England’s Response to Racism Was Admirable, But a Team Needs to Walk Off to Make UEFA Take Notice

January 2020 will mark seven years since a truly unique event occurred on a football pitch in a mid-season friendly between Pro Patria and Milan. Chances are no one, probably not even the players who took part, remember the much from the match – they only remember how it ended.

With 26 minutes on the clock, Milan midfielder Kevin-Price Boateng did a couple of stepovers and was about to dribble into the opposition box, before ​picking the ball up and volleying it towards the stands. The Ghanaian was incensed, furious, ripping off his Rossoneri shirt like Bruce Banner, and it was because the section of Pro Patria fans in that part of the stadium had been racially abusing he and his teammates.

As he walked off, he applauded all other parts of the ground, who almost instantly turned on the culprits of this chaos. Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini instructed the rest of his team to head back to the changing rooms, and the match was abandoned. An ultimately meaningless friendly, but a stand as strong as any seen in this sport.

On the eve of this event’s seven year anniversary, it’s time we see such action take place in a competitive fixture.

The abuse England players were subjected to in Bulgaria was vile, inhumane, and yet it was a situation that was totally predictable – Gareth Southgate’s warning that he would not tolerate racism during the match was seen as offensive by Bulgaria’s footballing authorities, yet here we are.

Ahead of the match in Sofia, Bulgaria had already been hit with a partial stadium closure (because some of their fans were racist in the past, too), but it made little difference as the ground rarely sells out. One way or another, racists would turn up purely to be racist, they would have no interest in whether their side won or lost.

Gareth Southgate

The prelude to every international break now seems to be dominated by talk of a revolt, of players leaving the pitch like Boateng did back in 2013. To this day, he’s still the only high-profile footballer to do so and have a game called off because of it.

England’s actions in Sofia were commendable; they recognised the situation quickly and sought to deal with it as UEFA wanted, the players making the final decision to play on after a tannoy announcement telling the racists to stop being racist. We can’t criticise the players at the heart of the abuse and their response was admirable, but ultimately change won’t happen if the authorities deem a reaction as well-behaved. Their protest was tidbit news on the continent, far from the eternal moment it’s being billed as at home.

It’s the depressing reality of modern football, of modern society, that all of the social media posts and campaigns in the world will fall on deaf ears until they hurt those in power themselves – it would have to damage the product for any true action to take place.

Any team that walks off in the wake of racial abuse and refuses to return will probably receive much harder sanctions than the side whose fans are the perpetrators – if England had walked off, for example, UEFA might have awarded Bulgaria the win, damaging the Three Lions’ hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.

FBL-EURO-2020-QUALIFIER-BUL-ENG

That’s not to say that’s why they didn’t walk off at all, but any side willing to go above and beyond in a moral stand will know that they risk these penalties – let them be punished, this is bigger than football.

A side handed a forfeit will protest to the heavens, but the actions of leaving the pitch will give them huge strength, huge leverage on a global scale. It’d be the biggest story in world football, racism stood up to emphatically, every outlet talking about the disgrace of punishing the victims, every country reacting in fury. Right now, there’s no defining action to back up the outrage, and so ultimately nothing will happen. As far as UEFA are concerned, what happened in Bulgaria was just another incident, nothing significant.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests,” UEFA president Alexander Ceferin said in a statement. “But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark.

UEFA’s sanctions are toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches stigma to their supporters.”

Sorry, Mr. Ceferin, but it’s going to take a lot more than “lost revenue” to fight this problem.

Let a team forfeit a game because they were the victims, let them be deducted points, boot them out of the competition – the storm it’d create would do far more for the cause. Football may only be a game, but it has the power to do so much more than that, to improve lives, to move society along. It’ll always be intertwined with politics, and now is the chance to combat rising racism.


For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

AC Milan to Move for Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny in January as Wolves Eye Franck Kessie

AC ​Milan will table an offer for Besiktas loanee Mohamed Elneny in January after learning of the midfielder’s desire to cut short his stay in Turkey.

Arsenal purchased the Egyptian from Swiss club Basel in 2016, paying £7.4m to land him. However, he struggled for regular game-time at the Emirates Stadium, triggering a temporary move to Besiktas in the summer, though that has likewise failed to satisfy Elneny as he seeks a way out of Vodafone Park.

ohamed Elneny

The 27-year-old has featured in only one Turkish Super Lig match for the Black Eagles since arriving on 31 August, with the side currently 12th in the table following a torrid run of results.

