Vinicius Junior has confirmed his intentions to stay with Real Madrid, declaring: "I will continue with the biggest team in the world".

The winger initially struggled to make his mark after arriving from Flamengo in 2018 for a reported €46million fee.

However, Vinicius enjoyed a breakthrough season in the 2021-22 term, scoring 22 goals in 52 games in all competitions, seven more than in 118 games for Los Blancos in his previous three campaigns (15).

The Brazil international also recorded the most goal involvements by LaLiga players born in 2000 or after across all competitions (38 – 22 goals and 16 assists).

Vinicius scored the winning goal in the Champions League final against Liverpool, but there were some suggestions he could be tempted by a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

He has quelled those Madrid fears by announcing his desire to stay in the Spanish capital, with the expectancy he will sign a new contract until June 2027.

"I will continue in the biggest team in the world," the Madrid star said on 'Bem, Amigos!' of SporTV.

"It's the most united team since I arrived. The celebrations were different this year. We all felt something special. 

"Younger people arrived with Rodrygo, [Eder] Militao, [Eduardo] Camavinga and me. Everyone likes each other and that's important.

"It's the best atmosphere in the world. Everybody wants to be there. The most experienced give us peace of mind and freedom to do what they want."

Vinicius will look to partner with Neymar for Brazil to deliver World Cup glory later this year.

The 21-year-old appears to play in a similar fashion to the PSG star, with Vinicius attempting 234 dribbles in the 2021-22 LaLiga – the most by a Madrid player in a single season since 2005-06.

Nevertheless, Vinicius still sees Neymar as the best player for Brazil as he learns to cope with the pressure of playing for the Selecao.

"He is our best player. The rivals always focus more on him and he asks us to run into space because he has a great quality to find us," he added. 

"He does everything for me, he is a great friend. The pressure is greater for him being older. He calls it responsibility. He also takes it away from us, from those who are arriving. 

"Playing for the national team is a lot of pressure, but we're getting used to it."

Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti could be set for a shock move to Girona, with the newly promoted LaLiga outfit refusing to rule out signing the defender.

Umtiti, a 2018 World Cup winner with France, joined Barcelona from Lyon in 2016 and was originally a first-team regular, but the 28-year-old has been continually linked with an exit after suffering a spate of injuries over the last few seasons.

He played just one league game last term as Xavi led Barcelona to second place in LaLiga after taking over from Ronald Koeman, having made a total of 40 such appearances across the three previous campaigns combined.

Amid Barcelona's financial woes, Umtiti agreed a three-year contract extension containing a salary reduction in January, allowing the Catalan giants to meet their league-imposed salary cap and register new attacker Ferran Torres.

But with Barcelona now looking to offload players in order to fund a move for wantaway Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, Umtiti has been linked with another Catalan outfit in Girona.

And Pere Guardiola, brother of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and president of Girona's board of directors, told Spanish radio station Cadena SER that such a move cannot be ruled out.

"We aren't ruling out Umtiti signing for Girona," he admitted. "[But] for these things, speak to [sporting director] Quique Carcel and [head coach] Michel." 

Former Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic has labelled Luka Modric as "one of a kind" and believes he still has a few more years left at the top level.

The Real Madrid midfielder has spent 16 years within Croatia's international fold, accumulating over 150 caps for the 2018 World Cup runners-up.

Modric, 36, is in the twilight years of an illustrious career but shows no signs of stopping – and the recent Champions League victory with Madrid was his fifth time lifting the trophy.

While there might soon be a changing of the guard in Madrid's midfield, with the signing of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco and Eduardo Camavinga already excelling in the squad, the picture is different in the national side.

Croatia's all-time most capped player will remain a key part of the squad heading into the 2022 World Cup and, while it may prove to be his last international tournament, Croatia assistant coach Olic believes Modric will not hang up his boots completely.

"I think Luka still only thinks about games and about playing football. He just still has that will," he told Stats Perform.

"When I look at his philosophy, how much he's working on himself, I think he's going to play for a few more years. 

"After that, if he wants to stay in football, wants to be a coach, then he will definitely devote himself to it and be successful at it."

 

Modric recently stated he remembers every one of his international appearances, and Olic feels he still has plenty to teach the younger players within the squad.

"He recently played his 150th game for the national team. After that game he said he remembered every single one of those 150 games, both the first one, which he played a long time ago, and the most recent one, a few days ago," he added.

