Jose Mourinho has scotched suggestions he could become the next Newcastle United manager but acknowledged "an emotional connection" to the city.

Ahead of his Roma team facing Juventus in Serie A on Sunday, the former Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham boss stressed he was not thinking about a Premier League return.

After the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund takeover at St James' Park, the expectation is that the club will see dramatic changes in personnel, with big-name players and staff arriving.

Steve Bruce remains head coach for now, but speculation surrounds his position, amid suggestions the new owners will want a higher-profile boss.

Mourinho would fit that bill, and has a track record of success in domestic and European football.

But when asked about the prospect of a switch to Newcastle, Mourinho frowned on the possibility and said he was committed to Roma, who are owned by American billionaire Dan Friedkin.

Mourinho moved to the Italian capital club in the close season, after his appointment was announced in May.

He said his passion for Newcastle is one that has been long held, stemming from his time working at Barcelona alongside Bobby Robson, who went on to manage the Magpies.

"The only thing I can say is that, for many, many years, I worked with one of the most important figures in the history of Newcastle, Sir Bobby Robson," Mourinho said.

"And so because of that I have always had a bit of an emotional connection with that city and that fanbase.

"But it's nothing more than that. I am here, I am really happy to be here, I am 100 per cent focused on the Roma project, the Friedkin project."

The race is on to sign Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland, who might be set to make a move in mid-2022.

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are all interested in the Norwegian goal machine, but could Newcastle United also be a factor?.

Haaland netted 41 goals from 41 games last term for Dortmund and already has 13 this season.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE ENTER HAALAND RACE

Newcastle are the latest club to enter the race to sign Borussia Dortmund's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, reports AS.

The report claims Real Madrid are losing their grip as favourites to sign Haaland, with Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and now Newcastle potentially in contention.

The Magpies' move is said to be "not out of the question" following the club's takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund who appear set to make a splash in the transfer market in January. 

ROUND-UP

- Mohamed Salah's agent has arrived in England for contract talks with Liverpool over a £500k-per-week deal, according to the Mirror.

- ESPN reports that Premier League trio Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool are tracking Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, rivalling Real Madrid. United's interest is said to be based around whether Paul Pogba departs.

- Dusan Vlahovic will follow Federico Chiesa's lead and reject a new Fiorentina contract offer in favour of a move to Juventus, ignoring Premier League interest from Tottenham and Liverpool, reports La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Barcelona are interested in Manchester United's Nemanja Matic, claims The Sun. The Serbian has a little over 18 months remaining on his United deal so Barca believe they could sign him next off-season on a cut-price deal.

- Goal Germany reports that Bayern Munich are making a move to sign Salzburg talent Karim Adeyemi, with the player's agent and father reportedly holding talks with the Bavarian club on Saturday.

Olivier Giroud was relieved to get back among the goals as Milan fought back to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 at San Siro on Saturday.

The Rossoneri looked to be heading for a first defeat in 30 home Serie A meetings with Verona when Gianluca Caprari and Antonin Barak put them 2-0 up before half-time.

Giroud headed in just before the hour mark to spark Milan's revival, with Franck Kessie levelling the scores from the penalty spot before a late decisive own goal from Koray Gunter.

The result put Stefano Pioli's men top of the table ahead of Napoli's clash with Torino on Sunday.

In scoring his third goal in his first two Serie A home games, Giroud matched a feat only previous reached by Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca since 1994-95.

The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker, who had missed four of Milan's previous five games, admitted it had been a long time coming to be back on the scoresheet.

"I've waited a long time for this moment. I missed the competition," Giroud, who last scored in the win over Cagliari in August, told DAZN.

"In the first half, we didn't do well but the reaction was important. I don't feel 100 per cent yet but I am growing and I feel more free.

"This victory is a joy. I can't wait to go and celebrate with my team-mates. In the first half, there was a lack of nastiness and quality. We could only do better in the second half, and that's what we did."

Pioli was left delighted with the endeavour shown by his side in the second half as they now prepare for a key Champions League group game with Porto on Tuesday.

"My team believe in what they do and put their soul into everything," he told DAZN.

"We tried to play from the back but they were very aggressive in the first half. They took away our space and often left us with just the long ball. We were not very dynamic and we suffered.

"The best thing about this group is to see everyone involved. The credit doesn't go to me, but it's the air we breathe. The boys put individuality aside to put themselves at the service of the team.

"We should enjoy this game but prepare for Porto. We've recovered some players and we've lost some. The more rotations there are, the better we can do." 

Milan roared back from 2-0 down to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 on Saturday and claim top spot in the Serie A table.

