Big decisions for players, coaches in EPL offseason
ABS-CBN Sports on May 23, 2017 10:03 AM
Chelsea's Diego Costa bites his winner's medal after they won the league, following the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Sunday, May 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer
LONDON (AP) — Few will be able to choreograph their farewells like Chelsea captain John Terry. Many players and managers in the English Premier League are in for messier departures in the close season.
Nowhere in the league is there more uncertainty than at Arsenal, a club at a crossroads and out of the Champions League for the first time in two decades.
So much intrigue surrounds the fate of Arsene Wenger because the manager's contract is expiring without confirmation on whether he will remain for a 22nd season. Months of ambiguity created a "psychological environment" that Wenger acknowledged was "absolutely horrendous" for his players.
Players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are entering the last years of their contracts. Their importance can't be understated. In the league alone, Sanchez scored 24 and provided 10 assists, while Ozil contributed eight goals and nine assists.
If the forwards won't extend their terms, Arsenal is in a quandary: Cash in now or allow them to leave for nothing after one final season?
Financially, Arsenal should remain an attractive proposition for them, especially with fattened pay packets. But the team looks further than ever from ending its 13-year title drought after finishing fifth, the lowest in Wenger's reign. And Ozil and Sanchez will be armchair viewers rather than competing among the European elite next season.
Without the lure of Champions League, replacing Ozil and/or Sanchez would be even tougher. Especially when Premier League rivals will be in the market for prolific scorers like Sanchez.
Across London at Chelsea on Sunday, the only formal send-off was for Terry, whose 22-year association with the newly crowned champion ended with a mid-match guard of honor. Diego Costa won't be getting the same fanfare if he leaves in the summer transfer window. The Spain striker has been linked with a return to Atletico Madrid, having apparently grown unsettled since a financially lucrative offer came in from China in January.
Costa stayed, but the goals dried up. Just six were netted in the final 16 league fixtures. The previous 19 games yielded 14 goals. Chelsea still lifted the trophy for the second time in three seasons.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is looking to strengthen the squad to cope with the increased fixture demands as the team's year-long Champions League exile ends. A return to Stamford Bridge could be on the cards for Romelu Lukaku. Once considered the natural heir for Didier Drogba, the Belgium striker struggled for first-team opportunities and was shipped out on several loans before finally been sold to Everton in 2014.
With 25 goals for a seventh-place team in the last season, Lukaku dispelled any doubts about his scoring prowess that persisted for so long at Chelsea. Lukaku, still only 24, will be a man in demand and he has already publicly questioned Everton's ambition.
How Manchester United could benefit from the addition of Lukaku to the squad. Even more so with Zlatan Ibrahimovic unlikely to be an option going forward. The 35-year-old Ibrahimovic delivered as a short-term option for Jose Mourinho, including scoring the goal that clinched the League Cup in February. United wanted to keep the Swede for next season, but he wouldn't commit and then sustained a serious knee injury and there's no indication when he'll return.
Another striker, Wayne Rooney, could also be on the way out of Old Trafford. The captain's ability to influence games has diminished and now that he has broken the club's scoring record the departure of the high-earner looks on the cards.
Antoine Griezmann is a striker being pursued by Mourinho. United, though, could have the same challenge as Arsenal in the coming months in convincing players to sign up for a season in the Europa League.
Mourinho is preparing for his second season in charge at Old Trafford, although much could hinge on whether United, after finishing sixth in the Premier League, sneaks into the Champions League by beating Ajax in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
At least Mourinho can be certain he'll be in the United dugout next season. The managers the Portuguese is facing next season should become clearer in the coming weeks.
Claude Puel, whose Southampton side was denied the League Cup by Mourinho's United, has been tipped to lose his job despite finishing eighth and reaching that final.
Craig Shakespeare is hoping he has won his audition to keep the Leicester job on a permanent basis after halting the deposed champion's slump in Claudio Ranieri's second season.
And Watford is searching for its ninth manager in five years after Walter Mazzarri left. Being relegated with Hull hasn't prevented Marco Silva being a strong contender for the job.
But it is the decision Arsenal has to make that will shape the offseason in the Premier League: Whether to stick with Wenger or make a clean break. Time is running out.
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports