Neymar needs to match the professionalism of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, according to Brazil great Zico.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar has scored 69 goals in 80 appearances in all competitions since arriving at the Parc des Princes from Barcelona for a world-record transfer fee of €222million in August 2017.

The 28-year-old has won every domestic title available in France but injuries, and now the coronavirus pandemic, have blighted his attempts to lead PSG to success in the Champions League.

Neymar has been heavily linked with a return to Barca and a reunion with Messi and Luis Suarez, alongside whom he formed one of the most formidable attacking units in modern football.

Zico has no doubt about Neymar's talent, but feels he will be unable to reach the levels of Messi and Juventus star Ronaldo – who have won the Ballon d'Or 11 times between them – without changing his attitude.

"I really like Ney, his way of playing is incredible. But he has to be more professional like Ronaldo and Messi, who live for football," Zico told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Ney has too many thoughts that distract him. I spoke to him recently and asked him to be more professional.

"He is 28 years old now and there is a good team at PSG. They can win the Champions League.

"It will depend on his quality throughout the tournament, not just for one match. Now Ney has more experience and maturity."

Neymar has returned to Brazil during the coronavirus pandemic to be closer to his family.

He drew criticism in February for hosting a birthday party at a Paris nightclub just two days before PSG were due to face Nantes.

Neymar was subsequently ruled out of the game due to a rib injury, though the club stressed it had been sustained in the previous fixture against Montpellier.

Following his return to action, he scored in both legs of PSG's Champions League last-16 triumph over Borussia Dortmund to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is the best player of all-time while Ronaldinho belongs among the greats, according to Xavi.

Messi is a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner and is considered among the modern-day greats, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

His former team-mate, Xavi, has no doubt the Argentina international is the greatest player ever.

"Ronaldinho is at the level of the best. Ronaldinho is at the level of the best, perhaps what he lacked was constancy," the Al-Sadd coach told Globo Esporte.

"Perhaps he lacked constancy in being at his peak. For me, only Messi is above Ronaldinho because of the constancy of the last few years."

Xavi added: "Messi is the best in history, but Ronaldinho is with the best. The rest follow.

"He [Ronaldinho] is with the best – with Ronaldo 'Fenomeno', with Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, that group."

Messi had scored 24 goals in 31 games this season before the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaka labelled Lionel Messi a "genius" as he picked the Barcelona superstar over Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi – winner of a record six Ballons d'Or – and Ronaldo are regarded as two of the greatest ever players, with debate often centred on who stands alone atop the all-time list.

Kaka played alongside Ronaldo at Real Madrid, but the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner selected Messi as his preferred choice.

"I played with Cristiano and he's really amazing, but I'll go with Messi," Kaka said when asked who he would pick out of Messi or Ronaldo during an Instagram Live Q&A for FIFA's channel.

"He's a genius, a pure talent. The way he plays is incredible."

But on five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, Kaka added: "Cristiano is a machine. It's not just the way he's strong, powerful and fast; he's strong mentally.

"He always wants to win and play. To be the best. For me, that's the most incredible thing he has.

"In the history of sport, they [Messi and Cristiano] are definitely in the top five. We are very lucky to have been able to see both of them."

Barcelona should prioritise re-signing Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain over bringing Lautaro Martinez to Camp Nou, insisted former star Rivaldo.

LaLiga champions Barca tried to lure Neymar back to the club following his world-record €222million move to PSG in 2017, however, a deal did not materialise at the start of the season.

Barca are also reportedly determined to sign Inter's star forward Martinez as they eye a long-term replacement for veteran Luis Suarez.

Rivaldo – who won a pair of LaLiga titles during his time with the Catalan giants – believes Neymar is ready to lead Barca alongside six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"The rumours are growing about Barcelona's intention to sign Neymar and Lautaro Martinez in the next transfer window," Rivaldo wrote in his column for Betfair.

"Although the young Argentinian is a good player, I think that only Neymar is a certain bet to claim a place in the starting XI side by side with Messi.

"Looking at the last few years we have seen many valuable players who didn't manage to play alongside Messi - failing to perform under the expectations.

"But Neymar - like Luis Suarez - is one of the few players in the world that doesn't feel pressure on the pitch, always playing with plenty of personality.

"He never gets frightened and it would be a safe option for the club while Martinez is a young, talented forward that perhaps in two or three years may become a good signing.

"For now I think the club should prioritise Neymar. I'm a fan of his qualities and personality and I know that sometimes I'm liable to criticism as some Barcelona fans didn't like the way Neymar decided to leave the club.

"But the truth is that he is a different player now who should be a nice help to Messi and co. in trying to win another Champions League."

Ben Stokes must have endured nightmares over this day four years ago, when Carlos Brathwaite smashed West Indies to T20 World Cup glory in such dramatic fashion.

Gregg Popovich also has bad memories of April 3, having been ejected only 63 seconds into the San Antonio Spurs' NBA clash with the Denver Nuggets last year.

Lionel Messi scored two penalties when Barcelona beat Milan to reach the Champions League semi-finals on this day back in 2012.

We take a look back at April 3 in sporting history.

 

2016 - 'Remember the name' - Brathwaite goes berserk

Stokes has had plenty to celebrate in the past year, but the England all-rounder endured a horror show at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Windies all-rounder Brathwaite was the star of the show, blasting Stokes for four sixes off the first four balls of the final over to ensure his side became the first to win two World T20 titles.

Commentator and former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop belted out "remember the name" when Brathwaite sealed a stunning victory, having needed 19 off the final over.

While Stokes has gone on to better things, he will certainly not have forgotten the name of Brathwaite. 

 

2019 - Off you pop

Some spectators may not have taken their seats when Spurs coach Popovich was given his marching orders 12 months ago.

He took exception to a non-foul call and was issued a technical by official Mark Ayotte before being handed another by David Guthrie just over a minute after tip-off in an encounter with Denver.

The Nuggets went on to win 113-85 three nights after Popovich was also ejected during a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

2012 - Milestone for Messi as Milan crash out

There have been many days when Messi achieved a milestone and his half-century of Champions League goals came eight years ago to the day.

The Barcelona superstar made no mistake from the penalty spot twice as the Catalan giants beat Milan 3-1 to reach the last four.

There were no goals in the first leg at San Siro, but Messi proved to the match-winner, with Andres Iniesta netting the third. Chelsea ended Barca's run at the semi-final stage, though, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne belongs among the world's best alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, according to Alessandro Del Piero.

Messi and Ronaldo are widely regarded as the world's two best players, ahead of Paris Saint-Germain stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

But Del Piero, a Juventus great, feels De Bruyne should be considered among the best.

"To define the strongest player, you should specify in what," he told Sky Sport on Thursday.

"In addition to the sacred names such as Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar that attract the audience at 360 degrees, there are players of incredible depth, like De Bruyne."

De Bruyne had scored nine goals and provided 18 assists in 35 games in all competitions before this season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is one of modern football's most enduring cliches: "Can he do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke?"

The bet365 Stadium, formerly known as the Britannia Stadium, is the home of Stoke City and was long perceived as one of the toughest places for teams to visit.

A partisan crowd combined with a physical, direct style of football implemented by Tony Pulis after he took over in 2006 and led the Potters to the Premier League made them formidable opponents.

So daunting was a trip to Stoke that some started to question whether Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi – now a six-time Ballon d'Or winner – would be able to display his usual brilliance in the intimidating surroundings.

Make it midweek, cold, rainy, and possibly windy, and the hypothetical game became even more forbidding – but some have been able to master such an occasion.

Using Opta data, we've taken a look at the top performers away to Stoke on a Tuesday.

 

Unlike a Baird

Stoke have played eight Premier League games at home on a Tuesday, and only the following players have scored against them:

Chris Baird (two appearances, two goals)
Clint Dempsey (two appearances, one goal)
Damien Duff (two appearances, one goal)
James McArthur (one appearance, one goal)
Franco Di Santo (one appearance, one goal)
Cameron Jerome (one appearance, one goal)
Keith Fahey (one appearance, one goal)
Gareth Barry (one appearance, one goal)

However, Baird's two goals were in a game that kicked off at 15:00 local time, making him ineligible for the "Tuesday night at Stoke" credit.

A strong record

In all competitions, Stoke have played 131 home games on a Tuesday, winning 67.

Only 28 of those matches ended in defeat, meaning they have avoided losing in 79 per cent of such fixtures, the latest of which was a 3-0 victory over Luton Town on December 10.

Bogey teams

Just five clubs have racked up more than one away win against Stoke on a Tuesday.

They are Derby County, Cardiff City, Liverpool, Sunderland and Fulham, and each of them has two such victories to their name.

Derby have the best win ratio at 67 per cent – their only other trip to Stoke on a Tuesday ended in defeat.

Cardiff are second (50 per cent) and Liverpool sit third (40 per cent). Sunderland and Fulham have each suffered four defeats, though the Black Cats have a 33 per cent win ratio compared to the Cottagers' 29.

How they could have used a player like Messi…

Barcelona look like a team "without a soul" this season due to some laboured performances and questionable decisions behind the scenes, according to Marc Muniesa.

The Catalans were two points clear at the top of LaLiga with 10 games remaining before Spain's season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao but remain favourites to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals after drawing the first leg of the last-16 tie with Napoli 1-1 in Italy.

However, questions have been repeatedly raised about Barca's unconvincing standards this season, even after Ernesto Valverde was dismissed in January and replaced by Quique Setien.

Antoine Griezmann has struggled to reach top form since a €120million move from Atletico Madrid, while injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele have left Setien short of options in attack.

Muniesa, who progressed through Barca's youth academy before joining Stoke City in 2013, thinks the 2019-20 season has dome some damage to Barca's wider image.

"Everything that's happened has been a bit bizarre, with Valverde's sacking, people putting on pressure from outside about the play... it looks like a team without a soul," the defender told Sport.

"It's very difficult to do what Pep [Guardiola] did or Luis Enrique, who played a little more on the counter-attack. Now, with injuries to Dembele and Luis Suarez, there aren't as many solutions up front.

"Griezmann is not at the high level expected of him and Messi is a bit on his own. The best news is Ansu Fati, who's a footballer who has no fear.

"The football issue was a bit more complicated because the investment in wages is the most important thing at the club and it's normal that it would take a bit longer."

Barca have taken steps this week to manage the financial implications of the football season being placed on hold.

The first-team squad have taken a 70 per cent pay cut and provided further financial aid to ensure Barca's non-playing staff are able to take home their full wages over the coming weeks.

The decision took time to be announced but Muniesa thinks it was an admirable move on the part of the players.

"Everyone wanted to do it in their own way. The players, in the end, have set a great example for many people by helping club employees to keep their whole wages. I think it's very positive - a great step taken by the squad," he said.

Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk labelled Barcelona great Lionel Messi his toughest opponent.

Van Dijk and Messi went head-to-head last season, when Liverpool produced an incredible second-leg comeback to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.

The Netherlands international paid tribute to Messi, a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner who is regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time.

"There are some difficult strikers out there, but probably Leo Messi," Van Dijk wrote on Twitter when asked who his toughest opponent was.

However, Van Dijk also credited Sergio Aguero, having faced the Manchester City forward regularly in recent seasons.

Asked who the hardest player to mark was, the defender replied: "Aguero."

Van Dijk said he was "feeling fine" and would be ready to go when the Premier League season, which is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, resumes.

Liverpool held a 25-point lead atop the table when the season was stopped.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Lionel Messi agreed with pay cuts at the LaLiga champions, after the captain criticised senior club figures behind the scenes.

Barca confirmed a massive wage cut to help the club during the coronavirus pandemic, with players agreeing to reduce their salaries by 70 per cent and making further financial contributions to ensure all employees are able to take home the full value of their wages.

The news came following reports of a disagreement between senior Barca players and club directors over the degree of wage reduction, with Messi denying the squad turned down the team's proposal to reduce salaries.

Bartomeu said Messi never opposed Barca's decision to carry out salary cuts, telling SPORT: "Messi told me from day one that this reduction had to be made.

"This proposal came from the captains. It is a gesture that demonstrates their commitment to the club."

Messi issued a statement on behalf of the players on Monday, which was soon shared by other members of the first-team squad, in which he insisted they had always been happy to reduce their pay in order to help the club and its staff during the nationwide lockdown, with LaLiga under indefinite suspension while Spain attempts to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

The message accused those in charge of Barca of placing the players under unfair levels of scrutiny while negotiations over wage cuts continued.

Bartomeu added: "Perhaps [the players] have been frustrated by things said by people inside and outside the club, who do not have all the information.

"But the negotiations were carried out only by Oscar Grau and me and we have not said anything."

Lionel Messi has taken aim at senior figures behind the scenes at Barcelona following confirmation of a massive wage cut to help the club during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was confirmed on Monday that players have agreed to reduce salaries by 70 per cent and make further financial contributions to ensure that all club employees are able to take home the full value of their wages during Spain's state of emergency.

The news came following reports of a disagreement between senior Barca players and club directors over the degree of wage reduction.

Club captain Messi issued a statement on behalf of the players, which was soon shared by other members of the first-team squad, in which he insisted they had always been happy to reduce their pay in order to help the club and its staff during the nationwide lockdown, with LaLiga under indefinite suspension while Spain attempts to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

The message accused those in charge of Barca of placing the players under unfair levels of scrutiny while negotiations over wage cuts continued.

The statement, shared via Instagram, said: "A lot has been written and spoken about the first team of Barcelona in terms of the salaries of the players during this period of a state of emergency.

"Before anything else, we want to clarify that our will has always been to apply a reduction in the salary that we receive, because we understand perfectly that we're going through an exceptional situation and we are the first who have ALWAYS helped the club when we have been asked to do so.

"This includes many times we have done so through our own initiative, at other moments when we have thought it necessary or important.

"It doesn't stop surprising us that from within the club there were those who will try to put us under the magnifying glass and try to add pressure to do something that we always knew we would do.

"In fact, the agreement was delayed for a few days simply because we were looking for a formula to help the club and also its staff in such difficult times.

"For our part, the moment has come to announce that, aside from the 70 per cent reduction of our salary during the state of emergency, we will also make contributions so that club employees can collect 100 per cent of their salary while this situation lasts.

"If we didn't speak until now, it was because the priority for us was to find real solutions to help the club, but also those who were most affected by this situation.

"We don't want to say goodbye without sending a loving greeting and a lot of strength to all the fans who are finding things difficult in these hard times, as well as all those who are patiently waiting in their homes for the end of this crisis.

"Very soon, we're going to get through this and we will all do it together."

Barcelona players have agreed to a significant pay cut during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the club have confirmed.

The Barca board, players across the club's respective professional sports teams and "most" of the basketball team have agreed to salary reductions for the duration of Spain's state of emergency.

The senior football team has accepted a pay cut worth more than the 70 per cent initially proposed by the club, according to a Barca statement.

"This additional contribution from the squad, plus the contribution that the club will make, will guarantee 100 per cent of the salaries of all non-sport staff," Barcelona announced.

The LaLiga champions added: "The club would like to thank the professional athletes for their involvement in a situation as exceptional as the one caused by this health emergency."

Barca said last week that certain measures would be brought in to "minimise the economic impact that the coronavirus crisis is causing", although the club did not specify the precise degree of any wage reductions.

It was reported that players and directors were in disagreement over the proposed 70 per cent salary cuts, with negotiations causing a delay to measures being introduced.

However, club captain Lionel Messi issued a statement via Instagram on Monday to deny claims the first team were unwilling to agree to significant pay cuts.

"A lot has been written and spoken about the first team of Barcelona in which the salaries of the players during this period of State of Emergency are mentioned," Messi wrote.

"Before anything else, we want to clarify that our will has always been to apply a reduction in the salary that we receive, because we understand perfectly that we're going through an exceptional situation and we are the first who have ALWAYS helped the club when we have been asked to do so."

Lionel Messi has "ousted" Diego Maradona as Argentina's greatest number 10, according to former Italy international Antonio Cassano.

Messi's consistency over such a long period has made him the finest player Argentina has produced according to Cassano, who has called for Maradona's fans to accept that the Barcelona talisman deserves to be recognised as the best.

Cassano helped Real Madrid to the 2006-07 LaLiga title at the expense of Barca and Messi, but that success in Spain has not altered his opinion on the forward.

"Maradona did something never seen before for four or five years, but Messi has done the same things for 15 years," he said in an interview with Corriere dello Sport.

"He has made 710 goals and 300 assists. When he plays you start with a 1-0 lead.

"The ‘Maradonians’ have to accept it: there is someone who has ousted him."

Cassano revealed that, prior to Messi moving to the top of the list, he believed Brazil striker Ronaldo – a former Madrid team-mate - was the game's greatest.

"We were losing 1-0 at home," Cassano recalled. "The whole stadium was whistling, especially him [Ronaldo].

"In the locker room the coach removes Ronnie to put [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy on, but he [Ronaldo] stops him and says 'no, you take me off in 15 minutes if I haven't scored two goals'.

"Minute 15: 2-1 and two goals from Ronaldo. I said that if there is a football god, it is Ronaldo. Then I discovered that Messi is above him."

Lionel Messi is the "leader and protector" of Argentina, according to international team-mate Nicolas Tagliafico.

Messi, 32, has faced criticism for his performances for the national team as his wait for a first senior trophy at international level goes on.

But Ajax defender Tagliafico, a 25-time Argentina international, said the Barcelona star was key for his nation.

"Messi was released from the pressure to get results [at the 2019 Copa America, where Argentina finished third]," he told Ole.

"He more than anyone gets angry when he loses, but Messi became more aware that he has to enjoy the national team.

"I don't know until when he will play, but it is not that he will have too many cups with the national team. He is at a stage where he wants to enjoy everything, training, games.

"He is the leader and protector of the team. That facet came out that we might not always see."

The Copa America was due to be played again this year, but has been pushed back to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tagliafico said it was crucial for Argentina, who are unbeaten in seven games, to develop a strong foundation.

"We must find a very solid structure, not only for Leo, but also for the future, for what is to come," he said.

"To be able to find a structure to grow. It is good to build a solid foundation and don't build a base and then take it apart.

"If we can help Leo and Leo can help us, we will do much better. Everything is going to multiply. You have to create a structure and from there start to grow."

Spain boss Luis Enrique revealed Andres Iniesta was the closest talent to Lionel Messi he has coached.

A record six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players of all-time.

Luis Enrique coached Messi and Iniesta at Barcelona, where he was at the helm from 2014-17.

In a Q&A on the Spain national team's Facebook page, Luis Enrique talked up both Iniesta, now playing for Vissel Kobe, and Messi.

"The player that impressed me most in my career, I don't know if you mean being myself as a player or as a coach or both, without doubt is Leo Messi," he said.

"Afterwards, I can say that Andres Iniesta is close to something similar to Leo Messi.

"But Messi is hugely different in respect to the others."

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