Share on LinkedIn Alex Goode and the mystery of players stuck outside international rugby Read more Facebook Reuse this content Twitter Share on Messenger Share on Facebook Richard Cockerill’s departure halfway through the 2016-17 campaign summed up the confused state of Leicester. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters Share on Twitter Share via Email Since you’re here… Topics Leicester lost 14 matches during Richards’s four title years from 1998-99, a figure that on form they will at least match this season having been beaten 12 times in the Premiership with four rounds to go. They are at Newcastle on Friday night, their first eight-pointer in the Premiership.A year ago, the sides met with something at stake at Welford Road. It was a place in the top four, rather than the Championship, a position that had been Leicester’s since the season after they sacked Richards. He returned to Welford Road with Newcastle and they duly won there in the league for the first time since 1997 to make the play-offs.Leicester have never failed to qualify for the European Cup but that is less of a concern this week than their Premiership status. No one is saying they are too good to go down and not just because their recent record suggests the reverse. A club that defined itself, easily identifiable in the way it played, is lost.It remains the best supported in the Premiership but it no longer has the highest turnover having fallen behind Wasps, Harlequins and Exeter, with Bath catching up. “When I left, we had never been out of the top four and had won the Premiership three times,” said Cockerill last month. “More than two years later, they are in the bottom three and have had three head coaches since I left. The people who are making the decisions are going to have to take the responsibility. There is too much self-interest in the club.”Cockerill’s departure summed up the confused state of Leicester. Like Richards, he had been moulded by the club, part of what it stood for, so when Aaron Mauger was brought into his coaching team from above, the former New Zealand centre who had finished his playing career at Welford Road, there was a clash of styles. They became more adventurous but also easier to score against. Confusion replaced certainty.Mauger did not last much longer than Cockerill and that summer Leicester traded their second-row Ed Slater for the Gloucester and England wing Jonny May. If it summed up the shift in emphasis to greater potency behind rather than at forward, it created an imbalance which has been evident this season. Pinterest … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. The Leicester chief executive, Simon Cohen, said in his programme notes last weekend that when he looks at the club’s squad, “it looks as good as any in the Premiership”. His words did not carry much resonance after a match that Exeter won 52-20, the most points Leicester had conceded in the tournament.A glance at the two benches challenged his contention. Exeter had an all-international front row, as Leicester did in the year they last won the title when Dan Cole and Martin Castrogiovanni tighthead prop, with Marcos Ayerza and Logovi’i Mulipola the options on the other side; sandwiched between them was Tom Youngs or George Chuter.Leicester’s replacement front row against Exeter had made 19 starts for the club between them. Injuries were a factor behind the inexperience but Leicester lack the depth of old. When they last won the Premiership in 2013, Castrogiovanni, Slater, Steve Mafi and George Ford were on the bench.The starting lineup included Vereniki Goneva, Toby Flood and Mulipola, who all started for Newcastle at Saracens last weekend. Three forwards that season, Geoff Parling, Thomas Waldrom and Julian Salvi, were to leave for Exeter. Leicester no longer seem to sign forwards of international quality, despite two marquee players being allowed on top of the salary cap.So while they have a back division as threatening as most, the failure to invest in the supply line and produce a Leicester-style pack has left the backs having to do more defending than attacking. The result is the leakiest defence in the Premiership and from being a side who would have been recognisable without shirts on, it is difficult to discern now what the Tigers stand for.“What are Leicester?” asked Cockerill, answering his own question with: “They are neither one thing nor the other.” And so England’s most successful club in terms of trophies won heads for Newcastle, a well-trodden route made unfamiliar by the plight it finds itself in.The three other relegation contenders are used to battling at the wrong end of the table. Leicester’s lineup against Exeter contained six of the current England squad: Newcastle, Worcester and Bristol have two between them. It is about the mongrel within, and while the outcome on Friday will not determine Leicester’s fate, it is taking the shock of failure to jolt the club into facing reality. As Manchester United found in 1974, the bigger the club, the harder the fall.• This is an extract from our weekly rugby union email, the Breakdown. To subscribe just visit this page and follow the instructions. Support The Guardian Share on WhatsApp Leicester features Share on Pinterest When Leicester sacked Dean Richards at the beginning of 2004, the reaction was seismic. Not only had 23 years at the club as a player and the director of rugby been abruptly terminated but the Tigers had won four Premiership titles and two European Cups under the former England No 8 who paid for his job after two league finishes the club would now happily take, sixth and fifth.Leicester sacking the man at the top now creates more of a reaction for its timing than its occurrence, Matt O’Connor after one match this season, Richard Cockerill halfway through the 2016-17 campaign. If the decision to remove Richards were vindicated with the next nine seasons culminating in Premiership finals at Twickenham, five of which were won, recent dismissals have tended to accelerate decline rather than halt it. Rugby union The Breakdown
Transfers Neymar’s PSG contract has no release clause, lawyer claims Jamie Smith 00:47 1/19/18 FacebookTwitterRedditcopy Comments(0) AFP Transfers Neymar PSG Ligue 1 Amid reports that Real Madrid are keen on signing the world’s most expensive player, Marcos Motta insists there is no buyout in his current deal Neymar’s contract at Paris Saint-Germain does not have a release clause, according to the player’s lawyer.PSG triggered the world-record €222million release clause in Neymar’s Barcelona contract to prise him away from Camp Nou.But with Real Madrid reportedly keen to entice Neymar back to LaLiga at the end of the season, the player’s lawyer Marcos Motta has dismissed suggestions that the Brazil star’s deal at Parc des Princes includes a similar clause. Article continues below Editors’ Picks Lyon treble & England heartbreak: The full story behind Lucy Bronze’s dramatic 2019 Liverpool v Man City is now the league’s biggest rivalry and the bitterness is growing Megan Rapinoe: Born & brilliant in the U.S.A. A Liverpool legend in the making: Behind Virgil van Dijk’s remarkable rise to world’s best player “I can guarantee that there’s no release clause in Neymar’s contract,” Motta told Radio Globo.”Nor anything about objectives or ending the season as the top goalscorer.”Que Deus nos abençoe e nos protejaGod bless and protect us pic.twitter.com/a1mT4SwNT0— Neymar Jr (@neymarjr) January 17, 2018While Neymar’s move to PSG was not completed until August, Motta confirmed the deal had been in the works for some time.”The father of Neymar Jr sent me a message in mid-July to ask me to travel immediately to the United States and complete the contracts,” Motta added.Neymar scored his first PSG hat-trick in an 8-0 rout of Dijon in Ligue 1 on Wednesday, the Brazilian scoring a fourth goal from the penalty spot as he denied team-mate Edinson Cavani the chance to break Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record of 156 goals for the club.