Jack Grealish will be compared to global superstars like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe following his £100million move to Manchester City, Stiliyan Petrov expects.

England winger Grealish completed his transfer from boyhood club Aston Villa to City this week and could make his debut from the bench in Saturday's Community Shield.

Villa confirmed they had received £100m from City for their captain, triggering a release clause and making Grealish the Premier League's first nine-figure signing.

That is a select group across Europe, including the world's most expensive player Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe.

"Jack Grealish has become part of the Neymar 100 million, Mbappe 100 million, [Philippe] Coutinho [group]," ex-Villa captain Petrov, one of the founders of Player 4 Player, told Stats Perform.

"So now he is not just a UK star and brand, now he's become global. Now he's become even bigger because now he is compared with one of the best.

"All the eyes will be on Jack now. Jack has to understand that the hard work starts now.

"In a team like Manchester City, every single player there is a top player. So, you have to go there, you have to adjust your game, you have to be at the top of your game every single time.

"If you don't play well every single week, the next [player] is waiting for your spot. When [they take] over, sometimes it takes months before he comes out again because the team is so well drilled and they just win games.

"So, Jack has a huge challenge. But when you are a top player, when you are a player with his abilities, you are always willing to challenge yourself.

"That is probably one of the reasons that he moved on, because with everything we will be reading in the press about Villa looking after him, Villa offering him a new contract, I think that Villa have done everything in their power to keep Jack Grealish.

"Unfortunately, that offer came at the time he has to make a decision to develop in a different way or stay at the club that he loves."

Petrov added: "He's got the platform now. He just needs to go and take it. Because the platform is there. He is at Manchester City. Manchester City will be fighting, will be challenging for every single trophy, at every single season.

"It is down to him how he is going to look after himself, how he is going to prepare for different dynamic of the season.

"Because at the moment, Jack will have another challenge as well; he only played in the Premier League and in some club games, but now he has to adjust to more travelling, with the European games, more games, more intensity, more demand.

"So, this is something that he has to adjust. But now he has the platform. If he can manage to use it, anything is reachable for this boy."

Forging a role in the team is another challenge, with Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden last season often taking up the left-sided positions Grealish likes to occupy.

But Petrov said: "He has got the ability to fit in any position.

"Pep Guardiola is a completely different manager from anybody else; he gets the quality of the player and he uses it in a completely different way.

"I could give you a premier example with Foden. Everybody says that the Foden position is in the middle and he plays on the left, the wide left, and the wide right.

"So, Jack Grealish will be the same. [Guardiola] will just develop and teach Jack Grealish to play in a number of positions.

"Can Jack Grealish adjust to that? He can. Certainly. Because he has got the ability, he has got the knowledge and the awareness to do those positions.

"I believe when Pep Guardiola spoke to Jack Grealish, he would have told him how to play number of positions, how to develop his skills, his ability, but also how to fight to be one of the best players in the world.

"And I believe that was what Jack was wanting: somebody to tell him that he is going to be in the spotlight, people will be talking about him.

"He needed more persuasion. That was what he needed. Just to show him that he can fight to be one of the best."

Jack Grealish could make his Manchester City debut from the bench in Saturday's Community Shield at Wembley and the British record signing could have a key role to play over the opening weeks of the season with Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne still sidelined.

Grealish completed his £100million switch from Aston Villa to Premier League champions City on Thursday.

The 25-year-old playmaker's Wembley cameos from the bench became one of the most anticipated features of England's run to the Euro 2020 final and he will resume that role at the national stadium this weekend, having only returned to training from a post-tournament break this week.

"He's not ready to start at all, he was one week training alone but he'll travel with us to settle with the team and he will be on the bench and we’ll see what happens," Guardiola said.

"After we'll see what happens but from the beginning, no way."

Next weekend's Premier League opener against Tottenham, which is set to be played out against the backdrop of City's pursuit of Spurs striker Harry Kane, might be a different matter, given Foden and De Bruyne are still nursing respective foot and ankle complaints following their European Championship exploits.

"Phil Foden will still be out for a while. He had a tough injury with the national team in the last few days [of Euro 2020] and unfortunately could not play the final," Guardiola said.

"You have to be careful with this injury because if we don't [take precautions] it will be longer.

"Kevin still is out. I think he will come back a little bit sooner or quicker than Phil apparently but both still out for a while."

De Bruyne was named PFA Players' Player of the Year for the second successive season as City regained the Premier League and retained the EFL Cup in 2020-21, which they concluded with a 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

The Belgium superstar, who penned a long-term contract extension running until 2025 in May, scored six goals and supplied 12 Premier League assists. Those came from 80 chances created, 19 of which were classed as "big chances" by Opta.

Joao Cancelo crafted the next most opportunities in City's squad with 45, meaning Grealish (81 chances created, 14 big chances, 10 assists in the Premier League in 2020-21) could instantly have a critical role to play in De Bruyne's absence.

Grealish has frequently voiced his admiration for the 30-year-old and Guardiola is in a similar position when it comes to a player he has long coveted.

"The first time I saw him playing," he replied when asked for the moment he decided he wanted to sign Grealish, noting the attacking midfielder's ability to control the tempo of the play – a quality Guardiola has frequently described as being vital in his teams.

"But then it wasn't possible, you have the squad and we had to invest in other parts as those parts were weaker. But especially when I saw him on TV.

"I said, 'that guy controls the tempo'. I love when he has the ball, he stops before the dribble and all the opponents stop as well. He controls the tempo and rhythm, when he accelerates and decelerates the action.

