Plans are being prepared to stage crowd pilots involving tens of thousands of Premier League fans in the new year.
The government announced earlier this week that up to 4,000 spectators will be allowed to return to outdoor sports events in England’s lowest risk areas once the current coronavirus lockdown ends on 2 December.
England will replace its nationwide lockdown with a second – and stricter – edition of the tier system, with clubs located in tier one or two areas able to welcome supporters back.
Following the recent update, The Telegraph now reveals that proposals have been put forward for some Premier League football clubs to host five-figure crowds as early as January – providing there is no spike in coronavirus cases from the return of supporters following the conclusion of the second lockdown.
The report adds that pilots are planned to be the first step towards that but they won’t arrive until after Christmas. There had been hope for these pilots to run in-line with the Premier League’s hectic festive schedule but that won’t be the case.
In regard to the staging of pilots, the Premier League said in a statement: “Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.
“Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s Covid-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative.
“We look forward to working with Government on their next steps.”
The return of fans is obviously a huge financial boost for clubs of all levels up and down the country, especially lower-tier clubs – with the majority struggling mightily since the initial lockdown was introduced back in March.
Chelsea booked their place in the Champions League knockout stages following a late 2-1 victory against Rennes on matchday four.
The Blues started the brighter and should’ve had an early opener through Timo Werner, but the prolific German fluffed his lines with the goal gaping.
Frank Lampard’s side soon had their goal, though, as Callum Hudson-Odoi pounced on a wonderful Mason Mount pass in behind the Rennes defence before slotting past the onrushing Alfred Gomis.
The hosts grew into the contest before the break and undoubtedly asked more questions of a previously untested Chelsea defence. They equalised through a superb Serhou Guirassy header but the visitors were able to snatch victory in the closing stages via Olivier Giroud’s similarly impressive headed effort.
Let’s get into Chelsea’s player ratings.
Edouard Mendy (GK) – 8/10 – Superb once again and could do little to deny Guirassy’s thumping header. Cesar Azpilicueta (RB) – 7/10 – A steady Eddie in all phases. Unspectacular but a bloody warrior.
Thiago Silva (CB) – 7/10 – Rennes target man Guirassy ensured the elegant Brazilian didn’t have it all his own way in this one. Positionally faultless and covered wide areas well. Kurt Zouma (CB) – 7/10 – Impressive start to 2020/21 continued in Rennes. Aerially dominant and looks pretty unflappable alongside the calming influence of Silva.
Ben Chilwell (LB) – 5/10 – There’s no doubting Chilwell’s bright start in west London but he was poor here. Erratic in possession and struggled one-vs-one on occasions against the talented Jeremy Doku.
Jorginho (DM) – 6/10 – Chelsea missed N’Golo Kante. The Blues’ midfield was bypassed way too frequently with balls often finding the feet of Guirassy. The Italian was typically safe in possession.
Mateo Kovacic (CM) – 5/10 – A fairly quiet evening for the Croatian, who didn’t really make much of an impact at all before being replaced in the second period.
Mason Mount (CM) – 8/10 – The 21-year-old’s playing at such a high level at the moment, with his rich vein of form continuing on Tuesday night. His freakish tenacity and impressive technique were encapsulated in Hudson-Odoi’s opener. Magic.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (RW) – 8/10 – Looked bright from the get-go and was rewarded with a fine finish for the game’s opener. Combined efficiently down the right and tracked runs of enterprising left-back Adrien Truffart admirably too.
Tammy Abraham (ST) – 7/10 – A selfless display from Abraham, who held the ball up well and worked tirelessly out of possession. Defended his own box impressively too.
Timo Werner (LW) – 5/10 – Missed a sitter in the opening stages which set the tone for a rather mundane performance. Movement was fine and he rotated well but appeared sluggish on the whole.
N’Golo Kante – 6/10
Olivier Giroud – 7/10 – Match-winner with a wonderful header in the dying embers. Some leap.
The benefits of a lucrative shirt sponsorship deal are now more important than ever, especially considering the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
But it isn’t all about money when it comes to shirt sponsors (although a very, very large part of it is), as it’s also about how this logo compliments the jersey. Indeed, some of the finest shirts down the years have become synonymous with a certain logo, helping create an aesthetic.
La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Sempre Milan) have now released the revenues each team in Serie A are receiving from their current shirt sponsorship deals. And while the total revenue for the league is up €5m from the year before to €169m, it’s still considerably behind the likes of the Premier League in this department.
But who is dominating when it comes to sponsorship deals and who is lagging behind?
Amount: €0.5m Sponsors: Frecciarossa
Well, that’s not great, is it?
Lazio were made to end their partnership with MarathonBet in 2019 and have struggled to find a new partner since. However, this little sum of cash (y’know, relatively speaking) comes from a recent partnership agreement struck with Frecciarossa – a high speed train.
It’s not good if even Spezia are earning more with their shirt sponsorship deals. They partnered with food and beverage company Ten in 2019 and we’re still not sure exactly how, but it works.
Iozzelli Piscine – a swimming pool customisation and installation company – also feature on the sleeve and Pediatrica are advertised on the back, just to add to the organised chaos on the shirt.
