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Barcelona sell off assets to make signings

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MADRID:

Barcelona’s attempts to establish themselves once again as a force in La Liga and the Champions League this season have seen the heavily-indebted Catalans gamble with their future to enable a striking summer spending spree.

A year after being forced to let Lionel Messi go as eye-watering reported debts of 1.35 billion euros crippled the club, Barcelona have spent 153 million euros on transfer fees alone to strengthen their squad, with Robert Lewandowski the most notable new arrival.

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“This is a really exciting season. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to make all the fans happy,” coach Xavi Hernandez said before last weekend’s 6-0 friendly win over Mexican side Pumas UNAM.

“That means winning trophies. That is our main objective.”

After three years of struggles, on and off the field, the summer has seen hope return to the Camp Nou, with president Joan Laporta talking of an exciting “new era” when the club unveiled Lewandowski as a Barcelona player.

“Euphoria” was the headline on the cover of local daily Sport the same day.

Even partisan Madrid-based sports daily Marca admitted that Barca were “frightening” in the wake of their drubbing of Pumas UNAM last weekend, when Lewandowski scored his first goal since his arrival from Bayern Munich.

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Yet how Barcelona have gone about raising the funds to sign Lewandowski, as well as centre-backs Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, and Leeds United’s Brazilian winger Raphinha has raised eyebrows.

Faced with severe limits on spending in order to comply with La Liga’s financial controls, Barcelona knew they needed to raise money quickly to be able to invest in any signings and, crucially, to register any new players.

They quickly set about selling off assets to bring in money by activating a series of what have been called economic “levers”.

The club sold 25 percent of their domestic television rights for the next quarter of a century to US investment firm Sixth Street for some 400 million euros.

Barcelona sold 24.5 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros on August 1, and then another 25 percent to US investment firm GDA Luma for 100 million euros more.

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In the space of a few weeks, 600 million euros had been brought in to fill the coffers.

The aim was to clean up the club’s finances, make it possible to increase the salary limit set by La Liga and allow the new signings to all be registered for the start of the season.

On top of that, Barca signed the biggest sponsorship deal in their history with Spotify, bringing in a reported 435 million euros for the music streaming giant to feature on the club’s shirts and to have naming rights to the Camp Nou.

And so Barcelona look well placed to become serious title contenders again as they prepare to host Rayo Vallecano this weekend.



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Nearly 2,000 fans to sue UEFA

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LONDON:

More than 1,700 Liverpool fans who allege they were injured or suffered psychological trauma as a result of the crowd chaos at this year’s Champions League final in Paris are to sue UEFA, lawyers said on Friday.

European football governing body UEFA is facing group action following the showpiece match between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris on May 28.

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UEFA delayed kick-off by 35 minutes, citing “security issues”, with fans subjected to crushes, teargas and street crime.

A French Senate inquiry contradicted initial assertions by UEFA and the French government that Liverpool fans had been mainly responsible for the trouble by not having proper tickets.

The inquiry instead cited a “string of dysfunctions” including a lack of preparation by authorities and UEFA, as well as poorly executed security arrangements.

Liverpool law firm Bingham’s said clients had spoken of “terrifying scenes” at the Stade de France.

Bingham’s has joined global law company Pogust Goodhead in a lawsuit for 1,450 clients alleging negligence, with Leigh Day, another law firm, also bringing a group action on behalf of 400 more fans.

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Lawyers said they planned to sue UEFA for breach of contract in ticket sales and negligence over a duty of care they had towards supporters, who were harmed both physically and mentally.

Gerard Long of Binghams told the BBC: “As a life-long Liverpool fan, I was absolutely horrified when I heard how events unfolded at what should have been the highlight of the football season.

“Not only fellow fans, but my friends, family and clients who were in attendance that day have spoken of the terrifying scenes that surrounded the Stade de France before, and even after, the game.”

Liverpool have gathered 8,500 testimonials from fans, as well as photographs and videos, to submit to an independent review commissioned by UEFA.

Panel members are now set to travel to Merseyside, with Liverpool chief executive Billy Hogan saying: “It’s critically important that lessons can be learned and there’s no repeat of what happened in Paris.”

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England’s Southgate brushes off the boos

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MILAN:

Gareth Southgate said he will take criticism from England fans after his team were beaten again by their Euro 2020 conquerers Italy on Friday and relegated from the top division of the Nations League.

The 1-0 defeat at the San Siro left England with no wins from five games in the competition and a worrying lack of goals with only one more match to play before they travel to Qatar for the World Cup.

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England have not scored a goal in open play in this season’s Nations League and Southgate was booed by a large section of the away support in Milan after the defeat which dumped them down to League B.

“It’s really difficult to pinpoint why we’re not scoring, because I think we’re getting into the right areas,” Southgate told reporters.

“We had the moments that we had in the past we just didn’t deliver the final piece of quality tonight.

“I understand the reaction at the end because that’s the results we’ve had in this competition and yeah it’s an understandable emotional reaction.”

Southgate insisted he was not dispirited by a display in which England not only failed to score but struggled to create chances despite having talented attacking players like Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling at his disposal.

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“It’s difficult for me to be too difficult of the performance, we had more possession, more shots, more shots on target, I think for large parts of the game we played very well,” said Southgate.

“We didn’t deal with the decisive moment defensively and we had moments where we had the chance to be more decisive in their final third where our quality just wasn’t quite right,” he added.

“Of course results are going to be the thing everyone reacts to but I thought there were a lot of positives for us a team… But I completely understand because of the result that is not going to be the reaction externally.”

Roberto Mancini was typically diplomatic, praising England when asked about the questions surrounding Southgate’s tenure as coach.

“You are in the World Cup and this is the most important. Football is very strange,” said Mancini.

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Messi scores twice as Argentina down Honduras

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MIAMI:

Lionel Messi’s expertly taken double helped seal a comprehensive 3-0 win for Argentina over Honduras in Miami on Friday to extend their impressive unbeaten run ahead of the Qatar World Cup.

The Argentina captain scored a goal in each half, his opener doubling the lead given to Lionel Scaloni’s team by Lautaro Martinez early on.

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Argentina haven’t lost in 34 matches heading into Tuesday’s game against Jamaica in New York.

With their last defeat coming in the 2019 Copa America semi-final, the thousands of Argentina fans who packed Hard Rock Stadium in a crowd of 64,420 were in an expectant mood and left delighted as a combative Honduran side were firmly put to the sword.

“The game was what we expected,” Argentina coach Scaloni said. “I am satisfied with that.

“As far as players who didn’t play, as a coach I have to manage minutes and rest some players. Most important thing is that whoever plays proves they can belong and can play.”

Honduras failed to qualify for Qatar and were under pressure from the off, Alejandro Gomez blazing an early effort over before Rodrigo De Paul screwed a shot just wide.

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The South Americans were dominating possession with Messi beginning to weave some magic despite being tightly man marked by the Honduran defence.

And it was the Paris St.Germain forward who started the move which created the opener for Martinez on 16 minutes, an excellent pass freeing Gomez on the left hand side and his cross was tapped home with ease.

Honduras were undeterred, however, and even though they saw little of the ball, the challenges were flying in, much to the anger of an increasingly irritated Argentina side who were left constantly complaining to the officials.

A pull on Giovani Lo Celso’s shirt however on the stroke of half-time was deemed a penalty by referee Rubiel Vazquez and Messi coolly rolled in the penalty to double the lead for Scaloni’s men.

The former Barcelona star, who played for the full 90 minutes, remained in the thick of the action and almost grabbed his second on 56 minutes but failed to finish off an excellent, free-flowing move when his shot sailed over the bar.

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Julian Alvarez, the Manchester City striker, was introduced in the second half and was denied by Honduras keeper Luis Fernandez as Argentina searched for further goals to reinforce their total dominance.

It was left to Messi to bring the house down with a brilliant lofted finish over Fernandez on 69 minutes to leave the result in no doubt.

Argentina face Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland in Group C at the World Cup and, on this evidence albeit against limited opposition, will arrive in Qatar as one of the favourites to lift the trophy.

Even with the World Cup looming, Scaloni said it was key that his players enjoy themselves. AFP



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