Barcelona have conceded they lack the financial muscle to sign Neymar or Lautaro Martinez - warning there could be "three or four years" of economic strain for Europe's top clubs.

Until the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Europe, Barcelona looked sure to make a major play for Inter striker Martinez in the close season.

They might also have been tempted by a fresh attempt to bring back Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, three years after the Brazilian left Camp Nou.

But a side-effect of the COVID-19 crisis has been its impact on sport across the world, with leagues being suspended and games played behind closed doors once it was considered safe for action to resume.

And while Barcelona held early talks about signing Martinez, an Argentina team-mate of Lionel Messi, that transfer plan was shelved weeks ago, with the club's strategy turning towards bringing through young talent.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Catalan newspaper Sport: "Barca have spoken with Inter about Lautaro, but the talks have stopped. The situation doesn't invite large investments.

"Neymar? In this situation, it's unfeasible. Nor do PSG want to sell him. That is normal because he is one of the best players in the world."

Bartomeu had said as much about Argentinian Martinez last month, and he again warned that Barcelona's income for the 2020-21 season was expected to nosedive by 30 per cent from original forecasts of €1.1billion.

"If the pandemic situation does not improve, there will be no public, no museum, no stores, and money will continue to be lost," Bartomeu said.

"It forces us to be very rigorous in management: we must review which investments are essential and which can wait. You have to adapt."

The necessary cost-cutting means head coach Quique Setien, looking to fashion a side to get the better of Real Madrid next season, cannot hope to have the spending power that many of his predecessors have enjoyed.

Bartomeu was asked whether the days of mega-money transfers are over and said: "I think so. Unless player exchanges are made.

"All major European clubs are affected. Everyone is working to adapt. And this is not going to last one year, but three or four."

Could Kasper Schmeichel follow in his father's footsteps?

Peter Schmeichel earned legendary status at Manchester United after winning five Premier League titles and the Champions League during his time at the club.

Now, Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper is being linked with a sensational move to the Theatre of Dreams.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED CONSIDER SCHMEICHEL MOVE

Manchester United are lining up a transfer swoop for Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to replace David de Gea, according to The Sun.

De Gea's position at United has come under threat following a slump in form for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, despite being contracted until 2023.

There have been calls for Dean Henderson, who has spent time on loan at Sheffield United, to return Old Trafford, however, Kasper – the son of Red Devils legend Peter – is reportedly seen as the perfect ready-made option.

 

ROUND-UP

Paris Saint-Germain are preparing a bid for Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara, says Le10Sport. Thiago has been tipped to join Premier League champions Liverpool, however, Ligue 1 holders PSG are believed to be in the mix for his signature.

- TF1 reports United have made contact with Monaco about a potential move for 19-year-old centre-back Benoit Badiashile, who has also been linked to Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen.

- According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona have ruled out a swap deal that would see Ivan Rakitic move to Juventus in exchange for Rodrigo Bentancur.

Milan have opened talks with Tottenham over the signing of right-back Serge Aurier, reports Sky Sport journalist Fabrizio Romano.

Juve are willing to offer Federico Bernardeschi and Cristian Romero to Serie A rivals Roma as part of a deal to sign Italian star Nicolo Zaniolo, claims SportMediaset. Zaniolo has also been linked to Madrid, Tottenham and former club Inter.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is willing to wait for a Madrid move until 2021-22, Marca claims. The 17-year-old has been heavily linked to the LaLiga champions as well as PSG.

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta once again poured cold water over the possibility of signing Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, labelling the speculation as a "pure dream".

Messi continues to be linked to Inter, with the Barca superstar reportedly unhappy at Camp Nou and prepared to leave the LaLiga giants once his contract expires in 2021.

There has been renewed talk that Inter could attempt to prise Messi to San Siro after a picture of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was projected onto the Duomo di Milano prior to Tuesday's 2-0 Serie A victory over Napoli.

However, Inter CEO Marotta dismissed the chance of Messi swapping Barca for the Italian club following Saturday's season-ending 2-0 triumph at Atalanta.

"We have to be realistic, it's a dream. These are fantasies," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"Messi is an absolute top player who is with his ideal club like Barcelona, where I think he will end his career. So, I repeat that this is a pure dream."

Inter finished the 2019-20 Serie A season just a point adrift of champions Juventus thanks to their success away to high-flying Atalanta.

Ashley Young scored a fine goal from outside the box after team-mate Danilo D'Ambrosio had given Inter the lead inside just 50 seconds.

Despite securing a runners-up finish in his first season with Inter, head coach Antonio Conte took aim at the Nerazzurri afterwards, claiming neither he nor his players received protection from the club amid criticism.

But Marotta – who also worked alongside Conte at Juventus – said: "Second place is the confirmation of a project that has been underway since the beginning of this season.

"The fact that we have matched the points earned in the treble season, that we have set the away goals record and maintained the best defence in the league are great facts, but the priority is to have created a model for the seasons to follow. So, I have to thank the management for the support given to the team."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks like he has already decided to pursue an Arsenal exit, according to Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand.

Having already inspired Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, the Gabon international scored both goals as the Gunners came from behind to defeat rivals Chelsea 2-1 in Saturday's final at Wembley.

It capped a superb season for the club captain, who has scored 29 goals across all competitions and been prolific ever since signing from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

The future of Aubameyang has been intensely debated as he is out of contract in 12 months, with the Gunners not in next season's Champions League, though this win ensured they do at least reach the Europa League.

In an on-pitch interview prior to lifting the trophy, Aubameyang, 31, insisted he had nothing to say when asked to clarify his future.

Ferdinand felt the implication was clear.

"That says he is gone," the former Manchester United and England defender told BT Sport after Arsenal's record 14th FA Cup triumph. 

"[He said], 'I'm going to enjoy this moment with my team-mates and I don't want to talk about my future'.

"That says to me I just feel like either there have been no negotiations up to now, which I don't believe, or he has already decided he is going to go.

"I'm just talking about my perspective. If I am committed to the club and staying, this is a moment for me to get it sorted out [and say], 'It is not done yet but I am going to get it sorted out here guys'.

"He won't thank me for saying it, but he sounded like someone who is already looking to go elsewhere.

"Arsenal need to do all they can to get this guy to stay - 70 goals in 109 appearances says it all. And the way he finished [the second goal against Chelsea], Jesus, it was unbelievable."

Antonio Conte reiterated his belief that rumours linking Lionel Messi to Inter are a little farfetched, hinting he struggled to even get the club to sign Romelu Lukaku.

Inter closed out a solid 2019-20 Serie A campaign on Saturday, beating Atalanta 2-0 in Bergamo to secure the runner-up spot in Italy's top flight.

That result means they finished just a point adrift of champions Juventus, who lost 3-1 at home to Roma in their final league match.

Having already backed Conte significantly in the transfer market, Inter are expected to further strengthen ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

One somewhat outlandish report in Italy has claimed Inter are trying to lure Barcelona icon and Ballon d'Or holder Messi away from LaLiga, with his future a little uncertain due to turbulence at Camp Nou.

But Conte will remain realistic, particularly after Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta likened the rumour to a "utopian" fantasy. 

"Look, only I know what I had to do to get Lukaku," he joked to reporters after the match.

"Trust me, at the end of the season we will make evaluations."

Lukaku, a 2019 arrival from Manchester United, finished his maiden Serie A campaign as Inter's top scorer, having netted 23 times, and Conte paid tribute to the Belgium striker along with his attacking colleagues Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez.

"He is strong, I was already looking for him at Chelsea but then he went to United," Conte said of Lukaku. "He is an atypical footballer who can be a point of reference, but he can improve.

"Today, I also liked Lautaro and Sanchez. It is thanks to these guys if we scored 81 goals and if we finished second."

Ashley Cole believes FA Cup winners Arsenal must bring "top names" to the club if they want to keep Wembley hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Two goals from Aubameyang ushered Arsenal to a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the first behind-closed-doors FA Cup final.

With less than 12 months left on his Arsenal contract, Aubameyang's future remains unclear, although head coach Mikel Arteta has expressed confidence a new deal can be agreed.

Former Arsenal defender Cole said it was not enough for the club to focus on bringing through young talent if they want to show the likes of Aubameyang they have real ambition.

And he challenged the Gunners' board to give Arteta the funds to go out and build a stronger team for next season.

Cole said: "I think they've got to back him. He's done enough. You see the qualities he has so you've got to back him now.

"He's got the young ones coming through, but I still feel you need some experience.

"If you want to keep Aubameyang, it's all good keeping youngsters, but you've got to bring some top names alongside them as well."

There are few sharper finishers in English football than Aubameyang, and his 22 goals in the Premier League offered further proof of his importance to Arsenal.

Club great Ian Wright also reckons Aubameyang will be looking for indications of Arsenal's resolve to challenge the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United on a consistent basis.

Wright, who like Cole was speaking on BBC One, considered the prospect of incoming top talent and Aubameyang's future being intertwined.

"I'm sure it'll be one of his stipulations for him staying," Wright said.

"He will want the kind of players around him that are going to create chances for him, who are going to have the same ambition as him, wanting to win things and wanting to win things with the club.

"That's what I would want to do if I was staying.

"It's a long road Arsenal are on under Arteta. This is a good start.

"You just hope now the people upstairs will look at the kind of manager they've got, the ambitions he's got and back him as much as they can because I think he'll bring the good times back."

Mikel Arteta is confident Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will sign a new deal and intends to build Arsenal's squad around the striker following his FA Cup final heroics against Chelsea.

Aubameyang followed up his semi-final brace against Manchester City with two more goals in Saturday's 2-1 win over 10-man Chelsea as Arsenal recovered from an early Christian Pulisic strike.

The Gabon international's future has been shrouded in doubt amid reports he does not intend to sign a contract extension, with his current terms due to expire next year.

However, Arteta said on the eve of the final he does not expect Aubameyang to leave and he is now even more optimistic about Arsenal's chances of persuading their captain to stay.

"He knows what I think about him. I want to build the squad around him," Arteta told BBC One. "I think he wants to stay and it is just about getting the deal done.

"But I think these moments will help him to realise and believe that we are in the right path and he is a big part of that. 

 

"He is loved by everybody at the club. Hopefully he can continue with us."

Asked if he feels Aubameyang will put pen to paper on a new deal, Arteta replied: "I think he will, yes."

Arsenal showed good character to respond to Pulisic's fifth-minute goal at Wembley, with Aubameyang converting from the penalty spot before half-time and adding a second with an impressive solo strike in the second half.

And Arteta, who succeeded Unai Emery as Arsenal boss in December, believes his side kept one of their best displays of his tenure until the final game of the season.

"It was a difficult start when we conceded so early. If I know something about these players, it's that we weren't going to give up," he said.

"We played probably the best 30 minutes after since I arrived. I am so proud to represent these players and this club."

Arsenal finished the Premier League season in eighth place but will now play in the Europa League next season after lifting the FA Cup for a record-extending 14th time.

"It is a double reward for us. It is really important for this club in every way to be in Europe. We all did it so I am so happy," Arteta added.

"The players were completely knackered and they made a massive effort through the coronavirus to keep fit so I am so happy for them."

Ferran Torres believes he is ready for a new challenge, with Manchester City and Valencia this week agreeing a fee for the winger.

Stats Perform News understands City will pay an initial £21.3million (€23m), plus further add-ons, for the Spain Under-21 international.

Talks between the clubs are on-going, but an agreement on the wider terms of the deal is thought to be close as City look to bolster their wing options following the departure of Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich.

Right-winger Ferran, 20, has shown significant promise ever since his senior debut as a 17-year-old and enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2019-20, making the most of Goncalo Guedes' long-term injury absence to become a regular starter.

But with his contract set to expire next year and Valencia effectively losing their final bargaining chip in negotiations when Los Che failed to qualify for European football next term, Ferran has long looked destined for the exit door.

While Ferran remains a work in progress, there is little doubting his ability and potential, and he already feels prepared for the next step.


"As a player, I consider myself to be ambitious, someone that wants to win, win, win," he told BBC Sport.

"As time passes and you feel you are better prepared, then you want to take on greater challenges, experience a change of environment. Yes, I think I am ready to do so.

"Inside I always think that I am the best, and that I want to be the best and I work to try to be the best.

"If you don't believe yourself that you are the best, then no-one is ever going to believe that you are."

Should Ferran – who has also been linked with Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus – eventually join City, the change of language will not be the hurdle it might be to others.

"You have always got to be learning languages because you never know where football will take you tomorrow," he said.

"But above all I am learning English, because English is essential whatever part of the world you are in."

Ferran played 34 LaLiga games for Valencia in 2019-20, scoring four goals and setting up another five.

He will be following in the footsteps of City icon David Silva – who swapped Mestalla for Etihad Stadium 10 years ago – if the deal goes through.

But Ferran will not get to play alongside the 34-year-old playmaker competitively, as he is set to depart when City's season finishes.

Manchester United should "go and get" Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish in this transfer window, according to Ryan Giggs.

The transfer window has once again reopened and United will be able to offer potential signings Champions League football next term after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side finished in the Premier League's top four last weekend.

Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho, who finished with 17 league goals and 16 assists in 2019-20, has been strongly linked with a return to his homeland, having enhanced his reputation in the Bundesliga over the past three seasons since leaving Manchester City.

Meanwhile, Grealish was the standout performer for a Villa side that avoided relegation on the final day last Sunday, when he scored his eighth Premier League goal of the season to go along with his six assists for his boyhood club.

Another season of Premier League football for Villa may price Solskjaer's men out of a move for Grealish, while Sancho could command a club-record fee, yet United legend Giggs feels both fit the bill.

"[They are] two good players," Wales manager Giggs told the Webby and O'Neill YouTube channel. 

"I think the thing with Grealish is he's obviously used to the Premier League and doesn't need to adapt to it so that's good.

"For me from the outside, it looks like he's got the mentality to come to this place and not bother him. Certain players can get overawed. Also, the good thing this year is he's got 10 goals [in all competitions] and got into double figures so that would be one question mark I would have had with him: does he score enough goals?

"To get to double figures with no penalties for Villa is impressive.

"Sancho is quick, direct but also an intelligent player.

"What I like about him is when he gets into those areas with the final ball, he doesn't panic. A lot of quick wide players sometimes do but he picks out the right pass.

"He's someone who can counterattack if we're going to play that but also if a team are going to sit back, he can beat players and make things happen.

"They are two signings that may be available and if we're able to get them, I would go and get them."

Lille have begun the task of rebuilding after Victor Osimhen's big-money move to Napoli by signing veteran Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz.

Nigerian forward Osimhen sealed a move to Napoli on Friday, in a deal that reportedly could eventually net Lille €54million.

Replacing the 21-year-old will be no easy task, but Yilmaz comes in as an experienced player who can fill the void.

The 35-year-old Yilmaz joins from Besiktas on a two-year contract, with Lille chief executive Marc Ingla describing him as "a true legend in Turkey" and "a real number nine".

"He has the perfect profile to strengthen our squad, integrate into our model of play and bring to the team all his experience," Ingla said.

Yilmaz said in a news conference on Saturday: "I want to write a new chapter in my career with Lille."

Philippe Coutinho has reportedly been offered to two Premier League clubs, while Manchester City are eyeing Sergi Roberto.

Coutinho is expected to leave Barcelona on a permanent deal this close season.

A return to the Premier League has been mooted for the playmaker, and it could be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – COUTINHO OFFERED TO TWO PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS

Coutinho has been offered to both Arsenal and Tottenham, according to The Independent.

The report says Arsenal look the more likely to complete a deal for the Brazil international.

Coutinho has been on loan at Bayern Munich this season, having struggled since arriving at Barcelona from Liverpool in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are linked with a surprise deal. Sport reports the Premier League giants are interested in Barcelona's Sergi Roberto, who wants to remain at Camp Nou.

- Out of contract next year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been linked with a move from Arsenal. The Daily Mail reports Chelsea, who face Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday, were sounded out about a move for the forward in January.

- Inter continue to be linked with a move for Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the Serie A giants are offering star defender Milan Skriniar to Spurs in their bid to land Ndombele.

- After struggling at Manchester City, John Stones is reportedly set for a move. The Sun reports the defender is poised for a £20million move to West Ham, where he would reunite with former Everton manager David Moyes.

- Sami Khedira's time at Juventus could be over. CalcioMercato reports Juve are negotiating to terminate the midfielder's contract.

- Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilon, who has been on loan at Sevilla, is attracting plenty of interest. Sky Sports says Everton lead the race for Reguilon after submitting a bid of £18million (€20m).

Bayer Leverkusen have not received any offers for Kai Havertz despite persistent speculation linking him with Chelsea, sporting director Simon Rolfes has revealed.

Havertz, 21, has been a revelation in the Bundesliga ever since making his breakthrough as a 17-year-old in the 2016-17 campaign.

The midfielder, who has been played in an increasingly attacking role over the past two years, has scored 29 Bundesliga goals since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, while his haul of 12 this term came alongside six assists.

Widespread speculation suggests it is unlikely he will remain with Leverkusen – who failed to qualify for the Champions League – next term, while Chelsea are said to have positioned themselves as frontrunners for his signature.

Leverkusen are reported to be demanding at least €78million (£70m) for the Germany international, whose national team colleague Timo Werner has already made the switch to Stamford Bridge.

But Rolfes, a former Leverkusen midfielder who is now in charge of sporting decisions at the club, insists no club has made an offer for Havertz yet.

"So far we have no offer," Rolfes told Sky Germany. "We know about the interest of clubs, but there is no official offer.

"We have said several times that we will end the season with our entire squad, and that includes Kai. That goes without saying for us."

Although the Bundesliga season is over, with Leverkusen finishing fifth, Die Werkself are still in the Europa League.

They are due to face Rangers at home next Thursday in the second leg of their last-16 tie, having won 3-1 in Scotland five months ago, prior to the coronavirus pandemic bringing a temporary halt to European football.

Should they get past Rangers, Leverkusen will face either Inter or Getafe in the quarter-finals.

At this point the competition will become a mini-tournament made up of single-legged ties - rather than the usual two-legged contests - after UEFA moved the latter stages to neutral venues in Germany due to the pandemic.

Stefano Pioli hopes Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be playing his last game for Milan on Saturday and stated the Rossoneri must have loftier ambitions than sixth place next term.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic signed a short-term contract to return to Milan in January and has scored nine goals in 17 Serie A appearances.

Ibrahimovic's future beyond their season finale against Cagliari remains unclear, though Milan director Ricky Massara said this week talks are ongoing to extend the 38-year-old's stay.

Head coach Pioli has made no secret of his desire to keep Ibrahimovic beyond this season.

When asked about the Sweden great at a news conference, he merely replied: "I hope that tomorrow will not be Ibrahimovic's last game for Milan."

Pioli, who confirmed Rafael Leao will start with Ante Rebic unavailable through suspension, has overseen a 12-match unbeaten run since Italian football restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With 11 of those results coming in Serie A, Milan have secured sixth place in the table, but the head coach says the task is now on ensuring the Rossoneri are challenging for elite positions in the top flight.

"We'll only have a very short break given that we'll be playing in the preliminary stages of the Europa League on 17 September," he added.

"We've worked really hard to find consistency and establish a playing philosophy. Now, we're consolidating what we'll need next season. 

"I think that creating a mentality is the most important, complicated and long-lasting aspect. This must provide a foundation from which to work and grow.

"Many have improved, I knew that I had a quality squad available to me from the beginning. The game played by the team has allowed individuals to develop, while, at the same time, the growth of individuals has allowed the team to play in a certain way.

"We've been excellent in 2020 and now we need to finish well. I know that I'm asking a lot of the players and we're slightly fatigued mentally and physically.

"Sixth place won't be our objective next year, we'll be aiming higher."

It was also confirmed by Milan on Friday that full-back Andrea Conti has undergone keyhole surgery due to a persistent meniscus problem in his left knee.

Milan did not put a timeframe on his recovery.

Bayer Leverkusen will be powerless to resist selling Kai Havertz to Chelsea if the Blues' billionaire owner Roman Abramovich wants the German at Stamford Bridge, according to the Premier League club's former manager Avram Grant.

Havertz, 21, has been a revelation in the Bundesliga ever since making his breakthrough as a 17-year-old in the 2016-17 campaign.

The midfielder, who has been played in an increasingly attack-minded role over the past two years, has scored 29 Bundesliga goals since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, while his haul of 12 this term was added to with six assists.

Already a Germany international, Havertz is widely expected to leave Leverkusen in the coming weeks, with Chelsea said to be his most likely destination.

The financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with Chelsea's recent deals for Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, have led to suggestions the club might not be willing to meet Leverkusen's apparent €78million (£70m) asking price.

But Grant, a friend of Abramovich and a former Chelsea manager, thinks the Blues will sign anyone if the owner wants them.

Speaking to Stats Perform News, Grant said: "Abramovich didn't have a problem with money before! When he wants something, he buys it.

"He doesn't do things to save money. Whether they have more or less money, I don't think it's important.

"What I think is important is that they started to use the academy. They spent so much money on it and they didn't give anyone a chance [before]. My policy at Chelsea was that we wanted one third of the squad as under-21 players, because you cannot invest a lot into the academy and not give them a chance.

"Now, not as a policy, they gave them a chance, and Frank has done a great job. Michael Emenalo, a director, was always complaining that we invested a lot of money in them [academy players] but we don't give them a chance.

"When you have a good young player, they can develop a lot and there are a lot of good talents at Chelsea, and we're in a good phase for the coming years.

"With a good signing they can compete with Liverpool or Man City. [Havertz] has the quality. We need to wait and see [if he's the one to bridge the gap]."

The signings of Ziyech and Werner, from Ajax and RB Leipzig respectively, have been widely applauded, particularly given they were both secured well before the conclusion of the season.

But Grant did urge caution, highlighting that many big signings in a short period does not always guarantee success.

"On paper they look like good signings and that they can make the team stronger, but we need to wait and see," Grant said. "We've seen years ago, Tottenham bought a lot of players but they bought too much and many didn't perform well - eventually Harry Redknapp saved them and did a very good job.

"I think you need to be careful when you sign a player, whether they will be good for the squad, but I'm sure they've checked this. It's not only about quality."

Napoli have landed highly rated forward Victor Osimhen from Lille in a reported club-record deal said to be worth an initial €50million.

The 21-year-old attacker spent just a single season in France but showed enough to seal a big move to Serie A, with Napoli understood to have given him a five-year contract.

Nigeria international Osimhen moved to Europe in 2017 when he signed for Wolfsburg, but he was allowed to join Belgian club Charleroi on loan and they triggered a purchase option on him just last year after scoring 20 times in 2018-19.

Charleroi quickly made a significant profit on their apparent €3.5m outlay as Lille came calling, bringing him to France in a deal said to be worth up to €15m.

During his solitary season in Ligue 1, Osimhen scored 13 goals – a figure bettered by only Wissam Ben Yedder, Kylian Mbappe and Moussa Dembele – and set up four more in 27 league appearances.

The deal could eventually reach €54m, according to claims in Italy, making him Napoli's record signing.

Their previous record holder in that regard, Hirving Lozano, has been linked with a move away from Stadio San Paolo after an underwhelming first season in Serie A after costing €42m from PSV.

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