Category Archives: Sports

Lionel Messi agrees Barcelona contract, accepts significant wage cut

Lionel Messi and Barcelona have reached an agreement for the forward to sign a new five-year deal with the Catalan club, sources have confirmed to ESPN. Sources added that Messi has accepted a significant wage cut to prolong his stay.

Messi was a free agent after his contract at Barca expired, and he had courted interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City since first revealing a desire to end his 20-year relationship with Barca last summer. The 34-year-old’s previous contract, which was worth over €500 million ($594m) over four years, expired at the stroke of midnight on June 30.

However, with the return of Joan Laporta as president in March, Messi grew more open to staying at Camp Nou. An official announcement is expected in the coming days. Laporta had hoped to finalize an agreement before Messi’s previous terms expired. Barca’s financial problems made that impossible, though, with their gross debt over €1 billion. Cutbacks have been essential, in terms of transferring players out, reducing the wage bill and getting Messi to accept a lower salary.

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La Liga president Javier Tebas has warned Barca they will not be permitted to register Messi’s new deal if they are unable to reduce spending to comply with the league’s Financial Fair Play rules. Barca’s spending limit has been reduced from over €600m to €347m since the coronavirus pandemic, with further reductions expected to be imposed for the upcoming season.

Therefore, to register Messi’s new deal, in addition to new signings Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal, Barca need to continue reducing the wage bill and moving players on. With that in mind, sources at the club refuse to rule out the departure of Antoine Griezmann, a €120m signing in 2019.

Messi is on holiday with his family after his Copa America triumph with Argentina last weekend, which was his first senior trophy with his national team.

He will link up with Ronald Koeman’s squad later in the summer, with Barca’s league campaign kicking off on Aug. 15 versus Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Messi had first expressed a desire to leave Barca last August after the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. His relationship with then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu had reached a breaking point.

In a September 2020 interview with Goal, after Barca had blocked his departure, Messi called Bartomeu a “liar” and said the board had been “making things up as they go along” and “plugging holes” for years.

Bartomeu, facing a vote of no confidence, resigned last October and was ultimately replaced by Laporta in March. Laporta has a good relationship with Messi and his family. He was Barca’s president when Messi made his first-team debut and when he signed his first professional contract with the club.

Sources told ESPN in April that Laporta was working on a contract renewal for Messi that included the option of playing in Major League Soccer before returning to Barcelona.

In public and in private, Laporta had always maintained that he was “convinced” he could persuade Messi to stay. The club have already made a series of signings this summer, bringing in Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia, as well as recalling Emerson Royal.

Messi first joined Barca’s academy in 2000 and has gone on to play 778 games for the club, breaking Xavi Hernandez’s appearance record last season. He has scored 672 goals, another club record, and has helped Barca win, among other trophies, 10 La Liga titles and the Champions League on four occasions.

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Nick Diaz joins brother Nate back in UFC, agrees to September bout vs. Robbie Lawler in Las Vegas

Nick Diaz is formally returning to the UFC.

According to his longtime attorney, Ross Goodman, Diaz, 37, signed a fight agreement Tuesday to face Robbie Lawler at UFC 266 on Sept. 25 in Las Vegas.

Lawler has not signed his agreement yet, sources told ESPN, but wants the fight, and is expected to sign his side shortly. The non-title fight is expected to be five rounds, and will be on the main portion of the pay-per-view card.

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Diaz (26-9) is the older brother of UFC star Nate Diaz, and a pioneer in mixed martial arts.

He is a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, and was involved in big fights with the UFC versus B.J. Penn, Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva from 2011 to 2015.

In September 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz for five years after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his fight versus Silva in UFC 183. It was his third marijuana-related offense in the state of Nevada, which led to the harsh punishment.

Ironically, the NSAC voted just last week in favor of no longer disciplining combat sports athletes for marijuana use.

Diaz and Lawler have a history that runs back to 2004. They met on the undercard of UFC 47. Diaz won via knockout in a highly entertaining contest.

Lawler (28-15) is a former UFC welterweight champion. He won the 170-pound title by defeating Johny Hendricks in 2014 and defended it twice in instant classics versus Rory MacDonald and Condit.

The 39-year-old has dropped his past four bouts, all against very high-level competition.

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Dustin Poirier wins trilogy rematch by TKO after Conor McGregor injures leg in Round 1

Dustin Poirier now owns two triumphs over the biggest star in the history of mixed martial arts. This one, though, didn’t end in the cleanest way.

Poirier hit Conor McGregor with a combination at the end of the first round of Saturday night’s highly anticipated UFC 264 main event. McGregor went to plant his left foot and his leg buckled, sending him to the mat. Poirier followed up with punches on the ground as time expired in the round.

With McGregor clearly hurt, referee Herb Dean called the lightweight fight. The official result was Poirier by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at 5:00 of the first round. A stretcher was brought in to transport McGregor to the hospital. The video replay showed McGregor’s lower leg bent gruesomely as his foot hit the canvas. UFC president Dana White later stated the injury was to McGregor’s lower tibia and that he will have surgery Sunday morning.

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The finish left the sold-out crowd disappointed. There was a mixture of boos and cheers when Poirier was declared as the winner. This was one of the most anticipated trilogy fights in UFC history.

“I beat the guy,” Poirier said in his postfight interview.

Poirier explained that he hurt McGregor’s ankle on a checked kick and then the ankle buckled at the end of the first round. McGregor denied that it was a checked kick that did it. Poirier picked up his 15th career first-round finish.

“This is not over,” McGregor said.

White said Poirier will fight for the UFC lightweight title next versus champion Charles Oliveira and that when McGregor is healthy he will probably get a fourth fight against Poirier.

“When Conor is healed and ready to go, we’ll do the rematch, I guess,” White said. “Poirier will do his thing until Conor is ready.”

Oliveira told ESPN’s Mike Coppinger he expects the fight with Poirier to possibly be in December.

“It’s really sad what happened [to McGregor], but if you look at Poirier’s game, he’s been improving a lot, he’s been putting a lot of pressure, so he deserves the win,” Oliveira said of Saturday night’s result.

White said he believes that had McGregor not been injured, he would have gotten out of the first round.

“His ankle snapped from throwing punches. He was fighting back,” White said. “It wasn’t like he was up against the cage with Dustin unloading punches on him. If his ankle doesn’t break, I think we get to the end of the round.”

Poirier, for his part, said he and McGregor “are going to fight again, whether it’s in the Octagon or on the sidewalk. … He was saying that he was going to kill me. You don’t say stuff like that.”

Poirier said he wasn’t sure he felt a sense of closure following the trilogy.

“I need to digest it all, because right now, it kind of feels weird,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Poirier stopped McGregor at UFC 257 in January via second-round TKO. In 2014, at UFC 178, McGregor knocked out Poirier in less than two minutes.

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Australian Grand Prix cancelled for second year in succession

The Australian Formula One grand prix has been cancelled for a second consecutive year, with Melbourne now set to lose its prestigious season-opening status.

The multi-million dollar race had already been rescheduled from March to November before it was scrapped altogether on Tuesday, while the October Australian MotoGP will also not go ahead at Phillip Island.

The 2020 Australian GP at the Albert Park street circuit was called off at the last moment at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula stated Formula One and MotoGP management needed assurances this week that Australia was unable to deliver on.

He said the country’s low vaccination rate and the Federal government’s recent decision to slash international arrivals had forced their hand. The motorsport organizations have a set of conditions for each race and that could not be managed if drivers and their crews were required to quarantine.

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“Formula One and MotoGP required assurances and undertakings and guarantees this week about the conduct of those events,” Pakula said on Tuesday.

“There’s a few months to go, but they need to plan, and they need to have contingencies in place.

“Given the very low national two-dose-vaccination numbers, and given the decision of National Cabinet on Friday, we’re simply not in a position to give F1 management or MotoGP the sorts of assurances they require.

“Some 1600 visitors in November, with the bespoke quarantine arrangements needed … really makes it extremely difficult for us to give those organisations the guarantee they require.”

