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‘No chance’ of playing BBL, says bubble-weary Smith

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Steve Smith has ruled out participating in the Big Bash League this season, saying that continuing to play in bio-secure bubbles amid the COVID-19 pandemic will take a toll on his mental health.

Smith has already experienced life in different bubbles, first when the Australian T20 squad toured England and now with the Rajasthan Royals in the ongoing Indian Premier League, which is being played in the United Arab Emirates.



The Big Bash League is set to start in December and run till February, with Australia's national-team players expected to play for their domestic sides in the latter stages after India's tour of Australia, which will also be played in bio-secure bubbles.

"I'll be honest with you, absolutely no chance," Smith was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo. "It's still early days with the bubbles. We don't know how long it's going to last for.

"There's an uncertainty there. It's just going to be about having open conversations with coaches, general managers, whoever, to ensure that people are keeping their head space in a reasonable place.

"When guys are starting to find things a bit tough mentally from just living in the bubble, being able to get out – even if it might just be a few days of being normal might be a real help. Those conversations need to be had."

Smith is not the first player to have concerns over players' mental health in bubbles, with England's limited overs captain Eoin Morgan also saying players may withdraw from tours if their mental health is at risk.

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Rugby

Farrell set to start at No 10 for England in Six Nations finale

Owen Farrell set to start at No 10 for England in Six Nations finale against Italy with George Ford missing out due to Achilles issue… as Eddie Jones calls up uncapped Wasps duo Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga in 36-man squad

  • Eddie Jones has named a 36-man squad for Italy and the Autumn Nations Cup
  • England captain Owen Farrell is set to start at No 10 in Rome following a ban
  • George Ford is not fit enough to play because of a nagging Achilles problem
  • Jones has included uncapped Wasps duo Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga in squad
  • Joe Cokanasiga is involved for first time since being injured at the World Cup 

England captain Owen Farrell is set to reclaim the No 10 shirt against Italy on Saturday as George Ford will miss the Six Nations finale in Rome.

Eddie Jones has announced a squad of 36 for the rescheduled encounter with the Azzurri and Ford has not been included. 

Instead, the Leicester playmaker is named as one of three players coming in to camp for ‘reconditioning’, along with Elliot Daly and Joe Marler. None of the trio are deemed to be available for selection for the national team’s first Test since lockdown.

England captain Owen Farrell is set to start at No 10 against Italy following a ban last month

George Ford will play no part in Rome as he tries to recover from a troublesome Achilles injury

England coach Eddie Jones is preparing for games against Italy, Wales, Georgia and Ireland

BACKS

Joe Cokanasiga, Owen Farrell, George Furbank, Willi Heinz, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Jonny May, Dan Robson, Henry Slade, Ollie Thorley, Jacob Umaga, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs 

FORWARDS 

Tom Curry, Tom Dunn, Ben Earl, Charlie Ewels, Ellis GengE, Jamie George, Jonny Hill, Ted Hill, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Lewis Ludlam, Beno Obano, David Ribbans, Jack Singleton, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams, Jack Willis

With Ford ruled out due to a nagging Achilles problem, Farrell is poised to line up at fly-half in his first match for club or country since being banned for a high tackle early last month. 

The Red Rose skipper has regularly started at inside centre, in a 10-12 alliance with close friend Ford – only wearing No 10 in one of his last 10 international appearances. Wasps’ rookie stand-off Jacob Umaga is now in contention to make his debut as a replacement at Stadio Olimpico, after being called up.

As revealed by Sportsmail, Jones has added the following seven players to his squad from the Premiership Final clubs, Exeter and Wasps; Jonny Hill, Henry Slade, Harry Williams, Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson, Umaga and Jack Willis. Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie has been added to a growing casualty list, although the nature of the injury which requires surgery is not yet known.

The other players listed as unavailable are Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, Mark Wilson and rookie Saracens wing Ali Crossdale – who had emerged as a shock contender for a starting place. His withdrawal from the selection equation has prompted Jones to summon giant Bath wing Joe Cokanasiga, who hasn’t represented his country since suffering serious knee damage at last year’s World Cup.

Jack Willis has been named in England’s squad following a brilliant season with Wasps

Wasps’ Jacob Umaga has earned a surprise call-up to Eddie Jones’ latest England squad 

Joe Simmonds (centre) and his brother Sam are among those to have missed out on the squad

England missed out on the chance to tune up for the Italy match when their non-cap encounter with the Barbarians was cancelled due to breaches of COVID protocols by a group of Barbarians players. 

Jones said: ‘We were obviously disappointed with the postponement of the Barbarians game but we moved to plan B, had a highly competitive training session instead of the match and now we are fully focused on the Italy game and the goal of winning the Six Nations.

‘We’ve got a good balance between experience and inexperience. With nine players out injured, it does create opportunities for the younger guys to show what they can do. We’re very happy with what we’ve seen in the mini-camps and the Barbarians training week. It’s been really competitive.’




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Sports News

No crowds at this year’s Melbourne Cup carnival

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The Victoria Racing Club has conceded it's now impossible to host crowds at this year's Melbourne Cup carnival in a bitter blow for the club.

VRC chairman Amanda Elliott said the club had submitted a "comprehensive" proposal to the state government on how it could manage crowds safely during the four-day carnival, but said it was now clear that crowds would not be allowed on course.

There won’t be crowds at this year’s Melbourne Cup carnival.Credit:Joe Armao

"While we are very disappointed not to be able to welcome our members and racegoers to Cup week, we understand the government's commitment to keeping our community safe. We also recognise the need for certainty and clarity for our patrons, being only six days out from Derby Day," Elliott said.

"We are still in discussions regarding the potential return to the track for a small number of owners, as is currently permitted in regional Victoria," Elliott said.

"What is certain is the Melbourne Cup Carnival will go ahead with viewing audiences watching from across Australia and around the world. The spirit of Cup week, the high-quality racing and the 160th running of the people's Cup will be enjoyed by millions."

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MLB

No. 17 Michigan takes down No. 21 Minnesota for big win behind quarterback Joe Milton

MINNEAPOLIS — When Michigan football's first drive was killed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the ensuing punt was blocked by Minnesota, it felt like a familiar story. 

The Wolverines have started flat on the road in plenty of big games during Jim Harbaugh's tenure. Most of the times, it has cost them, too. It looked like Michigan was making the same type of mistakes to begin Saturday's season opener against the Golden Gophers. 

And then Michigan flipped the script. 

On the back of an offensive line and run game that took 30 carries for 258 yards and five touchdowns, the No. 17 Wolverines blew out the 21st-ranked Gophers, 49-24, after racing to an 18-point halftime lead. 

Michigan Wolverines quarterback Joe Milton rushes with the ball for a first down in the first half against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium, Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports)

After the early miscues, Michigan settled in and established dominance at the line of scrimmage. The offense set the pace and outgained the Gophers. And the defense made several key plays, including a sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown, to limit Minnesota's offense. 

Given the success of the run game, Michigan didn't have to ask much of its new starting quarterback. But Milton played well. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown. He also had eight carries for 52 yards and one touchdown. He didn't have too many of the 'wow' plays that the Wolverines talked about during fall camp, but he didn't have any 'wow, that was bad' plays, either.

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WILD FINISH: Indiana stuns Penn State with overtime two-point conversion

He hit open receivers and allowed receivers to make plays after the catch. He moved the chains with his legs. And perhaps most importantly, he did not turn the ball over. It was a more-than-solid from Milton. One could argue he out-played Morgan, who had the Big Ten's second-highest passer efficiency one season ago. And if Milton builds on Saturday's performance, he could solidify a position that was considered a major question mark entering 2020. 

It will help if the offensive line continues to play this well. Michigan has had some impressive performances on the ground over the past few years. This ranks up there among the best, considering the context. The Wolverines were replacing four of five starters along the offensive line. They didn't have spring practices and they had a shorter-than-usual fall camp. But this unit looked like it has been playing together for years. Michigan ran the ball at will. The Wolverines broke two explosive runs, with a 70-yard touchdown from Zach Charbonnet and a 66-yarder from Hassan Haskins in the shadow of their own end zone. Before garbage time, Michigan's run game nearly averaged 10 yards per carry. It is very difficult to lose when a team controls the line of scrimmage like that. And it might've forced the hand of Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who called an unsuccessful fake punt deep in his own territory in the second quarter and then unsuccessfully tried to convert a fourth-and-goal down 18 in the second half. 

