Paris Saint-Germain academy graduate Yacine Adli is set to become Unai Emery’s first signing for Arsenal, a source close to the French club has told ESPN FC.
According to the source, Adli will sign an initial three-year contract with Arsenal after rejecting a better offer, on paper, from PSG.
Adli, 17, was being tracked by Arsenal’s head of recruitment Sven Mislintat as early as March, when a source close to PSG revealed that Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were also keen, but he was expected to sign professional terms in Paris until recently.
Emery has helped to persuade the midfielder to leave Parc des Princes for Emirates Stadium, just weeks after handing him his senior professional debut towards the end of a goalless Ligue 1 draw away at Caen.
The France youth international is highly rated at PSG and they have been trying to persuade him to sign professional terms for months, but like Manchester City-bound Claudio Gomes, they have failed to convince him and now the teenager is set to reunite with Emery in London.
Adli, like Gomes, was unconvinced by PSG’s future plans for him, while Emery and Mislintat’s promise of significant game time, long-standing interest and good relationship with agent Moussa Sissoko swung the player in their favour.
His eight minutes as a substitute in Caen look likely to remain his sum total at professional level with *PSG*, who have lost another *highly rated young player* for a nominal fee.
New PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has already demanded an in-depth look at the youth academy and following this latest setback, *ESPN FC has been told that* sporting director Luis Fernandez is likely to face some serious questions.
Elsewhere, Tuchel’s backroom team continues to take shape with former RB Leipzig assistant manager Zsolt Low and long-time collaborator Arno Michels joining the German in Paris.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.
Fernandinho has questioned the treatment of Raheem Sterling and defended the forward as one of the biggest contributors to Manchester City’s success over the past 12 months.
Sterling, 23, was this week criticised when he shared a photo of him with a tattoo of a gun on his right leg and has since insisted it has a “deeper meaning” because of his vow “never to touch a gun” after his father was shot dead when he was a boy.
His City teammate Fernandinho believes the criticism owes to an agenda against him.
He is with Brazil as they prepare for the World Cup in Russia, but the controversy surrounding Sterling has not escaped his attention at the end of a season in which they both contributed so much to City winning the Premier League.
“I don’t know why the people treat him like that,” the 33-year-old said. “I’m glad because we have him. He’s a lovely guy and he never gives up, even with a lot of criticism about him and his football.
“He’s one of our top players. He decided so many games for us this season, was so important for us.
“They write about him and you can see some pursue it against him. He’s a lovely guy, nice guy, and every day he’s up, he’s happy, and I’m so glad to share the dressing room with him.”
Brazil on Sunday face Croatia in a friendly at Anfield, where Philippe Coutinho is expected to feature for the first time since his £142million January transfer to Barcelona, a prospect Fernandinho revealed he is relishing.
“He’s looking forward to going back to Anfield, to Liverpool,” he said. “He played there for five years and showed his quality all the way through his time there.
“He’s looking forward to that because he had so many good moments there and played so many good games over there, and he’s going to be very happy to go back to Anfield.”
Former Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez said it seemed like Real Madrid’s opponents were under a “curse” as they claimed a third consecutive Champions League trophy.
In a private Whatsapp audio message that was obtained and broadcast by Catalan radio show “El Penalti,” Xavi pointed to key opponents being injured and refereeing decisions that had helped Zinedine Zidane’s side as they moved past Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Bayern Munich to the final against Liverpool — when the Reds’ key player Mohamed Salah left injured and goalkeeper Loris Karius made two costly mistakes as Los Blancos won 3-1 in Kiev.
“Real Madrid had everything go their way,” the Al Sadd playmaker said. “Injuries like Neymar, [Arjen] Robben, [Jerome] Boateng, the referees, Liverpool’s most important player [Mohamed Salah] getting injured, mistakes from the Bayern and Liverpool goalkeepers. It is like a curse.”
