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Wayne Rooney gets fitting farewell

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LONDON — Wayne Rooney‘s incredible, if not fairytale, England career had a fitting farewell.

It was, in many ways, as wonderfully subdued as the general demeanor of the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Manchester United. It oozed class in front of nearly 70,000 fans at the home of soccer.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Winning his 120th and final cap in a one-off comeback 3-0 win against the U.S. men’s national team on Thursday, England’s fans screamed “shoooooot!” every time Rooney touched the ball after coming on in the 58th minute. Instead he tried to set up others whenever he could, but he did come close as he beat two defenders but his low shot was saved by Brad Guzan, then moments before the final whistle he threw himself at a cross he couldn’t quite get on the end of.

That would have been too perfect of a finale for a laidback lad from Liverpool.

As he disappeared down the Wembley tunnel one last time as a player, most of the fans had already gone. But Rooney applauded those that stayed and then looked on wistfully around the Wembley pitch one last time before he spoke about his farewell.

“It’s my opinion that England are in very safe hands from what I’ve seen this week,” Rooney said. “The way they are being coached is brilliant, it’s a great group of young players who have a bright future. They will go close to being the next team to bring a trophy back for England… I’ve had my time, I can sit back and watch them now.”

Again, classy. Just like the entire night was as he was welcomed onto the pitch with a guard of honor and had his kids alongside him as chants of “Rooney, Rooney” cascaded down from the stands.

To put the magnitude of his glittering career into context, Rooney’s 120 caps were more than England’s entire starting lineup combined.

Rooney, 33, made his England debut when he was 17 and up until last year he carried the hopes of soccer’s home nation on his shoulders year after year.  In truth, he made every English youngster dream that they could follow in his footsteps as a homegrown Premier League star and an England hero.

When Rooney stepped out onto the pitch in his famous number 10 jersey as a second half sub, he was handed the armband and it seemed all so familiar to see him strolling around Wembley as if he was playing in his local park.

It is clear he was more than just a player to his teammates and opponents. For an entire generation around the world, he was an example of what could be achieved when pure hard work meets incredible skill.

His goals, his guile, his drive, Rooney had everything in his early years to suggest he was the man who could end the heartbreak of 1966. England’s wait for a trophy goes on.

England’s all-time leading goalscorer will always be criticized for not leading the Three Lions to glory, but the Liverpudlian seemed to be the right man at the wrong time.

It’s intriguing to think about what would be if Rooney was born 15 years later. There’s no doubt that his cerebral brilliance, his sublime weight of pass and clever flicks would still have a place in the game today, but the pace and power of this England attacking line suggest August 2017 was the right time for him to step away from the international game.

Youngsters like Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli are tasked with trying to lead the Three Lions to silverware and as Rooney said, the no. 5 team on the planet look set to do just that.

As a team, England never hit the heights they should have with Rooney as their leader. The numerous penalty kick agonies for Rooney and the “golden generation” were backed up by his untimely injuries before big tournaments, that red card against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and his meltdown in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.

His relationship with England fans, the media and everyone in-between has been tumultuous over the past decade or so but Rooney has always done one thing: turn up and give his all for his country.

Look at the way Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate and the current England squad laud his ability, his quality not only as a player but as a person.

Rooney was thrust into the spotlight as a teenager and was expected to be a leader. A few hiccups off the pitch over the years suggests he just wants to be normal. That he was always a reluctant superstar who wanted to be one of the lads watching England play down the pub.

One moment sticks in my mind when summing up Rooney’s understated demeanor that was showcased fittingly in his England farewell.

Last year I attended a Football Writers’ Association tribute dinner for Rooney at the swanky Savoy hotel in London. As I walked down a corridor, Rooney was walking towards me and with his hands in the pockets of his tux. He looked more uncomfortable than a linebacker performing ballet. I simply said, “congrats on the award, mate!” Rooney replied, “thanks, mate” and smiled as he put his head down, took a deep breath and then walked back into the main ballroom at the Savoy, where 300-plus adoring fans and industry giants were waiting to hear him speak as many stood in a huge line for photos and a chat with him.

What I wanted to say, as an Englishman who remembers watching Rooney in his debut Premier League season when we were both teenagers, was, “no, thank you.” Thanks for for giving us the opportunity to watch your fantastic goals, surging runs and bulldozing of defenders for club and country. Thanks for making every young lad in England dream and somehow believe they could emulate your play in one small way or another.

Even if he wasn’t his scene to attend fancy dinners and sit down for hours talking to the media, Rooney has grown into his ambassadorial role over the years with both England and Man United. So much so that he is now seen as a true role model to younger professionals on how to continue a relentless pursuit of perfection.

He was England’s main hope for his entire career. Now, that time has come and gone. Rooney got the farewell he deserved on Thursday against the U.S. men’s national team and after seeing him suffer and succeed for England, the fans were united in applauding a legend off the pitch one final time.

Rooney’s place in the pantheon of soccer greats is secure and the reception he received at Wembley, the home of soccer, underlined how much he has been admired. It also reflected what he always wanted: to be admired as a player who always did his best for his country.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.