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Boxing continues to knock itself out with bewildering, incorrect decisions

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Carmine wasn’t the only Napoli fan inspired to express his devotion to Maradona by religious rites. A short walk from Bar Nilo lies Via San Gregorio Armeno, a narrow road lined with shops selling handmade figures for nativity scenes. Alongside baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph are figurines of Maradona and current Napoli standout Dries Mertens.

“One of the first figurines we made was of Diego Armando Maradona and you can imagine how many we sold. Still today, it sells a lot,” said craftsman Marco Ferrigno, who runs the most prominent shop on the street.

“Diego left an indelible mark on the history of this city — in terms of both soccer and beyond soccer. He was someone ‘sui generis,’” Ferrigno added, using the Latin term for someone in a class by himself. “We’re still talking about him 30 years later.”

While he doesn’t like to admit it, the player whose figurine Ferrigno sells the most these days is that of Cristiano Ronaldo.

“There are a lot of Juventus fans around here,” Ferrigno said. “They live in hiding.”

Among current Napoli players, the best seller is Mertens, the crafty Belgium forward known locally as “Ciro” — the most popular of Neopolitan names.

“Ciro has really carved out a place in Neopolitans’ hearts. He’s like a ‘scugnizzo’ (Neapolitan dialect for a street kid) who was born in Belgium. Then he had second thoughts and returned to this city and now he’s having the time of his life,” Ferrigno said. “You have to understand that it’s lucky being born in Napoli but it doesn’t happen to many people. But then there are those people who discover, even if they were born in New York or in Belgium, that they belong here. Like (former Napoli captain Marek) Hamsik, too.

“Ciro’s personality is really Neapolitan.”

Mertens needs only one more goal to match Hamsik’s record for Napoli players at 121 — six more than Maradona scored across all competitions with the club.

Before Hamsik concluded his 12-season stay at Napoli, he wrote a love letter to Naples in The Players’ Tribune.

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Messi demands calm after chaotic 2 months for Barcelona



Injuries have also played their part. Striker Luis Suárez is out for several weeks and winger Ousmane Dembele for the rest of the season, forcing the club to make the curious signing of Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite to give it fit bodies in a depleted attack.

But the rest of the chaos has been created by the club.

Messi himself has been embroiled in a public spat with sports director — and former teammate — Eric Abidal, who has accused some players of not playing hard for Valverde. Messi responded on social media by demanding that Abidal name names and to take full responsibility for the firing of Valverde.

Two weeks later, Messi maintained his position that he had felt “attacked” by Abidal as a member of Barcelona’s squad and its captain.

“It bothered me that a club official, a sports director, had put the squad in middle of the firing of coach. That seemed crazy to me,” Messi said. “He takes the decisions. That’s why I decided to clarify things. I knew that I couldn’t let the sports director attack me like that.”

Then came the oddest of all the Barcelona maladies when earlier this week the club severed its contract with an Internet services company that made negative comments on social media about people within the club. Reports by Spanish radio Cadena SER said those online comments included Messi, fellow player Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.

Messi said that he was still not sure what had happened.

“The truth is that I find it strange that something like that could happen,” the Argentine said. “But they (Cadena SER) also said there was evidence. We will have to wait to see if it is true or not.”

Messi made the call for his club to put its house in order ahead of an important stretch of matches for the defending league champions. After hosting Eibar on Saturday, Barcelona travels to Italy to face Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday. It will then visit Real Madrid on March 1 in a “clásico” that could determine who leads the league.

Messi, however, also sent a message to Barcelona’s fans that he has no plans to abandon the club that has been his home since he was 13 years old.

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Swiss prosecutors charge Al-Khelaifi in FIFA bribery case