International News - Issue 292

Zinedine Zidane Replaces Rafael Benitez As Real Madrid Manager

Zinedine Zidane has replaced Rafael Benitez as manager of Real Madrid following the Spaniard's sacking after just seven months in charge. Benitez's last match as boss saw Real twice throw away a lead as they drew 2-2 at Gary Neville's Valencia last Sunday evening, leaving the club four points off leaders Atletico Madrid in La Liga. Zidane, who made 225 appearances for the club, was managing Real Madrid Castilla, but has now been promoted to manager of the 10-time European champions. In his 25 games into a three-year contract, Benitez led Real to 17 wins, five draws and three defeats at a win percentage of 68, the seventh-highest in the club's history. Zidane is Real Madrid's 13th manager this century, having won just one league title in the previous seven seasons. The Frenchman said at the club's press conference: "I'm going to do everything I can to make the best for this club. It's a very important day for me. What I can tell you is that I will give everything or this club.  "Ever since I arrived as a player I knew how great this club was. We have the best fans in the world and the best club in the world and I'll do everything to win. "I am going to put my heart and soul into this job so that everything works out well." Club president Florentino Perez said of Zidane: "He is one of the greatest players of all time. Zidane, you are from this moment, the coach of Real Madrid." And of Benitez, Perez added: "I would like to make it clear that he is a great professional." Benitez, 55, took over from Carlo Ancelotti in the summer of 2015 after the Italian was sacked in May, and the former Liverpool boss went unbeaten in his first 14 games in charge. He also guided Real to the knockout stages of the Champions League, dropping just two points as they topped Group A. But Benitez's low point was Real's humiliating 4-0 defeat by rivals Barcelona in November's Clasico at the Bernabeu, adding to league defeats at Sevilla and Villarreal. Further disappointment was to follow when Madrid were thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding ineligible player Denis Cheryshev against Cadiz last month. Real's next game is against seventh-place Deportivo at the Bernabeu on Saturday. 

Leicester have completed the signing of Demarai Gray from Birmingham on a four-and-a-half year contract. Gray's omission from the Blues matchday squad for the 2-1 win over Brentford last Saturday sparked suggestions he would soon be leaving St Andrew's. That has now been confirmed and Leicester have matched the £3.75m release clause in his contract to make him their first new signing of the January transfer window. The 19-year-old had played in every Sky Bet Championship game this season until he was left out at the weekend and will now help with City's title push. Gray has only scored once this season but already has a professional hat-trick to his name, after he scored three goals in the 6-1 thrashing of Reading in December 2014. "It's been my dream to play in the Premier League since I started playing football so I'm very happy to join the club," he told the club's official website. "It's a great club. The facilities are great and for a player like me it's an ideal place for me to improve. Meeting all the staff here, it seems like a nice family place, so I think that's perfect for me. "You can see how well the team has been doing this year and I watch a lot of football so I can see that the way Leicester City play suits my style.  "[Claudio Ranieri] told me what he thinks of me personally, which is nice to hear and about future plans too, because clearly it's early stages of my career and I want to develop and reach the top. "Working with Ranieri will help me develop and being in the Premier League now is just the step I've been waiting for. "You can see how well the team has been doing this year and I watch a lot of football so I can see that the way Leicester City play suits my style. "I think that definitely lured me to the club and the fact I know a few players like Ben Chilwell, so speaking to them has helped me make my decision. I only hear good things about Leicester and I'm looking forward to starting."

Arsenal are close to completing the signing of Mohamed Elneny from Basel. The Gunners are understood to have agreed a fee of £7m with the Swiss Super League-leaders. Elneny - an Egypt international with 36 caps - still needs to complete a medical and get international clearance before his transfer to the Emirates can be finalised. Elneny began his career as a youth with El Ahly before turning senior with El Mokawloon in 2010. He moved to Basel in 2013 and has made over 100 appearances and scored seven goals.

Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller has insisted that the club will not sell in-form striker Javier Hernandez. Hernandez has already bagged 19 goals in 25 starts for the German outfit since joining from Manchester United at the beginning of the season. Reports have linked the Mexican international with a return to the Premier League to join Arsenal, however, Voller says the club is not in a position where they need to sell. "We are a football club and it is important that we are successful," he told Sky. "Chicharito has played a big part in our success so far, through his style of play, through his goals. "That's why we brought him here. In the first half of the season, everything has worked out fine. "It's easy to reject offers when you are in a position in which you don't need to sell. We are in such a position. We will keep the players we want to help us achieve our goals." Leverkusen are currently in fifth place on the Bundesliga table at the halfway stage, two points adrift of the top four.

Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Ricardo Kaka believes Brazilian compatriot Neymar is not far off from gaining the number one spot in the race for the Ballon d'Or award. Neymar has been included in the shortlist for the 2015 Ballon d'Or award alongside Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi and Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. The 23-year-old is the first Brazilian included in the top three since Kaka's triumph, while still at Italian giants AC Milan, back in 2007. Now at back in his homeland at boyhood club Sao Paulo - on loan from MLS outfit Orlando City - Kaka believes Neymar will soon break the dominance by Messi and Ronaldo and replicate his achievement in the near future. "It had always been a rotation: Ronaldo and Zidane won it three times, but there was always some other player [that broke the trend] - names like [Luis] Figo, Ronaldinho, myself, Rivaldo, [Fabio] Cannavaro," he told "Then comes this succession of Cristiano and Messi, only the two of them - and it is fair, for what they have been doing year after year. "It's difficult to point out a single reason for this [lack of Brazilians in the final three in recent years], but it must serve to alert Brazilian football. And, truth be told, it's no easy task to forge a Ballon d'Or winner. "Thankfully, Neymar has improved a lot since he's gone to play in Europe - his game is a lot more mature. Now it's a matter of time until he reaches first place."

Red Star Belgrade midfielder Marko Grujic is set to join Liverpool after the clubs agreed a fee of around £5.1m. The deal between Liverpool and Belgrade was agreed upon before Christmas pending the outcome of a medical. According to various media reports, the 19-year-old travelled to England the past weekend to finalise the transfer. The Serbia Under-21 international's move is expected to be finalized by Tuesday before he flies back to rejoin Red Star. Grujic confirmed his imminent transfer on his Facebook account saying: "On 4th January I will become a Liverpool player." Another transfer target for Liverpool is thought to be 24-year-old Schalke defender Joel Matip who is out of contract at the end of the season.

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba feels playing for Manchester United was easy compared to turning out for his current Italian club. The French star made just seven appearances in three years at Old Trafford before leaving on a free to the Bianconeri in 2012, and has since won three consecutive League titles, an Italian Cup and a Champions League silver medal. The 22-year-old insists the accolades have come with hard work, which he finds a lot more challenging than he did in England. “People need to know that nothing at Juve is easy," he said. "There is a different culture of work compared to elsewhere. I was at Manchester - it seemed like being on holiday. "Here we work so much. All these titles, we did not steal them. It was by working right to the end." 

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels that his side are in the right place mentally to challenge for the league title this season after winning 1-0 away against Newcastle United last Saturday. The Gunners are now two points clear at the top of the Premier League table and Wenger believes that his side has the resilience that was missing in the past. Arsenal won the league title last in 2004 and two years later moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, Wenger says the current crop of players have the charisma that sets them apart from other Arsenal sides. "I think we are more experienced than the teams I had when I moved into the stadium here," the Frenchman told the club's website. "On our day we could play everybody off the park and when you had to dig deep you experienced it was a bit more difficult. It was different. "We were more questioned on that aspect than the way we played football. Now, (in terms of) the experience, the quality of their attitude, the team always has the charisma. "If you look at the team as a unit, it is like a person. If you look at your team like a person and the vibes that are coming out - you can sense in this job if you feel it or not. "I must say (you see) another aspect of your team in a game like (against Newcastle). It is more the mental aspect - you fight, don't panic and wait for your chance."

