With Man City Positives, Premier League’s Coronavirus Outbreak Widens

On the face of it, the Premier League’s decision was an easy and an obvious one. Manchester City and Manchester United had finished last season late, thanks to their commitments in the summer’s European competitions.

To ensure that both teams would have a similar break between campaigns as all of their rivals, the Premier League decreed that they would start the new season a week later than everyone else. The league’s omnipotent fixture computer had drawn City against Aston Villa and United against Burnley for that first weekend of the season; those two games would have to be postponed.

All of this, so far, makes sense. What happens next does not.

Knowing that its teams were facing a compacted schedule anyway, the Premier League could have decided that Burnley and Villa might as well play one another on opening weekend. That may have raised some logistical challenges — policing, scheduling — but hardly insurmountable ones, particularly with fans still locked out of stadiums. The benefit, of having only one game, rather than two, to slot in later in a busy year, far outweighed the cost.

That is not how soccer works, though, not even in a pandemic. Burnley did not play Aston Villa. The two games from the first weekend of the season have not been made up. It took until Thursday for the Premier League to find a window: They now will be played in the middle of January, five months late.

That may seem a trivial issue, little more than a minor misstep, one that can doubtless be explained by the myriad complexities of scheduling a sporting season and will be easily resolved once the field in the domestic cup competitions is thinned a little. And, in some senses, that is all it is.

But it is also an instructive example of how the Premier League — and elite soccer as a whole — thinks, how pervasive is its belief in its own relentlessness, how delicate and vulnerable this season remains. The simple fact that Burnley did not play Aston Villa on opening day encapsulates soccer’s myopia, and its hubris.

The Premier League lost two more games this week. First, Manchester City requested the postponement of its trip to Everton after five of its players tested positive for coronavirus. Fearing a more widespread outbreak — and much to Everton’s surprisingly public chagrin — the Premier League acquiesced. (Pep Guardiola revealed Friday that City will be missing five players who had tested positive when it plays Chelsea on Sunday.)

About 48 hours later, Fulham had to make the same request, canceling its match with Tottenham on only a few hours notice; it, too, had recorded a spate of positive test results, and in the interest of public health, it was determined the game should be delayed, despite the unhappiness of noted Instagram influencer José Mourinho.

City and Fulham were not the first clubs to be hit by the virus. In November, Newcastle had to close its training facility and skip a game against Aston Villa after an outbreak that has left at least two players with the kind of persistent and debilitating symptoms doctors refer to as Long Covid. Those clubs will, it is safe to assume, not be the last. Sheffield United played its game against Burnley this week despite reporting a number of positive tests at the club.

The situation in the Football League, which governs the second, third and fourth tiers of soccer in England, is even worse. In League One, seven of the 12 games scheduled to be played on Tuesday had to be postponed because of coronavirus outbreaks. Five had been missed on Boxing Day, too. There have been calls from some medical departments for a two-week “circuit-breaker” pause to the season to avoid players’ being overloaded by a backlog of matches in the spring.

It does not feel as if any of this was especially difficult to foresee. Soccer cannot be blamed, of course, for failing to anticipate the scale of the second wave of the pandemic in Britain (or anyplace else), or for the appearance of a particularly virulent mutation of the virus in the southeast part of England.

But it should not have required the clarity of hindsight to project that cases might rise in the winter, that the long-anticipated second wave might have some impact on soccer, that the bubbles the sport was relying on to play through might not prove entirely impermeable, that some sort of contingency plan might be needed.

And yet soccer seems woefully underprepared for something that should have been wholly predictable. It is not just that there is little room in the calendar set aside to play postponed matches: just three weekends in the English season set aside for teams to make up games they have missed, but only if they are eliminated from the domestic cups first.

It is that — as the Premier League confirmed in a statement this week — the subject of what happens if the season is paused, or worse, canceled entirely, has not even been discussed.

(It is striking, though perhaps not vastly surprising, that two of the most ardent voices calling for cancellation on moral grounds in the spring, Aston Villa and West Ham, have been quiet this time. It’s almost as if they are keener to play now that they are fifth and 10th in the table, respectively.)

To be clear, at this point, there is no reason to believe the season should be curtailed: Soccer has proved, over the last nine months, that it is able to play on. It has not increased the burden on the country’s medical services, or deprived the general population of tests, or been responsible for a more widespread outbreak of the virus. Its protocols, for the most part, have worked.

