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Mark Clattenburg heads to China as head of officiating

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Mark Clattenburg left England last year at the peak of his refereeing career for a big-money move to Saudi Arabia, and it appears he has his next high-profile move sorted as well.

The recognizable referee announced he has signed on to become Head of the Referee Division and Future Development of Referees for the Chinese Super League after the expiry of his contract at his previous role. He will return to the field in this new role, refereeing Chinese Super League matches as well as overseeing the league’s officials.

“I am excited by the new challenge,” Clattenburg said in the announcement. “The Chinese Super League has grown markedly in recent years and they want the standard of refereeing to grow with it.”

The Chinese Super League has been a popular destination for big-name players nearing the end of their peak years and looking to cash in on one final contract, with players like Javier Mascherano, Paulinho, Graziano Pelle, Oscar, Hulk, and Yannick Carrasco all currently plying their trade in the Far East. Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele both just recently moved from Premier League clubs to the Chinese league. “I’m looking forward to being part of [the league’s growth],” Clattenburg said. “You look at the quality of the players, so many in the peak of their career, and it is clear to see the ambition of the league and the clubs within it.”

Clattenburg was considered the top Premier League official when he retired from on-field duties in 2017, having previously taken charge of both Champions League and Euro finals, and was in line to represent England at the World Cup before abruptly calling time on his career. He transitioned to an overseer role in Saudi Arabia where he replaced Howard Webb and was able to coach officials and also give his opinion on on-field matters. He will now return to the field as part of his new role in China, a surprising development given it seemed he was finished with active refereeing when he departed the Premier League. That leaves the door open to a possible return to officiating in England down the road, and maybe in continental competitions as well.

The move also opens the door to foreign officials refereeing domestic matches outside their home country, not something previously thought of as a common occurrence.

USMNT-Brazil preview: Sarachan, meet gauntlet

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Let’s recap the Dave Sarachan interim spell in charge of the United States men’s national team.

Two wins, three draws, and a loss to Ireland in Dublin are on Sarachan’s record, the most notable perhaps being a 1-1 draw against France that leaves the Yanks as one of the last two teams to play Les Bleus to a stalemate over 90 minutes (Denmark at the World Cup group stage).

[ MORE: What’s at stake for USMNT? ]

The Rochester, N.Y. born 64-year-old has been a steady hand for a reeling program, one which has yet to announce its next full-time boss (There’s reason to infer it could be Tata Martino, but let’s leave that for a later date).

It’s legitimate to wonder whether Sarachan will add another win to his resume before the end of the year. The manager will lead the U.S. against Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, England, and Italy (though the first four will be hosted on American soil, at least the first two will be without national team phenom Christian Pulisic).

That won’t change what’s easy to see as a successful tenure by the Sarachan, who has navigated the fact that he was a part of the staff who failed to qualify for the World Cup with calm if not savvy while introducing several new players to the fold.

We say all this now because the odds are that the USMNT fan base’s good vibes could be rocked on Friday night when Brazil rolls into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Tite’s Seleção includes Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Alisson Becker, Philippe Coutinho, and Casemiro.

The United States has beaten Brazil once, a 1-0 win at the 1998 Gold Cup, and frankly the Yanks have had a lot of trouble keeping their CONMEBOL visitors from scoring boatloads of goals. Brazil has scored three of more goals in five of six against the USMNT, the outlier being a 2-0 loss.

The latest was a humbling 4-1 defeat for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men that was only saved from a clean sheet by Danny Williams‘ absurd blast in the direction of Marcelo Grohe.

[ MORE: Hernandez to MUFC or Real? ]

Sarachan can choose 10 of the 11 men who started the 1-1 draw against France by sliding DeAndre Yedlin into Shaq Moore’s shoes (though we must say he could start 11 of 11, however unlikely).

Brazil’s 4-3-3 will look different for sure, with Marcelo, Paulinho, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Miranda, and Fagner all absent after starting for Tite in the Selecao‘s 2-1 loss to Belgium at the World Cup.

Assuming a Firmino start between Neymar and Willian with Coutinho handling some playmaker duty underneath, this is another massive test for (presumably) Zack Steffen, Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, and either Eric Lichaj or Antonee Robinson.