Formula One already has a race programmed in Brazil for November 5-7, leaving little time for a two-week hotel quarantine before November 19-21 when the Melbourne event was scheduled, while there was no wriggle room with the final two races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi in early December.

Australia is not alone with Singapore and Canada both cancelling their races for a second year due to safety and logistic concerns connected to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Pakula said he had spoken with Formula One boss Stefano Demetocarli and there was an expectation the event would go ahead in 2022.

Pakula said April was a prospective date, meaning Melbourne would lose its prestigious season-opening status.

Bahrain jumped in to host round one this year when the Australian event was rescheduled and will be rewarded with hosting the race in 2022.

“We’ve been talking April with F1 for some time, ” Pakula said.

“As you know this year other events went into that first and second slot and I think F1 are keen to continue with those events.”

Pakula downplayed losing the first race on the calendar, saying there were always changes and the later date suited Melbourne.

He said he didn’t have figures available on the economic impact of surrendering the fixture for a second year.

Formula One and the Victorian government have a contract to run the race in Melbourne until 2025 while the MotoGP is contracted to 2026.

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Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling not interested in Tottenham move as part of Harry Kane deal

Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling would not be keen on a move to Tottenham as part of a deal to bring Harry Kane to the Etihad Stadium, sources have told ESPN.

ESPN reported on Monday that City were readying a £100 million offer for Kane that could include players heading to Spurs as part of the arrangement.

Reports have suggested Sterling is one of the names in the frame, along with Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte, but sources have informed ESPN the England winger is not open to the idea of being considered in the deal.

Sources close to City and Tottenham told ESPN a formal offer for Kane has not been made.

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Sterling has been a key part of City’s success under Pep Guardiola, winning the Premier League title three times.

However, the 26-year-old lost his place in the starting XI towards the end of last campaign as Guardiola favored Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. All three started the Champions League final loss to Chelsea.

Sterling was left on the bench for both legs of the quarterfinal versus Borussia Dortmund and again in the semifinal triumph over Paris Saint-Germain.

He has two years left on his contract after signing an extension in November 2018.

Sources have told ESPN that if he were to leave City this summer, it would be on his terms rather than as part of another deal.

Kane is keen to leave Tottenham this summer with City, Manchester United and Chelsea all registering an interest with his representatives.

Sources have told ESPN that even if City made a £100m bid, it is likely to be rejected by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who values the striker at more than £150m.

Kane still has three years left on his contract after signing a long-term deal in 2016. The 27-year-old’s future has also been complicated by Spurs’ ongoing search for a new manager after the dismissal of Jose Mourinho last season.

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Argentina qualify for Copa America quarterfinals with win over Paraguay

Argentina ensured their place in the quarterfinals of the Copa America on Monday when they defeated Paraguay 1-0 in a game notable for Lionel Messi’s record-equaling 147th appearance for the national side.

The victory in Brasilia was Argentina’s second 1-0 victory in a row in this tournament and their 16th match without defeat since losing in the Copa America semifinal in 2019.

It gives them seven points from three games and leaves them top of Group A, two points ahead of Chile, four ahead of Paraguay and six ahead of Uruguay.

Bolivia are bottom with no points from two matches so with four of the five teams qualifying for the last eight, Argentina are sure of progressing.

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“We’re through but we have to keep improving,” said defender German Pezzella. “We had a great first half, our intensity wasn’t the same in the second but they didn’t have very many chances at goal.”

Paraguay had never beaten Argentina over 90 minutes in the Copa America, a run that covers 25 matches, and they were up against it as early as the 10th minute when Argentina went ahead.

Alejandro Gomez took a delightful pass from Angel Di Maria and dinked the ball over the diving keeper.

“Angel’s pass was great,” said Gomez. “I just had to get my foot under it and put it away.”

Argentina thought they had a second when Junior Alonso deflected a cross into his own net on the stroke of half-time, but the goal was chalked off by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

Paraguay came out more positive in a changed second half, with Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron always dangerous on the left wing.

However, although they enjoyed the bulk of the possession they could not turn it into opportunities and now face two tricky games versus Chile and Uruguay.

For Argentina, Sergio Aguero made his first international start since November 2019 but was anonymous up front and it was Di Maria and Messi who stood out.

