Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino offered a less assertive assessment of Kylian Mbappe's prospects of remaining with the Ligue 1 giants but said the "situation is open" amid interest from Real Madrid.

Mbappe, who is into the final year of his contract in Paris, has long been courted by Madrid and the French star revealed he wanted to leave PSG for the LaLiga powerhouse at the start of the season.

PSG sporting director Leonardo last week slammed Madrid for their "not respectful" conduct in pursuing Mbappe for the past two years.

Leonardo was confident about the Parisians' chances of extending the 22-year-old's current deal, but Pochettino was less bullish in his assessment of Mbappe's future in the French capital.

"Mbappe is fine, he's a calm boy with a lot of personality and a very sociable character, he is clear about things and loves football, he's very mature for 22-years-old," Pochettino said in an interview with COPE and Radio MARCA.

"Kylian will make the decision he has to make and the club will do everything possible to keep him, because we're taking about one of the best players in the world at 22.

"I'm left with the fact that the situation is open and in the future anything can happen, the position of a few months ago may change in the future, PSG as a club certainly have the ambition and ability to persuade him and offer him things so that he can stay and be happy, the possibilities that he could change his mind are there."

Pochettino also offered an update on former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who joined PSG on a free transfer in the off-season but is yet to debut due to injuries.

The 35-year-old is closing in on a return to fitness after a frustrating start to life in Paris.

Ligue 1 leaders PSG play Angers on Friday, before meeting RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, Ramos hasn't started training with the group yet, but he is close," Pochettino said.

"We're happy with his progression, he's a great champion and someone who isn't going to doubt his qualities and footballing talent, he's not having a good time right now but he is strong."

Jules Kounde is seemingly bound to eventually move to the Premier League.

But where will the French centre-back land?

Manchester United and Chelsea are both believed to be interested.

 

TOP STORY – ANOTHER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are in the race to sign star Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, according to Fichajes.

Kounde was tipped to join Champions League holders Chelsea but a transfer did not materialise before the end of the previous window, much to the frustration of the player.

Despite the arrival of Raphael Varane, United are reportedly set to make a move for the France international centre-back.

 

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- The front page of Wednesday's Diario AS claims Real Madrid have re-activated their interest in United star Paul Pogba, who will become a free agent at the end of the season. A deal for Pogba would reportedly provide further encouragement for Kylian Mbappe in their pursuit of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

- Corriere dello Sport claims PSG and Atletico Madrid want Nicolo Barella as his contract talks with Serie A champions Inter stall.

- The Express reports United are considering a move for Monaco and France sensation Aurelien Tchouameni, who is also attracting interest from Madrid, LiverpoolChelsea and Juventus.

Barcelona will sell Sergio Busquets in order to sign Milan's Franck Kessie, says El Nacional. Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and the star midfielder has been linked with United, PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal and Inter. The front page of Wednesday's Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, reports Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and Pogba are among several soon-to-be free agents being eyed by Barca.

- Le10 Sport claims PSG could join the race for Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, who is seen as a potential replacement for Madrid target Mbappe. Vlahovic has been linked with Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Juve, Inter, Arsenal and Liverpool. PSG are also believed to be interested in Borussia Dortmund's sought-after forward Erling Haaland.

Brazil captain Thiago Silva said he hopes Neymar does not lose his joy of football after the Selecao star revealed the 2022 World Cup may be his last.

Neymar has dominated headlines since hinting next year's Qatar showpiece could be his final hoorah with Brazil, having admitted he does not know if he has the "strength of mind to deal with football" much longer.

The 29-year-old has carried the weight of a nation amid criticism since bursting on the scene with Santos in 2009 before making his Brazil debut the following year.

Only Brazil great Pele (77) has scored more goals for the national team than Neymar (69), who has won the Confederations Cup (2013) with the South American powerhouse to go with an Olympic Games gold medal in 2016.

Silva leapt to the defence of Brazil team-mate Neymar in an emotional message of support.

Neymar misplaced 15 passes in Sunday's 0-0 draw at Colombia – his highest tally in a game this qualifying campaign.

"Here at the national team, I have gone through some moments that are very similar [with what Neymar is going through], especially after 2014 World Cup [7-1 semi-final loss to Germany following Neymar's tournament-ending injury]," Silva told reporters, having also played alongside Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain.

"I was called a crybaby, weak, very weak, mentally. These are things that hurt you and you know that you are not what you have been called.

"I hope he doesn't lose his joy, continue to be happy the way he always is. He is a very special kid and, when he's happy, doing what he loves, he delivers."

"If you need someone strong to be by your side, know that I will always be there. The Silva family love you," Silva added in an Instagram story.

Silva was speaking as Brazil prepare for Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Uruguay.

Brazil's run of nine straight victories in their qualifying campaign was ended in Colombia.

Tite's Brazil remain top of the CONMEBOL standings, six points clear of rivals Argentina through 10 games.

"I think we are on the right path," Silva said. "I have been with the Brazilian team for a long time, I have gone through all the stages and four cycles of the World Cup. I know how difficult it is to build a team and a group that will compete in the World Cup, and certainly Tite has a very big task to choose the 23 players. So much so that he has called a few new players up and handed them their debuts.

"He shows the experience he has, but at the same time, he has to make his 23 World Cup decisions. We have not played very well, but we are on the way to a good winning path. In a way, this form is also strengthening us. In the case of Argentina in the final of the Copa America, this gives us strength, in some way it creates a stronger shell, you know.

"We are going through all these stages, and I am sure that we will be firm and strong in Qatar. Although we have not yet achieved our main goal mathematically [for qualification], we are very close to that."

Arrigo Sacchi is not surprised Gianluigi Donnarumma was jeered on his return to San Siro after suggesting the Italy goalkeeper "betrayed" Milan by joining Paris Saint-Germain.

Donnarumma arrived at the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in July after reaching the end of his Milan contract and failing to agree fresh terms with his boyhood club.

The 22-year-old made 251 appearances for Milan between emerging through their youth ranks in 2015 at the age of 16 and departing for PSG three months ago.

Donnarumma's reluctance to sign a new deal at San Siro, thus meaning Milan received no transfer fee, angered some supporters of his former club.

A section of Milan fans inside San Siro made that frustration known when whistling the young keeper every time he touched the ball for Italy in last week's Nations League semi-final loss to Spain.

Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini criticised the supporters who booed their former hero, but Milan great Sacchi can understand the reaction.

"I have never jeered anyone in my life, but at times people do go looking for these insults," he said at the Festival dello Sport event in Trento.

"Evidently, there was a betrayal. In football and in everyday life, betrayal has to be repaid in kind. So let's not be shocked by a few jeers."

 

Despite his young age, Donnarumma has already appeared 218 times in Serie A and Ligue 1 combined since making his Milan debut in October 2015.

Only Samir Handanovic (219) and Inaki Williams (220) have featured more regularly in Europe's top five leagues across that period.

Donnarumma has kept 72 clean sheets in those 218 league games and has a save percentage of 72.72.

Eleven others to have played at least 100 times in that timeframe rank higher in that metric than Donnarumma, with Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (78.87) leading the way.

He earned his 38th cap for Italy in Sunday's 2-1 win over Belgium as the Azzurri finished third in the Nations League.

Georginio Wijnaldum admitted he is "not completely happy" with a lack of playing time at Paris Saint-Germain but has vowed to fight for his place in the side.

The 30-year-old joined the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in June after failing to agree a new deal with Liverpool, where he had been a regular for the past five seasons.

Having started five of PSG's first seven games this term, Wijnaldum was named in the starting line-up just once in their five matches prior to the international break.

He has played a part in all but one of the French side's 12 fixtures in all competitions, but the midfielder is not pleased to be playing back-up to Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera.

"I can't say I'm completely happy," he said at a pre-match news conference ahead of the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar.

"The situation is not what I wanted. I have played a lot in recent years, was always fit and also did very well. 

"This is something different and that takes getting used to. I was really looking forward to the new step and then this happens. It is very difficult.

"That's football and I'll have to learn to deal with that. I'm a fighter. I have to stay positive and work hard to turn it around."

 

Wijnaldum made 51 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions last season – his most in a single campaign since making his senior debut for Feyenoord in 2006-07.

The 502 minutes Wijnaldum has played this season is the 12th most among PSG players, behind the likes of Gueye (588) and Herrera (868).

Speaking last week, Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal said he was "worried" by Wijnaldum's situation at the Parc des Princes.

"I already talked to him about that when he arrived here. But the alarm bells are not sounding just yet. I have lots of trust in certain players," Van Gaal added.

"You will remember I took him to the World Cup in 2014 when he was carrying an injury. I started with [Jonathan] De Guzman but Wijnaldum soon took over and did well."

Wijnaldum is in contention to start the Netherlands' home match with Gibraltar on Monday, with victory enough to guarantee a top-two finish in Group G should other results go their way.

Brazil head coach Tite insists too much is expected of Neymar after the superstar forward came in for more criticism following his below-par display against Colombia.

The Selecao's run of nine straight victories in their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign was ended in a stalemate at Estadio Metropolitano on Sunday.

Neymar played the full 90 minutes in Barranquilla but struggled to make an impact in a game of few clear-cut opportunities.

He misplaced 15 passes against Colombia – his highest tally in a game this qualifying campaign – but Tite defended the 29-year-old after the match.

"Neymar was good and so were the whole team," Tite said at his post-match news conference. 

"Maybe he's expected to do exceptional things all the time and make a difference all the time. 

"He's an exceptional player because he produces exceptional moments, but not all the time. He's a different player, we know that.

"But today he was very well-marked, sometimes with two players on him."

 

Neymar's underwhelming performance came on the day in which he revealed the next World Cup could be his third and final one for Brazil.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 69 goals in 114 caps for Brazil since making his senior debut against the United States in August 2010.

Only Pele (77) has found the net on more occasions for the Selecao, while his cap tally is only bettered by Cafu (142), Roberto Carlos (125) and Dani Alves (119).

Neymar has also endured a largely disappointing campaign at club level, having registered just one goal and two assists in seven games for PSG in all competitions.

Bayern Munich could be set for a busy transfer window.

With Barcelona struggling financially, clubs are eyeing some of their talent.

Bayern are reportedly interested in a number of players at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – DE JONG, TER STEGEN WANTED IN MUNICH

Bayern Munich are eyeing Barcelona quartet Frenkie de Jong, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Pedri and Sergino Dest, according to Sport.

Barca are a club in crisis amid their financial woes, which led to the departure of superstar captain Lionel Messi on a free transfer at the start of the season.

Now, Bundesliga champions Bayern are looking to capitalise, having previously been linked with midfielders De Jong and Pedri, goalkeeper Ter Stegen and right-back Dest.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca's move for Manchester City star Raheem Sterling is dependent on the future of Ousmane Dembele, says Sport. Dembele has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester United previously.

- Calciomercato claims Milan will wait to sign wantaway Torino star Andrea Belotti on a free transfer at the end of the season. Monday's Tuttosport reports Serie A champions and city rivals Inter are also interested in the Italy international.

Bruno Fernandes' contract extension is a priority for United, according to Fabrizio Romano. United are also looking to re-sign Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba, who has been linked with Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

- The Daily Telegraph reports Newcastle United are eyeing a move for Ralf Rangnick as their sporting director following the club's huge takeover. Rangnick currently works for Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow.

Neymar expects next year's World Cup to be his last with Brazil as he believes he is lacking the mental fortitude to deal with football after that.

The Selecao are well on course to book their place in Qatar, topping their World Cup qualifying group with a perfect record of nine wins from nine.

Tite's side are also 13 points clear of fifth-placed Colombia at the halfway mark, with only the top four in the CONMEBOL section guaranteed qualification for the finals.

For Neymar, Qatar would be his third World Cup, having also represented his nation in 2014 and 2018.

Although, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has won the Confederations Cup (2013) and an Olympic gold medal (2016) with the Selecao, he has endured mixed fortunes at the finals.

 

Then of Barcelona, he scored four times when Brazil hosted the event in 2014 but suffered a tournament-ending back injury in the quarter-final victory over Colombia before Luiz Felipe Scolari's side crashed out 7-1 against Germany in the semis.

Neymar then netted twice in Russia four years later but was helpless as his nation were eliminated by Belgium in the last eight.

He will be 34 by the time Canada, Mexico and the United States host the 2026 finals.

And hinting that next year will be his final shot at World Cup glory, the 29-year-old hopes to make it count.

During the making of an exclusive new documentary entitled 'Neymar and The Line of Kings', he told DAZN: "I think it's my last World Cup.

 

"I see it as my last because I don't know if I have the strength of mind to deal with football anymore.

"So, I'll do everything to turn up well; do everything to win with my country, to realise my greatest dream since I was little.

"And I hope I can do it."

Neymar has scored 69 goals in 113 caps for Brazil since making his senior debut against the USA in August 2010.

Only Pele (77) has found the net on more occasions for the Selecao, while his cap tally is only bettered by Cafu (142), Roberto Carlos (125) and Dani Alves (119).

Erling Haaland has his pick of Europe's elite.

The Borussia Dortmund and Norway star is wanted by the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid.

But Premier League champions City are one particular club looking to prise Haaland from Germany if the rumours are to be believed.

 

TOP STORY – CITY HOPING TO CAPITALISE ON PUMA PARTNERSHIP

Manchester City are hoping their Puma sponsorship and a looming boot deal can help land Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to the Daily Star.

City's kits are manufactured by Puma, while Haaland is reportedly poised to sign a boot deal with the German giants.

Haaland has been linked with City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus.

 

ROUND-UP

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Juve are planning an approach to bring United midfielder Paul Pogba back to Turin. Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and while United are keen for a renewal, the Frenchman has been linked with Madrid and PSG also.

- United captain and England defender Harry Maguire is poised for a new bumper contract at Old Trafford, reports the Mirror.

Liverpool are considering a move for Barca's Ousmane Dembele with Juve unwilling to part with Federico Chiesa, says Team Talk.

- According to Football Insider, Newcastle United have made star Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly a priority signing in January. It comes after Newcastle's blockbuster takeover.

PSG are targeting Napoli's soon-to-be free agent Lorenzo Insigne, per Le10 Sport. Insigne has also been linked with Inter and Milan.

- Manchester United outcast Donny van de Beek is wanted by Serie A powerhouse Juve, claims Corriere dello Sport. Van de Beek was in talks over an Everton switch during the previous window.

- Milan star Franck Kessie is among Barca's midfielder targets for the January window, says Diario Sport. Van de Beek, Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele and Marcelo Brozovic of Inter are also options.

Lionel Messi did not want to leave Barcelona and his eventual signing for Paris Saint-Germain even caught them by surprise, according to the Parisians' sporting director Leonardo.

Messi ended a 21-year association with Barca back in August when it was announced he would not be re-signing for the club.

His contract had officially expired at the end of June but Barca and Messi were expecting to be able to announce a new deal on a reduced salary.

But even with the reduced terms, Barca were still unable to get their wage expenditure under their LaLiga-imposed salary cap, which prevented them registering new signings.

As such, Messi was officially a free agent and PSG quickly swooped to bring him in, with the Ligue 1 champions and Manchester City both being linked with him extensively in the past.

The situation surrounding Messi's inability to re-sign for Barca and his move to PSG shocked the world of football, and that included those at PSG.

"Messi was convinced to stay at Barcelona," Leonardo told reporters at the Festival dello Sport on Saturday.

"We had some contacts. Some rumours were saying he may not stay at Barcelona because his contract was expiring.

"We checked the situation, we talked but we did not have the feeling he wanted to leave Barcelona. However we started networking. This helped us to be in a good position.

"Then Barcelona announced the end of their relationship, so that's the moment we started and it's been great. It's been a surprise for everybody.

"Then he arrived. The way he arrived… he was at Barcelona for 21 years. It was the first transfer he'd done.

