10/2/20 – Indy 11 must win Sat @ St. Louis 7 pm, Pulisic back for Chelsea 7:30 am game, US-Dest to Barcelona, High School Sectionals, Former CFC GK Erin Baker Athlete of Wk on TV8

Indy 11 Must Win Sat night to Advance

Frustrating night for our Indy 11 once again as they gave up a goal in the last minutes to lose 2-1 to Sporting KC II at home Wed.  Indy 11 (7W-6L-2D, 23 pts.) dominated play but allowed the late goal as Sporting literally had a fair # of U18s on the field.  Amazing how our 11 have struggled down the stretch.  Its sets up a winner moves on match at St. Louis (6W-5L-4D, 22 pts.) this Saturday night at 7:30 pm on MyindyTV and ESPN+.  A win or tie actually allows the eleven in the playoffs backdoor as the 2nd seed in Group E where they can look to recover that early season magic.

Bayern Munich Wins 5th Trophy in 2020

Followed up their 2-1 win over Sevilla in the EUFA Supercup with a 3-2 win over Dortmund in the German cup this week and 19 year-old American defender Chris Richards got time again at right back where he as moved up 2nd string!  Saturday at 9:30 am on ESPN+ 2 American’s play as and Gio Reyna of Dortmund will face Frieburg and Stuart and Werder Bremen host Arminia. Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig host Schalke at 12:30 on ESPN+ Sat.   

Games to Watch

Chelsea with a returning Christian Pulisic kick things off on Peacock at 7:30 am Sat followed Everton and Brighton on NBCSN.  Atletico + Villarreal are at 10 am on beIN Sport, while Leeds United hosts Man City and (GK Stephen) at 12:30 on NBC.  MLS gets a prime 4 pm FOX slot for the rejuvenated Orlando City v NY Red Bulls 2 teams battling for supremacy in the East with Columbus.  Sunday gives us Man United vs Spurs at 11:30 am on NBCSN after Fulham and Tim Ream travel to Wolverhampton at 9 on NBCSN.  Italy’s Serie A serves up another star-studded clash this weekend, and another big test for Juventus’ American midfielder Weston McKennie as they host Napoli at 2:45 pm on Sunday on ESPN+.  Napoli has a loaded attack led by forwards Dries Mertens, Fernando Llorente, and 21-year-old Nigerian Victor Osimhen.   While at 3 pm the newly minted US Defender Sergio Dest might make his debute vs Sevilla on beIN Sport.  US Players games wrap up here.

Good Luck at Sectionals Next Week

Good luck to both the Men’s and Women’s Carmel High Soccer teams heading into sectionals next week.  The #10 Ranked CHS boys who are hosting the Sectionals at home – start Wed vs Westfield and must get by 7th ranked Zionsville or #2 ranked North Central, along with 16 Pike in the sectional. The #2 ranked ladies return to action Tuesday vs Westfield and most get by #10 Zionsville, #3 Guerin and #14 North Central along the way.  Games are at Guerin Catholic Mon – Sat off Grey Road.  In case you missed it look who made athlete of the week on Wish TV 8 this week – former Carmel FC and current Carmel High GK Erin Baker – see video here.   

American players learn Champions League draw

One group awaits us all  By Donald Wine II@blazindw  Oct 1, 2020, 2:28pm

UEFA conducted the draw for the group stage of the 2020-21 Champions League. Matches begin October 20th with a double round robin, and the road to the Champions League final begins for 32 teams.

Eight United States Men’s National Team players will have their chance to play in the Champions League with their teams: Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), and Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge). Also, an American coach, Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch, will hope to lead his team to Champions League glory.

The groups for the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League: 8 Teams in Red have American players or coaches.

Group A – Bayern MunichAtlético Madrid, Red Bull Salzburg, Lokomotiv Moscow

Group B – Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter MilanBorussia Mönchengladbach

Group C – FC PortoManchester City, Olympiacos, Olympique de Marseille

Group D – Liverpool, Ajax, Atalanta, FC Midjtylland

Group E – Sevilla, Chelsea, FC Krasnodar, Rennes

Group F – Zenit St. Petersburg, Borussia DortmundLazio, Club Brugge

Group G – Juventus, Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv, Ferencváros

Group H – Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, İstanbul Başakşehir

The biggest group for American fans is Group G, which will have a big-time pair of matchups between Juventus and Barcelona, where Weston McKennie will face off against USMNT teammate Sergiño Dest. It’s also the first match between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi since Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juve in 2018. They are two matches that are perfect to be shown on CBS. Let’s see if the network boosts those matchups to network television for the country to see.Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig may have the toughest group in the field, as they share Group H with PSG, Manchester United, and İstanbul Başakşehir, who won the Turkish SuperLïg this past season. It will be a remarkable test for Adams and Leipzig to get out of that group and advance to the knockout stage.The team that looks to have the easiest road to the Round of 16 is Borussia Dortmund, who face Zenit, Lazio, and Club Brugge. Gio Reyna should be a major factor for the Black & Yellow during the group stage. For American fans of Manchester City, they hope that they can outlast Porto, Olympiacos, and Marseille so that backup goalkeeper Zack Steffen will get to see some matches. Finally, Group A could be a tough test for Jesse Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg. To squeak past Atleti or Bayern to get to the knockout stage will be difficult to do, but Salzburg will not quit. Chris Richards, who’s just starting to work his way onto the field for Bayern’s first team, could see some action in Champions League. We can all hope Bayern gives Richards that much-needed experience in a few matches in the group stage.Which matchups interest you? Which Americans do you think can make it out of the group to the knockout stage?

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Oct 3  

7:30 am Peacock                                Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Crystal Palace 

9:30 am ESPN+                                   Werder Bremen (Stuart) vs Arminia

9:30 am ESPN+                                Borrusia Dortmund (Gio Reyna) vs Freiburg

10 am beIN Sport                               Atletico Madrid vs Villareal

10 am NBCSN                                     Everton vs Brighton 

12:30 pm ESPN+                                 RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Schalke

12:30 pm NBC                                Leeds United vs Man City

3  pm bein Sport                                 Valencia vs Real Betis 

3 pm Peacock                                      New Castle vs Burnley

4  pm FOX                           Orlando City vs NY Red Bulls 

7:30 pm My Indy TV 23, ESPN+   Indy 11 @ St. Louis

8 pm ESPN+                                        Cincy vs Minn United       

8 pm ESPN+                                        Dallas (Hedges) vs Columbus Crew (Zardes)

Sun, Oct 4

9am Peacock                                       Arsenal vs Sheffiled United

9 am NBCSN                                       Wolverhampton vs Fulham (Ream)

9 am ESPN+                                        Lazio vs Inter Milan

10 am beiN  port                                Levante vs Real Madrid 

11:30 am NBCSN                           Man United vs Spurs

12  ESPN+                                           Bayern Munich vs Hertha Berlin

2 pm Peacock                                      West Ham vs Wolverhampton          

2:45 pm ESPN+                                   Juventus (McKinney) vs Napoli

3 pm beIN Sport                           Barcelona (Dest, Konrad) vs Sevilla

2:15  pm NBCSN                                 Aston Villa vs Liverpool

9:30 pm ESPN+                                   Real Salt Lake vs LAFC 

USA

Games on TV with US Players
Christian Pulisic is healthy again, expected to make season debut for Chelsea on Saturday
Is the USMNT in danger of developing into a world-class outfit?
Englands Guardian
US Coach Marsch’s Salzburg among six to complete Champions League field

Dest becomes first US player signed by Barcelona’s top squad
Champions League groups drawn for Premier League sides, USMNT stars
For Reyna and Co., Germany is the place to be om Hamilton, Stephan Uersfeld
Move Details of McKinney move to Juve – SI
San Diego soccer team walks off pitch after opponent allegedly calls gay player an anti-gay slur

San Diego Loyal forfeits match after opposing player allegedly directed homophobic slur at Collin Martin

Inside story on a soccer team’s bold protest

San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin, who was at the center of his team’s statement against homophobia, explains how it all went down.‘I wasn’t going to let it go’ »

 EPL
Premier League Pick ‘Em: Matchweek 4

Relentless Liverpool raise bar for title rivals

Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Preview

Man City, Man Utd ease into League Cup quarter-finals

Chelsea – Crystal Palace: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Crystal Palace-Chelsea Preview

Why you should watch Tottenham vs. Manchester United this Sunday

Arsenal reach League Cup quarter-finals after Liverpool shoot-out

 WORLD


Bayern beats Dortmund 3-2 to lift German Super Cup

Bayern win German Super Cup to lift fifth title in 2020

Lewandowski named UEFA men’s player of year

Messi and Barcelona: The inside story on how everything fell apart, and what’s next
Pogba returns to France squad for Nations League matches

Christian Pulisic is healthy again, expected to make season debut for Chelsea on Saturday

Doug McIntyre,Yahoo Sports•October 2, 2020


Doug McIntyre,Yahoo Sports•October 2, 2020

Christian Pulisic is finally healthy again after spending two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.Chelsea manager Frank Lampard announced Friday that Pulisic would be included in the Blues squad for the first time this season on Saturday, when the London club hosts Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.Pulisic was injured Aug. 1 after scoring Chelsea’s only goal in a 2-1 FA Cup final loss to Premier League rival Arsenal. The 22-year-old American attacker appeared in 32 games across all competitive league for Lampard last term, his first in England following four years with German titan Borussia Dortmund.He scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in 2019-20, and was Chelsea’s best player after the Prem resumed in June following a three-month shutdown in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.- ADVERTISEMENT -During his pre-match press conference Friday, Lampard said that while Pulisic would dress for the game against Palace, he would not start “as his recovery from injury continues to be managed.” With Pulisic in need of match-fitness, though, a cameo off the substitutes bench is a near-certainty.But with the ninth-place Blues off to a 1-1-1 start in the Premier League, his team needs Pulisic back in the lineup as soon as possible. After Saturday’s tilt, the Blues next two league games are at home to Southampton and then away to Manchester United, where they lost 4-0 last season in Pulisic’s Prem debut.n Thursday, Chelsea was drawn into a UEFA Champions League group with Sevilla, Krasnodar and Rennes. The club kicks off Europe’s top club competition later this month.Friday’s news is also a positive development for the United States men’s national team. Pulisic has not played for the USMNT in a year, but would be expected to participate in planned friendly matches in Europe next month if healthy. The U.S. is hoping to finalize a pair of exhibitions in the U.K., with Wales and New Zealand the rumored opponents.The U.S. was scheduled to visit Wales in March, but that match was cancelled amid the health crisis.



USMNT and the Bundesliga: Why so many top young Americans choose Germany on career path

Sep 29, 2020Tom HamiltonStephan Uersfeld ESPNFC




Former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann looks ahead to the USMNT stars involved in this season’s Bundesliga.Already at Schalke were fellow Americans Nick Taitague (promoted to the first team over the summer) and McKennie. “I think he [Weston] was an influence,” Hoppe told ESPN. “He was a big star here at Schalke, and he was willing to show that Schalke were willing to play young players and young Americans. I spoke to him a few times and he gave me some encouragement and advice. It was a good conversation.” The Future As one Bundesliga academy head told ESPN, “there is huge potential for extraordinary footballers [in Germany]. There is a huge growing rate, a huge pool of players who are all well-trained.” The U.S. 2019 Under-20 World Cup team had six players contracted to German clubs, while the last Under-17 team had Pablo Soares from Borussia Monchengladbach and Noah Jones from RB Leipzig.With the top Bundesliga clubs aware of promising American talent as young as 12 years old, the pathway is established. And with the Bundesliga’s brand as a place that trusts in youth (Borussia Dortmund’s opener against Gladbach was created by Reyna and Bellingham, who are both 17), it’s seen as a place where age is irrelevant if you’re good enough.”There’s not much politics involved,” Klinsmann told ESPN. “The coaches are usually very straightforward. If the kid understands that it’s all down to performance and they’ll get the chance, the Bundesliga’s the place to be.”Said Hoppe: “All the young players have an extreme talent and the Bundesliga’s able to offer these players an opportunity to use their talent, to tweak it, improve all the things they need to work on. It’s so wholesome [in Germany] — they need to work on their strength, their technique, their tactical ability, their mental strength — the league helps make them more a complete player.”The migration shows no signs of slowing. This summer gone, Arminia Bielefeld signed 16-year-old goalkeeper Carver Miller from DC United, while Joel Imasuen arrived at Hertha Berlin. Then Bayern and Barcelona were involved in a scramble for Dest. While some move on — like Sebastian Soto, who joined Norwich City before going out on loan to SC Telstar in the Netherlands, or Blaine Ferri, who swapped Greuther Furth for Fort Lauderdale CF in the USL — the machine keeps going.”I think there are a lot of talented players in the USA,” Hoppe says. “They just need to take the jump to Europe, they need to keep developing their game and take the risk.”

Messi and Barcelona: The inside story on how everything fell apart, and what’s next Sep 24, 202 0Multiple Contributors ESPNFC
A year ago, Lionel Messi set out his terms for staying at Barcelona. “I want to be at Barcelona for as long as possible. This is my home,” he told the Catalan newspaper Sport. “But I don’t want to have a long-term contract and to only be here because of it. I need to see that there’s a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club. “For me, money or a clause don’t mean anything. I don’t have any intention of going anywhere but I want to keep competing and winning.”Twelve months later, Messi was refusing to train, insisting that his 20-year relationship with Barca was over, and trying to force a move to Manchester City.  That Messi, one-club man, captain and icon, would seek to leave Barcelona like this — notifying them in a now-infamous burofax that, as far as he was concerned, he had already gone — should have been unthinkable. And yet this was no spur-of-the-moment decision. We should have seen it coming.Messi had not been happy at Barcelona — with the president, the board or management — for a long time. He admitted as much in the interview that brought a temporary end to the crisis this summer: “I’ve been telling [president Josep Maria Bartomeu] that I wanted to leave all year.” Known for being a reluctant public figure, Messi speaks only when he has something to say — and at 33, he has been more vocal than ever. He was desperate to be heard. Those in charge at Barcelona didn’t listen.This is the story — told with the help of numerous first-hand accounts from sources close to both player and club — of how Messi’s nagging doubts about Barcelona eventually became impossible to ignore, and what happened next.Editors’ note: This story contains reporting from Moises Llorens, Sam Marsden, Alex Kirkland, Rodrigo Faez and Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal.

ABOVE ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS both personal and professional, Messi’s discontent stems from his desire to win. And for Messi, winning means the Champions League. Barcelona haven’t done that since 2015. They haven’t even come close. Embarrassed by Liverpool and Roma in recent years, the 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the quarterfinal stage of the competition last season, in August, was the tipping point. Messi is intensely aware of the impact Barca’s European failings will have on his legacy. Four Champions League titles are more than enough for mortals. But not for Messi. Several sources pinpoint one moment that best reveals Messi’s disenchantment. It came at Camp Nou in May 2019. Barca were 3-0 up in the first leg of their semifinal against Liverpool. In the 96th minute, Messi — who had scored twice — drew three defenders before squaring the ball for an unmarked Ousmane Dembele. Dembele miskicked, Alisson made the easy save and Messi fell theatrically to the floor, face down in the turf. He knew that Barcelona needed another goal — the season before, Roma erased a first-leg, 4-1 deficit to advance on away goals to the semifinals — because his teammates couldn’t be trusted to defend a 3-0 lead away from home. Six days later, he was proved right.”The last chance for Dembele was clear-cut,” Messi told reporters after the first leg. “Four goals would have been better than three.”How do you prevent those mistakes from happening again and again? One approach might involve a clear-eyed vision of the kind of team you want to construct. But Barcelona’s planning has been incoherent at best. Losing Neymar, with whom Messi loved to play, to Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps forgivable. Wasting almost €300 million on Dembele and Philippe Coutinho — both yet to come good, three years on — less so. The club failed to bring Neymar back last summer, signing Antoine Griezmann instead for a similar sum. Griezmann is a player who has failed to adapt for various reasons, including the fact his preferred position is taken by MessiA series of sporting directors — Andoni Zubizarreta, Robert Fernandez, Pep Segura, Eric Abidal and Ramon Planes — have come and gone over the past five years, all of them unable to implement an effective long-term strategy because they were never afforded the time to do so. They have all been made scapegoats by Bartomeu, sacrificed as symbols of the club’s shortcomings. Among them, they brought in a mishmash of players recruited with different ideas in mind. New signings arrived, flopped and left. Legendary midfielder Andres Iniesta departed. Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets got older.Messi waited, despairingly, for things to get better. E

VEN AS BARCELONA FAILED IN EUROPE, they at least continued to win La Liga. Manager Ernesto Valverde, despite his unpopularity among some Barca fans, won the league ahead of Real Madrid in 2018 and 2019. Messi liked Valverde. Sources told ESPN that the easygoing, diplomatic Valverde maintained relative harmony in a dressing room divided between two cliques: one, led by Messi, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, who were essentially happy under the coach’s laid-back regime; and another, including Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Frenkie de Jong, who would have preferred a more disciplined approach. That balance endured until January this year when Valverde was sacked — with Barca top of the league — after defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia. He was replaced by Quique Setien, a man with no experience managing a group of players at this level. The fallout from Valverde’s firing was damaging, too. Sporting director Abidal said in an interview with Sport in February that “a lot of players weren’t happy [with Valverde] and weren’t working a lot.”Messi, in a rare moment of rage, snapped. “I honestly don’t like to do these things, but I think everyone should take responsibility for their decisions,” he wrote on Instagram. “The sporting department should take responsibility. When you talk about players, you should give names. If not, you’re tarnishing all of us and feeding things which people say and aren’t true.”Abidal touched a nerve. Messi is incredibly sensitive to the idea that he runs things at Barcelona, responsible for hiring and firing coaches and identifying transfer targets. It’s understandable, even if it’s hard to dispute the grain of truth at its heart: that Barca should do everything possible to keep their best-ever player happy.Barca had been failing to do that on the pitch; they were failing off it, too. In February, it was alleged that a company the club had hired to protect its image was behind social media accounts posting disparaging comments about current and former players. Messi and his family were mentioned. It was another blow to his already fragile relationship with Bartomeu, even if Barca continue to deny any wrongdoing in the scandal that’s come to be known as “Barcagate.”

SETIEN HAD A BRIEF AND TROUBLED SPELL IN CHARGE. From the beginning, Messi was not impressed with him despite hyped-up claims of a return to the more attacking, possession-based style of play made famous at the club by Johan Cruyff and, later, Pep Guardiola.An uneasy, six-month truce lasted until June, when La Liga returned after its pandemic-enforced break. When Barca dropped their first points in a frustrating goalless draw with Sevilla, sources told ESPN that there was a tense dressing room showdown between captain and coach as stunned teammates looked on.The top-of-the-table lead that Setien had inherited from Valverde quickly disappeared. Real Madrid won 10 games in a row, while Barca dropped points in four of theirs. Their title challenge ended with a 2-1 home defeat to Osasuna on July 16. Speaking immediately afterward, Messi didn’t hold back.Things had “all gone wrong” since January, he said, in a blatant criticism of his new coach. “We’ve been a very erratic, weak, low-intensity team. Today’s game is a summary of the season. We have to be self-critical, starting with the players but across the whole club.”

