Valencia have reiterated their support for their player Mouctar Diakhaby after Cadiz's Juan Cala angrily denied racially abusing the defender.

Play was stopped during the first half of Cadiz's 2-1 LaLiga win over Valencia on Sunday following an altercation between Cala and Diakhaby, after which the latter player and his team-mates left the field.

Valencia returned to resume the game 20 minutes later without Diakhaby, and Cala was substituted at half-time.

Los Che captain Jose Luis Gaya said Diakhaby had been subjected to "a very ugly insult", with the club's president Anil Murthy condemning an "extremely serious racial insult".

In a video posted to his Twitter page on Tuesday, Diakhaby said Cala called him "negro de mierda" which translates as "black s***".

However, at a news conference, during which he repeatedly claimed he was at the centre of a public "lynching", Cala stated he merely told Diakhaby to "leave me in peace".

The 31-year-old former Sevilla, Getafe and Las Palmas centre-back also suggested Diakhaby might have "misheard or has invented something" and decried the episode as "a circus" – all of which prompted an official response from Valencia.

"Valencia CF are deeply saddened by statements made by Cadiz CF player Juan Cala this Tuesday, in which 48 hours later, he denied racially insulting Mouctar Diakhaby during the LaLiga match played last Sunday at the Ramon de Carranza," a club statement read.

The statement was tweeted with a caption of "JUAN CALA, WE DON'T BELIEVE YOU".

Valencia added in their response: "Cala has missed a great opportunity to accept his mistake and apologise to the player affected. Instead of doing this, he attacked both Diakhaby and other members of Valencia CF.

"Valencia CF wish to reiterate that we believe our player and back him completely. After the threats made by Cala in his press conference this Tuesday, April 6, the club, president Anil Murthy and Mouctar Diakhaby himself remain firm in the conviction to fight to the end, wherever necessary, on the matter for the good of football and society.

"Valencia CF will not stop fighting for an improvement in protocol and in the battle against racism in football."

In his video statement on Tuesday, Diakhaby said he felt "very calm" and thanked team-mates and Valencia's backroom staff for their "solidarity and support".

"In Cadiz on Sunday a player insulted me, the words are 'negro de mierda'," he said. “The player said that to me, and that is intolerable. I cannot accept that.

"You have seen all my reactions, that cannot happen in normal life, and above all in football, which is a sport of respect.

"Me and my team-mates decided to go to the dressing room, a good decision. Then a Cadiz player asked a Valencia player that if Cala said sorry would we return to the pitch.

"We said no, things are not like that. When something happens, you cannot just apologise and move on. I feel good today, but it hurt me, a lot. I expect LaLiga will issue punishments, and have proof, so that it can all be clarified."

On Monday, LaLiga president Javier Tebas said his organisation would seek to "clarify" the incident because "we do not want any racism in our football".

However, a day later, Cala's latest intervention appears to have inflamed matters.

"I am in a state of shock, I am being accused of something I know nothing of," Cala said.

"There was a clash between us, and I told him 'leave me in peace'. I don't know what Diakhaby thought he heard, if he misheard or has invented something. I just told him to leave me in peace.

"Things are said on the pitch, I am a centre-half and have been involved in thousands of clashes in games. It is normal, part of football. But I would never, never cross the red line I am being accused of.

"This has all become a circus. I will take legal action against all the people who have tried to play with my honour. My lawyers are compiling the information."

Cala explained he would like to meet Diakhaby and discuss the matter in person.

"I would have no problem sitting down with Diakhaby and I could explain to him that I did not say that," he said.

"I could tell him that there is no racism in Spanish football, between players. Each team has five or six players of colour. I am in favour of supporting the fight against racism, but for me there is no racism between players in Spanish football."

Cala added: "All types of people - Chinese people, African people - have sent me messages of support.

"Nobody in my 15 years of football can accuse me of what I am being accused of now. I have had a hard time; my family, too, have received many threats over social media. But I am relaxed as I am innocent of what I am accused of."

Mikel Arteta said Arsenal's dire display against Liverpool had left him "in shock" after the Gunners surrendered 3-0 at home.

The seething manager attempted to take the blame for the performance, but disdain for the effort of his players was all too clear in the Spaniard's verdict.

Substitute Diogo Jota scored twice and Mohamed Salah also netted as Liverpool ran riot in the final half hour at Emirates Stadium.

Until then, Arsenal had been holding on, while never looking capable of going on to win the game. The home side had three attempts at goal, while Liverpool had 16 efforts on the way to winning by their biggest ever margin in an away league game at Arsenal.

Arteta told Sky Sports: "We completely deserved to lose the game. They were better in every department.

"They deserved to win the game with the margin that they have, or more. It was unacceptable from our side, the way we played.

"They won every duel, every second ball, every challenge. They were brave when they had the ball, they made the right decisions; we didn't.

"It was my fault. I had to set the team to play in a different way and perform in a different way. Congratulations to Liverpool because I think they were exceptional.

"We saw the difference today between the two teams, that when we perform at that level the margin is incredibly high.

"The standard has to be much higher from this football club and my job is to get them to perform at that level. We could not put three passes together. There were too many things that were not done right.

"At the moment I'm in shock. I didn't expect that, with the way the team trained, the way the team tries, but it happened. That is the reality."

Arsenal tackle Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday. Arteta knows there must be a major response from his players.

He said: "If you have courage and you have big balls and you represent a club like this, you have to stand up in the next game and take it."

Pep Guardiola has warned Manchester City will not make "any special signings" before next season, which appears to close the door on a big-money move for Erling Haaland.

The City boss refused to directly discuss the in-demand Borussia Dortmund striker, who has been linked with the Premier League leaders as well as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.

Catalan broadcaster Esport3 reported Madrid and Barcelona are the teams that Haaland is most interested in joining, although Dortmund would want a huge transfer fee to allow the 20-year-old Norwegian to move on before the 2021-22 campaign.

There have been unconfirmed claims that Haaland has a €75million release clause that comes into effect at the end of next season, but his current market value would be substantially higher.

City will lose Sergio Aguero at the end of this season, having elected to release their record scorer, but he has been so scarcely involved recently that the Argentinian's absence may not be sorely felt.

"I understand completely the situation of the club, and of all the other clubs bar a few. We are not going to do any special signings," Guardiola said in a news conference.

"I'm always honest. If you ask me now, it's not going to happen. All the clubs are struggling a lot and we are not an exception."

The COVID-19 crisis has seen clubs suffer major reductions in their anticipated income, with stadiums staying largely closed over the past year, meaning matchday income has been lost.

Barca and Madrid have also been majorly affected, yet both may find a way to propose a move for Haaland.

Former Barca boss Guardiola could lead City to a spectacular quadruple this season – they face Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday, heading into the weekend with a 14-point lead at the summit. Leicester sit third, a point behind second-placed United.

The continuing success of his City team, who remain in the Champions League and could land a domestic cup double, means Spanish manager Guardiola does not feel inclined to ask the owners to fund a spectacular transfer coup.

City have also been linked with Barca great Lionel Messi, but Guardiola's tone suggests that may be another non-starter.

Although Messi might be available on a free transfer, his wages far outstrip those of any Premier League player. Such a move would involve jaw-dropping figures.

"You know my opinion – we never spend big money on one player," Guardiola said. "We have spent a lot of money on a lot of players, but none of them for incredible figures, and that is what we will continue to do in the coming years."

Asked directly about Haaland, and whether he accepted the striker would not be with City next season, Guardiola said: "You understand that I cannot talk about players from other clubs.

"It will not be polite for Borussia Dortmund or for Haaland. It is not my business. The players I have here deserve respect from their manager not to talk about other players when we have two important months ahead.

"If I was a player and the manager was talking about other players, I'd say 'what the f*** are you doing?'. We are here to do what we have to do. In five years here I have not talked about a player from another club."

Guardiola said releasing Aguero at the end of his contract "was the best decision for the club", albeit that meant there had to be a "difficult" conversation.

The City boss added: "He will help us until the end of the season."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant has apologised after an argument with actor and comedian Michael Rapaport in which he used homophobic language was made public.

Rapaport posted screenshots of a private conversation on his Twitter account earlier this week.

"I receive threats and disgusting messages DAILY, but never in my wildest dreams did I think @KDTrey5 would be among them," he wrote.

"The [snake] himself is now threatening me, bringing up my wife and wants to fight. This is supposed to be America's sweetheart right?"

The dispute appeared to begin when Rapaport called Durant "super sensitive" following a post-game interview on TNT in December.

The pictures showed Durant respond with homophobic language and threats towards the True Romance and Deep Blue Sea star.

Rapaport also addressed the 2014 NBA MVP's comments on his podcast, saying: "That's not locker-room talk, we're not s***-talking.

"That's not how people talk, you're threatening me. You've done it three times."

An apologetic Durant said: "I'm sorry that people [have] seen the language that I used.

"That's not really what I want people to see and hear from me, but hopefully I can move past it and get back out on the floor."

Durant has been out of action with a hamstring injury since February 13, although the Nets have claimed first place in the East in his absence.

The 32-year-old forward missed the entirety of last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the 2018-19 NBA Finals while playing for the Golden State Warriors.

He returned to average 29.0 points across 19 outings this year, leading Brooklyn in scoring, before his latest setback gave new signing James Harden the reins.

Harden, also now missing with a hamstring issue, has put together an MVP run, aided by Kyrie Irving.

Of his season, Durant said: "I was playing solid before I got injured and feel like we were just starting to figure each other out, James, Kyrie and myself, and different line-ups out there on the floor.

"I felt like we were starting to gain our rhythm and, even though I was out a week before that with [COVID-19] protocols, I felt like our team was gaining more chemistry then and that's moreso what I care about.

"How I play, I'll figure that out over time whenever I get out there."

Reports suggest Durant is nearing a return, but the player added he had to be "smart and cautious with this type of injury".

"I've been through this situation before so I just try to take myself back to that place," Durant said.

Mino Raiola claims Alex Ferguson did not "believe" in Paul Pogba during his first stint at Manchester United and says he does not "give a f***" whether he deals with the club again. 

Pogba left United for Serie A powerhouse Juventus in 2012 – a year before Ferguson stood down as United manager – after his contract expired, only to re-join the Red Devils in 2016 for what was then a world record transfer fee of £89million.

The France midfielder's future has been the subject of much discussion since Raiola claimed his client's time at United was "over" in December, prompting speculation of a possible return to Juve or a move to LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

Pogba's contract is set to expire in 2022, although United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently said an "open dialogue" about a new deal for the 28-year-old is ongoing.

Ferguson, who enjoyed a trophy-laden 26-year reign at Old Trafford, has publicly criticised Raiola for his role in Pogba's departure, but the agent insists he wanted the World Cup winner to stay at the club. 

"When Ferguson criticised me, that was my biggest compliment anybody could give me," Raiola told The Athletic. "Ferguson is used to people coming in and [saying]: 'Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir'.

"All I have to say that when Ferguson left Manchester United the club's owner [the Glazers], by buying back Paul Pogba, told me that I was right. Because I didn't want to take Paul Pogba away. [Ferguson] didn't believe in Paul Pogba.

"So when Ferguson says: 'I don't like him', it's the biggest compliment that I could have. It's like saying Sepp Blatter says: 'I don't like him'. Fantastic. I don't care what Ferguson says."

Never shy of expressing an opinion, Raiola was typically forthright when asked how the Pogba situation has affected his relationship with United.

"I don’t give a f*** if I never do another player with Manchester United. I'm not in their hands," he added.

"I'm independent. We have only one party that we take care of: our players. And as long as our players like us, you do what you have to do."

Slavia Prague president Jaroslav Tvrdik is "terribly ashamed" by ultras who unveiled a racist banner targeting Rangers player Glen Kamara.

Kamara claimed he was racially abused by Ondrej Kudela during Rangers' Europa League defeat to Slavia on Thursday.

Kudela, who covered his mouth with his hand, leaned into Kamara and said something that sparked fury from the Rangers man and a nearby team-mate.

The Czech club have strenuously denied the allegations and issued a statement on Friday defending Kudela, who they allege was subjected to an attack by Kamara after the match.

Slavia also revealed they had filed a criminal complaint against Kamara for the alleged attack.

UEFA has launched an investigation into the respective incidents, including the claimed post-match altercation, which Slavia claim was "prepared and thought out, including deliberately covering the cameras at the scene of the incident".

Images of a group purporting to be Slavia ultras began circulating the day after the game, with the unidentifiable people holding a banner that named Kamara and contained a racial slur.

Tvrdik condemned these actions on his official Twitter page, writing: "I am terribly ashamed of the content of the photo published by some radical fans.

"It's absolutely disgusting, pathetic and racist. NO TO RACISM!"

In Slavia's initial statement defending Kudela, they insisted he was a "football gentleman".

Kamara released a statement of his own via a solicitor on Friday in which he called out Kudela's defence of just swearing at him as "a complete utter lie which does not stand up to any form of scrutiny".

Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara has demanded UEFA shows it is serious about banishing racism after he reported receiving "vile" abuse from Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela.

Kamara claimed he was targeted by Kudela during Rangers' Europa League defeat to Slavia on Thursday.

The Czech club have strenuously denied the allegations and issued a statement on Friday defending Kudela.

Kudela, who covered his mouth with his hand, leaned in to Kamara and said something which sparked fury from the Rangers man and his team-mate Bongani Zungu.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard spoke to his Slavia counterpart Jindrich Trpisovsky on the pitch at full-time and then later on the touchline, along with officials from each club and tournament organisers UEFA.

Gerrard later insisted he stood by Kamara, and UEFA has said it will investigate incidents from the game. Kamara issued his personal recollection of events through his solicitor on Friday evening.

"There is no place for racism or any form of bigotry in football," Kamara said in his statement, which he published on his Twitter account.

"Since summer many of us have taken the knee in solidarity with those who have lost their lives to racial violence. If UEFA genuinely want to 'show racism the red card', then it's time to stop the tokenism and take a zero-tolerance approach.

"As a player I do not expect myself, nor any other to have to tolerate racial hatred on or off the pitch in 2021. The vile racist abuse by Ondrej Kedel [sic], took place on the international stage, and any failure to act by UEFA will be viewed as a green light for racism.

"During yesterday's match with Slavia Prague, Kedel (sic) was arguing with a Rangers player and after I tried to intervene, he told me to shut up and then said 'one second, my friend'.

"He then came over to me covering his mouth, leaning into my ear, he uttered the words – 'You're a f****** monkey, you know you are'.

"I was shocked and horrified to hear such racist abuse from a professional football player. Kedel's claim he simply swore at me and said 'You're a f****** guy' is a complete utter lie which does not stand up to any form of scrutiny.

"Kedel's actions were deliberate and premeditated, but he was loud enough for my team-mate Bongani Zungu to hear what was said."

Kamara went on to thank Gerrard and the club, as well as Rangers' fanbase, while also highlighting that Kemar Roofe – who was sent off for a high lunge on Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar – had received racist abuse on Instagram.

On Friday it was confirmed Kolar had suffered a frontal sinus fracture.

Slavia said they have made a criminal complaint since the match, after alleging Kamara "physically abused" Kudela in the presence of officials from UEFA and both clubs.

They defended Kudela as "a football gentleman", and reiterated the centre-back refuted the racism allegations against him.

The Football Association (FA) has apologised to survivors of historic child sexual abuse after an independent review found it "did not do enough to keep children safe".

The Sheldon review examined the abuse of children within English football between 1970 and 2005 and criticised the FA for being "too slow" to implement protection measures between 1995 and May 2000.

Prior to the middle of 1995, the report said there was no evidence of the FA being aware of an abuse problem, but the period immediately afterwards came in for strong criticism.

“This was an institutional failing by the FA, for which there is no excuse,” the Sheldon review read.

It was also concluded that the FA "did not act appropriately" when serial sex offender Barry Bennell was released from prison in 2003 because it failed to put measures in place to prevent him from returning to football.

Bennell, a former coach at Crewe Alexandra and a scout at Manchester City, was jailed for nine years in 1998 for offences against six boys.

In November 2016, former Crewe player Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to detail how he was sexually abused by Bennell between the ages of 11 and 15.

That set in motion a chain of events, with numerous other survivors coming forward, and Bennell was jailed for 30 years in 2018 for offences against 12 boys, with a further four-year sentence coming in October 2020 when he was found guilty of abusing two more victims.

Reflecting on "a dark day for the beautiful game", FA chief executive Mark Bullingham addressed the survivors directly in a statement.

"You have the deepest admiration of the FA. Your bravery throughout this process has been incredible. Your voices have been so powerful," he said.

"I'd like to start by giving a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Football Association and the English game to all survivors, that this happened to you within football. No child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.

"What you went through was horrific and it is deeply upsetting that more was not done by the game at the time, to give you the protection you deserved.

"There are consistent features in this review. Of bystanders who didn't do anything. Of children that weren't believed. Of the damage that has been caused."

The review contacted all amateur and professional clubs in England and Wales and singled out Crewe, Manchester City, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Southampton, Stoke City and Peterborough United for criticism.

City's association with Bennell came under the spotlight, along with their "wholly inadequate" response to connections with another paedophile, John Broome, who preyed on young boys while managing one of the club's feeder teams.

"The club's board of directors wishes to apologise publicly and unreservedly for the unimaginable suffering experienced by those who were abused as a result of the club’s association with these men," read a statement issued by City, who commissioned their own review into historic child sexual abuse in November 2016, led by Jane Mulcahy QC.

"More widely, the club expresses its sincerest admiration for every survivor – those that have spoken freely, those who spoke anonymously and those who are yet to disclose and indeed may choose never to do so.  

"Their bravery and strength must never be forgotten and always be acknowledged."

The Sheldon review makes 13 recommendations over how to keep children in football safe.

The FA has been encouraged to widen its system of spot-checks for grassroots club and review its safeguarding measures.

Additionally, the FA Board should have a "Children's Safeguarding Champion", with every Premier League and Championship club also having a full-time safeguarding officer.

"Having considered the review, we accept the findings and insights it provides," said the Premier League in a statement.

"The Premier League is committed to working in partnership with our clubs and their community organisations, the FA, statutory agencies and other key partners to address the conclusions and recommendations, which will further strengthen safeguarding arrangements across the game."

Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury have signed a two-fight deal to face each other for the undisputed heavyweight championship, promoter Eddie Hearn has announced.

British rivals Joshua and Fury have been in negotiations for several months to agree showdowns for the four major belts in boxing's glamour division.

Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) holds the WBA, WBO and IBF belts, having successfully defended his title with a ninth-round stoppage of Kubrat Pulev at Wembley Arena in December.

Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) sensationally dethroned Deontay Wilder to claim the WBC crown in February last year but has not boxed since.

A date and venue for the initial encounter are yet to be confirmed, although Hearn – who promotes Joshua under his Matchroom Sport banner – told ESPN on Monday that both parties put pen to paper over the weekend.

"We'd like to get a site deal confirmed in the next month," Hearn said.

"The hard part is always getting everybody to put pen to paper. But this was a major effort from all parties to get this over the line.

"You had rival promoters, rival networks and rival fighters."

The hurdles to overcome in getting to this point were not inconsiderable, with Fury working under a co-promotional deal with Frank Warren and Bob Arum's Top Rank, both of whom have rival broadcasting agreements to Hearn's contracts with Sky Sports in the UK and DAZN globally.

Fury's most recent bouts have been aired by BT Sport in his homeland and via ESPN in the United States.

The expectation of ongoing coronavirus restrictions makes the prospect of at least the first fight taking place on British soil feel far-fetched, with a return of heavyweight title boxing to the Middle East – where Joshua avenged his only career defeat against Andy Ruiz Jr with a December 2019 points win in Saudi Arabia – appearing most likely.

"I actually feel we've done the hard part," Hearn said. "Speaking for myself, Anthony and his team at 258 management, I know how hard we've worked hard these last couple of months and I just feel that this fight is so big it's not a difficult sell.

"We've already had approaches from eight or nine sites. The offers have come from multiple countries in the Middle East, from Asia, eastern Europe and America.

"This is the biggest fight in boxing and one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It will be a major, major win for a country that wants to showcase itself."

Some typically idiosyncratic interviews from Fury over recent days, where he stated he had no interest in boxing in the UK again, while claiming to have stopped training in favour of "concentrating on getting me 10 pints of Stella", appeared to cast some doubt upon the Joshua fights getting over the line – especially considering the 32-year-old's previously well-documented struggles with alcohol and depression.

"You never really know with Tyson," Hearn said. "It could be mind games. He could be having a bad day. He could be a little p***** off. Or he could be having a joke.

"One of the fascinations about this fight will be the build-up because they're two totally different characters, two totally different personalities. The mind games will be on another level for this fight. Tyson is very good at that.

"Anthony is excited by that. He's so pumped, so focused, he hasn't stopped training since the Pulev fight. He's like a caged lion. The build-up is going to be epic."

Kawhi Leonard revealed his concern over the Los Angeles Clippers' lack of consistency after a 135-115 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans. 

The Pelicans put on a fine showing, led by 27 points from Zion Williamson and 23 from Brandon Ingram in New Orleans as the Clippers were soundly beaten. 

Leonard had 23 points for the visitors, but it was a seventh defeat in 11 for  Tyronn Lue's men, who were 21-8 before that. 

"It's very concerning," said Leonard. "[If] we want to have a chance at anything, you've got to be consistent. 

"You know, that's what the great teams do, they're consistent. They have their nights when the energy's not there, but it's all about consistency, from teams to players to coaches. 

"That's what makes a team great, players great, coaches great; a consistency of being, wanting to win, and doing pretty much the same habits of winning."

Clippers coach Lue was frustrated by his team's failure to match the fight shown by the Pelicans and conceded they would have to be much better to stand a chance against Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks on Monday, having suffered a 124-73 thrashing against them earlier this season.

"Teams are going at us, and we got to put up more resistance," Lue said.

"I am not discouraged, because we have shown what we can do, and we can play at a high level. But we got to do it every single night. We can't keep talking about it.

"We got to f****** ... sorry, we got to do it.

"If we play like this again tomorrow, it can be another 50-point loss. We got to be ready, got to be prepared, and we got to have our stuff together, man."

Kyrie Irving has his eyes on the prize after starring for the Brooklyn Nets in a Thursday's 121-109 victory over his former team the Boston Celtics.

Irving put up 40 points in the Nets' first game back since the NBA All-Star break, reminding the Celtics what they have been missing out on since he left in 2019.

His efforts laid the foundations for a 12th win in 13 games for the Nets, who were without Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin as former MVP James Harden posted 22 points and 10 rebounds.

While Irving clearly enjoyed his night's work, he is looking ahead to the playoffs after snapping the Celtics' four-game winning run.

"I'm just waiting for the main stage," he said. "Playing in front of millions of people and it actually mattering in terms of win or lose or go home.

"I'm looking forward to that, but games like this in the middle of the season against guys that you know well, that's always a blessing."

Irving hugged his old team-mates at the end of the contest, apparently making a mockery of the notion he has a frosty relationship with his erstwhile colleagues.

"Big surprise to a lot of people," he joked. "All that s*** talking about me and all the relationships I have with every former team-mate of mine."

Harden was full of praise for Irving, suggesting it was the 28-year-old's mental toughness that elevated him above the crowd.

"He's a different breed," Harden said. "He has that killer mentality in a sense of, no matter who we play or where we're playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent, and that's something that you'd want on your team at all times.

"That mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league."

Expectations are high in Chicago as the White Sox set their sights on the World Series.

Gone are the days of 100-loss seasons, with 2018's 62-100 record consigned to bitter memory. The White Sox are in contention mode after catapulting themselves into the mix last year, with a rebuild firmly in the rear-view mirror following a remarkable ascent during the 2020 coronavirus-shortened MLB season.

Led by American League (AL) MVP Jose Abreu, the White Sox returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But it is win-now for the White Sox, who swapped manager Rick Renteria for Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in pursuit of a first World Series crown in 16 years.

Liam Hendriks is another new face in Chicago as the White Sox look to emerge from the shadows of city rivals the Cubs, who claimed the ultimate prize in 2016.

All eyes are on the White Sox in 2021 and while most projections tip La Russa's team to do well, All-Star closer Hendriks and his team-mates are focused on silencing the naysayers.

There will be a limited number of White Sox fans allowed to attend their home opener on April 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the team visit the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Day (April 1).

"There's been some projections that said we will be pretty good this year, but there's been some that we've taken a little offensively," Hendriks told Stats Perform News. "We're focusing more on the bad ones.

"The mindset we gotta take is 'you guys don't think we're gonna get to 95, 100 or however many wins, we're gonna prove you wrong and watch us do what we need to do and we're gonna go out there and make sure we win this division'.

"The biggest thing is making sure we prove people wrong. It's time for the city of Chicago to get on the White Sox bandwagon, it's been on the Cubs one for too long now."

The White Sox snapped a 12-year postseason drought in 2020 – officially going from rebuilder to contender.

They were the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot, but only won three of their remaining 12 regular-season games as the White Sox took their foot off the pedal.

It proved detrimental as Hendriks and the Oakland Athletics eliminated the White Sox in the Wild Card Round.

Having contributed to the White Sox's demise, 2019 All-Star Hendriks now finds himself at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the experienced Australian signed a three-year, $54million contract via free agency – a record annual average salary for a relief pitcher at $18m.

"They did a really good job with their team last season," Hendriks said. "They had a bunch of good players and guys developing they were hoping for. Hopefully we can take it into this year.

"The big thing for me is keeping the foot on the gas for as long as we can. They self-admitted that once they clinched a playoff spot last year, they kind of got too relaxed, they thought they'd made it.

"All of sudden, they went 3-12 the last two weeks and they were looking at a wildcard spot instead of hosting a series. That's big difference."

Hendriks was named Reliever of the Year in the American League in 2020 after finishing with a 3-1 record, a 1.78 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves (second best in MLB), 37 strikeouts and three walks over 24 appearances and 25.3 innings.

His WHIFF percentage (swings and misses/pitches) was 180 last season – sixth best in MLB last season among pitchers who faced at least 50 batters. Compared to his new White Sox team-mates, Lucas Giolito (141) was the closest to that figure, well ahead of Codi Heuer (128), Lance Lynn (125) and Dallas Keuchel (81).

"The big thing I'm hoping to bring in is that intensity. It doesn't matter, you could clinch in July but that last month of the season is more absolutely more important than anything because that's when you get the momentum going into the playoffs and that's the one thing we have to focus on," said Hendriks, who spent four years with the Athletics before moving to Chicago at the end of 2020.

"The other thing, just dealing with some of the young guys in the bullpen. They had a good first taste of the big leagues last year but this is generally the year where guys have their biggest struggles – that sophomore slump.

"They think they have it all figured out but the league makes adjustments. Being able to deal with that and bounce ideas off the veteran guys out there is important. That's why bringing in guys like Lance Lynn, who's won a ring before, is a big deal."

Hendriks joins a bullpen that boasts World Series champions in Keuchel (also an AL Cy Young Award winner) and Lynn, as well 2019 All-Star Giolito.

"The biggest thing is I'm not trying to stand out at all in this bullpen," the 32-year-old continued. "We have too many guys who can do too many special things.

"This is the part where I can lean on what has happened to me in my career. Me and Evan Marshall in the team – we've both had our ups and downs and bounced around a bit, but we've come to a position where we're at now.

"We have some guys out there who are younger, in the middle and guys like me and Evan who are a little older with kind of life experiences.

"We're not trying to stand out. We're just trying to make sure we're flowing as a unit. If one of us has a tough day, the next guy in line picks us up. That's how it's gotta be. It's not one guy coming to save the rescue, it's an entire collection.

"We're gonna have seven or eight guys out there and at certain points of the year, we're gonna have to rely on all seven or eight to get it done and making sure we have confidence in everyone at all times."

Not since 2005, when sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series, have the White Sox reigned supreme, but Hendriks added: "I think they have the right attitude [this year]. A lot of young guys. But this is a window that's not only open for just a year, but will be open for several years. I'm excited about being a part of that. They got a little taste of it last year.

"That's generally how it goes, you get your feet wet and the next year you're ready and know what to expect and embrace it. You don't let the moment get too big for you, you just take care of business. Hopefully we can make a bit of a run at it."

Hendriks is one of the MLB's superior closers, but it has not been an easy journey for the Perth native, rather a long and winding road taking him to the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, back to the Blue Jays and then the Athletics in 2016.

It was not until landing in Oakland and some words of wisdom from a tarot card reader that Hendriks truly felt that he belonged in the big leagues.

Since taking over as the Athletics' closer on June 21 in 2019, Hendriks has recorded a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings pitched, with 39 saves, 14.7 strikeout rate and a 0.79 WHIP in 65 appearances, which all rank first in the league.

"A lot of the time, I felt like I was just there," Hendriks said. "I didn't feel like I had a place where to succeed. I put ceilings on myself. I'd cap myself in statistical categories or whether it be in the role I was at – I'm not that guy, I'll never be at that point. Just hoping to eke out here and there.

"Then I had a bit of a come to Jesus moment, where I used some different sources. My wife actually connected us with a tarot card reader – Ruby. She had no idea about baseball and she still has zero idea about baseball. But she was like, 'okay, why can't you do that?'. Then you get thinking, 'she's right, why can't I?'.  Why can't I break that record or get to his position that I thought was unattainable? You take those ceilings off and restrictions away, all of a sudden let the engine purr a little bit and look where we are.

"There was a lot of perseverance and persistence. The biggest thing for me is trying to prove people wrong. There's a lot of people out there that say I can't do it again, can't do it again, can't do it again. Now, it's going out to prove them wrong – 'you don't think I can do it again? Watch me, this is what I'm gonna do'."

Hendriks, who was close to re-joining AL rivals the Blue Jays continued: "It comes down to having a positive mindset. I had a chat with the pitchers recently. I consider myself some kind of a leader. I wanted to see where their minds are at.

"On the board, I wrote FIGJAM – f*** I'm good, just ask me. That positive mindset is one of the biggest things. If you throw a pitch with conviction, a pitch that you really want to throw, it's going to be better than a perfectly placed other pitch because you had that vibe, intensity and aggressiveness behind it.

"Convincing these guys, your pitches get people out. It's not like, okay he is usually getting a hit.

"The best hitter in the league is going to get a hit three out of 10 times, that means we win seven out of 10 times. That's the best hitter in the league. Don't ever doubt yourself against anybody.

"Pitchers are better than hitters and that's what we need to prove every time. Prove that you're better than the hitter in every single moment. That's one of the things I've taken into it. No matter what happens, you can't hit my fastball. I'm just going to keep throwing it until you get close to it, then all of a sudden, I'll pull the string and throw something else.

"It's a little cat and mouse game but you have to have the confidence behind it."

Hendriks is somewhat of a ninth-inning specialist, having recorded a 1.42 ERA (third), 0.68 WHIP (first) last season in 19 games. Over the course of his career, he has managed 95 games in the ninth inning – only tallying more in the seventh inning since entering MLB.

Since 2018, Hendriks tops the list for ERA (1.81) in the ninth inning among pitchers to have pitched 50 innings, while his WHIP figure (0.80) is only second to Josh Hader (0.77).

So, is there an advantage to having a traditional closer as opposed to a more analytic or committee approach?

"I think there is," Hendriks insisted. "I may be a bit biased because I want the ninth inning. Just purely based on the fact that you'll see guys and they will be really good in the highest leveraged situations throughout the game or anything and then they struggle in the ninth inning. It's a different mindset, different way of approaching the ball.

"In saying that, it gives some fluidly. All of a sudden, if you're up by three, you know you're getting the ninth. If you know you're getting the ninth, you prepare for that inning. If you're not sure when you're going to pitch between the sixth and the ninth, the preparation gets a little different.

"Some guys are good at it, some guys aren't. I think any time you give a guy a certain role, it's easier to adapt. If you get that consistent role, you know what you need to do to get ready."

Data and artificial intelligence continue to play a huge role in MLB, and Hendriks added: "I have two separate ways of looking at it. I love the analytical side off the field because I love to be able to be able to compare and look at something and be like, 'okay, what was I doing when I was good, what was I doing when I was bad? What is the difference and this is one area I need to focus on'. Whether it be, for me, release height, release extension point, the spin axis, the spin rate and all that fun stuff.

"And as soon as the game hits, I don't know a single thing. I want to be as stupid as I can on the mound because as soon as you start overthinking things, you just start thinking that, you'll come up with some negative ideas and it snowballs.

"For me, I love the analytical stuff off field and ways to get better, but on the field, I want to be as dumb as possible. I use a company and they print out these little maps. The maps are colour-coordinated – get in the blue, blue is good and red is bad. It's the easiest thing for me to remember.

"I pull up my piece of paper in the bullpen, be like okay, so and so are coming up – blue, blue, blue. I don't even look at the red. I just notice where the blue is. So it's okay, fast balls up this guy is good. Easy. then I don't have to worry about anything else.

"It's a lot easier to play the game when you're not having to worry about anything else and letting everything take over."

The NBA fined Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell $25,000 after his scathing criticism of officials following his ejection in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Mitchell stormed off the court and kicked a water cooler towards a security guard after he was tossed from the showdown in Philadelphia, where the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers prevailed 131-123.

Utah's Mitchell picked up two technical fouls in overtime after 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid had forced OT with a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining.

Level at 118-118 at the start of overtime, the 76ers went on to outscore NBA leaders the Jazz 13-5 in the additional period before Mitchell unleashed post-game.

"I'm never ever one to blame a ref, blame an official, but this is getting out of hand," Mitchell, who posted 33 points, said after the game.

"There have been games like this we've one. Games we've lost. We're nice, we don't complain, we don't get frustrated, we fight through things.

"But the fact that we continuously get screwed in a way by this … It's getting f****** ridiculous."

Mitchell was fined for public criticism of officiating and his conduct while exiting the playing court, executive vice-president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe announced.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert was also fined $20,000 for public criticism of officiating.

Gobert was quoted as saying: "Our guys are not able to get calls everybody else in the f****** league gets. We know we are the Utah Jazz, and maybe some people don't want to see us go as far as we can go, but it's disappointing.

"Three times in a row, Mike Conley is going to the rim, and they're grabbing him right in front of the officials, and there's no calls. And on the other end, there are calls that are invisible that are being made."

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell was scathing in his criticism of officials after he was ejected in the thrilling 131-123 overtime defeat against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Mitchell stormed off the court and kicked a water cooler towards a security guard after he was tossed from Wednesday's showdown in Philadelphia, where the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers prevailed.

Utah's Mitchell picked up two technical fouls in overtime after 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid had forced OT with a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining.

Level at 118-118 at the start of overtime, the 76ers went on to outscore NBA leaders the Jazz 13-5 in the additional period before Mitchell unleashed post-game.

"I'm never ever one to blame a ref, blame an official, but this is getting out of hand," Mitchell, who posted 33 points, said.

"There have been games like this we've one. Games we've lost. We're nice, we don't complain, we don't get frustrated, we fight through things.

"But the fact that we continuously get screwed in a way by this … It's getting f****** ridiculous."

Jazz head coach Quin Snyder added: "The challenge is when you don't get the whistles you want — and those things always happen — is to play through it and continue to compete.

"I thought we did that. Obviously, I heard Donovan's comments. Obviously, there's a level of frustration that he has, that we have, and that's something that presumably you can't control.

"But give Philly credit. Embiid hit a big shot. We were on him trying not to give up a three. And then we weren't able to close the other way and overtime got away from us. We just have to take a break, regroup and continue to compete."

The Jazz (27-9) have lost back-to-back games but still own the NBA's best record as they top the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break.

Philadelphia – riding a two-game winning streak – are half a game clear of the Brooklyn Nets in the east ahead of Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta.

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