Bulgarian PM calls on FA president to resign after racist chanting

The prime minister of Bulgaria has called on the country’s football association president to quit after the Euro 2020 qualifier against England on Monday night was marred by racist chanting, according to reports.

England’s black players and backroom staff were subjected to abuse at various stages of the match, but the match was ultimately completed with England winning 6-0 in Sofia.

Sanctions from European football’s governing body seem sure to follow, and Bulgarian leader Boyko Borissov is now reported to have told the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, to stand down.

“The prime minister called me urgently a short time ago,” Bulgarian sports minister Krasen Kralev said in quotes reported by sportal.bg.

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“The government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football in the last four years.

“But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football and last night’s incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the BFU, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mihaylov.”

The governmental interference in the Bulgarian association is likely to attract the interest of football’s world governing body FIFA, and could result in further sanctions in addition to anything that may come from UEFA.

Mihaylov wrote to UEFA before Monday night’s match criticising the fact that England players had spoken about the potential for racist abuse at the match, calling it an “unjust branding” of Bulgarian supporters and urging UEFA to impose sanctions if England did not follow protocol.

Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare network which had spotters inside the Levski stadium, said he believed some of the racism was motivated by a desire to create a problem for Mihaylov by certain supporters.

“They were getting involved in racism because they are racist, but also because they do not respect the leadership of the FA president,” he told the PA news agency.

“So when the FA president was telling them not to be racist before the match, it was almost a signal for them to contradict him and punish his leadership of the FA.”

Borissov (@BoykoBorissov) tweeted on Tuesday morning: “I strongly condemn the conduct of some of the fans at the stadium #BULENG.

“It is unacceptable that Bulgaria which is one of the most tolerant states in the world and where people of different ethnic and religious background peacefully live together should be associated with racism.”

‘Very special’ Mourinho still in touch with me – McTominay

Scott McTominay says he owes Jose Mourinho a “tremendous amount of credit” for his development and has revealed that he is still in touch with the former Manchester United boss.

The Portuguese coach was sacked at Manchester United last December after high-profile clashes with star players Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, while there was apparent discontent over the club’s failure to sign a defender in the summer.

And Mourinho has come under fire since for leaving the Red Devils in a worse position than when he took over but McTominay says he will forever be in debt to the man that delivered his big break at senior level.

McTominay told Sky Sports: “Jose is very special to me. He still keeps in contact with me now and keeps in touch after some games.

“He’ll always have a special place in mine and my family’s heart because he’s the one who brought you in, he was the one who trusted you, he was the one who had belief in you.

“I owe a tremendous amount of credit to him because if it wasn’t for him I might not necessarily be sitting in this seat.”


McTominay added: “I wouldn’t be at this football club if it wasn’t for Paul McGuiness, Dave Bushall, Tony Whelan and people like that who show an absolutely ridiculous amount of patience with somebody who can’t even play an U18 game because he’s growing, his legs are stretching and he’s got no co-ordination.

“Yeah they need to be patient. Off the pitch as well they have to be patient with you as well. There’s a lot of different things with school and in your education and your digs you’re staying in.

“Dave Bushall had to change my digs like three or four times because my mum at home wasn’t happy or whatever. It’s amazing the level of work they go to, to ensure that every family and every player is happy. It’s incredible and a real credit to the academy and the staff here as well.”


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Rashford praises Bulgaria captain for his courageous act

Marcus Rashford was full of praise for Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov for confronting his own supporters at half-time.

There were two breaks in play during the Euro 2020 qualifier with Bulgaria in Sofia after racist chanting was reported to the match officials – with England eventually running out comfortable 6-0 winners.

Following UEFA’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute warning fans that any further incidents could result in the match being abandoned, while another pause before half-time only added to the nasty spectacle.

England decided at half-time to play the remainder of the game as braces from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling and goals for Rashford and Kane ensured a thumping win for the visitors.

Bulgaria’s captain Popov remonstrated with his own supporters at half-time in an effort to halt their chanting.

“Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019,” Rashford wrote on Twitter.

“Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out. Thankful to the brilliant England support.

“You got behind us in the most meaningful way possible tonight and we are all very grateful. Have a safe journey home and take care.

“Also been told what the Bulgaria captain did at half-time. To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn’t go unnoticed. #NoToRacism.”

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Bulgaria coach/ostrich ‘didn’t actually hear’ racism

Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov claimed not to hear any racism during England’s Euro 2020 qualifying win in Sofia.

Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling netted a brace apiece at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, complementing efforts from Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane.



But the 6-0 victory was overshadowed by deplorable racist behaviour, which forced the Group A match to be halted twice in the first half.

Asked about the racism at a ground already partly closed due to a previous UEFA sanction for “racist behaviour”, manager Balakov said: “I was concentrated on the game.

“I didn’t actually hear anything but I just talked to the English press downstairs and I told them that if this is proven to be true, then we have to be ashamed and we have to apologise for it.

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“But, once again, first it has to be proven to be true.”

The word “if” was repeatedly used by the Bulgaria head coach, who on the eve of the game said England had a bigger problem with racism than his country did.

“Let me tell you that even though you all know Bulgaria has had disciplinary measures against our union, those have not been because of racist chanting or ethnic hatred,” he said.

“Those were referring to the fact that the stadium was partly closed because of the display of a banner for an organisation which is not forbidden by Bulgarian law and for a small third-party group of people who were chanting in the game against Kosovo.

“Either way, this all happened, this became a topic after we played at Wembley and it absolutely replaced football as the main topic, which I don’t think is fair.

“But, of course, I think this is an extremely serious and sensitive topic.

“I have always had my firm stance against racism and if something is proven to be true, and there was this actual abuse, then again we have to say that this is a big shame.”

One person who appeared come out with credit was Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov, with Rashford thanking him on Twitter for showing “courage” in speaking to fans at half-time.

But Balakov believes that conversation was more likely to be about Bulgaria’s poor display than a plea to halt racist abuse.

“I have to say I really have no idea about this,” he added.

“If our captain spoke to the fans, then it’s probably because the fans were unhappy with the way the team was performing.

“The whole topic in the build-up up to the game, the fans are emotional, but – you obviously, because you want me to say this and I have to say this – if something happened then I’m sure it was a small group of people who were really out of their minds because this is unacceptable.”

Pundit names ‘only thing’ that can save Man Utd this season

Former defender Clayton Blackmore claims that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the “only thing” that can “save” Manchester United this season.

The Swede scored 28 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils in his first season at the club as they won the Europa League and League Cup.

Ibrahimovic was handed a short-term deal the following campaign but injury hampered his progress and he left for America in March 2018.

Since then, he has scored 52 goals in 56 appearances for LA Galaxy and Blackmore – who must have been reading our Mailbox – thinks he could still help United this season.

“We’re lacking a target man and the only thing that is going to save us this season is Ibrahimovic,” Blackmore told the Daily Mirror.

“He has thrown his name in the hat and he’s probably the best target man you can have.

“He’s 6ft 5in, he’s a black belt and he fancies his chances against ­anybody.

“He’s still scoring goals, too. We have got rid of so many good ­strikers – (Wayne) Rooney went, (Robin) van Persie went, loads of them.

“These players have gone but they haven’t been replaced. Bringing Ibrahimovic in is a no-brainer.

“He doesn’t run, but he doesn’t need to because he is that good.

“There are not many players who can jog around the pitch and ­control the game, but, when he was here before, we won trophies with him, when he was fit.

“We should try and get him in January or whenever we can ­because he can lead the line.

“Getting (Robert) Lewandowski would be perfect, too. That’s ­obviously a big ask, but he’s also the kind of player the club needs. Yes, he’s a bit older, but he’s the kind of player that can help the kids.

“If we played someone up front alongside him, then the goals will come, I’ve no doubt about that.”


