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HomeSPORTSBarcelona ends preseason optimistic with team’s potential

Barcelona ends preseason optimistic with team’s potential

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona surprised many in the offseason by making several high-profile signings despite enduring a difficult situation financially.

The club’s tactics to boost its squad — mostly by giving up future income to add new players now — prompted plenty of doubts and criticism.

But even the most concerned Barcelona fans can’t hide their optimism with the team’s potential ahead of the season that begins next weekend.

The new signings showed plenty of promise in the preseason that ended Sunday with a 6-0 rout of Mexican club Pumas at the Joan Camper tournament at the Camp Nou.

A crowd of more than 83,000 saw the team’s top signing, Robert Lewandowski, score his first goal for the Catalan club and connect well with young playmaker Pedri González. They also saw new defender Jules Koundé make his debut, and new forward Raphinha and returning forward Ousmane Dembélé play well again.

Barcelona also defeated Inter Miami, the New York Red Bulls and Spanish rival Real Madrid during its preseason, in addition to drawing 2-2 with Juventus.

Before Sunday’s match, fans had already received some good news as president Joan Laporta said the club would meet the Spanish league’s fair play requirements to register all new signings in time for the season.

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“We will be able to register all players,” he said, dismissing concerns that some players would have to be left off the squad until the club could bring in more revenue.

Barcelona recently sold 25% of its Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years for nearly 670 million euros ($682.1 million), and sold a 25% stake of its production hub for 100 million euros ($101.8 million). On Sunday, it played its first game at the Camp Nou since it was renamed following a sponsorship and naming rights deal with Spotify.

“There is no time to wait in soccer, there is no transition season,” Laporta told Spanish media. “We did what we have to do to make Barcelona a reference again.”

After a trophyless season in which it didn’t have Lionel Messi for the first time in nearly two decades, the club went to the market and quickly became the top offseason spender in Europe.

Lewandowski arrived from Bayern Munich in a deal worth nearly 50 million euros ($50.9 million), while Raphinha came from Leeds United for nearly 60 million euros ($61.1 million) and Koundé from Sevilla for nearly 50 million euros ($50.9 million).

Barcelona also added young midfielder Franck Kessié and central defender Andreas Christensen, and renewed the contract of Dembélé, who had already shown during the preseason that he will be an important piece in the attack of coach Xavi Hernández.

The team’s offense also has talented youngster Ansu Fati, Dutch international Memphis Depay, Danish international Martin Braithwaite and Spanish international Ferran Torres. In the midfield, it still has the likes of Gavi Páez and Pedri, who scored both of his goals against Pumas off assists by Lewandowski.

“This Barça is scary,” said a headline by the Marca sports daily on Monday.

“Spectacular,” said the front-page headline of the Sport newspaper, on top of a Lewandowski photo.

The Camp Nou is expected to be packed again for the team’s league debut on Saturday against Rayo Vallecano, when another good performance would further help Laporta make his case that the club’s high spending will ultimately be justified.

Ornstein: Barcelona threaten legal action over Frenkie de Jong contract

Barcelona have told Frenkie de Jong they want to annul his existing contract and return to the deal he was on before, alleging the terms given to him by the club’s previous board involved criminality and provide grounds for legal action against those involved, The Athletic can reveal.

The Catalan side have serious financial problems and among the ways they are trying to improve matters is by selling De Jong or reaching an agreement with him over deferred wages he is owed.

There has so far been no sign of a compromise between the 25-year-old Netherlands midfielder and his employers in what is becoming one of the most extraordinary sagas the game has seen.

Manchester United had a bid for De Jong accepted, as reported on July 14, but issues with the player — the outstanding money owed and whether he wants a move to United — remained unresolved.

According to sources in Spain, Barcelona wrote to De Jong on July 15 claiming to have found evidence of criminal actions on behalf of the parties who signed his renewal on October 20, 2020.

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It was a two-year extension until 2026 that is reported to have reduced his salary for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, leaving €18 million (£15.2m, $18.3m) to be spread across the subsequent four campaigns.

De Jong’s deal was announced alongside three others — Gerard Pique, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Clement Lenglet — and this proved to be one of the final decisions by then president Josep Bartomeu prior to he and the entire board of directors at the time stepping down from their posts.

The letter sent to De Jong last month is thought to inform the Dutchman that Barcelona think they are in a position to initiate criminal proceedings to establish what happened in relation to the signing of his contract and ascertain where responsibility resides for the supposed wrongdoing.

It is believed to then express Barcelona’s wish to rescind the deal and proceed with De Jong’s career at the Camp Nou under the conditions agreed when he arrived from Ajax in January 2019.

The Athletic understands the previous board are confident in the legality of the contract De Jong signed in 2020 and insist the deal was agreed after approval from legal parties and La Liga. In an interview with the Barcelona newspaper Mundo Deportivo last year, former president Bartomeu insisted the previous board’s management of the club was “serious and responsible”.

Sources around the Catalan club suggest there has been further dialogue between Barcelona and De Jong’s camp, in which the present board have identified their predecessors for the alleged criminality and warned that De Jong and his representatives may also be implicated.

That could be perceived to reinforce comments by Evgeniy Levchenko — chairman of the Dutch players’ union — that De Jong might be a victim of extortion, a notion current Barcelona president Joan Laporta denies. Global players’ union FIFPRO is known to be closely monitoring the situation and Barcelona’s attempts to try to make the player accept a vastly reduced sum from the €18m he agreed to defer during the pandemic.

Barcelona are engaged in similar conversations with Pique and Ter Stegen (Lenglet is on loan at Tottenham Hotspur) but it is unknown if they have also received communication of a legal nature.