BARCELONA HAD WON NOTHING IN 2019-20, their first trophyless campaign in 12 years. Setien was dismissed. His replacement was club legend Ronald Koeman, but it was too late. Messi’s mind was made up. A first meeting between Messi and Koeman — one that saw Messi interrupt his holiday with Suarez and Jordi Alba in the Pyrenees to return to Barcelona on Aug. 20 — did not go well. Messi expressed his doubts and remained determined to leave the club.Around the same time, he called Guardiola.”Messi and Pep spoke for hours,” a source told ESPN. The pair are close and have much in common. Messi, Guardiola and Manchester City all share an obsession with the Champions League. City have never won it; Guardiola and Messi are thought not to have won it often enough.Messi knew that his options for leaving Barcelona were limited. Unlike Barca, he viewed City as having a clear strategy and an upward trajectory. The player told his former coach that he wanted to move. Guardiola said he would talk to decision-makers at City. It wouldn’t be straightforward, he warned.Messi’s flirtation with City was nothing new. In fact, City’s rebuild under their new owners over the past decade has been carried out with the aim of attracting first Guardiola and, later, Messi. There were discussions in 2014, and again in 2016. Yet City’s hopes of signing Messi this summer were dependent on them playing in the Champions League. Once their two-year ban from European competitions was lifted on July 13, they knew they would be the front-runners to sign him if he left Barca.There was never any direct contact between the clubs, nor did Messi’s camp transmit directly to Barca a desire to move to City, but sources at the Catalan club say were informed of City’s interest in signing Messi by a third party. It gave City a lot to think about. Could they afford Messi’s salary? How much would they have to pay Barca? What about financial fair play? His €700m buyout clause was impossible, even for City. There was a more tantalising prospect, though: Messi might be available for nothing.The mechanism by which they thought they could pull off a deal had existed for years. Messi’s long-term doubts led his advisers to insert a release clause in his Barca contract when it was renewed in 2017. At the end of the 2019-20 season, within a defined period, he could unilaterally rescind his contract and walk away.And so, Barcelona’s board nervously waited. In the end, the date — initially widely reported as May 31, later corrected to June 10 — fell when La Liga was about to resume. Nonetheless, when it had passed, the club were quick to brief the media. As far as they were concerned, Messi would be staying until 2021. Messi has since said he didn’t inform the club before then because they were still involved in La Liga and the Champions League; one source, though, says the fact City were banned from European football before winning an appeal also complicated his route out of Camp Nou.The original date in Messi’s contract had been drawn up to coincide with the end of the season. But with the campaign extended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Messi’s camp felt they had some wiggle room when it came to the interpretation of the clause.Sources told ESPN that the feedback Messi received from legal experts was mixed. Only one law firm out of at least four consulted, Cuatrecasas, believed the argument had a realistic chance of success. That was enough and Messi decided to go ahead. If he stood his ground, perhaps Barca would blink first.
AUG. 24 BEGAN WITH A PHONE CALL from Koeman to Suarez. In a conversation that lasted around a minute, the coach told Messi’s best friend in the squad that he was not in Barca’s plans and should look for a new club. Vidal received similar treatment. Messi’s allies were being pushed out and, in his view, disrespected. Later that day, Messi took action. On advice from Cuatrecasas, the player opted to use a burofax — a registered letter, used when legal proof of receipt is required — to inform Barcelona that he wished to leave for free, exercising his release clause. Signed by Messi, it was sent just after 7 p.m. By mid-morning on Aug. 25, the letter had arrived at Camp Nou. – Lowe: Messi, bad blood and a ‘burofax’ The first to read it, aghast, were Bartomeu and the head of Barca’s legal department, Roma Gomez Ponti. “They could not believe their eyes,” a source told ESPN. For them, there was no debate: The clause had already expired. “Put aside everything else you’ve been working on and focus on this,” Bartomeu told the club’s lawyers. Barcelona contacted two firms specialising in sports law — Costa Torrecillas & Associates and Bufete Antras — for advice. (The former had won the club a favourable judgment months earlier in their dispute with Neymar over a renewal bonus.) Both firms agreed Barca were in the right and should not give in to Messi’s demands. Despite that, sources told ESPN at the time there were board members who supported letting Messi go. Not for free, mind you, but if it meant bringing in a large fee and removing his €90m salary from the wage bill, the club might be able to dig itself out of a €300m financial hole during the COVID-19 crisis.”Messi has so much power at the club, both on a financial and sporting level,” one source said. Another, close to the dressing room, went further. “It’s the moment to sell him, it’s a historic opportunity to be able to change things. There are players who will perform a lot better without him in the team.”Those voices believed a managed departure could be beneficial, but the president would not entertain the prospect. It was €700m from a buying club, or he stays. “Bartomeu doesn’t want to be the president who agrees to the sale of Messi,” a source told ESPN, even as another source said, “it’s the best thing he could have done.”Bartomeu might have ruined his relationship with Messi — the player called him a liar, claiming Bartomeu had assured him he would let him go — but he got his wish. In the end, he won’t be the president who oversees Messi’s departure; after all, the club’s presidential elections will happen on March 20 or 21 next year, before Messi’s contract expires.
AT MANCHESTER CITY, there had been a growing acceptance that signing Messi for free was impossible, so they turned their attention to a negotiated settlement. After several days of crunching numbers, a source told ESPN that “if Barcelona let him leave for €100 or 150m, Messi will be a City player.” City were also willing to include players of interest to Barca, such as young defender and La Masia product Eric Garcia, in a deal, although ESPN was told that others, including Gabriel JesusBernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, would not be included.All of that depended on Barca being willing to budge. Messi waited and maintained his silence, even skipping coronavirus testing ahead of a return for preseason training with new coach Koeman. Board members who’d been critical of Messi felt he should be fined for that; Bartomeu believed doing so would escalate the crisis. As Barca drafted burofaxes of their own to correspond with their absent captain, sources told ESPN that some versions specified that there would be no punishment, while others left the option open. On the morning of Sept. 2, Messi’s father and agent, Jorge, flew from Rosario, Argentina, to Barcelona for a meeting with Bartomeu that evening, but no progress was made. Bartomeu had one important thing as leverage: Messi could not stomach a legal battle. He was determined to leave, but not if the process descended into lengthy litigation. City were reluctant to take that road, too.Everything changed on Sept. 4. In an interview with Goal’s Ruben Uria, Messi announced his decision to stay. “The president told me the only way to leave was to pay the €700m clause, which is impossible, and that the alternative was going to court,” Messi said. “I would never take Barca to court because it’s the club I love.” It could have ended differently. Some at Barcelona feel that Messi’s approach — both in law and in public relations — was flawed from the start. “He didn’t choose the best communications strategy,” one source told ESPN. “If he had timed it better, he could have finished off Bartomeu and he’d be at Manchester City by now.” In this reading, Messi’s fundamental mistake was a failure to articulate his decision to leave sooner, and to speak directly to the fans — perhaps, as many other players might have done, on their social media accounts — before the burofax was sent.Others question whether the prospect of another year of an unhappy Messi is best for Barca. The No. 10 has channelled his anger on the pitch before with positive results for the team; he might do so again. But ESPN has been told that some players thought a fresh start, with a new coach and without Messi, might have been the best for everyone. SO MESSI STAYS FOR NOW, but so do his doubts, expressed so clearly and concisely when he finally spoke out. “The truth is that for a while there hasn’t been a project or anything,” he said. “They’ve been juggling things and plugging holes.”But the story doesn’t end there. Bartomeu will be gone soon and a new president is to be elected in March. He might not even make it until then if a vote of no confidence, launched on the back of Messi’s burofax, goes against him in the coming weeks. There could be as many as 10 people in the running to replace Bartomeu, too — Victor Font is one of the early favourites to inherit the role and he has said that, in addition to bringing former Barca midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez back as coach, he wants to make sure Messi stays. Not one of the candidates has said they want to build a Barca without Messi, despite the fact he will be 34 next summer.Messi has leverage. With his deal officially expiring in June, he is able to negotiate with other clubs starting in January. No legal battle, no drama, at least of the sort we’ve witnessed this past summer.Will the new president be able to convince him to renew his deal? Messi has said the club must sign young players to freshen up an aging squad. That is slowly happening, but it’s coming at the expense of his closest friends at the club: Vidal has joined Inter Milan and Suarez is headed to Atletico Madrid.So much depends on the next eight months, on how Koeman does and on who wins the elections. Beyond all that, though, it depends on one thing: on Barcelona having a winning team.



