Mauro Icardi has been given the number seven shirt for Inter this season as it grows increasingly likely he will stay at the club.

The Argentina international saw his number nine jersey given to new signing Romelu Lukaku as talks over a transfer away from San Siro continued.

However, with an exit beginning to look unlikely, the striker has been given a new squad number for the 2019-20 Serie A season, which starts this weekend.

Icardi was told to look for a new club by chief executive Giuseppe Marotta in July and was excluded from the club's pre-season tour of Asia.

The 26-year-old, who was stripped of the club captaincy last season, was tipped to move to Juventus in a part-exchange deal involving Paulo Dybala, but no such agreement has been reached.

Most recently, he was linked with Ligue 1 side Monaco, only for wife and agent Wanda Nara to rule out such a transfer.

Nara seemed to hint at Icardi staying at Inter with a tweet on Friday showing her photographed with other wives and girlfriends of Nerazzurri players, captioned 'another year together'.

Antonio Conte's side begin their Serie A season at home to Lecce on Monday.

Franck Ribery could make his Fiorentina debut against Napoli when the Serie A season gets up and running this weekend, says Vincenzo Montella.

Ribery joined La Viola as a free agent on a two-year deal this week having left Bayern Munich at the end of his contract.

The former France international suggested in his presentation he would not be ready to play this weekend, and certainly is not fit to start.

But Montella is keen on using the 36-year-old for Saturday's season opener at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

"I want him to be with us because he wants to be a part of the game," Montella told a news conference. "I want him to be with us and I hope for a chance for him to play.

"He joined us because he wants to be still on the first line. He has to be competitive, I know he says he wants to, he works on it and I realised by myself in these first days of training.

"He doesn't pull himself out during the sessions. He knows he can get results only through hard work. I am sure he will transmit this mentality to all the squad.

"But I need to focus on the game. Dreams are great, but we need to keep our feet on the ground in this moment."

Ribery was given a rousing reception at his official presentation on Thursday, with thousands of Fiorentina fans attending to welcome him to the club.

Carlo Ancelotti commended Napoli's efforts in the transfer market after capturing Hirving Lozano a day before the new Serie A season.

Napoli reportedly spent €40million to sign the Mexico international from PSV.

Lozano, 24, joins centre-back Kostas Manolas, right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo and teenage midfielder Elif Elmas among the new faces at Stadio San Paolo.

Ancelotti guided Napoli to second last term, 11 points behind champions Juventus, and thinks his squad is better resourced this season.

"We have become more competitive," Ancelotti said.

"With Lozano and the other new arrivals, the level of quality in the squad has increased and we're stronger overall than last year.

"The club has had a very good transfer window and spent big, which I'm pleased about."

An exciting winger, Lozano shot to international prominence when he scored the winner for Mexico against Germany at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The former Pachuca player scored 17 league goals in each of his past two seasons in the Netherlands and struck four times in the Champions League during a productive 2018-19 campaign.

"He's a player that we've been tracking for a while and thanks to the club's hard work, we finally now have him here with us," Ancelotti said.

"It wasn't a simple operation.

"Lozano brings extra technical quality to the squad. He's full of desire and is very excited and motivated to be at Napoli. Those are the characteristics that we like, besides his technical ability.

"Hirving can play anywhere across the frontline. On the left, right or behind the striker. Maybe he can also play as a striker himself.

"He's a complete footballer with fantastic quality."

Napoli begin their Serie A campaign away to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Aaron Ramsey will miss the chance to make his competitive Juventus debut in their opening Serie A game against Parma.

The Wales midfielder, who left Arsenal as a free agent to join the Italian champions, is absent from Juve's 23-man squad.

Daniele Rugani, who has been linked with a move away from the club, is also missing but new signing Matthijs de Ligt could feature.

Fellow fresh faces Adrien Rabiot, Danilo and Merih Demiral are also included, along with former Parma goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after his return from Paris Saint-Germain.

Juve's new head coach Maurizio Sarri will not make the trip to Stadio Ennio Tardini as he is recovering from pneumonia.

The club confirmed in a statement released on Thursday that former Chelsea boss Sarri would also be absent from the bench for the visit of his old club Napoli next weekend.

Paulo Dybala's presence is no hindrance to Juventus' ongoing search for new signings, according to the club's vice-president Pavel Nedved.

The Serie A champions head into Saturday's season opener against Parma with a host of new signings at their disposal, including Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and right-back Danilo.

Argentina forward Dybala seemed set to make way amid the influx with Manchester United, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain all linked at various stages.

None of those proposed moves have transpired and the 25-year-old is still standing at Allianz Stadium, a situation that sits comfortably with Nedved.

"Dybala will never be a problem for us because he is a great player," the former Bianconeri midfielder said on Friday, sitting in at a pre-match news conference as head coach Maurizio Sarri continues his recovery from a bout of pneumonia.

"Maurizio is using him as a false nine and I believe he is playing the role very well. He had a great pre-season."

Nedved dodged questions about Inter outcast and rumoured Juve target Mauro Icardi but revealed there could yet be further new arrivals.

"[Sporting director] Fabio Paratici has had done extraordinary things, some beautiful and important deals," he said.

"The transfer window is still open and we will see if there are opportunities we can seize.

"We are not forced to do anything. If there are possibilities, we will do something. Otherwise we will remain as we are."

Juve will, however, have to do without the guidance of head coach Sarri for their first two Serie A fixtures as he recuperates.

The former Chelsea boss is to return to work after the international break, Nedved confirmed.

He said: "Pneumonia is not a simple thing. Sarri would like to be out the training pitch and in the office every day because he is a great professional, but he needs time. He is getting better.

"Obviously there are difficulties for us, but we have managed them before."

Alexis Sanchez is not certain to leave Manchester United even though there are ongoing transfer talks with interested clubs, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Chile forward Sanchez was not in the matchday squad for United's first two Premier League games of the season with Chelsea and Wolves, having not taken part in any pre-season fixtures following his efforts at the Copa America.

The 30-year-old has been heavily linked with Inter, who have already signed Romelu Lukaku from United in this transfer window and are said to be interested in a loan deal.

It is claimed Sanchez's wage demands are proving a problem for the Nerazzurri, though, with Italy's transfer deadline just 10 days away.

Solskjaer appears unsure of what will happen with Sanchez, but he was pleased with his efforts in a behind-closed-doors friendly match against Sheffield United this week and does not seem desperate to see the player go.

"There's still talks with some clubs, but he played in that game and played well," Solskjaer told a news conference on Friday. "So, as I've said, he's working hard and let's see in September what's going to happen."

Lukaku caused a stir this week when a podcast apparently recorded while he was still a United player was published, in which the striker accused United of effectively nudging him out of the club by failing to protect him from public criticism and transfer speculation.

Solskjaer refused to become embroiled in the matter, saying: "I'm not going to dive into that one. That interview was made before the summer, wasn't it? When he was a Man United player? So, I think I'd rather not."

United host Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday after taking four points from their first two league matches of the season at home to Chelsea and away to Wolves.

Solskjaer has been encouraged by the fitness displayed in those performances, having been concerned by the way his players allowed their intensity to drop in matches towards the end of last season.

"The team spirt is great, we've got loads of energy and passion. You can see that with the way we went about the game with Wolverhampton," he said.

"I thought our pressing was excellent. We gave them five minutes in the second half and that was it, really, when they had the ball and pushed us back but, apart from that, the engine looks so much better.

"Everyone's fit and when you're physically fit it's easier to be mentally strong as well.

"[Palace] are a very organised team. They've got pace up front for counter-attacks, strong on set-pieces, so, of course, we know we have to do all parts of the game.

"We have to attack well, we have to win the ball back when we're losing it and we've got to be strong on set plays."

Solskjaer also confirmed that full-back Diogo Dalot is likely to be out of action until after the international break next month due to injury.

Napoli have completed the signing of Mexico forward Hirving Lozano from PSV in a deal reportedly worth €40million.

Lozano spent two seasons in the Eredivisie, scoring 34 league goals for PSV across the two campaigns, and impressed in the Champions League last term.

The 24-year-old winger also starred for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup, scoring a memorable goal in a 1-0 win over Germany in the group stage.

Lozano, who had also been linked with Manchester United, has now swapped the Eredivisie for Serie A, with Napoli reportedly paying a club-record transfer fee reported to be €38m plus bonuses.

Prior to the club's official announcement on Friday, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis had shared a photo of Lozano signing his contract on his official Twitter account.

Napoli kick off their Serie A campaign against Fiorentina on Saturday.

Will they, or won't they?

Barcelona are trying to re-sign wantaway Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar before the transfer window closes on September 2.

LaLiga rivals Real Madrid are also interested, so this is set to go down to the wire.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA RENEWING NEYMAR EFFORTS

According to Sport, Barcelona are preparing a fresh offer to prise Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona have already reportedly had an initial loan deal turned down by PSG, who are determined to recoup the world-record €222million fee they spent on Neymar in 2017.

Real Madrid, however, are still said to be determined to trump Barca to the signing of the Brazilian forward.

 

ROUND-UP

- Should Neymar be granted his wish to leave PSG, the Ligue 1 holders are reportedly considering a move for Juventus forward Paulo Dybala. That is according to Tuttosport, after Dybala had been linked to Manchester United and Tottenham prior to the Premier League's transfer window closing.

- Marca also reports goalkeeper Keylor Navas is close to leaving Real Madrid for PSG. Navas wants out after reportedly being told he will be Thibaut Courtois' understudy this season.

Manchester United will not make an offer for Fernando Llorente, according to the Daily Mail. Llorente is a free agent after leaving Tottenham and reports in Italy linked the Spaniard to Old Trafford following Romelu Lukaku's move to Inter. However, the Red Devils are reportedly not interested in the veteran.

Inter are close to signing full-back Cristiano Biraghi from Serie A rivals Fiorentina, reports Calciomercato. Biraghi was part of Inter's youth academy before moving on to the likes of Cittadella, Pescara and Fiorentina. Inter are said to be looking to include Dalbert in a swap deal for the Italy international.

Inter and United are continuing talks over Alexis Sanchez, claim Sky Sport Italia and Sportitalia. More discussions are reportedly planned, with United wanting Inter to cover more of the Chilean's salary during the proposed loan spell.

- According to The Telegraph, Leicester City midfielder Adrien Silva is poised to return to Monaco on loan. The Portugal international spent the second half of the 2018-19 season on loan at the Ligue 1 side. It comes after Sky Sport Italia reports AC Milan and Franck Kessie rejected Monaco's proposal for the midfielder.

Roma are weighing up a move for Atletico Madrid striker Nikola Kalinic, says Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio. After re-signing Edin Dzeko, Roma are reportedly considering Atletico fringe figure Kalinic if Patrik Schick and Gregoire Defrel leave.

Adrien Rabiot said Cristiano Ronaldo is helping him improve at the Serie A champions as he hailed the Juventus superstar.

Rabiot is preparing for Saturday's league debut with Juventus against Parma after joining from Ligue 1 holders Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Having settled in Turin, French midfielder Rabiot praised Juve team-mate and five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

"I played a lot this summer, because I needed to adapt to the team," Rabiot told Sky Sport 24.

"I'm managing to create an excellent affinity with Cristiano Ronaldo, because he also plays on the left. Training with him allows me to improve myself a lot and his presence is very good for the group."

"Turin is different from Paris. It's smaller, but it's a beautiful city," he added. "I am finding myself at ease and I managed to adapt well, which is very important for what I can then give on the field.

"Personally, I can't wait to start this adventure. I feel fit, we have worked a lot this summer, but we are ready for this appointment. With Parma it will be difficult, because we are the team to beat, and everyone will always give their best against us, but we are confident."

New head coach Maurizio Sarri will not be on the Juventus bench for their opening two Serie A games as he recovers from pneumonia.

Sarri, who arrived from Chelsea in the off-season, will miss Saturday's trip to Parma as well as the home match against former side Napoli on August 31.

"The coach made an excellent impression on me," said Rabiot. "He has a precise game philosophy and knows exactly how we must play, both in the offensive and defensive phases.

"We have already absorbed his concepts and we are working well with his staff."

Franck Ribery hopes to play on beyond the age of 40 after joining Fiorentina but says he does not intend to be a rival to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ribery's 12-year stay at Bayern Munich concluded when his contract expired at the end of the 2018-19 season, in which he won a ninth Bundesliga title.

Following prolonged speculation about his next move, the former France winger agreed a two-year deal with La Viola.

And Ribery, who plans to follow in the footsteps of Serie A veterans such as Francesco Totti, is aiming to lead Fiorentina back into the Champions League.

"We have had a very long negotiation, but I am very happy to be here in Florence," said the 36-year-old.

"I saw great motivation and great confidence in me from the management, and that is why I am here. Naturally, my wife also helped in the choice, because my family is very important.

"I am very motivated, I always want to play. I have a two-year contract and I want to be decisive and help the young players. I want to give something new to this club, I want to bring Fiorentina into the top three of the table.

"I came here to help my team, which is Fiorentina. I am not here to be a rival to Ronaldo. Serie A is a great tournament with many excellent players. Inter bought well on the market, as did Juventus.

"The thing I appreciate the most is that people here love and live for football. It's a wonderful experience and I want to enjoy myself on the field.

"Football is my life. It's the reason I wanted to remain in Europe and I was fortunate to find Fiorentina. I hope to continue playing until the age of 40, just like Francesco Totti."

Fiorentina open the new Serie A season at home to Napoli on Saturday but Ribery is not expecting to be involved.

"I am not ready to start, but I am happy that I got to train with the squad today, which is very different to training by yourself," he added. 

"I need a week or two to be ready to play, but if the coach [Vincenzo Montella] tells me that I'm needed, I will step up."

Maurizio Sarri's start to life as Juventus boss was hardly going swimmingly before he was left tackling a bout of pneumonia this week.

After a frankly disorientating year at Chelsea, which amounted to speculation over his future and criticism of his fabled playing style being stitched together by the momentary distraction of bi-weekly football matches, Sarri won the Europa League, finished third in the Premier League and landed the Juve job. It felt like the football equivalent of getting out of jail and building a house on Park Lane in the same Monopoly move.

Board room and dressing room at Stamford Bridge never felt in harmony, but it no longer mattered. The former Napoli boss would now helm the slick and formidable football empire he came closer than many to toppling.

Or so he might have thought. Cutting into a reporter's question after Juve lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup, Sarri launched something approaching a tirade on Paulo Dybala's mooted exit and the need to trim Juve's Champions League squad. He called their transfer policy "embarrassing".

Some moves this close season – namely the capture of quality free agents in the form of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot – are identifiable from the old Juventus playbook. But part-exchange deals that lessen the quality of the squad and generally appearing reactive rather than proactive should be a cause for concern.

Out with the new, in with the old

Moise Kean is one of the most exciting striking talents in Europe but was allowed to move to Everton. Centre-forward cover now comes from Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic – one back after two shocking loan spells and another 14 years older than Kean and apparently being hawked around Europe himself.

A chunk of cash accompanied Danilo from Manchester City for a reason, as the inconsistent but lavishly gifted (and, once again, younger) Joao Cancelo moved in the other direction. A swap deal featuring Dybala and Romelu Lukaku, now shipped from Manchester United to Inter, would have been far stranger.

Indeed, Dybala only remains a Juve player for now due to the tangled web of his image rights arrangements. Leonardo Spinazzola joining Roma to bring Luca Pellegrini the other way, only to loan the latter back to Cagliari, also suggested muddled thinking.

The steady improvement throughout Massimiliano Allegri's tenure brought two Champions League final defeats. In between losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2015 and 2017, Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Alvaro Morata were among the players to leave, yet Juventus improved on account of shrewd coaching and a transfer policy that was a step ahead.

Then, last year, the Turin giants bet the farm on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Champions League did not follow and Allegri left.

Matthijs de Ligt is one of the most eye-catching signings of the window but Juve hardly needed centre-backs and now appear to be scrabbling to recoup the cash. Like Sarri, there are understandable doubts over whether sporting director Fabio Paratici is cut out for a leading role at the Allianz Stadium.

Paratici's influence increased after Beppe Marotta's departure last year. Marotta is now leading operations at Inter for the man who launched this Juventus dynasty.

Conte's Inter ready for lift-off

"I never set limits – I don't want to create excuses," Antonio Conte said at his first news conference as Inter boss, his new club having come fourth - 21 points shy of Juve - last time around

The former Italy coach is something of a specialist in these situations. The year before he began Juventus' title streak in 2011-12, they finished seventh. At Chelsea, he took them from 10th to Premier League glory in a season.

Some of Conte's subsequent discontent in west London related to a failure to sign Lukaku. Now he has his man – the "point of reference" centre-forward crucial to all his best sides.

Manchester United fans will undoubtedly guffaw at the prospect of Alexis Sanchez joining a fellow Old Trafford flop at San Siro, but harnessing two players with a point to prove to Jose Mourinho in a bid to topple Sarri – the man who took his previous job – feels deliciously up Conte's street.

Valentino Lazaro, Matteo Politano, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi look like shrewd buys alongside the formidable Diego Godin and Inter can be expected to hit the ground running when they host Lecce on Monday.

Napoli have finished as runners-up in the past two seasons and Hirving Lozano would be an exciting acquisition in attack, while there is unlikely to be a centre-back pairing anywhere as formidable as Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas.

Carlo Ancelotti's men should certainly not be discounted, but the winds of change ahead of an intriguing Serie A season appear to be blowing in Inter and Conte's direction.

Maurizio Sarri will not be on the Juventus bench for the first two games of the Serie A season, the club announced.

Sarri was diagnosed with pneumonia earlier this week and has been undergoing medical tests.

Juve said on Thursday that Sarri's latest results have shown an improvement in his condition.

But the 60-year-old, who left Chelsea to take charge of Juve, will be given more time to recover.

Juve start their title defence away to Parma on Saturday and Sarri will also miss a home game against his old club Napoli on August 31.

"The decision was taken to allow the technician, who even today went to the JTC [Juventus Training Centre to coordinate work with his staff, to resume regular activity as soon as possible," said a club statement.

It's been all change in Serie A ahead of the 2019-20 season, with five of last season's top six changing their head coach.

As such, an action-packed close season in the transfer market followed.

Champions Juventus have done big business, but could any of the chasing pack - including Antonio Conte's Inter - catch them after a busy window?

Although Italian clubs can buy until September 2, we take a look at five of the best signings in Serie A before the action gets underway.

 

5. Aaron Ramsey (Juventus)

Juventus are the masters of the free transfer and nothing changed this year, with two huge midfield signings arriving without a fee. Adrien Rabiot is a massive talent who will improve Maurizio Sarri's options, but Ramsey may well prove the real star.

In an Arsenal team where big wages and large fees were spent on the likes of Mesut Ozil, Ramsey was perhaps their most consistent performer, playing a key role in their FA Cup successes.

The Gunners will likely rue the expiration of Ramsey's contract and the Welshman already looks like he will settle quickly in Turin, after giving an introductory statement to the media in Italian.

4. Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari)

Nainggolan was one of Europe's dominant midfielders just a couple of years ago, so it seems incredible that he is on loan at Cagliari at the age of 31.

But after falling out of favour with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, Nainggolan had a stop-start first season at Inter - although his form picked up towards the end of the campaign - and Conte has seemingly decided he does not need the former Roma man.

All of this works out wonderfully for Cagliari, though, who had Nainggolan for four years earlier in his career and will welcome him back with open arms. His midfield alliance with Nahitan Nandez, an exciting acquisition from Boca Juniors, will be a must watch.

3. Diego Godin (Inter)

Godin has perhaps been Europe's best centre-back in recent seasons and so, even at 33, his expiring Atletico Madrid contract would have made him a target for many top sides.

But this move to Inter was long mooted and he should form a formidable three-man defence alongside Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar.

If Conte's reign at the Nerazzurri is to be a success, they will need to deliver at both ends of the field. It is on Romelu Lukaku's shoulders to provide the goals, while Godin will surely perform at the back, even if he endured a rocky campaign last time out.

2. Kostas Manolas (Napoli)

This list might be dominated by centre-backs and Serie A, to many the home of defending, will see some of the very best in action again next season. Manolas is certainly among them.

The Greece international might be best remembered for his Champions League goalscoring exploits at Roma, but he was a consistent star in defence over five seasons in the capital.

Quick and strong enough to mix it with Serie A's very best attackers, Manolas will leave a big hole in the Roma back line and instantly find a home at Napoli alongside Kalidou Koulibaly.

1. Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)

It is an obvious answer, but every club on the planet would have loved to have brought in former Ajax captain De Ligt.

He was inspirational both on and off the pitch for the Dutch giants last season, as well as starring for Netherlands. Brilliant at the back and a threat in attack, De Ligt is still just 20, too, and will only get better.

That he cost a relatively reasonable €75million, considering the reported £80million spent on Harry Maguire, is merely a bonus. Juve should be set for years to come.

The wait for the new Serie A season is almost over and, remarkably, five of last season's top six will be entering the 2019-20 campaign with new faces at the helm.

Champions Juventus surprisingly parted company with Massimiliano Allegri and replaced him with Maurizio Sarri despite winning the title yet again, although runners-up Napoli have stuck with Carlo Ancelotti.

Inter and AC Milan both appointed new head coaches, with Antonio Conte and Marco Giampaolo taking charge respectively, while Paulo Fonseca is the new man in the Roma dugout.

We look at how the four new men have fared previously in Serie A to see how things might pan out with their new clubs.

 

Maurizio Sarri (Juventus)

Perhaps the most daunting task awaits Sarri next season, as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of Allegri, who won five consecutive Scudetti.

Indeed, the last campaign in which the Bianconeri did not win the title was 2010-11, and if Sarri cannot sustain their dominance his spell in Turin could be short-lived.

Sarri joins with an outstanding Serie A record behind him, however. He enjoyed a superb three-year spell with Napoli before his departure at the end of the 2017-18 season, winning 69 per cent of his 114 league games in charge.

Juve fans will be excited to see if he can successfully instil his free-flowing football at the Allianz Stadium – Napoli's 251 goals during his tenure was 13 more than any other side.

He does, though, start the season in poor health after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Antonio Conte (Inter)

Luciano Spalletti secured a second successive top-four finish last season, meaning Conte will juggle Campions League commitments alongside his bid to dethrone Juve as the dominant side in Serie A.

That is unlikely to phase a man who has won each of the three Serie A campaigns he has started when in charge of the Bianconeri.

Conte – who will have Romelu Lukaku leading the line following his arrival from Manchester United – ended his first league campaign with Juve unbeaten and did not taste defeat until his 49th league match.

What Inter fans would give to see a repeat performance this season.

Marco Giampaolo (AC Milan)

Giampaolo, 52, joined Milan after leaving fellow Serie A side Sampdoria, who he guided to ninth in the last of his three seasons in charge.

Having spent time in charge of Cagliari, Brescia and Empoli among others, Giampaolo is expected to bring stability to San Siro after churning through six full-time head coaches since Allegri's departure in 2014.

Giampaolo's task will be, on the face of it, a simple one – gain qualification for the Champions League. Gennaro Gattuso's failure to do just that ultimately cost the Milan icon his job at San Siro.

It is something that the new man has yet to achieve in his managerial career, but his attacking brand of football will certainly please the club's supporters.

Only four clubs in Serie A last season scored more goals than Sampdoria, while they boasted the best shot conversion rate in the division, scoring with 12.3 per cent of their efforts.

Paulo Fonseca (Roma)

Roma narrowly missed out on a place in next season's Champions League, leaving new coach Fonseca in charge of a club in need of a morale-boosting return to Serie A's top four.

The Giallorossi will still be expected to progress in the Europa League and Fonseca arrives in Rome with a strong track record in continental competition, having guided Shakhtar Donetsk to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2017-18.

He enjoyed a superb three years in Ukraine, winning three league titles, three domestic cups and the Ukrainian Super Cup.

He left Shakhtar with a 78 per cent win ratio in the league and guided them to a whopping 23 clean sheets from their 32 games.

Axel Witsel could have joined Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain at various points in his career but feels vindicated in his decision to sign for Borussia Dortmund last year.

Witsel is in his second season at Dortmund, having joined the Bundesliga club from Chinese side Tianjin Quanjin on a four-year contract.

He narrowly missed out on the Bundesliga title in his debut campaign. However, Witsel believes he is at the right club after possible moves to other European heavyweights did not come to pass.

Speaking to Goal and DAZN, the former Zenit midfielder detailed how he missed out on joining Madrid from Benfica before electing to return to Zenit ahead of moving to Juve.

"I could have joined Real Madrid when Jose Mourinho was there," Witsel said. "But then Real signed Luka Modric, so a transfer to Madrid made no sense to me.

"Shortly before the end of the transfer period Zenit called. I had good discussions with the people responsible and finally agreed. I am an open person and was not afraid of Russia.

"My contract with Zenit expired and I wanted to move to Turin to Juventus. I had already passed the medical check and actually only had to sign the contract.

"I waited all day in the office and Zenit told me to come back. In retrospect, that was perhaps a twist of fate. Maybe it was just not the right time."

United and PSG were said to be in the running for his signature in 2018, but the prospect of regular first-team football convinced Witsel to choose Dortmund instead.

"First [Dortmund sporting director] Michael Zorc approached me, then [coach] Lucien Favre called me," Witsel added.

"I also had other offers, maybe I could have gone to Paris or Manchester, but I did not want to wait. And I had the feeling that I was the first choice for Dortmund. It is important to feel good when you go to a new club.

"So after the talks with Zorc, Favre and [CEO] Hans-Joachim Watzke, I decided to join BVB. Dortmund is a top club - and I really wanted to join a top European club.

"Maybe it was my last chance at 29 years old. It was the right decision."

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