"And then especially when [City] played against him - the physicality, the special mentality of how he fought against the opponents, against our players. He said, 'I'm here'.

"Especially Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football]. Txiki was completely in love with him and that's why we decided to try."

From Saturday onwards, Grealish will begin the work of trying make City's fans fall similarly head over heels.

Harry Kane insisted he has never refused to train and will be back at Tottenham "as planned" on Saturday amid uncertainty surrounding his future.

Kane – a target for Manchester City – made headlines on Monday when he did not report for training with Spurs, who refused to comment publicly on the matter.

The England captain was given an extended break after leading the Three Lions to the final of Euro 2020 last month.

Kane has been the subject of intense speculation since suggesting in May that he could leave Spurs during this transfer window.

City are said to have long held an interest in the 28-year-old and reportedly lodged a bid of roughly £100million earlier in the window. On Friday, Pep Guardiola confirmed he wishes to sign Kane, but insisted the saga would be "finished" if Tottenham refused to negotiate.

Kane received criticism from some quarters for failing to report to training under Nuno Espirito Santo, who claimed on Thursday that he was yet to speak to Spurs' talisman.

However, Kane says it was always planned that he would re-join Tottenham's squad on Saturday.

"It's almost ten years since I made my Spurs debut. For every one of those years, you – the fans – have shown me total support and love," a statement posted to Kane's official social media channels read.

"That's why it hurts to read some of the comments that have been made this week, questioning my professionalism.

"While I won't go into the specifics of the situation, I want to clarify that I would never, and have never, refused to train. I will be returning to the club tomorrow, as planned.

"I wouldn't do anything to jeopardise the relationship I have with the fans who have given me such unwavering support during my time with the club.

"This has always been the case as it is today."

Tottenham have so far refused to do business with City over Kane. Any transfer for the striker would almost certainly break the British record, which City themselves set this week with the £100m acquisition of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

Coincidentally, Spurs host champions City in their opening game of the 2021-22 Premier League season on August 15.

As Jack Grealish begins training at the Etihad Campus and Harry Kane continues not training in Florida, it is worth remembering Pep Guardiola left a warning in plain sight that Manchester City would be prime movers and shakers in this year's transfer market.

Speaking to Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport ahead of May's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea, Guardiola pondered the ingredients needed for sustained success, having already lifted three of the past four Premier League titles on offer.

"Did you have the same squad when you won your sixth Premier League as you did your first one?" he asked former Manchester United defender Ferdinand.

"You have to shake, you have to move. With the same guys, it is almost impossible. We change. After defeats or a win, we change."

Such are the talents at Guardiola's disposal within the City squad, the £100million British record outlay to secure Grealish brought plenty of derision. Kane will cost more and, should any offer pass muster with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, it will be the same story.

But the City boss knew well of what he spoke and who he was speaking to. In 2002, Ferdinand joined United from Leeds United for a British record £30m. That deal usurped the £28.1m fee Alex Ferguson required to bring in Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio a year earlier. In 2004, United made Wayne Rooney (£27m) the most expensive teenager in world football.

Even as the great 1998-99 United team went on to win the subsequent two Premier Leagues, Ferguson decided he had to shake. He had to move. Despite the successes of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea at the start of this century, this thirst to improve from a position of strength meant United were able to dominate again.

LEGACY SIGNINGS

Comparisons to Ferguson will no doubt grate for plenty of the City faithful, but geography and the scale of Guardiola's achievements to date – eight major honours in the past four seasons – mean they are easy to reach for.

The former Barcelona coach became the first manager to retain the Premier League since the great Scot and, as he looks to repeat that feat, another Fergusonism has been laid at his door.

Last season, some observers contended Guardiola had built his second great City side. Team building and re-building was a perfected art form at United in the 1990s and 2000s and the shorter tenures of the modern era mean today's elite coaches are rarely called upon to accomplish such a tall task.

Guardiola certainly fitted the contemporary template at Barca and Bayern Munich, working with bristling intensity for four and three seasons respectively before standing down amid a sense that parties on both sides of the player/coach divide were burnt out to some extent.

You only needed to study the City manager on the touchline as a team featuring a crop of youth team players won recent friendlies against Preston North End, Barnsley and Blackpool to see plenty of that intensity remains. But the combination of ideal working conditions under old Barcelona allies Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano along with the lack of either Camp Nou's tumultuous politics or ex-playing grandees as at Bayern have persuaded the 50-year-old that Manchester is a place to burnish his legacy with longevity.

A contract extension penned in November last year means Guardiola is set to remain City boss until June 2023, by which point he will have completed seven seasons.

Club record goalscorer Sergio Aguero departing at the end of last term means only captain Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling remain from the pre-Guardiola years and the latter two signed a year before his arrival when City's direction of travel was fairly well signposted.

Grealish's arrival and the potential capture of Kane for another nine-figure outlay feels like a significant pivot point in a way that 2020-21, with its inverted full-backs, false-nines and off-the-cuff solutions, did not. A new chapter begins with Saturday's Community Shield encounter against Leicester City at Wembley.

GUARDIOLA'S CITY 2.0

Guardiola's third Premier League title and fourth consecutive EFL Cup did not tell the story of a new team being methodically put together. From the point City lost 2-0 at Tottenham last November, which left them 11th in the Premier League with 12 points from eight games, it was a tale of shrewd adjustment and pragmatism within the manager's signature style.

"I said we have to come back to our first principle. We started to rebuild and reconstruct the team," Guardiola said. "We had success in the past and [we had to] come back on our positional play, move the ball quicker, do more passes, stay more in position, run less with the ball."

City adapted better than any other Premier League side to the rigours of pandemic football. The effective pressing that is a hallmark of all Guardiola's sides was in evidence – 377 high turnovers and 80 shots from high turnovers (open play sequences that begin within 40 metres of the opposition goal) were the best numbers in the Premier League.

This was despite City allowing 11.5 passes per defensive action (PPDA), putting them joint-sixth in a category headed up by Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds Untied and their rabid pressing (9.3 PPDA).

The conclusion to be drawn here is that City picked their moments judiciously rather than relentlessly harrying opponents. Even as their press faltered during their meek 2019-20 title defence, their PPDA was 10.1.

In possession they were similarly methodical. City's direct speed – the metres per second they progressed upfield in open play – was the slowest in the Premier League. Opta's figure of 1.1 direct speed for the champions in 2020-21 compares to 1.4 when they won the league with 100 points for the first time under Guardiola in 2017-18 and 1.3 when the fought tooth and nail with Liverpool to retain it.

Alongside the key addition of talismanic centre-back Ruben Dias, slowing down in this manner helped City to be more defensively solid, although there was a price paid at the other end of the field.

Their goals (83) and shots on target (216) in the Premier League were lower than every campaign since Guardiola's initial trophy-less outing in 2016-17. City's 599 shots overall were the least of his tenure and down form 745 in 2019-20, they registered 68.9 for expected goals (xG) having been between 80 and 94 for the three prior campaigns.

Despite their array of creative midfield talent, City made 1,164 passes into the opposition box, having never clocked below 1,300 in the Guardiola era. In 2018-19, they made 1,522.

This was largely not too much of a problem, of course, but the manner in which City subsided to Chelsea after Kai Havertz scored the only goal in Porto was a concern. Thomas Tuchel's team saw out a 1-0 win in relative comfort and City's xG of 0.45 was their second lowest in any match managed by Guardiola.

JACKED UP ATTACK

Those initial title wins for Guardiola in England featured a forward line with the electrifying wing talents of Leroy Sane and Sterling to the fore.

Sane is now at Bayern Munich and, after the mid-season tweaks last term, Sterling struggled and lost his place as a locked-in starter. Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez generally started either side of a false nine as the importance of players being able to provide the "extra pass" became a Guardiola mantra.

Sterling returns reinvigorated by a fabulous Euro 2020 but Grealish is no more of a direct Sane replacement than Ferran Torres was a year ago. The qualities of the England playmaker and those of his international captain Kane suggest Guardiola is keen to keep the control of 2020-21 and bolt on increased attacking efficiency.

Despite missing 12 matches through injury, Grealish supplied 10 Premier League assists last season. De Bruyne (12) and Kane (14) were two of the three players above him, with the Spurs striker topping the league charts in terms of goals and assists.

Grealish edged De Bruyne by 81-80 in terms of chances created, while his advantage was 70-58 when it came to chances created from open play. City's record signing also edged De Bruyne in terms of expected assists (xA) with 6.52 against 6.21, indicating the high quality of chances his passes created.

Since the departures of David Silva and Sane, the creative burden has arguably rested too heavily upon De Bruyne. Joan Cancelo (45) and Mahrez (44) were the next best in the City squad for chances created, while the Belgian maestro created 19 of what Opta class as 'big chances'. That put him second only to Bruno Fernandes (20) in the division but none of his team-mates hit double figures. Grealish created 14 such opportunities.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

"I think everyone knows how much I admire Kevin and it's going to be a dream come true to play alongside him," Grealish said in his interview with City's in-house media channel on Thursday.

Without Silva and Sane's axis down the left channel, De Bruyne's role at City changed last season, with Guardiola granting him a broader midfield brief, as well as rotating the 30-year-old and Bernardo Silva as his two main false-nine options.

As a result, his touches on the right-hand side of the opposition half – in the spaces he roves to deliver those "score me!" crosses – were down by an average of 7.2 per 90 minutes when compared to 2019-20, when De Bruyne supplied a record-equalling 20 Premier League assists.

He made more touches in central areas and averaged 4.6 more per 90 on the left hand side, where Grealish likes to operate.

A report by The Athletic stated Guardiola intends to use Grealish as an option in the left-sided number eight position within his 4-3-3, one often occupied by Ilkay Gundogan as the Germany international enjoyed the most prolific goalscoring season of his career.

Grealish would provide a different threat, not least with his exceptional dribbling ability. His 60 carries ending with a shot at goal last season were the best in the division, one ahead of Kane. Of those, 37 were created chances for team-mates and the extent to which the 25-year-old occupies defenders should free up De Bruyne to thrive where he can deliver those balls that strikers love – not to say his delivery from the left is especially shabby.

"When I watch De Bruyne play he's a special, special player and some of the balls I see him put in for City are just a striker's dream if I'm honest," Kane told Gary Neville's Overlap podcast in May, demonstrating his aptitude for subtlety is not on a par with his goal poaching.

"He's an outstanding player with the ball, off the ball, pressing, but his delivery is as good as I've ever seen to be honest."  

Should Kane follow Grealish in realising his De Bruyne dream, Guardiola will field a team retaining the control that squeezed the competition last season and bolstered by a goal threat at least equal to his initial City configuration.

If he can knit it all together, and history suggests a very decent record in that regard, it represents a chilling prospect for the rest of the elite in England and Europe.

Pep Guardiola insists the ball is in Tottenham's court with regards to Manchester City's potential move for Harry Kane.

City's interest in Kane is clear, with the Premier League champions determined to sign the England captain – they had an offer understood to be in the region of £100million turned down during the European Championships.

Kane, too, is eager to make the switch from north London to Manchester, with Spurs' talisman having failed to report to pre-season training earlier this week in an apparent attempt to force through a move.

Reports suggest Tottenham will refuse to do business, however, insisting their talisman is not to sale to a Premier League competitor.

City have already smashed the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish, whose £100m move from Aston Villa was confirmed on Thursday, but Guardiola says Tottenham will ultimately make the decision on Kane's future.

"He's a player for Tottenham Hotspur. If Tottenham don't want to negotiate, it's finished," Guardiola, who also dismissed any possibility of a move for free agent Lionel Messi, told a news conference ahead of the Community Shield clash with FA Cup holders Leicester City.

"If they are open to negotiating, I think not just Man City but many clubs in the world want to try to sign him – we are not an exception – but it depends on Tottenham.

"It's different from Jack. Jack had a release clause. Harry Kane is an exceptional, extraordinary striker, no doubts about that. Of course we are interested, but he is a Tottenham player and if they don't want to negotiate there is nothing more to say. If they want to, we will try."

 

Ironically, City's first Premier League outing sees them travel to Tottenham on August 15.

It is not just incomings that City have to consider as the new season gets underway, though, with the champions also needing to manage some players who wish to try their hand elsewhere.

Several players have been linked with moves away, and Guardiola confirmed as such, though named only Bernardo Silva as a player who definitely wants to leave.

"Not just Bernardo, there are two, three or four players that want to leave but they are our players under contract and when they bring some offer and their agents come here and they want to leave we are open to discuss absolutely everything, but it depends on them," he added.

"Otherwise, they will continue training really well, they will stay here and I will decide if they play or don't play.

"The players, for what happened in the previous seasons, who want to leave know the door is open because we don't want anyone here unsatisfied. But they have to bring [an offer from a club]. Otherwise, they will stay here."

LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid have been touted as a possible destination for Portugal playmaker Silva, who joined City from Monaco in 2017.

Pep Guardiola insists Lionel Messi is not part of Manchester City's transfer plans after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's sensational exit from Barcelona.

Messi was widely expected to sign a new deal at Camp Nou this week, to prolong a career-long association with Barca after his previous terms expired in June.

However, the club issued a statement on Thursday stating "financial and structural obstacles" – relating to both the Blaugrana's parlous financial state and LaLiga's strict economic controls – prevented Messi from signing a contract to which he had already agreed.

City were widely understood to be Messi's preferred destination when he attempted to leave Barcelona 12 months ago, but Paris Saint-Germain are viewed as the frontrunners this time around.

That impression was only heightened after Guardiola ruled out a reunion with his former protege, insisting City would proceed with the transfer plans that saw £100million man Jack Grealish become their record signing on Thursday.

"We have spent £40m on Jack Grealish - 100 we pay and 60 we won last year." Guardiola said, in one of several reference to the £60m boost his transfer kitty has received from City selling academy and loan players.

"He'll have the number 10 because we were incredibly convinced with Jack Grealish and were convinced that Leo would continue at Barcelona.

"Right now [signing Messi] is not in our thoughts, absolutely not."

Messi ascended to his place at the top of world football under Guardiola's guidance between 2008 and 2012, winning LaLiga on three occasions and the Champions League twice among a host of honours.

"It was a surprise for everyone, me included. President [Joan] Laporta was clear on the reason why," said Guardiola, who was speaking ahead of Saturday's Community Shield meeting with Leicester City at Wembley.

"They'd both like to continue. When you have €487m losses in one year the decision is made, unfortunately.

"As a supporter I'd love to him to have finished there but the club is not sustainable. What's happened is not good there and that's why they arrived in those terms [of Messi leaving].

"As a fan, incredible gratitude for the most extraordinary player I've ever seen in my life. Much more than for the titles he won for Barcelona, for what he did for me, to help me to become a better manager, to go to Munich and England.

"We won a lot, more than that is the incredible about of emotions and feelings to be in front of the TV watching what he can do with the ball with his mates in one football game. Day by day, game by game he did something unique."

As it stands, Messi's final appearance in a Barcelona shirt will be a 2-1 home loss to Celta Vigo as LaLiga slipped away last season.

Guardiola hopes a more fitting goodbye can be arranged.

"Hopefully one day we can properly have the best farewell game ever, because he deserves it," he added. "His contribution helped to take this club to another level, to dominate the world during a decade."

So now we know: Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona.

Having pushed hard to force through an exit a year ago, the Argentina superstar appeared set to commit his long-term future to the Spanish club by signing a new deal this offseason.

However, his Camp Nou days now appear over due to "economic and structural obstacles", despite reportedly agreeing to take a 50 per cent wage reduction. Put simply, the dire financial situation means Barca cannot keep their prized asset.

Unless there is another dramatic twist to the saga (and we definitely should not rule that out just yet), Messi must find a new home.

So where could the six-time Ballon d'Or winner end up? The list of options appears to be short, albeit varied.

Hello, Paris!

