File photo of Tottenham Hotspur's Bale reacting after winning their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent

World Records: Tracking the evolution of soccer’s transfer mark

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Gareth Bale’s $132 million move to Real Madrid makes the former Tottenham Hotspur the world’s most expensive purchase, marking the fifth time in a row the Spanish titans have raised that bar. From Figo to Zidane, Kaka to Ronaldo, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez seems to be competing with himself to make sure his record keeps climbing, with 13 years having passed since another club held the mark.

Here’s the evolution of the world transfer record over the last 20 years – 10 transfers that have led to Bale’s new mark:

Note: Because of how the deals were reported and how the record is tracked, we’ve kept the values in British pounds.

Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United, £15 million (1996)

In four years at Blackburn, Shearer averaged 28 league goals per season, leading Rovers to a Premier League title in 1994-95. At the end of the 1995-96 season, Kevin Keegan and Newcastle United surprisingly won a bidding war against Manchester United, luring the then 26-year-old to Newcastle. Though he’d score 25 goals in his debut season, the English international would only average 14.8 goals per season during his decade at with the Toon.

Ronaldo, Barcelona to Internazionale, £19.5 million (1997)

The Brazilian superstar never settled at Barcelona, and after one year in Catalonia, Inter Milan came in and paid his buyout. In his first year in Italy, Ronaldo scored 25 league goals, but injuries prevented him from playing another full season with the Nerazzurri. Over the next four years, Ronaldo would score 24 league goals in 35 appearances, eventually leaving to become one of Perez’s Galaticos.

Denílson, São Paulo to Real Betis, £21.5 million (1998)

The one name that stands out as a relative bust, Denílson was plucked from Brazil at 21 but never fully established himself in Spain. He’d make 186 La Liga appearances for the Seville-based club, scoring only 13 goals. After seven seasons, the winger moved to Bordeaux then Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia before briefly playing for Dallas in Major League Soccer. In 2010, after four more stops, Denílson finally retired, having played with 10 clubs in six different countries.

Christian Vieri, Lazio to Internazionale, £32 million (1999)
Hernán Crespo, Parma to Lazio, £35.5 million (2000)

After one year at Lazio, helping the Aguile to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, Vieri was scooped up by Massimo Moratti, who increased the world transfer record by nearly 50 percent. Vieri would go on to score 103 goals over six years for the Nerazzurri.

A year later, Lazio took their Vieri money and bought Argentine international Crespo, who went on to lead Serie A with 26 goals during his first year in Rome. After one more season, though, Crespo was off to Inter Milan, the start of a journey that would take him to Chelsea, AC Milan and back to Inter before finishing his career with stints at Genoa and Parma.

Luís Figo, Barcelona to Real Madrid, £37 million (2000)

One of the more controversial transfers of all time (certainly, the most angst-inspiring on this list) the Portuguese star elected to cross the world’s greatest rivalry, leaving the Nou Camp for the Santiago Bernabeu. He was Florentino Perez’s first Galactico, the acquisition beginning a three-year run where Real Madrid won La Liga, Champions League, and La Liga consecutively. Barcelona fans, however, have never fully forgiven him for moving to Real, even though you will occasionally see the former Ballon d’Or winner taking in games at Camp Nou.

Zinedine Zidane, Juventus to Real Madrid, £46.6 million (2001)

The second Galactico was Perez’s most dramatic swoop, tabling what was then an irresistible offer, increasing the world transfer record by over 25 percent. In his first year at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane hit his memorable match-winning volley in the 2002 Champions League final. In 2006, Zidane retired while with Real Madrid, having won one league, one European title with the club.

Kaka, Milan to Real Madrid, £56.6 million (2009)
Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United to Real Madrid, £80 million (2009)

After a brief time away from the club, Florentino Perez returned to Real Madrid’s presidency in 2009. How did he ring in his new tenure? By embarking on a second Galacticos run.

Kaka, signed in early summer, leaving as Milan felt compelled to cash in on another irresistible Perez offer. Later in the same window, Real crushed their own transfer record to pull Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United.

Despite all the spending, the Merengues would end the season trophy-less.

Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, £85.3 million (2013)

It took four years and a slew of new television and commercial revenue being injected into the game, but Real Madrid finally broke their own record. Again. As the history of the record shows, the most expensive player isn’t necessarily the world’s best; rather, he’s often a reflection of circumstance, demand, and in the case of the Galactico-crazed Merenques, prestige.

In Bale’s case, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy undoubtedly played a part, with the notoriously shrewd negotiator helping Real and Bale make history on Sunday.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

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Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

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Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

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Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

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In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.