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FOOTBALL

Japan club not the ‘right project’ for Ljungberg

Former Arsenal and Sweden midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg has left J-League Shimizu S-Pulse after less than six months in Japan, saying staying at the club was "not the right project" for him.

Japan club not the 'right project' for Ljungberg

The 34-year-old, who played for the Gunners from 1998 to 2007, joined Shimizu from Celtic last September on an 18-month deal with his annual salary estimated at 60 million yen ($769,000).

But Shimizu announced on Tuesday that the contract, covering the 2012 J-League season due to start on March 10, had been terminated by “mutual consent.”

The Swede said that “after a long thought-out process and discussions with my family and representative… I felt despite my feelings for Japan and utmost respect for my teammates and the coaching staff at S-Pulse, this was not the right project for me.”

“Different ambitions combined with not having the opportunity to participate in the (Asian) Champions League 2012 edition were my main reasons to explore other options,” he added in a statement released by Shimizu and his agent.

Shimizu finished 10th in the 18-team J-League first division in the last March-December season.

Ljungberg, who was capped 75 times and scored 14 goals for Sweden between 1998 and 2008, made 11 appearances in Japan, including eight J-League games and three cup matches, without scoring.

He went back to Europe after Shimizu lost to Cerezo Osaka in the Emperor’s Cup quarter-finals on December 24. He has not since returned to Japan, saying he needed treatment on his left hamstring injured in the Christmas Eve match.

Shimizu president Yasuhito Takeuchi admitted there were “some differences in vision” which led to the Swede’s departure.

“S-Pulse would like to compete in the 2012 season with players and staff who share common vision and goals,” he said in a statement on the club’s website.

Ljungberg was part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side that won the Premier League title in 2001-2002 and 2003-04.

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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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