Paris Saint-Germain are the early front-runners in this unexpected race, and rightly so. Thanks to owners Qatar Sports Investments, the Ligue 1 side have the financial backing to make Messi a tempting offer, plus they would give him a chance of Champions League glory once again – they were beaten finalists in 2020, then knocked out in the last four the following season.

Compatriot Mauricio Pochettino is there, as too are international team-mates Leandro Paredes and Angel Di Maria. When you add in another familiar face in former Barca colleague Neymar, it suddenly seems like a cosy, obvious fit. Such a signing could also help sway Kylian Mbappe to sign a new contract, or at least make it far more palatable to consider cashing in on the Frenchman before his deal runs out.

The Pep reunion tour

A year ago, when Messi made us look up exactly what a burofax is, Manchester City appeared the likely landing spot. A once rock-solid relationship with Barca appeared in tatters, amid disgruntlement over what was happening both on and off the pitch. Moving to England would have finally answered the old line of, 'Yeah, but can he do it on a wet Tuesday in [insert team here]?', as well as reuniting him with Pep Guardiola, the coach who twice steered Barca to Champions League glory.

However, City have seemingly moved on since missing out on Messi. Not so long after Barca's statement was released, the Premier League champions confirmed the signing of Jack Grealish for £100million. Harry Kane has also been heavily linked with them, and the England captain will not come cheap (certainly if Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has anything to do with it). Even with City, there is a limit to how much you can spend.

Made in Chelsea

So how about Messi moves to the Premier League anyway, but just not to the club where everyone once expected? Chelsea have not been mentioned too much as a possible destination, either last year or now, but they have the resources and are seemingly keen to add to their attacking options, considering rumours of moves for Erling Haaland and, more recently, Romelu Lukaku. Unlike that duo, Messi is unattached and available for nothing (in terms of a transfer fee at least).

However, those links to central strikers suggest head coach Thomas Tuchel and the Chelsea hierarchy have a certain idea of what they want to add to the squad – and it may not be a 34-year-old who would require a rethink over the entire structure of the team. While Messi would no doubt enhance the Blues, west London appears unlikely to be welcoming him into the neighbourhood.

ML-YES!

Could Messi be set to take the well-trodden path from Europe to the United States? MLS has appeared a viable option for him at some stage in his playing days – he even said so himself in an interview with La Sexta in December 2020: "I would like to play in the United States someday, it's always been one of my dreams... but I don't know if it will happen!" Well, that dream could now become a reality, with the competition having a history of attracting big names in the twilight stages of their careers.

David Beckham did just that, and now he is heavily involved with Inter Miami – perhaps the leading MLS option for Messi. New York and Los Angeles could factor into consideration, with the chance for a global superstar to take the plunge in a major market. In truth, though, it seems this idea could come to fruition further down the line, rather than in the coming weeks.

No place like home…

While he has been at Barcelona since his teenage years, coming through the famous La Masia youth academy, Messi started out with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina. A move back to his hometown of Rosario would be a wonderful way to bookend his illustrious playing days. However, having scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga games last term, he shows no signs of his ridiculously lofty standards slipping just yet.

Diego Maradona did have a brief stint there, with Messi revealing a Newell's number 10 shirt after scoring against Osasuna to pay tribute to the Argentina legend, who died in November 2020. Still, after finally securing a first international trophy with the national team, winning this year's Copa America on Brazilian soil, a return to his roots appears unlikely.

Where will Lionel Messi land?

Barcelona's shock announcement of his departure set rumours flying.

Will it be Paris, Manchester or somewhere else?

 

TOP STORY - MESSI ON THE MARKET

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are rumoured to be the top suitors for Lionel Messi.

The French giants have already made contact with Messi's representatives, according to Fabrizio Romano, and are seen in many quarters as the favourites to land the Argentine forward.

It remains to be seen wherher PSG can take on Messi after making several major moves during the transfer window, while City may be in a similarly difficult situation after finalising their £100million deal for Jack Grealish on Thursday.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola may still be a possibility, though, especially if Tottenham refuse to engage in talks around a Harry Kane deal.

Major League Soccer could also be a possibility, though Messi is expected to remain in Europe for at least a few more years.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have not given up on a move for Kieran Trippier, though they have not come close to Atletico Madrid's £34million demands for the England international, The Sun says.

- West Ham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Fabrizio Romano reports, with the Serie A side eyeing Matija Nastasic of Schalke as a replacement.

- Arsenal have bid £17m for Lazio striker Joaquin Correa, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Juventus are interested in bringing back Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic on either a loan or a permanent deal, says Calciomercato.

- Roma are lining up a £21m bid for Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Crystal Palace are among multiple clubs hoping to lure Adam Armstrong from Blackburn, with the Daily Mail saying they are favoured ahead of Norwich City and Southampton.

Aston Villa have confirmed they received a record £100million fee for Jack Grealish, who addressed the fans of his hometown club after leaving for Manchester City.

Premier League champions City announced the signing of Grealish on a six-year contract on Thursday.

A £100m fee – a record for a Premier League club – was widely reported, and Villa CEO Christian Purslow confirmed that amount in a message to fans.

City's bid – one of several approaches from numerous clubs – triggered a release clause agreed with Grealish at the start of last season, Purslow explained.

"Last summer, following interest from a number of clubs, we offered Jack a new contract to stay at the club, which he accepted with one proviso," Purslow said in a video message.

"Jack wanted to be certain that if at any point a Champions League club came in for him and Aston Villa was not in that competition, that we would not stand in his way.

