridiculed after suggesting halves less than 45 minutes

It was part of a discussion on player safety, with Taylor reflecting the broader concerns of players contracting the virus by training and playing games again.

‘They are not stupid,’ Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘They would have to be satisfied that it is safe.’

The prospect of teams having to play every three days in order to complete the season’s outstanding fixtures was another factor behind Taylor’s suggestion.

The Premier League said the less than 45 minutes a half idea ‘wasn’t on the table’ but Football League chairman Rick Parry said ‘I don’t think we should be ruling out any creative ideas.’

The idea was widely ridiculed by fans and now that Germany’s Bundesliga has resumed – with the full 90 minutes – it does look like a complete non-starter.

Taylor’s suggestion was to reduced stress on players by making games less than 90 minutes

Turn your head away in the tackle

Given how little we know about how coronavirus is transmitted from person to person, nothing is off the table when it comes to ‘cultural changes’ in the way football is played.

That was the terminology used by the Premier League as it outlined phase one of clubs’ return to training.

It included a suggestion that players should turn their face away from their opponent as they get up from a tackle and avoid face-to-face contact.

The idea was given short shrift by Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness: ‘This has been written by someone who has never played the game and doesn’t understand the game.

A Premier League guidelines suggested player should turn their heads away after tackling

‘So you’re meant to make your tackle and turn away? What if you make the tackle and end up with the ball at your feet? That’s the daftest thing I’ve heard so far about us returning to football.

‘When you’re playing football at the highest level, you get yourself to a place where you’re only focused on the next five seconds, that’s how you get through 90 minutes. You haven’t got time to think about anything else.

‘Corner kicks, free-kicks… you have to look at the man. That isn’t going to change. Defenders are paid to keep the ball out of their net, that’s their focus.

‘The only thing that may change is the celebration. But the rest of the game cannot change. You’re in the moment.

Graeme Souness, who enjoyed a solid tackle, dismissed the idea and described it as ‘daft’

‘It’s not a rule, it’s a suggestion, a recommendation. But if you’re a player, you’re only interested in what is a metre in front of you, and you’ve been programmed like that for many years.’

Even though the turned head guideline was intended only for the initial return to training and not necessarily in matches, it appears there’s absolutely no chance it’ll happen.

Taking the Premier League into Europe

A slightly more adventurous version of the Guernsey idea came from Manchester United legend turned Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.

He suggested exporting the Premier League to somewhere in Europe which had escaped the ravages of coronavirus and completing the season there.

Neville said: ‘If the Premier League are really serious about delivering the matches that remain in a safe environment they would move it to the two or three spots that are within three or four hours of this country that are coronavirus free.

‘They would take the Premier League players, broadcasters and media over, quarantine for a week or two and then deliver it in an environment that has proven it can handle the virus.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville suggested exporting the Premier League somewhere in Europe

‘There are a couple of hotspots in Europe that haven’t got coronavirus which could handle the Premier League finishing.’

With the UK’s curve of coronavirus infection and death behind most of Europe, it isn’t the worst idea for a quick restart though Project Restart has moved on since Neville spoke at the beginning of May.

Parts of Europe least affected by coronavirus include Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, Montenegro, Malta, Faroe Islands, Albania, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Iceland.

Or even Australia…

Another apparent suggestion to get the Premier League season completed was to take it lock, stock and barrel to Perth in Australia.

According to The Sun, a detailed plan to conclude the season there has been drawn up with local politicians receptive to the idea.

Australia has been comparatively untouched by coronavirus in comparison to the UK and this plan would involve putting all 20 squads on the long flight to Perth.

The Australian city of Perth was suggested as a potential host for the Premier League games

The modern Optus Stadium could have been a possible venue for some of the matches

They would each be based in their own hotels, which aren’t exactly brimming with tourists at the moment, and games would be played behind closed doors at the city’s many sporting venues.

Kick-off times would be adjusted to suit an English TV audience, while the concerns about fans congregating outside stadiums and the need for mass testing of players would be removed.

Perth may be proud of their status as ‘the most isolated city in the world’, making it ideal for this kind of thing, but this idea certainly gets the ‘bizarre’ label.

St George’s Park boot camp

Before the change of heart on neutral venues, the England national team HQ at St George’s Park was suggested as a boot camp style location where teams could stay in quarantine, train and even play matches.

Location-wise, it would be ideal, situated as it is in the middle of nowhere in Staffordshire. Its Midlands location would mean teams in the south and the north wouldn’t have to travel as far as they potentially would have done to other neutral grounds.

The main pitch at St. George’s Park, which was suggested as a potential venue for the games

It also has an on-site hotel, plus state-of-the-art facilities, medical staff and a plethora of training pitches both indoors and outdoors.

But for games to be staged there, significant modifications would have to be made to the match arenas, including the installation of broadcasting facilities.

Social distancing at corners

It would be incredibly difficult to enforce social distancing in a contact sport such as football, especially the rough and tumble at corners and free-kicks.

But we could see a change in behaviour at set-pieces with players less keen to hang on to one another or even stand in close proximity to an opponent for fear of catching the virus.

As Watford forward Troy Deeney said: ‘At corners, Watford have 11 men back so you’re talking about having 18 or 19 men in a penalty area. That’s not social distancing.’

Social distancing is nigh on impossible at corners and free-kicks during football matches

Even when the current UK lockdown restrictions are eased, social distancing where possible is likely to remain a fact of life for a long time.

So it doesn’t look too good when people turn on their television and see up to 20 footballers standing inside the penalty box.

But there could be a change of habit. As Rafael Ramos, the president of the Spanish Association of Football Team Doctors, said: ‘In the beginning players are not going to have the same contact that they are used to.

‘We are going to see another kind of football. Everything will be a bit different. Players will not be holding on to each other at corners.’

