Ronald Koeman insisted he was not "the bad guy" in Luis Suarez's transfer away from Barcelona, although he could understand Lionel Messi's anger at the move.

Suarez, third on the list of all-time Barcelona goal scorers, left Camp Nou this week for Atletico Madrid.

It was reported Suarez was one of a number of senior stars informed by new coach Koeman they would have to leave the club following an underwhelming 2019-20 season.

But Koeman suggested some portrayals of this conversation were not entirely accurate, saying Suarez could have stayed but would have had a reduced role.

"It seemed that I had been the bad guy in this movie, but it is not like that," Koeman said ahead of the Blaugrana's LaLiga opener against Villarreal.

"Since the call [regarding Suarez's future], I have shown respect for him and I have always told him that it can be difficult to play but, if he stayed, he would be one of the squad.

"Before I signed the contract, the club was thinking about things, and I have tried to support those things. They are not just decisions of the coach.

"Luis and I respect each other and we have spoken clearly about his future. He had the opportunity to go to Atletico and I wish all the luck in the world."

Suarez's exit prompted a furious Instagram post from captain Messi, whose own attempted departure was blocked by the club.

Messi said Suarez did not deserve "to get kicked out like [he] did", adding he was not surprised by Barca's actions.

Koeman responded: "It is normal for him to be upset that a friend has left, but I have no doubt about Messi. I have seen him train."

The former Netherlands coach, who would not rule out moves for Lautaro Martinez or Memphis Depay, is not concerned by the tumultuous nature of his early Barca reign.

"If you ask the coaches who have been at Barca, they will surely tell you that they have never had a quiet day," he said.

"I knew that when I had to face changes I would have people in favour and others against. I knew it.

"No problem, it is part of being in the best club in the world, although I hope there is a little more peace of mind."

Luis Suarez said he was proud after being defended by Lionel Messi following his move to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona.

Suarez, 33, joined Atletico in a €6million move this week after six trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou.

His close friend and Barcelona star Messi slammed the Catalan giants on Friday, saying Suarez was "kicked out" and "nothing surprises" him anymore.

Suarez, who won 13 trophies at Barca, said he was proud to have left such a positive impression.

"Leo knows me well and is well aware of my level of conviction. It's a source of pride to be able to leave a positive legacy behind me," he told reporters.

"I've now moved on and joining this competitive side is a major motivation."

Suarez scored 21 goals in 36 games last season, but new Barca coach Ronald Koeman had no room for the Uruguayan as he rebuilds the Blaugrana.

The forward said joining another big club in Spain was a huge motivation for him.

"The motivation of coming to a great from Spain, Atleti is," Suarez said. 

"It has great players, a competitive block that always fights to be at the top and for the league. 

"The fans and the coach [Diego Simeone] motivate a lot too."

Atletico begin their 2020-21 season at home to Granada on Sunday.

Frank Lampard believes the arrival of Edouard Mendy at Chelsea can help push Kepa Arrizabalaga, though the Blues manager did not rule out the possibility of the Spain international leaving.

Kepa was entrusted to start the Premier League season, but Chelsea have been in pursuit of another goalkeeper throughout the window.

Mendy arrived this week in a £22million transfer from Ligue 1 club Rennes, with Kepa having made a calamitous error in Chelsea's 2-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend.

While Mendy will not start against West Brom on Saturday, Lampard did not confirm whether Kepa would play, and also did not close the door on the world's most expensive goalkeeper potentially leaving on loan.

'There's no clarity on that one yet, about what will happen, and I'm not going to speak about the maybes of what might happen in the future," Lampard told a news conference when asked if Kepa could be loaned out. 

"I think the most important thing right now is the game this weekend, in which Mendy won't be involved in. I'll have conversations with all the goalkeepers and be very open about it and we'll see the way to move forward.

"I'm not going to talk about who starts because I need to speak to the goalkeepers themselves and I'd much rather it be a conversation I had with them rather than they read it from yourselves.

"I think with the dynamic of the goalkeepers, we know we've had problems in the goalkeeping area in the first two games of the season and at times last year. We know that and I think we can be very honest and open about that, and Kepa is in that search for the best performance levels.

"Mendy comes in of course to be big competition in that area. Now it's about how we move forward, about trying to get that performance level as best as can be."

Mendy has followed in the footsteps of Chelsea great Petr Cech, who joined the club from Rennes in 2004 and now serves as the Blues' technical and performance advisor.

Recently, Cech has also been out on the training pitch with the goalkeeping unit.

"I think a combination of both," Lampard said when asked if Cech was coaching or simply keeping himself fit. 

"With Petr, he has so much to give on that side of things. Obviously his day job here is to be technical advisor and he's a great help to me on that front.

"I think having Petr train with the goalkeepers and bring his experience is a great thing because he still has great quality. I think he retired pretty young to be fair. So he's training and keeping fit, which I think is healthy for him and the goalkeepers in the squad and that's as far as it goes. I've got absolutely no problem with it.

"It's something that I think is positive for the goalkeepers as a whole and Petr enjoys doing it, so why not give back and give that experience to the goalkeepers."

LeBron James took on the responsibility of guarding Jamal Murray down the stretch because he knew it was "winning time" for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4. 

With the Lakers holding a four-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the final quarter, and Murray on 28 points on 12-for-17 shooting, James switched onto the Denver Nuggets guard. 

Murray was held to 0-for-2 shooting by the four-time NBA MVP, with his four points in the last five minutes coming from the free throw line. 

The Lakers consequently closed out a 114-108 victory to move 3-1 up in the Western Conference Finals. 

Asked why he put himself on Murray, James said: "I knew it was winning time, and Jamal had it going. The kid is special. He has an array of shots. Triple threat from the three, mid-range and also in the paint. 

"For me, it's just trusting my defensive keys. Trusting my study of film. Trusting personnel. And living with the results. I told my team-mates that I had him and everyone else can kind of stay at bay and stay home. 

"I was able to get a couple stops and we were able to rebound the basketball, which is the most important thing." 

James is averaging 34.4 minutes in the playoffs, which is the fewest of his career – his previous low was 38.2 with the Miami Heat in 2013-14. 

The 17-year veteran denied that having less time on court helped him stay fresh to guard Murray in the closing stages. 

"I don't reserve any energy. I'm on the floor, I give it all I've got. If I need a break, I ask for a break. Coach has done a good job of getting me out throughout the course of the game," said James. 

"I don't look at it as a reserve tank. I've got pretty good energy when I'm on the floor all the time. It's winning time and I don't have a chance or time to be feeling tired. 

"I'm tired now. That's when I'm tired, when it's zeros on the clock. That's when I'm tired. I'm not tired during the game."

Murray appreciated the respect the Lakers afforded him but felt the Nuggets, who have come back from 3-1 deficits to advance in the past two rounds, still should have found a way to win. 

He said: "I mean, they switched AD [Anthony Davis] on me to be on him, too. 

"Obviously, with LeBron I do the same stuff I do when I see [Alex] Caruso, when I see [Rajon] Rondo and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], and Kawhi [Leonard], Paul George and Pat Bev [Patrick Beverley]. 

"I mean, I do the same thing. Appreciate the respect, but we've got to win the game."

Anthony Davis provided a positive assessment over the ankle injury he suffered in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, declaring: "I'll be fine."

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 114-108 triumph over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, putting them 3-1 up in the best-of-seven series and on the brink of a place in the NBA Finals.

Despite the setback, the 27-year-old still led the Lakers in terms of scoring, contributing 34 points as he played 41 minutes.

Game 5 takes place on Saturday, with Davis confident of being fit for action as Los Angeles aim to close out the Nuggets and progress to the NBA Finals.

"Ankle feels fine," the seven-time All-Star told the media. "Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don't want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play.

"Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I'll be fine."

While the Lakers are clearly firmly in control, they will be wary of allowing the Nuggets to climb off the canvas following their heroics in the previous two rounds.

Denver battled back from 3-1 deficits to see off the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, leading Davis to speak out about the dangers of taking anything for granted.

"You know, like I said last game, we've got to put them away," he said. 

"They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, we just have to make sure we counter everything they do."

The Lakers have not reached the NBA Finals since 2010, which was also the last time they were crowned champions.

Luis Suarez reflected on an incredible six-year spell alongside "best in history" Lionel Messi at Barcelona during his farewell news conference.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that Suarez, 33, has left Barca and joined Atletico Madrid for €6million after the Blaugrana deemed him surplus to requirements.

Despite finishing 2019-20 with 16 LaLiga goals from 22 starts, Suarez had long seemed likely to leave Barca, particularly after Ronald Koeman's arrival in place of Quique Setien.

Media reports claimed the Dutchman told Suarez he was not in his plans, a situation rumoured to have contributed to Messi's desire to leave; but where Barca refused to sanction their talisman's exit, the Uruguay striker departs having risen to third on the club's all-time goalscoring list with 198.

Suarez's strong relationship with Messi has been known for much of their time together at Barca, though the former Liverpool striker – who let the tears flow in front of the media on Thursday – revealed he was given a slightly different impression of the Argentina star upon arriving in 2014.

"Everyone knows the relationship I have with Leo," Suarez said, with Messi in attendance. "When I arrived at Barcelona they said, 'be careful with Leo', due to me being a forward, and it turns out that Leo has been spectacular with a striker for many years.

"We always try to be at the level of Barcelona, and I have to be proud of everything we have done.

"Leo, we know each other so much that we know what we think of each other. We are big enough that we are able to give each other advice. That we will face each other in complicated games will not change our relationship."

Suarez let it be known in no uncertain terms that the decision for him to leave the club came from Koeman alone.

"Sometimes the club needs changes and the coach did not count on me," he added. "I leave with the feeling that I have fulfilled [expectations] – being the third top scorer of a club is not easy.

"I expected it [Koeman's decision], it had already been said before he told me. I had no problem taking a step to the side, but I wanted to continue training while looking for a solution. Koeman agreed to it.

"Every new start to the season, you change the team: there is a lot of desire, many young players, there are more variants when it comes to rotating, and I think it will be a very good year for the club."

But despite undoubted frustration at the situation, Suarez's gratitude to Barca was clear, particularly given the faith put in him so soon after he was handed a four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup.

"The club trusted me from the beginning and I will always be grateful for the treatment they gave me. They trusted me after a mistake I made and that is not easy," he said.

"A stage that I am very proud of is ending. I take friends with me and that makes me happy. Beyond a player, leaving is a human being who has feelings.

"That my children saw me play alongside incredible players, that they saw me alongside the best in history, score goals, raise trophies, it will always remain in my memory. Many thanks to the fans for everything your support, I will never forget."

Tyler Herro saluted "big brother" Jimmy Butler after taking the Miami Heat to the brink of the NBA Finals, and took a swipe at his own doubters.

The 20-year-old Herro led scoring for the Heat with a career-high 37 points in a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics, securing a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now the former Kentucky Wildcats prodigy, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, could cap a first season in the professional ranks with an appearance in the championship series.

He had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, alongside six rebounds and three assists, but the modest Herro pointed to the influence of Butler as a telling factor in his rapid rise.

"Jimmy, ever since I got here, he's been like a big brother to me and he's shined light on me. He's taught me a lot of things," Herro said.

"He's just continuing to get on me, whether it's something I want to hear or not, he's going to tell me what I need to hear. I appreciate him for that. Without Jimmy, I probably wouldn't be doing this as a rookie.

"We have a great group of guys in the locker room and everybody wants to win. I know my role. It's not to score 30, whatever I had tonight. It's not to do that every night.

"Some nights it may require me to step up like tonight and make some shots. But I know in the fourth quarter, we're going to get the ball to Jimmy; we're going to get the ball to Goran [Dragic].

"Those are our guys. We are going to run to them and they are going it make the most plays for us and they are going to win us games most of the time."

Although Herro remains deferential to such senior figures, he gives himself plenty of credit too for making it at the highest level, having been told repeatedly he lacked what it would take.

"I'm just going to bet on myself. I've been doing that my whole life," he said. "I went from a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there and nobody thought I would survive here. At the end of the day, it's just betting on myself."

Reflecting on his time in Kentucky, he explained: "I think someone said my wingspan was too short. They say everything, but whatever they say, it's whatever."

Herro contested the suggestion he was the leading player in Wednesday night's game, pointing to the likes of Butler, Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and predicted "a dogfight" in Game 5 on Friday night.

Butler, who had 24 points and nine rebounds, continues to be impressed by his young team-mate.

"Not too many people get an opportunity to make it this far in the playoffs and to be in a game like this. But for him, it's another day at the office," Butler said.

"I think it makes all of us smile. We're all so happy for him because he knows what he's capable of, and he just plays with so much confidence.

"He's been doing it all year long. So to him, there's no pressure or anything. He's just going to keep playing basketball the right way."

Tyler Herro led the Miami Heat to a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics and a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, stole the show in Game 4 of the playoff contest at Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, to go with six rebounds and three assists, in an impressive performance.

Herro's career-high 37 points put Miami within a win of a first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.

As Herro led the way, Jimmy Butler (24 points and nine rebounds), Bam Adebayo (20 points and 12 rebounds) and Goran Dragic (22 points) all chipped in for Miami.

Herro's 37 points were the most by a rookie in the Conference finals or later since Magic Johnson's 42 in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, as per STATS.

In a worry for Miami, All-Star Adebayo appeared to suffer a wrist injury late in the game.

The Heat held a half-time lead for the first time in the series, although they were pulled back by Boston.

Scoreless in the first half, Celtics star Jayson Tatum erupted for 16 third-quarter points, finishing with 28 for the game.

Kemba Walker had 20 points and Jaylen Brown contributed 21, but the Celtics are staring at an Eastern Conference finals defeat.

 

Lakers face Nuggets

After the Denver Nuggets cut the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference finals lead to 2-1, the teams meet again on Thursday.

Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray believes his team should be 2-1 up in their best-of-seven series with Los Angeles Lakers after a devastating Game 2 defeat.

Murray starred with 28 points, 12 assists and two late three-pointers to earn the Nuggets a 114-106 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in Florida.

That hard-fought victory came on the back of a buzzer-beating loss in Game 2, which saw Anthony Davis hit a last-gasp three-pointer to win it for the Lakers.

But having also showed real character to outlast the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semi-finals, Murray is determined to peg back the Lakers at 2-2 on Thursday.

"We had Game 2. I thought we played great in Game 2, we just had a couple of moments that really hurt us," he told reporters. "So we feel like we should be up 2-1 right now." 

"We have to move on to Game 4 now. In the Clippers series we dropped Game 3, so we have to take care of stuff that we can control. We've got to do that if we want to win."  

The Lakers entered the game on a six-game winning run and closed to within three points of Denver in the final quarter, only for their opponents to pull away.

"We're in this series," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the vital win.

"We let them know we're not going anywhere. That's what you guys have done this whole post-season.

"That's why everybody is rooting for us. Keep on showing that grit and resilience and playing for each other."

James led the Lakers with a 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but the Lakers star conceded the better team won on the day.

"We turned the ball over too much and we put them on the free-throw line," he said.

"I give credit where credit is due. They played better than us. They were more aggressive than us for three quarters."

The Denver Nuggets outlasted an epic Los Angeles Lakers rally to claim Game 3 114-106 in the Western Conference finals.

After a heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss in Game 2, the Nuggets produced a trademark performance of resilience behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic double-doubles to reduce the Lakers' series lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

The Nuggets looked on track to cruise to victory in the third showdown, having taken a 93-75 lead through three quarters at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

But LeBron James – who tallied a triple-double – and the top-seeded Lakers reeled off a stunning 19-2 run and forced six successive turnovers to close within 101-98 with less than four minutes remaining on Tuesday.

Veteran guard Rajon Rondo was instrumental in the Lakers' fightback courtesy of three steals against the stuttering Nuggets.

But the Nuggets – who became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason en route to the Conference finals – fended off the Lakers with a run of their own as Murray finished with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.

All-Star big man Jokic posted 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Jerami Grant had a playoff career-high 26 points to help the Nuggets avoid a 3-0 hole.

James led the Lakers with his 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Anthony Davis – the last-gasp hero in Game 2 – had 27 points.

 

Celtics face Heat

The Boston Celtics will look to level their series against the Miami Heat when they two teams meet in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

Barcelona utility Sergi Roberto said he crossed his fingers that superstar captain Lionel Messi would remain at Camp Nou.

Messi stunned the world last month when he informed Barca of his intention to depart the LaLiga giants, with the 33-year-old intending to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer at the end of last season.

However, the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the campaign being extended by the coronavirus pandemic, and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi ultimately opted to remain in Catalonia rather than challenge Barcelona in a legal battle.

Asked about Messi heading into 2020-21, Roberto told RAC1: "I thought the same as all the Catalans, that it could not be true that Messi did not continue with us.

"I cannot imagine a Barca without Leo and I crossed my fingers so that he would stay. I see him training very well. He is a very professional player and I have no doubt that he will always give 100 per cent for this shirt and this club."

Ronald Koeman is at the helm as Barca prepare for their LaLiga opener against Villarreal on Sunday.

Koeman replaced Quique Setien, who was only appointed in January, after Barca were dethroned by bitter rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga and humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last season.

"He [Koeman] has made us work a lot," Roberto said. "The training sessions have been very long.

"We are working very well. He tells the players things clearly and that is good for the team. I fully trust the coach and all the players."

As well as a new coach, there are changes with Barca's playing personnel following Arturo Vidal's move to Inter and Ivan Rakitic's return to Sevilla.

Full-back Nelson Semedo is also poised to join Wolves in the Premier League, while veteran forward Luis Suarez is reportedly in discussions to swap Barca for rivals Atletico Madrid.

"The president or the new coach must decide who they trust and who they will count on," added Roberto.

"I have a special appreciation for Suarez. He is a player who has given a lot all these years. If he ends up leaving, Atletico will be much stronger."

Thiago Silva is proud to have joined Chelsea at the age of 36 after his career was threatened by tuberculosis.

While on loan at Dynamo Moscow from Porto in 2005, Silva experienced chest pains and was hospitalised for five months after being diagnosed with the illness.

The centre-back opted against an operation on one of his lungs that would likely have brought a premature end to his time in football and returned to boyhood club Fluminense the following year.

He has since gone on to win the Serie A with Milan, 23 trophies at Paris Saint-Germain – with whom he lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich last month – and the Copa America with Brazil.

Asked about the serious illness he suffered a decade-and-a-half ago, Silva said: "It was one of the worst experiences in my life because you have a dream as a child to be playing as a professional footballer and when I got TB, it seemed the dream would be over. But, thank God, I had the strength to overcome it and get well.

"It's difficult to talk about it because it brings back these memories, these moments. I remember my last day in the hospital, the doctor told me that I hadn't been cured, that I needed an operation on my lung and that my football career would be over.

"But, thank God, thanks to the qualified people and the specialists, little by little I got better. Little by little, with dedication I managed to return to playing football.

"Definitely it's something that not many people have gone through in their lives and a lot of people didn't recover from a similar illness, so I think about it a lot, these moments and what I've been through and I thankfully had the strength to overcome it.

"I'm very grateful to my family, to my wife, who was very supportive. At the time she was my girlfriend and she was 17, and she helped give me the strength to get over it so I was able to then chase my dreams. Now I can say today that I'm a champion, not just in football but also in life."

With health at the forefront of many people's minds amid the coronavirus pandemic, Silva said: "I'd like to send a message to the young people to tell them to really make the most of their lives.

"If someone is playing football, to really dedicate themselves to playing football. Some people have football as a hobby, but football is a job and life is short and goes by quite quickly.

"In 2005 my life could have been over, but thank God I overcame that illness and today I can now say that I am victorious, both personally and professionally. It's a wonderful experience to now be 36 and a player in the Premier League and to put on a Chelsea shirt at 36. It's immense responsibility and a great source of pride."

Silva was signed to provide experience to Frank Lampard's youthful squad and it is not weighing on his mind that he is on a one-year contract at a club that does not typically hang on to older players.

The veteran defender - who could make his debut against Barnsley in the EFL Cup on Wednesday - hopes to prove he is still capable of being an asset at the highest level and earning a place in the Brazil squad for the 2022 World Cup.

"I think when you get to a certain age, the tendency is that you sign this type of contract. I have no doubt that I will give everything and do my best and contribute," Silva added.

"I prepare and work really hard in everything I do. I love football, I love preparation, and it's not a case of preparing on a Friday for the Saturday, this type of preparation goes way back, so I'm totally relaxed about the contract.

"Whether Chelsea will want to renew it or not, I don't know. If Chelsea feel I haven't met expectations or contributed, we'll sit down and talk about that. I'm not worried at all and I will prepare to do my best possible and really help to contribute to this new team and new project.

"I've accepted this new challenge. It's going to be really good for me. Everyone knows my ambition is to play in the World Cup in two years, when I'll be 38 years old."

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka lost a three-set thriller to Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali d'Italia to set up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep. 

Muguruza beat her fellow former world number one 3-6 6-3 6-4 after two hours and 19 minutes, having been one point away from falling 5-3 down in an entertaining decider at Foro Italico. 

The 2016 French Open winner managed to hold her serve on that occasion, then broke to love in the next game before going on to seal the match at the third attempt. 

"I think it was a tough match. I knew it was going to be a tough match. She's a good player, she's playing good, she's with a lot of confidence," said Muguruza. 

"I knew it was going to be a tough battle. I was ready for it. I stood behind her and was waiting for my opportunities. She was playing great at the beginning. She took the first set. I kept myself together and said, 'Okay, let's start another battle in the second set'."

Next up for Muguruza is two-time Rome finalist Halep, who saw Yulia Putintseva retire from their quarter-final meeting due to a lower back injury. 

After dropping her serve to fall 6-2 2-0 down to the world number two in 47 minutes, Putintseva, who played back-to-back three-set matches in the previous two rounds, pulled out of the match. 

Halep said of Muguruza: "Every time I played well against her, [I was] as much as possible aggressive. If I play my best game and if I feel great physically on court, I have a big chance to win the match. But every time is different, because she's playing so hard. 

"You don't really know what to expect. It's tough every time. So I don't plan for a specific match, because you never know on court."

Two-time Internazionali d'Italia champion Elina Svitolina was comprehensively beaten 6-3 6-0 by Marketa Vondrousova, who was the runner-up at last year's French Open. 

Standing between Vondrousova and her first final appearance since Roland Garros last year is reigning champion Karolina Pliskova. 

Second seed Pliskova overcame Elise Mertens 6-3 3-6 6-0 as she continued to impress after initially struggling when the WTA Tour returned in August.

In 2013, Real Madrid paid a then world-record fee to secure Gareth Bale's signature.

The flying winger had been sensational in the Premier League for Tottenham and, in his final season in north London, scored 26 goals and provided 11 assists across all competitions.

Bale's form resulted in Madrid paying €100million (£85m) to take him to Santiago Bernabeu, as Florentino Perez attempted to usher in a new galactico era.

Yet seven years later, Bale is heading back to Tottenham on a season-long loan, now as a 31-year-old whose best days are most likely behind him.

While Bale has certainly had his injury issues, his lack of game time at Madrid in recent seasons – he featured just 20 times in all competitions last term – seems to have been due to a breakdown in his relationship with Zinedine Zidane, more than any doubt over the quality he can offer.

Back at his former club, Bale will aim to lift Spurs and get his career back on track, but can his seven-year stint at Madrid be considered a success – he did after all win four Champions League trophies, one Copa del Rey and two LaLiga titles – or a failure?

Using Opta data, we take a look at his season by season stats.

 

2013-14

In his final season at Tottenham, Bale was involved in 37 goals in all competitions – only Robin van Persie (39) and Juan Mata (49) were involved in more for a Premier League club in 2012-13. Bale maintained that form in his maiden season in Spain, scoring 22 times and providing 16 assists across 44 appearances. Of his Madrid team-mates, only the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo managed more direct goal involvements (65).

He capped his first season in Madrid with a brilliant goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, which Los Blancos won, before scoring in extra-time to put Carlo Ancelotti's side 2-1 up against Atletico Madrid in the 2014 Champions League Final.

2014-15

Having averaged a goal every 0.56 LaLiga matches in his first season at Madrid, Bale's output dropped in his second campaign, with the Welshman managing 13 goals from 31 league appearances, at an average of 0.42.

In total across all competitions, he registered 17 goals and 12 assists, despite playing four games more than in 2013-14. On average, he attempted five dribbles per 90 minutes, down from 5.8 the previous season, while he had 51.8 touches per 90 – the fewest amount of any season from 2007-08 onwards.

2015-16

Bale managed just 31 appearances in an injury-hit third campaign, though his goal statistics improved. While providing 12 assists, he scored 19 times in all competitions, including netting four in a 10–2 victory over Rayo Vallecano. In Zinedine Zidane's first match in charge – in January 2016 – he netted a hat-trick to help crush Deportivo La Coruna 5-0.

On March 23, Bale scored his 43rd LaLiga goal to overtake Gary Lineker as the highest scoring British player in the competition's history. While his dribbles attempted again decreased, he threatened the goal more regularly with 4.2 shots per 90, while he averaged 58.4 touches.

2016-17

It was in Bale's fourth season in the Spanish capital that things began to turn. Having only signed a new contract in October, Bale suffered an ankle injury in November that kept him out for four months. His injury troubles plagued him throughout the campaign – he was forced off in his 100th LaLiga appearance for the club, which ended in a 3-2 defeat to Barca.

Madrid nevertheless won their 33rd LaLiga title and the Champions League, with Bale managing 27 appearances in total, scoring nine goals and setting up a further three.

2017-18

Despite an injury-hit 2016-17, Bale enjoyed one of his most productive seasons at Madrid in the next campaign. He created six goals and scored 21 himself – his highest total since 2013-14, with 16 of those goals coming from 26 LaLiga appearances, at an average of 0.62 per 90 and a conversion rate of 20.78 per cent.

Bale managed this despite averaging only 53.4 touches – his second-lowest total from 2007-08  – and 3.8 shots per game. His season ended in fantastic fashion, as he came on to score a remarkable overhead kick goal to put Madrid 2-1 up against Liverpool in the Champions League final, before he netted a second to put the result beyond doubt.

2018-19

With Ronaldo having left for Juventus, Bale played 42 times in 2018-19, though his total goal involvements dipped from 27 to 20 (14 goals, six assists). On December 19, Bale scored a hat-trick in a 3–1 win over Kashima Antlers in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, becoming the third player to net three goals in a match in the tournament after Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.

In February, Bale scored his 100th Madrid goal, making him one of only 21 players to have scored 100+ goals for the club in all competitions.

2019-20

The writing seemed to be on the wall for Bale at Madrid as speculation over a big-money move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning grew, but a transfer failed to materialise and the forward stayed at Santiago Bernabeu.

However, in a season elongated by the coronavirus pandemic, Bale was used just 20 times by Zidane. He managed three goals and two assists, taking his respective tallies to 105 and 57, with a total of 162 goal involvements across seven seasons – only Ronaldo (318) and Karim Benzema (235) have been involved in more for Madrid in the same timeframe.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo does not want to be called a two-time MVP until he wins an NBA championship.

Antetokounmpo was crowned the Most Valuable Player for the second straight year after leading the Bucks to the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the league's best record (56-17) before losing in the semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The 25-year-old, who averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season – became the first player to claim MVP honours in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016.

After winning his first MVP award last year, Antetokounmpo said: "Please, after this day don't call me MVP until I win it again next year."

But with back-to-back MVPs in 2019-20 after receiving 85 of the 101 first-place votes, Antetokounmpo – whose Bucks lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semi-finals – told TNT on Friday: "Don't call me MVP until I'm a champion."

Having also been named Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo is just the third player in league history to win that award and the MVP in the same season, that select list also featuring Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

"Obviously, I'm happy for tonight and I'm happy for this award, but I always look forward," Antetokounmpo said. "I always try to figure out, how can I get better? How can I do it again? How can I do it for multiple years to come? How can I be a champion? I'm happy. I'm grateful, but how can I do it again?"

Milwaukee's failure in the postseason ramped up speculation around Antetokounmpo's future amid talk he could demand a trade.

Antetokounmpo is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, while he is eligible for a max contract extension worth around $254million this offseason.

"As long as everybody's fighting for the same thing ... which is to be a champion, I don't see why not to be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years," Antetokounmpo told NBA TV.

Antetokounmpo reportedly met with the Bucks last week in Milwaukee and he added: "Obviously, I would like to keep that conversation I had with the ownership and my coach and the general manager private, but at the end of the day, every team has got to improve.

"It's simple. You've got to be better than what you were last year. If you did not win the whole thing, you've got to get better. If you win the whole thing, you've got to get better and do it again. So, for now, our team has got to get better. I think we have great talent and as long as we improve individually and improve as a team we're gonna be in a good spot.

"I left the meeting encouraged and was happy with what we discussed and for now, we're on the same page. I was happy that they came and we had this long conversation about how we're gonna get better and about things for the future, but, as I said, I was happy.

"I left the conversation encouraged, but I've been encouraged my whole career in Milwaukee. I know that we've gotten better each year and I know that Milwaukee has great people that view every year the same I do every year, which is to play well, improve and win it all. So, I've always been encouraged, but after the meeting I was encouraged, too."

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