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

THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW

* 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.

* 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.

* 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.


TRANSFER RUMOURS

* 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


Monday, June 29, 2015

Will he stay or will he Sergio?

RAMOS MULLS OVER A BERNABEU BYE-BYE

The Spanish Week in Review

* Sergio Ramos is leaving Real Madrid if you believe the press' main story this week. The merengue veteran is said to have lost patience with the lack of a pay rise (he earns €6 million p.a., 12 million less than Cristiano Ronaldo but also less than Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas) and is angling for the exit door.

Ramos is said to have been taking English lessons for a year and met Manchester United officials earlier in the year.

There is the little problem of the €180 million release clause however until his contract expires in 2017 so it is hard to credit reports of an imminent adios, but Man Utd were said to be dangling €30 million plus David De Gea for the Andalucian's signature at the start of the week, rising to €50 million by the end and with a limit of €70 million at their disposal.

Real meanwhile were said to be demanding between €65-90 million for the Andalucian's signature.

The Red Devils are said to be dangling €10 a season for five years to the player, a substantial increase on his Madrid salary of €6 million.

On the face of it reliable Ramos has the class to cut in anywhere in the world, but Ray Wilkins noted his 19 sendings-of for Real are proof of an Achilles' Heel of a suspect temperament which could be riled quite often in England.

Real have let talismen leave before - Arjen Robben, Mesut Ozil, Claude Makelele and as recently as last season Angel di Maria, so they can survive without Ramos, but he would still be a huge loss.

Talk however has already started surrounding his possible replacement, with Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi their No.1 choice. The only problem is the Argentine has a €50 million first refusal deal with Man Utd no less.

Other post-Ramos options are said to include Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny and Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi.

Given the money involved it seems unlikely there will be any movement on this front, unless Ramos falls into such a sulk that his club will be tempted to take United's highest offer. To complicate matters, Manchester City have just been added to the equation and one presumes they could outbid their city rivals.
Rafael Benitez, on holiday in his former home Liverpool, would like Ramos to stay but has little leverage over owner Florentino Perez, even if he wanted to force the issue. Parallels have been drawn with Chelsea's €50 million offer for Steven Gerrard in 2004, when Benitez travelled personally to the England camp and convinced his captain to stay on Merseyside.
* As if the fiasco over the 2022 World Cup Finals could not get any worse, the Spanish League is now demanding €65 million compensation from FIFA for disrupting their domestic calendar.
Seven La Liga match days, two Copa del Rey rounds and three group games from the Champions League and Europa League will be lost if the Qatar tournament goes ahead as planned, with all of November and December taken up by the World Cup.
Beleaguered FIFA however has rejected any monetary demands, pointing to the €200 million allocated over the net two World Cups to be distributed among clubs whose players are selected.
Expect this one to run and run.
* The Spanish League is also taking FIFA to the European Commission for Competicion over its ban on the use of investment funds in club finances.
League boss Javier Tebas said a ban on third-party ownership of clubs runs "contrary to free enterprise and against the free circulation of players and capital." He argued that although English clubs are not legally allowed to use such funds, they have an advantage over Spanish clubs when it comes to the higher value of their television deals.
Atletico Madrid owner Miguel Angel Gil explained. "We have played ten finals and won seven trophies since we started using this type of financing in 2008. Banning it would place us at a disadvantage compared to other countries, especially the English Premier League.
* Zinedine Zidane, coach of Real Madrid B, confirmed he would have taken Carlo Ancelotti's job if it had been offered. "I am not disappointed. It just was not the right moment," he said.

* Roma will visit Valencia for a friendly on the 8th of August. A day later Real Madrid will play a friendly with Valerenga in Oslo.

* Rafael Benitez has promised new signings but said it was hard to improve on the existing squad. If no new faces emerge, he is set to include Russian midfielder Denys Cheryshev in his first-team squad.

* Barcelona owner Pep Bartomeu was said to have been meeting Atletico Madrid officials secretly in Ibiza this week, but what they discussed remains a matter of conjecture.

* Atletico have tied up the signing of 21 year-old Argentine striker Luciano Vietto from Villareal.

* Pep Guardiola weighed into the Barcelona presidential debate by backing his old mentor Joan Laporta, who is standing for re-election five years after leaving the Camp Nou. Later in the week Johan Cruyff no less was said to be backing Laporta. "He is very motivated to collaborate," Laporta said. Talk about a nostalgia ride.

It could be back to the future in July for FCB, and with Laporta back at the helm, how long will it be before talk of a second coming for Pep breaks out...?

* Ronaldo dislikes club owner Florentino Perez it was alleged this week for the following reasons:

The Real chief did not stand up and defend him over the 'Birthdaygate' party which the press made a song and dance about, he was not consulted about Carlo Ancelotti's sacking (Ronaldo got on well with him) or the contract renewal of club doctor Jesus Olmo (whom many players don't rate), and his new role as the lone striker he learnt about from the press first.

Perez has been quick to defend Gareth Bale this season but given his star man less support. Is there any talk of Ronaldo leaving the Bernabeu? No.

* Everton confirmed the £4.2 million capture of Barcelona attacker Gerard Delofeu for three years. The Spanish U21 international was a hit on loan in Merseyside two seasons ago.

* Jackson Martinez has put pen to paper at last. The Colombian striker is moving to Atletico Madrid for €35 million, making him the marquee signing of the summer so far.

* Malaga have completed the signing of Celta's Brazilian striker Charles for €500,000.

* Real have fired four physios, a doctor and physiotherapist following their injury-plagued season. Chief club doctor Jesus Olmo remains however, despite several players complaining he had bad-mouthed them to the club's management.
* Luis Enrique has asked Barcelona to buy another striker as cover for his MSN trident, according to the city's Sport newspaper.
* Real Madrid's barren season without a cup continued as they lost the League's Youth Cup (Copa del Rey Juveniles) 2-1 to Rayo Vallecano in Ceuta. The final concluded in drama as Rayo's Pablo Claveria handled on the line in the 94th minute and was sent off. Goalkeeper Javi Ruiz saved the resulting penalty however and Rayo had won their first Youth Cup.
* New boys Las Palmas have signed Argentine U-23 striker Sergio Araujo, on loan this season from Boca Juniors, onto a five-year contract.

* Valencia's 22 year-old Brazilian forward Vinicius Araujo will go on loan to Cruzeiro next season.

* Villareal have signed French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola on a season-long loan from PSG.

* Former Valencia assistant coach Fran Escriba is the new coach of Getafe.

El Atlético de Madrid presenta su nueva camiseta para la temporada 2015-16
* Hot on the heels of Real and Barca, Atletico Madrid revealed their new kit this week. At a glance the shirt looks like Athletic Bilbao's but we are told the design is a reference to their league and cup double season twenty years ago.

* The summer transfer market has been rather slack in Spain as clubs scratch their heads over Financial Fair Play Rules and previously decadent outlays.

Barcelona are still under a transfer ban until 2016 but Real Madrid have been exceptionally quiet, having splashed out €59 million last season. 
Benitez has identified his priorities as a central midfielder (presumably Toni Kroos is not his dream partner for Luka Modric), a specialist right-sided midfielder and a centre-forward, but so far no big new names have arrived at the Bernabeu. Espanyol's Lucas Vasquez is not exactly a galactico.
CONFIRMED CAPTURES (not including loans)

Barcelona - Aleix Vidal (Sevilla)
Real Madrid - Casemiro, Danilo (Porto), Marco Asensio (Real Mallorca)
Atletico Madrid - Luciano Vietto (Villareal), Jackson Martinez (Porto)
Sevilla - Gael Kakuta (Chelsea), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Celta)
Valencia - Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paolo), Rodrigo, Joao Cancelo, Andre Gomes (Benfica), Alvaro Negredo (Man City)
Athletic Bilbao - Eneko Boveda (Eibar), Javier Eraso (Leganes), Ramalho
Celta Vigo - Iago Aspas, Daniel Wass (Sevilla)
Real Betis - Rafael Van der Vaart (Hamburg), Petros Matheus (Corinthians), Francisco Portillo (Malaga)
Deportivo La Coruna - Alejandro Arribas, Fernando Navarra (Sevilla)
Getafe - Juan Cala (Granada)
Levante - Ruben, Verza (Almeria)
Malaga - Fabio Espinho (Ludogorets), Amrabat (Galatasaray), Charles (Celta), Juan Carlos Perez (Braga)
Villareal - Samu Garcia, Samu Castillejo (Malaga)
Las Palmas - Sergio Araujo (Boca Juniors)


TRANSFER RUMOURS

Sergio Ramos - see above

* Denys Cheryshev has returned to Real Madrid after a year on loan at Villareal with his future unclear. Liverpool are set to offer €15-20 million for the right-sided Russian midfielder, and Villareal are also keen to buy him permanently.

* Paul Pogba remains the most-coveted European signing of the summer, and Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta claimed this week that if elected, only he had "the contacts" to bring the Frenchman to the Camp Nou. Laporta also said Pogba is "very excited" to come to Catalonia.

* Karim Benzema was again linked with Liverpool and PSG.

* Barcelona could make a move for Sevilla midfielder Vicente Iborra as coach Luis Enrique is reported to have asked the club to enquire.

* Liverpool were said to have tabled a £15 million bid for Real's Asier Illarramendi.

* The British press reported David De Gea's €3.7 million Manchester pad is up for sale, fuelling rumours the Spanish international goalkeeper is on his way to Real Madrid.

Real's hunt for a new custodian is also extending to Bayer Leverkusen's 23 year-old Bernd Leno.

*Contrary to all the hype, Sevilla claim to have received no offers for Colombian marksman Carlos Bacca, whose release clause is €21 million. This has not stopped the Italian press claiming Milan are embarking on a €30 million capture.

* Another of La Liga's top strikers Antoine Griezmann was linked again with Chelsea, but the Blues' imminent capture of Falcao would seem to put the kibosh on that one.

* Barcelona are said to be preparing to buy Arda Turan from Atletico in the January transfer window, while Man Utd are willing to pay €39 million for the Turk's signature.

* Atletico are said to be keen to purchase River Plate midfielder Matias Kranevitter. Los Colchoneros are planning to buy the 22 year-old now and loan him back until January.

Diego Simeone's side were also linked with PSG's Italian international midfielder Thiago Motta and were said to be offering €15 million for Napoli's Spanish attacker Jose Callejon.

* Tottenham remain in pole position to take Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld off Atletico Madrid's hands.

* Juventus were said to be eyeing Real's Isco as their No.1 replacement for Andrea Pirlo, who is off to the USA.

* Angel di Maria could be set for a swift return to Spain but this time to Barcelona! The Argentine international has had his exit papers ready for a while now after failing to settle in Manchester and both Luis Enrique and Lionel Messi are said to have asked their club to snap him up. Real Madrid would get €10 million of any sale.

* West Ham are hoping to make Alex Song, on loan from Barcelona this season, a permanent Hammer.

* Athletic Bilbao are interested in acquiring the services of Arsenal's Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal

* Pedro was again linked with Liverpool and Manchester City, despite having signed a new contract with Barcelona recently.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, June 22, 2015

Del Bosque's 100 and a step nearer France

LA ROJA MOVE A STEP CLOSER TO EURO 2016 BUT CRASH OUT OF THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP


The Spanish Week in Review

Spain won 1-0 at Belarus last Sunday night to stay on course for France next summer and a defence of their European Championship crown.

David Silva confirmed his emergence as the best weapon of la selección by grabbing the only goal on the stroke of half-time

A wet night in Eastern Europe was never going to be an easy ride and Spain had to fight for their win against a determined and often physical, if limited opponent.

Iker Casillas made a couple of key saves in the second half to prevent an equaliser but Alvaro Morata equally missed a chance at the other end.

Spain enjoyed two-thirds of possession and topped their hosts for shots on target eleven to two and off-target ten to two. They played 693 passes to Belarus' 310. So they were worthy winners but it was no plain sailing.

Vicente del Bosque, in his 100th match in charge, summed up the night: "Things are not going too badly."

He went on to identify some tactical points to work on: "Against teams which shut up shop at the back," he said, "it is good to keep control. What we are lacking is pace when things are static and in transition."

Del Bosque will call it a day after Euro 2016. He has already won everything that counts but a final hurrah in France would be a fitting send-off for the national team's most successful manager of all time.

