Roberto Carlos: Neymar can lead Brazil to 2018 World Cup glory

Former Brazil defender Roberto Carlos says Neymar can lead the national team to glory at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Brazil were embarrassed by Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 tournament on home soil, suffering a massive 7-1 defeat at the hands of the eventual champions.

Carlos, who helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, believes the ‘Selecao’ have recovered from that humiliating low and will challenge for the trophy next year.

"The team has been reorganised since the debacle against Germany and we also have a new coach in Tite, hence I am confident the situation has vastly improved," the former Real Madrid defender told a news conference in Serbia's capital.

“We have world class players and team leaders in Neymar, Willian and Thiago Silva. They are experienced and I am confident that Brazil have it in them to win the World Cup.

"As a Brazilian, naturally I want Brazil to win the World Cup. But (world champions) Germany, Spain and Argentina will also be among the top favourites and it will take a lot of hard work to capture the title."

Carlos added that Neymar was right to move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in a colossal transfer earlier this year.

"I expect Neymar to become the world's best player very soon," he said. "There is a lot of debate going on whether he should have moved to Paris St Germain from Barcelona and I think he did the right thing.

"It was his personal decision and I think it will be easier for him to flourish at PSG, whereas that was more complicated with Lionel Messi at Barcelona or would have been at Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo. At PSG, he is the benchmark.

"He is a great person too, I am in touch with him regularly and I am also convinced he will have an outstanding World Cup."


Football and dementia: a crisis waiting to explode?

Former England striker Alan Shearer has called for more investigation into potential links between heading a football and dementia.

Shearer, who was renowned as a great header of the ball during his career, took part in a BBC documentary titled ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ to examine the effects he may have sustained.

The 47-year-old interviewed families of footballers affected by dementia and underwent various studies, while also looking at the brains of people who have suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from all walks of life.

Speaking on the documentary, Shearer said: “Never ever did I think that heading a football could be dangerous for me.

“There are 850,000 people in our country that are suffering from dementia, and there are a lot of footballers who are in those numbers. But… we don’t know how many and that can’t be right.

“We started the research in 2002, it’s now 2017 and it seems like we are no further forward because the same questions are still being asked.

“There’s enough money around nowadays in football, just not enough of it has been given to research. It’s about time we had more definitive answers.”

The chief executive of the players’ union, Gordon Taylor, admitted he did not know the extent of dementia amongst former players, but would like to see greater support systems for sufferers.

He said: “I think it is the PFA’s job to look and provide support. We have said money is going to be put towards research and also respite care.

“Football has a duty to see if there is a causal link, because if there is, it could significantly increase the problems in later life then we need to look at the rules of the game and address it.”

Augsburg's Daniel Opare (L) jumps for a header with Leverkusen's Wendell during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Augsburg and Bayer Leverkusen at WWK Arena in Augsburg, Germany, 04 November 2017. EPA/DANIEL KOPATSCH

Italy’s do-or-die battle to reach Russia 2018

Can you imagine a World Cup without Italy? Nope, me neither, but there’s a damn good chance that Russia 2018 will be played without the famous ‘Azzurri’ present.

The four-time World Cup winners have missed only two of the global tournaments: the very first finals in 1930 and the 1958 event in Sweden. For the last 14 consecutive World Cups, Italy have been a mainstay of the competitive field.

But unless they can overturn a 1-0 deficit in the return leg of their playoff tie against Sweden at the San Siro in Milan tonight, we will have a World Cup without the Azzurri for the first time in 60 years.

Jakob Johansson’s second half goal from the first game in Solna on Friday is all that separates the teams, but the Italian media is full of doom and gloom about the prospects of coach Gian Piero Ventura’s charges after a qualifying campaign in which they finished well behind Spain in the group stage.

"It could have gone a different way, if we scored first for example such as when [Andrea] Belotti's header went wide. Now we have 90 minutes left to play," Ventura said ahead of the return leg in Milan on Monday.

"The game was very physical, and we suffered from that. We must improve. Physically we can't do much, we only have a day and a half, but we have to read the game better next time. We hope the crowd at the San Siro give us the support we need."

He added, “When I was in the dressing room I saw how angry and frustrated they were. They know they can do better. The game was very physical and that surprised us but we can do better.”

The match may well be a farewell to Italy’s old guard - players such as goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli, who were part of the World Cup winning squad of 2006.

 Italy players celebrating

Are England building up unrealistic expectations ahead of next year’s World Cup?

England appear to be falling into the same trap they always do before any major international tournament: building up an unrealistic expectation that their team is good enough to actually challenge for the prize.

