This week's roundup of the biggest news stories in football features Barcelona's crisis claiming some high-profile casualties, "the worst kept secret in soccer" being revealed and the transfer window's most unpleasant saga taking an even more unsavoury turn.
Barcelona would have been glad to see the back of a trophyless 2014, but this year begin in similarly ignominious manner with a 1-0 defeat at David Moyes' Real Sociedad. That result let to increased questioning of coach Luis Enrique, but on Monday it was two other senior figures who departed the club. Andoni Zubizarreta bore the brunt of the transfer ban imposed on the club by FIFA -- which was upheld on appeal just before the turn of the year -- and was sacked as the club's director of football. Former club captain Carles Puyol soon followed, resigning from his role as Zubizarreta's assistant. That set the tone for a week of woe in Catalonia which has included club president Josep Bartomeu announcing an election in the summer, Lionel Messi missing a public training session because of "gastroenteritis" amid claims of a row with his coach, Cesc Fabregas denying he is a "middleman" in a proposed move to bring Messi to Chelsea and the Camp Nou being less than a third full for Thursday's 5-0 win over Elche.
Last year ended with FIFA's already flagging reputation dropping even further due to Michael Garcais' resignation after feeling his report into corruption in the World Cup bidding process was misrepresented. But 2015 began with at least small cause for optimism when Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan announced he would be running in this year's FIFA presidential elections. Despite receiving the backing of UEFA chief Michel Platini, neither Prince Ali nor rival candidate Jerome champagne are seen as many to be challengers to current chief Sepp Blatter. However, the fact that there are two candidates running against the Swiss -- as opposed to none last time -- does at least promise offer hope that the current incumbent's election campaign will provide some answers rather than simply be a procession.
As the LA Times' Kevin Baxter put it when reporting the news, "the worst-kept secret in soccer" was finally out on Wednesday. Even before Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard announced he would be leaving his one club at the end of the season, MLS in general and LA Galaxy in particular had been pegged as his likely destination. Gerrard, who will be 35 when his final Anfield contract expires in the summer, has called his next move "a match made in heaven." In spite of that, the veteran midfielder has said that not only would he have extended his stay on Merseyside if he had been offered a new contract last summer, but he has also not ruled out returning to the Reds on loan in the MLS offseason.
Manchester United fans took great delight in former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes accepting an invitation to train with their club after a mooted move to Liverpool failed to materialise. It appeared as though they too would miss out of the highly decorated Spaniard when he returned to his homeland late last year, but he returned this week and put pen to paper on an 18-month contract on Thursday. United manager Louis van Gaal insisting that Valdes has been recruited as back-up for David de Gea and the 32-year-old himself insistis that his compatriot is "in the moment... the best goalkeeper in the world." Despite that, speculation has only increased that Real Madrid will make a move for De Gea who, according to AS, believes his time at Old Trafford is already coming to an end.
The lengthy saga of convicted rapist Ched Evans' search for a new club following his release from prison has been one of the most unedifying stories of the past few months -- even by football's own low standards. Having been considered and then rejected by several clubs, the Welsh striker looked as though he had finally found a new employer in Oldham Athletic. The League One club had withstood a wave of condemnation all week as they worked to finalise the deal, only to call it off on Thursday amid claims that members of staff and their families had been threatened if Evans was signed. In commenting on the collapse of the signing on Thursday night, PFA chief Gordon Taylor drew criticism for relating the Evans case to the Hillsborough disaster, and moved to apologise for any offence caused by his comments to following day.