Areola apologises to Madrid fans after Mbappe selfie

By Sports Desk September 19, 2019

Alphonse Areola apologised to Real Madrid supporters after a photograph of him smiling with Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting surfaced in the aftermath of his side's 3-0 Champions League defeat.

Areola, who is on loan at Madrid from Ligue 1 champions PSG this season, said comments on the photo that appeared on social networks upset him and the goalkeeper underlined his commitment to Zinedine Zidane's team following Wednesday's defeat.

In an Instagram post on Thursday, Areola explained: "Dear Real Madrid fans, I feel very sad for some comments on a photo that circulated on social networks.

"I want all Madrid fans to know that my heart has been white since I signed for this club and I can't stand the slightest doubt about my motivation, my loyalty and my involvement with Real Madrid, our Madrid.

"Yesterday's defeat has affected me as well as everyone who forms this great family.

"After the game I had a reunion with my former team-mates and friends, who had not given me time to say goodbye. 

"Therefore, I reiterate my apologies to the Madrid fans who have felt offended, it was not my wish and I hope that together we can achieve many successes."

Areola was on the bench for the game as Thibaut Courtois started midweek, while Keylor Navas – who moved in the opposite direction – kept a clean sheet for PSG.

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  • Postecoglou leads Man City-linked Yokohama F.Marinos to first league title in 15 years Postecoglou leads Man City-linked Yokohama F.Marinos to first league title in 15 years

    Ange Postecoglou ended Yokohama F.Marinos' wait for J.League silverware by leading the Japanese club to their first title since 2004.

    F.Marinos – linked to Manchester City as part of the City Football Group, which owns a 20 per cent share in the club – had gone 15 years without a league crown.

    But after narrowly avoiding relegation in his first season in 2018, former Australia head coach Postecoglou ended F.Marinos' wait following Saturday's 3-0 defeat of FC Tokyo.

    In front of a sell-out crowd of 63,854 fans at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, 10-man F.Marinos emphatically sealed a fourth J.League trophy thanks to goals from Theerathon Bunmathan, Erik and Keita Endo.

    F.Marinos – riding a 10-game unbeaten run and six-game winning streak – entered the final-day showdown three points clear of Tokyo, with Postecoglou's men needing to lose by four goals to be denied the title.

    For Postecoglou, surrounded by countrymen Peter Cklamovski and Arthur Papas, it is reward for the Australian's hard work and unrelenting belief in his philosophy following last season's 12th-place finish.

    Winner of two National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles and a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos – Postecoglou turned F.Marinos on their head in 2018.

    While there were initial struggles, the squad came to grips with Postecoglou's demands this season, though the 54-year-old never had any doubts as he wanted to leave his mark on Japanese football.

    In an interview with Omnisport in April, Postecoglou said: "While it's not going to be perfect, particularly in the beginning, it's going to be a hell of a ride."

    "It was always going to take a bit of time," Postecoglou added. "But it's consistent with what I've done before. I knew coming into it, the way I wanted to play was going to challenge everyone in the club. We had some really good moments and some poor moments. There was a massive difference in our best and worst, that was reflected in the results. We still made the cup final. At times, we played some good stuff.

    "This year, we've changed the squad a fair bit. The main thing for me is we have players here who have the characteristics in what I need and I also think the club now understands sort of what we're trying to achieve. Everyone is fully supportive of it. The start of the season is promising. We are certainly more consistent than the last year but it's a tough league. Every week is a challenge, every week the opposition has outstanding players."

    "Wherever I've coached, I want to win things," continued Postecoglou, who led Australia to qualification for the 2018 World Cup before stepping down. "There's no shying away from that, as much as I want my team playing a certain way because I believe you can be successful doing it that way. What success looks like, I've never really thought that way. When I get a team to play the way I want to, success follows. That's the first challenge. We will see where that takes us. Hopefully we can win some silverware for the club and more importantly, win silverware playing a certain way. It will be exciting for the fans and hopefully make a difference to football."

  • Manchester City v Manchester United: Sterling following footsteps of Barnes and Regis, says Townsend Manchester City v Manchester United: Sterling following footsteps of Barnes and Regis, says Townsend

    Few, if any, Manchester City players will receive a bigger roar of approval than Raheem Sterling when the teams are read out before kick-off at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

    The England forward will aim to inspire victory in the Manchester derby against United for his adoring public, before basking in its glow the following day – his 25th birthday.

