Head coach Quique Setien does not expect Barcelona's focus to waver over a key run of games despite a series of off-field controversies.

Barca face Eibar on Saturday before visiting Napoli in their Champions League last-16 first leg in midweek and then taking on LaLiga title rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

The forthcoming schedule represents a make-or-break stretch in the season for Setien's side, who are a point behind Madrid in the table.

Yet a number of incidents away from the pitch have overshadowed the early weeks of Setien's tenure.

Director of football Eric Abidal suggested the players had not been working for previous coach Ernesto Valverde prior to his January dismissal, prompting a strong response from captain Lionel Messi.

Barca then denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week that they hired a company to damage the image of key figures associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

But Setien is not distracted said ahead of the Eibar game: "You'd think it might affect us, but the reality is it's not like that.

"We're very focused on what we need to focus on. We're focused on football matters, we have a lot to focus on. We know what goes on, but I can assure you it doesn't influence anything.

"We're focused on our objective, which is to win games, play well and allow the fans to enjoy themselves. Anything other than that really doesn't affect us."

And Setien confirmed president Josep Maria Bartomeu had discussed the latest issue with senior players.

"Everything the president says is accepted. He told us exactly the same as what he said everywhere," he said. "I'm not thinking about that anymore."

Setien was reluctant to discuss the clash with Napoli but was asked about Messi's suggestion in a wide-ranging Mundo Deportivo interview that Barca were not ready to compete for the Champions League this season.

"There are things that I agree with and things that I'm not in agreement with," Setien said. "In the past 20 years, we have won a lot of Champions Leagues.

"We've got the same chance of winning as other teams have. There's no room for error. There are things we need to try to improve and that we need to do well. That's clear.

"We're not happy with everything, but I think we're growing gradually and reaching a level that will allow us to compete, definitely, with every team."

Barca controversially signed Martin Braithwaite from Leganes this week, following long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, and the new man has gone straight into the squad for the Eibar game.

"He's come here with a lot of excitement and a lot of desire," Setien said of Braithwaite. "We hope that he can help us a lot."

Also in with the chance of a first-team debut is Barcelona B left-back Sergio Akieme, who joined the club from Rayo Vallecano in September.

The 22-year-old has been called up to provide cover for Junior Firpo after Jordi Alba injured his right adductor last weekend, potentially making the Spain international a doubt to face Madrid.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has defended the club's decision to sign Martin Braithwaite but admits Leganes have every right to feel aggrieved by the transfer.

The LaLiga champions confirmed on Thursday they had signed the striker after triggering an €18million release clause in his contract.

Barca were granted special dispensation to sign Braithwaite outside of the transfer window after losing Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele to long-term injuries.

LaLiga strugglers Leganes have been blocked from bringing in a replacement forward, however, much to the frustration of the club's general director Martin Ortega.

Ortega accused the league and the Royal Spanish Football Federation of causing Leganes "irreparable damage" and has asked for the rule to be amended.

Speaking at Braithwaite's introductory news conference on Thursday, Bartomeu agreed the loophole needs to be looked at.

"We have paid the clause following the regulations, although we believe that it should be revised because it is not fair that Leganes cannot now sign anyone," he told reporters.

Barcelona's decision to sign Braithwaite has raised eyebrows, but Bartomeu believes the former Middlesbrough forward can be a big asset for the club this season and beyond.

"After analysing different players, we chose Martin. We believe it will help us win the two remaining titles," he added.

"I am very excited about the arrival of a new player and we hope he will help us in a league that we want to win and that is very open. He will give us strength.

"We had a long-term injured player like Dembele, in addition to Luis Suarez. The technical team has studied players and we hope Braithwaite can debut quickly.

"He has signed for the next four and a half years and comes to help now and for the future."

Braithwaite could make his debut when Eibar visit Camp Nou on Saturday, and Barca director Eric Abidal is happy with the new arrival.

"Martin is a Denmark international, with experience different from those players we have," said Abidal, who dodged questions regarding his recent row with Lionel Messi.

"He has character, strength, speed and great potential. I have had the opportunity to speak with coaches he has had. He will contribute a lot and be decisive. 

"Hopefully, we can compete with him at the highest level."

Gennaro Gattuso has confirmed Napoli could be without key defender Kalidou Koulibaly for next week's Champions League game against Barcelona.

