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Kevin Walker closing in on Swedish “Idol,” league title double

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STOCKHOLM (AP) Winning Sweden’s biggest reality talent show has opened up plenty of opportunities in Kevin Walker’s burgeoning music career.

He has worked with some of the country’s top songwriters, written and performed his own singles which have been played millions of times on Spotify, and would be a good bet to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest sometime in the not-so-distant future.

He dreams of one day singing at Madison Square Garden in New York, or Wembley Stadium in London.

Walker isn’t forgetting about his day job, though.

When he’s not in a studio or making music videos, the 30-year-old Walker is a soccer player with Djurgarden, which is in contention to win the Swedish league title for the first time in 14 years.

A professional since 2006, he has played for Sweden’s national youth teams and won domestic cup competitions. But this would be his first league title, the crowning achievement of his soccer career.

And, heading into the final pressure-filled three weeks of the season, Walker is using his experience in “Idol” – the singing competition that thrust him into the national consciousness six years ago – as something of a lesson.

“I went out of my comfort zone, did something in front of millions of people that I wasn’t trained to do,” the central midfielder told The Associated Press in an interview on a chilly afternoon before Djurgarden’s practice session in central Stockholm.

“I got through that, and really learned about how I work under immense pressure and when I get nervous. It was developing for me as a person, and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Somewhat accidentally, Walker became one of the most famous soccer players in Sweden despite never having played for the national team at senior level.

In 2013, he was playing for Sundsvall in Sweden’s second division. A teammate was due to perform at an open mic night at the city’s casino but couldn’t find a babysitter, so he asked Walker if he wanted to stand in.

He had always liked a “sing-song” from when he was a small child and he used to go to Ireland – the birthplace of his father, Pat, a former soccer player and coach – to visit family. So Walker took the plunge.

Someone filmed him singing four songs alongside a piano player, and the video was shown to a producer of “Idol” when the show was in town looking for contestants. Walker ended up applying, passing the auditions, and winning the whole thing – earning a contract with Universal Music in the process.

“I was standing there singing with Robbie Williams in The Globe,” Walker said, referring to his duet with the world-famous pop singer in the arena in Stockholm that staged “Idol.” “It was pretty surreal.”

During “Idol,” he became front-page news. Commercial flights from Sundsvall to Stockholm were held back to allow Walker to get to the airport after soccer practice and fly down to the capital to perform live on stage. Swedish TV rearranged the time of a Sundsvall game to accommodate Walker’s appearance on the show.

His debut album – “Belong” – went platinum. His popularity was soaring. So it gave Walker a dilemma: Stick with soccer or become a full-time musician?

Still in his mid-20s, he chose soccer.

“They have a saying in Sweden, `While the iron is hot,’ – but I felt differently,” Walker said. “I thought, `This is great, now I have a platform which, if I play my cards right, I can develop and have a product after football.'”

So he has intermittently released singles off his own back, having ended his contract with Universal to allow him to write his own songs and dictate the pace of his music career.

“The Wind” was released in 2016 without a record label and has been his most popular song on Spotify, with more than 2.5 million plays. His latest single – “Maybe I” – was released in August and Walker said it had 120,000 streams in a month and a half. He plans to release an EP soon.

He has worked with producer Per Gessle, the male half of pop duo Roxette, and collaborated with Jorgen Elofsson, who has co-written songs for the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears.

But Walker, now a father of two, doesn’t see himself as having a “rock-star lifestyle.” He simply wants to stay relevant in music until his days as a soccer player are over, when he can really go hard at his new career.

That’s something he still sees as being a few years off.

“When I start thinking that my next football contract should be pegged up for my music, then maybe I shouldn’t be signing that contract,” said Walker, who has one year left on his deal with Djurgarden.

“I’m in a good place now. Probably in my prime, football-wise, for the next two, three years. So I think football will dictate the next contract. But I’d have to think of the bigger picture as well.”