It’s been a great year for the country’s youth national teams, with England’s U-20s and U-17s winning their World Cup tournaments in Korea and India respectively, and in a few years the Three Lions may well see the benefit of this undoubtedly talented generation coming through the ranks.

But right now, England - despite their comfortable qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals - do not have a team capable of competing with the best.

On Friday night, a young England team shorn of many of their regular starters, held Germany to a goalless draw at Wembley. The Three Lions featured only one player over the age of 30 - striker Jamie Vardy - and had five debutants in their ranks.

"I'm really not surprised by what [the young players] have done because they've shown that previously in other ages and this week in training. There has been an energy about the group,” said coach Gareth Southgate about the draw with the reigning World Cup champions.

"It seemed as if there has been loads of pull-outs but actually, it's been really tight and without getting too carried away, I thought the performance was a really encouraging one.

"Tactically, the players have performed well. There are still loads of things we can get better at the more we play that system.

"The whole thing was better for the fans and they will have been encouraged by seeing players they haven't seen before. I think there was a freshness and energy about it."

Fair enough, England played well in the match and it’s a fine result against a strong German team. But to extrapolate that out to being able to challenge for the World Cup - as much of the English press has done this Saturday - is a step too far.

As Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp explained ahead of the match against Germany, “All the journalists need to cool down and don’t expect too much. It’s not that they [England] cannot win, of course, but you make it too big if they win, too big if they lose.”

You can bet that will go out the window if England perform strongly in their next match against Brazil on Tuesday night.

Gareth Southgate

Have Liverpool finally learned to defend? Jurgen Klopp thinks so…

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has praised his side’s adaptation to a new system, which he believes makes the team more defensively sound.

Since suffering a 4-1 spanking at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur last month, Klopp has altered the Reds’ formation to a 4-4-2 and the result has brought them victories against Huddersfield (3-0), Maribor (3-0) and West Ham United (4-1).

They may not be the three toughest games Liverpool will play this season, but at least their defence looked more organised, and there was no ill effect on their attacking prowess - promising signs for the Anfield faithful.

“We changed the system and yesterday was the first time we did it, 4-4-2, which looked maybe from the beginning like a very offensive line-up," Klopp said in the wake of the win at London Stadium over the Hammers.

"We had a different idea – we wanted to defend deeper, more compact and using the space which we had for the counter-attacks. We will never know how it would have been if we don't score the first one. We had to get used to it a little bit.

"It looked like a very offensive line-up but it was a very defensive line-up. We had two No 6s, clear No 6s, two real midfielders on the wing in Sadio (Mane) and (Alex) Oxlade-Chamerlain and Roberto (Firmino) and Mo (Salah) had to really defend. That helps the last line and that's what we did.

"It was a counter-attacking line-up to use our speed from a deep situation. 3-0, 3-0, 4-1, it's a really good week. It's a good moment to have a little break,” Klopp added in reference to the impending international break.

Jurgen Klopp

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte calls for response after Roma beating

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte says he wants to pass on his “suffering” to his players as they prepare to host Manchester United later today.

The Blues come into the match having suffered a 3-0 beating at the hands of Roma last Tuesday - a result which left the Italian questioning his players’ “hunger”.

Conte refused to discuss Nemanja Matic’s transfer to United and his relationship with counterpart Jose Mourinho.

“We are struggling a lot, because we are facing a lot of important problems,” he said.

“To solve these problems is not simple. In this moment you can see if you are a winner or a loser.

“It’s important to show our character, to be strong, to face the problem in the right way.

“I try to transfer my suffering to my players. Sometimes I am able to do this, to have a good answer.”

Chelsea twice beat United at Stamford Bridge last season, but Conte will accept responsibility if things go wrong this weekend.

He said: “I’m a coach who doesn’t like to find excuses. Sometimes I prefer to (face) all the mistakes.”

When asked how important today’s match at Stamford Bridge is for the Premier League title race, Conte pointed to the form of Pep Guardiola’s table-topping Manchester City.

“Now there is a big problem for all the teams that want to fight for the title and this big problem is Manchester City,” said Conte, who hopes N’Golo Kante will return from a hamstring problem.

“If they continue in this way it will be very difficult to fight for the title.”

Chelsea's head coach Antonio Conte

Jose Mourinho is right: Give Romelu Lukaku a break

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has come to the defence of striker Romelu Lukaku, arguing that the Belgian deserves more support from the club’s fans.

After a blistering start to his Old Trafford career, Lukaku has not scored since a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace at the end of September.

Yet he has still managed important contributions, not least this past weekend when his flick-on put Anthony Martial in on goal to score the decisive strike in a clutch victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

"I would like the supporters to explain to me why they don't support him so much because he gives everything and I think it is not fair when scoring the goal or not scoring the goal (he) makes the whole difference," Mourinho told the club's website.