"For that reason, we agreed to incorporate a so-called release clause into his contract.

"Our board set this clause at a value of £100m, knowing that would be by some way a record price for a British footballer and also a record fee for any player bought by a Premier League club.

"Put another way, we set the value at a level we hoped would not be met but which would reflect his truly unique value to Aston Villa.

"After a brilliant season for Jack, culminating in his performances at the Euros, a number of clubs expressed interest in signing him, initially at figures below the release clause. We simply refused to entertain those approaches.

"Finally, Manchester City notified us that they would be willing to pay the £100m it would take to trigger this clause.

"After many hours of discussions involving Jack, his family and his agent, during which we made clear our strong desire for him to stay at Aston Villa, Jack finally decided that he would like to go to City and instructed us to exercise his release clause as was his prerogative."

As Purslow spoke to the Villa fans on Thursday, so did boyhood fan Grealish, who had captained the side since 2019.

In a statement on his social media page, he said in part: "I'll always be a Villa fan – I love this club with all my heart and I hope you understand my reasons for seeking a new challenge."

Purslow explained how difficult the decision had been for Grealish, saying: "It was a highly emotional moment when he finally told me his decision, leaving me in no doubt how hard it had been for him to decide to leave our club, which he joined when he was six years old.

"Ultimately, he said it boiled down to wanting to play Champions League football now."

Indicating the mutual respect between player and board, Grealish's statement continued: "The club are in great hands, the manager, the lads, the new signings coming in – it's an exciting time to be a Villa fan."

Villa have already signed Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings, three players for combined fees amounting to close to £100m.

Purslow confirmed the club had planned to replace Grealish – who scored six goals and added 10 assists last season – with a trio of stars rather than going for a single like-for-like buy.

"I want you all to be reassured that the board, Dean Smith, Johan Lange and I obviously knew this day might come and we have planned accordingly," he said.

"It was never our intention to replace Jack with one footballer, our strategy was to analyse and break down Jack's key attributes – his creativity, his assists, his goals – and to find these qualities and others in three forward players.

"In signing Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings, we believe we have achieved this key objective and in doing so have also reduced an overdependency on one brilliant footballer."

Injuries limited Grealish to 26 league appearances last season, in which Villa had an outstanding 50 per cent winning record.

That dropped to 25 per cent in the 12 matches he missed, with their points-per-game return falling from 1.7 to 1.0.

Villa will hope their three lucrative signings will ensure those statistics are not repeated, with their creative talents set to boost a side that scored only 1.1 goals per game without Grealish.

Jack Grealish has completed his record transfer to Premier League champions Manchester City in a deal worth a reported £100million.

England international Grealish has spent his entire career at Aston Villa and has been captain of the club since 2019.

The 25-year-old played a pivotal role in helping Villa retain their top-flight status at the end of the 2019-20 season, after which he was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United.

He instead signed a new long-term contract but, after scoring six league goals and adding a further 10 assists across 26 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign, Grealish has now made the move north to Manchester.

Pep Guardiola's City have smashed the previous British transfer record – set by United's acquisition of Paul Pogba in August 2016 – to get the playmaker, who created 81 chances in the league last term.

Grealish has signed a six-year deal with City and said: "I am incredibly happy to have joined Manchester City.

"City are the best team in the country with a manager considered to be the best in the world – it's a dream come true to be part of this club.

"Over the past 10 seasons, they have won major trophies consistently. Pep coming here has taken them to the next level and the football this team plays is the most exciting in Europe.

"To play for Pep and learn from him is going to be special and it's something any top footballer would want.

"The facilities are amazing, and I honestly can't wait to get started, meet everyone and get playing."

His departure leaves a huge void at Villa, though they have been spending big this close season, bringing in Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings in lucrative moves.

Grealish is City's first major signing of the window, with the champions also strongly linked with signing Harry Kane from Tottenham.

England captain Kane failed to report back for pre-season training with Spurs as planned, following an extended break after Euro 2020.

The 28-year-old, who topped the Premier League scoring and assist charts last term, has outlined his intention to leave Tottenham and was reportedly the subject of a £100m offer from City earlier in the window.

Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain says record-breaking signing Jack Grealish is a "perfect match" with the Premier League champions.

Grealish, 25, completed a move to Pep Guardiola's men for a reported £100million fee on Thursday, making him the most expensive signing in Premier League history.

Guardiola's newest recruit adds further creativity to City's already handsome depth of attacking talent at the Etihad Stadium and Begiristain could not be happier with the acquisition of Aston Villa's former captain.

Begiristain, speaking to the club's official website upon the announcement of Grealish's signing, said: "We are absolutely delighted to be able to welcome Jack Grealish to Manchester City. He is an incredible talent.

"Jack's development over the past few seasons both for club and country has been plain for everybody to see. His natural talent together with his commitment to improve as a player, has seen him become one of the most exciting attacking players in world football today.

"I am certain that the fans are going to love seeing him in our team. Pep loves the way he plays, and we all feel he is an ideal fit for Manchester City. Our style and his style are a perfect match. I'm excited to watch him over the coming years."

Having been Villa's standout performer during their 2019-20 Premier League survival campaign, Grealish stepped up another notch the following season.

The England midfielder netted six times, recorded 10 assists and created 81 chances – putting him third in the league – in 26 appearances during the 2020-21 season.

He created 26 more chances from open play than any other team-mate and was just seven short of Bruno Fernandes' league-high 77.

