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Henry worried about Monaco’s future more than his own

With his team still struggling, the high-profile tactician says a call on his future was in the owners’ hands. Under-fire Monaco boss Thierry Henry has insisted he is more concerned about the club’s future than rumours surrounding his coaching tenure.

Struggling in Ligue 1’s relegation zone with a three-point gap from safety, Monaco also bowed out of the Coupe de France with a 3-1 loss to Metz on Tuesday.

Henry only took over at his former club in October, but he has been unable to turn around their struggles this season, with the team only managing to win three of their 21 league matches. However, the Frenchman said any decision over his future was in the owners’ hands, with his sole focus on getting Monaco to safety.

“My future? Owners would decide when they need to decide. I am more worried for Monaco’s future. I already said that,” Henry told a news conference.

“I will repeat. No need to always ask the same question, I would answer the same thing – Atletico Madrid have been relegated in the 90s with stronger players than us. [Real] Zaragoza as well more recently as you know. I could talk about all the leagues. We are in this situation, even if it was Coupe de France and now we are out but this weekend against Dijon in Ligue 1 it’s going to be war.”

Monaco face fellow Ligue 1 strugglers Dijon on Saturday and have the ability to leap over their opponents into 18th position with a victory.

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Barcelona make bumper offer to land De Jong

The Spanish giants are confident their huge wage package will ensure they win the race to sign the talented Dutchman.

Barcelona are ready to pay Frenkie de Jong €16 million (£14m/$18m) a year in order to beat a host of rivals to the young Ajax midfielder’s signature. The 21-year-old is one of Europe’s most sought-after young players after impressing in the Ajax midfield since making his debut in 2016.

De Jong’s profile increased still further when he broke into the Netherlands side earlier this campaign and it seems a big-money move is not far away. Barcelona have long been linked with a move for the talented youngster but face competition from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

Man City were previously thought to be leading the race after telling Ajax they were willing to pay €70m plus €20m in bonuses to sign De Jong. However, the Catalan club see De Jong as a key player for the future and are ready to offer bumper personal terms in order to edge ahead of the Premier League champions in the race to sign him.

Barca are willing to offer De Jong a net salary of €10m per season, plus €6m more in relatively easy-to-achieve bonuses based on trophies and appearances. That would represent a break in their policy of offering young players such high wages but reflects how highly the club’s board rate De Jong and their determination to sign him.

The offer is so good that even De Jong is said to be surprised at how much the Blaugranes are prepared to pay in order to take him to Catalonia. PSG and Man City remain in the hunt for De Jong  Barcelona are confident the midfielder and his agent are happy with their offer and that he would prefer a move to Camp Nou.

Once they are confident of landing De Jong, Ernesto Valverde’s side are ready to open negotiations with Ajax and would have no issue paying in excess of the reported €70m transfer fee. De Jong admitted last week that he was growing tired of the speculation about his future and was eager to make a decision quickly and it seems his new club could be decided very soon.

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Higuain’s Chelsea move on with Piatek set for Milan medical

The Genoa forward is closing in on a move to the Rossoneri, who will in turn allow the Argentine to join up with his former boss Maurizio Sarri. Genoa striker Krzysztof Piatek is set for a medical at Milan on Wednesday morning. With the Polish striker joining the Rossoneri, on-loan forward Gonzalo Higuain will be clear to complete his long-rumoured move to Chelsea.

Chelsea will land Higuain on a six-month loan with an option to buy the striker outright at season’s end for £32.5 million (€36m).  Higuain spent the first half of the season with Milan on loan from Juventus, with the Rossoneri keen to find a replacement before sanctioning the Argentine’s move to Stamford Bridge.

That replacement will come in the form of Piatek, who has shot to prominence this term by scoring 19 goals in 21 games with Genoa.  Milan will reportedly pay €35 million (£31m/$40m) to land the 23-year-old Polish international, who has been compared to his countryman Robert Lewandowski.

Piatek and Higuain were both left out for their respective sides on Monday, as Milan defeated Genoa 2-0 in Serie A action.  Prior to the match, Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso lamented the way Higuain had been affected by consistent talk of him joining his former manager Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.

“I want to be honest with you all. We had a poor training session today due to all these rumours,” Gattuso said.

“We spoke after the training session and I did not consider him [Higuain] ready for this game. I accept his decision. Surely he could have done more and maybe we could have helped him fit in better.”

Higuain has not hit his usual goalscoring standards this term, netting just eight times in all competitions for the Rossoneri.  He will look to reignite a Chelsea attack that has suffered as Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata have failed to hit top form at the striker position this term.

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Spurs injury misery continues as Alli ruled out until March

The England international joins Harry Kane on the sidelines after limping off against Fulham on Sunday. Tottenham have confirmed that Dele Alli will be out until March with a hamstring injury suffered during their weekend win at Fulham. The England international scored the equaliser at Craven Cottage before being forced off in the 86th minute in Sunday’s 2-1 victory.

Scans have since confirmed he has suffered a hamstring strain and will likely not resume training for six weeks.

A Tottenham statement read: “Following scans and clinical assessment, we can confirm that Dele Alli has suffered a hamstring strain, sustained during Sunday’s match.

“Dele will now undergo a period of rehabilitation with our medical staff, with the expectation of returning to training in early March.”

Reacting to the injury on Twitter, Alli said: “Gutted. I will do everything in my power to return as quick as possible. Thank you for all the messages.”

The former MK Dons midfielder will miss at least eight fixtures across four competitions over the next six weeks. The 22-year-old will miss the Carabao Cup final on February 24 should Tottenham progress past Chelsea in the semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.

He will also miss the first leg of Tottenham’s Champions League last-16 tie against Borussia Dortmund on February 13. There is also an FA Cup fourth round trip to Crystal Palace and up to five Premier League fixtures that Alli could miss. Given he is only expected to resume training at the start of March, Alli will also face a struggle to be fit for the north London derby against Arsenal on March 2 and the second leg against Dortmund three days later.

The news is a further blow to manager Mauricio Pochettino with England captain Harry Kane also ruled out until March with an ankle injury suffered against Manchester United earlier this month. Lucas Moura is also currently sidelined with a knee problem while Heung-min Son is away with South Korea at the Asian Cup, leaving Pochettino desperately short of forward options.

The club also allowed Mousa Dembele to leave for Chinese side Guangzhou R&F last week. Tottenham have yet to make a first-team signing this season and it remains to be seen whether the club will now feel compelled to enter the market to ease their growing injury crisis.

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Ronaldo fined €19m for tax fraud, avoids jail

Cristiano Ronaldo was fined almost €19 million ($21.6 million) for tax fraud on Tuesday but will avoid serving a 23-month prison sentence.

The Juventus forward, who played for Real Madrid from 2009 to 2018, agreed to settle the case by paying an €18.8m fine and accepting a suspended jail sentence. Under Spanish law, a first offender can serve anything less than a two-year sentence under probation, and Ronaldo will not have to go to prison.

His court appearance lasted about 15 minutes, as he only needed to sign off on the previously settled agreement. Ronaldo had to enter the courtroom through the front door after his request for special security measures to avoid the spotlight was denied on Monday.

In 2017, Ronaldo denied an accusation that he knowingly used a business structure to hide income generated by his image rights in Spain between 2011 and 2014. After reaching the deal, he paid a fine of €5.7m, plus interest of about €1m, in July 2018, the prosecutor’s office said last week.

Prosecutors had requested for Ronaldo to be handed a 23-month prison sentence. At his initial trial in July 2017, Ronaldo testified and said he strongly rejected any wrongdoingand told the judge he felt victimised by the Spanish authorities.

