Tearful Hernanes leaves Lazio for Inter Milan

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Around 200 Lazio fans gathered at Claudio Lotito’s home Friday morning. Word had gotten out. Hernanes, the club’s best player since his arrival in Rome three summers ago, was reportedly set to leave the Aquile. Singing the Brazilian’s praises over the next three hours, the small throng of devotees hoped to change their club president’s mind.

As Friday progressed, a slightly different picture of the deal unfolded. In tears as he left the club the he led to last year’s Coppa Italia title, the 28-year-old Brazilian international confessed he’d pushed for the €20 million ($27 million) move. Lotito hadn’t forced him out. He’d decided it was time to go, a decision he explained via Facebook:

“I would like to explain my tears because I’ve seen [Lazio] have been misunderstood. I cried not because the club president was stopping me leaving.

“I cried because the negotiation between the two clubs is happening.

“I had the possibility to leave Rome, the place I love, the supporters I love. But it has to be me who told the president I would like to leave because I think it’s best for me on a professional level.

Late Friday Italy-time, Inter finally confirmed the news, announcing Hernanes had signed a deal that commits him to the Nerazzurri through the 2017-18 season.

The World Cup’s coming up, but the move is as likely to hurt Hernanes as help. He’s in Luiz Felipie Scolari’s team, but he’s struggling to crack the Seleçao’s starting XI. Instead, this move seems to be all about Hernanes’s club future. At 28, his value possibly peaked a player who has become one of Italy’s best midfielders has decided to move on, electing to join Erik Thorir’s rebuild in Milan rather than confirm his legend in Rome.

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source: AP
Since arriving at Lazio in the summer of 2011, Hernanez has posted 11-, 8-, and 11-goals seasons while helping the Aquile to the Italian Cup last May. (Photo source: AP.)

It’s a crucial loss for a Lazio team that just found its footing. While the team did lose the defense of their Coppa title with yesterday’s quarterfinal loss to Napoli, a four-game unbeaten run in Serie A has lifted the team into the league’s top half. Thanks to that mini-revival — organized by the restored Edy Reja — the Aquile are only five points back of a European spot. The team currently holding that spot: Inter Milan.

Lazio would have to pass four teams to snare that spot. Given the irregular form the team has shown for most of the season, they’ll need a  longer run of success before being considered serious top-five contenders. In the face of that uncertainty, cashing in on Inter’s $27 million offer may have made more sense. At 28 years old, Hernanes is unlikely to garner a much better offer in the future.

For Inter, the coup gives head coach Walter Mazzarri a valuable addition to Esteban Cambiasso in central midfield.  Averaging 10 goals per season over the previous three campaigns, Hernanes adds another scoring threat to a team that’s relied on a variety of attackers to complement Rodrigo Palacio (team-leading 10 goals).

“Hernanes is a golden boy,” Mazzarri said in a television interview after the signing. “I’ve always known that.”

 

Capable of controlling a game from the middle the Brazilian could be an ideal fit for Mazzarri’s approach, whether he’s used as part of a strong two with Cambiasso or given room to surge forward if he plays in a three. Especially with Fredy Guarín’s situation unsettled at Inter, Hernanes may be necessary if the team’s going to return to Europe.

That’s a fit that won’t do anything to console Lazio fans. Maybe Hernanes isn’t leaving for the reasons they assumed, but he’s still leaving. Their team has lost their best player; or, at least, the man who’s been their best player over the last three-and-a-half years. Though Hernanes may have wanted it to happen, and the team got top dollar, that won’t make this any easier to take on the blue side of Rome.

 

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

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Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

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We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.