Cristiano Ronaldo does not have a clause in his Al Nassr contract that would allow him to join Newcastle United if they qualify for the Champions League, Eddie Howe has said.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo was unveiled by Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on Tuesday after signing a two-and-a-half-year deal following his Manchester United exit.

According to reports on Monday, the Portugal forward asked to be allowed to return to the Premier League with Saudi-backed Newcastle if they finished in the top four this term.

However, speaking ahead of Newcastle's clash with Arsenal, Newcastle head coach Howe denied that is the case.

"We wish Cristiano all the best in his venture, but from our point of view there's no truth in that," Howe told Sky Sports.

Ronaldo is the Champions League's all-time record scorer with 140 goals and has won the competition once with United and four times for Real Madrid.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Ronaldo effectively confirmed he will not join another European club before retiring.

"In Europe, my work is done. I won everything and played for the most important clubs in Europe," he said.

"This is a great opportunity for me [at Al Nassr], not only in football but to change the mentality of the new generation in Saudi Arabia. 

"I had many opportunities in Europe, Brazil, the United States and even Portugal, but I gave my word to this club, for the opportunity to develop football in this amazing country."

Ronaldo, who has also previously played for Sporting CP and Juventus, could make his Al Nassr debut against Al Tai on Thursday.

With a new year upon us, it's only natural to look ahead at the next 12 months and the footballers who could enjoy breakthroughs at the top level.

From one player who bears a striking resemblance to Diego Maradona, to another hoping to follow in the footsteps of Erling Haaland, Stats Perform has identified eight youngsters who could be worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

Gavin Bazunu – goalkeeper, 20, Southampton

It's been a difficult introduction to the Premier League for Bazunu. The Republic of Ireland international joined from Manchester City at the end of last season for a reported £12million, highlighting just how highly rated he is in the game.

But his 30 goals conceded (excluding own goals) have come from 21.3 expected goals on target (xGOT), which suggests Bazunu has been at fault for 8.7 goals this term – that's comfortably the worst such record in the Premier League.

Can he turn his season around and bolster Southampton's survival hopes? Bazunu has potential but is struggling to live up to it at the moment.

Devyne Rensch – full-back, 19, Ajax

With Noussair Mazraoui moving on to Bayern Munich in pre-season, Rensch has been given greater exposure to first-team football, with his 12 Eredivisie starts already four more than in the 2021-22 campaign.

He's less of an obvious attacking threat than Mazraoui, but Rensch is an elegant player, as you might expect of an Ajax academy product, and quick.

Comfortable on the ball and versatile enough to play across the back four, Rensch is a very well-rounded defender with a big future.

Giorgio Scalvini – 19, centre-back, Atalanta

Scalvini broke into the Atalanta first-team picture in 2021 as a 17-year-old. Since then, he has progressed quickly and impressively, to the extent where the club are expected to cash in on him to a significant degree in 2023.

An imposing yet classy central defender, Scalvini is very much the archetypal modern centre-back in terms of how he operates, with his 22.9 forward passes per 90 minutes this season among the very best in his role in Serie A.

Also comfortable playing in midfield, Scalvini likes to defend on the front foot as highlighted by his 2.7 tackles per 90 minutes ranking highly among centre-backs as well.

Atalanta are reportedly expecting to fetch at least €40m for him over the next year, with Inter, Juventus, Tottenham and Manchester City all said to be admirers.

Kobbie Mainoo – 17, central midfielder, Manchester United

Mainoo looks to be one of the most talented players United have produced in a while. The teenager has caused a stir with his performances in the club's youth teams over the past few years, and that has recently led to an internal promotion.

A silky central midfielder, Mainoo was a key part of the United side that won the FA Youth Cup last season.

Given his technical ability, comparisons with Paul Pogba are to be expected, though the early signs suggest Mainoo may be able to offer the deep-lying playmaking qualities the Frenchman lacked.

He signed his first professional contract in May, was named on the bench for the second time this season in the Premier League during Saturday's win at Wolves, and featured prominently for United in the World Cup break after being promoted to the senior squad.

If there's any teenager in line to follow Alejandro Garnacho in establishing himself at Old Trafford, it's Mainoo.

Andreas Schjelderup – 18, left-winger, Nordsjaelland

Martin Odegaard, Haaland... could Schjelderup be Norway's latest superstar? The early signs are extremely positive.

The 18-year-old is still waiting for his first senior cap, but he's really making a name for himself in the Danish Superliga, with his dazzling dribbling abilities and eye for a goal causing defences no end of issues.

Schjelderup's 74 dribble attempts are the second-most in the league this season, while no one has bettered his 10 goals, with the teenager very effective coming in off the left flank on to his right foot.

Benfica are reportedly one of the clubs keen on him. Wherever he ends up, 2023 looks likely to be a breakthrough year for the youngster.

Carlos Alvarez – 19, attacking midfielder, Sevilla

It takes just a few seconds to realise why Alvarez is compared to Maradona. The stature, his tucked-in jersey, the hair – then he gets on the ball and the realisation hits home even more.

Left-footed, blessed with exceptional dribbling abilities and a remarkably low centre of gravity, Alvarez looks to be the most naturally gifted player to come through Sevilla's academy since Jose Antonio Reyes, and probably beyond.

But the club have been very protective over him and his development, so much so that his 75 minutes against Juventud Torremolinos in the Copa del Rey last week were his first for the senior side.

He made his debut for their B team just a couple of weeks after his 16th birthday in August 2019, and finally it would appear his senior breakthrough has arrived, with Isco's departure certainly not hurting his cause.

Alberto Moleiro – 19, attacking midfielder, Las Palmas

A gifted young midfielder who plays for Las Palmas – the 'new Pedri' tag is almost too obvious. Moleiro tends to operate in a more advanced role, though he is clearly similarly blessed.

Skilful and a talented dribbler, Moleiro is in his second season in Las Palmas' senior side and playing a key role in their promotion push.

He's yet to score a league goal this term, but Moleiro's creativity and bravery on the ball are real assets, with only two players in the Segunda bettering his 29 chances created in open play and just three tallying more than his 70 dribble attempts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barcelona are said to be keeping tabs on him – but even if he doesn't earn a move away from the Canary Islands, it would appear there's a strong possibility he'll be in LaLiga anyway before the end of 2023 with Las Palmas top of the second tier.

Karim Konate – 18, striker, Salzburg

Salzburg's conveyor belt of striker talent has been impressive in recent years. First there was Haaland, then Karim Adeyemi, and Benjamin Sesko has already secured a big-money move to RB Leipzig for the end of the season.

Konate will hope to be the next.

Like Adeyemi and Sesko before him, Konate – a well-rounded forward who is excellent in the air – has been honing his skills at Salzburg's sister club Liefering in Austria's second tier this season, scoring 10 times in 14 league games.

He's also been featuring for Salzburg's Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League, with his five goals in six games bettered by only five players.

Konate probably won't get his chance in the senior side until next season, but with Salzburg Champions League regulars these days, he will be one to look out for.

Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr looks likely to bring the curtain down on one of the greatest careers in the history of European football.

While writing off Ronaldo is always unwise, a combination of the striker's age and the unsavoury nature of his second spell at Manchester United make a return to elite European football seem improbable.

As a five-time Champions League winner and the top scorer in the history of European football's premier club competition, Ronaldo's legacy as one of the all-time greats is secure.

However, with seven top-flight league titles and a plethora of other trophies to his name, Ronaldo's impact on the continental game went beyond his goals on the grandest club stage.

With the five-time Ballon d'Or winner heading to Riyadh after penning a reported two-and-a-half-year deal with Al Nassr, Stats Perform looks back on his seismic impact in European club football.

Ronaldo's Premier League emergence

Ronaldo's return to the Premier League may not have gone to plan – the 37-year-old only scored once in the competition this term before an explosive interview with Piers Morgan led to his Old Trafford exit.

However, the three-time Premier League winner certainly made his mark in England, scoring 103 goals in 236 top-flight games for United.

Having burst onto the scene as a tricky winger, Ronaldo recorded 37 assists in the competition for the Red Devils, who he also helped to their third European title in 2008.

He also claimed his first Ballon d'Or while in Manchester in 2008 after scoring 31 goals in their title-winning 2007-08 campaign – that single-season tally has only been bettered by three players in the competition's history.

Making history with Madrid in LaLiga

Ronaldo may be treated as a legend at United, but it was at Real Madrid where he really made his name as one of football's greatest, becoming Los Blancos' top scorer with 450 goals in all competitions.

