Iker Casillas in line to return for Real Madrid, but in what role?

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Forgive the teasing headline, because we know what role Iker Casillas will have as he returns from the broken hand he suffered in late January. The Spain and Real Madrid captain will be Los Blancos’ number two, head coach José Mourinho has already confirmed. Winter signing Diego López will be tasked with backstopping El Real’s quest for their 10th European title.

According to Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka, Casillas “is ready to rejoin the team and will be selected,” a new and newsworthy status even if “Saint Iker” was medically cleared last week. After being left out of Real’s teams for Real Zaragoza and Galatasaray, it was worth considering whether the Madrid legend would be frozen out until Mourinho presumably leaves this summer.

More from Karanka:

“This week he has improved and we are pleased to have him with us because we are entering a decisive two-month period,” Karanka told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s clash.

“He has achieved the competitive edge necessary and will enter the squad.

“The coaching staff look for the best for the team, and tomorrow he will not play, but in the future who knows.”

Perhaps more remarkable than Casillas’ diminished status is the lack of controversy surrounding it. True, when Casillas initially started losing time this fall, there was a furor around the decision. People finally started reevaluating Casillas’s place among the world’s top goalkeepers, but with Mourinho’s attempt to fight Real’s player power culture, it was unclear the benching didn’t carry a political element.

At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter. Is Casillas’s benching politics or tactical? That conversation ended when López arrived. For whatever reason, Casillas is no longer Real Madrid’s number one, and in lieu of one of the principles ascribing a non-playing decision, there isn’t much to talk about. No matter how eye-opening the decision was, we’re out of logs to throw on the fire.

Going back to the question at hand: What role will Casillas serve? He’ll be López’s understudy. Or more to the point, he won’t assume the starting role he’d held with little interruption since 1999.

It’s not the biggest achievement of José Mourinho’s career, but it’s still pretty remarkable that he’s been able to pull off the benching of Iker Casillas without being carried out of the Bernabeu on a rail.

 

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.