Sunday, August 9, 2015

As friendly fires burn, the De Gea deal is rekindled

Real Madrid lose to Bayern Munich and blank out in Norway, Barcelona's hoops beat Roma in Catalonia, while David De Gea is under pressure in Manchester 

The Spanish Week in Review

* Rafael Benitez fell to his first defeat as Real Madrid manager, albeit in a pre-season friendly.

Losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich away is no disgrace, especially as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were absent and the other galacticos did not come on until late.

Real's second string looked eager to impress, Sergio Ramos was sharp but the white shirts failed to make waves in the final third.

Keylor Navas however, now the confirmed No.1, made a number of key saves to keep Pep Guardiola's team at bay until conceding an 88th minute goal to Robert Lewandowski.

The day before, Real had beaten Tottenham 2-0 at the same stadium. Both teams enjoyed spells of dominance but Benitez's men applied the class when required, taking a first-half lead through James Rodriguez before Gareth Bale, as if scripted, fired in a long-range effort late on which bounced awkardly to confuse goalie Michel Vorm and find the net.

The general consensus was that Real look tight and organised in defence but rather rudderless up front. Benitez' defensive reputation is already bearing fruit it seems. Without the 'BBC' up front against Bayern however, the team looked lost in the final third.

James could not take it all on himself and the other replacement attackers, Jese, Marco Asensio and the yonngster Borja Mayoral, failed to make headway. Jese & James went down in flames.

The Colombian's two goals in six however make him Real's top-scorer in pre-season and have immunised him from criticism.

On Sunday, Real completed their pre-season with a trip to Valerenga in Oslo. The trip was largely to show off their Norwegian wonderboy Martin Odegaard and cement Scandinavian support for the whites, and the 16 year-old did not disappoint, playing in James Rodriguez's usual role in advanced midfield.

The rest of the team fluffed their lines however and trudged off after a 0:0 result. Gareth Bale took the attacking duties but failed to score, leaving Real looking reliant on the absent Ronaldo and Benzema.

Keylor Navas did well again though, making one crucial save and keeping thoughts of David De Gea off the front page for a day.

*Barcelona at last woke up from their pre-season slumber and dismissed Roma 3-0 at the Camp Nou.  The night was most notable for the home debut of the awful hooped Nike shirts, abusing years of tradition, and Lionel Messi headbutting Roma defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, albeit not strongly, and receiving a yellow card.

All rather unnecessary as the blaugrana attack was in full bloom and Ivan Rakitic unleashed a 25-yard scorcher to grab the third; a golazo indeed.
The pre-season is over for Luis Enrique's men, who must now start their new trophy trail with the European Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup on tap this week.

* Valencia might have fancied their chances facing Roma after Barcelona's mauling, but instead fell to a 3-1 defeat in front of their home fans in the Mestalla. A night to forget for a side who are part of the triumvirate of challengers to the big two, Atletico and Sevilla being the others of course.
The winners enter the group stage along with holders Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Sevilla, which is drawn on the 27th of this month. The crazy prospect of five Spanish sides in this season's Champions League draws ever closer.

* Neymar has gone down with a case of the mumps and will out for a couple of weeks, ruling him out of the Spanish Super Cup and European Super Cup.

Diego Godin will not be going to Manchester City after sitting down with manager Diego Simeone and management to agree on a new deal at the Manzanares. City were offering €40 million for the Uruguayan centre-back plus €5 million a season, but the rojiblancos have pulled out the stops to keep the 29 year-old in Spain.

Godin's no-go means City are focusing again on Nicolas Otamendi, the Valencia centre-back who has been linked with a move away from the Mestalla for some time.

* European Super Cup. It's that time again and this year's UEFA season opener is an all-Spanish affair between Champions League winners Barcelona and Europa League winners Sevilla.

It takes place on Tuesday night in Tbilisi, Georgia, as UEFA maintain their tour of smaller nations, following last season's match in Cardiff won by Real Madrid.

Sevilla, 2014's losing finalists, are without hit-man Carlos Bacca, now with Milan, while Barça can equal the rossoneri with a record five trophies if they win on Tuesday.

* Spain moved one place up to 11th in FIFA's World Rankings for August. La Roja's next match is their European Championship qualifier at home to Slovakia on Saturday the 5th of September in Oviedo.

* The season has not started yet but one top coach is already biting his fingernails. "In football, the month of August is a dangerous month," opined Atletico manager Diego Simeone. "Hopefully nothing goes wrong...but the month of August does not keep me calm. I worry a lot."

* Middlesbrough have completed the £3.6 million signing of Christian Stuani from Espanyol. The Paraguayan striker scored 16 in 48 last season and played in this summer's Copa America.

* The "Saviour of Barcelona" has been commemorated in a Belfast mural. Patrick O'Connell might not be a familiar name these days and he lies in an unmarked grave in London, but the Dubline-born man coached Racing Santander and Real Oviedo, then Real Betis to their only league title in 1935 before taking over at the Camp Nou.

With General Franco persecuting the symbol of Catalan identity, the club almost folded if had not been for the Irishman, 'Don Patricio', organising money-spinning tours of Mexico and the USA and setting up a bank account in Paris.


