Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Real Madrid are reportedly close to agreeing a deal with David Alaba, while Manchester United are expecting the asking price for Jadon Sancho to drop.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

The defender is free to speak to other clubs, and Madrid are making their move.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CLOSE TO ALABA SIGNING

Real Madrid are close to landing Bayern Munich defender Alaba on a four-year deal, according to Marca.

Alaba is likely to have offers from multiple clubs after establishing himself as one of Europe's leading defenders.

The Austria international has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Jadon Sancho yet to hit top form for Borussia Dortmund this season, Manchester United may be able to land the attacker later this year. 90min reports United believe they can land Sancho for less than £100million (€112.7m) after not meeting Dortmund's valuation of £107m (€120m) in the close season.

- Lionel Messi's future remains a major talking point. Sport reports the Barcelona star – who is out of contract at the end of the campaign – will wait until the end of the season to decide between the LaLiga giants, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and MLS.

- Real Madrid are apparently eyeing a replacement for Marcelo. AS reports the LaLiga giants are tracking Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes, who is also linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus and PSG.

- Liverpool are also linked with centre-backs after long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while potential exits have been mentioned. However, the Liverpool Echo reports the Premier League giants are not expecting any senior departures in January, which would mean Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi remain despite speculation over their futures.

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

Paulo Dybala to Paris Saint-Germain?

Dybala, previously linked to Manchester United, Tottenham and PSG, is reportedly facing an uncertain future in Turin.

Juventus could be prepared to exchange players with PSG.

 

TOP STORY – DYBALA OUT, ICARDI IN?

Juventus are considering a swap deal that would send Paulo Dybala to Paris Saint-Germain in exchange for Mauro Icardi, according to Calciomercato.

Dybala has struggled for form in 2020-21, while contract negotiations with Serie A champions Juve have so far proved fruitless.

Icardi was linked to Juve prior to joining Ligue 1 holders PSG permanently from Inter and the Argentina forward could swap clubs with Dybala.

 

ROUND-UP

- TodoFichajes says Arsenal are set to make an offer for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. Leipzig centre-back and team-mate Dayot Upamecano has dominated headlines amid links to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but Konate is also attracting interest.

Juve are eyeing a move for Atletico Madrid centre-back Stefan Savic, reports Calciomercato. Savic has also been linked to Inter.

- A Bola claims Premier League champions Liverpool are interested in signing Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes.

Raul Jimenez to Inter? Calciomercato says Inter could replace Lautaro Martinez with the Wolves star. Martinez has been linked to Barca and Manchester City.

What does the future hold for Manchester United star Paul Pogba?

Out of form and out of favour, Pogba has found himself out of the starting line-up this season and the Frenchman is not happy.

Could Pogba be prepared to wait for his perfect move away?

 

TOP STORY – POGBA EYEING EXIT

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba could leave Old Trafford on a free transfer, according to The Athletic.

Pogba left United for Juventus on a free transfer in 2012 before returning to Manchester for a then-world record €105million (£89.3m) in 2016.

But the France international is unhappy at the Theatre of Dreams, where he is contracted until 2022, amid links with former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport says Juve have turned their attention from Pogba to his countryman and Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga. The 18-year-old has been tipped to join Madrid, while Paris Saint-Germain are also reportedly interested.

- Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule is dreaming of a move to United, claims Bild. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are believed to be pursuing a defensive partner for Harry Maguire, with Madrid's Raphael Varane and RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano reported targets.

Isco is ready to leave Madrid in January, reports Marca. The attacking midfielder has been linked with Everton, following previous links to Juve and Manchester City.

- Liverpool Echo claims Liverpool have been quoted £26.7million (€29.8m) to sign Ajax defender Perr Schuurs. The 20-year-old is also reportedly wanted by Milan.

Arsenal are working on a structured payment plan to sign Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai, says the Mirror.

Juve are targeting Sporting CP defender Nuno Mendes, A Bola reports. The 18-year-old has also been linked with Milan, Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves.

Inter and Antonio Conte have reached an agreement over a new contract but Corriere dello Sport says there will be no contract extensions during the season. Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez is the most problematic case for the Nerazzurri.

Adama Traore is reportedly set to snub Barcelona and Liverpool to extend his stay at Wolves.

Traore has been linked with a move away from Wolves, where he arrived from Middlesbrough in 2018.

But the winger is seemingly happy at the Premier League club.

 

TOP STORY – TRAORE TO EXTEND WOLVES STAY DESPITE BARCELONA, LIVERPOOL INTEREST

Traore is set for a pay rise and is close to agreeing to a four-year deal with Wolves despite interest from Barcelona and Liverpool, according to The Sun.

The three-time Spain international is reportedly set for the new contract despite having a deal until 2023.

Barcelona and Liverpool have been linked with Traore previously.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paulo Dybala's Juventus future is again a talking point. An unused substitute against Crotone on Saturday, Dybala reportedly clashed with Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A champions are preparing for Dybala to exit amid links to Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and they are eyeing Salzburg teenager Luka Susic.

- Manchester United missed out on Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho during the close season, but there is a belief the Premier League giants will target the attacker again in January or next year, according to the Daily Star.

- Marcelo Brozovic could be set for an Inter exit. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A club are prepared to sell the midfielder in January, with interest from Tottenham and Monaco.

- As he continues to impress at Salzburg, Dominik Szoboszlai is linked with a move. Football.london says the Hungary international is a target for Arsenal.

- Compared to Portugal great Luis Figo, Sporting CP teenager Luis Gomes is a target for Manchester United, according to the Mirror.

Sevilla have signed Marcos Acuna from Sporting CP to all but end their interest in fellow left-back Sergio Reguilon.

Reguilon starred on loan with Sevilla last season and the Europa League winners had hoped to re-sign him from Real Madrid for the 2020-21 campaign.

However, sporting director Monchi conceded last week his side would likely miss out on the 23-year-old, who is also a reported target for Manchester United.

And on Monday the LaLiga outfit confirmed the arrival of Argentina international Acuna on a four-year deal for a reported upfront fee of €10million.

Acuna spent three seasons with Sporting, making 134 appearances for the Portuguese giants in all competitions.

He becomes Sevilla's fifth signing of the window following deals for Ivan Rakitic, Oscar Rodriguez, Yassine Bounou and Suso, the latter two making their loan moves permanent.

Julen Lopetegui's side finished fourth last season to qualify for the Champions League and begin their 2020-21 campaign with a UEFA Super Cup clash against Bayern Munich on September 24.

Borussia Dortmund are reportedly ready to let Jadon Sancho leave this close season, while Barcelona are eager to re-sign Ansu Fati.

Sancho, 20, has continually been linked with a move away from the Bundesliga club amid reported interest from several European giants.

And Dortmund may be prepared to let the attacker go.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND WILLING TO SELL SANCHO

Borussia Dortmund are prepared to sell Sancho to Manchester United for the right price, according to The Independent.

However, the report says United's qualification for the Champions League remains a huge factor.

Ahead of a trip to Leicester City on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are third in the table, a point clear of their fifth-placed hosts.

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are eager to re-sign Fati, according to the cover of Sport. The report says the LaLiga giants are keen to extend the teenager's deal amid interest from United, lifting the forward's release clause to €300million.

- Sport also reports that Inter are pressing to re-sign Lautaro Martinez, who has been linked to Barcelona. Martinez is coming out of contract in 2023.

- Manchester City are said to be getting close to agreeing a deal for Valencia star Ferran Torres. Cadena SER claims City want to include Yangel Herrera, who is on loan at Granada, in the deal to lower the cost.

- After struggling in his first season at Real Madrid, Luka Jovic has been linked with a move. The Shields Gazette reports Newcastle United are planning a £60m (€65.9m) loan move for the forward.

- Linked with more moves after signing Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, Chelsea could strengthen their defence. The Telegraph says the Premier League club have scouted Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez.

- Arsenal have received a boost in their apparent pursuit of Joelson Fernandes. TSF reports the 17-year-old is further away from re-signing with Sporting CP and Arsenal will move forward with a £41m (€45m) offer for the forward.

Arsenal may get an opportunity to sign Philippe Coutinho, while Mason Greenwood is set to be rewarded by Manchester United.

Coutinho is expected to leave Barcelona permanently this close season after a loan spell at Bayern Munich.

A stunning swap deal could see the playmaker end up at Emirates Stadium.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA OFFER ARSENAL COUTINHO FOR GUENDOUZI

Barcelona are in talks to send Coutinho to Arsenal in exchange for Matteo Guendouzi, according to Foot Mercato.

Coutinho has struggled to have an impact at Barca, while Guendouzi seems set for an Arsenal exit.

Former Liverpool star Coutinho has been heavily linked with a return to the Premier League.

ROUND-UP

- Greenwood is set to be rewarded for his breakthrough season at Old Trafford. The Mirror reports the forward, who has scored 16 goals this campaign, is set to be offered a new deal to double his wages at Manchester United.

- Ajax defender Nicolas Tagliafico has been linked with a move away. Goal reports Atletico Madrid have joined the race for the Argentina international, who is also said to be a target for Chelsea.

- Manchester City could be set to sign a Brazilian teenager. According to the Daily Mail, City are in talks with Gremio over a £4.5million (€5m) deal for midfielder Diego Rosa.

- Compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, Joelson Fernandes is linked with several European heavyweights. A Bola reports Arsenal are leading the race for the Sporting CP forward, with Barcelona and Juventus also said to be interested.

- West Ham are preparing to make changes. The Sun reports they are open to offers for Manuel Lanzini and Fabian Balbuena ahead of next season.

- Amid apparent interest from the Bundesliga, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is set to be given a chance to earn a new contract at Manchester United, according to The Sun.

Football, arguably more so than any other sport, has a compulsive need to compare young talents with those who have come before. There's no getting away from it, and it's likely everyone has made such observations.

It has become so ingrained in debates about the sport and players that perhaps we don't even realise anymore, and many of 'the greats' will have been subject to precisely this phenomenon when setting out to establish themselves.

Lionel Messi is an obvious one – one of many Argentinian players to be dubbed the next Diego Maradona in his youth, it's certainly arguable that the Barcelona great has gone on to surpass his compatriot.

But for every Messi there are hundreds of players who, for whatever reason, cannot live up to their early promise and the expectations dumped on their shoulders.

It seems such a harmless occurrence, to suggest an emerging player is comparable – at least stylistically – to an established superstar in conversation with friends, or even over Twitter.

But what we don't tend to see is the other side, how those comparisons take root and spread, eventually spiralling out of control and impacting on the very player being discussed.

Ryan Gauld can attest to that.

'Mini Messi'

Now 24 and playing for Farense, who've just been promoted to Portugal's Primeira Liga, Gauld is very familiar with such player comparisons and the adverse effect they can have.

Before joining Sporting CP on a long-term contract in 2014, Gauld had broken into the first team at Dundee United where he was first dubbed 'mini Messi' for his stature, dribbling ability and the fact he was left-footed. The comparisons began and ended there, but that was all it needed.

"To be honest, I wish it was never written," he explains to Stats Perform News from his home in the Algarve. "What are the similarities between us? We're small and left-footed, that's about as far as you can go. I would've been more relaxed than I already was if it wasn't a thing."

For Gauld, the 'mini Messi' label became a stick to beat him with more than anything, ramping up the pressure after moving to Sporting – he was always expecting it to be tough to breakthrough in Lisbon, but being compared to an all-time great took its toll.

"I would be lying if I said it didn't crop up in my head a couple of times. Like, as soon as people see me as that, they weren't caring what I could do, what I was good at, they were looking to see why I was like Messi, and then if I couldn't do something he could do, they'd say, 'He's rubbish, he's not a mini Messi, he's not worth that tag', or whatever."