    Whatever the result, Sterling's quarter-century also marks the one-year anniversary of bleak but life-altering day.

    "The way they were looking at me, I had to see where all this anger was coming from," he told the New York Times, remembering how he observed a small number of irate fans in the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge, while retrieving the ball for a corner during a Premier League match City would lose 2-0 to Chelsea.

    "I was listening in to hear what they were saying… 'Nah, that can't be what I heard'."

    Television replays that quickly went viral on social media suggested Sterling's suspicions he had been subjected to racist abuse were correct.

    This July, Chelsea also reached that conclusion as they banned one supporter for life and handed out sanctions from between one to two years for incidents at the same Premier League match. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to initiate criminal prosecutions.

    By this stage, Sterling had long since altered the conversation.

    'Have a second though'

    "Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game, as you can see by my reaction, I just had to laugh because I don't expect no better," he wrote in an Instagram post the day after the game, in what remains a damning assessment of the atmospheres and sickening attitudes too often allowed to fester in football stadia – supposedly places of celebration and work for young athletes.

    But Sterling was keen to turn the focus outwards, taking the opportunity to highlight the contrasting tones with which the Daily Mail reported on two of his young team-mates Phil Foden and Tosin Adarabioyo – one white, one black – buying houses for their mothers.

    "This young black kid is looked at in a bad light, which helps fuel racism an aggressive behaviour," Sterling posted, before imploring news outlets to "have a second thought about fair publicity"

    Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out, felt this reframing was particularly timely given the events a week earlier at the north London derby, where a Tottenham fan threw a banana skin at Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

    "My response was, literally, 'Well done, Raheem'," Townsend told Omnisport.

    "The week before, [the Aubameyang incident] wasn't racism to many. That wasn't racism to people who have never experienced the act of the banana being thrown at them or being called a monkey.

    "So, Raheem's was a massive, great step. It let the media look at each other and I think that's massive. In one post he's made elements of the media change."

    Far from being hindered by the increased focus upon him as an eloquent and reluctant role model, Sterling has gone from strength to strength on the field.

    That treble feeling

    A brace in May's FA Cup final saw him conclude last season with 25 club goals in all competitions as City claimed an unprecedented domestic treble – the first part of which, the EFL Cup, came as Sterling steered the decisive kick in a penalty shoot-out against Chelsea into the top corner.

    There have been hat-tricks in the Champions League and for England, who he captained in June's Nations League Finals semi-final versus the Netherlands. Now a reliable goalscorer for his country, he netted eight in qualification for Euro 2020.

    The industry he urged to take a look at itself honoured Sterling, the 2018-19 Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year. The BBC's Sports Personality of the Year gong could be added to his collection this month.

    "It's all about mentality. Mentality, maturity and growing up," Sterling said ahead of the showdown with United.

    "I'm obsessed with football, obsessed with scoring goals, obsessed with recovering quicker and obsessed with improving myself."

    Spiralling numbers show how fruitful that obsession has been, while Sterling's maturity – a scuffle with Joe Gomez on international duty aside – is frequently evident.

    Every time he intervenes on issues of racism, be it responding to he and England team-mates receiving abuse in Montenegro and Bulgaria, defending Italy striker Moise Kean or supporting Newport County Under-14 goalkeeper Ethan Ross, Sterling strikes at the heart of the issue and is a force for good.

    He covered the funeral costs of Crystal Palace youth player Damary Dawkins, who tragically lost his battle with leukaemia, having dedicated an England goal against the Czech Republic to the 13-year-old.

    Raheem the role model

    Other examples of Sterling's community mindedness could be found when he arranged tickets to City's FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Hove Albion for 550 pupils from his old school, while last month he urged those able to among his 2.2million Twitter follows to register to vote in the upcoming UK general election.

    "He's a young, black role model for so many young people. His status will go far and beyond football, that's for sure," said Townsend, who feels Sterling can align with some of British football's true pioneers and icons.

    "You will have young people not just wanting to be Raheem Sterling the footballer, but who will want to be Raheem Sterling the human being.

