Saturday 5 April 2008

Milan president confirms Ronaldinho interest

AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed today in an interview with Italian news agency ANSA that his club is trying to sign Barcelona playmaker and Brazilian international Ronaldinho (28): "I hope and think that we will be able to close the deal." Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport had claimed this morning that Berlusconi would have made clear to some friends that the transfer is almost sealed. The paper says that Milan would be wanting to pay 20 million euro° for Ronaldinho.

Meanwhile, Inter Milan would also be trying for months now, with the support of sponsor Nike, to convince Ronaldinho to join them. Inter manager Roberto Mancini repeated today at a press conference his interest in signing Ronaldinho: "Six months ago I said that I would sign him if it was possible. Now he might be for sale and he remains a great player. Even if he's going through a difficult time, he is a great player who can make the difference." The player's agent and brother, Roberto de Assís, nevertheless doesn't seem very keen on a deal with Inter.

In an interview with Catalan radio station Ona FM, Roberto de Assís didn't want to pronounce on his visits to Milan and London in the past days nor on the future of Ronaldinho: "He just got injured, so this is not the best time to talk about this." Asked if the fans would ever see Ronaldinho in the Barcelona shirt again, Roberto ironically replied: "Since he has a contract until 2010, there will be enough time for that."

The race to the bench: Guardiola takes Mourinho's pole (1)

This week there was a sudden and quite drastic turn-around in the race to next season's Barcelona bench. While former Chelsea manager José Mourinho (45) has been the top candidate since the beginning of this year, Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola (37) seems now to to have taken over his position.

Everything began after last Saturday's defeat against Betis Sevilla and the subsequent rumours about an early exit of current Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45), with Guardiola then coming forward as the only possible emergency solution to replace Rijkaard until the end of the season (read more here and here). This scenario seems nevertheless history after the away win against Schalke 04 in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

But on Wednesday Guardiola turned from a possible temporary solution into a possible definitive solution when Catalan television station TV3 claimed that the Barcelona board would have decided not to go on with Rijkaard and that Barcelona president Joan Laporta had approved the proposal of Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain to appoint Josep Guardiola as his successor. Guardiola would be assisted by his current assistent Tito Vilanova and by former Barcelona player Luis Enrique.

Only a few hours later, Barcelona took the very unusual initiative to release an official statement denying the rumour: "FC Barcelona denies categorically that the club would have decided to replace manager Frank Rijkaard next season. The Dutch coach has a contract until the year 2009 and the board of directors has total confidence in him."

What is very clear for most Barcelona insiders is that Barcelona president Joan Laporta is still holding on to Rijkaard. The president would like to finish his term with the manager he started with back in 2003 (read more here). If Barcelona would win the Champions League (or who knows, the Liga), there would be no doubt and Rijkaard would start in the summer his sixth season as Barcelona head coach.

(this is the first part of this contribution, the second part will be published tomorrow, the third part on Monday)

Everybody wants Ronaldinho

It becomes more and more clear that Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28) will be the centre of the coming transfer summer, with all kinds of speculation, rumours and comments. It also seems that Barcelona's fear that no club would be interested anymore in Ronaldinho, was somewhat besides the truth. The usual suspects - AC Milan and Chelsea - are back (read more here and here), but also other clubs are keeping an eye on the player. An overview:

- Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Atlético Madrid defensive midfielder and former Barcelona player Thiago Motta, a close friend of Ronaldinho, called the Brazilian a week ago and tried to convince him to join Atlético. Ronaldinho kindly rejected the offer saying that Barcelona will have to move first. Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo said this week in an interview with Spanish radio station Cadena COPE that his club could sign a player like Ronaldinho: "We have enough money to pay what would be needed for that."

- São Paulo striker and Inter Milan loan out Adriano (26) reacted cautious to the rumours about a possible summer move to Barcelona in a kind of swap deal including Ronaldinho (read more here). In an interview with Italian sports paper Tuttosport the Brazilian said: "Of course it would be nice to play for a club like Barcelona, but it is not something I'm thinking about now. After I have returned to Italy, I will see what will happen."

- Asked about the rumours linking Ronaldinho with his club (read more here), Fenerbahçe manager Zico said in an interview with Catalan radio station Catalunya Ràdio that, if possible, he would without any doubt sign his compatriot: "I'm an admirer of Ronaldinho and the Fenerbahçe president is too. Notwithstanding his current situation, every team would like to have him, including us. He would make our team better, like Roberto Carlos has done."

- Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said on Thursday in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere dello Sport that if he could bring one player to Juventus, it would be Ronaldinho: "I would take a player like him straight away if the price would be accessible, which I don't think is the case." Roberto de Assís yesterday thanked the Italian international today in the same paper for his kind words in this difficult times: "His words prove that the great football players still admire Ronaldinho and want to play with him." For the paper this is enough to conclude that Juventus has now also officially joined the race for Ronaldinho.

- British tabloid The Daily Mail claims today that Manchester City has joined the race for Ronaldinho. Manchester City president and Thai billionnaire Thaksin Shinawatra would have been contacted by intermediaries and alerted to contact Barcelona and the player's agent about a possible deal. Although it's unclear how much money Manchester City manager Sven-Göran Eriksson will be able to spend in the summer, sources in Italy report that Milan believes the City interest is serious and that the club has therefore increased their efforts to close the deal shortly.

(read everything on the Ronaldinho transfer story here)

Ex-Barça: Ruud Hesp to Dutch national team

The Dutch football association KNVB has officially announced that former Barcelona goalkeeper Ruud Hesp (42) will act for the next two years as goalkeeping coach under future Dutch national team coach Bert Van Marwijk, who will succeed current manager Marco Van Basten after the Euro 2008 and will have to qualify the team for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Hesp is the goalkeeping coach of the Dutch national team since August of the year 2006. He currently combines this function with his job as FC Groningen goalkeeping coach.

Ruud Hesp came to Barcelona on a free transfer from Dutch club Roda JC in the summer of 1997. Three years later, the goalkeeper left for Dutch club Fortuna Sittard. Under manager Louis van Gaal, Hesp was most of the time the first choice goalkeeper. With Barcelona, Ruud Hesp won two Spanish league titles in 1998 and 1999, one Copa del Rey in 1998 and a European Super Cup against Champions League winner Borussia Dortmund in 1997.

(read all ex-Barça stories here)

Alves doesn't exclude Lahm

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that the possible arrival of Sevilla right back and Brazilian international Daniel Alves (24) (read more here) does not mean that Bayern Munich full back Philipp Lahm (24) would be off the list. While the German, whose contract with Bayern expires in 2009 and who refused until now any renewal, can both play at the right and the left back position and could that way be a solid back-up for both positions, Alves can also play higher up the field, in midfield or even as winger.

After the Uefa Cup game against Getafe on Thursday, Lahm declared to the journalists that he was thinking about his future: "I have always said that I would like to play abroad."

pep's opinion:
Lahm as regular right back, doesn't appeal a lot to me. But if Lahm would agree with this kind of "super back-up" position, he could be a very interesting player: at the left he could be a more attacking option than Abidal, at the right he could be a decent number two behind Alves.

Read more here:
Barcelona confirms Lahm interest
Lahm is the first option
Lahm battle coming

Or read the whole Lahm transfer here.

Friday 4 April 2008

Ronaldinho agent met with Chelsea

After he met on Wednesday with Milan and Inter officials (read more here), Ronaldinho's brother and agent Roberto de Assís, would have met today with Chelsea officials. Madrid sports tabloid As assures that Roberto flew this morning to London, where he would hold talks about the transfer of his brother with a Premier League club.

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that this club is Chelsea, who is already for a while showing great interest in signing Ronaldinho, and sees a clash between Chelsea and Milan coming up. Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport thinks Roberto is in London as agent of CSKA Moscow striker Vágner Love, who could move to England in the summer.

The participants at the Wednesday dinner in restaurant 'Giannino' in Milan have in the meantime in different media all commented on the meeting. Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani played down the Ronaldinho interest: "Ronaldinho is a great player but we did not speak about the transfer market. It was a simple dinner among friends. If we would have wanted to negotiate about something, we would have gone to another place."

Milan adviser Ernesto Bronzetti nevertheless spoke very clear: "Yes, Milan is interested, but a lot of other big clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool also want him. The player wants to leave because they don't like him anymore in Barcelona, but it will be difficult for us with all those rivals. This is all just beginning." Roberto de Assís, who also denied the later meeting with Inter, said Ronaldinho was not discussed: "I did not talk with Milan about the situation of my brother, we only talked about Zaraoza striker Ricardo Oliveira. Ronaldinho has a contract and the people like him a lot. We should respect that."

It is rumoured in Italy that the renewed interest of Milan in Ronaldinho is due to the fact that Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was not in favour of the transfer, seems to be on his way out and that his possible successor, Italian national team coach Roberto Donadoni, would have given his permission to move for the Brazilian.

