Mario Balotelli

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Marseille’s ‘Champions Project’ in tatters

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PARIS (AP) Ridiculous Project.

Arrogant Project.

Fiasco Project.

Deficient Project.

Defeat Project.

These were some of the slogans displayed by Marseille fans last weekend at Stade Velodrome, mocking the “Champions Project” plan of American owner Frank McCourt, who aimed to return the club back to the summit of French soccer and among the European elite.

[ MORE: Sarri’s job in jeopardy? ]

Instead, in front of those poster-holding fans, former European champion Marseille was humiliated by Lyon 3-0 at home.

Ahead of the trip to Toulouse on Saturday, Marseille is seven points behind fourth-placed Saint-Etienne. With only two rounds left in Ligue 1, it means the club won’t even qualify for the Europa League.

Two and a half years after McCourt took over, the southern side has not lived up to expectations, and coach Rudi Garcia’s future is hanging in the balance after he failed to find the right balance in a squad featuring some brilliant individuals.

Marseille, which made it to the 2018 Europa League final but earned only one point in the group stage this season, has 13 defeats in 36 matches in the French league, has conceded 50 goals – its worst total in more than 30 years – and lost all of its matchups against the top three teams.

Constant tinkering with the lineup – Garcia fielded 41 different starting XIs in 44 matches in all competitions – to find a winning combo contributed to Marseille going backward, in sharp contrast to the club’s motto of “Straight to Goal.”

“There is no point looking for excuses,” World Cup winner Florian Thauvin said last month after a loss in Bordeaux. “We should stop fooling ourselves. We did not make a good season. And even if we qualified for the Champions League, what could we achieve? Every year it’s the same thing. We don’t win the games we need, we make too many mistakes.”

Marseille Ultras supporters, who play a major role in the running of the club, have had enough, too, and are asking for Garcia’s firing. They are also unhappy with club president Jacques Henri Eyraud, who appointed the coach when McCourt, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner, launched his project of making Marseille great again, then extended Garcia’s deal to 2021.

“It’s one of the most difficult seasons of my career,” says Garcia, who seems under no illusion his time is up at the club. “But it’s part of my experience, and I’m sure I will use it in the future.”

Upon arrival at the buoyant Mediterranean city, McCourt pledged to revive Marseille by investing 200 million euros ($210 million) over four years. Large amounts of cash have been spent on Mario Balotelli, Valere Germain, and Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo. Marseille’s squad also features Lucas Ocampos, Kevin Strootman, Dimitri Payet, and Florian Thauvin, but Garcia has failed to make them gel as a team.

Thauvin has appeared unconcerned in recent weeks, and has not scored in the league in more than two months. He has repeatedly said his main goal in club football is to play the Champions League and appears bound for a transfer this summer.

Balotelli is not expected to stay either, but Marseille could struggle to find credible replacements as it remains closely monitored by UEFA in regard to financial fair play rules, and might not be allowed to spend as much as it wants.

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

Superagent Raiola given three-month transfer ban in Italy

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Ahead of the summer transfer window, Italian superagent Mino Raiola has been handed a three-month transfer ban by the Italian FA for unknown reasons. Raiola announced he is appealing the suspension.

Raiola is best known for representing Paul Pogba, plus Mario Balotelli, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and many others.

The statement from the Italian FA read, “The Sports Procurators Commission condemns Mr Carmine [Mino] Raiola and Mr Vincenzo Raiola, on their own behalf and as legal representatives of the companies they represent to sanction of the suspension from the exercise of the activity of sports attorney to the extent, respectively: with regard to Mr. Carmine Raiola, of 3 months, with regard to Mr. Vincenzo Raiola, of 2 months.”

Raiola himself said he does not know why he was banned, incredulously claiming it to be “perhaps the result of a story by some frustrated weirdo.”

“I immediately called in lawyers and I appeal,” the 51-year-old told Dutch outlet Eindhoven Daglbad. “This is a personal error. I have not received any explanation.”

“You can ask me three thousand questions about it, but I honestly don’t know what is going on,” Raiola insisted. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the suspension has to do with the 2015 transfer of Gianluca Scamacca from Roma’s youth system to PSV. Scamacca, now 20 years old, was just 16 at the time, and the transfer reportedly angered Roma.

“My personal feeling is that this punishment responds to a political will, without taking the law into account,” Raiola later said in a tweeted statement. “It’s a sanction based on falsehoods and lies. Law and justice must prevail in any correct system and I hope my name will be restored in the next chapter of this story.”

Raiola’s ban only takes effect with regards to Italian clubs, so it shouldn’t affect Pogba’s reported efforts to leave Manchester United for a top Spanish club. It would have affected Romelu Lukaku‘s reported interest from both Juventus and Inter, but Lukaku left Raiola earlier this year for Roc Nation Sports.

It could, however, affect the summer fortunes of Dutch youngster Matthijs de Ligt, who is represented by Raiola. The 19-year-old Ajax captain has been linked with top clubs all over the map, with Juventus included in the mix.

Adebayor reveals reason behind that celebration against Arsenal

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Just about everyone remembers it (If not, watch it here on Youtube).

Then Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor finds himself in space between two of Arsenal’s centerbacks, Adebayor’s former teammates, before the Togolese striker heads home a terrific goal. Adebayor then go on a 100-yard sprint down the left side of the field, finishing in an epic knee slide right in front of the Arsenal away support at the Etihad, then called the City of Manchester Stadium.

[MORE: MLS still has a long way to go]

It was audacious. It was outrageous. But we didn’t know why he truly did that until now.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Mail, Adebayor said that racist abuse from Arsenal fans that day was what led to his famous celebration for Man City. Racist abuse has been back in the news recently, as many Afro-descended players including Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Daniel Sturridge have spoken out about the hate, abuse, and vitriol they experience on a weekly basis.

“I remember getting to the stadium and Arsenal fans were there,” Adebayor told the Daily Mail. “All I heard was the the chant ‘Your mother is a whore and your father washes elephants.’ My father worked in currency exchange and my mother is a businesswoman. But this went on and on. So how can I reply? I didn’t have a voice to go against thousands of supporters.

“And now the same FA are trying to stop racism? I’m sorry. It does not work that way. Today is too late. We are tired. Enough is enough. I see Mario Balotelli and Didier Drogba on Instagram. How many times do we have to post something? We have to react. We have to leave the pitch.”

Earlier in the interview, Adebayor also stated he did not want to leave Arsenal, but said he was forced to by then-manager Arsene Wenger. The now 35-year-old striker also admitted that Arsenal didn’t do enough to hold onto its top players, allowing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, along with himself, to leave and win titles and earn more money elsewhere.

“I did not just wake up one morning at Manchester City,” Adebayor said. “I had signed a five-year contract at Arsenal. I came back for pre-season and Wenger said ‘You have to leave’. I said ‘Why should I leave?’ I asked for one more year and if it does not work, I will walk off. He’s like ‘No.’ He said if I stayed he would not put me in the squad. When you hear that, you have to go.”

The rest of the interview is worth your time, in which Adebayor reveals he nearly committed suicide as a teenager in the Metz academy, what it was like seeing death flash before his eyes in Angola during the 2010 African Cup of Nations, when the Togo team bus was attacked by militants, and, on a lighter note, who his favorite teammates were.

Marseille suffers damaging defeat at Bordeaux

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Olympique Marseille suffered a massive blow in its chase for a Champions League place, losing at Bordeaux by a 2-0 score thanks to goals by Francois Kamano and Nicolas de Preville.

Bordeaux has been a house of horrors for Marseille, and Friday’s result did nothing to change that sentiment. Marseille, having not won at Bordeaux in 42 years, suffered a blow to its Champions League hopes with the defeat as the visitors remained a point back of fourth-placed St. Etienne who now has two games in hand.

A hand-ball by Nemanja Radonjic in the 27th minute put Bordeaux at the penalty spot, and Kamano converted the spot-kick with a stutter step that sent Steve Mandanda the wrong way, easily burying the ball after the goalkeeper found the turf. The second came with 20 minutes to go as de Preville took a Marseille turnover just past midfield and burst forward all by himself, splitting two defenders in the box before slotting home.

Bordeaux defender Pablo was sent off with eight minutes to go for barging into Mario Balotelli off the ball, but Marseille had no response. Ultimately, while Marseille finished with 65% possession and 20 total shots, they put just five of those efforts on target. Meanwhile, Bordeaux miraculously put all seven of its shots on target, sealing the win.

The defeat secures Marseille’s embarrassing and lightning-quick collapse. The club rose from seventh to fourth in just a month, finding themselves in a Champions League place by mid-march thanks to a five-match unbeaten run that included four wins, highlighted by a defeat of St. Etienne. They immediately slumped, winless in the next three matches with two defeats in that span, falling out of the Champions League race as quickly as they’d risen into it.

Bordeaux’s streak of dominance at home over Marseille is something to behold. In those 42 years, they’ve gone 34 matches unbeaten, with 21 wins and 13 draws. It is the longest such streak in French top flight history. In addition, Bordeaux’s opener was the ninth penalty goal conceded by Marseille this league season, the most by any Top 5 team in Europe this season.

Bonucci criticized for saying Kean “50-50” to blame for racist abuse

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Leonardo Bonucci has been roundly criticized for comments he made after teammate Moise Kean was subjected to racist abuse during Juventus’ 2-0 victory over Cagliari on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Allegri asks for lifetime bans after Kean racially abused ]

Whereas Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri called for the fans hurling racist abuse at Juve and Italy’s 19-year-old rising star to be banned for life, Bonucci said, “I think the blame is 50-50, because Moise shouldn’t have [celebrated like that] and the [fans] should not have reacted that way.”

A number of the game’s most prominent black stars, including Raheem Sterling and Memphis Depay, hit back directly at Bonucci for all to see, while the likes of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Mario Balotelli, among others, have posted full-throated support of Kean on social media.

(Google Translate: As captain of Juventus I am disappointed in your reaction, the boy can rejoice as he wants. His role is essential for his team and he plays with great pride for his country Italy. He must be respected for this.)

Cagliari president Tommaso Giulini’s comments on the matter were equally un-empathetic and slanted — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t want people to start being self-righteous about it, because I heard that already, whereas Juventus players came to me afterwards and confessed Kean was wrong to celebrate that way.

“We cannot go around calling the entire Cagliari crowd offensive things. If there were racist jeers, then our fans got it wrong, but it happened because of the celebration and would’ve happened even if the goalscorer had a different color of skin.”