"It was a new thing for him to be in a new dressing room. He's got an impacting silence, he doesn't talk much but he is someone to admire."

Another high-profile player signed by PSG on a free transfer in pre-season was Gianluigi Donnarumma, who departed Milan after running his contract down.

Many in Italy have been intensely critical of Donnarumma for opting to leave for the greater riches on offer in Paris, but Leonardo insisted PSG did not get in touch with him until June, two months after his exit was confirmed.

"I know it's a difficult situation," Leonardo said. "We never contacted Donnarumma before June. I don't want to be wrong, I think Milan announced in April that they were not extending the contract [of Donnarumma].

"They signed a new goalkeeper in Mike Maignan, so Donnarumma was free for the market. We had never contacted Donnarumma before, then some things happened.

"I had been in Milan but his future was not decided yet. He was free in June. We talked and we took this decision.

"We had never done previous work to have him for free. He was going to another team if it wasn't PSG. He wouldn't have stayed at Milan."

Real Madrid should be punished for their pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, according to Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo.

Mbappe's contract at PSG is due to expire next year and Madrid have been open in their admiration for the France international.

Madrid president Florentino Perez suggested earlier this week that Los Blancos were optimistic about getting positive news on Mbappe in January – though he quickly followed that up by saying his comments were misinterpreted.

Karim Benzema then said Mbappe moving to the Santiago Bernabeu was only "a question of time".

PSG were reported to have rejected multiple bids for Mbappe from Madrid during the most recent transfer window, though Leonardo still feels the Spanish giants have been posturing for the best part of two years in the hope of getting the striker on a free transfer, and he says their conduct should be punished.

"From Madrid they deny, but I think Real Madrid have been doing a job to buy Mbappe [on a free transfer] for a long time," Leonardo said at the Festival dello Sport.

 

"For two years they have been speaking publicly about Mbappe. This must be punished.

"From Real Madrid I see a lack of respect for Mbappe. He is not a normal player, he is one of the best in the world.

"The manager, the board, Madrid players spoke about Kylian... I think it's part of their plan. Not respectful."

Mbappe confirmed earlier this month that he wanted to leave PSG in pre-season and Madrid was the only club he wanted to join.

Nevertheless, he did not rule out signing a new deal with PSG, and his mother even claimed this week that Mbappe is still in talks over a contract extension.

"Our idea is to extend Kylian Mbappe's contract," Leonardo added. "Nothing has changed in our plans.

"Kylian is a jewel, he is incredibly perfect for PSG. Then we have Kylian, Leo [Messi], Neymar. We've never planned PSG's future without Mbappe."

 

LaLiga president Javier Tebas pleaded for a more sustainable level of spending across football as he refused to take the blame for Lionel Messi's departure from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi left his only senior side Barca to join PSG on a free transfer after the Catalan club were unable to offer him a contract due to LaLiga's spending restrictions.

Barca's salary cap was cut to €97million this season due to a combination of their lavish prior outlay and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Messi instead headed for big-spending PSG in France, but Tebas believes Ligue 1, along with Serie A, should follow LaLiga in keeping a closer eye on finances.

He suggested LaLiga needed its fellow 'top five' leagues to stay afloat in order to ensure the European Super League, proposed last season before a swift collapse, does not return.

Faced with financial difficulties, Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remained committed to the Super League project, even as their domestic rivals and the Premier League's 'big six' backtracked.

"Is the transfer of Messi to PSG my fault? Obviously not," Tebas said, speaking at the Festival dello Sport. "We need sustainability in football. It is a special sector, football is passion and belonging, but in recent years it has become a business.

"Serie A has been at a loss for 20 years, what matters is the total balance. This also happens in France, not in Germany and not from us.

"What did we have to do to be sustainable? The competition must be regulated by some rules; otherwise, teams like PSG will arrive and invest €400m in a single summer. They have very high salaries; this leads to inflation.

"It is not our fault that Messi has not renewed his contract; we have a salary cap in LaLiga, a rule approved by all the teams, and this is what makes LaLiga sustainable. If there were such controls also in Italy and France, there would be no more losses.

"The economic solidity of the other leagues is also fundamental for Spain: if there are no strong leagues, the risk of the Super League is always high.

"I have said it many times to [Juventus chief] Andrea Agnelli: 'Do you want to go to the Super League where Real Madrid and Barcelona will earn more and more than you?'"

As well as the Super League, Tebas is opposed to the idea of a biennial World Cup put forward by Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager and FIFA's chief of global football development.

The LaLiga boss was frustrated FIFA had not first involved the leagues.

"Football has a problem with governance," he said. "FIFA wants to change the international calendar with a unilateral decision. This has an impact on the leagues.

"If you want to take a decision with an impact on domestic leagues, the FIFA Council cannot just take the decision with the Solomon Islands voting, too. With UEFA, we have reached an agreement with the leagues.

"The biennial World Cup will have an impact on the revenues of clubs like Torino and other Italian clubs, no doubt about that.

"Leagues cannot just be consulted in the decision-making, they need to be part of the decision."

Lionel Messi has revealed that Real Madrid target Kylian Mbappe speaks "perfect Spanish" as he explains how his Spanish-speaking Paris Saint-Germain team-mates have aided his transition to France.

Barcelona's financial situation forced Messi to move away from Catalonia and the 34-year-old is still adjusting to life away from Camp Nou, scoring just once in his five appearances for PSG across all competitions so far.

However, despite admitting that he found leaving the club he spent 21 years at difficult, while also acknowledging he feels "a little bit lost" in Paris, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner says that having players who speak the same language as him in the dressing room has helped.

"I knew I was coming to a new country and had to start from scratch," Messi said in an interview with France Football. "Knowing that I had friends in the dressing room made me think that things would be easier to adapt to.

"And I was not wrong, because it was very easy to settle, especially because there are many players who speak Spanish, like me, and some friends like 'Ney' [Neymar], 'Lea' [Leandro Paredes], 'Fideo' [Angel Di Maria], who helped me when I arrived."

 

France star Mbappe – who has revealed he instructed PSG in July that he would not sign a new deal – was also mentioned, with Messi praising his command of the Spanish language.

"With a player like [Mbappe], it's easy to get along. Also, Kylian speaks perfect Spanish, so we have good exchanges off the pitch as well," continued Messi.

"It makes things easier. Now, I've only been here a short time, so it's still a bit early to draw conclusions. But I'm sure it will work out well."

PSG ultimately turned down three bids for Mbappe, with the last offer said to be worth up to €200million for a player whose deal runs out at the end of the season.

Expectations are high for the attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, with Messi and Neymar previously forming two-thirds of the fearsome 'MSN' trident at Barcelona alongside Luis Suarez that scored a staggering 364 goals in 450 combined appearances.

So far, however, Messi and Neymar have contributed just one goal apiece, with Mbappe netting four and assisting a further five across all competitions.

Newcastle United look set to enter the transfer market in January following their change of ownership.

The Magpies are 19th in the Premier League, with no wins and three draws from seven games this term.

The Saudi-led ownership takeover at St James' Park was officially completed on Thursday.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE ENTER CHASE FOR ICARDI

Following their big-money buyout, Newcastle have entered the race to sign Argentine forward Mauro Icardi from Paris Saint-Germain, reports Calciomercato.

Tottenham and Juventus are reportedly already interested in the 28-year-old former Inter player, who joined PSG permanently in 2020 on a four-year deal after a loan spell.

The Telegraph claims Newcastle could spend up to £190m in January without breaking Financial Fair Play rules.

ROUND-UP

- Spanish newspaper Sport claims former Liverpool winger Philippe Coutinho could join Newcastle as Barcelona seek to offload the Brazilian in January.

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is Real Madrid's number one transfer target next year, claims Spanish newspaper ABC. Rudiger's contract is due to expire at the end of this season.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are open to a swap deal with Everton which would see Aaron Ramsey and Brazilian midfielder Allan exchange places.

Liverpool are ahead of Arsenal and Everton in the race to sign Olympiacos' Senegalese centre-back Pape Abou Cisse according to the Daily Mail.

Arsenal are considering a move for Zenit's Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun as they seek a replacement for Alexandre Lacazette, according to Onze Mondial.

- Cristiano Ronaldo wants former Juventus team-mate Federico Chiesa to join him at Manchester United, claims Calciomercato.

- The Sun reports that ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte would decline the chance to replace Steve Bruce as Newcastle boss.

After not being awarded in 2020, the Ballon d'Or – football's most prestigious individual award – is back up for grabs this year.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers to win a record-extending seventh trophy.

Messi was, of course, among a shortlist of 30 players nominated on Friday, with that number to be whittled down to just three players next month.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five candidates for the prize… starting with the obvious.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona may be in turmoil, but Lionel Messi was still at his extraordinary best before departing for Paris Saint-Germain amid financial strife for the LaLiga heavyweights – albeit on the trophy front he won only the Copa del Rey last term. In 2021, Messi has 29 goals, nine assists and 76 chances created domestically for Barca and PSG. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina at the Copa America that make him the favourite for a seventh Ballon d'Or, with the achievement finally marking his first title on the international stage. Messi had four goals and five assists as Lionel Scaloni's men celebrated success in Brazil.

Jorginho

It has been a year to remember for Jorginho, who has been one of the biggest beneficiaries following Thomas Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea boss in January. The deep-lying playmaker was influential as the Blues were crowned Champions League winners for the second time, securing the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Fast forward two months and Jorginho was celebrating Euro 2020 success with Italy, playing in every match for the Azzurri, who defeated England in the final via a penalty shoot-out at Wembley. His achievements have already been acknowledged after he was named UEFA's Men Player of the Year.

N'Golo Kante

Much like team-mate Jorginho, N'Golo Kante has been superb under the tutelage of Tuchel. Kante was a top performer as Chelsea defeated Real Madrid in the semi-finals and was named man of the match following an all-action display against City in the final. France's shock last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 is likely to count against Kante, but he remains one the finest midfielders in the game.

Robert Lewandowski

Really the only thing that denied Robert Lewandowski winning a Ballon d'Or in 2020 was France Football's decision not to present the award amid the coronavirus pandemic. While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of that disrupted 2019-20 campaign, Lewandowski has still been in astounding form for Bayern Munich and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign. So far in 2021 across Europe's top-five leagues, Lewandowski leads the way for goals scored (41) and big chances (as defined by Opta) scored (34).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Much like Messi, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo did not necessarily enjoy his finest year in terms of domestic trophies won. Juventus ended up in a disappointing fourth position in Serie A, while they were knocked out of the Champions League last 16 by Porto. But he did finish as top scorer in the league with 29 goals and helped the Bianconeri win the Coppa Italia before he left to re-join Manchester United in a late transfer window move. Internationally, Ronaldo – at the age of 36 – finished top scorer at Euro 2020, where Portugal's defence of the European Championship was ended at the last-16 stage. In September, he became the record goalscorer in men's international football, as a brace against the Republic of Ireland took him to 111.

 

Ballon d'Or 2021 shortlist in full:  Cesar Azpilicueta, Nicolo Barella, Karim Benzema, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bruno Fernandes, Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Jorginho, Harry Kane, N'Golo Kante, Simon Kjaer, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku, Riyad Mahrez, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Gerard Moreno, Mason Mount, Neymar, Pedri, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez.

The winner of the prestigious prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on November 29.

 

 

The contenders for the Kopa Trophy – awarded to the world's best male under-21 footballer – was also published by France Football on Friday.

Barcelona's teen sensation Pedri, Bayern Munich talent Jamal Musiala and England trio Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood have all been nominated.

Jeremy Doku, Ryan Gravenberch, Nuno Mendes, Gio Reyna and Florian Wirtz complete the 10-man shortlist.

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ederson, Edouard Mendy, Thibaut Courtois, Kasper Schmeichel, Manuel Neuer, Emiliano Martinez, Jan Oblak, Keylor Navas and Samir Handanovic are in the running for the Yachine Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalkeeper of the year. 

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