"He wants to come."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

That agreement seemingly saw Chelsea pip London rivals Arsenal to the post after a high-profile pursuit.

Yet a deal that seemed set for a swift resolution has, as of yet, not been completed, and that is because, if Laporta is to be believed, the 25-year-old is prioritising a switch not to Stamford Bridge, but Camp Nou.

Barca have been consistently linked to Raphinha, who has established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League since his move to Leeds from Rennes in September 2020.

Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

"We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

"What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
 

Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

 

The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
 

Top-class creativity 

As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

 

Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
 

World Cup hopes

It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

Neither Barcelona nor Chelsea have presented an offer to Sevilla for sought-after centre-back Jules Kounde, according to the Spanish club's sporting director Monchi.

Kounde attracted interest from Chelsea last year and Sevilla acknowledged at the time they rejected at least one offer for the defender.

While the fee involved then is unclear, Sevilla were reportedly holding out for as close to the France international's €80million (£68m) release clause as possible.

Indications this year are that Sevilla have relaxed their stance slightly, with suggestions their asking price is close to €70m (£60m).

Such figures would appear to be out of Barcelona's reach given their financial problems, though Blaugrana president Joan Laporta has been frequently talking of activating "levers" – such as selling off TV rights and half of their merchandising business – to inject capital and ensure the club remains competitive in the transfer market.

Monchi seemed to acknowledge Barca's interest in Kounde, as he distanced himself from criticism of Laporta's dealings in trying to ease the club's economic woes.

"Xavi has good taste, but there are zero contacts with Barca," Monchi told Onda Cero. "As for their 'levers', everything that fits the rules of the game [is fine] ... You have to be innovative, have inventiveness."

But it would appear Chelsea are focusing their efforts on other targets first as well, despite an apparent necessity to get centre-backs in after seeing Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger depart.

"[Chelsea] have to look for two or three central defenders. They don't have many, but there are also more English clubs and clubs from other countries that are looking for central defenders," Monchi continued.

"There are calls from everywhere. The money is starting to roll in a bit. It's what we have left until August 31.

"There is interest. Jules has had a good season, he has established himself in the French team, he's going to go to the World Cup – that has made more clubs interested.

"Directly, there has been little movement, but his name is marked with a fluorescent highlighter in the sports directorates of important clubs.

"Kounde is in the United States. He will join us in South Korea a little later and I don't know what will happen tomorrow.

"There is movement around Kounde, yes. Many teams are looking for central defenders. Let's see what happens."

Sevilla have already seen one important player leave, with Kounde's centre-back partner for the past three years – Diego Carlos – moving to Aston Villa.

Galatasaray defender Marcao was rumoured to be his replacement, and Monchi confirmed there is an interest in the 26-year-old.

"Marcao is a centre-back that is among the names we have considered," he said. "From then on, obviously, he is not the only one. I always try to work with alternatives.

"He has passed all the filters we have to decide and is on that final list of players. He's a centre-back who may only seem aggressive, but he's left-footed with a very good touch, with personality... He's an interesting centre-back who meets the profile we have in mind."

Barcelona have announced the signing of Andreas Christensen on a free transfer from Chelsea.

The centre-back has moved to Camp Nou after his contract with Chelsea expired at the end of June.

Denmark international Christensen has agreed a four-year deal that includes a €500millon buy-out clause. 

Christensen had been linked with Barca for some time after it began to look likely he would not extend his stay in west London.

Barca president Joan Laporta confirmed on Saturday that Christensen's deal would be officially completed and announced this week.

He becomes Barca's second signing of the transfer window, with Franck Kessie's move from Serie A champions Milan – also on a free transfer – having been confirmed earlier on Monday.

Christensen joined Chelsea from Brondby back in 2012 and made his professional debut two years later, but it was only after a two-year loan spell with Borussia Monchengladbach that his Blues career began to take off.

He has made 167 appearances for the club in all competitions, including 26 last season, scoring four goals in total.

A Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup winner in his Stamford Bridge career, Chelsea won 92 of the matches in which Christensen featured.

With Christensen and Kessie on board, Barca's focus seems to be on completing a move for Leeds United winger Raphinha.

Chelsea have reportedly agreed a fee with Leeds for the Brazil international, but Laporta insisted Raphinha has indicated he instead wishes to join Barca, who are hopeful of striking a deal despite their financial issues.

Barca are also in talks with Ousmane Dembele over a new deal, with the France winger now a free agent, while Manchester United have an interest in Blaugrana midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

Barcelona have confirmed the signing of Franck Kessie on a free transfer following the end of his spell with Milan.

The midfielder has agreed a four-year deal with the Blaugrana, which was made official on Monday following months of speculation.

Kessie spent five seasons at San Siro, the first two of those on loan, and helped Milan to their first Scudetto triumph in 11 years in his final campaign with the club.

He played in 31 of Milan's 38 Serie A matches and scored six goals from midfield, a tally only bettered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (eight), Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud (both 11).

However, fresh terms could not be agreed between the Rossoneri and Kessie, meaning the Ivory Coast international became a free agent on July 1.

Barca were always considered the strong favourites to land the 25-year-old, whose Camp Nou contract contains a €500million release clause.

 

Kessie will compete with the likes of Sergio Busquets, Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong for a midfield spot, though the latter is expected to join Manchester United.

In all, Kessie played 174 Serie A games for Milan since initially joining from Atalanta in June 2017, with Napoli's Piotr Zielinski (179) the only midfielder to feature more times.

Barcelona have confirmed the signing of Franck Kessie on a free transfer following the end of his spell with Milan.

The midfielder has agreed a four-year deal with the Blaugrana, which was made official on Monday following months of speculation.

Kessie spent five seasons at San Siro, the first two of those on loan, and helped Milan to their first Scudetto triumph in 11 years in his final campaign with the club.

Paulo Dybala's time at Juventus ended in a way where neither party was ultimately happy with the outcome.

Despite his desire to stay, the Bianconeri were unwilling to keep the Argentina forward, allowing his contract to run down.

Reports suggest his next destination will not be in Serie A but in the Premier League, with a number of clubs showing interest.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED, ARSENAL AFTER DYBALA

Arsenal and Manchester United are set to engage in another transfer battle over Dybala, according to La Repubblica.

With the Premier League giants already in the race to sign Dybala's compatriot Lisandro Martinez from Ajax, it has been reported the two clubs have been in contact with his agent Jorge Antun.

The 28-year-old is available as a free agent with his contract at Juventus expiring this off-season, and a move to Inter stalling after Romelu Lukaku's transfer.

Reports suggest United are looking at Dybala as a replacement for the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, whose signing at Juventus coincidentally signalled the beginning of the end for the former in Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- Meanwhile, United and Barcelona have reportedly agreed on a fee for Frenkie de Jong but are now in process of negotiating add-ons, according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Bernardo Silva has told his agent he wants to go in the opposite direction and leave Manchester City for Barcelona, Sport is reporting.

- Chelsea are making progress in their attempts to sign Matthijs de Ligt after Juventus lowered their asking price, per CBS Sports.

- Leeds United have opened talks with RB Leipzig over midfielder Tyler Adams, The Sun is reporting.

Francisco Trincao has returned to Barcelona after Wolves opted against triggering their purchase option.

The 22-year-old winger joined Wolves on loan last July, reportedly paying £5.1million (€5.9m) to borrow him for the season.

As part of the deal, Wolves secured an option to buy the Portugal international for £25million (€29m) at the end of the loan, but that rarely looked a realistic outcome.

Trincao featured 28 times for Wolves in the Premier League, though only 16 of those appearances were as a starter, and he had a hand in just four goals.

Despite Wolves letting Trincao return to Barcelona, they will – according to a report published on Sunday by the West Midlands-based Express and Star – receive 20 per cent of his next transfer fee.

He heads back to Barca with his future at Camp Nou unclear, as the club are keen to offload deadwood amid something of a financial crisis.

Barca reportedly spent €31million in January 2020 to bring Trincao to the club from Sporting Braga, but his impact has been largely minimal.

Rennes coach Bruno Genesio has not played down reports suggesting a move for Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti, adding the star is a "high-level player".

The Ligue 1 outfit have been linked for a move for the France international, who endured a torrid 2021-22 campaign at Camp Nou rocked by injury.

A Europa League qualifying finish for Rennes has left Genesio seeking "sports guarantees" in regard to his transfer aims, and the World Cup winner - whom he previously coached at Lyon - would fit the bill.

"Sam is a player I know perfectly well," he stated. "I trained him as a youth player and then in the Lyon first team. That creates a bond.

"You all know his history, his qualities [and] the setbacks he had last year. But he is still a high-level player, and we are interested in high-level players," 

Genesio touched on his desire to reinforce Rennes' squad too, adding that he needs an influx of fresh talent to replicate their 2021-22 feats.

"I want to have sports guarantees," he stated. "We just had a very good season. To continue, we need a quality group.

"I needed to have a lot of answers in the backbone of the team that we were going to be able to maintain and what we were able to do in terms of reinforcements."

Rafael Marquez is set to return to Barcelona as head coach of the Blaugrana's B team, club president Joan Laporta has confirmed.

The former defender, widely considered one of Mexico's greatest ever players, won La Liga four times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona between 2003 and 2010. 

He also won 147 caps for his country and appeared at five consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2018, making his final professional appearance in El Tri's round-of-16 loss to Brazil in Russia four years ago.

The 43-year-old is now set to follow in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique by coaching Barcelona B, who play in the third tier of the Spanish league system.

Speaking at an event in S'Agaro, Laporta said: "Rafa in principle had [agreed] to be the coach of Barca Atletic last year, [but] he had a situation that prevented him from doing so.

"Now this has already been resolved and Rafa will be the coach of Barca Atletic next season. 

"I am especially happy because I had Rafa as a player, he is a person with a great personality, captain of the Mexican team, and who was part of one of the best Barca [teams] in history."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club have "no intention" of selling Manchester United target Frenkie De Jong, but says the midfielder may have to accept a salary adjustment to remain at Camp Nou.

De Jong, who emerged as one of European football's hottest properties under Erik ten Hag at Ajax before joining Barca in 2019, has been strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford since his former boss took over at United.

The Netherlands international said in May that his preference would be to remain at Camp Nou, which he labelled his "dream club", but the Blaugrana's financial difficulties have given rise to speculation he could depart.

Barcelona's desire to recruit wantaway Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has only amplified such rumours, but Laporta believes De Jong is happy at the club and could stay – if an agreement over his salary can be reached.

"Frenkie de Jong is a Barca player and is recognised as one of the best players in the world," Laporta told reporters.

"We know of clubs that want him, not only United, and we have no intention of selling him. The player, I get the impression, wants to stay. 

"He is comfortable at Barca and I will do what is in my power so that Frenkie stays here, but it is also a salary issue and it would have to be adjusted.

"What is certain is that the salary levels of some players are not in line with the salary levels that the board of directors that I have the privilege of presiding over have set."

 

De Jong made 47 appearances for Barcelona during the 2021-22 season, scoring four goals and boasting the best passing accuracy (91.18 per cent) of any of the club's midfielders to play at least 20 games in all competitions.

Laporta refused to be drawn on Barcelona's interest in Lewandowski, however, only affirming his respect for the Poland international's current club. 

"He is a Bayern player," he said of the striker, who plundered 50 goals for the Bundesliga champions last season. 

"Everyone knows that he is a great player, but I would prefer to be reserved because he is a Bayern player. 

"We know that he has publicly stated that he wants to come to Barca and we are very flattered, but we have respect for Bayern Munich, which is one of the best clubs in the world. Between clubs, we respect each other."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has confirmed the club have been in talks with Leeds United regarding Raphinha, who "wants to come" to Camp Nou.

The 25-year-old looks poised to leave Leeds amid a fierce battle for his services, with Chelsea widely reported to have had a bid accepted, while Arsenal have also been attributed with an interest.

Barcelona have long been seen as the favourites, however, though there have been questions as to whether the club could afford the winger due their financial problems – though they were boosted by a TV agreement this week.

Laporta has now confirmed that Raphinha does indeed want to move to Barcelona.

"We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended. We have communication and we have spoken personally," he told reporters on Saturday.

"What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and are making their proposals. He wants to come."

Laporta also confirmed that two deals are set to be made official this week, with Barcelona landing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on free transfers following the expiration of their deals with Milan and Chelsea respectively.

He added: "We will present Kessie on Wednesday and Christensen on Thursday."

The club are also expected to announce a new contract for Ousmane Dembele, who is reportedly ready to accept a wage reduction in order to remain with Xavi's side.

Luuk de Jong has brought an end to his three-year spell in LaLiga with Sevilla and Barcelona by returning to PSV.

The 31-year-old joined Sevilla from PSV in 2019 and scored 19 goals in 94 appearances, including a brace in the club's 3-2 win over Inter in the 2020 Europa League final.

He joined Barcelona on loan last season and featured 29 times, but the seven goals netted were not enough to persuade Xavi's side of making a permanent move for the striker.

Rather than return to Sevilla for the 2022-23 campaign, the Netherlands international has instead re-joined Eredivisie side PSV on a three-year deal.

PSV and Sevilla both confirmed the transfer on their official websites on Saturday, with reports from Spain valuing the transfer in the region of €4million.

De Jong scored more than 100 goals for PSV in his previous five-year stint at the Philips Stadion, helping his side to three league titles, and is excited to be back in Eindhoven.

"I'm home again. That's how it really feels," De Jong said. "I can't wait to score goals for PSV again and hope to see the whole stadium jump again after that. 

"Great things can happen this season together. In all the years I played here, we went for the title. It seems logical to me that I want to do that again. 

"In addition, I want to enter the Champions League with PSV. It is fantastic to be able to play football on that podium."

De Jong, who had been linked with numerous other clubs, added: "It gives a great feeling to return. In recent weeks I read that many fans were hoping for it.

"This choice was not very difficult for me to make. The club is building something very beautiful and I want to be part of that. It feels like something great is about to happen here."

De Jong, capped 38 times by the Netherlands, has also previously won the Eredivisie and Dutch Cup with Twente.

He joins the likes of Xavi Simons, Walter Benitez and Ki-Jana Hoever in joining PSV, who are now managed by Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Hugo Ekitike may end up staying at Reims in this transfer window as he waits on a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Newcastle United have long since agreed a deal with Reims for the forward, but the transfer has not progressed further.

Reports have suggested the demands of Ekitike's agent have put off Newcastle, while the 20-year-old has continued to be linked to other clubs.

And Oscar Garcia, the Reims coach, revealed on Friday the player is in no hurry to leave.

Wantaway Reims stars are said to have a July 10 deadline to secure moves, and with purported interest from Madrid subsequently dismissed, Ekitike's short-term future could still be in Ligue 1.

Garcia told a news conference: "He told me that he wanted to stay, but if Real Madrid or Barcelona arrive...

"I feel Hugo is calm. I spoke with him. He will have no problem staying at the club – and neither will I."

 

Ekitike scored 10 goals and assisted three more in the league last season, contributing a goal involvement every 98 minutes on average.

Attempting only 31 shots, his conversion rate of 32.3 per cent was the second-best among players with 20 or more attempts across Europe, far outperforming his expected goals total of 7.0.

As well as Newcastle and Madrid, Ekitike has been linked with Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.

Spain's triumph at Euro 2012 proved to be the final flourish for one of the greatest ever international sides, with La Roja winning three consecutive international tournaments.

Prior to victory in Euro 2008, Spain had not won an international competition since 1964 and had been perennial underachievers. 

But that swiftly changed with the Euros win followed up by World Cup success in South Africa in 2010 before the successful defence of their continental crown.

The triumph in 2012 was the end of an era, however, with Spain eliminated in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, bowing out at in the last 16 at Euro 2016 and then losing to hosts Russia on penalties at the 2018 World Cup.

However, a turn in fortunes was shown at Euro 2020, played in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, when Spain reached the semi-finals of the competition, narrowly losing to eventual champions Italy.

Now, all eyes are focused on Qatar this year. With Spain in a tough group alongside Germany, Japan and Costa Rica, a new dawn of young talents will be decisive to the hopes of the nation.
 

Pedri

Pedri's international debut came in Spain's second World Cup qualifying match against Georgia and he soon established himself as a core part of the squad for Euro 2020, where he played all but a single minute and was named Young Player of the Tournament.

In the semi-final against Italy, Pedri shone as he completed 65 of 67 passing attempts and overall at the tournament, he failed to complete just 40 of 461 attempts, resulting in a passing accuracy of 91 per cent.

Understandably, this has led to the general consensus that Pedri is the heir apparent to Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who were vital for Spain's glory years a decade ago, and under the stewardship of the former at Barcelona, expectations are high.

Still a teenager and only turning 20 in the days after what is expected to be his World Cup debut against Costa Rica on November 23, his calm and composed demeanour will help to keep Spain ticking through midfield in Qatar.

Gavi

The other half of Barcelona's exciting midfield duo, Gavi too has settled into Spain's international fold since his debut appearance in the semi-finals of the Nations League against Italy – where he became the youngest-ever player to represent Spain's senior squad.

A further record would tumble last month in the Nations League clash against the Czech Republic, where he became his country's youngest-ever scorer, and he has accumulated 10 appearances for his national side in less than a year.

Gavi's creativity has proven to be a stellar asset for his national side and his movement across the field, shown by his touches during his international career, is extremely difficult to track – and noticeably touches inside the box are few and far between.

Just 14 of 321 touches have come inside the 18-yard box, with his work tending to orientate from a deeper role. That is reflected by his passes – with just eight passing attempts inside the box and the remaining 234 coming outside.

Ansu Fati

Earning an international debut in September 2020 against Germany, then scoring a few days later against Ukraine, Ansu Fati notched up four caps for Spain before the close of that year but injury problems derailed his progress for club and country.

A nine-month absence began in November 2020, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season, and a further injury setback occurred in January this year which saw him miss three months of the campaign before his return in May.

While his international football has been limited ahead of the World Cup, expectations remain high at Barcelona where he has netted 19 goals during his career – with 15 of those strikes coming from inside the box.

That results in a significant asset for Spain, as Pedri and Gavi often provide the sort of passes that Fati thrives on.

Fati could prove particularly important given La Roja are limited with central options in the attacking third.

Eric Garcia

While not commanding as many headlines as other young talents within the Spain squad, Eric Garcia's role in the years ahead is vital given the ageing defensive line La Roja have at their disposal.

In the most recent call-ups in June, Garcia was the only defender under the age of 25 and one of only three beneath 30, alongside Pau Torres and Diego Llorente, which shows a clear changing of the guard lying ahead.

Garcia is likely to be one of the first names on Spain's teamsheet in the heart of defence, with 17 caps since making his international debut in 2020 and having started five of Spain's World Cup qualifying matches.

In true Spain style, one of his greatest assets is his ability on the ball and he showcased that last month in Spain's 2-0 Nations League against the Czech Republic, where Garcia completed 110 of 115 pass attempts.

Pedri has been hailed as "the Iniesta, the Xavi" of the Spain team that will go after World Cup glory in Qatar.

The praise came from former Liverpool and Newcastle United left-back Jose Enrique, a player who was crowded out of the Spain squad by the country's last golden generation.

Jose Enrique's peak playing years coincided with Spain's most dominant period in international football, and although he does not consider Luis Enrique's squad quite at that same level, the likes of Barcelona youngster Pedri make him optimistic for the World Cup.

Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012 in a sensational period of dominance. They have not won a major tournament since, but a burgeoning group of young talent is emerging once again, with 19-year-old midfielder Pedri among the most exciting talents in the world game.

"To me, the player that has more projection in terms of image on that team is Pedri, he won't be out of the team," said Jose Enrique.

"You also have Ferran Torres doing well for Barcelona and Pau [Torres], the central defender of Villarreal; I think he will be key for the team as well."

Speaking to Stats Perform, Jose Enrique said Spain's final squad for the finals would be "difficult to predict" due to head coach Luis Enrique often filtering players in and out of his squad.

"But to choose one who will make the difference 100 per cent, and that already did in the past, it is Pedri," Jose Enrique said.

"For me, he is the star of the national team, the Iniesta, the Xavi. Back in that day it was different because there were many and that is why Spain won everything. But if you mention Spain now, the first player that comes to my mind is Pedri."

Pedri endured an injury-disrupted 2021-22 season with Barcelona, scoring five goals and having one assist in 22 games across all competitions. Only five Barcelona players created more chances than the 31 he carved out.

In the previous season, he played a team-high 52 matches, going on to win Tuttosport's prized Golden Boy award as Europe's top young talent. He will be expected to continue to grow into his responsible role in coach Xavi's Barcelona team in the new season.

Barcelona greats Xavi and Iniesta were at the heart of Spain's indomitable midfield for their three successive big tournament triumphs.

Jose Enrique was starring in the Premier League at the time but got no further than the Spain Under-21 team, such was the strength throughout the national squad.

He says the current group of players and the pool that brought glory to Spain during a dazzling four-year period cannot be compared, but stressed that does not mean the new breed cannot be successful.

A run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals was a step in the right direction for Spain, after a run of disappointing big-stage performances, fuelling Jose Enrique's belief they will be a threat when Qatar hosts in November and December.

Spain must navigate a challenging group that will see them face Germany, Japan and Costa Rica.

"Spain will always be one of the favourites because I believe that Spain always is," Jose Enrique said. "But to win a World Cup isn't easy and Spain did it: Euro-World Cup-Euro when they had a brutal selection of players, and now it is completely different.

"It has a magnificent coach and a squad that changes depending on the players' performances and I love this about Luis Enrique, but it is true that we cannot compare.

"We now have a young squad with few veterans, and they could win the World Cup because anything can happen in football. England had a very young squad and made it to the [2018 World Cup] semi-finals.

"Youngsters have more support than before and Spain can be a surprise because Luis Enrique knows very well how to play. He has young players but full of desire and hunger. The most important thing for me is to start well. If they do, they are capable to win against any team, and why not Germany."

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