Eddie Jones has the respect of England's players but must deliver results if he is to lift pressure from his shoulders ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup, according to former Australia captain George Gregan.

Experienced coach Jones had his future called into question on the back of another poor Six Nations campaign for England, who finished a distant third behind Ireland and champions France with two wins from five matches.

Jones is under contract until after the 2023 World Cup and has been given the support of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), although performance director Conor O'Shea confirmed in March the search is under way for the 62-year-old's long-term successor.

Former Australia boss Jones has repeatedly stated that peaking in time for next year's showpiece in France is his big aim, with his side's three-Test series Down Under – their first summer tour in four years – providing an opportunity to further experiment.

While Gregan can understand the questions being asked of Jones, the retired scrum-half – who played under Jones for Australia and the Brumbies – understands supporters want to see signs of progress now.

"I think pressure is always there with a head coach," said Gregan, ahead of Saturday's first Test in Perth. "I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but he knows that as a head coach it's all results driven in professional sport.

"If you're not getting the results, and particularly if you're not getting consistent Ws [wins], then it does come around: 'Why is the team not performing?' That was definitely the case with Six Nations where there's patches of really good performances.

"But then obviously some things also which can get taken out of your hands, which is decision-making, you lose plays in the bin, all that kind of stuff. But that's rugby. And so how do you adapt? And how do you adjust? But they're all good experiences and learning experiences.

"I know there was no Jonny May, there was no Owen Farrell, there's a lot of players missing in that Six Nations campaign, they'll probably take part in this coming tour. And then he's built a nice squad."

Gregan is supporting The Open Championship Claret Jug Tour, partnered with HSBC UK, and he added: "I think you've always got your eyes a little bit ahead for the World Cup. And that's definitely the case for someone like Eddie and all coaches, but it's also the here and now, and they'll be looking to really improve and try not to drop out of games. I think every good team wants to do that."

 

England may have struggled for consistent form, but they have won their last eight Tests against Australia since October 2015, conceding an average of just 14 points per game across the last four of those matches.

Jones is undefeated against his country of birth during his near-seven-year England tenure, meanwhile, and famously oversaw a series whitewash in 2016.

Gregan believes the England boss will have the full backing of his dressing room.

"Eddie is a real players' coach. He's really driven to create the best environment for his players to perform," Gregan said. "He's the hardest marker on the team's performance on himself. I think you see that a lot.

"He'll deflect to the team when it's doing well, and he’ll take ownership when it's not doing well. That's a classic head coach, and he's never wavered from that. And I think that's why the players really respect him.

"He's hard, he's very consistent in terms of his messaging. He's very clear on what he wants the team to do. But he also empowers the playing group to try and do that. And that's the coach's coach.

"And ultimately, I think from my experiences with Eddie, he really wants the players to be sort of taking the reins on the field and making sure they're really comfortable making decisions to provide support.

"But as you know, coaches are sort of in the grandstand, there's only a limited amount that they can do once the players are on the pitch. I think that's what he tries to do, and all good head coaches try to encourage those leaders and the players on the field to make good decisions, which hopefully put you on the right side of the ledger."

Australia have lost three straight Tests heading into their first fixture with England this weekend, two of those by a margin of no more than two points – the last time they lost more successive games was a four-game stretch from June to August in 2018.

However, the Wallabies have won their last four matches on home turf, and four of their past seven when hosting European opposition, which Gregan believes will make for an entertaining series.

"England playing Australia in any sport is always exciting – particularly rugby," Gregan said. "Obviously there's that little touch with Eddie being a former Wallabies coach and obviously Australian. And he's had a great record against the Wallabies since he's taken over the helm in English rugby.

"It's gonna be a fantastic series, Dave Rennie, the Wallaby coaching staff and the playing group will be really targeting the series as something, which is another step in the right direction for being consistent and beating some of the top international teams.

"Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, on the bounce. So, three big Test matches over three consecutive weeks. And I think both teams, stating the obvious, will want to get off to a pretty hot start in Perth, because it's always good to be one up in those types of series."


:: The Open Championship Claret Jug Tour will visit schools, golf clubs, city centres and HSBC branches.

Pam Shriver says Serena Williams has built an "all-time great legacy" in tennis and expressed her relief that the legendary American will make her comeback at Wimbledon.

Williams has 23 grand slam singles titles to her name and is just one short of Margaret Court's all-time record as the 40-year prepares to return to The All England Club as a wildcard.

She has not played a singles match since suffering an ankle injury in last year's Wimbledon opener against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Seven-time Wimbledon singles champion Williams will face world number 113 Harmony Tan in the first round on Tuesday, hoping to prove doubters wrong once again.

