Nani

Barcelona makes managerial change
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Reports: Barcelona fires Valverde, hiring former Betis boss Setien

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Quique Setien is set to replace Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, according to numerous reports in Spain.

The former Las Palmas and Real Betis boss, 61, would be a surprise successor to be sure.

Valverde has been under fire for Barca’s uneven season, though that phrase happens to describe a tie for first in La Liga with rivals Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

According to Marca, “The Barcelona board approved the decision for the 61-year-old to become the new Blaugrana boss unanimously, with the former Betis coach’s stock having gone up since this morning.”

The club has not announced any changes. Reporter Guillem Balague says the silence from Barcelona is down to the resolution of Valverde’s contract with the Catalan club.

He also proffers a thread with lofty praise for Setien.

Barcelona’s attack has been lethal but it’s defending subpar; Valverde’s proverbial hot seat was engulfed in flames when the Blaugranas wasted a 2-1 lead in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal versus Atletico Madrid.

Valverde led Barcelona to La Liga titles in both of his full seasons in charge, but disappointing collapses in the Champions League soured the domestic triumphs.

Defending will become even more important with Luis Suarez out for four months.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Orlando City hoping to secure prolific scorer from Pareja’s old club

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Orlando City is getting close to signing a veteran striker in the form of Argentine scorer German Cano, according to manager Oscar Pareja.

Cano has spent the last two seasons lighting up the scoreboard for longtime club Independiente Medellin, where he’s scored 94 times in 134 games in two stints (2012-14 and 2018-19).

[ MORE: MLS announces 2020 schedule ]

Cano will be 32 at the start of the season, and recorded 19 goals and six assists in parts of four seasons in Liga MX.

So there’s no guarantee he’ll walk into MLS and be Orlando’s missing striker, but Pareja will have a keen understanding of Cano due to their shared lineage at Independiente. Pareja was also born in Medellin.

Can he combine with Nani and Dom Dwyer to light up the scoreboard? Pareja has organized the right pieces at two different MLS clubs, but doing it in Orlando would be his biggest achievement.

Russia banned from 2020 Olympics, 2022 World Cup

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Russia has been banned from competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted unanimously to ban the nation from international sport for four years for doping offenses.

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Individual Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral banner at this summer’s Olympics. The men’s national soccer team will also still be allowed to compete at the 2020 European Championship, where they will be one of the 12 host nations this summer.

The punishment was agreed by WADA’s executive committee at a special meeting at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. It is the most severe sanction yet against the country after accusations of systemic doping and deleting laboratory evidence.

[ MORE: Man arrested in connection to racist abuse at the Manchester derby ]

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said, “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.

“As a result, the WADA executive committee has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”

Serie A boss resigns after election investigation

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MILAN — Gaetano Micciche has resigned as the president of Serie A following an investigation into his election last year.

Micciche, also the president of Banca IMI investment bank, was chosen unanimously in March 2018 by the Italian league’s 20 clubs.

But the Italian soccer federation opened an investigation last month after Genoa owner Enrico Preziosi alleged there were irregularities with how Micciche was elected.

In a statement on Tuesday, Micciche says: “The rumors in today’s newspapers, relating to the closure of the investigation into my appointment 20 months ago and to its possible outcome are unacceptable and forced me to make this decision.”

Lega Serie A, which runs the Italian top flight, had been without a president for almost year before Micciche was elected.

Arsenal releases statement from Xhaka detailing fan abuse

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No one’s excusing Granit Xhaka for swearing and gesticulating at the home fans who booed him off the pitch this weekend, but plenty are going to have sympathy for the Arsenal captain after he released an emotional statement on Thursday.

Xhaka, 27, admits to having been deeply hurt by reprehensible comments from “fans” on social media, and said it all boiled over on the pitch. The Swiss star had been dealing with disgusting comments regarding both him and his family, and admitted that they had affected him greatly. He is asking fans to join him in going back to a “place of mutual respect.”

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When someone wishes death and disease on your wife and baby daughter, well, what’s wrong with people?

Those comments are far from excusable, and imitate the worst qualities of humans. Yes, there is a pretty vile culture right now where folks believe they’re entitled to call names and berate  people of all sorts — and not just on social media — but the fact that Arsenal green lit this statement from Xhaka shows that the club recognizes how bad things have gotten between players and fans.

Look at even the tamer comments on this Instagram photo of Xhaka and his new daughter, saying things like, “I hope you’re a better father than a football player” and begging him to take paternity leave.

The other thing about Xhaka is that whether he’s being played out of position, utilized incorrectly, or simply not playing well, the guy clearly busts his bones for Arsenal. There’s a reason his teammates elected him captain, and he cares deeply for the club. How that ever gets to death and cancer threats is beyond the pale and against the very nature of what it means to care about the club.

Either way, we’re unabashedly in his corner. Making millions of pounds/dollars/euros may allow fans to judge players critically, but it doesn’t turn them into inanimate targets. At least it shouldn’t.