Bulgaria’s most successful club CSKA Sofia will relaunch from the third division following their financial crisis, the domestic football union (BFU) said. The decision marks a spectacular fall from grace for CSKA, who have won 31 league titles and reached three European semi-finals in happier times between 1967 and 1989. Last month, cash-strapped CSKA and three other teams were denied licences to compete in next season’s Bulgarian professional championship and European competitions. There were speculations Bulgarian soccer could be restructured and the domestic second division will accommodate CSKA but local authorities said the licensing procedure is complete and changes in professional divisions cannot be made. “CSKA can only play in the amateur championship,” the BFU said in a statement. CSKA accepted their fate and their new bosses said the club will waste no time to return to the Balkan country’s top divisions. “We don’t even think for a moment that we’ll not return to professional football,” former Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov, who was appointed as CSKA’s sporting director, told a news conference on Tuesday. “It’ll be the end for CSKA if we don’t win a promotion.”
Sulley Muntari has had his contract with AC Milan terminated by mutual consent, the Serie A club announced on today. The Ghana midfielder made just 12 Serie A starts for the Rossoneri this season with his last appearance on March 7 and had another year left on his contract. A statement from AC Milan read: “AC Milan and Sulley Muntari have reached a mutual agreement to terminate the contract that tied the player to the club. “AC Milan would like to thank Muntari for his dedication and professionalism during his years at the club and wish him all the best for the future.” Muntari joined AC Milan in the summer of 2012 from city rivals Inter and is expected to return to the Premier League this summer. Everton are among the clubs keen to sign Muntari, who can now join as a free agent. The 30-year-old played for Portsmouth in 2007-08 and spent six months on loan at Sunderland in 2011.
Former Arsenal forward Gervinho was clearly desperate not to join Abu Dhabi side Al Jazira – or else he just really wanted his own private beach and helicopter. The 28-year-old managed to scupper a move to the Middle East outfit by reportedly making some outrageous demands. According to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, Gervinho’s “obscene demands” were so high that the deal collapsed under the weight of his requests. The paper reported that Roma and Al Jazira reached an agreement over a €13million transfer – only for the player’s wish list to bring it to a screeching halt. The Ivorian, who has impressed for Roma over the last two seasons in Serie A, has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Italy over the summer. But it seems that unless a club is willing to part with a private beach and a chopper, he is going to stay exactly where he is. The exact details? Apparently Gervinho asked for a helicopter to be at his disposal at all times, along with accommodation for his entire family. Oh, and a beach to call his own and a number of plane tickets to travel back and forth to the Ivory Coast. Gervinho still has three more years on his contract at Roma, but it’s going to be very interesting to study the small print when he signs his next deal, wherever it is.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff will host the 2017 Champions League final, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said on Tuesday. The Friends Arena in Stockholm will be the venue for the 2017 Europa League final. It will be the first final of UEFA’s flagship competition to be held in Wales, but the 12th time it will be staged in the British Isles, with seven previous finals at Wembley, three in Glasgow and one in Manchester. The Millennium Stadium, which is owned by the Welsh Rugby Union, opened in 1999 and staged the English FA Cup finals from 2001 until 2006 while Wembley was being rebuilt. It has a capacity of 74,500 and staged soccer matches during the Olympic Games in 2012. It will be the second major UEFA showpiece staged in the Welsh capital after the Cardiff City Stadium provided the venue for the European Supercup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at the start of last season. The Friends Arena in Stockholm opened in 2012 and the Europa League final will be the first UEFA club competition final to be staged in Sweden, which hosted the 1992 European Championship. UEFA also announced that the 2017 Supercup match, the European club season curtain-raiser between the winners of the Champions League and Europa League will be staged in Skopje in Macedonia. The venue for the 2016 Champions League final is the San Siro in Milan and the Europa League final will be at St Jakob Park in Basel.
Manchester United have made a £28.6m bid for Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. The Red Devils believe the 29-year-old wants to leave Real after they failed to offer him an extension to his contract, which expires in 2017. The Spain international has made 445 appearances for the Bernabeu club. United manager Louis van Gaal wants defensive reinforcements to help his team improve on last season’s fourth-place Premier League finish. Ramos joined Real from Sevilla in 2005 and scored their injury-time equaliser in their Champions League final victory over Atletico Madrid in 2014. He has 128 Spain caps and was in the starting line-up as they won Euro 2008, Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup.
Guus Hiddink has left his position as Netherlands head coach after just 10 months in charge. The 68-year-old began his second spell in charge in August and had a contract until the end of Euro 2016. Hiddink lost five and won four of his 10 matches in charge and leaves his position with the Dutch third in their Euro 2016 qualifying group. They are five points behind leaders Iceland and three adrift of the Czech Republic in Group A. “I am sorry that it went this way,” said Hiddink. “I thought it was an honour to again coach the Dutch national team and I wish my successor, the staff and the players every success on the way to the European Championships in France.” The rest of the coaching staff – including assistant Danny Blind – will remain in place. Hiddink’s Netherlands defeated Spain 2-0 in a friendly in March, but suffered defeats to Iceland and the Czech Republic to damage their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. The top two finishers in each of the nine qualifying groups, plus the highest-placed team finishing third will automatically qualify for the finals in France next year. They will be joined by the winners of four play-off ties contested by the remaining eight third-placed teams. Dutch Football Association (KNVB) director Bert van Oostveen said: “I regret this development. Unfortunately, the results of Guus’s work were not immediately visible for everyone.” The former Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven and Chelsea coach has also managed Australia, Russia, Turkey and South Korea in a 28-year career.
Former AC Milan and Nigeria defender Taye Taiwo is keen to find a route back into top-level action despite 14 months of inaction. His last game was in April 2014 for Turkey’s Buraspor, but his contract was ended a year later by mutual consent. “I know I can still play for another top club and that’s why I’ve been training hard to stay fit,” the 30-year-old told BBC Sport. “There are good possibilities in Italy, France and Netherlands so we’ll see.” Taiwo’s biggest success came during a six-year stint with French side Marseille, his first European club which he joined in March 2005. Taiwo won the French Ligue 1 title in 2010; back-to-back French League Cup in 2010 and 2011 as well as the 2010 French Super Cup. He made over 200 appearances for the club, scoring 21 goals before joining Italian giants AC Milan in 2011. He struggled to establish himself in Italy and then spent six months on loan at QPR in 2012 before the move to Buraspor. Taiwo made his debut for Nigeria in 2004 and played at the 2006, 2008 and 2010 Africa Cup of Nations. But he won the last of his 59 caps for Nigeria in a 0-0 Nations Cup qualifier with Rwanda in February 2012. The left-back says playing club football is his main goal rather than playing for the Super Eagles again. “Even when I was playing regularly in Ukraine and Turkey I never got a chance with Nigeria,” he said. “In football you have to arrange your priorities and my immediate target is to get back to club football. “As a Nigerian I remain a big fan of my country and that will never change.” Taiwo featured in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship where he was voted the third best player at the tournament in the Netherlands behind Lionel Messi and compatriot John Mikel Obi. He also played for the Super Eagles at the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa.