Eden Hazard is the Michael Jordan of football as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez tipped the Real Madrid star to win the Ballon d'Or.

Hazard – regarded as one of the best players in the world – swapped Premier League outfit Chelsea for LaLiga powerhouse Madrid in a blockbuster transfer prior to the start of the season.

The Belgium international has showed flashes of his brilliance, earning praise for his performances prior to suffering a small ankle fracture.

Asked about Hazard, Martinez likened the Red Devils captain to Chicago Bulls great and NBA Hall of Famer Jordan.

"I see Hazard winning the Ballon d'Or," Martinez told Cadena Ser program El Larguero. "He has the role of being a Ballon d'Or winner.

"What he has done is the level of the Ballon d'Or and he is always eligible for the prize.

"He has done it at Chelsea, in France. It is difficult for a foreigner to be at the reference of a project that works to win the league.

"He is a last-pass player, a Michael Jordan. Hazard is the Michael Jordan of football."

Hazard – who has scored once this season – will miss El Clasico against Barcelona on December 18 due to a small fracture in his ankle.

The Madrid forward was forced off in the 2-2 Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain last month.

"It's more the process of the injury," Martinez said on Thursday. "In the game against PSG, he had a setback and now we've discovered that he will spend a bit more time out than expected.

"There's nothing to worry about. You want a player like Eden to be 100 per cent, and now he'd established himself in the team and he was playing well.

"He's in very good physical condition and he'll be back very soon. You don't want to lose players of his level, but a team always has to deal with injuries, suspensions... Real Madrid are well prepared for this."

Lionel Messi's apparent hint at retirement was "misunderstood", according to Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez.

Messi, 32, said "the moment of withdrawal is approaching" after winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday, leading to retirement talk.

However, Suarez believes the Argentina star's comments were misunderstood, backing the forward to play for years to come.

"[Messi] amazes me because he is a one-off and is making history," Suarez told beIN SPORTS.

"As a friend and team-mate, [the Ballon d'Or] makes me happy and proud because it's a beautiful moment for him.

"[His comments] were misinterpreted. When someone wins a Ballon d'Or they are happy but also nervous.

"Leo is a human being and gets nervous like the rest of us. He wanted to say he might have to contend with retiring in a couple of years.

"It was misunderstood, but I'm sure Leo Messi will continue for a long while yet."

Suarez has starred for Barca since arriving from Liverpool in 2014, but the 32-year-old has also been linked with a move away despite being contracted until 2021.

The Uruguay international said he would do what was best for the LaLiga champions, who sit top of the table.

"If they bring in a new team-mate for me to compete with, that's the same pressure as having to play every three days," Suarez said.

"And I have to be thinking about the future of the club – as a fan of the club, I have to think about the future, and maybe the best thing is if they sign a young or an established player to carry the torch as Barcelona's number nine."

Netherlands head coach Ronald Koeman dismissed speculation linking him to LaLiga champions Barcelona.

Koeman has emerged as a possible option for Barca should Ernesto Valverde leave, with the Dutchman's Netherlands contract containing a clause that would allow him to depart for Camp Nou following Euro 2020.

The 56-year-old spent six years at Barca as a player before later having a spell as Louis van Gaal's assistant from 1998 to 2000.

Koeman, however, is focused on his job with the Netherlands ahead of next year's European Championship.

"I have two more years left on my contract with the [Dutch] national team and I do not like to talk about Barcelona," Koeman said at an event in Barcelona.

"It's uncomfortable for a lot of reasons; I currently have a job and it's not fair to talk about this.

"If they come, they come; and if they don't, they don't. There are more important things [to worry about] in life."

The Netherlands are in Group C for Euro 2020, alongside Ukraine, Austria and a play-off winner.

Koeman's side will open their campaign at home to Ukraine in Amsterdam on June 14.

Gareth Bale's agent says the Wales forward has never asked to leave Real Madrid even though he is "not ecstatic" at the club.

Bale's relationship with Madrid's fans, coaching staff and the Spanish media has become strained this year.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said in July it would be "best for everyone" if Bale left the club ahead of a proposed switch to China's Jiangsu Suning.

