EPL

De Bruyne alongside Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar as world's best – Del Piero

By Sports Desk April 02, 2020

Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne belongs among the world's best alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, according to Alessandro Del Piero.

Messi and Ronaldo are widely regarded as the world's two best players, ahead of Paris Saint-Germain stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

But Del Piero, a Juventus great, feels De Bruyne should be considered among the best.

"To define the strongest player, you should specify in what," he told Sky Sport on Thursday.

"In addition to the sacred names such as Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar that attract the audience at 360 degrees, there are players of incredible depth, like De Bruyne."

De Bruyne had scored nine goals and provided 18 assists in 35 games in all competitions before this season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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    Steven Gerrard enjoyed plenty of success during his illustrious playing career. 

    As a youngster, he was part of Gerard Houllier's Liverpool squad that completed a cup treble in the 2000-01 season, including beating Deportivo Alaves 5-4 after extra time in the UEFA Cup final. 

    Then there was the Miracle of Istanbul under Rafael Benitez in 2005, followed a year later by an equally unforgettable FA Cup win. Gerrard was the talisman on both occasions, playing his part in the comeback against Milan before going on to deny West Ham at the death in Cardiff.

    With fellow club legend Kenny Dalglish there was a third EFL Cup success, but a league title eluded Gerrard. The Reds ran Manchester United hard in the title race in 2008-09, then came up agonisingly short five years later with Brendan Rodgers at the helm. 

    But Gerrard is not alone in missing out. As the ex-England international turns 40, take a look at 10 other notable names who never got their hands on the Premier League trophy.

     

    Gareth Bale 

    After a slow start, Bale eventually blossomed into a superstar at Tottenham. The left-back signed from Southampton benefited from a switch into a more advanced position, scoring 39 goals in all competitions in his final two seasons with Spurs. However, the best finish he managed in a Premier League campaign before joining Real Madrid in 2013 was fourth. 

    Marcel Desailly 

    Frenchman Desailly became accustomed to winning during his time with Milan. He just so happened to win the World Cup in 1998 with Les Bleus – then followed that up two years later by adding Euro 2000 to his list of honours. Yet there was no Premier League crown during a lengthy Chelsea stint, instead having to make do with the FA Cup in 2000. 

    David Ginola 

    A winger renowned for his flair (and his hair), Ginola was part of the Newcastle United squad that succumbed under pressure from Manchester United in 1995-96. Kevin Keegan's swashbucklers led by 10 points at Christmas, only to end up as bridesmaids. At Spurs, the Frenchman was named PFA Players' Player of the Year, while he also played for Everton and Aston Villa.

    Juninho 

    Middlesbrough certainly made a splash when promoted to the top tier in 1995, bringing a touch of Samba flair to their new Riverside home by signing Juninho from Sao Paulo. It was a transfer coup at the time and the diminutive Brazilian made a big impact, too. He left for Atletico Madrid in 1997 and, after returning on loan for the 1999-2000 season, he came back for a third stint, though his only trophy was the EFL Cup in 2004. 

    Harry Kane

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    Matt Le Tissier 

    A one-club man in the top flight, Le Tissier became more accustomed to battling against relegation than getting involved in title fights. Southampton relied on his goals to help stave off the threat of the drop some years, but rumours of a move elsewhere never materialised during his peak. He finished up with 100 Premier League goals, plenty of them penalties.  

    Mesut Ozil 

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    Luis Suarez 

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    Fernando Torres 

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    Gianfranco Zola 

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  • Man City have everything to win Champions League - Mahrez Man City have everything to win Champions League - Mahrez

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    The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc globally, halting many leagues and competitions since March, including the Champions League and Premier League, but Algerian winger Mahrez is relishing a return to action.

    City stunned Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu in the opening leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in February before the postponement.

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  • Next Generation – Salisu, the trailblazing defensive jewel slipping through Barca and Atletico's fingertips Next Generation – Salisu, the trailblazing defensive jewel slipping through Barca and Atletico's fingertips

    'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.

     

    Although he didn't know it at the time, March 2017 was a momentous month in the career of Mohammed Salisu, the Ghanaian centre-back who is now interesting many of the world's biggest clubs.

    In the town of Nsawam, south Ghana, the African Talent Football Academy (ATFA) first began operating, coaching hopeful young footballers who dreamed of a career in Europe.

    With a brand new facility – comprising of pitches and a club house that included a common area, dining space and accommodation – and connections to European clubs, the ATFA began to mark itself as potential gateway for Ghanaian youngsters chasing a better future.

    Just six months after opening, the ATFA had its trailblazer, their first 'graduate'. Director Fran Castano travelled with one teenager to Spain.

    Salisu was signed then and there – his journey to the top had begun.

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    Life at the ATFA didn't start particularly well for Salisu.

    "I remember my first time meeting him – he came without his boots and was late. I was very, very angry and I was close to telling him to go home," Castano, speaking to Stats Perform News, recalled. It proved a wise decision to hold that thought, however.

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    "I told him he would make it [to the top]," says Castano, who previously held many roles in youth coaching and analytics for the Niger and Mauritania national teams, Real Jaen, Leganes and Hearts of Oak, Ghana's biggest club, before setting up the ATFA.

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    Castano estimates Salisu played just 10 youth matches for Pucela before being promoted to their B team in the third tier, and then at the start of this season he became an undisputed starter for the senior side – indeed, he's one of just four defenders to play all 27 LaLiga matches in 2019-20.

    A former student of sport performance analysis at the University of Granada, Castano's pride in Salisu is obvious – joining Valladolid wasn't just a big deal for the defender, but also vindication for Castano.

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    "After one training exercise, just a few minutes, he [Victor] told me: 'Fran, are sure you know the kind of player you have?' He said he [Salisu] could be a very important defender in professional football. I had thought so, but I wasn't that sure of it until he told me."

    Salisu's adaptation to LaLiga was impressive. In October, less than two months after his top-flight debut, he was being championed as a "star" on the league's official Twitter account after impressing in a 0-0 draw with Atletico.

    Jordi Masip has been a fixture behind Salisu in goal. The experienced goalkeeper applauded the youngster's capacity to learn and is convinced a big future lies in wait.

    "He's a player with an enviable physicality, he gets very fast when it comes to interceptions," Masip told Stats Perform News. "He's very young and he can grow a lot. He's a person that wants to improve and listen to us.

    "He has always had a little difficulty with the language, but he is adapting very well, he understands everything, he asks questions and his adaptation is going well. To be so young, his characteristics are very good, he still can give far more than he is already giving."

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    It's easy to argue that Pucela would be in even worse shape this season if they didn't have Salisu. After all, when LaLiga resumes they will start in 15th place, just four points above the bottom three.

    But being in a team that has to spend longer stretches of time defending, Salisu's quality really shines through and it's clear he's making a difference, with only seven teams – all of whom are in the top half of the table – conceding fewer than Valladolid this term.

    When watching Salisu, you really get the impression he loves defending. A real unit with long, gangly legs, he has a habit of pulling off blocks or last-ditch tackles that one wouldn't expect.

    His 67 aerials won is bettered by just eight defenders, while Sevilla's Diego Carlos – widely regarded as one of the standout centre-backs in LaLiga this term – is the only player to make more headed clearances (71) than Salisu (67).

    Diego Carlos – and every other defender, for that matter – trails in Salisu's wake with respect to total clearances, however. The 21-year-old has completed 136, with the experienced Raul Albiol (131) boasting the next most.

    Salisu also ranks very high in terms of blocks with 22. Gabriel (26) is the solitary defender to have halted more shots. His 31 interceptions is also a decent figure, though the league-high among defenders of 48 is a fair way ahead of him.

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    While his technical attributes may not yet be at the required level for, say, Barcelona, he models himself on Blaugrana centre-back Samuel Umtiti and has already shown himself to be a quick learner on the pitch.

    Either way, one can certainly see why Diego Simeone and Atletico are said to be keen, but time appears to be running out for El Cholo. With Rennes seemingly circling, a defensive jewel could be about to slip through the fingertips of LaLiga's elite.

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