Former Spurs Youngster Pushing for Crystal Palace Breakthrough After Impressive England U18s Games

Crystal Palace youngster Nya Kirby will be hoping to feature in the Premier League next season after making the headlines this week by scoring in consecutive games for England Under-18s out in China, also highlighting whether Tottenham have let a potential talent slip through their hands.

Kirby scored a penalty equaliser against Uruguay followed by the winner against Hungary on Sunday. At just 18 years young, Nya will be hoping to carry on with his development and catch the eye of Palace boss Roy Hodgson.

This latest International success is not new to Kirby. The central midfielder was an integral part of the England Under-17 squad that famously won the World Cup last October, and HLTCO believe he could be set for a breakthrough next season.

Kirby moved to Palace from Tottenham Hotspur in 2017 after a stint in their academy for several years. Kirby was involved in Palace’s pre-season tour last summer and will hope to be involved in pre-season this time around. 

The midfielder has not yet played a competitive game for Crystal Palace, but did make the bench when Palace played his former employers Spurs last season. 

Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

Kirby’s potential is not going unnoticed. A good pre-season for Palace could see the 18-year-old get the opportunity to play in the Premier League and showcase his talents.

At 18, time is on his side, but Kirby will want to keep his run of form going and start a bright future playing for the Eagles.

76ers’ Ben Simmons on Potential Fit With LeBron James: ‘There’s Only One Way to Find Out’

Sixers rookie Ben Simmons thinks it would be a great opportunity to play on the same team with LeBron James next season.

TMZ Sports caught up with Simmons at LAX and asked the point guard if he and James could potentially fit together on the same team.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Simmons said.

When asked if he would like to play with James, the rookie responded, “I mean he’s a great player, of course.”

James could hit free agency this summer if he chooses to not exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, the final year on his Cavaliers contract. 

Philadelphia has a stacked roster with young stars Joel Embiid and Simmons, but they are just one of many teams that will be going after the four-time MVP.

James and Simmons have the same agent, Rich Paul, making some people speculate that it wouldn’t be that hard to get them on the same roster.

Portuguese Report Claims Rui Patricio Is on the Verge of Joining Napoli With €18m Deal Agreed

Rui Patricio is on the verge of joining Serie A side Napoli after the Italians agreed an €18m deal with Sporting CP, which could reach €20m with add-ons.

The Portuguese side’s new sporting director Augusto Inacio has confirmed the 30-year-old is on the way to Naples to put pen to paper on the contract, believed to be a five-year deal worth 

€2m per season brokered by super agent Jorge Mendes.

LLUIS GENE/GettyImages

It comes after a report last month claimed that an agreement had indeed been reached. A Bola have now followed that up by saying he has all but signed.

It’ll be a great coup for Napoli at a relatively cheap price, with Pepe Reina set to leave the club after failing to agree a new deal with I Partenopei.

Patricio is a hugely experienced goalkeeper and has made 464 appearances in all competitions for Sporting since he first broke into their first team in 2006.

MIGUEL MEDINA/GettyImages

He became the club’s number one a year later, and has also been the Portuguese national team’s number one since 2010.

Should he join as expected, he will become Carlo Ancelotti’s first signing of the summer, with the Italian looking at a number of names as he tries to turn ex-boss Maurizio Sarri’s nearly-men into actual title winners.

Last season they went toe to toe with Juventus, but fell away in the final few weeks as the pressure proved too much.

Gareth Bale Unlikely to Make Tottenham Return This Summer Despite Club’s Buy-Back Clause

Gareth Bale is highly unlikely to make a return to north London this summer as the Welsh forward is reportedly not on Tottenham’s list of transfer targets.

Gareth Bale is highly unlikely to make a return to north London this summer as the Welsh forward is reportedly not on Tottenham‘s list of transfer targets.

The 28-year-old’s Real Madrid future has been cast into doubt on a number of occasions this season and, following his unbelievable display against Liverpool in the Champions League final on Saturday, the Welshman threw more fuel to the fire by claiming he needs more regular playing time.

