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Local flavour has Exeter and Sparkes looking to go one step further | Ben Fisher

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Thirteen games in, only an inferior goals-for column keeps Exeter City off the League Two summit. Having finished ninth in May, two places and one point below the hallowed dotted line following successive play-off final defeats at Wembley, they are well versed in fine margins. Like last season, they have made a barnstorming start – Exeter have lost one league game and are a point shy of where they were 12 months ago – but the aim is to go one step further under Matt Taylor this time around.

Depending on which way you look at it, they have either an experienced group sprinkled with homegrown talent or a youthful squad complemented by a series of senior professionals, including Aaron Martin, Lee Martin and Nicky Law, once of Southampton, Manchester United and Rangers respectively. Then there is Dean Moxey, whose career has come full circle having returned to his boyhood club two years ago, a player the highly-rated left wing-back Jack Sparkes grew up watching on the terraces with his dad. “As a little kid, you think: ‘This is where I want to be,’” says Sparkes, 19, who hails from Exmouth and spent last season on loan at Chippenham Town and Salisbury.

For Sparkes, there is no shortage of inspiration. The exterior of the academy offices at the training ground are graffitied with cutouts of former teammates: Ethan Ampadu, Ollie Watkins and Christy Pym, as well as Jordon Moore-Taylor and Moxey. Matt Grimes, once of these parts, is Swansea’s captain, and the defender Jordan Storey joined Preston from Exeter in the summer. Ampadu helped Wales to a point against Croatia in a Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday and Brentford’s Watkins is among the Championship’s leading goalscorers. Pym is flying high with Peterborough in League One.

Glancing at the academy building, Sparkes says: “You can see up there, the amount of players that have come through. It’s good for the academy as well because it brings confidence to the players coming through. Dean, similar to my position and playing with me now, has really helped me this season; Pymy, I used to be really close with and he helped me a lot; Ethan, I’m really good friends with him and grew up playing with him from about the age of eight; Jordan, and Watkins as well – in different ways they’ve all helped me.”

Sparkes is not the only academy graduate making a dent in the first team, with the 20-year-old Archie Collins also impressing. There are high hopes for Noah Smerdon, signed in the summer via the 1931 Fund, a group of 60 supporters that donates £19 per month towards a player’s wages each season. In August the England Under-15 midfielder Ben Chrisene became the club’s youngest player aged 15 years, seven months and one day, eclipsing a record held by Ampadu. “The academy makes sure your schoolwork comes first, that’s No 1,” says Sparkes. “If you’re not performing in college or when you’re in school during the under-14s, they’ll say: ‘Look, focus on that rather than football for now.’ We had lots of meetings about the importance of having something to fall back on.”

Exeter’s Lee Martin, laughing off a yellow card against Forest Green, says: ‘I’m probably enjoying my football the most I’ve ever done.’

Exeter’s Lee Martin, laughing off a yellow card against Forest Green, says: ‘I’m probably enjoying my football the most I’ve ever done.’ Photograph: Mark Kerton/PA

Few know the pathway through to the first team better than Taylor, formerly the club’s under-23s coach. “We try and instil the right values in them from an early age. The academy and the coaches work fantastically well with the young players here to try and improve them. It is probably my job and people in and around the first team to give them that opportunity and believe in them. They are never perfect, the finished article but we give them a secure platform to go and play. The young ones will get the headlines, and rightly so, because they are our products but they are alongside some senior and experienced players.”

For one of those, Lee Martin, who was born up the M5 in Taunton but raised in south London, a return to the south-west last year was welcome. “I’m probably enjoying my football the most I’ve ever done in my career,” he says. “I got a little bit off track in my early 20s, certainly after the move to Ipswich and I lost a lot of confidence and sort of just drifted through.”

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It is not only Exeter’s players – young and old – who are flourishing, with Taylor’s reputation as a young coach also burgeoning. Last month the club rejected an approach from Lincoln for Taylor, who spent a chunk of the summer at the Toulon Tournament in France as part of his Uefa Pro Licence course, alongside Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and Kolo Touré. “People talk about coaches being similar to magpies, where you take the best bits out of other people, but you’re still in your own body and that’s a fantastic phrase for any up-and-coming coaches. You have to get your own experiences but also use what others do every now and then. But you have to be comfortable in your own body and stick to your own principles. We have to keep moving forward and, as a club, we feel we are doing the right things.”

Talking points

Forty days after sacking Kevin Bond, Southend are seemingly no closer to finding a manager after a deal to appoint Henrik Larsson collapsed at the 11th hour. The Southend chairman, Ron Martin, was confident of appointing Larsson and his former Celtic teammate Johan Mjallby by Thursday but said the “last-minute” breakdown in talks was because Tommy Johnson, who had been in talks over a head of recruitment role, “accepted an alternative offer”. Larsson, who attended Southend’s matches against Accrington and MK Dons, told Sportbladet: “I was ready to sit on a plane, fly over and sign on.” Southend are seven points adrift of safety in League One.