Unbeaten in their opening seven league games of the season, the Rossoneri were 2-0 down at the break against a side previously without an away win against them in 29 attempts.

Gianluca Caprari and a penalty from Antonin Barak had Verona heading for an unlikely three points before the home side produced a second-half turnaround.

After Olivier Giroud had headed home a third goal in three league games, Franck Kessie equalised from the penalty spot before Koray Gunter's own goal settled a gripping contest.

Milan had not conceded two first-half goals in Serie A since last November – against these opponents – but they paid the price for a lifeless start to the contest.

Ciprian Tatarusanu, in for the injured Mike Maignan, was powerless to keep out Caprari's precise finish seven minutes in after Miguel Veloso had kept Verona's attack alive.

The lead was doubled 17 minutes later, Barak putting his penalty just out of Tatarusanu's reach after Alessio Romagnoli was judged to have fouled Nikola Kalinic as the former Milan forward darted in front of him to meet a cross.

This Milan is a resilient side, though – they have only twice taken more points after the first eight matches of the season in the three-point era than they had before this game – and they got a lifeline just before the hour when Giroud nodded in Rafael Leao's expert cross from the left.

A swift passing move saw Leao backheel the ball to Samu Castillejo, who was caught from behind by Marco Faraoni, allowing Kessie to dispatch a confident penalty and level the scores with 15 minutes left.

Stefano Pioli introduced Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench, and the veteran striker may well have had a tap-in had Gunter not scuffed an attempted clearance beneath the legs of goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo to give Milan the lead.


What does it mean? Milan go top – and stay unbeaten

Milan's comeback saw them leapfrog Napoli, who play Torino on Sunday, and go top of the table by a single point.

With Inter having lost 3-1 at Lazio earlier, Pioli will be doubly pleased with the manner of their second-half performance as they capitalised on their rivals' first loss of the season.

Verona are 13th, with eight points from eight games.

Olivier takes centre stage

Giroud has made a career out of being a penalty-box menace and it was no surprise to see him drag Milan back into the contest.

He is the fifth Rossonero since 1994-95 to score three goals in his first two Serie A home games, after Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca.

Maldini goes missing

Daniel Maldini completed just seven passes before being hooked at half-time as Pioli rang the changes to good effect.

By contrast, replacement Rade Krunic completed twice as many in the opposition half alone while creating four goalscoring chances.

What's next?

Milan head to Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday before facing Bologna away on October 23.

Simone Inzaghi was left anguished after his first Serie A defeat as Inter boss came at his former club Lazio, admitting: "We lost our heads."

A 3-1 setback came after a flurry of second-half goals from the home side in Rome, with the defending champions knocked out of their stride late on by a moment of controversy.

With Inter's Federico Dimarco down, apparently injured, Lazio played on and got the 81st-minute goal that put them 2-1 ahead, Felipe Anderson netting from close range after Ciro Immobile's strike was parried by Samir Handanovic.

Inter were furious and both sides had two players booked as bickering on the pitch threatened to spill over. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic sealed the points in stoppage time with a fine header, ending Inter's seven-game unbeaten start to the league campaign.

Inzaghi's new team took the lead against his former charges when Ivan Perisic converted an early penalty, but Lazio had a spot-kick in the 64th minute after Patric's header from a corner was handled by Alessandro Bastoni. Immobile tucked away that chance and the comeback gathered momentum from there.

The result rankled with Inzaghi, who said afterwards: "That was our best recent performance, but when a team like ours is a goal up, we have to manage the game better in terms of our final ball and double our lead."

Quoted on the official Inter website, he added: "Unfortunately, they scored their equaliser from a corner that we shouldn't have conceded. From that point on, the game changed and Lazio got back into the contest.

"The second goal was a bit strange and we lost our heads, which is something we can't allow to happen. It's disappointing. It's a setback that we didn't need in terms of our league position, but we'll take the performance and move on."

Inter sit third in the Serie A standings, behind Napoli and Milan, and their next league clash sees them face Juventus on Sunday of next weekend.

"When you face sides like Lazio, you can't give them a chance to get back into the match," Inzaghi said. "We managed the contest particularly well for an hour, but we then let our opponents back into the game and paid the consequences."

Lazio head coach Maurizio Sarri said Inter should have put the ball out of play themselves when they had an opportunity after Dimarco went to ground.

Sarri was also dismayed to see Luiz Felipe, who had an excellent game in central defence, red-carded after the final whistle.

Luiz Felipe, in celebration mode, jumped on his former Lazio team-mate Joaquin Correa, who left for Inter in August. Correa did not see the funny side and Luiz Felipe was in tears after being dismissed.

"Luiz Felipe told me he was saying goodbye to Correa, they played together for a long time. They didn't want to fight," said Sarri. "It's a big misunderstanding."

