By this point, the 2016-17 season is ramping up into full gear. Title races are beginning to formulate across Europe, while it is becoming evident which clubs are going to struggle to stay afloat in their respective divisions.

There have been spectacular goals, thrilling matches and wonderful skills; underdog success stories, bitter rivalries and managerial mastery.

But amid all the excitement, several top-level players have seen their careers stall, almost becoming forgotten about. Some previously heralded talents are now struggling to make matchday squads, let alone earn valuable game minutes.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Morgan Schneiderlin joined Manchester United from Southampton last summer in a £25 million move. The switch to Old Trafford was meant to be the Frenchman’s shot at the big time; it was supposed to signal his arrival among the elite.

But, instead, the 26-year-old former Saint has struggled to make any discernible impact in Manchester and rarely even enters the conversation over who should start for the Red Devils on a weekly basis.

Schneiderlin was signed by Louis van Gaal to sure up United’s midfield last season. Having impressed with Southampton on their rise from League One to the Premier League, becoming a full France international in the process, the former Strasbourg player was expected to add a degree of physicality and drive to the 20-time champions’.

He made a total of 29 Premier League appearances in his maiden Old Trafford campaign, but failed to truly influence games in the way he had at St. Mary’s Stadium.

This term, under José Mourinho, the 15-cap Les Bleus player has made just one league appearance – as a late substitute in the opening day win over Bournemouth – and frequently misses out on making the 18-man matchday squad.

If Schneiderlin has any hope of resurrecting his flagging United career, he needs to take full advantage of the few minutes he is afforded by stamping his authority on games as he is capable of. If not, a move away from Manchester could soon be on the cards.


Real Madrid midfielder Isco has found regular first-team football hard to come by since Zinedine Zidane took over at the Bernabéu in January.

The 2012 Goldon Boy award winner has found it hard to displace the impeccable pairing of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the Madrid midfield, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are understandably preferred in the wide attacking roles.

But just as talk of a possible January transfer away from the Spanish capital began to pick up speed – Tottenham Hotspur were thought to be readying a £30 million bid – Isco completed his first full 90 minutes since April in Los Blancos’ 6-1 victory over Real Betis.

The gifted midfielder scored twice and generally performed to the level of his early Real Madrid career, forcing Zidane to once again consider the former Malaga man as a genuine regular.

With Modric injured, Isco started again last weekend as Madrid edged out Athletic Club 2-1 at the Bernabéu. His seventh-minute assist for Karim Benzema to open the scoring means that the 24-year-old has now set up more goals that any Madrid player since 2013.

Isco’s lack of playing time had seen him miss out of Spain’s Euro 2016 squad, but with the player apparently recovering form, La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui will be counting on him for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure is arguably one of the greatest and most important players in Manchester City’s history. Signed from Barcelona in 2010, he was the driving force behind their 2011-12 Premier League title win. Two years later, he scored 20 league goals to wrap up another championship success for the Citizens.

But since that phenomenal campaign, in which he was crowned the club’s player of the year, Toure’s influence has steadily faded.

Since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Etihad this summer, the Ivory Coast midfielder has not played a single minute of Premier League football.

The 33-year-old’s only appearance this term came in the Champions League qualifier defeat of Steaua Bucharest.

The former Monaco star was linked with a summer move to Internazionale, but no such switch materialised. After a fallout with Guardiola over criticism of the coach from the player’s agent, there appears no way back for Toure at City, and a January transfer may be the only solution to get his career up and running again.

Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has only started one Premier League game this season under new manager Antonio Conte.

Fabregas moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014, signing from Barcelona in a €33 million deal. The former Arsenal man was a key figure in José Mourinho’s title winning side that season, scoring three goals and registering an impressive tally of 18 assists in 34 appearances.

He was unable to replicate this kind of form last season, though, as Chelsea failed to mount a serious defence of their Premier League crown.

Conte’s recent switch to a 3-4-3 formation has seen the Italian coach opt for the more physically imposing and tactically disciplined pairing of N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic in central midfield, with Fabregas on the sidelines.

At 29, Fabregas still has plenty of miles left on his clock at the highest level. But with no natural position within Chelsea’s new system, a move away from Stamford Bridge may be required.

In what would be the surprise switch of the January transfer window, Manchester City are reportedly eying a £20 million move for Fabregas, with Pep Guardiola keen to reunite with the midfielder he signed for Barcelona in 2011.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a phenomenon is defined as “a remarkable person or thing”. In the footballing world, superlatives are all too often worn out and overused, diluting their meaning when used correctly. When it comes to Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, the Brazilian striker nicknamed “the phenomenon”, though, nothing is more fitting.

It says so much about a player who in many people’s view is the greatest centre forward the game has ever seen that there remains an element of tragedy when reflecting on his career. Successful stints at PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Internazionale and Real Madrid, scoring over 350 goals and winning countless titles, not to mention two World Cups and almost inspiring a third, still fall away to one rather unpleasant, undeserved and, frankly, misguiding stigma.

As his time at the top began to wind down, Ronaldo’s issues were well documented. His levels of motivation were in question as he approached his final years. Having grown up in a rather poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro, earning more than enough money and all the perks that come with that, as well as the success at such an early age, did perhaps go to his head. But when his weight, the most obvious signal of his downfall, began to increase, he was forever ribbed and mocked, dubbed “fat” Ronaldo. It seemed all earthshattering accolades from over 20 years at the very pinnacle had been forgotten.

To add to the lack of deserved adulation, the now 40-year-old, who retired after following tradition by ending his career in his homeland in 2011, cannot even lay claim to being unanimously recognised as the greatest footballer with his own name.

Just months after netting a sublime hattrick in the UEFA Champions League for Real Madrid at Old Trafford, knocking Manchester United out of the competition en route to the semi finals, defining his four-and-a-half years at the Santiago Bernabeu, Sir Alex Ferguson turned to an 18-year-old prodigy. Cristiano Ronaldo had already made history at Sporting Lisbon, making his way through their fabled youth system in just one year. It was a sign of things to come.

In many ways, the “Ronaldo” baton was passed. The striker, as opposed to the winger, named so in homage to his father’s favourite actor Ronald Reagan, was popular at Los Blancos, but looking back, his final “definitive” act at the top was netting twice in the 2002 World Cup final for Brazil against Germany.

Cristiano is the quintessential modern footballer, strong, fast, determined and unstoppable on the pitch. The Portugal international has a celebrity status and social media popularity to feed an ego necessary to succeed in this day and age. Statistically speaking, he dwarfs his namesake by sheer numbers. Even though Ronaldo, as previously stated, is a popular choice for the greatest “out and out” striker ever, he never scored 50 goals in a single season. During his spell at Real Madrid, Cristiano has done so in his last six seasons, all but one since leaving Manchester United in 2009.

But that’s just it, football isn’t played in the stats books, and Ronaldo pioneered the notion of superstardom enjoyed by Cristiano and so many others these days. When he joined Inter from Barcelona in 1997, the world had truly woken up to his brilliance. One season at the Camp Nou, scoring 34 goals and helping win three trophies, raised his stock. If a piece of individual brilliance encapsulated him, it was a goal at Compostela. With players hanging off him, Ronaldo combined brute strength and force with his remarkable technique to score after running a half-length of the pitch. His manager, Sir Bobby Robson, could only watch on in disbelief.

Everybody knows what Cristiano is all about. The personification of hard work and dedication, he too has to battle with unfair criticism. In that, and so many other ways, both Ronaldos are incredibly similar. Burning desire to make the best of any situation is as vital as natural skill and both had each in abundance.

The selfish streak that runs through Cristiano’s veins is the reason he is where he is today. Rather than constantly thinking about the Ballon d’Or or scoring more goals than arch-rival Lionel Messi, he is a leader for club and country, a driving force coming alive at the key moments. He has done that throughout his career, even now at 31, whereas Ronaldo slowed down in sight of his 28th birthday.

Again, though, it is too easy to say the striker gave up early. Injuries plagued his career, particularly with his knees. In 1998, at the World Cup he almost won, he was already the best player on the planet aged 21. By 2002, he was still playing in the shadow of a cruciate ligament tear, which kept him out for almost two years. The general consensus was he had lost his explosiveness and, aged just 25, he may be finished. Eight goals in Korea and Japan proved the world wrong. Ronaldo’s is a story of redemption, not failure.

To compare these two legends seems incredibly unfair and, like every other great, they deserve to be remembered for their own strengths. It is sad that both have sticks to be beaten with, but as the definition says, a phenomenon is a remarkable thing, and for talent, records and ability to bounce back from the edge, the Brazilian Ronaldo, “o fenomeno”, will always be the Ronaldo.

About the author- Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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Alexander Isak recently celebrated his seventh birthday by scoring two goals in the Stockholm derby as AIK’s beat city rivals Djurgården 3-0. His performance was greeted, at the end of the game, by a chorus of happy birthday from 8,000 travelling fans. This isn’t the first time that the fans have sang his name, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The Stockholm native scored on his first team debut on 28th February 2016, when he came on as a 75th-minute substitute in the Svenska Cupen against Tenhults IF.

