Spain boss Luis Enrique revealed Andres Iniesta was the closest talent to Lionel Messi he has coached.

A record six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players of all-time.

Luis Enrique coached Messi and Iniesta at Barcelona, where he was at the helm from 2014-17.

In a Q&A on the Spain national team's Facebook page, Luis Enrique talked up both Iniesta, now playing for Vissel Kobe, and Messi.

"The player that impressed me most in my career, I don't know if you mean being myself as a player or as a coach or both, without doubt is Leo Messi," he said.

"Afterwards, I can say that Andres Iniesta is close to something similar to Leo Messi.

"But Messi is hugely different in respect to the others."

Juventus are reportedly lining up an incredible move for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola has been in charge of City since 2016 and is contracted to remain at the helm of the Premier League champions until the end of next season.

However, Juve seemingly have other ideas.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS PLAN TO MAKE MOVE FOR GUARDIOLA

Juventus will give Guardiola whatever it takes to join them ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, according to The Sun.

The Serie A giants were linked with a stunning move for the Spaniard last year, but did not get their man.

Guardiola apparently intends to honour his contract at City, but Juve are prepared to give him whatever he wants.

ROUND-UP

- Philippe Coutinho has no plans to return to Barcelona and wants to make his move to Bayern Munich permanent, according to Catalunya Radio. The Bundesliga club hold an option to buy the attacker, but are reportedly yet to make a decision over whether they will make the move permanent.

- Barcelona are not yet giving up on signing Willian Jose from Real Sociedad. Marca reports the LaLiga giants are still considering the attacker amid a negotiable price despite Willian Jose's buyout clause being set at €70million.

- Jose Mourinho is planning for next season at Tottenham. The Daily Express reports the Spurs head coach is looking to spend £120m on defenders ahead of 2020-21, with Benfica's Ruben Dias and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake leading the list of targets.

- Liverpool tried to sign Villarreal attacker Samuel Chukwueze during January, according to France Football, which reports the European champions offered £29.6m (€35m) for the Nigeria international. Staying at Anfield and the Daily Express says Liverpool are set to offer 18-year-old full-back Neco Williams a new contract.

- Amid surprise reports Barcelona tried to bring Andres Iniesta back to Camp Nou in January, Marca says the LaLiga club's sporting management never considered a return to the club for the Vissel Kobe midfielder.

- Inter are set to decide in the next 48 hours whether to sign goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano after the 34-year-old completed medicals at the Serie A high-flyers, according to CalcioMercato. Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic suffered a finger injury last week.

Andres Iniesta says the prospect of taking on a joint coaching role with Xavi at Barcelona "doesn't sound too bad".

Former midfielder Xavi was one of the candidates to take over from Ernesto Valverde, who was sacked as head coach following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid.

The Al Sadd boss confirmed he held talks with his old club but turned down their offer as he considered it too early in his coaching career.

Quique Setien has since been installed on a two-and-a-half-year deal, but it remains widely expected that Xavi will return to Camp Nou in future to take charge of the first team.

Iniesta, whose midfield partnership with Xavi was a cornerstone of one of Barca's greatest eras, likes the idea of reuniting with his old team-mate in the dug-out.

"The Xavi-Iniesta tandem doesn't sound too bad, but it's not possible right now," he told El Partidazo.

"I think Xavi will sooner or later be at Barca, but I don't know at which moment."

Iniesta, who spent 22 years at Barca after joining as a youngster, thinks the idea of former stars coming back to the club can only be a positive.

When asked about the prospect of another ex-team-mate, Carles Puyol, taking up a role of sporting director, with Xavi as coach and Gerard Pique as president, Iniesta said: "I truly believe those players, one day, should be at the club, although I don't know in which role.

"Firstly, because of their abilities, and then because of what they represent and the good they can do at the club where they have spent their lives."

Iniesta caused a stir when he described Barca's conduct as "ugly" when Valverde was dismissed this month.

The former Spain star has moved to clarify his comments, saying: "People who know me know it's very difficult for me to criticise the way Barcelona do or don't do things. Maybe the word 'ugly' is strong, or everyone can use it to say I've given a bit of attention to Barca, as I read, but it's not like that at all.

"If you like, take away the word 'ugly' for any other. What I believe is that the manner wasn't correct - even [president Josep Maria] Bartomeu recognised that. That was just one way of saying it."

Iniesta, who confirmed he spoke with Valverde following the news, now hopes to see Setien enjoy success with his commitment to possession-based, attacking football.

"I've spoken with him [Setien] one time," said the Vissel Kobe man. "He had long since been tipped to coach Barcelona.

"I think he's a coach, and everyone agrees with this, who has a way of understanding and watching football with a lot of possession, and who likes to play well and attack.

"I believe, and I hope, he can have a great period." 

Ernesto Valverde has taken Barcelona training amid widespread reports he will meet with the club's board later on Monday.

Despite his side sitting top of LaLiga, the Barcelona head coach is under intense pressure, scrutiny which increased after last week's 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia.

Valverde was pictured taking training as reports in Spain suggested he could lose his position depending on the outcome of talks with the Barca hierarchy.

Barca great Andres Iniesta made an appearance at the session shortly after telling reporters the saga around Valverde had become "ugly", urging respect for his former boss who he felt had seen his position "weakened" by the constant speculation.

Iniesta's former team-mate Xavi, now head coach of Al Sadd, met with the Camp Nou side's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

But while conceding coaching Barca was his "dream", he did not divulge what was discussed and reiterated his respect for Valverde when he faced reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan.

Reports on Sunday then suggested Xavi had turned down the chance to take charge of Barca immediately.

Ronald Koeman, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino are the other leading contenders to replace Valverde if the former Athletic Bilbao boss is removed from his role.

While managing Tottenham, Pochettino had insisted he would never contemplate taking charge of Barca due to his ties to his old team Espanyol, though reports claim the five-time European champions are still keen to make an approach.

Valverde took charge in 2017 and won two league titles, the Copa del Rey and a Supercopa crown over his first two seasons.

Barca are due to train on Tuesday before a day off on Wednesday and will next be in action with a Sunday home league contest against Granada.

Andres Iniesta has urged Barcelona to show more respect to head coach Ernesto Valverde following "ugly" reports they are attempting to line up club legend Xavi as his replacement.

Barca are on course for a third successive LaLiga title and remain in the Champions League, but Valverde is under increasing pressure.

Following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, reports of the board's apparent frustrations with Valverde have escalated.

Strong speculation has claimed club directors used the trip to Saudi Arabia to open talks with Xavi regarding the possibility of replacing Valverde, but the 39-year-old – who is in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd – is said to have told them he is only willing to take over at the end of the season.

Barca have not confirmed the stories, but they do not sit easy with Iniesta, who spent a season playing under Valverde at Camp Nou.

"What comes to my mind a little, if all this is so, is that the way everything is being done is a bit ugly," he told Onda Cero.

"I think that there should always be respect for the coach. The boss' situation and position has been left very weakened.

"My relationship with the boss is very good. During the year we have been talking sometimes. Really, beyond whether we like the coach or not, I think the situation is not pleasant for anyone: the coach, the team or the fans."

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as potential alternatives to Xavi if he decides he is not ready to return to Barca.

But Iniesta opted against outright backing anyone, suggesting Xavi and Koeman have positives and drawbacks.

"There is a case for everyone," Iniesta added. "In the case of Pep Guardiola, who was at Barca B and then he took over the first team, the one who knows [the team and club] best is Xavi.

"He will have analysed all the variables that there can be and let's see what happens, but Koeman has a lot of experience as a coach and Xavi is starting out now.

"But a lot of times, experience counts for nothing. Both of them have been at Barca and know the club."

Andres Iniesta believes Barcelona would not regret bringing Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazil star Neymar has been repeatedly linked with a Camp Nou return over the past six months, with PSG digging in during the Ligue 1 close season to ensure he stayed in Paris.

