Radamal Falcao and the specter of AS Monaco

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A week ago, the possible move of Colombian international Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco seemed farcical. Monaco, currently in France’s Ligue 2 (but due to be promoted), may have a Russian oligarch’s backing while allowing their players to enjoy the income tax-free lifestyle, but it was difficult to believe a player of Falcao’s caliber – somebody who would be coveted by most clubs in the world – would move to a team that’s just rejoining first division soccer. The only thing giving credence to this rumor was the “reportedly” €60 million price Monaco’s willing to pay, but with the exception of Samuel Eto’o (who moved to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala two years ago), nobody of Falcao’s caliber has taken themselves so far down the European pecking order.

Monaco does have a pedigree of sorts. They’ve won seven French titles, though their last came 13 years ago. They’ve won five French Cups, a League Cup, and perhaps most famously (outside of France), they’ve made two European titles: the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup, and the 2004 Champions League final.

It’s a stretch to think that history explains his deal. Owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions partially do, as does the fact that Monaco’s millionaire’s playground is in a France. Not Dagestan. Not the Middle East. Not China. Players can stay in Europe to collect their huge wages, which is why players like Joao Moutinho, James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez, and Victor Valdes are also being linked with the club.

But the real drive behind these moves may be something even more controversial than Monaco’s billions. Falcao is represented and partially-owned by Jorge Mendes, whose third-party ownership of the Atletico star gives the agent undo influence over the deal. He can essentially, broker a deal to sell Falcao’s rights to Monaco, a deal which, according to rumors, could see more Mendes players land spots with Monaco.

That third-party specter (and the control that comes with it) is going to sour a lot of fans on this move, but like it or not, third-party ownership is a prevalent part of the modern game, particularly with players from South America. Rather than bemoan an arrangement that deserves more than a one sentence missive, I, perhaps perversely, want to focus on a silver lining.

With the recent, huge amounts of cash being infused into European soccer, there’s a danger of all the world’s best players being consolidated onto a handful of teams. Chelsea and the Manchesters in England, the big two in Spain, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain can compete for any players they want. If a player’s willing to go East, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala come into play. Beyond that, Europe’s becoming a bit of a feeder system.

Like third-party ownership, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. What might change, however, is the number of players in the game. Just as Paris-Saint Germain has built quickly thanks to Qatari investment, Monaco can also help expand the ranks of Europe’s elite, stretching the top talent beyond the handful of teams to which they’re currently being funneled. Yes, that brings Super League discussion back into play, and news of this sort always brings fans only slightly older than myself coming out of their dens with dusty VHS cassettes, ready to show you soccer before it went corporate. At some point, however, we have to toss out the VCRs and accept it. The world changes.

For Monaco, Radamel Falcao would be a great start, and a star of his caliber could justify others’ decisions to go. It becomes much easier of a Moutinho or Valdes to take a chance on Monaco when they know a true, marquee start has already signed on, no matter the means by which he did so.

That, admittedly, is a very thin sliver lining. In a way, it’s a head in the sand approach, though with little to gain by continuing to harp on old tropes, it may be better to focus on whatever obscure positives you can grasp. In this case, that’s the building of a new contender, should Monaco actually pull of this Falcao coup.

Report: Mourinho to get bumper $89 million extension at Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho is in the third month of his second season in charge of Manchester United, and may join Antonio Conte as men to get a second contract early in his term.

Goal.com says Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in Mourinho will spur United chairman Ed Woodward into action.

Unlike Conte, who received improved terms and the same length at Chelsea, the report says Mourinho will get a new five-year deal.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

The report says Mourinho’s terms would be worth almost $89 million over the length of the deal, close to $18 million per season.

The 54-year-old has never spent more than four years at a club, his longest stay as an assistant as Barcelona. Last season, he won the Europa League and League Cup for United while finishing sixth in the Premier League.

This season, United is off to a second-place start, leading Spurs on goal differential following a first loss of the season Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

This is about money and security for Mourinho who, let’s face it, probably won’t stay at United for five seasons. It would go against his record, and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll buck his career trend and make it five years. The new deal would be a raise, keep him from PSG for now, and probably will do the trick.

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Report: Yaya Toure lined up by New York City FC

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There are few details, but a report tabbed as exclusive by The Manchester Evening News says a new midfield force could be headed to Major League Soccer.

Yaya Toure’s resurgent 2016-17 has not been followed by a busy 2017-18, at least not yet, as the report says Yaya is set to head to New York City FC following the departure of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Toure, who turns 35 in May, has regularly been on the subs bench for Pep Guardiola this season after signing a one-year contract. He’s played 29 minutes as a sub over the last two Premier League matches, and his lone start came in a League Cup win over West Brom, where he captained City.

Toure has 59 goals and 33 assists in 222 Premier League matches.

The Ivorian is not a pace monger, but neither were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and both were effective when healthy in MLS. Toure’s powerful presence in the midfield could be worth the wage packet and headache, but we’d pay a penny for Patrick Vieira’s thoughts.

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Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

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ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Bracket set ]

That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

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Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

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