Chelsea legend John Terry agrees to join Aston Villa for year – sources

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Steve Nicol suggests Steve Bruce was a key factor in John Terry joining Championship side Aston Villa.
All the day’s juiciest transfer rumours, including John Terry, Leonardo Bonucci and Jack Wilshere.

Former Chelsea captain John Terry has agreed to join Aston Villa, sources close to the player have told ESPN FC.

According to the sources, Terry has informed other interested clubs that he has decided to join Villa and the move is expected to be finalised over the weekend.

Villa have been leading the chase for Terry with Steve Bruce keen to bring the former England star to Villa Park for next season.

Terry is a free agent after leaving Chelsea once his contract expired at Stamford Bridge earlier this summer.

The 36-year-old opted to leave Chelsea after 22 years when after finding himself playing a bit-part role with Antonio Conte’s side last season.

John Terry
John Terry is expected to sign a one-year deal with Aston Villa by the end of the weekend.

Terry considered hanging up his boots, but he has now opted to continue his career in the Championship with Villa.

A number of clubs at home and abroad had expressed an interest in Terry, but Villa have acted swiftly to secure the defender after the former England captain held talks with Bruce on holiday this summer.

Terry will become Villa’s first acquisition of the summer and is expected to sign a one-year deal at the club, with the player snubbing other Premier League interest as he did not want to come up against Chelsea next season.

Peter O’Rourke is ESPN FC’s transfer news correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @SportsPeteO.

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Lorenzo Pellegrini returns to Roma from Sassuolo for 10 million euros

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Lorenzo Pellegrini
Lorenzo Pellegrini helped lead the Italy U21s to the semis of the U21 Euros this summer.

Roma have completed a €10 million deal to bring Lorenzo Pellegrini back to the Stadio Olimpico from Sassuolo.

A Roma academy product, the 21-year-old midfielder has signed a five-year contract to return to the club.

Pellegrini has made just one senior appearance for his country, but has been a regular in Italy’s youth setup, helping the U21s to the semifinals of the European Under-21 Championship before bowing out to Spain this summer.

Gab Marcotti shares his favourite memory of Francesco Totti and looks back on the Roma legend’s career with the club.

“It is an incredible feeling to come back,” Pellegrini said. “This was my objective from the moment I went to Sassuolo. It is the culmination of a great two-year journey with them.

“I want to thank Roma, including Monchi and the rest of the directors. They have always been in close contact with me. They made me realise how much they wanted me back.”

Roma also announced that Federico Ricci will join Sassuolo permanently after spending last season at the club, and Seydou Doumbia will move to Sporting CP on loan.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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Bertrand Traore I knew I’d never get a chance to play at Chelsea

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Bertrand Traore becomes the latest player to leave Chelsea after confirming his move to French side Lyon.
Craig Burley assesses the potential signings of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alex Sandro and how they could shape Chelsea in the coming season.
Julien Laurens says working with Antonio Conte would be a big boost for Tiemoue Bakayoko if he joins Chelsea from Monaco.

Bertrand Traore has said that he decided to leave Chelsea for Lyon because he knew he would never be given a chance to shine at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea confirmed on Monday that they had agreed a deal reportedly worth around £8.8 million with Lyon to sell Traore, who scored 13 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions on loan at Ajax last season and impressed as the Dutch giants made a surprise run to the Europa League final.

Speaking at his unveiling, Traore said that he could not face a repeat of last summer, when new head coach Antonio Conte sanctioned a loan move at the end of preseason after concluding that the 21-year-old striker was not ready to contribute to Chelsea’s first team.

“It was time,” Traore said. “Considering my age and for my development, it was time for me to leave the club. I could have stayed at Chelsea and played a few minutes in every game, fighting every day for a spot, knowing that I’ll never get a spot. I trained at the club, I did everything.

“Two seasons ago, I challenged the starters but we all know what happened last year. I was there during preseason and then I was sent out on loan.

“So this year, I did not want to re-live the same scenario. It was time for me to find a stable club where I could play first-team football, where I could be one of the key players in the team.”

Bertrand Traore
Bertrand Traore was a member of the Chelsea squad under Jose Mourinho in 2015-16.

Traore joined Chelsea in January 2014 and spent the first 18 months of his Blues career on loan at Vitesse, where he contributed 17 goals and five assists in 48 Eredivisie appearances.

Retained as part of Jose Mourinho’s first-team squad at the start of the 2015-16 season, he was given a chance on the pitch by interim successor Guus Hiddink and showed flashes of promise, scoring four goals in his first five appearances under the Dutchman.

Conte’s arrival last July, however, halted Traore’s upward momentum at Stamford Bridge and the £33m signing of Michy Batshuayi from Marseille prompted him to seek out regular first-team football at Ajax.

Chelsea’s agreement with Lyon reportedly includes an option to buy Traore back for an unspecified amount, but he said that he is focused solely on establishing himself at his new club.

“To be one of the key players in the team, you need to fight, and here, I’ll do everything to be amongst them,” he added. “I’ll give everything for the club.”

Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.

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Ronaldinho stars but Manchester United beat Barcelona in legends battle

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Having only turned 37 in March, there’s a case to be made for Ronaldinho still being able to play at the top level. However, it’s been two years since the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year last turned out professionally, which means that legends games tend to be the only option to see the great man in action these days.

Having stolen the show with three assists against Real Madrid earlier this year, Ronaldinho donned the Barcelona shirt once again on Friday for a clash with Manchester United stars of the past. And he didn’t disappoint…

Poor old Jesper Blomqvist might still be trying to untangle himself, though the former Sweden international at least had the consolation of scoring the opening goal of the game at the Camp Nou.

United went on to claim a 3-1 victory, with Karel Poborsky and Dwight Yorke adding their own efforts against a Barca squad that, beyond Ronaldinho, included Rivaldo, Giazka Mendieta and Edgar Davids.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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Kobe Bryant I support Barcelona and Milan and of course the U.S. too

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Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant met the Barcelona team at the StarHub Stadium in Carson in 2015.

When it comes to being a soccer fan, former NBA great Kobe Bryant says he has divided loyalties between Barcelona and AC Milan.

Bryant, a legendary basketball player for the LA Lakers who retired last year, says he still supports AC Milan — a result of having lived in Italy for seven years as a kid while his father, Joe Bryant, played professionally there.

But in recent years, he has also embraced Barcelona due to his friendships with former Blaugrana star Ronaldinho, and current icon Lionel Messi.

Speaking exclusively to ESPN FC via telephone while doing promotional work for the sports drink, BODYARMOR, Bryant said: “I still love AC Milan — though they don’t wear my brand of choice — and FC Barcelona. If you cut my arm open, man, you’d see four colors; blue and [garnet], and then you’d see red and black.”

In honour of Lionel Messi’s 30th birthday, take a look at what he’s accomplished so far and what he has left to chase down.

At international level, there is no such conflict. Bryant says he supports the United States all the way, and is looking forward to the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which starts in just over a week.

“It’s always exciting if you’re going to get a U.S. vs. Mexico matchup,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to it.

“The more we can have the best players in the world come here and play, and show their skills here in America, the more the game picks up, the more the understanding of the game picks up.”

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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Kobe Bryant talks soccer friendship with Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho

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Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is an AC Milan fan, but also loves Barcelona.

Soon after then-6-year-old Kobe Bryant moved to Italy with his family, he went down to a local park in search of a basketball game. The court was easy enough to find but what the local kids were doing on it looked a lot different.

Underneath each basket was a set of goalposts, allowing the kids to play pickup games of soccer on the court.

“I remember saying, ‘What is going on? Where am I, and how does this happen?’ Bryant said in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC via telephone. “So it was like a couple miles from my house and I had jogged there and I didn’t want to go back, so I waited. I decided to jump in and they saw a skinny kid with long arms so they decided I’d be best in between the posts. That was my introduction to soccer. That’s how it started.”

Stepping onto the soccer field soon became part of his routine, as he found common ground with kids in a way that transcended linguistic and cultural barriers. After a while, his new friends even allowed him to play on the field and not as a goalkeeper. Then the focus would shift.

“You’d play soccer and then you’d play basketball, and then you’d play soccer again and you’d play basketball again,” said Bryant. “It went on and on for eight years.”

Of course, for the Los Angeles Lakers legend there was room for just one sport in his professional life and Bryant’s love for basketball — fostered by his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, himself a pro player — eventually carried him into a stellar NBA career that will one day see him in basketball’s Hall of Fame.

But thanks to Bryant’s early time spent living in Italy, his passion for soccer took root and remains to this day. He loved the camaraderie with teammates, and while the skill-set between the two sports might have little in common, there was more overlap than appeared on the surface.

Over the years, Bryant picked up tips on footwork and off-the-ball movement that would have made former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson proud.

“It’s strategic,” said Bryant about the game of soccer. “Upon receiving the ball you already have to have a good idea of what you’re reading in front of you and what the next move is. And also the structure; they taught me at an early age how to play in triangles and how to utilize space, which wound up helping me tremendously in basketball as well. I loved the idea of how quickly the ball moves and how quickly you have to process what’s moving right in front of you to make decisions.”

When the 14-year-old Bryant and his family returned to the U.S. in 1991, basketball became all-consuming and it became difficult to stay connected with soccer.

There is an impulse, however misguided, to think that Bryant was the U.S. soccer player who got away. But it was a different time back then and soccer was in a very different — mostly dark — place. The U.S.-hosted World Cup in 1994 was still three years away; the birth of MLS wouldn’t take place until two years after that. But his bond with the game wasn’t completely broken.

“At the time soccer wasn’t a very popular sport,” he said. “My focus shifted completely to basketball because I just kind of hit that time when the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was just ramping up, and so basketball became a year-round thing. Just showing up to the park and playing casually didn’t exist anymore. But I was able to stay in touch with what my teams were doing. AC Milan was my favorite team, so I was able to keep tabs on them and stay connected that way.”

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant meets former Barcelona star and Brazil legend Ronaldinho in 2006.

At present, Bryant’s affinity for the game has a business component. On this day, he’s engaged in a promotional event for the sports drink BODYARMOR, one of the sponsors of the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup.

So might Bryant increase his commitment to the game and join the ranks of athletes who have taken ownership of soccer teams? Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has done just that with Italian side Reggiana, while New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has done the same with NASL side Puerto Rico FC. There were reports back in 2014 that Bryant was part of a consortium that was going to buy Italian side Bologna, but he dismissed those reports as “all smoke” and said it isn’t something he’s considering now.

“[Owning a team], that’s something that requires a big time commitment on my end,” he said. “To put together money to buy a team, buy a franchise, really requires spending the time focusing on that franchise. It’s not something that you invest passively into. Because of that I haven’t seriously given it any thought.”

But over the years, Bryant’s soccer fandom has continued to grow. He still counts himself a fan of Milan but also has an affinity for Barcelona due to his friendship first with former Blaugrana attacker Ronaldinho, and later club icon Lionel Messi.

Bryant takes some gentle ribbing about his divided loyalties but insists: “If you cut my arm open, man, you’d see four colors; blue and [garnet], and then you’d see red and black.

Yet the battle for Bryant’s affections seems to be tilting in Barcelona’s favor these days. Bryant and Ronaldinho became friends in the mid-2000s. Barcelona were slated to play in a preseason friendly at the Rose Bowl and at the behest of Nike, Bryant came down to “introduce them to the city of Los Angeles.” The friendship took off from there. Later, it was Ronaldinho who introduced Bryant to Messi.

“I think Messi must have been 18 at the time, 17 maybe,” said Bryant. “Ronaldinho called him over and said, ‘Kobe, I want you to meet the player who is going to be the greatest player who ever lived.'” Bryant and Messi got to know each other better at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Both men were in the process of leading their respective teams to gold medals when they happened to run into each other at the cafeteria in the athlete’s village.

“At the Olympics, the cafeteria is always the best place to be because you have all the athletes from all the teams in one place,” he said. “When we were in the cafeteria walking around, we saw him and his team sitting at one of the tables and I just walked up and sat down with him and kind of talked about the Olympics, the game a little bit. It was fun.”

Bryant says he has yet to make it to Camp Nou for a game, nor has he watched his teams in the Champions League, given how the demands of his basketball career limited his opportunities. But he has enjoyed his travels to the World Cup, which he attended in both 2010 and 2014, even appearing on ESPN FC’s set in Brazil.

“The fun part about the World Cup is walking into the stadium, all the different cultures,” he said. “You have different countries, different flags, you hear so many different languages being spoken. But the one common thing is the beauty and love for the game of soccer. That was amazing to be a part of that energy.”

With the Gold Cup set to begin on July 7, it’s clear Bryant’s passion for the sport lives on.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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Arsenal has made Walcott disappear and now it’s time to make it permanent

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Paul Mariner laments at the transfer misfirings for Arsenal so far in the summer window.
The FC crew try to make sense of why Arsenal would be willing to sell Alexis Sanchez to a club like Manchester City.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez has confirmed that he has made a decision about his future and will announce it after the Confederations Cup final.

Despite a rather sterile start, it may yet prove to be a lively summer for Arsenal. Ivan Gazidis made familiar-sounding promises about signing “top-quality players” in his Q&A with supporters on Thursday, and there are a number of decisions to be made about moving on a decent-sized contingent of first-teamers, including, as it happens, Arsenal’s longest-serving player.

On Theo Walcott, though, a decision was effectively made in April, after a night that rendered him obsolete. Now that his value to Arsene Wenger has plunged, it would be in the club’s best interests to consider offers for a player whose quest for true relevance has never been fulfilled.

It was April 10 when Walcott had the dubious honour of being captain for one of the most notorious 90 minutes in Arsenal’s recent history: the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, which had travelling fans funnelling their frustration at the team and manager from the stands at Selhurst Park. The fractious evening sent reverberations around the club. It was the low point of a season that was already limboing to its conclusion.

Walcott’s issues that night were threefold. Firstly, on a small scale, he was the figurehead for the abject surrender. Secondly, he made the grievous error of going on television to admit that “Palace wanted it more than us.” You might welcome such honesty if it spilled from the lips of Patrick Vieira, designed to spark some kind of reaction; from Walcott it just seemed pathetic, an insight into everything that was wrong with the team. Wenger was reportedly angry that his captain for the day had been so incautious in public, even if he had been honest.

Thirdly, and most significantly, the defeat inspired Wenger to make a tactical change that has made Walcott almost irrelevant.

Walcott’s big problem with the 3-4-3 that was brought in to stem a flow of goals is that it leaves him with no natural home. The wide attackers in the three, usually Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, are effectively inside forwards and require more cunning than Walcott can provide. He has abandoned his attempts to become a central striker, so unless he can perform the kind of transformation that made Victor Moses one of the unlikely heroes of Chelsea’s title win, and there is little evidence he would make an effective ersatz wing-back, it is hard to see what he offers his manager.

After the Palace debacle, Walcott started only one more game all season, the 1-0 win over Leicester on April 26, and his descent into obscurity was dramatic. That is why, despite him having his most prolific Premier League season in four years and even considering his status as Arsenal’s most senior player, reports of Walcott’s exit this summer have to be granted real credence. It would not be before time.

After so much early promise, Theo Walcott has never truly fulfilled his potential at Arsenal.

If Arsenal can extract anything like the £25 million West Ham are reported to be ready to offer for the winger, they must take it. In fairness to him, Walcott has always been willing, forever putting his body on the line, but he has always remained below the required standard for a team that in theory, at least, is supposed to be contending for the title.

Now, the signs that this summer will be his last at Arsenal are growing.

Arsenal’s pursuit of Thomas Lemar, Alexandre Lacazette and, rather more fantastically, Kylian Mbappe clearly signals that Wenger is ready to reconfigure his options in attack — even if such a course of action could well be forced on him anyway if Sanchez  departs, and possibly Ozil, too. Either way, Arsenal should be plotting a route forward without a player who has symbolised their fumbling, unconvincing and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to join the big teams of the past decade.

A player who has timed his spurts of form successfully in the past to stay relevant and earn new contracts — most notably at the end of the 2014-15 season, when he managed to parlay a hat trick on the final day of the season against West Brom into a start and a goal in the FA Cup final and, ultimately, a new deal — seemed to have run out of ideas by the end of the season just gone.

In the final six games of the season, Walcott played a combined total of 11 minutes, none of which came in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea. It was as if his Arsenal career was winding down already. After 11 years of intermittent and frustrating service, the club should be keen to ensure the process finally reaches completion.

Tom is one of ESPN FC’s Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport

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Fabio Borini completes move from Sunderland to AC Milan

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Fabio Borini is the second striker Milan have signed this summer.

Sunderland striker Fabio Borini has joined AC Milan, the Serie A club have announced.

The Italian giants have signed the 26-year-old on loan initially ahead of a permanent move.

A statement from the club read: “AC Milan announce the signing of Fabio Borini from Sunderland AFC. The contract implies the player will join the club on loan with obligation to buy.”

Borini joined Sunderland from Liverpool in 2015, having earlier spent a successful loan spell with the Black Cats.

However, he failed to live up to expectations in his two seasons since his permanent move and scored just once last season as Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League.

He scored the goal which put Sunderland ahead in the 2014 League Cup final against Manchester City, but the Wearsiders went on to lose the game 3-1.

Borini is the second striker Milan have signed this summer following Portugal international Andre Silva.

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Claudio Bravo must convert fine Confederations Cup form back to Man City

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Paul Mariner questions whether or not Claudio Bravo can carry over his fine form for Chile to Man City.
Claudio Bravo’s showstopping performance, Kylian Mbappe’s new Twitter header and more headline the Sweeper.

As Claudio Bravo pushed away the third Portugal penalty in Chile’s shootout win in the Confederations Cup on Wednesday, Manchester City fans found it hard to believe that it was the same goalkeeper whose weak wrists, poor footwork and lack of confidence cost Pep Guardiola’s team so many goals last season.

Of course, it has to be remembered that not one of Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Moutinho and Nani — who all failed to convert their kicks — took a decent penalty, and once Bravo had gone the correct way, it was a simple stop. However, the simple stops proved troublesome for the Chilean at City last season, with a significant number of efforts that he could have kept out instead finding the net.

Clearly, Bravo hasn’t hit the levels of which he’s capable over the past 12 months. He’s a better goalkeeper than he has shown himself to be in his City career so far, but that just puts more pressure on him to perform well when he returns to the Premier League in August. Guardiola can only wait so long for his goalkeeper to be ready — especially when he’s an experienced 34-year-old with multiple titles and more than 100 caps for the country he captains.

The Chile international’s relationship with the fans is also problematic. Footballers often need to be thick-skinned to block out the taunts of opposition supporters, but when Bravo’s form got so poor midway through last season, he had to be impervious to the ironic jeers from his own fans when he made a simple catch or save.

That sentiment likely won’t have eased. His form at the Confederations Cup, while better than for City, still hasn’t been that of a world-class goalkeeper and it won’t help his case that a lot of his club’s fans won’t know or won’t care about it. They want to see him play well domestically; what he does on international duty makes little difference. It’s also true that three saves in a penalty shootout doesn’t undo all of the mistakes he made and the lack of confidence he showed at City during his first season there.

City fans may have seen Willy Caballero do a U-turn from much-maligned back-up to first choice after he’d saved three Liverpool penalties following the 1-1 draw in the 2016 League Cup final, but his redemption came partly because of Joe Hart’s loan to Torino and Bravo’s inadequacies. Had Hart remained the club’s No. 1 under Guardiola, there would have been far less of a positive response to Caballero, even though the Argentine international’s performances did improve following his heroics at Wembley.

Bravo has another chance to prove he’s Man City’s first-choice goalkeeper. Can he take it?

Bravo doesn’t have that going into 2017-18. He’s still expected to be battling for his position as first choice, with new £35 million signing Ederson still vastly inexperienced and unlikely to solve the goalkeeping issues immediately. It’s worth remembering that the 23-year-old only broke into the Benfica team in March 2016; while he has impressed, it’s a lot of weight to put on his shoulders, asking him to settle in a new league, new club and new country immediately. Put simply, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Bravo named as the starter for the trip to Brighton on the opening day of the season.

As City go about their summer of attempting to fix the problems of last season — it’s reported new full-backs are close to being signed, with the likes of Dani Alves and Kyle Walker on the radar, while finishing off chances could be a little easier if the chase for Alexis Sanchez is successful — the goalkeeping issue is unlikely to get a quick resolution.

It’s a strange feeling for City fans, too. They’ve watched their team struggle defensively in the absence of Vincent Kompany for years but they always had the safety net of a talented goalkeeper behind the back four. Of course, Hart has had his problems in the past 18 months but it’s difficult for the fans to let go of a player who had won the team a lot of points with excellent performances during his nine-year stay.

In Ederson, the club will be hoping to have unearthed another top-class performer who can be that rock in goal for the years to come. However, he’s not likely to be that straight away and questions about Guardiola’s choices between the posts won’t disappear any time soon.

With Hart unlikely to be playing any role at City next season, it will fall to Bravo to prove his worth. His nightmare year might be coming to the end with a decent display for Chile, but there’s a long way for him to go if he’s going to convince his club fans that he’s anywhere near up to the task.

David Mooney is ESPN FC’s Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney

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Anthony Martial has the talent to succeed at Manchester United but his performances must convince

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Craig Burley breaks down Manchester United’s early-season fixtures after the release of the Premier League schedule.
Ale Moreno says it’s not time to panic just yet for Marcus Rashford at Manchester United.

“Les rumeurs sont fausses,” tweeted Anthony Martial on Wednesday: “The rumours are false.” Speculation this week had linked the forward with a move from Manchester United — Arsenal was a suggested destination for the French international — but, not for the first time, he used social media to refute gossip. 

The latest rumours came about following a difficult second season for Martial at Old Trafford after an impressive first term. On and off the field, things could have been better for the man born and raised in the tough Paris cite of Les Ulis, where Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra also grew up.

Martial separated from the mother of his child, was exposed by British tabloid newspapers for indiscretions in his private life and also saw his fellow countryman Morgan Schneiderlin, initially his closest friend at United, sold to Everton.

After a personally disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, during which he was booed by France fans, Martial returned to his club to find himself stripped of the No. 9 shirt that was passed to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Unlike Antonio Valencia, who once wore seven, Martial had not asked for the change.

In Jose Mourinho, Martial found a manager who wanted different things from Louis van Gaal, the man who’d bought the then-19-year-old from Monaco in August 2015. Mourinho started Martial in the first three league games of the season but, while all three were won, his displays underwhelmed. United’s manager was justified in dropping him for the fourth, a home derby loss to Manchester City.

Many times last season, Mourinho’s body language was negative regarding Martial and nor was it hidden, as fans who sit close to the dugouts regularly notice. Mourinho appears frustrated that such a talent isn’t fulfilling his immense potential; he also demands that players defend effectively — he wants more than simply running back behind the ball — and that requires more from Martial.

But remember this: Martial is still just 21-years-old. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, another expensive teen arrival at Old Trafford who didn’t initially speak English, struggled for consistency on his eventual rise to becoming the best player in the game.

It would be easy to say Martial overachieved in his first season, when he scored 17 times in all competitions, and underachieved in his second, which yielded just eight goals. But United had big expectations for him right from the start, which is why they paid AS Monaco £36 million, rising to a potential £58m.

The reaction from swathes of the English media was that the club had grossly overspent, but that view was quickly banished when Martial started playing and scored on his debut against Liverpool. Fans used the criticism as the inspiration for a popular song:

Tony Martial, he came from France,
The English press said he had no chance.
£50 million down the drain,
Tony Martial scores again.

Anthony Martial must impress Jose Mourinho if he is to have a long-term future at Manchester United

The tune really took off at Tottenham in April 2016. By May of this year, when United returned to White Hart Lane, Martial’s stock had dipped. Even though he was almost exclusively played in a wide position, a return of four goals from 25 league appearances was poor. He was one of the players who failed to bridge the immense goals gap between Ibrahimovic and the rest.

Perhaps Martial was hindered by his teammate’s immobility, as the pragmatic Mourinho realised his squad would be most effective by playing through its most consistent scorer, but highlights were few. Martial was the best player in United’s best performance of the season, a 4-1 EFL Cup home win against West Ham, and also started in the final of the competition, a 3-2 win over Southampton.

He doesn’t always look delighted with his lot and his demeanour can appear surly, yet those who know Martial insist that he’s popular and a contented figure around United’s training ground. He has a good grasp of English and players have been amazed at some of his tricks in training. He’s respected not only for his skills and blistering pace, but also his strength; defenders say he’s the most difficult man at the club to contain in training.

Martial is good friends with fellow forward Marcus Rashford and there are hopes the pair can achieve world-class status. They certainly have the ability; one of the three £7.2m add-on clauses in Martial’s United contract will be paid if he wins the Ballon d’Or before 2019.

Given Martial didn’t start the Europa League final vs. Ajax or the crucial semifinal second leg against Celta Vigo, that looks to be a stretch, but the tools are there.

“I felt a bit sorry for Anthony with the price tag,” says Nicky Butt, United’s Head of Academy. “But he’s still only 21. People need to be patient with him, but United also need leaders on the pitch. Anthony needs them to help him through tough times.”

United bought Martial to eventually be a centre-forward, the position in which he’d excelled during his final few games for Monaco, especially a Champions League qualifying win over Valencia. But he doesn’t always look like a natural in the position, instead appearing more comfortable on the left, cutting inside.

Only Mourinho knows if Martial fully features in his long-term plans. He needs love and confidence and, while United’s manager can have a tough outward demeanour, he’s also a compassionate individual who cares about his players, who respect him in return.

But Martial must take his chances and show more of the form that made his first season in England one to whet the appetite.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.

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FC Dallas Toronto FC short on numbers while California Clasico looms large

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ESPN FC’s Alejandro Moreno breaks down the best in MLS with his weekly awards.

Jason Davis takes a look at some of the top matchups and storylines ahead of Week 19 of the 2017 Major League Soccer season in this edition of W2W4.

Contenders clash, minus some key players, in Dallas

In any other week, a clash between the 2016 Supporters Shield winner and the defending Eastern Conference champion would be a really big deal. FC Dallas and Toronto FC are two of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer, each a serious contender to win silverware this season.

As it is, this game is made a little less big by the timing of the match. The Gold Cup looms, which means several starters will be missing from the combined starting XIs. For FC Dallas, Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges are already away with the United States men’s national team, while Toronto arrives short of five players, including possible starters Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards. Striker depth will be an issue for Toronto too with Tosaint Ricketts and Armando Cooper called up by Canada and Panama respectively, while Steven Beitashour is also out injured.

But Toronto FC will still have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in their lineup under the heat of the Texas sun. Considering the holes he has to fill, coach Oscar Pareja certainly has a tougher task than his counterpart Greg Vanney, something that could give the visiting team a bump. Vanney might decide to rotate his team, however, with Toronto fresh off a Tuesday victory in the Canadian Championship.

This is going to be a tough midfield ask for the more depleted FC Dallas team, though the more time Mauro Diaz gets to settle in after his long injury layoff, the better they’ll be moving forward.

Toronto FC will be missing five players because of call-ups, but will still have Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in the lineup against FC Dallas.

Columbus aims for measure of revenge against Atlanta

Columbus Crew SC and Atlanta United are separated by a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, and while it’s much too early to call this match a playoff six-pointer, it could lead to something of a shakeup. Columbus might also be on the hunt for revenge; just two weeks ago, Gregg Berhalter’s team was pressed and harried into several mistakes that Atlanta turned into a 3-1 win.

That game was at Bobby Dodd Stadium, in front of Atlanta’s vociferous support. This time, Crew SC will have the home-field advantage.

The advantage might take a hit thanks to a bit of drama swirling around Columbus. Midfielder Dilly Duka was disciplined for tweeting internal team stats in what looked to be a complaint about playing time. Berhalter excluded Duka from training, and Duka will not be in the 18 against Atlanta. Duka hasn’t played in a single match this season, but with Columbus’ recent history of internal drama, there’s reason to be concerned about team dynamics.

Atlanta has no such issues and will bring what amounts to a full-strength squad to Ohio. Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez returned from injury and picked up where he left off in terms of goal scoring. It will be up to the Crew SC defense to slow him down. That defense could include Ghanaians Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. The pair were called up by Ghana for the friendly against the U.S. on Saturday, but FIFA should allow for Berhalter to recall them.

California Clasico puts heat on new San Jose coach

The California Clasico is always an emotional affair, regardless of where the two teams sit in the standings. In the season’s first meeting, the LA Galaxy beat the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium 4-2 on May 27.

The 65th match overall between the teams will go down at Stanford Stadium. A sellout crowd should be on hand, and the ground has served as backdrop to some of the most dramatic moments in the late history of the Cali Clasico.

The Quakes enter the game fresh off a shocking shift in leadership on the sideline. Venerable MLS head coach Dominic Kinnear was dismissed after last week’s win over Real Salt Lake, summarily dumped despite leading San Jose to a playoff position at this point in the season on one of the league’s more modest budgets. Chris Leitch, a 10-year MLS veteran as a player who has served as the club’s technical director for two years, moves into the head coach role. Leitch’s lack of coaching experience and the near universal respect Kinnear commanded in San Jose and around the league means the pressure is on the 38-year-old new coach.

LA will be missing Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes, both of whom are on international duty. San Jose will lose several players to the Gold Cup, but Panamanian midfielder Anibal Godoy should be in the lineup before heading to join his international teammates.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

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Newcastle Bournemouth keen on Hamburg’s Lewis Holtby – sources

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Lewis Holtby joined Hamburg on a permanent deal from Tottenham in 2015.

Newcastle and Bournemouth are eyeing moves for Hamburg midfielder Lewis Holtby, sources close to the German club have told ESPN FC.

Holtby, 26, is entering the final year of his contract at Hamburg and the Bundesliga side are willing to listen to offers in the region of €6-7 million for him.

The news has alerted a number of clubs to Holtby’s possible availability this summer with Newcastle and Bournemouth both keeping tabs on him.

Newcastle are keen to bolster their squad this summer as they plan for life back in the Premier League, and Holtby’s previous English top-flight experience makes him an attractive option for Rafa Benitez’s side.

Bournemouth, meanwhile, are looking to bring in an attacking midfielder this summer after seeing Jack Wilshere return to Arsenal after his loan spell, and Holtby could be an ideal replacement for Eddie Howe’s team.

Hamburg are looking to rebuild their squad this summer after a disappointing campaign last season which saw them narrowly avoided relegation from the Bundesliga, and a number of key players, including Holtby, could leave.

Holtby joined Hamburg on a permanent deal from Tottenham in 2015 after initially arriving on loan the previous season.

He made 29 appearances in the Bundesliga last term, scoring one goal and laying on six assists as he played a key role in helping Hamburg stay up.

Holtby joined Tottenham in January 2013 after bursting onto the scene at Schalke and quickly made a big impression at White Hart Lane, but a change in management saw him drop down the pecking order.

Peter O’Rourke is ESPN FC’s transfer news correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @SportsPeteO.

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Chelsea Manchester City and Tottenham to enter Checkatrade Trophy

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Coventry City beat Oxford United to win the Checkatrade Trophy in 2017.
Coventry beat Oxford to win the Checkatrade Trophy in 2017.

Manchester City and Tottenham have accepted an invitation to enter their academy sides into the 2017-18 Checkatrade Trophy having turned down the opportunity last season.

They join Premier League champions Chelsea in agreeing to enter their under-23 teams alongside League One and League Two sides, a move which was implemented last year to mixed success.

Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United have once again abstained from entering the tournament with only category one academies receiving an invite.

While fans stayed away in their droves for much of last year’s competition, over a third of the EFL clubs voted to retain the format for the next two seasons with few amendments.

Now City and Spurs will enter their own academy outfits into the group stages, which will be formed to keep travel time down for supporters and will see the 16 youth sides play all of their group games away from home.

The invitations are extended to the 16 teams who finished highest in the Premier League table last year and hold category one status.

Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Burnley, Watford and Hull miss out as they are not classed as category one.

The 12 remaining top-flight clubs from last season, including relegated pair Middlesbrough and Sunderland, will all be involved.

So to will Championship winners Newcastle and fellow promoted side Brighton, with Reading and Fulham completing the line-up of academy sides.

Coventry beat Oxford to win last season’s Checkatrade Trophy in front of 74,434 fans at Wembley.

The revamped competition came in for harsh criticism earlier in the season with sparse crowds and protests against in the involvement of the Premier League youth teams.

But 66.6 percent of League One and League Two clubs voted in favour of retaining the format, rather than reverting to the previous straight knockout tournament or scrapping the competition completely.

Several amendments were announced to the format, including an increase in competition funding to £3 million, regionalisation of fixtures being in place until the quarterfinal stages and the ability to play matches outside of international weeks on the calendar.

It was the scheduling of the fixtures and the clash with international dates that played a major part in both Tottenham and Manchester City opting out last season.

But now it will be hoped that their presence in the tournament will serve as a shot in the arm for the group stages, which will be drawn in July and will begin the week commencing Aug. 28.

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Atletico president happy with Real Madrid conduct in Theo Hernandez pursuit

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The FC panel discuss the lack of love for Gareth Bale at Real Madrid and wonder if it’s time for him to make a move.
Amid reports that Zinedine Zidane called Kylian Mbappe about joining Real Madrid, Julien Laurens weighs in on a potential move.
Gab Marcotti and the FC crew discuss the reports that Cristiano Ronaldo may have changed his mind on leaving Real Madrid.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has revealed there have been no offers from Man United for Alvaro Morata.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo says he does not think Theo Hernandez has signed for Real Madrid yet, but he has no problem with how Los Blancos have conducted the transfer.

A superb 2016-17 season on loan at Alaves saw Theo linked with top clubs including Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, but the 19-year-old has reportedly agreed to join Madrid, who are set to pay his €24 million release clause.

In Los Angeles this week Theo said he had “dreamed since I was little” of wearing a Real Madrid shirt, while club president Florentino Perez told Spanish radio that talks with Atletico were underway about finding an “agreement” between the clubs over a deal.

Madrid pursuing the transfer goes against a reported “gentleman’s agreement” about the clubs targeting each other’s players, and Madrid’s intentions to trigger Theo’s clause became public in April just ahead of a Champions League semifinal between the clubs.

But asked on El Transistor radio if his relationship with Perez had suffered due to Madrid’s behaviour, Cerezo denied there was any problem.

“Not at all,” he said. “It has been a very clear and clean signing. I do not know if [Theo] has signed for them yet. One thing is for him to talk about Madrid, another to have signed.”

Theo Hernandez helped Alaves reach the Copa del Rey final and finish in the top half of La Liga.

Saul Niguez, another player linked away from Atletico with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly interested, also joined the interview, speaking from the European Under-21 Championship in Poland.

Cerezo praised the midfielder for his outstanding performances in scoring five goals in three games as Spain have reached Friday evening’s final against Germany, and acknowledged recent speculation that the 23-year-old’s future is up in the air amid talks over a pay-rise.

“Congratulations first of all for the games you have played and your season over all,” Cerezo said. “We know that we have to put up with, once again, all this about whether you are staying or leaving. I believe that this time, as always, there is nothing to it.”

With the radio host pushing for details on how contract talks with Saul’s agent Jorge Mendes are progressing, the usually relaxed Cerezo grew increasingly uncomfortable.

“There are such things as confidentiality clauses around these things, and the lawyers are involved,” he said. “The only thing I can say is that Saul has a long-term contract. Plus he is a player who wants to be at Atletico Madrid.”

Currently under contract until 2021, and aware of the club having given pay-rises earlier this summer to teammates Antoine Griezmann and Koke, €80 million-rated Saul himself stopped short of committing his long-term future to the club while saying that of course the feeling of playing for Atletico was more important than money.

“Thanks Enrique, the first thing to say is that I am with you,” Saul said. “We all know about these things, that I am very happy. You never know what will happen in this world, but it is very difficult [to leave Atletico]. In the end the feelings come out on top of other things. I have a contract with Atleti and I am very good where I am.”

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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Gareth Southgate set for second Confederations Cup trip – sources

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Daniel Amokachi and Andrew Kabuura discuss Germany’s youthful Confederations Cup side and why they believe they’ve been so successful.

England manager Gareth Southgate is to fly to Russia for a second Confederations Cup scouting trip this weekend in order to watch Germany and Chile in Sunday’s final in St Petersburg, sources have told ESPN FC.

Southgate, who has guided England to the top of their World Cup qualifying group since succeeding Sam Allardyce as manager last September, spent four days in Russia earlier this month, attending Confederations Cup games in Moscow, Kazan and Sochi.

The 46-year-old has been assessing potential opponents and off-field logistics ahead of next year’s World Cup, which also takes place in Russia.

Sources at the Football Association have told ESPN FC that Southgate regards this Confederations Cup as hugely valuable in terms of preparation for the World Cup, with his visit to Moscow last week confirming fears that traffic gridlock in the Russian capital makes it unsuitable as a potential base camp should England qualify for next year’s tournament.

With England considering the north-west city of St Petersburg as a possible base in 2018 — the FA are also one of more than 10 national associations interested in securing a base in or near the Black Sea city of Sochi — Southgate’s visit this weekend will enable him to assess the facilities, climate and infrastructure in Russia’s second city before finalising a preferred list of training bases.

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate has already attended Confederations Cup games in Moscow, Kazan and Sochi.

One of Southgate’s primary concerns over the location of England’s potential base camp next summer is the distance between other venues.

St Petersburg is a three-hour flight to Sochi in the south of Russia and a similar journey time to Ekaterinburg, the most easterly city set to stage games at next year’s World Cup.

However, the number of top-class facilities in St Petersburg and proximity of Pulkovo International Airport to the city have placed it high on the FA’s list of possible base venues.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

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Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe tells Real Madrid Arsenal PSG he’s ‘priceless’

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Kylian Mbappe has sent a not-so-subtle hint to the small army of clubs chasing his signature this summer.

With the mega fee of €100 million being cited in the press, the 18-year-old Monaco striker has gone and confirmed his current market price by changing his Twitter background.

One in the eye for Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal, all of whom are known to be keen on procuring Mbappe’s services sooner rather than later.

As the old adage goes, if you have to ask then you probably can’t afford him — not after the season he’s just had!

Chris covers the funny side of the game for ESPN FC in the Toe Poke blog.

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Lionel Messi marrying Antonella Roccuzzo this weekend facts about their big day

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Former Barcelona greats Carles Puyol, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and others have all arrived in Argentina for Lionel Messi’s wedding.
Sid Lowe reflects on Lionel Messi’s legendary career now that the Argentine has hit age 30.
In honour of Lionel Messi’s 30th birthday, the FC crew debate his place among the all-time great footballers.
In honour of Lionel Messi’s 30th birthday, take a look at what he’s accomplished so far and what he has left to chase down.

It’s been a big month for Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star turned 30 last weekend and on Friday, taking advantage of the fact he’s not involved in an international tournament this summer, he will marry longtime partner Antonella Roccuzzo in Argentina.

Here’s everything you need to know about the couple’s big day.

Background story

Lucas Scaglia was one of Messi’s teammates while he was still living in Rosario and playing for Newell’s Old Boys. Their relationship extended off the pitch, too: as kids, they spent a lot of time together. It’s said that Messi had an ulterior motive for hanging around with Scaglia, though: He fancied his cousin.

It’s likely those stories are true, because Roccuzzo is Scaglia’s cousin. Various reports say Messi was love-struck from the moment he first laid eyes on her as a young boy. Childhood friends say his face would change when she was around and that he used to write letters to her.

However, they were never officially in a relationship while Messi was living in Rosario, and it’s unclear when things actually began. Messi has never spoken in depth about the subject; he didn’t speak about it at all until 2009, when as a 21-year-old he confirmed in an interview with Catalan channel TV3 that he had a girlfriend.

Diario Sport say Roccuzzo’s friends learned of the relationship in 2007, while other reports say the couple began dating in 2004. What can be confirmed is that Roccuzzo left Rosario for Barcelona in 2010, moving in with Messi just before the World Cup in South Africa. Since then, the two have had two children together, both boys, Thiago (4) and Mateo (1).