But it is hardly outlandish to suggest that the Premier League — and most of its peers around Europe — might have looked at what happened in the spring and wondered if perhaps they needed to have a plan in place should the worst-case scenario unfold.

That need not have meant an immediate end to any season; other, more creative solutions were available. Something along the lines of the bubble tournament staged by the N.B.A., for example, or a shortened season — along the lines of what is already standard in Scotland and Belgium — might have served as an adequate break-glass course of action. Only if those workarounds were not possible would a nonsporting conclusion come into force.

And yet at no point did anyone seem to feel the need to have that conversation, not even after seeing the game brought to a screeching halt — and coming face-to-face with the truth of their own powerlessness — in March.

Instead, the Premier League — and European soccer in general — seemed to decide that last season was an isolated problem. Once the game was back up and running, they concluded, this season would look after itself. The show would go on, because the show always goes on. There was no need to do anything different to reflect the circumstances. There was no need to ask Aston Villa to play Burnley: That would be to change the way they do things, and nobody was prepared to change.

A glimpse across Europe demonstrates that was not a sentiment limited to England. For all that the game’s great and good spoke loftily of a new spirit of unity forged in the adversity of the pandemic, the season went ahead only because, ultimately, nobody had to make any sacrifices.

UEFA decreed its European Championship would take place in June, and that both the Champions League and the Europa League would be played under the same format as ever. FIFA ensured there would be as many international breaks as normal; several national teams have played seven games since the summer. There have been minor alterations to a few domestic cup competitions, but beyond that, nothing. The season would be shorter, chronologically, but the amount of work for the players would be just the same.

That balance has held for four months. It has not been easy — there have been a welter of injuries and a litany of complaints and, now, the postponed games are starting to pile up — but soccer has made it to the new year. The leagues remain bullish that they will get through from here.

It is to be hoped that they do, and that they do not have cause to regret their failure to learn from the spring. But what happened in England this week is a reminder that this season remains a fragile, finely poised thing, that soccer is not immune to the world around it, and that, these days, the worst-case scenario is never too far from the door.

Among all the discussion of set pieces and data and fighter pilots in last week’s piece on soccer’s new frontiers, there was one element of the game’s future that I did not quite have chance to address: the environments in which we watch it.

It seems likely, now, that much of the rest of this season will be played out to a backdrop of empty stadiums. Fernando Carro, the chief executive of Bayer Leverkusen, told me a few weeks ago that his club is assuming fans will only return next season, and even then only at severely reduced capacity for the first few months, at least.

But that does not mean the pandemic will not have an impact on the stadiums it has stripped of life. They will, according to Christopher Lee, the managing director of Populous and the architect of Tottenham’s new stadium, be more sustainable in the future, with more thought given to natural ventilation and light.

They will, most likely, be larger spaces — in terms of footprint, if not capacity — to allow people the space to which they have unwillingly become accustomed. They may combine in-person experience with a “virtual crowd,” too. “The pandemic has accelerated so many changes that were happening anyway,” he said.

“The integration of a remote audience with a live audience is one of them. What teams like Aarhus did with Zoom screens was cute, but it did not add much as a replacement for atmosphere. But as a supplement, in addition to people watching the game live, it can work really well to unite fans from across the world.”

Most of all, though, Lee said that the silence of the last year has not only given clubs reason to try to maximize the economic benefits that will accrue when fans are back in stadiums, but to get the most of out of the spectacle they bring. “They have a role in on-field events,” he said. “The fans are who you are performing for.”

And so now it falls to Mauricio Pochettino, it would seem, to solve soccer’s most impossible riddle: How does a coach build the sort of modern, attractive system that might yield both trophies and acclaim for Paris St.-Germain while simultaneously not asking Neymar and Kylian Mbappé to do anything they don’t want to do?

Plenty of others — most recently Thomas Tuchel, dismissed by P.S.G. on Christmas Eve, four months or so after he took the club to its first Champions League final — have found it beyond them. Tuchel was never an easy fit in Paris: a coach who prizes his system above all else trying to build a team around two immensely gifted, but slightly maverick, individuals.

There is, on the surface, little reason to believe Pochettino will fare much better. (And that is said as a huge admirer of his work at both Southampton and Tottenham.) He is at his best when he can build around young players. He expects everyone to submit themselves to the collective effort. He works his teams hard. He will expect that everyone, Neymar included, buy into his approach.

