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Keeping Messi critical to Barca future, says presidential candidate Font

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lionel Messi must stay at Barcelona so he can lead the team for the remainder of his career and play a strategic role when he retires, the club's presidential candidate Victor Font told Reuters.

The six-times World Player of the Year and Barca’s all-time top scorer came close to leaving the Catalans in August after his relationship with then president Josep Maria Bartomeu turned sour.

But the Argentine can leave the club, where he has spent his entire career, for free at the end of this season unless he pens a new contract before the end of June.

Font, who formed part of a campaign against Bartomeu which led to him resigning in October, is the front-runner to win the Jan. 24 election and believes the world's best paid player can be convinced to stay at Camp Nou.

“When you are lucky enough to have the best player in the world in your team, you need to retain that talent,” Font, a 48-year-old telecommunications entrepreneur, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

"If Messi goes to a competitor we will not find an alternative easily as there is no alternative to Messi. So that’s why retaining him in the short term is critical.

"But for us the association between Messi and Barca is a strategic relationship and we want to make sure we create the right conditions for Messi to play a role in the club even after he retires. Messi could contribute plenty of ideas."

Font has been planning a run at the presidency for seven years and has chosen Barca midfield great Xavi Hernandez to lead the team as a general manager in the long term as well as being a coach.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

Xavi, whose intricate passing fuelled the Argentine's incredible goal hauls for 11 years and helped the pair win seven La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with Barca, is part of Font's strategy to ensure Messi remains.

"Messi needs to be convinced we have a competitive and winning project and Xavi can play a decisive role in us doing that," Font said.

"Xavi’s credibility and know how about football is the right one to convince someone like Messi. They are friends, they know each other, they trust each other and that’s going to be key."

If he wins the election, Font will take charge of a club with the highest wage bill in world football. However, the club is in deep financial crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has obliterated revenue from ticketing, merchandising and tourism.

Barca's last accounts showed a loss of 97 million euros ($115 million), while their overall net debt more than doubled to 488 million euros.

But Font believes Messi’s love for Barcelona, who he joined aged 13, is so deep that he could lower his salary demands in order to stay.

"All clubs are in economic crisis (due to the pandemic) and everyone needs to adjust their expectations," he added.

"The good thing with Messi is he loves the club as we all do and I'm sure he is ready to take a long term perspective and make a contribution so the club can manage the short term in the best possible way.

"When you have someone like Messi who loves the club and who the club wants to retain for many years, you have the framework to regenerate and build a winning team."

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Reporting mainly on the Asia Pacific region and the global Coronavirus crises in countries such as the United States, China, Brazil, Mexico, Italy and Germany. Love to Travel and report daily on destinations reopening with a focus on Domestic travel within Europe, North America and the Caribbean. A great fan of Bali, Rhodes & Corfu. Love to follow the English Premier League , the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga.

Football

Spurs return to summit with hard-fought draw at Chelsea

LONDON (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur went back to the top of the Premier League on Sunday when they held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw that left honours even between visiting manager Jose Mourinho and his one-time midfield lieutenant Frank Lampard, now in charge of the Blues.

The result took Spurs back to the summit above champions Liverpool on goal difference, with both sides on 21 points, two points ahead of third-placed Chelsea after 10 games.

Chelsea, who won three league titles under Mourinho, struggled to break through the disciplined defending of the well-marshalled Spurs side that was a hallmark of the Portuguese coach’s two spells in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham looked more dangerous in the first half when they threatened on the break, pouncing on any error to flood forward at speed, but Chelsea had the best chances after the break.

Visiting right back Serge Aurier forced goalkeeper Edouard Mendy into a save with a fierce shot in the 15th minute, and left back Sergio Reguilon also stretched the hosts.

The home side – seeking to mark their 1,000th match under the ownership of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich with a win – began the second period on the front foot as Spurs dug in.

Cheslea's marauding right-back Reece James then swung in two dangerous crosses but striker Tammy Abraham failed to connect.

Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech shot high over the bar after a rare lapse by Spurs in the 67th minute. Fourteen minutes later, Mason Mount thought he had finally made the breakthrough, only to see his low drive tipped wide by keeper Hugo Lloris.

In added time, Chelsea substitute Olivier Giroud was unable to capitalise on a headed back-pass error by Welsh defender Joe Rodon, who was otherwise impeccable on his Spurs debut, as the striker hit a tame shot straight at his France team mate Lloris.

Then it was Tottenham's turn to miss a chance to win when substitute Giovani lo Celso shot over in the final seconds.

A goalless draw was perhaps no surprise since both teams have focused on tightening up their defences, with each conceding only one goal in their previous four league games after some leaky performances earlier in the season.

Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell said the Blues were happy with a point after wht he called a "knife-edge" game.

"Points are crucial and neither team wanted to give the other side any points," he told Sky Sports.

"We’d have loved to win the game at Stamford Bridge against our rivals but we needed to keep a clean sheet."

