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Bayern Munich’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hopeful over European salary cap

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With UEFA’s President calling for a potential salary cap in the future, the FC panel sound off on its pros and cons.
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke offers his thoughts on the rising transfer fees across Europe.

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has told kicker he believes progress is being made on plans to introduce a salary cap in European football.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said earlier this year that he is considering the introduction of a salary cap in order to close the gap between football’s biggest clubs and the rest.

Rummenigge has served as European Club Association (ECA) chair for just over a decade and hit out at European politicians for refusing to back his plans to limit players’ salaries in the past.

He said: “I went to Brussels [where the European Union is based] a few times with then UEFA president Michel Platini. Platini wanted to give football its own culture and bring in a salary cap, like in U.S. sport, but it was rejected time after time. That was a mistake back then from European politicians.

“Today there are signals from Brussels for a reassessment of the situation. Therefore, I call for a collective initiative, then politicians will take a favourable view.”

Renewed questions have been raised over financial fair play (FFP) this summer after Paris Saint-Germain broke the world transfer record to sign Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million, with a deal for Kylian Mbappe from Monaco set to follow

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is chairman of the European Club Association.

Rummenigge said he does not believe FFP, which UEFA introduced from the 2011-12 season, has been a total failure, with clubs including PSG and Manchester City having been punished in the past. 

However, he said: “More consistent punishments should have been enforced, if necessary testing whether clubs would have taken legal action against UEFA at the European Court of Justice.

“A lot of clubs wouldn’t have dared to.”

Rummenigge says current UEFA president Ceferin “will not be influenced” as he seeks to enforce the rules.

“He’s ready to seriously implement financial fair play in line with the [UEFA] statutes,” he said.

Rummenigge wants a combined effort to promote “more controlled and rational competition” in football.

“It’s important that the ECA now tries with FIFA and UEFA, and also with the players union FIFPro, to work out criteria to make the whole thing a little more rational once again,” he said. “These four groups have to try among each other and together with politicians to find solutions.

“Football must retain its roots. Everyone has to play their part, including the clubs.”

This summer, Bayern have broken their transfer record with the signing of Corentin Tolisso from Lyon, as well as bringing in Germany internationals Niklas Sule, Sebastian Rudy and Serge Gnabry and taking James Rodriguez on loan from Real Madrid for two years for a reported fee of €6.5m a year.

Speaking about the explosion in transfer fees: “They’ve moved away from reality, but that is nothing new actually. For many people these sums are no longer realistic. Therefore, it’s important that club football faces its responsibilities.”

Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.

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Liverpool loan Allan to Limassol and Ryan Kent to Freiburg

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Allan had a successful spell at Hertha Berlin last season.

Liverpool midfielder Allan has joined Cypriot club Apollon Limassol on loan for the season, while winger Ryan Kent will play for Freiburg.

Allan, 20, joined Liverpool in 2015 and was on loan at German club Hertha Berlin last season.

Towards the end of that campaign, Hertha sporting executive Michael Preetzsaid the club hoped to keep the Brazilian for another season.

Allan has yet to make a senior appearance for Liverpool and has also had loan clubs with Finnish side SJK and Sint-Truiden in Belgium.

Kent, 20, recognises the importance of this season in his career and will spend the 2017-18 campaign in the Bundesliga as he seeks regular first-team football.

The Liverpool winger is set for his third spell out on loan after time at Coventry City and Barnsley on a temporary basis.

Kent, who also drew interest from Hannover 96, signed a long-term contract at Anfield earlier this month and was recently singled out for praise by manager Jurgen Klopp for his development.

After Kent featured in seven of Liverpool’s eight preseason friendlies, Klopp said: “Ryan Kent, I know him one and a half years. Last year he developed unbelievably and this preseason is completely different to last preseason.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool academy forward Toni Gomes has joined League Two side Forest Green Rovers on loan for the rest of the season.

Glenn is ESPN FC’s Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.

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Manchester United to cover fan visas for CSKA Moscow trip

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Sir Alex Ferguson believes Mourinho’s first class attitude last season allowed Man United to secure UCL football.
Jose Mourinho says he is not going to get carried away reveling in Manchester United’s perfect start in the Premier League.

Manchester United Supporters Trust (M.U.S.T) has welcomed the club’s decision to cover fans’ visa costs for the Champions League game away at CSKA Moscow.

United have confirmed they are “committed to covering the cost of supporter visas, up to a maximum of £118.20,” for the game against CSKA, which takes place in the Russia capital on Sept. 27.

M.U.S.T said in a statement on its website: “It is good to see Manchester United supporting our travelling fans in Europe by covering the costs of Russian visas for the CSKA Moscow away game. This comes following requests from M.U.S.T — the Manchester United Supporters Trust. M.U.S.T has consistently lobbied the club for greater support for our fans, both at home and away.

“Recent wins this season include more discounted youth season tickets being made available around the ground and also cheaper League Cup tickets. Previously our discussions have also resulted in visa fees being covered for the last Russian away match in Rostov as well as laying on free coaches at European away games and to domestic finals and semi-finals at Wembley too.

“We don’t get everything we request, of course, and there are still major unresolved concerns over relocation of fans in the Scoreboard End, but we do see this as further evidence of progress in building a co-operative relationship between the Club and the Supporters’ Trust.”

Europa League holders United will also face Benfica and Basel in Champions League Group A

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

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Man City defender Jason Denayer joins Galatasaray on loan again

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Jason Denayer will rejoin Galatasaray, according to sources.

Manchester City defender Jason Denayer has joined Turkish club Galatasaray on loan for a second time.

Denayer, 22, spent a year at the club in the 2015-16 season where his last game was Galatasaray’s victory in the Turkish Cup, and now he will spend another season in Istanbul.

He was with Sunderland last term, and relegated from the Premier League, and he also had a loan spell at Celtic in 2014-15.

The Scottish champions were also keen to re-sign him while City wanted him to go on loan to their Spanish sister club, Girona, but Denayer preferred a return to Turkey.

Denayer is still to play for City but still has three years remaining on his contract.

Meanwhile, striker Wilfried Bony is also close to leaving the Etihad Stadium on a permanent move with a return to former club Swansea City.

The Welsh club are finalising a deal for the Ivorian international, which could then see Fernando Llorente sold to Tottenham.

Bony, 28, joined City in January 2015 in a £28 million move from Swansea but scored just 11 goals in 46 appearances and spent last season on loan at Stoke City.

Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.

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Torino sign AC Milan’s M’Baye Niang on initial season-long loan

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ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti discusses AC Milan’s impressive start and VAR’s debut in the first week of Serie A action.

Torino have completed the signing of M’Baye Niang from AC Milan on a season-long loan with an obligation to make the move permanent in 2018 for a reported fee of €20 million.

The club announced the arrival of the 22-year-old, who had also been linked with Everton and Fenerbahce, on their official website.

“I’m pleased to be a Torino player,” Niang said. “What I had hoped for has come true, and I would like to thank everybody for this.

“I really wanted to come here because I feel everybody’s faith, and this is very important.

“And it’s not a secret that I have an excellent relationship with [his former Milan coach Sinisa] Mihajlovic. I expect to do well in the league and in the Coppa Italia. The objective is to go as high as possible with this shirt.”

Niang played 67 times for Milan, scoring eight goals and spent the second half of last season on loan at Watford, where he scored twice in 16 games.

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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Real Madrid transfer deadline briefing: Bernabeu turns on Bale, low key buys

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As Asensio and Isco continue to rise in stock at Real, the FC crew debate if Gareth Bale should return to the Premier League.
Real Madrid pulled out a 2-2 draw at home against Valencia, with Marco Asensio netting a classy brace along the way.
Craig Burley reacts to a report that Cristiano Ronaldo is demanding another pay rise at Real Madrid.

How have Real Madrid got on in the summer transfer window? Here’s a look at their dealings so far and an update on what to expect in January.

Net spend (estimated)

-€79.5 million.

Completed signings

Theo Hernandez (Atletico Madrid, €30m), Dani Ceballos (Real Betis, €16.5m), Vinicius Junior (Flamengo, €45m, to go through in June 2018).

Potential signings

None at this late stage.

Kylian Mbappe during the French League Cup final (Coupe de la Ligue) between PSG and AS Monaco at Parc OL on April 1, 2017 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Kylian Mbappe had been linked with Real Madrid virtually ever since he burst on to the scene, but he is not PSG bound.

Players missed out on

Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), David De Gea (Manchester United).

Potential January targets

Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain).

Players promoted to first-team squad

Achraf Hakimi, Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente, Borja Mayoral.

Completed sales

Alvaro Morata (Chelsea, €65m), Danilo (Manchester City, €30m), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich, €13m loan fee), Mariano Diaz (Lyon, €8m), Diego Llorente (Real Sociedad, €7m), Burgui (Alaves, €3m), Ruben Yanez (Getafe, free), Fabio Coentrao (Sporting Lisbon, loan)

Potential sales

It would appear that the club are happy to let Gareth Bale leave after four years at the Bernabeu, but the former world-record signing is likely to do all he can to resist a move.

Players due for contract renewal

Isco has reportedly signed a new four-year contract with the club, as he has just one year left on his current deal, but it has yet to be announced. While striker Karim Benzema’s contract expires in 2019.

Gareth Bale has won three Champions League in four years at Real Madrid, but his stock at the Bernabeu is currently low.

Areas of squad still with shortcomings

The Real Madrid squad appears short of experienced cover at both centre-back and centre-forward — with Pepe and Alvaro Morata leaving, and youngsters Jesus Vallejo and Borja Mayoral not yet ready for top level.

Has this been a good transfer window for the club?

On paper Zidane looks to have fewer options now with high profile squad players including Morata, James Rodriguez and Danilo having been move on, and the board no doubt delighted with an overall profit of almost €80m.

New arrivals like Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos are full of potential, but it remains to be seen whether they can be relied upon against the best opponents.

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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Barcelona transfer deadline briefing: Dembele in for Neymar issues remain

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A delighted Ousmane Dembele has admitted there is a world between Neymar and himself.
While Lionel Messi eclipsed the 350 goal mark in La Liga, Shaka Hislop is a bit worried Barca may over-rely on him.

How have Barcelona got on in the summer transfer window? Here’s a look at their dealings so far and an update on what to expect in January.

Net spend (estimated)

-€36 million.

Completed signings

Marlon Santos (Fluminense, €5m), Gerard Deulofeu (Everton, €12m), Nelson Semedo (Benfica, initial €30m), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande, €40m), Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund, initial €105m).

Potential signings

Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain).

Philippe Coutinho
Barcelona have had several bids for Philippe Coutinho rejected by Liverpool this summer.

Players missed out on

Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad), Jean Michael Seri (Nice).

Potential January targets

Yerry Mina (Palmeiras), Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad), Leon Goretzka (Schalke).

Players promoted to first-team squad

None, but Barca B’s Carles Alena is regularly involved with the first-team squad

Completed sales

Jeremy Mathieu (Sporting Lisbon, free), Cristian Tello (Real Betis, €6m) Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, €222m), Sergi Samper (Las Palmas, loan), Marlon Santos (Nice, loan).

Potential sales

Andre Gomes, Munir El Haddadi, Arda Turan, Thomas Vermaelen, Douglas Rafinha.

Players who can’t be moved out

Thomas Vermaelen, Douglas, Arda Turan.

Players due for contract renewal

Lionel Messi (2018) has agreed a new contract but has not yet signed it, while Andres Iniesta has admitted leaving the club is an option as he is yet to be offered a renewal on the deal that runs out at the end of the season.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is yet to sign a new contract despite agreeing terms almost two months ago.

Areas of squad still with shortcomings

Despite making five — potentially more — signings, there’s still an unease about the Barcelona squad. With Marlon’s loan move to Nice, they’re left with just Javier Mascherano and Thomas Vermaelen as back-up to Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. Of those four defenders, only Umtiti is under 30. Another centre-back, perhaps Yerry Mina, is likely to join in January.

Elsewhere, despite the arrival of Paulinho and the continued pursuit of Philippe Coutinho, the midfield still feels like a mishmash of players. There’s no shortage of options, but there are questions over quality and style.

Has this been a good transfer window for the club?

The arrival of Dembele this week for a club-record fee papers over some cracks, but, all things considered, it’s been a bad transfer window for Barcelona. Losing Neymar hit them hard and, while Semedo and Dembele may prove good buys, there are doubts among supporters about what Gerard Deulofeu and Paulinho are going to add.

A transfer window should be about improving your squad and it’s difficult to say whether Barca have managed that or not. And that’s before you consider the poor PR which surrounded the loss of Neymar and moves for Verratti, Paulinho, Dembele and Coutinho.

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

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Arsenal transfer deadline briefing: Ox gone Sanchez leave fans hanging

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The FC panel debate the chances of Alexis Sanchez moving on from Arsenal and if Man City will be his final destination.
Shaka Hislop discusses the ins and outs of the proposed Sterling-Sanchez swap between Man City and Arsenal.
Craig Burley tries to wrap his head around latest reports that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is close to joining Chelsea.
Craig Burley says Arsene Wenger is kidding himself if he thinks he can turn Arsenal around, but the club won’t sack him.
The FC panel respond to your tweets about the transfer deadline, struggles in Manchester and Arsenal’s season outlook.

How have Arsenal got on in the summer transfer window? Here’s a look at the dealings in and out of the Emirates and an update on what to expect in January.