But then, ultimately, it does not really matter whether he succeeds or fails. Pochettino will leave Paris at some point in the next few years, almost certainly with a couple of league titles in the bag and with some more experience of the sharp end of the Champions League. His résumé will be enhanced, and no matter the circumstances of his departure — whether he has delivered to P.S.G. the European crown it craves — his reputation will not suffer. Everyone gets fired by P.S.G., after all. Nobody can be expected to make it work, because nobody knows what the club itself considers success.

It is, in that sense, a little like the Chelsea job was a decade or so ago: a place where a manager can go, earn some good money, win a few titles, and then leave safe in the knowledge that his departure will not count against him when it comes to getting another job. It is a staging post on a road to somewhere else. What happens while Pochettino is there will not change his ultimate destination.

A special prize — well, I say “prize,” when what I mean is “public affirmation” — for both Wouter Marissen and Gavin MacPhee for spotting the reference to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in the newsletter a couple of weeks ago. I hope you’ve both had the song in your head throughout the festive period, as I have. Consider that my gift to you.

And a good question from Shawn Donnelly, who asks why so many teams persist with launching the ball from kickoffs. “It seems inconsistent,” Shawn writes. “The brightest minds pass their way out of a goal kick, but launch it long from the center circle.” It’s a good point: The number of teams who go long from kickoff is, I think, higher than you’d expect.

My (reasonably educated) guess is that it’s to do with instituting a press: If you can get the ball into an area where you can exert pressure on your opposition, it’s worth the risk of them having the ball. As Jürgen Klopp, among others, would tell you, the best creator is one of your opponents making a mistake. It is strange to watch, though.

That’s all for this week. All questions and ideas and tips should go to askrory@nytimes.com, or Twitter, if you’re that way inclined. Set Piece Menu is here, too, in case you’ve got a dog to walk or some ironing to do. Most of all, though, thank you so much for reading — and responding to — this newsletter, and I hope 2021 brings you more joy and peace and happiness than 2020 has. For most of us, anyway. It is, I suppose, theoretically possible that you’ve had a great 2020. But it seems a stretch.

Happy New Year!

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Clubs take charge of professional leagues

The A-League has secured its independence from Football Australia.

FA and the newly formed Australian Professional Leagues on Thursday confirmed the “unbundling” of A-League, W-League and Y-League from the sport’s national governing body.

While APL will run the operational, commercial, and marketing control of the three leagues, FA will retain regulatory functions, including disciplinary and integrity matters, the registration of clubs, players and officials, the transfer system, and the domestic match calendar.

APL chairman Paul Lederer said it was a “historic moment for the future of football in Australia”.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves,” Lederer said.

“The handbrake on the game is off. Owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Current FA head of leagues Greg O’Rourke has been appointed APL commissioner of the professional leagues.

FFA chief executive James Johnson said: “We have been able to create a unique model which draws upon global best practice whilst allowing for local specificities.

“Significantly, the model establishes a framework for a strong partnership between Football Australia and the APL which recognises the value of a thriving domestic professional league to the ongoing growth of the game in Australia.”

The APL board will be made up of five directors from clubs, three independent directors, and one FA-appointed person.

A FA-ratified independent chair – who will be elected by clubs and – will have a casting vote on the APL board.

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AFL Rules 2021 | League’s competition committee spoils rule change option

Sources confirmed the discussion took place however it remains unclear whether the AFL thought such a rule change had merit, with Nine’s Footy Classified reporting in October that members of the AFL Commission had discussed the idea.

The option was one of several alternatives presented for discussion as the AFL embarks on a balancing act, introducing rules that ease congestion without bringing in rules that change the fabric of the game and aggravate spectators.

The league announced soon after the meeting that three changes to the AFL rules in 2021 had been approved by the AFL Commission with the number of interchanges permitted per team per match reduced from 90 to 75, an adjustment made for the player standing the mark and an increase in the distance for a player standing the mark from a kick in from 10 to 15 metres.


The commission also approved a trial for the VFL/East Coast second tier competition to allow three players from each team stationed inside 50 metres, including one player from each team in the goal square, for all kick ins and boundary throw-ins.

The success of this trial will be assessed to determine whether it is introduced to the AFL in 2022.

Scoring decreased again in 2020 even when adjusted to allow for the fact shorter quarters were played and congestion increased as players were able to defend even more effectively in 16-minute quarters.

