Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti with his players during training on Tuesday for the UEFA Super Cup clash against Eintracht Frankfurt at Helsinki Olympic Stadium. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 August 2022

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

  • There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain

MADRID: Real Madrid are hoping a summer of stability sets them up for a successful defense of the Spanish title as the season kicks off in La Liga this weekend, despite some eye-catching moves in the transfer market from Barcelona.

Madrid set the ball rolling on Wednesday against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup, as they target another trophy-laden campaign under Carlo Ancelotti following their league and Champions League double last season.

There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain.

Yet there have been no significant departures either, with the influence of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo having dramatically declined before they were all released.

That means Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, who turns 37 in September, will remain hugely influential.

Ancelotti can also expect the influence of the likes of Vinicius — whose goal won May’s Champions League final against Liverpool — Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga to increase this season.

And two significant signings have arrived.

France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, 22, has joined from Monaco for a fee of up to €100 million ($102m), while Germany center-back Antonio Rudiger, 29, joins on a free from Chelsea.

“I believe we’ve got two players who are among the best in the world in their role,” Ancelotti told UEFA.com.

“Their quality increases the team’s physical and technical ability.”

Real were champions by 13 points from Barcelona, and it would have been more had the Catalans not improved enormously in the second half of last season.

Xavi Hernandez has already made a big impact as coach at the Camp Nou and a raft of new recruits headed by Robert Lewandowski could help them bridge the gap to their bitter rivals.

Leeds United winger Raphinha and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie have also joined, while the defense should be greatly improved by the signings of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.

The problem is that, by the start of this week, Barca had still not been able to register their new recruits because they had not raised enough money to comply with spending restrictions imposed on the club by La Liga.

That is despite Barcelona’s board selling off assets, including 25 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros.

Twenty-five percent of their domestic television rights for quarter of a century have been sold to US investment fund Sixth Street for 400 million euros.

Those deals are on top of a sponsorship agreement with Spotify, and on Tuesday it was reported in Spain that Barcelona would sell another 25 percent of Barca Studios to an investment fund for 100 million euros in a bid to satisfy La Liga.

The club have also been pressuring midfielder Frenkie de Jong to leave in order to dispose of his salary.

There may be concerns about the long-term consequences of these deals for a club with reported debts of 1.3 billion euros, but if they can register the new recruits then they could also be a real force to be reckoned with.

“We have generated a lot of hopeful anticipation. We have lots of hope too,” admitted Xavi. “Our objective this year is to win titles and play good football.”

If Barcelona cannot close the gap to Real then it appears unlikely anyone else can, with Atletico Madrid not looking significantly stronger than last year, when they finished third.

Luis Suarez has returned to his native Uruguay and Antoine Griezmann’s form is uncertain, although Axel Witsel reinforces their midfield and Argentine international Nahuel Molina adds quality at right-back.

On top of that, they still have Diego Simeone.

Sevilla came fourth last season, securing Champions League qualification at the expense of city rivals Real Betis, who won the Copa del Rey.

While Sevilla have signed Isco, they have lost two outstanding center-backs, with Kounde departing and Diego Carlos going to Aston Villa.

It was notable that the latter preferred to join a mid-table Premier League club rather than stay and play in the Champions League.

That reflected English football’s pulling power, while Goncalo Guedes, Valencia’s top scorer last season, has gone to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Saudi-owned Almeria are back in La Liga after seven years, with Real Valladolid and Girona the other newly-promoted teams.


CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup

Updated 30 September 2022

CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup

  • CAS said it registered appeals by the Chilean and Peruvian soccer federations against a FIFA ruling this month
  • Chile officials claim to have documents proving Castillo is actually Colombian

LAUSANNE, Switzerland: Sport’s highest court has been asked to judge a case that aims to remove Ecuador from the World Cup by no later than Nov. 10.
Just 10 days before the team should face host Qatar in the opening game.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said it registered appeals by the Chilean and Peruvian soccer federations against a FIFA ruling this month that Ecuador defender Byron Castillo was in fact eligible to play in the eight qualifying games he was selected for.
CAS gave no timetable for appointing judges and organizing a hearing, though said both parties appealing asked for a final award by Nov. 10.
Chile officials claim to have documents proving Castillo is actually Colombian and that Ecuador should forfeit all eight games he played in as 3-0 losses.
That legal argument was dismissed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee in June and upheld by FIFA appeal judges two weeks ago.
Ecuador placed fourth in the South American qualifying group in March and claimed a direct World Cup entry. Days later they was drawn into Group A with Qatar – playing the host on Nov. 20 in Doha — Netherlands and Senegal.
If the qualifying games were forfeited, the revised points totals would lift Chile to fourth from seventh.
Peru placed fifth and have asked CAS to get Ecuador’s entry as the next highest placed South American team. Peru already lost an intercontinental playoff to Australia in June.


