International News - Issue 242

Arsenal Secure Signing Of Young Polish Starlet
Arsene Wenger has confirmed Arsenal have agreed a £2m fee with Legia Warsaw for young midfielder Krystian Bielik. Arsenal beat a number of clubs, including Bundesliga side Hamburg, to the signature of the 17-year-old who underwent a medical on Friday morning. The Poland youth international has made just six first-team appearances for Legia this season. Wenger said: "He's a defensive midfielder, he is 6ft 2ins, he has a good energy level and a good technical level. Is £2m a lot of money? It is less than that but yes, it is a lot of money for a player if he doesn't succeed. If he does succeed, it's cheap. Of course, it's a gamble. But on what we saw, it's a gamble worth taking." Wenger also confirmed the club were exploring the possibility of signing West Ham defender Winston Reid whose contract at Upton Park expires in the summer. Asked if Reid was someone Arsenal was looking at, the Frenchman said: “Of course. We are out on the market and we work very hard every day. All of our scouts, all of our people are working very hard to find a defender.” Arsenal are interested in signing the Villarreal defender Gabriel Paulista – but the Spaniards will only sell in this transfer window if a club meets his buy-out clause of around £15m, according to Sky Sports. The Brazilian, 24, started his career in his homeland with Vitoria, before moving to Villarreal in August 2013, signing a five-year contract.

Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo says he will attempt to make a playing comeback this spring with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier North American Soccer League. The world soccer player of the year in 1996, 1997 and 2002, Ronaldo is now 38 and hasn't played since February 2011 with Brazil's Corinthians. He spoke at a news conference Wednesday called to announce he has become a part-owner of the Strikers. Ronaldo said his return to the field will help the league and soccer in America. Asked whether he would play, Ronaldo responded in English and said "that is not easy. I love to play," he said. "That was my big love. But when I retired, it was because of my body. I had so much pain and so many injuries. It isn't easy to get fit. I will try. I will train a lot." Since retiring as a player, Ronaldo has become a part-owner of a marketing company called 9ine Sports and Entertainment, which represents Barcelona star forward Neymar and mixed martial arts fighter Anderson Silva. He joins a team that lost to San Antonio in last year's NASL final last season. Fort Lauderdale averaged 3,092 fans for home games, almost half the league average of 5,989. NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson, who attended the news conference, said his league will soon challenge Major League Soccer, which averaged 18,704 last year. MLS plans to start a Miami team led by retired star David Beckham, who is trying to find a site in Miami to build a stadium. "We just finished our fourth season," Preston said. "We have 11 teams. Our goal is to have 20 teams by 2018. Our goal is to line up against any club in the world by 2018." The Strikers, who open their season on April 4 against the New York Cosmos, said they will try to bring in players from soccer-skilled Brazil, using the connections of Ronaldo and their other Brazilian owners.

New Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony says the chance to play Champions League football was a major factor in his decision to join the Citizens. The Ivorian put pen to paper in a four-year deal worth an estimated £28 million (R492 million) with the reigning Premier League champions, joining from Welsh outfit Swansea City. The 26-year-old, who has scored nine goals and provided three assists in his 20 League matches thus far this season, said that the opportunity to play Champions League football was a major factor in luring him to the Etihad. “The Champions League is a competition I haven’t played in yet,” Bony told Sky Sports. “I really want to feel it and enjoy it. I want to be in the action, not watching it on TV.” Bony said he had spoken to City manager Manuel Pellegrini extensively, as the Chilean boss had encouraged him to make the move to Manchester, especially after asking international teammate Yaya Toure. Bony will only feature in a City shirt in February, as he is currently on international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.

AC Milan coach Filippo Inzaghi is making no excuses for his side’s dismal run recently, blaming no one but himself. The Rossoneri have won just two of their last 12 League encounters, losing 1-0 at home to 15th-placed Atalanta on Sunday which left them languishing in eighth place in the Serie A standings, 20 points behind leaders Juventus. Milan had ended 2014 on a high, beating Napoli, drawing with second-placed Roma and beating European champions Real Madrid in a friendly, yet have lost two of their three league matches thus far this year. The former Italy international, in his first head coaching role, says his side need to bounce back quickly, but has put the blame firmly on himself for the lack of positive results at the San Siro. "It's not a question to do with the formation, but rather playing with heart and desire,” said the 41-year-old. “We have to wake up quickly and get back to doing what we have been doing. I am calm but at the same time disappointed. I don't like to look for excuses or who is to blame. I take the blame and we will try and turn the whistles into cheers." Milan next travel to fifth-placed Lazio in what should be a fiery Serie A encounter in Rome on Saturday evening.

