Jurgen Klopp refused to be drawn over Georginio Wijnaldum's future at Liverpool, insisting the situation was "all good" amid speculation the midfielder is a transfer target for Barcelona.

Wijnaldum has become a key member of Klopp's squad in recent seasons, making 37 Premier League appearances last term as Liverpool ended their 30-year title wait.

The Netherlands international was also influential during the Reds' Champions League success in 2019, though has now entered the final year of his contract at Anfield.

Media reports have linked the player with Barca, where his former national team boss Ronald Koeman is in charge, but Klopp was unwilling to discuss the matter in great detail on Friday.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of the Community Shield against Arsenal, the Liverpool boss said: "That's an open contract situation, otherwise we would know.

"It's all between us and the player, these kind of things. It's all good at the moment, all fine. Gini played very well in pre-season and has obviously had a couple of good seasons for us. 

"That's all I can say about that."

The reigning champions may have lined up reinforcements in midfield, however, if rumours of a move for Thiago Alcantara are to be believed.

The Spaniard helped Bayern Munich achieve the treble but has made clear his desire to move on for a new challenge, though the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic could restrict the amount of business Liverpool do during this transfer window.

"I don't know, I don't know what will happen. There's a long time to go until October 6 [when the window closes]," Klopp replied when asked about potential new signings in general.

"I think the philosophy of this club is pretty clear. We will see how much we can, or how much we want to spend, all these kind of things."

The emergence of Rhian Brewster, who scored twice in the pre-season friendly against Salzburg this week, could negate the need to add further firepower up front.

Alternatively, the 20-year-old forward could be sent out on loan again, as was the case in the previous season when he had a temporary spell in the Championship with Swansea City.

"We have to see what will happen in the next few weeks or so. We want to use Rhian but want to help him as well, that's why we have to make decisions," Klopp said about Brewster.

"He looks really promising. He can obviously score goals, that's good. All the rest? We will see. He's still a young boy, especially with his position, a number nine up front. We have to see where we can give him experience, here or somewhere else.  

"We haven't decided yet - and why should we? There's absolutely no reason to rush anything. He's our boy and he's here."

Bayern Munich have signed 16-year-old winger Barry Hepburn from Celtic.

Hepburn is a Scotland Under-17 international and will play in the same age group at Bayern, where he will be coached by Danny Schwarz.

His move from Celtic to the Bundesliga champions comes one year after Liam Morrison, who is training with Martin Demichelis' U19 team, trod the same path to Bavaria.

"We are very happy with the transfer of Barry," said Bayern academy director Jochen Sauer.

"He is an attacking player with a lot of potential that we want to help his further development steps."

Manchester City appear favourites to sign Lionel Messi, should he leave Barcelona.

Messi has sensationally handed in a transfer request at Camp Nou.

City are reportedly stepping up their chase as Pep Guardiola looks to reunite with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PREPARE MEGA OFFER FOR MESSI

Manchester City are ready to offer £89million (€100m) plus Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Eric Garcia for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Sport.

Messi wants to end his association with embattled LaLiga giants Barca amid links to City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

The Guardian also claims City are convinced they have a chance of signing the superstar captain.

ROUND-UP

- Goal says Barca forward Luis Suarez has been offered to Juventus as the Serie A champions consider a move. Suarez has reportedly been told he is not part of Ronald Koeman's plans.

Barca offered Antoine Griezmann to former club Atletico Madrid in exchange for Joao Felix, reports Marca.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Milan have made a new bid to sign Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali. The Italy midfielder has been linked to Inter, though the Nerazzurri are yet to reach any agreement with Brescia as they eye Barca's Arturo Vidal.

Inter, meanwhile, have opened talks with Roma to sign veteran full-back Aleksandar Kolarov, according to Fabrizio Romano. Chelsea's Emerson Palmieri has also been targeted but Inter are refusing to meet their demands.

- The Mirror claims Tottenham are weighing up a move for Atletico striker Diego Costa. Jose Mourinho worked with Costa during the pair's time together at Chelsea. Sky Sport Italia also reports Spurs have had a request for Nicolo Zaniolo rejected by Roma.

City remain in talks to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, says Romano. Negotiations are taking place indirectly following the fallout from Jorginho's switch to Chelsea in 2018, having been set for City.

- Bayern Munich veteran Javi Martinez has turned down a move to Fiorentina as he is close to joining David Silva at Real Sociedad, says La Razon.

- Liverpool star Sadio Mane has been offered to Barca amid uncertainty over Messi's future, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

Weston McKennie has arrived in Turin ahead of his transfer from Schalke to Juventus.

Juve have made something of a surprise move for McKennie, who had been linked with a number of Premier League clubs.

The United States international broke into the Schalke team in 2017-18, after making his debut the previous season, and went on to make 75 Bundesliga appearances in total.

McKennie, who is capable of playing in either midfield or defence and scored three league goals last season, is reportedly set to sign for Juve on loan, with the Serie A champions having an obligation to buy based on the number of appearances the 21-year-old makes.

Ahead of a medical reportedly scheduled for Friday, McKennie landed in Turin on Thursday, with Juve filming his arrival and posting it to their official social media accounts.

McKennie could be a replacement for Blaise Matuidi, who has left for MLS side Inter Miami. He will become Juve's second first-team addition of the transfer window, following on from Arthur.

Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona and starting a fresh challenge elsewhere would make things interesting for football, according to Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi informed Barca on Tuesday he wants to leave after 19 years at the club and it is believed he wants to activate a possible clause to leave on a free transfer during the current window.

Inter, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, who are managed by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, are considered the realistic candidates to sign the 33-year-old.

Muller considers Messi to be arguably the greatest footballer of all time and is intrigued to see where the superstar forward ends up if granted his wish to leave Camp Nou.

"The day Messi and Barcelona go their separate ways had to come at some point," Muller said at a promotional event for Hoffner.  

"Of course, you would have thought that would be the end of his career but now it seems to be different.

"Lionel Messi is one of the best footballers on the planet, maybe even the best of the last 100 years, although everyone will have their own opinion.

"If you ask Mr. Pele, he may see things slightly differently! But now there will be a change and it could become interesting for football.

"Besides Barcelona fans, which I understand, nobody views this in a bad way, but are instead curious about what new paths could open up."

Bayern, who thrashed Barcelona 8-2 en route to winning the Champions League, had also been tipped to move for Messi should he be available on a free transfer.

However, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ruled out a move on Thursday and Muller has joked his side were never truly in the running to sign the Argentina international.

"I've spoken to our CEO once or twice in the last few months and I don't think we can do anything about that," he said.

Despite his impact for treble-winners Bayern this season, Muller has been left out of Germany's latest squad for their upcoming UEFA Nations League games against Spain and Switzerland.

The versatile forward has not been called up by Joachim Low since November 2018 and has insisted he is not bothered by the continuous snubs.

"Of course, due to the team success and my role in it, this national team question has surfaced again in the last few months," he said. 

"But relatively clear statements have been made from all sides. That's why there is no new stance and it is currently not an issue for me.

"The young players have developed very well. There is no reason for me to change anything in this direction.

"If the situation were different, I would be the very last one who does not revise a decision. But I currently see no reason. This path is good."

Eduardo Camavinga merits his call-up to the France squad because the difference he makes at Rennes can already be seen, according to Didier Deschamps. 

Teenage midfielder Camavinga was named in the team to face Sweden and Croatia in the Nations League next month after Paul Pogba tested positive for coronavirus. 

At 17 years and nine months old, he could become the youngest France player since World War Two and the first born in the 2000s to turn out for Les Bleus. 

Camavinga made his Rennes debut as a 16-year-old in April 2019 and made 25 appearances last season as the club qualified for the Champions League, having sat in third place when Ligue 1 was curtailed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He has been linked with a move to Real Madrid but is expected to remain at Rennes for the 2020-21 campaign. 

"Maybe it's a little early but what he does on the field, it's felt," Deschamps said upon announcing his France squad on Thursday. 

"With Rennes, it's different when he's on the field and when he's not there."

Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano were also selected by Deschamps for the first time.

"I like his [Aouar's] technical quality: dribbling, assists, goals. He is showing more consistency," said the France boss.

"He is an attacking midfielder who can play centrally or off a wing – he is much less a defensive player.

"We've followed [Upamecano] he was close to getting called up. He is very physical and has a great presence.

"With what he was able to do in the Champions League, I felt it was the right moment. It's up to him to keep this level."

Wayne Rooney believes Lionel Messi could win Ballon d'Or number seven if he joins Manchester City or Manchester United - but claims Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool would be a better signing.

Messi has informed Barcelona he wants to leave the club and City are one of the favourites to sign the Argentina star.

Few clubs are considered capable of putting together a package to tempt Messi to join them, but United, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain are among those said to have the necessary financial clout to make the move possible.

Former Red Devils captain Rooney thinks Messi would thrive if he moved to either of the Manchester clubs, insisting the 33-year-old is a "different level" even to his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Rooney thinks Liverpool will effectively have their title defence secured if they manage to sign Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago.

He told talkSPORT: "I think it is City or Liverpool [for the title].

"Chelsea are making a lot of signings, some good signings. Man United have a lot of potential in the players they have got but I still think they are a year away.

"Chelsea, with the new signings, will possibly need a year to get everyone on the same song sheet.

"So, I do think it is between City and Liverpool. And if Liverpool get Thiago from Bayern Munich, I think it is done [the title]. That is a better signing than Messi going to Man City."

On Messi, Rooney said: "I know he's getting older but he's a player who no one has seen before.

"Messi has everything – he can create goals, score goals, dictate the game and is the best player of all time. He's one of the only players I've sat there and watched and been in awe.

"Him and Cristiano Ronaldo have set a standard which I don't think we will ever see again but, for me, Messi is just different level.

"He could come to the Premier League and be a Player of the Year. One million per cent.

"If he surrounds himself with Bruno Fernandes or Kevin De Bruyne, he could win a seventh Ballon d'Or, which would be incredible."

Bayern Munich will not be rivalling Manchester City and Inter for Lionel Messi as the German champions insists they cannot afford him.

Barcelona captain Messi, 33, appears set to leave the Blaugrana after 19 years with the club following his decision to inform them on Tuesday of his desire to depart.

He is said to have a clause in his contract that allows him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the 2019-20 campaign, and although it was required to be activated before June, he still intends to make use of it as the season was extended into August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ever since the news of his decision broke on Tuesday, claims and speculation has swirled about where he might end up – though it is unlikely he will go anywhere outside the small group of elite superclubs.

As such, Manchester City, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain have been mooted as his likeliest options, and although European champions Bayern – who beat Barca 8-2 in what could be Messi's final game for the club – would be considered among the elite, Rummenigge has set the record straight about any links to them.

When asked by Tuttosport if Messi to Bayern was a possibility, Rummenigge said: "No, we can't pay a player of that stature. It's not part of our policy and philosophy.

"Honestly, hearing that Messi could leave Barcelona makes me a little sad. Leo has written the history of that club and, in my opinion, he should end his career with them.

"There are internal and private aspects there that I don't know about and that is why I will not interfere."

Messi is reported to earn approximately €1million every week once bonuses and image rights are included, seemingly making him attainable for practically no one.

As such, Rummenigge is unsure how the likes of City would be able to put an offer to Messi if Bayern cannot afford him.

"I'm not bluffing, I don't really know," he added. "For me it would be like playing the Lotto. There is very little money around.

"It's true, Chelsea have already spent 250 million, but they have just returned from two transfer windows [the ban was halved to a one-window ban last year] that saw them spend no money due to an embargo.

"At the time of COVID-19, it is not easy for any company. A rich owner is not enough. He must be very rich."

As Bayern Munich celebrate a sixth European Cup/Champions League crown and a treble for the second time in eight seasons, it's easy to forget about their city neighbours.

A founding Bundesliga member, 1860 Munich were regulars in Germany's top flight up until 2003-04. They even shared Allianz Arena with Bayern.

Now, 1860 – the first Munich side to win the Bundesliga in 1966 and 1965 European Cup Winners' Cup runners-up – find themselves in the third division, having dropped as low as the fourth tier due to on- and off-field issues.

