Lionel Messi says he wanted Neymar to return to Barcelona this year as the Brazilian would have helped the club take a leap forward, adding that his former team mate was looking forward to rejoining the La Liga champions.
Barca spent the bulk of the close season negotiating with Paris St Germain to bring Neymar back to the Camp Nou two years after he left for a world record 222 million euros ($245 million) but the Catalans failed to strike a deal with the Ligue 1 champions.
“The truth is I would have loved him to come back to us,” Barca captain Messi told Spanish newspaper Sport on Thursday.
“I understand some people were against it and that’s normal considering everything that happened and how he left us, but thinking about it on a sporting level, for me Neymar is one of the best players in the world.
“Obviously he would have increased our chances of getting the results that we all want. The club would have taken a leap forward, in terms of sponsors, our image, our growth, but in the end it didn’t happen.”
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said last week that the club did everything possible to sign Neymar, but admitted they could not meet PSG’s asking price for the forward, who hit 105 goals in four seasons for the Catalans.
“I don’t know what happened with the directors, I know they were speaking with Neymar, he told me how things were going. He was really looking forward to coming back,” Messi, who has been unable to play this season due to a calf injury, said.
“I understand it’s difficult to negotiate with PSG and with Neymar because he’s one of the best. These negotiations are never easy.”
Barca’s all-time top scorer also said he had no plans to quit the Catalans any time soon after it was confirmed by the club that his contract contains a clause that allows him to decide at the end of each season whether he wants to leave for free, reports Reuters.
“I can say that I want to be at Barcelona for as long as I can and end my career here because this is my home,” he said.
“I want to stay here if I can stay in good shape, play well, feel important and if I see we have a winning project.”
Andy Ruiz Jr ‘a disgrace to boxing’ in loss to Anthony Joshua, says Frank Warren
Andy Ruiz Jr “brought disgrace to himself” and boxing by being in “no fit state” to fight in his loss to Anthony Joshua, said promoter Frank Warren.
Ruiz Jr, 30, weighed 20st 3lb for the fight in Saudi Arabia, more than three stone heavier than Joshua, who gained a wide points win to regain the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles.
“This was ridiculous. When eyebrows were being raised at the weigh-in he literally was the elephant in the room,” said Warren, who promotes Tyson Fury but was not involved in this bout.
“Just because you’re a heavyweight it shouldn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to display a degree of athletic intention.
“Ruiz Jr brought disgrace to himself and the sport by failing to prepare to any sort of level. Joshua must’ve wondered which chin he was supposed to aim for.”
The Mexican-American was a full stone heavier than he had been in his first fight against Britain’s Joshua in June, when Ruiz Jr caused an upset with a seventh-round stoppage victory, reports the BBC.
However, after their second bout, he said “three months of partying” had left him in poor condition and that he “should’ve trained harder”, “was overweight” and “didn’t move how I wanted to”.
Warren added: “What we ended up with was a fella who scoffed himself out of being world champion and a spectacle that suffered as a result.
“It’s a bit late after the event to say you partied too much and regret carrying so much weight.
“If he turned up like that for a non-title fight, the promoters and TV executives would be rightly hacked off over a fighter coming in so out of condition.
“Spare a thought for those punters who had a punt on the champion, who had every right to believe he had put the graft in.
“Professional athletes have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field on behalf of those who pay for the privilege of watching.”
Unbeaten Fury, 31, is set to fight WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in the United States in February after their first meeting in December 2018 ended in a controversial draw.
Warren is certain that Fury, who has previously held all the titles 30-year-old Joshua now has, would have beaten Ruiz Jr inside the distance.
“Tyson wouldn’t have been dancing away from Ruiz, he would’ve done a job on him and stopped him,” said Warren.
“I saw Ruiz saying he had achieved his dream. Well, if his dream was to win the titles then stuff himself stupid and lose them at the first time of asking, then his dream has become a reality.
“King of the heavyweight division to Burger King in the space of six months.”
I won’t allow any NFF member to force players on me –Rohr
Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr, has declared that he has not mandated any member of the Nigeria Football Federation to invite players on his behalf.
A top chieftain of the NFF reportedly met with Queens Park Rangers of England midfielder, Eberechi Eze, with a view to convincing him to pledge his future to Nigeria but Rohr insisted he did not sanction anyone to approach any player.
Rohr has said would not bow to any pressure from his employers to force Eze or any other player on him.
Rohr stressed: “I will never ask the NFF publicly to approach any player for our team. We have our processes and it certainly doesn’t include sharing such information publicly.”
A cross section of Nigerian fans and soccer pundits reacting to the issue had said the task of inviting players should be left with the team’s gaffer.
The current situation might further severe the situation between both parties as Rohr has publicly asked for some of his unpaid allowances and salaries, the comment which later earned him a query from the soccer authority.
Rohr’s contract ends June 2020 and there strong indications that the 66 year old may walk away if there is no increment in his salary and allowances.
