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Soccer corruption trial continues as FIFA gathers in Russia

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When soccer officials gather this week in Russia for the World Cup draw, some will have a wary eye on reports from a New York courtroom.

FIFA leaders will be joined by delegations from 32 World Cup teams as guests of President Vladimir Putin on Friday evening in Moscow. They await the match schedule of soccer’s greatest event, which kicks off next June.

At the same time as a one-hour show in Putin’s presence at the State Kremlin Palace, it will be Friday morning in Brooklyn, and the third week of testimony draws to a close in a soccer corruption trial already revealing more secrets and alleged criminality of officials linked to FIFA.

The integrity of Russia’s World Cup bid has been questioned since a widely discredited FIFA executive committee voted in 2010, though its name is all-but absent so far in court. The 2022 World Cup host Qatar, however, has kept cropping up in each of the first two weeks, even though the three South American former soccer leaders on trial did not vote in FIFA’s double choice.

Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men deny charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $200 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights for prestigious tournaments. They are:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich on the May 2015 day that shook FIFA.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Arrested in a second wave at the same luxury hotel in December 2015. As the FIFA vice president for South America, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of anti-corruption reform before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president and below the top-tier of South Americans who had influence at FIFA. Also indicted in December 2015, and arrested in his native Peru.

PROSECUTION WITNESSES

The star witness in the first week in court was also among the first indicted people in May 2015: Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of an Argentine sports marketing company, pleaded guilty to get a reduced sentence.

In the second week, two prosecution witnesses testified in deals to avoid prosecution.

Santiago Pena worked for Argentina-based Full Play Group, which held marketing rights to South American qualifying games for the World Cup, the Copa America and Copa Libertadores tournaments. His bosses, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were indicted in May 2015. They have avoided extradition to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina.

Jose Luis Chiriboga is a soccer agent who admitted laundering $2.8 million for his father, former Ecuador soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga. He was convicted of money laundering last year in his home country. Jose Luis Chiriboga said he forfeited a $400,000 Miami apartment in his non-prosecution deal.

2022 WORLD CUP

Pena said his Full Play bosses asked him to keep a ledger of off-the-books payments to soccer officials, including South American soccer federation presidents. Two payments Pena said were labeled “Q2022” – an apparent but unexplained reference to World Cup host Qatar.

A $750,000 payment went to Rafael Esquivel, the former Venezuelan soccer leader. Esquivel was arrested in Zurich in May 2015, and has pleaded guilty to various conspiracy charges.

Another “Q2022” payment was for $500,000 to Luis Chiriboga. Neither had a vote when FIFA picked World Cup hosts.

QATARI PERSON OF INTEREST

It is a difficult season for Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi, even as the French club he presides over, Paris Saint-Germain, emerges as a Champions League contender.

Last week, Al-Khelaifi’s role in a Qatar-backed potential deal to buy a majority stake in Full Play was detailed. The deal was dropped in May 2015 when Full Play’s controlling partners were indicted.

In October, Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal proceeding against Al-Khelaifi for suspected bribery linked to Qatar-owned beIN Media Group’s agreement with FIFA for some 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcast rights. He denied wrongdoing and was later questioned about allegedly providing an Italian luxury villa for a top FIFA official to use.

Pena testified that lengthy negotiations involved Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments, the sovereign wealth fund which owns Paris Saint-Germain. It was called the “New York project,” because a 51 percent stake was valued at $212 million, the same three digits as the New York City telephone code.

QSI confirmed the talks, saying it was one of many such deals it evaluated that did not happen.

NIKE TALKS

Another potential Full Play deal lapsed in May 2015 involving Nike and rights to provide kits for Chile’s national team, Pena testified. He said the agreement would have included payments for soccer officials.

CAR BRANDS CODE

Corrupt South American soccer officials were given code names of car manufacturers in the Full Play ledge of payments, witness Pena said of his Excel spread sheets.

Napout was “Honda” and his fellow defendant Burga was “Fiat.” “VW” was the tag for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia

A former Beatle also came up in testimony. Pena testified that more than $10,000 was deducted from an amount owed to Napout in 2010 as credit for Paul McCartney concert tickets provided to him.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Transfer rumor roundup: Trippier to Real? Barca pursuit of Willian continues

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Pro Soccer Talk examines some of the biggest transfer stories on Saturday, including a young Three Lions star potentially on the move to La Liga.

[ MORE: Everton places massive bid for Watford’s Richarlison and more ]


Several England players did themselves big favors at the 2018 World Cup, and one of the biggest wins certainly resides with Tottenham.

Kieran Trippier has begun to draw interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid, and according to the Sun, a $66 million bid could be forthcoming for the young outside back.