Isak made his full league debut 37 days later against Östersund and partnered fell debutante Carlos Strandberg in attack. Five minutes into the second half, the then 16-year-old scored the decisive second goal. The goal resulted in him making the headlines as he became the youngest ever scorer in Allsvenskan history at the age of 16 years and 199 days.

Since making his debut, Iask has become a regular fixture in the AIK team and has gone on to score six league goals so far this season. This has resulted in a host of top European sides, including Barcelona, Bayern, Liverpool and Real Madrid, scouting the striker who has been dubbed the new Ibrahimović by teammate Chinedu Obasi.

Obasi told Fotbollskanalen: “He is a great talent. He has great potential, and I absolutely believe that he will go far. I do not want to say too much, but I think he has much potential. If he has the drive and continues, I think he can become Sweden’s next Ibrahimović. He has the potential; everyone can see it, and he proves it all the time.”

Due to his height (190cm), position and nationality, you can understand the comparisons.

The Swedish media have closely been following Isak since he made his debut and have tipped him for a call-up to the national team. This is understandable as he is an exciting talent. They are also seeking a new star for their national team after Ibrahimović’s retirement from international football following Sweden’s disappointing exit at Euro 2016.

The last teenage star to emerge from Scandinavia, Martin Ødegaard, made similar headlines before vanishing into obscurity after joining Real Madrid. This is something Isak will be well aware of, and therefore his next move will be crucial as he looks to continue his rapid rise in Swedish football.


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Whenever a superstar footballer is involved in a transfer, the deal is usually a costly one. As football has developed, the market has too, meaning the more money in the game, the higher the value of a player.

Every summer, it seems to keep increasing, and ‘value’ is relative. Perspective is the most important factor when judging a big money move, because while it can appear a club has paid over the odds, with the pace in which the game moves, there is a fear of being left behind if they don’t act.

It is easy to fall into the trap of taking a player’s ability for granted and assuming they will succeed wherever they go, but they are human beings and nobody is perfect. Factors can take effect and sometimes the hype just isn’t matched on the pitch. Here are ten examples of players failing to justify their high-end fees.

1. Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan for £13million, 1992.

At the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Milan could do no wrong under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello. At the forefront of Italian football, the Rossoneri were defensively strong with frightening talent up front, and Lentini was fully expected to compliment the likes of Marco van Basten, while adding a wide option, aided by his phenomenal dribbling skills.

While he remained at the San Siro for four years and winning three Serie A titles and the Champions League under, Lentini never quite reached the heights promised by what at the time was a world record transfer fee. A car crash in 1993 overshadowed his career, and he couldn’t fully recover having fractured his skull and damaged his eye socket aged just 24.

2. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for £32million, 2013.

There are a lot of achievements in his career that Mario Gotze can rightfully be proud of. In 2014, at the age of 22, he scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina. It was a moment that, had it come a few years later, would probably have defined his career.

But people always expect more, and it is easy to forget Gotze’s age. Having shot to fame at Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to sever all ties with them when he joined Bayern, but three tough years, in which he struggled for regular action under Pep Guardiola, stifled his development.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in place of Manchester City-bound Guardiola didn’t stop the prodigal son returning to the Signal Iduna Park with his tail firmly between his legs earlier this summer.

3. Andriy Shevchenko – AC Milan to Chelsea for £30million, 2006.

Still in it’s infancy, Roman Abramovich’s power and success driven reign at Chelsea reached new heights when the Blues lured perhaps the world’s best striker to Stamford Bridge in 2006, reportedly against the wishes of then boss Jose Mourinho.

Just three years earlier, the Ukrainian hitman had scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Milan against Juventus, before missing a similarly huge one at the same stage against Liverpool two years after that.

Overall, he netted 127 goals in 208 Serie A games during seven years at the San Siro, but could score just nine in 48 in two Premier League seasons before returning to the Rossoneri for a failed loan spell.

4. Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for £50million, 2011.

In a similar story to Shevchenko, Chelsea swooped for Fernando Torres on deadline day in January 2011, after the Spaniard had lit up Anfield in three and a half years at Liverpool.

His record of 20 league goals in 110 games is not deserving of a £50million player, and he never really hit the form of his days as a Red, but Torres did have some great moments with Chelsea.

En route to winning the Champions League in his first full season, he scored the clinching goal in the semi final against Barcelona.

He’ll be fondly remembered in West London despite his struggles, but fans will be disappointed they never saw the best of him.

5. Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco for £50million, 2013.

Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ and probably the man who took Torres’ mantle as the hottest striker on the planet while with Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao had his pick of the world’s elite when he departed, having won back to back Europa League titles, first with FC Porto and then Los Rojiblancos, in 2011 and 2012.

But that summer, he surprised the world by choosing to sign for newly-rich Monaco. While his early goal record in the Principality was as prolific as ever, following a record of 52 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atleti, but a serious knee injury a few months later has haunted him since.

