James McClean has been fined two weeks wages and agreed to delete his Instagram account after an apparent IRA joke, Stoke City have confirmed.

With social distancing measures in place in the United Kingdom amid the coronavirus pandemic, Stoke winger McClean uploaded a controversial post to his Instagram story.

Captioned "Today's school lesson - history", with a laughing emoji, the 30-year-old was pictured facing his children wearing a balaclava - imagery synonymous with the IRA.

A Stoke statement confirmed McClean's punishment and read: "The player has expressed contrition and recognises that the post was ill-advised and offensive."

McClean added: "I never wanted to cause any offence but I now realise that I did so and for that I apologise unreservedly.

"I have spoken to the club and will be deleting my Instagram account."

The Republic of Ireland international has previously complained of "constant sectarian abuse" in English football and was booed by Stoke supporters last season for refusing to wear a poppy, the traditional symbol of Remembrance Sunday.

McClean has suggested wearing a poppy would represent "a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles - and Bloody Sunday especially".

Jurgen Klopp was moved to tears after being shown a video of NHS workers singing a rendition of Liverpool club anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Footage of the healthcare staff swaying their arms from side to side as they chanted the song was posted on social media this week.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to gather pace across the world, Britain united as one on Thursday to thank those who are battling to save lives.

And Liverpool boss Klopp has praised the "extraordinary" work being done by nurses, doctors, carers and other medical professionals in testing circumstances.

"My English is not good enough to say. It's extraordinary, it's great," he told Liverpool's official website. 

"I think yesterday I was sent a video of people in the hospital just outside the intensive care area and when they started singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' I started crying immediately. 

"It's unbelievable. But it shows everything, these people not only work but they have such a good spirit. They are used to helping other people, we need to get used to it because usually we have our own problems and stuff. 

"But it's their job, they do it day in and day out. They bring themselves, if you want, in danger because they help ill, sick and seriously handicapped people, so I couldn't admire them more and appreciate it more, I really couldn't."

The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc on the sporting calendar, with Liverpool being made to wait for a maiden Premier League crown and first top-flight title since 1990.

Klopp's men are two victories away from lifting the title, but the German coach insists football does not matter at a time like this.

"We said it now often enough, and I think everybody knows, football is not the most important thing in the world," he said. "One hundred per cent not. In this moment it's clear what is. 

"But the only way to get football back as soon as possible, if that's what the people want, the more disciplined we are now the earlier we will get, piece by piece by piece, our life back. 

"That's how it is. There is no other solution in the moment, nobody has another solution. We have to be disciplined by ourselves, we have to keep the distance to other people.

"In 10, 20, 30, 40 years, if we look back and then the conclusion is that this was the period when the world showed the biggest solidarity, the biggest love, the biggest friendship or whatever, that would be great, that would be really great."

Shkodran Mustafi is not thinking about his Arsenal future and has no problem with the issue moving down the club's priority list amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Germany international has just over a year remaining on his Gunners contract and has been back in favour since Mikel Arteta took over from Unai Emery.

At an uncertain time, Mustafi’s focus is on returning to the pitch before "questions" on his career are answered.

"We are in a situation where everyone is worried about the current situation and not so much about their personal future," Mustafi, 27, said to Sky Germany.

"First of all, I would like to play football again. That's how we all feel, we want to get back onto the pitch. There are so many question marks at the moment.

"Euro 2020 has been postponed. There are so many discussions whether we can even finish the season or not.

"So it is difficult to think about my personal future. None of us know what will happen next and when we can play again.

"So once we have overcome this difficult time and are back on the pitch, I can think about questions like that.

"At the moment I don't think about it. Also, the club has more important stuff to deal with right now than my future."

Mustafi had previously spoken positively about Arteta and praised the Arsenal boss' charisma as he began to get more regular appearances alongside David Luiz at the back.

"I can imagine continuing to play for him," he said of Arteta, who has recently recovered from COVID-19. 

"But we still don't know about the future and there are still many question marks."

Manchester United will reimburse season ticket holders should the remainder of their home games be called off or played behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have not been in action since March 12 due to the continued spread of COVID-19 and will not play again until April 30 at the earliest.

United still have four Premier League games to be played at Old Trafford this term, plus any additional cup ties, but there are fears the 2019-20 campaign will not be completed.

However, United have reassured fans they will not be left out of pocket if games do not go ahead as planned, potentially seeing them pay out millions of pounds in refunds.

"The club fully supports the collective intent to complete the Premier League, Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA club competitions," a statement read on the club's official website. 

"However, if it were decided that games cannot be played, or needed to be played behind closed doors, Manchester United confirms it will offer season ticket holders either a pro-rata rebate against their season tickets for next year, or a pro-rata cash refund based on the number of games still to be played. 
 
"This rebate or a refund will also apply to supporters who have paid in advance for general admission tickets or Matchday VIP packages for the games that could be impacted this season. A rebate will also be offered to seasonal Executive Club members.

"If postponed matches are played as normal, all tickets will remain valid. 

"Once there is more certainty around the fixture schedule, the club will directly contact all fans who are impacted to provide further information on how any rebates, cash refunds and renewals will be administered."

The ongoing uncertainty over the remainder of this season will have a knock-on effect for next term, with United also agreeing to suspend the date for season ticket renewals.

"The Season Ticket renewal deadline, initially 1 May, has been suspended," the statement continued. "This will be continuously reviewed and a new deadline will be put in place once there is confirmation of the start date of the 2020-21 season. 

"The club commits to giving as much notice of the revised renewal deadline as possible given the evolving situation." 

Meanwhile, United last week pledged to support their casual workers even if the Premier League season is cancelled or matches are played without fans in attendance.

They have also joined forces with rivals Manchester City to donate £100,000 to food banks in the city to help relieve the strain on resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

Football may be on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Barcelona are reportedly already planning their transfer business ahead of the window reopening.

The LaLiga champions have been short of options up top this term as a result of injury lay-offs for Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele and reinforcements are being sought.

Two players continue to be continually linked with a switch, with Barca supposedly torn between a move for Inter striker Lautaro Martinez or ex-Camp Nou favourite Neymar.

Martinez has once again starred for Inter this season and the possibility of a move to Catalonia has been talked up by compatriot Lionel Messi.

But speaking earlier this week, Rivaldo claimed Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar would be a better option for his former club given his added experience.

Using Opta stats, we compare the form of the two players in all competitions this season and establish just who would be the better signing for Barcelona.

 

GOALS

Whoever Barcelona bring in to lead the line, they will need to have the ability to link up with others in the final third and continue getting the best out of star man Messi.

But first and foremost, Quique Setien's side need a goalscorer that can find the net and make a difference in key games.

Both Neymar and Martinez have the ability to do just that, scoring 18 and 16 goals respectively in all competitions this term.

However, Neymar has played nine games fewer than Martinez, giving him a minutes-per-goal ratio of 106 compared to 152.


ALL-ROUND ABILITY

There is little between the two players in terms of where their goals are scored, each netting two apiece from strikes outside the penalty box this term.

Neymar is comfortable using both feet to find the net, though, using his left foot seven times and his right 10 times to beat the opposition goalkeeper.

Inter striker Martinez, by comparison, has only managed a couple of goals with his weaker left.

But the Argentina international is better in the air, the stats suggest, given he has scored three headed goals in 2019-20 - two more than Neymar.

#Lukaku and #Lautaro

Ready to take Turin by storm #FORZAINTER #TorinoInter pic.twitter.com/BWhT6Gg5TM

— Inter (@Inter_en) November 23, 2019 ASSISTS

The deciding factor in which of the two players Barcelona should sign may well come down to their relationship with Messi.

