Monaco head coach Philippe Clement hopes Takumi Minamino can bring new qualities to his side as the Liverpool forward closes on a move to Ligue 1.

Minamino is widely expected to join Monaco in the coming days, with the club reportedly agreeing a €13.3million (£15.5m) deal to sign the Japan international.

The forward has scored four goals in 30 Premier League appearances for Liverpool since joining from Salzburg in 2020, but he started only five of those games as he struggled for regular minutes in Jurgen Klopp's star-studded side, spending half a season on loan at Southampton.

Ahead of Monaco's 1-0 friendly win over Cercle Brugge on Sunday, Clement revealed Minamino was set to complete his move to the principality and affirmed his belief in the 27-year-old's ability.

"I'm very happy, I've known him for a long time," Clement said of Minamino. "He was very high on our list. Everyone here is convinced that he has the qualities to bring something to the team.

"He already has experience and has done a lot of good things at Salzburg, in a style close to ours, just like at Liverpool where there is a lot of competition. That's why this is an opportunity."

Monaco ended the 2021-22 season third in Ligue 1, having finished the previous campaign in the same position.

Although Cristiano Ronaldo's affection for Manchester United is without doubt, his return to Old Trafford has not gone as he might have planned.

Following Erik ten Hag's arrival, Ronaldo's reported concern over United's apparent lack of transfer activity has made other clubs explore possibilities to sign him.

Reports suggest that a couple of clubs have already made their interest indirectly known.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA, ROMA CIRCLING FOR RONALDO

Chelsea and Roma have expressed their interest in signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, according to reports.

The Athletic has reported Chelsea, with Todd Boehly installing himself as interim sporting director after his consortium's takeover of the club, met with Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes to discuss the possibility of his transfer.

Ronaldo has a year left on his contract, and the possibility of him leaving after only one season has grown with Erik ten Hag's arrival.

Meanwhile, Retesport are reporting the Giallorossi are keen to sign the 37-year-old, with the Friedkin group looking to reunite him with former boss Jose Mourinho and build on the team's Conference League triumph.

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– In the background, United are increasingly confident they will be able to land Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong for a fee of £69million (€80.2m), Goal reports.

– Also, Blues boss Thomas Tuchel has made contact with Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling, according to the Telegraph.

– Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks over a deal for Neymar amid Chelsea's interest, per AS.

– Leeds United are preparing a £26million (€30.2m) bid for Club Brugge's Charles de Ketelaere, the Daily Mail reports.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe is plotting a path to a first Champions League triumph after committing his future to the club.

The Ligue 1 champions are yet to win Europe's top prize, despite reaching the knockout stages of the competition in each of the past 10 seasons.

Having finished as runners-up in 2019-20 and made the semi-finals in 2020-21, PSG suffered frustration at an earlier stage in the most recent campaign, letting a two-goal lead slip in the last 16 against eventual winners Real Madrid.

Mbappe could have subsequently departed for Madrid, but he has instead stayed in Paris and wants to be part of the team that finally delivers the trophy.

"The Champions League with PSG is a clear goal," Mbappe told BFM TV. "It's what we want, but there is a path to take.

"First of all, we have to be a winner at the national level, because in the last two years we have not been."

Mbappe has individual achievements in his sights, too, ranking behind only Edinson Cavani (200) with 171 PSG goals.

Asked about the prospect of passing Cavani, the 23-year-old added: "It can happen, it would be wonderful."

Mbappe was typically prolific in 2021-22 as he scored 28 Ligue 1 goals, with only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (35) beating that total in Europe's top five leagues.

The former Monaco forward also added 17 assists, putting him well clear with 45 goal involvements – a return that shows why Madrid were so keen to have him.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was on Friday acquitted on appeal for a second time by a Swiss federal court of charges of corruption in the attribution of World Cup television rights.

Al-Khelaifi had been charged with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Valcke was accused of wanting to transfer the Middle East and North Africa television rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups to a media company headed by Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Khelaifi allegedly offered Valcke, who is serving a 10-year ban from football that was handed down by the Fifa Ethics Committee in 2018, exclusive use of a luxury villa in Sardinia in exchange.

The PSG president has been cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

It is the second time Al-Khelaifi has been cleared of wrongdoing in the Swiss federal criminal court after prosecutors appealed against the original verdicts.

"The years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated – twice," Al Khelaifi's lawyer Marc Bonnant said in a widely reported statement.

Valcke was convicted of separate charges not involving Al-Khelaifi. He was given an 11-month suspended sentence and must also repay FIFA €1.75m (£1.58m) for forgery and passive corruption.

Those charges relate to Valcke exploiting his position to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for various World Cup and other tournaments scheduled between 2018 and 2030, in exchange for payments from Greek businessman Dinos Deris, who has also been charged.

The Frenchman was cleared of the most serious charges involving accepting bribes and aggravated criminal mismanagement.

To suggest the next 12 months may well define Lionel Messi's career would be doing a disservice to what we have witnessed up close over the past 18 campaigns. 

From boy wonder to the greatest player ever in the view of many, and now into a new chapter with Paris Saint-Germain, the Argentina forward has nothing to prove to anyone.

And yet on the day he turns 35 – the average age of retirement for a footballer – questions continue to be asked of Messi. 

Will he win a World Cup – still in the eyes of many the real barometer of a truly great player, even in the era of the Champions League – before he retires? 

Can he prove himself in a different country after a mixed first season in France? Both of those questions will be answered before he celebrates his 36th birthday in a year's time.

Stats Perform looks at how Messi's game has already changed, and whether he is still capable of inspiring club and country to glory in possibly the biggest year of his career.
 

MESSI 2.0

Ten months have passed since the shock announcement that Messi was bringing an end to his 21-year association with Barcelona to join Ligue 1 giants PSG.

By his own high standards, Messi's first campaign in Paris was far from great. He scored 11 goals in 34 appearances, down on the 38 scored in his last season with Barca.

And those 11 goals came from an expected goals (xG) value of 16.8, meaning he scored 5.8 goals fewer than he should have based on the quality of his chances.

Among players in Europe's top-five leagues in all competitions last season, only six others had a worse return, with Lille striker Burak Yilmaz (8.11 differential) topping the list.

There were extenuating circumstances, of course, with Messi himself recently opening up on just how badly he struggled after testing positive for coronavirus in January.

The La Masia product also had to adapt to life outside the place he had called home for more than two decades, seeing him take on an entirely different role.

While his scoring figures dropped considerably, Messi set up 14 league goals – only once in his last five seasons at Camp Nou (21 in 2019-20) did he assist more in a campaign.

The majority of his assists last season came from a left-of-centre position outside the box, where he predominantly played alongside Neymar and just off Kylian Mbappe.


RONALDO SHOWS THE WAY

The 11 goals Messi scored at the age of 34 is his lowest return since the eight he netted when aged 18 and still in the infancy of his Barcelona career.

While that can be put down to a change of scenery, and being in the unfamiliar role of having to play second-fiddle to Mbappe, age is also surely a factor.

At 35 – or 34 as he was last season – Messi will inevitably have to rely more on his footballing brain than his legs to give him an advantage over opponents.

As showed by Cristiano Ronaldo, though, age is just a number when it comes to the very best, the Portugal star having scored 75 goals in 102 games since his 35th birthday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, four months shy of his 41st birthday, has scored an impressive 112 goals in 174 appearances since hitting 35, an age often perceived as being 'over the hill'.


ALL EYES ON QATAR

Playing a supporting role may well be something we must come accustomed to when it comes to club level, but for Argentina Messi very much still remains the main man.

That was clear to see earlier this month when, in his final game in a gruelling campaign, Messi scored all five of Argentina's goals in their thumping friendly win over Estonia.

That five-goal showing rightly attracted plenty of focus, though it was arguably four days earlier in his side's 3-0 'Finalissima' victory over Italy that Messi truly showed his quality.