Jack Grealish is, finally, a Manchester City player.

The Premier League champions have long been linked with the Aston Villa captain and, after weeks of speculation, a deal worth a reported £100million – a Premier League record – takes him to the Etihad Stadium.

Grealish, along with Harry Kane, reportedly represented City's top target as Pep Guardiola adds further creativity to an attacking unit which was already the envy of European football.

With the deal complete, Stats Perform has assessed what Grealish will bring to his new club.

THE NUMBERS

Grealish played 26 times in the league last season, missing 12 games towards the end of the campaign due to a shin injury.

He scored six times, adding 10 assists. His 70 chances created from open play was 26 more than any other Villa player, and only seven shy of Bruno Fernandes' league-leading 77.

When counting chances created in total, including from set plays, Grealish (81) ranked third in the league, behind Mason Mount (87) and Fernandes (95), though they played 10 and 11 games more than the Villa captain respectively.

Grealish outscored his expected goals tally of 4.65, while only Harry Kane (14), Kevin De Bruyne (12) and Fernandes (12) supplied more assists.

The playmaker, who generally featured on the left flank for Villa, attempted 110 dribbles, tallying up a success rate of 59.09 per cent, the seventh-best out of Premier League players to attempt 100 or more dribbles.

 

HOW HE WILL FIT IN

Capable of playing centrally or wide, Grealish will add another high-quality, versatile option to Guardiola's already packed squad. His 81 chances created leads the way out of City and Villa players from last term, with De Bruyne (80) a close second.

No Villa or City player attempted or completed more dribbles than Grealish, whose ability to carry the ball into dangerous positions and then release a timely pass will surely be a big draw for Guardiola, though he will want sharp, snappy passing to be brought into the midfielder's game.

Based on City's current options, Grealish would likely be competing with De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez – though several of those players have been linked with moves away – for a place in the team, either as a central midfielder or a wide attacker in the champions' preferred 4-3-3 system.

Of that sextet, only De Bruyne played more passes, including crosses, into the penalty area (239) than Grealish. However, he was some 90 ahead, while playing one game less.

Grealish's shot count of 50 ranked him fifth out of those seven players, with his shot conversion rate of 12 per cent also the fifth-best.

De Bruyne (7.4 per cent from 80) and Silva (7.14 per cent from 28) had a lower conversion percentage, though logic would suggest Grealish will have more opportunities to shoot in a City team that managed 599 attempts last season, 79 more than Villa's total.

 

HOW WILL VILLA MANAGE?

Villa had already gone some way to mitigating the damage a potential transfer would cause, with Emiliano Buendia – a creative fulcrum for Norwich City last season – arriving earlier in the transfer window.

Ashley Young has made a return to Villa Park on a free transfer from Serie A champions Inter, while Villa also made several bids for Arsenal's Emile Smith Rowe before the 20-year-old signed a new deal with the Gunners.

Leon Bailey, Bayer Leverkusen's flying winger, was confirmed as a Villa player on Wednesday, meanwhile.

The Jamaica international scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists in 40 appearances last season, and his arrival could certainly soften the blow somewhat, though there is a chance he may need time to adapt from the Bundesliga.

Bailey created 63 chances in total, with 11 of these classed as 'big chances' – Grealish, by comparison, created 14 such opportunities in league football in 2020-21.

And Bailey's arrival was quickly followed by that of Danny Ings, a shock recruit from Southampton. The England forward has scored 31 non-penalty goals in the Premier League over the past two seasons, a tally only topped by Mohamed Salah (32) and Kane (35).

While Villa will still have to adapt without Grealish, they could also yet pursue significant upgrades elsewhere in the squad as Dean Smith looks to push for European qualification. Norwich's Todd Cantwell and Southampton and England midfielder James Ward-Prowse have been linked.

City, meanwhile, have signed one of English football's best talents, with Grealish having the opportunity to head into his prime years at one of Europe's leading clubs.

Pep Guardiola's quest to conquer Europe and continue domestic domination with Manchester City has seen him sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish in a deal reportedly worth £100million.

Grealish becomes the most expensive signing in Premier League history after being prised away from Villa Park, where he had spent his entire career and captained his boyhood club since 2019.

The England international, who helped the Three Lions to a first major final appearance in 55 years at Euro 2020, has regularly been linked away from Villa but committed his future after rumoured interest from Manchester United, signing a long-term contract in 2020.

In the 2020-21 campaign, the 25-year old contributed with six league goals and 10 assists, while also creating 81 chances across 26 appearances for the Villains.

Dean Smith will no longer have the playmaker to call upon, though, as Guardiola has demolished the previous Premier League transfer record – set by Paul Pogba's return to United in 2016 – to secure Grealish's services.

After City's record-breaking acquisition of Grealish, Stats Perform looks at the other most expensive signings in English top-flight history.

PAUL POGBA – Juventus to Manchester United, £89.3m

Jose Mourinho's first transfer window with the Red Devils saw the France midfielder return to Old Trafford in a then-world record transfer.

Since making that reunion in 2016-17, only Marcus Rashford (78) and Anthony Martial (64) have been involved in more Premier League goals for United than Pogba (57 – 28 goals, 29 assists), while the midfielder has created more top-flight chances (207) than any other player for the club during this period.

He scored and assisted one apiece for France at Euro 2020, while only Antoine Griezmann (10) created more chances than Pogba's eight for Les Bleus.

