International News - Issue 240

Gerrard Confirms Liverpool Exit With USA His Next Destination
Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has officially confirmed his decision to leave the Premier League to ply his trade in the MLS in the United States of America. Gerrard announced on Friday that he would be leaving his boyhood club after 17 years of service to the first team, but has revealed that he will continue playing in a different league and country. Real Sociedad boss David Moyes and Southampton boss Ronald Koeman have both stated their desires to welcome the former England captain to their teams, but the 34-year-old has now put an end to all uncertainty by confirming that he has already decided to move to America. “I’ll be going to play in USA. I’m not over the line with any team yet. I’m close & as soon as I know, I’ll make the announcement,” Gerrard told LFC TV. The Liverpool captain has also promised that he will continue to give his best for The Reds until his contract ends in June, and will try to end his illustrious career at Anfield with some silverware. “I’ll live with the pressure and the responsibility for another six months and try my best to add one or two more trophies,” he said. “Hopefully it’s more of a ‘see you soon’ rather than a ‘goodbye’.”

Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc has handed two-game bans to Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi for returning to the club four days late from their winter break. The attackers, who have both been linked with moves away from the capital outfit, missed a training camp in Morocco, prompting Blanc to take disciplinary action. "Lavezzi and Cavani will train away from the group until Saturday and will not participate in the next two games," Blanc said. "It is unacceptable. When one puts his personal project above the collective I can become a bit radical." When asked about their possible exit, Blanc replied: "There may be movement. Purchases, loans, sales, but it's a bit too early to talk about." Blanc was more direct on his desire to keep midfielder Adrien Rabiot, a reported loan target of Tottenham Hotspur. "I want to keep Rabiot. He re-signed, he is part of the future. But it is a very complicated issue."

Injury has ruled both Medhi Abeid and Essaid Belkacem out of the African Nations Cup finals in a double blow to Bafana Bafana’s opponents Algeria. Abeid’s possible withdraw because of injury had been muted over the last weeks with uncapped Ahmed Kashi of Metz placed on standby as a replacement for the Newcastle United player. But defender Belkacem was also formally ruled out at the weekend after a medical examination by Algeria’s team doctors as the squad began their preparations for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea, which starts on January 17. Belkacem was injured playing for his Turkish club Trabzonspor last month. Algeria will compete in Group C at the Nations Cup against Ghana, Senegal and South Africa. Their opening game is on January 19 against Bafana in Mongomo.

Midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa's contract with Newcastle has been ended by mutual consent, the club have confirmed. It paves the way for the 27-year-old to move to French side Nice. The Ligue 1 club said on Saturday that they had reached "an agreement in principle" with the Frenchman. He signed for Newcastle from Marseille in January 2011, and had spent this season on loan at Hull but the proposed season-long deal was ended early. Afterwards former Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said the Frenchman would not return to St James' Park. Nice, coached by Claude Puel, are currently 11th in Ligue 1.

Tony Pulis has been appointed head coach of Premier League strugglers West Bromwich Albion. Pulis, 56, has agreed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Baggies. The ex-Stoke and Crystal Palace manager is the club's fourth head coach in a year, following Alan Irvine's sacking. Pulis, who managed Stoke from 2006 to 2013, steered Crystal Palace clear of relegation trouble last term. A strong second half of the campaign saw them finish 11th, while Pulis won the Premier League manager of the year award, but he quit two days before the start of this season. He joins West Brom with the club just one point above the relegation zone after former head coach Irvine was placed on gardening leave on Tuesday having won only four of his 19 league games in charge.

Alan Pardew has officially been announced as the new head coach of Premier League outfit Crystal Palace. The 53-year-old replaces Neil Warnock, who was sacked last week Saturday, leaving his role as head coach of Newcastle United. Pardew, who has coached Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton in the past, was thrilled with his appointment, having spent four years as a midfielder for the club from 1987-1991. "I am absolutely delighted to be the new manager of Crystal Palace,” he said. “Everyone knows my history here, what's important now is to move the club to the next level. I believe with the backing of Steve and the board I can help achieve that and create some new exciting history for the club.”