According to the prosecutor’s report, Ronaldo “obtained significant income” from image rights between 2011 and 2014 and “should have paid tax in his subsequent declarations” to the Spanish authorities but failed to do so.

He departed Madrid last summer after nine seasons at the club to join Juventus in a €100m transfer. The former Manchester United player claimed that the treatment received by the Spanish authorities played a part in his desire to leave Madrid. Ronaldo earns an estimated $93m (€80m) a year, according to Forbes, with approximately half coming from image-rights deals with his many sponsors.

Separately, Ronaldo is facing a rape allegation in the United States. Kathryn Mayorga filed a civil lawsuit in Nevada in September claiming Ronaldo raped her in his Las Vegas hotel room in 2009. Police reopened an investigation into the allegation at her request. Ronaldo has denied any wrongdoing.

The trial of Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid teammate Xabi Alonso, also in court on Tuesday over accusations of tax fraud, was suspended, a court magistrate said. Alonso said he was confident he had not committed a crime and would have to wait while the magistrates evaluated his case.

“I’d be worried if I thought I had something to hide or something I didn’t do right, but as that isn’t the case I am carrying on,” Alonso told reporters outside the court.

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Sarri and I share ‘same footballing ideas’ – Hazard

Eden Hazard has told France Football he wanted to leave Chelsea last summer, but has also not ruled out staying with the club with he and coach Maurizio Sarri sharing “the same footballing ideas.”

Hazard said that in Sarri — unlike more-pragmatic predecessors such as Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte — he has found someone who, like himself, values plaudits more than prizes, which the Belgian concedes “perhaps sets me apart among the best players in the world.”

“We have the same footballing ideas,” Hazard said of Sarri, who has seen his star midfielder produce 10 goals and as many assists in 22 top-flight outings this season to keep Chelsea in the hunt for a top-four finish.

“He’s close to the game. The coaches before were perhaps a bit less so. For them, it was more important to win, to defend well. Even if, for him too, you have to defend well. Training sessions aren’t easy, we go over the same things a lot. But once out there on the pitch for 90 minutes he wants us to have the ball.”

Nonetheless, Hazard’s future in unclear. After helping Belgium to a best-ever third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, he was widely expected to end his six-year stay at Chelsea with Real Madrid the favourites to sign him.

Hazard replied “Why not?” when asked whether he would be happy to move to the reigning European champions. But as he and Chelsea dance carefully around an extension to his current deal, which expires in 18 months, the 28-year-old is keeping all his options open.

“I’ve seen all there is to see, I’ve won everything here, the two cups, the league, apart from the Community Shield, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave,” Hazard said.

“I have always said that after England, I wanted to discover something else. But there are things that could make me stay too.”

He added: “I’m not far off the peak of my career, that’s sure. Even if things can always be better, that’s for sure too. I’m at a crossroads, yes. We’re going to take the right turn.”

One of the factors that could keep Hazard in a Blue shirt would be the £300,000-a-week Chelsea are reportedly ready to pay him to prolong his association with the club he joined in 2012 from Lille.

But Hazard claimed he is more interested in entertaining than money or even winning, citing the recent 1-0 Carabao Cup semifinal first-leg defeat to Tottenham as a match in which he “wasn’t happy, because we had lost but deep down inside, I was happy with my performance and our performance.”

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Barcelona sign Kevin-Prince Boateng on loan

Barcelona have signed Sassuolo’s Kevin-Prince Boateng on loan until the end of the season, the clubs announced on Monday. Boateng’s deal includes a fee of €1 million and has an €8m option to make the move permanent in the summer.

It added: “During his time with Las Palmas with Quique Setien as coach he played as an out and out striker, a typical No. 9.

“However, he is also able to play further back as he did at AC Milan, scoring twice against Barça in his time with the Rossoneri. His ability to bring people into the game means he is excellent at playing behind the main striker.”

Sassuolo hailed the move as another positive step in their relationship with the Camp Nou side.

“This furthers the profitable relationship between Barcelona and Sassuolo, born this summer as part of the buying and selling of the footballer Marlon,” read a statement on the Serie A club’s website. “The Catalan club thank the Italian club for their openness in conducting these negotiations.

“The Italian club, on their part, express how very proud they are to be able to continue this relationship with one of the biggest and most prestigious clubs in the world.”

Before the deal was announced, Boateng told Sky Sport Italia that he’d already bid farewell to Sassuolo leadership.

“I’m a bit sad because I’m leaving a professionally-run club in Sassuolo and it was hard to say goodbye to everybody today, even if Barcelona are one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Boateng told the outlet.

“It was a testing day, but saying goodbye to my teammates, [sporting director Giovanni] Carnevali and the coach meant so much to me. I’ve got a lot of respect for this side and that is why I had to say my goodbyes in person.”

Boateng, 31, arrives to bolster Barca’s forward line after the sale of Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla earlier this month. Munir’s exit left the La Liga leaders without a backup for Luis Suarez and coach Ernesto Valverde has been open about his desire for the club to add another body in January. A number of options were looked at but ruled out for various reasons.

Girona’s Cristhian Stuani was deemed too expensive as a short-term option, Alvaro Morata preferred a move to Atletico Madrid where he’s been guaranteed more football and Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela was discarded at the last minute because he’s not played competitively since November.

Boateng’s arrival is even more timely given confirmation that Ousmane Dembele is set to be sidelined for the next 15 days with a sprained ankle. The France forward’s injury further reduces Valverde’s attacking options going into the two-legged Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Sevilla and league games against Girona and Valencia.

After starting his career at Hertha Berlin, in the city where he was born, Boateng, whose brother Jerome plays for Bayern Munich, has spent time in England, Italy, Spain and back in Germany. Following spells with Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Portsmouth, he played some of the best football of his career during a three-year stint with Milan between 2010 and 2013.

Since then, he’s represented Schalke, Milan (again), Las Palmas, Frankfurt and Sassuolo, who he joined last summer. In 15 appearances for the Italian side this season, operating primarily as a centre-forward, he’s impressed, scoring five goals despite a period out injured.

While not an obvious January signing for the La Liga leaders, he fits all the requirements the club had drawn up. He has top-level experience, knowledge of the Spanish league, is prepared to accept a backup role and is available for relatively cheap on a short-term deal.

The signing of Boateng could also have repercussions elsewhere at Barca. Denis Suarez, despite Valverde’s reluctance to let him go, is still keen on a move to Arsenal, while the club are open to offers for Brazil forward Malcom.

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Bolt: Pro football dream ‘was fun while it lasted’

Jamaican sprint great Usain Bolt has signalled that his hopes of a professional football career are over, saying: “It was fun while it lasted.”

Bolt has had several stints in training and on trial at clubs around the world. Most notably, he scored twice in a friendly match for Central Coast Marinersbut was unable to agree a contract with the Australian club.

“I don’t want to say it wasn’t dealt with properly, but I think we went about it, not the way we should and you learn your lesson, you live and you learn,” he said.

“It was a good experience. I really enjoyed just being in a team and it was different from track and field and it was fun while it lasted.”

As well as his time at the Mariners, Bolt has trained with Norwegian team Stromsgodset and German giants Borussia Dortmund in his quest to become a professional footballer. Bolt rejected an offer from Maltese club Valletta shortly before his time with the Mariners came to an end.

The 32-year-old, who won multiple Olympic sprint gold medals in Beijing, London and Rio, said his focus now was on his business endeavours. He said: “I’m just doing many different things … the sports life is over, so I’m now moving into different businesses, I have a lot of things in the pipeline, so as I say, I’m just dabbling in everything and trying to be a business man now.”

