Carles Puyol retires after 14-year career with Barcelona, citing knee issues

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Despite heavy links to Major League Soccer after previously announcing the end to his Barcelona tenure, defender Carles Puyol instead has decided to retire due to knee injuries.

Puyol spent his entire career with Barcelona, coming through their academy and making his first-team debut in 1999 under Louis van Gaal.

The 36-year-old said today that he has “lived the dream of so many young kids, doing what I most enjoy in life, playing football and training.”

His illustrious career has just about everything a professional player in Europe can accumulate, having won six La Liga titles, three Champions League tournaments, a European championship and a World Cup with Spain where he earned 100 caps.

Puyol earlier this season told supporters he would not be back at Barcelona at the expiry of his contract this summer, which sparked plenty of speculation that he could be on his way to play in the United States.  He was also linked to other clubs across Europe, including AC Milan.

However, after just five La Liga appearances this season thanks to knee injuries that wouldn’t go away, Puyol instead decided to hang up his boots and put a cap to a rare career with just one club.

“I’ve won lots of titles but the most important thing is the human warmth and feeling I take from this club,” Puyol said of Barcelona at a press conference attended by the team and management. “I came here as a boy and I’m leaving with a family who I’m really proud of.”

“The one thing I have very clear is that I gave my absolute all for Barcelona and for football and I would like to be remembered as a player who did just that – who gave everything,”

Puyol finishes with 582 total appearances for Barcelona, including 392 La Liga appearances and 124 in the Champions League.  He grabbed 19 goals, and was only sent off three times in his entire domestic career.

He added that he does not wish at this time to get into coaching or managing, saying, ” I don’t think I’ll be a coach, it’s not what I’d like most.  Maybe I’ll change my mind but for now I want to do other things.”

Club president Josep Bartomeu called Puyol “the best captain in the history of the club” and Lionel Messi said to his former teammate, “I’m lucky to have shared the dressing room with you.”

Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgium left midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of its World Cup squad despite a standout season with Champions League semifinalist Roma.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder. But after being called up for a warm-up game in March against Saudi Arabia, expectations had been that he would be on the 28-man roster announced Monday.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

On top of the troubled relationship, Nainggolan was also the victim of the unparalleled wealth of talent the small nation has produced over the past few years.

Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all named in the squad, which will be cut to 23 before the World Cup.

Nashville MLS expansion club snares ex-Liverpool CEO Ayre

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Former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre is moving from Merseyside to the Music City.

The Tennesseean’s Joe Rexrode says Ayre is set to take the reins of Nashville SC as the first CEO in club history when it makes its debut in the 2020 MLS season.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Liverpool hired ex-EA Sports executive Peter Moore to replace Ayre in 2017 after the latter, 54, spent six years with the club as managing director and then CEO.

From the Tennessean:

“The MLS has huge ambitions to be one of the biggest and leading leagues in the world, and is on that trajectory,” Ayre said. “Both as a soccer fan and an executive in the industry, it’s something I’ve had my eye on because it’s important. … You talk about MLS and its growth, I think it’s becoming easier and will become easier to attract the right talent to something that’s exciting and developing. And if you have a reputation of being involved in a club like Liverpool, you hope that stands for something when you start to try and attract talent.”

The timing of Ayre’s addition hearkens back to that of former Tottenham executive Darren Eales at Atlanta United. If it has the same success, Nashville will be proud.

Report: Lampard interviews twice with Championship club

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Steven Gerrard‘s longtime England midfield mate Frank Lampard could soon be joining him in a management.

While Gerrard is tasked with rebuilding Rangers’ Scottish title push, Lampard’s reported new gig would entail leading Ipswich Town back to the Premier League for the first time since 2002.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Sky Sports says Lampard has already interviewed twice with Ipswich Town ownership in a bid to earn his first senior management gig.

Lampard, 39, played for Chelsea, Man City, New York City FC, West Ham United, and Swansea in a sparkling 20-year playing career.

Town finished 12th in the Championship, 15 points back of a playoff spot and 19 clear of relegation.

No World Cup for Chelsea’s Spanish trio

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Spain has left Chelsea trio Alvaro Morata, Marcos Alonso, and Pedro off its World Cup squad.

Also omitted were Napoli’s Jose Callejoin and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.

[ MORE: MLS Things — The Archive ]

Manager Julen Lopetegui did include Blues defender Cesar Azpilicueta and ex-Chelsea man Diego Costa, as well as Manchester United’s David De Gea, Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal, and Man City’s David Silva.

Spain is expected to contend for the tournament crown in Russia, led by a stellar midfield which includes Silva, Andres Iniesta, Isco, and Thiago Alcantara.

Spain is in a group with Portugal, Iran, and Morocco.

Spain’s World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Pepe Reina

Defenders: Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Azpilicueta, Nacho, Alvaro Odriozola, Jordi Alba, Monreal, Dani Carvajal

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Asensio, Iniesta, Isco, Saul Niguel, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Silva.

Forwards: Diego Costa, Rodrigo, Iago Aspas, Lucas Vazquez.