Messi pulled the strings from a slightly deeper position as Argentina, who also boast the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala, showed their credentials.

He assisted two of Argentina's three goals, including a delightful turn to leave Giovanni Di Lorenzo trailing in his wake before setting up Martinez for a simple finish. 

On the back of ending their 28-year wait for silverware in 2021 with victory at the Copa America, Lionel Scaloni's men now look good value to challenge for the World Cup.

Regardless of any more titles he adds to his collection at PSG, Messi lifting the most famous trophy of them all in Qatar later this year would be the defining image of his career.

Different now he may be, but Messi has a chance to show in his 35th year that he has plenty more left in the tank to turn a great career into the greatest.

Saint-Etienne will start life in Ligue 2 with a three-point deduction for the crowd trouble that followed their relegation from the French top flight. 

The 5-4 penalty shootout defeat to Auxerre in May was followed by ugly scenes, with supporters clashing with police and security staff after storming the pitch and targeting players. 

The Ligue de Football Professionnel announced on Thursday that the club had been handed a six-point deduction, though three were suspended. 

Saint-Etienne will also play their first four home games of the season at an empty Stade Geoffroy-Guichard after two of the six-match ban they received were suspended. 

The club said in a statement: "Given the nature of the facts, Saint-Etienne has decided not to appeal the decision.

"The club appeals strongly to everyone's responsibility so that these unspeakable acts never happen again at the Geoffroy-Guichard."

Ander Herrera believes fellow Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti is on the "level" of Barcelona legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Herrera signed for PSG in 2019 after the expiry of his contract at Manchester United and established himself as a reliable figure, making 19 league appearances and six in the Champions League last season.

Amid the constant battle for places in PSG's midfield, though, Herrera believes Verratti holds an exceptional status.

When Herrera was asked which midfielder ranks as the best he has played with over the course of his career, the Italy international was the clear pick, even if it comes at the expense of his own time on the pitch.

"The best I have played with is Verratti, but I have played with very good ones," he told Diario AS. "Thiago [Alcantara], what to say about [Paul] Pogba, a footballer with the best qualities. Or [Bastian] Schweinsteiger, who came to United in the final stretch of his career, but it was incredible to see him.

"Still, I have a special devotion to Verratti. The footballer always thinks that he has to play, but if Verratti plays in your position, you have nothing to say. I put him at the level of Xavi and Iniesta."

The 32-year-old has two seasons remaining on his contract and is eager to help put the "icing on the cake" for PSG, with a Champions League triumph that has so far eluded the club.

A competitive team in domestic and continental competitions means squad rotations and battles for spots, and Herrera insists it is nothing new, welcoming the challenge.

"I like it," he said. "In Manchester, they asked me the same question when Schweinsteiger, [Nemanja] Matic, Pogba or Fred were there. Danilo, [Idrissa Gana] Gueye and Rafinha came to Paris and I've played and I've always had responsibility.

"That has made me a better footballer. I like having midfielders by my side who make me better and make the team better.

"I've been three years and I'm happy. I think it is a project that still needs the icing on the cake, as everyone knows. As demanding as I am of myself, I want to continue and enjoy a growing club surrounded by the best footballers in the universe. I like the day to day, the city and my colleagues. My family is happy and I want to continue."

Zinedine Zidane has not ruled out taking over as head coach at Paris Saint-Germain or following Didier Deschamps as France's national team coach, amid growing speculation over his future.

Mauricio Pochettino's departure from PSG has not yet been finalised, but reports have linked both Zidane and Nice boss Christophe Galtier to the job, with club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi even confirming talks with the latter.

Stepping down in 2021 as a two-time LaLiga and three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Zidane would assume either role as a highly-decorated coach, having also enjoyed an exceptional playing career.

In an interview with L'Equipe to mark his 50th birthday, the Marseille native indicated he would not turn down the opportunity to coach the fiercest rivals of the club he supported as a child, citing a lack of realistic options in both personal and logistical senses.

"Never say never," he said. "Especially when you are a coach today, but the question is moot. This is absolutely irrelevant. When I was a player, I had a choice, almost every club.

"As a coach, there are not 50 clubs where I can go. There are two or three possibilities. This is the current reality. As coaches, we have much less choice than players. If I go back to a club, it's to win. I say this with all modesty. That's why I can't go anywhere. For other reasons, too, I might not be able to go everywhere.

"The language, for example. Some conditions make things more difficult. When I'm asked: 'Do you want to go to Manchester?' I understand English but I don't fully master it. I know there are coaches who go to clubs without speaking the language, but I work differently. To win, many elements come into play."

From leading France to the World Cup in 1998 as a player – propelling him to his sole Ballon d'Or award in the process – to his straight red card in the 2006 World Cup final after headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi, Zidane experienced both the highs and lows with Les Bleus.

Punctuating his stellar international career with that sending off in Berlin leaves him with unfinished business at international level, but Zidane insisted his ambition will be with respect to current France boss Deschamps and his preparations for this year's World Cup in Qatar.

"I want to [be head coach of France], of course. I will be, I hope, one day," Zidane said. "When? It's not up to me, but I want to come full circle with the France team. I knew this French team as a player, and it's the most beautiful thing that's ever happened to me.

"But really, this is the pinnacle. And so, as I experienced that and today I am a coach, the France team is firmly rooted in my head.

"When I say that I want to take the France team one day, I assume it. Today, a team is in place, with its goals. But if the opportunity comes next, then I'll be there.

"Again, it's not up to me. My deep desire is there. The France team is the most beautiful thing there is."

Vinicius Junior will be one of the leading candidates for the Ballon d'Or in 2023, according to Rivaldo. 

Brazil international Vinicius was a key part of the Real Madrid side that won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22, scoring the only goal of the game as Los Blancos beat Liverpool in the European final. 

The 21-year-old scored 22 goals and supplied 16 assists – more than he managed across the previous three campaigns combined – in 52 games in all competitions. Only Kylian Mbappe (60), Karim Benzema (59), Christopher Nkunku (51) and Mohamed Salah (46) were involved in more goals in all competitions among players in the top five European leagues. 

Benzema is the favourite for the 2022 Ballon d'Or, which will be awarded in October, but World Cup-winning former attacker Rivaldo believes next year could be Vinicius' time. 

"After a fantastic season with Real Madrid, in which he scored the goal that won the Champions League, I can only hope the young Brazilian attacker continues to develop in this way," Rivaldo told Betfair. 

"He has improved a lot in front of goal and if he continues like this he can claim to be the star of Real Madrid, because Karim Benzema will retire one day. 

"It's hard to name favourites [for the Ballon d'Or] when the season hasn't started, but I don't seem him behind Kylian Mbappe, Kevin De Bruyne and others. 

"The titles that each club wins will be very important in the final choice." 

Barcelona's much-publicised financial difficulties are creating unwanted kind of leverage in the transfer market.

The Blaugrana have been linked to the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah, but via a free transfer, circumventing the need for an initial outlay.

Reports suggest one of their transfer targets this off-season appears to be unattainable, though.

TOP STORY – SEVILLA STIFLE KOUNDE MOVE TO BARCELONA

Barcelona's reported interest in Jules Kounde will face a stumbling block in the form of Sevilla, according to Marca.

The Andalusian club have set a €60million price for Kounde, reportedly knowing that interest from Premier League clubs will meet that benchmark and effectively price Barcelona out of the market.

In addition, Sevilla would want to close the deal quickly, forcing Barcelona into cash-flow difficulty if they were to meet the demands for Kounde.

Barcelona are unwilling to pay the €60m despite sourcing fresh funds, with a reported need to primarily balance this year's budget.

ROUND-UP

Arsenal and Newcastle United are keen on Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz, whose contract runs out in 2023, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Borussia Dortmund are set to sign Ajax striker Sebastian Haller, per ESPN.

Real Madrid have stepped up their interest in Raheem Sterling with his future in Manchester City uncertain, the Mirror reports.

