Man United stay ahead of Real Madrid in Deloitte Money League by just £1.5m


Steve Nicol explains why Manchester United’s purchase of Alexis Sanchez could prove to be a conundrum for Jose Mourinho.
With the Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap confirmed, Craig Burley and Alexis Nunes break down the deal from both sides.
The guys respond to your tweets about player announcement videos, the effect of Sanchez’s United move on Rashford and Marco Silva’s sacking.
Get caught up on all the best goals and moments from the weekend in world soccer.

Manchester United have retained their position as world football’s top earners just ahead of Real Madrid, according to the latest annual “Money League” report by accountancy firm Deloitte.

United made £581m during the 2016-17 season, pipping Real Madrid to the top spot by just £1.5m, the closest margin in the rich list’s 21 years.

It is the 10th time the Old Trafford club have topped the Deloitte list, with their Europa League success being crucial to holding off Real, whose 12th Champions League win helped them swap places with Spanish rivals Barcelona.

Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich held onto fourth spot and Manchester City stayed in fifth place with revenues of £454m. Arsenal climbed to sixth, swapping places with Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea, Liverpool and Juventus keep their places to round out the top 10.

United on Monday announced the signing of Alexis Sanchez in a swap deal with Arsenal for playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Chile international Sanchez is reported to have become the highest-paid player in the Premier League following the move.

In a statement, Deloitte Sports Business Group partner Dan Jones said: “United’s ability to retain first position is all the more impressive against the backdrop of the weakened pound against the euro.

“With both Real Madrid and Barcelona forecasting further revenue growth in 2017-18, the battle at the top will likely come down to on-pitch performance again next year.

“With all three clubs through to the round of 16 of the Champions League, it may be as simple as the club that goes furthest in the competition will have the best chance of topping the Money League next year.”

United’s Europa League campaign was worth £39m, a testament to both the size of the British market for televised football and UEFA’s efforts to raise the profile of the competition.

Unlike some studies of football’s finances, Deloitte excludes revenues from player-trading but its numbers confirm several recent reports by other organisations, most notably last week’s report on European club football by UEFA. It also underlines the growing financial clout of the Premier League.

For example, Spurs overhauled Borussia Dortmund to take 11th place, with Leicester up six places to 14th, West Ham up one to 17th and Southampton and Everton new entries in 18th and 20th respectively.

Both Leicester and Southampton were buoyed by their involvement in European competitions but the Premier League’s record-breaking 10 teams in the top 20 is also a result of the improved domestic television deal that kicked in that season.

In fact, Premier League clubs nearly took half of the top 30 places recorded by Deloitte, with Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth and Stoke City in 26th to 29th place — Bournemouth’s revenue of £136.8m last season was £135.7m higher than their equivalent figure in the first ever Money League report in 1996-97, when they finished 16th in English football’s third tier.

Deloitte Sports Business Group senior manager Tim Bridge said the “Money League has a particularly English feel this year” thanks to over half a billion pounds of growth in broadcast and UEFA competition revenues for those in the top 20.

Bridge added that the upcoming auctions for the next cycle of Premier League domestic and international rights, starting from 2019-20, will be “crucial to determining the long-term composition of the Money League.”



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Arsenal new boy Henrikh Mkhitaryan to have two squad numbers this season


Henrikh Mkhitaryan says his move to Arsenal is a dream come true.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan says his move to Arsenal is a dream come true.

New Arsenal signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be handed two squad numbers for the rest of the season, due to UEFA rules over the Europa League.

Mkhitaryan joined the Gunners in a swap deal on Monday, with Alexis Sanchez going to Manchester United in return, and has been handed the No. 7 shirt in the Premier League.

However, the Armenian can’t wear the No. 7 in Europe, as Sanchez had already used the number this season.

A statement on the Arsenal website read: “Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been assigned the No 7 shirt in the Premier League — but he will wear a different number in this season’s Europa League campaign.

“The No 7 shirt was vacated by Alexis this month but, because our former forward wore the number during our group-stage win against Cologne back in September, UEFA rules state that Mkhitaryan must wear a different number for the remainder of our Europa League campaign.”

A new number for Mkhitaryan will be confirmed by the club soon.

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



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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-Olivier Giroud talks confirmed by Arsene Wenger


Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Arsenal are in talks with Borussia Dortmund over the potential signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Craig Burley breaks down what he sees as a lack of direction at Arsenal that could see the club make a move just for the sake of appeasing the fans.

LONDON — Arsenal are still “not close” to any deal for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang according to Arsene Wenger, who added that the Gunners could still explore other possibilities in the transfer market.

Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has travelled to Dortmund as part of an Arsenal delegation trying to wrap up a deal for the Gabon striker, but Wenger remained coy on how confident he was of signing the player.

“Confident or not confident? I don’t know. At the moment, we are not close to doing any deal, whether it’s Aubameyang or anyone else,” Wenger told a news conference on Tuesday.

Dortmund reportedly want Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud as part of any deal, but Wenger said it was premature to speculate about such a move.

“Look, the negotiations are not as far as that,” Wenger said. “You never know how close they [negotiations] are. These are the kind of things that, at the moment, are one of the possible movements. We have other things in mind as well and we have plenty of opportunities in different positions. The final decision is not made.”

While Wenger remained tight-lipped, he couldn’t resist a quick joke about the situation that seemed to indicate an underlying confidence. The initial question about Aubameyang was interrupted by the sound of microphone feedback ringing out in the room, to which Wenger quipped: “That was him, maybe, standing on the line.”

Arsenal finally wrapped up a deal on Monday that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrive from Manchester United in exchange for want-away star Alexis Sanchez, who could otherwise have left for free in the summer. The Gunners have also sold Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin this month, but Wenger denied reports that Danny Welbeck could be on his way out as well.

“No, I want Danny Welbeck to stay here,” he said.

Whether Aubameyang becomes a Gunner or not, Arsenal are clearly looking to strengthen the squad further in January.

“It depends on the opportunities we have. We can buy players. We are busy on all fronts, so overall I think we are open-minded,” said Wenger, who has traditionally been reluctant to do business in the winter transfer window.

“Every opportunity we have to strengthen our squad, we’ll take. If people want to buy some of our players, we have [examined that] — players who have less chances to play, we have done it, who deserve to play because they are great players, who have left us. After that, we’ll see at the end. There’s still a lot that will happen as usual on the transfer market.”

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





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Colorado Rapids sign defender Tommy Smith from Ipswich Town


Tommy Smith is moving to MLS with the Colorado Rapids.

The Colorado Rapids completed the signing of defender Tommy Smith from Ipswich Town on Monday.

Smith, 27, has spent his entire career with Ipswich outside of a few loans, appearing in 267 games in all competitions, but has now signed a two-year deal with a club option for a third at the MLS club.

The English Championship club said the Rapids would pay an undisclosed transfer fee.

“Bringing in someone of Tommy’s caliber along the back line was a top priority for us this offseason,” said Rapids general manager Padraig Smith. “His experience and leadership will be great assets for us, and we look forward to him joining us in Arizona this week for the start of preseason training camp.”

A former England youth international, Smith later switched his allegience to New Zealand and played at the 2010 World Cup.

“It’s a very exciting move for me both personally and professionally,” Smith said. “I’m extremely grateful to Ipswich Town for the faith they’ve shown in me over the past 11 years. I’ll certainly miss the club and its great supporters, and will carry on following their progress. I wish them the very best for the future.

“But looking ahead, the opportunity to join the Rapids — a club who have a very ambitious vision for the future — was too great. I look forward to playing a key role in bringing that vision to life. Our goal is to bring another MLS Cup to Colorado.”

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



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Barcelona links not distracting Antoine Griezmann says Diego Simeone


Diego Simeone doesn’t see any difference in Antoine Griezmann’s performances, while reports continue to link him with Barcelona.
Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde has poured cold water on speculation linking the club to Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone denied Antoine Griezmann is distracted by continuing reports linking him with Barcelona after the star attacker scored in Saturday’s 1-1 La Liga draw at home to Girona.

He also defended his players and his substitutions after a late defensive slip saw a potential win slip away.

Simeone said he could not say what Griezmann’s personal reaction was after Barcelona felt the need to issue a statement denying local media reports that claimed an agreement was already in place for a transfer next summer.

“Today he played a very good game, scored the goal, participated in very good attacking moves with Costa and [Angel] Correa,” the Argentine said.

“External things are difficult to know, as I am not inside his [head]. But he always shows up for us, and is our best player to connect midfield and attack and cause a lot of danger.”

Atletico seemed set for the three points when Griezmann finished emphatically into the empty net after Diego Costa had bravely out-jumped Girona goalkeeper Bono and perfectly set up his strike partner.

Simeone had already withdrawn Griezmann and Costa when uncharacteristic mistakes by substitute Koke and centre-back Stefan Savic allowed in Portu for a Girona equaliser with 20 minutes remaining.

That followed Atletico letting slip a lead in Wednesday’s 2-1 Copa del Rey quarterfinal first leg defeat to Sevilla.

Simeone accepted at the postgame news conference that his previously rock-solid team were not used to losing leads but rejected the idea they were not playing well at the moment.

“I think we played a good game, we had it under control and then the goal came in a difficult situation,” the Rojiblanco coach said. “Their goal appeared in a strange way. It is something we are not used to, and they took advantage of it. These situations happen in football, sometimes favourable, sometimes unfavourable.

“We have the feeling we let two points out of our grip. It happened against Sevilla the other day too. But I feel we played well today, made chances, their goalkeeper was their best player. According to you [the media], we are very playing badly, but I say we are playing very well.”

There were whistles at the Wanda Metropolitano at full-time, and Simeone was asked to explain why he had taken off his two best attackers with the game still in the balance.

“People look at the result, and have their feelings,” he said. “Costa had an adductor issue since the first half, and we wanted to take him off so he did not get injured. With Griezmann we felt the game was under control, and bringing on Koke, one of Spain’s best players, would give us a hand in the centre. That did not happen. Those [fans] are angry as things did not go as they wanted.”

Atletico will drop to third should Valencia win at Las Palmas later on Saturday, and will be 11 points behind Barcelona should the runaway La Liga leaders win at Real Betis on Sunday evening. Simeone suggested that his team’s position within the Champions League qualification spots meant they were meeting expectations.

“We are relaxed about things, we just go game by game looking for the objectives set by the club,” he said.



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Meet Gelson Martins the Liverpool target who adored Robinho


Shaka Hislop and Ross Dyer sift through the latest transfer rumours from around world football, including Man City’s chances of landing West Brom’s Jonny Evans.

There are two teams called Benfica in Lisbon. One is SL Benfica, the Portuguese champions famous around the globe. The other is CF Benfica, a tiny club established about three decades later in 1933, known locally as Fofo and totally unrelated to the Eagles.

