International News - Issue 212

Barca Sign Rakitic
Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic has officially joined Spanish giants Barcelona from rival La Liga side Sevilla. “FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC have reached an agreement for the transfer of Ivan Rakitic,” read a statement on Barcelona’s official website. Ivan Rakitic will sign a contract with FC Barcelona for the next five seasons.” The 26-year-old playmaker spent three years at Sevilla, and enjoyed a stellar season at the club this year, captaining his side to Europa League glory. He featured in 59 matches in all competitions for Sevilla during their campaign, scoring 15 goals as his side finished fifth in the Spanish standings. As part of the deal for the Croatian’s arrival to the Nou Camp, Barcelona’s 20-year-old youth product Denis Suarez will be loaned out to Sevilla for the next two seasons.

England captain Steven Gerrard says he will take his time before deciding on his international future. The 34-year-old Liverpool midfielder was expected to announce his retirement following England’s group stage elimination at the World Cup, but says he will only make that call after taking a holiday. “There is no truth that I’ll be making any announcements within a week,” Gerrard said. “I think I need more time than that. I’ve spoken to the manager this morning and have asked him for some time to consider my future, but I certainly won’t be rushing into any decision. I don’t feel like it’s right to make a decision now or in a week’s time. I’m still hurting very bad and broken over what’s gone on over the last couple of weeks, so I need to get away, get on holiday and basically clear my head before I make that big decision.” England’s elimination – after 2-1 defeats to Italy and Uruguay – was the first time they have failed to progress through the group phase since 1958.

France became only the fifth country to amass 100 World Cup goals following their 5-2 demolition of Switzerland last Friday night. Les Bleus took their tally to 104 in the Group E game - with Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud notching up the century at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. At the time tournament hosts Brazil, record five-time winners of the event, lead the way with 213 goals, ahead of Germany (210), Italy (128), Argentina (125) and France.

English centre-back Joleon Lescott has completed a move to Premier League club West Bromwich Albion. The 31-year-old joins the Baggies as a free agent from English champions Manchester City, having spent five successful years at the Etihad, yet played a bit-part role this past season with just 10 League appearances for the Citizens. West Brom finished 17th in the Premier League standings this season, and West Brom believe bringing in experienced players such as Lescott will help them this season. Lescott, who has 26 international caps for England, is West Brom’s second signing of the transfer window, joining Craig Gardner from Sunderland at the Hawthorns.

The Barclays Premier League has released the fixtures for the 2014/15 season. The pick of the opening weekend's matches on August 16 is Newcastle United against defending English champions Manchester City. There is also a London derby between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur, and another one between Arsenal and Crystal Palace. EPL opening fixtures (weekend of August 16):
Arsenal vs Crystal Palace
Burnley vs Chelsea
Leicester City vs Everton
Liverpool vs Southampton
Manchester United vs Swansea City
Newcastle United vs Manchester City
Queens Park Rangers vs Hull City
Stoke City vs Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion vs Sunderland
West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur

Nigeria's official supporters club are to protest to Fifa after being denied from taking their equipment into the Arena Baixada in Curitiba on Monday. Rafiu Ladipo, president general of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, said their musical instruments, including drums, trumpets and others were confiscated at the gates. "This is unacceptable," a very angry Ladipo said. "The Nigeria supporters club has attended every Fifa World Cup since 1994, except 2006 when we didn't qualify, and we have always gone there with our instruments. We cannot understand why we were prevented from taking them in this time. And we are going to make an official complaint to Fifa." Ladipo also accused organizers of double standards, claiming other countries at other venues had musical instruments in the stands. "We saw Brazilian supporters with musical instruments, and we also saw some other countries too. Is there double standards? We want to know."

Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari has signed a new two-year deal with AC Milan. The 29-year-old will stay with the Rossoneri until June 2016, having joined the club from city rivals Inter in January 2012. A statement on Milan's official website read: "AC Milan announces that Sulley Muntari has renewed his contract to June 30, 2016." Muntari was given a one-year extension on his current deal, worth a reported €1.5 million (R22 million) per season, that was set to expire in 2015 after making 34 appearances for the Rossoneri in their disastrous campaign this year which saw them finish the Serie A season in 8th position. Meanwhile, Dutch club mate and fellow midfielder Nigel de Jong insists he is happy at the San Siro, despite the change in coach after compatriot Clarence Seedorf was replaced by Filippo Inzaghi.

Sunderland have signed former Manchester City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon on a four-year contract. The 27-year-old Romanian's previous deal with City expired at the end of the 2013/14 season. Pantilimon is expected to challenge Vito Mannone for the number one jersey at the Stadium of Light following Keiren Westwood's departure from the club.

Xavi on brink of Barcelona exit after being offered €25 million tax-free deal in Qatar. The Spain star is set to leave Camp Nou this summer to sign a lucrative four year contract with Al-Arabi. The 34-year-old has told friends he is ready to leave Camp Nou this summer and move to the Middle East. The player’s agent Ivan Corretja met with Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta last week to communicate his client’s desire to leave. Having been an automatic starter for the club since making his debut in 1998, Xavi was not always included in the XI by former Barca boss Gerardo Martino last season. Most notably, he was dropped for the final-day clash against Atletico Madrid when a victory would have handed Barca the league title. Corretja has already agreed a deal with the Qatari government, which has close links with Barcelona, and is keen to promote the game in the region. Al-Arabi coach Dan Petrescu already claimed earlier this week they were closing in on the Spain international’s signature. Speaking to Digisport, Petrescu said: "It’s likely he will join us but he also has other offers. When you get the chance to sign someone like Xavi, you make the most of the opportunity. I’ve talked to him personally and he is an extraordinary man. His departure will continue a massive reshaping of the Barcelona squad this summer under new boss Luis Enrique. Carlos Puyol has retired, Victor Valdes has bid farewell after 12 years and Cesc Fabregas has joined Chelsea for €36m.