Michigan's defense didn't play a flawless game. Minnesota had four drives of greater than 70 yards and moved the ball on the ground with consistency for much of the night. Still, the Wolverines were more 'boom' than 'bust.' They tallied five sacks and eight tackles for loss, including one sequence in the fourth quarter when the defense tallied three consecutive sacks — including two straight from defensive end Kwity Paye. The first sack, from Michael Barrett, forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by defensive tackle Donovan Jeter.

Yes, the unit gave up plenty of yardage. But it came up with more than enough stops for Michigan to win comfortably. And it also kept Rashod Bateman relatively in check when the game was close. In the first half, Bateman was targeted seven times and caught six passes for just 26 yards. His biggest play through the first two quarters: Drawing a defensive pass interference penalty on safety Daxton Hill. He finish with nine catches for 101 yards, but he did not find the end zone. And then for good measure, linebacker Josh Ross picked off Morgan with roughly three minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

What was especially impressive was the performance came on the road. In 2019, the Wolverines' Big Ten title hopes were extinguished away from home, first in a 35-14 drubbing at Wisconsin and then in a 28-21 nail-biter at Penn State. Michigan dug itself in a 35-0 hole in that first game and a 21-0 hole in the second. The Wolverines found themselves down seven early Saturday night — but didn't crumble. This was likely their second-toughest road game this season, after the finale at Ohio State, and Michigan answered the bell. 

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No. 5 Ohio State starts slow before cruising past Nebraska in Big Ten opener

It had been 301 days since No. Ohio State last played a football game.

Sometimes, it showed in a 52-17 victory over visiting Nebraska in Saturday's belated season-opener at Ohio Stadium.

No, this wasn't the juggernaut some Buckeyes fans might have envisioned when coach Ryan Day said in the spring that he might have a once-in-a-lifetime team.

Ohio State's defense missed tackles and got gashed far more often than it did last season. The Buckeyes' running backs couldn't get untracked for most of the game.

But one part of Ohio State's game didn't look the least bit rusty, and that was more than enough. Justin Fields picked right up from last year when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Master Teague III scores the touchdown during the first quarter against Nebraska at Ohio Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

Fields completed 20 of 21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His only incompletion came on a deep ball to Chris Olave that the receiver couldn't hold onto when he got hit in the end zone. Fields also ran for a 17-yard score.

It was, as expected, a surreal opener. There were more cardboard cutouts – 4,770 according to Ohio State – than spectators, as only players' relatives were permitted to watch. A total of 1,344 people were inside the Horseshoe, the smallest “crowd” in the venerable stadium's 98-year history.

The Ohio State marching band played on the stadium scoreboard but wasn't in the stadium. Nor was Brutus Buckeye, about which Fox broadcaster Gus Johnson jokingly voiced outrage during a halftime visit to the press box.

But at least the Buckeyes played, something they had to fight for after the Big Ten initially canceled the fall season.

After all the waiting to play, the game's start brought back the bitter memories of how last year's season ended. Just as Clemson needed only four plays to go the length of the field for its game-winning touchdown in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Nebraska went 75 yards in the same number of snaps, including a 47-yard run by Luke McCaffrey, to take a 7-0 lead.

Ohio State answered with an 11-play touchdown drive that included a fourth-and-5 conversion to tie it and took the lead on a 42-yard pass from Fields to Garrett Wilson late in the first quarter.

But Nebraska answered with an 11-play, 78-yard drive to tie it with 8:24 left before halftime. At that point, the Huskers had outgained the Buckeyes 181-171.

Ohio State regained the lead on a 34-yard field goal by Blake Haubeil after confusion on a fourth-and-1 play resulted in a penalty.

The Buckeyes' defense then forced a three-and-out to give the offense a chance to score again, and it capitalized. Master Teague scored on a 6-yard carry for his second touchdown to make it 24-14.

Ohio State took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a score, the last 17 on a run by Fields that included a nifty spin move, and the rout was on. If there was any doubt about that, it ended when cornerback Sevyn Banks recovered a fumble by quarterback Adrian Martinez and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-17.

Field's second touchdown pass came on an acrobatic catch by freshman Jaxon Smith-Njigba in which he contorted his body to get a foot inbounds in the back of the end zone.

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Soccer

Edouard Mendy: Chelsea No 1 hoping to break down barriers for African keepers

Edouard Mendy says he feels a responsibility to be a success at Chelsea in order to encourage other Premier League sides to invest in African goalkeepers.

