International News - Issue 269

United Edging Closer To Pedro Deal
Manchester United are reportedly moving ever closer to completing their deal for Barcelona star Pedro. United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has flown back to the UK to finalise the transfer that will see the club take their summer spending over the £100m mark. United look prepared to trigger Pedro's £22m release clause and Woodward has held talks with the player's agent. The move is now close and Pedro is set to become United's sixth major deal of the transfer window. Pedro wants out of Barca after falling down their pecking order dramatically in the past few seasons. He is now behind the trio of superstars of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, with no promise he'll get regular playing time at the Nou Camp. Despite this, his quality is undoubted and holds a fine record both domestically and internationally, scoring 98 goals in 318 games for the La Liga giants and earning 51 caps for Spain. Pedro is set to replace mega-money flop Angel di Maria who is edging towards his £46m move to Paris St-Germain. The 27-year-old will become United's sixth new face after the combined £80m deals of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin and Sergio Romero's free transfer.

Dutch winger Ibrahim Afellay has joined Premier League club Stoke City from Spanish giants Barcelona on a two-year deal. “Stoke City are delighted to confirm the signing of Dutch international Ibrahim Afellay on a two-year contract,” read a statement on the club’s official website. The 29-year-old, who joined Barca from Dutch giants PSV in 2011, endured a tough time at the Camp Nou, with injuries and various loan spells limiting him to just 35 appearances in the Blaugrana shirt. The Netherlands international’s contract was not renewed by Barca and Stoke swooped in for the talented winger. Afellay, who has 50 international caps to his name, is the eighth signing of the season thus far for Stoke, as he joins former Barcelona players Bojan Krkic, Marc Muniesa and Moha, as well as fellow countrymen Erik Pieters and Marco van Ginkel at the English club.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has told rival coach Arsene Wenger to use a calculator before dismissing his side’s chances of Premier League glory. Wenger has constantly re-iterated his thoughts that it is “impossible” for the Gunners to win the league title, yet Mourinho feels his opposite number may “find a surprise” if he adds up the numbers.  "If you add up the amounts the clubs have spent in the last three or four years I think maybe you will find a surprise," he told reporters. "Get a calculator. That is one of the easiest things to do. It leaves no space for speculation. If you want to be honest, objective and pragmatic it is the easiest job for a manager or a journalist to do. They [Arsenal] have bought a fantastic goalkeeper and that is a position which is very important in a team. If you put [Mesut] Ozil plus [Alexis] Sanchez, plus [Calum] Chambers, plus [Mathieu] Debuchy you will maybe find a surprise." Mourinho firmly believes Arsenal will feature prominently in the title race this season, as he expects a tough fight for Champions League positions in the 2015/16 campaign. "It [Arsenal] has a fantastic squad with good players, fantastic goalkeeper,” the Blues coach said. “They are more than ready to be title contenders. Everyone of us should expect to win the title. We have five teams who will play for the title, only one will win and one of us will be playing Europa League in two years. That is the reality, five teams for four Champions League positions, only one will be champion and one in Europa League."

Karim Benzema’s agent insists his client will be at Real Madrid when the new season gets underway. The French striker has been linked with a move to Arsenal, while Manchester United have also reportedly emerged as late suitors. However, Karim Djaziri says Benzema is staying for the foreseeable future. "Karim is very happy at Real Madrid and he will be a Real Madrid player by the end of this transfer window, 1 000 percent. Karim is not looking to move anywhere this summer,” the agent said.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has welcomed Paris Saint-Germain's reported move for Manchester United winger Angel di Maria. The French giants have been strongly linked with Di Maria, who failed to match expectations in his first year with United last season following his £59.7 million switch from Real Madrid. "I don't know if it is done but of course if you get a chance to play with Di Maria, it is a fantastic thing. The guy has won everything. He is a fantastic player who plays for the team," Ibrahimovic is quoted as saying in the Irish Times. “He brings pace to a team. He brings quality, big quality and for sure he will make our team even better than it is today. So for sure he is welcome and we will receive him with open arms." Ibrahimovic applauded PSG's determination to bring top quality players to Parc des Princes. "It shows how much they are willing to get what they want," he added. By investing in players like that. Because every year they invest to get big players but also players that fit in the team. So there is no limits. The people behind this, they want to become big. They are dreaming bigger and they will get bigger. It's all about small details. Real Madrid are a fantastic team. They have fantastic players. Of course when Real Madrid got Bale they became better for sure and we will become better for sure with Di Maria."

