Serie A

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Strootman loving life at Roma, aims to keep paying club back

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Kevin Strootman is in love with Roma.

The club, the city, the fans, name it: The relentless 27-year-old has renewed his commitment to AS Roma with a new contract, and understands how players like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi devote their entire careers to i Lupi.

“It’s Rome,” Strootman exclaims, speaking ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup.

“You’re not going to leave easy. This is Rome. We all have the ambition to win something here, and to celebrate with the fans. Totti told us when he won the scudetto in 2001, there were parties for three months. If you win something here, it’s going to be really special. About the city you don’t even have to talk, it’s so beautiful you cannot compare it with anything else.”

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Yeah, the Eternal City is pretty nice, but it’s most celebrated football club is growing in magnitude, too. Roma’s finished second in Serie A three of the past four seasons, and last season came within four points of its first scudetto since the aforementioned win earlier this century.

Strootman was a massive part of the campaign, returning to the elite form displayed in his first season at the club and in previous campaigns with PSV Eindhoven. He scored six times with seven assists between Serie A and the UEFA Europa League, averaging 2.7 tackles per game, 1.7 interceptions, and 1.4 dribbles per Serie A contest.

That his reclamation of that status came after knee surgeries limited him to 18 matches over the previous two seasons was sweet (if nervy).

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“For me it was like such a relief, especially in the beginning you’d play a game and you’d be happy to play,” Strootman said. “If you won everyone was happy with the win, but I was just happy that I didn’t get injured again. The fitness coaches and technical staff did a great job. I played 50 games, we made the Champions League, and I signed a new contract. I was happy to pay them back on the pitch. I feel good.”

Payback is a theme in our talk with Strootman, who speaks glowingly of club chairman James Pallotta, the American businessman who stood by the midfielder during his injury struggles (NOTE: PST profiled Pallotta in depth last summer).

“He brought me here when he started the project, and he’s always supported me even during my injuries,” Strootman said. “He would call me, and was always there for me. I always told him, when I’m fit I want to pay you back with my play on the pitch. He’s like a president should be.”

It’ll be different from Strootman this season, and not just because of the changes to the Roma roster. Gone are Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, Leandro Paredes, and retiring Francesco Totti. Arriving are Maxime Gonalons, Hector Moreno, and reports of bids for Riyad Mahrez and the impending arrival of Aleksandar Kolarov excite the fan base.

I Lupi are a club which has been on the precipice of greatness for some time. Now with the Champions League group stage and battles with not just Juve and Napoli but surging AC Milan and Inter Milan, Strootman says it’s time to stop talking big and start acting it out.

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“The last couple years we talked in the preseason about winning the scudetto, winning cups, but we have to show it on the pitch,” he said. “We still need some time, that’s normal, but we need to show on the pitch that we are hungry. We’re a young team with some experienced players. It’s a good mix. We have to show it from the first competition and game by game.”

Strootman also admitted, as many have, that American soccer continues to grow in renown around the Netherlands and Europe in general.

“I think it’s rising,” he said. “A lot more players from Holland are going over to MLS. I don’t see a lot of the games because they don’t show them in Italy. But when you’re here and see the friendly games against the big teams, the level is going up. MLS is getting higher and higher.”

Roma faces Spurs at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

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Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

West Ham agrees to record fee for striker linked to Inter Milan

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Keita Balde Diao’s breakout season for Lazio has earned him the interest of many a club. Five-minute hat tricks will do that.

West Ham United, however, may have surged to the front of the queue.

The player has to want to head to London, of course, but multiple reports say Lazio has accepted a club record fee of nearly $37 million for the 22-year-old Senegalese striker.

Born in Spain and part of Barcelona’s academy for seven seasons, Keita headed to Rome in 2011, busting into Lazio’s first team in 2013.

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He’s scored 31 goals in 135 appearances despite his young age, and 16 of those came last season in Serie A. Only seven players scored more, and six played at least 1000 more minutes than Keita.

Keita also has three goals in 13 caps for Senegal.

Goal in Italy says it’s up to Keita whether he heads to West Ham, with Inter Milan and Chelsea among the clubs also linked with the player.

West Ham reportedly nabbed Marko Arnautovic as well on Tuesday, with Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta previously announced as new Irons. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is also rumored to head to London, but Keita would almost certainly hamper than idea.

Where will Jack Wilshere play next season? Sampdoria linked

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Arsene Wenger plans on having Jack Wilshere back at the Emirates Stadium this season after a loan campaign at Bournemouth, but it’s not for lack of suitors.

And with one year left on his deal at Arsenal, could the Gunners cash in at the risk of losing the midfielder for free?

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Sampdoria looks set to test that with a $7.8 million bid that could rise to approximately $10 million if Wilshere thrives for the Genoese club.

A report claimed that Arsenal will only loan Wilshere if he signs a new deal at the Emirates, and that Crystal Palace wants that move.

Wilshere made 27 appearances for Bournemouth, notching two assists. He had some outstanding performances and was probably slightly more effective than he was as an Arsenal man. Better when pushed forward or set back than a box-to-box center mid, Wilshere can help change a team.

Totti ready to begin new role in Roma management

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ROME (AP) Recently retired Roma captain Francesco Totti is ready to begin his new role working in the club’s management, without any specific role for now.

Totti tells Roma’s website, “I want to be everything and nothing. I want to be an important person for Roma, and Roma really understand that’s what I want to do.”

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Totti plans to work with Roma’s new sporting director, Monchi, coach Eusebio Di Francesco and even club president James Pallotta.

Totti, who ended his 25-year playing career with his hometown club in May, says he will work with everyone “from the youth sector to the president. Then it is normal that it will take a while – six months, a year, two years, I don’t know – to truly find my real and best role.”