The 28-year-old Senegal international is currently the only African ‘keeper in the English top flight following his £22m move to Stamford Bridge from Rennes last month.

  • Ziyech: I almost joined another club two years ago
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  • Transfer Centre LIVE! Liverpool’s defensive targets



Manchester United
Chelsea

Mendy has already established himself as Chelsea’s No 1 after conceding just one goal in his first three games, raising hopes that he could be the answer to the Blues’ goalkeeping issues.

But he is unsure why so few of his fellow African keepers have been given an opportunity in the Premier League, saying: “When you look at other leagues, there are more playing around Europe; in France, there are four or five at least. Perhaps it’s something that can be explained in different ways.

“There’s lots of African players in the Premier League and the Premier League is the best league in the world, so that’s a really positive thing. But there are only a few African goalkeepers.

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“Do I feel a particular pressure about that? Not really. It’s a source of pride for me to be an African goalkeeper in the Premier League. It’s up to me to show, as an African goalkeeper, that I can really perform at this level and perhaps change people’s mentalities of these things.

“I just need to make sure that I keep working hard and doing my best in matches so that other goalkeepers can follow me into this league.”

‘I want to prove Cech right’

Chelsea goalkeeping great, Petr Cech, who is now an adviser for the club, was a key figure in identifying Mendy as the Blues’ new keeper.

Mendy and Cech – who has been named in Chelsea’s Premier League squad as emergency back-up – both played for Rennes before making the move to Stamford Bridge, and Mendy says he now wants to show Cech was right to place his faith in him.

“I had been aware that Petr Cech had been watching my matches for a number of years,” explained Mendy. “It’s always really pleasing to hear that Cech has been watching me and saying that he liked my profile and the way I was performing.

“After my season at Rennes, the offer came in from Chelsea and it’s a source of great pride for me to have joined this club.

“It’s true that Cech played a particularly important role in the transfer, so now it’s up to me to show that they were right to have brought me to the club.

‘Unemployment made me who I am’

Mendy establishing himself as Chelsea’s No 1 caps a remarkable rise for the 28-year-old, who was unemployed and contemplating his future in football just six years ago.

Mendy spent a year without a team due to a disagreement with his former agent and was forced to claim unemployment support while training with his former club’s reserve side just to stay fit.

He finally got his break when he was offered a trial by Marseille in 2015, but Mendy says those tough times have helped to make him the player he is today.

He said: “It was really very difficult, because on the one hand you had the anger of finding yourself without a club because of the agent who I was with, but there’s also the disappointment of not being able to play at the weekends, not being able to do what I love, not being able to compete.

“I immediately went back to the club I joined when I was young and I was training with the reserves there every morning. I would go to the gym or I would go with my brother to the pitch to practice shot-stopping.

“I had the unemployment support at that time, so I could dedicate myself totally to football. But it was incredibly difficult, and also my partner was expecting our first baby. So the unemployment support wasn’t going to be enough for us – we needed something else, so I did start looking for other work.

“But then I had the opportunity to go to Marseille. I was given a trial, and when I went down there, I gave absolutely everything to get the opportunity to join that club. Fortunately for me, it worked, and when it did, it was like a complete release for me.

“A year is a very long time for a footballer, but fortunately, I could always count on my family. There were times when it was really difficult but my family could help me through that, to bounce back and get where I am today.

“I had many, many doubts during that time about whether I would carry on. But I would look back at those moments and say it’s thanks to them that I am where I am today and that my family is also able to benefit from football.”

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No new positive COVID-19 cases from latest round of testing ahead of Week 6

There are no new positive cases in the latest round of league-wide COVID-19 testing and all Week 6 games are on as scheduled, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Sunday morning, per a source.

The news comes after a week that saw multiple positive tests and several players land on the reserve/COVID-19 list. There were new protocols enacted this week where anyone with high-risk, close-contact exposure must isolate themselves for at least five days, and those new protocols were put in effect in the lead-up to Week 6.

On Saturday, Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Cominsky tested positive for COVID-19. Two defensive coaches for the Falcons, including Cominsky, were left home has a precaution just ahead the team’s trip to Minnesota.

It was also learned on Saturday that Denver Broncos running backs coach Curtis Modkins also tested positive for COVID-19. Modkins was proactive once learning he was a high-risk case and took the proper measures before learning of his positive test results.