Manchester United have been strongly linked to the 28-year-old in recent months, with the Red Devils looking to pounce on Bale’s current uncertainty with Los Blancos.

Bale’s former club Spurs have also been linked but, according to the Evening Standard, any hopes of a fairytale return will be virtually impossible.

Spurs do have a buy-back clause on Bale which will allow them to match any accepted bid from a rival Premier League club, but the potentially astronomical fees Bale will generate will make any prospective deal immensely difficult.

It has been reported that Bale is currently one of the highest earners in European football, with his weekly wages at Madrid thought to be in the region of around £400,000-a-week after tax – fees that Spurs simply cannot match.

Jonathan Barnett, Bale’s representative, is set to meet with Real Madrid later this week to discuss what the future may hold next. If he is available this summer, an almighty transfer saga is set to begin with some of Europe’s biggest clubs all set to vie for his signature.

Spurs, meanwhile, will be looking at more realistic options to bolster their attack next season such as Crystal Palace‘s Wilfried Zaha and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial.

Atlético Madrid Set to Double Release Clause in Jan Oblak’s Contract Amid Premier League Interest

Atlético Madrid are considering doubling the release clause in Jan Oblak’s contract, as well as handing him a significant wage boost in order to fend off interest from a host of top European clubs.

Diego Simeone has often spoken highly of the Slovenian shot stopper, with the 25-year-old having won the Zamora award as La Liga’s most effective goalkeeper for the past three successive seasons.

His performances have earned significant praise, prompting Atlétias reported by Spanish news outlet AS, to tie down one of their most valuable assets to a new deal.

LLUIS GENE/GettyImages

Since the start of the 2015/16 season, Oblak has conceded just 61 goals between the sticks with Los Rojiblancos, making him one of Europe’s most highly rated goalkeepers.

As such, a number of top European clubs have taken an interest in signing the Atlético shot stopper, the most recent of which being Champions League runners-up Liverpool, who will be looking to add to their early acquisition of Monaco midfielder Fabinho.

With such a large contingent of clubs taking an interest in Oblak, Atletico are now prepared to hand their number one a significant pay rise, as well as doubling his current buyout clause from €100m to a considerably heftier €200m.

AFP Contributor/GettyImages

The only stumbling block standing between Los Rojiblancos and tying down their highly rated shot stopper is that Oblak may be willing to stall on the move in order to keep his future options open. However, it is widely believed that both parties are close to reaching an agreement.

“He wants to stay with us and we want him to stay,” explained Atlético CEO Miguel Ángel Gil on Spanish radio. “We are going to try and make his release clause higher.”

Should Oblak sign a new deal and subsequently price interested clubs out of signing the 25-year-old, Liverpool will likely turn their attentions to Roma’s Alisson in the hopes they will be capable of recruiting another Brazilian this summer.

Steve Kerr Says Warriors Win Western Conference Finals in Five Games With Healthy Andre Iguodala

Mike D’Antoni said Houston wins Game 7 with a healthy Chris Paul, and Steve Kerr said the series doesn’t get to that point with Andre Iguodala on the court.

The Golden State Warriors reached the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year thanks to a 101-92 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

One of the main topics surrounding the game was the key injuries both teams were dealing with. The Warriors were without 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala for the last four games of the series, and the Rockets were without nine-time All-Star Chris Paul in Games 6 and 7.

Both teams had ripped off two consecutive wins before losing their starter and appeared to be taking control of the series. Golden State was up 2-1 with Game 4 at home when it lost Iguodala for the series and Houston had just taken a 3-2 lead and was one win away from the Finals when Paul went down.

According to Marc Spears of The Undefeated, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni says the series goes a bit differently if Paul is available for one last game, but at the same time, Warriors coach Steve Kerr says with Iguodala on the court, the Paul injury would have never come into play.

From Spears:

The Rockets were understandably emotional after losing just one game shy of the NBA Finals, with Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker in tears. Apparently, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told Warriors All-Star forward Kevin Durant during Game 7 that his team would have won the series if Paul played. While unwinding long after the win with Morton’s The Steakhouse cuisine and a cold one, Kerr responded to those words by saying, “We would have won the series in five if Iggy played.”