Watford forward Troy Deeney (right) questioned how social distancing is possible on the pitch

Players wearing masks on the field

Anyone who watched the Bundesliga’s return over the weekend will have seen substitutes and club staff wearing face masks on the sidelines and in the dressing rooms.

But what is players wore some kind of mask while on the pitch as well?

Experts suggested earlier in this crisis this would be a sensible idea and the technology is out there. A Dubai-based company called Altitude Mask has developed a mask with a respirator filter to get rid of harmful particles.

Thankfully with leagues such as the Bundesliga and the South Korean K-League returning without player having to wear masks, it’s not a prospect we’ll have to entertain here.

Werder Bremen’s substitutes wear masks as they sit in the stands against Bayer Leverkusen

Moving away from traditional weekend games

Football has long been a game played at the weekend with those Saturday afternoon rituals sacred to so many fans.

But with fans unlikely to be present at matches for quite some time and Premier League games basically a made-for-TV experience, this could change.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has raised the possibility of the fixture schedule being completely ripped up with matches potentially every day of the week.

With games now a made-for-TV experience, traditional fixture schedules could be r

He said: ‘Given we are trying to get the season away in a slightly truncated situation, we may look at some interesting scheduling options.

‘Nothing we can confirm yet, but we’ve got to make it work for everybody.’

No doubt fans and broadcasters, who could be able to screen every match live for the rest of the season in one form or another, will be delighted.

The clubs and players will be less thrilled at playing Tuesday-Friday-Monday or whatever wacky, non-weekend based schedule it drawn up.




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MARTIN SAMUEL: Why the relegation guessing game is so pointless

MARTIN SAMUEL: Why the relegation guessing game is so pointless… to predict what happens for the rest of the season when the consequences are so great is beyond brutal

  • Premier League clubs will vote on how to decide the season if it can’t be finished
  • But the favourite appears to be a resolution called Weighted Points Per Game 
  • However the team currently in 16th place, West Ham, would end up relegated 
  • To guess what happens for the rest of the campaign would be beyond brutal 

Next week or maybe even sooner, Premier League clubs may make real that old sporting cliché: the six-pointer. They will introduce four-pointers, five-pointers and many other matches measured by decimal places up from and below three. They will introduce a system so grossly unfair it beggars belief. Yet plenty does in football these days. 

On May 28, Premier League clubs will vote on a means to decide the season if the games cannot be completed. Favourite is a resolution called Weighted Points Per Game. The league will take each club’s home and away record separately, and work out both average points totals. It will then multiply those numbers by the respective games left, home and away. This will give them a projected end of season total and league positions will be decided by that. 

As it stands, there is one headline: the team currently in 16th place, two positions clear of relegation, go down. Yet let’s start at the top, and work from there. Liverpool have a 100 per cent record at Anfield. They have won every game. Their WPPG at home, then, is unquestionably three. And as there are only three points available in any game, that would appear to be the end of it. But, no. The away team will also have a WPPG calculation for their games on the road. And Liverpool’s next home game is against Aston Villa. 

Premier League clubs will vote this month on how to decide the season if it can’t be completed

So while Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham and Norwich went to Anfield, lost — in some cases by the margin of a single goal — and came away with nothing, Villa will lose, because Liverpool get the maximum three points, but still come out with 0.53 points. It’s a 3.53-point game. 

What a terrible shame for all those other clubs who visited Anfield with just three points on the table. West Ham, who only succumbed to an 81st-minute winner; Brighton and Bournemouth, who suffered narrow 2-1 defeats. 

A 3.53-point game could really make a difference to their final standing in this imaginary league with very real consequences; particularly as, when Brighton travel to Norwich, they will only be splitting 1.8 points, less than the minimum gleaned from a real game.

Aston Villa would lose the game at Anfield according to WPPG, but also still gain 0.53 points

Brighton and Bournemouth have five home matches remaining with the potential for 15 points if they win them all. Yet, given the opposition, the most that can be awarded in home matches involving Brighton is 14.04 points; for Bournemouth’s home programme 12.25. That isn’t right. How can both Manchester City and Liverpool get more than two points each when they meet; yet West Ham play Aston Villa for 1.6 on the final day of the season? 

Even if two teams fail to achieve the point of the game by scoring a single goal between them, even if 22 players determinedly kick the ball into the main stand out of spite for 90 minutes, the smallest total the teams can split is two points; just as the highest that can be awarded whether winning by one goal or 30 is three. 

WPPG conjures outcomes that are mathematically impossible in the real season. It would be like factoring all of the information around the remaining Six Nations games into a computer and coming out with a succession of 2-2 and 4-4 draws. It can’t happen. 

WPPG makes one very big call in its calculations, too. It has West Ham dropping into the bottom three and, as the Premier League appears hell bent on the destruction of three shareholders this season come what may, suffering relegation.

Adopting WPPG would see West Ham dropping into the bottom three and suffering relegation

That’s an interesting one. Demoting a club who are not in the relegation places now, and would not be even if Aston Villa were awarded three points for their game in hand, is a bold move. Certainly for lawyers because given what is at stake it might be an idea to test that one in court, whoever it affects. 

For while if there is no restart West Ham are currently the ones to suffer, WPPG — or its less sophisticated sibling PPG, which does away with home and away weighting and just calculates an average points per game throughout the season — is also being proposed as a way to end the season if it is curtailed at any time. 

Meaning, five games in it could be another club who are plucked from 16th position and dropped carelessly into the Championship. Bournemouth may think WPPG saves them, but what if they are saving themselves only to suddenly come out on the wrong side of the formula when the pause button is hit again? 

This is what is so unfair about the 2019-20 campaign. Not relegation. Play the campaign out and the devil takes the hindmost, as always. Yet to have a guess about what happens across the remaining matches when the consequences are so great? That is beyond brutal and anyone who comes up with such a plan deserves to see it tested, at enormous expense, in court. 

