Spurs flop Paulinho’s move to Barcelona raises eyebrows

With the recent news of Neymar’s world-record transfer to PSG, one would assume Barcelona would be in dire need of a winger to fill the gap that the Brazilian will no doubt leave. There is talks about Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé. But the Catalan giants did make a signing this week. And one that has many raising questions.

When Paulinho left White Hart Lane in 2015, nobody would have predicted – not even the player himself surely – that within two years and two months, he would earn a dream move to Barcelona. While he was undoubtedly a big name player for Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, the €40 million Barça spent on the 29-year-old seems somewhat excessive.

To begin, Barcelona have players in his central midfield position. Lots of them. It would be unlikely that Sergi Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Andre Gomes or Arda Turan to name but a few, would be replaced by the former Spurs man. Barcelona have bought a player for a position they already have more than enough for.

But there’s also reports that the signing may not have been for sporting reasons. Reports suggest that Barça’s not-too-popular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who is the CEO of a company called ADELTE Group (which is into designing, manufacturing, supplying and maintaining airports, seaports and road transport operations) and that that the group is expanding into China and bidding on projects like the Ocean Flower Island, which is being built by the Evergrande group – the same people who own Paulinho’s club Guangzhou. A bit far-fetched? Maybe. Would it be likely that this is the reason? It’s a possibility. But it’s a rumour at this point.

Conspiracy theories aside, Paulinho should be judged by what he does on the pitch.

It must be noted that Paulinho has not only excelled in the, admittedly lower standard, Chinese Super League, but he has returned to the Brazilian national team set-up. In World Cup qualification, the Seleção started their campaign with sub-par performances and results. However, they won all eight games after Paulinho’s return in the yellow jersey, even scoring a in a 4-1 away win against Uruguay.

Interesting times at Camp Nou. The signing of a certain fellow Brazilian who lives in Liverpool, will take the heat off Barcelona’s president. And indeed the fans who have yet to give Paulinho a chance.

Join the 2017/18 Hot Press fantasy football.

It’s that time of year again. It’s time to channel your inner Guardiola and put together a team of champions for another edition of Fantasy Football.

Those of you who entered the league last year will automatically be entered in the league once who have your team set up. For any newcomers, the process is simple.

  1. Go here to the official website of the Premier League.
  2. Register with the site (it takes around a minute).
  3. Pick your players and once satisfied with your selection click on ‘confirm team’.
  4. Go to ‘join leagues’. We’re in a private league, so enter the code 2221486-524252 when prompted.
  5. Prepare for war.

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Neymar heads to Paris to step out of Messi’s shadow.

Last year Barcelona slapped a €222 million buyout clause on Neymar. Buyout clauses are usually obscene figures to warn off potential clubs interested in availing of a player’s services. In the case of Neymar, astonishingly Paris Saint-Germain look set to spend exactly that to get the Brazilian superstar.

His reasons are both footballing and quite obviously financial.

Firstly the footballing reasons. While many will see a move from La Liga to France’s Ligue 1 as a step down, one must take into consideration the fact that Neymar will only grow so much when he’s playing in the same side as Leo Messi.

On the north-eastearn coast of Spain, Leo Messi is the frontman. The poster boy for the club, the marketing tool, and the focal point on the pitch. Neymar has always, and would always be in the Argentine’s shadow. Neymar wants to take centre stage. And where better than PSG, where players would have to adapt to his style of play, and not the other way around.

It’s an interesting move too in terms of accolades. The Ballon d’Or would be within grasping distance, but never in the palm of his hands. Messi and his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo are realistically the only two players who have been battling for it for some time. Not now. Neymar gone solo will see the Brazilian step out of Messi’s shadow and lead PSG. Critics, pundits, fans and peers will take notice,

But make no mistake, another motivating factor is money. As is always the case in the beautiful business game.

Neymar will become the best paid player in the world, doubling his salary while in the Paris. PSG’s owners Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) have seemingly an endless stream of cash going straight from the middle east to the French capital. His father who acts as his agent will receive €36 million in commission. He’s earned almost €100 million at Barcelona. As I said, make no mistake – this is clearly another motivating factor.

It will be a loss for Barcelona. The attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar (often called the MSN) formed a front three considered by many as the best in the history of the game. There will be a Neymar-shaped hole if he goes unreplaced, though not catastrophic – Barcelona have over the past decade had a plethora of talent on their bench alone. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho has been frequently mentioned as a possible replacement. And other left-wingers such as Marco Reus or Eden Hazard could easily fit into the Barcelona’s system if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t budge.

Neymar’s move to PSG is all but confirmed at this stage with Barcelona putting out an official statement on the matter. The Parisians have even reportedly arranged an enormous welcoming ceremony on the streets of the French capital. All that’s left is the Brazilian’s signature. It’s up to Neymar now to deliver for his new club as he takes centre stage.

 

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Some transfers that went under the radar.

We all know about the big transfers that have occurred thus far into this summer such as Manchester City’s double acquisition of Bernardo Silva and Ederson for obscene money. Or Mohamed Salah’s big money move to Anfield, or even Man United getting Victor Lindelöf’s signature. No doubt there’ll be other huge money transfers between now and deadline day. But some interesting signings have taken place that may have flown under your radar.

AC Milan have been doing some great business of late with the signing of Porto’s Andre Silva and the criminally under-rated Wolfsburg left-back Ricardo Rodriguez. Speaking of left-backs, Real Madrid have signed the phenomenal Theo Hernandez from cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid. Hernandez is often regarded as one of the best teenagers on the planet, while in Belgium one of the most promising young players in world football, Youri Tielemans, was sold to Monaco from Anderlecht for €25 million. He’ll be worth three times that within two years – mark my words.

Bayern Munich will feel the loss since the retirement of club idol Philipp Lahm, as well as Xabi Alonso, but they made some interesting acquisitions in former-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry from Werder Bremen, Niklas Süle from Hoffenheim, as well as getting the supremely gifted French winger Kinglsey Coman on a permanent deal, having previously been on loan for the Bavarian club.

Cristian Tello, once hailed to be Barcelona’s future left winger if it wasn’t for the signature of a certain Neymar, left the Catalan club for Real Betis. He’d previously been on loan to Fiorentina. Speaking of Serie A, Argentine midfielder Ever Banega re-joined Sevilla from Inter Milan for €8 million – the Italian club got him for nothing a year ago. French midfielder Maxime Gonalons spent his entire career at Lyon, having joined as an 11-year-old in 2000 and became a club captain and idol for the fans. He left Ligue 1 for Serie A and joined Roma. A superb signing. And a curious one as they have numerous top players such as Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan who play in his position.

Some players have been moving about as free agents such as Klaas Jan Huntelaar returning to Ajax, Real Madrid’s Pepe has made Istanbul his new home having joined Besiktas. The man that overtook Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, Diego Lopez has returned to La Liga, having joined Espanyol from AC Milan for precisely €0.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be bringing you more signings – big, small or indifferent, between now and deadline day.

 

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Five players who didn’t last at their new club

Occasionally some players with a big reputation will arrive at a certain club, and somebody – be it the club or the player himself – will have a swift change of heart. Here’s five players from recent years that didn’t last too long.

Sol Campbell (Notts County)
League Two side Notts County in signed the former Arsenal man August 2009 on an astonishing five-year deal. “I bought into a dream and I wanted to make that dream a reality,” Campbell later said. “It took me less than a month to realise that it was all heading to a different conclusion”. He played once for the club.

Dietmar Hamann (Bolton Wanderers)
Following seven successful years at Liverpool, German player Didi Hamann joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer. He has a change of heart and within 24 hours, bizarrely he became a Manchester City player. “I am the only manager to get £400,000 for a player who never kicked a ball for the club,” Bolton’s then-boss Sam Allardyce said back in 2006. “Didi Hamann is a history breaker. This is the best transfer deal I have ever done in my life.”

David Unsworth (Aston Villa)
One-cap-wonder David Unsworth left Everton for Aston Villa in the summer of 1998 for £3 million. He moved back to Merseyside just a few weeks later before the season began for exactly the same fee. The reason? The defender didn’t like the commute from the Midlands back to Liverpool as his wife flat out refused to move. “It’s quite clear that it’s David’s missus who wears the trousers in their house,” said Aston Villa manager John Gregory. “In my time as a player it used to be a case of ‘pack the china, love, I’m going to a new club somewhere else in the country’. But all that seems to have gone out of the window.”

Martin Demichelis (Atlético Madrid)
One that went under the radar was recently-retired Argentine defender Martin Demichelis’ tenure at Atléti. He moved to the Spanish capital in July 2013, but simply didn’t fancy it and opted to join former Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City for a reported £4.2 million salary. He was on the Spanish side’s books for a mere two months and didn’t turn out for them even once.

Dani Osvaldo (Boca Juniors)
The Argentine-born Italian international has been something of a journeyman throughout his career, despite his obvious talent. He has previously been on loan with South American giants Boca Juniors in 2015 where he quickly became a fan favourite. He has short stints for a number of clubs, but when he returned to Buenos Aires in 2016, his enthusiasm for the game soured upon arrival and he was sacked by coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto for smoking in Boca’s dressing room. He’d only been at club mere weeks. He retired at the age of 30 to focus on playing in a blues-rock band.

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Watch: The greatest dive of the year (so far)

You’ve got to hand it to Lucas Fonseca. The Brazilian player has some incredible agility. On Sunday when Bahia faced Flamengo, Fonseca over-reacted in spectacular fashion to Flamengo striker Paolo Guerrero semi-air punch following a high challenge from the Bahia man.

Fonseca managed to be knocked to the ground Street Fighter-style despite the fact that Guerrero’s hand was a good three feet away. Watch the magic below.

The best dive of the year by some considerable distance.

 

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Cristiano Ronaldo threatens to quit Real Madrid and leave Spain.

Global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is alleged to be “outraged” at what he feels is unfair treatment by Spanish tax authorities and is now determined to quit Real Madrid and the country. Naturally this puts football’s elite clubs on high alert for one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

The 32-year-old Portuguese star is accused of defrauding the Spanish authorities of a staggering €14.7 million – compared to the €4.1 million that his rival Leo Messi was found guilty of and was subsequently given a sentence of 16 months (which is Spain means you don’t go into jail as it’s under two years).

Ronaldo has made no secret of his admiration for Manchester United – the club he left for the Bernebeu in 2009 – and the club would have the financial muscle that could land his signature (PSG being another obvious possible suitors). He has a €1 billion release clause in his current contract.

Would it be the end of the world if Madrid lost Cristiano? Well, no doubt the impact he has on any game for Madrid is more than noticeable. But, like Lionel Messi, his stock is going to fall sometime. Madrid may well get another five years of elite football out of him. It’s hard to know. But I wouldn’t count on him to be winning Ballon d’Ors at 37. Los Merengues could cash in – and cash in big – for him now.

Following these allegations, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner posted a picture of himself with his fingers to his lips on Instagram with the caption: “Sometimes the best answer it’s to be quiet.”

 

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Cheick Tioté RIP.

It is with great sadness that the blog learned of the passing of former Newcastle United player Cheick Tioté. The Ivorian collapsed while training with new club Beijing Enterprises and died a short time later.

Tioté spent seven season in the North-east of England where he was a fan favourite – especially after the screamer and his only goal for the Magpies that he scored in the 4-4 draw with Arsenal in 2011.

https://twitter.com/Joey7Barton/status/871798078122201089

https://twitter.com/didierdrogba/status/871777720748855297

https://twitter.com/No1shaygiven/status/871759300015816705

 

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This summer’s free transfer XI

As players’ contracts are winding down at the end of this month, many will be moving on. But let’s have a look at the best eleven that will be available on a free transfer at the end of the month.

Iker Casillas. (GK)
The Spanish World Cup winning captain has been linked with a move to Liverpool, and would possibly be a starter ahead of Mignolet. What’s that saying…class is permanent?

Bacary Sagna. (RB)
He may be 34, but Sagna has always been a solid right-back for all the clubs he’s turned out for. Still Premier League quality, he would be a wonderful addition for any club.

Gonzalo Rodriguez (CB)
The Fiorentina captain will be coming to the end of his contract this month after five years with the Serie A side. One of the newly promoted sides of the Premier League for next season should really consider acquiring the services of the Argentine international.

Pepe (CB)
I was going to include John Terry for this position, but the fiesty Portugese centre back has been a more consisent player in recent years. His final days at Real Madrid are upon us and, like his one-time team mate Casillas, he would fit into just about any team.

Gael Clichy (LB)
Another player the press has linked with a move to Liverpool, this French left-back who at 31 would still be considered a top acquisition by most teams at the highest level.

