Mourinho: I was never close to taking over at Barcelona in 2008

“Never.”

The words of Jose Mourinho when asked if he was close to joining Barcelona as boss in 2008.

Much has been made of the sliding doors moment in the Blaugrana’s history which saw them hire then managerial novice Pep Guardiola over Mourinho.

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Guardiola went on to deliver an unprecedented era of success at the club, cultivating the talent of Leo Messi who helped deliver two Champions League titles – in 2009 and 2011 – in three years.

Mourinho, who had famously worked at the Camp Nou as a translator and coach in the nineties, ended up on the other side of Spain’s biggest sporting divide as coach of Real Madrid.

In that role, his regular match-ups with Guardiola created one of the most bitter rivalries of all time.

“They [Barcelona] asked me to do an analysis of the situation of the team in an ugly moment, a moment of transition from the bad to the good, it was difficult,” Mourinho added while speaking to Movistar+.

“The person who asked me to do it was someone high up in the club. I did it, but nothing more.

“Then, fortunately for me, history took its course.”

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola during their time as Real Madrid and Barcelona managers

Image credit: Reuters

There is invariably an element of mischievousness with Mourinho, and who knows what “fortunately” refers to.

But the element of bitterness he harbours towards Barcelona doesn’t seem to have died down with time.

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Russian gymnast Kuliak banned from competition for a year for displaying 'Z' symbol

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has been banned from competition for one year for displaying a ‘Z’ sign on his vest at the Apparatus World Cup in March.

The event in Qatar saw Kuliak take the bronze medal in the parallel bars, with the 20-year-old lining up next to Ukrainian gold medallist Illia Kovtun for the medal ceremony.

The ‘Z’ symbol has been used by Russian forces invading Ukraine, and has also been worn by supporters of the invasion.

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In a statement, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said: “Mr Kuliak breached the FIG statutes, the FIG code of discipline, the FIG code of ethics, the FIG code of conduct and the FIG technical regulations when he wore the letter ‘Z’ on his singlet.

“[He] is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organised by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision.”

At the time, Kuliak had remained unrepentant on his stance.

He said: “If there was a second chance and I would again have to choose whether to enter with the letter ‘Z’ on my chest or not, I would do exactly the same.

Ivan Kuliak

Image credit: Eurosport

“I saw it on our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out to be ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace’. I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone. I just showed my position.

“As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and play for peace.”

Kuliak has 21 days to appeal the decision, which has also seen him stripped of his bronze medal and prize money of 500 Swiss Francs (£410).

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Verratti: I get a stomach ache whenever I see Mbappe is in Madrid

Marco Verratti says no one at Paris Saint-Germain wants Kylian Mbappe to leave the club.

Mbappe has been consistently linked with a summer transfer to Real Madrid in recent days – and indeed during most of this season – and reports suggest the deal is close.

But Verratti – though he says he has not spoken to Mbappe on the topic – is holding out hope that the 23-year-old forward will remain in the French capital, with PSG’s Qatari hierarchy reportedly doing their best to keep their man.

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Talking to Le Parisien, Italy’s Verratti said: “We all want him [Mbappe] to stay here. But when I talk to him it’s more to laugh. In football, when we have something in mind, when a decision is close, we don’t talk much about it.

“It’s his decision, and I’m waiting for it.

“When I’m relaxing and I see notifications saying that Kylian is in Madrid, it gives me a stomach ache, although later I say to myself ‘Don’t worry, he was there on holiday’.”

Whether Mbappe stays or goes, Verratti believes PSG are on the right trajectory to winning their holy grail – the Champions League. But painful knockout exits have been a constant theme in recent years and this season was no different with the last-16 capitulation against Real Madrid, resulting in apathy and anger from fans at subsequent matches.

Verratti said: “I know that PSG will become the best club in the world. It just takes time. At the beginning of this year we had a good run, we had more fun, and then Madrid happened, as if we had taken three steps back.

“The fans have the right to whistle, but not during the game. During the game we are all together.

“Sometimes it didn’t seem like we were playing at home. It’s hard to understand.”

Of all those European setbacks, Verratti is clear that Barcelona’s famous ‘remontada’ of 2017 – when the Blaugrana scored three times late on to win a round-of-16 tie PSG looked to have sewn up – hurt the most.

He said: “The comeback against Barcelona [was the biggest injustice]. That night, whatever happened, we would have lost the game, 3-1 or 4-1, that’s for sure. But with another referee and VAR it would never have been 6-1.

“It’s the biggest injustice that we have been victims of, it was hard.”

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No foot fault: Fans flock to watch Nadal practice in Paris following injury scare

Rafael Nadal has practiced in Paris for the first time ahead of the French Open, with fans flocking to Court Philippe Chatrier to catch a glimpse of the Spanish legend.

In almost unprecedented scenes, the tennis-hungry Parisian public – perhaps cognisant of the small chance that this could be Nadal’s last visit to the French Open following his comments after the recent Italian Open – packed the stands to watch the 35-year-old hit with fellow Spaniard Jaume Munar.

Nadal’s participation in the tournament has been the subject of much conjecture and he even hinted at his possible retirement from the sport after losing to Denis Shapovalov in Rome, a match during which Nadal could be seen limping and grimacing due to a flare-up of his chronic foot condition.

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Talking after that encounter, Nadal had said: “I am not injured. I am living with an injury. My day by day is difficult.

“I am trying hard but of course it’s difficult to accept the situation at times. A lot of days I can’t practise the proper way.

“[Against Shapovalov] it started halfway through the second set and it was unplayable for me.

“I imagine there will come a time when my head will say ‘enough’.

“Pain takes away your happiness, not only in tennis but in life. And my problem is that many days I live with too much pain.

“[Roland-Garros is] still the goal. I’ll still keep dreaming.”

But he appeared more comfortable on court than in the Italian capital, and looks to be preparing for another tilt at what would be a remarkable, record-extending 14th title in Paris.

– – –

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Przedpelski savours 'really good feeling' after semi-final display at Poland GP

Torun rider Pawel Przedpelski savoured a “special” atmosphere at his home GP of Poland after reaching the semi-finals.

Attended by over 52,000 fans, the PGE Narodowy event is one of track racing’s biggest events and 26-year-old Przedpelski admitted the support of his countrymen and women in Warsaw had driven him on.

It marked a potential turning point in Przedpelski’s season, coming after his disappointment at the Croatia GP on April 30 where he recorded just one championship point.

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“I was not lucky in Croatia,” Przedpelski said.

“I was excluded and it wasn’t a good start for me. But this round was OK.

“I am pretty happy. Always when you are in the semi-final, you want to do a little bit more. But what can I do? The problem was I didn’t win the start in this heat. After grading, there was a lot more water on the track and it was really slick.

“But I am happy.

“This round is a Polish round. It is really special for us. On the presentation, you can definitely feel something with this atmosphere and you get some energy.

“It was a really good feeling.”

Next up for the former Leicester Lions rider is the GP of Czech Republic on May 28 in Prague.

Bartosz Zmarzlik leads the GP World Championship on 32 points, however he didn’t make the final in Warsaw after hitting a rut.

He said: “Everything was going really well for me during the meeting, but then I made a mistake like a junior and that’s it.

“It was a little bit down to a hole in the track, but I still have to do a good job.

“The season is long and there are a lot of meetings and work ahead of me. We will see what happens.”

The 2022 Speedway Grand Prix will be available live and ad-free on discovery+ with live race action also on Eurosport 2.

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‘Probably can’t wait to leave’ – What has gone wrong with Ewan at the Giro?

Caleb Ewan “probably can’t wait to leave” the Giro d’Italia after failing to secure a sprint victory.

The Australian (Lotto Soudal) is expected to depart the race after Stage 11 with no more guaranteed bunch sprints left on the programme.

The pre-race focus was pinned on his duel with Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), but they have just one win between them after the Manx Missile’s victory on Stage 3 in Hungary.

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Ewan has cut an isolated figure throughout the race, with his Lotto team-mates opting to leave him behind as he fell back on the climbs.

“I get this sense with Caleb that he’s a little demotivated. He just looks empty emotionally,” said Adam Blythe on The Breakaway.

“He’s almost worried going into the sprint – he wants to do it, but in the back of his head he’s probably thinking ‘I don’t want to mess up again, I don’t want to mess up again’. That can be hard to get yourself past once you keep failing, failing, failing.

“Everybody is watching him. It’s Caleb, we’re always going to mark him out. When you’ve got people there wanting to film you at your lowest point, it’s difficult.”

Blythe added: “It’s demoralising yesterday, to be left on his own, the No. 1 guy on that team. The whole team’s just gone ‘nah, we’re leaving you behind. That’s it, we’re done.’ It must be quite hard to take, realising your team doesn’t want to help you.

Ewan would have missed out on the sprint on Wednesday – the last pan-flat stage of this year’s race – but for the tireless efforts of team-mate Thomas De Gendt, who dragged him back into the main pack.

Even then, he was outshone in the final sprint as Alberto Dainese (DSM) took victory ahead of Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates). Ewan was fifth with Cavendish sixth.

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“He’s not going to come away from this Giro d’Italia with a stage win, which he so dearly wanted,” said Dan Lloyd.

“I think there’s more than just bad legs with Caleb Ewan at the moment, judging from the fact he was on his own half an hour behind the frontrunners yesterday, without any team-mates for company.

“And then again today, it wasn’t news to anybody that there was potential for splits and crosswinds as they came out of Bologna – and yet he was just hovering at the back.

“And there was a split. He had Thomas De Gendt to bring him back but had the wind been slightly stronger, or another couple of teams really gone full gas on the front, he would have been behind for the rest of the day and not even with a chance of sprinting for the win.”

Ewan’s misery began when he crashed on the opening stage before it was compounded when he lost to Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) in the tightest of photo finishes on Stage 6.

‘Three of them to the line!’ – Demare takes ‘messy’ Stage 6 sprint ahead of Ewan and Cavendish

Such is his demise, Robbie McEwen admits it is possible Ewan could be carrying an injury from that first-day crash.

“He’s been on a downward spiral of morale from day one,” said McEwen.

“I think the thing that damaged his morale the most was losing that millimetre sprint on Stage 6 to Demare.

“From there, I think he said: ‘that’s it, I’m done, that’s as much as I’ve got’. And he’s had a couple of really tough days.

“He just didn’t have it in the legs today and I think he probably just can’t wait to get out of the Giro and refocus on the next thing.”

– – –

Stream the Giro d’Italia live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.

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Eintracht Frankfurt v Rangers – LIVE

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Heartbreak for Rangers as Frankfurt win Europa League on penalties

Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers on penalties to win the Europa League in dramatic fashion on a tense night in Sevilla.

After a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes and extra time, the game went to a shootout where Aaron Ramsey saw his effort saved by Kevin Trapp and Raphael Borre buried the decisive kick.

In a dull first half Frankfurt began the better, Jesper Lindstrom wasting a decent opportunity when a corner was cut back to him. But gradually Rangers asserted, Joe Aribo bending a fine shot wide with Kevin Trapp beaten.

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The second half was a much better game, and on 57 minutes Joe Aribo gave Rangers the lead after consecutive error from Djibril Sow and Tuta. But similar – though less egregious – behaviour from Scott Wright, Connor Goldson and Calvin Bassey meant that Rafael Borrre equalised on 69.

Both teams flogged themselves in search of a winner, but neither had the class to find one, and effectively shook hands on a draw with five minutes to go.

Hard though they tried, neither side had the class or legs to force the issue in extra time, so penalties it was and Ramsey was the fall guy as Frankfurt celebrated the win, the trophy and entry to next season’s Champions League.

TALKING POINT

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has done an amazing job in getting Rangers to the final. But his team didn’t play as well as they can, and looking back at the game, it’s hard not to wonder if he got his tactics right.

By playing 4-3-3, he neutered James Tavernier, the competition’s top scorer, as an attacking force – he spent most of the night marking Philipp Kostic – and to didn’t seem coincidental that when he switched to 3-5-2, in extra time, his team began to dominate.

Similarly, Kemar Roofe made an immediate impact, and though he might not’ve been fit enough for much, he was surely fit enough for more than five minutes. Nevertheless, though Rangers will worry that they’ve missed a rare opportunity, there is the sense that something is building.

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Houghton says Euros could be 'biggest tournament yet' as she targets final squad

Steph Houghton says she is “confident” she can make it back from injury in time for this summer’s European Championships – but has admitted her hurt at losing the England captaincy.

Houghton missed much of the 2021/22 season with an Achilles injury, which forced her into surgery at the start of the season and then again in January after a setback.

Her long-term absence saw England boss Sarina Wiegman move the armband to Leah Williamson, but Houghton – who was named in Wiegman’s 28-strong provisional squad for the tournament – is determined to win herself a place back in the ranks for the upcoming showpiece, which runs from 6-31 July.

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Speaking to the Evening Standard, Houghton said: “When you have had a four, five-month lay-off already and you have to go again and you know you’re going to miss the rest of the season, it has been quite tough to take.

“I have spoken to the England manager a lot, as well as the Manchester City one, and the surgeon – who is the most important person.

“Everything is possible if I keep ticking off the marks, which I have done so far. I don’t want to say I am definitely going to make it, because anything can happen in football, but I have given myself a greater chance over the last few weeks.

“I am confident that I can make it.

“It is going to be massive. The last time we had a major tournament in this country was Euro 2005, and the game has moved on quite a lot since then.

“As a player you want to play in front of big crowds, you want a chance to express yourself and impress, and create a legacy for young girls and boys in England.

“I think it could be the biggest tournament yet. The ticket sales have been unbelievable.

“Women’s football just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year, and hopefully this is another stepping stone in that right direction.

“I have just got such a good feeling about this tournament. I think it’s something that this game really needs to push onto the next level.”

Houghton revealed the extent of the hurt she felt at being stripped of her role as skipper last month.

She said: “The conversations are tough, because the captaincy meant a lot to me and my family.

It was a massive privilege to captain the team for over eight years and I feel as though I did everything I possibly could to be the best captain for the team.

“That’s a thing I can take away from it, that I did everything I could. I did what was best. Of course, I was disappointed for the way that it happened because I wasn’t able to prove myself.

“I will support Leah and the vice-captains as much as I can with my experience.”

Lionesses manager Wiegman is due to submit her final 23-player squad on June 26.

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‘It’s not great’ – Former champion Dumoulin reveals back injury struggles

Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) has revealed he is struggling with a back injury after enduring a mixed Giro d’Italia.

The Dutchman appeared reluctant to speak about his condition during a Eurosport interview after Stage 11, pausing and looking around before saying: “To be honest, I have some issues with my back so it’s not great.”

He shipped time on Mount Etna on Stage 4 as his GC hopes vanished almost immediately, before he bounced back to propel team-mate Koen Bouwman to victory on Stage 7 from the breakaway.

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Without joint-leaders Dumoulin and Tobias Foss in contention in the GC battle, and no obvious sprinter, Jumbo-Visma are only fighting for breakaway wins for the remainder of the Giro.

Dumoulin is 19’08” adrift of Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) in the race for the maglia rosa. Sam Oomen, who was the target of an angry bottle throw from Lopez on Stage 9, is Jumbo’s best ranked rider in 18th at 7’21”.

Dumoulin is one of three former champions in the field along with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) – but only Carapaz has realistic hopes of winning again in 2022.

– – –

Stream the Giro d’Italia live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.

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