Midfielder Marco Verratti could be set for a summer move to a “top European club” after his agent rated his chances of remaining with Paris Saint Germain next season as “very complicated”.
“It’s a very complicated situation, in spite of his contract with the club until 2021,” Verratti’s agent Donato Di Campli told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday.
“He wants to win trophies, and PSG, as they are now, can’t win.
“He’s been with Paris for five years and now he’s starting to wonder whether it’s better earning a lot (of money) and not winning anything, or to start winning trophies.”
Verratti has won four consecutive league titles with the Ligue 1 giants since joining the club from Pescara, in the process forging a reputation as one of the best creative midfielders in the world.
But PSG’s failure to make an impact in Europe, in spite of huge investment by the club’s Qatari owners, has left the 24-year-old midfielder disillusioned.
Poised to cruise into the last eight of the Champions League following a sensational 4-0 rout of Barcelona in the first leg of their last 16 clash, PSG were dramatically overhauled 6-1 in the second leg less than a fortnight ago.
It was hailed as one of the most remarkable comebacks in sport, but left Verratti with doubts over his commitment to Unai Emery’s side.
Reports in Italy claim Verratti, who has never played in Serie A, could join Juventus. On their way to a record sixth consecutive Serie A title, the Turin giants will also meet Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals.
But Di Campli added: “There are a few interested (clubs) in Italy, but I have doubts that will be his final destination.
“It’s not about money: whichever club takes Verratti will pay him well. Because, I can tell you this for certain: if he leaves PSG it will be for a top European club.”
Asked if Verratti would head to Spain, England or Germany, his agent said: “A top European club.”
Ex-coach Bennell denies 20 child sex offences
Former Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell denied 20 child sex offences at a court appearance in northwest England on Wednesday.
The 63-year-old appeared via video-link from prison at Chester Crown Court.
He had previously denied eight of the charges, but entered 12 more not guilty pleas after more charges were made against him.
Bennell was charged with 14 counts of indecent assault, five counts of buggery and one count of attempted buggery.
The charges relate to four male complainants who were all aged under 16 at the time of the alleged offences, said to have taken place between 1980 and 1987.
The case was adjourned until a hearing at Liverpool Crown on July 3.
The judge, Roger Dutton, said a trial was likely to take place in Liverpool next January.
Bennell will remain in custody until then.
Ibrahimovic says row with Guardiola still riles him
Manchester United’s mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic revealed on Wednesday that his fallout with former FC Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola in the 2009-10 season still riles him up.
It was Guardiola, at present in charge of Mancheter City, who brought Ibrahimovic to Barcelona in 2009. But the duo fell out, resulting in the Swedish superstar being loaned to AC Milan after only a season before he could make the move permanent.
In an interview with Fabio Capello on Fox Sports Italia, Ibrahimovic said on Tuesday: “I learned from Barcelona, both on and off the pitch. I learned that in football any situation can change in 24 hours.”
“The problem wasn’t with me, it was with him, and he never came to terms with it. I don’t know what his problem was with me. It is something that drives me, gives me adrenaline and extra motivation. It is normal after what has happened. I’m using it as a positive, not negative.”
United play arch-rivals City at the Etihad Stadium on April 27. The English Premier League (EPL) fixture is being tipped as an important clash for the race to finish in top-four.
Currently, City are third with 57 points from 28 matches while United under Jose Mounriho are fifth having 52 in their kitty from 27 matches.
Liverpool great Moran dies aged 83
Former Liverpool captain, coach and caretaker manager Ronnie Moran has died aged 83, his son Paul announced on Wednesday.
“I am devastated to tell everyone on behalf of the family that my dad passed away this morning after a short illness,” Paul Moran said on Twitter.
Moran spent his entire playing career at Liverpool between 1952 and 1968, making 379 appearances, and served as a coach under managers including Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish.
Known as ‘Bugsy’, he had two spells as caretaker manager during the early 1990s and had spent 49 years at the club by the time he retired in 1998.
“Liverpool Football Club is deeply saddened by the passing of Ronnie Moran,” the club said in a statement.
“Ronnie is fondly remembered for his 49 years of service to Liverpool, during which time he represented the club with distinction as a player, coach, physio, reserve-team coach, assistant manager and caretaker manager.
“The thoughts of everyone at Liverpool Football Club are with Ronnie’s wife Joyce, his children, family and many friends.”
Born locally in Crosby, Moran joined Liverpool on a part-time basis in 1949 and became an ever-present at left-back under Shankly, winning two league titles and the FA Cup.