Neymar knows Messi well from his previous four-year stint at Camp Nou, while Martinez regularly links up with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner at international level.

In terms of pure team play, this is another category Neymar edges having assisted nine goals this season, with Martinez lagging behind on two.

 

BIG GAME CREDENTIALS

If Barcelona are to spend a nine-figure sum on a player, they will expect to be reimbursed with goals in big matches and at key moments in games.

It is arguably Martinez's form on the biggest club stage of them all, the Champions League, that has fuelled rumours of a move to Barcelona.

The 22-year-old scored in four successive Champions League games during the group stage, making him the fifth Argentinian player to do so, though it was not enough to prevent Inter from exiting the competition.

PSG remain alive and well in the competition and that is in large down to Neymar, who scored in both legs of the last-16 comeback win against Borussia Dortmund.

In fact, since joining the French giants in 2017, Neymar has been involved in a goal every 70 minutes in UEFA's showpiece competition.

It is that ability to have a say on the biggest matches, plus his individual brilliance and underrated ability to set up others, which just gives Neymar the edge over Martinez at this moment in time.

There could be a number of goalkeeping changes around Europe.

With Kepa Arrizabalaga's future uncertain at Chelsea, Manuel Neuer is reportedly an option for Frank Lampard's side.

Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen has also been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TARGET NEUER

Chelsea are interested in signing Bayern Munich captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, according to Sport Bild.

Lampard's Chelsea are reportedly looking to move on from Kepa – the world's most expensive goalkeeper after leaving Athletic Bilbao in 2018.

Neuer is on Chelsea's radar, with the Germany star yet to agree a new deal at Bayern, who have been linked to fellow German and Barcelona keeper Ter Stegen.

ROUND-UP

Leonardo Bonucci to Manchester City? Calciomercato claims Pep Guardiola is "obsessed" with Bonucci and wants to bring the Juventus defender to the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season. Juve, however, are unwilling to sell the Italy international.

- The Mirror claims Barcelona are tracking Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. The Frenchman became Tottenham's club-record signing ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, but he has struggled in London amid criticism from head coach Jose Mourinho. Spurs have been linked to RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer.

- Bayern star David Alaba is likely to leave the Bundesliga champions at the end of the season, reports Sky Sport Germany. It comes as reports link the Austria international to Barca and Real Madrid. Meanwhile, The Sun claims City are set to be offered Alaba and cash for Leroy Sane.

Inter are considering a move to sign Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen as a free agent at season's end, says Calciomercato. The Nerazzurri are also unwilling to keep Alexis Sanchez, who is on loan from Manchester United.

Mauro Icardi has turned down a transfer to LaLiga in order to push for a move to Juventus, according to Elgoldigital. Icardi is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain from Inter.

- Calciomercato says United and Tottenham have made offers for Inter centre-back Diego Godin. The reports adds United are looking to sign both Godin and Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly.

Ander Herrera revealed he felt worse than Kylian Mbappe when his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate was tested for coronavirus.

Mbappe tested negative for coronavirus earlier this month, just days out from PSG's Champions League last-16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund.

But Herrera said he was in a worse condition than Mbappe, with the midfielder missing the clash due to a thigh injury.

"It was two days before PSG v Dortmund and the previous weekend Neymar had a group meal and I had been by his side," he told Cadena SER on Thursday.

"I was worse than him."

PSG's win over Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors which sent them into the Champions League quarter-finals was their last match with sport around the world brought to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic.

The financial impact of the suspended, and potentially cancelled, seasons is set to be felt and Herrera is open to taking a pay cut.

"We have to be consistent with the situation of the clubs," he said.

"Personally, I am very grateful to PSG for having me here and of course I would listen to them."

Pedro insisted he wanted to stay at Chelsea, playing down reports he said he was leaving.

The Spanish attacker, 32, was quoted as saying he was terminating his contract with Chelsea, with his deal expiring at season's end.

Pedro said his desire was to remain with the Premier League club, although he is still unsure what his future holds.

"As many people know, my contract is up in May, but I still haven't spoken to the club about whether or not it will be renewed and whether I'll carry on," he told the club's website.

"I've seen loads of messages from Chelsea fans saying goodbye and thanking me for the time I've spent here, which I appreciate, but I'd like to tell all the fans simply that my current contract is coming to an end but I still have to talk to the club.

"I don't know whether I'll keep playing here or not. That conversation is still to come. But I have not signed for any other club. I belong to Chelsea. I have a contract.

"My wish is to be able to stay here but obviously we don't know what will happen. I have to speak to the club and let's see what happens."

Pedro has made 18 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea this season, scoring twice.

With sport brought to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic, Chelsea were fourth in the table when the Premier League was suspended.

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta was scared about who he would infect after contracting coronavirus.

Arteta is "completely fine" after battling COVID-19, which has killed more than 24,000 people around the world and brought sport to a standstill.

The 38-year-old, who tested positive on March 12, said he was concerned about infecting those around him, including his players.

"I am feeling completely recovered [now], it's true I started having some symptoms when we got the phone call from the club to let us know that we might be exposed to the virus because of the owner of Olympiacos and in that moment… I don't know, I felt something within me, that I had it," Arteta told Arsenal Player.

"We had a game the following day against Manchester City, so I made a decision and called the doctor straight away and I asked him to drive home.

"I spoke with Raul [Sanllehi], Edu, Vinai [Venkatesham], Huss [Fahmy] and we set up a meeting together and I said, 'Listen, we have a couple of players that have been exposed. There is a massive risk there and as well I am the first one feeling the symptoms, very clear symptoms. So if that is the case, all of the players and the people related to the club who are in contact with me on a daily basis are exposed. So we cannot make that decision, we have to speak to the Premier League, to Manchester City and we have to make the decision pretty quickly.'

"Then you realise, 'Wow, everybody can be exposed here, this is very serious' and you start to think about the people that you've been in contact with and the other people that can be related to us. That's when a bit of fear comes."

Arteta said there was nothing unusual about how he felt while dealing with coronavirus.

"In terms of symptoms, it was a normal virus for me. I had three or four days which were a little bit difficult, with a bit of a temperature and a dry cough, and some discomfort in my chest. That was it," he said.

"The difficulty is that I have people at home, three kids as well and I was worried. My missus has been through it and my nanny's been through it. Thank God, the kids never got it. We are all completely fine now."

With the Premier League suspended due to coronavirus, Arsenal are ninth in the table, eight points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea.

April 7, 2018, December 2, 2017.

Two dates. Two important occasions in the life of Paul Pogba as a Manchester United player.

Some players have the talent to decorate a game but lack the ability and force of personality to dominate it. Other players can dominate a game but because of their personality, eschew any attempt to decorate it.

Into the first category, we can easily slip a player like Mesut Ozil, the Arsenal version and the Real Madrid version. Into that band, you could also insert the former Arsenal (go easy Gunners’ fans, nobody’s picking on you) and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb.

The Belarussian could be sleight of foot and crafty for a 20-minute spell of a game, but slight of frame and craven for the next 70 minutes.

Into the latter category, Roy Keane would insert himself, robust in approach and manic in conviction, bossing the midfield and running a game while being totally unperturbed by his inability to do a stepover. Why do a rabona when you can use the energy to scythe through the opposing creative midfielder is the question Keane would ask through gritted teeth, after leaving an Ozil-type rival in a crumpled heap at the top of the 18-yard box. 

So Pogba has played 150 games for the Red Devils in all competitions since returning to the Old Trafford club from Juventus in the summer of 2016, notching 31 goals. He has played 102 Premier League games, scoring 24 times, with the other seven goals coming in 48 games across the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Forget his price tag of £89 million pounds and reported 290k per week salary. The fact is, that for a player of his lavish talents, Paul Pogba’s numbers in a Manchester United shirt are poor. 

The two dates above represent the only two times any reasonable observer could say that Paul Pogba dominated a big game for Manchester United.

Of course, there are numerous games in which Pogba has decorated a portion; see his world-class pass to free Marcus Rashford for the lone goal which beat Tottenham Hotspur on January 3, 2019, in the Premier League clash in North London; witness his performance against Newcastle on October 6, 2018; see his contribution in the 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace on December 14, 2016. But here’s the problem.

Pogba wasn’t recruited to decorate games against the Premier League’s lesser lights. He was recruited to dominate games against the league’s traditional also-rans and inspire wins over the title contenders and champions league aspirants. That is why the man they nickname ‘Pick-axe’ in France has copped so much flak from fans and pundits alike.

 

The December 2, 2017 performance was Pogba at his brilliant best; quick of thought, precise of pass, strong as an ox and running like a recently serviced Jamaican taxi. He made the men in Arsenal’s midfield and defence look like children, straining to deal with the adult, who had imposed himself on their lunch-time kickabout.

The performance against Manchester City at the Etihad on April 7, 2018, was by far Pogba’s best in a Manchester United shirt. He dragged the team from a 2-nil deficit to a 3-2 victory in the manner of a trenchant baby mamma, shaking down her man outside the gambling house before he goes inside and loses all of the fortnight’s pay he just collected. That was his moment, the day he proved he could use his considerable gifts to put other wonderfully talented players in the shade.

Suffice to say, two statement performances in 150 games is not good enough for a club like Manchester United. It’s a poor return. And frankly, it is not good enough from a player of Paul Pogba’s ability. Their separation will be a popular divorce. Selah.

Italy's minister for sport Vincenzo Spadafora believes a return date of May 3 for Serie A is "too optimistic" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Serie A, like most leagues around the world, has been suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has claimed more than 24,000 lives globally.

Italy – a country in strict lockdown – has been the hardest hit with over 8,200 casualties, while confirmed cases have exceeded 80,500.

Various Serie A owners have debated whether the 2019-20 campaign should resume or be cancelled, and Spadafora provided an update on Thursday, with the final decision down to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

"The forecasts that made us think we could resume sports competitions in late April or May, have been too optimistic given the evolution of the health emergency," he told Rai 3's Chi l'ha visto.

"I can say for certain that, if the resumption of sporting events will exist, it will certainly start again behind closed doors.

"It's not possible to think otherwise, but I also have some doubts with respect to the date of May 3. Unfortunately, this medical emergency is constantly related to its evolution. We have to adapt our decisions very often to the epidemic."

Spadafora added: "The final choice will be down to the FIGC, but it's unlikely that it will be able to resume in the beginning of May.

"The federation might decide to postpone the games until the late summer, I have read suggestions about July and August, but the situation is complicated.

"After all, the rest of the footballing world has given us some more time to understand the emergency and now I imagine it will move forward with the necessary caution."

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has stood down approximately 70 per cent of its staff in a bid to save money amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus has brought sport to a standstill around the world, with the A-League season having been suspended on Tuesday.

FFA announced on Friday it was standing down most of its staff due to the financial impact of coronavirus.

"This has been an extremely difficult decision to make, but necessary to stabilise the organisation so that it can continue to service the game, albeit in a vastly different landscape," FFA chief executive James Johnson said in a statement.

"Industries all over the world have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and football in Australia is no different.

"We are in a situation where grassroots football and the Hyundai A-League are currently suspended, we've had the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the deferral of the international football calendar, so virtually all football activity has now ceased for the foreseeable future because of COVID-19.

"These developments impact many forms of revenue for FFA, including national registration fees, broadcast fees, sponsorship, ticket sales and government funding, so we have needed to adjust our operations to ensure that we can remain operational, forcing us to take the unfortunate decision to stand down approximately 70 per cent of our workforce.

"We have an incredible team here at FFA, and I am immensely proud of the work everyone does for football in this country. We have explored ways to retain as many staff as possible, including reducing essential roles to part-time, and asking staff to take annual leave and long service leave. Unfortunately, a number of staff members will have a period of leave without pay.

"We will continue to operate with a small team, with a focus on continual engagement with fans through digital platforms, supporting our member federations, clubs and the almost two million football participants in this country.

"I also believe that football has a very important role to play as a good and responsible citizen during these difficult times so we are looking at how we can contribute to our collective efforts to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

"We view this as a temporary stoppage of football. We will be continually reviewing the situation and the impact of COVID-19 on grassroots football and the remainder of the Hyundai A-League season. We need a strong national governing body in place and a team ready and able to get back to work as soon as possible, as football will play an essential role in the recovery of our nation post COVID-19."

There have been more than 531,000 coronavirus cases worldwide, with over 24,000 deaths.

Australia has seen more than 3,000 cases, including 13 deaths.

Barcelona have confirmed they will make reductions in wages for all of their staff due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain has been in a state of alarm since March 14 and remains one of the countries to be worst-hit by the spread of COVID-19, with 4,154 confirmed deaths.

LaLiga has been suspended indefinitely, with the RFEF having announced on Monday that professional football in Spain would only resume when the government give the go-ahead.

It was reported on Wednesday that Barca's squad refused to take a 70 per cent pay cut and the club, after a meeting of the board, have now confirmed they have filed a Temporary Employment Regulation File (ERTE) process.

The ERTE will impact both sports staff – including the men's senior squad and all professional teams  – and non-sports staff.

"Among the measures adopted, it's worth noting those related to the workplace are motivated by the need to adapt the contractual obligations of the club staff to the new and temporary circumstances that we are experiencing," a Barca statement read.

"It is about the presentation of the different relative files in the sporting field (football and other professional sports), as well as for the rest of the non-sporting personnel.

"These files will be processed before the Treball Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya, once the club has shared all aspects related to these measures, and their scope, with all its staff, both sporting and non-sporting.

"Basically, it is a reduction of the working day, imposed by the circumstances and the protection measures carried out, and, as a consequence, the proportional reduction of the remuneration provided for in the respective contracts.

"Measures that the club wants to implement scrupulously follow the formal labour regulations, under the criteria of proportionality, and above all fairness, and with the sole objective of resuming the activity of the club as soon as possible."

Barca have also announced a number of initiatives they are launching in an attempt to help combat the pandemic.

Club facilities have been made available to the Health Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya, while the Barca Innovation Hub has been opened up as a research centre for local hospitals and clinics.

Cristiano Ronaldo should not be "taking pictures by the pool" and should have been quarantined in Italy during the coronavirus crisis, according to former Juventus chairman Giovanni Cobolli Gigli.

Ronaldo is currently in Madeira, having initially travelled back to his home island at the start of the month when his mother was taken ill with a reported stroke.

He returned for Juve's behind-closed-doors win over Serie A rivals Inter on March 8 before heading back prior to Italy being placed into lockdown.

Football across Europe has since been postponed as governments continue to battle against the coronavirus pandemic, which has accounted for more than 23,000 deaths worldwide.

To help fight the virus, Ronaldo has reportedly donated a large sum to three intensive care units for coronavirus patients at hospitals in Portugal.

However, Gigli – who was in charge of Juve in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal – believes the Serie A champions have not handled the situation well.

"Things at Juventus got complicated when Cristiano Ronaldo left," Gigli told Radio Punto.

"He said he was going to Portugal because of his mother, but now he only appears to be taking pictures by the pool.

"When the exception was made for him, things fell apart and others wanted to leave – but it shouldn't have been like this.

"They all should have been quarantined."

Ronaldo's team-mates Daniele Rugani, Blaise Matuidi and Paulo Dybala have all tested positive for the virus.

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