Lionel Messi misses cut for Ballon d’Or list of nominees

In this file photo taken on Nov. 29, 2021 Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi arrives to deliver a speech after being awarded the   Ballon d'Or award in Paris. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on Nov. 29, 2021 Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi arrives to deliver a speech after being awarded the Ballon d'Or award in Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 13 August 2022

Lionel Messi misses cut for Ballon d’Or list of nominees

Lionel Messi misses cut for Ballon d’Or list of nominees
  • Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Erling Haaland and five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo were all included, as were Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min

PARIS: Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was omitted from the 30-man list of nominees for the prestigious award on Friday for the first time since 2005.

The Argentina great edged out Poland striker Robert Lewandowski for the Ballon d’Or last year but wasn’t nominated this time after an underwhelming first season at Paris Saint-Germain.

The 35-year-old forward also won the prize in 2019 — it was not held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Neymar also missed the cut this time.

Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Erling Haaland and five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo were all included, as were Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Alexia Putellas, Ada Hegerberg, Sam Kerr and Vivianne Miedema were on the list of 20 female nominees. US players Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario and Trinity Rodman were also named.

The men’s list features six Manchester City players: Phil Foden, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, and new signing Haaland (formerly Borussia Dortmund).

Liverpool also has six nominees: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luis Diaz, Fabinho, Darwin Nunez, Salah and Virgil van Dijk.

Mane, who helped Senegal win their first African Cup before leaving Liverpool for Bayern Munich, is included, as is Bayern teammate Joshua Kimmich.

Benzema leads a group of six Real Madrid players. The others are Casemiro, Thibaut Courtois, Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and new signing Antonio Rudiger.

The other nominated players are Sebastien Haller (Ajax), Rafael Leao and Mike Maignan (both of AC Milan), Christopher Nkunku (Leipzig), and Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus).

The award will be presented on Oct. 17.

Among changes announced in March, the award is now being awarded based on performances over the course of a regular European season, rather than a calendar year. A reduction in the number of voters was among other changes, with the goal of streamlining the process. Voters also will no longer consider a player’s career accomplishments.

France Football magazine has given out the award to men every year since 1956 and to women each year since 2018 — when Hegerberg became the first female winner — though both were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Putellas became the third winner of the women’s award last year. Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Aitana Bonmati was also nominated.

Millie Bright, Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead — who helped England win the European Championship — were included.

France has four players on the list: Selma Bacha, Kadidiatou Diani, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Wendie Renard.

The other nominated women are Christiane Endler, Lena Oberdorf, Asizat Oshoala, Alexandra Popp and Fridolina Rolfo.


Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 
Updated 07 October 2022

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 
  • The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety

HENDERSON, Nevada: Victor Wembanyama blocked a shot Thursday afternoon, ran to the other end of the court, went airborne from just inside the foul line, corralled an alley-oop pass with one hand and slammed home a dunk.

The entire sequence lasted eight seconds.

It may have been the signature moment — and there were a lot of candidates — from Wembanyama’s two-game trip to the US, which ended Thursday with the French phenom’s Metropolitans 92 team rallying from 16 points down to top the G League Ignite 112-106. He led the way, of course, with 36 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a first impression of the American game, that was really great,” Wembanyama said.

So was he.

His final numbers from two exhibitions: 73 points on 22-for-44 shooting, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots. He flies back to France on Saturday, and the next time he plays in the US there likely will be an NBA logo on his jersey, presumably after he becomes the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

“It’s very, very special for France,” Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “Not only for France. He has huge potential. He’s a huge talent.”

The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety. The best of the bunch may have come from Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who suggested that calling Wembanyama a unicorn might not fully indicate how unique he is.

Instead, James went with an out-of-this-world comparison.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien,” James said. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor ... He’s, for sure, a generational talent.”

Added Golden State guard Stephen Curry: “He’s like the (NBA) 2K create-a-player, every point guard that wants to be 7-foot. Cheat-code type vibes, man. He’s a solid talent. It’s great to watch.”

Sure enough, when Wembanyama’s around, a viral moment can happen at any time. It might be a dunk. It might be a block. It might be a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner while his momentum has him drifting toward the baseline. It might be a 28-foot 3-pointer from the wing. It might be him kicking a ball into a monitor and narrowly missing fellow French center Rudy Gobert.

Yes, all those things happened.

The scene: Gobert and fellow Minnesota Timberwolves standout D’Angelo Russell, in town to play the Lakers in a preseason game later Thursday, decided to postpone their afternoon nap — a staple of the NBA gameday routine — and make the 20-minute ride from Las Vegas to watch the game, arriving at halftime.

Gobert made a quick appearance on the game’s televised broadcast. Wembanyama, standing nearby, stuck one of his massive feet into the path of a pass by Ignite center Eric Mika. The ball ricocheted into the monitor near Gobert’s seat, knocking it over.

Gobert laughed. Wembanyama raised his hand to apologize.

“Hey, he played soccer too,” Gobert said.

Gobert raves about Wembanyama, who almost certainly will be the first top-five draft pick from France. And he doesn’t think there’s any real comparison: Gobert said Wembanyama’s defensive instincts remind him of himself, while his ballhandling and shooting remind him of Kevin Durant.

“What strikes me the most about him is his maturity,” Gobert said. “Obviously, he’s a very unique talent and he has a very unique physique. But his maturity and his confidence ... he’s very unique.”

Thursday’s game had a bit of a scare, and the other top NBA draft headliner in this showcase got the worst of that moment.

Scoot Henderson, the guard whose 28 points led the Ignite to a 122-115 victory on Tuesday night in the exhibition opener, left Thursday’s game after less than five minutes. The reason: He banged knees with Wembanyama.

Henderson switched onto Wembanyama, who was dribbling on the wing. Wembanyama made a move, collided into Henderson and tumbled to the court, looking initially like he got the worst of that exchange. But Henderson, who was called for a foul on the play, wound up limping off for evaluation and the Ignite quickly said he wouldn’t be returning.

“Scoot’s fine,” G League coach Jason Hart said. “It was precautionary.”

There are 31 games left on Metropolitans’ 34-game schedule in the French league, and the plan — as of now — is for Wembanyama to finish his season, which is slated to go through mid-May. The NBA Draft is June 22.

Bouna Ndiaye, one of Wembanyama’s agents, said some NBA teams might not understand why he’s playing. The reason, he says, is because nobody can get Wembanyama out of the gym.

“He wants to live on the court,” Ndiaye said.

What these two games showed, in many ways, was just that the tapes of Wembanyama that have been coming out of Europe over the last few years weren’t lying. He needs to get stronger. There’s much he can still polish. He is, by all accounts, exceptional already.

“Just before we came in last Saturday, we had a meeting with our doctor and we are going to prepare to plan the next two months to increase what he is doing, besides the court, to strengthen the body,” Collet said. “We’re always careful also with how much time he is practicing, not to go too far. ... We plan so that we limit the risk.”

When Thursday was over, when the comeback was complete, Wembanyama briefly lifted his arms skyward in celebration, then shook a lot of hands, partook in a lot of hugs and posed for a lot of pictures.

With that, the draft hype continued on.

“I’m still excited and so happy about it,” Wembanyama said. “I know I’m so lucky to have this chance.”


Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus
Updated 06 October 2022

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus
  • On a balmy night at Nicosia's 23,000 capacity GSP Stadium, United went a goal down in the first half
  • They fought back for a morale-boosting victory after being demolished 6-3 by cross-town rivals Manchester City

Nicosia — CYP
Nicosia, Oct 6, 2022 Agence France Presse: Manchester United came from behind to snatch a crucial 3-2 away win against Cypriot outfit Omonia in the Europa League on Thursday thanks to a second-half brace by Marcus Rashford.
Anthony Martial also scored while Karim Ansarifard and Nikolas Panagiotou netted for the home side as United claimed a narrow win on their first ever trip to play a Cypriot team.
On a balmy night at Nicosia’s 23,000 capacity GSP Stadium, United went a goal down in the first half but fought back for a morale-boosting victory after being demolished 6-3 by cross-town rivals Manchester City at the weekend.
Erik ten Hag named a strong line-up with Cristiano Ronaldo, starting just his fourth match of the season, leading the attack and Brazilian Casemiro anchoring the midfield, but it was the substitutes who saved the day.
“All the subs had a really good impact,” with (Luke) Shaw and Rashford strengthening the left side,” Dutch coach ten Hag told reporters afterwards.
“We played well, the only thing is we didn’t score a goal. After half-time I think we dealt with the setback.
“It was a bad 10 minutes after we conceded the goal (but) if you then are able to come back... that’s positive.”
United got off to a dominant start, largely controlling the opening period against a side managed by former Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
Antony nearly got the breakthrough in the 28th minute, cutting inside and unleashing a long-range shot that was parried away by Omonia goalkeeper Fabiano.
It looked like United were beginning to turn the screw when they were awarded a free-kick outside Omonia’s area in the 34th minute.
Christian Eriksen fired it in but Omonia managed to scramble it away. The ball fell to Tyrell Malacia who was then robbed by Omonia’s Brazilian forward Bruno.
Three Omonia players broke clear before Bruno tapped it across the face of goal for Iranian striker Ansarifard to tuck it away.


