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French soccer trying to deal with the coming AS Monaco problem

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The influence of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions could stretch well beyond AS Monaco’s audacious attempt to lure Radamel Falcao to Ligue 1. The club has also been linked with Porto’s Joao Moutinho and Jackson Martínez, Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, Manchester City attacker Carlos Tévez and Málaga creator Isco. Along with the talent already in tow (Ibrahima Touré, Valare Germain, and Lucas Ocampos), the high-profile additions could make Monaco immediate contenders to take one of France’s three Champions League spots. There may be another bully on PSG’s block.

That’s if AS Monaco even get a chance to compete. The club is currently at the center of a debate in France, with the French federation and league trying to balance what amounts to an uneven playing field.

Because of Monaco’s (the state) status as a principality, the club is not subject to the same, significant taxes as their other league competition. In that past – before Rybolovlev and tax hikes in the France – that status was not an insurmountable advantage (though Monaco has won seven league titles). Now, the combination of billionaire investment, extreme taxation, and the hyperactive transfer market means the club’s return to Ligue 1 could be an unsettling one.

How much is this upsetting the league’s existing clubs? They want Monaco to pay a fee to offset that advantage, an amount speculated to be around $260 million dollars. Rybolovlev seems willing to pay some fee over time (which would be distributed among the league’s other clubs), but as of now, he’s balking at the lump sum.

There are other, more extreme solutions. The idea of denying Monaco entrance into Ligue 1 has been floated, though FFF president Noel Le Graet doubts this will happen. Forcing Monaco to operate within France seems the most likely, if still disputed solution, as it would expose the club to French taxation. Then there’s the most extreme idea: Clubs boycotting their games at Monaco, taking 3-0 losses in forfeit, and refusing to play until the situation is resolved.

Talks between the club and federation officials will continue next week. It’s unclear when there’ll be a resolution, though it seems unfathomable that Monaco, a traditional power in French soccer, would be denied access to the top flight merely because they’ve had the fortune to attract a new owner.

For a league that features Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco could be seen a way to offset Parisian power, even if that ultimately makes life more difficult for the likes of Lille, Lyon, and Marseille. In the long run, however, as teams like PSG and Monaco raise Ligue 1’s profile, increase the value of its television and marketing rights, improve the league’s results in Europe and, far down the road, maybe even win access to Champions League for a fourth French team, the Monacos of the world could be a net good.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some road bumps along the way. Right now, though, France seems as willing to erect new obstacles as to find a balance.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.