Neymar, Suarez, Fabregas among guests for Messi's wedding

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Lionel Messi

Soccer superstar Lionel Messi’s Argentine hometown is preparing to host footballing and showbiz celebrities when he marries childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo this month in Latin America’s wedding of the decade.

Colombian popstar Shakira, wife of Messi’s Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique, has said she hopes to attend.

Media such as local Rosario newspaper La Capital also expect other current and former Barcelona stars such as Luis Suarez, Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez to be among the invitees.

The Barcelona forward’s agents confirmed in a statement that the couple will wed in Rosario on June 30, a week after Messi’s 30th birthday.

The guest list, venue and party details are the subject of a swirl of rumors. Sources in the city’s cathedral contacted by AFP denied reports that Messi and Roccuzzo would have a religious wedding ceremony there.

BARCELONA STARS 

Leo Messi's Barcelona team-mates are expected to be at the wedding.

Leo Messi’s Barcelona team-mates are expected to be at the wedding.

The couple still have friends and family in this northern city, where Messi discovered his love of football — and of his brunette future bride.

It is also where their two children were baptized — Thiago, 4 and one-year-old Mateo, both born in Barcelona.

Some media predicted 600 guests, but La Capital said no more than 250 were expected, including 21 Barcelona players.

National newspaper Clarin said Argentine singer Karina, wife of Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, will be a guest and also hired to sing at the wedding.

A source in the city hall told AFP it was considering security measures for the crowd of major football stars visiting.

“Messi always moves around naturally in the city, but we have to gauge the implications of the arrival of world football stars in Rosario,” the source said.

In a country where football and politics are closely linked, the wedding planner is reported to be Barbara Diez, the wife of a close ally of President Mauricio Macri.

SPANISH DESIGNED DRESS 

La Capital said the bride would wear a dress by Spanish designer Rosa Clara. Some 20 hairdressers will be hired for the guests, it reported.

As wedding gifts, the couple have reportedly asked for donations to the player’s children’s charity, the Leo Messi Foundation.

Shakira recently denied rumors that she would miss the wedding due to a quarrel with Roccuzzo. “If I can go to her wedding, we will go, because Gerard and Leo have been friends since they were little,” she said in an interview on Argentina program Telenoche.

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What you need to know about Barca coach Valverde

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Former Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has signed a two-year deal to become Barcelona’s new boss.

The 53-year-old is a former Barcelona player and replaces Luis Enrique at the Nou Camp.

Here, we looks at five things you should know about the new Barca coach.

CAMERA STAR

Valverde is unlikely to be camera-shy at the Nou Camp given he is a keen photographer. During his playing days at Barcelona, he studied photography at the Institut d’Estudis Fotografics de Catalunya.

In 2012, he released a book of artistic black and white pictures, called Medio Tiempo – Half Time. He also ran an exhibition of his pictures in Greece while he was manager of Olympiacos.

A VARIED COACHING CAREER

After retiring in 1997 Valverde’s coaching career has taken him to Espanyol, Olympiacos, Villarreal and Valencia. He won three titles with Olympiacos, where he had two spells, and joined Bilbao in 2013 after leaving Valencia.

In 2015 he guided Bilbao to a 4-0 Spanish Super Cup win over Barcelona, his only piece of silverware at the club, but lost the Copa del Rey final against Barca in the same year.

HE PLAYED WITH THE BEST

Valverde spent two seasons as a player at Barca, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989 and Copa del Rey in 1990. At the Nou Camp he played with Gary Lineker, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup while a young Pep Guardiola was in the Barcelona youth team.

The fact he played under Johan Cruyff, who helped shape Barcelona’s identity, which is something that gives him weight coming into the job.

HE IS A DEFENSIVE MASTER

Valverde comes with a reputation of organising a defence and tightening any backline he manages. When Olympiacos won the Greek title in 2009, they conceded only 14 league goals while Athletic never conceded more than 45 goals in a LaLiga season after he returned in 2013.

Athletic conceded 65 goals in the season before Valverde’s comeback and in 2013-14 they shipped just 39 and finished fourth after finishing 12th a year earlier.

HE HAS ALREADY MANAGED IN BARCELONA

The one-cap ex- Spain international managed Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol – who he also played for – between 2006 to 2008. He guided them to the UEFA Cup final in 2007, when they lost on penalties to Sevilla, but finished mid-table in LaLiga in both of his seasons.

His spell at Barca’s local rivals is unlikely to be held against him.

Provided by Press Association

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Relying on Messi brilliance not enough for Barcelona

Andy West 28/05/2017
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Messi enjoyed a magical season but his team-mates didn't.

Although Luis Enrique was able to celebrate another trophy – his ninth in total – as he made his farewell from Barcelona with a Copa del Rey triumph over Alaves, Saturday night’s game in Madrid also revealed exactly why the time is right for him to leave.

To be blunt, Barca did not play particularly well.

Enrique’s men looked laboured in midfield and vulnerable in defence, with Alaves extremely unlucky not to rock them by taking the lead when Ibai Gomez’s shot hit the inside of the post and rolled across the goalline.

What Barca did have, however, was Lionel Messi. The Argentine star was immense, scoring the first goal with a beautifully crisp strike which wouldn’t have even been a half-chance for most other players, then playing a part in the second goal and magnificently creating the third with a slaloming run and pass.

Messi’s heroics, once again, were enough to paper over the cracks of his team’s structural deficiencies, but that kind of over-reliance upon one player is not enough to take the most important trophies – which is why they lost out to Real Madrid in La Liga and Juventus in the Champions League.

It’s clear that Ernesto Valverde, who is set to be confirmed as Enrique’s replacement today, has a lot of work to do, first and foremost in terms of fashioning his players into an efficient collective unit rather than a group of talented individuals who cross their fingers and hope for Messi’s best.

Enrique’s increasing failure to provide a clear tactical direction has taken the team a long way backwards since his first campaign ended with a league, cup and European treble, and addressing that slide is Valverde’s biggest task.

The good news is that he is inheriting a huge amount of talent. Aside from a starting right-back Barca’s starting eleven does not need many changes, and the summer transfer market is far more about improving the squad’s strength in depth.

But more than the identity of the individuals, Valverde’s has to create a structure which allows everyone to flourish. Because even Messi won’t always rescue him.

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