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The next Messi may be training at this youth soccer academy

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Benjamin Palandella dribbles around a bigger boy who comes charging at him and shoots to goal with shocking force for a 7-year-old player. Nearby, children jump to head a ball tethered on a rope, tip-toe over hoops and dribble around orange cones.

[ MORE: Costa leaving Chelsea? ]

The kids training in this concrete court in a Buenos Aires working class neighborhood play for Club Social Parque. It’s the same soccer talent factory where international stars like Diego Maradona, Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme polished their skills as children.

Spain’s “La Masia” youth academy may be the famed bedrock of Barcelona’s success and where Lionel Messi started training at 13 when he emigrated from Argentina. But Club Social Parque, a humble youth academy in Messi’s native country, has perhaps produced more world-class players than any other. At least 40 have become major international stars.

During practice, many of the children wore Messi’s Barcelona jersey and dream of becoming Argentina’s next soccer great. The coach often credited for the academy’s success oversees their drills from the sideline.

“At Club Parque, we work a lot on the fundamentals, the technique. We recognize talent from a young age and our eye has been sharpening with time,” said Ramon Maddoni, head scout at Parque and at the Boca Juniors club children’s division. “We’ve discovered more players than La Masia.”

The 75-year-old coach likes to recite the names of the dozens of kids – more than 200 by his count – that he has coached and who went on to play with Argentina’s national team, local and Europe’s top clubs.

He recalls how he promised Tevez that he’d be a world-class striker long before he became a top goal scorer for clubs in England and Italy.

Or how Juan Pablo Sorin would cry when Maddoni would line him up on defense, because he wanted to score goals. Sorin later played left back for Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain, and invited Maddoni on an all-expenses paid trip to Germany to watch him play with Argentina in the 2006 World Cup.

These days, he recites names of new young talent.

“Benjamin is different from the group,” he said about Palandella. “He can pass with his back turned, he uses both legs. I see some of Riquelme in the way he moves the ball. I see some of `Carlitos’ Tevez, in how he uses his hands and leans backward… He’s different.”

After the training game, Benjamin changed into a Barcelona shirt adorned with Messi’s number 10 and continued to kick the ball even after the other kids had gone home. “I want to be like Messi and play for Barcelona,” he said. He likes how the Barcelona star “steps” on the ball, scores and shoots free kicks. Like Messi, “Benjamin is very shy, but he transforms himself on the field,” his father, Gaston Pallandela said.

Former players say that the secret to Parque is Maddoni’s eye for spotting young talent. But also his insistence on practicing skill sets in reduced spaces and imperfect surfaces where kids learn how to react faster, giving them a competitive advantage when they eventually reach large professional fields.

Players stay in touch with him, and often invite him to dinner when they come to Buenos Aires after playing with European clubs.

“I often thought about Parque when I needed to resolve a situation on the field. I’d have these flashbacks of advice from the coach. And you incorporate all of that naturally because you’ve repeated it so many times,” said Cesar Lapaglia, a former professional player for Boca Juniors and Spain’s Tenerife, who played at Parque under Maddoni from the ages of seven to 13.

Club Social Parque was founded in 1949 when two smaller clubs made up of newspaper delivery men and factory workers merged in the neighborhood of Villa del Parque. Today, about 150 children as young as 6, and from all economic levels, train together twice a week and compete on the weekends in “Baby,” a popular soccer division played in small indoor courts.

Some of the academy’s best talent blossomed under agreements to transfer its young players to clubs Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors. The deal with Boca was brokered in the 1990s by then-team president Mauricio Macri, a millionaire businessman turned politician who was elected Argentina’s president last year.

Argentina is home to some of the world’s greatest players, but also corruption. Several generations of soccer bosses, trainers and scouts run the popular, lucrative and often unregulated business of discovering and selling young promises. There are hundreds of clubs like Parque in the capital alone. For the thousands of talented youngsters like Palandella, only a small percentage will become elite players. Some will struggle along the way to overcome injuries. Others will fall to the psychological pressure at home or on the field.

An economic and governance crisis at the Argentine Football Association prompted FIFA to take control from its leadership last year and help pick an emergency panel to manage its affairs. Professional players recently waged a strike over unpaid wages that delayed the local league’s kickoff.

“Unfortunately in this country, there are a lot of extreme circumstances where it seems the mark of happiness or success is all about money, and often, parents associate soccer with this,” said former professional player Lionel Gancedo, who began his career at Parque at age 5. “During this early stage of a young player, it’s critically important that they have responsible people taking care of their development.”

During a recent youth league game played in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, some parents clung to a metal fence and cheered as if they were witnessing the World Cup final. A coach barked orders at their kids on the sideline.

Sitting on the green turf next to him was Thiago Perugini, one of the top young players at Parque. The 12-year-old with long, curly brown hair is so talented that he has was invited that weekend to play with kids two years older than him for another club. On the field, Perugini showed some of the ball control, precise passes and vision praised by Maddoni.

“The environment is very competitive,” said Thiago’s mom, Karina Estrada. “These kids have a lot pressure from all the parents screaming from the sidelines of the field. And even if they don’t have the pressure, the nerves on edge play against them.”

Back home, Thiago has dozens of trophies stacked high in the shelves of his room. He recently transferred to the youth division of San Lorenzo and his parents had painted the walls in the red and blue colors of the club that is beloved by Argentina-born Pope Francis.

A framed picture shows images of “Coco” dribbling and kicking next to similar images of Maradona during moments of brilliance that helped Argentina win the 1986 World Cup. “I’d like to be like Maradona,” he said.

Like Maradona, Thiago is a classic playmaker. He knows that he wants to be a professional soccer player. But what would he do, if he doesn’t end up going pro? After a long silence, he shrugs his shoulders, smiles and answers: “I don’t know.” He trains three days a week with San Lorenzo and Parque, and often gets invited to play up to four tournament games over the weekend.

“The day that he doesn’t want to play anymore, it all ends right here. He has to be a good person and study and he has the support of his parents,” said Thiago’s dad, Diego Perugini, a former lower division soccer player who is a coach at Parque.

“But seeing him play five minutes with the national team would be awesome. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.”

Three things from Everton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City (video)

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Manchester City had 10 men for almost 45 minutes, but you could hardly tell as the Etihad Stadium club came back to draw Everton 1-1 on Monday.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-1 Everton ]

An entertaining affair had a bit for everyone, as Wayne Rooney made Premier League history and Everton teammate Morgan Schneiderlin joined City’s Kyle Walker as players to earn iffy second yellow cards.

All that and more, below:

Bittersweet draw for Koeman

Most teams will be quite pleased to take a point at Manchester City.

Most teams don’t have the aspirations of the financial outlay of 2017-18 Everton.

And most teams won’t have played almost a full half with one more man than City, only to manage maybe one more moment of danger against Pep Guardiola‘s men.

So, yes, this Toffees draw feels a bit like a loss. Wayne Rooney had sent Everton into a moment of historical hysteria with a quality first half marker, his 200th Premier League goal off a feed from continuously impressing youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

And when Kyle Walker was given a rather cheap second yellow card in the 44th minute, the Toffees would’ve felt good money for an away win in their quest to join the Premier League’s Top Four contenders.

But City controlled the rest of the match, and it could be argued that a lesser keeper than Jordan Pickford would’ve conceded an equalizer much earlier in the match. Man City was humming.

“Even with one less player on the pitch, they have that high quality on the ball and they can make it difficult. We had a tactical good game, unlucky, the goal. They didn’t create a lot of open chances, but still had the domination of the game and in the counter attack we had some opportunities, but finally it’s a good point and we worked hard for that result.”

The Toffees have loads of promise, and their resilience in holding firm for most of the match is laudable (Mason Holgate‘s clearance into the path of Raheem Sterling is unlucky). Yet three points to start a vicious run of fixtures would’ve been much preferred to the lone marker that made it to the table.

Off day + 10 men = Still a point for City

On a day when Sergio Aguero struggled to find his feet and Walker got his dicey sending-off, Man City was still the better of the two teams and that has to make Pep Guardiola a pleased man.

David Silva remains an important part of City’s attack, and Kevin De Bruyne was pretty good in the draw, but plenty of the hosts’ men didn’t have their A-games.

Aguero had a soft header cleared off the line and wasted a gorgeous first half chance by taking an extra touch. When he was on, like his silky outside of the boot pass to David Silva, the receiver hit the post. Bernardo Silva and Danilo also missed chances that would’ve been fine goals on another day.

Without the “City: Down to 10 men (Walker 44′)” graphic atop the screen, an unknowing viewer would have been stunned upon counting less than 11 City players.

Don’t sleep on Rooney’s day (or Calvert-Lewin moving forward)

Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in the history of English football, and he rightfully joins Alan Shearer as the only players to score 200 goals in the Premier League era.

“To join Alan Shearer with that amount of goals, it’s obviously a big moment and hopefully (there’s) a lot to come,” Rooney said after the game.

While his simple finish through Ederson’s legs lacks the glory of some of his goals (for a reminder, watch below), it’s surprising how many people have absolutely written off England’s all-time scoring leader as a gimmicky signing.

Rooney has two goals in two games, and he linked up well with Calvert-Lewin again on Monday. Koeman was impressed.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Everton manager. “I know the player. I know how eager he was to come back to Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin did well. He ran a lot and made it difficult for the Manchester City defenders. Then you can come out of your box and control.”

Perhaps it’s Manchester United overload, or England’s often over-celebrated national team, but Rooney isn’t the sort of player you see every day. Congrats to him on a big day.

Man City 1-1 Everton: Pep’s 10 men tarnish Rooney’s day

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  • Rooney scores 200th (video)
  • Pickford stands tall
  • Walker sent off for MCFC
  • Sterling scores

Wayne Rooney scored his 200th career Premier League goal, but Everton could not hold on to beat 10-man Man City in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.

Raheem Sterling scored a deserved equalizer for Man City in the draw as both the Toffees and Citizens scooped up their fourth points of the season.

The Toffees went down to 10 men late, as Morgan Schneiderlin joined Kyle Walker in earning a rather soft sending-off.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Dominic Calvert-Lewin dragged a long shot across goal for Everton’s first real chance, while Kevin De Bruyne‘s deflected free kick was collected by Jordan Pickford as Man City tempted goal.

A long feeling-out period followed, but the match sprang to life when Pickford parried a Nicolas Otamendi chance to Sergio Aguero. The striker’s popped header was cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka.

Aguero wasted a gorgeous pass from De Bruyne with superfluous touches in the 33rd minute. The Argentine made up for it with a inch-perfect pass that David Silva cranked off the left post a minute later.

That’s when Everton scored, with Calvert-Lewin squaring for Rooney’s clinical finish through the legs of Ederson.

Gabriel Jesus chested an Aguero trap into shooting position, but Pickford collected the shot.

Kyle Walker took two yellow cards in four minutes to earn a red card from Bobby Madley, and City was down a goal and two men. The second was especially questionable.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Man City had the better of the early second half play, with Morgan Schneiderlin blocking a De Bruyne free kick and Jagielka racing out to stop the rebound.

That’s when Ronald Koeman readied new Everton signing Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Ederson made an outstanding 80-yard pass to a streaking Aguero, and Man City set up a play that ended with Bernardo Silva bouncing a shot wide of the Everton goal.

Pickford made another strong save when Danilo stepped into the right of the 18 with about 15 minutes to play. An Everton free kick saw Ederson collect a Rooney header moments later.

Sterling gave City its equalizer when Mason Holgate was occupied with David Silva and headed his clearance to the top of the 18 for a near point blank finish.

Schneiderlin made it 10 men a piece in the 88th minute when he collected his second yellow card.

Wayne Rooney’s 200th PL goal puts Everton ahead of Man City (video)

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Wayne Rooney‘s first half goal against old rivals Manchester City made the Everton man just the second player in Premier League history to score 200 goals.

The 31-year-old Rooney now sits 60 goals behind Newcastle legend Alan Shearer on the all-time list.

[ STREAM: Man City-Everton / Full match replays ]

Rooney scored 183 of his PL goals for Manchester United, netting 15 before moving to Old Trafford and now two since his return to Goodison Park.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin had been lively all game and squared for Rooney, who blasted into the box and into a yard of space given by John Stones to side-foot a class finish between Ederson’s legs.

Man City’s Kyle Walker took a pair of quick yellow cards late in the half to further Man City’s plight.

Shearer is happy to have company:

Newcastle to pry $15 million Praet away from Sampdoria

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Reports in Italy say Newcastle’s nightmarish start to the season may get a prime reinforcement in former Anderlecht midfielder Dennis Praet, now of Sampdoria.

Praet, 23, has a single cap for Belgium and played 34 times for Sampdoria during his first season with the Serie A club. He played 84 minutes of the Genoese club’s 2-1 season-opening win over Benevento this weekend.

[ MORE: Wood to Burnley; Clucas to Swans ]

He arrived from Anderlecht last season for just under $12 million, and Newcastle’s reported cost for his services will be right around $15 million.

More than capable in his own end and productive in moving play along, he’d play a bit deeper in Newcastle’s midfielder.

With Jonjo Shelvey suspended, Isaac Hayden had a feast or famine partner in on-loan Borussia Dortmund mid Mikel Merino in the Magpies’ disappointing 1-0 Sunday loss at Huddersfield Town.