HARRY MAGUIRE – Leicester City to Manchester United £80m

United broke the world transfer record for a defender in 2002 when they signed Rio Ferdinand for £30m and 17 years later they acquired Maguire for more than double that fee.

The centre-back endured a tricky start to life in Manchester, however, his quality eventually shone through as he strung together 71 consecutive appearances for United.

Despite missing the last four games of the 2020-21 campaign, Maguire ranked second in the Premier League for aerial challenges won (135) and fifth for successful duels (203) before featuring prominently at Euro 2020 for England.

 

VIRGIL VAN DIJK – Southampton to Liverpool, £75m

Jurgen Klopp, albeit under contentious circumstances, convinced Van Dijk to move away from St. Mary's Stadium in December 2017.

The commanding Netherlands captain guided Liverpool to their sixth Champions League success in 2018-19 before playing a key role as the Reds ended their 30-year wait for an English title.

Van Dijk's absence severely affected their Premier League defence last term. Klopp's men have won 75.8 per cent of their league matches with Van Dijk in the side since his debut in January 2018, a figure that falls to 54.3 per cent in his absence.

 

ROMELU LUKAKU – Everton to Manchester United £75m

The Belgium forward never settled in at Old Trafford and left after two seasons, despite converting 42 times in 96 games for United.

Lukaku scored twice in United's stunning Champions League last-16 comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 before completing a switch to Inter, where he helped Antonio Conte's men to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

During the title-winning campaign, Lukaku shunned doubts over his finishing as he converted almost one in four chances to bag 24 goals and improved his link-up play to form an effective partnership with Lautaro Martinez. Since his Inter debut only five players have scored more goals in Europe's top five leagues than Lukaku (64).

He has now been linked with a return to former club Chelsea in a deal which could shatter Grealish's new record.

 

JADON SANCHO – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United £73m

After leaving Manchester City in 2017 for Borussia Dortmund, Sancho found himself signing for the red half of Manchester four years later. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pursued Sancho for multiple transfer windows and finally got his man in the wake of England's Euro 2020 shoot-out heartbreak.

Since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, the 21-year-old has been directly involved in the joint-most goals of any English player across the top five European leagues (78), while he has played fewer minutes than Harry Kane – also on 78 – in this period.

Sancho also became the first Englishman to reach at least 10 assists for three consecutive seasons in Europe's top-five leagues since David Beckham, who achieved the feat between 1997-98 and 2000-01 for Alex Ferguson's United.

Jack Grealish has completed his record transfer to Premier League champions Manchester City in a deal worth a reported £100million.

England international Grealish has spent his entire career at Aston Villa and has been captain of the club since 2019.

The 25-year-old played a pivotal role in helping Villa retain their top-flight status at the end of the 2019-20 season, after which he was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United.

He instead signed a new long-term contract but, after scoring six league goals and adding a further 10 assists across 26 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign, Grealish has now made the move north to Manchester.

Pep Guardiola's City have smashed the previous British transfer record – set by United's acquisition of Paul Pogba in August 2016 – to get the playmaker, who created 81 chances in the league last term.

Grealish has signed a six-year deal with City and said: "I am incredibly happy to have joined Manchester City.

"City are the best team in the country with a manager considered to be the best in the world – it's a dream come true to be part of this club.

"Over the past 10 seasons, they have won major trophies consistently. Pep coming here has taken them to the next level and the football this team plays is the most exciting in Europe.

"To play for Pep and learn from him is going to be special and it's something any top footballer would want.

"The facilities are amazing, and I honestly can't wait to get started, meet everyone and get playing."

His departure leaves a huge void at Villa, though they have been spending big this close season, bringing in Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings in lucrative moves.

Grealish is City's first major signing of the window, with the champions also strongly linked with signing Harry Kane from Tottenham.

England captain Kane failed to report back for pre-season training with Spurs as planned, following an extended break after Euro 2020.

The 28-year-old, who topped the Premier League scoring and assist charts last term, has outlined his intention to leave Tottenham and was reportedly the subject of a £100m offer from City earlier in the window.

Jack Grealish's mooted move to Manchester City appears set to imminently go through.

City manager Pep Guardiola has long admired the 25-year-old England midfielder.

English champions City have also been linked with Harry Kane as they chase an elusive Champions League crown.

TOP STORY - GREALISH BOOKED IN FOR MAN CITY MEDICAL

Aston Villa's Grealish is on the cusp of completing his £100million transfer to join Manchester City, according to the Birmingham Mail.

The report claims Grealish was due to arrive in Manchester on Wednesday, with a medical booked in.

Grealish returned from a holiday after Euro 2020 this week and was spotted at Villa training on Wednesday but has since reportedly headed north.

ROUND-UP

- Sky Sports claims Aston Villa are lining up a move for Norwich City midfielder Todd Cantwell as they prepare for Grealish to depart.

- Tottenham are plotting moves for PSV's Noni Madueke and Denmark's Euro 2020 star Mikkel Damsgaard according to the Evening Standard, as they plan their windfall from Harry Kane's potential sale to Manchester City.

- Fresh from Danny Ings leaving for Villa, Southampton are closing in on Blackburn forward Adam Armstrong, reports Football League World.

- The Sun claims Norwich City are looking to launch a £15m bid for Blackburn's Armstrong too. Irish prospect Adam Idah could be included in a player-plus-cash deal.

- Atalanta are set to hold talks with Chelsea for a move for striker Tammy Abraham according to Gianluca Di Marzio.

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