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Virgil van Dijk set to start against Tottenham

West Ham have sacked director of player recruitment Tony Henry after claims he told agents the club do not want to sign any more African players.

The Hammers have acted swiftly following the allegations, having previously suspended him on Thursday.

According to the emails obtained by the Daily Mail, Henry wrote that the Hammers wanted to limit the number of African players because "they have a bad attitude" and "cause mayhem" when they are not starting.

A club statement read: "West Ham United have today terminated the contract of Director of Player Recruitment, Tony Henry, with immediate effect following his unacceptable comments that were widely reported in the press.

"Our action follows a full and thorough investigation. West Ham United will not tolerate any type of discrimination.

"The West Ham United family is an inclusive one where, regardless of gender, age, ability, race, religion or sexual orientation, everybody feels welcome and included."

Hammers boss David Moyes had already distanced the club from the comments allegedly made by Henry.

Moyes, who also worked with Henry at Everton, highlighted their failed attempts to sign both Algeria's Islam Slimani and the Cameroon-born Ibrahim Amadou before Wednesday's transfer deadline.

He said: "The comments are wrong. We were signing two players from Africa on deadline day so I can only say they are wrong.

"You can see the players the club has signed over the years -- we sign good quality players, the best we can get. It doesn't matter where they are from.

"Never, ever, never at all [have I experienced prejudice like that]. I don't think there are many other clubs who have as many African players as West Ham. I find it difficult to believe anyone could say we are not a multi-national team who sign good players, the best available.

"Over my time I've had good African players and bad African players -- it's just like having good Scottish players and bad Scottish players."

West Ham have six first-team squad members of African descent: Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang, Joao Mario, Angelo Ogbonna, Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes.

Senegal striker Diafra Sakho left the club in the January to join Rennes and Ghana forward Andre Ayew returned to Swansea.

The Professional Footballers' Association had also previously described West Ham's "swift action" of suspending Henry as "encouraging", adding in a statement: "We trust they will deal with this in keeping with football's position on all matters of equality and anti-racism."

LONDON -- Until recently, there had been something surreal and vaguely comical about the persistent reports that Antonio Conte might be sacked.

The fact that the Italian had to field questions about his future shortly after Chelsea's loss to Burnley on the opening day of the season jarred at the time, and the performances and results that followed -- while not without setbacks -- provided his most powerful riposte.

Wednesday's humiliation at home to Bournemouth, however, has shifted the landscape. The worst defeat of the Conte era has come at the worst possible time, compounding a stuttering start to 2018 just as Liverpool and Tottenham look resurgent and adding another layer to the tension between the Chelsea board and their increasingly outspoken head coach.

Conte has always insisted that he prefers to tell a "bad truth" than a "good lie", but in recent weeks his penchant for pessimism -- about the fixture list, about the depth of his squad, about Chelsea's spending power compared to the Manchester clubs -- has not been well received. Prior to kick-off against Bournemouth he let it be known that his preparations for the match had been rendered a "disaster" by Michy Batshuayi's deadline-day loan move to Borussia Dortmund.

Tellingly, the decision to prepare for the match with Batshuayi upfront despite the high likelihood of his departure suggested either a wilful (and self-defeating) disregard for Chelsea's transfer intentions or, worse, a worrying lack of communication with chief dealmaker Marina Granovskaia. Michael Emenalo, the chosen intermediary between the head coach and the hierarchy, left in November and has been missed.

You sense an even dimmer view will have been taken of Conte's post-match insistence that he is doing a "great job" and "exploiting this squad at the maximum level". Chelsea's attack has stalled since the turn of the year, failing to score in four of nine matches and, even accounting for depleted options, was startlingly toothless with Eden Hazard operating as a false nine against Bournemouth.

There has also been a hint of mischief in Conte's claims about the extent to which he is bypassed in Chelsea's transfer decision-making.

It is true that he does not have the biggest or even the final say, but Olivier Giroud revealed that a conversation with Chelsea's head coach played a key role in him wanting to move to Stamford Bridge. "I asked for this type of player, with this characteristics, from my club, and the club gave me this opportunity with Giroud," Conte said on Friday.

Chelsea hope that the arrivals of Giroud and Emerson Palmieri, coupled with the close of the transfer window, will enable Conte to refocus publicly and privately on what he has, rather than what he has been denied. If the recent slide continues, February has the potential to be both ugly and decisive.

Barcelona, the team Conte described as "maybe the best team in this moment in Europe" outside England, await in the Champions League round of 16 later this month. The first leg at Stamford Bridge is preceded by hosting Hull City in the FA Cup -- Chelsea's only realistic remaining hope of silverware -- and followed by Premier League matches away against Manchester United and Manchester City.

There is no desire at Chelsea to see Conte go before the summer, when a mutually convenient parting of the ways seems the likeliest outcome. Conte, in turn, reiterated on Friday that he has no desire to leave before his contract expires in June 2019, though he can hardly be expected to say anything else.

An intervention before the end of the season will only be made if this recent stumble accelerates into something worse. It is unlikely that defeat to Barcelona will meet the criteria, but the top-four finish that Conte regards as a "great success" is considered the minimum requirement by those above him. Defeat to Bournemouth has left Chelsea just two points above fifth-placed Tottenham with a demanding run of fixtures ahead.

The Italian Football Association have, in recent days, made no secret of their desire to see Conte return and resurrect a national team in unprecedented crisis, but such a move would be surprising given the extent to which he pined for the daily rigours of club coaching in the lead up to Euro 2016.

In any case Conte will not lack for alternatives; his greatest consolation is that when he does finally leave Chelsea, his reputation and achievements in two very different footballing countries and cultures will make him the most coveted coach on the market.

Until then, Conte, like so many of his Chelsea predecessors, will have to tune out the noise and ignore the ominous suggestions that every miscalculation or misfortune could be his last at Stamford Bridge. "As you know very well, I trust in my work," he said on Friday when asked how he avoids doubting himself. He then pointedly added: "This is the only thing I trust."

Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.

New York City FC has entered a brave new world and plenty of eyes are watching.

The club's majority owner is the City Football Group (CFG). It owns Manchester City among others and, from the moment the Yankee Stadium-based club was established in 2013, its relationship to the mother ship and, in particular, its Premier League club, has raised questions. Would NYCFC be a feeder team? A dumping ground for castoffs? Was the investment by CFG a way to skirt financial fair play (FFP) rules?

There has never been any doubt about links between the two clubs but, for the first three years of NYCFC's existence, the flow of players and resources was primarily in one direction: From Manchester to New York.

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira arrived fresh from leading Man City's reserve team, for example, while numerous players have gone to England to train during the offseason. Man City midfielder Yangel Herrera is in the midst of a two-year loan with NYCFC.

But in the past week, a pair of transactions has cast the relationship between the two teams in a new light. First, there was the announcement -- by apparel company Umbro, not Man City -- that U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud had signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Man City.

Then NYCFC midfielder Jack Harrison joined Man City for a fee of around $6 million, according to ESPN FC sources, with the potential for add-ons. He was immediately loaned to Championship side Middlesbrough.

The Diskerud deal, which an ESPN FC source has confirmed but is yet to be publicly acknowledged by Man City, has caused head-scratching. Last year, Vieira was so eager to get rid of the midfielder that, in accordance with MLS roster rules, NYCFC exercised a buyout of the player's contract. But the term "buyout" is something of a misnomer.

Practically speaking, it removed Diskerud's hit on the salary cap for the remainder of the contract, though NYCFC was still on the hook to pay him the approximately $1.5m he was due over the deal's remaining two years. In March 2017 he moved on loan to Swedish club IFK Gothenburg and, when no permanent deal was forthcoming at its conclusion, his MLS contract was terminated. 

A source with knowledge of the Man City deal said that Diskerud will not train with the first team nor will he be loaned to another CFG affiliate, adding that the aim is to sell or loan him again. Meanwhile, as far as MLS is concerned, the deal complied with league rules and no competitive advantage was gained since Diskerud's cap hit had already been handled by the buyout.

"The transaction was entirely consistent with our league rules, which allow teams to buy out or absorb the cost of a player's contract in the offseason and free up the salary budget space," MLS executive vice-president Todd Durbin told ESPN FC.

Meanwhile, where Harrison is concerned, Stoke City were reported to be frontrunners for his signature, only for Man City to intervene at a reportedly lower initial fee.

The Diskerud and Harrison deals seem to follow the same general blueprint as that which saw Australian international midfielder Aaron Mooy join Man City in 2016 from Melbourne City -- another member of CFG -- before being loaned and later sold to Huddersfield for $14m.

Why do things this way? For City, any future sale helps them comply with FFP rules although, in the case of Diskerud, his potential impact seems likely to be almost nil. Harrison has more upside.

The benefit for NYCFC is that its financial responsibility to Diskerud has now been removed and, per league rules, it gets to keep half the Harrison fee, though only $750,000 -- up from last year's mark of $650,000 -- of that can be applied to the salary cap.

In terms of how the deals are being viewed in MLS circles, opinions vary. One MLS executive, who asked not to be identified, said when asked to comment on the Diskerud deal: "It's CFG's business. They can account for [his contract] however they want."

The same executive said the Harrison deal was a "great transfer" and, beyond Man City taking a player from an affiliated club, the fact that there was competition shows the pull of MLS.

"Stoke was interested and so was Middlesbrough. If young MLS players can command that kind of a fee, then that's a market that we want to participate in. That shows a respect for the valuation of players in our league that is frankly heartening. The mentality is changing that it's not a sign of weakness if we sell our players. It's a sign of efficiency. There was enough smoke there that I think there was legit interest from other parties."

But to others, both transactions invite a healthy dose of skepticism.

"Man City is a clearinghouse; that's exactly what it is," said one MLS executive, who asked not to be identified. "The Mix Diskerud thing, Man City is signing him because they see something special in him? It's a joke. My question is: Do you think Jack Harrison is going to play at Man City? I don't. So why are you buying him internally? I don't believe Stoke were willing to pay that much for him. It's really fishy when you have a [sister] club doing that for a player that is never going to play there."

MLS insists it is vigilant about ensuring there is no "blending of resources" or other financial sleight of hand when it comes to its teams with sister clubs, though that usually applies to players coming in, not those going out. The only other MLS team to which this scenario could apply is the New York Red Bulls: Red Bull GmbH also owns Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig from Germany.

It has always been the case that the league is duty-bound to make sure it gets fair-market value for its saleable assets, given its single-entity structure and control over player contracts. But the Harrison and Diskerud deals mark a new challenge.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.