File photo of Arsenal's van Persie applauding the fans following their defeat to AC Milan in their Champions League last 16 second leg soccer match in London

England’s PFA picks van Persie as Player of the Year

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Because season-ending awards should never wait until the end of a season, the Professional Footballers’ Association announced theirs at a Sunday ceremony, naming Arsenal’s Robin van Persie their Player of the Year. He joins David Bergkamp and Ruud van Nistelrooy as fellow Netherlands internationals to have won the award, and he is the fourth Arsenal player to receive the honor (Thierry Henry, Bergkamp, Liam Brady).

We’ve known van Persie would win this award since December. With 10 assists complementing a league-leading 27 goals, the 28-year-old’s numbers are the best of his career. That he is also credited with keeping Arsenal’s heart beating after Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri bolted provides his peers with intangibles that support the statistical case.

Can because of that premature coronation, Wayne Rooney never had a chance to catch him. Where it’s difficult to argue Rooney isn’t the better all-around player – contributing at both ends of the park as well as being the main creative force in Manchester United’s attack – the case for van Persie always rested on the sure magnitude of goals scored. But as we sit here, with three match days left in the season, Wayne Rooney has 26 Premier League goals. Van Persie? 27.

His could be a situation where, with the distance of time, we look back and ask “Why did van Persie win that year?” Oh, yeah. Because we decided the award in December.

It’s hard to complain too much about a winner who, in the historical context of the award, is a deserving. With the Football Writers’ Association yet to given out their award, Rooney may yet claim an honor, though given that award went to Scott Parker last year, writers are even less likely to deviate from a narrative than the players were.

Young Player, Team of the Year

Was there are any point this year where you said “I’d take Kyle Walker over Sergio Agüero”? If you said yes, you’re either a member of the PFA or have looked the other way when Walker tries to trap passes from Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

The 21-year-old Tottenham right back was named PFA Young Player of the Year, beating out the likes or Agüero and United’s Danny Welbeck, City’s Joe Hart, and Spurs’ Gareth Bale.

Walker was also named to the PFA’s Team of the Year, as was van Persie:

Pos. Player Club
G Joe Hart Manchester City
LB Leighton Baines Everton
CB Vincent Kompany Manchester City
CB Fabricio Coloccini Newcastle United
RB Kyle Walker Tottenham Hotspur
M David Silva Manchester City
M Yaya Touré Manchester City
M Scott Parker Tottenham Hotspur
M Gareth Bale Tottenham Hotspur
F Robin van Persie Arsenal
F Wayne Rooney Manchester United

I suppose this is where I should pick the team apart, but since we’re talking about a body whose membership is unlikely to be sitting around dwelling any matches but their own, I’ll  offer up the names John Terry, Patrice Evra, Clint Dempsey, and Luka Modric as alternatives to some of the names listed above. Depending on how you feel about injury absences, Bacary Sagna could also be a given.

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk