Paul Pogba may have declared playing for Real Madrid is his dream, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plans to get the best out of the midfielder at Manchester United over the next two years.

While representing France during the international break, Pogba told a news conference that he would welcome the opportunity to play for LaLiga's champions.

He said: "All footballers would love to play for Real Madrid. It is a dream for me. Why not one day?"

The 27-year-old, who is also said to be a target for Barcelona, has a contract at Old Trafford until June but the club possess an option to extend that agreement by another year.

Solskjaer appeared to suggest that will be exercised and he has no intention to let Pogba leave early.

"Paul's our player," Solskjaer said on Friday when asked about Pogba's comments.

"He's gonna be here for another two years and I'm sure Paul is focused on doing his best for us and we want to see the best of Paul.

"In the next couple of years I'm sure we'll get the best out of him."

United shelled out what was at the time a world-record fee of £89million to re-sign Pogba from Juventus in August 2016, looking to add creativity and goalscoring to their midfield.

He enjoyed an impressive 2018-19 season, scoring 13 goals and supplying nine assists in 35 Premier League appearances – his best return in a single top-flight campaign.

However, he has struggled with injuries since, being involved in four goals (one scored, three assisted) in 19 league appearances since the start of 2019-20. The perception has consequently been that he has failed to live up to expectations.

Yet in just over four seasons since returning to United, Pogba has had a hand in 51 goals (25 scored, 26 assisted) in the Premier League – five midfielders have registered more over the same time frame with Kevin De Bruyne leading the way on 87 (30 scored, 57 assisted). Furthermore, he has averaged a goal involvement every 180.3 minutes – essentially one every two games.

That is an improvement from the 198.6 mark during his time at Juventus, where he was involved in 50 goals (28 scored, 22 assisted) across four seasons at Serie A. Only Miralem Pjanic (57), Antonio Candreva (61) and Marek Hamsik (71) played a role in more over the same timeframe.

If Solskjaer feels he is yet to get what he expects out of Pogba, he will clearly need to take the Frenchman's career to new heights.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted Manchester United will not be divided by outsiders following reports Bruno Fernandes had lost faith in him.

United suffered a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham at Old Trafford in their final game before the international break, with Fernandes substituted at half-time after the Red Devils were reduced to 10 men.

Asked about the situation while on international duty, the Portugal midfielder denied suggestions of a rift with Solskjaer, suggesting such claims were intended to "destabilise" the group.

Solskjaer was proud of the response from Fernandes and insisted the team will remain united in the face of criticism.

"It's one of those things. You have to get over it as soon as you can and move on," Solskjaer said of the defeat to Tottenham.

"We know that any little chance from outside you want to create a division. I think Bruno spoke really well the other day about, 'We are united, we have to stay together'. We can't listen to everyone outside, we've got to just get on with it.

"Bruno has now lost two league games and he came to the club in February, but it's been two in quick succession so he's not used to losing league games.

"But now Bruno, welcome to United, this is what happens when you lose a couple. They try to create a division between us, but that's not going to happen because this group is a group that wants to work hard together and stick together."

United will look to get back on track at Newcastle United on Saturday but they could be without Harry Maguire, who came under fire for his performance against Tottenham and was shown a red card in England's 1-0 defeat to Denmark on Wednesday.

"When Harry is part of the England team that beats number one ranked Belgium that's just a normal day, and then you get the headlines when you get the sending-off. That's just football," said Solskjaer.

"There's so many ups and downs, we've got to deal with it individually and as a group. Harry has great resilience. I know he'll bounce back. I know he wants to play, he wants to work his way out of the last couple of games he's been criticised.

"He picked up a knock just before he came off so I'm just hopeful he'll be fit. We had a look at him yesterday and we'll give him a test again today."

Edinson Cavani will not play as he is yet to train with the team due to COVID-19 protocols, while fellow new signings Alex Telles and Facundo Pellistri are unlikely to be involved.

"We're looking forward to integrating them into the group," the United boss said of the deadline-day additions.

"Facundo, he's been training with us two days, very exciting, young, enthusiastic player with some attributes we don't have. He's maybe one more for the future, not for now, because he's still 18.

"Alex came in yesterday [Thursday], did his recovery after a long flight from Sao Paulo having come on twice for Brazil, so we're looking forward to integrating him.

"Edinson still has not been with the group because of his quarantine.

"All three of them have something different to what we have and they'll definitely come in and help us. I think the group are looking forward to having them join in."

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain and France forward is not short of options as Europe's elite eye a blockbuster transfer.

But Real Madrid are believed to be Mbappe's preference.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE WANTS MADRID MOVE  

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is only thinking about joining Real Madrid amid interest from Barcelona and Liverpool, according to the front page of Friday's AS.

Mbappe is reportedly unwilling to extend his PSG contract, which expires in 2022.

Madrid are eyeing a 2021 swoop for Mbappe, and while LaLiga rivals Barca and Premier League champions Liverpool are also interested, the French forward wants to move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport claims Barcelona have already agreed to sign Lyon captain Memphis Depay in January. The report says Barca are now trying to reduce salaries at the club as they look to resolve the futures of Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite. Dembele was linked with a deadline-day move to Manchester United.

Juventus are set to reignite their interest in Lyon star Houssem Aouar, reports Calciomercato. Aouar was heavily linked to Arsenal before the transfer window closed, while PSG have also been credited with an interest.

Milan and Serie A rivals Juve will go head-to-head to sign Salzburg midfielder Luka Sucic, says Calciomercato. The 18-year-old has only made two league appearances for the Austrian champions.

West Ham are set to confirm the signing of Brentford star Said Benrahma, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano and widespread reports. Benrahma is reportedly going to cost the Hammers £30million.

- Bild reports Borussia Dortmund sensation Giovanni Reyna is set for a new lucrative contract in Germany. The American teenager has been linked with Liverpool and Madrid.

Manchester United return to St James' Park this weekend just over a year on from their previous away match against Newcastle United.

As in 2019, the trip north comes amid considerable pressure upon manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a poor start to the season.

Solskjaer was not helped by defeat on Tyneside last term as Matty Longstaff scored the only goal on his Premier League debut.

The United boss will hope for a better return on Saturday, yet his team kicked on following that 1-0 loss to finish third and qualify for the Champions League.

After losing 6-1 at home to Tottenham before the international break, Solskjaer certainly needs another response.

But the concern is United are no further forward heading to Newcastle this season than they were 12 months ago. Using Opta data, we take a look.
 

POST-NEWCASTLE UPTICK IN FORM

Longstaff's goal last October left United 12th after a very ordinary start to the campaign. The Red Devils make the journey north on this occasion languishing in 16 after three games.

Not since December 2013 - another 1-0 Newcastle win courtesy of a Yohan Cabaye goal - have United faced the Magpies while trailing them in the league table, yet Steve Bruce's side are ninth this time.

It is still very early in the campaign , however, and results alone certainly show progress over the past 12 months.

Before playing Newcastle last year, United had just nine points from seven matches, winning only twice. They averaged 1.3 points per game and won 29 per cent of their matches.

Despite losing at St James' Park, the next 34 games - including that October match - have brought 60 points (1.8 per game), with United winning exactly half of their Premier League fixtures.
 

LITTLE CHANGE IN PERFORMANCE

While results improved, there is little in the statistics to say this was due to better performances.

United have still averaged 14.0 shots per game over the past 34 matches, as they had in the previous seven, and their possession figures have dropped marginally from 56.0 per cent to 55.6 per cent.

Passes in the opposition half have increased from 269.9 per game to 305.7 - aided, surely, by the signing of Bruno Fernandes - but touches in the opposition box are down (26.4 per game to 25.0).

It seems United have simply been more effective at taking their chances, their shot conversion rate crucially rising from 9.2 per cent to 13.1 per cent.

With shots inside the box per game also up slightly from 7.4 to 7.8, their Expected Goals have improved from 1.48 to 1.65, leading to more goals (1.8 per game, up from 1.3) and better results.
 

DEFENSIVE CONCERNS INCREASING

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, having shipped six to Spurs last time out, but there is one area in which United have clearly deteriorated in the past year: their defence.