On the night he equaled Javier Mascherano’s record of 147 games in the blue and white shirt, Messi was a busy presence in the Paraguayan half.

Both he and Di Maria drew fouls from their opponents who ended up committing 23 fouls to Argentina’s 11.

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Hamilton plays down blow of another loss to Verstappen

Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton played down the pain of his latest defeat by Formula One leader Max Verstappen in France on Sunday and said the race was a real reflection of Red Bull’s pace.

The Briton had won at Le Castellet in 2018 and 2019, with no race last year due to COVID-19, but his hopes of a hat-trick ended when resurgent Red Bull out-smarted the champions on strategy.

The seventh race of the season was a reversal of the Spanish Grand Prix in May when Hamilton hunted down Verstappen, who stated then that he felt like a sitting duck, in the closing laps to win.

This time it was the champion who was on the receiving end as Verstappen made a second pitstop and used his fresher tyres to make up the time and overhaul Hamilton on the penultimate lap.

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Asked how gut-wrenching the feeling had been, Hamilton — now 12 points behind his Dutch rival — said it had not been at all.

“I think we did a great job today and it just didn’t work out,” he added.

“I’m not massively disappointed. I think I did the best job I could today. Of course, there were things we could probably have done slightly better but overall they have been quicker than us all weekend.

“It’s a true reflection of the pace they have.”

Hamilton had arrived at Le Castellet having scored just seven points from the past two races won by Red Bull and lagging Verstappen by four.

The 36-year-old recognized that another chance to win had e slipped through his fingers, his tally still stuck at a record 98 career victories.

“If we look in hindsight for sure if we’d have stopped earlier, before they stopped and come out ahead and just gone onto a two stop, we probably could have won the race,” he said.

“But it would still have been very difficult. Their pace was generally very, very strong.

“If he (Verstappen) had not made a mistake in turn one, they would have just led the race all the way probably.”

Verstappen started on pole but went wide at the start, letting Hamilton to take the lead which the Mercedes driver held until the pitstops, when the Dutch driver got back in front before taking a gamble and pitting again.

“Lewis’s tyres were really worn,” Verstappen said of the closing stages. “It was a fairly easy pass.”

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Paris Saint-Germain beat Barcelona, Bayern Munich to Georginio Wijnaldum signing

Paris Saint-Germain have beaten Barcelona and Bayern Munich to the signing of Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool on a free transfer.

Wijnaldum, 30, has agreed a three-year deal with PSG after deciding to run down his contract at Anfield, which concludes at the end of June.

“Signing for Paris Saint-Germain is a new challenge for me,” Wijnaldum said. “I’m joining one of the best squads in Europe and I want to bring all my desire and commitment to this ambitious project. Paris Saint-Germain have proved how good they are in recent years and I am convinced that together, with our supporters, we can go even further and higher.”

The Netherlands international had previously reached an agreement to join Barca. His agents met with the Catalan club’s president Joan Laporta at the end of May and a medical had been penciled in.

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Barca’s interest in Wijnaldum dates back to last summer, when Ronald Koeman made him a target after being appointed as the club’s coach.

However, as first reported by ESPN on Friday, PSG made a late play to hijack Barca’s move for Wijnaldum.

Sources close to the negotiations told ESPN that the Ligue 1 side were willing to double the terms agreed with Barca, while a phone call from coach Mauricio Pochettino also helped persuade Wijnaldum to change his mind.

Bayern Munich also held talks with Wijnaldum, who informed the German club and Barca last weekend that he had decided to sign for PSG.

The midfielder becomes PSG’s first signing of the summer as they look to strengthen after missing out on the league title to Lille and a semifinal Champions League exit to Manchester City.

Wijnaldum, who is preparing for the European Championship with Netherlands, played for Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven before making the move to England with Newcastle United in 2016 for around €15 million.

After Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League a year later, he joined Liverpool on a five-year deal for a fee of €25m.

He helped Liverpool collect the Champions League in 2019, famously scoring twice in the semifinal victory over Barca, and was part of the side which won the Premier League a year later.

During his five-year stay at Anfield, he also won the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup. In total, he made 237 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 22 goals.

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Jairzinho Rozenstruik authors another buzzer-beater, stopping Augusto Sakai in UFC Fight Night

Jairzinho Rozenstruik has a knack for getting finishes right before the bell.

Less than two years after he earned the latest finish in UFC heavyweight history, Rozenstruik uncorked another buzzer-beater Saturday. The kickboxing standout stopped Augusto Sakai via TKO with punches at 4 minutes, 59 seconds of the first round in the main event of UFC Fight Night.

Rozenstruik pressured Sakai against the cage with the first coming to an end. Sakai attempted to circle off to his right, but Rozenstruik caught him with a stunning left hook and then a right hand behind the ear.

Sakai dropped to the canvas and Rozenstruik swarmed with big punches until referee Herb Dean stopped the action right before Sakai could be saved by the horn.

“As soon as I heard the [10-second] clock — tock, tock, tock — I faked him with the right, hit him with the left and hit him with the right again,” Rozenstruik stated in his postfight interview.

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In December 2019, Rozenstruik finished Alistair Overeem via TKO at 4:56 of the fifth and final round, the deepest a UFC heavyweight bout that ended in finish has ever gone.

ESPN has Rozenstruik ranked No. 7 in the world at heavyweight. He was coming off a loss, so this gets him back on track — and right back into title contention.

“Anybody that’s ranked above me makes sense,” Rozenstruik said when asked whom he wants to fight next. “There’s the top five there. I’m coming for you guys. I’m coming.”

Rozenstruik (12-2) has won two of his past three fights.

The Suriname native struggled to pull the trigger in a unanimous decision loss to Ciryl Gane in February. Rozenstruik wanted to return as quickly as he could to remove the bad taste from his mouth from that loss.

Following a quick knockout loss to top contender Francis Ngannou in May 2020, Rozenstruik bounced back with a TKO of former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos last August. And now he has bounced back from the Gane fight.

Rozenstruik, 33, has several kickboxing titles to his name and is now seeking MMA gold in the future. Sakai (15-3-1) has been one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC heavyweight division.

The Brazil native won four consecutive in the UFC before falling to Overeem by fifth-round TKO last December. He has now dropped two straight.

Sakai, 30, has just those two losses in his past eight battles.

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Hamilton ready for new contract talks with Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton is ready to start new contract negotiations with Mercedes, meaning he would stay in Formula One beyond the end of 2021, and is hoping to have a new deal in place by August.

After eight years at Mercedes, the seven-time world champion signed a one-year deal over the winter, meaning he will be out of contract again at the end of 2021.

The one-year deal came as a surprise following a rushed negotiation period at the end of the year, which resulted in team and driver agreeing to start their next contract talks earlier this year.

“We never want to be in the position that we were in in January, in February [this year],” Hamilton said. “It ruined my whole winter and I’m sure it wasn’t helpful for Toto’s, in terms of being out to be off and relaxed, so it felt like we didn’t really have much of a break.

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“I think we have to be sensible. Naturally we don’t have to rush anything, but I think we have to be sensible and start conversations.

“They’re very complex, it’s never a super simple procedure and so hopefully soon we can start, as long as it doesn’t interfere the actual job.

“We still have 19 races to do, but it would be great to get something in place before the break so then we could, again, be in that break and have a clear picture of the future.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is confident Hamilton will commit to F1 for more than a single year under his next contract.

“Yes, it should be [more than a year],” Wolff said. “We don’t want to be in a stressful situation every single year where we are absolutely flat-out trying to win races and needing to negotiate. I would rather that doesn’t happen every year.

“We just need to spend a day or two together, put it out there and decide which are the difficult components.

“We will then lock the door and won’t walk out until it is sorted. That works best for us, and it has worked best for us in the past.”

At 36 years old, Hamilton stated he still feels fit enough to continue in F1 over the coming years.

“There’s still some life in this old dog!” he joked. “I would say I’m more conscious than ever about my body, about my training regime.

“I’ve been training myself for a long time now but constantly growing and learning how to look after, naturally, the vessel that I’m given and feeling great.”

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