Wimbledon 2019: Johanna Konta eyes ‘perfect pathway’ at Nottingham, Birmingham & Eastbourne

Johanna Konta has won eight singles matches this year and helped Great Britain reach the Fed Cup World Group II play-offs

British number one Johanna Konta says playing three home WTA grass-court tournaments this summer gives her a “perfect pathway” for Wimbledon.

Konta, 27, has confirmed she is set to return to the events in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne in June.

Wimbledon, where Konta reached the semi-finals in 2017, begins on 1 July.

“Nothing compares to competing at home with passionate fans, friends and family behind you,” said Konta, who is ranked 38th in the world.

Konta, who has played all three tournaments in the past four seasons, has enjoyed notable success on British grass.

As well as reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals two years ago, eventually losing to five-time champion Venus Williams, she has finished runner-up at Nottingham for the past two years and beat then world number one Angelique Kerber at Eastbourne in 2017.

“There is always a strong player field at Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne with no easy matches,” added Konta, who reached fourth in the world after her Wimbledon exploits.

The Nature Valley Open starts in Nottingham on 8 June, followed by the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham on 15 June and the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne on 21 June.

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Pompeo calls for Gulf unity at start of Middle East tour

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for unity in the Gulf region, as he kicked off his Middle East tour with a stop in Kuwait City for the third US-Kuwait strategic dialogue session.

Pompeo will seek to strengthen cooperation on defence, cybersecurity and trade, during his stop in Kuwait, his spokesperson Robert Palladino said.  

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal said the US top diplomat would also focus on creating “a breakthrough in finding a resolution to the GCC crisis” describing Pompeo’s visit to Kuwait as “the most challenging part of his trip”.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed an ongoing land, sea and air blockade on Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorists. Qatar has vehemently denied these claims.

“The fact that these countries are not seeing eye to eye is stifling any sort of plans or policies the US wants to implement in the region,” Elshayyal said.

US President Donald Trump initially backed the blockade on Qatar, but “it has since transpired that that was not only detrimental to the US’ interests in the region but more so to the peoples’ interests here in the region and the stability of the GCC,” Elshayyal explained.

Kuwait has been at the forefront of trying to find a resolution to this crisis and mediate between the other Arab Gulf countries, which remains in deadlock.

Kuwait’s foreign minister said that a long-awaited US peace proposal for the Middle East should factor in regional considerations and all stakeholders.

“We hope the plan will take into account the situation in the region and all the relevant parties,” Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah told a joint press conference with Pompeo.

Pompeo took time to pose for photographs with US embassy personnel and their families and met with members of the US Chamber of Commerce, as well as with US and Kuwaiti business leaders.

He also met recent Kuwaiti graduates of US universities and exchange programmes.

‘Iran threat’

On the flight from the United States, Pompeo told reporters that he would discuss “strategic dialogue” and the need to combat “the threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran” with leaders in the region.

He will also push for a greater role for the Middle East Strategic Alliance, a US-sponsored Arab NATO aimed at uniting Washington’s Arab allies against Tehran.

After Kuwait, Pompeo will fly to Israel where an election campaign is in its final weeks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu locked in a close battle with centrist rivals.

While Washington insists it is not interfering in Israeli politics, his visit is seen as a sign of support for Netanyahu, who is struggling to keep his grip on power as he faces allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust ahead of the April 9 polls.

After his stop in Israel, Pompeo will head to Lebanon, where he is expected to focus on Hezbollah’s role in the region. 

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Football managers: What are their job interviews really like?

Yes, prospective managers do have CVs just like the rest of us…

“We see that you’ve had nine jobs in the past five years. Can you tell us why you left your last position?”

“Well, the fans were chanting for me to go, we were staring at relegation, we hadn’t won in nine games and the players had stopped listening to me…”

Ever wondered what actually goes on in a football manager’s interview? How different, or not, they are to those carried out in the ‘real’ world?

Do managers like Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes and David Moyes have to provide references and a CV? Do they even have to apply?

One thing is for sure, there is no shortage of job adverts going up. In the 79 days of 2019 so far, 13 managers have left their positions in the top four flights of English football – one every six days on average.

Forget Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the longest-serving manager in English football is now Jim Bentley at Morecambe, while 49 of the 92 clubs have had their boss in place for less than a year.

All clubs and owners are different, and all interviews are different. But we tried to lift the lid on a little of the recruitment process…

‘There’s always a shortlist’

Before there can be an interview, there must be a list of candidates.

You’d like to think so anyway, although occasionally managers are seemingly appointed without much in the way of a process at all, such as Fulham sacking Slavisa Jokanovic and replacing him with Claudio Ranieri in the same press release in November.

