Umtiti Signs $586m New Barca Deal

The contract extension to 2023 that France defender Samuel Umtiti signed with Barcelona on Monday contains 500m euro ($586m) buyout clause said club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

“We think that with this clause, no one will dream of coming here” for him, Bartomeu said at a press conference at the Nou Camp immediately after Umtiti signed.

“It’s great news for Barcelona fans,” said Bartomeu, who signed Umtiti for 25m from Lyon in 2016. “Without Samuel, this team would not be the same and we need him.”

Umtiti, who is 24 and has played 17 times for France, took a break from World Cup camp at Clairefontaine near Paris to travel to Barcelona.

“I’m a little nervous because my dream here continues,” Umtiti said. “From the first day here in Barcelona I felt at home and now I want to stay 15 years.”

Umititi’s previous deal had a 60m euro buyout, but that had begun to look low after Liverpool paid 84m euros for Virgil van Dijk in December and Manchester City paid 70m euros for Aymeric Laporte in January.

AFP

Iniesta Reportedly Keen On A-League Move

Australian football chiefs plan to contact the agent of Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta to sound him out about a move to the A-League, reports said Wednesday, as the domestic competition looks to recruit a marquee star.

Spain’s Sports website named the A-League as the World Cup-winner’s “preferred destination” this week, although Japan’s Vissel Kobe is also seen as one of his possible next moves.

China’s Chongqing Lifan Tuesday denied reports that the 33-year-old legend will be joining them “as a player”, but left the door open to future cooperation in some capacity.

Football Federation Australia’s website indicated the governing body planned to contact Iniesta’s agent after he announced he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season following two decades of phenomenal success.

A-League boss Greg O’Rourke said four Australian clubs have signalled their intent to make use of a recently announced Aus$3 million (US$2.2 million) ‘marquee fund’, which could be used to lure a player of Iniesta’s caliber.

“We will determine with (the clubs) how this is going to work — do we go out and use $3 million to go and hook one big fish, or three small ones?” he told reporters.

“There’s some history that would say that (Alessandro) Del Piero when he was here with (Emile) Heskey and Shinji Ono was actually quite amplifying.”

The A-League most recently had a centralised “guest marquee” fund in 2016, but it attracted only one player, Tim Cahill, whose stint at Melbourne City did not pull in the crowds and boost TV ratings as hoped.

O’Rourke said if a move for Iniesta was unsuccessful, other targets would be drawn up.

AFP

Our Superiority Gave Us 25th La Liga Title – Messi

Lionel Messi revelled in Barcelona’s seventh La Liga title in 10 seasons on Sunday, saying his team were “far superior” to their domestic rivals during their double-winning campaign.

The Argentinian star scored a brilliant 30th La Liga hat-trick as Barca survived a scare to beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-2, wrapping up the club’s 25th league title with four matches to spare and keeping their hopes of an unbeaten season alive.

“We have been far superior to our rivals, we haven’t lost a match during the whole season,” Messi told Barcelona’s in-house television channel.

“It’s a very special Liga in that sense because we haven’t lost a single match. We’ve had some tough times and we’ve overcome everything without losing, which is unbelievable.”

Regaining the top-flight crown from Real Madrid also secured Barcelona their third double in four years after thrashing Sevilla 5-0 in last weekend’s Copa del Rey final.

The only blemish on their season was a stunning Champions League quarter-final loss to Roma when they blew a 4-1 first-leg lead to be dumped out at the Stadio Olimpico.

“We lost just one in the Cup and disappointingly another in the Champions League,” added Messi, who leads the La Liga scoring charts with 32 goals this term.

“That was an unexpected result in view of our shape. But we take a lot of merit to win a title as difficult as this without losing a game.”

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner also paid tribute to captain Andres Iniesta.

The 33-year-old midfielder came off the bench in the 87th minute at Deportivo to make his 670th Barcelona appearance just two days after announcing that he will leave the club at the end of the season.

“It’s a shame for us and the club, but he deserved to go like that,” said Messi.

“We deplore what happened in the Champions League, it prevented him from going out with a treble, but he’s leaving in an impressive fashion.

“This double is more than deserved for Andres, for all he has given to this club. I am very happy for him and wish him all the best.”

AFP

Messi Hat-trick Seals Barca’s 25th Title In Style

Barcelona claimed their 25th La Liga title on Sunday as a Lionel Messi hat-trick secured a thrilling 4-2 victory at Deportivo La Coruna that wrapped up the league with four matches to spare.

Ernesto Valverde’s men completed a league and cup double after thrashing Sevilla 5-0 in last week’s Copa del Rey final, regaining the Spanish crown from Real Madrid and relegating Deportivo in the process.

The only blip on the Catalans’ season was the stunning Champions League quarter-final loss at Roma when they blew a 4-1 first-leg lead.

“We have managed an almost perfect league campaign, without losing so far. I hope we can continue,” midfielder Sergio Busquets told Spanish broadcaster Movistar.

“This season was very good, almost excellent. The Champions League is a regret but we managed a double, it’s fantastic.”

Barca knew they just had to extend their record unbeaten streak to 41 La Liga matches to seal a seventh title in 10 seasons, and Philippe Coutinho fired them into an early lead.

