International News - Issue 271

United On The Verge Of Securing Pedro Deal
Luis Enrique has admitted Pedro's move to Manchester United will be resolved 'soon'. The Barcelona winger has been linked with a £22million switch to Old Trafford, although the deal was thought to have hit a snag. Reports in Spain suggested the La Liga champions were dragging their heels due to Neymar being ruled out of the start of the season with Mumps. However, the 28-year-old is now understood to have completed a medical with the Red Devils and is close to finalising a deal. And now Barca manager Enrique has confirmed the saga will be cleared up with a 'solution' on its way. Asked ahead of the game against Sevilla about the possibility of Pedro playing, he said: "I have never decided to pick a player or leave him out because of the transfer window. I would like to keep all my players through the whole season. But we have talked enough about Pedro. The solution will arrive soon."

Former Barcelona star Hristo Stoitchkov has once again hit out at Louis van Gaal, saying the Dutchman is destroying Manchester United. Stoitchkov, who blames Van Gaal for his Barca exit 17 years ago, has criticised Van Gaal for his attempts to sign Pedro from the Catalans. Pedro is being lined up with a move to United as he goes in search of regular game-time. However, Stoitchkov says the striker should think twice about the switch given the way Victor Valdes has been ostracised at Old Trafford. "I would never be under the orders of Van Gaal," the 49-year-old told Spanish radio Onda Cero. "He's mediocre. He destroyed Barca and is destroying Manchester United. With what he has done to Valdes he has shown he is a bad person. Hopefully Pedro listens to me and doesn't leave." The ex-Mamelodi Sundowns coach added: "I have no respect for him. One day, when I was injured, I was with my wife at Camp Nou and Van Gaal went up to her. He asked her how it was possible that she married someone like me. She responded that I was a Ballon d'Or winner. My departure in 1998 was the fault of Van Gaal, for sure." Stoitchkov, a Bulgarian icon, won five La Liga titles and the European Cup during his time at the Nou Camp.

Chelsea’s pursuit of defensive reinforcements looks like finally making some progress after they agreed a deal with Augsburg for Baba Rahman. The Ghana left-back, 21, has been earmarked as a replacement for Filipe Luis, who was sold back to Atletico Madrid after only a season at Stamford Bridge. Negotiations have been continuing for weeks, with the Premier League champions having a bid of £17.2m (€25m) rejected over the weekend. Augsburg had been holding out for a fee closer to €30m but with Rahman having already agreed personal terms for his move to Stamford Bridge, the Bundesliga side have now reached a settlement over the structure of payments. Chelsea are expected to pay around £14m up front, with several significant bonus payments up to £6m due should he play more than 100 matches. The player and his agent have already travelled to London and a medical is planned for this week. Augsburg, who recorded their highest finish of fifth in the Bundesliga last season, completed the purchase of a replacement for Rahman last week in the form of Philipp Max from Karlsruhe. Rahman, who only signed from Greuther F├╝rth last summer, made what appears to be his last appearance for Augsburg on Friday in the cup victory over fourth-division Elversberg. He performed a lap of honour afterwards to say goodbye to supporters. “I would like to continue working with all players, but when you sign someone like Baba from the second division and he’s on Chelsea’s radar 12 months later, it does make the coaching staff proud,” said the Augsburg coach, Markus Weinzierl. Chelsea were alerted to Rahman’s promise by their former manager Avram Grant, who coaches Ghana. Rahman was a member of the squad who reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe will wait until next year before making a decision on his international future. The 20-year-old qualifies for both England – for who he has played at junior level – and Nigeria, where his father David is from. New Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh is desperate to add Ibe to his team, with the young winger having come on in leaps and bounds at Anfield in the last six months. A source has said that a decision will be made next year. “He has consulted with his family and now wants to wait a little longer till when he’s 21 and that will be in 2016 before he decides on the direction of his international career.” Ibe started for Liverpool in Sunday’s season-opening win at Stoke City.

Chelsea are believed to be preparing a final ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ offer for Everton defender John Stones. The Blues have had two offers rejected for the 21-year-old, who they see as the perfect long-term replacement for captain John Terry. It is widely reported that Chelsea will now make a final £30-million bid, with Stones having reportedly expressed a desire to move to Stamford Bridge. He joined Everton from Barnsley for £3-million two years ago.

