When the pandemic shut the world down in March, it also shut down the world of sports.

All the major football leagues – the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Primera Liga; the NBA, Swimming, Super League Netball, everything was shut down for like four months.

It was the same here in Jamaica. The ISSA Boys and Girls Champs, Red Stripe Premier League, everything. If it was classified as a sport, it was done.

However, things gradually started to open back up.

The EPL and the other major European football leagues found a way to complete their respective seasons even if it came at great expense. Massive levels of testing of players and support staff, as well as technical people to facilitate the broadcast of the matches, played in empty stadia.

Players were quarantined in hotels and not allowed outside their respective bubbles in order to ensure that there was little chance that they or their teammates would become infected.

Here in Jamaica, there is talk of getting the Red Stripe Premier League going again later this year.  That should present quite a challenge for the 12 teams in the league and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), who will have to figure out how they are going to get things going while keeping the players and support staff safe.

Will they quarantine players and staff? Where will they house them? Will fans be allowed into the stadia where the teams are playing? This latter issue could be a major factor in how teams will approach the season.

In the absence of broadcast money and most likely corporate sponsorship, teams in the RSPL will depend heavily on gate receipts. However, with restrictions being placed on the number of supporters that will be allowed inside the stadia, how will teams stay afloat while still paying players and covering all the other costs associated with running a football franchise?

Perhaps, the JFF and the 12 teams will be able to fashion some semblance of a season but for schoolboy football, things are a lot more uncertain. The situation is so tenuous that not even the JFF President Michael Ricketts can say for sure whether there will be a school-boy season.

More than 40 teams contest the Manning Cup in Jamaica’s Corporate Area. Out in rural Jamaica, the magnitude of the undertaking is so much larger. More than a hundred schools are set to take part in the daCosta Cup competition.

I am not sure the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association can pull that off.

How will schools handle the players? Will they be allowed to go home once training camps begin? Will players be allowed to attend regular classes with other kids from so many different backgrounds and communities that might have asymptomatic people walking around or living in their homes?

 How will the schools protect coaches? How do schools plan to pay for sanitizers and all the other things needed to ensure that everyone remains safe during the course of the season?

On the face of it, I don’t think they can.

There are way too many schools, way too many environments to control and secure and way too many players to place in any kind of bubble that will guarantee their safety while preventing a national outbreak of the coronavirus in schools across the island.

As of today, fewer than 1000 Jamaicans have been confirmed to be carrying the COVID-19 virus. If there are any missteps, any gaps in proposed protocols, ISSA runs the risk of causing an island-wide outbreak that could see tens of thousands of Jamaicans becoming infected and possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

The disaster would be on such a scale, Jamaica’s medical facilities would be significantly overwhelmed.

The way I see it, there should be no school-boy football in Jamaica for 2020. It would be foolhardy to even attempt it.

 

 

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema had a simple answer when asked if he fancies a crack at mixed martial arts after his football career comes to an end: "No problem for me, I'm up for it!"

Benzema, 32, enjoyed a brilliant campaign for Madrid, scoring 21 goals and providing eight assists as Los Blancos beat Barcelona to the LaLiga title.

Such form suggests Benzema still has plenty of legs left in football yet, even though he may be approaching the twilight years of his career.

But there are other challenges that appeal to the French striker, including it seems having a go at the fight game.

Benzema took questions from several friends for a YouTube video, one of which came from French kickboxer Fouad Ezbiri, who he has trained with in the past.

Ezbiri asked if Benzema - a fan of fight sports - ever had plans to step in the ring at least once.

"Well Fouad my broski, in any case I hope you're doing good, and it's true that I love fighting sports," Benzema said. 

"I love training, as you say we already trained, after the soccer why not train with you for six months and if you think I can be ready for a fight, no problem for me, I'm up for it!"

Benzema also responded to a separate question about how much longer he feels he has left in football.

"I'm working a lot. I pay attention to everything I do, I take care of myself and I'm trying to get the best out of me as possible," Benzema added. 

"I know this is not the beginning of my career but in any case, for me, age does not mean anything and yeah we're going to do everything."

Benzema also revealed three major sporting influences of his, saying: "It depends there are many people who have inspired me but we'll take soccer for example. It's Ronaldo, the Brazilian, so he's the one who made me love football, simply. It's thanks to what he did but everyone knows it. 

