Vinicius Junior says he faces "a long road" to compete for the Ballon d'Or, as he tipped team-mate Karim Benzema to be named the world's best player this year.

Vinicius scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid beat Liverpool to win their 14th Champions League title in May, having also played a key role in Los Blancos' dominant La Liga triumph.

The Brazilian scored 22 goals and recorded 16 assists in all competitions during the 2021-22 season, the latter figure representing a team-high total and one bettered only by Thomas Muller (22), Kylian Mbappe (21) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (18) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner Rivaldo recently tipped Vinicius to challenge for the title of the world's best as early as next year, but the winger believes the examples set by fellow Madrid stars Benzema and Luka Modric show he has a long way to go.  

"It's [the Ballon d'Or] something that has to come naturally," Vinicius told YouTube channel Que Papinho. 

"Karim is 35 years old and now he will win it, Modric won it at 33 [in 2018].

"I have many years to evolve, a very long road for me if God wants me to win it one day."

Benzema's total of 59 goal contributions (44 goals, 15 assists) was only bettered by Mbappe (39 goals, 21 assists) in Europe's top five leagues last term, and Vinicius says his fellow Blancos attacker is the perfect role model. 

"I'm only 21 years old. I want to follow players like Karim, Modric, Marcelo, who won five Champions League titles," he added.

"I want to get as close to them as possible. That's when someone can call me that [a role model].

"Benzema repays the affection I have for him. He was a player I followed for a long time. I'm a big fan and being able to play with him today is incredible.

"He recently in an interview put me in his top five in the world, so I'm really happy."

"He wants to come."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

That agreement seemingly saw Chelsea pip London rivals Arsenal to the post after a high-profile pursuit.

Yet a deal that seemed set for a swift resolution has, as of yet, not been completed, and that is because, if Laporta is to be believed, the 25-year-old is prioritising a switch not to Stamford Bridge, but Camp Nou.

Barca have been consistently linked to Raphinha, who has established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League since his move to Leeds from Rennes in September 2020.

Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

"We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

"What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
 

Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

 

The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
 

Top-class creativity 

As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

 

Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
 

World Cup hopes

It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

Tottenham have completed the signing of Brazil international forward Richarlison from Everton.

The deal is rumoured to be worth an initial £50million, while add-ons could take the full figure to £60m.

Richarlison has signed a five-year contract at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and has become Spurs' fourth signing ahead of the new season after Fraser Forster, Ivan Perisic and Yves Bissouma.

If the deal does eventually reach the full £60m, it would make Richarlison the club's record signing.

The 25-year-old joined Everton from Watford in 2018 and had been a key figure at the club ever since that £50m move.

He played a vital role in helping Everton avoid relegation from the Premier League last season, scoring six of his 10 top-flight goals in the club's final nine games as Frank Lampard's side ended the campaign 16th.

Richarlison scored and assisted (five) more Premier League goals than any other Everton player in the 2021-22 season, and his 29 chances created was the fifth-highest in the squad.

Only four Everton players racked up more Premier League minutes than the former Fluminense attacker, and his 10 goals came from 10.1 expected goals (xG), suggesting he was reliable in front of goal in the context of the quality of chances provided by team-mates.

Chelsea had been mentioned as a potential destination for Richarlison, but Spurs have acted decisively in getting a deal over the line, with the Blues seemingly preoccupied with their pursuit of Leeds United's Raphinha.

Spurs are reported to also be targeting a move for Richarlison's now former Everton team-mate Anthony Gordon, while Barcelona centre-back Clement Lenglet is expected to be their next signing.

Fernandinho has penned a poetic farewell to Manchester City supporters on social media following his move to Athletico Paranaense.

Brazilian side Paranaense confirmed on Monday that an agreement is in place to re-sign Fernandinho, who previously spent three years with the club.

The 53-cap former Brazil international left Paranaense in 2005 to join Shakhtar Donetsk, before spending nine seasons with City, the last two of those as captain.

After making 383 appearances for City and winning 12 major honours, including five Premier League titles, Fernandinho bowed out at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

And on the day his contract at the Etihad Stadium officially expired, Fernandinho took to Twitter to pay an emotional tribute to everyone connected with City.

"I saw. I saw my family proud. I saw supporters that never forgot where they came from," he posted in an open letter. 

"I saw the beauty of being part of a winning team. I saw titles, superstars and geniuses. I saw an opportunity to fulfil my dream.

"And then I realised. I realised the importance of all reading this letter. I realised that I made the right choice, the best choice of my entire life.

"I hope one day when you remember me, you feel the same way that I'm feeling when I'm writing this."

He added: "Athletes, coaches/trainers, laundry staff, kit managers, cleaners, concierge, security team, door staff, advisors, executives, cooks, directors, doctors, masseuses, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, media team, analysts, youth teams, charity teams…

"Apologies if I missed anyone, but you know who you are. Today is the last day of my contract with Manchester City.

"I can only say that I gave my very best and I would do it all over again. The story continues and after playing for nine years, I will become an avid Cityzen supporter for many more titles and victories.

"I am certain that many more will come judging by the quality of all your daily work."

Fernandinho signed off the letter: "My memories will last forever. Many thanks, your eternal captain."

The 37-year-old previously revealed he turned down numerous offers to return to Paranaense, who are now managed by former Portugal and Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari.

June 30, 2002, Yokohama. Ronaldo pounces on Rivaldo's dummy to side-foot past Germany's Oliver Kahn, becoming just the ninth man to score twice in a World Cup final and making Brazil champions of the world.

That moment, the pinnacle of the legendary forward's career, remains unmatched to this day for the Selecao, with Brazil failing to add to their five World Cup crowns in the subsequent two decades.

Should Brazil fall short of glory in Qatar later this year, that drought will stretch to at least 24 years, matching their longest wait for World Cup glory since their maiden title in 1958 (also between 1970 and 1994).

For a country whose hopes have been entrusted to such footballing icons as Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar in subsequent years, such a drought seems inexplicable, with three quarter-final exits and one historic semi-final humiliation the sum of their efforts since 2002. 

Exactly 20 years on from Brazil's triumph in Japan and South Korea, Stats Perform looks back on that momentous success, questions why it is yet to be repeated, and asks whether Tite's class of 2022 are equipped to bring glory to one of the world's most football-mad nations.

2002: Irresistible Ronaldo fires Selecao to glory in Japan and South Korea

It is no exaggeration to say Brazil's last World Cup win was one of the most impressive triumphs in the competition's history.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's men went from strength to strength after requiring a late Rivaldo penalty to edge a tense opener against eventual third-placed finishers Turkey, winning all seven of their games by an aggregate score of 18-4.

The class of 2002 thus hold the record for the most games won by a nation at a single World Cup, with Ronaldo – coming off an injury-blighted four seasons at Inter in which he managed just 36 Serie A appearances – the star of the show.

Partnering Rivaldo and supplied by Paris Saint-Germain's breakout star Ronaldinho, O Fenomeno netted eight goals across the tournament, the joint-most of any Brazilian at a single World Cup and the highest tally of anyone since West Germany's Gerd Muller struck 10 times in 1970.

 

Ronaldo's 19 shots on target in the tournament has not been matched in any subsequent World Cup, while his total of 34 attempts was more than five different nations managed. 

Quarter-final opponents England, vanquished when Ronaldinho audaciously (perhaps fortuitously) lobbed David Seaman from long-range, were the only side to keep Ronaldo out as he took the competition by storm.

A 25-year-old Ronaldo's final double against Germany represented his 44th and 45th international goals in just his 64th Brazil appearance. He managed just 17 further strikes in the famous yellow shirt during his career.

There was nothing in the 2002 squad's make-up to suggest a long wait for further tournament success was imminent: The experienced Cafu (31 in 2002) and Roberto Carlos (29) were still around in 2006, while future Ballon d'Or winners Ronaldinho (22) and Kaka (20) had their whole careers ahead of them.

How, then, did one of the greatest sides in modern international history contrive to fall so far short in subsequent World Cups?

 

2006-2010: Zidane and Sneijder sparkle as drab Brazil fall short

Brazil looked set for another shot at glory in Germany in 2006. Ronaldinho was crowned the world's best player in 2005; Kaka was to follow in his footsteps in 2007; and Ronaldo had hit a century of goals in his first four seasons with Real Madrid.

