Soccer 360 Magazine Issue 70 July / August 2017

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WORLD CUP CHASERS THE FINAL STAGES

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HAZARD | LEWANDOWSKI THE BBC

RONALDO TRIUMPH

4 time champions league winner

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ROAD TO GLORY

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RUSSIA BOUND

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CONTENTS JULY / AUGUST 2017 ISSUE 70

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MAGAZINE 70

ONE ON ONE

PEDRO | COMAN | rAMIREZ

FARWELL

TOTTI TOP TEN

SURPRISES OF THE YEAR GOLDEN GOALS

SPOTLIGHT ON KLOPP MR. INTER MONCHI

WORLD CUP CHASERS THE FINAL STAGES

MANCHESTER UNITED ON TOP

TITLE TURNERS

HAZARD | LEWANDOWSKI THE BBC

RONALDO TRIUMPH

4 time champions league winner

IEW SEASON REV 2016/2017

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

06 ZIZOU'S MAGIC TOUCH 10 JUVENTUS BACK AMONG THE BEST

EUROPA LEAGUE

12 A NEW CHAPTER

EPL

16 EPL SEASON REVIEW 20 TITLE TURNERS: HAZARD 22 KLOPP SPOTLIGHT 24 AROUND ENGLAND

SERIE A

28 SERIE A SEASON REVIEW 32 TITLE TURNERS: BBC 34 MR. INTER 36 MONCHI SPOTLIGHT 38 FARWELL TOTTI 42 AROUND ITALY

la liga

46 LA LIGA SEASON REVIEW 50 TITLE TURNERS: RONALDO 52 AROUND SPAIN

BUNDESLIGA

56 BUNDESLIGA SEASON REVIEW 60 TITLE TURNERS: LEWANDOWSKI 62 AROUND GERMANY

AROUND THE GLOBE 66 BEST OF THE BEST 70 TOP TEN SURPRISES 72 GOLDEN GOALS 82 WORLD CUP CHASERS

PAGE 56 NOBODY EXPECTED LESS FROM BUNDESLIGA GIANTS, BAYERN MUNICH, AS THEY WON THE LEAGUE ONCE MORE.

MLS

74 WELL CONNECTED 75 TFC SPOTLIGHT 76 ONALFO RISING 78 AROUND NORTH AMERICA

ONE ON ONE

19 PEDRO 65 KINGSLEY COMAN 77 CHRISTIAN RAMIREZ

IN STORE

84 PRODUCTS

GAME ON

86 NSCAC SPOTLIGHT

LAST WORD

PAGE 6 TWO YEARS AS COACH, TWO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TITLES.

88 NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

PAGE 28 JUVENTUS NOW HAS 6 SCUDETTO WINS IN A ROW!

PAGE 16 BACK ON TOP! CHELSEA'S FIRST YEAR WITH CONTE PROVED SUCCESSFUL! 2 S360

PAGE 82 TITANS ITALY AND SPAIN CHASE THE WORLD CUP

PAGE 46 REAL MADRID COLLECTED MANY TROPHIES THIS YEAR



KICKOFF NEVER ENDING WINDOW THE TRANSFER RUMOUR MILL CRANKS UP A GEAR OVER THE SUMMER BUT, GABY MCKAY NOTES, IT NEVER GOES AWAY EVEN WHEN THERE’S ACTUAL FOOTBALL TO FOCUS ON.

‘‘BELOTTI IS TURNING HEADS ESPECIALLY BECAUSE BIG TEAMS SUCH AS MANCHESTER UNITED AND AC MILAN ARE OFFERING TOP DOLLAR FOR THE TORINO CAPTAIN’’

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uly means the opening of the European transfer window, and with it the cranking up of the rumour mill which surrounds the various deals. In truth though, the transfer window never really shuts, with entire websites and rolling news channels dedicated to the non-stop grind of hints, rumours and innuendo. The transfer window was brought into compulsory effect by FIFA during the 200203 season. Each association is free to set its own windows, but the pre-season one cannot exceed 12 weeks, while the midseason one is limited to one month. While the various windows across Europe open at different times, the standard operating period is July 1 — the day after most contracts expire — to August 31. As a result, the end of August has become an ‘event’ for media companies, who frantically cover each and every possible move, aborted transfer and eye-raising rumour. Italy’s deadline sees all Serie A clubs meet at a hotel in Milan to conclude their business, with journalists frantically circling in an effort to snap up the latest information. In England, August 31 has become known as ‘Jim White Day’ after the excitable presenter of Sky Sports News, the premier purveyor of transfer hysteria. Reporters are sent to each Premier League ground, hoping to grab a car window interview with a manager or incoming player. Former Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp has built a brand on his cryptic deadline day interviews, elbow hanging from the window of his SUV and cheeky glint in his eye. If a reporter’s assigned club isn’t doing any business, they cannot simply go home. Not in the era of 24-hour rolling news. “Is anything happening down there?” Jim will ask from the studio, a rather novel inversion of the concept of news. “Yes Jim, I can confirm that White Hart Lane is participating in reality today, back to the studio.” Of course, standing outside doing nothing is only the second most humiliating fate for the intrepid reporters. Recent seasons have 4 S360

Pogba moved for a world record fee last summer


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‘The action on the pitch merely serves as a basis for transfer rumours’ seen supporters getting involved with the deadline day fun, shoving various objects — or themselves — into frame as the journalists deliver their piece to camera. Then, at midnight, the transfer window ‘slams shut’ — it never glides, or closes gently — and it’s all over until January. Except it isn’t. In reality, the transfer window never ends. As soon as the window closes, the rumours start about January deals. Sampdoria’s striker didn’t get his move, will he be off in the winter? Liverpool’s move for a left-back collapsed at the last second, who will they go for in the winter? On social media, each rumour is discussed to death, with ‘in the know’ Twitter accounts teasing their followers with ‘big news in one hour!’ to gain followers and attention. The desire for information feeds the rumour mill, which in turn creates more desire for transfer rumours. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. One gets the feeling that there are some fans, and indeed some media, who would almost prefer if we just did away with this business of actually playing football. The action on the pitch merely serves as a basis for the transfer rumours, a basic plot around which to weave the market narratives. The final weeks of May were full of rumours surrounding Real Madrid and Juventus — never mind that the pair had a Champions League final to contest on June 3, who would they spend the television revenue on? There have been dissenting voices against the current system. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels teams overhauling their squads halfway through the season is ‘unfair,’ while numerous Coaches have lamented the fact the window overlaps with the start of the season, meaning they could lose a player after three or four games. Following last summer’s world-record fee for Paul Pogba, a raft of huge transfers are expected again this summer. Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé could move for over €100m, while his teammate Bernardo Silva has already joined Manchester City for €50m. Add in Alexis Sanchez, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa, Ivan Perisic, Gigio Donnarumma and Angel Di Maria and there are plenty of potential deals to sate the appetite for transfer rumours. And rumour mill grinds endlessly on.

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August 31 is known as ‘Jim White day’

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SEASON PREVIEW

ZIZOU’S MAGI 2017 Champions League: Real Madrid

ZINEDINE ZIDANE HAS LED REAL MADRID TO CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL VICTORIES, AND WAS CARLO ANCELOTTI’S ASSISTANT FOR LA DECIMA. JARED TINSLAY EXPLORES THE SECRET TO HIS SUCCESS IN EUROPE…

"Zizou’s legacy as one of the greatest players of his generation comes with a sizeable amount of street cred"

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here was a rare lull among the 50,000 spectators inside Hampden Park, as Roberto Carlos’ looped pass travelled towards its target. It was as if they knew what was about to occur, as Real Madrid’s No 5 readied himself on the edge of the area. The ball was only in the air for two seconds, but enough for the awaiting midfielder to prepare himself. He swivelled as his left boot struck the falling ball, planting it past the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper and sending his fans into a raucous roar of glory. That happened to be the match-winning goal of the 2002 Champions League Ginal. An already-balding Zinedine Zidane was the scorer, ensuring his side’s ninth Champions League trophy with what is commonly cited as one of the competition’s finest ever goals. More than a decade on, Zizou’s impact at the club continues. The 45-year-old has now had a hand in Madrid’s last four European Cup victories. After his famous volley against Leverkusen, he was then part of Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching staff in 2014, helping to end a 12year wait for Madrid’s Decima. He went one step further last season, joining Ancelotti as one of seven men to win the competition

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as both player and Coach, before making history in June against Juventus. Since the European Cup was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992, no team had been capable of defending the trophy. However, just 18 months into his first senior managerial role, Zidane’s side achieved the previously impossible with a convincing 4-1 win over the Old Lady. Despite the incredible feat, the Frenchman had started the campaign with his doubters. There were those that suggested he’d got lucky in Europe the previous year. Zidane’s side had been drawn against Roma and Wolfsburg in the knockout stages, whilst their eventual victims Atletico Madrid had had to defeat Barcelona and Bayern Munich to reach the final. What’s more, they only edged through in the quarters and semis, famously needing penalties to beat Atletico at San Siro. Some people also felt his coaching CV was too meagre to have a positive impact at the club – after all, he hadn’t left a mark as boss of Real Madrid’s B team, failing to get them promoted. Had his name not been Zinedine Zidane, it’s highly unlikely Florentino Perez would have even considered him as Rafa Benitez’s successor.

There were those that were saying he’d got lucky in Europe the past year


GIC TOUCH Yet, much like Pep Guardiola at Barcelona – a Coach who Zizou observed whilst undertaking his UEFA Pro Licence coaching course, and from whom he later received a glowing report – Perez desired someone to capture the fans’ imagination. He wanted a club legend at the helm, someone in touch with Madridismo – and who better than the man whose stunning volley 15 years ago continues to play out on the big screen before games at Santiago Bernabeu? “When Zidane came to the team, all the players respected him because of his time as a player”, Cristiano Ronaldo said back in January. Zizou’s legacy as one of the greatest players of his generation comes with a sizeable amount of street cred – something which stands him above his predecessors. Yet, his experience within the game has more meaningful benefits. Guy Lacombe, Zidane’s first Coach in the Cannes academy, and his personal tutor during his coaching course, spoke of his apprentice’s collegiate nature. “What Zidane did already have was the sense of the collective. He made other players play well. He used to solve problems on the pitch intuitively because he was so good, but he also got the best out of his less talented teammates,” he said recalled. A number of players have benefited in a similar way since

DID YOU KNOW? After establishing his name in the firstteam of Cannes, the Real Madrid legend never had a season where he played less than 25 league games—and this is over the course of 16 years.

Ronaldo ended the season in breathtaking form, reaping the benefits of Zizou’s rotation policy.

THIS SEASON’S KEY GAMES WINNING LA LIGA AND THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SAW SOME CRUCIAL MOMENTS ALONG THE WAY. JARED TINSLAY RECAPS… NOVEMBER 19 2016 ATLETICO MADRID 0-3 REAL MADRID With no Alvaro Morata and Karim Benzema, the Madrid trainer decided to change formation to include Mateo Kovacic, Isco and Vazquez. The bold move worked wonders as his side put on an utterly convincing and cohesive display, in turn ending their six-game winless run against their rivals. APRIL 26 2017 DEPORTIVO 2-6 REAL MADRID Madrid’s ‘B’ team, as they were becoming to be known, had a hard time getting past Sporting earlier in April, but Zidane stuck to his guns. He again made nine changes from the weekend fixture – his decision justified by one of the most emphatic performances of the season. MAY 10 2017 ATLETICO MADRID 2-1 REAL MADRID Los Blancos went into the second-leg of the Champions League Semi-Final with a three-goal lead. Nevertheless, two Atleti goals within the first 16 minutes threatened to turn the tie on its head. The away side held off their rival’s momentum, eventually killing the game with a vital away goal before half-time. MAY 21 2017 MALAGA 0-2 REAL MADRID Madrid were one win from their first La Liga title in five years, knowing that if they slipped then Barcelona could overtake them. Nevertheless, a Ronaldo goal within the first two minutes settled their nerves, and it ended up being a comfortable away win for Los Blancos. JUNE 3 2017 REAL MADRID 4-1 JUVENTUS All the pre-match talk revolved around whether Zidane would choose Isco or Gareth Bale. The ex-Malaga man got the nod and was a key component of a fluid Madrid unit. The Spanish side waltzed the second-half, with Juve conceding more goals in one match than in the rest of the tournament combined.

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SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Champions League: Real Madrid

‘Rotation has become a major asset for Zidane in balancing domestic and continental duties’ Zidane took over Los Blancos, including Nacho, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal. Mutual respect and understanding clearly go a long way in the dressing room, and perhaps even more so at Madrid – a club home to the world’s Galacticos. When Zidane was asked how he handles all the egos in the dressing room, he replied: “More than managing egos, it's managing people. That's special and it's more important than any tactics." Yet it was Zidane’s tactical acumen which was most scrutinised last season, with some suggesting an over-reliance on his creative stars. Nevertheless, it didn’t take him long to realise something must give, paving the way for Casemiro’s revolution. The holding midfielder has helped achieved vital balance and now constitutes one of the first names on the team sheet. Nevertheless, second-guessing Madrid’s first XI has been a mean feat over the past season. Rotation has become a major asset for Zidane in balancing domestic and continental duties, something which has coincided with the arrival of ex-Lyon fitness coach Antonio Pintus last summer. One of Pintus’ tasks has been to assess which players needed resting, with Zidane clearly willing to take note. On April 15, Madrid took to the field against Sporting Gijon, three days after meeting Bayern in the 8 S360

Champions League Quarter-Final. The return leg was scheduled for the coming Tuesday, followed by a crucial visit from Barcelona a few days later. Zidane rang the changes, with Sergio Ramos and Nacho the only two to make the starting line-up from their victory in Munich. The risk paid off, his side prevailing 3-2 against Sporting. Similarly, after a last-minute defeat to Barcelona in the Clasico, Madrid then faced Deportivo La Coruna in a must-win midweek fixture. He again made nine changes, including the omission of Ronaldo, with his ‘B’ team running out 6-2 winners. Zizou has spread playing time out among his squad, with 20 Madrid players boasting more than 1,000 minutes this season. Of their European rivals, Chelsea only had 13 players who featured in more than 1,000 minutes, while Monaco had 14, Bayern had 16 and Juventus had 17. Last season, Madrid had five players who played over 2,450 League minutes. This season, they had none. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that the players bought into it. Former Malaga midfielder Isco, who’s struggled for regular game-time, said as much after their title-sealing victory. “We are where we are thanks to Zidane's work,” he acknowledged. “Thanks to his rotations, we could win a double this season." And that they did – Isco finished the season as Madrid’s fourth top

maybe, even more serious, however, is that the players bought into it.


“It’s been a spectacular year, I couldn’t dream for better,” Zidane said, after Madrid’s Champions League final victory.

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THE STARTING 11 Zizou spent five years as a player for Madrid, making over 150 appearances and winning both La Liga and the Champions League.

scorer, whilst James Rodriguez, who only made 13 starts, still ended with eight goals and six assists. Perhaps Zizou’s greatest achievement, however, has been his handling of star man Ronaldo. In previous seasons, the world’s best player has arrived to the business end of the season looking notably unfit. Last season, he played every minute of every League game until the 34th game of the season, but then looked fatigued for the runin and Champions League Final. This year, since March, he sat out league games against Leganes, Sporting, Deportivo and Granada. His minutes in La Liga went down 23 per cent from last year, but his goals in all competitions after April 1 went up by 40 per cent. He also looked fresher in the bigger games – including two goals and a Man of the Match performance in Madrid’s win over Juventus. The Portuguese star nodded to his coach post-whistle in Cardiff. “Zidane gave us a very positive half-time team talk and told us he really believed in us,” he declared. Yet since Zidane’s arrival, the belief has been reciprocal. Zizou has trusted in his players as much as they’ve trusted in him. As such, Madrid have reaffirmed their status as kings of Europe with a third European crown in four seasons – Zidane, meanwhile, has yet again marked his place in history.

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2017 Champions League: Juventus

JUVENTUS’ WAIT FOR ANOTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TROPHY GOES ON BUT, CHRISTIAN FITZHUGH EXPLAINS, THE OLD LADY CAN CELEBRATE BEING CONTENDERS ONCE MORE…

Dani Alves’ Champions League winningexperience was crucial to Juve

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uventus Coach Max Allegri declared that his side would need to be ‘fiendish’ to win their first Champions League trophy in over 20 years. It was not to be. Two deflected goals and a contentious red card did not help but it was Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo who were destined to go home having broken all the records. In Europe fine margins are what make the difference between glory and misery, between victory and defeat. Juventus know this more than most. Having in recent years re-established themselves at the top of the domestic game with six Serie A titles in succession, they remain perennial runners-up in Europe. This last Champions League final defeat made it seven in nine. Before the Final Allegri said that reaching two finals in three years was an important step but not enough. The feeling of a missed opportunity will only grow as the need for renewal sets in and the club is confronted with the undesirable and unshakeable record of five consecutive European Cup Final defeats since 1996. What should not be forgotten, however, is that important step and the progress proudly and rightly emphasised in the run-up to this year's showdown at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. 10 S360

At the beginning of the season the Bianconeri were determined for their domestic dominance to continue into Europe, to help write a new chapter there as well. The evidence remains to suggest that they are closer now to achieving that goal than in years gone by. Allegri, having suffered defeat at the hands of Barcelona in his first year, and now at those of Madrid, with a year to go on his contract, can still right those wrongs. He wanted to make Juventus the 10th European team to win a League, Cup and European Cup treble and still can. “We have absolutely not closed any era,” a defiant Allegri said. “After a small rest, we will have fresh motivation. Life gives you the opportunity to get back on your feet and try again.” Gianluigi Buffon, a crucial figure throughout Juventus’ period of dominance, is looking to next season too. “I still have one more year on my contract, so that means I have one more chance of winning the Champions League,” he said days after the Final. “It’ll be tough to do better than this year, because we could’ve done something truly incredible this season.” Where obstacles have presented themselves Allegri has shown the dexterity and selfassuredness to adapt and adjust. Since his

Allegri, having suffered defeat at the hands of Barcelona in his first year, and now at those of Madrid


G THE BEST ‘I’m not much of a theorist, but every now and then I come up with a mad idea and try it on the pitch’ — Max Allegri

arrival he's had to contend with the departures of central figures. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and most recently Paul Pogba have left and yet Allegri has delivered a domestic double followed by a domestic treble with minimum fuss. He'll need to build again but will know better than ever what is required. This year, to prepare for a campaign of multipronged challenges across the continent and where only European supremacy would do, Allegri went about shaping a side that could play every which way. Through canny transfer activity, patient player development and a focus on tactical diversity he found in his team an ominous blend of resolve and finesse. The Old Lady's latest era of domestic dominance has long depended on its impregnable back-line., Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, the BBC, and of course Buffon have long provided the durability, tenacity and maturity upon which Allegri has sought to construct a side that can go that one step further. They too were still hurting from the fall at the final hurdle in 2015. To this urgent need to win, Allegri added experience of Champions League silverware. Last year he brought in Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira. This year, arriving on a free

like Khedira, Dani Alves joined with three Champions League winners medals to his name and no little talent. This season there was a variety to Juve's play. Threats to the opposition came from all over. Long searching balls from Bonucci were complemented by sharp interplay between the diminutive duo Miroslav Pjanic and Paolo Dybala. Once so ineffectual at Chelsea, Juan Cuadrado ran at defenders bamboozling with his feints and twists and scoring and creating from the bench. In doing so emphatically, with the Bianconeri down to 10 men, away at Lyon in the group stages, he helped clutch victory from the jaws of defeat and demonstrated Juve's strength in depth of match-winners on and off the pitch. Then, though, as in previous seasons, a gritty defensive stoicism and an ability to win ugly was still central to their play. Though the Bianconeri had gone unbeaten at home since August 2015 in both Europe and the League, away from home they would win four games back to back securing top spot at the group stage and not conceding a goal in the process. It was the last of these away fixtures at the Estadio Dragão against Porto in the Round of 16 that saw a tactical change already implemented in the League take effect in Europe. In October 2015 a domestic switch to 3-5-2 led to a rampant surge from 11th place to Scudetto winners with 25 victories out of 26 games. This season, new formations had been tried at home to Lyon and away to Sevilla but were largely enforced by injury, but in late in February in northern Portugal a switch to 4-2-3-1 worked sufficiently well that it would be used for the rest of the season. To have five offensive players on the pitch all at once — Pjanic in midfield, Cuadrado, Dybala and Mario Mandzukic supporting Gonzalo Higuain up top — was a signal of intent. “I’m not much of a theorist, but every now and then I come up with a mad idea and try it on the pitch,” Allegri explained regarding his tactical switch. “During the week I had not even thought about it, but after a training session the next morning I thought ‘I have to change something.’ It’s certainly an option we can use.” The changes really started to bear fruit in the home leg of the QuarterFinal against their 2015 nemesis Barcelona. In the first 20 minutes they wreaked havoc, repeatedly unpicking a fragile Catalan defence. This was Juventus in a new guise, probing from all angles at their dynamic and purposeful best. The match ended 3-0 and the tie was theirs to lose. It certainly helped Higuain. Inspired by his strike partner, he would net a Semi-Final brace away at free-scoring Monaco, scoring for the first time at the knock out stage in seven attempts – finally finding his ruthless domestic form. Both goals were created by Alves, who would go on to play a part in both goals in the return leg at the Juventus stadium, scoring with a volley of remarkable technique. Throughout the season the team has been a work in progress. A side stretched by multiple competition commitments has required each and every squad member to play his part. In the final, as throughout the knock-out stages, they started strongly and with great intent. Despite the match ending in defeat, this remains a basis upon which to build and Allegri was definite when he said this is not the end of an era. With his temperament and his capacity to re-build he has in his three years at the helm taken the Old Lady back where she belongs, to her rightful place among the best in Europe.

Legendary figure Gianluigi Buffon is running out of time to win the Champions League

THE OLD GUARD MUCH OF JUVENTUS’ SUCCESS HAS BEEN BUILT ON THE BACK OF THEIR VETERANS. CHRISTIAN FITZHUGH ASKS WHAT WILL COME NEXT WHEN THE SENIOR PLAYERS STEP ASIDE. When the final whistle blew at the end of a long bittersweet season much of the focus was on Juventus' 39 year-old captain, goalkeeper and eight-time Serie A champion Gianluigi Buffon. Was this his last opportunity to win the Champions League, the one trophy that he had failed to get his hands on? Buffon admitted before the match that because of his age the final against Real Madrid was of special significance, but is targeting another shot in the final year of his Juventus contract. The doubt, though, over the possibility of another journey to the final is not only limited to Buffon. In the final the Bianconeri conceded four goals, more than in the previous 12 matches in the competition. It was suggested by some that the backline was beginning to look its age. The BBC central trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are approaching a collective age of 101. Of the five defenders — those three plus wing-backs Alex Sandro and Dani Alves, only Sandro is under 30. Barzagli at 36, written off several times before, has soldiered on admirably to play at this level but surely his days as a starter must be coming to an end. Undoubtedly Alves was an inspired free transfer signing last summer, but Massimiliano Allegri and general manager Beppe Marotta must now start to look to the future in earnest. The Bianconeri have younger options competing for places already. At centreback Mehdi Benatia and Daniele Rugani have played their part. Liverpool’s Emre Can, comfortable on the ball and versatile, is among the names touted to join but will they be enough to replicate the elder statesmen of the Juve side? How the Old Lady goes about this transition will be critical to ensuring that the club reaches the heady heights of recent years.

‘I still have one more year on my contract, so that means I have one more chance of winning the Champions League’ — Gianluigi Buffon S360 11


SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Europa League: Manchester United

A NEW CHAPTER

MANCHESTER UNITED CLAIMED THE EUROPA LEAGUE AND, ROB MASON WRITES, NOW HOPE IT ACTS AS A LAUNCH PAD FOR JOSE MOURINHO’S SIDE TO GO ON TO GREATER SUCCESS…

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first half goal from the world’s most expensive player Paul Pogba, added to soon after half time by Henrik Mkhitaryan, provided Manchester United with victory over Ajax of Amsterdam in the Europa League Final. Lifting the trophy took on an extra layer of importance for United, coming just 48 hours after the tragic suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester. United had won the League Cup three months earlier but the addition of the Europa League will have those at the Theatre of Dreams hoping this European trophy will act as a catalyst for a period of success, just as Jose Mourinho’s winning of the League Cup with Chelsea in 2005 signposted the greatest period in the Blues’ history. This is because winning the Europa League brings with it entry to the Champions’ League Group stage – a prize essential to United’s future under Mourinho, as he completed his debut campaign with the Old Trafford club. As the Portuguese manager excitedly joined in the celebrations he exhorted his players to hold up three fingers for the cameras, signifying that under him United had won

Three trophies and Champions League qualification make a successful debut season for Jose Mourinho

three pieces of silverware in his first season – the initial one being the seasonal curtain raiser the Community Shield, when they had beaten Leicester City at Wembley. Mourinho understands that in Europe the Europa League is small beer compared to the Champions League. He also knows that domestically the League Cup is but a half pint to the full pint of the FA Cup, let alone the Premier League, and that the Community Shield is a minor trinket in comparison to either. However Jose also knows that success breeds success. Moreover he understands that, just like the World Heavyweight boxing champ who stands arms raised above their vanquished opponent, and who loves the joy and relief of the sporting glory of the moment but also knows the prize money will be already making its way to their bank account, his employers didn’t invest in the club to win the Europa League. The Champions League is what matters to a club of United’s size and status. Attracting players to take United onto the next level becomes so much easier now the club can lay before them the prospect of playing in Europe’s most prestigious competition. Additionally victory over Ajax

DID YOU KNOW? In 2004, Mourinho revealed that four years earlier he had turned down an offer from Sir Bobby Robson to be his assistant at Newcastle. "Since Bobby suspected I wouldn't accept it, he told me it would only be for a year, two tops, and that at the end of that time I would be head coach and he club manager.”

The Europa League was won but question marks remain over a number of Manchester United’s squad

‘Three trophies in the season, the Champions League [qualification]. I’m really happy in probably my most difficult season’

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AJAX ‘A’ LISTERS BEATEN AJAX WERE TRUE TO THEIR HISTORY OF VALUING ABILITY OVER EXPERIENCE AND ROB MASON SEES A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR A NUMBER OF THEIR FINAL XI…

was worth around £70m. Participation in the Champions League brings in up to £50m while simply being in the competition avoided a £21m penalty clause in United’s sponsorship deal with Adidas. “Three trophies in the season, the Champions League [meaning qualification]. I’m really happy with the players in probably my most difficult season as a manager,” noted Mourinho. The fact it had been his most difficult campaign was evidenced by the nature of Jose’s celebrations when it ended so well. Hailed as the manager meant for Manchester United, to have finished a modest sixth in the Premier League would have been seen as a let-down with or without the League Cup and Community Shield. However to finish with Champions League qualification suddenly put a totally different complexion on the season as Mourinho joined the

Ajax fielding the youngest team to ever contest a European final should come as no surprise given that Chief Executive Edwin van der Sar and technical director Marc Overmars were members of a side who almost 22 years to the day won the European Cup with an average age of 25. Although their 10th European final proved a disappointing one for the Amsterdam club, their effervescent approach in reaching the final has heralded their arrival on the European market. Ajax’s big problem now will be keeping the team together, as offers are sure to arrive for the coach, Peter Bosz, and his Bosz Babes. Even as Manchester United nullified their baby-faced opponents, visionary schemer Hakin Ziyech and fleet-footed winger Amin Younes enhanced their reputations despite teenage top scorer Kasper Dolberg failing to get into the game. Indeed, Younes will take part in the Confederations Cup this summer after a first senior call-up by Germany. However it was centre-backs Davinson Sanchez and especially his 17-year-old partner Mattijs de Ligt who looked destined for big money bids in a game where top class defenders are in short supply. Columbian Sanchez was strong, aggressive and good in possession, and unfortunate the opening goal of the final deflected in off him. Alongside him, De Licht showed himself to be an immense talent with his strength, position and composure in possession. The Ajax production line shows no sign of stopping.

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SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Europa League: Manchester United Ajax were beaten but their talented young squad can go on to great things

club’s most successful managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby in becoming the third man to bring a European trophy to Old Trafford. Europa League triumph also saw United join Juventus, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and vanquished Ajax as the fifth member of the exclusive continental clubs to have won all three of Europe’s trophies. Winning in Stockholm was a game-changer for Mourinho. With another trophy secured he could head for his vacation knowing he had put the club in a position to challenge for bigger prizes next season when winning either the Premier League or the Champions League – or both – would far exceed this season’s achievements. To be able to mount a challenge for those trophies United need to significantly strengthen their squad, and while his players were still celebrating Mourinho was already putting pressure on United’s Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, the man tasked with bringing in the players to help Mourinho put United back onto Europe’s main stage. “Ed Woodward has what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s for him, for the owners, for the people who work with him,” the manager insisted. With the futures of Wayne Rooney, David De Gea and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in doubt, United would need to invest heavily just to stand still, let alone progress so it could be a busy summer for Woodward. Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezemann’s possible arrival at United would be just one of a number of statement signings United need to make if they are to live up to their self-proclaimed tag of the biggest club in the world. United cannot stand still. It is four years since they won the Premier League and almost 10 since the Champions League last resided at Old Trafford. Especially with their local rivals Manchester City now being one of their main competitors for trophies, United need to make the winning of the Europa League the closure of what they hope history will show to be a transitional period, between the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign and the beginning of the Jose Mourinho era. Following disastrous periods under David 14 S360

Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, Mourinho now has United back on track and heading back to the top. Mourinho is a proven winner who has now proved he can win things for Manchester United. His game-plan to nullify an exciting young Ajax-side was what people have come to expect from a master tactician. Similarly his tactics off the pitch in pressurising the club to provide him with the tools to go on and win the game’s biggest prizes are those of a shrewd and wily boardroom politician. If United’s money men can satisfy Mourinho with the players they bring in then the lifting of the Europa League may go down the United story as the day when a new and exciting chapter began.

Mourinho has put the pressure on Ed Woodward to deliver the players he wants this summer


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Out of the Blue 2017 EPL Season Review

IN THEIR FIRST SEASON UNDER ANTONIO CONTE, CHELSEA SURGED TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE WITH 93 POINTS. STEPHEN DONOVAN EXPLAINS HOW THEY WON SO IMPRESSIVELY…

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t was meant to be the most competitive title race in Premier League history. Six clubs, six world class managers, and six expensively-assembled squads were set to fight it out in a phenomenal ninemonth battle for supremacy, an elite group that didn’t even include the defending champions. Leicester City shocked the world in 201516 with the most unbelievable case of outsiders defying the odds and upsetting the established order, but few expected anything close to a repeat performance. That meant a degree of normality would be restored in 2016-17, although the idea of Chelsea dragging themselves from mediocrity and breezing seamlessly to the title was, at the very least, improbable. Despite emerging on top as recently as 2015, a title defence that descended into internal disputes and a collective loss of form left the West London club in dire straits and in desperate need of direction, and a new approach. Step forward Antonio Conte. Appointed as permanent successor to Jose Mourinho and charged with restoring Chelsea to the top, the irrepressible, effervescent Italian had lived and breathed success over three title-winning seasons at Juventus, before leading his country to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. Everything about Chelsea’s triumph is inextricably linked to Conte. They include his unfailingly all-action presence on the touchline, the rejuvenation of many key players who’d played well below their

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

35,821 LARGEST ATTENDANCE

75,397 MANCHESTER UNITED VS. WEST BROM

LOWEST ATTENDANCE

10,890 BOURNEMOUTH VS. MIDDLESBROUGH

capabilities in 2015-1, a formation that proved indomitable for the vast majority of their top-flight rivals, and the impact of his summer signings. There were eyebrows raised almost universally when David Luiz returned to Stamford Bridge after two years at Paris Saint-Germain, but he fitted perfectly into a back three, becoming a hugely consistent performer. N’Golo Kante was the driving midfield force behind Leicester’s success, and he went to greater heights, sweeping the board at the Player of the Year awards. Marcos Alonso was somewhat unheralded during previous spells in England with Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland, but turned out to be a revelation — and a surprise goal threat — in the left wing-back role. Meanwhile, striker Michy Batshuayi would only be used sparingly, but stepped up at the decisive moment to score the goal that secured the title with two games remaining, finding the net with seven minutes to spare to defeat West Bromwich Albion. Yet at the start of the season, the general consensus was that simply finishing in the top four and ensuring a return to the Champions League would be a success. Many doubted that they would even do that, but they underestimated Conte, and the quality of the Chelsea squad. By the end, nobody has been left in any doubt as to their greatness. Not that it was all plain sailing. The first three games were won, but then followed a run of just one point from a possible nine

FINAL TABLE TEAM

PTS

Chelsea

93

Tottenham

86

Man. City

78

Liverpool

76

Arsenal

75

Man. United

69

Everton

61

Southampton

46

Bournemouth

46

West Brom.

45

West Ham

45

Leicester City

44

Stoke City

44

Crystal Palace 41 Swansea City

41

Burnley

40

Watford

40

Hull City

34

Middlesbrough 28 Sunderland

24

Qualified for Group Stage: UCL

Europa

Qualified for Playoff: UCL

Europa

Relegation

TOP SCORER PLAYER

GLS

Harry Kane

29

R. Lukaku

25

A. Sánchez

24

Sergio Agüero 20 Diego Costa

20

Dele Alli

18

Ibrahimovic

17

Joshua King

16

Eden Hazard

16

C. Benteke

15

F. Llorente

15

Jermain Defoe 15 Son Heung-Min 14

John Terry lifted the Premier League trophy in his final season at Chelsea, alongside Gary Cahill

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P. Coutinho

13

Jamie Vardy

13

Sadio Mané

13

Olivier Giroud 12 R. Firmino

11

Troy Deeney

10

Sam Vokes

10


‘That run of 13 consecutive wins blew away the competition and meant the title was firmly in Chelsea’s hands from then on’

Antonio Conte’s personality and tactical nous was the driving force behind Chelsea’s title success

that suddenly plunged Conte’s position into considerable doubt. A dominant showing at Swansea City only led to a draw, before Liverpool thoroughly outplayed them on their own turf. Then came a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, who took Chelsea’s frail-looking backline to pieces. Up until then Conte had persisted with a back four, a departure from his time in Italy when he deployed the now trademark 3-4-3 formation. Amid questions about his future, Conte returned to the tried and trusted formula for the match at Hull City on October 1. That afternoon was unquestionably the turning point, as a 2-0 victory paved the way for a record sequence of wins. All of a sudden Victor Moses was now an accomplished right wing-back, and the central defensive trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and David Luiz was the Premier League’s answer to Juventus’ ‘BBC’. Eden Hazard was back to his electrifying best, Diego Costa’s power was too hot to handle, and Pedro Rodriguez made his mark on the right of the front three. It was that run of 13 consecutive wins that lasted right up until the turn of the year which blew away the competition and meant the title was firmly in their hands from then on. As the weeks went by and the lead began to grow, only Tottenham Hotspur showed anything like the consistency needed to mount a serious challenge. Yet, at first it seemed set to be a procession for Manchester City. Pep Guardiola had been lured to the Etihad Stadium in a move that captured the attention a great deal more than Conte’s arrival at Chelsea. The pre-season favourites looked unstoppable as they won their first six matches, but then suffered a dip in form during October and never managed to rekindle any title aspirations. Due to their free-flowing approach and impressive goalscoring exploits in the early months of the season, Liverpool were also highly fancied to make a challenge in their first full season under Jurgen Klopp. They constantly took points off their top-six rivals, and going into the New Year they were Chelsea’s nearest challengers.

LONGEST WINNING STREAK

13 AVERAGE GOALS PER MATCH N’Golo Kante’s all-action performances saw him sweep the board at the Player of the Season awards

2.80 GOALS SCORED ON PENALTY

7.6% However, a dreadful start to 2017 which included many damaging results against so-called lesser opposition left finishing in the top four their biggest priority. The same goes for Arsenal, who after losing on opening weekend, went on a lengthy unbeaten run to establish their credentials. They were second in late January, but a series of defeats sent them tumbling out of sight. Mourinho and Manchester United were also listed among the favourites after breaking the bank during the summer transfer window, signing Paul Pogba for a world record £89m, and reaping the rewards of snatching Zlatan Ibrahimovic for free. Three straight wins at the beginning showed promise, but a succession of home draws cost them dear as they failed to mount a title push, finishing down in sixth. That just left Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were the last team to taste defeat in the Premier League in 201617, crucially going down to a 2-1 defeat at

‘The idea of Chelsea dragging their own team from mid level status and breezing seamlessly to the 2017 premier league title was, at the very least, improbable’

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2017 EPL Season Review

MANAGER OF THE SEASON: ANTONIO CONTE (CHELSEA) THE ITALIAN’S MID-SEASON TACTICAL SWITCH PROVED THE SHREWDEST DECISION OF THE SEASON AND SET CHELSEA ON COURSE FOR THE TITLE.

Chelsea at the end of November. But their outstanding team dynamic, and the goals of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min meant they were a side to be wary of when the two clubs met again on January 4. An Alli brace ended Chelsea’s 13-game winning run to leave them seven points behind, but vitally the Blues maintained their form as an almost equally imperious Tottenham endeavoured to chase them all the way. A relative lack of away wins would cost Spurs, but they were given unexpected hope during April. Defeats for Chelsea at home to Crystal Palace and away to Manchester United saw their lead reduced to four points, and the race was now well and truly on. It was now a test of character, but they passed with flying colours, displaying the composure to win all their remaining games despite Tottenham matching them almost every step of the way. That enabled Batshuayi to clinch it on a dramatic and ultimately jubilant night at the Hawthorns, meaning a fifth Premier League title for Chelsea and disappointment for Tottenham, who all the same proved what a magnificent side they are in their quest for the top prize. So, what were the main reasons behind Chelsea’s success? Clearly the change to the back three propelled them forward, but the lack of European football gave them an advantage, as well as the sheer continuity of selection. Before securing the title, no club had made fewer changes to its starting XI than Chelsea, and that level of understanding proved priceless as Chelsea racked up 30 wins — a record in a 38-game Premier League season.

Above: FA Cup winners, Arsenal.

With the arrival of Pep Guardiola and the return of Jose Mourinho, much of the build-up to the 2016-17 Premier League season surrounded the supposed battle between six of the world’s most celebrated Coaches. There would be fierce competition, intensified by the fact that at least two of them would miss out on the top four. They all had their moments, with Mauricio Pochettino leading Tottenham to 86 points and second place, while Jurgen Klopp restored a threadbare Liverpool side to the Champions League, but throughout the year one would stand head and shoulders above the rest. Antonio Conte personified Chelsea’s title success, becoming the fourth manager to win the Premier League in his first season and routinely catching the eye with his frantic touchline demeanour, his indefatigable energy, his supreme tactical awareness, and intricate attention to detail. Driven by an unquenchable desire to succeed, Conte responded following a testing start to implement a playing style that contained next to no weaknesses. Each player knew their role and often performed it to perfection, streaking clear of their rivals as the Italian plotted an unimpeded route towards the top prize. Conte found the perfect balance, while lifting the Blues from the gloom of 2015-16 to mould them into the unstoppable force that would collect 93 points and win a record 30 games over the course of the season. The players have reacted superbly to his guidance, and he has distinguished himself as one of the leading managerial talents of his generation.

TOP SCORER: HARRY KANE (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR) PROVING TO BE NOT JUST PROLIFIC BUT CONSISTENTLY SO, HARRY KANE CONFIRMED HIS STATUS AS THE PREMIER LEAGUE’S MOST LETHAL FRONTMAN. It takes a top-quality player to retain the Premier League’s Golden Boot, and Harry Kane has joined some very exclusive company by achieving just that. Boasting a strike rate that compares favourably with the greatest strikers in Europe, the Tottenham star built on his 2015-16 haul of 22 by scoring an incredible seven goals in the final two fixtures to top the charts again with a staggering 29. He ended four clear of nearest challenger Romelu Lukaku, but until the very last days of the season the race had been a seriously close affair. Indeed, Everton’s Lukaku appeared to be the favourite for the award for some time, finding the back of the net nine times in the space of six games from the beginning of February, including four in a 6-3 win for his side over Bournemouth. The early leader had been Sergio Aguero, who hit the ground running as Manchester City won their first six Premier League outings. However, a couple of injuries combined with the arrival of rival striker Gabriel Jesus in January scuppered his chances, and although he remained a contender the Argentine came fifth with a total of 20. As for the other contenders, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a fine first season in England until being struck by ligament damage, Alexis Sanchez hit 24 in his talismanic performances for Arsenal, and Diego Costa managed 20 for title winners Chelsea. But Kane was a class apart, surging clear despite being sidelined for eight of Tottenham’s 38 games.


PEDRO AFTER YEARS OF SUCCESS WITH BARCELONA PEDRO SUFFERED A DISAPPOINTING FIRST SEASON AT CHELSEA – BUT HAS TURNED THINGS AROUND AND IS NOW A PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPION. HERE THE SPANIARD TELLS SOCCER360 WHAT CHANGED, WHY CONTE IS SUCH A SPECIAL COACH, AND HOW THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IS HIS NEXT TARGET. INTERVIEW BY THOMAS UNSWORTH.

ONE

ONEON

NE MAGAZI

SOCCER360

TM

CONGRATULATIONS YOU ARE NOW A PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPION - JUST HOW GOOD DOES IT FEEL? The Premier League is the best in the world – the most competitive league in the world – so it was always a dream to win. Now is the time to enjoy our success – but next season we will be looking to defend our title. You finished 10th the seasons before – what exactly did CONTE BRING TO THE SQUAD TO GO FROM 10TH TO CHAMPIONS IN A YEAR? It is a combination of many things – but from the first day he put belief in us and made us believe we could achieve special things – he gained the trust of the players very quickly. HOW IS HE IN TRAINING – WE HAVE HEARD QUITE TOUGH? I have worked with many good coaches – but with Conte it is the hardest I have ever trained. We train hard – but the players see the results in the games. The squad is very physically fit – and we are always so prepared for games. HE CERTAINLY SEEMS VERY PASSIONATE ON THE TOUCHLINE? You cannot always hear it from The TV – but it is not unusual to hear him screaming and shouting from the touchline. It is good for the players though – that sort of passion is infectious. YOU HAVE BEEN ON GREAT FORM THIS SEASON – WHAT DO YOU PUT THAT DOWN TO? It is true I was in some of the best form in my career – I got in a good rhythm and things just went well – but I owe a lot of credit to my coach and team-mates. Eden Hazard has been one of the finest players in

‘It is a combination of many things – but from the first day he put belief in us and made us believe we could achieve special things’

EUROPE THIS SEASON – JUST HOW GOOD IS HE? He is one of the most special players in Europe. To win the championship has been a team effort – but the reality is that when he plays well the team plays well – he is a true star. Captain John Terry has left the club after being with CHELSEA MORE THAN 20 YEARS – HOW EMOTIONAL WAS THAT? You can see what the club means to him and what he means to the fans. He has achieved so much here – and for him to win The Premier League in his final season was the perfect goodbye. CONTE HAS SAID THAT THE MUSIC IN THE CHELSEA LOCKER ROOM IS ALWAYS LOUD – BUT IF IT MOTIVATES THE PLAYERS HE DOESN’T MIND – WHO IS CHARGE OF THE PLAYLIST? We all bring our own stuff – but Cesc Fabregas makes some good choices. CHELSEA ARE BACK IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – HOW MUCH OF A PRIORITY IS THAT? It is the biggest club competition in the world, I have won it 3 times with Barcelona, and is now something I really want to try and win with Chelsea. YOU INITIALLY STRUGGLED TO ADAPT TO LIFE IN LONDON – HOW ARE YOU FINDING LIFE IN THE CITY NOW? London is one of the world’s great cities- it is a privilege to live here.

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EPL Title Turners

COMEBACK

KING VILIFIED A YEAR AGO, EDEN HAZARD WAS THE CREATIVE HUB OF CHELSEA’S PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE WIN. GREG MURRAY EXPLAINS THE REMARKABLE TURNAROUND.

FACTFILE Name: Eden Hazard Born: January 7, 1991 (La Louvière, Belgium) Ht / Wt: 1.73m/74kg Position: Midfielder Club: Chelsea Player Stats Year Club 2007-08 Lille 2008-09 Lille 2009-10 Lille 2010-11 Lille 2011-12 Lille 2012-13 Chelsea 2013-14 Chelsea 2014-15 Chelsea 2015-16 Chelsea 2016-17 Chelsea

Apps 4 35 52 54 49 62 49 52 43 42

Goals 0 6 10 12 22 13 17 19 6 17

“I prefer to win 5-0 and I play an amazing game but don’t score or assist than play a bad game where I score two goals and we win 2-0,”

DID YOU KNOW? He has three younger brothers, including Thorgan Hazard, who joined Chelsea shortly after Eden before leaving for Borussia Monchengladbach.

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t is no secret that Eden Hazard’s popularity amongst Chelsea fans was at it’s lowest at the end of last season. Unable to replicate the form that had earned him both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year accolade, Hazard was chastised by fans as one of the ‘three rats’ that had contributed to club legend Jose Mourinho’s departure. Fast-forward precisely 12 months and the Belgian looks likely to take over the mantle from John Terry as King of Stamford Bridge. That is, unless he is subject to a world record transfer bid, possibly from a certain club from the Spanish capital. The old cliché says that form is temporary, class is permanent, and Hazard has played every game this season as if on a mission to prove the sentiment correct. The player’s form was mirrored by his team, with Hazard’s personal record of 16 goals contributing to Chelsea nearly doubling their points tally. At 93, the Blues’ points tally was almost double that of last season, and has only been surpassed by the 2004-05 Chelsea team. It is a testament to the winger’s ability that by the end of the season opposing

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managers resorted to old-fashioned manmarking, with Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye both doing so to varying effect. As Lionel Messi and Michael Essien will testify, even the greatest players can be marked out of a game by an athletic and dedicated opponent. Doing so is not without risk, as sacrificing a player opens space for others to exploit, as witnessed by Pedro Rodriguez’s goal against Everton, scored from the area that Gueye normally patrols. Over the course of the season, opposing managers were simply incapable of coming up with a plan to stop Hazard, who, if not for the immense popularity of N’Golo Kante, would have been a shoo-in for player of the year. The factors behind Hazard’s dramatic return to form have been a regular topic of discussion amongst football fans throughout the season. Excuses such as injury and disruptive power politics were bandied about, with the man himself admitting in a recent interview that the whole team was lacking fitness and motivation by the dregs of Mourinho’s tenure. One of the most popular explanations was that Hazard was simply not in the right

“Hazard is an emotional player who needs support and needs to feel really GREAT with the Coach and the team and in his private life as well,”


"Among the rumours regarding Hazard’s new deal are claims of a £100m release clause and a £300,000 weekly wage, the highest in the Premier League."

DID YOU KNOW? He admits that receiving praise from childhood hero Zinedine Zidane for the first time was "special" and left him shaking.

mind-set, perhaps due in part to captaining Belgium to a tough Semi-Final exit in the European Championships, just over a month after winning the Premier League title. This was not the first time that the winger’s mentality has been questioned, and several incidents before his transfer to Chelsea raised doubt over his commitment. The most notorious of these was back in 2011 during a Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey. With the match at a stalemate, the Belgium Coach withdrew Hazard, who, unhappy with his substitution, proceeded to march straight down the tunnel, change out of his kit, and meet his father at a nearby burger restaurant. The incident, nicknamed ‘burgergate’ by the Belgian Press, was one of many high profile conflict with Coach Georges Leekens, who had previously criticised the player for a lack of punctuality and effort. Fortunately, since his move to the Premier League, Hazard has matured and stayed clear of the tabloids. However, this has not prevented further questions arising regarding his mentality, in particular by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville. The former Manchester United full-back has on numerous occasions suggested that Hazard lacks the killer instinct necessary to elevate him to the lofty heights of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. “He’s a little bit timid to be what would be a real selfish and horrible best player in the world,” former Valencia Coach Neville argued. Remarkably, Cesc Fabregas, a teammate at Chelsea, agreed with the ex-England international. “When we have a counterattack,” Cesc revealed, “and it’s two against two and he passes the ball, I tell him ‘You have the capability to do it yourself. Do it.’” The Spain international is of the belief that being more ruthless would enable Hazard to match the goal tally of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Hazard’s goal-assist ration this season, 17 goals and five assists, suggests that he has perhaps taken the advice of Neville and Cesc to heart. But the player himself admitted he’s more concerned with the team’s results. “I prefer to win 5-0 and I play an amazing game but don’t score or assist than play a bad game where I score two goals and we win 2-0,” he countered. It is the mild-mannered side to Hazard’s game that has led former Chelsea midfielder, Micahel Ballack, to claim that a move to Real Madrid would be a poor fit for the winger. Despite allegations from Lille captain, Rio

Mavuba, of Hazard being in no fit state to play in his final game Lille game, Ballack claims that the Chelsea man is a bit of an introvert. “Hazard is an emotional player who needs support and needs to feel really comfortable with the Coach and the team and in his private life as well,” Ballack added. Married in secret to his childhood sweetheart Natasha, with only two witnesses present to maintain privacy, the couple have three children and are settled in London. If Hazard was to transfer to Madrid, all this would change as the team’s superstar Galactico signings tend to live their lives very much in the public eye. In the hotbed of egos that is the Real Madrid locker room, he is unlikely to receive the special treatment that he does in London. Chelsea have long been in discussions with their No 10 to ensure he remains for the foreseeable future. Among the rumours regarding Hazard’s new deal are claims of a £100m release clause and a £300,000 weekly wage, the highest in the Premier League. Yet when wages in world football are skyrocketing — Paul Pogba makes £290,000 per week at Manchester United — tying Hazard down whatever the cost is a good piece of business for Chelsea. Diego Costa remains liable to leave for a hefty fee, either back to Atletico Madrid or to cash-rich China and Chelsea are hardly wanting for money either. Instead, they’re looking to strengthen for next season’s return to the Champions League. Antonio Conte has repeatedly reiterated his desire to take the London club back to the forefront of world football, and his best chance of doing that is with Hazard orchestrating from the left wing.

ITALIAN JOB Inheriting a team split down the middle by the end of Jose Mourinho’s tenure, Antonio Conte reunited Chelsea and instilled never-before-seen discipline. Antonio Conte’s transformation of Chelsea into title winners has been the headline story this season, as has the success of his 3-4-3 formation. The ‘Conte Method’ is based around two core principles: hard work and preparation, however the Italian Coach has proved himself to be as competent a tactician as he is a man manager. In January rumours circulated that Diego Costa was pushing for a big-money transfer to China, fuelled by a training ground bust up with both Conte and fitness coach Julio Tous. Losing their star striker could well have spelled the end of Chelsea’s title challenge, but it was Conte’s response that ensured the incident had minimal impact. He dropped Costa for Chelsea’s away match to reigning champions Leicester City, revamping his system to play Hazard as a false nine, earning a 3-0 victory. Even more impressive was Conte’s response to a mid-season defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, which ended his team’s chance of equalling a Premier League winning run record. Conte learned valuable lessons from the loss and when Chelsea were drawn against Spurs in the FA Cup Semi-Final, he was able to produce a tactical masterpiece that nullified the attacking prowess of his London rivals. After a year living alone in the capital, Conte is in the process of moving his wife and daughter into a home near Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. Blues fans will hope that this is a signal of intent that Conte is settling in to build his legacy at Stamford Bridge.

Antonio Conte’s arrival saw Hazard return to his best as Chelsea stormed to the title

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KLOPP IDOL Klopp Spotlight

JURGEN KLOPP GAVE LIVERPOOL NEW LIFE WHEN HE WAS APPOINTED IN 2015 AND HAS STEERED THE REDS BACK TO THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. ANDREW TUFT CONSIDERS THE ANFIELD REVOLUTION…

T

The form of Philippe Coutinho pushed Liverpool to the Champions League but caught Barcelona’s eye.

“Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy”

Jurgen Klopp’s success at Borussia Dortmund won him many admirers.

Jurgen Klopp’s success at Borussia Dortmund won him many admirers.

here were few Coaches as in-demand as Jurgen Klopp when the exBorussia Dortmund boss took over at Liverpool in October 2015, and there were few Coaches who seemed as well suited to the Reds as the passionate German. Brendan Rodgers’ middle-management approach to football, replete with 1990s motivational tricks such as the neverrevealed names of the players who would let the team down in envelopes [hint: there never were any names], only briefly found favour with the Anfield hordes. And that was when the frenetic street football of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge caught fire, in stark contrast to the glossy but anaemic business-speak off it. When Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge combined the fans roared, but when Rodgers opened his mouth, they rolled their eyes. Klopp was immediately different to his predecessor, Rodgers sacked only a few months into the 2015-16 season immediately after a Merseyside derby draw at Everton. Rodgers forever gave the impression he was looking for a soundbite any time he came near a microphone, while for Klopp, the words came easily, even in his second language. “Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy,” he told reporters at his first Press conference. “I am the Normal One.” Most other managers would be guilty of false modesty, but not Klopp. But charisma could only take Klopp so far. Even someone so immediately well-liked — and not just by Liverpool fans — had to deliver results. A goalless draw away at Tottenham Hotspur in his first game was considered progress for a side that was floundering in 10th under Rodgers. A first Premier League win, at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea with an away support with a long memory back to the Reds and the Blues battling it out in the Champions League a decade earlier, was welcomed as a sign of things to come. Indeed, of Klopp’s first 11 games in charge, Liverpool lost only once, to Crystal Palace and a late Scott Dann goal. A 6-1 League Cup thrashing of Southampton on the south coast suggested the German’s ‘heavy metal football’ had taken root. But then Liverpool went four games without a win, including limp defeats at Newcastle and Watford, and a home draw with West Brom when only a late Divock Origi goal salvaged a point. It was clear there was a lot of work still to do. The tone was set for the rest of the season. When Liverpool were good — such as in hammering Aston Villa 6-0 at Villa Park — they were very good. When they were bad — blowing a two-goal lead at Southampton and losing 3-2 — they were very bad. The Europa League, which saw Klopp face Dortmund in the quarter-finals and eliminate his previous employers after an epic home second leg, provided more encouragement than Liverpool’s meandering league form. It didn’t provide a first trophy, though, as Liverpool fell to Europa League specialists Sevilla in the final. Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead but Sevilla scored three second-half goals to win the competition for the third straight season and reach the Champions League. Speaking a few months later, Klopp pinpointed what went wrong. “We conceded a goal too early in that second half from a little mistake,” he acknowledged. “It was 1-1 and for us it was


Sadio Mane left Southampton for Liverpool and quickly became crucial to Klopp’s team.

a shock. You could see it. It was a shock for everybody.” Liverpool finished eighth that season, missing out on a return to European football. Klopp had a good seven months to run the rule over the squad he inherited from Rodgers, and wasted little time in making changes. Six players were brought in. Four of them — Loris Karius, Alex Manninger, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan — came from the Bundesliga. The other two, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, were recruited from Southampton and Newcastle respectively. It was in players leaving Liverpool that Klopp made his biggest mark. There were 14 permanent departures, including stalwart defender Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen, fresh from an impressive Euro 2016 with Wales and, having been almost the poster boy of Rodgers’ patient passing style, confirmation that times were changing at Anfield. Klopp suggested at the time of Allen’s move to Stoke that financial considerations were a factor too. “We have to make decisions, we have to find solutions. We have to… think about our situation,” he said, Allen’s £11m sale coming days after Wijnaldum’s £23m arrival. No Premier League club raised more money through sales than Liverpool, but they were only sixth when it came to money spent, Klopp operating on a different financial level to the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Despite being outspent by six clubs, the consensus was that Champions League qualification was the aim for Liverpool in 2016-17. Liverpool had been out of the competition since 2014-15, a one-season end to a drought that went back to 2010, a lifetime for a club that measures itself as much by its European success as its domestic achievements. Early indications were good. Arsenal were vanquished at the Emirates Stadium to start the season in a seven-goal thriller, and after a frustrating defeat at Burnley, Liverpool dropped only six points from their next 10 games, taking 24 from a possible 30. By the end of November, after 13 games, Klopp’s team were second, a point behind eventual champions Chelsea and six clear of runnersup Tottenham. Never mind the Champions

League — Liverpool were in the title race. It was the New Year that did for Liverpool’s fleeting challenge, dropped points against Sunderland, Swansea City and Hull City in-keeping with the Burnley result back in August, and at a time when Mane, without question the most successful of Klopp’s summer signing, was at the African Cup of Nations. “It was such a hard moment in January. We had these games, it was not the freshest moment of the season,” Klopp said later. “Missing Sadio in the shape he was, was not perfect.” A season-ending injury in April again highlighted the Senegal international’s importance as even the inspired form of Philippe Coutinho couldn’t close the gap on the very top of the table. Liverpool ended the season strongly, clinching a top-four finish ahead of Arsenal, but the admiring glances cast towards Coutinho from Barcelona made for some concern. Klopp, though, was elated with Champions League qualification. “For me it's the best competition, you want to be there and Liverpool needs to be there consistently,” he said. “We have to make steps, and make the step for us to be around the best teams in the world, because we are one of the best clubs.” To get there, Klopp has plenty of problems left to solve. After swapping between Karius and Mignolet, a decision has to be made on his first-choice goalkeeper. So too a partner for Matip, a long-term left-back to replace James Milner and over the future of Sturridge, restricted to only 11 starts in all competitions through injury and nonselection. Liverpool scored fewer goals and conceded more than the three teams above them, suggesting significant improvement is needed at both ends of the pitch. The appeal of Champions League football will help attract new players, and keep existing stars such as Coutinho. But the Champions League isn’t the end for Klopp, who wants qualification through an even better league finish. “I think fourth place… is second best. We learned a lot in this year about ourselves,” he admitted. “I could start tomorrow. I’m already looking forward to what we can do.” The Normal One has spoken.

“We learned a lot this year about our selves… I’m already looking happily in the future to see what we can do”

COACH GERRARD Jurgen Klopp may have only just started the process of returning Liverpool to their former glory but he’s already looking to the future — to the time someone else sits in the Anfield dugout, and Klopp knows who it should be: Steven Gerrard. “I told him when I leave, or the club sack me, I don’t care of course who’ll be my successor, but I’d love that he’d be it,” Klopp revealed. “I’ll do everything I can to make sure he gets all the information he needs. The future of this club needs legends like Steven Gerrard in decisive positions.” Gerrard has only recently returned to the Liverpool fold, taking a role with the Academy in February after retiring as a player in November 2016. Barring a brief stay at the LA Galaxy, Gerrard spent his entire career with the Reds, some 710 games, 186 goals and a haul of silverware. “It feels like completing the circle, returning to the place where professionally it all began,” Gerrard. “However, this isn't a decision based on emotion — it's about what I can offer and contribute to Liverpool.” Gerrard will take over Liverpool’s Under-18 side for next season and has already received praise for his handling of the youngsters in his charge, while rejecting more than one offer to become a manager elsewhere. “It would have been learning on the job in at the deep end and I probably wasn't ready,” Gerrard admitted. A few years shadowing Klopp, though, could see Gerrard go from the last Liverpool captain to lift the Champions League to the next Liverpool manager to win it.

Steven Gerrard returned to the Liverpool set-up and has been touted by Klopp as his successor.

FACTFILE Name: Jurgen Klopp Born: June 16, 1967 (Stuttgart, Germany) Ht / Wt: 1.93m/83kg Position: Manager • Club: Liverpool Manager Stats Year 2001-2008 2008-2015 2015-

Club Mainz Borussia Dortmund Liverpool

Played 270 318 99

Won 109 179 50

Drew 78 69 28

Lost 83 70 21

Win% 40% 56% 50%

Sadio Mane left Southampton for Liverpool and quickly became crucial to Klopp’s team.


AROUND ENGLAND

”I thought it would be harder, It hasn’t been easy, for sure, I changed my life completely, but I’ll never complain about it.” -

Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus is surprised at how quickly he’s adjusted to life in the Premier League.

“We are team now that expects to win every year at least one trophy, and then to go further every year in the Champions League. So from that perspective the season has been a disappointment but ...we are truly going in a direction that is positive.” - Manchester City chairman

Khaldoon Al Mubarak insists there are plenty of positives to take from Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, despite failing to win a trophy.

BYE-BYE BARTON

by the numbers

Joey Barton unsurprisingly didn’t have his contract renewed by Burnley, the midfielder having been banned for 18 months for breaching rules on betting. The 34-year-old was found to have placed more than 1,000 wagers over a 10-year period. “Joey leaves us for the obvious reasons,” said manager Sean Dyche.

170

Huddersfield Town are looking at a £170m windfall for winning promotion to the Premier League

SO LONG SAM

Sam Allardyce announced his retirement from football after guiding Crystal Palace to Premier League safety. “I have no ambitions to take another job,” said 62-year-old Allardyce. “I want to be able to savour life while I am still relatively young, and when I am healthy enough to do all the things I want to do.”

A KEWELL JOB

DID YOU KNOW? Arsenal vs. Chelsea is the only FA Cup Final to have been played at the Millennium Stadium, the site of the tournament’s showpiece between 2001 and 2006, and the rebuilt Wembley.

No team has done the FA Cup-Premier League double since Chelsea in 2010, the Gunners preventing the Blues from adding the Cup to their League success this season.

Former Leeds and Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell has been appointed Head Coach of League Two Crawley Town. The 38-year-old had previously been under-23 Coach at Watford. “During his interview Harry showed us great passion — that’s needed to make this team move onwards,” said Crawley director of football Selim Gaygusuz.

DRINKS ON LINGARD

Jesse Lingard helped a group of Manchester United fans celebrate their team’s victory over Crystal Palace in the final Premier League game of the season by buying a drink for everyone in the bar of a local hotel. He didn’t get one for himself, though, with United then only days away from the Europa League Final.

Y2K DEBUT

Manchester United’s last League game of 2016-17 saw a record broken as Angel Gomes became the first player born in the year 2000 to appear in the Premier League. The 16-year-old replaced Wayne Rooney for the final few minutes of the win against Crystal Palace.

“I don’t mind criticism because I am in a public job. I believe there’s a difference between being criticized and being treated in a way that human beings don’t deserve. The lack of respect from some has been a disgrace and I will never accept that. I will never forget it.” - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger launches a stinging attack on his detractors, describing some of the criticism as “a disgrace” that he “will never forget”.

ANY QUESTIONS?

Jose Mourinho is used to verbally jousting with members of the Press but the Special One experienced the opposite after Manchester United’s final game of the season. The manager’s Press conference was sparsely attended, saw no questions asked and lasted barely 20 seconds.

SHEARER SHOOK-UP

“I just don’t want him to go on too long and for it to crumble and end in tears, and all of us don’t like Arsene. It would be so sad.” - Arsenal

legend Tony Adams fears Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal will “end in tears” as he does not believe the Gunners are capable of winning the Premier League over the next two seasons. 24 S360

Alan Shearer offered his congratulations to Harry Kane after the Tottenham Hotspur striker claimed the Premier League’s Golden Boot for the second season running. The Premier League’s all-time top scorer also admitted he’s starting to fear for his record status. “Keep going and I might start worrying!” said Shearer.

WEMBLEY ARCA

Sunderland favourite Julio Arca was finally able to taste success at Wembley despite the end of his top-flight career. The Argentine midfielder, who also represented Middlesbrough, captained non-League South Shields to success in the FA Vase with a 4-0 win over Cleethorpes. “The nearest I got to Wembley as a professional was driving past,” the 36-year-old recalled.

GIFT OF THE ZAB

Pablo Zabaleta was presented with a speciallymade watch (not as shown) to commemorate his time at Manchester City after the end of the Argentine defender’s contract. City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak handed over the gift personally as Zabaleta’s nineyear stay came to a conclusion. The 32-year-old has signed for West Ham.


PAULINHO PROTESTS WWE CHAMPS CHELSEA

WWE marked Chelsea’s Premier League title success by presenting the London club with a specially-designed WWE title belt, complete with Chelsea badges. Superbowl winners the New England Patriots are among the sports teams to have been awarded a custom belt to celebrate their victory.

DID YOU KNOW?

So unhappy was Paulinho under Tim Sherwood at Tottenham Hotspur that the Brazil midfielder couldn’t even bring himself to name his former Coach when reflecting on his disappointing White Hart Lane tenure. “In my first season…I did well but then we had a change of Coach as Andre Villas-Boas left and that Englishman came in,” he lamented.

GOLDEN GLOBE FOR GOLDEN BALLS?

David Beckham’s fledgling acting career continued with a cameo in Guy Ritchie flop King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The former England captain, who debuted in Ritchie’s the Man from U.N.C.L.E, appears in a scene with the movie’s star, Charlie Hunnam, but insists he’s not aiming to be the next James Bond. “It’s not a new career but working with Charlie was a real laugh and something that was incredible to be a part of,” Beckham insisted.

Chelsea were the first team to win the English top flight on a Friday since Liverpool pipped Arsenal to the old First Division in 1989.

Michael Carrick’s Manchester United career will go on to at least 2018 after the veteran midfielder signed a new one-year contract. “Not only is he a great footballer, he is also a fantastic human being and a great role model to our younger members of the team,” Jose Mourinho said of Carrick, who moved to Old Trafford in 2006.

by the numbers

184 26

Chelsea spent 184 days on top of the Premier League table in the 2016-17 season

Liverpool topped the Premier League’s Fair Play table and used the £20,000 prize money to give season ticket discounts to fans aged between 17 and 21. Season ticket holders falling into that age bracket will have £75 knocked off the price of their ticket for the 2017-18 campaign.

does not care about criticism following his 26th-minute substitution in his final Premier League game for Chelsea.

CARRICK CONTINUES

Six teams — champions Chelsea, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Swansea City — didn’t field a single teenager.

FAIR PLAY, LIVERPOOL

“I could not care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.” - John Terry

John Terry was substituted off in the 26th minute of his final Chelsea League appearance, with the Black Cats agreeing to put the ball out of play, to correspond with his shirt number

FANTASY FOOTBALL

Ben Crabtree topped the Premier League’s official Fantasy Football game, beating more than 4.5m rivals — and the Everton fan did it without picking a single Liverpool player. “Philippe Coutinho seemed like an obvious transfer,” Crabtree admitted, “but I needed to stick with my morals.”

“Lukaku had a promise that if certain clubs came this summer that he could leave this summer”

- Everton have made a “promise” to allow their star striker Romelu Lukaku leave if “certain clubs” come in for him, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

If United hit the ground running next year, you will see a new and improved Pogba – once the £89 million man adds consistency to his game. Of course he could have done better but he came from Juventus where they win the league every year and he was in a team that was inconsistent throughout the season

PEP AND PULIS

Pep Guardiola had to apologise to reporters waiting for his Press conference after Manchester City beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1. “Sorry I am late, but Tony Pulis is Tony Pulis and red wine is red wine,” Guardiola explained.

MOU WANTS KLUIVERT

Eagle-eyed lip readers believe Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho made an approach to Ajax youngster Justin Kluivert after the Red Devils beat the Dutch giants in the Europa League Final. “I want you,” Mourinho is alleged to have told the teenager, who caught the eye this season.

- United legend Ryan Giggs believes there is more to come from the 24-year-old and believes he will show his true colours in 2017-18 once fully adjusted to life back in the Premier League.

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AROUND ENGLAND

MINGS APPEAL

by the numbers

492 12 5

John Terry made 492 League appearances for the Blues having made his debut in the 1998-99 season

There were 12 years between Terry’s first Premier League title, in 2004-05, and his last, in 2016-17

"There are lots of poets in football, but poets, they don't win many titles." - Manchester United manager Jose

The injury-hit season endured by Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings might be why he sent out an appeal via Twitter for any kind of game of football. He was offered the chance to join in a seven-a-side kick-about at a local 4G facility and he and Yeovil Town’s Omar Sowunmi duly joined in.

HUDDERSFIELD ARE UP!

Terry won five Premier League titles while at Stamford Bridge

Huddersfield returned to English football’s top flight for the first time since 1972 after beating Reading on penalties in the Championship Playoff Final. David Wagner’s Terriers finished fifth in the League stage but overcame the third-place Royals to seal Premier League football again.

Mourinho delivers a thinly veiled dig at his critics after winning the Europa League title and securing Champions League football for next season. The Portuguese manager has faced censure for instilling a negative brand of football on United, with his multi-millionpound attack often laboring in front of goal.

BAD DEAL

SIGN ON

“My daughter’s face has changed color – it looks like she’s been living in a cave.” - Manchester City forward

Tottenham may look to sign Manchester United’s Chris Smalling after losing out in their bid to sign Harry Maguire. Mauricio Pochettino wants a new centre back and may move for Smalling whose role in Manchester United might be limited by the arrival of new signing Victor Lindelof.

Manchester City are under huge financial pressure due to the high wages being paid to three of their unwanted players. The Citizens have to pay at least £500,000 weekly to the trio of Joe Hart, Wilfred Bony and Samir Nasri who are all unwanted by Pep Guardiola. The money is said to be hampering further recruitment at the Etihad as they need to sell these players to free funds for incoming players.

Nolito slams the English weather as he prepares to leave the club.

EVERTON SPENDING

Everton have agreed a move for Malaga attacker Sandro Ramirez. The Spaniard who is currently with the Spanish under-21 team at the European Under-21 championship has agreed to join Ronald Koeman’s revolution at Goodison Park. His transfer will take Everton’s transfer business this summer to over £60 million.

“He still has a lot to do in his career. There’s still a lot trophies he will hope to be playing for. Knowing Wayne, it’s nowhere near over.” - Marcus Rashford thinks

CHELSEA MISTER

Chelsea want former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique to replace Antonio Conte if they are forced to let the Italian manager leave Stamford Bridge. The Blues have no intention of letting their Premier League winning manager leave, but with his recent troubles and a tempting offer from Inter Milan for his services, the Italian may ask to leave. If he does, Enrique is one of many managers the Blues would ask to replace him.

his Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney’s England career is “nowhere near over” despite the captain being left out of two straight international squads.

TRANSFER GAMES

Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain is frustrated by the recent delay in contract extension from Arsenal. The winger had recently begun talks over the renewal of his current deal with the Gunners, but little progress have been made lately as the Gunners pursue transfer targets. This development is said to be frustrating for the winger who is attracting strong interest from Liverpool.

“Right now, I’m not thinking about it. But in football you cannot rule out anything. My family would be very happy about a return. Schalke is my absolute favorite club, I’m still a big fan. After all, I grew up with Schalke.” - Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil is not ruling out a return to Schalke at some point in his career.

26 S360

DID YOU KNOW? Everton gave more minutes to teenagers in the 2016-17 Premier League season than any other team, with under-20s accounting for 2,104 minutes of the Toffees’ campaign. Marcus Rashford was the teenager to score the most goals in the 2016-17 season [5]

PARTY BUS

Manchester United star Phil Jones recently tied the knot with his girlfriend Kaya Hall and he borrowed the Manchester United team bus to drive teammates and family to the ceremony held at St Mary’s Church in Nether Alderley. The England international lives in a nearby village – which was formerly where former United legends David Beckham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used to live. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw and Sam Johnston were in attendance as well as former Red Devil and West Brom defender Jonny Evans.


by the numbers

100

Manchester United youngster Josh Harrop became the 100th different player to score in the Premier League for the Red Devils with his debut goal against Crystal Palace

10

2 0 1 7

F-PACE

Harrop was 10 when Michael Carrick made his United debut

DETERMINED TERRY PERSONAL APOLOGY

In order to mark the end of a difficult season in the Premier League which saw Pep Guardiola finish a campaign without a trophy for the first time in his managerial career, Manchester City players decided to hit the streets of Manchester and surprise unsuspecting fans and thank them for their unconditional support.

GOOD DEED

Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin has pledged to support victims of the Grenfell Tower fire by donating £50 for every minute he plays for Spain at the Under-21 European Championship. If Spain reach the final with Bellerin playing every minute of the tournament in Poland, his donation could reach £22,500.

John Terry has revealed he had daily injections for a whole year after Jose Mourinho asked him to play for Chelsea with a broken foot and toe. The experienced defender has already played his last game for Chelsea and opened up about the sacrifices he made during his career with the Premier League champions.

HE PUT THE TWIT IN TWITTER

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona has some interesting advice for Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on how to deal with striker Diego Costa. According to reports, the Italian told the Premier League champions top scorer via text message that he will not be in his plans next season. Cantona said: ”Angry texting…it’s not a good idea. And breaking up with a text…it’s even worse. “Every single letter of that sentence addressed to Diego Costa could cost Chelsea about a million euro! Don’t run a team with your thumbs!”

PERFORMANCE AND LUXURY LIKE NEVER BEFORE

DID YOU KNOW? BORDER CROSSING

Scottish Professional Football League chief Neil Doncaster has admitted for the first time that the door could be open soon for the Old Firm to play in England. He believes UEFA are finally willing to back the notion of cross-border competition. And that could reignite Celtic and Rangers‘ dreams of joining the Premier League. He said: “There is an appetite for further crossborder competition including at league level across Europe.”

Harry Kane scored more Premier League goals on his own — 29 — than Middlesbrough managed as a team [27].

Kane is the only player in Premier League history to score 25 goals or more in successive seasons. Luis Suarez was the last player to score 30 goals or more in the Premier League, in 2013-14.

THE #1 VOLUME RETAILER IN CANADA

WHERE TO, DAISY?

Jose Mourinho has been nicknamed "Daisy" by his Manchester United backroom staff because he always get chauffeured around. The United boss, 54, is picked up at the Lowry Hotel where he lives and taken to Carrington for training just a few miles away. He is then driven home, and is often ferried to the airport if he needs to take a flight or meet his wife and children back in London. The ex-Chelsea and Real Madrid chief has a chauffeur driven car on call, and can be taken anywhere he wishes. Cheeky backroom staff now compare him to Jessica Tandy’s character in the 1990 Oscarwinning film 'Driving Miss Daisy'.

JAGUAR THORNHILL 434 Steeles Avenue West, Thornhill, ON, L4J 6X6 905.889.0080 | jaguarthornhill.ca


Sixth one in a Row 2017 Serie A Season Review

JUVENTUS SET A NEW ALL-TIME SERIE A RECORD WITH THEIR SIXTH SCUDETTO IN A ROW, AS THE REAL BATTLES WERE BEHIND THE CHAMPIONS, WRITES SUSY CAMPANALE.

Juventus became the first Serie A side in history to win six straight titles

FINAL TABLE TEAM

PTS

Juventus

91

AS Roma

87

Napoli

86

Atalanta

72

Lazio

70

AC Milan

63

Internazionale 62 Fiorentina

60

Torino

53

Sampdoria

48

Cagliari

47

Sassuolo

46

Udinese

45

Chievo Verona 43 Bologna

41

Genoa

36

Crotone

34

Empol

32

Palermo

26

US Pescara

18

Qualified for Group Stage: UCL

Europa

Qualified for Playoff: UCL

Europa

Relegation

J

uventus made history by becoming the first club to win six consecutive Serie A titles, beating the record set by themselves in 1931-35 and Il Grande Torino from 1943-49 (including a break for World War II). Although it was ultimately clinched in the penultimate round, this particular Scudetto never really seemed to be in doubt. Roma and Napoli battled to the very end for second place, particularly valuable as it ensures direct qualification for the Champions League without the need for a preliminary round, but the top three were head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Max Allegri’s Juve were built to win everything and their summer transfer strategy was as much about reinforcement as weakening the opposition in the Peninsula. Gonzalo Higuain shattered records with his 36-goal haul for Napoli in 2015-16 and he continued to set Italian firsts by breaking the Serie A transfer record with his €90m move to their bitter rivals up north. It was a transfer that infuriated Neapolitans and made Pipita an instant villain for the neutrals, but he came out on 28 S360

TOP SCORER top with the Scudetto trophy. The release clause in the contract was also activated by Juve for Miralem Pjanic, thereby poaching one of Roma’s best players in a situation the Giallorossi were powerless to resist. This double coup so horrified the opposition that multiple new contracts were drawn up with release clauses valid only for clubs outside of Italy, to which some quite accurately referred as Juve-proofing. Whereas last term the Bianconeri started badly and completed a remarkable comeback to take the title, they led from the front this time and any stumble prompted an immediate reaction. Frank de Boer’s lone highlight in a brief spell on the Inter bench was a 2-1 victory over Juventus in September, the sole blip in a run of seven Old Lady celebrations. Just days after falling 1-0 to teenager Manuel Locatelli’s Milan, again at San Siro, Juve swept Napoli aside 2-1 with Higuain getting the decisive goal. After a shock 3-1 loss to Genoa in November, Juve went on a strong run that saw them beat Torino, Roma and surprise package Atalanta. Defeat to Fiorentina in January was the catalyst for Coach Allegri shaking things up with a 4-2-3-1 formation that used

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

22,100

PLAYER

GLS

Edin Dzeko

29

Dries Mertens

28

Andrea Belotti 26 Mauro Icardi

24

G. Higuaín

24

Ciro Immobile 23

LARGEST ATTENDANCE

L. Insigne

18

A. Gómez

16

78,328

Keita Diao

16

M. Borriello

16

M. Salah

15

Nikola Kalinic

15

INTERNAZIONALE VS. AC MILAN

José Callejón

14

Diego Falcinelli 13

LOWEST ATTENDANCE

Carlos Bacca

510

G. Simeone

CROTONE VS. PALERMO

13

F. Quagliarella 12 12

Marek Hamsik 12 G. Defrel

12

Cyril Thereau

12


‘Max Allegri’s Juve were built to win everything and their summer transfer strategy was as much about reinforcement as weakening the opposition in the Peninsula’ Mario Mandzukic was the vital cog that made the new Juventus system work

all the attacking talent at their disposal simultaneously – Higuain, Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic. When complacency seemed to be setting in at the start of May with two points from three rounds, including a 3-1 defeat to Roma when all Juve needed was a draw to start Scudetto celebrations, Allegri thanked Luciano Spalletti for providing the necessary wake-up call ahead of their Coppa Italia triumph over Lazio. It was something of a recurring theme that Allegri’s biggest battle was fighting complacency, somewhat inevitable after five consecutive Serie A titles. His Press conferences were constant warnings that nothing was to be taken for granted and every match was difficult. It is no coincidence that for the sixth year running, Juve took the Scudetto with the best defensive record in the division. Even though the shift to four at the back somewhat shelved the ‘BBC’ unit of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, they remained rock solid and 39-year-old Gigi Buffon enjoyed one of the best campaigns of his legendary career. The tweaks made were to get more from the attacking potential at their disposal and Higuain did as expected, taking part in the Capocannoniere race and scoring big goals. The real cog that made the 4-2-3-1 system work was Mandzukic, as his tireless effort down the left flank reminded many of Samuel Eto’o in the 2010 Treble-winning Inter team. April’s 4-0 success over Genoa was emblematic, as Mandzukic tracked back to win possession near his own corner flag, sprinted up the left and when his cross was charged down, he took matters into his own hands with a remote-controlled rocket into the far side of the net. While Juventus always reacted to their setbacks with a run of successes, the same was not true of Roma and Napoli. Luciano Spalletti’s side rediscovered Edin Dzeko, who finally settled into Serie A football with a Capocannoniere crown just 12 months after he was derided for being an expensive flop. However, their defensive movement was shambolic and their character flawed, regularly dropping leads and stumbling in big games against Juve, Napoli and Lazio.

LONGEST WINNING STREAK

07 AVERAGE GOALS PER MATCH

2.96 GOALS SCORED ON PENALTY Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic left their clubs to have a better shot at silverware

8.8%

"While Juventus always reacted to their setbacks with a run of successes, the same was not true of Roma and Napoli"

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2017 Serie A Season Review

TOP SCORER: EDIN DZEKO (ROMA) ‘Defeat to Fiorentina in January was the catalyst for Coach Allegri shaking things up with a 4-2-31 formation that used all the attacking talent at Juventus’ disposal’

t from Edin Dzeko wen to laughing stock in just 12 re nie nno oca Cap a Rom at s nth mo

Above all, what cost the Giallorossi was their inconsistency against some of the smaller sides, dropping points away to Cagliari, Empoli, Atalanta and Sampdoria. Their season was dominated by the constant speculation over Francesco Totti, as Spalletti eventually confessed he “would never have come back to Roma if I’d known this was going to be the situation,” adding: “I told the club I had to make decisions for the best of the team, not be considered a guardian of Totti’s career.” The pair’s relationship was at the very best frosty and at times blew up, fans making no secret of their disdain against any ‘slight’ made against Il Capitano. Napoli had to revamp their attacking approach not just once, but twice. Higuain’s ‘betrayal’ in pre-season forced a change of plan, then in September his replacement – former Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik – ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during international duty. Maurizio Sarri deserves immense credit for transforming Dries Mertens from a winger into a surprisingly effective centre-forward. The spectacular Partenopei set a new club record for points and were comfortably top scorers in Serie A, but couldn’t claw second place from Roma. They dropped too many points against sides who sat back and countered, like Pescara, Genoa, Sassuolo and Palermo. Above all, home and away defeats to Atalanta proved very costly. Atalanta and Lazio were the surprise packages of the campaign, qualifying for the Europa League against all odds. Simone Inzaghi was appointed when pre-season had already begun, drafted in after Marcelo Bielsa signed a contract and then pulled out, but united Lazio to push them into a consistent top five spot and the Coppa Italia Final. La Dea hadn’t tasted Europe for 28 years, but are back with Gian Piero Gasperini’s remarkable youngsters, even after selling midfielder Roberto Gagliardini to Inter in January. Franck Kessie, Mattia Caldara 30 S360

Above: Fiorentina were one of the only few teams who handed Juventues a loss this year.

BOTH TEAMS SCORED

57% GOALS SCORED AFTER 80TH MIN

Below: Dries Mertens has been a revelation for Napoli as a most unusual centreforward

17.8%

THE CAPOCANNONIERE CHASE WAS THE MOST SPECTACULAR IN 67 YEARS AND WENT DOWN TO THE WIRE WITH TWO UNEXPECTED DUELLISTS, EDIN DEKO WINNING OUT IN THE END. This was no ordinary Capocannoniere race, as while last season Gonzalo Higuain had it wrapped up months in advance and only needed to challenge history – a battle he won – the 201617 battle at the top was more like WrestleMania. The only other time there were at least five players on 24 or more goals in a single Serie A season was in 1949-50. Andrea Belotti surged early for Torino only to fall by the wayside once his team was left without anything to challenge for, Higuain couldn’t repeat his exploits at the less attackminded Juventus, while Mauro Icardi suffered from Inter’s overall disastrous campaign. It was ultimately down to two men nobody really expected to be at the top of the goal charts. Edin Dzeko was a laughing stock in his debut Serie A campaign, missing sitters and considered a huge flop following his move from Manchester City. A year later and the Bosnian had acclimatised in style, becoming the most prolific Giallorossi forward since Rodolfo Volk in the 1930s. On the other hand, you had Dries Mertens, who until the end of October wasn’t a striker at all, flying up the charts to mirror the Roma-Napoli duel for second place. The former winger notched up 27 goals and 11 assists in 34 Serie A appearances, but only three of those were scored prior to December, which is when he really got into the groove of his new role. The Belgian’s highlight was netting four in a 5-3 win over Torino on December 18, which was also the first time any Serie A player has scored hat-tricks in consecutive rounds since Pietro Anastasi for Juventus in 1974, but it wasn’t enough to beat Dzeko to the honour.


ALTA INFINITI

COACH OF THE SEASON: MAURIZIO SARRI (NAPOLI)

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NAPOLI MIGHT NOT HAVE WON ANY TROPHIES, BUT MAURIZIO SARRI’S SIDE WON A LOT OF HEARTS WITH THEIR EXCITING FOOTBALL. Although they only managed to finish in third place, Napoli were easily the most entertaining and downright pleasurable team to watch this season and a great deal of that was down to the work of Maurizio Sarri. Last term was already a sign of the spectacular, forward-thinking Italian tiki-taka that we would see, but Gonzalo Higuain stole all the headlines and focus when setting a new all-time Serie A record for goals scored in a single campaign. This time around, Sarri had to rework his 4-3-3 following Pipita’s departure for Juventus, then within a few months saw that plan go out the window too with Arkadiusz Milik’s anterior cruciate ligament injury. Unbowed, Sarri reinvented winger Dries Mertens as a centre-forward and a star was born. The Belgian is often called a False 9 because of his stature, but make no mistake, he moves and scores like a target man. The ‘little’ trio of Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon combine like clockwork for fast-flowing, beautiful football that you can tell the players love to perform. They pass not to men, but into space where they know their teammates will run into, a sign of excellent training. Napoli already set a new club record for points accrued last term and improved on it this time around. Sarri deserves to be Coach of the season, but if this squad stays together, then it might only be the beginning for this Napoli. Those Arrigo Sacchi comparisons keep coming and, if he can stop complaining about perceived slights, he really could break the mould for Italian football.

www.altainfinitiwoodbridge.com

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Inter failed to finish in the top six after going through four Coaches in a chaotic campaign

and Andrea Conti all emerged as stars of the future, while Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez delivered the kind of form he had always threatened to in the past, but on the verge of 30 found his groove. The reason these sides were able to reach Europe, of course, was the continuing collapse of the former giants. Milan scraped into sixth place during a complicated takeover that was postponed several times over six months, Vincenzo Montella squeezing results out of a limited squad thanks to a series of comebacks. Inter, on the other hand, fumbled every available advantage to miss out on Europe entirely at the end of a chaotic campaign that saw them go through four Coaches. Roberto Mancini left two weeks before the Serie A opener, De Boer was a fish out of water given no chance to adapt, Stefano Pioli had started to turn things around only to flounder and caretaker manager Stefano Vecchi tried to “instil discipline.” The Nerazzurri were in contention for a Champions League place when beating Atalanta 7-1 in a masterclass on March 12,

‘Atalanta and Lazio were the surprise packages of the campaign, qualifying for the Europa League against all odds’ but after drawing to Torino a week later, the team just gave up. Picking up two points from the next eight rounds, it was one humiliation after another. The club ends the season where it started: seeking a new Coach and yet another Year Zero. Palermo were old hands at chopping and changing tacticians, but this time even they failed to survive the process and were relegated into Serie B along with Pescara. There was stunning drama on the final day, as tiny Crotone made sure their first Serie A season was not their last. In the bottom three for all except the last 77 minutes of the campaign, the Calabrese outfit clawed back a nine-point gap from Empoli in nine rounds. It’s true that Crotone deserve credit for their belief, but Empoli’s final day defeat to already-relegated Palermo simply highlighted how much they’d thrown their advantage away.

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Serie A Title Turners

BIANCONERI

BRICK WALL AFTER JUVENTUS SECURED THEIR SIXTH SCUDETTO IN A ROW, GABY MCKAY LOOKS AT THE IMPERIOUS BACKLINE WHICH HAS FORMED THE BASIS FOR THEIR TRIUMPH.

‘As the campaign reached its crunch point, Allegri made a point of including all three’ Juventus have arguably the greatest defensive unit in world football.

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his season, Juventus became the first Italian team ever to win the Scudetto for six seasons in a row. There have been many changes in the Old Lady’s make up during that time, with the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez departing, replaced by Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain. The constant in Turin though has been the Bianconeri’s imperious backline. Gianluigi Buffon and Stephan Lichtsteiner have been present for each triumph, as have Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini — the back-three better known as the BBC. Juve conceded just 26 goals in the retention of their Scudetto, as well as reaching the Champions League Final while conceding just three goals on the road to Cardiff. An impressive record, but you get the sense that each goal conceded will still rankle with that hard-nosed defence. Like laying the foundations for a sprawling mansion, the BBC was actually brought together six months before Antonio Conte began the revival in Turin. Bonucci had been recruited from Bari in 2010, signing in a complicated cash-plus-players deal. The youngster was owned by both Genoa and Bari, so the Grifone received €2m plus Domenico Criscito, while his playing club were given €7m and Sergio Almiron.

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The centre-back went straight into the team alongside Giorgio Chiellini, but Juve struggled to a seventh-place finish. It was in January of 2011 that the fellowship was finally completed. On January 26, Andrea Barzagli arrived from Wolfsburg for a fee of €300,000. Initial reactions were not positive, with some fans suggesting the World Cup winner wasn’t an upgrade on Nicola Leggrotaglie. Those fears look ridiculous now, but Juventus once again limped to a seventhplace finish under Luigi Del Neri, and there was little optimism in Turin ahead of the 2011-12 season. It was Antonio Conte who would have the vision to unite the trio, though he was given a nudge in that direction by the transfer policy of general manager Giuseppe Marotta. The former midfielder had favoured a very attacking 4-4-2 formation in his previous jobs at Siena, Bari and Atalanta, and in the first pre-season friendlies he opted for a similar style. However, the Old Lady had recruited Andrea Pirlo in the summer, and the regista has never been comfortable in a two-man midfield. Conte realised he could build his side around the maestro, but was also determined to find a place for the industry of Arturo Vidal and the tactical intelligence of Claudio Marchisio. With no real wingers in his squad, the Coach

It was Antonio Conte who first brought the BBC together.

‘It’s no fluke Zidane’s rotation policy maximised Ronaldo’s freshness and potential in the home stretch’


THE BBBC Breaching the BBC is hard enough, but even if the black and white wall can be overcome, opponents will find one Gianluigi Buffon standing in their way. Leonardo Bonucci once said the Juventus backline should be named ‘The BBBC’ to accommodate legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and while Leo may not have an eye for an acronym he is right to point the veteran’s contribution. The longevity of the Italy and Juve captain is staggering. Buffon has played over 1000 professional games, having made his debut for Parma at the age of 17. He has been capped 168 times by the Azzurri, as well as winning eight Scudetti with the Bianconeri - 10 if you include, as he does, the two revoked in the Calciopoli scandal. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Buffon is that, even at 39, he remains one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He starts on merit for both club and country. At any point over the last 20 years, most would have named Buffon as - at least - one of the top three ‘keepers in world football, despite competition from the likes of Iker Casillas, Oliver Kahn, Fabien Barthez, David De Gea and Petr Cech. Buffon has indicated he’ll retire after the 2018 World Cup, as he aims to emulate Dino Zoff by lifting the trophy at the age of 40. Next season could be his last, so enjoy him while you can. There will never be another like him.

Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini form the backbone of the national team.

had to devise a way of uniting those three in the centre of the park, without robbing his side of width. The answer? 3-5-2. The formation was first deployed for a trip to Napoli in Week 11 and, despite a 3-3 draw, the Bianconeri stuck with the new approach until the end of the season, winning the Scudetto unbeaten. Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini became the BBC. The prowess of the famous trio relies on how well they complement each other. Barzagli is wily, positionally excellent and almost impossible to beat in a one-on-one. Bonucci offers skill on the ball and pinpoint long-range passing, stepping out of defence to aid in midfield. Chiellini is a warrior and a fighter, never shirking a challenge and putting his head in where it hurts. The brains, the flair and the brawn. It is testament to the three that they have been deployed together in the most crucial phases of Juventus’ season. Coach Max Allegri started the campaign with the familiar 3-5-2 shape, aiming to establish an early cushion at the Serie A summit. After some shaky performances the Bianconeri switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape, meaning one of the three — usually the oldest, Barzagli — had to be dropped. However, as the campaign reached its crunch point, Allegri made a point of including all three, tinkering his team to introduce a fluid shape alternating between a back-four and a back-three. Against Monaco in the Champions League, Barzagli was deployed as a right-back in order to allow Dani Alves greater attacking freedom, but the veteran quickly slotted back into the familiar BBC when the Ligue 1 side were on the attack. It was a similar story in the Coppa Italia final against Lazio, and it’s no coincidence that Dani Alves became arguably the key player in the side as the Bianconeri’s season reached crunch time. The Brazilian grabbed two assists and a goal over the two Monaco games, and scored the opener in the Coppa Italia final. With the security of the BBC behind him, the 34-year-old was free to indulge the attacking instincts which saw him become such a force during his trophyladen spell with Barcelona. Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini aren’t just a force at club level either, as Conte demonstrated last summer. With Marchisio and Marco Verratti ruled-out of Euro 2016, the CT was without two-thirds of his firstchoice midfield, and felt he couldn’t stick with the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 shape he’d been developing. Thankfully for the Azzurri, there was always the option of the BBC to fall back on, with Conte reverting to 3-5-2 and banking on the solidity of his defence. Italy reached the Quarter-Finals, conceding just twice before being knocked out on penalties by Germany. They may all be over 30, but this season the Juventus defence have shown no signs of slowing down. Barzagli, 36, has played over 30 games in all competitions. Chiellini, 32, has been at his imperious best, making over two tackles per game in the Champions League. Bonucci, the youngest of the three at 30 has weighed in with five goals, having turned down Manchester City in the summer. There will inevitably come a day when the BBC is broken up. Nothing can last forever. Eventually, Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara will have to step up. In the here and now though, the Juventus trio remain the greatest defensive unit of their generation.

FACTFILE Name: Andrea Barzagli Born: May 8, 1981 (Fiesole, Italy) Ht/Wt: 1.87m/ 87kg Position: Defender Club: Juventus Player Stats Year Club 1998-99 Rondinella 1999-00 Rondinella 2000-01 Rondinella 2000-01 Pistoiese 2001-02 Ascoli 2002-03 Ascoli 2003-04 Chievo 2004-05 Palermo 2005-06 Palermo 2006-07 Palermo 2007-08 Palermo 2008-09 Wolfsburg 2009-10 Wolsburg 2010-11 Wolfsburg 2010-11 Juventus 2011-12 Juventus 2012-13 Juventus 2013-14 Juventus 2014-15 Juventus 2015-16 Juventus 2016-17 Juventus

Apps 28 27 13 5 31 19 30 40 47 42 36 45 32 18 15 39 48 33 17 42 38

Goals 1 3 1 0 1 2 3 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0

FACTFILE Name: Giorgio Chiellini Born: August 14, 1984 (Pisa, Italy) Ht/Wt: 1.87m/ 86kg Position: Defender Club: Juventus Player Stats Year Club 2000-01 Livorno 2001-02 Livorno 2002-03 Livorno 2003-04 Livorno 2004-05 Fiorentina 2005-06 Juventus 2006-07 Juventus 2007-08 Juventus 2008-09 Juventus 2009-10 Juventus 2010-11 Juventus 2011-12 Juventus 2012-13 Juventus 2013-14 Juventus 2014-15 Juventus 2015-16 Juventus 2016-17 Juventus

Apps 4 15 7 42 42 23 35 32 36 40 43 37 32 44 45 33 32

Goals 0 0 0 4 3 0 4 3 5 5 4 2 1 1 1 1 4

FACTFILE Name: Leonardo Bonucci Born: May 1, 1987 (Viterbo, Italy) Ht/Wt: 1.90m/ 82kg Position: Defender Club: Juventus Player Stats Year Club 2005-06 Inter 2006-07 Inter 2007-08 Treviso 2008-09 Treviso 2008-09 Pisa 2009-10 Bari 2010-11 Juventus 2011-12 Juventus 2012-13 Juventus 2013-14 Juventus 2014-15 Juventus 2015-16 Juventus 2016-17 Juventus

Apps 27 14 44 37 48 44 52 49 44

Goals 1 0 3 0 2 2 18 1 39 1 3 2 1 3 4 3 5

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ONE

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SOCCER360

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EXCLUS

LET’S START OFF WITH YOUR CHILDHOOD IN ARGENTINA. HOW DID YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH FOOTBALL AND WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY PLAYING FOOTBALL? I started very young, when I was just three. My mum gave me a football and that was the first present I remember ever getting. That’s when I first discovered my passion for the game and I’ve never looked back. From that moment, I spent my entire childhood running around after a ball with friends near the area where I lived. TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR EARLY CAREER… After being rejected by Independiente, I had the chance to go for a trial with Talleres de Remedios de Escalada. They took me on and that’s where I turned professional. I made my senior debut for them when I was 17. After that I joined Banfield, where I played my first game in the First Division. I spent two years there before moving to Inter in 1995. YOU WERE MASSIMO MORATTI’S FIRSTEVER SIGNING AT THE CLUB WHEN HE BOUGHT THE CLUB IN 1995. GIVEN WHAT HE ACHIEVED WITH THE NERAZZURRI, HOW MUCH OF AN HONOUR WAS IT TO HAVE THE PRESIDENT’S VOTE OF CONFIDENCE? I was honoured to join a club with such a big history as Inter. I was very young, and especially in that early period at the club, it was important to know Massimo Moratti had faith in me. He was also someone I looked up to because he conveyed important values to me and introduced me to Inter’s history.

MR. INTER JAVIER ZANETTI IS ONE OF INTER’S MOST LEGENDARY NAMES, HAVING MADE MORE THAN 800 APPEARANCES OVER ALMOST TWO DECADES. SOCCER360’S ROSSELLA MARRAI-RICO SPOKE EXCLUSIVELY TO THE NERAZURRI VICE-PRESIDENT.

"I was honoured to join a club with such a big history as Inter’

HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF SETTLING IN AT THE CLUB AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE WITH YOUR FAMILY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD? HOW DOES THAT EXPERIENCE BUILD YOU AS A PLAYER AND A PERSON? It was a really big challenge because not many people get the chance to test themselves in such a highly competitive League as Serie A and I did have that opportunity. It was a great learning experience both for my family and me. YOU WON EVERYTHING THERE WAS TO WIN AT INTER – 16 TROPHIES IN TOTAL – AN INCREDIBLE FEAT. WHAT ARE THE KEY FACTORS IN MAKING A SUCCESSFUL SQUAD? To achieve success you need to create a very strong sense of unity, first among people, and then as footballers. You also need the club behind you. That’s what enabled us to win so much and that’s why we’ll forever be a part of this club’s history. FOUR YEARS INTO YOUR NERAZZURRI CAREER, YOU TOOK OVER THE CAPTAIN’S ARMBAND FROM GIUSEPPE BERGOMI, A SPECIAL HONOUR. HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FOUND OUT THE BATON HAD BEEN PASSED ON TO YOU? It was a massive honour to be named captain but it also comes with huge responsibility, because it’s an armband that’s been worn by people like Bergomi, Giacinto Facchetti and Armando Picchi who made Inter history. YOUR TIME AS CLUB CAPTAIN AT INTER COINCIDED WITH PAOLO MALDINI’S AT MILAN – MAKING EACH DERBY EXTRA SPECIAL. YOU TWO ARE AMONG THE MOST RESPECTED PLAYERS IN HISTORY. WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING TO MEET HIM ON THE FIELD AT LEAST TWICE A YEAR? The derby is always a special game and I’ve always had the utmost respect and admiration for Paolo Maldini. He’s a fair opponent with whom I became friends over the years. He made history at Milan, as I did at Inter. It was always a great battle within the battle. YOU PLAYED IN 47 DERBY DELLA MADONNINAS WITH INTER. WHICH WAS YOUR FAVOURITE? The derby is the game everyone wants to play in because it means so much – the whole city is focused on it. If I had to choose just one, I’d say the time we won 4-0 in 2009-10.

YOU HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF WORKING ALONGSIDE SOME OF THE BEST COACHES IN THE WORLD – MARCELLO LIPPI, HECTOR CUPER, MARCO TARDELLI, ROBERTO MANCINI, AND JOSE MOURINHO TO NAME A FEW. WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AS A PLAYER AND WHY? I’d start with Cuper because, although we didn’t win anything with him, he gave the team an identity. Then there was Mancini…he gave me the chance to play in a different position where I was able to help the team and improve as a player. Then Mourinho, because of everything he instilled in us – that’s what enabled us to achieve our greatest success. LET’S TALK A BIT ABOUT INTER UNDER JOSE MOURINHO AND THAT TREBLE-WINNING TEAM. IT REALLY WAS A MAGICAL SIDE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING UNDER THE SPECIAL ONE? AND WHY WAS IT SO SUCCESSFUL? Besides his coaching expertise, he was also an incredibly charismatic individual and that’s important at a big club. All his methods worked very well and once the team learnt what he wanted, we played on autopilot. FROM SAMUEL ETO’O TO LUIS FIGO AND DIEGO MILITO, THERE WERE WORLD-CLASS PLAYERS THROUGHOUT THE TEAM. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TEAM NOW AND THEN? The team we had was full of star players, who were all important, but no one felt they were more important than the team. I think that’s what you need to be successful. THERE ARE SOME INCREDIBLY TALENTED PLAYERS IN THE CURRENT SQUAD, WITH THE LIKES OF JOAO MARIO, ROBERTO GAGLIARDINI, IVAN PERISIC AND MAURO ICARDI. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE? I think going through difficult times such as the current moment will help the players to grow as individuals and as a team. I believe we have solid foundations, and I’m confident about the future.


"I try to share my values and knowledge with others. I’ve certainly carried forward Massimo Moratti’s human values" Zanetti led Inter to win the treble in 2010.

‘I’m honored to have such an important role’

INTER’S ARGENTINE CONNECTION Javier Zanetti wasn’t the first Argentine to don Inter colours and he wasn’t the only one to lift silverware either. Estebian Cambiasso is one of the more successful Argentines to have played at Inter, ‘Cuchu’ becoming as important as his compatriot in the 10 years he wore the black and blue. Cambiasso won the Champions League, five Scudetti, four Coppa Italias, four Italian Super Cups, the Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Only Walter Samuel managed to win nearly as much at Inter, as the tough-tackling defender raked in five Scudetti, three Coppa Italias, four Italian Super Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League trophy. The Argentine duo, along with Zanetti, formed a crucial backbone to Jose Mourinho’s treble winning season in 2009-10. Unfortunately for Julio Cruz, he narrowly missed out on that year of dominance with the Portuguese tactician, but during his 16 years at the club, he tallied up nine trophies in total. On the bench, though, two names stand head and shoulders above the rest: Helenio Herrera for the six trophies he won between 1962 and 1966, and Hector Cuper, for how he managed to get the best out of a squad and created Inter into a competitive side. In every area on the field, there is a bit of Argentinian heritage that can be found in the Beneamata history books.

YOU ARE NOW THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF INTER, A ROLE THAT MANY FANS LOVE TO SEE YOU IN. WHAT DOES YOUR POSITION ENTAIL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM MORATTI DURING HIS REIGN? I’m honoured to have such an important role, and I try to share my values and knowledge with others. I’ve certainly carried forward Massimo Moratti’s human values. I’m also working and studying so that I can perform my management role as best I can. I am learning about subjects and fields I didn’t have to deal with on a daily basis as a player. WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS, AND THOSE OF THE OWNERS, FOR THE CLUB IN THE FUTURE? SURELY A RETURN TO EUROPE IS THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE, WHAT IS THE CLUB HOPING TO ACHIEVE? We’re tremendously ambitious and we’re basically working with two ideas in mind: both to challenge for trophies on the pitch, and to make Inter one of the world’s top 10 clubs off it. It takes time, planning and strategizing. We’re working on all that and it will help us to achieve our targets. It’s very important to the owners, as it is to all of us. LASTLY, DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR THE INTER FANS? I want to thank the fans for their constant support, even in difficult times. We’re working hard so that you can be proud of us, and so that we can all experience the joy of winning again.


Monchi Spotlight

MAIN MONCHI

ROMA BEAT A HOST OF EUROPE’S BIGGEST CLUBS TO THE SIGNATURE OF SEVILLA SPORTING DIRECTOR MONCHI. PETER FERNIE EXPLORES WHAT RAMON RODRIGUEZ VERDEJO WILL BRING TO THE GIALLOROSSI.

Wanted by half of Europe, Monchi eventually agreed to takeover Roma’s project

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Juande Ramos lifted trophies with Sevilla but it was Monchi who laid the groundwork

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evilla were coming off a season to forget. 1999-00 saw the Andalusians relegated from La Liga, finishing rock bottom. To make matters worse, the club was suffering from severe financial difficulties. A new plan and fresh personnel were required to build strong foundations for the future. Unable to afford an experienced sporting director, the board led by then President Roberto Ales opted for their recently-retired reserve goalkeeper Monchi. He was given a clear job description: lead the club to promotion, set up a broad scouting base to source young talent worldwide and to bring players through from the club's academy in to the first team. With the help of then Coach Joaquin Caparros, Monchi started to build a bright future for Los Blanquirrojos. Promotion back to La Liga was delivered at the first attempt in season 2000-01. On their return to the top flight there was a first glimpse at the fruits of Sevilla's now-renowned cantera as winger Jose Antonio Reyes was introduced to the squad. He showed huge promise as the newly promoted side finished in an excellent eighth position. The following season saw one of the most significant signings in the club's history, Dani Alves. The 19-year-old Brazilian right-back arrived for €1m and would play a key role over the next six seasons, his subsequent performances giving confirmation to the validity of the club's new scouting structure. The following seasons would see steady improvement and increased proof of Monchi's efficiency in delivering what

“Sevilla’s success cannot be put down to stability in the coaching staff… the one constant is Monchi" Dani Alves goes down as Monchi’s greatest signing


New coach, and past Scudetto Champion, Eusebio Di Francesco will work closely with Monchi and look to guide Roma in the right direction come the new season.

Ales had requested. The plan to combine a couple of in-house starlets with cheap and exciting talents from abroad was now starting to show tangible rewards on the pitch. Youngsters such as Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, Diego Capel and the late Antonio Puerta, the left-back tragically taken in 2007 days after a series of cardiac arrests in a match against Getafe, were all introduced to the side. From Brazil, excellent players in Julio Baptista, Adriano Correia and Renato were sourced at relatively little cost. By the summer of 2005, Sevilla had achieved back-to-back UEFA Cup qualifications. Four consecutive years in La Liga added to Monchi's canny dealings had served both to improve Sevilla's finances and allow their scouting intelligence time to grow. While his initial foreign buys were from Brazil, from 2005-06 onwards his shopping destinations would be more varied. He now began to target out-of-favour players from bigger clubs who were available on loan deals or cut price transfers. Javier Saviola joined on loan from Barcelona and Enzo Maresca signed from Juventus and played key roles in the start of a glorious era. Between 2005 and 2007, under Coach Juande Ramos, the Sevillistas were treated to two UEFA Cups, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de Espana and the European Super Cup. Happily, there was also plenty of money in the coffers as Reyes, Ramos and Baptista had departed for a combined total of €87m along the way.

A role working with Monchi has been earmarked for Roma icon Francesco Totti as he ends his playing days

‘Amid the uncertainty of Monchi’s new role, it’s clear that fascinating times lie ahead in the Eternal City.’

Over the following decade, Sevilla would change coaches but the successes continued. Manolo Jimenez, Unai Emery and eventually Jorge Sampaoli have guided excellent sides in that time as Sevilla qualified four times for the Champions League, won three Europa Leagues and another Spanish Cup. The club’s success cannot be put down to stability in the coaching staff. Neither can it be attributed to continuity in the playing squads. Great players like Alves, Baptista, Alvaro Negredo and many more have come and gone but they are always replaced efficiently and the success keeps coming. The one constant element is Monchi. According to the man himself, the secret is in planning, teamwork and detail. “16 people cover a series of Leagues,” Monchi once explained. “Every month, we produce an ideal XI for each League.” His team of scouts assess players’ performance levels in differing circumstances — at home, away or in international competition, for example. By the time the summer arrives, there are around 250 options for each position. After that it’s up to the Coach to point out who or what he wants in each position and, Monchi adds, “10 will fit.” The next stage is in negotiating and here, realism is key. Monchi at Sevilla wouldn’t attempt to persuade a player also being chased by one of the game’s giants. “If a player says ‘Chelsea want me,’” Monchi revealed, “I say ‘what are you talking to me for then?’” It was with Leagues where Sevilla have an ‘economic advantage’ that Monchi prospered. But having spent so long at Sevilla, a whole new set of challenges await in Rome. A prolific youth academy was key at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and Monchi has inherited an excellent youth set-up, Roma rated as Europe’s seventh-best academy for producing players in the continent’s top five Leagues. However, Roma have in the past sacrificed their promising youngsters to fund other deals, but that could change now. Annually, Roma diligently balance their budget to comply with Financial Fair Play [FFP] requirements. Monchi has proved he is an expert in creating a transfer surplus, so this shouldn’t be an issue. But star signings for huge fees and on massive wages shouldn’t be expected either. More likely is a preference for potential over the finished product. There may be more experienced players brought in when out of contract or out of favour elsewhere, but Monchi is a team-builder with an eye on the balance sheet. “Nobody brings a ‘what great financial results’ banner to the stadium,” he’s argued. But Monchi remains aware that while balanced books are necessary, it’s success on the pitch that remains fundamental. The 10 trophies his era at Sevilla yielded, coupled with the significant profits on transfers, show his methods are suited to meeting both football and financial requirements. Monchi will face huge expectations from the Roma faithful. They want instant success and will be hard on the Spaniard if he does not deliver. For this reason, it is perhaps understandable he is keen to have club legend Francesco Totti work alongside him as a director. He could have no better ally with the Roma support — but also, it must be considered, a popular replacement if his ideas don’t work out successfully. Perhaps the biggest question facing Monchi as he begins work at the Stadio Olimpico is over the Coach. Luciano Spalletti ended the season shrouded in doubt, touted for the Roma exit with jobs on the peninsula and abroad mooted. Eusebio Di Francesco, a Scudetto winner with Roma in 2000-01, has been touted as a possibility on the back of five strong years at Sassuolo that have brought promotion, Europa League qualification and the development of several exciting young players. Amid the uncertainty of Monchi’s new role, it’s clear at least that fascinating times lie ahead in the Eternal City. Can Monchi drive Roma to topple the Juventus monolith? Can he remain ahead of the two Milan clubs, both likely to spend big this summer through their Chinese ownership? It seems to an outsider to be an extremely difficult task. To Monchi, it’s the perfect fresh challenge he craved. S360 37


SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Farwell Totti

FAREWELL IL CAPITAN AFTER A MAGNIFICENT CAREER SPANNING 25 SEASONS, THE ROMA ICON FINALLY HUNG UP HIS BOOTS AT THE END OF THE SEASON. PETER FERNIE LOOKS BACK ON THE CAREER OF FRANCESCO TOTTI…

R

oma had just achieved automatic qualification for the 2017/18 Champions League. Luciano Spalletti’s side had completed an excellent campaign with a dramatic 3-2 win over Genoa to seal this prize. They finished the season collecting a club record 87 points. Yet all of that paled into insignificance on the evening that Francesco Totti played his last ever match for the Giallorossi. It was a charged atmosphere, bittersweet, like a celebration and a wake rolled in to one. The legend known as Er Pupone, the Big Baby, walked slowly around a packed Stadio Olimpico to salute and thank his adoring fans. Grown men, women and children wept uncontrollably as they digested the retirement of Rome’s most treasured footballing son. Totti then made a speech to the crowd sharing his thoughts on what has passed and fears for what the future will bring. As he poured out his heart, his teammates, club staff, directors and fans hung on his every word. Not a soul left the ground until the famous No 10 was ready to depart. How can one footballer inspire such pure love and respect in so many? From the afternoon in March 1993 when Serbian Coach Vujadin Boskov gave him his debut in Serie A it was clear La Magica had

‘Generous, lighthearted and selfdeprecating, the country took Totti still closer to its heart’


LL, ANO a special player in their grasp. Totti then progressed under Carlo Mazzone, becoming a regular starter over the next three seasons. The appointment of Zdenek Zeman to the Roma bench in season 1997-98 was another reference point for Totti. During this spell he became stronger physically and scored regularly from a wide attacking role. But it was Zeman who realised Totti’s potential as leader, making him captain in October 1998. In that same month, Totti made his debut for the Italy national team against Switzerland in a European Championship qualifier. In the summer of 1999, Fabio Capello was appointed Roma Coach and Totti showed yet more versatility to his game. He was initially decisive in a trequartista role in Roma’s Scudetto side of 2000-01 providing generously for the prolific Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella. As an ageing Batistuta faded over the next season-anda-half Capello looked to replace his goals and decided Totti would be potent as a striker. “Totti scores goals, so why shouldn’t we field him in a position where he is more likely to find the net?” Capello asked. It proved a shrewd judgement as Il Gladiatore struck 34 times in 55 matches in Serie A over seasons 2002-03 and 2003-04. He dovetailed wonderfully with Antonio Cassano and looked to have found his niche on the pitch as part of a front pair. The giants of football had

‘Roma is everything to me, passion, love, joy, the team I have always supported and always will’


SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Farwell Totti now began to realise the Roman No 10 was a rare talent and Real Madrid made their move to bring him to Santiago Bernabeu. Despite the riches on offer and stronger chances of success, Totti opted to stay and never regretted it. “Roma is everything to me, passion, love, joy, the team I have always supported and always will,” he explained later. In season 2005-06, under new boss Luciano Spalletti, Roma faced an injury crisis in attack and the tactician searched for a solution. He opted to play a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation with Totti as a lone, roaming centre-forward. The results were emphatic and thrilling as Totti reached yet another level. At once he became both playmaker and predator as he floated strategically to make space for mobile runners Simone Perotta, Rodrigo Taddei and Mancini. It resulted in a club record 11-game winning struck for the capital club and Spalletti had a template for the future. Unfortunately, in the 10th game of that run, on February 26 2006, Totti suffered an injury to his left ankle against Empoli. It would keep him out of action for at around three months and left his participation at the World Cup in doubt. Azzurri Coach Marcello Lippi went to visit him the day after and convinced his key attacking player that he would recover in time. Luckily, Lippi was correct. Totti recovered by May and he was named in the squad to go to Germany. “I knew he was not at 100% but he enjoyed complete trust from his teammates and they were happy at his presence even if he was not in top shape,” Lippi revealed. Playing off Luca Toni, Totti was influential, providing four assists and winning a vital

DID YOU KNOW? Francesco Totti has spent his entire career at Roma, winning a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana titles; he is the top goalscorer and the most capped player in the club’s history. Totti also holds the record for the youngest club captain in the history of Serie A.

Totti and Roma President, James Pallotta.

penalty against Australia in the Round of 16. Lippi’s heroes brought home the trophy, Italy’s fourth World Cup, Totti playing an hour of the Final against France. After 58 caps and nine goals, Totti ended his international days after the World Cup win. He did this in the interests of prolonging his club career and winning another Scudetto. I Lupi built excellent sides under Spalletti and Rudi Garcia, winning two more Coppe Italia under the former, but another Scudetto, which would be Roma’s fourth, failed to arrive. Off the park, Totti’s shyness and thick Roman accent initially made him ill at ease in front of the cameras and the butt of jokes over a perceived lack of intelligence. The perception was always wrong and in a PR masterstroke, he handled the pierced it with aplomb. In 2003, he released a charity book of Totti jokes, mocking himself, which became a best seller in Italy and raised fortunes. Generous, light-hearted and self-deprecating, the country took him still closer to its heart. Sadly, nothing can last forever and after 786 matches and 307 goals in his beloved yellow and red the end of a glorious career arrived on May 2, 2017. Roma’s greatest ever player could hardly bear to leave his stage while the fans wept in despair for the loss of their retiring hero. As Il Re De Roma, the King of Rome, put it, ‘it’s not easy to turn off the light’. Thanks for the memories, Francesco. Buona Fortuna!

‘How can one footballer inspire such pure love and respect in so many?’


DID YOU KNOW? Following Mazzone’s sacking in the summer of 1996 and the departure of Giannini, Totti was expected to play a more prominent role, after several promising seasons; however, the team underperformed during the 1996–97 season, while Totti struggled to gain playing time under new manager Carlos Bianchi, and was even set to leave for Sampdoria on loan in January 1997. Roma’s chairman at the time however, Franco Sensi, impeded the transfer, leading to further tensions with the manager, who eventually parted ways with the club.

FRANCESCO TOTTI’S KEY DATES A CAREER DATING BACK TO 1993 HAD MANY KEY MOMENTS. PETER FERNIE RUNS THROUGH FRANCESCO TOTTI’S STANDOUT ACHIEVEMENTS… MARCH 28 1993 — Totti makes his Serie A debut against Brescia as a substitute in a 2-0 win SEPTEMBER 4 1994 — Totti scores his first goal in Serie A against Foggia in a 1-1 draw OCTOBER 17 1995 — Totti scores his first European goal for Roma in a 4-0 win over Aalst OCTOBER 10 1998 — Totti makes his debut for Italy in a 2-0 win over Switzerland OCTOBER 31 1998 — Totti becomes Roma captain — Totti scores his first goal for the Azzurri in a 2-0 win over Portugal MAY 5 2001 — Totti wins Serie A with Roma

"Sadly, nothing can last forever and after 786 matches and 307 goals in his beloved yellow and red the end of a glorious career arrived on May 2, 2017"

AUGUST 19TH 2001 — Totti wins Italian Super Cup as Roma defeat Fiorentina 3-0 OCTOBER 3 2004 — Totti scores his 100th Serie A goal in a 3-3 draw against Inter JULY 9 2006 — Totti wins World Cup as Italy defeat France on penalties MAY 17 2007 — Totti wins the Italian Cup as Roma defeat Inter 7-4 on aggregate AUGUST 19 2007 — Totti wins second Italian Super Cup as Roma defeat Inter 1-0 MARCH 9 2008 — Totti makes his 500th appearance for Roma MAY 24 2008 — Totti wins second Italian Cup as Roma defeat Inter 2-1 MARCH 20 2011 — Totti scores his 200th and 201st goal in Serie A with a double against Fiorentina in a 2-2 draw SEPTEMBER 30 2014 — Totti becomes the oldest player to score in the Champions League with a goal in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City SEPTEMBER 25 2016 — Totti scores his 250th and final Serie A goal in a 3-1 defeat to Torino MAY 28 2017 — Totti makes his last appearance for Roma in a 3-2 win over Genoa, his 619th in Serie A and 786th in total


TOTTI FUTURE FEAR

AROUND ITALY

After calling time on a 23-year senior Roma career, captain Francesco Totti admitted his fear over what would happen next after his send-off on the final match of the season at the Stadio Olimpico. “Now I am afraid,” he admitted. “It’s not the same fear you have in front of the goal when you need to score a penalty. This time I cannot see through the holes in the net what lies beyond.”

by the numbers

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New Milan signing Frank Kessie was the youngest player to score at least six goals last season

Torino striker Andrea Belotti became the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to score 10 goals with his head during the previous campaign

BUFFON: “WINNING NOT EASY” I want people to realize, and all agents to realize, that we are talking about Milan here and not any old club. This club has won seven European Cups and represents Italian football. There must be respect for a club that has given a teenager this incredible opportunity to play regularly in Serie A. If he wants to earn more, that’s one thing, but saying he won’t sign a renewal regardless of the terms is not fair. At this point, I want to know the real reasons he is not signing a renewal.” - Gianluigi

After an historic sixth Scudetto win, veteran stopper Gianluigi Buffon denies that winning the title is easy for Juventus. “Those who have never won anything think about making banal the hard work of those who succeed,” he assured. “For this sixth Scudetto there was nothing expected, foreseeable or secure.”

KESSIE MILAN PROJECT

New Milan signing Franck Kessie revealed his reasoning behind joining the club over a long list of other suitors. The 20-yearold arrived from Atalanta early in the transfer window. “I chose Milan because I like the project,” he said. “I spoke to the Coach, who told me to come to Milan because I could become a champion here.”

Donnarumma must publically explain why he will not be signing a new contract with AC Milan, says two-time European Cup winning goalkeeper Giovanni Galli.

LAZIO THANK ‘FRENEMY’

Lazio Ultras issued a sportsmanlike statement ahead of Francesco Totti’s final match for Roma. “We bear no grudge for the t-shirts and the jokes you’ve aimed at us. They’re there, and in fact they have to stay - we’re in Rome and that’s how it works,” they admitted. “In any case, a handshake for an opponent who, after all these years, leaves the pitch as the best of enemies.”

PRIORITY EUROPE FOR ATALANTA

“If we had to believe everything the papers write, I would already have left Roma last season. Yet I am still here.” - Roma defender Antonio

Rudiger dismisses suggestions he could leave the Stadio Olimpico for Inter ahead of next season.

After unexpected qualification for the Europa League with a fourth-placed finish, Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini admitted he would favour European competition next term. “For me, the Europa League will be a priority,” he revealed. “We want to play to the best of our ability, play our football, even if Europe will take something out of us in the League.”

MERTENS REBUFFED BARCA

Napoli top scorer Dries Mertens revealed he rejected an offer from Barcelona before signing a new deal with the Partenopei. The Belgian scored 34 goals and provided 15 assists in all competitions last term, but is content to remain where he is. “It’s true,” he admitted. “Barcelona sought me out and they were interested, but I’ve always said that I’m happy here.”

GONZALO TEARFUL FIORENTINA EXIT

Fiorentina captain Gonzalo Rodriguez was reduced to tears when he confirmed that he would be leaving the club in a Press conference before the final match with Pescara. “I thank everyone for these beautiful five years together. I’ll always be a Fiorentina fan,” he said. “It’s not an issue of money – I’m disappointed with the way Fiorentina did things.”

INTER’S NOT INFERIOR

“We need to bring Inter back to where their history tells us they should be.” - New head coach Luciano

Spalletti wants an Inter team that measures up to the club’s rich history.

42 S360

Despite a finish outside the European places, Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio insists that the Nerazzurri squad was up there amongst the best in a season that saw Frank de Boer and Stefano Pioli fired after some disastrous results. “I still say that Inter don't have an inferior squad to the teams we finished behind,” Ausilio told the Press. “It's a team that doesn't need a lot.”

DE ROSSI PENS EXTENSION

After the departure of Francesco Totti, veteran Daniele De Rossi is set to become the longest serving player at the club after signing a twoyear contract extension. “For almost all the Roma fans it would have been a shame to lose both me and Francesco together,” he admitted in an interview shortly afterwards.


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DEL PIERO SYMPATHY NICOLA CYCLING PROMISE

Crotone Coach Davide Nicola affirmed that he would make good on his promise to cycle to Turin if his side stayed up this season. The Squali has scored just 14 points by the beginning of April but after achieving a miracle salvation, the 1,289 KM journey didn’t faze the boss. “It’ll feel like a breeze after this!” he admitted.

Legendary former Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero admitted his sympathy for ex-Italy teammate Francesco Totti upon his final match for Roma. “I understand his state of mind,” he said. “Mine was just the same, and maybe it even still is! When it comes time to stop, you realise that a period of your life has closed, it’s not a simple transition.

DID YOU KNOW?

1,123 goals were scored in total in Serie last season, the highest tally in a single campaign since 1950-51. Out of 3,420 total minutes [excluding added time] this season, miracle escapees Crotone were out of the relegation zone for just 77, which were totted up during their final encounter with Lazio. With his final game for Roma, Francesco Totti made his 619th League appearance, equalling Gianluigi Buffon in second place. Only Paolo Maldini boasts more with 647.

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Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi praised his players after a superb season which saw them reach fifth and become Coppa Italia runners-up. “I think the lads have been extraordinary,” he confessed. “We’ve done something historic, because considering the way we started, reaching the Europa League three rounds early and the Coppa Italia Final is all down to them.”

ARRIVEDERCI HART

Joe Hart thanked Torino as he said goodbye after a season on loan from Manchester City. “I am so proud to have played for your special football club. The way you have treated me and my family is something that we will never forget,” the Englishman wrote on social media. “I will forever support Torino. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

by the numbers

23

Ciro Immobile scored 23 goals last term, his record in a single season

FERRERO BLASTS MURIEL

Sampdoria owner Massimo Ferrero blasted striker Luis Muriel after his goal celebrations against Udinese sparked a brawl and saw him receive a one-match ban. “We consider footballers to be great men, but they’re just little kids who have never done anything in life,” he said.

CASSANO’S VERONA DESIRE

After Hellas Verona were promoted to Serie A, veteran striker Antonio Cassano revealed he wanted to play for the Gialloblu after being without a club for the majority of 2016-17. “I’m crazy about Hellas,” he admitted. “I have a mad desire to get back playing and I want to do it at a club full of enthusiasm like Verona, with a full and passionate Bentegodi.”

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AROUND ITALY

KICK OFF

Italian Serie A 2017-18 season will be starting on the weekend of 11-12 August 2017 (Official fixture will be released on Friday, 21 July 2017). Coppa italia final will take place on Sunday, 27 May 2017. There will be 5 midweek match days and 3 weeks of christmas break from 24 December 2017 to first week of January 2018.

DONNARUMMA OUT

The man who first discovered Gianluigi Donnarumma tells Milan there were warning signs of trouble long before he started working with Mino Raiola. The goalkeeper has informed the club, via agent Raiola, that he would not be signing a new contract and his rapport with the Rossoneri can therefore end on June 30, 2018. “I might come off as unpleasant to some, but I was one of the very few people who saw this coming,” Giocondo Martorelli told TMW Radio. It was Martorelli who first discovered Donnarumma as a child and got him a trial at Inter.

“I think it’s too much for him. A player who is captain must have the respect of his opponents. He’s someone who, when you look at him and listen to him, you should think ‘s***!’.” - Felipe Melo – who joined Palmeiras

Leonardo Bonucci took his four-year old son to meet his idol Andrea Belotti at dinner after crying when he was forced to wear a Juventus top during the Scudetto title celebrations. Little Lorenzo Bonucci is bizarrely a mad fan of the Old Lady’s fiercest rivals – Torino, and was gleaming with pride as he posed for a picture with the 23-year-old.

SAINT LAZIO

De Rossi says he could retire from football in 2019 and does not expect to be playing for Italy beyond next year’s World Cup.

Ivanka Trump mixed up a Christian Saint with Lazio great Giorgio Chinaglia during the US presidential trip. The Commander in Chief’s daughter was visiting Le cave di Sant’ Ignazio with husband Jared Kushner. Restaurant owner Luigina Pantalone claims she confused a picture of Chinaglia – who passed away in 2012 aged 65 – with a holy man. Ivanka reportedly asked “which Saint is that?” Pantalone replied “it was not a Saint, but a great champion of Lazio”.

BLESSED GAME

Juventus and Lazio players took part in the annual Coppa Italia preparation by meeting the Pope. The two Serie A sides met for the 69th edition of Italy’s domestic cup competition. And they were granted an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, who told them to be “examples of loyalty and honesty.”

SPALLETTI HOPE

“Ibrahimovic is my role model since childhood, but another like him doesn’t exist,” - Sampdoria forward Patrik Schick played down comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, saying there was no-one like the former Manchester United star.

44 S360

18 250

18-year-old Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma claimed the most crosses [44] in the League last season Francesco Totti scored 250 goals in Italy’s top division, four more than all the current Roma players put together

BONUCCI PRIDE

from Inter on loan in January and is set to seal a permanent move when his contract expires this month – feels the Nerazzurri still rely too heavily on Icardi’s goals and claimed he is the wrong man to lead the team.

I will be 34 in a couple of months and I’m absolutely certain that I could be an important player for the World Cup. But if I think of 2020, I would be 37 years old, so you have to be realistic. If I’m needed I will always be there, but I consider the World Cup to be my final experience [for Italy]. This contract I have just signed could be the last contract of my footballing career.” - Roma star Daniele

by the numbers

Luciano Spalletti hopes Roma can be reunited around new boss Eusebio Di Francesco after the closing phase of Francesco Totti’s career cast a shadow over his spell at the club. It was his second spell in charge of the capital club but the decision to marginalise Totti became on ongoing saga, even if Roma’s results on the field vindicated Spalletti’s decision. Totti made his final Roma appearance on the last day of the season against Genoa, with Spalletti’s departure coming quickly as speculation over a move to Inter grew.

TOTTI FUNDS

Adrian Mutu has paid tribute to Francesco Totti and revealed the Roma legend offered to pay nearly £1million of his own money to secure the Romanian’s services when he was linked with a move to the Giallorossi. The former Chelsea star said on Instagram: “One day, Francesco called me and said: ‘Adri, I will take a pay cut of €1m (£870,000) a-year and give it to Fiorentina so we can form an attacking partnership together. Do you want to come?’ “To be completely honest, I couldn’t say no in that moment, how could I when Totti is saying that to me?”

DID YOU KNOW? Registering a 2-1 victory over Milan on the final day of the season, Cagliari had beaten the Rossoneri for the first time in 20 years. It was the final ever game at the current Stadio Sant’Elia. Moise Kean became the first ever player born in the new millennium to score a Serie A goal - or indeed any of Europe’s top five Leagues - with his winner for Juventus away to Bologna on the final match of the season.

PHEWY

Brazil legend Pele has scoffed at suggestions that forward Paulo Dybala is comparable to Diego Maradona. Dybala has emerged as one of Europe’s most talked-about players since joining Palermo from Instituto in 2012 before moving on to Juventus, with whom he has won successive Serie A titles. The 23-year-old has scored 30 league goals in his two seasons in Turin and was instrumental in the run which saw Allegri’s men reach the Champions League final.

by the numbers

831 4

Napoli captain Marek Hamsik made the most successful final-third passes in Serie A this season with 831 Daniele De Rossi scored four goals in the last five rounds of Serie A, at least 2 more than any other midfielder


by the numbers

47098

Francesco Totti has played 47,098 minutes in his Serie A career, the equivalent of 32 days and 17 hours

F GRADE HIGUAIN

LUNCH TIME

Inter Milan fans left the stadium ‘for lunch’ in their last home game of the season just 25 minutes into the game in protest as they were defeated at home by Sassuolo. As fans walked out, they left behind a banner that read: “You don’t deserve our support, we came to say hello, now we’re off to have lunch.”

Gonzalo Higuain was Juventus’ most disappointing player in their Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, according to Angelo Di Livio. Madrid romped to a 4-1 victory in Cardiff, with Massimiliano Allegri’s side falling apart in a second half that saw them fail to trouble opposing goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Di Livio, who won the Champions League for Juve in ’96, was unimpressed with the performance of Higuain, who assisted Mario Mandzukic’s spectacular first-half strike, but failed to score himself against his former club Madrid at the conclusion of his first season in Turin after signing from Napoli for €90million.

GOOD DEAL

Juventus chief executive Giuseppe Marotta has revealed the Serie A champions felt €60 million was a good figure for Paul Pogba a few years ago and is pleased they never inserted a buy-out clause in the current Manchester United star’s contract. The Bianconeri would eventually sell Pogba to United for an initial fee of €105 million which could potentially rise to €110m depending on clauses in the transfer.

KING TOTTI BOOTS

Nike have released a pair of limited edition golden boots to celebrate Francesco Totti’s 25th anniversary with Roma. The ‘King of Rome’ has spent his entire professional career with the Italian giants earning a legendary status amongst the people of his boyhood city. The Nike Tiempo Totti X Roma boot commemorates everything that the veteran has achieved with Roma including having his name stitched across the heel.

CRAZY FAN

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un is an avid fan of Serie A. The madcap leader has been drawn to the Italian top flight by Cagliari whizkid and countryman KwangSong Han. The striker, 18, became the first man from the secretive state to score in Serie A after beating on-loan Torino stopper Joe Hart. Italian senator Antonio Razzi revealed the shock news after visiting North Korea.

DID YOU KNOW?

Atalanta’s fourth-placed finish meant that for the first time ever, the highest finishing club from Lombardy in Serie A was not Milan or Inter. Lazio scored six goals on three occasions during 2016-17, a record in Serie A that had been held since 1959-60. With a League title sealed after the penultimate matchday, Juventus became the first Serie A team to win six consecutive Scudetti. Napoli gained 83 points during 2016-17, a new record for the Partenopei in a single Serie A campaign.

NO LOSS

Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira has revealed that he does not miss his former club Real Madrid. The Germany World Cup winner joined Juve on a free-transfer in June 2015 after five years at the Santiago Bernabeu. Injury often hindered Khedira’s progress in the Spanish capital and, although he has nothing but praise for Madrid’s coaching staff, he felt he was under-valued on the terraces.


Madrid Rule the Roost 2017 La Liga Season Review

REAL MADRID MAY ONLY HAVE CLINCHED THE TITLE ON THE FINAL DAY, BUT AS LIVIO CAFEROGLU EXPLAINS, BARCELONA AND THE LIKE SIMPLY COULDN’T KEEP UP WITH ZINEDINE ZIDANE’S CHARGES.

FINAL TABLE TEAM

PTS

Real Madrid

93

Barcelona

90

Atletico Madrid 78 Sevilla FC

72

Villarreal

67

Real Sociedad 64 Athletic Bilbao 63 Espanyol

56

Alavés

55

Eibar

54

Málaga

46

Valencia

46

Celta Vigo

45

Las Palmas

39

Real Betis

39

Deportivo

36

Leganes

35

Sporting Gijón 31 Osasuna

22

Granada

20

Qualified for Group Stage: UCL

Europa

Qualified for Playoff: UCL

Europa

Relegation

TOP SCORER PLAYER

GLS

Lionel Messi

37

Luis Suárez

29

C. Ronaldo

25

Iago Aspas

19

A. Griezmann

16

Aritz Aduriz

16

Álvaro Morata 15 S. Ramírez

14

Gerard Moreno 13 R. Castro

13

Neymar

13

Willian José

12

Florin Andone 12 Kevin Gameiro 12 Ben Yedder

11

K. Benzema

11

C. Bakambu

11

Juanmi

11

Sergi Enrich

11

Pedro León

10

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Madrid’s rotation policy showcased their incredible strength in depth, made up of exciting, young talent.

A

fter 38 rounds of fixtures and 1118 goals scored in the 2016-17 La Liga campaign, it was Real Madrid that emerged as Spain’s best last season. Despite not being the most prolific team or the one that conceded the fewest, Los Blancos were the most consistent, regularly grinding out results, while making full use of their exciting squad and even resting Cristiano Ronaldo on several occasions. That coupled with Barcelona, their nearest challengers, failing to capitalise when it mattered meant there could only be one winner. What makes Madrid’s title success all the more remarkable is that it was masterminded by a Coach working in only his first full season at senior level. A legendary player he may have been, but Zinedine Zidane had only coached Madrid Castilla prior to taking charge of the first team in January 2016. The Champions League he won last May was branded a fluke by some, but there was nothing lucky about the manner in which he led Los Merengues to their first Primera crown in five years. Indeed, Madrid’s rivals were already playing catch-up by the third matchday. Whereas

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

27,788 LARGEST ATTENDANCE

98,485 BARCELONA VS. REAL MADRID

LOWEST ATTENDANCE

3,576 EIBAR VS VALENCIA

Zidane’s charges won their first three games, Barca were stunned at home by new boys Alaves, Atletico Madrid opened to draws with top-flight debutants Leganes and Sevilla dropped points at Celta Vigo. Just a week later, the capital giants had another reason to celebrate as they posted a clubrecord, 16th consecutive La Liga victory, courtesy of their 2-0 win at Espanyol. Madrid suffered their first blip when they drew three on the bounce against Las Palmas, Villarreal and Eibar, but their fellow contenders were unable to profit once more. Barca and Atleti couldn’t be separated at Camp Nou, before Celta Vigo netted another four goals against the Catalans, who lost at Balaidos for the second season running. Sevilla were similarly inconsistent, going down 3-1 to Athletic Bilbao and firing blanks at Villarreal. Atleti, to their credit, looked invincible for a short while. Four victories, including a 7-1 demolition of Granada, catapulted them top of the League on goal difference by matchday eight, with Diego Simeone’s more attacking approach seemingly paying dividends. However, Los Colchoneros’ title challenge vanished over the next six weeks


"‘For the final two months of the season, the title race became a case of who would crack first’"

LONGEST WINNING STREAK

Cristiano Ronaldo silenced his critics yet again, popping up with crucial goals towards the end of the season.

07 AVERAGE GOALS PER MATCH

2.94 GOALS SCORED ON PENALTY

7.9% as they fell to four losses in seven League games. Their lowest point came at Vicente Calderon, where Cristiano Ronaldo’s derby hat-trick silenced the home crowd. But while Simeone remained immune to criticism for most part, the same couldn’t be said for Luis Enrique. The Asturian’s influence on Barca had always been downplayed due to the star quality at his disposal, and with his ‘MSN’ frontline failing to hit the heights of his first two years at the helm, many felt Enrique’s tactics – or lack of – had been exposed. Lacklustre performances yielded narrow wins and dropped points, both of which allowed Madrid to end 2016 top with a game in hand. Starting the New Year on the back of a Club World Cup triumph, Madrid resumed the campaign with two big wins against Granada and Sevilla, before a dramatic, late comeback in the second leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie against the latter saw Los Blancos go a 40th match unbeaten, breaking the record of 39 set by Barcelona

in 2015-16. Yet they faced Jorge Sampaoli’s side in the League just three days later and lost to a last-gasp Steven Jovetic goal. Sevilla were still in with a shout of an unlikely title by the beginning of March and appeared on course to displace Atleti as Spain’s third-best team, but the Andalusians ran out of steam in the final two months of the campaign, ultimately finishing fourth and closer to fifth-placed Villarreal. Furthermore, their cause wasn’t helped by sporting director Monchi ending his fourdecade-long association with the club and Argentina going public with their courtship of Sampaoli. As a three-way battle became an all-Clasico affair, Madrid’s momentum was dealt a sudden setback when their game against Celta at the beginning of February was postponed due to a storm damaging part of the Galicians’ stadium. Over the four weeks that followed, Los Merengues suffered a 2-1 defeat to Valencia and needed Ronaldo to bail them out in a 3-3 draw with Las Palmas.

Zinedine Zidane proved he was no flash in the pan after he masterminded Real Madrid’s first League title in five years.

"Despite not being the most prolific team or the one that conceded the fewest, Los Blancos were the most consistent, regularly grinding out results…"

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2017 La Liga Season Review

TOP SCORER: LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA)

Lionel Messi outscored not only his Barcelona strike partners, but also everyone else in La Liga with 37 goals.

BARCELONA MIGHT HAVE GIVEN UP THE PRIMERA TO REAL MADRID BUT LIONEL MESSI BEAT OFF THE COMPETITION TO CLAIM THE PICHICHI TROPHY… Just when it seemed Lionel Messi’s days as a free-scoring forward were behind him, the No 10 made a mockery of such an idea by running out eight clear of Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez to finish the season as La Liga’s Pichichi with 37 goals. Messi’s 2015-16 campaign saw him register his lowest scoring numbers in seven years, with Luis Enrique having used him more frequently in a deeperlying, free role. However, he began 2016-17 looking revitalised in front of goal, notching up braces against Real Betis, Leganes, Valencia and Osasuna. And in the three League games he missed through injury, Barca won just one of them. The Argentine lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo for both the 2016 Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA Men’s Player, but he took the disappointment in his stride, failing to score just five times in La Liga between January and May. In total, he netted 13 braces during the campaign – more than anyone else in the Division. Messi also broke several records along the way. His strike in a 5-0 win against Las Palmas saw him equal Raul Gonzalez’s record for the most number of teams scored against in La Liga (35), while he surpassed 500 goals for Barca with a brace at Real Madrid. Luis Enrique ultimately coaxed some of Messi’s best football once it occurred to him that he had a phenomenon on his hands. The attacker may be destined for a deeper role under Ernesto Valverde, but another Pichichi can never be discounted.

BOTH TEAMS SCORED

56%

Above: Lionel Messi outscored not only his Barcelona strike partners, but also everyone else in La Liga with 37 goals.

GOALS SCORED AFTER 80TH MIN

17.5%

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Below: Sevilla threatened to mount a title challenge thanks to Monchi’s shrewd business, but the sporting director has since moved on to Rome

Despite those setbacks, they were spared by Barca’s 2-1 defeat to Deportivo La Coruna on March 12. For the final two months of the season, the title race became a case of who would break first. Lucho’s men may have cracked just the once, in the third part of a gruelling schedule that consisted of three League games in the first week of April, but it would prove enough to hand Los Blancos the crown. As it happened, former Barca striker Sandro Ramirez haunted his former club in a 2-0 victory for Malaga, which saw Neymar sent off. Further disappointment was in store for the Catalans, who lost Neymar to a retrospective, three-game ban – ruling him out of the Clasico – and were comprehensively knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus. However,


COACH OF THE SEASON: ZINEDINE ZIDANE (REAL MADRID) GUIDING REAL MADRID TO THEIR FIRST PRIMERA TITLE SINCE 2012 MEANS ZINEDINE ZIDANE IS HARD TO OVERLOOK AS THE PICK OF LA LIGA’S COACHES… fuelled by the spirit of Johan Cruyff at Santiago Bernabeu, little more than a year since the Dutchman’s passing, Lionel Messi left it late to score his 500th Barca goal in a 3-2 victory over Madrid to blow the battle for supremacy wide open. La Blaugrana would lead the table on goal difference until Madrid’s rescheduled game against Celta on May 17, when Zidane’s side thrashed their opponents 4-1 to take a defining step towards the title. And needing just a point against Malaga in the final weekend of the season to end Barca’s twoyear grip on the title, goals from Ronaldo and Karim Benzema ensured preparations for a night-long party at Plaza de Cibeles weren’t in vain. Madrid never broke any ground with their football, but they never looked like squandering the title either. Even when their heads threatened to drop, they could rely on a re-enactment of Sergio Ramos’ last-ditch header in the 2014 Champions League Final, Marcelo’s moment of magic to inflict revenge on Valencia or Alvaro Morata’s regular super-sub appearances. Yet more important than that was Zidane’s management of his players, including resting the seemingly-untouchable Ronaldo. “As for the number of matches, it was something that we talked about at the start of the season, and I knew I needed [more rest],” said the No 7. “In the past couple of seasons, I got tired when the final stretch of the League and Champions League arrived. Therefore, this season I was rested for a

‘‘Madrid never broke any ground with their football, but they never looked like squandering the title either’’ couple of games and I feel much better in this final stretch than in previous years as a result.” Zidane regularly mentioned a need for all his players to feel important at Press conferences, and in doing so, Madrid shed their Galacticos tag, finally utilising their riches of quality, young talent. Consequently, Nacho Fernandez grew into Europe’s most versatile defender, Casemiro became the continent’s most complete midfield enforcer, Marco Asensio showed himself to be an able deputy to Gareth Bale and Isco belatedly lived up to his potential as the most elegant No 10 around. Madrid President Florentino Perez appears to have learned from his mistake of unsettling Carlo Ancelotti’s La Decima winners, with Zidane set for a new contract and only slight tweaks expected at the Bernabeu this summer. Ironically, it is their rivals in La Liga that are likely to make largescale changes, among them Barca, who are preparing for life after Luis Enrique. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

Zinedine Zidane the Coach still needs some getting used to, but his work is speeding up that process. Thrown into the lion’s den in January 2016, with Madrid seemingly in freefall, the legendary midfielder’s sheer presence brought together a divided dressing room and inspired Los Blancos to the Champions League last season. A year after that triumph, he has delivered a League title. The argument persists that Madrid’s players manage themselves, but Rafa Benitez put that theory to bed. Not only did Zidane instil unity at Santiago Bernabeu, but he made himself available to his players, developed a rapport with the Press and displayed astute tactical understanding. Most importantly, however, got the best out of his squad, keeping everyone happy, not least Cristiano Ronaldo. “Zidane has done an extraordinary job,” Ronaldo said. “He started from scratch this season and is proving how good a Coach he is becoming. I admired him as a player and now even more as a Coach because he’s a very positive person, very hard working and very respectful of the players. I have no doubt the team’s success is down to Zidane and the excellent work he’s doing. All the players are very happy with him.” A new contract, and maybe a trophyladen dynasty, surely awaits for the trainer who has the faith of the President, Florentino Perez, the players and the supporters, a rare hat-trick in the highly-political world of the Bernabeu.