The New England Patriots placed running back Sony Michel, defensive end Derek Rivers and guard Shaq Mason on the reserve/COVID-19 list once it was learned they came in close contact with someone who was infected. The same went for Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams once learning he was in close contact,

Lastly, the Jacksonville Jaguars placed nearly its entire practice squad on the reserve/COVID-19 list after one of their practice squad players tested positive for COVID-19.

After a busy build-up dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Week 6 is a go.

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Kentucky dominates No. 17 Tennessee for first victory in Knoxville since 1984

Saturday ended a forgettable streak for Kentucky. For the first time since 1984, the Wildcats won at Tennessee.

The Kentucky defense did the heavy lifting in the first half by forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Quarterback Terry Wilson and the offense then took over in the second half, giving the Wildcats' their first complete performance of the season in a 34-7 win over the No. 17 Volunteers.

The victory is just Kentucky's third in the last 36 games against Tennessee. It snapped a 17-game losing streak in Knoxville.

The SEC Network broadcast began with talk that Wilson's job was in jeopardy while Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's was not despite uneven performances from both this season.

By the end of the game, Tennessee was playing its third-string quarterback and Wilson had become the first Kentucky quarterback since Derrick Ramsey in 1977 to lead Kentucky to wins at Florida and Tennessee in his career.

Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) watches as his fumble is recovered by Kentucky during the first half at Neyland Stadium. (Photo: Brianna Paciorka, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Wilson's stats do not jump off the page, but he completed 12 of 15 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown and gained 32 yards on eight carries. Wildcats receivers had a chance to catch all three of the incompletions. 

Kentucky's offense did not score a touchdown until the third quarter, but the early struggles reinforced the problems have more to do with the receivers than Wilson. Yes, Wilson lost needless yards by not throwing away the ball on a couple of early plays, but he does not need to be perfect when the defense is playing this well and the run game is working. 

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Now Kentucky is among the nation's leaders with nine interceptions across the last two games, including three interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Against Tennessee, much-maligned cornerback Kelvin Joseph started the scoring with an interception returned 41 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Six plays later, linebacker Jamin Davis returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown. Tennessee's next drive ended with an interception from safety Tyrell Ajian.

Those plays gave Kentucky nine interceptions in a span of 16 drives. In all of the 2019 season, 55 of 130 FBS teams, including the Wildcats, had nine or fewer interceptions all season. Only 21 teams had more interception return yards last season than Kentucky's 215 in the last two games. Only six teams had more than three interceptions returned for touchdowns last season.

The news wasn't as good for Tennessee.

Guarantano and J.T. Shrout combined to produce turnovers on four consecutive first-half possessions.

First, Guarantano fumbled in Kentucky territory when Ty Chandler bumped into his quarterback’s arm while Guarantano was winding up to throw. Clearly, there was some miscommunication.

On the next possession, Kelvin Joseph darted in front of Cedric Tillman on a quick-out route, intercepted Guarantano’s pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.

Guarantano failed to see linebacker Jamin Davis sitting in zone coverage on the ensuing possession. Davis intercepted a pass intended for Jalin Hyatt and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.

That pass sent Guarantano to the bench – for one possession. Backup J.T. Shrout’s first pass was intercepted by Tyrell Ajian, and Guarantano re-entered.

Guarantano finished 14-of-21 for 88 yards.

The Vols leaned heavily on their running game after the turnovers.

Eric Gray answered the bell. Gray rushed for a season-high 128 yards. He carried the ball on nine consecutive plays during Tennessee’s lone touchdown drive, gaining 57 yards during that stretch.

Despite trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Volunteers seemed poised for a comeback, having outgained Kentucky 203-75. 

But Tennessee was unable to generate any sustained offense and raised the white flag early in the fourth quarter by putting in true freshman Harrison Bailey to replace Guarantano.

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Soccer

MARTIN SAMUEL: No more glory for underdogs

MARTIN SAMUEL: No more glory for the underdogs – Manchester United and Liverpool’s every waking thought is how they can shut aspiring teams out… now we have the proof

  • Project Big Picture has caused great debate among football fans across England
  • Liverpool and Manchester United are trying to force through the plans
  • They want to shut out aspiring clubs and stop underdogs getting the glory
  • Chief Sports Writer Martin Samuel debates the talking points from the plans 

So what is your favourite part? The £6.25million each the little clubs get to pay towards Daniel Levy’s new stadium, so Tottenham can grow bigger, grow richer, buy better players and stuff them out of sight each year?

