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Players are bigger than the club at Paris Saint-Germain

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PARIS (AP) It’s a scenario that has been repeating itself at Paris Saint-Germain.

A scenario where a player becomes bigger than the club, and is basically allowed to do anything he wants.

It used to work that way with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the Sweden international was the most emblematic figure of the French league. Now it’s Neymar’s turn to call all the shots at PSG, and it does not seem to be a problem for the club’s Qatari owners.

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It was with their blessings that Neymar, the world’s most expensive player who just turned 26, hosted a lavish birthday party on Sunday, less than 48 hours before a French Cup game at Sochaux, and only a few days before PSG’s biggest game of the season in the Champions League.

Neymar invited about 250 guests including all of his teammates as well as PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Many videos of the players partying and dancing late circulated on social media. On one of them, left back Yuri Berchiche appeared to be drunk. The videos drew the ire of Sochaux captain Florian Tardieu, who said it showed a lack of respect toward his team.

For PSG coach Unai Emery, who attended the party, it was not a problem at all. He said the event was a rare joyful gathering for his players. “It’s good for our collective mindset to have shared this moment with Neymar,” Emery said.

Fortunately for PSG, the party had no immediate impact on the team’s results. Neymar – who joined from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($260 million) last summer – was granted permission to skip the cup match, and Angel Di Maria scored a hat trick as PSG eased into the French Cup quarterfinals with a 4-1 win.

But Neymar’s party could come back to haunt Al-Khelaifi if PSG fails to produce a good result at Real Madrid next week when the teams meet in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie.

In any case, the party organized about a month after PSG stars returned from their winter holidays, once again underlined the players’ power at the club.

When Ibrahimovic was at PSG and Laurent Blanc was coach, everything revolved around the athletic forward. Ibrahimovic could mock journalists and the quality of the French league without anyone at the club publicly finding anything wrong with it. Ibrahimovic was allowed to go back to his native Sweden on hunting trips, while Thiago Silva enjoyed tailor-made modifications to his training program.

[ MORE: Zaha injured ahead of brutal Palace fixtures ]

A serious incident during Blanc’s time spoke volumes about PSG’s lack of authority on its players and stained the club’s image. Just before a Champions League game against Chelsea two years ago, defender Serge Aurier abused Blanc and insulted teammates during a live session with fans on social media. Instead of being fired, Aurier got away with a six-week suspension.

Nothing has really changed under Emery’s leadership. For instance, PSG’s all-time leading scorer, Edinson Cavani, has kept the habit of returning late from his Christmas holidays, doing it again this winter without much consequence.

Emery has failed to make a clear decision on who should be PSG’s first-choice penalty-taker. In September, Cavani and Neymar argued over who should take a penalty kick, and the pair clashed again in November during an 8-0 win against Dijon. That night, PSG was 7-0 up and Cavani needed one goal to become PSG’s outright all-time leading scorer. But instead of showing generosity and letting Cavani take a penalty, Neymar guarded the ball and blanked his teammate when he approached.

Sebastien Tarrago, a reporter who has been covering PSG for years for L’Equipe newspaper, said Emery was not the only one to blame for the anarchy.

“Club officials are obviously the main people responsible for creating the possibility for players to have too much power,” he said. “If club officials were strong, it would never happen.”

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Sancho to Man Utd; Madrid’s Haaland backup plan

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A roundup of all of Monday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Jadon Sancho is a virtual lock to leave Borussia Dortmund and return to the PL this summer, and the 20-year-old winger will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than $150 million just three years after signing from Manchester City for just $10 million. Today, it’s Manchester United who are rumored as frontrunners for Sancho’s services, based upon reports that Sancho has “unofficially confirmed” he will choose to join Man United when the transfer window opens.


Updating a transfer rumor from last week, Real Madrid are still very much in on another Dortmund starlet, Erling Haaland, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket. Los Blancos are reportedly eyeing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Dortmund man himself, as a backup option should Haaland remain at Dortmund or land elsewhere this summer. Aubameyang, who’ll turn 31 this summer, isn’t likely to move for less than $60 million, which could prove a stumbling block.


If the rumors are to be believed, this summer will be a costly one for Man United, who are also interested in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. The price tag on the 25-year-old? Close to $170 million. It would seem unlikely that United could afford Niguez (at that price) without getting $100 million (at least) for Paul Pogba.


Another current Arsenal (and former Dortmund) player, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, hopes to turn his loan to Roma into a permanent move this summer. Arsenal are expected to ask $22 for the 31-year-old, but the Serie A side is hoping to pay closer to $12 million instead.