When and where?

On Friday at 7 p.m. local time, the childhood sweethearts will tie the knot in the City Centre Complex in their native Rosario. The reception will then be held in the same complex at the Pullman Hotel, a 188-room, five-star hotel that boasts an on-site casino.

According to Madrid-based Diario AS, a big screen will be erected outside the venue so fans can watch the ceremony from a safe distance. Despite spending over half of his life living in Barcelona, friends told Sport that there were never any doubts that he and Roccuzzo would wed in their hometown.

“Leo lives in Barcelona, but it’s as if he never left,” Messi’s former classmate and neighbour Carla Lysiac said. “He always returns to the neighbourhood. That’s why it was never in doubt that he would marry in Rosario.”

Who is going?

As well as the couple’s respective friends and families, there will of course be a number of the world’s best footballers among the 260 invited guests. Every single member of Barca’s first-team squad received an invite, though not all will be able to make it. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez have international commitments, while others have other reasons for not attending. Andres Iniesta, for example, excused himself following the recent birth of his third child.

Luis Suarez and Neymar will be there, though, and Gerard Pique and partner Shakira are also expected to be present, although it’s not been confirmed. There had been doubts whether they would go and speculation about Shakira’s relationship with Roccuzzo, but the popular singer said recently she would be there if she could.

Messi and Wife
Lionel Messi’s wedding promises to be a spectacular event.

Former teammates Ronaldinho (who can’t attend), Deco, Cesc Fabregas, Dani Alves and Xavi Hernandez have also been invited. Away from the Barca clique, Argentina teammates Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria are all said to be on the guest list, too.

You don’t have to be famous to have received an invite, though. Diego Vallejos and his family are among the Rosario natives who will be at the wedding. Despite being a childhood friend of Messi’s, Vallejos admitted that he was still surprised to be among those invited.

None of the guests are expected to bring presents, though. Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that, if they wish, they should instead make a donation to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Food and entertainment

A menu leaked by Diario Clarin reveals what those present at the wedding on Friday can expect to eat: a feast.

Through working with Giuliano Poser, an Italian nutritionist, in recent years, Messi has gradually been able to wean himself off milanesas, pizzas and burgers, replacing them with a healthier desire for foods like sushi. However, on his wedding day that all goes out the window — although there will be a sushi station, too. There will be a delicatessen featuring bread, salads and cooked meats to start followed by a number of traditional Argentine dishes, including empanadas, a “locro” stew and, of course, steaks.

Once fed, attention will no doubt turn to drinking and entertainment. Rombai and Marama, two bands from Uruguay, will be performing, as will Argentine singer Karina Jesica Tejeda, who is also known as “La Princesita de la Musica Tropical” and is the partner of Manchester City and Argentina striker Aguero.

Some guests, though, may be happy enough to pass their time in the casino.

Security and media

The security detail will be almost as big as the guest list, if not bigger, depending on which reports you believe. Sport say Messi is keen to provide those invited to the bash with the utmost privacy and to do so has enlisted the help of a security team of around 300 people, including local police. AS don’t detail numbers but say security will be handled by the same private team of Israeli specialists used by Messi for his various excursions around the world.

In addition to security, more than 100 journalists have been given permission to cover the wedding. None, though, will be allowed access to any of the guests on the night.

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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Former FIFA VP Jack Warner questions why U.S. Soccer was absolved in Garcia report

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Raf Honigstein reveals his thoughts on the Garcia report that examined allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner has told The Times that the Garcia report into corruption around the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids is “not even worth the paper it has been written on” and questioned why U.S. Soccer was absolved after he and Sepp Blatter met President Barack Obama.

The report, produced by American lawyer Michael J. Garcia in 2014 but only released in full this week, said the England 2018 World Cup bid team was found to have “accommodated or at least attempted to satisfy the improper request” of executive committee members, including Warner, ahead of the voting in 2010. 

The United States’ effort to host the 2022 World Cup, meanwhile, was found to have generally followed FIFA’s bidding rules. As an American, Garcia recused himself from the U.S. part of the investigation.

Warner, who was arrested and charged as part of the FBI’s probe into money-laundering in 2015 and then banned for life from taking part in any football-related activity, told the English newspaper in an email that he continues to “sleep very soundly” following the report’s release.

He wrote in an email: “For me the report is not even worth the paper it has been written on and of course not the whopping fee paid for it either. As it relates to me personally, I continue to sleep very soundly at nights for nothing in the report implicates me personally in any sleaze.”

The investigation found that Warner had requested England 2018 to find his “adopted son” Richard Sebro, a man with no obvious football credentials, a job with Tottenham, then at Wembley, before moving to Aston Villa.

Other favours granted to Warner were the waiving of a £168,000 debt owed to the Football Association by the Jamaican Football Federation and the sponsorship of a £36,000 Caribbean Football Union gala dinner.

Undisclosed “favours and benefits” were also granted by the FA to a team Warner owned — Joe Public Football Club.

Warner told The Times that all the requests he made to the English FA were “for other persons or entities and never for my family or me.”

Jack Warner highlighted a visit he had made to the White House with Sepp Blatter in 2009.

He also questioned the decision to absolve the U.S. bidding team, citing a visit that he and then-FIFA president Blatter had made to the White House in 2009.

He wrote: “I have also taken note that the American investigator has absolved the U.S. Soccer Federation and I ask myself how come? Was this not the same USSF that facilitated a visit to the White House for Sepp and me to meet Obama? How do you characterise that?

“Was this not the same USSF that arranged for [then-Confederation of African Football president Issa] Hayatou and his ExCo members to do the same? But then again this is the U.S. that I guess determines if you fall, live or die.”

Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom is analysing the Garcia report.

The decisions to award Russia the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 edition have been dogged by allegations of bribery and corruption since they were made in December 2010.

An SFO spokesperson said: “The SFO is reviewing the Garcia Report. We can make no further comment at this stage.”

Confirmation of the SFO’s interest comes 20 months after its director, David Green, told MPs of potential money-laundering offences, including a payment of 500,000 Australian dollars (£295,000) made by the Australia 2022 bid committee to former CONCACAF president Warner, which may have gone through London.

At the time, Green, who was giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said the SFO “cannot touch FIFA with the Bribery Act as things stand” as it became law in July 2011 and most of the World Cup allegations took place before then.

In October 2015, the SFO had a team of five going through more than 1,600 documents provided by the FA relating to England’s failed 2018 bid.

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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Nearly great Olivier Giroud mirrors Arsenal’s recent shortcomings

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Paul Mariner laments at the transfer misfirings for Arsenal so far in the summer window.
Alexis Nunes and Stevie Nicol sift through the latest rumours around Giroud, Lacazette, Oxlade-Chamberlain and more.

Eras are not always epitomised by the best players. Arguably, the past few years at Arsenal have not been defined by Alexis Sanchez — he is more the exception than the rule — as much as by Olivier Giroud. If the contrasting figures both exit the Emirates Stadium this summer, it will be with differing senses: The Chilean could not realise his ambitions at Arsenal, while the Frenchman could not quite enable Arsenal to realise theirs.

And yet, should Giroud be sold for a mooted price of around £20 million, he might seem a definitive Stan Kroenke player. Arsenal will have doubled their money on a £9.6m buy, and the striker will have delivered value for money, if not the trophies fans covet, and goals in sufficient quantities to prevent more costly forms of regression.

Perhaps London, in the form of West Ham, is calling Giroud; perhaps Lyon is not, judging by president Jean-Michel Aulas’ comment that “we don’t want to stockpile forwards,” even if that could change should Alexandre Lacazette leave, maybe to Arsenal. It would be understandable if Arsene Wenger wants to keep one who proved an excellent squad player last season, yet the eventual verdict might be that he was not quite good enough to be a long-term first choice.

Signed as Robin van Persie was sold in 2012, Giroud proved a respectable replacement — not in the Dutchman’s class but better than his detractors would suggest. He kept Arsenal in the top five and, for four seasons, in the top four.

His Gunners career has spanned the end of austerity, the start of spending and the accumulation of FA Cups, but 2015-16 represented the great chance to win the title, and it was in the second half of that season, as Arsenal relapsed and Leicester advanced, that Giroud went almost four months without a league goal. His longest drought came at the worst time. It is a reason Arsenal seem forever unfulfilled.

It explains why, though Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were intended to be the flagship players, in his own way, Giroud has been an emblematic figure, sometimes excellent, sometimes frustrating, not quite of the calibre of some of his counterparts at Arsenal’s bigger-spending rivals and often divisive among fans. Much like many a latter-period Wenger signing, he did not bring youth.

Nor, highlighting a shift in the style of play, was he as mobile as most of his predecessors in the Arsenal attack. He has been benched in their past two FA Cup finals so the quicker Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck could start instead. He was a perennial talking point, veering from pivotal performer to substitute in a way that underlined the doubts that invariably remained about him.

He was the victim of Sanchez’s conversion to the centre-forward’s role but long the beneficiary of Wenger’s inability to sign superior specialist strikers, whether Luis Suarez or Gonzalo Higuain. That might change this summer, and it would be simultaneously cruel and fitting if Giroud departs stuck on 98 Arsenal goals.

He would go as something of a nearly man, almost in elite company, but would look incongruous alongside them because he ranks below the three centurions of the Wenger era, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Van Persie, plus Ian Wright, who scored the majority of his 185 before the Frenchman’s appointment. Beyond that garlanded quartet, he was not as dynamic as Nicolas Anelka, as destructive as Emmanuel Adebayor or as unpredictable as Kanu, despite the scorpion kick against Crystal Palace that ranked among last season’s finest goals. Unlike Sylvain Wiltord, he never scored the goal to win the league.

Olivier Giroud has scored 98 goals while at Arsenal, but the club has often struggled on the biggest stages.

Perhaps the closest thing to a conventional No. 9 that Wenger has ever fielded might also have been the ninth-best striker of the Frenchman’s reign. Yet if that is damning him with faint praise, Giroud’s statistics indicate why he has confounded some doubters to last for five years at a club of Arsenal’s stature, albeit a dysfunctional one.

Giroud can seem a world apart from the goal-a-game strikers, but he averaged a goal every 100 minutes in last season’s Premier League. Perhaps that was an outlier, facilitated by a role as a super-sub who made occasional starts against lesser sides. Yet it is notable that he averaged one every 151 minutes in 2015-16 and one every 133 in 2014-15. The numbers are consistently impressive.

There is a temptation to dismiss him as a flat-track bully, partly because Arsenal’s record in major matches has been undistinguished for much of his stay and his five Champions League campaigns were each curtailed in the last 16.

Yet once again, that is not quite as simple as it seems. Giroud scored against Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea last year; Bayern Munich and Liverpool twice each and Manchester City the previous season; and City and Liverpool twice, United and Monaco once in 2014-15. He was capable of excelling on the bigger stage, but much like Arsenal, did not do so quite often enough. Some of those goals salvaged draws — not clinched victories. Some came in Champions League group stages — not the knockout matches.

He has forever taken them to a certain point but never any further. He has been the recent Arsenal: certainly not a failure but not a resounding success, either.

Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.

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Real Madrid’s Pepe set to seal transfer to Paris Saint-Germain – source

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Julien Laurens breaks down the latest PSG transfer rumours surrounding Marco Verratti and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

PARIS — Pepe is set to become Paris Saint-Germain’s first summer signing once his Real Madrid contract comes to an end, a source close to the French capital outfit told ESPN FC.

The Portugal international is still on Confederations Cup duty and will be until the third-placed playoff on Sunday, just two days before PSG coach Unai Emery and his non-international players report to Camp des Loges for preseason training, but the 34-year-old is close to signing a contract.

According to the source, Pepe has been in talks with Les Parisiens for some time over a potential move to Parc des Princes — before and after compatriot Antero Henrique’s arrival as sporting director.

However, it is mainly because of the former Porto man that this deal has been pushed to the brink of completion after the Portuguese transfer guru and Emery agreed the squad require greater experience and a stronger winning mentality.

The source said Pepe is set to sign a one-year contract with PSG, which includes an option for a second, and that the Ligue 1 giants’ medical staff have already examined the Brazil-born Portugal star’s troublesome knee.

Although he will go on holiday post-Confederations Cup, the former Maritimo and Porto man — who has won the Champions League three times as well as the 2016 European Championship among other titles — is almost certain to be Henrique’s first signing since he joined PSG at the start of June.

Pepe is expected to sign with PSG after he’s finished with Portugal this summer.

Another boost for the sporting director and the recently deposed former French champions is the news that Thiago Motta is set to extend his stay by one more campaign.

The source claimed that although there are still a few details left to be taken care of in terms of how the 34-year-old transitions into a staff role at the end of his proposed new deal — and which position he will occupy — the Brazil-born Italy international will prolong his playing career by one more term.

Motta’s contract extension should be taken care of by the end of the week, and along with Pepe, he will be the main source of experience in the dressing room.

Once Pepe and Motta are sorted, PSG’s next objective will be to lure Fabinho from French rivals and current champions Monaco to the capital.

The Brazil international is currently attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United but the source says the 23-year-old — who was has been a revelation with Les Monegasques under Leonardo Jardim since switching from right back to defensive midfield — has given his word to Henrique that he will hold out for a move to PSG.

Assuming Fabinho gets his wish, he will take over the deep-lying midfield role Motta has made vital to the team’s now trademark possession-based 4-3-3 formation, enabling Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot to occupy the more advanced berths with Blaise Matuidi likely to be moved on this summer.

Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.

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