So how is a shortlist drawn up? And when does that process begin? Worryingly for managers – but maybe reassuringly for fans – there is often a constant shortlist being worked on behind the scenes.

“I always had a list of six or so managers who I was tracking all the time,” says David Sharpe, who appointed three managers during his three years as Wigan Athletic chairman.

“If you have a striker who is scoring lots of goals, you should always be preparing for the day when he moves on. You have five or six players who you are scouting so that if you sell your number nine, you already know who you would like to bring in. It’s the same for managers. It should be anyway.

“I had their games watched, their style of play monitored, their recruitment analysed. We looked into how much it would cost to bring them in, which of our current squad they would want to work with, which they would be looking to move on.

“Everything was analysed so that before you even get to the interview stage you can make a good assessment of whether they are going to be a good fit or not.”

So far, so sensible. It hardly seems worthwhile appointing a manager who swears by playing 3-5-2 if you only have one striker and no wing-backs.

The names on a shortlist may also depend on the club’s situation. Do they need a quick fix, someone to come in and keep a club up in the last 10 games?

‘What sort of manager do you want?’

Nick Thompson was chief executive at Hull City and says there is one question clubs must answer before beginning the process of recruiting a manager.

“The starting point is: are you looking for a manager to come into a philosophy you already have at the club, a style of play, a recruitment strategy, or are you looking to appoint someone to develop their own strategy? The answer to that question may lead you to a very different candidate,” he says.

Clubs who cannot answer with clarity inevitably end up in trouble.

“We are seeing more and more now a type of manager specialising in a firefighting role, coming in to keep a club up for a few months – which is fine, but that’s probably not the sort of person you want to be planning your signings for the next few seasons, developing youth players etc,” Thompson adds.

At this stage clubs may also field CVs, usually sent in by agents. If your club have ever said they have had “50 or 60 applications for the job” then that is probably true, although Sharpe – who has just started work as a football agent – has a word of warning for potential managers sending in their resumes.

“To be honest, if you’re picking your next manager from an unsolicited CV sent in then it shows you haven’t done the work in preparation.” he says.

‘Give us a half-time team talk…’

So the shortlist has been drawn up, now it is interview time. Normally three or four managers will be spoken to, some more formally than others, usually at the club but not always.

“I would say there is no such thing as a typical interview,” says Sharpe.

“When I interviewed Paul Cook we had been waiting to get permission from Portsmouth to speak to him and it came through when we were both on holiday. He left his family holiday in Portugal to come to Mallorca with his agent and we spent a few hours talking in a poolside bar.”

However, it is more likely to be in the boardroom.

Michael Johnson, manager of Guyana, has had 10 or 11 interviews for coaching and managerial roles, and says he has been to many where he knew the job was already set for someone else.

Another factor to consider for a former player heading into the world of management is that there is a strong chance this will be their first job interview – of any sort.

“All of the interviews I have been to have been formal – close to a job interview in the real world I would say,” he says.

“I had one job interview that a friend of mine also went for and we ended up travelling together and waiting outside for each other. We all understand the waters we are swimming in.”

Not all interviews are just a chat though. One manager described a particular post that demanded a four-part interview which took most of a day.

First, he had to describe how he would sell a move to the club in question to a potential new signing.

Then, he had to leave the room, return and give a half-time team talk to the panel, after being given a scenario beforehand – “We’re 2-0 down at home and the striker is having a shocker…”

Thirdly – and perhaps most bizarrely – an actor entered the room playing the part of a parent of an academy player who was upset with the lack of game time he was receiving, with the candidate expected to be able to talk him round,

And as if that wasn’t enough, the manager then had to plan and take an afternoon coaching session. Exhaustive or what…?

‘Have you got PowerPoint?’

Allardyce famously claimed that his chances of succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager back in 2006 were damaged by the FA’s lack of PowerPoint facilities.

“I wanted to do a real knock-your-socks-off PowerPoint which looked at every single detail. There was nothing missing. Nobody but nobody was going to beat it,” Allardyce wrote in Big Sam: My Autobiography.

He was then told there were no PowerPoint facilities at the interview venue – so he was reduced to handing out hard copies of his presentation.

Every manager is expected to give a detailed presentation during an interview on what they would change and how they want the team to play. It is not enough to offer vague ideas or promises, they need to be able to back it up.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa had reportedly watched every minute the Championship side had played the previous season when he spoke to the club about taking the job, while Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers had spent his whole career prior to his first job at Watford preparing for the moment he became manager.