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Chelsea agree loan-to-buy £48.5m Morata deal with Atletico

The Blues striker is closing in on a move back to his hometown as he looks to escape his Stamford Bridge nightmare. Chelsea have reached an agreement with Atletico Madrid to allow Alvaro Morata to leave on loan, with the Liga club having a £48.5 million ($62m) option to sign the striker on a permanent basis.

Morata had already reached an agreement with Atletico Madrid over his personal terms last week and he is willing to accept a lower contract than his current £120,000 per week Chelsea deal upon the activation of an option to buy. Offloading the 26-year-old striker is also a major step in Chelsea’s bid to take over AC Milan’s loan deal for Gonzalo Higuain, with the Blues having already reached an agreement with the Argentine forward’s parent club Juventus.

Like Morata, Higuain has been left out of his team’s latest match, with Milan due to play Genoa on Monday, after Chelsea agreed a six-month loan deal with an option to extend it or sign the striker outright for £32.5 million ($42m).

They will also pay Juventus on the basis of appearances, goals and season’s achievements over the six-month period that they are loaning Higuain for. Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek is set to replace Higuain at the San Siro and a £35m ($45m) deal is expected to be reached in the next 48 hours, according to the selling club’s sporting director Giorgio Perinetti.

“After today’s match against Milan, we will meet them and reach an agreement in the next 48 hours, whether he leaves or not,” said Perinetti. “We spoke with Gazidis and Leonardo for two hours and we still need to evaluate the counterparts in the deal. This is why the deal has not been finalised yet as we need to analyse whether it will be functional for our transfer market session.”

The movement of strikers across Europe is part of a bigger picture as major clubs look to ensure they are not left without a reliable forward option for the rest of the season.

This is what has led to Michy Batshuayi’s proposed loan move being held up, as Chelsea look to explore opportunities to cash in, with a £40m ($51m) valuation being placed on the Belgium international, who endured a disappointing first half of the season on loan at Valencia.

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Neymar: I struggled to adapt to life in Paris

Neymar has said he struggled to adapt to life in Paris after his world record €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017. The Brazil international scored twice in the weekend’s 9-0 demolition of Guingamp, meaning he has 13 Ligue 1 goals in as many games. Speaking to Canal+ during PSG’s midseason trip to Qatar, Neymar said he now felt at home in the French capital.

“Adapting to Ligue 1 was easier than I expected — it was more straightforward because it resembles La Liga a lot,” he said.

“I had a bit of difficulty adapting to the city and I suffered a little. Now I feel at home.”

Neymar also addressed ongoing speculation over his future amid links with Real Madrid, saying it was something he has dealt with since the start of his career.

“There is always speculation about me,” he said. “Since I became a professional football player, there has been speculation that I was going to leave one club for another — not always concrete. As soon as something is certain, rest assured I will speak with everybody.”

Neymar was accused of simulation during the World Cup in Russia, but said he had been on the receiving end of some bad challenges.

“I suffered a lot of fouls during the World Cup,” he said. “If you watched these moments, most of the time it was a foul. At no time was it simulation — I suffered nothing but fouls.”

He praised coach Thomas Tuchel, saying: “There is friendship with the coach, but a mutual respect at the same time. I respect him as a coach but, when you have to speak with each other, you speak. Since we first spoke, I have developed great affection for him. When you feel this sort of affection towards your coach, you give your life for them on the pitch.”

Neymar stressed that PSG wanted to win the Champions League as soon as possible, saying “every player has dreams about that.”

“We know that it is very difficult, very complicated, but we have the team to do it,” he added.

“It is not easy to say what PSG is missing to go further in the Champions League. You have to grow at the right moment of the competition and that moment is now — the knockout rounds.”

Meanwhile, PSG captain Thiago Silva told TF1 his compatriot was back to his best after a difficult period with injuries.

“Neymar is a technical leader,” he said. “He can make the difference for us at any minute, like Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani. This campaign, he has come back stronger and he is already at a very high level — I hope that he can continue like this until the end of term.”