Six Shakhtar Donetsk players refuse to play for war-torn club

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As the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine rumbles in Eastern Ukraine, six soccer players have refused to return to the highly volatile region.

Alex Teixeira, Fred, Dentinho, Douglas Costa, Facundo Ferreyra and Ismaily all play for Ukrainian champions Shakhtar but have all voted against returning to the highly-volatile region ahead of the new season.

After Shakthar played French side Lyon in a friendly over the weekend, the six aforementioned refused to get back on the plane to Donetsk. The city is currently being controlled by pro-Russian rebels but the Ukrainian army are trying to gain control of it.

Simply put, it’s not a safe place to be.

Donetsk is located less than two hours away from where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was believed to have been shot down by pro-Russian rebels on Friday. Ahead of the new Ukrainian season the club still doesn’t know where it will be playing its home games, as a neutral venue must be organized.

The six players in question are all from South America, five from Brazil and one from Argentina, and the club’s billionaire owner Rinat Akhmetov has issued the following warning.

“If they don’t come then in the first instance they will suffer,” Akhmetov said in a statement on Shakhtar’s website. While also going on to state that refusing to fulfill their contracts could cost the players “tens of millions of euros” in compensation payments to the club.

There is also a twist as Shakhtar’s Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu blamed super-agent Kia Joorabchian as the players did not return to Ukraine. According to Lucescu, their agent Joorabchian turned up in Lyon and took the players away. Shakhtar believe Joorabchian wants to make all the players free-agents and profit from them signing new deals at other clubs. The likes of Costa have been linked with a switch to Manchester United.

With Shakhtar set to play in this seasons UEFA Champions League and the Ukrainian season set to begin this weekend, plenty of question lie ahead as to how safe it is to play soccer in the Ukraine.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.