Didier Deschamps has said Aymeric Laporte was incorrect to say the France coach ignored a message from the defender prior to him switching his international allegiance to Spain.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte declared for La Roja last month after being granted Spanish citizenship, leading to him being included in their 24-man Euro 2020 squad.

Laporte represented France at youth level, including the Under-21s, but was never handed a senior cap despite being called up by Deschamps.

It has previously been suggested that Laporte reached out to Deschamps to ask why he was continually overlooked, but the France head coach has strongly refuted that claim.

"He has the freedom to do what he likes," Deschamps said in an interview distributed to regional media in France.

"Ten seconds with the senior side would have been enough. But I don't select a player with the purpose of blocking him from having another choice. I was not going to do that.

"He was always included on the shortlists, but there is competition as well. What annoys me is what has been said, which is a lie.

"The only message I have received from him was in October, and that was regarding a specific situation after sustaining an injury.

"We considered him in November and March, and this time around. Leaving him out is not a mistake, it is just my decision. I wish him the best and he's free to make that choice."

Laporte spent nearly a decade in the Basque region while with Athletic Bilbao, initially as part of the youth squad before then graduating into the first team.

The centre-back's most recent call-up to the France squad was in August 2019 during qualifying for Euro 2020, which was pushed back by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He scored City's winner in April's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collected a third Premier League title in four seasons, but 2020-21 was still a mixed campaign for Laporte.

John Stones and Ruben Dias were Pep Guardiola's preferred pairing at the back, though Laporte still made 27 appearances in all competitions during a gruelling campaign.

That total includes 16 outings in the Premier League, with the 27-year-old averaging 0.87 tackles per 90 minutes, as well as 0.47 blocks.

To put that into context, Raphael Varane – who looks certain to be a regular for France at Euro 2020 – averaged 0.73 tackles for Real Madrid in LaLiga this term, though did manage 0.6 blocks and won 2.42 aerial balls.

Presnel Kimpembe, meanwhile, impressed for Paris Saint-Germain with 1.09 tackles per 90 minutes, 0.43 blocks and 1.44 aerials won across his 28 Ligue 1 appearances.

Deschamps also has Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Digne, Lucas Hernandez, Clement Lenglet, Kurt Zouma and Leo Dubois to call upon in terms of defensive options.

France face Wales and Bulgaria in friendlies over the next week before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Germany in Munich on June 16.

Gareth Southgate joked he would select more right-backs in England's Euro 2020 squad if he could, after four players who fill the role were picked in his 26-man pool.

Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Reece James and – despite several media reports to the contrary – Trent Alexander-Arnold were selected in England's squad for the tournament, which starts on June 11.

Liverpool defender Alexander-Arnold missed out on the March internationals and reports suggested he would be the biggest name to be cut from England's provisional squad.

Asked to explain his decision, Southgate told a news conference: "We went through this last week, yes we have four players who play sometimes at right-back for their clubs, Kieran, Reece have been playing wing-back or right of a three, Trent plays at right-back, Kyle Walker has played in the right of a three for us.

"Basically they're in our best 26 footballers and if I could have picked a fifth or a sixth right-back, I probably would have done!"

Alexander-Arnold has won acclaim for his attacking qualities, and Southgate last week said he felt the 22-year-old, who has 12 caps, could be versatile enough to play in midfield.

Pressed on that suggestion in Tuesday's media conference, Southgate said: "We're here to play nine games and we already have some injury doubts, I'm sure we're going to face other difficulties in the next four or five weeks.

"We need adaptability, good professionals, tactically savvy players – we're fortunate we've got old and young players who fit all of those categories."

There can be little doubt over his proficiency going forward, though there has been debate over Alexander-Arnold's defensive abilities.

In the Premier League, he made three errors leading to shots and one that led to a goal in the season just ended, whereas James and Walker made no such mistakes.

Trippier, who helped Atletico Madrid win LaLiga, made just one error that led to a shot. Alexander-Arnold's tackle success rate (58.9 per cent) was below that of each of his rivals for the England role (Walker 65.5 per cent; Trippier 63.9; James 63.6), and he was part of a Liverpool team that conceded a goal on average once every 76 minutes when he featured.

Trippier, a key part of Atleti's tight-knit defence, could point to the new Spanish champions conceding only once per 191 minutes when he was on the pitch.