PREVIEW | INDY ELEVEN LOOKS TO CLINCH PLAYOFF BERTH IN REGULAR SEASON FINALE AT SAINT LOUIS FC By Indy Eleven Communications, 10/01/20, 7:30PM EDT Click Here to View the Official Indy Eleven #STLvIND Game Notes – October 3, 2020 #STLvIND Gameday Preview  Indy Eleven at Saint Louis FC    Saturday, October 3, 2020 – 7:30 P.M. ET   West Community Stadium | Fenton, Mo.  FOLLOW LIVE Local/National TV: MyINDY-TV 23  Streaming Video: ESPN+ (click to subscribe)  Radio (Spanish): Exitos 94.3 FM/exitos943.com In-game updates: @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed, presented by Central Indiana Honda Dealers    Live stats: USLChampionship.com #STLvIND Match Center   2020 USL CHAMPIONSHIP REGULAR SEASON RECORDS  Indy Eleven: 7W-6L-2D, 23 pts. (+3 GD), 2nd in Group E  Saint Louis FC: 6W-5L-4D, 22 pts. (0 GD), 3rd in Group E  A postseason berth is on the line as Indy Eleven travels west to Saint Louis FC in its 2020 USL Championship Regular Season finale this Saturday. With Indy currently in second place in Group E (23 pts.) and STL sitting right behind in the standings (22 pts.), a draw or victory will be needed for Indiana’s Team to clinch the group’s second seed and the team’s third playoff berth in as many season. The Missouri side is currently riding a two-game winless streak, a statistic that will have to change if it wants to continue playing after October 3. Sitting in third place, just one point behind Indy Eleven, Saint Louis needs all three points out of Saturday’s affair to advance to the playoffs. Any other result will see Saint Louis permanently end its USL Championship run after six season as the organization announced on August 25 it would cease operations at the conclusion of the 2020 season.  SERIES HISTORY The series history between the I-70 sharers has seen both sides evenly split regular season points since its 2019 berth at 2W-2L-1D, with both clubs registering wins when they have homefield advantage. Indy Eleven started its 2020 ledger against Saint Louis FC – and its post-quarantine restart of the 2020 regular season – on July 11 at Lucas Oil Stadium by posting a 2-0 win on the strength of second half goals by Tyler Pasher and Neveal Hackshaw. STLFC got its revenge at West Community Stadium on July 26, with Tyler Blackwood’s tally midway through the first half being good enough for a 1-0 win, despite Indy Eleven outshooting the home side 20-2 on the day. In the last outing at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 23, STLFC’s Russell Cicerone secured the lead in a chippy affair that saw the visitors end the night with nine players on the pitch, but a second-half equalizer off Hackshaw’s head brought both teams level into the final whistle. Both teams close out the season against each other in this Saturday’s regular season finale in the Gateway to the West that will see one team lock in its place in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.   INDY ELEVEN PLAYER TO WATCH: DF KARL OUIMETTE Now in his third season with Indy Eleven, Ouimette has firmly established himself into Head Coach Martin Rennie’s backline. The Repentigny, Quebec native has started all 14 games he’s appeared in this season, tied with ‘keeper Evan Newton and Hackshaw for second most minutes played this season at 1,260, trailing behind only last year’s “Ironman,” Tyler Gibson (1,295). So far this year, the Canadian has been a thorn on every opposing attack’s side, placing top three in all major defensive categories for Indy Eleven – clearances (2nd, 35), blocks (2nd, 9) and interceptions (3rd, 17). Moreover, Ouimette leads the team in duels won (93), aerial duels (87), aerial duels won (58) and tied with midfielder Drew Conner for more tackles won (17). In his last game against Saint Louis, Ouimette won 10 of the 12 duels he was involved in, in addition to winning five of his six aerial duels. The 28-year-old has a knack for blocking opposing traffic, capitalizing on opportunities to regain possession that often kickstart counterattacking runs into the opponent’s half. Look for the eight-year veteran to handle business in the defending third Saturday evening as he and the rest of Indiana’s Team fight for a postseason run.
 

