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FOOTBALL

Real Madrid reward Solari with permanent contract

Interim Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari was appointed permanent coach on Monday after overseeing a startling upturn in the European champions' fortunes since he stepped in to replace Julen Lopetegui.

Real Madrid reward Solari with permanent contract
Photo: AFP

“Everything is in order. Real Madrid have worked out his contract and there are no problems,” the Spanish football federation stated.   

Solari has led Real to four wins out of four since being installed on a caretaker basis following Lopetegui's abrupt sacking last month.   

And with 15 goals scored and only two conceded he has established the best ever start for a Real manager.

After thrashing Melilla in the Copa del Rey, they won 5-0 away to Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League, between victories over Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo in La Liga.

The upturn has left Madrid only four points adrift of league leaders Barcelona and on the brink of qualification for the last 16 in Europe.   

Solari, who spent five years playing for Real, was promoted from his role in charge of Castilla, the club´s B team, after Lopetegui had overseen a miserable run that included just one victory in seven games.

The last of those, a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Barcelona, proved the final straw for club president Florentino Perez but the team have rebounded under their new coach.

Solari is Perez's 13th manager in 15 seasons across two seperate periods at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“He has done excellently,” Madrid club director Emilio Butragueno said on Sunday night. “We are very happy with how things have gone.”   

Few could argue with the results, which have now earned Solari the chance to prove himself over a longer period.   

READ ALSO: Solari: Five things you need to know about Real Madrid's new coach 

'Great opportunity'

He indicated in his opening press conference that he was open to keeping the job full-time.

“It's a great opportunity and it's a great club,” Solari said. “I don't just say that now as coach of the first team. I've been here with other teams, I've played and sweated in the shirt of this club.

“Madrid is bigger than all of us but it touches us all with its greatness. I want to be a part of it.”

Zinedine Zidane also stepped up mid-season from coaching Castilla in 2016 and led the team to Champions League glory five months later.   

Solari has played down the comparisons with Zidane, who commanded instant respect owing to his glittering playing career and long-established status at the club, enhancing his status as a Real legend by winning three consecutive Champions League crowns.

“He's one of the greatest things we've ever had at this club,” Solari said last month. “He's very calm, a great coach and nobody can compare to him.”   

The challenge for Solari will be to manage the dressing room when results take a turn for the worse.

After the international break, Madrid´s generous run of games continues with league matches against Eibar, Valencia, Huesca, Rayo Vallecano and Villarreal before Christmas, none of whom currently reside in La Liga´s top half.

They will also play Roma in Italy and CSKA Moscow at home in the Champions League, two games likely to settle who goes through top of Group G.   

Solari was only allowed two weeks as an interim coach according to Spanish regulations, meaning Sunday´s trip to Celta Vigo was always likely to precede a decision on his future.

It proved an impressive final audition as Madrid struck a 4-2 victory, with Solari having to adapt to a handful of injury problems during the game.   

“We´ll go to the death with him, he's a great coach and of course we want him to continue,” Madrid defender Alvaro Odriozola said afterwards.   

This will be Solari´s maiden job in charge of a first team.   

Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho and Joachim Low had all been linked to the position, with fresh approaches still possible next summer.

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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