DR Congo has quietly been making enquiries about the Franco-German coach but his employers said he was still in contract with them.
‘No regrets benching Osimhen against Chelsea’
Lille coach Christophe Galtier has said he has no regrets benching his key players including leading scorer Victor Osimhen in their last group match against Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Osimhen was an unused substitute as Lille lost 2-1 at Chelsea to finish bottom of Group H with one point.
In a post-match press conference Galtier said it was a tactical decision to rest some of his big stars including Jonathan Ikoné and captain Jose Fonte because of the busy days ahead of the squad.
”I wouldn’t say I have regrets regarding my choices. Obviously, as you said, we’ve got some tough fixtures coming up, Montpellier then a Cup game and Monaco. There was in effect nothing to play for in this game, so I don’t have any regrets,” Galtier told reporters.
”I am also happy I managed to give some players the chance to start in this competition.”
”Our objective is clear for the next three games, that’s what we are focusing on. We’ll see what happens starting from Friday with Montpellier.
”There have been a lot of games back-to-back as well since November.”
Osimhen was named in Lille’s starting line-up for Champions League games five times this season, and was on target against Chelsea and Valencia on matchday two and four respectively.
Sports Minister promises to turn Dambe to national sport
The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, on Tuesday received members of the Dambe (traditional wrestling) association in Abuja and promised to turn the sport into national event.
Dare promised to restructure Dambe in order for it to compete favourably with other sports, while commending the founders of the association for taking the sport to other parts of the country.
The Minister who had addressed the fighters in Hausa language before speaking collectively to the delegation, said: “I grew up in the northern part of the country and Dambe was predominantly a northern sport for fun.
“I commend you for making something out of nothing. You have taken the sport to other parts of the country and that is highly commendable.”
The minister who expressed delight that the founders of the association are young people, said, that has been the main goal of the ministry.
Dare stressed that they really want to see youths who use their brains, hands and innovative minds to do something for themselves and the country as a whole.
He added: “What you have done is very encouraging and we are going to leverage on what you have done as co-founders.”
“You need to create domestic league of Dambe fighters and make it more competitive in nature. Dambe gives us another opportunity to keep the youth busy and take them off crime because it engages their mind and makes them productive.”
He also assured that Dambe would be brought into the fold of traditional sports so as to create structure and bring added benefits to it.
Iheanacho targets more records with Leicester
Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho is aiming to help his side break more records this season.
The Nigeria international played a key as the King Power Stadium outfit set a new club all-time best of eight consecutive Premier League wins.
Iheanacho, who endured a torrid time at the start of the campaign, as he found game-time difficult to come by, has been in excellent form lately for the Foxes.
The 23-year-old scored the match-winner in his first English top-flight game against Everton and went on to deliver another outstanding display against Aston Villa, where he found the back of the net and provided an assist.
The victories ensured Brendan Rodgers’ men are second on the league table with 38 points from 16 games, six above reigning champions Manchester City.
Iheanacho believes the Foxes can further extend their winning streak and make their fans joyful as Christmas draws near.
“It’s very good to be a part of this great squad. I’m happy to be part of it and going forward we have fantastic players and great quality,” Iheanacho told LCFCTV.
“Everyone is buzzing, everyone is happy. It’s a fantastic record and we have a great manager and great staff.
“I feel we can win the next game and we’ll keep going and get more records. There have been good Christmas presents so far, we’ll keep going and get more wins.”
Reacting to his sparkling performance against Aston Villa on Sunday, he said: “On a personal level, I’m excited, scoring again and assisting Jamie [Vardy].
“So I just need to keep going and keep the level up, working hard in training to make sure I keep my head up.
“It was a great performance from the whole team. I think we were all over them. We stuck to our plan and got spaces all over the place and we got the goals so it’s brilliant
“We’ve been great this season, we just need to keep going, keep our heads down. This one is done now and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
Iheanacho, who has four goals in four games this term, will hope to maintain his form when Leicester slug it out with Norwich City on Saturd
2022 World Cup qualifiers: Eagles know foes Jan 21
The Super Eagles opponents in the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will emerge at a draw slated for January 21 in Cairo, Egypt, New Telegraph can report.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Confederation of African Football announced that the ceremony scheduled to take place at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Cairo, Egypt would see 14 winners from the first round join 26 top-seeded teams including Nigeria to form 10 groups of four (based on the December 2019 edition of the FIFA Rankings.
This second round, which will be played on home and away basis, will begin in March 2020 and conclude in October 2021.
The 10 winners of these groups will then advance to the third round scheduled for November 2021.
They will be drawn against each other with the five eventual winners progressing to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which will be played between November 21 and December 18, 2022.
Nigeria have featured at six World Cups including the last three editions in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Their best performance was reaching the knockout rounds in 1994 and 2014.
