Gavi Named World’s Best Under-21 Footballer

Gavi is celebrating his Kopa moment…

The 18-year-old Spanish professional footballer has won the Kopa Trophy, the award presented to the best player under age 21, prior to the 2022 Ballon d’Or presentation.

GaviThe Barca midfielder, who turned 18 in August, claimed the prize ahead of Borussia Dortmund‘s Jude Bellingham and Bayern Munich‘s Jamal Musiala.

He succeeds Barcelona teammate Pedri, last year’s winner.

After breaking into the first-team setup at age 16 last year, Gavi went on to make 47 appearances for Barca in all competitions in 2021-22, scoring two goals.

His performances for the Catalan club earned him a call-up to the Spain national team and he became the youngest player to ever represent La Roja, at the age of 17 years and 62 days.

Gavi has since won 12 caps for Spain and is a regular for club and country heading into next month’s FIFA World Cup.

Bayer Leverkusen Considering Xabi Alonso for Manager Role

Xabi Alonso may be headed to Germany…

Bayer Leverkusen is considering firing current manager Gerardo Seoane and looking to appoint the 40-year-old Spanish football manager and former professional player as his replacement, according to ESPN.

Xabi AlonsoSeoane will be in charge for Leverkusen’s Champions League Group B game with FC Porto on Tuesday, but his future is uncertain after a poor start to the Bundesliga season with the club sitting 17th after picking up five points from eight games.

Alonso has been out of work since leaving Real Sociedad B in May after a successful three years in charge.

Sources told ESPN that he would welcome the challenge of turning around Leverkusen’s season.

Seoane managed Leverkusen to a third-place finish in the Bundesliga in his debut campaign last year, qualifying for the Champions League, but they have struggled so far this season.

Sources told ESPN that Alonso has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Seoane over the last week.

Germany’s Sport1 reported that Leverkusen had contacted Thomas Tuchel, who was sacked by Chelsea last month, but the former Borussia Dortmund coach turned down the approach.

Alonso is highly rated as a managerial prospect. He starred as a player for Real SociedadLiverpoolReal Madrid and Bayern Munich before retiring in 2017.

He began his coaching career with Real Madrid’s academy before taking over Sociedad’s B team in 2019, leading them to promotion to the Second Division in 2021 for the first time in 60 years before departing this summer.

Sociedad had been keen to keep him on board as a potential future first-team manager, but the performance of Imanol Alguacil in the role meant that was not an option in the short-term, and Alonso preferred to seek a new opportunity.

Erik Lamela Wins FIFA’s Puskas Award

Erik Lamela is celebrating his award-winning rabona

The 29-year-old Argentine professional footballer, who plays as an attacking midfielder or winger for La Liga club Sevilla and the Argentina national team, has won this year’s Puskas Award.

Erik Lamela

Lamela earned the award for his “rabona” for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal.

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski equaled Cristiano Ronaldo‘s FIFA The Best record when he won the award for a second time on Monday.

The Bayern Munich forward retained his FIFA The Best award following an incredible campaign in which he scored a Bundesliga record 41 goals, fighting off competition from Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel claimed the Manager of the Year award following success in the Champions League in 2021.

Chelsea and Senegal‘s Edouard Mendy won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Denmark team and staff won the Fair Play award following their reaction to Christian Eriksen‘s cardiac arrest at Euro 2020. Denmark and Finland fans also received the Best Fan award for their spontaneous unified chanting in support of Eriksen after he was taken off the pitch.

The award was first handed out in its present guise in 2016, after FIFA ended their five-year partnership with the Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo, who was given a special award for breaking the international men’s goal scoring record in 2021, won back-to-back awards in the first two years.

Meanwhile, Messi and part-Brazilian player Jorginho were named to the FIFA FIFPro Men’s World XI team.

FIFA FIFPro Men’s World XI
Gianluigi Donnarumma – Paris Saint-Germain, Italy
David Alaba – Real Madrid, Austria
Ruben Dias – Manchester City, Portugal
Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus, Italy
Jorginho – Chelsea, Italy
N’Golo Kante – Chelsea, France
Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City, Belgium
Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United, Portugal
Erling Haaland – Borussia Dortmund, Norway
Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich, Poland
Lionel Messi – Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina

Barcelona midfielder Alexia Putellas won the women’s award.

Aston Villa Agrees to Deal for Philippe Coutinho

It’s official…Philippe Coutinho is headed to Birmingham.

Aston Villa has agreed on a deal to sign the 29-year-old Brazilian professional footballer and former Liverpool midfielder on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season, the Premier League club announced on Friday.

Philippe Coutinho

The agreement, which is subject to Coutinho completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy, and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.

ESPN sources say that five Premier League sides held talks with Coutinho’s camp, with Villa and one other English club showing the most serious interest.

However, the presence of Steven Gerrard, Coutinho’s former teammate at Liverpool, helped swing the balance in Villa’s favor.

The Premier League club said in a statement: “Aston Villa and FC Barcelona have agreed terms for Philippe Coutinho to spend the rest of this season on loan at Villa Park.

“The agreement, which is subject to the player completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.”

Gerrard, who left Rangers to replace Dean Smith as the coach at Villa Park at the end of last year, played a key role in persuading the Brazilian to make the move to the Midlands.

Coutinho has previously been reluctant to leave Barca, but a desire to play regular football in a World Cup year has led to a change of mind.

Barca made Coutinho their most expensive signing ever when they paid Liverpool €160 million for him in 2018.

His first season at Camp Nou, playing alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, ended with a domestic double, but he lost his way in his second term.

He spent the 2019-20 season on loan at German giants Bayern Munich, scoring twice as they beat Barca 8-2 on the way to winning the Champions League, before returning to Spain for the following campaign.

Ronald Koeman said he would help Coutinho rediscover his best form, but injury problems held the player back under the Dutch manager.

He missed the second half of last season with injuries and has started just once, a 1-0 loss to Real Betis, since new coach Xavi Hernandez was appointed in November.

When asked about Coutinho’s departure in a news conference on Friday, Xavi said: “It says a lot about Coutinho that he’s gone out on loan because he wants to play, and reducing his salary. He’s a great pro.

“It wasn’t working for him here and he’s looked for a solution. He wants to succeed. We will see what happens with Samu [Umtiti.] I don’t have any complaints about anyone. All the players are professional. I’m delighted with those that are playing but also those that aren’t.”

Coutinho tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but should be cleared to fly to England in the coming days and could come into contention for Villa’s Premier League game against Manchester United on January 15.

Five Premier League Clubs Reportedly Interested in Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho could be making a premier move…

The 29-year-old Brazilian soccer player is open to leaving FC Barcelona this month and five Premier League clubs, including Aston Villa, have expressed an interest in signing him on loan, according to ESPN sources.

Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho’s agent Kia Joorabchian is working in collaboration with Barca to find a new home for the Brazil international, who wants to play regular football before the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

Multiple sources have confirmed that Villa, coached by Coutinho’s former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard, are one of the clubs interested in signing the attacking midfielder.

A source close to Coutinho’s camp added that talks with all interested parties are still at a very early stage and that “no [club] is being ruled out at this stage.”

“It’s all to do with the football project more than anything else,” the source added.

Another source revealed that Everton are one of the clubs who have held talks over a deal for Coutinho, who spent five years at their Merseyside rivals Liverpool before joining Barca for a club record €160 million fee in 2018.

However, there is an internal debate at Goodison Park, with owner Farhad Moshiri keen on doing a deal for Coutinho, while coach Rafa Benitez is not yet on board.

Coutinho became Barca’s club-record signing four years ago but has struggled to make a mark at Camp Nou. He was given a second chance under Ronald Koeman following a loan spell with Bayern Munich but has once again fallen down the pecking order under new coach Xavi Hernandez.

Barca are ready to facilitate a loan deal as they need to move players on to register new signing Ferran Torres and any other potential January arrivals and Coutinho, as the club’s biggest earner, is one player they’re seeking a new home for.

