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Blatter angered by claim he was silent about FIFA corruption

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BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Sepp Blatter says it was “not acceptable” to be accused at a public event Friday that he stayed silent while likely knowing that senior FIFA officials were corrupt.

“I am not guilty,” the visibly angry former FIFA president later told reporters at the University of Basel in his native Switzerland.

Blatter had been the key speaker in a two-hour debate with a mostly student audience on problems facing world soccer’s scandal-hit governing body.

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After Blatter again blamed officials in the North and South American soccer bodies for corruption, the session closed with the claim made by former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Ocampo suggested Blatter had known about bribery which U.S. federal prosecutors revealed last May in a sprawling indictment that rocked FIFA in its presidential election week.

“The real problem with Mr. Blatter is that he had nothing to do with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, but he knew,” said Ocampo, once a candidate to be FIFA’s lead ethics investigator.

“Even (if) he was not involved, why was he silent?” the Argentine lawyer told the audience of about 400 people, claiming that “probably (Blatter) knew and he decided to stay in silence.”

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Ocampo also said Blatter likely knew – and said nothing – about misconduct implicating long-time FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s right-hand man since 2007 was fired by FIFA in January, banned for 12 years by the ethics committee and is the subject of criminal proceedings opened last month by Switzerland’s attorney general.

Blatter said he was “very unhappy” with the accusation by Ocampo, who is a visiting lecturer at Harvard University.

“It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable,” Blatter told reporters. “I was very surprised at Mr. Ocampo invited here for this seminar and then to make such an accusation. Perhaps he is a little bit disappointed because he was the first candidate to be the chair of the ethics committee.”

[ RELATED: American teenager Haji Wright signs for FC Schalke 04 ]

In 2012, Ocampo was proposed to be FIFA’s first ethics prosecutor by a FIFA advisory group led by Swiss law professor Mark Pieth, who organized Friday’s event.

Ocampo’s appointment was blocked, reportedly due to the influence of then-FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona of Argentina, who died in 2014 and has since been linked to the bribery conspiracy. Instead, FIFA picked Michael Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Blatter was forced out after more than 17 years as FIFA president by the scandal. He announced his resignation plans last June, days after the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment alleging a sprawling bribery and money laundering conspiracy implicating international soccer leaders.

[ MORE: Leicester’s Schmeichel says Foxes have “achieved nothing yet” ]

In a widening investigation by American and Swiss federal prosecutors, Blatter was suspended from duty and then banned by the ethics committee after Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings against him for suspected criminal mismanagement.

Blatter is currently awaiting a hearing date at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA.

“I think it will be the beginning of May but I don’t know,” the 80-year-old Blatter said Friday.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.