He might not have buried the hatchet, but Lionel Messi has promised Barcelona he will give his all in the coming season.

His attempt to leave the club, played out in public long before he spoke openly about his plans, ended with him accepting he will spend at least one more year at Camp Nou.

Messi is still angry with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, still upset with the way the team has declined since 2015's treble, but he was smiling again when he played in the 3-1 friendly win over Gimnastic, a grin that gladdened the hearts of Barca fans across the world.

So, with exit talks on ice, the focus is once more on how Messi can carry this team to domestic and European success while the impact of that 8-2 battering by Bayern Munich last month still lingers.

He managed 31 goals and 25 assists last season, the latter number his highest such tally in five years, the former the lowest. He completed more dribbles per game than ever (5.91) but recorded his lowest shots-per-game tally in at least five years (4.57).

The freescoring sensation of his earlier years is past; he is now creator-in-chief, a deeper-lying attacking menace, on whom the pressure is arguably greater than ever after years of mismanagement of the playing squad from those above.

So, what can we expect from 2020-21, the season that may come to be known as Lionel Messi's "Last Dance"?

 

THE RECORDS HE HOLDS

This is just a handful, of course.

Messi is the all-time leading goalscorer in LaLiga with 444. In Europe's top-five leagues, only long-time adversary Cristiano Ronaldo has more (447).

In all competitions for Barca, Messi has scored 634 goals and provided 254 assists in 731 appearances. That puts him on 888 goal involvements for the club - a tally nobody even comes close to matching.

Messi has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last 12 seasons and is the only player to score at least 10 in 14 consecutive LaLiga campaigns. He holds the record for the most in a single season, too: he scored 50 in 2011-12.

And, of course, he is the only man to win the Ballon d'Or six times.

 

THE RECORDS THAT BECKON

If Messi features in 31 of Barca's 38 LaLiga matches, he will eclipse Xavi's record of 505 appearances for the club in Spain's top flight. He will also surpass Xavi for games in all competitions for the Catalans (767) if he plays 37 times overall.

Messi will close on the LaLiga record held by Manolo Sanchis for the most appearances at a single club in the division, but he will need more than one season for that - Messi is on 485, while ex-Real Madrid man Sanchis played 523 times.

Of course, Messi will be desperate for trophies this season after a barren 2019-20, and winning two will see him draw level with Ryan Giggs when it comes to titles won with the same club. Giggs won 36 with Manchester United.

But how about this for a feat: if Messi gets 10 goals this season - and let's face it, there's a good chance - he will set a new record for goals scored for the same club in official competitions. The current best is 643, set by a former Santos forward known as Pele.

 

THE PROBLEMS HE FACES

After the friendly win over Gimnastic, Koeman made it clear he plans to deviate from Barca's traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 that will, hopefully, get the best out of their midfielders. Such a system would presumably see Messi stationed as the number 10, behind a central striker.

Perhaps that's no bad thing: Messi, as a false nine under Pep Guardiola, played the most games (219) and scored the most goals (211) of his career in all competitions. His role under successor Tito Vilanova was similar and yielded 60 goals in 50 games, giving him a career-best average of 1.2 goals per game.

His most prolific season - 2011-12, the last under Guardiola - saw Messi record an astonishing 73 goals and 29 assists, leading to his calendar-year record of 79 goals in 2012. Again, that was from a central position in the attack, albeit one in a team filled with exceptional players. A shift back to the middle could suit him.

The trouble is that Messi is increasingly having to do all this himself. The supporting cast has dwindled in quality since 2015 and his most productive relationships are behind him.

Luis Suarez (47) has the most assists for Messi at Barca and completed his switch to Atletico Madrid this week. To continue a recent theme, his great friend expressed displeasure with the board over the matter. The top five Messi assisters after Suarez have all long left the club: Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25) and Neymar (22). The next on the list is Jordi Alba (21), whose own spot in Koeman's team is not entirely certain.

He has never looked entirely compatible with Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati is still a raw talent in many respects, and the squad will take time to adjust to any new formation, not to mention new arrivals in Miralem Pjanic and, perhaps, Memphis Depay. What's more, the embarrassment of last season's final few weeks will be fresh in the players' minds and the unrest from the boardroom downwards will never be far from the headlines.

When it comes to carrying this team, Messi has rarely looked so alone.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane believes Barcelona have a squad that is capable of "fighting for everything".

After a trophy-less 2019-20 season, Ronald Koeman is rebuilding the Blaugrana, who have seen the likes of Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic, Arthur and Nelson Semedo leave.

Philippe Coutinho has returned from his loan spell at Bayern Munich and Miralem Pjanic joined from Juventus, while Lionel Messi ended up staying after requesting a move.

Zidane, whose Madrid visit Real Betis on Saturday, said Barca were strong enough to again be challenging for titles.

"I will be respectful. Besides, I don't know what's going on inside, that's why I don't want to get involved," the Madrid coach told a news conference.

"I think each club has their own issues and difficulties. I think Barcelona, in terms of the team and the squad, is a club who will be fighting for everything.

"I don't have any doubt."

Madrid have also seen some changes to their squad, most notably the departures of Gareth Bale (on loan to Tottenham) and James Rodriguez (Everton).

Bale's relationship with Zidane reportedly deteriorated in recent months, although the Welshman told Sky Sports on Friday he had "no regrets".

Asked if he had anything to say about Bale, Zidane said: "I'm not going to speak about what Gareth said.

"Against, what I will say is that we wish him the best for the future and we are focused on ourselves now. That's all."

Luis Suarez said he was proud after being defended by Lionel Messi following his move to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona.

Suarez, 33, joined Atletico in a €6million move this week after six trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou.

His close friend and Barcelona star Messi slammed the Catalan giants on Friday, saying Suarez was "kicked out" and "nothing surprises" him anymore.

Suarez, who won 13 trophies at Barca, said he was proud to have left such a positive impression.

"Leo knows me well and is well aware of my level of conviction. It's a source of pride to be able to leave a positive legacy behind me," he told reporters.

"I've now moved on and joining this competitive side is a major motivation."

Suarez scored 21 goals in 36 games last season, but new Barca coach Ronald Koeman had no room for the Uruguayan as he rebuilds the Blaugrana.

The forward said joining another big club in Spain was a huge motivation for him.

"The motivation of coming to a great from Spain, Atleti is," Suarez said. 

"It has great players, a competitive block that always fights to be at the top and for the league. 

"The fans and the coach [Diego Simeone] motivate a lot too."

Atletico begin their 2020-21 season at home to Granada on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola seems desperate to reinforce his centre-back options before the transfer deadline early next month, and it appears his primary targets are Ruben Dias of Benfica and Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

Media reports on Friday suggested that City have offered approximately €55million, plus Nicolas Otamendi, for Dias having apparently had a similar offer turned down for Kounde last week.

Sevilla sporting director Monchi confirmed the club had received an offer for the talented Frenchman, though he did not reveal the club that bid – which was rejected – came from.

City had previously seemed focused on Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, while Kounde's partner at Sevilla, Diego Carlos, was also said to have been considered.

But with no progress on those deals, City have identified younger options, with Dias 23 years old and Kounde not due to turn 22 for another two months.

With Dias and Kounde looking the likeliest to bolster Guardiola's defensive ranks, we used Opta data to compare the two players.

Adapting to City's style

Given he is a year-and-a-half older than Kounde, it's fair to suggest Dias is slightly further ahead in his development than Kounde, while he is also playing for one of the top teams in a less competitive league than LaLiga.

But there is a lot to like about the Portugal international's game and he does look well-suited to City's possession-based style of play.

He completed 1,934 of his 2,184 passes last term, and though that statistic in isolation doesn't prove a huge amount – many will have been simple and under no pressure – it does show he is used to seeing a lot of the ball.

Of those, 927 were in the opposing half and 81 per cent found a team-mate, whereas Kounde attempted 491 in the attacking half and completed 76.6 per cent.

It's a similar story with regards to passes ending in the final third, where play is likely to be more congested. Dias made 364 passes into such an area and was accurate 68.4 per cent of the time, while Kounde found a team-mate in the attacking third with 66.3 per cent accuracy from 160 passes.

As a base for comparison, City's current centre-backs are reflected much better by the data in this area – Otamendi's passing accuracy in the opposing half is 87.9 per cent, Aymeric Laporte's is 90 per cent, while in the final third their respective figures are 76.8 per cent and 84.6 per cent.

With respect to Kounde, it is worth bearing in mind that Sevilla play far more direct than either of the other two teams in question. They played 2,594 long balls in the league last term, while City registered 1,978 and Benfica attempted 1,581.

Where Kounde does come out on top, however, thus proving his ability on the ball and ease at bringing it out from the back, is the fact he attempted 22 dribbles and completed 81.2 per cent of them – of the defenders (that's centre-backs and full-backs) in LaLiga to try 20 or more dribbles, only one had a better success rate.

Dependable defenders?

As possession-oriented as City are, even a team like that has to do a bit of defending now and again – and although they only conceded two more goals than Liverpool in 2019-20, it was widely felt the centre of defence was their biggest issue.

Otamendi proved unreliable, Fernandinho isn't a natural centre-back, John Stones was unconvincing when fit and Laporte – undoubtedly their best option – missed a chunk of the season with an ACL injury.

The hole left by Laporte and Vincent Kompany's departure to Anderlecht was gaping and resulted in City looking flimsy, particularly when put under pressure – seven of their nine defeats were away from home.

Dependable, hard-working centre-backs capable of playing with the ball at their feet are seemingly what Guardiola is after, and both Dias and Kounde proved to be just that for their respective teams.

Kounde was a standout performer as recently as Thursday for Sevilla, impressing in spite of a 2-1 UEFA Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich. He made three tackles and nine clearances, also winning each of his six aerial duels.

In a straight comparison between Dias and Kounde with regards to standard defensive metrics, the former does generally come out on top, as he won possession back more times (175 to 108) than the Frenchman, and bested him in terms of interceptions (30 to 23), overall clearances (101 to 88), tackles (44 to 23) and duels (254 to 229).

But Kounde, though less of a domineering physical specimen than Dias in appearance, does tend to be more effective aerially, suggesting his stats against Bayern were no fluke.

Despite playing four fewer matches than Dias, he made more headed clearances (56 to 50), engaged in a greater number of aerial duels (149 to 141) and won more as well (94 to 86).

The verdict

Both players fit the general mould of centre-backs that Guardiola likes, but to suggest either is the finished article or a world-class player yet would be premature.

Kounde did very well in his first season in LaLiga, but he only truly found consistency in his performances at the start of 2020 – a talent, certainly, with his ceiling seemingly very high, but prising him away could cost City well over £60m.

Dias appears the easier to sign given he will likely be slightly cheaper than Kounde, while in most cases in this statistical comparison, he has the edge.

But, with Victor Lindelof impressing for Benfica but struggling to convince with Manchester United, City may want to take note of a warning from across town.

Zinedine Zidane insists he will not put pressure on the Real Madrid board to bring in attacking reinforcements before the transfer window closes.

Madrid have been quiet since the market re-opened and the 0-0 stalemate at Real Sociedad to kick off their LaLiga title defence in underwhelming fashion suggested Zidane might have to seek solutions beyond his squad.

However, despite allowing creative talents such as Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Brahim Diaz to leave, the head coach told reporters ahead of Saturday's match against Real Betis that he will not be pestering Florentino Perez to get the chequebook out.

"This is the squad I have to work with, I'm not going to ask for anything more," he said.

"But I know that anything can happen between now and October 5.

"I think the best thing for all managers is that the transfer deadline comes and goes.

"I think I have the best squad and I'm thoroughly behind my players."

Perhaps Madrid's more recent attempts to spend big and bolster their attack are serving as cautionary tales.