SAINT LOUIS FC PLAYER TO WATCH: MF RUSSELL CICERONE Cicerone has debatably been the most dependable player for Saint Louis FC Head Coach Steve Trittschuh’s attack this season, playing in all 15 contests played this season –  starting in 14 of them – and clocking in the second most minutes played among his teammates at 1,256. Cicerone has been the bane of Saint Louis’ opponents all season. Mostly lurking around the upper right corner of opponent’s 18-yard boxes, Cicerone spends his game antagonizing defenders with an offensive onslaught. The second-year midfielder currently leads his team in shots (34) and shots on target (18), and is tied with forward Tyler Blackwood atop the scoring table with five goals. Although he hasn’t been able to assist on any goals, Cicerone leads his side in chances created (24), adding another layer of frustration for opposing defenders to carefully monitor. Last time he played against Indy Eleven, Cicerone’s 50th minute goal was enough for STLFC to come out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a point in a 1-1 draw on September 23. With Saint Louis now in a “winner takes all” scenario heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Indy defenders will need to keep level heads to minimize Ciceroni’s attacking opportunities.      RECAP | INDY ELEVEN FALLS TO SPORTING KANSAS CITY II IN REGULAR SEASON HOME FINALE By Indy Eleven Communications, 09/30/20, 11:00PM EDT Share   size=1 width=”100%” align=center> Last-Minute SKC Goal Breaks 1-1 Draw, Setting Up Showdown Between Indy Eleven and Saint Louis FC for Playoff Berth https://www.youtube.com/embed/in3r-sw8cu8 #INDvSKC Post-Game Quotes – September 30 #INDvSKC Stats via USLChampionship.com Match Center Despite battling back from a one goal deficit in the first half, Indy Eleven ultimately fell 1-2 against Sporting Kansas City II in the club’s 2020 regular season home finale. Andrew Carleton’s first goal of the season closed the gap in favor of Indiana’s Team at the start of the second half, but a 95th minute goal from Sporting KC II’s Bailey Sparks in dying minutes of the game secured the three points for the visitors. Even with the result, Indy Eleven’s postseason aspirations are still alive as the club remains in second place of Group E (23 pts.) with Saint Louis FC nipping at its heels (22 pts.). Both teams will meet one more time this Saturday to wrap up the final weekend of USL Championship regular season play in a must-watch affair that will decide which team will clinch a second-seed playoff berth in Group E – Indy needing a win or a draw in order to advance into the 2020 postseason. “We are playing games where a little bounce of the ball here or there could make a big difference for us to actually go out and win these games very comfortably,” said Indy Eleven Head Coach Martin Rennie. “At the moment, the ball hasn’t bounced our way for quite a few weeks, and we find ourselves in a position where we need a result in the last game of the season. That’s okay – we need to make sure that we get our heads up and get focused on how we do that. We are very capable of doing that and we have to make sure we get it done.” Indy Eleven came out the gates firing, creating four opportunities – three of which from the feet of Tyler Pasher –  in the opening 12 minutes of the night. The best of those four chances came in the eighth minute, Carl Haworth serving a low cross past two SKC defenders to Pasher near the top of the 18-yard box, who only had goalkeeper Remi Prieur in between him and his 10th goal of the season. His one-touch left-footed attempt proved unsuccessful however, as Prieur managed to push the strike wide off his fingertips. Having already been eliminated from playoff contention, Sporting Kansas City II entered Lucas Oil Stadium looking to prolong Indy’s chances to clinch the postseason early Wednesday evening. After taking a hard foul from Cam Lindley late in the first half, which earned the Carmel, Ind. native his first yellow card of the season, SKC’s Fredlin Mompremier found himself in the middle of Indy’s box in a one-on-one situation in 41st minute. A long through pass from the midfield found Mompremier along the left flank, who quickly danced right towards goal inside of the box. Mompremier’s chipped cross found the head Wilson Harris, who nodded the ball in the upper corner to give the visitors a one-goal advantage before the halftime whistle. Coming into the second half, Pasher went from looking to score to creating opportunities for his teammates. The Canadian found his way into the visitor’s box and found Carleton, who was a halftime substitution, at the top of the box. Taking one touch to settle, the 20-year-old sent a left-footed strike skidding just out of Prieur’s reach and into the bottom-right corner for his first goal of the season. Indy Eleven kept the Sporting’s offense at bay for most of the second stanza, only allowing three shots from the visiting side going into stoppage time and the contest looked as if it were going to end with the points being shared. Sparks, a late-game substitute, found himself at the top of Indy’s box, managing to find a bit of space for a right-footed attempt that went past ‘keeper Evan Newton at full extension and into the back of the net in the 95th minute for the final lead, breaking the visitor’s four-game losing streak. Indy Eleven (7W-6L-2D, 23 pts.) will have one more chance to clinch its third playoff berth in as many season this Saturday, October 3, travels to Saint Louis FC (6W-5L-4D, 22 pts.) in both team’s final game of the 2020 USL Regular Season. The 7:30 p.m. ET matchup can be followed live on MyINDY-TV 23, ESPN+, Exitos Radio 94.3 FM/exitos943.com, and the @IndyElevenLive Twitter feed, presented by Central Indiana Honda Dealers.   USL Championship Regular Season – #INDvSKC Indy Eleven 1 : 2  Sporting Kansas City II Wednesday, September 30, 2020 – 7:00 p.m. ET Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Ind. Attendance: 6,039