New £27-million Chelsea signing Cesc Fabregas has confirmed that he did not join Arsenal from Barcelona because Arsene Wenger did not want him. The midfielder said that a clause in his contract gave Arsenal first refusal and after a chat with Wenger they deal did not happen as the coach felt that Mesut Ozil was doing just fine in Fabregas’s position. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho then convinced him to sign with them. “When I decided that my time at Barcelona had ended, I looked for the best option for me,” F├ábregas said. “Arsenal was the first option, for contractual reasons. There was a clause that gave them the right to decide. We spoke to Wenger and he said that the space was very well filled by Mesut Ozil and it was hard to find a place for both of us in the team.” Fabregas confirmed that he had offers from various Premiership clubs. “I had many very good offers, the logical options. I spoke to Jose Mourinho and he told me that he wanted me there. He convinced me very, very quickly. He told me what I wanted to hear; he won me over and convinced me. It was very quick. I am very happy, very satisfied and I think it will all go phenomenally well,” he added.

French winger Jeremy Menez is thrilled at having made the move to Italian giants AC Milan, and is hoping to revive the club’s fortunes next season. The 27-year-old France international arrives in Italy on a free transfer from Ligue 1 champions Paris-Saint Germain, yet is very familiar with Italian football, having turned out for the Rossoneri’s rivals Roma between 2008 and 2011. Menez, who has 24 international caps to his name, is excited to work under new coach and former Rossoneri icon Filippo Inzaghi. The versatile forward said he is willing to play in any position his new manager wishes, insisting he is merely happy to have made the move to Milan. Menez is Milan’s second signing so far this off-season, following the footsteps of Brazilian team mate Alex who also joined the Italian side form PSG.

Belgium manager Marc Wilmots says Thibaut Courtois will be returning to Chelsea next season – and that the Stamford Bridge club will be selling Petr Cech. Courtois, who joined Chelsea in 2011, has since spent time on-loan at Spanish club Atletico Madrid where he has impressed. Jose Mourinho has made it clear he wants the 22-year-old back for next season, but Courtois replied by saying he’d only return if first-choice Cech was sold. That will now happen, according to Belgium boss Wilmots who was talking after the victory over Russia. “Yes, he will be returning to Chelsea this summer,” Wilmots said. “Will they sell Cech? Yes, probably.” Mourinho is expected to confirm his goalkeepers for next season after the World Cup.

Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has completed a move to Spanish club FC Barcelona. The Chilean
captain, who has been impressive in his country’s fine run at the FIFA World Cup so far, joins the Blaugrana from fellow La Liga side Real Sociedad. “FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad have reached an agreement for the transfer of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo,” Barcelona confirmed on their official website. “Claudio Bravo will sign a contract with FC Barcelona for the next four seasons.” The 31-year-old started his career at local side Colo-Colo before moving to Spain in 2006, spending eight years and making over 200 appearances for Sociedad.  Bravo will compete directly for the gloves with fellow new signing Marc-Andre ter Stegen following the departures of both Victor Valdes and Jose Pinto from the club. Bravo becomes Barca’s fifth acquisition of the new season, joining Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic as well as emerging talents Gerard Deulofeu and Rafinha, who return from their loan spells at Everton and Celta Vigo respectively.

Ivory Coast star Yaya Toure has revealed that Premier League club Manchester City prevented him from visiting the bedside of his dying brother at the end of the season. The midfielder’s brother Oyala Ibrahim tragically passed away last week after losing a battle with cancer, and Toure was left to regret not insisting on spending more time with his sibling after joining his club on a post-season tour of Abu Dhabi to celebreate their League crown. “At the end of the season, I wanted to stay for four or five days with my brother before I flew to prepare for the World Cup with Ivory Coast, except that City did not want to grant me a few days,” the Ivorian international told France Football. “I went to celebrate the title championship in Abu Dhabi while my brother was lying in his sickbed. By fortune, Kolo was at his bedside. After that I blame myself for not insisting and for not making them respect me.” Toure feels his club did not do enough to support him through the difficult time, which he describes as “the hardest in my life”. “However, club officials knew very well that I was suffering for a few months as the health of my brother declined,” he revealed. “This is the reason I had several injuries at the end of the season, because my head had taken control of my body. These last four months have probably been the hardest in my life.” Manchester City have since responded to their star man’s accusations, saying they did not receive a request for compassionate leave from the player, while giving their full support to the Toure family by helping to arrange the funeral and assisting with the paperwork.

Italian coach Cesare Prandelli has resigned in the immediate aftermath of his team’s World Cup elimination. The Azzurri failed to make it beyond the group stages for a second successive tournament following a controversial 1-0 defeat, in which Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio was sent off and Luis Suarez appeared to bite Giorgio Chiellini. Prandelli signed a new contract just before the tournament started, but says he will not be staying. “I never wanted to hear that I was stealing the money of Italian tax payers,” he said after the match.  “There was no need for a red card in the game but it changed everything. My resignation is irrevocable too.”

Athletic Bilbao have released a statement claiming they have rejected a €36m bid for Ander Herrera from Manchester United. The statement read: “The Athletic Club wishes to report that this week it rejected an offer from Manchester United FC, estimated at €36m, to transfer the federation and economic rights of the player Ander Herrera.” It is believed that the 24-year-old midfielder’s contract contains a clause that would see any potential fee increase at the end of this month. Herrera would become the first new signing United have made since they confirmed Louis van Gaal – currently in charge of the Holland national team at the World Cup – as the permanent successor to David Moyes, who was sacked in April. Moyes’s attempts to secure Herrera’s services last summer descended into farce on transfer deadline day.