International News - Issue 283




Barcelona Insists They Won’t Rush Back Lionel Messi From Injury

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists the club will not rush talisman Lionel Messi’s return to action in time for this month’s El Clasico. The Argentine ace has been side-lined since picking up a knee injury on September 26, and although a set date for his return has not yet been confirmed, his head coach insists the forward will not be forced back ahead of the always fiery affair against rivals Real Madrid on November 21. "There is no set recovery date for Messi,” Enrique told reporters. “The most important thing for him is to be 100 per cent fit again. "It does not matter when he returns. The season is still long. "We are not thinking about the Clasico yet. What is important to me is winning the league. We have to sit top of the table come the end of the season.” Barca are joint-top of the La Liga standings alongside Madrid, yet Enrique insists the El Clasico clash is not a decisive encounter in determining the winners of the League this season. "The Clasico will not decide the title race,” he said. “What matters to me right now is scoring more goals, conceding less and winning games. Those are realistic targets."

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo has refused to rule out leaving the Spanish giants in the future. The 30-year-old has regularly been linked with a move away from Real, with former club Manchester United and the MLS touted as potential destinations. When asked by German magazine Kicker if he could imagine leaving Real, Ronaldo replied: "Why not? I'm a Real Madrid player at the moment, but you can never know. "You've got to do what makes you happy. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. "All I can say is that I will always give my best for my club and for Portugal." Ronaldo is contracted to Los Blancos until 2018.

Rafinha Alcantara has agreed to a new contract with Barcelona that will run until 2020 and carries a release clause of €75 million. The 22-year-old's existing deal will expire in the summer of 2016. Rafinha has been sidelined since rupturing a cruciate ligament in a 1-1 draw with Roma in September in the Champions League. Rafinha, the younger brother of Bayern Munich star Thiago, has made three La Liga appearances this season.

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel insists the team remains behind under-fire manager Jose Mourinho. The champions have made a horror start to the season, with last weekend's 3-1 home defeat to Liverpool leaving them 15th on the table with 11 points from as many games. However, Mikel, who started both the Capital One Cup loss to Stoke and the Reds reverse, is adamant Mourinho still has control of the Blues dressing room. "We are right behind the manager," Mikel said in The Guardian. "There's no doubt about it. In training we work very hard. If anyone can turn this around, we definitely think he's the one. "Last year we were champions. We won two trophies. Jose knows this club more than any other manager. He's the most successful manager in the club's history. "I definitely think that, if anything is wrong, if anything can be fixed, he is the one. There's no one out there that is going to come in and fix what's going on. "If you tell the team that we are not giving 100 percent then there is the doubt, but we are giving 100 percent, we are playing for the manager, we are right behind him. "He has come out a few times and said the players are not giving 100 percent and then you look at the next few games, the players come out and play better. He is doing everything that needs to be done. "It's just that right now things aren't going well, so everyone [outside] wants him to go. I don't think it's the right way to go. I think that inside that dressing room we definitely believe he is the man to change things. He knows this club in and out. "He knows what's wrong and it's just a matter of time before results start coming. We are playing well, we are working very hard in training. It's just the results aren't coming."

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has heaped praise on Sergio Busquets, and labels the midfielder 'the best midfielder in the world'. Goals on either side of half-time from Luis Suarez and Neymar saw Barcelona to a 2-0 win over Getafe, helping the Blaugrana remain neck-and-neck at the top of the La Liga table. Enrique praised his team's performance, while reserving praise for Spanish international Sergio Busquets as well as Brazil star Neymar. "We played a very complete game. That was our plan from the off. They barely troubled us," Enrique said. "[Busquets] is one of a kind, one of the most complete players out there. I think he's the best midfielder in the world, not just because he's intelligent, but because he can play in different positions." "[Neymar] is another unique player, capable of taking on two or three players by himself and beating all of them. He also scores goals and provides assists." Despite dominating for much of the game, Enrique concedes that it wasn't an easy win but adds that Getafe were not really a threat. "It wasn't an easy game. It never is here, and proof of that is we were only 1-0 up at half-time despite having clear-cut chances. "It's a reflection on us playing well, and no reflection on our opponents," he adds.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has shot down talks of Liverpool becoming Premier League title challengers following a win at Chelsea. Klopp recorded his first league win when The Reds beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, thanks to a brace from Phillipe Coutinho before Christian Benteke sealed the result late on. The three points saw Liverpool move into seventh place on the log standings, with 17 points from 11 games so far this season. However, the German tactician has quicky shot down any suggestions that Liverpool could stake their claim for the league title this season. "Are you crazy? You think after one win at Chelsea we should think about this?" he responded when asked of his team's title aspirations. "I've been here three weeks, round about. We don't think about this. We have to think about the next game, about improving our game and our style. We can do much better than today." The former Borussia Dortmund manager also voiced his approval of his side's overall performance, and says they deserved the win. "We had our moments - our build-up with short passes was very good. They tried to make pressure but we could play in the spaces in between. "I feel [the win] is deserved. We have worked hard but it's normal if you want to win in Chelsea," he added. 

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Sepp Blatter has hit out at American companies, blaming them for his suspension from his FIFA presidency amid a bribery and corruption scandal. Blatter is currently suspended from world football's governing body as part of an investigation of bribery, money-laundering and fraud by the US Department of Justice. A group of major sponsors earlier called for Blatter to step down, which prompted the suspension of the Swiss administrator. However, the 79-year old has rejected complaints made by sponsors over a bribery and corruption scandal, and says they were politically motivated and made at the command of the US. “It is the American companies,” Blatter told the Financial Times in an interview, in a reference to sponsors including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, and Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned beverage Budweiser. “The other companies haven’t said anything. So you are intelligent enough to make the connection with American companies and the American investigation. I do not need to underline that.” Furthermore, Blatter also told Russian nes agency Tass, that problems at Fifa had all started with the vote to award the tournament to Qatar, and feels the investigation is due to the US losing the 2022 World Cup hosting bid. “If you see my face when I opened it [the envelope containing the winning bid], I was not the happiest man to say it is Qatar,” he said. “It took a political dimension. I am looking now to see what were the political reasons. The easiest thing would be to say [the US are] bad losers.” 

Midfielder Ramires has expressed his delight after penning a new long-term contract with reigning Premier League champions Chelsea. The Brazilian, who joined from Portuguese outfit Benfica in 2010, signed a contract extension with the Blues which will see him remain at Stamford Bridge until 2019. "I am very happy to sign a new contract with Chelsea,” he said. “My family and I are very happy here in London. "In the past five years the club has lifted every major trophy. I hope to be an important part of many more successes in the next four years." The 28-year-old has made 242 appearances for the Blues, netting 33 goals and providing 25 assists. He has made 12 appearances in all competitions this season, including six League matches in which Chelsea have struggled, as they now lie 15th in the League standings.

Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho is set for his international debut after being named by Nigeria in their squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Swaziland. The 19-year-old was added to an original list of 23 named by coach Sunday Oliseh for the two-legged tie on November 13 in Swaziland and November 17 in Port Harcourt. Iheanacho scored for his club in their League Cup win over Crystal Palace in his first start for the club. He has also made six substitute appearances in the League and also scored a goal. Another English-based teenager Alex Iwobi, who played in two friendlies for Nigeria in October, keeps his place in the squad. He had his first outing for Arsenal in the League Cup. Obafemi Martins was recalled to the squad for the first time in three years.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Dele Alampasu (Feirense), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Sunshine Stars), Carl Ikeme (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Defenders: Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Chima Akas (Sharks FC), Leon Balogun (Mainz 05), Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Godfrey Oboabona (Caykur Rizespor), Austin Oboroakpo (Abia Warriors), Kalu Orji (Enugu Rangers), Abdullahi Shehu (Uniao Madeira)

Midfielders: Rabiu Ibrahim (AS Trencin), Sylvester Igbonu (FC UFA), Wilfred Ndidi (Racing Genk), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Paul Onobi (Sunshine Stars)

Forwards: Ezekiel Bassey (Enyimba), Odion Ighalo (Watford), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Moses Simon (Gent).

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could still join Barcelona, according to the France international's agent Mino Raiola. Pogba, 22, was strongly linked with a move to the European champions over the summer but a deal failed to materialise. "We'll see what Barca's project is, and what Paul's project is. All doors are open to all clubs," Raiola told RMC Sport. "For now, the young man decided last summer to stay for a minimum of one year at Juventus. We should always respect the will of a player when he chooses with his heart. "We can't give figures, but last year Juventus said no to offers of 85million euros. One hundred million euros? Juve have always said that's the sum they want. It's a way of saying he's one of the best players on the planet. "When he left Manchester (United) for Juve he chose with his heart, and it will be the same with his next club." Raiola added: "There are others who can afford him. Bayern Munich can afford him, Paris St Germain can afford him..."