Three years ago, Williams became the oldest player to reach the singles final at SW19 and in 2016 she became the oldest champion when she beat Angelique Kerber.

Shriver, who reached the last four at Wimbledon in 1981, 1987 and 1988, cannot wait to see Williams back on court at the grass-court major.

"It's fantastic. I mean a month ago, I said it in interviews during Paris [the French Open], it just didn't look likely, there were no signs that were pointing towards her coming back," Shriver told Stats Perform.

"She hadn't posted anything of her workouts, never said anything about it. She'd sort of hinted at it sort of playful way like with a post with Aaron Rodgers, one of our best quarterbacks here.

"And she had sort of put it out there that she was going to play Wimbledon, but then it was like, okay, but who are you working with? Where are you practising? How much are you? Or how much time are you putting into it?

"You're going to go 12 months without a singles match and just rock up at Wimbledon. But it is great news that our last sighting of Serena on the tennis court isn't her limping off Centre Court last year midway through a first set."

 

Williams' first major title came 23 years ago at the US Open and Shriver has hailed her compatriot's astonishing longevity.

"It's an all-time great legacy, starting in 1999 when she won her first major as a 17-year-old at the US Open, upsetting [Martina] Hingis on Arthur Ashe Court," she added.

"She was the first of the Williams sisters to win a singles major. She's been making history since the late 1990s.

"She is now entering her fourth decade of trying to make history on the court and I think it's been exciting to have watched most of it.

"[There are] little things that are so impressive, her Olympic record, incredible. The way she won the gold medal in London in 2012 was as dominant a performance I've ever seen on a foreign tennis court.

"She and Venus are 14-0 in major doubles finals. So look, if you compare her numbers to Martina Navratilova’s numbers, tournament wins-wise, then Martina blows Serena away.

"But that was back in an era where the intent was to play a lot more and there was more of an emphasis placed on tour titles. During Serena’s 20-odd-year career, the emphasis the entire time has been on how many majors can you win. And that's what she's been focused on, especially in the last 10 years."

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is the exact type of player Liverpool should be targeting and would make a "great signing" for the club.

That is according to John Barnes, who also told Stats Perform he believes the Reds missed a trick by not bringing in Yves Bissouma, who has now signed for Tottenham.

Liverpool have already been active this window, having added Darwin Nunez and Fabio Carvalho to their attack to compensate for the loss of Sadio Mane, who has joined Bayern Munich.

Jurgen Klopp's side continue to be linked with an array of other players, with Dortmund star and England international Bellingham a rumoured target.

Bellingham has made a big impact for the Bundesliga giants since arriving from Birmingham City two seasons ago, and Barnes would like to see him return to English football.

"I think he's a fantastic player," Barnes said of Bellingham. "Another player who I like to have thought would have suited Liverpool, but went to Tottenham, is Yves Bissouma.

"Obviously that's not there anymore because he's gone to Tottenham, but that's the template of the type of midfield player we want. 

"A hardworking midfield player, probably more defensive than attacking, who may not score many goals but works hard, wins the ball, gets it forward to the front three quickly. 

"Jude Bellingham is similar [to Bissouma]. He probably has a little bit more quality on the ball. He's English, he's young, that would be a fantastic signing for us. 

"But it probably isn't going to happen this year. Hopefully next season we could make that signing."

Despite still being aged 18, Bellingham started 44 games for Dortmund in all competitions in the 2021-22 season – four more than any other player.

He has also racked up 15 senior caps for England and became the youngest player to represent his country in a major tournament at last year's Euro 2020.

 

While speculation surrounding Bellingham's future looks set to continue, Liverpool have already spent big to sign Nunez from Benfica.

The Uruguay international starred in the Primeira Liga and Champions League and will help fill the void left by Mane's move to Bayern.

Nunez joins Liverpool after netting 48 goals in 85 appearances for Benfica in total, finishing as the top scorer in the Portuguese top flight in the 2021-22 campaign with 26 strikes.

But while Liverpool may have splashed out a reported £64million (€75m) to sign the striker, with a further £21.4m in potential add-ons, Barnes believes he will need time to adjust.

"He's coming to a new country, he's young, he's coming to new environments and new team, he has to be given time," Barnes said. 

"Now if he's like [Diogo] Jota, for example, he hits the ground running, that's a bonus, but I don't expect him to come in and all of a sudden take to the team straightaway.

 

"We've seen times that players, like [Roberto] Firmino for example, took time to adjust. Thiago [Alcantara] is another who took time to adjust.