Chelsea can still finish in the Premier League's top four, says interim manager Guus Hiddink after last Sunday's 3-0 win at Crystal Palace. The Blues have not lost in four matches but are 13 points behind Tottenham, who occupy the fourth Champions League spot with 18 league games left. "It's difficult because this league has become so strong; everyone can win from everyone," said Hiddink, 69. "It's very difficult to get there. It's possible but there's a long way to go." The defending champions' four-match unbeaten run is their longest of the season and moved them up to 14th, six points clear of relegation. Hiddink, who succeeded the sacked Jose Mourinho in December, conceded Chelsea "desperately needed" the victory, which came courtesy of goals from Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa. "We have to get back to thinking why we were champions," added the former Netherlands, Turkey and Russia coach. Costa's goal - his third in two games - sealed an impressive individual display after managing just one in 12 previous matches. Hiddink said he is trying to give the striker some focus on the pitch so he does not "waste" energy "where he should not be" Chelsea's improvement in form since Mourinho's departure has led to some criticism as to why the Blues could not produce such performances under their former manager. Captain John Terry admits the players "let everybody down" following the club's worst start to a season since 1978. "It's unfortunate what's happened," said the 35-year-old defender. "We are where we are, and slowly climbing the Premier League table." But Terry feels Hiddink, who also took interim charge of the club in 2009, has "picked things up" since taking over. "That was the Chelsea of last year," he said after the display. "Overall, as well as the goals, it was different class."

Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo has revealed his true inspiration … himself! The Portuguese goal-scoring machine continues to impress, and is once again in the running for the coveted Ballon d’Or award, yet has revealed he does not need anyone to inspire him to perform on the pitch, although there were a number of big-name players he looked up to in the past. "Most of the time, I inspired myself," Ronaldo told Unscriptd. "I'm self-motivated. "But of course, at [a young] age, I was looking at a big reference in the national team - for example, [Luis] Figo, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto. It was kind of a dream to reach that level. "The national team, I'd look at them and I'd speak for myself: I want to be a professional player and I want to play for the national team. But I don't have one specific person that I just follow." Ronaldo says despite being self-motivated, he does appreciate the achievements of fellow sportsmen who participate in other sporting codes as well. "As I said before, I'm self-motivated. I'm always like that since the beginning when I was young, [up until] now,” he said. "Of course, I appreciate other players, talented players, great players - not just in football but in other sports because people enjoy to see, in different specific sports, the best ones. "You should be able to understand that you don't know everything so the other guy can help you in this kind of way so I just pick the best things off other sports." Ronaldo has also dismissed possibilities of becoming a manager or even president of any football club once he retires. The Portuguese international spoke of his future interests, particularly alluding to his plans after his football playing career. Ronaldo says he has already begun thinking about life after football, and quickly ruled out the possibility of becoming a coach. "The future is built from young," he tells the Spanish publication. "From the age of 27, I've developed my own clothing line, and I want my brand to continue growing because will end in five, six, seven or even 10 years. "Then there is another life. I think at first it will cost me a bit, but if you ask me now if i want to coach, I'd say no. Neither a club manager or president." The three-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner also says there is still some things missing in his seemingly perfect life; some things he wishes he could do, but can't because of his football career. "You can say you have the best job, money, cars, houses... But that's not all. "For example: There is a boxing match in Las Vegas this Saturday and I would love to take my family and friends to go and see it. "I cannot, because I have no time. I regret that I cannot because I'm sacrificing. But [after football] I want to like like a king," he adds. Ronaldo also addresses the issue of fans criticising him for his persona, and admits that he is unconcerned by what people think of him. "Everyone can think what they want. I go to bed every night with a clear conscience and I sleep well. "We cannot live obsessed with what others think of us. Otherwise, we would not live. Only God pleased everyone."

Former Premier League defender and Ivory Coast international Steve Gohouri has died at the age of 34. Gohouri, who played for Wigan Athletic between 2010 and 2012, was found dead in Germany's River Rhine, with reportedly no indication of violence. Gohouri went missing shortly after attending his fourth-tier side TSV Steinbach's Christmas Party on December 11. He was due to travel to Paris to meet up with his family. However, he failed to arrive, prompting his family to file a missing persons report. Gohouri played for his national side in 2006, scoring three goals during his international appearances. Gohouri also had spells in Israel, Switzerland and Greece.