To guess what happens across the remaining top flight matches would be beyond brutal

Take League One, whose chairmen will vote on a way to decide the season today. The owners want the gravy of the play-offs — because the league can flog them to television, forget all the talk of fairness — but this means agreeing to relegation. 

Bolton and Southend are adrift and unlikely to survive, but Tranmere are within three points of AFC Wimbledon, with a game in hand. Win that and only goal difference places them in the bottom three with 11 games to play. Even in a conventional season it would seem a harsh judgment to presume relegation from there but now consider a report at the weekend that clubs in League Two are considering a merger with the National League and a regionalised fourth-fifth tier. 

Tranmere could suddenly end up in a competition with Fylde, Chorley or King’s Lynn Town, depending on promotion and relegation issues. So, too, would Bolton, who were playing Sporting Lisbon in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup as recently as 2008. 

Less cost, more derbies is the logic behind a lower tier mash-up — but was Chorley v Bolton at 3,700 capacity Victory Park, or King’s Lynn v Tranmere, an eight hour, 400-mile round trip for the visitors really what the protagonists had in mind? 

Bolton faced Sporting Lisbon in 2008 but may end up in a competition with Fylde or Chorley

The Conference leagues have a strange geographical make-up, too, with southern clubs significantly over-represented, which is how Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire came to be playing in the northern division in 2011-12, where their opponents included Workington, Blyth Spartans and Gainsborough Trinity. 

The fate of Bolton, Tranmere or even West Ham may seem inconsequential to those clubs aiming for greater glory or even to those who are safe, for now. Yet, aside from the exalted few, anyone can have a bad season, or even a rotten few months, and who knows where a club might be the next time Covid presses stop? Could be a few weeks, could be a few months, could be a year or so from now. And by then precedent might be established. 

Who among the Premier League’s current middle rump would have voted for an average points per game relegation after 29 matches before a ball was kicked? Southampton? Crystal Palace? Burnley? Who would be happy to take the fall that way next season, if a midwinter spike occurs — and stake their future on a real 1.6-pointe 

AH YES, WE ALL MISSED GOOD OLD VAR  

If you didn’t catch RB Leipzig versus Freiburg on Saturday, you missed a decent match. Not a classic, nothing special, just a proper football match. That was the charm. It had the energy of a good game, even without a crowd. The sport, minus the show, endured.  

Borussia Dortmund versus Schalke began ponderously, giving rise to fears a game without fans would become a glorified training session. Not to worry. This was a derby between a team chasing a title and their local rivals. In the same fixture in 2017, Dortmund led 4-0 at half-time and drew 4-4. So it was cagey, at first. And then Dortmund ran away with it, because they are much better than Schalke this season. 

Freiburg’s second goal against RB Leipzig was ruled out by VAR after a player strayed offside

Switching over to the Leipzig game after Dortmund’s third, the home side were chasing a 1-0 deficit to maintain their title ambitions and, pleasingly, it resembled any other Saturday. Leipzig had a go in search of an equaliser and, after they succeeded, gave it even more to find a winner. 

Then Freiburg scored a second only for a chap in a studio to rule it out because somebody’s shoulder had strayed into space. So, just like old times really. An enjoyable match, with a thrilling denouement, ruined by technology. As you were. It’s amazing this game got crowds in the first place, given what they’ve done to it. 

IT’S ALL IN THE CELEBRATION… 

The importance of the Bundesliga’s return seemed to elude one person — the director of the Dortmund-Schalke broadcast. When the outstanding Erling Braut Haaland scored Dortmund’s opening goal, all eyes were on the celebration — at which point the director clearly forgot he was detailing a global news event and cut to the face of a sad Schalke defender. 

So we didn’t fully see if they went for a socially-distanced team dance, a self-conscious succession of elbow bumps, or an 11-man writhing human pyramid followed by a stern letter from Angela Merkel and 14 days’ quarantine. Hopefully, we’ll do better when it’s our turn, although we thought that about our Covid-19 response, too. 

The director of the Dortmund-Schalke broadcast cut away from Erling Haaland’s celebration

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS WILL BE ALL TOO FAMILIAR 

James Anderson was asked about the prospect of playing cricket behind closed doors. He said, rather obviously, that in front of a big crowd the intensity could drive a player to the top of his game but without an audience, a player had to self-motivate. He said most would know that feeling. ‘It’ll be just like county cricket,’ teased Anderson. 

It’s a fair point, though. There is an awful lot of sport, even elite sport, that takes place in front of relatives or two old boys asleep behind a Daily Telegraph. Hockey, much women’s football, the County Championship, Olympic disciplines, even Test cricket outside this country.

Empty grounds will be a talking point for some sports but may be business as usual for others

The day England rewrote the record books to reach 517 for one declared against Australia in Brisbane, huge swathes of the Gabba were empty. Even for an Ashes Test, Australia do not bother selling advance tickets for the final day. No need, very often, mind. 

So, while empty grounds may be a talking point in the Premier League and a breaking point for clubs in League One and Two, for many it will be business as usual. That’s why so much sport is in financial crisis. 

SOUTHGATE SHOULD RESIST LOOKMAN’S BRINKMANSHIP

Earlier in the year it was reported that Ademola Lookman was considering changing allegiance from England to Nigeria. Tunde Adelakun, a technical assistant with the Nigerian team, said the player had completed the necessary paperwork to put in an application. Equally, there was speculation that this was a means of applying pressure on England manager Gareth Southgate and that Lookman was angling for elevation to the senior squad for friendlies in March.

Ademola Lookman is reportedly considering changing his allegiance to Nigeria from England

Those games never took place. And having seen Lookman in action for RB Leipzig at the weekend, when he posed a greater danger to camera operators than the goal, Southgate would do well to resist brinkmanship. Either a player wants to be English or not. Lookman has only played eight games for his club this season and is yet to score. Nothing about him suggests he is ready to be a senior international, with England or Nigeria. Not yet anyway. But if he wants to switch, that’s his call.

DAGROSA ON THE SEARCH FOR PREMIER LEAGUE GIANT 

Joseph DaGrosa, the former owner of Bordeaux and once interested in buying Newcastle, remains on the lookout for a major Premier League club. He wants to build a portfolio akin to the City Football Group, starting with an anchor English interest. ‘Coronavirus will mean possibilities to acquire some really strong clubs that are financially distressed,’ said DaGrosa. ‘And to add some world-class players at a fraction of what they would otherwise cost.’ Smart. Bet no other really rich guy has thought of that.

Joseph DaGrosa, once interested in Newcastle, is still on the lookout for a Premier League club

As the year crawls on with more talk of global recession, a crisis in the airline industry and quarantines on all travellers bar key workers, could there be a more misconceived idea than the 2021 European Championship spread the width of the continent? Even if fans are allowed to move without being placed in isolation on arrival, the chances of the airline routes being available is greatly reduced. Travel costs will have soared, accommodation, too, as hotels scramble frantically to recoup earlier losses. This is not an idea whose time has come, but a flawed lunacy that should have been long laid to rest.

The idea that the 2021 European Championships will be spread across the continent is lunacy




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McIlroy is back in the swing during £3.3m charity golf showdown

Rory McIlroy is back in the swing as he features in Skins game alongside Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson… and £3.3m charity clash was a treat after 65 long days without golf

  • After 65 long days without golf, the sport made a big return on Sunday night 
  • Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff starred in a match 
  • The £3.3m showdown was for charity and saw McIlroy perform strongly
  • Even without fans and caddies, fans excited over the action in Florida 

Whoever thought golf fans would get so excited over watching a charity Skins game, for heaven’s sake. It just shows what can happen if the heart is allowed to grow fond following a period of absence.

It is the one thing that usually never happens in the Royal and Ancient game, of course. The crammed schedules on the PGA and European Tours mean that as soon as one season finishes, a new one begins the following week, making it difficult to stifle a yawn.

What a contrast with Sunday night. After 65 long days without live golf, the sport’s followers were positively panting with anticipation on social media.

Rory McIlroy is back in the swing of things as live golf made a return on Sunday night

McIlroy played a £3.3m charity game in Juno Beach, Florida in a behind closed doors event

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson v Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff! All four players carrying their own bags! A historic Florida venue we had never seen before! No fans! No grandstands!

My goodness, the excitement levels generated would not have been much greater if the calendar had proceeded without interruption, and we had been watching the final round of the season’s second major, the US PGA Championship from San Francisco.

As you might imagine, this was golf with a wholly different look. Accompanied only by the four players, the club pro introduced the match with more than $4million at stake, and all of it going to charities benefiting Covid-19 relief.

With no fans or caddies, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff carried bags

They began with a trifling $50,000 on offer over each of the first six holes. ‘How do you hit a wedge?’ McIlroy joked, as he stood over a 60-yard approach to the first. It has been a while. The hole was halved, meaning the $50,000 rolled over.

Sponsors TaylorMade had thrown in a $100,000 long driving contest for good measure at the second, where we saw the potential of the newcomer, Wolff. McIlroy smacked his Sunday best, only for 21-year-old Wolff to blow it by him by what appeared a considerable distance.

The Northern Irishman, whose father Gerry is a member at Seminole, was clearly in the mood to make up for the lack of any heckling from fans and throw in some good-natured banter of his own. ‘Good putt,’ he said to Wolff, who left his 15-footer to win the second woefully short.

Over the first couple of holes, Johnson looked as if he had spent the lockdown in a separate house to his golf clubs. ‘Come on, another bad swing,’ he berated himself on the third. At least the rapid American was living up to the brilliant sign that greets all visitors on the first tee: ‘If you play good, play fast. If you play bad, play faster.’

McIlroy and Fowler stand on the green during the unprecedented scenes on Sunday

To be fair, the other three were not exactly leaping out of the blocks, either.

‘Finally, a good wedge shot out of these superstars,’ said an impatient Paul Azinger, following a decent Fowler approach to the third. Finally, a decent shot from Johnson, too, as he claimed the first birdie and with it three skins, worth £150,000.

As for early impressions of the Seminole venue, the aerial view with the Atlantic Ocean hugging one side of the course looked spectacular. Alas, at ground level, it looked like so many Florida venues: flat, wide-open fairways, loads of water. Boring.

Augusta, it ain’t.

Not only in the Sunshine State but Korea, too, there was more evidence the game is taking baby steps back to normality. The ladies Korean tour completed its first event back with a maiden victory for Park Hyun-Kyung, who shot a 67 for a one-stroke triumph.

With no fans to heckle him, the Northern Irishman upped the banter levels with Wolff

She was greeted with a shower of petals from fellow competitors and elbow bumps, which threaten to become every bit as irritating as fist bumps were once.

Interestingly, the all-powerful women’s game in Korea is proceeding while the men remain on the sidelines. Clearly, there is one part of the world in golf where it is the women who hold all the aces, and quite right too given their formidable array of world dominating talent.

Meanwhile, in Wales and Ireland today, club golfers will get the chance to play for the first time since the lockdown, following the example set in England last week. Disappointingly, however, golfers in Wales will only be able to play in singles rather than twoballs, unless playing with someone from their own household.

So much for that good old British common sense the Prime Minister was banging on about. None on show there from the Senedd, was there? As the Florida fourball demonstrated effortlessly, it is the easiest thing in the world for golfers to keep their social distance.




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Wayne Rooney reveals the moment that 'finished Gerard Pique's Man Utd career'

Wayne Rooney has revealed that Gerard Pique’s poor performance against Bolton ultimately led to his departure from Manchester United, with Sir Alex Ferguson deciding he wasn’t suited to the Premier League.

