Ferran Torres: Assessing the Options for the Young Valencia Forward & Where He Should Go

Ferran Torres
Valencia CF v Granada CF – La Liga | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s astonishing to think that Ferran Torres only turned 20 fairly recently.

The Valencia forward has already made 88 senior appearances for the club he grew up supporting, with 35 coming this season. In 2019/20, he has managed six goals and seven assists, and while these aren’t exactly phenomenal figures, Torres has developed into a very well-rounded player.

Torres’ progression, both for his club and on the international scene at varying age groups, has led to him attracting plenty of attention. The Spaniard has been linked with pretty much every top European club this season, and interest in him has only grown as a result of his contract situation.

He only has just over one year remaining on his current deal and is said to have rejected a number of new offers from his club to extend his stay. Within his current deal, he has a €100m release clause, but the Athletic have reported that Torres could depart this summer (or whenever the transfer window opens) for ‘significantly’ less.

This is because Valencia were already in a ‘tricky’ position financially prior to the coronavirus and had accepted that they would need to sell some important players this summer. As well as this, the club also don’t want to run the risk of allowing Torres to enter into the final 12 months of his deal, and potentially depart for almost nothing.

With this in mind, we have decided to take a look at Torres’ options and decide which move would suit him best…

Ferran TorresFerran Torres
Valencia CF v Atalanta – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg | UEFA – Handout/Getty Images

One option is Barcelona and in many ways, it makes a lot of sense. Torres has grown up in Spain and the chance to remain (fairly) close to his family and friends could be very appealing and important to a young player like Torres is.

Of course, Barça have also held an interest in him for quite some time now, with the Catalan giants pushing to sign him back when Torres was just 17. The timing wasn’t right then, but with just over a year remaining on his current deal, it could suit both parties. It is even said that Torres could be keen to hear what Barça have to offer now.

La Blaugrana have the likes of Ousmane Dembele at their disposal, but the Frenchman has very much struggled with injuries. The club are crying out for a player like Torres and while they may be hoping he can make an instant impact, Torres could be eased into the first team.

In other ways, however, it makes very little sense.

Barça are a club struggling financially and politically. The unrest and hostile atmosphere could immediately deter a player, while the pressure that would be placed on Torres upon his arrival also wouldn’t be beneficial for his career.

Assessment: It would be illogical. Don’t do it, Ferran.

Raphael Varane, Ferrán TorresRaphael Varane, Ferrán Torres
Valencia CF v Real Madrid CF – La Liga | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

How many wingers do Real Madrid want?

Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane appears to be keen on rebuilding his ageing side and could look to offload a number of more experienced members of the squad when the transfer window opens. Real have already been linked with a number of exciting young talents, and Torres is also on this list.

Familiar with the style of play in La Liga, Torres may not necessarily need too much time to adjust, something that has proven to be very challenging for Luka Jovic. However, while he would be a shrewd investment for Real, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for the player himself.

Limited opportunities and a great deal of pressure could halt his progression. It is a move that would suit Torres in two or three seasons, after he has taken the next step in his career.

Assessment: Being a part of the rebuild could be appealing, but it’s just a bit too soon.

Juergen KloppJuergen Klopp
Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Why wouldn’t a player want to join Liverpool?

Soon-to-be (if the season does get back underway) Premier League champions as well as last season’s winners of the Champions League, Liverpool are a dominant force in Europe, all the while playing penetrating, free-flowing football.

The Reds have shown an interest in Torres and this is understandable as he would fit into Jurgen Klopp’s style of play. His physical attributes and ability to be direct are qualities that would benefit him in the Premier League, while his work ethic, versatility and understanding of the game would also make him a good fit in Klopp’s squad.

The problem, however, is game time…again.

Unless any of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino departs, when is Torres going to be given a run of games in the starting lineup? Of course, if one player were to sustain an injury, it would be a different story, but it would be hard to envisage a scenario where Torres would be satisfied with the playing time he would receive if he moves to Anfield.

This is a player with tremendous potential and he will require regular game time if he is to reach the heights so many expect he can.

Assessment: Sure, it’s appealing, but it wouldn’t be what Torres needs.

Pep Guardiola, Bernardo SilvaPep Guardiola, Bernardo Silva
Manchester City v Manchester United – Carabao Cup: Semi Final | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manchester City have – yep, you’ve guessed it – also been linked with Torres. In City’s case, they are searching for a potential replacement for Leroy Sane, who could be on his way out of the club.

Torres would be an excellent addition and it is a frightening to think about how much further Torres could improve under the guidance of Pep Guardiola. The Spanish forward would slot effortlessly into the squad, operating with a similar technical ability and understanding of the game to the likes of Bernardo Silva and David Silva, while also possessing lightning quick pace.

Manchester City should be considering making a move – and fast – for this talented Spaniard, but the issue of playing time once again arises as there is plenty of competition for places in the City squad.

Torres has proven during his career thus far that he isn’t a player to shy away from a challenge and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take the risk of moving to the Etihad if an offer came in for him, considering the improvements he could make to his game by learning from those around him.

Assessment: Would be a risk, but could be an excellent decision for both parties.

Ferran TorresFerran Torres
Atalanta v Valencia CF – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Torres fits the profile of an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer/Football Manager-type signing. And while Man Utd have – and will continue to be – linked with almost every player in world football, they have been keeping tabs on the youngster for some time.

Torres would slot into a fluid front three, which would suit him, while he would also be expected to be competing for a starting spot at Old Trafford.

But there’s one major problem.

Jadon Sancho.

The Borussia Dortmund man is one of United’s priority signings this summer and their efforts will go towards landing him in what could be a mammoth deal. The Red Devils are right to be considering players such as Torres as an alternative should they fail to bring Sancho in, while he would also represent a much cheaper alternative.

His style of play would work well at United and, in theory, it is a move that makes complete sense – but it may well be contingent upon whether the club land their first-choice target. Fans may also be keen to see United bring in more than one winger in order to increase their attacking options, but the financial impact of COVID-19 must also be recognised.

Assessment: Would suit both parties, but he isn’t United’s top priority.

Ferran TorresFerran Torres
Valencia CF v Granada CF – La Liga | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Completing the list are Borussia Dortmund. The Germans are very keen on Torres, and they are even said to have recently made the first proper move for him, as Bild reported (via the Daily Mail) that they have made a bid of around £34.8m for his services.

Could he be Jadon Sancho’s replacement?

The truth is, he could very well be, with 90min still being told that United remain intent on securing a deal for the Englishman. But equally, if Sancho were to stay put for whatever reason, this shouldn’t impact BVB in their efforts to sign Torres.

Dortmund, of course, have built up a reputation of developing young talents and giving them the platform they need to shine, and this must be an attractive proposition for Torres. Equally, he would get regular game time, while he would also be playing Champions League football. Capable of playing on the left, on the right and up front, he would be an excellent fit and it would be the most logical place for him to continue developing.

Whether Sancho stays or he goes, Dortmund should come back in with another offer for Torres. Should Sancho complete his switch to Man Utd, Torres would be a worthy replacement.

Assessment: What are you both waiting for?!

For more from Adam Aladay, follow him on Twitter!


Real Madrid Touted as Surprise Suitors for Leicester Midfielder Wilfred Ndidi

Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

Real Madrid are said to be considering a move for standout Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, as Zinedine Zidane looks to add depth to his defensive midfield options.

Los Blancos only have one natural defensive midfielder, Casemiro, in their squad following the departure of Marcos Llorente to Atletico Madrid last summer. Real have previously been linked with a move for Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga, but could be put off by his €75million price tag.

Wilfred NdidiWilfred Ndidi
James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Now, according to Fichajes, Ndidi has emerged as a possible target for Real Madrid. The Nigerian international has been a key player for Leicester City since his arrival from Genk in 2017, making 130 appearances in three-and-a-half years.

He has been particularly important to Leicester’s successful 2019/20 campaign, with Brendan Rodgers’ side currently sitting in third place and looking a safe bet to qualify for the Champions League. His importance to the Foxes was demonstrated by the fact they failed to win any of the five league games he was absent from.

Ndidi’s impressive displays have naturally caught the eye of other Premier League clubs, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all being linked with moves for him. He has insisted, however, that he is enjoying his football at Leicester and has no desire to leave. The Nigerian is also tied down to a contract until 2024.

Brendan Rodgers, Wilfred NdidiBrendan Rodgers, Wilfred Ndidi
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Should the continuation of the Premier League be given the all-clear, Leicester have nine remaining games to secure a Champions League spot for only the second time in their history.

They have a relatively kind end-of-season run-in, facing the likes of Watford, Brighton and Bournemouth, with the only ‘top-six’ sides they have to play being Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal – all teams who currently sit below Leicester in the Premier League table.

To have any hope of sealing the deal, Leicester will need Ndidi to be fit and firing – though they’ll be wary of impressive performance only further Real’s, and any other interested parties, interest.


Gareth Bale Admits Relentless Criticism for Playing Golf Bemuses Him

Gareth Bale
Wales Training Session and Press Conference | Stu Forster/Getty Images

The soap opera that is Gareth Bale’s love of golf has taken another turn with the Real Madrid star revealing that he is bemused by all the criticism he receives for his love of the sport.

Despite being a four-time Champions League winner with Los Blancos, the Spanish media often seem keener to discuss the Welshman’s golfing career than his performances on the pitch.

Case in point, Wednesday’s edition of Diario AS – which carried a picture of Bale leaning on his putter on its front page.

AS’ cover was a response to comments made by the 30-year-old on the The Eric Anders Lang Show in which he questioned the media’s objections to his obsessive pasttime.

“A lot of people have problems with me playing golf,” Bale said (via BBC Sport).

“I don’t know what their reason is because I’ve spoken to doctors and everybody’s fine with it. The media has this perception that it’s not good for me, you should be resting, it can cause you injuries.

“(Basketball player) Steph Curry plays maybe on the morning of a game, but if I play two days before a game it’s like, ‘What is he doing?'”

Criticism of Bale ramped up back in November when he celebrated Wales’ qualification for Euro 2020 by parading around with a flag that featured the now immortal slogan: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that Order.’

Real fans booed him on his return to the club, fuelling speculation over his long term future with Manchester United and Tottenham touted as potential suitors.

No such move ever materialised with Bale enduring an unremarkable campaign overall. Ravaged by injury, the former Spurs man has made just 14 La Liga appearances, scoring two goals. He will be hoping to showcase better form with Spanish football poised to return next month.


8 of the Best Loan Spells Across Europe in the Last Decade

Romelu Lukaku
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Footballers are expensive. At the top tier of the sport the fees that clubs are willing to cough up for players without any concrete assurance that they’ll perform well is truly staggering when put in a wider context.

However, the executives with a keen eye on the club’s coffers practice the age-old business principle of ‘try before you buy’ through the loan market.

While Radamel Falcao’s Manchester United misadventure will forever serve as a disastrous example, Sheffield United’s capture of the Red Devils’ Dean Henderson can be considered as glorious evidence of an outcome at the other end of the spectrum.

As the Blades rapidly secure Manchester United’s approval for an extension to Henderson’s contract, let’s take a look at some of the other great examples of temporary employment across Europe in the last decade.

Thibaut CourtoisThibaut Courtois
Thibaut Courtois played more than 150 games for Atlético before he made his Chelsea debut, despite signing for the club three years beforehand | Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s current number one cut his teeth in La Liga on the other side of the Spanish capital during a three-year loan spell with Atlético Madrid, which started one day after Chelsea snapped him up from Genk in 2011.

Courtois missed three league games in his time with Diego Simeone’s Atléti, his 6’6 frame forming a formidable figure behind a parsimonious backline as he crowned his spell in red and white with a La Liga title.

Romelu LukakuRomelu Lukaku
Lukaku was West Brom’s top Premier League scorer in 2012/13 with 17 goals, next on the list was Shane Long with eight | Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Given the sheer volume of Chelsea loanees which populate the footballing ether, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find two entrants on this list.

A 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku, desperate for minutes at senior level after spending most of his debut campaign in blue with the Under-21s, found an opportunity in the Midlands with West Brom.

The Belgian smashed in 17 Premier League goals that campaign which somehow couldn’t convince Chelsea to give him a regular starting berth. Nevertheless, Lukaku still fondly looks back at that time with The Baggies, simply summing it up as ‘dank memories’.

Loic RemyLoic Remy
Loïc Remy’s goals helped guide Newcastle to a top-half finish | Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Newcastle were among the first to snap up some of the highly-paid talent that had gone down with QPR in 2013. Rémy swapped his hoops for black and white stripes, netting 14 goals in what would prove to be his only season on Tyneside as Mike Ashley was reticent to stump up the necessary sum.

Chelsea swooped in for the Frenchman as Newcastle dropped from 10th to 15th, but Rémy has never been able to replicate that blistering form since.

Toby AlderweireldToby Alderweireld
Alderweireld helped Southampton to a seventh-placed Premier League finish | Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

At perhaps the peak of their player recruitment powers, Toby Alderweireld joined Southampton in the summer of 2014, the same day Sadio Mané arrived on the south coast.

The Belgian centre-back had struggled for opportunities in his debut season in Spain but Saints boss Ronald Koeman, remembering Alderweireld’s time with Ajax, secured him on a season-long loan. A spell which was impressive enough to earn him a move to Tottenham Hotspur the following summer.

James RodriguezJames Rodriguez
Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Three years after finishing as the 2014 World Cup’s top scorer, James Rodríguez had fallen drastically down Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order. But his loan move to perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich looked to have revamped his career.

James thrived in midfield or as part of Bayern’s front-three, floating menacingly all over the pitch with a particularly memorable display coming in a 6-0 evisceration of Borussia Dortmund.

Raul JimenezRaul Jimenez
Jiménez’s goal contributions accounted for more than 40% of the club’s Premier League tally in his loan season | Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images

Having never hit double figures in a European top-flight campaign before donning that famous gold shirt, Jiménez seemed like something of a risk as the first-choice striker for a newly-promoted side (and so, a perfect use of the loan system).

But the Mexican knocked 13 past what the English top flight had to offer, laying on a further seven assists as Wolves produced one of the most impressive campaigns from a freshly promoted club in years.

Duvan ZapataDuvan Zapata
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Zapata more than doubled his previous season-high goal tally when he powered 23 Serie A goals in for Atalanta in 2018/19.

The Sampdoria loanee finished three goals short of the Capocannoniere crown, but Atalanta eased into the Champions League places and recorded the club’s highest ever Serie A finish, thanks in no small part to the Colombian’s goals.

Achraf HakimiAchraf Hakimi
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The jet-heeled Morocco international is in the midst of a superb two-year loan spell with Borussia Dortmund. After ending his first campaign early with injury (leaving the team top of the table only for their lead to be squandered in his absence) the 21-year-old’s second season has been even more impressive.

The stamina and frightening pace which he possesses has been maximised from his new role of right wing-back. As he attempts to cover every blade of grass on that flank each match, Hakimi has added assists to his ever-expanding arsenal of skills.

Dortmund will surely be doing everything in their power to make this loan a little more permanent.


La Liga Latest: Crowd Noise to Be Used for Atmosphere, Kick-Off Times to Be Impacted by High Temperatures & More

La Liga Home Shirts 2019-20
La Liga Home Shirts 2019-20 | Visionhaus/Getty Images

The resumption of the 2019/20 season in Spain’s top flight is edging closer, with Sevilla’s derby clash with Real Betis pencilled in as the first match to be played after the restart – potentially on 11 June.

However, due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus, a number of questions remain unanswered, while plans remain contingent upon the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.

Here’s a breakdown of the latest updates on the current plans in Spain…

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga SantanderFC Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander
FC Barcelona v Real Madrid – La Liga Santander | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The Bundesliga in Germany has, of course, already returned, and one of the major talking points has been the lack of noise while matches have been played due to the fact that fans aren’t allowed into the stadiums.

As a result, leagues have been exploring ways to improve the atmosphere and make it more appealing, and Mediapro president Jaume Roures has now revealed that crowd noises from previous matches ‘will’ be used to create an atmosphere for viewers watching live games. To that end, cameras will also be closer to the field to offer ‘different, richer and closer’ broadcasts.

“We will try to fill a gap that is almost impossible to achieve, which is the vital support that the amateur plays on the field. What we will do is recover that environment that was generated in each of the playing fields, which we have been recording all of these years, and reproduce it,” Roures told Radio Nacional de España (RNE).

“It seems to us that it helps to have a closer perception of football, although it will not be exactly the same. It will be the real environment in each of the stadiums, and will help to have a more emotional interaction with the games.”

Club Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF  - La LigaClub Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF  - La Liga
Club Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF – La Liga | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Roures further revealed that Mediapro are in talks with La Liga regarding making football free to access for people in care homes who are suffering from the coronavirus. Roures has claimed that he hopes an official announcement can be made very soon.

“We are talking to La Liga, and I hope to make it public as soon as possible, it is to help the nursing homes to have direct access to football. Tomorrow or the day after, we will be able to provide a solution for this.

“In 24 or 48 hours we will be able to say how we are going to do it. It is a very punished group and forced to be more confined than the rest.”

Javier TebasJavier Tebas
La Liga And Movistar Agreement Presentation | Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

La Liga president Javier Tebas has stated that plans are being discussed for kick-off times to vary depending on the region and the heat in that area. With temperatures continuing to rise as summer approaches, Tebas is keen to address the issue.

Speaking on Movistar’s #BackToWin show on Sunday (courtesy of LaLigaTV), Tebas said: “Our plan for kick-off times during the week would be to play in the afternoon or evening, between 7.30-8pm or 9.30-10pm. Over the weekend, there would be three slots: 5pm, 7.30pm, 9.30pm or 10pm. It hasn’t been decided yet, we’re looking at it with our broadcasters.

“But obviously, we’d plan for those 5pm games to be those played up on Spain’s northern coast. Places like Bilbao and San Sebastian, Oviedo and Gijon in LaLiga SmartBank, Depor and Celta over in Galicia, where temperatures in June and July don’t exceed 28°C.”


On This Day in Football History – 26 May: Man Utd’s Treble Heroics, ‘The Greatest End to a Season Ever’ & More

players of Manchester United jubilate with the tro
players of Manchester United jubilate with the tro | ERIC CABANIS/Getty Images

Champions League final season always throws up some amazing memories, and 26 May has seen more than its fair share of those.

Plenty of sides have reached European glory on this day in history, although there’s probably one which sticks out a little bit more than most…

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what went down on 26 May in history.

Starting with the birthday of one of the most influential figures in football history, Manchester United legend Matt Busby was born on this day in 1909.

Busby led United to five First Division titles, two of which came after he rebuilt the squad following the Munich air disaster, but his greatest moment came as he lifted the European Cup in 1968, sealing his place as one of the club’s true heroes.

Aston Villa lifted the only European Cup in their history thanks to a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in 1982, but the hero of this game was not goalscorer Peter Withe.

Instead, it was reserve goalkeeper, 23-year-old Nigel Spink, who stole the headlines. Thrust into the action after just ten minutes following an injury to Jimmy Rimmer, Spink pulled off countless outstanding saves to keep the prolific Germans out – and it was just his second senior appearance!

One of the most prolific strikers in England history, a young Gary Lineker made his first appearance for England in a 1-1 draw with Scotland in the 1984 British Home Championship.

The 23-year-old was given 18 minutes at the end of the game, and he became the first-choice striker a little over a year later, firing 48 goals in 80 appearances before hanging up his boots in 1992.

The end to the 1988/89 First Division season is often touted as one of the greatest endings to a season ever, and rightly so.

Arsenal had fallen three points behind Liverpool heading into the final day of the season, when the two sides just so happened to face off. Arsenal’s inferior goal difference left them needing a 2-0 win at Anfield (something had not happened for over three years) if they were to win the title. You’ll never guess what happened.

Arsenal held a 1-0 lead heading into the dying embers, so Liverpool were confident of winning the title. However, John Barnes declined to run the ball into the corner and eventually lost it, allowing Arsenal to run down the other end, net a second with just one minute left on the clock and somehow win the title.

After an underwhelming campaign, AC Milan said goodbye to legendary manager Arrigo Sacchi following a 0-0 draw with Parma on this day in 1991.

He departed having won one Serie A title and two European Cups during his four-year spell at the club and is widely heralded as one of the greatest bosses of all time.

In what was the first Champions League final after the tournament’s rebranding, Marseille became the first French side to win Europe’s biggest prize with a 1-0 win over AC Milan, which also happened to be Marco van Basten’s final match.

Marseille may have been the first winners, but they weren’t actually allowed to defend their trophy. They were found guilty of match fixing during the 1992/93 Ligue 1 season and banned from competing in Europe as a result.

There have been plenty of European finals on this day in history, but none come anywhere close to matching the importance of this one.

After winning both the Premier League and FA Cup, Manchester United sealed a historic treble with a dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, who were chasing the treble themselves.

Trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute, United grabbed a late equaliser through Teddy Sheringham, before going on to bag a 93rd-minute winner through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, leaving Peter Schmeichel cartwheeling with joy.

José Mourinho won the first Champions League trophy of his career as he spectacularly led his Porto side to glory against Monaco in 2004.

Just a few months after he announced himself by sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline, Mourinho proved to the world why he was the greatest up-and-coming manager around, and it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature that summer.

Huddersfield Town came out on top against Sheffield United in the League One playoff final in 2012, but only after a dramatic 22-penalty shoot-out.

Huddersfield goalkeeper Alex Smithies netted the crucial penalty which, after United counterpart Steve Simonsen fired his effort over the bar, proved to be the winner.

Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League title in 2018 by beating Liverpool in a game which is remembered for both outstanding and atrocious football.

A collision with Sergio Ramos forced Mohamed Salah off early, before goalkeeper Loris Karius forgot how to play football and gifted Real two shocking goals. However, the highlight was obviously Gareth Bale’s overhead kick, which could well be the greatest goal in the history of the competition.

David BeckhamDavid Beckham
Manchester United ’99 Legends v FC Bayern Legends | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

A team of Manchester United legends gathered to face a lineup of Bayern icons to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic treble win in 2019.

The Treble Reunion ended in a 5-0 win for United, with David Beckham rolling back the years and dominating the game. Many fans even wanted to see him given a contract with the first team, and it’s not hard to see why.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!


How Gareth Bale Changed the History of Tottenham Hotspur as We Know it

Finding a tenner in an old pair of jeans on your way to the shops. Dropping a slice of toast which lands butter side up. Benoit Assou-Ekotto picking up an injury and the young left-back slouching around on your bench happening to be one of the best players in the world.

There’s nothing like a bit of luck at the right time, is there?

For Tottenham Hotspur, Gareth Bale’s unexpected 2010 run of form, which announced him as one of the game’s modern greats, seemed like the ultimate four-leaf clover,.

But it’s not said enough just how much this one bit of good fortune changed the trajectory of the club for an entire decade, and perhaps forever.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ new signings French…

Typically, it was Bale who was framed as needing a bit of the good old rub of the green, with the Welshman to Spurs what Jonah was to sailing in his first few years at the club.