Barcelona 3:0 Roma
Real Madrid 2:0 Tottenham Hotspur
Bayern Munich 1:0 Real Madrid
Valerenga 0:0 Real Madrid
Shanghai SIPG 0:3 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 0:0 Guadalajara (45 mins)
Atletico Madrid 0:1 Leganes (45 mins)
Atletico Madrid 2:0 Real Sociedad
Inter Baku 0:0 Atheltic Bilbao
Recreativo Huelva 1:2 Real Betis
Celta Vigo 3:0 Boavista
Real Oviedo 2:1 Deportivo La Coruna
Mensajero 1:1 Eibar
Tenerife 1:1 Eibar
Albacete 1:2 Getafe
Udinese 0:2 Granada
Maritimo 1:2 Las Palmas
Levante 0:2 Villareal
Malaga 3:1 Al Wasi
Malaga 2:0 Lekhwiya
Rayo Vallecano 1:1 Real Oviedo
AEK Athens 1:1 Sevilla
Ponferradina 1:0 Sporting Gijon
Sporting Gijon 3:1 Palermo
Valencia 1:3 Roma
Espanyol 1:1 Real Betis
Almeria 2:0 Las Palmas
Sassuolo 1:1 Villareal


* It looks like the David De Gea saga will last until transfer deadline date and beyond, which led Louis Van Gaal to call for an end to the transfer window overlapping the new season.

Van Gaal kept the fire stoked by telling Manchester United's website that the Spaniard leaving was "a threat" and thus the club had to "be insured and prepared" for any eventuality.

"He is not the De Gea of last year," he ominously told reporters, laying the ground for an exit for the Spaniard.

Then on Friday, the Dutchman annoucned De Gea would not play in United's opener against Tottenham."You already know the problems we have with him," he explained, pouring kerosene on the transfer rumour flames.

The fact the Red Devils have yet to issue a shirt number to the new recruit between the sticks Sergio Romero has only fueled the uncertainty. With De Gea's contract up in a year, a move between now and then seems likely if the Red Devils want any cash for their keeper.

Their valuation of €45 million is a long way from Real's budget of €25 million, which is another obstacle and could lead to a rift between Man Utd and their coach.

If Van Gaal refuses to play De Gea the club will have no option but to cash in before his contract expires next summer but will lose millions as Real are not prepared to meet the Red Devils' price.

"We are asking money and they have to pay the money," said Van Gaal in typically blunt Dutch fashion.

Real are not as carefree with their cheque book as people might think. €45 million does not seem excessive for De Gea but previous big captures have been accompanied by big sales too and Real have not sold anyone for big money recently.

The fact Keylor Navas and Kika Casiilla have been performing adequately between the sticks in pre-season has reassured Madrileño minds about their custodians.

Navas, signed after an impressive World Cup with Costa Rica, has waited a season in Iker Casillas' shadow and is not about to fluff his chance to cement the No.1 shirt as his now.

Plus Sergio Ramos is staying put which means Man Utd would probably need to find another marquee signing before the month is up.

Could that be Pedro. subject of another long-running rumour? According to Marca this week, United have met the €30 million valuation and are all set to sign the Barcelona and Spain attacker, which would unleash the cashflow to sell De Gea to Real.

As for De Gea, he must either get his head straight and commit to United, either by signing a new contract or by performing in training again, or get busy moving to Madrid.

* Barça have offered Celta Vigo €14 million rising to €18 million for Nolito, according to Mundo Deportivo. The 28 year-old would be a like-for-like replacement for Pedro if he leaves.

Nolito has recently broken into Vicente Del Bosque's Spain squad and is no stranger to Catalonia - he played 106 times for Barcelona B between 2008 and 2011 but only twice for the first eleven.

Any deal would most likely happen in the winter transfer window as Luis Enrique's side are banned from using new players until then.

* Liverpool are eyeing Real's German midfielder Toni Kroos as well as teammate Asier Illarramendi, the latter of whom is also interesting Arsenal. World Cup winner Kroos has not exactly set La Liga alight despite much opening hype while Illarramendi has been limited to substitute cameos.

* Real Madrid are thinking about swapping Karim Benzema for Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus, according to speculation in Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport.

* Real defender Fabio Coentrao has allegedly asked the club to sell him back former team Benfica. Atletico defender Filipe Luis meanwhile, newly returned from Chelsea, says he wants to retire playing for the Colchoneros.

* Alvaro Vadillo, the Real Betis winger, is a target for Tottenham Hotspur.

* Barcelona have announced U-21 midfielder Sergi Samper, an Arsenal target, is staying at the Camp Nou and will be offered an improved deal. He made four first-team appearances last season.

* Atletico's Mexican reserve striker Raul Jimenez is on the verge of joining West Ham. Hammers boss Slaven Bilic confirmed the rumour this week. "Jimenez is close," he told the media.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES; kick-off times GMT

Tue 11th Aug   UEFA Super Cup 2015
Barcelona v Sevilla   19:45  (Tbilisi)

Fri 14th Aug    Spanish Super Cup 1st leg
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona  21:00


Mon 17th Aug Spanish Super Cup 2nd leg
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao 21:00

Weds 19th Aug UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st leg
Valencia v Monaco 19:45

Fri 21st - Sun 23rd Aug - First Weekend of La Liga season.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Monday, August 3, 2015

Benitez stays unbeaten while Barça lose again


The Spanish Week in Review

* Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a back strain and will sit out Real Madrid's clash with Tottenham in Munich this week. Karim Benzema has a thigh strain and also misses out.

Real Madrid drew 0:0 with Milan in Shanghai before edging the Rossoneri 10-9 on penalties.
RM - Navas, Pepe, Arbeloa, Danilo, Varane, Modric, Bale, Casemiro, Ronaldo, Benzema, Vasquez
2nd half subs: Ramos, Kroos, Casilla, Jese, Isco, Nacho, Rodriguez, Marcelo, Carvajal, Cheryshev.

* After losing 3-1 to Man Utd in California, Barcelona travelled to Maryland where they drew 2:2 with Chelsea before losing a shoot-out 4-2.