Incredibly, the Portugal forward averaged over a goal per game throughout his trophy-laden spell in Spain, hitting the net 311 times in 292 appearances in LaLiga.

Ronaldo scored with 16 per cent of his shots for Madrid, a higher percentage than he managed in the Premier League, Serie A or the Champions League. 

Madrid may be famed for their Champions League accomplishments, but Ronaldo also helped them to two domestic title triumphs in 2011-12 and 2016-17, netting 46 times as Jose Mourinho's side earned 100 points in the first of those campaigns.

Serie A success with the Bianconeri

Given Juventus' failure to win the Champions League, few consider Ronaldo's time in Turin to be an unmitigated success. The raw numbers, however, suggest otherwise.

Managing 81 goals in 98 league appearances for a club in perpetual crisis – with a conversion rate of 15 per cent – tells the story of how Ronaldo evolved in Serie A, honing his game as the ultimate penalty-box forward in his advancing years.

Despite a tumultuous period which saw Maurizio Sarri replace Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus stretched their incredible run of Scudetto success to nine consecutive seasons.

That stint ended in Ronaldo's final full campaign at the Allianz Stadium, though he still finished as Serie A's top scorer with 29 goals. 

The Champions League master

For those who believe Ronaldo to be the greatest to have played the game, the Portugal forward's exploits in the Champions League are always the crucial factor, the trump card.

Ronaldo's record of 140 goals in the competition is unmatched, though his great rival Lionel Messi (129) may have something to say about that if he declines to follow his fellow forward's lead in exiting Europe.

Averaging almost a goal contribution per game (180 in 183 appearances), Ronaldo won an astonishing 115 games in the Champions League, lifting the trophy five times – a joint-high tally.

As Madrid cemented their status as European masters by winning three consecutive titles between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons, Ronaldo top-scored in the competition every season, cementing his legacy as the ultimate big-game player.

Cristiano Ronaldo has completed a transfer to Al Nassr.

Ronaldo was strongly linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League side after his second spell at Manchester United ended in acrimonious fashion in late November.

After falling down the pecking order at United, Ronaldo – who only scored one Premier League goal this season – told Piers Morgan he had no respect for head coach Erik ten Hag in a controversial interview.

That comment, as well as Ronaldo's declaration that United had "betrayed" him, led the Red Devils to terminate his contact shortly after the start of the World Cup in Qatar.

Al Nassr emerged as frontrunners and on Friday the 37-year-old's transfer was officially confirmed. Reports have suggested Ronaldo has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal and will earn £62million (€69.9m) per season.

"History in the making," Al Nassr tweeted.

"This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves. Welcome @Cristiano to your new home @AlNassrFC."

Ronaldo's move is seen as effectively bringing down the curtain on one of the greatest careers in the history of elite European Football.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has lifted the Champions League trophy on five occasions – four times with Real Madrid and once with United, while his tally of 140 goals is the highest recorded in Europe's premier club competition.

Ronaldo is also Madrid's all-time top scorer with 450 goals, while he became the highest-scoring player in the history of men's international football last year – he now has 118 senior goals for Portugal.

 

However, he has fallen short of those incredible standards in recent months, with a group-stage penalty against Ghana representing his only goal at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, though that did make him the first man to net at five different editions of FIFA's flagship tournament.

Having been relegated to the role of substitute for Portugal's last two games, Ronaldo maintained his unwanted record of never scoring in a knockout fixture at the World Cup before watching his great rival Lionel Messi lead Argentina to their third title.

Al Nassr are coached by former Lyon boss Rudi Garcia and count Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina among their squad.

The Riyadh-based side have won Saudi Arabia's top flight on nine occasions – a tally only bettered by Al Hilal, who have 18 titles to their name.

Cristiano Ronaldo has completed a transfer to Al Nassr.

Ronaldo was strongly linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League side after his second spell at Manchester United ended in acrimonious fashion in late November.

After falling down the pecking order at United, Ronaldo – who only scored one Premier League goal this season – told Piers Morgan he had no respect for head coach Erik ten Hag in a controversial interview.

That comment, as well as Ronaldo's declaration that United had "betrayed" him, led the Red Devils to terminate his contact shortly after the start of the World Cup in Qatar.

Al Nassr emerged as frontrunners and on Friday the 37-year-old's transfer was officially confirmed. Reports have suggested Ronaldo has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal and will earn £62million (€69.9m) per season.

"History in the making," Al Nassr tweeted.

"This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves. Welcome @Cristiano to your new home @AlNassrFC."

Ronaldo's move is seen as effectively bringing down the curtain on one of the greatest careers in the history of elite European Football.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has lifted the Champions League trophy on five occasions – four times with Real Madrid and once with United, while his tally of 140 goals is the highest recorded in Europe's premier club competition.

Ronaldo is also Madrid's all-time top scorer with 450 goals, while he became the highest-scoring player in the history of men's international football last year – he now has 118 senior goals for Portugal.

 

However, he has fallen short of those incredible standards in recent months, with a group-stage penalty against Ghana representing his only goal at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, though that did make him the first man to net at five different editions of FIFA's flagship tournament.

Having been relegated to the role of substitute for Portugal's last two games, Ronaldo maintained his unwanted record of never scoring in a knockout fixture at the World Cup before watching his great rival Lionel Messi lead Argentina to their third title.

Al Nassr are coached by former Lyon boss Rudi Garcia and count Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina among their squad.

The Riyadh-based side have won Saudi Arabia's top flight on nine occasions – a tally only bettered by Al Hilal, who have 18 titles to their name.

There is perhaps no sporting debate that captures the imagination like that concerning the identity of football's greatest ever player.

The incredible goalscoring feats of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo put them at the centre of the discussion, but what about the greats of yesteryear? 

Does the cunning of Diego Maradona or the ingenuity of Johan Cruyff make one of them the best to have played the world's most popular sport?

The ultimate reference for all those iconic players, however, is Pele. The only player to have won three World Cups, the ultimate personification of "o jogo bonito".

With tributes flooding in after the Brazil icon passed away at the age of 82, Stats Perform delves into the Selecao star's incredible career, asking how it compares to those of the game's other greats.

Pele: The World Cup's finest

While any debate over the greatest player of all time will always be subjective, nobody can deny Pele his status as the ultimate World Cup legend.

His introduction to the global stage came at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, where Brazil exercised the demons of 1950 – when they lost the final on home soil to Uruguay in what became known as the "Maracanazo" – to clinch their first title.

A 17-year-old Pele missed Brazil's first two games at the tournament, but the Santos youngster quickly made the Selecao's number 10 shirt his own after coming in for a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union.

From there, he went from strength to strength, scoring his first World Cup goal against Wales before helping himself to a hat-trick against France in the semi-finals.

As Brazil overcame the hosts 5-2 in a thrilling final, Pele – at the age of 17 years and 249 days – scored twice. Only one other teenager has ever netted in a World Cup final – Kylian Mbappe in 2018.

 

As if one outstanding World Cup campaign was not enough, Pele was key to further Selecao triumphs in 1962 and 1970 – assuming a talismanic role in what many consider to be the greatest international team in history at the latter tournament.

Pele's tally of six assists in Mexico remains the highest tally recorded at a single World Cup since records began four years earlier, and his nonchalant lay-off for Carlos Alberto to finish off a flowing team move in Brazil's final win over Italy remains one of the most iconic moments in the tournament's history.

While modern-day detractors may point to Pele's failure to test himself in Europe, his incredible record on the grandest stage of all dictates that he is remembered among the very best, and there can be no doubt as to his unmatched World Cup legacy.

Johan Cruyff: The innovator

If Pele's legacy can be measured in World Cup accomplishments, Cruyff's must be examined in a very different way.

Cruyff's unbelievable tally of 36 chances created at the 1974 World Cup may be a single-tournament record, but it was not enough for the Netherlands to avoid the first of their three final defeats at the competition.

Eight Eredivisie titles, three European Cups and one LaLiga triumph as a player does not exactly do justice to the career of football's great innovator, the man considered responsible for "total football" and by extension, every free-flowing Barcelona or Ajax team that has followed.

If Pele's is best remembered as the World Cup's greatest player, perhaps Cruyff deserves the title of football's finest pioneer.

Diego Maradona: The individualist 

No conversation about football's greatest could be complete without a mention of Maradona, the man who almost single-handedly carried Argentina to football's greatest prize with a perfect blend of skill and cunning.

Astonishingly, Maradona claimed five goals and five assists as Argentina won the 1986 World Cup – a feat no other player has accomplished since detailed data collection began in 1966.

Maradona's quarter-final brace against England, perhaps the most iconic double in history, encapsulated his on-pitch personality perfectly – a mischievous first goal being followed by a truly remarkable second.

Maradona's tendency to carry unfancied sides to success was replicated on the club stage, with his two Serie A triumphs with Napoli earning him a level of adulation that will perhaps never be matched.

A beaten finalist in 1990, not even El Diego could match Pele's World Cup exploits, but the Argentine carved out a reputation as football's finest individualist. 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo: The big-game player

Like Cruyff, neither of the final two players on our list have made their greatest impact at the World Cup, but the incredible goalscoring feats of Ronaldo ensure his place among the game's legends.

In the Champions League – arguably the true pinnacle of the modern game – no player can match Ronaldo's total of 140 goals.

Ronaldo – who scored his 700th goal in club football earlier this season – has also lifted the Champions League trophy on five occasions – a tally no other player has bettered.

The 37-year-old started off the 2022 World Cup by becoming the first male player to net in five different editions of the tournament, though he ultimately ended it in disappointment, making just 10 touches after coming on as a substitute in Portugal's quarter-final defeat to Morocco.

He has been the ultimate big-game player. Whether he is anymore is clearly up for debate. 

Lionel Messi: The Magician 

While some may prefer the efficiency and athleticism of Ronaldo, there is no sight in modern football as joyous as that of Messi slaloming through panicked defences.

Seven Ballon d'Or wins tells you all you need to know, Messi's army of fans may say, while Pep Guardiola's revolutionary Barcelona side – considered by many as the best team to ever take to the field – was built to accommodate the Argentine's incredible mix of elite finishing, dribbling and passing skills. 

 

Until the last two years, the only major blot on Messi's career was a perceived failure to replicate the feats of Maradona, with the expectations of the Argentinian public often seeming to weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the diminutive attacker.

However, having helped the Albiceleste end a 28-year wait to win the Copa America in 2021, Messi then contributed seven goals and three assists to mirror Maradona's achievement of leading Argentina to World Cup glory, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward's campaign in Qatar already regarded as one of the greatest in the tournament's rich history.

While the sight of Messi lifting the World Cup trophy at the Lusail Stadium caused some to declare any debate regarding football's greatest player to be over, the forward's age dictates he will not get the chance to equal Pele's feats on the game's grandest stage.

Everyone has a different opinion on what makes a player the greatest in history, be it their style, their goal record, or their impact on subsequent generations.

The role of football's greatest tournament will always be pivotal, however, and on that basis, Pele will always have a place among the legends of the game.

Club Brugge have sacked head coach Carl Hoefkens, despite the Belgian guiding them into the last 16 of the Champions League in his seven months in charge.

Brugge defied the odds by finishing above Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid to reach the knockout stage of the competition for the first time, where Benfica await over two legs.

However, the reigning Belgian champions have struggled domestically as they sit fourth in the league and were knocked out of the cup by Sint-Truidense last week.

Hoefkens has previously been assistant coach at Under-18, Under-21 and first-team level prior to taking over as head coach in May.

Brugge confirmed Hoefkens' exit in a statement on their official website on Tuesday.

Club CEO Vincent Mannaert said: "Carl's contribution and commitment to the club and as an assistant were greatly appreciated. 

"His part in this season's successful Champions League campaign cannot be underestimated either. 

"Our choices last summer did not deliver the desired level of play and result in the Belgian league and the Belgian cup. We are now working on the best possible succession."

Brugge are back in action on January 8 with a trip to Belgian First Division leaders Genk.

They welcome Benfica to Jan Breydel Stadium on February 15 for the first leg of their last-16 tie, before travelling to Portugal three weeks later.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is proud of his team's achievements in 2022, including reaching a Champions League final he acknowledged was not one to remember.

The Reds finished second behind Manchester City in the Premier League last season, with the title race coming down to the final day.

Liverpool also won both domestic cup competitions, beating Chelsea on penalties on each occasion at Wembley Stadium.

However, their season ended in disappointment when their league heartbreak was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid in Paris.

That match was marred by an incident outside the Stade de France, where Liverpool fans were accused of using fake tickets to access the ground and subsequently caused a bottleneck that resulted in riot police firing tear gas at spectators attempting to gain entry.

Liverpool's fans have since been cleared of any wrongdoing, and Klopp wanted to signal out the day after the Champions League final, when the Reds paraded the FA Cup and EFL Cup through the city, as the highlight of the year.

"From a sports point of view, 2022 was a pretty successful year I would say. It started with the EFL Cup final. The FA Cup final was special, I enjoyed it so much," he said in a video posted to Liverpool's website.

"Then the league was pretty spectacular. We were close again, I know that's not that much appreciated, I get that, when you come close.

"But from a coach's point of view I am pretty proud of that.

"The Champions League final, [Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut] Courtois had a pretty good day. We did quite well but it didn't feel [right] that night, it didn't feel for different reasons which we didn't know exactly directly after the game when we were already down.

"But when we heard the stories from our families what happened around the stadium, it was a clear it was a special night for the wrong reasons. So it will not be a Champions League final we will remember for the rest of our lives.

"What we will remember for the rest of our lives was the day after the Champions League final. You give your absolutely everything and you get a lot but not everything.

"If that's not worth a celebration, it would be the worst sign you can give to the outside world.

"That's why we celebrated two cup competitions, two cup wins, two big, big campaigns and that we are together and we are alive and we love each other. 

“This club is so special and if anybody didn't know it before, this day was proof of that. It was outstanding, I have no words for it. Now when I am speaking about it I get goosebumps."

Liverpool restart their season with a trip to Aston Villa on Boxing Day.

Eintracht Frankfurt chief executive Axel Hellmann claimed Cristiano Ronaldo "was even offered to us" earlier in 2022.

Ronaldo left Manchester United in November after a controversial interview with Piers Morgan signalled the end of his time with the club.

However, Ronaldo had seemingly wanted to leave United ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, with the 37-year-old eager to play Champions League football.

Eintracht chief Hellman said even the Bundesliga club, who won the Europa League last season, were offered Ronaldo as he searched for a way out of Old Trafford.

"He was also offered to us. Yes, even we were offered him," Hellman said in a documentary shown by DAZN.

Hellmann added: "I have the feeling he was offered to every Champions League club."

Ronaldo endured a poor World Cup campaign with Portugal.

Despite scoring from the penalty spot in an opening win over Ghana, becoming the first man to net at five different World Cups in the process, Ronaldo could not add to that tally.

Indeed, having started Portugal's three group matches, he was dropped to the bench by coach Fernando Santos in the knockout rounds, and had only 10 touches in what might well be his final World Cup appearance – a 1-0 defeat to Morocco.

Ronaldo is reportedly of interest to several clubs in Saudi Arabia, with Al Nassr said to be pushing to sign the striker.

Winning LaLiga this season would show Barcelona's "recovery process is on the right track", according to president Joan Laporta.

Barca have suffered from poor finances and disappointing performances on the pitch in recent years.

They last won the league title in the 2018-19 campaign, while a group-stage exit in this season's Champions League means their seven-year wait to claim Europe's top club prize for a sixth time goes on.

Barca are, however, enjoying a domestic resurgence under Xavi, who returned as coach after a legendary playing career with the club.

Xavi is Barca's eighth head coach since Pep Guardiola left in 2012 and his team led LaLiga heading into the World Cup break.

"The priority objective is LaLiga," Laporta told reporters. "Clear and low.

"The dressing room, with Xavi at the helm, is clear about it.

"We want to win LaLiga to show that the club's recovery process is on the right track."

It appears it will be a two-horse race for the title with Real Madrid, who are two points behind Barca but came out victorious when the sides met at the Santiago Bernabeu in October.

Barca will get their league campaign back underway against city rivals Espanyol on December 31.

Pep Guardiola insisted a desire to win the Champions League was not his only motivation for signing a new Manchester City contract, but he accepts the job would feel incomplete without a European triumph.

Guardiola secured an extension at City last month, keeping him at the club until the end of the 2024-25 season.

City have enjoyed vast domestic success under the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona coach, winning the Premier League four times out of the past five seasons.

However, a Champions League win has eluded them. They lost to Chelsea in the 2021 final and succumbed to Real Madrid in last season's semi-finals.

Guardiola knows it will be a blemish on his record if City cannot end their bad luck in the competition before he leaves.

"I admit it's the trophy that we want and of course it would not be complete – my period here – if we don't win it," Guardiola told reporters ahead of City's EFL Cup clash with Liverpool.

"But it's not the only reason I extended the contract, absolutely not. What does it mean if for the last 11 months we didn't play in the Champions League?

"Of course, I will do everything in this time we are together, we are going to try, as we tried before. Of course it's the trophy we don't have and we will try to do it."

City's trophy count under Guardiola stands at 11, but the 51-year-old is immensely grateful for the faith shown in him by the club's leadership.

"I said many times what I had here. Thank you so much for the confidence they have in me," he said. "It would be difficult to repay what in these many years, the board, all the people have shown me.

"It's difficult for me to reject them because of how they still want me and my staff, to try and do our best.

"I don't have enough words to express the incredible gratitude for this club."

After taking on Liverpool on Thursday, City restart their Premier League campaign against Leeds United on December 28. 

Paris Saint-Germain will challenge Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe to follow their phenomenal World Cup feats by delivering a Champions League title in the new year.

The Qatar-owned club have European glory in their sights, and a difficult last-16 tie against Bayern Munich awaits them, with games against the German champions coming up in February and March.

After seeing Mbappe win the Golden Boot as top scorer, and Messi take the Golden Ball prize as the outstanding player, PSG undoubtedly had a strong World Cup.

The sight of Mbappe and Messi in opposition with France and Argentina, as they were in Sunday's World Cup final, will soon be replaced by them uniting on the field, possibly even by the end of the month.

PSG have a Ligue 1 game against Strasbourg on December 28, and it remains to be seen whether coach Christophe Galtier will have both men available for that game, given Messi is heading back to celebrate in Argentina in the coming days.

In a string of messages on social media, PSG addressed the two chief protagonists in the final, in which Messi scored twice and lifted the trophy, while Mbappe hit a hat-trick but finished on the beaten side.

"An extraordinary final from our two Parisians," the club said. "One of them had to win. You'll forever go down in footballing history, @leomessi.

"What a final! Bravo @leomessi, thank you @k.mbappe for all these emotions. You have been heroic. You have marked this World Cup with your talent. You should be proud."

Whatever French envy there might be towards Messi should soon subside, with a photograph of Mbappe and Messi touching hands during the game receiving plenty of love from PSG's players.

Club-mates Nuno Mendes and Danilo Pereira both posted the picture, adding emojis of applauding hands.

Midfield stalwart Marco Verratti addressed Messi's success, writing on Instagram: "You deserve it friend. Congratulations."

To Mbappe, Verratti wrote: "Head high. You showed the whole world that you're a phenomenon."

"Congratulations" was the message from defender Juan Bernat to Messi, and "Bravo to you too" he said to Mbappe.

Former PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino praised Argentina coach Scaloni, saying in a message to his compatriot: "Congratulations Lionel. Thank you!"

Addressing Messi, Pochettino added: "Deserved @leomessi. Thank you!"

PSG have never won the Champions League, and it is the footballing holy grail for them now, with each incoming coach knowing winning domestic silverware alone is not considered to be fulfilling the remit of the job.

They went closest in 2020, losing out in the final to Bayern, for whom Frenchman Kingsley Coman scored the only goal in Lisbon. Coman was one of two France players to fail from the spot in Sunday's World Cup penalty shoot-out, along with Aurelien Tchouameni.

Given the outstanding form that Messi and Mbappe have shown over the last month, PSG may never be better placed to strike for continental trophy glory.

Yet there is another matter brewing, which is that Messi and Mbappe may be in the final throes of their club alliance.

With Messi's two-year contract at PSG due to expire at the end of this season, removing uncertainty over his future might become as great a priority as the next trophy.

President Nasser Al-Khelaifi said in early December the matter would be discussed after the World Cup, with Messi having been linked with a possible end-of-season switch to Inter Miami.

Gary Lineker has outlined his hope Gareth Southgate remains with England, comparing their lack of World Cup success to Manchester City's failure to win the Champions League.

Southgate is considering his future after overseeing England's quarter-final exit against France, in which Harry Kane scored one penalty and missed another.

The Three Lions manager masterminded runs to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the final of Euro 2020, but he has attracted criticism for failing to end the team's 56-year trophy drought. 

However, former England striker Lineker believes Southgate's achievements mean he deserves the opportunity to make his own decision on his future.

"I do hope Gareth stays. I think it's right that the decision is down to him," Lineker told BBC Sport. "He's done a really good job, you've got to consider where we were a few years ago.

"Everyone thinks it's an easy job and everyone thinks: 'I'd have played him and not him, or brought him on earlier and not him'. It's very easy in hindsight.

"I think Gareth has done a really good job. The only thing you'd say about him is sometimes he hasn't changed things dramatically in games where it's not going well. 

"It's very easy to be judgemental but World Cups are not leagues. In a league, the best team always wins. In a World Cup, it's a knockout."

England won praise for a series of positive displays in Qatar, recording their highest goal tally (13) at any major tournament (World Cup or European Championships).

England also had 57 per cent possession and managed twice as many shots as France (16 to eight) in their last-eight loss, leading Lineker to compare them to Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions.

Despite winning four Premier League titles in the past five seasons, City have suffered several shock eliminations from the Champions League under Guardiola, which Lineker says is proof knockout football does not always reward the best team. 

"Take Manchester City, probably the best club side in the world, but they haven't won the Champions League and they haven't won it under Pep Guardiola, who is the best coach in the world," he added.

"No one would say, 'let's get Pep out because we haven't won the Champions League', because that would be madness. 

"We haven't won the World Cup but we're going in the right direction. England are playing really good, attractive football with lots of exciting young players. Why would you mess with it now?"

Southgate must now weigh up whether to remain in charge for England's Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, which begins with a trip to Italy on March 23.

The European Super League remains "very much alive" despite the latest legal setback, claims the chief executive of the company behind the breakaway.

Bernd Reichart, the CEO of A22 Sports Management, was speaking at an economic forum event in Spain attended by Real Madrid and Barcelona presidents Florentino Perez and Joan Laporta.

The two clubs, who along with Juventus are the holdouts of the 2021 attempt, saw an argument that UEFA's governance is an illegal monopoly on continental football struck down by the European Court of Justice on Thursday.

But Reichart has refuted the idea the competition's hopes of coming to fruition are at an end, pointing out the ruling is non-binding, with a final decision due next year.

"The Super League isn't dead, not at all, it's very much alive," he said. "We'll keep working until the judgement.

"We are still convinced that UEFA can't be everything at once. They organise the competition, they regulate the competition, and at the same time they control access to the market.

The Premier League has welcomed a declaration from the European Union Court of Justice (CJEU) that attempts to sanction European Super League clubs would be legal.

On Thursday, CJEU advocate general Athanasios Rantos dealt a blow to the Super League's supporters – including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus – stating UEFA and FIFA would be acting lawfully by preventing clubs from participating in third-party competitions.

With a judgement expected in the new year, Rantos was responding to a request by a Madrid court for a ruling on whether the governing bodies could take action in accordance with competition law and fundamental freedoms.

Supporters of the Super League had argued sanctions would be incompatible with EU competition law.

But UEFA described Rantos' opinion as "an encouraging step towards preserving the existing dynamic and democratic governance structure of the European football pyramid."

Both FIFA and the European Club Association – of which Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are no longer members – have also welcomed the message.

The Premier League echoed those thoughts in a statement on Thursday, outlining its continued support for open, merit-based access to European competitions. 

"We share the advocate general's clear view that open access is fundamental to European club football," the statement read.

"Further to today's opinion, the Premier League reiterates its commitment to the principles underpinning the current balance of domestic and European competitions including open access, annual merit-based qualification from domestic leagues for European club competitions, weekends reserved for domestic football and substantial solidarity funding for football development.

"The fans' voice regarding the essential nature of sporting integrity has been heard.

"Above all, the focus of Premier League clubs is on improving the collective strength and competitiveness of the league in the best interests of the wider game.

"The Premier League will continue to engage in an open dialogue, with all relevant stakeholders, about how best to protect the complementary balance between domestic and European club football."

Each of the six English clubs involved in the Super League's ill-fated launch last year withdrew their support amid fierce opposition from supporters, players and the media.

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