Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wants to leave the club. The end of an era is, seemingly, in sight and that will usher in a strange new world, for Barca and his next employers.

Unsurprisingly, debates have raged ever since the news came to light on Tuesday, with Barca receiving communication that their talisman, the most iconic player in their modern history, wants out.

In some ways it was predictable. The turmoil engulfing Barca's hierarchy and their decision making in the past few years looked destined to come to a head – there would be major consequences, and Messi leaving was always going to be the worst-case scenario.

Whether he does or not is a different matter. Some believe his request is a power-play to oust president Josep Maria Bartomeu early, and there are plenty calling for his resignation.

But, for arguably the first time, Messi leaving Barca appears a real possibility What will determine his next destination? Romance? Trophies? Vengeance?

If it's the latter, given almost every football club's Twitter account is throwing their hat in the ring, we have a few tongue-in-cheek destinations in mind, however unlikely they may be…

Real Madrid

Imagine the chaos, the hysteria. If Barca's board have angered him so much, what better way to really get his own back on them? Moving to the Santiago Bernabeu would be a remarkable switch, the ultimate act of vengeance. Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown towards him when he returned to Camp Nou after joining Madrid – you can only wonder at what reception would await Messi if he were to commit the cardinal sin of crossing that divide. 

Stoke City

There is a running joke in England that Messi "wouldn't be able to do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke". It derives from pundit Andy Gray, who in 2010 claimed – without a hint of irony – that Messi would "struggle on a cold night at the Britannia Stadium". His comment became embellished, but was regularly used as a stick to beat Messi with by Premier League fans who wanted to accentuate the physicality of England's elite division. Based on the idea Stoke were scrappy and the city sees more than its fair share of bad weather, as well as the stadium's renown for being windy, it was seen as the Premier League's grimmest away trip. After earning millions every season for the past 15 years or so, why not take a modest deal to prove he can in fact do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?

Napoli

While Manchester City appear to be leading the chase, Inter are also being strongly linked with Messi. But a different Serie A move that would capture the imagination even more would be joining Napoli. Not only would Messi's arrival get one over on long-standing rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who would no longer be the solo big ticket in Serie A, it would give him the chance dispel some other demons. For much of his career Messi has contended with people saying he's not at Diego Maradona's level – maybe it's time to disprove such claims where El Pibe de Oro left his greatest mark…

Borussia Dortmund

For all of Messi's apparent issues with the Barca board, it seems unlikely that he doesn't still love the club – after all, he was signed up as a 12-year-old. The 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich earlier this month will have hurt, particularly as it looks like being his final match for the club. How better to get revenge than to move to Die Roten's arch-rivals Dortmund? He could be the final piece of the puzzle that finally overthrows Bayern's Bundesliga dominance.

Bournemouth will start life back in the Championship at home to Blackburn Rovers, while Watford host Middlesbrough and Norwich City travel to Huddersfield Town.

The Cherries were relegated after a five-year stay in the Premier League, while Watford and Norwich were also demoted in a top-flight campaign that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

That halt means the new Championship season starts on September 12, with beaten play-off finalists Brentford travelling to Birmingham City on the opening day, while south Wales rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City – who also made the top six – host Sheffield Wednesday and visit Preston North End respectively.

Wycombe Wanderers – playing in the second tier for the first time – welcome fellow new boys Rotherham United for their first game, while Coventry City's return to the Championship starts with a trip to Bristol City.

Derby County and Barnsley start at home against Reading and Luton Town, with Stoke City and Nottingham Forest heading to London to face Millwall and QPR.

Bournemouth host Norwich in the third round of matches, the same weekend Watford renew acquaintances with fierce rivals Luton. Watford and the Canaries face off at Vicarage Road on December 26.

The three relegated teams will hope to be in the promotion hunt come the final day on May 8, with Bournemouth and Watford at home to Stoke and Swansea, while Norwich go to Barnsley.

Former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has signed for Championship side Stoke City. 

The ex-Nigeria captain spent the 2018-19 season in England's second tier with Middlesbrough before joining Turkish Super Lig side Trabzonspor. 

However, Mikel left the club in March after expressing concerns about the league's decision to continue playing matches as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Europe. 