The Spanish centre-back spent four years with the Red Devils, joining from Barcelona’s academy in 2004, though unsurprisingly struggled to get into a team that had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and was sold back to the Catalan giants for just £5million.

He won La Liga in his first season back at Camp Nou, doing so seven more times, as well as winning three Champions League titles – beating old club United in 2009 and 2011 – and also winning the World Cup and European Championship.

Sir Alex would later admit he made a mistake letting Pique leave, though the centre-back was desperate for more game time and wanted to return to Catalonia.

Now Rooney has claimed that Ferguson gave up on Pique when he was ‘bullied’ by Bolton in a Premier League clash in November 2007, with the Spaniard subbed off after 59 minutes for Anderson as the Red Devils lost 1-0.

‘Bolton away more or less finished Gerard Pique’s career at United,’ explained Rooney in his column for the Sunday Times.

‘He was young and got bullied there and I think that’s when Fergie decided that, physically, he wasn’t right for the Premier League.

‘I always remember Vidic: if we were going to Bolton — and it was the same when he was about to face Didier Drogba — he would be in the gym for two or three days before, pumping himself up.’

He continued: ‘Bolton away was always horrible. It was physical and you knew you had to win the fight to win the game. I remember Evra saying about Kevin Davies: “I hate this person.”

‘On throw-ins Kevin would go and pin the full back with his elbows all over their face and in challenges when the ball went down the line he would leave his foot in.

‘Bolton had bits of quality too and the way they fought and worked as a unit, then found moments to use that quality, was typical of how a team can beat better players by being more than the sum of its parts. It happened for Everton in the 1995 FA Cup final — I still don’t know how we beat United that day.

‘It happened when United played Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League semi-final. Barca played the better football by a mile in both legs and that was 180 minutes of pure hard work, of hanging in there, and riding your luck. Real teams realise that sometimes you have to win ugly.’

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The season which defied all odds – Inter Milan's historic 2010 treble

The season which defied all odds – Inter Milan’s historic 2010 treble was a first in Italian football and the pinnacle of Jose Mourinho’s career so far as his bombastic side overcame all obstacles (including Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola!) to win it all

  • Inter Milan won Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League in 2010
  • It was the first time in the history of Italian football that a team won the treble
  • The side managed by Jose Mourinho beat Chelsea and Barcelona in Europe 
  • Mourinho’s close rapport with his players is something we have rarely seen since
  • It was the peak of the Portuguese’s managerial career but he left for Real Madrid 

On this night, there were no mind games. No crassness or fake gestures. These emotions, these tears, were all too heartfelt and fervent.

Inter Milan had just completed a historic treble after beating Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League final in Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s Italian project was complete and he knew, everyone knew, that a parting of ways was inevitable.

So seeing the Portuguese, at the highest of heights after claiming his second European Cup, welling his eyes out with centre back Marco Materazzi outside the Santiago Bernabeu – his soon-to-be home – was a surreal scene. Two of football’s supposed bad cops, embracing in a very real showing of raw passion.

Jose Mourinho embraces Marco Materazzi after their Champions League triumph in 2010 

The pair were earlier celebrating on the pitch as Mourinho left Inter Milan in historic fashion 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=tmiqUQFgOxE%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

For all of Mourinho’s stunning triumphs, at Porto, Chelsea (twice) and Madrid, his two-year stint at Internazionale was his greatest feat. A feat never before accomplished in Italy’s rich footballing history and not accomplished since.

Not even Arrigo Sacchi or Carlo Ancelotti’s star-studded sides across town won every major trophy in one season. Diego Maradona down south at Napoli didn’t come close in the European Cup, while the domestic dominance of Juventus in the last decade is yet to translate to Europe’s ultimate prize.

But to understand how this legendary year emerged, how Barcelona’s best ever team was overcome and how Materazzi’s tears embodied everything 2009-10 Inter Milan stood for, we have to take this back to the beginning, and the departure of a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Inter Milan’s historic 2010 treble was the perfect send-off for Jose Mourinho at the club 

The Portuguese manager guided his side to a feat never before achieved in Italian football 

In Mourinho’s first season at Inter Milan, winning Serie A by a ten-point margin was not enough. Owner Massimo Moratti had specifically dispensed of predecessor in the dugout Roberto Mancini due to his ineptitude in Europe, despite three successive Scudettos.

When Inter deservedly crashed out to Manchester United in the last-16 of the Champions League, Mourinho was reeling. He, more than anyone, knew a change in mentality was needed. 

So when Pep Guardiola, fresh from a debut-season treble of his own, wanted the Nerazzurri’s top-scorer and irrepressible star at the Camp Nou, on paper, Inter’s European hopes were taking a severe blow. 

What’s more, Mourinho liked Ibrahimovic a lot. Parallels in egotism and charisma made the pair a perfect marriage, but in the summer of 2009, Jose saw the deal as an opportunity.

He let the Swede go, in exchange for the small matter of £59m and Samuel Eto’o, who’d scored against Manchester United in that year’s Champions League final. In hindsight, this was a Mourinho masterstroke. 

Using the funds as he pleased, he also acquired Diego Milito and Thiago Motta from Genoa, veteran centre back Lucio from Bayern Munich, versatile forward Goran Pandev from Lazio and Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid, yet to unleash his full potential.

Suddenly, the nucleus of Mourinho’s side had taken shape. Players full of skill and operating in their prime but, most significantly, prepared to run a thousand miles and more for their manager – something Zlatan innately wasn’t built to do.

Though the pair got on, the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a blessing in disguise for Mourinho

The signing of playmaker Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid was a key addition for Mourinho

What people often forget though is that Inter actually met Barca earlier that season in the group-stages of the competition. Mourinho and Co stumbled to second-place, unable to record a victory against the Catalans.

But by the turn of the year, riding high again domestically, something changed. A stockade mentality, against anything and everything opposed to Mourinho’s way of operating, had developed not just within the squad, but within the entire club.