Initially relegated to 3. Liga following a play-off against Jahn Regensburg in 2017, 1860 were demoted to the Regionalliga Bayern after Jordanian investor Hasan Ismaik failed to pay the required licence fee. Even former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre quit after only eight weeks at the club amid chaos.

Before 1860's drastic fall, they spent 10 consecutive seasons in the Bundesliga from 1994. The highlight for Die Lowen was their fourth-placed finish in 1999-00, earning them a spot in the Champions League qualifiers.

Paul Agostino played a key role in 1860's successful campaign 20 years ago and the club great told Stats Perform News: "Top-flight football was normal for 1860. We were regularly mixing it with the big boys. We had a very good squad, with big-name players.

"Now 1860, being in the second division for a while, dropping all the way down to the fourth tier and now in the third division for a couple of years, it's very strange. It doesn't suit the fanbase because at the moment, the best thing about the club would be their fans. They are absolutely top-flight quality, big numbers, passionate fans. One of the best, loyal supporters you'll find in Germany."

After finishing ninth in 1998-99, things clicked for 1860 the following season. Led by Werner Lorant at Olympic Stadium, the club beat champions Bayern home and away as they earned a place in the top four, ahead of the likes of Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and 11th-placed Borussia Dortmund.

1860's Martin Max topped the Bundesliga's goalscoring charts with 19 goals, while former Australia international Agostino contributed eight of his own, before the team lost 3-1 on aggregate to Leeds United in the third round of Champions League qualifying. They also faced a star-studded Parma side, boasting Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, in the UEFA Cup in 2000, but it soon went downhill.

"We'd actually thought we'd keep going further up. That was the pinnacle of 1860, where the club, president and old coach, once we'd qualified, they wanted to make Champions League qualifying the norm," the 45-year-old Agostino said, while revealing former sponsor Lowenbrau would deliver slabs of beers at the training ground after every win.

"They didn't want to just stay there, they want to really cement their place and be a top-six Bundesliga side. They made some investments but it just didn't work out the following season and it spiralled downhill. Everyone thought we'd continue on our rise but in the end, it went the opposite way.

"Unfortunately, purchasing Allianz Stadium with Bayern, there was a big financial burden there, which caused a lot of strain on the club. The club had to play second division and still had these high running costs. They weren't prepared for that. There were some calculation mistakes there. They were going big guns and it didn't pay off. Quick rise and a quick fall I guess."

Agostino arrived from Bristol City in 1997 and while he went on to become an 1860 favourite – equal ninth on the club's all-time list for goals scored with 54 having departed in 2007 – the initial transition from English to German football was far from easy.

"I had to really adjust and step up, because the fitness level was outrageous and the training sessions were unbelievable," he said. "I remember after the first few weeks and telling my family I'd never seen anything like it. That initial phase was tough. To prove my worth, at the start, my first few games I was booed by the crowd. I remember one game, it might've been against [Arminia] Bielefeld in 1997-98 – I was on the bench and a player got sent off. The coach looked to the bench and I just thought, 'don't look at me because I'm not a left winger'. And he did, he looked at me and told me to get ready for the left wing. I thought, 'oh no', first game at the Olympic Stadium and he's put me on the left wing. I couldn't get past the player, even if I had a jet rocket tied to my back. I had a terrible game, a shocking game. I gave my best. We were a man down, which made it worse. When the whistle blew, I remember walking down the tunnel and the 1860 fans were just giving it to me, telling me to go back where I came from. I remember hearing all that and thinking, 'I'll win you over, I'll prove it'.

"Month by month, in that first season, I did. Another away game, where I came on again and managed to score. The tide turned. It became better and better, and I became one of the boys, locals. I just loved it. I loved the way we treated each other. I always had time to give to the fans. Whenever a little kid wanted a shirt, I always gave them my shirt off my back. Even we sat down and had a beer. There were a lot of fan clubs around Munich and sometimes for a Christmas party, players would be allocated to visit a fan club. One time, I just sat there with them, and instead of getting around some questions, I just ended up having four, five beers with them. It was great fun. Things don't work that ways these days, but we didn't have training the next day. That gets around and how I became one of them. I still have that respect probably today. I don't get stopped in the street but I get that look, they know. They look at you and I think they're 1860 supporters."

"I was probably playing some of my best football," Agostino added on the 1999-00 season. "It was, even for me, also some other clubs interested in me. But at the same time, I didn't want to go anywhere. I was of the same opinion that 1860 were going to have some good times.

"No one saw it coming. All the more disappointing it was. Sometimes, football is disappointing and you don't know why it happened. Like, how come it clicked to finish fourth but not when the team slipped down the ladder? It's hard to stop the downward trend."

Agostino experienced the Munich derby first-hand before 1860's demise – the city rivals have not met since 2008. While Bayern have dominated, 1860 enjoyed some big moments of their own, especially in 1999-00.

"Breathtaking, exhilarating, nerve-draining," the Australian recalled the derby. "No doubt, the biggest game of the season at the Olympic Stadium. Certainly, to be involved in the game and not getting thrashed, especially the games we won. We were pumped a few times, but that season in 1999-00 we deserved to beat them twice [1-0 and 2-1]. That was a great feeling.

"I remember at half-time, coming into the dressing room, one derby I had to throw up because it was just so nerve-racking. Eat a couple of bananas to settle the stomach and off you go again. Obviously, the feeling afterwards to beat Munich twice, we were the kings of the city. We celebrated hard, too. We made sure to take advantage of it. If we were going to beat Munich, then we would let the whole city know. We played hard and enjoyed it, let's put it that way."

Then, the groundshare happened amid backlash from 1860 fans. 1860 had called Allianz Arena home since its opening in 2004-05 ahead of the 2006 World Cup, alongside Bayern.

Having previously held an equal share in the stadium, 1860 sold their half to Bayern in 2006 but they continued to host matches at the ground as a tenant. However, the lights stopped illuminating blue at Allianz Arena in 2017 after Bayern cancelled the contract of their beleaguered rivals.

1860 now play at the 15,000-capacity Grunwalder Stadion, which was the previously the club's home until 1995.

"From a players' perspective, I loved playing at the Allianz Arena," Agostino said. "We had our own section on the left-hand side. Our own changing rooms, luxury showers, swimming pool and spa. Bayern were on the other side. We saw it as our own stadium. The seats weren't painted red, it was a neutral colour.

"In order for the stadium to be built in the first place, the city of Bavaria, they stipulated the new stadium had to be 50-50 ownership. We felt at home there. In the first few seasons, we filled it up fine. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just a few years later where the crowds started to dwindle and that's when it became a problem financially. Catering costs and things like that. Things started to get out of hand. It's like playing in a big cloud. When we played our home games, it lit up sky blue. It was just awesome."

Fast-forward to 2020-21 and 1860 are preparing for another season in 3. Liga. Having flirted with promotion last term, Michael Kollner's men eventually finished eighth. So, how far off are 1860 from moving up to the second tier?

"Third division in Germany is a very even league, where anyone can beat anyone," Agostino said. "With a bit of form and a decent squad, it's certainly within the club to get back up. Purely on their fanbase, it would push any team to go for promotion. It's certainly within their strengths to be in the running.

"But saying that, you have to take their jigsaw puzzle apart a bit and go back to where these problems started. Back then, they were saved by the Jordanian investor. For some reason, there doesn't seem to be a 100 per cent unity within the club. It can sometimes reflect performance. The day 1860 are 100 per cent working with each other from the investor, all the way down to the kitman or physio, that's the day they'll be back in the running again and able to hit their straps to be where they should be. But I'm not convinced, without knowing all the details, the club indoors everything is running smoothly, the way 1860 should be running. They need to have a happy investor, they need to have everyone agreeing with each other, and I don't have that feeling. Someone is having a go at someone all the time, and that's what is holding them back.

"They have the fans. Even in the third division, their squad budget should be enough to have them up there. Really, it's going to be a case of can we get everyone on the same wavelength. Because it's too big of a club, a traditional club, it's culture. An amazing club with fantastic support."

"There's obviously some sort of turmoil or misunderstandings," he continued. "But like I said, they would get back to strengths very quickly if everyone is on the same side. It's simple but seems to be complicated. Maybe someone has agendas. I don't know but don't need to know but the facts are there."

Lionel Messi looks set to leave Barcelona and a select few clubs are preparing to make a move.

Manchester City? Paris Saint-Germain? Inter?

Keep an eye on this saga…

 

TOP STORY – PSG TALKING TO MESSI

Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with wantaway Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Ole.

Messi has handed in a transfer request at Barca, and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has already been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Inter, Juventus and PSG.

The frontpage of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo claims City are circling to bring Messi to the Premier League with the 33-year-old believed to be keen on reuniting with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola. Meanwhile, Marca claims City have offered a three-year deal.

However, Ligue 1 champions PSG are also eyeing Messi as they look to add him to a squad that already boasts former team-mate Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports Inter have re-opened talks with Barca for midfielder Arturo Vidal. Antonio Conte, who will remain Inter head coach in 2020-21, wants to bring the Chilean to San Siro.

- It comes as Gazzetta dello Sport reports Inter have struck a deal to sign Brescia star Sandro Tonali. Milan have also been eyeing the Italy midfielder.

- Serie A champions Juventus are set to sign Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, says Sky Sport Italia. The United States international is poised to arrive on loan with the option to buy. Juve have also been linked with Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli.

Manchester United are still chasing Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, according to the Daily Mail. Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho has been United's top priority, though the Red Devils remain in contact with Villa over a potential transfer.

- Sport Bild says Liverpool will make an approach for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara in the coming days.

Milan are poised to sign Real Madrid's Brahim Diaz on loan, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Brahim has struggled for game time since arriving from City in 2019.

- Signing Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a priority for PSG, claims Le10 Sport. The Serbia international has previously been linked with Madrid, United, Juve, Inter and Chelsea.

Lionel Messi wants to leave Barcelona and Cesar Luis Menotti would like to see him play for Manchester City or Bayern Munich.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi told Barca on Tuesday he wants to leave and it is believed he intends to use a clause in his contract that allows him to terminate their agreement following the 2019-20 season.

City, where former Barca boss Pep Guardiola is in charge, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter have been touted as potential next destinations for the 33-year-old.

The Catalan giants have expressed a desire to keep Messi at Camp Nou, but Menotti, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978 and coached Barca between 1983 and 1984, would not be averse to seeing him play elsewhere.

"I have not spoken with him, he must be deciding the issue [of his future]," Menotti told TNT Sports.

"From what I hear, there could also be legal action. It is the first time that I have seen a conflict of this type with a footballer who has given Barcelona more than anyone in its history.

"If you ask me which team I want him to play for, I would like him to play at Bayern Munich, or with Pep as they know each other and have won so many things.

"But is not easy for a family like his to live in Manchester or Munich. Any big team with aspirations will find in Messi a footballer in a very good moment. He's had no injuries, he always took care of himself."

It appears that, if Lionel Messi has his way, he will be playing for a new club before long.

The Barcelona captain and talisman has told his employers that he wants to leave and, although the club seem determined to keep him, they may be fighting a losing battle.

Of course, prising Messi away from Barca is by no means straightforward. His basic salary is said to be roughly €71million and, when you add in bonuses and other possible commitments, that represents a huge outlay on a 33-year-old player.

That's before you consider the prospect of a nine-figure transfer fee, assuming he cannot successfully argue that the clause allowing him to walk away from Barca for nothing is still valid. Only a tiny handful of clubs are even capable of pulling off such a deal, particularly in a financial landscape changed by COVID-19.

But what if, just for a minute, we imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but Markus Gisdol has done a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

MARSEILLE

If he's not ready to give up the Mediterranean lifestyle, Marseille is parfait for Messi.

OM remain the only French men's team to be champions of Europe - something of which they've been keen to remind fans of Paris Saint-Germain in recent days - and their supporters are possibly the loudest outside South America. Messi's Marseille beating Neymar's PSG would probably cause a year-long street party.

Head coach Andre Villas-Boas has compared Dimitri Payet to Messi, so you can only imagine he'd be thrilled to have them both. As for getting him there, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta knows him only too well from his time at Barca.

In fact, Zubizarreta was another to be forced out by Josep Maria Bartomeu's operations. He'd probably like nothing better than to share a quiet cassis on the Cote d'Azur, reminiscing about those Camp Nou troubles.

Borussia Dortmund new boy Jude Bellingham has been called up to the England Under-21 squad for the first time at the age of 17.

Bellingham left boyhood club Birmingham City for Dortmund at the end of the 2019-20 Championship season in a reported initial €23million (£21m) transfer.

The midfielder is yet to play a competitive match for BVB but has now been promoted from the U17 national team set-up.

Bellingham is the youngest player in an England U21 squad - named for matches against Kosovo and Austria - that also features Bukayo Saka and Josh Dasilva, both similarly stepping up to this level for the first time.

Arsenal's Saka is eligible to play for Nigeria but has been included by Aidy Boothroyd despite missing out on a senior Three Lions group which did not feature a single left-back.

Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi is the only player in Boothroyd's squad with senior international experience.

Lionel Messi wants to leave Barcelona, but where will he go?

Manchester United, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus are possible destinations.

But, both Manchester clubs are believed to be targeting the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE MESSI, BUT LIONEL WANTS CITY

Manchester United are in position to sign wantaway Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, according to Deportes Cuatro.

Messi wants to sensationally leave embattled LaLiga giants Barca and United are reportedly one of the clubs capable of signing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

However, The Athletic claims neighbours Manchester City and Messi have held talks, with the superstar open to playing for Pep Guardiola again.

Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Telegraph reports Real Madrid outcast James Rodriguez is close to joining Everton. James has previously worked under Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich and Madrid.

Chelsea will complete the signing of Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell, says Fabrizio Romano. The transfer will be announced soon as Chelsea also look to bring in Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz and PSG captain Thiago Silva.

- Calciomercato claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic is close to signing a new deal with Milan. The 38-year-old is out of contract after returning to Milan for a second spell in January.

Barca want City's Gabriel Jesus to replace veteran forward Luis Suarez, according to Globo Esporte. Suarez has been told he can leave Camp Nou, and former club Ajax are reportedly trying to re-sign the Uruguayan.

Thiago Alcantara's possible departure would be a big loss to treble winners Bayern Munich, according to Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Spain international Thiago helped Bayern lift the Champions League on Sunday with another virtuoso midfield display in the 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the final.

It was the latest title to add to the 29-year-old's collection, which includes seven Bundesliga and four DFB-Pokal winners' medals, although it could be the final one he wins with the Bavarian club.

Thiago's contract expires in 2021 and the former Barcelona man has been heavily linked with Premier League champions Liverpool.

Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said last month that Thiago had informed the Bundesliga club of his wish to leave and ex-Bayern boss Hitzfeld feels his departure would be keenly felt.

"That is, of course, a loss for Bayern," he told Goal and SPOX.

"After not always being able to call upon his [full set of] skills at the beginning of the season, he has developed and improved a lot, like the entire team."

A host of Bayern players, including Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Alphonso Davies, all signed new contracts with Bayern earlier this year.

But, like Thiago, David Alaba has been more reluctant to commit his long-term future to the club beyond 2021, when his deal also runs out.

The versatile Austrian switched to centre-back during the campaign due to injuries and Hitzfeld has been impressed with his performances of late.

"Of course, he's one of the pillars of the team and has been playing outstandingly for months," he added.

"It was an excellent decision for Hansi Flick to move Alaba into central defence.

"Whether he stays or not is certainly also a financial question. On the other hand, I think he knows how much he appreciates Bayern."

Hitzfeld has also come out in support of Thomas Tuchel, the PSG boss whose future is reportedly under consideration following the loss to Bayern in their first ever Champions League final.

"I think it was very important for the owners from Qatar that he reached the final with PSG," Hitzfeld added.

"That is a great achievement and Thomas Tuchel has absolutely established himself in Paris, which is not that easy as a German in France. 

"It's a difficult task to work with so many stars and to develop such a strong individualist like Neymar so that he thinks of the team first. Thomas Tuchel succeeded in doing this."

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