International News - Issue 293

Lionel Messi Beats Cristiano Ronaldo To 2015 Ballon d’Or

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been named the recipient of the 2015 Ballon d’Or, beating teammate Neymar and nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo to the coveted award. The Argentine ace scored an impressive 48 goals with 23 assists in 53 games for Barca in the last calendar year, six of them in finals as the Catalans lifted the League, Spanish Cup, Uefa Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup in a trophy-laden 2015. Added to that, the 28-year-old scored four and provided three in eight appearances for his country, captaining them to a runners-up spot in the Copa America. Messi’s 2015 award takes his tally to five Ballon d’Or trophies, adding to prestigious accolades he won in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Messi received a mammoth 41,33% of the votes, followed by runner-up Ronaldo with 27,76% and Brazil forward Neymar with 7,86% of the total tally. In some of the evening's other awards, Messi's club coach Luis Enrique was awarded the Fifa Coach of the Year, Brazil's Wendell Lira won the 2015 Puskas Award for his acrobatic finish, while the USA's Carli Lloyd was handed the 2015 Women's World player of the Year. Messi has also reiterated his desire to end his playing days at Barcelona. The Argentine claimed a record fifth Ballon d'Or in Zurich last night, dethroning Cristiano Ronaldo and beating clubmate Neymar to football's top individual playing prize. "I have said it a thousand and one times, it is the same response as always," Messi, 28, told reporters. "My idea is to finish at home, and my home is Barcelona. I hope it can be like this." Messi, who has been with Barca since the age of 13, is contracted to the European champions until 2018. Messi won five trophies with the Catalans in 2015, while he also helped his country reach the final of the Copa America.

All winners:

Fifa FIFPro XI: Neuer; Silva, Marcelo, Ramos, Alves; Iniesta, Modric, Pogba; Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo
2015 Women’s Coach of the Year: Jill Ellis (coach of USA)
2015 Men’s Coach of the Year: Luis Enrique (coach of Barcelona)
2015 Fifa Fair Play award: Dedicated to clubs and associations helping refugees
2015 Puskas Award (Goal of the Year): Wendell Lira (Brazil)
2015 Women’s World Player of the Year: Carli Lloyd (USA)
2015 Ballon d’Or winner: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Holders Arsenal will take on Burnley while Manchester United travel to Derby County in the next round of the Emirates FA Cup following Monday night’s draw. The Gunners, looking to win the trophy for a third year on the trot, will back themselves against the Clarets, who currently lie fifth in the English Championship, having been relegated from the Premier League last season. Elsewhere, reigning EPL champions Chelsea face the winners between MK Dons and Northampton, while an all-Premier league showdown could be on the cards as Manchester City take on the victors in the Aston Villa-Wycombe tie. The fourth round served up just two more all top-flight ties, a definite being Stoke City’s match-up against Crystal palace, while Liverpool – should they advance past Exeter in their replay – have West Ham lying in wait. All fourth round fixtures will take place between the 29th January and the 1st February 2016.

Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale is enjoying being given more freedom upfront for the La Liga giants. Bale reiterated his worth with a hat-trick in a 5-0 riot of Deportivo La Coruna in Zinedine Zidane's first game in charge of Los Blancos last Saturday. The Wales international is typically deployed on the right flank, but prefers to roam in the final third. “There have been comments in previous interviews where I’ve been ‘stuck on the right’ and maybe didn’t have that freedom, but now I’m able to come in and float around a bit as well,” Bale told The Daily Telegraph. “My main position would be on the right, obviously. I’m enjoying my football and my position very much.” The former Tottenham man added: “My best position is being able to roam around the front and find weaknesses in their defence. “Everybody knows where I like to play and what I like to do on the pitch so hopefully I can keep doing that.” Bale has scored 12 goals and provided 10 assists in 16 appearances in all competitions this season.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright has warned Romelu Lukaku against joining Manchester United. The Red Devils are believed to be tracking the Everton striker, who has netted 19 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions this season. However, Wright feels the current unrest at Old Trafford poses a risk to the 22-year-old's career development. "Manchester United would not be attractive to him at the moment because of the turmoil they are in," he told The Sun. "Because he would have to go there with a massive price tag on him and he'll have to do it and whether he can do that is a different story, with the pressure on Manchester United. "There is too much pressure there when they are like this, there is too much pressure when they aren't winning.  "With the pressure they are under for not winning, they are not attractive." United are six points ahead of the Toffees in the Premier League standings after 20 games, but manager Louis van Gaal is under pressure over the club's unconvincing style of play and early Champions League exit.

African Player of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has ruled out a move to Premier League leaders Arsenal. The Gunners have been linked with a £44.6million bid for the Gabonese striker, who has netted 24 goals in 23 appearances for Borussia Dortmund this season. However, the 26-year-old told The Sun: "I don't want to go to Arsenal. I won’t leave Dortmund soon." Aubameyang's stock rose yesterday after he broke Yaya Toure's stranglehold on CAF's top individual playing prize.

Adnan Januzaj made the decision to return to Manchester United, according to Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc. Januzaj joined Dortmund on a season-long loan at the end of August, but struggled for game-time at the Bundesliga outfit. The 20-year-old made 12 appearances for BVB before the loan deal was terminated this week. “It was a wish of Adnan to go back,” said Zorc. “The loan wasn’t a good deal for both sides all in all."