For example, Mourinho, in his irrevocably forthright manner, was upset with refereeing decisions going against his team in Italy’s top-flight. 

All too aware of the power of his actions, an unforgettable handcuffs gesture to the cameras sent administrative pulses racing in February. A three-game ban. Do you think Mourinho cared? 

Mourinho makes a handcuffs gesture to officials during a February 2010 Serie A clash in Milan

Up against former flame Chelsea in their first European knockout obstacle, this unison sieged was in full flow against Carlo Ancelotti’s side – one of Chelsea’s best, who’d go on to win the double. 

After Inter won the first-leg tightly, 2-1, Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge as the star of the show, from chatting up his ex-players in the tunnel to outfoxing Ancelotti over 90 gruelling minutes. A late Samuel Eto’o strike sealed a last-eight berth, and an even later Didier Drogba red card exemplified how Inter’s doggedness and resilience could toy with the world’s best. 

This was the first sight of the Serie A side’s ‘shut-up-shop’ mentality and for all its critics, teams consistently couldn’t find an answer to Mourinho’s Italian Job. Play to win but above all else, don’t dare lose.

Samuel Eto’o celebrates his goal at Stamford Bridge which sealed Inter’s spot in the quarters

But after a straightforward victory against CSKA Moscow in the quarters, the last-four pitted Mourinho against another former flame. He was about to declare war on Tiki-taka in all its glory.

Books have been written about Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous relationship with FC Barcelona. Once a translator, then a coach, but never top-dog.

Before joining Inter, Mourinho was in-the-running to become the next head coach at the Camp Nou. Presentation pitched, ideas conveyed. Yet Barca, much to the Portuguese’s dismay, went in another direction, wary of conflicting personal and footballing ideologies. And Mourinho – king of grudges, if you will – never forgot it.

These two games, with the treble on the line, were the ultimate challenge for Jose Mourinho. How do you stop Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola? 

In match one, at the San Siro, a near-perfect performance of tactical discipline and conversion of chances meant Inter held a 3-1 lead going into the second-leg.

Battlelines drawn, pressure ramped up to the maximum, Mourinho threw down the gauntlet.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=w9GMccVsEyQ%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

‘One thing is to follow a dream, one thing is to follow an obsession,’ he began in his bombastic Machiavellian manner, in the pre-match press conference.

‘This is not an obsession, it’s just a dream. We have a dream to play in the Champions League final. 

‘For Barcelona it’s not a dream. It’s an obsession. There is a difference between a dream and an obsession. A dream is more pure than an obsession. A dream is about pride… 

‘For them, this is not a dream anymore. It’s an obsession and the obsession is called Madrid, and Santiago Bernabeu.’ 

Mourinho’s defensive style was the polar opposite to Pep Guardiola’s possession-based game

Journalists were drooling. Never have such few words formed so many news-lines. This was peak Mourinho – all his barmy, captivating eccentricities rolled into one 60-second period. Call it what you will – confidence or cockiness, perhaps both –  but Mourinho only played mind games of this ilk when his belief was at unshakeable levels. This was one such moment in his career.

BARCELONA 1-0 INTER MILAN (2-3 AGG.)  

Date: Wednesday 28 April 2010

Round: Champions League semi final second-leg

Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito (Maxwell 46), Xavi, Keita, Busquets (Jeffren 63), Y Toure, Messi, Pedro, Ibrahimovic (Bojan 63)

Goals: Pique 84

Bookings: Pedro 

Inter Milan: Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti, Chivu, Motta, Sneijder (Muntari 66), Cambiasso, Eto’o (Mariaga 86), Milito (Cordoba 81)

Goals: None

Bookings: Cesar, Lucio, Chivu, Muntari

Red cards: Motta 

Referee: Frank De Bleeckere

Attendance: 95,000 

You knew ahead of the game that he’d have a plan of cunning proportions. A method, one way or another, to halt the Barca juggernaut in its tracks. And deep down, you knew this second-leg wouldn’t be one for the purists.

The phrase ‘Parking the Bus’ has often been carelessly chucked around in recent years, to represent a team operating in a deep, defensive manner. But this was where that phrase was first coined. Or to go further, as Mourinho would say afterwards, ‘we parked the plane.’

Barcelona prodded and toiled, but it wasn’t enough. Not even after Inter had Motta sent-off in the first-half, courtesy of some exceptional Sergio Busquets play-acting. Not even after Gerard Pique scored with six minutes to go. 

Never has a late 1-0 loss felt so rewarding. Inter were heading for Madrid and not even a hot-headed teenager by the name of Mario Balotelli, at the beginning of his controversy-ridden career, could steal the limelight.

Not usually one for humility in victory, Mourinho basked in his triumph, sprinting on to the pitch and motioning straight up to the directors’ box. Not even a livid Victor Valdes, racing over to confront him, could stop ‘The Translator’ now. 

Afterwards, a purring Mourinho said: ‘I’ve won big matches, I’ve had great moments in my career. This one is the best one.’ 

Mourinho celebrates his Inter side knocking out Barcelona by running onto the pitch

The Portuguese boss pointed up to the directors box as he soaked up the famous victory 

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes took offence to Mourinho’s elaborate celebration 

After leading for so long, Inter eventually stumbled over the line on the final day to clinch Serie A by two points from Roma. 11 days earlier, they won the Coppa Italia, courtesy of a Diego Milito strike against the same opponents in the Italian capital.

From then on, with the treble tantalisingly close, all roads led to Madrid and though opponents Bayern, coached by Mourinho’s tutor of years gone by Louis Van Gaal, were hitting a peak in their cycle, Mourinho would have his fitting swansong. 

Mourinho kisses the Coppa Italia after Inter beat Roma for their first trophy out of three

Diego Milito celebrates his second goal against Bayern in the 2010 Champions League final

On the night, it was a final which never really came to life – just how Mourinho foresaw it. A double from top-scorer Milito, a clean-sheet and a season for the ages, which defied all odds, was complete. 

