LONDON — Manchester United fear they will lose out to Real Madrid and Barcelona when it comes to signing the best young players on the continent after Britain leaves the European Union.
Clubs within the EU and European Economic Arena receive an exemption from FIFA regulations, allowing them to transfer 16- and 17-year-old players between countries in the region.
But after Brexit, British clubs may only be allowed to sign foreign players over the age of 18, like the rest of the world, unless a settlement is agreed before the anticipated March 2019 departure from the EU.
“There’s a practical, operational issue around Brexit,” United chief financial officer Cliff Baty told a KPMG football finance forum in London on Wednesday, “with regard to bringing in players from Europe and losing competitive advantage from the likes of ourselves against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
“If you have 16-year-olds going to play for them and if we have to wait until 18 there are clearly practical issues there. I’m sure that will be discussed. It’s certainly something the Premier League are aware of.”
United signed a 16-year-old Paul Pogba from French club Le Havre in 2009. The midfielder eventually left but rejoined last August for a world record transfer fee of €105 million, becoming one of the club’s highest-paid players.
Pogba returned at a time when currency fluctuations in the aftermath of the June 2016 Brexit referendum posed additional challenges for United, with players asking to be paid in euros and United agreeing in unnamed cases. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Mkhitaryan, who share the same agent as Pogba, also joined in the 2016 summer transfer window.
“It was a bit difficult last year when you’re trying to make signings in the summer and you have players questioning the value of being paid in [pounds] sterling,” Baty said. “A lot of European players want to be paid or want to have their value to be underpinned in euros. That’s understandable to a degree, but we are not a euro company. We obviously earn most of our income in sterling.
“Last year was a bit difficult … but you aren’t going to lose a signing over that. It just makes the finances a bit more complicated.”
United this month finished sixth in the Premier League, which they last won in 2013, the year Sir Alex Ferguson retired. United did complete the season with two major trophies, collecting the League Cup and winning the Europa League to secure a return to the Champions League.
“We don’t have to be winning every year,” Baty said. “But we as a club have to be challenging to win every year.”
Maybe it’s that infectious enthusiasm: the way Gianluigi Buffon belts out the Italian anthem before international games and greets opposing captains like old friends.
Maybe it’s the disarming honesty: those ready confessions to scarfing down too many gummy sweets and brawling with Ultras as a kid.
Maybe it’s the fact that he still sounds like a big kid when he talks about sticker albums and Subbuteo.
Or maybe it’s just because he has been one of the best goalkeepers on the planet for two decades, and has a strong claim to being the greatest of all time.
Whatever the reason, you would be hard-pressed to find a footballer more universally admired by his peers. Since Juventus qualified for the Champions League final, we have heard a vast chorus of players express the hope that this will be Buffon’s year, at last, to lift the big-eared trophy. And perhaps to pick up a Ballon d’Or as well.
Only one goalkeeper has ever won the latter award: Lev Yashin back in 1963. As Iker Casillas put it during an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport this week: “It reminds me of the moon landing. So much time has passed now that nobody can actually remember it happening.”
In fact, just about the only dissenting voice on this topic has come from within Juve’s own locker room. When ESPN FC asked Giorgio Chiellini at Juve’s media day earlier this week whether he believes Buffon would be a deserving Ballon d’Or winner, the defender was measured in his reply.
“I don’t think it is right to give someone a Ballon d’Or for the career that they’ve had, which I’ve seen some people suggest,” said Chiellini. “If Gigi is to earn this honour, it should be for what he does [now], not for the things he has done [in the past].
“I hope he does win it, and that he deserves it, because a Ballon d’Or win for him could only be the consequence of us winning on Saturday. … He’s certainly done some extraordinary things this season. But unfortunately he will need to do some more on Saturday, because it’s unthinkable that you would not give up chances to a team like Real [Madrid].”
Equally, it would be naive to think that Juventus could gave gotten this far without their goalkeeper playing his part. How differently might their group stage have unfolded were it not for Buffon saving a penalty kick and then making a breathtaking block to deny a deflected Nabil Fekir effort as 10-man Juventus stole a 1-0 win at Lyon? Might the semifinal against Monaco not also have seemed less straightforward without his stops from Mbappe and Bernardo Silva?
As good as Chiellini and his defensive teammates are, their performances owe something to the keeper behind them. “When you have the fortune to play with someone like Buffon, you always have the possibility that, if you mess up, he will fix the problem for you,” former Juventus and Italy full-back Gianluca Zambrotta told ESPN FC. “That gives you confidence to play. Having someone like him lets you sleep better at night.”
At Juventus, they can barely remember anything different. Chiellini is the longest-serving outfield player in the first-team squad, having joined in 2005. By that point, Buffon had already been with the Bianconeri for four years and had played in his first Champions League final. If his team had prevailed in that 2003 showpiece against Milan at Old Trafford in Manchester, U.K., perhaps he would not still be playing today. Buffon confessed to Germany’s Kicker magazine that he has questioned his desire to keep going on a regular basis over the past few years.
“If I had already won the Champions League, then I would have had this motivation taken away from me,” he said. “It spurs me on.”
As it was, Buffon and his teammates lost on penalty kicks in 2003 despite his two saves in the shootout. Juventus had to wait until 2015 to return to the final. That time Buffon made one of the best stops of the season to deny Dani Alves, then with Barcelona, yet Juve fell again.
“Football works in strange ways,” he said more recently. “As is true in the rest of life, those who are deserving usually get their just rewards in the end.”
The first part of that sentiment is undeniably true. Who would have imagined two years ago that Buffon and Alves would return to this stage as teammates instead of adversaries? Whether they win this Champions League final remains to be seen, but Buffon is not alone in believing he is due.
Paolo Bandini is a writer and broadcaster who contributes to ESPN FC, The Guardian and The Score, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Paolo_Bandini.
