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Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe summed it up quite nicely after the game: "We didn't do anything."
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PARIS — Speaking with an air of resignation, Andre Villas-Boas accepted his time as Marseille coach might soon be up following another home defeat. The 1-0 loss to Lens in the French league on Wednesday, where he was tactically outwitted by a novice coach, came after an abject team performance last weekend in a 2-1 home reverse to Nimes. Villas-Boas did not even try to defend himself. “If I’m the one who is responsible, which I am, then I am at the disposal of the directors,” he said calmly. “I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not here to become an obstacle.” Marseille is in sixth place, but the position could soon get worse with tough games ahead. On Saturday, Marseille travels to face fourth-place Monaco, which is in fine form having won four of its last five matches. Marseille then takes on fifth-place Rennes, before going to Lens and hosting league leader Paris Saint-Germain in the same week. Fans have already turned on the players, venting their anger before the Lens game. Villas-Boas is the latest coach feeling the intense scrutiny at Marseille, the only French side to win the Champions League — in 1993 — yet also the most volatile. Firing Villas-Boas would involve paying a considerable amount of compensation, however, and Marseille can ill afford to shell out money firing and re-hiring since it is heavily cash-strapped. After he guided Marseille to second place last season and an automatic Champions League place, fans hailed Villas-Boas for doing so with limited resources while praising the fighting spirit he instilled in the side. But tight-knit camaraderie was nowhere to be found against Nimes or Lens, prompting a furious reaction from veteran goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. The France No. 2 has been an ever-present since 2007, aside from one season in England, and is nearing 600 games for Marseille. He described a chaotic scene at halftime against Lens. “We screamed an awful lot," he said. “There are many things to change within the club, notably the team spirit. When you play for Marseille, you must have character.” The long-serving captain wants changes to be made. “We're just not getting there, there's a problem in the squad. We don't have the collective strength which helped us do well last season," Mandanda said. "We have to do a lot of soul-searching, individually and collectively. We must accept everything that's going to happen.” Mandanda has said similar things before, and it remains doubtful whether this tirade changes anything. Dimitri Payet, whose three goals helped France to reach the 2016 European Championship final, has been off form and more like the erratic player who frustrated fans at his previous clubs. Payet has scored six goals in 21 games this season, compared to 12 in 27 last term. Winger Florian Thauvin is short of his best after spending almost the entire last season injured. His scoring return of six in 25 this season — at a ratio of .24 goals per game — is way below the 59 in 134 from 2016-19 at a ratio of .44. But Thauvin remains a highly rated player, having netted 70 goals and provided 45 assists in 187 games for Marseille. At 27 years old he's in his prime, yet he could leave for free in the summer when his contract ends. However, unlike some other players, Thauvin's work rate remains high. So, for now at least, hard-to-please Marseille fans have spared him from reproach. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press
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The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Trent Baalke as general manager Thursday, removing the interim tag from his title and pairing him with new coach Urban Meyer. Team owner Shad Khan is switching to a coach-centric model in which Meyer and Baalke will both report to him to “have transparency and (fill) the needs and concerns of both parties without really getting filtered or have a chain of command.” Meyer, though, is expected to have final say over the roster and most everything else. “Trent thoroughly knows the NFL and the dynamics of today’s game, has an exceptional eye for talent and I know will have excellent chemistry with head coach Urban Meyer as they begin their mission to bring a consistent winner to our fans in Jacksonville,” Khan said in a statement. Khan interviewed five minority candidates and Baalke for the team’s open GM job. He met with former Houston executive Rick Smith, current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, former New York Giants GM Jerry Reese, former Cleveland GM Ray Farmer and New Orleans executive Terry Fontenot. Fontenot was named Atlanta’s GM on Monday. Khan, the league’s lone minority owner, made it clear this month that hiring a person of colour to one of the team’s top two spots wasn’t a priority. “I want to get the best person for the job,” Khan said. “I think diversity is very important to me for many, many different reasons. I think we’re going to look far and wide, but I think what’s most important is this inflection point for the franchise we have the best leaders.” Baalke served as Jacksonville’s director of pro personnel in 2020, returning to a front-office role for the first time since San Francisco fired him and coach Chip Kelly following the 2016 season. Baalke spent a dozen years with the 49ers, half as GM. He hired Jim Harbaugh, who led the Niners to the NFC title game in each of his first three seasons and lost Super Bowl 47. Baalke also drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round in 2011. Before moving to Jacksonville, Baalke spent three years (2017-19) working as an operations consultant for the NFL. Jacksonville had one of the league’s most attractive coach/GM openings. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including four in the top 45, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap. Adding to the appeal: Khan, a billionaire businessman, has shown a penchant for patience and a willingness to spend big. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL Mark Long, The Associated Press
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GENEVA — As UEFA prepares a final proposal to change the Champions League format in 2024, the governing body of European soccer joined FIFA on Thursday in warning clubs against breaking away to run their own competition. Players who take part in a Super League-type competition — likely limited to storied clubs — would be banned from representing their countries at the World Cup, FIFA and its six continental confederations said in a joint statement. Real Madrid and Barcelona were linked last year with planning a breakaway Super League inviting famous clubs to enter and increase their own wealth. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin denounced it as a “selfish and egotistical scheme” after Madrid president Florentino Pérez was reportedly seeking financiers to back the project. The reports were seen as trying to put pressure on UEFA during talks to make changes to the Champions League that would favour elite clubs. “Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation,” the joint statement said. The UEFA negotiations restarted after initial talks stalled in 2019. Controversy was fueled by a club-backed proposal that would help successful teams retain their Champions League places. The European Leagues group said Thursday that breakaway plans were “similar to those franchise models operating in North America.” FIFA and UEFA reaffirmed Thursday the importance of promotion and relegation giving access to all clubs as a key principle of soccer. “Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch,” the FIFA-led statement said. UEFA is expected to announce proposals in the coming weeks for modifying its club competitions’ entry paths and playing formats. The group stage of the Champions League is likely to be changed to give clubs who qualify 10 guaranteed games instead of the current six. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press