Poetically, Mourinho saw his conquest at an end and the scene of his final triumph would be his next destination. Triggered by his adversarial nature, he fancied a bit more of Pep and Barcelona. Real Madrid appointed him manager six days later.

But it’s worth remembering that season in which a football club were the wholehearted embodiment of their manager. Courage, defiance and disobedience, the Internazionale institution swarmed to Mourinho’s win-at-all-costs mentality like bees to honey. 

To see the way the man has changed in recent years, amid turmoil in London, Manchester, and back to London, is disheartening for lovers of the game. Perhaps inevitable in the topsy-turvy career that is football management, but disheartening nonetheless.

Mourinho was embraced by his backroom staff after completing a historic treble in Madrid

He lifts the Champions League trophy after winning his final match in charge of Inter Milan

Which is why his time at Inter ten years ago should be remembered so fondly. Still eager to prove to himself, and to the world, that he was the 21st century coaching gift from the stars, the grey-haired footballing genius hit a glorious peak. His players peaked too, and struggled to adapt when Rafael Benitez arrived that summer.

But most heartwarmingly, Mourinho had a desirable, yet undeniable rapport with his players, never so clearly displayed in that moment of intimacy with Materazzi, a 92nd-minute substitute on the night.

An immeasurable bond that Mourinho has rarely seen since, in his subsequent decade in management. Not often does professional sport have such a perfect crescendo, concluding with the pinnacle. Inter 2010 is the modern-day anomaly.




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What fans of ‘The Masked Singer’ should know about Barry Zito’s baseball career

Former MLB pitcher Barry Zito revealed himself as a singing rhinocerous in “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday night, introducing TV audiences to his post-baseball career as a professional musician.

While Zito was a big deal in the early-2000s for baseball fans, many people watching the show haven’t heard of him.

After being eliminated from “The Masked Singer” in the show’s semifinals, online interest in him has spiked. We’re here to help explain his background for those unfamiliar.

Barry Zito
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Here are the essentials on what made Zito such an interesting player and person:

The Curveball

Zito set himself apart stylistically from the rest of the league with his slow curveball, which looped into the strike zone in a way that often froze opponents in the batter’s box. 

His left-handed hook was good enough that it let him be an elite pitcher early in his career with the A’s despite not having an impressive fastball. His best year came in 2002, when he posted a 23-5 record to go along with a 2.75 ERA for Oakland. He racked up 182 strikeouts that season.

Take a look at Zito’s curveball in all of its glory:

The Big 3

Zito’s formative years in MLB were made more compelling by the fun team around him. Along with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, he helped form a generational pitching trio that spearheaded four straight playoff appearances.

That the A’s never made it past the first round of the postseason with their three aces is a foundational part of a recent history littered with October disappointment. Those shortcomings weren’t Zito’s fault, though. In five playoff starts from 2000 through 2003, he pitched to a 2.76 ERA.

Those teams were immortalized in the 2011 movie “Moneyball” featuring Brad Pitt.

The commercials

Zito has always been a natural entertainer, and the A’s took advantage of his talents with several classic commercial bits.

Here’s him in 2005 with then-youngsters Dan Haren and Joe Blanton:

And him the year before going pitch-for-pitch with Mulder:

The World Series

While Zito failed to match his consistent success with the A’s upon signing with the Giants ahead of the 2007 campaign, he did produce playoff magic for San Francisco.

With the Giants facing playoff elimination against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS, he threw 7 2/3 shutout innings in an effort that was crucial in his team reaching the World Series. He then won Game 1 of the World Series against Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. The Giants swept Detroit for their second title in three years.

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30 years on from the Dinamo Zagreb v Red Star Belgrade riot

Zvonimir Boban launched a flying kick at a policeman as fans fought brutal battles and Dinamo Zagreb v Red Star Belgrade, 30 years ago today, became the football match that started a WAR

  • Thirty years ago, Dinamo Zagreb against Red Star Belgrade caused a huge riot
  • Fans were throwing chairs and it is thought it led the way to the Yugoslav war
  • Dinamo Zagreb’s Zvonimir Boban famously kicked a police officer on the pitch 

As one of modern European football’s finest playmakers, Zvonimir Boban is remembered for his elegant passing, outstanding vision and impressive leadership during nine years representing Croatia and AC Milan.

Yet despite a stellar career on the pitch and his work as an administrator with FIFA and Milan, there is a single moment that will always define him: the attack on a policeman on May 13, 1990, the day of the abandoned game between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade that many view as a key point on the road to war in the former Yugoslavia. 

These conflicts ran for a decade from 1991 and resulted in excess of 100,000 deaths.

Thirty years have passed since Zvonimir Boban kicked a policeman in a feisty match in 1990

Boban ran up on the officer and flew through the air before kicking the him in the back

The officer was sent tumbling to the ground and it became a defining moment of Boban’s life

Boban’s clash was one of many on the pitch and in the stands. It meant 65 fans were prosecuted and hundreds were injured, including 79 police officers.

It would be simplistic to say these events led directly to the fighting that followed. Yet as Boban remembers: ‘That derby reflected everything that had been going on in our society and everyday life. Yugoslav football reflected Yugoslavia.’

Exactly 30 years have passed since the Maksimir Stadium riot and the footage is as powerful today as it was then. After an initial scuffle, Boban turns and launches himself through the air, striking the officer in the back.  

Around them, supporters, police officers and players are caught in the chaos. In that moment, Boban ruined his chances of playing for Yugoslavia in the 1990 World Cup – he was ultimately banned for six months – but became a hero for many in Croatia.

Boban, pictured playing for Dinamo Zagreb in 1990, was one of the players to stay on the pitch

Political tensions were high and the match has been viewed as one of the first steps towards the eventual Yugoslav War 

‘I swore at one of the police officers, he hit me and that’s how the brawl started. As you can imagine it was very difficult but I think I would do the same again,’ said Boban.