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Football

Clever Cavani offering United different options in attack

SOUTHAMPTON, England (Reuters) – There were raised eyebrows when Manchester United signed 33-year-old Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani on transfer deadline day in October, with some calling it an act of desperation.

A match-winning display on Sunday in a dramatic 3-2 victory at Southampton further silenced the doubters though with Cavani's signing beginning to look like an astute piece of business.

His movement and vision as he inspired United to recover from a two-goal deficit showed how he netted 200 goals for Paris St Germain before moving to Old Trafford on a free transfer.

After laying on Bruno Fernandes's goal with a pinpoint pass, Cavani scored with two opportunist headers to earn United a club-record eighth successive away league victory.

He had replaced 19-year-old Mason Greenwood at halftime and, with Marcus Rashford also relatively young, Cavani, with his clever movement, offers United a different threat as a highly-mobile focal point in an attack blessed with pace but lacking guile.

United defender Harry Maguire said Cavani's impact was not a surprise.

"His movement is excellent in the box," Maguire said. "It's the best I've played (against) during training. He is on the move constantly. We know what he has got and can bring to this club. It's important he kicks on now because he's a top, top player."

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Cavani's professionalism, even if the Uruguayan did arrive late on the pitch for the second half while he sorted out his boots.

"He's got all the attributes of a top-class footballer and a human being," Solskjaer said. "He's had a great career, scored goals wherever, he's meticulous with preparation and recovery, meal times, before and in the match.

"I was surprised he didn't have his boots ready when the second half started. We know he is one of the cleverest and best movers in the box. He certainly had an impact today."

Solskjaer said Cavani had filled the gap left by the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan last year.

"To have a focal point in the box… we've not really had that since Romelu left. It gives us a great balance and a mix," Solskjaer said. "His best friend in the box is — as Sir Alex (Ferguson) used to say — space.

"He gets into that space with perfect timing."

There were other positives for United, who came from behind to win an away league game for the fourth time in succession, not least a first league start for Donny van de Beek.

The Dutch central midfielder was impressive as United controlled large portions of the game.

"It was a fantastic comeback and to win it at the end was brilliant," Solskjaer said. "It's a tradition of this club. It's something this team is getting better and better at as well."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)

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Football

Mourinho praises Spurs' changed mentality after Chelsea stalemate

LONDON (Reuters) – Jose Mourinho knows better than most the value of grinding out points in away games against direct rivals so while his reaction to his Tottenham Hotspur side's 0-0 draw at Chelsea on Sunday was subdued, inside he would have been delighted.

Spurs did not have an attempt on target in the second half at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League derby, but they were disciplined and tough to break down as they claimed a point from a fixture that has so often been unkind to them.

While fans may question the entertainment value, and the fact Gareth Bale was left on the bench, the draw was enough to put Tottenham back into top spot on goal difference above champions Liverpool, with Chelsea two points behind in third.

"The one thing I take from the game is that a draw in here normally is a positive result," said Mourinho, whose side are unbeaten in the league since the opening-day defeat by Everton and have kept three successive clean sheets.

"To stay top of the league with that result is also a positive thing. The best thing I take from the game is that the dressing room is not happy, we are not happy. That for me is fantastic, it's a complete change of mentality.

"We didn't have many chances but how many did they have? Nobody gambled," he added.

Tottenham looked more threatening in the first half as they played on the counter-attack, but Chelsea dominated the ball after the break, without ever really opening up the visitors.

Mourinho, who won three league titles in two stints at Chelsea, has vowed to turn Spurs into winners, injecting more pragmatism into a team that threatened to win trophies under predecessor Mauricio Pochettino but never delivered any.

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp said the Portuguese coach would have been delighted with the way his side earned their point, having lost both league games to Chelsea last season.

"I imagine Jose said at halftime, 'Let's get a point by hook or by crook'" Redknapp said. "They beat Manchester City last week, now they get a point at a vibrant Chelsea side. It's not pretty but he is trying to turn this Spurs team into winners."

In his post-match news conference Mourinho downplayed Tottenham's chances of landing a first league title since 1961.

"We're not even in the (title) race so we're not a horse. We're a pony," he said, although few will be fooled.

His opposite number Frank Lampard said he was delighted with the way his teame had coped with Tottenham's counter-attacking threat, even if he was disappointed they had not claimed the win that would have sent them to the top of the table.

"I thought we dominated big parts of the game. We almost gifted them a goal. It's hard to break down when Spurs defend with the low block," he said. "We had to make sure we didn't get caught on the counter, and I thought that part was brilliant."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Wolves striker Jimenez taken to hospital with head injury

LONDON (Reuters) – Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raul Jimenez was taken to hospital after a clash of heads with Arsenal defender Davis Luiz early on in their Premier League fixture on Sunday.

Mexican Jimenez, who appeared to be knocked unconscious in the collision, was given oxygen and carried off on a stretcher after a long delay while he received attention.

Luiz needed his head bandaged but carried on playing after a 10-minute delay to the action.

There were no updates on Jimenez's condition at halftime.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)

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Police Tero
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Prachuap
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