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Former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann looks ahead to the USMNT stars involved in this season’s Bundesliga.Already at Schalke were fellow Americans Nick Taitague (promoted to the first team over the summer) and McKennie. “I think he [Weston] was an influence,” Hoppe told ESPN. “He was a big star here at Schalke, and he was willing to show that Schalke were willing to play young players and young Americans. I spoke to him a few times and he gave me some encouragement and advice. It was a good conversation.” The Future As one Bundesliga academy head told ESPN, “there is huge potential for extraordinary footballers [in Germany]. There is a huge growing rate, a huge pool of players who are all well-trained.” The U.S. 2019 Under-20 World Cup team had six players contracted to German clubs, while the last Under-17 team had Pablo Soares from Borussia Monchengladbach and Noah Jones from RB Leipzig.With the top Bundesliga clubs aware of promising American talent as young as 12 years old, the pathway is established. And with the Bundesliga’s brand as a place that trusts in youth (Borussia Dortmund’s opener against Gladbach was created by Reyna and Bellingham, who are both 17), it’s seen as a place where age is irrelevant if you’re good enough.”There’s not much politics involved,” Klinsmann told ESPN. “The coaches are usually very straightforward. If the kid understands that it’s all down to performance and they’ll get the chance, the Bundesliga’s the place to be.”Said Hoppe: “All the young players have an extreme talent and the Bundesliga’s able to offer these players an opportunity to use their talent, to tweak it, improve all the things they need to work on. It’s so wholesome [in Germany] — they need to work on their strength, their technique, their tactical ability, their mental strength — the league helps make them more a complete player.”The migration shows no signs of slowing. This summer gone, Arminia Bielefeld signed 16-year-old goalkeeper Carver Miller from DC United, while Joel Imasuen arrived at Hertha Berlin. Then Bayern and Barcelona were involved in a scramble for Dest. While some move on — like Sebastian Soto, who joined Norwich City before going out on loan to SC Telstar in the Netherlands, or Blaine Ferri, who swapped Greuther Furth for Fort Lauderdale CF in the USL — the machine keeps going.”I think there are a lot of talented players in the USA,” Hoppe says. “They just need to take the jump to Europe, they need to keep developing their game and take the risk.” Messi and Barcelona: The inside story on how everything fell apart, and what’s next Sep 24, 2020Multiple Contributors ESPNFC A year ago, Lionel Messi set out his terms for staying at Barcelona. “I want to be at Barcelona for as long as possible. This is my home,” he told the Catalan newspaper Sport. “But I don’t want to have a long-term contract and to only be here because of it. I need to see that there’s a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club. “For me, money or a clause don’t mean anything. I don’t have any intention of going anywhere but I want to keep competing and winning.”Twelve months later, Messi was refusing to train, insisting that his 20-year relationship with Barca was over, and trying to force a move to Manchester City.  That Messi, one-club man, captain and icon, would seek to leave Barcelona like this — notifying them in a now-infamous burofax that, as far as he was concerned, he had already gone — should have been unthinkable. And yet this was no spur-of-the-moment decision. We should have seen it coming.Messi had not been happy at Barcelona — with the president, the board or management — for a long time. He admitted as much in the interview that brought a temporary end to the crisis this summer: “I’ve been telling [president Josep Maria Bartomeu] that I wanted to leave all year.” Known for being a reluctant public figure, Messi speaks only when he has something to say — and at 33, he has been more vocal than ever. He was desperate to be heard. Those in charge at Barcelona didn’t listen.This is the story — told with the help of numerous first-hand accounts from sources close to both player and club — of how Messi’s nagging doubts about Barcelona eventually became impossible to ignore, and what happened next.Editors’ note: This story contains reporting from Moises Llorens, Sam Marsden, Alex Kirkland, Rodrigo Faez and Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal. ABOVE ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS both personal and professional, Messi’s discontent stems from his desire to win. And for Messi, winning means the Champions League. Barcelona haven’t done that since 2015. They haven’t even come close. Embarrassed by Liverpool and Roma in recent years, the 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the quarterfinal stage of the competition last season, in August, was the tipping point. Messi is intensely aware of the impact Barca’s European failings will have on his legacy. Four Champions League titles are more than enough for mortals. But not for Messi. Several sources pinpoint one moment that best reveals Messi’s disenchantment. It came at Camp Nou in May 2019. Barca were 3-0 up in the first leg of their semifinal against Liverpool. In the 96th minute, Messi — who had scored twice — drew three defenders before squaring the ball for an unmarked Ousmane Dembele. Dembele miskicked, Alisson made the easy save and Messi fell theatrically to the floor, face down in the turf. He knew that Barcelona needed another goal — the season before, Roma erased a first-leg, 4-1 deficit to advance on away goals to the semifinals — because his teammates couldn’t be trusted to defend a 3-0 lead away from home. Six days later, he was proved right.”The last chance for Dembele was clear-cut,” Messi told reporters after the first leg. “Four goals would have been better than three.”How do you prevent those mistakes from happening again and again? One approach might involve a clear-eyed vision of the kind of team you want to construct. But Barcelona’s planning has been incoherent at best. Losing Neymar, with whom Messi loved to play, to Paris Saint-Germain was perhaps forgivable. Wasting almost €300 million on Dembele and Philippe Coutinho — both yet to come good, three years on — less so. The club failed to bring Neymar back last summer, signing Antoine Griezmann instead for a similar sum. Griezmann is a player who has failed to adapt for various reasons, including the fact his preferred position is taken by MessiA series of sporting directors — Andoni Zubizarreta, Robert Fernandez, Pep Segura, Eric Abidal and Ramon Planes — have come and gone over the past five years, all of them unable to implement an effective long-term strategy because they were never afforded the time to do so. They have all been made scapegoats by Bartomeu, sacrificed as symbols of the club’s shortcomings. Among them, they brought in a mishmash of players recruited with different ideas in mind. New signings arrived, flopped and left. Legendary midfielder Andres Iniesta departed. Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets got older.Messi waited, despairingly, for things to get better. EVEN AS BARCELONA FAILED IN EUROPE, they at least continued to win La Liga. Manager Ernesto Valverde, despite his unpopularity among some Barca fans, won the league ahead of Real Madrid in 2018 and 2019. Messi liked Valverde. Sources told ESPN that the easygoing, diplomatic Valverde maintained relative harmony in a dressing room divided between two cliques: one, led by Messi, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, who were essentially happy under the coach’s laid-back regime; and another, including Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Frenkie de Jong, who would have preferred a more disciplined approach. That balance endured until January this year when Valverde was sacked — with Barca top of the league — after defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia. He was replaced by Quique Setien, a man with no experience managing a group of players at this level. The fallout from Valverde’s firing was damaging, too. Sporting director Abidal said in an interview with Sport in February that “a lot of players weren’t happy [with Valverde] and weren’t working a lot.”Messi, in a rare moment of rage, snapped. “I honestly don’t like to do these things, but I think everyone should take responsibility for their decisions,” he wrote on Instagram. “The sporting department should take responsibility. When you talk about players, you should give names. If not, you’re tarnishing all of us and feeding things which people say and aren’t true.”Abidal touched a nerve. Messi is incredibly sensitive to the idea that he runs things at Barcelona, responsible for hiring and firing coaches and identifying transfer targets. It’s understandable, even if it’s hard to dispute the grain of truth at its heart: that Barca should do everything possible to keep their best-ever player happy.Barca had been failing to do that on the pitch; they were failing off it, too. In February, it was alleged that a company the club had hired to protect its image was behind social media accounts posting disparaging comments about current and former players. Messi and his family were mentioned. It was another blow to his already fragile relationship with Bartomeu, even if Barca continue to deny any wrongdoing in the scandal that’s come to be known as “Barcagate.” SETIEN HAD A BRIEF AND TROUBLED SPELL IN CHARGE. From the beginning, Messi was not impressed with him despite hyped-up claims of a return to the more attacking, possession-based style of play made famous at the club by Johan Cruyff and, later, Pep Guardiola.An uneasy, six-month truce lasted until June, when La Liga returned after its pandemic-enforced break. When Barca dropped their first points in a frustrating goalless draw with Sevilla, sources told ESPN that there was a tense dressing room showdown between captain and coach as stunned teammates looked on.The top-of-the-table lead that Setien had inherited from Valverde quickly disappeared. Real Madrid won 10 games in a row, while Barca dropped points in four of theirs. Their title challenge ended with a 2-1 home defeat to Osasuna on July 16. Speaking immediately afterward, Messi didn’t hold back.Things had “all gone wrong” since January, he said, in a blatant criticism of his new coach. “We’ve been a very erratic, weak, low-intensity team. Today’s game is a summary of the season. We have to be self-critical, starting with the players but across the whole club.” BARCELONA HAD WON NOTHING IN 2019-20, their first trophyless campaign in 12 years. Setien was dismissed. His replacement was club legend Ronald Koeman, but it was too late. Messi’s mind was made up. A first meeting between Messi and Koeman — one that saw Messi interrupt his holiday with Suarez and Jordi Alba in the Pyrenees to return to Barcelona on Aug. 20 — did not go well. Messi expressed his doubts and remained determined to leave the club.Around the same time, he called Guardiola.”Messi and Pep spoke for hours,” a source told ESPN. The pair are close and have much in common. Messi, Guardiola and Manchester City all share an obsession with the Champions League. City have never won it; Guardiola and Messi are thought not to have won it often enough.Messi knew that his options for leaving Barcelona were limited. Unlike Barca, he viewed City as having a clear strategy and an upward trajectory. The player told his former coach that he wanted to move. Guardiola said he would talk to decision-makers at City. It wouldn’t be straightforward, he warned.Messi’s flirtation with City was nothing new. In fact, City’s rebuild under their new owners over the past decade has been carried out with the aim of attracting first Guardiola and, later, Messi. There were discussions in 2014, and again in 2016. Yet City’s hopes of signing Messi this summer were dependent on them playing in the Champions League. Once their two-year ban from European competitions was lifted on July 13, they knew they would be the front-runners to sign him if he left Barca.There was never any direct contact between the clubs, nor did Messi’s camp transmit directly to Barca a desire to move to City, but sources at the Catalan club say were informed of City’s interest in signing Messi by a third party. It gave City a lot to think about. Could they afford Messi’s salary? How much would they have to pay Barca? What about financial fair play? His €700m buyout clause was impossible, even for City. There was a more tantalising prospect, though: Messi might be available for nothing.The mechanism by which they thought they could pull off a deal had existed for years. Messi’s long-term doubts led his advisers to insert a release clause in his Barca contract when it was renewed in 2017. At the end of the 2019-20 season, within a defined period, he could unilaterally rescind his contract and walk away.And so, Barcelona’s board nervously waited. In the end, the date — initially widely reported as May 31, later corrected to June 10 — fell when La Liga was about to resume. Nonetheless, when it had passed, the club were quick to brief the media. As far as they were concerned, Messi would be staying until 2021. Messi has since said he didn’t inform the club before then because they were still involved in La Liga and the Champions League; one source, though, says the fact City were banned from European football before winning an appeal also complicated his route out of Camp Nou.The original date in Messi’s contract had been drawn up to coincide with the end of the season. But with the campaign extended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Messi’s camp felt they had some wiggle room when it came to the interpretation of the clause.Sources told ESPN that the feedback Messi received from legal experts was mixed. Only one law firm out of at least four consulted, Cuatrecasas, believed the argument had a realistic chance of success. That was enough and Messi decided to go ahead. If he stood his ground, perhaps Barca would blink first. AUG. 24 BEGAN WITH A PHONE CALL from Koeman to Suarez. In a conversation that lasted around a minute, the coach told Messi’s best friend in the squad that he was not in Barca’s plans and should look for a new club. Vidal received similar treatment. Messi’s allies were being pushed out and, in his view, disrespected. Later that day, Messi took action. On advice from Cuatrecasas, the player opted to use a burofax — a registered letter, used when legal proof of receipt is required — to inform Barcelona that he wished to leave for free, exercising his release clause. Signed by Messi, it was sent just after 7 p.m. By mid-morning on Aug. 25, the letter had arrived at Camp Nou. – Lowe: Messi, bad blood and a ‘burofax’ The first to read it, aghast, were Bartomeu and the head of Barca’s legal department, Roma Gomez Ponti. “They could not believe their eyes,” a source told ESPN. For them, there was no debate: The clause had already expired. “Put aside everything else you’ve been working on and focus on this,” Bartomeu told the club’s lawyers. Barcelona contacted two firms specialising in sports law — Costa Torrecillas & Associates and Bufete Antras — for advice. (The former had won the club a favourable judgment months earlier in their dispute with Neymar over a renewal bonus.) Both firms agreed Barca were in the right and should not give in to Messi’s demands. Despite that, sources told ESPN at the time there were board members who supported letting Messi go. Not for free, mind you, but if it meant bringing in a large fee and removing his €90m salary from the wage bill, the club might be able to dig itself out of a €300m financial hole during the COVID-19 crisis.”Messi has so much power at the club, both on a financial and sporting level,” one source said. Another, close to the dressing room, went further. “It’s the moment to sell him, it’s a historic opportunity to be able to change things. There are players who will perform a lot better without him in the team.”Those voices believed a managed departure could be beneficial, but the president would not entertain the prospect. It was €700m from a buying club, or he stays. “Bartomeu doesn’t want to be the president who agrees to the sale of Messi,” a source told ESPN, even as another source said, “it’s the best thing he could have done.”Bartomeu might have ruined his relationship with Messi — the player called him a liar, claiming Bartomeu had assured him he would let him go — but he got his wish. In the end, he won’t be the president who oversees Messi’s departure; after all, the club’s presidential elections will happen on March 20 or 21 next year, before Messi’s contract expires. AT MANCHESTER CITY, there had been a growing acceptance that signing Messi for free was impossible, so they turned their attention to a negotiated settlement. After several days of crunching numbers, a source told ESPN that “if Barcelona let him leave for €100 or 150m, Messi will be a City player.” City were also willing to include players of interest to Barca, such as young defender and La Masia product Eric Garcia, in a deal, although ESPN was told that others, including Gabriel JesusBernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, would not be included.All of that depended on Barca being willing to budge. Messi waited and maintained his silence, even skipping coronavirus testing ahead of a return for preseason training with new coach Koeman. Board members who’d been critical of Messi felt he should be fined for that; Bartomeu believed doing so would escalate the crisis. As Barca drafted burofaxes of their own to correspond with their absent captain, sources told ESPN that some versions specified that there would be no punishment, while others left the option open. On the morning of Sept. 2, Messi’s father and agent, Jorge, flew from Rosario, Argentina, to Barcelona for a meeting with Bartomeu that evening, but no progress was made. Bartomeu had one important thing as leverage: Messi could not stomach a legal battle. He was determined to leave, but not if the process descended into lengthy litigation. City were reluctant to take that road, too.Everything changed on Sept. 4. In an interview with Goal’s Ruben Uria, Messi announced his decision to stay. “The president told me the only way to leave was to pay the €700m clause, which is impossible, and that the alternative was going to court,” Messi said. “I would never take Barca to court because it’s the club I love.” It could have ended differently. Some at Barcelona feel that Messi’s approach — both in law and in public relations — was flawed from the start. “He didn’t choose the best communications strategy,” one source told ESPN. “If he had timed it better, he could have finished off Bartomeu and he’d be at Manchester City by now.” In this reading, Messi’s fundamental mistake was a failure to articulate his decision to leave sooner, and to speak directly to the fans — perhaps, as many other players might have done, on their social media accounts — before the burofax was sent.Others question whether the prospect of another year of an unhappy Messi is best for Barca. The No. 10 has channelled his anger on the pitch before with positive results for the team; he might do so again. But ESPN has been told that some players thought a fresh start, with a new coach and without Messi, might have been the best for everyone. SO MESSI STAYS FOR NOW, but so do his doubts, expressed so clearly and concisely when he finally spoke out. “The truth is that for a while there hasn’t been a project or anything,” he said. “They’ve been juggling things and plugging holes.”But the story doesn’t end there. Bartomeu will be gone soon and a new president is to be elected in March. He might not even make it until then if a vote of no confidence, launched on the back of Messi’s burofax, goes against him in the coming weeks. There could be as many as 10 people in the running to replace Bartomeu, too — Victor Font is one of the early favourites to inherit the role and he has said that, in addition to bringing former Barca midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez back as coach, he wants to make sure Messi stays. Not one of the candidates has said they want to build a Barca without Messi, despite the fact he will be 34 next summer.Messi has leverage. With his deal officially expiring in June, he is able to negotiate with other clubs starting in January. No legal battle, no drama, at least of the sort we’ve witnessed this past summer.Will the new president be able to convince him to renew his deal? Messi has said the club must sign young players to freshen up an aging squad. That is slowly happening, but it’s coming at the expense of his closest friends at the club: Vidal has joined Inter Milan and Suarez is headed to Atletico Madrid.So much depends on the next eight months, on how Koeman does and on who wins the elections. Beyond all that, though, it depends on one thing: on Barcelona having a winning team.

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