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La Liga Title Turners

RONALDO'S

REDEMPTION EVEN FOR HIS STANDARDS, THIS HAS BEEN A STELLAR YEAR FOR CRISTIANO RONALDO, WITH LEAGUE AND EUROPEAN TITLES FOR CLUB AND COUNTRY AND NUMEROUS PERSONAL ACCOLADES. COLIN MILLAR ANALYSES THE SECRET TO HIS SUCCESS… Cristiano Ronaldo remains pivotal to Real Madrid success despite his advancing years

‘This year has seen a marked shift from a hunger for goals to a hunger for medals, honour and glory’ DID YOU KNOW? He got the name "Ronaldo" after thenU.S. president Ronald Reagan, who was his father's favourite actor.

F

ollowing Real Madrid’s 3-0 victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League Semi-Final, Toni Kroos described him ‘incredible’ while Zinedine Zidane hailed him as ‘unique.’ Most have now run out of superlatives for Cristiano Ronaldo, who has continued to dazzle and defy his critics for well over a decade. Arguably the most accurate angle for Ronaldo’s last 12 months is one of redemption. It began with the decisive spot kick which won the 2016 Champions League and was swiftly followed up by leading his native Portugal to their first ever major trophy. Ronaldo’s attacking brilliance was crucial in guiding A Selecção to the final and while a cruel injury ended his participation in the final, his leadership and enthusiasm from the sidelines was palpable. The airport of his hometown Madeira was subsequently named in Ronaldo’s honour while media reports began to emerge of adjustments to his training pattern in an attempt to prolong his longevity at the pinnacle of the sport. Known for his physique and athleticism, Ronaldo dropped two kilograms of weight

50 S360

Ronaldo has proven he may be the ultimate clutch player

going into the 2016-17 campaign, with the aim of dropping a further kilo each season of his career. This was in-line with his constant evolution as a player, increasingly advanced on the pitch, focusing more on movement and reflexes inside the penalty area. In December, the former Manchester United star scooped his fourth Ballon d’Or– an incredible eight years after his first – in the same month that his hat-trick propelled Madrid to victory in the Club World Cup showpiece. That was Ronaldo’s third hat-trick of the campaign – having fired trebles in La Liga statement victories at Alaves and Atletico despite concerns that he was not enjoying a vintage season, and just shy of five months later he would be toasting the League title. This was a man who had surpassed the 50goal mark for each of the past six seasons but also a player who had virtually never been rested throughout this period. His lust for playing, performing and scoring was so much that successive Coaches dared not drop him from their starting line-ups. This campaign was different, though, and boss Zinedine Zidane did not select Ronaldo for nine of his side’s 38 League outings,

‘It’s no fluke Zidane’s rotation policy maximised Ronaldo’s freshness and potential in the home stretch’


ZZ ON TOP Already a Real Madrid hero, Zinedine Zidane took his status to new heights by returning Los Blancos to the summit of La Liga. Such has been the frequency of records broken by Real Madrid this season, it has often been tough to keep track. Zinedine Zidane has been at the heart of all of them. September’s two-goal win at Espanyol saw them equal the all-time record of consecutive La Liga victories [16] set by Barcelona, while January’s Copa del Rey draw at Sevilla saw them set a new Spanish record of 40 matches undefeated. Three months later another record tumbled against the Andalucians – a 4-1 victory made it 62 consecutive games in which Madrid had scored, breaking Bayern Munich’s European record. La Liga was won with a first-team squad of whom only eight had ever won a title beforehand but this was a triumph of squad management. Whether it was sensible rotation, managing egos or forging a strong sense of identity and togetherness – Zidane ensured every player felt important. "You were the best player in the world, and now you are simply the best Coach in the world,” club president Florentino Perez told Zizou amidst the title celebrations. It’s a strong argument: in less than 18 months in management he has conquered Europe and Spain, banishing painful memories of Rafael Benitez’s chaotic, doomed rein. This side did not always convince but they always found a way, their spirit unbreakable and their belief unshakable, all guided by the calm yet authoritative figure on the sidelines. Zizou acted as the shield for the often unbearable scrutiny and spotlight which engulfs Madrid, a name which dwarfs any of his players, managing egos while optimising performances. In just one full season, he has achieved more than many elite managers do in a lifetime. Zinedine Zidane confirmed his status as one of Real Madrid’s all-time greats

DID YOU KNOW? His free kick speed is about 13.1 kmph, which is compared roughly with the speed of a space shuttle while launching.

An iconic Euro 2016 Final set the stage for Ronaldo’s 2016-17 season

nor was he ever brought on as a substitute. Partly due to the forward’s early season fitness struggles – a knock-on effect from the injury sustained in the Euro 2016 Final – and partly to Zidane’s squad management skills, but also as a result of the Portuguese’s advancing years. It is easy to forget his debut in professional football came almost 15 years ago for Sporting Club de Portugal and his longevity at football’s summit with Lionel Messi has been a personal, incomparable rivalry which has lasted just shy of a decade. “He knows himself that sometimes he has to not play,” Zidane commented in early May. “It’s not just this year; it’s an accumulation over the years. He knows that himself because he is intelligent.” Starting off as a skinny livewire winger in Portugal, his six seasons spent at Old Trafford saw Ronaldo develop into a fearsome, dominant forward who increasingly began to look at home cutting inside and showing his goal scoring prowess. His first three seasons in England saw only 27 goals yet the final three saw him find the back of the net on 91 occasions. In terms of goalscoring figures alone, this season has on the face of things been the 32-year-old’s least influential – his La Liga tally of 25 is his lowest since his move to Santiago Bernabeu in 2009, netting more than 10 fewer than his previous campaign and more than twenty less than two years ago. Rather, it is the significance and timing of his goalscoring form which has been so crucial to Los Blancos securing their first League title in five years and attempts to become the first club to successfully defend the Champions League trophy in its current format. From mid-April, Ronaldo embarked on a run which saw him score 14 goals in nine matches. Five of those came in the pulsating European elimination of Bayern Munich and his second hat-trick of the season against Diego Simeone’s side arrived in the following round. The Portuguese influence was not just focused on European competition as he racked up five goals in La Liga’s final week, scoring crucial early braces against Sevilla and Celta Vigo before striking in the second minute at Malaga in the final fixture. Nine points from nine in that potentially tricky spell was enough to end Madrid’s long wait and secure their 33rd League crown. Of course, many will point to this triumph as one of a strong squad rather than down to any individual. Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez

and Isco were squad players for much of the campaign but scored 33 League goals between them, while the understated roles of Mateo Kovacic, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio also proved crucial. None of that changes the fact that once more it was Ronaldo who was decisive, scoring big goals at big moments to drag his side over the line. It is no coincidence his fitness and form peaked in the final six weeks of the campaign and it is no fluke Zidane’s rotation policy maximised his freshness and potential in the home stretch. Before this season, Ronaldo had become Madrid’s highest ever goalscorer but his 260 La Liga goals had resulted in only one League title. This year has seen a marked shift from a hunger for goals to a hunger for medals, honour and glory. He has now surpassed Jimmy Greaves as the all-time top-scorer in the top five European Leagues and it is easy to envisage yet more records continue tumbling. Such has been Ronaldo’s excellence and decisiveness, it is hard to argue against the past 12 months he has enjoyed being unsurpassed in football’s modern era. If he continues to adapt, there may be many more yet to come.

FACTFILE Name: Cristiano Ronaldo Born: February 5, 1985 (Funchal, Portugal) Ht / Wt: 1.85m/80kg Position: Forward Club: Real Madrid Player Stats Year Club 2002-03 Sporting 2003-04 Man. United 2004-05 Man. United 2005-06 Man. United 2006-07 Man. United 2007-08 Man. United 2008-09 Man. United 2009-10 Real Madrid 2010-11 Real Madrid 2011-12 Real Madrid 2012-13 Real Madrid 2013-14 Real Madrid 2014-15 Real Madrid 2015-16 Real Madrid 2016-17 Real Madrid

Apps 31 40 50 47 53 49 53 35 54 55 55 47 54 48 45

Goals 5 6 9 12 23 42 26 33 53 60 55 51 61 51 40

Most have now run out of superlatives for the superstar, who has continued to dazzle and defy his critics for well over a decade’ S360 51


AROUND SPAIN

MADRID CLINCH HISTORIC DOUBLE

DID YOU KNOW?

Just a fortnight after winning their first La Liga title in five years, Real Madrid thrashed Juventus 4-1 to lift their second Champions League in three seasons. Not only did Madrid become the first club in the Champions League era to defend the European Cup, but they were also the first Blancos team since 1958 to claim a Double of its kind. Not bad going in only Zinedine Zidane’s first full season as a top-level trainer.

“The squad is very good as it is. If we stay as we are, it’s perfect.” - Real Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio believes there is no room for even Lionel Messi at the European champions.

Real Madrid scored in every La Liga match for the first time in their history.

Fernando Torres scored more La Liga goals at Vicente Calderon than any other player in the 21st century (54). Sevilla averaged 58 percent possession in La Liga during the 2016-17 campaign, their highest percentage in a single season since 05-06.

BARCA APPOINT VALVERDE

Almost three months after Luis Enrique announced he would be stepping down as Barcelona Coach, Ernesto Valverde was finally confirmed as the Asturian’s successor on a two-year contract. The 53-year-old arrives on the back of a fruitful, four-year spell in charge of Athletic Bilbao, where he won a Supercopa Espana – the Basques’ first trophy in 31 years – while promoting young players and advocating a Barca-like style of play.

ADAMS RUES GRANADA ‘NIGHTMARE’

“Sometimes the best answer is to be quiet.” - Cristiano Ronaldo issues his

first response to the tax fraud complaint made against him.

NO SIGNINGS FOR ATLETI

Atletico Madrid will not be able to register new players this summer after their transfer ban appeal was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). It represents a huge blow in the way of Atleti’s plans in the market as they had reportedly lined up the likes of Diego Costa, Fabinho, Vitolo and Alexandre Lacazette. Worse yet, arch-rivals Real Madrid were let off the hook completely.

Tony Adams has described his caretaker spell at Granada as a “nightmare”. The former Arsenal and England defender lost all seven of his games in his caretaker spell at the helm of the Andalusians, resulting in their relegation to Segunda as the bottom-placed team. “I think nothing was going to work with this group of players… It’s a catalogue of errors,” he admitted after a 2-1 loss to Espanyol in May.

GRIZI STAYS LOYAL

“From outside he can seem like an almost unreachable person, but in the dressing room he’s just one of the team. He’s a f****** great guy.”

- Barcelona star Denis Suarez praises his five-time Ballon d’Or winner teammate Lionel Messi for remaining humble at Camp Nou.

If there was one positive to come out of Atletico Madrid’s transfer ban, it was the confirmation that Antoine Griezmann would stay at the club for another season. The Frenchman had been heavily linked with Manchester United, even suggesting there was a “six out of 10” possibility of joining the Red Devils, but he pledged his loyalty to Los Colchoneros just a few days after CAS’ verdict. Classy!

ALL CHANGE AT BETIS

SEVILLA IN DISARRAY?

What a difference four months makes. From still being in the La Liga title race and Champions League at the beginning of March, Sevilla go into the new season without Coach Jorge Sampaoli and long-serving sporting director Monchi, while several more of the latter’s technical assistants are expected to move on. One thing is for certain – that Monchi’s successor Oscar Arias has a mammoth task on his hands.

“I share more ideas with Sampaoli than differences. My plan is to attack, control possession and win the ball back quickly. I like to dictate games and that’s why I choose to operate with the ball.”

- New Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo has promised to deliver attacking football in the same style as predecessor Jorge Sampaoli. 52 S360

MADRID SPLASH CASH ON TEEN

Real Madrid may favour young talent over ‘Galacticos’ these days, but they managed to fuse both strategies by sanctioning a €45m deal for 16-year-old forward Vinicius Junior. Madrid will reportedly pay €30m up front and the remaining €15m in instalments once the Brazilian arrives, although that will not be until next summer. Vinicius, who had also been linked with Barcelona, only made his senior debut for Flamengo in May.

Real Betis, like their city rivals Sevilla, will start the new season with a new backroom team after the appointments of Coach Quique Setien and departure of sporting director Miguel Torrecilla. The Andalusians finished a disappointing 15th in La Liga last term and went through two full-time trainers, but their fans can expect an eventful season, with the adventurous Setien in charge and club legend Lorenzo Serra Ferrer back as Vice-President.

BERIZZO OUT, UNZUE IN

Celta Vigo have become renowned for their left-field pick of Coaches, and Juan Carlos Unzue is no different. The former goalkeeper was Luis Enrique’s assistant at Celta during the 2013-14 campaign, before joining him at Barcelona for the past three seasons. As for the man Unzue is replacing, Eduardo Berizzo departs Balaidos after three years of continuous growth, including a first-ever Europa League semi-final, and is probably set for Sevilla.

by the numbers

37

Lionel Messi’s League-high 37 goals saw him scoop up his first Pichichi Trophy since 2013


MESSI PAYS LUCHO TRIBUTE

Lionel Messi and Luis Enrique may have had their differences in the past, but the Argentine claims the Coach “motivated Barcelona to be a great team again” and “told me that I was the best player in football history.” The pair infamously fell out before Barca’s 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad in January 2015, but they reconciled soon after, combining to win nine trophies in three seasons.

DID YOU KNOW?

“For the sake of the Colombian national team it is always good for James to have continuity.” - Colombia

SPAIN CROWNED U17 CHAMPIONS

Spain were crowned European Under-17 champions for a record third time in May as a dramatic 2-2 draw with England was followed by penalties victory. Spain were trailing 2-1 until the fifth minute of injury time, when Villarreal forward Nacho Diaz powered a header home, with Marca describing it as “a Ramos” – a reference to the Real Madrid defender’s penchant for a late goal.

JAMES SET TO LEAVE MADRID

Isco was involved in more goals than any other midfielder in La Liga (10 goals and eight assists), despite just 18 starts.

Having appeared to wave goodbye to Real Madrid during their 4-1 win against Sevilla on May 14, another nail was hammered into the midfielder’s Blancos coffin when he was completely left out of the side’s matchday squad for the Champions League Final. A two-way battle between Inter and Manchester United – and the inevitable, summerlong, transfer saga – now looks set to commence.

Celta Vigo were the only team to have beaten Real Madrid and Barcelona last season.

CURTAINS FOR THE CALDERON

After 51 years of service, the Vicente Calderon has closed its doors forever. Atletico Madrid fittingly bid farewell to the 54,907-seater arena with a 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao on the final matchday of the season in La Liga, before it hosted the Copa del Rey Final and a farewell match between a past-and-present Colchoneros XI and a team of world all-stars, old and new.

head coach Jose Pekerman wants James Rodriguez to play more regularly at his club Real Madrid.

LAS PALMAS GO ITALIAN?

Las Palmas could be set for an Italian revolution, if reports are to be believed. Leicester City’s Premier League-winning boss Claudio Ranieri has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Quique Setien, but it appears former Palermo Coach Roberto De Zerbi is the favourite. More interestingly, however, the islanders are said to have held talks with Nice striker Mario Balotelli, who shares a close friendship with Kevin-Prince Boateng.

“From the start of the season he told us what his idea was and what each player’s role would be in the team. The truth is he delivered on that” - Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez

lauds Zinedine Zidane for his treatment of Real Madrid’s fringe players and for delivering on his promise that every player would get his chance.

PELLEGRINO QUITS ALAVES

Mauricio Pellegrino has left Alaves after just one season at the club and guiding them to a first-ever Copa del Rey Final and top-half finish in La Liga. The former Valencia defender confirmed at his farewell Press conference that he did not have any personal or family problems, amidst speculation linking him with the coaching vacancies at Sevilla and Premier League club Crystal Palace.

THEO TO PLAY FOR SPAIN?

Atletico Madrid left-back Theo Hernandez has reportedly decided to switch his international allegiance from France to Spain. It comes after the former Alaves loanee rejected a call-up to the Bleus squad for the U-20 World Cup. To add insult to injury, Theo reportedly passed a medical in May ahead of a proposed €24m transfer to arch-rivals Real Madrid.

by the numbers

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Girona’s promotion means there will be three Catalan clubs in La Liga next season, after Barcelona and Espanyol

Tony Adams suffered seven defeats out of seven in his spell as caretaker Coach of Granada

GIMME YOUR SHIRT, PLEASE

Lionel Messi has only asked ONE player in his entire career to swap shirts at the end of a game – Zinedine Zidane. He is not embarrassed to admit he begged to get his hands on his rival’s shirt at game's end.

“He’s not selfish on the pitch but if he has the ball he always wants to go for goal. And suddenly, he’ll set me up to score.” - Karim Benzema

insists that Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo is not a selfish player, despite his eagerness to go for goal whenever possible. S360 53


MESSI & RONALDO REACH MILESTONES

AROUND SPAIN

Just when it appeared Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were slowing down in front of goal, 2016-17 would be the campaign that they broke yet more ground. Messi’s brace against Real Madrid in April’s Clasico took him past the milestone of 500 career goals, but that was bettered by Ronaldo, whose second strike against Juventus in the Champions League was the 600th since he started out.

VALENCIA BRING IN MARCELINO

ALVES JIBE BACKFIRES

“He is one of the most privileged, gifted athletes of all time. I would like to enter his brain and find out how he can withstand the pressure like he has, with both Barcelona and Argentina on his back.” - Lionel

Messi is one of the most “gifted” athletes in history, believes former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

If any Juventus player came out of the Champions League Final with egg on their face, it had to be Dani Alves. The former Barcelona right-back joked Real Madrid would be “scared” of his winning record against them and claimed Los Blancos beat Juventus in 1998 “with an offside goal”, but his comments were quickly dismissed by goalscorer Predrag Mijatovic and – more importantly – Madrid, who blew away the Bianconeri in Cardiff.

by the numbers

500 600 9

in April

Lionel Messi surpassed 500 career goals with his brace against Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 600th goal of his career against Juventus in the Champions League Final Luis Enrique won nine trophies in his three years at the helm of Barcelona

Marcelino became Valencia’s 10th full-time Coach when he signed a two-year contract with the club in May. The 51-year-old has a point to prove after being sacked by Villarreal on the eve of last season, even reportedly turning down offers from Italian giants Inter and Roma in order to take the job at Mestalla. “The aim is to build a squad packed with quality, ambition and balance,” he vowed at his official unveiling.

GIRONA REACH PROMISED LAND

Girona have won promotion to La Liga for the first time in their 87-year history, courtesy of a 0-0 draw with Real Zaragoza, who stunned them in the 2015 Segunda playoffs. Having sewn up second place, they will join champions Levante in the top flight next season, as well as becoming its third Catalan team, after Barcelona and Espanyol.

EARLY START

1. Spanish La Liga 2017-18 season fixtures will be announced on 20th July 2017 and the season begins a week earlier than usual start dates in Spain. The opening round of matches takes place on the weekend of 11-12 August 2017 and La Liga season concludes on 13th May 2018.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll be teammates next year!” - Alvaro Morata says he hopes to be team-mates with James Rodriguez next season as speculation continues to link the duo with a move away from Real Madrid.

SINGING HERO

Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed the microphone at the Santiago Bernabeu during Real Madrid’s Champion’s League celebration and started singing a tune in his honor. With the crowd in a frenzy, four-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo — who finished the season with 42 goals in all competitions and as the Champions League's top scorer — ended up singing, "Cristiano, Ballon d'Or" and the fans joined in. If Ronaldo wins the Ballon d’Or this season he will equal Lionel Messi’s record of winning the honour five times.

“The day you see us going on a victory parade for winning the Copa will be the day when you can say that Madrid have entered a dominant cycle.” - Barcelona star

Gerard Pique takes aim at Real Madrid following Barcelona’s decision not to hold an open-top bus parade to celebrate their Copa del Rey triumph.

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DID YOU KNOW? Only Lionel Messi (62) recorded more assists than Koke (52) in the last five seasons. Eibar’s Takashi Inui became the first Japanese player to score against Barcelona in La Liga history.

THE MESSI EXPERIENCE

A theme park carrying Barcelona star Lionel Messi's name is to launch in China, it has been confirmed. The Messi Experience Park (MEP) will open in Nanjing in early 2019 and will boast over 20 attractions that will "enable visitors to immerse themselves [in] all things Messi." Technology will have a key role in the project, submerging visitors in "Messi's universe" and combining the latest generation of attractions with spaces to practice football. The park will use virtual and augmented reality to re-run highlights of the Argentina international's career and take people through training sessions with a "Virtual Reality Messi."


ITALIAN TRADITION AND QUALITY 1969

ALVAREZ SETBACK

Athletic Bilbao star Yeray Alvarez faces chemotherapy after cancer tragically returned to the 22-year-old just six months after his operation to remove his testicle. The defender had surgery in December after finding a tumour in his groin and he was bravely back in La Liga action as quickly as February 4. But, on a routine check-up, he has been dealt a hammer blow with the news the disease has returned and will rob him of the chance to play at the U21 European Championship.

ANTOINE OPINION

Antoine Griezmann thinks he would publicly come out as gay if he was a homosexual footballer. But the France international accepts it must be an incredibly tough step to make in a high-profile setting.

by the numbers

94 1118 1958

Osasuna conceded 94 goals last season, more than any other La Liga team There was a total of 1,118 goals scored in La Liga last season

since 1958

Real Madrid’s League and European Cup Double was their first

RED FACED

Gareth Bale and Luca Modric was left stunned after Real Madrid were not handed the La Liga trophy on the final day of the season. Madrid won the league for the first time since 2012 - before either Bale or Modric joined from Spurs. Neither was aware that custom dictates league silverware is not presented until the start of the following season.The bemused stars were eventually informed by Madrid’s press officer Juan Camilo Andrade.

CRISTIANO EXIT

Cristiano Ronaldo has fuelled talk he could be set to leave Real Madrid in the near future by revealing “nothing is impossible.” The 32-year-old has long been linked with a move away from the La Liga giants, with Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and clubs from China targeting a whopping £157million deal. Ronaldo fired Los Blancos into claiming their 12th European Cup when he bagged a brace in the recent 4-1 win against Juventus as they claimed a third Champions League title in the past four seasons.

TASTE THE TRADITION

BIG MONEY PLAYERS

GOOD HAIRCUT

Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas shaved his head after his side’s league title win to support children and their families fighting cancer. He said: “For all the kids fighting cancer. For their families, for those who continue fighting. This title is for them.“I pray to God for all of them, that they can recover from their illness.”

ASENSIO ACE

Marco Asensio has revealed that Rafael Nadal played a huge role in the youngster sealing a dream move to Real Madrid. The 21-yearold has spoken how the 14-time Grand Slam champion phoned club president Florentino Perez to avoid rivals snapping him up. Asensio signed for Los Blancos in November 2014 from Mallorca for just over £3million, but made his breakthrough season this year where has thrived under Zinedine Zidane.

Tottenham duo Dele Alli and Harry Kane are worth more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi according to analysis by the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar(€210.7m) comes out on top of the list compiled by the Swiss-based study centre, while Alli(€155.1m) and Kane (€153.6m) were named second and third respectively. Messi was evaluated at €151.7m

DID YOU KNOW? Osasuna’s 94 goals conceded is the third most in a single La Liga season, behind Gimnastic Tarragona (99) and Lleida (134). Real Madrid pair Marcelo (13) and Dani Carvajal (11) were the defenders with the most assists in Europe’s top five Leagues last season. Sporting Gijon did not register a La Liga clean sheet on home soil until the penultimate matchday of the season.

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Unstoppable Bayern 2017 Bundesliga Season Review

CAN ANYONE REALLY STOP BAYERN MUNICH? OR IS THE BUNDESLIGA TITLE RACE DOOMED TO BE AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY? MICHELLE BONSU TAKES A LOOK AT WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THIS PAST SEASON

FINAL TABLE TEAM

PTS

Bayern Munich 82 RB Leipzig

67

B. Dortmund

64

Hoffenheim

62

FC Cologne

49

Hertha Berlin

49

SC Freiburg

48

Werder Bremen 45 Borussia Monch. 45 Schalke 04

43

Frankfurt

42

B. Leverkusen 41 FC Augsburg

38

Hamburg SV

38

Mainz

37

VfL Wolfsburg 37 Ingolstadt 04

32

Darmstadt 98

25

Qualified for Group Stage: UCL

Europa

Qualified for Playoff: UCL

Europa

Relegation

TOP SCORER PLAYER

T

he start of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season generated a lot more buzz than in recent times. That’s because RB Leipzig, a team founded in May 2009 had achieved promotion to the top flight. In theory, it should have been something to celebrate, but not so much for the so-called ‘traditionalists’ who turned up their noses at yet another nouveau riche side attempting to crash the party. Leipzig showed that they were more than ready to mix it up on the bigger stage. Die Bullen set a new record for a debutant by going 13 games sans defeat before they were halted by Ingolstadt. That reverse knocked them out of the top spot in the table, but following it, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men never slipped lower than second, and now, just eight years after their inception, they will be playing alongside the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Chelsea in next season’s Champions League. Not that die Bullen did not try to go mano a mano with die Roten. But ultimately, Leipzig’s naïveté was exposed, especially when pitted against the reigning champions of Germany. In their first meeting, they were thoroughly outplayed, outclassed and

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AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

41,518 LARGEST ATTENDANCE

81,360 BAYERN VS. BORUSSIA DORTMUND

LOWEST ATTENDANCE

13,521 INGOLSTADT 04 VS VFL WOLFSBURG

outwitted as they were trounced 3-0 at the Allianz Arena in the last League game of 2016. And in the reverse fixture, they thought they were heading towards at least securing a point – only to suffer a collapse in the last 10 minutes and ship three goals. It was a highly entertaining nine goal thriller for the casual observer, but clearly demonstrated that despite Leipzig’s ambitions, they have some ways to go in order to fully be able to go toe-to-toe with Germany’s most decorated side. Still, they have nothing to be ashamed of. After all, they were not even in existence at the start of this century. Whilst Bayern and Dortmund were battling it out for the title, they were in the lower echelons of German football. And how often has anyone seen a debut side in any of Europe’s top Leagues qualify for the Champions League in their first attempt? Nonetheless, in all honesty, neutrals – and perhaps even some Munich fans – were really hoping to see Bayern challenged this term. After all, the reigning champions have dominated the Bundesliga landscape for the past few years and were seeking to make it an unprecedented fifth straight title. German football’s upper reaches was becoming

GLS

Aubameyang

31

Lewandowski

30

A. Modeste

25

Timo Werner

21

Mario Gomez

16

Max Kruse

15

A. Kramaric

15

Arjen Robben 13 Vedad Ibisevic 12 J. Hernández

11

Lars Stindl

11

Serge Gnabry

11

S. Wagner

11

F.Niederlechner 11 Nils Petersen

10

G. Burgstaller

9

Max Philipp

9

Marcel Sabitzer 8 Emil Forsberg 8 Fin Bartels

8


The might of Bayern Munich allowed Carlo Ancelotti to conquer a fourth different country

"Ancelotti became the first Coach to win the title in four out of Europe’s big 5 leagues"

LONGEST WINNING STREAK

04 AVERAGE GOALS PER MATCH

2.87 GOALS SCORED ON PENALTY

8.1% increasingly predictable, and ironically, it could certainly be argued that the overall lack of competition was hurting the Bavarian titans when it came to the Champions League. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund, who again had to settle for a runners-up spot during the 2015-16 term after finishing 10 points behind Bayern, were out of the title race even before it took off. In fact, Thomas Tuchel’s men spent more time battling it out with a surprisingly high-flying Hoffenheim for third place than ever realistically challenging their rivals for the Bundesliga crown. Yet die Schwarzgelben do have something to gloat about: in defeating die Roten in the DFB-Pokal Semi-Finals, they got some measure of revenge for their 4-1 Klassiker loss and ensured that Bayern did not make it a fourth Pokal prize in just five seasons. But ultimately, the League title remained in Munich, as many had expected at the start of the season. That ensured that Carlo

"The League title remained in Munich, as many had expected at the start of the season"

Ancelotti became the first Coach to win the title in four out of Europe’s big 5 leagues, adding Germany to England, France and Italy, but that does not mean Bayern fans are totally satiated. Winning the League title has unfortunately become an expectation, rather than an achievement, and Bayern were dumped out of the semi-finals in both the DFB-Pokal, and most significantly, the Champions League. The obstacle for the Bavarians was, yes, Spanish opposition. In any case domestic supremacy was assured as Bayern were never outside the top three from start to finish of this campaign. In fact, the lowest Ancelotti’s side ever were in the table was second, and that was just for three rounds. Or to break it down, a little over 270 minutes of game time. From round 14 till the final match day, there was only one team leading the way, and that was Bayern Munich. Bayern suffered just two losses all term. Both were on the road, and both were by slim 1-0 margins. The first took place in S360 57


2017 Bundesliga Season Review

TOP SCORER: PIERREEMERICK AUBAMEYANG (DORTMUND) A YEAR AFTER LOSING OUT TO ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI, PIERREEMERICK AUBAMEYANG SAW OFF HIS FORMER TEAMMATE AS WELL AS ANTHONY MODESTE AND TIMO WERNER TO LAND GERMANY’S GOLDEN BOOT.

November, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal was enough to decide Der Klassiker. It would be another five months before Bayern ended up on the wrong side of a result, and that was thanks to a masterful tactical performance by Julian Naglesmann’s Hoffenheim, who also managed to hold them to a draw at the Allianz Arena. At home, Bayern dropped points only four times, and recorded resounding victories against Hamburg, Augsburg, and Werder Bremen, while knocking down Leipzig a few notches. And let’s not forget their comfortable 5-0 drubbing of Wolfsburg – who surely must dread facing Bayern these days – while heaping more misery on the toothless Wölfe on match day 31 by crushing them 6-0 in the reverse fixture. Curiously enough, however, no Bundesliga team has ever finished the season

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Above: Nouveau riche RB Leipzig upset Bundesliga traditionalists

BOTH TEAMS SCORED

55% GOALS SCORED AFTER 80TH MIN

Below: Borussia Dortmund never truly challenged under Thomas Tuchel

18.1%

The battle for the top scorer — the Torjägerkanone — proved to be as interesting as the race for the Bundesliga title, or perhaps more considering the Bayern procession. Robert Lewandowski put up historic numbers last season and former teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set club records of his own, but was still unable to get his hands on the prize That is, until this campaign. It was a neck-to-neck competition for much of the season, and whilst Köln’s freescoring striker Anthony Modeste tried to keep himself in the running for as long as possible, along with Leipzig’s Timo Werner, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be another two-horse race between two of the best strikers not just in the Bundesliga, but arguably in European football. Despite not winning the Bundesliga title, Aubameyang nonetheless had a season to remember. For starters, he is the first African national to win the Torjägerkanone since Tony Yeboah did so twice in 1993 and 1994 for Eintracht Frankfurt. However, unlike the retired Ghanaian ace, the French-born Gabonese international does not have to share the coveted award. Not with Lewandowski, not with anyone. The last time a Dortmund player scored more than 30 goals in a season? There was no Twitter, mobile phones and the Internet were sci-fi fantasy and movies were still playing in black and white. It’s safe to say, then, that die Schwarzgelben icon Lothar Emmerich certainly would be quite impressed with Aubameyang’s haul of 31 during the 2016-17 campaign.


COACH OF THE SEASON: JULIAN NAGLESMANN (HOFFENHEIM) CARLO ANCELOTTI LED BAYERN TO THE BUNDESLIGA BUT THAT WAS THE LEAST EXPECTED OF THE VENERATED ITALIAN. IT WAS HOFFENHEIM’S JULIAN NAGLESMANN WHO REALLY CAUGHT THE EYE. Winning the Bundesliga is par for the course as Coach of Bayern Munich, to the point that it is more about when die Roten wrap up the title race as opposed to if they can do it. Carlo Ancelotti should still be applauded for his efforts in his debut season in Germany, but arguably, the real master tactician this term is Hoffenheim’s Julian Naglesmann. At just 29, Naglesmann is by far the youngest Coach in the Bundesliga. The ex-defender, who saw a fledging career cut short by injury, took over the club last February when they were sitting in 17th place, and a daunting seven points from safety. He managed to right the wobbly ship and steer Hoffenheim back on course. Ultimately they ended up in 15th spot, a point and a place clear of the relegation playoff. So far, so good. Saving Hoffenheim from the drop was impressive work, but not extraordinary. The real test was how Naglesmann would fare in his first full season in charge of Hoffenheim and, he didn’t just pass his exam, he aced it. It took until January 21 for the team to lose their first game, and along the way, Naglesmann outmanoeuvred Ancelotti to hand Bayern their second defeat of the season. It also marked the first time die Kraichgauer managed to get the better of die Roten since first meeting in the 2008-09 season. Next up is a two-legged play-off and a possible spot in the Champions League, for the first time in the club’s history. After this season’s fourth-place finish, anything seems possible with Naglesmann at the helm.

THE NEW STAR ON THE SOCCER FIELD. undefeated. It has been achieved in Italy and England, by Juventus and Arsenal respectively, but never in Germany. If any team is likely to do it, it’s Bayern. As things stand, it’s hard to imagine any other club catching them at the summit of German football. There might be some brief flickers here and there, but all competitors eventually fall by the wayside as they run out of steam. All well and good from Bayern’s perspective, but that’s not necessarily the case. Year after year, through shrewd moves – and sometimes getting nice freebies – die Roten have strengthened their side as the rest continue to try to play catch-up. Their transfer strategy has invoked the ire of rival teams’ fans, but in all fairness, can anyone blame players for wanting to play for the best side in Germany? The problem with one team totally reigning supreme is the lack of competition. It’s surely inevitable that when you know you’re going to win pretty much all the time, a sense of complacency creeps in. In many of their domestic games Bayern barely have

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‘It’s hard to imagine any other club catching Bayern at the summit of German football’ to press their foot on the accelerator and can still pick up a comfortable three points. They’re the student unchallenged in class, cruising through without needing to put in too much effort, until they reach a point matters are not so easy. That’s what has happened to Bayern in the Champions League. Since lifting the trophy in 2013 in an historic all-German Final against Dortmund, they have come up short. Whether it has been against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid, the Champions League has not been kind to a team who made history as the first German side to win the treble four years ago. Plenty of food for thought, then, as the club plans ahead for the upcoming term. But in the Bundesliga the behemoths have won a history-making five in a row and look like guarantees to make it six. Of course, Bayern were not always the dominant side and football is often cyclical. For now, though, the throne very much belongs to Bayern, and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon

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Bundesliga Title Turners

SKY'S THE

LIMIT

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI MAY ONLY BE IN HIS THIRD SEASON WITH BAYERN MUNICH, BUT THE POLISH ACE IS RAPIDLY CEMENTING HIS STATUS AS A BAYERN LEGEND, WRITES MICHELLE BONSU

“It’s not often fans see Pep Guardiola, of Barcelona fame, standing with his hands on his head, speechless, but even the esteemed Spanish tactician was in awe of his own player.”

DID YOU KNOW? Lewandowski holds the record for fastest hat trick. He did it in less than 9 minutes. He is also the very first Bundesliga player to come off the bench and score 5 goals in a game.

N

ine minutes. That’s all it took for Robert Lewandowski to singlehandedly demolish Wolfsburg. Brought on a second-half substitute when Bayern Munich were 1-0 down, the Poland international was a man on a mission. It’s not often fans see Pep Guardiola, of Barcelona fame, standing with his hands on his head, speechless, but even the esteemed Spanish tactician was in awe of his own player. And Guardiola spent years coaching Lionel Messi. That season saw Lewandowski clinch his second Torjägerkanone prize in just three campaigns and his 30 goals made him the first player to achieve this since Dieter Müller’s 34 during the 1976-77 campaign. Still, his achievements largely flew under the radar, as he has mostly done since bursting onto the scene with Borussia Dortmund during 2011-12. Yet, despite being the only player to score four – yes, a poker – in a Champions League Semi-Finals, against Real Madrid, Lewandowski doesn’t really receive the kind of attention the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do week in, week out. It’s unfair, really, as Bayern Munich are often

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mentioned in the same sentence as Real Madrid and Barcelona when talking about perennial contenders for the Champions League. Lewandowski has not been able to lead die Roten to their first European title since 2013 just yet, but he has nonetheless been a vital part of Bayern’s success since making a move to the Allianz Arena on a free transfer in the summer of 2014. Guardiola has come and gone, with Carlo Ancelotti taking over the helm of the Bavarian titans at the start of 2016-17. With Thomas Müller suffering a shocking meltdown amid an on-going drought that dates back to last summer’s Euro 2016 tournament, the onus was on Lewandowski to shoulder much of the goal-scoring responsibilities for Bayern this term. Lewandowski may not have been able to prevent former colleague Pierre-Emerick Aubamyeang from pipping him to a consecutive Torjägerkanone prize, but he nonetheless had no problems with being the go-to man for Ancelotti’s side. In fact, the team suffered when he wasn’t fit. This was on clear display during their Semi-Final clash with Madrid as the 28-year-old missed the first leg due to a shoulder injury and

“In fact, the team suffered when he wasn’t fit. This was on clear display during their Semi-Final clash with Madrid”


was clearly struggling during the second leg after being rushed back to aid the Bavarians’ cause. Unfortunately, despite netting during that contest, it was not enough to help Bayern overturn their ever-growing Spanish hoodoo. But that does not detract from his contributions this past season, however. On March 11, his brace against Eintracht Frankfurt was enough to take him to 100 goals for Bayern. That’s 100 goals in just 136 appearances, faster than any other player ever to pull on the famed red kit. Not bad for a player once deemed as too skinny and too short to make it as a professional footballer. It’s hard to imagine now looking at Lewandowski, who stands at 1.85 m and weighs in at a solid 79 kilograms, but not too long ago, Lewi, nicknamed ‘Bobek’ by some, was a scrawny youngster bereft of direction after his then-youth side Legia Warsaw released him in 2005. Certainly, Lewandowski, who comes from a sporting family – his later father Krystof was a Polish Judo champion while mother Iwona plied her trade as a professional volleyball player – must have been devastated. But, showing the grit and determination that has made him into one of the top strikers in the game today, he picked himself up and headed to lower-tier side Znicz Pruszków, where he got his first taste of success as a professional. Not only did he clinch the top scorer prize in the Third and Second Divisions, but having scored 16 goals across all competitions in his debut term and 21 in his sophomore year, the young and hungry Warsaw native helped to secure consecutive promotions for the club. Lewandowski’s rise continued as he moved next to bigger side Lech Poznań, and after a solid first term, clinched his third top-scorer prize with 18 League goals during the 200910 season. Reportedly, his former side Legia Warsaw had taken notice and wanted to sign their former youth product, only to have then-sporting director Miroslaw Trzeciak throw a monkey wrench into their plans. The reason? Apparently, Trzeciak felt that Mikel Arruabarrena, who had been signed from Tenerife, would be a much better option. It goes without saying that Legia, and Trzeciak, would end up eating a healthy serving of crow. Last anyone heard, Arruabarrena, who failed to score in six appearances for the club, was plying his trade with Cypriot outfit AEL Limassol. Lewandowski, of course, earned a move to Dortmund after becoming the top scorer in

FACTFILE Name: Robert Lewandowski Born: August 21, 1988 (Warsaw, Poland) Ht / Wt: 1.85m / 79kg Position: Striker Club: Bayern Munich Club Stats Year 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17

Club Znicz Pruszków Znicz Pruszków Lech Poznań Lech Poznań Bor. Dortmund Bor. Dortmund Bor. Dortmund Bor. Dortmund Bayern Munich Bayern Munich Bayern Munich

Apps 29 34 48 34 43 47 49 48 49 51 47

Goals 16 21 20 21 9 30 36 28 25 42 43

Club Stats Year 2009 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Club Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland Poland

Apps 4 12 13 10 10 10 6 7 12 1

Goals 2 1 6 3 2 3 5 11 8 1

the Ekstraklasa. Of course, for Lewandowski, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows upon his arrival in Germany. But that was to be expected, as nothing has been smooth sailing for the humble striker, who tends to shun the limelight and prefers to live a quiet life with his family as opposed to being out and about on the social scene. He hasn’t looked back since finding his footing. In the 2011-12 campaign, he finally nailed down a consistent spot in the starting XI under Jurgen Klopp, and played a vital role in Dortmund defending their Bundesliga title and the DFB-Pokal. But even Klopp, who saw something in the player nicknamed ‘the Body’ due to his extremely toned and fit physique, could not have predicted what transpired during the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals. Lewandowski made history as the first player to score a poker during the final four – and against Madrid – as die Schwarzgelben set up a first-ever all-German Final at Wembley in May. His future team went on to lift the trophy. Whether it’s been Guardiola or now Ancelotti in charge, Lewandowski has been a mainstay for Bayern as they continue to reign supreme as Germany’s No 1 side. Still, whilst he has added three more Bundesliga titles to his growing collection, the one with the big ears continues to elude him. But if anyone will be the one to help Bayern overcome their Spanish roadblock, it will be Lewandowski, and having experienced frustration over and over again, that definitely will be a motivating factor for him as Bayern Munich attempt another assault on the Champions League next season.

A COACH’S DREAM “He is the most professional player I have ever met,” waxed former coach Pep Guardiola about Robert Lewandowski. “In his head, he thinks about the right food, sleep and training: 24 hours a day”. Jurgen Klopp rated him as the “most interesting player to come out of Poland in two decades”. Lewandowski is nothing short of a Coach’s dream – professional, humble, hard-working and hugely talented. Never has anyone read a bad word about him giving attitude during practice or fighting with his teammates. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get frustrated – he is human after all, but causing a ruckus in the dressing room? He would rather cause problems on the pitch by tormenting defenders than make trouble off it. And now, Lewandowski has linked up with wily tactician Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian, of course, has enjoyed success wherever he has gone, including leading Real Madrid to La Decima during the 2013-14 season. He’s the only trainer to win the domestic title in four out of Europe’s big five Leagues, but was brought in to do what Guardiola failed to do in two seasons – win the Champions League. Both star and Coach will be eager to get their hands on the coveted title as they attempt to put a somewhat disappointing campaign behind them. Die Roten could see some changes this summer, with some personnel coming in and others going, but fans will be sure to see both Lewandowski and Ancelotti teaming up as the Bavarians aim to become kings of Europe once again. Antonio Conte’s arrival saw Hazard return to his best as Chelsea stormed to the title

"Lewandowski has been a mainstay for Bayern as they continue to reign supreme as Germany’s No 1 side."

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AROUND GERMANY

“When I got home, I told my wife and my family that it was the happiest moment of my professional career. it was unbelievable. I’ve experienced a lot of great moments but that was fantastic...I just felt surrounded by so much love all the way through it.” - Borussia Dortmund defender Marc

Bartra says his return to action following the attack on the team bus was his best moment in professional football.

TRAILBLAZER

The 2017-18 Bundesliga season is set to look a bit different – and not because of some newlypromoted sides joining the party. Rather, the changes are the men – or women – in charge. Bibiana Steinhaus, a 38-year-old former footballer and current referee, will become the first female official to take charge of a men’s game in the top flight in Bundesliga history.

Wolfsburg’s 6-0 loss to Bayern on matchday 31 is the worst ever defeat die Wölfe have suffered in their history. Yes, that’s even worse than their 5-1 loss to die Roten last season, or, more specifically, to Robert Lewandowski. With Bayern’s recent Bundesliga triumph, Chilean star Arturo Vidal has now won the domestic championship in each of his last six seasons [four with Juventus, two with Bayern].

TATTOO TRAUMA

Eintracht Frankfurt may have been the underdogs in their DFB-Pokal tie with Borussia Dortmund, but that did not prevent the club from opting to play without one of their players. Why? Not injury, but rather suspension. And the reason for the ban? Guillermo Valera, on loan from Manchester United decided to flout the rules and get a tattoo – something that the club forbids during the season.

“When I have to make a choice between playing and watching on from the sidelines, I always pick playing. I would happily play as goalkeeper, striker or winger, as long as I play. I would prefer any position over watching on from the bench.” - Versatile Bayern Munich

midfielder Joshua Kimmich will happily play wherever he is needed, even if that means playing as a goalkeeper.

DID YOU KNOW?

GÖTZE TO DO BETTER

Felix Götze, the younger brother of Mario, recently signed a professional contract tying him down to Bayern Munich until 2019. Hopefully the younger Götze, who plies his trade as a centreback as opposed to his attacker brother, will have better luck at the Allianz Arena. The elder Götze of course, returned to Borussia Dortmund after a frustrating spell with the Bavarians.

SHOW ME THE MOOOOLAH

RB Leipzig may not have won the Bundesliga title but some the team’s players are cashing in on the impressive rise of die Bullen. Midfielder Dominik Kaiser is set to make €300k thanks to Leipzig qualifying for the Champions League based on a clause put into his contract back when the team were playing in the fourth tier!

BANNED BANNERS

Flags and ultras go hand in hand, and Köln is certainly no exception. However, from time to time, the local police get involved – especially when it comes to offensive slogans. This time, the target was Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp, who filed criminal charges due to their banners displayed during a clash between the two clubs, and that meant the prosecutor’s office actually had to get involved to determine ‘how offensive’ the banners actually were.

REUS BREAKS DOWN

Poor Marco Reus really can’t catch a break. Die Schwarzgelben celebrated finally clinching the DFB-Pokal, only to announce later that Reus has come down with yet another injury. This time, it’s reportedly a knee problem that could see him miss at least the start of the upcoming season, as the expected recovery time is at least a couple of months.

by the numbers “[The Champions League] is not a major factor for me. In the end it’s only about football. I want to have an important role in the team, but I’ll see – my agent takes care of all that.” - RB Leipzig star Emil Forsberg insists a lack of Champions League football would not put him off signing for clubs like AC Milan or Arsenal next season.

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It has been 51 years since a Borussia Dortmund player netted 31 Bundesliga goals in a season. The last player to do this was Lothar Emmerich during the 1965-66 campaign

A SAD END FOR A PROUD CLUB

Understandably, 1860 Munich fans are incensed after their team were relegated from the 2.Bundesliga. Die Löwen, who were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga, could drop all the way into the amateur Leagues due to their reported inability to obtain a 3.Liga license. And their troubles are far from over. There were huge fan riots after their play-off second leg loss to Jahn Regensburg, leading the police to heavily criticise both the DFB and the DFL for their failures to keep supporters adequately in check.

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Recently-retired Bayern Munich skipper Philipp Lahm helped to win 250 games over the course of his Bundesliga campaign Only two players have bettered that record: Oliver Kahn [310 with Bayern] and Manfred Kaltz [291 with Hamburg]


PLAYER TAKEAWAY

Many teams are taking advantage of China’s growing spending power by playing matches in the Far East, and Chinese owners are slowly taking over European-based teams. However, Bayern wants to take it one step further. According to Uli Hoeneß, die Roten plan someday to eventually sign a Chinese player as a way to further grow their profile in one of the world’s most populated countries.

by the numbers

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Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is the first African player to win the coveted Torjägerkanone since Anthony “Tony” Yeboah did so 23 years ago in 1994

31

Aubameyang’s 31 goals not only surpassed the 30 set by Robert Lewandowski the prior term, but are also the most since Dieter Müller’s 34 during the 1976-77 season

A FAMOUS FAN

Darmstadt may have been relegated at the end of this season, but die Lilien can boast something that fellow German sides like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund can’t. In fact, even Manchester United and Barcelona can’t lay claim to having former President Barack Obama as a Twitter fan. Apparently, Obama, a wellknown sports aficionado follows the struggling club on social media!

READ MY LIPS…NO MORE BUYS

Bayern’s transfer strategy has garnered the ire of rival fans, as die Roten enjoy raiding their rivals to strengthen their side. Their favourite target as of late? Borussia Dortmund. In the past few seasons, they have snatched Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, and Mario Gotze. However, KarlHeinz Rummenigge claims that his club’s policy of grabbing Dortmund’s stars has ‘come to an end.’ Let's wait and see... and your time starts now.

Serving the community for over 40 years

AN UNWELCOME PERFORMANCE

Hollywood and sports don’t always mix after all. The German FA received plenty of flack for having singer Helene Fischer perform at the DFB-Pokal, as fans were less than impressed with her Super Bowl-esque performance for the event. “We play football, and real fans of football don't want Hollywood during the half-time break,” Frankfurt sporting director Fredi Bobic was quoted as saying.

SERVINGTHE THEGTA GTAFOR FOROVER OVER4949YEARS. YEARS. SERVING

AN EFFICIENT WINNER

Five Bundesliga titles. One Champions League. Three DFB-Pokals. In total, recently-retired goalkeeper Tom Starke has won 13 titles during his time with Bayern Munich. That in itself isn’t surprising – after all, die Roten have reigned supreme in Germany for the past few seasons. What is notable, however, is the fact that Starke made a grand total of 10 appearances for die Roten, which averages to better than a title per appearance!

LAHM-BASTED

Despite all the accolades showered on Philipp Lahm after he announced his retirement, not everyone is a fan, apparently. Former colleague Michael Ballack claimed that he was ‘stabbed in the back’ by Lahm, who assumed the captaincy of the national team after Ballack’s injury during the 2010 World Cup – and never gave it back.

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HEROIC ACTION

AROUND GERMANY

"In hindsight you could say that it was meant to go like this. I ended up at Cottbus instead." - New Borussia

Dortmund signing Maximilian Philipp reveals he came close to joining Bayern Munich back in 2011.

Eintracht Frankfurt assistant Robert Kovac found himself in the news recently, but it had nothing to do with football. The retired defender received high praise after apprehending a street thief who shockingly stole €40 from a 72-year-old pensioner and kept the victim calm – and the offender restrained – until police arrived.

by the numbers

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Bayern are the first team to win five straight Bundesliga titles in the competition’s history

Current die Roten boss Carlo Ancelotti is the first Coach to successfully win a domestic championship in four out of Europe’s ‘big five’ Leagues [Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, and Bundesliga]

LOST IN…TRANSLATION

KISS AND MAKE UP

It’s been a busy past few weeks for Arturo Vidal, so perhaps the excitement of winning another Bundesliga title and becoming a father for the third time got to him. The Chilean wanted to share his joy at welcoming his third child, but somehow managed to confuse some due to the “ambiguous” nature of the photo – with one fan even asking if ‘he was the mother?’

Carlo Ancelotti is a highly-decorated Coach, with trophies in five different countries. According to Franck Ribery, however, that’s not all the Italian is good at. Apparently, he’s a maestro at giving birthday kisses…which apparently appeased the Frenchman after being frustrated at his substitution and made Arjen Robben ‘jealous!’

"Last year, I had contact with the Barcelona sporting director [Robert Fernandez] and my dream is to one day play for them” - Borussia

Dortmund star Ousmane Dembele admits his ambition is ‘to play for Barcelona one day’

THAT'S JUST BULL

"Bayern have already won so many titles, both domestically and internationally. They want to win every title and that is also my goal. Unfortunately, I did not win anything with Lyon, so for that reason I am hopeful that I can celebrate winning a few titles with Bayern.” - Corentin Tolisso has set his

sights on silverware following his big-money move from Lyon to Bayern Munich.

“The one thing I know for sure is that I will return to Netherlands after my career, to Groningen. I still have close ties with my boyhood club. I might be able to do something there.” - Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben on his life after retirement.

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German surprise package RB Leipzig could be banned from next season’s Champions League, according to reports. The Bundesliga minnows are owned by drinks manufacturer Red Bull and have enjoyed a fairytale debut in the top flight this season by finishing runner-ups behind Bayern Munich. UEFA will only allow ONE team owned by the same company to participate in either the Champions OR Europa League. Leipzig have a sister team in the form of Austrian giants RB Salzburg, who are regulars in European competition. And with both sides looking likely to book a place in the Champions League via their respective league positions, Salzburger Nachrichten claims one will be forced to miss out.

FAKE NEWS?

The Bundesliga's social media savvy clubs have struck again with Werder Bremen announcing the signing of Tottenham striker Harry Kane - sort of! Alexander Nouri's appointment last season saw winds of change sweep through the Green-Whites, giving a huge breath of fresh air to the club as they pulled away from the danger zone. With the summer window about to be blown open, the elements are clearly trying to direct the northerners' transfer policy towards a certain free-scoring England international. It's unlikely Spurs will allow their leading scorer to breeze out the door, though, unless — of course — they can net a massive windfall for their star striker. Sorry Bremen fans, surely this is a storm that will blow itself out.

A CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

Having just won his sixth Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich, star forward Thomas Müller has set his sights on breaking the club record of eight crowns held by Mehmet Scholl, Oliver Kahn, Bastian Schweinsteiger and outgoing captain Philipp Lahm.

DID YOU KNOW?

On loan Mainz striker Bojan Krkic is the first Spaniard to score in all of the big four Leagues – Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Serie A and only the seventh player overall Recently-sacked Dortmund Coach Thomas Tuchel departed the Signal Iduna Park with the best-ever points per game ratio earned (2.09) of any other die Schwarzgelben trainer. This season is the first time in 27 years that the Bundesliga did not have the highest goals-per-game ratio out of Europe’s top five Leagues. The highest was Serie A [2.96] while the Bundesliga finished in third with a ratio of 2.87.


DID YOU KNOW?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s the first player to successfully overtake a rival for the Torjägerkanone on the final matchday.

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A big part of Stuttgart’s success is due to the efforts of Simon Terodde. The 29-year-old striker is the first Stuttgart player to score 25 goals in one season. Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele is the youngest ever foreign goal-scorer in a DFB-Pokal Final.

KINGSLEY COMAN HAS WON 5 LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN FRANCE, ITALY, AND GERMANY BEFORE HIS 21ST BIRTHDAY – BUT HERE THE BAYERN MUNICH ATTACKER TELLS SOCCER360 HOW HE IS JUST GETTING STARTED.

A LOTTI TALENT

Carlo Ancelotti showed he’s more than just a football manager by singing a duet with pop star Anastacia after Bayern Munich’s title celebrations. Not only did the 57-year-old dazzle with his rendition of Eros Ramazzotti’s ‘I belong to you,’ but he also stole the show at Philipp Lahm’s leaving party as he serenaded the German right-back.

IT'S A REAL TWEET

One lucky Bundesliga fan will soon be the proud owner of a signed David Alaba shirt after a cheeky request with the official Bayern Munich US Twitter account. Twitter user @_OwenLFC messaged the club's Twitter administration asking how many re-tweets he would need in order to receive the prize. He promptly received a reply: 25,000. Alaba, who is currently on international duty with Austria, became aware of the fan's endeavour and offered his support by retweeting the post to his 1.22 million followers. Two days later, Owen had reached his target. Bayern's official account was even kind enough to assure Owen that the signed shirt was on its way.

by the numbers

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Bayern Munich finished the season sans a single Bundesliga defeat at the Allianz Arena [13 wins, 4 draws]

This will be Hannover’s sixth attempt in the top flight. Their best ever result was fourth during the 2009-10 term

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 12 goals in the DFB-Pokal are only bettered by Manfred "Manni" Burgsmüller’s 23

“We played at Juventus together and of course now France – and we are good friends. We always have a lot of fun and have similar tastes in music” YOU HAVE WON YOUR SECOND BUNDESLIGA IN ROW WITH BAYERN MUNICH – DID THE SECOND FEEL AS GOOD AS THE FIRST? A trophy is a trophy – and it always feels good. I celebrated this one as much as the first – I am always hungry for more. HOW DO YOU EVALUATE BAYERN’S SEASON? We are champions of Germany again – and that is always a good feeling. We got knocked out in The Champions League – and even though there is no shame in losing to Real Madrid – that is always a competition that Bayern want to do well in. HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TO YOU PERSONALLY? It is a very special competition – and one that I really want to win. The sooner I win it – the better. YOU ARE ONLY 20 (21 JUNE 13) AND HAVE INCREDIBLY ALREADY WON 5 LEAGUE TITLES AT PSG, JUVENTUS, AND NOW BAYERN, DO YOU STILL CONSIDER YOURSELF A YOUNGSTER? You cannot have that mentality at the big clubs – you are there to perform – age is not relevant – they will not wait for you. YOU DIDN’T PLAY AS MUCH LAST SEASON AS YOU DID YOUR FIRST AT THE CLUB – HOW HARD WAS THAT TO TAKE? You want to be playing – but you have to accept that at a big club you need to fight. I have spoken to the board – and the important thing is they believe in me and I believe in them.

AT BAYERN YOU HAVE PLAYED UNDER TWO OF THE BEST COACHES IN PEP GUARDIOLA AND CARLO ANCELOTTI – WHAT ARE THE BIG DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO? Firstly they are both winners – but the difference that I would say Pep is more about tactics – while Carlo is more focussed on the man management side of things. HOW SPECIAL IS YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH PAUL POGBA? We played at Juventus together and of course now France – and we are good friends. We always have a lot of fun and have similar taste in music – we both have big dreams in the game and want to win everything. WHEN YOU SEE JUVENTUS DOING WELL IN ITALY AND EUROPE – ARE YOU SURE YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION LEAVING? Of course – Juventus are a great club – and I have friends there – but Bayern is the right club for me. I can develop here – and also achieve all my dreams. YOU HAVE BEEN QUITE VOCAL THAT ONE DAY YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD? That is a normal dream for athletes to want to be the best in the world in their sport – and I am no different. I know I have a long way to go, and a lot of hard work to, but I believe it is possible I can reach that level. YOU AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE HAVE ALREADY ACHIEVED SO MUCH – WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE AMBITION? I want to win everything in the game – but The Champions League and World Cup are big goals for me. S360 65

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SEASON PREVIEW

BEST OF THE

2017

The Best of the Best

BEST

FROM DOUBLE AND TREBLE-CHASERS TO TEAMS SECURING RECORD NUMBERS OF WINS, THERE HAVE BEEN PLENTY OF STANDOUT PERFORMERS ACROSS THE MAJOR EUROPEAN LEAGUES THIS SEASON. HERE, OLI COATES LINES UP HIS EUROPEAN TEAM OF THE SEASON IN A 3-4-3 FORMATION TO CRAM IN AS MUCH OF THE ATTACKING TALENT THAT’S BEEN ON SHOW AS POSSIBLE.

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

LEONARDO BONUCCI

Serie A Player of the Season (Juventus) Not just a nostalgic choice — the 40-yearold Italian has been superb for Juventus this season, helping the Old Lady to an historic sixth consecutive Serie A title and reach the Champions League Final. The legendary goalkeeper kept more than 20 clean sheets during a superb campaign which saw Juve add the Coppa Italia to the Scudetto and be 90 minutes from an historic treble. Gianluigi Buffon expertly coordinated a fine defence in front of him, with the Turin side conceding the fewst goals in Serie A by some distance. This laid the foundations for Juve to secure their sixth title in a row, the first time in Italian football history this has been achieved. The captain was colossal in Juve’s Champions League campaign too, beaten only twice in the group stages. As the competition moved into the knockout phases there were shutouts against Porto and the mighty Barcelona over two legs. In fact, he didn’t concede a goal in the knockout stages until the 69th minute of the Semi-Final second leg against Monaco, by which time his team had a 4-0 aggregate lead. One of Buffon’s best saves of the season came in the first leg of their Quarter-Final tie with Barcelona at the Juventus Stadium. With the score at 1-0 and the visitors starting to impose themselves on the game, Lionel Messi slipped a delicious ball in for Andres Iniesta. A goal seemed inevitable until Buffon stuck out a left hand to send the ball wide. Paulo Dybala doubled Juve’s lead just a minute later, and Barcelona would fail to get an all-important away goal. There was disappointment as Buffon was unable to celebrate his first Champions League trophy after defeat to Real Madrid but, all in all, it’s been a magnificent season for one of the game’s greats.

Juventus - Buffon’s partner in crime at the heart of the mean Juventus defence, Leonardo Bonucci has been a rock yet again for the Bianconeri. The Serie A champions conceded just 27 goals all season, on their way to a record sixth consecutive title. His kids may have stolen the show at the trophy presentation, but there’s no taking away from Bonucci’s contribution to yet another successful season for the Turin giants. Unfortunately for the 30-yearold defender, a great season ended in defeat in the Champions League Final at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

MATS HUMMELS Bayern Munich - Classy centre-back Mats Hummels re-joined Bayern Munich last summer after eight years at Borussia Dortmund, and was a key part in his team’s Bundesliga triumph. In bringing the World Cup winner back to the Allianz Arena, it weakened title rivals Borussia Dortmund as much as it strengthened the Bavarian side. With Manuel Neuer in goal to sweep up too, Bayern conceded a League-lowest 22 goals in their 34 games, and eventually won the title by 15 points from RB Leipzig. With an incredible talent for reading the game, Hummels is one of the best defenders in the world and deserves his place in our team of the season.


DAVID LUIZ

KYLIAN MBAPPE

Chelsea - Another player who re-signed for a former club last summer, it was a huge shock when David Luiz returned to Chelsea on the final day of the transfer window after two years at Paris SaintGermain. Here the Brazilian lines up as part of a three-man defence, just as he did for the Premier League champions after Antonio Conte’s switch to three at the back. Often criticised for erratic decision making and lapses in concentration during his first stint at Stamford Bridge, Luiz has been a revelation this time round. Commanding, composed on the ball and much less prone to errors, he was the rock upon which the Blues’ League success and FA Cup challenge was built.

Monaco - A name that’s been on everyone’s lips in recent months, Kylian Mbappe is tipped for big things. His emergence along with other youngsters such as Bernado Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy complemented more established names like Radamel Falcao, as Monaco won their first Ligue 1 title for 17 years. Mbappe outshone them all though, and is tipped to break the world transfer record if Monaco decide to sell him during the summer. Still only 18, the France forward possesses blistering pace, great feet and an eye for goal. Operating mainly as up front and as a wide forward so far in his career, he slots into this team on the right of midfield.

EDEN HAZARD

2016/17 STATS APPEARANCES

GOALS

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SHOTS ON TARGET

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N’GOLO KANTE Premier League Player of the Season (Chelsea) - France international N’Golo Kante has taken the Premier League by storm since arriving at Leicester City from Caen in 2015. A series of scarcely-believable performances full of energy and drive helped inspire the Foxes to the most unimaginable of Premier League titles in his debut season. Last summer Kante moved to Chelsea and has been just as impressive for the Blues. His combative style galvanised a team that finished 10th in the League the season before, and helped turn them into Premier League champions once again. Opposing players frequently marvel at the amount of ground Kante covers during games, but it’s not just aimless running that makes the 26-year-old so special. As well as his insatiable desire and unrivalled ability for winning back possession, Kante has a lot to offer once he has the ball at his feet. From picking a pass to beating a man and putting the ball in the back of the net, as he did against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals, the diminutive midfielder has plenty of quality. Although Chelsea might have players that catch the eye more with their skills or goals, what Kante has brought to the table this season has been undeniable. His influence can be felt in the way they stormed to the title, winning a record 30 League games and amassing an impressive 93 points along the way. The FA Cup Final at Wembley was an unfortunate way for the season to end for the PFA and FWA Player of the Year. He gets the nod in our team of the season to provide the bite and steel in central midfield that allows the attacking players to shine, just as he does for Chelsea.

Chelsea - While teammate Kante has taken plenty of the plaudits this season, it’s doubtful Chelsea would have had anywhere near the same success this season without Eden Hazard in the side. The Belgium forward is one of the most skilful and naturally gifted players in the Premier League, and returned to form with a bang after a poor campaign last time round. Highlights of Hazard’s season include the stunning solo effort against Arsenal, which opened up a 2-0 lead over what were considered title rivals at that stage of the campaign. Not known for his defensive capabilities, he nevertheless plays on the left of our midfield.

2016/17 STATS APPEARANCES

GOALS

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00

TONI KROOS Real Madrid - Germany international Toni Kroos perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves, what with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo around to claim the headlines. But alongside Luka Modric the playmaking midfielder helps to keep everything ticking for Real Madrid, and easily surpassed double figures for assists on top of the occasional goal for Los Blancos. A team-oriented mentality served Zinedine Zidane’s side so well throughout their La Liga-Champions League double-winning campaign, and Kroos provides one of the best examples of this. Calm, assured, and hugely gifted on the ball, the World Cup winner is the heartbeat of our team too.

2016/17 STATS APPEARANCES

GOALS

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SEASON PREVIEW

2017

The Best of the Best

LIONEL MESSI Barcelona An impressive season that yielded 54 goals in all competitions was nevertheless a disappointing one for Lionel Messi. Barcelona only secured the Spanish Super Cup and Copa del Rey trophies, losing out in the tussle for La Liga to Real Madrid. There’s no doubting the Argentinian magician’s place in our team, though. Messi was superb throughout the majority of the season, claiming the Pichichi trophy for a fourth time after scoring 37 goals in 34 games. He laid on 15 assists across all competitions, and Barcelona’s season could’ve been a lot different if Iniesta had converted from a lovely Messi pass against Juventus in the Champions League quarter-finals.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI Bundesliga Player of the Season (Bayern Munich) As well as boasting the best defensive record in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich also scored the highest number of goals. Polish hitman Lewandowski was instrumental in this, and was directly involved in more Bundesliga goals than any other player. The prolific striker contributed 30 goals in 33 games, laying on another five assists for his teammates. Lewandowski was the spearhead of an attack that contained the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller, Douglas Costa and youngster Kingsley Coman, and which scored three or more goals in 15 League games. In Europe, Lewandowski’s penalty at Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg of the Champions League Quarter-Final clash with Real Madrid almost helped Bayern into the semis of the competition, and a shot at the double. However, a combination of the match officials and Cristiano Ronaldo ended those hopes — Arturo Vidal was incorrectly sent off before Ronaldo completed his hat-trick in extra time with two offside goals. It was still a hugely successful season for the Poland international, who has bagged 110 goals in 147 games since making the move from Dortmund to Bayern on a free transfer in 2014. He started the campaign as he meant to go on, claiming a hat-trick against Werder Bremen on the opening day of the season. An important late strike followed in the next match away at Schalke, and the goals continued to flow all year. A striker that has a devastating blend of pace, power, touch and finishing, Lewandowski has been a standout player in the Bundesliga for several years now. He looks right at home leading the line for the powerhouse that is Bayern, and gets the nod from us to start centrally up front with Messi and Ronaldo supporting him.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

La Liga Player of the Season (Real Madrid) ‘Il Fenomeno’ may have been the nickname of the Brazilian Ronaldo, but it’s hard to think of any other way to describe his namesake Cristiano. During the last year, the Portugual forward has cemented his place among the pantheon of the footballing greats. After winning Euro 2016 with Portugal in the summer, the Real Madrid superstar went on to claim the Club World Cup trophy with a hat-trick in the final, a fourth Ballon d’Or to go alongside the inaugural Best FIFA Men’s Player, a second La Liga title and a fourth Champions League. Some year for a player many had begun to write off. Ronaldo has been enjoying a new role this season, looking more like an orthodox striker than ever before. Now 32, he’s been freed from much of the defensive burden of protecting the left flank that he used to occupy and drive in from. He’s also been rested more than before, c accepting Madrid boss Zidane’s stance that he won’t m aever t h i t play in every game. s . r attacker o ThisF has kept the mercurial fresh form the season’s run-in, which saw Los Blancos pip great rivals Barcelona tog the top spot in o v i d i n La Liga. Ronaldo bagged six goals in the last five games, and was magnificent in the Champions League too. He netted five goals in the two legs against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, then struck a hat-trick in the semi-final first leg against city rivals Atletico Madrid. Ronaldo followed up with a brace in the Champions League Final against Juventus and not only do his performances secure an unquestionable spot in our team of the season, they’re likely to deliver yet more personal honours come the end of the year.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Unlucky to miss out on this team, the players below deserve commendation for their 2016-17 performances: Manuel Neuer; Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Alex Sandro; Naby Keita, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin de Bruyne, Dele Alli; Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Mertens, Harry Kane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Edinson Cavani, Neymar


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SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Top Ten

Top 10 Surprises of F

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ootball’s ability to surprise is undoubtedly one of its greatest facets. Last season, Leicester City defied logic to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in their history, while China shook the footballing world by attracting some of the game’s marquee names with big money moves. Though the latter continues to be a trend – Oscar’s high-profile January transfer to Shangai SIPG proved as much – the Foxes have given up their perch as football’s surprise package. Jared Tinslay explores the top 10 clubs, players, matches and moments that have had us gasping this footballing year from across Europe’s top five Leagues – the Top 10 surprises of the season. Special mentions go to Victor Moses for reviving a forgotten career at Chelsea to become a stalwart in their title-winning team, and Alaves for their giant-killing victory over Barcelona at Camp Nou back in September...

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8. SERIE A’S SURPRISE PACKAGE A quick glance at the final Serie A standings and all seems deceitfully predictable – Juventus sealed their sixth straight title, finishing above fellow big-hitters Roma, Napoli and Lazio. However, just behind them sit Atalanta. La Dea finished 13th the previous season and had only managed a top-half finish once in their past 10 attempts. Despite a terrible start to the campaign, they turned things round including shock victories over Inter, Roma and Napoli – twice. Their fifth-place finish confirmed their return to European football after 26 years, at the expense of the Milan clubs, constituting the first time ever that they’d finished above both rivals from the Lombardo region.

