Higher plane and growing pains as Foden's coming out party turns sour

By Sports Desk October 22, 2019

The only excuse Sergio Aguero had for clattering an uncharacteristically rash shot into the Manchester City fans behind the goal was the possibility he shared their giddy excitement.

After 24 minutes of the Champions League Group C game against Serie A entertainers Atalanta, Phil Foden had come to the party.

Slipping into a pocket of space in the right channel – the same area of the field from which he tormented the Austria defence for England Under-21s seven days ago, a passage that ended in a robust body check and a viral social media clip – Foden sauntered brilliantly around grizzled centre-back Andrea Masiello to leave a chance on a plate for Aguero.

It was silver service where there is normally Silva service in these parts. Foden is being groomed to be their heir to David Silva when the great Spanish playmaker leaves at the end of this season. Plenty of times during a riotous 5-1 win, the 19-year-old's silken touch suggested all the tools are there.

However, after providing plenty to purr at as he and Ilkay Gundogan effortlessly pulled the midfield strings during the second half came the impetuousness of youth and an avoidable red card. This denies Foden the chance to sharpen his talents in the return game next month.

It is tempting to wonder to what extent it might influence Pep Guardiola's trust, which has not always felt as forthcoming as he claims.

"Absolutely not will I fine him," the City manager replied when asked after the match whether Foden will be financially punished for his indiscretion. "Maybe I have to pay him for how well he played. The important thing for Phil is not the red card, it is the way he played."

Before being selected from kick-off against Atalanta on Tuesday, 90 of Foden's 102 competitive minutes in a City shirt this season had come in an EFL Cup tie at Preston North End.

Guardiola might call the boyhood City fan one of the most talented players he has ever seen but talk is far cheaper than the £500million price tag he would apparently not consider as a worthwhile bid for Foden.

Atalanta shaded the frenetic early stages and led through Ruslan Malinovskyi's penalty shortly after Foden's fleet of foot brought the home crowd to their feet.

Visiting boss Gian Piero Gasperini is an admirer of Guardiola and the sight of his two nimble number 10s Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic squaring up to City's midfield two at centre-back – Rodri and Fernandinho – felt like something two of football's stylistic romantics might have dreamt up together.

However, Gasperini was becoming increasingly exasperated by the manner his side, who let a 3-0 lead slip to draw 3-3 at Lazio on Sunday, were neglecting the most familiar footballing trait of their homeland.

Aguero was in no mood to pass up further chances and gobbled up a floated 34th-minute delivery from Raheem Sterling, who was once again City's star performer.

Masiello, a well-worn 33-year-old central defender who looks to have been reared on boots and knees to the head along with slide tackles in gravel, was spared by Gasperini at the break. He scythed emphatically through Sterling for the penalty from which Aguero put City ahead for the first time.

The second-half became the Raheem Sterling Show, but Foden was at least co-producer alongside the immaculate Gundogan.

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    Manchester City will learn their Champions League future on Monday when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rules on their appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA competitions.

    European football's governing body announced the sanction in February, along with a €30million (£27.2m) fine, after finding City guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.

    City swiftly announced their intention to appeal to CAS and that case was heard over the course of three days from June 8 via video conference.

    Pep Guardiola's team have already secured a top-four place in the Premier League this season, and could add the FA Cup and the Champions League to the already-retained EFL Cup.

    However, Monday's verdict is likely to have far-reaching ramifications for the club's short and medium-term future.

    WHAT WERE CITY FOUND GUILTY OF?

    The independent Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found City had "committed serious breaches" of FFP rules "by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016".

    UEFA launched its investigation after a series of articles published by Der Spiegel in November 2018 alleged City had artificially inflated income from sponsors linked to the club's Abu Dhabi ownership. The governing body also stated City "failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case by the CFCB".

    WHAT WAS THE CLUB'S RESPONSE TO THE BAN?

    Emphatic and bullish. City said they were "disappointed but not surprised" by the punishment that emerged from a "prejudicial process" and welcomed the prospect of CAS considering a "comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence" in support of their case.

    IS THIS THE FIRST TIME CITY HAVE GONE TO CAS?

    No. The Premier League club tried to have UEFA's investigation thrown out, citing concerns over media reports on developments in the case, citing sources close to it.

    In November last year, CAS ruled City's appeal was "inadmissible" because all legal avenues had not yet been pursued. However, the court said the concerns expressed were not without merit and described the alleged leaks from UEFA's end as "worrisome".

    HAVE UEFA PUNISHED CITY UNDER FFP BEFORE

    Yes. In May 2014, they were fined €60m for FFP breaches, with their transfer spending capped to the same amount for the 2014-15 season, during which then-manager Manuel Pellegrini had to operate with a reduced 21-man Champions League squad.

    WHAT DO CITY STAND TO LOSE FINANCIALLY?

    A conservative estimate lands somewhere in excess of £170m when considering broadcast payments alone, while drops in matchday revenue and potential reductions in sponsorship income could push the figure towards £200m.

    WHO WILL QUALIFY FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IF CITY ARE BANNED?

    The qualification position will drop down to the team who finish fifth in the table – a spot currently occupied by Manchester United.

    COULD CITY ALSO BE PUNISHED BY THE PREMIER LEAGUE?

    Yes. The Premier League's profit and sustainability rules are basically a more lenient version of FFP, allowing losses of up to £105m over three seasons. If UEFA's findings against City are upheld, their losses might be shown to be excess of this.

    A more pressing concern might be section J.7 of the Premier League handbook, which states any team found to have provided a "false statement" with regards to applications to take part in UEFA competitions is liable for punishment. A fine or a points deduction would be among the options on the table.

    CAN CITY APPEAL AGAIN IF CAS UPHOLD UEFA'S RULING?

    Yes, to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, although the chances of overturning the punishment would be very slim by that stage and rely upon proving a procedural error on the part of CAS.

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    There was joy and relief as the final whistle blew at Voith-Arena on July 6… Werder Bremen had somehow managed to preserve the club's Bundesliga status by the skin of their teeth.

    Four-time German champions Werder survived a dramatic promotion/relegation play-off against second-tier side Heidenheim on away goals following the 2-2 second-leg draw.

    After a goalless stalemate in the opening leg, Werder were pushed to the brink by Heidenheim, who restored parity via Tim Kleindienst's 97th-minute penalty but Ludwig Augustinsson's goal three minutes earlier ensured the visitors' place in Germany's top flight next season.

    It capped a forgettable campaign for Werder, who scraped into the play-off with a 6-1 thrashing of Cologne on the final day of the 2019-20 coronavirus-affected season after finishing just a point above the automatic relegation zone as Fortuna Dusseldorf and Paderborn went down.

    Rewind back to 2018-19 and Werder had managed a joint-best domestic campaign since finishing third a decade ago – eighth position.

    "The last weeks have been a horror because I've had sleepless nights," former striker Wynton Rufer – who won four major trophies during his time in Bremen, including the 1992-93 Bundesliga title – told Stats Perform News.

    "Last season, they had probably their best season in probably 10 years, just missed out on Europe. They were able to retain most of the squad and then add to it with top-quality signings and despite that, just had a horror of a season. A lot of injuries at the start but to play as badly as they did, we're just so grateful they managed to stay up."

    Florian Kohfeldt's Werder had looked set for automatic demotion, having spent matchdays 21-33 in 17th place.

    But Werder – who hold the record for most seasons in the Bundesliga but have not lifted the trophy since 2004 – fought to avoid a similar fate to that of rivals Hamburg and Stuttgart, relegation to 2.Bundesliga.

    Hamburg were relegated in 2017-18 and capitulated as they missed out on a return to the top tier in 2019-20, while Stuttgart – demoted in two of the past four seasons – secured promotion this term.

    "You can see how difficult it is with Hamburg and Stuttgart," Oceania Footballer of the Century Rufer said. "Stuttgart came up now but it didn't happen straight away. I believe their budget for the first division was similar in the second division because of their big sponsor. In Hamburg, it was the same story where they didn't really have to have much of a lesser budget for the second division because of their billionaire part-owner.

    "But with Werder Bremen, if they had got relegated even though it's the 10th biggest city in Germany, they don't really have the support through a sponsor or individual. Their budget this season is about €150million, it probably would've went down to €50-70m and 150 people would've probably lost their jobs. For the city, it would've been a total disaster."

    Rufer knows the club and city of Bremen better than most, having spent six successful years at Weserstadion.