Loan moves to Manchester United and Chelsea promised much, but he was never the same player. Now 30, he is back at Monaco looking for anything close to his best form.

6. Denilson – Sao Paulo to Real Betis for £21.5million, 1998.

To break the world transfer record at the age of 18, talent must be unquestionable, and that was the case with former Brazil midfielder Denilson when he joined Real Betis in 1998.

What did raise doubts, however, were his temperament and desire to fulfil his otherworldly potential. Although he earned 60 caps for his country and stayed at Betis for seven years, a move to one of Europe’s truly elite clubs never came, and he ended his career in 2010 having jumped aimlessly from continent to continent.

7. Gaizka Mendieta – Valencia to Lazio for £30million, 2001.

Two successive Champions League final defeats at the beginning of the century had not taken anything away from Gaizka Mendieta, who was the most sought after player around in the summer of 2001.

At the time, Lazio were a huge draw, having won Serie A a year earlier, and they struck a deal to bring Mendieta to Rome. But after making 230 league appearances at the Mestalla, he only racked up 20 in three years at the Stadio Olympico, while also taking loan spells at Barcelona and Middlesbrough at that time.

8. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City for £32.5million, 2008.

Throughout the summer of 2008, Robinho was a target for Chelsea and so desperately wanted to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid.

As is becoming more and more typical, the saga rolled on all summer but the Blues couldn’t clinch a deal. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and with money to burn stole in to sign the 24-year-old.

But Robinho himself didn’t know who he had signed for when asked for his thoughts on international duty, claiming he thought he’d joined Chelsea after all.

That really set the tone. Brilliant in places but only netting twice away from home in his debut season, he was shipped on loan to Santos after 18 months before being sold to AC Milan.

9. Juan Sebastian Veron – Lazio to Manchester United for £28million, 2001.

While the Red Devils have entered the market for established superstars more since Sir Alex Ferguson, the capture of Veron was arguably the last true showing of their financial muscle in comparison to others.

Another of the most wanted in the world, Veron arrived with a huge reputation as an Argentina international. Technique and composure on the ball were no problem but the pace and physicality of the English game was too much for him. He was sold to Chelsea in the early Abramovich days for £15million.

10. Kaka – AC Milan to Real Madrid for £58million, 2009.

Some players earn the right to break the world transfer record, and Kaka was certainly one of them. Still riding the wave from his Ballon d’Or win in 2007, having inspired Milan to the Champions League that year, he became a new Galactico in Madrid president Florentino Perez’s second spell at the helm.

He promised much, obviously, but injuries and a lack of the big personality desired to succeed in the Spanish capital, and he eventually returned to Milan before joining Orlando City in MLS via a loan spell at Sao Paulo.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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Last season was very competitive for talent in La Liga, as we saw several young attacking players compete in their debut seasons for their respective clubs. Individuals such as Antonio Sanabria and Paco Alcacer were the standout names from 2015/16 who will be expected to make an even bigger impact during the forthcoming campaign. 

It’s time to take a closer look at  four other young players who are expected to make an impact during the 2016/17 campaign.

Mikel Oyarzabal – Real Sociedad

After being promoted to the first team last summer by David Moyes, Mikel Oyarzabal has been a bright spark, despite the fact the overall team performance left a lot to be desired. The 19-year-old’s hard work was rewarded with a call-up to the national squad by Vicente del Bosque and he played 30 minutes against Switzerland in a friendly match.

The key test for the winger will be to see if he can replicate his performances from last season, especially when the competition for a place in the starting line-up will increase this year. Oyarzabal slowly became a favourite for manager, Eusebio Sacristan, who picked him for the first team on 16 occasions during the second half of the campaign.

He has the natural ability that could see him develop into one of the best wingers in the league, and if he continues to command a place in the starting line-up, then he has the right foundations in place to allow him to reach his full potential.

Dani Ceballos – Real Betis

Despite only being 19 years old, he made 34 league appearances for Real Betis last season.

Dani Ceballos has turned into a key presence at the heart of midfield, with his ability to defend and attack, giving Gus Poyet the perfect balance for his first team selection. Despite playing in a number of different positions, either wide left or central midfield appear to be his best positions, which has meant that he has drawn comparisons to established La Liga stars Isco and Koke.

If he continues to be an influential player for Real Betis next season, then this will only firm up the reported interest from the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Marco Asensio – Real Madrid

After the success of last season’s loan at Espanyol, Zinedine Zidane will surely give Marco Asensio a chance to prove himself this season. This could possibly begin during the summer, with the manager including him in the squad for the pre-season. The 20-year-old scored ten goals and provided 4 assists during his time at Espanyol and was recognised as the club’s player of the year last season. 