7. SWAN’S SHOCK There were some shock results in the Premier League, but perhaps the most surprising was Swansea City’s dramatic victory at Anfield. Third-placed Liverpool were looking to extend their unbeaten home record to 26 matches, whilst the Swans were rooted to the bottom of the table. Despite taking an unlikely 2-0 lead, the away side were soon pegged back to 2-2, with the Reds taking all of the momentum. Nevertheless, a close-range Gylfi Sigurdsson effort with 16 minutes remaining gave the Welsh club a vital three points – and their first ever Premier League win at Anfield.

6 10. EIBAR’S EUROPEAN DREAM La Liga minnows Eibar continued to defy all odds this season. In only their third term in the Primera, having risen up the lower Leagues like an unstoppable storm, Eibar arrived where nobody expected them to – flirting with European football. The club with the League’s lowest budget, and the smallest stadium in Europe’s top five Divisions, were sitting a mere three points off continental qualification with six games to play. They’d kept close to fellow challengers Athletic Club, Villareal and Real Sociedad the whole back end of the season, but unfortunately stumbled at the final hurdle – winning just one of their last six games and finishing 10th.

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9. SAFE HANDS Long-time Marseille captain Steve Mandada left for Crystal Palace last summer, with OM expected to splash out on a new goalkeeper to replace him. Nevertheless, no moves materialized, leaving back-up ‘keeper Yohann Pele to fill the gap. The 34-year-old had only accumulated 180 minutes for the side since joining in 2015, but was clearly ready for first team football. He ended the season as the only Marseille man to play the full 90 minutes in all 38 League games, notching 18 clean sheets in the process – the highest tally of any goalkeeper in the top five European Leagues.

6. LAZIO, BUT NOT FOR LONG One of Serie A’s most shocking moments came before the season had even started. Eccentric Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa was appointed as Coach of Lazio back in July, to replace Stefano Pioli. However, Bielsa clearly had a change of heart, deciding to resign his position just two days into the job. The chiefs at Biancocelesti stated their ‘amazement’ at the move, but this wasn’t the first instance of Bielsa’s erratic behaviour – he walked out on Marseille after just one Ligue 1 match the previous season. Nevertheless, all ended well for the Eagles, with Simone Inzaghi leading them to continental qualification.


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3. PSG TOPPLED Paris Saint-Germain waltzed to the Ligue 1 title in 2015-16, finishing the season with a lead of more thab 30 points. That was their fourth consecutive League trophy, emphasising their recent hegemony in France’s top tier. Things were to change this year, however, with both Nice and Monaco entering the fray as serious contenders. The Eaglets led the pack for 14 match weeks, before succumbing to eventual surprise champions Monaco. It constituted the Red and Whites first title for 27 years, with the giants from the capital having to settle for second place and failing to having topped the table once throughout the whole season.

5. HOFFENHEIM HIT HEIGHTS When Julian Nagelsmann took over Hoffenheim in October 2015, becoming Bundesliga’s youngster ever Coach, there were some doubters. However, the baby-faced tactician pulled his side out of the relegation zone in style, finishing the season in 15th. This year, the revolution continued. His side lost just four times in 34 League games, going the whole season unbeaten at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. They were just one of two sides to beat champions Bayern Munich, and finished the season in fourth place – ensuring Champions League qualification for the first time in the club’s 117-year history.

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2 2. HERO TO ZERO Claudio Ranieri’s job at Leicester City was always going to be trickier this season. His titlewinning Foxes had set the bar ridiculously high and, unfortunately for the Italian, they weren’t able to reproduce the goods. They took just 21 points from their first 23 games - the worst ever total by a reigning top-flight champion. The clearly debilitated squad were lingering dangerously close to relegation, but most people felt the Italian had earned the right to steer them towards safety. The people that matter clearly didn’t, however, and the previous season’s Manager of the Year was sent packing less than 12 months after achieving one of football’s greatest miracles.

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4. THE ULTIMATE COMEDOWN For a night, Barcelona were the kings of Europe. They’d beaten all odds to recover a four-goal lead against PSG in the Champions League – making history in the process. There was talk that that night’s success would carry into their domestic campaign, and they’d be able to catch La Liga leaders Real Madrid, starting with a routine away win against strugglers Deportivo La Coruna. The weekend’s game didn’t quite go to plan, however. A first-half mistake from Marc-Andre ter Stegen allowed Joselu to put the hosts ahead, before Luis Suarez’s second-half equaliser. Yet it was Depor captain Alex Bergantuno who headed in the winner – bringing Barca back down to earth with a thud.

1. THE FAIRYTALE VILLAINS Often cited as ‘Germany’s most hated club’, Red Bull-owned RB Leipzig prepared for their debut season in the Bundesliga as the team to beat. The newly-promoted – and only recently formed – East German club weren’t expected to make the top-half of the table, let alone challenge Bayern Munich for the title. However, a stunning win over Borussia Dortmund in round two showed their intentions, and some impressive results later, they were soon considered serious contenders. Despite eventually falling short of table-topping Bayern, a second-placed finish capped an incredible first season in Germany’s top tier - much to the rest of the League’s despair.

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SEASON PREVIEW

GOLDEN GOALS 2017 Top Ten

"Olivier Giroud is oftderided at Arsenal but he scored one of the goals of the season with his heel"

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#1 EMRE CAN (LIVERPOOL VS WATFORD) The Germany international scored one of the most exquisite bicycle kick goals ever seen by a deep lying midfielder —or any other position for that matter. Making a rare run into the box behind the defence he latched on to another rarity, a Lucas Leiva pass over the top that became an assist. Beating two Watford players to the ball he somehow contorts his body in the air to connect his right foot with the ball and smashes it into the top corner. Other worldly. #2 DRIES MERTENS (NAPOLI VS TORINO) The little Belgian wizard has had the season of his life while filling-in up front as the false nine for the Azzurri. On this occasion, he tormented the Torino defence and in particular the hapless Torino goalkeeper Joe Hart, whose bamboozled face was a picture to behold after Mertens had somehow chipped him from an acute and tight angle scoring his fourth in a 5-3 win for Napoli. Spellbinding.

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#3 MEMPHIS DEPAY (LYON VS TOULOUSE) The young Dutch star arrived in Lyon after an unproductive spell on the Manchester United bench looking to rebuild his career, and found the perfect way to remind everybody of what he is capable of producing. Picking up the ball with his back to goal, his second and third touches brought him into the centre circle where he proceeded to drive the ball high over the stranded goalkeeper and into the empty net, all without looking up. Marvellous. #4 OLIVIER GIROUD (ARSENAL VS CRYSTAL PALACE) France striker Olivier Giroud is oft-derided at Arsenal but there is no doubting that he has a beautiful touch and a certain Gallic flair, scoring here one of the goals of the season with his heel. Getting involved in a fastpaced counter-attack by laying the ball off in his own half and continuing his run into the box, he meets Alexis Sanchez’s cross, which was played slightly behind him, with the heel of his left foot. Outrageous. #5 KAMIL GROSICKI (RENNES VS SAINT ETIENNE) Poland international Kamil Grosicki scored one of the most ridiculously blasé goals of the season in injury time against Saint Etienne. Making a half-hearted trot-walk up the pitch towards the opposition box while his teammates had the ball on the left wing, seemingly uninterested, he only came alive as the cross came in towards him. Darting in front of his marker, he got to the ball first and hit a left-footed shot that looped up in the opposite direction of where the pass came from and curled into the top corner. Nonchalant.

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he 2016-17 season has thrown up some cracking goals from around the top Leagues in Europe, from mazy dribbles to thunderous shots from outside the box, from stunning pieces of induvial artistry to the sublime passing and movement of perfect team goals. Ciro Di Brita profiles some of the very best.

#6 SERGE GNABRY (WERDER BREMEN VS BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH) The young Germany winger had been on the Arsenal periphery prior to joining Werder Bremen but enjoyed a good season, hitting 11 League goals and even claiming a hat-trick for the senior national team. His goal against Monchengladbach was one that kids on fields around the world try to imitate every day but never hit as sweetly as Gnabry did. From a perfect scooped pass that landed right on his foot, he smashed the ball up over the reach of the goalkeeper. Devastating.


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#7 FERNANDO TORRES (ATLETICO MADRID VS CELTA VIGO) Veteran striker Fernando Torres rolled back the years with this stunning effort against Celta Vigo. El Nino showed his radar-like sense of where the goal is by controlling the ball with his toe and hooking it over his back and into the net and past the goalkeeper in one fluid motion, a goal worthy of the Torres vintage years.. Predatory. #8 MANUEL LOCATELLI (MILAN VS JUVENTUS) Teenage midfielder Manuel Locatelli announced his arrival on the Serie A scene with a strike that beat champions Juventus for Milan’s first win against the Old Lady in seven games. He picked up a pass from Spaniard Suso, ran into the box and smacked a juggernaut of a shot past Gianluigi Buffon with the outside of his right foot that cannoned in off the crossbar. Sublime. #9 NICOLA SANSONE (VILLAREAL VS REAL SOCIEDAD) Tricky diminutive Italian winger Nicola Sansone scored a stunner against Real Sociedad from almost the half-way line. Picking the ball up just inside his own half he took one touch to settle himself before looking up and spotting the opposition goalkeeper off his line and lobbing him from around 50 yards. Ingenious. #10 DIMITRI PAYET (WEST HAM VS MIDDLESBROUGH) French star Dimitri Payet’s early-season form was still red hot continuing from the previous campaign and a good Euro 2016 showing before his West Ham stay went sour and he pushed for a move back to Marseille in January. One of Payet’s last Hammers highlights was how he controlled a cross-field pass on the left wing, beat one defender, then two, feinted past a third and shimmied past a fourth, left a fifth on his back and then squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper and a couple of last-ditch attempted blocks. Amazing.

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Joe Hart’s bamboozled face was a picture to behold after Dries Mertens had somehow chipped him from an acute and tight angle’

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Montreal impact Spotlight

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he Montreal Impact were the worst team in all of Major League Soccer in 2014, finishing the season with just 28 points. Despite the woeful record, though, morale around the club was still fairly high as fans and players alike knew changes were on the way. With Canadian businessman Joey Saputo owning the club, the Impact had friends in places that few other clubs could boast. It was no secret that Saputo was wellconnected on the Italian peninsula, a key contributor in the franchise's ability to bring in the likes of Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta in their very first season of MLS play. It was near the end of the 2014 campaign that Saputo made an even bigger splash. This time it wasn't another world renowned player, but rather a legendary club. Saputo bought the sixth most successful team in Italian history — Bologna. It only helped his cause with supporters of the Rossoblu that he had already had a positive relationship with a fan favourite in Di Vaio, who also made sure he was present when the announcement was made. "It was important for him [Saputo], it was important for me and it was a big day for us in Bologna," Di Vaio said in the visitor's locker room at BMO Field on a cold October afternoon in 2014, after his Impact had drawn 1-1 with Toronto FC. "I think a lot of players from Europe will be coming here because it is becoming one of the best Leagues in the world.” Within a few months, the retiring striker was given the position of a club manager with Bologna and another Italian veteran, Marco Donadel, had signed with the Impact. Saputo had already begun utilizing his connections on both sides of the Atlantic. While the acquisition of Donadel that year made little noise compared to when the club brought in Didier Drogba later in the campaign, the former Napoli and Fiorentina midfielder became a staple for the FrenchCanadians and still remains with the club today. The aforementioned Drogba may have been one of the most accomplished players to ever dawn the Impact blue, but he would quickly be deemed surplus once Matteo Mancosu touched down in Quebec. The unlikely story of Mancosu becoming an MLS hero would never had happened had it not been for Saputo. Mancosu was sent back to Bologna after his loan spell with Carpi did not go quite as planned. The Italian minnows had the option to purchase the striker outright, but opted against it. With Roberto Donadoni not interested in his services at Bologna either, it was decided that it was in everyone's best interest to send the player to Saputo's North American club. In July 2016 he arrived in Montreal on loan, and by November he was 30 minutes away from the MLS Cup Final — starting over Drogba in the franchise's most successful playoff run ever. The decision to bring Mancosu to Canada worked out for Bologna, Impact and the player, with an aging veteran finding a way to revitalize his career and the Impact acquiring a top target man. To nobody's surprise, Montreal announced in March that the player had put pen to paper on a new two-year deal. Even better for the club still, they were able to use Targeted Allocation Money so 32-year-old Mancosu did not take up a Designated Player spot. "This was the first collaboration on the player front with Bologna and it shows

Legendary Italian striker Marco Di Vaio became the Montreal Impact's first ever Designated Player

Didier Drogba may have been the most accomplished players to don Impact blue but he was quickly deemed surplus once Matteo Mancosu touched down in Quebec’

Blerim Džemaili with president Joey Saputo.

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the commitment between both clubs to work strongly together," Saputo said in a statement at the time. "We hope to continue to grow this strong relationship with them." It did not take very long for another player from the Italian side to also make the flight. Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili joined the Impact in May, before the Serie A campaign had even concluded. With the Italians safe from relegation, they allowed Dzemaili to leave early to help their sister club fight for a playoff spot. The deal was arranged all the way back in the summer of 2016, with Dzemaili agreeing to move to Montreal when he initially signed with Bologna. It helped the Serie A outfit acquire a top midfielder for a season, while the Impact filled a serious void with an experienced Designated Player. Along with acquiring players from the Rossoblu, Montreal has also sent some of their top youngsters to Italy in order to train and help with their development. Both Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla and Fabrice Mbvouvouma were sent to Bologna in November 2016, to get some European experience with at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara. It was a very similar situation at the start of last season, when goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau took part in a camp across the pond in January. Players from the second team at the time — Thomas MeilleurGiguère, Marco Dominguez and Tabla — also flew to Bologna in February 2016 to train. It's only a matter of time before we see a Canadian starlet sign with Bologna after impressing on a training stint. Opportunities to learn from top coaches in Italy can only


MARCO D’ONOFRIO TAKES A LOOK AT HOW THE MONTREAL IMPACT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BENEFIT BY THEIR OWNER JOEY SAPUTO’S CONNECTIONS IN ITALY.

'This was the first collaboration on the player front with Bologna and it shows the commitment to work strongly together'

BEASTS OF THE EAST

MARCO D'ONOFRIO EXPLAINS WHY TORONTO FC HEAD COACH GREG VANNEY WAS RIGHT WHEN HE SAID THE REDS HAD THE DEEPEST SIDE IN MLS HISTORY.

Toronto FC Coach Greg Vanney has a difficult time determining who's going to sit out

'TFC brass have learned from their mistakes of the past’

is the latest Serie A veteran to make the move to the Impact

be a good thing in the development of young talent, and the promise of added European exposure could also help the club lure top prospects. For now though, Montreal fans are happy to welcome Serie A veterans to their club and it has worked out well for them. With Mancosu and Donadel flourishing, the club and its supporters have every right to be excited about the arrival of Dzemaili. In fact, the 31-year-old was able to provide the first assist of his MLS career in just his second match in the North American top flight, a 4-1 slaughtering of the Portland Timbers. Indeed, the Impact seem to be heading in the right direction as they continue to take advantage of their owner's connections in Italy. The relationship between the two clubs has already proved to be a fruitful one for both parties, and we will only continue to see the two working closely together in the future as they continue their pursuit of success. Marco Mancosu failed to win a place at Bologna but has revitalised his career in Montreal

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oronto FC head Coach Greg Vanney made a bold statement when he told a local newspaper that he had the 'deepest side in MLS history.' The club was in the midst of an historic six-game winning streak, and while it was quite the proclamation, it was hard to argue. There is no question that the three Designated Players — Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco — garner the most attention, but they are far from the only reason why TFC are quickly becoming favourites to reach the MLS Cup again. In fact, during the aforementioned win streak Giovinco sat out two crucial away matches against the Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders. In every position from goalkeeper out, TFC have a quality player on the bench ready to enter the game. When veteran shot-stopper Clint Irwin went down with a hamstring injury at the end of March, 25-year-old Alex Bono stepped in and didn't miss a beat. TFC brass have learned from their mistakes of the past, and realize how crucial it is to have a squad that can survive the turmoil of a gruelling MLS campaign. Not only is the season filled with cross-continental travel, but it often doesn't stop during international breaks, forcing teams to play without some of their top stars. Toronto finally shook their reputation of being loveable losers during last year's incredible playoff run. But this season, they are sending a real signal of intent to the rest of MLS that the League's most prestigious prize will go through them once again.

Most MLS clubs could only dream of a player of Toasint Rickettt’ quality sitting on the bench

''While there is little question that the three Designated Players garner the most attention, they aren’t the only reason why TFC are becoming favourites to reach the MLS Cup'’


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LA Galaxy Spotlight

ONALFO RISING

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T HAS BEEN THREE MONTHS NOW SINCE YOUR SIDE KICKED OFF PLAY IN MLS. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT YOUR TEAM ENTERING INTO THE SUMMER MONTHS? Good. Things have gotten progressively better and we feel that we have improved based off of where we started to where we are now.

'We've dealt with a lot of adversity early on and that's made us a better group and a better team.'

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hatever the Los Angeles Galaxy want, the Los Angeles Galaxy get. That has been the running theme of transfer rumours and gossip for the past twenty-one years in Major League Soccer. Chances are if a player has had a reputable career abroad and fancied a stay in the United States Los Angeles was their ideal destination. Perhaps it was the sunny beaches. Or perhaps it was their history of winning titles. No matter the case when one thinks of superstar players in MLS one thinks of the Galaxy. In 2017 the Los Angeles Galaxy broke the mold. After years of spending lavishly on top big-name players the Galaxy did something novel and looked inward. Despite losing the likes of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard, and head coach Bruce Arena the Galaxy still find themselves in the thick of things in the Western Conference. Rather than looking outward, the Galaxy looked inward. When head coach Bruce Arena left the side for the United States Men’s National Team in November, there was some speculation as to whom they would bring in as a replacement. Names like David Wagner, Oscar Pareja, Gregg Berhalter, and Sigi Schmid were mentioned as potential replacements. But rather than going for a name that would grab the headlines in the press the Galaxy went with a choice that was a little more close to home, naming Los Angeles Galaxy II coach Curt Onalfo as their next manager. Onalfo is someone that could be considered an MLS lifer, having played four seasons in MLS with the Galaxy, D.C. United, and the San Jose Earthquakes. After his playing career was done, Onalfo got into coaching first as an assistant for United and Thomas Rongen in 2000. In 2002 he latched on with Arena as an assistant with the USMNT. At this point he was considered one of the top young coaching prospects in the U.S. and would land his first full-time coaching gig with the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City). It seemed like everything was going his way. But an uneven run with Kansas City (25-27-22) led to his departure in 2009. He would be given a second chance back in D.C. in 2010. But Onalfo could not find success his former club, pulling off a 3-12-3 record before being let go. “I look at those prior experiences as platforms for me to get better," said Onalfo during his initial press conference. "I’m a self-reflective guy; I’m always trying to get better, and I’m always trying to evolve. I’m here for a reason. I’m not a person who looks back a lot. I’m always in the now and looking forward.” A chance to reunite with Arena proved to be just what Onalfo needed to get his coaching career back in shape. Serving as both an assistant coach with the Galaxy and the head coach of their USL side, the Los Angeles

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Galaxy II, Onalfo has found himself back at the top of the coaching order in the United States. Under Onalfo’s helm Los Dos became one of the pre-eminent clubs in the USL with a 46-29-20 record. Onalfo’s work with the Galaxy II set a blueprint for clubs looking to use USL as a means for developing young talent. Looking towards the future seems to be very much on the mind of Onalfo and the Galaxy. While the club still boasts the likes of Giovani Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, and Ashley Cole the club seems to be taking more chances with younger players like defenders Dave Romney, Bradley Diallo, and Daniel Steres, and forward Jack McBean have started to break through the Galaxy lineup. For club President Chris Klein building through the development academy is critical to the club’s longterm success. “We have to have a reliance on our youth development system. It's the way forward for the Galaxy. It's the foundation for us and we're building a lot around that. We need a player that's 18, 19, 20 to replace the player that's 26, 27, 28, 29 that's maybe not our elite starter,” said Klein back in March. “The rest of the world, that's how it is: once you hit 22, 23, you're too old, and they move on to the next player. We're getting into that now. Our academy is now six years old, so we're just starting to produce a generation of players that have been in our system for any length of time.” In the interim success does seem to be coming to this Galaxy side. After winning just twice in their first seven matches Onalfo’s side have found their form, going undefeated in their last six matches (3-0-3, 12 points). Their recent run of impressive form was highlighted by a 4-2 over their hated rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes, in the California Clasico. Onalfo spoke about the club’s ability to come back twice in the match, using their experiences early in the season as an allegory for how far the club have come. “Nothing phases us,” said Onalfo. “We've dealt with a lot of adversity early on and that's made us a better group and a better team.”

ARE THERE ANY DIFFERENCES THAT YOU HAVE NOTICED FROM PLAYING IN THE NASL TO PLAYING IN MLS? Definitely. The crowds are bigger and the level of play is better. It is also a bit more physical and teams will punish you for any little lapse or mistake. The speed of play is also much faster. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS IN THE OFFSEASON THAT YOU DID TO GET YOURSELF READY TO MAKE THE JUMP TO MLS? I just tried to prepare my body for the long season that is ahead. I started my training a month earlier than I normally do in Minnesota to work with our strength and conditioning coach to be ready for the long, taxing season that was ahead. I think that really prepared my body for what was to come. I THINK ONE OF THE BEST SIGHTS SO FAR FROM THIS SEASON WAS SEEING YOUR TEAM CELEBRATE WITH THE DARK CLOUDS AND THE OTHER SUPPORTERS GROUPS AFTER DEFEATING ORLANDO CITY SC LAST WEEK. WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE AFTER GETTING THE WIN TO HEAR THE SUPPORTERS SING AND TO SEE HOW HAPPY THEY WERE? It was special because no matter what league we are in we want to be that team that have that culture and that connection with the fans where they are right there with us. We like to show them our appreciation for how much noise they bring to the stadium. They are such a big part of our home games and our plans going forward and they are very important to this city and this club. So we really like to thank them after each performance. DO YOU FIND YOURSELF NOW HUMMING OASIS’ ‘WONDERWALL’ AFTER MATCHES? Yeah definitely. That is a tradition that has been going on since I started playing here. Whether it is on the road or in the locker room it is a tradition that they have started here and it is definitely special. ADRIAN HEATH WAS BROUGHT IN THIS SEASON AS PART OF YOUR JUMP TO MLS AND AT FIRST IT SEEMED LIKE THE CLUB STRUGGLED. DO YOU THINK THAT IT JUST TOOK SOME TIME TO ADJUST TO HIS COACHING METHODS AND FOR THE CLUB TO GEL? I think it is just tough to bring in twenty some odd guys together in a six to eight week preseason and all be right on the same page. As more time has passed I think we now have a better understanding as to what is expected of us and what he expects of us in his system. We, as teammates, also have a better understanding of each other and what is expected and we can also hold each other accountable more now. Before we weren’t really sure what was expected and we were just trying to get by each week and learn new things as we go. So now that we have the system down we feel that we can get acclimated more. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE PLAYING WITH MIGUEL IBARRA AGAIN[IBARRA PLAYED WITH RAMIREZ IN MINNESOTA FROM 2014 TO 2015]? It has been good. We know how to push each other on and off the field. It is always a good environment when we are around because we like to loosen our team up a bit and make sure that guys are still enjoying themselves. We know how serious this job can be and so we like to bring that environment to the team so it has been good having him back.


OUR VERY OWN SEAN MASLIN GOES ONE ON ONE WITH CHRISTIAN RAMIREZ

SOCCER360

'We know how to push each other on and off the field. It is always a good environment when we are around because we like to loosen our team up a bit and make sure that guys are still enjoying themselves. '

IS THERE A PARTICULAR PLAYER OR TEAM THAT YOU HAVE YET TO PLAY IN MLS THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING UP AGAINST? I think each week is a different challenge and getting the chance to play against somebody I looked up to. Whether it is going up against [Toronto FC forward Sebastian] Giovinco, [New York City Football Club forward] David Villa, or [Los Angeles Galaxy forward] Giovani dos Santos these are guys who I have watched on TV for so long. Each out there trying to prove myself, to make my mark, and prove that I belong at this level and that I belong in this league. So each week it is truly humbling to be on the same field as those guys. THERE WAS SOME SPECULATION THAT YOU MIGHT RECEIVE A CALL-UP TO THE U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM FOR THE GOLD CUP. IS THAT A GOAL OF YOURS AND WHAT SORT OF COMMUNICATION HAVE YOU HAD FROM U.S. SOCCER? Yeah that was a goal that I set when I re-signed with Minnesota along with making the MLS All-Star Team. It was really disappointing not to receive the call-up but I know how hard some of those guys that did finally get the chance have worked and how patient that they have been. So for me to even to be considered was truly humbling and I know that I have to continue to score goals and hold up my end to continue to keep my name in that conversation. Hopefully one day I will be blessed enough

to play for the U.S. IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO A YOUNG PLAYER WHOSE GOAL IT IS TO PLAY IN MLS WHAT WOULD IT BE? Do the extra work. Don’t let one person telling you no shoot you down. I have had plenty of people tell me in my life that the NASL or the USL was as far as I was going to make it. But I just needed one person to believe in me and give me the opportunity and I haven’t looked back after that opportunity. I was thankful enough to get an opportunity from Mark Steffens [former Charlotte Eagles coach] and another opportunity here from Manny Lagos [Sporting Director] and Carl Craig [former head coach of Minnesota United FC]. Now Adrian Heath has given me an opportunity to start in MLS. So all you need is one person to give you an opportunity and take that for what it is worth and never look back once you get that opportunity.

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AROUND NORTH AMERICA

“I don’t know if there’s a specific formula there. Of course we took the game seriously – it’s a big game. There are 30,000 people in the stadium and they want to see quality players, so we put quality players on the field. That was the objective there. In terms of the result, it’s soccer.” - Columbus Crew

SC manager Gregg Berhalter after his team was knocked out of the US Open Cup Fourth Round. Berhalter's teams exited the Open Cup in the Round of 16 in each of the last three seasons, and the Fourth Round loss was another bitter disappointment in the Cup for the coach, who seemed exasperated about his team’s shortcomings in the tournament.

SAFETY NOT FIRST

After Seattle Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer questioned whether the Portland Timbers' mascot Timber Joey really had any lumber experience, Portland boss Caleb Porter quickly came to his rescue. “I just got off the phone with Timber Joey and I wanted to clarify his experience,” Porter told reports. “He is a legitimate ‘lumberman.’ He has worked in the woods and, to quote him, he has ‘cut, milled, and built things out of wood.’”

DIDIER RISING!

Having Didier Drogba as both a player an investor has proven to be good for business for Phoenix Rising FC. Attendance numbers have been on the rise this season, which will only help the USL club's bid for MLS expansion.

by the numbers

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Orlando City SC were undefeated at their new stadium for six consecutive matches, before New York City FC snapped the streak in a 3-0 victory The Seattle Sounders have now won five consecutive MLS home matches against Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers

“I think Michael should start to enter into the conversation for the best American player ever”- New

York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch suggests that Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley deserves to be considered as the top American player of all-time.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Brimstone Cup is awarded to the winner of the only regular season match played annually between the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas. The trophy was created by the fans of each club back in 2001, when Dallas was still called the Burn and was designed to be contested between the two MLS clubs with fire-related nicknames. The Chicago Fire won the Brimstone Cup for the sixth time in seven seasons this year, when they took down FC Dallas 2-1.

LAFC SELL OUT

Despite being months away from their inaugural MLS campaign, LAFC have already sold out all 32 suites, 49 loge boxes, and 1, 974 club seats.

BECKHAM - HALL OF FAMER

U.S. Soccer announced the ballot for the National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2017 and among the first-time nominees this year is former LA Galaxy and Manchester United legend David Beckham. He is eligible because he played at least five seasons in the top flight in the US and was an MLS Best XI selection in 2011.

CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE

While rumours had been running rampant for a while, Canada will finally get its own top flight when the Canadian Premier League begins play in 2018 or 2019. The first two cities awarded a franchise are Hamilton and Winnipeg.

PRANKSTER!

Comedian Judah Friedlander decided to have some fun and interview a few of the biggest stars in MLS. Needless to say, the likes of Tim Howard, Nicolas Lodeiro, and Kaka weren't expecting to be asked whether they'd rather have Beyonce or Taylor Swift as a teammate, or if a Philly cheesesteak would make a sufficient pre-game meal. But for the record, New England's Kei Kamara made it clear he'd go with Beyonce.

FAMILIAR FACE

Current Newcastle United and United States international defender DeAndre Yedlin visited his former club the Seattle Sounders to practice with them during England’s off-season. Yedlin was a Homegrown star with the club, making 56 appearances before he made the move across the pond. “It’s nice to see old faces and some new ones as well,” Yedlin said. “The team has changed a little bit since I was here, so it was nice to meet those guys as well. Being back out here, it brings back really good memories.”

CINCINNATI COMING ON STRONG

According to a recent report from the Cincinnati Enquirer, Futbol Club Cincinnati has identified three potential sites for a new soccer-specific stadium. The city is looking to gain an expansion side in MLS, and a soccer-specific stadium will certainly help their cause.

“In all of our wildest dreams as we started this wonderful club in these wonderful sports fans, we wouldn’t have dreamed as big as a night like tonight. It’s incredibly special. I’m speechless, really. It’s a stunning night.” - FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding says he was blown away by the city’s continued support of the second-year club, especially against their in-state rivals Columbus Crew SC. Cincinnati knocked out Columbus of the US Open Cup on Wednesday.

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REPPIN' ATLANTA UTD

HEATH’S REVENGE

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Adrian Heath enjoyed his when his Minnesota United beat former club Orlando City, who sacked Heath in July 2016. “The players know what this means to me,” Heath said following the game. “Players want to impress their old club. It’s no different for coaches. There’s been an awful lot said about my relationship with and departure from them. I wanted to win more today than I have in the past, but the most important thing was for Minnesota United to win.”

Mike WiLL Made-It may not be a household name, but he is responsible for such hits as Beyonce's "Formation", Juicy J's "Bandz A Make Her Dance", and Kendrick Lamar's "Humble". He performed during the inaugural MLS Summer Beat concert series in Atlanta and isexcited about the future of the expansion franchise. "I feel like soccer brings another dynamic to the city, it makes it more eclectic," he told the official MLS website. "I never expected a soccer team to be in Atlanta. I feel like it opens doors for people who grew up playing soccer here their whole life."


DID YOU KNOW? There were 2398 days between hat tricks for Sporting Kansas City, before Gerso Fernandes netted three against the Seattle Sounders. In the 10 MLS matches played between the two clubs, the Philadelphia Union have never beaten Real Salt Lake. Toronto FC's 2-0 victory over Houston at BMO Field was just the second time in the last 12 regular season matches that the Reds came out on top.

LAFC MAKING PROGRESS

Los Angeles FC received approval from the California State University Board of Trustees to build their proposed $30 million training facility at Cal State LA. The facility will feature a natural grass practice field that will be a replica of their future home pitch at Banc of California Stadium, and a two-story building which will include locker rooms, medical facilities and office space for coaches and staff.

PIATTI MURAL

Local Montreal artists Marco Paradiso and Shawn Davis collaborated on an incredible mural of Impact star Ignacio Piatti. Located on a building on the edge of the city's Chinatown, the club had selected Paradiso's artwork as the winner in a contest to contribute to the MURAL International Public Art Festival.

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ISSA MAKES A DIFFERENCE

VANNEY VAUNTS VAZQUEZ

Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney is not shy when it comes to boasting about his club's Spanish midfielder. Former Barcelona youth product Victor Vazquez is in his first season with the Reds, but has already made quite the impact. “For me he's the most clever attacking midfielder in this league by a long shot,” Vanney said in a post-match press conference after Vazquez put two past the Columbus Crew. “I don't know if people across the board have recognized that, but he is.”

D.C. United youth academy player Issa Mudashiru is just 13-years-old, but is already making quite the difference in the world. The youngster opted to spend his spring break vacation visiting the Ivory Coast, handing out equipment donated by academy teammates, his school classmates and members of his church to one of the nation’s most popular and influential soccer academies, ASEC-Mimosas.

LOCAL HERO

After taking down rivals the San Jose Earthquakes 4-2 away from home, Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme was feeling exceptionally proud. Once the game had concluded and he was walking off the pitch he looked directly into a camera and screamed "California is Los Angeles!"

SCHEDULE PAIN

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley is not happy with the MLS schedule-makers. “The League has to find a better way to handle the logistics,” he told the Press. “Two weeks in a row, we play on Wednesday night and we’re the first game on Saturday…you shake your head because we’re trying to grow the League. Everybody deals with it and you can’t explain it to anybody on the outside.”

by the numbers

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FC Dallas had their impressive 15 unbeaten streak ended at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes

SORRY CHICHARITO!

According to a recent report, both Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC have been scared off of trying to land Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez because of his hefty salary demands. The report suggests the Mexican international is looking for more than $10 million annually, which could prove too rich for both clubs.

Toronto FC became the first team since the New England Revolution in 2015 to win six consecutive MLS matches

Justin Meram became just the second player since 2010 to record a hat-trick for the Columbus Crew, when he put three past the Montreal Impact

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NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION…

AROUND NORTH AMERICA

While United States international Christian Pulisic is enjoying life at the moment with Borussia Dortmund, the 18-year-old confirmed in an interview he would not rule out playing in MLS one day. “I'd never put that out of the question,” he acknowledged. “Playing in your home country would be special. Obviously I don't have any immediate plans to do that but it's always an option.”

ZARDES THE GRADUATE

“Thank you all for the love and support! I'm proud to finally be an American and will do everything to make my fellow citizens proud” -

DID YOU KNOW? The Vancouver Whitecaps' Alphonso Davies became the youngest goalscorer in Canadian Championship history – 16 years old – when he scored against Montreal in the first leg of the semi-final. The Colorado Rapids lost five consecutive MLS games in April and May, just the sixth time in the franchise's history they've lost five or more games in a row. The Chicago Fire ended FC Dallas's nine game road unbeaten streak, with their 2-1 victory at Toyota Park.

Los Angeles Galaxy fans know how talented Gyasi Zardes is on the pitch, but they may not have realised how smart he is off of it. That all changed though, when he graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills, picking up a degree in Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice.

Seatle Sounders goalkeeper and US national team hopeful Stefan Frei tweets after passing his US citizenship test.

OH CANADA!

“We’ve got a good group of guys, but I think we need to bring in some difference-makers. It’ll be a guy that is younger and fits the way we play.” - The New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch is in the market for some impact players.

Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies passed his Canadian citizenship test and later took his Oath of Citizenship. The Liberianborn 16-year-old has lived in Canada since his family moved to Ontario 11 years ago. He has made 19 MLS appearances (seven starts) since his league debut on July 16 of last year. He has scored four goals across all competitions, including the Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League.

MIRACULOUS JESUS

Homegrowns Jesus Ferreira and Victor Ulloa both hit major milestones during Dallas’s 6-2 win over Real Salt Lake. The sixth-youngest signing in league history, Ferreira, 16, became the second-youngest player to score a goal in MLS history when he bagged the final goal in FCD’s 6-2 win against Real Salt Lake. It didn’t come with as much fanfare as Ferreira’s strike, but the Real Salt Lake match was also significant for Ulloa. The 25-year-old midfielder made his 100th career MLS appearance on Saturday, becoming just the eighth Homegrown in MLS history and first FC Dallas academy product to reach the century mark.