Although the AFL is yet to officially confirm quarter lengths in 2021 they expect the reduction in interchange rotations to increase space as players fatigue with the a cap of 120 interchange rotations introduced in 2014 reduced to 90 in 2016 before being reduced to 75 for next season.

With uncertainty about the effects the coronavirus pandemic will have on 2021 and the delay in decision making caused when the season stretched until October 24, the AFL said next year’s fixture might be released as late as February.

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Sydney Thunder having great start to WBBL season with help from league’s biggest group of teenagers

The Women’s Big Bash has always been a stage set for upcoming Australian players.

And this year is no different in that respect, with plenty of teenagers enjoying life in the WBBL village.

But there is one team that boasts more teens than any other this season, and that team happens to be leading the ladder.

The Sydney Thunder have consistently tapped into Cricket NSW’s strong pathways over the six seasons the league has been played, blooding young players and evolving their game with the crash and bash format.

Some — like all-rounder Nicola Carey — have even pushed into the Australian team after showstopping performances with the Thunder, and have since gone on to sign elsewhere as a marquee player.

In 2020, the team has six teenagers that have taken the field so far: Phoebe Litchfield, Hannah Darlington, Rachel Trenaman, Anika Learoyd, Gabrielle Sutcliffe and Kate Peterson.

Darlington earned the WBBL Young Gun award last season, after some impressive performances with the ball and in the field.

Exciting batter Phoebe Litchfield burst onto the WBBL scene last year for the Sydney Thunder.(AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Litchfield caught the eye of the Australian public with her brilliant batting technique and fearlessness of facing some of the world’s best players at such a young age.

On debut in 2019, she shone with an innings of 26 from 22 balls in a tough night for the Thunder against the Sydney Sixers — she ended last season with an average of 20.77 and a strike-rate of close to 100.

A further two players in the squad are also in their early twenties: Tahlia Wilson and Saskia Horley.

This makes for a bit of a divide between them and the majority of the rest of the team with international experience, in their late twenties and early thirties.


Kate Peterson made her debut this week at Blacktown against the Perth Scorchers — the whole team waited outside her door and cheered as she emerged from a period in isolation.

Peterson — who has already learnt a lot from Sammy-Jo Johnson on the bowling front — said it was a really nice moment and an example of the fun and supportive environment at the club.

“This is probably the longest I’ve been away from my family and away from home,” she said.


Apparently it can get quite noisy on the Thunder’s level of the village hotel, with the older players getting involved with some of the teenager’s antics.

“Most of the time we’re all together in the hallway of our rooms, doing stuff like shooting nerf guns or having water balloon fights,” Peterson said.

“But I guess there are some times where the older ones do have more admin to do.”

Youth development a key for Thunder coach Griffin

Thunder coach Trevor Griffin is really proud of the work being done to continue the development of players that have come through the NSW Breakers and Thunder Academy ranks.

A cricket coach claps as his players get ready for a WBBL match.
Thunder WBBL coach Trevor Griffin says managing young players’ expectations is extremely important.(AAP: Gary Day)

Griffin has previously worked with the England women’s team and academy back in the UK, and also guided the Western Storm to two Super League titles.

He says one of the most important things about working with young players is managing their expectations at the top.

“The best players never get to the top on a straight line and they all have their challenges, dips in form or injuries that they have to overcome.

“The Thunder’s Heather Knight is a great example. She came out and scored 80-odd in her first game and got out very cheaply in the second. That’s the beauty of cricket.”


Part of managing these expectations comes down to communication between the coach and player, ensuring that young ones especially know what their role is in the side.

“For some players, they’re used to playing in every game.

“And while Phoebe Litchfield made her debut in her first season and had a superb tournament, Hannah Darlington spent two-three years on the bench before she made her debut.

“So it’s definitely about helping players understand that it is a learning journey and we need to be really clear about their role, how they fit into the squad and if they’re not being selected, what they need to do and how we can help them with that.

“Some of these young women are now playing alongside their idols, in a move that shows how far exposure of the game has come.”

And while they have a lot to learn from the more experienced heads in the team, Griffin says there is always a mutual exchange of ideas.

“They certainly keep us on our toes,” Griffin says, chuckling.

“They bring this energy to the group that the more experienced players love.

“We love to see that freshness and nervous excitement and I think that helps drive the energy within the senior players as well.”

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Quiz: Can you name the Premier League’s top-20 longest-serving managers?