If Peterborough, determined to escape League One at the sixth attempt, fail to win promotion, it is unlikely to be owing to a shortage of firepower. No player has scored more league goals this season than Ivan Toney (10), and Mo Eisa has nine and Marcus Maddison six for Darren Ferguson’s side.

Ivan Toney has been prolific for Peterborough

Ivan Toney has been prolific for Peterborough. Photograph: Joe Dent/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

Reading’s manager, Mark Bowen, has said he was “stunned” to be offered the job in the midst of shortlisting candidates to succeed José Gomes in his previous role as the club’s sporting director. “It was put to me that the least obtrusive way of doing things was: ‘Would you like the job?’” Bowen’s first game in charge is against third-placed Preston on Saturday.

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New website for betting guides discovered

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Sports betting in Nigeria has increasingly gained attention from fans of a variety of sports.

Soccer is, as you would expect, the most popular option among bettors but let us not forget that other trends are also in place.

Just this month, British boxer Anthony Joshua, who has strong ties with Nigeria (both parents are Nigerians), sealed his victory over Anthony Ruiz Jr. to win back his world heavyweight title. With a brilliant display of feet movement and quick powerful jabs, Joshua reminded the fans of the legendary Muhammad Ali’s tactic “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.

Nigerian sports fans surely backed Joshua throughout the whole campaign of revenge on Ruiz, in part because of his charisma and ring quality but also because of his strong ties to Nigeria – of which the champion has a tattoo on his right shoulder.

But how are Nigerians supposed to choose from the pool of available online mobile sportsbooks? Websites like BetMobileNigeria are the go-to resource when it comes to finding betting guides as well as a list of the best mobile betting sites.

These include individual reviews about sportsbooks like Bet9ja, Naijabet, 1xBet, BetWay and many others.

Beating the bookies is no easy task, but a well-informed bettor has a much better chance of doing so. Taking advantage of promotions like the Welcome Bonus available in most sportsbooks is a good way to get started. Most importantly, you also need to place quality bets on a consistent basis rather than trying to win it all on a single bet.

Nevertheless, sports betting is above all else a form of entertainment. Getting started on it with goals of earning a living from it is for most people, an unrealistic expectation.

It’s important to keep that in mind before you dive into the many options available for placing bets on your phone – which include smartphone apps, mobile websites (including sites with a lighter version for older phones) and even USSD messages that allow you to fund your account and try your luck without even having an internet connection on your mobile device.

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EPL: Aubameyang reveals Arteta’s plan for Arsenal after 1-1 with Bournemouth

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Arsenal captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has said manager, Mikel Arteta, has planned to change the behaviour and attitude of the Gunners’ squad after replacing Unai Emery at Emirates some few days ago.

Aubameyang said this following Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth in the Premier League on Thursday.

“I think he wants good commitment from us,” Aubameyang told Amazon Prime.

“The behaviour and attitude, we’ve tried to give everything already in training, 100 per cent, and be ready for the game.

“I think we can rectify a lot of things. These last few days we had a lot of tactical work, we can say he has a lot of ideas and they can help us.

“I think we have to come here and try what we worked [in training] and for sure we will have some spaces to win this game.”

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Sports Ministry Sanctions Change of Guard at AFN

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Ibrahim Shehu Gusau
  • Gusau’s faction declares autonomy from sports ministry

Duro Ikhazuagbe

The suspension of Ibrahim Shehu Gusau as President of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN), has received the blessings of the country’s apex authorities on sports matters, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development.

Gusau’ deputy, Olamide George who is acting as AFN president until the outcome of the panel set up on Tuesday in Abuja to investigate allegations of infractions against the former member of the House of Representatives, was received at the ministry yesterday.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Adesola Olusade, received in audience George as the acting president of the athletics body.

Although details of the meeting remained sketchy as at press time, receiving George by the permanent secretary appears an approval of the decisions taken at the AFN meeting in Abuja on Tuesday.

Nine members of the athletics board met earlier in the week and suspended Gusau and announced George as acting president.

However, in a swift move to denounce the meeting in Abuja, Gusau led some of his loyalists on the AFN board to another Congress in Awka, Anambra State where he denounced the Sports’ Ministry’s alleged interference in the affairs of the athletics body.

A Twitter message posted after it’s socalled ‘Extra Ordinary Congress’ in Akwa came out with a resolution declaring it’s autonomy from the ministry, citing ‘interference’ as reason to stand alone.

The tweet read in part: “Following the resolution by state chairmen at the just concluded AFN Extraordinary Congress attended by major stakeholders in athletics, the board has decided to declare autonomy from the ministry citing interference” as reason to end years of going cap in hand for government money to fund its activities.

Gusau dismissed his suspension, insisting that it was a “waste of time and null and void.”

