Berbatov’s greatest Premier League hits

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Dimitar Berbatov announced his retirement on Thursday, closing out a two-decade professional career.

The Bulgarian striker never flashed much pace in the helter skelter Premier League. But it didn’t matter. Over his eight seasons in the Premier League, Berbatov may go down in history for the greatest technical player in the Premier League era. I mean, just look at this first touch!

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Look at how nonchalantly Berbatov brought down that 50-yard bomb from across the field, controlling it as if he was just juggling the ball three feet in the air to himself. That slow, methodical play was evident for Berbatov across his time with Tottenham, Manchester United and Fulham, but it didn’t matter, because he always ended up in the right place in the box to score, or he could pick out a pass to set up a teammate. He even had a few dribbling tricks.

Berbatov finished his Premier League career with 94 goals and 40 assists in 229 games. He joined Tottenham after a stellar five-year run with Bayer Leverkusen in 2006 and immediately became a fan favorite. In 2008, he made a then-Man United record transfer to Old Trafford for around a reported $38 million. After four seasons and 48 league goals, Berbatov moved to Fulham for another couple of years before heading back abroad.

During his time in England, Berbatov left crowds stunned with stupendous goals, flicks and tricks. Here’s a collection of some of his best highlights.

Rooney lambasts MLS over domestic salaries

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It is quite clear Wayne Rooney is leaving Major League Soccer in December to head back to England.

Before he leaves for a player-coach role at Derby County, he’s hellbent on having his say. He is keen to air some grievances.

Like a free-spirited floor manager who is working out his notice before moving on, Rooney has once again taken a shot at MLS. This time he has hit out over salaries domestic players in the U.S. and Canada receive.

In an interview with ESPN, Rooney, 33, doubled down after his recent criticism of travel issues regarding charter flights not being available for all away trips.

“I feel that American players get underpaid,” Rooney said. “I feel they deserve to get more money to stay in line with football in the rest of the world and in terms of the American sports. I’m not saying it to benefit me, I obviously won’t be in the league next season. I think it’s only fair to those players who are putting in the same work as all have to earn the right to earn more money for doing it.”

Has Rooney got a point? He has, but it is a complex area to delve in to.

With more money set aside in recent seasons for Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), it is easier for MLS franchises to spend more money on overseas additions, and they often do that rather than use it on domestic players.

If you are a non-Designated Player in MLS, the maximum salary you can earn is $10,192-a-week. Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and others clearly don’t have to worry about their salary as DPs, but it is commendable that they are lending their voices to the cause. Rooney could just sit their and take his DP salary, but he’s not. So, he’s obviously seen something that needs to be addressed.

Do MLS players deserve to be paid higher? Of course. But it is still a growing league and is far away from the average salary in Europe’s top leagues. The average wage in MLS is around $7,000 per week, while in the Premier League it is around $70,000 per week.

With MLS expanding to new markets and attracting new interest from all over the globe, you’d expect the players who helped make the league what it is, the veteran U.S. and Canadian players, to be rewarded for their loyalty. But in the current system, it doesn’t work like that.

Why is Rooney speaking out now? The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) runs out on Jan. 31, 2020 and there is talk of a strike unless more charter flights and freedom of movement between MLS teams is granted.

Given his profile, having Rooney lead the charge makes sense. Expect to hear a lot more about the MLS’ upcoming CBA talks with the MLS Players Association (MLSPA).

Mina, Stevens charged by FA over breaking gambling rules

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Everton’s Yerry Mina and Leeds United’s Jordan Stevens have both been charged by the English Football Association over breaking gambling rules.

Stevens, 19, has been banned from all soccer related activity for six weeks after placing 59 bets last season, including five on Leeds. He was also fines $1,482.

Mina has been fined $12,300 and warned about his future conduct after he appeared in an advert for a betting company in his homeland of Colombia. He was charged in July and has now been charged.

Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear released a strong statement with regards to the sanctions against Stevens.

“We are hugely disappointed in the FA’s choice of sanction,” Kinnear said. “To prevent a young footballer from taking part in any football activities at such a critical period of his career is a disproportionate punishment following a foolish mistake from a young player. We are particularly disappointed that the sanction was determined by two former professional footballers who we hoped would have had a better understanding of the impact of their decision.”

In recent years Daniel Sturridge, Joey Barton and others have been charged by the FA for breaching betting rules and with the rise in availability of betting on sports in the UK it is an issue which will continue to crop up.

Professional players in the UK are banned from betting on any soccer, no matter what game or team are involved.

USMNT vet Williams signs for Cypriot side Pafos FC

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USMNT midfielder Danny Williams is taking his terrific career down an unusual path.

The 30-year-old center midfielder became a free agent after Huddersfield Town was relegated from the Premier League, and opted to join Cypriot new boys Pafos FC. Pafos was formed in 2014 by the merger of AEK Kouklia and AEP Paphos.

[ MORE: USMNT strengths and weaknesses ]

Surely there’s a lot of money involved, but the five-year old project has attracted plenty of attention. Pafos also has Jason Puncheon, Bakary Sako, Stephen Sunday, and Adam Nemec on the books.