Liverpool‘s new chief executive Peter Moore officially begins work on Thursday with his first task being to help manager Jurgen Klopp be more competitive on the pitch.
Moore, former chief competition officer of gaming company EA Sports, has been brought in purely in a business role with football operations – including transfer negotiations and player contracts – undertaken by sporting director Michael Edwards.
It means Moore, who also has experience of senior roles at Microsoft, SEGA and Reebok, will be able to concentrate on the financial side and fill the vacuum there has been since predecessor Ian Ayre’s departure in February put even more focus on Klopp as the club’s only real public figure.
While Moore will not be involved in transfers he still has to ratify all expenditure and Press Association Sport understands that will mean fully backing Klopp in this summer’s transfer window as the manager looks to significantly strengthen the squad for a return to the Champions League.
The Liverpool-born 62-year-old is a boyhood fan but that will not mean he will be signing off on lavish spending as it is understood he is a firm believer in owners Fenway Sports Group’s established policy of finding value for money in the transfer market.
However, with Klopp targeting the likes of Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk and RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita that could still see a Â£100million outlay in the summer.
Last weekend, the Major League Soccer schedule offered a tantalizing array of rivalry matchups. The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers squared off for the first time this season. Down the coast, the LA Galaxy took on the San Jose Earthquakes in the latest installation of the California Clasico. In Dallas, the first Texas derby of the year took place between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. The Clasico in particular lived up to the hype, with goals galore in a 4-2 Galaxy win.
MLS does everything it can to pump up these games, of course. It’s one way to add some adrenalin as summer approaches. And adrenalin is needed, because while MLS loves to tout its heroes, there seems to be a scarcity of villains.
Granted, in rivalry games bad guys are easy enough to find for the fans involved. But at the moment, the league is lacking the kind of villain who really raises hackles — or elicits appreciation, depending on where your allegiance lies — on a leaguewide basis. I’m talking about someone like former LA Galaxy/FC Dallas forward Carlos Ruiz.
Ruiz was the ultimate antihero. First of all, in his day, he was one of the league’s best players, winning the MLS MVP award in 2002 during a campaign that saw the Galaxy claim its first MLS Cup. His 89 regular-season goals rank 10th in league history, and his 16 career playoff goals rank second in that category.
Beyond that, Ruiz was infuriating to play against. He was the master of off-the-ball antics, with daggers for elbows. He was also adept at the flop-for-a-foul/whine-to-the-referee combo that drew instant ire from fans. As a Guatemala international, Ruiz was also a thorn in the side of the United States national team on more than one occasion. Combine all that with his Shere Khan-like evil grin, and he was the player fans loved to hate, at least outside of L.A. and Dallas. You simply couldn’t take your eyes off him.
To get an idea of just how reviled Ruiz was, one of the most notorious incidents in league history came when Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark kicked a prone Ruiz — then with Dallas — in the shoulder, drawing a $10,000 fine and a 10-game suspension. More than a few MLS players and coaches looked at the incident as Ruiz finally getting his comeuppance.
There have been other villains over the years. Steven Lenhart certainly gave Ruiz a run for his money in terms of off-the-ball skullduggery. Rafa Marquez’s status as a revered Mexico international combined with some lackluster play also saw him cast in the role of designated scoundrel. More recently, Nigel de Jong wore the rogue’s cape well, with a red card-worthy tackle on Portland’s Darlington Nagbe last season just the latest entry on Jong’s rap sheet. But the fact that he played in MLS for just five months before leaving for Turkey meant he wasn’t around long enough to ramp the hate-meter up to 11.
These days? In ESPN FC’s annual MLS player poll, Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso was identified as the player most likely to cross the line. But even as many players bemoaned Alonso’s persistent fouling, there was near-universal sentiment around the league that you’d want Alonso on your team.
A better candidate for ultimate MLS pest would be New York Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins, who finished second in the poll. Martins is poison oak in cleats given his ability to irritate opponents both verbally and with physical play. Already this year, he has goaded opposing players into at least three red cards. Still, as big a role as Martins plays for a team that in recent years has been one of the league’s best, the invective directed toward him doesn’t rise to the Ruiz level.
The same goes for teams. Thanks to the league’s parity, there is no team in MLS that divides opinion as much as, say, the NFL’s New England Patriots. An argument can be made that the LA Galaxy once held this mantle, but they are in transition, making them tougher to dislike. That’s especially true now that coach Bruce Arena — the closest thing MLS had to a Bill Belichick-like evil genius — is now coaching the U.S. national team. Toronto FC looks to be on the brink of great things, but until they start winning trophies beyond the occasional Voyageurs Cup, they won’t evoke much enmity around the league.
That’s not to say that we want a Ricardo Clark-like incident every week. That was certainly beyond the pale. But one can’t help but feel that MLS is a league in need of some personality. Heroes are great, but when villains are just as prominent it puts more on the MLS plate for fans to indulge in.
Beyond villains, witnessing more emotion and angst would boost the league as well, making it less sanitized. It was great that Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath let everyone know just how much he loved beating former club Orlando City last weekend. Ditto for New York City’s David Villa confronting Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron for his long, slow walk to the sideline as he was being subbed.
The difficulty for MLS is that such passion can’t be faked. Certainly, the reliance on rivalries has helped, but that approach has its limits. The long MLS regular season, at least between the months of May and August, does it no favors, as does its insistence on playing through times when international players are away. The sport’s international component is a factor in another way. A fan booing Clint Dempsey when he’s wearing a Sounders jersey will be cheering for him the next two weeks as he suits up for the U.S. national team.
When Tin Jedvaj moved from Roma to Bayer Leverkusen in 2014, he was soon regarded as one of the continent’s most talented defenders. Despite a lengthy injury lay-off, the Croatian has since made more than 70 top-flight appearances and gained valuable UEFA Champions League experience – and he is still only 21 years old!
Experiencing great things at a young age is nothing new for Jedvaj, who made his international debut for Croatia in a friendly against Cyprus at the age of 18, just weeks after his first senior appearance for Leverkusen. “It was unbelievable,” he said when recalling the special moment in an interview with FIFA.com. “Every kid dreams of playing for their country and my dream came true so fast. I’m still delighted whenever I’m called up. We’re a young nation, so there is a special bond between us and the fans. We genuinely love to compete for our country.”
After a less-than-satisfactory UEFA EURO 2016, the Vatreni set their sights on the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Five games into their European qualifying campaign, coach Ante Cacic’s side lead Group I with 13 points, scoring 11 goals while conceding just one. “The players get on extremely well,” Jedvaj explained. “Although we have big names like [Luka] Modric, [Ivan] Rakitic and [Mario] Mandzukic, when we get together, it doesn’t matter whether you’re older or younger. We enjoy playing and training together, and our results reflect that.”
Brought to Leverkusen as a central defender, Jedvaj soon established himself at right-back and can now play equally well in both positions. When asked about his preferred role, the youngster replied: “I feel slightly more at ease in the centre than out on the wing, but have adapted to my new position after playing so many matches there. It isn’t really a factor for me. Although I played at centre-half in France [at EURO 2016], I’ve since represented the national team at right-back. I just want to play, so the position isn’t really important.”
While the man from Zagreb has yet to become an undisputed member of Croatia’s starting line-up, this does not worry him. “I’m one of the youngest players in the squad, so I don’t have to be in the starting 11 yet,” he said. “What’s important is that I’m in the squad and learning. I’m waiting for my opportunity. I don’t feel any pressure. Being in the national team is an honour.”
A product of the youth system at Dinamo Zagreb, where he made his senior debut, Jedvaj knows his personal development is far from over. “I can still improve every aspect of my game, as I’m still young and play for a club that has confidence in me,” he said. “That became clear to me after my serious injury[he missed almost the entire first half of the 2015/16 season with a thigh problem]. They stood behind me and believed in me through everything.”
Having played professionally in Yugoslavia and Austria, Jedvaj’s father Zdenko is an invaluable mentor to his son. “I’ve learned everything from him,” the 21-year-old explained. “I can learn something new from him every day. I listen to him carefully and he’s my biggest fan. Although I’ve had plenty of coaches, you only get one father,” he added.
The 2016/17 season was a difficult one for Jedvaj at club level. Although Leverkusen reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League before being eliminated by Atletico Madrid, they spent much of their league campaign battling relegation. “We can’t take a single match lightly and will have to work hard this summer to ensure we play better next season,” said the defender, who is known for never giving himself or his opponents a break. He will be hoping to sustain this positive momentum all the way to the World Cup in Russia.
While every Croatian team is inevitably compared with the legendary team that finished third at France 1998, the youngster believes the response to this comparison should always be the same. “We don’t want to copy them,” he explained. “We want to write our own story and perhaps record even better results, if we can. The players and fans believe that we can achieve great things.”
Paris Saint-Germain are firmly leading the hunt for the signature of Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and could pay up to €85 million to sign him, according to an ESPN FC source.
After a disappointing season, which only saw Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue and Trophee des Champions success, owners Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) have received a wake-up call louder than the one they failed to heed last summer after UEFA Champions League disappointment.
Arsenal‘s Alexis Sanchez is another player the French capital outfit have their eye on to help them revons plus grand (the club’s motto of “dream bigger”) once more, but the Chile attacker is less likely to arrive at Parc des Princes than the Gabon international.
Regardless of Sanchez, Aubameyang looks likely to be PSG’s first big-money signing of the summer. The proposed acquisition of the 27-year-old is a big statement from the recently deposed former Ligue 1 champions, who have been lacking in attack since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left for Manchester United on a free transfer last summer.
Edinson Cavani has found his feet once again up top and is firmly back among Europe’s elite strikers after a stellar campaign — 49 goals across all competitions — but outside of the Uruguay international, there is little depth through the middle.
Considering his reputation, the number of clubs interested in him and the fact that he was recently crowned Torjagerkanone (an accolade bestowed on the division’s top scorer) in the Bundesliga after another prolific season at Westfalenstadion, Aubameyang would be a statement move from PSG.
However, bearing in mind Cavani’s presence, staggering recent term in front of goal and contract renewal until 2020, an obvious question is: Where will the man from Laval fit?
Both Aubameyang and “El Matador” prefer to play through the middle. So, if coach Unai Emery continues to play in a possession-based 4-3-3 formation, one of the two will be pushed out wide at the expense of either Angel Di Maria or Julian Draxler.
Considering his recent tax evasion distractions and a poor first half of the season, the Argentina international could be on his way out — along with the frustratingly inconsistent Lucas Moura. The idea could also be to change shape, though, with 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 and 4-4-2 systems all possible.
PSG’s interest in Nice’s Seri is perhaps more telling on that front than the move for Aubameyang, because the Ivory Coast international is a technically gifted midfielder and a key part of Les Aiglons‘ vibrant style of play.
Seri could be the perfect figure to join Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot in a three-man midfield, either behind a front three of Aubameyang, Cavani and one of Di Maria or Draxler, or behind a playmaker like Javier Pastore or Giovani Lo Celso with Aubameyang and Cavani up top.
Both Aubameyang and Cavani are much better and more comfortable through the middle and PSG have become very predictable playing with two wide men in attack, so the addition of the former AS Saint-Etienne man and Seri will make Emery’s side very strong through the middle.
Although Aubameyang and Cavani would be expected to share the goals around a bit more than they are used to, it is possible for them to coexist. But it will be up to Emery to find that balance. All signs point to PSG changing their playing style next campaign.
The signing of Aubameyang alone would not rebuild this ailing PSG side, but it would be a strong first step along the road to reconstruction. The key to this process will not lie with who gets brought in, though; it will depend on who is shown the door to make way for them.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.
There has always been a feeling of exasperation when it comes to David Beckham in MLS, first as a player with the L.A. Galaxy and now as the owner of the new team in Miami. Beckham’s decision to go on loan twice to AC Milan ruffled feathers: His 2009 regular season was shortened and then while playing in Serie A he suffered an Achilles injury. Certainly for some fans in L.A., Beckham was a punching bag and was derided for his lack of commitment. Then there was the criticism he received from Landon Donovan and other Galaxy teammates in Grant Wahl’s book, “The Beckham Experiment.” Now with the Miami stadium situation still far from being resolved , the swirl of chaos that seemingly follows Beckham in MLS shows no signs of slowing.
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4. Blas Perez
The former FC Dallas and Vancouver striker was the ultimate pest. It’s hard to think of a stadium in which Blas Perez did not get booed. If there was a corner kick for FC Dallas and you were marking Perez, you could expect a shove, elbow, or stomp. His forays into the opponent’s area would sometimes end, shall we say, theatrically, while many a 50-50 ball would end with the Panamanian’s long arms and legs flailing about excessively as the result of a collision. Then there was the politicking of referees. A lot of it. Put simply; if you were an FC Dallas teammate, you loved him and if you were an opponent, especially a defender, it was hell.
3. Carlos Ruiz
Whisper the name Carlos Ruiz down in Houston and you’ll get quite the reaction. “El Pescadito” is long remembered in Space City for his 2007 altercation with Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark, plus the heaping portion of elbow he served to then-Houston defender Andre Hainault’s face in 2011 — captured brilliantly in this Zapruder-like clip. But the Guatemalan forward — who played for the L.A. Galaxy, FC Dallas, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union and DC United — didn’t just torture the Dynamo. He was prone to get under the skin of all MLS teams, whether by tumbling over easily in the box, whining to the referee or habitually staying down with “injuries” late in games when his team was ahead.
2. Steven Lenhart
There’s just so much to digest here. What was it exactly about former Columbus Crew and San Jose Earthquake forward Steven Lenhart that wound up opposing players so much? Was it his header against the L.A. Galaxy in 2011 — while the ball was still in goalkeeper Josh Saunders’ hands, which ultimately led to a Saunders elbow and red card? Or was it the “accidental” boot to the face of Chivas USA’s Mario de Luna in 2013? Lenhart got under the skin of opponents with all sorts of tricks, whether it be a subtle kick-out, grabbing the shorts of a defender, or a good ol’ fashion love tap with his forehead. Whatever the case, Lenhart was always in the middle of something, driving opposing coaches crazy, all while endearing himself to the home fans.
1. Rafa Marquez
Rafa Marquez’s time in MLS from mid-2010 to 2012 with the New York Red Bulls was a disaster. Arguably the worst Designated Player signing in league history, Marquez appeared in just 44 matches in defense in two-and-a-half seasons, cutting his time in the Big Apple short by a year. In 2011, Marquez criticized teammates and was later booed by Red Bulls fans for it, then threw a ball at international nemesis Landon Donovan in a playoff game. By the end in 2012, everyone had had enough of the silly red cards and lingering injuries. When your fans start a thread on a message board celebrating your departure, you know things didn’t go well. Topping it all off was Marquez later calling MLS an “amateur league” and commenting that it was the “worst decision” of his career. Charming.
Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .
David Beckham’s quest to build a stadium in the Overtown section of Miami is moving closer to a successful conclusion.
Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner whose district encompasses Overtown, has given her blessing to a deal that will see Miami Beckham United acquire a three-acre parcel of land for $9 million, according to the Miami Herald. Combined with a six-acre parcel of land the group acquired last year, Beckham’s group now appears to have the necessary land needed to move ahead with construction of a 25,000-seat stadium.
With Edmonson endorsing the proposed land sale, the deal is expected to be approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission on June 6. The only regulatory hurdle that remains is a set of zoning changes that must be approved by the City of Miami, though the Herald reports that residents of the nearby Spring Garden neighborhood are expected to voice their opposition to the deal due to concerns about traffic and a lack of parking at the proposed venue.
As part of the deal with the county, MBU has agreed to provide 2,000 parking spaces in surrounding areas, and would then provide shuttles from those spaces to the stadium. MBU is also encouraging the use of the Culmer Metrorail station, which is about three blocks away.
Once the zoning changes are finalized, MLS will then need to approve MBU’s application for an expansion franchise.
Sources have told ESPN FC that there has been resistance from some current MLS owners about bringing Beckham on board since he is acquiring the team for a discounted price of $25 million. The expansion fee for the current round of expansion is expected to top $150 million. However, MLS is expected to ultimately approve Beckham’s entry, paving the way for Miami to be the league’s 24th team.
“It’s a privilege to come here,” the 53-year-old said. “I feel very lucky that the club had me in mind and offered me the job.
“I am very excited about heading into this new stage of my career. It’s an enormous challenge and I have the intention of making Barcelona even greater than it already is.”
One of the factors which helped Valverde land the job was that he knows how the club works, having spent time playing for them almost 30 years ago.
However, things have changed a lot since he spent two years under Johan Cruyff between 1988 and 1990.
“It was a long time ago,” Valverde said. “I’m older now, my hair is grey and this is a totally different time. I’m a lot more conscious now of what it means to take this step. I was very young back then. I came back to other clubs, and now Barca too.”
Valverde promised that his team will be one which is “committed on the pitch and, above all, committed to its supporters,” before adding that he hopes to continue the success which the club have enjoyed throughout the last decade.
“In the last several seasons, [the fans] have been able to enjoy great players and coaches,” he said. “My idea is to keep it that way and to have them enjoy those things even more and to have them be proud of the team.”
The new Barca boss also met with Bartomeu and sporting director Robert Fernandez on Wednesday to begin planning for what looks set to be a summer that will see several players leave and several arrive.
Fernandez has already drawn up a shortlist of potential signings and will now work with Valverde to help structure the squad for next season.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.
Two goals courtesy of Jarrod Moroole and David Booysen allowed Stellenbosch to draw 2-2 against Baroka FC in their 2016/17 Promotion Play-off tie on Wednesday afternoon at Athlone Stadium.
Following the draw, the Mother City side have one point and will face Black Leopards on Saturday.
On the other hand, the Mxolisi Kunene and Nkosinathi Ndlovu netted for the visiting outfit.
Although the first 10 minutes of the fast paced encounter failed to produce goalscoring chances, it was the hosts who threatened first through Stanley Muishond whose attempt went over the cross bar in the 11th minute.
Five minutes later, Maboke Matlakala couldn’t direct his free header towards Washington Arubi’s empty net following a beautiful delivery down the right wing.
A defensive error by Bakgaga Ba Mphahlele in the 29th minute saw Diego Brown failing to capitalise as he took a shot at goal in the penalty area, but missed the target.
Kunene broke the deadlock in the 38th minute when he converted a clinical cross from Punch Masenamela down the left flank.
However, the hosts equalised on the stroke of half time through Moroole who received a clever header from Mame Niang to beat Oscarine Masuluke on his left corner.
1-1 at half time.
The Limpopo-based side reclaimed their lead in the 54th minute after Ndlovu netted with a superb set piece to beat Washington Arubi.
Coach Sammy Troughton introduced Cleopas Dube who failed to make an immediate impact after missing a free header in the 59th minute.
However, the hosts fought back to make it 2-2 when Booysen outjumped Masenamela on the far corner to head home following a well drilled free kick by Brown.
Baroka continued to pile pressure on their hosts and Victor Letsoalo attempted to beat Arubi on his near post, but the Zimbabwean net minder was alert and punched the ball way.
Arubi was called to action in the dying minutes when he denied substitute Richard Matloga from a close range header, the keeper closed down the angle to ensure the scores remain 2-2 at full time.
For Baroka, the stalemate means they have one point and will now hope to beat Lidoda Duvha next Wednesday.
UEFA.com: How has your 14th season in the UEFA Champions League been? How are you looking forward to your third final in four years?
Cristiano Ronaldo: It’s always special to compete in a Champions League final. I’ve had the opportunity to do so four times and this will be my fifth, so it’s going to be a very special moment. We’re going to be up against a great team. We know it’s going to be a very difficult match, but we are Real Madrid, which is why we have a good chance of winning. I obviously hope that we win because that would be extraordinary.
UEFA.com: What do you think are the key things about your UEFA Champions League final opponents, Juventus?
Highlights: Ronaldo v Buffon
Ronaldo: They’re an excellent team. They aren’t in the Champions League final by accident. They’re definitely a tough opponent. We know it’ll be a very hard match. In a final the chances are always 50-50.
They like to stay close to their opponents, just like Atlético Madrid. They may have a great back line, but as good as their defenders are, there is always a weak point in any defence. So we’ll have to try to figure out their weak points, capitalise on the space that Juventus are going to give us, and take advantage of that to score.
It will be very similar to our last two finals against Atlético. Both teams will try to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. The team that makes fewer errors will probably win. I hope Real Madrid will be the team that makes the least mistakes.
UEFA.com: How much are you enjoying your football at this moment in your career?
Ronaldo aiming for more glory
Ronaldo: I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can and I feel fit. Obviously the team have helped a lot. It’s what I love to do.
I think my position will always continue to be the same. Obviously what I want the most is to play more freely up front, and that is the opportunity Zinédine Zidane has been giving me as a No9. I play freely. I play on the wing, down the middle – I play whenever I think I should.
In the last couple of years I would be very tired when it came to the final part of the league and Champions League season, so this season I was rested for a couple of matches. However, I am still the player who has played the most minutes in the team. I’ve played a lot of matches, but obviously I feel much better in this final phase than in previous years.
UEFA.com: Real Madrid have had 20 or 21 regular players this season. Has this been a key factor in the team going so far?
Ramos: Zidane gets the best out of every player
Ronaldo: In my opinion, yes. I think Zidane has been managing the squad very intelligently. It’s not easy, because all the players want to play a lot. He has been able to use all the players. He has been able to rest key players who are normally starters.
When Zidane came in last year, we had sensible expectations. Nobody put too much pressure on him because we were a long way behind the league leaders. This season he started from square one and he’s been showing just what a good coach he’s becoming.
I already admired him as a player, and now I admire him even more as a coach because he’s a very positive person – a hard worker and very respectful towards the players. I don’t have any doubts that the success the team have had is down to Zidane and the excellent job he’s been doing. All the players are pleased with him.
UEFA.com: Does being the first player to reach a century of UEFA Champions League goals mean a lot to you?
Ronaldo: Yes. It was a milestone I wanted to reach. I always believed I would be the first player in Champions League history to score 100 goals – and I did it. It was a goal I set myself at the beginning of the season and, thank God, I achieved it.
I am aware of the fact that what I’ve done in football has already left and will continue to leave a mark. I haven’t broken so many records by accident. That’s not an obsession for me, but I do like breaking them. They are there to be broken. It motivates me to train and play better and better. I have that ambition to always improve and be at the highest level possible.
UEFA.com: Are you excited that Real Madrid could become the first side to defend their title in the UEFA Champions League era?
Ronaldo: It is a target every Real Madrid player wants to achieve. We want to go down in history and we know that if we win this Champions League, we will be the first team, in this new Champions League format, to retain the trophy. It’s another objective for us, it’s an ambition and it’s also a dream for us. Fingers crossed!
A host of European champions will take part in Friday’s Ultimate Champions match – one of the highlights of the UEFA Champions Festival, which opens in Cardiff on Thursday.