Jesus Navas (RM)
Predicted to return to his native Spain, the talented winger has long been wanted by managers over the years. Still only 31, with the right club, this is his last chance to impress to regain his place in the Spanish national team before his career begins slowing down.

Lucas Leiva (CM)
The Brazilian has been at Anfield for a decade and will leave this summer with Besiktas ready to take him on board. Not all players succeed in Turkey, but I’m sure Lucas will be surveying his options. There will be a lot of teams interested, no question.

Miguel Veloso (CM)
The 31-year-old has been a full international with Portugal for 10 years now, appearing at two World Cups and as many European Championships. Soon to be out of contract with Genoa, the midfielder should gather some interest with lots of clubs.

Valentin Eysseric (LM)
This 25-year-old is coming to the end of his contract at Nice and with plenty of clubs – especially in his native France – keeping an eye on him. A talented midfielder, the right move could be easily benefit both club and player.

Mario Balotelli (FW)
His excellent season with Nice last year will see Super Mario a wanted man once more. Heavily linked with a move to Napoli, no doubt his agent Mino Raiola will ensure the most lucrative offer possible. A great if sometimes difficult striker, he’s worth a punt.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FW)
If Mourinho wants the Swede to stay at Old Trafford, he more than likely will get him to stay. But anything is possible. Ibra will only want to play at an elite level and make no mistake – elite clubs will be keeping tabs on him.

 

Substitutes:
Nilmar, Rachid Ghezzal, John Terry, Seydou Keita, Marouane Chamakh.

 

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Real Madrid sign an unproven 16-year-old Brazilian for €46 million.

Spanish giants Real Madrid have made headlines this week for forking out a staggering €46 million for 16-year-old promising player Vinícius Júnior. The Brazilian has just one senior appearance for Flamengo, making his professional debut a mere 11 days ago.

“The player will remain at his current club until July 2019,” the La Liga champions said in a statement. “Although he will be able to play for Real Madrid before then if both clubs agree to it.”

It raises eyebrows, I must say. It seems clubs like Real Madrid are keen to find the next teenage superstar or a phenomenon like Leo Messi, and they are willing to part with massive sums of money on promising players.

That said, it could go either way. He could go on to be a giant of the game, or he could go on to be a flop. But there will be considerable pressure on Vinicius. Vasts amount of money on a 16-year-old kid won’t go unnoticed by the fans, media and even team-mates. And when the time comes, and he pulls on the Madrid jersey, he will be expected to deliver the goods.

Other Brazilian players arrived in Europe amid huge hype and ultimately failed to live up to expectation. Alexandre Pato and Robinho are just two players in recent years who, after moving to Europe, were under pressure to deliver constant performances that a Balon d’Or winning player would. Ultimately neither came close.

But football is a funny game. Anything can happen and this kid could be a superstar.

 

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Chelsea win the Premier League.

Following Michy Batshuayi’s 82nd minute winner against West Brom, the 1-0 win on Friday was enough for Chelsea to secure themselves as winners of the Premier League.

Antonio Conte adds to his list of managerial honours alongside three Scudetti and one Serie B winner’s medal.

The Italian will look to add to it and maintain momentum as they head into the tough FA Cup final at Wembley against Arsenal on Saturday week.

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Totti’s 24 year career draws to a close.

Quite simply one of the greatest Italian players of all time, Francesco Totti is set to play his last game of football when Roma face Genoa at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Sunday 28th May.

As his stunning 24-year career draws to a close, the 40-year old had spent his entire career with the Giallorossi, where he won a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana titles. With his national team, he won a little-known trophy called the World Cup in 2006.

He won a plethora of individual awards throughout his career including a record eleven Oscar del calcio awards from the Italian Footballers’ Association, which consists of five Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Goal of the Year awards, one Serie A Goalscorer of the Year award and one Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award.

He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or five times between 2000 and 2007. In November 2014, he extended his record as the oldest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history, aged 38 years and 59 days.

The word legend is thrown about football all too often and, in some cases, is definitely warranted. With Francesco Totti’s departure from the pitch, it’s more than warranted.

 

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Tony Adams isn’t the first bizarre managerial appointment.

With the recent appointment of former Arsenal defender Tony Adams as the new manager of La Liga side Granada, it raised many an eyebrow. His previous managerial position was with Azerbaijani outfit Gabala, which ended in 2011. Before them he was the Portsmouth manager for a tenure which lasted 16 games and collected a total of 10 points.

