More than soccer on schedule for touring European teams like Chelsea and Liverpool
Carlo Cudicini cheered from afar last season as fellow Italian Claudio Ranieri guided longshot Leicester City to the English Premier League title in his first season as coach.
This season another Italian, Antonio Conte, goes after a championship in his first EPL season with Chelsea. And Cudicini will be much closer to the action this time since he’ll be helping Conte implement his defensive, counterattacking tactics as Conte’s assistant.
On Wednesday, the Blues showed that transition is coming along nicely, beating English rival Liverpool, 1-0, for their second exhibition victory in three tries.
Playing on a pleasant, picturesque evening before a Rose Bowl crowd of 53,117, split equally between fans in Liverpool red and Chelsea blue, Conte’s team got the only goal it needed on a first-half header from Gary Cahill. It was an unusually feisty friendly featuring six cautions and a red card, the latter going to Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, who was ejected for a dangerous studs-up challenge in the 70th minute.
But that’s all part of the learning process, Cudicini said.
“So all the things that you do normally in preseason, having changed the manager we need this time even more.”
Both teams’ visit to Southern California was more than just a training exercise though. Iconic clubs such as Liverpool and Chelsea get multimillion-dollar guarantees to play summer friendlies in the U.S., where they can also get closer to fans and potential sponsors.
“It’s part of the season of a team,” said Frederic Longupee, deputy general manager of French champion Paris Saint-Germain, which concludes a three-game U.S. tour Saturday at the StubHub Center against Ranieri and Leicester City. “You cannot become one of the most famous sports franchises in the world staying in your country. You have to travel.”
So PSG planted its flag here by staging youth soccer camps at seven locations throughout California, just as it did on the East Coast last summer when it played there. Liverpool participated in a youth soccer camp in San Francisco and hosted 800 supporters at a fan event in Hollywood and Chelsea suited up three patients from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, signing them to one-day contracts to train with the team.
Conte, meanwhile, focused on the soccer. He joined Chelsea earlier this month after guiding the Italian national team to the quarterfinals of the European Championships. A tactical genius with a fiery sideline manner, Conte has never worked outside Italy, where he won eight Serie A titles as a player and coach with Juventus.
He has some rebuilding to do with Chelsea. Last season, a year removed from a league championship, the Blues went through two coaches while slipping to 10th in the table, the most disastrous title defense of the EPL era.
“It’s tough to change philosophy for players that [have] played for the last four or five years the same way,” he said. “But this is the step to try to build a fantastic team.”
The players also spend time interacting with fans. After Chelsea signed Children’s Hospital Los Angeles patients Jacob Torres, Alex Idolor and Christopher Escobar to one-day contracts, the new teammates were outfitted in Chelsea gear before joining the players in some drills during training Tuesday at UCLA.
The children later met Miazga, Eden Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a game of foosball. Delta Air Lines, which teamed with Chelsea to sponsor the event, will fly the three children to London this winter to see a Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge.
“Obviously we’re very blessed and grateful for the positions we’re in. And it’s always awesome to make a positive impact on a young kid,” Miazga said. “So it’s been good and the kids are very happy.”
Paris Saint-Germain defender David Luiz agreed. Luiz said meeting young fans is one of his favorite parts of the summer tour.
“It’s important to be an example, especially for the kids,” he said. “I work every day with this mentality. I know I can be with someone just for 10 seconds, one minute, and I can make the difference in his day or maybe in his life.
“The trophy I can have in my job is to get the opportunity to change lives.”
Luiz admitted he may not have done that Monday when he and teammate Layvin Kurzawa played the FIFA 17 video game with fans in West L.A.
“Today I was lucky. I played three times, I won three times,” Luiz said with a smile. “The guys are angry with me here.”
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