The two squads for the match – which will be played on a floating pitch in Cardiff Bay – will be coached by Ruud Gullit – part of the AC Milan side who were the last team to retain the European Cup, in 1989 and 1990 – and Real Madrid great Emilio Butragueño.
The line-ups for the game, to be played at 16:00 local time, are below.
Vítor Baía (GK), Cafu, Ciro Ferrara, Steffen Freund, Patrik Andersson, Dejan Stanković, Youri Djorkaeff, Robert Pirès, Marcel Desailly, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs, Fabrizio Ravanelli, David Trezeguet, Gianluca Zambrotta, Éric Abidal, Marco Materazzi, Jeremy Lynch (F2 freestyler), Clint Capela, Joel Embiid
David James (GK), Míchel Salgado, Celestine Babayaro, Roberto Carlos, Gaizka Mendieta, Luís Figo, Predrag Mijatović, Patrizia Panico, Davor Šuker, Luis García, Raí, Clarence Seedorf, Christian Karembeu, Steve McManaman, Deco, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Adidas Young Champions, Carmelo Anthony, Billy Wingrove (F2 freestyler), Juan Hernangómez
On Tuesday, Spanish radio station Cope reported that Griezmann had asked the Atletico hierarchy to be allowed to leave for United, with a move to be sanctioned if the buyout clause “or a little less” were paid.
However, a senior Atleti source told ESPN FC on Wednesday that neither the striker nor anyone from his camp had spoken to the directors about his future.
The source said nobody at the club had any knowledge of Griezmann wanting a move anywhere.
Later on Wednesday, Spanish TV show “Minuto0” aired an interview in which France international Griezmann, 26, raised the possibility of a move and said conversations between his representatives and Atletico were ongoing.
Ryan Giggs has had no contact with Sunderland over their managerial vacancy despite bookmakers slashing the odds on his appointment.
On Wednesday afternoon the 43-year-old former Manchester United winger was backed in from 25/1 to 1/5 with some betting companies to replace the departed David Moyes at the Stadium of Light.
However, sources close to Giggs have told Press Association Sport that while the Welshman is ready to talk to clubs about opportunities, he has “categorically received no approach” from the Black Cats.
Sources on Wearside too played down speculation that they were about to make an appointment as books fast approached the point of being closed.
The club is looking for Moyes’ successor after the Scotsman resigned last week following a disastrous season which ended in relegation from the Premier League.
Giggs has been mentioned in dispatches, with disgruntled supporters hoping for a fresh start after a chaotic period in Sunderland’s recent history which has seen eight different managers occupy the hot seat in the eight-and-a-half years since Roy Keane vacated it in December 2008.
He is ready to launch his own managerial career after briefly stepping into Moyes’ shoes at Old Trafford and then serving as successor Louis van Gaal’s number two, and he has been linked with a series of clubs in recent weeks.
Giggs could yet find his way on to the shortlist, but, if he has already, he has not been made aware of it.
Black Cats chief executive Martin Bain, aided by former Scotland boss Walter Smith, have spent the last week or so assessing their options and are understood to be close to beginning an interview procedure with prospective candidates.
However, given the club’s ongoing difficulties on and off the pitch, they are thought to be targeting experience for life in the Sky Bet Championship.
Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes has emerged as a strong contender, while former Newcastle manager Alan Pardew continues to figure prominently in the betting, despite having ruled himself out of the race.
Romelu Lukaku’s agent claims Everton promised the striker he could leave this summer if certain clubs came in for him.
The Belgium striker, who has two years left on his existing deal, has refused to sign the new contract on offer which would make him the highest-paid player in the club’s history.
Lukaku has stressed his decision was not about money but ambition, having regularly spoken about playing in the Champions League.
With former club Chelsea and Manchester United, both in Europe’s elite club competition next season, both linked with a move for the player, his agent Mino Raiola has suggested there is a get-out option for his client.
“Lukaku had a promise that if certain clubs came this summer that he could leave this summer,” Raiola told talkSPORT.
“We are not in concrete talks with anybody at this moment, but hearing the market I think some clubs will contact Everton.
“If the price is right for Everton and the project is right for Lukaku then I think he will want to make another step, but we are not there yet.”
Paul Pogba, Patrice Evra, Marcelo Bielsa and Leonardo Jardim have all played a part in shaping Benjamin Mendy into one of Monaco’s many highly-coveted assets, and the rampaging full-back could be next in line to leave the Ligue 1 champions.
When media reports suggested Mendy had already flown to Manchester to complete a move to City and reunite with Bernardo Silva, the Monaco defender replied — as he usually does — with humour via social media.
“Manchester has changed” he noted ironically as he was sped by scooter down the Champs-Elysees in Paris. As quick with the ball at his feet as he is with his wit and just as incisive, the full-back — linked to Liverpool, United and City — is just starting to grow into a career that promises to take him to far more places than his homeland.
A striker at the start
Mendy’s colours were initially the blue of US Palaiseau, a club from the Paris suburbs a short drive from his hometown. He played against fellow youth products Anthony Martial and Yaya Sanogo, but didn’t clash much as he was at the opposite end of the pitch determined to grab the glory reserved for strikers.
“I spent a whole season explaining to him that he was made to play out wide,” Mohamed Sall, his first coach, told Le Parisien. “He didn’t want to listen, until a Normandy Cup match where he annoyed me, and I put him on the left at half-time. He played brilliantly and said to me at the end, ‘Momo, it’s great, I’ve found my position.'”
Pogba and the Le Havre school
Despite first displaying his prodigious potential virtually within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Mendy’s break in the professional world came not at Paris Saint-Germain, but on the Normandy coast at Le Havre, France’s oldest club, in 2007.
Famed for its ability to spot and nurture fledgling talent, Le Havre managed to keep hold of Mendy until he broke into the first-team, unlike Paul Pogba, who had joined the club at the same time as his now-France international teammate. The fact Mendy lived there with his elder brother David and his brother’s partner made a big difference.