But he isn’t the first managerial appointment which has made the entire planet go “huh?” in shock.

Real Sociedad have a track record in recent times for bringing some British managers to La Liga. Chris Coleman spent half a season with the Basque side before resigning after a falling out with the club’s president (he lost only one of his previous eleven games before quitting). And most recently David Moyes spent a brief period with Sociedad. It wasn’t all bad for the Scot’s stint in La Liga. He did manage to beat Barcelona 1-0 and shared a packet of crisps with a fan after being sent to the stands during a game.

Edgar Davids was one of the finest midfielders of his generation, having played for Ajax, Milan, Juventus, Barcelona and Inter. But it was a bit bizarre when in 2012 he became manager of Barnet. Especially as he has joined as the much-missed role of player-manager. He lasted two years. Discipline was a major problem for Davids in the 2013–14 season. He was booked in each of the first eight league games he played, and he was sent off three times in those first eight games.

Chelsea have gone through roughly one million managers since Roman Abramovich took ownership of the London club. Some were, on paper, fantastic but simply didn’t work out (Villas-Boas, Benitez, Scolari). But one stood out for being a bizarre appointment. And that was Avram Grant who took over in September 2007 after the ever-popular pantomime villain José Mourinho. His only season for the blues witnessed him finish second second in the Premier League, League Cup and Champions League.

I have to mention Gary Neville. He was appointed manager of Valencia in December 2015. Peter Lim, who owns a controlling stake in the La Liga side, also owns 50% of Salford – the club who Neville owns alongside Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and brother Phil. He lasted just four months in Spain, and left Valencia 14th in the league, only six points clear of the relegation zone. Theyt had won only three of their 16 league games under Neville, also failing to keep a single clean sheet.

Good players don’t always make good managers

 

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Is Isco set to swap Madrid for Barcelona?

Twenty-four-old attacking midfielder Isco could be set to join a very select list of players by transferring from his current team Real Madrid to bitter rivals Barcelona.

The last player from the Los Merengues to join the Catalan giants directly was coincidentally current Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, back in 1996. There have been more players leaving the Camp Nou for the Bernebeu directly over the years such as Michael Laudrup, Javier Saviola and famously Luis Figo.

But it would be to Real Madrid’s loss I feel. Isco has struggled to break into Zinedine Zidane’s starting eleven, with Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema the preferred attacking choices in the 4-3-3 system.

One of the most popular players with Madridistas, the Spanish international may find more minutes with rivals Barcelona. While he wouldn’t be a starter ahead of Neymar, Suarez or Messi, he would fit into the Blaugrana’s middle three. Ahead of Iniesta, Busquets or Rakitic? Hard to say. Though almost 33, time isn’t on the gifted Iniesta’s side.

Some of the Spanish media have noted that there are better options for Barcelona. Marco Verratti of PSG is a name that has come up more than once. But Barcelona seem keen having reportedly offered €20 million to run down his contract in the capital and move to the Catalan capital on a free transfer.

If so, keep an eye out for pig’s heads being sold around Bernebeu on his return as a Barcelona player.

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Xabi Alonso calls time on a remarkable career.

Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso announced this week that he would retiring from playing at the end of the current season.

In a tweet, the Spaniard simply wrote “Lived it. Loved it. Farewell beautiful game” and received subsequent praise from the his peers and fans around the world for his 17 years playing top flight football with such class.

Alonso was captain of the John Toshack-coached Real Sociedad where the Welshman built the team around the young midfielder. During the 2002-03 season, Alonso was instrumental in helping Sociedad to a club record for their highest ever points total, and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

He joined Liverpool in 2004 under a new era at Anfield under the tutelage of Rafa Benitez as well as a number of his compatriots. He played a massive part in the famous Champions League victory for the Reds in Istanbul in 2005.

He completed a €40 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009, where he was ever-present in the midfield role for Los Merengues. He won La Liga once during his tenure in the Spanish capital and the Copa del Rey twice, and this was topped off with a Champions League medal.

Approaching 33 years of age, Alonso was still in high demand with clubs and it was Pep Guardiola who took him to German giants Bayern Munich where he was deployed as both a midfielder and a centre-half. He won the Bundesliga twice during his stint in Bavaria.

A naturally gifted midfielder, a player of Xabi Alonso’s class comes along not too often.

 

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