Injuries have hampered the Senegal international this season and he has only played one Serie A match since the turn of the year.

Napoli head to Brescia on Friday before hosting Barca four days later in the first leg of their last-16 tie with the LaLiga champions.

And Gattuso, whose side have won five of their past six games in all competitions, is unsure whether Koulibaly will be available.

"We'll need to objectively see what he has," Gattuso told reporters on Thursday. "He has swelling, so we need to listen to how he feels. 

"Right now I have opted, together with the medical staff, to keep him sidelined for seven to 10 days.

"We will evaluate after that how he feels physically. He will tell us how he feels."

Napoli's improved form has lifted them to ninth in Serie A but they are 12 points behind fourth-placed Atalanta in the race for Champions League qualification.

Gattuso is staying focused on the trip to second-bottom Brescia - with Koulibaly not included in the Napoli squad - rather than allowing the looming Barca game to act as a distraction.

"I haven't heard anyone talk about Barcelona," Gattuso added. "We haven't prepared for Barcelona yet. We have prepared for the match against Brescia. We will think about Barcelona on Saturday after the analysis of the match against Brescia."

Napoli striker Fernando Llorente will miss the Brescia game due to flu.

New Barcelona signing Martin Braithwaite believes his studious approach to football will make him a shrewd addition for the LaLiga champions.

The striker completed a move to Camp Nou on Thursday after Barca activated his €18million release clause at Leganes.

The Catalans had been granted special dispensation to sign a forward due to long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, who may not return to action this season.

Braithwaite scored six times in 24 appearances for Leganes this season to help their fight against relegation but has only twice reached double figures for goals in a single league campaign, back when he was with Toulouse in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

However, the 28-year-old sees himself as a student of the game and one whose attributes will make him useful to head coach Quique Setien.

"I'm really excited. It's a childhood dream come true," he told Barca TV. "Everyone who plays football dreams of playing at Barcelona. Here I am, and I'm really excited to win titles.

"It's a club with a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, and I'm here to go and try to win everything possible.

"I'm a technical player, always physical in that I'm really fast, really strong. I'd say my best attribute is my intelligence. I move really intelligently. I study the game. I call myself a football student. I always try to improve my football every day.

"I think, the way we play here, my movement will help the team a lot. And, of course, I'm a goalscorer so I'm here to score goals."

Braithwaite is looking forward to the chance to call Lionel Messi a team-mate, hailing the Barca captain as arguably the greatest player in history.

"He's maybe the best player ever, so of course it's a big moment for me to be able to play with this guy and to say that I've played with him, so I'm really excited," said the Denmark international.

Braithwaite could make his debut when Eibar visit Camp Nou on Saturday.

Barca then face Napoli at the San Paolo in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before they take on Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

It is fair to say Barcelona's signing of Martin Braithwaite has raised a few eyebrows.

After being granted special dispensation to complete a deal for the Leganes forward outside of the transfer window, Barca announced the arrival of Braithwaite on Thursday.

Braithwaite moves to Camp Nou with a modest return of 10 goals in 43 LaLiga appearances and having had uninspiring spells at Middlesbrough and Bordeaux prior to moving to Spain.

Yet, this is hardly the first time a Barcelona signing has seemed puzzling to those on the outside.

Here, we take a look at some of the strangest, not necessarily the worst, signings Barca have made in recent history.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

This feels like the caveat of surprising not worst needs re-emphasising. Ibrahimovic's standing as a world-class talent is not in question. But it was a signing that seemed out of place with Barca's style of play under Pep Guardiola, and a deal made even more perplexing by the club's decision to sanction Inter's signing of Samuel Eto'o, who was part of a devastating triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry. While Eto'o went on to win the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10, Ibrahimovic – while still managing a solid return of 16 goals in 29 LaLiga outings – never really fit the mould at Camp Nou and reports of discord with Guardiola were always bubbling under the surface. He was shipped out to Milan a year later with a LaLiga and Club World Cup medal to show for his efforts.

ALEX SONG

Cameroon midfielder Song made over 200 appearances for Arsenal but not many truly thought he was a player with the calibre to shine at Barcelona. With Barca's midfield boasting the talents of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets when he joined in 2012 it was hard to see where Song fit in. And so it proved, with Song twice being sent out on loan to West Ham before a permanent move to Rubin Kazan was agreed in July 2016.

