Courage continues to drive Fernandinho and Man City to Premier League glory

Courage continues to drive Fernandinho and Man City to Premier League glory
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Updated 14 May 2022

Courage continues to drive Fernandinho and Man City to Premier League glory

Courage continues to drive Fernandinho and Man City to Premier League glory
  • Despite a devastating loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, the Brazilian veteran is hoping to leave the Etihad this summer with a 12th major honor

MANCHESTER: In a scene from the “All or Nothing” Amazon documentary series that charted Brazil’s 2019 Copa America campaign, Fernandinho listens intently as “coragem,” the Portuguese word for courage, reverberates around the dressing room.

Seeking to lift spirits and unite his under-pressure team, coach Tite tells the players it is “courage” that will provide them with the mental strength they need in adversity.

“You can lose, but never be defeated,” he says during the impassioned speech, before leading Brazil to their first major trophy in 12 years.

Midfielder Fernandinho won the last of his 53 caps for his country during that Copa America triumph — and courage is a trait the 37-year-old also sees in the club he currently captains, Manchester City, as he seeks to secure the perfect farewell gift of one last success before he departs.

City’s dramatic Champions League exit in the semi-finals this month — having seen a two-goal advantage over Real Madrid wiped out in gut-wrenching fashion when the Spanish champions struck three times late on to win 6-5 on aggregate — would demoralize most teams. All the more so when the pain of last season’s defeat in the final by Chelsea is still raw.

City, though, responded with 5-0 and 5-1 victories over Newcastle and Wolves to keep them on course to retain the Premier League title. Fernandinho expected nothing less.

“Definitely, we are strong mentally or we wouldn’t be in the position we are now, fighting for a fourth Premier League in five years,” he said. “If we are not strong mentally, I don’t know who can be.

“The level we are at now, we know what we are playing for, the players know what they need to do and we have done it before. That’s important, because they understand their responsibility and know how important it is to overcome those difficult situations and give the response to our fans, to give them the title.”

He remains philosophical about the ups and downs of football in general and the Champions League exit in particular.

“In life you have good moments and bad moments constantly,” Fernandinho said. “It was really heartbreaking to lose in Madrid, especially the way the game went. We wanted so much to reach the final but it wasn’t enough. It is football. It is life.

“Losing that final last season and losing that semi-final could be bad moments in my life. But what’s important is the way we reacted. The group of people we have — the players, staff, everyone at the club — everyone gave their contribution. And, after that, we have shown good character and a response.”

Has this City squad displayed greatness, too?

“Yes, definitely,” he replied. “It’s a great team and I’m proud to be part of this and work with them. I was fighting for those two titles but now it’s one and we are 100 per cent going to try to win it. Definitely, I want to finish with that Premier League title … definitely.”

With a three-point lead and seven-goal advantage over their only remaining challengers, Liverpool, City will be crowned champions if they take four points from their final two games, against West Ham on Sunday and Aston Villa a week later.

It would be a fifth Premier League success for Fernandinho, matching the club record set by Sergio Aguero. Yet when he arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, it was almost a case of Fernandin-who? Some people questioned the £30 million ($36.7 million) purchase of a player who had waived about £4 million owed to him by Shakhtar to complete the move. He went on to prove his worth and is now widely lauded as one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League.

Having decided to return to Brazil this summer when his contract ends, Fernandinho wants to secure a 12th major honor with City to add to the 11 he won with Shakhtar.

“I’m really proud to have been part of this huge club, full of nice people, hard workers, and that’s why City are considered one of the best teams in Europe now,” Fernandinho told Arab News.

“I’m really proud to have been part of this team, to have been part of how they have grown and the history we have made. It’s a mix of emotions now. When I look back, the first time I arrived here so full of expectation; I just came to play well, to win titles. When the years went by, you become a bit more experienced and you win one title and you become hungrier and hungrier to win more.”

Londrina-born Fernandinho left Brazil, bound for Ukraine, in 2005 after three years at Atletico Paranaense, who are one of the clubs currently interested in signing him. He is now ready to continue his career at home, inspired by compatriot Ze Roberto, a former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich winger who continued to play until he was 43.

“It’s hard to leave City but it’s life,” said Fernandinho. “I have a wish to keep playing a little bit more, to get more minutes in games and the chance to play for another club. It’s not decided yet where, and I’m still looking for the offers, but I will definitely go home.

“City tried to get me to stay and I’m really grateful because the way they treat me is full of respect, and me the same, but in the end I just follow my heart. I found the best solution for me was to leave and keep playing for a few more years. I hope I can play on until I am 40; I feel good and if I am capable enough, I want to do that, just to enjoy it.

“But it’s not just about football, you know, it’s about family, to be a bit closer to my family and friends. I have been away from Brazil for 17 years now and it’s not been easy. My dad is getting old, my mum is getting old and they can’t travel a lot to come and visit me, so the best choice is to go back home and stay close to them, and keep working there.”

Often regarded as an unsung hero of Abu Dhabi-owned City’s recent domination of English football, Fernandinho will leave behind him the image of a gentle giant, a tenacious, intelligent, industrious leader on the pitch, yet humble off it as he encourages his teammates to further excel.

Manager Pep Guardiola has hailed the importance of his captain, once describing him as a player “who can do everything.” Deployed at center-back during City’s current defensive crisis, although a muscular problem means he is doubtful for the trip to West Ham, Fernandinho has dutifully stepped up to the challenge whenever and wherever needed.

He has no doubt his teammates will step up, too, and continue to challenge for the biggest prizes, including the one he and they craved so badly.

“I do believe in the future they will win the Champions League and I hope they can win it really, really soon,” said Fernandinho.

“I will be far away but supporting them — and always looking on at them to do well.”


Tatum, Celtics blow away Heat to square series at 2-2

Tatum, Celtics blow away Heat to square series at 2-2
Updated 24 May 2022

Tatum, Celtics blow away Heat to square series at 2-2

Tatum, Celtics blow away Heat to square series at 2-2
  • Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team had never been able to recover from a poor start
  • The series now swings back to Florida, with top seeds Miami hosting Game 5 on Wednesday

BOSTON: Jayson Tatum rediscovered his scoring touch with 31 points as the Boston Celtics thrashed the Miami Heat 102-82 to level their NBA Eastern Conference finals series on Monday.

Two days after dropping their opening home game of the best-of-seven finals, Boston came roaring back at the TD Garden with a one-sided Game 4 blowout that squares the series at 2-2.

Tatum also finished with eight rebounds and five assists, with support coming from Payton Pritchard (14 points) and Derrick White (13). Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams added 12 points apiece.

Al Horford led a hard-nosed Boston defensive effort with 13 rebounds and four blocks.

Victor Oladipo led the scoring for Miami with 23 points from the bench.

None of Miami’s starting lineup made double figures, making a paltry 18 points in total.

“We just came and redeemed ourselves,” Tatum said.

“We knew this was a game that we really needed, to protect home court. After the last game we were just ready to play, to get back out here and play better.

“It’s been a back and forth series so far. It’s best of three now, we’ll just go away now for game five and get ready.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team had never been able to recover from a poor start.

“They came out and jumped on us,” Spoelstra said. “I think more than anything our offense hurt us at the beginning. We just weren’t purposeful.

“But we’re not making any excuses. They outplayed us tonight for sure. We never could get any kind of a grip on the game.”

Spoelstra insisted that his team would mount a response in Game 5.

“This is part of the playoffs. There’s a lot of extreme highs and extreme lows, and a lot of emotion,” said Spoelstra. “You just have to stay the course and stay together.

“And it’s a great series. You have to embrace that.”

The game was effectively won in the first two quarters as Boston punished a strangely subdued start by Miami to race into a 29-11 lead in the first quarter.

Tatum, who had been restricted to just 10 points in Saturday’s Game 3 defeat, was back to his sharp-shooting best with 12 points in the first quarter alone.

With Miami’s offense unable to penetrate a Boston defense bolstered by the return of Williams, the Celtics kept the pressure on in the second quarter, extending the lead to 27 points at one stage.

There was no better illustration of Miami’s offensive impotence than the first-half points haul of their starting lineup.

With Jimmy Butler contributing just six points, the Heat’s starters totalled 10 points in the first half, with only Oladipo’s 18 points off the bench preventing a total humiliation.

Miami made just 11-of-40 attempts from the field in the first half, a shooting percentage of just 27.5 percent.

