Wayne Rooney has suggested Alex Ferguson committed tactical suicide during Manchester United's two Champions League final losses to Barcelona.

Rooney became a European champion under Ferguson when United beat Chelsea on penalties in the 2008 final in Moscow but they fell at the last hurdle in their bid to retain the trophy the following season – running into Pep Guardiola's formidable Barca in Rome.

United had the chance to avenge that 2-0 loss in the Italian capital at Wembley in 2011 but, despite Rooney cancelling out Pedro's first-half opener, superb goals from Lionel Messi and David Villa saw the Blaugrana run out deserved 3-1 winners.

Rooney was discussing how best to approach crunch European nights in his Sunday Times column, previewing the forthcoming Champions League last-16 showdown between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

City hold a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu but Rooney expects the pragmatic approach of three-time winner Zinedine Zidane to pose problems to Guardiola's current side – something that did not always come so easily to Ferguson.

"It's always hard for a club like Real to go into a game saying, 'We'll surrender the ball'," Rooney said

"It is the same for United. But we lost two Champions League finals going toe-to-toe with Guardiola's Barcelona, by trying to press high and get round them, which was suicidal.

"I remember Alex Ferguson saying, 'We're Man United and we're going to attack, it's in the culture of this football club' and thinking,' 'I'm not too sure about this'.

"I think all the players knew, deep down, it was the wrong approach, that we were abandoning the way that had brought us success in that 2008 semi-final — and sure enough both times we got outplayed.

"There is being true to the club, but then there's sitting back afterwards and thinking, 'We lost'.

"For me, it doesn't matter how you do it in these big Champions League games, as long as you win — look at how Liverpool ground it out in last year's final — and I think Zidane has the same mindset."

Rooney feels his old cross-city rivals are well placed to claim an elusive first Champions League crown, although doubts linger over a defence that has appeared suspect against elite opponents this season.

City have lost games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham across all competitions this season.

"Manchester City may never have a better chance to win the Champions League," he added. "Liverpool are out. In my opinion, Bayern Munich are not quite as good as in previous years, and City are 2-1 up against Real Madrid in the round of 16, going into a second leg at home.

"The Champions League is the competition that Pep Guardiola most wants to win and for City to take that next step as a club, this is the trophy they need.

"Friday's second leg at the Etihad is massive. Sergio Ramos is suspended, which is a huge loss to the Real defence, and I think City will score. Whether they are solid enough at the back themselves is my only question about Guardiola's side."

Rio Ferdinand concedes he was unimpressed with Nemanja Vidic after his arrival at Manchester United and predicted with Wayne Rooney that the defender would not last long at Old Trafford.

Vidic and Ferdinand eventually went on to form a superb centre-back partnership over eight-and-a-half seasons, which helped United to five Premier League crowns and Champions League glory in 2008.

But Rooney and his fellow England international had immediate doubts when Alex Ferguson signed Vidic from Spartak Moscow in January 2006.

Ferdinand told United's website: "Never heard of him. I'll be totally honest, that was my reaction when I heard that we were signing Nemanja Vidic.

"At the time we had Mikael Silvestre and Wes Brown as our other centre-halves. The manager wanted competition for places, Wes had had a few injuries and Vida was a punt to bring that extra competition. 

"Liverpool were interested as well, Aston Villa and a few others, and then he signed for us.

"I had no idea what to expect from him, no preconceptions. When someone joins the club, you're quickly sussing them out and forming opinions.

"From what I was seeing in his early training sessions, Vida was struggling, especially physically. That wasn't just strength-wise, but breathing, too. The pace of the training sessions were just such a shift in what he'd been used to. It wasn't easy for him.

"I had a conversation with Wayne Rooney – a couple of times, actually – about both Vidic and Patrice Evra, who had joined at the same time. 

"We were both basically saying, 'Wow, how have we signed these two?' Wayne was playing against Vida in training and he was quite clear on Vida's issues: he wasn't strong enough, wasn't aggressive enough, just didn't seem like a Man United player.

"I remember thinking, 'He won't be here long. No chance he's gonna be here long'. Speaking to him since, I know now that back when he first signed, he was nervous. He was wondering, 'Have I made the right move?'

"It was so difficult for him. He was playing against Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha every day. The standards expected of him had shot up massively overnight. We were judging him harshly, but he was judging himself harshly too."

Vidic improved various aspects of his game and quickly developed a close bond with Ferdinand around the United training ground as he settled into life at the club.

"He went away and worked very diligently on a lot of things," continued Ferdinand.

"He spent a lot more time in the gym, getting himself physically ready, preparing himself, conditioning himself for the right level so he could actually compete.

"Then there just came a point – I can't think of a specific day or date – when he was just competing. He just got accustomed to it over a period of time.

"The best word to describe the player Vida became is formidable. You could see strikers going up with him, thinking, 'Oh god, he's gonna smash me'. You could see fear in strikers. 

"He was someone who was horrible to play against. He'd go to head the ball and head you. Vida had the most bloody noses I've seen out of anybody I've ever played with.

"Even in his last game for United he walked off the pitch with a bloody nose and that just epitomised him! He was just fearless. He saw the ball, nothing else.

"After a season or two of playing with Vida, I knew that when I left United, I wanted to walk out of Old Trafford knowing we were considered the best partnership the club had ever had. That was something that drove me."

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


There had already been murmurings of a potential superstar coming through Manchester United's academy, but in December 2018, the noise around Mason Greenwood became that bit louder.

Chelsea had been unbeaten in the FA Youth Cup since 2013 before Greenwood was unleashed on them, the then-17-year-old netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win.

That treble showcased much of what is deemed special about Greenwood. For his first, he chased down the goalkeeper, forced an error and then showed composure to fire past him and a defender on the line.

He doubled his tally from just inside the area, racing on to a throughball and coolly placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after creating space with a stepover.

His hat-trick was completed with another fine effort. After beating a defender to an underhit pass, he ran at the centre-back, darted to his left and picking out the far corner with his left foot.

Work-rate, close control, exceptional finishing and remarkable ability on either foot – it was all evidence of a complete centre-forward in-the-making.

Fittingly, Greenwood's dazzling display came the day after Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the first-team – the teenager's promise a hopeful ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period for the club.

Matic in awe of teenager

Fast-forward 19 months, Greenwood has played 42 times for United in 2019-20, while his recent form has led to suggestions he will surely be in England's squad for the delayed European Championships next year.

Not only has Greenwood made a strong impression on fans and pundits, but his team-mates are also well aware of his prodigious talents. Nemanja Matic has seen a particularly significant development in him this year alone.

Matic told Stats Perform News: "There are not many players his age of that level – he has this natural instinct for goals.

"There is a big difference from now from to six months ago. He is young and he is changing, and his approach to training and to everything is different. He's a great person, great for the changing room.

"He is quiet, I have to say, but the boy is always very positive and we are happy to have him in the team."

Mourinho's ousting and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had previously coached young players at the club, was seen as a potentially critical moment for the next generation coming through at Old Trafford.

While it's impossible to know how Greenwood's career would have progressed with Mourinho, it is fair to suggest he wouldn't have given him his first-team debut in a Champions League knockout clash away to Paris Saint-Germain with United chasing a goal to secure an historic turnaround.

Greenwood then made his first start on the final day of the 2018-19 season. Although United suffered a dire 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City, the teenager was comfortably the best player on the pitch.

From that point, it almost seemed a certainty Greenwood was to become a regular squad member this term, and he's finally cemented a place on the right side of the attack since football's resumption.

The new Van Persie? Or Robben?

Greenwood's build, running style and technique have drawn understandable comparisons with former United star Robin van Persie, though he reminds Matic more of another Dutchman.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on the lad, but if I had to say someone [Greenwood reminds me of], it would be [Arjen] Robben," Matic said.

However, some might argue Greenwood is poised to become even more of a nuisance to defenders given his unpredictable skillset – after all, much has been said about Greenwood's ambipedal abilities, and in the United youth teams he was known to take free-kicks and penalties with either foot.

While being "two-footed" is by no means a rare concept, Greenwood does appear to be a special case. His recent goals against Bournemouth and Aston Villa are proof of that, with the England Under-21 international hitting two ferocious efforts into the net with his supposedly weaker right foot.

Such unpredictability can only help Greenwood, while Matic also feels having someone like Marcus Rashford in the team will give the teenager a good example to follow.

"I think that when he has seen players who came through the academy, he has seen Marcus as a role model and he has tried to follow those steps, it was easier too for him to see that someone can achieve big things coming from the academy, so I am happy for him," he added.

Best and Rooney in touching distance

"It is important to have players from the academy," continued Matic, a firm believer of giving opportunities to youngsters. "They are making big players, good people, it's important they are good people for the changing room."

But the Serbian stressed the need for those players to be ready for the opportunities, adding: "The expectation from our fans is high and they have to be ready to play at the highest level."

It's fair to say no one is doubting Greenwood's credentials anymore, and the data highlights his impressive early impact.

With 16 goals, he is United's third-highest scorer this term behind Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom have 20, but Greenwood nets with a more impressive frequency at one every 129 minutes (Rashford – 142 mins, Martial – 147).

His conversion rate of 22 percent is identical to Martial's and an improvement on Rashford's 17 per cent, but it's in the expected goals (xG) metric where Greenwood's finishing abilities are best highlighted.

From the chances that have fallen to him, Greenwood would ordinarily be expected to have scored eight times this season, but his actual goals haul is double that.

By comparison, Martial's xG is five under his actual total at 15 and Rashford's is 23, three higher than the 20 he has scored.

Add to that, he is just two goals shy of setting a new record for goals scored by a teenager for United in a single season (George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney all got 17).

"The players that have come through, Marcus and Mason, they have come with a lot of qualities and are ready at the highest level and [this] shows the academy can work well."

Matic's assessment appears to be on the money – as does Greenwood.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted it is too early to compare Mason Greenwood to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo following the teenage forward's brace in Manchester United's 5-2 win over Bournemouth.

Greenwood further enhanced his reputation with clinical finishes in either half in Saturday's clash at Old Trafford to take him to eight league goals for United this term and 15 in all competitions.

He is the youngest player to reach that tally for the club since Rooney but Solskjaer was unwilling to put the 18-year-old in the same category as United's all-time leading scorer and fellow star Ronaldo.

"I have seen Wayne Rooney at the same age and Mason is a specialist finisher and specialist goalscorer," Solskjaer said at his post-match news conference. "He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he's on the pitch.

"If he shoots, he will score. He is going to get better and his general play has improved. But I don't want to compare Mason to Rooney or Cristiano – I don't think that's fair.

"The boy will create his own career and he is doing it his own way and they've had fantastic careers, both of them, and I'm sure if Mason keeps on doing the right things, making good decisions, he will have a fantastic career as well."

Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were also on target against Bournemouth, with the latter scoring from the penalty spot.

United's front three of Greenwood, Martial and Rashford now have 55 goals in all competitions this term – four more than Liverpool's triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

But Solskjaer warned United's Premier League rivals that his side – fourth in the table ahead of Chelsea's game in hand against Watford later on Saturday – are only going to get better over time.

"Every day and every game and every session is a chance to improve," he said.

"We've seen improvement in Marcus, Mason and Anthony all season, so we will keep on improving the ones we've got but we will never stand still – we are always on the lookout for anything that is possible.

"You cannot think we've cracked it, as Gary [Neville] said, and the emphasis is just on improving the team all the time.

"They will improve, and we've seen that all season they have improved a lot this season, different parts of their game, maturity. We will work with these.

"Marcus is on course for his best season, Anthony the same but they can still improve and there are things they know I want them to keep improving on.

"Mason is in his first season, fantastic, but we've always known that there's a special kid there."

Solskjaer named the same starting line-up for the third league game running on Saturday, United winning each of those matches to make it their best-such run since January 2019.

But the Norwegian talked up the importance of his entire squad during their 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretches back to January.

"I wouldn't say that you could call it a first XI," he said. "We know we have to use the squad; we've had players who've played and really contributed.

"I can't say this is like the XI that's always going to play, no. Because Eric [Bailly] came on today, he's important for us; Scott [McTominay] and Fred have been exceptional all season. It's not easy leaving Dan James out either but we have started doing well."

Matheus Pereira scored twice as West Brom boosted their title hopes at Sheffield Wednesday, while Wayne Rooney's winner saw Derby County close on the play-off spots.

Championship leaders Leeds United were held to a 1-1 draw by Luton Town on Tuesday and the Baggies closed the gap to just one point with a 3-0 victory at Hillsborough.

Charlie Austin's first-half penalty was added to by a brace from Pereira after the break as Slaven Bilic's side restored their five-point cushion in the final automatic promotion place.

The play-off places are what Derby and Preston are chasing and it was the Rams who came out on top at Deepdale thanks to Rooney.

England's all-time leading scorer found the net with a first-half free-kick to leave Derby one point behind sixth-placed Cardiff City.

Nottingham Forest, who Derby face next, strengthened their grip on one of the play-off berths, Tiago Silva scoring the only goal in 1 -0 victory over Bristol City.

At the other end of the table, Huddersfield Town climbed out of the relegation places with a 3-0 success at Birmingham City.

Karlan Grant, Fraizer Campbell and Elias Kachunga scored the goals for the Terriers, who were replaced in the bottom three by Hull City.

Jurgen Klopp's claim that Liverpool cannot dominate in the Premier League like Manchester United did has been disputed by Wayne Rooney, who says the key for the Reds is keeping their manager.

Liverpool, who are 22 points clear of Manchester City, are on the cusp of a first top-flight title since 1990 and need just two more wins to guarantee lifting the trophy.

Boss Klopp said he feels it is impossible for one club to enjoy the sort of success United did under the legendary Alex Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles during his 26-year stint.

Former United captain Rooney – a long-time foe of Liverpool due to his association with Everton and the Red Devils – disagrees, though, and tipped the Anfield club to win the league at least five times in the next decade on the proviso Klopp remains at the helm.

"Liverpool's squad is young and all the key players are tied down on long contracts. They have huge potential to win more trophies," Rooney wrote in his column for The Times.

"Klopp says it's impossible for any club to dominate like United once did but he is wrong.

"There's a simple way for Liverpool: let Klopp go on and on.

"United dominated because Fergie stayed so long. I think if Klopp, who is only 53, stayed at Anfield for the next 10 years Liverpool would win at least five Premier League titles.

"He could keep building great sides because, as I mentioned, players join clubs to work with managers as good as him.

"On the flip-side, players stay at clubs because of managers, too. And if Klopp left it would be no surprise to see the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also deciding to move on.

"If I were one of Liverpool's owners, I would be doing everything in my power to tie him down for many years."

Rooney won the Premier League five times playing for Ferguson at Old Trafford, while he also became a Champions League winner under the Scot.

Liverpool's first game back since the suspension of the top flight due to the coronavirus pandemic is Sunday's Merseyside derby at Everton.

Gerard Pique was "bullied" out of the Premier League because he could not handle Bolton Wanderers' physicality, according to Wayne Rooney.

Before he returned to Barcelona and became a key figure in sides that won La Liga and the Champions League on multiple occasions, Pique spent four years at Manchester United.

However, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand the regular centre-back pairing of choice for Alex Ferguson, Pique only featured in 12 Premier League games prior to re-joining Barca in 2008.

And it was a game in Pique's final season - a 1-0 loss to Bolton when the 20-year-old was hauled off after 59 minutes - which Rooney believed spelled the end for his time at Old Trafford.

"Bolton away more or less finished Gerard Pique's career at United," Rooney wrote in his column for The Sunday Times.

"He was young and got bullied there and I think that's when Fergie decided that, physically, he wasn't right for the Premier League.

"I always remember Vidic: if we were going to Bolton — and it was the same when he was about to face Didier Drogba — he would be in the gym for two or three days before, pumping himself up."

Bolton's only goal that day came courtesy of Nicolas Anelka, when he took advantage of a mistimed Pique leap to score.

Pique has since gone on to win 28 major honours with his boyhood club Barca.

The defender also has over 100 caps for Spain and was part of La Roja teams that won World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012.

Wayne Rooney feels Manchester United were wrong to sack Louis van Gaal in 2016 after two years at the Old Trafford helm.

Van Gaal was axed in favour of Jose Mourinho shortly after winning the FA Cup, with United having finished outside of the top four in the Premier League.

Under Mourinho, United finished sixth in the final 2016-17 Premier League standings but won both the EFL Cup and Europa League.

Yet Rooney, who was United's captain at the time, insists the club should have given Van Gaal another year to prove he could be a success.

"I was devastated when Louis was sacked," Rooney said in the book 'LVG - The Manager and the Total Person'.

“For me, it was an absolute joy to work with him.

“We should have kept him for a third season. We would have been so much stronger.

"I felt things were improving and players started to understand his vision. In those two years I learned more than under any other manager.

"This is why I will be forever grateful to him. Not just for making me captain, but also for all the trust and belief he had in me.

"We didn't have the best team in the league anyway, but we could not afford to have 12 players injured.

"Our best XI was good enough to play in the top four, but once we got injuries we got in trouble ­because we did not have the same quality in the squad as in the years before.

"At the time it was good for me because I had decided that I wanted to become a manager.

“And working with Louis in that way was priceless in my opinion because I could learn so much from him. I could not have wished for a better example."

Ravel Morrison was better than Paul Pogba "by a country mile" but lacked the work ethic to make the grade at Manchester United, according to Wayne Rooney.

Morrison and Pogba each joined the United academy in 2009, yet they have experienced contrasting fortunes.

While Pogba starred for Juventus before returning to United and has won the World Cup, Morrison has failed to live up to his potential in a career that has taken him to Italy, Mexico and Sweden.

Morrison in January joined Championship side Middlesbrough on loan from Sheffield United for the remainder of the season, which is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

United legend Rooney, now at Derby County, believes it could have been a different story for Morrison had he possessed the commitment of Gary Neville.

Rooney wrote in his Sunday Times column: "I remember watching Ravel Morrison thinking he had everything required for a player in his position.

"He nutmegged Nemanja Vidic three times in the space of a minute in one training game. 

"But he struggled with lifestyle and his environment which was sad for him - because I saw Paul Pogba come through, Jesse Lingard, all these players and Ravel was better than any of them by a country mile.

"He's proof that you can't escape the fact there are guidelines every player has to obey in professional football. 

"Then you think how far you can go by being ultra-professional. Gary Neville, for instance. Gary's not a great football player but he worked in every minute of every training session and made the most of everything he had. 

"Sir Alex Ferguson used to say the hardest thing in life is to work hard every day. Forget all your ability, strip everything back: if you can work hard every day, in whatever job you do you'll be successful." 

 

Wayne Rooney believes Lionel Messi is a cut above the "incredible" Cristiano Ronaldo because the Barcelona superstar "will torture you before he kills you."

Rooney and Ronaldo tormented defences during time as team-mates in an outstanding Manchester United side before the Portugal forward joined Real Madrid in 2009.

Ronaldo and Messi have won the Ballon d'Or an astonishing 11 times between them, with Luka Modric the only other player to land the award since 2007.

Former England captain Rooney considers Messi, winner of the Ballon d'Or on six occasions, to be the best on the planet.

The Derby County skipper wrote in his Sunday Times column: "Ronaldo wasn't as focused on goals when we started playing together but you could see that all he wanted was to be the best player in the world.

"He practised and practised and began to produce. Cristiano has become an incredible scorer and he and Messi are arguably the best two players the game has seen.

"But despite my friendship with Cristiano, I'd go for Messi. It's for the same reason I loved watching Xavi and [Paul] Scholes: it's the different things in Messi's game.

"I've talked about composure and I can't remember seeing Messi score when he has hit the ball as hard as he could. He just rolls them in, makes it so easy.

"Ronaldo is ruthless in the box, a killer. But Messi will torture you before he kills you. With Messi you just get the impression he is having more fun.

"Those two have completely changed the game in terms of goalscoring numbers and I don't think they'll ever be matched."

Wayne Rooney says he has never been a natural finisher and fully expects Harry Kane to beat his record for the most England goals.

Throughout a trophy-laden career, Rooney has surpassed Bobby Charlton's benchmarks as the leading scorer for Manchester United and England.

Rooney struck 253 times in 559 appearances for the Red Devils and celebrated 53 goals in 120 England caps.

However, Rooney feels he should have scored more in his career and tipped Tottenham striker Kane – who has a superb 32 goals in 45 England games – to beat his international haul for the Three Lions.

"I'm going to be honest - and this might surprise you - but I'm not a natural goalscorer," Rooney wrote in his Sunday Times column.

"I hold the goal records for Manchester United and England and am very proud about that - yet there have been better number nines than me.

"How did I become a record-breaker if I wasn't a natural scorer? Time. I played for United for 13 years, England for 15 years. I had time to break those records - and looking back I should have scored more.

"I don't think it will take long for Harry Kane to claim my England record and it would be a proud moment for me.

"I've never been a selfish player and it would be great for England for Harry to get there. Bobby Charlton had to wait 50 years [for me to break his England record] - I hope it's not so long for me.

"The United record might last longer simply because players don't stay at clubs as long as they used to.

"Mind you, if [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo came to Old Trafford for a swansong they'd probably break it in three or four years!"

Rooney, now a player-coach with Championship side Derby County, won 12 major honours during his time with United.

He departed Old Trafford to return to Everton for the 2017-18 season and had a spell at DC United in MLS before joining Derby. 

Frank Lampard said politicians "jumped the gun" by calling for footballers to act in the national interest over the coronavirus pandemic, claiming his Chelsea players were among those already preparing to play their part.

The United Kingdom's health secretary Matt Hancock used a national press briefing to urge elite footballers in England to take a pay cut, and since then Premier League players have announced the creation of a charity fund to help health services in the fight against COVID-19.

Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville and Gary Lineker all hit back at the government's decision to single out footballers in the debate over salary reductions, and Lampard echoed their comments while praising the response to the pandemic at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea agreed to let the National Health Service use the club's Millennium Hotel at Stamford Bridge to accommodate staff, and Lampard told Sky Sports News: "I was very proud to be manager of this club with the way Chelsea handled it. They were very quick to respond to help with the hotel.

"There's a lot more work they've been doing with the foundation, with link-ups, getting in touch with fans, with putting on tutorials from some of the academy coaches. There are a lot of people at Chelsea who have stood up with some good work.

"I think they needed some time and I think the politicians jumped the gun while things were being prepared. People behind the scenes knew that and it's unfortunate that picture got painted.

"Since then a lot of players and clubs have stood up in a good way generally. Knowing the players and how they think, that's been a very good reaction. And it's ongoing and it shouldn't stop. I think that reaction needs to continue. If there's a light at the end of this tunnel, if there are things we can all learn, it's how we give back and stick together."

Lampard also paid tribute to former Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who died on Sunday following a long-term illness.

Bonetti made 729 appearances for the Blues, winning the FA Cup, the European Cup Winners' Cup, and the League Cup.

Lampard said: "My memory is of watching him as a player, but also memories of meeting him and what a gentleman he was. He was working in hospitality at Chelsea when I first arrived, working upstairs.

"[He was] so friendly with everyone that came to the game. Had time for everybody, absolute gentleman and a huge loss to Chelsea and to football."

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is "a global example" when it comes to the debate over footballers and pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a sports psychologist.

Messi issued a statement on behalf of the Barca first team on March 30 to confirm that the players had agreed to a 70 per cent reduction in wages to help to ease the financial burden on the club while football is largely at a standstill.

The players are also making further financial contributions to ensure Barca's non-playing employees can take home their full wages while LaLiga remains suspended during Spain's nationwide lockdown.

Atletico Madrid announced last week that their players would be taking a similar pay reduction.

The decisions from two of Spain's top clubs encouraged debate over the practices of the Premier League elite, whose players are yet to announce any definitive agreement on wage reductions or financial contributions towards frontline health systems.

Tom Bates believes Messi and Barca's example will help to encourage other clubs to follow suit while the COVID-19 crisis persists.

"The players that I have spoken with from the Premier League all the way through, they have different perspectives, naturally," he told Stats Perform.

"One of the things that the guys have said is, 'Well, actually at our club we are quite a wealthy club, so we could probably afford to keep our staff paid, but other clubs in different leagues won't be able to do that'. Others feel like taking a pay cut to keep their staff on board is absolutely fine.

"The classic case is Leo Messi, who started this and was one of the first players to take a 70 per cent pay cut in order to make sure the staff at Barcelona were able to carry on working, and I think that really is a global example to everybody when you're talking about that level in money in wages, and that type of athlete.

"I am very privileged: I have met Leo Messi and [Pep] Guardiola over there in Barcelona together as a team, and it doesn't surprise me that they are leading the way with this.

"If there was going to be a global example of a player out there doing something for the greater good of their club – and he embodies that for me – so, in my professional opinion, if you can afford that and if you're able to support by taking a pay cut, then clearly those who need it the most are going to benefit."

Bates also praised the influence of former Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney in encouraging conversations around mental health.

Writing for The Times, Derby County star Rooney outlined how the suspension of the football calendar could have implications for the mental wellbeing of players who have seen their routine grind to a halt.

"Wayne is in many ways an ambassador, he is a cultural leader for the game, especially because what he has achieved at international level, and certainly to be continuing his career even now and still performing at a very high level encourages others to do the same," Bates said.

"When you have somebody like Wayne come and be very open and very honest about mental health on a global level within the game, that can only be a good thing because it encourages others to have conversations, to open up conversations and be courageous enough to talk about their own mental health, and of course talking about it is the first step to improving it."

On April 6, 1996, the United States of America embraced a new competition as Major League Soccer debuted in San Jose.

After the collapse of the North American Soccer League 12 years earlier, a new 10-team league had formed, hoping to ride the crest of a wave from USA hosting the 1994 World Cup.

To mark 24 years to the day since Eric Wynalda's 88th-minute strike earned San Jose Clash a 1-0 win over DC United, we look at the biggest landmarks in MLS' history so far.

 

1996 - THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA

As part of the agreement to award USA the 1994 World Cup, the United States Soccer Federation had to commit to starting a new elite league.

The result was the formation of MLS - a 10-team competition with clubs such as LA Galaxy, DC United and New England Revolution all involved in that inaugural campaign.

DC United came from 2-0 down to beat the Galaxy 3-2 in the MLS Cup in front of 34,643 fans in Massachusetts.

2001 - HUNT TO THE RESCUE

After four years of dwindling attendances, the future of MLS appeared bleak when commissioner Don Garber staged a meeting in 2001 attended by both club owners and bankruptcy attorneys.

The league had lost $250million since its first game, but Philip Anschutz, the Kraft and Hunt families stepped forward to bankroll the 11 franchises between them.

The late Lamar Hunt had convinced owners not to fold the league, and it proved a shrewd decision...

2005 - THE EXPANSION BOOM BEGINS

For the first time since 1998 - when Chicago Fire and the short-lived Miami Fusion came on board - new MLS teams joined the party in the form of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA.

MLS expanded to 13 clubs in 2007, and it grew in size in each of the next five seasons.

This season, MLS has 26 clubs and that number will grow to 30 by 2022.

2007 - DAVID BRINGS BECKS APPEAL

It could be argued no player has had a greater impact on MLS than one David Beckham.

The Manchester United and Real Madrid great arrived in the City of Stars in 2007 thanks to the 'Designated Player Rule' - nicknamed the 'Beckham Rule', allowing clubs to sign up to three players that count outside their salary cap.

LA Galaxy's acquisition of Beckham was seen as a huge coup. The England midfielder spent five seasons in Hollywood and his arrival helped put MLS on the map.

2012 - AMERICA'S SECOND FAVOURITE SPORT

As well as Beckham's arrival, the sport's popularity was also aided by USA's thrilling matches at the 2010 World Cup.

USA beat Algeria to reach the last 16 thanks to a last-gasp Landon Donovan goal, only to lose their first knockout match to Ghana in extra time.

Interest intensified, though, and in 2012 an ESPN poll found MLS was America's second-most popular sporting league among those aged 12-24 - behind just the NFL.

2018 - MARTINEZ AND ATLANTA BRING THE NOISE

The 2018 MLS Cup was watched by 73,019 fans at Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shattering the previous final record of 61,316 supporters from 16 years earlier.

Atlanta, in just their second campaign, won the trophy during a memorable campaign when Josef Martinez scored a record 31 goals in the regular season.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic making the Galaxy must-watch again, Wayne Rooney transforming DC United and Carlos Vela firing at Los Angeles FC, it was one of the more memorable MLS campaigns to date.

Wayne Rooney has branded the public pressure put on players to take pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic as a "disgrace" and believes they have been left in a "no-win situation".

Health minister Matt Hancock said in his Thursday COVID-19 briefing that Premier League footballers should "play their part" during the crisis and make a contribution, comments made after some top-flight clubs used the government's furlough scheme for non-playing staff.

The Premier League has also called for players to take a 30 per cent pay cut, though the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) claims such a move would lead to a loss in important revenue from tax contributions.

In his column for the Sunday Times, former England captain Rooney explained how he is willing to help out - provided he knows where his money will be used - but was critical of how players have been thrust into the media spotlight.

"If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I'd be proud to do so - as long as I knew where the money was going," wrote Derby County skipper Rooney.

"I'm in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 per cent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?

"How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.

"First the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that Premier League players should take a pay cut. He was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we've faced in our lifetimes.

"Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his government's handling of this pandemic?"

On the subject of the Premier League's statement on lowering salaries, Rooney questioned the decision by the organisation to go public with such a proposal.

"It seemed strange to me because every other decision in this process has been kept behind closed doors, but this had to be announced publicly,” he added.

"Why? It feels as if it’s to shame the players – to force them into a corner where they have to pick up the bill for lost revenue.

"In my opinion it is now a no-win situation. Whatever way you look at it, we're easy targets."

Page 1 of 3
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.