Brazil conceded just once in group-stage clashes with Croatia, Australia and Japan before crushing Ghana 3-0 in the last 16, but with Carlos Alberto Parreira cramming his three attacking stars into a rigid 4-4-2 shape, it was France who more closely resembled the Brazil sides of old in the last eight. 

Zinedine Zidane's performance in Frankfurt stands as one of the finest in the competition's history, as he tormented the defending champions' flat midfield before assisting Thierry Henry's winner.

It was the first of two masterful midfield displays to end the World Cup hopes of drab Brazil teams, with Wesley Sneijder assuming Zidane's role as the Netherlands vanquished Dunga's men in South Africa in 2010.

Progressing from the group stages has not been an issue for Brazil. Astonishingly, they are unbeaten in their last 15 group games, last suffering a first-stage defeat against Norway in 1998.

A lack of tactical nous against the world's best, however, has been a legitimate charge, and an understandable one given the identities of some of their head coaches.

Parreira's one Brazilian top-flight title was won way back in 1984, while Dunga's only club-level experience remains, to this day, a dire 2013 campaign with Internacional.

In that context, the return of Scolari, the emergence of Neymar and a home World Cup lifted expectations to monumental levels by 2014, when Brazilian dreams were to be shattered in the most incredible manner imaginable.

2014-2018: Home humiliation and Neymar reliance see Brazilian woes continue

The 2014 World Cup was billed as a festival of football, lit up by jubilant Brazilian crowds and thrilling football – the 171 goals scored across the tournament are the joint-most on record, alongside 1998.

Sadly for Brazil, eventual winners Germany provided 18 of those, with seven coming in a scarcely believable semi-final rout at the Mineirao.

Having gone 5-0 down within 29 minutes in the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, Scolari's men collapsed to arguably the greatest humiliation in World Cup history and, as almost goes without saying, the heaviest semi-final defeat the tournament has ever seen.

Only when Yugoslavia faced Zaire in 1974 had a side previously been 5-0 up after 29 minutes at a World Cup, but for all the excitement building around the host nation, Brazil's class of 2014 always appeared flawed.

An over-reliance on Neymar – cruelly sidelined by a dreadful quarter-final challenge from Colombia's Juan Camilo Zuniga – was clear in both 2014 and 2018, when Brazil fell to a 2-1 defeat to a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium in Russia.

 

Across those two tournaments, Neymar's six goals and two assists saw him directly involved in 42 per cent of Brazil's goals.

Fluminense striker Fred, ridiculed by many for his performances in 2014, wasn't exactly up to the task of replacing his goal threat, while Gabriel Jesus failed to find the net despite starting every match under Tite in 2018.

Indeed, coming into the 2018 tournament, Neymar – with 55 goals in 85 caps, was the only player in the Brazil squad to have scored more than 12 international goals.

Having achieved the rare feat of holding onto his job after leading Brazil at a World Cup, Tite will hope the emergence of several other stars lessens the burden on his number 10 this time around.

The road to Qatar: Can the class of 2022 end World Cup drought? 

Assuming he remains in charge when they face Serbia on November 24, Tite will become the first coach to lead Brazil at back-to-back World Cups since Tele Santana in 1982 and 1986.

While neither of Santana's campaigns ended in glory, the current boss – a Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup winner – will hope his six years moulding the side will prove invaluable in Qatar.

Brazil have already ended one mini trophy drought under his watch, winning a first Copa America title in 12 years on home soil in 2019 before finishing as runners-up to Argentina two years later.

Most impressively, Brazil triumphed without the injured Neymar in 2019 as Everton Soares top-scored, and the form of a series of Selecao stars has given Tite enviable squad depth.

In Allison and Ederson, he can choose between arguably the top two goalkeepers in the Premier League, while Fabinho was crucial as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool fell narrowly short of a historic quadruple last term.

Casemiro, who won his fifth Champions League title with Madrid in May, could partner him in a fearsome midfield duo, but most of the excitement is centred on his club team-mate Vinicius Junior, whose 22 goals and 16 assists for Los Blancos last term suggest he can be the man to dovetail with Neymar.

 

After landing an appealing group-stage draw alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon, the excitement around Brazil is building once more.

With the Selecao topping the FIFA World Rankings, having fairly recent a Copa America win under their belts and possessing some of European football's most-effective players, 2022 seems as good a time as any for Brazil to end 20 years of disappointment and bring 'o Jogo Bonito' to the world once more.

Fernandinho has rejoined former club Athletico Paranaense after announcing his departure from Manchester City.

The 37-year-old stated his intention to return to Brazil in April before completing his ninth campaign at the Etihad Stadium, and leaves at the end of his contract having made a total of 383 appearances for City.

Fernandinho took over as City captain after David Silva's 2020 departure and featured in five Premier League title wins, the last four of them under Pep Guardiola's management.

But the holding midfielder, who has won 53 caps for Brazil, was reduced to a supporting role during the 2021-22 season, starting just 17 games in all competitions as Rodri enjoyed a terrific campaign at the base of Guardiola's midfield.

On Monday, Athletico Paranaense tweeted an image of Fernandinho with club president Mario Celso Petraglia, alongside the caption: "Welcome back, Fernandinho!"

Fernandinho spent three seasons with the Curitiba-based club before joining Shakhtar Donetsk in 2005, where he won six Ukrainian top-flight titles.

Athletico Paranaense are coached by former World Cup-winning Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari, who joined the side in May.

Vinicius Junior announced his desire to stay at Real Madrid, claiming they are the most "united" since he arrived in 2018.

The 21-year-old Brazilian enjoyed a breakthrough year this past season, providing 17 goals and 13 assists in Real Madrid's LaLiga title triumph, before scoring in the final to claim the club's 14th Champions League.

He has two years left on his contract but is expected to extend until 2026, turning down reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain.

In anticipation of a contract renewal, Vinicius cited the atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu as a critical factor in his growth.

"I will continue in the biggest team in the world," he told Sport TV. "It's the most united team since I arrived. The celebrations were different this year. We all felt something special. 

"Younger people arrived with Rodrygo, [Eder] Militao, [Eduardo] Camavinga and me. Everyone likes each other and that's important.

"It's the best atmosphere in the world. Everybody wants to be there. The most experienced give us peace of mind and freedom to do what they want."

In the meantime, Vinicius has become a more regular figure for the Brazil national team, playing in seven of the Selecao's final 11 World Cup qualifiers and starting in five of them.

Despite his own burgeoning status, the 21-year-old revealed he will still be looking to defer to the talismanic Neymar later in the year in Qatar, as Brazil seek a sixth World Cup title.

"He is our best player," Vinicius said. "The rivals always focus more on him and he asks us to run into space because he has great quality to find us. He does everything for me, he is a great friend.

"The pressure is greater for him being older. He calls it responsibility. He also takes it away from us, from those who are arriving. Playing for the national team is a lot of pressure, but we're getting used to it."

Vinicius Junior has confirmed his intentions to stay with Real Madrid, declaring: "I will continue with the biggest team in the world".

The winger initially struggled to make his mark after arriving from Flamengo in 2018 for a reported €46million fee.

However, Vinicius enjoyed a breakthrough season in the 2021-22 term, scoring 22 goals in 52 games in all competitions, seven more than in 118 games for Los Blancos in his previous three campaigns (15).

The Brazil international also recorded the most goal involvements by LaLiga players born in 2000 or after across all competitions (38 – 22 goals and 16 assists).

Vinicius scored the winning goal in the Champions League final against Liverpool, but there were some suggestions he could be tempted by a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

He has quelled those Madrid fears by announcing his desire to stay in the Spanish capital, with the expectancy he will sign a new contract until June 2027.

"I will continue in the biggest team in the world," the Madrid star said on 'Bem, Amigos!' of SporTV.

"It's the most united team since I arrived. The celebrations were different this year. We all felt something special. 

"Younger people arrived with Rodrygo, [Eder] Militao, [Eduardo] Camavinga and me. Everyone likes each other and that's important.

"It's the best atmosphere in the world. Everybody wants to be there. The most experienced give us peace of mind and freedom to do what they want."

Vinicius will look to partner with Neymar for Brazil to deliver World Cup glory later this year.

The 21-year-old appears to play in a similar fashion to the PSG star, with Vinicius attempting 234 dribbles in the 2021-22 LaLiga – the most by a Madrid player in a single season since 2005-06.

Nevertheless, Vinicius still sees Neymar as the best player for Brazil as he learns to cope with the pressure of playing for the Selecao.

"He is our best player. The rivals always focus more on him and he asks us to run into space because he has a great quality to find us," he added. 

"He does everything for me, he is a great friend. The pressure is greater for him being older. He calls it responsibility. He also takes it away from us, from those who are arriving. 

"Playing for the national team is a lot of pressure, but we're getting used to it."

Benfica have announced the signing of Brazil winger David Neres from Shakhtar Donetsk, as the Lisbon giants move to strengthen their squad following the sale of Darwin Nunez to Liverpool. 

Neres has signed a five-year contract with Benfica, who have agreed to pay a reported €15.3million for the tricky 25-year-old. 

Neres rose to prominence during a five-year spell at Eredivisie giants Ajax, scoring 47 goals and supplying 34 assists in 180 appearances in all competitions. He impressed during their run to the Champions League semi-finals under Erik ten Hag in 2018-19. 

The winger left Ajax for Shakhtar last January but never played an official game for the club after the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to the suspension of the country's top flight. 

Neres told Benfica's website he was thrilled to have the opportunity to play regularly again in a comfortable setting. 

"It is good to arrive in a country where everyone speaks Portuguese, and I am very happy to sign for the club. Benfica is a big club in Europe and in the world," he said. 

"Everyone knows how strong Benfica is and how great the club is. I am happy to have the opportunity to play football again, something I love. 

"I hope the adaptation will be easy. I lived five years in the Netherlands, where the language and climate are totally different. Here in Portugal, I have everything going for me and I hope it will be easier." 

Neres won all seven of his international caps during 2019, starting two games as Brazil won the Copa America, and will hope his move to the 37-time Portuguese champions can aid his chances of breaking back into Tite's squad for the World Cup in Qatar this year. 

Benfica have allowed another Brazilian winger to leave the club to facilitate the deal, with Everton – who has 25 caps for the Selecao – being sold to Flamengo. 

Brazil coach Tite declared "it's time to be champions" as the Selecao eye World Cup success in Qatar.

Tite's side coasted through South American World Cup qualifying, going unbeaten as they booked a place at this year's showpiece tournament.

Brazil have not won the World Cup since 2002, their fifth triumph overall, and will first have to contend with Serbia on November 24 before clashes against Switzerland and Cameroon follow in Group G.

Argentina are another force in the battle for the trophy, with the Copa America champions undefeated in 33 games – the longest intact unbeaten run in international football.

Holders France will also prove stern competition, while England, Belgium, Spain and Germany are among the favourites for success.

But Tite insists it is time for Brazil, who have overtaken Belgium at the top of the world rankings, to deliver.

"I'm expectant but focused. We reached the World Cup; now it's time to reach the final and be champions. This is the truth," he told The Guardian. 

"At the last World Cup I was the manager because of other circumstances [Dunga was fired in 2016 and Tite took over].

"Now I have had the opportunity to do the full four-year cycle. Expectations are high but the focus is on work. The pressure we face is a problem: the responsibility, the pressure of the position, the demands.

"When I was a supporter, I wanted the team to be the best. It's what moves us. But mental health is important. I think about what [Nelson] Mandela said: 'Courage is the ability to face fear'. 

"In every decision he made, fear was present. When I read that, I saw that I am a normal citizen. I have my fears, my nightmares, my little goosebumps. Fear but not dread; fear and dread are different."

Vinicius Junior has come to the forefront for Real Madrid in the 2021-22 campaign, but Tite believes Neymar remains the main star for Brazil.

"Neymar is Neymar. He remains our biggest star. The difference now is that the glow is diluted by nearby stars that can also shine," he added.

"Neymar's greatness is that he understands this – about the growth of these kids. He encourages the boys to go up a level. Time and experience provide this maturity.

"Because of Neymar's greatness, there will always be great expectations. But now it's diluted. It's Neymar, but also Vinícius, Raphinha; Thiago [Silva] is at a high level again, Paqueta, Casemiro, Fabinho too."

Tite has come into criticism during his spell as Brazil boss, particularly after a quarter-final exit at the 2018 World Cup, but he believes the questioning of his methods is unfair.

"We need time to understand. Works are best seen when they are at a distance, finished. We have results," Tite said.

"What people are expecting? We beat the record [for the most points] in the qualifiers. We have the longest unbeaten streak, 12 games [under Tite in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup] and now 17 games without a loss [in the 2022 qualifiers]. That is 29 games."

Real Madrid's Rodrygo Goes claims he rejected the opportunity to join Los Blancos' eternal rivals Barcelona when leaving Santos in 2019.

Rodryo played a crucial role as Madrid won their 14th European title this season, scoring a remarkable late double in a stunning 6-5 aggregate semi-final triumph over Manchester City before coming off the bench in the 1-0 final win over Liverpool.

The 21-year-old also registered eight goal involvements (four goals, four assists) as Madrid won LaLiga, with only Karim Benzema (27), Vinicius Junior (17) and Marco Asensio (10) outscoring him among his team-mates.

But things could have been very different for the attacker, who has told the podcast Podpah of how he chose the Santiago Bernabeu over Camp Nou when leaving his home country.

Recalling Barca's bid for him three years ago, Rodrygo said his father was incredulous when he stalled on the Blaugrana's offer, telling him: "What do you expect? You are going to play with [Lionel] Messi!"

But things ultimately worked out well for the attacker, who has also broken into the Brazil squad and looks well placed to feature for his nation at the Qatar World Cup later this year.

"A normal day, I came home after a game," he recalled. "I had a Real Madrid shirt in my house and my father came into my room wearing that shirt and another Barcelona shirt.

"He told me, 'now choose'... and I chose the one for Real Madrid."

Rodrygo has revealed that international team-mate Neymar wants him to inherit Brazil's famous number 10 shirt when the Paris Saint-Germain star retires from international football.

The Selecao are seeking to win a first World Cup title in 20 years in Qatar, where an impressive forward line is set to include Neymar, along with Real Madrid duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior.

Neymar had already hinted that the 2022 tournament could be his last and appears to have relayed that message to his compatriots, with Rodrygo apparently in line to inherit the iconic number 10 shirt.

"Neymar said to me 'I'm already leaving the national team and the 10 is yours'," he told Podpah.

"I didn't even know what to say to him. I was embarrassed, I giggled and didn't even know what to say properly.

"I told him that he must play some more, that I didn't want [him] to [do so] now. And then he laughed."

Neymar is the latest in a long line of greats to grace the famous shirt for Brazil, following the likes of Zico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Pele – while he sits just three goals shy of the latter's goalscoring record for his national team.

Expectations are high for Rodrygo, who has been capped five times, and the 21-year-old revealed that Zinedine Zidane has also touted him to become the best player in the world.

"Zidane said that one day I would be the best in the world," he added.

"Carlo Ancelotti also spoke about me. I try to train and evolve every day to get there. I was very happy. 

"I have this dream and I know that if I dedicate myself every day, I can get there."

Brazil open their World Cup campaign on November 24 against Serbia, with Switzerland and Cameroon also in Group G.

Brazil legend Roberto Carlos has hailed compatriot Marcelo as the "best left-back of all time".

Marcelo will leave Real Madrid at the end of this month, ending a 15-year stay in the Spanish capital which saw him become Los Blancos' most decorated player.

While playing a limited role in his final season under Carlo Ancelotti, Marcelo lifted the LaLiga title and won the Champions League, taking his trophy count to 25 with Madrid.

The 34-year-old was brought in to replace Roberto Carlos when he left Madrid in 2007, and the Brazil legend has lavished praise on his fellow countryman.

"Marcelo, in my opinion, has been the best left-back of all time. He knows, I have talked to him many times," the 49-year-old told reporters.

"It is a shame that he has left Madrid. He is not finishing his career. He continues his sequence in his career as a football player. He has four or five years more.

"We, from Madrid, are very grateful to him for the titles, 25 titles. He overcame me very easily. I saw him grow in Real Madrid, he arrived there when he was 17 years old.

"I didn't go to his [farewell] presentation because I knew I was going to cry. It was his farewell, I knew I was going to cry because I've seen him grow up and look what he's done.

"Nowadays there a lot of questions about who was better, Roberto Carlos or Marcelo, but there is no dispute between me and Marcelo, as he is like my son.

"I know that he has a great story with Real Madrid. For me, it is as if I was winning with him.

"I wish him the best of luck and thank you very much for everything and that he continues to be an idol, an example a phenomenon."

A "very optimistic" Roberto Carlos declared "it is time to win" as he backed Brazil to lift the World Cup in Qatar.

The Selecao breezed through South American World Cup qualifying, topping their group after going unbeaten before the rearranged clash with Argentina on September 22.

Argentina are another force to be reckoned in the battle for the famous Jules Rimet trophy, having gone undefeated in 33 games – the longest intact unbeaten run in international football.

Holders France are also among the contenders, while England, Spain and Germany will be expected to provide stern competition at world football's showpiece event.

Roberto Carlos was in the team that won Brazil's fifth and most recent World Cup in 2002, and he believes Tite's side will end a 20-year wait to be crowned champions in December.

 

"The most important thing is that Brazil have a great team," he told reporters. "It's time to win, because the last photo we have is ours [in 2002].

"I am very optimistic. It is not easy to win a World Cup. In recent times, the Brazilian team are as usual, since our time, they have played great games, but have never been so good.

"The Copa America is important but for the Brazilians, this World Cup is going to be very important and has a special flavour, the moment of the national team is very good.

"At least the European press put Brazil as one of the favourites. This is already an important factor.

"Luis Enrique commented on it the other day, if you ask any other national team coach, the Brazilian team is one of the four favourites for this World Cup. If they prepare well, Brazil will win again."

Brazil start their World Cup campaign against Serbia on November 24, with clashes against Switzerland and Cameroon to follow in Group G.

An emotional Marcelo declared Real Madrid have "a promising future" as the Los Blancos legend issued his farewell at the Santiago Bernabeu on Monday.

Marcelo has been with Los Blancos since 2007, making almost 550 appearances for the LaLiga giants, but confirmed he would depart after last month's Champions League final victory over Liverpool.

That was the fifth Champions League title added to the left-back's illustrious trophy haul, while he played a part as Madrid lifted their 35th LaLiga title with four games to spare.

The Spanish top-flight success made him Madrid's most decorated player in history after lifting 24 trophies with the club, before adding another European triumph to extend his record.

Marcelo only appeared 18 times in all competitions in the 2021-22 campaign, but the 34-year-old is delighted to leave behind a legacy at "the best club in the world".

"When I left Brazil I had in mind to play in Europe, to play in the Champions League and now when I leave Real Madrid, I leave as the player with the most titles in the history of the best club in the world and that is something historic," he said at his farewell news conference.

"There are no words to explain the gratitude, the work of all those who are behind it, all of them. I have tried for all these years, I have treated everyone equally.

"There will be no problem coming back. I don't feel like I am leaving, but there will be no problem.

"I have always lived for the moment. I have not thought beyond it. Here they gave me the opportunity to play it all and to win it all on the magical nights at the Bernabeu.

"I can only be grateful that I have lived all these years happily, with a smile on my face. I haven't had many injuries, I had good games, I scored goals.

"I don't think much about the future. It's hard to leave the club of your life after 15 years. There's a lot of joy, suffering, pain...

"I've given everything for the club. I would do the same thing again. Wearing this shirt is a very nice thing. The future doesn't scare me – it's what I had to do. History is already written. I'm very happy with myself."

As for his next move, Marcelo remains unbothered by going into coaching and was unable to provide an update on his playing future amid talk of a move to Turkey.

"When I have something, if I have something, I'll tell you," he added. "I don't have the capacity to coach – I have other facets that I think I'm better at.

"Tactics for me have always been strange. I've never understood systems. But I really enjoy playing. I don't think I'm a coach, I don't think I'll try."

Marcelo signed off by assuring Los Blancos supporters that the club was in safe hands, adding: "Real Madrid has a very promising future".

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