Xavi has continued to publicly defend Barca’s interests after leaving the Camp Nou in 2015, but this time admitted that in recent years Madrid had a “winning gene” in Europe especially, while Barca’s transfer decision-makers had been “sleeping” and “did not know what they are doing.”
He said: “Madrid have this winning gene and Barca have slept, for years, when it comes to signings. Those who make the signings do not know what they are doing, and you pay for that. It seems Barca win [La Liga] titles, but the others [Madrid] are winning the Champions League.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan
Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka suffered an injury scare after he hurt his knee during a training session on Thursday, but an scan showed he only has a bruise.
The Arsenal man sustained an injury to his left knee in a challenge while training in heavy rain with his international teammates in Lugano, the Swiss Football Federation said.
He was not taken to hospital, but was assessed and treated by the team doctors and an MRI showed it will not endanger his World Cup participation.
He will miss Sunday’s friendly with Spain, but is not a doubt for the World Cup but could be back for Swizerland’s second warm-up match against Japan, with their World Cup campaign starting against five-time champions Brazil on June 17.
“I’m very relieved,” Xhaka said on the Swiss FA website.
The 25-year-old has struggled to win over the Arsenal fans since his move from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016 but is an integral member of the Switzerland side.
Former Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell wants to see new Gunners boss Unai Emery carry on Arsene Wenger’s legacy of developing young players — but warned that the club’s academy prospects will have to get used to a new system under the Spaniard.
Campbell came up through Arsenal’s academy himself before making his first-team debut under George Graham in 1988, and has been encouraged by Emery’s track record when it comes to bringing through young talents at his previous clubs.
Emery is already adding to Arsenal’s talent pool as well, with a source telling ESPN FC that he is close to signing 17-year-old Paris Saint-Germain prospect Yacine Adli.
Bringing academy prospects into the first team was one of Wenger’s hallmarks, and Campbell said it’s vital that tradition continues under Emery.
“It’s very important to recognise talent and to give that talent a chance,” said Campbell. “There are some good young players who are on the verge of breaking through, so it’s going to be really interesting to see how Unai Emery integrates those young players.
“They’ve got huge talent, but it’s getting them over that hump to be a regular that is vital. But Unai Emery has done it before.”
Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are among the recent academy graduates to establish themselves as first-team regulars, while teenagers Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock also saw plenty of playing time last season for the Gunners.
Wenger often spoke of the risks modern managers have to take when bringing in young talents at a time when fans want to see expensive new signings instead.
But Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis made it clear during the search for Wenger’s successor that he wants the newcomer to make youth development a priority, and Campbell doesn’t think Emery will be afraid to gamble on a teenager.
“He’s going to be around them every day and he’s going to know what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said.
“What’s the point of having these youngsters if you’re not going to use them? If you believe they’re good enough, then they’re old enough. Age shouldn’t matter, it should be the talent.
“Emery is the main man now, he sets the tone for the club, he sets the game plan. And if the game plan is to improve the youngsters, so be it. Fingers crossed that the youngsters get more opportunities to perform.”
The Arsenal academy is also undergoing changes this summer as former captain Per Mertesacker is taking over as director following his retirement as a player.
But the biggest change will be to adapt to Emery’s style of play, which will have to be adopted by the youth teams as well, Campbell believes.
“I think the manager is the one who sets up how the youth teams perform. I think it all comes from the manager,” he said.
“When George Graham was the manager, he set up that football club from the youth team to the reserve team to the first team, everybody playing the same way, everybody working in the same system.
“So when you moved from the academy to the first team you knew what to do because it was the same. The game plan and blueprint will come from the manager.
“After that, Mertesacker just has to implement it. And I think he’ll be able to do that, because he seems like an intelligent guy.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.
After an enthralling summer last year, which saw AC Milan sign 11 new players, expectations and optimism at the club were high. However, the Rossoneri weren’t able to live up to the enthusiasm generated by their off-the-field activity after finishing sixth in Serie A again while ending up trophyless.
