Football Focus: Guardiola hopes Messi ends career at Barcelona

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he is unsure what the future holds for Lionel Messi but hopes as a Barcelona fan that the Argentine forward will remain at the La Liga club until the end of his career.

Guardiola, who has guided City to two Premier League titles, three League Cups and the FA Cup following his arrival in 2016, signed a new two-year deal on Thursday that will keep him in charge until the end of the 2022-23 season.

The former Barca manager’s extension at City has opened up the possibility of a reunion with Messi in England, with the player in the last year of his current contract in Spain having unsuccessfully tried to leave the club in the close season.

“Messi’s a player for Barcelona. If you ask me my opinion, I have huge gratitude for what Barcelona have done for me. I want him to finish his career there,” Guardiola told reporters ahead of Saturday’s Premier League trip to Tottenham Hotspur.

“I’d love, wish, I’ve said a thousand times. I’d like as a Barcelona fan for him to finish his career there. I don’t know what is in his mind, for now he’s a Barcelona player. The transfer market is in June. This is only half in our minds.”

Guardiola’s immediate attention will be on second-placed Spurs, who could top the table with victory. City will be without versatile midfielder Fernandinho due to illness.

“… A lot of players are back except Nathan (Ake), Fernandinho. We have a lot of games so it will be important to have everyone fit,” Guardiola added.

“Sergio (Aguero) is training this week and Raheem (Sterling) today was the first training with the team.”

Sterling sustained a calf injury while training with England ahead of their game against Belgium, while Ake had to be taken off early in the Netherlands’ game against Spain on Nov. 11 with a muscle injury.

Klopp backs Salah after positive tests following brother’s wedding

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp refused to blame Mohamed Salah after the forward contracted COVID-19 having attended his brother’s wedding in Egypt, although the German said he would personally avoid social engagements.

Videos emerged of Salah dancing during the ceremony without a face mask or socially distancing, with the 28-year-old later testing positive for the novel coronavirus ahead of Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations clash against Togo last week.

Salah, who is the joint leading scorer in the Premier League this season with eight goals, returned another positive test on Wednesday and is set to miss Sunday’s clash against league leaders Leicester City.

“He is flying back today. I’ve been in close contact with him. When you have a negative test, the process starts. He has had no symptoms. Nothing to say in public about the situation,” Klopp told reporters.

“I was in Germany in the summer and a friend moved a birthday party for me and I decided not to go. It was allowed. In other countries there’s more social pressure and a brother’s wedding is a special moment. My players are incredibly disciplined.”

Champions Liverpool are faced with a mounting injury crisis ahead of the clash against league leaders Leicester. Defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are set to miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was injured in the 1-1 Premier League draw with Manchester City earlier this month, and captain Jordan Henderson, who injured his leg on international duty with England, are also sidelined for Sunday’s match but Klopp has warned his players not to wallow in self-pity.

“There’s no season when you don’t have injury problems. It is always the same, it’s slightly different in that a lot of players in the same position have got injured and seriously injured, which makes it tricky,” he said.

“Nobody here feels sorry for ourselves, it’s just the situation. At the moment it hits you but the next moment you are in the solution process.”

Klopp confirmed that Brazilian midfielder Fabinho and Spaniard Thiago Alcantara are close to full fitness after overcoming a hamstring and knee injuries respectively.

Southgate should name bosses who pressured England players: Mourinho

Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho on Friday asked England manager Gareth Southgate to name the club managers who pressure players not to represent the national team and also explain why Raheem Sterling was withdrawn from the national squad this week.

Player fatigue has become a major issue due to the tight fixture schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Southgate had said some players were keen to play for their country but found themselves in a “difficult situation” with their clubs.

Sterling missed England’s 4-0 Nations League victory over Iceland at Wembley on Wednesday through injury, but Mourinho said he expected the Manchester City winger to start when Pep Guardiola’s side visit Spurs in the Premier League on Saturday.

“Southgate… he supposedly said some club managers, they put pressure not to play for the national team and because of that he feels the need to call them to try to cool down emotions and try to control the situation,” Mourinho said on Friday.