Lazio scored twice late on as they came from behind to beat Inter 3-1 and end Simone Inzaghi's unbeaten start in Serie A with his new club.

Ivan Perisic opened the scoring from the spot after just 12 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico, before Lazio's Ciro Immobile equalised with a penalty of his own after the break.

Controversy followed as Felipe Anderson tapped in on the rebound from Immobile's strike with nine minutes remaining, with Inter's Federico Dimarco seemingly down on the ground and injured in the build-up to the goal.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic added a third with a late header as Inter's unbeaten start to their title defence, under the guidance of former Lazio boss Inzaghi, abruptly ended. The result leaves them four points behind leaders Napoli, who host Torino on Sunday.

Lazio's Luiz Felipe was red-carded after the full-time whistle for an altercation with former team-mate Joaquin Correa as tempers flared after the conclusion of the game.

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri has revealed his respect for Roma counterpart Jose Mourinho, declaring it good news for Serie A that the Portuguese boss has returned to Italy.

The experienced pair go head-to-head on Sunday in Turin, with Allegri's men sitting a disappointing seventh in the league standings going into the weekend, four points and three places behind the capital club.

Mourinho returned to take charge of a team in Italy this term for the first time since leaving Inter in 2010, having won Serie A in his first season and a remarkable treble in his second at San Siro.

Allegri believes the presence of such a character can only be positive for the league, despite an incident in 2018 when Mourinho – then managing Manchester United – taunted Allegri's Juventus and their fans after a 2-1 comeback win in 2018 by cupping his ear to the crowd.

"Mourinho is a coach who has won a lot and I respect him a lot," Allegri said. "It's in his character to, every now and then, do like he did with Manchester a few years ago.

"It pleases me to have a coach of his value back in Italy."

Despite offering such words for his counterpart, Allegri is determined to see his team come out on top as Juventus look to close the gap between themselves and league leaders Napoli, who have won every game.

"Juventus versus Roma is always a great match where there has often been controversy. There's Mourinho, who has given them character. They are ahead of us, and we must score points to not fall behind the best in the championship.

"We need to prepare well and turn the switch back on immediately after the break."

Milan midfielder Brahim Diaz has tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the club's Serie A match with Hellas Verona.

Diaz, 22, is feeling fine as he isolates at home, according to a statement from the club.

No other players tested positive in the latest round of tests ahead of the Verona clash at San Siro on Saturday.

Milan, though, are already without defender Theo Hernandez due to COVID-19.

"Close monitoring with swab tests will follow according to the indications provided by the relevant health authorities, who were immediately informed," read Milan's statement.

Diaz has played in all seven of Milan's league matches this season, starting six, and would again have been expected to be named in the XI against Verona by head coach Stefano Pioli.

The former Real Madrid player has scored three goals in Serie A, tied for the most with Rafael Leao, and added one assist.

Alexis Saelemaekers is delighted to have pledged his long-term future to Milan, after penning a five-year contract with the Rossoneri.

Saelemaerkers joined Milan from Anderlecht, initially on loan, in January 2020.

Since then, he has made 52 appearances in Serie A, starting 38 times and helping Milan to 35 victories (only Franck Kessie, Theo Hernandez and Gianluigi Donnarumma have been involved in more league wins in that timeframe).

He has created 44 chances, providing six league assists and scoring three goals.

That form has seen him rewarded with a new deal, tying him to the San Siro until June 2026.

"I'm happy to have grown with this team," Belgium international Saelemaekers told Milan's official website, before expanding on his official Instagram account.

"Salamandra remains! I'm delighted to continue my story with this great club that has welcomed me and made me feel important immediately," a post read.

"It's a wonderful emotion that I want to share with all the people who have accompanied me on this journey and in particular with all the Milan fans who are special.

"I'm proud of my growth which has gone hand in hand with the team. Now, the target is always the same: work, grow and win!

"Forza Milan God is Great!"

Simone Inzaghi is unsure what type of reception he will receive when Inter travel to Lazio this weekend but is excited to return to his former home.

The 45-year-old replaced Scudetto-winning boss Antonio Conte at San Siro in June, a week after bringing an end to his five-year spell in charge of Lazio.

In the three points for a win era, nobody has managed more Serie A games for Lazio than Inzaghi (197), while only Sven-Goran Eriksson has a better points-per-game return (1.9 compared to 1.82) among those to have managed at least 50 matches.

Inzaghi had previously spent 11 years with the Biancocelesti in his playing days and six years working as coach of the youth team.