Manchester United newcomer Memphis Depay has embraced the pressure that comes with wearing the club's iconic No. 7 shirt. Depay took over the number following Angel Di Maria's departure to Paris Saint-Germain, following in the footsteps of United legends Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and George Best. "Yes, of course [I'm aware of the pressure] and the history," Depay said. "I appreciate the history, but I want to be my own man. It's an honour to wear the number seven and I will wear it with pride. Last year I played with seven on my back [for PSV Eindhoven] and I scored a lot of goals so I am confident with that number. Depay, who was the Eredivisie's top scorer with 22 goals last term, made his Red Devils debut in a 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

Manchester City have launched a £47m bid for Wolfsburg attacker Kevin de Bruyne. City have been interested in signing the former Chelsea player for some time but Wolfsburg have previously been insistent they have not received any offers from the Manchester club. The 23-year-old, who struggled to break into the Blues' first-team under Jose Mourinho, has previously said he has had "informal contact" with City and the player's agent, Patrick De Koster, admitted on Monday that they are waiting to see if an agreement is made between the clubs. De Koster said: "I have read a lot of nonsense in the media. Kevin remains a Wolfsburg player and is focused on his job at the club. We are waiting to discover whether any agreement has been reached between the clubs. That is for the clubs to decide, and not for us. There is no medical planned at this stage, and he is happy at Wolfsburg." De Bruyne had a superb season in the Bundesliga last term, scoring 16 goals in 49 appearances, having signed from Chelsea in the summer of 2014. The Belgium international began his career at Genk before joining Chelsea in 2012 and being loaned straight back to his former club.

Juventus added another trophy to their collection when they won the Italian Super Cup against Lazio on Saturday. Massimiliano Allegri’s side won 2-0, with new signings Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala finding the back of the net. Mandzukic, who arrived from Atletico Madrid, headed in the opener on 68 minutes from Stephan Lichtsteiner's cross. Dybala got the second just minutes later, firing home from Paul Pogba’s lay-off. Seria A starts on August 22, with Lazio up against Bologna, while Juve host Udinese the following day.

Mohamed Salah has completed his move from Chelsea to AS Roma. The Egyptian winger has been a peripheral figure at Stamford Bridge since joining from FC Basel in 2014, and spent last season on loan at Fiorentina. The Italian club have since threatened legal action, claiming they had an agreement for the loan to be made permanent, but Salah is focusing on his new career in Rome. “I think Roma are one of the biggest clubs in the world and I'm happy to be in this team," he told the club’s TV channel. "I think everybody here has ambition and everybody wants to win the title. Everybody will give their best to make the fans happy.”

Real Madrid star Gareth Bale feels he is better suited to a central rather than wide position for the La Liga club, and hopes to get more chances there in future. The Welsh speedster has been deployed on the flanks for most of his time with Los Blancos over the past two seasons, yet was given a chance in the traditional number 10 position last Tuesday as Madrid beat his former employers Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 – Bale himself finding the target to score his club’s second. The 26-year-old revealed after the match that he much prefers playing down the middle, as he does when representing his national team. “It’s my best position,” he said. “When I played for Tottenham, I felt I played my best football there and when I play for Wales, I play there and play my best football. For me, that’s my position and it’s where I want to play. I’m able to go out to the left and the right, and it’s what I was doing at Tottenham and what I do for Wales.” Bale has been at the receiving end of harsh treatment from the Madrid faithful over the past season, but feels he has the management’s backing as he looks forward to a successful 2015/16 campaign. It’s great to have the support of the manager and the president [Florentino Perez] and, hopefully, I can repay them with some goals and trophies,” he said.

Switzerland international winger Xherdan Shaqiri has completed a medical and agreed personal terms with Stoke City ahead of a proposed move from Inter Milan. The Midlands club agreed a £12m deal for the former Bayern Munich man earlier this summer but boss Mark Hughes subsequently admitted they were moving on after being made to wait for a verdict from the player. But Shaqiri was spotted watching Stoke's 1-0 defeat at home to Liverpool on Sunday and Hughes told the media afterwards that he was "hopeful" he would now sign for the club. It is believed the ongoing deal is made complicated because Bayern, who sold Shaqiri to Inter in January, included a number of sell-on clauses in the attacker's contract. Stoke actually attempted to sign Shaqiri from Bayern before the 23-year-old opted for Inter instead, subsequently signing a four-year deal at the San Siro. But he immediately struggled for form in Italy, making just eight Serie A starts for Inter and scoring one goal. Shaqiri will become Hughes' eighth signing of the summer following the additions of Jakob Haugaard, Philipp Wollscheid, Joselu, Marco van Ginkel, Shay Given, Glen Johnson and Ibrahim Afellay.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has signed a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2017. The news ends speculation linking the Chilean's job with Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola. "I am proud to manage Manchester City and am therefore very pleased to have agreed this contract," said Pellegrini, who had a year left on his previous deal. "I have a very good quality group of players and a great team of people to work with on and off the field and at all levels of the club. I am focused on the coming season and confident that my team and I will respond to the constant support shown to us by everyone including of course our fantastic fans." Pellegrini joined City from Malaga in 2013, and steered the club to Premier League and League Cup honours before their second-placed finish behind Chelsea last term.

