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Emotional Lopetegui at Real introduction: Spain firing ‘saddest day’

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It’d be fair to assume Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would sympathize with anyone changing managers in a fit of emotion, but the 71-year-old is enraged on behalf of his new coach Julen Lopetegui.

[ MORE: Will Spain be affected? ]

Madrid introduced Lopetegui on Thursday. The Spanish coach is taking the reins from resigned boss Zinedine Zidane one day after the Spanish national team fired Lopetegui for taking the Real job without informing them.

Yes, the same Spanish team who enters this month’s World Cup as one of the favorites.

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Perez lambasted the Spanish federation, which claimed both Lopetegui and his new club “betrayed” the country, citing Chelsea and Manchester United hiring Antonio Conte and Louis Van Gaal on the eve of major tournaments for their national teams.

And Lopetegui claimed his players reacted well to his telling them he’d leave the national team set-up after the World Cup.

At one point, Lopetegui became emotional in discussing the last 24-48 hours.

From Real Madrid’s web site:

“I believe I’m ready for this adventure and to take the wonderful squad of players we have under my wing. Real Madrid aspires to win everything and I feel part of the family at this club. Yesterday was the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother, but today is the happiest.”

We get it, Julen, and there’s no reason for him to feel shamed. We supposed he could’ve told Real to wait until after the World Cup to speak, but then could miss out on a dream job.

The 51-year-old coached Real Madrid B from 2008-09 before moving onto Spain’s youth set-up, then Porto, then Spain’s senior team.

Spain boss Lopetegui to take charge of Real Madrid

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Julen Lopetegui will be the new manager of Real Madrid.

The current Spanish national team coach has signed a three-year deal to take charge of the reigning European champions and he will leave his role at the end of the 2018 World Cup.

Following the departure of Zinedine Zidane in mic-dropping fashion just days after he delivered a third-straight European title, Real had been linked with bringing in Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino as their new boss.

In a brief statement on their website, Real announced they’ve appointed the former FC Porto manager on the eve of the World Cup.

“Julen Lopetegui will be the Real Madrid coach after the celebration of the 2018 World Cup. Real Madrid C. F. announce that Julen Lopetegui will be the coach of the first team during the next three seasons. Julen Lopetegui will join the club after Spain’s participation in the World Cup, after two years leading the national team.”

The 51-year-old has an impressive resume after leading Spain’s youth national teams to glory and then leading the Spanish national team to a waltz through World Cup qualifying after he took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016.

This is somewhat of a surprise but Lopetegui is among the most promising coaches in the world and he will now return to the club where he began his journey. Lopetegui graduated from Real’s academy but played just once for the first team in a nomadic 17-year career across Spain.

Quite what this announcement means for Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup this summer remain to be seen, but Lopetegui will no doubt be fully focused on guiding his nation to success to begin his reign as Real boss in the best possible fashion.

Balotelli back with Italy after four years, ready to be a leader

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TURIN, Italy (AP) — As far as Mario Balotelli is concerned, he doesn’t have to be Italy’s captain to be a role model.

“I’m here to score goals. You can also be a role model without wearing the armband,” Balotelli said at a news conference on Sunday, a day before Italy’s friendly against the Netherlands.

Earlier this week when Balotelli played for Italy for the first time in four years, a banner that read, “My captain is of Italian blood,” was draped on a pitch-side wall during a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Switzerland.

With Balotelli one of the most experienced players on Italy’s squad, there had been discussion that he might be named captain.

The issue has come to the forefront amid the installation of Italy’s new populist leaders, which includes a staunchly anti-immigrant, right-wing party in its governing coalition.

Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants.

“It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain,” Balotelli said.

“Racism really hurts,” Balotelli added. “It’s time for Italy to become like many other countries — more open — and to start integrating people who come from abroad.”

Balotelli hadn’t played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup.

He said he understands why former Italy coach Antonio Conte didn’t use him — “I wasn’t in great form” — but couldn’t see why Gian Piero Ventura never called him up.

“With Ventura I have no idea. We spoke but I didn’t understand his explanations very much and I was doing well,” Balotelli said. “But he was the coach and so I respect his (decision).”

Ventura was fired in November after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Balotelli played under current Italy coach Roberto Mancini at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

Mancini announced that Balotelli would not start against the Netherlands, revealing that the attacking line would consist of Simone Verdi, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne.

Chelsea reportedly stops negotiations with Courtois, likely to sell

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Chelsea could look very different last season, from front to back.

As the futures of Alvaro Morata, Willian, and others are debated, Sky Sports is reporting that goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is ready to leave Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Who will replace Zidane? ]

The same report says Roma’s Alisson could arrive at Chelsea.

Courtois, 26, had admitted his “heart is in Madrid” with his kids, even while discussing a new deal with the Blues. Sky says Chelsea have stopped negotiations with Courtois.

Belgium’s No. 1 goalkeeper spent three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid after signing for Chelsea from Gent in 2011.

He won the Premier League Golden Glove in 2016-17 with Chelsea, and has also won La Liga’s top goalkeeping honor.

Chelsea still has uncertainty at its managerial post, with Antonio Conte‘s status up in the air and Maurizio Sarri linked with the position.

Who will remain at Chelsea next season?

Chelsea announce stadium plans on hold

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Chelsea have announced their $1.3 billion plans to rebuild Stamford Bridge are on hold due to “the current unfavourable investment climate.” 

[ MORE: Zidane quits as Real boss ]

The west London club have ambitions to totally demolish their home stadium and rebuild a 60,000 capacity venue on the same site, and this announcement comes at a strange time after Hammersmith & Fulham borough council only approved the plans last year.

There are reports that due to Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich recently being turned down for a new UK visa (and instead applying for Israeli citizenship) there could be tougher financial times coming up for the five-time Premier League champions.

In a statement on Chelsea’s website, the club confirmed the reason behind the decision to cancel their plans.

“Chelsea Football Club announces today that it has put its new stadium project on hold. No further pre-construction design and planning work will occur. The club does not have a time frame set for reconsideration of its decision. The decision was made due to the current unfavourable investment climate.”

Intriguing times ahead for the Blues not only on the pitch, as Antonio Conte edges nearer to the exit door and rumors regarding Maurizio Sarri coming in as their new manager persist.

First things first, Chelsea’s fans will want to hear more from Abramovich and his future plans for the club after his issues with acquiring a new UK visa are reportedly linked to the diplomatic situation regarding the UK and Russia.

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