Eden Hazard waltzed through the red and yellow shirts to hand the Blues the lead in the tenth minute before Luis Suarez and Sandro Ramirez put Luis Enrique's side ahead after the break. Gary Cahill equalised with five minutes to go. Enrique made eleven substitutions.

Starting lineup: Ter Stegen, Mathieu, Correia, Perreira, Bartra, Rakitic, Busquets, Gumbau, L.Suarez, Ramirez, Munir. Subs used: Roberto, Pique, Vermaelen, Iniesta, Alba, Masip, Rafinha, Samper, Pedro, Halilovic, J.Suarez

Barcelona then lost 2-1 away to Fiorentina with a sleepy, half-hearted defence giving two goals away before Luis Suarez pulled one back from an Ivan Rakitic chip. Two defeats and a draw in three pre-season games does not scream champions of Europe, but all will soon be forgotten as the season gets underway.

BAR - Ter Stegen (Masip 78'), Vermaelen, Pique, Alba, Iniesta (Munir 46'), Rakitic (Bartra 64'), Busquets, Roberto, Rafinha (Gumbau 78'), Suarez (Ramirez 64'), Pedro.

* Rayo Vallecano, on tour in China, revealed Zhang Chendong, 26 year-old Chinese international stirker, as a new signing. It can only be a matter of time before the first Chinese takes the field in La Primera.


Barcelona 2:2 Chelsea
Real Madrid 0:0 Milan
Fiorentina 2:1 Barcelona
Derby 1:1 Villareal
Bayer Leverkusen 4:0 Levante
Rayo Vallecano 1:0 Real Sociedad
Granada 2:0 Albacete
Avellino 0:0 Espanyol
Huddersfield Town 0:0 Deportivo La Coruna
Mirandes 0:0 Eibar
Middlesboro 1:0 Getafe
Koln 3:2 Valencia
Darmstadt 3:1 Real Betis
Reading 0:0 Espanyol
Watford 0:1 Sevilla
Nastic 2:2 Real Zaragoza
Fleetwood Town 2:0 Getafe
San Lorenzo 0:0 Malaga
Mensajero 0:5 Las Palmas
Osasuna 1:0 Eibar


* Javier Mascherano was a new name on the rumour mill this week with Juventus said to be keen to purchase the Argentine veteran from Barcelona after selling Arturo Vidal to Bayern Munich and seeing new signing Sami Khedira get injured.

* Pedro to Man Utd looked closer this week after the player's mother let slip he was on his way to England, Angel Di Maria moved closer to an Old Trafford exit and the English club sent a representative to Barcelona to negotiate. He has a €30 milllion release clause.

Pedro could slot in easily as a wide attacker for Man Utd and like Isco at Real Madrid, impresses when playing for Spain so much you wonder why he is not given more starts at club level.

The problem for the 28 year-old is that the blaugrana can only start with the Messi-Neymar-Suarez trident ahead of him, which limits him to being an impact sub, but as well as the desire for first-team football, there is Euro 2016 and Spain to think about. A move makes sense for the player.

* Villareal are expected to tie up the signing of striker Roberto Soldado from Tottenham this week. €16 million has been floated as a fee.

* West Ham are looking at Atletico Madrid's Mexican striker Raul Jimenez.

* Liverpool are in negotiations to sign Barcelona B's Spanish-born Malian winger Adama Traore, 19. Traore has ten caps for Spain's U-19 side and one for Barça's first team. Everton, Southampton and Stoke are also said to be interested.

* Arsenal are lining up a €65 million offer for Karim Benzema, according to reports. If the Frenchman leaves Madrid for London, Real will go for one of Alvaro Morata, Fernando Llorente (both Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Man City) or promote Real youngster Borja Mayoral.

That said, Arsene Wenger denied he was after the Real striker when questioned at the Community Shield and Rafael Benitez said he saw no reason why Benzema should leave.

* Louis Van Gaal has asked Man Utd to try again to take Gareth Bale back to Britain according to the Sunday Express, with a figure of 122 million being bandied about.

Van Gaal also admitted David De Gea might want to leave Old Trafford, which fanned the rumour flames no end, but Angel Di Maria's imminent move to PSG could mean the Red Devils are in no rush to sell for another cash windfall.

A number of Spanish voices are wondering out loud now if Real need De Gea given Keylor Navas is an international goalkeeper and new boy Kika Casilla has impressed since moving from Porto.

The money in the English game means the flow of Spaniards is unlikely to stop any time soon. 33 Spaniards are now on the books of Premier League clubs and 17 in the Championship.

Transfers to English clubs might be affected by the Premier League season beginning in a week, while La Liga resumes on Friday the 21st of August when Sevilla visit Malaga. The rest of the first round of Spanish matches are on the Saturday and Sunday.

The transfer window of course closes at the end of August.

* Sergio Ramos however, seems a dead story now Real boss Florentino Perez agreed to renew his contract until 2020 along with that of fellow defender Rafael Varane. Pen should be put to paper this week.

* Arsenal would like to buy Sergio Busquets from Barcelona but Real Madrid's Asier Illarramendi has reportedly turned down Liverpool's advances and will instead fight for first-team football at Real Madrid.

* Pepe has not renewed his contract at the Bernabeu, sparking transfer rumours as his current deal has only one season left.

* Lyon are angling to buy Malaga midfielder Sergei Darder for around €10 million.

* Real Madrid were said to have had a €26 million bid for Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia rejected this week.

* Newly promoted Las Palmas have signed Everton's Paraguayan centre-back Antolin Alvaraz.

* The Italian press rated Sevilla as favourites to land Fernando Llorente, but no deal is expected until close to transfer deadline day.


