Balotelli back in training at Les Aiglons

Nice have confirmed that wantaway striker Mario Balotelli is back at the club after his proposed move to Ligue 1 rivals Marseille fell through.

The 27-year-old is out of contract at the Allianz Riviera and attracted interest from L'OM after scoring 18 goals in 28 league appearances last term.

New Les Aiglons head coach Patrick Vieira hit out Balotelli for failing to report for pre-season training as he attempted to negotiate a switch to Stade Velodrome.

But after discussions broke down, the Italy international returned to the French Riviera outfit and was put through his paces during an individual session at their training centre.

The club posted an image of Balotelli on Twitter doing work in the gym, accompanied by the caption: "This Tuesday afternoon, Mario Balotelli made his return to the OGC Nice training center."

Nigerian top flight suspended

Nigerian football was plunged into deeper crisis this week when administrative issues at the highest level led to the suspension of the Professional Football League.

The NPFL was due to resume on Wednesday following a month-long break, but the League Management Committee has decided to postpone all remaining fixtures indefinitely.

Christopher Giwa has seized power at the Nigeria Football Federation, claiming he was elected to the post in 2014, which is currently being contested in the courts.

However, Amaju Pinnick is recognised as head of the NFF by FIFA, whose president, Gianni Infantino, threatened to ban Nigeria over the ongoing leadership dispute.

LMC Chief Operating Officer Salihu Abubakar sent all 20 top-flight clubs a letter on Monday to explain the halt to proceedings ahead of the 25th round of matches.

"Kindly be informed that the League Management Company (LMC) has reached a decision to postpone the resumption of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) indefinitely," read Abubakar's statement, which appeared on the league's official website.

"The decision is based on the current adverse circumstances in the administration of football in the country as a result of which sponsors, partners and service providers have expressed strong concerns and are reviewing their involvement in the league.

"There is therefore the need to engage them further in this regard in order to mitigate against any possible adverse outcome.

"Furthermore, organizing matches of the NPFL under the current circumstances might cause irreversible damage to the League brand."

Brazilians punished for failing to take chances

Mamelodi Sundowns remain winless in the 2018 CAF Champions League group stages after going down 1-0 to Togo-Port at Stade General Eyadema on Tuesday.

  • Togo-Port 1 Mamelodi Sundowns 0
  • Klomegan pulls off a string of fine saves
  • Hunlede (39') punishes Nascimento error
  • Sekotlong and Vilakazi denied in second half
  • Sundowns bottom of Group C after three games

Match Summary

Pitso Mosimane's side created the better chances in Lome, but a fine goalkeeping display from Jean Robert Klomegan kept them at bay.

The Brazilians were made to pay for their missed opportunities when Ayi Hunlede put the Togolese champions ahead six minutes before half-time to get them up and running in Group C.

Full Report

Sundowns were without Percy Tau, who is finalising his move to Brighton, but new signing Andile Jali made his debut for the Premiership giants.

The pace of Thema Zwane, Thapelo Morena and Sibusiso Vilakazi in attack caused the hosts problems, although Denis Onyango had the first save to make on 14 minutes following good link-up play from the Togo-Port forwards.

Klomegan was then called into action as he rushed out to deny Vilakazi, who had been played into space on the left, while Oupa Manyisa also failed to beat the keeper after being played in behind the defence on the half-hour mark.

However, Ayivi Ekouevi's team climbed into the driver's seat on 39 minutes following a mistake at the back from Downs. Ricardo Nascimento failed to clear the ball inside the area and it deflected off the defender into the path of Hunlede, who fired past Onyango to break the deadlock.

Thokozani Sekotlong almost made an immediate impact after coming off the bench at the start of the second half, but Klomegan was on hand to prevent the substitute from equalising.

Masandawana piled on the pressure in an attempt to get back into the match, only for the opposition defence to stand firm, with Klomegan pulling off another good save to keep out Vilakazi.

