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FOOTBALL

La Liga reveals plans to take Spanish soccer to United States

Spain's La Liga plans to stage a match in the United States, its first venture outside Europe, as part of a north American expansion drive, the league said Thursday.

La Liga reveals plans to take Spanish soccer to United States
La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barça in May. Photo: AFP

The teams and the venue for the match were not disclosed in the statement from the league which has formed a joint-venture, LaLiga North America, to boost its profile in the United States and Canada.

El Pais newspaper said the match would take place over the coming 2018-19 season and would probably feature either Barcelona or Real Madrid as one of the teams.

The plan was immediately attacked by Spain's professional footballers union (AFE) which released a statement saying neither players nor fans had been consulted.

“As usual, La Liga ignores the opinion of footballers and  commits them to events which  only benefits (La Liga) without taking into account the health of the players and the risks involved for them…” the statement said.   

Supporters including those holding shares in league clubs also protested, calling for mobilisation against the plan.   

La Liga has been criticised in the past for its overseas expansion plans, notably for authorising a morning kick-off for the Barcelona-Real Madrid “Classico” last December to cater for the convenience of television viewers in Asia.

However, the opposition has failed to dent La Liga's drive, encouraged by its president Javier Tebas, to gain a bigger share of the global football pie, notably competing for market share with the powerful English Premier League    

Last season la Liga took €3.6 billion, or $4.1 billion, in receipts, 40 percent from TV rights, with a pre-tax profit of €234 million. It hopes to break the €4 billion mark for the first time in the coming season which 
opens Friday.

The North American move further confirms Spanish football's export ambitions following Tuesday's announcement of a deal with social media platform Facebook to broadcast La Liga matches live in South Asia.   

La Liga is planning strategy for its North American drive with Relevent Sports, the promotor behind the International Champions Cup, a close-season tournament for top European clubs.

READ MORE: Six new signings to watch in La Liga

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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