Fri, Jul 25, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Zidane makes unknown Markkanen first signing


New Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu of France poses at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday ahead of his presentation yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Though famed for his grace and elegance as a player, Zinedine Zidane apparently has other priorities as a coach, after he made brawny, bustling Finnish striker Eero Markkanen his first signing for Real Madrid’s B team on Wednesday.

Now boss of the UEFA Champions League winners’ “Castilla” reserve side, Zidane sought out the relatively unknown Finn and bought him from Swedish club AIK Stockholm, where his six goals in 14 appearances were enough to convince one of the game’s greats that he is worth a gamble.

“Coming to AIK was a dream come true,” Markkanen said in a statement issued by AIK announcing the move. “Thanks to hard work, my teammates, [AIK coach] Mr Alm and his coaching staff —another dream is now coming true.”

No details of the transfer fee have been released.

Unheralded when he joined the Stockholm club from Finland’s JJK Jyvaskyla, Markkanen was only six months into a three-year contract at AIK when Castilla came calling.

For the 23-year-old Finn, who has one cap for his country, the move marks the latest stage in a meteoric rise, but that Markkanen, who makes the most of his 197cms to dominate in the air, is so different to his new mentor, offers an intriguing insight into the mind of Zidane the coach.

Asked how the France legend became aware of Markkanen, an AIK staff member said: “No one knows. Apparently, Zidane went to the sporting director of Madrid with a DVD of Eero and said: ‘I want this guy.’”

Having signed a four-year deal, Markkanen will now come under the watchful eye of the FIFA World Cup winner with France, who played for Real from 2001 until his retirement in 2006.

As Zidane transitions from Real manager Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant, to being the man calling the shots, it remains to be seen if he can replicate his success on the pitch from the Castilla dugout.

Just as Zidane saw passes on the field that no one else did, he may have noticed something in Markkanen that others missed.

In other transfer news, Barcelona on Wednesday said they have bought 30-year-old Valencia defender Jeremy Mathieu for 20 million euros (US$27 million), with a buyout clause of 50 million euros.

Barcelona have been seeking to bolster their defense since veteran Carlos Puyol retired.

Though he is not an established France international, Mathieu is recognized as a powerful operator at leftback and in central defense.

The Catalan club had made several offers to Valencia for Mathieu, who last week issued a public letter calling on los Che to negotiate his release.

“I have a chance to play for the world’s biggest club and that’s all I want right now,” he said.

Barca said in a statement that Mathieu will sign a four-season contract. The previous day, the club sold striker Bojan Krkic to Premier League side Stoke City for an undisclosed fee.

Bojan, 23, has penned a four-year contract with the Potters and becomes their fifth signing of the summer, Mame Biram Diouf, Steve Sidwell, Phil Bardsley and Dionatan Teixeira.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes told the club’s Web site: “Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him [Bojan] as a player and the fact that he sees his future at Stoke City is really exciting and an endorsement of the club itself. He’s desperate to prove himself in the Premier League and we’re pleased to be able to offer him that platform.”

Bojan was expected to fly out to Germany to join his new teammates, including former Barca defender Marc Muniesa, at Stoke’s pre-season training camp.

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