Maybe it is the thought of those caring venture capitalists from the Fenway Sports Group and Glazer family fretting over the fate of the English football pyramid. Or the thought that some twerps are actually buying that.

There really is so much to choose from in Project Big Picture, after all — but let’s dive straight in with the mastermind at the heart of it.

Manchester United and Liverpool want to shut out aspiring teams from winning trophies

Rick Parry. The useful idiot.

AV, London

Wrong, AV. There is absolutely nothing useful about Parry. I cannot think of a single individual who has done greater harm to English football in the last 30 years. You can smell his burning pants and his BS from here.

The big clubs miss the point that fans go to matches or pay TV subscriptions because they dream of their team winning.

GunnerJay, Essex

Sadly, Jay, I think you miss the point. The biggest clubs don’t care about anyone else winning. While the rest of football sees Leicester’s title as the greatest thing to happen to the game in the modern era, they see it as the worst. Manchester United and Liverpool’s every waking thought is how they can shut those teams out. At least now we have proof.

No one will watch the Premier League without the big clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

DiabloXI, London

Really? Call their bluff and see. Those three clubs you mention, in their current state, would be mid-table at best in any European super league. Give it a few years and they would be begging to join the EFL just for a chance to win promotion back to the Premier League.

Teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea would be mid-table in a Super League

All clubs that have earned the right to play in the top division should have an equal vote. Why would any club want an unfair advantage? It’s against the very spirit of sport.

Relentless EFC, Shrewsbury

That is all the richest clubs have ever sought. Financial Fair Play, the UEFA coefficients, constantly chipping away at the Premier League’s wealth distribution: everything they do is to achieve that unfair advantage.

I like the reduction to 18 teams and scrapping the League Cup. Less football means more rest. I also like the third from bottom being involved in the Championship play-offs. The rest I’m… meh.

Stephen, London

Just to recap on what Stephen is ‘meh’ about: six big clubs getting to decide the rules, wealth distribution, make-up of the league, identity of the chief executive, and who can own their rival clubs. He is meh about the richest seizing the money, the control and the direction of English football. He is meh about big clubs taking funds from smaller Premier League clubs and giving it to the EFL, while protecting themselves from financial loss with greater enrichment opportunities.

He is meh about destroying the television deal that made the Premier League the most competitive in the world. He witters on about the irrelevant League Cup while shrugging at issues that will kill football as we know it. Don’t be Stephen, everybody. Think. This is a swindle. Shut it down.

The fact that there’s a chance seven clubs can get in the top four and that even more teams from the Championship have a chance of going up is what makes English football exciting and competitive. These plans would destroy it, while lower league clubs struggle to survive.

Bandy, Oxford

And this makes it less likely, because how do you think the rest of the Premier League feel towards Parry now? At a time of crisis, he has tried to screw them to serve his own ends. He hasn’t come up with a plan for how a Premier League donation will be used, he hasn’t done the hard yards to persuade the clubs that it will be directed properly. He has gone into a little room with Manchester United and Liverpool and plotted.

If his ruinous attempted coup fails, he will have done his clubs an enormous disservice. And if he succeeds, he will have destroyed the healthy competition within English football. His supporters claim he is bringing back the financial link between the Premier League and EFL.

They are a little less clear on how that was lost. It was the work of Parry, in his role as the first chief executive of the Premier League. He is the cause of the problem, not its solution. For a moment, imagine if this was Manchester City’s plan, not Liverpool’s. Imagine what the same people would be saying.

Rick Parry has failed to come up with a plan for how the Premier League donation will be used

The way the elite have waited for their opportunity to present this proposal — which has clearly been in the pipeline for ages — is akin to a predator stalking its prey to identify the sick and weak for an easier kill. Covid came along and boom — there was the opportunity. Oh, to see one of the Big Six relegated — it would be an absolute thing of beauty.

Rob, London

It’s a funny thing, Rob. Everybody thinks as a sportswriter you have got it in for their club. It’s not true. You spend your life trying to be fair to everybody. But let’s just say, in recent years, I’m not exactly unhappy when Aston Villa beat Liverpool, or Crystal Palace turn over Manchester United.

My pleasure when Leicester won the league was as if my own team had won it. I was never like that. I was never married to the underdog. I just wanted to see the best team win. And I still do. But I like it more when it’s someone new, from outside that elite group: because those clubs want it all their own way and it isn’t right.