Nevertheless, Ancelotti admitted today at a press conference that his club has been for a while and still is interested in signing Ronaldinho and that he supports a possible transfer: "They say he's been having some problems at Barcelona, but I don't know anything about that. I only evaluate him as a player, and as a player he has done very well."

Roberto de Assís is expected to travel to Barcelona in the coming days. He told in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere dello Sport: "I will talk to my brother first and then I will meet Barcelona officials. We'll see what will happen. This is an important moment and we should think carefully about the future."

While it was said yesterday that Barcelona wanted to calm down everything during a meeting with Roberto, Madrid sports tabloid As claims today that Barcelona would be wanting to organize a dignified departure of Ronaldinho. Barcelona president Joan Laporta would fear the reaction of the fans if the Brazilian would leave for little money. Catalan sports paper Sport shares this idea: both parties know the Ronaldinho era in Barcelona is over and Barcelona will know try to fix a reasonable price for which the player can leave.

Bojan renewal coming up

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that Barcelona will offer youth academy striker Bojan Krkic (17) a contract extension as soon as possible after the player has celebrated his 18th birthday later this year on the 28th of August.

Bojan signed his first contract with Barcelona in 2006 at the age of 16. The Spanish legislation doesn't allow these contracts for minors to have a duration of more than three years, which means that Bojan's current contract (although it has a non-enforceable clause for two additional years) will expire in 2009. Once a player turns 18, both parties are free to negotiate a new deal.

Barcelona plans to offer Bojan a long-term contract in the summer and will adapt the conditions of his contract to the player's current status. While his salary is now highly based on incentives according to the number of games played, the normal conditions applied to the other members of the squad will from now on be used.

The Barcelona officials are confident that Bojan nor his entourage will cause problems, since the player has always stated that his dream is to win trophies with Barcelona. The paper reports that the player's family therefore rejected a big offer by Chelsea head talent scout Frank Arnesen last year, that included a job for Bojan's father, who currently works as scout for Barcelona.

Thuram to sell energy drinks

Austrian newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten claims that Red Bull Salzburg is interested in the transfer of Barcelona central defender Lilian Thuram (36). The Austrian champion wants to bring in the French international to act as a guide for the younger players (read more here), since the squad is expected to be seriously rejuvenated by future Salzburg manager Co Adriaanse, who will replace Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni at the end of the season.

The transfer could also have a commercial reason, since the energy drink that gives its name to the team, has recently been allowed to be sold again on the French market, after a five-year ban. Thuram is believed to be able to act as a perfect ambassador for the drink in his home country.

pep's opinion:
good publicity stunt

100 million euro to spend

Barcelona sports paper Sport states that the Barcelona board and the technical staff have agreed that Barcelona will invest around 100 million euro° in a major squad reshuffle during the coming transfer summer. This will mainly be spend on the transfer of four players. The extra transfer money will come from two main contracts that will take effect as of next season and from the sale of players.

Although current Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard is involved in the transfer process, it's the policy of the club that the coach normally doesn't have the last word and that the Barcelona manager, whoever he may be next season, will have to work with the players put at his disposal by the club.

Diego Milito closely monitored

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that an Argentinian agent has recently offered Zaragoza forward Diego Milito (28) to Barcelona.

Since Zaragoza is at the bottom of the Spanish league and still playing for relegation, Barcelona, that has been following the player for years now (read more here), is closely monitoring the situation of the Argentinian international. The current contract of Diego Milito, who is the older brother of Barcelona central defender Gabriel Milito, expires in 2011. It is generally believed that Zaragoza will not hold on to the 100 million euro° buyout clause if a good offer comes in for the striker.

Pellegrini is on the list

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Villareal manager Manuel Pellegrini (54) is on the long list of possible succesors to current Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45).

Last month, when Barcelona played against Villareal, Barcelona president Joan Laporta would have talked to Villareal president Fernando Roig about Pellegrini and would have asked Roig about the contract situation of the Chilean. Pellegrini is said to have a buyout clause of 2 million euro°, although it is believed that Villareal could let the manager go for free, since the Villareal president and his manager have an excellent relationship and Roig is aware that this could be a unique opportunity for his coach.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Ronaldinho agent met with Milan and Inter

Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport published today a picture of AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, leaving a local restaurant last night together with Roberto de Assís, brother and agent of Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28), and with Ernesto Bronzetti, the Milan adviser for the Spanish market.

While some indicated that Roberto is also the agent of Zaragoza striker Ricardo Oliveira, who is still owned by Milan, and although Milan president Silvio Berlusconi stated several times in recent months that his club is no longer interested in Ronaldinho (read more here), the dinner lead to speculation about a renewed Milan interest in the Brazilian international and the possible use of article 17 of the Fifa transfer regulations, which would allow the player to leave for only 16 million euro.

Madrid tabloid Marca claims that, after the dinner, Roberto de Assís also met with Inter Milan officials (read more here). The paper says that the arrival of former Chelsea manager José Mourinho to Inter could be decisive for a possible transfer. Mourinho already asked for Ronaldinho when he was coaching Chelsea and the Brazilian would have been one of the first demands Mourinho has put on the table during the negotiations with Inter.

Meanwhile, Spanish news agency EFE says that Barcelona has asked Ronaldinho's agent to hold a meeting in Barcelona. After the hectic past few weeks (read more here and here), the club wants to talk to Roberto in order to calm down the whole situation and make Ronaldinho feel comfortable again.

Can pay rise convince Henry?

British tabloid The Sun claims that newly-formed Major League Soccer team Seattle is ready to offer Barcelona forward Thierry Henry a substantial pay rise in order to convince him to join them (read more here).

The French international should launch the new team when they make their MLS debut next year. Co-owner and multi-billionaire Paul Allen, the co-founder of the Amercican computer technology corporation Microsoft, would therefore be ready to propose Henry a deal worth 191 877 euro° a week. Barcelona is currently paying the player 162 892 euro* a week.

(read everything on the Henry transfer story here)

Deal with Alves

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Barcelona has come to an agreement with Sevilla right back defender Daniel Alves (24). The Brazilian international would sign a five-year contract and would receive three times the salary he's currently getting.

Barcelona will now have to negotiate with Sevilla. Alves, who thinks the time is right to leave for a European top club, hopes that Sevilla president José María del Nido will this time set a reasonable price. Last summer, Del Nido stated that the player, who has a buyout clause of 60 million euro, costs 35 million euro (°) for a foreign club and 40 million euro (°°) for a Spanish club.

Asked about the issue, José Rodríguez 'Rodri' Baster, the agent of the player, told in an interview with Spanish news agency Europa Press that he always refers interested clubs to Sevilla: "Once the two clubs have found an agreement, then they can start to negotiate with us. So, if you ask me if we have an agreement with Barcelona, the answer is no. And if you ask me if Sevilla and Barcelona have an agreement, I think not, because we didn't hear anything about that."

The agent, who says that Alves wants to keep making progress but that Sevilla president Del Nido holds the key, nevertheless admitted that there is mutual interest between Barcelona and Alves: "Barcelona has asked us if Dani Alves could sign for them if they find an agreement with Sevilla and we have said that if they do, we are ready to sit around the table and talk to them."

Meanwhile, Madrid sports tabloid As claims that Alves is, together with Ajax's Huntelaar and Werder Bremen's Diego, one of the three main demands for next season of Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster. Madrid would be ready to offer Sevilla players like Júlio Baptista, Javier Saviola or Rúben de la Red in order to reduce the transfer price. Alves himself would have informed his manager, who apparently is offering the player to several European top clubs, that he prefers Madrid over Barcelona. Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo says that Barcelona will not enter a bid race for the Brazilian.

(read more on the Alves transfer story here)

Garay transfer is off

Madrid sports tabloid Marca claims that Barcelona has pulled out of a deal on the transfer of Racing Santander central defender Ezequiel Garay (21). Earlier this year, Barcelona and Santander agreed upon the transfer of the Argentinian, who has a buyout clause of 20 million euro (°) and who would sign a five-year deal. Barcelona would pay (in three blocks, to be paid in April, June and December of this year) 14 million euro (°°), with another 4 million euro (*) in incentives. With Barcelona last month communicating to Santander officials that they would not pay the first slice, the deal is now definitely off.

In the meanwhile, Santander would already have offered Garay to Real Madrid. The negotiations are still ongoing and the main obstacle seems to be the transfer price: while Santander wants to receive at least what Barcelona was prepared to pay, Madrid doesn't want to pay more than 12 million euro (**). Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that Real Madrid is not interested in Garay and that sources in Santander insist that the negotiations with Barcelona are well-advanced.

(read everything on the Garay transfer story here)

Pique could return

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Manchester United central defender Gerard Piqué (21) is on the list of Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain (read more here).

Barcelona already followed the player closely when he was loaned out to Zaragoza last season and thinks the player, who left the Barcelona youth academy in 2004, is making progress and could become a great central defender if he gets the chance to prove himself. The contract of Piqué, who would be ready to return to Barcelona, expires in 2009 and the player already rejected two renewal offers by Manchester United.

Milan close to signing Zambrotta

Several football sites yesterday (unconfirmedly) claimed that AC Milan is on the verge of completing a deal with Barcelona full back Gianluca Zambrotta (31). Milan officials would have been in lenghty discussions with the player's agent, Giuseppe Bonetto, and with almost all details agreed upon, an official announcement is expected in the coming days. Asked again about the rumours linking him with a return to Italy, Zambrotta wasn't keen on pronouncing on the issue at a press conference today: "I don't think this is the right moment to speak about the future of individual players. Everybody knows that I have a contract until 2010 and that I don't like to talk about this."

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi stated earlier this week in an interview with Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport that the Milan defence will definitely be strengthened in the summer. Asked about the rumours linking Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o with his club (read more here), Berlusconi said that the Cameroonian is an great player but that Milan has good forwards too.

(read more on the Zambrotta transfer story here)

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Rijkaard candidate for Mexico

Spanish news agency EFE claims that Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45) is one of the many candidates to replace Hugo Sánchez as coach of the Mexican national team. Sánchez was dismissed on Monday.

The Mexican football association did not yet pronounce on possible candidates but has stated that the successor of Sánchez should be someone with experience and a winning mentality who must lead the team to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Mexican sports paper Esto states that Mexico officials will soon start talks with a number of managers who could be up for the job, among which Frank Rijkaard.

Mexican youth coach Jesús Ramírez has been appointed as provisional coach. The Mexican football association seems in any case wanting to wait until the end of the Spanish league to make the name of the new manager public, with Atlético Madrid manager Javier Aguirre also being on the list. Other mentioned candidates include Argentinian manager Carlos Bianchi, Portuguese national team coach Felipe Scolari and former Argentinian national team coach José Pekerman.

Ronaldinho and Adriano: The trouble kids exchange

Italian sports paper Il Corriere dello Sport claims that Inter Milan's interest in signing Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28) is back on (read more here and here). Inter is closely monitoring the situation of the player and believes that Barcelona would be ready to would be ready to let go the Brazilian go if a fair bid comes in. Inter doens't want to play things hard by using Article 17 of the Fifa transfers regulation (read more here) and is ready to make an offer that would include São Paulo striker and Inter loan out Adriano (26).

The transaction will nevertheless not go true if former Chelsea manager José Mourinho would replace at the end of this season current Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini. While the latter is a known admirer of Ronaldinho, Mourinho does not think the player can add something to his team.

(read more on the Ronaldinho transfer story here)

Barcelona has first option on Cesc

Joseba Díaz, the former agent (read more here) of Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fàbregas (20), has admitted in interviews with Spanish radio stations Onda Cero and Radio Marca that Arsenal will have to turn to Barcelona first when selling the player because the two teams agreed in the past on a first option clause: "Barça has the first right to buy Cesc, in case Arsenal decides to sell the player."

(read more on the Cesc transfer story here)

Ex-Barça: Frank de Boer to Dutch national team

The Dutch football association KNVB has officially announced that former Barcelona central defender Frank de Boer (37) will act for the next two years as first assistant to future Dutch national team coach Bert Van Marwijk, who will succeed current manager Marco Van Basten after the Euro 2008 and will have to qualify the team for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. De Boer will combine his new function with his current job as Ajax Amsterdam youth coach.

Frank de Boer played for Barcelona from January 1999 (arriving together with his twin brother, attacker Ronald De Boer, after a heavy transfer dispute with Ajax) until the summer of the year 2003, when he left for Turkish top club Galatasaray. Frank de Boer won one Spanish league title with Barcelona in 1999.

(read all ex-Barça stories here --- or just read the stories of Serra Ferrer Cruijff Ronald de Boer)

Newcastle interested in Gudjohnsen

British tabloid The Daily Star claims that Newcastle United is planning a bid for Barcelona attacker and Iceland international Eidur Gudjohnsen (29). Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan would have made Gudjohnsen, who is not expected to survive Barcelona's clear out at the end of the season, one of his top targets for the summer market.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Could Guardiola be the emergency solution?

After Saturday's defeat, people really started to believe that Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45) could well be replaced before the end of the season and that the game against Schalke tonight could be decisive (read more here and here). Because there are only two months left and because he already knows the ins and outs of the club, the only possible successor who has been put forward by the press is Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola (37).

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo reports that a lot of Barcelona officials don't like the idea of Guardiola taking over with a few months left because they are afraid of burning him in the last two months of the season, what could very well be the case if things would not change under his command. Others have another vision and indicate that this could be a chance for Guardiola to get to know the players, what would allow him to make decisions in the summer. That is, if Guardiola would not be seen as provisional solution. Barcelona site Pelikano indeed states that Guardiola would not be prepared to be a temporary coach, but would want to change things drastically, having a long-term perspective.

Catalan sports site Info Esports claims that Guardiola was already sounded to take over after last December's defeat against Real Madrid, but that the manager rejected the offer cause he didn't feel ready for the job. Guardiola wants to gain more experience and his only wish now is to finish the season with Barcelona B, who will most probably play the promotion play off to return to the Segunda División B. Madrid sports tabloid As even claims that Guardiola's agent, Josep María Orobitg, last summer negotiated to include an explicit clause in the contract allowing Guardiola to reject an offer by the Barcelona board to coach the first team.

Transfer history: Zidane, Henry and Blanc

In the book 'Wie is Johan Cruijff? Insiders duiden het orakel' (Who is Johan Cruijff? Insiders explain the oracle) by Dutch writers Mik Schots and Jan Luitzen, former Barcelona manager Johan Cruijff (60) talks about how Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez didn't let him buy any more players at the end of his term:

"In January or February of the year 1996, I had a verbal agreement with Zinédine Zidane and Thierry Henry and a few other players with whom I had a good personal relationship because we had the same ideas on the way of playing and because our characters matched. When I had to leave Barcelona, I told them: 'Take your own decision. If you still want to come to Barcelona, you should do it. If you don't want to come, you shouldn't do it.' From the three or four French players who would have come and play with us, Laurent Blanc was the only one who had already signed when I left. The others decided not to come."

French playmaker Zinédine Zidane (35) was at that time playing for Bordeaux. In the end, Zidane moved in the summer of 1996 to Juventus. French forward Thierry Henry (30) was playing for Monaco. In January of 1999, Henry left for Juventus. Henry later came to Barcelona in the summer of 2007.

French central defender Laurent Blanc (42) joined Barcelona from Auxere in the summer of 1996. After just one year, Blanc returned to France and joined Olympique Marseille because he wanted to play as a regular in view of the 1998 World Cup. In 1996 Blanc won the Spanish Super Cup with Barcelona.

(read all Barcelona transfer history stories here --- or just read the stories of Luis Fabiano Cesc Ben Arfa)

Ronaldinho won't be sold

Talking at a conference and asked about the position of Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28), Barcelona economic vice president Ferran Soriano told that the future of every player, and not only Ronaldinho, will be looked at after the season is over. Stating that both the club and the player have done excellent in the last five years, Soriano said that the Brazilian won't be just put on the market: "Ronaldinho's future won't be decided taking into account merely economic considerations. The board will take a decision based upon sports and human criteria."

(read more on the Ronaldinho transfer story here)

Rijkaard not preparing to jump

Asked if he had considered resigning after the defeat against Betis Sevilla on Saturday, Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45) told at a press conference in Germany: “After a defeat, it’s better not to speak about such things. And right now we’re preparing for a game, so I don’t really feel much like talking about it. It’s best not to enter into such a dynamic.” Rijkaard says the dismissal talking is not affecting him.

Meanwhile, Catalan television channel TV3 yesterday showed images of a conversation between Rijkaard and Barcelona goalkeeping coach Juan Carlos Unzué at Barcelona’s El Prat airport. When asked by Unzué if he carried a parachute in his bag, Rijkaard answered: “I have two days.” This immediately lead to wild speculation about an upcoming dismissal. At the press conference, Rijkaard played down the rumours with a smile, saying they were not joking on his Barcelona future: “I said that I had clothes with me for two days.”

Catalan sports paper Sport claims today that some Barcelona board members think a drastic and immediate change is needed and are therefore increasing the pressure on president Joan Laporta to take action and not to wait until the end of the season to dismiss Rijkaard. Laporta and sports vice president Marc Ingla are nevertheless still defending the manager and think decisions should be taken in the summer and not in the heat of the moment. Arriving in Germany, Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not want to reply questions about the Rijkaard issue and a possible deadline the board would have set for the Dutchman.

(read more on the latest developments surrounding the position of manager Frank Rijkaard here and here)

Wanted: Right back

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo reports that Barcelona's search for a new right back defender seems to become a problem, because a transfer of the two main targets, Bayern Munich full back Philipp Lahm (24) and Sevilla right back Daniel Alves (24), is more and more looking to be a difficult operation.