Williams becomes their highest profile non-Cypriot player, and they’ll count on him if they have any hope of bettering their league-best finish of eighth. APOEL Nicosia has won the last seven titles, while Apollon Limassol, AEL Limassol, and AEK Larnaca are well-established.

He made 25 appearances over two years in the Premier League after a transfer from Reading, where played 156 times. Prior to that, the 23-times capped American spent time with Hoffenheim and Freiburg.

The German-born Williams may not find his way back to the USMNT due to this move and his age, but we’ll always have this banger in a blowout loss to Brazil.

An Englishman in Bordeaux

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Very few have traveled the path from south London to Manchester, then Sunderland and then the Southwest of France. Then again, few people are Josh Maja.

While Jadon Sancho and Keiran Trippier may garner most of the media attention for English players plying their trade off the British Isle, one young Englishman is poised for a breakout year in Ligue 1. Maja, who joined Bordeaux during the January transfer window in 2019, is finally healthy after a knee injury cut short his first season in France, and he’s ready to make a big impact as part of a young squad.

 [ MORE: Ligue 1 score, schedule ]

The 20-year-old striker has an impressive story, overcoming the odds to not just become a professional, but also to make it to the top division in France. Maja began his career playing for St. Andrews Youth Club, its headquarters just steps away from Westminster Abbey.

He also spent time as a youngster with Crystal Palace and then Fulham, but left the club after three-and-a-half years for personal reasons. He then returned to St. Andrews, all the while going for trials across the country, trying to latch on with a team. While training with Manchester City and featuring in a friendly match against Sunderland, his fortunes suddenly changed. Sunderland liked what it saw, brought him to the northeast of England, and gave him a chance.

After working his way up the ranks from the Under-18s through the Under-23s and reserves, it was then-Sunderland manager David Moyes who gave Maja his first team debut in 2016. After working on his game for another season, Maja had a breakout year with Sunderland down in League One at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Maja scored in Sunderland’s season opener, a 2-1 win over Charlton, and then went on to score 15 league goals in the first five months of the season, scoring with both feet and his head, and making it look easy at times.

Amazingly, Maja wasn’t even supposed to start that first game of the season. Sunderland had just signed experienced forward Charlie Wyke. But an injury to Wyke in the buildup to the game put Maja in, and he didn’t look back.

“I probably say everything was clicking,” Maja said in an interview with Pro Soccer Talk. “(Wyke) got injured in training so I had to start that game, and then I scored in the first game. From there, my confidence just went up. I think just the momentum and the confidence I had going into games was pushing me on to be successful that season.”

Suddenly, there was interest from clubs in the Championship, Premier League, and abroad. For a player who had trained at Manchester City, Fulham, and Crystal Palace, this could have been a big moment for him to make a move to a bigger club. But Maja said he didn’t see it that way.

“I just felt it was a good time for me to go abroad,” Maja said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to take the step into the Premier League. I think signing for a PL team wouldn’t have been the right decision for my development.

“Obviously for me developing is playing games and I felt as if going abroad was going to enhance my development and get more game time. I think it was the right decision and I hope this season I can push on.”

By late January, it was done. Maja’s agent, Emeka Obasi helped Maja move from Sunderland to Ligue 1’s Bordeaux on an undisclosed fee, with Maja signing a four-and-a-half year contract. Obasi has been influential in seeing some of England’s top young talents move abroad, including Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund, Ademola Lookman’s move to RB Leipzig and Reiss Nelson’s loan to Hoffenheim last season.

“There was interest before the season, I knew there was a little bit there,” Maja said. “When I was scoring goals as the season was going on, the attention from them grew. My agent was the one, just because he’s got a good relationship with a lot of teams, he basically gave me confidence to listen to clubs abroad, and Bordeaux showed the biggest interest. That’s the main reason I took the opportunity to come here.”

After joining Bordeaux, Maja quickly integrated into the young squad and played in seven matches, starting three and scoring one goal. However, a torn meniscus in his left knee shut down the rest of his season for good. Instead of spending the time injured back home in London, Maja said he remained in Bordeaux to rehab, and he was ready to go at the start of the season for coach Paulo Sousa.

Following a preseason with Bordeaux, in which Maja participated in EA Sports League 1 games in Washington D.C., Maja seems primed for a big season in France. He’s come off the bench in each of the first three league matches of the season, scoring in Bordeaux’s 1-1 draw with Montpellier. Bordeaux’s young team looks to improve from a 14th-place finish last season, in which the club only earned 41 points.

“He’s very young like a lot of players on our team, but he has a lot of experience,” Maja’s Bordeaux teammate Aurelien Tchouameni said. “He played a lot of games in League One in England so he’s a very good player, a very good striker. I think he will help the team this season.”

At just 20, there’s still time for Maja to continue to improve, grow, and potentially return to England as a finished product.

“It’s a possibility,” Maja said about playing in the Premier League in the future. “I am focusing on my work in France with Bordeaux, maybe if the timing is right and the right club comes in, I’d love to take that opportunity. Right now I want to be the best I can be here.”