Special ones, special treatment

After Euro 2016, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on holiday in the United States, where his latest public appearance was at a UFC event in Las Vegas.
After Euro 2016, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on holiday in the United States, where his latest public appearance was at a UFC event in Las Vegas.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Barcelona's Lionel Messi (foreground) and his father Jorge attending a session of their tax fraud trial last month. They were sentenced to 21 months in prison last week, which prompted the club to start an online solidarity campaign in support of the
Barcelona's Lionel Messi (foreground) and his father Jorge attending a session of their tax fraud trial last month. They were sentenced to 21 months in prison last week, which prompted the club to start an online solidarity campaign in support of their Argentinian star.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ibra to miss United's China tour, still in holiday mode despite Sweden's early exit from Euro

LONDON • Zlatan Ibrahimovic appears to have received preferential treatment from Manchester United, after he was allowed to miss the English football club's pre-season tour to China despite Sweden's early exit from Euro 2016.

The 34-year-old is on holiday in the United States, with his most recent public appearance being on Sunday at an Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Las Vegas.

Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Marcus Rashford, the England players, are due to return to United's training ground in Carrington on Monday for tests before flying to China with the squad the next day.

The trio will not play in China, but will build up their fitness there during training sessions.

Even though Sweden were knocked out of the tournament in the group stage, five days before England, Ibrahimovic is set to miss United's two games in China, against Borussia Dortmund in Shanghai on July 22 and Manchester City in Beijing three days later.

It is likely that the Swedish striker's United debut will instead come in Sweden on July 30 when Jose Mourinho's side face Galatasaray in Stockholm.

If not, Ibrahimovic will feature against Everton at Old Trafford on Aug 3 in Wayne Rooney's testimonial.

Mourinho's other two new signings, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, are set to travel to China, having trained for the first time with the squad on Wednesday.

Luke Shaw, the left-back, also looks set to be on the plane to China after making an encouraging start to pre-season.

The England defender is expected to make his comeback from a 10-month lay-off tomorrow when United play their first game under Mourinho, away to Wigan Athletic.

The 21-year-old suffered a broken leg in two places after a tackle by Hector Moreno, the PSV Eindhoven defender, during United's 2-1 Champions League defeat in the Netherlands in September.

The England player was ruled out for the rest of the season, but he is now training with the United first-team squad and is expected to feature at the DW Stadium tomorrow.

Another player who will be given a chance to impress is Phil Jones, the centre-back.

Jones' injury record and inconsistent form had led to suggestions that the England player could be on his way out of Old Trafford, but it is understood that Mourinho is considering starting the season with the former Blackburn Rovers man and Chris Smalling as his first-choice centre-half pairing.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN


Support campaign for Messi gets negative responses, but Barca chief remains defiant

MADRID • Among their roster of international superstars, Barcelona have long singled out Lionel Messi for special care.

But, when the Spanish football club began an online solidarity campaign in support of the Argentinian forward after he was sentenced in a tax fraud case, many in Spain are asking just how far a club should go to support their best player.

The debate began almost immediately after Barcelona announced their "We Are All Leo Messi" campaign last Saturday.

Social media reaction was swift on both sides, and this week top government officials joined the chorus of critics.

On Tuesday, Miguel Cardenal, the president of the High Council for Sport, the government agency that oversees sports in Spain, described Barcelona's public campaign as "completely wrong".

He said that Spain had laws that allowed Messi to appeal such a ruling - which the player plans to do - without requiring extra support from his club, especially one with a global profile as large as Barcelona's.

BACKING FROM THE HELM

Leo, those who attack you are attacking Barca and its history. We'll defend you to the end.

JOSEP MARIA BARTOMEU, Barcelona president, in support of Lionel Messi.

"Messi should be satisfied with living in a country with the advanced system of protection that we have," he said.

As part of Barcelona's campaign to support Messi, the club asked fans to show solidarity by posting online photos of themselves with their hands open.

Josep Maria Bartomeu, the team's president, posted his own message on Twitter in which he addressed his superstar: "Leo, those who attack you are attacking Barca and its history. We'll defend you to the end."

Barcelona's campaign was a response to a court ruling that sentenced Messi and his father, Jorge, to a largely symbolic 21 months in prison for failing to disclose to Spain's tax authorities some of his advertising contracts.

The club have defended their campaign by insisting that the sentence against Messi was "unjust".

Amid dozens of high-profile financial fraud and corruption cases in Spain, however, Barcelona's active support for Messi has infuriated those struggling to collect Spanish taxes.

Carlos Cruzado, the president of Gestha, an association of tax inspectors, said on Tuesday that the club and their star player should have just accepted the sentence and closed this chapter.

Instead, Barcelona's campaign is "dismantling the pedagogic work that should be done to make citizens more conscious" of their tax obligations, Cruzado said.

The tax inspectors also argued that Messi, as a superstar, should be setting a public example, and that his club should be reminding their followers that they are all taxpayers.

Predictably, one of the responses to Barcelona's crusade has been the start of an "I Am Not Leo Messi" campaign online.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Special ones, special treatment'. Print Edition | Subscribe