The Northern Irishman had a dossier and handbook on who he was, what he would do and how he would do it – and delivered “an incredible presentation” to the then chief executive and chairman at Vicarage Road in 2008.

“I would always rather have one very good slide than 10 average ones,” says Johnson, whose Guyana side face a key Gold Cup qualifier against Belize this weekend.

“It’s not about what it looks like, it’s what it is saying. You have to know what you want to do with the team, how you would make improvements, how they are currently playing. There is a lot of work that has to go in before you have an interview.”

Of course, not every manager nails an interview – just like in the ‘real’ world.

“Managers can have a bad interview just like anyone else,” says Sharpe.

“I have come away from a chat with someone who I was really excited to meet and was very disappointed. Underwhelmed.”

“I did speak to one manager who couldn’t name any of our players. That is not a great start,” adds Thompson.


‘If in doubt, give it to Mr X…’

The interviews have been held, PowerPoint has been loaded up – but does your club still appoint the same old familiar face? Why?

“In football, appointing a manager on an emotional response is often a recipe for disaster – but it happens all the time,” Thompson says.

“If a chairman or chief executive is of a certain age and they are sitting opposite Mark Hughes for a few hours, for example, it can be difficult for them to not see the centre-forward from the 1980s and ’90s who may have been a hero of theirs.”

Sharpe adds: “It is a business which rewards failure. That is why the same names are still being linked with jobs all of the time.

“Also, you can have a good manager, and a good man, who is just not a good fit for your club. That is where clubs often go wrong.

“Owen Coyle, for example, was appointed by my granddad Dave Whelan at Wigan. He was very impressed when he met Owen, they got on really well – but it was fairly obvious his style of play and management was not very well suited to Wigan at the time. And that proved to be the case.”

Hopefully the modern interview process cuts down on such lapses in judgement, but with 12 managers leaving their post in League Two already this season, perhaps not.

Some “real world” factors are still key for managers taking a job too, especially lower down the ladder. Pay and the dreaded commute come into a decision, as not many managers want to relocate their families – wise considering the amount of time they are likely to get in a job.

Johnson, who is based in Derby, had a coaching role in Cardiff which often meant four lonely nights away from home in a hotel and thousands of miles a year on the motorway. Chris Wilder, currently guiding his beloved Sheffield United to a promotion tilt in the Championship, commuted from the Steel City every day while winning League Two at Northampton.

Deep down, football managers are just like the rest of us. And, it turns out, so are their job interviews.

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Women’s Super League: Barclays agree multi-million sponsorship deal

Chelsea won the Women’s Super League title last season

Barclays is to become the Women’s Super League first ever title sponsor, in a deal the Football Association has called “the biggest ever investment in UK women’s sport by a brand”.

The three-year partnership, understood to be worth in excess of £10m, will start from next season.

The competition will be rebranded the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and include a prize-money pot of £500,000.

Previously, WSL winners have not been awarded any official prize money.

“This will support our ambition to make the WSL the world’s most successful league, on and off the pitch,” said the FA’s director of the women’s professional game Kelly Simmons.

Barclays will also become the lead partner of the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships, a nationwide scheme to help develop girls’ access to football at school.

The partnerships aim to double participation and fan base in the game through the FA’s Gameplan for Growth strategy, a four-year plan launched in 2017.

The WSL began in 2011 initially as an eight-team, semi-professional breakaway division. It is now Europe’s only full-time strictly professional competition with 11 teams.

Last summer’s restructuring of the English women’s leagues saw the second tier renamed as the Women’s Championship, with Manchester United the only current full-time side.

A number of WSL clubs have previously struggled to sustain top-flight football financially, with Notts County Ladies folding on the eve of the 2017 Spring Series, while Sunderland and second-tier sides Doncaster Rovers Belles and Sheffield FC all dropped down the divisions last summer.

On Tuesday, BBC Sport revealed that WSL side Yeovil Town Ladies had made cuts to off-field staff and may have to revert back to part-time status because of financial concerns.

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Mike Trout: Los Angeles Angels star ‘set for most lucrative deal in sport’

Mike Trout has been in Major League Baseball All-Star team in every season since 2012

Baseball star Mike Trout is reportedly set to agree the most lucrative deal in sport – a 12-year extension worth $430m (£324m) with the Los Angeles Angels – on the eve of the new season.

According to ESPN, the contract for 27-year-old American Trout would amount to $35.83m (£27m) per year until 2031.

If it is agreed, that would eclipse boxer Canelo Alvarez’s deal with DAZN, worth $365m (£275m) over five years.

The new Major League Baseball season begins on Wednesday.

The two-time winner of the American League’s Most Valuable Player award has a career batting average of .307, with 240 home runs, 648 runs batted in, 793 runs and 189 stolen bases in 1,065 games.

While Trout’s reported deal would eclipse Alvarez’s contract as a total amount, when broken down on an annual basis he would earn less than the Mexican, as well as the likes of Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi, who has yearly earnings of $84m (£64m), according to Forbes.

The magazine had boxer Floyd Mayweather as 2018’s best paid athlete, with earnings of $275m (£207m).

Top five sporting contracts in terms of total amount, according to Forbes

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Trump and Bolsonaro: US president lavishes praise on far-right leader and says he wants Brazil to join Nato

Donald Trump has said he is “looking very strongly” at granting Nato privileges to Brazil under its leader Jair Bolsonaro – a show of support for the right-wing president who has stirred controversy at home and abroad.

The president welcomed Mr Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics”, to the White House on Tuesday, where they exchanged football tops in a chummy display, before Mr Trump was asked whether the US would consider granting Brazil Nato privileges.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” he said at the joint press conference. “We’re very inclined to do that.”

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Mr Trump did not specify exactly what kind of privileges Brazil would be granted, but did say the White House will “look at it very very strongly in terms whether it’s Nato or it’s something having to do with the alliance”.

He added that the US had a “great alliance with Brazil – better than we’ve ever had before”.

The president said he had a strong rapport with Brazil under Mr Bolsonaro’s leadership. 

“The relationship we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” he added. “I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There is zero hostility with me.”

Standing side-by-side in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Bolsonaro said their two countries “stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our Creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes and against fake news.” 

“I’m very proud to hear the president use the term ‘fake news’,” Trump later remarked.

If Brazil is granted “major non-Nato ally” (MNNA) status it will give the Latin American country preferential access to the market for US military equipment and technology.

Currently, only 17 countries have MNNA status. Brazil could become the second Latin American country to join the group after Argentina received its designation in 1998. In 2018, Colombia became a Nato partner, allowing Colombian military forces to be involved in Nato exercises and activities.

Brazilian officials have been negotiating for an MNNA designation since the start of 2019. 

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Mr Bolsonaro assumed his role as Brazilian president on 1 January. A fan of Mr Trump, the far-right leader has been criticised for making sexist, racist, and homophobic statements.

He has also echoed his US counterpart’s hardline immigration policies, calling immigrants from several poor countries the “scum of the world” and saying Brazil cannot become a “country of open borders.” 

Throughout his presidential election, Mr Bolsonaro made numerous pro-Trump comments on the campaign trail and in his tweets.

Mr Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton also praised Mr Bolsonaro. He told Globo, a Brazilian news organisation, that “up here, maybe we’ll call President Trump the Bolsonaro of North America”.

On the eve of their meeting at the White House, Mr Bolsonaro had praised Mr Trump’s immigration policies and his demand for a wall on the US-Mexico border. He also waived a visa requirement for US visitors to Brazil

“We do agree with President Trump’s decision or proposal on the wall,” Mr Bolsonaro told Fox News. “The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions. They do not intend to do the best or do good to the US people.”

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Isis caliphate on brink of defeat as Syrian forces take control of jihadist tent city

US-backed Syrian forces are close to capturing the last territory under Isis control, after taking most of a tent city where the group has made its last stand.

Although scattered clashes were continuing on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the battle would end “very soon”.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, on Twitter.

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“The battles are not yet over. There are still some pockets next to the river. Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields. There are intermittent clashes,” Mr Bali continued.

It is believed the Kurdish-led forces have also captured a group of suspects involved in a bombing that killed four Americans in January.

The battle to secure the last piece of the once mighty caliphate has gone on longer than anyone expected. Cornered in the small village of Baghouz, in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province, the group’s most experienced fighters have put up a fierce fight.

An exodus of people has filed out of the village over the past two months, surprising Syrian and US officials. Some 60,000 people have fled the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Isis, including some 5,000 fighters.

In the last few weeks, Isis had been surrounded in a tent city on the edge of the village, which lies on the bank of the Euphrates, along with thousands of civilians.

The battle has stopped and started many times, but there are signs that the caliphate is seeing its last days.  

The SDF, which is backed by a US-led coalition set up to fight Isis, said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters on Monday, as they tracked efforts by jihadists to break out of the enclave and escape their besiegers.

Even on the brink of defeat, the group’s propaganda division continued to function.

On Monday night Isis released an audio recording of its spokesperson, Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, saying the group would stay strong.

“Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Islamic State? No,” he said.

It also put out a video recording from inside the Baghouz camp, showing fighters shooting out at the encircling forces and a mess of stationary vehicles and makeshift shelters around them.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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