Although the embattled AFN president claimed to have 27 of the country’s 36 states athletics association chairmen with him, insiders at the gathering in Awka revealed that majority of those Gusau claimed to be representing the states were nothing but coaches and some hanger-on in sport.

“Who are those they are claiming to have as state athletics chairmen? Majority of them are jobless former athletes and coaches. Let’s wait and see how they will operate their so-called faction when the time comes,” a respectable voice on track and field who did not want to be quoted due to his position in Nigerian sports told THISDAY on telephone last night

Nigeria’s Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, who has been calling for a new beginning for the sector in other for the country to take her rightful place in global sports, clocked 100 days in office yesterday.

He is out of the country attending the 2019 African Economic Conference on Jobs, Entrepreneurship and capacity building for African Youth in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt.

The minister was rankled by the shoddy handling of Nigeria’s participation at the last IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

His ministry directed the AFN to investigate the reasons leading to the disqualification and later reinstating Nigeria’s top athletes, Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru from their respective events.

Amongst other allegations against the Gusau led board include, refusing to pay athletes and coaches balance of their allowances when such funds have been released by the Ministry.

Gusau’s AFN narrowly escaped ban from IAAF over the $135,000 erroneously paid to Nigeria but took the coming of Sunday Dare as Sports Minister to refund the money in full to the world athletics body just last month.

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Osimhem, Ndidi Dropped as Ighalo Listed in Last 10 for CAF Awards

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Odion Ighalo

Femi Solaja with agency report

Former Super Eagles striker and highest goal scorer at the last AFCON 2019 in Egypt, Odion Jude Ighalo is the only Nigerian in the final 10-man shortlist for the prestigious African Footballer of the Year awards.

In the the same vein, the duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Osimhen are no longer in contention for the ceremony after dropping out of the original 30-man shortlist compiled by CAF.

As the list is prune to 10, the only Nigerian who made the cut is Odion Ighalo, the top scorer at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations who also features for Chinese clubside,Shanghai Shenhua.

However, Ighalo has a packed field to contest with when a further cut is made, possibly from 10 to five and later to the top three.

Among those jostling are the usual top three suspects, Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Liverpool, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Arsenal as well as Sadio Mane of Senegal and Liverpool.

Also in contention is the man whose prowess wrecked Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations’ semifinal, Riyad Mahrez of Algeria and Manchester City.

Still in contention areAndré Onana of Cameroon and Ajax, Hakim Ziyech of Morocco and Ajax, Ismail Bennacer of Algeria and AC Milan, Kalidou Koulibaly of Senegal and Napoli as well as Youcef Belaili of Algeria and Ahli Jeddah.

According to a press release by CAF, the current shortlist of 10 is the result of conclusion of the first phase of the voting which was done by CAF Technical & Development Committee and a panel of media experts with emphasis on the nominees’ performance of during the year under review, 2019.

The final phase of voting for the men’s and women’s African Player of the Year, as well as the male and female Coach of the Year, will be selected by Head Coaches/Technical Directors and Captains of senior national teams from CAF Member Associations.

In the African Women’s Player of the Year, two Nigerian players also dropped out from the original 10 released last month.

With the list now reduced to five, only Asisat Oshoala made the cut as Uchenna Kanu and Chiamaka Nnadozie are eliminated.

The women footballers still in contention are: Ajara Nchout (Cameroon & Valerenga), Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria & Barcelona, Gabrielle Onguene (Cameroon & CSKA Moscow), Tabitha Chawinga (Malawi & Jiangsu Suning), Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa & Beijing Phoenix FC).

Expectedly, no Nigerian footballer is in the list of Interclubs Player of the Year as a result of poor showing of Nigerian clubs in the continents.

Those in contention are; Anice Badri (Tunisia & Esperance), Kodjo Fo Doh Laba (Togo & RS Berkane / Al Ain), Taha Yassine Khenissi (Tunisia & Esperance), Tarek Hamed (Egypt & Zamalek) and Youcef Belaïli (Algeria & Esperance / Ahli Jeddah)

The Interclubs Player of the Year, it was gathered, will be decided upon by the Head Coaches and Captains of the group phase of the current season of CAF Interclubs competitions.

The remaining shortlists of award categories are:

In the Youth Player of the Year category included , Achraf Hakimi (Morocco & Borussia Dortmund), Krépin Diatta (Senegal & Club Brugge), Moussa Djenepo (Mali & Southampton), Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria & Villarreal), Victor Osimhen (Nigeria & Lille)

The award winners for each category will be announced during the CAF Awards ceremony on Tuesday, 7 January 2020, at the Albatros Citadel Sahl Hasheesh, Hurghada, Egypt.

The event will celebrate African footballers and officials who have distinguished themselves during 2019. There will also be several new award categories in recognition of exceptional contributions to African football and inspiring individuals.

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