Argentina

Houston lands third DP in Argentina U-20 vet Martinez (video)

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As if Houston’s attack wasn’t dynamic enough, the Dynamo have added another young talent to complete its corps of Designated Players.

Argentine attacking midfielder Tomas Martinez, 22, joins Alberth Elis and Erick Torres as Houston’s youthful DPs, and he looks the part.

The River Plate product arrives from an underwhelming stint at Braga in Portugal, but made 10 appearances with two goals for Argentina’s U-20s. That includes 90-minute runs in all three matches of the 2015 U-20 World Cup on a squad with Angel Correa and Giovanni Simeone.

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Currently sitting third in the Western Conference, Houston’s turnaround under Wilmer Cabrera has been dramatic; The Dynamo finished second-last in points last season, just three ahead of bottom-feeding Chicago.

The question in adding another young focal point is how much is too much? The Dynamo have yet to win on the road, and Cabrera will need to lean on DaMarcus Beasley and Ricardo Clark for continued leadership.

Lionel Messi gets extra fine for tax fraud, avoids prison

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father can avoid prison for tax fraud by paying an extra fine, a Spanish court said Friday.

[ MORE: Messi “best paid athlete in world” ]

Instead of Messi serving his 21-month sentence, the Argentina forward will be fined an extra €252,000 ($287,000).

The Barcelona-based court also ruled that Messi’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi, will be fined an extra €180,000 ($205,000) instead of serving his 15-month sentence.

The ruling was widely expected in Spain, where prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be waived by a judge.

Last year, a court found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

In that ruling Messi was also fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

Lionel Messi “best paid athlete in world” with new contract

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Earlier this week Lionel Messi signed a new deal with FC Barcelona keeping him at the Nou Camp until 2021 and although no financial details were released, it’s safe to say the Argentine superstar can splurge on that new tattoo or bottle of hair bleach he wanted…

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Messi, 30, has spent his entire professional career at Barcelona, scoring an incredible 507 goals in 583 appearances with the five-time World Player of the Year also winning the UEFA Champions League four times, La Liga eight times and also picking up five Copa del Rey’s for good measure.

Aside from his incredible talent on the pitch, Messi’s marketability make him the most valuable asset Barcelona has, and will probably ever have. Reports suggest his new deal means he will be paid $645,000 a week.

Speaking to Barcelona media outlet Mundo Deportivo, Barca’s preside Josep Maria Bartomeu had the following to say when asked just how much Messi is being paid per week.

“He is the best player in the world and he is paid like the best in the world and in the history of football,”  He is the best paid sports player, because no one brings as much to his club as Leo Messi.”

Previously Cristiano Ronaldo held that accolade as being the best paid player on the planet with a salary in wages of $58 million to Messi’s $53 million, but Messi’s loyalty to Barca has been unwavering with big money moves to Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain seemingly not interesting him at all.

With LeBron James, Andrew Luck and Lewis Hamilton also being paid in excess of $30 million last year in salary alone according to Forbes, Messi is way ahead of them all. When it comes to endorsements on top of salary Ronaldo is still expected to be ahead of Messi with the Real Madrid star bringing in an additional $35 million in other cash in 2017 alone.

Going on the sheer talent he possesses and that he’s been Barca’s star man for well over a decade, it’s tough to say Messi doesn’t deserve this huge contract.

Of course, it’s tough to justify one person earning that much cash per week but if anybody in the soccer world deserves it, it is Messi.

Plain and simple.

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

Di Maria agrees deal in Spain over tax fraud

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Angel Di Maria has agreed a deal with Spain’s state prosecutor in which the former Real Madrid forward admits two counts of tax fraud of almost €1.3 million euros ($1.4 million) in exchange for a lighter sentence.

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In a document reviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Di Maria’s lawyer accepted the two counts, which relate to fraud committed in 2012 and 2013. The prosecutor recommends a sentence of 16 months and a fine of nearly €800,000 ($890,000).

Di Maria, who currently plays for French club Paris Saint-Germain, will likely not serve any prison time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are usually suspended.

The deal will have to be ratified by a judge when the case goes to court.

The case involves income the Argentina forward made from image rights, not from his salary paid by Real Madrid.