Togo-Port comfortably saw out the closing stages, though, after gaining the ascendancy and picked up their first points in the group to trade places with Sundowns.

Fonte expected to sign for Lille

Former West Ham centre-back Jose Fonte is reportedly on the cusp of signing for Ligue 1 side Lille as a free agent.

The 34-year-old left the Irons in February to sign for Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Yifang. However, he spent only five months at the club before leaving by mutual consent.

The former Southampton captain recently stated that he would like to return to the Premier League for the 2018/19 season, but now appears to be on his way to France.

According to RMC, Fonte is expected to arrive at Lille when his post-World Cup holidays are over at the end of July. He will reportedly sign a one-year contract with the option to extend for another year.

The Portugal international made eight Premier League appearances for the Hammers last season before making his switch to China where he played eight games.

Mahachi: Pirates mentality very different to Arrows

Kudakwashe Mahachi has admitted that the mentality at Orlando Pirates is of a different class to that of his former club, Golden Arrows.

Mahachi is one of nine new players at Pirates following an off-season spending spree. He was acquired from Abafana Bes'thende, with whom he spent three years, including one on loan from Mamelodi Sundowns.

The Buccaneers have given the 24-year-old attacking midfielder another shot at proving himself at a big club, but by his own admission, adapting to the Pirates way of life is no small task.

"It is a huge transition coming from a small team to a big team and it takes a bit of time to understand because there is a huge difference in approach," the Zimbabwean told the club's official website.

"We train differently, we prepare differently and the overall level of professionalism is amazing. Not only do we analyse the opponent, which is the norm, but we also have to analyse ourselves from a group perspective and at an individual level."

Mahachi admitted that he is, by nature, a shy character. However, he credited his new team-mates for helping him settle despite this.

"It helps having my Zimbabwean homeboy Marshall Munetsi, and people like Thembinkosi Lorch who I enjoy speaking to. The process has also been made simple by the fact that I know most of the players here," he revealed.

Mahachi also credited Mpho Makola and Happy Jele for passing on their valuable experience to him.

"Mpho Makola was concerned that I may be scared to play my natural game, so he encouraged me to express myself and enjoy playing my football because from what he has seen, that's where I'm at my best," he added.

"Happy Jele has also spoken to me about the supporters. They are very demanding, but also very knowledgeable and understanding if you're doing the right things and giving your best."

Igesund: PSL in world's top-10 leagues

Gordon Igesund has claimed that the Premiership is among the top-10 leagues in world football, although he admitted its resources are unevenly split.

Igesund has won four league titles with four different clubs - one apiece with Santos, Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns.

The 61-year-old knows what it takes to win the title with a less fancied team, but even he admits that it is becoming difficult for some clubs to compete in the market.

"There's a lot of money in the (local) game at the moment, with sponsors in one of the best leagues in the world, one of the top-10 leagues, but there are certain clubs who just haven't got the type of sponsorship or they haven't got the kind of money," Igesund told Soccer Laduma.

"They've got to box clever in the market, they've got to develop players, they've got to really know how to run the market with buying and selling of players, you need to be very shrewd.

"It's about consistency, it's about putting things together and making it happen over a period of time."

Since winning his last league title, with Sundowns in 2006/07, Igesund has coached Maritzburg United, Free State Stars, Moroka Swallows, SuperSport United and Highlands Park, as well as leading Bafana Bafana to the quarter-finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

Ajax confirm plan to interdict start of season

Ajax Cape Town have confirmed they are planning to interdict the start of the season following the PSL's decision to appeal against a high court judge's ruling in the club's favour over Ndorogate.

The long-running saga began in January, when the Urban Warriors fielded Tendai Ndoro despite him having already played for Orlando Pirates and Al-Faisaly during the 2017/18 season, raising questions over his eligibility.

SAFA Arbitrator William Mokhari docked Ajax seven Premiership points, effectively relegating them to the National First Division (NFD). Black Leopards replaced them in the top flight after winning the promotion/relegation play-offs, which also involved Platinum Stars and Jomo Cosmos.

However, South Gauteng High Court Judge Denise Fisher then set aside Mokhari's ruling, effectively reinstating the Cape Town outfit's top-flight status. The PSL then announced they would appeal against this decision.

In response to this, Ajax chairman Ari Efstathiou confirmed at a media briefing on Tuesday they would seek an interdict preventing the new campaign from starting on time.

"Ajax have stated time again that we are willing to sit around the table and discuss a solution with all the interested parties, but this has been rebuffed," Efstathiou said.

"We are now left with no other option but to proceed with the action we are taking. I have told the Board of Governors that this is not a personal issue; it is a business decision, and that in our shoes any of them would have done the same."

Efstathiou has accused the league's executive committee, which is made up of several club bosses, of having conflicting interests in the long-running case.

"At the time, Pirates were going for the league, while Golden Arrows, Wits, SuperSport and Celtic were facing possible relegation, so they were conflicted in the decision to appeal the outcome of the DRC [Dispute Resolution Chamber, which initially ruled that Ajax was allowed to field Ndoro]," he claimed.

"With the decision to appeal the judgement of Judge Fisher, Black Leopards and SuperSport, who want to be given a place in the MTN8, are conflicted as well."

The 2018/19 season is set to start on the first weekend of August, but the ongoing saga has left that date in serious doubt.

Benitez: Toon have to 'wheel and deal'

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez admits the club simply do not have the resources to sign big-name players and must be crafty in the transfer market.

The Magpies have thus far signed Kenedy on loan from Chelsea, Ki Sung-Yueng on a free transfer and Martin Dubravka for an undisclosed fee from Sparta Prague.

Benitez would like to further strengthen his squad ahead of the new Premier League season, but is well aware of the financial limitations on Tyneside.

"Unfortunately it's what we have to do. We have to wheel and deal, that is the way for us. And then we try to continue doing the right things," Benitez was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.

"We are trying to sign a characteristic of players, it's not just names, big names, because they will be too expensive for us, but we are trying to sign players that can do a job for the team."

Asked about reports linking Matt Ritchie with a move away from St James' Park, Benitez added: "We are in the same position as we were last year. He's our player, we're happy with him and we don't want to sell him.

"To do a move, too many things has to happen at the same time. I was talking with him this morning, I don't see any change with the situation."

Palace play down Zaha absence

Crystal Palace insist there is nothing sinister behind Wilfried Zaha's absence for their pre-season friendly against Halmstads on Monday.

The 25-year-old winger has been linked with a move away from Selhurst Park after an impressive season in which he contributed nine goals and three assists in 29 Premier League appearances.

Zaha had spent four months on the sidelines with two separate knee injuries, but still played a key role for Roy Hodgson's side as they staved off the threat of relegation to finish 11th in the table.

The Ivory Coast international came on as a second-half substitute against Helsingor last week as Palace kicked off their preparations for the new campaign, but was missing for their next game in Sweden.

The Eagles explained his omission before kick-off, though, revealing that Zaha had left their training camp early to attend a family matter.

"Roy Hodgson confirmed that unfortunately Wilfried Zaha had to leave the training camp a couple of days early to deal with a family matter, and is therefore not involved tonight," the south London club announced on Twitter.

Everton, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund have been credited with an interest in the Palace youth product, but Hodgson expects him to stay put.

"What people seem to forget with Wilf is he has got a four-year contract," the 70-year-old was quoted as saying by the Sun.

"There is speculation every year around Messi and Ronaldo too. He is our player for the next four years and the club has got no interest or desire to sell him."

Pule: I’m loving the team environment

Vincent Pule says he is thoroughly enjoying his time at Orlando Pirates having joined the club from Bidvest Wits.