If fact, CF could claim to be the true bearers of the name, because they are actually situated in the Benfica district. It is a relatively poor area, heavily populated by immigrants, and thus CF Benfica offer an opportunity to the kids who polish their football skills playing on the street. The best of them was Gelson Martins, the Sporting Lisbon star currently linked to a potential transfer to Liverpool.

CF Benfica nurtured Martins, whose family came to Portugal from Cape Verde when he was eight. They noticed the immense potential of a shy boy, gave him freedom to express himself and persuaded him not to leave and play futsal academy when he wanted to.

A couple of years later, the two big clubs from the capital noticed him and sent scouts to follow his progress. Sporting were quicker than SL Benfica to offer a deal, which could turn out to be one of the best in their history — they acquired the 15-year-old Martins for just €1,000 back in 2010.

To be precise, the sum had eventually grown to €33,000 after the winger made it to the first-team squad and played in Primeira Liga, but now Sporting value him at €60 million. However, CF Benfica are not only proud to see their graduate starring for the national team, but also waiting quite impatiently for the big move. They are entitled to get 1 percent of the fee, which is going to be a huge fortune by the club’s standards. It might be a reason why Fofo president Domingos Estanislau is trying to make some headlines. “Gelson is going to be the new Cristiano Ronaldo,” he claimed last year.

Such a comparison might sound heartwarming to Liverpool fans, who would love to have their own Cristiano, but it is not realistic. Both are right-footed wingers who started their careers at Sporting and are blessed with breathtaking ball control at speed, but that is where the similarities end. Martins had never likened himself to the national team captain, but is much closer in style to his true longtime idol — Robinho.

Sporting Lisbon's Gelson Martins has many admirers, with Liverpool said to be chief among them.
Gelson Martins has become Sporting’s most creative player on the wing.

When Martins played at the European Under-19 Championships in 2014, where Portugal reached the final, he was nicknamed “the Portuguese Robinho” in the press and was interviewed about his early days in Cape Verde. “I watched him on TV and tried to imitate every gesture and every touch. I wanted to be quick like him,” the youngster said about the Brazilian.

Curiously, Martins was not always positioned in attack those days. His last coach at Sporting’s academy preferred to use him as a right-back in order to take advantage of his speed and cover the whole flank (as Martins used to be a runner as a kid). That was not a bad idea: the player learned a lot about tackling and positioning, and those skills make him a more versatile performer now. But he never felt comfortable so far from the opponents’ penalty area. Martins’ pure instinct is to take on defenders, and that makes him a great player to watch. Sporting fans fell in love with him immediately when he was promoted to the first team in 2015.

Lucky for him, that was the year Jorge Jesus joined the club from SL Benfica. The veteran coach had admired Martins’ talents ever since watching him at the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2014. The prodigy was gradually introduced in his first season, and was ready to become an undisputed starter in 2016-17. In fact, he stole the headlines on his full Champions League debut, which (somewhat symbolically) took place against Cristiano Ronaldo.

The superstar scored a late equaliser, and Real Madrid completed a magical comeback to win 2-1 in injury time, but the game mostly belonged to Martins who ran riot on the wing, sliding past Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro as though they were amateurs. It was a stunning performance, arguably the best of his career so far, but one must notice that it didn’t result in any goals or assists.

That was — and still is — Martins’ most significant flaw. He is not the finished article, and should become much more effective and clinical in the future. While he definitely can’t be considered a selfish player, his decision making is far from perfect. The 22-year-old tends to dribble too much at times when the early cross might appear to be a better option.

Last term, Martins was Sporting’s main source of creativity, and he finished the season with six goals and nine assists. Working under Jesus is a blessing because the coach gives him confidence and helps him to improve. That is the major reason behind the fact that 2017-18 is Martins’ best season so far: he’s scored five league goals already, including the all-important strike that nearly brought the Lions a derby win at SL Benfica before they conceded an injury-time equaliser.

“Gelson is one of the best players I’ve seen the Portuguese league in recent years,” Sport TV commentator Luis Catarino told ESPN FC. “There are few wingers who offer such a combination of speed, intelligence, consistency and technique. He’s got the power to destroy any defender in the world and his self-confidence is unshakable.

“This season he is even better because Jesus made him more versatile. Sometimes he looks for the ball in more central areas,” 

As Liverpool consider signing him, they should take into account that Martins is hardly able to play on both wings like Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, because his left foot is much weaker. However, his skills should make him a useful squad player, one who is dedicated and known as a good listener. Jurgen Klopp could help him to reach new heights.

Robinho didn’t really like his time in the Premier League at Manchester City. It would be interesting to see whether his self-proclaimed heir is about to do better.

Michael Yokhin is an experienced international football journalist who writes for ESPN, Blizzard, Guardian and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @yokhin.



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With retirement difficult to say what Ronaldinho legacy in Brazil will be


The ESPN FC crew look back on Ronaldinho’s legendary career and persona on and off the pitch after the Brazilian officially announced his retirement.

Now it’s official: Ronaldinho will not play any more competitive football.

His older brother and agent, Assis, has announced that farewell matches and events will take place after the World Cup, but one of the most gifted players the game has ever seen will not be kicking any more balls in anger.