De Jong’s preference is to stay with the 26-time La Liga champions but if a departure does end up materialising, he is said not to have made a decision so far on the team he would like to join.

Chelsea have a firm interest and while it is understood they are yet to submit a formal bid, sources indicate they are prepared to fund the transfer fee and cover the salary debt should De Jong pick a switch to Stamford Bridge. They have an advantage over United in playing Champions League football this season, although it is thought that alone will not determine his potential destination.

Despite their predicament, Barcelona have recruited heavily this summer; Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Jules Kounde are the most notable acquisitions. Barcelona declined to comment and HCM Sports Management, who look after De Jong, were approached for comment.

Chelsea started talks with Brighton over Cucurella at Boehly’s dinner

New Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly made good use of a dinner he hosted last month for representatives of the 19 other Premier League clubs.

Although the event on July 26, after a meeting of shareholders, was essentially informal, Boehly began putting the wheels in motion for Marc Cucurella’s move from Brighton.

He broached the subject of the left-sided Spanish defender’s future with Brighton chief executive Paul Barber.

Multiple conversations subsequently took place between Boehly and Barber over the phone and via Zoom as it became clear Manchester City weren’t prepared to meet Brighton’s valuation of the player.

Agreement was finally reached with Chelsea on Thursday on a deal worth more than £60m ($72.4m) with add-ons. Barber represented Brighton throughout the process, with owner-chairman Tony Bloom on a family holiday in Australia.

Cucurella was thrown straight into action by Thomas Tuchel as a 75th-minute replacement for Kalidou Koulibaly in Chelsea’s opening 1-0 win against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday evening.

Cucurella wasn’t the only transfer deal rooted in Boehly’s dinner invite last month. He also opened negotiations at the event with Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow for the £20 million capture of 18-year-old midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka.

Norton-Cuffy signs new deal at Arsenal

Arsenal prospect Brooke Norton-Cuffy has signed a new contract with the north London club, The Athletic understands.

The 18-year-old right-back had entered the final 12 months of his previous deal and was attracting interest from numerous suitors.

But the highly rated England youth international has extended his stay — the news is likely to be confirmed this week — and he could join a Championship club on loan for the 2022-23 campaign.

The Athletic reported in March that Arsenal intended to offer Norton-Cuffy fresh terms, amid admiration from sides in the Premier League and Europe’s other major divisions.

He joined Arsenal from Chelsea at the age of 12 and made a strong impression on loan at Lincoln City in the second half of last season, appearing in 17 League One games and scoring one goal.

Norton-Cuffy was also a part of the England team that won the European Under-19 Championship this summer, appearing as a substitute in the final against Israel.

Several promising Arsenal players have secured loan moves in this transfer window, with 18-year-old attacker Marcelo Flores joining Real Oviedo and 20-year-old defender Omar Rekik heading to Sparta Rotterdam.

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Why were footballers pouring water on their boots this weekend?

Premier League footballers were seen reacting to the soaring temperatures in a unique way this weekend, writes Gregg Evans.

Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored both goals in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool, sprayed his boots with water before the game at Craven Cottage on Saturday.

Aston Villa attacker Leon Bailey went a step further during the closing stages of his side’s 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth. With 10 minutes of the game to go, the Jamaica forward asked a backroom staff member to tip two full bottles of water over his laces. Other players were seen doing similar at different games in England.

But why were they doing it? There are two explanations, one more obvious than the other.

Players often wear boots one size too small. They like the close-touch feel between foot and boot, believing it enhances performance. Though there’s no logical “performance” advantage to wetting a boot, it does help if there’s some pain or discomfort, sometimes caused by over-heating. New boots also mould better when damp, and there were a wide variety of fresh styles on show this weekend, with green and yellow a popular theme for the new season.

The other reason for players applying water to their boots — and some do it regularly — is to feel mentally engaged. A sports psychologist says: “Lots of players do it. It is a perceived sense of clean, tidy, and fresh readiness. It’s a type of pre-performance habit and players also sometimes do it on their knees.”

So there you have it. If in doubt, apply water to your boots and all will be well.

Leeds’ head of national academy recruitment joins City

Kalvin Phillips and Darko Gyabi were not the only people to move between Manchester City and Leeds United this summer, reports Phil Hay.

Before paying £42 million to take Phillips from Leeds, with Gyabi moving the other way for £5m, City secured the appointment of Paul Midgley, the highly rated scout who was Leeds’ head of national academy recruitment before leaving the club at the end of last season.

Midgley had responsibility for overseeing the recruitment of junior players at Elland Road in the age categories from under-12s to under-16s. He has joined City as a youth scout for the northern area.

Leeds advertised the role made vacant by Midgley in May and are understood to have appointed experienced scout Lyndon Tomlinson as his replacement.

Tomlinson is himself a former City employee who worked in academy recruitment for Manchester United last season.

Premier League interest in Southampton goalkeeper McCarthy

Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy has caught the attention of other Premier League clubs and could leave before the transfer window closes next month, reports Dan Sheldon.

Southampton are open to offers for McCarthy, who has one England cap from 2018, and there has already been interest in the player.

Including McCarthy, Southampton have four goalkeepers on their books — Gavin Bazunu, Willy Caballero and Mateusz Lis are the other three.

McCarthy signed a three-year contract extension last summer and is among the club’s highest earners. He was chosen ahead of Fraser Forster, who left Southampton as a free agent and joined Tottenham Hotspur this summer, to remain at the club.

Bazunu started for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side in their 4-1 defeat against Spurs on Saturday, with McCarthy left on the bench. The 32-year-old joined Southampton in 2016 and has made 118 Premier League appearances for the club.

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