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff finds it "absurd" that Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or given the Portugal captain's poor performance at the World Cup. Ronaldo claimed the accolade for a third time on 12 January, beating four-time winner Messi and World Cup champion Manuel Neuer to football's top individual playing prize. "At the highest level, it's all about the combination of individual quality and achievements," Cruyff, who thrice picked up the accolade, wrote in his column for De Telegraaf. "From that point of view, it's absurd that for the second year in a row a player has been given the award who did not both play excellent and win the most trophies. Back in 2013, Bayern Munich won every single trophy out there, yet Cristiano Ronaldo still won the award instead of a player like Toni Kroos or someone else from Bayern. In 2014, Kroos was a key player again for the team that won the World Cup, yet he was not even among the final three nominees. Ronaldo was completely anonymous at the World Cup. Let this be clear, I cannot take this Fifa award seriously anymore."

Manchester United striker Radamel Falcao insists he needs to be given game-time in order to prove his worth in Manchester. The Colombian has scored just three goals since arriving on loan from Monaco at the start of the season, with coach Louis van Gaal saying the forward needs to earn his place in his starting line-up. Having dropped the 29-year-old from the matchday squad against Southampton, Falcao was recalled and started in United’s 2-0 victory over QPR on Saturday, starting the match yet missing numerous opportunities as he failed to get onto the scoresheet. Despite not finding the back of the net, Falcao said he was glad to be back on the field, insisting that the goals will come soon as long as he is given time to play. “It was 90 very important minutes for me,” Falcao told reporters. “I need to play and I am very happy that I did. Obviously, I really hope to score soon, but the opportunities will come, I am sure of that.” The former Porto frontman says he is feeling fully fit after Saturday’s win, but lamented his missed chances which could have put the game to bed earlier in the afternoon.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho says his biggest transfer regret of his career thus far was not signing Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. The Portuguese boss came close to signing the Reds skipper in his first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, yet the former England international chose to stay at his boyhood club on Merseyside. Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield on Tuesday night, Blues coach Jose Mourinho revealed how he dreamed of signing Gerrard to form his ideal midfield at Stamford Bridge. "He (Gerrard) is a historical player for Liverpool, a historical player for the Premier League and an opponent I have always admired and respected," Mourinho said. "We did everything to try (to sign him) and it was almost there. I was dreaming of (Claude) Makelele, Gerrard and (Frank) Lampard in midfield. "We were playing in a proper triangle without a number 10 and playing Maka in front of the defenders. Me, Mr Abramovich and (former Chelsea chief executive) Peter Kenyon at that time, we dreamed of that.” Yet Mourinho acknowledged that in his mind, Gerrard would have never turned on the club he joined as a nine-year old. "His people were open to him joining a top side like Chelsea,” Mourinho said. “But to me personally he never said he would come. Never. He (Gerrard) was always a red and I think the decision was right." When asked if that was his biggest ever transfer regret, Mourinho replied, "Yes, but I have another one when I was trying Lampard to Inter. I was almost there and it didn't happen too. I had a couple of disappointments and that's normal in football."

Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor says he has no intention of leaving the club following a difficult spell for the Togo international. Adebayor made his return in Spurs' 2-1 win against Sunderland on Saturday, having missed over two months of action due to a combination of injury, illness and family issues. "I went through a lot, obviously, but, for me, being back on the pitch and playing football again, that's what matters to me," Adebayor said. "I am very happy and I am very pleased and, yes, now hopefully I can get my form back and enjoy myself on the football pitch. That's the most important thing. I obviously had an issue with my family - things aren't going along right and I decided to go back home and find a solution for it. In between coming back I got a few injuries as well, but, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to get my head right, get my life [right] and, for me, that's all that matters. Football is a game - we enjoy it, we embrace it but sometimes when you need a break, you have to take it. Now I am back and very happy to be back again playing and doing my job again." When asked if his issues had been resolved, he said: "I don't know whether they are sorted out or not. But, for me, I've realised with my age that I just have to leave all these problems behind me and do what I love doing best, which is playing football. So, sorted out? I don't know. But behind me? Definitely, yes."

Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc hopes Argentine duo Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi will bounce back after being banned for three matches. The South American pair were left out of the French side’s last three encounters after failing to report to PSG’s mid-season training camp in Morocco, while then also arriving late to the club’s first training session back home. PSG, in Cavani and Lavezzi’s absence, were shocked 4-2 last weekend against 14th-placed Bastia. Blanc hopes they have learnt their lesson and will deliver for the club for the remainder of the campaign. PSG are winless in their last three League matches and sit fourth on the French table, and Blanc hopes the return to full fitness from club megastars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva will help resurrect his side's season.

Schalke have completed the loan signing of Matija Nastasic from English champions Manchester City. The Bundesliga side will have the option of making the deal permanent in June. Nastasic will hope to make his Schalke debut against Hannover when the German topflight resumes on January 31 after a winter break. The 21-year-old, who joined City in August 2012 from Fiorentina, has only made one appearance this season - in the 3-0 defeat against Arsenal in the Community Shield.

Former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah has announced his retirement from football at the age of 34. Appia, who notably lead the Black Stars on their World Cup debut in 2006, earned 67 caps for his country, while he represented the likes of Juventus, Parma and Fenerbahce at club level. Appiah last played for a Serbian club two years ago.

