Parma FC v AC Milan - Serie A

Please tell me this Stephan El Shaarawy transfer noise isn’t real

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I have this weird impression Milan’s a big club. Maybe that’s me being old, but throughout my lifetime, the Rossoneri have been one of Europe’s marquee clubs. Although financial considerations have tempered that reputation over the last few years, I’d have a difficult time naming 10 clubs in world soccer I thought players would like to play for before AC Milan.

But when you hear things like these Stephan El Shaarawy rumors, you wonder: Would a truly big, elite, near-the-top-of-the-pecking club even consider selling a 20-year-old who, after scoring 16 goals while seeing his first regular time in Serie A, earned a trip to Brazil with the Italian national team this summer? Barring some huge, unprecedented bid that would have the buying team assuming too much of the risk for a young player’s development, there’s no way players like El Shaarawy should move from club like Milan.

Yet here we are, with persistent rumors linking the young half-Egyptian attacker with a life beyond the San Siro. The whispers started in earnest last week and have persisted, with the most reported scenario having Manchester City make up part of Milan’s $53 million (€40 million) evaluation with Carlos Tévez. The Argentine’s inclusion would reportedly drop El Shaarawy’s price to $33 million.

That this rumor didn’t perish in a death of smoldering absurdity breaks my heart, because with the Rossonerin recent years having taken on the pricey likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho while being convinced to part with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, there seems to be some deranged string on which this reality might exist. Yet even in that world, there are reasons Milan should either hold on to their man or jack up the price:

  • El Shaarawy is on very low wages. He made just over $1 million last season. If Milan sell him, a big chunk of their intake will go straight into the wages needed to acquire an equivalent replacement.
  • And that replacement isn’t going to be a 20-year-old you know can perform for your coach, with your players, at your club. There’s a reason we’re even having this conversation, and it’s because those players a rare. Really, really, rare.
  • Players who are slightly more common: The Carlos Tévezes of the world. He’s a great player, but he’s also older and overpriced. He’ll make around $13.5 million this season. The difference in wages means, after three seasons, you’ve funneled the transfer fee into Tévez’s pocket. All your left with is the older and, by that time, likely inferior player.

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with the astronomical fees players garner in the transfer market, but this scenario highlights how it works. Young players who are cheap, under contract, and highly productive save you a ton of money over the alternatives. You start with that difference and make some educated guesses as to their contributions to other goals (titles, league placements, European spots) and revenue streams (merchandise, ticket sales). Add in some market factors (scarcity, is he in the last year of his deal) and you get some high figures.

For El Shaarawy — a 20-year-old who’s giving peak-level output — the evaluation’s incredible high. It’s probably higher than the $53 million we’ve seen quoted. It’s definitely more than $33 million plus and overpriced Tevez.

The only teams that justify this kind of deal are teams that either (a) don’t have alternatives, or (b) have the type of real world cash considerations that force you to value the money above your club’s prestige. It’s not the move of one of an actor that’s trying to stay among the world’s marquee clubs.

VIDEO: Man United’s Marcus Rashford scores 3 minutes into his England debut

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 26:  Marcus Rashford of England arrives at the team hotel on the eve of their international friendly against Australia at the Hilton Gateshead on May 26, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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12 months ago Nine months ago Six months ago Three months ago, if anyone asked you, “who is Marcus Rashford?” you, just like me, probably would have responded as such: “I haven’t a clue. Should I know who he is?”

[ MORE: Man United confirm Mourinho as new manager ]

Stars are, of course, born overnight in the sports world, and the 18-year-old Manchester United striker, who spent 12 years with the club’s youth academy, is just the latest example. On Feb. 25, he made his first-team debut and scored twice in the Europa League. Three days later, he made his Premier League debut, again scoring twice.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “I prefer to forget the last three years at United” ]

Fast forward to Friday, and Rashford is a fully-fledged England international. In keeping up with the theme of his other debuts this season, he marked his international debut with a goal against Australia after just three minutes of play at the Stadium of Light.

It remains to be seen whether Rashford completes his hat trick of debut braces this year. We’ll update this post if he does so.

Croatia gets 2-match World Cup stadium ban for fascist chant

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Croatian fans light up flares during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C between Ireland and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Poznan, Poland.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) Croatia has been ordered to play two World Cup qualifying matches in empty stadiums for repeated cases of fans chanting fascist slogans.

FIFA fined the Croatian soccer federation 150,000 Swiss francs ($151,000), and ordered the stadium bans to take effect when Croatia hosts Turkey on Sept. 5 and Finland on Oct. 9.

Chile was also ordered to play one World Cup qualifier away from its national stadium over fans chanting anti-gay insults, FIFA said in disciplinary rulings announced Friday. FIFA also fined five Latin American soccer federations for “discriminatory and unsporting conduct by fans,” including anti-gay insults, at World Cup qualifiers.

[ MORE: USMNT-Bolivia preview | Castillo replaces Chandler ]

Croatia fans were guilty of discriminatory chants at friendlies against Israel and Hungary in March, FIFA said.

Croatia “had already been sanctioned for similar incidents by FIFA and UEFA” in previous seasons, the world soccer body said.

Before the 2014 World Cup, FIFA banned Croatia defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches for leading fans in a World War II-era chant used by the country’s then-puppet regime.

After incidents of anti-gay chants at the last World Cup in Brazil, FIFA has cracked down on insults aimed by Latin American fans at players on rival teams.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Chile cannot use its national stadium when it hosts Bolivia on Sept. 6 and must pay a fine of 30,000 Swiss francs ($30,250). A second stadium-ban sanction was deferred for a two-year probationary period.

In other sanctions for soccer federations, FIFA fined Honduras 40,000 Swiss francs ($40,300), Mexico and El Salvador 35,000 Swiss francs ($35,275) each, Paraguay 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150), and Peru 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,115).

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.