That said it would perhaps be more beneficial for Asensio to be loaned out again next season, considering the wealth of talent that Zidane already has at his disposal. Playing regularly for a mid-table side would do more for his development than being stuck on the Real Madrid bench.

He can be used effectively either as a left winger or central attacking midfielder and represented Espanyol’s key attacking threat last season.

Asensio’s ability to keep possession in tight areas and dribble past players easily, as well as being a playmaker with an eye for a pass, make him very much one to keep an eye on and a potential star for Real Madrid in the years to come.

Jose Naranjo – Celta Vigo

After finishing as Gimnastic de Tarragona’s top goal-scorer last season, on 15 goals, Jose Naranjo earned himself a move to Celta Vigo in June. Before his transfer to La Liga, Newcastle and Aston Villa were also interested in him. The 21-year-old played a big role leading the side to a third place finish in the league, which gained them promotion to the Spanish second tier.

Having secured a move to the top flight of Spanish football Naranjo has the dedication, passion and most importantly talent to make an instant impact. With Celta Vigo’s key player, Nolito, having been sold to Manchester City this summer, it could mean the striker could be called into action straight away.

Naranjo is a goal poacher, similar to Paco Alcacer, who had a fantastic season on a personal level. When he does get his chance in the Celta Vigo first team, don’t be surprised if Naranjo grasps this opportunity with both hands and makes a name for himself in La Liga.

About the author – Asif Norat

Asif is a Manchester United fan, who simply loves the beautiful game. The youngster is a big admirer of the Premier League and La Liga, and also has an eye out for many young talents coming into the footballing world.

twitter: @HerreraTekkers


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Last year the new gem of South American football, Sergio Díaz, had an oustanding U20 South American Championship. The then 16-year-old was already well known to European scouts but his performance prompted Liverpool and Manchester United to make inquiries about his availability with Cerro Porteño president Juan José Zapag.

Zapag made it clear that Sergio Díaz would stay for at least another two years with Cerro despite interest from several European clubs. Fast forward 18 months and Sergio Díaz has joined Real Madrid for a reported fee of €5M plus a further €1M in performance related add-ons.

Los Blancos had been following him since he made his debut for Cerro as a 15-year-old and they moved quickly to secure his services fending off interest from Roma.

Having debuted at the same age as Sergio Agüero it was inevitable that comparisons have been made. His style of play has also been likened to the Manchester City striker.

One of Cerro’s youth coaches, Diego Gavilán, is also quick to make the comparison: “He has a resemblance to Kun Agüero. He’s strong, technical and whose main objective is to find the goal. With us (U15s), he scored 33 goals in less than six months, things that no player has done before (with Cerro).”

Díaz likes the comparison and said: “I have the characteristics of Kun Agüero, with my speed and goals. I’m just a kid, but when I play I feel comfortable.”

Even though he has been a regular for Cerro since 2014, Díaz is still developing and needs to improve his body strength. This is more than likely why Madrid have decided to send him to their B team, Real Madrid Castilla.

Also the club would have taken into consideration that his favored role is behind the striker, but that position doesn’t currently exist because Zinedine Zidane favours a 4-3-3 formation.

At Castilla he will be away from the limelight and will be able to continue his development before being loaned out to gain further experience with another team.

Whether we see him playing for Real Madrid in the near future is another story. He could very well continue his rapid development and live up to the nickname of “the new Kun” and be South America’s next big thing. Alternatively his development may stagnate like other wonderkids before him.


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Sevilla won the Europa League for the third time in as many years after beating Liverpool 3-1 in Basel. This was the fifth time they have lifted the trophy in the past eleven seasons.

The Andalusians title means that with Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid clashing in the Champions League final in Milan, Spanish clubs will have won both European competitions for the last three seasons.

This dominance extends further as eight of the last thirteen teams to win the Europa League have come from Spain, whilst the Champions League will go to a La Liga side for the fifth time in eight seasons.

What makes Spanish teams so successful in Europe and why have they started to dominate? After all, isn’t La Liga dominated by two behemoths and the rest of the league is just weak and would struggle to finish in the top half of the Premier League?

The success of  Barcelona and Real Madrid is the easiest to understand. Their colossal spending power is only matched by a handful of clubs in Europe. In their quest for constant silverware they buy the world’s best players. This means that numerous canteranos are forced to move on to develop their careers and get playing time at other Spanish clubs.

Whilst Spain’s big two spend tens of millions each year, the same cannot be said for the rest of their clubs. Unlike clubs from England’s cash rich Premier League, the majority of Spanish clubs cannot simply go out and spend £10M on a new defender. Instead they rely on successful scouting and recruitment.