"He's still full of vigour, full of will and he couldn't wait to join the national team after a long and difficult season.

"He showed what a captain, what a great player and what a great person he is. He arrived on the first day and is training and playing. He's one of a kind, definitely, regardless of his age.

"He trains and works as if he were 25 years old. I would be happy if he could play more games for us and stay healthy because he means a lot to the team. 

"The younger players still have a lot to learn from him and he's just a phenomenon."

Olic also believes Modric is still "irreplaceable" at Madrid, highlighted by a stunning assist against Chelsea in the quarter-finals.

"The whole world still admires him. He still amazes us with some moves, like recently when they played in the Champions League. Then he played a pass of over 20 or 25 meters with the outside of his foot," he said.

"Everyone has talked about it. No matter where I was, people only talked about it. So, he's still playing at the best level and he's still majestic and unique.

"He's irreplaceable for us and for Real Madrid. The fact that they offered him a new contract shows how much they value him."

Athletic Bilbao will appoint Marcelo Bielsa as their new coach if Inaki Arechabaleta becomes the club's new president following the club's elections on June 24th.

Bielsa previously coached Athletic between 2011 and 2013, and led the Basque side to the finals of the Europa League and Copa del Rey in his first season in charge.

Athletic lost both matches, however – to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona respectively – and a disappointing season in 2012-13 hindered by the loss of key midfielder Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente's desire to leave the club resulted in Bielsa leaving.

The enigmatic 66-year-old has been out of work since he was dismissed by Leeds United in February, after three-and-a-half years at Elland Road.

Bielsa remains a fan favourite with the Leeds faithful, with the Argentine having guided the Whites to promotion in 2019-20 and a ninth-place finish in the Premier League in 2020-21, with his full-throttle, high-pressing style garnering plenty of praise.

 

Leeds ultimately made the decision to replace Bielsa with Jesse Marsch as a relegation scrap loomed, and they only stayed up on the final day of the Premier League season thanks to a 2-1 victory at Brentford.

Now, Bielsa looks set to return to management with Athletic, should presidential candidate Arechabaleta be voted in.

Arechabaleta is one of three candidates running to replace Aitor Elizegi, and on Monday told a news conference that Bielsa was his choice to replace Marcelino, who left Athletic after the expiration of his contract.

"[Bielsa] is the most respected coach in the world. He is also a coach for the future, although in the past he gave us the best season of this century," he said, as reported by The Athletic.

"He has evolved since then and his ambition, quality and abilities are going to take us to the Athletic that we must become."

Bielsa has confirmed he will take the job should Arechabaleta be installed as president.

Antonio Rudiger has hailed Real Madrid for their 'unbelievable' Champions League victory – and expressed his delight that they defeated Liverpool.

The Germany international has signed a four-year contract with Madrid following the expiration of his deal with Chelsea and becomes the club's first major signing of the window.

At the time of the final in Paris, Rudiger revealed that his decision to join Carlo Ancelotti's side was already made and he was supporting his future team-mates.

However, he also wanted Madrid to beat Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp's side had inflicted defeat upon Rudiger and Chelsea in two finals in the 2021-22 season in the League Cup and FA Cup.

"When the final was played I already knew I would play for Madrid and I cheered on Madrid. This Champions League has been incredible," he told a news conference.

"What Real Madrid did in the Champions League, I don't know how to describe. It was unbelievable.

"I lost two finals against Liverpool, so I was very happy Real Madrid beat them."

Madrid's route to Champions League success saw them stage a series of remarkable comebacks in the knockout stages.

Chelsea fell victim to one such turnaround as they lost 5-4 on aggregate in the last eight despite leading 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg. Rodrygo Goes sent the tie to extra time, which saw Karim Benzema score the decisive goal. 

"It was a special match, very intense. It was my first time playing at the Bernabeu and for me it was incredible emotions," Rudiger added of that game.

"After the third goal there was still a good atmosphere in the stadium. I took a lot of emotions and today is an incredible day for me.

"When I played against Madrid I wasn't closed yet. My goal was to eliminate Madrid, I'm a professional. It was easy for me to concentrate."

Antonio Rudiger has revealed he made his decision to sign for Real Madrid in April and snubbed Barcelona, declaring it was "Real or nothing."

