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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prising Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain is proving difficult.

After Barcelona had an offer turned down by PSG, LaLiga giants Real Madrid are the latest club to be rejected.

With the transfer window set to close on September 2, time is running out to meet PSG's demands.

 

TOP STORY – MONEY PLUS BALE, NAVAS AND JAMES NOT ENOUGH FOR PSG

Paris Saint-Germain have rejected €100million plus Real Madrid trio Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas and James Rodriguez for Neymar, L'Equipe claims.

After Barcelona's initial loan bid was turned down by PSG, Madrid tried to jump the queue, but it was not enough to satisfy the Ligue 1 champions.

PSG spent a world-record €222m on Neymar two years ago and it will take a lot more to sign the wantaway star as Barca and Juventus circle.

 

ROUND-UP

- Talk of Navas being included in a deal comes as Marca reports the Costa Rica goalkeeper has asked to leave Madrid after being told he will be back-up to Thibaut Courtois.

- Barcelona forward Luis Suarez is open to joining Inter Miami in MLS. Miami – owned by David Beckham – are set to enter the league in 2020 and they are keen to make a big-name signing. Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani has been linked, while Mundo Deportivo has now talked up Uruguay team-mate Suarez.

- According to Calciomercato.com and Corriere della Sera, PSG are interested in Paulo Dybala and Juventus team-mate Miralem Pjanic. Dybala has been tipped to leave the Serie A champions, while Pjanic could depart Turin as Juve look to raise funds following the arrivals of Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Merih Demiral.

Atletico Madrid have no doubts that they will sign Rodrigo Moreno from Valencia, says Marca. Rodrigo will arrive once Angel Correa completes his protracted move to AC Milan.

Roma are in talks with Juve over a move for defender Daniele Rugani, claims Goal. Initially linked to Liverpool's Dejan Lovren after Kostas Manolas' switch to Napoli, Roma are now keen to bring in Rugani, who is valued at between €20-25m.

- The Sun reports Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea could wait until January before signing a new contract. The Spanish star has reportedly agreed in principal to extend his deal, which expires next year.

- Inter have accepted an offer from Napoli for former captain and outcast Mauro Icardi, according to Corriere dello Sport. However, Sky Sport Italia and Sportialia insist Icardi is not interested in moving to Napoli as he eyes Juve. With that in mind, Napoli are reportedly pushing to sign free agent Fernando Llorente.

Barcelona and Chelsea are leading the race to sign 16-year-old Las Palmas midfielder Pedri. That is according to Marca, which says Pedri could be available for €10m (£9m).

Edin Dzeko revealed he was offered Roma's captaincy by team-mate Alessandro Florenzi in an effort to convince him to stay amid interest from Inter.

Dzeko was heavily tipped to join Inter, however, the Roma striker signed a three-year contract to remain with the Italian capital club until 2022.

The 33-year-old Bosnia-Herzegovina captain arrived from Manchester City in 2015 and he has since scored more than 80 goals for Roma in all competitions.

Discussing his contract extension, Dzeko told Roma TV: "They went to great lengths to keep me here. I want to thank them and now I need to give my all on the pitch, as always.

"It's really nice to see that other people are happy that I've stayed here. My team-mates aren't just team-mates: we're friends, brothers…

"They were always on my back: 'You're not going anywhere – you're staying here!' I have a great relationship with them all.

"[Lorenzo] Pellegrini and Florenzi were on at me every day: 'You'll stay here – you're not going anywhere'. Florenzi would say: 'If you sign, I'll give you the captaincy!'

"When I did sign, he said: 'It's yours!' But I said: 'Ale, you're our captain and we're all behind you'."

After reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2017-18, Roma were unable to reach those lofty heights again, eliminated in the round of 16, while they finished sixth in Serie A.

Dzeko scored nine league goals and 14 across all competitions to lead the way for Roma.

"I said that Rome was my home after I signed the new deal – but it's not the first time I've said that," he said.

"I've always said it and I really do feel that way. My family feels that way too, especially my wife and also my kids, who were born here in Rome. We were on holiday recently and my daughter Una kept saying: 'Let's go home to Rome!'"

"We spoke at the end of last season and they told me they wanted me here and that I was part of the project for the future of Roma," Dzeko added. "During pre-season over the last two months, they made me feel important.

"In the end we were able to achieve what we all wanted. I'm here and I've signed for another three years because I want to stay here and because I'm happy."

Fiorentina head coach Vincenzo Montella lauded the "extraordinary" Franck Ribery after the former Bayern Munich star joined the Serie A side.

Ribery completed a free transfer to Fiorentina following his departure from Bundesliga champions Bayern – the French veteran reportedly signing a two-year deal.

The 36-year-old enjoyed a trophy-laden 12-year career with Bayern, winning nine Bundesliga titles and the Champions League, and Montella hailed Ribery.

"He is an extraordinary player, he's eager and we believe he can express himself at his levels here," Montella told Sky Sport Italia.

"He had his first training session today, but I was the only other one there, so I put my boots on after many years and had a kick-about."

Fiorentina open their Serie A season at home to Carlo Ancelotti's Scudetto hopefuls Napoli on Saturday.

Asked if Ribery could make his debut on the opening weekend, Montella said: "We'll see over the next few days how he responds to training and he is very determined.

"But we should take it easy. He was a little rusty, as was I."

Fiorentina consultant Joe Barone, who works alongside new president and owner Rocco Commisso, added via Sky Sport Italia: "Choosing Florence is easy! It's the city of art, of love, he already speaks Italian pretty well and his wife loves Florence.

"He was offered a lot of money elsewhere, but he chose Fiorentina for a club that is growing and he saw at the airport how important the fans are in that choice."

"He is training, is very eager and today is a very important moment for Fiorentina," Barone continued.

"It's exciting fans throughout Tuscany and the world, I saw so many people at the airport and hope there will be many more at the stadium tomorrow to celebrate Ribery."

Romelu Lukaku has hit out at Manchester United for not doing enough to protect him in the media and claims he, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez were continually made scapegoats.

Belgium international Lukaku joined Inter before the close of the Premier League transfer window for a reported fee of €75million, just two years on from his move to Old Trafford from Everton.

The 26-year-old was criticised at times for his all-round play at the head of the attack under former boss Jose Mourinho and he was supplanted as first-choice striker by Marcus Rashford after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge.

Lukaku feels there was an unjust focus on his performances as well as those of Pogba and Sanchez, who has been tipped to join him at Inter.

"They have to find somebody," Lukaku told the LightHarted Podcast, apparently recorded prior to his Inter move. "It is Pogba, it is me or it is Alexis. It's the three of us all the time.

"They have got to find somebody to blame. I put my hand up, like, this year I don't think I was the only one playing bad. A lot of people were playing bad but they had to find the culprit.

"If they want to put the blame on me, you know what, f*** it, do what you gotta do.

"I think the team has so much potential to do some great stuff. There is a lot of talent. But it is not only talent; you really have to build a team."

Lukaku also took issue with suggestions he did not suit Solskjaer's intended style of play.

"A lot of people don't think I should be part of that system," he said. "That's my feeling from the conversations that I have. I just know.

"For me, the thing that makes me laugh a lot is: how the hell is s*** going bad in my team, but when I play in my national team, it's good? And I'm happy.

"I didn't play the last six weeks of the league, like the last three weeks or something before the end of the season and then I had another three weeks off before I had to play for the national team, and then we go and play with the Belgium team.

"And nobody there complains because I think the perception in my country is changing slightly. A lot of people were saying a lot of stuff. For me, it took years for a lot of people to change their perception. Man U might not get that time. It's s*** that it happens like that.

"When I go and play for my country, we play the style of play that we want to play probably with Man United and I do well over there. So is it me? Four goals in the World Cup, three weeks ago I scored three goals in two games, and before that we played Switzerland and Iceland in September and I scored four goals in two games. I've scored 48 goals for my country.

"We all know that international soccer is different than club football but the playing style we play in the national team is the one we want to play at Man United. So is it me? Or do we need to have a conversation from man to man and tell each other the rules?"

Lukaku added that he felt United did not do enough to defend him when rumours emerged towards the end of last season that he would not be staying at the club.

"I think a lot of stuff has been said where I didn't feel protected," he added. "A lot of rumours, 'Rom is going to go there, they don't want Rom' and nobody came out and shot it down.

"It was for a good three, four weeks. I'm waiting for someone to come out and shut it down. It didn't happen. I had my conversation, told them it was better to go our separate ways. I just wanted you to say, 'Rom is going to fight for his place', but it never happened for four, five months.

"It was all, 'He's got to go, he doesn't deserve to be there'. Well, okay, then I want to go now. There is fighting for your position, but also being somewhere that people want you to be.

"If you're happy, you find a way, it doesn't matter if you're on the bench or starting. But nobody told me that was the situation, so I thought for two, three weeks to analyse, see all this s*** coming out in the media. Who leaks it? Not me. Not my agent. I see it on my phone come out of nowhere.