There are ways it could go well and the Yanks could still lose by two, which is why the utmost of caution should be given to any poor performance. But if the Yanks win or draw, it would not just be a positive step but a historic one for a team that enters the day 1-17 all-time against Brazil.

Reports: Barcelona completes Vidal move ahead of Inter

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It seemed like 31-year-old Arturo Vidal would be headed back to Serie A, but oh how things can change in the course of a few days.

With Inter appearing to close in on the Chilean international, Barcelona swooped in and snatched Vidal out from under the Italian club’s nose, reportedly completing the deal for $35 million.

Vidal has won a league title in each of his last seven seasons, the last three at Bayern Munich and the four prior at Serie A giants Juventus. The midfielder has proven his world-class status time and again, as a rock in the midfield for both clubs and in exactly 100 caps for his country. However, injuries last season limited him to just 22 Bundesliga appearances, pushing Bayern to let him go.

The Chilean will serve as a direct replacement for Paulinho, who was stellar in his year at Barcelona before returning to the Chinese top flight. Paulinho struggled mightily in the World Cup with Brazil, and was then shipped back to Chinese club Guanzhou Evergrande a year after leaving.

Meanwhile, at Bayern, the rise of Corentin Tolisso made Vidal expendable, with the French international proving a viable option for title-hungry club. Between Tolisso, Thiago, Sebastian Rudy, Javi Martinez, and the versatile Joshua Kimmich, Bayern will be just fine in the middle of the pitch.

Vidal’s capture pushed Barcelona’s expenditure this summer over $130 million, having already secured French defender Clement Lenglet, plus Brazilian duo Malcom and Arthur.

Barcelona formalizes Arthur purchase which could reach $47m

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Barcelona is making its first purchase of the summer, and it’s an exciting one (even if we’ve known it was likely for some time).

Arthur Melo is coming to the Camp Nou from Gremio in Brazil, where the 21-year-old has won the Copa Libertadores and is a box-to-box talent who can operate in defensive or attacking functions.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood staying in Bundesliga ]

You can call him just Arthur, if you like.

The cost is approximately $36 million with a potential $11 million in incentives.

Having sent Paulinho on loan to Guangzhou Evergrande and Gerard Deulofeu to Watford while losing Andres Iniesta on a free transfer to Vissel Kobe, there are openings in Barca’s set-up.

According to a Barca release:

Arthur likes playing with quick touches and short, triangulating passes involving his teammates. One of his virtues is his ability to get open, which makes him a dangerous right-footed threat near the penalty area. At 172 cm tall (5 ft 8 in), Arthur also stands for his skill at protecting the ball and his eagerness to play vertically up the field.

Arthur has been on the Brasileirao’s top-rated players for two seasons and represents an interesting piece to Barcelona’s long-term puzzle. We expect we’ll be hearing plenty from him.

Paulinho leaves Barca after one year to rejoin Guangzhou

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He came, he saw, he conquered (La Liga and Copa del Rey), and now Paulinho is leaving Barcelona after just one season to return to the club from which he came, Guangzhou Evergrande.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Paulinho’s move to Barcelona was already quite a curious one when it happened last summer: he was already 29 years old, had left Tottenham Hotspur two years earlier after an infamously poor spell in the Premier League, and was making (presumably) far more money playing in the Chinese Super League than he could just about anywhere else in the world. In defense of the transfer and coaching staffs, he proved a totally competent replacement-level player for a side that won two major trophies, at a cost of $47 million.

Of course, Paulinho would have wanted to showcase himself at a higher level ahead of the 2018 World Cup, with his place in the Brazil squad very much still up in the air fewer than 12 months ago. In a sense, it’s a deal that largely worked out for all parties involved.

[ MORE: Ranking World Cup semifinalists | Schedule for semis, final ]

Now, comes the truly strange — perhaps, unsavory — part: the transfer which Guangzhou announced on Sunday is a one-year loan deal with an already-agreed future fee for a permanent transfer. According to reports, that future fee will be considerably larger than the amount Barcelona paid last summer, for a player who will, in 12 months’ time, be two years older at 32.

Essentially, Barcelona will have rented the player for a season, and made a profited — perhaps in the neighborhood of $10 million — on the back-and-forth transaction, rather having paid a rental fee themselves.