Eden Hazard is still building up match fitness and unavailable, the stop-start nature of his underwhelming first season at the Santiago Bernabeu apparently playing on a loop few take any pleasure in watching.

"He's okay, that injury isn't a bother anymore," Zidane said of the damaged foot that required surgery last term.

"But he needs to get training sessions under his belt, he needs to work for the team and go slow.

"In a short time, he'll be with the squad. What we want and what the player wants is to be part of that first-team fold and playing."

Luka Jovic was again an unused substitute in San Sebastian but Zidane maintains the former Eintracht Frankfurt favourite has a role to play, perhaps even in tandem with first-choice striker Karim Benzema.

"They can play together. But we've got a lot of games coming up and there are lots of different playing styles and formations. Every game is different," he said.

"We also have to take into account our opponents. Also, like I said, every game is different and you have to choose players accordingly.

"I've never said Karim and Jovic can't play together up front. I can see it, definitely."

Zidane added: "Last season we won two titles, so we obviously had no problem scoring and winning titles

"You go through periods where sometimes you struggle to score and put those chances away but it's something you work on to improve."

Lionel Messi has slammed Barcelona for "kicking out" his close friend Luis Suarez after the Uruguay striker sealed a move to Atletico Madrid.

Barca this week let Suarez leave for Atletico in a €6million deal, with new head coach Ronald Koeman having told him he was surplus to requirements.

Koeman's treatment of the former Liverpool star was believed to be one of the motivating factors behind Messi's desire to force a sensational exit from Camp Nou, but he said president Josep Maria Bartomeu made a move "impossible" by going back on his word to let him leave for free.

Suarez is the third-highest scorer in Barcelona's history with 198 goals and won 13 trophies, including four LaLigas and the 2014-15 Champions League, during a six-year spell with the Catalan giants.

Messi was angry with the way things ended for Suarez but said "at this point nothing surprises me".

"I was already getting the idea but today [Friday] I entered the dressing room and the penny really dropped," Messi wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of him and Suarez following the latter's farewell news conference on Thursday.

"It is going to be so difficult to not continue sharing the day to day with you, both on the pitches and away from them. We are going to miss you so much. It was many years, a lot of [yerba] mate, lunches, dinners… many things that will never be forgotten, all those days together.

"It will be strange to see you in another shirt and more so to face you. You deserved to leave like what you are: one of the most important players in the club's history, achieving important things both as a group and individually. And not to get kicked out like they did. But the truth is that at this point nothing surprises me.

"I wish you all the best in this new challenge. I love you very much, we love you very much. See you soon, friend."

Suarez followed Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Nelson Semedo as the latest high-earning figure to be moved on by Barca ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Gareth Bale is confident he can handle any pressure at Tottenham after living with a target on his back at Real Madrid.

The Wales star is back in north London and itching to get started at Tottenham, with a minor knee injury delaying his second debut for the club.

Bale spent six years at Tottenham before leaving for Madrid in 2013, winning four Champions League titles and LaLiga twice with Los Blancos before his time in Spain turned sour.

As his performances dipped, and as Zinedine Zidane stopped counting on him as a first-team regular, Bale began to lose the faith of the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.

Posing with a flag carrying the now-immortal line "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" while on international duty did Bale no favours.

Zidane's sidelining of Bale drew few complaints in Spain, but the Cardiff-born forward is back in the Premier League and looking to prove his career can lift off again.

He told Sky Sports: "Obviously going into a different culture, a different country, I've had to grow up as a person, never mind a footballer.

"You just learn how to deal with the situations that you're in. Obviously I've been in immense pressure situations. I've had people on the pitch whistling in the stadium to me.

"I've just learned how to deal with those type of things, to not take it too seriously, [not] take it too much to heart, and just get on with it.

"I have no regrets of what I've done, whatever anyone else has said, that's up to them. I know my opinion of myself and my family know exactly what I am, so that's all I'm worried about."

Spurs hope they have re-enlisted a world-class player who is motivated to prove his qualities all over again. The deal is a season-long loan initially.

"We have a great team here now with a great squad," Bale said of Jose Mourinho's side.

"They've been doing great. Obviously in the time that I've gone away they've gone on and on and obviously reached the Champions League final, the club's got a new stadium, the club itself is better, they're doing better in the Premier League every year.

"So I just want to add to that. I want to try and bring a bit more to the team and try and progress even more and keep pushing in the right direction."

Jadon Sancho has been tipped to swap Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United, but he remains in Germany.

Sancho's valuation has proved a stumbling block for United, who have made the England international their number one transfer target.

United, though, are not giving up hope as they reportedly make one last attempt to sign the 20-year-old.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED SET FOR FINAL SANCHO OFFER

Manchester United will make a take-it-or-leave-it offer for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Star and the Mirror.

United have so far been unable to prise Sancho from Dortmund, who refuse to budge on their €120million (£108m) asking price.

But United are preparing a final and non-negotiable £90m (€98m) offer, with £75m (€82m) up front with an additional £15m (€16m) in add-ons.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS reports Real Madrid face competition for Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga. Eyeing a move for Camavinga in 2021, Madrid are set to face a battle from Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

Kylian Mbappe could be available for around €100m, says L'Equipe. The PSG star, who is reportedly seeking an exit, is wanted by Madrid and Liverpool.

- The Sun claims Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is set to leave Stamford Bridge on loan following Edouard Mendy's arrival.

- Madrid forward Borja Mayoral has agreed to join Serie A side Roma, reports DiMarzio.

- Alfredo Pedulla says Juventus are weighing up a €60m move for Fiorentina star Federico Chiesa, who has also been linked to Milan.

- If Milan Skriniar leaves for Tottenham, DiMarzio claims Inter could target Schalke star and Liverpool target Ozan Kabak.

- According to Marca, Barcelona are making a late push to sign long-time target and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez following Luis Suarez's switch to Atletico Madrid.

Barca are confident they will sign Ajax full-back Sergino Dest ahead of Bayern, says Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also reports that Atletico will not negotiate with Arsenal regarding Thomas Partey as they believe he will stay in the Spanish capital.

Barcelona midfielder Miralem Pjanic said the LaLiga giants want revenge this season following their Champions League embarrassment.

An 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals capped a forgettable and trophy-less 2019-20 campaign for Barca.

Barca were also dethroned by bitter rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga, prompting the embattled Catalan powerhouse to sack head coach Quique Setien and appoint Ronald Koeman.

Superstar captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi also handed in a transfer request before opting to stay at Camp Nou.

Now preparing for Sunday's season opener against Villarreal, recruit Pjanic told Sport: "This team wants to take revenge for what happened in Lisbon and show that it was a huge accident.

"Our goal is to go step by step: starting with the league, which will not be easy. And in the Champions League, there will be five or six candidates to win the trophy.

"Starting in March, a new season will begin within the season itself, with the knockout stages of the Champions League and the decisive stretch of the league championship; that's where we have to be at full throttle.

"These players have already earned the respect of the football world and I don't think they have to prove anything to anyone. But in football there are accidents, and I don't think there is a Barca player who doesn't want to show that 8-2 was just that, an accident.

"I do not have any doubt. I have spoken with some of them and they have not lost an ounce of self-confidence. Last year was not easy for anyone, but I am sure that this year we will have a good season, because we have good players.

"Nothing is easy in today's game. We know that Barca is undergoing changes, perhaps the newcomers will need some time to adapt, but we will succeed."

Pjanic swapped Serie A champions Juventus for Barca as Arthur moved in the opposite direction and the Bosnia-Herzegovina star added: "It is never a bad moment to come to Barca. Barca are a team designed to win everything. It may be that last year was not a good season and that it ended badly.

"Things did not turn out as they had imagined, but think about all the teams that each year are built to win, and logically not all of them can win. It is not easy to win titles.

"It was a strange season for everyone, with the coronavirus: we were unemployed for several months, then we had to start almost suddenly, with a strange calendar and no fans at the grounds."

Gareth Bale gave Real Madrid a lot and remains a "world-class talent", according to his former coach Juande Ramos.

The Wales international completed a return to Tottenham last week on a season-long loan, seven years after swapping the two clubs for a world-record fee at the time.

He won 13 trophies during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, including four Champions League titles, but he struggled for appearances over the past couple of seasons.

Madrid paid little tribute to Bale following his departure and Ramos has suggested the 31-year-old deserves more respect.

"He is a player I like a lot," Ramos, who coached the forward at Tottenham and also managed Madrid for six months, told Radio Marca.

"I think he has given Real Madrid a lot too. He has enormous power and a magical left foot. He is a very usable footballer and one of the few with world-class talent."

Bale scored 105 goals and contributed 57 assists in 251 appearances for Madrid but was restricted to 20 outings last season after falling out of favour with boss Zinedine Zidane.

"Inside Madrid they will know the problems he may have had with Zidane," Ramos said. "But I am sure he has his own side of the story."

Tottenham also signed Sergio Reguilon from Madrid in a permanent deal last week and Ramos has tipped the left-back to be a success in north London.

"For now it is a populated position with [Ferland] Mendy and Marcelo. If they have made a decision to let Sergio go it's because they received a good amount of money," he said.

"Reguilon had less chance of minutes with Real Madrid than the other two and I think he will adapt well to Spurs. He is a player with a lot of potential."

Bayer Leverkusen have signed right-back Santiago Arias from Atletico Madrid on an initial loan with the option of a permanent deal at the end of the campaign.

The 28-year-old struggled for playing time in his second season at Atletico, featuring in 18 matches in all competitions in 2019-20.

Leverkusen, who have sold Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland to Chelsea and Monaco respectively this transfer window, must reportedly pay €12million to sign Arias permanently.

He becomes the German club's second signing of the window following the addition of Patrick Schick from Roma on a permanent deal earlier this month.

Arias' arrival was confirmed on Leverkusen's official website on Thursday and the club's sporting director Rudi Voller said: "We have signed a very experienced player who can quickly get up to speed to help us.

"Given the high amount of games in the coming weeks, it was important for us to strengthen our team."

Colombia international Arias, who made 51 appearances for Atletico in all competitions after joining from PSV in 2018, is relishing his new challenge in the Bundesliga.

"This is a great opportunity after two great and successful years in Madrid," he said. "Leverkusen are one of the best clubs in the Bundesliga with a very good reputation in Spain. 

"With Atletico in the Champions League, I saw for myself how football is played here."

Arias had also been linked with Roma and Everton. His departure from Atleti follows Alvaro Morata's move to Juventus, while Luis Suarez was signed from Barcelona on Wednesday.

Leeds United have completed the signing of Diego Llorente from Real Sociedad for a reported £18.7million (€20m).

Sociedad announced on Tuesday that an agreement had been reached between the clubs and two days later Leeds confirmed Llorente had passed his medical and signed a four-year contract.

The 27-year-old is looking forward to working under Marcelo Bielsa and says he is ready to play against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday if required.

He told a news conference: "For me, this step is very important. I think that I am doing the right thing. I hope to help my team-mates and to improve my football.

"I want to learn a lot off the coach. I think we can have a great season and I will give my best.

"The coach has been an important factor to be here. I think I can learn a lot from him and improve my football, so it's an honour for me to train and learn from Marcelo.

"It was a difficult few days for me with a lot of change in a short time, but I am always ready to help the team. I'm always ready to help the coach if he wants me to play right now."

The former Real Madrid centre-back joined Sociedad in 2017 following successful loan spells at Rayo Vallecano and Malaga in LaLiga.

Spain international Llorente will likely have to compete with captain Liam Cooper and new signing Robin Koch for a starting place in the centre of defence.

Leeds have three points from their opening two Premier League games, having bounced back from losing 4-3 at Liverpool to defeat Fulham by the same scoreline.

Luis Suarez reflected on an incredible six-year spell alongside "best in history" Lionel Messi at Barcelona during his farewell news conference.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that Suarez, 33, has left Barca and joined Atletico Madrid for €6million after the Blaugrana deemed him surplus to requirements.

Despite finishing 2019-20 with 16 LaLiga goals from 22 starts, Suarez had long seemed likely to leave Barca, particularly after Ronald Koeman's arrival in place of Quique Setien.

Media reports claimed the Dutchman told Suarez he was not in his plans, a situation rumoured to have contributed to Messi's desire to leave; but where Barca refused to sanction their talisman's exit, the Uruguay striker departs having risen to third on the club's all-time goalscoring list with 198.

Suarez's strong relationship with Messi has been known for much of their time together at Barca, though the former Liverpool striker – who let the tears flow in front of the media on Thursday – revealed he was given a slightly different impression of the Argentina star upon arriving in 2014.

"Everyone knows the relationship I have with Leo," Suarez said, with Messi in attendance. "When I arrived at Barcelona they said, 'be careful with Leo', due to me being a forward, and it turns out that Leo has been spectacular with a striker for many years.

"We always try to be at the level of Barcelona, and I have to be proud of everything we have done.

"Leo, we know each other so much that we know what we think of each other. We are big enough that we are able to give each other advice. That we will face each other in complicated games will not change our relationship."

Suarez let it be known in no uncertain terms that the decision for him to leave the club came from Koeman alone.

"Sometimes the club needs changes and the coach did not count on me," he added. "I leave with the feeling that I have fulfilled [expectations] – being the third top scorer of a club is not easy.

"I expected it [Koeman's decision], it had already been said before he told me. I had no problem taking a step to the side, but I wanted to continue training while looking for a solution. Koeman agreed to it.

"Every new start to the season, you change the team: there is a lot of desire, many young players, there are more variants when it comes to rotating, and I think it will be a very good year for the club."

But despite undoubted frustration at the situation, Suarez's gratitude to Barca was clear, particularly given the faith put in him so soon after he was handed a four-month ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup.

"The club trusted me from the beginning and I will always be grateful for the treatment they gave me. They trusted me after a mistake I made and that is not easy," he said.

"A stage that I am very proud of is ending. I take friends with me and that makes me happy. Beyond a player, leaving is a human being who has feelings.

"That my children saw me play alongside incredible players, that they saw me alongside the best in history, score goals, raise trophies, it will always remain in my memory. Many thanks to the fans for everything your support, I will never forget."

It is Monday September 28, 1992, and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is the location of a media circus rarely seen before or since in the stadium. Bavarian giants Bayern Munich are in town for a hastily arranged friendly.

Aside from the two teams' meeting in the UEFA Super Cup on Thursday and a Champions League quarter-final tie in 2018, this friendly 28 years ago is the only previous occasion in which Sevilla faced their illustrious German visitors.

Yet, Bayern were not the focus of the media attention. No, they were there for the first game of Diego Maradona's return to Spain.

The world's most renowned footballer - formerly of Barcelona - was barely given enough space to take part in the coin toss such was the scrum around him, with microphones and cameras shoved towards his face with little regard by voracious reporters.

 

STILL THE BEST

Maradona, wearing the captain's armband, was making his comeback from a 15-month ban for cocaine use which ultimately ended his love affair with Napoli.

From midfield, the 31-year-old dictated the tempo and stretched Bayern's defence with his imaginative passing. He, Diego Simeone and Rafa Paz combined excellently in the middle, while an understanding with a young Davor Suker showed evidence of promise.

Maradona forced goalkeeper Raimond Aumann into a smart early save before hitting the crossbar with an audacious free-kick from near the corner flag.

Out of shape, unfit and without competitive football in over a year, Maradona was still the best player on the pitch, setting up Suker before also playing a key role in one of Monchu's goals. Sevilla won 3-1.

His weight was mocked by a banner depicting a Maradona caricature whose belly could not be contained by his jersey, but, his "cosmic barrel" physique aside, this was the same player who had astonished with Napoli and Argentina.

 

REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

His move to Andalusia meant a reunion with Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning coach – and close friend – Carlos Bilardo.

Bilardo called the signing a "gift", while Maradona said his "happiness is complete" upon arrival at Seville's San Pablo airport in a striking cerise suit – "I looked a treat," he concluded about his fashion sense.

Having lost Ivan Zamorano to Real Madrid, Sevilla president Luis Cuervas and vice-president Jose Maria del Nido will have been looking on, certain they had pulled off a masterstroke by getting Maradona in as a replacement, reportedly boosting season ticket subscriptions from 26,000 to 40,000.

His performances continued to excite in competitive games and he enjoyed what many consider to be his best display in Spain during an ill-tempered 2-0 win over Real Madrid on December 19.

Madrid, complete with the likes of Manolo Sanchis, Fernando Hierro, Michel and Luis Enrique, simply had no answer as Maradona ran the show. Everything was going as well as it could have, until things – somewhat inevitably – turned ugly in the second half of the season.

 

THE FALLOUT

A dispute over El Diego's juggling of international and club commitments saw the two parties at loggerheads, but things got out of control late in the campaign.

After being given painkilling injections against his will for a persistent injury caused by receiving a kick from an angry Venezuela fan in 1985, Maradona was withdrawn by Bilardo early in the second half of a 1-1 draw with Real Burgos and he blew his top.

"Bilardo, you m***********," he claimed to yell in his coach's direction, with the pair coming to blows a day later, as detailed in the troubled star's autobiography.

What made the situation worse for Maradona was Sevilla's chiefs revealed to him just a few days earlier their plan to offer him a player-coach role after ditching Bilardo. They received a stern refusal in reply, with El Diego not about to betray his friend, but he ultimately felt as though such loyalty was not reciprocated.

Everyone wanted out of the marriage, and Del Nido's public comments about Maradona's fitness proved the final straw.

"That's probably why that w***** Del Nido dared to say I wasn't even fit enough to play table tennis; to make me leave," Maradona wrote in his autobiography. "He knew I wouldn't put up with that kind of stuff. And that's how it happened, that was how my story with Sevilla ended. Badly."

Maradona then missed out on £625,000 worth of unpaid wages as Sevilla withheld payment because he had "not met obligations to the club", bringing a bitter close to a chapter which had promised so much on a thrilling evening against Bayern.

Bayern Munich or Barcelona?

Two of the world's biggest clubs are going head-to-head for Ajax sensation Sergino Dest.

And the club from LaLiga are reportedly favourites to land the teenager.

 

TOP STORY – DEST WANTS BARCA

Ajax full-back Sergino Dest has pushed aside an offer from Bundesliga and Champions League holders Bayern Munich as he looks to join Barcelona, according to Sport.

Bayern and LaLiga giants Barca are both interested in the 19-year-old United States international.

But Dest has his heart set on Barca, where a principle agreement is reportedly in place between the player and Ajax.

 

ROUND-UP

Tottenham and Inter are in talks regarding centre-back Milan Skriniar, reports Sky Sport Italia. Skriniar is wanted by Jose Mourinho's Spurs but the Premier League club are unwilling to match Inter's £55million (€60m) valuation. Benfica's Ruben Dias remains a serious alternative.

- Diario AS claims Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez is wanted by Serie A trio Napoli, Roma and Milan.

- The same outlet also reports that Manchester United and Arsenal are two possible destinations for out-of-favour Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti. Former club Lyon, Rennes and Inter have also been linked.

Aston Villa are eyeing Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley on loan, according to the Telegraph. Barkley is down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge.

- Kicker says Barca and Roma have joined Paris Saint-Germain in looking at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger, who looks set to leave London.

Manchester City are still pursuing Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez, says the Daily Star. An alternative to Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly, City's interest in Gimenez could be scuppered as the Uruguay international isolates and recovers from coronavirus.

- Despite already signing Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, Le10 Sport claims David Beckham's Inter Miami remain keen on free agent Edinson Cavani. However, the former PSG forward is still hoping to remain in Europe.

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