The contract of Philipp Lahm expires in 2009 and the player has until now rejected all renewal offers from Bayern. The German defender, who would cost between 10 and 15 million euro (°), will talk later this month with future Bayern manager Jürgen Klinsmann, who would like to convince Lahm to stay and would therefore be ready to offer him the capataincy and an important salary rise.

After he in the end didn't leave Sevilla last summer, Brazilian defender Daniel Alves, whose contract expires in 2010, is now more than ever looking for an exit in the next transfer window. If Sevilla would be willing to sell the player this time, the transfer price, with clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham already having made an offer, could well rise above 30 million euro (°°).

(read more on the Lahm and Alves transfers by clicking their labels under this post or at the left of the screen)

Monday 31 March 2008

Ex-Barça: Phillip Cocu to Dutch national team

The Dutch football association KNVB has officially announced today that former Barcelona player Philipp Cocu (37) will act for the next two years as assistant to future Dutch national team coach Bert Van Marwijk, who will succeed current manager Marco Van Basten after the Euro 2008 and will have to qualify the team for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Cocu is currently playing his last months as an active player with United Arab Emirates club Al-Jazira. Cocu will combine his new job with coaching a PSV Eindhoven youth team.

Philipp Cocu came to Barcelona from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup in France in 1998. In his first season he won the Spanish league title. Cocu played six seasons for Barcelona, mainly as centre midfielder or central defender. The Dutchman was all that time a regular and even made it to the captaincy. In the summer of 2004, Cocu did not accept a contract renewal offer by Barcelona and decided to return to PSV. Philipp Cocu holds the record of appearances for FC Barcelona as foreign player.

(read more ex-Barça stories here)

Mourinho has a pre-agreement with Inter

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that former Chelsea manager José Mourinho (45), one of the top candidates to become the next Barcelona manager, met last Friday with Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti in Paris, where both parties signed a pre-agreement in which the future collaboration is described and which obliges Inter to pay Mourinho an amount of money if the deal in the end doesn't go through.

Meanwhile, British tabloid The Sun claims that Mourinho still wants to keep his Spanish options open and that this has caused Inter to put a one-week deadline.

(read more on the Mourinho case here)

Rijkaard plays his future tomorrow

Both main Catalan sports papers, Sport and El Mundo Deportivo, claim today that a new loss in the first game of the Chamions League quarter final against Schalke 04 tomorrow night, could mean the end of Frank Rijkaard (45) as Barcelona manager. The papers report that different members of the Barcelona board already didn't want to continue with Rijkaard anymore after the Copa elimination because they assume the manager doesn't have the strong hand needed to change the situation, but Barcelona president Joan Laporta wants to hold on to Rijkaard at least until the end of the season. A new defeat could nevertheless make the pressure on Laporta to act too big to resist.

Both papers point out Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola (37) as the possible emergency successor (read more here).

Yesterday, Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain said in an interview with Catalan television channel TV3 that "the club is getting plenty of arguments to take decisions", but that they only plan to act at the end of the current season.

On the position of manager Frank Rijkaard, Begiristain said: "We are going through difficult times. Personally, I would like him to continue, but of course we have to wait and see how the season ends and how the relations between the manager and the squad are at that moment." The Barcelona sports director denied the rumours that Rijkaard would have offered to resign after the Betis game on Saturday: "That is just not true."

Huntelaar is in Barcelona

Dutch television football talk show Studio Voetbal claimed last night that Ajax Amsterdam forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (24) took yesterday evening a flight to Barcelona, where he could negotiate today about a transfer to Barcelona. Huntelaar's contract with Ajax expires in 2010 and the player, who scored already 29 goals in the Dutch league this season, has been linked with several European top clubs in the past months. Dutch television channel AT5 denied that Barcelona is in the race for Huntelaar, because they have enough quality forwards and because Barcelona adviser Johan Cruijff isn't a big fan of the player.

Dutch sports site Sportweek claims that Huntelaar left Barcelona and headed by train to Madrid, where he could have met with Real Madrid officials. An Ajax fan association states that Huntelaar went to Spain to cooperate on a new commercial by a sportswear supplier.

Youth: Gai Assulin

Asked about the rumours linking him with a move to the English Premier League (read more here and here), Barcelona attacking midfielder Gai Assulin (16) said in an interview with Catalan sports paper Sport that he's only focusing on one thing now: "My main objective at this moment is doing a good job with Barça B and in so doing to make the transition to the first team."