Indeed, Harry Redknapp famously had to bring Bale on in garbage time during a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley in order to free him from the albatross of a 24-match winless run with the Lilywhites.

But does anyone seriously believe that, had the famed sliding doors moment actually happened and taken the Welshman to Birmingham, Bale would simply have festered into obscurity? Would Franck Queudrue really have been too much competition for a bloke who went on to score an overhead kick in a Champions League final.

Birmingham City’s English defender Roger

No, Spurs, for all their admirable track record in developing youth products, were blessed by association with Bale rather than the other way round.

First off, there’s the somewhat obvious stuff – in 2009/10 Spurs came flying out of the blocks, and by December had a precarious advantage over Manchester City and Liverpool in the tussle for a Champions League berth.

However, there’s that thing with Spurs and, shall we say, disappointing one’s expectations in violent and sudden fashion, and to say they had a bit too much turkey was an understatement as starting from Boxing Day they won only two out of eight games.

Tottenham Hotspurs Gareth Bale celebrates

The whole situation stunk worryingly of lasagne, so when Bale, fully bedded in the side and acquiring a reputation as the scourge of Premier League defenses, inspired Spurs to five consecutive wins, the collective sigh of relief around N17 was massive.

His trademark performances came in two of the matches that would define Spurs’ season, and arguably their transition into a somewhat serious footballing outfit in the 2010s.

Spurs hadn’t beaten Arsenal in the league since 1999. Chelsea were soon-to-be Champions. Within 72 glorious hours goals from Bale had downed the both of them, and after Peter Crouch put his noggin on the end of Younes Kaboul’s cross at the Etihad, the rest was history.

It hardly needs saying just how important Bale was in keeping Spurs competitive during the years that followed.

The Real Madrid man was the architect behind a famous home win against reigning Champions League holders Inter, while Andre Villas-Boas all but swapped his detailed tactical Powerpoint presentation for a ‘just pass it to Bale and hopefully he’ll put it top bins’ strategy in 2012/13.

Some would say that Spurs were deeply unlucky during this period, missing out on Champions League football due to an array of factors, from Redknapp being offered the England job, to a bonkers game between Arsenal and West Brom, to Chelsea presumably making a deal with the devil to somehow beat Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League

But in truth, in a jumbled team (Alan Hutton played much more than you’d think during their first season in the Champions League), Bale, alongside the wantaway Luka Modric and the inconsistent genius Rafael Van der Vaart, was performing feats of alchemy almost every week.

His greatest trick, however, and the most meaningful one for Tottenham in their current iteration, was allowing Spurs to attract a new calibre of player.

With Tottenham now serious contenders for European football every season, and known for feats of derring-do against Serie A giants in the Champions League, some pretty good players decided that North London was the place to be.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League

Jan Vertonghen. Hugo Lloris. Moussa Dembele. Actual internationals who had won stuff wanted a slice of the action at Spurs now.

These players kept Spurs in the hunt for some kind of meaningful European-adjacent football during some abject excuses for management (naming no names, but if the gilet fits…) and, crucially, stopped them from descending into any kind of obscurity.

Also, it’s probably about time to address what Spurs actually did with the Bale money after he went to Madrid.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League

Yes, they spent a sizeable chunk of it on Roberto Soldado, but they also got Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela out of it, and were able to refresh their squad by selling a sizeable quantity of deadwood as a result.

The consequence of all of this, which could only have been possible through Bale? A certain Mauricio Pochettino could actually look at Tottenham as a decent step up from Southampton, where he had the raw materials to build a side which would eventually fall one game short of conquering Europe.

Redknapp has rightfully earned a lot of credit for acting as the catalyst for any of this, while Damien Comolli’s work behind the scenes at Spurs deserves a more positive appraisal than it initially received.

Tottenham Hotspur v SV Werder Bremen – UEFA Champions League

But while both of these man, and Martin Jol before them, made it possible for Spurs to be the best of the rest, Bale, the dice that you could roll again and again and always get your lucky number, elevated them and made them stick.

It remains to be seen whether Spurs have taken one punt too many with their latest appointment, but with rumours of a return for Bale forever circulating, you wonder whether the two parties might fancy spinning the wheel one more time.


Real Madrid 4-1 Barcelona: A Clásico Romp as Los Blancos Celebrate Title Triumph in Style

7 May, 2008. A normal day for most, but the perfect party for Real Madrid fans.

Having clinched the La Liga title three days prior with a 2-1 victory at Osasuna, the imperious Los Blancos starting XI were greeted with a pasillo – guard of honour from their dejected rivals as they entered the Bernabeu cauldron with an obvious swagger.