Net spend (estimated)

-£3 million.

Completed signings 

Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon, £46.5m), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke, free transfer).

Potential signings 

Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Jean Seri (Nice).

Players missed out on

Kylian Mbappe, who is set to complete a move to PSG, and his Monaco teammate Thomas Lemar, who is the subject of interest from Liverpool.

Thomas Lemar had been linked with Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger has played down hopes of a deal being done this summer.

Potential January targets

Lemar could still be targeted in the next transfer window if he has not already left the Stade Louis II.

Players promoted to first team squad

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Completed sales

Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus, €12.2m), Gabriel Paulista (Villarreal, €11m), Kieran Gibbs (West Bromwich Albion, £7m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool, rising to £40m).

Potential sales 

Alexis Sanchez, Shkodran Mustafi, Mathieu Debuchy, Lucas Perez, Chuba Akpom.

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez has long been linked with a move to Manchester City.

Players who can’t be moved out

Joel Campbell, who would have been a candidate for a loan or sale but is ruled out for the rest of the year through injury.

Players due for contract renewal

Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere’s contracts all expire next summer.

Areas of squad with shortcomings 

Should Sanchez leave, the Gunners will struggle to replace his quality and versatility in attack. Centre-back and central midfield were two areas that required addressing when the window opened. Now, with Gabriel and Oxlade-Chamberlain out the door, the matter is more pressing. 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another Arsenal player who could leave for a Premier League rival.

Has this been a good window?

No. It started out well with the signings of Kolasinac and Lacazette, but has since deteriorated as the squad is clearly unsettled.

Some players want to leave but aren’t being sold; others are up for sale but can’t find buyers. And Arsenal needed one or two more top-quality signings.

Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.

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Chelsea agree €25 million deal for Torino defender Davide Zappacosta – sources

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Gab Marcotti sees full-back Davide Zappacosta fitting perfectly into Antonio Conte’s system at Chelsea.

Chelsea have agreed a €25 million deal for Torino defender Davide Zappacosta, sources in Italy have confirmed to ESPN FC.

After missing out to Liverpool on the signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal, Chelsea switched their attentions to the 25-year-old Italy international.

Antonio Conte has been searching for cover for Victor Moses all summer and he has found it in Zappacosta, who can play at right-back, right wing-back or on the right of midfield.

Conte knows all about Zappacosta, having given him his first call-up to the Italy squad last year during his time as national team manager.

Zappacosta joined Torino from Atalanta in 2015, and he has made 58 Serie A appearances for the Granata. He started their first game of the season but was only a late substitute last weekend.

Torino will make a huge profit on the defender after signing him for just €5 million.

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Portugal winger Nani joins Lazio on loan from Valencia

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Nani joined Valencia last summer but is now set for a move to Serie A.

Lazio have announced the signing of Nani on a season-long loan from Valencia, with the Serie A club obtaining the option to make the move permanent in 2018.

Portugal international Nani arrived at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Thursday morning and passed his medical examination at the Paideia Clinic.

The former Manchester United winger joined the Biancocelesti ahead of the transfer deadline after just one season with Valencia, for whom he made 25 appearances and scored five goals.

Both the Serie A and La Liga club confirmed the deal, with Valencia writing in a statement on their website: “Valencia CF have reached an agreement this Thursday with SS Lazio for the loan of Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha ‘Nani’ for one season. The Italian club will have the option to buy the Portuguese footballer at the end of the loan period.”

Valencia were keen to offload Nani because of the 30-year-old’s high wages of €2 million net per season. He was under contract there for two more seasons, and managed 25 league appearances last season, 22 as a starter, scoring five goals and setting up seven more, despite spending two months sidelined with a thigh injury.

Nani’s last goal for Manchester United came in September 2012, after which he made only a handful of appearances for the Red Devils before moving to Portugal on loan in 2014 and to Turkey on a permanent deal in 2015.

After scoring seven goals in 27 games for Sporting Lisbon, he scored eight in 28 outings for Fenerbahce. Valencia then signed Nani from the Turkish giants last summer after paying his €8.5m release clause. 

Nani was reluctant to leave Valencia this summer but the Euro 2016 winner has now agreed to join the Rome-based club in what will be his first experience in Italy and his fifth league following stints in Portugal, England, Turkey and Spain.

He was not included in Portugal’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Faroe Islands and Hungary.

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Barcelona sell Lee Seung-Woo to Hellas Verona

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A delighted Ousmane Dembele has admitted there is a world between Neymar and himself.

Lee Seung-Woo, once held up as one of the brightest prospects at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, has joined Italian side Hellas Verona for €1.5 million.

Lee, 19, joins Verona on a four-year deal, although Barca maintain an option to re-sign him for the next two years if they wish.

The South Korea youth international joined Barcelona in 2011 and drew comparisons to a young Lionel Messi in his early years with the club.

However, he was one of the youngsters affected by the transfer ban Barca received from FIFA in 2014 for infringing rules regarding the signings of international youth players.

As a consequence, he was unable to play for or even train with the club’s youth teams until he turned 18 in January 2016.

Last season he made 30 appearances for Gabri Garcia’s U19 side, scoring 10 goals.

This season he was due to be promoted to Barca B, but the number of players Gerard Lopez has at his disposal meant it was unlikely Lee would have been given much playing time.

In addition, he would have had to take up one of the three non-EU spots in the team, and Gerard preferred other players to Lee.

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

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Paraguay Chile to join Argentina and Uruguay in bid for 2030 World Cup

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While their neighbours from all around South America got to see their national teams in action at the World Cup in Brazil, Paraguay fans were not as lucky.
Paraguay have announced plans to try to join the 2030 World Cup bid from Argentina and Uruguay.

ASUNCION, Paraguay — Paraguay and Chile have both revealed plans to try to join Argentina and Uruguay in what would be a four-nation bid to host the centenary World Cup in 2030.

Paraguay president Horacio Cartes and the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, Alejandro Dominguez, announced the plan on Thursday.

“I’m confirming that we are in agreement — the presidents of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay — to fight for the right to host the 2030 World Cup,” Cartes said on his Twitter account.

And Uruguay’s director of sports Fernando Caceres said later in the day to The Associated Press that Chile had also shown interest in joining the South American bid.

Paraguay’s bid for inclusion is at a more advanced stage than Chile’s at the moment, but if both countries were to be included it would be the first time in the history of football that four countries came together for a World Cup bid.

Argentina and Uruguay, which was the original World Cup host in 1930, have long been expected to seek hosting rights for a tournament likely to feature 48 teams playing in at least 12 stadiums.

Dominguez said the game venues would be decided later by a commission. It’s likely the majority of matches will be in Argentina, which is the largest country and has the most football stadiums.

European soccer federations will also be eligible to bid and one option could unite England and other British members of FIFA.

A three-way bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico is already favored to host the 2026 World Cup.

Director of Sports of Uruguay Fernando Caceres said later in the day to The Associated Press that Chile also showed interest in joining the south-american bid. If this proposal moves ahead, it will be the first time in soccer history that four countries come together for a World Cup bid.

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Dutch face potential doom as Lionel Messi and Argentina need World Cup qualifying rescue W2W4

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The FC panel discuss the implications of Argentina and Uruguay’s WCQ game, and its implications both on and off the field.
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris discusses the team’s mentality ahead of their crucial WCQ against the Netherlands.
Attacker Anthony Nwakaeme says he deserves the call-up to Nigeria for their crunch World Cup Qualifiers vs. Cameroon.

W2W4 previews this week’s World Cup qualifying action and highlights five key storylines.

Netherlands face daunting prospect of France

How long will Dutch football remain in the dumper? Thursday night in Paris is a vital match for Netherlands. Should they fail to get at least a draw then Dick Advocaat’s team, in third place in Group A, will be six points behind France, and Sweden too if they win in Bulgaria.

Netherlands finished in third place at the 2014 World Cup, but have declined since. Advocaat, in his third spell as national team manager, is picking up the pieces after the disastrous reign of Danny Blind, who had succeeded Guus Hiddink before missing out on Euro 2016.

Robin van Persie has answered his country’s call, having been absent since October 2015. Goals have become a problem, but the Dutch are also missing key defender Virgil van Dijk, who has not played football since January and is currently frozen out at Southampton as he awaits the resolution of his attempt to seal a transfer.

France are daunting opponents. So strong is Didier Deschamps’ hand that he can afford to be without Ousmane Dembele, who he has instead allowed to settle at Barcelona after a protracted £135.5 million from Dortmund, and Anthony Martial, in scoring form for Manchester United. With Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette to call on, Deschamps is dining in an attacking luxury lounge that Advocaat can only look upon with envy.

Sampaoli, Messi try to rescue Argentina

Jorge Sampaoli is in a hurry. Having left Sevilla at the end of last season, he has returned home to try and rescue Argentina’s qualifying campaign. Languishing in fifth place in South American qualifying, there is a genuine chance that Lionel Messi might miss what may be his final chance to emulate Diego Maradona and lead his nation to winning a World Cup.

