Juventus give Adrien Rabiot permission to head back to France during coronavirus lockdown as Serie A club ‘contemplate letting former Paris Saint-Germain star go in summer’
Adrien Rabiot has been allowed to return to the French Riviera by Juventus
Rabiot joins Juventus teammate and star Cristiano Ronaldo in returning home
The Frenchman however could be moved on in the summer by the Turin side
Rabiot only joined Juventus last summer on a free from Paris Saint-Germain
Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot has been allowed by the club to return to France for the remainder of the coronavirus lockdown period in Italy.
Training in sporting facilities has been outlawed until at least April 13 in Italy, but the Italian Football Federation are hoping to conclude the Serie A season by early July if games are allowed to restart on May 20.
With those scenarios in mind, the Italian club have given Rabiot permission to head to the French Riviera, where he will self-isolate until Maurizio Sarri’s men resume training.
Juventus have allowed midfielder Adrien Rabiot to return to France during the lockdown
Italian Football Federation bosses are hoping to conclude the Serie A season by early July
He becomes the ninth Juventus player to return home including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Sami Khedira and Wojciech Szczesny.
Moreover, Rabiot could be set for a permanent departure from Juventus in the summer, according to Calciomercato.
The 25-year-old Frenchman only joined the Turin-based side last summer on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain.
Rabiot struggled to break into the side upon his arrival and has also suffered a couple of injury setbacks.
Rabiot has thus been allowed to join Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo in going home
But the French midfielder could be let go by Juventus in the summer according to reports
He has gone on to make 24 appearances to date, but has failed to contribute a single goal or assist for the club this campaign.
Rabiot’s contract with the Serie A giants runs until 2023, but given that he is on a high salary and hasn’t fully convinced this season, the Italian outlet claim a summer exit is a possibility.
The Frenchman’s future could be thrown into further doubt if Juventus manage to land Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
Rabiot’s compatriot is reportedly keen on a return to Turin, with reports claiming on Saturday that United are preparing a sensational swap deal for defender Matthijs de Ligt.
Rabiot only joined last year on a free transfer from PSG but has so far failed to convince
As Australian sporting leagues seem ever more optimistic they can get back on the field, the league that started the coronavirus shutdown — the NBA — appears to be looking at cancelling the rest of the season.
The NBA suspended the season on March 12 when Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive for the virus.
It hit close to home and the NBA was followed by an avalanche of sports shutting up shop for an indefinite period.
While some put a wishful date on a return, the NBA appeared shut down for the long run.
There has been some talk of creative solutions to getting through the season but several players have contracted the coronavirus including stars Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart to name a few.
The league’s biggest star LeBron James has also slammed the idea of playing in front of empty stands and it is very unlikely the US would open the doors to the public with the nation being ravaged by the disease, including 1300 deaths in a single day on Saturday, the deadliest day for any nation of the crisis.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has shown strong leadership during the shutdown.Source:AFP
While no official word has come out of the NBA on whether it would return, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the NBA is pessimistic about a restart for the 2019-2020 season as it may cancel the year and start fresh in 2020-2021.
“I’ve talked to both sides of this issue and it is clear the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down,” he told SportsCentre. “Now, they don’t have to do that yet, and the way they’re negotiating, they’re leaving themselves an option either way … they are not having talks about how to restart the league.
“They are having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down and I think there is a significant amount of pessimism right now.”
The issue has come to a head as the Chinese Basketball Association was preparing to return, before fears over asymptomatic carriers were potentially causing a second wave in China.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been discussing a return but only when given an “all clear” from public health officials.
On conference call with Trump and pro sports leaders today, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke of a possible return to play once there was an "all clear" from public health officials, sources familiar with call tell ESPN. https://t.co/Y78SfF4534
However, the league is reportedly looking at doing a H-O-R-S-E competition including several high-profile players while in isolation.
While the concerns are for the health of players and officials, it could mean the end of Australian Boomers coach Brett Brown at the Philadelphia 76ers, according to CBS News.
In a story titled “Why Brett Brown might have coached his last game for the 76ers if the NBA season is cancelled”, Brad Botkin reported that Brown may be the scapegoat for the underachieving Philadelphia.
Brown has been a strong ally for Aussie superstar Ben Simmons, defending his star from the incessant questions over the 22-year-old’s reluctance from shooting three-pointers.