Chelsea are considering signing 29-year-old Lens full-back Jonathan Clauss, Goal is reporting.

Although he sees a future in coaching, Cesc Fabregas has ruled out immediate plans to retire following his confirmed departure from Monaco over the weekend.

The 35-year-old was only able to make two league appearances this past season, with ankle and hamstring injuries hampering his ability to see sustained time on the pitch.

Effectively without Fabregas, Monaco finished third in Ligue 1 behind Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille, defeating them both and losing only once in the final 12 games of the season after Niko Kovac's dismissal in December.

Asked on his desire to eventually coach, Fabregas insisted he wants to end his playing career on the right note first.

"First, I still want to play. I don't want to end like this," he told the Ligue 1 website. "It's been too bad a year to end like this. I want to have fun, to finish with good feelings.

"Nothing is decided, I am listening. I am open to everything. Maybe the level of club will have to drop, but there are teams of a lower level in the Champions League. One thing is clear. I'll go to a club where I'll play, where they believe in me."

Fabregas arrived in the principality in January 2019 with the added objective of helping younger players in the squad develop, as Monaco battled relegation under then-boss and former Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry.

Making 68 appearances over that period, the World Cup winner is content with his time in Monaco overall but seeks a more suitable punctuation mark to his playing career.

"At the time, I signed with one objective, to save the team, which was then 19th with 13 points," he said. "I took a big risk, because relegation was possible. We can be satisfied to have saved the team's top-flight status. I'm proud of what I contributed in those six months.

"When I came here, Thierry Henry and [former Monaco vice president] Vadim Vasilyev also asked me to help the youngsters develop. That was an important point.

"Today, I have the feeling that I have earned the respect and sympathy of this young generation. I hope I have helped. We like each other. I will continue to follow them, to talk with them.

"For me, these two and a half years have been positive. On the other hand, the past season was very bad, the worst of my career. By far, I've never experienced anything like it."

Kylian Mbappe decided to stay at Paris Saint-Germain due to the club's "project" and rejected a more lucrative offer from Real Madrid, according to the Parisians' president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Khelaifi also hit out at suggestions Mbappe possesses undue influence in footballing decisions at the club in an explosive interview with Marca, as well as labelling La Liga "dead" and claiming to never have heard of the league's president Javier Tebas.

Mbappe was widely expected to join Madrid upon the expiry of his contract in Paris this month, but committed his future to PSG until 2025 in a shock decision in May.

That decision sparked fury in Spain, with Madrid president Florentino Perez claiming the striker "must already be sorry" for snubbing the European champions, and LaLiga chief Tebas accusing the French club of trying to "destroy" European football in a complaint to UEFA over supposed financial fair play breaches.

But Al-Khelaifi says Mbappe's choice was never about money, and even claims to have known the 2018 World Cup winner wanted to stay long before the end of last season.

"I have great respect for Real Madrid as a club, they're a great club, but Kylian has never decided to renew for the money, that's the first thing. Madrid's offer was better than ours," he said.

"He is our player and he had other clubs in England as well as Madrid, but he chose PSG, and we didn't talk to him or his family about money until the last moment. 

"Kylian was above all interested in the project, in football and sport. He is Parisian, he is French, and he wanted to stay here to represent his city and his country, his club, and it is not fair what has been said about him."

The PSG chief rejected huge bids for the striker before last season and says he did so in the knowledge he would decide to renew: "I knew 18 months ago that Mbappe wanted to stay. I heard that Madrid said he wanted to play for Madrid, but it wasn't true. 

"We are talking now about Madrid's latest offer, but in the summer [of 2021] they made an offer of €170million and 180million. That means that Madrid's offer, plus his salary, was already better than ours, as it is now. 

"I turned down 180 and they told me I was crazy, people I trusted, because he could leave for free, but I did it because I was sure Kylian was going to stay because I know him and his family well. I know what he wants. 

"Kylian is very serious, professional, and he wants to play and win, he doesn't care about money. I understand that Madrid are disappointed, but it's not fair to say that about Mbappe."

LaLiga have complained about the spending of both Manchester City and PSG to UEFA, claiming a need to keep European competition "clean".

But Al-Khelaifi is not worried about accusations of overspending, as he labelled the Spanish top flight "dead" and said last year's signing of Lionel Messi demonstrated PSG's ability to invest and stay within the rules.

"Who is Tebas? I don't know that person," he claimed. "Our style is not to interfere in the affairs of other clubs, other leagues or federations, it is not our style. But I am not going to accept that others give us lessons. 

"I don't care what he says, the truth is, we have been talking about this for years. We have a football project to build, and we are going to go ahead. We're not worried about everything that comes out in the media, because we can't waste our time with everything that comes out.

"Every year, every summer, it's the same thing. He says we don't respect the fair play, we don't respect the others? We know what we can do, who we can sign, we know better than him what we can do and nobody has to tell us what to do. 

"We don't have to be told by someone from outside what we can or cannot do. If we do it, it's because we can. Look at the case of Messi. It was the same, they said it was financially impossible, and we have made money with Messi. 

"He has no idea and he should focus on his league because La Liga is a bit dead."

Al-Khelaifi, who also serves as chairman of the European Club Association (ECA), could not resist taking another swipe at Madrid over their continued support for the European Super League, which failed spectacularly upon its attempted launch last year.

Madrid, along with Barcelona and Juventus, are still committed to the breakaway project, and Al-Khelaifi says their jubilation at winning the Champions League last month is strange in that context.

"For me it [the Super League] is already dead," he said. "But it's also strange. Madrid have won the Champions League and deservedly so, but on the one hand they want to win it and on the other hand they don't want to play it. 

"If you're not happy you don't need to play it. It's the best competition in the world and I don't even know why the Spanish fans are also against this competition, but for me the Super League is dead."

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi insists the club never approached Zinedine Zidane with an offer to become coach, as he confirmed interest in appointing Nice's Christophe Galtier.

Zidane has been strongly linked with PSG since leaving his post as Real Madrid boss last year, particularly as Mauricio Pochettino struggled to meet the lofty targets set by club owners Qatar Sports Investments.

Pochettino missed out on the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title after taking charge midway through the season, and although he led a star-studded collection of players to the French title the following campaign, he is widely expected to be dismissed after another disappointing Champions League effort.

Pochettino has been under pressure since PSG's dramatic 3-2 aggregate reverse to eventual winners Madrid in March, with Zidane touted as a replacement, but Al-Khelaifi says he has never been an option.

"I love Zidane, he was a fantastic player, of incredible class. An exceptional coach too, with three Champions Leagues," Al-Khelaifi told Le Parisien.

"But I'll tell you one thing: we never spoke with him, neither directly nor indirectly. A lot of clubs are interested in him, national teams too, but we have never talked to him.

"We have chosen a coach who will be the best for what we want to put in place."

Al-Khelaifi confirmed PSG's number one target is Galtier, the man who beat them to the 2020-21 title when in charge of Lille, and he hopes to appoint him soon.

"We are discussing with Nice, it is not a secret," Al-Khelaifi added. "I hope that we will find an agreement quickly, but I respect Nice and the president [Jean-Pierre] Rivere, everyone defends their interests."

With Pochettino set to leave the Parc des Princes and sporting director Leonardo having been effectively replaced by new football advisor Luis Campos, PSG are undertaking a significant rebuild after fending off Madrid's interest to tie Kylian Mbappe to a new contract last month.

The arrival of Lionel Messi last August capped an unprecedented recruitment drive from the club in 2021, with Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nuno Mendes and Achraf Hakimi among their other significant incomings.

Al-Khelaifi admits the club's model must change, as he called for an end to the "bling-bling" approach of signing big-name superstars to grow the club's brand.

"The dream is one thing, the reality another. Perhaps we should also change our slogan... 'Dream bigger' is good but today, we must above all be realistic," he added.

"We don't want more flashy bling-bling, it's the end of glitter."

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.

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."

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