Brazil great Pele allayed concerns over his health and welfare, insisting "I'm fine".

Pele's son Edinho said his iconic father felt "depressed" and was reluctant to leave the house due to problems with his hip.

However, three-time World Cup winner Pele – who turns 80 in October – rejected those health claims on Thursday.

"Thank you for your prayers and concerns," Pele said in a statement released. "I'm fine. I'm turning 80 this year. I have my good and bad days. This is normal for people my age.

"I'm not afraid, I'm determined and I'm confident in what I do. Last week, I had the honour of meeting the CBF [Brazilian Football Confederation] president in the studio I was shooting my documentary in. I had two photo sessions last month for campaigns that use my image and testimony.

"I have several upcoming events scheduled. I do not avoid meeting commitments from my always busy schedule. I continue to accept my physical limitations in the best possible way, but I intend to keep the ball rolling. God bless you all."

In an interview published by GloboEsporte.com on Monday, Edinho said: "He's very fragile in relation to mobility. He had a hip replacement and didn't have ideal or adequate rehabilitation.

"He has this mobility problem and that has set off a kind of depression. Imagine, he's the King, he was always such an imposing figure and today he can't walk properly."

Edinho added: "He's embarrassed, he doesn't want to go out, be seen, or do practically anything that involves leaving the house. He is very shy, reclusive."

Pele spent 18 years at Santos, making 1,281 appearances and scoring 1,091 goals – though not all of those came in official matches.

He remains Brazil's leading goalscorer with 77 and is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni believes Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is comfortable at the LaLiga champions.

Messi and his future have been the topics of discussion since the Barca superstar's public row with director of football Eric Abidal.

After Abidal suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's sacking in January, Messi snapped back via social media and it raised doubts over his future at Camp Nou.

Scaloni, however, is not concerned about Argentina skipper and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi – who is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21 season.

"I see him [Messi] fine," Scaloni told reporters. "The other day, against Real Betis, he was the best player in the field without scoring. He gave the assist and participated of every chance.

"He's fine, he's comfortable, he will have to decide on his future but I think he's comfortable."

"I'm not worried at all," Scaloni continued. "He's comfortable, he's comfortable at the national team and at Barcelona. Then what will come will come, I stay out of it."

Argentina finished third at the 2019 Copa America but Scaloni's side have another chance to be crowned South American champions as co-hosts of this year's tournament alongside Colombia.

Messi is still seeking his first senior title with Argentina, who were runners-up at the 2014 World Cup before losing in back-to-back Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016.

"I think the important thing is to try [to win the Copa America], that he knows we'll try and be protagonists," Scaloni added. "He [Messi] is not the only one that wants to win something with the national team, we all want to win, the coach, his teammates, so well, we'll try and let's hope we can make it."

Argentina are in Group A (South Zone) for the 2020 Copa America, along with Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and first-time guests Australia.

La Albiceleste will open the tournament against Chile in Buenos Aires on June 12.

Jamaica Reggae Boyz shot-stopper and captain Andre Blake insists he is looking forward to what is expected to be a big year for both his club and national teams.

The 29-year-old goalkeeper made the MLS All-Star roster in 2016 and again in 2019.  By the numbers, however, Blake had a less than impressive season between the sticks.  The Union gave up 57 goals last year in all competitions. 

Blake didn’t have a clean sheet in the team’s last 13 games of the season and only had six for the team all year.  His goals-against average rose from 1.5 in 2018 (57 goals allowed in 38 games) to 1.64 in 2019 (46 in 28).

With the Union, however, a part of the Jamaican's struggles might have to do with a tweak in the team’s gameplay, which is expected to adjust this season particularly with the addition of new personnel.

Internationally the player’s national team has made the CONCACAF Hexagonal round for the first time since the 2014 cycle and could be in line for a second appearance at the FIFA World Cup.  The Reggae Boyz finished runners-up on two occasions and then semi-finalists in the last three editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“There’s a lot of soccer to play for club and country, there’s going to be a lot on the line,” Blake told the Inquirer

“I have to make sure I do everything to be ready, to stay sharp, to stay fit. I’m definitely looking forward to a big year, to do whatever it takes in the net when I’m with club and country to be successful and to help my team be successful,” he added.

 

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic said he would like to play with Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo as doubts remain over his future at Camp Nou.

Rakitic was heavily linked to Serie A duo Juventus and Inter before the transfer window closed, while Premier League giants Manchester United were also reportedly interested.

It came as Rakitic was reportedly offered to Ligue 1's Paris Saint-Germain as part of a deal to prise Neymar back to Camp Nou at the start of the season.

Rakitic continues to be linked with Italian champions Juve and when asked if he would like to play alongside five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, the 31-year-old told Bleacher Report Football: "Of course I would.

"He is also one of the greatest players in history.

"You enjoy watching him play and he's doing well at Juventus."

Rakitic is currently team-mates with Barca captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi and he said: "It's amazing to play with him - he's special. There have been great players in every era, but I'm sure he's been the best in the last 15 years.

"In my opinion, I think he's the best of all time. Being with him for six years has been incredible."

Rakitic previously vented his frustration with how head coach Ernesto Valverde and his staff were treated upon their sacking in January, admitting he considered leaving Barcelona.

"It's a part of football," Rakitic said. "You have to understand that and be ready [to potentially leave] in January.

"You have to be happy, you have to think about your family, and if I play for Barcelona I am happy."

Former Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he would prefer working in Australia rather than the Premier League.

Valverde was sacked by Barca in January, despite leading the Spanish giants to back-to-back LaLiga titles and Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana success.

Contemplating his next move as Valverde enjoys a break from football, a shock A-League gig is high on the 56-year-old's list.

"People ask me sometimes 'How about the Premier League?' and I say 'Well actually I'd like to go to Australia'," Valverde said.

"A career in football does not last forever and sometimes you think you have to take the opportunity to live in strange places."

Valverde referenced former Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who left Camp Nou for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018.

"I applauded Andres when he told me he's going to Japan," added Valverde. I thought 'Wow, he gets to understand a different culture and different people', and I am also very interested in Japan.

"You can take great photos in Japan. There are many places I'd like to go to. We'll see what I end up doing, I haven't been out of work for very long so I don't have to decide anything yet, I haven't got a very clear idea at the moment.

"It's possible I'd go somewhere abroad. The truth is I like to do strange things so I wouldn't rule it out."

Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is currently in charge of A-League outfit Brisbane Roar, while former Reds and Bayern Munich star Markus Babbel was working in Australia until he was sacked by Western Sydney Wanderers last month.

Maurizio Sarri said Juventus' "growth has stalled" but the under-fire head coach is not worried after the Serie A champions snatched a draw against Milan in the Coppa Italia.

Cristiano Ronaldo's controversial 90th-minute penalty saw Juve escape with a 1-1 draw away to 10-man Milan in the first leg of their semi-final showdown on Thursday.

Coming off a shock defeat at Hellas Verona, which allowed Inter to move top of the Serie A table last week, Juve were far from their best again as Milan impressed.

Ante Rebic's 61st-minute opener looked set to be enough for Milan to secure first-leg honours, until Davide Calabria was harshly penalised for a handball at the death – Ronaldo making no mistake from the spot.

Juve have only won one of their past four matches in all competitions but Sarri is not unconcerned as pressure mounts amid links to former coach Massimiliano Allegri.

"I am not worried, as the only real worries in life are your health. It seems a normal phase to be going through, it's unthinkable for a team to be in a continual ascent," Sarri told Rai Sport.

"This is a sport and so much depends on the physical and psychological conditions of so many players.

"Our growth has stalled a little in the last three weeks, we concede avoidable goals. Having said that, we've conceded only three more than the best defence in Serie A, so it's not that much of an issue."

Sarri added: "We did better in terms of our passing and playing out from the back but were lacking in the final third. It's a process and we are continuing.

"We have conceded some avoidable goals, for example today the cross was quite slow and - in my view - easy to defend. We were coming off a bad performance in Verona, but picked up a positive result, especially as it's the first leg."

Juve – 13-time Coppa Italia winners – will welcome Milan to Turin for the return leg on March 4.

Stefano Pioli was angered by the late awarding of a penalty to Juventus as his Milan side had to settle for a frustrating 1-1 draw in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

Ante Rebic's volley just after the hour deservedly put Milan ahead and preceded a red card for Rossoneri full-back Theo Hernandez.

It took until injury time for Juve to make the most of the extra man with Davide Calabria harshly pinged for blocking Cristiano Ronaldo's acrobatic effort with his arm in the area.

Ronaldo rifled in the spot-kick, but head coach Pioli felt the decision does not marry with a separate incident in a fixture between Cagliari and Brescia earlier in the season, which he says referees said should not have been awarded.

Speaking to Rai, Pioli said: "I got angry first and foremost because there was a foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier in the move. 

"Plus I remember the referees showed footage of that Cagliari-Brescia penalty at the start of the season and said it was an error to award it because the player couldn't see the ball.

"Here the situation is the same as Calabria couldn't see it. Alberto Cerri, in that situation, jumped and could not just cut his arms off, you have to use your arms when jumping."

Pioli, who saw Milan denied on several occasions by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, believes his team can be proud of their performance though.

"I told the players to leave the pitch without regrets. I can say, they will have no regrets. I am very proud of their performance, so are the Milan fans," he added.

"We wanted to get the victory, we were in a strong position to do so, but this is just the first leg and we'll try to do even better in the second."

Real Sociedad scraped past second-tier Mirandes at Anoeta on Thursday to claim a narrow 2-1 first-leg advantage in their Copa del Rey semi-final.

La Real stunned Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the previous round, but Mirandes had knocked out three LaLiga teams en route to the last four and caused concern for top-flight opposition once more.

Captain Mikel Oyarzabal dispatched a ninth-minute spot-kick for Sociedad, yet they were pegged back by Matheus Aias and scarcely deserved the second Martin Odegaard lashed in to restore their lead before the interval.

The second period brought marginal improvement in the home ranks but no further goals, leaving the tie in the balance ahead of the return fixture next month.

Sociedad's opener came only after Alex Remiro was forced into a smart, low stop from Martin Merquelanz with just five minutes on the clock.

Portu earned a penalty as Odei Onaindia dallied in the area and allowed the home winger to get between man and ball before going down, and Oyarzabal coolly converted from 12 yards.

Mirandes deservedly levelled six minutes before half-time, as Mickael Malsa pounced on some careless play 20 yards from goal and fed Matheus Aias, the striker twisting to send in a low shot that deflected beyond Remiro.

But Sociedad responded swiftly. Limones spilled Odegaard's powerful drive but recovered well to block Portu's follow-up, only for the Real Madrid loanee to rifle in a second rebound.

Matheus Aias blazed over from close range heading into the break, while there were big saves at either end following the restart, Limones denying Portu before Remiro parried an Antonio Sanchez strike.

The two goalkeepers were largely underworked thereafter until Limones superbly turned away a header from one of his own defenders in the fourth minute of stoppage time, teeing up an intriguing second leg at Estadio Municipal de Anduva.


What does it mean? Sociedad warned

Mirandes' earlier exploits in this competition meant La Real had no excuse as they faced this stern examination, surely well aware of the threat their opposition posed. The LaLiga side still struggled to get to grips with Merquelanz and Alvaro Rey, though, and must be better in the return leg to get the job done.

Martin up for the cup

Odegaard is enjoying a fine season in San Sebastian, and he has saved some of his best performances for this cup run. His third goal in the competition this term came at a crucial time, while a gorgeous pass early in the second half set Portu through, the busy wide man unable to beat Limones for a two-goal lead that might have put the tie beyond Mirandes.

Lacking in key areas

On the balance of play - particularly in the first half - Mirandes were good value for at least a draw from this first leg, but shortcomings at either end of the pitch proved costly. Onaindia paid the price as he reacted slowly to a ball into the box and felled Portu, while Matheus Aias, despite scoring a fortunate equaliser, missed one big opportunity.

What's next?

Focus returns to league action for the coming weeks, with La Real visiting Eibar on Sunday as Mirandes host Albacete. The two sides reconvene for the Copa second leg at Mirandes on March 4.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a last-gasp penalty to earn Juventus a scarcely deserved 1-1 draw against 10-man Milan in Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

It was the prolific Portugal forward's athletic effort that struck the arm of Davide Calabria to earn the spot-kick, awarded after a VAR check, and he duly rifled home in added time.

Prior to the late drama, Milan had made the breakthrough just after the hour. Having been thwarted on several occasions by veteran Gianluigi Buffon, Ante Rebic finally scored before Theo Hernandez was sent off for a second bookable offence.

The Rossoneri were made to rue their missed chances, however, and face a tricky task in Turin to reach the final at the expense of Juve, who have a huge table-topping clash with Inter and a Champions League last-16 first-leg tie in Lyon among their fixtures before the return clash.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a "phenomenon" and will have the final say on whether to extend his stay at Milan, says director of sport Ricky Massara.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic returned to the Rossoneri in January on a deal that runs until June with the option to extend his stay by a further 12 months.

Ibrahimovic, who won Serie A during his first stint with Milan, has scored three goals in six games across all competitions since re-joining and was in the starting line-up for Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg against Juventus.

Massara hailed Ibrahimovic's quality and said the Swede will be the one to decide his future.

Speaking to Rai Sport, Massaro said: "It'll ultimately be up to him, how he feels and how long he wants to continue.

"He truly is a phenomenon, and we are very happy with his performance."

Milan are 10th in Serie A after 23 games, 10 points adrift of the top four but only two away from Hellas Verona in sixth.

Erling Haaland already had his heart set on a move to Borussia Dortmund by the time Manchester United made a move for his services.

Dortmund signed Haaland after agreeing to meet his €22.5million release clause at Salzburg in late December, and the 19-year-old has made a flying start to life in Germany, with eight goals in five appearances.

A host of leading European clubs were linked to the striker, including United – led by his former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – but Haaland told Viasport his mind was made up by the time their interest was declared.

"Ole Gunnar has been very important for me in getting to where I am today," he said.

"But we concluded that Dortmund was the best option for me. That was what I felt best about and therefore it became Dortmund."

Indeed, Dortmund as a next stop in his career was put forward by Haaland himself as his father – former Leeds United and Manchester City utility man Alf-Inge Haaland – surveyed other options.

"The thing is, when the season was over, my father and I started talking

"At that point he didn’t mention Dortmund. Then I asked him, 'What about this club? That would have been nice'. Then he said, 'We'll see'.

"Suddenly it became an option and then that was what I felt all along.

"The process was pretty simple on my end. I really just played football and wasn't very involved until the first half of the season was over.

"So, I didn't have that much to do with it, to be honest. The process was to find the best possible club for me."

Haaland made light of suggestions his move to Dortmund was primarily motivated by money and praised agent Mino Raiola for his role in making the transfer happen.

"It's kind of comical if I were to get that label [being greedy]," he said.

"All the people close to me know that's not the kind of person I am. It's really been kind of comical."

On Raiola, Haaland added: "He's the best in the world at what he does. As simple as that.

"He's the best agent. He gets a lot of negativity and that's probably because he's doing such a great job for those he's working for

"He has helped a lot and he's a good guy to have around."

Manuel Neuer is a doubt for Bayern Munich's trip to Cologne on Sunday after he missed training due to illness.

Bayern confirmed their captain sat out Thursday's session at Sabener Strasse because of a gastro-intestinal infection.

Neuer, 33, has been an ever-present for Bayern in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season.

There was better news for head coach Hansi Flick as Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies were back among the first-team group having been laid low by a cold and an ankle knock respectively.

Following last weekend's 0-0 draw against second-place RB Leipzig, Bayern retain a slender one-point advantage as they pursue an eighth consecutive Bundesliga crown.

Flick's side resume their Champions League campaign with a last-16 trip to Chelsea on February 25.

Ernesto Valverde is reluctant to consider whether he was harshly treated at Barcelona following his Camp Nou sacking in January.

The former Athletic Bilbao coach had been in charge of Barca since May 2017, winning LaLiga in each of his two full seasons, also claiming the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana in 2018.

But the Blaugrana's Champions League humblings at the hands of Roma and Liverpool in consecutive campaigns, collapsing from healthy first-leg leads on both occasions, increased pressure on Valverde.

A Supercopa semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid ultimately spelled the end for Valverde, yet he is choosing not to spend too much time reflecting on his departure.

"I don't think about that," Valverde said at the Bilbao International Football Summit. "If I have been unfairly treated, I have to avoid it.

"It's about turning the page. In the end, we are thinking about what has happened and why. We're going to look forward, I don't have to look back."

Sporting director Eric Abidal sparked a row with Lionel Messi and chaos at Camp Nou last week as he suggested Barcelona players were not working hard enough for Valverde before the head coach's exit.

But Valverde would not speculate on the matter, adding: "Why did I leave? It is not a question for me.

"This is a part of our trade that you have to accept. Would I like it to be different? Yes, of course."

Valverde, who also represented Barcelona as a player, acknowledged he was well aware of the scrutiny he would face at the Catalan club upon his arrival.

"I was incredibly fortunate to coach Barca," he said. "I have been there as a player. I know what it means when you go to a club of this calibre. I am delighted to have been there.

"When you sign the contract, you know that you are important at the club and, from there, decide the results. We know that the coach is responsible for the players' performances."

Barcelona are three points behind rivals and LaLiga leaders Real Madrid under new coach Quique Setien, while they face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League later this month.

Jurgen Klinsmann will not be allowed to revert to a position on Hertha Berlin's board after his "unacceptable" departure as head coach of the Bundesliga side.

Klinsmann stepped down after 11 weeks in charge of Hertha and three wins from nine league matches, citing a lack of "trust" from the club's hierarchy.

In a Facebook Live video on Wednesday, the former Bayern Munich, Tottenham and Germany striker expanded on this – alluding to interference from above and disagreements on "many things".

When he resigned, Klinsmann said he expected to resume a role on Hertha's supervisory board, but primary investor Lars Windhorst told a news conference on Thursday that his conduct had made this an untenable prospect.

"Unfortunately, I must say that the way Jurgen Klinsmann resigned makes a further working relationship with him on the board of Hertha BSC impossible," Windhorst said.

"Unfortunately, the way he left is so unacceptable that we cannot continue a constructive collaboration between him and the other people in charge.

"If we can count on him and his guidance in some other form in the future after all the dust has settled, we will see. I am neither shutting any doors, nor am I knocking anyone out as it has been written today.

"However, it is regrettable that his resignation has been so abrupt, which is why Jurgen Klinsmann lost a lot of credibility. That is really sad."

Hertha's sporting executive Michael Preetz conceded there were differences of opinion between himself and Klinsmann, although he felt the latter might have exaggerated these for his own ends.

"There are different views [between Klinsmann and me] on how the job of a head coach is defined," Preetz said.

"It is correct that we could not agree until he resigned. However, things that I heard yesterday, that I am sitting on the bench and show up on the sideline, were never discussed between the two of us.

"If there are problems and conflicts then I am used to discussing them and to try and find a solution. You can't do that if you turn around and run away."

A 3-1 defeat at home to Mainz in what proved to be Klinsmann's final game at the helm left Hertha 14th in the Bundesliga – six points ahead of third-bottom Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Ajax playmaker Hakim Ziyech will join Chelsea at the end of this season in a deal that could be worth up to €44million (£36.7m), the Eredivisie champions have confirmed.

Chelsea will pay an initial €40m for the Morocco international, with the remainder of the fee dependent upon unspecified "variables".

The Premier League club announced the deal remains subject to the agreement of personal terms with Ziyech, who will remain with Ajax until the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign.

Ziyech joined Ajax from Twente in August 2016 and was a star performer as Erik ten Hag's men reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and secured a domestic double last term.

Since moving to Amsterdam, the 26-year-old leads the Eredivisie in goal involvements thanks to a haul of 38 goals and 51 assists.

He scored five goals over the course of their 2018-19 Champions League run, concluding with the strike that put Ajax 2-0 up at home to Tottenham, preceding their heart-breaking collapse as the final beckoned.

Ziyech's performances during that run only heightened purported interest from a number of Europe's heavyweight clubs, with Chelsea emerging from the pack over recent days.

"Ziyech to Chelsea? A transfer was coming, we expected it to happen," Ten Hag told Fox Sports after Wednesday's KNVB Beker win over Vitesse.

"I actually already expected this one or two years earlier. And each time it was: 'Wow, he stayed again.'

"We are just happy that we will still have him until the end of the season."

Ziyech becomes Chelsea's first major signing since their player registration ban from FIFA was halved on appeal.

He will provide another exciting wide attacking option for head coach Frank Lampard, alongside Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, while Willian might join Pedro in heading from the Stamford Bridge exit door.

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