Aymeric Laporte looking to start his Manchester City trophy collection

Manchester city's $81 million star Aymeric Laporte.
Updated 25 February 2018
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Aymeric Laporte looking to start his Manchester City trophy collection

MANCHESTER: Growing up in a rugby-loving French town, it would have been expected for Aymeric Laporte to follow in his father’s footsteps and develop a similar sporting passion.
But his life has not been one to follow the norm since he was a youngster in Agen — and tough decisions have instead shaped a footballing career that now looks set to reach greater heights.
Laporte will step out at Wembley today in the Carabao Cup Final against Arsenal as Manchester City’s record signing following a £58 million ($81 million) move from Athletic Bilbao.
The 23-year-old had been with the Basque club since 2010, rejected City two years ago, and declared his intent to play for France’s national team despite being coveted by Spain.
And the classy, yet strong center-back recalled how the journey began as he said: “I never played rugby, but my father played in the French Second Division.
“He didn’t want me to play rugby because it was very, very hard on the body. And so at school, I picked up my love for football and the rest is history.
“I’ve spent my whole life playing football with my friends and family. Since I was a kid, I’ve just been used to having a ball at my feet. I like to think of myself as a modern defender rather than an old-school one.
“I’m trying to evolve with how football is going, but the truth is I like the style of playing the ball out from the back and hitting long passes.”
It was those qualities that saw City pursue Laporte again in January. A broken ankle for France Under-21s meant he decided to stay at Bilbao in 2016 and he said: “I was injured and I didn’t think it was the right moment for me to come here.
“The injury complicated things a bit, but I knew that if I kept working hard, the chance would come as City knew the potential I had.”
Manager Pep Guardiola’s presence was key this time, while he added: “Then I looked at the team and there are so many young players a similar age to myself. That was a major factor in my thinking.”
Having learned his trade under former Argentina and Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa at Bilbao, Laporte is hoping his game develops further with Guardiola.
“The two of them just know so much about the game,” he said. “They’re different personalities and managers but in terms of learning and training, I couldn’t ask for two better. The learning process is amazing.
“Bielsa brought laptops onto the training pitch and showed us videos of where to be on the pitch in terms of position.
“They were strange little things, but that’s why we learned a lot under him. My current manager doesn’t bring laptops out on to the training pitch. It’s a different method, but it’s just as valid.
“I have already learned a lot from Pep in the short time I’ve been here.”
Laporte is lauded in Agen for his sporting achievements, but also for helping to save his boyhood club from administration as FIFA player development rules meant they received a 1 percent (£580,000) fee as a result of his transfer.
“I was born there, I grew up there, I did everything there so obviously I’m really happy to have been able to help my old club, especially with them having financial difficulties,” he said.
“I received calls from the local council congratulating me on my move to City and thanking me for what it had done for the club.
“There has been talk about naming a plot of land after me, but I don’t know exactly what.”
More accolades will surely follow should he develop into the great player that many predict.
A first trophy with Premier League leaders City — and for Guardiola since his arrival in 2016 — is his immediate target, though, as he added: “Winning a trophy would definitely help the development of the team.
“It would be great to get a trophy under our belts and then focus again on the league and try to maintain the distance between us and second place and win that at some stage.”


Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.