No pay, less power: Bahraini sheikh’s FIFA presidency pitch

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) A Bahraini sheikh is going for simplicity and fan-appeal with headline pledges to transform a discredited FIFA: Relinquish much of the power Sepp Blatter built up over 17 years at FIFA and take no salary.

Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa was a late, seemingly reluctant candidate to lead FIFA’s recovery from a corruption crisis that is likely to see fresh revelations of wrongdoing emerging long after election day in February.

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“I don’t want too much power with the president – the power has to be shared,” Sheikh Salman said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I believe in doing things in a different way, not being centralized where the president has to do every detail in running the business.”

That means taking no money for being the face of FIFA.

“I don’t want to be an executive president,” the sheikh said. “And if I’m not an executive president I don’t see how I do deserve to be paid.”

Rather than a bitter election fight until Feb. 26, the sheikh hopes there is a smooth succession, with the five candidates currently vying to run football whittled down before election day.

“I’d like to see most of the continents agreeing on a single candidate but we have to work for this in the next few weeks,” the sheikh said during an hour-long interview in the Bahraini capital Manama.

[ MORE: Blatter in hospital after “small breakdown” ]

Had it not been for Michel Platini injudiciously claiming 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) from FIFA four years ago, this Manchester United-supporting member of Bahrain’s royal family would not now be a front-runner to become the first Arab leader of FIFA.

Having been among Platini’s early campaign champions, Sheikh Salman entered the race once it became clear the UEFA president’s suspension over that 2011 payment made the election outcome far more uncertain. The Asian Football Confederation president would not have wanted Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan to have a clear path to the presidency.

The decision to stand was effectively a toss-up between Sheikh Salman and fellow FIFA executive committee member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti who built his powerbase through the Olympic movement.

“We felt after Michel’s ban we felt one of us has to go,” Sheikh Salman said. “And I think that he looks at it as (a job for) the president of a confederation … it wasn’t a difficult choice between us.”

Platini is out of contention while awaiting the full verdict from FIFA’s ethics judge which could result in a long ban for the former France captain.

“I think damage has been done,” Sheikh Salman said. “But he has the right as well to defend himself. We cannot judge.”

The sheikh has already faced the judgment of many. With little name recognition profile among football fans outside the Asian region he has led for barely two years, his international spotlight usually comes when challenged on human rights abuse allegations he denounced as lies.

[ MORE: Platini: “I am the most able to run world football” ]

Despite complaints against his candidacy from rights groups, the sheikh was last week approved as a candidate by FIFA’s election watchdog alongside four other men: Prince Ali, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and apartheid-era former Robben Island prisoner Tokyo Sexwale.

How many names are on the ballot paper in Zurich in February could depend on whether Platini defies expectations and is cleared before election day.

“If he comes back and he still wants to run, I think we would have to sit together … and assess the situation,” Sheikh Salman said. “I am sure there will be an agreement. At the end of the day we all need to support each other … (and) come with a compromise to hopefully have a good solution for everybody.”

Whether that agreement could include the 49-year-old sheikh quitting the campaign is unclear.

“Anything is a possibility if it’s for the good of the cause,” he said. “But I didn’t go in and commit myself to give a full presumption I might withdraw. I’m in to go for the election.”

The sheikh had expected to gain Europe’s support until UEFA surprisingly endorsed Infantino on candidate deadline-day last month. Infantino, who will stand aside for Platini if his boss his cleared before election day, has been touted for a potential role running the FIFA administration under a Sheikh Salman presidency.

“I’d like to feel like we are working together, not against each other – working for one cause to make that change,” the sheikh said. “We have to sit and talk and come to a solution of what’s best.”

A Salman presidency would look very different from Blatter’s reign, potentially blander in terms of public statements. Expect fewer rash pronouncements on changes to the game and awkward asides in speeches.

[ MORE: Blatter: “I hope to be back as FIFA president” ]

The sheikh is yet to produce his manifesto, but said he would consult the confederations before emulating Infantino and pledging to expand the World Cup by eight teams to 40. Discussing whether the use of technology should be expanded beyond ruling on disputed goals, the sheikh said: “The simple it is the better it is.”

If elected until 2019, the sheikh would have to grapple with the impact of Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup. Beyond ongoing geo-political concerns, Moscow has faced renewed accusations about the probity of its bid since Blatter suggested there was a backroom deal to award the showpiece to Russia for the first time.

“With any vote regarding a World Cup probably the ExCo will talk to say `Yes – how do you feel this and that?”‘ said the sheikh, who was not on the executive committee at the time of the 2010 vote. “Definitely it’s not rigged. You share your views … that doesn’t mean you already made an agreement.”

The agreements that will be a priority for the next FIFA president are with sponsors. Only seven of 14 available positions in FIFA’s top two commercial categories have been filled, with Dubai-based airline Emirates and Sony among those sponsors yet to be replaced.

“Once people see there is stability and there is a will to do things in the right way I think they will come back,” the sheik said.

“There is no place for, you know, hiding issues away from the public or away from our members.”

Report: Luiz Suarez to Atletico Madrid

Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid
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Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid seems just about the perfect fit between a club, player and manager.

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Diego Simeone roaring from the sidelines as Luis Suarez scores a last minute winner for Atletico Madrid at Real Madrid. You can see it now too, right?

A report from our partners at Sky Sport in Italy states that Suarez has already agreed a contract at Atletico and will leave Barcelona as a free agent as RAC 1 claim he will tear up his contract which still has one year left on it.

New Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has told Suarez he was not part of his plans and was free to move on. That decision was said to be one of the big reasons why Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona, as he is close friends with Suarez.

Suarez, 33, suffered with injuries last season but since he left Liverpool in the summer of 2014 he’s been a star at the Nou Camp, scoring 198 goals in 283 games in all competitions for Barcelona.

Per the report, Suarez’s arrival means that Alvaro Morata will be free to depart Atletico Madrid as his former club Juventus want to sign the Spanish international. Suarez had been linked with a move to Juventus but that is now not happening as Suarez would have had a delay in obtaining an Italian passport to make the move easier.

Will Suarez be a hit at Atletico? Well, they have a habit of squeezing extra juice out of star veteran strikers. See: Forlan, Diego. Villa, David. Costa, Diego.

Suarez working for Simeone is perfect. He may not start every game, but he will probably share the workload with Diego Costa and could partner him too. Imagine those two up top together? Separate reports state that Costa may have to leave to let Suarez arrive.

With Inter Miami CF going for Gonzalo Higuain as their final DP and Edinson Cavani still a free agent, there are plenty of ageing superstar strikers out there but Suarez is the best one available. If he can regain full fitness then you can expect him to score 20-25 goals in La Liga this season.

El Cholo and El Pistolero firing Atletico Madrid past Real Madrid and Barcelona is a very real possibility, and I’m here for it. Grab your popcorn, folks.

Leyton Orient announce COVID-19 positives, stadium closure before Tottenham game

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Leyton Orient have issued a statement after multiple first team players tested positive for COVID-19 and they’ve been forced to shut their training ground and stadium just one day before they were due to host Premier League giants Tottenham.

The fourth-tier club were due to play Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Tuesday but that game is now in severe doubt and the east London club (located 11 miles from Tottenham’s home stadium) said they will be announcing more details in due course about what will happen.

Here is the Leyton Orient statement in full about their current situation:

“Following our game on Saturday 19th September, COVID-19 testing was conducted on all of our first team playing squad. Today (Monday 21st) we received formal confirmation which shows that a number of our first-team squad have tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed the EFL and Tottenham Hotspur and will make a further announcement regarding Tuesday’s match shortly.

“We have also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic, our three most recent opponents, prior to the public release of this information. Leyton Orient’s priority is the health and well-being of its players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines. The Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities will be closed until further notice. At this time, the club will make no further comment.”

The problem here is that Tottenham don’t have any other available dates to play this game.

With their Premier League and UEFA Europa League qualifying commitments, Tottenham are already stretched to the limits and this game at Leyton Orient is one of four games in seven days for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The rules also state that if a team cannot fulfil the fixture due to COVID-19 positive tests, they will have to forfeit and Tottenham will move on. Leyton Orient are a small team who Harry Kane, a former loanee, has helped raised money for and there’s a very good relationship between the two clubs. This game was also due to be broadcast on TV in the UK and would have helped Leyton Orient out financially at a time when fans still aren’t allowed into stadiums in large numbers. These positive tests have now put all of that in doubt.

Lower league teams will run into similar issues like this when it comes to the FA Cup too, as testing is less prevalent and regulated lower down the professional pyramid in England. EFL clubs are only mandated to test their players during every international break and have stopped testing players twice a week. That has led to Premier League clubs paying for their lower-league League Cup opponents to be tested before games. In this case, multiple Leyton Orient players have tested positive.

Mourinho: Bale could return from injury quicker due to desire

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Bale injury update: So, Tottenham fans would be hoping that a Gareth Bale injury update wouldn’t be coming soon but he is nursing a knee injury he picked up on international duty earlier this month.

Judging by their 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, Tottenham will be just fine in attack without the Welsh star they’ve signed on loan from Real Madrid for the 2019-20 season. There is no reason for him to rush back, especially considering his recent history with injuries.

That said, Mourinho is hopeful that Bale can return from injury quicker due to that trust remedy: desire.

“I don’t know when Gareth can be back,” Mourinho said on a Bale injury update. “The only thing that I know is that the motivation is high, he is so happy to be with a club of his heart, he is so happy to play for us and when a player has this motivation, many, many times you can shorten the period of recovering and shorten the period of getting fit and ready to play and we want to help him. So when he is available to train with the team, we are more than happy to have him and to be back to a level that [is] maybe one of the best players in the world.”

This is textbook Mourinho.

It has been noted many, many times that he hates players missing games due to injury and is less than sympathetic when someone is in the treatment room.

This seems like a challenge to Bale, 31, to prove just how much he wants to be back at Tottenham after spending the last seven seasons at Real Madrid. ‘Oh, you want to be back here? Prove it. Patch yourself up and be ready for next week.’ That will definitely probably be Mourinho’s chat with Bale next week.

There is no reason to risk Bale right now but when he is fit, having him play alongside Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack is a mouthwatering prospect for Mourinho and Tottenham. Their counterattacking prowess was clear for all to see in the second half at Southampton on Sunday and a fired up and fit Bale will add a lot to this attack.

Hurry up and get that dose of desire rubbed onto your knee, Gareth…

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.


3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

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