‘Negotiations will continue’ – Marotta does not expect captaincy row to prevent Icardi contract talks

Mauro Icardi will still be offered a new Inter contract despite being replaced as the club’s captain due to his behaviour, according to chief executive Beppe Marotta.

Icardi, who has been linked with a move to Real Madrid, was stripped of the captaincy this week with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic installed as his replacement.

The striker subsequently pulled out of the Inter squad to face Rapid Vienna in the Europa League, using Instagram to hint he was being treated for an injury.

Icardi, whose wife Wanda Nara is his agent, was not named in the squad for Inter’s Serie A game at home to his old club Sampdoria on Sunday, the Argentine taking a watching brief from the stands at San Siro.

Inter are yet to give a formal reason in public for the move to strip Icardi of the captaincy, but Marotta confirmed the decision was made by coach Luciano Spalletti.

“It was not a disciplinary matter against the lad,” Marotta said to Sky Sport Italia. “But rather a change that we considered better for the team, club and Icardi himself.

“It was not degrading for him, but sometimes these changes have to be made. Icardi is only 25 years old, let’s not forget, it’s unfair to expect too much from him. We wanted to keep the culture of victory and winning mentality, to cultivate it.

“It’s a growth process and we decided to make this change to help everyone progress together as a group. Sometimes the head of a household has to take an unpopular decision for the good of the familly.”

Tensions between Inter and Nara have reportedly grown over the ongoing Icardi contract talks and this week her car was attacked, an incident Spalletti has condemned.

“I exchanged some messages with her and showed our utmost solidarity, because let’s not forget also there are five children involved here. It was absolutely unacceptable,” Marotta added.

“She was very nice and appreciative of our affection, as she always has been. We have never had a problem dealing with her.

“I told Wanda, as the player’s representative, that we will send a [contract] proposal over the next few weeks. There are some issues to be dealt with first and we must evaluate some figures. The contract has nothing to do with it.”

There has been speculation over the severity of Icardi’s apparent injury but Marotta says Inter have no reason to doubt the striker’s honesty over the issue.

“When a player feels pain, it is our duty to believe them,” he said. “We will see if his condition improves. We have a long campaign, we want to continue in the Europa League too, and we trust this will be resolved.

“It was said you don’t air your dirty laundry in public, but that’s impossible nowadays with social media and constant coverage, so we had to be open.

“The armband is not just symbolic, the person who wears it must be considered a leader. We want to all grow together and eliminate certain toxins that had perhaps crept in during recent months.

“I read many things, but the contract has nothing to do with it. The negotiations will continue in the predicted timeframe and we will make our proposal at the right time.

“This is a different situation, it relates to the group dynamics, dealing with the club and dealing with the fans outside of the dressing room.”


Southampton and Watford scouting Nantes defender Kwateng

Premier League sides Southampton and Watford are keen on signing Nantes defender Enock Kwateng this summer.

Goal understands both clubs sent delegates to watch the full-back during Nantes’ 1-0 defeat to Monaco on Saturday, as did a yet unconfirmed German team.

Kwateng played 90 minutes in the Ligue 1 clash, his 24th appearance in all competitions this season, and had to contend with the trickery of Rony Lopes and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou at Stade Louis II.

The full-back looks set to leave Nantes in the summer with his contract due to expire at the end of the current campaign. Talks are ongoing between the two parties about a new deal, which is now becoming increasingly less and less likely.

The 21-year-old plays predominately on the right of a back four but can also operate in the centre and at left-back.

Kwateng came through the youth system at Nantes and made his debut in August 2015. He has been capped at underage French level and was part of the side who won the Under-19 European Championships in 2016 alongside Kylian Mbappe.

His impressive showings now mean he has become a highly-coveted defender.

Southampton in particular are in need of a new right-back and lack depth in this area since allowing Cedric Soares to leave the club in January.

In his stead, their only natural right-back is Yan Valery, and James Ward-Prowse was even forced to take up that position in the Saints’ recent 1-1 draw with Burnley.

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Watford too are are interested in signing Kwateng and see the Frenchman as competition for Daryl Janmaat. The Dutchman has established himself as first-choice right-back at Vicarage Road ahead of the likes of Kiko Femenia and Marc Navarro.

Kwateng follows in a long line of talented French full-backs to emerge from Ligue 1, with the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Djibril Sidibe and Kenny Lala all currently operating in the France.

However, during last summer’s World Cup eventual winners France opted to play Benjamin Pavard in this position, although he naturally operates as a centre-back for his club side Stuttgart.


African All Stars Transfer News & Rumours: Manchester United plot record £90m move for Kalidou Koulibaly

Man Utd plot £90m move for Koulibaly

Manchester United are prepared to splash £90m to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly in the summer, according to The Sun.

The Red Devils reportedly had their top scout to watch the Senegal international in action against Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi Stadium last Saturday.

The planned swoop would make Koulibaly the world most expensive defender after Liverpool’s £75m star Virgil van Dijk.

Aluko set for Chinese Super League move

Reading forward Sone Aluko is set to complete a move to Chinese Super League outfit Beijing Renhe before next Thursday’s Chinese transfer window deadline.

Football London reports that the nature of the move is unknown yet but the Royals are looking to complete the transfer soon for manager Jose Gomes to continue his squad’s clear-out.

Aluko joined the Madjeski Stadium outfit from on club-record deal in 2017 and still has two and a half years left on his contract.

Atletico Madrid keen on Siass

Atletico Madrid are keen on bringing Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Romain Saiss to the Spanish top-flight in the summer, according to Lions de Atlas.

The Morocco international has featured sparingly in the Premier League this season, playing 13 matches for the Wolves and scoring a goal each against Fulham and West Ham United.

The report stated the Saiss received an offer that was four times his current wages at the Molineux Stadium from an unnamed Saudi club.

Boateng set to join Dalian Yifang

Levante forward Emmanuel Boateng to set to join Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang this month, according to Football Espana .

The Ghana international will take on a new challenge in China having struggled for form this season, scoring just a goal in 16 league outings.

Boateng joined Paco Lopez’s men in August 2017 and scored six goals in his debut La Liga season which included a hat-trick against Barcelona last May. 

Tottenham send scouts to watch Kessie

Tottenham Hotspur had scouts at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia to watch AC Milan midfielder in action in their 3-1 win over Atalanta on Saturday.

TMW claimed that Saturday’s scouting mission was the second from London for the Ivorian midfielder who has been in outstanding form for the Rossoneri this term.

Premier League rivals Chelsea are also interested in having Kessie in a swap deal for Tiemoue Bakayoko.

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Arsenal & Man Utd track Brahimi

Arsenal and Manchester United have shown interested in signing Porto’s Yacine Brahimi who will be out of contract in the summer, Correio da Manha reports.

Brahimi joined the Dragons in 2014 and has established himself in the team with 45 goals in over 170 matches.

Several clubs are lining up for his services but Everton are reported to be leading the hunt with a bid on the table to take the Algerian playmaker as a free agent in June.


Sancho may have fled but Foden is flourishing at Man City

Phil Foden could have had a hat-trick in Manchester City’s FA Cup game against Newport on Saturday evening.

The 18-year-old could have quite easily lashed the ball home from a matter of inches, after Leroy Sane’s shot had crashed off goalkeeper Joe Day’s face and bounced towards goal.

There are few players in the City squad so capable with the ball in tight areas as Foden, so it would have been no problem to poke the ball over the line under no pressure.

Instead, he pulled his foot away, put both arms above his head and let Sane take all the plaudits.

Because it wasn’t about plaudits, it was about what was best for Manchester City. This was one of those old-school FA Cup games, against a stubborn side on a dog of a pitch, had been proving quite tricky for the Premier League champions.

Foden was onside but he was taking no chances; the most important thing for him was for City winning the match. No thoughts about a goal perhaps earning him a place in the starting line-up for next weekend’s Carabao Cup final or anything like that.

It was an act that summed up the attitude of a young player who is the focus of so much attention, who is often used as a stick to beat his boyhood club. With so many complaining about a lack of opportunities, his focus is simply on doing his job, even if that is letting others do theirs.

Besides, he helped himself to a double anyway. If the first non-goal summed up his character, then the two he did put away summed up his qualities as a footballer.

Phil Foden, Leroy Sane, David Silva, Man City

For his first, he picked up the ball on the halfway line, drove at the Newport defence and fired off a shot that suddenly dipped and thus outfoxed the possibly dazed Day.

His second was similar, and perfectly timed. Padraig Amond’s late lob had briefly threatened the unlikeliest of comebacks. Very briefly. Foden went down the other end, danced around some defenders and fired the ball high into the goal from the edge of the box.

Job done. Though there was still time for Riyad Mahrez, who has not had the best of times recently, to smack in City’s fourth in the last minute of stoppage time.

Yet this fifth-round tie was all about Foden. He is by far the City academy’s best hope of producing a footballer ready for the first team, not least because his old mates Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz have chosen to fly the nest.