The Premier League’s current longest-serving manager Sean Dyche is set to celebrate his eighth anniversary as Burnley boss on Friday.

Dyche, 49, was appointed at Turf Moor on 30 October 2012 and has overseen 195 Premier League games as Burnley manager before Saturday’s match at home to Chelsea (15:00 GMT).

He is one of just two current Premier League managers to make the top 20 in terms of the most games managed in a single spell at a club in the competition, placing 12th on that list.

We’ve given you one already, but can you name the other 19 longest-serving managers in Premier League history?

You have three minutes. Good luck…

Can you name the 20 managers to oversee the most Premier League games?

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EFL clubs REJECT Premier League’s £50m bailout package

English Football League (EFL) clubs have rejected a £50million bailout package offered by the Premier League.

On Thursday, EFL clubs met to discuss a £50m offer – believed to consist largely of interest-free loans and grants – from the top-flight that applied only to those in Leagues One and Two, with discussions said to be continuing with regard to further financial support for Championship outfits.

Such a package was offered after the controversial ‘Project Big Picture’ – which included an immediate £250m bailout for the EFL and a 25 per cent annual share in any future Premier League media revenues but also concentrated considerable power in the hands of the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’ – was dismissed by Premier League clubs, who instead agreed to undergo a strategic review.

In an official statement released on Thursday evening, the EFL said that the “conditional” offer fell “some way short” of the money needed to address lost gate receipts from the lack of fans in stadiums during the coronavirus pandemic.

The League also said there was a “strong consensus” that any rescue package must “meet the requirements of all 72 clubs before it can be considered in full”.

EFL statement in full

“EFL Clubs have today met by division to discuss the conditional offer put forward yesterday by the Premier League in respect to the financial support required as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The need for continued unity across the membership base was fundamental to discussions across all three divisions, and therefore there was a strong consensus that any rescue package must meet the requirements of all 72 Clubs before it can be considered in full.

“The League has been very clear in its discussions of the financial requirements needed to address lost gate receipts in 2019/20 and 2020/21, and while EFL Clubs are appreciative that a formal proposal has now been put forward, the conditional offer of £50million falls some way short of this.

“The EFL is keen to continue discussions with the Premier League to reach an agreeable solution that will address the short-term financial needs of all of our Clubs and allow us the ability to consider the longer-term economic issues in parallel that specifically look to achieve a more sustainable EFL for the future.”

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Premier League’s major clubs propose shrinking top flight of English football in major shake-up | UK News

The biggest shake-up of English football in a generation is being proposed by Manchester United and Liverpool and it would see the number of teams in the top flight reduced from 20 to 18.

Sky News’ sports correspondent Martha Kelner said the changes would be “seismic” and put the majority of the power into the hands of the biggest clubs.

The plan – called Project Big Picture – has been confirmed to Sky News, and was first reported in the Sunday Telegraph.

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Premiership giants asked to help smaller clubs

As well as a change in size, the new proposals would change the leagues finances and power system.

A quarter of the league’s revenue would go to the English Football League (EFL), with £250m paid up front to help them through the coronavirus crisis..

The FA would also receive £100m as a gift.

A change in the power structure would mean an end to the one-club, one-vote system.

Instead, the nine clubs that have been in the league for the longest amount of time will have full control of the running of the league.

Those teams would also be able to play more games in the Champions League, which is set to be expanded in 2024.

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Across the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two, there would be 90 clubs in total, and the League Cup and Community Shield competitions would also be abolished.

The move has support from the chairman of the EFL, Rick Parry, who has held talks with both Liverpool and Manchester United.

Lower league clubs have been calling for more support, after the coronavirus crisis left them unable to open their grounds.

Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, the chairman of Colchester United, a League Two club, said the Premier League “really should step in and do something” because they are “in danger from the building that’s crumbling below them”.

“The Premier League sits on top of a pyramid, and it’s a really proud thing we have in our game, this system that goes all the way down into non-league as well,” Robbie Cowling told Sky News.

“Most of the England team, most of the Premiership teams, their players have come from grassroots, they’ve all played under-9s football somewhere.

“The Premier League seems to think that we suck from it, but that’s not the case. It sucks from the rest of the pyramid system. It really should step in and do something. They have to.

“If they think they’re enjoying this penthouse view and they’re not in danger from the building that’s crumbling below them, they’re absolutely mad.”