‘I could see the police were only treating our (Dinamo’s) fans badly and I got increasingly frustrated as I was thinking about all the great injustices that had been done to people over the years, to the fans and also to us.’

‘(Boban) said something to me but I couldn’t understand him,’ recalled Refik Ahmetovic, the police officer involved. ‘He kept looking at me and I could see in his eyes that we might be about to clash.

‘I looked over my right shoulder, and saw he was already in the air with his knees and arms together. He kicked me and knocked me to the ground.’

Both Boban and Ahmetovic were speaking in a documentary – A Kick For Independence – More Than A Game – that is as fascinating as it is chilling. The matches between Dinamo, one of Croatia’s leading two clubs along with Hajduk Split, and Red Star, who would be European champions in 1991, had always been highly-charged, given their ferocious support and impressive teams.

Red Star Belgrade fans got into the home end and chaos ensued as seats were ripped out

A fire erupted behind one of the goals as the abandoned game descended into a riot

Considering the political situation in the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what happened at Maksimir that day was perhaps no surprise. 

The bonds that had held Yugoslavia together since the end of World War II were fraying as the desire for independence grew within the various territories. 

‘It was obvious that each [region of the former Yugoslavia] would want to become an independent state,’ said Dinamo goalkeeper Miralem Ibrahimovic. ‘Everyone understood that except the politicians who thought differently.’

The following month, Croatia would hold its first free, multi-party elections since 1938, and Franjo Tudjman was voted in as President in May.

The match itself was of little consequence, as Red Star had already sealed the league title. Yet 3,000 took the night train from Belgrade to Zagreb for the late-afternoon kick-off. It was inevitable that there would be violence between Red Star’s ultras, the Delije, and Dinamo’s Bad Blue Boys.

Many accounts say that Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, was among the Delije that day.

Arkan was a commander of a notorious Serbian paramilitary force during the Yugoslav Wars, and was indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 1997. He had been on Interpol’s most wanted list during the 1970s and 1980s and was assassinated in a Belgrade hotel in 2000.

There had been running battles in Zagreb throughout the day and these continued at the stadium, where the policing was heavily criticised. Despite the police presence, Red Star fans were able to make their way into the Dinamo section.

Boban took issue when he saw a supporter being struck by an officer while laying on the pitch

‘We came out to warm up right by the Red Star supporters so we couldn’t miss what was happening,’ recalled Ibrahimovic. ‘The police did not react adequately. They allowed them to destroy our stadium. They allowed them to leave their stand and move across to another one where our supporters were.

‘It was chaos. There were stones and tear gas everywhere, even on the pitch. It became obvious we weren’t going to be able to start the match.’

The players were ushered towards the tunnel but some – including Boban – returned as they saw how serious matters were becoming. 

‘Those were not normal conditions for living, never mind football,’ said Vjekoslav Skrinjar, a former Dinamo midfielder. ‘We could see the police hitting the supporters so we simply went back to try to help.’

There are those on the Croatian side who wonder whether the police deliberately did not do enough to prevent the Delije reaching the Dinamo supporters. What is beyond doubt is that once the Delije had done so, the police could no longer control the situation.

‘[The fans] sang many nationalist songs,’ said Ahmetovic. ‘They mentioned the political leaders, Tudjman and [Slobodan] Milosevic [president of Serbia].

‘Although they were ordered to come off, a few of the players stayed on the pitch. And some even called their fans to run on the field. That’s when the large-scale rioting started and it couldn’t be stopped.’

Tensions in the stand eventually spilled onto the pitch as riot police tried to regain control

In the Red Star starting XI that day were seven players who also started the European Cup final in Bari the following year. Davor Suker and Boban were in the Dinamo line-up.

These were stars of their era: Dragan Stojkovic and Robert Prosinecki were European champions with Red Star, Boban with Milan, and Suker with Real Madrid. Stojkovic, Prosinecki and Suker were part of the Yugoslavia squad that reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990; Prosinecki and Suker helped Croatia finish third at France 98, where Suker was top scorer. Few of their memories would have been as vivid as those from the Maksimir Stadium on May 13, 1990.

To those who debate the significance of this match on the road to war, Red Star’s European Cup-winning goalkeeper Stevan Stojanovic has a simple response. 

‘There were certainly tensions but what happened was like a sign that Yugoslavia was about to disintegrate,’ he said. ‘It turned out to be a match that marked the beginning of the end for Yugoslavia.’




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Match of the Day 'planning episodes ahead of return on June 12'

Match of the Day ‘planning for the Premier League to come back on JUNE 12… and they’re expecting nearly TWO MONTHS of uninterrupted games’

  • Match of the Day is planning for the Premier League to return on June 12 
  • The BBC programme has been told to prepare for nearly two months of games 
  • There are 92 Premier League games remaining, in addition to FA Cup fixtures 

Match of the Day is planning for the Premier League to resume on June 12.

The BBC programme has been told to prepare for nearly two months of uninterrupted games, as reported by The Telegraph.

There are 92 games remaining in the Premier League this season, with clubs still discussing whether the campaign should resume. 

Match of the Day and Gary Lineker are preparing for the Premier League to return on June 12

Matches need to be played before UEFA’s deadline of August 2 for the completion of domestic leagues. 

In addition, FA Cup games need to be played from the quarter-finals onwards.

The seven-week solution also allows for the FA Cup final to be played on August 8, which would be shown live on the BBC.

Pundit Alan Shearer and his colleagues have been told to prepare for two months of games

Fellow Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright could have plenty of games to analyse soon

Premier League clubs are set to hold talks on Monday to continue discussing Project Restart.

No Premier League games have been played since March 9, when Leicester beat Aston Villa 4-0.  

While there haven’t been any games, the BBC have shown classic fixtures, including FA Cup finals. 




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