Any hopes Miami had of mounting a second-half fightback were quickly snuffed out in the third quarter.

Boston outscored the Heat 12-4 immediately after the interval to pull clear by a whopping 32 points with the lead at 69-37.

The departure of Williams with what appeared to be left knee soreness midway through the third quarter helped Miami reduce the deficit to 23 points at 73-50, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

Boston continued to score steadily at the start of the fourth quarter and were sitting on a 31-point lead at 88-57 with just under nine minutes remaining before closing out a wire-to-wire win.

The series now swings back to Florida, with top seeds Miami hosting Game 5 on Wednesday.


Man City title miracle all part of Pep’s plan

Man City title miracle all part of Pep’s plan
Updated 24 May 2022

Man City title miracle all part of Pep’s plan

Man City title miracle all part of Pep’s plan
  • Guardiola kept his post-match promise by puffing on a cigar as he took to the stage at the end of the parade
  • City have now four titles in the last five years under Guardiola and six in the last 11 seasons

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Pep Guardiola joked it had been part of his plan for Manchester City to come from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and claim the Premier League title as his side paraded the trophy through Manchester on Monday.

Needing to win to hold off Liverpool by a point to win the title, City were trailing 2-0 with 15 minutes remaining before three goals in five-and-a-half manic minutes at the Etihad.

Guardiola kept his post-match promise by puffing on a cigar as he took to the stage at the end of the parade.

City have now four titles in the last five years under Guardiola and six in the last 11 seasons.

“It was the plan, 0-2, calm, calm,” Guardiola said with a laugh. “And after we scored it was a great night.

“Everybody knows what has happened is an incredible achievement. This is the toughest league, in six years since we arrived we had four.

“The happiness on all the faces is the greatest reward we can get.”

Despite their domestic dominance, the Champions League has remained beyond City despite the billions spent amassing a stellar squad.

Another heartbreaking exit to Real Madrid in the semifinals earlier this month could have derailed their Premier League title charge, but they bounced back to take the necessary 10 points from the final four games.

“There was a lot of tension in the last month after (the defeat to Madrid) and a lot of difficult games.

“We never give up and we have to be so proud of the group.”

Many of the City squad looked to have spent most of the past 24 hours celebrating their triumph.

Ederson sprayed more than one of the fans clinging to lamp posts with champagne, while Jack Grealish offered to buy everyone on the roadside a shot if they wanted to meet him out in the city later on.

Kevin De Bruyne was far from alone in sporting dark glasses, admitting to being a “little bit drunk.”

The Belgian was named the club’s player of the year amid the celebrations.

Asked if he thought it was all over at 2-0, De Bruyne said: “For about 10 seconds. Then we just go and we did it. We did it the City way, I would say. Now it feels very sweet.”

The event also became a farewell party for club captain Fernandinho, who will return to his native Brazil this summer after nine years and 12 trophies with the club.

“When I came here for the first time and met someone from City they said, ‘Listen, we want you to be one of the leaders, we want you to be a champion’,” the 37-year-old said.

“When I look back all of the titles we won are really special.”


Djokovic backs ATP, laments Wimbledon ‘lose-lose situation’

Djokovic backs ATP, laments Wimbledon ‘lose-lose situation’
Updated 24 May 2022

Djokovic backs ATP, laments Wimbledon ‘lose-lose situation’

Djokovic backs ATP, laments Wimbledon ‘lose-lose situation’
  • The All England Club said last month it would not allow players from Russia or Belarus to compete when its Grand Slam tournament begins on June 27

PARIS: Novak Djokovic intends to defend his title at Wimbledon and supports the decision by the ATP men’s tour to withhold ranking points from that tournament as a show of unity among players — even though the move will negatively affect his hold on the No. 1 spot.

In response to a reporter’s question after his first-round victory at the French Open on Monday night, Djokovic called the All England Club’s ban of players from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine “a mistake” and criticized Wimbledon organizers for their lack of communication.

“They haven’t discussed it with anybody from ATP or any individual players — or, for that matter, Russian or Belarusian players — to just communicate and understand whether there is a common ground where both sides could be making a compromise and something could work out,” Djokovic said about the All England Club. “So I think it was a wrong decision. I don’t support that at all.”

He called it a “lose-lose situation for everyone.”

Russia, with help from Belarus, began attacking Ukraine in late February. The All England Club said last month it would not allow players from Russia or Belarus to compete when its Grand Slam tournament begins on June 27; the ATP and the WTA women’s tour responded by announcing Friday they would not award ranking points to any players for results at Wimbledon.

Djokovic said he heard there might have been other options available to All England Club decision-makers than has been revealed, such as the possibility of exhibition matches to raise money to help Ukrainians in need.

Djokovic has had his run-ins with ATP management in the past, and even worked to create a separate players’ association, but on this matter he said he backs the tour.

“Collectively, I’m glad that players got together with the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, and showed to the Grand Slam that when there is a mistake happening — and there was, from the Wimbledon side — then we have to show that there’s going to be some consequences,” Djokovic said.

The ATP says that all players who earned ranking points at Wimbledon in 2021 (Djokovic earned the maximum 2,000 for taking the championship) will have those erased from their record as part of the usual 52-week system that counts someone’s best 19 tournaments over that span.

Whatever happens at the tournament in 2022 will have no bearing on a player’s standing.

“For me, or for the guys that did well last year, we are not only not going to have a chance to earn points, but we can’t defend them,” Djokovic said. “And there are some guys, obviously, who are not going to have a chance to earn points, of course. It’s a very unique and weird situation, I must say.”

Earlier in the day, four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said she was leaning toward skipping Wimbledon with no points on offer.

But Djokovic’s view was different.

“A Grand Slam is still a Grand Slam,” said the owner of 20 such titles, one shy of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record. “Wimbledon, for me, was always my dream tournament when I was a child. So I don’t look at it through the lens of points or of prize money. For me, it’s something else.”


Tug-of-war over: With Mbappe staying, PSG lay first brick in rebuild

Tug-of-war over: With Mbappe staying, PSG lay first brick in rebuild
Updated 24 May 2022

Tug-of-war over: With Mbappe staying, PSG lay first brick in rebuild

Tug-of-war over: With Mbappe staying, PSG lay first brick in rebuild
  • In addition to the colossal sums of money reportedly promised to the 23-year-old forward — financial terms of Mbappe’s new deal have not been disclosed — the France star has received guarantees that things will change in a big way

PARIS: Kylian Mbappe’s decision to reject Real Madrid and commit to Paris Saint-Germain for three more seasons marks the start of a large rebuilding project at the French league champion.

Since Qatari investors took over in 2011, PSG have been a dominant force in France but have consistently failed to replicate that success on the European stage despite spending massive amounts on star players.

Club officials hope Mbappe’s decision to snub the Spanish giant will finally lead to the conquest of club soccer’s biggest trophy, the Champions League.

In addition to the colossal sums of money reportedly promised to the 23-year-old forward — financial terms of Mbappe’s new deal have not been disclosed — the France star has received guarantees that things will change in a big way, with a new coach and a new sporting director likely to be appointed.

“The project has changed,” Mbappe told a news conference on Monday. “The club wants to change a lot of things on the sports side, so it gives me this desire to continue. My story here is not over.”

New players will also join this summer to boost a project that will be centered around the World Cup-winning forward. PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said last week that Mbappe will become “the cornerstone of the club’s project for the years to come, both on and off the pitch,” but the striker is adamant he has not requested the full powers.

“I am a soccer player, well anchored in a collective,” Mbappe said. “Even if, of course, players have different status in a team. I remain a soccer player, and I will not go beyond this role.”

Sitting next to his star player, Al-Khelaifi did not give many details about PSG’s reorganization but acknowledged he promised to sign new players if Mbappe stayed.

“Because he really deserves it,” Al-Khelaifi said, adding that money was not crucial in convincing Mbappe to reject Madrid’s offer and extend his glitzy partnership with Neymar and Lionel Messi at Parc des Princes.

“The most important thing for Kylian was the sporting project,” he said, insisting that clubs in Spain were in a position to offer more money than PSG.

In an interview with media relayed by Le Parisien newspaper, Mbappe said he received some guidance from French President Emmanuel Macron.

“Let’s just say it was good advice,” Mbappe said. “He wanted me to stay, that’s part of the negotiations. He is one of the different people I talked to.”

The first collateral victim of Mbappe’s prolonged stay in the French capital has been sports director Leonardo. The former Brazil international, who returned to the club three years ago, was fired over the weekend following intense discussions.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, his departure was crucial in the negotiations with Mbappe, who pushed for an overhaul of the hierarchy following PSG’s exit in the last 16 of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid in March.

Luis Campos has been tipped as a replacement for Leonardo. The Portuguese is a renowned talent scout with connections in Europe and South America and has been enjoying an excellent relationship with Mbappe and his family. Campos, who previously worked at Lille and Monaco, played an influential role when Mbappe signed his first professional deal with the Principality side in 2016.

One thing that won’t immediately change at PSG, though, is their habit of frequently changing coaches. Mauricio Pochettino, who sealed PSG’s record-equaling 10th league title but could not avoid another Champions league failure, is unsure about his future at the helm of the Parisian team amid reports in the French media that he will be replaced soon. Speculation over the potential appointment of Zinedine Zidane has been growing in recent days.

To strengthen their squad, PSG officials have also discussed with Mbappe the prospect of recruiting a versatile full back and new midfielders. L’Équipe reported on Monday that PSG made a priority of signing Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni, with Ousmane Dembele also targeted.

Mbappe joined PSG from Monaco in 2017 when he was still a teenager. He has 171 goals in just 217 appearances for PSG and won three consecutive player of the season awards, and topped the French scoring charts in each of the last four seasons.

Mbappe has often said that playing for Madrid was his childhood dream, and the Frenchman did not rule out making the move one day.

“I am really focused on this new contract. What will happen in the future, I don’t know,” he said.


Hertha Berlin keep Bundesliga status with playoff victory at Hamburg

Hertha Berlin keep Bundesliga status with playoff victory at Hamburg
Updated 24 May 2022

Hertha Berlin keep Bundesliga status with playoff victory at Hamburg

Hertha Berlin keep Bundesliga status with playoff victory at Hamburg
  • After nine straight seasons in the Bundesliga, Hertha avoided their first relegation since 2011/12

BERLIN: Hertha Berlin secured their place in the Bundesliga for next season with a 2-0 away win at Hamburg on Monday to take the promotion/relegation playoff 2-1 on aggregate.

“That is a huge relief. What the boys did was outstanding,” said Hertha sports director Fredi Bobic.

An early headed goal by Hertha captain Dedryck Boyata and a speculative second-half free kick from Marvin Plattenhardt saw Hertha turn their fortunes around in Monday’s return leg.

Hertha had lost the first leg 1-0 in Berlin last Thursday, but the visitors flew out of the traps in Hamburg when Boyata smashed in a header after just four minutes.

Falling behind subdued the hosts, who lacked the composure of the first leg.

Only a superb save by Hamburg goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes blocked a fierce shot by Hertha striker Ishak Belfodil with half-time approaching.

Hamburg rallied after the break with rightback Moritz Heyer testing Hertha goalkeeper Oliver Christensen with a long-range shot.

At the other end, Fernandes pulled off a brilliant save at the near post to block a shot by Plattenhardt, but the dead-ball specialist who was not to be denied.

The Germany defender launched a stunning free-kick from the left flank to the far post which curled over Fernandes and into the net on 63 minutes.

The goal put Hertha ahead on aggregate for the first time in the play-off tie as the visitors hung on despite increasing desperation from the Hamburg team.

Hertha finished with 10 men when Lucas Tousart was shown a second yellow card just before the final whistle as tempers flared in stoppage time.

After nine straight seasons in the Bundesliga, Hertha avoided their first relegation since 2011/12.

The aggregate defeat denied Hamburg a return to Germany’s top flight after four seasons since their 2018 relegation.

Hertha’s caretaker coach Felix Magath, 68, who won Bundesliga titles in charge of Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, has kept the Berlin club up despite winning just three of his nine games in charge.

“We are massively grateful for what Felix has done, striking the right key to get the best out of the team,” added Bobic.

As a player, Magath scored Hamburg’s winning goal in the 1983 European Cup final win over Juventus and won three Bundesliga titles with the north German club.

Hamburg qualified for the playoff by finishing third in the second division while Hertha ended up third from bottom of the Bundesliga.