Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dominoes Beginning to Fall in European Soccer

Could Pep Guardiola (right) bring Lionel Messi to Manchester City with him? The two were unstoppable together at Barcelona, and Messi may be ready for a new challenge in a new league.
 By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Ed. Note- Manager changes and upstart clubs in some of Europe's biggest leagues have sent shock waves throughout the soccer world in recent days. So, naturally, our chief soccer guru Justin Sherman has to weigh in. Here's how he sees things shaking out in England, Spain and Italy.

Guardiola makes it official, but will Messi follow?

Manchester City let the most well known secret out of the bag Monday morning, as it became official that Pep Guardiola will be their new manager. The Spaniard will take over in July, supplanting the successful, yet less accomplished, Manuel Pellegrini. The timing of it all is a bit odd, considering both City and Guardiola's current club, Bayern Munich, are still in the Champions League, and could potentially face each other in the later rounds.

Talk about awkward, and what a conflict of interest, whether real or perceived, this would create for Guardiola.

But, for two reasons, this had to happen now.

Number one is the fact that Pellegrini most likely wants to be free to pursue another top job for the upcoming season. Without the announcement, any whispers of contact with other interested clubs would’ve created a media frenzy.

Number two is solely based on Pep. With this announcement the commitment becomes official. Though he may deny it, recruiting will now begin and future plans assembled.

One of those plans could be one of the grandest of them all -- Lionel Messi.

Together they won 14 trophies at Barcelona, and although things may have soured towards the end, all differences have recently reportedly been mended.

Messi’s critics have always argued that his success is somewhat tarnished because he hasn’t played in any other league or system, unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, who was a huge success at both Manchester United and Real Madrid. To further that evidence, they point to his lack of silverware, and less than stellar goal scoring record (49 goals in 105 games) with the Argentine national team.

You know he’s heard it, and although he would dispute those arguments, it has to burn at his core.

If there was ever time to make a move, this would be it.

Man City has the resources to put together the astronomical transfer fee that Barcelona will undoubtedly ask for, and now they have the coach that turned Messi into a superstar. Still in his prime at 28, and with Barca facing the crisis of trying to fit him, Neymar and Suarez under one wage bill, there will never be a better chance for Messi to silence the last of his doubters once and for all.

Napoli will challenge Juventus for the Serie A title

For a second, it looked like the same old Napoli.

After having witnessed Juventus dispose of Chievo 4-0 earlier in the day, the pressure was on the Gli Azzuri to secure a win or a draw in order to retain first place. Leandro Paredes had other ideas and put Empoli ahead at the San Paolo in the 28th minute, drawing groans from the crowd. Over the years, we've seen so many Napoli false hopes and comedic errors against opponents they were supposed to dominate. This was a perfect opportunity to wilt under the pressure.

But they did not.

They didn't panic, secure in their belief that they were outplaying the opposition, and went on knowing they'd be rewarded. And they were.

Gonzalo Higuain continued doing what he has all season-- scoring goals.

His 22nd in 22 league matches (most in European league play) pulled them level, before a Lorenzo Insigne free kick put them up for good. They cruised to a 5-1 win, sending a statement in the process that this year's title race will be no cakewalk. 

While Juventus are likely the better side, they also have the Champions League to worry about.

More games, more injuries, less focus.

All of Napoli’s attention will be on Serie A, and for for the first time since the days of Diego Maradona, they could be the ones hoisting the trophy come seasons end.

Mourinho or Simeone for Manchester United?

Jose Mourinho is a man who knows what he wants.

Just as we did in our glory years of junior high, “The special one” channeled his inner Shakespeare, and penned a love letter to his heart's desire.

Conscious of the opposition to his appointment among some of the Old Trafford hierarchy, Mourinho reportedly has written a six-page letter explaining how much he desires the Manchester United job, and would be willing to conform to the club’s principles, as well as offering a detailed plan for the team.

Although Louis Van Gaal is technically still in charge, it is all but a forgone conclusion that the Dutchman won’t make it past the summer. Three years ago Mourinho would’ve been the hottest coaching name on the market, but this season’s disaster with Chelsea, and his penchant for controversy and defensive football are causees for concern.

The true wildcard in this scenario is Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone.

No coach’s standing in world football has risen faster in the last few years than the Argentine. He has completely transformed the narrative around Atleti from Real Madrid’s doormat to serious competition.

When he returned to Atletico, where he played in December 2011, they had won only two trophies in 15 years. Under Simeone they have claimed five: the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2012; the Copa del Rey in 2013; La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup in 2014.

“El Cholo,” as he is widely known in Spain, has reached an almost cult-like status for his belief nothing in life can be achieved without hard work and dedication.

Simeone loves Atletico's role as underdogs, regularly using their place in Barca and Real's shadows as a motivation for his players.

Off the pitch, they are growing as well.

Boosted by additional revenue following their recent part-acquisition by the massive Chinese property investment company Wanda Group, transfer budgets are sure to increase. They also will take another big step forward next year by moving into a state of the art 70,000-seat capacity stadium.

Still, Atletico will never be United. Not in prestige, finances and, for better or worse, media attention.

The choice is quite clear, but Simeone has never followed the predicted path, so why would he start now?

Mourinho is desperate, and United are getting there.

It’s just a matter of time before this relationship goes from love letters to hand holding.

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