International News - Issue 239

Torres Returns To Atletico
Fernando Torres will return to Atletico Madrid on loan until the end of next season, the club have announced. AC Milan on the weekend confirmed the permanent signing of Torres from Chelsea, but as expected the out-of-sorts Spanish striker will not be staying at the San Siro. A statement on Atleti's official website reads: "Fernando Torres returns to Atletico Madrid after an agreement was reached between our club and Milan as the international striker will play on loan for the remainder of the season and one more campaign.” Speculation had been rife that the deal could involve Alessio Cerci going the other way. Torres launched his career at the Vicente Calderon, netting 82 goals in 214 outings for Los Rojiblancos before moving on to Liverpool, Chelsea and then Milan.

Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is determined to come back stronger for his club spell after being benched in recent weeks. The Belgian gloveman was dropped from the Reds’ starting line-up ahead of their clash against Manchester United earlier this month, and spent the next three matches watching from the dug-out. Yet an injury to Brad Jones allowed the 26-year-old to come on and preserve his side’s cleansheet in their Boxing Day 1-0 victory over Burnley, and could very well start in Liverpool’s next League encounter on Monday evening. Mignolet revealed how coach Brendan Rodgers spoke to him before he was dropped, but insists he has learnt from his spell on the sidelines."We spoke together and cleared up a few things and I think that was a positive discussion,” the former Sunderland keeper said. "I will not discuss what we spoke about, but it was an honest meeting - why not? There is always a reason and discussion why, and I am a guy who always tries to speak and be positive and work hard on my game, and that is what I have done in this period with the goalie coach (John Achterberg) and Jonesy. Sometimes you have to make something positive from a negative thing like going out of the team, which I've tried to do. It is always difficult at first but I am a 26-year-old goalkeeper and I know what I have to work on, things in your game can still improve.”

Stoke boss Mark Hughes is hoping Bafana Bafana's Afcon group opponents Senegal go out early in the competition, such is the value of Mame Biram Diouf to the Potters. Hughes could be without Diouf - who scored both goals in Sunday's 2-0 win over West Brom - for up to a month depending on how the Teranga Lions fair at the CAF showpiece, which runs from January 17 to February 8 in Equatorial Guinea. "[I am] a little bit [frustrated]," Hughes said. "Because obviously he scored two today and strikers can be a bit streaky. Once they get a goal they invariably get them in the next two or three games. Hopefully that will be the case while he is still with us. We are going to miss him, but hopefully they'll get knocked very quickly so he won't miss many games." Hughes initially deployed Diouf out wide against the Baggies to accommodate Peter Crouch upfront. He later moved Diouf into a central role to good effect.

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal felt his team exhibited fatigue in their goalless draw with Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday. United, who beat Newcastle 3-1 on Boxing Day, started well against Spurs but lost momentum after the interval. Van Gaal believes playing two matches inside 48 hours detracted from the spectacle at White Hart Lane. "When you play your best first half of the season as Manchester United, at White Hart Lane, a top six club of the Premier League and you play like that, create six to eight chances, open chances, you have to finish that," Van Gaal said. "If you don't reward yourselves then, normally the opponent wins. You could see also the difference in the second half - it was not football any more, it was a struggle for life. Tottenham won the second balls and that's why they were more dominating than Manchester in the second half. "You need also a little fortune. Tottenham could score also in the second half. I'm happy that they didn't. The Dutchman added: "It's scientifically proven that the body cannot recover within 48 hours. When you, as an FA, allow that to play matches, you see what it's like. The second half was much different from the first half. And not only for Manchester United, also for Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea captain John Terry will soon receive a new contract offer, according to club manager Jose Mourinho. The 34-year-old defender's existing deal expires in June. “It's a formality," Mourinho said. "There are no doubts that he is going to get another contract. I know that, he knows that. We in the club, in the board, we know that and I think also you have to feel that. Without us confirming anything, you have to feel that. He's a very important player in the team so the next contract sooner or later will come." Terry is the Blues' most successful skipper, having led the Londoners to three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and a Champions League crown. He has been at Stamford Bridge since 1995, and has amassed 645 appearances for the league leaders.

Senegalese frontman Demba Ba has been omitted from his country’s preliminary squad that will do battle at the African Cup of Nations against South Africa next month. The 29-year-old, now with Turkish side Besiktas, has scored 16 goals in 19 appearances for his club this season, yet was excluded from Senegal’s last two Afcon qualifiers after being told by national coach Alain Giresse to rest an ankle injury. Yet Ba claimed he was never injured. "The coach called and said that I needed to rest and take care of my ankle. It feels strange to me as I am completely fit and able to play football," Ba said after his initial omission. "If Alain Giresse wanted to include me, he would have done so as he knows that my ankle is completely fine." It seems the former Chelsea and Newcastle striker has paid for his outburst as he was not named in a provisional 28-man Senegalese squad that will feature in the African showpiece in Equatorial Guinea next month. The Lions of Teranga will most likely be lead upfront by Newcastle forward Papiss Cisse, who has scored eight goals in 12 matches for the Magpies this season.

Mario Balotelli faces an even longer spell on the sidelines after coach Brendan Rodgers hinted that the striker does not fit into Liverpool’s plans. The Reds have been struggling this season and, while results have not been forthcoming, their play has slightly improved since switching to a 3-4-3 formation. Balotelli has not started a game since November 8, and Rodgers suggested the Italian might continue to be frustrated. “We’re at our best when our game is aggressive. So for us it was about trying to find the solution to get back that intensity and tempo to our game, which is critical in terms of how we work,” Rodgers says. “That’s key, that real aggressive pressure at the top end of the field. The players are starting to adapt and performances will get better and better. We have seen it’s not really his [Balotelli] game. Working with him for the period of time he’s been here we have seen that he’s probably someone who’s better in and around the box. That level of intensity and pressing isn’t part of his game. But you try to get the best out of the players you have and the qualities they have. So that’s something we will focus on. The most important thing is he is now available and adds another player to the squad. If the team is going to need him from the bench then it’s something he would have to become adjusted to.

Former Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson admits he used his infamous ‘Fergie Time’ as a ply while in charge of the Red Devils. The Scottish manager, who won 38 trophies in his illustrious 26-year career at Old Trafford, says he would stand on the touchline and look at his watch as a ploy to get into the minds of the match officials and his side’s opponents. "That's why I used to go to my watch,” the veteran explained to BT Sport. “I never looked at my watch, I didn't know how many minutes. It gets across to the opponents and the referee, which is a little trick. The thing about the last 10-15 minutes of a game, particularly at Old Trafford, you've got 65,000 people there. At half-time I always stress: don't panic, be patient, wait. In the last 15 minutes you can do what you like. I'm a gambler, shove bodies up front, take the gamble ... it didn't always work but a lot of times it did. If you're in that dressing room after the game and we've scored in the last minute, the electricity is unbelievable, they're jumping on top of each other, hand-clapping, it's a fantastic place to be.” Ferguson said he was just doing his job of keeping the United faithful content. Most important thing is that those fans are walking out of the stadium desperate to get down to the pub to talk about, desperate to get home to tell their wife and their kids what happened at Old Trafford in the last minute of the game,” he said. “And that's my job, to get them home happy."

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has ordered for the pitch at their Anfield base to be relayed as he feels it hinders their passing game. Rodgers believes the pitch at Anfield is of a lower standard to the one at their Melwood training ground, and wants the renovations to take place during the off season at the end of May next year. “We will be getting a new pitch next summer to help the speed of our game,” explained Rodgers. “It is an old pitch that has not been upgraded for some years and it can be a disadvantage for us. It is difficult to play one-touch football on it. It is nothing to do with the ground staff at the club or at Melwood, who are outstanding, it is just because the pitch is old,” he added. The Reds boss, though, will continue to play on the pitch as the process of resurfacing it takes time and therefore cannot be done during the course of the season. “We will do the best on it until the end of the season,” said the former Swansea manager.

Bundesliga strugglers Borussia Dortmund continue to support under-fire coach Jurgen Klopp despite the club ending 2014 joint-bottom of the League standings. The German club, who finished second to winners Bayern Munich in the title race last season, have had a dismal first half of their 2014/15 season, losing ten of their 17 matches – the most losses in the German League thus far by any club. Despite finishing top of their Champions League group, they have not been able to convert their impressive continental form onto the domestic front as they have amassed just 15 points from their 17 games and are a humiliating 30 points behind pace-setters Bayern already. The Dortmund faithful have voiced their displeasure with jeers and banners at recent matches, yet club chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke says criticism of coach Jurgen Klopp is “embarrassing” as the club continues to back the 47-year-old German tactician. "There is zero doubt over Klopp's control. We are totally convinced by him," Watzke said. Watzke did however admit that the club will look to beef up their squad in the upcoming January transfer window, with a fee already agreed for Salzburg and Slovenian international midfielder Kevin Kampl. With an uphill battle in the Bundesliga facing them in 2015, Dortmund will also have their work cut out in the Champions League, where they have been drawn against Serie A champions Juventus.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez has criticised Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo’s status as the favourite to win the 2014 Ballon d’Or award. Ronaldo is widely tipped to win the coveted FIFA World Player of the Year for the second successive year after winning it in 2013. Last season, Ronaldo was instrumental in helping Madrid lift their 10th UEFA Champions League title. However, Xavi has questioned the Portuguese’s status, pointing out that Ronaldo failed to help his national team to advance beyond the group stages of the World Cup in Brazil earlier this year. "He didn't do much in the World Cup, and in a World Cup year, the season is defined by that," said the Spanish international. The 34-year-old also revealed that his Real Madrid rival would not feature in his top three for 2014. "[In first place I would have] Leo, second Philipp Lahm, and third Javier Mascherano," he added. Xavi then went on to rubbish reports that Argentine stalwart Leo Messi has an attitude problem after he refused to be substituted against La Liga side Eibar in October. "This image of Messi is totally false," he said. "I think it's great that people can talk and say what they want, but this is a lie. Messi never imposes himself on the team. This squad agrees on everything.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was left fuming after he finished in second place in a vote for Sweden’s top sports person of all time. Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter recently listed their top 150 sports stars of all time, with tennis star Bjorn Borg finishing it top sport. Ibrahimovic was aggrieved at being placed behind Borg, as he felt he deserved much more than that. "Thank you, but to finish second is like finishing last," he said, after being congratulated. When asked to rank himself, the Swedish national team captain emphasised his unrivalled status as the greatest. "I would have been number one, two, three, four and five, with due respect to the others," said Ibrahimovic.

Xavi says it was a late call from Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu which kept him at the club and stopped a move to Major League Soccer. The 34-year-old Spanish international looked set to join New York City, having told the Catalans of his decision prior to the World Cup due to a lack of game-time under Tito Martino. But Bartomeu’s call – and a subsequent one to new coach Luis Enrique – convinced Xavi to prolong his career at the Nou Camp. "The decision was made. I was going to New York. It was all done,” he told Sport. “A call from Bartomeu was what changed everything. He called my agent and told him that he wanted me here. Before I went to the World Cup I told them I thought my time at Barcelona was over. I did not feel useful and thought it was not to be. After the World Cup I received a call from Bartomeu and then talked to Luis Enrique. He told me I'm going to be a very useful player, that if I prove it, I'll play, that I'm still competitive and they thought of me well, that we would have a good year. He convinced me. It was decisive. I changed. We already had bags packed with my wife to go to New York." Xavi now says it was one of the best decisions he has made. “I'm happy. I'm enjoying it. I would never have imagined it. I feel useful, I feel competitive. There are days that I felt I played well, I had good games and good performances and I think the team is going in the right direction."

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has implied former club Barcelona are a one-man team this season given their reliance on Lionel Messi. Barca are through to the last-16 of the Champions League as group winners, while they are only a point behind Real Madrid in the La Liga standings, albeit having played an extra game. Fabregas, however, feels Messi has shouldered much of the responsibility for the Catalans progress in 2014/15. "This season Barca are Messi and 10 others," he told Radio Marca. "Messi has saved his team on many occasions." When asked if he would like the Argentinian to join him at the Blues, he said: "I wish! Why not? I'd love that to happen. I'd be all for it. As a Barca man, I believe that Messi deserves to retire there for all that he has given the club. He is a legend that has changed Barca's history. But, as his team-mate and friend, without doubt I'd love to have Leo by my side."