1. Jackson Martinez €35 million - Atletico Madrid from Porto
2. Arda Turan €34 million - Barcelona from Atletico Madrid
3. Alvaro Negredo €32 million - Valencia from Manchester City
4. Danilo €31.5 million - Real Madrid from Porto
5. Rodrigo €30 million - Valencia from Benfica
6. Aleix Vidal €22 million - Barcelona from Sevilla
7. Luciano Vietto €20 million - Atletico Madrid from Sevilla
8. Filipe Luis €16 million - Atletico Madrid from Chelsea
9. Carrasco €15 million - Atletico Madrid from Monaco
Andre Gomes €15 million - Valencia from Benfica
Joao Cancela €15 million - Valencia from Benfica


Tue 4th Aug   Real Madrid v Tottenham (Munich), Shanghai Sipg v Atletico Madrid
Wed 5th Aug  Barcelona v Roma, Ponferradina v Sporting Gijon, Leganes v Rayo Vallecano, Real Oviedo v Deportivo La Coruna
Thu 6th Aug   Villareal v Levante
Fri 7th Aug    Recreativo Huelva v Real Betis
Sat 8th Aug    Inter v Athletic Bilbao, AEK Athens v Sevilla, Valencia v Roma, Rayo Vallecano v Real Oviedo, Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad, Deportivo La Coruna v Sporting Braga, Albacete v Getafe, Sporting Gijon v Palermo
Sun 9th Aug   Valerenga v Real Madrid, Sassuolo v Villareal, Real Betis v Espanyol, Almeria v Las Palmas

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Azzurri await on the road to Russia


The Spanish Week in Review

Sean O'Conor, Ponferrada, Spain

* Spain were drawn into Group G for World Cup 2018 qualifying alongside Italy, Albania, Israel, Italy, Lichtenstein and Madedonia.

The group winners automatically travel to Russia while the eight best second-place teams go into playoffs.

The two matches against the Azzurri will of course be key to deciding first place assuming neither of the big two slip up against the others. Israel at a pinch might be a banana skin away, although Wales had no trouble dispatching them recently.

Wales incidentally are currently ranked tenth by FIFA following their purple patch, two places above Spain. Romania are also in the top ten, which meant Italy, 17th and France, 24th, ended up in Pot No.2 for the draw, leaving the possiblility of two giants ending up together.

As it happens, both Euro 2012 finalists will battle it out for automatic passage to the finals. The Netherlands and France makes Group A look similarly top-heavy.

As with the 2014 finals, FIFA has made a mess of the draw, sticking religiously to their ranking classification in the face of footballing reality. Group B which has Portugal, Hungary and Switzerland, looks lighter as does Group D, featuring Wales, Austria and Serbia and Group E of Romania, Denmark and Poland.

Oh well, Italy v Spain it is on the 6th of October next year and the return clash on the the 2nd of September 2017 are the ones to pencil into the diary now.

SPAIN v Lichtenstein         05/09/16
Italy v SPAIN                     06/10/16
Albania v SPAIN                09/10/16
SPAIN v Macedonia           12/11/16
SPAIN v Israel                    24/03/17
Macedonia v SPAIN           11/06/17
SPAIN v Italy                     02/09/17
Lichtenstein v SPAIN         05/09/17
SPAIN v Albania               06/10/17
Israel v SPAIN                   09/10/17

Given La Roja's embarrassingly bad defence of their crown at World Cup 2014, they will be keen to put on a better show in 2018. With a new team emerging and the lion's share of the 2010 winners out to pasture, it will be interesting to see if Spain can stay in the leading group of soccer nations.

Before any thoughts turn to Russia however, there is Euro 2016 to reach first. Spain play Slovakia in Oviedo on the fifth of September this year in their next qualifier as they seek to retain the European Championship.

* Barcelona beat LA Galaxy 2:1 then lost 3:1 to Manchester United on their American tour.

There is little to read into these pre-season get-togethers, especially as Barça were lacking their South American stars with the exception of Luis Suarez, who sat out the Copa America.

Suarez and Sergi Roberto netted against LA, while Rafinha grabbed a last-minute goal against United in the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara.

United's Iberian trio David De Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata all played while the Galaxy fielded Madrid-born Ignacio Maganto, 23, in midfield.

Real Madrid meanwhile despatched Manchester City 4-1 in Melbourne and then Inter 3-0 in Guangzhou with plaudits all around. James Rodriguez's 30-yard free kick was a nice way to cap his first year in a white shirt. The Colombian arrived as the golden boot winner at the World Cup and despite too many cooks threatening to spoil the broth at the Bernabeu, has had a pretty blameless first season.

*Spain's U-19 European Champions got more coverage than they had bargained for as the curse of Twitter struck again.

Real Betis' Dani Ceballos, a hotly-tipped central midfielder who was linked with Chelsea last December, made front page news in Spain this week as someone dredged up some overly Castillian tweets he made as a 15 year-old such as this one:

"I was ashamed at the tremendous booing of the national anthem," he tweeted. "I hope a bomb falls on the stands and kills all those Catalan and Basque dogs."

Oh I say.

Another read, "Die now all you filthy Catalans." Ah, Spanish regional unity as strong as ever eh.

It seems rather churlish to berate anyone for the idiocies of youth and Ceballos is still a teenager with a long way to go. Let us hope he learns a lesson or two as he matures, but equally that his tweets of the past do not haunt him forever.

