Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola interviewed before their Champions League Group A against RB Leipzig at Etihad Stadium in Manchester. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
  • A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton
  • The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062 and the Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000

MANCHESTER: For Pep Guardiola, it was a rallying cry ahead of what he expects to be a tough game.
For some Manchester City supporters, it was an ill-timed comment that questioned the loyalty of the club’s fan base.
A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton on Saturday — three days after a hard-fought 6-3 win over Leipzig in the Champions League at Etihad Stadium.
The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062. The Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000.
One of the people unhappy with Guardiola’s remarks was Kevin Parker, general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who accused the Spaniard of failing to understand the difficulties of attending games on a midweek evening and playing into the hands of opposition teams’ fans who often taunt City for not having capacity crowds at some matches.
“He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that,” said Parker, who described Guardiola’s comments were “disappointing and uncalled for.”
Guardiola responded to Parker on Friday in a news conference ahead of the Southampton game, saying he would “definitely not” be apologizing for his comments and that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Don’t misunderstand or put words in my mouth that I didn’t say,” Guardiola said. “That’s what I don’t like. I never will be a problem for my fans. If I am a problem for my fans, I will step aside. Not a problem for me.”
Guardiola said he had seen his players look “exhausted” in the locker room after the end-to-end game against Leipzig and quickly realized they would need fans to get behind them against Southampton, given the quick turnaround of the games and Southampton’s pressing game and energetic style.
“When you play in the Champion League, it’s so demanding on your physicality, and mentally, when they (Southampton) have a long week to prepare the game,” Guardiola said. “So that’s why we need to be all together — the players, the supporters, everyone, to help us to do our best. I know exactly our fans will be there tomorrow to support, and hopefully Mr. Parker can come to watch us.
“Mr. Parker,” Guardiola added, should “review his comments.”
City has struggled to fill the Etihad for some home games in the Champions League, especially in the first one of each season’s group stage. It has led to some rivals fans using the nickname “the Emptyhad.”
There are some reasons given for the lower European attendances — some fans’ disaffection with the tournament organizer, UEFA, for what they perceive as unfair sanctions handed to, or affecting, City in the Champions League; City being involved in games in so many competitions that fans pick and choose matches; the pandemic affecting fans’ finances; a digital ticketing system that doesn’t allow fans to transfer tickets to others if they can’t attend a midweek game.
The fan bases of City’s main rivals in English soccer, including Manchester United and Liverpool, are far bigger globally.
“We are who we are. We are proud of who we are,” Guardiola said. “I know the history, I learned about the history of this club when it was in the lower division, and what it means to travel and follow the team. I respect it a lot.”
City has had near-capacity crowds for its first two home matches of the Premier League season — 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal.

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future
Updated 59 min 11 sec ago

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future
  • The economics of world cricket have become highly skewed thanks largely to the phenomenal success of T20 in India

The Indian Premier League concluded on Oct.15 without any apparent major hitches caused by the coronavirus disease or mental health issues.

The T20 World Cup opened on schedule, rather romantically, with Papua New Guinea appearing for the first time only to be soundly beaten by Oman.

England announced their squad to tour Australia, only to be condemned by parts of the press as unimaginative, not good enough and likely to be trounced, a view shared gloatingly down-under.

Unimaginative was also the verdict passed on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)’s decision to restore its domestic four-day County Championship to a two divisional structure, comprising teams in the positions in which they ended the 2019 season.

Taken together, these outcomes provide the impression that normality has been restored to the world of cricket. However, dig a little deeper and some shifting plates may be discerned under the landscape. The most obvious one is the influence of the T20 format.

Whilst the IPL is its glittering epitome, the delayed return of the scheduled 2020 World Cup, hard on the heels of the IPL, will extend T20’s exposure for longer than normal. It will also supply a benchmark for its progress since the 2016 World Cup in terms of skills and tactics. Prior to the pandemic, nine countries/regions held International Cricket Council recognized T20 competitions, and three more are planned to start in 2022. Since 2016, both the Pakistan Super League and the Big Bash in Australia have grown in quality and appeal. 

Apart from the format, these tournaments share two common features — the ability to attract money and, partly because of this, the ability to attract players from a wide range of countries, based upon a bidding system that values each player according to perceived ability. The rewards are now staggering.

The total prize money for the T20 World Cup is $5.6 million. There will be $1.6 million for the winning team and $0.8 million for the runners-up. The losing semi-finalists will receive $0.4 million each, with the balance of $2.4 million being shared between group stage winners and those who are knocked out along the way.

