Premier League

Nasri takes criticism on the chin

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Sat, 11 May 2013 09:41:00

Stoke City and Sunderland are battling for Croatian international left-back Ivan Strinic, according to his agent.

The 25-year-old is currently with Ukrainian outfit Dnipro - but is being tipped to leave this summer.

Italian champions Juventus are being strongly linked, but the player's agent admits that at the moment it is Stoke and Sunderland leading the race.

"I read in newspapers that Juventus want Strinic but the truth is that nobody from that club talked with me about it," his agent Tonci Martic told 24sata.

"Some time ago we did but not only about Strinic. For now the most interested clubs come from the Premier League in England.

"Dnipro wants ?9million, Stoke City and Sunderland offers little less than that though at the moment."

Martic stated earlier this month that Sunderland's offer had been rejected by Dnipro.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Real Madrid have been heading the chase for the brilliant Colombian - who is being tipped to leave the Vicente Calderon this summer.

Falcao has insisted he is more than happy at Atletico, who have already secured Champions League football for next season.

But Monaco - who are set to seal promotion back to Ligue 1 - are ready to spend big with Russian owner Dimitri Rybolovlev set to back a deal which would cost ?60million.

But Cerezo did his best to laugh off the speculation suggesting Falcao could be heading for the Principality.

"Now Falcao's going to Monaco? We are going to go around the whole world!" said Cerezo.

"Falcao is a specialist at playing in finals and, in the end, he can help us win them."

Cerezo says that Atletico and Falcao are focused on the Copa del Rey final next week, which sees them clash with rivals Real Madrid.

"Finals are there to be won but nothing is easy and we intend to go out there with all the enthusiasm in the world to achieve success, " he said.

Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri would not be drawn on Falcao, and attempted to play it down, saying: "Falcao will join Monaco? Oh yes, just like Beckham. I like rumours too. When he will come I will tell you."

The Argentina defender has enjoyed an outstanding campaign for the FA Cup finalists and has belatedly opened eyes away from the Etihad Stadium to his talents.

He now wants to crown the season with victory over Wigan at Wembley.

"Since signing for Manchester City it has been one of the best seasons for myself," said the right-back, who joined City from Espanyol a day before Sheikh Mansour's takeover in August 2008.

"I have always been working hard to try to get a place in the team.

"I think being a more regular player this season has made me feel more important."

Zabaleta was impressive enough in City's Premier League title-winning campaign last season but manager Roberto Mancini's preference for rotating full-backs meant he was not a regular starter.

This season injuries to Micah Richards and new signing Maicon have left Mancini with little choice other than to make the 28-year-old a permanent fixture in his side.

He has grasped his opportunity fully and there would be much surprise if Zabaleta was not named as City's player of the year.

Despite that he is taking nothing for granted and knows competition will return next season.

He said: "We have got Micah Richards and Maicon as well - three players for one position.

"So that means you always need to work hard and try to play good games to keep the place."

Zabaleta made a three-minute substitute appearance when City beat Stoke to win the FA Cup two years ago.

He is set for a much bigger role this time.

He said: "It is always special to go back to Wembley.

"It is important for us to keep going and keep winning trophies.

"The FA Cup is a massive competition in England and we will try to have a good game and win."

City have enjoyed a relaxed build-up to the game and Zabaleta was one of several players rested for the midweek defeat of West Brom.

By contrast Wigan are embroiled in yet another battle against relegation but Zabaleta is reading nothing into that.

He said: "We know it will be a difficult game, Wigan play very good football and they are very dangerous.

"I think it is a great opportunity for them to play their first FA Cup final ever and win it, so we need to keep working.

"We have worked very well this week to make sure we can stop them."

Zabaleta had hoped his father would be able to travel over from Argentina to watch the game but it has not proved possible.

Zabaleta's father was badly injured in a road accident two years ago and cannot travel without assistance.

"No, he is not coming to the game," said Zabaleta. "Some friends from Spain will come to see it."

Swansea will be Sir Alex Ferguson's last Old Trafford opponents after it was announced he would retire at the end of the season with David Moyes his replacement in the Manchester United hot-seat.

Ferguson's trophy-laden tenure in charge of United is unlikely to be repeated, and Williams knows he and his team-mates will be part of history on Sunday.

"He is the top dog in football," said the Wales captain.

"He is the Godfather of the British game and every player and manager has respect for him.

"I would have loved to have played under him as most players would, just to see what it was like and how he motivates his teams and works day to day. It's top-notch.

"If he said 'Jump', you'd ask, 'How high?' He carries an aura about him and he has backed it up with the trophies he has won."

He added: "I feel privileged that we are involved in this game. It will be a big part of Manchester United's history and we will try and play our part.

"We'll be focused and I don't see them being distracted. The game will be a lot harder than it was already.

"It's on live television, it's his last home game and they will want to send him off in the right way. The world will be watching this game."

When the Swans secured a 1-1 draw against United back in December, Ferguson launched a furious attack on Williams, claiming he "could have killed" Robin van Persie after kicking the ball against the back of the Dutch striker's head.

But Williams does not expect to be on the receiving end from the Old Trafford faithful over the incident.

"I laughed about the incident at the time," he said. "Most of us thought it was a ridiculous comment. I haven't thought too much about it and I've got on with it.

"I don't think I'll get a hot reception. They have more things to think about. If I do I'll be surprised.

"They have stuff to celebrate. I don't think people will remember or bother about me."

Sir Alex Ferguson's 27-year reign at Old Trafford will come to an end with his retirement this month while the man replacing him David Moyes will say goodbye after 11 years at Everton.

Rodgers is coming to the end of his first season in charge at Anfield and he knows more than most it takes time to build a success story.

With the Northern Irishman comfortable at Anfield and Moyes replacing a fellow Scot at Old Trafford, England's two most-decorated clubs have relatively young managers from the home nations.

"Hopefully that is the way it will continue to be - for many years that wasn't the case," said Rodgers.

"What is even more important is the message of the two managers - one that is coming out and one that is going in - in what stability will bring a club.

"David had 11 terrific years at Everton and really stabilised the club and not only built a team but built the club.

"Sir Alex even more so. They didn't just go in to make the teams better, they went in to make the club better.

"Both of those are great examples of giving managers opportunities to build something.

"David will obviously benefit from an incredible infrastructure which has been built over a long time and a model which is readily in place to continue with success.

"I am pleased for him. He obviously wanted to go there and I am sure he will look to finish well in his final couple of games (for Everton)."

Rodgers' own building will continue this summer with further recruitment required to maintain the progress made this season.

He will not have a massive amount at his disposal - probably about ?20million, which is what he spent on Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in January, plus any cash generated from sales.

"It is our job in the summer to get the right types of characters to build that winning mentality and turn a lot of our draws into victories which I believe will push us into the top four next year," he added.

"Next year can be a big year for us if we can add the right type to the group and make sure we become more consistent.

"My biggest aim was to try to improve the consistency of the group but if we are going to make the jump into the next phase we have to improve again.

"It is always the aim to finish top - every big club will go in with that ambition - but we know it is a process to arrive there.

"We are confident next year we can make those steps to keep the progress moving on."

The Latics had never previously been beyond the quarter-finals but victories over Everton and Millwall booked their place in the showpiece against Manchester City, with a first foray into Europe already assured.

Wigan have long lived in the shadow of the town's rugby league team, who are no strangers to trips to Wembley themselves, and respective allegiances have divided the town.

But the Latics' 'Believe' campaign as they chase FA Cup glory and Barclays Premier League survival has seen blue posters adorn streets and houses, and the team were given a public send-off at Wigan train station on Friday afternoon.

Martinez said: "It is great to see the posters and the flags. We always have this unique way of supporting our two sporting clubs. People think the rugby and football are separate. It is not true.

"Even in the semi-final we had incredible support from the rugby people. We are representing the whole town.

"The success of the two clubs is important for our town. Only sport can bring people together like this. It is something the players are well aware of. It is going to be an emotional day."

Wigan certainly go into the match as underdogs against the 2011 cup winners, and Martinez hopes the opportunity to surprise people can counteract the nerves.

Few pundits gave them much chance of defeating Everton at Goodison Park in the quarter-finals but the Latics came away with a 3-0 victory.

The Spaniard said: "The role of the FA Cup finalist is one you have to accept. There are a billion people watching this game. That is incredible. To be in a position like that is something you need to embrace.

"Our best football this season was when we went to Everton in a similar situation. Not many people expected us to perform in that manner. Hopefully we can keep that freedom."

Unless Wigan exceed their own previous acts of remarkable escapology, the Latics will be playing npower Championship football next season.

But to do so as FA Cup winners would be a huge feather in the cap of a club who did not play in the Football League until 1978.

"Winning the FA Cup would be there forever," said Martinez. "Just arriving in the final is a photographic moment in the history of our football club. Winning a major trophy would take our club to a different level.

"When we signed Roger Espinoza he was already a Wigan fan, which makes you aware our exposure around the world is bigger than many people think. But this is as good as it gets and we need to take advantage."

The French midfielder has often struggled for the form he showed at Arsenal since moving to City nearly two years ago, and was heavily criticised by manager Roberto Mancini earlier this year.

It was initially suggested Nasri had disagreed with the Italian's assessment of him, but in the build-up to today's FA Cup Final - which a now-on-song Nasri is expected to be involved in - the 25-year-old claims he understood Mancini's comments.

Speaking to The Times he said: "I didn't take it the wrong way. I agreed with him. I knew. Sometimes I don't need him to tell me because I'm professional. When I go home, I watch the games again.

"I know if I've played well or if I've played s*** and for eight months I wasn't good. I understand what the manager was saying, because it must be frustrating when you have a quality player and he doesn't perform and you don't know why because you try to play him there, play him there, but he still doesn't perform.

"So at some point you have no choice but to put him on the bench and you go to the press to try to get a reaction. And it worked.

"Before, I wasn't very good at accepting public criticism. But he (Mancini) just wants the best from his players on the pitch because he has to win. If he doesn't, he gets fired."

One particular incident which drew criticism was Nasri's decision to turn his back on a Robin van Persie free-kick during December's Manchester derby.

City had recovered from 2-0 to be level but, as Nasri turned away, the ball went where he would have been and on into the goal.

"I don't know what went through my head," Nasri said of that moment. "I don't know how many times I was thinking about it afterwards. Eventually I had to turn off the TV. My dad said, 'Why are you scared of the ball, do you think it's going to burn you or something?'

"At the time I almost cried I was so upset with myself. How could you do that? It was a derby and with a draw we'd have stayed a few points behind them but they won it and it was a big moment in the title race."

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