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    MARTIN SAMUEL: The elite European cartel are so twitchy over the ambition of wily Wolves

    MARTIN SAMUEL: The elite European cartel are so twitchy over the ambition of wily Wolves… and Crystal Palace’s pursuit of Ismaila Sarr is a sign of Wilfried Zaha’s fading star

    • Maurizio Sarri has been sacked from Juventus despite delivering a league title 
    • The 61-year-old was also dismissed by Chelsea after winning the Europa League 
    • The elite don’t rate the Europa League but Wolves have taken it very seriously
    • If Wolves win the competition, the cartel will be looking on very warily 

    First, Maurizio Sarri couldn’t win a trophy and now he can’t stop. The complication is, these are not the type of trophies the newly entitled super clubs want to win.

    The Europa League, Serie A, pah. Sarri landed both of those and was ousted anyway. By the end he wanted gone from Chelsea as much as they wanted rid of him but, either way, winning the lesser of UEFA’s club competitions wasn’t going to save him.

    As for Juventus, they hold their own domestic league in contempt these days, talking of fielding reserve teams if the Champions League could be successfully expanded. How sad is that?

    Maurizio Sarri was sacked by Juventus despite delivering a major trophy this season

    So this is where we are. Serie A used to be the competition that the greatest players in the world aspired to. The league of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard; the league of catenaccio and the most uncompromising defenders; 10 goals in Italy were worth 20 in England.

    We judged our own on whether they could make it there, thinking more of players such as John Charles and Liam Brady because they did. Now, Juventus win it and sack the manager, like it’s the Carabao Cup.

    Same with Chelsea and the Europa League. Two managers have delivered it for them, Sarri and Rafael Benitez, and neither was retained the following season. For a club that won a single European trophy in the first 42 years of UEFA competition, that’s some attitude.

    Then again, the manager that secured their sole Champions League triumph, Roberto di Matteo, did not last the group stage of the next campaign. That’s how big Chelsea think they are.

    And yet they’re scared of Wolves, these goliaths. If Wolves can make it into the Champions League next season – and they will have to win the Europa League first, starting with quarter-final victory over old hands Sevilla on Tuesday night – they will only be allowed 23 squad players, not 25.

    The 61-year-old was also dismissed by Chelsea despite lifting the Europa League last season

    The 61-year-old was also dismissed by Chelsea despite lifting the Europa League last season

    Wolves are the latest to fall foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, a set of regulations as good as ghost-written by the elite, so only those clubs with historically established revenue streams could compete and comply.

    The likes of Chelsea and Juve don’t care about the Europa League; they just don’t want anyone else to win it. Well, not anyone like Wolves, anyway. A club on the up, with ambition, trying to muscle their way in. It is going to be very hard for Wolves to qualify for Europe next season. Arsenal winning the FA Cup blocked their league route and while the Europa League is beneath some, it invariably contains dangerous wildcards.

    Sevilla have won it five times, while Inter Milan finished a point behind Juventus in Serie A and Manchester United are much improved under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If results go a certain way, Wolves could end up needing to beat all three.

    Yet that is still too much of a threat for some. Should they qualify, Wolves will play with a reduced squad across the next two seasons, and will pay a fine between £180,000 and £540,000, depending on compliance.

    Wolves’ ambition is the problem it seems, not the complacency that sees Juventus win Serie A for an unprecedented ninth straight year and regard that as failure.

    Watching as Bayern Munich eased past Chelsea on Saturday night was Oliver Kahn. He joined the club’s executive board in January and will succeed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as chief executive in January 2022. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Wolves have taken the competition very seriously and are making the cartel nervous

    Wolves have taken the competition very seriously and are making the cartel nervous

    ‘I think we should treat this FFP more seriously in future,’ he said last week.

    Again, note the ‘we’. It was the way Rummenigge spoke about FFP recently, too. As if he owned it. Which in a way he does, because it was certainly designed to make clubs such as Bayern Munich happy, by conforming perfectly to their business model and few others.

    The result? An unprecedented eight-straight Bundesliga titles. Niko Kovac, who won the seventh, did not make it through November the following season; Carlo Ancelotti, who won the fifth, did not last through September.

    Yet despite this utter dominance, Munich remain so frightened of a challenge that their executives keep applying pressure over FFP for fear the stranglehold might slip, and upstarts such as Wolves could get in.

    The elite will peddle the lie that clubs should grow organically while making that impossible. Without ambition, how could Wolves keep this exciting squad of players?

    Answer: they couldn’t. They would be picked off, one at a time, by the very clubs that have shaped the rules to make it ever more likely this will happen.

    It is a racket, a cartel, forged by clubs and men whose sense of entitlement is so great they no longer value leagues with a grand history dating back to 1898, or one of only two major European competitions.

    The elite will try to slam the door on them, who are three wins away from muscling their way in

    The elite will try to slam the door on them, who are three wins away from muscling their way in

    Not so long ago, Andrea Agnelli, chairman of Juventus, argued that Champions League qualification should be decided on historical success, so that a newly flourishing club such as Atalanta would be demoted to the Europa League, even if they finished in the top four, replaced by the likes of Roma or AC Milan.

    He didn’t get his way. But UEFA have done the next best thing, changing the financial rewards to make the rich even richer, through coefficient rankings.

    This year, for instance, Juventus have taken more out of the Champions League despite getting knocked out in the round of 16 than rivals who have progressed further.

    Through co-efficients and a superior TV pool, Juventus have made roughly £78million. Napoli, also out in the last round, have collected nearly £63m. Atalanta, still in it and playing Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night, have by comparison earned approximately £51m so far.

    Meaning Juventus are £27m better off than Atalanta, despite being inferior to them in Europe this season. They are better off just for being Juventus.

    This, apparently, is fair play. No wonder these clubs feel the need to constantly pressure it into existence. In a true meritocracy, their ideals would be laughed out of the room.

    PARRY’S SALARY CAP SERVES ONLY TO THWART AMBITION 

    No wonder the Professional Footballers’ Association are alarmed. The penalty for falling foul of the new salary cap regulations – £2.5 million in League One, £1.5m for League Two – will start with fines and end with points taken if the breach is above five per cent. Yet Macclesfield Town were also fined and suffered points deductions during 2019-20, for repeatedly not meeting the wage bill.

    How can that be right? How can defaulting on employee wages be no more serious than an attempt to invest in a football club by paying more?

    It’s another triumph for Rick Parry’s EFL – a haven for bad owners and hell for ambitious ones. Any club that defaults on wages should have to apply for re-election, regardless of their final league position. Yet the EFL have far too many rules to thwart ambition, far too few to fight off crooks.

    The new salary caps for League One and Two clubs will unfairly restrict clubs like Sunderland

    The new salary caps for League One and Two clubs will unfairly restrict clubs like Sunderland

    So Sunderland, average attendance 30,317, will now be subject to the same budgetary restrictions as Accrington Stanley, average attendance 2,862. And this being the third tier, a big fish cannot even escape to the top flight. Win promotion and Sunderland would still be in the Championship, run by the EFL, and subject to sanction. No wonder the clubs of any size or ambition – Ipswich, Sunderland, Portsmouth – voted against the new rules. 

    They will now be held to disproportionate restrictions, in a league operating to the needs of the least ambitious, in the bogus name of financial sustainability. If it doesn’t matter how many come to watch, how long until they just stop going? 

    PALACE’S PURSUIT OF SARR IS A SIGN OF ZAHA’S FADING STAR 

    Wilfried Zaha can leave Crystal Palace this summer and for substantially less than the £70m demanded a year ago.

    Palace want Ismaila Sarr, of Watford, as his replacement.

    And that is a problem because, with Zaha’s form tailing off this season and Sarr impressing despite Watford’s relegation, their sale prices could be similar, if not favouring Sarr. Zaha is a gamble. He had his chance at a major club, Manchester United, and shrank.

    There may be trouble ahead as Palace look to sell Wilfried Zaha to raise funds for Ismaila Sarr

    There may be trouble ahead as Palace look to sell Wilfried Zaha to raise funds for Ismaila Sarr

    His numbers – goals, assists, shots on target, chances created – were all significantly down year on year.

    Palace may even end up competing for Sarr with some of the clubs in the market for Zaha a year ago. Equally, Zaha’s decline was reflected in Palace’s slip, too.

    No club, bar Norwich, took fewer points from Project Restart and a bad run of form at the end of one season can often carry into the next. Sarr may have better options, Zaha fewer.

    And how will he react to that? If he stays he could cut a disconsolate figure. If he goes, he will still be very hard to replace. There may be trouble ahead. 

    KLOPP KNOWS COST OF INERTIA 

    Liverpool were never going to stand idle this summer. They won’t spend big because they do not have to, but playing James Milner as the understudy left back was not going to last as plan A, no matter how admirably he rose to the challenge. So they have signed Olympiacos defender Kostas Tsimikas for £11.75m, and it might not stop there.

    No matter how much Jurgen Klopp loves his boys, to stand still in football is to travel backwards. And he knows that. 

    Liverpool were never going to stand idly, the signing of Kostas Tsimikas is another step forward

    Liverpool were never going to stand idly, the signing of Kostas Tsimikas is another step forward

    THE SOFA CANNOT BEAT THE STADIUM! 

    You will, after all, be able to see the workings that lead to VAR decisions next season – just not if you’ve paid to watch the match. Broadcasters won a battle with the Premier League to show the straight and dotted lines that calculate offside, and in real time.

    But not in the stadium. In the ground, fans will just be shown the evidence of a single frame, as happens at UEFA matches.

    On Saturday night, when Chelsea had a goal chalked off against Bayern Munich, the factual support did not appear for many minutes, during which time the commentary team made no attempt to even speculate on what had occurred. Nobody at home had a clue.

    That won’t happen in the Premier League. On the sofa, viewers will be informed. But when fans finally return to stadiums, the price of admission will not include that right to know what has happened, and why. It’s shameful.

    Fans attending games will not be able to see the workings of VAR despite paying for a ticket

    Fans attending games will not be able to see the workings of VAR despite paying for a ticket

    ICE-COOL COLIN DESTINED FOR THE TOP 

    Only three golfers have won the US PGA Championship at a younger age than Collin Morikawa – Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. And starting his PGA Tour career by making 22 consecutive cuts is a record that only Woods has bettered. So Morikawa is already in exceptional company. 

    His final-round eagle under enormous pressure at Harding Park on Sunday, however, even drew cheers on an empty course. A star is born.

    Only three golfers have won the PGA Championship at a younger age than Collin Morikawa

    Only three golfers have won the PGA Championship at a younger age than Collin Morikawa

    PEP VIEWS FODEN AS ANOTHER MESSI 

    Phil Foden is not the next David Silva. He is not even a rival to Riyad Mahrez. Judging by where Pep Guardiola used him for Manchester City against Real Madrid last Friday, the player he sees most of in Foden would appear to be Lionel Messi.

    THIRD UMPIRE NO BALL POWER A SIMPLE AND OBVIOUS STEP 

    Allowing the third umpire to call no balls in the first Test against Pakistan was an idea so obvious and effective, the only surprise is how long it has taken to be introduced. In sport, for a straightforward line call, where technology can be used, it should. 

    FOLAU KNEELING REFUSAL SHOWS PROTEST SHOULD BE PERSONAL

    As expected, there was a more considered explanation than pure antagonism for why Israel Folau is refusing to take a knee with his Catalan Dragons team-mates before matches.

    Folau, a devout Christian, believes that God, not politics, will defeat racism. Now we can all mock or argue that the Almighty appears to have been asleep at the celestial wheel on this for many thousands of years now.

    But it’s no less a flawed world view than taking a knee simply for fear of enraging Twitter. Protest should be personal.

    Israel Folau (No 4) correctly demonstrated that protest should be personal

    Israel Folau (No 4) correctly demonstrated that protest should be personal

    KEEPING AINSLEY VITAL FOR ARTETA   

    If it is correct that Arsenal are open to offers for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, what are the club playing at? Particularly if, as is also suggested, Mikel Arteta is opposed to the decision. Arteta is the best thing to happen to Arsenal all year, Maitland-Niles was one of their most effective performers in the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea, with genuine potential under the right coach.

    He looks as if he is capable of adapting to a variety of positions, too. Not just a wing-back role but maybe central midfield.

    Either way, he’s an asset and, if Arteta wants to keep him, that should be the end of it. Arsenal lose too many good players, which is why their rebuilding projects last decades.        

    If it is true that Arsenal are looking to sell Ainsley Maitland-Niles, what are the club playing at?

    If it is true that Arsenal are looking to sell Ainsley Maitland-Niles, what are the club playing at? 

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