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Brazil arranging England, Japan friendlies


Ronaldo sad, Ferguson rolls the dice

Cristiano Ronaldo is sad.

We know this because he told us. He didn't celebrate the two goals he scored against Granada on Sunday in Real Madrid's 3-0 win and, after the match, explained just why. "I am sad and the club knows it, that's why I didn't celebrate the goals," he said. "The people in the club know why."

Afterward, he was quick to point out that his unhappiness didn't stem from the fact Andres Iniesta pipped him to UEFA's Best Player in Europe Award on Thursday, as some had speculated.

Cue rampant hypothesizing. Some Spanish outlets reported that Ronaldo wants to leave. Others claimed he had a meeting with club president Florentino Perez during which he said he "did not feel loved."

You'd be tempted to suggest that he might feel loved if Real Madrid threw a few more million his way. But look at it a bit more closely and it's hard to swallow the theory that this is about money. Ronaldo is already among the highest paid players in the world. He may or may not deserve more (and, you would imagine, there's a Qatari gentleman in Paris who probably would be willing to give him more) but getting a raise this way doesn't seem to be clever.

Spain, like other European countries, is in the midst of a major economic crisis. There are 5 million unemployed. There's nothing wrong with trying to get paid what you think you're worth, but going about it this way -- with a globally televised sulk -- is not just insulting to millions of people, it's also not very bright. It damages his image, including his commercial image, which translates into real money.

And Ronaldo's image, in fact, could probably use some burnishing these days.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out because there's a very obvious subplot here. A sulky Ronaldo is not good for Real Madrid, and that includes Real Madrid's manager, Jose Mourinho. Both Mourinho and Ronaldo are represented by the same man, super-agent Jorge Mendes. He's the guy who now has the tricky job of massaging Ronaldo's ego and making sure he gets what he wants (or needs?) from the club without upsetting the squad and, by extension, Mourinho.

Expect this one to run for a while. And for Mourinho to be anything but happy until it's resolved. It's hard to blame him.

It's unusual for a manager to explicitly come out and say that his goalkeeper has been benched for making a mistake. It's even more unusual when said manager is Sir Alex Ferguson, who generally tends to stick up for his players in public. The situation becomes weirder still when you consider that the keeper in question, David De Gea, is a guy on which Sir Alex staked a considerable amount of capital, signing him as a 20-year-old for a whopping fee and persevering with him even after a shaky start last season.

This is one of those situations where you have to trust Sir Alex's psychology and man-management and assume he knows better. You have to assume he's been around enough players over the years to know how they're going to react to the double whammy of being dropped and criticized in public.

Some guys wilt and their confidence is irredeemably shattered. Others take it on board and come back stronger. Sir Alex's track record is such that you assume that De Gea is in the latter camp and his psyche is strong enough to take the battering.

Liverpool's owners did the right thing in addressing the fans' concerns on Monday with this open letter from John Henry.

It shows that, at the very least, they're not hiding and acknowledge some of their mistakes. Reiterating the pledge never to leave the club in the "precarious position" it was in when they took over was also a nice touch.

Having gone this far, though, they need to follow up internally and get a complete understanding of the screw-ups that occurred in this transfer window, starting with the fact that, having let Andy Carroll go without securing a replacement, Brendan Rodgers now has just two strikers with Premier League experience on his books -- Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini, and the latter is needed on the wing.

Giampaolo Pazzini scored a hat trick in his first start for Milan at Bologna, as the Rossoneri rolled to a 3-1 win. So do we add his swap with Antonio Cassano to the long list of boneheaded trades Inter have made with Milan?

You know, genius moves like exchanging Andrea Pirlo for Andres Guglielminpietro? (Who? Exactly ...) Or Cristian Brocchi for Drazen Brncic? Clarence Seedorf for Francesco Coco? Dario Simic for Umit Davala?

Not just yet. But Pazzini's hat trick -- leaving aside the rather dubious way in which he "won" the penalty for the first goal -- proves that when he gets service and the team plays for him, he can be devastating.

The challenge for manager Max Allegri will be finding a way for the supporting cast to get him the types of chances he needs to thrive. And, when everyone is fit, that might be tricky.

Two wins in two games, nine goals scored, just one allowed ... Bayern looks to be flying at the top of the Bundesliga. Throw in the fact Mario Gomez (the leading scorer from last season) and Javi Martinez (the club's record signing) have yet to start a game and Bayern appears fearsome.

The only possible concern might be how these pieces all fit together. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer talked about how nobody was assured of a starting spot and the competition for places would keep everyone on their toes. That's fine, rotation can be a wonderful thing, but when it works there's generally some kind of a hierarchy and it requires a good dose of man management. Jupp Heynckes is a wily, experienced boss, but he's also a guy who announced his retirement at the end of the season. And, sometimes, with a lame duck regime, it's tough to crack the whip.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic powered Paris St. Germain to their first win of the season and what a victory it was: away to ambitious Lille in their new stadium. It wasn't a perfectly fluid performance but one that relied largely on individual excellence, such as Javier Pastore's neat pass to set up Ibrahimovic's second goal. But, psychologically, getting rid of that goose egg in the win column was huge.

Gabriele Marcotti is a London-based journalist and broadcaster who covers world soccer. He is the author of three books, the world soccer columnist for The Times of London and a correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport. You can catch him on ESPN Press Pass and read him here twice a week. Follow him on Twitter: @marcotti.


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