I don’t want to hear Liverpool tell me it ‘means more’ when, in reality, they are owned by venture capitalists trying to destroy the competition in English football for their own ends. It doesn’t mean I don’t still appreciate or admire a good performance.

This isn’t about the players, or the management. It doesn’t affect the reporting of a match. I have friends at these clubs, good people that I like, professionals that I think are outstanding, but there were probably nice people on the Death Star, too, once you got to know them.

That Manchester United and Liverpool fans have such animosity is hugely ironic, considering their clubs have plainly been thick as thieves over this since 2017. Turns out it doesn’t mean more, it isn’t special or unique. Those two are the same. As for Parry, I find if you read every quote of his in Jamie Carragher’s accent, it makes it easier to identify where his motivation and allegiance lies.

Liverpool cannot claim ‘this means more’ when they are owned by venture capitalists 

I’m a Liverpool fan, but this is wrong. I like the idea of reducing the Premier League to 18, better for England and the Champions League. But not at the cost of destroying ambition. No club outside the Big Six would do anything again. You want reward? Win the big prizes without financially doping everyone else.

Mike, Worksop

Good on you, Mike. Financial doping is a phrase that is always attached to wealthy investors, it works just as well reversed, to describe the way the elite clubs are thwarting those who would try to challenge them with protectionist rules.

You think they’d play less? This proposal has the season starting later and it isn’t so the players can go on a spa retreat before the first game. They’ll be travelling city to city playing endless pre-season friendlies.

Michael, Watford

Exactly. The league will start later so the elite involved in FIFA’s new Club World Cup can still go on their lucrative tours.

Martin Samuel should pipe down, given that his beloved Manchester City are also involved. How ironic, 15 years ago they were nothing.

New Ideas, Birmingham

I’m more disappointed with them than anybody, but while City are in the discussions, they are not the driving force. This document is draft No 17, with meetings taking place since January, long before lockdown. As I understand it, there was a gathering of the Big Six last Thursday in which the reveal was discussed and five were against the timing, with Chelsea even saying they couldn’t support it in the current form. Only Liverpool were in favour of this early unveiling, and unsurprisingly Parry went with them.

Manchester City are in the discussion for Project Big Picture but are not driving the plans

Oh, Mr Samuel, you are such a dinasaur.

Chrism1960, Brighton

Maybe, mate, but at least I can spell it.

The Glaziers! I wouldn’t trust them one inch.

Eltelo346, Altrincham

Do your own windows then.

Perhaps it should stay the same, then. Let a good portion of EFL clubs go bust and the Premier League ones can keep their money. They can’t win. Money divided equally, seriously? That’s like saying Avengers: Endgame should give half of what it made, a billion dollars, to Green Book. Why exactly?

SP3633, Liverpool

You tell me, it’s your specious analogy. But why divide money more equally in football? Because it creates a competitive league, and that is a strong selling point. There is a reason the Bundesliga and Serie A generate considerably less revenue. They are predictable.

The one vote one club system here also acts as a check to stop a cabal of rich clubs carving up the system and its spoils. Parry doesn’t think Huddersfield should have the same voting power as Manchester United, but it is the egalite of the Premier League that has built the most successful domestic competition in the world.

This might be disgusting but it was inevitable once American owners bought Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. They did so to make money, especially out of the TV deal. What you are seeing now, charging £14.95 to watch a game, is just a warm-up. The Holy Grail for FSG, the Glazers and Stan Kroenke is to have their own rights to matches, and you pay for every game.

Redmist21, Port Talbot

Richard Scudamore always believed his greatest achievement was keeping the ratio of revenue between top and bottom as 1.7:1 to ensure competition. Once that is lost, the league loses, too. I didn’t think the £14.95 charge was the thin end of the wedge but after Sunday’s announcement I knew I was wrong.

Former Premier League chief Richard Scudamore kept the ratio of revenue between top and bottom as 1.7:1 to ensure competition

It’s just too much. Make it £5 per game and they would massively increase the uptake, possibly by more than three times. This isn’t something you can afford on a weekly basis.

The High Hat, London

Fair points, particularly that four people paying £5 is better than one paying £15. Here’s what happened. The clubs had released all their matches to the broadcasters and thought that would meet commitments for the season, but the broadcasters still wanted a rebate, claiming loss of exclusivity.