With a crucial summer ahead to ensure they don’t fall short next season, there are key factors that will need to be sorted out in the squad in order to put Gennaro Gattuso in the best possible position to oversee progression.
While the hearing with UEFA’s adjudicatory chamber looms large next month after the governing body rejected the option of a Settlement Agreement, it remains to be seen how that impacts Milan’s plans this time round too.
Sort out Gianluigi Donnarumma’s future
After the furore caused by his initial decision to turn down a new contract offer last summer, speculation remains rife over the 19-year-old’s future at the club.
The subsequent fierce backlash from supporters perhaps played a role in his decision to perform a U-turn and remain, and for the most part, Donnarumma slowly silenced his critics during the season albeit without ever really repairing his relationship with some fans entirely.
Whether it’s confirmation that he remains fully committed to Milan and will stay, or if it’s an eventual exit if a significant offer arrives, Milan need to clarify the situation. Particularly with Pepe Reina arriving this summer, question marks still remain over if he’s a replacement for Donnarumma or additional competition.
Don’t entertain offers for Alessio Romagnoli
Since he joined in 2015, Milan supporters have been fully aware of the special talent that they’ve got in the heart of their defence in Romagnoli, and they’ll be desperate to see him stay at the club for the foreseeable future.
Still only 23, he enjoyed another impressive campaign this past year and he’ll only improve with further experience and maturity to firmly establish himself as a stalwart in the side.
In turn, regardless of any potential offers put on the table this summer even if it’s a sizeable bid, Romagnoli is one player that Milan shouldn’t even be considering as a sellable asset such is his importance to the side currently and the influence he could have in our pursuit of success moving forward.
Don’t loan or sell Manuel Locatelli
Following the arrival of Lucas Biglia last summer, the 20-year-old unsurprisingly struggled for regular playing time. Although he made 33 appearances in all competitions, he was predominantly used as a reserve option and failed to get regular minutes to prove his worth to Gattuso.
Particularly with veteran Riccardo Montolivo failing to have a positive impact on the side, Locatelli should be given a more important role next season as the top alternative to Biglia.
With that in mind, a loan exit or permanent deal should not be an option for the youngster as he can certainly offer much more next year especially in games where Milan will dominate possession and need more creativity in midfield.
Give Andre Silva another year to prove himself
Despite being one of the standout signings last summer, the Portuguese international struggled in his first year in Italy.
That was perhaps to be expected, as at just 22, he had to adapt to a new league, teammates and culture while trying to live up to lofty expectations set during his spell with Porto and for his national team.
A return of 10 goals in 40 appearances ensured he didn’t make the greatest of first impressions, but evidently he possesses a lot of talent and can offer so much more. Having had a year to settle and to adapt to life at Milan, they’d arguably be well advised to give him another season to prove his worth as he looks to enjoy a positive World Cup this summer and boost his confidence.
Sign three new players to address key issues
A lack of alternatives in midfield, particularly for Franck Kessie to replace his physicality and powerful runs forward, coupled with no pace in the wide positions and the absence of a prolific forward, Milan’s issues this past season were evident.
Those are three areas that they’ll have to prioritise this summer in order to take the next step and compete for the Champions League qualification places next season.
Gattuso has players with plenty of technical quality at his disposal already in the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso, but without players capable of changing the tempo and switching through the gears, they can become predictable and too slow with their attacks which makes reinforcements in these areas crucial.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.
Liverpool came within touching distance of glory in Kiev. Reaching the Champions League final was an unexpected bonus in an uplifting season, but maintaining forward momentum will be Jurgen Klopp’s biggest challenge over the summer and into the 2018-19 campaign.
Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory exposed some of Anfield’s lurking flaws, many of which will get addressed in the next few weeks. The acquisition of Fabinho from AS Monaco for £39 million is a statement of intent. Revamping the midfield is high on the list of Klopp’s priorities.