Allardyce reveals key reason Pochettino would reject Man Utd

Sam Allardyce doesn’t think Mauricio Pochettino will leave Tottenham “at the moment” and certainly not to Manchester United.

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The future of Pochettino has been questioned intensely in recent weeks, with the club struggling to settle this season just a matter of months after reaching the Champions League final.

Tottenham are 9th in the Premier League table, having lost as many games as Sheffield United and Brighton, with their 7-2 shellacking against Bayern Munich feeling like the end of an era.

The Argentine has been heavily linked with the managerial role at Old Trafford over the last couple of years and. with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under pressure too, those rumours have surfaced again.

However, Allardyce thinks the lack of quality in United‘s squad would deter Pochettino from taking the reins in the near future.

“I can’t see Mauricio going anywhere at the moment,” Allardyce said.

“At the moment, Tottenham are a better squad than Manchester United – and that is a telling fact.

“It’s alright saying, ‘this is Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world’, but has it got the team to go with it to represent Manchester United?”

Giggs defends ‘streetwise’ James after heavy collision

Wales manager Ryan Giggs called Daniel James “streetwise” to stay down after a heavy collision and insisted the Manchester United winger had passed concussion protocols to continue playing in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Croatia.

James was clattered by Domagoj Vida in the 14th-minute of the 1-1 draw at the Cardiff City Stadium, with the Besiktas defender booked for his rash challenge.

The 21-year-old looked as if he would have to be substituted when a stretcher was sent on to the pitch, but he was able to rejoin the action after receiving lengthy treatment from medics.

“The physio came over but there was no problem,” Giggs said.

“We did all the (concussion) tests at half-time and he was fine.”

James has twice been booked for simulation since joining United in a £15million move from Swansea last summer.

Giggs has defended James in the past, saying he is not a diver and needs greater protection from referees.

But Giggs suggested James was not as badly injured as many had feared after being sent sprawling by the combative Vida.

“He stayed down and was a bit streetwise,” Giggs said.

“He told the doctors ‘I’m not moving, I’m just sitting still’.

“Not to get anyone sent off, he was just using his nous.”

Man Utd and Liverpool legends set to team up at Southend

Henrik Larsson is reportedly in “pole position” to become the next manager of Southend United.

The former Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United forward is also set to appoint former Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt as his assistant at Roots Hall, report The Southend Echo.

Larsson, who has watched the club on two occasions this season – including a 4-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon  – is the firm favourite to takeover at the League One club.

He is also expected to bring in former Celtic forward Tommy Johnson into his couching team.

Larsson’s last spell in management came with Swedish club Helsingsborg, but quit after he was abused on social media following a defeat to third tier side Oskarshamns AIK.

Southend chairman Ron Martin said that an appointment is close.

“I am now targeting a press conference for Thursday and will confirm that when the ink is dry.” Martin wrote in a statement on Friday.

“I know it’s all been bad news on the pitch and my job is to ensure that changes… hopefully tomorrow. I shall always do my best to get this club back on track and can at least confirm the position off the pitch is looking great.

“Hopefully we’ll have good reason to sing our hearts out tomorrow and in the coming weeks as well.”


Southgate ‘not sure’ of returning to wining formula

Gareth Southgate is considering returning to the three-man backline that served England so well at the World Cup in a bid to shore up their leaky defence.

Dreadful individual mistakes in last month’s 5-3 win against Kosovo were compounded by an even shakier defensive display on Friday, when the Czech Republic inflicted the Three Lions’ first qualification defeat in a decade.

Harry Kane’s early penalty was all too easily cancelled out by Jakub Brabec from a corner, with substitute Zdenek Ondrasek sealing a memorable 2-1 comeback win after England overplayed at the back and Jordan Pickford’s clipped pass out was picked off.

Southgate felt a lot of the defensive issues in Prague came from “giving the ball too cheaply”, as well as needlessly allowing the Czechs to show their set-piece prowess.

