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New search for missing plane, Sala to begin

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LONDON (AP) The man leading a private search of the missing plane carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala said on Monday there was a “very good chance” of finding the aircraft.

David Mearns, an American-born marine scientist and shipwreck-hunting specialist, said a survey vessel equipped with state-of-the-art search equipment has been mobilized and will conduct an underwater search for the plane this weekend.

“There’s no guarantee,” Mearns said, “but (Sala’s) family is determined to do everything they possibly can through the support they have in the football community and through family and friends.”

The plane carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared from radar last week over the English Channel. The flight was going from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, where Sala was set to start playing for his new club in the Premier League.

More than 300,000 euros ($340,000) have been raised online to allow Sala’s family to fund a private search, after an official rescue operation for the light aircraft was called off on Thursday after three days. Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona were among those making pleas to resume a search.

Family and friends of Sala went on a special flight on Monday to view the area over the English Channel where the plane disappeared. The “scenic flight” circled the island of Alderney, according to Aurigny, an airline that operates in the Channel Islands.

Mearns, who has said he has located 24 major shipwrecks, said the purpose of the flight was to recreate the route of the plane and “the type of pattern the search-and-rescue aircraft might have created so (the family) could have a feel exactly for the waters.”

“I want to emphasize,” said Mearns, speaking to reporters at Guernsey Airport as Sala’s mother and sister stood beside him, “that the family are determined to get answers that they don’t have right now, and the only way to do that is find this missing plane.”

The private search, which began on Saturday, initially used two fishing boats – one from Guernsey and one from the U.K. – that were in the area at the time of the last radar contact of the plane.

“In terms of something being lost in the ocean, this is a relatively small search area,” Mearns said. “But there are complications in terms of it being a small plane, the bottom is very hard, there is lots of other wreckage out there and we have the weather. We are working in the worst time (of the year).”

Mearns said he was confident there were enough funds to carry out the “search and identification of the plane.” If the plane was to be recovered, he would hand over the operation to police and other authorities.

The official search was abandoned after Guernsey harbor master Capt. David Barker said the chances of survival after such a long period were “extremely remote.”

Cardiff signed Sala from Nantes for a club-record fee, reported to be 15 million pounds ($19 million), on Jan. 19. The striker left the Welsh capital after completing the move and returned to Nantes to collect his belongings and say goodbye to teammates and staff of the French club.

Cardiff’s first game since Sala’s disappearance will be on Tuesday at Arsenal, and manager Neil Warnock said some of his players have needed “help from outside” the club to deal with the situation.

“One or two of the lads, it was only right that they speak to people who might help them in this situation,” Warnock said. “You don’t realize the trauma that it causes a lot of families, whether it’s memories brought back or different situations.”

Warnock said it had been the most difficult week of his 39-year managerial career.

“It is such a strange situation,” he said. “I don’t think we could have played a game on Saturday, but it doesn’t get that much better this morning … I don’t know how it’s going to be in the next 24 hours.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Newcastle in takeover talks with UAE billionaire

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Reports out of Northeast England say Newcastle United supporters who want owner Mike Ashley out at all costs have new hope.

United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is said to be in talks with Ashley about a takeover of the St. James’ Park-based club, though there’s a lot of work to do for a deal to be complete.

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One report goes as far as to say Ashley has agreed to accept $444 million for the Premier League club.

Sheikh Khaled, 61, was educated at American colleges Boston University and Michigan State. He’s the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was turned down with a $2.5 billion bid for Liverpool last season.

From The Chronicle:

NUFC have confirmed some talks with Sheikh Khaled. But say there is still “some way” to go on a deal. Newcastle United refusing to make any further comment at this time.

Takeover talks are nothing new at Newcastle, and there does seem to be some heat to these reports, but Ashley and his crew have spun these stories of interest in the past. And with Magpies supporters waiting for news on Rafa Benitez‘s new deal, some will be way of a smoke screen for an inability to reach an agreement with the celebrated Newcastle manager.

Wondolowski scores 149th, 150th goals; Earthquakes win

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TORONTO (AP) Chris Wondolowski scored his 149th and 150th MLS goals in the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night.

The MLS career goals leader scored both from close range.

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Wondolowski got a yard’s separation from Drew Moor and deftly redirected in Cristian Espinoza’s cross in the 37th minute to tie it at 1. The go-ahead goal in the 81st minute was a virtual replay, with Espinoza finding Wondolowski in space.

The San Jose striker has six goals in two games. He scored all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Chicago last weekend to surpass Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 goals and up his career total to 148.

Richie Laryea opened the scoring for Toronto (5-6-2) in the 28th minute

San Jose (5-6-2) won for the first time in six road games this season.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”