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.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.