After winning the Coppa Italia in 2019 and guiding Lazio back into the Champions League last term, when they reached the last 16, Inzaghi's unexpected departure to take over at Inter did not go down well with some fans of the Rome club.

According to reports from Italy, the relationship between Inzaghi and Lazio president Claudio Lotito has still not been repaired, but the Inter boss is looking forward to walking out at the Stadio Olimpico.

"It's not a match like the others. For me it's a return to my home of 22 years," Inzaghi said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"It will be a great thrill to see the lads who have always given everything for me and the people behind the scenes who were always special.

"In addition, I'll get to see the Lazio fans, who have been very important for me. We have celebrated and suffered together in these years, reaching great targets that haven't been achieved for a long time.

"I know there will be boos and applause, but it's part of the job. I will accept them. They know that I have always given everything."

 

Asked about his relationship with Lotito, five months on from exiting Lazio, Inzaghi replied: "A lot has been said and heard, but I think he and [sporting director Igli] Tare have been very important for my coaching career.

"Thanks to them I coached Lazio. I will never stop thanking them, knowing that we integrated well and achieved great results."

Inzaghi was succeeded at Stadio Olimpico by Maurizio Sarri, who has won three, drawn two and lost two of his first seven Serie A games in charge.

Lazio are unbeaten in their last 16 home matches in the Italian top flight, winning 14 of those in what is their longest such run since 2002.

And Inzaghi has been impressed by Sarri's work since taking on the job in the Italian capital.

"I think Lazio have played some excellent games," Inzaghi said. "They are a very well-built team. A new coach has arrived and he's very good at organising the teams.

"They are playing excellent games, but they lost the last one and therefore they will be angry and will want to play well."

Inzaghi confirmed that Chile pair Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will not be involved due to returning late from international duty, while Argentina's Lautaro Martinez will be monitored ahead of Saturday's game.

After two weeks off, Lazio face a gruelling run of matches that will also see them face Marseille in the Europa League before league games with Hellas Verona, Fiorentina and Atalanta in the next fortnight.

Sarri is not happy with the congested fixture list and suggested money now takes priority over player welfare.

"We trained for two weeks in reduced ranks, it's difficult to evaluate," Sarri said at a news conference.

"This is the current state of football; maybe it doesn't belong to me anymore. Every month we play seven games in 19 days and then we are 11 days without players.

"In practice they train more in the national team than with the club. We are not looking at football as a sport but a show where you try to squeeze out money everywhere. Maybe I’m too old for all this."

Agent Jorge Mendes claims his client Cristiano Ronaldo "has never deserved the Ballon d'Or more" following his individual achievements at club and international level.

The Portugal star returned to Manchester United from Juventus after a successful year in terms of individual records, including becoming the all-time international top scorer while also finishing as the leading marksman in Serie A in 2020-21.

The veteran forward has continued to be prolific for United this term, scoring five goals in just six appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils.

Ronaldo was less successful on the team front as Juventus saw their grip on the Italian top-flight broken, finishing fourth, while also being knocked out of the Champions League in the round of 16, and Portugal lost to Belgium at the same stage of the Euro 2020 finals.

However, Mendes feels the 36-year-old's remarkable personal achievements should make him the frontrunner for the coveted accolade.

"The numbers and statistics attached to Cristiano Ronaldo's name speak for themselves and should be enough for him to win another Ballon d'Or," Mendes told France Football.

"The absolutely remarkable total of 115 goals for the Portuguese national team makes him the record holder in the history of men's international football. This year he broke that 15-year-old record, to which he can add that of the top scorer in the history of professional football.

 

"All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time.

"It is true that this is an individual trophy, but let's not forget that Cristiano Ronaldo was the top scorer in the demanding Serie A and was also the top scorer in the last European Championship [making him the all-time top scorer in that competition].

"He holds the record for goals in the Champions League and is the only player in the world to have won everything in three different countries with maximum competitiveness, as was the case in England, Italy and Spain.

"All this at the age of 36, with an absolutely unique regularity, commitment and a phenomenal capacity to overcome difficulties. In my opinion, this year the Ballon d'Or has a name: Cristiano Ronaldo. For me, he has never deserved it more."

Ronaldo faces stern competition if he is to win a sixth Ballon d'Or, however, with Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski netting the most goals in all club competitions among players in Europe's top five leagues last season (48, 12 more than Ronaldo) and he has already managed 13 this term.

Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Lionel Messi also outscored the Portugal star in all club competitions last season, and Messi claimed an international trophy with Argentina as he won the Copa America, finishing the tournament as the top scorer and top assist provider.

Meanwhile, midfielder Jorginho is being tipped as a contender after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy.

Real Madrid's pursuit of Paris Saint-Germain's 22-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe has been widely observed.

