Sean O'Conor

Real Madrid

How the mighty fall

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REAL REEL, CHELSEA CHOKE AND EVRA THE MARTYR
What are we to make of Real Madrid's 3-1 capitulation to Tottenham?
The definitive dethronement of the world club champions or merely a hiccup in the midst of a bad run of form and confidence?
Cast your minds back to Cardiff last May and Real looked unbeatable if not particularly thrilling or attractive to watch.

Parisian starlets set the pace

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The UEFA Champions League gets going once again
After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.
Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

James joins Bayern

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Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.

The move is only a two-year loan but includes and option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.

The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final

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I am delighted Cardiff, the first city I made my home, is hosting next month's UEFA Champions League Final, but I am also keen it puts on a good show to the continent and increasingly the world.

Whilst no-one can deny the impressive 74,500 Millennium Stadium is a fine venue for any soccer showpiece, eyebrows everywhere have been raised at the realisation that Cardiff is a little on the small size as a city (population 340,000) and does not have a major airport nearby.

Real's familiar machine motors on to Cardiff

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Real Madrid maintained their march of glory in Europe by thumping city rivals Atletico 3-0 in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg last week.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored another hat-trick and bagged yet another record, the first man to reach 50 goals in the knock-out stage of the competition.

Atletico seek the start of a new age in Milan

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UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL 2016

Another all-Madrid affair gives Atletico Madrid another chance to move out of the shadows Has the prospect of a Champions League Final of Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid set the football world alight?
Not exactly. Why is that?
Well, despite a city derby being something to relish on paper (2014's was the first in the history of the European Cup) the pair's rendezvous in Lisbon then proved to be such a long, drawn-out affair it has not left the continent chomping at the bit for another round.

The Naked Madeiran Emperor

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RONALDO'S LACK OF PERSONALITY STILL DULLS HIS SPARKLE
The world is yours, if you want it enough.
It's a simple idea which has sold a zillion self-help books, metamorphosed into a pseudo-science ('the law of attraction') and been used to justify free-market economics and vindicate the 'The American Way' which Superman defended.

As friendly fires burn, the De Gea deal is rekindled

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

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

Benitez stays unbeaten while Barça lose again

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SPAIN'S BIG TWO SHOW CONTRASTING PRE-SEASON FORM

The Spanish Week in Review

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

Real Madrid drew 0:0 with Milan in Shanghai before edging the Rossoneri 10-9 on penalties.

Azzurri await on the road to Russia

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SPAIN AND ITALY IN THE SAME WORLD CUP QUALIFYING GROUP, RAFA'S REAL IMPRESS AND THE COPA DEL REY BOOING IS PUNISHED
The Spanish Week in Review Sean O'Conor, Ponferrada, Spain
* Spain were drawn into Group G for World Cup 2018 qualifying alongside Italy, Albania, Israel, Italy, Lichtenstein and Madedonia.

Barça keep Bartomeu while Roma block Real

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

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

Milan bag Bacca as the market warms up

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Sevilla sell their Colombian star for €30 million, but no moves yet for De Gea, Pogba or Ramos THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW

* Milan have won the race for Carlos Bacca's signature. The Colombian leaves Sevilla with an impressive 49 goals in 108 games and two Europa League titles. The 28 year-old had been courted by a number of teams but in the end plumped for San Siro in a five year, €30 million deal.

Will he stay or will he Sergio?

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RAMOS MULLS OVER A BERNABEU BYE-BYE

The Spanish Week in Review

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

Del Bosque's 100 and a step nearer France

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LA ROJA MOVE A STEP CLOSER TO EURO 2016 BUT CRASH OUT OF THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
The Spanish Week in Review

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

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

Spain picks on Pique

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

The Spanish Week in Review

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

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

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THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW Barcelona cruise past Juventus to win their fifth European Cup while Rafael Benitez starts work at the Bernabeu in dismantling their dominance.
BARCELONA COMPLETE THE TREBLE IN BERLIN
And lo it came to pass that Barcelona won the Champions League and the treble this season.

