It’s getting messy over Lionel

LIONEL MESSI is a free agent. That news would normally spark off a wave of transfer speculation, interested parties circling the Camp Nou and non-stop media coverage. Nobody seriously expects Messi to leave Barcelona, least of all the club’s president, Joan Laporte. 

The recently-appointed top man at Barca urges fans to keep calm and assures everyone that talks are in progress and going well. Should Messi go, it would be a travesty for a club low on confidence and liquidity. The family silver – and there’s plenty of it at Barca – may have to be pawned in order to keep him in the Catalan capital. 

Where would he go if not Barca? The Manchester Evening News said Manchester City have nothing to lose if they make a bid to take the Argentinian to the Etihad. They list Messi among possible signings such as Harry Kane and Jack Grealish. Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror said Paris Saint-Germain are monitoring the situation, but they also have eyes on Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba. 

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told the BBC Barcelona had raised the level of urgency over contract talks, but there are complications. “They want him to sign as soon as possible, but the timing will be dictated by tax issues, Messi’s wages and fitting a new contract within La Liga’s financial fair play rules.” Apparently, Barca have to reduce their wage bill by € 200 million. 

Copa, what Copa?

Messi is currently in action in Brazil, playing for Argentina in the very low-key Copa América. The wisdom of playing the competition in a covid-19 environment that has seen 465,000 deaths is one thing, but the 11th hour switch to Brazil, the timing and the format really do raise questions about CONMEBOL. 

Two groups of five, playing four games apiece in order to reduce the field from 10 to eight. Brazilian senator Renan Calheiros has been opposed to the Copa taking place, calling it the “Championship of death”.

Not surprisingly, coverage of the Copa América has been scant, even though the BBC have been showing the games. For Messi, it’s another chance for him to win something with his country, but who will notice? 

The trials of Rafa

Rafa Benitez has accepted the job as Everton coach and fans are protesting about the former Liverpool boss being named as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor. Benitez remains one of football’s most employable managers, but it isn’t the first time complaints have poured in following his appointment. At Chelsea, his arrival was greeted with jeers and banners referring to his time at Liverpool. 

Yes, Benitez was manager at Anfield and won the Champions League, but that doesn’t make him forever a red, even though the famous “small club” comment about Everton has never been forgotten. 

Benitez won the Europa League with Chelsea in 2013 and did a good at Stamford Bridge, but he was constantly abused and largely unappreciated. 

He can expect similar at Everton from some Goodison regulars judging by the early reaction. In a few months, they may start to realise that they have secured a top-class coach who knows the game inside out. He told the Liverpool Echo: “I am here, I will fight for my club, I will try to win every single game, and it doesn’t matter who the opponents are, or the rivals. It is something you have to do, it is your nature, that you have to try to do your best.”

The newspaper added: “While it is wrong to say Benitez is a busted flush in terms of management, undoubtedly his recent record has been one of diminishing returns. And, as his old foe José Mourinho is discovering, the game moves on.”

The spirit of Nuno

Finally, Spurs got their man, or rather, got a man. Nuno Espirito Santo is a decent fellow, likeable by all accounts, but he’s no more proficient than the men they let go over the past two years, Mauricio Pochettino and José Mourinho. It has been a struggle for Spurs and this may have been due to a lack of available candidates as well as the club’s lack of success.

Daniel Levy, speaking to the Guardian, said he was keen for Spurs to revert to “our core DNA of playing attacking, entertaining football” and that Nuno as the man to do it.

With 60 years now passed since they won a league title, Spurs are in desperate need of a trophy, but then so is Nuno. He has yet to win a major honour as a manager. Perhaps they can break new ground together?

Sources: The Guardian, CNN, The Daily Mirror, BBC, Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News.

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Manchester City, FFP and CAS – time to move on

MANCHESTER CITY’s two-year ban from the UEFA Champions League might have been overturned, but the critics won’t let the saga close without further snipes. Managers at other clubs, league officials and media commentators have all suggested the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was foolhardy.

José Mourinho said it was a “disgraceful decision” and asked why the club has been fined if they hadn’t done something wrong. He felt it signalled the end of Financial Fair Play’s credibility. The Manchester Evening News hit back at Mourinho, pointing to his tax evasion charge in Portugal. They also commented on Jürgen Klopp’s response, noting that he was good at changing his mind. Klopp criticised Paul Pogba’s record transfer fee when Manchester United signed him from Juventus, claiming that when football becomes just about money he would walk away. The newspaper reminded him that Liverpool’s record fee is higher than anything paid by City.

The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester clearly extends to the media – the Liverpool Echo included remarks made by Jamie Carragher: “Yes, they have gone to court and won, but I don’t think that suspicion will ever go away so I don’t think they have fully cleared their name in the eyes of people up and down the country.”

Klopp told the BBC that he was happy City will play in the Champions League next season because if they lost the 12 games they might play in the competition, the rest of the Premier League would have no chance. He described the CAS decision as “not a good day for football”. A lot of football fans would agree with the popular German coach.

While City had won a technical victory, Ian Herbert of the Daily Mail insisted it was “no moral victory” for the club. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire said City will feel vindicated by the CAS verdict, but suggested a cartel of Premier League and European clubs had tried to impress upon the authorities the ban was valid. “Bridges will have to be rebuilt,” said Maguire.