Ceballos is certainly a name to remember. Teammate Cristiano Piccini said of the teenager, "He has all the chances of being a great footballer. My advice is that he should stay (at Betis). There will come a time for him to go to a Barça or a Real"

Another youngster Julio Rey, saw his newly-signed contract with Deportivo La Coruna swiftly cancelled once a tweet of his from October 2012 came to light: "F*CK DEPOR, F*CK RIAZOR", he wrote, quite succinctly.

Is not this social media supervision getting a bit out of hand?. Surely all of us, especially adolescents, should be forgiven for our outbursts of yesteryear. People make mistakes but they learn from them as well. It is only the fact electronic social media now exists that off the cuff remarks have become an issue.

* Spain's fragile national identity took another beating this week as the Antiviolence Commission announced its judgements on the booing of the national anthem at the Copa del Rey final between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona.

What a sorry sight to set before the newly crowned King Felipe VI.

The Spanish Football Federation as the overall authority that night got whacked the most with €123,000 - €90,000 for security lapses, €18,000 for a lack of prevention of the booing and €15,000 for not appointing someone to head the response to it.

Separatist pressure group Catalunya Accio were fined €100,000 for being the main instigators of the protest, handing out whistles to fans. Their president Santiago Espot was stung with a €90,000 punishment. Eleven other Catalan separatist groups who signed up to the organised booing were also slapped with a €70,000 sanction.

FCB themselves were fined €60,000 for security lapses and €6,000 for the actual jeering. Athletic Bilbao got off lightly by comparison with €18,000 demanded for the Basque booing.

It was an unseemly sight to hear so many thousands of Spaniards boo their nation's anthem but nor unexpected in the light of recent political history, not least the Catalan independence referendum last November, which the government refused to recognise.

We should not forget the other side of the coin that night, a goal from Lionel Messi to rank among his finest:

* "On our first date, Rafa explained to me what a 4-4-2 was", explained the Real Madrid manager's wife Montserrat Seara to a newspaper, rolling out the familiar story of a football-mad manager who eats, sleeps and talks football. "I don't know if he'll ever retire, " she added. "He finds it hard to stay away from the game."

* Louis Van Gaal hinted Sergio Ramos could still be a Red Devil before the first of September. "Transfers are a process," he told journalists. "Mr Ramos could be in that process," he added intriguingly. "You never know."

By the end of the week it seemed clear the Real defender was going nowhere as Florentino Perez was reported to be with him in China renegotiating his contract. An unnamed United source spoke of feeling betrayed by Ramos' public flirtation which appeared only to have been done to force Perez's hand.

No Ramos the Red Devil presumably means David De Gea is going nowhere either.

* Atletico Madrid have re-signed full-back Filipe Luis from Chelsea for €16 million on a three-year deal.

* Barcelona have appointed former midfielder Roberto Fernandez, 53, as their new technical director.

* Pep Guardiola has always been a proud Catalan, pointedly jetting back from Munich last year to vote in the Catalan independence referendum.

This week he added his name to the electoral list of Catalan Prime Minister Arturo Mas, who has been pushing for full independence, for September's regional elections. In theory Guardiola could be elected to parliament, but he has insisted he will not leave his post at Bayern.

This latest move angered Spanish interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who blasted Guardiola as "fairly sad and pitiful" and claimed he played for Spain (Guardiola has 47 caps for La Roja and captained them to Olympic gold) "definitely not for patriotic reasons but instead for financial ones."

The minister said Guardiola was the sort of person "whose God is money."

*Jose Mourinho called Iker Casillas' salary at Porto "incredible" and proof that the market was inflated. It should be noted that Casillas and 'The Special One' did not see eye to eye at the Bernabeu and the comment should be seen in that light.

* Cristiano Ronaldo is always showing frustration on the pitch, grimaces which get repeated and analysed on TV and in print afterwards.

His new manager Rafael Benitez is not concerned however. "He is a competitive guy and that is the key," he told reporters. "This is a positive thing not a defect." Laying on the love Benitez, "Clearly he is the best player in the world."

Benitez has been working hard on defensive practices in Real's training camp in Australia. He has also been juggling strikers to fill his preferred number nine role, with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema alternating.

* Mario Suarez has left Atletico Madrid for Fiorentina but with mixed feelings. "I will always be an Atletico man," the 28 year-old midfielder said at his farewell press conference. "Goodbye and Forza Atleti, I hope to come back some day."

Moving in the opposite direction is Montenegran centre-back Stefan Savic, 24.

* Transfermarkt, the famous footballer database, now rates James Rodriguez at €80 million, a 130% jump in value after his successful first season at Real Madrid.

* Malaga have taken centre-back Raul Albentosa on a year's loan from Derby County.

* Cordoba defender Jose Angel Crespo was having a medical with Aston Villa in England at the start of this week.

* Real Sociedad have signed striker Jonathas from Pescara on a five-year deal for €7.2 million. The 6'3" Brazilian netted 14 goals in 34 games on loan at Elche last season.

* Barcelona were charging $100 for entry to view their training session in Los Angeles this week.


* Juventus and Manchester City are still said to be angling for Real Madrid attacker Isco and Juve are said to be keen on La Roja colleague David Silva. Could there be a three-way deal here...?

Fernando Llorente is interesting Manchester United as well as Real Madrid it was claimed this week. The tall Spanish striker is considered surplus to requirements at Juventus.

* Villareal have admitted they want to sign Roberto Soldado from Tottenham but may have trouble meeting Spurs' €17 million price tag. The Yellow Submarine also face competition domestically from Real Sociedad and Sevilla as well as from Borussia Dortmund.

* Roma's sporting director was in Barcelona this week trying to sign Brazilian left-back Adriano Correia.

* Valencia could take former Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes back to Spain from Manchester United, where he is said to have fallen out with Louis Van Gaal.