"Then athletic, although I'm not a big fan of basketball, but I would say Michael Jordan for what he did, what he has been with the Chicago Bulls. And then another athlete I would say Mike Tyson, there you go Mike Tyson, because it's the power."

Real Madrid team-mate James Rodriguez pondered whether Benzema prefers scoring or assisting a team-mate.

"I'll answer you sincerely. Making assists or scoring goals are two different things but not that different and I like to do both," he said. 

"To choose, I choose to score. On the other hand if my partner is good and sure to score I'll pass him the ball and offer him the goal. So, I choose both my brother."

Danny Rose would love the opportunity to play in front of Tottenham's fans one more time and would happily see out the remainder of his contract in north London.

England left-back Rose spent the second half of the 2019-20 Premier League season on loan at Newcastle United after falling out of favour when Jose Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino as head coach last November.

The 30-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live he felt he "wasn't given as much of a chance as everybody else in the backline" by Mourinho.

Rose is contracted to Spurs until June 2021 and he told The Second Captains podcast he has not entirely given up hope of resurrecting his career at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

"I'm very happy to stay at Tottenham and see my last 10, 11 months out. I'd love to," he said.

"There's nothing more I want than to play one more time in front of the fans.

"My last game for Spurs was a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool and at the time I didn't know that could be my last game for Spurs.

"I want nothing more than to play in front of the Tottenham fans one more time and just to cherish all the moments I've had over the years with them."

Rose was extensively linked to Manchester United, among other clubs, around the time he questioned Tottenham's ambition during a 2017 interview with The Sun.

He continued to play a key role under Pochettino and was part of the England squad that reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, and is grateful to Spurs fans for standing by him.

"They've always been good to me," Rose said. "I've possibly given them reasons over the past not to be so good to me, but they know that when it was game time I gave everything for them.

"I'll continue to do that for as long as I'm contracted to Tottenham. I'll say it again - I would love nothing more than to play one last time for Tottenham and just be able to say goodbye to them and thank them for everything they've done for me, as a person and as a player.

"Ultimately, as good as I was, I was because of the love that they gave me. I'm very relaxed, I'll just have to wait and see."

Rose scored on his Premier League debut against Arsenal in 2010 – setting up a 2-1 derby victory – and has made 210 appearances for Tottenham in all competitions.

Dylan Ruiz-Diaz's first A-League goals condemned Melbourne Victory to a club-record fifth successive loss as Central Coast Mariners claimed a late 3-2 triumph, ending a lengthy winless run of their own.

Rock-bottom Mariners looked set to conclude their A-League season with a sequence of 13 matches without a victory, but 19-year-old substitute Ruiz-Diaz turned things around in the final five minutes to earn them a first win since January 12, when they also beat Monday's opponents 3-2.

Marco Rojas' brace either side of Dylan Fox's effort early in the second half had Victory in charge, but Ruiz-Diaz – brought on just before the hour-mark – levelled in the 85th minute with an emphatic finish.

He then clinched the three points four minutes later, slotting in after latching onto Milan Djuric's throughball to end the Mariners' winless streak and inflict an unwanted club record on second-bottom Victory.

Matthias Ginter is to remain at Borussia Monchengladbach despite reported interest from a host of European clubs.

The Germany centre-back has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, Inter and Atletico Madrid.

However, after a 2019-20 season that saw Gladbach finish fourth in the Bundesliga and qualify for the Champions League, Ginter wants to help the Foals take the next step.

"I'm definitely staying in Gladbach," Ginter told Kicker magazine.

"Of course I heard of the enquiries and was flattered by this attention, but I've said often enough how good things are for me in Gladbach.

"This team has huge potential. And the coach [Marco Rose] gives us a great deal of added value.

"With the amazing fans and surroundings here, this club is currently in the process of building something. I share these big ambitions and I also have a contract here."

Cagliari have hired Eusebio Di Francesco as their new coach after opting to cut short the stay of Walter Zenga.

Former Italy goalkeeper Zenga had been appointed during the coronavirus-enforced suspension, replacing Rolando Maran on a deal until June 30, 2021.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Milan in the club's final match of the season, Zenga seemed optimistic about his chances of continuing at the helm next term.

But club president Tommaso Giulini was clearly of a differing opinion, with Cagliari confirming on Sunday that Zenga's stay had been terminated despite guiding them to safety.

Di Francesco arrives in his place, signing a two-year deal as he returns to work following an ill-fated spell at Sampdoria last year.

