Pep Guardiola finally assembled a training session on Wednesday with what is more or less his strongest squad. He welcomed back the England players, who had been on holiday following the Euros, and also the Brazilians. Gabriel Jesus and Ederson also returned and only Aymeric Laporte, who was COVID isolating and the injured Phil Foden were missing. Three England players, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Raheem Sterling were in high spirits, laughing and joking and enjoying their first training session. Kevin de Bruyne had been reported as injured but he too was there after missing the Community Shield. Aleks Zinchenko returned but left again after his wife gave birth to a baby daughter but he is available for the trip to Tottenham on Sunday. Everyone was focused on Jack Grealish of course and Walker, Sterling and Stones made him very welcome. He also spent time chatting with Ferran Torres during a training break. Most heartening for the fans was his close bonding with De Bruyne and the two talked intensely as the other players trained. Jack has made no secret that playing with the Dutchman was a strong motivation for him to join City. There is much talk around the club that Harry Kane might be joining them and it is interesting that Gabriel Jesus was not wearing the training kit with his number 9 shirt…that, of course, is Kane’s Tottenham number. One training segment showed a lively Grealish shooting and dribbling and on one occasion he dropped a shoulder and weaved past Riyad Mahrez, leaving the Algerian struggling on the ground and then he went on and put the ball in the net.
Grealish arrives at City with a bodyguard
Jack Grealish looked every bit the superstar when he arrived to be introduced to supporters this week. To start with he was accompanied by his own bodyguard who was never more than a step away from Jack. When City announced they would unveil their new player, the club expected only a handful of fans to turn up on a windy, rainy evening. However, 1,000 arrived and all wanted to have selfies with Jack. His minder was working overtime to keep them at bay. The fans were outside the stadium and Grealish appeared after giving an interview on the club website using a public address system. The Grealish machine had arrived and he was blowing kisses to the crowd and looked as though he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Jack has been very impressed by Pep Guardiola’s work rate and by his two training sessions at the Etihad. He said, “I’ve had two sessions with City but it’s crazy seeing the work he does, it’s no surprise he’s been so successful in his own career, some of his tactics are out of this world. I feel like I can bring a lot to the team and the manager will choose what position to play me in.”
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Martinez can improve Tottenham forward line
Tottenham hope to have made an important signing with Lautaro Martinez who has agreed to join them from Inter Milan where he had a good partnership with Romelu Lukaku. Ignoring any possibility that Harry Kane could leave, Nuno Espirito Santos plans to link Son, Kane and Martinez in a forward line trio. Martinez scored 31 goals and 15 assists in the last two Serie A seasons. Even Lionel Messi described him as “special”. If the deal goes through without complications he will join fellow Argentine international Cristian Romero, the centre back who joined on loan from Atalanta with a clause in his contract that will enable Spurs to sign him for £47 million if everything works out this season. Harry Kane has been living at The Lodge Hotel which is inside Tottenham’s training centre. He isolated because of government Covid regulations after travelling back from holiday in the Bahamas. As I write this, Nuno has not decided whether to play Kane this Sunday against Manchester City. According to my contacts Romero will not be available because he arrived with a knee injury.
Spurs fans behind Nuno Espirito Santos
It was good to see new Spur’s manager Nuno Espirito Santos walking out for his first game against local rivals Arsenal in a pre-season match this week. It was only a friendly but the fans gave Nuno a standing ovation and cheered him like a hero. They cheered when his name was announced over the tannoy system. Given that Spurs could lose their talisman striker Harry Kane, who didn’t play, the crowd were in good spirits and Tottenham dominated Arsenal. The fans even applauded Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka in recognition of his excellent performances for England in the Euros. With no Kane the biggest roar was for Heung-Min Son who scored the winner.
Jimenez returns for action
I have been told that Wolves hitman Raul Jimenez will return to action for the opening day of the season. The Mexican international fractured his skull in a clash of heads with Arsenal defender David Luiz last November. The 30-year-old was given oxygen on the pitch and he will have to wear protective headgear for the rest of his career. New manager Bruno Lage said, “I feel he is ready. He is confident. So I hope he can help us to be a stronger team this season.”
Brighton suffer early blow
Brighton have suffered a major setback to the beginning of their season. Danny Welbeck has been ruled out of action until late in September with a hamstring injury. The 30-year-old sustained the injury in Brighton’s penultimate game last season and has been carefully nursing himself back to fitness on holiday during the summer but his hamstring was a weakness. Danny signed a 12-month contract in June. He has been capped for England 42 times. On a more positive note, manager Graham Potter is hopeful regarding his summer signing Enock Mwepu from Red Bull Saltzberg. He said, “Enock has got energy in abundance and he brings us that little bit of something different. He can hit the box, can play in several positions and he will give us a bit of versatility and some good options.” Brighton can also call on the services of Solly March, who was out for four months last season because of knee surgery. Potter said, “Solly has built up well over pre-season. He is in good shape and will improve further as he increases his minutes on the pitch.”
Solskjaer still upbeat over Pogba
Once again Ole Gunner Solskjaer has said he and Paul Pogba are close and this week had more positive discussions with his midfielder. “I hope every player thinks this is the place to win trophies,” said Soslkjaer. “Paul has come back and he’s fresh and he’s always such an enthusiastic boy. The talks we have had have all been positive.”
Tough times at Barcelona
I talked at length with contacts at Barcelona this week. The news is not good. The club’s failure to keep Lionel Messi has depressed the city of Barcelona and now even club President Joan Laporte said, “I don’t want to create false hopes.” Barcelona is a typical example of a club which spent way beyond its means to achieve success and ended up £1 billion in debt. Philippe Courtinho was signed for £140 million, Ousemane Dembele £125 million and Antoine Griezmann another who cost over £100 million. The pandemic pushed Barca over the edge but they have teetered on the financial edge for years. Serge Aguero has arrived to play with his close friend Messi and is dismayed that his fellow Argentine has gone. Now Aguero is injured and looks to be out for a few weeks. Barca are in dire trouble and the glory days will be a long time returning.