Messi’s 38th-minute volley made it two, but Lucas Perez pulled one back for Deportivo before half-time and Turkish winger Emre Colak stunned Barca with an equaliser midway through the second period.

Barca finally saw off their stubborn hosts, though, as Messi pounced after a brilliant one-two with Luis Suarez before slotting in to complete his 30th La Liga treble.

The Catalan giants now hold an unassailable 11-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who have just three games to play, and are closing in on becoming the first Spanish side to go through a top-flight season without tasting defeat.

Andres Iniesta was surprisingly left on the bench after the midfield great announced earlier this week that he will leave the club at the end of the season.

But it was his expected long-term successor Coutinho who broke the deadlock in the seventh minute, bending an exquisite finish into the top corner for his third La Liga goal for the club since signing from Liverpool in January.

Deportivo had to win to stave off relegation for another week, but Clarence Seedorf’s men were denied an equaliser when Perez was flagged offside after tapping in from close range.

Messi went close to doubling the advantage just before the half-hour mark, only for home goalkeeper Ruben to pull off an excellent one-handed save to turn his free-kick around the post.

AFP

Iniesta Announces Barcelona Departure, Won’t Stay In Europe

Spanish midfield legend Andrés Iniesta has announced he will quit Barcelona at the end of the season.

Iniesta came through the youth system with the club and turned professional in 2001, making 669 appearances in 16 seasons and winning 31 major trophies with the club.

The 33-year-old won eight LaLiga titles with the club and four Champions Leagues, and scored the only goal as Spain beat Holland to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“This is my last season here,” Iniesta said in a press conference in Barcelona on Friday.

“My only aim was to be a success at this club and I have done that.”

Iniesta’s emotional press conference was witnessed by a number of members of the Barça first team.

On his future, Iniesta revealed he will not be playing in Europe, fueling speculations he will be joining Chongqing Dangdai Lifan in the Chinese Super League.

“There are still things to be sorted,” he added.

“I have said I will never play against Barça, so I won’t play in Europe.”

Politically Divided Spain United By El Clasico Rivalry

Often symbolised as pitting the pride of Catalonia against Spain’s capital, the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid is a match laced with political and social as much as sporting tension.

Even more so this week when the sides face off in Madrid on Saturday lunchtime just over 36 hours after polls will close in local elections in Catalonia that were called over the crisis caused by the region’s drive for independence.

“They have a very strong ideological connection,” political scientist Pablo Simon told AFP.

“On the one side are Real Madrid, who normally can be said to have a more conservative and nationalist fan base.”

By contrast, Simon cites Barca’s ‘more than a club’ motto as being rooted in a sense of Catalan identity.

The sights and sounds of their Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu stadiums reflect that difference.

In Barcelona, Catalan flags, including the independence-supporting Estelada, are commonly flown, while the crowd at Europe’s biggest stadium chant in favour of independence in the 17th minute of each match to mark the fall of Catalonia in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714.

At the Bernabeu, Spain flags are splattered across the stadium, while cries of “Viva Espana” rang around on October 1 in the hours following a violent crackdown by Spanish police forces on a referendum on independence called by separatists in Catalonia.

However, for all their differences, El Clasico and particularly the fear of losing the matchup should Catalonia gain independence, unites both sets of fans.

“It is the derby of Spain and it feels like it is impossible to be neutral,” Sid Lowe, a Spanish football journalist and author of the book “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” on the rivalry, told AFP.

“It is a unifying event. No-one wants to lose this game, even in the event of Catalan independence.”

AFP

La Liga Chases Asian Cash With Early Clasico Kick-Off

For the first time, Spanish football’s showpiece event, El Clasico between giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, has been scheduled for a lunchtime kick-off (1200GMT) on Saturday as La Liga seeks to capture Asia’s attention and its cash.

“We are keen to provide our fans in Asia the opportunity to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona face off at a time that is convenient to them,” La Liga’s Chief Communications Officer Joris Evers told AFP.

With a potential television audience of 650 million people, according to La Liga, El Clasico is the most watched club match around the world thanks to its unique mixture of star protagonists and a fierce rivalry fostered over decades both on the field and off it by the distinct cultural differences between Catalonia and Madrid.

“It is the ideal shop window, the marquee match to show to people Spanish football,” Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, professor of economics at Barcelona University and an expert in Spanish football finances, said to AFP.

However, it is not just a boom in lucrative television rights that La Liga and its two biggest clubs are seeking with an early start this weekend, but a showcase for all of their lucrative sponsorship contracts.

Last year Barcelona signed a club record shirt sponsorship deal worth a minimum of 220 million euros ($258 million) over four years with Japanese online retailer Rakuten.

“They want to sell their products to international markets, above all in Asia,” added Gay de Liebana.

According to a study carried out by consumer analytics specialists Nielsen Sports, last season’s corresponding first La Liga Clasico of the season generated more than $42.5 million in media value for sponsors.

“The kick-off of the next El Clasico on December 23 is at 1300 Madrid time, 2000 in Shanghai, 1900 in Jakarta and 1730 in New Delhi,” continued Evers.

“These are all locations where we know there are many La Liga fans and where we will be hosting events to celebrate El Clasico.

“Additional events are being held in various locations around Asia. Through this and other initiatives we want to make existing fans even bigger La Liga supporters and, of course, we want to attract new supporters as well.”

AFP