Say hello to the NBA’s newest rivalry: Warriors versus Rockets.

It’s an interesting debate that we will never get an answer to. The Warriors lost Game 4 95-92 and Game 5 98-94 without Iguodala, but then the Rockets went down 115-86 in Game 6 and 101-92 in Game 7 without Paul while Iguodala was still sidelined. Maybe Paul’s presence means more in the Game 6 and 7 losses than Iguodala’s would have meant in Games 4 and 5, but we will never find out.

The Warriors will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday as they look to win a third title in four years and second consecutive championship.

Newcastle Simply Can’t Risk Losing World-Class Rafa Benitez Over Reasonable Contract Demands

As has been the case for the past two years at Newcastle United, fans continue to wait for news of manager Rafa Benitez’s future.

The Spaniard has one year left on his contract, but almost everyone in black and white would prefer his demands are met and he is locked down for the long haul.

The Champions League-winning manager is an asset to the Magpies, and one that the club really can’t afford to risk losing. Everybody sees that, except perhaps those in the position of power on Tyneside.

Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

Benitez has made no secret of the fact he loves the club, and really believes in the project he set out to achieve when he first joined back in 2016.

He remained with the side through a season of Championship football, and has by his own admission spent the contract negotiations that have happened fighting not for his own interests, but those of the club.

In a wide-ranging interview on the podcast of Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague, Benitez explained: “I’m fighting for the best for my club. So I am not fighting for what’s best for Rafa Benitez.

“Normally I never have a problem with my contract because it’s, more or less, just because I want to improve.

“I want to improve the facilities, I want to approve the Academy, or I want to bring better players and be more competitive like that. The fans appreciate that.”

It’s true, too. Fans love to hear that Benitez is fighting for what the clubs needs, not trying to line his pockets.

IAN KINGTON/GettyImages

They’re not unreasonable demands either. He’s not asking for the levels of investment seen at Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain – just to be competitive, and to improve the Academy to help Newcastle generate their own talent (which could be sold for profit).

Therefore it seems a no brainer to simply meet those demands.

Benitez is a truly world-class manager that could genuinely take the club to remarkable (and highly profitable) places with a little investment.

With the money in the Premier League, and the possible allure of international business opportunities with European qualification, it seems surely common sense to meet the demands. Spend a little now to make a lot later.

Alex Livesey/GettyImages

That is the opinion of most fans, pundits and those who hold even the remotest interest in football in general.

Yet, that does not seem to be the understanding held by owner Mike Ashley, and ultimately its his closed purse strings that decide whether that investment happens or not.

Benitez did try to soften the rhetoric of conflict between him and the owners in the interview with Balague.

“My relationship with the owners, normally isn’t as bad as people maybe think it is.”

Stu Forster/GettyImages

However, it remains to be seen whether that is simply a man trying his last attempts to prevent the owners from having even the slightest shred of reasoning to deny him his requests.

He has seen his demands met with outright refusal for months on end now – with the owner externally claiming he won’t put another penny into the club himself – and eventually that is going to get to much for even Benitez.

Fans know that too. They are under no disillusionment that there will come a day when even the passion they show and Benitez’s desires to do right by the club become not enough and the man walks.

He is hardly going to lack potential suitors for a new job afterwards, and likely with owners willing to back his entirely reasonable demands.

Benitez is hardly asking for the world, and yet there are the delays in contract talks and the outright risk of losing him.

Any other owner in the Premier League – almost any forward-thinking owner in general – would have already locked down Benitez as soon as talks were first brought up and the club would powering ahead with its summer transfer policy.

Signings like Martin Dubravka (who the club frankly has to sign given his impressive performances and ludicrously cheap option to buy clause) are sat in limbo unnecessarily due to a point of contention between owner and manager that should have absolutely no contention at all.

Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Newcastle finished 10th in the Premier League, with a squad likely unable to achieve that under any other manager, and should be in a period of rejoicing – looking forward to pushing on even further next season.

Instead, as is the way on Tyneside, fans are sat nervously waiting for the moment the owner finally breaks the manager’s willpower and makes him quit.

It will come one day – as much as it shouldn’t – and those who fill St. James’ Park each week just have to hope they get as long out of Benitez’s services as they can befor.

Fulham Owner Shahid Khan Applies the Pressure on Sessegnon by Claiming He’ll Lead Their PL Charge

Fulham owner Shahid Khan has subtly placed some pressure on teen sensation Ryan Sessegnon’s shoulders by insisting he will lead their team into the Premier League in 2018/19.

The 18-year-old is one of the hottest properties in Europe, and a string of big clubs have been linked with a move for him this summer, including Manchester United and Tottenham.

Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

The Roehampton-born star, who can play anywhere down the left side, has been a revelation for the Cottagers and came up trumps in the play-off final by laying on a decisive assist for Tom Cairney’s match-winning goal.

Sessegnon’s abilities are plainly obvious, and there seems to be an expectation that the youngster will be making a move to a bigger club this summer, but owner Khan has attempted to steer his thinking towards the impending campaign with Fulham next season.

He told the Times, as quoted by Sky Sports: “We don’t want Sessegnon leaving. I don’t think he wants to go. He’s going to be at Fulham for the coming year, leading us into the Premier League.

Clive Mason/GettyImages

“Frankly, if we had not been promoted, well, we have a responsibility to our players. He’s been there since he was eight. We want to do the right thing for him and he is Fulham through and through.”

Since breaking into the first team at Craven Cottage as a 16-year-old, Sessegnon has made 71 league appearances and demonstrated a rare prolificacy from left back which has resulted in his transition into a left winger.

All-Rounder Harry Maguire Reveals How Rugby, Hockey & Cross Country Helped Shape Him as a Player

Leicester City and England star Harry Maguire has revealed how playing a variety of sports growing up helped him to become the man and football player he is today.

The 25-year-old had an excellent season for the Foxes in 2017/18, playing every single minute in the Premier League and making 63 tackles – the most out of any of his teammates.

Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

His form has seen him become involved with the England senior side, as well as lead to reports linking him with a move to Manchester City

It’s been a whirlwind rise for Maguire, who spoke to the Times after supporting the Soccer Aid Playground Challenge at his old school St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Chesterfield. Interestingly, Maguire’s passion for all sports as a youngster appears to be the reason for his success in professional football.

He revealed: “I ran cross-country for the county, made national standard in one race, about three miles, up in Derbyshire, running round lakes, [it was] fun but very hard. That got me really fit. I played cricket and golf.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages

“It’s important to play as many different sports as you can as a young lad. It helps your game. Playing rugby helped me with my bravery, weaving in and out of players, helping with agility. Hockey helped my vision and passing, it’s football with a stick, trying to get it in the back of the net.

“I was incredibly competitive, growing up with two brothers, we’d argue and play against each other in the garden continuously. If we have a competition, I want to beat them. We’re doing this playground challenge here and I want to beat them. We used to play hours of tennis and badminton. It was really competitive.”

The centre-back will be hoping that all those factors will stand him in good stead as he prepares to fly out to Russia in a few weeks’ time to face some of the best players in the world.

The Home Runs Keep Increasing, But Are the Baseballs Different After All?

During World War I, the government found itself facing an unusual predicament when it came to baseball—assuredly far down the list of government predicaments at the time, but still one all the same. The War Department wanted to provide baseballs for the troops, but the quality of available options varied greatly at the time, and they wanted to make sure that soldiers received the best offerings. This was before the National League and American League agreed on a standardized baseball (that didn’t come until 1934) and so there was no single official major league ball to go with. The solution? The War Department asked the National Bureau of Standards to test baseballs from six different factories. The balls were dropped from various heights to determine their bounciness; their cores were dissected; their stitches were pulled. Finally, the bureau decided that they had enough information to mark the balls as first-, second- or third-class, and the first-class ones were “shipped in enormous quantity overseas,” all according to a 1920 article on the subject from Scientific American.