Four years ago, Liverpool had another flirtation with success when Brendan Rodgers’ side got themselves into position to win the Premier League title only to fall apart in the final week of the campaign. What happened next is instructive: the club sold Luis Suarez, their best and most influential player and bought badly in trying to replace the Barcelona-bound striker. The subsequent season was a disappointment. They fell out of the top four and Rodgers was sacked 17 months after leading the team to second place in the league.
There is no chance that Mohamed Salah will depart Merseyside in this transfer window, and Klopp will keep his key men in place. There is, however, an element of hubris lurking around the corridors of Anfield.
In the run-up to Kiev, John W Henry, the principal owner, expressed his confusion that players like Suarez and Philippe Coutinho should want to leave Liverpool for the Nou Camp.
“The club is so rich in history and tradition, supported by so many millions around the world, in virtually every country of the world,” Henry told the Press Association. “You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona.”
The only way to keep players at clubs is by winning trophies or paying top-notch wages. The best teams, like Real and Barca, do both. Liverpool currently do neither. History is nice, but it means little to men like Salah or potential recruits. Reaching the Champions League final is a useful tool when trying to entice players to Anfield, but Kiev is already in the past.
And so, there are lessons to be learned. Loris Karius underlined, in the most graphic manner, that a better goalkeeper is needed, though the club’s problems in this position predate the Klopp era. Pepe Reina was allowed to leave four years ago because it was considered that his £110,000 a week wages were too expensive for a goalkeeper. He was replaced by Simon Mignolet, cutting two-thirds off that cost, but it turned out to be a false economy given Liverpool’s goalkeeping problems since then.
The back four is a work in progress, but Klopp can take some satisfaction in the development of his defence. Virgil van Dijk has had an enormous effect. Dejan Lovren hopefully reached a nadir last year in the 4-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley and should never plumb those depths again. It took the German manager a long time to warm to Andy Robertson, but the Scot has been impressive at left-back since December. Trent Alexander-Arnold, on the other flank, has great potential. The 19-year-old is not quite ready for the level of competition he experienced in the past few months, but Alexander-Arnold and Nathaniel Clyne give Klopp options on the right.
In an ideal world, Liverpool’s midfield trio in Kiev would all be squad players. James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum each has plenty to recommend them, but they struggled to challenge Real once the La Liga side imposed their pace on the match.
Naby Keita finally arrives from Red Bull Leipzig this summer and will likely line up alongside Fabinho. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provides another option, but Klopp is still in the market for a midfielder, so the centre of the park should have a very different look next season. It is an area where Liverpool need to be much more dynamic and mobile.
The front three have been the clear catalyst for Anfield’s fine year. Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane produced thrilling, joyous football, with their work-rate and appetite nothing short of incredible. They peaked as a unit a month too early, however, never quite recovering their zest after the 5-2 rout of Roma in April. Klopp must find a way to keep them fresh until the last ball is kicked in a season.
When he needed to replace Salah in Kiev, the paucity of options on the bench was clear to the 50-year-old. Liverpool’s squad is thin, especially up front. The point was emphasised when Klopp’s team were chasing the game in the final moments. Needing goals, Dominic Solanke was the only striker available and the 20-year-old remained seated as time dribbled away. There was no one among Liverpool’s substitutes who could make life difficult for Real.
With a deeper squad, Klopp will have more tactical flexibility. His team have been at their most effective when they dictate the tempo of games. They excel in chaotic matches in which opponents are unnerved by Liverpool’s speed. When things slow down and good teams impose their own pattern on proceedings, as Real did in Kiev, belief slips away.
Rival managers are already working on how to take the sting out of Liverpool’s front three; therefore, Klopp needs to be more creative with his strategies and more adaptable when games begin to get away from his team.
The charge to Kiev showed what Liverpool are capable of achieving, though the final itself also unearthed the weaknesses that have the potential to stop them reaching the heights that appear to be within arm’s reach. Much work needs to be carried out this summer if Liverpool want a quick return to the Champions League final.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.
Christian Pulisic’s father says speculation the young American star could move to the Premier League is “hogwash,” and told Sky Sports his son plans to return to Borussia Dortmund — at least for next season.
The 19-year-old has long been linked with a move to either Liverpool or Manchester United in the future, and the Telegraph reported this week that Tottenham are considering adding the U.S. international as well.
But his father, Mark Pulisic, told Sky on Tuesday that no “concrete” talks have taken place over any potential transfer.
“He was linked to Tottenham. Last week it was Liverpool. The week before Man United. The week before this… it’s hogwash,” Mark Pulisic told Sky Sports.
“He’s linked with a different club every week. I have no idea. His agent right now is working and looking, in close relation with me and Christian, and we’re just trying to see what the best phase of his next development will be.
“Now is the time that the season has just ended that we’ll sit down with Dortmund, we’ll sit down with, I don’t know whether other clubs are in the mix, [and see what] Dortmund’s idea is and their plans for Christian.
“But there’s nothing concrete. Right now, Christian plays for Dortmund and that’s where he is planning on playing again next year.”
“I think the Premier League is a league he’s always aspired to be in and play in,” the elder Pulisic said. “As a player nowadays, there are so few players staying at one club throughout a career. The chances of him moving to different clubs and different leagues is a high probability.”
Christian Pulisic will not turn 20 until December but he has already played in 70 Bundesliga games with Dortmund over the past three seasons, scoring nine league goals.
But his father said there’s no easy way to tell if Dortmund is still the best place for his son.
“You kind of have to go with the flow and make sure the player feels comfortable, whatever the decision is. There’s no magic formula,” he said. “Is it right to stay at Dortmund? Who knows. Is it right to move to another club? He might think it is, or someone else might think it is, but it might not be in part of his mind.
“The only thing we can do is continue to talk with him and make sure he’s always in the loop of what’s going on, present all the facts and the content of what can happen, or will happen. It’s up to the player to make that final call.”
Ex-Chelsea chairman Ken Bates has accused former youth team footballers who have claimed they were racially abused at the club in the 1990s of telling their stories because “the sniff of money is in the air” and criticised them for not revealing their identities.
Chelsea face legal claims from seven former youth-teamers in relation to an alleged culture of “continued racist bullying and abuse” propagated by former coaches Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams in the 1980s and 1990s, during Bates’ time as chairman.
Both Rix and Williams have denied the allegations.
“I thought: ‘How are we going to make any progress?’ These people have to reveal their identities … and, without being unkind, what did they do it about at the time?” he said.
“If I’d been racially abused I would have told my dad and expected him to support me. Or I could have left the club and joined another one.
“It’s all very well to say: ‘Oh well, I didn’t want to say anything or do anything because it might have harmed my career,’ but if you’ve got the ability there were plenty of other clubs snapping up young black kids.
“The sniff of money is in the air and I think in view of all the terrible miscarriages of justice over allegations of varied abuse — sexual, racial, etc — it’s time people should take a tough line.
“OK, name the people. Name the times. What was actually said? What was your response? This is trial by smear and it’s not good enough.”
Asked whether he believed the allegations, Bates said: “Obviously I’m keeping an open mind about it.”
Dino Nocivelli, a solicitor representing a number of complainants, told The Guardian: “Bates’s comments are truly shameful.
“For far too long, my clients felt they would not be believed and that the club would side with Rix and Williams, two coaches who held extensive power at Chelsea and over their football careers.
“My clients take particular offence at Bates criticising them for failing to disclose their identities and for these ‘ancient coming-outs.’
“The only thing my clients wanted to do as children was to play football and achieve their dream of becoming professional footballers. Instead, they suffered an alleged daily nightmare.
“These children are now men and, though it may feel ‘ancient’ to Bates, the pain and suffering these men feel is real and continues to the current day. My clients want the truth finally to be exposed.”
The allegations against Rix relate to his time as youth-team coach. He is accused of persistently directing racist insults towards black players under his authority, while it has been claimed he punched, kicked and threw a cup of coffee into the face of one player who challenged him.
Williams, a friend of Bates, served as chief scout and assistant manager during a 27-year spell at Chelsea, and it is claimed he subjected players to sustained racist abuse.
Chelsea have asked children’s charity Barnardo’s to oversee an independent investigation into the allegations, while the club have also notified the Football Association and the police.
The former players have been supplied with contact details for the Sporting Chance clinic, who are able to provide professional counselling.
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.
Isco, who signed a new contract in September, with his release clause rising to €700 million, started as Real Madrid won the Champions League for a third season in succession by beating Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev.
“When a team wins three consecutive Champions Leagues, four in five years, it’s because they’re a spectacular team,” Guardiola said.
“The Champions League is a really, really tough competition — staying in it depends on a lot of things. If all these things are with you for three straight years, it’s because you’re in control of them.
“The demonstration of that can be seen in Madrid after Liverpool’s equaliser. The next 10 to 15 minutes, when Liverpool were boosted by the equaliser, is when Madrid were at their best.
“They control these knockout and one-off games and I take my hat off to them. To win three Champions Leagues in a row shows the quality of the team, the coach, the club … as for everyone else, try to make sure now they don’t win a fourth.”
Despite their dominance on the European stage, Madrid and coach Zinedine Zidane have faced criticism from some quarters, with some pundits suggesting their success was not deserved.
But Guardiola said: “There’s not much more you can add — he’s done a spectacular job. What does it matter if it has been deserved or not?
“They’ve won the Champions League, and we have to congratulate them because it’s a difficult competition to win.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.
Vinicius Junior chose to sign with Real Madrid over fierce rivals Barcelona “because it’s the biggest club,” the highly touted teenager told ESPN Brazil.
Last year, Real beat a number of suitors including Barca to sign a 16-year-old Vinicius — who has been called the “NextNeymar” — for a record €45 million fee, despite the youth standout having yet to play a senior match with Flamengo.
Considered the eventual heir to the PSG superstar with the national team, the Rio de Janeiro native can not officially join Los Blancos until he turns 18 in mid-July, but he told ESPN Brazil on Wednesday why he selected the 13-time European champions over the Catalans.
“I chose Real Madrid because it’s the biggest club,” the forward told the outlet. “I’ve always chosen to play among the best, and with help from Marcelo and Casemiro, I made that choice.”
Asked how fellow Brazilians Marcelo and Casemiro recruited him, Vinicius added: “They messaged me, called me … always saying that the best have to play with the best.
“I admire Marcelo a lot, and also Casemiro. I’ve always admired them both, I always followed them and now they helped me to choose Madrid, which so far has been great for me.”
At just 17, Vinicius has been a driving force behind Flamengo’s strong start to the season, scoring six goals and providing three assists in 11 league and Copa Libertadores matches thus far.
His decisive form has sparked discussion on whether he will join Real after his birthday this summer or remain with Flamengo on loan to continue his development.
“For me, it would be best to adapt as quickly as possible,” he said, when asked about going to Spain. “There, the dynamics of the game are different from Brazil.
“Everything Real Madrid has offered me, I’ll choose the best option together with my agent and Flamengo, not only thinking about the present but thinking ahead, on how much I’ll evolve and get the experience I need, whether it is here at Flamengo or leaving.”
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.
Usain Bolt is training with Norwegian side Stromsgodset with a view to becoming a professional footballer, Verdens Gang report.
The 31-year-old Jamaican, who won eight Olympic gold medals, trained with the club in Drammen, 40km south-west of Oslo, on Wednesday and hopes to play in a friendly against the club’s under-19 side.
“I want to try to get better, to work as hard as I can, play as much as I can. Maybe a club will see something and decide to give me a chance,” said Bolt, who retired from athletics last year.
Bolt has been given the shirt number 9.58 — his world record time for the 100 metres — to wear during his time at the club and Stromsgodset sporting director Jostein Flo said that he may get a chance to play in a game to show what he can do.
He added that the Stromsgodset players were surprised to find the world’s fastest man in their dressing room.
“We told them a player was coming to try out and that he was damn fast — the door opened, and Bolt came in. It was a shock for them, they couldn’t believe it.”
Cristiano Ronaldo’s overhead kick against Juventus in this season’s Champions League quarterfinals was better than Gareth Bale’s against Liverpool in the final, according to UEFA’s Technical Observers.
The task of deciding which of the two strikes was better went to UEFA’s team of Technical Observers who compiled their best 10 goals of the 2017-18 Champions League season. And they chose Ronaldo’s effort as No. 1, saying it was “an extraordinary display of technique and athleticism.”
Bale’s strike came second on the list drawn up by the experts, who described it as “the crucial goal to make it 2-1 in the final, another brilliant acrobatic finish.”
The UEFA committee is made up of former West Ham, Manchester United and Everton manager David Moyes, ex-Roma and Inter Milan defender Cristian Chivu, current Latvia national team coach Mixu Paatelainen, former Werder Bremen player and coach Thomas Schaaf, ex-Poland national manager Jerzy Engel and Dane Peter Rudbæk. The same group chose Bale as man of the match in Saturday’s game due to his decisive impact off the bench.
Both Ronaldo and Bale have a second goal on the list, with Bale’s side-footed volley in September’s group stage win at Borussia Dortmund rated No. 6, and Ronaldo’s long-ranger in December’s return meeting with Dortmund in at No. 10.
Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain’s clever strike in the round of 16 second leg against Tottenham was rated the third best goal of the season in the competition, while another bicycle kick from Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann against Roma in the group stages was chosen as No. 4.
Also on the list were Roma’s Edin Dzeko’s volley against Chelsea [No. 5], Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred’s free kick against Roma [No. 7], Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne’s belter versus Shakhtar [No. 8] and Lorenzo Insigne’s long-ranger also against Shakhtar [No. 9].
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan
With two trophies collected and celebrations concluded, Juventus have begun their work on the transfer market. So many names have already been linked to the Turin giants, and while many expect them to buy stars to satisfy their coach and ensure progression on the field, certain players also are being linked with a move away.
It perhaps came as no surprise to many that when Tite announced his 23-man Brazil squad for the World Cup, Alex Sandro wasn’t on the list. The full-back’s performances have been far from perfect this season, and he has struggled to replicate the monstrous form he exhibited the season before, when Juve reached the Champions League final.
The player proved particularly woeful at the start of the season, and even Massimiliano Allegri admitted his disappointment. It was thought that Alex Sandro, unhappy with having not been sold over the summer, was expressing his discontent on the pitch via lethargic and nonchalant performances. However, CEO Giuseppe Marotta reminded those asking the questions that whoever asks to leave the club will be allowed to leave with their blessing. Juventus do not wish to keep anyone who doesn’t want to stay, fearing the impact that would have over the harmony inside the dressing room.
“In the case of Alex Sandro, he was in full agreement with the idea of remaining with us. His performances are down to his own personal issues that we won’t go into here,” Marotta explained.
Fast-forward to February and Alex Sandro had improved, producing a man-of-the-match performance against Torino. La Gazzetta dello Sport and other media outlets in Italy were quick to note the positive effect Allegri has had on his player, encouraging him to display his real abilities on the pitch in a private conversation between the two.
According to la Gazzetta, Allegri reminded the Brazilian that he could give Juventus so much more: “Think solely of training seriously and remaining calm and you will soon return to your normal levels.”
It was interesting, then, that Brazilian journalist Claudia Garcia should come out and insist to Rai Sport that Sandro would consider renewing his contract only if Allegri leaves: “They have certainly not enjoyed an idyllic relationship in the last few years.”
Allegri hasn’t always enjoyed perfect relationships with his players, and many have sought to move on during his time at Milan and Juve, but the tactician believes in Alex Sandro, so much so that he tried to change his role in order to allow him more freedom to express his abilities.
Pushed further up the pitch in a more attacking role, Allegri experimented with Alex Sandro’s positioning in hopes of provoking better performances. For his part, Alex Sandro tried to master what was required of him in these new roles, but in the end, he succumbed to tactical confusion. It takes time to learn how to operate and what to prioritise when moved to another position, but in Allegri he has a fan, even if the feeling might not be mutual.
Perhaps a fresh start is what the player hopes for, especially considering the disappointment at not being called up by Brazil for the World Cup. It was assumed by experts that Tite was looking to include players who offered an alternative to his starters, and since Marcelo is more effective going forward than defending, much like Alex Sandro, the alternative needed to be a more cautious player, and thus Filipe Luis was chosen.
It remains to be seen just how unhappy Alex Sandro really is at Juventus and with Allegri. He’s certainly not short of suitors, especially in the Premier League. Young, technical and fond of a quiet life, Alex Sandro wants to succeed, but before he makes any big decisions, he should remind himself what he will give up if he leaves Juventus.
One need only look at how much success the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata have found since departing. The first two have found themselves at clubs that still need a few more years before they taste the type of success Juve are currently enjoying domestically and in Europe. More importantly, the Old Lady offers players the type of support they will struggle to find elsewhere, and that is perhaps the reason why Morata dreams of a return.
With or without Alex Sandro, Juve will succeed. But can he succeed without (or indeed with) Juve?
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.
Arsenal are hoping to complete a deal for Borussia Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, a source has told ESPN FC, as the Gunners start work to rebuild their defence.
Papastathopoulos could become Arsenal’s first signing since Unai Emery took over as head coach, with the clubs still negotiating the details of a deal, a club source said.
Reports have said Dortmund want £16 million for the 29-year-old Greece international. Papastathopoulos would add some much-needed experience to Arsenal’s back four, with Laurent Koscielny out injured until December and Per Mertesacker having retired.
He would also be the third former Dortmund player signed by Arsenal since Sven Mislintat joined from the German club to become the Gunners head of recruitment.
Mislintat has also been instrumental in signing striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January, when Henrikh Mkhitaryan also joined in a swap deal with Manchester United for Alexis Sanchez.
Arsenal are expected to focus on strengthening their defence in this transfer window, and are hoping to also sign Juventus right-back Stefan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer.
The Gunners have made an offer to the 34-year-old veteran, the source said, although they could still face competition from other clubs. They have also been widely linked with a move for Freiburg centre-back Caglar Soyuncu.
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.
Uruguay striker Luis Suarez has said he hopes Egypt’s Mohamed Salah will have recovered from a shoulder injury by the time the countries face each other in the World Cup next month.
Liverpool forward Salah sprained ligaments in his shoulder during Saturday’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Speaking after the game, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp described it as a “really serious injury,” but the Egyptian Football Federation said it is optimistic that he will be ready for the Uruguay match on June 15 and Barcelona’s Suarez said he was also hopeful that he will be back in action.
“No one is happy when a colleague suffers an injury, especially when it happens in a match as it did, just before a World Cup,” he told a news conference.
“Salah is in a difficult situation, but I’ve consistently said I always want to play against the best to demonstrate that Uruguay are better.”
Suarez returned from an injury problem earlier than expected to play in the 2014 World Cup, scoring twice as Uruguay beat England and reached the round-of-16.
“I would love Salah to have a good recovery and enjoy the World Cup,” he added. “He is in the same situation as I was in four years ago, and I don’t wish that on anyone.”
Salah will travel to Spain on Wednesday to undergo treatment, the Egyptian federation said, amid an ongoing debate around the circumstances of the injury.