Amount: €1m Sponsors: Very Mobile, Ibsa
Sampdoria actually agreed a deal with Very Mobile in November for the 2020/21 campaign. After it was confirmed, it was said this was a particularly important collaboration at a time when football needed to be better connected with its fans.
IBSA also extended their back of shirt sponsor with the club in September.
Amount: €1m Sponsors: San Vincenzo, Envi, Vumbaca, Biemme
Perhaps the main problem sponsors may have with Crotone is that kits such as the one above will almost certainly distract from the actual logos on the shirt….which is pretty tough to do.
Amount: €1.5m Sponsors: Banca Sistema, Synlab, LeasePlan
Banca Sistema took over as Genoa’s main sponsorship partner for the 2020/21 campaign after their deal with Zentiva had ended.
Genoa’s sleeve sponsorship agreement with Synlab has also helped the club reach new heights with regards to their revenue.
Amount: €1.5m Sponsors: IVPC, Rillo Construction, Pastificio Rummo, Don Peppe
Benevento didn’t hold back when they were promoted to Serie A, did they? The partnerships with Rillo Construction, Pastificio Rummo and Don Peppe all accompany the club’s main sponsor IVPC.
Well, it doesn’t exactly accompany it, but rather just clashes with….well, everything.
A partnership that is built on being ‘full of energy’, Sinergy have been associated with Verona since 2018/19 and they are now into their third successful season with the club.
Verona are also partnered with Winelivery as a co-sponsor, while Trivellato feature on the sleeve.
Amount: €2.1m Sponsors: Cetilar, Old Wild West, Canovi, Viva la Mamma
PharmaNutra SPA Group initially started out as the medical partner to Parma before the Cetilar brand became the main sponsor of the shirt and was part of the club’s famous promotion to Italy’s top flight.
A partnership that has come a long way in a short space of time, with the brand and the club both benefiting from the deal.
Old Wild West – a burger and steak house franchise – became the second sponsor for the start of 2020/21, having previously been the back-of-shirt advertisement.
Amount: €2.2m Sponsors: Dacia, Vortice, Prosciutto San Daniele, Bluenergy
With Udinese reaping the benefits of their partnership with Dacia, they agreed to a new three-year deal with the car manufacturer in September.
Dacia, along with Vortice, have helped provide a steady amount of revenue to support Udinese’s outlay in recent years.
Amount: €2.5m Sponsors: Facile Ristrutturare, Selenella, Scala, Illumia
Bologna expanded their social and economic outreach as they took on four sponsors for the 2020/21 season, with Facile Ristrutturare (Easy Restructuring) the main partner.
The investments from these companies despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic were major strides forward for the club.
Amount: €4m Sponsors: Regione Sardegna, Ichnusa, Arborea, Tiscoli
Sure, there are two large sponsors on the front of Cagliari’s shirt, but adidas produced three fairly stunning kits for the 2020/21 season…which just about cover up the logos.
After reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League back in 2018, Qatar Airways became Roma’s seventh shirt sponsor in their history, initially becoming the main sponsor of the men’s team.
They also agreed to become the main global partner of the Roma women’s team for the start of the 2020/21 campaign.
The colours of the logo have often complimented the jersey, making it one of the most appealing tops to purchase in European football.
Amount: €18m Sponsors: Mapei
Sassuolo? Third? Wait, what?
Well, it may come as a shock to see them so high up this list, but their sponsor just so happens to be the owner of the club – Mapei.
The stadium was also controversially renamed the Mapei Stadium back in 2013, but their budget has been steadily increasing in more recent times, resulting in better investments and a better chance of holding onto their star players.
Yep, and you may be able to guess why this is the case. Mediacom founder Rocco Commisso bought Fiorentina in 2019, with the deal being valued at around €160m.
Commisso actually tried to buy Milan the year prior, with negotiations reaching the final stages before it ultimately fell through.
The simple yet stylish Mediacom logo features prominently on the front, while Estra is advertised on the sleeve and Prima.it is also on the back.
It’s not that much of a surprise to see Fiorentina this high anymore, is it?
Amount: €48m Sponsors: Jeep, Cygames
Juventus top this list, and it’s not even close.
The Italian giants and Jeep are united not only by their style and design, but also by their desire to be the best as well as by their histories. There has already been a reworking of the agreement between the pair to hand Juve more money, and there are suggestions that talks over a new deal began immediately after this to extend their partnership further.
Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona of the 1990s were so all-conquering, so revered, so confident, that when they treated 1994 Champions League final as all but a forgone conclusion, it wasn’t instantly cast aside as misplaced hubris.
Barcelona weren’t up against any old team either. A Milan side led by Fabio Capello, who had just sewn up their third straight league title and reached the Champions League final the previous year, awaited them in the showpiece.
However, when Cruyff – who had been pictured with the trophy the day before the final – declared that his side were ‘more complete, competitive and experienced’ than during their previous triumph in the competition two years earlier, it was a sentiment shared by many. Spanish papers all but declared them victors and even Milan’s Paolo Maldini conceded the Catalans were favourites.