"I think they've done their homework and knowing that they can fit him into the template of what they actually want.

"But I'm not putting expectations on him all of a sudden to be the best player on the team and for everything to be seamless. 

"Jurgen Klopp has done his homework and will feel that he can get the best out of him within the framework of the team. So I'm expecting him to be successful in time."

Former Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic has admitted he is "surprised" with wantaway forward Robert Lewandowski.

The Poland international is pushing for an exit from Bavaria in the current transfer window, with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly among those vying for his signature.

Lewandowski has enjoyed eight trophy-laden years with Bayern, lifting the Bundesliga in every season and winning the Champions League in 2019-20.

Given the 33-year-old scored 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern in all competitions in 2021-22, the most in Europe's top five leagues, Olic believes the club will face a tough task landing a replacement.

"Lewandowski has played at a high level for years, has been one of Bayern Munich's main brands for years and has raised the bar with his goals over several seasons," he told Stats Perform.

"It's about a striker that I was hoping would stay longer and it really surprised me how it all turned out and that he really wants to leave.

"Just as I was a bit surprised at the moment, I think the people at the club were just as surprised.

"Because at the moment there isn't really a player like Lewa that you could get for a normal price.

"It's really not easy to get a real striker these days. There aren't many at the top level like Lewa or anything like that.

"So, I think it's the main concern for Bayern right now and I'm sure that if there is a transfer they will do everything they can to find an adequate replacement for Lewa. 

"[Erling] Haaland, who was in Dortmund, was often associated with Bayern, but he has now gone to England."

Sadio Mane is poised to arrive from Liverpool, but Olic believes he does not quite fit the profile of the player Bayern will need to replace their talismanic striker.

"I don't know who else is there. Mane has been mentioned a lot, but for me he's not a classic number nine and he's not a classic striker. But he's certainly one of the more attractive players," Olic added.

Antonio Conte is building a squad at Tottenham that may finally be able to end the club's long wait for silverware, former striker Robbie Keane has told Stats Perform.

Spurs pulled off quite a coup by appointing Conte as their head coach last November after bringing an early end to Nuno Espirito Santo's tenure.

The north London side were eighth in the Premier League when Conte took over, yet a fine second half to the campaign saw them pip fierce rivals Arsenal to fourth place.

Indeed, the 71 points Tottenham accrued in the 2021-22 campaign made up a tally they have bettered in only three previous Premier League seasons (86 in 2016-17, 77 in 2017-18 and 72 in 2012-13).

Guiding Spurs back into the Champions League was described as "being a trophy" for Conte, but actual silverware has eluded the club since winning the EFL Cup in 2008.

Conte has already started to strengthen ahead of the 2022-23 season, with experienced winger Ivan Perisic – a league winner in Germany and Italy – set to join from Inter on July 1.

Other big names have also been linked, and Keane, who spent eight and a half years with Tottenham across two spells, believes the new arrivals can help bring trophies to the club.

"I think what he's doing is he's trying to get the business in early," Keane said at a media day ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid charity match.

"He's already brought in Perisic from Inter, a player who has a winning mentality. He's obviously won things.  

"I think that's what Conte wants to do. He wants to bring people in who've already been there and done it, because a lot of them Tottenham players haven't won anything. 

"So to bring someone like him in, and I'm sure they'll do more business in the next month or so."

Conte is no stranger to winning major honours as a manager, including in his previous stint in England when he claimed the Premier League title and FA Cup with Chelsea.

"Conte's a winner. He has a winning mentality and there's no question that he'll certainly bring that," Keane added.  

"Tottenham next year have to do something, they have to win the FA Cup, EFL Cup or the Champions League. I think the Premier League might be a step too far. 

"I think if they bring three or four players in, they might be might have a chance, but I think Liverpool and Manchester City are just so far ahead at the moment.

"But to win the FA Cup, EFL Cup, I think that's a step in the right direction, and hopefully, again, finishing in the top four."

All focus at Tottenham this window is on adding to the squad, which is in contrast to 12 months ago when Harry Kane's possible departure dominated headlines.

The England international has appeared more settled since Conte's arrival and finished the 2021-22 campaign strongly with five goals in Tottenham's final five Premier League games.

That took Kane's tally to 17 for the campaign in the top flight, which is his joint-lowest return in the competition in his eight seasons as a regular starter, alongside 2018-19.

He was outscored by team-mate Son Heung-min, who, despite finishing as the league's joint-top scorer alongside Mohamed Salah, was not included in the PFA Team of the Year.

