There’s trouble in Spain

The Catalan Football Federation has suspended all matches in the region on Monday after nine Catalan separatist leaders were jailed.

Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced the leaders for sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017.

The federation says the suspension is to show solidarity with the leaders and their families and covers all of its official football and futsal matches.

It does not include La Liga or the Spanish national team.

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain and in a referendum on 1 October 2017, declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, about 90% of Catalan votes cast backed independence, but turnout was 43%.

In March 2018, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was fined by the Football Association for wearing a yellow ribbon, a symbol of support for independence in his native Catalonia.


Zizou finds his Pogba

Real Madrid told Zinedine Zidane that Paul Pogba was not worth Manchester United were asking for him in the summer and on Saturday, for the first time this season, it looked like they had called it absolutely right.

The reason was a young Uruguayan midfielder by the name of Fede Valverde.

Zidane took a few gambles in the summer. He sent Dani Ceballos to Arsenal and Marcos Llorente to Atletico Madrid leaving himself with just four midfielders.

Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro plus a player who until this season has not been anywhere near a first team regular.

With Modric injured the burden has been cranked up on the other three but Valverde has responded in a way that has meant even now that Modric is fit again the Uruguayan gets in the team ahead of him.

He was quietly impressive in the Madrid derby the week before last and at the weekend he was majestic in the 4-2 win over Granada. It was a performance that had El Pais likening him to Steven Gerrard and Marca splashing one page with the bold headline: ‘Zidane finds his Pogba’.

There are similarities with the young Gerrard. Valverde has that distinctive long stride that enables him to get up and down the pitch with ease, even tear away from defenders like a middle-distance runner kicking for home on the last bend.

But it’s the Pogba likenesses that they like at Madrid – because it proves them right in terms of not spending big on the French midfielder in the summer.

No one is suggesting that Valverde is already the new Pogba or the new Gerrard but Zidane has a real talent and someone who could also allow him to prove something that so far he has not been able to do – show that he is capable not just of getting the perfect tune out of top players, but improving players with less experience who need coaching.

Valverde also looks good news for Uruguay – that country of three million that seems to produce more players of quality than most other football nations 10 times its size.

He came through at Penarol in Uruguay after having stood out in the country’s legendary ‘baby football’ starter matches from 6-years of age. He was nicknamed El Pajarito (the little bird) for the way he was capable of flying forward and he was already established for his club and in the full Uruguay side when he was just 17.

He was spotted by Real Madrid’s top South American scout Juni Calafat when he was 19 and was persuaded to move to a Spanish-speaking country as opposed to England where Arsenal and Chelsea were among the clubs rumoured to be promising him a fast-track route to the first team.

They loaned him out to Deportivo for a season. Now back under the tutelage of Zidane he has taken another huge stride forward.

He won the ball back nine times on Saturday and he surged through and cleverly prodded the pass into Eden Hazard’s path for him to score his first goal for Real Madrid.

“He always wants the ball and was key in two of the goals,” said a beaming Zidane after his contribution at the weekend.

“He is a modern player who plays a big part in defence and attack. He deserves to be in the team.”

His parents Julio and Doris are keeping his feet on the ground. They moved to La Coruna with him and now live with him in Madrid.

But the little bird is flying and as Zidane’s midfield star he could be hard to stop now.

Daily Mail