Juventus interested in Didier Drogba? That’s news to Antonio Conte

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This rumor’s been around since the end of the Chinese Super League season: Didier Drogba, having finished his first season with Shanghai Shenhua, is looking to come back to Europe, with Italian champions Juventus being prominently linked.

Let’s wait a second before detailing the various levels on which that’s problematic. For now, what’s important is Juventus’s lack of interest, per reports (this one from ESPN).

Here’s head coach Antonio Conte with a well-articulated scoff at the persisting rumors:

“I keep reading about Drogba, but the club never proposed him to me or vice-versa. There are economic parameters to be taken into account. Transfers must be intelligent and low-cost.”

In China, Drogba is one of the highest paid players in the world, and while it’s no guarantee he’ll demand in same compensation on a return to Europe (be that return temporary or permanent semi-temporary), he’s still going to be expensive. If there’s any team in Italy that can afford that type of player, it’s Juventus, but as Conte says, that doesn’t mean the deal makes sense.

With eight goals in 11 appearances, Drogba was effective in China, but at 34 years old and slightly removed from his last days at Chelsea, there could be some concern about his ability to play to previous levels. It’s a concern I’d dismiss under most circumstances, but if one of those circumstances entails paying Drogba has if he’s among the best attackers in Europe, that would require me being 100 percent certain he’d be an elite player for the deal to work out. And that level of certainty’s near-impossible to reach.

There’s also the little issue of Drogba being under contract with Shanghai Shenhua. It’s no guarantee he’ll be allowed to move, given the CSL’s March re-start. Regardless, his contract status will only add to the cost.

For some clubs, Drogba will still make sense, but as Conte discusses, Juventus might have other options. Though Drogba would fill the Old Lady’s last glaring need, Italy’s holders could look west instead of east, with Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente in focus:

 “Llorente is a Spanish international and has done very well at Bilbao, so he is an appetising prospect. If we have the chance to sign a big player on a free transfer and he chooses us, then good.

“I can certainly say that, a year ago, Llorente wouldn’t have taken us into consideration, but we are back to a high level and are now very appealing to big players.”

Asked if he would be surprised to see Llorente arrive this month, Conte replied: “Yes, because he is an Athletic Bilbao player.”

Of course, in talking about Llorente coming on a free transfer, Conte’s implicitly casting this deal as a summer move, one which would happen after the Athletic target man’s contract expires after the season. The threat of pre-contract agreement might compel Athletic to sell this winter, but for the deflated price they’d get for a player at the end of a deal, it might not be worth it.

All of which brings us back to the question underlying all these rumors: What’s Juventus going to to about their forward situation? Right now, Conte’s relying on Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri. While there’s talent in the group, there haven’t been many goals: 18 in 52 appearances.

If there’s no Drogba or Llorente in January, then who? Perhaps the answer is “nobody,” a response that will draw the ire of Juve fans expecting the team to make a Champions League run.

Luis Enrique leaves with feeling of mission accomplished

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique leaves Barcelona with no regrets and the feeling of mission accomplished.

[ MORE: Arsenal edges Chelsea to earn FA Cup crown ]

The coach capped his three-year stint with the Catalan club by winning the Copa del Rey title with a 3-1 win over Alaves on Saturday.

Now it’s time to enjoy some much-needed time off after three “intense” seasons, and let the club move on under fresh leadership.

“There is no sadness at all, just happiness,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m the one who decided to stop, and I think that it was a wonderful decision for me, for the players and for the team as well. The intensity of this profession demands maximum dedication every single day and there is a natural wear out.”

He said players always need new challenges and will benefit from a change in leadership, and the club will certainly keep winning despite his departure.

After missing out on the league this season, the Copa del Rey was Barcelona’s second title of the campaign to go along with the Spanish Super Cup, but Luis Enrique has won nearly everything since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014. The former midfielder led Barcelona to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2015. He also managed the league-Copa double in 2016, and also won the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup in 2015.

He said he was “proud” to have helped Barcelona fans celebrate so many accomplishments during his time at the helm.

“If someone had told me when I arrived that I would have the opportunity to help my team win nine titles out of 13 that we played, I’d say that these would be good numbers,” he said. “It would have been nice to have won La Liga and contended for the Champions League title this season, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I believe that the fans recognized the effort and the sacrifice of all the players throughout the season. I have enjoyed the opportunity to make them happy.”

Luis Enrique said he was also lucky to have had the chance to coach a player like Lionel Messi.

“He is extraordinary, extraterrestrial,” Luis Enrique said about the Argentina forward, who scored the team’s first goal on Saturday. “I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy Messi at his best, performing at the highest level. He is the very best, without a doubt.”

Neymar and Paco Alcacer also scored at the Vicente Calderon Stadium to help Barcelona win its third straight Copa del Rey title, and 29th all-time.

Luis Enrique celebrated with his seven-year-old daughter by his side, waving his winner’s trophy and singing the club’s anthem in front of the Barcelona fans who traveled to Madrid.

Barcelona is expected to announce this week that its new coach will be Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao a few days ago.

Luis Enrique’s future remains up in the air.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, really. I’m open to every possibility, including changing sports,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said, with a smile on his face. “I do know that I’m very competitive and it’s been like this since I was born. Right now I’m looking forward to the opportunity of enjoying my friends and my family.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Report: Reus could miss six months after sustaining knee damage

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Marco Reus missed much of the 2016/17 season with injuries, and the Borussia Dortmund attacker had that unfortunate spell continue on Saturday.

[ MORE: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U-20 World Cup ]

The 27-year-old exited the club’s DFB Pokal final win against Eintracht Frankfurt at halftime after suffering a knee injury.

According to German outlet Bild, Reus will miss at least six months as he rehabs and prepares to make a comeback.

Despite the bad news for Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel’s men captured the title behind goals from Ousmane Dembélé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Day 9: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U20 World Cup

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Five teams booked their place in the knockout phase at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Sunday, including Tab Ramos and the U.S. after the Americans picked up a valuable point to finish atop Group F.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

USMNT U-20s 1-1 Saudi Arabia

An unbeaten record in group play has Ramos and Co. moving on to the Round of 16, where the U.S. will meet New Zealand. Brooks Lennon inked his name on the scoresheet for the first time at this month’s World Cup just prior to halftime, before Abdulelah Alamri equalized with almost a quarter hour left to play.

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador

A draw was all Senegal needed to ensure it would continue its run at the World Cup, while Ecuador fell short of a final 16 bid after only managing two draws during Group F play.

New Zealand 0-2 France

With nine goals for and none conceded during Group E play, France remains one of the heavy hitters at the conclusion of the group phase. Les Bleus received a strong contribution from Bastia winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who netted twice in the first half.

Honduras 2-0 Vietnam

Honduras scored twice in the final 14 minutes-plus added time but neither nation reaches the Round of 16 with Sunday’s result.

Daly collapses during match, treated for heat illness

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly collapsed during the final minute of a National Women’s Soccer League match against the Seattle Reign as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

The 25-year-old Daly was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital, where the team said she was being treated for heat illness.

The temperature at BBVA Compass Stadium was 92 degrees at the 3 p.m. kickoff. The Reign won 2-0.

[ MORE: Perisic talking with Man Utd? ]

The NWSL issued a statement that said the league had worked with the Dash before the season to schedule any afternoon games early in the year to help avoid heat issues. The teams took a hydration break late in the match.

“We will immediately review these measures to prevent this situation from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

Reign coach Laura Harvey posted to Twitter: “Proud of the team today. Some of the hottest conditions I’ve seen. Road games are tough but that was crazy.”