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Real Madrid’s historically-poor season is proving to be a club anomaly

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By most standards, fourth-place in a major European league might be seen as a major victory for some clubs.

But then again, Real Madrid isn’t just another club.

[ MORE: Real drops points against Levante, Inter settles for draw ]

Zinedine Zidane and his side failed to pick up three points on Saturday against relegation-tested Levante, however, the Madridistas’ latest result isn’t so surprising given their up-and-down form in 2017/18.

Instead, it is more how the club got to this point that is so intriguing (or disturbing if you’re a supporter of the side).

18 points currently separates Real from league leaders and bitter rivals Barcelona with only 17 matches remaining in the La Liga season. While it’s not an insurmountable deficit (mathematically, at least), Zidane and his side will likely have to turn their attention elsewhere if they plan on winning anything significant this campaign.

So, let’s take a look at how this Madrid team stacks up with those of the past.

Since the 1976/77 season, Los Blancos have never finished outside of the top five in La Liga, and while fifth is likely as far as Real will fall this season, the club has made a living of boasting success both inside and outside domestic play.

Meanwhile, in each of the last 13 seasons, Real has only finished outside the top two in Spain’s first division on one occasion (2013/14). However, the club went on to win the UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey titles during the campaign, which were surely seen as major achievements for the club.

This season is quite different though, particularly with Real boasting an older roster, and in particular, one that seems to be growing more and more discontented with each other.

Rumors have been dropped ablaze over recent weeks, with Cristiano Ronaldo at the forefront of a potential move away from the Santiago Bernabeu.

While nothing substantial has come forth to this point, clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain remain linked with the Portuguese superstar, and a move away from the club would undoubtedly spell a new era in the Spanish capital.

Real has already crashed out of the Copa del Rey, with a stunningly poor effort against Leganes — who sits 12th place in La Liga — and is simply hanging on to its hopes of recapturing its form in the UCL when play resumes against a star-studded PSG side.

Zidane and his side have managed to win three of the last four UCL competitions, but with a stacked field remaining this year, including PSG, Barcelona and Manchester City, Real’s path to another title in the competition will be anything but simple.

It’s impossible to right off a side that boasts the talent that Real has, but this season is looking more like an anomaly in this club’s rich history — one that will almost certainly bring about sweeping changes at season’s end — or perhaps sooner.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United on verge of signing Shakhtar’s Fred

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Jose Mourinho is nearing a boost to his attacking midfield, with Brazilian international Fred reportedly on the verge of joining Manchester United.

The 25-year-old midfielder has starred for Shakhtar Donetsk the past five seasons, cementing his place as a starter for the Ukrainian side and impressing in UEFA Champions League matches. Fred follows the likes of Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Chelsea’s Willian as using Shakhtar as a mid-way point between Brazil and the Premier League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

According to multiple reports in England, Manchester United is in advanced negotiations to sign Fred for a reported transfer fee of nearly $59 million. The singularly-named Fred would be the third-famous Fred to play for Man United, following Freddie Goodwin, who played for the Red Devils from 1954-60 and Fred Erentz, who played from 1892-1902.

Although he is not physically big, Fred could be an Eden Hazard-type player, a tricky midfielder who puts defenders on their heels as he skates past them with the ball.

Here are more transfer rumors and notes from around the Premier League:

(more…)

FIFA Council member Nyantakyi arrested on return to Ghana

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) FIFA Council member and Ghana Football Association head Kwesi Nyantakyi has been arrested on his return to his home country following a complaint made against him by the Ghanaian president.

Police spokesman David Eklu confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that Nyantakyi, also a vice president of the Confederation of African Football, is in custody and being interrogated.

[READ: Yaya Toure talks future, playing with Paul Pogba]

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo asked police to investigate Nyantakyi after the soccer boss allegedly was caught in an undercover documentary promising businessmen access to the president and other senior government officials in return for money.

Nyantakyi was out of the country at the time President Akufo-Addo made the complaint.

Ghana media reported that Nyantakyi, a member of the powerful FIFA Council since 2016 and an influential figure in African football, was picked up by plain-clothes police at the airport in Accra and taken straight to police headquarters.

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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.