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 possibility 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 dispatched 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

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.

Barça keep Bartomeu while Roma block Real

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

Major League Salaries 2015

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

Spanish Football

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 World Rankings July 2015

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Milan bag Bacca as the market warms up

Sevilla sell their Colombian star for €30 million, but no moves yet for De Gea, Pogba or Ramos


* Milan have won the race for Carlos Bacca's signature. The Colombian leaves Sevilla with an impressive 49 goals in 108 games and two Europa League titles. The 28 year-old, who finished fifth in La Primera's Pichichi race to score the most goals, had been courted by a number of teams but in the end plumped for San Siro in a five year, €30 million deal. It is a loss for La Liga and certainly for Sevilla, although fellow countryman Jackson Martinez will be playing for Atletico Madrid next season, keeping the tradition of cafetero strikers in Spain going strong.

Milan bag Bacca as the market warms up

* Barcelona presidential candidate Juan Laporta, who has recetly upped his campaign for a second coming by wheeling out star names like Johann Cruyff and Pep Guardiola in support, claimed successor Sandro Rosell wanted to sell Lionel Messi to fund Camp Nou renovations.

Laporta also pledged to try to sign Paul Pogba and not to renew the €60 million annual sponsorship with the Qatar Foundation, in the light of reports of enforced labour and human rights abuses in the 2022 World Cup host nation.

His first two spells in charge of FCB brought two Champions Leagues, one World Club Cup, one Copa del Rey and four La Liga trophies to Catalonia.

Facing Laporta in the 18th of July showdown are existing boss Josep Maria Bartomeu, Toni Freixa, Agusti Benedito y Joan Batiste. Bartomeu remains favourite having garnered nearly twice as many nominations as Laporta.

* Real Madrid confirmed their €1.5 million purchase of Lucas Vasquez from Espanyol. The right-winger fits into Rafael Benitez's desire to strengthen that part of the pitch.

* Sevilla have agreed terms with Dnipro for their Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka. The 25 year-old needs only to pass a medical before joining the team who defeated his side in the Europa League final.

* Valencia have signed Celta Vigo forward Santi Mina for €10 million.

* Barça right-back Martin Montoya has passed his medical at Inter and tied up a two-year deal, though the Catalans have first refusal on future transfers.

* Getafe have signed Alvaro Medran on loan from Real Madrid for a year. The 21 year-old midfielder has made two appearances for Los Merengues.

Rayo Vallecano

* Somewhere over the Rayo: Madrid's 'forgotten' club Rayo Vallecano raised a few eyebrows this week as they revealed the design for their new away kit.

Instead of the lightning bolt (el rayo), the shirt has a rainbow, which immediately brought to mind the international LGBT symbol, prominent as Madrid Pride took place this week.

Rayo's third kit has a pink stripe, which they said also symbolises the fight against cancer. A rainbow design is nothing new in football; Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer sported one such number not too long ago:

Explaining the choice, the club announced the various colours symbolise fighting cancer, domestic abuse and sexual orientation discrimination, promoting disabled rights, saving the planet and honouring those who "never lose hope" (Villareal? Norwich?).

Rayo will donate €5 from every pink stripe shirt to cancer charities, €7 from every rainbow stripe shirt. Bravo Rayo.

This is par for the course for possibly La Liga's coolest club, Anyone who has visited the Vallecas will know this is a locals' team with a left-wing, counter-cultural vibe.

Old ladies bring megaphones to barrack the opposition, young kids fly Che Guevara flags. The stadium has only three sides and the club has never any money to compete.

Last season the club paid for a new home for an 85 year-old widow who had lost her home as a result of la crisis, the economic malaise which has been hurting Spain since 2008.

Interestingly however, the Bukaneros fan group called the shirts a cynical and dishonest bandwagon-jumping exercise by club directors who do not really believe in the causes espoused.

* Spain's U-17 women's side won their European Championship, defeating Switzerland 5-2 in the final in Iceland.

* Turkish club Antalyaspor's President Gultekin Gencer said his club will sign Lionel Messi no less in five years' time. The ambitious team is moving to a new 40,000 seat stadium and have bought ex-Barça stars Samuel Eto and Ronaldinho before.

* Real Sociedad have sold Uruguayan striker Diego Ifran to Penarol in a five-year deal. David Moyes' side have also acquired Uruguayan goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli on a year's loan from Deportivo Maldonado.

