Is Michael Laudrup engineering a move to Real Madrid?

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Last year, despite our respective affiliations, many Premier League fans started to fall in love with Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup. At least a little bit.

How could you not?

The Dane came to South Wales last June and within eight months –

  • Added a sprinkling of low-cost, high-value transfers (Michu (£2m), Jonathan De Guzman (loan), Chico Flores (£2m), Ki Sung-Yeung (£6m), Pablo Hernandez (£5.5m))
  • Sold want-away players who were getting too big for their britches for incredible value (Joe Allen (£15m), Scott Sinclair (£8m))
  • Was smashing teams by the first week of the season (5-0 over QPR in Matchweek 1 and 3-0 over West Ham in Matchweek 2), and
  • Was hoisting the League Cup (and claiming the first spot in the Europa League) by late February.

All that was accomplished, of course, by taking the entertaining style of play imposed by past managers (Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers) and make it straight up intoxicating. In footballing parlance, it was what we call a master-stroke.

But with the good comes the bad and for Swansea supporters, the ‘bad’ set in shortly after the 5-0 thrashing of Bradford City when rumors began to fly of the interest that high-profile clubs had in Laudrup. The rumors weren’t unexpected. Most everyone could see that the man who starred as a player for European giants Juventus, Lazio, Barcelona and Real Madrid, would someday be doing the same as a manager. It was only a matter of time.

To his credit, Laudrup pledged his short term desire to stay at Swansea with the caveat that, within a season or two, he would be moving to a bigger club. Fair play.

But the rumors kept coming. Speculation grew. And within the last two weeks, Laudrup has begun to voice his concern over the amount of money that Swansea owner, Huw Jenkins, is willing to pony up for transfers.

Things took a turn for the worse yesterday when Jenkins and the rest of the Swansea board cut ties with Laudrup’s agent, Bayram Tutumlu, who was allegedly trying to dictate the club’s transfer policy. Tutumlu said

[Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins] wants to bring in players who do not have the quality for Michael Laudrup. . . . Huw Jenkins has paid me nothing, but I have spent a lot to try to bring players to Swansea.

In an attempt the quell the situation, Laudrup made the following statements

Bayram is my agent and that’s not going to change. If the club do not want to work with him or Bayram does not want to work with them, it’s their problem not mine. . . . The only thing I care about is to have the best players possible at Swansea who are within range of the economy of the club.

Again I must say that my intention is to stay – I have repeated it so many times in the last three months.

The only thing I am interested in is having the best players at Swansea within the budget that is possible. . . . That’s what I have been fighting for every day, last year when I arrived and this year as well. That will always be the most important thing for me wherever I end up in the future.

Ugly stuff, no doubt. But is it enough to end Laudrup’s tenure at the Liberty? Probably not, although Tutumlu seems completely hell-bent on making it happen.

There’s also the possibility, however, that this is all part of Laudrup’s exit plan to free himself for that aforementioned big-time managerial move. But to where?

I heard there may be a vacancy in Madrid.

But, if that doesn’t work, Paris could be quite nice as well.

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.