And while the 57-cap former centre-back did not feel the defence was England’s biggest problem on the night, he is toying with the idea of returning to a back three flanked by flying full-backs.

“I think we are in a difficult situation in terms of the players that have played international football with us in that area of the pitch and who are playing regularly with their clubs,” Southgate said.

“So, that’s part of the reason we didn’t do that (against the Czech Republic).

“It’s certainly something we’ve considered and I don’t think we can dismiss.

“I’m not sure, ahead of Monday, if that’s the right thing to do but we’re very aware and assessing those things.”

John Stones is unavailable through injury this month and Kyle Walker – another member of the back three in Russia – has again been omitted from the group.

Joe Gomez, a favourite of Southgate, is in the squad but is not starting regularly for Liverpool, while uncapped Fikayo Tomori and Tyrone Mings join wobbly Michael Keane and established Harry Maguire as the centre-back options this time.

Asked if there is enough time to implement a defensive switch in system before Euro 2020, Southgate said: “I think so, I think players take in tactical concepts very quickly, especially top players.

“So, we have to keep reflecting on what’s working, what’s possible and learn from every experience we have.

“We’ll learn a lot from (the Czech game). We’ve had straightforward qualifying games that haven’t challenged us.

“(This) was a proper test and we didn’t come through, so it would be naive not to take the lessons from what we’ve seen on the pitch.”

Southgate is “under no illusions as to where we stand” and wants a positive response from his players in Monday’s trip to Bulgaria.

England will qualify for Euro 2020 with a win in Sofia should Kosovo fail to beat Montenegro, but the loss in the Czech Republic will hurt – and perhaps provides a timely reality check as excitement builds ahead of playing much of Euro 2020 on home soil.

“Look, it’s not for me to tell the public not to dream and not to have hope,” Southgate said.

“I think internally, we have to be different and be realistic and we haven’t changed our tone on that at all.

“We know our strengths and we know the areas we have to improve upon. We’ve talked about it throughout the week and we’ve had evidence of it (against the Czech Republic)

“So, I don’t think any of us within the camp are under any illusions.

“To be a really top team, with players with experience of winning the biggest matches, we’re still some way from that.

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“But we found a way to progress through the World Cup with what was a relatively inexperienced team and that’s what we’re always trying to do: to find solutions to bring some good players through.

“The reality of football is you’re not going to cruise through a qualifying campaign like we have unless you’re a super experienced team who have a constant high level of performance.

“So, (this) isn’t a night you want to be involved with because of the record there’s been, and you never want to lose matches as an England manager, but it’s something that will galvanise us and make sure that we look for a response on Monday and moving forwards.”

Man Utd consider €40m January bid for AC Milan striker

Manchester United are mulling over the possibility of making an offer for AC Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek, according to reports.

United have been short of goals and lacking in options following the summer exits of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez and are said to be considering a number of options ahead of the January transfer window.

And while a report on Friday appeared to rule out deals for two veteran striker targets, the Daily Telegraph claims United are intent on pushing forward with their initial interest in AC Milan star Piatek.

The Pole is currently going through something of a goalscoring drought with just one strike in open play in his last 13 games – and that has led to talk that Milan could be willing to sell him to the highest bidder when the transfer window reopens.

And according to the Telegraph, as cited by Calciomercato, United could be set to make a January approach for the player of around €40m (£34.89m), though it’s believed Milan would be hoping to reach a figure of nearer €50m (£43.6m).

However it appears United are not alone in their pursuit, as according to reports on both Pianeta Milan and Calciomercato.it, Barcelona are also keen, having identified the former Genoa man as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

Meanwhile, a report on the same website claims that Chelsea have now ended their pursuit of Piatek, having previously been suggested they would move for if their transfer sanctions were lifted in January.

Instead, they want to focus on England striker Tammy Abraham, who has eight goals in eight Premier League matches so far this season.

Piatek only last month revealed his love of the English game, but named another Premier League giant as his favoured club as a boy.

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