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Lyon asks French prime minister to reconsider early end of Ligue 1 season

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Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is asking French authorities to backpedal on their decision to end the football season prematurely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The men’s league was canceled four weeks ago with 10 rounds remaining, Paris Saint-Germain declared champion, and Lyon finished outside the European places in seventh.

In a letter on Monday to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, Aulas argued the premature conclusion of the season will have catastrophic consequences for French clubs, which could face losses of “700 to 900” million euros ($760 million to $980 million).

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Alongside Amiens and Toulouse – the two clubs demoted to the second division – Lyon took action against the league decision but their case was thrown out last week by a Paris administrative court. Lyon now wants France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, to issue a ruling on the matter.

In the letter, Aulas said the fact that the French league was the only one among the seven biggest European leagues to opt for an early end should convince authorities to reconsider their move.

In Europe, the Dutch and Belgian leagues have also ended their 2019-20 seasons early.

Aulas has argued for the French league to be given a chance to be completed by late August with a temporary playoff system, but with PSG staying the champion given its large lead before play was stopped.

“The Bundesliga resumed matches on May 16, Spain will resume matches on June 8. Italy, Russia and Portugal have resumed collective training and England is working on a resumption after June 19,” Aulas wrote. “How can France not be downgraded very quickly and see its professional football devalued?”

On June 2, the French government is expected to make further announcements related to France’s lockdown exit strategy.

“Many developments and hopes are expected on this date, so that France can gradually regain a good dynamic,” Aulas said. “Could we imagine that June 2 is also a great opportunity to rectify the mistake concerning French football and to allow, with a health protocol used everywhere, to give the starting point for a gradual resumption of training (in June) and, why not, a resumption of the 2019-2020 season over the months of July or August?”

Lyon, meanwhile, still hopes to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League after beating Italian champion Juventus 1-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 match on Feb. 26. The return leg in Turin was suspended.

Toulouse in takeover talks with U.S. firm RedBird

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TOULOUSE, France — The owner of struggling French soccer club Toulouse is in negotiations to sell an 85-percent stake to American investment firm RedBird Capital Partners.

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Toulouse was relegated after finishing last in the first division this season but Amiens, another team relegated from Ligue 1, have launched an appeal against ending the season early after the French government said no games in empty stadiums could take place before September.

The league was ended early with 10 rounds remaining because of the coronavirus pandemic and a points-per-game model was used to determine the final standings for the 2019-20 season in France’s top-flight.

“I am convinced RedBird Capital Partners has the competence and resources needed to allow us to return among the elite of French soccer,” owner Olivier Sadran said in a club statement on Thursday.

Sadran has been club president since 2001 and will retain a 15% stake in his hometown club.

“I feel responsible,” he said. “They can always count on my passion and my support.”

RedBird Capital founder Gerry Cardinale confirmed the takeover bid.

“We’re eager to finalize our partnership with Olivier and to put Toulouse on the path to success in the future,” he said in the statement.

Barcelona adds Toulouse defender Jean-Clair Todibo

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona has reached a deal to sign young Toulouse defender Jean-Clair Todibo in July.

Barcelona said Tuesday he will join on a free transfer after his contract with the French club ends on June 30.

[ RECAP: Spurs 1-0 Chelsea ]

The 19-year-old Frenchman joined Toulouse in 2016 and made his first-team debut earlier this season. The central defender has made 10 appearances, all as a starter, and scored in the team’s 1-1 draw at Rennes in September.

Todibo is known for his good ball technique and can also play in the midfield. The tall defender is considered a threat on set pieces.

He has played for France’s under-20 team.

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

VAR in the spotlight again, this time for not working

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PARIS (AP) – The video assistant referee system has been much talked about since being used at the World Cup earlier this year – praised by some for spotting fouls, criticized by others for slowing down matches.

On Sunday, VAR attracted attention for another reason altogether: it stopped working during the 1-1 draw between Rennes and Toulouse.

“The fourth official came to see me 10 minutes from the end of halftime to tell me it wasn’t working,” Toulouse coach Alain Casanova said. “There was a problem, quite simply.”

Casanova said he and his Rennes counterpart, Sabri Lamouchi, as well as the two team captains, were all informed before the second half started.

Toulouse may have cause for regret because VAR was not used to review images when a penalty was given to Rennes midway through the second period. It was awarded after striker M’Baye Niang fell under a challenge from Jean-Clair Todibo, who was shown a yellow card for protesting the decision.

Niang converted in the 70 minute, but Todibo headed in the equalizer two minutes from time for Toulouse.

Toulouse played with 10 men for the second half after forward Aaron Leya Iseka was sent off in the 43rd for a second yellow card.

The draw leaves Rennes struggling in 16th place – two places above the relegation zone – while Toulouse is seventh.

IMPRESSIVE MONTPELLIER

Montpellier continued its fine start by beating local rival Nimes 3-0 to move into second place – although Marseille can take second by winning at Lille later Sunday.

Defender Ambroise Oyongo put Montpellier ahead and striker Andy Delort made it 2-0 after nine minutes of first-half injury time. A metal gate gave way after Montpellier fans celebrated Oyongo’s goal, sending a few of them spilling onto the pitch and causing the match to be delayed.

Reports said two fans sustained light injuries.

The outstanding Florent Mollet set up striker Gaetan Laborde for a diving header in the 79th, after which a crowd disturbance caused the match to be stopped for about 30 minutes.

Some 70-80 riot police came onto the pitch to block a section of agitated Montpellier fans from confronting their Nimes counterparts.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”