* Real Madrid are snooping around Real Zaragoza midifielder Jesus Vallejo, skipper of Spain's U-19 European champions.

* Manchester United will offer Barcelona €26 million for Pedro, according to UK press reports and are prepared to exchange David De Gea & €40 million for Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas.

* Atletico Madrid are still said to be eager to sign PSG midfielder Thiago Motta before the transfer deadline.


Barcelona 2:1 LA Galaxy
Barcelona 1:3 Manchester United
Real Madrid 4:1 Manchester City
Real Madrid 3:0 Inter
Numancia 0:2 Atletico Madrid
Oviedo 0:2 Atletico Madrid
Valencia 1:0 PSV
Werder Bremen 3:1 Sevilla
Stade Reims 1:2 Sevilla
Gimnastic 1:1 Villareal
Wolfsburg 1:2 Villareal
Lyon 0:2 Villareal
Real Betis 1:1 Athletic Bilbao
Galatasaray 2:1 Celta Vigo
Deportivo Cali 3:2 Malaga
Koln 0:2 Espanyol
Kasimpasa 1:2 Espanyol
Albacete 5:0 Rayo Vallecano
Logrones 0:1 Eibar
Real Union 1:3 Eibar
Levante 1:0 Teruel
Zwole 1:3 Levante
Port Vale 2:2 Getafe
MK Dons 1:3 Getafe
Ponferradina 0:1 Deportivo La Coruna
Lugo 1:0 Deportivo La Coruna
La Hoya Lorca 1:1 Granada
Vitoria Setubal 1:0 Real Betis
Villaviciosa 1:9 Sporting Gijon
Tenerife 1:1 Sporting Gijon

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Barça keep Bartomeu while Roma block Real

Josep Bartomeu sees off the challenge of Juan Laporta to stay president of FC Barcelona, while Rafael Benitez's first game in charge of Real Madrid is a stalemate down under.


* After all the hype of a second coming with star-studded backing for Juan Laporta as FC Barcelona president, 47,080 club members re-elected incumbent Josep Bartomeu for another six years instead.

Bartomeu's victory, garnering 54.6% of the votes, was bigger than predicted.

"We have proved that not just on the field we are the best team in the world," he waxed.

Bartomeu took over in January 2014 after president Sandro Rosell, director of football Andoni Zubizaretta and assistant Carlos Puyol all resigned in the wake of the Neymar transfer scandal and the subsequent year-long transfer ban on the club.

Accepting his win, he pledged to forge ahead with the €600 million "Espai Barcelona" plan for remodelling the entire Camp Nou stadium complex.

Laporta conceded defeat but added, in English, "No surrender, never give up," explaining that the Qatar connection is slowly destroying the unique culture that is FCB. He called Bartomeu "a processed president who will destroy La Masia" (the club's youth academy) and said the club is "trapped by Qatar."

The 2022 World Cup host nation has become such tainted goods in the light of human rights abuse revelations and the ongoing FIFA scandal, that Agusti Benedito had pledged to ditch Barça's shirt sponsors by 2016 and even Bartomeu announced there was an unnamed Asian electronics firm (rumoured to be Rakuten) with the money ready to replace the Qatar Foundation.

"We will continue to fight what is happening at Barcelona," Laporta insisted. "It remains clear there are two ways (of running it)". So no love lost then.

Laporta had Johann Cruyff ("The situation at the club is unacceptable with all the accusations") and Pep Guardiola supporting his campaign, and had dangled the prospect of Paul Pogba in the blaugrana in front of the faithful, with the Frenchman's agent confirming his player would move to Catalonia if Laporta were elected, but more than half of Barça's members opted instead to keep the status quo after a perfect trophy haul in 2015.

If what matters at the end of the day is winning football matches, it seems a case of 'if it works, don't fix it.'

But being president of one of Spain's big two comes with near impossible demands and while Bartomeu basks in the limelight of his presidential victory, he also knows the knives will be sharpened again as soon as FCB fail to win La Liga or the Champions League.

Luis Enrique, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique made sure they voted before joining their colleagues to jet off to the United States for their pre-season tour.

Missing from FCB's lineup in America however will be Lionel Messi, Neymar, Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves, whose Copa America duties have earned them a well-earned rest.


Josep Bartomeu 55%
Juan Laporta  33 %
Agusti Benedito 7%
Toni Freixa 4%

* And finally Iker Casillas left the building for good. Real Madrid's storied goalkeeper had been slowly heading toward the exit ever since Costa Rica's outstanding World Cup keeper Keylor Navas was acquired last summer and aged 34 was not getting any younger.

But Florentino Perez's summary sale of one of Real's longest-serving soldiers has nevertheless been met with some dismay in Madrid. Coach Rafael Benitez said he was unhappy how the issue was dividing Real's fans when it was a finished story.

Casillas is still first choice for Spain after all and despite the boos now and again from insatiable fan sections, shows few signs of diminishing powers for club nor country.

Some fans on the airwaves and in the letters pages this week have been slamming the Real owner and vowing to forsake the Bernabeu until he leaves the scene.

Seeing their 19-trophy legend in Porto colours this week has come as a shock to the system as Casillas has been on the books of Real for 25 years, and a ready, worthy replacement does not seem forthcoming, although Navas has not been given enough chances to establish himself thus far.

Johann Cruyff, while voicing his support for Juan Laporta in the Barça presidential elections, also paid tribute to the departing goalkeeper:

"He has always been a gentleman on and off the field and an example to everyone," he said. From Catalonia, Spain teammate Xavi said Casillas had been poorly treated by his club.

