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Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

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The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

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Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp crashes Alisson’s first Liverpool interview

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Jurgen Klopp has had quite the summer, and it’s just become even better.

Liverpool officially acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson for a world-record transfer fee, and with the former Roma netminder filling his first obligations in Red, things didn’t go exactly as the club’s media staff had planned. While sitting down for his first interview with the club staff to be used in the official release, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist crashing the party to say hello.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool official ]

The language barrier made things a bit awkward, as did the rolling cameras, but it’s pretty clear both sides are quite happy with the recent developments, with smiles all around. Take a look:

Klopp asked if Alisson was in the middle of his post-World Cup vacation, which he confirmed as true, but smartly followed up with “But now I am working.”

We’re sure they’ll catch up on a more complete basis privately later, but it was pretty cool to see their first interaction caught on camera.

Ajax tells clubs to back off their young Dutch stars

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In the past, Dutch giants Ajax have looked to make a profit developing strong Dutch talent from the youth level and selling them to big clubs all across Europe. Today, Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has told clubs not to bother inquiring about their rising young stars.

“We have now reached a point where we simply say that we are not selling these players,” Overmars told Dutch publication De Telegraaf.

While Overmars did suggest they could reconsider in a year’s time, for now, young stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt are Ajax players now and for the future.

“He [De Jong] is not for sale, and I have communicated this to all parties involved,” Overmars said. “It is the same for Matthijs. Clubs that are interested are free to come back next year. Of course, Davinson Sanchez’s move [to Tottenham] last year showed that it is not always easy to stand firm.

“They are still only 19, 20 years old.Ā I have told these players and their agents that a transfer after this season could be an option if the right offer comes in. Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt are not for sale as far as we are concerned, not even for an insane amount. They should play about 40 games for Ajax first in 2018-19.”

De Ligt, now 18, is the most well-known name of the group, having made headlines when he because the youngest Dutch international since 1931, making his debut at just 17 years old. Meanwhile, a 21-year-old box-to-box midfielder, De Jong is often considered the most talented young star with the highest ceiling.

Finally, others that Ajax could see develop into special talent include 21-year-old wide player Donny van de Beek, 21-year-old right winger David Neres, 20-year-old striker Kasper Dolberg, 20-year-old defender Max Wober, 20-year-old defensive midfielder Carel Eiting, and 20-year-oldĀ NoussairĀ Mazraoui among many others who received playing time towards the end of last season.

Ajax has been on the hunt this summer, not only keeping the youth talent to itself, but also spending on incoming stars Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, both of whom return to the club after spells in the Premier League.

It’s official: Goalkeeper Alisson completes record transfer to Liverpool

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Liverpool fans finally have a highly-touted goalkeeper to mind the net as they look to continue the upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp.

After much speculation, courtship, and negotiation, AS Roma accepted a world-record transfer fee of $85 million, the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper. It obliterates the record held for nearly 17 years by Gianluigi Buffon for his $62 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001. According to reports, the breakdown is a $73 million fee plus $12 million in potential add-ons.

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Alisson’s Liverpool medical was completed on Thursday, and the deal was complete. First, Roma gave Alisson an official send-off on social media, confirming the Brazilian had left the club.

Then came the official confirmation from Liverpool about a half-hour later.

“In terms of my life and my career, it’s a huge step for me being part of this club and this family,” Alisson said inĀ the official club release. “You can be certain that I’ll give my all.”

Alisson comes highly rated from his time in the Italian top flight. Originally a youth product of Brazilian Serie A club Internacional, Alisson moved to Roma in the summer of 2016 after three professional seasons in his home country. Statistically, Alisson was the best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, with not only the best save percentage in the league (77%) but also the best distribution rate.

“When you have the opportunity to sign one of the world’s best goalkeepers then it’s not a long thought to be honest,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the signing was announced.

At the 2018 World Cup this summer, Alisson started for Brazil and played every minute of their World Cup journey in Russia. While he wasn’t terribly impressive, he didn’t have too many chances to put on a starring performance, but again his distribution out of the back was stellar. Alisson was the only player at the World Cup to play the entirety of his team’s first two matches and not misplace a single pass, reaching all the way to Brazil’s third group stage match against Serbia before failing to complete a pass. He went 31 straight pass attempts over those two-plus matches without a miss.

“When a very substantial bid comes in, you have to consider it,” Roma sporting director Monchi said about the transfer. “We thought aboutĀ the pros and cons and decided to talkĀ to Liverpool about the deal.”

The 25-year-old will now likely slot straight into the Liverpool starting lineup, and the club will need to figure out what to do with its other goalkeepers Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ward. Mignolet began last season as the starter before conceding the gloves to Karius who infamously committed a pair of egregious errors in the Champions League final.