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Jose Fonte hits out at Southampton

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Jose Fonte isn’t happy at being cast as the villain following his $10 million move from Southampton to West Ham United in January.

[ MORE: Wenger update on Sanchez ]

Fonte, 33, left Saints after seven years at St Mary’s with Southampton stating publicly that their club captain wanted to move on.

The Portuguese international center back was linked with moves to Manchester United and Liverpool in the summer after impressing in Portugal’s EURO 2016 win but instead he stayed with Saints and ended up moving on in January to the Hammers with moves to Old Trafford and Anfield always seeming a little far-fetched.

Speaking to Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness ahead of West Ham’s London derby against Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Fonte was asked if he was harshly treated on his departure from Saints.

“No doubt. You need to know all the facts,” Fonte said. “It’s tough to see in the press you’ve put in a transfer request, which I didn’t. I never wrote a letter to the manager or the club saying I want to leave because even when that came out in the beginning of January I didn’t have a club to go to, so why would I put in a transfer request? It was tough to see that and to hear people saying bad stuff about you when it’s a lie. But this is football – you learn how to deal with things like this. At least I have the opportunity to put it right.”

Fonte said it was a “disappointing ending” to his time at Southampton and was also angry with many media reports stating that he refused to play and train for the club until he had a move lined up.

He also stated that Saints “weren’t willing” to compromise over a move in the summer after he made it clear he wanted to explore other offers on the table for him.

“When I see all over the news that I submitted a transfer request to leave the club – that’s disappointing. That never happened. There was an interview from the club; from a press conference that I demanded to leave, which then the press took it as a transfer request and I wonder where is it?

“As I said before, in the summer there were possibilities of leaving – that’s normal, everyone fights for their own interests to get the best possible outcome for yourself. To say that I wrote an official transfer request to the club, that’s a lie. And also that I refused to train and I wasn’t being a good captain? That’s a complete lie. I’ve always given my best to that club. That’s the main thing the fans should know. My conscious is very clear.”

The Portuguese center back has played alongside Dejan Lovren and Virgil Van Dijk in recent seasons in the Premier League and he’s so often been overlooked as the guy who gives you 7 out of 10 each and every game. There’s no doubting he was instrumental in guiding Saints from the third-tier to the Premier League’s top six and after arriving in the PL at the age of 29 he was a late bloomer.

Still, you get the sense that with him changing his agent last summer to Jorge Mendes he was pushing hard for a move away from St Mary’s. Southampton have stated on numerous occasions they had offered Fonte a new deal, with an extra year and an increase in wages, but he instead decided to leave. Saints begrudgingly accepted his move to West Ham in January in a good will gesture for his service to the club.

However, ahead of the EFL Cup final Van Dijk suffered a long-term injury and that left Saints without their two first-choice center backs at the start of the season. Had Fonte played in the final against Manchester United — an agonizing 3-2 defeat in a game they dominated — instead of the talented yet young academy product Jack Stephens, would he have lifted their first piece of silverware since 1976? Who knows.

Still, Fonte leaving Saints has hurt his legacy with some of the clubs fans and despite his insistence that he is the victim, we all know how these things work.

Gerard Pique signs news Barcelona deal

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Gerard Pique has signed a new contract at Barcelona which keeps him at the club until 2022.

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Pique, 30, joined Barcelona in 2008 from Manchester United after leaving his boyhood club Barca in 2004 to join United’s youth team.

The new release clause in Pique’s contract is $610 million, with the Spanish international set to spend the rest of his career at the Nou Camp. The center back, who has won 25 major trophies with Barca, was delighted to nail down his future to his hometown team.

Pique has played in 422 games for Barca and scored 37 goals with the flamboyant defender a mainstay for much of the last decade.

Breaking out of the back line with surging runs and assured passing, Pique will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Barcelona and Spain’s history when he hangs up his boots.

In a team where the supreme attacking talent is always praised, it’s easy to overlook the achievements of Pique and his fellow defenders in the Catalan capital. However, there’s no doubt his composure on the ball, reading of the game and ability in the air makes him one of the top center backs on the planet.

Wenger: Sanchez likely to leave for Man United

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Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United is close to completion.

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Sanchez is “likely to leave” for Jose Mourinho’s side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan thought to be heading in the opposite direction plus a sizable transfer fee.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Wenger revealed the deal for Sanchez is almost complete.

“I worked on transfers for 30 years so it is likely to happen, but at any moment it can break down,” Wenger said. “As long as it’s not over the line you have to accept it may not happen, these kind of things are not guaranteed. I have no problem with Sanchez’s attitude. He was in training fully committed. He is 29 years old and the next contract will of course be very important to him.”

So, there you have it. Sanchez to United is happening and with the numbers being mentioned, it’s easy to understand why he will leave. Sanchez will be paid $19.2 million per year, after tax, and he will also receive a $27.7 million signing-on fee and his agent will get $13.8 million.

United will get a new star No.7 in his prime and Sanchez getting a fresh start and being hungry to impress will certainly be music to the ears of Mourinho. Whether or not the Chilean international will have the same impact as Eric Cantona, who joined United in his late 20’s and helped led them to multiple PL titles, remains to be seen, but this deal does remind you of that circumstances. One player doesn’t make a team but a special player like Sanchez can make a heck of difference overall.

Wenger also spoke about the possibility of Mkhitaryan being part of the deal and it seems he is very keen on signing the Armenian international who almost joined the Gunners in the summer of 2016 before joining United instead.

“I like the player. We played many times against him when he was at Dortmund. He appreciated the quality of our games. The wages would not be a problem,” Wenger said.

It seems like everyone will be happy with this deal. Of course, Arsenal wanted Sanchez to stay and that’s why they didn’t sell him to Manchester City in the summer. Wenger couldn’t persuade him to sign a new deal and now, less than six months before he leaves on a free, they are getting a decent chunk of change and playmaker who, on his day, can unlock any defense in the world.

For United, Mkhitaryan is out of favor under Mourinho and they will get him off their wage bill, while they also get Sanchez in his prime and get one over on Man City where everyone thought he would end up.

All in all, this tricky situation seems to have worked out best for everyone, especially Sanchez and his agent.

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.