Coutinho himself has previously been reluctant to leave but with the World Cup around the corner he wants to ensure he does not miss out on the Brazil squad for the finals in Qatar.

FC Dallas Reportedly Transferring Ricardo Pepi to Augsburg for Club-Record Fee

Ricardo Pepi is thisclose to a lucrative deal to play in Germany…

The 18-year-old Mexican American professional soccer player, an FC Dallas and United States international forward, is close to finalizing a deal with Bundesliga side FC Augsburg, according to ESPN.

Ricardo Pepi

The sources said that if the deal is completed, the transfer fee would be in the neighborhood of $20 million plus add-ons, with a 10% sell-on percentage going to Dallas in any future moves.

The base transfer fee would be the highest for a homegrown player in Major League Soccer history.

Alphonso Davies‘ move from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich was in excess of that number, but that included incentives.

Pepi’s arrival in Augsburg would see him bolster an attack in desperate need of goals. Augsburg is in 15th place, just above the relegation zone. Its haul of 17 goals in 17 games is tied for the fourth-worst mark in the Bundesliga as it headed into the winter break.

Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg were thought to be the frontrunners to land Pepi, but now it appears that Augsburg have won the race to sign the American.

Pepi has seen his reputation and form skyrocket in the last 12 months. He scored 13 goals in 31 league appearances this season for Dallas. That resulted in a call-up to the U.S. men’s team where he scored three goals — all in World Cup qualifiers — in seven appearances.

All told, Pepi has scored 16 goals in 57 league and playoff appearances for Dallas.

Lionel Messi Wins Record-Extending Seventh Ballon d’Or

It’s Lucky No. 7 for Lionel Messi

The 34-year-old Argentine professional footballer and Paris Saint-Germain forward has been awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or for a record-extending seventh time in a ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Lionel Messi

Messi, who led Argentina to Copa America success in Brazil in July for their first major trophy since 1993, spent the majority of 2020 at Barcelona before his 21-year stay at the club ended when he left as a free agent in August and joined PSG soon after.

He now has two more Ballon d’Or awards than Manchester United‘s Cristiano Ronaldo, whose tally of five is two more than anyone else.

Messi added to his 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 trophies with the announcement on Monday.

“It’s incredible to be here again. Two years ago I thought it was the last time. Winning the Copa America was key,” Messi said. “It is a special year for me with this Copa America title. It meant a lot to win at the Maracana stadium and I was so happy to celebrate with the people from Argentina.

“I don’t know if it’s the best year of my life, I’ve had a long career, but it was a special one with the title with Argentina after the tough times and the criticism.”

Messi beat 29 other nominees for the award, including Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who was the favorite for last year’s prize before it was cancelled because of the lack of football during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Lewandowski was nominated for the award again this year after he broke late Bayern legend Gerd Muller‘s single-season Bundesliga goal record in May after he netted 41 league times last season, as well as winning the European Golden Shoe.

Although Lewandowski didn’t win the night’s biggest prize, he was named Striker of the Year at the ceremony and finished second to Messi on the final ballot.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho was also tipped for the award after winning last season’s Champions League with his club side before playing a crucial part in Italy’s triumph at Euro 2020.

 

Liverpool‘s Mohamed SalahReal Madrid‘s Karim Benzema and PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were also nominated for the award.

AC Milan‘s Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was also a finalist for the Ballon d’Or best player, was named Goalkeeper of the Year.

Chelsea, whose men won the UEFA Champions League in 2021 and saw their women’s side win the Women’s Super League, were named Team of the Year, with managers Thomas Tuchel and Emma Hayes accepting the award remotely because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Ballon d’Or is awarded annually by France Football, with FIFA‘s The Best a separate honor handed out every year — Messi won that award for the first time in 2020.

Barca midfielder Pedri won the Kopa Trophy as Europe’s best young player, which comes just a week after he claimed the Golden Boy award.