BECKHAM NOT HOMELESS "He was one of the biggest surprises since working with him last year. He's a really smart player who's been doing very well for us, and I'm not surprised he's made the 40-squad for the national team." - New York City FC midfielder Tommy McNamara has performed beyond New York City FC head coach Patrick Viera’s expectations in the past season.

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted 9-4 to approve the sale of a three-acre parcel of land to David Beckham’s ownership group, Miami Beckham United. The $9 million property, a truck depot and warehouse which located in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood off the Miami River, gives Beckham’s group a total of nine acres for the purpose of building a privately-financed, 25,000-seat downtown soccer stadium in its pursuit of an MLS expansion team.

head coach Bruce Arena is convinced he can do the job anywhere in the world despite not taking a job outside of US in his entire career.

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USA’s 1-1 draw against Mexico maintained USA’s horrible record of never winning a World Cup qualifier game at Mexico.

TOTTI'S U.S. LINK

Francesco Totti could be moving to the U.S this summer. The 40-yearold ended a 25-year spell with the Giallorossi, but is reportedly eager to continue playing on. With Miami FC keen on luring Totti to the United States, Totti is believed to be seriously considering the offer to join former Italy teammates Paolo Maldini (co-owner) and Alessandro Nesta (head coach) holding key positions at the club. However with Miami FC plying their trade in the NASL second tier, chances are Totti will receive offers from MLS clubs as well.

SOCCER SHOCKER

WELCOME DZEMAILI

"I think I can coach anywhere. I think every situation you go into takes a little bit of time, and you’ve got to get adjusted to it. But I’ve met the top coaches in the world — you can do it.” - US Men’s National Team

BAD RECORD

Blerim Dzemaili’s first MLS goal was one to remember. The new Montreal midfielder opened his account to give the Impact an important 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls at Stade Saputo on Saturday night. On Thursday, he was honoured for his strike, winning AT&T MLS Goal of the Week for Week 14.

Christos FC, a small team from the Maryland suburbs, defeated the Richmond Kickers 1-0 in May to move in the U.S. Open Cup. Christos, who gets their name from Christos Discount Liquors in Baltimore, have been in existence for over twenty and feature players who have some college-level experience but for the most part have regular jobs. Will they win it all? The club’s work doesn’t get any easier as a match against D.C. United awaits them.

by the numbers

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D.C. United are undefeated in their last nine games against the Chicago Fire

Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei became just the 11th player of all-time to record 50 clean sheets, when the Sounders shut out the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field.


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LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED.

KORB BACK GOOD GOAL

Michael Bradley played the hero for the US national team at Estadio Azteca, scoring the stunning long-range chip that set the Yanks on their way to a hard-earned 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Mexico. But the captain gave coach Bruce Arena the credit for setting the US back on the path to Russia 2018. The USMNT are now 2-0-2 in the four qualifiers played since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann in the wake of November’s CONCACAF Hexagonal losses to Mexico (in Columbus, Ohio) and at Costa Rica. Back then, the Yanks found themselves in last place in the Hex standings with an 0-2 start to the round. Now, they’ve climbed into third place.

The road to recovery for D.C. United left-back Chris Korb has been long and hard but it was well worth it. After missing the better part of the past two years due to a torn ACL made his first appearance for United in their 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in May. Korb was a staple of the D.C. back-line from 2011 to 2015, making 105 appearances and being a key member of the club’s recent turn-around in form. With United plagued by a series of injuries having Korb seems to be coming back at the right time.

DID YOU KNOW?

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With their victory against the Columbus Crew in May, Toronto FC reached 8 MLS wins in just 14 League games. Prior to this season, the fastest TFC had ever reached eight MLS wins in a season was 18 games.

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The San Jose Earthquakes had gone eight consecutive matches at home without a loss before the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated their Calfiornia rival at Avaya Stadium 4-2.

MLS HONOURS

Two MLS clubs have been recognized among the nominees and honourees in the third annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards, presented by ESPN and sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. New York City FC is a finalist for Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. Meanwhile, Orlando City SC is one of the honourees for the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award, and have received a $100,000 grant to continue their community efforts.

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MODEL BEHAVIOUR

All in the name of charity, Chicago Fire star Bastian Schweinsteiger dressed up in a number of different Banana Republic outfits to wow the crowd at the Soccer & Style Fashion Show. A number of the club's players lined up for the event, which was being staged for the fifth year and raises money for the Chicago Fire Foundation. Schweinsteiger laughed his way down the runway as the crowd lapped up his efforts, and the German even stopped for a selfie with a fan during one of his walks. The midfielder left Manchester United to head to MLS in March, and seems to be settling well into his new life in the Windy City.

by the numbers CANADA WORLD CUP

Canadian Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli told The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson that he’d like for four Canadian cities to host games should the joint bid from Canada, the US and Mexico be awarded the 2026 World Cup. If the bid wins hosting rights, the US would host 60 of the 80 games at the 2026 World Cup, with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 matches each. FIFA requires all men’s World Cup matches to be played in stadiums with at least 40,000 seats and on natural grass.

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With their victory in San Jose, the Los Angeles Galaxy won three consecutive road games for the first time since 2011.

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The Vancouver Whitecaps hit the woodwork four times in their match against D.C. United – the most in an MLS match since the start of the 2010 season. David Villa scored his 13th penalty kick against Orlando City, by far the most of any other player since the Spaniard joined the League in 2015.

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SEASON PREVIEW

2017 Top Ten

TOP TEN THINGS TO LOOK OUT W

hat would the summer of soccer in North America be without a little Liga MX action. Although many supporters will get excited to see their favorite European side come across the Atlantic the real excitement will be occurring in Mexico. On Friday July 21, 2017 the 2017 Liga MX Apertura will kick off another exciting campaign in Mexico with plenty of storylines to follow.

#1 CAN GIGNAC KEEP UP HIS FORM? When Andre-Pierre Gignac came to Tigres in 2015 it was under some level of skepticism. However since making the move he has become one of the best strikers in all of Liga MX, scoring 53 goals in two seasons. At the age of 31 though one has to wonder how much he has left in his tank. Tigres will need more from Eduardo Vargas to help lessen the load for the Frenchman. #2 WELCOME TO LIGA MX, LOBOS BUAP. The Wolves will be making their first-ever appearance in Mexico’s top flight after beating Toros Neza, Necaxa, and Club Leon. It has been quite an interesting journey for the side from Puebla City after having spent the better part of the last two decades in the second division. Can they make their Apertura appearance worthwhile? Much will depend upon captain Omar Tejada’s ability to control possession and create counterattacking chances. #3 WHO WILL REPLACE HIRVING LOZANO AT PACHUCA? Lozano has been the workhorse for Pachuca over the past three seasons pretty much doing anything that his coaches asked of him. With his move Celta Vigo The Gophers are going to need to replace 50 percent of their goals from last season (16 to 8) and find someone that can bring the club from a defensive position to an attacking posture. The club picked up Colombian international Edwin Cardona on loan from Monterrey to help lighten the load from the loss of Chucky. But make no mistake about it: it will be an upward climb for the club. #4 RAFA MARQUEZ, THE AGELESS WONDER. When Rafa Marquez first stepped onto the pitch for Atlas in 1996 grunge was still the popular music on the day. Two decades later Marquez is still one of the best defenders in Mexican soccer and an imposing figure for the Atlas defense. With manager Jose Cruz putting together a young defensive side around him Marquez have another strong campaign in the Apertura. Speaking of elder statesmen in Liga MX... #5 OSCAR PEREZ’S MARCH TOWARDS THE TOP OF THE ALL-TIME APPEARANCES LIST. Perez, the Iron Man of Mexican soccer, is 44 years old and is the oldest player in Mexican soccer. Nicknamed El Conejo (“The Rabbit”) he has made over 689 appearances in the Mexican first division, with the goalkeeper earning 416 at Cruz Azul. Although he still has some work to do to catch Oswaldo Sanchez’s 725 appearances for first all-time in Mexican soccer, he may just pass Benjamin Galindo at number two with 700. #6 CAN MIGUEL PONCE TURN AROUND THE NECAXA DEFENSE. Ponce was the anchor of the Chivas de Guadalajara defense at left-back and provided excellent coverage on the counterattack for the eventual champions. Although defense wasn’t exactly a high need for Necaxa (18 goals in the 2016 Apertura, 21 goals in the 2017 Clausura) they did need an additional weapon on the attack and Ponce has shown that he can create attacking chances for his teammates.

"With his move Celta Vigo The Gophers are going to need to replace 50 percent of their goals from last season"

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#7 HOW LONG CAN MORELIA HOLD ON TO RAUL RIUDAZ? Riudaz was the leading goal-scorer in both the Apertura and Clausura last season, netting 20 goals for Morelia. Unfortunately for the Peruvian international his goals did not move the needle for The Monarchy who barely avoided relegation. With reports indicating that he may be on the move to Cruz Azul one has to wonder how much longer Morelia will have their talisman striker. #8 CAN CAMILLO AND CARDOZO STRIKE AGAIN FOR QUERETARO? Camillo and Neri Cardozo formed one of the best 1-2 attacking combinations in Liga MX last season. With Cardozo feeding Camillo opportunities into the box, the former Vancouver Whitecaps striker scored 14 goals throughout the 2016-2017 campaign. Another season under their belt and the possibility of Fernando Torres coming to Estadio Corregidora could mean greater fortunes for the reigning Copa MX champions.

#9 MIGUEL HERRERA AT CLUB AMERICA. Herrera, perhaps the liveliest character in all of football, made the jump from Tijuana to Xolos in the winter immediately raising the bar for the side. Herrera is very familiar with America having managed the side from 2011-2013 and has a track record of getting results with the club (he won the 2013 Clausura). The club has not won a domestic title since their 2014 Apertura victory and with a hated rival back from the dead expectations are high for Herrera to turn things around. #10 WHO WILL BE THE FIRST TO 18: AMERICA OR CHIVAS? El Super Clasico may take on a whole new meaning this season with both America and Chivas vying for their 13th title in Mexican football. With America bringing on Herrera and Chivas making few changes to their 2017 Clausura winning side both teams should feel confident that they will have a chance to come out on top. These sides do not like each other and with so much riding on this season perhaps we may something special.

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CAPITAL PERF Ottawa Fury Spotlight

ALTHOUGH IT WAS A RE-MATCH BETWEEN TORONTO AND MONTREAL IMPACT FOR THE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP IT WAS THE OTTAWA FURY WHO PRODUCED THE SHOCK RESULT ALONG THE WAY. AND CREDIT GOES TO BOTH PLAYERS AND MANAGEMENT.

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n the first ever meeting between the sides, the USL side beat the defending champions 2-1at TD Place, in front of 7000+ fans. (It would have been far more but the Senators were also playing at home, in the Stanley Cup semi-final). And victory was deserved. While TFC fielded a weakened line-up it still fielded nine internationals, established regulars such as Irwin, Morrow, Cooper, Edwards, Osorio, Morgan & Ricketts and squad members who would make most first teams. Especially in the second tier USL. And the Fury, themselves, were no great shakes at the time - in the bottom third of the standings with just two wins in eight games. However, on the night, they not only made TFC look very average, they also created the better opportunities. They scored as many goals against the MLS league leaders as they had scored at home all season! TFC made amends at home, winning 4-0, but it could easily have been another shock result. In the first 30 minutes Ottawa had the clearest chances and but for two fine saves by Irwin a major shock could have been on the cards. As former Canadian ‘keeper and respected TV analyst, Dick Howard, said at the post-match press conference, if Kenny Dalglish, father of Paul, the Ottawa GM and Head Coach, had been up front to finish the plays, it might well have been a different story. Paul Dalglish, had a 10 year playing career in Britain (and a part in the movie ‘Goal’) before succumbing to injuries. He then left to begin his coaching career with Houston Dynamo and joined Ottawa in 2016 from Austin Aztex of the PDL. Paul made wholesale changes to the roster that had seen The Fury reach the NASL final in 2016 and also changed the playing style, looking for a more aggressive approach. He lost the league’s best goal-keeper, Romauld Peiser, who joined his former

coach, Marc Dos Santos at the San Francisco Deltas (where he made a name for himself by proposing to his girl friend, pre-game, on the pitch). But he does have a secret weapon: a former Liverpool star: All three current goalkeepers are Canadian with #1, Callum Irving, having been called up to the national team. All have benefitted from the attentions of the Ottawa goalkeeping coach, the charismatic, sometimes controversial, Bruce Grobbelaar and former team mate of Kenny Dalglish. Living with his second wife, Karen, an anaesthesiologist in Newfoundland, he accepted a 16 month contract after a 2 week trial. Famously, then coach Dos Santos, had not heard of Grobbelaar when he applied for the position and, unknowingly, questioned his experience!! Grobbelaar was former international, Craig Forest’s, hero growing up, and the two played numerous times on opposite sides, in the EPL, League Cup & FA Cup, Grobbelaar’s team usually winning. Craig, although an established professional at the time, still recalls the thrill of standing in front of the “This is Anfield” sign prior to a game against Liverpol with his boyhood hero lined up in opposition, alongside. Nearing age 60, Bruce has played for and coached Corner Brook Men's Soccer League


RFORMANCE regrets. The hardest part is having to accept that some players do not have the skills to do the things he could do. It is still a learning process for him but he’s hooked, although he knows eventually he’ll have to make a decision whether to work in coaching or management – “you can’t effectively do both.” Like Grobbelaar, Julian keeps in contact with his European friends and family (his children are living in Germany) and gets together with younger brother and Dutch international, Jonathan, now playing in Serie A with Chievo (and yes, Jonathan has asked about the standard of play in the MLS.) Julian was TFCs first Designated Player with a $750,000 salary and while his Ottawa income pales in comparison, the satisfaction from the position is immense. He is proud of the way his players performed against TFC, a team where one player, Giovinco, makes an estimated seven times the salary of the entire Ottawa squad. The team matched their more expensive compatriots in many

team West Side Monarchs, but still harbours a desire to work in some capacity with Liverpool F.C. He still finds time to play in testimonial games in the UK and for Liverpool Veterans. Another iconic individual with the Fury is former Canadian captain and all time international cap leader, Julian de Guzman. Julian ended his illustrious playing career with the Fury in 2016 and had no intention of coaching. Having played almost non-stop since he was 16 he was all set for a rest, with perhaps six month’s of travel in his immediate future. But when the idea was raised he decided to give it a try. Although his hours are at least twice as long as when a player, what with training, video analysis, tactical discussions, working on his B license, etc, not to forget assisting with the GM duties, he has no

aspects of the game and had the BMO fans genuinely worried for almost half the game. Ottawa’s performance again points to the appeal of having a genuine national knock-out cup competition in Canada similar to the US Open Cup. (Incredibly in 2017, Christos FC, an amateur team named after a Baltimore liquor store, reached the fourth round and a meeting with DC United of MLS.) You can’t beat a one game elimination for effort and excitement. Ottawa have now beaten all three MLS teams and their USL counterparts, Edmonton Eagles, in just the past 12 months. They can’t wait for next year’s Championship, hoping to be the first non-MLS team to reach the final and perhaps qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. They may never get to play Real Madrid in the FIFA Club World Championship final but their management team certainly wouldn’t lookout of place there.


French Woman's Spotlight

F O O T B A L L ’ S

F O R G

OLYMPIQUE LYON

ALTHOUGH IT WAS A RE-MATCH BETWEEN TORONTO AND MONTREAL IMPACT FOR THE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP IT WAS THE OTTAWA FURY WHO PRODUCED THE SHOCK RESULT ALONG THE WAY. AND CREDIT GOES TO BOTH PLAYERS AND MANAGEMENT.

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he European stage in modern football is often contested under the colours of Spanish titans. In recent years, La Liga’s greatest foes and most intimidating forces – Barcelona and Real Madrid - have routinely dominated competitions such as the Champions League. This year in particular marked a second successive Champions League title for the Galacticos who became the first club in the competition’s revised format to achieve such a feat. It also marked a myriad of broken records for phenom Cristiano Ronaldo such as being the first man to score in three tournament finals, a 12th Champions League title in Madrid’s history and another decorated year for one of European football’s most inexperienced coaches in Zinedine Zidane. Although this sort of success feels like a mainstay expectation for Real, the same primacy is also maintained in another often forgotten realm. Over the last century some of world football’s most intriguing and competitive battles for domestic dominance have taken place in the Division 1 Féminine – France’s female equivalent to Ligue 1. In France’s female top-flight – especially in recent years – some of the most talented and internationally renowned female players have tread the pitches of the league. Players such as Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas’ personal favourite Alex Morgan, creative attacker and goal machine Eugenie Le Sommer and Brazil’s veteran pit bull Christiane of Paris Saint-Germain are an example of a few. But one club in particular has seen what should perhaps be considered widely exceptional success in both the male and female streams of football. That club is the ever dominant and wholly decorated Olympique Lyonnais Féminin currently managed by former Ligue 1 veteran Reynald Pedros. The club has been the face of

EUGENIE LE SOMMER

the league and its most prolific force for over a decade having just lifted their 11th successful league title at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Similar to their male counterparts in Ligue 1, Lyon began their ascent to prominence in 2007 and hasn’t been de-void of winning a single league title since then although in total the club holds a whopping 14 Division 1 Féminine titles. Like a fortress of undefeated proportions, Pedros’ women kept the enormity of their success alive this year by extending it into Europe. On June 1st the UEFA Women’s Champions League stage was set as the precursor to the following final Cardiff between Real Madrid and Juventus only days later. Unfortunately women’s football has for years been victim to a lack of funding and truly a lack of interest from the mainstream footballing faithful, which means the classic French face-off between the brilliant ladies of Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain for European silverware was swept under the rug. The clash was one for the ages. It was a match-up sprinkled with Division 1 Féminine historical rivalries, Canadian based competitiveness between international teammates Kadiesha Buchanan of Lyon and Ashley Lawrence of PSG and a yet another representation as to why Pedros’ Lyon are


R G O T T E N

G R E A T S

ONNAIS FÉMININ The September match between Italy and Spain is one of the most anticipated qualifying matches.It will be a probable factor to see which of these two titans moves on to the World Cup direct, or which will need to play a playoff to decide their fate.

after the final. “I think she's the best goalkeeper in the world anyway, but she's outstanding with her feet. I asked her to take a penalty in a league match too, because I thought she could score. (Tonight) was the right moment, because the other goalkeeper had missed.” The title claim meant Lyon became champions of Europe for a record fourth time – equaling Frankfurt who has also achieved the same feat. But atop

this, Pedros’ women lifted the Champions League trophy at the tail end of a second consecutive treble winning season. The club won yet another French Cup, a record 14th league title and of course lifted a fourth European title all while in the midst of scoring 103 goals, conceding only six and enduring only one league defeat tellingly to PSG.

MARIE-LAURE DELIE

perhaps the greatest female club in modern football today. The match saw two game opponents battle through to a goalless 120 minute finale that ultimately lead to the deathly silence of a penalty shootout. Although Lyon traveled to the final in Cardiff as heavy favourites, their French counterparts PSG were able to level the penalty score line at 6-6 apiece leaving the deciding penalty upon the foot of Lyon keeper, Sarah Bouhaddi. Despite having the pressure of 20,000 fans and an anxious bench upon her shoulders, the composed Bouhaddi directed a clean ball to PSG keeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek’s right having her dive in vain whilst her opponent converted a penalty worth a Champions League title. “Sarah is great with her feet,” Lyon coach Gerard Precheur recalled MARIE-LAURE DELIE

DIVISION 1 FÉMININE – TOP SCORERS 1. EUGENIE LE SOMMER - OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS FÉMININ 20 GOALS Le Sommer is most well known among mainstream football fans for her international appearances with France. She is a veteran of the international cycle with over 130 caps to her name. She began playing football at the age of five and has since spent the majority of her pro career decoratively with Lyon. 2. ADA HEGERBERG - OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS FÉMININ 20 GOALS The Norwegian international has just finished perhaps her most successful footballing season to date. She currently owns the 2016 UEFA Best Women’s Player of the Year award and was also named the 2017 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year. In the Champions League for Lyon she scored a whopping 13 goals in 9 appearances for the club. 3. MARIE-LAURE DELIE – PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN 16 GOALS Delie is another veteran of the international level having been a key part of the French make up for several years now. She plays as an out-and-out striker and owns over 100 caps for her country. She has played for PSG on two occasions with her first being for one season in 2007/2008 and again beginning in 2013. She’s scored over 75 goals for Les Parisians.

TOP FEMALE FOOTBALL LEAGUES IN EUROPE 1. Germany Frauen-Bundesliga: 4 European titles, 3 Runner-ups, 2 Semi-finalists 2. France Division 1 Féminine: 4 European titles, 2 Runner-ups, 5 Semi-finalists 3. Sweden – Damallsvenskan: 1 European title, 3 Runner-ups, 3 Semi-finalists


WORLD CUP World Cup Preview

THE BATTLE FOR A PLACE AMONG THE GLOBAL ELITE IS UNDERWAY WITH 2018 FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING. THE DRAMA BEFORE THE FINALS IN WORLD FOOTBALL'S CLAIM TO A SPOT IN THE WORLDS BIGGEST SPORTING TOURNAMENT IS OWED ATTENTION AND THESE ARE THE TOP STORIES AS IT CURRENTLY STANDS.

ASIA Carlos Queiroz’ Iran are perhaps world football’s most triumphant underdog in World Cup qualifying. Team Melli were only second to Brazil to seal themselves a place in the prestigious tournament – making it the first time they'll be in back-to-back competitions – after defeating Uzbekistan 2-0 in early June. The former Real Madrid manager’s ideal achievement would be to return to the cup and make it to the knockout stages.

EUROPE Russia have automatically qualified as tournament hosts and are set to showcase an array of young international talent in the finals. Wild card Group B is currently led by Switzerland who are running away with being leaders of the group with 18 points. Interestingly, behind the Swiss are Euro 2016 winners Portugal - who on paper should be leading the group - tailing them with 15 points. Group C is also heavy with exciting story lines as former World Cup winners Germany lead while Northern Ireland are within reach for a play off spot behind them. The Green and White army haven't qualified for a World Cup final since 1986 and although they lag Germany by five points, whose to say the tenacious little country can't overcome and qualify for the first time in 31 years? In real danger, however, is Gareth Bale's Wales who are struggling to match Serbia and the Republic of Ireland in third place with a disappointing eight points in Group D. The Welsh are best known for the debut appearance in the 2016 Euro's defying any prior doubts by amazingly making it to the semifinals. Lastly, Group A holds perhaps one of the campaign's most interesting of races. Although France are in a comfortable spot in second place within the group, their rivals in first are the unpredictable Sweden with the Netherlands in major jeopardy in third. The Dutch missed the 2016 Euros and with their current run in World Cup qualifying they are In a troublesome predicament of yet again missing another international tournament.

'The Dutch missed the 2016 Euros and with their current run in World Cup qualifying they are In a troublesome predicament' 82 S360

SOUTH AMERICA The mighty Brazilians have perhaps rejuvenated themselves or at least have looked too under the tenure of new head coach Tite. The Canarinho ambushed their qualifying group by successfully managing eight consecutive victories with only four out of 18 qualifying rounds left to play. The worrying eye now falls to two-time World Cup winners Argentina as they coast in fifth place. Argentina are currently under the reign of Jorge Sampaoli – the nations third manager of the campaign – meaning the transition period may just be a small bump in the road. To their luck the other South American powerhouses such as Chile and Uruguay have been finding dips in form putting their own reach towards the 4.5 spots available in the CONMEBOL World Cup berth potentially in trouble.

'the transition period may just be a small bump in the road'


UP CHASERS AFRICA

The September match between Italy and Spain is one of the most anticipated qualifying matches.It will be a probable factor to see which of these two titans moves on to the World Cup direct, or which will need to play a playoff to decide their fate.

The Nigerian national team has always been a tenacious favourite to represent the best of African football. In fact, it is so much so that the Nigerians are within touching distance of securing the first berth in African qualifying. Salisu Yusuf’s side are currently standing strong at the top of Group B with potentially only having to win two more matches to enter the finals. The troublesome nations are two African favourites in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. While Cote d'Ivoire sits comfortably atop Group C, they have the likes of dark horses Morocco risking their cruise towards qualifying. At the same time, Ghana are struggling to equalize the success of Egypt in first place in Group E and have yet to win a qualifying match.

GOOD TO KNOW

A grand total of 1,903 goals have been scored over the course of the qualifying campaign thus far. This means there has been an average of 2.9 goals per match, making the likelihood for goals incredibly high per 90 minutes. In contrast, a grand total of 2,202 yellow cards have been issued whilst whopping 109 red cards have also been flashed. A total of 210 teams will battle it out across six continents for 31 spots in the world’s largest sporting feat. Just another reason why even just making it to the finals is impressive. The newest entrants to the UEFA/ European contingent in World Cup qualifying are Gibraltar and Kosovo. The Oceania division has only had four teams qualify in 13 attempts to get to the World Cup finals. New Zealand is the largest team in the federation.

OCEANIA The Oceania sector in world football is one of the smallest which merits the area to only have 0.5 places in the World Cup finals. Currently, New Zealand is set to face off with Solomon Islands over the course of two legs. If the All Whites manage to come out on top, they will then prepare to challenge the fifth-place South American nation – which currently is former World Cup runnerup, Argentina.

NORTH AMERICA The normalcy of having the likes of Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States at the forefront of the CONCACAF berth is unsurprising. However, the United States especially are certainly not in calm water in their qualifying process. In fact, the Americans – to their detriment – had a slow start in the campaign and are just beginning to rejuvenate their cause. Although it is almost certain the U.S. can secure the third and final continental spot alongside leader Mexico and Costa Rica, their encounter with the latter in the fall will determine if they will be elated or drowning to make it into the finals cleanly.

Each federation’s qualifying process varies. Perhaps the most difficult is South America’s CONMEBOL where each of the ten countries plays the other nine twice, making it 18 matches in all. Russia will be one of the last nations to host a World Cup with 32 participants. Come the 2026 World Cup, the format will include a whopping 48 teams. From the World Cup’s inception until 2002 defending champions were granted automatic berth like host nations. Unfortunately that advantage was scrapped prior to the 2006 installment. Most knockout play offs are held over the course of two legs. But if a country is unfit to host and international match, occasionally the play off can turn into only one leg. Just like players, referees must go through a “qualifying” process to be some of the few to reach the finals. The preparations for this began straight after 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

EUROPEAN WORLD CUP QUALIFYING FINAL MATCHES - SEPTEMBER 2016 / OCTOBER 2017 Group matches: Thursday August 31 Thursday October 5 Friday September 1 Friday October 6 Saturday September 2 Saturday October 7 Sunday September 3 Sunday October 8 Monday September 4 Monday October 9 Tuesday September 5 Tuesday October 10 PLAY-OFFS - NOVEMBER 2017 The 8 best group runners-up will contest Round Two. The four winners will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. S360 83


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The next big thing in agility is here with the Nemeziz from adidas. Built for the most agile players that can change direction on a dime and always cut and dice through the defense. Players like Roberto Firmino, Julian Draxler, and Leo Messi will be wearing the new Nemeziz silo. Winners of the 2016-17 Champions League and La Liga Real Madrid continue to establish themselves as one of the greatest teams in history. Los Blancos will wear a clean, simple black jersey on the road with accent color teal on the logos, cuffs and side stripes.

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To complete the process Thierry Henry was brought on board and played a major role in ensuring we catered to every type of player. Thanks to these insights we can deliver a football boot that excels in FIT, FAST and FEEL. FIT comes from the engineered evoKNIT sock, FAST is provided by our ultra lightweight Pebax outsole, whilst FEEL is enhanced by the super soft leather that adorns the upper. From the tough tackling defender to the swift footed striker we can now offer a boot that reflects the perfectionist in all of us. The PUMA ONE will be worn on pitch by Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Agüero, Hector Bellerin, from 17th of June and will be available to buy from the 29th of June.

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PUMA and Borussia Dortmund are presenting the new home jersey for the upcoming season under the slogan “Pure Emotion”. The new home jersey designed for BVB by PUMA pays tribute to these sentiments and will bring the club and its fans even closer together. The new home jersey remains classic yellow. Horizontal stripes with a vibrant color gradient from black to yellow provide visual highlights. The new design also incorporates the PUMA Formstrip and carries the color gradient concept into the shoulder area. The design is tastefully topped off with a contrasting black ribbed collar.


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he National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada (NSCAC) re-launched in 2017 to provide soccer coaches across Canada with educational opportunities, services, benefits and a collective voice. The non-profit, member-based organization represents coaches at all levels of the game, from grassroots volunteers to full time professionals. In June, the NSCAC staged two free clinics for member coaches on consecutive Saturdays, both hosted by partner club Thornhill Soccer Club of Ontario. Both clinics featured three 1-hour sessions conducted by top-level clinicians and coach educators. Internationally-renowned UEFA “A” licence coach and former Technical Director of the Bahamas Football Association, Kevin McGreskin, was the featured guest clinician at the Kickoff Clinic on June 3. McGreskin, who is the founder of SoccereyeQ.com, an elite training program for coaches, conducted a special session on “Developing Field Vision and Game Awareness”. Kevin shared his philosophy on the importance of players’ assessing their options and their ability to see the field and make decisions before receiving the ball. Joining McGreskin for that first clinic were goalkeeper coach Riccardo Greco, of Extreme Goalkeeper Academy, who demonstrated his unique goalkeeper teaching techniques; and Kosmas Mouratidis, Technical Director of Thornhill

WORD SEARCH RONALDO

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ATHLETE BLANCOS BLUE CAPTAIN CLUB EUROPEAN FIFA FOOTBALL FORWARD GOALSCORER LA LIGA LEAGUE PORTUGAL PROLIFIC REAL MADRID RECORD RONALDO SC and the NSCAC’s Director of Coaching, SENIOR who emphasized players’ use of space SEVEN in passing and receiving as well as the SPAIN importance of on field communication. SPORTSMEN WHITE Three new sessions were added at the WORLDPLAYER second clinic the following week, with sports scientist Richard Bucciarelli, the founder and president of Soccer Fitness Inc., conducting the feature session on “Speed, agility and quickness”. Richard put his group through their paces with competitive drills emphasizing creativity and integrity while executing the exercises at speed. Joining Richard were NSCAC National Staff Head Coach Tony La Ferrara, who emphasized spatial awareness and prioritized the elements of first touch and turning under pressure; and Thornhill SC TD Kosmas Mouratidis, who demonstrated the need for players to recognize multiple options on set pieces, from corners to free kicks to throw-ins. NSCAC member coaches in attendance were given opportunities to interact with each of the coach educators and ask questions during each of their sessions. The NSCAC will schedule additional clinics, as well as seminars and open sessions for member coaches continuously throughout the year. To view an upcoming clinic in your area, visit nscac.ca. To apply for membership to the NSCAC, visit nscac.ca and select the Join tab on the website.

ATHLETE PORTUGAL BLANCOS PROLIFIC BLUE REAL MADRID CAPTAIN RECORD Use the Word Bank below to CLUB RONALDO EUROPEAN SENIOR find all 23 words relating to FIFA Cristiano Ronaldo SEVEN and his FOOTBALL SPAIN successful football career FORWARD SPORTSMEN GOALSCORER WHITE LA LIGA WORLDPLAYER LEAGUE

Y V F B S A C G O G N X I Q L T Y K Y P X I M

G A S E Y A R O I M R B C P M L P Y T O J N E

P E V V P O K A V O Z I L K M N A G C U B Z R

A E K T I M X L F I F A Y A X G X B Q B J S P

N J A N I S V S H I H W Z U N I Z Z T B E T X

W I E B J B P C L W I O F F K C P S G O R X M

N S D R X I U O L H D D V R R A O R T I O T Y

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J L X G I V Q R E B W E I Z V X T F P G C B V

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T J W Q N Z M T L Z U U L G A G I L A L C B M

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R M T U F P C S D R A W R O F S F U H R S L M



LAST WORD Living Legends

IT'S TIME T

here are few players out there who can genuinely be referred to as living legends. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen two of them, Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Totti, give a stark reminder we won’t see their like again. It looks as if the goalkeeper really will become one of the greatest figures never to have won the Champions League. He has a World Cup and more Serie A titles than any player in history – even with the two revoked in the Calciopoli scandal – but this was meant to be his year. Juventus were supposed to end their run of four consecutive European Final defeats and take their first trophy since 1996. They were the immovable object, conceding three goals in 12 games on their way to Cardiff and comfortably neutralising Barcelona’s MSN along the way. Their social media even made it the Champions League motto: It’s Time. The immovable object found an unstoppable force alright, but it wasn’t the Real Madrid attack or Cristiano Ronaldo. It was their own psychological baggage, gathering 21 years of momentum as it rolled down the hill. When déjà vu becomes this systematic, when the mistakes are always repeated, it becomes a syndrome. Juventus have Champions League Syndrome. It’s a pity, because nobody would genuinely begrudge Buffon this trophy, nor the Ballon d’Or that he fully deserves for over 20 years of being the best goalkeeper in the world. There’s one season left, we have to believe in some degree of karma to end it with a 40-year-old SuperGigi lifting the Champions League over his head as a confetti gun goes off in a black and white mist.

WE’RE WITNESSING LIVING LEGENDS RIGHT NOW AND MUST RELISH EVERY MOMENT OF THE SPORT JUST LIKE WHEN WE WERE KIDS, WRITES SUSY CAMPANALE.

It was meant to be Gigi Buffon’s fairy-tale Champions League night in Cardiff

“Juventus were supposed to end their run of four consecutive European Final defeats and take their first trophy since 1996.” At least Buffon still has a chance to get his fairy-tale ending. The same cannot be said of Totti, who was nudged in a not so subtle fashion into hanging up his boots after 25 years at Roma. Er Pupone – which funnily enough means the big kid – spent a lifetime with the Giallorossi jersey on his back. Many of those who openly wept at the Stadio Olimpico on his farewell game against Genoa on May 28 will never have seen a Roma squad without him. The city is Eternal, but human bodies are not, and Totti turns 41 in September. His speech to the crowd was beautiful and summed up what all of us feel about this sport. “Do you know my favourite toy when I was young? The football! And it still is. But at a certain point, you have to grow up. Time has come and tapped me on the shoulder, telling me I have to grow up. He said, from tomorrow, you will be an adult. Take off your shorts and boots, from now you are a man and can no longer smell the grass, feel the sun in your face, the adrenaline that consumes you and the satisfaction of celebrating. Now I walk down those stairs, enter the locker room that welcomed me when I was a child and I leave now that I am a man.” Totti is absolutely right. Football does make us all feel like kids again. It is why nothing can ever give us such pure, unadulterated joy as seeing our team score a decisive goal. Why the most hard-nosed men will grit their teeth at life’s difficulties, but openly weep after an unexpected defeat or the departure of a hero. One day time will tap us all on the shoulder, for many it has already happened, but we can regress during those 90 minutes, indulge our inner child and experience sport as pure emotion. In the future, we’ll be able to tell the next generations about the stars we saw in action: Totti, Buffon, Phillip Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. We could barely remember football before them, but one day all these moments we’re experiencing now will be history. So relish every second, because time waits for no man.

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After 25 years in a Roma jersey, it’s time for Francesco Totti to grow up

We’re witnessing football history every time Cristiano Ronaldo breaks another record


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