Before the Europa League final, Jürgen Klopp praised Spanish clubs for having better scouting, coaches and player development than those in the other major European leagues.

This is certainly true of Sevilla who have bought the likes of Dani Alves, Luís Fabiano, Adriano, Federico Fazio, Martin Cáceres, Ivan Rakitic, Júlio Baptista, Seydou Keita, Christian Poulsen, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Carlos Bacca for a combined fee of approximately £30M. Then there’s canteranos  such as Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, Alberto Moreno, Luis Alberto and José Antonio Reyes that they have developed.

You can argue that Sevilla are the exception. That their success if down to the director of football, Monchi. However, numerous clubs in Spain now have long standing sporting directors who oversee their club’s scouting and recruitment and they have remained in place as coaches have come and gone.

Atlético Madrid have reached their second Champions League final in three years. This has come on the back of them winning the Europa League twice in the space of three years. It is no coincidence that during this period, they have been stable in terms of management and recruitment. This has allowed them to thrive.

Atlético’s first team is made up of canteranos such as Koke and Saúl Ñíguez, supplemented by clever signings such as Diego Godín (signed for €6.6M), Juanfran (€4M) and Gabi (€3M). This prudence allows the club to splash out on the odd marquee signing such as Jan Oblak and Antoine Griezmann who have pushed Atlético to the highest level of European football.

At this moment in time Spain and La Liga are miles ahead of the rest of Europe and it appears that they will continue to dominate for years to come.


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With the end of the season almost upon us, talk is beginning to turn to the transfer market. Rumors of big-money transfers, star signings and moves for the brightest young talents are already starting to fill column inches. And rumblings from those who claim to be an ‘insider’ who is ‘in the know’ are doing the rounds on social media.

This is the point in the season where, with most of the continent’s league titles wrapped up, and only a fortunate few with cup finals to look forward to, many fans start to dream of summer signings. Whether it’s the latest teenage sensation bringing hope of a brighter future, or an old head to sure-up a solid squad and act as the final piece in an already well-constructed puzzle, all fans want their club to be active in the off-season.

And few clubs have been more active in the transfer market in recent years than Spain’s big two, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Fewer still can claim to affect the plans of so many other teams with their own transfer policies: a contract dispute in Madrid can spark a frenzy in Manchester, a want-away Barcelona squad player could see chequebooks opening in Paris and Munich.

Real Madrid’s Galáctico policy of bringing in a renowned world-class superstar each year arose in the early 2000s with the signings of Luís Figo and Zinedine Zidane, and has been perpetuated more recently with the acquisitions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez. This year names such as Paul Pogba and Sergio Agüero have been mooted. But one rumour that seems to have some legs is the possibility of Los Blancos making a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabonese Borussia Dortmund striker has been in incredible form this season, netting 40 goals across all competitions. Aubameyang is thought to be very interested in the idea of joining the 10-time European champions due to a promise to his late grandfather that he would someday pull on the famous white shirt. Dortmund will be reluctant to part with their star man, and will demand at least €100m for his signature.

Madrid are also likely to return for David de Gea following last summer’s comical collapse of the Manchester United goalkeeper’s switch to the Bernabéu. The deal had been agreed by all parties, with Costa Rican stopper Keylor Navas moving in the opposite direction. But technical difficulties meant Madrid were unable to submit the relevant paperwork in time, and the transfer window closed with the deal in tatters.

Club president Florentino Pérez will be keen to avoid another embarrassment this time around by getting a deal sewn up as soon as possible. But the excellent form of Navas this season, coupled with the fact that United may soon have a new manager who’d be determined to persuade de Gea to stay, could be spanners in the works to a perspective transfer.

In the past, whenever Madrid have made an expensive Galáctico purchase, they’ve balanced the books with a major sale or two. When Gareth Bale was signed from Tottenham Hotspur for a world record fee in 2013, Mesut Özil was sold to Arsenal for £42m. And when James Rodríguez was brought in after the 2014 World Cup, Ángel di María was shipped off to Manchester United for £59.7m.

This summer will likely see 24-year-old Rodríguez as the man shipped out to make way for a major import, with interest from Manchester United and Juventus. Spain international midfielder Isco is another who is thought to be on thin ice at the Bernabéu. And, if a striker of Aubameyang’s ilk is brought in, Karim Benzema’s Real Madrid career would likely be brought to an end.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success in Soccer Manager

At Barcelona, things may be a little different this summer.

The Catalan giants have yet to secure a shirt sponsorship deal for next season. If they are unable to do so over the coming months, and with the costly planned redevelopment of the Camp Nou, manager Luis Enrique may find that the purse strings have been tightened somewhat.

Perhaps more important for Barça than any transfer business, is the pressing matter of contract renewals for Neymar and Sergio Busquets.

Neymar has been agitating for a new deal for some time now. The gifted Brazilian is believed to earn much less than his MSN partners in crime, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, so a new contract would have to include a hefty pay rise.

As will be the case with Sergio Busquets. Although rarely a goal-scorer, and less headline-grabbing than the aforementioned front three, Busquets is quite possibly the player Barça miss the most when he’s not around. The midfield pivote is the man responsible for breaking up opposition attacks, and setting his side off on their trademark free-flowing passing moves. His importance to the team cannot be underestimated, and he will want his contract to reflect that.

Despite a reduced budget, Barcelona are looking to strengthen in a few key areas. Their primary concern is recruiting a young, top-class centre-back to work with Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano.

Top of their list is Paris St. Germain’s 21-year-old Brazilian, Marquinhos. The former AS Roma defender has had to be back-up to compatriots David Luiz and Thiago Silva in the French capital, and is now considering his future with the club.

Other names on Barça’s shortlist include Everton’s John Stones and Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte. However, the reigning Treble champions are likely to be priced out of a move for either man by interest from the Premier League.

The second priority for Barcelona this summer is to find a striker who will be content with a supporting role, yet possesses the requisite quality to deputise for Suárez. For this, they have their sights set on a couple of Frenchmen: Olympique Lyonnais’ Alexandre Lacazette and Sevilla’s Kévin Gameiro.

Lacazette is thought to be Barça’s first choice, but the 24-year-old French international is an ambitious young man who is unlikely to be happy as a mere back-up option. Gameiro, however, may be more receptive to the idea. The former PSG striker has netted 22 goals this season and, at 29-years-old, would likely jump at the chance to join one of the biggest clubs in the world and add to his medal collection.

As ever, all eyes will be on Real Madrid and Barcelona when the transfer window opens again in July. Both clubs are expected to be busy to varying degrees. With the futures of many star players uncertain, and with big-money transfers anticipated, there promises to be plenty of action to keep fans entertained until the new season kicks off.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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Barcelona go into the second Clásico of the season in incredible form. The Catalans are unbeaten in 39 games in all competitions, a run which included the 4-0 thrashing of Madrid at the Bernabéu in November. Los Blancos are in decent form themselves, winning 5 in a row since they lost the Madrid derby at the end of February.

Both sides will be at full strength, which means we will be able to enjoy what are probably the two best attacks in world football. Barça have a very settled and successful XI which picks itself, but Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane will have a couple of decisions to make regarding his team.


Zidane cannot afford to make the same mistake as his predecessor Rafa Benítez and is therefore likely to field Casemiro alongside Kroos and Modrić in what looks a more defensive-minded midfield than the unbalanced one that started the previous Clásico.

His other decision will be who is tasked with dealing with the threat of Neymar, as neither Dani Carvajal nor Danilo have been especially convincing in the right-back position for Los Blancos this season.


Barcelona go into the game 10 points ahead of their arch rivals and will be confident of extending that lead here. They will want to put on a show as the Camp Nou pays it’s respects to Johan Cruyff, the main influence behind the Barcelona we know today.

For Madrid, a win would keep their slim hopes of La Liga alive, but they will be more keen to just show that they can compete with Barça as the two sides could meet again in the latter stages of the Champions League.


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Two of the biggest club’s in world football go head-to-head at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening, for the second El Clásico of the season.

Real Madrid are trailing behind their bitter rivals and need to win to stand any chance of clawing their way back into the title race. Ahead of what promises to be another thriller, we look at some Clásicos stats:

0 – Clásicos Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has presided over compared with three for his Barcelona counterpart Luis Enrique – a 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabéu & 2-1 win at Camp Nou last season and a 4-0 thumping over their bitter rivals last November.

75 – Messi, Suárez & Neymar have scored 75% of Barcelona’s goals this season compared to 73% for Madrid’s attacking trio.

389 – The number of goals Madrid have scored in official Clásicos, which is 11 more than Barcelona.

14 – The shirt number of former player and manager, Johan Cruyff, who shaped Barcelona and will be honored at the game.

6 – Real Madrid have only won 6 of the last 27 Clásicos that have been played since the start of the 2008/09 season.

499 – The number of career goals that Lionel Messi has scored and he could score his 500th during the game.

231 – The number of Clásico  played since the first once in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey in 1902.

10 – The number of points that Real Madrid are behind their fierce rivals.

68 – The 68th minute of the game is the time in which the most goals are scored – 17 in total.

52 – The number of goals scored from the penalty spot.

3780 – Gento is the player with the most minutes played in El Clásico with 3,780.

21 – Lionel Messi is the player with the most Clásico goals with 21.

13 – Lionel Messi is the player with the most Clásico assists with 13.

25 – There have been 259 different scorers.

500M – The estimated number of fans around the world who will watch El Clásico.

71 – Since 1929 Real Madrid have won 71 of their 171 La Liga encounters with Barcelona.

8 – The last 8 Ballon d’Ors have been won by Messi and Ronaldo with 5 and 3 respectively.

39 – Barcelona are hoping to extend their current 39 game unbeaten run.

550 – There have been 550 El Clásico goals in La Liga, which is an average of 3.2 per game.

2002 – There hasn’t been a 0-0 draw since November 2002.


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Real Madrid’s attacking trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo (BBC) go head-to-head with Barcelona’s Lionel MessiLuis Suárez and Neymar (MSN) in the second La Liga Clasico of the season.

Real Madrid will be out for revenge after losing 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu in November. The visitors attacking trio have some remarkable goal-scoring figures this season, but so have Barcelona’s.

Which of these Spanish giants attacking trios have the best statistics this season?


The last three La Liga Clasicos have finished Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona, Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid and Real Madrid 0-4 Barcelona. 8 of the 11 goals have been scored by the BBC and MSN trios. Whichever strike-force performs the best on the day will likely seal victory for their team.


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Last Autumn Barcelona defender Marc Bartra claimed that Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos formed international football’s best centre back partnership. Whilst many will agree with his view that Spain possess two world class defenders, there is a clear lack of depth and no backup to either of them.

This was evident when Vicente del Bosque announced the latest Spain squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Romania at the end of this month. There was no surprise in seeing both Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos named as two of the four centre backs. The other two defenders that were called up, Marca Bartra & Nacho, have only started 13 league games between them all season. Both players made their debut for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in 2010/11 and have few than 40 league starts each.

The worrying thing is that there isn’t a real alternative to these two players. Javi Martínez was part of the 2014 World Cup squad and has been used as a centre back for Spain in the past, but he has been injured for over 300 days in the past two seasons. Yes, you can argue that if he is fully fit and playing regularly for Bayern then he would feature for Spain. However, there is a serious dearth of talent at del Bosque’s disposal.

This is also a problem for the U21 manager, Albert Celades, who has resorted to using fullbacks Jonny Castro and Rubén Duarte as his first choice centre back partnership.

So who are the next genuine centre backs to emerge for Spain? Looking forward, Spain have both Jorge Meré and Jesús Vallejo but they are only 18 and 19 years old respectively.

Investing in young up-and-coming players is a key strategy in Soccer Manager

Jorge Meré started out in the Real Madrid youth academy, but quickly moved to Sporting de Gijón. He made his debut for their B team at the tender age of 16 during the 2013/14 and quickly became a regular. Towards the end of the 2014/15 season, he made his debut for Sporting in the Segunda División in Round 33 against fellow promotion chasers Real Zaragoza. In the following game he came on as a substitute against Deportivo Alavés and subsequently started the next three fixtures.

The talented centre back had to cut his league season short, as he was called up for the Spanish U19 squad to play at the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Greece. During the tournament he partnered Jesús Vallejo at the heart of the defence and Spain went on to win the tournament for a record seventh time.

Last Summer both Sky Italia and linked him with Juventus but a move didn’t materialise. The elegant defender has now established himself as first choice centre back for Sporting de Gijón at just 18 years of age. His performances this season in La Liga have been impressive. For someone so young he reads the game and asseses situations very well. He is also very calm and level headed. No one would be surprised if he went on to captain Sporting as he’s a natural leader, but whether the Asturians can keep him at El Molinón is a different story.

Jorge Meré’s U19 centre back partner, Jesús Vallejo, has also had a similar career to date. He made his debut for Real Zaragoza in the opening fixture of the 2014/15 season against Recreativo de Huelva. The then 18-year-old went on to make a further 33 league appearances for the promotion chasing Aragonese.

During his debut season he also became captain for Real Zaragoza and much was made of this. However, he is a rare breed of player who displays the maturity and leadership of players twice his age. This is why he was also named as the captain of the U19 Spanish Championship-winning side last Summer.

Jesús Vallejo is an excellent reader of the game, is mature beyond his years and has been compared to Barcelona legend, Carles Puyol. He’s also an excellent passer of the ball and is extremely comfortable carrying it out from the back and building up the attacks. This is why he play has also been compared to Juventus and Italy defender, Leonardo Bonucci, a renowned ball playing defender.

With his reputation continually growing, Real Madrid swooped in and signed him for a cut price €5M, and he was immediately loaned back to Real Zaragoza for the 2015/16 season were he has continued to captain the promotion chasing outfit.


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