Oleksandr Zinchenko is eager to be part of Manchester City‘s bid for greatness as he backed his brilliant Sky Blues to “get even better”.
The Etihad outfit added the FA Cup to their Premier League and League Cup successes with a stunning 6-0 win over Watford – matching the biggest ever victory in the competition, set in 1903.
Having completed a first-ever domestic treble in English football, boss Pep Guardiola has already outlined his intention to keep his side hungry for more honours next season.
And Zinchenko, in talks about a new contract, has seen that desire too among his team-mates.
“It’s been an unbelievable season, seriously, nothing more,” he told Sport360 exclusively.
“I can’t even describe this moment and I don’t think no one can do this again.
“We did an unbelievable job and we have made history, nothing can take that away from us.
“But I also see in this team the desire to do more. This is why we are Manchester City.
“We just have to show ourselves, our quality, in every single game for the future.
“We want to be the greatest team [in English football]. That’s the target and we just have to improve ourselves. Especially me, because I know I can get better.
“We are still learning to be honest and I think we can do even better.”
City have made a step forward since last season, where they won the League Cup and then the Premier League with a record 100 points, finishing 19 clear of second-placed Manchester United.
This season they sealed the title on the final day, pipping Liverpool by just one point after a titanic tussle.
“It’s difficult to compare both seasons,” added Zinchenko.
“Last season, to be fair, in the Premier League we won well before the season was over. Here, we were fighting until the end, until the last game.
“We had games every three days and it was so tough. The last couple of months it was like every game was a final and we could not lose. It was very tough but we did it. That shows our quality.”
Zinchenko has personally shown great resolve and character this season too. He was set to leave in the summer as Guardiola struggled to find a place for him in his squad.
But, despite a bid from Wolves, he kept the Ukraine international and it has proved a wise decision as the 22-year-old has been a revelation having stepped into the left-back role after Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph were sidelined.
Zinchenko, normally a midfielder, has suited City’s attacking style ever since he came into the side for the 6-0 win over Chelsea in February.
And, remarkably, they have won all 22 league games in which he has figured, starting with the 4-0 win over Swansea in December, 2017.
With a year left on his current contract, his displays are set to be rewarded with a new deal as Guardiola focuses on other areas to strengthen his squad rather than bring in another left back.
“It was a good record and I hope I’m a lucky charm,” he laughed. “I hope to keep it going next season.
“I want to take my game further, of course, and I feel I am ready. This is why I came here, this is why I am here, and this is where I want to play in the future.
“I am really enjoying my time in this team and to be playing. It’s a massive pleasure to be a part of this club so hopefully we will see what happens [with the contract]. I hope we can get better and I want to be part of this.”
The England and Manchester City forward has said social media boycotts and gestures such as wearing t-shirts during warm-ups are “not enough” and has called for “harder punishments” such as nine-point deductions for racist incidents.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival in New York, Sterling said with City’s domestic treble-winning season now over he would be keen to discuss ways the campaign can be developed.
“You can get caught up with training every day, and games every two, three days, so you don’t really have a lot of time to be out speaking to people,” he said.
“But in my off time and holidays, if I can get around and speak to the Football Association and the people in the Premier League, and see how we can look about doing things better in the future, for sure I’ll be there in person to try and do that.”
The 24-year-old has emerged as a key voice in the campaign against racism for his readiness to speak out on the issue.
After he was allegedly racially abused by spectators at Chelsea in December, Sterling used Instagram to criticise the media for the way they report on black players.
He said he was then contacted by football authorities with ideas about the campaign but did not agree with their approach.
“After the situation at Chelsea they came to me with an idea but I did not agree with the idea,” he said.
“It was a social media blackout. I said I simply don’t agree with what you want to put out. It is a social media post that’s going to happen for one day. In two days’ time it will all be forgotten about.”
In April, the Professional Footballers’ Association launched the #Enough campaign, which saw footballers in England and Wales boycott social media for 24 hours to protest the way the social networks have handled cases of online abuse.
But Sterling has said he wants to see stronger punishments those on the receiving end would not be able to ignore.
“Teams getting (points) deductions, teams getting kicked out… this is when people start taking it seriously,” he said.
“If I go to a football game and I support Manchester United, for example, I don’t want to be the person that lets my team down by saying silly remarks in a stadium.
“If you know your team is going to get deducted nine points and not win the league, you are not going to say these racist remarks even though you shouldn’t have it in your head.
“Fining a club £5000 or a fan £300 doesn’t do anything.”
Although this season has seen a number of incidents in England and abroad, Sterling believes the situation has improved in the last decade.
“Ten years ago it was a lot, lot worse than it is now,” said Sterling, who was named PFA Young Players of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Football of the Year at the end of a campaign in which he scored 25 goals for City.
“It’s starting to get better and people are understanding that they can’t say certain things.”
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Arsenal plan to meet with UEFA to express their fury after Henrikh Mkhitaryan decided against playing in the Europa League final over security fears.
The Armenian’s safety was a concern because of the dispute between his country and Azerbaijan, the host nation of next week’s fixture between the Gunners and Chelsea.
Despite receiving assurances aimed at allaying those fears, Mkhitaryan has chosen not to travel to Baku following discussions with the club and his family.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery said he respected the “personal” nature of Mkhitaryan’s decision, but conceded it was “bad news” for his team.
But Arsenal managing director Vinai Venkatesham branded the situation “unacceptable” and revealed the club would make the full extent of their anger known to the governing body.
He was quoted as saying by a number of national newspapers: “I struggle to find words for how strongly I feel. We feel it’s unacceptable.
“We don’t feel he can travel and it’s extraordinarily sad. You don’t get a chance to play in major European finals often. Miki has had it taken away from him and it is an extraordinary shame.
“We made our point clearly to UEFA, we have written to them. We will also sit down with them face to face after the final and express how it is unacceptable and how it can never happen again to Arsenal or anyone.”
Mkhitaryan said he was “hurt” to miss the showpiece event.
He tweeted: “It’s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often for us players and I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it.”
Emery revealed he had discussed the issue with Mkhitaryan, whom he said “wants to play with the team but spoke with his family and decided not to go”.
The Spaniard said: “It’s bad news, but we cannot do anything about these issues. It’s a very, very personal decision and we need to respect him. I don’t understand the political problems, but I must respect (his decision).
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Having considered all the current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League Final. It‘s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often for us players and I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it. I will be cheering my teammates on! Let‘s bring it home @arsenal 🏆💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼 #uel #final #arsenal #chelsea #afc #coyg
“I spoke to him. I came from the Basque country, where we had a big political problem there, finishing five or six years ago. This is a very personal decision; I cannot push him to come with us.
“For him and for me, it’s very important to (have his) help with his quality and his capacity, but these issues are out of my hands and I understand 100 per cent.”
UEFA insisted that a “comprehensive security plan” was in place for Mkhitaryan, while the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan branded his decision not to play “unwarranted” and said the host country had “provided all the necessary guarantees” to ensure his safety.
An AFFA spokesperson said: “We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family. Whilst we recognise the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by UEFA to ensure the personal safety of Mr Mkhitaryan.
“There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan. Over the past decade a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports events in Azerbaijan without any issues. Finally, we believe that this regretful decision will not affect in any manner the quality and the attraction of this great match. We look forward to welcoming both teams in Baku shortly.”
Mkhitaryan’s absence, in addition to that of the injured Aaron Ramsey, who is departing for Juventus, increases Mesut Ozil’s hopes of starting at the Baku Olympic Stadium.
Like Ramsey, Petr Cech will not be at Arsenal next season, having taken the decision to retire at the age of 37, but Emery hinted that, despite losing his first-team place to Bernd Leno, the veteran goalkeeper is likely to start.
“Ozil has very big experience in Europe, playing with his national team, important games,” he said. “We are preparing for every player to be ready for the final. He’s working, he’s trying, he’s playing well and we need him.
“(Cech’s) here because he deserves to be here. His commitment to Arsenal is big. He was playing the last (Europa League) matches, perfect matches, with big performances. I want to enjoy with him this final in his career.”
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