AFN Crisis: NOC sets up 4-man committee
The Nigeria Olympic Committee during its board meeting which is part of its Annual General meeting on Wednesday set up a four-man investigative panel to mediate in the crisis rocking the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
According to Phemmy Adetula, Public Relations Officer of NOC the panel has Barrister Francis Orbih, President of Badminton Federation as chairman with Binga Margaret, President, Taekwando federation, Toyin Aluko and Emmanuel Nweri as secretary.
According to Adetula, the NOC cannot afford to close its eyes to happenings in the AFN. The Olympic movement and solidarity is known for peaceful co-existence. So, for this simple fact, athletics as a sport including other federations in the country must enjoy a peaceful environment without any rancour as they prepare for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan next year.
He said the committee was mandated to report its findings within the shortest possible time to NOC.
Also, the NOC hosted its first Patrons Forum.
The objectives of this Forum is to further highlight our roles, expectations as Patrons of the Olympic and Commonwealth movement amongst other vital issues that is affecting our sport.
In attendance were Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, representative of HRM Oba Saheed Elegunshi, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, Rt. Hon Marc Wabara, Mrs kofo Nwokedi and Maj. Gen. Adamu Dyeri.
The Annual General meeting of the NOC will take place today at the Starview Palace Hotel in Abuja.
26 Ikoyi Club smashers hit Accra today
…for international tournament
A total of 26 tennis players from Ikoyi Club will travel to Accra, Ghana for an international tennis contest to be hosted by Accra Lawn tennis Club.
The three-day tournament which starts this evening ends on Sunday with the top players of both clubs competing for honours.
Some of the players billed for the trip are Olaniyan Babatunde, Nwaokolo Ekenedilichukwu, Ebhohimen Pascal, Okoronkwo Banabas, Ajayi Olakunle, Effiong Iyang, Alawiye Kolawole, Okubena Abimbola, Ayorinde Bola, Jibuna Walter, Lawal Aminat, Eledu Hilary, Oduntan Kayode and Okwuosa Chinedu.
Our correspondent learnt reliably that the Ghana trip is being sponsored by Zenith Bank, Rainoil Ltd. Air Peace, Chief Mike Nwokoni and the members of Ikoyi Club Tennis Section.
The International tournament which took place last year in Nairobi, Kenya is aimed at fostering bilateral business relationship within the ECOWAS region.
The chairman Ikoyi Club Tennis Section, Bimbo Okubena, said the event was one that many members look forward to every year.
Okubena said: “You meet people, make new friends and compare notes in all things we do respectively in our clubs.
“I am very happy that the series of competitions we played are enough to keep us fit for the games in Accra.
“Our sponsors have been very fantastic and this time, they are again there to support us for this tournament.”
The club members will start arriving back in Nigeria from Saturday and the last batch will arrive Sunday.
Obaseki’s wife calls for Edo Women Football Supporters’ Club
Wife of the Edo State Governor, Betsy Obaseki, has called for the formation of Edo State Women Football Supporters Club.
She said it was very necessary for the female clubs in Edo to have uniformed women as supporters who will always come out to support female teams.
“Looking at these crowds in this hall, I can see that men are more in numbers. And each time you watch football competitions the greater number of viewers that you see are men, so as our state women darling team prepares for the new NWFL season, I want the state government to form women football supporters group. Together with the wife of the deputy governor, we will be part of the supporters club”
“I also want to use this opportunity to charge Edo Queens FC to wake and do everything thing within their football prowess to see that they win laurels for the state. Because now that the state government has given them all they needed to excel, they must also play their own role to justify the good welfare packages being given to them by the state government because the only way to make government do more is to win medals.”
“Again, Edo Queens should count themselves lucky that the head of Nigeria Women Football League, Aisha Falode, is our own daughter.”
Joshua earns £8.3m endorsements after beating Ruiz
…world champion to meet with Buhari
The value of World Boxing Heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, has risen in terms of endorsements following his rematch victory over Andy Ruiz last Saturday in Saudi Arabia.
Aside from waiting for a £100m purse for winning, the 30-year-old will be smiling to the bank before the end of the year with £8.3million buzzing in his account from sponsorship deal and endorsements from top brands.
Top brands like Hugo Boss, Jaguar, Land Rover, Audemars Piguet and Beats By Dre, have made Joshua the poster boy adverts because of his success in the sport and his good looks.
His comeback win against Ruiz Jr, puts him as one of the most marketable sports stars on the planet but Joshua is still behind the likes of David Beckham, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Joshua’s stock would have dropped if he had lost to the Mexican-American for the second time in six months, but his win cemented his place as boxing’s highest earner in 2019.
The Nigerian – British reclaimed his four belts (IBF, WBA, IBO and WBO) following a unanimous point victory over Andy Ruiz Jr.
Meanwhile, Joshua will present his title belts to President Muhammadu Buhari at a date to be decide soon.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, Laolu Akande, disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Akande said the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Sunday Dare briefed the council on how Joshua regained his titles from the Mexican, Andy Ruiz Jr, during a repeat match in Saudi Arabia last Saturday.
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