Gareth Bale wins football writers award, little argument here

1 Comment

The Football Writers’ Association (FWA) has voted Tottenham midfielder Gareth Bale the 2013 Footballer of the Year. The Welshman inched out Manchester United’s Robin van Persie in the journalists poll.

With the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards already in tote, Bale’s status among the world’s elite was confirmed with the FWA coup. The Spurs man has enjoyed a dominant season on the pitch scoring 19 goals in the league (24 in all competitions), and, perhaps more importantly, guiding his club to a charge for a Champions League qualifying spot. The midfielder will be presented with the FWA award at a gala dinner at the Lancaster London Hotel on May 9th.

It’s the third time in four years that someone has won both the PFA and FWA awards in the same season. Wayne Rooney achieved the feat in the 2009-10 season while Van Persie did the double last year. The other major award, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, has yet to be announced. If Bale can manage to scoop that honor he’ll become only the second player, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, in the history of the Premier League to grab all three distinctions. The Portuguese winger set the standard after his sensational 2006-07 season when he racked up 23 goals and 20 assists in all competitions while guiding United to the Premier League title.

According to Oliver Kay of The Times, Bale won 53% of the FWA votes, nudging out last year’s recipient, Van Persie, by 10%. Van Persie has been electric this year, nabbing 25 goals in 35 league appearances (29 in all competitions) on his way to guiding Manchester United to the title. Perhaps even more astonishing is that the Dutchman’s influence has coincided with a seamless £24m move from North London to Manchester United.

Juan Mata was the third man on the list. The understated nature of the Chelsea puppet-master gave him little chance of winning the award but his influence for the Blues has been undeniable, orchestrating an incredible 26 assists in all competitions for his club while managing to notch 18 goals along the way.

Luis Suarez, Pablo Zabaleta, Santi Cazorla, Rickie Lambert and Christian Benteke all picked up votes. Suarez’ fall from grace through the Ivanovic bite incident has been well-documented and his reported receipt of only two votes for the FWA awards underscores how heavy discipline is factored into the voting.

There’s little doubt that Bale isn’t a deserved winner. While Van Persie’s season has been impressive the Dutchman hit a cold streak from the end of January through mid March where he scored only a single goal in 10 competitions. It was a minor blip but a blip nonetheless. Bale endured no such trial and tribulations.

Since converting from left-back to left wing a few seasons ago, Bale changed his position yet again this year, playing as an inverted winger. The move wasn’t one born of desire, rather necessity, as injuries and poor form left Tottenham without goal-scoring options up front. The move triggered top play from the Welshman, who scored bags of game winners and carried his squad to a Top 4 challenge.

Bale’s influence is perhaps best described by chairman of the FWA Andy Dunn, chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror, who said: “In a contest for votes that took so many late twists and turns, Gareth’s penchant for the spectacular captured the imagination. . . . He is a player who is rising inexorably towards the rarefied levels of world stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Twice the PFA Player of the Year and now, two months before his 24th birthday, the FWA Footballer of the Year. . . . Let’s all hope he lights up the Barclays Premier League for many seasons to come.”

Which begs the question of outmost importance for Spurs fans – can they keep hold of their boy wonder?

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.