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Bielsa returning to French league to take charge of Lille

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Controversial coach Marcelo Bielsa will take charge of ambitious Lille for next season, signaling his return to French football after a chaotic end to his spell with Marseille.

Lille said in a statement on Sunday that Bielsa will replace interim coach Franck Passi on July 1 and has been given a two-year deal.

“Marcelo Bielsa is without a doubt one of the most respected and influential coaches in the world and it’s a huge satisfaction for Lille,” said Marc Ingla, a club director. “It also proves the ambition of our club.”

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

A former Argentina manager, Bielsa is highly rated as an innovative, attack-minded leader who brings the best out of his players.

With Lille hiring Bielsa, Lyon already settled into a new stadium, Marseille recruiting aggressively under new American ownership and Monaco challenging Paris Saint-Germain strongly, next season promises to be an even more competitive one in France.

A more entertaining one, too, now that Bielsa is back and likely to give the French media plenty of headlines.

Bielsa stunned fans and the club’s directors when he quit Marseille last season, after just one game of the new campaign. The 61-year-old Argentine was taking charge of his second season and was a fan favorite when he suddenly quit.

[ MORE: Wenger treatment “unacceptable,” says Pep ]

He was out of contract but had struck a verbal agreement with the president to extend his tenure.

Then, just before putting pen to paper on his new deal, he changed his mind, alleging that Marseille officials amended the terms of the agreement at the last minute. He had previously publicly criticized Marseille’s president in a vitriolic outburst during a news conference because he was angry at the club’s transfer policy, saying it had signed players over his head.

Controversy seems to follow Bielsa, who in football circles earned the nickname “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa), due to his driven personality, single-mindedness, tough talking and relentless determination to do things only on his terms.

In the summer of last year, he quit as coach of Italian side Lazio – just two days after the Italian club announced it had signed him.

In football terms, Bielsa made much of his reputation more than a decade ago.

At club level, he won three Argentinian titles with Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield – reaching the South American Copa Libertadores final with Newell’s in 2002. Later on, he also guided Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League and Spanish Cup finals in 2012.

[ MORE: Bernardo to Chelsea? Blues reportedly bid first ]

With Argentina, he won gold at the 2004 Olympic Games and led Argentina to the Copa America final the same year.

Lille’s new owner Gerard Lopez, the president of the finance group Genii Capital and former president of the Lotus Formula One team, previously spoke about Bielsa in glowing terms.

Lopez recently took over from Michel Seydoux – a French businessman and film producer who was club president since 2002 – and Lopez is keen on rebuilding Lille with talented young players in the same way Monaco has done.

Athletic Bilbao's coach Marcelo Bielsa (
(Photo credit should read RAFA RIVAS/AFP/GettyImages)

On the final day of the transfer window last month, Lille signed six players aged 23 or under. Dutch forward Anwar El Ghazi, who joined from Ajax, scored his first goal for the club on Saturday.

The club’s scouting network is also likely to be very strong in South America, with Bielsa working closely alongside Luis Campos – who is an advisor to Lopez.

Campos previously worked with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and then for three years as a technical director with Monaco.

The well-connected Campos oversaw the arrival of several promising young players at Monaco – including highly rated attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva – and they have blossomed so much that Monaco is top of the league and has scored more than 100 goals overall this season.

Lille is playing catch up.

Although Lille qualified six times for the Champions League during Seydoux’s tenure and clinched the league and cup double in 2011, results have dropped and the northern French club is currently in 14th place.

The club’s youth system – which produced players such as Chelsea star Eden Hazard – has not been so successful in recent years and this will also be an area for Bielsa to improve.

The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Redknapp claims innocence for Birmingham’s overspending, deduction

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Harry Redknapp claims that he is not at all responsible for the nine-point recently handed to Birmingham City as punishment for “breaching profitability and sustainability rules” in the EFL Championship.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Despite managing the club for five months, from April to September 2017 — a period in which the Blues signed nine new players (six for transfer fees, three on free transfers) and saw the overall wage bill continue to rise — Redknapp has washed his hands of the entire situation and believes “I don’t think any of the signings were mine” — quotes from the Guardian:

“There were three lads from Brentford that came in [Jota, Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin]. They were all good players but they weren’t on my shopping list. I’d never even see any of them play, they were brought in by other people above my head.

“We brought in Isaac Vassell for $1.3 million [from Luton] and he will be worth massive money in my opinion. He was an absolute bargain, but I can’t even take credit for that because he was nothing to do with me, to be truthful. I don’t think any of the signings were mine. I was taking [John] Ruddy on a free transfer from Norwich and instead they brought in David Stockdale from Brighton. The director of football [Jeff Vetere] wasn’t brought in by me either.”

Only, with regard to the signing of Spanish midfielder Jota, Redknapp had the following to say hours before his signing was made official, per Guardian columnist Daniel Taylor:

“I’m hoping it will be done. It’s not done yet. I just identify them, then it’s up to other people to get them in.”

[thinking-face emoji slash upside down smiling emoji]

While Redknapp is hugely disingenuous in accepting zero responsibility, those in charge of the various clubs at which he has run up massive debts managed could try something entirely new: tell the man, “No.”

Juventus sets record for attendance at women’s club game

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TURIN, Italy (AP) A week after the world record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer club match was set, a league record in Italy was also broken.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Juventus’ women’s team played for the first time at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday and a total of 39,027 people turned out to see the league leaders beat second-place Fiorentina 1-0.

That annihilated the previous record attendance for a women’s club match in Italy of 14,000 spectators.

All tickets were free.

Defending champion Juventus, which normally plays its matches at the club’s training center in Vinovo, extended its advantage at the top of the Serie A table to four points ahead of Fiorentina and seven ahead of third-place AC Milan.

[ MORE: Messi injured in Argentina return; likely to recover for Man Utd clash ]

A total of 60,739 people were present at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last Sunday as the hosts lost 2-0 to Barcelona.

In January, Athletic Bilbao said it set a European record when 48,121 spectators attended a Spanish Cup match against Atletico Madrid at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao.

The record for any women’s match was set in 1999 when 90,185 people watched the World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl, which the U.S. won. At the 2012 Olympic final in London, 80,203 saw the U.S. beat Japan.

LAFC beat RSL on more late-game heroics; first in MLS to 10 points

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Their 2019 campaign is only four weeks old, but Los Angele FC are making a name for themselves as MLS’s new cardiac kids — masters of late-game drama — with another stoppage-time winner.

[ MORE: Young FCD side tops Rapids | Kljestan, Orlando down Red Bulls ]

After knocking off Sporting Kansas City courtesy of Adama Diomande‘s 94th-minute goal in Week 1, Bob Bradley‘s boys were at it again against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Just as they did against Sporting KC, LAFC fell behind in the first half only to pull level close to halftime and break visiting hearts with 90-plus on the clock. Damir Kreilach converted from the penalty spot in the 35th minute, but the advantage lasted barely five minutes before Diego Rossi equalized in the 40th.

[ MORE: Schalke issue injury update on USMNT’s Weston McKennie ]

Then, in the 91st minute, came the stunning winner from Rossi Carlos Vela  Diomande Christian Ramirez Lee Nguyen Walker Zimmerman(?!).

Whether or not the strike took a deflection or knuckled and swerved in a way that would make the world’s greatest strikers of the ball proud — even Bradley was noncommittal either way — is largely irrelevant.

With a 3W-1D-0L record through the season’s first month, Bradley and Co., have shown their debut MLS season was no fluke. In fact, they’ve made it abundantly clear that it was actually something of a disappointment and they are intent on reaching far greater heights in 2019.