In the 2021 IPL, the winners received around $2.65 million, the runners-up $1.69 million, and the third and fourth placed teams $1.16 million. On top of this, the players receive salaries with the top five being in a range of $2-2.4 million in 2021. The stark conclusion is that the top players in the IPL earn more than the winning team in the T20 World Cup, and that the financial reward for winning the IPL is greater than for winning the T20 World Cup. Taken together, the rewards on offer are a bonanza.

Contrast these riches, for example, to the financial state of English cricket. The ECB’s income is generated via broadcast rights deals, sponsorship from commercial partners, ICC distributions, ticket sales and sundry income. In the year ending Jan. 31, 2021, it reported an income of $290 million and a pandemic-induced loss of $22.6 million, which dramatically reversed the previous year’s profit of $9.1 million, causing a sharp fall in its cash reserves to $3.1 million.

As a non-profit-making organization, the ECB distributes its income in pursuit of its mission to manage and develop every form of cricket for men and women, boys and girls, from the playground to the Test arena. Almost 44 percent of the income goes directly to cricket organizations, including the 18 first-class counties. Fourteen percent is spent in supporting each of four areas — the running and growth of cricket from the grassroots up; running the England Men’s, Women’s and Disability teams; central activities, such as marketing and, in the current cycle, its new competition, The Hundred, which has been explored in previous columns. 

Professional cricket is organized through the County Championship structure. The counties have the responsibility for developing talent, ultimately producing cricketers who can perform at the highest level across the various formats.

A review of the finances of the 18 counties would show that, for most, there is a heavy dependency on the ECB distribution for survival. There is also a clear divergence between the financial health of those counties who host international matches and those who do not. The structure of county cricket and its dependence on central funds to maintain its current state has attracted much criticism, particularly in terms of the way in which the counties use the money to develop both the game and alternative income sources within their boundaries.

How enviously must English cricket cast its eyes at the wealthy, independent Board of Control of Cricket in India. Although it, too, has suffered a loss of income because of the pandemic, the completion of the IPL will ensure a recovery to previous levels and beyond. In 2019–2020, the BCCI’s annual income is thought to have been some $535 million. Almost two-thirds of this comes from the IPL, a quarter from bilateral cricket with other nations and 10 percent from its annual share of ICC revenues, which are derived from the ICC’s own media and sponsorship income streams. In 2022, two more franchises will be added to make a 10 team IPL tournament, creating further wealth.

The economics of world cricket have become highly skewed and look set to become even more so. This is largely because of the phenomenal success of T20 in cricket-mad India that has generated previously unseen revenue. This has allowed India’s cricketing ambitions to become more expansionary and has encouraged copycat tournaments to emerge.

In turn, the lure of high rewards and the attraction of the format in emerging countries that have a dearth of either facilities, resources or time, such as Papua New Guinea, is leading T20 to assume an increasingly prominent position in cricket’s landscape. This powerful position, coupled with the financial clout of India, can only lead, surely, to further changes in the way that the game is structured and financed.

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
Updated 20 min 28 sec ago

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
  • South Korean team will be underdogs against Saudi champions after shock semi-final defeat of compatriots Ulsan Horang-i

RIYADH: It is destiny. Al-Hilal, the star-studded Saudi Arabian powerhouse, will meet Pohang Steelers, the South Korean team with no stars, in the final of the AFC Champions League on Nov. 23.

Of all the hundreds of clubs around the world’s biggest continent and the 40 that started out in the tournament at the start of this year, only two teams have been champions of Asia three times — these two.

Twenty-three years after they met in a bad-tempered Asian Club Championship semi-final, with Pohang Steelers running out 1-0 winners in Hong Kong, their paths will cross again. Once they both reached their respective semi-finals on the opposite ends of Asia, a new showdown seemed certain.

What is guaranteed is that one of them will be able to put a fourth star on their shirts and officially become Asia’s most successful club ever.

While Al-Hilal’s 2-1 win over Al-Nassr on Tuesday was somewhat expected, Pohang’s penalty shootout triumph, after a 1-1 draw, the following day over fellow K League team Ulsan Horang-i was not and, on paper, the Saudi Arabian team will be strong favorites next month.

This is partly because of home advantage with the final held in Riyadh when there will be just a smattering of South Korean fans at Mrsool Stadium.

