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Not-so-shy Messi tying the knot with childhood sweetheart

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There is a different side to Lionel Messi, one that not everyone gets to see.

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The player who shines with the ball by his feet appears to be extremely shy off the field. But the timid-looking Argentina star, who for years has been attracting the world’s attention because of his mind-boggling soccer skills, is an outgoing, cheerful and humorous character when he is among those he knows and trusts.

It’s the lighthearted and extroverted version of Messi that will be the center of attention on Friday in his hometown of Rosario when he marries 29-year-old Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children.

The wedding is a highly anticipated event in the central Argentine city, located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires, although the public is not expected to have any access to the festivities.

About 250 guests, including some current and former teammates, are expected to attend the ceremony in a five-star hotel that overlooks the city’s largest shantytown. Special security measures are expected to be in place as guests begin arriving for the event.

Among those expected to attend are Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. Colombian singer Shakira, Pique’s wife, is also expected at the ceremony.

Organizers said personal hairdressers will be available for the guests, along with entertainment services for their children. About 150 journalists will be allowed to cover the wedding under very strict rules, without any direct access to the ceremony or the party.

Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that wedding gifts come in the form of donations to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Messi is already in Rosario on vacation, but hasn’t made any public appearances. He was in the city to celebrate his 30th birthday this week.

Messi grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Rosario along with two brothers and a sister. Roccuzzo was the cousin of a close friend of Messi, and the two were always around each other and shared a close relationship from a young age.

They stayed in touch after Messi left to play in Spain as a teenager, and eventually started their relationship in the late 2000s, reportedly after he returned to Argentina following the death of one of Roccuzzo’s close friends in a traffic accident.

Roccuzzo eventually moved to Barcelona, where the couple have two boys, 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.

“I’m a normal person. I have the same life as any human being,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN before the 2014 World Cup. “When I finish playing, I have my family, my friends. I live like any other person.”

Even before Messi turned into one of the best players in the world, he was already the type of person who kept to himself and avoided the spotlight but opened up in the company of friends and relatives.

People close to Messi and some of his former teammates say he is just a normal guy, talkative and often joking. The serious-looking player who rarely shows any expressions on the field or in front of the cameras is nothing like “the real Messi,” they say.

“No, no, no …,” former Barcelona teammate Jonathan Dos Santos said when asked if Messi was as shy as he appears.

Dos Santos, in Russia with Mexico’s national soccer team at the Confederations Cup, said that Messi always opened up while with his teammates.

“He is a great guy, just a great guy,” said Dos Santos, who was a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona from 2009-14.

Messi and his family recently were photographed with friends on vacation on a boat in Ibiza. Messi was seen playing with his children and laughing with his friends. It was the same when an Uruguayan television channel showed footage of Messi and Suarez playing cards with friends, with Messi joking and smiling all the time.

Messi, who has tattoos of both of his children, showed a more rebellious side of himself recently, dying his hair blond. He also has tattoos honoring his mother and Jesus.

He became much more active in social media recently, opening an Instagram account and posting many pictures of his children and some private moments with his family.

“I think that on the field I’m completely different than I am off,” Messi told Television Publica Argentina a few years ago.

The soft-spoken Messi rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media after or before games. Only a few times he has shown up at news conferences during tournaments with his club or national team.

Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 13 after being diagnosed with a hormone disorder that affected his growth. Barcelona offered to help him with the treatment.

The entire family initially moved with him, but Messi’s mother and two siblings soon returned to Argentina. Messi stayed in Spain with his father, but he couldn’t play at first because he didn’t have the proper documentation.

“One day I asked him, `What do you want to do? Because in the end, the decision is yours,”‘ his father, Jorge, said in a television documentary about Messi’s life. “And he told me, `I want to stay. I want to play for Barcelona.”‘

Now he wants to get married, and he’s gone back home to do it.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Spain’s sports court opens disciplinary procedure vs. Villar

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Spain’s administrative court for sport has initiated disciplinary procedures against Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar after he was arrested and jailed in a corruption probe.

The opening of the disciplinary procedure on Monday clears the way for Spain’s sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, to rule whether it will temporarily suspend Villar when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

The court’s decision had been expected since Thursday, when the Higher Council of Sport asked the court to act against Villar following his arrest.

Villar, his son Gorka, federation vice president Juan Padron, and Ramon Hernandez, the secretary of the regional football federation of Tenerife, were arrested last Tuesday when police raided the national federation’s headquarters and other properties.

The four were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz ordered last week that the Villars and Padron remain in jail without bail after questioning them. Hernandez’s bail was set at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

The elder Villar is FIFA’s senior vice president and also a vice president of UEFA. He’s been president of the Spanish federation since 1988.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation “at least since 2009.”

MLS rejected $4 billion deal which wanted promotion/relegation

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Major League Soccer has confirmed it brushed aside a $4 billion TV deal which insisted on promotion and relegation coming into place in North America’s top-flight.

A report from the Sports Business Journal stated that the owner of NASL side Miami FC Riccardo Silva gave a presentation to the league and owners on June 26, offering a 10-year deal for the domestic and international TV rights from 2023 with one clause: promotion and relegation had to become commonplace in MLS.

Of course, Silva, who founded the media company MP & Silva who put in the bid, would love for there to be promotion and relegation in MLS as his team cannot currently rise above the second-tier NASL.

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN has the following statement from Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.

“As was stated to Mr. Silva both in person and in a subsequent letter, Major League Soccer is prohibited contractually from engaging in discussions about our media rights with other distributors. We are not in a position, nor are we interested, in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal.”

“It is also important to note that since its inception, MLS, like the other North American leagues, has dealt directly with its domestic broadcast partners, rather than through agents and brokers. This ensures that the league and its partners can structure an agreement that addresses all elements, such as scheduling, marketing and digital distribution, that are required for a successful partnership.”

This deal would quadruple the current annual TV deal MLS has with Fox, ESPN and Univision, but it has been stated that no new deal can be discussed until at least 2021.

With cities across the U.S. and Canada lining up to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, league commission Don Garber has stated multiple times that promotion and relegation is not needed in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

With USL and NASL now both second-tier, the only way they can become a top-tier franchise is by buying into MLS with two markets set to be selected later this year from 12 current expansion bids, plus David Beckham’s franchise in Miami still pushing ahead with plans to join the league.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Asensio to Arsenal, Man United; Mahrez to Roma

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Spanish outlet Don Balon claims that Arsenal and Manchester United both want to sign Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid ]

The 21-year-old Spaniard jumped off the bench to score in Real’s UEFA Champions League final win against Juventus in June, plus scored 10 goals in 38 appearances in a breakout campaign, but like many top talents at the Santiago Bernabeu he finds himself behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the pecking order.

Manchester United are clearly on the hunt for one more wide player with their pursuit of Ivan Perisic seemingly at an end with Inter Milan unwilling to budge on their $58 million asking price.

Yet quite why United and Arsenal want another wide player is beyond me…

United have Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata who can play out wide, while Arsenal have Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil who can play on the flank. With Ozil, Sanchez and the Ox potentially on the move, it would make more sense for Arsenal to chase Asensio.

Per the report, Real do not want to sell Asensio but the player wants improved terms and more guarantees of first team action after breaking into the Spanish national team. He’s unlikely to get that, so maybe there’s something in this. Or maybe talks over a new contract are upcoming for the youngster. His direct wing-play would suit United or Arsenal, and the PL, well, so this could be one deal to keep an eye on.


The Leicester Mercury state that Riyad Mahrez‘s move to AS Roma is still on.

Mahrez, 26, released a statement at the start of the summer saying that he wanted to leave the King Power Stadium and with Roma said to have had a $26 million bid knocked back, the Serie A giants still have Mahrez as their top transfer target this summer.

Leicester want $65 million for Mahrez who was crowned the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year after spearheading their incredible Premier League title win, but a compromise of around $40 million is likely to be accepted by the Foxes.

During the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong last week Mahrez put in dazzling displays and scored a superb goal against Crystal Palace to showcase exactly what he’s all about.

Was that to give Roma, and others, a gentle nudge to bid more for him? Perhaps. It also proved that Leicester could really be struggling without his creativity as the Algerian magician turned it on when he had to last season to help them climb away form the relegation zone and reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

That said, having a disinterested Mahrez means you might as well play with 10-men and that’s not something Craig Shakespeare‘s team can afford to do.

Man United’s Bailly handed three-game ban by UEFA

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Eric Bailly will not be available for the UEFA Super Cup or the opening group game of Manchester United’s 2017-18 UEFA Champions League campaign.

[ VIDEO: United beat Real Madrid ]

Bailly, 23, was sent off in the second leg of United’s UEFA Europa League semifinal against Celta Vigo last season and sat out the final in Stockholm which they won 2-0 against Ajax to seal their spot in the UCL this season.

Following a hearing, UEFA released a statement on Monday confirming that Bailly’s ban was extended to three games (extended by two games) as he clashed with Vigo’s John Guidetti after being sent off.

“The CEDB has decided to suspend the Manchester United FC player Eric Bailly for three (3) UEFA club competition matches for which he would be otherwise eligible.”

He will now miss the upcoming showpiece game against Real Madrid in Skopje, Macedonia on Aug.8, as well as their UCL group opener but the ban is only for European competitions.

United have signed Swedish center back Victor Lindelof over the summer and the main plan seems to be for him to partner Bailly in the heart of the defense, or even play with three at the back with Phil Jones, Daley Blind or Chris Smalling coming into central defense. Given his good form at the end of last season, Marcos Rojo will perhaps jump to the top of that queue when the Argentine returns from a serious injury.

As for Bailly, he suffered through injuries last season, his debut campaign at United after joining from Villarreal for $40 million, but the Ivory Coast defender appeared in 38 games in all competitions despite a midseason break to represent his nation at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Bailly impressed with his dominant displays in the air and well-time tackles and along with David De Gea, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku he is a key part of United’s powerful spine.