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Transfer deadline day: Premier Leagues summer spending far above other top leagues

Ben Godfrey, Thomas Partey, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Edinson Cavani were four of 12 deadline-day movers

Premier League summer spending was only slightly down from recent years but it was much higher than Europe’s other top leagues, as the transfer window closed.

Premier League clubs spent £1.218bn, £158m down on last year’s £1.376bn, say investment company Carteret Analytics.

There were 12 deadline-day Premier League signings on Monday, 5 October – the fewest total in recent years.

Arsenal signed Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey for £45.3m in the biggest deal of the day.

Summer spending by division

In millions of pounds

The deadline was later than usual, on 6 October, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the season starting later. The previous two Premier League windows had closed before the more traditional start to the season in August.

“Total expenditure on player acquisitions is significantly down across all the top five European leagues against the five year average – ranging from -7% in the Premier League to -46% in La Liga,” said London-based investment company Carteret Analytics.

“It is a fair assumption that Covid-19 has caused this significant contraction in the player transfer market in this window.”

Everton brought in Norwich defender Ben Godfrey for £25m in the second most lucrative transfer of the day.

Manchester United recruited Porto left-back Alex Telles for £13.6m, former Paris St-Germain striker Edinson Cavani on a free transfer and teenage wingers Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri for a combined £28m.

However they did not sign long-term target Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.

Leeds bought Rennes winger Raphinha for an initial £17m. Everton signed Roma goalkeeper Robin Olsen on loan and loaned winger Theo Walcott to Southampton.

Fulham landed Manchester City defender Tosin Adarabioyo on a three-year deal, while Chelsea winger Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lyon defender Joachim Andersen joined the Cottagers on loan.

Arsenal midfielders Lucas Torreira (Atletico Madrid) and Matteo Guendouzi (Hertha Berlin) and Manchester United defender Chris Smalling (Roma) were among the players to leave the Premier League.

In Scotland, Celtic signed AC Milan defender Diego Laxalt and Rangers signed Amiens midfielder Bongani Zungu – both on loan deals.

Championship club QPR signed former Nottingham Forest winger Albert Adomah and Benfica forward Chris Willock.

Summer signings157150132124109102102
Deadline-day signings25232017261812

Premier League spending was more than three times as high as in La Liga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 and double that in Serie A, said Carteret.

The group advises three Premier League clubs, and another 12 leading sides from around Europe and the rest of the world, on potential new signings and transfer finances.

Notably Premier League clubs spent £820.2m more on bringing players to the division than they recouped for selling players to other leagues – higher than the five-year average. By contrast La Liga (£58.6m) and Bundesliga (£8.9m) received more transfer fees than they spent this summer.

For the past two seasons the Premier League transfer deadline was before the season started but this season clubs voted to revert back to 31 August. However, the deadline across Europe was moved again because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The transfer deadline passed across Europe on Monday, 5 October – with a 23:00 BST deadline in England and at 00:00 in Scotland.

A domestic-only window in England will continue to run until 17:00 BST on 16 October. Premier League teams can still buy EFL players until then, but cannot sign anyone from another Premier League club.

However it will be too late to register any of those players for European competition.

EFL clubs can also sign domestic players in that time.

What were the big transfers of the summer?

Six clubs broke their transfer records in this window:

  • Ruben Dias [Benfica – Manchester City] £65m
  • Fabio Silva [Porto – Wolves] £35.6m
  • Ollie Watkins [Brentford – Aston Villa] £28m
  • Rodrigo [Valencia – Leeds] £26m
  • Rhian Brewster [Liverpool – Sheffield United] £23.5m
  • Grady Diangana [West Ham – West Brom] £18m

Manchester City’s capture of Dias and Chelsea’s £71m signing of Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz were the only Premier League transfers of £50m or more this summer.

By contrast last summer 11 Premier League clubs broke their transfer records (with Sheffield United breaking theirs four times) and there were six £50m+ signings.

Chelsea were the big spenders this summer, shelling out £222m on players including Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Edouard Mendy, according to Carteret. Manchester City (£141m) and Barcelona (£112m) were the only other major European sides to spend more than £100m.

Last season at least 10 teams spent more than £100m.

Former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards has picked his three signings of the summer – all of them happening for £20m or below.

Liverpool signed Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara for £20m, Everton brought in Real Madrid playmaker James Rodriguez for a fee the BBC reported as £12m but it has been claimed in other places it was a free transfer and Tottenham re-signed Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale on loan.

