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Barcelona against haste of bigger Club World Cup

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MIAMI (AP) The president of Barcelona spoke out against the haste to introduce a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 ahead of the FIFA Council deciding Friday whether to approve the pilot of the enlarged tournament.

European clubs have publicly resisted FIFA’s bid to replace the current seven-team annual Club World Cup, which is played annually in December, with an expanded quadrennial version in June-July.

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Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu backs a revamp of the competition, just not until the entire calendar for club and national team matches is reconfigured for 2024 and beyond to cope.

“We have to take care of the footballers,” Bartomeu said in an interview with The Associated Press in Miami, where the FIFA Council is meeting. “We have to take care about the way of training and the vacation they need to recover every season that they do. If the calendar is not modified, of course we cannot agree.”

In 2021, FIFA envisages the window for international matches – which is likely to include 2022 World Cup qualifiers – running May 31-June 8. The Club World Cup would be held June 17-July 4, while the African Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup could be played July 5-July 31. European club seasons typically start around mid-August.

FIFA believes the proposed 24-team Club World Cup would “promote and grow football for the benefit of all confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs and fans,” according to a task force report on new FIFA competitions seen by the AP.

In the first edition, South America would have six slots – one based on previous performances. Three each would go to teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America. Oceania would get one representative. The confederations would decide their own qualification process, whereas now each continental champion qualifies for the Club World Cup along with the host country.

“We know the current form doesn’t work,” FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani told the AP. “The top clubs in the world have fans all over the world. So, I think it’s a natural progression of that competition.”

The expanded tournament would start with eight groups of three, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams would play two to five matches over a maximum of 18 days.

According to a FIFA document seen by the AP, the governing body’s council will be asked on Friday to approve a trial 24-team Club World Cup running from June 17-July 4, 2021. That is the slot previously reserved for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event in a host nation a year before the World Cup.

“An opportunity to keep growing the competition will always be accepted from our league and our clubs,” Enrique Bonilla, the president of the Mexican league, told the AP. “It helps to give exposure and it helps to make clubs from other parts of the world to be more competitive, and to grow, and to learn from those great players that are now playing in Europe.”

Also Friday, the FIFA Council will be asked to approve the recommendations of a feasibility study into adding another 16 teams for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The council will be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using “one or more additional co-host countries” in the Persian Gulf before a final decision in June on enlarging the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

A document sent to the FIFA Council says its members will be asked if they agree with the report’s conclusion that World Cup expansion is “feasible provided that neighboring countries host some matches.”

The FIFA study seen by the AP says Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore diplomatic and travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are indicated to be the current possible options identified by FIFA to host games in 2022 but their stadium infrastructure is only briefly assessed in a FIFA report.

Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.

“As long as it’s well studied and well thought out, I think CONCACAF would have no issues supporting that,” said Montagliani, who leads the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football.

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

Report: Neymar has been asking Barcelona to buy him back

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This is pretty sad.

Not in a “death of a family pet” way, rather a “buck up, son” way.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines ]

Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar wants to return to Barcelona, and the megastar’s father has contacted Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu a handful of times in a bid to return to the Camp Nou.

From Marca:

“He is disappointed and sorry,” El Mundo report the player’s father as saying to the Barcelona president.

Anyway, if true, this is a big one (even if a move clearly wouldn’t happen until the summer).

The left winger has 18 goals and nine assists in 21 matches this season, including five and two in the UEFA Champions League. He was blanked against Napoli but had a goal and an assist against Liverpool.

His PSG record on the whole is unreal, with 46 goals and 25 assists in 51 games.

At 26, he’s got years left in his prime and Malcom, Ousmane Dembele, and Philippe Coutinho have yet to grab the proverbial bulls by their horns.

Here’s why the move would not necessarily be insane rumor mill click-mongering: It takes a special cat to thrive with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and Neymar has proven he can do that. In fact, he’d likely be in line to play a bigger role than when he previously spent time at Barca.

Barcelona chief backs Catalan leaders in clash with Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu says Barcelona backs the leaders of Catalonia in response to the Spanish government’s decision to take over the regional government.