* Barcelona are being marketed as "The Unstoppables of the Summer" for their tour of the USA, having won everything going this season in Spain.

Los "imparables" del Barça, a la conquista de EE.UU

FCB play LA Galaxy in Los Angeles on the 21st of July, Manchester United in San Francisco on the 25th and Chelsea in Washington on the 28th, before jetting back to Europe for a friendly with Fiorentina in Florence on the 2nd of August.


* Real Madrid are said to be on the verge of sealing a £28 million deal for Juventus attacker Arturo Vidal, fresh from his Copa America win with Chile.

Real are also said to be tussling with Monaco for the signature of Juve's Spanish striker Fernando Llorente.

Arda Turan was all set to swap Atletico Madrid for Barcelona but FCB's board have kaiboshed the deal until a new club president is elected on the 18th of July. The Turk's transfer fee is set to be between €35 and €41 million. Barça's transfer ban expires in January.

Late in the week it was reported Arsenal were willing to recruit Turan in exchange for Spanish international Santi Cazorla and an unspecified fee.

The 28 year-old has been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United and PSG as well recently. Blues striker Diego Costa said it would be great to link up with his former Colchoneros teammate at Stamford Bridge.

Turan himself if said to favour a move to Barça (no surprise) but if that is a no-go, a transfer to Man Utd.

*Atletico are said to be close to signing Congolese defender Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht.

* Rafa Benitez was claimed to have asked Real Madrid to replace Karim Benzema with Fernando Llorente but his club turned him down.

* Paul Pogba remains the most sought-after signing in football this summer but Juventus are in no mood to sell it appears, after reports were ubiquitous that La Signora had turned down an offer of €80 million from Barça.

The Frenchman himself denied any club had spoken to his agent about a possible move.

* Real Madrid have offered €30 million to Manchester United for David De Gea but the Red Devils are holding out for €35 million, down from their initial price tag of €46 million.

With Man U's players due back in training this week, things could happen quickly and De Gea's arrival could kickstart long-speculated moves for Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. Man U are said to be demanding Ramos if they are going to sell De Gea,

Ramos, back in Seville this week for a wedding, told reporters "I am not negotiating with anyone," which still allows leeway for his club and agents to be talking and for Real to be refusing to up his salary, the source of the leaving rumours in the first place.

His mother meanwhile was car-doorstepped this week and was asked if her son was staying at the Bernabeu: "Of course," she replied. "Real Madrid first and foremost...He loves Spain."

With Man Utd said to be offering €35 million and Real demanding €90 million any movement seems stalled, but the rumour is far from dead.

Andres Iniesta, oddly, was asked at a Nike function about Ramos and said he thought Real would not sell him.

In a survey for AS, 55% of Real supporters would accept a big-money offer for their storied defender.

De Gea jetted into Madrid this week, but only to spend time with his family it appeared.

* Barca's 19 year-old forward Munir El Haddadi is attracting interest across Europe. Ajax have had an offer already turned down. Born in Spain to Moroccan parents, El Haddadi is now the subject of an enquiry from Arsenal.

* Arsenal are willing to pay £18 million for Karim Benzema and have enquired about Pedro's availabilty at Barcelona, as the Gunners look for a forward following Lukas Podolski's sale to Galatasaray.

Manchester United and PSG were also linked with the Frenchman this week. The Red Devils met Benzema's agent in London's Savoy hotel last month. If Benzema leaves Real, the club will surely plump for a replacement centre-forward, with Manchester City's Argentine ace Sergio Aguero high on their wish-list.

* Atletico Madrid are trying to buy Benfica's Argentine midfielder Nicolas Gaitan but the 27 year-old is believed to favour a move to Old Trafford.

* Barcelona have been linked with Sao Paolo attacking midfielder Gerson. The 18 year-old has seven caps for Brazil's U-20 side.

* PSG's Qatari millions could be used for an audacious offer for Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo, according to the Italian soccer press.

* The transfer window closes at the end of August so there is plenty of time for deals to be struck. Looking back, Real Madrid have bought and sold big names like Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil close to deadline day.

* Real Betis are after Nice's defensive midfielder Didier Digard on a free transfer but face competition from Marseille.

* Real Sociedad are set to sign Racing Santander's 18 year-old winger David Concha for €1 million.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile