Argentina's forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2026 Fifa World Cup South American qualifiers match against Ecuador at the Mas Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires on September 7. Image Credit: AFP

Budapest: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are on the short-list for The Best Fifa Men’s Player Award, while Spain’s Aitana Bonmati is among the nominees for the Best Women’s Player on the back of winning the Golden Ball at the World Cup.

Half of the dozen nominees in the men’s category were part of Manchester City’s 2022-23 treble-winning squad, while City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola is nominated for Best Men’s Coach.

Spain’s World Cup win sees four of their players among the 16 nominees for the women’s award. World Cup runners-up England have four players on the list, with Sarina Wiegman up for the women’s coaching award, while Australia have three players.

World Cup winners Messi of Argentina and Spain’s Alexia Putellas are the current holders of the top player awards.

The nominees were shortlisted by a panel of soccer experts that included retired players Mia Hamm and Didier Drogba.

Voting for the eighth annual awards opened on Thursday on and closes in mid-October. National team coaches, captains, journalists and fans make up the list of voters.

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Kyle Walker agreed the new deal just weeks after his future with Pep Guardiola's side was in doubt amid links to Bayern Munich. Image Credit: Reuters

City's Walker signs two-year contract extension

Manchester City defender Kyle Walker signed a two-year contract extension with the treble winners on Thursday.

Walker agreed the new deal just weeks after his future with Pep Guardiola's side was in doubt amid links to Bayern Munich.

The 33-year-old was out of favour for a period of last season and was dropped from the starting line-up for City's Champions League final victory over Inter Milan in June.

Walker was in the final year of his existing deal with City, but the Premier League champions kept the right-back at the transfer deadline and have persuaded him to extend his stay in Manchester.

"I'm thrilled to sign a new deal. My future is with Manchester City and that is the best thing for me," said Walker, who has won 13 major trophies with City.

"I've enjoyed every single moment of the past six years at this fantastic club."

Walker has started City's four Premier League games this season, captaining the team on several occasions in a show of faith from Guardiola.

Setting his sights on more success this season, Walker added: "The treble-winning season is one I will never forget and we're ready to go again and try to win more trophies.

"We've got to demand that. We've set the bar and each year it's how do you get better? How do we get better? We seem to be doing that each year.

"We need to make sure that we're there competing in the later stages in all competitions and fighting for the silverware.

"I am delighted to continue at a club that competes for trophies every year and I can't wait to see what the next few years bring."

City director of football Txiki Begiristain added: "We are very happy that Kyle will be here until 2026. For me, he is the best right-back in the world.

"He is a player with a unique set of attributes. He brings a very special dynamic to our team. Kyle has been a huge part of our recent success."

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England international Sancho was omitted from United’s squad for a 3-1 league loss to Arsenal on September 3. Image Credit: Reuters

Sancho to train away from United first team

Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho will train alone pending the resolution of a “discipline issue”, the Premier League club said on Thursday, following the attacker’s falling out with manager Erik ten Hag.

England international Sancho was omitted from United’s squad for a 3-1 league loss to Arsenal on September 3, with manager Ten Hag stating he had been left out because of poor training performance.

Following the match, the 23-year-old responded in a lengthy post on X — the social media platform formerly known as Twitter — saying he had been unfairly made a “scapegoat”.

Sancho, who joined United from Borussia Dortmund in July 2021, had a prolonged absence last season during which he was training separately from the United squad.

“Jadon Sancho will remain on a personal training programme away from the first-team group, pending resolution of a squad discipline issue,” United said in a statement.

United’s season has been marred by off-field issues.

Brazilian attacker Antony said this week he would not immediately return to the club amid assault allegations against him, while forward Mason Greenwood joined LaLiga side Getafe on loan after he faced allegations of assault and attempted rape, with charges against the forward having been dropped in February.

Antony has denied any wrongdoing. Greenwood said in a statement to British media that he did not do the things he was accused of.

United are 11th in the Premier League with six points from four games, and they next host Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

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Leonardo Bonucci, 36, who spent 12 years in Turin over two spells, was left out of Allegri’s squad for the United States pre-season tour and home friendlies prior to their Serie A opener on August 20. Image Credit: AFP

Bonucci starts legal battle against Juventus

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci will take legal action against former club Juventus after a reported fallout with manager Massimiliano Allegri led to his recent exit from the club.

Bonucci, 36, who spent 12 years in Turin over two spells, was left out of Allegri’s squad for the United States pre-season tour and home friendlies prior to their Serie A opener on August 20.

He agreed to terminate his contract with Juve to facilitate the move to the Bundesliga side Union Berlin, with whom he signed for one year on the deadline day.

“I have decided, after great suffering, to take the path of a lawsuit towards Juventus,” Bonucci told Sport Mediaset in an interview published on Thursday.

“My rights stipulated that I should have trained with the team regardless of the technical choice and been put in a position to physically be able to play during the following season.

“This was not granted to me, I no longer trained with the team. I felt drained of everything, humiliated, I couldn’t do what I love most.” Bonucci said he did not feel remorse towards his former club nor was seeking financial reward, and that if he won the legal battle he would donate all the proceeds to charity.

“I have nothing against Juventus. Juventus are the fans, the team, my former team mates,” Bonucci said.

“I am pursuing this cause because the people who were supposed to let me end my career with Juventus in a respectful and worthy way have not done so.” Being sidelined from training for an extended time resulted in no Italy call-up for Bonucci by new manager Luciano Spalletti, who had informed the defender of his decision privately prior to making his list official.

“I want to continue to play and trouble Spalletti for the national team,” Bonucci said.

“His phone call to tell me that he wouldn’t call me up for these last games ..., it was a gesture that I appreciated a lot, it shows his human depth, his sincerity.

“Not having had a proper pre-season, he couldn’t call me up for the Azzurri. I expected it, I’m no fool. But I feel the national team shirt on my skin like the Juventus one. I’ll do everything I can to wear it.” Bonucci added his hopes are to be back at Juventus one day as coach.

“When I decide to start coaching, I have my path well in mind,” he said.

“Surely Juventus, when I become a coach, will not be the one of today and maybe there will be a way, one day, to re-embrace the fans, to greet them and make them understand how important Juventus was for me. The one of today I don’t feel is mine.” Juventus could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Vinai Venkatesham joined Arsenal in 2010 and was appointed managing director in 2018, after Ivan Gazidis left to join AC Milan, before being named CEO in 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Arsenal CEO Venkatesham to step down next year

Arsenal’s CEO Vinai Venkatesham will step down next summer, the Premier League team announced on Thursday.

Venkatesham joined Arsenal in 2010 and was appointed managing director in 2018, after Ivan Gazidis left to join AC Milan, before being named CEO in 2020.

“This was a tough decision, but it is time to pursue another challenge. Now is not the time for goodbyes as I remain focused until my last day and supporting a seamless transition,” Venkatesham said in a statement.

He will leave with the club enjoying a resurgence under manager Mikel Arteta, having finished second behind Manchester City in the Premier League last season and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.

“The board is fully supportive of Vinai’s desire to pursue his next challenge,” Arsenal co-chair Josh Kroenke said.

“Whilst it is business as usual with everyone focused on the season ahead, we’d like to take this moment to thank him for his contribution and long service ...

“Change and succession is something the club is well prepared for. The board remains committed to our strategy and will address leadership change as we continue to drive the club forward.” Arsenal, who are in fifth place two points behind leaders Manchester City, visit Everton on Sunday.

Spanish women players call off strike after reaching pay agreement

Unions representing players in Spain’s women’s football league have called off their strike after reaching an agreement on minimum wages, the Liga F organisation said on Thursday.

The players went on strike at the start of the month before the first two fixtures of the season after failing to reach an agreement with the league on better conditions and pay.

Liga F, the organising body of the top league of women’s football in Spain, and the players’ unions signed an agreement for the next three seasons.

It guarantees a minimum salary of €21,000 ($22,369) per year for the current season, with the potential to rise to €23,000 depending on the growth of commercial income.

The minimum salary for next season will be €22,500, with the potential to rise up to €25,000, and the minimum salary for the final season covered by the agreement has been set at €23,500, potentially increasing to €28,000.

“When we see the gap that exists between the minimum wage, which for men’s football is of €182,000, the difference is big,” Keka Vega, the women’s football coordinator of the Spanish Footballers’ Association (AFE) union, told Reuters on Thursday.

“We as unions need to work hard to achieve what the players are demanding that is to reduce the gap.”

Nigeria defender Plumptre signs for Saudi Women’s side Al Ittihad

Nigeria defender Ashleigh Plumptre said she has joined Saudi Women’s Premier League side Al Ittihad following the expiry of her contract at Leicester City.

The 25-year-old centre back has 15 caps for Nigeria. She played for England at youth level before switching allegiance and making her Nigeria debut in 2022.

“Grateful to have signed for Al Ittihad,” Plumptre said on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Excited to start this journey alongside some incredible human beings.

“My journey of stepping into more of myself continues ... It’s more than football.” The Saudi women’s top flight is gearing up for its second season, with eight teams vying for the title.

Saudi men’s Pro League teams have been spending huge sums to attract some of the best players from European clubs, including Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.