FIFA has announced the names of the seven candidates to replace Sepp Blatter as its president - with that of David Nakhid not amongst them. Nakhid, a former Trinidad and Tobago international, had stated his intention to stand but was absent from the list released by the governing body. That suggests Nakhid may not have received the five nominations required to stand and his absence means the list now contains just one former player in Michel Platini, who is currently banned from football. The seven men who will now go forward to the February 26 election are Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, Liberian FA president Musa Bility, Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman, former diplomat Jerome Champagne, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale and UEFA president Platini. The latter's participation in the election depends on the status of the ban he is serving. Platini - the one-time favourite for the job - was suspended from football for 90 days pending a disciplinary hearing into a £1.3million payment signed off by outgoing president Blatter in 2011. If his ban is lifted, FIFA said in a statement that Platini's candidacy would be put in the hands of its Ad-hoc Electoral Committee which would "decide, depending on the respective exact point in time, on how to proceed with the candidature concerned."

The candidates

Michel Platini

The UEFA president had been the runaway favourite until his campaign was stopped in its tracks by a provisional 90-day ban from FIFA's ethics committee pending a disciplinary hearing into a £1.3million payment authorised by outgoing president Sepp Blatter. Many outside football believe the Frenchman is terminally tarnished whatever the outcome of the hearing.

Gianni Infantino

Has been Platini's right-hand man as UEFA secretary general since 2009. A Swiss lawyer, he would easily be able to withdraw if the Frenchman is cleared to run - or be a strong candidate were he unable to do so. His future is very much tied up with what happens to Platini.

Tokyo Sexwale

South African anti-apartheid activist who spent time imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. The head of FIFA's committee on Israel and Palestine, he has made a fortune through his business interests in oil and diamonds. His chances may depend on how he negotiates the notoriously difficult minefield of African football politics.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa

President of the Asian football confederation, he had originally backed Platini before deciding to enter the race himself. Commands plenty of influence, especially in Asia and the Middle East, but may be troubled by opposition from human rights groups about the crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners in Bahrain by the ruling Al Khalifa family.

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein

The son of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and said to be a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammad, Prince Ali lost to Blatter by 130 votes to 73 in May. This time around however the former FIFA vice-president does not have any backing from Europe, and will have precious few votes from Asia, so his powerbase looks weak.

Jerome Champagne

Former French diplomat who worked under Blatter as FIFA deputy general secretary until 2010. He was unable to secure backing from five associations for the May election but has managed to do so for this campaign. Has radical ideas in his manifesto - including cutting European places at World Cups - but does not have any solid core of support.

Musa Bility

Liberian FA president is something of a surprise package who boasts of having offers of support from 25 African associations. He fell out with African confederation president Issa Hayatou two years ago - and found himself banned for six months - but appears to have mended relations.

Italy manager Antonio Conte is being lined up to replace Jose Mourinho at Chelsea after Euro 2016, according to reports. Mourinho’s future at Stamford Bridge is looking increasingly bleak after the Blues’ disastrous start to the season. A host of big names have been linked with replacing him in the dugout and Gazzetta World says Conte, 46, could take charge of Chelsea after Euro 2016. The report says Conte’s contract is up after the tournament and he could then become Chelsea’s next manager. Conte won three Serie A titles during a three-year spell at Juventus and is seen as one of the best coaches in the world.

Chelsea and Juventus look to have struck a deal for Juan Cuadrado to seal a permanent transfer to the Serie A giants for a fee of £15.75million. Despite flopping in his time in England, the Colombian winger has impressed since joining Juve on loan this season, with an agreement now in place for him to put his Blues nightmare behind him, according to the Evening Standard. A permanent move had looked on the cards for some time, and it is said that Cuadrado’s agent held talks with Juventus last weekend. Chelsea spent around £26.1million on bringing in Cuadrado from Fiorentina less than a year ago, but he made only 15 appearances for the club, failing to score a single goal.