The prominence of the 'mini Messi' tag grew to such an extent that Gauld doesn't even think most people knew his actual name for his first two years in Lisbon.

"If they saw me walking about Lisbon or in a shopping centre, Sporting fans who wanted a photo or something, they'd shout 'mini Messi', they wouldn't shout 'Ryan'," he recalls with an exasperated smile. "It makes you think how many people actually know your name – I was known as 'mini Messi' for about two years."

A career interrupted

In the eyes of some, especially those who actually referred to him as 'mini Messi', Gauld's career hasn't quite panned out as might have been expected – he only managed two league appearances for Sporting's senior side in five years, while loans with Vitoria Setubal, Desportivo Aves and Hibernian yielded little.

While he believes his struggles with certain expectations didn't help, Gauld also harbours grievances with Sporting regarding his development, specifically their decision to terminate his loan with Setubal just when he had started to find his groove.

"It was my first shot in the top division. I found it difficult in the beginning to get a place in the team because they started really well and I didn't start the season with the them, and then, I got an opportunity," he said. "The manager was really happy with how I did and I think I played six or seven games on the bounce, and then we had Sporting in the cup.

"I was cup-tied, so couldn't play, but we beat Sporting with a last-minute penalty to knock them out. The next day I received a call from one of the directors to say they were cancelling my loan agreement because we beat them. I think they took the huff a bit, so that was really frustrating."

Another loan was set up, but after spending a month waiting up in the north of the country for clearance to begin training with his new team, he was told Setubal wouldn't sign release papers – a return to Sporting's B team beckoned. "That was the most frustrating part of my whole time here. I would've thought Sporting could have done more to make sure it went through, but no, nothing happened, no one apologised for anything that happened or gave any explanations. It wasn't a very good time."

A social media hiatus and a brighter outlook

After a disappointing return to Scotland with Hibs in January 2019, Gauld's time with Sporting ended – a spell that promised so much finished with the former Scotland youth international barely making a splash.

But he wasn't done with Portugal yet. While many would have expected him to head back to Scotland permanently, Gauld took the eyebrow-raising decision to drop a division, joining Farense on a two-year deal after the two parties left a strong impression on each other during a short loan spell in 2018.

His new-found happiness hasn't only been influenced by on-field matters, though – turning his back on social media played a major role, particularly with respect to being able to detach himself from his 'mini Messi' demons.

"A year, a year and a bit I've been off social media, it's made such a difference," he explains. "You're not seeing it [criticism], you're not looking for it, looking for the negative energy that comes from it. I think that's played a big role in me not thinking about it [the 'mini Messi' label] too much.

"There was a game on TV, and I played terrible, it'd be in my head, 'Oh no, what are people going to be saying about me now?' I don't care what anyone says, it's difficult if that comes up on your phone, it's difficult to not read it."

In 2019-20, Gauld scored nine league goals in 21 matches for Farense, making him their top-scorer as they secured a return to the top flight for the first time since 2001-02 – in the intervening seasons, they have sunk as far as the sixth tier.

Sporting will be the first match he looks out for when the fixture list is announced - like the returning Farense, Gauld has a score to settle in the Primeira Liga.

Porto captured their 29th Primeira Liga title following the stunning capitulation of Portuguese rivals Benfica.

Boasting former Real Madrid defender Pepe, Porto celebrated a second league trophy in three seasons thanks to Wednesday's 2-0 victory over fierce foes Sporting CP.

Danilo Pereira and Moussa Marega scored in the second half to ensure Porto dethroned defending champions Benfica midweek with two matches remaining as iconic goalkeeper Iker Casillas heads into retirement.

Porto have been almost flawless since the season resumed in June following the coronavirus-enforced break in March, winning six of their eight matches, including five in a row.

Benfica, meanwhile, have only managed three victories since returning to action last month and just four wins from 13 league games since February to slip eight points adrift of Porto.

"The team is to be congratulated for what we did, and not only in this game," Pepe said. "Sporting were in very good form but we knew how to cancel out their strong points. This is down to the hard work and sacrifice our squad put in, we never stopped, not even during the confinement.

"What made us champions? Above all, the togetherness we had. We know we represent a very important region of the country and we all identify with this region. When things get tough we use this strength to overcome adversities. If I'm not mistaken, in the first game of the season against Gil Vicente [a defeat] I said we lose together and we win together, and today is proof of that. Not only us the players, but the entire club and all the fans.

"We didn't have holidays, we were always working, striving for perfection. It's difficult, but we were always striving for it. The spirit we had, the belief in our coach, he always believed. Today, here, we see the result."

Porto head coach Sergio Conceicao added: "We won one of the most important titles in Porto's history. I'd like to dedicate this title to my family, who suffer a lot, my wife and my children and my parents."

Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz has been tipped to leave the Bundesliga outfit at the end of the season.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are among the possible destinations.

Havertz's future could become a lot clearer following Leverkusen's 4-2 defeat to Bayern in the DFB-Pokal decider.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA BOOSTED BY HAVERTZ NEWS

Kai Havertz wants to meet with Bayer Leverkusen to discuss his future after the DFB-Pokal final loss to Bayern Munich, according to Bild journalist Christian Falk.

Havertz scored a consolation goal as Leverkusen went down 4-2 to Bayern in Berlin on Saturday.

Chelsea are interested in Havertz, Real Madrid are hesitant about signing the Germany international in 2020, while Bayern are not prepared to make a bid this year.

Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester United have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- Falk also claims Bayern star Thiago Alcantara could join Liverpool or United. Bayern are braced for Thiago to leave at the end of the season and the Spanish midfielder has been tipped to move to Premier League champions Liverpool. However, United are also reportedly interested.

United, Arsenal, Napoli and Atletico Madrid are among the teams eyeing a cut-price deal for Madrid outcast James Rodriguez, says Marca. Everton and Wolves have also been mentioned as suitors.

- According to the Daily Mail, Arsenal are desperate to sign Atletico midfielder Thomas Partey, so much so they are prepared to sell either Matteo GuendouziAlexandre Lacazette or Lucas Torreira to fund the transfer.

- Gazzetta journalist Nicolo Schirra reports Sporting CP are in advanced negotiations to extend Joelson Fernandes' contract. The Portuguese side are looking to increase the 17-year-old's release clause from €45million to €100m amid interest from Barca, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

Paris Saint-Germain are eyeing Monaco full-back Djibril Sidibe, Foot Mercato claims. The Ligue 1 champions are looking to sign a right-back after Thomas Meunier left for Dortmund.

- Madrid forward Luka Jovic remains Milan's first choice to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Calciomercato says. Milan are ready to meet Jovic's agent as they look to pair the Serbia international with former Eintracht Frankfurt team-mate Ante Rebic at San Siro. Patrik Schick – who spent the season on loan at Leipzig from Roma – is another option should Milan fail to land Jovic.

Inter prefer David Alaba over Chelsea full-back Emerson Palmieri and have already met the Bayern star twice, according to SportMediaset. Alaba has also been linked to Chelsea, PSG, Madrid and Manchester City.

Former Barcelona and France star Jeremy Mathieu has retired after suffering a knee injury in training at Sporting CP - news that has left Bruno Fernandes "crestfallen".

Manchester United midfielder Fernandes paid tribute to his former Sporting team-mate who quit after damaging the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Wednesday, calling Mathieu "a centre-back with the quality of a number 10".

Mathieu, 36, won only five caps for France but shone in spells with Valencia and Barcelona, playing for the Catalan giants from 2014 to 2017 before joining Sporting.

At Barcelona, he won two LaLiga titles plus the Champions League in 2014-15, coming on as a late substitute in the 3-1 final win over Juventus.

Portuguese newspaper Record quoted a statement from Mathieu, in which he said: "I thought I would end my career in another way, but it is part of football. I wanted to finish on the pitch so badly, but destiny decided otherwise.

"Anyway, I spent 19 years living my life with intense passion, with ups and downs, joy and crying, victories and defeats and incredible trophies."

Mathieu played in France with Sochaux and Toulouse before moving to Spain with Valencia.

Fernandes posted on Instagram: "I had news that left me sad and crestfallen.

"I learned that the best centre-back I ever had as a team-mate was injured and decided to end a career full of titles and unforgettable moments."

Fernandes added: "I had two and a half years with you, two and a half years of apprenticeship, two and a half years of eternal bets in training to see who scored the most free-kicks, two and a half years to see magic come from the feet of a centre-back, yes from a centre-back."

He stressed Mathieu "was a centre-back with the quality of a number 10 and extreme speed" and said he intended to reunite with him on the golf course.

Fernandes said: "Thanks for the tears in the final of the Taca de Portugal that showed me what it is like to love the game and how all victories are as important as the first."

Lisbon is supposedly being considered as a potential location for all remaining 2019-20 Champions League matches and Portugal great Nuno Gomes believes the city would be a "good solution".

The coronavirus pandemic brought top-level sport in Europe to a halt, with the final stages of the Champions League and Europa League pushed back indefinitely.

UEFA wants to complete both competitions once domestic leagues have been concluded, meaning the remaining fixtures could potentially resume in August.

Last week, reports began to emerge suggesting Istanbul would be unable to cover the cost of hosting the Champions League final without supporters being allowed to attend, and now UEFA are said to be considering alternative plans.

One apparent idea is for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final to be played at neutral venues in a single city and Lisbon is reportedly considered to be the strongest option, given Portugal's low coronavirus infection rate and the facilities of Benfica and Sporting CP.

Gomes agrees Lisbon would be an effective host, telling Stats Perform News: "For us Portuguese, I believe it is a good thing.

"After a lot of meetings they [UEFA] understood it's maybe better to do it in one place rather than everybody travelling around Europe.

"[Lisbon] is a good option, and I'm not sure if they already decided a final decision, but it's true a lot of views and conversations are being held in order to maybe give Lisbon the final eight of the Champions League.

"I think it's good for football to find a solution in order to finish the games that are missing because everybody is waiting for Champions League games."

Both the Europa League and Champions League were suspended in March during the round-of-16.

Bruno Fernandes' transfer to Manchester United from Sporting CP is under investigation by FIFA after Sampdoria launched a claim against the Portuguese club.

Sampdoria's complaint relates to payments they believe they are entitled to following Fernandes' move for an initial £48million (€55m) to Old Trafford in January.

The Portugal midfielder joined Sporting from Sampdoria for €8.5m in June 2017.

Sampdoria's claim concerns Sporting alone, meaning there is no suggestion United are guilty of any impropriety.

In a statement released to Stats Perform. a FIFA spokesperson said: "We can confirm that on 3 April 2020 the Italian club, UC Sampdoria, lodged a claim with FIFA against the Portuguese club, Sporting Clube de Portugal, related to financial obligations set out in the contract corresponding to the transfer of the Portuguese player, Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes.

"The matter is currently being investigated and consequently we cannot provide further comments."

A report by The Times claimed Sampdoria believe they are entitled to €4.65m under a sell-on clause under the terms of Fernandes' move to Lisbon.

However, the 25-year-old was one of several Sporting players to rescind his contract before re-signing following an incident in May 2018 when fans invaded the club's training ground and attacked members of the squad.

It is thought Sporting believe they no longer have obligations to Sampdoria under the new contract Fernandes signed, given he technically penned that as a free agent to render any sell-on element null and void.

Fernandes has impressed since joining United, scoring two goals and supplying three assists in five Premier League matches before the 2019-20 season was placed on hiatus amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Page 1 of 4
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.