Argentina have not been helped by the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling on Tuesday that confirmed a sanction against Bolivia for fielding an ineligible player in their 0-0 draw with Chile in September 2016. A 3-0 win has been awarded to Chile, placing the double Copa America champions, those triumphs masterminded by Sampaoli, ahead of his new team.

Old enemy Uruguay await on Thursday night. Luis Suarez may not face Barcelona partner Messi as he recovers from a knee injury, but there have been hints from coach Oscar Tabarez that Suarez might be risked, something that might not go down well with his Catalan paymasters.

Messi is expected to line up with Juventus wunderkind Paolo Dybala, viewed as his potential heir, but they will be without dropped Juve colleague Gonzalo Higuain. Instead, Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi will be the central striker.

“We need a striker who, as well as goals, has the characteristics of an assist-maker,” Sampaoli said this week of Icardi, getting his first call since 2013; he is not afraid of big decisions.

Lionel Messi and Mauro Icardi will team up to try to dispatch Uruguay.

Who will lead England?

On Friday night in Malta, England can take significant steps toward winning Group F. Their last result, a 2-2 draw in Scotland thanks to Harry Kane’s late equaliser, was not particularly helpful. At Wembley last October, after Southgate had hurriedly taken on the senior team when Sam Allardyce was forced to resign, Malta were only beaten 2-0 at Wembley. That suggests that the Mediterranean islanders, despite being bottom of the group, might not be a completely soft touch.

England are beginning life without having to answer the Wayne Rooney question after the former captain and all-time goals record holder dramatically retired from international football last week. Instead, the question has become who will be captain.

Kane captained the team against Scotland, while Jordan Henderson and Gary Cahill are contenders. Longest-serving player Joe Hart might have had a shout, but due to his disastrous form at West Ham, where has conceded 10 goals in three games, he might not even be picked. Stoke’s Jack Butland seems the likely selection.

Wales’ crucial weekend

They stormed Euro 2016 to reach the semifinals, but Wales’ chances of being in Russia 2018 are fading fast. They are four points behind Serbia and Ireland, and must beat Austria on Saturday to keep hopes alive. Gareth Bale’s sluggish start to his Real Madrid season is mirrored by Aaron Ramsey’s problems at Arsenal; the midfielder, who outshone Bale in France last year, was one of his club’s many disappointments in last Sunday’s 4-0 defeat at Liverpool.

Wales must hope their rivals slip up on Saturday. Ireland face a tricky trip to Georgia, whose defeat of Scotland in Euro 2016 qualifiers handed Martin O’Neill’s team a lifeline. Serbia have an easier, home fixture to play against Moldova. Both play ahead of Wales’ evening match in Cardiff.

Indomitable Lions in trouble?

African champions Cameroon are in serious danger of missing out on Russia next year. Two draws from their two matches so far in Group D mean that this week’s doubleheader with neighbours Nigeria will decide which African giant will miss out. They meet in Uyo on Friday and then in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde three days later.

If Cameroon fail to get more than four points, then their path looks blocked off. “Should we fail to achieve that target, I do not think it will be possible to qualify for Russia,” coach Hugo Broos said this week.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.

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Milans masterful transfer moves leaves little room for complaints

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ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti discusses AC Milan’s impressive start and VAR’s debut in the first week of Serie A action.

With the summer transfer window now closed, AC Milan are left to reflect on the work that they’ve carried out over the past few months. Eleven new signings arrived, a whole host of surplus players left, and Vincenzo Montella now has a much stronger squad at his disposal.

There’s much to admire about Milan’s transfer work this summer, namely the fact that they moved so swiftly to acquire their top targets. While some may have been disappointed with no deadline-day excitement, Milan did their business the way it should be done.

Almost every summer signing had weeks to settle in, there were no late scrambles to add players at inflated prices. Key weak areas were identified and addressed so that a strong start to the new campaign could be made.

Starting strong is important — given the addition of the Europa League qualifying rounds. It was crucial for owner Yonghong Li and the new hierarchy to hit the ground running after replacing Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani at the helm.

Excitement and expectations were at an all-time high at the end of last season following Li’s takeover. The Rossoneri had to deliver to continue to build on that enthusiasm, and if you compare this squad to last season’s, there is no argument to suggest that Milan are not in a far better place now.

Admittedly, there is a case to suggest that the squad isn’t yet complete. Milan are perhaps still light in midfield and on the left wing, but there’s more than enough reason to be content with this transfer window. It almost seems a little spoiled to moan about certain positions not being filled immediately.

