Sunderland fans are prepared to pay a serious sum to watch a team that is yet to win on the pitch on the other side of the turnstile in 2017. This is a scene that, simultaneously, bemuses and intrigues. Photograph:   Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Regardless of dismal record, Simon Grayson’s did not deserve his abrupt dismissal

Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan in action against Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty

Both at club and international level the skilful midfielder has overcome adversity

Argentina’s Lionel Messi  scores his third goal against Ecuador. Argentina’s victory sealed their place in the World Cup in Russia.  Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

O’Neill trusts footballers to do what’s necessary because he was one and knows the drill

Istanbul bonded Rafa Benitez to Liverpool FC, and his activity with the Hillsborough Family Support Group bonded him to the city. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Benitez will get a warm reception from Liverpool fans for reasons more than football

Rangers’  new signing Alfredo Morelos looked lively midweek against  Partick Thistle, but then again it was against Partick Thistle. Photograph: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire

Pedro Caixinha may fear for future should Celtic remind hosts of how far they have fallen

Modern football is one long racket, Messi is the whisper of history heard above it

Neymar scores for Barcelona during the Celtic’s 7-0 defeat at the Camp Nou in September 2016. It was a night that raised questions about the entire competition and the role of clubs such as Celtic in it. Photograph: Alberto Estevez/EPA

Michael Walker: It’s a balancing act of domestic domination and European inspiration

Northern Ireland’s Jonny Evans celebrates scoring his team’s first goal. Photograph: Reuters

Michael O’Neill’s team secure second spot with their 2-0 win over Czech Republic

Michael O’Neill’s decision to switch Josh Magennis to the centre paid off with two goals against San Marino last Friday. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire

A point against the Czech Republic would guarantee second place in pool

Jamie Vardy: celebrates one of his two goals against Arsenal at the Emirates. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Leicester striker’s fairytale rise from non-league obscurity to international striker

Darren Randolph on his move from West Ham: “When you’re told one thing and something else happens, it becomes clear you’ve to look after yourself.”   Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/ Reuters

Former West Ham player reveals why he was so eager to join Middlesbrough

Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner. Photograph: Dominic Ebenbichle/Reuters

Wagner’s minnows will be fortunate to survive the choppy waters of the top flight

Zinedine Zidane: Looking to become the first manager to retain the European Cup since AC Milan’s Arrigo Sacchi in 1990. Photograph: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Real Madrid boss looking to emulate Arrigo Sacchi in Cardiff

Iraqi relatives and friends mourn  victims of a suicide bomb attack in Iskandariyah, a town 40km south of Baghdad, in March 2016. Photograph: Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images

The targeting of boys playing football or girls going to a concert is grim on so many levels

Supporters of Manchester United cheer prior to the UEFA Europa League final  match against Ajax   in Stockholm. Photograph: Soren Andersson/ AFP Photo

However briefly uplifting the 90 minutes in Stockholm, they are incomparable to what has gone and what lies ahead

Claudio Ranieri was sacked in February less than a year  after leading Leicester City to an unlikely Premier League title. ‘The majority of Leicester fans backed the decision.’ Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Shakespearean element to Ranieri’s regicide as kings of England meekly hand over crown

Antonio Conte celebrates Chelsea’s third goal during the recent victory over Everton at Goodison Park. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Italian’s 3-4-3 formation move put Chelsea on path to glory as he quietly overhauled team

A statue of revered former owner Jack Walker  outside Ewood Park, home of Blackburn Rovers. Photograph:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Club going downhill since Indian owners Venky’s bought a Lancashire institution

John O’Shea has said he wants to stay at Sunderland despite relegation to the Championship. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty

Defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday consigned Black Cats to the Championship

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez celebrates promotion to the Premier League after the 4-1 win over Preston at St James’ Park. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Manager will look for the right resources to be able to compete with Premier elite

Tottenham players gather to celebrate Harry Kane celebrates scoring their third goal against Bournemouth last Saturday.  Photograph: Paul Childs/Livepic/Reuter

Mauricio Pochettino’s side need to win a trophy to avoid the Belgium hype syndrome

A seething mass of passion: The Boca Juniors fans during a Superclásico match against River Plate in 2013. Photograph:  Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

When Paddy McCarthy left Cashel for Argentina he brought his luggage and love of sport

Sunderland manager David Moyes signed a four-year contract at the Stadium of Light last summer. Photograph: Getty Images.

