Andrés Iniesta’s intention to stay at Barcelona, a small blow to David Moyes’ hopes

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It was the contract rejection heard ’round the world – $16 million gross plus $4.1 million in add-ons not enough to keep Andrés Iniesta at Barcelona.

That was back on September 20th and even though it was merely a first offer, the reaction of Don Andrés’ was enough to send shockwaves through clubs like Manchester United and Manchester City.

City, of course, don’t ‘need’ Iniesta, per se. It’s just that, well, he’s Iniesta. Think about it. Slotting him into a midfield alongside the likes of fellow Spanish internationals David Silva and Jesus Navas, as well as former Barcelona teammate Yaya Toure – not to mention a reborn Samir Nasri – would be downright filthy.

So you can see where Manuel Pellegrini’s head was at.

United, on the other hand, need Iniesta like a drunk needs ale. Yes, everyone and their mother is aware that the Red Devils have managed to unearth some creative talent in Adnan Januzaj but to compete for titles Premier League clubs need more than one midfielder who views the pitch as something other than a single lane track.

Iniesta’s vision could change United’s view on the concept of space. He could open up patches of grass at Old Trafford that haven’t been touched since Ronaldo graced the grounds. He could show them the value of going left to right and how sometimes the killer pass is merely five feet away.

So when he heard the news that Iniesta had rejected Barca’s first offer on his contract – which, by the way, doesn’t expire until June 30, 2015 – you can imagine the gerbil wheel spinning  in David Moyes’ mind. ‘If we can just get Iniesta to hold off re-signing until January, we can hit Barcelona with a massive offer they can’t refuse.’

$50 million? $60 million? $70 million?

As outlandish as those figures may sound, they’re all possible when it comes to United buying a creative, game-changing midfielder. The main reason? The demand. Simple as that. Another reason? Because when Arsenal, of all clubs, dropped $68 million on Mesut Ozil, the transfer world took pause.

Did tight bummed Arsenal really just spend $68 million?

Was this really what things have come to?

In short, yes. Because Arsene Wenger realized something that few other managers have – whereas there are a plethora of strikers in the world who will get you 20+ goals in the Premier League, there is a distinct paucity of creative, game-changing midfielders. The Silvas, Ozils and Iniestas of the world are few and far between.

And so, with his cracked lips licked, Moyes was ready to pounce on his own midfield maestro. Until, of course, today when Iniesta spoke about his club future ahead of his country’s World Cup qualifier against Georgia. “You have to be where you want to be, and Barca is the place for me,” Iniesta told Movistar’s webpage. “The club knows that and wants me to stay, so I hope and expect to spend the years I have left playing there.”

Mere words, yes, but coming from the player who spent his childhood at La Masia it’s a strong indication of where his future lies.

For Moyes, it’s a minor, temporary setback in his transfer plans. But one way or another, come January, you can bet the Scot will be heading somewhere with fists of money and an intent on finding United’s next great midfield wizard.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.