Barça deny Mourinho speculation

The Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, has given his backing to the club's coach, Frank Rijkaard, and denied reports that the club plan to recruit Jose Mourinho as his replacement.

"We have full confidence in Frank and believe that he is the ideal coach for Barcelona," Laporta said. "He has the perfect temperament for a Barcelona coach and will be with us as long as he wants. Mourinho is a great professional and we know that everyone wants to come to Barcelona, but we can't have two coaches at the same time."

Rijkaard steered Barça to two league titles and victory in the Champions League in his first three seasons at the Nou Camp. But last season his team relinquished the Spanish title to Real Madrid and they currently trail their rivals by six points in La Liga. Asked about the speculation over the future of the out-of-form Ronaldinho, Laporta said Barcelona had no intention of letting the 27-year-old Brazilian leave the club.

"We don't want to sell him. He's got a contract and he will stay at Barça as long as he wants. I know that he is happy in the city and at the club. The club is determined to help him recover. We are grateful for everything he has done for us."

The Spanish sports daily Marca reported yesterday that Barça had begun their preparations for next season by closing a deal worth between €14m and €18m (£10.4m-£13.4m) to sign Racing Santander defender Ezequiel Garay. The club denied the report, although they did admit that the highly-rated Argentine centre-back was among the list of possible new recruits for next season.

"We have not signed the player," a Barcelona spokesman said. "We announce signings only when everything is closed. He may, however, be among the list of players that the club's technical staff are following with a view to their arrival next season."

Elsewhere, a Lisbon court has ordered Sporting Lisbon to organise a testimonial match for their former captain Ivaylo Iordanov.

The 39-year-old former Bulgaria international, who retired in 2001 after almost 10 years with Sporting, turned to the court because of a clause in his contract that said the Portuguese club had to arrange a benefit match.

"Justice was done. Iordanov simply fulfilled the contract, in contrast with the club," his lawyer Jose Serrao said.

Midfielder Iordanov, who won the Portuguese league title with the club in 2000 and the domestic Cup in 1995, revealed that the two sides had failed to reach an out-of-court agreement. He denied speculation that the club had paid him compensation for not organising the testimonial. "It's not true," Iordanov said. "I received the support of around 200 fan clubs and the support of my former team-mates," he added

Capped 51 times, Iordanov was instrumental in helping Bulgaria to the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Sporting now have 20 days to appeal against the decision.

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