"I don't think it is fair at all. So, I'm a bit disappointed - but not with him. With him (I am) very pleased."

Mourinho's decision to withdraw Marcus Rashford, rather than Lukaku, for Anthony Martial in the 70th minute against Spurs prompted boos from the home support at Old Trafford.

"I really don't understand some reactions why," Mourinho added. "Are they Red Devils? Sometimes I don't know because they (Lukaku and Martial) work amazingly well.

"Sometimes he (Martial) starts the match and his contribution is good... the same as Rashford, the same as Lukaku."

Mourinho is a master of ‘kidology’ but in this case he has a point: Lukaku’s return of 10 goals from 13 League and Champions League matches is exceptional, and it’s only a matter of time before he returns to scoring form.

His drought could well end tonight when Manchester United host Benfica in a Champions League group stage clash.

Romelu Lukaku

Countdown to the can, or a canny appointment: Leicester City hire Claude Puel as their new manager

Leicester City have confirmed Frenchman Claude Puel as their new manager, with the 56-year-old replacing Craig Shakespeare.

The Foxes sacked Shakespeare earlier this month after a poor start to their Premier League campaign.

The hot seat at the King Power Stadium has become a poisoned chalice since Leicester stormed to their incredible Premier League triumph in 2016.

The mastermind behind their success, Italian Claudio Ranieri, was sacked in February 2017 after a predictable rocky attempt to defend their title.

Shakespeare took up the reins and guided Leicester to a respectable 12th-place finish in the domestic championship and an impressive run to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League in their tournament debut.

He then bit the dust on October 17, following a run of one win in their first eight Premier League matches in the current season.

Now it is the turn of Puel to see if he can survive for any significant length of time. The Frenchman spent last season with Southampton, where he took the team to an eighth-place finish and a runners-up spot in the League Cup.

He was criticised for the Saints’ defensive style of play, and the fact that they finished the 2016/17 season with 17 fewer points than his predecessor Ronald Koeman attained in the previous campaign

Puel’s contract at Leicester runs to the end of the 2019/20 season and his first match in charge will be against Everton (who sacked Koeman earlier this week) at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

“It’s a great privilege to become the new manager of Leicester City – a club whose values and ambitions are closely aligned to my own,” Puel said.

“The opportunity to help the club build on its remarkable recent achievements is a truly exciting one and I’m looking forward to working with the owners, players, staff and supporters to deliver further lasting success.”

Leicester City players

Will Ferrari axe team boss Maurizio Arrivabene?

Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Maurizio Arrivabene faces an uncertain future, with the 60-year-old rumoured to be facing the axe.

In 2017 Ferrari have been beaten to the Constructors’ title by arch rivals Mercedes and it is only a matter of time until the Silver Arrows’ Lewis Hamilton seals the Drivers’ Championship ahead of the Scuderia’s Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari have at least been competitive this season - something they haven’t truly managed since the start of the decade, with Red Bull and then Mercedes bossing the sport - but merely fighting for the titles is not enough for the passionate Tifosi, who demand a return to the halcyon days of Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s.

To that end, technical boss Mattia Binotto has been tipped to take over the team principle role, in the hope that his expertise will eliminate the reliability issues which have been so costly to Ferrari this season.

However, Ferrari ‘big boss’ Sergio Marchionne insists he has no plans to swap out Arrivabene for Binotto.

“No, both Mattia and Maurizio have been involved in this process so picking one or the other is a bit idiotic,” he told Sky F1.

“They were both at the table when the operation was going on. Technically I’m involved too as the chairman but that’s not going to solve the issue.

“We need to win, that’s the more important thing. I don’t think it is tributed to a single guy. Process may not have helped and those things are being addressed.”

Marchionne’s ‘vote of confidence’ in the current boss may quell the rumours for now, but when the stark reality of yet another season without any honours sets in for Ferrari, his thinking may just change.

Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) with Maurizio Arrivabene (ITA) Ferrari Team Principal

I have no plans to join PSG, but I won’t retire at Man United – Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho insists he has no plans to join Paris Saint-Germain - even though he admits that he is unlikely to have a long career at the English giants.

The Portuguese recently expressed admiration for the Qatari-owned Ligue 1 club in a television interview, triggering talk of a move to PSG.

However, he is also reportedly close to signing an extension to his current deal with United, which runs to June 2019.

When asked about his future at a press conference ahead of the Red Devils’ UEFA Champions League clash at Benfica this evening, Mourinho gave nothing away.

"I think you English media, you have the answer for that," the manager told reporters.

"Because in one day it says that I'm going to sign a five-year contract, one-billion pounds per season and then the next day you say that I'm leaving and I'm going to Paris Saint-Germain.

"I think that's the answer – the answer is that nothing is happening. I'm not signing a new five-year contract and I'm not leaving for Paris Saint-Germain. I'm at Manchester United, I have a contract and that's it."

The 54-year-old added that he wants to remain in football for another 15 years, but cannot see himself staying at Old Trafford through that period.

He insists that the time of managers remaining at a club for long periods - such as Sir Alex Ferguson did at United from 1986 to 2013 - are long gone.

"The only thing I told – and it was true and there was no misinterpretation of my words – is that I'm not going to end my career at Manchester United," he said.

"I ask how is it possible in modern football that any manager is going to last 15, 20 years in the same club? I think (Arsene) Wenger is the last one.

"I think it's impossible for us, with everything that surrounds the job, all the pressure that surrounds every job, I think it's impossible to last for so long."


Could Harry Kane be Tottenham’s Totti?

In a masterful piece of emotional manipulation, Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has called on striker Harry Kane to become the club’s ‘Totti’.

No, that’s not some kind of lewd remark, he is of course referring to legendary Italian forward Francesco Totti, who spent 24 years in Roma’s first team.

Totti retired at age 40 back in May, having made the better part of 800 first-team appearances for the Italian giants.

Kane, who came through Spurs’ youth system and made his debut for the first team in 2011, is one of the world’s foremost strikers and has hit an incredible vein of form lately, scoring 13 times in his last nine matches for club and country.

Such prolific scoring form has inevitably attracted its fair share of speculation, with Real Madrid (who Tottenham will face this midweek in a UEFA Champions League clash at the Bernabeu) linked with a big-money move for the 24-year-old.

Pochettino is hopeful that the example set by ‘one-club man’ Totti is something Kane will emulate.

“He (Kane) was really emotional when he watched Totti's last game with Roma and maybe it could inspire him. Maybe Harry could have the same type of career with Tottenham," Pochettino said.

"The most important thing is that he is happy in Tottenham, who knows what will happen tomorrow, but he's identified with the club where he grew up, he's a player who loves scoring goals he loves putting on the shirt."

Pochettino’s words carry some weight, but one still gets the feeling that Tottenham’s clash in Madrid may serve as an audition for Kane to become Real’s next ‘Galactico’.

Harry Kane

Justin Shonga signs for Pirates

New Orlando Pirates signing Justin Shonga hopes to follow in the footsteps of his Zambian compatriots who have impacted positively on the club in the past.

The 20-year-old Zambian international was confirmed as having signed for the Buccaneers on Wednesday morning.

"I am happy to be here," said Shonga. "This is the right move for my career and my ambitions.

"I would like to emulate other Zambian players who have done well at the club such as Perry Mutapa and Isaac Chansa.

Premier League clubs in record 1.4bn window

English Premier League clubs spent a record £1.4 billion on players in a summer transfer window but were still living "well within their means" according to figures published by football analysts Deloitte on Friday.

The window, which closed in England on Thursday, also saw teams from English football's top tier set a new deadline day spending record of £210 million.

The late splashing of cash took the league's overall transfer spending figure since the very first transfer window in January 2003 past £10 billion.

The total amount spent by Premier League clubs in this transfer window was up 23 percent on last year's record figure. Premier League clubs have also broken the record for spending in a single season (£1.430 million) and calendar year (£1.645 million).

Romelu Lukaku

Liverpool agree £40m deal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Liverpool have agreed a £40m deal to sign Arsenal and England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The 24-year-old, who rejected a move to Chelsea on Tuesday after a fee had been agreed, will join Liverpool on a five-year contract worth £120,000 a week.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is in the final year of his Arsenal contract, rejected a new deal worth up to £180,000 a week to stay at the Emirates.

Everton reject £25m bid from Chelsea for Ross Barkley

Everton have rejected a £25m offer from Chelsea for Ross Barkley, but the England midfielder could still leave the club before Thursday's deadline.

Chelsea's offer was below Everton's original £50m price tag - although it is likely this will be reduced as he has only one year left on his contract.

Arsenal reject £50m from Manchester City for Sanchez

Arsenal have rejected a £50m bid from Premier League rivals Manchester City for forward Alexis Sanchez.

The 28-year-old, who scored 24 league goals last season, is out of contract next summer and wants to play for City manager Pep Guardiola.

Arsenal have rebuffed all approaches for Sanchez, and would like City's Raheem Sterling as part of any deal before Thursday's transfer deadline.

Alexis Sanchez