Manchester City's appeal against their two-year ban from UEFA competitions will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week.

The reigning Premier League champions were hit with the punishment in February after they were found to have committed "serious breaches" of UEFA's club licensing and financial fair play (FFP) regulations.

UEFA's independent Adjudicatory Chamber of its Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) also fined City €30million (£27.2m) after finding they had overstated sponsorship revenues in accounts submitted to European football's governing body between 2012 and 2016.

City have persistently denied wrongdoing in relation to the matter, which stemmed from a series of articles published by Der Spiegel in November 2018, drawing on information purportedly obtained by the whistleblower Football Leaks.

"The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position," read a statement at the time from City, who UEFA said had "failed to cooperate" with the investigation.

The hearing begins on Monday and whether or not City are able to have their ban cut or quashed is likely to have a huge impact on their future planning.

Manager Pep Guardiola is out of contract in June 2021, although the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss reiterated his commitment in the aftermath of UEFA announcing their punishment.

"Unless they sack me, which can happen, I will not leave," he said. "Why should I? I love this club, I like to be here, and after we have seen the sentence [appeal] we will focus on what we have to do.

"I want to stay to continue to help the club and maintain this level as long as possible. That's not just because I have a contract, we want to fight to the end for the people who support this club."

In an interview with HLN last month, star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne suggested he might be happy to stay at City in the event of a reduction to a one-year ban, although a two-year Champions League absence would force him to consider his options.

"I'm just waiting," he said "The club told us they are going to appeal, and they are almost 100 per cent sure they are right. That's why I'm waiting to see what will happen. I trust my team.

"Once the decision is made, I will review everything. Two years would be long, but in the case of one year I might see."

Despite winning six of the past seven domestic trophies on offer in England, Champions League success has proved elusive for City and a pause in trying to tackle that final frontier would be a considerable blow in financial and sporting terms.

In this season's competition, which was halted along with the rest of elite European football due to the coronavirus pandemic, goals from Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne gave them a 2-1 win at Real Madrid in the first leg of a last-16 encounter.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo believes his "very special" team can win the Champions League without fans.

Atletico dethroned titleholders Liverpool in the last 16 before the Champions League was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The Champions League could resume in August, with the Bundesliga back underway as LaLiga, the Premier League and Serie A prepare to return this month.

Atletico lost two Champions League finals under Diego Simeone in 2014 and 2016, but Cerezo told Movistar: "We are very special, we can win a Champions League without an audience. It could be our year."

LaLiga will restart with a Seville derby between Sevilla and Real Betis on June 11 following the COVID-19 crisis.

Atletico, meanwhile, will travel to Athletic Bilbao behind closed doors on June 14.

Simeone's men are sixth in the table with 11 matches remaining, a point behind Real Sociedad and the final Champions League qualification spot.

"In the league we are in a difficult situation and in Champions we are very good," Cerezo said. "A few games away from reaching a final, which is where we like to be."

"He [head coach Simeone] is calm and has confidence in what he does and will direct us to get into the top four," added Cerezo.

The coronavirus pandemic is set to impact the transfer market as clubs feel the financial effects of the crisis.

Atletico spent heavily at the start of the season after Antoine Griezmann joined Barcelona, breaking a club record to sign Joao Felix, while Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Felipe, Renan Lodi, Mario Hermoso and Kieran Trippier also arrived.

Looking ahead to 2020-21, Cerezo said: "There is a possibility that nobody will be signed, but we will have to wait for what happens in the season. The transfers will be very difficult for everyone."

Luis Enrique has revealed how a jovial team talk helped inspire Barcelona to win the Champions League in 2015 and complete their second treble.

The Catalans became champions of Europe for the fifth time by defeating Juventus 3-1 in Berlin thanks to goals from Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

The victory secured Barca's second single-season sweep of LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles and made them the first team in history to achieve such a feat twice.

Luis Enrique, who took over as head coach prior to the start of that season, has recalled how he fired up his players by pointing out just how anxious Juve were likely to have been feeling in their own dressing room.

"It was an unforgettable final," the Spain boss told Barca TV. "It's not just the final but also the group stage and the knockout matches. Although we had a very tough route, we weren't out of the competition for a single second.

"[Before the match] I said, 'Imagine I was giving the Juve team-talk and telling them about Barca. They'd be s******g themselves!'. At least it raised a smile."

Despite having confidence in his players, Luis Enrique admits it was the most nervous he has ever felt in his professional career in football and he only began to relax after Neymar scored the third deep into second-half stoppage time.

"I have never been so nervous in my life, as a player or a manager," he said. "I thought I'd calm down, but there was so much tension that I was finding it hard to deal with.

"The first goal boosted our morale. That made the opposition realise we were serious. It's something special about Barca and what makes all fans proud.

"[Neymar's] goal was the one I have celebrated most in my life because it was the third. When it's 2-1 you celebrate but you know there's still a lot to be done.

"It's the biggest thing that any player, coach or fan can experience. Not just winning the Champions League but the treble too. It was the second time Barca had done it. That shows what a club this is. The nicest thing is making so many people happy.

"The day of the final, the day after, and a whole summer of people feeling happy to wear the Barca shirt... so much goes into winning a treble and when you achieve that you have to go out and enjoy it."

Barca's success that season was spearheaded by their formidable front three of Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar, but Luis Enrique felt their true strength was in working as a unit.

"The great thing about those three was not just their football, it was their ability to pout the team ahead of any individualism," he added. "It was such a united and committed squad, not just Suarez, Neymar and Messi but the other spectacular players too. It was like a world XI."

Antoine Griezmann intends to finish his career in MLS but only after achieving his objective of winning LaLiga and the Champions League with Barcelona.

The France international joined Barca from Atletico Madrid in a big-money deal last year and has endured a mixed first campaign at Camp Nou, scoring eight goals in 26 league appearances.

Barca are top of LaLiga with 11 games to play and are tied at 1-1 after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli.

Griezmann, 29, has targeted success in both competitions, as well as helping his national side to retain the World Cup in 2022, before considering a switch to the United States.

"Winning LaLiga and the Champions League with Barca would be a dream, and also my objective," he told the Los Angeles Times. 

"There's also another World Cup in Qatar. And after that the MLS."

Griezmann has previously revealed that he would be open to linking up with David Beckham's Inter Miami franchise, but he is not ruling out a move to any MLS side.

"I don't know with which team, but I really want to play there," he said. 

"For me it's an objective to end my career in the United States with the possibility of playing well and being a big part of the team and fighting for a title."

Griezmann is back in training with Barcelona ahead of their return to LaLiga action on June 13, more than three months after the coronavirus pandemic brought the division to a halt.

Atletico Madrid captain Koke says his team should be considered kings of Europe if the Champions League cannot be completed this season.

The midfield orchestrator of Diego Simeone's team believes Atletico are capable of going on to lift the silverware if UEFA can get the competition back on.

However, Koke says focus should not be lost from the more pressing task of ensuring Atletico earn their place in the competition next season through their LaLiga placing. To miss out would be "a failure", he said.

Coronavirus concerns led to the Champions League being suspended in April, three weeks after Atletico scored a famous success by beating defending title holders Liverpool at Anfield.

After a 1-0 home win, Simeone's men stunned Liverpool 3-2 after extra time on Merseyside to reach the quarter-finals - and for that reason alone, Koke reckons Atletico can lay a claim to being the pick of this year's crop in Europe.

"When I talk to my friends, I tell them that this is Atleti's Champions League," Koke told COPE and Radio Marca.

He said Atletico's performances may seem "very repetitive" but Koke regards that as a strength.

"We can't change our philosophy," he said. "They won't remove our style or our way of life. If everything is suspended, this year we are champions of the Champions. Like in boxing, we have eliminated the champion."

After defeats to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Atletico may feel they are due a better outcome from the latter stages in Europe. However, there are domestic matters that must take priority for now.

Atletico have ground to make up in LaLiga to secure a top-four finish, but their current sixth place is slightly deceptive as they sit just two points behind third-placed Sevilla, indicating all is to play for over the remaining 11 rounds.

"First we have to think about LaLiga," Koke said. "The Champions League does not return until August. We have to focus on LaLiga and get into the Champions League. If we don't, it will be a failure for us."

Sami Khedira believes he can realise a dream and win the Champions League with Juventus in the next few years.

Juve have dominated Serie A with eight straight title wins, but their last success in Europe's premier club competition came in 1996.

The Italian giants were in the last 16 this season – losing the first leg of their tie away at Lyon 1-0 – when the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Khedira, who arrived at Juventus in 2015, said he wanted to help deliver the Champions League trophy to Turin.

"I won almost everything, but winning is like a drug, if you don't win a title for one year, the next year you try to win all kinds of titles," he said on Instagram on Thursday.

"My dream is to win the Champions League with Juventus. Almost three or four years ago, we were very close in the final against Real Madrid.

"I think we can win this title with Juventus in the next few years. In my opinion, this is not just my dream, but also that of every Juventini."

Khedira helped Madrid win the Champions League in 2014 among numerous other trophies with the LaLiga giants.

A World Cup winner with Germany in the same year, the midfielder remembers his time in Madrid fondly.

"It was awesome. I spent unforgettable moments there with many successes. We won all sorts of titles like the league, the cup, but also the Champions League," Khedira said.

"We had a very strong team with very strong characters. That's why I will never forget this great time and I am still a big fan of this big club.

"That's why: Hala Madrid!"

Jan Oblak is determined to help German Burgos fulfil his dream of leaving Atletico Madrid a Champions League winner and spoke of his own ambitions to win the Ballon d'Or.

Diego Simeone's long-time assistant Burgos confirmed on Wednesday he would depart his role at the end of the season, having served as his fellow Argentine's number two at Catania and Racing Club before joining him at Atleti in 2011.

Burgos was part of the coaching team that won medals in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League but twice suffered final heartbreak in the Champions League.

In his message to the fans, Burgos spoke about his desire to finally conquer Europe's premier competition and Atleti's superstar goalkeeper Oblak will do all he can to ensure he achieves that feat.

"Without doubt German is a club legend," Oblak told a news conference. 

"He is the second hand of Cholo [Simeone]. He does many things that are not seen but he is an important piece of this project and, as he said already, I hope he will leave the club this season as a champion [in the Champions League], that he will make his dream become true."

Oblak is considered as one of the world's best keepers but Lev Yashin remains the only shot-stopper to win the Ballon d'Or back in 1963.

The Slovenia international merely wants to keep performing to the best of his ability so that people keep his name in the conversation.

"Regarding the Ballon d'Or I have thought about that," he added. 

"As I always say I am training and playing, I try to improve every day, I am improving, I can improve and journalists and people are who give his opinion, write and talk about me. 

"The more people are talking about me the better, I am going to keep working to improve each year and at the end of my career I will be happy. 

"I will always give my maximum and at the end we will see what I have achieved."

While that coveted prize has eluded him, Oblak has won the Zamora Trophy – an award presented by Marca to the goalkeeper in LaLiga with the lowest goals-to-game ratio – for the past four seasons.

This season, Oblak faces a battle with Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – a two-time winner as an Atleti player – but his focus is on team and not individual accomplishments.

"I have never thought too much about this even though it is being mentioned a lot," he said. 

"This year is not only Courtois there as well but other two or three goalkeepers doing a spectacular season and that are not conceding many goals. 

"But I am not worried about that, only to finish in the Champions League positions, and to end up where we want to be. 

"About Zamora, if I finish the season well at a good level, I still can make it, but I never thought much about this."

LaLiga is set to resume later this month after the enforced suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. Atleti, who are sixth and a point adrift of fourth, visit Athletic Bilbao on June 14.

Player wages should not fall because of the coronavirus pandemic and the onus is on clubs to run themselves better, says agent Jonathan Barnett.

Barnett, whose clients include Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, feels players should not be the ones to pay the price for falling revenues after the COVID-19 crisis.

The future values of sponsorships, matchday income and television deals are uncertain after the global lockdown halted all top-level sport.

But Barnett thinks players, who have short careers, are the star attractions needed to ensure football retains top billing.

"I don't see players' wages dropping, that is for sure," he told BBC Radio 4.

"Most players are on contracts. What I do see is maybe clubs have to look at how they run their club a bit better.

"Fans come to see players play, no one comes to see the chief executive play, that [players] is what puts money on the table.

"It's not a question of players earning less because it is a short period of time to earn their money."

Barnett was asked if the days of huge transfer fees are over and while he acknowledged there would be an initial drop, he felt it was unlikely to last.

"I think in the short term [there will be a drop], but not in the long term," he said. "They [the huge transfers] will come back. Market values will come back." 

On the approach clubs should take, Barnett added: "You have just got to look at it sensibly and say, 'This year I can't afford to pay so I won't do it this year'.

"Act sensibly and pay what they can afford to pay. If they can't [afford to buy], they don't. Nobody is going to be forcing them. 

"They can offer for a player whatever money they can afford. If it is right for the player, it's fine. If not, then he stays where he is or goes somewhere else.

"After the next television deal they [clubs] will hopefully be in a better position, or once the fans start coming back they might be in a better position again to do it. 

"[Then] their sponsorships go up and all these things come back."

Turkish Super Lig leaders Trabzonspor have been handed a one-season ban from European football for breaching UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations.

UEFA said in a statement on Wednesday that the club had failed to meet the conditions of a 2016 settlement agreement which required them to be "break-even compliant".

The governing body confirmed the ban would be applied if the club qualified for the Champions League or Europa League in either of the next two seasons.

Trabzonspor, who have not played since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, are level on points with Istanbul Basaksehir at the Super Lig summit with eight games remaining.

Atalanta owner Antonio Percassi has given his backing to head coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who was criticised by Valencia for being at a Champions League game despite suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

Gasperini revealed last week he was scared as he appeared to suffer from COVID-19 as Atalanta defeated Valencia 4-3 behind closed doors in the Champions League on March 10.

The Bergamo outfit advanced to the quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate at Mestalla, although the competition has since been suspended due to the virus.

Valencia expressed "surprise" at Gasperini's comments, suggesting his actions "put at risk numerous people" in the city.

However, Percassi does not wish to drag the saga out, insisting he and Gasperini followed the rules and are moving forward.

"I am with Gasperini and the players. I am looking ahead," he told L'Eco di Bergamo.

"The controls say that, like Atalanta with our members, we did everything in compliance with the rules and with the utmost prudence.

"This is fundamental for us. We are in Bergamo."

With the Champions League reportedly set to resume in August, Atalanta will first return to Serie A action on June 21 as they look to secure qualification for Europe's elite club competition for next season.

La Dea are fourth, three points clear of fifth-placed Roma with a game in hand.

Thomas Muller says Bayern Munich are "afraid of nobody" in the Champions League even if the scheduling looks set to work against the Bundesliga giants.

Germany's top flight was the first of Europe's elite leagues to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic and Bayern have returned in scintillating form as they march towards an eighth straight title.

Their performances under Hansi Flick have prompted talk of a treble bid, with the Bavarian club also going strong in both the DFB-Pokal and Champions League.

Bayern won 3-0 at Chelsea in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie before the competition was suspended and Muller sees no reason to fear any potential opponents in the latter stages.

"At Bayern Munich, we have our 'Mia San Mia' slogan. The slogan means we are afraid of nobody," he told a remote news conference on Wednesday.

"We always trust in our strength and I think right now, in this moment, we are in a very good shape. In my opinion, everyone who wants to come to the Allianz Arena and play against us is invited.

"But of course, in the Champions League, there are always tough teams to beat. I think Barcelona...

"But we have to watch out for how the international teams come out of the coronavirus break. You don't know how they can handle it. Maybe there are some injuries.

"For the moment right now, here in Bayern Munich, everything works great and the players are in good shape, so we are looking forward to playing against anyone."

Bayern's Bundesliga campaign will conclude before the end of June, yet the Champions League is reportedly not set to restart until August.

Muller acknowledges this break is "not positive" for Bayern, as rival clubs will be concluding their domestic seasons, but he remains confident.

"When I think about the future, the next two months, I think the break for us is not that positive," he said.

"Now we are in the rhythm. We did the 'mini-prep' in May, so now the engines are fully loaded and we play three games a week and are used to doing the work.

"I'm a little bit sceptical because when we have the break, we will have 10 days or one week off in the middle of July. Then we have to start again.

"Maybe that's not the best preparation, but in this situation, right now, there is no space to complain. We have to handle the situation, and when we want to win, we have to handle it the best.

"For me, there is no problem but I think it's not positive that there is a break."

Real Madrid have made a habit of European success down the years, winning the ultimate prize more times than any other club, and in 2017 they did what no one else could.

But June 3, 2016 will be remembered by many for contrasting reasons, as Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest athletes ever – died, leaving the sporting world in despair.

This day is also notable for South African cricket, and specifically an historic captaincy announcement.

We take a look at the major sporting events to have happened on this day through the years.

2017 – Los Blancos continue their European reign

When Real Madrid and Juventus went head-to-head in Cardiff for the 2017 Champions League final, the omens appeared to be in favour of the Old Lady – no team had ever defended their title in the competition.

But Madrid are no ordinary club and history was theirs in Wales, as they became the first club to retain the Champions League.

Although Mario Mandzukic cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo's well-taken 20th-minute opener with an outrageous over-the-shoulder volley, Madrid romped to a 4-1 victory in the second half.

Casemiro's deflected long-range effort put them back in front, Ronaldo turned in from close range to increase the deficit and Marco Asensio finished Juve off after brilliant work from Marcelo – they would go on to win the competition for a third successive season the following year.

2016 – Sport loses an icon

Arguably the most iconic boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, died exactly four years ago.

His achievements in the ring were plentiful, Ali's most famous victories came in the Thrilla in Manila (1975) against Joe Frazier, and the Rumble in the Jungle (1974), in which he stunningly defeated George Foreman. The latter attracted an estimated one billion TV viewers.

Ali was renowned for his charisma, showmanship and quick wit, while he also wrote poetry and enjoyed success as a musician.

However, his impact as an activist is what he is best remembered for by many. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight titles after refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War in 1966 and spent over three years away from the ring as he fought his conviction for draft evasion, which was overturned in 1971. His stance saw him grow into an inspirational figure in the civil rights movement.

He succumbed to Parkinson's syndrome in 2016, 32 years after making his diagnosis public. He continues to be regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated athletes in history.

2014 – An historic appointment for South African cricket

With Graeme Smith recently retiring from international cricket, in June 2014 South Africa made an historic appointment for his replacement as Test captain.

Batsman Hashim Amla got the nod despite many suspecting AB de Villiers – Smith's deputy – to have been the leading candidate for the role.

Durban-born Amla, who is of Indian descent, became South Africa's first non-white permanent Test captain in the process.

Amla retired from all forms of international cricket in August last year following the Cricket World Cup.

1999 – Malone named NBA MVP again

After a stellar 1998-99 season, Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz claimed the Maurice Podoloff trophy as he was named NBA MVP.

It was the second time he claimed the prize, making him – at that point – only the ninth player in NBA history to win it more than once, having also been a standout star two years earlier.

In 1998-99, which had a shortened calendar due to a lockout, Malone averaged 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists as the Jazz went 37-13, but the San Antonio Spurs ended the season victorious.

Elite sport is gradually returning to our screens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's Bundesliga, the UFC and the NRL were among the first top-level events to forge a route back last month after pausing due to the global crisis.

A clutch of Europe's other top football leagues, cricket, motorsport and the United States' major competitions all have designs on behind-closed-doors resumptions in the near future, too, which could create a significant backlog of crucial fixtures.

One positive is that sports fans might now be treated to a number of colossal match-ups back-to-back on the same day at some point over the coming months.

That prospect gives us the opportunity to reflect on five similar occasions with the greatest sporting days since the turn of the century - including one exactly a year ago.

 

JULY 23, 2000

The US had a day to remember as two of their most prominent stars bolstered their still burgeoning reputations with big victories on foreign soil.

The paths of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have subsequently diverged a little, however.

Woods became the youngest player to complete golf's career grand slam with a record-breaking victory at The Open in 2000, while Armstrong wrapped up a second straight Tour de France title.

The American duo stood at the top of the world, yet history will recall Armstrong's achievements rather differently now he has been stripped of each of his seven successive yellow jerseys for doping.

Woods at least maintained his high standards and held all four major titles after the 2001 Masters, winning again at Augusta as recently as last year.

FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Two more sporting greats shared the same special page in the calendar early in 2004.

It was a long day for anyone who took in both Roger Federer's performance in Melbourne's Australian Open final and Tom Brady's Super Bowl display in Houston, but they were duly rewarded.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer had won just one major before facing down Marat Safin in Australia, also becoming the ATP Tour's top-ranked player for the first time. He stayed at number one for a record-shattering 237 weeks.

Brady similarly then doubled his tally of Super Bowl rings by delivering a second triumph in three years for the Patriots, in what was a classic encounter against the Carolina Panthers.

Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, before Adam Vinatieri's field goal secured a 32-29 win with four seconds remaining.

AUGUST 4-5, 2012

One would struggle to find a greater array of star-studded athletes of various sports than those who congregated in London across the penultimate weekend of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On the Saturday evening, at the Aquatics Centre, swimming prepared to say goodbye to its greatest name. Michael Phelps and the United States won the 4x100m medley, clinching his 18th gold medal in what appeared set to be his final race.

Indeed, Phelps confirmed his retirement following the Games, only to return in predictably dominant fashion in 2016.

Across the city that same night, Team GB athletes were capping a stunning run of medals that would see the day dubbed "Super Saturday". There were six home golds in all, including big wins for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession.

The drama only continued the next day, too, as Andy Murray finally sealed a Wimbledon win over Federer in the tennis event, while Usain Bolt lit up London Stadium in the 100m.

JUNE 1, 2019

It is 12 months to the day since another epic sporting stretch, one that concluded in stunning fashion with one of boxing's great modern upsets.

Rugby union and football each had their respective turns in the spotlight earlier, with Saracens following up their European Champions Cup success - a third in four years - by retaining the Premiership title with victory over Exeter Chiefs.

In Madrid, two more English teams were in action as Liverpool edged past Tottenham in the Champions League final.

But as Sarries and the Reds celebrated, focus turned towards Madison Square Garden where Anthony Joshua was expected to make light work of Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller following a failed drugs test.

The heavyweight title match did not go to script, however, as Ruiz floored Joshua four times and forced a stoppage to claim his belts, albeit only until the rematch where the Briton saved face.

JULY 14, 2019

These crazy spectacles have largely seen sport spread throughout the day, but three sets of eyes were required to keep up with the action on an epic afternoon last July.

With England hosting and then reaching the Cricket World Cup final, the scene-stealing decider fell on the same day as the Wimbledon men's final and the British Grand Prix, ensuring the United Kingdom was the focus of the sporting world.

The cricket started off several hours before either the tennis or the F1 but still managed to outlast its rival events, with Ben Stokes determined to put on a show as England won via a dramatic Super Over at the end of a nine-hour saga against New Zealand.

Novak Djokovic was battling Stokes for attention as he was taken all the way by that man Federer at the All England Club before finally prevailing 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) in the tournament's longest singles final.

The respective classics made the British GP, completed earlier in the day, something of an afterthought - but not for Lewis Hamilton, who claimed a record sixth victory.

"When you play the first match in old San Mames, you can say that you can die, it's crazy."

Born in Eibar – around a 50km journey to Bilbao in the Basque Country – Markel Susaeta epitomised what it meant to play for Athletic Bilbao.

Susaeta spent the majority of his career at Athletic, where he made 507 appearances – only four players in the history of the club have managed more, Jose Angel Iribar (614), Jose Francisco Rojo (541), Joseba Etxeberria (514) and Andoni Iraola (510).

The Spanish winger even wore the captain's armband and won the Supercopa de Espana in 2015 before departing his beloved Athletic in 2019, having first donned the iconic red and white stripes in 2007.

Susaeta made his goalscoring senior debut away to Barcelona 13 years ago and stepped out onto Sam Mames for the first time a fortnight later, scoring a free-kick in a 1-1 draw with Real Zaragoza.

"When you play the first match, you are in heaven. You never thought you could play in that stadium and the supporters are amazing – always helping the team," Susaeta told Stats Perform News.

Athletic are a team who continue to play by their own rules. The Basque-only policy has captivated football and the sporting world, with Los Leones only picking players from one region since 1912.

Despite football's transformation by globalisation, Athletic remain defiant to their roots – only those born or raised in the Basque Country, which is made up of four provinces in north-east Spain and three in south-west France, eligible to represent the club. Rivals Real Sociedad operated a similar policy until 1989.

While it may come across as a disadvantage, limiting Athletic in the transfer market, the Spanish team have never been relegated from LaLiga while adhering to the famed policy. They have lost stars over the years, but the region continues to be a breeding ground for talent.

"For the kids of Basque Country, Real Sociedad, Athletic, many, many kids… I think more kids want to play for Athletic Bilbao," Susaeta said. "When you go to the first division, all the players, it's difficult to keep all the players at Athletic because all the players aren't the same, different things for their future. Kepa [Arrizabalaga] went to Chelsea, [Ander] Herrera went to Manchester United, [Fernando] Llorente went to Juventus, Javi Martinez Bayern Munich.

"Many players they went to other big clubs but a lot of players, more than the players that go, they stay at Athletic. For that reason, Athletic in the last 12-13 years, play very good football, a very good level. One year we played in the Champions League, we won one Supercopa, we played in three, four finals for the Copa del Rey. It's very difficult but Athletic always does things well."

"Athletic are the most special team in the world for me, what can I say? The philosophy that the people that aren't from Basque Country, they love Athletic's philosophy because it's different to other teams from the world," Susaeta added. "The kids love Athletic, they only like Athletic Bilbao. They don't like Barcelona, Madrid, they like Athletic Bilbao. This love is different than the other clubs."

Susaeta is an example of Athletic's production line, which is now headlined by the likes of young stars Inaki Williams and Unai Nunez. The 32-year-old Susaeta came through the ranks, spending one season with farm team Basconia and another with the B team before being thrust into the first-team picture in 2007.

The one-time Spain international was a vital member of Athletic's stunning Supercopa de Espana triumph under former boss Ernesto Valverde five years ago – a 5-1 two-legged rout of Barca ending a 31-year wait for silverware.

A three-time Copa del Rey finalist, Susaeta also experienced Athletic's unforgettable journey to the 2012 Europa League final, with Marcelo Bielsa at the helm.

"With Marcelo, you play a very intense football. He always wants to play the ball, for example, he likes man-marking. It's a little bit crazy to keep the whole season with man-marking. We spent two years with him but with Marcelo, it was the best football I ever played," Susaeta said as he compared the two coaches.

"With Valverde, we played in the Champions League. It's more difficult because after Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid, it's a very crazy season. With Valverde, you're more regular in defending and attacking, all the team go together. It's different. But the best football, the more attractive football that I ever played was with Bielsa."

Athletic lost the all-Spanish Europa League decider in 2012, beaten 3-0 by Atletico Madrid in Bucharest. While Bielsa's men left Arena Nationala emptyhanded, their campaign was a memorable one, having outclassed Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the last 16 – a shock 3-2 victory at Old Trafford the highlight.

It was a famous win for Athletic, who came from behind to record a first win on English soil and Susaeta said: "It's the one of the most important matches in my life. We played at Old Trafford and we played amazing football. That morning, with Bielsa, we trained for two hours, doing sprints. It was crazy.

"In the evening, we won playing amazing football. It was a very good memories because that year we won against very good European clubs but in the final we were tired, I don't know what happened but we couldn't win the final."

Susaeta was also fortunate to play in both the old San Mames and new San Mames, which opened in 2013.

"In the old San Mames, I played my first match, in that stadium, we played very good football with Bielsa – a crazy year with two finals," he added. "In the other San Mames, we played in the Champions League. In the two stadiums, I have very good memories. They are two very special stadiums."

Susaeta now finds himself playing for Melbourne City in Australia after a difficult spell with Japanese giants Gamba Osaka.

A January arrival, Susaeta had scored two goals and set up another for City – part of the City Football Group (CFG) – before the season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about a possible Athletic return after his unceremonious exit last year, Susaeta replied: "I don't want to see the future, I want to live the present. I'm very happy in Melbourne and Australia, it's a very good country and city. I'm very happy with my club and team-mates. My family is happy here and we want to stay here longer. Now it's very crazy the situation but I hope we can train again in a few weeks and finish the season in a few months.

"Japan was very difficult for me and my family because many things are different. Here we feel very good, we feel happy. My kids are happy in childcare. Here everything is perfect. I'm very happy in the football. For me, it's perfect. I'm very happy here and I hope I can stay here more years."

Bayern Munich defender Benjamin Pavard said he was dreaming of winning the Champions League to seal a treble this season.

Hansi Flick's side are on track to win the Bundesliga and are in the DFB-Pokal semi-finals, while they are also in the Champions League last 16.

Pavard, who only arrived at Bayern from Stuttgart ahead of this season, said he was eyeing a treble.

"We have a very good squad, we are performing well in the cup and in the Bundesliga," the France international told beIN SPORTS on Sunday.

"We must continue like this. Bayern must win the championship and the cup every year.

"And the Champions League, we dream of it and we want to make the treble."

While Pavard has played 39 games this season, Bayern are reportedly looking for a right-back and plan to use the Frenchman in the centre of defence in the long-term.

The former Lille man said he was focused on winning titles with Bayern despite talk about his position.

"I signed for five years at Bayern, I play my matches, I am performing and I will do everything to improve further. And I want to win a lot of titles," Pavard said.

"I don't know yet what the future holds, we know that in football it can go very quickly, but I don't ask myself many questions."

Bayern are seven points clear atop the Bundesliga, while they claimed a 3-0 win over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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