Brahim always knew a loan was a possibility even after signing for Real Madrid but he went anyway, absolutely convinced that he would not get a chance at City.

Sancho’s messy departure is well documented (although the full story not entirely told) and his seemingly endless flow of fine goals and assists has served not only to push his price-tag up towards £100 million but to shine a brighter light on Foden, his game time and indeed lack of it.

He has not played in the Premier League since a six-minute outing when City lost at Chelsea at the start of December. He played 90 minutes and scored his first Etihad Stadium goal in the first round of the FA Cup but much was made of it when he started the next game, a home Carabao Cup tie with League One Burton, on the bench.

He ‘only’ – depending on your point of view – played 15 minutes in the fifth round against Burnley and has not made a Premier League squad for the past three games.

That run, amid Brahim’s exit and Sancho’s form, has led to fresh criticism of Pep Guardiola’s handling of one of English football’s finest talents.

The argument goes that he should be playing more games, or at least getting more minutes off the bench.

Phil Foden, Leroy Sane, David Silva, Man City

The harsh reality is that he has four midfielders ahead of him who could all get in the starting line-up at any other Premier League club in Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo and David Silva.

The other harsh reality is that Guardiola sees each of those four as a safer bet when it comes to the real business of winning Premier League matches.

The Catalan knows he will be criticised for leaving Foden out – especially after stressing specifically that he is ready for the big games – but he also knows he will be criticised if he does not win the title this season. Rightly or wrongly, he will err on the side of experience.

That is one of the key differences between Foden’s situation and that of Sancho. The latter would simply not have had the kind of regular football he is currently enjoying had he stayed at City, given the consistent good form of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane.

His emergence goes to show what can happen when you trust youth but for various reasons that is not going to happen for Foden at City just yet. He will have to bide his time and wait for chances like Saturday evening.

He knows that, of course. He knows he will not be allowed to leave on loan, a move which could sharpen him up as a player, but not necessarily as a Manchester City player.

He believes the Etihad is the best place for him right now because he wants to make it at the Etihad. Where better to do that than by working closely with Guardiola, learning exactly what he wants and then doing it when he gets his chance.

Foden has now played 845 minutes for City this season, alongside some of the best players in Europe while learning Guardiola’s gameplan on the job.

How many other 18-year-olds can boast that much top-level football, not just in the Premier League, but around Europe?

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Perhaps he would have played a bit more had he gone on loan, or even left the club altogether.

That has worked for Sancho, and he should be applauded for his bravery, but Foden has chosen another path.

It may not always make him the centre of attention, but he is doing things his own way. Just like when he rejected an easy goal in Newport.


‘How many Arsenal players would rivals want?’ – Merson concerned by lack of ‘world class’ talent and slide behind Spurs

Arsenal lack the “world class” stars of their Highbury era, claims Paul Merson, with there few players at Emirates Stadium who would be snapped up by top-six rivals.

The Gunners enjoyed three Premier League title successes under Arsene Wenger when turning out at a former home – including the ‘Invincibles’ campaign of 2003-04.

A move to new surroundings in 2006 was intended to make the club even more competitive on and off the field.

Instead, Arsenal have regressed, and a former star believes they have now slipped behind north London neighbours Tottenham and a number of fellow heavyweight outfits among England’s elite.

Merson told Sky Sports: “I think it’s an average team with average players.

“If they all went up for sale tomorrow, how many of the top six clubs would take them? For decent money, I don’t mean on a free transfer, for how much they were bought for. That’s worrying.

“When Arsenal played at Arsenal with 38,000 people their team was scattered with world-class players.

“Now, all of a sudden, they have gone to a 60,000 stadium – it’s all paid for and they are one of the richest clubs in the world – how many world class players have they got?

Serge Aurier Sead Kolasinac Arsenal Tottenham English Premier League 12/02/18

“If Arsenal played Tottenham in a cup final tomorrow, who is getting in each other’s team?

“I’m finding it hard to get an Arsenal player into the Tottenham team.

“How has that changed that quickly? Tottenham haven’t broke the bank for anybody.

“It’s not like Arsenal can sit there and say Tottenham have gone mad, they are spending 60, 70, 80 million on players. They haven’t done that.

“The team they got beaten by the other day [BATE], I can’t even bring myself to say they are average because they aren’t average.”

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Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat to Belarusian outfit BATE in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 encounter.

They will get the chance to make amends in their next outing, with a return date set to be staged at Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

Progress in that competition will be expected, while Unai Emery is also seeking to push his side up from fifth spot in the Premier League and into the Champions League places.