With Harry Maguire lacking confidence and the identity of his centre-back partner still the subject of debate, United are conceding more goals (1.2 per game, up from 1.0).

Expected Goals are up from 0.9 to 1.2 and shots faced per game up from 9.4 to 11.1. Things could be even worse for United, too, with their opponents increasingly wasteful - hitting the target with 3.6 shots per game rather than 4.0.

Defeat to Newcastle last season might have sparked United into life, but their problems are mounting and more Longstaff magic this week would really turn up the heat on Solskjaer.

Facundo Pellistri was delighted to receive praise from new Manchester United team-mate Edinson Cavani and in turn backed the striker to be a hit at Old Trafford. 

The Uruguayan attacking pair both signed for United on the final day of the transfer window. 

Cavani is not yet available to play due to the need to quarantine, but Paris Saint-Germain's record goalscorer – who was a free agent - was quick to laud Pellistri. 

He described the 18-year-old, who joined from Penarol, as "the typical South American footballer who has that mischievous nature to his game". 

Meanwhile, Boca Juniors great Juan Roman Riquelme has described Pellistri as a "rascal" on the pitch. 

Pellistri was asked of his response to such comments and told United's official website: "It's something unbelievable.

"It's fantastic to hear such comments from the players they were and are, as Cavani is going to be a team-mate of mine.

"I'm very glad and I'm happy to hear those comments."

Cavani was linked to a host of top clubs around the world before arriving at United, and Pellistri added: "I'm very happy [to be his team-mate] and hoping he arrives soon.

"Cavani is a very top player, so I think he will be a great player here also."

Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Ansu Fati headline the final 20-name shortlist for the 2020 Golden Boy award.

The prize, presented by Italian newspaper Tuttosport and won by Joao Felix last year, is given to the best player aged 21 or under from a top-tier league in Europe.

Haaland is a leading contender for the accolade after scoring 44 goals across all competitions in 2019-20 – 16 of those coming in 18 appearances after a mid-season move from Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund.

Among all Bundesliga players last season to have scored at least 10 goals, only Robert Lewandowski (81.2) had a better minutes-per-goal record than Haaland (81.7).

His Dortmund team-mate Sancho finished the 2019-20 league campaign with 17 goals and 16 assists, making him the first player since Opta began detailed data collection (2004-05) to register at least 15 in both categories in the same Bundesliga campaign.

The England international's prolific campaign saw him become the youngest player (20 years, two months and six days old) in the history of Germany's top flight to reach 30 career goals.

Despite their impressive numbers, Haaland and Sancho face stiff competition from Fati, who became the third-youngest player (16 years, 304 days old) to find the net in LaLiga history and the youngest of all time in the Champions League (17 years, 40 days).

He finished the season with eight goals in all competitions and has continued his rise this term, netting three times in as many LaLiga games and becoming the youngest player to score for Spain.

Alphonso Davies will also be in contention after establishing himself as one of the top left-backs in the game during Bayern Munich's treble-winning season.

The full 20-man shortlist:

Mitchel Bakker (Paris Saint-Germain), Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes), Jonathan David (Lille), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Sergino Dest (Barcelona), Fabio Silva (Wolves), Ansu Fati (Barcelona), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Dominik Szoboszlai (Salzburg), Sandro Tonali (Milan), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

Marcus Rashford has launched an online petition calling on the United Kingdom government to provide free school meals for more children.

In June, the Manchester United striker successfully lobbied the government to extend its policy of providing free school meals for underprivileged children into the summer months through the school holidays.

The 22-year-old also partnered with FareShare and helped to raise £20million to help provide free meals to those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic, while he has since worked with supermarkets and food brands to create a taskforce with the aim of tackling child food poverty.

Rashford's work in helping to tackle child hunger led to the England international being awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, after which he vowed to continue his fight.

Speaking about the latest initiative, Rashford, who received free meals as a child, said: "For too long this conversation has been delayed. Child food poverty in the UK is not a result of COVID-19.

"In 2020, no child should be going to bed hungry, nor should they be sat in classrooms concerned about how their younger siblings are going to eat that day, or how they are going to access food come the holidays.

"Let's wrap arms around each other and stand together to say this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children."

The petition calls for three recommendations to be implemented, including expanding free school meals to all under-16s where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefit.

It also says meals and activities should be providing during all holidays, and Healthy Start vouchers should be increased to the value of £4.25 per week.

The Welsh government announced on Thursday that it will provide free school meals during all holidays up to and including Easter 2021. It said the decision will come at a cost of £11million.

Borussia Dortmund held onto Jadon Sancho during the previous transfer window – and they have no plans to sell the star in January.

Sancho was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, but the England international ended up staying at the Bundesliga club.

If United are planning another move in January, it seems it is destined to fail again.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND WON'T SELL MAN UTD TARGET SANCHO IN JANUARY

Borussia Dortmund will not sell Sancho in January, according to Bild.

Sancho, 20, has continued to be linked to Manchester United, while Liverpool and Bayern Munich have also been credited with an interest.

The attacker has scored one goal and provided two assists in three games in all competitions this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- As he recovers from another serious knee injury, Nicolo Zaniolo is set to stay at Roma. Corriere della Sera reports Roma will extend the Italy international's contract – which expires in 2024 – until 2025.

- Staying in the Italian capital and Corriere dello Sport says Arsenal defender Sead Kolasinac has been offered to Roma, who are preparing for the January transfer window.

- West Ham appear set to land Brentford forward Said Benrahma. BBC reports the Premier League club are set to sign Benrahma for £30million, with £25m of that being paid up front.

- As Harry Wilson prepares for another loan move from Liverpool, the Premier League champions want a £1m fee as part of a deal, according to The Sun. Swansea City reportedly lead the race for Wilson.

- Brighton and Hove Albion are apparently looking at Swansea City attacker Andre Ayew. However, The Sun reports Ayew's high wages could see him miss out on a move to the Premier League club.

- West Brom appear set to strengthen. Sky Sports reports they have agreed a fee worth around £15m for Huddersfield Town striker Karlan Grant. Grant scored 19 Championship goals last season.

Bruno Fernandes denied reports he had an argument with Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the Premier League loss to Tottenham.

Fernandes was reportedly furious at half-time of the clash earlier this month, and the midfielder was substituted at the break with United trailing 4-1 before they suffered a 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford.

The Portugal international had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, but was said to have had a bust-up with Solskjaer at half-time.

However, Fernandes rubbished those claims after Portugal's 3-0 Nations League win over Sweden on Wednesday.

"There's been a lot of speculation about that," the midfielder told Sport TV, via A Bola.

"First it was a discussion with team-mates, as it did not stick, it was a discussion with only one team-mate [Victor Lindelof], as it did not stick now, it is the discussion with Solskjaer.

"I believe it is a way to destabilise the group. What was said is in no way true.

"I was replaced at half-time, it is true, by technical option. The coach told me that the game was almost over and that we would have a lot of games ahead of us. Got it. I was not satisfied but said nothing that could harm the group."

After just one win from the opening three games of the Premier League season, Solskjaer has been under increasing pressure at United.

But Fernandes insisted Manchester United were ready to respond against Newcastle United on Saturday, while warning the speculation needed to stop.

"Do not use my name, my colleagues or the coach to make trouble at Manchester United," he said.

"The atmosphere is good and the team is ready to give an answer in the next game."

England manager Gareth Southgate pledged to stand by Harry Maguire after the defender was sent off during Wednesday's 1-0 Nations League defeat to Denmark.

Manchester United captain Maguire collected a pair of first-half bookings for rash challenges on Yussuf Poulsen and Kasper Dolberg to continue a miserable few weeks on and off the field.

Christian Eriksen scored the only goal for Denmark shortly afterwards, dispatching a 35th-minute penalty after Kyle Walker was harshly adjudged to have impeded Thomas Delaney.

Southgate praised England's performance with 10 men and felt they had "come through as a more resilient group" after an international break that also featured wins over Wales and Belgium.

But much of the conversation afterwards centred upon Maguire, who missed England's September internationals after being arrested while on holiday in Greece and found guilty of assault and attempted bribery.

The 27-year-old's appeal and pending retrial nullifies that conviction, but he has struggled to find solace in his football amid a ragged opening to 2020-21 with United, who lost 6-1 to Tottenham in their last Premier League outing.

"He's a top player. He's a massive part of what we do," Southgate told Sky Sports.

"He's having a period where he's having a lot of sticks thrown his way. He's big enough to come through that. He has our support and his club will be the same

"We have total belief in him. He's been getting all sorts for a while, from some people who should know better.

"None of us like to be in the centre of that sort of storm. When you're a bit older you can rationalise it and come to terms with it. He's experiencing it for the first time, although no player gets to the level he's been without having setbacks.

"His profile has changed because of the club he plays at and his success with us. He's got to keep going and the tide will turn."

Debutant Reece James also received a red card for dissent after full-time, while Walker was dismissed during England's 1-0 win over Iceland last month.

The Manchester City full-back's penalty concession was the third time England have afforded opponents a chance from 12 yards during the Nations League.

Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Tammy Abraham and Ben Chilwell have all been missing at various stages of the Nations League campaign due to violating coronavirus protocols and Southgate conceded questions were there to be asked of the discipline in his squad.

"It's an obvious question that we're going to be asked. We've put ourselves in unnecessary situations off the field," Southgate added.

"The reds we've had - for Kyle in Iceland and Harry here - are with one of the yellows justified and the other one I'm not so certain

"We've got to learn from it because if you go to 10 men in a tournament, historically that means we're out, especially if you're doing it for an hour.

"That why I'm so pleased with the reaction of the players at the end."

Southgate also reserved praise for Chelsea full-back James, who impressed on his full England debut before erring in the aftermath of the final whistle.

"That's a lesson he's got to learn. He had an incredible debut, he's impressed me all week," he said.

"Until that moment he'd showed great maturity. It's ended up something that shouldn't have happened but for the overall week he's made a positive impression."

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire was sent off after collecting two first-half bookings during England's Nations League clash with Denmark. 

Maguire was cautioned in the fifth minute after plunging his studs into Yussuf Poulsen and his outing took a further wrong turn shortly after the half hour. 

A heavy touch from the world's most expensive central defender left him lunging in on Kasper Dolberg, leaving referee Jesus Gil Manzano with little option. 

Shortly after England were reduced to 10 men, Christian Eriksen put Denmark ahead from the penalty spot, although they lost Dolberg as the forward failed to shake off the effects of Maguire's challenge.

The 27-year-old is the third England player to be sent off at Wembley, following Paul Scholes against Sweden in 1999 and Steven Gerrard versus Ukraine in 2012. 

Maguire has endured a torrid start to the season, which came after his arrest while on holiday in Greece. He was granted an appeal - meaning the court's initial verdict was nullified - and is awaiting a full retrial against a conviction for assault and attempted bribery. 

On the field, Maguire's fortunes have dwindled and he struggled as part of the United defence who were carved apart 6-1 by Tottenham on their previous Premier League outing. 

There was no chance Bayern Munich would have allowed Kingsley Coman to join Manchester United during the transfer window, says Hasan Salihamidzic.

France international Coman was linked with a move to Old Trafford before the deadline last week.

United were reported to have set their sights on the former Juventus winger after failing to meet Borussia Dortmund's asking price for Jadon Sancho.

Coman scored the winning goal in the Bavarian giants' Champions League final victory over Paris Saint-Germain in August after returning from a muscle injury.

Bayern sporting director Salihamidzic revealed allowing Coman to depart was never considered.

"There was nothing, and we wouldn't have looked into it either," he told Sport Bild. 

"His goal in the Champions League final should explain enough why we are relying on him wholeheartedly."

Salihamidzic also revealed the 2019-20 treble winners were unable agree terms with Chelsea over a deal for winger Callum Hudson-Odoi

He added: "There are transfers that come to the point where you have to say: 'We have to leave this immediately.'