Also, when football is available all day, every day, people pick and choose and audience numbers were actually down by comparison to equivalent matches pre-lockdown. So the clubs began pushing for a system that would take all but selected TV matches out of circulation, while making the rest available to season ticket holders.

This would preserve broadcast exclusivity and would avoid refunds. A season ticket code or voucher system for access could be set against any deposits paid. Couldn’t be done, they were told. Too many complications, including the technology.

However, a PPV system could be set-up, and that would resolve the broadcasters rebate. Now here’s the part that should raise eyebrows. Roughly 80 per cent of the £14.95 goes on facilitating and servicing the scheme. The clubs make around £3 per hit, then it has to be divided. Projections are that clubs will split £40m across the season: so £2m each.

Presumably they simply feared the rebate cost. Maybe it will change to a fairer price particularly if clubs were going to use profits for the EFL bail-out. They might be less inclined now Parry has shown his hand.

Sky Sports and BT Sport announced a pay-per-view service for Premier League matches that are not part of their usual coverage schedules 

Please come and support the lower leagues where you are treated as a fan not a cash cow. Clubs like Torquay United need you just to survive. We’re sick of the greedy, arrogant PL, too.

House Martin, United Kingdom

Indeed. And it’s been a little heavy this week. So to finish, let’s revisit Plainmoor, home of Torquay United. It’s February 17, 1996 and they are playing Hartlepool. I’m in the boardroom as a guest of the chairman, Mike Bateson. A real character. He had a ventriloquist’s dummy that he used to bring out after matches. It made more sense than anything I’ve ever heard from Rick Parry.

About 15 minutes before the match, the club secretary appeared. ‘Mr Chairman,’ he said, ‘the League have been on. They say all clubs must have a minute’s silence for Bob Paisley.’

Bateson looked out of a small window, towards a huddle of Torquay fans sheltering from a downpour beneath a rusty roof. ‘And how are we going to know when they’ve stopped?’ he asked.

That’s all from me. As a very great man once said: don’t let the grubby little opportunists get you down.




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No firms offers for Inter star Lautaro Martinez, says agent

Playing for Argentina with Lionel Messi is ‘a dream’ for Lautaro Martinez, but the Inter Milan striker’s agent insists there were no firm offers for him to join Barcelona or other top clubs

  • No offers were made for Inter striker Lautaro Martinez, according to his agent
  • Martinez had been strongly touted for a move to the Nou Camp all year
  • Playing with Lionel Messi is a ‘dream’ for the 23-year-old striker, says Beto Yaque
  • Martinez played alongside Messi in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Ecuador this week

Lautaro Martinez’s agent says there were never any concrete bids for the Inter Milan star from other top clubs, despite him being on Barcelona’s radar this year.

Martinez has been strongly touted for a move to the Nou Camp, where he would have linked-up with his international team-mate Lionel Messi.

Playing with Messi for his country is a ‘dream’ for the 23-year-old striker, according to his representative Beto Yaque, but he also confirmed that despite being in demand, no offers were put forward for his client.

Barcelona opted to give up on signing £90million Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez

Inter striker Martinez (right) was in action for Argentina in the 1-0 win over Ecuador this week.

Martinez is valued at around £90million by Inter and Barca were unable to meet the asking price, subsequently withdrawing from signing him during the transfer window.

Martinez played alongside Messi in Wednesday’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Ecuador in Buenos Aires.

And Yaque told TNT: ‘The move to Europe has made him improve, has enhanced his qualities and today he is one of the players who are playing at the highest level.

‘He is enthusiastic about the team and playing alongside Messi is a dream for him.’

‘Many things have been said about Lautaro’s possible transfer, there have been many rumours. Everyone wanted him but there was nothing concrete.’

Barcelona star Lionel Messi played in Argentina’s win over Ecuador, alongside Martinez

In the meantime, Martinez has continued to impress in Serie A, with three goals in three games for Inter so far this term.

‘He still has three years left on his contract, the transfer window has just closed, we haven’t sat down yet to talk about the renewal with Inter,’ Yaque added.

‘He is playing at a great level, last season was excellent for him and it is normal that he has attracted the attention of the great European clubs.’

And with a move to Spain off the table for now, Martinez looks set to stay at the San Siro for another season.

His contract is due to expire in 2023, but it seems likely that the striker will agree new terms with the club.




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