United came out stronger in the second half with Rashford coming on for the anonymous Jadon Sancho and Shaw replacing Malacia.
And it paid immediate dividends, with Bruno Fernandes getting a shot on goal before setting up Rashford to level the scores in the 53rd minute.
Ronaldo, who was left on the bench during the weekend rout by City, cut a frustrated figure up front, but United continued to drive forward, creating more chances as the second half progressed.
Ten minutes after levelling, United went ahead when the newly-introduced Martial tapped in with his second touch of the game, seizing on an assist from Rashford.
The home supporters jeered loudly when referee Joao Pinheiro of Portugal waved away an Omonia claim for handball, a decision confirmed by VAR.
Ronaldo’s woes continued, however, with the Portuguese star hitting the post from within the six-yard box with an open goal, one of a hatful of missed chances by the 37-year-old.
Minutes later Rashford latched onto a pass from Ronaldo to double his tally.
Omonia were not finished, though, Panagiotou getting a goal back in the 87th minute.
United created more chances, with Brazilian midfielder Fred forcing a save from Fabiano in the dying minutes.
Lennon praised his players for putting up a fight but said he saw signs that United were on the up.
“This is a team definitely building... I think they’re going in the right direction,” he said.
“Thankfully Cristiano didn’t have his shooting boots on tonight.”
hc-dv/dj/jc
CELTIC PLC
MANCHESTER UNITED


Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters
Updated 06 October 2022

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters
  • Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman
  • Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn't seriously threaten Djokovic

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.
Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.
“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”
Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s US Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.
Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.


Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
Updated 06 October 2022

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
  • The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes
  • Barca said they were "back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle"

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona on Thursday forecast profits of 274 million euros (270.7 million dollars) this season and record revenues of 1.255 billion euros.
“It’s a conservative budget,” Barca’s financial vice president Eduard Romeu said, as the club released figures for the 2021/22 financial year and forecasts for the current campaign.
Barcelona said the revenue figure included more than 450 million euros from the sale of long-term television and other rights.
The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes, with operating income of 1.017 billion euros and expenses of 856 million euros.
That followed two loss-making seasons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barca said they were “back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle.”
The budget for next year predicts expenses of 1.065 billion euros, of which 656 million euros would go on the sporting wage bill.
Romeu said salaries had been cut from 617 euros for the 2020/21 season to 518 million euros last season.
New player signings and a lack of departures have led to expectations of an increase this season.
“We were planning for a more significant reduction in the salary bill,” Romeu said, adding that even so, the club would be happy to take Lionel Messi back.
“Messi is an asset for Barca and has the doors open,” Romeu said.
“It is a matter for the sporting management and if the sporting management want it, we will get to work on that objective.”
In the 2020/21 season Barcelona posted losses of 481 million euros and blamed them for not being able to renew their all-time record scorer’s contract, leading him to sign for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.
Romeu lamented that he had not been able to persuade other high-priced stars to leave.
“There are a number of contracts that have a very high cost and between this season and next season they disappear,” said Romeu, adding that he wants to achieve a balance by the 2024/25 season.
“Five hundred million euros would be the ideal figure for a competitive first-team squad.”
In the summer, the club sold 25 percent of their La Liga television rights to investment firm Sixth Street for the next 25 years, raising more than 500 million euros, and 49 percent of their Barca Studios production company to two companies for a total of around 200 million. Some of that revenue is included in the 2022/23 forecast.
Barca said “without the effect of this extraordinary sale, the club still received 750 million euros in other operating income.”
They highlighted the “sale of metaverses, NFTs and tokens” by Barca Studios and said the new partnerships “will produce an acceleration of the business.”
The budget will be submitted to the club’s annual general assembly of members on October 9.


Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
Updated 06 October 2022

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
  • Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League since PIF-backed consortium purchased the club

LONDON: The chairman of Newcastle United has written a letter to thank supporters on the first anniversary of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed takeover of the club.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan and the PIF-led consortium took over the club from Mike Ashley last October.

Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League and the beginnings of serious investment off the pitch.

The letter read: “To all the fans of Newcastle United Football Club, Thank you for your incredible support.

“I am very conscious of the contributions that you all make – on and off the field. Football clubs are driven by their fans and this club’s fans are more passionate and more committed than any others. I have seen for myself on many occasions how Newcastle fans have lifted our team.

“As we mark the first anniversary of our takeover of the club, it seemed appropriate to take the time to say thank you – on behalf of the Newcastle Board.

“The first game after the takeover will live long in my memory. The feeling of pride at holding the black and white scarf as I entered the stadium. The collective roar of 52,000 of you and the unrivalled, electric atmosphere of St. James’ Park on match-day. I will never forget the warmth of your welcome to my fellow board members and me on that October day.

“A year ago, we set out some principles in an open letter that framed our thinking as custodians of the club. We told you that we wanted to build, over time, a consistently successful team. And we told you that we were focused on long-term success.

“There is still a long way to go, but each season is a building block towards our objective – to challenge for trophies both domestically and in Europe. The club we are building is made up of people who understand our long-term vision, and who understand the patience and persistence that it will take to achieve those goals. Those values are reflected in the players that we bring to the club.

“Bringing the women’s team into direct ownership of the club is a part of that plan. Progress won’t always be smooth – but we will always forge ahead. You can rest assured that we are all working very hard to drive the club forward.

“The support of our fans and the Newcastle community is an incredible motivation for us. It will never be taken for granted.”