Premier League Transfer Rumor Roundup: Pirlo to United, Falcao to Chelsea

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It’s that time of the season, ladies and gentlemen, when rumors begin flying as to what players may be Premier League bound come this January.

So let’s get to it.

Andrea Pirlo has put Premier League clubs on high alert after refusing to rule out a move away from Juventus when his contract expires at the end of this season.

When asked about his future the 34-year-old playmaker remained coy: “I don’t know if [I] will be at Juventus or another team [next season],” Pirlo said. “My future? There is the rest of the season to talk about it. We’ll see. . . . I am optimistic. I want to keep playing because I’m good and enjoy it.”

“Good” is one way to describe the midfield maestro who many still consider to be one of the best in the world. Arsenal and Chelsea are believed to be interested but Manchester United is the club in greatest swoon over Pirlo. The Italian may not possess the fitness to be an everyday starter but there’s no question he could bring a much-needed settling and creative presence to David Moyes’ midfield.

United may also be interested in Holland midfielder Kevin Strootman, believes his former manager at PSV Eindhoven, Dick Advocaat. Strootman, who now plays for Roma, was long rumored to be in line with a move to Old Trafford but it never transpired. And now, despite Strootman’s strong form in the Serie A, Advocaat has hinted that the midfielder could be moving somewhere bigger. “I do not think he will stay at Roma that long. If Kevin is at this level, he will be plucked away,” said Advocaat. “And then it will be a team of the calibre of Manchester United.”

One man Manchester United (as well as Manchester City and Tottenham) can cross of their list is 23-year-old Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic. The Bosnian star has been receiving high praise for this performances this season but when asked about his future, ruled out any immediate move away from the Italian capital. “I won’t exclude the possibility of one day playing elsewhere, but I doubt this will happen soon,” he said. “It certainly won’t be in January, which is what some people have said, and certainly not in the next year and a half either.” 

Right then. Time to give Chelsea some love and there’s perhaps no bigger striker love out there to be bought than Radamel Falcao. Oh, you had to know this one was coming! With Fernando Torres injured, Samuel Eto’o adjusting and Demba Ba likely on his way out, rumor at the Daily Mail is that Jose Mourinho is looking for a new striker. And who else would he turn to than the man who currently earns around £12million-a-year tax free at Monaco? File this one under ‘unlikely.’

Moving along to Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele, who raised flags this past weekend when he noted his discontent over his reduced role in the Spurs midfield. Sandro and Paulinho have made playing time tough to come by and with the emergence of Christian Eriksen and the return to health of Etienne Capoue, Aston Villa and Newcastle are rumored to be interested in taking Dembele away from his troubles. Dembele would add some additional brawn to Paul Lambert’s three man midfield while a move to Newcastle would mean the likely displacement of either Moossa Sissoko or Cheick Tiote from the starting XI.

In the ‘laugh of the day’ rumor, the Metro has Nicklas Bendtner tipping himself to a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona. The article fails to explain under what circumstances this deal would go through but one has to assume that the Spanish giants are in need of stadium workers or that Nicky has another Paddy Power trick up his sleeve.

Finally, up in Sunderland Gustavo Poyet is rumored to be eyeing up his first major transfer at the Stadium of Light and it’s for none other than Valmir Berisha. Not familiar with Berisha? We’ll let you off hook as he’s a 17-year-old Swedish striker playing in his domestic league with Halmstads. He caught the interest of Sunderland – along with Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle – last month when he scored a hat-trick in Sweden’s 4-1 victory over Argentina in the Under-17 World Cup.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.