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NIKE & PSG IN THE DOCK

Sports equipment maker Nike and French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain faced trial in Paris on Monday on charges of hiding payments to attract top players, including Nicolas Anelka and Gabriel Heinze.

Two former presidents of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), one of France’s richest clubs with famous fans such as President Nicolas Sarkozy, and several agents are also on trial over the alleged attempt to avoid French employment taxes.

Prosecutors say agents, sponsors and club officials partly hid payments for some 20 transfers from 1998 to 2005, including those of Heinze, who joined PSG from Spanish club Valladolid in 2001, and Anelka, who came from Real Madrid in 2000.

Nike is accused of helping to hide payments through sponsorship contracts with players such as Brazil’s Ronaldinho, sometimes with the use of coupons and house purchases in the names of the Directors.

The players themselves are not among the accused. If found guilty, the accused could be asked to pay back millions of euros that were allegedly withheld from tax and social security authorities, as the actual payments were larger than the ones declared.

A lawyer for the group said there was nothing unusual in the deals.

“Do you think the fact that Ronaldinho wears Nike boots is no advantage for Nike? Isn’t it normal to pay for that?” lawyer Olivier Metzner said. “That happens in every country of the world. We did it in Paris, like everywhere else and we only have problems in Paris.”

French magistrates stumbled over the suspect payments some years ago after investigating salary of one player. They are not accusing any of the defendants of personal enrichment.

CITY MAKE TORRES NO.1 TARGET

Manchester City are willing to pay any price to sign Liverpool striker, Fernando Torres.

Torres’s future at Anfield remains shrouded in uncertainty with Christian Purslow, the club’s managing director, holding extensive talks with the 26-year-old striker and the manager, Roy Hodgson, but conceding he can do no more to convince the striker to stay.

Chelsea and Barcelona have been linked with the former Atlético Madrid captain but may struggle to meet Liverpool’s £70m valuation.

City’s hopes of signing Torres were believed to have ended when they failed to qualify for the Champions League last season but Mancini, who is also interested in Mario Balotelli of Internazionale and Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, insists the prospect of Torres making a sensational switch from Anfield to Eastlands is not over and is willing to better the £32.5m record fee City spent to sign Robinho from Real Madrid.

The City manager, who has taken his summer spending to £78m with the £18.9m arrival of Aleksandar Kolarov from Lazio, said: “Torres is one of the best strikers in Europe and is already playing in the Premier League for three years and knows it very well. But it depends on his situation – his price and whether he wants to come.

“There are two or three strikers that we could go for, but it is the same situation as it is with James Milner. First there is the price and then it depends if the players want to change team. Until today, Liverpool haven’t bought many players.”

City officials have indicated the club has more chance of signing Balotelli and Dzeko than Torres, with the lack of Champions League football on offer still a determining factor despite their ability to fund a deal and to offer players £200,000-a-week.

The Spanish striker has stressed that money will not be the over-riding motivation as he considers his future at Liverpool this summer but, nevertheless, confirmation of City’s interest will further unsettle Anfield officials as they attempt to persuade their prized asset to stay.

Torres is settled in Liverpool but disillusioned with the club’s failure to secure new investment having been told a takeover was imminent when he signed a new four-year contract worth £110,000-a-week last August. His insistence that Liverpool require “four or five” top-class signings to compete for honours next season is unlikely to materialise and Purslow has spent several days attempting to pacify the striker.

Hodgson confirmed at the weekend: “I made it clear from my point of view that I’m really looking forward to working with him and I believe he’s a key, key figure at the club. I obviously want him to be a part of the team we’re trying to build here and I can only hope he’ll buy into what the club is offering him. I don’t think there are any worries with him in terms of me personally or what we’re doing. I think the concerns go back once again to the time before I came to the club.”

CLUBS NAME 25 MAN SQUAD

English Premier League clubs have named their 25-man squads for the new season. Manchester United have included injury-plagued midfielder Owen Hargreaves, while striker Roque Santa Cruz makes Manchester City’s roster.

Stoke have omitted forward Mamady Sidibe, who snapped an Achilles tendon.

Arsenal have not listed any Englishmen but Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere are among the English under-21 contingent.

Michael Kightly has also been left out of Wolves’ squad for the first half of the season because of knee problems. Santa Cruz figures in City manager Roberto Mancini’s 25-man Premier League squad, despite much speculation that the Paraguayan striker would not.

Santa Cruz joins up with Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jo in a fearsome array of firepower which will be at Mancini’s disposal.

The new Premier League rule required clubs to name a squad of 25 senior players by 1700 BST, 1 September, with only players under the age of 21 allowed to supplement that line-up until January.

The Premier League says the new rules are designed to increase the number of young “home-grown” players in the Premier League, with a long-term aim of giving more options to the England manager.

CLUBS HIT 700 MARK

Seven clubs have hit the 700 mark having now played their 700th Premier League matches. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have featured in all 19 Premier League campaigns since its inception in the 1992/93 season.

Everton and Manchester United became the first clubs to hit the 700 mark when they met in Saturday’s early kick-off at Goodison Park. They marked the milestone in style with a pulsating 3-3 draw which encapsulated all that is good about the Barclays Premier League. To mark the occasion 7 Everton fans were given season-long Everton Hospitality packages.

They were quickly followed to the landmark by Arsenal who beat Bolton Wanderers 4-1, Chelsea who won 3-1 at West Ham United and Spurs who drew 1-1 at West Bromwich Albion. The following day Liverpool drew 0-0 at Birmingham City and Villa made it to 700 at Stoke City losing 2-1 on Monday night.