'Bigger together' – How Europe's elite came together for pre-season

'Bigger together' - How Europe's elite came together for pre-season
Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Real Madrid's Marcelo

The man in charge of the International Champions Cup says the competition represents a new approach to pre-season preparations by Europe’s elite clubs.

Fifteen of the continent’s biggest clubs are contesting the 2017 edition, which is broken down into separate competitions in three countries.

This year, eight teams – Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris St-Germain, Juventus and Roma – will have played three games each at 11 venues in the United States.

“These clubs realise they are bigger together than they are separate,” says Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, which launched the competition in 2013.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Stillitano added: “It comes down to trust and years and years of working.

“Early on they did not want to play against big teams. They certainly did not want to play against their big rivals. Over time that has changed.

“The bigger and better you are, the more exposure you have.”

Already this month the two Manchester clubs met in their first derby played outside England – and 67,000 supporters turned up to watch.

And just this week, 200,000 fans attended three International Champions Cup fixtures held on the same day, even though the USA national team was playing Jamaica in the Gold Cup final on the same night.

To cap it all off, there’s the small matter of Real v Barcelona to come on Saturday – the first El Clasico to be played outside Spain in 25 years.

Super League alternative

After years of playing low-key pre-season matches, Europe’s biggest clubs have realised there is a market for marquee encounters, which raises their profile and drives commercial revenue.

And for now at least, it provides the closest thing we are going to get to a ‘European Super League’.

“We need to be realistic,” adds larger-than-life sports executive Stillitano. “What we have created is a great competitive product.

“If and when the authorities decide they want to open things up to a world league, we will be ready.

“But they have been trying to create a Champions League between South and North America. The obstacles don’t just begin and end with the logistics of flying 12 hours to a game. They have hit major problems.

“I don’t see a pan-European league happening at all.”

So what’s in it for the clubs?

Manchester United v Barcelona - a fan

It is estimated clubs earned between £9m and £15m for taking part in the 2016 edition of the International Champions Cup.

The bigger the club and the bigger the games they play, the greater the fee.

So, for example, it’s safe to assume Manchester United’s games against Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona, puts them safely in the upper echelon of earners.

The precise fees for each team are adjusted depending upon what the promoters provide and what clubs sort out for themselves. This may include perimeter advertising, which clubs can take responsibility for, allowing them to sell to their sponsors.

It’s also a nice experience for players and staff – private planes and five-star hotels come as part of the package.

What is expected in return is Champions League-levels of media access – a pre-match news conference with the manager and a player, and for the manager to attend a post-match media briefing.

Clubs also hope to generate interest making themselves available to local media, in addition to doing interviews with rights holders which, in the USA, has been renowned sports broadcaster ESPN.

The statistics

  • This year, four games were played across four cities in China, with three matches taking place in Singapore, while eight teams play three games each at 11 venues in the USA
  • Previously there have been games in Australia, Canada, Spain, Italy, England, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland
  • There is a winner for each geographical area
  • Real Madrid have won the competition three times, Paris St-Germain two, Juventus and Manchester United once each
  • The tournament is broadcast in 170 countries through 65 different broadcast deals. More than 800,000 people attended last year’s competition, approximately the same number as watched the entire Scottish Championship season in 2016-17
  • In 2014, Michigan had a US soccer record crowd of 109,318 for the game between Real and Manchester United

Southgate wants chances for English youngsters in Premier League

Southgate wants chances for English youngsters in Premier League
England manager Gareth Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate says the lack of English players in the Premier League is one of the biggest challenges of his job.

Figures from 2016 show that just over 33% of top-flight players are English.

“The more English players we have in the Premier League, and at the highest level, gives us the best depth to pick from,” Southgate told BBC Sport.

He also said youth players need more games in the league, on the back of England Under-20s’ World Cup win.

“It’s key, you can have the best education system going but if people don’t have the opportunity to display what they can do, then it’s difficult for them to develop onto the next bit,” he said.

“Hopefully the clubs have seen this summer that our young players are as good as any from across Europe and the rest of the world.”

Southgate was appointed as England manager on a four-year contract in November last year, after a spell as caretaker boss.

He says a change in mindset is needed for England to play better at major tournaments.

“Over 25 years we’ve only won three knockout matches, so that shows the size of the task ahead of us,” he said.

“That’s what we’re working towards. Trying to get the players to think a bit differently, work a bit differently.”

Ex-Liverpool winger Pennant set to join non-league Billericay

Ex-Liverpool winger Pennant set to join non-league Billericay
Jermaine Pennant

Billericay Town are set to sign former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, BBC Essex reports.

The 34-year-old has agreed a two-year contract with the seventh-tier Isthmian Premier League outfit.

Pennant is expected to feature in Billericay’s pre-season friendly at home to Leyton Orient on Saturday.

He is the latest former Premier League player to join the club after the arrivals of Paul Konchesky and Jamie O’Hara last season.

It is understood Pennant, who was released by League One Bury at the end of last season, will take Billericay’s weekly wage bill to more than £30,000-a-week.

Billericay owner-manager Glenn Tamplin recently revealed he has spent £2m on the club – who have odds of 1-10 to win the league this season – since taking over in December 2016.

Tamplin has said his ambition is to see Town reach the Football League within five years.

Quiz: Yea or neigh – Can you tell these famous horses apart?

Quiz: Yea or neigh - Can you tell these famous horses apart?

Could you identify one horse from the other?

The ‘wrong horse’ won a race at odds of 50-1 at Great Yarmouth on Thursday. The two-year-old Mandarin Princess was declared the winner, when in fact it was its three-year-old stablemate Millie’s Kiss.

Trainer Charlie McBride says he was “stressed and rushing” after being delayed collecting the saddle, but how easy was it to make that mistake?

Do you know your Red Rum from your Best Mate? Take this quiz to see if you can guess these famous horses just from a headshot…

This content will not work on your device, please check Javascript and cookies are enabled or update your browser

Newcastle United sign Mikel Merino from Borussia Dortmund in loan deal

Newcastle United sign Mikel Merino from Borussia Dortmund in loan deal
Mikel Merino

Newcastle United have signed Spanish midfielder Mikel Merino on a season-long loan deal from Borussia Dortmund.

The 21-year-old played in the European Under-21 Championship in June, where Spain lost to Germany in the final.

He made 50 appearances for Spanish side Osasuna, before moving to Dortmund last summer, but only played nine times for the German club.

He becomes the newly promoted Premier League side’s fifth signing this summer.

Manager Rafael Benitez has already signed Christian Atsu, Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy and Javier Manquillo during the transfer window.

Despite the lack of games for Dortmund, Benitez says Merino can improve during his time at Newcastle.

“He was signed as a young talented player and to be signed by a club like Dortmund shows that he has something good.” Benitez added.

Merino said: “I know it’s a great club and a really nice city. I had different options but I think this is the right place for me to play.”

Jessica Ennis-Hill: Inside 'Super Saturday' at London 2012

Jessica Ennis-Hill: Inside 'Super Saturday' at London 2012
London Stadium

Heroes of Super Saturday: Jess, Mo & Greg
Sunday 30 July 22:30 BST, BBC One.

It could not be any other date really.

This summer’s World Championships begin on the 4 August, five years to the day since Great Britain’s Midas touch turned a red, white and blue London Stadium gold.

In the space of 45 heady minutes, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah won Olympic titles in the heptathlon, long jump and 10,000m respectively.

For the thousands in the stadium and millions watching on television, it was an endless carousel of cheers, grins and hometown glory.

But what was Super Saturday like for those at the heart of the action, bearing a nation’s hopes?

Before Sunday’s Heroes of Super Saturday programme on BBC One, Ennis-Hill explains the private moments and secret stresses of an unforgettable evening in 2012.

05:00 BST

Jessica Ennis-Hill meets the Duchess of Cambridge

“The alarm went off at 05:00 BST.

“There was a maybe a half-second of slumber, but I find when there is something I have to do I come round quite quickly.

“The realisation hit me that this was one of the biggest day of my life.

“After the recovery, warm-down and physio from the first day’s competition I had had about five hours sleep. It felt like I had only just put my head on the pillow.

“But I had to be up early to get my breakfast down and digested and prepare for the long jump which started at 10:05 BST.

“I took a couple of steps out of bed and realised my body was aching everywhere.

“I expected to feel general soreness, but I wondered how I was going to cope as I was struggling to walk to the shower, my muscles stiff and sore.

“Being up so early I missed most seeing any of my team-mates face to face that morning in the corridor of the athletes’ village, but they had left me a load of good luck messages on my door.

“It was probably for the best because I did not want any distractions.”

09:00 BST

Media playback is not supported on this device

“The first two events that day were the long jump, which just hadn’t been clicking at my pre-Games training camp in Portugal, and the javelin, the event that had cost me in the 2011 World Championships.

“I was determined not to throw it away by getting down on any one discipline though.

“My coach Toni Minichello was really businesslike that morning, talking me through the little things to focus on and, on the mental side, just assuring me that he and the rest of the team were all rooting for me.”

10:30 BST


“I knew the long jump could be the deal-breaker.

“My first jump of 5.95m was more than half a metre down on my personal best – but when I landed 6.48m on my final attempt, I knew that was a really solid jump.

“The other girls were not jumping at their very best and I was buzzing.”

12:00 BST

Jessica Ennis-Hill

“After I threw a personal best 47.49m in the javelin, I had such a lead that I would have to do something really stupid to mess it up.

“As I walked back through the stadium I spotted my masseur Derry Suter. He gave me this really excited look. I was feeling the same inside, but neither of us wanted to get carried away and say anything out loud.

“I could feel I was about to cry. I managed to keep my composure but I was so excited.

“Gold was so close I could almost touch it.”

