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How much will Spain’s managerial turmoil hurt their World Cup chances?

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Spanish Federation president Luis Rubiales appears to have nuked Spain’s chances at the 2018 World Cup just 24 hours before the opening of the big dance.

Rubiales pulled the power play of all power plays by sacking manager Julen Lopetegui for going behind the federation’s back to negotiate a deal to become Real Madrid’s new boss following the conclusion of the World Cup. After the deal leaked and Los Blancos confirmed the appointment, Rubiales heard the players and Director of Football Fernando Hierro all plead for support of Lopetegui, and then canned him anyways and put the woefully underqualified Hierro in charge.

So how much does this truly affect Spain’s ability to perform at a high level on the biggest soccer stage?

A backroom overhaul at the eve of the World Cup is nothing to scoff at. There can be no greater upheaval to a squad’s preparation than to have its leader undercut on the doorstep. However, the Spanish squad is full of tactically adept veterans such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, and many more. It’s unlikely that their tactical makeup will change much – if at all – and with so little time to make any form of sweeping tactical changes, there will likely be close to no major shuffles to the deck.

There was plenty of talk about how Lopetegui was less a tactical puppeteer and more of a mental facilitator during his time in charge of Spain. In fact, in his only club position prior to taking the national team job, he failed in monumental fashion at Porto, unable to finish out his second season with the team in third in the Primera Liga and booted following a massive 6-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. Understanding Lopetegui’s shaky managerial past is critical in deducing that his success with the national team could be as much or more down to his ability to balance his squad’s egos and mental states than a tactical prowess. Thus, the squad may be able to continue on the field without Lopetegui’s guidance and minimize the damage suffered by his sudden departure.

Despite Lopetegui’s success after minimal club experience, looking past Hierro’s monumentally thin managerial resume is still very challenging. He has almost no experience leading a squad, and while he has spent the last year or so as Director of Football under Lopetegui, that’s not nearly enough to instill massive confidence in his ability to lead the national team tactically and emotionally. His only job saw Real Oviedo miss out on the Segunda B divison promotion playoffs on the final match of the season in 2017, leaving the club after just the one season.

So will Lopetegui’s sudden upheaval throw the Spain squad into irreperable chaos, or will Hierro be able to right the ship? Will the squad leadership be enough to see it through the maelstrom, or will the ship be swallowed beneath the stormy waters? It’s unlikely the managerial change will have any major impact on their Group B finish, but with a potential quarterfinal matchup against Argentina looming on the horizon, Spain could be headed for a second disappointing finish in a major tournament in the last two years, a result that fans are unlikely to take in stride.

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.