Tottenham fans got to see Gareth Bale don the famous shirt once more in Sunday's Premier League clash with West Ham.

The Wales star came off the bench at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for his first appearance in England's top flight since May 2013, but it proved a frustrating outing.

From 3-0 up when Bale was introduced in the 72nd minute, Tottenham were pegged back as the game finished in a 3-3 draw.

The 31-year-old, who previously played for Spurs between 2007 and 2013, joined Jose Mourinho's side on loan from Real Madrid after winning four Champions Leagues with Los Blancos.

Bale had only 25 goal involvements (17 goals, eight assists) across his final two seasons with Madrid, having managed 61 (38 goals, 23 assists) in his last two campaigns with Tottenham.

Players returning to clubs where they enjoyed great success is nothing new, but are the second acts ever as good as those we witness first?

DIEGO MARADONA - BOCA JUNIORS

One of the world's greatest players, Maradona completed a dream transfer from Argentinos Juniors to Boca in 1981, going on to score 28 times in 40 league games for the club he supported as a boy. With the lure of Europe, a world-record transfer to Barcelona followed, but Maradona finished his career back in Argentina with Boca. However, by that point he was a shadow of his former self, scoring just seven times in 30 appearances from 1995 to 1997.

Key stat: Maradona played in 10 Primera Division seasons in his home country, though he would win just one piece of silverware - the 1981 Metropolitano - in his first stint at Boca.

ROBBIE FOWLER - LIVERPOOL

Known as 'God' at Anfield, Fowler was the homegrown hero who led the line for the Reds for much of the 1990s. He was sold to Leeds United in 2001, having had a difficult relationship with manager Gerard Houllier, who preferred Michael Owen and Emile Heskey in attack. After a spell at Manchester City, Fowler returned to Liverpool on a free in 2006, but the three league goals he scored in 2006-07 were all penalties.

Key stat: Fowler remains Liverpool's all-time leading scorer in the Premier League having netted 128 times in 266 games.

WAYNE ROONEY - EVERTON

Another talented Merseyside youngster, Rooney made a memorable breakthrough at Everton with a brilliant winner against Arsenal in 2002, though his relationship with fans of his boyhood club soured when he joined Manchester United, for whom he became the club's record scorer. Relations thawed over time and Rooney came 'home' for 2017-18 - but he was often deployed in a deeper midfield position in his second spell.

Key stat: Rooney scored 10 times in the Premier League during his second stint at Goodison Park - the only time he reached double figures for Everton in a league campaign.

KAKA - MILAN

The Brazilian enjoyed a fruitful six years at San Siro, winning the 2007 Ballon d'Or, a Serie A title and a Champions League while scoring 70 goals and providing 48 assists in 193 league games. Kaka never truly hit those heights again as a Real Madrid Galactico and returned to Milan for 2013-14, though he was unable to rediscover his magic.

Key stat: The forward averaged a goal involvement every 131 minutes in his initial spell with Milan, but that fell to 219 minutes second time around.

MARIO GOTZE - BORUSSIA DORTMUND

A product of BVB's youth academy, Gotze, like his team-mates Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels, was eventually lured to rivals Bayern Munich. The midfielder, who scored the winning goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, struggled at times for form and fitness during three seasons with Bayern and that continued back at Dortmund, where he spent four more seasons before leaving earlier this year. Gotze has since joined Dutch giants PSV.

Key stat: Gotze scored 22 goals at a rate of one every 263 minutes in his first four-season spell with Dortmund. During his second stint, he scored 13 at a rate of one every 351 minutes.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC - MILAN

Of course it is the enigmatic Swede who proves things can be just as good second time around. Ibrahimovic enjoyed a brilliant two-season run at Milan between 2010 and 2012 - scoring 42 times and providing 17 assists in 61 Serie A games. Ibrahimovic returned to Milan in January and, in 20 Serie A games so far, he has scored 14 goals and assisted five more.

Key stat: Ibrahimovic's minutes-per-goal involvement stood at one every 91 minutes in his first Milan spell, and this time around on average he has played a part in a goal every 81.3 minutes.

Wayne Rooney has questioned Manchester United's "odd" approach of making Jadon Sancho their number one transfer target rather than Harry Kane.

Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has insisted Sancho will not be sold before the transfer window closes on Monday.

United have been unwilling to meet the Bundesliga club's €120million (£108m) asking price for the England winger, so the 20-year-old is set to remain in Germany.

It emerged this weekend that United are closing in on signing former Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani.

Rooney believes they should have gone all in for Tottenham and England frontman Kane, who will face United in a Premier League clash at Old Trafford on Sunday.

"Jadon Sancho is a top player, but I find it odd that he has been Manchester United's transfer priority," Rooney, who is United's record goalscorer, said in his column for The Sunday Times.

"Why consider paying close to £100million for someone similar to talent you've got already? United have Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial and where would Sancho's arrival leave Mason Greenwood, who plays in the same position and is of similar age?

"I'd rather put that £100million towards trying to get Harry Kane. Yes, getting Kane out of Tottenham would be difficult, maybe impossible, but United are a club who should always make an effort to sign the very best players and Kane is exactly what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs, as is Erling Haaland, who United missed out on last year - a genuine number nine.

"A Kane or Haaland or someone like Robert Lewandowski would give Rashford and Martial someone to play off and freedom to roam into different areas, pick the ball up and try to beat men - without the burden of always having to score."

Wolves have pulled off what will likely be one of the coups of the transfer window in securing a club-record deal for the highly rated Fabio Silva.

The 18-year-old forward joins in a reported €40million (£35.6m) transfer, signing a five-year contract to further expand Wolves' significant Portuguese contingent.

Executive chairman Jeff Shi confirmed his signing had come at the request of head coach Nuno Espirito Santo and it sees Wolves secure a talent strongly linked with Real Madrid and Liverpool in the past.

The deal makes Silva the seventh costliest teenager in history, and he joins illustrious company, as outlined below…

Kylian Mbappe: Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain - €180m

Likely to remain the world's most expensive teenage signing for some time, Kylian Mbappe is already well on the way to justifying the €180m outlay PSG made to prise him away from Monaco three years ago. Mbappe had fired Monaco to a shock Ligue 1 title triumph before departing and his goals have continued to flow in the French capital. Still just 21, Mbappe has arguably eclipsed team-mate Neymar already, while he has won a World Cup with France. Pele has acknowledged comparisons with the forward, who looks a certain Ballon d'Or winner in the near future. It would take a world-record fee to buy Mbappe, but he has hinted he could be open to leaving PSG.

Joao Felix: Benfica to Atletico Madrid - €126m

Potentially rivalling Mbappe for top individual honours in the years to come could be Joao Felix, who was tasked with replacing Antoine Griezmann at Atletico Madrid following his move to Barcelona. Joao Felix hit 20 goals in all competitions for Benfica in 2018-19, three of those strikes coming in the Europa League, to announce himself among the world's top talents. He endured a difficult first season in Spain, as he appeared to struggle with a new position, setup and philosophy under Diego Simeone's tutelage, but some promising flashes towards the end of the campaign suggested the player compared to Kaka could establish himself in 2020-21.

Matthijs de Ligt: Ajax to Juventus - €85.5m

Barcelona were linked with De Ligt, having already sealed a deal for club and country team-mate Frenkie de Jong, but the Ajax captain instead opted for Serie A. Much like Joao Felix at Atletico, De Ligt did not have the most convincing of debut seasons, despite Juve going on to win another Serie A title. Nevertheless, after a year bedding in, 2020-21 might see the Dutchman recapture his best form as he will likely become an even more central figure under Andrea Pirlo.

Anthony Martial: Monaco to Manchester United - €60m

Eyebrows were raised when United parted with €60m for Martial in 2015, with one British newspaper describing the deal as a "waste of money" in a back-page splash. While it might have taken him a while - after a blistering start - to properly establish himself, struggling particularly under Jose Mourinho, the Frenchman is beginning to make good on his potential at 24. With 17 goals in 32 Premier League games in 2019-20, Martial appeared to cement himself as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first-choice centre-forward and formed a dynamic front three with Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood. He also earned a recall to the France squad, with 2020-21 looking like a season of endless possibilities for Martial.


Rodrygo Goes: Santos to Real Madrid - €45m

Real Madrid have been signing young talent in recent seasons in a departure from their Galactico-focused days, although the arrival of Eden Hazard did show they are still willing to splash out on ready-made superstars. Rodrygo Goes linked up with Zinedine Zidane's squad for 2019-20 having remained on loan with Santos after completing his initial transfer to the Spanish giants. The tricky forward showed plenty of promise in his first season and seemed to usurp Vinicius Junior in the pecking order at times. Madrid hope he can be their Neymar.


Vinicius Junior: Flamengo to Real Madrid - €45m

Rodrygo followed in the footsteps of fellow Brazilian Vinicius, who was a rare shining light for Madrid in 2018-19, scoring two LaLiga goals. In his second season, Vinicius was in and out of the team, but did enjoy a few stints of regular football. Flashy, flamboyant and difficult to tackle, Vinicius is a classic Brazilian wide player, though concerns about his end product remain despite having been at the club for a while now. Nevertheless, Vinicius could be Madrid's future along with Rodrygo.

Fabio Silva: Porto to Wolves - €40m

Silva became Porto's youngest-ever player in 2019 when he made his debut for the first-team less than a month after his 17th birthday – the previous record-holder was his new Wolves team-mate, Ruben Neves. The technically gifted forward, who has been suggested as the potential long-term heir to Cristiano Ronaldo, helped Porto to UEFA Youth League success in 2018-19 and has regularly caught the eye in Portugal's youth setup. Although he only scored three times in 20 appearances with Porto in 2019-20, Silva appears destined for a future at the top, with his technique and on-the-ball talents seemingly a good fit for Wolves' dynamic attacking options.

Luke Shaw: Southampton to Manchester United - €37.5m

Like Martial, Luke Shaw is another player who seems to have laboured under a large price tag at times. Shaw also had a fractious relationship with Mourinho but made the United left-back spot his own with 29 Premier League starts in 2018-19. The 24-year-old remained a regular last term, despite the emergence of Brandon Williams, and managed to stay relatively injury-free, but one rarely gets the impression his position in the squad is absolutely certain, particularly given his attacking output lacks in comparison to the world's best full-backs.


Wayne Rooney: Everton to Manchester United - €37m

Wayne Rooney certainly repaid his fee – he was British football's most expensive teenager – becoming United's all-time leading goalscorer and winning five Premier League titles at the club, as well as the 2007-08 Champions League. Rooney will go down as a United great despite affairs such as agitating for a move and falling out with Alex Ferguson. Rooney dropped out of favour in the latter years of his time at Old Trafford and was also sidelined for England, with a return to boyhood club Everton failing to spark. But joining MLS strugglers DC United was a clever move and Rooney helped inspire their rise. Now 34, he is back in England with Derby County.


Renato Sanches: Benfica to Bayern Munich - €35m

Bayern thought they were signing a player who would become one of the era's dominant midfielders when they snapped up Renato Sanches from Benfica, but the transfer did not work out at all. Bayern bought Sanches before he won Euro 2016 with Portugal but, four years later, that remains the highlight of his career. Sanches flopped in a loan spell with Swansea City in the Premier League and quickly appeared surplus to requirements at Bayern. He eventually secured a permanent move away last year when Die Roten recouped €25m for him - applaudable given his form - when selling him to Lille. But in France he seems to have found his feet again, enjoying a solid debut season and attracting interest from around Europe.

Former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney has expressed his support for Harry Maguire, who is appealing against a conviction by a Greek court.

Maguire was found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and repeated attempts of bribery at a misdemeanours court in Syros on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old, who denied all charges against him, was tried alongside two other defendants following an alleged incident involving police the week before while he was holidaying on the nearby island of Mykonos.

United confirmed Maguire's legal representatives have lodged an appeal and, as per Greek law, the initial conviction has therefore been nullified and a full retrial "in a more senior court" will now take place.

Maguire, who could reportedly face a long wait for his retrial, was dropped from the England squad following his conviction after initially being called up by Gareth Southgate.

The England manager had told reporters before removing the defender from the squad: "I've spoken with Harry, I have insight into the story which is very different to what's been reported."

Speaking to talkSPORT on Thursday, Rooney said of Maguire: "Knowing Harry the way I know him, it's completely not his character.

"I couldn't get my head around how it went to court, he was found guilty and sentenced all within the space of about two hours… how has that happened?

"Harry's not that type of person at all. He was out there with his girlfriend, his family and friends and their girlfriends, so it's not a group of lads, where sometimes things happen. So, in my opinion, something has gone on that has maybe provoked him.

"It's just out of character, it's not him at all. I just think as a nation, as people, we are too quick to judge.

"Obviously he was found guilty and there's an appeal, so at the minute there's no charges now against his name until the next court date.

"Obviously I've made my own mistakes and I've had my issues with the law, both in England and abroad as well, so I know how difficult that can be. But I just think with Harry, he's not that character at all.

"I've also heard people saying, 'why doesn't he hire a villa and stay in a villa?'

"But why should he? He's a human being!"

Wayne Rooney believes Lionel Messi could win Ballon d'Or number seven if he joins Manchester City or Manchester United - but claims Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool would be a better signing.

Messi has informed Barcelona he wants to leave the club and City are one of the favourites to sign the Argentina star.

Few clubs are considered capable of putting together a package to tempt Messi to join them, but United, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain are among those said to have the necessary financial clout to make the move possible.

Former Red Devils captain Rooney thinks Messi would thrive if he moved to either of the Manchester clubs, insisting the 33-year-old is a "different level" even to his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Rooney thinks Liverpool will effectively have their title defence secured if they manage to sign Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago.

He told talkSPORT: "I think it is City or Liverpool [for the title].

"Chelsea are making a lot of signings, some good signings. Man United have a lot of potential in the players they have got but I still think they are a year away.

"Chelsea, with the new signings, will possibly need a year to get everyone on the same song sheet.

"So, I do think it is between City and Liverpool. And if Liverpool get Thiago from Bayern Munich, I think it is done [the title]. That is a better signing than Messi going to Man City."

On Messi, Rooney said: "I know he's getting older but he's a player who no one has seen before.

"Messi has everything – he can create goals, score goals, dictate the game and is the best player of all time. He's one of the only players I've sat there and watched and been in awe.

"Him and Cristiano Ronaldo have set a standard which I don't think we will ever see again but, for me, Messi is just different level.

"He could come to the Premier League and be a Player of the Year. One million per cent.

"If he surrounds himself with Bruno Fernandes or Kevin De Bruyne, he could win a seventh Ballon d'Or, which would be incredible."

Usain Bolt earned our undying admiration for his marvellous exploits on the track, but it was always clear, to be honest, that fumbling, bumbling, tumbling escapes on the football pitch, would never amount to anything more than a glorified publicity stunt.

When fabled American sportscaster Charley Steiner quoted the famous line, uttered by Clint Eastwood’s iconic character Dirty Harry, ‘Sometimes a man’s got to know his limitations,’ he referred to another track and field legend, Carl Lewis, butchering the United States national anthem with all the ruthless efficacy of Sweeney Todd. 

The laborious months of Bolt’s campaign to become a professional footballer may not have caused us to splutter uncontrollably with ceaseless bouts of irrepressible laughter, as Lewis’ spectacular failure did, mind you, what we saw were Bolt’s best parts, but the sentiment should be the same, everyone has limits.

Shockingly, however, it seems the lesson has been lost on the decorated runner and his recent comments about not being given a fair chance to play football, tell us as much.

Based on what I saw, and if there is better footage, I am eager to see it, it’s hard to justify the sprinter being given a trial anywhere at all where serious football is played.

On one level, it’s completely understandable that unshakable self-belief is a key part of the mindset of any great athlete. 

When Michael Jordan tossed aside the basketball and stood, bat in hand, in front of the mirror, he saw Jackie Robinson. When Carl Lewis decided to trade the relay baton for a mic, he likely glanced over to see Lionel Richie looking back, before committing an unforgiving and merciless verbal assault.  The shimmering reflection Bolt cast after putting down his spikes and picking up cleats was, Wayne Rooney, a player whom he astonishingly believed was at the same talent level.

What is less understandable, however, is that three years after retirement and at least two after the professional football fiasco, the world record holder believes that his lack of success was down to a lack of opportunity.  It’s time to be honest, Usain, it was down to a glaring and obvious lack of ability.

Football is a very easy sport to watch, easy to love, easy to have strong opinions about.  Some of us even believe it easy to play in our weekly treks to weekend scrimmage games. 

The images we see when we stand proudly in front of the mirror, before heading to our own local battlefields are varied and endless.  Many of us are Lionel Messi’s, Cristiano Ronaldo’s, Jamie Vardy’s, Karim Benzema’s, and even Zinedine Zidane’s. If you really think about it though, playing well, let alone playing well enough to be a professional at the highest level, is another thing entirely.

With the rare exception, the very best exponents of the beautiful game spend the tender years of their lives ceaselessly honing their craft, and even then, on many occasions, find themselves well short of making the professional-grade. 

How likely was it that Bolt, then a 31-year-old athlete, who never even played the highest level of high school or primary school football, would decide to take up the sport professionally after a few scrimmage games and make the grade?  His only qualifier for getting a trial was that he held track and field sprint records. Fantastic records, mind you, but that is a remarkably clear case of comparing apples to oranges. 

Come to think of it, the situation sounds rather ridiculous when you spell it out loud, doesn’t it?

Well lest anyone out there harbour any illusions, it only sounds that way because the whole thing was.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

as he struggled to

 

 

In many respects Bolt and another track and field legend

Bolt trippinCharkg over a football not as funny but breathtaking lack of aweness on limitations certainly in the same ballpark is just as not given chance ridiculous.  Football for year of training Bolt decided to pick it up as a professional at 31 declaring better than Wayne Rooney

Beyond this Bolt now claims not given chance

Wayne Rooney has suggested Alex Ferguson committed tactical suicide during Manchester United's two Champions League final losses to Barcelona.

Rooney became a European champion under Ferguson when United beat Chelsea on penalties in the 2008 final in Moscow but they fell at the last hurdle in their bid to retain the trophy the following season – running into Pep Guardiola's formidable Barca in Rome.

United had the chance to avenge that 2-0 loss in the Italian capital at Wembley in 2011 but, despite Rooney cancelling out Pedro's first-half opener, superb goals from Lionel Messi and David Villa saw the Blaugrana run out deserved 3-1 winners.

Rooney was discussing how best to approach crunch European nights in his Sunday Times column, previewing the forthcoming Champions League last-16 showdown between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

City hold a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu but Rooney expects the pragmatic approach of three-time winner Zinedine Zidane to pose problems to Guardiola's current side – something that did not always come so easily to Ferguson.

"It's always hard for a club like Real to go into a game saying, 'We'll surrender the ball'," Rooney said

"It is the same for United. But we lost two Champions League finals going toe-to-toe with Guardiola's Barcelona, by trying to press high and get round them, which was suicidal.

"I remember Alex Ferguson saying, 'We're Man United and we're going to attack, it's in the culture of this football club' and thinking,' 'I'm not too sure about this'.

"I think all the players knew, deep down, it was the wrong approach, that we were abandoning the way that had brought us success in that 2008 semi-final — and sure enough both times we got outplayed.

"There is being true to the club, but then there's sitting back afterwards and thinking, 'We lost'.

"For me, it doesn't matter how you do it in these big Champions League games, as long as you win — look at how Liverpool ground it out in last year's final — and I think Zidane has the same mindset."

Rooney feels his old cross-city rivals are well placed to claim an elusive first Champions League crown, although doubts linger over a defence that has appeared suspect against elite opponents this season.

City have lost games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham across all competitions this season.

"Manchester City may never have a better chance to win the Champions League," he added. "Liverpool are out. In my opinion, Bayern Munich are not quite as good as in previous years, and City are 2-1 up against Real Madrid in the round of 16, going into a second leg at home.

"The Champions League is the competition that Pep Guardiola most wants to win and for City to take that next step as a club, this is the trophy they need.

"Friday's second leg at the Etihad is massive. Sergio Ramos is suspended, which is a huge loss to the Real defence, and I think City will score. Whether they are solid enough at the back themselves is my only question about Guardiola's side."

Rio Ferdinand concedes he was unimpressed with Nemanja Vidic after his arrival at Manchester United and predicted with Wayne Rooney that the defender would not last long at Old Trafford.

Vidic and Ferdinand eventually went on to form a superb centre-back partnership over eight-and-a-half seasons, which helped United to five Premier League crowns and Champions League glory in 2008.

But Rooney and his fellow England international had immediate doubts when Alex Ferguson signed Vidic from Spartak Moscow in January 2006.

Ferdinand told United's website: "Never heard of him. I'll be totally honest, that was my reaction when I heard that we were signing Nemanja Vidic.

"At the time we had Mikael Silvestre and Wes Brown as our other centre-halves. The manager wanted competition for places, Wes had had a few injuries and Vida was a punt to bring that extra competition. 

"Liverpool were interested as well, Aston Villa and a few others, and then he signed for us.

"I had no idea what to expect from him, no preconceptions. When someone joins the club, you're quickly sussing them out and forming opinions.

"From what I was seeing in his early training sessions, Vida was struggling, especially physically. That wasn't just strength-wise, but breathing, too. The pace of the training sessions were just such a shift in what he'd been used to. It wasn't easy for him.

"I had a conversation with Wayne Rooney – a couple of times, actually – about both Vidic and Patrice Evra, who had joined at the same time. 

"We were both basically saying, 'Wow, how have we signed these two?' Wayne was playing against Vida in training and he was quite clear on Vida's issues: he wasn't strong enough, wasn't aggressive enough, just didn't seem like a Man United player.

"I remember thinking, 'He won't be here long. No chance he's gonna be here long'. Speaking to him since, I know now that back when he first signed, he was nervous. He was wondering, 'Have I made the right move?'

"It was so difficult for him. He was playing against Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha every day. The standards expected of him had shot up massively overnight. We were judging him harshly, but he was judging himself harshly too."

Vidic improved various aspects of his game and quickly developed a close bond with Ferdinand around the United training ground as he settled into life at the club.

"He went away and worked very diligently on a lot of things," continued Ferdinand.

"He spent a lot more time in the gym, getting himself physically ready, preparing himself, conditioning himself for the right level so he could actually compete.

"Then there just came a point – I can't think of a specific day or date – when he was just competing. He just got accustomed to it over a period of time.

"The best word to describe the player Vida became is formidable. You could see strikers going up with him, thinking, 'Oh god, he's gonna smash me'. You could see fear in strikers. 

"He was someone who was horrible to play against. He'd go to head the ball and head you. Vida had the most bloody noses I've seen out of anybody I've ever played with.

"Even in his last game for United he walked off the pitch with a bloody nose and that just epitomised him! He was just fearless. He saw the ball, nothing else.

"After a season or two of playing with Vida, I knew that when I left United, I wanted to walk out of Old Trafford knowing we were considered the best partnership the club had ever had. That was something that drove me."

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.


There had already been murmurings of a potential superstar coming through Manchester United's academy, but in December 2018, the noise around Mason Greenwood became that bit louder.

Chelsea had been unbeaten in the FA Youth Cup since 2013 before Greenwood was unleashed on them, the then-17-year-old netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win.

That treble showcased much of what is deemed special about Greenwood. For his first, he chased down the goalkeeper, forced an error and then showed composure to fire past him and a defender on the line.

He doubled his tally from just inside the area, racing on to a throughball and coolly placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after creating space with a stepover.

His hat-trick was completed with another fine effort. After beating a defender to an underhit pass, he ran at the centre-back, darted to his left and picking out the far corner with his left foot.

Work-rate, close control, exceptional finishing and remarkable ability on either foot – it was all evidence of a complete centre-forward in-the-making.

Fittingly, Greenwood's dazzling display came the day after Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the first-team – the teenager's promise a hopeful ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period for the club.

Matic in awe of teenager

Fast-forward 19 months, Greenwood has played 42 times for United in 2019-20, while his recent form has led to suggestions he will surely be in England's squad for the delayed European Championships next year.

Not only has Greenwood made a strong impression on fans and pundits, but his team-mates are also well aware of his prodigious talents. Nemanja Matic has seen a particularly significant development in him this year alone.

Matic told Stats Perform News: "There are not many players his age of that level – he has this natural instinct for goals.

"There is a big difference from now from to six months ago. He is young and he is changing, and his approach to training and to everything is different. He's a great person, great for the changing room.

"He is quiet, I have to say, but the boy is always very positive and we are happy to have him in the team."

Mourinho's ousting and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had previously coached young players at the club, was seen as a potentially critical moment for the next generation coming through at Old Trafford.

While it's impossible to know how Greenwood's career would have progressed with Mourinho, it is fair to suggest he wouldn't have given him his first-team debut in a Champions League knockout clash away to Paris Saint-Germain with United chasing a goal to secure an historic turnaround.

Greenwood then made his first start on the final day of the 2018-19 season. Although United suffered a dire 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City, the teenager was comfortably the best player on the pitch.

From that point, it almost seemed a certainty Greenwood was to become a regular squad member this term, and he's finally cemented a place on the right side of the attack since football's resumption.

The new Van Persie? Or Robben?

Greenwood's build, running style and technique have drawn understandable comparisons with former United star Robin van Persie, though he reminds Matic more of another Dutchman.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on the lad, but if I had to say someone [Greenwood reminds me of], it would be [Arjen] Robben," Matic said.

However, some might argue Greenwood is poised to become even more of a nuisance to defenders given his unpredictable skillset – after all, much has been said about Greenwood's ambipedal abilities, and in the United youth teams he was known to take free-kicks and penalties with either foot.

While being "two-footed" is by no means a rare concept, Greenwood does appear to be a special case. His recent goals against Bournemouth and Aston Villa are proof of that, with the England Under-21 international hitting two ferocious efforts into the net with his supposedly weaker right foot.

Such unpredictability can only help Greenwood, while Matic also feels having someone like Marcus Rashford in the team will give the teenager a good example to follow.

"I think that when he has seen players who came through the academy, he has seen Marcus as a role model and he has tried to follow those steps, it was easier too for him to see that someone can achieve big things coming from the academy, so I am happy for him," he added.

Best and Rooney in touching distance

"It is important to have players from the academy," continued Matic, a firm believer of giving opportunities to youngsters. "They are making big players, good people, it's important they are good people for the changing room."

But the Serbian stressed the need for those players to be ready for the opportunities, adding: "The expectation from our fans is high and they have to be ready to play at the highest level."

It's fair to say no one is doubting Greenwood's credentials anymore, and the data highlights his impressive early impact.

With 16 goals, he is United's third-highest scorer this term behind Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom have 20, but Greenwood nets with a more impressive frequency at one every 129 minutes (Rashford – 142 mins, Martial – 147).

His conversion rate of 22 percent is identical to Martial's and an improvement on Rashford's 17 per cent, but it's in the expected goals (xG) metric where Greenwood's finishing abilities are best highlighted.

From the chances that have fallen to him, Greenwood would ordinarily be expected to have scored eight times this season, but his actual goals haul is double that.

By comparison, Martial's xG is five under his actual total at 15 and Rashford's is 23, three higher than the 20 he has scored.

Add to that, he is just two goals shy of setting a new record for goals scored by a teenager for United in a single season (George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney all got 17).

"The players that have come through, Marcus and Mason, they have come with a lot of qualities and are ready at the highest level and [this] shows the academy can work well."

Matic's assessment appears to be on the money – as does Greenwood.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted it is too early to compare Mason Greenwood to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo following the teenage forward's brace in Manchester United's 5-2 win over Bournemouth.

Greenwood further enhanced his reputation with clinical finishes in either half in Saturday's clash at Old Trafford to take him to eight league goals for United this term and 15 in all competitions.

He is the youngest player to reach that tally for the club since Rooney but Solskjaer was unwilling to put the 18-year-old in the same category as United's all-time leading scorer and fellow star Ronaldo.

"I have seen Wayne Rooney at the same age and Mason is a specialist finisher and specialist goalscorer," Solskjaer said at his post-match news conference. "He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he's on the pitch.

"If he shoots, he will score. He is going to get better and his general play has improved. But I don't want to compare Mason to Rooney or Cristiano – I don't think that's fair.

"The boy will create his own career and he is doing it his own way and they've had fantastic careers, both of them, and I'm sure if Mason keeps on doing the right things, making good decisions, he will have a fantastic career as well."

Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were also on target against Bournemouth, with the latter scoring from the penalty spot.

United's front three of Greenwood, Martial and Rashford now have 55 goals in all competitions this term – four more than Liverpool's triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

But Solskjaer warned United's Premier League rivals that his side – fourth in the table ahead of Chelsea's game in hand against Watford later on Saturday – are only going to get better over time.

"Every day and every game and every session is a chance to improve," he said.

"We've seen improvement in Marcus, Mason and Anthony all season, so we will keep on improving the ones we've got but we will never stand still – we are always on the lookout for anything that is possible.

"You cannot think we've cracked it, as Gary [Neville] said, and the emphasis is just on improving the team all the time.

"They will improve, and we've seen that all season they have improved a lot this season, different parts of their game, maturity. We will work with these.

"Marcus is on course for his best season, Anthony the same but they can still improve and there are things they know I want them to keep improving on.

"Mason is in his first season, fantastic, but we've always known that there's a special kid there."

Solskjaer named the same starting line-up for the third league game running on Saturday, United winning each of those matches to make it their best-such run since January 2019.

But the Norwegian talked up the importance of his entire squad during their 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretches back to January.

"I wouldn't say that you could call it a first XI," he said. "We know we have to use the squad; we've had players who've played and really contributed.

"I can't say this is like the XI that's always going to play, no. Because Eric [Bailly] came on today, he's important for us; Scott [McTominay] and Fred have been exceptional all season. It's not easy leaving Dan James out either but we have started doing well."

Matheus Pereira scored twice as West Brom boosted their title hopes at Sheffield Wednesday, while Wayne Rooney's winner saw Derby County close on the play-off spots.

Championship leaders Leeds United were held to a 1-1 draw by Luton Town on Tuesday and the Baggies closed the gap to just one point with a 3-0 victory at Hillsborough.

Charlie Austin's first-half penalty was added to by a brace from Pereira after the break as Slaven Bilic's side restored their five-point cushion in the final automatic promotion place.

The play-off places are what Derby and Preston are chasing and it was the Rams who came out on top at Deepdale thanks to Rooney.

England's all-time leading scorer found the net with a first-half free-kick to leave Derby one point behind sixth-placed Cardiff City.

Nottingham Forest, who Derby face next, strengthened their grip on one of the play-off berths, Tiago Silva scoring the only goal in 1 -0 victory over Bristol City.

At the other end of the table, Huddersfield Town climbed out of the relegation places with a 3-0 success at Birmingham City.

Karlan Grant, Fraizer Campbell and Elias Kachunga scored the goals for the Terriers, who were replaced in the bottom three by Hull City.

Jurgen Klopp's claim that Liverpool cannot dominate in the Premier League like Manchester United did has been disputed by Wayne Rooney, who says the key for the Reds is keeping their manager.

Liverpool, who are 22 points clear of Manchester City, are on the cusp of a first top-flight title since 1990 and need just two more wins to guarantee lifting the trophy.

Boss Klopp said he feels it is impossible for one club to enjoy the sort of success United did under the legendary Alex Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles during his 26-year stint.

Former United captain Rooney – a long-time foe of Liverpool due to his association with Everton and the Red Devils – disagrees, though, and tipped the Anfield club to win the league at least five times in the next decade on the proviso Klopp remains at the helm.

"Liverpool's squad is young and all the key players are tied down on long contracts. They have huge potential to win more trophies," Rooney wrote in his column for The Times.

"Klopp says it's impossible for any club to dominate like United once did but he is wrong.

"There's a simple way for Liverpool: let Klopp go on and on.

"United dominated because Fergie stayed so long. I think if Klopp, who is only 53, stayed at Anfield for the next 10 years Liverpool would win at least five Premier League titles.

"He could keep building great sides because, as I mentioned, players join clubs to work with managers as good as him.

"On the flip-side, players stay at clubs because of managers, too. And if Klopp left it would be no surprise to see the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also deciding to move on.

"If I were one of Liverpool's owners, I would be doing everything in my power to tie him down for many years."

Rooney won the Premier League five times playing for Ferguson at Old Trafford, while he also became a Champions League winner under the Scot.

Liverpool's first game back since the suspension of the top flight due to the coronavirus pandemic is Sunday's Merseyside derby at Everton.

Gerard Pique was "bullied" out of the Premier League because he could not handle Bolton Wanderers' physicality, according to Wayne Rooney.

Before he returned to Barcelona and became a key figure in sides that won La Liga and the Champions League on multiple occasions, Pique spent four years at Manchester United.

However, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand the regular centre-back pairing of choice for Alex Ferguson, Pique only featured in 12 Premier League games prior to re-joining Barca in 2008.

And it was a game in Pique's final season - a 1-0 loss to Bolton when the 20-year-old was hauled off after 59 minutes - which Rooney believed spelled the end for his time at Old Trafford.

"Bolton away more or less finished Gerard Pique's career at United," Rooney wrote in his column for The Sunday Times.

"He was young and got bullied there and I think that's when Fergie decided that, physically, he wasn't right for the Premier League.

"I always remember Vidic: if we were going to Bolton — and it was the same when he was about to face Didier Drogba — he would be in the gym for two or three days before, pumping himself up."

Bolton's only goal that day came courtesy of Nicolas Anelka, when he took advantage of a mistimed Pique leap to score.

Pique has since gone on to win 28 major honours with his boyhood club Barca.

The defender also has over 100 caps for Spain and was part of La Roja teams that won World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012.

Wayne Rooney feels Manchester United were wrong to sack Louis van Gaal in 2016 after two years at the Old Trafford helm.

Van Gaal was axed in favour of Jose Mourinho shortly after winning the FA Cup, with United having finished outside of the top four in the Premier League.

Under Mourinho, United finished sixth in the final 2016-17 Premier League standings but won both the EFL Cup and Europa League.

Yet Rooney, who was United's captain at the time, insists the club should have given Van Gaal another year to prove he could be a success.

"I was devastated when Louis was sacked," Rooney said in the book 'LVG - The Manager and the Total Person'.

“For me, it was an absolute joy to work with him.

“We should have kept him for a third season. We would have been so much stronger.

"I felt things were improving and players started to understand his vision. In those two years I learned more than under any other manager.

"This is why I will be forever grateful to him. Not just for making me captain, but also for all the trust and belief he had in me.

"We didn't have the best team in the league anyway, but we could not afford to have 12 players injured.

"Our best XI was good enough to play in the top four, but once we got injuries we got in trouble ­because we did not have the same quality in the squad as in the years before.

"At the time it was good for me because I had decided that I wanted to become a manager.

“And working with Louis in that way was priceless in my opinion because I could learn so much from him. I could not have wished for a better example."

Ravel Morrison was better than Paul Pogba "by a country mile" but lacked the work ethic to make the grade at Manchester United, according to Wayne Rooney.

Morrison and Pogba each joined the United academy in 2009, yet they have experienced contrasting fortunes.

While Pogba starred for Juventus before returning to United and has won the World Cup, Morrison has failed to live up to his potential in a career that has taken him to Italy, Mexico and Sweden.

Morrison in January joined Championship side Middlesbrough on loan from Sheffield United for the remainder of the season, which is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

United legend Rooney, now at Derby County, believes it could have been a different story for Morrison had he possessed the commitment of Gary Neville.

Rooney wrote in his Sunday Times column: "I remember watching Ravel Morrison thinking he had everything required for a player in his position.

"He nutmegged Nemanja Vidic three times in the space of a minute in one training game. 

"But he struggled with lifestyle and his environment which was sad for him - because I saw Paul Pogba come through, Jesse Lingard, all these players and Ravel was better than any of them by a country mile.

"He's proof that you can't escape the fact there are guidelines every player has to obey in professional football. 

"Then you think how far you can go by being ultra-professional. Gary Neville, for instance. Gary's not a great football player but he worked in every minute of every training session and made the most of everything he had. 

"Sir Alex Ferguson used to say the hardest thing in life is to work hard every day. Forget all your ability, strip everything back: if you can work hard every day, in whatever job you do you'll be successful." 

 

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