Lionel Messi's inevitable retirement is a worrying thought but the record-breaker deserves to determine his own fate, according to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi, 32, suggested the end of his career was "approaching" after winning an unprecedented sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday.

Ernesto Valverde insisted it was a natural line of thinking and nothing to be concerned about but Bartomeu told Catalunya Radio: "I worry about the day Messi goes."

He does not expect that day to come soon and outlined plans to agree a contract extension with Messi before his own term as president ends in 2021, which coincides with the expiry of the Argentine's deal.

"I would like to sign one more contract with Messi," Bartomeu said.

"He has a lot left. We have talked many times and he has no problem continuing at Barca. I have no doubt that he will play here until he retires, it is a commitment from him.

"It will end when he wants because Leo, for being the best, for giving what he has given, it will be up to him to say when he stops.

"He will set the terms. He has the right to decide how and when he wants to finish. He will never leave, this is his club, the club of his life."

Head coach Valverde is also due to become a free agent in 2021 but, unlike Messi, there looks to be a realistic chance of him leaving then or earlier.

The former Athletic Bilbao boss will hope to secure a third successive LaLiga title before decisions are made over his future.

Bartomeu said: "Valverde has a contract until the end of my term. He or Barcelona will decide. To continue with a coach depends on many variables.

"In Barcelona we have seen very short periods of coaches lately. Three [seasons] may be enough, but it is a decision that he must make.

"It depends on exhaustion, fatigue, although I see Valverde is excited, wants to do well, wants success and wants to combine these players who have won everything with the new generation."

Arsenal appear to be spiralling into a deeper mess as the days pass.

Just over a week on from sacking Unai Emery, the Gunners now reportedly have doubts over how long Freddie Ljungberg should be left in charge.

Misjudging the situation could have serious ramifications for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future.

 

TOP STORY – DOUBTS EMERGE OVER LJUNGBERG

Arsenal fear interim boss Ljungberg's lack of managerial experience will force them to make a full-time appointment before the end of the season, reports The Mirror.

Gunners chiefs seemed set to back the Swede when Emery was moved aside but a draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road and the 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion in midweek have cast doubt over his capabilities.

Action could be taken sooner rather than later as the club mull over a list of potential targets, particularly as there are "growing concerns" about star striker Aubameyang .

The 30-year-old has reportedly stalled on contract talks and the lack of clarity over the head coaching position could end with Arsenal being forced to sell one of their strongest assets.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha and Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell in their sights after their transfer ban was reduced on Friday, reports The Athletic.

- Juventus are considering a move for either Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic or Leandro Paredes of Paris Saint-Germain, claims Corriere Torino.

- Inter's interest in Arturo Vidal could aid Barca's bid to sign Lautaro Martinez from the Serie A side, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- Steven Gerrard is on the verge of agreeing a new deal with Rangers that will see him remain as manager until 2024, says The Sun.

- Two Eredivisie stars could be headed for Portugal, reports A Bola. Belgian forward Cyriel Dessers of Heracles Almelo and exciting AZ prospect Myron Boadu are said to be in the sights of Primeira Liga heavyweights Sporting CP .

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde opened the door for Arturo Vidal's departure in January, acknowledging the LaLiga champions have a lot of midfielders.

Vidal has been linked with a move to Serie A outfit Inter as the Barcelona midfielder struggles for regular game time at Camp Nou.

The 32-year-old Chilean has made 14 appearances across all competitions this season, though only four have been starts.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's match against Real Mallorca, Valverde told reporters: "Vidal is our player. We are happy with him. There are so many rumours. We will see tomorrow if he plays or not.

"And when the January transfer window arrives, we will see what happens."

"There's a lot of things going on in January but it's true that we have a lot of midfielders," Valverde said. "Some have played more than others but all of them are needed."

Ivan Rakitic is another midfielder, whose future with Barcelona is up in the air as the Croatia international eyes regular football.

Rakitic – a reported target for Inter and former club Sevilla – has only made two LaLiga starts this term.

"He's a reliable player in a lot of ways," Valverde added. "In the same way that there have been moments when he has not featured, he has continued training [with the same intensity] to seize his opportunity.

"He's played at a good level [in the last two games] and we're happy with that. We'll see what happens in the next few games. He has emerged in a difficult period."

Ernesto Valverde is not concerned about Lionel Messi retiring anytime soon after the Barcelona star suggested he was beginning to think about bringing his playing days to a close when he received a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Messi, 32, overtook long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes on Monday when he beat the Portugal forward and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk to the individual gong, despite the latter being many people's favourite.

During Messi's acceptance speech, he remarked that he is "aware of how old I am, everything happens very quickly and I know that the moment of withdrawal is approaching".

Barca team-mate Luis Suarez insisted Messi's comments had been misinterpreted by many, adamant the Argentina great will "continue for a long while yet".

And Valverde says he sees Messi's state of mind as entirely normal, convinced his comments have been blown out of proportion.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's visit of Real Mallorca, Valverde said: "It seems natural [to think about retirement]. It seems normal.

"Leo is 32 years old and, although I don't think he is thinking about retirement, it is something that is there [in the future].

"When a player goes over 30 [years old], he always sees the end closer than when he starts, but come on, I think it goes around too much.

"You have to see it naturally. It happens to everyone as the years go by. To think about it doesn't mean it's going to be in three days."

The privilege of coaching Messi is not lost on Valverde, though he expects the honour to become even more apparent in the future.

"One is aware of that, but sometimes the day-by-day does not let you enjoy it at all," Valverde said.

"I think they are things that are valued more over time. I am aware that I have the great fortune to be able to say in a time that I have trained Leo.

"In the same way that the elders talk about [Real Madrid great Alfredo] Di Stefano, we can tell those who come after we were in Messi's time and we enjoyed it, some as close as me."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA READY TO BREAK TRANSFER RECORD FOR SANCHO

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Rapinoe has urged Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, as well as other leading male superstars, to be more outspoken on social issues including racism and sexism.

United States international Rapinoe won the women's Ballon d'Or this week, joining Messi on the stage at the annual awards gala as the Barcelona great claimed the men's prize for a record sixth time, one more than rival Ronaldo.

But Rapinoe, who has long been vociferous in her opposition to discrimination, does not believe her male counterparts are doing enough.

"I want to shout, 'Cristiano, Leo, Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], help me'," she told France Football. "These big stars do not engage in anything when there are so many problems in men's football.

"Do they have the fear of losing everything? They believe that but it's not true.

"Who would scratch Messi or Ronaldo's names from the world of football for a statement against racism or sexism?"

Rapinoe suggested recognition of her individual achievements was in part due to the way she has been open to discussing key topics.

"This Ballon d'Or rewards both," she said. "On the one hand, I am a very good footballer. On the other hand, my activism attracts support.

"People understand that I act to find solutions to the problems in our society. The idea is to empower others to speak loudly."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Ballon d'Or points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Madrid have made Fabian Ruiz their top transfer target.

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

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

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEP UP FABIAN INTEREST

Napoli midfielder Fabian is a man in demand.

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

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

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

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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