Under-fire UEFA president Michel Platini has withdrawn from the race for the FIFA presidency. Platini was recently banned from football-related activities for eight years by world football's governing body, along with outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The pair were suspended in connection with a £1.3m payment made to Platini by FIFA in 2011. And while the duo have appealed the sanction, Platini says the timing of the February 26 election means he cannot run. "I'm withdrawing from the race for the FIFA presidency," the 60-year-old Frenchman told the Associated Press. "The timing is not good for me. I don't have the means to fight on equal terms with the other candidates. "I have not been given the chance to play the game. Bye bye FIFA, bye bye FIFA presidency." South Africa's Tokyo Sexwale, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa, Prince Ali of Jordan and  Jerome Champagne are in the running for football's top administrative post.

Former Chelsea and Real Madrid midfielder Claude Makelele has been appointed technical director of Ligue One giants Monaco. The 42-year-old, who was sacked as head coach of Bastia in November 2014, will assist the club's vice-president Vadim Vasilyev with sporting matters at the principality outfit. "I'm very happy to join an important club in French and European football," Makelele told Monaco's official website. "It's a new phase of my career and I'm convinced that the new role of technical director suits me perfectly and will allow me to keep developing. "I'm very excited at the idea of working with a coach of the quality of Leonardo Jardim. "AS Monaco looks at Champions League qualification every year and I'm going to work to help them achieve their objectives." Vasilyev added: "It's a great pleasure to have a man of the quality of Claude Makelele at my side. "It was important to have an everyday professional to serve as a link between the sporting group and the club directors. "This new organisation should help to allow AS Monaco to take new steps and satisfy our long-term goals."

Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal says he is trying something new in order to get better results from his Red Devils side. A run of eight winless matches was finally ended following the club’s 2-1 victory over Swansea City last weekend, as United now prepare for Saturday’s FA Cup clash against Sheffield United. Van Gaal believes the spirt in the camp has been lifted following the win, yet says he has now tried to work on the player’s mental approach in search of improvement on the pitch. "I think the atmosphere in our dressing room is very good, maybe too good because they are always protecting the dressing room, their colleagues. That is very good until a certain height," he said. "We have also changed our approach to the players to make it more easy to take responsibility. I have stimulated them to think about football. "The game is a brain sport and now you can let them think with you and therefore you can change your approach.” Van Gaal hopes his new mental approach will help his charges, yet knows that over and above working on their mental strength, more goals are needed on the field of play. "The players take the commitment, for example, for the game plan and other kinds of decisions and then the commitment is higher and bigger I think,” he said. "But we have to see how it shall work. We are trying everything to come to a solution but at the end it always comes down to [whether] we are better than the opponents. But we have to score goals."

Manchester United are reportedly preparing a bid to sign Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. United are understood to be preparing a £59-million bid for the Colombian World Cup star who has struggled for game-time since Rafa Benitez took over as head coach at the Santiago Bernabeu. After scoring 17 goals and providing 18 assists last season, James has managed just seven La Liga starts this term, scoring three times. He has appeared just once in this season's Champions League. He has been unlucky with injuries, but according to the pro-Real Madrid Marca, James is “fed up” with life under Benitez. In other transfer news, Juventus want to bring United wing-back Matteo Darmian back to Serie A.

Chelsea are showing some signs of recovery under interim manager Guus Hiddink, but that doesn’t mean change in the transfer window isn’t still needed. The Blues are looking highly unlikely to finish in the top four and may already need to start rebuilding for next season with some big buys.

The Premier League champions could be edging closer and closer to sealing the transfer of Shakhtar Donetsk forward Alex Teixeira after holding contract talks with the player. The 26-year-old Brazilian has been on fire this season, netting 26 times in all competitions from an attacking midfield position. Nothing has been agreed yet, but Chelsea have been strongly linked with the in-form Teixeira for the last few months, and have an offer on the table for him. The Blues could also be ready to pay big to sign AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca, who would cost around £30million. Chelsea could do with improvements up front this January after some unconvincing form from the likes of Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao and Loic Remy this season. Bacca has not set the world alight since moving to Milan, but previously showed a fine eye for goal at former club Sevilla.

Thomas Muller has no intention of following Pep Guardiola out the exit door at Bayern Munich despite admitting the Premier League “offers a lot at the moment”. Guardiola revealed his plans last week to leave Bayern at the end of the season to take a job in the Premier League, with Manchester City thought to be his preferred destination. However, despite Guardiola's impending departure, Muller believes Bayern remain a special club with all the necessary ingredients to remain at the pinnacle of world football. "The environment [at Bayern], the infrastructure, the history and the culture in recent years are incentives that not every club, or every city, has to offer," Muller said. "Of course, England offers a lot at the moment, but Bayern does not have to hide." Manchester United are firm admirers of the 26-year-old German international and did their best to tempt Bayern to part with their prized asset last summer. But Bayern succeeded in tying the forward down to a new contract in December which will keep him at the Allianz Arena until 2021 and Muller believes that move should end speculation about his future. "The renewal was a statement by me and the club that we feel comfortable with each other and have huge ambitions," Muller said. "It is also a small sign that Bayern is not a club you simply leave." Muller has been in sensational form this season with 14 goals in just 17 league games, already one more than he got from his 32 Bundesliga appearances during the team's last campaign. However Muller is not content and insists he will judge his season on the titles he helps Bayern to win, rather than any individual statistics. "Of course I am not satisfied with my own performances and goals, I make no secret of that," he said. "We want to play a good second half of the season and challenge for titles. Then we will see what's left. "I want to help the team. I try to be a player who is there for the team, even off the pitch. You always have to find the right mix of being serious and relaxed."