Los Blancos could not prise the France striker away from PSG during the last transfer window but may be ready to enter the market in a major way next year.

Carlo Ancelotti took over as Madrid head coach in June and is beginning to build his side.

 

TOP STORY –   REAL CONFIDENT OF HUGE DOUBLE SIGNING

The Sun reports that Real Madrid are confident of signing both Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe next year.

The report claims securing Pogba's signature would help Los Blancos clinch a deal for the Paris Saint-Germain star who is a France team-mate.

Pogba is out of contract with Manchester United at the end of this season, while Mbappe has stalled on an extension with PSG and appears set to exit.

ROUND-UP

- Madrid are also interested in signing Italy international Federico Chiesa from Juventus, reports Fichajes.

- Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Tottenham are keen on Fiorentina's Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic, but Mundo Deportivo reports La Viola have set a €70million (£59m) asking price for him.

- Roma are willing to offload Everton target Gonzalo Villar in the January transfer window in order to raise funds to move for Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, claims Tuttomercatoweb.

- Liverpool are leading the race to sign highly sought-after Belgian talent Jeremy Doku who is currently with Rennes, reports RTL.

- Sky Sports reports that Atletico Madrid are eager to complete new deals for Jan Oblak and Thomas Lemar, with talks under way.

- Tottenham's Ryan Sessegnon could be offered a fresh start by Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, according to Takvim.

If you want a true renaissance team, one that epitomises a city, look no further than Venezia.

From bankruptcy and the lower echelons of Italian football to a global fashion icon, the small side from the iconic city of Venice are the club on so many lips, attracting worldwide interest.

A football team on the water, literally, Venezia are setting trends with their must-have kits as they enjoy life back in Serie A for the first time in almost two decades, but it has not been an easy road for I Leoni Alati – the Winged Lions–, who resided in the depths of Serie D just five years ago.

Founded in 1907 and with their most significant achievement to date being victory in the 1940-41 Coppa Italia, Venezia were relegated from Serie B in 2005 and went bankrupt.

Businessman owner Maurizio Zamparini had left for Palermo in 2002, taking with him 12 players in a move dubbed locally as the "furto di Pergini" – the "theft of Pergine".

Venezia were re-founded twice – at the end of the 2008-09 and 2014-15 seasons – having been declared insolvent on both occasions. It led to the 2015 arrival of a group of American investors, and while they have been in the ascendency at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo ever since, Venezia have soared to new heights under president Duncan Niederauer.

A former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Niederauer arrived in early 2020 and it coincided with Venezia going from Serie B battlers to Serie A newcomers after a breathtaking and dramatic play-off in May of this year, which led to the Venetian version of a street party – fans jumping into the canals and players celebrating on gondolas.

 In an interview with Stats Perform, Niederauer – whose Venezia have five points from seven rounds to start the 2021-22 campaign – said: "When we took over in early 2020, I think step one was just to survive in Serie B to be perfectly honest. The team was struggling in the second division. Then last season, from the outset, I thought we would be very, very competitive. I thought we built a very good team. I don't think the experts agreed with me, but we declared early in the season last year that I thought we could compete for a spot in the play-offs. The team backed that up and was really in the play-off discussion all season.

"Somewhat unexpectedly to just about everybody, we got through the play-off battles. One of the things we hoped to accomplish was to get to Serie A in two-three years. We're kind of a couple of years ahead of schedule. The good news is you're ahead of schedule. The other news when you're in Serie A for the first time in two decades, you probably don't have the infrastructure that you need, you don't have the organisational construct that you need and that was certainly true for us. While it's been very exciting to be in the first division, we've had a lot of work to do to try to get ourselves prepared as a team and organisation to be in the first division. That's where a lot of the focus was spent on in the summer. We had to upgrade the stadium, we had to add to the organisation and re-think the roster to be competitive in Serie A while respecting our approach and budget."

Venezia captured the attention of millions with their last-gasp play-off win over Cittadella – Paolo Zanetti's men were down a man and trailing 1-0 after 36 minutes, and appeared destined for another season in the second tier.

But, with virtually the last kick of the game, Riccardo Bocalon's strike three minutes into stoppage time salvaged a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 aggregate win to send Venezia back to Serie A for the first time since 2001-02.

It sparked wild scenes on the pitch as Niederauer celebrated promotion with Venezia. While the team exceeded expectations externally, their president always believed.

"We have a really different philosophy with this team. Our culture is very much one of a family. I was discouraged by many others from getting close to the players," Niederauer said. "I was told if you get close to the players, it will cloud your judgement and it won't work. I fundamentally disagree with that in any business I've ever run. If you take care of your people, they can do great things, right?

"I remember saying to the players early in the season, 'Just to be clear, I work for you, you don't work for me. You tell me what you need to be successful, I just want to clear all the clutter so you can play.' They really took it to heart and they knew they could count on me. I think what you saw was a group of guys, who throughout the season, believed more and more in themselves. It culminated in that evening in late May... the players on the field, I said, 'Guys, that was unbelievable'. They said, 'Pres, not really, that's what family does'. We didn't want the story to be about Pasquale Mazzocchi's red card but about our promotion to Serie A... I thought that was a pretty strong culture which benefited a lot.

"To be there in person. It's a weekend, my wife and I, we will never forget. It's our favourite city in the world. We were there together the night of the match. I held it together surprisingly well until I saw her on the field and then I burst into tears because I think I was just so proud of them for what they did. If you watch the celebration, it's not a group of people who sort of like each other, sort of know each other, it's a family celebrating a shared success. Lots of tears and joy. If I had a do-over, I don't think I'd jump in the canal again, but at the moment, the players were doing it and seemed like the right thing to do. We had been in it together, so how could I not do it? It was a surreal experience. The celebration over the weekend... I said to my wife, when we don't remember each other's names, we will remember floating down the canal during that parade because it's like no other celebration in the world. It's a long emotional answer, but it was a really, really special evening."

Having stepped into the precarious world of Italian football, Niederauer added: "People ask me, what other sporting ventures are you going to do in Europe and the answer is none. Our second home is in Italy. My wife and I spend a lot of time in Italy. Venice has been our favourite city for a long time.

"When the opportunity came up to do this and do something special for these kids and this city, I don't think we would've done this anywhere else to be honest. I wasn't on the hunt for a football team to run from the United States. I just thought all the stars aligned and it seemed like an opportunity to do something really, really special. The pay-off was watching these young men perform above everyone's expectations except ours. I said to them at the start of the season, 'Guys, you're really, really good. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good. You're a good team and if you play for each other like family plays for each other, you can do spectacular things this year.' That's what happened, it's not any more complicated than that."

Fast forward to this season and Venezia are riding an unprecedented wave. During the 2020-21 campaign, their popular Nike jerseys – both home and away – were a hot commodity, despite the team being a relative minnow.

But at a time when the jersey industry is booming, and fashion and football more entwined than ever, Venezia have hit record heights since switching to Italian manufacturer Kappa. All three jerseys – now collectors' items – were swiftly sold out.

While a strategic plan to turn heads on and off the pitch, it's something not even Niederauer could have anticipated following the collaboration with a brand closely tied to Italian football.

"If you're in the city like Venice which is at the centre of art, fashion and history, I think it's incumbent on us to do our best to have the club aligned with the virtues of the city and the strengths of the city," Niederauer said as he discussed the global branding and fashion-forward identity ahead of Monday's clash with Fiorentina.

"Step number two which was a little less obvious, I like and respect Nike a lot. The current CEO is someone I've known for a long time. In fairness to Nike, we weren't big enough as a small second division club in Italy that had not been particularly well run previously. I don't blame them for not spending a lot of time with us. If I'm honest, I probably would've made the same decision if I were Nike. It seemed like it was time for us to find a partner that was closer to home who we could really collaborate with and almost co-author the designs.

"I thought this year was a really, really important year to make a statement. We left it to the design team and the design team collaborated with Kappa. It was a little bit rushed, but you see the results of what they produced... we're about to drop the fourth jersey in a couple of weeks here. All three we have released are all in the top 20 globally. That was purposeful. I don't know if we will hit all the right tones again every year, but for this year, I thought it was really important we take some risks and go over the top to design something special. Kudos to the design teams. I had basically nothing to do with it except turn them loose. What I like about the third and fourth jerseys, both were down in collaboration with foundations which support sustainability in Venice. We think part of our purpose as a club is we have to be part of the community and part of the city. Venice is obviously beautiful but not without its challenges with climate change. Proceeds from the third and fourth jersey go towards those organisations. We've tried to position ourselves as a global brand. It's early, early days but the jerseys are helping us do that. Now it will come down to can we perform in Serie A and stick around for a while?"

A few years ahead of schedule, now is when Niederauer's ambitious plan of turning Venezia into a viable business clicks into gear, with the former Goldman Sachs banker leaning on his financial background as the club learn from past mistakes.

"Our philosophy is you do your best to leave every situation better than when you found it. That's already been accomplished. I think our next objective is to build a sustainable club that, I don't think is competing for Champions League in the next few years, but at least is a club that you come into every season not solely focused on salvation," he said, with Venezia since signing former Manchester United and Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero as the club benefit from the picturesque city as a recruiting tool.

