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Gareth Bale wins football writers award, little argument here

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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?

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.

Mourinho on Europa League Russia trip: “A bad draw in every way”

HULL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United reacts during the EFL Cup Semi-Final second leg match between Hull City and Manchester United at KCOM Stadium on January 26, 2017 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is angry.

The Manchester United manager singled out a trip to Russia before the draw as being something he hoped to avoid, and that’s exactly what he got.

“If you give me something like Krasnodar, or some very far destination, I would prefer Lyon – two-hour flight – I would prefer something close,” Mourinho said before the draw on Friday morning.

Sure enough, the Red Devils were drawn not against Krasnodar, but slight farther to fellow Russian side FC Rostov in the Europa League Round of 16, with United set to make the flight to southwestern Russia for a match on March 9th, and then will host Rostov for the second leg on March 16th.

“It is a bad draw in every aspect,” Mourinho said in his post-draw press conference. “It is far and difficult -and comes in a bad period.” That period Mourinho refers to sees the Rostov matches sandwich an FA Cup tie against Chelsea, and precedes an away trip to Middlesbrough in the Premier League before a pair of home matches against West Brom and Everton.

“They beat Ajax and Anderlecht in qualifiers, managed important results against Bayern and Atletico, got third position to knock PSV out,” Mourinho said of Rostov. “The team is very defensive and physical. A bad draw.”

Manchester United’s next match is on Sunday in the EFL Cup final against Southampton. They take host Bournemouth in the Premier League on March 4th, then have the away leg at Rostov five days later, followed by a four-day break until the Chelsea FA Cup match.

Report: Everton had bid rejected for Wayne Rooney in January

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United applauds supporters during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on February 1, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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According to the Daily Mail, Everton submitted a bid for Wayne Rooney in January, which was rejected by Manchester United.

The report did not state an amount of the bid, but it did confirm that the club is now in discussions about returning for their former player in the summer.

Rooney came through the Everton youth system and played for the Merseyside club’s first team from 2002-2004 before his famous move to Manchester United for $37 million. Rooney has seen very limited time this season under Jose Mourinho, and at 31 years old, has looked to have lost the ability to keep up with the standards of the Premier League.

The Liverpool native was the subject of heavy speculation in recent weeks of a move to China, with the Chinese transfer window open until the end of February, but Rooney released a statement to confirm he will stay with Manchester United until the end of the season.

Key to these rumors are Everton manager Ronald Koeman‘s comments from Thursday, when he affirmed his respect for Rooney, claiming the former Toffee can still play at a Premier League standard. “Yeah I think Wayne Rooney is still on that high level to compete in a competition like the Premier League.”

Despite all this, it seems a deal for Rooney is unlikely. Everton is not known as a heavy-spending club, and they would likely need to compete with the money of the Chinese league on both the transfer fee and wage front. Rooney would be worth a heavy investment for a Chinese club due to his big name, while his performances on field would be less important there. In contrast, Everton’s justification for a bid would focus more on his ability to perform consistently on the field, an area of clear decline.

Santi Cazorla details his newest injury setback

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - AUGUST 07: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Arsenal and Manchester City at Ullevi on August 7, 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played since mid-October, and with just 619 minutes of first-team football in the last calendar year, the Spaniard has become more than a liability.

He’s also become increasingly frustrated.

After having ankle surgery in October, Cazorla has faced a multitude of challenges on the sidelines, with his body unwilling to cooperate. He went back under the knife in December, and has returned to the hospital again for yet another procedure, one that refuses to go away as he looks to keep himself as match fit as possible during his time on the sidelines.

Speaking to Spanish radio station Onda Cero, Cazorla gave them all the details – even the cringe-worthy ones – on his ankle problems.

“It was a small operation they just had to close a wound that had opened, so they reopened it and closed it again,” Cazorla said. “It wasn’t anything serious, but that’s why I’m in the hospital. They did a graft about a month and a half ago because the skin on my ankle was practically dead and had developed a wound that wouldn’t close, so they operated in Sweden. It was starting to feel better until I started to do a bit of cycling and other exercise and then the skin broke, opened and the stitches came out so they had to close the wound again. I’ve been injured about a year and a half now since the knee [problem] in November last season and now this year with the ankle injury.

And that’s not all. Aside from his ankle injury, Cazorla’s back has begun to flare up again, a problem he dealt with 2 months ago.

“It’s given me a lot of time to think, especially about the World Cup and how bad my back felt then,” Cazorla said. “My back is even worse now. Back then I was out for about six months and now it has been a year and I’m still not better. But that’s life. You gotta deal with it as best you can. I can’t do much, can’t walk, I have to use crutches and it’s frustrating day after day. But I don’t have any other option, just to deal with it as best I can and get better.”

With Cazorla at 32 years old and his contract set to expire this June, this most recent setback couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Gunners are known to be wary of giving contracts to players over 30 years old, even their most influential ones, and he will be desperate to prove his worth to Arsene Wenger ahead of the club’s decision. It has been reported that the club already activated its option for another year on Cazorla’s contract, but the team has not officially confirmed that.

Cazorla’s Arsenal future could be especially in doubt if Wenger were to leave this summer. A new incoming manager might not be so sentimental about Cazorla’s club status.