The Germany international has signed a four-year contract with the Champions League winners following the expiration of his contract with Chelsea, ending a five-year stint at Stamford Bridge.

His spell with the Blues saw him lift the Champions League in 2020-21, the FA Cup in 2017-18 and the Europa League in 2018-19, making over 200 appearances for the club in all competitions.

Rudiger explained that Madrid first made contact with his agent in September before a further follow-up in April, when he made the decision to join Carlo Ancelotti's side – and added he rejected the advances of Los Blancos' rivals Barca.

"The first time I spoke with Ancelotti was in April and that contact was very important, that's when I decided to play for this club," he told a news conference on Monday.

"Other people have contacted me, but I was convinced of what I wanted.

"Of course, there was an offer from Barcelona. But I told my brother [and agent] it's Real or nothing."

Capped 53 times by Germany, Rudiger faces a fight for a starting berth in Ancelotti's team amid competition from the likes of Eder Militao and David Alaba, but the former Roma centre-back is ready to fight for his spot.

"Ancelotti told me that he wanted me at Real Madrid and that he trusted me and that he would depend on me. That's enough for me," the 29-year-old added. 

"It's Madrid and you can't guarantee anything but I'm ready to fight to play."

Ahead of his appearance in front of the media, Rudiger was handed the number 22 shirt for next season.

The jersey was vacated by Isco, who left Madrid after the expiration of his contract.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has confidence that Bernardo Silva will remain at the club, though he vowed not to keep any unhappy players.

Portugal international Silva has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona after a five-year stint at the Etihad Stadium, with Xavi keen on landing the 27-year-old.

Silva was said to have made his feelings on wanting to leave City clear last year, but the former Monaco playmaker stayed and played a key role as Guardiola's team went on to win the Premier League for a fourth time in five seasons.

However, Guardiola has poured cold water on the speculation that Silva will move before the start of the 2022-23 season when speaking following the announcement of City's pre-season friendly against his former club Barca.

"I think Bernardo Silva will stay with us, that’s my feeling as of today," he told a news conference.

"We don’t know what will happen in the transfer window and we have always said that we want players that want to be in our club.

"But we really appreciate Bernardo and count on him for next season."

City have brought in Erling Haaland already this transfer window, while they reportedly want to sign Brighton and Hove Albion left-back Marc Cucurella and Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

However, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus are both reportedly interested in leaving, with Chelsea and Arsenal the respective frontrunners.

The match between City and Barca will take place on August 24 in a charity game to raise funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) awareness and is in honour of former Barcelona player and assistant coach Juan Carlos Unzue.

It will fall between City's Premier League fixtures against Newcastle United and Crystal Palace.

Cristhian Stuani's first-half penalty helped propel Girona to a 3-1 play-off victory over Tenerife to seal promotion to La Liga.

A goalless draw in the first leg in Girona left everything to play for in the return fixture and a spot-kick from Stuani just before the break gave the visitors the lead, though Carlos Luiz equalised for Tenerife before the hour mark.

Yet an own goal from Jose Leon saw Michel Sanchez's team regain the lead, with Arnau Martinez clinching the result with ten minutes remaining to send Girona back to the top tier of Spanish football.

Stuani netted 40 league goals over two seasons during Girona's last stint in the top flight and the 35-year-old is likely to be a key player next season.

Relegated from La Liga in 2018-19, Girona had back-to-back fifth-placed finishes in the second tier and fell at the last hurdle last year after losing the play-off final to Elche.

Girona coach Sanchez, meanwhile, has now been promoted to LaLiga for a third time, having previously managed the feat with Rayo Vallecano in 2018 and Huesca in 2020.

The result means Tenerife's 12-year wait for a return to the top-flight is extended. 

Girona will discover their fixtures for the 2022-23 season next month ahead of the start of the new campaign in August.

Robert Lewandowski will have to fulfil his contractual obligations and accept Bayern Munich's decision to keep him amid interest from Barcelona.

That is the message from former Bayern president Uli Hoeness, who also lamented the rulings of the Bundesliga restricting the German top flight from competing in Europe.

Lewandowski has made his intentions to leave Bayern clear, declaring his story with Julian Nagelsmann's side "over" despite having 12 months left on his contract.

Barcelona are widely regarded to be the striker's preferred destination.

Despite Bayern's stance on Lewandowski, Stats Perform understands that the Bundesliga champions have struck a deal with Liverpool to sign Sadio Mane, which might clear the way for the Poland forward to leave.

However, there remains questions to the finances behind a Barca deal for Lewandowski, with Bayern reluctant to sell and the Catalan club battling well-documented financial issues.

Hoeness, who retired as Bayern president in November 2019 after 49 years with the club as player and in management, says Lewandowski can have no complaints over Bayern's decision should they elect to remain steadfast on their wish to keep him.

"[He has] joined the position of FC Bayern: that is, to exercise the right to have the contract fulfilled if no alternative is found," Hoeness said in an interview with G14 Plus.

"I assume that Robert will accept it in the end."

 

While the transfer speculation continues with Lewandowski, Hoeness also expressed his disappointment with the Bundesliga.

Bayern claimed their record 10th straight title in the 2021-22 campaign, with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig offering little to challenge at the summit.

German sides have won the Champions League just twice in the last 10 years – Bayern doing so in 2013 and 2020 – and Hoeness suggested this is due to the 50+1 ownership rule.

The German Football League (DFL) ruling stipulates clubs will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49 per cent stake, diminishing the power of potential investors.

"If the Bundesliga – this does not apply to Bayern Munich – does not think about abolishing the 50+1 rule, we will have big problems in being able to keep up internationally in the long term," Hoeness added.

Milan's Serie A triumph played out amid a tumultuous boardroom backdrop.

And the Rossoneri's notoriously thrifty project could now test Paolo Maldini's patience, with the need to bolster their squad for domestic and continental competitions not yet being met.

The Italian champions reportedly losing out on long-desired targets could potentially bring the subject of Maldini's future to the fore again.

TOP STORY – MILAN TO LOSE OUT ON SANCHES, BOTMAN

Milan look set to miss out on the signings of Lille pair Renato Sanches and Sven Botman, according to Calciomercato.

Although the Rossoneri had agreed personal terms with Sanches several months ago, Paris Saint-Germain are set to double Milan's offer to Lille of €15million.

They face a similar dynamic with defender Botman, who also agreed personal terms with Milan, as fellow long-term suitors Newcastle United attempt to swoop.

With Maldini and right-hand-man Ricky Massara's contracts to expire at the end of the month, these failings will likely create inconvenient tension.

ROUND-UP

– Chelsea are interested in signing Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling, according to Fabrizio Romano.

– Meanwhile, The Sun is reporting the Blues are set to sign Ousmane Dembele, but the winger will demand a starting spot instead of a squad role.

– Manchester United are hoping Barcelona reduce their asking price for Frenkie de Jong, per The Athletic.

– Liverpool are bracing for the eventual departure of Mohamed Salah as contract renewal talks stall, the Mirror reports.

Mexican club Toluca confirmed they had been targeted by a hoax after a statement appeared online claiming legal action against Luuk de Jong was being considered.

De Jong has reportedly ruled out the idea of a move to Liga MX, and Toluca have said he will not be joining them.

The 31-year-old Dutch striker spent last season on loan at Barcelona from Sevilla, largely featuring as a fringe member of the Camp Nou giants' squad.

A statement was published on social media that was purported to have come from Toluca, in which it was claimed that a deal for De Jong had been agreed with the player and Sevilla.

It went on to claim that De Jong subsequently did not travel to Mexico, was not answering the calls of club owner Valentin Diez, and had decided against making the move.

The same statement said that Toluca, supported by Liga MX officials, were looking at what legal options were available to them, signing off with the remark: "Nobody is going to make fun of Toluca and Mexican football."

Toluca stressed on Saturday the statement was a fake, issuing a rebuttal through the club's Twitter account that stated: "Our fans and the general public are informed that official announcements will always be published on our official Toluca FC accounts and website."

It contained a picture of the statement, with a thick red line running through it and the word 'FALSO!', which translates as 'fake'.

Addressing transfer reports, Toluca technical director Ignacio Ambriz was quoted by local media on Friday as saying: "Doors were knocked on, but there are no contracts signed with any of them."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez thinks Kylian Mbappe will already be regretting staying at Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe was widely expected to move to Madrid when his PSG contract expired in June, but agreed to a three-year extension in the French capital.

Perez previously stated the Mbappe who snubbed the LaLiga and European champions is not the same character he wanted to bring to Los Blancos.

The Madrid chief, speaking during a meeting with the club's fans, again commented on Mbappe's decision as he declared the World Cup winner will be wishing he had moved to Los Blancos.

"The poor guy, Mbappe must already be sorry," Perez said when signing autographs after a fan had asked him about the France international.

 

Mbappe was in scintillating form in the 2021-22 campaign as he scored 28 league goals, a tally only bettered by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (35) across Europe's top five divisions.

The 23-year-old also added 17 assists, with no player in Europe's biggest leagues managing more direct goal involvements (45) – France team-mate Karim Benzema ranked second with 39.

Mbappe will hope to deliver further success for PSG in the 2022-23 season as the French giants bid for their ninth Ligue 1 title in the last 11 seasons.

Real Madrid's Rodrygo Goes claims he rejected the opportunity to join Los Blancos' eternal rivals Barcelona when leaving Santos in 2019.

Rodryo played a crucial role as Madrid won their 14th European title this season, scoring a remarkable late double in a stunning 6-5 aggregate semi-final triumph over Manchester City before coming off the bench in the 1-0 final win over Liverpool.

The 21-year-old also registered eight goal involvements (four goals, four assists) as Madrid won LaLiga, with only Karim Benzema (27), Vinicius Junior (17) and Marco Asensio (10) outscoring him among his team-mates.

But things could have been very different for the attacker, who has told the podcast Podpah of how he chose the Santiago Bernabeu over Camp Nou when leaving his home country.

Recalling Barca's bid for him three years ago, Rodrygo said his father was incredulous when he stalled on the Blaugrana's offer, telling him: "What do you expect? You are going to play with [Lionel] Messi!"

But things ultimately worked out well for the attacker, who has also broken into the Brazil squad and looks well placed to feature for his nation at the Qatar World Cup later this year.

"A normal day, I came home after a game," he recalled. "I had a Real Madrid shirt in my house and my father came into my room wearing that shirt and another Barcelona shirt.

"He told me, 'now choose'... and I chose the one for Real Madrid."

Ousmane Dembele intends to stay at Barcelona and dismissed the Chelsea transfer links as "just rumours" – in an impromptu interview while waiting at traffic lights.

Barcelona paid an initial €105million to sign Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, but the five-year contract he signed is set to run out at the end of June.

Bayern Munich and Chelsea are reported to be keen on the World Cup winner, who was told publicly to leave Barca by the club during the January transfer window after contract talks broke down.

However, with no move having materialised before the end of January, Dembele was reintegrated into Xavi's squad and rediscovered his form.

The 25-year-old finished the season with more assists (13) and expected assists (9.2) than any other player in LaLiga, recording his best tally in both metrics in a single campaign in Europe's big five leagues.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has reiterated his desire to keep Dembele at the club, and the Blaugrana chief has seemingly been granted his wish.

Stuck in traffic, Dembele was quizzed by a fan in the next car along, with footage of the exchange then posted to social media.

Asked if he would stay at the club, the winger simply responded "yes".

When pressed on the links to Chelsea, Dembele labelled the speculation as "just rumours" and added he "felt good in Barcelona".

Those comments from the France international will come as a boost to Barcelona as Xavi looks to improve on his side's second-placed finish in the upcoming 2022-23 campaign.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has committed to giving Lionel Messi some sort of tribute at the club, stating he deserves "eternal recognition" for his illustrious career.

The club's all-time record goalscorer left on a free transfer to join Paris Saint-Germain last year upon the expiration of his contract, with Barcelona unable to secure a renewal due to the club's financial issues.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Messi could not bid farewell to Barcelona fans in person and admitted in November he was "hurt" following his exit.

Laporta admitted during Barca's Extraordinary General Assembly that he was "sad" at the sequence of events but vowed to still pay tribute to the club legend somehow, who won 45 trophies during his stint with the Blaugrana.

"I will support, lead and back anyone that finds solutions that lead to a tribute to Messi, for all that he has given to Barca," he said.

"We have to give him an eternal recognition for all that he has done.

"For me, Leo will always be at Barca. Circumstances made us do what we did but that can't spoil the recognition we have to give him and sooner or later, I hope sooner, we can pay tribute to this player who has given us so many years of glory.

"Without him, the last 20 years of Barca would not be understood."

Barcelona may choose to honour Messi in 2024, the club's 125th anniversary, which could also coincide with the player's exit from PSG as he penned a two-year deal with the option of a further year in the French capital.

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