Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Pepe’s decade of titles and tantrums at Madrid is over

Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Pepe’s title-laden decade as Real Madrid’s bruising enforcer is over.

The 34-year-old Portugal center back has been a key figure for Madrid, one of the most intimidating – and on occasion volatile – defenders in Europe. But he said late Monday that he won’t be around next season.

“It’s clear that I won’t continue at Real Madrid,” Pepe told Spanish radio COPE.

Pepe has won with 15 trophies with the club, including three Champions Leagues and three Spanish league titles. But he has fallen out of favor with coach Zinedine Zidane.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic ]

A regular starter for most of his career, injuries and Zidane’s preference for Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez meant Pepe made only 18 appearances in 2016-17.

“I took the decision in January, when things weren’t going well. I saw that the club’s treatment of me wasn’t ideal,” Pepe said. “The policy of the club is to not offer players over 33 two-year contracts. So they only offered me one. There are ways to negotiate, but that way wasn’t right.”

While Zidane is receiving praise for guiding Madrid to the Champions League-Spanish league double this season, Pepe said he preferred Zidane’s short-lived predecessor, Rafa Benitez.

“I liked Benitez’s sincerity. I identified with him because he is a very direct and honest person,” Pepe said. “What (Zidane) has done with Madrid has been spectacular, but there are things I don’t understand, that I can’t explain. I don’t know why I disappeared from the team.”

Despite losing his important role with Madrid, Pepe proved he was still among the very best defenders on the continent last year when he was Portugal’s most consistent player in its run to the European Championship title in France.

[ MORE: Lukaku knows his next stop ]

Pepe’s contract with Madrid expires on June 30. He has been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, and said he had at least one suitor “from England.”

Wherever he goes, he will take his reputation with him.

Pepe almost sabotaged his career during a match in 2009 when he repeatedly kicked and stomped on Getafe midfielder Javier Casquero while he was on the ground. Pepe was given a 10-match ban for the rampage.

Pepe managed to control his emotions during his final seasons with Madrid, but the Casquero incident and several other sendings-off will continue to haunt him.

“When I arrived, I defended Real Madrid tooth and nail. It was a difficult position to play. We center backs had to cover a lot of ground, and we had to be very physical with the opposing strikers,” he said. “What happened against Getafe marked my career, it defined me in Spain. People were left with that image, and what I did was very ugly.”

Even so, Pepe said he will take the good with the bad when he leaves Madrid.

“I am very proud of my years spent at this club, giving it my heart and soul,” Pepe said. “I finished my time at Real Madrid giving it all I had.”

Facebook, Amazon Prime could bid for Premier League streaming rights

Getty Images
Leave a comment

One day in the not-too-distant future, we could be watching Premier League games on Facebook or Amazon’s streaming services.

That’s according to Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who confirmed that both Facebook and Amazon are expected to to bid for the Premier League’s broadcast rights when they open again in 2022.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

“Absolutely I think they’ll enter the mix,” Woodward said. “Anecdotally there was strong interest in the last cycle, and we’re hearing that around the Premier League table, but we’re also hearing that from a European perspective as well in terms of interest in the Champions League and Europa League rights.

“In the wider picture you have to look at what’s happening elsewhere at the moment.There isn’t any clear European sale to these kind of partners at the moment. But looking at the interest Facebook and Amazon had in the Indian Premier League rights, anecdotally it sounded like very big numbers.

“So I do think we are going to see an increase in engagement from these and we would welcome the interest. I think it’s going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans, and we think we can be complementary to partners like this coming in.”

According to reports, Facebook bid $600 million to stream India’s cricket league aptly named the Indian Premier League but lost out to 21st Century Fox’s Star India, which bid for the television and streaming rights together.

Currently, NBC owns the Premier League rights in the U.S., including streaming rights, but perhaps in the future we could see separate deals for television and streaming sites.

However, more than likely, pressure from Facebook and Amazon Prime could drive the cost of the rights up, ensuring an even bigger payout for all 20 Premier League clubs.

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.