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Candidates you need to know as Manchester United looks for a manager

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So now that David Moyes has officially been canned, lasting about 1,450 games less than his predecessor at Manchester United, who’s the top pick to be given a couple weeks to restore the Red Devils to Champions League status?

Besides Ryan Giggs, the United legend who will guide the club on an interim basis, here are the names to know. Surely many will be familiar from the “Who will replace” Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood, Roberto di Matteo et. al circuses?

THE FAVORITES (In no particular order)

Louis van Gaal – So what if he’s yet to play or manage in England? Vocally “totally sick” of being Netherlands coach and moving on after World Cup, van Gaal is the bookies favorite to get the gig. The Dutchman has bounced around a bunch, from Ajax to Barcelona to the Netherlands and back to Barcelona before spending time at AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich… and the Netherlands again. He led a star-studded Ajax team to the Champions League title in 1995, has topped the league tables in Holland, Spain and Germany, and has a great reputation with United star Robin van Persie. ESPN reported today that United have already reached out to van Gaal.

Jurgen Klopp – The 46-year-old Dortmund boss has reportedly quashed the idea of going to Manchester United mere hours after the job became open. That doesn’t mean things can’t change, but the in-demand man is also being talked about as a potential boss at Barcelona and Tottenham.

Diego Simeone – Let’s face it: any manager whose club remains in the UEFA Champions League is worth considering as a high-profile, headline-grabbing replacement for Moyes (though naming anyone for the United gig would grab headlines). The 43-year-old Argentine is a fiery leader who would have a unique look behind the United bench, and would likely relish a job where his best players wouldn’t consistently be linked with larger clubs.

Roberto Martinez – Stop laughing. He’s one of the top managers in the game, and just showed the world how capable he is to take a group of players underperforming under one manager and lift them to another level. The Everton boss specifically has experience taking players Moyes couldn’t get to the Europe and propping them up a few places. Would Everton “let” him leave? Would he even want the poisoned chalice when he’s currently boasting the best win percentage in Toffees history?

Mauricio Pochettino – It would be an absolutely-inspired hire for the Red Devils; the Southampton boss has worked miracles at St. Mary’s and could bring Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and countless others with him. Heck, you could argue the Saints are currently a better club than Manchester United… and perhaps a better gig. Maybe this one’s a bit under the radar, but the man is a master tactician who would welcome a more “Europe-ready” gig.

THE OTHERS

Sir Alex Ferguson – Is there any doubt the Scot has the ego to jump back into the gig, snare loads of quality players he didn’t provide Moyes and then say, “Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t have left?” Of course not. In fact, he may have to be kept from doing it. Also, Sir Alex would be really offended to know he’s on a list titled “The Others.”

Clarence Seedorf – Extremely unlikely, but the Suriname-born legend has almost-immediately restored order to an AC Milan club hit with similar frustrations as Manchester United.

Roberto di Matteo – He’s familiar with England as a player and manager, and has achieved pretty unique turnarounds in short periods of time at Chelsea and West Brom. Plus everyone’s always asking about him, apparently!

Carlos Quieroz – Twice a United assistant, the 61-year-old Iran boss has also run the ships for Portugal and Real Madrid (and the Metrostars).

Laurent Blanc – Could he leave the high-profile PSG seat for increased volatility in the Premier League?

Carlo Ancelotti – He’s done the job at Chelsea and now at Real Madrid, and would be a fairly-safe bet to have success at Old Trafford.

Pep Guardiola – Would he really depart from Bayern Munich in the throes of forming an all-time giant?

Roy Keane – We kid, we kid.

MORE: How the Manchester United job has become a poisoned chalice:
MORE: Jurgen Klopp rules himself out of Manchester United gig
MORE: Is Ryan Giggs ready to take over permanently as Manchester United boss?
VIDEO: Where David Moyes went wrong at Manchester United
MORE: Premier League Playback – Why Moyes should go

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)