In truth, this only makes official what everyone already knew. Ronaldinho has not been seen in competitive action for more than two years. His last serious match was a Brazilian league game for Fluminense against Goias on Sept. 26, 2015. He gave a pitiful performance and was substituted at halftime. Aware that he was hopelessly off the pace physically, Ronaldinho agreed to terminate his contract with the club. He was 35, with his best days already a decade in the past.

Looking back on the career of Ronaldinho, two things are striking. The first is overwhelmingly positive: how outstandingly, almost unbelievably good he was at his peak.

It is hard to think of any one other player who has given as much pleasure to so many as Ronaldinho did in his best years. There was a wonderfully pure, childlike joy about the way he approached the game and the pleasure he appeared to derive from his own prowess. There was no aggressive bling or arrogant swagger; just a player who played, in the full meaning of the word, expressing himself, enjoying himself, recreating himself and allowing all of us to share the occasion with him.

Millions all around the world fell in love with football — or, if they were older and more jaded, rediscovered their love of the game — while watching what he got up to in a Barcelona shirt.

The second striking realisation is how quickly the good times came to an end. Ronaldinho was past his best at the age of 26 — exactly when he should have been hitting his peak.

Ronaldinho was a leader of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup champion, but could he have done more on the international stage?

There were still flashes of inspiration. After all, the man was a genius. Fans of Milan, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro all have some golden memories to keep them warm — times when he controlled the ball as if he were wearing a suction pad or hit an astonishing pass, opening the game in a way no one else had seen. But he never again came near his 2004-05 heights for Barcelona.

One of Pep Guardiola’s first moves as coach of Barcelona was to get rid of Ronaldinho. He was roundly criticized at the time. In retrospect, it looks like a masterstroke.

Where once he was a bright-eyed, happy child, Ronaldinho started coming over more like a dull-eyed, sulking adolescent. However naturally talented, no one can be as good at anything as Ronaldinho was at football without loving the activity. It seems clear that he fell out of love with the game became bored with the daily battle to stay fit enough to do himself justice.

Other activities took precedence. When Ronaldinho moved back to Brazil, one of his old Barcelona teammates was asked if he would be successful. The answer: It depends whether he chooses to sleep more than an hour a night.

His career clearly turned on the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Going into the tournament, there was a consensus in Brazil that this was the moment when Ronaldinho would prove that he was even better than the great Pele. It never happened.

In fairness, it was not just his fault. The team was top-heavy and unbalanced. It did not give him the platform to perform the way that, for example, Brazil’s wonderful 1970 side did for Pele.

How would Ronaldinho react? After Pele’s disappointment in the 1966 World Cup, he fought like a lion to get himself in good shape for 1970. Ronaldinho took a different path — one that led to the nightclub rather than the training ground.

How might things have been had he really applied himself? Unfortunately, we will never know. There were no serious injuries to blunt his effectiveness. He blunted himself with his own choice of priorities. It is deeply frustrating, and it begs the question: Should we be angry with him for shining so briefly or grateful to him for shining so brightly?

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.



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Paulo Dybala a doubt for Champions League game vs. Tottenham


Paulo Dybala injured a thigh in Juventus’ victory against Cagliari on Jan. 6.

Paulo Dybala remains a doubt to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League next month after further tests on the Juventus forward’s damaged thigh confirmed initial fears.

Argentina international Dybala, 24, sprained a thigh in Juve’s 1-0 win over Cagliari in their final fixture before Serie A’s two-week winter break on Jan. 6 and was initially expected to miss up to six weeks.

The Bianconeri resumed training on Tuesday after a nine-day break, but Dybala — together with Claudio Marchisio, who has an adductor injury — was instead in the treatment room, with neither expected back until the first week of February at the earliest.

“Dybala and Marchisio are both expected to be out for between 30-40 days after the assessments made in the first week of January,” according to the club’s website.

Juve host Tottenham in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League clash on Feb. 13, which will be 37 days after Dybala picked up his injury.

He will miss the Bianconeri‘s Serie A clashes with Genoa, Chievo Verona, Sassuolo and, with all probability, Fiorentina in the run-up to the resumption of European football in 2018.

Dybala has scored 14 goals in 19 Serie A fixtures this season, although he has failed to find the back of the net in six Champions League appearances.

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Buffon and Juan Cuadrado could both be in contention to face Genoa on Monday, with “both recovering well” and set to “follow a personalised training regime this week,” according to the club.

Buffon needs to appear in the game to have any hopes of equalling Paolo Maldini’s record of 647 career Serie A appearances this season.

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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Villarreal’s Cedric Bakambu set for €40m Beijing Guoan move


Cedric Bakambu is off to Beijing Guoan.

Villareal have announced the departure of their leading scorer, Cedric Bakambu, who is poised to join Chinese Super League side Beijing Sinobo Guoan FC.

The DR Congo international activated his release clause by paying €40 million to Villarreal and is expected to complete his transfer to the Chinese club.

A club statement from the La Liga outfit said on Wednesday evening: “Villarreal CF announces that Cedric Bakambu has deposited the buyout clause on his contract, hence he is no longer a part of member of the club.

“The club wants to thank the footballer for his dedication and professionalism, wishes him the best of luck in his sporting career.”

Bakambu bid farewell to the Villarreal fans on a video message which the Spanish club posted on twitter. 

He said: “It’s a special day. After two-and-a-half years at the club I have to leave to play for Beijing. It was a complicated decision but I spoke to my family, my teammates and colleagues and I think this is a good opportunity for me and for my family.

