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Jose Fonte hands in transfer request at Southampton

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Jose Fonte wants to leave Southampton as soon as possible.

[ MORE: Conte reveals title rivals ]

Southampton’s executive director of football Les Reed has confirmed Fonte, 33, has handed in a transfer request.

Reed has told BBC Radio Solent that their skipper, who has been at Southampton since January 2010 when they were in the third-tier of English soccer, has made it “very clear” he wants to move on.

“He’s had several opportunities to improve the contract situation. He’s reserved his right not to do that,” Reed said. “He’s made it very clear he would like to explore the opportunities for a transfer. That’s where we are at the moment, Jose wants to leave the club. He’s formally asked for a transfer.”

Reed also confirmed that Fonte has been offered improved wages on his contract and a full year extension on his current deal, but that hasn’t swayed the Portuguese international.

“What was offered to Jose was, in my view, quite significant off the back of the contract he signed in October 2015,” Reed said. “Six months later we were prepared to improve that contract and extend it. He has turned down the opportunity to increase his salary, and he’s turned down the opportunity to get another permanent year on his contract.”

Fonte has been linked with moves to both Everton and Manchester United in the summer after his star displays for Portugal at EURO 2016 alongside Pepe at center back.

This season it has been clear something isn’t quite right with Fonte and new Saints manager Claude Puel and last month he stated that he hasn’t rejected any deal and that the club will not be offering him a new contract.

Fonte’s agent is super agent Jorge Mendes (from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho fame) and it is believed that since EURO 2016 the Portuguese center back has been trying to cash in and find a way out of St Mary’s with both Manchester United and Everton interested in signing him.

The Saints legend didn’t play in a single second of Saints’ UEFA Europa League group stage campaign, the first time they club had qualified for that competition, as Puel said he was rested in his strict rotation policy. Another, more cynical view is that Fonte wasn’t being used so he could join a club still competing in European competition in the knockout rounds.

Fonte is currently contracted to Southampton until the summer of 2018 but it seems unlikely he will stay at the south coast club beyond this month.

He is the only remaining squad player who played for Saints in their League One days. If when he leaves, it will be an end of an era and a sad end for Fonte and Southampton.

A link up with former boss Ronald Koeman at Everton or compatriot Mourinho at Man United seems most likely but does Fonte really need to to do that for the final few years of his career? If he stayed at Saints he would be a club legend forever. Now, his reputation will be slightly tarnished and for what, a few years in and out of the team at Everton or United? At Everton he would be more of a regular but at United he’d struggle to get ahead of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Eric Bailly when everyone is available.

Seems like a strange way for Fonte to try and bow out and the main takeaway here is that it has been his long-stated ambition to jump ship since the summer.

Coming off the back off three-straight defeats in the PL, this is not good news for Southampton, especially with big clubs sniffing around for Fonte’s central defensive partner Virgil Van Dijk.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.