Yet, just six years earlier, as Barcelona recorded their worst league finish for 25 years, they could scarcely dream of entertaining such lofty ambitions.
A decade after leaving the club as a player, Cruyff returned as manager in the summer of 1988, joining an institution in debt and in the aftermath of a player-led revolt. His maiden season may have earned just a runners-up finish and second-tier European trophy, but Cruyff immediately set about radically changing Barcelona’s playing style.
Midfielder Eusebio Sacristan explained the set up in Jonathan Wilson’s The Barcelona Legacy, gushing: “From the start he wanted to impose a style that was revolutionary: playing a 3-4-3… It was, wow, something we’d never seen.”
The next year Cruyff added the players that would thrive in this system, with the instrumental trio of Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman all joining in 1989.
Laudrup, the side’s creative lynchpin, and Stoichkov, the sharp-tongued striker, both idolised Cruyff growing up – the Bulgarian forward still had video tapes of his manager’s playing days when he joined Barcelona. Cruyff’s compatriot, Koeman, had been coached by the legendary figure at Ajax and understood the manager’s demands implicitly. Cruyff was crafting a team of his disciples.
However, he would be hard-pressed to find a more devout member of the Cruyffian cult than a certain youth team player who broke into the senior side the following summer.
‘Pep Guardiola’ was the immediate answer Cruyff’s long-time assistant Charly Rexach provided when Barcelona were short of holding midfielders. Having initially dismissed the slight Catalan as ‘slower than my granny’, Cruyff handed Guardiola his debut during the 1990/91 campaign before he became a fixture of the side the following season.
Cruyff’s Barcelona were built on the fundamentals that Guardiola would instil in his side decades later, playing fast, attacking football with quick passing and a high press. The emphasis Cruyff put on attack was epitomised by his description of Guardiola and Koeman, nominally the side’s holding midfielder and sweeper who often swapped positions, when he said: “As the central defensive duo, they weren’t fast and they weren’t defenders.”
But it worked.
Between 1991 and 1994 Barcelona won four consecutive La Liga titles, but their greatest moment unquestionably came in the middle of that run.
Four seasons into Cruyff’s tenure, Barcelona reached the third European Cup final of the club’s history. Their failure to win the trophy – magnified by Real Madrid’s domination of the competition – was suffocating. Against Sampdoria at Wembley, Cruyff’s side earned the most cathartic of victories, with Koeman’s 111th minute free-kick enough to end their hoo-doo and earn the ‘liberation’ Rexach described it as.
The Olympics held in Barcelona later that same summer saw the USA’s star-studded men’s basketball team steamroller their way to gold under the moniker of ‘the Dream Team’. That Barcelona side were rapidly given the same name.
In the summer of 1993, Cruyff added the ultimate individualist to a team bristling with its fair share of soloists, tossing the Brazilian striker Romario into the mix. For 12 wonderful months, it worked perfectly as Romario lived up to all of his self-aggrandising prophecies en route to Barcelona’s fourth consecutive title – and the third won on the final day of the season thanks to another club’s failure.
Four days after that triumph, they met Milan in the Champions League final. Ultimately, a 4-0 humiliation ensured Cruyff’s confidence was misplaced and the Dream Team ended that sorry night.
Yet Cruyff and his side marked a distinct point in the club’s history. Before 1990, Barcelona had won ten league titles and no European Cups in their entire history. Since 1990, they have claimed 16 league titles and five European Cups.
His legacy extends beyond a well-stocked trophy cabinet.
Guardiola – the Dutchman’s ultimate disciple – summed up the great man’s impact best, telling The Guardian: “Before he came we didn’t have a cathedral of football, this beautiful church, at Barcelona. We needed something new. And now it is something that has lasted. It was built by one man, by Johan Cruyff, stone by stone.”
West Ham stalwart Mark Noble is finding it tough to work his way back into David Moyes’ plans after being ousted from the Scot’s favoured XI.
Noble has tallied a mere 71 minutes of Premier League action this term, with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek emerging as Moyes’ go-to double pivot in midfield following a string of impressive performances as a pair dating back to the end of last season.
England international Rice has captained West Ham in their last eight league bouts, and Moyes’ side currently sit ninth in the table after a run of just one defeat from their last seven – collecting 14 points in the process.
With Rice’s partnership with impressive box-to-box midfielder Soucek continuing to flourish, The Athletic note that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Noble to force his way back into West Ham’s XI.
Noble skippered West Ham to a 2-0 defeat against Newcastle on the opening matchday of the campaign and has failed to start a Premier League game since.
The midfielder’s been reduced to a trio of two-minutes cameos over the past two months, with Rice proving his worth with the armband following Noble’s demise to the bench.
As it stands, it’s likely that the 33-year-old will continue to be limited to mere cameos before the 2020/21 season is up. His contract expires next summer and could find it hard to earn a new deal if he can’t break back into the fold.
However, with Noble’s leadership invaluable in and around the West Ham dressing room, the club may look to extend the Englishman’s contract by a further year.
After making his senior debut for the Hammers in 2004, Noble has gone on to make 507 appearances for the club – seventh in the all-time list. There’s no questioning his status as a West Ham legend.