Nicolas Anelka excused from West Brom on “compassionate grounds”

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Controversy today at West Bromwich Albion where initial reports from Sky Sports News indicated that striker Nicolas Anelka had walked out on the club and announced he will retire with immediate effect.

The Tweet from @skysportsnews said: “West Brom’s Nicolas Anelka walks out of training and tells staff he is retiring #SSN.”

We can now confirm that this tweets was factually inaccurate and that @skysportsnews has since re-phrased their classification of the situation: “West Brom have confirmed Nicolas Anelka will miss Saturday’s game with Everton amid reports he may retire.”

West Brom have also quashed the initial Sky tweet by announcing the striker will merely miss Saturday’s game at Everton: “West Bromwich Albion can confirm that Nicolas Anelka will not be involved in Saturday’s game at Everton. The club have excused the striker from club duty on compassionate grounds.”

An article from Birmingham Mail reporter Chris Lepkowski sheds the best (albeit limited) light on what went down in the Midlands earlier today.

Apparently, Anelka raised major doubts over his Albion future after walking out before training on Thursday morning. The 34 year old striker cleared out his belongings before speaking to sporting and technical director Richard Garlick. The walk out, however, was not due to any sort of bust up between Anelka and Baggies management.

Through Mr. Lepkowski’s Twitter handle (@chrislepkowski) he now claims that one of Anelka’s agents has passed away. The death has caused Anelka “great distress” and was the reason for his rather abrupt departure from the ground.

At this point in time, there is nothing to suggest that this tragedy somehow corresponds with Anelka retiring.

Here’s what we do know about Anelka, his recent situation at West Brom and prior comments the Frenchman has made regarding life after football.

Anelka signs with West Brom

The 34 year old signed with West Brom on July 4th after agreeing to return to the Premier League on a one year deal that included an option for a further year in the club’s favor.

Anelka arrived at The Hawthorns a free agent after leaving Italian champions Juventus at the end of last season where he completed a five month contract with the Bianconeri.

Upon signing with West Brom, the French international was welcomed with open arms by Baggies boss, Steve Clarke, who called Anelka “a great boost for everyone at the club.”

Steve Clarke calls Anelka an “engaging character” and a “favorite”

A week ago, Clarke spoke at length of how he expected Anelka to shed his “Le Sulk” tag.

“There is no downside with Nicolas,” said Clarke. “I find him a very engaging character and good person. He has been great in the group here. He has come in here and is already a favorite. He is a good person.

“He wanted to come back to England to play. He felt he still had enough left in his body to produce in the Premier League and has still got the hunger to score in the Premier League.”

When questioned about Anelka’s hunger and desire, to continue playing professional football as a 34 year old, Clarke was adamant. “He is up for it. If he wasn’t up for it, he would have chosen to go somewhere else for an easier life and still pick up decent money. Everyone keeps knocking on about his age, but he is the fittest 34-year-old I have seen. He is a fabulous athlete.”

The Baggies boss started Anelka alongside striker Shane Long in West Brom’s 1-0 loss to Southampton last weekend. The match didn’t turn out according to plan for Anelka, who endured a frustrating debut and was substituted seven minutes from time.

Anelka’s aspirations to become an actor following retirement

Anelka has previously mentioned his desire to become an actor following his retirement from football. In 2002 he played to role of a football named Nicolas in the film Le Boulet.

Following that role, Anelka discussed his ambition to work in the film industry. “I have a friend who’s a producer, who makes lots of films,” Anelka said. “He recently did Astérix. So it’s already agreed that I’m going to do other films. It helps to know actors and producers. It’s different to football and it’s something I enjoy very much because there’s no ball. I like pretending to be somebody else, it’s fun.”

Anelka’s footballing career has been an interesting one, to say the least. Before West Brom the Frenchman played with Juventus for five months after spending one year at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua where he reportedly earned an annual salary of $16 million (€12m).

Before his stint in Asia, Anelka spent time with five other Premier League clubs, Arsenal (1997-99), Liverpool (2001-02, loan), Manchester City (2002-05), Bolton Wanderers (2006-08) and Chelsea (2008-12). During his 17 year career Anelka also featured for powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain (1996-97), Real Madrid (1999-00) and Fenerbahce (2005-06).

We will continue to update this story as reports continue to come through.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday