Mata only focused on Confederations Cup amid Chelsea exit rumours

The Blues Player of the Year insists he is paying no attention to mounting rumours that he will leave the club and says his primary concern is performing well for Spain

Chelsea winger Juan Mata insists he is fully focused on playing football after being linked with a summer move away from Stamford Bridge.

Mata has become a key figure in west London since arriving from Valencia in 2011 and was crowned the club’s Player of the Year for the second season running after playing a major role in the side’s Europa League success and third-place finish in the Premier League. 

Recent reports suggested returning Blues boss Jose Mourinho would be open to selling Mata, but the 25-year-old insists he is ignoring all transfer gossip and is concentrating solely on winning the Confederations Cup with Spain.

“Obviously it’s tough, talking about it physically, but I don’t feel down, I still feel fresh and all I want is to play as many games as I can,” he told Sky Sports.

“I really enjoyed this season. It was a tough and long for us, but at the end we won a trophy so it was good.

“I really love to play with my national team, so all I can do is train and look forward to playing, because I love to play football.”

Liverpool set for €49 million transfer splurge

Merseysiders close in on summer signings of Henrik Mkhitaryan, Simon Mignolet, Luis Alberto and Christian Atsu as Brendan Rodgers adds to arrivals of Kolo Toure and Iago Aspas

By Wayne Veysey

Liverpool are close to signing four new players in a 49 million splurge on the summer market, Goal understands.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has returned from his holiday in Spain to oversee the capture of midfield playmaker Henrik Mkhitaryan, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet as well as wide forwards Luis Alberto and Christian Atsu.

The Merseysiders have already signed Kolo Toure on a free and agreed a 8.8m deal for the Celta Vigo striker Iago Aspas that will be completed when it receives international clearance.

Liverpool also remain confident of signing top centre-back target Kyriakos Papadopoulos despite reaching a stalemate in negotiations with his club, Schalke.

It adds up to a massive overhaul of the first-team squad, which will be enhanced even further if Luis Suarez is successful in engineering a 40m-plus move, most likely to Real Madrid.

Rodgers has been assured that he will be given a large portion of the Suarez fee to buy a proven centre-forward if the Uruguayan leaves Anfield.

The Merseysiders want as many of the new signings as possible in place for when the club return to pre-season training in a fortnights’ time.

The biggest statement to rivals clubs would be the signing of Shakhtar Donetsk’s versatile midfielder Mkhitaryan, who has gained an excellent reputation in club and international football for his ability to play a number of central midfield roles.

Liverpool and Donetsk are in advanced negotiations on the fee for the Armenian, with the Ukraine club holding out for 26m. Sources say the deal is now “60 per cent done”.

Anfield officials are also in talks with their counterparts at Sunderland about the fee for Mignolet, which is likely to be close to 12m. The deal is expected to be secured by the end of the week.

It is understood that Liverpool expect Pepe Reina to end his seven-year spell on Merseyside this summer as he holds out for a move to Barcelona, but the waters have been muddied by uncertainty over whether Victor Valdes will leave the Catalan giants.

Rodgers and Liverpool’s recruitment team have prioritised the signings of attacking players to fit into the manager’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

Alberto is set to become the Reds’ third signing of the summer, with Liverpool confident of completing a deal for the 20-year-old at some point this week.

Sevilla are holding out for 8.1m for the youngster, who spent last season on loan at Barcelona, but a compromise is expected to be struck at around the £7m mark.

Liverpool are also targeting Porto winger Atsu, who has only 12 months remaining on his contract and could arrive at Anfield for a cut-price fee of as little as 5m.

The Merseysiders have not given up hope of landing Papadopoulos, even though no deal is imminent. His club Schalke are holding out for a 17m fee for the 21-year-old Greece international, but Liverpool are unwilling to pay more than £19m for the player and are willing to bide their time in order to get him.

Martin Skrtel is expected to be off-loaded if Papadopoulos arrives at Anfield.

Barcelona blunder makes €18m Thiago the bargain of the summer

The midfielder hit three goals for Spain Under-21s in their 4-2 Euro win over Italy on Tuesday, but could be set to leave after his release clause was reduced from €90 million

COMMENT
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Europe’s elite watch with interest. Thiago Alcantara enhanced his growing reputation on Tuesday evening as the midfielder hit a hat-trick to steal the show in Spain’s Under-21 European Championship triumph in Israel against Italy. Now he could be set to leave Barcelona this summer for a cut-price €18 million – and the Catalans can only have themselves to blame.

Barca boasted about Thiago’s release clause rising to €90 million when the Catalans renewed the midfielder’s contract in 2011, amid similar speculation about a possible departure. However, failure to participate for a stipulated amount of minutes in 2012-13 has now seen that clause plummet from the previous prohibitive total to an attractive €18m. And Thiago will consider his options.

The clause, which was insisted upon by the player’s agent (Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere) after talks with Thiago and his father, Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, stated that the midfielder must feature for 30 minutes or more in 60 per cent of Barcelona’s matches last term. And although he did play in exactly 60% of games (Thiago featured in 36 club fixtures in 2012-13, out of a possible 60) and average well over half an hour per match (with 1904 minutes in total), he failed to complete the required amount in 15 of the 36 matches.

That means any club wishing to sign the talented 22-year-old can do so for a bargain €18m before August 1, when the clause returns to €90m.

Catalan daily Sport claimed on Tuesday that the player wants to leave Barcelona after talks with coach Tito Vilanova failed to convince the midfielder to stay at Camp Nou next season. However, Thiago has not expressed a desire to depart the Catalan club and still hopes his future lies at Barcelona, with more talks with Tito planned once he returns home from Israel.

Asked about a possible move in the lead-up to the European Championship, Thiago replied: “We will see after the Euros.” And although he has been told to be patient by team-mate Xavi, it is the Spain star and Andres Iniesta who have restricted the younger man’s appearances at Camp Nou. With Cesc Fabregas also around and Lionel Messi omnipresent in the Barca line-up, plus Neymar to come into the team after his summer signing, the midfielder may find it even more difficult to play in 2013-14.

It is not a case of being unhappy at Barcelona, but of wanting to play first-team football. Thiago harbours hopes of making Spain’s squad for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, but knows he must feature much more regularly to have any chance of joining the senior team next summer.

On Tuesday, he played as the ‘focal point’ in attack for Spain’s Under-21 side and headed home unchallenged following an Alvaro Morata cross to give la Rojita the lead. He then controlled and volleyed to make it 2-1 with his left foot and sealed a ‘perfect’ hat-trick in just 40 minutes by converting a penalty with his right. Later, when Spain won another spot kick, he handed the ball to Isco instead of going for a fourth.

The midfielder is not yet the finished article and he frustrated fans by losing the ball too often at times last season, while he was previously and persistently told by former coach Guardiola to minimise the tricks and keep it simple during games. At only 22, however, he has the vision and technical ability to blossom into one of the world’s best ball players.

Guardiola’s Bayern Munich and Manchester United are both interested in signing the Spain star, while Manchester City may fancy pairing the 22-year-old with another successful Spaniard, David Silva, and a number of other clubs will also watch and wait for developments.

Barca, meanwhile, will try to convince Thiago to stay and fight for his place as the midfielder returns to the Catalan capital this week. Had they given him more game time last season, however, the player’s release clause would have remained at €90m and there would have been no question of him leaving the Camp Nou club for such a price. That was poor management and someone else may now benefit from Barcelona’s blunder as Tuesday’s Most Valuable Player is now available for the next six weeks at a cut-price €18m: the bargain of the summer.

Follow Ben Hayward on 

Milan must meet us halfway for Robinho, says Santos official

The Peixe official believes the Italian giants must meet them halfway if they are to successfully negotiate the sale of the former Real Madrid attacker

Santos vice-president Odilio Rodrigues says AC Milan must lower their asking-price if they are to complete a deal for Robinho this summer.

The 29-year-old, who spent three years with Peixe prior to joining Real Madrid in 2005, is said to be keen on a move away from San Siro in the coming months after having found himself on the fringes of Massimiliano Allegri’s plans for much of last season, and his former club have long been desperate to have him back.

However, the Rossoneri are understood to be holding out for at least €9 million for the forward, while Santos are believed to be reluctant to table an offer of mor than €6 million, and Rodrigues has appealed for a compromise.

“We have spoken to people who represent Robinho and Milan, and the quoted figures are very high,” he told Globoesporte.com.

“We spoke on the phone and we are still waiting to hear confirmation on those figures.”

Robinho previously retutned to Santos in 2010, spending six months on loan from Manchester City, during which time he helped the club to Copa do Brasil and Campeonato Paulista titles.

Currently without a coach since dismissing Muricy Ramalho at the end of May, earlier on Tuesday Santos announced that the deal to bring Marcelo Bielsa to Estadio Vila Belmiro had fallen through.

Sevilla chief calls on Liverpool to up Alberto offer

The Liga club’s director of football, Ramon Verdejo, says a bigger bid will secure the player’s move to Anfield

Sevilla director of football Ramon Verdejo has told Liverpool up their offer for forward Luis Alberto, while confirming Aston Villa are close to signing defender Antonio Luna.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers looks to have identified Alberto, who scored 11 goals in 38 appearances on loan at Barcelona B last season, as an extra attacking option.

Verdejo confirmed that Liverpool have made a “very good” offer for the 20-year-old, but insisted only a higher fee will see him join the Anfield outfit.

“Liverpool’s interest in Luis is real, but nothing has been signed. They’ve made the player a very important offer,” Verdejo told Sevilla’s official TV channel La Bombonera.

“I recall that much of a fuss was made when we loaned him out. As it stands, we all agree that he now has a better value in the market and has grown as a footballer.

“The offer we have on the table is a very good one with respect to where Luis is currently. We don’t know what will happen in the future. To date, we haven’t accepted the offer.”

Luna is expected to complete a move to Villa in the near future, becoming Paul Lambert’s second defensive recruit following the arrival of Jores Okore last week.

Verdejo added: “It is true that we are very close to finalising his move to Aston Villa.”

Finally he stated the club will only sell Premier League targets Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ivan Rakitic and Alvaro Negredo if they receive significant offers.

He added: “We have had offers for Kondogbia, Rakitic, Medel and did not listen to them. If no significant offer comes in, we will not sell Negredo. But, do not forget who the player involved is. The figures being reported of €15-18 million are insufficient.

“[Kondogbia], his father, Doyen and Sevilla think it suits him stay in the club, he will grow and we are sure it will be worth even more next year.”