“I wasn’t up for it at the start, but in the end I have to acknowledge that the grown-ups are always right,” Mendy explained. “I had to keep respectable hours. My sister-in-law taught me to cook, we shopped and tidied up together.”
He may have grown up at Le Havre, but he was still a kid, physically and mentally, when he made his first-team debut at Amiens in August 2011, less than a month after his 17th birthday.
“I will never forget that moment,” he said. “Especially as, like an idiot, I realised in the dressing room that I hadn’t taken boots with screw-in studs. You only play with moulded studs in the youth team.”
Learning under Bielsa
A host of players have lauded the impact Marcelo Bielsa has had on them, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola among them, and should Mendy arrive at the Etihad Stadium they can swap tales of their first-hand experiences with the mercurial Argentine. After tip-toeing through a first season at Marseille in 2013-14 in competition with Jeremy Morel, Mendy came under the guidance of “El Loco.”
“When he arrived, he told us: ‘You have to be bored to concentrate. Because when you’re bored, you have to think about what the coach tells you,” Mendy explained to Le Parisien.
“At the start, he sat me down in front of videos and I slept. He said to me, ‘That’s good, I want you to go to sleep.’ I was shocked when he said that. But suddenly, I was happy to go to the video session as I could sleep soundly. And then after a while, I stopped sleeping. And subconsciously, I started getting interested in the videos. I said to myself: ‘Come on, I’m going to watch two minutes of his thing.’ And suddenly, I was sucked in.”
After 33 impressive appearances, all of them in the starting XI, during the 2014-15 campaign it was clear he had taken that on board.
He flourished under Jardim
Bielsa laid the foundations, but perhaps appropriately it is Leonardo Jardim who has continued the building process at Monaco where the Portuguese coach has carried out extensive construction work.
Jardim mocked himself as having won the “Golden Trowel” in his first two seasons in France before finally lifting the Ligue 1 Coach of the Year award as well as the title in 2016-17. His influence on Monaco, turning them from a defensively solid side into a spectacularly attacking one, is evident, and he has found the right words to give Mendy — a full-back perpetually on the front foot — that precious commodity his game had been lacking, consistency, with some subtle psychology straight out of the Bielsa mould.
“He says to me, ‘Listen to my advice. If you listen to me, you’ll achieve a very high level.’ He makes me improve day-by-day,” Mendy, who signed a five-year deal in the principality in summer 2016, told Onze Mondial.
“Sometimes he comes to see me in training and says: ‘This week, I don’t think you’re quite there, and I think it’s better for you to start on the bench.’ As soon as he says that, I’m like a madman. I get carried away, ‘No, no, I promise you coach, I’m good, I want to play.”
The future for France
“If Mendy gets into the France team, I’ll eat a rat,” former Marseille and France full-back Eric Di Meco had stated boldly early in his role as a media pundit. He had said as much for Cesar Azpilicueta’s chances of playing for Spain in 2013.
The then-Marseille defender’s senior call-up to La Roja led to Di Meco eating a calva-flambéed rat with apples, and his chef will have to conjure up another extravagant dish of vermin now.
Mendy deservedly made his France debut in the 3-1 FIFA World Cup qualifier win over Luxembourg, teeing up Olivier Giroud for Les Bleus’ third, and he has again been given the call by Didier Deschamps for his nation’s matches in June. “All criticism helps you move forward. I don’t take it badly,” a sporting Mendy explained before adding with characteristic self-effacing humour. “I’m going to open a rat restaurant, only with specialties based on rat.”
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman
Arsene Wenger has signed a new two-year deal to remain as Arsenal boss.
Here, we look at the 67-year-old’s managerial career to date in numbers.
49 – The number of games Wenger’s Arsenal side went unbeaten for between May 2003 and October 2004. His side are the only team to win the Premier League in an unbeaten season, when they chalked up 26 wins and 12 draws in 2003/04.
4 – Amount of league titles the French boss has won. He delivered one Ligue 1 crown for Monaco in the 1987/1988 season and three Premier League wins for Arsenal in 1997/98, 2001/02 and 2003/04. He has won more league titles at Arsenal than any other manager before him.
21 – Years he has managed at Arsenal. Wenger joined the club on October 1, 1996, and is currently the longest serving manager in the English football league. He is ahead of second-placed Paul Tisdale, of Exeter, by almost 10 years.
5 – Lowest position Arsenal have finished in the Premier League since Wenger took over. Next season will be the first time his side will not compete in the Champions League.
50 – Number of north London derbies in which Wenger has managed. His record stands at 22 wins, 20 draws and eight losses.
457- Wins Wenger has recorded in the Premier League. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has collected more with 527.
1564 – Number of points Wenger has won in the Premier League for Arsenal.
57.29 – Wenger’s win percentage at Arsenal in all competitions.
Manchester City‘s owners have set manager Pep Guardiola the challenge of winning the treble.
Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, even suggested the ambition of the club meant the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss should be looking at an unprecedented quadruple.
Guardiola endured his first season without a trophy in his debut campaign at City having previously won 21 titles in seven years as a manager.
He has already set about changing that by recruiting Monaco playmaker Bernardo Silva with Benfica goalkeeper Ederson on the verge of completing his move – at a combined cost of Â£75million – as he knows despite his own impressive reputation, owner Sheikh Mansour has lofty ambitions.
“We will try to win the Premier League and the Champions League and that remains our objective,” Khaldoon told mancity.com.
“It excites me trying to win the Champions League and winning the Champions League.
“That ambition of winning the Champions League and hopefully doing it, that dream excites me very day and knowing we can do it.
“The dream of doing the Treble, yes. I want to do the treble, or else let’s go for the quadruple! Why not?
“We should have that aspiration. I have it, no doubt. Sheikh Mansour drives me for it every day, but you look at the organisation you see it in Pep’s eyes in everybody within our group.
