Expect to hear more about Gareth Bale and Real Madrid


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.

Reports: Jack Grealish banished to U-21’s after heavy partying

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Jack Grealish of Aston Villa looks around the Etihad Stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish has found himself in hot water with the club’s new manager, and it has him on the outside looking in.

According to reports from England, Grealish has been sent to train with the U-21’s after partying back-to-back nights following a 4-0 pummeling at Everton. Recent comments from Villa manager Remi Garde on Grealish’s on-field performances seem to suggest this has been coming for a while, and the partying was simply the last straw.

Garde called him an “unfinished player” in his press conference prior to the Everton match, saying, “Jack for me is a very gifted player with a lot of skill and quality but what I saw in the last few games he played was not the level he should have played. It is as simple as that. He needed more confidence and more structure in his game.”

Following the Everton defeat, which saw Grealish start and play 74 minutes before being removed, Grealish was pictured partying in Manchester, where he was seen inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons with his friends, the same act that got youngsters Raheem Sterling and Saido Berahino in trouble with their clubs in the past year.

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene last season registering some solid minutes down the stretch as Villa maintained its Premier League status. However, this season has been a rough go for Grealish, who has appeared in eight matches (nine starts) for Villa this season, all losses, and has scored just one goal. The five points earned by Aston Vill this season have all come in matches without Grealish making an appearance.

FC Twente president steps down amid investigation of transfer deals

ENSCHEDE, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 8: General view of the FC Twente Stadion, home of FC Twente taken during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Twente and Levante UD held on November 8, 2012 at the FC Twente Stadion in Enschede, Netherlands. (Photo by Anoek de Groot/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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Aldo Van der Laan, the President of Dutch club FC Twente, has stepped down after allegations of shady transfer dealings have surfaced.

This week, a website posted a contract dated 2014 between Van der Laan and Malta-based Doyen Sports Investments that saw a payment of $5.3 million from the company to the club in exchange for between 10 and 50 percent of the transfer rights to seven Twente players.

In a statement on its official website, the club said “Van der Laan has stated that the club is always of paramount importance to him, and that is now in jeopardy. Continuing doubt about him harms FC Twente.” The statement went on to say the Dutch federation (KNVB) is investigating, and that the club will cooperate.

FIFA outlawed third-party ownership of players to keep outside forces from influencing transfer deals. The alleged contract posted is dated before the FIFA ruling went into effect, but the KNVB has outlawed third-party ownership for a while.

According to Dutch reports, five of the seven players listed on the contract have already been sold, including current Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic. The contract states that the two remaining players, Shadrach Eghan (with the first team) and Kyle Ebecilio (on loan at Championship club Nottingham Forest) must be sold by the end of the season, or the club must pay a $1.48 million fine to Doyen.

Those same reports also suggest Twente is likely to see some form of sanction, with some serious possibilities including relegation, a large points deduction, or a transfer ban as long as two years.

UEFA orders Dynamo Kiev to close stadium doors for racist incidents

KIEV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 19:  FC Dynamo Kyiv supporters during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and KRC Genk held on September 19, 2013 at the Olympic Stadium, in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Genya Savilov/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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UEFA handed down a two-match closed door ban to Dynamo Kiev after racist incidents during a Champions League match against Chelsea, with a third match suspended for three probationary years.

Anti-discrimation body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) brought footage to UEFA of four black fans who appeared to be harassed in the stands at the match on October 20. UEFA charged Dynamo for racist behavior, crowd disturbances, and blocked stairways.

Dynamo was also fined €100,000 for the incidents.

As a result, Dynamo will play in an empty stadium on December 9 in a group stage match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and their second match will either be in the Champions League Round of 16, or in the Europa League Round of 32 should they finish third in their group, which seems more likely.

Last season, Dynamo was punished by UEFA for racist behavior at Europa League matches, ordered to close part of their stadium on two separate occasions.

Roma goalkeeper Szczesny calls rout to Barcelona “beautiful”

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Radja Nainggolan of AS Roma during the Joan Gamper trophy match at Camp Nou on August 5, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Roma was trounced by Barcelona 6-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday, and while the Italians will have to pick up the pieces and continue the battle for second place in Group E, one player is still peeking back at the destruction.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, on loan from Arsenal, played the full 90 minutes  on the losing side and while he has struggled to cope with the massive defeat, he also appreciates what he saw – what all of us saw.

“It was beautiful to watch because we played against a team from another planet,” Szczesny told BT Sport after the game. “I was in goal playing for Roma but I appreciated what I saw from Barcelona. They were ridiculously good. As hard as it is to lose 6-1 it was beautiful to watch.”

Under normal circumstances, this would not be an appropriate reaction for the losing team to have. These are not normal circumstances. This Barcelona team is anything but normal. In fact, it might be one of the most dominant teams we have seen in recent memory.

[ RELATED: How can Chelsea qualify for knockout stage? ]

Szczesny wasn’t the only Roma player to feel Barcelona’s wrath. Defender Maicon told BT Sport, “We were lucky to lose only 6-1 actually.”

Even without an injured Lionel Messi, Barcelona has torn up La Liga and the world. They suffered a 2-1 loss to Sevilla in Messi’s first game out, but went on to win their next five league games by a combined 17-3 score. Neymar scored eight of those 17, while Luis Suarez scored another eight himself. Tack on a pair of Champions League wins without Messi by a 5-0 combined score (both against BATE Borisov) and it’s been total domination.

Now with Messi back, it’s completely unfair. The Argentinian bagged a brace against Roma along with Suarez, while Neymar remained a force out on the left.