SPAIN: Casillas, Ramos, Alba,  Pique, Busquets, Fabregas (sub Isco 75), Cazorla, JuanFran, Pedro (sub Vitolo 65), Morata, Silva (sub Bernat 85). Goal: Silva (45)

Subs not used: De Gea, Rico, Carvajal, Bartra, San Jose, Koke, Nolito, Alcacer, Vidal
Manager: Vicente del Bosque

While Slovakia still head the group by three points following their 2-1 result against Macedonia,
Ukraine's 3-0 win at home to Luxembourg keeps them breathing down Spain's necks, three points behind but with a home game against La Roja in October.

Automatic qualification is thus far from assured but a draw or win in Kiev in the Autumn should be enough to bag a place in the top two and a ticket to France.

Spain can take points off group leaders Slovakia at home in September and then visit Ukraine in their final qualifier.

Group C  after six games

1. Slovakia 18 pts GD +10
2. Spain  15 pts GD + 12
3. Ukraine 12 pts GD +7
4. Belarus 4 pts GD -7
5. Macedonia 3 pts GD -8
6. Luxembourg 1 pt GD -14

Remaining fixtures:

5th Sep    Spain v Slovakia
8th Sep    Macedonia v Spain
9th Oct    Spain v Luxembourg
12th Oct  Ukraine v Spain

PLAYOFFS FOR LA PRIMERA

* After their miraculous comeback in the semi-final (lost 3-0 at home, won 4-1 away to Girona), Real Zaragoza maintained their fairytale run.

La Romareda stadium was on fire again as Los Blanquillos staged another emotional comeback, reacting to going a goal down at home to Las Palmas in the final first leg to win 3-1 in the end.

With the Aragon side in touching distance of La Primera having scraped into the playoffs on the final day of the season in sixth place, a point ahead of Ponferradina, their confidence was evinced by them bringing on 40-year old Juan Carlos Valeron in the 64th minute.

Zaragoza then flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria on Sunday for the second leg, but their unexpected dream came to an end as the side from the Canary Islands triumphed 2-0 to win on away goals and book the third and final spot in La Primera next season.

Roque Mesa gave the home side a first half lead but the Yellows could not make their superiority pay until the 84th minute, when Argentine U-23 striker Sergio Araujo volleyed in a second to set off wild celebrations, which turned into predictable ecstasy a few minutes later.

Zaragoza must lick their wounds and regroup for another attempt at regaining the Primera status they lost two seasons ago, while Las Palmas return to the top flight for the first time since 2002.



2014-'15 Season: 
La Primera: Relegated: Eibar, Almeria and Cordoba
Liga Adelante: Promoted: Real Betis, Sporting Gijon, Las Palmas.
Relegated: Barcelona B, Sabadell, Recreativo Huelva and Racing Santander.

IN OTHER NEWS...

* "Only Perfect Counts" was the slogan emblazoned on the posters promoting Real Madrid's new kit. So no pressure on new boss Rafa Benitez then...Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas were centre stage implying they are not about to leave the Bernabeu any time soon. The new polyester shirt retails at a cool €85.



Barcelona, lest we forget, are ditching their 115-year heritage by playing in hoops next season; 

* Neymar has dominated much of the news for his hissy fit at the Copa America which earned him a rather generous four-match ban for Brazil after assaulting and insulting the referee against Colombia. Back in Spain however he has extended his stay at the Camp Nou until 2020 in a deal worth €12 million per annum.

* The players union LFP have published their La Liga team of the season:

Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo (Barcelona)
Defenders: Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique (all Barcelona), Nicolas Otamendi (Valencia)
Midfielders: Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)

with Luis Enrique the coach of course. Just imagine Messi and Ronaldo together up front...

* La Liga players predictably made up the lion's share of the Champions League squad of the season. 12 of the 18 players selected by UEFA's Technical Observers ply their trade in Spain: Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Alvaro Morata was also chosen.

* Around 70,000 piled into the Bernabeu to see Real Madrid legends beat Liverpool's 4-2, with Jerzy Dudek, Steve McManaman, Fernando Morientes and Michael Owen playing for both sides. Roberto Carlos scored a brace for Real, who featured Zinedine Zidane, Clarence Seedorf and even Emilio Butragueno.

Liverpool featured Spaniards Luis Garcia and Abel Xavier as well as Phil Thompson and Ian Rush from their golden years at the start of the 1980s.

* Spain are tenth again in FIFA's latest World Rankings.

* Half of Real Madrid fans polled would sell Cristiano Ronaldo if an offer of between €100 and €150 million came in.

The galactico has just had an actual galaxy named after him. Astronomers working in observatories in Chile and Hawaii have named a cluster of ancient stars "CR7", as they are three times brighter than equivalent galaxies.

* Gareth Bale has had a frustrating season marooned in midfield and Rafael Benitez is planning to play him on the left in a trident behind Ronaldo. 

After another match-winning performace for Wales, where he scored the only goal to defeat Belgium, Spain's vast Real following are openly wondering again if another slack season awaits teh Cardiffian in the white shirts. The big difference is that Wales are based around him, and he has liberty to roam wearing red.

Five goals in six for Wales is notably better than the 13 in 31 he scored for Real this season, but the idea that he could replicate his national team role with Ronaldo and other galacticos around him is far-fetched.

* Dani Alves has signed a two-year extension at Barcelona only a month after saying he did not feel respected at the Camp Nou and soon after the blaugrana signed Sevilla's right-sided Aleix Vidal.

Alves looked sure to leave, especially after his tearful 'farewell' in the title celebrations, but had performed excellently in the season's crucial, final games, a flourish which must have twisted the club's arm. "I couldn't imagine a changing room without you!!!", tweeted Ivan Rakitic.

* Lionel Messi allegedly turned down the man-of-the-match award for Argentina against Paraguay in the Copa America after the Albiceleste conceded a last-minute equalizer. Paraguay's Haedo Valdez got the gong instead. The little flea was doubtless fed up with awards for disappointing results, following his rather unmerited player of the tournament prize at the World Cup Finals.

* Mario Mandzukic has left Atletico Madrid for Juventus for an €18 million fee and a four-year deal. The Croatian striker's arrival in Turin means one of Juve's two Spanish forwards Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata could be heading back across the Mediterranean.

There is also now a vacant striker slot at the Manzanares. Expectations remain high after some illustrious boots have scored goals for the Colchoneros in recent years: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Falcao, Diego Forlan, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Torries and David Villa.

* Jose Antonio Reyes has signed a new two-year deal at Sevilla, turning down offers from the Middle East. His club have in turn sold striker Iago Aspas to Celta Vigo.

* Sevilla have also agreed terms with Chelsea for Gael Kakuta.

* 109, 637 members of FC Barcelona are eligible to vote in this summer's presidential election on the 18th of July. Former boss Joan Laporta is standing against current incumbent Josep Bartomeu.

* Former Juventus owner 'Lukcy Luciano' Moggi, who was at the centre of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, told the press this week that Real owner Florentino Perez was planning to sack Carlo Ancelotti this summer whether he won the Champions League or not.

* Sergio Ramos has travelled to Cuba as a UNICEF ambassador

* Striker Juanmi has tied up a €7 million move from Malaga to Southampton.

* 21 year-old Gerard Delofeu is returning to Everton, where he played two seasons ago, for a fee of €6 million. The 21 year-old attacker, who has one cap for Spain, had a disappointing year on loan at Sevilla from Barcelona. Barça retain an option to buy him back for €9 million over the next two seasons.

* The final of Spain's youth cup, the Copa del Rey Juvenil will take place on the 27th of June in Ceuta and is an all Madrid derby between Real and Rayo Vallecano.

WOMEN'S WORLD CUP

* Spain's women finished last in their group and exited the tournament at the first hurdle. La selección femenina started with a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica but then lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 to South Korea in their do-or-die match.

Veronica Boquete opened the scoring for Spain in Ottawa but the Koreans netted two second-half goals, the second a golazo from outside the box, to send the first-time entrants towards the exit. Spain had needed a win and went down fighting, hitting the bar with a free kick in the closing stages, but were beaten by a better side in the end.

Spanish women's football has been slow taking off compared to France, Italy or the northern European nations' but this first World Cup finals appearance was a big step in the right direction.

TRANSFER RUMOURS

* Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri has said his club should only accept an offer for Alvaro Morata if it is in the range of €70-80 million. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are said to be willing to pay that sum.

* Barcelona were said to have paid €3 million to Fluminense to have first refusal on their Brazilian U-20 midfielder Gerson. The blaugrana could snap him and teammate Kenedy up in the New Year when their transfer ban expires.

* Milan have made an offer to buy Atletico Madrid schemer Arda Turan. The Turk has a release clause of €41 million

* Another Turk attracting Spanish eyes is Bursaspor's Turkish international defender Ozan Tufan. Atletico and Valencia are interested in buying the 20 year-old.

*Atletico are certainly the centre of most transfer attention. Brazilian defender Miranda was again linked with Manchester United, but also with Inter, who are alleged to be offering more money.

* PSG were said to have offered €40 million for Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann. The 24 year-old french international has yet to play for a club in his homeland.

* Sergio Ramos to Manchester United for €65 million was a rumour late in the week as the Spanish international has murmured discontent at his lack of a wage hike at Real Madrid, but equally with David De Gea constantly linked with a move in the opposite direction but nothing happening, it could well have been a fill-in-the-gaps hacks' exercise.

Ramos has been at the club for a decade and as a solid part of La Roja as well, is a fan favourite.

* Rafa Benitez has asked Real to buy Lazio's Argentinian international midfielder Lucas Biglia, valued at €25 million as well as Inter's Argentine striker Mauro Icardi.

* Juventus are favourites to sign Barcelona's second-choice right-back Martin Montoya.

* Liverpool are weighing up a €15 million raid on Keylor Navas if David De Gea moves to the Bernabeu. The Reds are also said to be mulling over a €22 million offer for Real defenzive midfielder Asier Illarramendi.

* Valencia are hoping to sign Real Sociedad's Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli but Manchester City could pip them to his signing and loan the player back to Valencia. Valencia are also looking to sign Celta Vigo skipper Augusto Fernandez for €5 million.

* Atletico have been courting Carlos Tevez for a while but Boca Juniors are trying to intercept El Apache during the Copa America in Chile while a bigger offer from PSG is expected too.

Diego Simeone's continued pursuit of Tevez meant they had gone cool on Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who appeared to have penned a four-year deal with Milan. But later in the week it transpired the deal had not been signed and talk of Atletico and Martinez arose again. 

His release clause is €35 million, which seems a little high for someone who is not first choice for his country, but then again his agent is the formidable Jorge Mendes, who represents Jose Mourinho.

Atletico are now said to be vying with Bologna for the signing of Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon.

Chicharito, unwanted by Manchester United and Real Madrid, is another international striker being linked with Atletico.

* Barça's Marc Bartra is available for only €12 million before the 1st of July when his release clause rockets to €30 million. Liverpool, Manchester City, Inter, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are reportedly ready to swoop for the Spanish international defender.

* Chelsea and Manchester City are waiting in the wings if Pepe does not renew his contract with Real Madrid.

* Spanish target man Fernando Llorente was supposed to be moving from Juventus to Monaco but the move went cold late in the week as the striker was linked with Liverpool.

* Sevilla's Carlos Bacca has been linked with Liverpool and Man Utd but the Colombian strker is said to be tempted by a move to Roma. His release clause is €30 million.

* Iker Casillas leaving Real Madrid to make way for David De Gea is a never-ending saga. His latest ports of arrival are Arsenal, Tottenham, Roma, Fenerbahce and the New York Cosmos.

Spanish international Juan Mata meanwhile, implied compatriot De Gea was close to the exit at Old Trafford. "He is a friend and I want him to be happy," he told Marca, adding, "From a selfish point of view I would want to have him in my team."

* Atletico Madrid's Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld was again linked with a swap move for Chelsea's Brazilian full-back Filipe Luis, but Tottenham were also reported as being on his tail.

* Sevilla were said to have offered €4 million for Stoke City's Steven N'Zonzi but the Potters turned them down.

* Newly promoted Real Betis are hoping to recruit Villareal's Paraguayan international Hernan Perez.

* Rayo Vallecano are hoping to sign River Plate's Argentine U-20 striker Giovanni Simeone, son of atletico coach Diego.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Spain picks on Pique

BARÇA STAR GETS THE BIRD, SPAIN DEBUTS IN THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP

The Spanish Week in Review

With the domestic saga of La Primera finally done and dusted, attention switched to the international game as the Spanish selecciones were in action in Euro 2016 qualifying and the Women's World Cup.

