Aston Villa manager Unai Emery has committed to the club until at least 2027 after his contract was extended.

The Spaniard’s existing deal still had two years to run but he has agreed terms for an additional 12 months, the PA news agency understands.

Villa are also keen to sit down with the 52-year-old in the summer and discuss a new longer-term contract.

Emery has done an impressive job at Villa Park, guiding them from a relegation fight when taking over from Steven Gerrard in November 2022 to the brink of Champions League qualification this season.

They are also in the semi-final of the Europa Conference League, where they play Olympiacos, and are the favourites to win the tournament which would represent a first European trophy since 1982.

Due to his impressive work at Villa Park, he was recently linked with the vacant Bayern Munich managerial position, while a number of other top European clubs will be looking for managers this summer and might have targeted the former Sevilla, Arsenal and Paris St Germain boss.

After Emery guided them to a seventh-placed finish last season, Villa have kicked on this term and are in pole position to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

They are sixth points ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham, who have two games in hand, and are managing their tough Thursday-Sunday schedule well.

Villa play Chelsea on Saturday night, where they could move nine points clear of Spurs, who play Arsenal on Sunday.

Sven-Goran Eriksson says it is “like a dream” to be taking charge of Liverpool for their ‘Legends’ charity match at Anfield this weekend.

The 76-year-old former England boss, who revealed in January he had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, will be part of the management team as the Reds play Ajax Legends in Saturday’s LFC Foundation fundraiser.

During interviews when he revealed his health issues, Eriksson said he had always been a Liverpool supporter and wanted to manage the club.

And on Friday the Swede told a press conference ahead of the charity game: “It’s like a dream.

“When I was a manager I always dreamt about Liverpool, but that never happened. It was close once, it was some discussion once, many years ago…it never happened. But now it happens!

“When they asked, I thought it was a joke. I said of course, and then it’s charity, which makes it even more lovely.

“’You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is magic. I’m looking forward to it. I’m very honoured and thankful to Liverpool that they gave me this opportunity.

“I think it must be maybe the best atmosphere in the world, in all big football stadiums I have been to, and part of that is the song when the players come out. The atmosphere is incredible.”

Eriksson said his love of Liverpool came from his father supporting the team.

He also said that around 1979, when he was young manager in his homeland, he wrote to the club asking if he could come to watch some training, and in reply received an invitation.

“I saw a game and some training, I was honoured to go into the Boot Room. That was great, fantastic,” he said.

“All the training sessions, they were playing one touch, two touches. The quality of the play was incredible, and ‘make it simple’ the coaches told me. I learned a lot of course.”

Eriksson said his father’s interest in the Merseyside outfit remains strong, saying: “He will not miss one game on television when Liverpool are playing. He phoned me the other day because he couldn’t find the right channel. The amazing thing is this game is going to be on television in Sweden live, so he will see it.”

Eriksson will have former Liverpool players Ian Rush, John Barnes and John Aldridge alongside him in the dugout as he oversees a side including Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

Eriksson became the first foreign England manager when appointed in 2001 and subsequently led the team to the quarter-finals of two World Cups and one European Championship.

On his five-year England tenure, Eriksson, who feels Gareth Southgate’s team have a “huge chance” of winning this summer’s Euros in Germany, said: “If you are the coach or manager of England, that for me is the biggest job you ever can have.

“We didn’t win anything, but I was extremely proud and happy every day I had that job because I know it is one of the biggest football jobs you can have in the world. It is very special.”

Asked if he missed management, the ex-Lazio, Manchester City and Leicester boss said: “If I said no, I would lie. Of course you miss it.

“But I realise that I am a certain age. It’s OK. What I have done, I have done, and I’m happy about that. Now it’s over, almost – this will be the last game I suppose. So that’s great.”

With close to 60,000 tickets sold, there is set to be a record crowd in attendance for what is the eighth annual LFC Foundation match. Previous games have raised over £6.4million.

Craig Butler revealed that his wish was for his son Leon Bailey to join Ajax, but has no regrets that he has found a home at Aston Villa.

The comments came ahead of Aston Villa's goalless stalemate with the Dutch club in Thursday’s Europa Conference League Round of 16 match at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Bailey, 26, was subject of transfer interest from Ajax during his time at Genk before joining Bayer Leverkusen in 2017. But the Dutch giants continued to follow Bailey throughout the years, and he nearly joined the club on three separate occasions.

Butler revealed that the last potential switch came in 2022, a year after the winger joined Villa and struggled under former boss Steven Gerrard.

"Bailey was indeed already in the picture at Ajax, but also at Genk, to whom I eventually sold him. Ajax did want him, but not according to the agreements that were in place," Butler told Voetbal International.

"We were always very close, but the final push from Ajax was missing. I would have liked to see it happen. Who knows how it would all have turned out, but we stand by the choices we made. In retrospect, it was the steps that were necessary.

"Leon’s transfer to Aston Villa has turned out well. He’s doing well and he loves the fans. Who knows where Leon would have been now if he had gone to Ajax, because Ajax has produced great players worldwide. If Leon had signed with Ajax, he would probably have been sold for a lot more money, but money isn’t everything,” he added.

Bailey himself revealed that being at the Birmingham-based Villa under Unai Emery's leadership is the happiest he's been in his career.

“I would say yes. I think at the moment things have been going really well for me. I've been scoring goals and I've been getting assists," Bailey told the media ahead of the European clash.

"I've been really showing up for the team whenever I call up. And right now, I feel good, and I would say it's the best moment of my career,” he declared.

Jurgen Klopp has promised Liverpool fans he will never manage another English club after he leaves Anfield in the summer “even if he has nothing to eat”.

The 56-year-old German has shocked the football world by announcing he will stand down as Reds boss after nearly nine years in charge at the end of the season, having steered the club to six major trophies including the Premier League title in 2020 and the Champions League in 2019.

At a press conference on Friday he also:

:: Said he would play no part in choosing his successor.
:: Insisted he would not make a U-turn on his decision to quit as Sir Alex Ferguson once did at Manchester United.
:: Talked about how he could not sustain the energy levels needed for top-level management beyond this season, insisting “you have to be the best version of yourself”.

Klopp allayed any concerns among Liverpool fans that he could return to manage one of their rivals.

“Whatever will happen in the future I don’t know now, but no club, no country, for the next year, and no other English club ever,” he said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“I can promise that, even if I have nothing to eat that will not happen.”

Speculation has already turned to who could succeed Klopp at Anfield, with Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso – a former Reds midfielder – installed as the early bookmakers’ favourite.

Alonso insisted on Friday his focus was solely on his current role and that he was in “the right place”. Former Reds captain Steven Gerrard, currently with Saudi Arabian side Al Ettifaq, has also been linked.

Klopp insists he will have no input whatsoever to Liverpool’s recruitment process to find his successor.

“The last thing they need is advice from the old man walking out, telling them ‘make sure you bring him in’ or whatever – I will definitely not do that,” Klopp said.

“I wish this club the very, very, very best.”

Steven Gerrard announced his retirement from playing professional football, on this day in 2016.

The announcement came a little over a week after the former Liverpool captain, then aged 36, had left LA Galaxy, the only other club on his resume.

In a statement, he said: “I can confirm my retirement from playing professional football. I have had an incredible career and am thankful for each and every moment of my time at Liverpool, England and LA Galaxy.”

It marked the end of a playing career which saw Gerrard come through the academy system of his hometown club to become a European champion and play for England more than 100 times.

In 2000-01, the midfielder was part of a Liverpool side that won the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.

Four years later, Gerrard inspired a remarkable comeback as he captained his side to victory in the Champions League final against AC Milan, as Liverpool came from 3-0 down to win on penalties in Istanbul.

Gerrard was a two-time FA Cup winner and lifted the League Cup three times in all, but would never take a Premier League title.

The all-action midfielder played 114 times for England, featuring at three World Cups and three European Championships, before retiring from international duty in 2014.

He was part of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ and captained his country, but was unable to progress beyond the quarter-finals of any major tournament, with his international career ending when England failed to advance from the group stages at the 2014 World Cup.

In announcing his retirement, Gerrard added: “I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.

“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”

Gerrard would return to Liverpool as a youth-team coach only a matter of months after his retirement, before he achieved great success in charge of Rangers, helping them win the Scottish Premiership title for the first time in 10 years in 2021.

He would later depart Ibrox to become Aston Villa manager but was sacked after less than 12 months in charge of the Premier League club in October.

In July of this year, Gerrard was named manager of Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq where another former Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, is among his players.

What the papers say

David Moyes could remain at West Ham even if his contract as manager expires in the summer, it has been reported. According to the Daily Mail, the 60-year-old is being lined up by Hammers bosses for a job ‘upstairs’, although details of the exact role are not clear. Moyes has been in charge of the club since 2019, but there are reports his future as manager is in doubt following a run of four defeats in five games.

Bristol Live, via Sky Sports, says Liam Manning is closing in on becoming the new Bristol City manager. Manning’s Oxford are second in League One, but the opportunity to go up a division with Bristol City is believed to be too good for the 38-year-old to turn down.

And the Daily Mail reports Steven Gerrard‘s Al Ettifaq are gearing up for a spending spree across Europe as the side looks to dramatically improve their fortunes in the Saudi Pro League. Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson joined Al Ettifaq over the summer, while ex-Celtic striker Moussa Dembele is also on the books.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Bruno Fernandes: The Manchester United midfielder is wanted by several Saudi Pro League clubs, according to journalist Rudy Galetti.

Rayan Cherki: Football Insider reports the Lyon forward is on the radar at Manchester United and Newcastle.

Liverpool midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai is happy to be compared to Steven Gerrard but is determined to succeed at Anfield playing his own way.

In just a handful of matches since arriving in a £60million move from RB Leipzig in the summer the 23-year-old Hungary captain has become an instant fan favourite.

His boundless energy and unwavering work-rate immediately resonated with supporters who had become concerned about an ageing and lacklustre midfield in last season’s disappointing campaign.


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But throw in his talent on the ball, his vision for a pass and an eye for goal and it is understandable to see why there were murmurings about ‘the new Gerrard’.


If his debut goal against Aston Villa in September – a left-footed drive from the edge of the area – was good, the blistering strike against Leicester in the Carabao Cup had all the echoes of the man whose number eight shirt he now wears.

“I want to do my own way but of course it feels good if they say I am the new Steven Gerrard,” Szoboszlai told the PA news agency at a session of the Nike Game On initiative which, in conjunction with the LFC Foundation, has provided more than 8,000 local schoolchildren with access to a range of sports over the last three years.

“I have a tattoo from Steven Gerrard what he said a long time ago,” he added. The quote attributed to Gerrard, which Szoboszlai has inked in Hungarian, is ‘Talent is a blessing from God, but without incredible will and humility, it is worthless’.

“It’s nice to have the number eight shirt because really great players played in it. I just want to continue.

“But I just want to be myself and if I can get that big in this club like he was I’ll be really happy.”

When Liverpool triggered the Hungarian’s release clause to sign him from Leipzig in July there were eyebrows raised about the fee.

However, manager Jurgen Klopp and his scouting team had no doubts bringing in one of the most talented midfielders in the Bundesliga and youthful captain of his country bore little risk.

It may not be entirely accurate to say Szoboszlai has single-handedly revitalised Liverpool’s midfield in just a couple of months but with fellow new arrival, Argentinian World Cup winner Alexis MacAllister, hamstrung by having to play an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, there is little doubt who has made the biggest impact.

Growing up, the Hungarian idolised Cristiano Ronaldo – not for his talent but his mentality, and it is easy to see that reflected in his performances so far.

Asked where he gets his energy and drive from, Szoboszlai added: “Because I want to win.

“Even if we are in front I don’t want to concede any goals, that’s why I run. If we are behind I want to score goals, that’s why I run. It is always the reason why you have to run.”