    Prised to the club by legendary boss Otto Rehhagel in 1989, New Zealander Rufer won the Bundesliga, the UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1992), two DFB-Pokal trophies (1991, 1994) and as many DFB-Supercups (1993, 1994), while he was the Champions League's top goalscorer in 1993-94.

    "It was obviously a very special time," Rufer said. "A big opportunity came when Otto Rehhagel tried to sign me over two seasons. He finally got me in the second season [from Grasshoppers].

    "It was a big move for any player. Werder Bremen at that time, they'd just won the Bundesliga two years previously. The year before they made the semi-final of the European Cup. They were kicking the ball around with the big boys.

    "I had the opportunity to go and play there. It was amazing. I was able to quickly establish myself, played really well and scored goals. Played in European Cups – the first season we knocked out UEFA Cup holders Napoli. Diego Maradona leading that Napoli side. It was a pretty special time. I was fortunate to be a starting member all those seasons and in those big games."

    Rufer has also frequently travelled to Bremen to celebrate the anniversary of the club's successes, while he convinced United States star Josh Sargent to join the North German outfit in 2018.

    "I've had the opportunity to be like a scout in most Decembers," Rufer added. "I've been going to Florida to look at American players because that market has grown a lot. I managed to convince Josh Sargent to sign for Werder Bremen, even though Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City were all after him. I was able to convince his family to sign with Bremen because he'd get game time and that's happened, despite almost getting relegated."

    So, where to now for Werder in 2020-21? After their narrow escape and disappointing season, 37-year-old head coach Kohfeldt will remain at the helm.

    "Apart from Dortmund and Bayern Munich, who you know will be up there again… the rest of the league are just battling away to qualify for Europe and stay up," Rufer added.

    "It wouldn't surprise me if they went through now and qualified for Europe next season. They put on a fantastic season two years ago. It was the injuries at the start of the season. They would've looked at that now. It might sound crazy but I don't think they have to change a lot. It's trying to keep the squad together as much as possible and hopefully those big guns don't have those injuries.

    "It will be really interesting to see how it pans out. Any particular changes to the squad, I don't see it too necessary. Also with coronavirus, they probably won't be in a financial situation anyway to make too many changes."

    While Kohfeldt will return, Werder great and the club's all-time leading scorer Claudio Pizarro will not after retiring at the age of 41 following four spells in Bremen.

    Pizarro won six league titles across two separate spells at Bayern Munich, while he also spent a season playing for Chelsea in the Premier League.

    "It's been absolutely phenomenal to see what he's achieved in the Bundesliga," the 57-year-old Rufer said. "Incredible to have a player like him at the club, a legend of the game. It's sad. Claudio has been an incredible servant to the Bundesliga and Werder Bremen. To find another legend like that, it would be a coup for anyone."

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    What does the future hold for PSG stars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar?

    Real Madrid have made no secret of their admiration for Mbappe, while Barcelona have tried to re-sign Neymar.

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    Paris Saint-Germain will not sell Kylian Mbappe ahead of the 2020-21 season but Neymar's future remains uncertain, according to L'Equipe.

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    ROUND-UP

    Chelsea are preparing their first offer for Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz. Journalist Nicolo Schira reports Chelsea will make a £62million (€70m) bid plus add-ons for Havertz amid interest from Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barca. To fund the transfer, Chelsea will look to sell Inter target Emerson Palmieri, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Jorginho, who would like to reunite with Maurizio Sarri at Juventus.

    Luke Shaw could be sacrificed as United look to sign Leicester City's Ben Chilwell, claims the Mirror. United have reportedly leapfrogged Premier League rivals Chelsea and Manchester City in the race for full-back Chilwell.

    - Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter are interested in Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who has also been linked to Madrid.

    Willian has turned down a move to David Beckham's Inter Miami, reports the Telegraph. Willian's Chelsea contract expires at the end of the season and he has been linked to Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Tottenham.

    - Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren is wanted by Russian champions Zenit, according to the Evening Standard.

    - Calciomercato says Juventus are not the only club eyeing Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo. Jose Mourinho reportedly wants the Italy international at Tottenham, while Madrid and United are also believed to be interested.

    - The Express claims Chelsea are stepping up their pursuit of United goalkeeper and Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson. Chelsea are ready to ask Manchester United for a price as Kepa Arrizabalaga struggles in London.

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