Ashley Young has signed a new three-year contract with Manchester United that will expire in 2018. Young's deal also has the option to extend for another year. "I am delighted to have signed a new contract. The spirit and motivation amongst this team is very high and we are all determined to make this a season to remember," he told United's official website. "All I have ever wanted to do is play football and to be able to continue to do that at the biggest club in the world means everything to me and my family." The news came less than 24 hours after fellow winger Angel Di Maria completed his move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has explained why he left out David De Gea in favour of Sergio Romero in their Premier League opener against Tottenham. United were fortuitous in their 2015/16 season opener as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0, thanks to a Kyle Walker own-goal in the first half. A major talking point though, was Van Gaal's decision to hand new goalkeeper Romero his debut ahead of De Gea, amid rumours linking him to Real Madrid. Despite De Gea watching on from the stands at Old Trafford on Saturday, The Dutch tactician assures that the Spaniard still has a place at The Red Devils once the transfer window is shut on 1 September. “Of course he could [play],” said Van Gaal. “If he is still here on 1 September we will look again, but he cannot play before that because as a goalkeeper you need the highest concentration, and it is difficult when you are in a position like David. We saw in pre-season his focus was not quite there and we made the decision on Wednesday not to play him.” The former Bayern Munich boss, who turned 64 on Saturday, was happy with Romero's performance after the Argentine had just two training sessions since arriving from Monaco. “Sergio saved us twice, and Spurs had the first clear chance, they could have scored right at the start, so we were lucky," he added.

Angel Di Maria says his family’s safety was one of the reasons he opted to leave Manchester United for Paris Saint-Germain. The Argentine winger moved to France after just one season with the Red Devils, whom he joined in a British record £59.7-million in August 2014. Di Maria had a strained relationship with manager Louis van Gaal, but says an attempted break-in at their Cheshire home played a big part. "I'm happy because I know my wife and child will be happy in Paris," he said upon his unveiling at PSG. But Di Maria insists he did not force his way out the club, saying United still had to agree to the transfer. “It wasn't just my decision to leave,” he added. “If I left it was also because they decided to sell me. The three parties agreed. Me, Manchester United and PSG agreed the deal.”

Manchester United have been drawn to face Belgian side Club Brugge in the play-offs for the UEFA Champions League. The teams will battle each other on August 18/19 and 25/26 for a spot in the group stages of the competition.
Play-off ties:
Manchester United vs Club Brugge
Lazio vs Leverkusen
Rapid Vienna vs Shakhtar
Sporting vs CSKA Moscow
Valencia vs Monaco
Astana v APOEL
Skenderbeu v Dinamo Zagreb
Basel v Maccabi Tel Aviv
Celtic v Malmo
BATE v Partizan

Thulani Serero's Ajax Amsterdam will battle Czech side Jablonec in the play-offs for the Europa League, while Lebohang Phiri's Brondby have been drawn to face Greece's PAOK. The games will take place on August 20 and 27, with the group draw set for August 28.
Play-off ties:
Atromitos vs. Fenerbahce 
Thun vs. Sparta Prague
Liberec vs. Hadjuk Split
Krasnodar vs. HJK
Rabotnicki vs. Rubin
Odd vs. Dortmund
Dinamo Minsk vs. Salzburg
Astra vs. AZ
Southampton vs. Midtjjlland
Lech vs. Videoton
Bordeaux vs. Kairat
Panathinaikos vs. Qabala
PAOK vs. Brondby
Plzen vs. Vojvodina
Young Boys vs. Qarabag
Molde vs. Standard Liege
Zilina vs. Athletic Bilbao
Zorya vs. Legia
Jablonec vs. Ajax
Steaua vs. Rosenborg
Altach vs. Belenenses
Milsami vs. St. Etienne