International News - Issue 252

Bale Not Bothered By Boo Boys
Welsh winger Gareth Bale said he does not feel he has a point to prove after scoring a brace in his country's 3-0 win over Israel in a European Championship qualifier on Saturday. Bale has been booed by Real Madrid fans this season, with his car also being punched and kicked when leaving Real's training complex in the wake of the club's 2-1 La Liga defeat to Barcelona. The 25-year-old, however, maintains he does not feel pressured to perform. "I don't need to answer the critics," he told reporters after his double strike on the weekend, which included a fine free-kick. "I know, and everyone around me knows, what I can do. There are ups and downs in football, you have to take it with a pinch of salt and all you can do is respond with your performances on the pitch, like that. I don't feel I need to prove anyone wrong or right, I just need to play my football. I love playing for Wales, it's a big honour and the most important thing is I focus on my football. I don't listen to anyone else, what they're saying, just enjoy my football with the boys."

Javier Hernandez admits his confidence is suffering as he struggles for game-time at Real Madrid. The striker, who scored in Mexico's 1-0 win over Ecuador on the weekend, has made just one La Liga start for Real this season since his arrival on loan from Manchester United. Hernandez has scored three goals in 13 league appearances in total for the Spanish giants. "My situation is frustrating. I participate, give my all in training but, as far as for playing in matches, the opportunities are minimal. I belong to a team, but am not part of the important bit, the actual games," Hernandez told Fox Sports. "Sometimes my confidence is right down on the ground, even though I am trying for it to be up there, with the help of the people who are always at my side and who support me. The most important thing is to get chances and to feel that they believe in you. Whenever they have entrusted me to do something it comes out positively, but I've been through two rather frustrating years. There need to be people who believe in me, so I can at least prove if I am any good or not."

Italy coach Antonio Conte received death threats after Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio was injured while on international duty. Juve fans feared their star man ruptured his knee ligaments while training for Saturday night's Euro 2016 qualifier against Bulgaria, although those fears have been allayed. Italian Football Federation president Carlo Tavecchio told Italian radio station Radio Rai: "He received death threats on the internet. I saw Conte shaken this morning. I met with him for a long time and he is not calm. All these things have been said on social networks and he feels vilified for something that is not his fault. The FIGC stands by him." Juventus are 14 points clear of second-placed Roma in Seria A.

Luis Suarez says he will only play for Liverpool should he return to England. Suarez was back at Anfield for the first time on Sunday since his summer move to Barcelona to play in a Liverpool FC Foundation All-Star charity match between teams picked by Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. The Uruguayan came on as a half-time substitute alongside fellow ex-Reds forward Fernando Torres, and made an impact as he won a penalty off Carragher, with Gerrard netting from the spot to go with an earlier spot-kick as the match ended 2-2. Afterwards, Suarez told LFCTV: "You never know in football what the future holds but if I ever play in England again I will play for the Liverpool team and not another team. I've missed the fans," added Suarez, who scored the winner in El Clasico against Real Madrid a week prior. "The atmosphere is unbelievable, it's amazing. Everyone who's played for Liverpool knows how important the supporters are. They know they are in my heart." Suarez scored 82 goals in 133 appearances for the Reds from 2011 to mid-2014.

Inter Milan forward Lukas Podolski is fed up with his critics in Italy, and hopes to improve his form in order to keep his spot in the German national team. The 29-year-old joined the Serie A side on loan from Arsenal in the January transfer window, but is yet to fire for the Italian club – he is yet to find the back of the net, providing just two assists in ten appearances for the Nerazzurri. The Gunners frontman has endured severe criticism from the Italian media, with some labelling him as the worst signing of the season, and he has now vented his frustration while on international duty with Germany. "People keep bringing up how the Italian media looks at me," he told reporters. "What can I do about it? Should I just dig myself into the ground and give up playing football?" Podolski did however retain his spot in the national team, coming off the bench to score the equaliser – and his 48th international goal – as Germany could only manage a 2-2 draw with Australia last Wednesday. The striker says he enjoys playing for his national team and hopes he will continue to feature for the 2014 World Cup champions. "I have always been part of the team and I hope this will continue to be the case," he said. "I always enjoy being with the national team and always give my all in training to show the coach what I can do. It's then up to him to make a decision."

England goalkeeper Joe Hart believes Sergio Aguero poses a greater threat in front of goal than Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. The Manchester City shot-stopper produced a fine display against Messi’s Barcelona side in the Champions League match-up last week, making some fine saves at Camp Nou as the Citizens lost 1-0, and 3-1 on aggregate, to their La Liga counterparts. And although admitting that Messi has undeniable quality, Hart feels that club teammate Sergio Aguero is the best in front of goal. "Messi is absolutely awesome, but I'm backing Sergio because he's my player," Hart told a news conference ahead of England's Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania. Just working with him on a daily basis and, from what I've seen this season, the best is probably Aguero. He just knows how to score.” Hart revealed how Aguero has the skill to reproduce his mastery at training on matchday as well. We've got a good team, but in training he excites you most days and he's also got that ability on the day to do it,” he said. “He's got the skill to turn a long clearance into a goal because he's got that ability to take it round five people and score. It's a great thing to have. Sergio is a very natural player and in a one-on-one situation there is nothing complicated about it. He takes that option to score."