"It is all the more important that one thinks about alternatives or alternative paths right from the start. We negotiated with Chelsea but there was no agreement. That happens."

Sergio Ramos could reportedly leave Real Madrid for Juventus or Paris Saint-Germain, while Paul Pogba is being linked to Barcelona.

Madrid captain Ramos, 34, has been at the LaLiga giants since 2005, but his contract is expiring at the end of the season.

And his situation is catching the eye of two European giants.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS, PSG EYEING RAMOS

Juventus and PSG have tabled contract offers for Madrid star Ramos, according to El Chiringuito.

Ramos is out of contract in June next year, leading to fresh speculation over his future.

The Spain international has won five LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Amid a difficult financial position, Barcelona could also be looking at players coming out of contract. Mundo Deportivo reports Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Bayern Munich defender David Alaba may become targets.

- Inter reportedly offered Bayern Munich and intriguing exchange during the transfer window. Sky Germany says Christian Eriksen was offered to Bayern by Inter, who wanted Jerome Boateng, but the Bundesliga champions turned down the deal.

- Sergio Romero wants out of Manchester United. The Sun reports the goalkeeper has begged the Premier League giants to let him leave amid apparent interest from MLS.

- Harry Wilson could be set for another loan spell away from Liverpool. After spending last season at Bournemouth, Wilson is being offered to Swansea City, according to The Sun.

- Danny Welbeck may stay in the Premier League. The Daily Mail reports the forward, who was released by Watford earlier this month, is attracting interest from Brighton and Hove Albion.

- West Ham's move for Brentford forward Said Benrahma has stalled, according to The Telegraph, and Aston Villa may make a move for the 25-year-old.

In his heyday, Arsene Wenger was widely praised for his trust in young players and eye for developing talent.

After all, Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie are just a few of the players he helped nurture into top-level international footballers.

But for every Henry is a superstar who got away… Or so Le Professeur would have us believe.

A football manager can't sign everyone, but as the joke goes, Wenger seems to have tried to buy all of them - all of the players. Or, all the really good ones anyway. Funny, that.

The Frenchman has been doing the media rounds of late and most recently floated the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo playing alongside Henry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp in an interview with the BBC.

So, with that as the jumping-off point, we put together an XI made up entirely of players who supposedly came close to joining Wenger at Arsenal…

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

As the story goes, Wenger's pursuit of Buffon got to the point where the pair had dinner together during his days with Parma, but Juventus soon came along and made him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world at the time.

Everything suggests he would've been a remarkable signing in terms of ability and longevity. In 2017 he became the oldest player to captain a side in the Champions League final at 39 years and 126 days – and he's still going, three years on.

RAPHAEL VARANE

Granted, Wenger may not have explicitly said that he almost bought Varane during his formative years, but he was certainly frustrated to have missed out on him in 2013 when he queried why Arsenal hadn't been in for him two years earlier.

Varane has gone on to establish himself as one of the world's best centre-backs and in 2018 became just the third player to be on the winning team in the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year, emulating Christian Karembeu (1998) and Roberto Carlos (2002).

VINCENT KOMPANY

It's arguable that Arsenal's biggest weakness in Wenger's final 10 years at the helm was their defence – a host of underwhelming options were signed and discarded.

Oh how different it might have been had they signed Vincent Kompany in 2006 when his agent claimed they were interested. He went on to captain Manchester City to two Premier League titles and played 265 times in the top-flight, more than any other Belgian.

GERARD PIQUE

It seems a long time ago that Pique was at Manchester United, struggling to earn a place in the starting XI, but even before then he could have ended up at Arsenal – and, stylistically, one has to wonder whether that would have been the better move for him.

Wenger has previously admitted they tried to get Pique but they were unable to beat United to his signature. He returned to Barcelona in 2008 and has since won three Champions League crowns, just one of three players to play every minute of those finals.

ROBERTO CARLOS

OK, to be fair to Wenger, this isn't one he has specifically claimed – rather Roberto Carlos himself hinted at the move in 2003 as his Real Madrid career appeared to be winding down.

As it was, he ended up staying in Madrid until 2007 before moving on to Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala (remember them?) and Delhi Dynamos.

N'GOLO KANTE

The one who got away… Twice. That's right, Wenger says he tried to sign the industrious Kante when he was at Caen and Leicester City.

He played a starring role as the Foxes remarkably claimed the Premier League title in 2015-16, before then joining Chelsea and becoming the only player to win the Premier League in successive seasons with different clubs.

PAUL POGBA

When Pogba left United in 2012, a whole host of fellow European heavyweights were linked with him, including Arsenal, but Juventus swiftly struck a deal and the Gunners' attempts fell flat.

He of course left Juve again in 2016, though the then world-record fee United paid was never likely to be matched by Arsenal, and in 2018-19 Pogba became the first United player to appear in the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Team of the Year since Robin van Persie six years earlier.

YAYA TOURE

In hindsight, this one looks a particularly odd miss from Arsenal. Yaya Toure had a trial with the Gunners in 2003, a year after his brother Kolo signed for them, but wasn't particularly outstanding in a trial game and work permit difficulties made it tricky for him to join permanently.

That didn't stop him from enjoying a fine career, however, and he eventually made it to the Premier League in 2010 when joining Manchester City, with whom he became just the second African player to score in both an EFL Cup and FA Cup final.

LIONEL MESSI

That's right, the one you've been waiting for. In an alternate universe, Fabregas, Pique and Messi could have spent the best years of their careers in north London – Wenger attempted to prise all three away.

But six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi had already gotten "too big" reputation-wise when Arsenal made their move. In Barcelona he stayed and he has since become LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 445 goals in 488 games – a truly remarkable feat, though not as impressive as playing well against Stoke City on a cold Tuesday night, some might have you believe.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

In fairness to Wenger, he insists he has no regrets about not signing Ibrahimovic when he was a 17-year-old on trial. Whether he says as much privately is another matter.

Regardless, Ibrahimovic can console himself with the fact he has gone on to enjoy an incredibly successful career and scored Champions League goals for six different clubs, more than any other player in the competition's history. Unfortunately for him, however, he has never won European football's top prize.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

And finally, the other one you've been waiting for. Arguably the quintessential Wenger "nearly signed" claim relates to Ronaldo, whom he says almost joined Arsenal before United made their move in 2003. Like Buffon, Ronaldo also had discussions with Wenger over food, but he says the Gunners were pipped at the last.

Wenger apparently regards this as his biggest regret, and understandably so – Ronaldo has gone on to win everything in the game, including five Ballons d'Or, and is the Champions League's top scorer with 130 goals in 170 games.

Marcus Rashford would consider a different approach to his work in helping vulnerable children if he felt his football performance was affected in a negative way.

Rashford, who has been made an MBE for his campaigning, is optimistic he can continue to balance the off-field mission with his England and Manchester United duties.

The 22-year-old has won widespread praise for speaking up for British youngsters facing food poverty during the coronavirus pandemic, persuading the United Kingdom government to provide free school meal vouchers to underprivileged children through the summer months.

Asked about his efforts in an England news conference on Tuesday, Rashford made it clear the campaign was not all on his shoulders.

"I have a team that work behind me and make sure we're on the same page. A lot of the work is done months in advance. I think it's important for me to keep doing that," he said.

"At the moment, I feel in a good headspace. I'm comfortable with doing the two things and I feel ready to train every day and play the games.

"If it was taking a toll, I'd have to look at a different way of doing things and find a way to support the kids and keep my career going in the right direction."

England face Denmark on Wednesday at Wembley in the Nations League, having beaten Belgium in the same competition on Sunday, after a friendly victory over Wales.

Two wins with England, plus recognition in the Queen's Birthday Honours, has made it "a good few days" for Rashford, who was frustrated to miss September's games against Iceland and Denmark with an ankle problem.

He could be battling with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling for a starting place in attack at Euro 2020, which has been delayed until next year, and says the competition in England's squad is healthy.

"We all understand that we're all together as one. Especially in tournament football," Rashford said.

"At the World Cup I realised it the most - you need the squad to do great things. Looking forward, it's a big strength of ours to have so many players that can make differences on the pitch."

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