UEFA's decision to hit Manchester City with a two-season ban from European football for Financial Fair Play breaches is likely to send shockwaves across elite club football.

But what next for the reigning Premier League champions at the eye of the storm?

Here, we have a look at what Friday's judgement means for City, Pep Guardiola and his Etihad Stadium stars.

 

Appeal could see City feature in next season's Champions League

City were swift in their response to UEFA's punishment, announcing their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Irrespective of whether City are successful in their attempts to overturn the sanctions or not, any CAS case is likely to run for months, meaning the appeal could still be ongoing when next season's Champions League rolls around.

However, even if this means City kick the can down the road and line up in Europe's top competition in 2020-21, there is little doubt the spectre of UEFA coming down hard on the club does little for long-term planning.

Guardiola's future

Guardiola is under contract at City until the end of 2020-21 and, throughout the course of an uneven campaign this time around, has frequently hinted he could be open to a longer stay.

The prospect of being denied annual shots at the competition that has eluded him since a second win with Barcelona in 2010-11 might change that, while UEFA landed their bombshell during the same week rumours linking Guardiola to Juventus surfaced once more.

The 49-year-old might find it harder than most managers to separate himself emotionally from boardroom events, given his close friend Ferran Soriano – a man instrumental in bringing him to Manchester – is City's chief executive officer and mastermind of their commercial strategy. Will his response be motivated more by loyalty or disappointment?

Summer rebuild on ice?

Despite intermittently hitting their brilliant best, City's laboured pursuit of Liverpool this season has suggested the end of a cycle for a gifted squad that has swept all before them domestically.

At least one centre-back, a left-back, a winger and possible even another central attacker could all have been on the agenda, but a prospective Champions League ban must now alter City's transfer plans.

Leroy Sane's long-rumoured exit now appears even more likely, while Europe's elite might even chance their arm with enquiries over the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Time for the Foden generation

City will now be on the outside looking in as a cluster of Europe's elite pursue their former academy product Jadon Sancho, but the immediate prospects for those currently in residence at the Etihad Campus look to have suddenly improved.

Guardiola has long earmarked 2020-21 as the campaign where Phil Foden will come to long-awaited prominence, given David Silva is bringing down the curtain on a glorious decade in Manchester when this season concludes.

Centre-back reinforcement can also come from within in the form of Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, while the prodigiously gifted Jayden Braaf might find some of his reported disciplinary problems within the academy system can now be met with a blind eye.

Domestic dominance 2.0

City will cede the Premier League to a relentless Liverpool but their 2018-19 treble might be chased again with renewed vigour next term.

The first-team squad might lose some of its depth of quality in these new circumstances, but a talent pool such as City's only being required to compete on a weekend-to-weekend basis represents a problem for those Premier League rivals being extended at home and abroad.

City's Champions League relationship broken beyond repair

City's fanbase have long nursed an uneasy relationship with the Champions League and the detente Guardiola clearly desires is now nothing other than a pipe dream.

Expect the booing of the competition anthem to reach a seething boiling point when Real Madrid visit the Etihad Stadium next month.

In a tournament where they have frequently flattered to deceive, City could do worse than to harness a siege mentality in what Guardiola can sell to his players as a now-or-never tilt for glory.

European heavyweights thumbing through their accounts

UEFA's FFP system is safe for now, but the forthcoming CAS appeal could become a long and torrid process.

City are sure to present a thorough case, which could end up casting a light on the business operations of other major clubs.

All of European football's major players will be watching on with unswerving interest and suspense.

Manchester City face an uncertain immediate future in European competition after UEFA announced a two-season ban for the Premier League club on Friday.

European football's chief governing body, who also administered a €30million fine, ruled City were guilty of "serious breaches" of its Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

It marked the end of a lengthy probe into City's financial affairs, which was launched following a series of allegations made by German publication Der Spiegel in November 2018.

City denied any wrongdoing throughout the process and immediately announced their intention to appeal against the decision.

Below we take a look back at how this point was reached.

 

November 2018: Football Leaks allegations emerge

It has been 15 months since Der Spiegel published a host of articles claiming the defending Premier League champions flagrantly flouted UEFA's FFP laws. The German publication purportedly gained the information from whistleblowers Football Leaks and claimed Sheikh Mansour's City regime topped up multi-million-pound sponsorship deals with Abu Dhabi companies, using their owner's fortune, to meet the financial rules. It was also claimed City were cut a favourable deal by UEFA for overspending in 2014. City said in response: "The attempt to damage the club's reputation is organised and clear".

November 2018: UEFA warns City FFP investigation could reopen

UEFA said it would consider reopening a 2014 probe, which saw City fined and have restrictions on the size of Champions League squad imposed, if "new information comes to light". Early in December, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said: "We are assessing the situation. We have an independent body working on it. Very soon you will have an answer on what will happen in this concrete case."

March 2019: UEFA launches formal investigation

It was almost a year ago UEFA formally started an investigation into Der Spiegel's allegations, with Club Financial Control Board chairman and former Belgium prime minister Yves Leterme warning the "heaviest punishment" City face is "expulsion from UEFA competitions". City said: "The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false. The club's published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record".

May 2019: City respond to ban reports

After reports emerged in the New York Times that City were facing the prospect of a one-year UEFA ban, the club released a statement registering concern that their "good faith" in UEFA's investigation into their financial affairs could be "misplaced". 

May 2019: "Hostile process" slammed by City

Leterme had earlier in the year told Belgian magazine Sport and Strategy that City should face a ban from UEFA competition if the allegations were proven. A strongly worded club statement slammed the CFCB investigation as a "hostile process" after the probe was referred to the body's adjudicatory chamber for a final decision after the completion of Leterme's inquiry. The club said they were "disappointed but regrettably not surprised" by the decision.

November 2019: Reports say City set to avoid ban

Towards the back end of last year, it was reported UEFA were struggling to enforce its FFP regulations and City could avoid a ban and escape only with a fine.

November 2019: CAS deems City appeal 'inadmissible'

In June last year, City appealed against UEFA's investigation into alleged breaches of FFP to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). However, five months later CAS ruled City's appeal as "inadmissible" because UEFA had not reached a final decision on the case.

February 2020: UEFA announces ban

After a lengthy process, UEFA announced City have been hit with a two-year ban from European competition and a hefty €30million fine. The Adjudicatory Chamber of the CFCB found City guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016". City again questioned the process of the investigation and announced their intention to launch an appeal with CAS "at the earliest opportunity".

Toby Alderweireld will not be absent from Tottenham's squad for Sunday's trip to Aston Villa despite his wife giving birth to their son on Friday, Jose Mourinho confirmed.

Belgian defender Alderweireld revealed on his official social media channels that his wife Shani gave birth to the couple's second child on Valentine's Day.

But Alderweireld will not be spending a first weekend with his son, Jace, as Mourinho confirmed he is expected back with Spurs on Saturday.

Mourinho offered his congratulations to the former Atletico Madrid centre-back, but seemed bemused when asked if Alderweireld would be given some time away from the team.

"For what? Time away for what?" Mourinho responded at Friday's news conference.

"His wife takes care of the baby. That is a top professional. His wife takes care of the baby. He was there in the moment, he stays there one more day with his wife and baby, enjoying a big moment for the family. Tomorrow [Saturday] back to his job."

Mourinho clashed with Anthony Martial during their time together at Manchester United when, in 2018, he felt the Frenchman spent too long with his family after the birth of his second child.

Martial left United's pre-season tour of the United States to be with his partner during labour, but after just three days away, Mourinho criticised him, adamant the France international "should be here and he is not here".

Manchester City have been given a two-season Champions League ban for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations, UEFA has announced.

The Premier League club must also pay a €30million fine as part of their punishments, which are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Following an investigation, the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found City guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016".

The probe into City's financial affairs was prompted by a series of allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018, which drew on documents purportedly obtained by whistleblowers Football Leaks.

City have denied wrongdoing throughout the process and swiftly stated their intention to appeal the verdict, accusing UEFA of a lack of impartiality in a strongly worded statement.

"Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today's announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber," the statement read.

"The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.  

"Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA. With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity."

The statement from the Premier League champions sounded a similarly strident tone to when they addressed being referred to the CFCB's Adjudicatory Chamber in May last year and they once again took specific issue with Yves Leterme - the former Belgian Prime Minister and UEFA's chief investigator.

City's appeal against that referral was dismissed as "inadmissible" by CAS last November because the CFCB had not determined a punishment at that stage.

CAS published details of that appeal this week, revealing City sought damages from UEFA over what they felt were "unlawful" leaks to the media – accusations Leterme believed to be "groundless" and "unacceptable in tone". CAS noted the allegations of leaks were "worrisome".

"In December 2018, the UEFA Chief Investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun," City's Friday statement read.

"The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver. 

"The club has formally complained to the UEFA Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling."

City completed a clean sweep of domestic trophies in England last season and have won five of the past six major English honours on offer.

European success has eluded Pep Guardiola and his players, however, and UEFA's ruling arguably heightens the importance of the forthcoming last-16 showdown with Real Madrid.

UEFA previously found City guilty of FFP breaches in 2014, with a €60m fine – later reduced to €20m after stipulated conditions were met – and a restriction in squad numbers for their 2014-15 Champions League campaign the punishment on that occasion.

Odion Ighalo does not need extensive work with his new Manchester United team-mates to have an impact on the pitch, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

United signed former Watford striker Ighalo from Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day on a loan deal that runs until the end of the season.

However, the 30-year-old did not join Solskjaer's squad in Spain for their mid-season break, with United exercising caution due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China.

United travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the Premier League on Monday - a trip Ighalo will make - with Solskjaer adamant forwards can still thrive without a lengthy integration period.

"I didn't have to have a training session to come on and do something," Solskjaer said.

"As a striker sometimes you know you just get thrown out there and do what you can. It might be that he'll have to come off the bench and get us a goal and then he just does whatever he's always done.

"He'll be involved with us [at Chelsea] and he'll travel down with us. Obviously now he's out of that two-week period of precaution - and it's just a precaution we've made. He'll travel with us and let's see if he's involved or not.

"We've kept in touch with him and of course we've done our own programme, he's done his. It was always going to be a case of him having to integrate to the group anyway after having been out in China.

"He needs to get used to the players and the team and up to speed as quick as he can.

"He's been working really hard, I think he's probably pinching himself at times because he's now at his favourite club at the age of 30 but he's earned that one. Hopefully he’ll impress us as much so we can see him play."

United sought a striker after Marcus Rashford sustained a double stress fracture in his back in an FA Cup replay with Wolves on January 15, ruling him out for around three months.

Few would have expected them to sign Nigeria international Ighalo, though, given his previous Premier League experience came with Watford between 2014 and 2017.

Ighalo scored 39 times in 99 games for the Hornets and netted five times during the Africa Cup of Nations last year, and Solskjaer has been impressed by his record in front of goal.

"[With] the injury to Marcus Rashford… It has to be said that we needed another forward," Solskjaer added.

"When we got the chance to get Odion, on a loan, that was for us a goalscorer, top scorer [at the] African Nations Cup last year, we think, yeah, he can help the club.

"I know he's a very professional player, good lad and he'll give something to the group."

Solskjaer confirmed he does not expect any of United's injured players to return at Stamford Bridge, meaning midfield duo Scott McTominay (knee) and Paul Pogba (ankle) will remain sidelined.

Mikel Arteta is keen for Arsenal to tie their most promising youngsters to the club with renewed contracts, but accepts he is not in charge of such matters.

Arsenal are going through something of a transition, with the club still rebuilding following the exit of long-time manager Arsene Wenger in 2018.

Wenger's replacement Unai Emery only lasted until November last year, leaving Arteta with a squad in relative limbo given it had been put together by different managers.

But under Emery, some talented young players began to emerge, with Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka all showing signs of great potential.

Saka, 18, has made arguably the biggest impact on the first-team this season, making 10 Premier League starts and often impressing with his ability on the ball.

The England youth international's contract expires in 2021, meaning Arsenal are running out of time to make their mind up about him, but Arteta is seemingly relaxed about the situation.

"I'm really happy how they [Arsenal's young players] are developing," Arteta told reporters on Friday ahead of Sunday's clash with Newcastle United.

"Part of that development is to improve their contracts and tie them to the club. That has to follow a natural process.

"We have Edu [technical director], Raul [Sanllehi, head of football], Vinai [Venkatesham] and Huss [Fahmy, contract negotiator] who are in charge of that.

"We will do the right things when players deserve to improve and extend their contract."

With Arteta at the helm, Arsenal bolstered their defensive options in January, making Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares the new coach's first two signings.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, with Arteta confirming the club is already working hard on end-of-season recruits.

"Absolutely, we have to plan," the Spaniard said. "We need to know the direction we want to have. To do that we need to bear in mind different scenarios.

"With that in mind, I have to tell the club what we need, where we think we can improve and where we want to aim. If we all aim for the same thing and we put a plan together to try to execute it and make the process as short as possible."

Neither of Arsenal's two new signings have made their debut yet and, although Mari is close to being in contention, Soares is not and neither will feature on Sunday.

Arteta added: "Pablo hasn't competed since the end of December. He had a little issue. He's been training with us the last week or so in and out a little bit. He's been looking good.

"I think this game will come a little bit too early for him, but I expect him to start joining the squad in the next week or so.

"[Cedric] is very disappointed. Obviously, when you join a new club you want to make an impression straight away.

"He had an issue in his knee. It's not completely healed yet. He hasn't been training with us. I expect him to be back with us in the coming weeks, but I can't give you a date."

Frank Lampard is hopeful Hakim Ziyech can make a "big impact on the Premier League" and improve Chelsea's productivity in the final third when he joins from Ajax in July.

Ziyech's impending switch to Stamford Bridge was confirmed earlier this week, with Chelsea agreeing to pay just over £33million up front and a further £3.34m in add-ons for the 26-year-old playmaker, who will remain in Amsterdam for the remainder of this season. 

In a news conference on Friday, Lampard highlighted the qualities that attracted him to Ziyech, revealing he had tracked the player closely since he starred in Ajax's 1-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg win over Tottenham at Wembley last May.

"Since then I've watched him a lot," said Chelsea's head coach. "He ticks lots of boxes and I'm delighted that we're in a position where we can say he'll be our player next season.

"He'll have to obviously fit in to the way we want to work here ... and the energy we want in our team as everybody does, but the quality he's got hopefully will be there for the fans to see.

"We've spoken a lot this season about games where we've maybe had a lot of ball but haven't had that final bit. And I think hopefully he's a player next season that can [provide that], with the quality he has with his crossing, passing, that final pass and shooting and scoring.

"At times we have struggled to have the finishing touch and hopefully he can be a part of that puzzle. I see a player that can hopefully have a big impact on the Premier League and our team."

Ziyech's scheduled arrival has seemingly reduced the chances of both Willian and Pedro remaining at Stamford Bridge next season.

However, Lampard insists the deal does not affect the respective futures of his experienced wingers, adding: "No, it doesn't. Those conversations are ongoing with both players.

"They've both been [here] in successful periods for this club. Both I've found to be very professional and willing and wanting to work this year and help the younger players and obviously get results, which is the main thing.

"Regardless [of what happens next], what they've done at this club is very well received from our end.

"We've brought in a quality player who can play in various positions so it certainly doesn't have a one-on-one effect on any player."

Frank Lampard has been pleased with Kepa Arrizabalaga's reaction to being dropped, but Chelsea's head coach has refused to confirm whether the world's most expensive goalkeeper will return to the starting XI for Monday's home game against Manchester United.

Kepa - a £71.6million signing from Athletic Bilbao in 2018 - was surprisingly left out for the trip to Leicester City a fortnight ago, with the veteran Willy Caballero handed a rare Premier League start for a game that finished 2-2.

Asked whether his usual number one would return against United, a smiling Lampard told a news conference. "I've decided. You'll find out [on Monday]."

He added: "The reaction has been good, as I'd expect. [He has been] training hard, head down. I haven't had lots of conversations with him this week and it'll be a decision for me to make."

When it was suggested he may have been looking to give Kepa a "wake-up call", Lampard replied: "I wouldn't say that. I wasn't looking for that necessarily. I think I spoke around the Leicester game and said that I have to pick the team as I see it on form in every position, so it was just a selection on that day.

"Now I know with goalkeepers there's a bit more to it than that. We know it's a slightly different role than everybody else. But I want everybody's reaction all the time to be spot on and he came out the team, I know what that means, I know how that will feel for him.

"Every player has it, maybe [Lionel] Messi is the only one who doesn't, or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, but the rest of us do. And I had it in my career many a time, it's part and parcel of being a footballer and you have to show character in those little moments.

"I've been pleased with the reaction."

Lampard confirmed Christian Pulisic and long-term absentee Ruben Loftus-Cheek will not be fit to face United, while Tammy Abraham's availability remains unclear.

"Tammy is still feeling the effects [of a recent injury], to be honest," he explained. "We've had to take him out of training a couple of days this week. He trained today [Friday], so we're hopeful, but he will be assessed over the weekend.

Jose Mourinho has drawn a line under the controversy surrounding Dele Alli's apparent joke about the coronavirus outbreak after the Tottenham midfielder apologised.

On Saturday, Alli shared a video to his official Snapchat account, which showed him wearing a facemask in an airport departure lounge.

In the clip – which was captioned "Corona whattt [sic], please listen with volume" – Alli zoomed the camera towards a man of Asian appearance before turning it on a bottle of antiseptic hand wash.

"This virus gunna have to be quicker than that to catch me," read the second caption.

Alli deleted the video and issued an apology on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The coronavirus outbreak in China has impacted thousands, with the nation confirming on Friday the death toll has risen to 1,380.

While the Football Association (FA) could yet punish Alli, Mourinho highlighted the England international's presence of mind to apologise and express regret.

"It was not his intention to offend, he apologised immediately, regretted and recognised it was a young guy mistake, a young generation mistake and he apologised," Mourinho said.

"So, my conversation [with Alli] was easy, as it was not one of a contradiction of ideas. It was not him not understanding why I was unhappy, so it was so simple.

"What can I say? He regrets and, for me, that's the best feeling he can show, and to have the humility to apologise I think is also remarkable, because sometimes these young people make mistakes and don't realise – so this conversation was so easy.

"I have a son and daughter basically at the same age as Dele and many of my players - I know what social media is for this generation.

"But when you are a public person like footballers are, they have to know and have to be very careful.

"I repeat, Dele is a great guy. The last thing Dele is is anything connected with racism or disrespect, not at all, but these are current mistakes that some people sometimes make. But again, the good thing for me is regret and apologise, so for me it's end of story.

"I'm not the FA, I'm just his manager, his friend. I repeat, at the same age I have two great kids in my house, and I have to act as an educator and I think the best way to do it is immediately his reaction – regret and apologise."

Jurgen Klopp has not yet made a decision on whether Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will be permitted to represent Egypt at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Egypt Under-23 boss Shawky Gharib confirmed his intention to select Salah as one of three overage players for the football tournament in Tokyo, although he conceded he is yet to discuss the matter with the player.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool's Premier League trip to Norwich City on Saturday, Klopp echoed this week's interjection from Salah's agent Ramy Abbas Issa that a conclusion to the matter is still to be reached.

"Do I want to lose a player in the pre-season? Of course not, that's clear. We have to consider different things," he said.

"I need to speak with Mo and all that stuff. We are completely clear about what we want but we need more information – how would it look, when would the preparation start and all that stuff.

"Nobody really contacted us so far – it's just in the media. It's difficult to get in contact with me through newspapers because most of the things I don’t read.

"No decision has been made yet, but we'll see."

For Rio 2016, clubs were not obliged to release players for the Olympic football tournament because it was not part of FIFA's international match calendar.

World football's governing body did ask for "support from the clubs to allow players who are called up by their national teams to be given the chance to be part of the Olympic experience" ahead of a competition where Neymar inspired Brazil to glory on home soil.

Klopp certainly understands the appeal that becoming an Olympian might hold for Salah, who scored twice but was compromised by a shoulder injury as Egypt lost all three of their matches at the 2018 World Cup.

"We've had to play already without Mo – not too often, thank God, but from time to time," Klopp said.

"It's not about that. All the positive things about Mo I could say I've said in different press conferences.

"It's the Olympic Games and I am still a sports person. Olympians are Olympians. We have to see how we can deal with it.

"We cannot discuss it really because we don't know a lot about it, apart from the things the manager of the Olympic team said. They have to contact us and we will see."

Klopp was addressing the media for the first time since another scheduling conflict – namely the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury Town that fell during Liverpool's scheduled mid-season break.

The manager did not attend the match and left under-23 manager Neil Critchley to helm a youthful line-up that prevailed 1-0 to set up a last-16 clash with Chelsea.

"It was absolutely great. I'm really happy for the boys. They all loved it like crazy, they loved it," Klopp said.

"It was absolutely sensational what our crowd made of this game. Creating that atmosphere shows what a wonderful club we are.

"For us it was never a standpoint against the FA Cup – I know people probably misunderstand it – but it was just to make sure that, as we decided there is a winter break, there must be a winter break.

"You cannot please everybody in the end, you have to think a little bit more about it. That's what we tried to infer, to discuss about these things. If you don’t discuss, things just get worse and worse and worse.

"We all love the Premier League, we all love the FA Cup and the League Cup, Champions League, all the games we play. We just have to make sure that the time in between is at least time for a little nap or something."

Klopp will welcome back James Milner and Sadio Mane from hamstring injuries for the runaway Premier League leaders' visit to Carrow Road.

Nuno Espirito Santo has yet to enter new contract talks with Wolves but says he remains as committed as ever to the Premier League high-flyers.

The former Porto boss has worked wonders since taking over at Molineux in 2017, guiding the club into the top flight as Championship winners in his first season in charge.

Wolves secured a Europa League spot in the 2018-19 campaign and breezed through to the round of 32 this season, while they sat six points behind fourth-placed Chelsea ahead of a clash with Leicester City on Friday.

Nuno is in the final 18 months of his contract, but the Portuguese head coach - who was linked with Arsenal before Mikel Arteta was appointed - is relaxed about his future.

"I have had no proposal. I have one year more, I don't think about that," Nuno said.

"We will see, but I'm only focused on [the Leicester game]. We have one more year left on the contract. We signed it and are committed to it."

Nuno added: "They [Wolves fans] can be assured every day this is my obsession. Wolves is my obsession, it's my life. I don't think about anything else. I'm talking to you [the media] but I'm thinking about the game.

"I changed my life when we started this three seasons ago - not only me but a lot of people moved and changed their lives to come to Wolverhampton.

"The players have been with us since day one so this is why I say it's my life. I'm 100 per cent here and I give everything I have to help my players and help improve the club. I give everything I can."

First Barcelona and now Real Madrid. Lautaro Martinez is a wanted man.

With 16 goals across all competitions for Inter this season, Martinez is attracting plenty of interest following previous links to Manchester United.

Madrid and Barca are set to go head-to-head on and off the pitch.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID JOIN BARCA IN MARTINEZ RACE

Real Madrid want to pay the release clause of Inter star and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Tyc Sports.

Martinez has long been linked with LaLiga champions Barca, who are eyeing a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

However, Martinez is now firmly on Madrid's radar with a release clause of €115million and Luka Jovic struggling to score regularly behind veteran striker Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN says Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are chasing Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who is on loan at Premier League side Sheffield United. The 22-year-old – who is contracted to United until 2022 – has impressed at Bramall Lane and is reportedly unwilling to return to Manchester unless he is number one ahead of David de Gea.

Manchester City have joined Madrid, Barca, Arsenal and Tottenham in the race to sign RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, reports the Manchester Evening News. Pep Guardiola's City are desperate for defensive reinforcements following Vincent Kompany's exit and injury woes.

- According to the Daily Express, Serie A champions Juventus are eying a shock move for Chelsea's Willian, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Remaining in Turin and the Daily Mail claims Juve have entered the chase for Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old is also wanted by United and Chelsea.

Tottenham are plotting a double swoop for Norwich City pair Ben Godfrey and Max Aarons, the Express says. It comes as the Daily Mail reports Spurs will sell Eric Dier if he does not sign a new contract.

- Marca says Barca have contacted Levante about Roger Marti but the club have pointed to the striker's release clause. Barca are looking to bring in an emergency forward following Ousmane Dembele's long-term injury. Real Betis' Loren Moron and Lucas Perez of Deportivo Alaves are also reported options.

Paul Pogba "would not mind" returning to Juventus as "Italy is like home" for the Manchester United star, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

Pogba – who continues to recover from an ankle injury – has been linked to Serie A champions Juve and LaLiga giants Real Madrid, with the United midfielder reportedly unhappy in Manchester.

The 26-year-old left United for Juve in 2012 but Pogba was prised back to Old Trafford in 2016 for a then-world record transfer fee of €105million (£89.3m).

Raiola placed Pogba's United future in fresh doubt after watching Juve's late 1-1 draw against 10-man Milan in the opening leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final on Thursday.

"Italy is like home for Paul. He would not mind going back to Juve but we will see what will happen after the Euros," Raiola told reporters.

"Paul wants to play at the best level but he can't escape by Manchester United if they are in a difficult situation." 

It has been an injury-ravaged season for Pogba, who has started just five Premier League matches this term and made only seven appearances in total.

Pogba has only managed eight games across all competitions for United, who languish eighth in the Premier League after 25 rounds.

United travel to fourth-placed Chelsea on Monday as the Premier League returns after a minibreak.

Former Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he would prefer working in Australia rather than the Premier League.

Valverde was sacked by Barca in January, despite leading the Spanish giants to back-to-back LaLiga titles and Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana success.

Contemplating his next move as Valverde enjoys a break from football, a shock A-League gig is high on the 56-year-old's list.

"People ask me sometimes 'How about the Premier League?' and I say 'Well actually I'd like to go to Australia'," Valverde said.

"A career in football does not last forever and sometimes you think you have to take the opportunity to live in strange places."

Valverde referenced former Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who left Camp Nou for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018.

"I applauded Andres when he told me he's going to Japan," added Valverde. I thought 'Wow, he gets to understand a different culture and different people', and I am also very interested in Japan.

"You can take great photos in Japan. There are many places I'd like to go to. We'll see what I end up doing, I haven't been out of work for very long so I don't have to decide anything yet, I haven't got a very clear idea at the moment.

"It's possible I'd go somewhere abroad. The truth is I like to do strange things so I wouldn't rule it out."

Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is currently in charge of A-League outfit Brisbane Roar, while former Reds and Bayern Munich star Markus Babbel was working in Australia until he was sacked by Western Sydney Wanderers last month.

Erling Haaland already had his heart set on a move to Borussia Dortmund by the time Manchester United made a move for his services.

Dortmund signed Haaland after agreeing to meet his €22.5million release clause at Salzburg in late December, and the 19-year-old has made a flying start to life in Germany, with eight goals in five appearances.

A host of leading European clubs were linked to the striker, including United – led by his former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – but Haaland told Viasport his mind was made up by the time their interest was declared.

"Ole Gunnar has been very important for me in getting to where I am today," he said.

"But we concluded that Dortmund was the best option for me. That was what I felt best about and therefore it became Dortmund."

Indeed, Dortmund as a next stop in his career was put forward by Haaland himself as his father – former Leeds United and Manchester City utility man Alf-Inge Haaland – surveyed other options.

"The thing is, when the season was over, my father and I started talking

"At that point he didn’t mention Dortmund. Then I asked him, 'What about this club? That would have been nice'. Then he said, 'We'll see'.

"Suddenly it became an option and then that was what I felt all along.

"The process was pretty simple on my end. I really just played football and wasn't very involved until the first half of the season was over.

"So, I didn't have that much to do with it, to be honest. The process was to find the best possible club for me."

Haaland made light of suggestions his move to Dortmund was primarily motivated by money and praised agent Mino Raiola for his role in making the transfer happen.

"It's kind of comical if I were to get that label [being greedy]," he said.

"All the people close to me know that's not the kind of person I am. It's really been kind of comical."

On Raiola, Haaland added: "He's the best in the world at what he does. As simple as that.

"He's the best agent. He gets a lot of negativity and that's probably because he's doing such a great job for those he's working for

"He has helped a lot and he's a good guy to have around."

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