However, the deal collapsed and the 30-year-old has remained with the LaLiga side.

Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett said the player has never requested a move away from Madrid.

"He has never asked to leave," Barnett told the BBC's Euro Leagues Podcast.

"He has a contract with Real Madrid and as long as they want him, there's not much anyone can do about it.

"No-one has ever accused him of not giving 100 per cent and a 100 per cent Gareth Bale is one of the best players in the world. The coach should be happy and honoured he is on the pitch for him.

"There's no guarantee he is leaving. If the right opportunity came along for him and it's something he wants to do, we have to have a chat with the president of Real Madrid and see where we are."

Barnett acknowledged Bale, who has won the Champions League four times and LaLiga with Madrid, was not thrilled to still at the club.

"He's not ecstatic," Barnett added, when asked whether Bale was happy at the Bernabeu.

"He has got a contract and as long as he is a Real Madrid player he will play at 100 per cent – and do very well. 

"He wants to win the championship and the European championship and everything else. It will not affect his performance.

"The facts and figures prove if he is on the field for Real Madrid they have a better chance of winning."

Bale held a flag up, after Wales beat Hungary in a Euro 2020 qualifier, which claimed he put his country and time on the golf course ahead of Madrid.

"It was directed only to the media because they had been writing very infantile and stupid stories from people that do not know him," Barnett said of the 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order' banner.

"The truth is he has done fantastically for Real Madrid in the years he has been there and helped them win so much."

Eden Hazard will miss El Clasico on December 18 after Real Madrid confirmed he has suffered a small fracture in his ankle.

Hazard was forced off in the 2-2 Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain late last month and required help as he hobbled off the pitch.

Coach Zinedine Zidane expressed concern after the match, convinced it was "more than a simple blow", only for initial scans to suggest Hazard had just suffered bruising.

But media reports suggested there was growing concern with Hazard's condition as he was still requiring the use of crutches to walk.

Madrid subsequently sent Hazard for further tests and discovered "an incomplete external microfissure" – or small fracture.

While the club have not confirmed how long they expect him to be absent for, such injuries generally take at least a month to recover from, with widespread media reports adamant Hazard will miss El Clasico.

Madrid are due to face Barca at Camp Nou on December 18, with the match rescheduled after the initial contest on October 26 was postponed due to political unrest in Catalonia.

Marcelo is also in doubt for the match after Madrid confirmed he is suffering with a calf injury.

While the issue is not thought to be as serious as Hazard's, Madrid-based publication Marca claim he could be out for three weeks.

Madrid and Barca are tied on 31 points from 14 matches in LaLiga, one ahead of Sevilla and former Blancos coach Julen Lopetegui, who have played 15 games.

Ahead of El Clasico, Madrid face Espanyol and Valencia domestically, while they will also go to Club Brugge in the Champions League.

Chelsea are seemingly eager to sign Jadon Sancho, but they may have to wait until the end of the season.

The Borussia Dortmund star, 19, has been heavily linked with a move away from the Bundesliga club, with numerous Premier League sides reportedly interested.

And Chelsea could be ready to spend big to land the England international.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA READY TO BREAK TRANSFER RECORD FOR SANCHO

Chelsea are prepared to break their transfer record to land Sancho, according to Goal.com.

Sancho has been linked to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City after impressing at Dortmund.

Chelsea broke their own transfer record last year, when they paid Athletic Bilbao a reported £71.6million (€80m) for goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

The Premier League club are appealing their transfer ban, at this stage unable to buy players in January.

That may not be such a problem when it comes to Sancho, though, with Sport Bild reporting the attacker may not want a January move.

ROUND-UP

Edinson Cavani is struggling for game time at Paris Saint-Germain and the 32-year-old forward could be set for a move. AS reports the Uruguay international likes the idea of a switch to Atletico Madrid.

- Staying at the Wanda Metropolitano and Athletico Paranaense midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, 22, will join Atletico in a €30m transfer next year, according to Marca.

- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appears safe for now at Manchester United, but The Sun reports the Premier League club could turn to England manager Gareth Southgate if they decide to make a change at the end of the season.

- Carlo Ancelotti remains under pressure at Napoli. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis will wait until the Champions League clash against Genk on December 10 before considering a change. Napoli are winless in eight matches and sit seventh in Serie A.

- Metz and France youth international defender Lenny Lacroix, 16, is attracting interest from Barcelona and Juventus, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- With Everton in the Premier League relegation zone after their Merseyside derby loss to Liverpool, Marco Silva could be sacked. The Sun reports Silva said goodbye to his Everton players after the loss at Anfield.

Ansu Fati has signed an improved contract with Barcelona until June 2022, the LaLiga champions have confirmed.

Under the fresh terms, the 17-year-old attacker's release clause is up from €100million to €170m and it will rise to €400m when he signs full-time professional terms.

Fati joined Barca's academy in 2012 and this season became the youngest LaLiga goalscorer in the club's history.

His second-half equaliser during August's 2-2 draw at Osasuna came with him aged 16 years and 304 days.

"For me, La Masia is the best school in the world," said Fati, who is both the youngest player to start a game at Camp Nou and also represent Barcelona in the Champions League.

"They helped me from the first day I arrived and I am extremely grateful to everyone who works there.

"They are all spectacular. From the first day, I have learned things from everyone. And they have also been there to support me through difficult times.

"Working every day with the best is a dream, and also a reward.

"From now onwards, what I have to do is keep working, even harder than ever, to keep getting chances and carry on enjoying myself. The rest will come after."

Fati, who is also eligible to play for Guinea-Bissau, was granted Spanish citizenship in September – clearing the way for him to represent them at Under-21 level for the first time the following month.

He has two goals in 11 appearances across all competitions in 2019-20, including four starts.

The former Real Madrid star whose words inspired the infamous "WALES. GOLF. MADRID" flag hopes criticism of Gareth Bale has come to an end.

Predrag Mijatovic, scorer of 44 goals for Madrid in the late 1990s, fuelled negative fan opinion against the 30-year-old winger when he questioned Bale's priorities in an October interview.

"[The perception is] the first thing he thinks about is Wales, then golf and after that, Real Madrid," Mijatovic, 50, was quoted as telling radio station Cadena SER.

Wales fans adapted the comments into a light-hearted chant and later a banner, which Bale posed behind following last month's triumph over Hungary.

The former Tottenham star was celebrating qualification for Euro 2020 but several Spanish media outlets perceived his actions to be a slight against Madrid.

He was met with jeers every time he touched the ball on his next appearance at the Santiago Bernabeu, a 3-1 LaLiga win against Real Sociedad.

"My intention was not this, I have already said that Bale has great qualities as a footballer and I have always liked him," Mijatovic told AS TV.

"It is true that he makes mistakes on some occasions and we have to comment on him as former players and former directors, but I don't want any more controversies, nor the flag to play a leading role.

"What I want is for Madrid to play well and win all the possible titles. I'd rather not say anything else [about Bale] because we're going to bring it all up again.

"The most important thing is that Bale is back, he's playing and that's what we all want."

Mijatovic spent three seasons with Madrid during his playing career, notably scoring the goal that secured victory against Juventus in the 1998 Champions League final.

He served as the club's sporting director from 2006 to 2009.

Paul Pogba remains on the sidelines but his club future is at the centre of the rumour mill.

According to a new report, Zinedine Zidane wants the Manchester United midfielder "at all costs".

Links between Pogba and Real Madrid have long been established, but it seems not all in the Spanish capital are keen on the move.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE WANTS TO POACH POGBA

Zidane views compatriot Pogba as "the final piece of the puzzle" for Madrid and has implored the club to secure his signature, reports Marca.

The Los Blancos boss reportedly made Pogba's arrival his only demand when he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in March for a second stint as head coach.

However, Madrid executives are said to be sceptical about splashing at least €120million for a player who would potentially take a first-team spot from the improving Federico Valverde.

Zidane and Pogba had a "chance" encounter in Dubai in October, where the 26-year-old was undergoing warm-weather rehabilitation on his injured ankle.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain have been impressed with Mauro Icardi and will look to tie the on-loan striker to a permanent deal, claims CalcioMercato. The Ligue 1 champions can reportedly land the Inter outcast for €70m.

- Arsenal, West Ham and any other Premier League teams aiming to appoint Rafael Benitez would have to pay £20m to release him from his Dalian Yifang contract, says the Daily Mail.

- Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo could pull the plug on a bid for Gabriel Barbosa after growing frustrated with the forward's reluctance to finalise the arrangement, according to Fox Sports Brazil. 'Gabigol' is on loan from Inter and reportedly coverts a second chance in Europe.

- CalcioMercato reports Milan are plotting to sign PSG left-back Layvin Kurzawa when his contract expires at the end of the season.

- Jose Mourinho's Tottenham hope to capture Norwich City centre-back Ben Godfrey in January for around £25m, reports Football Insider.

Lionel Messi beat Virgil van Dijk to the 2019 Ballon d'Or by a slender seven-point margin, the award's organisers have confirmed.

France Football declared Messi's record sixth victory to be among the narrowest in the 63-year history of the prestigious prize.

The Barcelona captain finished top of the count with 686 points, just ahead of Liverpool defender Van Dijk's 679.

Third-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, who did not attend Monday's ceremony, tallied 476 points, 210 fewer than long-time rival Messi.

Sadio Mane, fourth on 347 points, was the only other player to exceed the 200-mark.

"The history of the award has had tighter scores, but the number of voting journalists - 176 this year - was [in the past] much smaller," read a post on France Football's website.

Runner-up Van Dijk praised Messi's "unnatural" ability and said he had complete respect for the 32-year-old.

When asked about five-time winner Ronaldo's absence, he joked: "Was he a candidate?"

Ronaldo's sister, singer Katia Aveiro, failed to see the funny side of the light-hearted comment, firing back at the Dutchman in a lengthy Instagram rant.

"Now, dear Virgil, where you are going, Cristiano Ronaldo has gone and has come a thousand times," she wrote.

"You see, my dear Virgil, that Cristiano Ronaldo was a three-time champion in the country where you have been playing for years and you still haven't got your hand on the trophy.

"Cristiano Ronaldo was even the best player and best scorer in the country where you play Virgil. By the way, he was even younger than you. Then, dear Virgil, Cristiano Ronaldo went to other places and became the greatest player in the history of a club... this club, with this Cristiano guy, even beat you in the Champions League final.

"Of these [Ballons d'Or], Ronaldo already has five, Virgil."

2019 Ballon d'Or points

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - 686
2. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) - 679
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) - 476
4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - 347
5. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - 178
6. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) - 89
7. Alisson (Liverpool) - 67
8. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - 44
9. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) - 41
10. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) - 33

Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski labelled Lionel Messi "one of the best in history" after the Barcelona star claimed a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Messi finished ahead of Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo to win the award in Paris on Monday.

Lewandowski, who placed eighth, paid tribute to Messi for his dominance for more than a decade.

"For sure he is a great player. I can only say congratulations to him," he told reporters.

"It's not the first time for him, one of the best in history not just the last few years.

"I'm glad to be close to so many players because we only get to meet each other on the pitch and now this is something different.

"For sure he is a great player, not just the past year but for 10, 15 years."

Lewandowski, 31, is enjoying another brilliant season for Bayern, already up to 27 goals in 21 games in all competitions.

The German giants are fourth in the Bundesliga, four points behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach, but Lewandowski feels his side will only grow.

"I think everything that we are doing now this season and in the Champions League group stage will pay dividends in the future for next year, next season and I think with Bayern Munich we can play better and better," Lewandowski said.

"We have so many great players with potential and I think next season will be something special and I think we can do big things."

Real Madrid have made Fabian Ruiz their top transfer target.

According to reports, "negotiations have accelerated" as the Spanish heavyweights aim to take advantage of the disarray at Napoli.

But the midfielder also has high-profile admirers in England and France.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEP UP FABIAN INTEREST

Napoli midfielder Fabian is a man in demand.

Madrid appear to be in pole position, with Cadena SER claiming the Spanish giants are "very serious" about taking the 23-year-old to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Negotiations over a contract extension at Napoli are said to have stopped and the Spain international is reportedly warm to the idea of joining up with Zinedine Zidane's side.

However, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain could look to force a three-way bidding war for the Spain international, who has previously been linked to Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Ex-Valencia head coach Marcelino has emerged as a left-field managerial candidate for Arsenal and Everton, according to the Daily Mail. The 54-year-old lost his job at the Mestalla in September following a reported falling out with owner Peter Lim.

- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears he will be sacked if Manchester United lose their next two games against Tottenham and bitter rivals City, says The Sun.

- Former Premier League striker-turned-reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft claims Liverpool are favourites to land Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho – but the winger will cost the Premier League leaders €130million.

- Chelsea have offered little-used striker Olivier Giroud to Serie A sides Milan and Inter, according to CalcioMercato.

Barcelona are keeping tabs on 16-year-old PSG midfielder Edouard Michut, reports Le Parisien.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi believes his record of six Ballon d'Or awards will be broken.

Messi, 32, claimed the prize for a sixth time in Paris on Monday, beating Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.

While only Ronaldo has also won the award at least five times, Messi feels someone can get more than six.

"I think so. I don't know who but it's possible," he told reporters.

"Records are made to be beaten, but I don't know who or when. But at the moment I hold the record and I'm very happy."

Messi won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009 before his dominance led to him claiming the prize in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and this year.

The Argentina international said: "It was unimaginable to win one, let alone six.

"It's a joy to get six, it's very nice the recognition from others and it makes me proud."

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has officially been named the best player in Serie A last season, a few hours after Lionel Messi beat him to a record sixth Ballon d'Or crown.

Ronaldo dodged the glitzy Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris on Monday to instead attend the annual Gran Gala del Calcio in Milan, where he was honoured for his successful maiden campaign with Juve.

He scored 21 league goals in 2018-19 to help the Bianconeri to an eighth successive Scudetto and has six goals in 11 starts this term, despite injury issues curtailing his playing time over the past month.

"It is a proud moment to win this award," Ronaldo said upon collecting the award, which was won by Mauro Icardi, then of Inter, 12 months ago.

"I want to thank my Juventus team-mates. It was my first year in Serie A, a difficult league, and I am very happy. Thank you for voting for me.

"I will now try to repeat what I've done over the next year."

Ronaldo has been struggling with a knee injury in recent weeks and reacted angrily to being hauled off in wins over Lokomotiv Moscow and Milan last month.

However, Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici insisted the Portugal international – who finished third in the Ballon d'Or running behind Messi and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk – will remain in Turin beyond the end of the campaign.

"This talk makes me smile because there are other problems," Paratici told Sky Sport Italia.

"Ronaldo is ambitious and came to Juventus to prove he is the best here too. We thought he should have won the Ballon d'Or – the rankings are always questionable.

"He will be a Juventus player next season, without a doubt. 

"We must thank him for making himself available to [Maurizio] Sarri, even though he has not been in optimal condition. Having not been able to train properly for a while, it is normal that he is not at his best."

Javier Tebas has announced he is resigning as LaLiga president in order to stand for re-election.

The 57-year-old has been in charge of the Spanish top flight since 2013 and is into his second term, having also stepped down in 2016 to run unopposed for re-election.

His latest term was due to be up in October 2020, but he has again taken the decision to force an early open election.

Explaining his reasoning in an open letter on his Twitter page, Tebas said: "I have decided to resign from my role as president so that a new electoral process starts, which I plan to run in, and I hope to gain support to stay four more years.

"A new political term is starting, where it is possible that in our national parliament and in the European parliament there may be laws and directives proposed which affect our institution and our interests...

"I think that it is not good to [take on the matter] with a mandate that only has a few months left, the person who has to do it should do so with the backing of the clubs at least for four years."

The Royal Spanish Football Federation recently demanded Tebas quit his role for putting clubs at risk of "serious sporting and/or economic sanctions" after a judge shelved the league's controversial plan to host a match in Miami.

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