France got the better of South Africa in a seven-goal thriller as Andre-Pierre Gignac's hat-trick inspired Les Bleus to a 4-3 victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

Having been thrashed 4-1 by Mexico in their opening game of Group A, France hit back to keep their chances of progression alive, though they had to do so the hard way in Saitama.

Indeed, South Africa led on three occasions during a remarkable second half, yet it was Les Bleus who took the points.

Liberato Cacace's stunner was not enough to propel New Zealand to victory against Honduras in Group B, while reigning champions Brazil could only draw 0-0 with the Ivory Coast and Spain overcame Australia thanks to Mikel Oyarzabal's late winner.

 

GIGNAC AND SAVANIER SETTLE THRILLER

France were on the wrong end of conceding four last time out, and though they still let three in this time around, Teji Savanier's stoppage-time goal saw them clinch victory.

It was 35-year-old Gignac who had previously dragged France level on three occasions – a close-range finish followed by a thumping header before the Tigres striker, the leading scorer in the competition, converted his second penalty of the tournament to cancel out Teboho Mokoena's glorious 81st-minute strike.

Luther Singh had missed a first-half penalty for South Africa, with Kobamelo Kodisang and Evidence Makgopa also getting on the scoresheet.

But Gignac's efforts set the stage for France to nose themselves ahead when Montpellier's experienced Savanier lashed home, sending South Africa out in the process.

France sit third in Group A, three points behind leaders Japan, who survived a late scare to beat Mexico 2-1.

ALL WHITES LET LEAD SLIP

Cacace's exceptional strike put New Zealand ahead after just 10 minutes in Kashima – the defender picking out the top-right corner with a first-time effort from 30 yards out.

Luis Palma restored parity in first-half stoppage time, yet Chris Wood carried on his scoring form to put New Zealand back in front just after the restart.

Yet substitutes proved the difference for Honduras. Juan Obregon netted with 12 minutes remaining, paving the way for Rigoberto Rivas to clinch the comeback victory.

Matters were much more simple for South Korea, as they cruised to a 4-0 triumph against Romania, meaning all four Group B teams are on four points heading into the final matchday.

 

OYARZABAL RECORDS LONG-AWAITED SPAIN WIN

Spain secured their first win at an Olympic Games since 2000 thanks to Oyarzabal's header against Australia, which came with nine minutes of normal time remaining.

The 24-year-old Real Sociedad winger – who played a pivotal role in Spain's run to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 – has put La Roja top of Group C heading into Wednesday's encounter with Argentina, who beat Egypt.

Spain, who drew with Egypt in their opener, won gold in 1992 and silver in 2000, but had only qualified once since then, but they failed to score across their three appearances in the 2012 London Games.

CHAMPIONS HELD AS GERMANY BOUNCE BACK

Brazil sparkled in their 4-2 win over Germany on matchday one, though they could not find a way past the Ivory Coast, who held them to a 0-0 draw in Group D.

Douglas Luiz was sent off early on for Brazil, who missed a last-gasp chance to seal qualification through substitute Malcom after the Ivory Coast had also been reduced to 10 men.

Meanwhile, Germany recovered from their defeat on matchday one to beat Saudi Arabia 3-2 – Felix Uduokhai netting the decisive goal in the 75th minute.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has been crowned Germany’s Footballer of the Year for 2021.

The Pole lands the award for a second successive season following a record-breaking Bundesliga campaign with Bayern; becoming the first player to retain the accolade since Michael Ballack in 2003.

Lewandowski scored a staggering 41 league goals – surpassing Gerd Muller's record tally of 40 from 1971-72 – as Hansi Flick’s side secured a ninth straight title.

 

The 32-year-old was the runaway winner of the award, receiving 356 of the 563 votes cast in a poll conducted by journalists from sports magazine Kicker – 315 more than his nearest challenger Thomas Muller.

"I know what a great honour this is," he told the club's official website.

"It's a source of great pride and joy for me, because it's rare for someone to win the title of Footballer of the Year in Germany twice in a row."

 

Indeed, Lewandowski becomes only the 15th different player to win the award on multiple occasions – along with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus and Oliver Kahn.

His 41 goals landed him the Bundesliga's golden boot for a sixth time, leaving him one shy of Muller's record of seven.

With 365, the 1974 World Cup winner is also the only player to better Lewandowski's tally of 277 league goals in Germany's top flight.

LA Galaxy were thrashed 4-0 by lowly Dallas with Ricardo Pepi netting a hat-trick in the MLS on Saturday.

The Galaxy, who were without Javier Hernandez due to injury and Jonathan dos Santos, Efrain Alvarez and Sebastian Lletget to Gold Cup call-ups, were brushed aside by Dallas who were last in the Western Conference prior to the game.

Pepi, who turned 18 in January, becomes the youngest player in MLS history to net a hat-trick.

The teenager netted twice in the first half before completed his treble with a low shot from the edge of the box in the 50th minute.

Substitute Jader Obrian added another in the 88th minute as Dallas moved up to 10th in the west, while the Galaxy are third but are winless in their past three.

Carlos Vela got on the scoresheet as LAFC came from two goals down to rescue a 2-2 home draw with struggling Vancouver Whitecaps.

Colombian pair Deiber Caicedo and Cristian Dajome had put the Whitecaps two-up inside the first 38 minutes, before Vela pulled one back in the 40th minute.

Diego Palacios provided the pass for fellow Ecuadorian Jose Cifuentes to level in the 75th minute.

Charles Sapong scored twice as Nashville SC moved up into second spot in the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 victory over Cincinnati.

Toronto maintained their good recent run with a 2-1 win at Chicago Fire, while Minnesota United scored twice in the final 20 minutes to win 2-1 over Portland Timbers.

San Jose Earthquakes drew 1-1 with Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake won 3-0 over Colorado Rapids.

Mexico fired in three first-half goals to book their spot in the Gold Cup semi-finals with an emphatic 3-0 win over Honduras in Glendale on Saturday.

The holders dominated proceedings, marked by a 12-minute flurry of goals, and were good value for the win, with 13-4 shots and 64-36 per cent possession.

Rogelio Funes Mori, who netted a brace in El Tri's 3-0 group win over Guatemala, opened the scoring in the 26th minute, nodding in Luis Rodriguez's right-flank cross.

LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos doubled Mexico's lead in the 31st minute with a spectacular first-time volley.

Orbelin Pineda added another seven minutes later, heading in Jesus Corona's well-weighted cross.

Mexico will face either Costa Rica or Canada in the semi-finals on Thursday, with Qatar progressing in Saturday's other quarter-final 3-2 over El Salvador.

The United States returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion to kick-start their bid for Olympic glory, while Barbra Banda tied a Games record with a second successive hat-trick for Zambia.

Sweden had sensationally put an end to USA's 44-match unbeaten streak at the start of the women's tournament, with Megan Rapinoe admitting the beaten world champions had "played a bit tight" in a 3-0 defeat.

However, Vlatko Andonovski's side responded impressively to that setback on Saturday, thrashing New Zealand 6-1 in Saitama, in the process registering their largest margin of victory in an Olympics fixture.

Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan gave USA a 2-0 half-time lead, the latter on target to mark her 100th cap. Further efforts from Christen Press and Alex Morgan added to the score after the break, while they were helped out by their opponents scoring two own goals.

It is the Swedes who sit on top of the table, though, as a strong second-half performance sealed a 4-2 triumph against Australia.

Meanwhile, Banda equalled the record for most goals scored by a woman at a single Olympics, matching Christine Sinclair's tally of six for Canada at London 2012 with another treble, this time against China.

Zambia's captain scored all her country's goals in a 10-3 loss to the Netherlands in their Group F opener. She followed up with three more in a thrilling 4-4 draw on Saturday, though China's Wang Shuang went one better as she hit four in a see-saw contest.

Vivianne Miedema later moved level with Banda on six goals at this Olympics. The forward had scored four as the Dutch crushed Zambia, then managed another two in a 3-3 draw against Brazil.

Ellen White continued her impressive start to the tournament with the winner as Great Britain defeated hosts Japan 1-0 to qualify for the last eight.

Having scored twice in the opening 2-0 win over Chile, White made it 13 goals in her past 14 international outings when heading in a cross from Lucy Bronze in the 74th minute.

Also in Group E, Canada overcame Chile 2-1 thanks to a brace from Janine Beckie, putting them second in the standings ahead of a clash with Team GB to finish the round-robin stage.

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

 

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

 

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

 

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

 

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

 

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

Solskjaer's United finished as runners-up to Manchester City in the 2020-21 Premier League season and reached the final of the Europa League, losing 11-10 on penalties to Villarreal.

United confirmed the Norwegian's new deal contained an option for a further year.

Solskjaer said: "Everyone knows the feeling I have for this club, and I am delighted to have signed this new contract. It is an exciting time for Manchester United, we have built a squad with a good balance of youth and experienced players that are hungry for success.

"I have a fantastic coaching team around me, and we are all ready to take that next step on our journey. Manchester United wants to be winning the biggest and best trophies and that's what we are all striving for. We have improved, both on and off the pitch, and that will continue over the coming seasons.

"I can't wait to get out in front of a packed Old Trafford and get this campaign started."

Former United striker Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho on a caretaker basis in December 2018, after the Portuguese boss was sacked, and was handed the job on a permanent basis three months later.

He committed to a three-year deal at the time and has now signed up to stay at Old Trafford.

There is change afoot at the club, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward due to leave at the end of the year.

Woodward said Solskjaer had justified the club showing their faith in him with the extension.

"Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch," Woodward said.

"The results of that have become increasingly visible over the past two seasons and we are all looking forward to seeing this exciting team develop further in the years ahead.

"What is especially pleasing is the way this progress has been achieved with a blend of young, homegrown talent and top-class recruits, playing attacking football in the best traditions of Manchester United. We are more confident than ever that, under Ole's leadership, we are heading in the right direction."

Solskjaer has yet to win a trophy as boss of the Red Devils, or reach a major domestic cup final.

However, United have finished third and second in the league in his first two full seasons at the helm, guaranteeing lucrative Champions League income.

They finished five points ahead of third-placed Liverpool last term, losing just six of 38 domestic league games, albeit that was not enough to be competitive with City, who took the title by 12 points.

Their 2020-21 win percentage of 55.3 in the Premier League was the second highest United have achieved in a season since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013, beaten only by the 65.8 per cent they managed under Mourinho when finishing second in the 2017-18 campaign.

The 73 league goals they scored was the highest United have tallied in the post-Ferguson era, with the team's 12 away wins in the top flight also the most they have mustered since the long-serving Scot stepped aside.

In fact, United have not lost away from Old Trafford in the Premier League since going down 2-0 to Liverpool in January 2020 – that is a run of 26 matches.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

Jack Grealish was the player England fans wanted to see during Euro 2020.

Now a move to a bigger Premier League club might be on the cards.

Grealish is reportedly moving closer to leaving Aston Villa.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE GREALISH SWOOP

It seems increasingly unlikely Aston Villa will be able to hold onto Jack Grealish.

The England winger has agreed to personal terms with Manchester City, according to a Football Insider report.

Though he grew up a Villa fan and has spent his entire career with the club, save for a season on loan to Notts County, Grealish is in demand among the Premier League's big-money clubs.

City reportedly are preparing a £90million offer that would be difficult for Villa to refuse.

ROUND-UP

- With Paul Pogba and Manchester United at a stalemate in contract talks, the Telegraph says Paris Saint-Germain believe they can sign the midfielder with a £43million bid.

- Alexandre Lacazette is entering his final year under contract with Arsenal but the Gunners are ready to move on. According to the Sun, they are hoping to net £15m for Lacazette after paying £52m to sign him four years ago.

- Arsenal remain interested in a move for James Maddison, reports the Mirror, and they could explore a swap deal with Leicester City to get it done.

- PSG want to keep Moise Kean on a permanent deal after his year on loan from Everton, but Juventus also are interested, Le 10 Sport reports.

Bayern Munich will donate over €1million to support victims of this month's flash floods and storms in Germany, with a charity match against Schalke also scheduled.

Parts of Germany and Belgium were heavily hit by floods over the last fortnight. Over 100 people are still missing, with Germany's official death toll standing at 177, while thousands more have been made homeless.

Two of the worst-hit areas have been North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, while storms have also caused disruption in Bavaria.

In response, Bayern have pledged a minimum aid package of €1.1million, with €1m split between the regions in the west, and €100,000 going towards helping to repair damage in the south.

The Bundesliga champions have also arranged to play a friendly against Schalke, who are based in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Gelsenkirchen.

Schalke were relegated to the second tier last season, though with the date for the charity game at Veltins Arena not yet confirmed, Bayern pledged the financial support immediately.

"The images of the flood disaster shocked us," said Bayern president Herbert Hainer.

"In such a terrible situation, we have to stick together as a society. Football also lives very much from solidarity and social responsibility. We can only guess what the people in the affected regions have gone through and continue to go through.

"We also want to support them with our charity game and the donation ... is on the side of the flood victims.

"I would like to thank FC Schalke 04 very much, Schalke immediately agreed to take part in our initiative. On the occasion of the charity game, together we will also commemorate the people who tragically lost their lives in the storm."

Harry Kane looks like he might soon get his wish to leave Tottenham.

Spurs had previously dug in their heels and were determined that Kane, who is contracted until 2024, would stay.

The England captain won last season's Premier League Golden Boot with 23 goals, and now he could be heading to the champions.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SET FOR BUMPER KANE DEAL

Tottenham forward Harry Kane is poised for a £160million move to Manchester City, reports The Sun.

According to the report, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will allow Kane to exit the club for such a sum.

Kane is said by the newspaper to have agreed personal terms on a £400,000-a-week deal with City, which is reportedly double his current Tottenham contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba has rejected a £50million contract offer at Manchester United and is set to leave this summer, according to The Mirror as rumours swirl about Paris Saint-Germain's interest.

- Marca reports that Kylian Mbappe will reject Paris Saint-Germain's latest contract offer and look to seal a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

- Fabrizio Romano has reported that talks are ongoing between Atalanta and Tottenham for Cristian Romero with personal terms agreed and a €55m price tag on the table.

- Atalanta want Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez included in any deal, reports Sportitalia.

- Milan are interested in signing Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech on loan, claims Calcio Mercato.

- Donyell Malen 's transfer from PSV Eindhoven to Borussia Dortmund is all but done according to Dutch outlet ED, with an anticipated €30m fee.

Nani came up with a crucial assist as Orlando City leapfrogged Philadelphia Union into second spot in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win in MLS on Thursday.

Orlando had taken the lead in the 10th minute from Benji Michel's cool finish and Andrea Perea doubled their advantage in the 58th minute when he met ex-Manchester United winger Nani's right-flank cross.

Philadelphia found a route back into the game when Kacper Przybylko netted with a first-time 68th-minute strike but they could not find an equaliser.

Union came close when City keeper Pedro Gallese made a fine stop to deny Jack Elliott with Jack McGlynn's effort from the rebound hitting the post.

Orlando, who were winless in their past three games, move up to second in the east on 25 points from 14 games.

Union have now only won one of their past five games and are third in the east with 23 points from five games.

Raul Ruidiaz scored a spectacular long-range goal to lift Seattle Sounders back into top spot overall with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Austin.

Ruidiaz moved into the outright lead for most goals this season with his 11th strike, which came in stunning style.

The Peruvian swooped a loose ball, spotting Austin keeper Brad Stuver off his line and expertly firing in from range for the 67th-minute winner.

Austin thought they had a 77th-minute equaliser which was disallowed by the VAR, while Ruidiaz also had a potential second ruled out for offside.

Seattle, whose 13-game unbeaten run ended on Sunday, are up to 32 points from 15 games atop the Western Conference.

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Georginio Wijnaldum says he "would love" for Paul Pogba to play alongside him in the French capital.

PSG have been linked with 28-year-old midfielder Pogba, who is off contract at Manchester United in 2022.

Wijnaldum, who joined PSG from Liverpool last month, added fuel to the speculation fire, labelling Pogba an "extraordinary player".

“I would love to have Pogba with us,” Wijnaldum told RMC Sport. “He’s fantastic. I have played against him several times – what a player!

“If you ask any player from another team if he would like Pogba to join him, everyone will say yes because he is an extraordinary player, full of qualities.

"He has it all, one of the best midfielders in the world.”

Pogba said earlier this month that United were yet to table a "concrete proposal" for a new deal yet the Red Devils are understood to be keen to tie him down beyond 2022.

PSG have been linked with a cut-price €58 million (£50m) swoop for ex-Juventus man Pogba.

The Parisians have already signed Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Achraf Hakimi this off-season after finishing as 2020-21 Ligue 1 runners-up.

New Barcelona signing Memphis Depay is relishing the chance to link up with Lionel Messi, who he believes showed at the Copa America why he is still the world's best player.

Netherlands international Depay joined Barca as a free agent when his Lyon contract expired on July 1 and was officially unveiled at Camp Nou on Thursday.

While the 27-year-old is excited to begin a new chapter in his career at Barca, club legend Messi's future is less clear as he has yet to sign a new deal and is now a free agent.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is reportedly close to agreeing a long-term contract with the Spanish giants that will keep him tied down to the club until 2026.

Messi is currently on an extended break after inspiring Argentina to their first Copa America crown since 1993 earlier this month.

He scored four goals and provided five assists to win the Golden Boot and his maiden piece of silverware while representing his country at senior level.

Depay is hopeful Messi will soon put pen to paper so he can fulfil a dream of playing alongside the superstar forward.

"He is a legend and the best player in the world," Depay said at his unveiling. "Did you see what he did in the Copa America?

"I really want to play with Leo. His qualities with the ball are undeniable. As long as I make the runs, I know the ball will come. I am a great fan of his.

"Yesterday I had a tour of the museum and saw all of the Ballon d'Or awards he has won. He probably has another one coming, too. It's going to be a dream for me."

 

After a short break following the Netherlands' last-16 exit to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020 last month, Depay arrived in Catalonia on Monday to begin pre-season training.

The Dutchman got his career back on track at Lyon following a disappointing spell with Manchester United, scoring 76 goals in 178 appearances for the Ligue 1 side.

He enjoyed an impressive final season in the French top flight with 20 goals, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created, meanwhile, were more than any other player managed in Ligue 1 in 2020-21.

After months of drawn-out speculation, Depay is pleased to have finally completed a switch to Barcelona this month.

"It's an honour to be here, a dream come true," he said. "Since I was little I dreamed of it. The conversations have been long, but the will has always been there.

"At last I am here. Everyone who is present knows the importance of the club around the world, of how great it is and the impact it has.

"At 27 years of age achieving my dream is surprising and fantastic. I really want to start playing. 

"The team is ready for the new season, we are rested and the time has come to go back to work and pick up trophies."

Koeman previously managed Depay while in charge of the Netherlands, but the former Man Utd attacker insists his compatriot was not a deciding factor in leaving Lyon for Barca.

"I would have come even if he was not here because you don't say no to Barca," he said. "I would have come anyway, but it is also true that the coach has had a great impact. 

"I know him well. He played me as a forward with the national team. He has made me feel comfortable because I started playing better."

Depay is one of three free agents to have joined the cash-strapped Catalans this window, along with former Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Asked if he is concerned by Barca's financial problems, which have not been helped by the coronavirus pandemic, Depay said: "No. I am focused only on the game. 

"I cannot focus on that. The business part is something the president [Joan Laporta] and the board will take care of. When fans are back in the stadium the situation will improve."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club are "making progress" in all aspects of the contract negotiations with Lionel Messi after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's previous deal expired.

Despite Messi technically no longer belonging to Barca, those associated with the club have portrayed a serene demeanour regarding a potential future agreement.

Even with his contract winding down, Barca officials have routinely affirmed that Messi's desire is to remain at Camp Nou, though LaLiga's salary cap rules mean he is reportedly set to be on half his previous wage should he ultimately accept a new deal.

However, the caveat that is thought to favour Barca in discussions is they are said to be offering Messi a five-year contract that would keep him at the club until he is at least 39.

While that may surprise some, Messi's form in 2020-21 showed he is far from being finished, as he ended the campaign as LaLiga's top scorer and managed 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions, which translated to a goal every 110.3 minutes.

Similarly, he laid on 117 chances for others across all competitions. The fact Jordi Alba was the second most creative player in the Barca squad with 85 key passes only further underlined Messi's remarkable influence, but Laporta is adamant talks are proceeding as planned.

"The player has always said that he wants to continue [at Barca], there is no doubt about that," Laporta said at the presentation of Memphis Depay on Thursday.

"We are making progress in all the negotiations involving a contract of this type. They are going very well and it is a wish that we all have [for Messi to sign].

 

"We do not hide the will that we want him to continue and to be here for many years."

One player who is still signed to Barca but arguably has a more uncertain future than Messi is Antoine Griezmann, who could reportedly be involved in a swap deal that sees Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez arrive in Catalonia.

Laporta initially stressed Griezmann has a future at Barca, though he soon acknowledged he is not untransferable.

"He is a player in the Barca first team, he has a valid contract and we are counting on him," Laporta said.

"The transfer market has started and practically nothing has happened. All the clubs are in certain difficulties.

"Players like Griezmann have a market, there are interested clubs and we are building our squad looking for financial balance. We are delighted with him and we are all professionals.

"Yes, the market is moving. We are open to all proposals because we are in a delicate moment and we are talking with all the players of the first team to see how they feel so that balancing acts hurt as little as possible."

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