Longtime Premier League striker Peter Crouch retires

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At 38 years old, Peter Crouch has finally decided to call time on his career, hanging up his boots after a fabulous 19-year career that saw him attain numerous highs. Literally.

Crouch, known for his height and the finishing abilities that came with it, came up through the Tottenham youth system, but never made it initially with the London club, instead making his professional debut in the Championship (then known as the First Division) in 2000 with Queens Park Rangers. He went on to play for Portsmouth before making his Premier League debut with Aston Villa in 2002.

Eventually, the journeyman would play for Norwich City, Southampton, and Liverpool before returning to Tottenham in 2009 to play two full seasons at his boyhood club. At Liverpool, Crouch would reach the Champions League final in 2007, a game where Rafa Benitez decided to leave Crouch on the bench instead of start him despite his contribution of six goals during the European campaign, a decision which Crouch has admitted is still a difficult memory as the Reds fell 2-1 to AC Milan.

After leaving Spurs in 2012, Crouch would spend eight seasons at Stoke City, by far his longest spell at any club. He left Stoke City this past winter after 202 Premier League appearances with the Potters, playing the last half of the season at Burnley before calling time on his career.

All told, Crouch made 467 Premier League appearances across his career, scoring 106 goals and popularizing his robot dance celebration. He would also attain 42 caps for the England national team, scoring 22 goals for the country, including his only World Cup goal in 2006 against Trinidad & Tobago. He also appeared as a substitute in the 2010 World Cup, including a 12-minute substitute appearance against the United States in the opening group stage game. Oddly enough, Crouch never appeared in a Euro match for England, as the country did not qualify for Euro 2008, the only competition that took place during the meat of his international career.

In his retirement announcement, an article with the Daily Mail, Crouch says he had hoped to play until he was 40 but said “circumstances over the last couple of seasons have made me realize that this is the right thing to do.”

Crouch admitted in his announcement he had grown weary of being a late-game bench option. “I will be 39 in January but I am physically fit and could have carried on. What I didn’t want to be was someone who was thrown on to have balls smashed up to them.”

Still, the Spurs youth product says he never could have dreamed where his career would take him.

“Football has opened up avenues that I never thought were possible when I started scoring goals in the Hayes and District league as an Under 10. Football, simply, made my dreams come true. I think back to when I was 17. I was a trainee at Tottenham then but there were 10 forwards in front of me, blocking my route to the first team. They loaned me out to Dulwich Hamlet then I went to IFK Hassleholm in Sweden. Let’s be honest – you would not have taken odds on me making it then. If you had told me at that point I would go on to play for England 42 times and score 22 goals, play for Liverpool in a Champions League and FA Cup final and score the goal that put Tottenham back in the European Cup for the first time in four decades, I would have had you locked up.”

Crouch, known for his beaming smile and happy-go-lucky attitude, has built a strong off-the-field image and seems primed for a strong post-football media career. He has built a brand with his self-titled podcast and regular written appearances in the Daily Mail.

Barcelona denounces Spanish court decision on Catalan independence

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Barcelona released a statement criticizing a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision that saw 12 political activists jailed for their role in the 2017 push for Catalan independence.

The statement said that “prison is not the solution” and called the decision “condemnatory.” Instead, the club said that “the resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

The political activists were punished for pushing through an October 2017 referendum in Catalonia that resulted in over 90% of the population voting for independence. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain and seen within the country’s political hierarchy as an act of treason.

As one of the biggest social institutions of Catalonia, Barcelona’s statement on the matter carries significant weight both within the region and across Spain. Barcelona games often feature flags and banners calling for Catalan independence. Catalonia has also made a recent push for an independent FIFA-recognized squad, unsuccessful to this point. However, they played their first match inside a FIFA-sanctioned international window this March against Venezuela.

As a result of the court decision, the Catalan Football Federation suspended all its matches for Monday in solidarity with the accused. This includes only clubs and leagues that fall under the federation, which does not include Barcelona, La Liga, or the Spanish national team.

“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom,” the club said in the statement. Gerard Pique re-tweeted the social media version of the statement, adding the caption “Proud to be part of this Club.” Pique is a Catalan native and has appeared for the Catalonia national team 10 times.

Barcelona reportedly set to sign young Ansu Fati to first-team

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According to a report by Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona is readying a first-team contract for 16-year-old Ansu Fati after a collection of positive performances for the club.

The youngster was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season thanks to an injury crisis that swallowed up Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele.

He made his first appearance off the bench in the opening league game, coming on for 12 minutes against Real Betis. He then was handed a 45-minute substitute appearance against Osasuna where he registered his first goal in a 2-2 draw. That saw Fati handed his first start, and he scored again just two minutes into the eventual 5-2 win over Valencia.

With Messi struggling of late with injuries and Suarez also struck down and seeing his minutes carefully watched thanks to his advanced age, Fati’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for Barcelona. Therefore, the report states the new contract will feature an astronomical release clause of $220 million.

He only just signed a contract with the club back in July that saw him tied to Barcelona through 2022 and put him on a tiered pay scale that would reward him based on appearances for various youth and senior squads. His release clause in that contract was set at $110 million – already a record for a player of his age – but after his recent outburst the club may feel even that is not enough to ward off outside interest. The new contract will also reportedly boost his salary to a fixed $1 million for the season.

Convincing Fati to stick around long-term is of the utmost importance to Barcelona who has been forced to consider the future of the striker position at the club. Suarez’s age is the most pressing concern, but even the potential decline of 32-year-old Messi is a possibility for the near future. With those in mind, Fati’s contributions are critical and could signal a positive future for the Barcelona attack despite the necessary upcoming transitions.

Liverpool, Manchester United set for injury returns

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According to reports, both Manchester United and Liverpool are preparing to welcome back a number of important players from injury for their rivalry meeting at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Most notably, the Reds will reportedly have goalkeeper Alisson ready to take his place between the sticks, having missed nearly the entire season to this point with a calf injury. The Brazilian made it just 39 minutes into the Premier League opener against Norwich City before succumbing to injury, and Adrian has filled in since. While the Spaniard has played exceptionally well in his teammate’s stead, The Guardian reports that Alisson will take back his starting place no questions asked, having rigorously tested his injured leg with intensive training to make sure he is ready.

In addition to the Brazilian goalkeeper, Liverpool is also reportedly set to see Mohamed Salah prove fit to start despite his injury scare against Leicester City just before the international break.

For the hosts, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has received welcome news on a number of players prior to the matchup. Paul Pogba, who has missed three of the last four league matches and five of the last seven overall thanks to an ankle injury, is ready to go and will be available to start. The Mirror reports that Pogba spent much of the international break training in Dubai to aid in his recovery.

Also returning for Manchester United is Aaron Wan-Bissaka who has missed the last two Premier League matches with tonsillitis. It was reported that Wan-Bissaka was ready to return for the Newcastle match prior to the international break, but he missed out nonetheless and was absent from the England national team as well. Also reportedly returning is the oft-injured Luke Shaw who has not played since late August thanks to a hamstring problem.

Finally, Anthony Martial could be ready to return from his own hamstring injury. The report is that Martial would be in contention for a place in the Manchester United18-man squad, suggesting that he may need a match or two to regain full fitness for a starting spot but would be an option off the bench if needed.

Liverpool and Manchester United meet on Sunday for the 203rd time overall and 173rd time in the top flight, kicking off at 11:30 a.m. ET from Old Trafford. The matchup is significant for both sides as Liverpool looks to maintain its perfect record and eight point lead atop the Premier League table, while Manchester United is hoping for a boost from its vastly mediocre record to this point in the season, having recorded just two wins through the first eight matches.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”