"You come into the season where you're expected to be a mid-table team. A mid-table team in Serie A given our investment approach and how we identify players, we have a long way to go to be as great as Atalanta have become at this. But if you built the foundation in the youth academy that we're doing and on your first team, and if you can get to that point where you're mid-table pretty predictable, I think we can run quite a profitable and sustainable franchise. We wouldn't look beyond that yet. We would have another decision to make. It would be arrogant to start thinking of those things before we prove ourselves. The next three years is about proving that the model works, proving we can stay in Serie A, proving that we can be a mid-table team and then hopefully start to reap all the seeds we planted in the youth academies, which were grossly underinvested."

The plan for Venezia goes beyond the first team, with the increased infrastructure leading to the establishment of their first ever women's team on top of a revamped stadium and facilities – a new headquarters set to open next September – as Niederauer bets on the future.

Niederauer – whose Venezia could draw three consecutive Serie A games for the first time since April 1962 – added: "You have to be conscious about the past because if you don't look back a bit to understand what you can learn from history, you're making a big mistake. Our approach was really simple and I think we were fortunate in the pandemic because as a Serie B team who weren't really drawing a lot of fans and didn't have a global brand, the revenue that ticket sales and merchandise were accounting for before we really organised and set ourselves on a better path, was small enough that it didn't poke a big hole in our boat last year. Our salaries were well under control – I think we had the 13th or 14th highest payroll in Serie B. We are pretty thoughtful about it. Our approach this season hasn't changed too much. We obviously want to be competitive and would like to stay, so you're willing to spend a bit of money to do that. I would bet you that our payroll is the lowest in the league. I would bet you our coach is not only the youngest coach but probably one of the lowest paid, but we think he is one of the best and that's why he has a four-year contract. We believe in him and are willing to bet on him. The players deserve continuity. We're not the type that would change coaches if the team isn't performing. That's on us more than it's on him – we are the ones that assembled the roster. It's up to Zanetti to do the best he can with it.

"We didn't overspend. We stuck to our strategy – we find young talented players. We did spend a little money acquiring some of them? Yes. My background would suggest that if you buy undervalued assets in the long run, as long as you take a long view, your returns will be just fine. That's what we convey in every decision. These are long-term investments. We didn't panic when we lost the first two games of the season. When you have a strategy, you don't divert from it and you don't let your emotions get the best of you. I don't find it that complicated. We have a challenge ahead of us. Serie A is a great league but I think we've built a really good roster. We're improving with every match. I like our chances of surviving and then the sky is the limit after that."

 

"Last year, at the start of the season, in Italian football everyone talks about salvation," he continued, with Venezia boasting the youngest player in Serie A this season with at least one goal and one assist – 19-year-old American sensation Gianluca Busio. "I said, 'Guys, I know I'm going to sound a lot like Ted Lasso here, I apologise, but we're not going to talk about salvation'. And they're like, 'Pres, what do you mean? We all talk about salvation.' I said, 'I'm going to stand up and say you're a play-off team, I believe that you are. I believe you will be in the conversation for promotion this year. So if that's our goal, why would we talk about salvation? We're not going to talk about salvation, I don't want you talking about it in your interviews and I won't in my interviews other than to dismiss it.' They were completely confused.

"At the beginning of this season, I said, 'I'm not a hypocrite, but this year we talk about salvation. This year it would not be realistic not to talk about salvation. So this year it's OK to talk about salvation.' But last year, we did not say a word about it on purpose because I thought our ambition should not just be about to survive but to win. I think they got it. It's a little bit unorthodox for Italy, but I think we have a few people starting to mimic what we're doing.

"There's a lot of people betting on this project and I like our chances, if we can stick to the long-term view and not waver from it, I really like what we're building here."

The October international break has provided an opportunity to reflect on the club season so far, with the campaign starting to settle into some sort of pattern.

Paris Saint-Germain have quickly moved clear at the top of Ligue 1, but there look to be genuine title tussles on the cards in the Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga and Serie A.

However, while there are familiar names involved in each league, that does not mean the same individuals are excelling as in previous seasons.

A close-season that saw two of the sport's greats make moves shook things up a little, giving other emerging stars the opportunity to establish themselves at the forefront of the European game.

Studying the best shooters, creators, dribblers and goalkeepers, Stats Perform takes you through the standout statistical performers of 2021-22 so far.

Hotshot Haaland and luckless Lorenzo

There were familiar faces at the top of the shooting charts last season, as Lionel Messi (196 shots) led the way ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (168). This term, although Ronaldo has hit the ground running, neither rank among the top marksmen.

Kylian Mbappe (35) has had the most attempts, but Erling Haaland is averaging 5.2 per 90. While that is the most among players with 20 total shots or more, it falls short of the 5.8 Messi was mustering last term.

Haaland is certainly making the most of his opportunities, though. From chances worth just 4.77 expected goals (xG), he has produced finishes worth 7.05 expected goals on target (xGOT) – a metric measured after the shot. These efforts have led to seven goals, performing in line with the quality of his finishing.

The Borussia Dortmund man is not outperforming his xG by as much as Karim Benzema, who leads the way in that regard. His nine goals have come from opportunities worth 4.43 xG, although his shots have only accounted for 5.22 xGOT, suggesting poor goalkeeping has also contributed to his success.

Lorenzo Insigne certainly has not encountered any below-par work from opposition keepers. His 27 attempts have been worth 5.5 xG, and he has narrowly surpassed that mark with his xGOT of 5.57. Yet the Napoli captain, third behind Messi and Ronaldo last year with 144 shots, somehow has only two goals.

Just two players in the whole of 2020-21 – Houssem Aouar (seven goals, 10.75 xGOT) and Edin Dzeko (seven goals, 10.58 xGOT) – fell so far short of their xGOT, suggesting Insigne's fortunes must surely change soon.

Benzema benefiting like Kane last year

Bruno Fernandes is one of Europe's best creators and scarcely gets a rest at Manchester United, so it is no surprise to see him figuring high up the rankings for key passes both this season and last. In 2020-21, Fernandes created the second-most chances (95) and the second-most chances from open play (77). This term, he is joint-fifth for total chances created (23).

Eden Hazard is back producing once again, averaging 3.99 key passes per 90 – all from open play. He is third for chances created and first for chances created from open play among those to forge 10 or more opportunities.

But Hazard has only a single assist to his name, not so far as fortunate as Fernandes' team-mate Paul Pogba or his own colleague Benzema.

Pogba has created chances worth just 1.45 expected assists (xA) and Benzema 2.05 xA, yet the pair have seven assists apiece thanks to the fine work of their club-mates. It means Benzema has been involved in 16 goals despite his combined xG and xA making up a mere 6.48. He is a man in top form, but this statistical output does not seem sustainable.

It is Harry Kane's example that Pogba and Benzema are following. His 14 assists led the Premier League last term, but he only actually created chances worth 3.63 xA, far and away the most spectacular disparity as Son Heung-min and Co. boosted Kane's figures.

Messi actually went in the opposite direction, last season creating chances worth 13.37 xA but only being rewarded with nine assists.

Adama dominant with Messi missing

As well as being one of Europe's most prominent shooters and creators, Messi was right at the top for dribbles last term. No player attempted (261) or completed (159) more take-ons. Given Neymar attempted the most dribbles per 90 (11.28) among those with 50 or more attempts, slow starts for two Paris Saint-Germain stars have left a gap in the market.

Unsurprisingly, Adama Traore has stepped into that void. The Wolves winger was next behind Messi for attempts (232) and completions (153) in 2020-21 and now comfortably leads the way (61 and 49). Among those with 20 attempted take-ons or more, Traore is now completing more dribbles per 90 (9.63) than any other player in Europe is even attempting. His success rate is an astonishing 80.33 per cent.

The Spain international has 14 times this season beaten multiple players in the same run and has created six chances immediately after a successful dribble – two more Europe-wide highs.

Traore only ranks joint-second for chances created from all carries, however, his nine trailing Allan Saint-Maximin's 11, with the pair out in front of the rest across various metrics with the ball at their feet.

Oblak off the mark and Keylor kept out

There were two clear outstanding goalkeepers in Europe in 2020-21, as Jan Oblak led the way for goals prevented using expected goals on target data (8.58, having conceded only 25 times excluding own goals) while Keylor Navas had the best save percentage of those to face 50 or more shots on target (80.43). Oblak was second for save percentage (80), with Navas third for goals prevented (8.11).

But both men have slipped below those standards this season.

Oblak has endured a significant wobble, saving only 57.14 per cent of 14 shots and conceding five goals from efforts worth 4.22 xGOT. Navas has a better save percentage of 72.73 but still is not having a positive impact, conceding six from an xGOT of 5.02. He also now looks to have lost his place to Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Going the other way, though, there has been a positive change in fortunes for Aaron Ramsdale, who last year had to make 147 saves – behind only fellow relegated England international Sam Johnstone (166). Since joining Arsenal, Ramsdale has faced just 10 shots on target and saved nine of them, a benchmark save percentage.

Matias Dituro is the standout difference-maker this term, however. Despite conceding 11 times, excluding own goals, since joining Celta Vigo, he has actually prevented 4.05 goals.

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