EPL

Salah says Liverpool future is in club's hands as star insists contract demands are not 'crazy'

By Sports Desk January 11, 2022

Mohamed Salah insists he is not demanding a "crazy" contract as he again stressed his Liverpool future is in the hands of the club.

The Egypt star's deal expires at the end of the 2022-23 season and there has not yet been a breakthrough in negotiations over an extension.

The 29-year-old has previously made it clear he wants to stay at Anfield but that it is up to Reds owners Fenway Sports Group to come to an acceptable agreement.

Speaking to GQ, Salah called on the club to show their appreciation for what he has achieved since signing from Roma in 2017.

"I want to stay, but it's not in my hands. It's in their hands," he said. "They know what I want. I'm not asking for crazy stuff.

"The thing is when you ask for something and they show you they can give you something, [they should] because they appreciate what you did for the club.

"I've been here for my fifth year now. I know the club very well. I love the fans. The fans love me. But with the administration, they have [been] told the situation. It's in their hands."

Salah has been in spectacular form this season, scoring 23 goals and providing nine assists in 26 Liverpool appearances.

In Europe's top five leagues, only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (34) has been directly involved in more goals than Salah.

Those two, along with Lionel Messi, are the finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Player Award for 2021, with the winner to be announced on January 17, but Salah was surprisingly only seventh in the final standings for last year's Ballon d'Or as Messi claimed the prize for a record-extending seventh time.

France Football's award is still something Salah hopes to win, although he suggested "politics" could get in the way.

"If you asked me if this was a drive for me to be here? Yeah, of course. I can't really lie and say honestly I didn't think about it," he said.

"No, I think about it. I want to be the best player in the world. But I will have a good life even if I don't win [the Ballon d'Or]. My life is okay, everything is fine.

"Sometimes I feel it's just politics."

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  • Xavi reeling from Copa del Rey defeat as Barca confirm Fati thigh injury Xavi reeling from Copa del Rey defeat as Barca confirm Fati thigh injury

    Xavi admitted his Barcelona team failed to match the intensity of Athletic Bilbao as they tumbled out of the Copa del Rey at the last-16 stage, another blow in a dismal season.

    Barcelona may yet claw their way into the Champions League places in LaLiga, but their trophy pursuit looks doomed to failure. Beaten by Real Madrid last week in the Supercopa semi-finals, a 3-2 defeat after extra time against Athletic on Thursday was another bitter pill for head coach Xavi and his players.

    Add in the blow of losing substitute Ansu Fati to what Barcelona described as "a femoral biceps injury in his left thigh", and it was a calamitous night at San Mames for the visitors.

    Barca are out of the LaLiga title reckoning, and Europa League play-off opponents Napoli will surely fancy their chances of taking the Blaugrana's scalp on this latest evidence.

    The defeat in Bilbao, where home captain Iker Muniain capped an inspiring performance with two goals, means Barcelona have failed to reach at least the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2009-10.

    This is also the first season since 2003-04, when they were in the UEFA Cup, that Barcelona have not featured in the Champions League knockout rounds. A group-stage exit saw to that.

    Barcelona got what they deserved in Bilbao. The expected goals (xG) calculation, based on each team's chances, showed the gulf between these sides was wider than the final scoreline.

    Athletic had an xG of 3.33, while Barcelona's was a miniscule 0.36. The home side had 19 shots to just seven by Xavi's team, and the 66.7 per cent of possession that Barcelona enjoyed was mostly lacking in end product.

    Success has flooded into the Catalan giants in recent years, and Barcelona beat Athletic 4-0 in the Copa final only last April. Lionel Messi scored twice in that game, and Antoine Griezmann also netted. Both have now long since departed.

    "In summary, I think Athletic's intensity surpassed ours," said Xavi. "In duels, in second balls. They lived each ball as if it were their last."

    Athletic led through Muniain and Inigo Martinez, but Ferran Torres, with his first Barcelona goal, and Pedri, deep into stoppage time, replied for Barcelona.

    A handball by Jordi Alba was punished by Muniain from the penalty spot near the end of the first half of extra time, and this time Athletic did not relinquish their lead.

    "With Pedri's goal it seemed like it was our moment," Xavi said, speaking at a post-match news conference.

    Muniain's penalty told the coach different, however.

    "It seems that when things are heads or tails, we always get tails. We have to change the dynamic," Xavi added.

    He was not minded to contest the penalty decision after the final whistle. Alba was struck on the arm by Nico Williams' cross, and with VAR guidance it was an obvious spot-kick.

    Former Al Sadd boss Xavi, who took over the Barcelona top job in November, said his team would "fight" for their remaining objectives.

    It remains to be seen when Fati is seen again in action. He looked distressed, tearful, on leaving the pitch barely half an hour after entering the action. That setback compounded the misery of a regrettable evening.

    Speaking to Barca TV, Xavi said: "We need to continue believing in this project, continue in LaLiga and continue in the Europa League. This is the way, continue to keep going and working hard."

  • Sacramento sadness: Why the Kings cannot afford to do nothing Sacramento sadness: Why the Kings cannot afford to do nothing

    Professional sports are usually cyclical with teams rising and falling at one point or another. Some franchises, however, seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of nothingness.

    That is where the Sacramento Kings have resided for far too long. 

    The Kings own the NBA's longest active playoff drought at 15 seasons with the next closest team (Charlotte Hornets) at just five years. At 18-29 and 11th in the Western Conference, it doesn't appear likely that Sacramento will end that run of futility this year with the 16-season drought becoming the longest in NBA history. The Clippers went 15 seasons without a playoff appearance from 1977-1992.

    Those Clippers at least had a winning season during their dearth of postseason basketball, going 43-39 in 1978-79. The Kings' best record in their sad stretch was 39-43 in 2018-19. Sacramento's last winning season came in 2005-06 (44-38), at the end of a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances that included the league's best record in 2001-02 (61-21). 

    That success must seem like a century ago to the Kings' beaten-down fanbase.

    The Kings have been something of a vagabond franchise throughout their history, starting as the Rochester Royals in 1948 and winning their only championship two seasons later. 

    The team moved to Cincinnati in 1957-58 and then was shifted to Kansas City-Omaha in 1972, when they were renamed the Kings. Finally, they became the fourth NBA team in the state of California with the move to Sacramento in 1985. 

    Over the last five seasons, including the current one, the Kings rank 24th in winning percentage (.411). Trailing them are Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Orlando, all teams that have experienced the playoffs in that span except for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls who are headed there this season. 

    That Sacramento have only been moderately awful lately is one of the franchise's biggest problems. While other teams have bottomed out and rebuilt (Cavaliers, Hawks and Bulls), the Kings have wallowed near the bottom without much of a plan to lead them back to their long-forgotten glory days.

    There is a myriad of reasons why the Kings have been unable to reach the playoffs since George Walker Bush was in the White House, but chief among them is an 11-man coaching carousel.

    David Joerger (2016-17-2018-19) coached the most games in that span (246) and had the most wins (98), recently fired Luke Walton had the best winning percentage (.422) and Kenny Natt had the worst (.190).

    Walton was fired on November 21, 2021, after a 6-11 start and a 68-93 record, and replaced on an interim basis by Alvin Gentry. That move hasn't provided much of a spark with Sacramento going 12-18 under Gentry.

    While coaching, of course, plays a major role in any team's fortunes, players are truly what defines a franchise. Because impact free agents aren't flocking to Sacramento the way they do to Los Angeles or Miami, the Kings must hit on their draft picks, and they simply have had too many misses. 

    It can be unfair to look at a specific team's drafts and pick apart what they should or shouldn't have done in hindsight, but in Sacramento's case, the misses have contributed to a lack of stars and therefore success.

    The most egregious mistake came in 2018, when the Kings picked Marvin Bagley III second right before Dallas selected Luka Doncic and three picks before Trae Young went to Atlanta. While Bagley is a decent player, he's never averaged more than 14.9 points and is down to 9.4 this season as a part-time starter.

    Doncic, meanwhile, was a star right from the jump and has ascended into one of the greatest players of his generation, while Young's career has followed a similar path. 

    Other big blunders were taking Thomas Robinson fifth overall in 2012, one spot ahead of Damian Lillard, choosing Nick Stauskas eighth in 2014 instead of Zach LaVine, who went 14th to Minnesota, and picking Willie Cauley-Stein sixth the following year while Devin Booker lasted until pick number 13. 

    Scoring points hasn't been a big problem for the Kings over the years, ranking 10th in points per game (103.5) since 2006-07. The opposite end of the court is where they have failed. During that span, Sacramento is last in defensive scoring (107.6), 29th in opponent field-goal percentage (47.0) and 29th in opponent three-point percentage (36.5).

    Even more so than the defensive failures, the Kings have lacked an identity for what seems like forever. It's impossible to say what exactly is Kings basketball and what is it supposed to look like. The lack of star power, draft misses and a never-ending run of coaches has largely been responsible for that.

    The franchise's best player over the past decade and a half was DeMarcus Cousins, selected fifth overall in 2010. Cousins wasn't only the Kings' best player for several years but was among the league's elite for a while, particularly from 2014-17 before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in July 2017.

    From 2014-2017, over a 196-game span, Cousins ranked fifth in the NBA in both scoring (26.1) and rebounding (11.7) while also adding 3.9 assists and 1.47 blocks with five triple-doubles. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team in consecutive seasons (2014-15, 2015-16) and was an All-Star in three straight years. 

    Cousins, though, had several incidents with the Kings, including being suspended from the team for unprofessional behaviour and conduct detrimental to the team in 2012. By 2017, the relationship had run its course and he was traded to the Pelicans for three players and two draft picks. Buddy Hield remains from that deal and the 2017 first-round pick turned into Zach Collins, who was dealt to Portland. 

    The best player on the current Kings is De'Aaron Fox, who is in his fifth season with the team after he was drafted five picks before Collins. 

    Fox had a breakout campaign in 2020-21 with 25.2 points and 7.2 assists but has dropped off to 21.0 points and 5.2 assists this season while his three-point percentage is down to a career-worst 24.8.

    Fox has a world of talent but has been plagued by inconsistency, and his disappointing play surely played a role in Walton's firing. The idea of trading him for a package of picks and players can't be completely dismissed anymore.

    Trading Fox would signal that the Kings are ready to do a complete rebuild, and if that was the case, why not also deal Bagley, Harrison Barnes and others?

    Second-year point guard Tyrese Haliburton has a very bright future and rookie guard Davion Mitchell has elite defensive skills, but neither is ready to lead a team without ample veteran help. Hield is a terrific shooter but doesn’t offer a whole lot more so likely has more value on a contending team. 

    The Kings are at a crossroads right now because they aren't competing for championships anytime soon and even making the playoffs soon seems unlikely. It could be time for a total rebuild similar to what Detroit and Houston are doing now, but that could be a hard sell for a fanbase that hasn't seen a playoff game in forever. 

    With the franchise teetering on the edge of basketball irrelevance, the worst thing the Kings could do now is nothing. Continuing down the same path would be foolish, and general manager Monte McNair, who has only held the position since September 2020, needs to go in a discernible direction to end the perennial losing.

  • Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Barcelona: Holders dumped out of Copa del Rey on sorry night for Xavi Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Barcelona: Holders dumped out of Copa del Rey on sorry night for Xavi

    Holders Barcelona were dumped out of the Copa del Rey and saw another trophy slip away as Xavi's team lost 3-2 after extra time at Athletic Bilbao.

    Home captain Iker Muniain hit the first and last goals of the night, opening the scoring with a delicious strike. Ferran Torres responded against the run of play before half-time with his first goal for Barcelona. Inigo Martínez then scrambled what looked like a late winner, only for Pedri to strike in the third minute of stoppage time.

    Muniain restored Athletic's lead with a penalty at the end of the first half of extra time, and this time there was no way back for Barcelona, who lost substitute Ansu Fati to an apparent injury.

    Barcelona drubbed Athletic 4-0 in last year's final, with Lionel Messi getting two goals, Antoine Griezmann one and Frenkie de Jong also on target. That made this sweet revenge, and Athletic richly deserved the win.

    Muniain gave Athletic a second-minute lead, collecting the loose ball after Nico Williams crossed low from the right. From a deep position beyond the far post, Muniain took two sharp touches to set himself and curled a sumptuous strike over Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the far corner.

    Torres replied from a similar spot and with a comparable finish in the 20th minute, stepping inside Oscar De Marcos and whipping a shot beyond Julen Agirrezabala.

    Yet Barcelona were ripe for being picked off at the back and kept allowing chances, Muniain and Nico Williams going close before the break.

    The visitors were stronger for the introduction of De Jong and Fati just after the hour, yet they looked doomed when Athletic's second goal arrived in the 86th minute, scrambled in from close range by Martinez after Alex Berenguer's header was only half-blocked by Ter Stegen.

    Pedri dramatically made it 2-2 with a thumping strike from 15 yards, but Barca then lost Fati to injury early in extra time, and they conceded a penalty when Nico Williams' cross struck Jordi Alba on the arm from close range. Muniain blasted past Ter Stegen, Barcelona complained to no avail, and it is Athletic who go into Friday's quarter-final draw.

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