Gai Assulin was born in Israel and came to Barcelona four years ago. Since a few months, Gai is playing with Barcelona B in the Spanish fourth division. Under the management of former Barcelona defensive midfielder Josep Guardiola he already scored seven goals this season, having an important part in the second place of the team in the classification. Last september he made his senior debut with the first team in the semi-final of the Copa Catalunya. Last week he made his debute with the senior Israeli national team.

(read more youth transfer stories here)

Sunday 30 March 2008

The four Barcelona summer objectives (2)

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo reports that the Barcelona tecnical staff has determined during a meeting on Tuesday the four main objectives in the coming transfer summer.

1 - Right back defender
2 - Central defender
(read yesterday's post here)

3 - Scoring midfielder
The Barcelona technical staff believes the squad has a lot of similar midfielders with a great technique and excellent passing qualities, but they think there's a lack of goal-scoring ability. Werder Bremen attacking midfielder Diego (23) is the favourite option to fill up this gap, although it looks like it's going to be a difficult race with some other European top clubs closely following the Brazilian international. The interest in Dinamo Zagreb midfielder and Croatian international Luka Modric (22) is diminishing.

4 - "Crack"
The probable exit of Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28), will make Barcelona go after a new "crack", a player who can please the fans and can be the motor of the revival. It's nevertheless unclear which player, who can deal with such a responsibility, will be available and economically affordable in the summer. Olympique Lyon forward Karim Benzema (20) is the dream target, but the French international just renewed his contract with Lyon and seems to be staying at least one more year in France (read more here).

(this is the second and last part of this contribution, the first part was published yesterday)

Crosas goes French / 17

Olympique Lyon won this afternoon away with 1-2 against Valenciennes and stays on top of the French league with a six point lead on Bordeaux. Barcelona loan out Marc Crosas (20) started on the bench and replaced Brazilian playmaker Juninho in the 80th minute.

(read more on Crosas in Lyon here)

Will Rijkaard finish the season?

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claimed after the Copa elimination last week that the question is no longer if current Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard (45) will still be the Barcelona manager next season, but that the main issue since then is if Rijkaard will be able to finish the 2007-2008 season. The influence of yesterday's defeat on this matter is unclear. After the game, none of the present board members wanted to make an official statement. The paper nevertheless reports today suggestively that president Joan Laporta, sports vice president Marc Ingla, sports director Txiki Begiristian and captain Carles Puyol were holding an informal meeting on the Sevilla airport last night, with manager Frank Rijkaard not being included in the talks.

Former Chelsea manager José Mourinho (45) would already have made clear to the Barcelona technical staff that he will on no condition take over for the rest of the season. Barcelona B manager Josep Guardiola (37) has been put forward by some people as a possible emergency successor, but wouldn't be a real option since he's playing for the promotion with his team and because the club doesn't want to take the risk of prematurely burning Guardiola, who's only in his first year of coaching.

Meanwhile, a poll on the website of Catalan sports paper Sport shows that half of the participating Barcelona fans is in favour of the immediate dismissal of Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard. And only 14 per cent wants to go on with the Dutchman after this season.

Transfer history: Iaquinta (Juventus)

Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta (28) has talked about the past interest of Barcelona to sign him while he was playing for Udinese (read more here). In the end the two clubs couldn't find an agreement. On football site Goal, the Italian international is quoted as saying:

"It was completely true that Barca were interested, but I have no regrets. In the end, even by staying in Udine I managed to get into the Champions League, I won the World Cup and then earned myself a place here at Juventus. Maybe on a personal level it would have been interesting to play abroad. If I ever talk about it again it will be a long time down the road as I am so happy at Juventus and I hope to stay here for a good deal longer."

Vincenzo Iaquinta played for Udinese from 2000 to 2007. In the summer of 2007 he signed for Juventus.

(read more transfer history stories here)

Ronaldinho wants to leave

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo claims that Barcelona playmaker Ronaldinho (28) is feeling uncomfortable in Barcelona due to the continuous criticisms and that the player would have confessed to some close friends that he will leave if things don't change. The Brazilian would already have asked to his brother and agent Roberto for a transfer in January, but in the end both decided to stay. Although Ronaldinho feels backed by the majority of the players, he now would be very disappointed with the latest declarations of manager Frank Rijkaard (read more here).

Meanwhile, Catalan sports paper Sport claims that, although they're not really interested in the player, Real Madrid could be willing to sign Ronaldinho if the club fails to win the Liga in order that way to distract the attention and to cover the failure.

(read more on the Ronaldinho transfer story here)

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