Xavi's Adéu & Depor's Great Escape, Ancelotti sacked

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BARÇA'S GREATEST MIDFIELDER BOWS OUT AFTER 17 YEARS, GOOD NEWS IN GALICIA AND REAL MADRID DISMISS CARLOS ANCELOTTI
The Spanish Week in Review
Tiki-taka legend Xavi Hernandez lifted the La Liga trophy and waved goodbye to the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Championship celebrations mixed with melancholic tributes to a man who had spent 17 years a player for the blaugrana and 24 years in total on their books.

World Cup

Futbol's Going South

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CONMEBOL NATIONS MUST UP THEIR GAME BEFORE RUSSIA 2018

What would a World Cup be without the South Americans?
The opportunity to test the best of European football nations against the faraway empire of CONMEBOL is so exciting because it only happens every four years.

Yes there is the Confederations Cup now and the World Club Championship as well but in effect the two poles of world soccer only cross swords for the FIFA World Cup.

Havelange was the Greatest Dictator

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THERE WERE FEW MOURNERS AS THE KING OF CORRUPTION DIED 100 NOT OUT

It almost passed unnoticed during the Rio Olympics that Joao Havelange, the Brazilian former FIFA President, had died, aged 100.

The major figure in post-war football governance is no more, and on immediate inspection, what a dark legacy he leaves.

UEFA Europa League

Oranje squash

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LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY
Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.
Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

One night to shine in Sweden

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UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2017 Manchester United v Ajax Friends Arena, Stockholm 19:45 GMT
The heat appears to be on Manchester United tonight, or more specifically Jose Mourinho.

The club is bigger and richer than Ajax and demands success so winning the Europa League against a lesser side is expected at boardroom level.

England

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

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With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.

The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

Another fine mess at the F.A.

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Well, that did not last long.

Sam Allardyce may retire with a 100% record as English manager but his reputation is so sullied it is hard to see him going back into club management.

The egg is on the F.A.'s face of course for signing up a man already well-known as a bit of a wheeler-dealer.

A Decent Start to the Euros

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FRANCE 1:0 ROMANIA SWITZERLAND 1:0 ALBANIA WALES 2:1 SLOVAKIA ENGLAND 1:1 RUSSIA
Two days in and the 2016 European Championship promises to be a reasonably entertaining and attacking tournament.
France happily won what had been a typically frustrating opening game thanks to Dmitri Payet's Roy of the Rovers winner.

Van Gaal was lost in translation

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"In Louis Van Gaal we have secured the services of one of the outstanding managers in the game today...His track record...makes him the perfect choice for us."

So said Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward two years ago.

The stentorian Dutchman left the sport this week on a bitter-sweet note.

Amid the gloom, we all stood up and cheered

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A DISMAL MATCH AND A RAINY NIGHT BUT WEMBLEY SALUTED A STAR

It was a miserable day in London.

The warm-up to the England v Netherlands (1:2) friendly on Tuesday was anything but warm.

Tuesday in England's capital was rather a tale of relentless and at times heavy rain joined by chilling breezes, the sort of dark day where the corners of your jeans get cloyingly damp, the traffic shrieks as the lights flare through the mist and the motor noise bounces off the puddles.

England National Team

Yu keeps the Chinese Dream Alive

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* China kept their slim hopes of making it to Russia 2018 alive with a 1-0 win over South Korea 1-0 in Changsha in their AFC World Cup qualifier this afternoon.

Yu Dabao of Beijing Guoan got the only goal for Marcelo Lippi's side in the 34th minute, his nation's second win over Korea in 32 attempts.

England's Elusive Hero

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Bobby Moore The Man in Full by Matt Dickinson Yellow Jersey Press

Bobby Moore died in 1993 aged only 51.

A year before I was stumbling boozily through the back streets of Stockholm with a couple of QPR fans I had met in Malmo, ahead of England's make or break Euro '92 showdown with Sweden in Solna (Tomas Brolin scored the winner in a 2-1 win for the hosts which knocked England out and ended Gary Lineker's international career).

English Premier League

New Chelsea Stadium Gets Green Light

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Chelsea's new 60,000 seat stadium has received final planning permission and should be ready for the 2021-'22 season.

The 'matchstick cathedral' design by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who designed the Beijing Birds' Nest Olympic arena and renovated London's Tate Modern, got the final nod from London Mayor Sadiq Khan today.

Foxes eye the finishing line

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AS LEICESTER CITY HOME IN ON THE MOST UNLIKELY OF TRIUMPHS, THEIR SIMPLE WINNING FORMULA REMAINS UNBROKEN

Leicester City won another nervy game 1-0 on Sunday, their fifth such victory in six matches, to move seven points clear with half a dozen games remaining.

Southampton could count themselves unlucky having caused the Foxes many problems and the Saints had two plausible penalty appeals for handball waved away.

This is truly a season to savour

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PREMIER LEAGUE CAMPAIGNS LIKE THIS DO NOT COME AROUND VERY OFTEN

Whenever I try to distill what makes football so intriguing, I always come back to the personal involvement in the dramas I am watching.

Those split-seconds when as a watcher you are invited onto the stage to share the emotions of those taking part are what makes fandom so addictive.

EURO 2016

In hindsight, the Euros were easy to call...

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THIS SUMMER PROVED AGAIN HOW USELESS THE 'EXPERTS' ARE
"We are not going there on an excursion," insisted Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
"We are going there to win!"
Cue the smirks from the assembled press at the pre-Euro 2016 conference.
Looking back at this summer's big European tournament, we can all we so maddeningly wise after the event, convinced now having read the statistics at leisure that the best team all along won it in the end.

French revenge could light up the Euros

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Let us be honest, the Euros have been a bit of a damp squib this time around.
Northern Europe has had a wet and cloudy June and this seems to have been reflected on the field of France 2016. The free-flowing football of Brazil 2014 is a bit of a memory, perhaps a telling comment on the tactics-heavy European teams.

FC Barcelona

Cracks appear in the Camp Nou

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Barcelona have made a stumbling start to their title defence in Spain.
A clean sweep of domestic and European trophies last season could not have been better for Barcelona and their new manager Luis Enrique, but after seven games and two defeats, the 2015/16 season has shown there are hairline cracks beneath the façade.

Sevilla shine in Warsaw, Barça win cup number two

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SEVILLA RETAIN THE EUROPA LEAGUE WHILE MAGIC MESSI DAZZLES THE COPA DEL REY THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW
Two cup finals, two Spanish winners.

Sevilla won the Europa League in style and Barcelona won the Copa del Rey with more devastating, winning football, topped by yet another wonder goal from Lionel Messi.

The Rest

Surviving a dry summer

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THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARS
Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

Olympic Lessons

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RIO'S SHINE SHADES OVER THE START OF THE FOOTBALL SEASON


The Rio Olympic Games have just finished and that two-week fiesta every four years has rightly had the lion's share of our hearts and minds again, despite the opening of the European football calendar.


The Olympics is a useful aide-memoire that other sports are out there, rather like the Roman who was employed to whisper "Remember thou art mortal" in the ear of generals returning to the seven hills in triumph.

Platini's Fall to Earth

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THE GREAT FRENCHMAN'S FOOTBALL LIFE IS NOW HISTORY
Michel Platini's football career looks finished and whatever the circumstances, the sport has lost a major figure.
Even if he was corrupt and untrustworthy, his status as one of the greatest footballers of the modern era and the greatest French player of all time means his exit stage left from the game is tinged with a little melancholy.

The Dragon has Landed?

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The Chinese Super League has just outspent the Premier League but there have been false dawns like this before

It was bound to happen, wasn't it?

China's sleeping soccer dragon has at last caught fire as CSL clubs have outspent England's top flight in the January transfer window.

Major League Salaries 2015

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The American league's millionaires' club.

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


  1. Kaka (Orlando) $6.7 million
  2. Steven Gerrard (LA) $6.2m
  3. Michael Bradley (Toronto) $6m
  4. Frank Lampard (NYC) $6m
  5. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto) $5.