City’s view is that the current system in Europe is designed to prevent a new name from challenging the establishment clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail confirmed that European powerhouses were united in their denouncement of City. “It is a cosy little club, European football’s upper echelons, and UEFA kowtow to it,” he said.

Samuel summed up City’s problem, which is pretty much the same issue facing Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. “City have no constituency….They are too big and successful to hang out with the old gang, the smaller clubs, the ones who are dictated to from on high. But they are too much of a threat to be received by the traditional elite, either domestically or in Europe.”

Samuel added that rather than celebrate City’s discomfort, clubs like Newcastle, Everton, Wolves and Tottenham should cheer the club’s victory in court, for it hits back at the elite controlling European football. City may be wealthy and may win trophies, but they will always be regarded as “johnny-come-latelies” by the old masters of the game.

It is not just managers and media speaking out against City, La Liga President, Javier Tebas, is convinced they broke the rules and that most of Europe does too. Tebas is an advocate of “justice against state-owned clubs” and said PSG and City have spent more than anyone else in pursuit of success. “City haven’t signed with their own resources like Manchester United, who bring in money through TV or sponsorship. They sign with petrodollars, with money obtained through oil by the owners in the United Arab Emirates.”

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola is demanding an apology from those that have criticised his club and the CAS decision. TalkSport reported that the City manager has told Klopp and Mourinho to give him a call to discuss their issues. “If they want to talk I’m here. They know my telephone number, but I think we don’t have to discuss a lot because the sentence was clear. All the suggestions that we were lying or cheating, it was not like this. We were clean. We should be apologised to.”

Guardiola hit a raw nerve when he admitted he did not expect other clubs to defend City, but the club had the right to defend itself. “I know for the elite clubs,  like Liverpool, United and especially Arsenal, it is uncomfortable us being here. But they have to understand we deserve to be here. If we want to compete with them, we go onto the pitch and try to achieve what they achieved in the past, decades ago, and what we have done this decade.”

Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, TalkSport, BBC, AS.

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Picture: PA Images

Barcelona really cannot afford to get messy with Lionel

IT LOOKS as though Real Madrid are going to lift their first La Liga title since 2017 and Barcelona, the reigning champions, will go into the close season resembling a family in conflict and misunderstanding.

Amid this turmoil, Lionel Messi is one year away from the end of his contract and Barca officials’ nervousness continue to grow. The “will he, won’t he” discussions are gathering pace and Messi is clearly resembling an unhappy man who wishes he was somewhere else. His body language isn’t good and he hasn’t looked a player at the very top of his game since La Liga resumed in June.

Guillem Balague, writing for the BBC website, suggested many of the rumours around Messi are untrue and although they come with the territory for a player of his profile, the little Argentinian is fed-up at the moment. But, adds Balague, Messi is not unhappy with his team-mate Antoine Griezmann and, along with Luis Suarez, regularly socialises with the Frenchman. Marca  notes, however, that Griezmann and Messi are both discontent at the moment, the former displeased about his lack of game time and Messi because the season seems to slipping away from Barca.

With the ongoing political situation at the club, Messi – who has a leave clause in his current contract – may be persuaded to stay if Xavi was appointed as coach, says Eurosport. The former Barca midfielder has renewed his contract at Qatar’s Al-Saad, but he has a release clause should Barca come looking for him.

Messi is very influential at Barca and critics say he has too much involvement in events at the club. Some people have said he was instrumental in Ernesto Valverde getting sacked in January. Messi himself has said the incident was badly handled by the club. He also wants the club elections, which take place next year, fast-tracked to 2020 – probably to make his last year more harmonious.

Is there a club that could handle Messi if he does decide to leave? Eurosport  reported that Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid’s coach, has urged him not to leave Barca and La Liga. The Indian Express  suggested that Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City could afford him. There’s talk of him returning to Argentina with Newell’s Old Boys.

Graham Hunter, on TalkSport,  believed Manchester City would go “hell for leather” to sign Messi but cautioned that Guardiola might not necessarily be as keen as the club. “I think Pep has doubts about how well Messi will work in the system because of the level of pressure and work off the ball,” says Hunter. At Barca, Messi is allowed to do exactly what he wants to do.

AS says Messi has halted contract talks, according to radio station Cadena Seri even though they were proceeding well. “Messi has told his inner circle of his frustration, complaining he does not want to be held responsible for anything than his performances on the pitch.”

Messi has been criticised for the way he deals with the coaching staff at the club. His disagreement with director of football Eric Abidal was well documented and recently, he has had problems with coach Quique Setién and Eder Sarabia. AS  pointed to Messi’s out burst a few months ago when he said Barca didn’t have enough quality to win the Champions League. Setién disagreed but Messi’s response implied the Barca coach didn’t have enough experience of the competition. The Spanish newspaper believes that Messi is coming to the end of his career with Barcelona and wants to leave the club in June 2021.

What is Messi worth in the market, personal terms aside? CIES Football Observatory values the 33 year-old at around € 70 – 90 million, while KPMG Football Benchmark goes considerably higher at € 127- 134 million.

 

Sources: Independent,  AS,  Marca,  BBC,  TalkSport,  Eurosport,  Indian Express

 

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