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Montpellier president Nicollin dies, helped club win title

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PARIS (AP) Montpellier president Louis Nicollin, who helped to produce one of the biggest upsets in French football when his unfashionable club won the league in 2012, has died. He was 74.

Montpellier said in a statement that Nicollin, who had been its president since 1974, died on Thursday, his birthday.

Never shy of controversy, Nicollin made his fortune in waste collection and began funding the southern club after taking control. His reward after 38 years was for Montpellier to become French champions for the first time at the expense of Paris Saint-Germain.

Montpellier’s title-winning squad featured nine homegrown players, in contrast to PSG’s relentless pursuit of stars at the expense of its own youth academy. Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored 21 league goals, left for Arsenal.

A close friend of Nicollin, former France great Michel Platini mourned the death of someone “exceptional.”

“To put it simply, I loved him like a brother. A part of me has just gone,” Platini said in a statement. “Louis was my closest friend in football over the past 30 years.”

Under Nicollin, Montpellier won the second division title in 1987 and the French Cup in 1990 with a team featuring the likes of Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc and Julio Cesar.

However, Nicollin also made the headlines for the wrong reasons, with his profanity-laced tirades landing him in trouble more than once.

In 2009, he was banned for two months for using an anti-gay term to describe Auxerre midfielder Benoit Pedretti. He later apologized to Pedretti, who did not pursue the matter.

Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back despite Spain omission

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Alvaro Morata having his troubles keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup, and his omission from the Spain squad has a couple of his teammates speaking up on his behalf.

Marcos Alonso, himself called up to Spain, and Pedro (not called up) have Morata’s back after the big striker scored at the weekend in FA Cup action.

[ MORE: Rojo’s hilarious Alexis signing reaction ]

Alonso admitted that Morata was less than pleased to miss the call-up so close to the World Cup.

“Alvaro wasn’t happy,” Alonso said. “He has gone through a difficult few months with a back injury. He is now 100 per cent and the other day he scored.He is a very important player for us. I hope he will do well from here until the end of the season and he gets to go to the World Cup.”

It’s not like Morata hasn’t performed for Spain; The 25-year-old has 13 goals in 23 caps for La Furia Roja.

But Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has opted for just four traditional strikers, with Chelsea outcast Diego Costa leading the way in caps (16) and goals (6). Also in the squad: Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas (7 and 3), Valencia’s Rodrigo (3 and 1), and Real Madrid’s Lucas Vasquez (3 and 0).

Pedro pointed to Morata’s goal against Leicester City as a milemarker, via ChelseaFC.com.

“I’m very happy for Alvaro to score again and hopefully that will give him the confidence to score more. Alvaro is a very good player and an important part of our team. It’s important for him to score and to help the side and hopefully he can continue to do that until the end of the season.He had a back injury but now he’s in a very good condition and it’s a good time for him. I think his back is perfect now and hopefully he can keep scoring, because we all know just how good he is.’

Morata has been on the rise for several seasons, but hasn’t performed at a consistent level in his last three seasons at Juventus, Real Madrid, and Chelsea.

He had more of a playmaking streak at Juve, but has been a straight-up target man for both Real and Chelsea. His 13 goals and five assists certainly aren’t poor, but Antonio Conte clearly expected more from the Spaniard. Will his confidence be boosted before the end of the season?

Rojo’s reaction to Sanchez joining Man Utd was priceless

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Speaking to an Argentine publication while on duty, the Manchester United defender shared a number of interesting tidbits.

[ MORE: Young backs Luke Shaw ]

The first, and perhaps funnier one, came from a family visit to Manchester for the Christmas holiday, as Rojo set off a bunch of fireworks in his neighborhood, one he did not realize was shared with United legend Alex Ferguson.

Rojo said Ferguson saw him the next day and congratulated him on “the light show,” with the defender quipping that he thought he might be on his way out of the Old Trafford set-up.

But the more quotable translation comes from the Argentine learning that Chilean superstar and Premier League rival Alexis Sanchez was traded Arsenal red for the same hue at United.

Rojo said Sanchez has turned out to be a lovely guy, but that doesn’t change his initial shock at the news. From TYC Sports, translated by The Mirror,

“Every time we came up against one another, whether in internationals or when United played Arsenal, I would give him a good kicking – and he did the same to me.

“On top of that I used to insult him, and he would reply in kind. So when I learned that he was going to join United I said: ‘Oh, ******* hell, no, now this guy’s going to be here’.”

It likely happens more often than we know, given the competitive nature and furious tackling at the highest level. The old cliche “You’d love him if he was on your team” leaves out the fact that he’s also no longer on the opposition, beating you up.

Not to mention, there’s always that opening conversation, “Hey, that thing I said about your parents…”

Bradley, TFC not freaking over winless start (video)

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Toronto FC is Major League Soccer’s reigning champion, coming off one of the finest seasons in league history, and perhaps the best hope yet for a CONCACAF Champions League title.

It’s also in last place after three Match days in the 2018 season.

[ MORE: Top MLS free agents ]

That’s a tough juggling act, at least emotionally. Given the long and forgiving MLS season, TFC is going to be fine. But the Reds also have a group of players and executives not exactly known for resting on laurels.

TFC has not scored in losses to Columbus and Montreal, but rang up four goals over two matches in knocking UANL Tigres out of the CCL.

So on one hand, yeah, unprecedented success for the club. On the other…

“It’s certainly not ideal to look at the table for the next 13 days until we play again,” Bradley said. “On the other hand it’s been a busy start and we’ve gotta use the time over the next little stretch to regroup mentally, physically for what we hope is a really busy time.”

To recap: Yes, TFC deservedly advanced to next month’s CCL semifinal tie with Mexican monster Club American. No, they aren’t happy to lose a pair of league matches (even if they could’ve easily taken results in both with two favorable bounces).

“Let’s be a little bit honest and also say in the moment that while there have been things in these two league games that haven’t been good enough, we’ve been a little bit unlucky in terms of balls rolling across the goal line and some big chances that we haven’t been able to score on. You have to look at it from all angles. We’re certainly not happy,” Bradley said.

Young backs Man United teammate Shaw to become star

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Ashley Young‘s performances on the field and in training have helped keep Luke Shaw off the field, but the veteran winger sees the potential in Shaw that manager Jose Mourinho may not.

Per the BBC, Young said that Shaw could be among the “best in the world” at his position. Shaw was substituted off at halftime of Man United’s 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup and was publicly criticized by Mourinho after the game, sparking controversy and plenty of conversation in the media over the past 48 hours.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

“I want to see him doing well,” Young said. “It’s like all players, you just have to get your head down and work. He’s a fantastic player. He can be one of the best in the world.”

Shaw has struggled to make an impact and live up to expectations since making a $42 million move from Southampton to Old Trafford in 2014 as a 19-year-old. Shaw has made 99 Premier League appearances over the last four seasons for Man United but he’s been marginalized this season with just seven appearances.

When he moved to Man United, he likely looked at the 2018 World Cup as a goal, in which he could cement his place as the England left back of the future. Now, he’ll almost surely be watching the tournament from home, wondering what went wrong along the way.