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.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

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The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

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Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

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Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016