"I told them, 'It’s not good for me to be at a place where I'm not wanted'."

Davide Zappacosta has joined Roma on loan from Chelsea on an initial six-month loan deal.

Roma have confirmed the move and also hold the option to prolong Zappacosta's temporary stay at Stadio Olimpico until the end of the season, while the Blues have extended the full-back's contract at Stamford Bridge until June 2022.

"I am pleased to join Roma after an experience overseas that helped me progress as both a player and a person," Zappacosta told Roma's official website.

"Being able to play for a great club like this is a huge motivation – I cannot wait to start training alongside my new team-mates."

Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte brought Zappacosta to the Premier League from Torino in August 2017 and he made 22 top-flight appearances in his maiden campaign.

However, opportunities last term proved scarce under Maurizio Sarri and he has yet to appear under Frank Lampard, who also has Reece James to compete with Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back when he returns to full fitness following an ankle injury.

Roma's sporting director Gianluca Petrachi, who also worked with Zappacosta at Torino, is sure he will make a big impact in the Italian capital.

"I'm pleased to be able to have Davide on my team once again," Petrachi said.

"Compared with the player that I knew at Torino, now Roma are getting a player who has matured both as a player and a person after a valuable spell in another league.

"I am certain that Davide will be able to make an important contribution during the course of the season."

Zappacosta earned winners' medals in the FA Cup and Europa League with Chelsea.

Franck Ribery is to take on a new challenge in Serie A at the age of 36, having agreed a deal to join Fiorentina.

The winger has signed for La Viola on a free transfer after leaving Bayern Munich at the end of last season.

Ribery enjoyed 12 hugely successful years in Munich but is excited by the prospect of playing for "a big team" in "a beautiful city", while others of a similar age elect to wind down their careers on less high-profile shores.

The former Marseille man says he spoke with ex-team-mate Luca Toni before accepting Fiorentina's offer - a wise decision, given Toni is one of only four people to have represented both clubs as player or head coach.

Below, we look at how the others got on...

Stefan Effenberg
Bayern: 1990-92
Fiorentina:1992-94
Bayern (again): 1998-02

Although best known for his success at the heart of the midfield of Bayern - where he won three Bundesligas and the 2001 Champions League among nine trophies in total - Effenberg did spend two years in Tuscany.

Joining at the age of 24 after Lothar Matthaus had returned to Bayern to take his place, Effenberg endured a miserable first season as Fiorentina were relegated from Serie A. He helped them bounce straight back to the top flight as Serie B champions, though, before returning to Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach.

 

Mario Gomez
Bayern: 2009-13
Fiorentina: 2013-16

Gomez won the treble in 2012-13 in his final season with Bayern before heading to Florence, having scored 113 goals in 174 appearances in all competitions and lifted seven trophies.

The striker's time in Italy was unlucky, though, with knee ligament damage restricting him to only 21 starts in Serie A before he was loaned to Besiktas for the 2015-16 campaign. He helped them win the Turkish Super Lig.

 

Franck Ribery
Bayern: 2007-19
Fiorentina: 2019-?

Winning 23 trophies in 12 seasons is remarkable by anyone's standards, and it highlights just how important Ribery has been to Bayern's restoration as the pre-eminent force in German football over the past decade.

The treble of 2012-13 was his crowning achievement and should, arguably, have seen him win the Ballon d'Or. Since then, injuries have begun to take their toll, and it is unclear just how effective the Frenchman will prove to be in Italy.
 

Luca Toni
Fiorentina: 2005-07
Bayern: 2007-10
Fiorentina (again): 2012-13

Toni won the World Cup with Italy midway through an impressive first spell with Fiorentina, prompting Bayern to spend a reported €11.6million to take the striker to Germany.

Three domestic trophies in his first season were followed by a more fallow spell, however, while an Achilles injury and disagreements with coach Louis van Gaal led to his departure in 2010. A return to Fiorentina would come three years later, where he enjoyed a single productive season before heading for Hellas Verona.

 

Giovanni Trapattoni
Bayern: 1994-95
Bayern (again): 1996-98
Fiorentina: 1998-00

For a man who turned out for just two clubs as a player, Trapattoni has certainly enjoyed a nomadic coaching career.

He was twice Bayern boss, winning the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and DFB-Ligapokal in his second spell, before he returned to Italy with Fiorentina. Those two years in Florence ended trophyless, but they were enough to land him the job with the national team.

Patrick Cutrone is grateful to AC Milan but claims he was sold by his former club because there is a preference for Italian teams to field foreign players.

The one-cap Italy international ended his 12-year association with boyhood club Milan in July after taking up Wolves' offer of a four-year deal.

He came through the Rossoneri's youth ranks and scored 18 goals in all competitions in an impressive breakthrough campaign in 2017-18, but the 21-year-old was less prolific last term and was moved on for a reported €22million during the close season.

Portuguese forward Rafael Leao, 20, was brought in as a replacement and Cutrone believes that move - as well as Moise Kean's switch from Juventus to Everton - is indicative of the way teams operate in Serie A.

"Me and Kean in the Premier League? It's always the same story - foreigners are preferred to us," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"For us twenty-somethings, it's hard, but in any case I'd like to emphasise something - I’ll always be grateful to Milan for what they gave me."

Cutrone will be back in Italy this week as part of Wolves' squad for their Europa League play-off first leg against Torino.

The Milan youth product has made four appearances for his new side and is expecting a difficult test in Turin on Thursday.

"My first impressions of Wolves have been excellent," he said. "I was received very well and I've already settled in. 

"I didn't like living in a hotel, so I've found a house where my best friend has been keeping me company.

"It'll be tough against Torino. They're a good team and there are several similarities between us and them - passionate fans, character, pride, a sense of belonging."

Davide Zappacosta arrived at Roma to undergo a medical ahead of finalising a move from Chelsea.

The 27-year-old checked in for medical tests on Wednesday and has been tipped to sign a season-long loan deal at Stadio Olimpico.

Zappacosta joined Chelsea from Torino in August 2017 for a reported £23million but has failed to hold down a spot in the side.

He appeared 26 times in the Premier League during his first two campaigns at Stamford Bridge and has not been used by head coach Frank Lampard this season.

Lampard revealed last Friday he had not made a decision over Zappacosta's future, with fellow right-back understudy Reece James currently sidelined by injury.

But the Italy international's loan switch is seemingly close to going through and he is ready to make an impact at Roma.

"I'm very excited," he told Tuttomercatoweb. "I've missed Italy so much and I'm happy about coming back, even more to Rome, which is near my home.

"I know the club and the fans and I know how much passion they put in. The team are very young and I think we can do well."

Franck Ribery has completed a move to Serie A side Fiorentina following his departure from Bayern Munich.

Ribery, 36, became a free agent when his Bayern contact expired at the end of June.

The French winger spent 12 years in Bavaria, winning nine Bundesliga titles, and was given a warm welcome by Fiorentina fans when he flew into Florence on Wednesday.

The length of the deal has not been confirmed, but reports in Italy indicate it will run for two years.

"I am here with my family. We're doing something together," Ribery told reporters when he arrived in Florence.

"I have already spoken to Fiorentina and Luca Toni, who told me this was a great club and a beautiful city."

Vincenzo Montella could potentially include Ribery in his squad for Saturday's season opener at home to Napoli, who are coached by former Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Premier League club Sheffield United, A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers and teams in Saudi Arabia and Qatar had all been linked to the former Marseille star.

Ribery made 25 appearances and 10 starts in his final Bundesliga campaign, scoring six goals.

Franck Ribery has completed a move to Serie A side Fiorentina following his departure from Bayern Munich.

Ribery, 36, became a free agent when his Bayern contact expired at the end of June.

The French winger spent 12 years in Bavaria, winning nine Bundesliga titles, and was given a warm welcome by Fiorentina fans when he flew into Florence on Wednesday.

Franck Ribery was given a warm welcome by excited Fiorentina fans as he prepares to finalise a move to the Serie A side.

The 36-year-old flew into Florence on Wednesday and is expected to undergo a medical before putting pen to paper on what will reportedly be a two-year contract.

Fiorentina shared to social media a photo of Ribery on the tarmac wearing a club scarf and polo with the caption: "#WelcomeLegend".

Addressing reporters outside the airport, the former Bayern Munich star was quoted as saying: "I am here with my family. We're doing something together.

"I have already spoken to Fiorentina and Luca Toni, who told me this was a great club and a beautiful city."

Ribery became a free agent when his Bayern contract expired at the end of June.

He spent 12 years in Bavaria, winning 23 trophies including nine Bundesliga titles and the Champions League.

The ex-Marseille star had been linked to Sheffield United, A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers and teams in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Cristiano Ronaldo says he discovered he belonged to a "world of stars" upon comparing himself to the rest of Manchester United's strong squad in 2003.

The future Real Madrid and Juventus forward rose to a prominence after moving to Old Trafford from Sporting CP as a skinny teenager.

Then a flashy winger, Ronaldo scored four goals from 29 appearances in his debut Premier League campaign.

Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy were among United's most prominent players at the time and Ronaldo quickly gained belief he too was destined to reach the top of the game.

"When I started playing for Manchester United at 18, 19, because I was as good as the players who were there I realised 'I'm close to achieving great things'," Ronaldo told Portuguese broadcaster TVI.

"Of course, I was a kid and I had a lot to learn – and I learned a lot from them – but I was in that world of stars.

"I saw that they were not doing anything that I couldn't do.

"There were better players than me: Giggs had more experience and was a better player than me at the time, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer... but I felt that if I worked, with the talent I had, I could be the best player in the Premier League, for example."

Ronaldo spent six seasons at United, winning a first Ballon d'Or the before a €94million (£80m) transfer to Madrid in 2009.

The Portugal captain has since scooped European football's foremost individual honour a further four times.

Barcelona superstar and long-time rival Lionel Messi is the only other player to have claimed the Ballon d'Or on five occasions.

"I know that I am one of the best in my work and that I am in the history of football," Ronaldo said.

"It is no coincidence that only Messi and I have five. It is no accident. And I still feel motivated to try to win collective and individual prizes."

Ronaldo and Juventus commence their Serie A campaign away to Parma on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo believes a 25-year-old version of himself would be worth up to €300million in today's transfer market.

Juventus splashed out €112m including add-ons when they signed the Portugal captain from Real Madrid in 2018.

Only five players – Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho – have commanded larger fees.

Two members of the quintet made their mega-money moves as teenagers and Ronaldo, now 34, has reservations about the increasing prices for youngsters who are yet to prove themselves at the top level.

"Today there is a lot of focus on potential and the football industry is different," the superstar forward told Portuguese broadcaster TVI.

"I'll put the case of Joao Felix aside. Nowadays any player is worth €100m, even without proof. There is more money in football.

"Central defenders and goalkeepers are worth €70million, €80million.

"I do not agree with it, but this is the world we live in. The market is like that, we have to respect it."

Ronaldo formerly held the all-time transfer fee record after Madrid forked out €94m to prise him away from Manchester United in 2009.

Asked how much he would be worth aged 25 in modern terms, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner replied: "It is hard to calculate.

"If a goalkeeper is worth €75m, a player who has done what I had must be worth three to four times more. Easy.

"But I have no such illusion."

Barcelona are officially making a move for Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain are set to reject their offer.

The Neymar saga is seemingly no closer to ending as the Brazil star looks to leave the Ligue 1 champions before the transfer window closes on September 2.

Barca are set to at least make a bid as they aim to get a deal done for their former star, but it will be rejected.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO REJECT BARCELONA'S LOAN BID FOR NEYMAR

PSG have no interest in initially loaning Neymar to Barcelona, according to Le Parisien.

It was reported the bid from LaLiga's champions would be for a temporary move, but PSG want an outright transfer so they can find a replacement for the forward, amid reported interest in Juventus playmaker Paulo Dybala.

Barcelona are willing to accept a purchase option if €160million can be paid in instalments, according to Sport.

Meanwhile, the cover of Marca says Neymar is entering "Zone Florentino", referencing Real Madrid president Perez as Barca's rivals maintain hope of signing the 27-year-old.

ROUND-UP

- There could be plenty of movement at Barcelona late in the window. Juventus are discussing a potential swap deal to land Ivan Rakitic and see Emre Can head to Camp Nou, according to Tuttosport, which says the Catalans also put Luis Suarez on the table.

- One midfielder not leaving Turin is Blaise Matuidi. RMC Sport reports the France international will stay at Juventus amid links to PSG and Bayern Munich, with Can seemingly more likely to depart the Serie A champions.

- Mariano Diaz's future is uncertain. AS claims Mariano is not in Real Madrid's plans for this season, but no club has come close to meeting a €20m valuation of the forward.

- Franck Ribery is set to become a Fiorentina player. The former Bayern Munich star has agreed to a deal with the Serie A club, according to Sport Bild and Gianluca Di Marzio, with the Frenchman set to sign on Thursday.

- Amid reported interest from Manchester City and Manchester United, Jadon Sancho is said to be re-signing with Borussia Dortmund. The 19-year-old England international has sealed a £190,000-per-week long-term deal with Dortmund, according to the Daily Mail.

- Michy Batshuayi is not ready to give up on his Chelsea career. The Belgium striker wants to stay and fight for a place in Frank Lampard's team, according to the Evening Standard.

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