“Pep wants to win it all and that’s what I love most about him because that’s how I feel, we want to win it all.
“We might not be able to achieve it, but I can assure you, we’re going to try to do that.”
Despite the disappointment of finishing third in the Premier League and not winning any trophies, Khaldoon insists everything is in place to deliver long-term success at the club.
City are backing Guardiola in the transfer market and that should make a significant difference when the new season begins in August.
“We’re on the right track,” added the chairman.
“We have a great manager, we’re all working behind him, supporting him.
“We are going to do our work this summer. The trajectory is right and I’m very optimistic.
“Next year is going to be a massive year for us. Expectations are high, ambitions are high.
“I have a lot of hope that we’re going to come back next season very strong and I hope we can deliver to our fans an incredible season next year.”
Klopp, Tuchel, Schmidt, Schwarz: The Mainz coaching production line continues – bundesliga.com
After three years out of Ghana’s national team, the country’s FA is hopeful they can convince Kwadwo Asamoah to return to the team.
The 28-year-old Juventus player has not appeared for the Black Stars since their defeat to Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.
The versatile midfielder has battled against career-threatening injuries but appears to have regained his fitness this season, helping Juve win yet another Serie A title and reach the final of the UEFA Champions League.
Asamoah earlier this year asked to be excused from the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon, explaining that he wants to focus on his club career.
Now GFA vice president George Afriyie is hopeful that they can convince the player to resume his Black Stars career and add to the 69 caps he has accumulated.
“I know [previous coach] Avram Grant tried. Avram went to see Kwadwo on several occasions trying to convince him to come back,” Afriyie told KweséESPN.
“He has gone through some turbulent times, injuries here and there, and all that.
“Thankfully now he has recovered fully and is playing very well. Let’s give the new coach [Kwesi Appiah] the chance to also try to get him back.
“Fortunately, he will be coming home and I will take that opportunity to talk to him and see if he is ready to come back.”
Goal of the Season: The 10 contenders – bundesliga.com
Former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn believes Arsene Wenger must mount a title challenge after signing a two-year deal.
Boss Wenger has penned a contract extension at the Emirates until 2019 to end months of speculation over his future.
The Gunners won the FA Cup after beating Chelsea 2-1 on Saturday and Wenger’s new contract was ratified by the club’s board this week.
But they finished fifth, 18 points behind the Blues in the Premier League, last season to miss out on the Champions League for the first time under Wenger.
And Winterburn, who won the Premier League in 1998 with Arsenal under Wenger, insists it is time for the Frenchman to end Arsenal’s 13-year title drought.
“They’ve made the decision, so it’s now time to put in a serious title challenge,” he told Sky Sports News. “There’s probably 20-25 per cent that would like to have seen a change.
“He’s in charge and we’re now expecting some significant signings and I would love to see the team progress. He’s come through a difficult period. They went backwards after going into the new stadium – now’s the time to be serious for the title.
“I know a lot of people have been saying typical Arsenal that they make this announcement at the end of the season. It’s my understanding there was no decision until after the FA Cup final.
“The club statement was positive and it will be interesting to see what happens in the transfer window.”
Former Gunners goalkeeper Bob Wilson warned Arsenal and Wenger they may struggle to attract top signings having failed to reach the Champions League.
“How are you going to get Antoine Greizmann to sign? Without the Champions League, the only way is if you can compete salary-wise to attract the players,’ he told BBC Sport.
“Chelsea bought the best player available last season in N’Golo Kante and Arsenal went for him too but came nowhere near the salary that Chelsea pay.
“So the board has to be realistic and say, ‘Are we going to compete at this level?'”
Vivo was presented today as FIFA’s official smartphone sponsor under a sponsorship agreement that will run until 2022 and include the next editions of the FIFA World Cup™ in 2018 and 2022. The announcement was made today in Beijing at the historical and iconic Imperial Ancestral Temple in the presence of Vivo Executive Vice-President Ni Xudong and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura.
As FIFA’s official smartphone brand, Vivo will sponsor the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups as well as the FIFA Confederations Cup. The global reach of this six-year partnership is set to take Vivo to new heights. The Vivo logo will appear during every match on pitch advertising boards, match tickets, media releases and other key promotional platforms. The agreement includes special marketing activations such as the right to select guests to be a Vivo phone photographer during pre-match player warm-ups. Vivo will also gradually introduce a customised FIFA World Cup™ phone that will offer a unique experience for football fans around the world.
Ni Xudong explained: “Football is a sport full of passion and moments of wonder, creating happiness for millions of people. The spirit of football is about constant progress. As a global sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, Vivo hopes to strongly associate itself with the football spirit and show consumers all over the world Vivo’s creative, joyful and international brand image. In the meantime, Vivo will bring more personalised, energetic and youthful elements to the FIFA World Cup experience and the game of football.”
Speaking about the new agreement, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said: “Football and technology are coming closer by the day, on and off the pitch, and it is a great moment to start a partnership of this nature with the leading global smartphone brand. We are very excited to be working closely with Vivo and keen to see their involvement in the next editions of the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup.”
Vivo’s previous involvement in sport includes the title sponsorship of the Indian Premier League cricket competition and a strategic partnership with the NBA to become NBA China’s official mobile handset sponsor.
Manchester City forward Enes Unal completed a move to Villarreal on Wednesday.
Turkey international Unal signed a five-year deal after flying to Spain to finalise details of a switch.
Sources told ESPN FC the transfer fee will be £13 million, while City will have a buyback option until 2020.
The 20-year-old joined City from Turkish side Bursaspor for £2m in 2015 but has never played for the first team.
He spent last season on a season-long loan with Twente in the Netherlands, where he scored 19 goals in 33 games to finish only three behind the Eredivisie’s leading scorer, Feyenoord’s Nicolai Jorgensen.