Al Sadd director of football Mohammed Al Ali has revealed that the Qatari club are desperate to sign Barcelona midfielder Xavi this summer. The experienced Spaniard has been strongly linked with a move to the Qatar Stars League outfit as he prepares to leave La Liga at the end of the season. A host of MLS clubs are believed to be interested in the 35-year-old, but it is thought that Xavi favours a move to Qatar. "We hope to sign him," Al Ali told Marca. "We want Barca and the Spanish national side's style of play to penetrate right through the game in our country. I prefer the Spanish league to the English Premier League. There is something special about it and that is 'tiki-taka'. We really like Xavi's charisma and the way he controls the ball. He represents passing football and we want him to be an ambassador for Qatar's football." Xavi has been with Barcelona since 1991.

Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster has been ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery last Wednesday. The 27-year-old injured himself in the Saints' Premier League victory over Burnley last weekend.

Defender Martin Skrtel will miss Liverpool’s next three matches after his appeal against his ban was rejected. The Slovakian was charged for stamping on Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea in the dying moments of his side’s 2-1 loss over the weekend. Despite the incident being unpunished by the match official, the FA’s disciplinary panel took further action by banning the centre-back for his club’s next three matches. Skrtel’s appeal of the charge was rejected, meaning he will miss the Premier League games at Arsenal (4 April) and against Newcastle (13 April), plus the FA Cup quarter-final replay at Blackburn (8 April).

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is the globe’s highest-paid footballer, earning more than R17 million a week. A survey conducted by France Football revealed the Argentine ace earns an estimated €65 million (R841 million) a year, which includes the salary from his Spanish club as well as various bonuses and sponsorships, which add up to an estimated €28 million (R362 million) a year. These numbers put Messi comfortably in front of second-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, who earns approximately €54 million (R698 million) a year. Messi is now on course to equal David Beckham’s record of finishing top of France Football's list for a sixth time next year. Messi Barcelona teammate Neymar is third on football’s rich-list, with Thiago Silva and Robin van Persie rounding off the top five. Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho is the highest-paid coach, pocketing an estimated €18 million (R232 million) a year, with Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti and Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola second and third respectively.

Top 20 paid players:
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona): €65 million
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid): €54 million
3. Neymar (Barcelona): €36.5 million
4. Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain): €27.5 million
5. Robin van Persie (Manchester United): €25.6 million
6. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid): €23.8 million
7. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): €22.5 million
8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain): €21.5 million
9. Sergie Aguero (Manchester City): €21.2 million
10. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich): €20.2 million
11. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Yaya Toure (Manchester City): €20 million
13. Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao (Manchester United): €18.5 million
15. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid): €17.8 million
16. David Silva (Manchester City) and Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea): €17.3 million
18. David Luiz (Paris Saint-Germain): €17.2 million
19. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid): €17 million
20. Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich): €16.9

Top 20 paid coaches:
1. Jose Mourinho (Chelsea): €18 million
2. Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid): €15.5 million
3. Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich): €15.2 million
4. Arsene Wenger (Arsenal): €11.3 million
5. Louis Van Gaal (Manchester United): €10 million
6. Fabio Capello (Russia): €9 million
7. Andre Villas-Boas (Zenit Saint-Petersburg): €8.5 million
8. Sven-Goran Eriksson (Shanghai SIPG): €8 million
9. Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund): €7.2 million
10. Laurent Blanc (PSG) and David Moyes (Sociedad): €7 million
12. Rafael Benitez (Napoli): €6.9 million
13. Walter Mazzarri (ex-Inter Milan): €6.8 million
14. Roberto Di Matteo (Schalke 04): €6 million
15. Luciano Spalletti (ex-Zenit) and Luis Enrique (Barcelona): €5.5 million
17. Antonio Conte (Italy): €5.3 million
18. Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City): €5.2 million
19. Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool): €4.9 million
20. Roberto Mancini (Inter Milan): €4.8 million

German World Cup winner Sami Khedira has revealed he will leave Real Madrid at the end of the season with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all reportedly interested in his signature. The 27-year-old has spent five years at the Bernabeu, winning La Liga, the Champions League, the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup, as well as the Copa del Rey on two occasions. As well as interest from the Premier League, the Bundesliga clubs Schalke and Bayern Munich are also reportedly in the hunt but while Khedira has confirmed his intention to move when his contract expires on 30 June, the midfielder admitted he does not yet have a preferred destination. “It’s not a decision against Real Madrid. I want to start a new stage in my career and continue to grow. There’s no agreement with anyone nor do I have a preference to go anywhere at the moment. I’ve had a magnificent time in a magnificent team. I’ll do everything I can to keep helping the team in the coming weeks.” Khedira has made only 17 appearances for Real this season with injuries playing their part while Carlo Ancelotti has preferred to play Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in his midfield. The January arrival of Lucas Silva has also knocked the German further down the pecking order.