David Moyes seems to have truly lost plot and looks unable to ‘slap’ himself out of quagmire

Brendan Rodgers outside Celtic Park, with the statue of European Cup-winning manager Jock Stein in the background. Photograph: Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers close to leading Celtic to a domestic treble on 50th anniversary of 1967

Northern Ireland’s Jamie Ward  celebrates his goal against Norway  at Windsor Park. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Jamie Ward and Conor Washington on target as O’Neill’s men go second in Group C

Michael O’Neill: has overseen a transformation in Northern Ireland’s fortunes since he took over at the helm. Photograph:  Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Professionalism, pride and preparation the mark of the new-look Northern Ireland

 Preston North End’s Aidan McGeady, the Championship player of the month for February, in action against Fulham at Craven Cottage in  March. Photograph: Craig Mercer/CameraSport via Getty Images

Championship club eye playoffs as blossoming Horgan and Boyle follow lead of McGeady

Aitor Karanka: facing an uphill struggle to keep Middlesbrough in the Premier League. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Goal-shy Middlesbrough are relegation-bound if their current form continues

Dundalk’s Robbie Benson celebrates scoring his goal against Shamrock Rovers last weekend. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

‘When Oriel is full, it’s a brilliant, brilliant atmosphere and a great place to play football’

Southampton’s Claude Puel (left) and his management team celebrate after his side  scores during the EFL Cup semi final, second leg match against Liverpool.  Photo:  Martin Rickett.

Unfashionable and characterised as dull, the Frenchman has a CV to savour

Alan Power scores Lincoln City’s equaliser against Brighton from the penalty spot at Sincil Bank Stadium. His side went on to win 3-1 to earn a visit to Premier League Burnley.  Photograph: Andrew Vaughan/ CameraSport/Getty Images

Dubliner who has laboured in lower leagues revelling in Lincoln City’s FA Cup run

Marco Silva has managed to turn things around since replacing Mike Phelan as manager of Hull City. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters.

Premier League relegation battle adds intrigue to a season that is rewarding mediocre

Liverpool’s rich history of success is always in the background for  manager Jurgen Klopp, often creating unhelpful expectations. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Club’s greatness in past was founded on eyeing success and failure as equal imposters

 Jose Fonte: played a big role over seven years in Southampton’s rise from League One to Premier League respectability.  Photograph:  Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

At 33 Southampton stalwart moves to West Ham – just as Saints book big Wembley date

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola looks perplexed during his side’s 4-0 defeat to Everton despite dominating possession at Goodison Park. Photograph: Getty Images

City manager’s selections, his ideas, are under scrutiny – not least from himself

 West Ham United’s French midfielder Dimitri Payet: has refused  to play for the club again. Photograph: AFP Photo

London, Liverpool and Manchester are English football’s city-states present and future

 Sam Allardyce has not been welcomed with open arms by Crystal Palace supporters. Photograph:  Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Crystal Palace manager had eight memorable years at club but left under a cloud

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Rob Elliot picks up a knee injury in the friendly against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium in March. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Ireland and Newcastle United goalkeeper looking optimistically towards future

Huddersfield manager David Wagner: turned down Wolfsburg job. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty

Huddersfield’s revival under David Wagner could make Yorkshire soccer relevant again

Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp gestures to the fans following the victory over Middlesbrough  at the Riverside Stadium.  Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty

If Jurgen Klopp’s side make the top four this season, the German will have done well

Andy King reacts after Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made a last-minute save to deny Leicester City a draw last weekend. – Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images.

It was some time ago but reigning champions being relegated happened before

 Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: the club has professionalised their youth system to the extent that other clubs speak earnestly about it, or complain. Photograph: Reuters

Michael Walker: Recent results show Chelsea are also a team of serious substance

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny was dejected following his side’s 1-0 defeat to AZ Alkmaar. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Stephen Kenny’s side break new ground in their quest to take it up another level

 José Mourinho’s rivalry with Arsène Wenger runs deep with the pair coming together again on Saturday lunchtime when Manchester United host  Arsenal at Old Trafford. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Manager’s propensity for conflict not lessened by start he has made at Old Trafford

British prime minister  Theresa May has condemned world football’s ruling body over the “utterly outrageous” ban on international players wearing poppies.  Photo:  Nick Potts/PA

Poppy issue a handy diversion from government inaction in health/sport arena

Yaya Touré has only played one game for Manchester City this season, it was against Steaua Bucharest in a Champions League qualifier in August.  Photograph: Getty Images.

Pep Guardiola could well do with dynamic Ivorian midfielder during this time of crisis

Sunderland manager David Moyes looks dejected after seeing his side lose to Stoke City in the Premier League. Photo: Reuters

Sunderland’s woes bring much pleasure to the Newcastle faithful in topsy-turvy rivalry

 Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy is under pressure. Photograph: Alex Morton/Getty Images

Club have slumped to 16th in Championship and haven’t scored a goal in four games

The Northern Ireland squad during a training session at the newly-developed Windsor Park on Friday ahead of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

Northern Ireland embark on a more inclusive intiative at redeveloped home

The stadiums of Liverpool and Everton, Anfield (foreground) and Goodison Park respectively, separated by Stanley Park in the city of Liverpool. Photograph: Jonathan Webb/Getty Images.