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has reiterated he will retire from football in 2017. The Dutchman insists he will not break a promise made to his wife Truus. "I will give it up [in 2017]," Van Gaal said. "I promised that to my wife. We have not many years together any more. That is the reason. I have to admit I have said to her, when I met her and after our relationship seemed to be very good, that at 55 I shall quit. I am still working and next week I am 64." Van Gaal, who steered United back into the Champions League in his first season at Old Trafford last term, has enjoyed success with former clubs Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax Amsterdam. And he is satisfied with his efforts. I have done everything in my career as a manager. I have been in the Netherlands, my home country, in Spain, which is a fantastic league, and Germany is also a fantastic league," Van Gaal said. I participated in the World Cup and the European Championship too. The only wish was the Premier League. Now I am here. Do I have to go to Qatar to earn still more money? I don't think so. You have to enjoy also your life and your relationship with your wife." Van Gaal, however, is naturally hopeful he can claim Premier League honours before calling it quits. "I want to do that in [my] three years [at the club]," Van Gaal said. "If it is this year, then I am very happy. But I cannot say this year we shall be the champions. We have to fight for it. That is the most important thing. Until the end we have to challenge for the number one. And maybe we are. The long-term vision is to win the championship or an FA Cup or a Champions League."

Talismanic Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba has joined MLS side Montreal Impact. The
decorated frontman, who turned out for Premier League winners Chelsea last season, has reportedly joined the Canadian club on an 18-month contract, yet will only officially join once his International Transfer Certificate and his Canadian work permit has been received. “It’s an honour to welcome Didier Drogba to the Impact,” said Impact President Joey Saputo. “From the first conversation I had with him, I felt that he really wanted to play in Montreal. This is one of the biggest days in club history and his arrival to the club will be beneficial in every aspect.” Drogba enjoyed a stellar career in the Premier League, scoring 104 goals and providing 63 assists in 254 games as he helped Chelsea to four league titles, three League Cups, four FA Cups as well as the UEFA Champions League title. Impact will have to pay Chicago Fire $50,000 for Drogba after negotiating with the Ivorian, who was on the latter’s ‘discovery list’ – MLS rules state that “a team must give $50,000 in compensation to sign a player from another team’s discovery list, but only if the original team isn’t planning to offer that player a contract”.

Crystal Palace coach Alan Pardew says he would love to return back to South Africa, and may even be back by the end of the year. Pardew’s Premier League side were beaten 2-0 by Portuguese rivals Sporting Lisbon in the inaugural Cape Town Cup final, with Pardew well-pleased with the level of competition in the pre-season spectacle. "That was as close as a competitive game as you'll get during pre-season,” he told reporters. “I'm so pleased with that game, it was just what we wanted. Of course not the result but that was a Europa League-standard quality game out there today on that pitch.” Pardew did however reveal his displeasure at local referee Lwandile Mfiki for his handling of the final, saying he did not understand the European style of play. "Unfortunately the referee had no concept of European football so almost every challenge was a free kick and we're not used to that - we probably gave away eight or nine free kicks around our box and we usually average about two,” he said. “In the end they managed to score one and that changed the game. I thought it was a terrific first half with two different styles but even for Sporting the referee spoilt it a little bit and we were frustrated with the stop-start nature of the game." Pardew said he thoroughly enjoyed his stay in South Africa, and would return to Mzansi in a heartbeat. “We’ve enjoyed every aspect of it, we’ve been very well received – the welcome we’ve had and the way we’ve been treated has been absolutely superb, we could not have asked for more,” he said. "We would love to come back. In fact, we've been talking about coming over for a mid-season break because flying here overnight makes the time difference irrelevant, and makes a lot of sense for us,” he continued. “So if anyone in South Africa wants to fly us back, we’d love to come back!”