Liverpool have been crying out for a goalscoring midfielder but the 23-year-old sees a bigger picture.

“If I have to score I am going to score. If I have to assist I am going to assist. If I have to run all around the pitch I will run all around the pitch,” he said ahead of Sunday’s visit of Nottingham Forest.

“I am here to help the team, I am not here to reach something alone. I want to win trophies, I want to win everything and make us proud and make the fans proud and put Liverpool back again where they deserve to be.

“I can improve in everything. I am not a finished player. Of course I can do everything almost but always you can be better and always you have to think like this.

“If you think this is your best prime, it is not. I can do even better.

“If I would come with any worries then it would not go like this. I came here like ‘I can do it’ – and I am doing it.

“But I don’t say ‘I did it’ because I didn’t. It’s really early to say that. I’m doing it and hopefully I can do it even more and for longer.”

Of all his many qualities it is Szoboszlai’s self-belief and confidence which stands out.

Asked about his ambitions for this season, he said: “I want to win everything. It is never easy but no-one will ask you how it feels to be second.

“This is how I think. Hopefully everyone thinks like this.

“We have to work hard. When the players (the likes of the experienced Jordan Henderson and Fabinho) left no-one was expecting how we started, how quickly we got to know each other and how well it goes.

“We are there for each other. We are a team.”

:: In the first three years of the Game On programme, funded by Nike and delivered by the LFC Foundation, more than 8,000 local children aged between seven and 12 and 46 grassroots sports clubs have been engaged with coaching delivered in 15 different sports.

What the papers say

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has become the latest Premier League star to attract the attention of Saudi Arabia. According to The Sun, the Everton and England striker, 26, will be offered a lucrative deal by Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq.

Bayern Munich are keeping an eye on Chelsea defender Trevoh Chalobah, 24, reports the Daily Mirror. The centre-back is out of favour at Stamford Bridge under Mauricio Pochettino.

Luton will have to find at least £5.5 million to land Ecuadorian midfielder Oscar Zambrano, according to The Sun. The 19-year-old’s club LDU Quito are holding out for the best offer.

Sandro Tonali’s lawyers are meeting with prosecutors in Rome this week in a bid to halve the Newcastle United midfielder’s ban for gambling. According to the Daily Mirror, via Gazzetta dello Sport, Tonali’s co-operation could see any ban cut from a potential three years.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Kalvin Phillips: Manchester City are expected to sanction a January exit for the England midfielder, 27.

Lucas Paqueta: West Ham’s Brazilian midfielder, 26, remains a target for Manchester City.

Mohamed Salah became the first Liverpool player since Peter Beardsley 32 years ago to score in Anfield’s opening four league matches with both goals in a 2-0 victory over 10-man Everton in the 243rd Merseyside derby.

Ashley Young, who has played in some of the world’s biggest cross-city clashes in Manchester, Milan and Birmingham, was sent for a second bookable offence shortly before half-time to make the Toffees’ task of ending their woeful record across Stanley Park even more difficult.

Salah converted a 75th-minute penalty after a Michael Keane handball and then converted a counter-attack in added time which meant the Everton fans present were still to see a ‘live’ victory at Anfield since 1999 as their only win in 2021 came behind closed doors during the Covid era.

Egypt international Salah’s penalty was the 15th consecutive Premier League match in which he had either scored or assisted and brought up Liverpool’s 50th goal against Everton at Anfield in the Premier League.

It was also his 200th career league goal, but his second was his 104th at home for Liverpool, taking him past greats Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard into fifth place on the club’s all-time Anfield scorers list.

But despite Salah’s stellar statistics this was far from a classic derby encounter, even it was a predictably typical one.

Young’s 37th-minute red card – the 29th in this fixture and the 13th of the last 16 to be shown to Everton players – was not quite a turning point as Liverpool were well on top even at that stage but it was contentious.

Luis Diaz looked to have somewhat bought the first yellow when he went down after a tackle on the halfway line but once referee Craig Pawson had given that he had no option when Everton’s right-back brought down the Colombia international on the edge of the area.

Sean Dyche’s response at half-time was to replace his two wingers – Jack Harrison and Dwight McNeil – with defenders Nathan Patterson and Michael Keane and switch to a back five.

It did little for striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s prospects, whose only opportunity came just 36 seconds into the game when he headed tamely at Alisson Becker.

After that it was virtually one-way traffic, although Liverpool’s best openings seemed to come on the counter-attack and often from Everton attacking set-pieces.

They had a four-on-two at one stage but when Dominik Szoboszlai released Diaz in the penalty area his delayed shot that allowed Young to block.

Trent Alexander-Arnold drove a free-kick into the wall, Salah muscled McNeil off a 50-50 and curled a shot just over and an Alexis Mac Allister half-volley from 30 yards was claimed at the second attempt by Jordan Pickford.

But Klopp’s side were nowhere near their sharpest in the final third and that played right into Everton’s hands.

Young’s sending-off tipped the balance even further in favour of the home side but they continued to be repelled with Salah’s 52nd-minute shot blocked by James Tarkowski.

Everton’s numerical disadvantage and lack of wingers emboldened Klopp to replace left-back Kostas Tsimikas, making his first start of the season in place of the long-term injured Andy Robertson, with Diaz to allow the introduction of Darwin Nunez and Harvey Elliott.

Konate, whom Everton’s coaching staff felt should also have had a second yellow card for a foul on Calvert-Lewin’s replacement Beto, was also removed for his own good.

Keane must have wished he could have been afford the same courtesy when his outstretched arm blocked Diaz’s cross.

Dawson initially gave a corner but VAR advised him to review the pitchside monitor and he reversed his decision and Salah sent Pickford the wrong way from the spot.

Elliott and Jota both went close as the onslaught continued but it was Salah who benefited from Nunez’s quick counter-attack as he clipped home his second as Liverpool extended their record to one defeat in the last 28 derbies and Everton slumped to a sixth loss of the season.

Jordan Henderson's move to Saudi Arabia is a "massive step back" for LGBT+ equality in football.

That is the view of Paul Amann, who founded the Liverpool-backed fan group Kop Outs in 2016 to provide a voice for LGBT+ fans.

After a hugely successful 12-year spell that has seen him captain Liverpool to both Premier League and Champions League glory, Henderson joined Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq this week to play for Reds legend Steven Gerrard.

Henderson is rumoured to be earning up to £700,000 a week in the Gulf state, where it is illegal to be homosexual and LGBT+ rights are not recognised by the government.

Having been a strong supporter of LGBT+ equality while playing in the Premier League, including being a big advocate for the rainbow laces campaign, Henderson's move has been criticised by Amann, who feels the 33-year-old midfielder's relocation to Saudi Arabia will tarnish his legacy as the latest Liverpool favourite to make the transfer.

"It's a massive step back," Amann told Stats Perform. "Not least when you look at the manager who he's moving to play [under], Steven Gerrard.

"You'd like to think that it was just one or two isolated incidents. Sadly you've got Robbie Fowler taking up a managerial post other there, [Roberto] Firmino going to play [there], probably Fabinho as well as Henderson. It's not a good look.

"I'd like to think that the protests bringing to the fore human rights issues, which are the base of our complaint against why people shouldn't go there and take part in sportswashing, will make people more aware of the risks and dangers of going to support that sportswashing operation.

"Fowler, Gerrard, Hendo. They've known working class issues as people born and brought up in the north, they know why we hold the values they do. For them to run off, chase after money, it's pretty shameful."

Amann is particularly disappointed in Gerrard, who signed a two-year contract to coach Al Ettifaq in early July.

"Yes, I've lost a lot of respect for Gerrard as a person," Amann explained. "His playing legacy is secured, same as Hendo, but his personal reputation and their personal legacy – I wouldn't go out of my way to meet them as people, because they've lost a lot of stature by what they've chosen to do.

"Steven Gerrard played at LA Galaxy, alongside Robbie Rogers – another out, gay footballer. If Stevie is prepared to dump a former team-mate and the principles that they stood and lived by so readily to move to Saudi and entice other team-mates to come and play for him… it's a very weird set-up."

Amann is confident that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will, privately, be disappointed in Henderson's decision.

He said: "Jurgen has always struck me as someone who is more than skin deep on these issues, he's invested in the values we espouse as a city and as a club.

"I'd really like to think that he's thinking 'Jordan, just give your head a wobble, you don't need to be going to a place like that'."

Despite recent events, Amann is hopeful that the criticism received by the likes of Henderson will put off players and managers from making the move, much like Fulham head coach Marco Silva, who reportedly turned down a two-year deal worth £40million to join Al Hilal.

"Fortunately, there's proof that not everyone can be bought," Amann stated. "Silva has turned around and said 'No' at least twice, and that's a bit of a beacon of hope that there are more people out there with integrity, who will stand by their principles and won't think the only thing that's important is money.

"We've got to remember the vast majority of people in this world are decent, they stand by their principles and shame on those that don't."

Jordan Henderson has "sided with the oppressor" and tarnished his Liverpool legacy by joining Steven Gerrard in Saudi Arabia.

That is according to Paul Amann, the founder of Kop Outs, a Liverpool-backed fan group that was formed in 2016 to provide a voice for LGBT+ supporters.

Henderson ended his 12-year association with Liverpool this week as he joined Al Ettifaq, now coached by Reds great Gerrard, in the Saudi Pro League.

Reports have claimed Henderson is set to earn as much as £700,000 per week in the Gulf state. The Saudi regime has been denounced by many organisations and governments for violating human rights within the country.

Homosexuality is illegal, and LGBT+ rights are not recognised by the Saudi government.

Henderson was a huge proponent of the Premier League's rainbow laces campaign, and has been the face of campaigns promoting LGBT+ awareness.

But Amann has been left unimpressed by the 33-year-old.

"As a player he brought us everything," Amann told Stats Perform.

"Every trophy we could have hoped for and ever imagined. He captained us to all that.

"For him to be leaving, effectively slinking out of the back door, to go off to Saudi and chase money, after he'd professed to being such an ally, is really, really disappointing and has left lots of Kop Outs members – and even the wider Liverpool fanbase – wondering: Who was the real Jordan Henderson?

"Twelve years at Liverpool and he appeared to embody the values of the city and the club. He would speak out against the abuse of women, speak out for the ability of women to play the game and take part in wider society.

"He'd speak out for things like the food bank programme, the NHS, and for us most importantly, LGBT+ rights. Yet he's going to a country where much of that would not be allowed."

For Amann, there is no doubt Henderson has severely dented his legacy at Anfield.

"As a player, his legacy is going to live long. No doubt about that. He's won everything," he said.

"As a person, he’s rubbished his own legacy, tarnished his own image by choosing to side with the people who oppress rather than continue the battle against such oppression. He could have gone anywhere in the world if he'd wanted to.

"He had the opportunity to take up positions in this country I'm sure – he could have carried on playing at Liverpool, he would have been given an absolute hero's send-off, which he's denied himself, and he could have been celebrated and lauded until the end of time for Liverpool fans as one of the greatest captains of all time – at Liverpool or indeed anywhere.

"Instead, he's decided to side with the oppressor, slink off through the back door of Anfield, make sure there wasn’t any proper goodbye, and he's gone off to a regime that’s against all the values of Liverpool."

Asked if he had one message for Henderson, Amann said: "Don't ever presume to show allyship unless you genuinely mean it, and what you've done, is proven that your allyship is just pretence."

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters is “not too concerned” for now about Saudi Arabia’s ascendancy in football as he reasoned it takes time to become a dominant force.

Al Hilal submitted a world-record £259million offer for Paris St Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, who has 12 months left on his current deal and been given permission to speak to the Saudi club.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have already joined the country’s Pro League while Liverpool have agreed a deal with Al-Ettifaq – managed by Steven Gerrard – to sell their captain Jordan Henderson.

“Something new is obviously happening,” Masters told BBC Sport. “The Saudi Pro League have stated they want to be a top 10 league by 2030.

“They are investing in players and managers to try to raise the profile of the league and clubs.

“It has taken us 30 years to get to the position that we have in terms of profile, competitiveness and the revenue streams that we have.

“I wouldn’t be too concerned at the moment but, obviously, Saudi Arabian clubs have as much right to purchase players as any other league does.

“In the end, the Premier League is a £6billion-a-year operation in terms of revenue and that money is spent reinvested into the pitch. All good competitions have to have revenue streams to back them up.”

Michail Antonio, who almost quit Premier League side West Ham in January to join either Everton or Wolves, is a target for the lucrative Saudi Pro League.
West Ham will be keen to cash in on the 33-year-old Jamaican international, whose contract expires at the end of the 2023/24 campaign, with a fee of £10m being touted.

Antonio, who failed to find the back of the net for the Reggae Boyz during this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, would earn significantly more than his reported £85,000-a-week salary with the Hammers.

Facing the twilight years of his career, although very much part of Jamaica’s plans for the 2026 FIFA World Cup finals under head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, the London-born forward could strike it rich in the Saudi Pro League.

Steven Gerrard, the former Aston Villa and Rangers head coach, has taken over the helm at Al Ettifaq in Dammam. Last week he tempted England midfielder Jordan Henderson to the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium, but now urgently requires a top notch striker before the new season kicks off on 14 August.

It appears to be a two-horse race for Gerrard to sign either Antonio or AC Milan’s Belgium forward Divock Origi, a former Liverpool star.

West Ham would find losing Antonio a big blow, as he is their leading top-flight scorer since 1992, having bagged 61 Premier League goals since joining the club eight years ago.

Antonio notched 14 goals across 48 games in all competitions last term, with half-a-dozen scored during West Ham’s Europa Conference League triumph.

With West Ham eager to build on lifting their first European trophy since 1965, head coach David Moyes has been seeking long-term striking reinforcements should the reliable Antonio make a move. Chelsea’s Armando Broja and Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri are his shortlist.

Antonio, who has scored three times for Jamaica since making his debut in 2021, has been the preferred starter for Moyes as he has outshone team-mates Danny Ings and Gianluca Scamacca.

A lucrative move to the Saudi Pro League would keep Antonio on his toes, as some of the world’s leading players are being lured by money-making contracts.


John Barnes is unconvinced the influx of star talents into the Saudi Pro League will necessarily grow Saudi Arabian football on the world stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo's mid-season arrival at Al-Nassr after the Qatar 2022 World Cup marked the start of a dramatic influx of major players joining clubs in Saudi Arabia's top league.

Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino are among those who have made the move to the Saudi Pro League, where lucrative contracts have tempted several high-profile players.

Liverpool legend Barnes is not sure the competition's aggressive recruitment will improve their position, pointing to the past failures of the Chinese Super League and Saudi Arabia's own strong international record.

"Football has always been big all over the world, since the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s," he told Stats Perform. "Now, because of the media attention you're looking at what's going on in Saudi Arabia.

"10 years ago, people went to China, and now they're going to Saudi Arabia. But once again, like America, just getting some retired players, or players who want to go for the money to go there may not be as good.

"It's more to make the statement of being able to attract superstar players there. That's not necessarily going to grow the league and Saudi Arabia has been doing well internationally anyway.

"They qualified for the World Cup, they were the only team to beat Argentina. Once again, that's very similar to what goes on in America.

"If ex-players or players coming towards the careers want to make a lot of money, they do that. That doesn't necessarily impact the local football."

Fellow former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard is another who has made the move to the Saudi Pro League, to manage Al-Ettifaq, while Jordan Henderson is also expected to join him there.

Henderson's reported move has led to a mixed reception on Merseyside, but Gary McAllister – another former Liverpool player – believes Gerrard should be admired for stepping out of his comfort zone.

"I think Steven was close [to] a couple of jobs in the UK, and they didn't quite land for him," he added. "There was an opportunity, and the club obviously wanted him strongly.

"He's made the decision to go and have a go. I think that's something that you've got to admire. He is going to go there, and it's going to be different, it's a new adventure for him.

"But he's back in the game, and that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to get back in the game. There weren't the avenues here or across Europe. He's made the decision, and he's gone for it."

McAllister believes Saudi Arabia will continue to push and grow its sporting portfolio, but acknowledges there is a long way to go for their football system to catch up with Europe.

"Over the past 10 years, Saudi has gone big and has been able to persuade Formula One to go there," he added. "All the big heavyweight championship bouts have been brought there.

"Obviously, what's happened recently with [LIV] golf, they want to be involved in world sport. I don't think it's going to go away, I think they'll continue to try and invest in all sports right across the board.

"[But] there's a long way to go for other countries to try and take away the power of some of the great clubs that have existed for a long time.

"The game is new in Saudi, so it'll take a long time before they can actually match what happens across Europe and in South America, and even in MLS."

Liverpool’s new £60million signing Dominik Szoboszlai has taken the number eight shirt previously worn with such distinction by Steven Gerrard as the former captain is one of his inspirations.

The 22-year-old has signed a five-year contract – subject to a work permit – after a move from Bundesliga side RB Leipzig was wrapped up in a couple of days following the Reds triggering his release clause on Friday, hours before its expiration.

Szoboszlai will wear the shirt most recently vacated by Naby Keita, who was also signed from Leipzig, after his contract expired – but it is the most famous number eight to whom the midfielder looks up to.

“Of course it’s a great number, a lot of great players had this number and also I have a tattoo from Steven Gerrard, what he said (the quote is ‘Talent is a divine blessing, but without incredible will and humility, it is worth nothing’) so it was also a reason why,” he told the club’s website.

“When I was a child, to be honest I didn’t watch that much football but of course when it was Champions League or a big game, I was watching Liverpool, the big teams and also the big players – and he was one of the biggest.

“The last three or four days went really long; it was not that easy. But at the end I’m here, I’m happy and I can’t wait to get started.”

The Hungary international is the second player to arrive as part of a summer midfield rebuild following the signing of 24-year-old World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton for £35m.

He was viewed by Liverpool as a more viable option than former target Mason Mount, in whom they were interested with 12 months remaining on his contract but not at the valuation Chelsea put on him, due to his comparative value, age, versatility and potential and the relative clarity of the deal due to the release clause.

The deal was done so quickly because of the player’s keenness to move to Anfield and link up with Jurgen Klopp, of whom he has been a long-time admirer.


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“I was really happy (on hearing of Liverpool’s interest) but I stayed calm because I didn’t want to be too happy (too) early.

“As I said, I think in 2020, (Klopp is) one of the best coaches in the world. How he acts next to the pitch, it is like he plays with the guys. I like that really a lot.

“And also what he has achieved with this club is also really impressive, so I am looking forward to working with him.”

The respect is mutual as Klopp believes Szoboszlai can play a big part in the club’s future.

“We already have a little knowledge of Dominik as an opponent because we had a couple of really tough games against Red Bull Salzburg when he was a player there and I think everyone who saw those fixtures will have realised that even at that stage he was a really interesting prospect,” said the Reds boss.

“I’m pretty sure he was still a teenager at that time and since then he has made some big strides: moving to Leipzig, doing really, really well in the Bundesliga, playing for the Hungary national team and then becoming captain of his national team at an incredibly young age.

“These are proper positives and this is even before we even think about his qualities as a footballer.

“I will not say too much about them at this stage except they are definitely the kind which will hopefully bring a lot of enjoyment and also help us to get results.

“From the clubs he has been at, the leagues he has played in and the family he is part of, it is very clear that he has already had an outstanding football education, so our responsibility now is to continue this education with him as part of the Liverpool family.

“Everything about this is good news. This is a signing for our present and also for our future and the work that has gone into it could not be more appreciated.”

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