Moran was invited to join Liverpool’s coaching staff by legendary manager Shankly and became a member of the fabled Anfield Boot Room, the name given to the club’s coaching unit.
His time on the back-room staff coincided with the greatest period in the club’s history as Liverpool won 11 league titles and four European Cups.
He was twice called upon to become caretaker manager, following Dalglish’s resignation in 1991 and then during Graeme Souness’s recovery from major heart surgery in 1992.
A regular visitor to Anfield and the club’s Melwood training ground, he was diagnosed with vascular dementia last year.
Former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton said the news was “devastating”.
“He was such a key member of Liverpool for so many years,” Houghton told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“He would have done anything for the club. He loved everything about Liverpool Football Club.”
Former Liverpool manager Roy Evans, who worked with Moran for many years, said: “Liverpool and the fans will remember him for the great man that he was and he’ll be sadly missed.
“Ronnie Moran is one of the greats of Liverpool.”
Tight security for tense China v S.Korea qualifier
Chinese authorities have stepped up security for Thursday’s tense World Cup qualifier against South Korea, whose fans will receive a police escort after protests over Seoul’s decision to deploy a controversial missile defence system.
The clash between the neighbouring countries is the most anticipated of Thursday’s Asian games, which also include Australia’s trip to face Iraq and Japan’s revenge mission against United Arab Emirates.
But the match in Changsha takes place at a time of considerable bad blood with South Korea, which angered China when it agreed to deploy a US missile defence system in response to concern over the growing missile threat from North Korea.
The Chinese team’s parlous position raises the stakes still further: they are rock-bottom of Group A and staring at elimination from the Russia 2018 World Cup -- despite the government’s no-expense-spared drive to turn the country into a football powerhouse.
Chinese officials have urged fans to “display rational patriotism” for the game against South Korea, who are second in the group and whose supporters have been warned to stick together for their own safety.
“Treat victory like defeat with reason. Express your emotions in a civilised and peaceful way,” the Hunan Sports Administration said.
“Don’t display insulting slogans.”
The Chinese government fears the missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, could undermine its own nuclear deterrent.
Its deployment sparked a backlash against Korean retail giant Lotte, which has been forced to shut dozens of stores in China, while a survey indicated China has overtaken wartime coloniser Japan in a list of South Koreans’ most disliked countries.
- ‘Don’t be intimidated’ -
The political row is an added irritant for Chinese supporters who have watched their team struggle in the final qualifying pool, with no wins in their five games and only two goals so far.
China’s World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, hired together with his team on reported pay of $20 million euros a year, knows his 86th-ranked team’s chances of qualifying are slim.
Only the top two in the six-team group gain automatic entry to next year’s World Cup, with the third-placed side going into a play-off series, meaning defeat in Changsha would leave China in need of a miracle.
The Chinese side has only won once in 31 attempts against South Korea, and although they caused a few jitters in their 3-2 defeat in Seoul in September, they haven’t scored in their four qualifiers since.
“If you look at the group standings and head-to-head record, we have superior results against China,” said South Korea’s coach Uli Stielike, according to Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“I asked our players not to be intimidated and keep the ball in possession.”
Helong Stadium, the venue for Thursday’s match, has stepped up security ahead of the match. On Wednesday afternoon, a three-metre high fence surrounded the training pitches behind the venue, which was patrolled by groups of as many as 20 security guards.
About 180 South Korean supporters are expected at the stadium, and they have been urged to take “extra caution” to avoid causing trouble.
“South Koreans staying in or visiting China must ensure they cheer on the national team in as orderly a fashion as possible,” South Korea’s embassy in Beijing said in a safety warning to fans, Yonhap reported.
- Police escort -
The Korea Football Association said Chinese police would escort South Korean spectators, who had agreed to travel together and only wear their official “supporters’ uniform” inside the stadium.
“For our players, they will receive the usual protection involving police officers when they travel from the airport to the hotel and to the match venue,” said Seol Dong-Cheol, spokesman for the KFA.
South Korea will be without suspended Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min, while Lippi has called up Vitesse Arnhem striker Zhang Yuning.
Meanwhile in Group B, UAE-hosted Japan are looking to build on their shock 2-1 win over the four-time Asian champions in Saitama in September.
“All we’re thinking about is beating Japan again because that’s the key to qualifying for the World Cup,” said UAE midfielder and Asian player of the year Omar Abdulrahman, according to the FIFA website.
Asian title-holders Australia play Iraq in Tehran looking to climb into Group B’s top two places, currently occupied by Saudi Arabia and Japan.