The other reason is that Pohang are not as good as the South Korean team Al-Hilal could have faced. Ulsan are defending Asian champions and are currently on top of the K League as it heads into the final stretch of the season.

They cannot match Al-Hilal in terms of stars but there are well-respected Korean talents in the Ulsan side such as Lee Chung-yong, who spent years in the English Premier League with Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace, Yoon Bitgaram, another experienced former international, as well as young talents including Lee Dong-gyeong and Won Du-jae. The 2018 World Cup goalkeeping hero Jo Hyeon-woo is there too as is talented Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili.

Pohang Steelers, on the other hand, do not have any South Korean internationals apart from defender Kang Sang-woo who has 18 minutes of national team experience that came against Sri Lanka in June.

The team, owned by steel giant POSCO, is largely made up of experienced veterans, along with young players, with this season’s top scorer, on 15 goals in all competitions, being 33-year-old Lee Sang-hyub.

The foreign contingent is a physically powerful one. There is Australian defender Alex Grant, who headed home the last-minute equalizer against Ulsan that took the semi-final into extra time and ultimately into a victorious penalty shootout. Borys Tashchy is a 1.92-meter-tall forward with some experience in Germany, and Colombian Manuel Palacios also plays in attack.

Pohang’s problem this season has been goals. In 2020, they finished third in the league, without being in the title race, but this time around they are struggling in lower mid-table and currently have a negative goal difference. Losing the 2020 Young Player of the Year Song Min-kyu in July was a blow as was the departure of Stanislav Iljutcenko. Pohang have long struggled to keep hold of their best players.

Al-Hilal fans will look at that and then look at the 12-team K League table and see Pohang in the bottom half, in seventh, a full 22 points behind Ulsan and breathe a sigh of relief at avoiding the league leaders and current continental champions. Not just that, but the Pohang team lacks Asian experience as this is a first appearance in five years.

It does not mean that the final is going to be a walkover. Had Ulsan been in the final, they may well have been distracted by a tight title race. Pohang can focus on the Champions League final and nothing else. And this is a team that has a habit of confounding the critics in Asia.

Cerezo Osaka of Japan were the first to be eliminated in the knockout round but most expected that Nagoya Grampus would end Pohang’s run at the quarter-final stage. Instead, the Koreans ran out 3-0 winners and then went on to defeat Ulsan, though were a goal down and struggling until Ulsan captain Won Du-jae was shown a straight red card for a rash tackle.

It leaves Pohang as the underdog, a no-pressure position they will be happy to occupy in Riyadh. They did, after all, defeat Al-Ittihad in the AFC Champions League final in Tokyo in 2009 and South Korean teams believe they can go anywhere in Asia and win, with a collective 12 club championships equal to the tally won by Japan and Saudi Arabia, in second and third, combined.

Al-Hilal will be happy that they are not facing Ulsan Horang-i, defending champion and South Korea’s best team, but should not get too carried away. Pohang will be a tough nut to crack, have nothing to lose, and this team with no stars wants a fourth star on their shirt.

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
Updated 21 October 2021

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
  • Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare

ABU DHABI: Sri Lanka advanced to the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup by beating Ireland by 70 runs on Wednesday, led by allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga’s 71 off 47 balls.
The win meant the Netherlands was eliminated from Group A after Namibia had earlier defeated the Dutch team by six wickets.
Sri Lanka slipped to 8-3 inside the first 10 deliveries before Hasaranga and opener Pathum Nissanka (61) wiped out Ireland hopes and carried the former champion to a daunting 171-7.
Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare despite Sri Lanka dropping a couple of easy catches. Only captain Andy Balbirnie (41) and Curtis Campher (24) reached double figures as Ireland crumbled against Sri Lankan pace and spin.
“Of course it was a concern at 8 for 3, but they put on an awesome partnership,” captain Dasun Shanaka said while praising Hasaranga and Nissanka’s century stand. “Have to look at top-order batting, but other areas are okay, though fielding has been poor as well.”
Hasaranga, promoted in the batting order at No. 5, smashed 10 fours and a six and raised a 123-run stand as Sri Lanka recovered from a top order collapse as it did against Namibia in the first game.
Fast bowler Josh Little (4-23) had clean bowled Dinesh Chandimal (6) and Avishka Fernando in the second over after Kusal Perera was caught low in the covers by Gareth Delany in Paul Stirling’s first over.
Hasaranga was finally caught at point off Mark Adair’s (2-35) slower delivery in the 16th over before Little grabbed two more wickets that included the wicket of Nissanka, who was caught behind.
The winner of Ireland vs. Namibia on Friday will join Sri Lanka in advancing to the Super 12 stage.
David Wiese’s unbeaten 60 off 40 balls helped Namibia beat the Netherlands by six wickets.
Wiese struck five sixes and four boundaries as Namibia reached 166-4 with an over to spare.
The Netherlands had earlier scored 164-4 with opening batsman Max O’Dowd getting 70 off 56 balls. Scott Edwards added 21 off 11 balls.
Wiese qualified to play for Namibia because his father was born in the country. It is Wiese’s second World Cup after representing South Africa five years ago in the T20 World Cup.
“It (feels) is awesome, to be honest,” Wiese said. “Means a lot to me, in a World Cup on international stage is special and to put in a big performance for Namibia, I’m glad to get this opportunity to play international cricket.”
The experience of Wiese came in handy for Namibia as he dominated a 93-run partnership with captain Gerhard Erasmus, who made 32.
Netherlands skipper Piter Seelaar (1-8) used seven bowlers, but Wiese and Erasmus played aggressively in the latter half of the run-chase to register Namibia’s maiden victory.
Seelaar bowled only two overs, not using his quota of four overs.
The Netherlands, which lost its first match against Ireland by seven wickets, did well early after being put into bat against Namibia. O’Dowd and Colin Ackermann featured in an 82-run stand.
“Namibia bowled well but not entirely great and we were worse,” Seelaar said. “If Ireland beats Sri Lanka then there’s a hope, otherwise we go back with a performance that hasn’t been good enough.”

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
Updated 21 October 2021

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
  • After appearance at Mohammed Abdo Arena on Thursday, the Saudi WWE superstar will join the the organization’s Smackdown brand

WWE Superstar Mansoor is finally home.

After being away from Saudi Arabia for almost 20 months, the 25-year-old will be performing on Thursday night at WWE Crown Jewel at Mohammed Bro Arena in his hometown Riyadh.

A lot has happened since he was last at the same venue for Super ShowDown in February 2020, not least signing for WWE Raw brand.

“It’s amazing, it’s the biggest platform I’d ever had,” Mansoor said. “It’s been a dream and goal my entire life. As a professional wrestler you hope to achieve that one day, to be on that stage. A small percentage of people in my field get to perform on a stage like that, where you’re being watched by millions of people all over the world, so it’s a true honor.”

And things are about to get even better for Mansoor, now living in the US, as he joins a new WWE brand.

“Now I’m switching it all up because I just got drafted into Smackdown,” he said. “So after Crown Jewel, I’ll actually be changing shows, so I get to experience both. Both shows that I experienced as a kid, so it’s a dream come true.”

After almost two years of disruptions due to the pandemic, WWE is again being watched by live audiences, something for which Mansoor and his colleagues are grateful.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “I always say, the reason that WWE is so special is because of the interaction we get to have with the fans. When we did it in front of screens, it was close but it always felt like something was wrong, and it made me realize how important fans are to what we do. We’re intrinsically connected to the fans in the sense that when we’re out there competing and performing, we look to the fans, and their response and their reaction to inform how well we do.”

He added: “For someone like me who is carried by fan participation, it’s been a total game-changer. Hearing the roar of the crowd and their support made me perform better, so I’m really excited to go back to my home. It’s been along time so I’m really excited to come back.”

While Mansoor’s popularity in the Middle East continues to rise, he is also building a solid fan base in the US.

“I think that American fans are curious about me,” he said. “They don’t really know what I’m capable of, and that’s really exciting for me because it gives me the opportunity to show them little by little just exactly what I can do. I’ve been in this tag team with Mustafa Ali, and he’s been amazing because it’s given me the showcase to do that.

“And not just in the ring, but also backstage and on the microphone and in my interactions with him I’ve gone on to show more personality, more of a character,” said Mansoor.

“That’s what’s really endearing with American fans, they don’t just attach to the physicality and the performance, they also want to care about you as a person. So having that kind of relationship with Mustafa, where I can do that, has been really helpful.”

But Thursday night is all about family, friends and Saudi fans.

“I imagine it’s probably going to be a pretty emotional moment,” Mansoor said. “One of the last shows, probably the last show I did in front of people, was that Saudi show, so it’s great for me to finally make that homecoming and for me to finally see my family for the first time in over a year. That’s a crazy amount of time for me to not see my father, brothers, my sister. I’m really excited for them to come out en masse to see this, and to experience this together. We’re back, we’re still going to be safe, but we’re back.”

Mansoor is also looking to the day that other Saudi wrestlers follow in his footsteps and join WWE.

“I think the most important thing is to always look ahead, to look toward the future,” he said. “So I think that it’s really important for us to always be on the up and up when it comes to looking at who’s going to be the next guy to represent the country. Because it can’t just be me. I’m very lucky, I’m very blessed in the sense that I was able to have wrestling experience before I tried out for WWE.”

Mansoor said: “I was the only one there who did have experience because, of course, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia to teach people how to wrestle, but that’s because that culture wasn’t really there. My hope is that by doing these shows we inspire more people to think, OK, if I work on my health and my athletic ability and my strength, maybe when there’s another tryout, I’ll be ready for that moment, to take that next step.”

He added: “As much Saudi talent possible is what I want to see. Actually, my goal is, I want to have a Saudi versus Saudi match in Saudi Arabia. That’s what I really want more than anything else.”

Mansoor said that he keeps in touch with what is happening in Saudi Arabia as much as possible because he does not feel like “a stranger in my own home” when he returns.

“My friend told me something funny,” he said. “We grew up playing WWE games, and he was telling me, Mansoor everybody here is saying they’re going buy the next WWE video game just to play as you. And I thought that’s really heartwarming, even just the idea of being in a WWE video game. When I was a kid, that was my introduction to WWE. Sitting in a room after school with all my friends making our own wrestlers and playing with on PlayStation 2, so if I get to create that experience for people, that would be amazing.

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
Updated 20 October 2021

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
  • The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters
  • Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage

BARCELONA: Gerard Pique sparked Barcelona’s flailing Champions League campaign into life on Wednesday by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev, a victory that was witnessed by a half-empty Camp Nou.
The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters for a game coach Ronald Koeman said the team had to win to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
After losing both of their opening games in Group E 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica, Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage for the first time since 2000.
Pique at least ensured the job was done in that regard, his close-range finish toward the end of a dreary first half enough to get Barca up and running, with a crucial game away in Kiev now to come in two weeks’ time.
Before then, they face Real Madrid in the first Classico of the season on Sunday, when another win would make it a hugely positive week for Koeman, whose future looked bleak when the team lost to Atletico Madrid before the international break.
That game will also be at Camp Nou and it remains to be seen if the number of Barcelona fans in attendance improves.
An early kick-off may well not have helped and there is undoubtedly still some nervousness lingering from the Covid-19 pandemic, both locally and among traveling supporters.
But it is hard not to conclude fans are also less enthused by a team that lost Lionel Messi in the close season and had lost their last three Champions League matches in a row at home, as many as they managed in the previous 74.
Pique’s goal made him Barcelona’s oldest ever Champions League goalscorer at 34 years and 260 days old but the most excitement these days surrounds the 18-year-old Ansu Fati, who is expected to ease fears around his future by signing a new contract on Thursday.
Fati, whose deal currently expires at the end of the season, is still being eased back into action after 11 months out with injury.
He came on as a substitute after starting against Valencia on Sunday and, presumably, with greater involvement planned against Real Madrid this weekend.
Barcelona could have been ahead inside two minutes but Sergino Dest, playing on the right of the front three instead of right-back, nodded over from a yard at the back post.
Luuk de Jong also headed over the kind of chance he is in the team to score but Barca hardly deserved the lead, their play stunted and hesitant, lacking any of the fizz expected of a side trying to stay in the competition.
The crowd were as flat as the team, neither one really encouraging the other, until the sight of Fati emerging down the touchline to warm up suddenly raised the fans from their stupor.
The players felt it too, the buzz reaching them on the pitch, and within moments Pique was left free at the back post to meet Jordi Alba’s cross on the half-volley, the ball flying in.
Fati came on with Philippe Coutinho at half-time and should have scored. He earned the chance by rushing Dynamo goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan but had his back to goal when Memphis Depay hooked it back to him. Fati could have laid back to Coutinho but instead scooped the ball up and flicked wide.
The game drifted and without a second goal, Barcelona briefly grew anxious. A better opponent might have turned the screw in the latter stages but Dynamo never created the decisive chance and Barca sealed a much-needed win.