Queens Park Rangers' manager Redknapp reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at Loftus Road in London

Redknapp admits QPR are relegated

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Harry Redknapp’s an optimistic guy, but even the QPR manager admits that his side’s dreams of a miraculous escape from relegation are over after a 2-0 home defeat today by fellow Premier League strugglers, Stoke City.

“It looks in tatters doesn’t it? But we’ve got to try to win a game or two. We’ve got to go to Reading next week and try to win. We’ve got to keep going,” Redknapp told the BBC.

QPR are ten points behind fourth-bottom Aston Villa with four games to play. “It looks almost impossible,” he added. In the unlikely event that Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday, both QPR and the bottom club, Reading, will officially be playing second-level soccer next season. Reading host QPR a week tomorrow.

Reading and Wigan also lost today, so all three clubs in the Premier League danger area tasted defeat.

Redknapp, formerly in charge of West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham and a rumored England managerial candidate not so long ago, doesn’t exactly sound  thrilled with the caliber of the roster he inherited from Mark Hughes last November. “People say this team will come straight back up – that’s rubbish. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said, adding that he would not quit: “What am I going to do, play golf every day?”

Seen as a savior after turning round Tottenham in 2008-09 and keeping little Portsmouth in the Premier League, Redknapp has won only four of his 21 league games in charge. And then there was the tabloid story about QPR’s players treating a warm-weather training trip to Dubai as if it was a bachelor party. QPR did beat west London neighbors Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on January 2. But in truth, any fanciful notions the club had about mounting an escape for the ages were gone when Wigan scored from a last-minute free kick to snatch a 1-1 draw two weeks ago. That was the sort of demoralizing blow that is a momentum-killer.

What now for a club with a very recent history of acute financial and ownership turmoil? Their owner since 2011, Malaysian low-cost airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, is a rich man. And he might have to be. Fernandes said this week that a recent $23m loan the club have taken out is to be put towards a new stadium, not to ease any short-term money problems.

But QPR are a reported $140m in debt and there is no doubt that the wage bill is far beyond what a club with an aging 18,000-capacity home could normally support, despite all that lovely broadcast rights lucre that keeps flowing the league’s way in ever-increasing amounts.

Wanting the club to become a serious Premier League presence after their first year in the top-flight since 1995-96 ended in a panicky last-day survival, Fernandes threw money at the roster. Despite his best intentions, he ultimately fostered the conditions for the same sort of managerial instability, profligate spending and ridiculous player turnover that has previously proved catastrophic for other Icarus-like Premier League clubs who chased the dream down the years.

According to soccerbase.com, QPR have signed 28 players plus two loanees since the summer of 2011. Well-known, expensive names among them, with a decent pedigree: Ji-Sung Park, Bobby Zamora, Christopher Samba, Loic Remy. Former West Ham and England goalkeeper Rob Green arrived last July – then was replaced after three games when QPR suddenly signed the Brazil international and Champions League winner, Julio Cesar, from Inter Milan.

We’ll wait to see just how disastrous QPR’s lavish spending will prove for the club. Much may depend on how easy it is to offload the high-earning, low-achieving veterans in the close-season. Meanwhile, little Southampton, Norwich and Swansea are all going to stay up – comfortably and without breaking the bank. And how many of their players could the average fan name?

 

 

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”

Wenger discusses future of Sanchez, Ozil at Arsenal

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With just 18 months left on their current contracts, the futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal is becoming a daily topic.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

This week alone Sanchez has been linked with a move to China on Wednesday, plus Real Madrid and Chelsea on Thursday, while another report from the Telegraph suggest the Gunners are willing to listen to offers for 28-year-old Ozil who isn’t willing to back down on his hopes of getting a $487,000 week contract at Arsenal where he is currently the top earner on $180,000.

To try and clear up any of the speculation Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger, who only has a contract at the Emirates until the end of the current season, has been speaking to the media about the reports.

Asked if Arsenal was willing to break their transfer structure, he said they’ll “do the maximum of what we can for every single player” to remain at the club.

He then reinforced the notion that Sanchez and Ozil would remain at Arsenal for at least 18 months, and hopefully much longer.

“Eighteen months is quite long in football. They have 18 months on their contracts and are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” Wenger said. “Beyond that we will try to extend their contracts but I can’t make that a subject of every press conference as that is normal. These players have 18 months, they will be staying 18 months and hopefully much longer. I don’t believe that it is a problem.”

“A contract is between two parties and on my side the best position is to achieve it early. You have to accept that negotiations are private and secret and we don’t have to explain what we do with negotiations.”

Asked about the astronomical sums of cash reportedly being offered to Sanchez to go and play in the Chinese Super League — reports state the Chilean star has offers of $505,000 per week on the table — Wenger believed it was true but questioned why either would leave England.

“Why should you go to China when you are playing in England? We live in a world where the great players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil earn a lot of money and have the privilege to choose where they want to play,” Wenger said. “The commitment of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is absolute total and I’m very pleased with that. We are professionals and the first quality is to give 100 percent, it is here and now, that is what it means to be professional and to be fully committed to the cause.”

So, Wenger is confident the superstar duo will stay. Should he be?

With Paul Pogba earning over $368,000 as the current top earner in the Premier League, it’s easy to see why Ozil and Sanchez believe they’re worth more than Pogba is currently earning at Manchester United.

Sanchez, 27, has been ripping it up this season, scoring 11 times in 14 PL outings and Ozil has already matched his goal tally from last season with eight strikes in all competitions.

Arsenal’s wage structure is said to be set at $250,000 per week, with an insistence on no player earning more than Wenger does.

Unless they change that stance it’s difficult to see how Sanchez and Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium with so many suitors from across the Premier League, Europe and worldwide willing to double, or even treble, their current wages.

Of course the Premier League is the most-watched in the world and there are many advantages to playing in it for Sanchez, Ozil and other superstars but money talks. If these huge offers from the Chinese Super League are true, why wouldn’t players move there to cash in on their relatively short playing careers?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

Follow @NicholasMendola