    "I take that as the kind of impact John Barnes had, when he was almost fighting racism by himself. Or Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson when they were at West Brom.

    "With those forefathers, the generation before him, he will be recognised as someone who's had a massive influence and impact.

    "That's probably the most powerful legacy of that post a year ago. He will have empowered many people to stand up for themselves, stand up for their rights and stand up for who they are as human beings."

    Townsend is at pains to point out Sterling cannot be the "be-all and end-all" in the fight against racism, and that burden must never be placed upon any single person.

    But, as Manchester United look to repel the City star's on-field obsession, it is to his immense credit he has managed to shed so much light a year on from that dark day.

  • Manchester City v Manchester United: Rashford ruling the roost as Reds' big-game talisman Manchester City v Manchester United: Rashford ruling the roost as Reds' big-game talisman

    It's March 2016. Excitement and expectation are through the roof for one particular teenager ahead of his first Manchester derby.

    The local lad had already risen to the occasion in the Europa League and against Arsenal, but this was a far bigger deal for the 18-year-old who'd grown up a Manchester United fan.

    Marcus Rashford started in attack with Antony Martial and their pace and mobility proving a lethal combination, particularly with respect to the former.

    Highlighting his ice-cold mentality on the big stage, Rashford was decisive. Roasting Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis in the 16th minute, the striker nutmegged him at pace and left the experienced centre-back for dead before clinically dispatching past Joe Hart.

    If onlookers hadn't sat up and taken notice already after his heroics against Arsenal and Midtjylland, they were now. Rashford proved he was no mere flash in the pan.

    A leader's mentality

    Since that bright debut derby, Rashford has gone on to feature another seven times against City and he'll be desperate to leave is mark in Saturday's clash. It is the sort of occasion that has started to typify his status as a big-game player with an elite mentality.

    Rashford's most recent Manchester derby came in April, as City comfortably dispatched of United 2-0 at Old Trafford. It was this encounter that seemed to suggest their wretched form after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's permanent appointment was anything but a blip.

    More than anyone, Rashford was scathing of United.

    "It was quite clear who the better team was," Rashford said to Sky Sports. "We didn't play like Man United and the last few weeks it hasn't felt like Man United. It's not right. The bare minimum should be to work hard and give your all for the supporters and the badge.

    "We need the mentality and willingness of running for your team. We never call each other out but we have to be real with each other. It's a matter of trying to improve each other."

    While some may have put Rashford's comments down to 'holier than thou' posturing in an attempt to win a new contract, which duly arrived in July, there's little doubt he is now the talisman that should be speaking out.

    Motivation an issue?

    Rashford has become the player many fans are still hoping Martial will develop into. With nine goals in 15 Premier League matches, the England international is already just one behind his personal best for a full campaign.

    With 12 goals in his past 13 matches for club and country, Rashford is in the form of his life – yet even as recently as this season he has been a target for criticism.

    It has been suggested he struggles to make the difference against opponents who sit back, the games United are expected to control and data backs this up.

    In 85 matches against teams not in the current top four or traditionally part of the so-called 'big six', Rashford has scored just 19 times, an average of one every 275.9 minutes.

    It's a record that does raise valid concerns – after all, the best strikers score against pretty much everyone and anyone.

    At home on the big stage

    But what highlights Rashford's true ability and gives a clear insight to his mindset is the forward's record against the biggest clubs.

    In 41 Premier League meetings against the 'big six' and Leicester, he has an impressive haul of 17 goals, one every 163.4 minutes.

    Rashford's effectiveness in front of goal increases remarkably in such matches. Even though his shot frequency goes down from one every 28.8 minutes to 39.1 minutes, his accuracy is boosted significantly.

    Against the biggest sides, Rashford's shot accuracy rises to 48 per cent from 40 per cent, while his chance conversion increases from 10 per cent to 24 per cent.

    Rashford proved his decisiveness last time out against Tottenham and former manager Jose Mourinho, who often did little good for his confidence.

    He suggested United generally do better against teams who don't invite pressure on to themselves – backed up by the fact they've only lost two of 11 matches against the rest of the 'big six' and Leicester.

    And with a City side that hasn't kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for nearly two months next up, Rashford has another chance to prove any lingering doubters he's worthy of being regarded United's new talisman.

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