Manchester United have completed the transfer of Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero on a free transfer from Italian side Sampdoria. “Manchester United is delighted to announce that goalkeeper Sergio Romero has signed a three-year contract with the option to extend for a further year,” read a statement on United’s website. The 28-year-old made his professional debut for Argentine side Racing Club in 2007, before making the move to Europe where he turned out for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar until 2011, when he joined Sampdoria. The experienced gloveman, who was part of his national side that earned the runner’s up spot at last year’s World Cup, was thrilled to have penned a deal with the Premier League giants. “I am absolutely delighted to join Manchester United,” he said. “To play for the biggest club in the world is a dream come true for me. Louis van Gaal is a fantastic manager and I cannot wait to get started on this new and exciting challenge in my career.”  Coach Louis van Gaal, who coached the Argentine during his spell in the Netherlands, was full of praise for the shot-stopper. “Sergio is a very talented goalkeeper. He was a young keeper during my time at AZ Alkmaar and I am delighted he is joining Manchester United. He had a fantastic World Cup last summer in Brazil, although that is something I have put to the back of my mind! He will be a great addition to the team and I am looking forward to working with him once again.” The signing of Romero seems to spell the end for unwanted goalkeeper Victor Valdes, while the future of Real Madrid target David De Gea remains uncertain.

Newcastle have announced the signing of Congolese defender Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht, subject to the player receiving a work permit. The 20-year-old, who awaits his clearance from the Football Association, has 17 caps for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mbemba joined Belgian side Anderlecht in 2012.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says the ball is in Mario Balotelli’s court as to whether he wants to stay at the club. The Italian striker managed just four goals for the Reds last season following his £16-million move from AC Milan at the start of 2014/15. He has been left out of Liverpool’s pre-season tours of Australia and the Far East, while the signing of Danny Ings, the arrival of Divock Origi and the expected transfer of Christian Benteke have further cast doubt over his future. Rodgers says it is up to Balotelli to decide where he wants to be next season. “Mario is obviously not on tour but working hard and training well with a number of other players at Melwood,” Rodgers said. “I’m not sure [where his future lies]; that will entirely be up to Mario. He is working hard to get fit and we will see when the season begins.”

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says his Premier League rivals are trying to 'buy the title' from them in the current transfer window. 'Buying the title' was a phrase often synonymous with current Premier League champions Chelsea when Jose Mourinho first joined in 2004, shortly after Roman Abramovic took over the club. Now the Portuguese tactician believes the tables have turned as his rivals Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool are spending left, right and centre on playing personnel ahead of the new season. However, Mourinho is confident his troops can still fend off any title threats in the new season, despite not delving into the market the way other teams have. In the beginning of Mr Abramovich coming to Chelsea, Chelsea was buying the title," Mourinho said. "Now, they are buying the title. All of them, they are buying the title. It is up to us to be strong and to fight them and, obviously, to try and win it again, even without the big investments."

Chelsea striker Diego Costa has welcomed the arrival of Radamel Falcao, and vows to help the Colombian forward regain his old form. Falcao has joined Chelsea on a season-long loan deal from French side Monaco, after an unhappy spell under Louis van Gaal at Machester United last season. However, Costa is happy about Falcao's unsuccessful spell with United that has now led to his former Atletico Madrid teammate joining him at Stamford Bridge, and believes his new Blues teammate will flourish if given love and trust. "It's good for us that he didn't have the best of seasons as that's why he's now with us," Costa said. 'We know that Falcao is a hugely talented player. The only thing he needs is to feel loved and trusted, and he will get both here. The manager is very happy to have brought him in and we are all very excited to have him in our squad because he's a great player. He gets on very well with his team-mates and he will help us a lot off the field too."

Five Roma players were refused entry into Indonesia for a pre-season game and forced to fly home. The team arrived on Friday for their first visit to Indonesia in the Serie A club's history but ran into trouble at customs, Roma chief executive Italo Zanzi said. Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho, Victor Ibarbo, Adem Ljajic and Antonio Sanabria were all stopped by immigration officials at Jakarta's international airport and later boarded a flight back to Rome, missing what was billed as 'AS Roma's Indonesia Day 2015' 24 hours later. Zanzi told reporters as the team hotel: "It's a real disappointment for us, given that we've made a substantial effort to be here. It's not a positive thing for the players, for the club, who did everything we were asked to do, but most importantly for the Indonesian fans.Despite some of the issues with local football, we organised 'Roma Indonesia Day 2015' and we wanted our full team to be here." It was not immediately clear why the players were stopped from entering the country since Indonesian authorities are yet to comment.

New York Red Bulls has announced the signing of former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips, 33, was a free agent after his release by Queens Park Rangers at the end of the season. The winger, who played for Manchester City and Chelsea earlier in his career, will link up with his brother Bradley at the MLS club. Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis told the club's official website: "Shaun is a proven player who has played on soccer's largest stage. He can play a number of positions for us and is an excellent fit in our locker room. When we evaluated the unique set of circumstances along with the quality that Shaun has, it became apparent that we needed to be aggressive about adding Shaun to our club. We are pleased that he will be wearing a Red Bull jersey and we can't wait for him to take the field."

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said Kevin De Bruyne told him he was not prepared to fight for a first team place at Stamford Bridge. De Bruyne, 24, was on the champions' books for two years, but spent 18 months out on loan before penning permanent terms with Wolfsburg in January last year. The midfielder has recently been linked with big-spending Manchester City after scoring 15 goals and provided 25 assists in all competitions this past season for the Bundesliga runners-up. "I'm happy for him because he's a good kid," Mourinho said. "I wanted to keep him, but he couldn't handle fighting for his place in such a competitive squad. He told me it was not in his personality to be competing for a position in the team. He needed a team where he knows he can play every game. I told him: 'This is Chelsea, you are very young, you have Eden Hazard, you have Juan Mata, you have Willian, you have Andre Schurrle so I cannot promise you that.' He told me he was not happy. He was not training very well."

Zenit St Petersburg striker Hulk withdrew from last weekend’s 2018 World Cup preliminary draw in defiance over racism in the country. The Brazil international, who spoke out after being the subject of racist comments at the end of last year, was set to join Ronaldo, Fabio Cannavaro and Samuel Eto'o for the ceremony in Saint Petersburg on Saturday. However, the Selecao star withdrew, with Fifa reasoning that he is involved in action for his club the following day. Yet after slamming the discrimination of foreign players earlier this week, many feel Hulk’s absence is an act of defiance, with former Russia international Alexey Smertin replacing the forward Hulk for the draw. "It [racism] happens at almost every match in Russia, but the world does not hear about it because they try to keep it quiet," Hulk told reporters on Monday. Ghanaian midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was last week given a two-match ban for gesturing towards Spartak Moscow supporters he claimed were racially abusing him.

Atletico Madrid have signed centre-back Stefan Savic from Fiorentina for €12 million. The 24-year-old penned a five-year contract with the La Liga side after passing a medical on Monday. Atletico sporting director Jose Luis Perez Caminero said: “We are very pleased by the agreement reached with Fiorentina, because Stefan is a player with huge prospects and a great future ahead. He is a quick and potent defender, with experience despite his youth due to having played in the top leagues of Serbia, England and Italy. I am convinced that he will contribute greatly to the team.” Savic, a Montenegro international, played one season for Manchester City in 2011-12 before moving to Fiorentina and impressing in Serie A.

Aston Villa have signed Ghana striker Jordan Ayew on a five-year deal for an undisclosed fee. The 23-year-old, who joins from Lorient in France's Ligue 1, helped his country to second place in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Villa were in the market for a striker after selling Belgian Christian Benteke to Liverpool for £32.5m. Ayew's arrival follows Villa's summer acquisition of fellow Ligue 1 players Jordan Amavi and Idrissa Gueye. The Midlanders, who also lost Fabian Delph to Manchester City, have signed Scott Sinclair, Micah Richards and Mark Bunn since the end of last season. "I'm really pleased to bring Jordan to the football club," manager Tim Sherwood said. "He is a fantastic young player who is perfectly suited to the Premier League." His older brother, Andre Ayew, moved to Swansea City after leaving Marseille in June.

Newcastle United have signed Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht for an undisclosed fee. The 20-year-old has penned a five-year deal at St. James' Park. "I am so happy to have signed for Newcastle," Mitrovic told the club's official website. "I visited the stadium and it is amazing. I have played in a lot of impressive stadiums in my career but St. James' Park is so big, I can't wait to play my first game here. I know how passionate the fans are. This is a club with a very big history and the fans are a big part of that. There will be pressure here, for sure, but I like pressure. I also know about the famous players who have played for Newcastle United, like Alan Shearer, who is a hero of mine. I hope I can play like him for this club. It will be an honour."

Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari has signed a two-year contract with Saudi club Al-Ittihad. The 30-year-old was a free agent after departing AC Milan by mutual consent last month. Muntari spent three seasons with the Rossoneri, featuring 17 times last season. He previously played for Milan’s rivals Inter Milan and Udinese, as well as England's Portsmouth and Sunderland. Al-Ittihad are also reportedly trying to bring Muntari's compatriot Kevin-Prince Boateng to Jeddah.