JEREMY MATHIEU

David Luiz, Marquinhos and Mats Hummels were all tipped as potential additions for a Barca side seeking a central defender in July 2014. For one reason or another none made the move and so Barca paid the €20million release clause to Valencia to make Mathieu the most expensive defender over the age of 30. Having only really played one full season as a centre-back it was not a deal that exactly screamed value. But, to his credit, Mathieu proved a useful squad player and he left Camp Nou with two LaLiga medals, three Copas del Rey and a Champions League win to his name.

PAULINHO

This one definitely falls under the category of surprising rather than worst. Paulinho was widely regarded as a £17million flop during a two-season stay with Tottenham so not many could have foreseen Barcelona forking out a reported €40million fee to sign the Brazil midfielder from Guangzhou Evergrande. But Paulinho was a solid squad man at Barca and his one-season stay – he would re-join Guangzhou in July 2018 – saw him make 34 league appearances, as well as returning a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double.

ARTURO VIDAL

Much like Ibrahimovic, it was not a question of Vidal's talent or achievements, more if he could fit the stereotype of a Barca player. The Chile midfielder, who has won top-flight titles in Italy and Germany with Juventus and Bayern Munich, has proven a useful player for Barca, helping the club to LaLiga glory last term, but has made just six league starts this term. The 32-year-old was the subject of reported interest from Inter in January.

KEVIN-PRINCE BOATENG

A player certainly not devoid of talent but Boateng is the sort of player who in years to come many will say out loud "I didn't know he'd played for them!" A nomadic career has seen him take in spells with the likes of Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Milan and Schalke but few would have imagined Barca would come calling in January 2019. However, with Ernesto Valverde on the lookout for back-up to Luis Suarez and Boateng having had experience of playing as a centre-forward in LaLiga with Las Palmas, a loan deal with Sassuolo was agreed. He made just four appearances and is now enjoying a temporary spell at Besiktas from Fiorentina.

JEISON MURILLO

Much like Boateng, Murillo arrived on a short-term loan in the 2019 January window as a short-term option. With injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen leaving Barca short at centre-back it was not particularly a surprise to see them enter the market, more that they moved for Murillo who had made just one LaLiga appearance for Valencia since joining on a full-time deal from Inter. Opportunities, as you may expect, proved scarce and Murillo played just four times for Barca.

Barcelona have completed the controversial signing of Martin Braithwaite from Leganes after the club were granted special dispensation to complete the deal outside of the transfer window.

LaLiga's champions were given permission to sign a forward after injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele left them short of striking options.

Barca on Thursday confirmed they have met an €18million release clause to bring in the 28-year-old until June 2024, with a buyout clause set at €300million.

Braithwaite has scored six goals in 24 LaLiga appearances for relegation-threatened Leganes this season.

Reports that Barca were poised to seal the contentious move raised questions over how the Catalan giants are able to draft in reinforcements with the window closed.

Leganes, who are 19th in LaLiga and two points from safety, reportedly had an appeal to complete a transfer of their own turned down as signing a replacement for a departing player does not comply with the rules in Spain.

Struggling Leganes also saw fellow striker Youssef En-Nesyri join Sevilla in a €20million deal in January.

Braithwaite arrived at Leganes in January 2019 after an uninspiring spell at Middlesbrough, while he also spent time on loan in Ligue 1 with Bordeaux.

Barca are second in LaLiga, just a point adrift of Clasico rivals Real Madrid.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi believes it would be "screwed" if Manchester City's players were banned from playing in the Champions League for two years.

Last week City were hit with a two-year ban from European competition by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations following an investigation.

City, who were accused of "overstating sponsorship revenue" between 2012 and 2016, have denied any wrongdoing and intend to appeal the sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

However, should the ban stick, it would cast doubts over the futures of players such as Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Messi's close friend Sergio Aguero.

"It is surprising because nobody thought that such a thing could happen, so powerful," Messi told Mundo Deportivo.

"Paris [Saint-Germain] paid a fine or I don't know how it went. If in the end City does not play in the Champions League for what it is, with the players, the club, and the money it spends, it will be weird."

Messi was then asked about the possibility of his compatriot Aguero wanting to join him at Camp Nou should the ban be upheld.

"If City do not enter the Champions League there are many players that may look for an exit, or maybe not," Messi added.

"The Champions League is very attractive so two years without playing it can be screwed."

City face Real Madrid in the last 16 of this season's competition, with their Premier League rivals Liverpool having already lost to another club from the city in their first leg.

Atletico Madrid became just the third team to defeat the Reds this season when they claimed a 1-0 success in Spain on Tuesday, not that Messi was surprised by the LaLiga side's performance.

"The truth is, no," he said.

"On the day of the draw we talked in the dressing room that it would be very close because Atletico competes a lot in this competition. 

"In duels of two matches they are very strong and they showed it again, that they will compete and they will be there."

Lionel Messi said Neymar wants to return to Barcelona, while the six-time Ballon d'Or winner lauded reported target and Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

Neymar left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222million transfer in 2017, but the Brazil star continues to be linked with a Camp Nou return.

The PSG forward reportedly tried to engineer a move back to Barca at the start of the season, though a transfer did not materialise, despite the club's best efforts.

Messi, who has made no secret of his desire to reunite with Neymar, told Mundo Deportivo: "I say it many times, at the sports level, Ney is one of the best in the world and I would love for him to return.

"He is really looking forward to coming back, he always seemed sorry [after leaving]. He did a lot to return and that would be the first step to try to arrive."

Neymar's decision to leave Barca almost three years ago angered some of his former team-mates but Messi said: "It is normal for people to see him that way because of the way he left, it also bothered me at the time, we tried to convince him not to. 

"But in the end we all want to win and have the best. We and the people. As I said before, he is one of the best and contributed for us a lot on the pitch. But it is understandable that people think like that, since he left in a way they did not like."

Barca have also been linked to Inter forward Martinez as the LaLiga champions eye a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

Martinez reportedly has a €111m release clause amid links to Barca, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Messi knows Martinez well as the pair are international team-mates for Argentina and the Barca captain hailed his compatriot.

"He is spectacular, he has impressive conditions," Messi said. "He was seen to be a great player, now he exploded and is showing it. He is very strong. He has a very good one against one, he has a lot of goals, in the area he fights with anyone. Lautaro has a lot of quality. He is very complete."

Messi continued: "I wish they could all come and fight it all, and the Champions League. Lautaro has much resemblance to Luis."

Inter Miami have their sights set on a big-name signing, with Lionel Messi reportedly among the possibilities.

With David Beckham among their owners, Inter Miami are preparing for their debut MLS season beginning next month.

Messi has been linked with the MLS club previously and those rumours are persisting.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI STILL A TARGET FOR INTER MIAMI

Barcelona great Messi is among the stars who could sign for Inter Miami, according to OKdiario.

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani are also possibilities, the report says.

Messi reportedly bought an apartment in Miami in December, while he can leave Barcelona for free at season's end despite being contracted until 2021.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus have other plans should Paul Pogba not return to the club from Manchester United in the close season. Sport reports the Serie A giants are considering a move for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, whose contract expires next year.

- Barcelona will announce Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite as their latest signing on Thursday, according to AS, which reports the LaLiga club are set to pay €18million for the Denmark international.

- Linked with RB Leipzig star Timo Werner, Liverpool are seemingly considering their options. Bild reports the European champions are tracking Milot Rashica, the 23-year-old who has scored 10 goals in 21 games for struggling Werder Bremen this season.

- Hansi Flick's future is unclear. Bayern Munich will wait until May to make a decision on the head coach, who has attracted interest from other clubs, according to Bild.

- Could Adam Lallana be set for a reunion with Brendan Rodgers? Sky Sports reports Leicester City have approached the Liverpool midfielder's representatives about a move at season's end. Lallana and Rodgers worked together at Anfield and the 31-year-old is coming out of contract.

- After an initial move for Marcos Alonso in January failed, Inter are still considering the Chelsea left-back, according to CalcioMercato. However, the report says the Serie A giants are unwilling to pay Chelsea's asking price of €30m (£25.1m).

Lionel Messi insisted he was still in love with Barcelona, although the star admitted the recent social media controversy at the club was "strange".

Messi is enjoying another fine season with the LaLiga giants, who are a point adrift of rivals and leaders Real Madrid.

Contracted at Camp Nou until next year, Messi said he was happy in Barcelona, where he has spent his entire professional career.

"I love Barcelona although I miss Rosario very much. This is my house, I was here longer than in Argentina," he told Mundo Deportivo. 

"I love Barcelona, the place where I live, Castelldefels, and I live a life that I like very much."

However, it has been a tumultuous period for Barcelona, who sacked Ernesto Valverde in January and have also endured off-field problems.

Barca earlier this week denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER that they hired a company to damage the image of people associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

Messi said: "I really find it strange that something like this has happened, but they also said that there would be evidence.

"We will have to wait to see if it is true or not. We cannot say much and we will wait to see what happens with all of this.

"I really thought it was a strange subject."

Messi was also involved in a public row with Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal earlier this month.

LaLiga champions Barcelona are a club in crisis.

From public rows to allegations that say the current board were involved in hiring a PR firm to spread negative narratives about Barca legends, a claim the club have denied.

It has been a turbulent time at Camp Nou and MLS powerhouse LA Galaxy have looked to capitalise.

 

TOP STORY – GALAXY ENQUIRE ABOUT MESSI

LA Galaxy enquired about Barcelona captain Lionel Messi's interest in moving to the United States, according to Radio Continental.

Messi was involved in a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, raising doubts over his Barca future amid links to Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain.

Galaxy head coach and former Boca Juniors boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto reportedly reached out to Messi's father to see if the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was open to swapping Barcelona for Los Angeles.

ROUND-UP

Paul Pogba is confident he will finally be granted an exit by Manchester United, reports the Evening Standard. Pogba – still recovering from an ankle injury – has been linked with a return to former club Juventus as well as LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Independent claims United are in advanced negotiations with former PSG technical director Antero Henrique. Ralf Rangnick is also reportedly being considered.

- RB Leipzig's head of sport Rangnick is still being targeted by Milan for the role as head coach, reports Calciomercato. However, the Italian club are split as Stefano Pioli leads a resurgence.

- According to Tuttosport, Serie A champions Juventus are interested in bringing Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus to Turin.

- France Football says Barca are eyeing Galatasaray's teenage sensation Mustafa Kapi. The 17-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.

Chelsea have entered the race to sign in-demand Hellas Verona centre-back Marash Kumbulla, says Calciomercato. The 20-year-old Albania international is also wanted by Inter, Napoli, Liverpool, United and City.

Barcelona have contacted Leganes regarding the potential signing of striker Martin Braithwaite and the Madrid club are worried losing him will doom them to relegation, according to majority shareholder Felipe Moreno.

After having Ousmane Dembele ruled out for six months last week, Barca are reported to have been granted special dispensation to sign a new player despite the transfer window being closed.

The regulations in place stipulate the player they sign must either be registered with another Spanish club already or a free agent.

Angel Rodriguez, Willian Jose, Lucas Perez and Loren Moron were said to be the initial candidates, but in the past few days Leganes' Denmark international Braithwaite has seemingly emerged as the most likely option.

Leganes confirmed Barca made contact with them on Monday but insist Braithwaite will only leave if his reported €20million release clause is triggered, with Moreno expressing concern after the relegation-threatened side lost another striker in Youssef En-Nesyri to Sevilla last month.

"Yesterday [Monday] afternoon they called and contemplated this situation," Moreno told reporters on Tuesday. "They only made contact once.

"The truth is that we are very worried. After what happened to us with En-Nesyri, now what happens with Braithwaite ... staying in LaLiga gets more complicated every day. In these next hours we will know what happens, yes or no.

"I don't know if anyone will come from Barcelona today. The player has a day off and we have not talked to him.

"I understand why Braithwaite would go to Barca, I would too. But of course, we are not going to negotiate anything. They pay his clause, or he stays at Leganes.

"I can understand that Barca do this if the law allows them to, but I thought that they couldn't sign an active player, only one free agent. I was surprised."

After 24 LaLiga matches this season, Leganes are second-bottom of the table, only ahead of Espanyol on goal difference and two points adrift of Celta Vigo in 17th.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has denied the club hired a social media contractor in order to discredit the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Pep Guardiola.

Spanish radio network Cadena SER reported on Monday that an independent social media company was contracted by Barca to boost the public profile of the current board of directors.

The reports also stated the company was tasked with undermining individuals with strong links to the club, including current stars Messi and Pique, former coach Guardiola and midfield icon Xavi.

Following a strong statement of denial on Monday, Bartomeu, while acknowledging Barca had hired I3 Ventures – the company in question – has reiterated the club's stance.

"I want to make clear, for the [Barca] members, and everyone, because I have heard different versions," Bartomeu said at the XIV Vazquez Montalban International Journalism Awards.

"First of all, I have to say that Barcelona haven't hired any service to discredit anyone. Neither players, nor the executives, ex-presidents. That is totally false.

"So we will defend ourselves where necessary regarding this subject, by all means, and in front of anyone who accuses us of doing this. I repeat again, it is false that Barcelona, in any case, has hired no one to discredit anyone."

However, with I3 Ventures connected to one of the accounts named in the reports – Respeto y Deporte (Respect and Sport) – Bartomeu confirmed Barca have ended their relationship with the contractor.

"It is true that at the end of 2017, Barcelona hired a service to monitor different areas of the club in the social media, as the major of the clubs have," he added.

"After the confirmation that one of the accounts linked to one of this company's suppliers have made inappropriate commentaries about people related to our organisation, I have given instructions personally to terminate the contract with this company.

"I want to make something clear. Regarding to the question that "if we have ordered anyone to monitor the social media", the answer is yes and we will still do it. 

"It is the responsibility of this club to know what is going on and what it is being said around the world, always to preserve Barcelona.

"Regarding to the question "If we have ordered to discredit people or institutions through social media" the answer is no and we will persecute everyone who accuses us of it."

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly yet to begin talks with Neymar over a new deal.

The Brazil international was linked with a return to Barcelona before the start of this season, but ended up staying in Paris.

Yet after claims last month that Neymar wanted a new deal at PSG, it is reported no negotiations have been held just yet.

 

TOP STORY – PSG YET TO BEGIN CONTRACT TALKS WITH NEYMAR

PSG and Neymar are yet to meet to discuss a possible extension, according to Le Parisien.

Neymar, 28, is contracted to PSG until 2022, but there have been no talks over a stay beyond then.

The forward is expected to return from injury in PSG's Champions League last-16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona appear to have found their replacement for the injured Ousmane Dembele. Sport reports the LaLiga giants have decided to pay Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite's release clause of €18million. Braithwaite has six goals in 24 LaLiga games this season.

- Bayern Munich are lining up a replacement for Jerome Boateng. France Football reports RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano, who has a €60m release clause, has become a priority for Bayern.

- With Champions League football next season slipping away from Roma, the Serie A club may be unable to sign Chris Smalling. Corriere dello Sport reports Tottenham, Everton and Juventus are interested in Smalling, with Manchester United wanting €20m (£16.7m) for the 30-year-old.

- Two of Arsenal 18-year-olds are apparently attracting interest from Liverpool. Football Insider reports the runaway Premier League leaders are looking at Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

- Roma are considering a move for RB Leipzig right-back Lukas Klostermann, according to CalcioMercato. Klostermann, 23, has been capped eight times by Germany.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton became the first joint-winners of the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year on Monday.

Messi and Hamilton were level on votes made by former sports legends who are members of the Laureus Academy.

Argentina international Messi inspired Barca to a 26th LaLiga title last season with 36 goals in 34 appearances, form that earned him a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Mercedes driver Hamilton was crowned F1 world champion for the sixth time in 2019, putting him second only to Michael Schumacher on the all-time list.

Hamilton was in Berlin to collect his award in person, while Messi – the first individual from a team sport to claim the prize – sent a video message.

"I would like to thank the Academy for giving me this recognition. The truth is that this is a very important and special award," said Messi.

"I am honoured to be the first to win this award being a sportsperson coming from a team sport and not an individual sport, which is usually the case. Thank you very much.

"For me it's a huge delight to be part of this award and the first team player to receive it. Of course, I would like to thank my team-mates, my family and the fans who support me. Thanks to them this kind of individual recognition is possible."

The pair collected more votes than fellow contenders Rafael Nadal, Marc Marquez, Tiger Woods and Eliud Kipchoge. 

Gymnast Simone Biles was named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year having become the most decorated gymnast in world championship history and helped the United States to a fifth team title.

Cross-country skier Oksana Masters was handed the World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award.

South Africa men's rugby union side, who won the World Cup in 2019, were selected as the team of the year.

The other major winners were cyclist Egan Bernal (breakthrough), racing driver Sophia Florsch (comeback) and basketball player Dirk Nowitzki (lifetime achievement award).

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