11 Things From AC Milan’s Training Session in New York

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Summers spent stateside have become de rigueur for Europe’s top clubs. From Arsenal to Liverpool to reigning European champs Real Madrid, it seems as though all of UEFA’s heavy hitters are here in the States. Indeed, the footballing talent pool currently assembled on these shores would give Brazil circa mid-June a serious run for its money.

Now you can add Mario Balotelli and AC Milan to that impressive list.

The Rossoneri touched down at JFK on Wednesday, and shortly afterwards they piled into a bus and drove out to Long Island to partake in a closed-door scrimmage with NASL side, the New York Cosmos.

The scrimmage didn’t wind up taking place — no explanation was given as to why Milan backed out of playing Pele’s former club — but both sides held training sessions that were viewed by the media and a select group of supporters.

Here are 11 takeaways from what was seen at the Cosmos’ training ground on Wednesday.

1. Balotelli’s big here too: Even in doing nothing, Mario Balotelli somehow dominated the proceedings in L.I. He was the last one off the bus when Milan arrived, but drew by far the most applause from the fans outside the locker room. He put forth minimal effort during training, but the assembled media was discussing his every move. He was the last one out of the locker room upon leaving, but the fans waited until the very end just to catch a glimpse of his blonde mohawk. Ever the showman, he lived up to his legend by doing very little. Which is usually the way of cool, no?

2. Gentleman Honda: Attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda was one of two players made available to the media after practice (Sulley Muntari was the other) and despite giving off a cocksure air on the pitch, the Japanese international was a humble gentleman off of it. He answered every question politely and even tried his best to add insight to a difficult question about whether he thinks fellow Japanese international Shinji Kagawa’s future really lies at Manchester United. “He is my friend,” replied Honda. “I (hope) he will play very good at Manchester United. Or maybe he will transfer to another team also, where he can play better.”

3. Muntari talks World Cup exit: Along with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari was famously sent home from the World Cup early by the Ghanaian football federation. While Muntari didn’t fully disclose why he was sent home, he said that he would tell all when the time was right. “It’s my country. I love my country,” said Muntari, when asked about Brazil. “There are certain things I want to say, but I will say them at the (right) time. So now, I just don’t want to talk about it, but my country’s always going to be my country.”

4. Pippo’s peppy practices: Milan spent most of the training session running an 11-v-11 drill across the width of the field that focused more on shape and distribution out of the back than actual attacking play. New coach Pippo Inzaghi was very hands-on, shouting instructions and chasing the ball throughout, and his involvement infused the drill with plenty of intensity. Hard play was the norm, with a couple of scary collisions taking place as well. After Milan’s lackluster 2013-14, Pippo’s serious approach could bode well for the Rossoneri’s upcoming Serie A campaign.

5. Big Adil: Despite playing in just 18 matches for Milan last season, central defender Adil Rami was easily the most vocal player on the pitch on Wednesday. The French international’s booming voice was heard constantly during practice. He and ex-Chelsea center back Alex were arguably the most impressive backline players during the extended 11-v-11 drill.

6. Dang, Niang: The attacking player who impressed the most during training was 19-year-old French forward M’Baye Niang. The lanky forward has tremendous pace, as well as skill on the ball. He’s one of those players who makes the game look far easier than it really is.

7. Ladies in red (hats): As both clubs are sponsored by Emirates airline, there were six female flight attendants in attendance for the entirety of Wednesday’s training session. Donning their signature tan dress-suits and red hats, they stood in a straight line for the entire two hours. In all honesty, it was a touch curious.

8. Big name missing: Brazilian forward Robinho was not in attendance on Wednesday, and is apparently not touring with the club this summer. Those MLS rumors just might have some credibility, after all.

9. El Staaraway: With his signature dyed mohawk-pompadour hairdo and a sly grin on his face, Stephan El Shaaraway was easily the second-most popular Milan player with the stateside fans. He and Super Mario seem to have the ability to draw attention from supporters as easily as they do rival defenders.

10. Lazy, but Super Mario: Surprising no one, Balotelli was the picture of indifference during the club’s stretching exercises. But when he did put forth the effort to run at a full clip during competitive sprints, it was a sight to behold. It’s just rare to find players his size who can move as gracefully — and as quickly — as he does.

11. Chuffed ex-Chelsea lads: At this point in their careers, one would expect veteran stars Michael Essien and Alex to be indifferent to enthusiastic receptions from autograph-hungry fans. But both players were all smiles and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves as they signed jerseys and took selfies with the local supporters. It was a bit touching, to be honest. Maybe both players are wise enough to drink these moments in during the latter stages of their impressive careers.

LIVE: Man City, Stoke, Everton face second-tier teams in League Cup quarters

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Three of the four Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday with three Premier League teams facing second-tier opposition.

“What’s that, did somebody say banana skin?”

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Manchester City host Hull City at the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini‘s side hoping to have David Silva back in the starting lineup but Joe Hart is still out injured so Willy Caballero will continue in goal. Steve Bruce‘s side drew 1-1 at the Etihad last season when they visited City before being relegated from the Premier League. The Tigers are fighting for instant promotion back to the big-time and knocked out Leicester City on penalty kicks in the last round.

Everton face a tricky trip to the Riverside Stadium as Roberto Martinez and the Toffees play Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s side lost in the play-off final to Norwich last season but are looking good for promotion this term as they sit second in the second-tier and knocked out Manchester United on penalty kicks in the last round. Can Everton sort out their defensive frailties?

A third PL club has a tricky test coming up on Tuesday as Stoke City’s reward for beating Chelsea on PKs in the last round is a home game against Sheffield Wednesday. This will be no stroll in the park for Mark Hughes‘ side as the second-tier Owls comfortably knocked off Arsenal in the last round and this game has “cupset” written all over it.

Below are the fixtures for Tuesday as you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET

FIFA sponsors demand “independent oversight” of reforms
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LONDON (AP) Five of FIFA’s sponsors have written to the executive committee of soccer’s scandal-battered governing body demanding “independent oversight” of the reform process.

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Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organization, they have only been offered seats on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.

The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch to FIFA’s ruling body ahead of meetings this week.

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The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, says it is “clear to us that such independent oversight needs to run long-term through the implementation and evolution of the reform process.”

The reform committee was established following the indictment of soccer officials by American authorities.

VIDEO: Gerrard returns to Liverpool for training in MLS offseason

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League
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Steven Gerrard is back at Liverpool.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

The legendary midfielder, 35, has returned to the Reds just six months after leaving his hometown club for a new adventure in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy.

Gerrard spent a glittering 17-years at Anfield, guiding Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title and winning every other major title except for the elusive Premier League crown.

[ MORE: Chelsea, United battle for Muller

After suffering an early exit from the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs with the Galaxy, Gerrard is now back in England and he’s using his time at home to train with Liverpool’s first-team and help out in any way he can as Jurgen Klopp has allowed him to come back into the dressing room he called home for nearly two decades.

“It’s a good situation,” Klopp said. “Everybody had a smile on their face when they saw Stevie. It’s good to have him here and we hope we can help him, and he can help us for sure with being in the dressing room. It’s cool.”

Below are photos and videos from Gerrard’s return as Klopp once again quashed any rumors regarding a loan move for the former Liverpool skipper who will enter his first full MLS season in 2016 with the Galaxy.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.