He presided over Sampdoria's first seven Serie A matches of the 2019-20 season, but was dismissed in October having lost six of those games.

The former Roma boss will be hoping to rebuild his reputation with the Sardinian club, but will surely be aware he may have to hit the ground running if he is to do so, as he will be Cagliari's 19th coach since the start of 2010.

Virgil van Dijk has proven himself to be "unbelievable" in almost every aspect since joining Liverpool, but former Reds defender Kolo Toure thinks forwards can cause him more problems by running at him in one-on-one situations.

Netherlands international Van Dijk joined Liverpool from Southampton in January 2018 for a reported £75million, at the time a world-record fee for a defender.

His signing helped transform Liverpool from top-four contenders into a team that challenges for titles, as the Reds were only narrowly beaten to the 2018-19 Premier League title while also winning the Champions League.

Van Dijk's influence showed no sign of abating this term as Liverpool won a first league title in 30 years, while his performances continue to impress.

Toure, a former Liverpool and Celtic defender like Van Dijk, is an admirer of the centre-back but feels forwards might have a little more fortune against him if they are braver.

"He's an unbelievable player," Toure told Stats Perform News. "He's a top player. He's got speed, height - he can jump. He's got technique. He can switch the game with his long passes. He has got everything.

"I haven't seen many players challenge him one on one. In my opinion, that's his weakness! He's really tall and if you really attack him with the ball, he can struggle, but he's so clever.

"He's so clever because he drops well. But if you are really aggressive in attack in a one-on-one, I think you can get something from him.

"He's a really clever player. He's got [Joe] Gomez on his side, good players on his side to help him as well. There are good players around him and I think that makes his game easy. But I think he's got so many qualities."

Toure was part of the Liverpool team that were pipped to the title by Manchester City in 2013-14, losing out by two points after Steven Gerrard's infamous slip in a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea helped hand the initiative back to Manuel Pellegrini's men.

That gutting moment had hung over Liverpool and Gerrard in the intervening years, but their 2019-20 success erases that memory, according to Toure.

"Absolutely [it heals the pain of 2014]," he said. "When you play for a team like Liverpool… the fans, the atmosphere is unbelievable. An unbelievable club.

"I had a great time there. I saw players win the Premier League who I'd been playing with. I was happy to see them win.

"They are the best team in the world right now. Jurgen Klopp is doing an amazing job right now. [Former manager] Brendan Rodgers' signings have been really good as well for him. You can see that he's taken those players and really pushed them.

"Of course, he's added top players on top of all of that. This club is one of the best clubs in the world. They really deserve everything, they're really good guys, honest people working hard, loving the club and that's great. It's a great, great club."

Memphis Depay has links to Manchester United and he might be able to help out his former club.

Depay spent two years at United but struggled before leaving for Ligue 1 outfit Lyon in 2017.

The Netherlands international has since flourished in France, and he could now play a role in United bringing Jadon Sancho to Manchester.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND WANT DEPAY AS SANCHO REPLACEMENT

Manchester United's bid to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho could hinge on Lyon captain Memphis Depay, according to The Sun.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Bundesliga side Dortmund for Premier League giants United in a blockbuster transfer this off-season.

Former United forward Depay has emerged as a possible replacement for Sancho at Dortmund and is reportedly the key to the Red Devils prising the England international to Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Antonio Conte leave Inter after just one season? The Inter head coach took aim at the club after their final game of the Serie A season – a 2-0 win over Atalanta on Saturday to secure second spot behind Juventus. Conte claimed neither he nor his players were protected by the club amid criticism. Now, Sky Sport Italia, SportMediaset, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport claim the damage is irreparable. With Conte facing an uncertain future, former Juve head coach Massimiliano Allegri and ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino have emerged as possible replacements.

- Le10Sport reports Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wants Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele to join the Gunners. Dembele has been linked with a move away from the LaLiga giants, who are reportedly trying to raise transfer funds through sales. Aubameyang himself has been linked to Barca, as well as Paris Saint-Germain and United previously.

Milan are ready to sell Lucas Paqueta, claims Calciomercato. Linked to PSG previously, Serie A rivals Fiorentina are interested in the Brazilian attacker and an exchange involving Viola star defender Nikola Milenkovic could take place.

- According to the Telegraph, Sevilla defender Diego Carlos is at the top of Arsenal's transfer wish list. Premier League rivals Manchester City and Liverpool have also been credited with interest.

