Manchester United legend and retired Trinidad and Tobago international Dwight Yorke has decried the continued existence of racism in English football and vows to fight until some of the inequalities are addressed. 

Yorke’s major bone of contention stems from the fact that he believes former players, who are white, are given more of a chance to coach, despite being equally or less qualified.  The former striker, who completed his coach badges years ago, pointed to a situation with Aston Villa a few years back as a prime example.  Despite admitting that he may not have the requisite experience, the player believes he should be given the chance to at least make his case.

 In January of 2017, a League Managers Association’s report showed “statistics clearly identify a significant under-representation of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) individuals. in England football's management ranks”  The report revealed the damning statistic that only 7.61% of English football league managers are black and served to make the case.  Over 25% of English football players are non-white.

“It’s a fact that Sir Alex Ferguson, who’s been tremendous and like a father figure ... when I applied for the [Aston] Villa job, I went into his office and told him exactly what I was trying to do,” Yorke told beIN Sports.

“He gave me some experience, he told me what I needed to do and I picked his brain. At the same time, he picked the phone up and rang Villa for me to give his recommendation.

“He’s always said to me, if I need anything, any recommendation to break into management, he would vouch for me – even to this day. With his help, I still can’t get an interview. I still can’t get an interview to this day,” he added.

 “That is what we are facing today.”

To combat the disparity between white and minority managers, the English League introduced the Rooney Rule, in 2019.  Similar to the NFL version, which was established in 2003, it dictates that every club must interview at least one BAME candidate for each senior coaching role vacancy.  Yorke, however, does not believe the rule has been effective.

“It is an absolute joke,” said Yorke, 48. “It’s not been implemented whatsoever. And if you go even deeper and you follow it in the NFL, there are new rules ... If you hire a black manager you go up in the league or something,” he added.

“The players obviously have gone against that because it’s a token gesture. This Rooney Rule hasn’t been implemented for years. I know Sol Campbell, I spoke to Sol Campbell. He went to Grimsby, he was trying his nuts off just to try and get a job,” he added.

“He went to Macclesfield, someone who’s played the level he has, and now he’s at Southend. When you see other players – I can call names, but I won’t – other players have been fast-forwarded and fast-tracked.

“You have seen, on the other hand, white players given that platform with very little experience, straight into management,” Yorke continued.

“There is a serious issue here. I’m going to fight this all the way. I’m still very hopeful.”

Chelsea are reportedly set to make a move for Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with numerous European giants after impressing for the Bundesliga club.

The Germany international has attracted plenty of interest, but Chelsea are apparently ready to strengthen even further this close season.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA PREPARE HAVERTZ BID

Chelsea are preparing a bid for Bayer Leverkusen star Havertz, according to the Daily Mail.

The Premier League giants are expected to sign RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner and Havertz could follow him to Stamford Bridge.

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are among the other clubs reportedly interested in Havertz, who is rated at £75million.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have been linked to James Rodriguez previously and the playmaker could yet end up at Old Trafford. The Sun reports United have been asked about a cut-price deal for James, who is out of contract at Real Madrid next year.

- Staying at Manchester United and Sport reports they were prepared to pay £88.8m (€100m) for 17-year-old Barcelona forward Ansu Fati, but the LaLiga giants have no plans to let the teenager leave.

- Out of contract at the end of June, Adam Lallana could extend his Liverpool stay – at least briefly. The Daily Mail says the midfielder is on track to agree a short-term deal with the Premier League leaders to stay until the end of the season, before being expected to join Leicester City.

- Memphis Depay has enjoyed a strong season at Lyon, but the attacker is out of contract next year. CalcioMercato reports talks are moving slowly, leading to interest in the Netherlands international from AC Milan and potentially Everton.

- Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell is linked with a switch. The Evening Standard reports Chelsea have the advantage over Manchester City in the chase for the England international due to the latter's Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing as they challenge their European ban.

- With Alex Sandro contracted until 2023, Juventus seemingly have no plans to sell the left-back. According to CalcioMercato, the 29-year-old is not for sale – but he is also not untouchable.

Tony Dunne, who was part of the Manchester United side who won the European Cup in 1968, has died at the age of 78.

Dunne joined the Red Devils from Shelbourne in 1960 and went on to play in 535 games, a number that sees him sit eighth on the club's all-time appearances list.

The full-back was twice a league champion during his 13 years at Old Trafford – helping claim the title in 1965 and then again in 1967 – as well as the FA Cup.

Dunne featured in every round as Matt Busby's squad were crowned European champions in 1968, becoming the first English team to lift the famous trophy in the process.

United defeated Benfica 4-1 in a final that went to extra time, Bobby Charlton scoring twice while George Best and Brian Kidd also found the net at Wembley.

Capped 33 times by the Republic of Ireland, Dunne joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer in 1973, spending six years there before finishing his playing career with a short stint in the North American Soccer League with Detroit Express.

In a tweet following the news of his death, United described Dunne as "one of our greatest-ever full-backs", adding: "Our heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of Tony Dunne. May he rest in peace."

Ander Herrera says Jose Mourinho is the world's best manager when the going is good, but he does not take losing well.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder reflected on playing under Tottenham boss Mourinho at Manchester United and has largely fond memories of the manager's two-and-a-half-year tenure.

"Mourinho is the best manager in the world when things go well,” Herrera said to The Athletic. 

"The relationship with the players, the way he treats everyone; I really liked his training sessions. Also, with [assistant] Rui Faria, they were a fantastic team together. 

"But it is also true, when he loses, he does not take it in a good way. That is true. And he accepts that! He does not hide from it. 

"We have a great relationship. The first year was fantastic, we won three titles.

"The second year, we won 84 points in the Premier League and came second. We lost the FA Cup final but we played much better than Chelsea [that day], if you remember that game.

"It is true the last six months was a bit different because he had some disagreements with the club.

"When you see your manager has some confrontations with the club, you do not perform the same way. Everything affects the training session, everything affects the daily work."

Herrera previously discussed his decision to leave United and has now elaborated on the subject, wishing the Premier League side had offered him a new contract sooner.

"It was not about money and it was not about the duration of the contract offer," Herrera said of his decision to join PSG last year on a five-year deal.

"In my opinion, I waited too long [for an offer from United] and deserved more attention from the club. I gave everything. I never complained. I never went to the media to complain about anything.

"I never put a bad face to any manager, to any member of the board, and they waited until I had five or six months left on my contract – that's why I had some disagreements with them. 

"I thought they were going to come two years before my contract finished, like most other clubs do.

"I expected them to come to sign a new contract after my club Player of the Year award in 2017. I just felt sad."

But Herrera still remembers United fondly, adding: "This is only professional and I have no personal problem with them. 

"Even if I see [United CEO] Ed Woodward tomorrow, I'll give him a hug because it is life. I had a great relationship with him.

"He is a very good man but we had some disagreements with our point of views about the team and about the club. That's it.

"Every time I wore the United shirt, I was so proud. In spite of what I told you before, I don't have one bad word for the club. So thankful for the club and how I was treated for five years."

Ander Herrera believes Manchester United have three players who can be ranked alongside the world's best in Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

While the debate around United is often based on who their next star signing will be, their former midfielder Herrera feels a trio already in the squad can lead them to Premier League glory.

He feels France star Pogba has the quality to be classed as the world's best midfielder, while forwards Rashford and Martial can also be considered among the top five or 10 players in the game.

"I give you my opinion: I don't know what other players say but he is a midfielder that has everything," Herrera said of Pogba in an interview with The Athletic.

"An NBA athlete with Brazilian feet and the combinations of a Spanish midfielder. He can combine really well – he can do one-two, very quick at high speed. He does have a good attitude.

"If you see other midfielders in the world, they may have some qualities control of the ball, long shots, passes, tackles, box-to-box.

"But Paul can do all of this, plus head the ball, score goals, make recoveries, one against one – everything. But of course, if you want to become the best midfielder in the world, it is about consistency. 

"You have to do it day in, day out. He is a good guy. He wants to do it. He does train well. He has to do it every day."

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Herrera, who left United in 2019, was similarly positive about his former team-mates Rashford and Martial.

"They have the quality to be among the top 10 in the world," he said of United's young forwards.

"Why do we admire Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or [Eden] Hazard, who I also think is one of the best in the world? We admire them because they keep that form for a long time.

"If they do it, they will become, maybe not Messi or Cristiano – because they are unique in the history of football – but they can be top five or top 10.

"But they have to do it for a long time and keep it up. It is the same for Paul.

"Rashford is on his way to doing it and Paul can be the best midfielder in the world if he keeps playing those games where we are all amazed by him. 

"But to keep it at that level is the most difficult thing in football. To keep at it Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, every time.

"If those three can do that, Manchester United will win the Premier League soon, for sure."

For the first time in a while, there is a genuine and understandable enthusiasm around Manchester United's midfield options.

Bruno Fernandes settled exceptionally quickly following his January move from Sporting CP, Fred has established himself in the team and produced a string of positive performances, Scott McTominay continues to improve and speculation relating to Paul Pogba has gone quiet.

Now there is reportedly increasing confidence of being able to sign Ajax star Donny van de Beek, a key figure in the Dutch side's march to the Champions League semi-finals last year.

The Netherlands international had been heavily linked with Real Madrid, with claims a deal had already been agreed between the club and player, but those reports have since cooled.

There's little doubt Van de Beek would be a fine addition at Old Trafford, but would the fans' ideal midfield trio comprising of Pogba, Fernandes and the 23-year-old be too unbalanced?

More responsibility, greater productivity

One of Van de Beek's biggest strengths is his well-rounded style of play, and it is especially relevant when looking at the roles he has played across the past two seasons.

Last term he was regularly deployed in an attack-minded position ahead of Frenkie de Jong, whereas in 2019-20 he was largely used in a deeper role, helping to fill the void left by his international colleague's departure to Barcelona.

Therefore, if we accept Pogba and Fernandes would automatically fill the first two midfield spots at United, it is likely Van de Beek would be asked to play a deep-lying role if he was to move to Old Trafford.

This certainly did not negatively impact his influence for Ajax in 2019-20, however, even with respect to his attacking output.

Across all competitions, he averaged more touches of the ball (53.5 to 46.7) per game this season, while his touches in the opposition's penalty area also increased from 5.9 to 6.9.

The fact Van de Beek saw more of the ball reflects in his higher passing frequency (up to 38.8 per match from 33.1), and the accuracy of that distribution was 81 per cent, having been at 79 last term.

Understandably he did not average as many shots per game (down from 2.1 to 1.9), but his chance creation increased to 1.8 from 1.6 in 2018-19.

While these were mostly slight changes, it does highlight a suitability for the position – the fact his attacking productivity generally increased, even from a deeper role, speaks volumes for his influence, particularly given Ajax were widely accepted to have been less impressive collectively this term.

The best option for a defensive role?

From a defensive perspective, there were not major changes to Van de Beek's contributions in 2019-20. He still averaged five recoveries, one interception and two tackles per game, while his participation in duels (from 8.0 to 8.4) and duels won (from 4.2 to 4.4) were up slightly in all competitions.

But it is worth remembering Ajax were generally a dominant force in matches – they spent more time with the ball than without it, and Van de Beek's influence was most felt when they were on the attack.

Fred and Nemanja Matic – who also enjoyed something of a resurgence before the season's suspension – would likely be those most threatened by Van de Beek's arrival.

But both can claim a better frequency of interceptions, with Matic averaging 1.2 per Premier League game and Fred 1.4, while they also complete more passes per match – 46 and 53, respectively.

And although Van de Beek's all-action approach serves him well, Matic and Fred both out-do him with respect to average duels; the Serbian is involved in 10 per top-flight game, the Brazilian 12.

While neither boast Van de Beek's effectiveness in attack, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could argue that is not their job if occupying a deep position.

A replacement for Pogba?

While Van de Beek's game was not hurt by operating in a deeper role this term, he is clearly at his most useful when in possession, and he has also been praised for his clinical nature in front of goal.

After all, in the Eredivisie this season his expected goals (xG) was 5.5 but he scored eight times. Similarly, in the Champions League, he got a pair of goals despite his xG being 1.3.

Were United to sign Van de Beek as a deep-lying midfielder whom the defensive burden was on, there is a strong chance the Premier League would not see the best of him. It would be bold to expect a similar attacking output from him in England's top flight if he was also tasked with protecting the defence.

But if he was to be seen as a long-term replacement for Pogba, there is an equally arguable case that United's overall midfield unit could improve with his box-to-box capabilities.

Pogba – who has missed the majority of the 2019-20 season through injury – averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.5 interceptions in his 35 Premier League games last term, which is fewer than Van de Beek. And while people might be correct to point out the World Cup winner is more known for his creativity than his work off the ball, Van de Beek's average chance creation of 1.8 is also better than Pogba's 1.6 in 2018-19.

Either way, it seems likely Van de Beek would be a solid acquisition if United were able to snatch him from the grasp of Madrid – but his well-rounded game could see him pigeonholed and his influence limited.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has a long list of admirers.

From Manchester United to Real Madrid, the Lazio midfielder is a player in demand.

Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, however, appear on track to sign the Serbia international.

 

TOP STORY –  PSG AND MILINKOVIC-SAVIC IN AGREEMENT

Paris Saint-Germain have reached a salary agreement with Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, according to Paris Fans.

Milinkovic-Savic has been linked to Premier League giants Manchester United and LaLiga powerhouse Real Madrid.

But PSG have an agreement with Milinkovic-Savic for a salary around €7million a year, while the deal could also include Laizo's Adam Marusic.

Firstly, PSG would like to seal the departure of Julian Draxler, who has been linked to Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin.

 

ROUND-UP

Neymar still wants to join Barcelona at the end of the season. The front page of Monday's Mundo Deportivo says the PSG star remains committed to pushing through a return to Barca at all costs.

- The Telegraph says Manchester City have entered the chase for Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell. The Englishman has been heavily linked to Chelsea.

- Birmingham City sensation Jude Bellingham prefers Borussia Dortmund over United, reports the Birmingham Mail. The 16-year-old is wanted by both clubs, while he has already toured United's facilities.

Marco Verratti and Alvaro Morata are being linked with returns to Serie A. Tuttosport claims the possible arrival of Italian head coach Massimiliano Allegri at PSG could see Verratti and Juventus' Miralem Pjanic swap clubs. Atletico Madrid forward Morata, meanwhile, has been in contact with Inter as Edinson Cavani prepares to move to the Spanish capital on a free transfer.

- Admirers of Ismael Bennacer will struggle to sign the Milan midfielder. City, Madrid and PSG have been linked to Bennacer. But, Calciomercato says the 22-year-old's €50m release clause is not active until 2021.

Barca's bid to bring Lautaro Martinez to Camp Nou is no closer to completion. Junior Firpo has emerged as the key to unlocking the deadlock between Barca and Inter. Junior Firpo is valued at €41m by Barca, but FCInterNews says the Nerazzurri consider the defender's transfer value closer to €20m.

Napoli have warned they will not allow Kalidou Koulibaly to leave in a cut-price deal, insisting the defender's value has not budged during the coronavirus crisis.

The Senegalese centre-back, who turns 29 later this month, has frequently been linked with a move, including to Premier League duo Manchester United and Liverpool.

Clubs across Europe have been hit by the impact of the pandemic, with the financial toll leading to suggestions it could have a major effect on the transfer market.

Yet Napoli have no intention of allowing players to leave below their full value, and sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli said it will take top dollar to prise away any of the club's stars.

Addressing the future of Koulibaly, Giuntoli told Italian broadcaster Sky Sport 24: "He is a great footballer and the club has the right to ask for the price it wants."

Giuntoli does not buy into the theory that the best players will suddenly be available for lower prices than before COVID-19 hit.

"They say negotiations will change, but in my opinion this is an alibi. I don't think the coronavirus issue can change the price of Koulibaly or other top players," Giuntoli said.

"Certainly, however, we'll come to appreciate the contractual formula such as the loan with an option to buy, which help to postpone the guarantees and ease the balance immediately. Football can adapt quickly."

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.

 

Fuerte Apache, Buenos Aires is an imposing sight. Like a skyrise jungle domineering over the run-down surroundings of small shops and bars, it holds a certain aura that is probably not helped by its reputation.

Ejercito de los Andes, to give its original name, received its more familiar moniker after a shootout in the estate was broadcast live on the news. The 1981 film 'Fort Apache, The Bronx' is where the nickname came from, and it stuck.

Carlos Tevez is the barrio's most famous son. The former Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Argentina star's face is prominent in numerous places around the estate, with several murals dedicated to him.

While the biggest – and most iconic – piece in tribute to the forward can be seen on the north edge, facing away from the estate, there is another deep inside Fuerte Apache.

Here, fittingly, Tevez looks out over the football pitch of Roger 'Didi' Ruiz, the coach who discovered him, and where Argentina's next great hope crafted his skills.

First there was Tevez, now Fuerte Apache expects of Thiago Almada.

From Tevez's patch to Velez

As early as four years old, Almada – like Tevez before him – was playing with Club Santa Clara in Fuerte Apache. By five he was signed up by Velez Sarsfield, but he continued to represent his local side as well.

For Almada, a silky attacking midfielder, football has offered a legitimate route to a better life. Even though he accepts the area isn't quite as dangerous as it was in Tevez's time, trouble was still frequent in his youth.

"In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people who chose the wrong path. It is one way or the other, and I also chose," he told Diario Clarin in 2017, when he was still a part of Velez's youth setup.

But he wouldn't be for much longer. A little over a year later, in August 2018, Almada made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, appearing for 26 minutes in the 2018-19 Superliga opener against Newell's Old Boys.

He went on to play a total of 16 league matches that season under the tutelage of Gabriel Heinze, generally operating through the middle or off the left, but such prominence at a young age in Argentina does not go unnoticed by bigger European clubs, and it caused fractions.

Velez were understandably concerned about Almada being poached and, with his contract set to expire in June 2020, for a period it seemed realistic he could leave for pittance.

The situation led to speculation claiming Heinze had grown frustrated with Almada, though the coach furiously denied this in a news conference last year, saying: "Tell that journalist that he is a liar and he is absolutely wrong. There are two people here, it's me and it's Thiago. I tell him that they have a lying journalist and the information is a lie. My relationship with Thiago remains the same."

"All the goals were scored by him"

In September, Velez finally tied Almada down to a new four-year contract. As much as anything, it provided the Liniers club with greater financial security, increasing his release clause from a reported €14million to a figure that will reportedly reach €25m after August 31. Directors could breathe a sigh of relief.

Man City had been lurking. With reports of Almada's agent travelling to Europe for talks with other clubs, a feeling of deja vu would have been justifiable for Velez, who lost Benjamin Garre – a former youth-team colleague of Almada – to the Premier League giants for a nominal fee in 2016.

While Almada's rise has been impressive – he has played 22 times in the Superliga this term – it cannot be said that no one saw it coming.

Turu Flores, a former Velez player, spent five years on the coaching staff of the club's senior side, including a 12-month stint as head coach. In that time, watching the youth teams was a regular occurrence for him, and one kid always seemed to stand out.

"I've known Thiago since he was a child," Flores told Stats Perform News. "He is a friend of my son and already had an incredible impact when he was 14 years old. I remember him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old. At that time I was working for Velez and I used to go and see him playing. He used to start as a central midfielder, but the matches would finish 3-0 or 4-0 and all the goals were scored by him. So, you could already envisage that he has the potential to make important things in football."

'Welcome to Manchester', part two?

A wonderful technician, it's easy to see why City might see Almada as a long-term replacement for David Silva, even if they already possess Phil Foden. But having missed out on him last year, there's reportedly growing interest from elsewhere – United, Inter and Atletico Madrid have all been mentioned as admirers.

It remains to be seen if Almada emulates Tevez and causes another tug-of-war between the Manchester giants, but whoever manages to prise him away from Velez will potentially get themselves a generational talent.

"He is very young and has a long journey ahead of him, a lot to learn, but he has incredible conditions," Flores adds. "He's got a great shot and amazing vision. His vision is not common anymore, you don't see it, or we haven't seen it for a long time. This kind of player comes from the playground, how he controls the ball, how he hits the ball. He is one of the last players that grew up in the street playgrounds."

That style of play is also reflected by his idolising of Juan Roman Riquelme, who invited him to a barbecue after seeing him play earlier this season. "He got my number, texted me and invited me. He is my idol – I could not believe it," Almada told Infobae in October.

Like Riquelme at Boca Juniors in the 1990s, Almada is already a significant influence at Velez despite being a teenager, even if only 10 of his league appearances this term have come as a starter.

With nine goals since making his debut, he is – remarkably – Velez's top-scorer, and only five players have featured more regularly than him.

In terms of chance creation, he's laid on 54 key passes since August 2018, the second most of Velez players, and his dribbling excellence is also quantifiable.

He has attempted 121 take-ons in senior football, completing 60 per cent – of Velez players, only Gaston Gimenez (67 per cent) has a better completion rate than Almada.

Explosive, technically outstanding and creative, there is much to like about his game. More dynamic than Riquelme and arguably a greater natural talent than Tevez, Almada's future looks exciting.

Tevez may have blazed a trail out of Fuerte Apache for Almada to follow, potentially even to Manchester, but there's every chance the teenager could one day be held in even higher regard than Carlitos.

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.

 

Fuerte Apache, Buenos Aires is an imposing sight. Like a skyrise jungle domineering over the run-down surroundings of small shops and bars, it holds a certain aura that is probably not helped by its reputation.

Ejercito de los Andes, to give its original name, received its more familiar moniker after a shootout in the estate was broadcast live on the news. The 1981 film 'Fort Apache, The Bronx' is where the nickname came from, and it stuck.

Carlos Tevez is the barrio's most famous son. The former Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Argentina star's face is prominent in numerous places around the estate, with several murals dedicated to him.

While the biggest – and most iconic – piece in tribute to the forward can be seen on the north edge, facing away from the estate, there is another deep inside Fuerte Apache.

Here, fittingly, Tevez looks out over the football pitch of Roger 'Didi' Ruiz, the coach who discovered him, and where Argentina's next great hope crafted his skills.

First there was Tevez, now Fuerte Apache expects of Thiago Almada.

From Tevez's patch to Velez

As early as four years old, Almada – like Tevez before him – was playing with Club Santa Clara in Fuerte Apache. By five he was signed up by Velez Sarsfield, but he continued to represent his local side as well.

For Almada, a silky attacking midfielder, football has offered a legitimate route to a better life. Even though he accepts the area isn't quite as dangerous as it was in Tevez's time, trouble was still frequent in his youth.

"In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people who chose the wrong path. It is one way or the other, and I also chose," he told Diario Clarin in 2017, when he was still a part of Velez's youth setup.

But he wouldn't be for much longer. A little over a year later, in August 2018, Almada made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, appearing for 26 minutes in the 2018-19 Superliga opener against Newell's Old Boys.

He went on to play a total of 16 league matches that season under the tutelage of Gabriel Heinze, generally operating through the middle or off the left, but such prominence at a young age in Argentina does not go unnoticed by bigger European clubs, and it caused fractions.

Velez were understandably concerned about Almada being poached and, with his contract set to expire in June 2020, for a period it seemed realistic he could leave for pittance.

The situation led to speculation claiming Heinze had grown frustrated with Almada, though the coach furiously denied this in a news conference last year, saying: "Tell that journalist that he is a liar and he is absolutely wrong. There are two people here, it's me and it's Thiago. I tell him that they have a lying journalist and the information is a lie. My relationship with Thiago remains the same."

"All the goals were scored by him"

In September, Velez finally tied Almada down to a new four-year contract. As much as anything, it provided the Liniers club with greater financial security, increasing his release clause from a reported €14million to a figure that will reportedly reach €25m after August 31. Directors could breathe a sigh of relief.

Man City had been lurking. With reports of Almada's agent travelling to Europe for talks with other clubs, a feeling of deja vu would have been justifiable for Velez, who lost Benjamin Garre – a former youth-team colleague of Almada – to the Premier League giants for a nominal fee in 2016.

While Almada's rise has been impressive – he has played 22 times in the Superliga this term – it cannot be said that no one saw it coming.

Turu Flores, a former Velez player, spent five years on the coaching staff of the club's senior side, including a 12-month stint as head coach. In that time, watching the youth teams was a regular occurrence for him, and one kid always seemed to stand out.

"I've known Thiago since he was a child," Flores told Stats Perform News. "He is a friend of my son and already had an incredible impact when he was 14 years old. I remember him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old. At that time I was working for Velez and I used to go and see him playing. He used to start as a central midfielder, but the matches would finish 3-0 or 4-0 and all the goals were scored by him. So, you could already envisage that he has the potential to make important things in football."

'Welcome to Manchester', part two?

A wonderful technician, it's easy to see why City might see Almada as a long-term replacement for David Silva, even if they already possess Phil Foden. But having missed out on him last year, there's reportedly growing interest from elsewhere – United, Inter and Atletico Madrid have all been mentioned as admirers.

It remains to be seen if Almada emulates Tevez and causes another tug-of-war between the Manchester giants, but whoever manages to prise him away from Velez will potentially get themselves a generational talent.

"He is very young and has a long journey ahead of him, a lot to learn, but he has incredible conditions," Flores adds. "He's got a great shot and amazing vision. His vision is not common anymore, you don't see it, or we haven't seen it for a long time. This kind of player comes from the playground, how he controls the ball, how he hits the ball. He is one of the last players that grew up in the street playgrounds."

That style of play is also reflected by his idolising of Juan Roman Riquelme, who invited him to a barbecue after seeing him play earlier this season. "He got my number, texted me and invited me. He is my idol – I could not believe it," Almada told Infobae in October.

Like Riquelme at Boca Juniors in the 1990s, Almada is already a significant influence at Velez despite being a teenager, even if only 10 of his league appearances this term have come as a starter.

With nine goals since making his debut, he is – remarkably – Velez's top-scorer, and only five players have featured more regularly than him.

In terms of chance creation, he's laid on 54 key passes since August 2018, the second most of Velez players, and his dribbling excellence is also quantifiable.

He has attempted 121 take-ons in senior football, completing 60 per cent – of Velez players, only Gaston Gimenez (67 per cent) has a better completion rate than Almada.

Explosive, technically outstanding and creative, there is much to like about his game. More dynamic than Riquelme and arguably a greater natural talent than Tevez, Almada's future looks exciting.

Tevez may have blazed a trail out of Fuerte Apache for Almada to follow, potentially even to Manchester, but there's every chance the teenager could one day be held in even higher regard than Carlitos.

Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho at Old Trafford?

Manchester United have been linked to both players.

But Aston Villa's Grealish has reportedly surged ahead of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon as United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eyes reinforcements.

 

TOP STORY – GREALISH LEAPFROGS SANCHO AS UTD TARGET

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has moved ahead of Jadon Sancho on Manchester United's wishlist, according to the Mirror.

United have been tipped to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho at the end of the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season.

But Grealish now reportedly tops United's list of transfer targets due to Dortmund's demands.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca reports Barcelona risk losing out on signing Inter forward Lautaro Martinez. The LaLiga champions are favourites to prise Martinez to Camp Nou but they are yet to agree a deal. Now, United and Real Madrid are waiting in the wings.

Inter remain hopeful of signing Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal, says Calciomercato. It comes as the Nerazzurri also target Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali.

- The Mirror claims Liverpool have turned their attention to signing Wolves star Adama Traore as RB Leipzig's Timo Werner looks set to join Premier League rivals Chelsea.

Madrid have made an €80million offer for Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, according to Bild. The deal would also see Havertz stay at Leverkusen on loan next season. The in-demand Germany international is also reportedly wanted by Bayern Munich, United and Liverpool.

- The Daily Mail reports United are looking to hijack Madrid's pursuit of Ajax star Donny van de Beek.

- Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani has turned down Inter as he heads to Atletico Madrid on a free transfer, says Tuttosport.

Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso said Federico Chiesa can leave if the club's valuation is met amid reported interest from Serie A and Premier League clubs.

Chiesa is a player in demand following his exploits for Fiorentina, with Italian champions Juventus, Inter, Manchester United and Chelsea among the teams linked.

The 22-year-old Italy international, who emerged from Fiorentina's youth system in 2016, had managed six goals and three assists in 23 Serie A appearances prior to the coronavirus pandemic halting the season.

Fiorentina owner Commisso has already said he is open to selling Chiesa if the forward wishes to depart and he reiterated his stance on Saturday.

"If Chiesa wants, then he can leave, but only for the figure that we set," Commisso told reporters.

"It's a different matter for Gaetano Castrovilli [the Fiorentina midfielder has also attracted interest], as he told me that he wants to remain in Florence.

"If Chiesa does go, then Castrovilli can have the Number 10 jersey."

Fiorentina – 13th in the table at the time of postponement – are set to resume their 2019-20 campaign at home to Brescia on June 22.

Manchester United duo Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford featured in a training match at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The duo had been sidelined with long-term injuries before the Premier League campaign was halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic.

Having come through some non-contact sessions unscathed, Pogba (ankle) and Rashford (back) took part in an intra-squad contest at the weekend.

For the Frenchman it was a first outing on home soil since December 26, while Rashford last played at the stadium on January 15.

The friendly kick-about pitted Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes as opposing captains under the watchful eye of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's previous competitive fixture at the so-called 'Theatre of Dreams' was a 2-0 win over rivals Manchester City on March 8.

Solskjaer's side, who sit just three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, face a trip to Tottenham in their first game back.

All remaining games will be played behind closed doors. 

Bruno Fernandes is "what you pray for" from a new signing, according to Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs.

Giggs, a 13-time Premier League winner at Old Trafford, has been happy with the quality and character of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's additions in the transfer market.

He has been particularly impressed by Portugal international Fernandes, who arrived from Sporting CP in January and helped United to an 11-match unbeaten run prior to the coronavirus crisis halting the season.

"Fernandes coming in has given everyone a lift, it's an exciting end to the season," said Giggs, per Sky Sports, as United prepare to return to action with a match at Tottenham on June 19.

"It's early doors to be talking about the players who have come in and made an impact [such as Eric Cantona] but certainly he's off to a great start. 

"He's made players around him better and has just fitted in straight away. That's always what you pray for when a new signing comes in.

"He looks a good guy as well, he wants to play for the club. He's exciting, when he receives the ball he will try things, if something doesn't come off he will try it again, he's brilliant to watch.

"He's given everyone a lift, the players around him, the staff, the fans. A really positive start but a long way to go yet."

United hope Fernandes will be able to form a midfield partnership with Paul Pogba, who is set to return to action in a season that has been heavily disrupted by injuries.

"Whether or not they will gel, you can't answer that question until the play together," said Giggs.

"Good players should be able to play with good players but we'll have to wait and see. They both have lots of quality, it's about if they can complement each other now."

Giggs was also pleased to see Odion Ighalo's loan spell from Shanghai Shenhua extended until January 2021, adding: "He gives you something extra off the bench when he's not starting. 

"Centre forwards always want to score goals, he's done that everywhere he has gone. It's positive that he is able to stay because he has done well. He makes an impact when he's on the pitch.

"Ole's signings have been good, not only as players but they are good people."

Lionel Messi could be set to extend his contract at Barcelona.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner's deal with the LaLiga giants expires next year, and there has been some speculation about the forward's future.

But, a renewal at Barcelona could be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA TO BEGIN CONTRACT TALKS WITH MESSI

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is planning to meet Messi's father next week to discuss a contract renewal, according to Sport.

The 32-year-old has won 10 LaLiga titles and the Champions League on four occasions during his time at Barca.

Meanwhile, Sport also reports Barcelona rejected a €100million offer for 17-year-old forward Ansu Fati.

ROUND-UP

- While RB Leipzig star Timo Werner is reportedly set to join Chelsea, it seems Liverpool may be looking elsewhere. The Independent says Liverpool are closely monitoring Borussia Dortmund attacker Jadon Sancho. The England international has been linked to Manchester United and Real Madrid. The Mirror, meanwhile, reports Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called Werner to tell the forward the club would not be pursuing a move.

- Barcelona are expected to be busy during the close season. Marca reports the LaLiga giants are still focused on Inter star Lautaro Martinez and Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, despite the transfers being complicated.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Sport reports Bayern Munich consider Barcelona defender Nelson Semedo, valued at €40m, too expensive, with Ajax's Sergino Dest a cheaper alternative.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain at season's end, Thiago Silva could be set for an exit. The defender is open to a return to AC Milan if he does not renew in Paris, according to Sport.

- Another player coming out of contract, Dries Mertens, is seemingly going nowhere. Sky Sport reports Mertens, 33, will extend his contract with Napoli for two years with an option for a third.

- Could Chelsea add a left-back this close season? The Guardian says they are stepping up their interest in Leicester City defender Ben Chilwell, while Ajax's Nicolas Tagliafico is said to be an alternative.

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