Two tales of one city both ending with a sense of true belonging to respective clubs

Supporters walk to the London Stadium ahead of West Ham United’s home match against Watford, which they lost 4-2. As Billy Bonds said this week, whatever the London Stadium is, “it isn’t a football ground”. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Move to Olympic Stadium has become symbol of east London’s growing identity crisis

Barcelona’s Luis Suarez celebrates his scoring his side’s seventh goal against Celtic. The last time Barcelona failed to reach the Champions League quarter-finals was 10 seasons ago. Photograph: Paul Hanna/Reuters

Barcelona thrashing highlights big clubs’ dominance and Uefa’s abdication of leadership

Celtic fans unveil a large picture of manager Brendan Rodgers during the Uefa Champions League qualifying play-off first leg against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at Celtic Park in August. Photograph: Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Confidence is high ahead of the Celtic manager’s first match against Rangers

Hull City caretaker manager Mike Phelan thinks a third consecutive win – with his former club visiting today – might just get him the job permanently. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

The club’s good start surely cannot last and they remain joint favourites to go down

Petr Cech denies Jamie Vardy at the King Power Stadium last season. Arsenal inflicted a 5-2 on Claudio Ranieri’s team, a result that was mistakenly assumed to mark the beginning of the end of Leicester’s strong start to the season. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Claudio Ranieri’s men face only side to beat them at home in title-winning season

Albania pulled of a famous result as they beat Romania, their first ever win at a major tournament. Photograph: Getty

Expansion to 24 teams gave minnows the chance to write their own piece of history

Wales’ forward Hal Robson-Kanu celebrates following the vital own goal by Northern Ireland’s defender Gareth McAuley in their last 16 clash. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP

Michael O’Neill’s side bow out with heads held high after unlucky defeat to Wales

‘People didn’t give us a chance of doing anything, but we’ve come within a whisker of getting to the last eight’

 Hal Robson-Kanu wheels away after Gareth McAuley scored the own goal which gave Wales a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in Paris. Photograph: Getty

Gareth McAuley’s own goal the difference but Michael O’Neill’s side bow out with pride

Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis tracks Germany’s Jerome Boateng. Photograph: Presseye

Durable captain needs to counter pivotal influence of Wales linchpins Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale

Ireland’s Robbie Brady stoops to conquer in the 1-0 victory over Italy in Lille. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Two teams in last 16 must mean there are decent players in green jerseys

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill during a press conference at the team’s base in Lyon. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho.

Michael O’Neill gives players a well-deserved rest ahead of resumption of odyssey in France

Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper Michael McGovern saves from Mario Gomez during the Euro 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Germany at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Photo: Getty Images

“The players gave him a round of applause; what more does a manager need to say?”

Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper Michael McGovern dives for the ball at the Parc des Princes. Photo: Getty Images

Narrow defeat, coupled with Turkey’s win over Czech Republic, guarantees Northern Ireland a place in the last 16

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill during a training session at   Parc des Princes in Paris ahed of the game against Germany. Photograph: Srdjan Suki/EPA

Michael O’Neill explains how far things have moved on since Euro 2012

Press Eye - Belfast -  Northern Ireland - 16th June 2016 - Photo by William CherryNorthern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill  during Thursdays second Euro 2016 game at the Stade de Lyon, France.

Shaw says IFA’s gamble now paying off as team play steadily improves

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill (right) speaks to his assistant Jimmy Nicholl  during a training session at Saint-George-de-Reneins. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl sees similarities to the great side from the 1980s

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill celebrates after Niall McGinn scored their second goal against Ukraine. Photo: Retuters

Michael O’Neill’s men can stand tall against Germany after their victory in Lyon

Michael O’Neill celebrates after Northern Ireland’s second goal against Ukraine at the Stade de France. Photograph: Reuters

‘It was probably the proudest I’ve felt in the dug-out and probably in my entire football career’

Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley heads home to score against Ukraine in the Group C game at  Stade de Lyon. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters/Livepic

Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn score as Michael O’Neill’s much-changed side see off Ukraine

Conor Washington (centre) has been named in the Northern Ireland team to play Ukraine in Lyon. Photograph:  William Cherry/Inpho/Presseye

Michael O’Neill makes dramatic decisions in bid to keep side in tournament

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has his side well prepared for their game against Ukraine Photograph: Getty Images

Northern Ireland need to face fixture as a ‘cup final’ as three points are a must

A man pays tribute to Darren Rodgers, a Northern Ireland soccer fan who died accidentally in Nice, France. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

While France 98 felt like a celebration, this tournament has a much darker side

Romelu Lukaku was one of the players responsible for missing Belgium’s opportunities against Italy in Lyon. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Everton striker says victory over Ireland necessary to keep second-round hopes alive

Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois can’t stop Italy fro scoring at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium in Lyon. Photograph: Getty Images

Manager Marc Wilmots: ‘Tactically, technically and organisationally we came up short’

Italy’s Emanuele Giaccherini slides the ball past belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to open the scoring in the Euro 2016 Group E game in Lyon. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters/Livepic

Goals from Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle secure Group E win in Lyon

Belgium will face Italy in a Euro 2016 Group E soccer match in Lyon on Monday. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/Getty Images

Italy's nous is no myth. They conceded just seven goals in their 10 Euro 2016 qualifiers

Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty attempts an overhead kick on goal during the Euro 2016 Group C match against Poland at the Stade  de Nice. Photograph:  Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Poland fail to read script as Arkadiusz Milik’s goal secures victory in first group game

Northern Ireland’s coach Michael O’Neill directs his team during a training session at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice. Photo: Getty Images

The Northern Ireland manager is hopeful Kyle Lafferty will be fit for opening game

Northern Ireland’s Corry Evans on his debut against Italy in 2009. “There’s a picture where I’m getting smashed by [Gennaro] Gattuso.” Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Evans brothers typify sense of fellowship that will prove vital for Michael O’Neill’s side

Republic of Ireland fans Seán Mulligan, Seán Evans and Ben Ellard from Naas, Co Kildare in Versailles, France, for the European Championships. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Security impossible to ignore in Paris yet still there is desire for optimism

Kyle Lafferty during Northern Ireland squad training at Parc de Montchervet, St Georges de Reneins. Photograph: Inpho

Northern Ireland striker declares himself fit to face Poland in Euro 2016 group opener

Niall McGinn is all smiles in Saint-George-de-Reneins. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho/Presseye

Niall McGinn is the one that got away from Tyrone manager Mickey Harte

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill checks on injured player Kyle Lafferty who later limped out of the training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins in France. Photograph:  Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Striker who worked as postman during Euro 2012 may feature in Poland opener

Paddy McNair at Northern Ireland squad training, in St-Georges-de-Reneins, France. Photograph: William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho

Manchester United defender has operated as a roving midfielder in recent friendlies

Northern Ireland’s Conor McLaughlin: “Crewe, then Lewandowski? It’ll be a big difference won’t it? Mad.”

Fleetwood Town defender has played a big role in helping Northern Ireland to France ’16

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill admits his side were overpowered by Poland in Nice on Sunday.  Photograph: EPA.

Striker Kyle Lafferty a lonesome figure as Northern Ireland fail to register shot at goal

Manager Michael O’Neill speaking during the Northern Ireland squad announcement at the Titanic Museum, Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Togetherness is the watchword for Northern Ireland manager with few stars to call on

Conor Washington scores Northern Ireland’s second goal during the international friendly against Belarus at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photograph:  Brian Little/Inpho/Presseye/

Michael O’Neill’s side are now 11 games unbeaten but sterner challenges lie ahead

 Conor Washington, Will Grigg and Jamie Ward at Carton House. Photograph:  William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho

Euro 2016: Northern Ireland squad in buoyant mood during get-together in Republic

Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the Uefa Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St Jakob-Park on May 18th, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Unbridled hype surrounding English premiership exposed by silky Spanish skills

Adrian Doherty of Manchester United in 1990 in Manchester, England. Photograph: Manchester United FC/Getty Images

Manchester United's forgotten Stranbane boy who was better than Ryan Giggs

In the space of a season Brighton & Hove Albion have jumped from 20th to third under the guidance of manager Chris Hughton. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Former Republic of Ireland international has overseen dramatic reversal in club’s fortunes

Tottenham will probably fall short in the English Premier League title race but that is not a reason to think the manager Mauricio Pochettino is not putting together a coming team for next season. Photograph: Lee smith/Reuters

Season’s end not yet upon us and already the next campaign is beguiling us

A different ‘face’ of Leicester: The move from crazy-good to crazy-bad took all of 90 minutes

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring his side’s first goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-final. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Man City's Belgium attacker is showing up Chelsea’s error in letting him go

 Gary Neville reign as manager of Valencia did not go to plan. Photograph: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Aston Villa left to ask what a different a season makes as they head for the drop

Davy Walsh at the unveiling of a commemorative display in honour of former internationals Walsh and Con Martin at the FAI headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin in 2009. Photograph: Brian Lawless/Sortsfile

Former Republic of Ireland striker was last living link to famous win over England in ’49

Everton and Republic of Ireland full back Seamus Coleman on a visit to Evelyn Community Primary School in Prescot. Photograph courtesy of Everton FC

Ireland defender wants to play Gaelic football in Killybegs after professional career ends

Kyle Lafferty in action for Northern Ireland in a friendly against Latvia at Windsor Park last November. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty has 13 minutes in Premier League this season

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