France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury

Updated 30 September 2022

France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury

  • Kamara was injured while playing for Aston Villa against Southampton this month

BIRMINGHAM, England: France midfielder Boubacar Kamara has been ruled out of the World Cup after sustaining knee ligament damage.
Kamara was injured while playing for Aston Villa in a 1-0 win against Southampton this month.
The 22-year-old Kamara was picked in France’s Nations League games this month but had to withdraw.
Villa manager Steven Gerrard confirmed the extent of Kamara’s injury on Friday ahead of an English Premier League game against Leeds on Sunday.
“Bouba will be missing until after the World Cup unfortunately, so that’s a huge blow,” Gerrard said.
Kamara joined Villa from Marseille on a free transfer in July and has started every game.
He forced his way into Didier Deschamps’ plans to successfully defend the World Cup.


IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians

Updated 30 September 2022

IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians

  • “It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” said Bach
  • Most sports followed International Olympic Committee advice in February and banned Russian team and athletes from their events

GENEVA: Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.
“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”
Most sports followed International Olympic Committee advice in February and banned Russian team and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.
With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.
In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.
“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”
Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.
Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Evgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.
Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.
In athletics, Russians have competed since 2015 only as neutrals approved by the sport’s governing body because of the state-backed doping scandal which tainted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Bach and the IOC faced criticism in fallout from the scandal for not being strict enough with Russian athletes who competed at each Olympics since 2016 with extra vetting of their drug testing or as neutrals without their national team name, flag and anthem.
Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”
“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested.
“We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”
Bach was in Rome also for a sports forum hosted by the Vatican, where Pope Francis praised sports as “an educational and social good and it must remain so.”
“We should be committed to giving everyone the opportunity to play sports,” the pope said, “to cultivate — one could say to be ‘trained’ in — the values of sport and transform them into virtues.”
Vatican officials previously have said they would like to one day field a team recognized by the IOC in the Olympics.


Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form

Updated 30 September 2022

Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form

  • England international Maguire has been dropped at club level and is fighting for his place at the World Cup
  • Ten Hag is adamant protections are in place for all players and committed himself to returning Maguire to his finest form

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has revealed measures are in place to protect players’ mental health at a time when club captain Harry Maguire has been the subject of intense criticism.
England international Maguire has been dropped at club level and is fighting for his place at the World Cup following an alarming dip in form.
It has seen him suffer growing abuse on social media and raised questions about his future at United.
But Ten Hag is adamant protections are in place for all players and committed himself to returning Maguire to his finest form.
Addressing concerns over the 29-year-old defender’s mental health, the United manager said: “But it’s an aspect of top football. It’s an aspect of our work. We set conditions for that, to manage it.
“We also have experts around to help, to coach the players, the team in the right direction.
“I think he is doing quite well, but every player has room for improvement and if he believes in his skills he will quickly be back on the level and even more than he did. I am convinced of that because I see his capabilities and it’s really high.”
Maguire has endured a miserable start to the season – losing his place to Raphael Varane at United, before making high-profile mistakes in England’s 3-3 draw with Germany on Monday.
It prompted the center back to publicly apologize on Instagram, adding: “The tough times will make us stronger.”
Fellow defender Luke Shaw aired his own concerns for his club and international teammate.
“He’s taken a lot of stick — probably more than I’ve ever seen before in football,” Shaw told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Everybody knows he’s an unbelievable player. At the moment the confidence might not be there because it could feel like the whole world is against him.”
United legend Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “Feel for Harry . . . every mistake being punished and scrutinized — comes with the territory though.
“Needs to be strong mentally to get through this!”
Maguire is out of Sunday’s derby against Manchester City with a thigh injury – but is unlikely to have started even if fit after being dropped following the 4-0 defeat to Brentford last month.
Ten Hag had initially shown faith in him when retaining him as captain after taking over the club at the end of last season.
And he insists he still has belief in the player.
“First of all, of course I have to coach him,” he said. “I have to back him. But I back him because I believe in him.
“In the period I worked with him in pre-season was good. Really good, training and games. So then he fell out — but it’s also to do with the good performance of the center backs who are playing now. But I can see even after he wasn’t in the team he trained really well, but more important, the quality was there.
“You see his career, almost 50 caps for England. For Leicester and Man United he’s performing really well. What you see is he has a high potential. Then it is about him.
“The players in the dressing room, the coaches, the manager, we all believe in him. Now it is about him. That’s what I told him. I’m sure he can do it. He will turn around this. I am really convinced of that.”


Everton fined for field invasions last season

Updated 30 September 2022

Everton fined for field invasions last season

  • The club were fined $334,000 for on-field invasions during and after a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace on May 19
  • The dramatic victory secured top-flight safety for Frank Lampard’s team

LIVERPOOL, England: Everton are counting the cost of the jubilant but raucous scenes sparked after they avoided relegation from the English Premier League last season.
The club were fined 300,000 pounds ($334,000) for on-field invasions during and after a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace on May 19.
The dramatic victory secured top-flight safety for Frank Lampard’s team – and prompted wild celebrations at their Goodison Park home.
Fans ran onto the field when Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck a late winner. Everton had been trailing 2-0 at halftime and was closer to relegation from the league for the first time in their history.
Supporters ran on again after the final whistle, with one involved in an ugly altercation with Palace manager Patrick Vieira.
Everton were charged with misconduct in July, and on Friday the English Football Association confirmed sanctions imposed by an independent regulatory commission.
“Everton FC admitted failing to ensure that their spectators – and all persons purporting to be their supporters or followers – conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and refrained from using threatening and violent behavior whilst encroaching onto the pitch area,” the FA said in a statement.