Son was also not included on the list of nominees for the Players' Player of the Year award, much to the surprise of Keane.

"Not to even be nominated is bizarre," Keane said. "For me, he's one of the best players in the Premier League.

"What he and Kane are doing together at Tottenham is incredible.

"I've obviously known Harry since he was a kid, so I taught him! He's a top player, and he's continued to score goals like he always does. "

Jordan Pickford is undoubtedly the number one goalkeeper for England, according to former Three Lions star David Seaman.

Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope are embroiled in a battle for a place between the posts for Gareth Southgate's side, with the Everton keeper the long-term favourite.

Former Sunderland man Pickford was the first-choice starter as England made the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and when the Three Lions lost on penalties in the final at Euro 2020 to Italy three years later.

Questions have persisted as to the credentials of Pickford, with suggestions his distribution is inferior to his competitors, while he has been battling Premier League relegation with Everton at club level.

Ramsdale has been fighting at the other end of the league with Arsenal, who narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification to Tottenham after a poor end to the 2021-22 campaign.

Pope is another name often floated for a place in Southgate's side, but he will be playing Championship football with Burnley next season unless he secures a move away.

Seaman, speaking to Stats Perform at a media day ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid charity match, believes there should be no doubts over Pickford's position in the England side.

"There's a lot of competition, there's no doubt for the number one spot. Jordan's the number one, there's no doubt about that because he keeps producing for England," Seaman said. 

"There's no way or no reason for him not to be England number one. He had a great end to the season with Everton producing massive saves under massive pressure.

"The relegation battle is far worse than going for titles trust me. I've had a relegation with Birmingham City, and it was horrible. And especially with a team like Everton who were in serious trouble, that's even more pressure.

"So Jordan's proved that he can handle that. He's played in the semi-final and final. He's got great experience. He's got great ability, and while he keeps doing it, he'll stay number one, but they're really close to it. The other two."

Only five goalkeepers made more saves than Pickford's 117 in the Premier League in the 2021-22 season, but he is 15th in terms of save percentage (66.7) of goalkeepers to have played five games or more, while Ramsdale is ninth (69.8 per cent).

Pope is fourth on that list with a save percentage of 71.7, and Seaman reckons England have the best depth of choice in goal that they have had in a long time. 

"It's good at the moment. The only thing that you look at now is that obviously Nick's gone down into the Championship," he added.

"That's not a real boldness, but for Aaron, he's established himself now as Arsenal's number one and he's done that really well this season. And it's his first season and he's dealt with it fantastically.

"So he will be pushing but the future does look good. We've got quite a few goalkeepers obviously in the Championship now with Nick and Sam Johnstone, then you've got [Dean] Henderson at Man United but he's not playing.

"In the three that we've got there at the moment, there's good quality."

Robbie Keane has questioned why any player would swap Liverpool for Bayern Munich amid strong speculation that Sadio Mane could be on his way to the German champions.

Bayern are reported to have had a second bid of €35.3million (£30m), a part of which is made up of bonus-related add-ons, rejected by Liverpool earlier this week.

Mane has won six major trophies across his six seasons at Anfield and has another 12 months to run on his contract.

However, speaking while away on international duty with Senegal last week, the 30-year-old hinted he is open to departing the English giants this window.

But ex-Liverpool striker Keane has suggested Mane would be making a backwards step in his career if he moves from the Premier League runners-up to the Bundesliga winners.

"If Mane goes obviously it's a big loss for Liverpool," Keane told Stats Perform at a media day ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid charity match.

"If the rumours are true and he goes to Bayern Munich, it's a great signing for them. It looks like they're going to lose [Robert] Lewandowski. 

"I can't really see why would you leave Liverpool to go to Bayern Munich at this moment in time.

"Especially when you got a manager like Jurgen Klopp and what they're doing at the moment in winning two cups, and could've easily won four of them. 

"I'm surprised by it. Obviously he's a top, top player. I'm sure, wherever he goes, any team will be happy with him."

 

Mane has scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League appearances for Liverpool since joining from Southampton for £34m at the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), Liverpool colleague Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have scored more in the competition in that period.

He would undoubtedly leave a huge void to be filled, but Jurgen Klopp's side appear to be close to signing Benfica forward Darwin Nunez as a likely replacement.

Nunez has scored 48 goals in 85 games for Benfica in all competitions, 61 of those being starts, and averaged 1.2 goals every 90 minutes in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season.

That compares to 0.5 goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League for Mane, albeit across six more matches in the 2021-22 season and in what is a tougher division.

Keane, who spent a season at Anfield in 2008-09, believes Nunez will provide something a little different for Liverpool should a deal be agreed with Benfica.

"I've watched him a few times and I think he's a good player," Keane said. "He's obviously young and he's more of a number nine, which Liverpool haven't had for a few years.

"They have [Roberto] Firmino, of course, but Firmino drops into 10. They haven't had a typical number nine. 

"So it'll bring a bit more of a target man up there who others can play off. I think it will be a good signing."

Keane is also looking forward to playing in this weekend's Soccer Aid in association with UNICEF, a charity match that will help raise money to give kids the best start in life.

"We're here so UNICEF can raise as much money as possible, which is an incredible cause," he said.

"What they've done over the last 11-12 years, the amount of money they've raised is incredible. But it's also good to come here and mix with completely different people."

Sebastian Vettel does not believe there has been a "changing of the guard" in Formula One, saying older drivers would thrive with "the right tools" 

Max Verstappen won his first F1 world title last season, dethroning Lewis Hamilton in the most dramatic fashion in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull's Verstappen leads Charles Leclerc by nine points in the battle for the 2022 title, with the 37-year-old Hamilton sixth.

Vettel, 34, has picked up only five points for Aston Martin, while the 40-year-old Fernando Alonso having 10 points to his name

Verstappen, Leclerc and George Russell – all aged 24 – have emerged as a new generation of drivers with long careers ahead of them.

Four-time F1 champion Vettel says they are fortunate to have cars that enable them to challenge for victories. 

Asked about the young drivers coming through, the German told Stats Perform: "I think it very much depends how competitive your environment is.

"Obviously, usually you're saying that there's a changing of the guard, Lewis has been arguably fighting for the title until the very last lap last year, so it's not too long ago.

"I think it depends always on the situation you're in for sure. There's drivers that are a little bit older like Fernando and Lewis then myself, but I'm sure that you give us the right tools, we still can do the right work."

Vettel hopes Ferrari can give Leclerc every chance of winning his first F1 title.

He said: "Obviously, Charles is one of them and in a good car he deserves to be up there. Hopefully the car will be good enough for him to fight for the title this year until the end.

"We will see, throughout the field you have more that one or two drivers that will be able to battle for victories.

"But usually the right drivers get the right package at the right time, so I'm very happy for him and hopefully he has the car to do it until the end."

 

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Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski should not have any bad blood between them if the striker moves on, says Holger Badstuber.

The Poland captain has made it clear he wants to leave the Bundesliga champions, with Barcelona eager to bring him to Camp Nou.

But with a year left on his contract and no obvious successor to the two-time European Golden Shoe winner, Bayern are playing hardball.

That has led to a particularly testy war of words between Lewandowski and the club - but former Bayern man Badstuber believes there should be no animosity if he departs.

"I think that the mutual appreciation should be here," Badstuber told Stats Perform.

"Bayern did a lot for Robert Lewandowski and Lewandowski did his job, which is scoring goals and he always represented Bayern well.

"So, in this case there should not be bad blood if Lewandowski decides to choose another path again."

Badstuber is intrigued to see who the Bavarian grants would bring in if the prolific Lewandowski leaves.

"It’s clear that Bayern must find an heir, an interesting candidate," he added. "Who knows who’s already on the radar or who they already have an eye on.

"It for sure is going to be interesting what comes, whenever that will be.

"For Hasan Salihamidzic it again is a task which he must solve with his team, and I think also with the coach."

Newcastle United should ignore the temptation to buy "big stars" and focus on more players like Bruno Guimaraes and Joelinton.

That is the view of Shaka Hislop, the ex-Magpies goalkeeper, who has been hugely impressed by the performances of the Brazilian midfield pair.

Newcastle signed Guimaraes in January for a fee that could eventually surpass the club-record figure of £40million previously spent on compatriot Joelinton.

Brazil international Guimaraes hit the ground running at St James' Park, scoring five goals in 17 appearances before the end of the season – more than in 71 outings over two years for former club Lyon.

Joelinton endured a considerably trickier start to life in England following his 2019 arrival, toiling as a striker as he netted only 10 times in 80 games across his first two seasons.

Yet Eddie Howe has transformed the ex-Hoffenheim man into a dominant, destructive midfielder, contesting the second-most duels in the Premier League this season (529).

Guimaraes and Joelinton were key to Newcastle's impressive late-season form, winning six of the nine games they started together, but Howe's XI could look very different next term after another transfer window.

Since a lucrative takeover last year, Newcastle have been linked to Neymar, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Ousmane Dembele, among others.

But Hislop says his former club should be looking for more players like Guimaraes.

"If big stars become available at the right price and the right fit for Newcastle, I don't see why not," he told Stats Perform.

"But at the same time, while I think there's this temptation, if not an expectation to go for those big stars, one of those January signings was Bruno Guimaraes, who was not a big star, but goodness me, what a player he's turned out to be.

"And I think that's in keeping with what the transfer policy will be.

"At the same time, while I mention Bruno Guimaraes, I've got to mention Joelinton, whom many had dismissed and thought was on his way out.

"And Eddie Howe found his position for him as a defensive midfielder, and he ended up winning [Newcastle's] player of the season – and justifiably so.

"Those are the kind of players, because when you see them, and you see their performances, that's exactly what you want from Newcastle players.

"So while the temptation will be to go for the big names, I don't think that is how they'll do their business – that's not going to be their M.O. so to speak.

"It will be finding those gems and those gems that fit with what Newcastle United stands for."

Hislop was at Newcastle's 2-0 win over Arsenal, watching Guimaraes score the second goal, and he said: "Seeing him live, as I did against Arsenal, just painted his talents in a very different light for me.

"He is so calm under pressure, and I think that feeds to everybody else. He's calm under pressure when he's in possession, he's first to press the ball, he, of course, popped up with the second goal against Arsenal.

"He really is an incredible talent and, again, he epitomises so much about Newcastle or the way that they play under Eddie Howe."

Hislop believes Newcastle may not need as much investment as has been suggested, having earned the fourth-most points in the Premier League in 2022 (38) and the third-most points per game (2.0) – behind only Liverpool and Manchester City.

"Given that stat, where is the urgent need to strengthen?" Hislop said. "Listen, I also understand that when you're playing well that is a perfect time to bring fresh faces in to add competition in the squad.

"I believe that those players who performed so well in the second half of the season deserve the chance to build on that.

"So, if I am adding to the squad, it's around competition for places; having real strength in depth is a need for every Premier League team now.

"Newcastle are not yet competing in Europe, but the hope will be that they put together some decent cup runs and, if you do that, again, your squad will be tested. So, right now, my thinking is just in terms of our squad depth."

Shaka Hislop is willing to be patient with Newcastle United's rebuild and believes fans are too, knowing the club will "be there to stay" once they reach the top of the Premier League table.

Newcastle have been struggling in the bottom half of the top flight for many years, but supporters' optimism was renewed by a lucrative takeover last year.

A consortium backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund bought Newcastle from Mike Ashley, in theory making the club the richest in world football.

No team spent more than Newcastle in the January transfer window, as an outlay of around £90million brought in the likes of Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes and inspired a surge up the table.

Bottom at the start of December, a sensational run under Eddie Howe took Newcastle up to a comfortable 11th by the season's end.

Further spending is anticipated ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, when Newcastle will be expected to have loftier ambitions, although former goalkeeper Hislop suggests success will not be immediate.

"A lot of the thinking is that this ownership isn't going to come and spend that kind of money straight off the bat," he told Stats Perform.

"Many thought they would like PSG are doing, or for argument's sake [Manchester] City may have done, [but] it's going to be a slow, gradual and deliberate process in bringing back some of those glory days.

"The signings have to make sense, they have to make fiscal sense, while the ownership are going to focus on building out the infrastructure so that once Newcastle are back and competing at the top end of the table, it's just sustained effort, it is not just fuelled by big spending and transfer windows, but they're going to build out the infrastructure.

"Now, building out infrastructure is going to take years, but I think the fanbase is understanding of that. They are okay with that. That's what they want.

"They are happy to take their time to get back to competing for Premier League honours. As long as it's a sustained effort, I think that's tying into everybody's feeling around the club and one that just comes together so well.

"So, the short answer is it's going to take time, but there's no doubt in my mind that they will be competing for honours before long. We'll see how long, but once they do, they'll be there to stay."

Hislop's thoughts were informed by a visit to Newcastle's training ground to chat to former Portsmouth team-mate Howe and members of backroom staff who remain at the club from his time on Tyneside in the 1990s.

Following those conversations, the 53-year-old – who was awarded the freedom of Newcastle for his work with Show Racism the Red Card – suggested "rekindling" an atmosphere that is "like nothing else" was more important than any promises of investment.

"The way that they felt the club was going under Mike Ashley, to them, it felt like it's lost its way, it lost its direction and sense of significance around the city, around the north-east in general," Hislop explained.

"And they felt that that had been renewed under the new ownership.

"Nobody at the club, nobody at the city is talking about the wealth of the new owners and any big spending there is to come.

"Everybody's just focused on rekindling that atmosphere that we saw and loved during the 90s and having some of that football back into the place, having a sense of optimism, because it felt that that had been taken away and neglected over the last few years."

John Aldridge has compared Real Madrid talisman Karim Benzema to a "bottle of Rioja" who has got better with age ahead of the Champions League final against Liverpool.

France striker Benzema has scored a staggering 44 goals in 45 appearances for Los Blancos this season.

The Madrid captain is the leading scorer in the 2021-22 Champions League, finding the back of the net 15 times in 11 matches – including back-to-back hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Benzema's penalty settled a pulsating semi-final second leg against Manchester City and the 34-year-old also helped himself to a brace in the first leg.

Former Liverpool striker Aldridge spoke of his admiration for the prolific Benzema ahead of Saturday's Champions League showdown at Stade de France.

He told Stats Perform: "I always thought that Benzema was a good player. But what he's done the last couple of years, and they've had the big players leave, he's become like a bottle of wine.

"He's matured very well. He's got better with age, which I did, because I was a late developer. I found the older I got, the more experience I got, the better I was.

"I played until I was nearly 40. He has a great football brain and all I can say is, he’s like a nice bottle of Rioja, red, that is. He's matured very, very well. And it's very expensive."

Aldridge stressed that the Reds must not allow 36-year-old midfield maestro Luka Modric to dictate the final in Paris.

"It's down the middle, we can hurt them in certain places," he said. "Vinicius [Junior] and Benzema, for me are our main threat.

"They have great players all over the pitch. In midfield, Modric, what a player, what a player he is, whatever age he is, I watched him against Man City, you let him run the show.

"And I've seen him run the show for Tottenham at Liverpool, one of the best appearances I've ever seen from an away player. Some years ago, we got beat, and he was unbelievable.

"So, you can't give him any room. You've got to watch the space in behind Trent [Alexander-Arnold], obviously where they'll capitalise with the pace of Vinicius.

"And Benzema, you can't give him any room in the box, they're the main threats. When you've got [Sadio] Mane, [Diogo] Jota, [Luis] Diaz and [Mohamed] Salah, they've got a little bit to think about as well."

Aldridge also hailed Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, who won the LaLiga title for the first time this season after leaving Everton for a second spell in the Spanish capital.

He said: "Apart from Everton? It's mad with Ancelotti, he went to Everton and walked away, and he got another crack at Madrid which to be quite honest, how that has happened is like, it's crazy isn't it?

"And he's been brilliant. You have to say he's very intelligent, he's a class act, he's been in these occasions quite a few times as we know. He has set the stall out, he's right up there with the best coaches and managers in the world. Absolutely."

Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min were more deserving winners of the Premier League Player of the Season award than Kevin De Bruyne.

That is according to Liverpool legend Phil Thompson, who also told Stats Perform that Erling Haaland will not necessarily make Manchester City a stronger side next season.

City playmaker De Bruyne last week edged out Son, Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo, Jarrod Bowen, Bukayo Saka and James Ward-Prowse for the award.

The Belgium international played a key part in City's successful title defence with 15 goals in 30 league appearances and a further eight assists.

Remarkably, the 30-year-old's 15 goals came from an expected goals (xG) return of just 6.2, meaning he scored nine goals more than expected from the quality of his chances.

However, his 23 direct goal involvements were fewer than Salah (36), Son (30) and Harry Kane (26) managed, albeit having played at least five games fewer than any of those.

De Bruyne ranked above each of those players for chances created (87), though, and was behind only Alexander-Arnold (90) and Bruno Fernandes (89).

But Thompson believes that Liverpool forward Salah and Tottenham's Son – who shared the Golden Boot with 23 goals – were more consistent than De Bruyne over the season.

"I think it has to be Mo. I know the players have all given it to Kevin De Bruyne and he's a wonderful player," Thompson said. 

"He's been wonderful for the last couple of months, but it's over a season and people get swayed by people who finish the season well. 

"That is still in their minds when they're just putting their name on that form, or whether it's all done on phone now. 

"But I would like to think over the whole year, and yes, Mo hasn't been rattling them in for the last six weeks or so, but overall, he has been.

"They were talking around Christmas time that this is the best player in the world. He's not gone from being the best player in the world to playing second fiddle to De Bruyne. 

"I'm sorry. Mo Salah was the player of the season and then probably Son has probably been more consistent over the whole nine months."

City's title triumph was their fourth in the past five seasons and they have already moved to bolster their squad with the signing of Haaland from Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund, a tally only bettered by Kylian Mbappe (90) and Robert Lewandowski (123) since January 18, 2020. 

But, citing a rather mixed campaign for British record signing Jack Grealish, Thompson questioned whether Pep Guardiola will get the most out of Haaland.

"He is a wonderful player, a great player," said Thompson, who won 17 major honours across 13 years playing for Liverpool, before a stint coaching the Reds.

"Is he a missing piece for the jigsaw for them in the Champions League? They can still do things, but it might upset them a little bit. 

"As you see with Grealish, who was £100million, has that worked? He's playing as a left-winger because it's the system that Pep likes. 

"So you've got an out-and-out centre-forward who, yes, is full of energy, but he doesn't understand the press that City use. It'll be a change for them. That might change things." 

Liverpool, who have seen Luis Diaz hit the ground running since joining from Porto in January, are themselves expected to be active in the upcoming transfer window.

A deal for Fulham teenager Fabio Carvalho is already in place, but Thompson is not sure if signing a big name is really necessary in order to keep pace with champions City.

"We have a set pattern, though I still hope that we'll sign a couple of players," he said.

"I do believe that's what you have to do all the time to give that little bit of a buzz in the dressing room, to change things up on the pitch. And we have just come up short."

The 92 points accrued by Liverpool this season is the joint-eighth most in Premier League history, yet it was not enough to pip City, who finished one point better off.

Thompson added: "We have to find the magic ingredient to go that extra couple of points to win that league, but we don't have to do too much. 

"Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku and he played well those first half a dozen games. They were going to win the league the way the season started and look how that's unravelled.

"It's not necessarily a gimme that it always works."

Pep Guardiola would be an ideal coach for Brazil as his style of play would benefit the likes of Neymar and Vinicius Junior, according to Julio Cesar. 

Brazil are on the hunt for a new boss with Tite leaving the role after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Guardiola has been linked with the position.

The Catalan is under contract at Manchester City, who he could lead to Premier League glory on Sunday, until June 2023 but has previously expressed a desire to move into international management.

Julio Cesar thinks he would be a great fit for the Selecao as his possession-based approach would help Brazil's most talented players.

"He has all the qualities to do it. He is one of the best in the world, his style of play is very Brazilian," Julio Cesar told Stats Perform courtesy of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. 

"Everyone knows that Brazilian players love to keep the ball; the majority of them also play in Europe and they are learning to play better on the pitch.  

"We have so much quality on the Brazilian national team: Neymar, Raphinha, [Lucas] Paqueta, Vinicius Junior. All these players are very talented and having a manager like Guardiola would give these players the opportunity of playing the ball more. 

"Every player would love to work with a manager like him. It wouldn't be a bad idea, although we also have really good managers in Brazil. He is a big name in the football world and it wouldn't be a bad thing having him representing our national side. I like the idea." 

Tite's only previous World Cup campaign with Brazil ended in a quarter-final defeat to Belgium in Russia four years ago. 

He steered the Selecao to Copa America glory in 2019 but they were unable to defend their title two years later, with Argentina defeating them in the final. 

Julio Cesar already believes Tite will leave a lasting legacy but has no doubt that leading Brazil to glory in Qatar would achieve him an even higher status. 

"This is what the World Cup gets you, it will level you up. If you can bring the World Cup to Brazil, you can leave with your head held high, you have done your job," he said. 

"He won the Copa America in 2019, he got to the final again against Argentina. He did very well so far, even in the [World Cup] qualifiers he got first place ahead of Argentina.

"He can leave with his head held high, but winning a World Cup with Brazil will take him to the top." 

Shota Arveladze says Erik ten Hag will bring "something special" to Manchester United but must be given time.

Ten Hag left Ajax to take charge at Old Trafford, succeeding interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

The 52-year-old has been charged with the task of turning around the Red Devils following another disappointing season, which saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer get the sack.

Former Ajax forward Arveladze - who now coaches Hull City - believes Ten Hag can make a big impact at United, but there will be no quick fix. 

"Erik has grown very smart," he said. "[With] his career, he has done really good in choosing his previous teams, his previous works.

"At Bayern Munich, he was head coach of the second team, and then he moved to Utrecht and made a great football team

"Then Ajax, again, he took them to the top level in Europe, winning all the trophies, and now, to England.

"He is very principled. He knows his ideas, his philosophy and he will definitely bring something special there.

"He will need time to do, to show, to explain the way he wants to play [but] I'm quite comfortable with that, that he definitely will succeed."

United have not won a trophy since 2017 and they will not play in the Champions League next season.

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