- AS Diario says Real Madrid have a clear plan of when they want to pursue their transfer targets amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reluctant to spend after winning LaLiga and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Madrid are focusing on 2021 – PSG's Kylian Mbappe at the top of the list. Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is also wanted next year, while Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is a 2022 target.

Fiorentina are willing to sell Federico Chiesa for the right price, club president Rocco Commisso said. 

Chiesa, 22, has been linked with a move to Serie A giants Juventus, Inter and Milan. 

After a 3-1 win over SPAL on the final day of the 2019-20 season on Sunday, Commisso once again reiterated Fiorentina are open to selling the star forward but are in no rush to see him leave. 

"Chiesa still at Fiorentina? We hope so," he told Sky Sport. 

"He can do whatever he wants. The main thing is that if he goes, he will get to the cash desk as much as we ask." 

Commisso added: "I hope he will stay, but if he wants to leave they must pay him what we value him, on our terms." 

Chiesa scored 11 goals and provided six assists in 37 games this season for a Fiorentina side that finished the league in 10th place.

Lecce were relegated from Serie A following a 4-3 final-day defeat at home to Parma as Genoa retained their top-flight status.

Fabio Liverani guided Lecce to promotion last season, but they will make an immediate return to the second tier.

A Fabio Lucioni own goal and Gianluca Caprari's strike gave Parma a two-goal lead, but Antonin Barak and Biagio Meccariello ensured Lecce were back on level terms at the break.

They went down fighting, but Andreas Cornelius and Roberto Inglese put Parma in command again before Gianluca Lapadula pulled one back in a thriller.

Lecce would have suffered the drop with SPAL and Brescia in any case, as Genoa cruised to a 3-0 victory over Verona to finish four points above the drop zone, Antonio Sanabria helping himself to a double.

Cristian Romer added a third goal before half-time and was later sent off, while Genoa also had Francesco Cassata dismissed late on along with Verona's Sofyan Amrabat.

Mikel Arteta has challenged Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stay at Arsenal and become a club great.

Aubameyang scored both goals – as he did in the semi-final win over Manchester City – as Arsenal completed a stirring 2-1 FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea on Saturday.

The former Borussia Dortmund forward has 70 goals in all competitions since joining the Gunners in January 2018, but his future is the subject of mounting speculation.

Aubameyang is out of contract next year, although Arteta has repeatedly expressed confidence the Gabon international is ready to remain at Emirates Stadium.

After his superb winning goal downed London rivals Chelsea, he was challenged by his head coach to place himself alongside the likes of Ian Wright and Thierry Henry in Arsenal history.

"It's the most difficult thing in football, that's for sure, and he makes it simple – look at the second goal he scored," Arteta said.

"We always had incredible strikers at this football club and Auba deserves to be named and compared with the big names.

"By winning trophies he will be closer to that and the longer he stays there as well.

"Hopefully we can have him for more time."

Arteta also made a point of praising Aubameyang's work ethic – the captain leading by example in a squad where the likes of Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi have fallen shy of their boss' exacting standards.

"The biggest problem as well was probably to convince [Aubameyang] to work the way he is working," Arteta added.

"He was going to get more rewarded, more respected and then that respect goes from respect to admiration – admiration from his team-mates, the people who work with him and the fans.

"I think now, the way he is conducting himself on and off the field, he has got that."

Frank Lampard has implored the Premier League to push back the start of the 2020-21 season for clubs still competing in Europe.

Lampard's Chelsea travel to face Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League on Saturday, albeit with limited hopes of reaching the quarter-finals as they face up to a 3-0 deficit from February's first leg.

Manchester City face Real Madrid 24 hours earlier at the Etihad Stadium, 2-1 to the good and with a more realistic tilt at playing in the final in Lisbon on August 23.

Manchester United and Wolves remain in the Europa League, which concludes on August 21 in Cologne.

Lampard, who will be without captain Cesar Azpilicueta and winger Christian Pulisic at Bayern after both sustained hamstring injuries during Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup final loss to Arsenal, believes the Premier League's stipulated start date of September 12 for next season is much too soon in that context.

"The players need to be given a break to play at the level of the quality product that the Premier League is," he said.

"Even in the worst-case scenario that we don’t go through against Bayern, the 12th feels too early for us to start playing again.

"The players need a break. That's why we're pulling two hamstrings and having players pulling out of the game before this.

"I would like to think the Premier League will look seriously at that and hopefully give us a fair start for next season.

"I think it's something we deserve for being a Premier League club competing in the Champions League."

Despite ending his first domestic campaign in charge of Chelsea on a dispiriting note, Lampard was keen to hail the season as a success on the whole, with the Blues securing Champions League qualification for next season despite being placed under a transfer embargo before the start of 2019-20.

"I'm delighted with the season and I've wanted to keep that within for the last week as I don't like to get too excited when there's a big game coming up," he said, despite accusing his team of "complacency" after failing to capitalise upon Pulisic's early opener at Wembley.

"But we have to reflect on a season going into it where people didn’t expect us to be in the top four. There were unknowns, the transfer ban, other clubs around us moving forward with recruitment when we couldn't.

"You can lose a final, we've lost a final and that's frustrating for us. But there's a bigger picture that we're working to and we've seen lots of good things.

"The players should be proud of how they've competed. The league position is a huge plus because, let's get it right, not many people gave us that chance at the start.

"Now we have to look to get better. [The FA Cup final] showed us there definitely is room to get better."

Any progress next term looks increasingly likely to take place without long-serving winger Willian.

The Brazil international is out of contract and has been linked with Arsenal, although Lampard is in the dark over his former team-mate's next move.

"I know the situation from the club's end, I've got a great relationship with Willian but I do not know what that decision is," he added.

"He's been brilliant for me this season but it is his choice and I respect his choice. He's been a great servant for Chelsea if he decides to move on."

Romelu Lukaku believes Inter are heading in the right direction after finishing as runners-up to Juventus in Serie A.

A 2-0 final weekend win at Atalanta secured the runners-up spot for Antonio Conte's men, whose fine late-season form meant they finished only a point shy of Juve, who contrastingly shambled towards the finishing post.

Lukaku scored 23 goals in 36 top-flight outings in his debut campaign for the Nerazzurri following an €80million switch from Manchester United and hopes the best is yet to come.

"Serie A is finished but we're still building and going the right way," the Belgium striker wrote in an Instagram post.

"Thank you for supporting the team throughout this season. To all of my team-mates, you guys have been wonderful. I would give my all for you guys every single day."

Inter's final haul of 82 points matched their title-winning total under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10.

It is the first time they have earned in excess of 79 points without winning the Scudetto.

Cristiano Ronaldo appears committed to at least another season with Juventus as he wants to win a third Scudetto with the club.

Ronaldo joined Juve from Real Madrid in a shock €100million transfer two years ago and has maintained strong form despite seemingly entering the twilight years of his career.

The 35-year-old scored 21 Serie A goals in 2018-19, before bettering that by 10 this term as Juve clinched a ninth successive league crown.

Mild speculation had suggested in recent months that Ronaldo might be considering moving on again, with the Portugal great and coach Maurizio Sarri reportedly enduring a rocky relationship at times this season.

But Ronaldo has given an indication that he plans to stay for the 2020-21 season.

Writing in an Instagram post published after Juve lifted the Serie A trophy on Saturday, Ronaldo said: "Happy to win the last two of the nine consecutive Serie A titles for Juventus!

"It seems easy but it isn't! Year after year with talent, dedication and hard work you can achieve your goals and be better than before! Let's go for my third."

Juve could yet end a 24-year wait for Champions League success this season as well. The two-time European champions last won the trophy in the 1995-96 season.

The Old Lady head into Friday's last-16 second-leg clash with Lyon 1-0 down, but will fancy their chances of overturning that deficit in Turin given their opponents have played just one competitive match - Friday's penalty shoot-out defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de la Ligue final - since March.

Newcastle Jets kept up their bright form since the A-League restart as Roy O'Donovan's smart header earned a 1-0 win over Western United.

The Jets made it seven points from a possible nine since the league's lockdown ended as a crowd of 2,570 saw a home success at the McDonald Jones Stadium.

O'Donovan netted in the 29th minute, timing his run to meet Jason Hoffman's cross from the right and glance the ball across goal into the left corner.

It was the experienced Irish forward's 10th goal of the season, and his fourth since arriving at Newcastle from the Brisbane Roar in January.

O'Donovan later struck the outside of the post, while the visitors were denied an equaliser when Besart Berisha found the net with a close-range volley but was flagged offside.

Newcastle jumped two places to seventh with their win, nudging above Western United who fell to eighth.

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