Real Madrid’s title victors are welcomed onto the field with a guard of honour from the Barcelona players

The pasillo alone would have been satisfactory enough for the home faithful – seriously, some fans left after the pre-match antics, while Catalan newspaper Sport advised readers not to switch on until 10:05pm when the nightmare was all over – but Bernd Schuster’s side ensured celebrations would last long into the Madrid night with a superb display in the Clásico.

Raul kick-started the romp in the 13th minute with a sweeping left-footed effort from the edge of the area following some fine build-up play, before Arjen Robben doubled the hosts’ lead with, beg your pardon…a header?!?

That’s right. Pre-total baldness as well.

Substitutes Gonzalo Higuain and Ruud van Nistelrooy heaped the misery on Frank Rijkaard’s side as they both scored with their respective first-touches in the second period.

Substitute Ruud van Nistelrooy added a fourth from the spot following Carles Puyol’s handball

Although Thierry Henry bagged a late consolation, events which followed the pre-match pasillo can only be described as a paseo – a walk in the park.


Key Talking Point

Bernd Schuster helped Los Blancos retain their La Liga title in his single full season at the helm

From pasillo to paseo, this was purely a celebration of a spellbinding Real Madrid side.

After Fabio Capello had guided them to La Liga triumph in 2006/07, Los Blancos had the difficult task of retaining their title the following year with former Getafe boss Schuster at the helm.

But in the end, they waltzed to consecutive crowns; finishing a hefty eight points ahead of Villarreal and a staggering 18 ahead of Barcelona.

This was a side sturdy enough in defence, tremendously well-balanced in midfield and that boasted incredible depth in attacking areas. The use of inverted wingers, most notably with Wesley Sneijder in this one, allowed for rapid combination play in central areas and persistent numerical superiority.

A superb side at their awe-inspiring finest in the May Clásico.

Real Madrid Player Ratings

Starting XI: Casilas (7); Ramos (7), Pepe (7), Heinze (7), Marcelo (8); Diarra (9), Gago (7), Guti (8); Sneijder (8), Raul (7), Robben (8).

Substitutes: Higuain (7), Robinho (7), Van Nistelrooy (6).

Mahamadou Diarra

Fabio Capello insisted on signing Mahamadou Diarra in 2006, paying €26m to secure his services from Lyon

Diarra played a pivotal role in Real’s title defence, as his tactical astuteness and comfort at which he screened the back four granted the likes of Fernando Gago and Guti greater freedom from box-to-box roles.

His function in the side was somewhat similar to that of Claude Makelele’s in the pre-Galacticos era.

Nevertheless, the Mali international was superb in this one as his aggression often thwarted Barcelona from progressing centrally, while he also proved an unstoppable force when driving forward with possession, setting up Higuain’s strike following a determined surge down the right flank.


Key Talking Point

The end to Frank Rijkaard’s impressive reign at Barcelona was a bitter one

Embarrassed. Humiliated. Gutless.

And much like Real Madrid’s display, Barcelona’s was a microcosm of their 2007/08 campaign. Torrid.

Rafael Marquez’s fridge-like agility was ruthlessly exposed. Xavi was overwhelmed, non-existent and eventually escaped the nightmare with a red card, while they were totally reliant on Lionel Messi to conjure up some magic from thin air in the final third. The need for wholesale changes in the summer couldn’t have been more apparent.

Overall, it was a bitter end to the Rijkaard era which returned a pair of La Liga titles and a Champions League triumph in 2006.

Barcelona Player Ratings

Starting XI: Valdes (6); Zambrotta (5), Marquez (5), Puyol (6), Abidal (6); Xavi (3), Toure (7), Gudjohnsen (5); Messi (6), Bojan (5), Henry (6).

Substitutes: Dos Santos (6), Sylvinho (6), Edmilson (5).

Yaya Toure

Barcelona v Real Madrid – La Liga

Amid a humiliating day in La Blaugrana’s recent history, the gangly Ivorian put in a respectable display in the middle of the park.

Paired alongside an incompetent Xavi and Eidur Gudjohnsen – for about 20 minutes before he was hauled off for no apparent reason – Toure somewhat held his own against an on-song Real midfield which persistently had a numerical advantage thanks to the movement of Raul in a withdrawn forward role and Wesley Sneijder from out wide.

The poor lad tried his best, okay?

What Aged the Worst

Real Madrid v Barcelona – La Liga

This Bojan Krkic fella was supposed to be the next Lionel Messi, right? He had the shaggy hair and everything!

Although the Spaniard was isolated as the front man in this one, the then 17-year-old had burst onto the scene following his debut in September that season, finishing the campaign with ten La Liga strikes.

However, the fact he was lining up alongside Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross merely three years removed from his departure from Catalonia in 2011 suggests not everything quite went to plan.

Giovanni Dos Santos is another who failed miserably in his bid to fulfil his lofty potential, while Schuster’s coaching career took a significant u-turn after the La Liga triumph. The German was sacked in December 2008 before going to manage Malaga, Besiktas and Dalian Yifang with minimal success.

What Aged the Best

Marcelo rocking a buzz cut as he impressed in the 4-1 victory

Marcelo was superb in the ’08 Clásico in what many cited as his finest performance in Los Blancos colours up until that point. But how ’bout that barnet?

Sure, the neat and tidy two all over was cute ‘n all, but the outlandish afro would become symbolic of the flamboyant Brazilian full-back during his decade of dominance down the Bernabeu left.

What Happened Next

Pep Guardiola guided Barcelona to a majestic treble the following season

La Blaugrana would round off the campaign with a victory away Murcia following a 3-2 home defeat to Mallorca, before, well, Pep Guardiola happened.

The unproven boss was drafted in that summer as Rijkaard’s replacement to immediately rid Catalonia of the dark final days of the Dutchman’s reign. Guardiola’s 2008/09 and 2010/11 sides are two of the best in football history, as Barça re-established themselves as Spain’s supreme force.

Surprisingly, meanwhile, only three players who started this Clásico – Xavi, Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos – would be apart of the Spain squad which triumphed at Euro 2008 that summer.


Seville Derby Pencilled in as First Fixture for 11 June La Liga Return

La Liga president Javier Tebas has spoken of his optimism that Sevilla’s derby against Real Betis will be the first match at the restart of La Liga’s season.

Preparations to resume the season after it was put on hold are accelerating, with players beginning to train in groups of 14 from Monday, having already trained in groups of up to ten over the last week.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave La Liga the go-ahead to return from the week of 8 June, as Spain begins to plot a return to normal life after the impact of the coronavirus.

Barcelona Players Return To Training Following Coronavirus Lockdown

Tebas, speaking with Spanish TV network Movistar, revealed that scheduling for La Liga’s return is already underway, and that the league’s revised fixture list could use El Gran Derbi between Sevilla and Betis as its jumping-off point.

“There is a possibility that there is a game on 11 June, which would be the only match that night and perhaps there will be a tribute to all the people who have died [as a result of the coronavirus],” Tebas disclosed.

“I hope that date can be confirmed and we would like the game to be the Seville derby, kicking off at 10pm.”

Club Atletico de Madrid v Sevilla FC – La Liga

Tebas stressed, however, that La Liga clubs first need to succesfully return to regular training in order to progress to the eventual stage of the league’s resumption.

“Right now that’s [full training] our main goal, and if we can achieve that then we can start to bring forward the return of the competition. Our aim is to be able to announce the first four rounds of fixtures next week,” he asserted.

“The government’s announcement took us by surprise but it shows that professional football is very important to this country.”


Iker Casillas Opens Up on ‘Regrets’ Surrounding Real Madrid Exit in 2015

Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has admitted he harbours one or two regrets about the way he handled his 2015 exit from the club, but says his decision to leave was one he had to make to ensure he started enjoying football again.

Casillas marked his departure with an emotional farewell press conference after making the decision to join Porto in the summer of 2015.

He retired from professional football in February this year after his 2019 health scare ruled him out of football indefinitely, and posting on Instagram on Saturday evening, the legendary Spanish keeper reflected on his decision to leave his boyhood club.

“I rarely spoke about my departure from Real Madrid. I gave a press conference alone, mistake, and I left. Five years have passed since then,” Casillas said, alongside an image of him waving goodbye after a 7-3 victory over Getafe.

“Five years that I crossed the border that took me to our neighbouring country: Portugal.

“I needed to feel like myself again. Having a new environment, giving up being so exposed to criticism and wanting to improve. So friends, all players (be they good or bad) want to improve. And for this you have to improve physically and mentally. And the latter was important.

“In Porto I felt it again. Don’t let them tell you other things. This photo is from Real Madrid vs Getafe, season 14/15. I already knew it was going to be my last game. The last match.”

Casillas has rarely discussed his exit publicly, but in 2016, he blamed it on the ‘strange atmosphere’ around the camp at the time. There were reports of a fractious relationship with incoming manager Rafael Benitez, and Casillas departed just over a month after his appointment.

“I knew that my time at Real Madrid was coming to an end in January or February 2015,” he said, as quoted by AS. “The atmosphere was not good. I thought about making a decision. We thought hard about what to do, and the best thing was to leave Real Madrid.

“I think it was the [right] moment. I had thought about leaving Madrid after winning the Champions League in 2014. Due to circumstance, Madrid decided to sell Diego Lopez, but the atmosphere was very strange.”

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