Pochettino rules out big changes at Tottenham in January


London (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino does not want to make major changes at Tottenham in the January transfer window despite a poor start to his sixth season in charge.

Spurs have won just three of their opening 11 games in all competitions, crashing out of the League Cup to fourth-tier Colchester and suffering a humiliating 7-2 defeat at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

That has led to suspicions that the current Tottenham squad has grown stale, with little movement in the transfer market in recent years.

However, Pochettino retains faith in the players that have helped the club make huge strides over the past five years, reaching the Champions League final in June.

“I don’t believe (there will be any signings),” said Pochettino on Thursday. “I believe in the players that we have.

“If it is my decision I am going to stick with my players because I know they have the quality.

“It is only to unlock some situation that is going on in their minds. I know we have the quality to be fighting for the things we expect to fight for.”

Pochettino was dealt a double blow in a 3-0 defeat to Brighton before the international break as captain Hugo Lloris suffered a dislocated elbow that will keep him out for the rest of the year.

Harry Kane will therefore assume the Spurs armband, as he does for England.

Pochettino was fulsome in his praise for how Kane handled the racist abuse aimed at England players during Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

The game in Sofia was stopped twice by the referee, with England eventually winning 6-0.

“The way Harry behaved was top,” added Pochettino. “The way he handled the situation on Monday was exemplary, fantastic, he showed calm, followed the rules. We’re so proud of how he behaved.

“He’s become a natural leader. It’s fantastic news for England and Tottenham.

“We will miss Hugo for a few months and to have Harry to step up is important, like others who are important players and mature. They will step up, assume their responsibility and handle problems when they happen like this.”

Bulgaria teen indicted over England match racist abuse


Sofia (AFP) – A Bulgarian teenager was indicted for “grave hooliganism” while four others were fined and received stadium bans over racist abuse at a Euro 2020 qualifier against England, officials said Thursday.

Monkey chants and apparent Nazi salutes during Monday’s match in Sofia sparked a storm of protest that  overshadowed England’s 6-0 win and led to the resignation of Bulgaria’s football chief and.

Thanks to CCTV footage from the national stadium, Sofia police have so far identified nine suspects in the stands, part of a group of black-clad fans, who directed the abuse at England’s players. Six of them were detained on Wednesday.

“One 18-year-old was indicted late Wednesday for grave hooliganism and ordered detained in custody for 72 more hours,” Sofia regional prosecution spokeswoman Nevena Zartova told AFP.

According to the indictment, the man used obscene hand gestures and Nazi salutes and turned his back to the field and pulled down his trousers twice.

If found guilty, he could face up to five years in jail.

“Out of the other five, four were handed 1,000-leva (511 euro, $568) fines and two-year bans from sports events. Procedures against the fifth, who is underage, are still ongoing,” Sofia police directorate spokeswoman Svetoslava Kostadinova said.

The game was halted twice during the first half due to the abuse.

England manager Gareth Southgate told reporters after the game that his side had been ready to walk off the pitch if the abusive behaviour continued but players decided to complete the match.

The incident sparked a storm of angry reactions from fans, media and officials in both countries, leading to the resignation of Bulgaria’s football federation chief under pressure from the government and apologies from the national team manager. 

UEFA called for a war on racist abuse and announced that it was launching a probe into the behaviour of both the Bulgaria and England fans. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said European football’s governing body was determined to root out the “disease” of racism.

Bulgaria has tightened measures against football hooliganism after several incidents in 2018.

Arsenal’s Ozil recalls terrifying car-jacking ordeal


London (AFP) – Mezut Ozil has opened up about being at the centre of an attempted car-jacking, saying he feared for his wife’s safety during the terrifying ordeal in London.

The Arsenal midfielder, his wife Amine and team-mate Sead Kolasinac were all caught up in the incident on July 25, two weeks before the start of the Premier League season.

Footage on social media showed Bosnian defender Kolasinac chasing off two moped attackers who were wearing helmets and dark clothing.

A man earlier this month admitted in a London court to trying to rob Ozil and Kolasinac and will be sentenced in November.

“Sead’s reaction was really, really brave because he attacked one of the attackers,” Ozil, 31, said in an interview with The Athletic.

“The second one was in front of my car on his moped so I couldn’t drive.”

“We were newly wed and I was scared about my wife. I was scared about Sead. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was worried they were going to open my wife’s door and they tried, so I reached across her to keep it closed.”

Ozil, currently out of favour at Arsenal, said although nobody was harmed physically, the incident shook up his wife.

“My wife wanted to get away immediately,” said the former Germany international.

“She didn’t feel safe. Even if I let our dogs into the garden and went out with them she would say, ‘Come in, come in, stay in the house.’ She was very concerned.”

But he said the incident did not make him want to leave London permanently and he planned to stay at Arsenal until the end of his contract in 2021.

The World Cup winner has played just two matches this season, fuelling speculation over his long-term future.

“When I signed the new deal (in 2018) I thought about it very carefully and said it was one of the most important decisions of my footballing career,” he said.

“I didn’t want to stay for just one or two more years, I wanted to commit my future to Arsenal and the club wanted me to do the same.

“You can go through difficult times, like this, but that is no reason to run away and I’m not going to. I’m here until at least 2021.”

Ozil spoke of his disappointment that he was often singled out for blame when Unai Emery’s team were under-performing.

Watford saved me, says rock legend Elton John


London (AFP) – British rock legend Elton John says Watford football club were his unlikely saviour as he experienced the “worst period of my life” in the 1980’s.

The 72-year-old Englishman — known for his zany outfits when performing on stage and hits such as ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Goodbye Yellowbrick Road’ — has been chairman of ‘The Hornets’ twice.

He says in his new autobiography ‘Me’ Watford “might have saved my life” in his first spell as chairman (1976-1990) when they enjoyed huge success under the late Graham Taylor rising from bottom of the old fourth division to the heights of being runners-up to Liverpool in the 1982/83 title race and beaten by Everton in the 1984 FA Cup final.

“I was chairman throughout the worst period of my life: years of addiction and unhappiness, failed relationships, bad business deals, court cases, unending turmoil,” he writes.

“Through all of that, Watford were a constant source of happiness to me.

“For obvious reasons, there are chunks of the eighties I have no recollection of -– but every Watford game I saw is permanently etched on my memory.”

John, who had a strip torn off him by Taylor when he turned up for a match after a “mammoth coke bender” and helped himself to several large whiskeys in the boardroom, said one game which was pivotal and made people aware of his team was a giantkilling act when they were a third tier side. 

“The night we knocked Manchester United out of the League Cup at Old Trafford, when we were still a third Division side, the newspapers that never normally bothered about writing about Watford were calling them Elton John’s Rocket Men the next morning,” he purrs proudly.

However, he admits his devotion to Watford earned him ridicule from both fellow rock stars — Rod Stewart queried his knowledge of football at joining such an unglamorous club’s board — and royalty.

Prince Philip, husband of  Queen Elizabeth II, was typically blunt when he saw John — who at the time he first became chairman lived close to Windsor Castle — driving his Aston Martin painted in the Watford colours.  

“Ridiculous. Makes you look like a bloody fool. Get rid of it,” said Prince Philip.

Solskjaer ‘100 percent sure’ Man Utd have right structure


London (AFP) – Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is “100 percent sure” that the club has the right structure in place and says money is available to strengthen his struggling squad.

United are 12th in the Premier League table, just two points above the relegation zone and 15 adrift of league leaders Liverpool ahead of Sunday’s clash with their fierce rivals at Old Trafford.

The club’s hierarchy and recruitment under executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has come in for severe criticism but Solskjaer has described that as “an insult” as he looks to the future.

“I’ve got a three-year contract now so of course (we are) planning long-term,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “If you lose a game you don’t wait for a call to be given assurances but we have started out a plan and a recruitment plan is in place.

“I am 100 percent sure from my time here that the structure is right because it’s always the manager that has the final say.

“I know people have said stuff about our recruitment but it’s almost like an insult to the recruitment office, the scouts and us as professionals — me and (assistant manager) Mick (Phelan), the staff. We make decisions on the players we want to have and who’s available and then it’s the negotiations.”

United spent £145 million ($185 million) in the summer on Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, but Solskjaer said more funds were available for the right “ready-made” players.

“The money is there and I’ve been looking at players,” Solskjaer added. “We were close to a couple of players but they weren’t right.

“The money is there to strengthen in January, in the summer, and we are planning, we are looking, we are finding our targets, but just before the transfer window ended no, they weren’t there, the ready-made players.”