This is the first documented example of large-scale efficiency testing on baseballs—an initiative sparked not by Major League Baseball, but by the federal government. That independent testing started a tradition that continues through to present day. Just last week, MLB released the results of an external study commissioned to examine the ball as part of a larger analysis of home run rates. After a record number of dingers last year—part of a league-wide power increase that began in the second half of the 2015 season and hasn’t slowed since—commissioner Rob Manfred appointed a group of engineering, physics and mathematics professors from across the country to determine what, exactly, was going on.  

The researchers determined that all these home runs aren’t the result of the weather, or the pitchers, or the idea of a launch-angle revolution. Instead, they concluded that the culprit here is the baseball—but they couldn’t determine just why or how that was the case. Changes to the ball had been noted by earlier research, and the commission confirmed that baseballs manufactured in the last two years have been carrying further than those manufactured before. But after extensive testing of both fresh and game-used balls, plus a visit to Rawlings’ Costa Rica factory, the team of scientists ruled out any meaningful changes to the seams or the core or the coefficient of restitution (read: bounciness), or any major problems with the specifications set by the league. There is “supporting evidence that the aerodynamic properties of the baseballs have changed,” according to the report, but there is no satisfying answer as to why.

***

If the question of why the baseball has changed doesn’t yet have a definitive answer, the most logical question to ask next is probably how. In an environment with plentiful  data on increasingly minute aspects of the sport, how can the league take years to officially determine that the ball itself has changed—and changed significantly enough to materially alter the experience of the game, at that? That question, too, lacks a fulfilling public answer at this point, and the fact that the league steadfastly denied the existence of a juiced ball until last week’s announcement doesn’t help matters there. Part of untangling that question, though, requires looking at just how broad the league’s definition of baseball can be.

The Official Baseball Rules have very little to say on what a baseball should look like or how it should be made. “The Ball” is the first heading under the rulebook’s section on equipment and uniforms, but it’s just a few sentences long—and those sentences are remarkably similar to what the rules had to say on the subject almost a century and a half ago, as MLB’s official historian John Thorn pointed out earlier this month. Take a look:

From the 1861 convention of National Association of Base Ball Players: The ball must weigh not less than five and one-­half, nor more than five and three-fourths ounces avoir­dupois. It must measure not less than nine and one-half, nor more than nine and three fourths inches in circumfer­ence. It must be composed of India rubber and yarn, covered with leather.

From the 2018 Official Baseball Rules: The ball shall be a sphere formed by yarn wound around a small core of cork, rubber or similar material, covered with two strips of white horsehide or cowhide, tightly stitched together. It shall weigh not less than five nor more than 5¼ ounces avoirdupois and measure not less than nine nor more than 9¼ inches in circumference.

Almost exactly the same! The league maintains a separate and more stringent set of regulations with the manufacturer (and last week’s report recommended that they make those regulations a little tighter), but in terms of what’s written into the game’s foundational documents? Today’s ball could be essentially the same as it was during the Civil War. In practice, of course, it isn’t—not at all, and it’s taken several key developments in technology and materials to get to where it is today. In 1910, cork-core balls were introduced; in 1925, a patent was issued for the first example of what would become today’s rubber-cushioned-cork core. The ‘20s also brought higher quality yarn from machine-wound wool, and in the ‘30s, the AL and NL agreed on standards for a ball for the first time. In the 1970s, the cover material changed from horsehide to cowhide, and the manufacturer of the official ball switched from Spalding to Rawlings. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the average lifespan for a ball is now scarcely two plate appearances, rather than the old standard of “from first pitch until it gets lost,” which allowed misshapen and scuffed balls to stay in the game indefinitely.

Today’s baseball is not the ball of a few decades ago. But it’s also not the ball of just three years ago, and as of yet, no one can say why. The standards have changed significantly since the government was slicing baseballs open for inspection a century ago, and yet the questions behind that testing—of which balls are most suitable for play, and how that should be measured—are still around.