Gazzetta dello Sport report that Elneny’s wishes could be answered by ​Milan once the transfer window reopens. However, a deal is believed to be reliant upon ​Wolverhampton Wanderers completing the signing of Rossoneri midfielder Franck Kessie.

The ​Premier League club were unable to bring in the Ivorian due to time constraints, but are expected to reignite their interest at the next available opportunity.

Stefano Pioli was appointed as the San Siro side’s new head coach after the sacking of Marco Giampaolo in early October, with the former looking to remould an ailing Milan squad.

Stefano Pioli

Muscular, dynamic midfielders are at the top of Pioli’s priorities, with Elneny fitting the bill in that regard. Given his inclination to leave Besiktas – as well as ​Arsenal – he is a strong option for the new boss to take a look at.

The club expect that a bid of €15m will convince the Gunners to sanction the permanent sale of the man in question. 

Should the transfer go ahead, Milan will try to create a midfield unit of Elneny, Lucas Biglia and Ismael Bennacer as they aim to make up for a weak start to their ​Serie A campaign.


For more from Ed Alexander, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Crystal Palace Wonderkid Rebuffs Interest From Premier League Big Six

​Crystal Palace academy prospect Zion Atta has chosen to stay with the Eagles, despite interest from several elite English clubs.

The 14-year-old moved to Selhurt Park from fellow Londoners Millwall in the summer of 2018, with Palace’s youth staff instantly taking note of his talents. The forward has progressed well since his arrival, catching the eye of scouts from a number of Premier League rivals.

Roy Hodgson

​Arsenal and ​Tottenham Hotspur tried to snap up Atta before his switch to ​Palace, whilst both Manchester clubs, ​Chelsea and ​Liverpool have since joined the race for his signature.

However, all six sides have been left disappointed after the youngster and his family decided it was in his best interests to remain in south London for the foreseeable future, as reported by ​TEAMtalk.

Atta has been impressed with Palace’s facilities and the manner in which they handle their youth players, with the management now expected to fast-track the striker into their under-18s squad.

Unfortunately for Roy Hodgson and the Eagles hierarchy, they cannot offer the starlet a professional contract given his age, meaning they wouldn’t be able to prevent him moving to another club if he chose to take that course of action.

Wilfried Zaha,Josip Drmic

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Atta will look elsewhere to continue his development after making a strong start to life at Palace. Moreover, the club’s record of producing well-rounded footballers is another reason for the teenager to stick around.

Amongst other recent success stories from their academy are Liverpool and England right-back Nathaniel Clyne, Chelsea winger Victor Moses, and current Eagles high-flyer Wilfried Zaha.

In a similar vein, Hodgson has shown his willingness to give youth a chance in his two seasons in charge at Selhurst Park, regularly fielding inexperienced players in cup ties, as well as ​Premier League fixtures on occasion.


For more from Ed Alexander, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Alexandre Lacazette Backs Matteo Guendouzi to Become One of the Best in the World

Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette has declared that he sees traits of the best midfielders in the world in young Gunners teammate Matteo Guendouzi, whom the Frenchman claims has every ambition to reach the elite level.

Guendouzi, who only turned 20 years of age in April, was voted Arsenal’s Player of the Month for September and is a regular starter for Unai Emery after playing 48 times across all competitions last season whilst still a teenager.

Matteo Guendouzi

The former Lorient starlet is thriving in 2019/20, keeping Lucas Torreira out of the starting line-up, and is certainly showing potential, both mentally and technically, to go far.

“He played really well [in September], he helped the team when we needed him, he is really improving each season so we are all really happy with his performances this month,” Lacazette said to Arsenal.com of his fellow countryman.

“We can see that every top midfielder in the world is like this [in terms of demanding the ball and being brave]. They all want to take the ball.

“Matteo has a good ambition; he wants to be one of the best players in his position so every day he is trying to be the best and this month he showed that he can be.”

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-ARSENAL

One of the senior players in the squad at the age of 28, Lacazette also revealed that he and fellow striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have taken Guendouzi under their wing and the trio are close friends, describing him as being like a ‘younger brother’.

A France international up to Under-21 level, Guendouzi was called into the senior squad last month, but he didn’t make it into the pitch and was overlooked for the October break. Instead, he has been back with the junior side for this week’s friendlies against Azerbaijan and Slovakia.

He, Lacazette and Aubameyang will be back in action for Arsenal when domestic football resumes at the weekend, with the Gunners in action next Monday against Sheffield United.


For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

Let’

Arsenal’s Forgotten Man Calum Chambers Is the Centre Back the Gunners Need Right Now

Defensive solidity, consistency and versatility – ask any Gooner and they will tell you that those characteristics are synonymous with Calum Chambers.

Chambers has proven himself to be extremely useful to Emery in a number of different positions. Be it adding defensive stability as a centre back, attacking dynamism as a right-back or a sense of security as a defensive midfielder, Chambers has re-established himself as a key squad member at the Emirates Stadium. 

Calum Chambers

However, Chambers suffered a slow start to life in London and subsequently saw two loan moves in his first five seasons with the Gunners at Middlesbrough and Fulham respectively. The three-cap England international is moving into his sixth season with the club and his gradual importance to Arsenal is only becoming more evident.

Chambers joined Arsenal from boyhood club Southampton on the 28 July 2014 for a fee rising to £16m including performance-based add-ons. In the same year, he was nominated for the prestigious Golden Boy Award, alongside other future stars like Raheem Sterling, Saul Ñiguez and Kingsley Coman.

Despite a strong year, making 23 appearances and keeping six clean sheets in his debut campaign with Arsenal, Chambers found himself omitted from the 2015 FA Cup final squad that thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 at Wembley, although this was largely down to the emergence of a young Hector Bellerín at right back and existing stalwart central defenders Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

A loan move followed, as Chambers joined fellow Premier League side Middlesbrough for the 2016/17 season. His quality could be spotted straight away, with former boss Steve Agnew describing the young defender as, “a top defender… with a high level of technical ability.”

Chambers would only make 12 appearances for Arsenal on his return in the 2017/18 campaign, with another loan move following, this time to Premier League newbies Fulham, for the 2018/19 season. The starlet’s time at Fulham saw him convert into a defensive midfielder with great success, being awarded Fulham’s Player of the Season. 

Following his return to Arsenal, it would’ve been easy for the Gunners to offload the relatively forgotten Chambers in the transfer window without too much fan backlash despite his moderate personal success at Fulham. However, the 24-year-old worked tirelessly during pre-season to impress Emery and give himself the best possible chance of not only sticking around but earning a starting berth. 

Work-rate, passion, bribes, whatever Chambers offered Unai, it worked as he was gifted a starting spot in Arsenal’s season opener against ​Newcastle. A 1-0 win, a clean sheet and a faultless performance followed, was it finally time to cement his place in this Arsenal side? No, Emery subsequently dropped Chambers for the next four games, in which Arsenal did not record a single clean sheet as Ainsley Maitland-Niles struggled like a fish out of water at right back.

In the dramatic 3-2 victory of Aston Villa last month, during which Chambers was brought on after Maitland-Niles was sent off, the defender produced a man-of-the-match performance was topped off with a goal to show Arsenal exactly what they had been missing in their back line. 

Two days later, Chambers showcased his offensive qualities again in the right back position as he played the full 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup, registering three assists as Arsenal thrashed Nottingham Forest 5-0. 

Following his impressive start to the season, it is apparent that Chambers should be undroppable from the Arsenal starting XI. The return of Rob Holding and Hector Bellerín will enhance, rather than hinder the defender’s form and Chambers is the perfect person to partner Holding in the heart of the backline as they share an excellent relationship on and off the pitch, with Bellerín and new signing Kieran Tierney deployed on either flank.

Emery currently favours a centre back pairing of Sokratis and David Luiz, and whilst that combination is oozing experience, both players are rash in the challenge and neither keep defensive shape particularly well. 

With the experience gained playing as a defensive midfielder at Fulham, it is evident that Chambers is also more than capable of filling in as either an alternative to Lucas Torreira or playing alongside him to provide extra defensive cover. Emery has opted to utilise the Uruguayan further forward, trying to gain possession higher up the pitch, often leaving Arsenal short at the back. However, with Chambers playing as a deep-lying midfielder, this could leave Arsenal less exposed when pressing from the front. 

After years of patience and hard work, Chamber is finally being rewarded with the starting spot that he deserves (for the time being), with an initially lukewarm Emery apparently slowly being convinced by the defender’s many qualities.

The manager has not seen his Arsenal side lose when Chambers has played so far this season and the Spaniard has described his young charge as ‘amazing’ attitude.

Whether or not Emery sticks with Chambers for the long-term is unclear but one thing is for certain, Chambers has cemented himself as a firm fan-favourite at the Emirates Stadium, and the praise the Englishman is getting should continue to give him the focus and motivation to keep working hard with the trademark professionalism and patience that have defined his career so far.

Let’