Gary Neville says if Kevin Mirallas went against team orders to take a penalty in Everton's 0-0 draw with West Brom on Monday Night Football, the action is "despicable". Despite Leighton Baines being Everton's main taker and missing only one Premier League penalty in his career, Mirallas took it upon himself to take a spot-kick against West Brom just before half-time, before missing the target. Mirallas did not reappear for the second half as Everton boss Roberto Martinez instead introduced Bryan Oviedo, but Neville accepts Martinez's explanation that the Belgian was "not 100 per cent" and "feeling his hamstring" for the second period. Roberto Martinez said Mirallas was substituted due to "feeling his hamstring". Neville said on Monday Night Football: "If he's done what I think he's done, go against team orders, manager orders, and selfishly taken the ball, it's one of the most despicable breaches of team orders you can possibly have. You do not do that at any cost. Leighton Baines, not the most confrontational type of lad, he's the type that has probably said: 'go on then, if you're confident'. But what usually happens in dressing rooms is your free-kick takers, penalty-takers are usually listed."

Rangers caretaker-manager Kenny McDowall has resigned, citing personal reasons. The Championship club announced that McDowall will serve a 12-month notice period under the terms of his contract, as his predecessor Ally McCoist was due to do. McDowall succeeded McCoist when the latter stood down on 21 December and was placed on gardening leave. A statement on the club website read: "Kenny McDowall has tendered his resignation as caretaker manager of Rangers Football Club, citing personal reasons for stepping down. Kenny, who has been a fantastic servant of the club, will serve his 12-month notice period, during which time he will remain 100% committed to his normal duties. The club respects Kenny’s decision and he will continue to have the full support of everybody at Rangers." The news comes against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter battle for boardroom control with the club admitting on Monday that they may have to mortgage off Ibrox stadium as secuirty on a loan.

Swansea have turned down a bid in excess of £3m from Crystal Palace for defender Neil Taylor.  West Brom manager Tony Pulis was reported to be interested in bringing Taylor, who has won 20 caps for Wales, to the Hawthorns, but new Palace boss Alan Pardew has stepped in with a bid for the left-back. Swansea boss Garry Monk has already lost striker Wilfried Bony, who joined Manchester City for £25million, and now faces a fight to keep Taylor who has 18 months left of his contract at the Liberty Stadium. Pardew, who has already signed Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo, is also rumoured to be interested in signing Taylor's team-mate Jonjo Shelvey.

Roma president James Pallotta claims Manchester United will have to pay a significant fee to secure midfielder Kevin Strootman. The 24-year-old Netherlands international has still to make a full recovery from the cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out of the World Cup in Brazil last summer. But Strootman is thought to be a priority target for United boss Louis van Gaal, who is familiar with the player from his time in charge of the Dutch. Roma manager Rudi Garcia insisted the club would not sell the player for less than £77m (100m euros) last year and Pallotta's comments in an interview with Bleacher Report suggest little has changed. "We want to put the best team on the pitch, that's the most important thing," Pallotta said. “But we're businessmen. If someone comes in with a stupid number for a player, you have to listen to it. You can't just say 'no, no matter what'. My view is that I don't want Kevin to go, for example, but if someone offers a huge amount, you at least have to listen to them. You're running a team, so you have to look at what's best for everyone, not just one individual. That's the way the world works." Roma signed Strootman from PSV Eindhoven for £14.75m in 2013, and he played 25 times for the Serie A club last season.

Xherdan Shaqiri is confident he has made the right decision to join Inter Milan after turning down offers to join the Premier League in the January transfer window. The Switzerland international joined Inter from Bayern Munich last week and has signed a contract that will keep him at San Siro until June 2019. The 23-year-old midfielder had been strongly linked with a move to England, where Everton, Liverpool and Stoke were reportedly keen to acquire his services. Inter unveiled Shaqiri on Wednesday and he told the Italian press: "I had offers from England and Germany but my wish was to join Inter. "Juventus was also an option but I wanted Inter. I spoke to (Inter coach Roberto) Mancini on the phone and he explained the project to me and it really had an impact. The choice was very clear. Moreover, the idea to play in a new league fascinated me." Shaqiri joined Bayern from Basle in 2012 and won two Bundesliga medals and the 2013 Champions League with the German club, but he struggled to establish himself in the first team.

Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has emerged as a transfer target for Spanish side Valencia.  Fletcher, 30, has six months remaining on his deal at United but has struggled for game time under Louis van Gaal. West Brom had a bid to take Fletcher on loan for the rest of the season rejected last week. After starting the first three league games of the season, he has since largely been restricted to sporadic appearances from the bench, making his last start in the 2-0 FA Cup win at Yeovil at the start of this month. And with more arrivals expected at United, if not this month then in the summer, he is likely to get even fewer first-team opportunities.