Expect to hear more about Gareth Bale and Real Madrid

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In something that’s becoming a more regular occurrence, Gareth Bale put himself front-and-center on Thursday, scoring twice in his team’s Europe League Round of 32 match, giving Spurs at 2-1 lead on Olympique Lyonnais. While that result amounted to little more than holding serve at home, few people cared about Spurs’ state after seeing Bale’s display. With two direct kick goals overshadowing a seemingly trademark point blank miss, the 23-year-old Welsh winger has started to transcend discussion of where he sits among England’s stars. With comparisons to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo flooding Friday’s papers in England, Bale is starting to carve out a place in the wider, global conversation.

Highlights of the game (courtesy of FOX Soccer) are below, with Bale’s first half goal creating a lot of buzz. From over 30 yards out, Bale hits a knuckler at Remy Vercoutre, a shot that dives down and to the keeper’s right as it reaches its apex. At first blush, the ball doesn’t seem to be struck that hard, floating toward goal in a way that makes you wonder how anybody could score from that far out against a top-level goalkeeper. But from the side angle, you can see Vercoutre freeze, his weight shifted to far onto his left foot as his dive comes up well short.

A winger with that dead ball skill is going to be compared to Ronaldo, but after today’s reports from Madrid-based outlet Marca, those comparisons may become more common. Notoriously cozy with Real Madrid, Marca is reporting Bale could be part of “a new project” Real will undertake this summer. That project will likely be refactoring the squad after a disappointing league season, with head coach José Mourinho probably gone.

For the most part, Marca’s report amounts to thin speculation, but there’s one tidbit that makes you think Bale’s future may really lie at the Santiago Bernabeu:

As revealed by MARCA on 28th December, Real Madrid will have preference over clubs looking to snap up Bale, after an agreement between the two clubs when Real signed Luka Modric in the summer.

If true, what this amounts to is a right of first refusal. If Real Madrid’s willing to match another club’s accepted bid, they can have Bale. And that’s if Real don’t make a offer of their own. Clubs like Anzhi Makhachkala or Paris Saint-Germain could conceivably proffer a fee Real Madrid’s unwilling to match, but this arrangement gives Real a huge advantage.

But the veracity of this news isn’t the scenario’s only if:

If Spurs Chairman David Levy accepts Bale’s request to leave the London club at the end of the season, ‘Los Blancos’ will have first choice, heading a long list of admirers of the player.

So let’s walk through the ifs, both implicit and explicit:

    • If Gareth Bale wants to move, which may be linked to,
    • If Tottenham fails to qualify for next year’s Champions League, and
    • If Real Madrid are (a) interested,
    • (b) willing to meet an acceptably high fee,
    • (c) can convince Gareth Bale to sign, and
    • aren’t outbid, …

… then Florentino Perez will have his 10th Galactico.

As improbable as it seems that all those factors will lineup, that’s the nature of transfers at that level of the game. Some happen. Most don’t. Because of the relationship between Tottenham and Real Madrid, this scenario seems more likely than most, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually likely.

For discussion’s sake, let’s fast forward six months and imagine what Real Madrid would look like with Bale in the squad. Although he’s capable of playing other places, Bale is a left wing, the same position Critiano Ronaldo plays with Real. One of them could go to the right side, they could spend some time in the middle, but ultimately there’s going to have to be some compromise. And that compromise, one which entails having spend time in a non-preferred position, might lead to a drop off in production.

The hypothetical move may also push another quality player, Angel Di Maria, out of the team, though Marca seemed to focus on Bale as a potential through-the-middle solution, talking about Bale’s ability to play centrally and comparing his goal rate to those of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín. That positioning seems unlike. Tottenham manger briefly tried Bale in the middle of a 4-3-3 and ultimately decided to keep him left. As long as Real Madrid stays 4-3-3, Bale won’t be a good fit in the middle. But no matter who he’d replace – Di Maria or the Benzema/Higuaín duo – Bale would represent a very expensive means of marginal improvement.

Still, that’s the reality of acquiring players like Bale. The only teams that can afford him already have great players. In order to improve on them, you have to make some seemingly inefficient purchases. That’s often the only way the world’s haves and keep up with their peers. Barcelona, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich aren’t going to stop buying players just because the talent difference between Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gomez/Mario Mandzukic isn’t worth the $50-plus million Bayern’s likely to pay for the Polish international. They’re willing to be inefficient to be more competitive.

For some, this is the maddening world into which international soccer’s devolved. For others, it’s the inevitability of any competitive pursuit that operates at the extremes.

Regardless, at its core, this business involves players who can do things like this. Here are the highlights from Thursday’s game, where Bale and Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti engaged in a little game of golazo one-upmanship.

