Atlético Madrid confirms signing of Mario Mandzukic

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PST’s Nicolas Mendola hinted at this one yesterday, but today, the reports have finally been confirmed. Spanish champions Atlético Madrid, in search of a replacement for the departed Diego Costa, have signed Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich, the club announced today. The 28-year-old, who just finished playing for his country at the 2014 World Cup, moves to Spain with a four-year deal.

The club confirmed the signing on its website this afternoon:

“Atlético de Madrid and Bayern Munich have reached an agreement for the transfer of Mario Mandžukić. The Croatian striker successfully underwent the medical examination in Madrid before signing a contract for four years with our Club.”

The transfer fee was undisclosed.

Acquired by Bayern two years ago, Mandzukic was a part of two Bundesliga titlists and one European champion, scoring 33 league goals during his time in Munich. With the acquisition of former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowki, however, Mandzukic was in for a sharp downturn in playing time, part of the reason he’s on his way to Madrid.

From Atlético director and Spanish soccer legend José Luis Caminero:

“He’s a strong forward, with a great high ball control and a powerful shot. It allows us to start pressuring behind the rival from the beginning, because he works hard on playing the ball out of defence. He fits well with his attacking teammates and is used to competing at the highest level. He’s a winner, a player used to win titles. He’ll contribute very much.”

For all those reasons, this was an ideal fit for Atlético, particularly given that undisclosed fee is likely to be reasonably low, allowing the cash-strapped club to absorb most of Diego Costa’s fee.

With that tradeoff, Atleti are sacrificing some goal scoring but acquiring a series of traits Diego Simeone will love. Mandzukic is the hardest working forward you’ll find at the top of Europe’s club game.

It allows Atlético to stay close. While asking for a return of 2013-14’s magic may be too much, Mandzukic gives Simeone a player he can work with – a player who allows Atleti’s ethos to remain unchanged. If this year’s success was built on sacrifice, discipline, and belief, the team’s new forward may actually be a better fit than his predecessor, albeit a less prolific one. With Arda Turan, Gabi, and Koke, Atlético have talents who can get the most out of their new, relentless teammate.

The question is whether all of those talents will stick around. Even if they do, it’s unclear the extent to which the club has replaced departed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Where retaining a title is difficult for any club, the task will be even more so for Atleti.

Mandzukic gives them a chance, though. He may not challenge for a Pichichi like Costa did, but he can generate goals. And when Atleti go head-to-head with Real Madrid and Barcelona, they’ll remain the stubborn, disruptive force that stole La Liga from the top two.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.