Detailing FIFA’s ‘friendly reminder’ trip to check in on Brazil’s World Cup preparations

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This week FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and his team are putting certain cities in Brazil under scrutiny to see their progress.

Needless to say, some of faring better than others.

Here is a quick recap of what Valcke has been up to and which host cities he is visiting, ahead of his trip to Florianopolis to attend a meeting with representatives of all 32 World Cup team and the local World Cup organizing committee.

With stadium construction behind schedule, the death of construction workers, ongoing unrest against the Brazilian government and several disputes between public and private groups causing FIFA plenty of headaches before the event this summer, Valcke and his staff will be extremely busy.

Some pivotal inspections and meetings lie ahead this week ahead of the 2014 World Cup kicking off in June.

Here’s what he’s been up to….

  • On Sunday Valcke visited the Northern Brazilian city of Recife, where the USA will play Germany, and criticized the host cities decision to cancel the Fan Fest. That means that fans not attending the game will no longer have the chance to watch the match on large screens for free. “Not having a Fan Fest is a mistake, to make it very clear,” Valcke said.
  • Then Valcke went to Manaus, the city deep in the Amazon rainforest that will indeed have a Fan Fest as over 35,000 fans are expected to gather to watch the games, including the USA’s match vs. Portugal. The Secretary General seemed to be impressed with what he saw, as the stadium is 97 percent complete and after some issues along the way, Valcke is loving Manaus. “Today I can say that the project is one of the nicest, it is a fantastic project.”
  • Valcke visited the nations capital Brasilia on Monday for meetings, where he stated he expects a “quiet World Cup” despite all of the recent political protests in Brazil which came to the fore during last summer’s Confederations Cup.
  •  A potential flash then awaits in Porto Alegre on Tuesday, as local officials are fighting over who will pay the $13 million needed to build temporary facilities required by FIFA outside the Beira-Rio stadium. If the host club Internacional don’t pay the fee, or the local city, then games at the venue may have to be moved
  • Then late on Tuesday will come the news everyone has been waiting for, as Valcke will decide whether Curitiba is too far behind to be a host city. The Southern city is the biggest concern cropping up, as huge delays with stadium construction may see the city taken off the list of 12 host venues. With Valcke already stating that they would run with 11 venues, and spread the games scheduled for Arena da Baixada elsewhere, Tuesday is crucial for Curitiba.

We will have more news on Tuesday as and when Valcke makes a decision on Curitba. So log back onto PST for your latest editions of “Where’s Valcke?” in the next few days…

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.