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?

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.