Walker started playing for Djurgarden in 2015, was soon made captain, and helped the team win the Swedish Cup last year. He has had to battle for his place in the team this season but is still a key member of a squad that is tied on points with Malmo with three matches remaining.

“For my personal record, this is 14 or 15 years in the works,” said Walker, whose Irish heritage comes out when he talks. “There’s a lot that has been leading up to this point.”

Walker was at AIK, another Stockholm-based soccer team, when it won the league in 2009 but he didn’t get a winner’s medal because he missed the whole season with a blood-poisoning illness.

It was during that year he bought a guitar and keyboard, and started writing songs at home to kill some time.

A decade later, Walker – a musician, rather improbably, in his own right – could finally become a soccer champion, too.

Transfer news: Milik to Arsenal; Telles to Chelsea

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In the latest transfer Alex Telles is the latest left back linked with a move to Chelsea, while Arsenal are reportedly the favorites to sign striker Arkadiusz Milik.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting in north London, Arsenal continue to be linked with a host of attacking players ahead of the upcoming transfer window and Arkadiusz Milik is the latest.

The Napoli and Poland star, 26, has long been linked with a move away from the Stadio San Paolo and given the fact that the Naples club look unlikely to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, the likes of Milik, Kalidou Koulibaly and a few others may have to move on to offset the huge loss of funds.

Per the report Italian outlet Repubblica, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is keen to offload Milik and would rather sell him to Arsenal than another Serie A rival, as Juventus are reportedly interested too. Napoli could lower their asking price for Milik, who is out of contract next summer, if a Premier League club emerges as a genuine contender to sign him.

The sticking point for the Gunners? Milik would cost $45 million and Mikel Arteta’s side don’t seem to have significant transfer funds as they’ve been linked with plenty of loan and swap deals ahead of the summer window.

That said, if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaves this summer (he has just one year left on his contract) and Alexandre Lacazette is also sold and sent to Atletico Madrid in a swap deal for Thomas Lemar, Arteta will have some extra cash a huge drop in his wage bill to work with.

Milik, on paper, would seem to suit the Premier League well. He reminds me of Edin Dzeko as he can hold the ball up, is powerful in the air and despite his horrendous luck with injuries he is still extremely mobile and can lead the line. Arteta seems pretty happy with young strikers Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah who he used often in central roles before the suspension in March but Milik has plenty of experience and would be a focal point to their attack.

Telles
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Moving to west London, Chelsea are reportedly want to buy Telles from FC Porto but face stiff competition from Paris Saint-Germain for the Brazilian full back.

According to Le 10 Sport in France, Chelsea and PSG will battle it out for the Porto left back and they claim that Chelsea have been tracking Telles for some time and have a jump start on other clubs. He is only contract to Porto until the summer of 2021, so there’s a cut-price deal to be made there.

Telles, 27, made his debut for Brazil last year and after starting his career in his homeland he’s played for Galatasaray, Inter Milan on loan and now Porto for the last four seasons. He is considered as one of the best full backs playing in Portugal and has chipped in with 21 goals in 183 appearances in all competitions for Porto.

As we’ve mentioned before, Chelsea need a more solid left back defensively but Frank Lampard still has an attacking playing style and therefore Telles seems like a very good fit. Emerson Palmeri is a little too defensive, while Marcos Alonso is too attack-minded and left back is an area where the Blues clearly want to strengthen in the upcoming transfer window. They’ve been linked with Nicolas Tagliafico and others and as clubs start to circle across Europe for Telles, Chelsea’s intentions will perhaps become clearer in the weeks ahead.

VIDEO: Top 10 players in the world as soccer resumes

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Who are the top 10 soccer players in the world right now as the season is about to resume in multiple leagues?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With the Bundesliga in full flow for a few weeks, Spain’s La Liga will return next week and the Premier League and Serie A will follow the week after.