14:00 BST

Jessica Ennis-Hill

“I just wanted to go straight out and get the 800m over and done with after that but the final event of the hepathlon was not until the evening session.

“I could have gone back to the athletes’ village like most of the heptathletes. But I couldn’t face the dining hall and the prospect of people telling me that I already had it won.

“Instead, as the crowds disappeared and cleaners picked up litter in the stands, I stayed down in the depths of London Stadium.

“It was really quiet. There were only a few other heptathletes who had done the same as me and hung around. It was a moment of calm after all the noise and pressure.

“I had something to eat, had a nap and chatted with a few of my team.

“The organisers only give you a certain number of passes for your coaches and they are quite strict. But Toni, Derry and my javelin coach Mick Hill kept swapping them about, taking it in turns to come and keep me company.

“It felt like the longest break ever.”

18:00 BST

Toni Minichello

“The rest of the heptathlon field started coming back in dribs and drabs. I could feel their nerves and mine started ramping up again.

“I headed down to the warm-up track and I could see the stadium filling up on the big screens overlooking it and hear the noise increase inside.

“It is the most nerve-racking feeling, especially when you have the 800m to come – an event where you know that you are going to put yourself through a lot of physical pain.

“Toni was pretty chilled. He didn’t give me a deep, motivational pep talk, he just gave me a little pat on the back and told me to go for it. He is a man of few words sometimes, but we have worked together since I was 13 and that was all that was needed.

“Then I had to walk to the call room on my own.”

20:55 BST

Jessica Ennis-Hill

“It was just waiting, waiting and waiting and the nerves building more and more.

“I had a 15-second advantage on my nearest rival, but also knew that anything can happen in the chaos of the 800m.

“There have been races where girls’ shoes have fallen off and it was all over for them.

“You check everything – that your kit is how you need it to be, your shoes are tied right, your hair is tight. You don’t want the tiniest distraction, the smallest excuse.

“Finally I was on my way to the startline.”

21:00 BST

“I prefer frontrunning – to go out hard and get into a rhythm, rather than build up in pace through a race.

“That has always been my way, but this time there was an extra incentive to get out in front of everyone and reduce the risk of a trip or fall.

“I just wanted to stay out of danger and knew I was capable of a time that would win it.”

Media playback is not supported on this device

21:02 BST

“I have never been one to celebrate really, but as I came across the line my arms just came up almost through instinct.

“It was like a massive weight coming off. I felt like I had been holding my breath all through that competition.

“The number of billboards and things with my face on in build up to the Games had been surreal.

“British Airways had even created a huge mural with me under the flight path into Heathrow. It had become a running joke among the team as people spotted my face everywhere.

Jessica Ennis-Hill

“It it was a huge relief that I hadn’t messed up more than anything.

“Derry threw me a union jack that he had secretly been hiding in his bag, already printed up with my name and Olympic champion.

“The other heptathletes were congratulating me as we went round on a lap of honour, but it was all a bit of a blur. When something you have worked for for so long becomes reality it is a little weird.”

21:10 BST

Media playback is not supported on this device

“As I was coming off my lap of honour I saw Mo warming up on the home straight and wished him good luck.

“You can actually see the 10,000m final lining up over my shoulder in the post-race interview that I did with the BBC Sport’s Phil Jones. You can hear the crowd roar as his name is announced.

“After speaking to Phil I was going through a gauntlet of all the overseas broadcasters.

“Everyone wanted two minutes with me, it was just crazy. Somewhere along the line someone told me that Greg had won gold.

“I knew that he was competing obviously, but I was in my own bubble, still a little concerned someone was going to say I had done something wrong!

“I was watching Mo’s race unfold on television screens in between interviews. I had finished the broadcast interviews and was down with the written press, just under one of the stands when he finally won.”

23:30 BST

Jessica Ennis-Hill and Lord Coe

“I had seen my family to point and wave to after the medal ceremony when Lord Coe and Sir Craig Reedie presented me with my gold, but I had to go through anti-doping and more media before I finally got to speak to them.

“I jumped in a taxi and went to Team GB house in Stratford where my agent had arranged for my mum, dad, sister, fiance Andy and the rest of the family to meet afterwards.

“My now brother-in-law Phil and his wife-to-be Margot were there. The 4 August is both of their birthdays and Phil joked that my winning gold had really outshone their day!

“I had a few glasses of champagne to celebrate, but you don’t realise how tired you are until you actually stop. I was absolutely drained.”

02:00 BST

“It was a strange moment when I got back to the athletes’ village and shut that door in that little room and was on my own again.

“I had looked on social media and it was overwhelming the number and variety of people who had congratulated me.

Nick Clegg

Kate Nash tweet

Jack Whiteihall

“There were so many random celebrities, people from different walks of life and people from my past – I wish now I had favourited them all so I could look back.

“But there were just so many and so much to do that I didn’t manage to.

“I went back to sleep in that same bed almost 24 hours after I had got up, but this time with a gold medal lying right beside me.”

Jessica Ennis-Hill was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson.