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.

Each close-season transfer window has a defining 'saga' and everything points to the next revolving around Jadon Sancho and Manchester United.

Media reports began to circulate on Wednesday claiming Sancho is set to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, having emerged as one of world football's next great hopes since joining from Manchester City.

The England international seems likely to return home later this year and United are rumoured to be leading the chase, ready to pay £120million for his signature.

United's issues on the flanks are nothing new. For several years they have seemingly operated with a bizarre square-pegs-round-holes policy, assigning numerous players who clearly aren't wingers to wide roles.

We looked at the data to understand how Sancho stacks up with United's current attacking options.

A PROLIFIC CREATOR

It's difficult to imagine Sancho joining United and not having a swift and decisive impact. The only other genuine winger in their squad is Daniel James, and while the Wales international has enjoyed a solid debut season after a shock move, he has faded recently and clearly lacks a certain presence.

After Andreas Pereira (31), Fred (30) and Marcus Rashford (24), James (23) has created the most Premier League chances for United this term and his haul of six assists isn't matched by any of his team-mates.

By comparison, Sancho has laid on 47 opportunities for team-mates in the Bundesliga this season, the fifth-highest in the division, and his haul of 13 assists is the same amount as James, Anthony Martial and Rashford combined.

SUBTLETY IN THE FINAL THIRD

The United squad isn't exactly blessed with lots of physical attackers renowned for their aerial ability, which suggests hooking hopeful crosses into the box does not represent a fertile route to goal.

For the most part, United forwards aren't desperate to cross, with Pereira (28), Rashford (19) and Martial (7) often looking for alternative ways to penetrate the box, but James (79) is the 11th most-frequent crosser in the league, even if he's some way off Trent Alexander-Arnold (159).

Sancho fits in more with the former group, supplying only 22 crosses this season. Perhaps such a low figure is justified by the fact only five per cent were accurate.

Nevertheless, this does suggest Sancho is more subtle and deliberate with his creativity, and given he has crafted comfortably more chances and goals than the United contingent, it is difficult to argue he should alter his style.

A KEY INFLUENCE

As someone who creates so many opportunities, it wouldn't be unusual to expect Sancho to be somewhat wayward in possession, given the necessity to take risks.

But 80 per cent of his 496 passes into the final third have been accurate. Of the 284 Bundesliga players to play at least 50 passes into that part of the pitch, only 11 have greater accuracy than Sancho, though none of those attempted more than 308.

Martial, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Luke Shaw, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all been more accurate in the final third, but Sancho has attempted far more passes, while none of them have got anywhere close to the Dortmund star's chance creation record.

DEADLY WHEN IT MATTERS

Sancho's not just a creator, however.

As well as his 13 assists, Sancho has also chipped in with 12 Bundesliga goals this season, a figure bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Timo Werner (20).

Those 12 goals came from 37 attempts, meaning he is averaging almost a goal every three shots, comfortably better than Martial (17 per cent of 48 shots) and Rashford (19 per cent of 74 shots).

A complete player in attack, Sancho offers an all-round threat that United simply do not possess.

He also appears to be the ideal player for United stylistically, with his attributes and dynamism similar to the likes of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, around whom club seem intent on building their future.

Will Sancho be the next to join that trio?

When the Inter and Milan starting XIs lined up before a cacophonous San Siro on Sunday, there were all the usual sights.

Fierce, steely stares, necks being flexed, legs shaken out. Big-match anxiety writ large.

Then there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, turning around wide-eyed to survey the scene and wearing a big grin.

Perhaps he knew all along. Or thought he did.

Ibrahimovic's return to this fixture was a blessing for Milan, largely because it diverted the attention away from the gulf that has opened up between themselves and their great rivals since Antonio Conte took charge of the Nerazzurri.

"He is a champion who gives Milan quality and charisma," Conte said of Ibrahimovic in the build-up, although even in acknowledging this he could scarcely have envisaged the first-half evisceration his title-aspirants would endure, before turning the tables to top the table with a 4-2 derby win for the ages.

Now 38, Ibrahimovic's frequent aggrandisement – which always seemed to pinball between self-deprecation and a yawing lack of self-awareness – has come to grate as much as it entertains.

It was easy to conclude a Milan marooned in mismanagement and mediocrity had bought into the myth rather than the aging man the wrong side of major knee surgery when they offered him a route back from his expected retirement home in Major League Soccer.

The Rossoneri entered Sunday's game seven places and 19 points shy of Inter, but yet to taste defeat in the seven matches since Ibrahimovic's second debut.

In this Derby della Madonnina – a fixture where he, of course, knows both sides of the divide – he was Milan's talisman.

Stefano Pioli's team drove forward from kick-off and there were 67 seconds on the clock when Ibrahimovic lashed over on the volley from Samu Castillejo's cross.

The most striking element of the veteran's early contribution was his capacity to elevate those around him. Castillejo always had someone to hit from the right flank and was a constant threat, while Ante Rebic looked more like the player from Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final as opposed to the beleaguered individual Milan were recently hoping to send packing back to Eintracht Frankfurt.

The twinkle-toed Hakan Calhanoglu was the pick of the bunch, rifling against the post after nine minutes and popping up with palpable menace across the final third thereafter, never far away from a shrewd pass or lay-off to Ibrahimovic.

Inter were struggling to get out of their own half and, in line with trepidation painted across a touchline-prowling Conte, they fell behind.

Of course Ibrahimovic was involved, muscling above Diego Godin to knock down Castillejo's cross for Rebic to scramble past a bizarrely hesitant Samir Handanovic.

A VAR review did not spare Godin, the sort of reprieve it is hard to imagine would sit well with the gloriously grizzled centre-back. In mano-e-mano combat he simply came off second best to an opponent on a mission.

If Ibrahimovic's role in the opener was about brute strength, for number two he resorted to stealth, stealing into space at the far post as Milan Skriniar's gaze was diverted to the ball. Soon enough it was behind him and being nodded into the net by the man of the moment. Arms aloft, script fulfilled.

Only Conte and his warriors in blue and black, with the blood of an undulating Scudetto race in their nostrils, had other ideas.

Antonio Candreva thumped goalwards in the 51st minute. Blocked. Marcelo Brozovic thumped harder. 2-1.

In a flash, it was all square as a darting Alexis Sanchez was played onside by Andrea Conti's heal and he cut back for Matias Vecino to score.

Godin supplied the pass to Sanchez and the sense of Inter's centre-backs being freed from their earlier Ibrahimovic ordeal was underlined by Stefan de Vrij heading home, putting them on course for the sweetest of victories.

Ibrahimovic thundered a long-range free-kick just wide, crashing it into the advertising hoardings with the same force Milan's earlier dreams met reality, and a towering header hit the post.

Having just about negotiated the man with the occasional God complex, Conte brought on Victor Moses to set up a fourth for the prolific Romelu Lukaku. It's 54 points apiece with Juventus at the summit and Inter, with goal difference in their favour, might just have taken a significant step towards their promised land.

Bayern Munich versus RB Leipzig – if ever a fixture was about more than the game itself, this was it.

In its plainest reading, absent any nuance, Sunday's Bundesliga clash at the Allianz Arena pitted history, heritage and prestige against, well, Leipzig.

Bayern, with their 29 league titles and five European Cups, are a global powerhouse, a team that would spring more readily to mind than almost any other if one were prompted to name one.

As with any club that boasts such a well-stocked trophy room, Bayern are not without their detractors, but respect for the Bavarians is universal, even if sometimes begrudging.

The same cannot be said for Leipzig.

Created in 2009 in circumstances not compatible with any club seeking to be ordained as 'proper' in the eyes of football's ardent traditionalists, RB Leipzig – and the prefix matters here – were at first perceived as a distasteful anomaly.

Having assumed SSV Markranstadt's spot in the fifth tier, consuming that club in the process, the Red Bull-owned franchise were far enough down the pecking order that their business model, a source of concern and even disgust to many, was not considered a threat to the established order.

But their very existence, at whatever level, was still too much for a great many supporters in Germany, who found little trouble distinguishing between Leipzig's unbridled commercialism – typified by their subversion of the '50+1' ownership rule – and their own clubs' multi-million Euro deals for stadium naming rights, kit sponsorship and the like.

It is against this backdrop of cynicism and widespread antipathy that Leipzig have risen to the heights of top-flight title contenders, making Sunday's trip to Munich a genuine six-pointer. 

Julian Nagelsmann insisted before the game that it would not be decisive, with his side heading into it one point behind the reigning champions.

Leipzig's head coach, himself just 32, has a young and exciting squad at his disposal – the youngest, in fact, in the division – and they play in a manner that makes you want to forget the stuffy off-field issues that colour people's judgement of this fledgling club.

But Bayern are the toughest of nuts to crack and, seeking an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title, it was the hosts who carried themselves with greater purpose on the pitch.

Thomas Muller passed when he should have shot, while Robert Lewandowski did get an effort away but saw it deflected wide during a first half in which the hosts were on top.

Bayern were awarded a penalty that was soon taken away after Lewandowski had strayed offside before being fouled, while Timo Werner's profligate finishing ensured the lively Christopher Nkunku's excellent cross went unrewarded.

Goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi's excellent late stop from Leon Goretzka ensured that, as in September's meeting in Leipzig, the spoils were split between two clubs who share little else in common.

A season is a long time in football.

Rewind to 2018-19 and Inter pipped Milan to the fourth and final Champions League spot by a solitary point.

Fast forward to this season and Milan find themselves ninth and 19 points adrift of their title-chasing Serie A neighbours in February.

As Milan and Inter prepare for Sunday's latest instalment of the Derby della Madonnina, we look at why the Rossoneri have fallen so far behind the Nerazzurri this term.

 

COACHING APPOINTMENTS

Inter brought in a winner. The Suning Holdings Group were determined to sign former Juventus and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and they got their man. 

Milan were linked to Conte, but Paolo Maldini and the red half of the city were never able to provide the funds necessary for his arrival. Instead, Milan turned to Marco Giampaolo as the replacement for Gennaro Gattuso. There were high hopes for Giampaolo, given the brand of football on show during his time at Sampdoria. However, cracks quickly appeared and he was sacked after just seven games, which included a 2-0 loss to Inter.

That led to Stefano Pioli. An unpopular choice having previously coached Inter, Maldini and the board found themselves under pressure. Despite hardly being an exciting appointment following spells at Fiorentina, Lazio, Bologna and Palermo, Pioli has overseen some improvement. Milan have gone seven games without defeat, though the jury is still out.

 

SIGNINGS

Finances help but recruitment could not be further apart. Boosted by the income of Champions League football and the demands of Conte, Inter have splashed the cash in 2019-20. It took a club-record transfer to prise Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United. Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sanchez, Diego Godin, Ashley Young, Victor Moses and Cristiano Biraghi have all joined the blue half of Milan and made impacts. Valentino Lazaro also arrived but has since moved to Newcastle United on loan.

The additions of Gonzalo Higuain and Leonardo Bonucci were supposed to awaken sleeping giants Milan in 2017, helping to restore their glory days, but the transfer market has not been kind to the Rossoneri. Milan's recent woes can be traced back to the signing of Krzysztof Piatek last term. The Poland striker had taken Italy by storm just six months into his move to Genoa with 19 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions. It prompted Milan to spend big and while there were glimpses of his talent, Piatek's January switch to Hertha Berlin proves they were hasty in their decision to entrust him with the iconic number nine shirt.

The purchase of Theo Hernandez has proven to be a bargain, while Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer are some of Maldini and Zvonimir Boban's better deals when you compare them to the likes of Rade Krunic, Leo Duarte and Ante Rebic – who up until the turn of the year was virtually non-existent.

Then there is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His return in January raised some eyebrows, given his age at 38, but the superstar striker has provided leadership and character to the dressing room, helping the team on a seven-match unbeaten run. A rare tick for Milan in recent transfer windows.

 

OFF THE FIELD

Inter are a club thriving on and off the pitch. Conte and CEO Giuseppe Marotta – his trusted friend at Juventus – have the Nerazzurri dreaming of the Scudetto. Milan, on the other hand, could not be further away from ending a title drought dating back to 2011.

A lot of Milan's problems stem from ownership and numerous changes at the top. The last time Milan claimed the Scudetto, Silvio Berlusconi was in charge and Ibrahimovic was playing alongside Ronaldinho, Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta. Since then, a Chinese consortium pledged to lead Milan back to the promised land in 2017. It turned out the new owners did not have the funds required and it led to Elliott Management taking over. The change in ownership sparked upheaval – CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli were replaced, while Leonardo came and went.

While doubts remain over Maldini and Boban, Milan need a period of stability – especially off the field – to help get back to challenging for domestic and European honours.

Julian Nagelsmann insists the outcome will not decide anything, but RB Leipzig's trip to Bayern Munich is undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the Bundesliga title race.

A charging Bayern squad suddenly sit on top of the table, a point clear of their opponents. The reigning champions have hit top form, reeling off six league wins on the spin. They have scored 12 goals in their three outings since the mid-season break, too.

In contrast, Leipzig - who have enjoyed such a rapid rise since they were formed in 2009 - have stumbled in recent weeks.

A 2-0 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Borussia Monchengladbach last time out. Sunday's trip to the Allianz Arena should tell us a lot more about their prospects of lasting the distance.

With help from Opta, we look at key statistics behind both teams' recent performances - and identify how a coaching change may turn out to be crucial in the final reckoning.

 

Leipzig out of luck, or are they wilting under pressure?

Vibrant, youthful, exciting – set aside the off-field politics that surrounds Leipzig's ownership, and there is little to dislike about them on the pitch.

But since the post-winter break, Leipzig have relinquished their position at the Bundesliga's summit and won just once in four matches across all competitions. If they weren't hopeful of a title challenge this could be dismissed as a blip, but given their lofty ambitions, it warrants investigation.

Even with the in-form Timo Werner, Leipzig have been far less impressive in front of goal. Before the break they had scored 67 times but their expected goals (xG) was 62 – since returning they've netted six times, which corresponds exactly with xG.

They're averaging more shots now, 18.5 per game as opposed to 16.5 before Christmas, but accuracy has dropped to 49 per cent from 59, while big-chance conversion has decreased spectacularly from 41 per cent to just 17.

Leipzig are still creating chances at an almost identical rate, so the data suggests a decrease in composure is to blame for their issues.

 

Demme departure a factor

It was always likely to be a blow to lose club captain Diego Demme, the tidy and tenacious midfielder Leipzig allowed to join Napoli in the January transfer window.

Given he is more of a defensive-minded player, it's difficult to attach too much importance to his absence from an attacking perspective, but even the smallest change can have a ripple effect – after all, Leipzig averaged 2.9 goals per match with him in the starting XI and just 1.7 without him.

Their win percentage also takes a dip from 65 to 44.4 per cent when Demme has not been in the line-up.

They averaged 2.2 points each match when the German started, but that plummets to 1.6 if he has been absent.

 

Bayern back in business

For a time in the first half of the season, it seemed possible we could be in for a Bundesliga title race without Bayern. However, last season provided a cautionary tale.

Bayern eventually came good in the 2018-19 campaign, finishing strongly enough to win the title by two points despite Borussia Dortmund – who ended up second – holding a nine-point lead over them at the end of the 15th matchday.

Statistically, there were only negligible differences between how Bayern performed before and after last season's winter break, but this term there are notable improvements, even if there is a smaller sample of games to look at post-break.

Big-chance conversion is up from 40 per cent to 53; shooting accuracy is now 64 per cent when it was 51; they're averaging four goals per game compared to 2.8 and conceding one every match, as opposed to 1.2.

Whereas last season Bayern appeared to simply profit off Dortmund's collapse, this term there is early evidence of genuine improvement.

With that coming off the back of several uninterrupted weeks of working with their new coach, Hansi Flick, it seems a leadership change might be paying dividends.

Even when you consider the well-reported exit clause in his contract, until recently the idea of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for another club was virtually unthinkable.

But this week friction has started to appear, with Messi publicly calling out Barca director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players in an interview, saying that "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem" before Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Messi's forthright response on Instagram said the "sports management must also assume their responsibilities" and suggested Abidal should name specific players if he is willing to criticise them, otherwise "we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

Barca have since assured – via Spain's sports newspapers – that all is well, the pair have reconciled and Abidal will keep his job, but that is unlikely to dispel concern among supporters, particularly following further reports several other clubs have registered an interest.

Nevertheless, arguably for the first time ever, the prospect of Messi leaving does not seem an impossibility, particularly given a contract clause allows him to leave for free – but where would that leave Barca?

A BRUTAL GENIUS

Declaring Messi important to Barcelona would be an understatement akin to saying the Titanic was big. After all, he's helped them win 34 trophies.

Messi made his breakthrough in the 2004-05 season and his impact has been almost beyond comprehension. If the six-time Ballon d'Or winner isn't the greatest footballer of all-time, good luck making a case for anyone else.

He has gone on to play a role in 864 goals (622 goals, 242 assists) in 711 matches across all competitions, a truly astounding feat.

One gets an even greater perspective of his influence when considering how much of Barca's overall total that equates to.

Across the same period, the Blaugrana have scored 2,241 times, meaning he has had a hand in 39 per cent of all of their goals over a period of almost 16 years – including his first season when he featured on just nine occasions.

Since the 2007-08 campaign, his first with more than 20 involvements, that figure shoots up to 44 per cent – or 804 of Barca's 1,812 goals in that time.

ONE-MAN TEAM?

Given some of the players he has featured alongside, it is probably a step too far to suggest Barca have been a one-man team since Messi made a first-team role his own.

However, there can be little denying he has often carried them and no one else has had a remotely comparable impact.

Over the past 12 seasons, Messi has finished as Barca's leading scorer across all competitions in all but one - 2015-16 when Luis Suarez plundered 59.

His best was that remarkable 2011-12 campaign when he scored 73 goals across all fronts, while a haul of 29 assists took him to 102 involvements - 54 per cent of the team's total.

IRREPLACABLE?

Where do you even start when planning to replace a player who has been directly involved in almost 50 per cent of your club's goals in a 12-and-a-half-year period?

One would hope for Barca's sake they have some form of contingency plan, but even if they do, it's difficult to imagine them being able to buy anyone anywhere near as influential.

Messi is more than a mere footballer – Barca teams for more than a decade have been built with the purpose of getting the best out of him, while he is virtually unrivalled both as a creator and finisher.

Neymar is the obvious candidate to replace Messi when the time comes, as he does offer a similar blend of deadliness and craft, although Barca's financial constraints are well-documented and it's hard to see how they could afford him at the moment, even without Messi's wage.

They may opt to go down the route of signing a more singled-minded attacker, such as Kylian Mbappe or Lautaro Martinez, but again, certainly in the case of the former, affordability may be an issue.

Even if Antoine Griezmann manages to belatedly blossom in Barcelona colours, Messi's eventual departure will leave a gaping chasm that their current squad is unequipped to fill.

Putting together a post-Messi Barca could just be the single most fascinating rebuilding job in football history – but Josep Maria Bartomeu and Abidal will be clinging on to the hope that won't be for another few years yet.

Antoine Griezmann said he can do it. Quique Setien thinks Ousmane Dembele can do it. But is Ansu Fati best placed to fill in for Luis Suarez at Barcelona?

The 17-year-old was one of Ernesto Valverde's final plus points for the club, the former head coach handing a chance to the youngster that has allowed him to go from La Masia hopeful to Lionel Messi strike-partner in a matter of months.

With Suarez not expected to return until the season is pretty much over, Barca were expected to sign a number nine in the transfer window. The fact that they didn't is something the board will have to explain, but another time. Sunday's win over Levante was all about Ansu.

Griezmann might have been deployed as the centre-forward, but Fati was the most threatening player on the pitch. Records tend to fall every few weeks in this player's life: Barca's second-youngest LaLiga player, youngest league goalscorer, youngest Champions League player, youngest Champions League goalscorer, and youngest to score and assist in the same LaLiga match.

Now, he has another: at 17 years and 94 days old, he is the youngest player to score two goals in a single LaLiga match in the competition's history. More importantly for Barca, this was no fun-filled cameo with the team cruising to victory - this was a match-winning performance, a double to secure a 2-1 win that could have been more comfortable had others shown Fati's clinical touch.

Only Messi managed more shots (10) and more efforts on target (six) than Fati (five and two). Barca's captain was also the only player to better Fati for chances created (seven, compared to three). It should come as no surprise that Messi set up both goals, the first with a particularly sumptuous throughball.

Perhaps more impressively, no Barca player made more tackles than Fati (four), with Gerard Pique closest on two. That paints a picture of an attacking player not afraid to shirk responsibilities when it comes to pressing defenders and helping Barca sustain pressure in the opposition half.

Of course, no amount of hard work from a forward will excuse a failure to stick the ball between the white posts, but that is a quality Fati has never lacked. His first goal showcased his lightning pace but also a surprising level of strength, as he shoved away his marker before composedly slotting beneath goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez with his right foot. His second underlined what he makes him such a threat: unpredictability. Messi played the ball into feet this time, and Fati shifted to his left before drilling in a low shot through Aitor, who could have done better.

The ability to score with either foot with ease keeps defenders wary and makes it significantly harder for opposition teams to prepare containment plans. A determined work ethic lets centre-backs know they will never be given a moment's peace when this forward is on the pitch. A good understanding with Messi is a pretty useful bonus.

Suarez has all these qualities; it seems Fati does, too. Maybe Barca didn't need a new striker after all.

Novak Djokovic extended his record for the most Australian Open titles, clinching an eighth after edging Dominic Thiem in Sunday's final.

The Serbian star moved onto 17 major crowns by overcoming Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after three hours, 59 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic became the third man to win a single major eight times, with Rafael Nadal (12 French Open titles) and Roger Federer (eight at Wimbledon) having also achieved the feat.

We take a look back at all of his Australian Open successes.

2008 – A maiden grand slam title

Aged 20, this was Djokovic's fourth main-draw appearance in Melbourne and his previous best had been the fourth round the year prior.

But he produced a flying run to the final, beating Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets in the last 16 and top seed Federer in the semis.

Djokovic, the third seed, was left with a surprise opponent in the final and he made the most of his chance, coming from a set down to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

It was the first grand slam since the 2005 Australian Open not won by either Federer or Nadal.

2011 – The beginning of complete Melbourne dominance

Djokovic had to wait three years for his second title in Melbourne, but it started a wonderful run of dominance.

He was largely untouchable again on his way to the final, including wins over top-10 seeds Tomas Berdych and Federer.

Djokovic crushed Andy Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3 in the decider to win the first of an incredible three grand slams in 2011.

 

2012 – Coming through two epics

This would be a major best remembered for two matches – Djokovic's semi and final.

He took almost five hours to get past Murray in the last four in a match that seemed certain to ruin his chances in the decider.

Somehow, Djokovic came through that too, beating Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in the longest Open Era grand slam final, which went for a gruelling five hours, 53 minutes.

2013 – Hat-trick complete

Djokovic extended his winning streak at the Australian Open to 21 matches with a third straight title.

He became the first man in the Open Era to win a hat-trick of titles in Melbourne.

Djokovic took five hours to get past Stan Wawrinka – the man who would break his run the following year – in the fourth round before again beating Murray in a final.

 

2015 – Another Wawrinka marathon, another Murray final

Fernando Verdasco and Milos Raonic were unable to stop Djokovic and, this time, Wawrinka failed too.

Djokovic beat the Swiss star in a five-set semi-final before a familiar face stood between him and another title.

Murray managed to split the first two sets, but Djokovic ran away with it from there 6-3 6-0 for a fifth crown.

2016 ­– Record equalled after Simon scare

It was the fourth round that proved to be the biggest scare in Djokovic's bid for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title.

But he got through another gruelling five-setter, this time against French 14th seed Gilles Simon.

Kei Nishikori, Federer and Murray were unable to stop him from there as Djokovic joined Roy Emerson on six Australian Open crowns.
 

2019 – Record claimed in flawless fashion

For a six-time champion and the world number one, this seemed like a quiet run by Djokovic.

He dispatched of up-and-comers Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, spent less than an hour on court with an exhausted Nishikori and was almost flawless against Lucas Pouille.

Only Nadal stood between him and a record seventh Australian Open title in a repeat of their epic 2012 final.

And Djokovic may have saved his best performance for the final, dismantling Nadal in just over two hours.

2020 – Thiem test survived to close in on Federer, Nadal

Djokovic entered the tournament on the back of six impressive singles wins at the ATP Cup.

After a brief first-round hiccup against Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic cruised into the quarter-finals.

He continued his dominance of Milos Raonic with a 10th win in as many meetings with the Canadian and then brushed a hurt Federer aside.

Thiem, playing his third major final, was a huge test, but Djokovic survived after almost four hours to extend his record in Melbourne. It was his 17th major title, moving closer to the tallies of Federer (20) and Nadal (19), as he reclaimed the number one ranking.

"I want to be a champion, I want to be number one in the world," a seven-year-old Sofia Kenin told journalist David Kozlowski 14 years ago. 

Kenin has taken Melbourne by storm over the past fortnight, stunning the tennis world by claiming a maiden grand slam title.

The 21-year-old stormed past Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-2 6-2 to win the Australian Open women's final on Saturday.

But her first major success should not come as a surprise - the American sensation has always dreamed big.

Aside from her comments to Kozlowski, a video of a baby-faced Kenin speaking about idol Andy Roddick had also been doing the rounds leading into her big dance against Muguruza.

Born in Russia before relocating to the United States with her family, a young Kenin confidently boasted to Tennis TV about her skill and ability to go toe-to-toe with Roddick, who retweeted the throwback video.

Kenin - now located in Florida - has maintained that confidence at Melbourne Park.

After upstaging world number one and French Open champion Ash Barty in the semi-finals, having vanquished 15-year-old compatriot Coco Gauff in the fourth round, Kenin followed that tone.

"I always believed I can. Of course, I didn't have a book. I didn't know exactly when. I feel like at this young age, I think it's incredible," Kenin told reporters after booking her spot in a slam final for the first time.

"Not everyone gets to live this moment, live this dream. I'm just really grateful for it. I've worked so hard. I've put all the efforts into my practices, into my fitness. All the efforts I've been doing, it's got me here. It's just paying off and it's like a dream come true for me."

A product of immigrant parents, Kenin's game reflects that - tenacious, gritty and passionate. Fighting for every point, with her father watching proudly from her players' box.

Those qualities were on show against two-time major winner Muguruza, eyeing a first slam trophy since 2017, having saved two set points in each of the first and second sets in the win over Barty.

Down love-40 in the fifth game of the third set, 14th seed Kenin reeled off five successive points by hitting four groundstroke winners and an ace. That deflated Muguruza, who went on to crumble to hand her young opponent the championship following a double-fault.

Kenin is the youngest American slam champion since Serena Williams at the 2002 US Open.

She is also proof that dreams can come true as a new star sparkles on the WTA Tour.

Wayne Pivac on the touchline; the Principality Stadium crowd brimming with back-to-school excitement.

A new dawn was arriving for Welsh rugby as Saturday's Six Nations opener against Italy came into view.

Yet this story isn't about coach Pivac, nor new dawns, nor the fact we've reached the 20-year anniversary of the Cardiff stadium staging its first match in the championship.

Coaches come and coaches go and Pivac will have his day and leave; not even Warren Gatland was inclined to go on forever on the touchline.

And the inevitable truth is that stadiums decay, to be replaced by grander, more suitable settings for world-class sport. Which themselves will one day lose their lustre.

The St Helen's ground in Swansea and Cardiff's Arms Park used to proudly house the hallowed turf for Welsh rugby.

Some things, though, have a greater permanence. And what endures perhaps best of all in Welsh rugby is its carved-in-stone connection to the country's richly poetic and musical history, most pertinently the hymns and folk songs that permeate from Llanelli to Llanberis, Cardiff Bay to Cardigan Bay.

That time-honoured beacon of Welsh society - the male voice choir - remains as much a part of the rugby fabric as it ever was. This story celebrates the glorious communion between song and Welsh rugby.

Slated for success

In the heart of Snowdonia lies Blaenau Ffestiniog, a largely Welsh-speaking small town renowned for centuries for its vast slate mines, and home today to the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir.

The Welsh Rugby Union invites such choirs on a rota basis to perform within the stadium before its home matches, knowing their presence rouses Cardiff crowds in such a way they become the team's 16th man.

Soon it will be the turn of Brythoniaid, seven-time winners of the National Eisteddfod. They are booked in for the match against Scotland in March.

"We've done it before," said Phill Jones, the choir secretary.

"Most of the choir are fanatical rugby supporters anyhow, so to be allowed to get on the pitch and be allowed to sing to 70,000 people is a bit of an experience."

 

Have the Welsh crowds lost their voice?

There have been questions asked recently about the atmosphere at Wales' home games.

Journalist and Pontypool rugby club media man Greg Caine argued on the Nation Cymru website that priorities were changing, and that Wales crowds had lost their voice, even at last year's Grand Slam decider against Ireland.

He wrote: "... the singing was seriously lacking, and it's almost become a cliche, but [again] many really were more interested in going to the bar than watching the match."

He pointed to a "day out" culture and added: "Whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing – people are welcome to enjoy something they've paid for however they want – a symptom of the aforementioned attitude to the match is the general lack of singing, and it's that which I find most disappointing and demoralising when attending Wales matches."

Most surprisingly of all, Caine claimed Wales football supporters have developed a "wider repertoire" of songs and chants than their rugby counterparts.

"It does [surprise me]. I would say quite the opposite to be honest with you," Brythoniaid's Jones told Omnisport.

Such an argument could run and run; what defies debate is the sense that song is deeply ingrained within Welsh sporting culture, whatever the shape of the ball.

"The English only have one song"

"Anywhere, at any standard of rugby, you get singing in the crowd," said Jones. "We've got a local rugby team called Bro Ffestiniog, and even if the crowd might only be 50 or maybe less, they'll sing like mad.

"We'll take a choir, just to give them entertainment and help along as well, and they'll say it makes a heck of a difference.

"You'll only hear one song being sung in an English match and that's the chariot one ['Swing Low, Sweet Chariot']. You listen to a Welsh crowd and you'll get such variation. I think it's something we're very good at, and the Scottish and the French are as well."

Jones says singing in Wales has always come with a rivalry aspect.

"You go back to the days when there was real hardship," he said. "In those days, the chapels and churches were at their strongest, where you had congregations in the hundreds and singing was a part of life.

"Where we sing, there were two huge quarries with 7,000 men working, and at each level of the mine, there was a shed where they would congregate having lunch, and they used to have singing competitions between each shed.

"It was tradition back then, and that's how the choir started. Most of the big choirs in Wales are associated with areas where coal mining and chapels were very strong. There's a lot less now than there used to be.

"We're not so bad, but we used to have massive choirs; I would say 120 to 130 [people]. These days people have other things to do."

Together, this is what we'll do

The Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir struck lucky when they were invited to perform at Festival No 6 in Portmeirion, performing 'Go West' with the Pet Shop Boys in 2014 and joining a 2017 line-up that featured The Flaming Lips and Rag'n'Bone Man.

"Because of that, we got more wanting to be involved with the choir," Jones recalls. "We were down to about 45 in the choir at one stage but we're now up to around 75, so you have to be prepared to change. Not change too much, but you've got to adapt."

Will the national anthem - Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - ring out inside rugby stadiums in 50 years' time? Will future generations still incant Calon Lan, these days a favourite of so many supporters? Might Bread of Heaven still be bellowed from the stands towards the end of this century?

Will Max Boyce's Hymns and Arias always resonate?

"I would think so, I would hope so anyway," said Jones. "The choirs are getting smaller, so you might not have the same size of choir that are taking part now. But even though they get smaller, I think they'll still go on."

Gary Morgan, secretary of the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir, agrees.

"Those songs are there and they're not going away," said Morgan.

"Some of our choir might groan a little when it comes to rehearsing the same old hymns, but those are the ones the crowds want and they enjoy them so much. And when on match days the crowd are singing them back, it's just a moment of great pride.

"We sang at Gavin Henson's wedding last year. People always love to hear a Welsh male voice choir on a big occasion."

But not only are the choirs shrinking, they are ageing, too, which has to be a worry.

"It's a real struggle to find anyone under the age of 40 wanting to join," Morgan said. "I couldn't give the choir the commitment I do now until I retired from teaching.

"But I can't imagine the Arms Park or the Principality Stadium without those songs. They're such an vital part of Welsh rugby life."

Wednesday in Manchester, and as one institution reaches the end of the line, another was supposedly hurtling towards the buffers.

After years of letting down customers, providing pathetic value for money, laughable reliability and plummeting towards national laughing stock status, Manchester United and the humiliated rail franchisee Northern should probably compare notes.

As the UK government effectively brought Northern's journey to an end, a thought came to mind: there's another faltering institution that might benefit from nationalisation.

The Glazer family's ownership of United reached a nadir - its latest nadir - on Tuesday when the unpopular executive-vice chairman Ed Woodward saw his home apparently attacked by thugs, who through some perverse logic felt they were doing the right thing for their favourite football club.

If he won't go willingly, so their theory probably went, we'll drive him out through force. The theory is absurd, as Gary Neville reasoned before the latest Manchester derby, telling Sky Sports the images of violence at Woodward's home were "unfortunate", stressing: "People's families shouldn't be attacked through sport or through football."

But Neville is also fed up: fed up of waiting, fearful the old express train is being shunted towards the scrap yard by owners who care about only one thing.

The former United captain warned the protests are "going to get worse", said supporters are "absolutely disgusted" with the regression of the team, and spoke of simmering tensions coming to the boil.

The mayors of Liverpool and Manchester spoke earlier in the day of "almost two years of misery and mayhem" for train passengers, but United supporters, such as Neville, would tell you their suffering has gone on for longer.

United, so everyone says, would be better off in someone else's hands. Almost anyone but the Glazers and Woodward would appease supporters who have had to put up with ... only winning eight Premier League titles this century.

This sob story has to be put into some sort of added context though, and in the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final at the Etihad Stadium an embattled United side showed they are not resigned to rotting in the sidings while Manchester City have the run of things.

United in January 2020 are not yet a lost cause. They sit fifth in the Premier League, have Europa League knockout football to come, and Bruno Fernandes is arriving: hailed as a saviour before he has kicked a ball or even signed his contract. No pressure then.

Fifteen miles from Old Trafford stands Gigg Lane, Bury, a stadium which used to stage lower-league football and United's reserve games but this season is staging nothing, the local team having been expelled from the English Football League in August amid a financial crisis. Fans there are bereft. Never mind nationalising a club, how about rationalising the crumbling of such a totem of that town to faultless supporters who, according to local MP James Daly, are now experiencing "increased social isolation".

Bury fans have been silenced, but United's thousands found their voice when, after 35 minutes of withstanding almost incessant City pressure at the Etihad Stadium, they snatched the lead with a swish of Nemanja Matic's left boot as the ball whistled past Claudio Bravo.

Never mind that they managed just one shot to City's nine, United led at half-time and were back to 3-2 behind on aggregate. Waiting on the platform for the late arrival of any sort of footballing gratification, of course those in United's ranks relished the moment.

Normal service would surely be restored in the second half, yet City wanted to walk it in. Raheem Sterling was ponderous when he should have been punishing, and goodness knows how City failed to score when Harry Maguire gave the ball away on the edge of the six-yard box.

United then lost a key component of their midfield rolling stock, Matic seeing a second yellow and a red for a reckless shove, and yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team still pushed for a goal to level the tie.

It was unsurprisingly beyond them, Pep Guardiola's City earning a ticket to Wembley to face Aston Villa on March 1.

Still, the United fans applauded and the players in red returned the compliment.

Solskjaer smiled, and Woodward, the unpopular station master, shook hands and exchanged well wishes with City counterparts in the directors' box.

Another chance of a trophy slipped by, on one of those nights when you paused to wonder if United might be back on track sooner than we thought.

There have been plenty of those before though, red herrings for Red Devils.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Byrant died suddenly in Calabasas, California on Sunday.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash, with seven other reported casualties.

Tributes for five-time NBA champion and 2008 MVP Bryant have poured in across all sports.

After Bryant's shock passing, we look back at his memorable farewell appearance against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016, which capped a glittering 20-year career.

 

60 - Bryant's final point total. No player in the NBA scored as many as the Lakers guard did in one game throughout that season.

50 - The amount of shooting attempts by Bryant, who eclipsed Michael Jordan's record of 49 shots against the Orlando Magic in 1993. Bryant took 15 more shots than the rest of his team-mates combined.

16 - Unassisted points recorded. Bryant took control in his Hollywood goodbye - his final seven baskets coming without an assist.

18 - Contested shots made. Bryant nailed 18 of 40 shots with a defender within 3.5 feet against the Jazz.

22 - Points scored by Bryant in the paint. Having great success with layups, he also finished six-of-21 from three-point range.

13 - Unanswered points posted in the final two minutes in LA. The Lakers trailed by 10 points with 2:36 remaining before Bryant sparked and completed the rally.

2 - Turnovers committed in a remarkable outing. Bryant took care of the ball, despite his record amount of shooting attempts.

4 - Assists tallied by 'the Black Mamba'. Jordan Clarkson was the main beneficiary as he received three dimes from Bryant.

0 - Shots made in the first six minutes of the game as nerves troubled Bryant in the opening exchanges. He missed his first five shots.

7 - It had been seven years since Bryant's previous 60-point game - the 18-time All-Star going off with 61 against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2009.

18,997 - Fans in attendance for Bryant's farewell at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant transcended the game of basketball after entering the NBA in 1996.

The Los Angeles Lakers legend provided highlight after highlight up until his retirement in 2016, with staggering point hauls.

Tragically, the five-time NBA champion and 2008 MVP and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Following his sudden passing, we look at Bryant's five greatest games with the Lakers, where he spent his entire 20-year career.

 

65 points - March 16, 2007 v Portland Trail Blazers

Against the Trail Blazers at Staples Center, Bryant came close to reaching the career-high 81 points he had recorded just over a year earlier. The superstar guard lit up the Blazers with 65 points as the Lakers won 116-111. Bryant shot 23-of-39, including 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, while he also made eight three-pointers.

Nate McMillan coached Portland that day and following Sunday's heartbreaking news, the-now Indiana Pacers coach told reporters: "I've seen it firsthand. He lit us up and I remember, he was shooting threes and just on fire, and we had him in a trap, deep corner, he had nowhere to go, should have passed the ball. He's facing his bench and he just turns and shoots it and it goes in. He really became like Michael [Jordan], in the sense that when you watched him play, could he do it again? Could he create that magic again in the fourth quarter? And he did."

61 points - February 2, 2009 v New York Knicks

Madison Square Garden hosted one of Bryant's greatest performances almost 11 years ago. At the world-famous arena in New York, 'the Black Mamba' posted 61 points - a venue record for a visiting player - against the Knicks, who lost 126-117 to the Lakers. On 19-of-31 shooting, Bryant finished with three assists and one block. He scored 34 points in the first half alone en route to the record, which was matched by Houston Rockets star James Harden in 2019.

"Tonight was one of the nights he kind of showed why he's going to go down in history," Lakers team-mate Lamar Odom said after the game.

62 points - December 20, 2005 v Dallas Mavericks

Three quarters were all that Kobe needed to embarrass the Mavericks. Bryant outscored Dallas 62-61 at the end of the third quarter in Los Angeles as the Lakers eased to a 112-90 victory. The Mavericks were one of the best teams that season, going on to reach the NBA Finals before succumbing to the Miami Heat. However, the Mavericks were schooled by the unstoppable Bryant, who shot 18-of-31 from the field and 22-of-25 from the free-throw line. He sat out the entire fourth quarter.

"It was just one of those nights," Bryant told reporters as he reflected on the game in 2016. "Yes [I could have scored 80 points that night]. It sounds funny to say, but yes, I could have."

60 points - April 13, 2016 v Utah Jazz 

Bryant farewelled basketball in the only way he knew how, with an exclamation mark. It was a true Hollywood goodbye as Bryant capped a career - spanning two decades - by scoring 60 final-game points in a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Bryant drained 23 points in the fourth quarter, posting his first 50-point game since February 2009. 

"It's hard to believe it happened this way," Bryant, who played 42 minutes and took attempted a career-high 50 shots, said. "I'm still shocked about it…. The perfect ending would have been a championship. But tonight was [me] trying to go out, play hard and try to put on a show as much as I possibly could. It felt good to be able to do that one last time."

81 points - January 22, 2006 v Toronto Raptors

The highlight of a stellar career and the night Bryant threatened to surpass Wilt Chamberlain. Kobe played 1,346 NBA games but he was well and truly in the zone against the Raptors, scoring 81 points - just 19 short of Chamberlain's legendary 100-point outing in 1962. Bryant produced 48 minutes of pure brilliance to lead the Lakers past the Raptors 122-104. It was a display of efficiency as Bryant's outburst featured a 60.9 shooting percentage from the field and 53.8 per cent from beyond the arc.

"Not even in my dreams," Bryant said. "That was something that just happened. It's tough to explain. It's just one of those things."

Real Madrid lifted the lid on the worst-kept secret in world football on Monday when they confirmed the signing of Flamengo talent Reinier Jesus for a reported €30million.

In completing the long-reported deal, Los Blancos bolstered an already impressive collection of young players on their books, with the club's future planning seemingly second to none in world football.

In Eder Militao, Federico Valverde, Luka Jovic, Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior, Takefusa Kubo, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Reguilon, Martin Odegaard and now Reinier, Madrid boast a remarkable amount of under-23 talent.

Reinier completed his switch the day after his 18th birthday and, while his price tag appears hefty, it actually led to friction within Flamengo – coach Jorge Jesus accusing the club of not being able to value their players, a comment vice-president Marcos Braz subsequently shut down.

Although a regular in transfer gossip columns of late, Reinier remains something of an unknown quantity and a complete rookie given he has played just 15 matches of senior football.

We asked Andy Walker, a Brazilian football analyst and expert for Football Radar, for the lowdown on the latest Brazilian 'wonderkid' to secure a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

What's Reinier's favoured role?

"Reinier is at his best in a No.10 role, but he does like to play slightly more advanced than a traditional '10', staying close to the striker as much as possible," Andy surmised.

It is an area in which Madrid are by no means short, but Reinier also boasts the flexibility to fill in right across the frontline. "He has actually been used as a striker at times by Flamengo as a result," Andy added.

 

What are his greatest attributes?

A Brazilian attacker coveted by Real Madrid – you might be able to guess at a few of his strongest traits, though Andy has also been impressed by Reinier's poise when it matters.

"A quick, direct dribbler who can glide past his man with ease, as well as possessing deceptively good close control and technique," Andy said. "He's also got a real eye for goal, with six goals in 729 minutes of senior football, with his composure really impressive given his very young age."

 

In which areas does he need to improve?

While he is certainly costly, it should not be forgotten Reinier has only just turned 18 and is by no means the finished article. Our expert has reservations over the Flamengo product's physicality and athleticism at the moment.

He said: "He needs to progress physically as we have seen him struggle to keep up the pace in the latter stages when playing a full 90 minutes, but that should all come as he learns the game and adapts to a more rigorous training regime in Europe. As with any young Brazilian, he will need a lot of growth on the tactical side of the game, but his six months under Jorge Jesus will prove a real benefit, rather than playing under some of the archaic Brazilian coaches."

 

Which player could he be comparable to?

Every talented young player from Brazil or Argentina gets labelled as the heir apparent to a previous superstar, and it seems Reinier is no different having drawn comparisons to a former Madrid player.

"The easy comparison to make is with Kaka – or specifically the Milan-era Kaka," Andy suggested, and he is not the only one to make that link. Guilherme Dalla Dea, Reinier's former Brazil Under-17 coach, said similar last year.

"I see him as a '10' – a Rai, a Kaka," he told FIFA. "I see these characteristics in Reiner. He likes getting in the box, scoring goals. He also scores goals from outside the box. I've so much belief in him. He's a kid, a youngster, but he's very level-headed and because of this he's our captain. I firmly believe we'll see him playing at a very high level overseas."

 

How does his potential stack up compared to Rodrygo and Vinicius?

There is no doubt Madrid are backing their own track record of turning raw young talents into the world's best, such has been their investment in under-23 players over the past few years. And the consensus is, Reinier's potential is vast.

"It's difficult to say given Rodrygo and Vinicius were given more time to show their talents in Brazil before moving, but Reinier's talent has been obvious since his very first game and I think the general feeling is that, if all goes well, then he could end up being the best of the lot," Andy observed.

 

Have there been any concerns relating to his mentality?

Talent can only take you so far. As a teenager moving to a new continent, Reinier will surely face mental challenges and those will likely determine whether or not he achieves success – but in terms of professionalism, he is seemingly well set.

"Reinier's team-mates and coaches have all been very positive about his attitude and willingness to learn, so he looks well-placed to make the most of his talents," Andy commented.

Similarly, his coach Jorge Jesus has no worries about that side of the 18-year-old, telling Marca: "I believe a lot in Reinier. I had several talks with him and we talked a lot from the point of view of how he can get better, about his defects, what needs to be corrected. Reinier is a very intelligent kid, he likes to learn and I can say he is a gifted one. I assure you, he is going to mature there. He will arrive in Madrid safe and quiet to do a job, but it is necessary to give him some time."

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