Trippier signed a five-year contract with Spurs last summer, however, his meteoric rise at the World Cup could prevent Tottenham from holding onto their young stud.


Meanwhile, staying in Spain, Barcelona remains keen on signing Chelsea winger Willian.

The Catalan side has reportedly placed a third bid for the Brazil international, with a $72 million valuation placed on the player.

Willian could be one of several Chelsea stars to leave the club this summer, with Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and N'Golo Kante all linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge.


Finally, the Blues could be in the market for a new striker under manager Maurizio Sarri, and the former Napoli boss could turn to Serie A to fill the void.

Sky Italia is reporting that Chelsea has made contact with Juventus over Gonzalo Higuain’s services, and the club could be willing to sell the Argentina international in order to fend off Financial Fair Play implications that stem from signing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Croatian media: Forward Kalinic refused WCup medal

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Croatian media say that forward Nikola Kalinic has not accepted the silver medal his team won at the World Cup in Russia because he was sent home early in the competition.

[ MORE: Everton make massive Richarlison bid and more transfer talk ]

Kalinic has reportedly said “thank you but I did not play in Russia.”

Coach Zlatko Dalic sent Kalinic home following the team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in their opening match.

Dalic said he wanted to use Kalinic as a substitute in the second half but the AC Milan forward, who was already warming up, told him he was not able to play because of a back problem.

Dalic said Kalinic did the same in a World Cup warmup against Brazil and during training.

Croatia lost 4-2 to France in the final.

Marseille signs Caleta-Car, Fonte joins Lille

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) Croatia defender Duje Caleta-Car has joined Marseille from Red Bull Salzburg, becoming the first offseason signing for the nine-time French champion.

Caleta-Car played a group game at the World Cup with Croatia, which lost 4-2 against France in the final last week.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Son to contract extension ]

He won four Austrian league titles and three national cups with Salzburg.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed but L’Equipe newspaper reported that Marseille agreed to a fee of 19 million euros for the 21-year-old player, who was also targeted by Spanish club Sevilla.

“He is a very good central defender, for now and for the future,” Marseille sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said. “He is a clever player, who understands football. His very physical skills make him very good in the air and has good passing abilities.”

Marseille finished fourth in the French league last season and lost 3-0 against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final, missing out on a Champions League berth.

FONTE JOINS LILLE

Portugal defender Jose Fonte is set to continue his much-traveled career in the north of France after agreeing to a two-year deal with Lille.

The 34-year-old Fonte started all four games at the World Cup in Russia as Portugal was eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16.

Two years ago, he was a member of the squad which won the European championship in France.

Lille said in a statement Fonte will sign “in the coming days” following medical tests.

The former Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Ham center back played only a few matches with Chinese club Dalian Yifang this year before terminating his contract.

He is the second international to join Lille this summer after former France forward Loic Remy.

“I’m very proud to join Lille, which is a great French club,” Fonte said. “It’s a new challenge for me, hopefully it will be successful.”

Naby Keita emulated Gerrard growing up, and will now take on his role

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Naby Keita represents another new face in the next generation Liverpool regime, and he’s taking a page out of Anfield’s past in his approach at the Premier League club.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG despite rumors “invented by the press” ]

When the 23-year-old finally completed his long-awaited move to the Reds in 2018, comparisons to N'Golo Kante quickly arose, a strong compliment for many.

However, for everything that Kante does well, it may actually be unfair to compare Keita to the now-World Cup winner with France.

Keita’s tireless ability to track up and down the pitch, complimented by his incredible skill on the ball and pace make him the ideal box-to-box midfielder, something his new club has been lacking for several years.

“My first mind-set is to defend well and not concede,” Keita told the Telegraph. “As a midfielder, when you have sealed things up at the back, my job is to provide the ammunition for the strikers and forwards, to create opportunities. Also, if I get a chance that comes my way, I want to take it and score. But I am a team player. I think about the team and the group always.”

That player is one Steven Gerrard.

And for Keita, the player that he once emulated as a child has now influenced him into the young star that drove manager Jurgen Klopp towards bringing him in to Anfield.

“When I came here that day I didn’t know Steven would be at Melwood,” says Keita. “It was a surprise to me. It was exciting. He said, ‘Everyone will be here for you, we’re all going to help you develop’.

“I had watched Steven Gerrard growing up as a kid and admired him so that was a special day.

“We used to play in the streets wearing a Liverpool shirt. My dad had a love of Liverpool back then when I was 11 or 12 years old.

“I wanted to be like him. It couldn’t be anyone else. He was always the boss of the team.”