It also meant the press had less cud to chew on so they homed in on a silly quip Gerard Pique had made at Barcelona's post Champions League party and regurgitated the old Real v Barca rivalry all week.

Pique's probably inebriated joke about Cristiano Ronaldo's birthday party being the start of Barça's season was hardly offensive, and par for the course among celebrating Barcelona fans.

The largely Real-supporting media's faux outrage not only betrayed their childishly partisan approach to football reporting but also revealed a stark hypocrisy:

If it had not been for them making such a fuss over the party incident - when the Colombian DJ broke the house rules and tweeted perfectly innocent party photos, that night would not have become an issue so big it may have unsettled Carlo Ancelotti's team psychologically.

They cannot on one had attack their favourite team for being unprofessional and at the same time get angry when Barcelona thank them for handing them an advantage.

SPAIN 2:1 COSTA RICA, Leon 13,000

The witchhunt of Pique continued into Thursday, when he was booed arriving in Leon for Spain's friendly with Costa Rica, and whistled relentlessly throughout the game every time he touched the ball.

There were voices chanting his name in support, but Castilla y Leon is largely madridista, as the jeers and whistles drowned out the opposition and the Football Federation's regional representative Marcelino Mate failed to condemn the jeers, calling them "understandable."

Again, not a little hypocrisy was in evidence as many of those disrepecting La Roja via Pique had probably moaned about the Barcelona and Bilbao regionalists who drowned out the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final.

It certainly tarnished Leon's big night, as the province is a bit of a football wasteland - its best team Ponferradina finished seventh in the second division, while Leonesa are stuck in the third, and the city had not hosted a Spain match for twelve years.

The media's inflation of the domestic division of loyalties between blaugrana and merengue was not welcome on the international stage.

At least Pique stood up for himself, playing with calm assurance and refreshingly refusing to apologise to all those Real fans whose feelings had been so hurt.

"Not at all," he said when asked if he regretted the joke. "I would say it again. There was a celebration and it was a simple joke. What has happened is that the repercussions they wanted to give it which I can't control anymore."

Spain won the match 2-1 against Costa Rica, who despite scoring first were disappointing after their remarkable run in the World Cup last summer.

La Roja looked a little rudderless too as their experimental lineup was sliced open after only five minutes when Joel Campbell set up Johan Venegas to slot home.

Vicente del Bosque had picked only two of the familiar faces of the Spanish Edad de Oro (golden age) - Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Ramos to start. 

Actually, the masked Fabregas was anything but a familiar face, but his 83 minutes means the manager must see the 28 year-old as a key player for the next few years now Xabi Alonso and Xavi has gone and the 31 year-old Andres Iniesta is no longer an automatic choice at club level.

David de Gea was selected ahead of Iker Casillas, while another Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas was between the sticks at the other end. This was De Gea's chance to affirm he is the future but the only shot on target in the first half beat him.

The Spanish defence had Real's Daniel Carvajal and Bayern Munich's Juan Bernat as full-backs with Ramos and Barcelona's Marc Bartra in the middle. 

While Ramos played a captain's game at the back, Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose wandered around to little effect in front of the defence.

The forward line was inexperienced indeed: Valencia's Paco Alcacer up front with Celta Vigo's Nolito on the left and Sevilla debutant Aleix Vidal on the right.

Alcacer repaid the manager's faith by equalizing in the eighth minute and Fabregas made it 2-1 on the half hour but Spain failed to shine in the first 45, battling Costa Rica constantly but not dominating.

It was only in the second half when Del Bosque made six changes that Spain started to motor however, particularly when the dribblers David Silva and Santi Cazorla replaced Nolito and Koke.

Silva was the real star of the show, cutting through the Costa Ricans with ease and bringing his teammates fast into the last third to create some real 'verticality' in Spain's game.

There were no more goals but the second half saw a rejuvenated Spain create plenty of chances, kept at bay by an alert Navas, who vied with Silva for the man of the match.

The general verdict was that Spain played positively after the break and showed much energy of old, a refreshing improvement from the misery of Brazil. The old magic has not disappeared completely yet. Fabregas scored one and set up another, while Pique and Ramos ruled the roost at the back.

That said, the second string or next generation are yet to really show they can take on their mantle, although Cazorla and Silva seem cut from the same cloth as the golden generation. Alcacer too, is slowly making waves. He took his goal neatly from a one-on-one with Navas and has netted four in six now for la seleccion.

Sevilla's Aleix Vidal twisted his ankle and will miss the Sunday night clash with Belarus.

Spain : De Gea, Ramos (Pique 58), San Jose (Busquets 75), Bartra, Carvajal, Fabregas (Isco 83), Vidal (Vitolo 46) Koke (Cazorla 60), Bernat, Nolito (Silva 59), Alcacer. 
Unused Subs: Morata, Alba, JuanFran, Pedro, Casillas, Rico
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque

IN OTHER NEWS...

* Las Palmas took a step closer to La Primera by edging past Real Valladolid in their Liga Adelante playoff semi-final. The Canary Islands side drew 0-0 at home after tying 1-1 away, advancing on away goals to the final.Valladolid had a night to forget in the second leg, missing a penalty and having two men sent off.

In the other semi, Girona looked odds-on after winning 3-0 at Real Zaragoza in the first leg. 

But Zaragoza made a miraculous comeback by winning 4-1 at Girona to go through to the final on away goals.

Girona must be feeling cursed. They missed out on automatic promotion after Lugo scored an injury time equaliser in their final league match, then must have felt they had made the final comfortably with a 3-0 away win against the team which had finished sixth.

With an apparent mountain to climb, Zaragoza however were 3-0 up at half-time in the second leg and went ahead in the 68th minute, leaving Girona needing two goals. They got one but no more and finished shellshocked, eliminated after such an emphatic first leg victory.

2,000 Zaragoza fans greeted their returning heroes at the railway station.

Crestfallen coach Pablo Machin of Girona told the press,

"This is incredibly hard to take. I don't know what we have done to football for such a magnificent season have such a macabre ending."

The overall winners of the two-legged final will join Real Betis and Sporting Gijon in the top flight next season.

* La Liga President Javier Tebas does not mince his words. Asked about the FIFA scandal, he replied, "What the Americans did was like the Normandy landings." Speaking of the importance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the league's TV rights, he added, "With those two we have a bomb."

* Dutch veteran Rafael Van der Vaart, has penned a three-year deal with newly promoted Real Betis. The midfielder, who has 109 caps for the Netherlands and a Spanish mother from Cadiz, returns to La Liga five years after leaving Real Madrid, where he played 58 times over two seasons.

* €500 million is the debt Real Madrid have, according to AS newspaper. Just fancy that.

* 119 was the decibel level of the jeering of the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final. AS published a photo of two middle-aged well-dressed men using tin whistles in the Camp Nou.

* Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick for Portugal against Armenia on Saturday playing as a centre-forward, the position he is set to play in next season for Rafael Benitez's new Real Madrid.

* Sevilla have sold Cameroonian midfielder Stephane M'Bia to Trabzonspor of Turkey for an undisclosed fee.

* Valencia have signed Brazilian U-23 midfielder Rodrigo Caio from Sao Paolo for €13 million.


WOMEN'S WORLD CUP...

Spain have made their debut in the Women's World Cup but have yet to make their mark. La seleccion feminil qualified ahead of Italy with nine wins out of ten but drew their first match 1-1 with Costa Rica before losing 1-0 to Brazil. 

Vicky Losada scored their first and so far only World Cup finals goal. Their do or die match is on Wednesday against South Korea in Ottawa. If Spain win and Costa Rica lose to Brazil, they will reach the Round of 16.

Group E after two matches:

1. Brazil 6 pts GD +3
2. Costa Rica 2pts GD level
3. Spain 1pt GD -1
4. South Korea 1pt GD -2


TRANSFER RUMOURS...

Talk of Gareth Bale leaving Real Madrid has rumbled on all summer. While it might have seemed unthinkable the club could part with its most expensive player after only two seasons, world-class footballers have left the Bernabeu before (e.g. Mesut Ozil and Arjen Robben) quite suddenly and gone to achieve great things elsewhere.

However, transfer talk surrounding Bale has cooled after Rafael Benitez was pictured all smiles with the Welshman in Cardiff on Friday. A friendly meeting apparently followed in which the new Real coach explained his plans for the season and how Bale will adapt to a new role on the left behind Cristiano Ronaldo. A departure seems most unlikely now. Bale's match-winning goal for Wales later that day can only have deepened the manager's faith in him.

Real Madrid's hunt for Sergio Aguero has made Manchester City offer him a renewed deal to put his salary on a par with Yaya Toure (€22 million p.a.). Argentine media speculated that Florentino Perez has offered €90 million for Kun's signature.

David de Gea to Real has been a story for some time. Rafael Benitez would apparently want him by the 12th of July, the start of the club's pre-season. United are still hunting his replacement however, with Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalie Jan Oblak the latest suspect.

Benitez wants Jese to stay at the Bernabeu rather than be loaned out. The 22 year-old has had limited opportunities so far but like Isco offers varied attacking options. He has also told club owners he needs a central midfielder and right-sided midfielder.

Take your pick from the possible central acquisitions named in the press this week:Marco Verratti from PSG, Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund, Geoffrey Kondogbia from Monaco, Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, Arturo Vidal from Juventus and Radja Nianggolan from Roma.

Bayern Munich are interested in Real's No.2 goalkeeper Keylor Navas as are Valencia, who have offered to sign him on loan.

Juventus would like to buy Isco to add to their Spanish foreign legion.

Carlos Tevez is still on Atletico's radar with a €15 million price tag mentioned.

Inter are interested in Colchonero centre-back Joao Miranda, linked a while ago with Chelsea.

Real's Norwegian spruce Martin Odegaard could be loaned out to Celtic.

Megabucks PSG have offered £87 million for Cristiano Ronaldo and are still after Pedro, despite his contract renewal at Barcelona.

Manchester United will offer £20 million to Real for Sergio Ramos, as contract renegotiations stall.

United are also sniffing around central defender Nicolas Otamendi, whom Valencia value at £35 million. Old Trafford is still being linked with a Madrid striker, either Karim Benzema from Real or Mario Mandzukic from Atletico.

Zenit St Petersburg have held out a €27 million carrot for Atletico's Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic.

Bayern Munich could take Spanish international Marc Bartra from Barcelona for only €12 million.

Sevilla are close to signing Chelsea winger Gael Kakuta, who spent last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano. The club are also very keen on Dnipro winger Yevhen Konoplyanka.

Real Sociedad are trying to recruit Costa Rican marksman Joel Campbell, on loan at Villareal from Arsenal.

Southampton will pay €7 million for Malaga forward Juanmi, but face a last-minute challenge from Newcastle. The Saints have had a €12 million offer for Gzegorz Krychowiak rejected by Sevilla, with Arsenal apparently willing to bid higher for the Polish defensive midfielder.

The Andalucian club are looking to offload Samuel and Samu Castillejo but want to buy Celta's Brazilian marksman Charles.

Villareal have offered €2.5 million to Valencia to make defender Victor Ruiz's loan permanent.

Valencia have enquired about Man Utd's Victor Valdes but were told he was not available.

Rayo Vallecano are trying to sign Spanish U-19 striker Jose Angel Pozo from Manchester City.

Barcelona B central midfielder Alen Halilovic could link up with fellow Croatian Slaven Bilic, newly appointed by West Ham.

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

Sun 14th June 
EURO 2016 qualifying
Belarus v Spain  19:45

Weds 17th June
Liga Adelante playoff Final 1st leg
Las Palmas v Real Zaragoza 19:00

Thurs 18th June
Women's World Cup
Spain v South Korea   Midnight

Sun 21st June
Liga Adelante playoff Final 2nd leg
Real Zaragoza v Las Palmas 18:00

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, June 8, 2015

Barça are Kings of Europe again while Benitez's Real reign begins

THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW

Barcelona cruise past Juventus to win their fifth European Cup while Rafael Benitez starts work at the Bernabeu in dismantling their dominance.


BARCELONA COMPLETE THE TREBLE IN BERLIN


And lo it came to pass that Barcelona won the Champions League and the treble this season.

The 3-1 scoreline the history books will record suggests a comfortable win, and indeed the blaugrana never looked like losing, but at least Juventus had the cojones to fight back and equalise through Alvaro Morata instead of being taken apart like Barcelona's victims in the previous rounds.

