Javier Mascherano becomes latest Chinese Super League high-profile signing

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Argentine international defender Javier Mascherano was unveiled as the Chinese Super League’s most high-profile signing in a year on Wednesday as he joined Hebei China Fortune from Barcelona.

The highly decorated 33-year-old is the biggest name to head to China since his fellow Argentine Carlos Tevez 12 months ago. After a series of record transfers, Chinese authorities moved to crack down on sky-rocketing deals last year.

Mascherano will take the number 14 shirt — the same he wore at Barcelona and for his country — and team up with another Argentina international, Ezequiel Lavezzi, at Hebei, who are based in the northern city of Qinhuangdao and are coached by former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

“After reaching agreement with Barcelona FC and the player himself, the distinguished Argentine captain Mascherano has, starting today, officially joined Hebei China Fortune Football Club,” the Chinese side said, without disclosing the transfer fee.

Barcelona announced on Tuesday that Mascherano, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, was leaving the club after seven-and-a-half successful seasons, without stating his destination.

The Catalan giants said Mascherano would be given an official farewell on Wednesday and say goodbye to fans at Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final, second leg against Espanyol.

Last month, Sport, a Catalan daily, said that Hebei had reached a deal to sign him from Barca for 10 million euros ($12.2 million), conditional on the Spanish club plugging the gap, which they did by signing Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina.

Chinese media however put the transfer fee at 5.5 million euros, saying that is just under the threshold that would trigger a 100 percent tax under rules imposed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) on incoming foreign transfers last May.

The surcharge was a way of reining in Chinese clubs who in recent transfer windows shelled out huge amounts on international stars, prime among them Tevez, who moved back to Boca Juniors earlier this month after a miserable year at Shanghai Shenhua.

Shanghai SIPG have also spent big, buying up the likes of Brazilians Hulk and Oscar, the attacking midfielder signed last year for an Asian-record 60 million euros from Chelsea.

The CFA brought in the levy partly to encourage CSL teams to cultivate local players instead.

Tevez, a team-mate of Mascherano’s at West Ham United more than a decade ago, became a reviled figure in China and recently said that his stint in Shanghai — where he earned a reported 730,000 euros a week — was “a holiday”.

Fans of Hebei, who finished fourth under Pellegrini when the CSL ended in November, will be hoping Mascherano can enjoy an altogether more successful spell in China.

He has the pedigree and arrived at Barcelona from Liverpool in August 2010, winning four La Liga titles, four Copas del Rey, two Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups.

He scored one goal from 334 appearances, when his team-mates pushed him to take a penalty during a 7-1 rout of Osasuna in April 2017.

Only two non-Spaniards, Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, have played more games for Barcelona.

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Arsenal increase bid to £50.9 million for Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

David Cooper 24/01/2018
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Arsenal have upped the ante in their bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after increasing their offer to a potential club record of £50million while setting the clock ticking with a 48-hour deal deadline – The Times reports.

Borussia Dortmund are said to have dug their heels in, hoping to make £60million from the wantaway Gabonese forward, 28.

Even at £10million less than the asking price a deal would surpass the reported £44million the Gunners paid Lyon for Alexandre Lacazette in July.

Meanwhile Aubameyang sent Arsenal fans into a spin with a tweet on Tuesday that was perceived to hint at a deal. Along with a waving emoji the post was signed off “xxxxxxL” – suspected by some to say Arsenal with most of the letters removed.

The Daily Mail says Gunners forward Olivier Giroud, 31, has also been part of the negotiations as part of a potential player swap.

According to the Daily Telegraph Arsenal are now frontrunners to snatch West Brom skipper Jonny Evans, 30, after Manchester City grew disinterested.

The Gunners are seeking a deal of around £20million, which would swell the total spent on talent in the window to £70million if Aubameyang ends up at the Emirates.

Albion are said to be keen to raise funds so new boss Alan Pardew can bolster the side’s attacking capability before the transfer window ends.

Now Jose Mourinho has bagged Alexis Sanchez he is considering Manchester United’s next acquisition – with three names coming to the surface, according to The Independent.

Nice’s Ivory Coast midfielder Jean-Michael Seri, 26, is said to be the United boss’ top pick, while Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian playmaker Fred, 24, is also a candidate.

Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, 29, completes the trio, although the German World Cup winner is reported to be after more than £300,000-a-week wherever he moves to once his contract expires this summer.

Further talks have taken place between West Ham and Inter Milan over midfielder Joao Mario, the Daily Mail reports, as the Irons look for emergency replacements for injured Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini.

Inter are reportedly demanding a loan fee and obligation to buy at the end of the loan, while West Ham will also have to pay the 25-year-old’s wages in full.

Players to watch

Leon Bailey: The Bayer Leverkusen winger, 20, has been noticed by Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea, the Daily Mirror reports.

Roque Mesa: Swansea have played down reports the midfielder, 28, wants to return to Spain and join Sevilla.

Javier Hernandez: West Ham’s Mexico international, 29, is open to leaving the club, despite manager David Moyes saying the opposite, ESPN reports.

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Man City set to complete move for Aymeric Laporte, Roma in talks with Barcelona star Aleix Vidal

David Cooper 24/01/2018
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The transfer window is well and truly in full swing!

Here, we take a look at the biggest stories dominating the headlines on Wednesday.

Will any of the following deals happen?

Let us know your thoughts.

Get in touch via Twitter and Facebook.

AYMERIC LAPORTE 

Manchester City are on the verge of completing a deal for Athletic centre-back Aymeric Laporte, according to the Daily Mail.

Although Pep Guardiola’s side are 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League, he remains concerned about his defensive options for the second half of the season.

City had previously been linked with a move for Jonny Evans, but it now looks likely they will sign French international Laporte.

RATING: 8/10

VERDICT

The Frenchman is a man in demand, and City will have to launch a mammoth offer is they are to land the star defender.

With John Stones still very much learning on the job at the heart of the City backline and add to that Vincent Kompany’s constant injury problems, Laporte’s leadership qualities would make him a fearsome addition at the Etihad Stadium.

A move to the Sky Blues would guarantee the potential to win trophies, but it is unlikely he will see first team action on a regular basis if both men are fit.

ALEIX VIDAL

Barcelona star Aleix Vidal could be on his way to Roma, according to Mundo Deportivo .

The Spaniard has fallen out of favour under Ernesto Valverde with just 10 La Liga appearances this campaign – seven of which have come from the bench.

With Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo in sterling from, it looks an even tougher task for him to force a way into the starting XI.

Liverpool and Manchester United have all raised interest in Vidal who can play anywhere down the right flank.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

At 28, it would be a good move to leave the Camp Nou in order to get his career back on track.

Of the current players looking to leave Barcelona, the club would raise the most money from the sale of Vidal – who was bought for €18 million back in 2015.

A fee of €10 million would be enough get the deal over the line this month – and the prospect of saving his salary for the next two-and-half years would also reduce Barcelona’s wage expenditure.

MICHY BATSHUAYI

Michy Batshuayi’s move away from Stamford Bridge this month depends on the club signing Eden Dzeko from Roma, according to the Daily Mail.

Antonio Conte is in talks with Roma over a deal for striker Dzeko and left wing-back Emerson Palmieri.

The Italian is currently undergoing a scoring crisis and is planning a shock move for the Bosnian international.

Ace attackers Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard have struggled in recent games, and the Blues are still bidding for their first win of the new calendar year.

Marseille and Monaco are also both reportedly interested in taking Batshuayi back to France – with the 24-year-old not trusted by Conte.

RATING: 8/10

VERDICT

Conte is keen to bring in back-up for striker Morata and doesn’t see Batshuayi as the right man to lead the side when introduced off the bench.

The Italian needs to either fork out for a big name striker or take a gamble to relieve the pressure on Morata and Hazard.

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