Afcon hosts Equatorial Guinea have fired coach Andoni Goikoetxea just two weeks before the start of the tournament. Goikoetxea, a former Spanish international, had been in charge for the past two years, but was shown the door after the election of a new president for the Equatorial Guinea Football Federation (FEGUIFUT) last week. The newly-elected president Andres Jorge Mbomio announced Goikoetxea’s sacking, but gave no reasons for the decision. A lack of positive results by the national side in recent regional competitions, as well as two friendly losses in warm-up games in Portugal last week against Villafranquense and Benfica's B team, seemed to have made up the national association’s mind in not renewing Goikoetxea’s contract, which ended on 31 December. The fact that he did not travel with the side to their warm-up games in Portugal did not help his cause either. Argentinean coach Esteban Becker is set to take over the reins for the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Becker, 50, was previously in charge of Equatorial Guinea's women's team, who he led to the 2012 Nations Cup title.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero looks set to make his comeback from injury against Arsenal on January 18, according to Citizens manager Manuel Pellegrini. Top scorer Aguero has been sidelined with a knee problem since early December. However, Pellegrini revealed the Argentine is nearing a return.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo will leave the club on loan deals in January as the club begin their business in the mid-season transfer window. Podolski will move to Inter Milan after being pictured shaking hands with manager Roberto Mancini and posting a parting message to Gunners supporters via Instagram. The Germany international has not made a single start in the Premier league this season and his future at Arsenal is uncertain, with just a year remaining on his contract when he will return to the Emirates Stadium at the end of this campaign. "He is going to Inter Milan on loan," Wenger confirmed after Arsenal's 2-0 FA Cup win over Hull City on Sunday 4 January. "We got a decent agreement and of course I have so many options up front that he was frustrated will not getting a chance in the team, which you can understand at his age." The future of Sanogo is however bathed in uncertainty after Wenger confirmed the France Under-21 international would also be loaned out but insisted he prefers the player moves to a Premier League club rather than abroad. Bordeaux manager Willy Sagnol said over the weekend a deal to sign Sanogo until the end of the season was "on the right road" but Wenger would prefer to see the player move closer to home. "Yaya is here at the moment. He is different from [Lukas] Podolski – Podolski was frustrated," he added. "Sanogo needs more experience at the top level in the Premier League. He's ready to play but we have so many options up front that it's difficult to play. "Personally, I said that many times I prefer the Premier League. That's still the case." Amid a host of departures, Arsenal are expected to make at least one signing in the January window, with the club's back four requiring surgery with just six senior defenders available to Wenger.

Italian outfit AC Milan enter 2015 brimming with confidence following their 4-2 friendly victory over La Liga giants Real Madrid in Dubai last Tuesday night. Despite being a friendly clash, the Dubai Challenge Cup featured numerous stars from Madrid’s Galactico squad, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema. Yet it was the Italians who emerged victorious, thanks to a brace from talented forward Stephan El Shaarawy sandwiched in between Jeremy Menez’s opener and Giampaolo Pazzini’s late header, despite Ronaldo and Benzema finding the back of the net for their more-fancied opponents.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has called for new measures to battle the issue of players diving in order to win the referee’s favour during matches. Wenger has strongly stated his disfavour of players diving, and has now called on the English FA to implement new measures to stop players from getting away with it. The Gunners boss has suggested that a panel of experts be tasked to analyse whether dives were intentional or not, and players should then be punished immediately after being reviewed. “We should punish diving after the game,” said Wenger. “The problem will be to decide when it was obvious or not because sometimes it is not obvious. There should be a panel and the most suited to this are people who have an experience in the game. They should punish only the obvious cases, not mixed ones. Naming those guilty alone doesn't work. You have to suspend the players. I don't know how long for, it depends, but the only way that the players will stop doing it is if they feel they can get punished,” he added. Wenger has also called on players to play with honesty rather to play by trying to win the referees favour in critical areas of the field, and explains that coaches talking to their players about diving will not help. "You have to choose between being clever and being honest and that is a bad solution. What you want is for a player to play with honesty. Once the players start to dive or not to dive, it makes it difficult for the referee. Even if you talk to the players who have that in them, they will do it in the game,” he said.

Barcelona say they will assess their legal options after the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) upheld their transfer ban. The Catalan giants were handed a two-window ban a few months ago for supposed illegal transfer of a number of youngsters. They subsequently took their appeal to CAS but have not found any luck. The club said in a statement: “FC Barcelona wishes to state, with all due respect for the sports authorities, that it totally disagrees with the verdict of CAS announced on Tuesday to confirm the sanction originally imposed by FIFA as a consequence of the alleged breach of regulations on the international transfer of minor footballers. The club has made it clear to the FIFA Disciplinary Commission, the FIFA Appeals Commission and the CAS itself that it understands and supports the policy on the protection of minors and the concern for the protection of their development and education. This is confirmed by how the club has acted throughout its history, setting an example around the world for the way its young footballers are schooled and educated, and the work that is done on their development. FC Barcelona’s youth structure has enabled hundreds of young players to achieve their dreams and receive a decent upbringing. The errors that the club might have committed, and which have been recognised and argued before the corresponding authorities are, in all cases, of an administrative nature and to a large extent have been caused by the existing conflict between the FIFA regulations and Spanish legislation, along with the club’s conviction that it was acting correctly. Therefore, FC Barcelona considers the sanction to be completely disproportionate as it supposes an excessive punishment for the club, when considering its trajectory and the circumstances of this specific case. In this regard, where the judicial grounds for the CAS decision are announced, the club shall proceed by studying and evaluating the different legal options available, among others the possibility of appealing against the CAS arbitration to the Swiss Federal Courts.”

Bafana Bafana's Afcon rivals Senegal are coached by a puppet, according to disgruntled striker Demba Ba. The Besiktas star failed to make Alain Giresse's provisional 28-man Teranga Lions squad for the CAF showpiece, taking place in Equatorial Guinea from January 17 to February 8. Senegal boast a host of top quality forwards such as Mame Diouf, Diafra Sakho, Moussa Sow, Sadio Mane and Papiss Cisse, but clearly Ba is upset at his omission. “I am not here to say if some of the players deserve or not to be there, but when I see some of the names chosen ahead of me, I do not agree,” Demba Ba said. “Looking at this list, it seems that we are not dealing with the coach of a national team but rather with a puppet. It is clear that he didn’t take some of the decisions. Following our defeat in Tunisia, he was in the changing room, with a dazed look, not knowing how to start his speech. I insist that we are not dealing with a coach but with a puppet.”

Forty-five thousand fans flocked to the Vicente Calderon to welcome Fernando Torres back to Atletico Madrid. The 30-year-old striker has rejoined his boyhood team on an 18-month loan from AC Milan, who signed him permanently from Chelsea last month. Torres has struggled for form ever since leaving Liverpool for Stamford Bridge in 2011 but he is revered by Atleti supporters for his 91 goals in 244 outings for the club. "Just over seven years since we parted, today we are here at last and for me this is a very special and exciting day," Torres said at his unveiling on Sunday. "I know that I have come to a team of champions. This team is very competitive; I have enjoyed the victories from the outside. Last season [winning the title] is an example of what this club is. I am delighted to be back because it is always nice to come home." He added: "Personally I am more mature and happy. I have my family and that's the most important thing to me. On a sporting level I left as a boy aged 24; I needed to leave for the club and myself to grow. It was the hardest decision of my career but thankfully time has proven us right. We have grown, the club has won titles and I have got the titles I sought. But I am looking forward to being here because I have many things to win." Torres could begin his second stint with the La Liga champions with a match against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

AC Milan have completed the loan signing of winger Alessio Cerci from Atletico Madrid. As was widely speculated, Cerci makes the move in the wake of Fernando Torres' return to Atletico from Milan in late December. Cerci, who represented Italy at the 2014 World Cup, was unable to impress for Rojiblancos this season after shining for Torino last term. The 27-year-old was the only player in Serie A to sport double figures in both goals and assists in 2013/14, scoring 13 times and providing 12 assists.

Real Madrid's 22-game winning streak in all competitions ended with a 2-1 League loss at Valencia on Sunday. Real, who set a Spanish record with their victorious run, took the lead through a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty 14 minutes in at the Mestalla. However, Valencia hit back after the break via a deflected strike from Antonio Barragan and towering header by Nicolas Otamendi. The result kept Los Blancos a point ahead of Barcelona at the summit after 16 games apiece. Barca later lost 1-0 at Real Sociedad due to an early own goal from Jordi Alba, leaving them ahead of Atletico Madrid - who beat Levante 3-1 on Saturday - in the standings on goal difference.