It was never feasible to have every issue fixed in one transfer window. But a new core has been built and there is improved depth; with a number of misfits sold or loaned out to allow the new recruits to establish themselves.

New faces abound with Nikola Kalinic, left, Leonardo Bonucci and Ricardo Rodriguez among the additions.

CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli deserve as much credit for the money received for expendable players as they do for the players brought in. They recouped a decent amount to help balance the books, and so from all perspectives, it has to be seen as a very positive transfer market.

Milan have assembled a strong combination of experienced and youthful stars, they haven’t spent over the odds on any one single player, and have invested wisely. They have kept an eye on the bigger picture as they aim to build a new cycle and be competitive for years to come.

Some were more of a surprise than others, namely Leonardo Bonucci. That particular signing had an opportunistic feel about it, but it could well turn out to be the most important as the six-time Serie A champion will lead the side as the new club captain.

The defence has been rebuilt with Mateo Musacchio, Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez joining. Franck Kessie, Lucas Biglia and Hakan Calhanoglu add qualities to the midfield that have been lacking for years.

Add the industry of Fabio Borini, albeit not the most popular of additions, coupled with the promise of Andre Silva and experience of Nikola Kalinic, there is an exciting collection of players there to fill supporters with optimism that this will be a successful season.

The club now has more technical quality, composure and energy across the pitch compared to last season. That will help Milan establish the preferred brand of football that Montella wants to adopt — something he could not do last season with the players he had. The 43-year-old has no excuses now though, and the pressure will be on him to put all these pieces together and to deliver positive results.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, if forced to find one, was the lack of a marquee signing outside of Bonucci. Alvaro Morata, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Andrea Belotti were some of the names linked to the squad, and yet none arrived. However, as Milan now aim for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification, they’ve got enough in place to get back to Europe’s top table, and perhaps next summer we’ll see a major name or two arrive.

For now though, it’s difficult not to grade this transfer window with high marks. Time will tell if it leads to a successful future with Milan reaching their objectives, but we’ve certainly had a summer to remember.

Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.

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Juventus loan young striker Moise Kean to Hellas Verona

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ESPN’s Layla Anna Lee and Paul Pogba realize how young Moise Kean really is while discussing football legends with him.

Juventus have sent young striker Moise Kean to Hellas Verona on a season-long loan.

Kean, 17, made four brief appearances with the first team in the previous campaign, but will be likely to earn more regular playing time away from Turin this season.

He was set to compete with Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala on Juventus’ front line this season.

He went on tour with Juventus to the United States this summer and picked up an assist against Paris Saint-Germain while nearly scoring himself.

But he was only an unused substitute in the Italian Super Cup defeat to Lazio as well as Juve’s second Serie A game last weekend.

He scored 14 goals in 24 appearances in all levels last season.

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

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FFP complicates PSG’s move for Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe – report

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The ESPN FC team discuss the impact that Kylian Mbappe will have at Paris Saint-Germain.
With Kylian Mbappe looking increasingly likely to join PSG, the FC crew debate the club’s standing in the Champions League.

Kylian Mbappe’s proposed move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain is on hold as the capital club try to find a way to sign the forward and still stay within financial fair play (FFP) regulations, according to L’Equipe.

The French sports daily reports that Mbappe, 18, has already passed a medical with PSG and, as sources told ESPN FC earlier this week, the France international is expected to join the capital club on loan for the current season ahead of an automatic purchase option worth €180 million being taken up next summer.

Following their €222m purchase of Neymar, PSG wanted to structure their deal for Mbappe so the financial impact of his arrival would not be taken into account this season as they hope to remain in compliance with FFP regulations, which allows a club only a €30m deficit.

However, if an automatic purchase option is included for Mbappe, the €180m fee would be counted as expenditure for the 2017-18 campaign.

That would potentially put PSG, who were punished after falling foul of FFP rules in 2014, in peril of infringing the limits again and exposing themselves to further and heavier sanctions from UEFA, the most significant of which would be exclusion from the Champions League.

Kylian Mbappe is currently with the France squad ahead of Thursday’s qualifier with Netherlands.

Monaco, however, have reportedly insisted that an automatic purchase option be written into the deal as they are unwilling to loan out Mbappe without one and potentially see him return to the Stade Louis II in 12 months with just a year left on his contract.

According to reports from Le Parisien and Canal+, though, the reason for the delay in PSG completing Mbappe’s signature is simply that France coach Didier Deschamps does not want him distracted for the World Cup qualifier against Netherlands on Thursday evening and would prefer for the move to be made official after the match.