The 26-year-old revealed his delight at starting a new chapter in his career, and couldn't be more thrilled to be doing it at a club like Pirates.

Speaking to the club official website Pule said he is already feeling at home with the club.

He said: "It has been a great experience; I'm loving the team environment. We do everything together from training, analysis and even eating. We are a unit and that is making it easy to gel with the guys and get used to everybody around me.

"I'm happy here, I was made to feel at home from the moment I arrived and I'm amazed at the team spirit and the level of support that I have received from the coaches and the players."

Reflecting on the differences between Pirates and Wits, Pule continued: "Orlando Pirates has a completely different style of play than what I was used to at Wits.

"I was worried when I first arrived and I heard Coach Rhulani speaking about the Pirates game model. I found it difficult to understand especially since the focus was more on the theoretical aspect of the game.

"Now that we are doing the practical application at training and with the support of my team mates, I have found it easier to understand what the coaches want from us."

Sokratis hails Mkhitaryan's talents

Arsenal newboy Sokratis has spoken highly of teammate Henrikh Mkhitaryan, stating that the Armenian is an amazingly complete player.

The centre-back signed for the Gunners from Borussia Dortmund on July 2 and in so doing reunited with his old BVB teammate Mkhitaryan. The pair were both at the Bundesliga side between 2013 and 2016, when Mkhitaryan cut his stay short by moving to Manchester United.

Sokratis looks back fondly on those times at Dortmund and has waxed lyrical about Mkhitaryan's playmaking and off-the-ball talents. The Greece international is delighted to be playing alongside the 29-year-old once again.

"It's everything," Sokratis told Arsenal Player. "With the ball, without the ball, how he works for the team, when he creates, when he returns with the team... it's just amazing.

"What he showed in his last year in Dortmund, he was one of the best in the Bundesliga. I think he can also be one of the best here in the Premier League."

Manager Unai Emery's charges kicked off their pre-season friendlies with an 8-0 mauling of National League side Boreham Wood on Saturday.

Mosimane: Tau can make it overseas

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane believes Percy Tau has the temperament to succeed overseas as he closes in on a move to Brighton in the Premier League.

The 24-year-old forward looks set to become South Africa's most expensive export after the Brazilians accepted an offer reportedly in excess of R50 million from the Seagulls.

Tau has played no part in Sundowns' pre-season preparations in a bid to facilitate his transfer to the Amex Stadium, and Mosimane is thrilled to see the Bafana Bafana international's dream realised.

However, he acknowledges that the PSL Footballer of the Season, who scored 11 goals in 30 appearances to help Masandawana to the league title, needs to work on his finishing.

"Game attitude, playwise, yes, he will make it overseas," Mosimane told SowetanLive. "He's got good temperament. He can handle the pressure. He's a big player.

"He's been good to us. He served us loyally. He's a player from our development structure and for him to break the transfer record fee from an SA team to overseas fills me with joy. I'm happy for him. I wish him well."

Pavard: I have come out of nowhere

Benjamin Pavard admits he 'shed a few tears' in the final minutes of France's World Cup victory over Croatia as he realised how far he had come in a very short space of time.

Les Bleus were crowned World Champions with a 4-2 win over Vatreni in an astonishing final that included an own-goal, a VAR penalty and the first goal in the final by a teenager - Kylian Mbappe - since Pele scored in 1970.

Pavard, meanwhile, was a surprise star for Didier Deschamps' side as he played six out of seven games and netted a contender for goal of the tournament in the 4-3 win over Argentina.

The VfB Stuttgart right-back, who joined the club from French side Lille in 2016, explained that he was still coming to terms with everything that has happened to him over the past few years.

Speaking to French TV, the 22-year-old said: "Two years ago I was in the fan zone in Lille with my friends. A year ago, I was playing in the German second division.

"I have come out of nowhere, as the song about me says. I still haven't fully realised what we have done. It's great. During the game, when there were two or three minutes left, I shed a few tears."

Baston sent out on loan again

Swansea striker Borja Baston will spend the 2018/19 season on loan in La Liga with Deportivo Alaves.

The 25-year-old Spanish frontman joined the Swans in 2016 from Atletico Madrid, having spent a number of seasons away from the club on loan at the likes of Murcia, Huesca, Deportivo La Coruna, Real Zaragoza and Eibar.

He hardly played for the Premier League side though as he was sent to Malaga last term.

He will now play under Abelardo Fernandez in the Spanish top-flight, with his deal subject to international clearance.

Borja was a club record £15.5m signing for Swansea but made just four starts. Last season he was relegated with Malaga.

In the lead up top the new English season, Swansea have already signed Joel Asoro from Sunderland.

Part of a Swansea statement read: "The 25-year-old will spend a second successive campaign on loan in La Liga, having played for Malaga in 2017-18.

"Borja links up with an Alaves side who finished 14th in the Spanish top-flight last season.

"He will hope for a more successful campaign with Alaves, having suffered relegation during his stint as a Malaga player."

 

Sarri eyes trophies at Chelsea

Maurizio Sarri says he would love to win silverware with Chelsea after being unveiled by the Premier League side this week.

The 59-year-old former Napoli boss takes over from the sacked Antonio Conte who led the Blues to league success in the 2016/17 season.

Sarri, who was named the Serie A Coach of the Year for the same season, most recently led Napoli to second place behind champions Juventus.

He kicks off his Chelsea career with a friendly clash with Perth Glory next week.

Speaking to the club's official website, the new manager said: "With one or two adjustments we can try to play my football.

"I hope that fans can enjoy the team.

"Chelsea is one of the most important clubs in the most important championships in Europe. The problem is that in England there are another five, six very good teams."

Sarri added: "For me it will be very exciting to play against (Pep) Guardiola, (Mauricio) Pochettino, (Jose) Mourinho, (Jurgen) Klopp and the others.

"I am here for football. I am here for Chelsea. I want to play at Stamford Bridge. For me it's a dream. London is a wonderful city, but I'm here for Chelsea."

He concluded: "First of all I want to play my football, I want to enjoy myself. And probably I want also to win something."

Ahead of the new season, Chelsea have already snapped up Jorginho for £57m from Napoli.

Brockie still adjusting to Sundowns

Mamelodi Sundowns striker Jeremy Brockie has struggled to find his feet at the club, but says the coaching staff wants him to stick to his own style.

The New Zealander signed for the Brazilians from SuperSport United in January, but is yet to find the back of the net for his new club after 13 appearances across all competitions.

Despite his slow start, Brockie has revealed that the Sundowns coaching staff has encouraged him to keep playing his natural game because that is why they brought him to Chloorkop.

"There are two sides to getting to know each other. It's me getting to understand the way Sundowns play and how they attack. There's also the players understanding how I play," Brockie was quoted as saying by IOL.

"The coaching staff have tried to introduce how I play to the players as well but still keep Sundowns' style of play. The coaching staff have said to me a few times during training games and training sessions, 'don't try and be like a Sundowns player, we brought you here because of what you bring to the team'.

"What's been tricky is finding the balance between playing my own game and mixing that a little bit with how Sundowns play.

"When you arrive at a new club you're so eager to impress. You look at the players around you and you want to be like a Mshishi (Themba Zwane) or Vila (Sibusiso Vilakazi), come short and get the ball.

"My strength is being in the box and getting onto the end of things. When I come short and get involved in those sort of things, that takes away my strength.

"You'll see me more around the box this season and maybe not so much involved in the build-up play but getting on the end of things and hopefully scoring goals."

Wenger: I stayed at Arsenal too long

Arsene Wenger has revealed that he made a mistake by remaining at Arsenal for so long before stepping down after 22 year at the end of last season.

In an interesting and wide-ranging interview with RTL, the former Gunners' boss opened up about his time in north London and the 'enormous sacrifices' he made to ensure Arsenal remained competitive.

The 68-year-old former Nancy, Monaco and Nagoya Grampus Eight head coach joined the Gunners in 1996 and went on to win three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.

His greatest achievement, however, may have been the impact he has on transforming the nature of English football into a more professional and disciplined sport amongst its players.

When asked about his biggest regret, the Frenchman said: "Perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years.

"I’m someone who likes to move around a lot, but I also like a challenge. I’ve been a prisoner of my own challenge at times.”

Wenger added: "I regret having sacrificed everything I did because I realise I've hurt a lot of people around me. I've neglected a lot of people. I've neglected my family, I've neglected many close ones.

"Deep down though, the obsessed man is selfish in his pursuit of what he loves. He ignores a lot of other things. But it's a bone to chase at the same time."

When quizzed about his next move, Wenger explained that he remains uncertain. He said: "I'm asking myself the same question! Do I keep doing what I've been doing, what I know.

"Or do I share all the knowledge I've accumulated over the years in a slightly different way? That's the question I need to answer in the next few months."

Cardiff remain keen on Grujic

Cardiff manager Neil Warnock says a deal is on the table for Liverpool midfielder Marko Grujic, but his agent is holding up the move.

The 22-year-old Serbia international spent the second half of last season on loan with the Bluebirds.

He has joined Liverpool in 2016 but was immediately sent back on loan to his former club Red Star Belgrade.

Upon his return to Merseyside, Grujic made a handful of Premier League appearances before being loaned out to Cardiff, who he helped earn promotion to the English top-flight.

Speaking to Sky Sports News after Cardiff's 6-0 friendly win over Tavistock on Monday night, Warnock said: "We like him.

"We spoke to Liverpool, I think everything is in the pipeline but no news yet.

"I'm not sure his agent fancies him coming with us but Liverpool do and I think Marko does."

Cardiff have already signed the following players ahead of the 2018/19 season: Josh Murphy (£11m, Norwich), Greg Cunningham (£4m, Preston), Alex Smithies (£3m, QPR) and Bobby Reid (£10m, Bristol City).

Villarreal sign Velez star Caseres

Villarreal have bolstered their midfield with the signing of promising young Argentine Santiago Caseres from Velez Sarsfield.

The 21-year-old defensive midfielder has signed a five-year contract with the Spanish outfit and is thought to be a replacement for Rodri, who left to join La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid.

Caseres' transfer from Velez to the Yellow Submarine is reportedly worth around 10 million euros.

The Argentine made 23 Primera Division appearances for Velez in 2017/18, but remains inexperienced with only 35 league games under his belt.

Caseres joins fellow new signings Gerard Moreno, Karl Toko Ekambi, Roger Martinez, Ramiro Funes Mori, Miguel Layun, and Santi Cazorla at Villarreal.

Morena: We have to win

Mamelodi Sundowns right-back Thapelo Morena is eyeing all three points from his side's CAF Champions League clash with AS Togo-Port on Tuesday.

The Brazilians head into the game second bottom in Group C following a 1-1 draw with leaders Wydad Casablanca and a 2-2 stalemate with Horoya.

With two points from two games, they are two points off the leaders and two ahead of AS Togo-Port, who are yet to win a match.

As the sides prepare to battle it out at the Stade General Eyadema in Lome, Morena explained to KickOff the important of picking up the win.

He said: "We are second-from-bottom and we have to win our games at all costs.

"We are going to do our level best to get our first three points. Getting the three points will help us to know where we are heading to."

Sundowns have given their players the best possible chance of victory, having arrived early in Togo to prepare for the game.

Morena added: "It’s good that because there’s the fatigue of travelling. So we have enough time to rest and it helps you prepare for the game.

"I think the break we had was good for us because in our first week of pre-season we looked fresh."