“James has just been a revelation. What a player he is. I knew he was quality and would perform, he just needed some loving and Carlo Ancelotti has certainly given him that. He is my number one, definitely,” Richards told BBC Sport.

“I know we have not seen him in action yet but I still think the Gareth Bale deal is amazing. Even if he is just 75% of the player he was, defenders, look out for Gareth Bale.

“Thiago won the Champions League last year, so for Liverpool to get that calibre of player for the price they did, he has got to be one of my top three signings of the window.”

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Why this NRL rookie is leading the race for the league’s top honour

Harry Grant’s entrance onto the NRL stage has been remarkable.

Third-choice behind Cameron Smith and Brandon Smith at the Melbourne Storm at the start of the season, the rookie moved north of the border after two rounds in the NRL’s first-ever loan deal.

Now, the Wests Tigers’ hooker leads voting for the Dally M — the game’s highest honour — after 11 rounds … that’s more than half the season.

The feat is even more extraordinary given he’s only played nine games and he is performing in perhaps the game’s most influential position.

Earning the right to play

Rugby league’s hooker is best known as the position that picks up the play the ball and starts an attack.

Like a scrum-half in union, a deft passer playing at the base of a soccer midfield or a distributor off half-back in Aussie rules, they lay the attacking platform for their teammates.

Harry Grant is a difference-maker with the ball in his hands.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

Ball-playing skills may win a spot in one of these positions in other sports, but a good rugby league hooker must also be a relentless, impervious defender.

In fact, they are the fulcrum of their side’s defensive line.

Hookers occupy the centre of the field when an opponent has possession.

They operate alongside the largest, most bruising forwards in the game, guarding the ruck and plugging its gaps.

Really, the job they’re asked to do is unfair.

Props — sometimes 30 or 40kg heavier than hookers — typically play 40 or 50-minute matches in destructive bursts.

But a hooker is expected to go the full 80 against giants and never shirk or fail a defensive assignment.

Despite being barely a dozen games into his first-grade career, Grant is proving his defence is NRL-calibre, making close to 20 tackles for every one missed.

This ratio may be rudimentary (Josh Hodgson missed more than 50 tackles this season, but the misses often didn’t matter … the Raiders have conceded the fewest line breaks of any team down the middle), but it shows — among players classified as hookers at the start of the season — Harry Grant is mixing it with the best.

He’s not yet perfect. The line break conceded against Parramatta was partly the fault of Grant and his yellow boots, being drawn into Clint Gutherson and leaving a hole between himself and the trailing Josh Aloiai.

But his heavy frame and experience playing last season in Queensland’s senior competition seem to have helped him adapt quickly.

Attacking prowess

While as a rookie he has avoided becoming a liability in defence, Grant’s impact with the ball has been immense.

Among hookers, he is second only to Cameron Smith for try and line break involvements.

NameTriesTry assistsLine breaksLine break assists
Cameron Smith09110
Harry Grant3425
Reece Robson4251
Blayke Brailey3322
Damien Cook3222
Apisai Koroisau1332
Reed Mahoney2222
Wayde Egan2311
Josh Hodgson0403
Jeremy Marshall-King1212

Source: NRL.com Stats

While he is an effective creator, it’s actually been his eagerness to support that’s earned Grant two of his three tries this season.

Orbiting rainbows

Grant defends capably and has harvested a truckful of attacking stats.

But he is the darling of the NRL this year because he passes the eye test not with flying colours, but orbiting rainbows.

Shimmies and dummies are his superweapons, and his flat, sharp passes put teammates over the advantage line in a stride.

Grant feigning one way to lure in a marker then scampering around the other side of the ruck is intoxicating.

An attacking delight at a widely liked club, he has become league fans’ antidote to a generally poisonous 2020.

Whether Grant wins the Dally M or not, his future is bright.

Its biggest threat may be spending the next decade in the shadow cast by Cameron Smith’s legacy at the Melbourne Storm.

That is if the young Tiger — so exhilarating going forward — chooses to go back.

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Olsen Filipaina rugby league’s Polynesian trailblazer

Olsen Filipaina was a Polynesian trailblazer in Australian rugby league.

When he signed with Balmain forty years in the past he speedily grew to become recognized as the Galloping Garbo, the performing-course hero who thrilled crowds in between shifts as a rubbish collector.

“When I arrived here in 1980 there were being very handful of Polynesian players,” he informed 7.30.

