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Tax-free Monaco embraced after club’s $68 million payment keeps it in French soccer

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After conflict between Monaco and the rest of French soccer left the top tier’s seven-time champions on the brink of explosion from their league, the club and the Ligue de Football Professionel reached an agreement on Friday that will allow Ligue 1’s second place team to stay in the French league. Whereas AS Monaco were on the brink of being excluded from next season’s competition because of a new rule targeting their tax-exempt status, the club will now pay an expensive, one-time fee to maintain their place in le Championnat.

“Out of concern for the equality and balance of the competition, AS Monaco are committed to paying a voluntary, fixed and definitive sum of €50 million to the LFP,” the league said in a Friday statement, “and will withdraw their plea to the Council of State.”

Monaco, having spent lavishly since Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the club in Dec. 2011, pays $68.4 million to stay in the league, a status the club has enjoyed since 1933. With tax rates against high incomes climbing in France, the remainder of the French league had grown tired of Monaco’s competitive advantage, the club based in a tax-free principality that operates independent of French law. That advantage has helped lure like likes of Radamel Falcao, João Moutinho, and James Rodríguez to the club, with Rybolovlev’s team alleviated of paying the personal income tax that is customarily covered by French clubs.

source: AP
Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased AS Monaco in 2011 as the club embarked on their two-year stint in the second division. His spending has vaulted them back into Ligue 1 and into a UEFA Champions League spot. (Photo: AP.)

In response to Rybolovlev’s spending, the LFP had adopted a rule that, effective next season, would exclude all clubs whose offices were not located in France. Monaco was pursuing a resolution through the French courts before Friday’s resolution, one that Rybolovlev touted on the club’s website:

“From the beginning we wanted to find an intelligent solution which would work for both sides, within a favourable climate for negotiations.

The AS Monaco FC project can help raise the level of French football and it is good that this has been understood.”

The idea that teams like Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain can help raise Ligue 1’s level underscored the early acquiescence to PSG’s rise. Part of the theory was revenues PSG would raise (or, merely inject) money into the rest of the first division either through player purchases or by raising the league’s commercial profile.

Based in the French capital, PSG is subject to the same taxation as 18 other clubs in Ligue 1. Monaco, however, doesn’t have to endure the same tax on Falcao as PSG’s paying for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Where it’s customary to have agents negotiate such that clubs are responsible for players’ income taxes, Monaco faces a significant edge when accounting for their high-end talents.

Thanks to Friday’s $68.4 million settlement, that edge gets preserved in perpetuity. From the club’s statement announcing the agreement:

By paying a single, lump-sum, voluntary contribution of EUR 50 million, payable in installments, AS Monaco FC is demonstrating its commitment to French football and will be able to continue to pursue its project for the benefit of all stakeholders.

The shared history between French football and one of its most faithful representatives has made it possible to find an agreement that will put an end to their legal dispute, with an undertaking from both sides that this agreement cannot be challenged later.

If the point of pursuing Monaco was restoring competitive advantage, it’s unclear this agreement makes sense. The $68.4 million fee Monaco’s paying represents only a few years’ taxes on their players. In the big picture, this isn’t something that’s going to inhibit Monaco from taking advantage of their slanted playing field.

In accepting this solution, the LFP’s agreeing with Rybolovlev, even if their statement touted the need for “equality and balance.” Having settled for such a small payment, the deal does little to achieve those ends. Though it may have symbolic value in getting Monaco to acknowledge their advantage, it won’t inhibit players from moving to the club. It won’t deter Rybolovlev from growing his team. It won’t stop Monaco from exploiting their advantage on the rest of their league.

But Ultimately, it does them no good to kick out Monaco. Perhaps France would have a more equitable competition, but they’d have it at the expense of their commercial growth, something that can’t be taken lightly for a circuit that continues to attract some of the world’s best talent. With clubs like PSG and Monaco in the league, Ligue 1‘s profile could eventually challenge that of the Serie A and Bundesliga. When that challenge translates into revenues, the rest of le Championnat‘s clubs may be better off.

At least, that the end game the LFP are hoping to see. Whether that transpires, only time will tell. After Friday’s agreement, however, the experiment is set to run its course. The LFP has signed off on Monaco’s competitive advantage, accepting a large if token payment in the process. Now Monaco has to make good on their promise.

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.