Italians are famous for their watertight defences and Juve had won their national championship losing a game less than Barça and conceding only three goals more across 38 games. Yet it took less than five minutes for the blaugrana to unpick their lock.

Ivan Rakitic's opener came so early that Luis Enrique's men relaxed psychologically a little instead of terrorising Juve as they might have done. It also made the game a little flat, as Barça maintained possession without much penetration.

The Croatian's strike was a prime example of the triangular passing his team have used to such effect this season, a system they know so well that their thinking is a split-second ahead of their opponents.

After Morata equalised in the 55th minute, it briefly looked like we had an even contest on our hands and that the wily old Andrea Pirlo and the younger feet of Paul Pogba could rewrite the script. But before Juve's South American pair of Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal could make an impact, Barça's South American trio reminded us they are the world's best front line.

The second goal from Luis Suarez and the third from Neymar reiterated how effective their trident is at spreading the opposition back four and striking with rapier thrusts.

Juve, ironically, ended with two Spaniards playing up front - Fernando Llorente and Morata.

As a clash of league champions, it showed how Spanish football is still a nose ahead of Italy's, but also how much more buying power La Liga's big two enjoy. 

"They were extraordinary," admitted Juve coach Massimilliano Allegri of the MSN trident, "and we were not able to contain them."

The two sides were equal on shots but Barcelona finished with 59% of possession and less than half as many fouls committed as by Juve.

Xavi enjoyed his last and final hurrah in the maroon and blue, in contrast to two veterans on the other team, the tearful Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, whose combined age was 73.

Barça celebrated long and hard, including giving the bumps to a sockless Enrique, who has enjoyed a clean sweep of all three trophies in his first season in charge. Enrique and their fans sang along to their club's tuneless official song, 'El Cant del Barça', a 1974 number which is recognisable for ending "Barça, Barça, Baaarça!"

Andres Iniesta said it has been "a spectacular season in every sense of the word", and that it made his hair stand on end to think of how they had repeated the treble six years on from their last. Yet he added, "I don't think you realise how difficult it has been."

Barcelona fielded six players who won the cup in 2009 and eight from their 2011 win,  a remarkable longevity. This mutual familiarity has forged the system all the players know so well that they move the ball apparently telepathically, a machine as opposed to individual components.

But the real triumph has been the evolution from the world-beating tiki-taka to the trident, with diagonal, zig-zagging approach play instead of short passing through the middle.

The trident is made up of great individuals, but Neymar and Suarez have adapted to work within the rules while not compromising their effectiveness, as has Lionel Messi, the greatest individual of them all, still has plenty of scope for creativity and remains far deadlier within the Barça system than when playing for Argentina.

* Gerard Pique is not about to win any admirers in Madrid after citing Barcelona's comeback as being down to Cristiano Ronaldo's birthday party, where the Colombian DJ Kevin Roldan published selfies of the partying players and allegedly destabilised the club for a while.

"I'd like to thank Kevin Roldan," Pique told the Camp Nou victory party. "It all started with him."

Pique posted Instagram videos of himself with partner Shakira partying apparently worse for wear on a Barcelona dancefloor in the wake of the Champions League win.

* The Spanish TV audience was 8 million, the lowest yet for a Champions League final. Perhaps the large Real Madrid-supporting contingent in the country could not bear to look.

* Luis Enrique looks certain to continue as Barcelona manager after his clean sweep, but all is never rosy in the garden of the Camp Nou. 

"The truth is I am still not clear what my future is", he told journalists after the final.

"There is no reason for us to break our contract with Enrique," was club president Josep Maria Bartomeu's response to a question on the Asturian's future, a double negative instead of a wringing endorsement, but confirmation enough that they will not dispense with his services for now.


Enrique might have won all the silverware available but doubts over his position arose during the campaign, which was not all plain sailing. Barça lost the first clásico in October 3-1 to Real and the following match 1-0 at home to Celta Vigo and Enrique's new Barça looked flawed, with Luis Suarez failing to recapture his Liverpool form.


In the aftermath of the defeat away to Real Sociedad in January, reports followed that Enrique had fallen out with Messi and that the Argentinian had issued a "it''s him or me" ultimatum to the club president. The press spoke of the "crisis" in Catalonia.


Bartomeu swiftly brought forward elections for the club ownership to the end of this season and fired sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, attributing his acts to the "tension" which was "out of proportion" at the club.

Happily for all at the Camp Nou, Messi caught fire again and only improved as the season went on, Suarez became his old self in front of goal again and Neymar completed an attacking trident which worked to near perfection in the last third of the campaign.

It all ended happily in the euphoria of the OlympiaStadion in Berlin but the smiles should not cover up the fact there is never uniform harmony at FCB.

Enrique is no fool, as his confident and considered answers at press conferences confirm.

His three cups in one season are the best reposte to any criticism which has come his way this season, but he also knows the white-knickle ride of being in charge of "more than a club" will begin again in August, or to be more precise, on the 12th of July when pre-season begins.

* Former Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero waxed lyrical about FCB this week, calling them "chess in the purest sense and the beauty which is music." He called Iniesta, Messi and Xavi, "the divine triangle" and concluded, "In football what counts most is intelligence, the brain, the sense of playing and being a film director."

* While the week belonged to the glory of Barcelona, in the capital, Rafael Benitez showed up to begin his reign at Real Madrid.

He is the tenth man in charge at the Bernabeu this century, following in the footsteps of Vicente del Bosque, Carlos Queiroz, Jose Antonio Camacho, Garcia Remon, Vandelei Luxemburgo, Lopez Caro, Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

Given the much-travelled coach started life in Madrid and played for Real's youth system and reserves and coached their U-19, reserves and was first-team assistant manager, it is a wonder the 55 year-old has only just been handed the reins of Los Merengues.

Benitez's pedigree is excellent, with the Champions League, UEFA Cup, Europa League, World Club Cup and La Liga under his belt and experience in England, Italy and Spain.

He cried as he toured Real's training ground, remembering his youth there and admitting he felt he had come home at long last. So far, so good and full marks from the press.

Talk now turns to who stays and goes, with Chicharito apparently slipping out the back door unnoticed back to Manchester, and talk of Raheem Sterling being bought, although it is hard to see how he might slot into the side.

Benitez prefers 4-2-3-1 and it is believed he will move Ronaldo to being the sole attacker in order to get the best out of Gareth Bale by placing the Welshman in his preferred left-sided position. Bale's agent was in Madrid last week to demand as much.

James would play on the right with Isco the probable centre of the trident, which leaves Karim Benzema's position under threat.

Benitez's Real we assume would have Casillas in goal, Marcelo and Danilo as full-backs, Ramos and Pepe or Varane as centre-backs and Kroos and Modric in the middle.w

"Attack, score goals, win and if possible play well," were Benitez's only clues, more of a smokescreen. "I am not going to get into names," he insisted, when asked if David De Gea was a possible acquisition.

His five-man back-room team includes an Italian Fabio Pecchia, with whom he worked at Napoli.

Benitez's Real will be rolled out against Tottenham on the 3rd of August in Munich, with a possible final the following day against Bayern or Milan.

* Barcelona have extended Pedro's contract until 2019 and Jordi Alba's deal until 2020.

* Eibar have been miraculously saved from relegation after Elche, who finished 13th in La Primera, were forcibly sent down to the Liga Adelante instead for unpaid taxes. To confirm, the relegated clubs are


* Sevilla coach Unai Emery has agreed a one year extension to his contract. The Europa League winning manager was reportedly being head-hunted by West Ham and offered a three-year deal at Napoli.


* Spanish clubs' double trophy triumph means the European Super Cup will again belong to La Liga.


Barcelona will play Sevilla in the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season on the 11th of August in Tbilisi, Georgia


Spain are also top of UEFA's coefficient rankings, heading off England, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Barcelona are top of the club coefficiency table, which is calculated for the previous five seasons. Real Madrid are second, Atletico Madrid fifth, Valencia twelfth and Sevilla 23rd.

With five Spanish clubs in the Champions League for the first time it has indeed been a golden year for La Liga in Europe.

* Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao's French U21 defender, has signed a one-year extension at the San Mames with a release clause of €50 nmillion.

* Sporting Gijon join Real Betis in La Primera next season after winning 3-0 at the Liga Adelante winners and gaining second place and automatic promotion from Girona, who conceded an injury time goal at home to Lugo.

Joining Girona in the playoffs are Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza. Ponferradina fluffed their chance to get into the playoffs by drawing 1-1 at home to Alcorcon.

Leaving the Spanish Segunda for the third tier are Barcelona B, who finished bottom, Racing Santander, Recreativo and Sabadell.

* Real Madrid and Liverpool legends cross swords at the Bernabeu on Sunday. Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos will be among those playing for the merengues with Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler for the Reds. Steve McManaman will apparently be playing for Real, but might swap shirts at some point.

* Spain remain tenth in FIFA's World Rankings. The seleccion take on Costa Rica on Thursday night in a friendly in Leon before flying to Belarus for their Euro 2016 qualifier on Sunday the 14th of June.

* Spain's women make their World Cup debut in Canada this week. They are in Group alongside Brazil, Costa Rica and South Korea.

* Spain and Real legend Raul was in Cuba with Pele this week for a friendly between his New York Cosmos and the Cuban national side. The Cosmos won 4-1 in front of 25,000 in Havana.

TRANSFER RUMOURS

*Alvaro Morata's exploits for Juve meant Real Madrid are regretting selling him for €22 million last summer. 

Rafael Benitez is reported to have told Florentino Perez to buy him back, even if it would cost the club €30 million, the Spanish international's release clause. Perez however, is said to prefer Manchester City's Sergio Aguero.

*Benitez could send two Real youngsters out on loan to Premier League sides this season. Norwegian wonderkid Martin Odegaard and winger Sergio Asensio, who spent this year at Real Mallorca, could be heading to England to gain playing time.

* Another leaving the Bernabeu, but for good, is Javier Hernandez. Chicharito played a major role towards the end of the season when Karim Benzema was injured but told the press this week the club had not exercised their option to buy him and that he was returning to Manchester United.

* The Italian press reported Real had offered €40 million to PSG for midfielder Marco Verratti.

* Barcelona president Bartomeu confirmed Paul Pogba is on their radar. "It is true that Pogba is a leading target of ours and obviously we are interested," he said. "But I can't say anything more."

* Brazilian midfielder Casemiro has returned to Real Madrid following his year-long loan at Porto. Another Real loanee, Russian winger Denis Cherysev, has returned from his loan to Villareal with Liverpool offering between €15 and €20 million for his signature.

* Carlos Tevez could be heading to Atletico Madrid this week to hook up with compatriot Diego Simeone, who personally telephoned him last week to ask him to come to Madrid, but the 'Apache' also has a megabucks offer from PSG, Liverpool are also interested and his old stamping ground at Boca Juniors is said to be his first choice.

* Atletico are trying to sign Jackson Martinez from Porto but have had their first offer turned down. The Colombian has a €35 million release clause. Los Colchoneros are also said to be after Paraguayan defender Gustavo Gomez of Lanus, as are Valencia. Their bid for Turkish midfielder Ozan Tufan of Bursaspor is at an advanced stage.

Milan's bid for Atletico's Uruguayan midfielder Diego Godin has been rejected.

*Chelsea denied reports Diego Costa is unhappy and asking for a move back to Spain, but Vicente Del Bosque left him out of Spain's latest squad citing fitness concerns.

*Liverpool were linked again with Karim Benzema and Man Utd with Carlos Bacca

*Besiktas were reported to be keen on signing Iker Casillas

*Atletico Madrid were linked with a swoop for Argentinian marksman Luciano Vietto of Villareal.

Vietto is also catching the eye of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.

*Antoine Griezmann's suitors have narrowed down to Bayern and Chelsea

*Ilkay Gundogan confirmed he was in talks with Barcelona but reports later in the week said the transfer of the Borussia Dortmund midfielder had broken down.

* Real Madrid have offered 22 year-old Spanish centre-back Derik Osede to Watford, Nottingham Forest and Wolves.

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

Tue 9th June
Women's World Cup: Spain v Costa Rica  21:00

Wed 10th June
Liga Adelante Playoff 1st leg: Real Valladolid v Las Palmas  19:00

Thu 11th June 
International Friendly: Spain v Costa Rica  (Leon 21:00)
Liga Adelante Playoff 1st leg: Real Zaragoza v Girona  19:00

Sat 13th June
Women's World Cup: Spain v Brazil 21:00

Sun 14th June
Euro 2016 qualifying: Belarus v Spain 20:45

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile