Found May 01, 2013 on Fox Soccer:
PLAYERS: Jose Mourinho
Rafa Benitez says rumours of Jose Mourinho returning to Chelsea will not distract him from the task of beating Basel on Thursday. The outgoing UEFA Champions League holders are 90 minutes away from a second successive European final and take a 2-1 lead into the second leg of their Europa League semi-final at Stamford Bridge. But the build-up to the game has been overshadowed by Mourinho's strongest hint yet that he could leave Real Madrid for west London this summer. Asked about the prospect of handing over to Mourinho, an at-times bitter rival when Benitez was at Liverpool, Chelsea's interim boss was not interested in adding fuel to the fire. He said: "It's not my business. I have to concentrate on this game. That's it. I think it's quite important." Pressed for his opinion on Mourinho's reference to moving "where people love me" Benitez said: "Each one has his way. My way is to concentrate on the next game, that's it." Benitez's immediate concern is holding off Thursday's Swiss visitors, who scored twice at Tottenham in the previous round, and moving a step closer to recapturing the trophy he won as Valencia manager nine years ago. He said: "Winning a trophy is important to everyone. We are not in the final yet and we are playing against a tough team. "Basel will come trying to score, they did it against Spurs and I am sure they will have the same approach. They need to score. "We have a good team and we are so close to the final we have to be concentrated. I have a lot of confidence in my players." The 28-year-old will now miss Sunderland's remaining three games against Stoke, Southampton and Tottenham as Paolo Di Canio's men battle for survival. Referee Lee Probert issued a straight red card for Sessegnon's second-half challenge on Yacouba Sylla as the Black Cats slumped to a 6-1 Premier League defeat. The player was astonished to be dismissed and Di Canio signalled the club's intention to appeal within minutes of the final whistle, but that has been rejected. An FA statement read: "At an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing today, Stephane Sessegnon's claim of wrongful dismissal was unsuccessful meaning the Sunderland AFC player's three-match ban remains with immediate effect. "Sessegnon was dismissed for serious foul play during his side's game against Aston Villa on Monday 29 April 2013." The Benin international's red card was the second of his career in England, the first coming in a 1-1 league draw at Newcastle in March last year. Sessegnon's absence will come as a major blow as he has been in sparkling form under new boss Di Canio, scoring the first goal in their 3-0 derby win at Newcastle and then firing his side to victory over Everton six days later to send them clear of the relegation zone. Despite their humiliation at Villa, Sunderland, like Paul Lambert's men and the Magpies, remain five points better off than 18th-placed Wigan, although the Latics have a game in hand. Sunderland take on the Potters and Southampton at home in their next two games and will hope to have safety wrapped up before travelling to White Hart Lane on the final day to face a Tottenham side which could still be battling for a Champions League place. The utility man was one of the first players to pledge his future to the Light Blues last summer when they were demoted to Scottish football's bottom tier after liquidation was confirmed. While several other senior members of the squad opted to seal moves elsewhere, McCulloch was keen to stay at the club and play a big part in the recovery process. And, as he prepares to lift the Division Three trophy in front of a sell-out crowd on Saturday, McCulloch is convinced he made the right choice. He said: "I wouldn't say I've had any regrets at all. "You see the support from the fans, you see the manager take the reins and, as an experienced player, you want to try to help him and the club and the fans. "I don't think there have been any regrets. I'm actually delighted that I stayed." McCulloch - who turns 35 this month - penned a new deal in October that keeps him at Ibrox until 2015 and fully intends to see out the rest of his career with Rangers. He added: "I've got two years left, which is a very long time in football. "It's the old cliche, I can only take each game as it comes, but I definitely want to be here for the rest of my career." With league reconstruction plans now unlikely to be in place for the coming season, Rangers are set to progress to the Second Division next term. And McCulloch has backed the fans to continue their impressive support of the club which saw Rangers boast some of the highest attendances in the UK this season. He said: "It's very important they back us again. "We had 38,000 [season tickets] this season so to get close to that, or if we can even beat that, would be unbelievable. "We need them more than ever, the same as we did this year. "We need them again and there is no doubt they will turn out in their numbers and be selling the place out. "Saturday's game will be a chance to say thanks to them." McCulloch believes Rangers need to bolster their squad with some new faces ahead of the new campaign. A transfer embargo means the club must wait until September 1 to register free agents and boss Ally McCoist has already identified a number of targets. And, as much as the young players thrust into the spotlight this term have largely coped well with the experience, McCulloch acknowledges that reinforcements are needed. He said: "I think the young players will show they are good enough to get the chance again next season. "But the players know themselves that new faces need to come in. "If there are new players coming in to help the young boys and myself and everybody else then that can only be positive for the club." Former striker Nacho Novo has expressed a desire to return to Rangers when his contract with Huesca in his native Spain expires this summer - a move which would be welcomed by McCulloch. He said: "What Nacho has done for the club, the type of character Nacho is, his personality, everything about him - it would be great to have him back. "He is a really passionate Rangers fan and player and I think it would give the place a lift if Nacho came back. "There are more than Nacho who would possibly like to come back. "You've got Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd and people like that and it would be good to get some of the old guns back."
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