“Today I have mixed feelings, Villarreal is a family and I will not forget them. People love me a lot here and so do I. I want to thank everyone.”

Beijing Guoan turned their attention Bakambu after failing to acquire Celta Vigo’s Uruguay striker Maxi Gomez last month.

Tied to Villarreal until June 2022, the 26-year-old forward scored nine goals in 15 league starts this season.

The French-born player last featured for Villarreal in a 1-0 win at Valencia on Dec. 23.

Villarreal, who are fifth in La Liga, and have a last-32 meeting in the Europa League next month with Lyon, must now go forward without their best player.

Villarreal coach Javi Calleja had no choice but to accept Bakambu’s departure.

He said earlier this month: “It’s not the best for us but in this case, there is a club that has shown an interest in our leading player. They want to pay his release clause and in this situation, there is little you can do.”

Villarreal strengthened their attack with the arrival of Colombian striker Roger Martinez on loan from Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Sunin.

Bakambu joined Villarreal in the summer of 2015 from Turkish side Bursaspor. He scored 22 goals in his first season in Spain and 12 in 34 games in all competitions in the 2016-17 campaign.

He signed a two-year contract extension with the Yellow Submarine last summer.

Coached by German manager Roger Schmidt, Beijing Guoan finished ninth in the 2017-18 Super league. They won 11 and lost 12 of their 30 games and have not won any silverware since 2003.

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Arsenal-linked Aubameyang’s divorce from Dortmund is a shame


With no offer yet from Arsenal for Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ESPN FC’s Raf Honigstein explains why a January move is a waiting game.

Breaking up is hard to do.

When it comes to a certain level of player — the key goal scorer, captain or talismanic playmaker, for example — parting ways is seldom free of acrimony. Sometimes the player’s camp will play up supposed differences with the manager or a perceived lack of respect from the club or supporters, to portray that player as victim, forced to leave a ruinous relationship. Clubs often respond in kind, briefing the media about the player’s lack of commitment or other hidden shortcomings.

What had once been swept under the rug comes out into the open, as the club seeks to explain its decision to fans and the public.

It’s fair to say the divorce of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Borussia Dortmund is fast heading for precisely that PR endgame. While the Gabon striker has so far been careful not to lay blame at his employers’ door, the flurry of indiscretions detailing his unprofessional behaviour has been telling.

Dortmund have all but lost patience with the 28-year-old and have not been shy voicing their displeasure about his behaviour. Sporting director Michael Zorc went as far as saying that Aubameyang had behaved in an “unrecognisable” manner last week, implying that in contrast to previous misdemeanours, the player had shown no remorse at all after missing two important team meetings ahead of the 0-0 draw with VfL Wolfsburg. (The second session explicitly dealt with the importance of team spirit, which made his absence all the more galling.)

Aubameyang did belatedly apologise to coach Peter Stoger upon his return to training on Tuesday, but reintegrating him into the squad will verge on the impossible. Teammates can sympathise with players pursuing a lucrative move but won’t tolerate egocentric behaviour that negatively affects the dressing room mood and the chances of winning. Aubameyang downing tools in such a blatant manner — immediately after a winter break when the team stressed the need for more togetherness again and again — has left him isolated.

Missing the odd media appointment, being late for a meeting, partying during the week or wearing a branded mask of his own personal sponsor — which contrasted with the club’s — on the pitch is one thing. Recklessly undermining team morale in pursuit of an agenda is another.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
After four-plus years at the club, it looks as though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s time at Borussia Dortmund is coming to an end.

The suspicion inside the club is that Aubameyang’s latest forgetfulness was a deliberate ploy to ease his own exit. Unfortunately, going to such extreme measures usually proves effective. Once Ousmane Dembele started missing training sessions unexcused at the beginning of the season, the club had little option but to sell him to Barcelona. The Frenchman had lost the respect of his peers.

As much as he’s still liked as a person, Aubameyang, too, overstepped a crucial mark last week. What’s more, Dortmund must be worried that teenage prodigy Jadon Sancho, who seems to have taken up Dembele’s former role as Aubameyang’s sidekick, might pick up the odd bad habit from his idol as well.

By Tuesday, Dortmund had not yet received a suitable offer from Arsenal (or anyone else). Even if the Gunners were to meet Dortmund’s valuation of between €60 million and €70 million, securing a suitable replacement two weeks before the end of the transfer period won’t be a straightforward endeavour for the Bundesliga club. In light of these complexities, Stoger has been careful not to close the door on the only true centre-forward in the squad.

To his credit, the player has continued to perform at a high level throughout his 4½ years at the Signal Iduna Park, unperturbed by previous broken dreams, when concrete bids from Real Madrid, Manchester City, AC Milan and Chinese clubs never materialised. There’s still a possibility Aubameyang and his entourage will fail to land the big move once more, at which point both parties would have to find a pragmatic arrangement until the summer — the footballing equivalent of moving into separate bedrooms but staying in the same house.

The key difference to similar scenarios of the past, however, lies in Dortmund’s willingness to end the relationship here and now. Whereas they fought tooth and nail for him to stay and wilfully priced him out of one or two transfers, the prevailing attitude right now is one of resignation and disappointment, coupled with a determination to cut their losses.

Perhaps this particular liaison was always destined to end this way. Nevertheless, it would be a shame if one of the club’s — and indeed the league’s — most exciting players of the decade were to leave on such bad terms.

Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert. Follow: @honigstein



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Antonio Conte has forgotten how to coach


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Theo Walcott completes £20 million move from Arsenal to Everton


Theo Walcott speaks out on his decision to join Everton, mentioning Wayne Rooney and Sam Allardyce as the main reasons for him doing so.
With Theo Walcott looking set to join Everton, the FC crew examine whether a change of scenery can help the out-of-favour Arsenal forward reach new heights.
ESPN FC’s Stevie Nicol has his say as to whether or not Theo Walcott’s time with Arsenal has been a success, amid rumours of a potential move to Everton.

Theo Walcott has completed his £20 million move to Everton, ending a 12-year stint at Arsenal in the hopes of a fresh start under Sam Allardyce.

Walcott, 28, leaves the Gunners after making just six Premier League appearances for them this season, all as a substitute.

“I’m very ambitious and I’ve come here because I want the club to push to the next level,” Walcott explained about the decision to move.

“And with the players that have come in, I feel like the next level can be reached.

“I’m very excited to be starting a new chapter and I felt this was the right place for me to be.

“The manager is very ambitious and I feel like the club is going in the right direction.

“Everton is a club with a great history. The fans are always passionate, they’re great and I always used to find it very tough playing here.

“The club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that.

“I want to be part of something which he’s building and, like I said before, it’s a very ambitious club.

Walcott had been the longest-serving player and leading scorer in Arsene Wenger’s squad with 108 goals since his arrival as a 16-year-old in 2006. But his career was interrupted by several long-term injuries and he has struggled for playing time at the Emirates ever since Wenger’s switch to a back-three formation last season.

Theo Walcott has officially joined Everton.

He has been used mainly in cup matches this season, and will hope to revive his career under Allardyce and possibly fight for a spot in England’s World Cup squad.

Everton have also signed Cenk Tosun this month and are hoping Walcott’s pace can complement the powerful Turkish forward in attack. He could make his debut as soon as Saturday, when Everton face West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park.

He added: “I’m dead excited and I just want to do what I do best which is playing football and expressing myself because I’m excited again, I really am.

“I do really believe that I’m going to give it my all, which is what I always have done, and this place is going to get even more out of me.

“There’s something about this move which I’ve just felt good about.

“It felt like it was time for me to move on [from Arsenal]. It was sad but it’s exciting at the same time and I want to reignite my career and push Everton to win things as they have done before.

“I want to be part of something and I feel like this place will offer me that.”

Walcott faced big expectations after being included in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad as a 17-year-old before even playing a single Premier League game, meaning expectations were raised substantially before his top-flight career had even begun.

He only scored more than 10 league goals in one of his 11 full seasons at Arsenal, finishing with 14 in 2012-13.

Last season’s haul of 19 goals in all competitions was the second best tally of his career, but he found himself without a natural role in the team once Wenger made his formation switch. He has just four goals this season, all in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

Walcott leaves a legacy full of important goals for Arsenal — including the opener in the 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the 2015 FA Cup final, a fine solo effort in the 5-3 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2011 and a long-range strike in 2-1 home victory over Manchester City in 2015.

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



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Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi extends contract until 2022


Craig Burley examines Manchester City’s back line after their loss to Liverpool and weighs in on whether additions are needed in January.
Craig Burley examines Manchester City’s back line after their loss to Liverpool and weighs in on whether additions are needed in January.
Manchester City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League has come to an end at the hands of Liverpool.

Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi has signed a contract extension, committing him to the Premier League leaders until 2022.

Otamendi, 29, has made 28 appearances for the club so far this season, including 22 league starts.

“What I like the most about City and Manchester is my life here,” he said. “I’m a family man, I like to spend my time at home with my family and with my extended family when they visit. You get hooked in by the city and I’m enjoying it. This is a very beautiful city.

“At the club, I’m really enjoying my experience since the first day I got here. I’m very happy to be staying here a couple more years.”

The former Porto and Valencia centre-back has been a key part of City’s mean defence this season — only local rivals Manchester United have conceded fewer in the league — but it is Otamendi’s distribution in manager Pep Guardiola’s passing style that has earned him attention.

“I think that now I have an important role because the central defenders have to build-up with the ball and make the team work as best as we can,” he said. “Pep has taught to us how to do that. From the first day you work with him you learn from him… even being at home you’re still learning from him. Every movement, how you need to be positioned, how you can receive

The Argentina international has already scored five goals so far this season, and is looking to surpass his personal best this term.

He said: “You always want to break your own records. When I was playing at Valencia I scored six goals, and my aim is to reach that amount of goals again, but my main aim is to defend and then if I score goals they are also welcome. The most important thing, as an individual and a member of a group too, is to help the team as best as I can, giving all I have.

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



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Diego Carlos: Ref collision during Paris Saint-Germain game ‘historic’


Julien Laurens says Tony Chapron, the referee who kicked out at a Nantes defender before sending him off against PSG, has a history of being a loose cannon.

Nantes defender Diego Carlos has described his collision with referee Tony Chapron in the game against Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday as “historic.”

Carlos was shown a second yellow card in added time of his team’s 1-0 defeat despite seemingly colliding accidentally with Chapron, who then kicked out at him.

“I think what happened is historic, that’s never been seen before, that’s why so much has been said about it,” he said.

“When it happened, I didn’t understand. He cut me up when he changed direction. He fell over and kicked out at me.

“I turned to him to ask him what he had done, and he gave me a yellow card and then a red.

“I pushed him a little bit to ask him what he had done, because I didn’t understand.

“And then everyone gathered round us. Everyone pushed me away, but I told them: ‘I’m calm, I just want to know what he did.’

“Everyone said the same thing, no one understood. A Paris player came and asked me: ‘What happened there?’ I was calm.”

Chapron, 45, an experienced international referee, has been suspended until further notice.

However, he did send a report to the football authorities that meant Carlos’ second booking was rescinded, meaning he is available to face Toulouse on Wednesday.

“Normally, a player would be suspended for a lot of games if he tackled the referee. This time it’s the other way round, it’s the referee that tackles the player,” Carlos said.

“I think everything that has happened is good. The yellow and the red he showed me have been taken away, and his suspension is not my problem.”

The French Football League (LFP) disciplinary commission will open an investigation into the incident on Thursday.

Chapron’s actions could lead to greater punishment, but French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet called for forgiveness.

Le Graet told reporters: “There’s no reason to hammer him to this extent — he’s a very respectable person.”

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



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Jens Lehmann: Refereeing decisions have contributed to Arsenal’s poor form


With no offer yet from Arsenal for Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ESPN FC’s Raf Honigstein explains why a January move is a waiting game.
With Theo Walcott looking set to join Everton, the FC crew examine whether a change of scenery can help the out-of-favour Arsenal forward reach new heights.
Shaka Hislop and Ross Dyer sift through the latest transfer rumours from around world football, including Man City’s chances of landing West Brom’s Jonny Evans.

Arsenal assistant coach Jens Lehmann has said he believes bad penalty decisions are one of the reasons behind Arsenal’s current poor run.

With more than half the Premier League campaign played, Arsenal are in danger of not reaching the Champions League places for a second consecutive season.

They trail fourth-placed Chelsea by eight points following Sunday’s defeat at Bournemouth and winning the Europa League currently appears their likeliest path back to Europe’s top flight.

Lehmann told Sport Bild that “in the league we have indeed fallen a bit short of our expectations and need to improve.”

But he hit out at decisions that had gone against them, adding: “We had to accept by far the most bad calls in penalty decisions against us.

“We hope this will balance out over the remainder of the season.”

Arsenal have won three of the last four FA Cups but crashed out of this year’s competition to Championship side Nottingham Forest in the third round.

Lehmann said that while the result “was not as expected, you can’t repeat it [an FA Cup win] every year.”

He said: “We gave the young players a chance to make a case for themselves, but the result was sadly not as expected.

“Teams like Spurs or City, now regarded as outstanding, have won nothing in the past few years.”

Lehmann, 48, joined Arsene Wenger’s coaching staff at the beginning of the season and is one of several Germans on the staff.

But while he believes that “Arsenal is German as never before,” he said: “With Arsene Wenger and some other people from France working here, there is still a French influence.

“Players come and go. For instance, you don’t know if Mesut Ozil stays.

“But Per Mertesacker will head the academy from the summer on. That’s going to be a big loss for the senior squad, because as a captain he is listened to.”

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



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Bayer Leverkusen scout Laurent Busser makes Bayern Munich switch


The FC crew praise Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga dominance, but cast doubt on their ability to win the Champions League, despite favourable odds.
David Alaba says Bayern Munich are focused on preparing for the second half of the season as the possibility of a treble looms.
Bayern’s Jupp Heynckes emphasises that the club has had ‘no contact’ with Chelsea over a possible move for Arturo Vidal.

Bayer Leverkusen chief scout Laurent Busser has joined Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, kicker has reported.

Busser, 45, becomes the fourth backroom staff member to move from Leverkusen to Munich in recent years.

“It’s a pity, but there’s no bad blood,” Leverkusen squad manager Jonas Boldt told kicker. “Laurent Busser always gave his all for Bayer.”

Busser’s successes include 20-year-old Jamaica international Leon Bailey, signed for €13.5 million from Genk, who has six goals and four assists this season.

Sport Bild reported that Busser had flagged up the talents of French compatriots such as Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman long before they reached the big time.

In 2014, Leverkusen’s Michael Reschke became Bayern technical director, while fitness trainer Holger Broich and Reschke’s assistant Marco Nepp also made the switch.

Reschke took up a similar role at Stuttgart in the summer, and Bayern have been looking to find a replacement after ending their pursuit of Sven Mislintat, who left Borussia Dortmund to become Arsenal’s head of recruitment in December.

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



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Manchester United set to hand Jose Mourinho contract extension – sources


Jose Mourinho insists he is relaxed over whether Man United sign Alexis Sanchez or not as he knows the forward has a number of options and could stay at Arsenal.

MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho is set to extend his contract with Manchester United, sources have confirmed to ESPN FC.

The 54-year-old initially signed a three-year deal with the option of an additional 12 months when he replaced Louis van Gaal in 2016.

But, as first reported by The National, he is set to sign an extension before entering the final year of his contract that would keep him at Old Trafford for another three years until 2021.

Mourinho’s future has been the source of much speculation since an interview with French television in October during which he said he would not end his career at United.

He also praised the “special project” at Paris Saint-Germain, where boss Unai Emery has been linked with a summer exit.

However, Mourinho has indicated he is willing to extend his stay at Old Trafford with the terms of the new contract all but agreed.

Sources said nothing has been signed but it is considered to be a formality. Sources close to Mourinho indicated an announcement could be made as early as this week.

Mourinho enjoyed a successful first season at United, winning both the League Cup and the Europa League. Lifting the Europa League guaranteed a passage back into the Champions League despite a sixth-place finish in the Premier League.

They currently sit second in the table, 12 points behind leaders Manchester City, with a Champions League last-16 knock-out tie with Sevilla to come next month.

Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.



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Bordeaux’s Malcom asking questions about future amid Premier League links – boss


Malcom’s form for Bordeaux has drawn interest from clubs in England.

Bordeaux forward Malcom has been unsettled by transfer speculation and is “asking questions” about his future, the French club’s manager Jocelyn Gourvennec has said.

Arsenal are reportedly set to make a move for the €50 million-rated Brazilian if Alexis Sanchez leaves this month, while Tottenham Hotspur have also been linked.

Bordeaux’s owner said that Malcom, who is the Ligue 1 side’s leading scorer this season with seven league goals, is not for sale while Arsene Wenger claimed last weekend “there is nothing concrete” regarding Arsenal’s interest in the player.

Ahead of Tuesday’s league game with Caen, Bordeaux boss Gourvennec told media the player’s head has been turned by the interest in him.

“I can’t deny that he’s being followed by a lot of people. With Malcom, I go from day-to-day,” Gourvennec said. “He’s committed. He’s a bit, like he was in the summer… I wouldn’t say he has been disturbed by it, that’s a bit strong, he’s not disturbed, but he is asking questions.

“He’s asking himself what’s the best thing for him, for his future. That’s logical. If he’s asking questions and he still manages to make assists or score goals, it’ll be fine.”

But Gourvennec added that Malcom may ultimately have to be sold if a good enough offer comes in.

“If Liverpool want you to work for them tomorrow, you’d go. I’m a coach, I’d like to be able to count on Malcom, Malcom has to help us,”  he said. “There is one person who decides in this, that’s the majority shareholder. He talked about this at the weekend, but football remains football.”

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



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Barcelona defend payments made to Lionel Messi charity


Lionel Messi marked his 400th La Liga game with a goal and assist as Barcelona kicked off 2018 with a comfy win over Levante.
Following their performances in Barcelona’s first league win at Real Sociedad since 2007, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi top this week’s Player Power Rankings.

Barcelona have said payments made to Lionel Messi’s non-profit foundation between 2010 and 2013 were above board after a claim they were made as part of his salary.

Der Spiegel, which said it had seen internal Barcelona documents, reported that tax officials found transfers worth millions of euros from the club to Messi’s father Jorge and his foundation during a 2016 audit of Barca’s accounts.

The report said Messi’s advisers struck a deal to pay the authorities around €12 million in unpaid taxes on the payments despite maintaining they were not part of his wages.

“All of the money the club wired to Lionel Messi’s foundation was for charitable purposes,” a Barcelona spokesperson told ESPN FC. “The interpretations that [Der Spiegel], other media or other people can make about these donations does not change this position at all. There will be no further comment on the issue.”

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Levante.
Lionel Messi saw his buyout clause rise from €300 million to €700 million last year.

According to the Spiegel report, the club took charge of the €12m payment, which was given to Messi in the form of a loan.

The magazine said: “Messi wouldn’t have to pay back the loan — he and the club had agreed on a special premium.

“The bonus they had agreed on, to be paid in the coming season in addition to Messi’s salary, was €23.1m. Of that, €9.6m was to pay back taxes on the consulting fees received by his father with €13m earmarked for the tax problems relating to his foundation.

“The net total of the bonus is roughly equal to the sum of the loan: €12m.”

At the time of the audit, which Der Spiegel said was still ongoing, Messi and his father were accused of evading €4.1m in taxes by using offshore companies to hide more than €10m in marketing income from the Spanish tax authorities between 2007 and 2009.

Messi was found guilty and given a 21-month prison sentence — although as a first-time offender he did not have to serve it. The sentence was finally replaced with a fine of €255,500 on top of the original fine of €2m.

Messi and his father, Jorge, attended court hearings in Barcelona in June relating to tax fraud.

The Spiegel report also suggested that Messi, who signed a new Barcelona deal in October, would become the first footballer to pocket more than €100m annually.

It said that was made up from three contracts — an employment contract, a contract with the company Leo Messi Management S.L., pertaining to his image rights, and one with his foundation in Barcelona.

Those agreements were confirmed by Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu in September.

Der Spiegel also claimed Jorge Messi had used transfer interest from Real Madrid in 2013 to broker bigger deals for himself and his son.

Madrid, according to the report, were prepared to pay Messi’s €250m buyout clause at that time.

Asked last week whether Madrid’s interest had led to revised terms for the Messi family when a new deal was agreed in 2014, Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre said only that the club were pleased with the arrangement.

Messi could make more than €122 million in one season if Barcelona win the Treble and he is the FIFA World Player of the Year.

“I want to manifest that we have complete confidence in the Messi family, who we have always stood by and who we will support with everything,” Mestre said. “We are more than happy with the new contract that he has signed.”

Despite being agreed in June, the terms were not signed until November, with Messi’s buyout clause rising from €300m to €700m.

Der Spiegel claimed that delay was due to Messi’s father extracting additional money from the club, knowing they could not afford to lose his son.

According to the report, the deal will see Messi, through the three contracts, earn at least €106,347,115 per season and as much as €122,515,205 if Barca win a Treble and he is crowned FIFA World Player of the Year in the same year.

Asked about the revelations, the club spokesperson said Barcelona “never comments on contracts signed with players and never will.”

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



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