One has to reduce by at least 50% any truth contained in the daily Real press hyperbole, but clearly Casillas' rapid departure has been controversial. In Madrid this week, Casillas shirts and photos were suddenly discounted, a sad reflection of a done deal.

His tearful farewell to the press stamped his image as a man of honour, which paints Perez as the villain of the piece if any blame were to be appointed.

Casillas nevertheless has been accused of briefing against Jose Mourinho after being dropped and one has to wonder how much of his parents' raging attack on the Real Madrid president in the press was a proxy action.

By some quirk, Iker Casillas has been replaced by the similar-sounding Kiko Casilla, like him a Bernabeu product before being sold to Espanyol in 2008.

The 28 year-old should slot into Real's No.2 slot behind Navas, but his acquisition also puts the whole David De Gea project back a notch. Real's third custodian is 23 year old Spaniard Fernando Pacheco.

De Gea is out of contract next summer at Old Trafford, so instead of breaking the bank this summer, Real may wait to pounce then for free instead.

The latest theories insisted Louis Van Gaal would only sell his goalkeeper if Sergio Ramos moved in the other direction, but that looks ever more unlikely before the 1st of September transfer deadline.

Ramos seems set to stay at the Bernabeu as Benitez rates him so highly.

"I see the future with Sergio," the Real coach said this week, "because he is a key player because of his abilities and quality on the field and for his leadership and mentality in the dressing room."

* Spain won the UEFA U-19 Championship Final defeating Russia 2-0 in Katerini, Greece.

Real Madrid youngster Borja Mayoral scored the first after 37 minutes and won the tournament's golden boot. Villareal's Argentine-born Matias Nahuel grabbed the clincher twelve minutes from time.

SPAIN U-19: Sivera (Valencia II), Martin (Espanyol II), Mere (Gijon), Merino (Osasuna), Ceballos (Betis), Mayoral (Real Madrid II), Asensio (Real Madrid), Hernandez (Villareal II), Vallejo (Real Zaragoza), Pedraza (Villareal II), Borja (Racing Santander).

subs: Leiva (Villareal II) for Pedraza 74', Marin (Almeria II) for Borja 81', Fernandez (Sevilla II) for Mayoral 90'.

Spain had lost 3-1 to Russia in the group stage, where they beat Germany 3-0 and drew 1-1 with the Netherlands. In the semi-final they defeated France 2-0.

La Roja's record in UEFA's 2015 finals competitions stands thus:

U-17 - Quarter-Finalists; Champions: France
U-19 - Champions
U-21 - Did Not Qualify; Champions: Sweden

Spain at senior level remain European Champions following their 2012 win in Poland and will defend their title next summer in France.

* Atletico Madrid have signed Fiorentina's 24 year-old centre-back Stefan Savic for €12 million plus colchonero midfielder Mario Suarez.

* MK Dons have signed Real Madrid reserve Cristian Benavente on a two-year deal. The 21 year-old attacking midfielder has eight caps for Peru.

* Javier Tebas, president of Spain's Professional Football League, confirmed he does not see eye to eye with Angel Maria "all the fish are sold" Villar Llona, president of the Spanish F.A. and vice-president on FIFA's Executive Committee, and that he would be supporting a rival candidate for his post.

"I cannot get anything done with Villar," he told Marca. "Angel has done good things for football but for some time he has not adapted to the reality of modern football...What is FIFA's vice-president doing not talking about all that has happened? Did he forget, did he not want to or could he not? There are colleagues of his in prison for corruption."

* One of the summer's longest running rumours got closure as Belgian international defender Toby Alderweireld left Atletico Madrid for Tottenham on a five-year deal.

* Atletico are still seeking Filipe Luis from Chelsea but Jose Mourinho said if they want the Brazilian defender, "they'll have to pay."

* Valencia have signed promising Brazilian midfielder Danilo Barbosa on a year's loan from Sporting Braga with an option to buy. The 19 year-old captained Brazil at the FIFA U-20 World Cup this summer in New Zealand, where the seleçao lost 2-1 in the final to Serbia.

* Sevilla have signed Brazilian left-back Mariano Ferreira from Bordeaux in a three-year deal. The 29 year-old had a €20 million release clause.

* Getafe have acquired Argentine centre-back Santiago Vergini on a two-year loan from Sunderland.

* Newly promoted Las Palmas have signed midfielder Jonathan Viera on a three-year deal from Standard Liege for €900,000 following a half-year loan.

*The Red Devils are said to be keen to buy Pedro from Barcelona, whom they will play in a friendly next Saturday in Santa Clara, California, where a possible deal could be ironed out.

A figure of €25-29 million has been mentioned, and Pedro may be tempted to link up with friends Ander Herrera and Juan Mata at Old Trafford, although Barça boss Luis Enrique is said to be against Pedro leaving.

The Spanish international's arrival could mean Angel Di Maria leaving England, but the former Real wide man is not expected to return to Spain, with PSG in pole position for the Argentine's signature.

In another join-the-dots story, the Sunday People newspaper claimed Louis Van Gaal will launch an audacious raid for Gareth Bale next week, right.

* UEFA have put their foot down and reminded Barcelona they cannot play €41 million capture Arda Turan in any match, friendlies included, until their transfer ban expires in January.

* Rafael Benitez's Real Madrid reign began with a 7-6 penalty shoot-out defeat to Roma following a 0-0 draw in front of 80,746 in Melbourne.