“I don’t forget a reporter was asking me, for the reason that they failed to know what Polynesians have been, and I said to the reporter: ‘In a couple of yrs everyone will know what a Polynesian is.'”

And when Filipaina retained functioning on the rubbish vans throughout his footballing vocation, he paved the way for the latest generation of highly compensated specialists.

“The millionaires we have playing the sport, they all stand on the shoulders of giants like Olsen,” biographer Patrick Skene instructed 7.30.

“Olsen really is a correct pioneer. He was the very first huge Polynesian star of the televised period.”

‘I utilized my overall body to punish players’

Olsen Filipaina promised his mom he would hardly ever retaliate to taunts with violence.(Equipped: Patrick Skene)

Driving the scenes Filipaina struggled with racism.

Spectators, gamers, and even associates of his own staff taunted him.

But due to the fact of a promise he produced to his mom before he left New Zealand, he under no circumstances retaliated.

“I did that. And I’m glad I stored that promise to her.”

It was that promise that turned Filipaina into one particular of the most difficult tacklers the game has viewed.

It was his way of retaliating without having breaking his term to his mom.

“I couldn’t use my fist to damage any one so I utilized my physique to punish players,” he mentioned.

“I experienced in no way read some of the names I was called.

“To me it was really devastating.

“Occasionally I was pretty tempted to strike out at persons or argue with enthusiasts.

“Just about every time I acquired close to the fence or scored a try and jogged again to position, the lovers and spectators had been calling me, ‘ape, go again to where you came from, we you should not require your type around in this article, go back again to the zoo’.”

It was that form of abuse that led Filipaina to adjust his goalkicking regime, famously reducing his tactic to just two measures.

“I just needed to get the kick out the way and I failed to want to hear all the abuse that I was copping.”

Skene believes Australia wasn’t ready for players like Filipaina in 1980.

“We weren’t definitely made use of to range, coaches weren’t definitely employed to controlling gamers from diverse cultures who have distinctive taking part in characteristics,” he mentioned.

He has written Filipaina’s biography to established the history straight.

“I think it really is a criminal offense versus the cultural memory of rugby league, Australia and New Zealand, that tales like this weren’t in the highlight.” Skene said.

Taking on the terrific Wally Lewis

Olsen Filipaina in a black and white NZ jersey runs at some Kangaroos player wearing green and gold jerseys.
Olsen Filipaina powered New Zealand to a sequence gain in excess of Australia in 1985.(Supplied: Patrick Skene)

The enjoying spotlight for Filipaina was without doubt the 1985 sequence in opposition to New Zealand, when it is explained he tamed the good Wally Lewis.

“1985 was a incredibly considerable calendar year in rugby league,” Skene stated.

“Wally Lewis was undoubtably the finest participant in the environment, and undoubtably the finest participant rugby league has at any time made.”

Picked for New Zealand regardless of only playing reserve grade in the Sydney opposition at the time, Filipaina lined up towards Lewis and experienced a level to prove.

“Olsen was fired up that yr. He required to impress his mother, he wished to impress New Zealand,” Skene explained.

“And he just set on a masterclass that will under no circumstances ever be neglected.”

He took it up to Lewis — head on.

“I used that ideal by way of the entire examination series.”

New Zealand gained the a few-Take a look at series 2-1, with Filipaina winning male of the match two times and named all round man of the collection.

A wounded Wally Lewis hardly ever acknowledged Filipaina in his two autobiographies and the pair have under no circumstances spoken because.

A lot more Polynesian gamers ‘a aspiration appear true’

A smiling Olsen Filipaina stands in front of his rubbish truck.
In the course of his rugby league job Olsen Filipaina worked a a rubbish collector.(ABC Information: Jerry Rickard)

Filipaina even now is effective as a garbo, a work he suggests he enjoys.

And he is proud of his legacy and that he helped to make lifestyle less complicated for potential generations of Polynesian players.

“My remaining end result is a good deal of Polynesians are taking part in the recreation, which is like a dream arrive true,” he said.

“I copped the racism again them but it’s going to be extremely really hard for a whole lot of these other Polynesians to cop it now, because the volume of spectators now who are Polynesian and Indigenous.”

These days nearly half of all players in the NRL are Polynesian, Melanesian or Indigenous.

“I assume the most effective thing we can master from Olsen’s tale is the electric power of empathy and the energy of vulnerability,” Skene explained.

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