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FOOTBALL

Real Madrid beat off Man City to seal Isco deal

Spanish international Isco has joined Real Madrid from Malaga on a five-year deal, the capital club confirmed on Thursday, bringing to an end weeks of hard-fought competition between Europe's top clubs.

Real Madrid beat off Man City to seal Isco deal
A file picture from April 9th 2012 shows Isco celebrating after scoring versus Santander. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

"Real Madrid and Malaga have reached an agreement for the transfer of Francisco Roman Alarcon Isco, who will be tied to the club for the next five seasons," said a statement on Madrid's website.

The midfielder, who will reportedly cost around €30 million, is set to be presented on July 3rd at the Santiago Bernabeu after undergoing a medical.

Isco becomes Madrid's first major signing of the close season and the Spanish giants have fought off strong competition from Manchester City to secure the 21-year-old starlet.

City's appointment of Isco's former coach at Malaga, Manuel Pellegrini, as their new manager had appeared to have given the English side the upper hand in negotiations.

However, Madrid's desperation to seal the player's signature increased after his sterling performances at the under-21 European Championships this month, where he guided Spain to a second consecutive title.

"Dribbling skills, imagination and speed are some of the qualities that define this midfielder, who was awarded the Golden Boy prize in 2012 (for the best young player in Europe), is a recent champion of the U-21 European Championships with Spain and at just 21 has already made his debut for the senior Spanish side," Real said.

Isco is also the first signing in Carlo Ancelotti's reign as coach and the Italian hailed the youngster's ability when he was formally presented on Wednesday.

"I can only speak about his quality. He is very good, the Spanish under-21 team has great players and he is the one with the most talent. Isco could play in any team."

A product of Valencia's youth system, Isco moved to Malaga just two years ago for six million euros as the Andalusians invested heavily after being taken over by Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani.

It was this season though in which he rose to prominence after the sale of fellow playmaker Santi Cazorla to Arsenal.

The Spaniard shone as Malaga progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals in their first ever appearance in the competition.

Only two late controversial goals from Borussia Dortmund prevented the Andalusians from reaching the last four.

Malaga's on-going financial problems made another transfer at the end of the campaign inevitable, though.

Isco has chosen to continue his career in Spain despite the intense competition for places at the Bernabeu, with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Kaka all vying for places in the creative midfield roles.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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