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    • “I’d say I’m a bit antimadridista; although I do not know where my future will be… it’s a team that I never liked. I get the impression that [Real Madrid] is an arrogant club, about how the players are. Without humility, you cannot get anywhere.”

      Harsh words from one of the summer’s hottest transfer targets, uttered four years ago in a moment of either searing earnestness, youthful naiveté, or perhaps both. Back then, Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez was still an unknown talent, a product of the Valencia youth system and a Spanish U19 international. What has changed in the short years since the player, more commonly known as Isco, gave his damning assessment of Los Blancos, unearthed with ill-concealed glee this week by Barça-friendly tabloid Mundo Deportivo? The short answer is, of course, everything.  A dazzling performance in this month’s under-21 European Championships ignited serious interest from Real in the playmaker; a rumoured €35m buy-out clause proved too much for Manchester City to compete, and a rumoured phone call from one Zinedine Zidane proved irresistible for Isco, and it appeared both club and player had decided. Last night’s confirmation from Real president Florentino Pérez, that a deal had been agreed between player and club, and that all that remains is for Isco to undertake a medical in Madrid before being unveiled next week, changed rumours into fact. Whatever Zidane said in that phone call, it was enough to effect a rather massive change of heart in the once self-proclaimed Madrid-hater, a man so alien to the Real cause that he even named his dog after Barça’s star man, Messi. Off the back of two exciting seasons at Champions League wildcards Malaga, during which he won the acclaimed European Golden Boy award in 2012, and fresh from a dazzlingly successful summer tournament, one of Spain and Europe’s brightest young midfielders seems certain to join the Whites of Madrid – rather than the Blue half of Manchester.

      What makes this particular Spanish midfield maestro so different and exciting compared to all the other creative whizzkids in the massed La Roja ranks? A protégé of new Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, at the beginning of the month all seemed certain that Isco would follow his former mentor across the water and over to England’s north west. Indeed, Isco himself has not been backward in coming forward when asked to rate Pellegrini’s influence on his game, commenting in press interviews last month how the Chilean has been his “footballing father”, and even adding “of course I’d like to continue [working] with him.” However, one little tournament seems to have got in the way of City and Pellegrini’s best laid plans. Spain won the U21 Euros with their usual style and aplomb just over a week ago, with Isco playing no small part in his nation’s triumph; three goals from five appearances was enough to claim the tournament’s Bronze Boot award, and his performances throughout the competition were lauded from all quarters. The Mail online waxed lyrical about the Spaniard’s “majestic performance” in the semi-final against the Norway, noting how he “helped his side move one step closer to a second successive European Under-21 Championship” with a “stunning strike.”  In a similar vein, The Guardian’s Tor-Kristian Karlsen commented in the wake of Spain’s success that “the magic Spanish forward was not only the No1 attacking player at the Championship but among the most exciting players in European football last season.” With nine goals for Malaga in 35 league appearances, plus a three in 10 return in the Champions League, Isco was the top scorer for the Andalusian club in 2012/13, whetting the appetite of a number of suitors. All seemed sealed for City when the appointment of Pellegrini was confirmed; surely the Spanish wunderkind would follow the man who bought him from Valencia in 2011 to the most exciting league of them all?

      Yet maybe the sweet taste of success on the international stage did more than fully alert Real to the attacking midfielder’s potential – if reports of Zidane having to convince club president Pérez of Isco’s worth are anything to go by. I wonder whether or not the prospect of next year’s World Cup is playing heavily on young Isco’s mind, influencing his decision to opt for Madrid over City. Could Zidane not only have reassured the young Spaniard that he would get minutes and be a vital part of Carlo Ancelotti’s plans, but also have convinced Isco that it might well be easier to book a place, perhaps even a first team place, in the over-talented Spanish squad, after a shining season with Real Madrid in La Liga, instead of a shining season for a club elsewhere?

      Exactly how Isco will fit into Real Madrid’s starting line-up will be intriguing. It’s all change at the Bernabéu, what with Mourinho going out and Ancelotti coming in, the on-going will-he-won’t-he saga involving Ronaldo potentially heading back to Old Trafford, and the possible departure of further players, such as Kaká and Higuaín. Ronaldo’s presence at the club could well be crucial to Isco’s positioning, according to Karl Matchett of bleacherreport.com. “In his present role for club and country,” Matchett states, “Isco would be expected to figure for Real Madrid from the left side of the attack – but a certain Cristiano Ronaldo stands in his way there.” Ancelotti himself expressed his desire for attacking football at his first Real Madrid press conference on Wednesday, which surely must have put Isco fans at ease; the Italian commented “I want a team that controls the play… I don’t think it will be difficult to play offensive football with lots of possession.” When asked directly about the 21 year old, Ancelotti was expressive in his praise, noting that ‘he has a lot of quality[…] Spain’s Under-21 side has a lot of great players and he is one of the best. He could get into any team in the world, so he could also play for Madrid.” Further tactical scrutiny from Matchett had the Bleacher Report man arguing that both 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2 systems could suit both manager and player. If Real do become more consistent in attack under Ancelotti, Matchett is adamant that “Isco’s technical ability would be a huge asset.”

      So, good business and exciting news for all Madridistas then; but is losing out on Isco really that big a blow for Manchester City? For some Blues fans, it must surely be worrying that a man mentored by their new manager has chosen not to be reunited with him, and indeed, as players like Edinson Cavani repeatedly snub City, the club seems to somehow be failing to have much influence on the very top players. Some positives can be drawn from the fiasco, however; although no City fan would have turned Isco down, the Blue half of Manchester is already in danger of looking like a tiki-taka tribute-band, with a burgeoning midfield containing the likes of Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and Milner, not to mention new signings Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. Maybe one less midfielder is not the end of the world. Admittedly, City’s ever-decreasing collection of out-and-out strikers, further depleted thanks to Carlos Tevez’s £10m departure to Juventus this week, could have welcomed a man known for his attacking ability as much as his playmaking and creativity. City fans may have cause to rue their club’s missed opportunity yet, if cross-town rivals United complete the transfer of Under-21 Euro 2013 Player of the Tournament, Thiago Alcântara. It’s tempting to wonder whether the up-tempo, closely-contested Premier League would have suited Isco’s game better, too, though ultimately the Spaniard may have fancied his chances of silverware more playing in a top side in a two-horse race, as opposed to a six-horse stampede. I wouldn’t be surprised if Isco did move to England in three or four seasons’ time, despite his five year contract at the Bernabéu, once his game has matured even more and he’s refined himself as a player. One thing is certain, this youngster has a bright future ahead of him; I for one am certainly relishing the prospect of Isco in even more Champions League action, perhaps playing alongside the likes of Ronaldo and Modric, duelling with Iniesta and Messi in the next El Clásico, and maybe even helping La Roja to a record fourth consecutive major international trophy in South America next summer. With his old club apparently considering retiring his shirt number, it appears it is time for Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez to step up to the next level. As the player himself recently admitted to As, ‘Madrid excites me. They are one of the best teams in the world.’ It’s time for Isco to leave his antimadridista days behind him. Even if his dog is called Messi.

       

  • Carlos Tevez is many things to many people at many different times.

    Hero. Pariah. Mercenary. Victim. Captain. Ex-husband. Partner. Father. Criminal. Singer. Golfer. Linguist. And, on the odd occasion, footballer.

    To me, he’ll always be the face of some of the finest corporate trolling ever seen.WELCOME

    But on Wednesday, his time in England ended as he waved goodbye to these shores for once and for all, leaving Manchester City’s striking options looking pretty threadbare.

    Mistake?

    Well, if you look at his swashbuckling style, his willingness to work for his team and what he represents (namely, a massive two fingers to the Big Red Machine over the road), then yes. It also deprives Sergio Aguero of a trusted partner in crime, leaving him and wantaway Edin Dzeko as the only established members of a dysfunctional strikeforce.

    But Tevez was already part of it and is arguably more guilty than either of the two left behind. Regardless of form, Aguero will give you a world-class moment while Edin Dzeko scores goals and… not much else. Tevez actually had the third worst conversion rate in the league.

    Combined with the sour taste after he took a six-month sabbatical doing nothing but playing golf and whining about how victimised he was, it’s probably the right time for all involved for El Apache to leave everything in Manchester behind.

    Yes, including the community service.

    So, new chapter. How will he fit in at the Old Lady?

    Pretty well, I’d imagine. The 3-5-2 I often see Juve play has a full-functional defence and a world-class midfield, but lacks the firepower to take them up to the next level. Their new forward will go a way to fix that – at 29, any yards of pace he may have lost will be hardly noticed in the slower, more tactical Serie A, while he’ll be combining with Fernando Llorente (HE WENT FOR FREE IN JANUARY? LEVY, WHAT THE FUCK). If they hit it off, things could get very painful for defences in Serie A.

    And that’s saying something.

    But will they gel? Will he knuckle down and live a (relatively) modest lifestyle while at the club so conservative they are nicknamed the Old Lady? Boiling it all down, what will Tevez be to his new set of teammates, management and fans?

    Time will tell, I guess. But things are never dull around a man seemingly determined to move back to Buenos Aires one lucrative transfer at a time.

  • It’s too late for me, guys.

    As the sun mulls over whether it can be arsed to put in a sustained appearance this close season, the changes in me are already under way. I tried being casual about it. I tried a game of Football Manager. I even tried to stifle my symptoms with humour. All to no avail.

    If I were bitten by a zombie, I’d implore you to leave me on the roadside to my inevitable fate; I’d beg you to get as far away as you can before you would get hurt.

  • Yeah, it’s a Football Manager article. I love Football Manager. I won’t bore you with my stats, but safe to say, I’m pretty much the greatest manager that has ever lived. One thing that I love about Football Manager is when you start seeing a player play in real life and you either sit there telling your friends that “I discovered him as a 16 year old playing in Estonia”, or you say “Why the hell hasn’t he scored 20 goals from corners before Christmas?” Either way, it’s fun. Once I even drunkenly tried to add a lower league Polish player who starred for me in FM 2010 on Facebook only for them to message me saying “Do I know you?” Sorry about that, Maciej Rogalski.

    MaciejRogalski

    Not long after the end of this season, it was rumoured that Arsenal had all but signed Yaya Sanogo. This pricked the ear up of every ardent FM player. The conversation would go one of two ways; both “Yeah I got him for £10m and he scored 500 goals in 550 appearances” or “I hate the bastard, he always scored against me and I never won the title because of him” (luckily I was the first one, remember that bit about not telling you my stats). The fact that Sanogo does not exist on the latest version of the game is a source of much sadness for me, so I went with John Guidetti instead, same outcome. However, the possibly signing of Sanogo got me thinking of other Football Manager stars that are rumoured to make a move to England this summer and their chances of doing well.

    1. Sebastien Corchia

    A French right-back currently playing for Sochaux and heavily linked with Arsenal this summer. He fits the Wenger mould as he is only 22 and is French (although Newcastle are of course interested as well). Rumours abound that he could command a fee of up to £10m, which is telling considering first choice French full-back Mathieu Debuchy went for just over half of that last January. On FM, Corchia is a rampaging right-back or wing-back with a vicious shot on him, while in real life, he looks quick and agile. In typical Wenger fashion, it’s unlikely he’d pay the current asking price. I signed him on FM in around 2016 for £22m. Get in now, Arsene, for God’s sake.

    2. Lazar Markovic

    Serbian right winger Markovic was signed by Liverpool on my game for about £25m, but Partizan Belgrade expect to offload him this summer, and Sky Sports suggest Chelsea are in the driving seat, though Benfica have also been linked, with the player apparently having a medical there this week. Apart from the fact that Chelsea do not need Markovic and the likelihood is he will rust on the bench, it would still be a great young signing. The Serb is extremely quick and looks to have a trick or two in his locker. Could well be a star for a top team if given the chance to development over the next five years.

    3. Isco

    Up there with Robert Lewandowski as the football hipster’s wet dream right now, Isco looks certain to leave Malaga this summer with his destination supposedly either Madrid or Manchester (to Real or City respectively). The media reports bids going in from Real; however Isco has been quoted as saying he wishes to continue to play under Manuel Pellegrini, and City would happily oblige Malaga and pay a handsome (but probably not excessive) fee for the little Spaniard. He could also be perhaps what City are lacking. A front four of Silva, Isco and Navas behind Aguero (welcome to PSG, Nasri) looks tasty, as does the idea of Isco playing deeper alongside Yaya Toure, though this would negate Toure’s natural forward thinking.

    4. Bernard

    Currently known for tearing Brazilian defenders new arseholes with his tricks, Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte is another of an endless crop of talented Brazilians linked with moves to Europe. Similar in stature to Oscar, the small, skinny attacker has been linked with Chelsea, whilst his club Atletico Mineiro rejected a £10m-ish bid from Spartak Moscow for the player last December. Rumours on Bernard have cooled over the last few months, so it looks less likely that he’ll be playing in Europe this year; however, keep an eye on YouTube as he continues to just out-Neymar everyone on there right now, including Neymar.

    5. Thiago Alcantara

    Possibly the biggest decision Barcelona have to make this summer is whether or not to begin to dismantle their supreme midfield to allow Thiago some more playing time, or cash in on another incredible looking Spanish midfielder. Right now, neither looks particularly likely as Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas are just immoveable; however, an interesting line of rumour this summer has come from the apparent existence of a release clause in his contract. Figures from £10m to about £25m have been quoted for this release clause, the latter being much more likely but that is still not much to pay for a player who would be a first team starter in most top European teams. Manchester United have been heavily linked, but it looks like Moyes is going to spend this summer rubbing his hands over the ass print left by Fergie in the manager’s seat rather than buying anyone. Let’s face it, they’ve got Tom Cleverley.

    Some that already got away:

    A few players you should keep an eye on that have already moved clubs this summer:

    Jan Kirchoff – Big German centre back signed by Bayern on a free. Almost certain to reach beast status within five years.

    Nicolas Isimat-Mirin – Another promising centre back but he has joined the party at Monaco. Yachts and tax breaks must be his thing.

    Fede Vico – Signed for Anderlecht for little over £1m. Nippy Spanish winger who could be a dark horse for super stardom in the next few years.

     

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