“I would like him to say who. I would like him to say which are the coaches who put pressure on the players not to go. I would like him to say which are the coaches that he calls and speaks on the phone with them.

“We all know Sterling will play tomorrow (Saturday),” he added at the pre-match news conference after the City forward missed England’s games with Belgium as well as Iceland due to a calf injury picked up in training on international duty.

“When (defender) Eric Dier left the national team injured… he didn’t play two matches for Tottenham. He needed a couple of weeks to recover but Raheem is going to play tomorrow… These are the details I think Gareth should explain.”

Mourinho confirmed that Tottenham’s South Korea winger Son Heung-min had tested negative for COVID-19 and is available for Saturday’s game but their England midfielder Harry Winks is a doubt after picking up a minor injury on international duty.

The Portuguese, who took charge at Spurs last November, will hope to celebrate his anniversary with a win over City, which would take the London club provisionally top of the league.

Real’s Zidane brands fixture scheduling ‘crazy’

The fixture pile-up affecting Europe’s top clubs is “crazy”, according to Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

Speaking ahead of the club’s visit to Villarreal — their first match in a series of 10 across 33 days — the Frenchman let his feelings be known.

“All I can say is that I look at the calendar and it’s too much,” he told a news conference.

“I think of the health of the players and nothing else – and they never stop. I’m not speaking only about my players, but I’m worried for them.

“I don’t want to get involved, at the end of the day there are people there who do the fixtures, but I’m very worried. It’s crazy.”

Zidane will be without captain Sergio Ramos for the visit to second-placed Villarreal, who sit two points above Real having played a game more, after the defender picked up a hamstring injury on international duty, which is likely to rule him out for the next 10 days.

“I can just tell you what I feel (about the situation). We need to try and give the players rest, yes, but we know that not everyone is available so we need to balance that out,” he said.

Ramos’s defensive partner Raphael Varane will undergo a late fitness test, with Zidane admitting he is “not 100 percent fit”.

Yet defender Eder Militao, midfielder Casemiro and playmaker Eden Hazard are all back after returning negative COVID-19 tests, having tested positive before the international break.

Defenders Nacho and Dani Carvajal are also in contention.

“We don’t know how fit everyone is, but they’re getting there. Eden and Militao’s situations are a bit different. They trained at home (during self-isolation).

“Nacho and Carvajal have been with the group for longer, and we need the group together because every game is important for us. We can’t rest on our laurels because we’re up against a tough side.”

Haiti’s football boss banned for life by FIFA for sexual abuse

FIFA has banned Haiti’s football federation president Yves Jean-Bart for life after finding him guilty of sexually harassing and abusing multiple female players, including minors, global soccer’s governing body said on Friday.

FIFA provisionally suspended Jean-Bart in May while it investigated multiple allegations against him by victims, their friends and family members detailing how he coerced girls into sex by threatening they would lose their places in national team programmes. Jean-Bart has denied the allegations.

“The adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee has found Yves Jean-Bart… guilty of having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused various female players, including minors, in violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” FIFA said in a statement on its website https://www.fifa.com/who-we-are/news/adjudicatory-chamber-of-the-independent-ethics-committee-sanctions-yves-jean-bar

“In its decision, the adjudicatory chamber… sanctioned him with a life ban from all football-related activities (administrative, sports or any other) at both national and international level.”

Jean-Bart, who was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Haitian justice system on Thursday, was also fined one million Swiss francs ($1.10 million) by FIFA.

The Haitian Football Federation was not immediately available to comment, but a spokesman for Jean-Bart told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the former president would appeal against FIFA’s decision to sport’s highest court CAS.

“FIFA’s decision is a travesty of justice and (a) purely political move to avoid further controversy and bad press following a series of high-profile scandals,” the spokesman said in a statement reported by The Guardian.

“Unlike the Haitian judicial system that properly investigated and cleared Dr Jean-Bart of any wrongdoing, FIFA failed to review actual evidence which is why Dr Jean-Bart expects to be fully exonerated and reinstated after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”

FIFA added in its statement that proceedings against other officials within Haiti’s football federation were still pending.

 

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