Ben Simmons listens to instructions from 76ers coach Brett Brown.Source:Getty Images
While the 76ers were favourites to be among the top teams in the Eastern conference, the side was sitting in sixth with a 39-26 record and were NBA analysts’ favourite whipping boys.
With the likes of All-Star duo Simmons and Joel Embiid, the side were labelled “soft” by legends Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal in early February amid plenty of criticism for the side.
But after a back injury saw Simmons sidelined, potentially for the season, it left the 76ers short a superstar.
Originally set to return on April 3, it would have been just two weeks before the playoffs.
Botkin said while if the 76ers could have caught fire, an underdone Simmons would have made it hard and left Brown on the outer.
“Win a few playoff series, and a disappointing regular season becomes an afterthought and Brown might keep his job,” he wrote.
“But they have to get that opportunity to play again, and you could argue that's looking increasingly unlikely with every day that passes.
“If the playoffs don't happen, or if they do and the Sixers are bounced early, it's hard to imagine Brown coming back as the coach next season. Reasonable minds can disagree on the degree of blame he deserves for Philly's relative underachievement.”
Botkin also says while Brown hasn’t been perfect, he could end up being the fall guy for the 76ers without having a final chance to get Philadelphia its first championship in 37 years.
Meanwhile, Simmons has been keeping busy, setting up a “The Philly Pledge”. It’s a one-stop shop for people wanting to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts.
Simmons and his team researched the best non-profit charities and will get the money to the right places in Philadelphia.
In the first week, the saw $350,000 donated in 1700 donations.
The City of Philadelphia has shown its true colors! So far there have been over 1700 individual donations (starting at $25) which have contributed to over $350,000 in donations to help OUR city. That’s neighbors helping neighbors. Let’s keep it going and spreading the word ❤️ pic.twitter.com/VbbpQSSQIQ
Back in 2013, upon taking over at Manchester United, Ed Woodward compiled a list of four fantasy transfer targets. Neymar was on it, as well as Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller. But so too were Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale – and the Juventus and Real Madrid stars could be on the market when the transfer window reopens at the end of the season.
Woodward has always liked going after big names, eager for United to be competing for some of the planet’s finest players.
That was why he went after Juan Mata in January 2014, signing the Spain international just months after he’d been crowed Chelsea’s player of the year.
After Mata came Angel Di Maria, who Woodward signed for a British transfer record of £59million.
Radamel Falcao came in on loan and in the time since United have also signed the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
Back in 2013, though, Woodward compiled a list of ‘fantasy’ transfer targets. Players he would love to bring to the club throughout his reign.
Muller was on it, with the Bayern Munich star regarded as one of Europe’s best players at the time.
And so too was Neymar, who was shining at La Liga giants Barcelona.
KEY STORY: Man Utd owners the Glazers may sell up faster because of coronavirus crisis
Man Utd chief Woodward makes transfer decision because of Di Maria
But also on the list were Ronaldo and Bale, who were both Real Madrid players around the time it was put together.
And, this summer, they could be available.
Bale is expected to leave Real Madrid, seven years after moving to the Bernabeu in a huge £86million deal.
Despite angering fans with his love for golf, the Wales international has been a big success during his time in Spain.
He was on target as Real ended their agonising wait for the Champions League trophy with a 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid in 2014.
And he scored a stunning overhead kick as Los Blancos won the trophy again four years later, beating Liverpool 3-1 in the final.
Bale has helped Real win four Champions League titles throughout his time at the Bernabeu but, this summer, a parting of the ways looks likely.
Man Utd market operators exploring Cavani move – but there’s a problem
Zinedine Zidane is ready to cut him loose and United, despite distancing themselves from talk of Bale signing in recent times, could be tempted.
He’s a player who would generate big income for Woodward given his status as a Galactico.
And he’s also somebody who, if you can get him back to his best, sits up their with the very best players on the planet.
Real will look to get rid of Bale to raise funds as they eye Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe.
And Woodward now has a genuine shot at bringing the player, who has been wanted by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho in the past, to Old Trafford.
Ronaldo could also be available.
Man Utd chief Ed Woodward could sign four free agents to save millions in transfer window
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Man Utd face Anthony Martial leaving Old Trafford if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fails mission
Juventus players have agreed to go four months without being paid in order to help the club amid the coronavirus crisis.
But if things continue to worsen, they may have no choice but to cut Ronaldo loose after just two years in Turin.
United fans would love to see Ronaldo make a sensational return to the club he enjoyed such success with earlier in his career.
And that he played alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during his spell at United could make a return a reality.
Woodward had Ronaldo on his list of four fantasy targets and he remains impressive on the pitch – and a financial goldmine off it.
United signing either player still appears difficult, especially given their interest in Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish.
But Woodward may get the chance to sign them nonetheless. And what he does, should that happen, remains to be seen.
The latest transfer news and gossip on the players linked with Arsenal – and those who could leave the club.
The latest players linked with a move to Arsenal…
Jesse Lingard – Arsenal remain one of the more likely destinations for the forward if he is to leave Manchester United in the next transfer window (Daily Mail, April 5).
Layvin Kurzawa – Arsenal have submitted an offer to PSG star Kurzawa as Barcelona have decided to wait to sell a player before making their move. The left-back is out of contract at the end of this season and Arsenal and Napoli have already made “interesting offers” (Sport, April 5).
Jonathan David – Arsenal and Everton will face competition from Barcelona for the £22m-rated Gent forward (Daily Star, April 3).
Cesar Gelabert – Arsenal are monitoring young Real Madrid attacker Gelabert with a view to a potential summer transfer swoop (Daily Mirror, April 4).
Samuel Umtiti – Arsenal and Chelsea are both reportedly “very interested” in signing Umtiti this summer (Daily Mirror, April 1); Barcelona are expecting Arsenal and Chelsea both to make bids in excess of £26m for the defender (Daily Express, April 3).
Carlos Soler – Arsenal are keen on signing the Valencia midfielder (Sky Sports, March 27); Soler has emerged as a summer target for Arsenal with Mikel Arteta reportedly a huge fan of the midfielder. (The Sun, March 28).
Valencia want at least £36m if they are forced to sell Soler. (Daily Mail, March 29); Arsenal are not willing to pay the £36m transfer fee that Valencia want for Carlos Soler (Daily Express, April 2).
Marc Roca – Arsenal are understood to have already opened negotiations with Espanyol regarding a deal for midfielder Marc Roca during the next transfer window (Sport, April 2).
Who is Evan Ndicka? Profile
Other players recently linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium…
Willian (The Sun, March 31)
Dejan Lovren (Daily Express, March 16; Teamtalk, March 31)
Luka Jovic (Daily Star, March 29)
Nabil Fekir (Daily Star, March 28)
Dayot Upamecano (Bild, March 26)
Chris Smalling (Daily Mirror, March 18; Metro, March 26)
Malick Thiaw (Daily Mail, March 25)
Evan Ndicka (Sky Sports, March 22)
Odsonne Edouard (Daily Mirror, March 22)
Chris Wood (Daily Star, March 22)
Issa Diop (Daily Mirror, March 15)
Orkun Kokcu (Daily Express, March 16; La Razon, March 19; Daily Express, March 19)
Emil Roback (Daily Mail, March 19)
Which defender should Arsenal sign this summer?
Have YOUR say here…
The latest players linked with an Arsenal exit…
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal have offered Real Madrid a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang transfer deal in a blow to Man Utd (Daily Express, March 24); Real Madrid hope a player-plus-cash deal will persuade Arsenal to part with their captain (Daily Star, March 26).
PSG, Barcelona and United are interested in signing Aubameyang (Daily Mail, March 23); Barca have cooled interest in the Arsenal captain as they prioritise a move for Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez this summer (Daily Mail, March 25).
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Roma could turn to Chelsea’s Pedro after they had two bids for Mkhitaryan, the last one of around £10m, turned down by Arsenal (Daily Express, April 3).
Mesut Ozil – The midfielder’s agent insists Ozil is happy at Arsenal and has no plans to leave this summer (The Sun, March 28)
The latest Arsenal contract talk…
Dani Ceballos – Arsenal could be edged out of a permanent deal for Ceballos as they are not thought to be the midfielder’s first choice destination (Daily Mirror, April 1); Arsenal have been given new hope of bringing Ceballos back to the Emirates next season (Daily Star, April 2)
Mesut Ozil – Arsenal are not going to give Ozil a new contract and are planning on running down his existing £350,000-a-week deal, with other players’ deals given higher priority. (Daily Express, March 30)
Bukayo Saka – Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta is confident the 18-year-old academy graduate will sign a new contract at the Emirates (The Sun, March 9)
David Luiz – Arsenal are ready to trigger the extension clause in the centre-back’s contract to keep him at the Emirates to 2021. (The Sun, March 19)
Dillian Whyte was advised to never fight again as he laid in a hospital bed after his brittle body finally shattered following a brutal battle with Anthony Joshua.
With his shattered hand in a cast, Whyte had been determined to fight on earlier that year and tried to avoid a face-to-face meeting with promoter Eddie Hearn, who was eager to secure a September showdown against Joshua.
When the Matchroom Boxing boss eventually met Whyte in a Brixton pub, he cursed loudly at the sight of the south Londoner’s left fist, but negotiations for a big domestic clash would only be delayed by a matter of months.
“I’m quite tough, probably a bit stupid as well,” Whyte told Sky Sports. “It’s still my mindset now to be honest. As soon as the cast came off, I went back to training. I had some 20 ounce gloves, I just started using them and then I went straight back to training.”
The Brixton man had bludgeoned his way up the rankings, relying more on brute force and raw power, rather than refined skills, and placed further strain on his creaking joints in a high-profile warm-up fight for his inevitable showdown with Joshua.
Brian Minto posed few problems to Whyte, who had hoped for a more physically imposing foe, but his eagerness to impress, while sharing the same O2 bill as Joshua, would aggravate a serious underlying injury.
“I thought it was maybe a bit of stiffness and stuff in my shoulder. I’m not somebody to really complain. I just get on with it,” said Whyte, who quickly broke Minto’s resolve with clubbing punches in the third round.
“I wish I had got it sorted back then. It ended up setting me back a long time – and I ended up heading towards my first defeat as well.”
Whyte begrudgingly made his first ever visit to a physio, and after struggling to manoeuvre his left arm behind him, was swiftly referred to an orthopaedic consultant.
Trainer Chris Okoh had been absent from Whyte’s corner since April, having been left seriously hurt in a hit-and-run incident, and American Johnathon Banks would oversee his preparations.
Banks, the cornerman in the latter stages of Wladimir Klitschko’s career, would unknowingly worsen Whyte’s physical decline as he was urged to become overly reliant on his injured left arm, while training sessions had to be fitted around the Ukrainian world champion’s schedule.
In spite of his impaired punch power, Whyte ploughed ahead with the Joshua fight, a reunion of feuding Londoners who had met before in the unpaid ranks. Whyte had floored and defeated Joshua on points in his first-ever amateur bout, and the demeanour of the Olympic champion darkened whenever he shared the stage with his adversary.
Cortisone injections, an accepted medical procedure in boxing, were needed to numb the pain in Whyte’s shoulder in the days ahead of the fight, and news of his opponent’s injury reached the ears of Joshua’s camp.
“They knew about my shoulder. Even in the press conference, he kept on saying to me: ‘Make sure your shoulder is alright. If you need a good physio, I will get one for you’.”
An enraged Whyte demanded a ‘straightener’ with Joshua after their fight on December 12 and had long since dismissed any suggestion that he should not renew hostilities with his fellow Londoner.
This stubborn desire for battle was so nearly rewarded.
In the midst of a wild brawl, with incensed entourages even entering the ring, Whyte picked his moment in the second round, uncorking a left hook that sent shock waves through Joshua, but he was unable to deliver a fight-ending punch.
“I was like, ‘Listen, it’s my opportunity. All I’ve got to do is – get the left hook off and that will be enough’, because Joshua when he attacks, he leaves his right side open all the time. But obviously the shoulder was so bad.
“I actually did land the punch I wanted to land, but when I landed it, my whole AC joint shattered. The pain was intense. My adrenaline was pumping, so I was just trying to keep it in, but the pain was crazy man. Every time I was jabbing or hitting him, it felt like the bone rubbing on bone and there was no power, no snap in the joint anymore.”
An exhausted Whyte, who had never fought longer than four rounds, wilted by the ropes in the seventh, with the referee swiftly signalling a stoppage. The fight was over, and he was later advised that his boxing career had also concluded.
He had been advised that surgery was necessary, even before the fight, and the ensuing operation revealed a series of issues as bones were shaved down to reconstruct his shoulder joint, which had also been severely hampered by arthritis.
Sitting in a hospital ward, Whyte produced a defiant smile as he posed for a picture that was released on social media, a few days after the fight, but behind the grin, he feared for his future.
“I thought to myself my career was finished,” said Whyte, who was informed that he would not regain the strength in his shoulder for two years, if ever.
Looks like surgery has been successful. Big thank you to Dr Jon Houghton and surgeon Livio Di Mascio. Thanks to all for your support & wishes. I will be back stronger next year #TEAMBODYSNATCHER #HEADACHEMAKER #
A post shared by Dillian Whyte (@dillianwhyte) on
“I’m not going to lie to you. It took me about a year before I really started to get that confidence and self-belief back.
“I’d just suffered my first defeat as well, my shoulder was shattered. But I thought, at least I fought for the British title. I gave it a run, I had 16 fights, or whatever it was. At least I gave it a try.”
But the loss of his unbeaten record instilled fresh motivation as Whyte sought advice on rehabilitation and strength and conditioning to rebuild his broken physique. He also learned to restrain his all-out aggression under the tutelage of new trainer Mark Tibbs, having tweaked his troublesome shoulder in a comeback win over Ivica Bacurin.
Whyte preferred to use new-found ring craft in commanding victories over David Allen and Ian Lewison, although a hard-fought points win over Derek Chisora proved that he could withstand a punishing encounter for 12 rounds.
An explosive showdown with Lucas Browne would finally signal the end of his lengthy rehabilitation following stringent training sessions at Loughborough University.
Whyte stormed out for the sixth round and gave a reminder of his concussive power.
Two years ago today @DillianWhyte landed THAT left hook on Lucas Browne 😱
Can you think of many better heavyweight KOs in recent years? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/mkKqL9o8rh
“Against Browne, I had the training camp, and we did loads of shoulder mobility. I wasn’t getting so much pain in it anymore.
“I just got so much more confidence. All I need to do is, set this guy up, get the timing right, and I’m going to put this guy to sleep.”
Browne toppled face first on the canvas. Whyte was back. Joseph Parker and Chisora were both blasted to the canvas by left hooks as Whyte continued his charge towards a world title.
Alexander Povetkin, a fearsome puncher himself, is next in line for Whyte at Manchester Arena on July 4, live on Sky Sports Box Office, as he works towards a WBC mandatory title fight on February 2021.
But what about that Joshua fight? A chance for a rejuvenated Whyte to gain revenge?
‘I put myself in his shoes. Would I have done the same? No question’: Wayne Rooney says Cristiano Ronaldo’s efforts to get him sent off at 2006 World Cup and infamous ‘wink’ brought pair closer together and inspired Man United glory
Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in 2006 quarter-final
His Man United team-mate Ronaldo protested to the referee for the red card
And television cameras caught Ronaldo’s cheeky wink after Rooney was sent off
Rooney says he would have tried to get Ronaldo dismissed in same situation
And he held clear-the-air talks in the tunnel after England’s exit on penalties
Wayne Rooney says Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous ‘wink’ after he was sent off in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final brought the pair closer together and inspired years of Manchester United glory.
The two Old Trafford team-mates were on opposite sides as England played Portugal in the last eight of the tournament in Germany.
Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s foot after a tangle with the Chelsea defender on the hour mark.
Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final for stamping on the foot of Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho during the second-half
Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (No 17) was one of the Portugal players who protested to referee Horacio Elizondo for a red card
Rooney shoved Ronaldo as Carvalho lies on the floor just before he is shown the red card
But television cameras focused on Ronaldo protesting to referee Horacio Elizondo to give Rooney his marching orders and his cheeky wink when the red card was brandished.
England went on to exit the World Cup on penalties and Rooney describes the hour sat alone in the dressing room as the ‘worst, weirdest feeling I’ve had in football.’
But amid the furore, Rooney held clear-the-air talks with Ronaldo, laying the foundations for three consecutive United Premier League title wins and Champions League glory in 2008.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Rooney said: ‘The game was going OK. Then, early in the second half, came my red card.
Rooney was dismissed and England went on to crash out of the tournament on penalties
The television cameras caught Ronaldo winking at the Portugal bench after Rooney’s red card
‘It was a reaction to the referee – Horacio Elizondo – not giving me a free kick. There was a clear foul, the former Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho was pulling and pushing me and Petit came in from the other side.
‘Elizondo did nothing and I planted my foot down on Carvalho – it was one of those moments when you’re not thinking.
‘I knew it was a red card and back in the dressing room I watched the rest of the game on a little TV, thinking: “If we win this, I’m suspended for a World Cup semi-final and final and if we lose it’s all my fault.” It was the worst, weirdest feeling I’ve had in football.
‘I had my phone in my hand and I was getting all these messages about Ronaldo. Of course, when he ran over to Elizondo to send me off I pushed him away. In that moment I couldn’t believe what he was doing. But sitting in that dressing room gave me time to calm down and think.
Rooney and Ronaldo cleared the air immediately after the game and went on to combine to devastating effect as United won the Premier League the following season
Rooney and Ronaldo scored 23 goals each the following season as United won the league
‘I put myself in Ronaldo’s shoes. Would I do the same? Probably. Would I be in the ref’s face to make sure he got sent off? If he deserved the red, if it would help us win – yes, no question. I’d do it tomorrow.
‘I thought: “Actually, I tried to get him booked in the first half for diving.” And the wink thing, I didn’t see anything in that at all, it was nothing.
‘So I calmed down. I went over to him afterwards in the tunnel. I felt it was important to speak to him while it was still fresh and to do it face to face.
‘He gave me a look as if to say sorry but by then I had my United head on. I said I’ve no issues with you. Enjoy your tournament and good luck. I’ll see you in a few weeks — and let’s go try and win the league.’
Rooney and Ronaldo quickly patched up any differences upon returning to club football, both scoring 23 goals the following season as United won the Premier League for the first time in four years and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Wayne Rooney insists he had no issue with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United following his infamous wink during England’s defeat to Portugal at the World Cup in 2006.
Rooney was sent off in the second half of the quarter-final tie by referee Horacio Elizondo, while Portugal progressed by beating England in the penalty shootout.
Ronaldo was one of the Portuguese players attempting to persuade the referee to give Rooney his marching orders, and after the red card, Ronaldo was seen winking at Portugal’s bench.
But Rooney has played down Ronaldo’s involvement and insists he would’ve done the same thing if the situation was reversed.
Ronaldo and Rooney would go on to win the Premier League the following season with Manchester United.
Rooney wrote in his column for the Sunday Times: ‘I knew it was a red card and back in the dressing room I watched the rest of the game on a little TV, thinking: “If we win this, I’m suspended for a World Cup semi-final and final and if we lose it’s my fault.”
‘It was the worst, weirdest feeling I’ve had in football.
‘I had my phone in my hand and I was getting all these messages about Ronaldo. Of course, when he ran over to ask Elizondo to send me off I pushed him away.
‘In that moment I couldn’t believe what he was doing. But sitting in that dressing room gave me time to calm down and think.
‘I put myself in Ronaldo’s shoes. Would I do the same? Probably. Would I be in the ref’s face to make sure he got sent off? If he deserved the red, if it would help us win – yes, no question.
‘I’d do it tomorrow. I thought: “Actually, I tried to get him booked in the first half for diving.” And the wink thing, I didn’t see anything in that at all. It was nothing.
‘So I calmed down. I went over to him afterwards in the tunnel. I felt it was important to speak to him while it was still fresh and to do it face to face. He gave me a look as if to say sorry but by then I had my United head on.
‘I said I’ve no issues with you. Enjoy your tournament and good luck. I’ll see you in a few weeks – and let’s go try and win the league.’
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Football in Nicaragua is enjoying a surge in popularity as one of the few national leagues where games are still ongoing but players in action there are concerned about the spread of the new coronavirus and say fear has changed the way they play.
“We try to avoid touching other players,” said Carlos Mosquera, goalkeeper with Deportivo Las Sabanas. “Football has changed, because you don’t go in for a 50-50 ball with the same intensity.
“The fear of what is happening in the world is always present. Mentally, you’re not focused on the game, you are always thinking that opponents may have the disease.”
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The Primera Liga de Nicaragua is one of only four leagues believed to have survived the coronavirus lockdown, along with those in Belarus, Burundi and Tajikistan.
Games in the Central American nation are being played behind closed doors but are being broadcast locally on television or live on Facebook.
The refusal to shut down has drawn global attention to football in a nation that has long preferred baseball, a sport that is also resisting a lockdown in Nicaragua. The secretary general of the Nicaraguan Football Federation, Jose Maria Bermudez, said fans from around the world are now tuning in to watch games and bet on them.