He is Stoke's fourth signing during the off-season, following Morgan Fox, James Chester and Steven Fletcher to the bet365 Stadium. 

"We're delighted to bring John to the club. His playing career speaks for itself and underlines his calibre as a player," manager Michael O'Neill said. 

"I was really impressed with him when we met for the first time and he outlined what he wants from the next phase of his career. 

"We spent four hours talking and he made it clear he wants to get back into the Premier League and finish his career there and hopefully he can do that with Stoke City." 

Mikel won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the 2011-12 Champions League during a glittering career with Chelsea. 

He earned 91 senior caps for Nigeria, played in two World Cups and lifted the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations before announcing international retirement last year. 

West Brom clinched the second automatic promotion place in the Championship on a dramatic final day of the season as Wigan Athletic's spirited survival bid failed.

After both West Brom and Brentford were beaten at the weekend, the Baggies only needed to match the third-placed side's result to seal a return to the Premier League after two seasons away in England's second tier.

A seemingly straightforward home fixture against QPR did not go entirely to plan for West Brom, but a 2-2 draw took them up as Brentford went down 2-1 to Barnsley on Wednesday.

That result saw Barnsley stay up, but Wigan could not join them as they drew 1-1 with Fulham – who could have been promoted with a win – and went down due to a looming 12-point deduction.

Charlton Athletic and Hull City were also demoted, while there was a similarly chaotic finish in the play-off race.

BAGGIES BEST BRENTFORD

Both West Brom and Brentford lost their nerve with two matches of the campaign remaining, but a return of just a single point from a pair of games proved enough for Slaven Bilic's team.

Following Friday's defeat to Huddersfield Town, West Brom were boosted by Brentford's own reverse at Stoke City yet could not beat QPR.

West Brom trailed to Ryan Manning's strike before turning the match on its head with goals either side of half-time through Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson, only for Eberechi Eze to equalise just past the hour-mark.

It mattered not, though, as Brentford failed to capitalise, instead losing again.

Josh Dasilva cancelled out Callum Styles' Barnsley opener, but as Brentford pushed for a precious winner, Clarke Oduor tapped in at the other end in the 91st minute.

BRAVE BARNSLEY, WIGAN WOE

There were contrasting scenes at full-time in the final regular league match at Griffin Park after Barnsley celebrated as Brentford collapsed.

The visitors were heading down until Oduor struck but stayed up at Charlton's expense, the Addicks going down 4-0 at champions Leeds United.

Hull propped up the table after a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff City, while Luton Town stayed up thanks to a rallying 3-2 success at home to Blackburn Rovers, aided by two own goals.

Wigan needed to win due to their deduction following administration, but one of the form teams in the division let a lead slip against Fulham, their total of 59 points bumped down to 47 to fall a painful point short.

 

It isn't just a game of football, it's absolutely everything to our players, staff and supporters.

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— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) July 22, 2020
SWANS SAVOUR GOAL SWING

With rivals Cardiff comfortable in claiming their play-off place, Swansea City needed to beat 10-man Reading while Nottingham Forest lost to Stoke City, along with a five-goal swing.

Improbably, the Swans stole sixth place from Forest after a remarkable finale.

The Welsh side won 4-1, netting their fourth in the 91st minute as Wayne Routledge headed in his second.

That scoreline left Forest – 3-1 down at home to Stoke at the time – needing to score, but instead they conceded, their promotion bid derailing in spectacular fashion as Nuno da Costa stabbed into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

The 4-1 defeat meant Forest – without a win since July 1 – finished seventh.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough, bringing the curtain down on another season in gripping fashion.

Fulham remain in the hunt for second place in the Championship after downing Sheffield Wednesday 5-3 on Saturday.

With Brentford having lost 1-0 at Stoke City earlier, thereby crowning Leeds United champions, Fulham responded to move within a point of the top two thanks to two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Cardiff City swept aside Middlesbrough to keep their play-off ambitions in their own hands, with Preston and Millwall now unable to finish in the top six.

At the other end of the table, Stoke's victory sealed their survival, while Kazenga LuaLua struck a huge late blow for Luton Town at Hull City and Charlton Athletic snatched an important point.

FULHAM POUNCE AS BRENTFORD FALTER

Lee Gregory's first-half finish from close range gave Stoke a 1-0 win over Brentford at the bet365 Stadium that ensured their Championship survival and denied the visitors the chance to go second.

Fulham are now just a point behind Brentford in the table after beating Wednesday 5-3 and, with West Brom only two above them, the Cottagers will be ready to capitalise on any slip-ups on the final day.

Mitrovic and Neeskens Kebano scored twice at Craven Cottage before Bobby Reid's late fifth, with Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu (2) on target for Wednesday, who cannot yet consider themselves safe given the risk of a possible EFL points deduction.

 

BONNE CHANCE FOR LUTON AND CHARLTON

In Saturday's relegation showdown between Hull and Luton, it was the visitors who left the KCOM Stadium feeling hopeful of survival after LuaLua fired home the winner in the 85th minute.

Luton are now on 48 points, level with Charlton, who were trailing 2-1 to Wigan Athletic until Macauley Bonne equalised on exactly 92 minutes.

Hull are three points behind and, given they are 16 goals worse off than Charlton, they look destined for League One barring possible points penalties for either Wednesday or Wigan. Bottom-club Barnsley, with two games left, can still stay up.

CARDIFF WIN ENDS PRESTON, MILLWALL HOPES

Two goals from Josh Murphy helped Cardiff to a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, whose survival could now depend on getting a result on Wednesday, at Wednesday.

Cardiff stay sixth, three points ahead of Swansea City, whose 1-0 win over Bristol City keeps their play-off hopes alive ahead of the final day.

Preston cannot now make the top six, despite beating Birmingham City 2-0 - another side who are not yet guaranteed to avoid the drop - while Millwall are also out of play-off contention following Cardiff's win and their own thrilling 4-3 defeat at QPR.

That was not the day's only seven-goal game: at Ewood Park, Sam Gallagher's 87th-minute header gave Blackburn Rovers a 4-3 win over Reading that lifted them into the top 10.

Leeds United have won the Championship title as a result of Brentford's 1-0 loss to Stoke City on Saturday.

Marcelo Bielsa's side saw promotion to the Premier League confirmed on Friday after West Brom were beaten 2-1 by Huddersfield Town.

Victory for Brentford would have lifted them above the Baggies into second place and closed the gap to Leeds to three points.

However, a first-half goal from Lee Gregory secured a win for Stoke at the bet365 Stadium, guaranteeing the Potters' survival and crowning Leeds as champions a day before they face Derby County in their penultimate game of the season.

The result also means Brentford stay third, a point behind West Brom, with just one game to go.

Brentford moved to within a point of the Championship's top two and delayed any promotion party Leeds United may have had planned by beating Preston North End.

After high-flying rivals West Brom and Fulham drew on Tuesday, Brentford capitalised with a 1-0 win at Griffin Park a day later.

An eighth successive victory – of which seven have come since the season's restart – piled the pressure on second-placed West Brom and ensured Leeds cannot seal a Premier League return when they play on Thursday.

Elsewhere there were a trio of draws, most notably at Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City, where the respective hosts each picked up precious points, holding Swansea City and Charlton Athletic.


AUTOMATIC RACE GOING TO THE WIRE

Leeds host rock-bottom Barnsley but now need four points to guarantee promotion, meaning they will be made to wait a little longer regardless of the outcome at Elland Road.

Although West Brom have been in the top two for much of the season, Brentford's outstanding run of form means it is still all to play for in the final two matches of the campaign.

The Bees' latest win came by just a single early goal as Ollie Watkins lashed in after four minutes following good work from Emiliano Marcondes in the build-up.

They held on and will now be keen spectators when the Baggies visit Huddersfield Town on Friday, with the Thomas Frank side next in action against Stoke City the following day.
 

SAMMY STUNNERS STUNT SWANS

The battle to make the play-offs is almost as tense as the tussle at the top, but fifth-placed Forest – five points clear of seventh – should be involved.

They were grateful to Sammy Ameobi for a pair of wonderful goals as they twice came from behind to draw at home to Swansea.

Rhian Brewster's fine first-time finish gave Swansea the lead, before Ameobi picked out the top-right corner with a gorgeous curling effort from outside the area.

The Swans were back in front heading into half-time after Andre Ayew's penalty, yet Ameobi was not done and cut in from the right to arrow a low shot into the bottom-right corner.

The travelling side could not regain the lead for a third time and now face a tough ask to overhaul rivals Cardiff City, who are sixth and three points better off.
 

LATE LEVELLER LEAVES CHARLTON IN TROUBLE

Charlton appeared set to move four points clear of the relegation zone when they led Birmingham deep into stoppage time.

Macauley Bonne's second-half strike followed a missed penalty for Scott Hogan, meaning Charlton would leapfrog their opponents in the table.

But Birmingham's own survival bid was all but completed in the 93rd minute as Lukas Jutkiewicz equalised.

The Blues are joined on 50 points by Stoke, who should also be safe after similarly recovering from a goal down to draw 1-1 at Bristol City.

Danny Batth stooped to head in after Filip Benkovic's deflected opener.

Pablo Hernandez fired Leeds United to the brink of a return to the Premier League as his late goal at Swansea City earned a priceless 1-0 win. 

The former Swansea player came off the bench for the second half and scored in the 89th minute, sparking delight in the visitors' ranks. 

Spanish midfielder Hernandez found the bottom left corner after Luke Ayling cut the ball back, just as Leeds looked like being frustrated. 

Now they sit three points clear of second-placed West Brom and six ahead of in-form Brentford, who occupy third spot, and only three rounds of games remain. 

Leeds have been absent from the top flight of English football since their relegation in 2004, which came just three years after a run to the Champions League semi-finals. 

Veteran manager Marcelo Bielsa was persuaded to stay for this season, having gone agonisingly close last term to the elusive promotion. 

Now, though, Leeds look ready to end their long wait, with games against Barnsley, Derby County and Charlton Athletic to come and a maximum of four points required. 

The latest step on the road back to the elite came a day after the death was announced of one of their greatest players, England World Cup winner Jack Charlton, who spent his entire club career with Leeds. 

Stoke City and Birmingham City have played Premier League football more recently than Leeds, but this season has been one of battling the threat of dropping into the third tier for both. 

Stoke earned a 2-0 win over Birmingham on Sunday to join the Blues on 49 points, with both sides now four points clear of the relegation zone. 

Beaten 5-0 by Leeds in their previous outing on Thursday, Stoke bounced back thanks to goals from Danny Batth and captain Sam Clucas.

Leeds United thrashed relegation-threatened Stoke City 5-0 to go top of the Championship and take another significant step towards promotion.

Marcelo Bielsa's men looked like having nothing to show for a dominant first half until Tommy Smith scythed through Helder Costa to give away a 45th-minute penalty that Mateusz Klich converted.

Costa latched on to Stuart Dallas' fine throughball to double the advantage two minutes into the second half and Liam Cooper opened his body to brilliantly finish a cutback from substitute Pablo Hernandez before the hour.

Hernandez struck from outside the box to get in on the act and Patrick Bamford crowned a glorious team move in stoppage time to edge Leeds a point above West Brom at the summit with four games remaining, while Stoke are a point above the drop zone – their goal difference having taken a hammering.

Leeds need a maximum of seven points from their remaining four fixtures to end a 16-year absence from the Premier League.

Leeds United moved another step closer to automatic promotion from the Championship with a 3-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. 

Marcelo Bielsa's side have been inconsistent since last month's restart but saw off Blackburn to remain six points clear of third-placed Brentford. 

West Brom, who sit in second, are not in action until Sunday and in-form Brentford took full advantage by closing the gap to two points with a convincing 3-0 win against Wigan Athletic. 

Stoke City were also big winners in Saturday's second-tier fixtures, thrashing fellow strugglers Barnsley 4-0 to climb out of the relegation zone and into 18th place. 

Cardiff City, Reading and Fulham picked up valuable victories of their own, while two other matches - including the east Midlands derby - finished level. 


TOP-FLIGHT RETURN IN SIGHT FOR LEEDS

Leeds had collected four points from nine since resuming their campaign, but there is surely no stopping them from ending their 16-year wait for top-flight promotion. 

Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips put Leeds two goals ahead and while Adam Armstrong scored a free-kick early in the second period, Mateusz Klich made sure of the points. 

West Brom play their game in hand against Hull City on Sunday and now have a four-point gap to make up on Leeds, though holding down second place could become their main priority. 

Brentford have now won five in a row after Said Benrahma helped himself to a hat-trick against Wigan, who had Joe Garner sent off late on. 

PROMOTION BATTLE HEATING UP

Derby County and Nottingham Forest played out a 1-1 draw in the early kick-off - Chris Martin scoring in the 97th minute to cancel out Joe Lolley's goal. 

Cardiff saw a number of promising chances go begging against Bristol City before Lee Tomlin played in fellow substitute Danny Ward to snatch a 1-0 win. 

As well as earning bragging rights for Cardiff, Ward's clinical strike five minutes from the end also opens up a three-point buffer on seventh-in-the-table Derby. 

Fulham also needed a late goal to overcome Birmingham City at Craven Cottage, Josh Onomah popping up deep into added time to prolong the visitors' bad run of form. 

STOKE STEER CLEAR OF DANGER

Stoke entered their match with Barnsley sitting just above their opponents in the relegation zone. By the final whistle, they had risen clear of the drop zone. 

Tyrese Campbell struck twice while a goal apiece for Sam Vokes and Tom Ince resulted in a crushing win at the bet365 Stadium. 

Luton Town were unable to give their own survival hopes a much-needed boost as they went down 5-0 at home to Reading, a result that leaves them five points from safety. 

Yakou Meite was the hero for Reading, netting four of their goals - including an 18-minute hat-trick before half-time - while George Puscas was also on target for the visitors. 

Meanwhile, Huddersfield Town played out a goalless stalemate with a Preston North End side now winless in six matches.

Leeds United took a huge step towards promotion to the Premier League with a 3-0 victory over Fulham at Elland Road.

After West Brom lost at Brentford on Friday, Leeds' impressive win saw them bounce back from last week's defeat to Cardiff City and move top of the Championship.

There were also wins for Charlton Athletic, Cardiff, Luton Town, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

Birmingham City and Hull City shared a dramatic 3-3 draw, while there were no goals in the match between Barnsley and Millwall.

 

LEEDS CLOSING IN ON TOP FLIGHT

The 2-0 away defeat to Cardiff in the first match after lockdown was a concern, but even the most pessimistic Leeds fans must concede things are looking good now.

With seven games to go, Leeds are three points clear of West Brom and have opened up an eight-point cushion over third-placed Brentford.

The win over Fulham also dealt a hammer blow to their opponents' chances of automatic promotion - they are now 10 points off the top in fourth.

Patrick Bamford slotted in a cool left-footed finish from Helder Costa's cross after 10 minutes.

Leeds made sure of the points after the break when Ezgjan Alioski was set up by Jack Harrison, who went on to score the third after racing onto a Pablo Hernandez throughball.

Neeskens Kebano was sent off for Fulham in stoppage time, while key striker Aleksandar Mitrovic may face retrospective action after an apparent elbow on Ben White went unpunished in the early stages.

KEY WIN FOR CARDIFF

Cardiff continued their momentum with a potentially pivotal win over Preston North End, one of their main rivals for a play-off place.

The Welsh side moved above Preston into sixth place courtesy of a 3-1 away triumph given to them by late goals from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Robert Glatzel.

All four goals were scored in the last 21 minutes, with Joe Ralls' header putting Cardiff ahead before Daniel Johnson equalised.

Derby are only three points off the top six after Tom Lawrence's fine strike and a Wayne Rooney penalty earned a 2-1 home win over Reading, whose goal was scored by Andy Rinomhota.

Lawrence and Reading's Matt Miazga both received red cards for a clash just after the final whistle.

WINNING START FOR WARNOCK

Middlesbrough won 2-0 at Stoke City to give Neil Warnock an ideal start after his appointment as manager.

Ashley Fletcher and Marcus Tavernier scored in each half, while Stoke's Nick Powell was sent off a minute from time.

Huddersfield Town, who face fifth-placed Nottingham Forest on Sunday, dropped into the bottom three without playing.

West Brom nudged ahead of Leeds United at the top of the Championship but a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City appeared to be a blow to the title hopes of Slaven Bilic's team.

Yet the top two in England's second tier look increasingly likely to be the pair promoted to the Premier League, with third-placed Fulham suffering a damaging home defeat against Brentford.

In the first matches following the league's three-month coronavirus suspension, a new hero emerged for mid-table Derby County as 18-year-old Louie Sibley scored a hat-trick in their win at Millwall.

And Rhian Brewster, a striker on loan from Liverpool, gave Swansea City's play-off hopes a boost by netting twice at Middlesbrough, as well as making a powerful political statement.

POINT A MIXED BLESSING FOR BAGGIES

With Leeds in action at Cardiff City on Sunday, West Brom had an opportunity to go two points clear of Marcelo Bielsa's team as the league resumed.

Bilic's players dominated the derby clash and had a host of chances but could not find a breakthrough, and a stalemate at the Hawthorns potentially plays into the hands of Leeds.

The top two are now level on points, with West Brom top on goal difference, but Leeds will have the chance to go three clear before the next round of games.

BEES STING NEIGHBOURS

Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes scored late for Brentford in a 2-0 win at promotion rivals Fulham, a result that leaves West Brom and Leeds seven points clear with eight games remaining for the play-off pack.

Nottingham Forest were heading for victory at Sheffield Wednesday after Joe Lolley gave the visitors a 69th-minute lead, only for Connor Wickham to grab a stoppage-time leveller for the Owls.

Forest sit fifth, four points clear of a Preston North End side who were held 1-1 at Luton Town, Callum McManaman firing a late equaliser for the hosts, who nevertheless fell to the foot of the table.

KING LOUIE

Blackburn Rovers beat Bristol City 3-1 in a battle between teams fighting with Preston for sixth place, but the individual performance of the day came from Sibley, whose heroics guided Derby to their 3-2 win at Millwall.

"I'm absolutely buzzing," Sibley told Rams TV. "To get that hat-trick was just unbelievable. When the third goal went in, I couldn't stop smiling."

Brewster was not far behind, his double steering Swansea to a 3-0 victory at lowly Middlesbrough.

Brewster held up a shirt that read "our colour is not a crime" after his first goal, expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TIGERS ON THE SLIDE

Wigan Athletic were 2-0 winners at fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town, while Hull City slipped into the bottom three after losing 1-0 at home against Charlton Athletic.

Barnsley climbed off the bottom by winning 1-0 at QPR, and Stoke City drew 1-1 at Reading.

Stoke City manager Michael O'Neill has tested positive for COVID-19, the Championship club have announced.

The former Northern Ireland boss returned the adverse result during the sixth round of testing as England's second tier gears up to relaunch next week.

O'Neill, 50, had tested negative in the previous five rounds.

Confirming the news, Stoke said in a statement on Tuesday: "He will now follow the relevant guidance and undergo a period of isolation, whilst continuing to be in regular virtual contact with his coaching staff and players."

Assistant manager Billy McKinlay will take charge of Stoke's preparations to face Reading on June 20 as O'Neill stays away.

Following his appointment last November, with the Potters at the foot of the Championship table, O'Neill inspired a turnaround in fortunes to lift the team up to 17th place.

The threat of relegation remains, as Stoke sit three points better off than third-bottom Charlton Athletic with nine matches still to play.

Luis Suarez showed "phenomenal" strength to recover from biting bans to become a Barcelona star, according to former Liverpool team-mate Charlie Adam.

Suarez has won 13 major trophies with Barca since moving from Liverpool in 2014, including the treble of LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in his first season in Spain.

The Uruguay star secured a switch to Camp Nou after a stunning campaign in the Premier League in 2013-14, in which he scored 31 goals in 33 league games to win the European Golden Shoe and be crowned the PFA Players' Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season.

Suarez could not make his Barca debut until October 25, though, after he was banned for four months by FIFA for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.

It was the third time in his career Suarez was found guilty of the offence, the player having bitten Otman Bakkal while playing for Ajax in 2010 and then Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea three years later, which saw him given a 10-game ban.

Adam, who was a team-mate of Suarez in his first season at Liverpool in 2011-12, says the way the forward has kicked on in his career is remarkable.

"He will have been disappointed at what had happened [his ban for biting], how he got involved in the situation, both situations, and how it occurred," Adam told Stats Perform.

"But the way he's bounced back from that mental toughness has been incredible. I still say he's one of the best number nines in the world where he could occupy a defence on his own.

"He's hungry to score goals, he's playing for one of the best teams in the world with the greatest player I've ever seen [Lionel Messi]. It's phenomenal to see that he's made that step up.

"It was crucial for him when he left Liverpool to go to Barcelona and everyone thought 'was he the right type of player for Barcelona?' but he's been phenomenal and I was grateful to be able to share the dressing room with him."

Adam has been hugely impressed with the link-up between Messi and Suarez at Barca, which has yielded four LaLiga titles in the past five seasons.

"The top players connect well. Even when Neymar was there, the three of them seemed to connect," said the Reading man. "There was no ego about any of the players, they wanted the best for the team and that's the important thing.

"You sort of saw it when they signed [Ousmane] Dembele. He was the other type of player that was all about him. When you're at Barcelona it's all only about one person and that's Lionel Messi. It's not being disrespectful, but you have to try and manipulate your game to suit him because he's the main man. But Dembele's not really gone there and expressed how Neymar did.

"Neymar knew that he wasn't going to be the main man at that time, but he got his head down, knuckled down and they had some great success together, the three of them."

Adam moved to Stoke City in 2012, where he played alongside former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic and ex-Real Madrid man Jese Rodriguez.

Neither player was able to fulfil their promise with the Potters, with Bojan – whose best run of form was interrupted by a serious injury – now playing under Thierry Henry at MLS side Montreal Impact and Jese back with Sporting CP in Portugal, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain.

"Bojan was a player who came with the pedigree of where he'd played, Barcelona, he'd been at Roma and he'd been somewhere else [Ajax], and then he came to Stoke. And from day one he just hit the ground running, he was phenomenal," Adam recalled.

"On day one, you could see the talent he had. But most of all, he was a great guy. He was a great guy to have in the dressing room, always laughing and joking. But his mentality to work hard was incredible.

"The only thing about Bojan was when he got that knee injury, that was when his football went a different way. He had to change and adapt his game, he wasn't as sharp as he was but [he was] a phenomenal player.

"It's a shame to see an injury like that curtail someone's career because he could have been phenomenal for Stoke. I loved playing with him, I was playing that night against Rochdale [in an FA Cup match in January 2015] when he did his cruciate [ligament] and it was heartbreaking for the lads to see it because in the dressing room he was a great guy and it was disappointing for him.

"Jese was one where he came to the club from Real Madrid, he was the boy wonder at Real Madrid. He got that serious knee injury from that tackle with [Sead] Kolasinac [for Madrid against Schalke in 2014] and he ended up with a cruciate injury as well.

"He probably never fulfilled the potential or the career that he was going to have before that injury and that's what serious injuries do to you. For Jese, I think there was a lot of other things going on off the pitch, which probably never helped, and that was difficult.

"It was a strange one but, as a group of players, you've got to adapt and you've got to try your best but unfortunately, it never worked out for him."

Michael O'Neill has permanently left his role as Northern Ireland manager with immediate effect.

O'Neill was appointed Stoke City boss in November but pulled double duty to see out Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

The 50-year-old was also due to oversee their play-off match against Bosnia-Herzegovina in March, with the winners then facing the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia, but the coronavirus pandemic saw that fixture postponed.

With UEFA suggesting at a teleconference on Tuesday the play-off games will be rescheduled for October, the decision has been taken for O'Neill – who was appointed in December 2011 – to leave now.

"After careful consideration and following discussions with the Irish FA, I feel it is only fair that now is the right time for me to step aside," he told the Irish Football Association's official website.

"I would have loved the opportunity to manage Northern Ireland in the Euro 2020 play-off game versus Bosnia-Herzegovina and the chance to qualify for another major tournament, but the current situation means that this is no longer possible.

"It was important to leave the association and team in the strongest possible shape in order to not only have the best chance of qualifying for Euro 2021, but allow the new manager time to build upon the success that we have had during my eight-year tenure."

Under O'Neill, Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 where they were beaten 1-0 by Wales in the last 16.

"It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to manage my country and I will treasure my time as manager of Northern Ireland forever," he added.

"Throughout my time here, I have been fortunate to have worked with many great coaching, medical and support staff who have all contributed to our successes and shared in some great moments.

"As for my players, past and present, I would like to thank them all for an overwhelming level of commitment and professionalism that has helped to deliver so many unforgettable highs and great experiences for us all."

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