Real played a 4-2-3-1 with Keylor Navas in goal, Sergio Ramos as skipper, Martin Odegaard starting and a bearded Gareth Bale with relative freedom on the right of a trident behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

The team missed a host of goalscoring chances but showed signs of adopting more of a pressing game and a new formation. The starting line-up appears largely to be Benitez's preferred although the teenage Odegaard did not convince and Benitez admitted they were debating sending him out on loan. The team missed chances and Ronaldo looked frustrated as usual. It is early days.

Real Madrid: Navas, Ramos, Marcel, Carvalho, Varane, Modric, Bale, Illarramendi, Odegaard, Ronaldo, Jese. Half-time subs: Arbeloa, Pepe, Kroos, Benzema, Silva, Pepe, Cheryshev, Nacho, Isco, Vasquez, Danilo.


Real Madrid 0:0 Roma
Bayern Munich 4:1 Valencia
Eibar 1:4 Celtic
Athletic Bilbao 2:0 Xolos
Nuremburg 2:2 Celta Vigo
Freiburg 0:1 Malaga
Alcorcon 1;1 Sevilla
Reus 0:1 Villareal
Alzira 0:3 Levante
St Pauli 4:2 Real Vallecano


Weds 22nd July - Barcelona v LA Galaxy, Levante v Teruel, Ponferradina v Deportivo La Coruna, La Hoya Lorca v Granada, Gimnastic v Villareal, Koln v Espanyol, Sporting Gijon v Lealtad
Thurs 23rd July - Logrones v Eibar, Athletic Bilbao v Real Betis
Fri 24th July - Real Madrid v Manchester City, Real Union v Eibar
Sat 25th July - Barcelona v Manchester United, Valencia v PSG, Toulouse v Real Sociedad, Real Betis v Marseille, Numancia v Atletico Madrid, Werder Bremen v Sevilla, Port Vale v Getafe, Wolfsburg v Villareal, Albacete v Rayo Vallecano, PEC Zwole v Levante, Lugo v Deportivo La Coruna
Sun 26th July - Stade Reims v Sevilla, Lyon v Villareal, Deportivo Cali v Malaga, Tenerife v Sporting Gijon

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, July 17, 2015

Major League Salaries 2015

The American league's millionaires' club. 

The MLS Players Union has released the annual wages of its players and those earning seven figures are as follows:

  1. Kaka (Orlando) $6.7 million
  2. Steven Gerrard (LA) $6.2m
  3. Michael Bradley (Toronto) $6m
  4. Frank Lampard (NYC) $6m
  5. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto) $5.6m
  6. David Villa (NYC) $5.6m
  7. Jozy Altidore (Toronto) $4.75m
  8. Robbie Keane (LA) $4.5m
  9. Giovani Dos Santos (LA) $4m
  10. Clint Dempsey (Seattle) $3.9m
  11. Obafemi Martins (Seattle) $3m
  12. Jermaine Jones (New England) $2.8m
  13. Andrea Pirlo (NYC) $2m
  14. Shaun Maloney (Chicago) $1.6m
  15. Omar Gonzalez (LA) $1.2m
  16. Federico Higuain (Columbus) $1.2m
  17. Pedro Morales (Vancouver) $1.2m
  18. Kevin Doyle (Colorado) $1.1m
  19. Gilberto Junior (Toronto) $1.1m
  20. Liam Ridgewell (Portland) $1m
Far below the millionaires, several players are earning as little as $50-60,000 per annum.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A short Spanish note


Sorry there won't be a proper Spanish review this week as I have been on important family business here in Spain the past few days.

After a sluggish June, the big guns  have finally got into some summer transfer action.

Barcelona got the ball rolling with a €41 million swoop for Atletico Madrid's Arda Turan, highly rated by manager Luis Enrique and coveted for some time. It will be interesting to see how the Turk will fit into the blaugrana's much-vaunted midfield now Xavi has definitely left the building.

Iker Casillas leaving Real Madrid for Porto happened very quickly too a couple of days later. The Spanish No.1 leaves the Bernabeu after 25 years since joining as a nine year-old; an end of an era indeed and still a little surprising given his mostly great form this season.

Casillas gave a tearful farewell address to the press but his parents were more forthcoming, blaming club president Florentino Perez squarely for ushering their son out of the club while protecting his favourites like Gareth Bale.

Keylor Navas is now Real's first-choice, unless a new goalie arrives between now and the end of the transfer window. David De Gea is still stuck in customs however, with the latest gossip suggesting Manchester United want Navas as well as Sergio Ramos in return, which looks unlikely. Ramos has just jetted out to Australia anyway for Real's pre-season tour.

Apologies again for a lack of the usual missive, but normal service will be resumed later this week.

Hasta Luego,

Ponferrada, Spain

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fifa World Rankings July 2015

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for July 2015 were published on Thursday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

losing Copa America finalists Argentina are top, overtaking 2014 world champions Germany. 2010 World Cup winners Spain now in 12th place. Following Argentina are Germany, Belgium, Colombia, the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, Romania, England and Wales.

England are eleven places higher than they were a year ago and continue unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying. Wales are incredibly 10th, up from a lowly 44th a year ago. Algeria are the top African team in 19th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 59th place; beaten quarter-finalists Japan are in 50th. South Korea are in 52nd place after making the final of the Asian Cup, where they lost narrowly to the hosts.

The USA are in 34th. Scotland are in 29th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 59th place, Northern Ireland are in 37th position after a decent start in Euro 2016 qualifying.

1 Argentina
2 Germany
3 Belgium
4 Colombia
5 The Netherlands
6 Brazil
7 Portugal
8 Romania
9 England
10 Wales
11 Chile
12 Spain
13 Uruguay
14 Croatia
15 Slovakia
16 Austria
17 Italy
18 Switzerland
19 Algeria
20 Czech Republic

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