“We can tell from monitoring these things that more people are paying attention, particularly on betting sites,” Bermudez said in a phone interview. “It has no effect on us financially – people win or lose money, we don’t get more money – but we can see that people are following us because we are one of the few countries where football is still going on.”
Bermudez also said with live sport almost entirely absent from the world’s TV screens, at least one foreign company had been in touch with the local rights holder, state-run Canal 6, asking to broadcast Nicaraguan games live. That could result in a windfall for the unheralded league.
Bermudez stressed that the 10-team league has not decided to complete their season, merely “to keep playing for as long as the situation permits”.
There are five regular season matches to play before the top four teams go into a semi-final and final round play-off expected to begin in late April. He pointed out that Nicaragua has recorded only a handful of cases of the new coronavirus and no deaths so far.
“The situation here is almost normal, there are only four cases of coronavirus and three were imported,” Bermudez said. “We were given information by the health officials and we took a decision based on that. We are not the government, we run football. If things get worse or out of control we will have to suspend the tournament to protect lives.”
The number of confirmed cases had risen to five by Friday.
Players said they were not consulted about the decision to keep playing, which was taken after a meeting between the league and club owners, many of whom get financial support from the government of Nicaragua’s authoritarian president Daniel Ortega.
Ortega has insisted Nicaragua is taking the most sensible approach to dealing with the pandemic. Critics say he wants to show the world that life in Nicaragua continues as normal.
Washington imposed sanctions on Nicaragua following a crackdown on opposition protests in 2018. Some members of the European Union have accused Ortega of jailing and torturing political prisoners and banning human rights groups and media outlets, something the government denies.
Some players lined up for games this week wearing masks and gloves.
Players at Deportivo Las Sabanas club said they needed to keep playing to support their families, and half-jokingly said the newfound interest in Nicaraguan football could help win them a transfer to a bigger club.
Former England captain Wayne Rooney has slammed the government and the Premier League for placing the nation's top footballers in a "no-win situation" over the issue of pay cuts, branding their interventions "a disgrace".
Rooney, now playing in the Championship with Derby, also claimed his fellow professionals were being lined up as "easy targets" in the wider response to the coronavirus crisis.
The ex-Manchester United star made it clear he had both the means and the will to make significant financial contributions, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.
The Premier League's suggested 30 per cent wage cut or deferral strategy was discussed in a conference call with the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers Association on Saturday, but initial talks were already ongoing before key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, called for them to take action.
"If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I'd be proud to do so – as long as I knew where the money was going," wrote Rooney in an impassioned column in the Sunday Times.
"I'm in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?
"How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. First the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that Premier League players should take a pay cut.
"He was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we've faced in our lifetimes. Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his government's handling of this pandemic?"
Burnley chairman Mike Garlick claims his club will run out of money in August if the Premier League season has not resumed by then – meaning the Lancashire side could go bust.
The Premier League and EFL have suspended fixtures indefinitely as the UK has been placed into lockdown to halt the coronavirus spread.
It has still yet to be decided if the remaining matches will be scrapped or if the season will resume.
However, Garlick fears the worst for his club as a cancellation of the final nine games could be catastrophic.
The Burnley chief will miss out on £50million which could push them to the wall.
“The fact of the matter is, if we don’t finish the season and there isn’t a clear start date for next season, we, as a club, will run out of money by August,” Garlick told Sky Sports News.
“That is a fact. I can’t speak for other clubs, I don’t know their financial positions. All I can speak for us, our club and our position.
“That’s why we’re very determined that when of course it is safe to do so, we really want to finish this season.”
Garlick added: “We voted unanimously to finish the season, so it’s clear everyone wants to get the job done
“It is crystal clear that finishing the season is by far the best outcome for all the Premier League clubs.”
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Burnley are one of the better run clubs in the English top-flight and they never spend beyond their means.
The Clarets’ top transfer fee is still a modest £15million, which they paid for Chris Wood and again separately for Ben Gibson.
However, if the season ends prematurely it could have dire consequences.
A Burnley statement read: “Due to the continued suspension of Premier League games this presents some significant challenges for the football club.
“Burnley FC are set to lose around £5m in lost revenue from the remaining home games, which in the event that the season finishes would be unlikely to be recouped owing to the likely prospect of these fixtures being played behind closed doors.
“In addition, the Clarets face missing out cash payments from the Premier League of up to £45m in broadcasting revenue and other items if the season is not finished.
“It is believed that other clubs could be looking at up to a £100m shortfall.”