Twitter reacts to Wayne Rooney’s England retirement

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Wayne Rooney has retired from international duty and tributes have been pouring in for England’s all-time leading goalscorer.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney, 31, made the announcement on Wednesday and he ends his England career with 53 goals in 119 games, having appeared in six major tournaments for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England

Below is a look at some of the best reaction from players, clubs, pundits and celebrities to Rooney’s decision to call it quits.


VIDEO: Watch Wayne Rooney’s top five England goals

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Can we decide on Wayne Rooney‘s top five goals for the English national team?

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England ]

After the England captain stepped down from international duty on Wednesday, aged 31, now seems like a good time to look back at his best strikes for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rooney’s retirement ]

My word, there are a lot to choose from as England’s all-time leading goalscorer struck 53 times in 119 appearances for his country.

Click play on the video above to see Rooney’s top five goals in an England jersey, according to the FA.

England’s Wayne Rooney retires from international action

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The highest goalscorer and most capped outfield player in England’s history has called an end to his Three Lions career.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Wayne Rooney, 31, has retired from international action and England’s captain released a statement on Wednesday, less than 10 months before the 2018 World Cup which he had previously stated would be his last tournament for England.

Rooney scored 53 goals in 119 appearances for England and scored six goals across six major tournaments, but never got past the quarterfinal stage in a major competition and hadn’t played for his national team since November 2016.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rooney’s retirement

England boss Gareth Southgate had left Rooney out of his previous two squads but the former Manchester United striker rejoined Everton this summer and started his Toffees career off by scoring in each of the opening Premier League games of the 2017-18 season.

That led Southgate to offer Rooney a way back into the national team but the striker has revealed he met with the Three Lions boss and told him about his decision to retire.

On Monday Rooney scored for Everton against Manchester City and became just the second player in history to score 200 goals in the Premier League.

Despite his recent good form and rejuvenation, Rooney has stepped aside and will now focus solely on his club play for the twilight of his career.

Below is the statement from Rooney, via the Press Association.

“It was great that Gareth Southgate called me this week to tell me he wanted me back in the England squad for the upcoming matches. I really appreciated that. However, having already thought long and hard, I told Gareth that I had now decided to retire for good from international football. It is a really tough decision and one I have discussed with my family, my manager at Everton and those closest to me.

“Playing for England has always been special to me. Every time I was selected as a player or captain was a real privilege and I thank everyone who helped me. But I believe now is the time to bow out.

“Leaving Manchester United was a tough call but I know I made the right decision in coming home to Everton. Now I want to focus all my energies on helping them be successful.

“I will always remain a passionate England fan. One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side. Hopefully the exciting players Gareth is bringing through can take that ambition further and I hope everyone will get behind the team. One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan – or in any capacity.”

Report: Chelsea line up Tuchel to replace Conte

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Reports in Germany claim Chelsea have met with Thomas Tuchel about replacing Antonio Conte as their manager.

[ MORE: 5 new stars in the PL ]

With relations said to be strained between Conte and Chelsea’s board following a summer of unrest regarding a lack of transfers, the Diego Costa situation and more for the reigning Premier League champions, losing to Arsenal in the Community Shield and then their Premier League opening to Burnley was far from an ideal start.

Still, Conte led Chelsea to the PL title last season, his first in England, with a record 30 wins from 38 games. How is he the bookies favorite to be the next PL manager to leave his job?

Tuchel, 43, has been out of work since leaving Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season and Sport Bild is reporting that Chelsea’s director Marina Granovskaia has approached Tuchel about replacing Conte, while it is also stated that former Barca boss Luis Enrique is a contender.

Could Tuchel succeed at Chelsea and in the Premier League? Of course he could.

At Borussia Dortmund he developed one of the finest attacking teams in Europe with talented youngsters playing in a fluid system. Tuchel didn’t leave Dortmund on good terms and although he was linked with plenty of vacant jobs across Europe, including the Arsenal job if Arsene Wenger stepped down, he remains without a club.

Tuchel is a very good coach but what Conte has done at Chelsea over the past 12 months is a borderline miracle.

The situation regarding Conte and Chelsea does appear to have been blown out of proportion, particularly with the Nemanja Matic situation as Conte was reportedly unwilling to lose his Serbian midfielder but the deal was sanctioned by those above him. Given the fact that Conte signed a new contract this summer but only for improved terms and not for an extended period of time past 2019 also raised alarm bells.

Chelsea fans have, understandably, not reacted too kindly to reports that a successor is being lined up for Conte. The Italian coach is adored by the Blues faithful after leading a rapid rebuild of their squad in his famed 3-4-3 formation last season. His passion on the sidelines is now a hallmark of Chelsea matchdays and if he does leave anytime soon due to issues behind-the-scenes, expect a mutiny from the fans.

Yes, managers have come and gone and frequently and success has remained under Roman Abramovich but hooking Conte may even be a step too far for the notoriously expectant owner.