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James Rodriguez Joins Qatari Side Al Rayyan

James Rodriguez is headed to the Middle East…

The 30-year-old Colombian professional footballer and Everton midfielder has joined Qatari side Al Rayyan for an undisclosed fee, both clubs have confirmed.

James Rodríguez

Sources previously told ESPN that Rodriguez was discussing a move with the Qatari club after Everton gave him permission to leave Goodison Park. He was told by manager Rafa Benitez, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti this summer, that he was not in his plans.

The midfielder made an impressive start after he joined from Real Madrid in September 2020, scoring three goals in his first five games, but injury and loss of form saw his contribution diminish markedly in the second half of the season.

He made a total of 26 appearances in all competitions during his time at the club.

Rodriguez began his career at Colombian side Enviagado and later Argentine side Banfield before enjoying spells at FC PortoAS MonacoMadrid and Bayern Munich.

He said in April that he only joined Everton so he could be reunited with Ancelotti, who had signed him for Madrid in 2014 and Bayern in 2017.

Everton had the option of extending his contract at the end of the season if he were to make enough first team appearances, but sources told ESPN that the club were keen to move his £10 million-a-year salary off the club’s wage bill.

His last appearance for the Premier League side came in a 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United in May.

Rodriguez has 80 international caps for Colombia, scoring 23 goals, and played in two World Cup tournaments, notably winning the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Sergio Ramos to Undergo Medical Ahead of Joining Paris Saint-Germain as Free Agent

It’s twilight in Paris for Sergio Ramos

The 35-year-old Spanish professional footballer will undergo a medical in Paris on Tuesday ahead of joining Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent, according to ESPN.

Sergio Ramos

Sources added that Ramos, a veteran defender, agreed to join the Ligue 1 giants on a two-year deal.

Ramos announced last month that he’d leave Real Madrid after failing to reach an agreement to extend his 16-year stay in the Spanish capital.

Manchester City and Bayern Munich had shown an interest in acquiring the Spain international, but the experienced centerback preferred PSG‘s project.

Ramos didn’t strike an agreement with Madrid due to discrepancies over the length of the deal. Los Blancos were only willing to offer one year and by the time Ramos agreed to accept the club’s proposal he was told the deadline had expired.

Ramos had wanted a two-year deal. His wages at PSG are set to be lower than what he was earning in Spain and what he would have earned had he stayed at the Bernabeu.

Ramos will land in Paris just hours after the arrival of his former Real Madrid teammate Achraf Hakimi. Hakimi, 22, is expected to join PSG on a €70m transfer from Inter Milan, sources have told ESPN.

The Morocco international posted a message on Twitter on Monday hinting that he was on his way to the French capital.

Giovanni Reyna Scores Two Goals to Help Propel Borussia Dortmund Into German Cup Final

Giovanni Reyna has reached his first German Cup final…

The 18-year-old half-Argentine American soccer player, U.S. international, and a midfielder for Borussia Dortmund scored twice as his German team struck four times in 16 first-half minutes to crush second division Holstein Kiel 5-0 on Saturday to reach the German Cup final, where they will face RB Leipzig.

Giovanni Reyna

Top scorer Erling Haaland was sidelined with a muscle injury but his power was hardly missed as Dortmund exploded into action after 16 minutes, with Reyna finding just enough space inside the box to thread a shot into the back of the net.

Reyna then tapped in a second goal from close range after good work and a back flick each from Marco Reus and Raphael Guerreiro seven minutes later, before captain Reus got onto the scoresheet himself in the 26th.

Thorgan Hazard fired their fourth in the 32nd as hapless visitors Holstein, who had eliminated holders Bayern Munich in the second round, clearly lacked match practice after having come back late last month from 28 days of quarantine.

“Today we were very efficient in front of goal and we are happy to have reached the final,” Reus said. “What we want is to qualify for the Champions League and bring the Cup to Dortmund.”

Dortmund, who last won the Cup in 2017, will face Leipzig, who eliminated Werder Bremen in extra time on Friday, at Berlin’s Olympic stadium on May 13.