Given that there are so many superstars scattered across those four leagues, here’s a list of the top 10 players set to be in action over the summer months as we will be treated to a sort of bonus World Cup with multiple leagues spreading out games over multiple days as top four, title and relegation battles take center stage.

From Manchester to Milan and Barcelona to Berlin, there will be so many superstars in full flow in the coming months.

Of course, the Ligue 1 season in France is canceled so we can’t watch Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for at least a few months. If we could, the Paris Saint-Germain duo would be high up on the list of top 10 players in the world right now as the soccer world gets ready to resume in empty stadiums.

Top 10 players in the world who will be in action this summer

10. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

9. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

7. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

6. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

5. Bruno Fernandes (Man United)

4. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)

3. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Which clubs have toughest, easiest remaining PL schedule?

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Now we know that the Premier League will return on June 17, which clubs have the toughest and easiest remaining schedule to navigate?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have taken a deep dive into the remaining schedule for all 20 Premier League clubs and it is intriguing to see this list. I love this kind of analysis.

Based on the current Premier League table, our partners have calculated the average position of teams who all 20 clubs have to face in their remaining schedule.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

First, here’s the list and below we will break down which Premier League clubs have the toughest or easiest remaining schedule and why.


Average opponent position

Man United: 12.3

Man City: 12.1

Wolves: 11.8

Southampton: 11.7

Newcastle: 11.4

Leicester: 11.3

West Ham: 11.3

Chelsea: 11

Norwich: 11

Everton: 10.7

Burnley: 10.6

Liverpool: 10.6

Arsenal: 10.5

Tottenham: 10.4

Watford: 10.1

Sheffield United: 9.4

Brighton: 8.6

Aston Villa: 8.4

Crystal Palace: 8.2

Bournemouth: 8.2


Analysis

This is very revealing when it comes to the ‘strength of the remaining schedule’ for all 20 Premier League clubs and explains why some fans are still hesitant to see their teams back in action, while others are licking their chops in anticipation of a late-season surge up the table.

In short: if you are Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Brighton you could struggle in this relegation battle. All three clubs have plenty of the big boys left to play, while fellow relegation rivals West Ham and Norwich have much easier schedules, on paper, to navigate.

As for the top four battle, Man United look to have a clear edge on Chelsea in the race for fourth place but Wolves are also high in this list so Nuno Espirito Santo’s side look well sit to finish off another remarkable season with a flourish. Sheffield United have a very tough remaining schedule so if they can stay in the top six it will be a fabulous achievement for Chris Wilder’s side, while we should keep an eye out for Southampton and Newcastle to potentially make a late surge up the table given the respective strength of their schedules.

However, this is just a study on the average position of teams they are facing. It doesn’t taken into account the players now available after recovering from injuries which impacted plenty of clubs in varying degrees, or the fact that different teams will adapt differently to playing in empty stadiums. If the Bundesliga is anything to go by, away teams have dominated so far and that could mean that the more away games Premier League teams have left in their schedule (six of Villa’s final 10 games are at home, while six of Sheffield United’s final 10 games are away) the more points they could pick up.

We all know funny things happen late in the season every season and with an intense scrap for the top four, Europa League spots and the battle against relegation, previous form can go out the window as desperation sets in. Still, stats like these are fascinating to sift through and give us an inclination as to wide to expect on a general level.

Liverpool, Man United show support for Black Lives Matter

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Liverpool and Man United have joined the growing number of clubs and players across the world offering their support to the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and honoring George Floyd.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN last Monday there have been widespread protests across the USA.

A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested last Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Over the weekend Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages of support on their jerseys, while USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga.

On Monday Liverpool players posted a photo of their entire squad taking a knee around the center circle at Anfield during a training session with the message Black Lives Matter and Unity is Strength, while Man United star Marcus Rashford released a powerful statement on the widespread protests across the USA.

Paris Saint-Germain and France superstar Kylian Mbappe also posted an image on social media with the caption “police with us, not against us.”

Across the soccer world clubs and players are speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and honoring George Floyd.