What should Thomas Vermaelen do?

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With Arsenal’s rumored interest in Swansea center-back Ashley Williams, the focus shifts to out-of-form Gunners center-back Thomas Vermaelen.

For the last two months of the season, the Belgian’s backside was firmly planted on the bench as Arsene Wenger opted for a center-back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Wenger implemented the decision following Vermaelen’s horrid showing in the 2-1 loss to rivals Spurs on March 3rd.

Since that match, the Arsenal captain has only appeared in a single Premier League fixture, the 3-1 victory over Norwich City (Mertesacker was suspended for the match). Wenger’s decision to bench Vermaelen proved a stroke of genius, as the Gunners finished on a brisk run of form going undefeated in their last 10 matches (winning eight and drawing only twice) to finish in 4th place and capture a coveted spot in the Champions League.

So what’s prompted Vermaelen’s drop in form this season?

Mainly, he’s been too aggressive making runs out of the back. This overly zealous desire to get forward leaves the rest of the Arsenal defense exposed. Then, when Vermaelen tries to recover he’s either unable to do so or commits daft fouls. Good teams punish these mistakes.

So the question becomes – If Arsenal do snap up the £12 million rated Williams, what should Vermaelen do?

With the Brazil World Cup now a mere 12 months away, the decision will prove vital to Vermaelen’s career.

If he stays at Arsenal and reclaims his starting spot in a club with four (above-average) center-backs, it’s highly likely that Belgian national team coach, Marc Wilmots, will call Vermaelen into his squad for next summer. If, however, Vermaelen stays at the Emirates and his form fails to improve, there’s little chance that he’ll be suiting up for Diables Rouges come June 2013.

The other option is to leave North London and look for a rebirth at another club. If you believe the rumors, clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United are both interested in Vermaelen’s services.

The Catalan giants are desperate for a new center-back to partner with Gerard Pique and Vermaelen’s speed and offensive capabilities could be a tremendous fit for the Blaugrana. But again, if the Belgian’s form fails to improve there’s no guarantee of a spot on that squad, especially with Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Javier Mascherano all expected to be fully fit by next August.

Cracking the Starting XI at Manchester United would be even more difficult for Vermaelen. Despite his 34 years of experience, Rio Ferdinand enjoyed such a brilliant 2012-13 campaign that United recently handed him a new one year deal. Jonny Evans is another center-back who quietly impressed this season while Nemandja Vidic is nearly back to peak condition following 14 months of injury hell. A wonderful club to play for, surely, but can he hack it at Old Trafford?

Of course, if Vermaelen wants to reduce the risk of not playing and to prove himself worthy of a call into Belgium’s World Cup squad, he can always transfer to a Premier League club outside the Top 4.

With Newcastle’s struggling defense and captain Fabricio Colocinni set to leave Tyneside, the Magpies could be a wonderful fit for the Belgian. Vermaelen could also make an immediate impact at Liverpool, where Martin Skrtel has fallen out of favor and Jamie Carragher is set to retire. The 27 year old would also be welcome at a club like Everton where Sylvain Distin is showing signs of aging and a partnership with Phil Jagielka could prove lethal.

One way or another, Thomas Vermaelen has some serious decisions to make. What do you think Vermaelen should do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

NFL’s 49ers purchase minority stake in Leeds United

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One of England’s most famous clubs is receiving investment and strategic business connections from one of the NFL’s most famous brands.

Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that 49ers Enterprises, an investment arm of the 49ers ownership, has purchased a minority stake in the Championship club. Multiple reports state that the 49ers now own 10-15 percent of the club, but current Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani remains the majority owner.

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As part of the deal, 49ers President Paraag Marathe gets a seat on the Leeds United board of directors. Per Leeds, the money invested will stay with the club and be used for the first team, as Leeds looks again to make its way back to the Premier League in next season’s campaign.

An American ownership group investing in England is nothing new, but to identify and purchase a stake in a club with history and a decent chance at making it to the Premier League is impressive. In addition, the York Family, who owns the 49ers, has a net worth in the billions, which could help fund Leeds’ push back into the Premier League.

For the 49ers, this is also a savvy business decision. By investing low in a club in the Championship, they hope that they can experience the financial windfall of playing in the Premier League. This season, clubs made a combined $3.2 billion (with a capital B) thanks to revenue sharing, international and domestic TV rights, and other sponsorship deals.

With even the relegated sides taking home nine figures in revenues from the league, who wouldn’t want to invest and take a cut of that?

Now, only time will tell how long it is before the 49ers influence helps – or hinders, based on the 49ers current state of affairs in the U.S. – Leeds reach the pinnacle of English football.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.