Danny Califf announces his retirement from professional soccer

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Throughout his career, you could always count on defender Danny Califf for an honest assessment, not an easy task given some of the teams the former U.S. international played for after his return to Major League Soccer. Even at the end of his 14-year career, Califf was transparent, saying changing priorities combined with a lack of playing team led him to announce his retirement.

The former Toronto FC defender, now TFC scout, is walking away with immediate effect, the announcement made Friday on the club’s website:

The reason for my retirement is because when yo are 33 years old and have played 14 years at a professional level, you start to have priorities that reach beyond yourself. Do I really want to train every day knowing that I am not in the coach’s plan to play, as well as knowing you are taking your kids and family way from their friends and family? The answer is no.

Califf’s diminished role in head coach Ryan Nelsen’s team was also cited by president/general manager Kevin Payne while commenting on Califf’s decision:

“I’m sorry Danny is unable to carry on playing at the level he would like, and totally respect his decision to retire.  He’s been a very good player and should be proud of what he’s accomplished,” said Toronto FC President and General Manager Kevin Payne. “I’m very pleased that he will continue to be a part of our organization and assist us in building our team for the future.”

Califf had only played 27 games in the last year-and-a-half, and as he said in his retirement letter, he was not part a significant part of TFC’s plans for the rest of the season. After a career that started with the Galaxy and featured stops in San Jose, Denmark, Philadelphia, Chivas USA, and Toronto, Califf had reached the end of a road that featured 211 MLS appearances, an MLS Cup, a U.S. Open Cup, two Supporters’ Shield and a Danish Superliga championship.

For the U.S., Califf made 23 appearances between 2002 and 2009, scoring once while taking part in two CONCACAF Gold Cup winners.

Despite those accomplishments, my most-vivid memory of Danny Califf came last year, the veteran having recently been traded to Chivas USA. In what may have been the lowest point of the Robin Fraser era, the Goats were routed by the Galaxy, 4-0, in mid-August. Amid a squad of players bolting the locker room early or otherwise avoiding questions about their performance, Dan Kennedy and Califf stepped up and, constraining a level of frustration that was about to erupt, answered every question the media had, even though you couldn’t help but think everybody would rather get out of there as soon as possible.

Kennedy was a long-serving member of Chivas USA and an established leader. Standing in the middle of the room, answering all those questions had become part of his role. Califf, however, was new to the team. He could have skipped out without anybody thinking worse of him. But he stayed. He didn’t deflect any questions or downplay the obvious.

It can be a little bit annoying when members of the press use interviews or media appearances as an example of a player’s personal qualities, but hearing from others who covered Califf regularly, that’s exactly the kind of player he was. Even as his teams got worse and his career faded, he was always forthcoming about it.

On Friday, he made a last, honest assessment about his career. And now, he can move on. His words:

For the first time in my life I will get to eat what I want, have a beer on a Friday night, and take a vacation in the summer. Those are the things I am looking forward to.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.