Frank Lampard says he is relishing the challenge of finally joining MLS side New York City, and has no regrets of his stop-over at Manchester City. The former England international will see out the season with the reigning Premier League champions, having made 30 appearances and scoring seven goals, before beginning his new adventure in the USA. The former Chelsea midfielder says he is excited to team up with his new club in the Big Apple, and has no regrets over the year he has spent at the Etihad. "I am very excited,” the 36-year-old said. “I am very fortunate about this part of my career, coming to City. It was something I never saw coming. At 36, I got asked to come to the champions and a club with this pedigree. I am delighted that happened as it has done, and I am delighted about the future and the opportunity to go and play in New York." NYCFC have already played three matches since the league kicked off earlier this month, and top the eastern conference with a win and two draws thus far. Lampard says he has been keeping a close eye on his new club’s performances, and has been impressed with their displays in the early stages on their league campaign. "I've watched their games and thought they looked fantastic, the home game particularly,” he said. “I thought the atmosphere in the ground, the crowd - I've had feedback from inside the club about what a buzz there is for it in the city. I was delighted for the lads.”

Michel Platini has been re-elected as Uefa president for the next four years. The Frenchman, who first took office in 2007, was unopposed in his re-election for his third term in charge, as he also retains the Fifa vice-presidency for the next four years. "This means more to me than you can possibly imagine," Platini told the Uefa Congress in Vienna. "I know I can count on you, and you know that you can count on me.” Platini says the organisation “loves” Fifa, and hopes to continue working hand-in-hand with the world football governing body. "This allows me to continue for another four years,” Platini said. “I do want to say that we love Fifa deeply, and it's precisely because we love and respect Fifa that we want it to be perfect. We are only demanding about the people and institutions we care about. We want a Fifa that is respectable and respected. Certain people are trying to turn us against each other and isolate us and call us arrogant and selfish Europeans - but don't believe everything you hear.” Platini says the two organisations will continue in the same vein who is elected in the Fifa presidential position in two months’ time. "We know we are in a privileged position and we will work for the good of the 209 national associations and the good of FIFA as well,” he said. "Whatever the results of May 29, that's why we are going to continue to work together."

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has dropped his biggest hint yet of an exit from Stamford Bridge at the end of the season. The Czech shot-stopper has played second fiddle to Belgian youngster Thibaut Courtois, who returned at the start of this season from Spanish club Atletico Madrid, having been a regular between the sticks for the last ten years. And after featuring in just five of the 29 league games Chelsea have played thus far this season, Cech says he cannot continue in the same vein in London. "I don't know what the club's idea will be,” he said. “It looks like it works well with me and Thibaut as a duo. But that can work for one season only. I don't want another one like this." Cech has however refused to engage in talk over a possible exit, saying he will leave it until the end of the current campaign. "There always will be speculation,” he said. “I leave it for the summer. "It will be important to sit down with the club and with the manager to consider all the pros and cons. We will see what will work out the best." The 32-year-old’s contract with the Blues expires in June 2016.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has signed a contract extension with the club that will expire in 2020. The 44-year-old has led Atletico to a host of trophies since taking over the reins in 2011, including last season's La Liga title and the 2012 Europa League crown. Atleti, who have a Champions League quarter-final date with Real Madrid, lost to their neighbours in the Final of last year's competition. Simeone's side are fourth in the league standings with 59 points from 28 matches - nine points shy of leaders Barcelona. 

Olivier Giroud says he is delighted with his recent run of form at Premier League club Arsenal, and insists he is unaffected by any criticism aimed towards him. Following a long injury lay-off at the start of the season, Giroud has returned with a bang, netting nine goals in his last ten matches for the Gunners, helping them maintain third place in the English standings and on course for Champions league qualification for next season. “Since I have been at Arsenal, this is perhaps my best period. I have to continue like that. I do not want to stop there,” Giroud said. “I scored 16 or 17 goals in the league last year. I would like to do better and especially help the team achieve our targets. This is the most important.”  The France international says he is happy at the Emirates, and hopes his side will finish as high up the table as possible while also retaining their FA Cup title. “Finish second or third would be fine, although we will be hoping Chelsea slip up,” he said. “Winning the FA Cup is also an objective. I continue my progress. I feel very well at Arsenal. It is important to continue to progress.” Despite facing criticism following Arsenal’s 3-1 first leg Champions League Last 16 defeat to Monaco, Giroud says he is unaffected by such talk, insisting he will let his feet do the talking. “I did an interview a week before the match against Monaco," he said. "We had covered everything and the journalist said to me: ‘Giroud, this is not the same name as Aguero or Diego Costa’. I simply answered that a good striker lets his statistics speak. I know who I am, I know what I'm saying. People who know me know that I am not pretentious. Obviously, it's was not at the good moment because I lacked efficiency in that game. I did a little teasing. But it's good to have shown mental strength to come back even stronger and prove that critics do not reach me. I created a shell, whether in good or bad times. I know when I'm good or not. I do not need people for that.”