An astonishing move to the French giants in August 2017 saw Neymar bought out of his Barcelona contract for a world-record €222million, and PSG hoped he would lead them to Champions League glory.

Only this week, Neymar said he felt the longed-for European glory remained a possibility this season, and he has seen off much of the hostility from Parisian supporters that followed several months of appearing to agitate for a return to Barca.

Yet as PSG bid to scoop a third successive Ligue 1 title and brace for a Champions League last-16 clash with Borussia Dortmund, rumours linking Neymar to the Blaugrana continue to linger.

Iniesta was a team-mate of Neymar's at Barcelona. Now a Vissel Kobe player, the Spain great has no doubt Neymar would slot back in and make a big contribution if a return could be negotiated.

"He's one of the best forwards out there, not just now," Iniesta said, quoted in Marca.

"He'd be a great signing for Barcelona. Another thing is whether it's necessary or not. For me, he's one of the best and he'd be a great signing."

Barcelona have a strong array of attacking talent, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann leading the line in Thursday's Supercopa clash against Atletico Madrid.

Messi and Suarez are both 32, however, and eventually Barcelona will need a succession plan when it comes to their vaunted attack. Neymar does not turn 28 until next month.

Iniesta remains in awe of Messi's achievements, though, saying of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner: "He keeps outdoing himself, beating records; he's more important than ever.

"It's the best news for Barcelona that he's like this. I hope that he can achieve the objectives that he has this season."

Andres Iniesta captained Vissel Kobe to their first trophy with a 2-0 Emperor's Cup final win over Kashima Antlers as team-mate David Villa retired.

Vissel, formed in 1966 and moved to Kobe in 1995, have built a star-studded squad in a bid to end their wait for silverware, with former Barcelona stars Iniesta, Villa and Thomas Vermaelen featuring alongside Lukas Podolski.

Wednesday's showpiece marked the opening of Tokyo's New National Stadium but the end of Villa's glittering career.

The World Cup winner announced in November he would be retiring at the end of the year, and he was restricted to a late substitute appearance, replacing Podolski in stoppage time.

Villa, who had been dealing with injury issues in the final weeks of his career, said: "I am very happy to be able to stand on the pitch at the end and be very happy."

Iniesta was influential in the victory, yet the goals arrived in scrappy fashion, an own goal from Tomoya Inukai followed by a fortunate deflection for Noriaki Fujimoto.

Estudiantes president Juan Sebastian Veron confirmed talks have taken place with Vissel Kobe captain Andres Iniesta over a switch to the Argentine club.

Spanish great Iniesta has been linked to a reunion with former Barcelona team-mate Javier Mascherano at Estudiantes.

The 35-year-old Iniesta – contracted to Vissel until 2021 – has called Japan home since leaving LaLiga giants Barca in 2018.

Amid growing links to Estudiantes – where ex-Barca defender Gabriel Milito is head coach – after Mascherano arrived from Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortuna, Veron insisted negotiations are yet to take place.

"Today, we can't say that there are negotiations with Iniesta," Veron told La Oral Deportiva. "[But] yes, there are talks.

"[Trying to sign] Iniesta is something that people will not forget about, regardless of whether it materialises or not."

Veron added: "Having Javier in the club is an important fact, not only for Estudiantes but also for Argentine football, for all that he is as a person and a professional."

Iniesta has scored 10 goals since joining Vissel, who also boast Lukas Podolski, Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper, while David Villa retired at the end of the season.

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is coveted at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His French connection with Zinedine Zidane means there is constant speculation.

However, Pogba is set to remain at United for the time being.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID GIVE UP ON POGBA… FOR NOW

LaLiga giants Real Madrid will not sign Manchester United star Paul Pogba in January, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Pogba – still recovering from injury – continues to be linked with Madrid amid doubts over his United future.

Madrid, however, recognise there is "no chance" of prising the Frenchman from Old Trafford in the New Year.

 

ROUND-UP

- A return to Chelsea for Bournemouth's Nathan Ake looks likely, claims Bleacher Report. Chelsea have a £40million buyback clause for Ake, who left Stamford Bridge permanently in 2017. Manchester City have also been linked to the 24-year-old defender.

- Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo has turned down a move to Milan, reports RMC. The 19-year-old has also been linked to Ligue 1 outfit Monaco and Premier League giants Manchester United.

- Qatari outfit Al Rayyan have re-opened talks with Juventus regarding the transfer of out-of-favour striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. United and Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund are also reportedly interested in the veteran Croatian.

Napoli have offered Dries Mertens a two-year contract extension, says Sky Sport Italia. The Belgian, who is out of contract at season's end, has been the subject of reported interest from Dortmund.

- Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to swap Leandro Paredes for Juventus midfielder Emre Can, reports the Daily Mail.

- La Nazione says Fiorentina are looking to bring former Milan striker Patrick Cutrone back to Serie A. The Italian left San Siro for Premier League side Wolves at the start of the season.

- Former Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta is in talks to join Javier Mascherano at Argentine outfit Estudiantes. Iniesta currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, however, TNT Sports claims the 35-year-old midfielder could move in 2020.

Andres Iniesta wonders where Neymar would fit into Barcelona's team, while he thinks it would be "complicated" for them to appoint Jose Mourinho as coach.

Neymar was in the close season heavily linked with a return to Barca, whom he left for Paris Saint-German in a world-record €222million move in August 2017.

The Catalan giants remained interested in re-signing the Brazil international despite shelling out €120m to bring Antoine Griezmann in from Atletico Madrid.

While a move for Neymar did not materialise, the 27-year-old is reportedly still a target for Barca. However, club great Iniesta struggles to see how they would line up if he returned.

"I don't know how the negotiations went or if Ney will arrive in the future, but he'll be an important piece," Iniesta told Marca.

"I don't know how they'd fit so many high-level players together."

Speculation remains over the future of Ernesto Valverde, who signed a contract for the 2019-20 season prior to Barca's Champions League semi-final capitulation against Liverpool and Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia.

While Mourinho has been touted for a return to Real Madrid as a successor to Zinedine Zidane, the suggestion the Portuguese could make a Camp Nou comeback, having initially worked as a translator under Bobby Robson, is not something Iniesta anticipates coming to fruition.

He said: "I'm not in the know on whether Mourinho could go to Madrid or not. To Barca, I see it as complicated."

Lionel Messi played a starring role in Barca's 5-0 victory over Real Valladolid on Tuesday.

The Argentina superstar has stated he does not want to sign a "lifetime contract" with the club and has a clause in his current deal that enables him to leave at the end of the season if he desires.

Asked if Messi's exit would see Barca encounter the same difficulties Madrid did following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, Iniesta said: "It'll be difficult.

"But the clubs are above the players or coaches. That's how it is. Obviously, it'll be a shame, but it'll come."

Sergio Ramos became Spain's joint most-capped player on Sunday, moving level with former Real Madrid team-mate Iker Casillas.

Captain Ramos lined up for his national team for the 167th time, as they played a Euro 2020 qualifier against the Faroe Islands.

The appearance also moved him into the top 10 for the most-capped internationals ever in a list that includes only three other Europeans - Italian Gianluigi Buffon, Latvian Vitalijs Astafjevs and Casillas.

Here we profile Spain's five most-capped players.

 

Sergio Ramos - 167 caps

Ramos, 33, made his debut back as an 18-year-old against Chile in 2005, becoming the youngest player to debut for Spain in over half a century.

He was an ever-present at right-back during the World Cup triumph in 2010, won the European Championship twice with his country and is also in the top 10 of Spain's leading scorers.

Iker Casillas - 167 caps

Another to make his international bow as a teenager, Casillas was part of Spain's Euro 2000 squad having made his debut earlier that year.

Casillas became La Roja's number one at the World Cup two years later and held onto his spot between the posts until 2016.

Xavi - 133 caps

Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi was part of Spain's Olympics squad in 2000 and went on to feature at four World Cups, three European Championships and two Confederations Cups.

He received Player of the Tournament honours when Spain won Euro 2008 and was in the Team of the Tournament line-up for both the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012.

Andres Iniesta - 131 caps

Xavi's former Barcelona team-mate Iniesta will most fondly be remembered as the man who finally brought the World Cup to Spain after scoring the extra-time winner in the final against Netherlands in 2010.

Iniesta landed the Player of the Tournament award at Euro 2012 and continued to star for Spain until his retirement from international football after the 2018 World Cup.

Andoni Zubizarreta - 126 caps

The only player in this list not to have played for Spain this millennium, goalkeeper Zubizarreta first pulled on the La Roja jersey in 1985.

He featured in four successive World Cups for his country and retired in 1998 as Spain's most-capped player - a record that was only broken in 2011 by Casillas.

Barcelona great Andres Iniesta has revealed how his father has been the biggest influence on his professional career.

The 35-year-old established his place as one of the world's finest midfielders during a 16-year senior career at Camp Nou.

Iniesta won nine LaLiga titles - only Lionel Messi, with 10, has more - among 32 titles with Barca, for whom he registered 35 goals and 87 assists in 442 league appearances.

He also won two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup with Spain, scoring the winning goal in the final of the latter against Netherlands in Johannesburg.

His success marks quite the journey for Iniesta, who was born in the village of Fuentealbilla close to Albacete in 1984 and first joined Barca's famed La Masia academy at the age of 12.

Iniesta, now at Vissel Kobe in Japan, credits his father as the most important figure in his footballing life.

"My father was the most important figure for my career," said Iniesta, courtesy of LaLiga. "He was not my coach, not at all, but from very small I was always with him, he was the first who gave me a plastic football out on the patio of our house.

"I always listened to him. He has given me his advice. Above all, he would always tell me that the most important opinion was that of my coach. I had to do what the coach told me, and that has always been very important."

He continued: "I've always been very clear about what I wanted to do, that has always been the most important for me. The principal objective has always been to learn things to become a better player, respect those around me always. That has been my path.

"Maybe I would have done some things differently, I don't know. There are things I did well, others not so well, but that's life. When you make mistakes, you can correct them, and move forward.

Amid his numerous collective and individual titles, Iniesta ranks his debut as his top LaLiga moment.

"I had the opportunity to play for many years, to experience unique moments, winning La Liga titles, winning important games, Clasicos and others," he said. "There were difficult moments, but in general it was great. To be so long at such a high level, in the best league, was a real source of pride for me.

"As I like beginnings, my most iconic moment was my LaLiga debut against Mallorca, and then playing at the Camp Nou against Recreativo de Huelva."

He also holds fond memories of playing alongside a series of top Spain internationals during his Camp Nou days.

"Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Carles Puyol, David Villa… the good thing about football is that you meet great people and you share many things with them over many years," he said. "Some of them you stay in touch with, others you don't, but there are always great memories."

Iniesta does admit it is important to hold interests outside of football, however.

"You never have that much spare time as a footballer, and even less these days," he added. "You try and have some hobbies or pastimes, things that fill your time away from the game. The bodega [winery] that our family have had since 2010 is a very nice project. There is also the 'Mikakus' range of trainers. We try and do different social projects, things that keep you excited and interested."

Fernando Torres did not get a fitting finale to his football career as Sagan Tosu were routed 6-1 on Friday by a Vissel Kobe side led by his former Spain colleagues Andres Iniesta and David Villa.

Torres played for the final time in the J.League clash in Tosu, but his struggling side were dismantled - with friend and former team-mate Iniesta playing a central role.

The former Atletico Madrid and Liverpool superstar played the full 90 minutes but failed to find the net, with Tosu's only strike a Thomas Vermaelen own goal.

Iniesta was in fine form for Vissel, scoring a 20th-minute penalty to put the visitors 2-0 up and then playing a gorgeous pass in the build-up to Junya Tanaka's well-worked effort two minutes later.

The ex-Barcelona midfielder was later withdrawn injured, but David Villa appeared from the bench as Vissel ran riot.

Iniesta had written a letter to Torres in tribute before the match and the striker could at least be comforted by continued messages throughout and after the defeat.

Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard appeared in a video on the big screen at the stadium to address Torres, while Sergio Ramos led the numerous Twitter posts.

"Team-mate, opponent, friend, legend," Ramos wrote. "A kid from Fuenlabrada who won everything while always remaining the same 'Nino'."

Torres addressed the crowd with a speech after the match, thanking the club and fans for their attitude and welcoming nature during his time in Japan.

"Even when in the danger of being relegated last year, everyone continued to be professional and hard-working," Torres told the crowd. "They kept their positive attitude no matter how hard things were.

"I really learned a lot from everyone and I hope everyone learned something from me, even a little bit. I hope I can move forward.

"Thanks to all of Japan for accepting our family. Please know that there is a wonderful country called Japan."

Andres Iniesta penned an emotional letter to Fernando Torres as the two prepared to face one another a final time in the Sagan Tosu striker's last professional match.

Torres has announced he will retire from football following Friday's fixture between his Sagan side and Iniesta's Vissel Kobe.

The Spain greats enjoyed international success at the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships, having played together since representing their country at youth level.

Iniesta wrote a lengthy letter to Torres before Friday's game, in which the playmaker netted a penalty before going off injured as Vissel surged into a 3-0 half-time lead, published in El Mundo.

"How weird. Don't tell me it's not, Fernando. It's very strange, I would say beautifully strange," he wrote.

"Here we are both about to play your last game as a professional. I still have some left, but here we are on the other side of the world. It is as if life brought us to Japan to say goodbye.

"Football joined us more than 20 years ago when we were children. Well, you will be forever El Nino. And it will never separate us."

Reflecting on their continued success with Spain while representing rival clubs, Iniesta goes on: "Separated, but always together - and until the last moment.

"Above shirts or clubs, we lived in different cities - you in Madrid and I in Barcelona - but we were never enemies, simply friends who wore a different shirt."

Iniesta, who plays with fellow former Spain star David Villa in Japan, concluded: "It has been a wonderful trip. It has taken us to all corners of the world.

"And look where we are today: in Tosu, you and I playing a football game, one more. But it is not one mor, it is your last game. Who was going to tell us? You face 'El Guaje' Villa and I.

"Then, you will return home. Yours are waiting for you, although you have to know that the ball will be sadder today than yesterday.

"Enjoy everything that comes to you now and be happy. But how strange, Fernando. You haven't left yet and I miss you already."

Torres responded to Iniesta's letter with a Twitter post: "Today I woke up knowing that I play my last game as a professional and thinking that I would face it normally.

"Then I read a friend's letter and I start to get excited... thanks friend, @andresiniesta8."

Young winger Carles Perez struck a second-half brace to give Barcelona a 2-0 victory over Vissel Kobe in a low-key friendly in Japan on Saturday.

The Spanish champions toiled for nearly an hour before substitute Perez made the breakthrough following a neat exchange of passes with Malcom.

His second followed four minutes from the end, the 21-year-old clinically firing into the bottom right corner off his left foot.

Ernesto Valverde started Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic but saved Frenkie de Jong, who debuted in the 2-1 loss to Chelsea earlier in the week, until the second 45 minutes.

De Jong's half-time introduction denied him the chance to go head-to-head with Blaugrana great Andres Iniesta, one of three former Barca players involved in the J.League side's matchday squad.

Iniesta, 35, managed to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen five minutes before the interval in a rare moment of defensive concern in what was otherwise a comfortable outing for LaLiga's champions.

Riqui Puig and Croatia international Rakitic threatened either side of Iniesta's shot but it was not until Perez arrived that Valverde's men were able to break the deadlock.

Barca, who before the match announced the beginning of formal partnership with Vissel Kobe, next face Premier League side Arsenal on August 4.

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