‘Icardi to Juventus? No chance’ – Inter chairman Zhang

Inter chairman Steven Zhang has dismissed the possibility of unsettled star striker Mauro Icardi moving to Serie A rivals Juventus.

The Argentine was recently stripped of the Nerazzurri captaincy, with the armband being handed to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, and was subsequently dropped from Inter’s squad to face Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.

This action came following the 25-year-old’s wife and agent, Wanda Nara, suggesting that Icardi deserved a much higher wage and that several top clubs had expressed an interest in him, although she had previously insisted that her husband would sign a new deal with the club.

Juventus’ sporting director, Fabio Paratici, has admitted that the Bianconeri made contact over the forward last summer, but that no approach has been made since. He did suggest, however, that the club would revisit the idea of signing Icardi at the end of the season.

Inter chairman Zhang, however, has rejected the idea of selling to their league rivals.

“In football never say never to business with Juventus. But in this specific case, there is no possibility that Icardi will go to Juventus,” Zhang said at the club’s shareholders’ meeting.

“We talked a lot last week, we want to say enough about this story. With Icardi we are negotiating for the renewal. 

“But our philosophy is that the group is always superior to the individual. The next summer market will be better than last season.”

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Losing Icardi would be a blow for Inter, as the striker has hit 15 goals in 28 appearances in all competitions this season, and has 122 goals for the club in his 210 games so far.

The Nerazzurri currently sit third in Serie A and look good value to progress to the last 16 of the Europa League after their 1-0 win in Austria. 

They host Rapid Vienna at the San Siro in the second leg on Thursday.


Orlando City signs former Manchester United star Nani

Orlando City has announced the signing of former Manchester United star Nani, who joins from Sporting CP in Portugal.

Nani has signed a three-year designated player contract with the Lions, according to the MLS club, which also announced there was no transfer fee to complete the deal with Sporting.

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” Orlando City SC EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in a statement. “Nani brings tremendous experience to our roster. He’s a dynamic winger with quality abilities to move and cross the ball, impact games and lead the offensive play.”

Orlando City will mark the sixth senior side the 32-year-old Portugal international will play for in his career.

Nani began his senior career at Sporting, where he featured for three years before a big move to Manchester United.

There he would go onto the play for parts of eight seasons, many of them alongside his Portugal team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, and win four Premier League titles, two League Cups as well as the 2007-08 Champions League crown under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Nani would return to his old club Sporting for the 2014-15 season on loan and then completed a permanent Old Trafford exit the following campaign when he headed to Turkish club Fenerbahce.

The Portugal man has not been able to find a long-lasting landing spot since his departure from the Red Devils.

Nani would only spend a year at the Fener before heading to Spain, joining up with Valencia in July 2016 for a season.

The next year Nani headed out on loan to Lazio in Serie A, though he only started two league games for the Italian club.

He returned to Sporting in July 2018, and now makes his exit after seven months to the United States.

On the international level, Nani had been a fixture for Portugal and started seven games for his country when it won the 2016 European Championship.

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However, while the winger made the preliminary roster for the 2018 World Cup, he did not make the final 23 for his country’s journey to Russia.

He joins an Orlando City side looking to finally break through in MLS.

The Lions joined the league as an expansion side in 2015, but have yet to make the playoffs in their four seasons of existence.


Red Bulls sign MLS Defender of the Year Long to contract extension

Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long has signed a contract extension with the New York Red Bulls, the club announced on Monday.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, though reports indicate it is a three-year extension.

The Red Bulls did confirm the club used targeted allocation money in order to complete the deal.

“This club gave me the opportunity I always wanted, and I will be forever grateful for that,” 26-year-old Long said in a statement. “These coaches believed in me and allowed me to blossom into the player I am today. I will do everything I can to get silverware for this club.”

The new deal is a reward for a player who has risen through the Red Bulls system to reach the heights of MLS – a journey which took him through the top three levels of American soccer.

Long was originally selected in the second round of the 2014 MLS Superdraft by the Portland Timbers but never featured in a league game for the club.

Instead, he went on loan to the Sacramento Republic of the USL, then in the third tier of U.S. Soccer. He also played for Orange County SC, also of the USL, in 2014. 

After being released by the Timbers, Long stayed in the Pacific Northwest with the Seattle Sounders, but again did not feature in MLS for the senior side, instead playing exclusively with the USL affiliate for three seasons.

Long would then sign with the Red Bulls II, the MLS side’s USL affiliate, in 2016, and after being moved from midfield to central defence, went on to thrive.

He would win the 2016 USL defender of the year, along with helping his side win both the USL regular season and USL Cup. He also made his debut for the MLS side that season, coming in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Long would earn himself a permanent place for the MLS club in 2017, starting 30 games for the team that term.

2018 would prove a true breakout for Long, as he started 31 games at the heart of defence for a Red Bulls side that won the Supporters’ Shield and broke the MLS regular season points record.

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His exploits in 2018 also earned Long the award for the league’s defender of the year.

The defender’s work this season saw him called up for his first appearances for the U.S. national team in October, as he made his debut as a starter in a 1-1 draw with Peru.

He has since gone on to make three more appearances with the national team and started both friendlies under new USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.


Pjanic admits to interest during summer which sparked Man Utd, Chelsea and Barcelona talk

Miralem Pjanic has admitted to attracting interest during a window which saw him linked with the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, but he is delighted to be alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.

Over the summer of 2018, the Bianconeri midfielder sparked regular rounds of transfer talk as his future in Turin was called into question.

Old Trafford and Camp Nou were mooted as potential landing spots, while Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain were also credited with interest.

Pjanic concedes that approaches were made, but the 28-year-old Bosnia international insists he never gave much thought to making a move prior to penning a new five-year contract.

He told Il Gironale: “There was some interest, it’s true, but I had no reason to change club.

“I don’t know if Juventus will be my last big club, because transfers don’t just depend on the player, but also on the club and who might or might not need you in that role.”

Having remained on the books at Juve, Pjanic has been joined at the Serie A champions by Portuguese superstar Ronaldo.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has slotted seamlessly into the fold and broken through the 20-goal barrier in his first season at the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus Frosinone

Pjanic never had any doubt that a man who has dashed the Champions League dreams of the Bianconeri in the past would be a shrewd addition and help to push the ambitious Italian outfit into contention for more major honours.

He said of Ronaldo: “He has always been decisive in the big games, he was born to score important goals.

“And now we have him in our team. It’s up to us to make the most of his presence.

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“When we have a chat, he tells me that he is happy and confident in the strength of this Juve side.

“I can see that the Champions League will come to Juventus over the next few years. It’s my dream to win it and I am in the ideal place to achieve that dream.”

Juve are currently readying themselves for a last-16 showdown in this season’s elite European competition, with a two-legged tie with Atletico Madrid awaiting them at that stage.


Christensen had ‘doubts’ but never considered leaving Chelsea

Andreas Christensen admits to having had “doubts” about his Chelsea future heading into the January transfer window, but insists a move was never considered as he was made to feel valued.

With Maurizio Sarri favouring David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger as his centre-half partnership this season, Denmark international Christensen has found himself on the fringes.

He has made 15 appearances across all competitions, but only two of those have come in the Premier League.

Exit talk was sparked around Christensen as he struggled for regular game time, with the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus among those credited with interest in the 22-year-old.

No deal was done over the winter, though, as a man with three years remaining on his current contract was assured that he still has an important role to play at Stamford Bridge.

Christensen told Bold.dk: “At the moment there’s two clear first choices, and then there’s me. I just have to show that I’m ready and take the chance when I get it.

“There was a lot of talk [over a January move] but it was quickly made clear that the club still saw me as someone who would play.

“Of course that’s really nice to hear so I just have to keep proving myself. I think I’ve been good the last few times I’ve got the chance and then I can only hope that I’ll be selected more often.”

Christensen, who made 40 appearances under Antonio Conte last season and penned a new deal with Chelsea in January 2018, added: “Obviously I had a lot of doubts.

“But once the club assured me I am needed, it really wasn’t that hard for me to accept.

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“I’ve been in the club for many years and I still love being here. It’s solely because of the playing time that the transfer consideration started.

“But I’m looking forward and I’ve come to terms with the situation.”

There are still plenty of opportunities for Christensen to see minutes this season, with Chelsea through to the Carabao Cup final, the fifth round of the FA Cup – where they will meet Manchester United on Monday – the last 32 of the Europa League and pushing for a top-four finish in the Premier League.