Sources close to the club also told ESPN FC that the Mbappe deal is ready to be made official but that PSG have been asked to wait to confirm the news.

One of those sources even told ESPN FC that there is a possibility that Mbappe will be registered as a PSG player before the transfer deadline but the move will not be announced by the club until Friday.

ESPN FC’s PSG correspondent, Jonathan Johnson, contributed to this report.

Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman

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Man City defender Denayer set for second Galatasaray loan – sources

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Jason Denayer will rejoin Galatasaray, according to sources.

Manchester City defender Jason Denayer is set to rejoin Turkish club Galatasaray on loan for a second time, sources have told ESPNFC.

The Belgium international is flying to Istanbul on Wednesday for a medical ahead of a season-long loan spell at the club.

Denayer, 22, spent a year at the club in the 2015-16 season where his last game was Galatasaray’s victory in the Turkish Cup.

He spent last season with Sunderland, who were relegated from the Premier League, and had also a loan spell at Celtic in 2014-15.

The Scottish champions were also keen to re-sign him while City wanted him to go on loan to their Spanish sister club but Denayer preferred a return to Turkey.

Denayer is still to make a first appearance for City but still has three years remaining on his contract.

Meanwhile, striker Wilfried Bony is also close to leaving the Etihad Stadium on a permanent move with a return to former club Swansea City.

The Welsh club are finalising a deal for the Ivorian international, which could then see Spanish striker Fernando Llorente sold to Chelsea.

Bony, 28, joined City in January 2015 in a £28 million move from Swansea but scored just 11 goals in 46 appearances and spent last season on loan at Stoke City.

Eliaquim Mangala is also expected to move on transfer deadline day and could potentially switch to West Brom with the Baggies’ Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans moving in the opposite direction.

Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.

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Paris Saint-Germain don’t want to sell Julian Draxler – Germany’s Joachim Low

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Barca defender Samuel Umtiti reflects on his experience with Neymar leading up to his blockbuster transfer to PSG.

Germany boss Joachim Low has said Paris Saint-Germain do not want to offload Julian Draxler during the final days of the transfer window.

Draxler, 23, has been linked with a move away from PSG in recent days — just eight months after joining from Wolfsburg.

Although the Germany international and his club have maintained he is not interested in leaving, Draxler has been linked with Bundesliga sides Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and there have also been suggestions he could leave for a Premier League side, with Arsenal having been touted as a destination.

“I know for a fact that Paris don’t want to sell him,” Germany boss Low told reporters. “They are convinced of his outstanding qualities.”

In the absence of several key players, Draxler captained the Germany team to their Confederations Cup win in Russia this summer, and Low says it was a crucial tournament for the winger.

Julian Draxler
Julian Draxler has been linked with a Paris Saint-Germain exit.

“He made such a big step forward there,” Low said. “I am convinced that he will come out on top at Paris. By now, he’s already playing a big role for us.”

Bayern president Uli Hoeness, meanwhile, said in an interview with Sport Bild that the Bavarians feel they do not need Draxler despite the talent he could add to the squad.

“[Bayern CEO] Karl-Heinz [Rummenigge] and I recently sat down to discuss the ragbag of classy players in our squad,” Hoeness said. “If we’d go after a player like Draxler come hell or high water, we’d face a similar question like with the James [Rodriguez] transfer. What about Thomas Muller?

“There’s no doubt that Julian Draxler would be a great fit for our squad. But we don’t want to sell any of our players. I already have a pain on my insides should all of our players be fit for once.”

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.

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Juventus sign Benedikt Howedes from Schalke on loan for the season

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Benedikt Howedes had fallen down the pecking order at Schalke.

Juventus have completed the signing of defender Benedikt Howedes from Schalke on a one-year loan with a view to a permanent transfer.

Howedes, 29, departs Schalke having been one of the longest-serving players in the Bundesliga, joining the club from SG Herten-Langenbochum as a 13-year-old in 2001.

While many had tipped the Germany international to finish his career at Schalke after signing a contract extension through to 2020 in 2016, he fell down the pecking order under new coach Domenico Tedesco.

Earlier this summer, Tedesco, who came through the ranks of Hoffenheim’s coaching academy, stripped Howedes of the captain’s armband and benched him for the opening Bundesliga games of the season.

While there was also interest from England, Howedes had his heart set on a transfer to Juventus, where he will replace Leonardo Bonucci after his move to AC Milan earlier this summer.

“Howedes is a leader and always gives it his all. He can become important for us,” Juve midfielder and Germany teammate Sami Khedira told Bild. “Benny is a versatile player, which makes it easier for our system.”

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.

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