Bartomeu said on Saturday “the fact that people have been imprisoned for their political ideas is unacceptable in the 21st century. No one can question Barcelona’s commitment to Catalan society and its democratic institutions.”

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To block the Catalan independence push, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an early election.

Bartomeu says Barcelona sides with those who defend the Catalan people’s right to vote in a referendum for independence. He also says the club aims to remain in the Spanish league.

Barcelona leads La Liga, defeating Malaga late Saturday.

Reports: Coutinho, Dembele want Barca moves

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Liverpool, so far, are holding firm on the idea that Philippe Coutinho is not for sale, though Barcelona seems to know something the Anfield club does not.

Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol says Coutinho would like to join Barcelona, and it’s the “only way” he’d leave Liverpool. He also would only leave if the deal could be done “amicably.”

Barca president Josep-Maria Bartomeu said the club will spend the approximate $262 million Neymar exit fee “sensibly, strictly, and wisely,” and Solhekol says the Barca president remains furious with Paris Saint-Germain and the other Middle East- and Russia-bolstered clubs.

[ MORE: Premier League summer transfers, so far ]

In that sense, Barcelona has a bit of a kinship with Liverpool, adding to the intrigue of a potential move. Jurgen Klopp would be very angry if the Reds relented and sold Coutinho.

Meanwhile, Solhekol took to Twitter to say that Klopp’s former club, Borussia Dortmund, also faces temptation via Neymar’s move, with BVB star Ousmane Dembele also desiring a move to Barca and an anticipated offer of $117 million.

Liverpool already shot down a Coutinho bid of around $88 million, and Coutinho has a bigger body of work but is five years older than Dembele (who is more of a winger and has better numbers relative to age). The BVB man had an assist as Dortmund fell to Bayern in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of the Bayern Super Cup this weekend, and had 10 goals and 21 assists in all competitions last season.

Coutinho had yet to post a season as statistically significant in assists, and it’s probably fair to say that Dembele is worth more on the market if Liverpool supporters are expecting as big a haul for their Brazilian star (should the Reds actually sell).

Liverpool could resist the urge to sell for competitive reasons, though it’d be wise to see what’s on the market in terms of potential replacements (Consider that Gabriel Jesus‘ value went from $4 million to $40 million to who knows what it would be right now). In the micro sense, it’s hard to put a number on Coutinho. In the macro, and looking at Dembele in comparison, the Reds could reload in a big way.

Let’s put it this way: If Barca used the Neymar fee to buy Coutinho and Dembele, many would think the Blaugranas will have come to close to winning the exchange, or at least breaking even.

Barcelona asks court to act against Spanish league president

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona is asking a sports tribunal to consider sanctioning the Spanish federation and the president of the Spanish league after they condemned a goal celebration and accused players of provoking rival fans.

The club said Thursday it has formally requested the Administrative Court of Sport open disciplinary proceedings against Javier Tebas and members of the federation’s competition committee after their “unacceptable public declarations and assessments” about Barcelona players.

[ MORE: Spanish FF chastises Barcelona ]

The competition committee fined Valencia 1,500 euros ($1,600) on Wednesday after water bottles were thrown at Barcelona players celebrating a late winner in a Spanish league match on Saturday in Valencia.

It also condemned the attitude of the players by saying they shouldn’t have turned to the stands to celebrate and that they exaggerated after some of them were hit by one of the bottles. It said their actions exposed them to ridicule.

Barcelona said the committee “is not there to make assessments but rather to take disciplinary action, or not, in order to make an example of incidents that occur” on the pitch.

“Making statements regarding the actions of the players adds even more tension to a situation that must be deescalated,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.

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Bartomeu also had harsh words for Tebas, who told Spanish media that he didn’t like the attitude of some Barcelona players, hinting that they provoked the fans during their celebration.

“The declarations made by Tebas are irresponsible and unbecoming of a sports executive,” Bartomeu said.

Barcelona’s next game is Saturday against last-place Granada at the Camp Nou.