Barcelona’s Messi: I would be thrilled if Neymar came back

Neymar of Brazil during the international friendly match between Brazil and Peru on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

Barcelona’s Messi: I would be thrilled if Neymar came back

BARCELONA, ROME: Barcelona captain Lionel Messi would be “thrilled” if Neymar returned to the Catalan side but insisted they could still win trophies without the Brazilian.

In an interview with the Catalan newspaper Sport this week, Messi said the return of Neymar, who was at Barca from 2013 and 2017 when he left for Paris Saint-Germain, could only strengthen the Spanish champions.

“I would be thrilled if Neymar came back,” said the Argentine.

“I understand that not everyone agrees. That’s normal after everything that happened around Ney, the way in which he left, the way he abandoned us. “But when you look at the sporting angle, for me Neymar is one of the best players in the world and obviously would improve our chances of getting the results we want.”

The summer transfer window saw an on-off soap opera surrounding the 27-year-old’s apparent desire to leave PSG, who paid a world record €222 million ($264 million at the time) in 2017, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both linked.

Ultimately he stayed in the French capital, at least for the time being.

“I am not disappointed,” said Messi. “I would have liked it if he had come and been with us but, as I have said, we have an exceptional squad to challenge for every title, even without him.”

Messi denied reports he had used his influence to try and force the Barcelona board to push through the deal.

“Here, it is not me that gives the orders,” he said. “We never said that he had to be brought in. We didn’t make any demands.”

“I don’t know if the club (Barcelona) wanted it to happen. What I do know is that Neymar really wanted it. But I understand it is very difficult to negotiate with PSG.”

Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Friday Neymar “did everything” to force through a return to the Camp Nou in the close season, but his club could “not meet” the French champions’ demands.

 

Man United, Arsenal castoffs find new homes in Serie A

Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling.

The names read like a team sheet from a recent Manchester United-Arsenal matchup.

Only now, those same players will be meeting in Italy’s Serie A.

Lukaku and Sanchez left United for Inter Milan, Ramsey went from Arsenal to Juventus, while Mkhitaryan and Smalling were each loaned to Roma from Arsenal and United, respectively.

And they were not alone in the southern migration: Of the 79 foreigners who joined Serie A in the recently concluded transfer window, 10 came from the Premier League — more than any other league.

“I was not fitting so well in English football, so I think a change was good,” said Mkhitaryan, the deadline-day signing who accepted a reduced salary with Roma.

“I’ve heard from many, many players that the Italian league is great, the football is great,” Mkhitaryan added. “The last month at Arsenal I was not getting pleasure, so that’s why I said it was better to come to Roma and to get happy and to get the pleasure from playing football again.”

While the likes of Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Sanchez each fell out of favor with their clubs in England, they are each still in their primes.

So this influx is nothing like when David Beckham was loaned twice to AC Milan toward the end of his career, or when Ashley Cole showed up at Roma at the age of 33 with his abilities waning.

Very few English players make the move to Serie A but the ones that do — such as former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who spent 2016-17 on loan with Torino — tend to have harbored an affinity for the more tactical and defense-oriented Italian league.

“In England we don’t have many players that do go abroad. I think I’ve always had a desire deep down to experience this and to have an opportunity,” said Smalling, the center back who was dropped from England’s squad ahead of last year’s World Cup. “It’s something that I really look forward to and I don’t want to live my life with (any) regrets.

“Serie A has always been a goal of mine to play in one day, because as a defender if you get the chance to experience Serie A you want to do it,” Smalling added.


Mayor of town in north Japan bemoans lack of Olympic funds

Updated 15 September 2019

Mayor of town in north Japan bemoans lack of Olympic funds

  • Tokyo is reportedly spending about $20 billion to prepare the city to host the games
  • Tokyo organizers have faced a series of hurdles as they prepare to host the games

TOKYO: The mayor of a town in northeastern Japan that will host Olympic soccer games says his city has received no funding from the central government that has promised to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to help in the reconstruction of the region.

The Japanese government and Tokyo 2020 organizers are hoping to use the Olympics to showcase Japan’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Several Olympic events, including soccer and baseball, will be held in northeastern Japan.

But with less than a year to go before the opening ceremony, Yutaka Kumagai, the mayor of Rifu in Miyagi Prefecture, says his city has seen no funding from the central government.

“There is no help from the government, we don’t have any budget from them, none,” Kumagai said on Saturday. “Tokyo 2020 is said to be a symbol of the reconstruction but when it comes to the budget, we don’t have any budget from the Olympic games here in Rifu.”

Kumagai made the comments during a media tour of Miyagi Stadium, a 49,000-seat facility in Rifu that will host men’s and women’s football at the 2020 Olympics.

About 50,000 people are still displaced in the Tohoku region as of August, according to the Reconstruction Agency. Yoshiaki Suda, the mayor of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, concurred with Kumagai. Like Rifu, Onagawa is a coastal city that sustained heavy destruction.

“We haven’t received any subsidy, even one yen, from the central government,” Suda said. “Whatever we do for the venues, for the hospitality for the Olympics, we have to do ourselves.”

Some media reports have made the claim that the Olympics have hampered the reconstruction efforts, taking workers away from the region to help with construction in Tokyo.

Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone areas in the world. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 quake offshore caused a tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The quake and tsunami heavily damaged coastal neighborhoods in northeastern Japan and took more than 18,000 lives.

Tokyo, which projected total costs of about $7.5 billion in its winning bid for the games in 2013, is reportedly spending about $20 billion to prepare the city to host the games.

A group of anti-Olympic activists, many from outside Japan, have held small protests and other events this summer under the Japanese title “Han-gorin no Kai” — which translates roughly to No Olympics. They oppose Olympic spending, which they say cuts into budgets for housing and environmental issues.

They also call for more money to rebuild Fukushima prefecture located northeast of Tokyo. Organizers say Fukushima is a main focus of the Olympics, staging baseball, softball and soccer games there to persuade the world the area is safe.

Tokyo organizers have faced a series of hurdles as they prepare to host the games. In August, Tokyo’s summer heat forced an Olympic women’s triathlon qualifying event to be shortened because of high temperatures that are likely to impact next year’s games.

Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, was forced to quit earlier this year when he was implicated in a vote-buying scheme to land the games. He has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged he signed off on about $2 million that French investigators allege went to buy votes.