In Alexander-Arnold's defence, he played far more minutes in league games than each of his rivals (3,033 - next most is Trippier with 2,477), and Liverpool's backline frailties were to a large extent affected by the injuries that kept Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip out for much of the season.

Should Alexander-Arnold indeed be utilised as an alternative midfield option, it may go some way to support Southgate's reasoning for leaving out Jesse Lingard.

Out of favour at Manchester United, the midfielder enjoyed a brilliant loan spell at West Ham, scoring nine goals in 16 league appearances as David Moyes' team secured European football for next season.

"Jesse's done incredibly well to get back in the race. Back in January he was a million miles away from being selected for an England squad," Southgate said.

"He had a good spell with West Ham, he's been a player who's played so well for us with England, we've got total trust in the way he plays, he's reliable, a great member of the group.

"He will play tomorrow [in the friendly against Austria] because we've got [Jadon] Sancho ill and we've got a lot of players not available and for the balance of the team he'll start, so he deserves that opportunity to go and show me that I'm wrong, straight away!"

Carlo Ancelotti is back in charge of Real Madrid and has plenty on his plate after succeeding Zinedine Zidane.

The Italian called time on an 18-month stay at Everton in order to return to the club where he won the Champions League, Copa del Rey and Club World Cup in a spell between 2013 and 2015.

However, Ancelotti inherits a Real squad with plenty of question marks over it.

The Spanish giants have just endured their first trophyless season since 2009-10 and so there is plenty for the 61-year-old to consider as he starts his second stint.

Sergio Ramos' future

Ancelotti joins a Madrid side who are on the cusp of losing captain Sergio Ramos for nothing. The Spaniard has long been in talks over a new deal but, with his current contract days from expiry, no breakthrough seems imminent.

Although his last season was hampered by injury that has cost him a place at Euro 2020 with Spain, Ramos still proved his worth time and time again.

Looking at his performances in LaLiga, the 35-year-old posted better statistics in tackle success rate (80 per cent) and tackles won per 90 minutes (0.85) than any of his fellow Real centre-halves.

He was also dribbled past fewer times per 90 minutes (0.28) than Raphael Varane (0.3), Eder Militao (0.48) and Nacho (1.03).

These statistics could well be enough to convince Ancelotti to keep him around.

Does Hazard have a role?

With 21 appearances, four goals, and further injury issues all Eden Hazard has to show for last season, it has been suggested a departure could be the best outcome for all parties.

But Ancelotti will no doubt be tempted to try and get the best out of the Belgian as he looks to fix an attack that needs to offer a wider threat.

Karim Benzema remains from the Italian's first stint, but no other Madrid player got close to the French striker's 23 goals in LaLiga last term, with Casemiro (6), Marco Asensio and Luka Modric (both 5) next best.

Hazard could be key to bridging that gap if he can stay fit for long enough periods.

What next for returning loanees?

One man who could help on the goal front is Gareth Bale, who scored 11 times in 20 Premier League appearances for Tottenham during a season-long loan stay in 2020-21.

The Welshman first joined Real under Ancelotti in the summer of 2013 and could be more open to staying put with a manager who has faith in him after becoming frustrated under Zidane.

It remains to be seen what happens with Martin Odegaard, who will return from a loan spell at Arsenal where he impressed but perhaps not to the degree necessary to earn a starting place in Madrid.

The futures of Luka Jovic and Brahim Diaz are also uncertain as they return from Eintracht Frankfurt and Milan respectively.

One big sale?

With Real feeling the pinch of a season without supporters, it is likely that the new manager will have to generate his own funds in the transfer market.

And, with moving on fringe players likely to be tricky, the possibility of selling a more in-demand asset increases.

Raphael Varane is one possible contender as he heads into the final year of his contract amid reported interest from the likes of Manchester United.

The Frenchman established himself as a regular starter in Ancelotti's second season and has missed just 68 of the 266 league games played since that point.

Real conceded an average of 1.1 goal per game without Varane across the past seven seasons, and 0.9 in the fixtures in which he featured.

Interestingly, though, their win percentage rose to 73.5 per cent without him in the side from 66.2 per cent with - will these statistics inform the manager's decision?

One big signing?

Money may be tight at Real Madrid, but that won't stop them being linked to the biggest names in world football.

Kylian Mbappe is one of them, the Frenchman having enjoyed another remarkable season in which he scored more goals (21) and landed more shots on target (55) than anyone else in Ligue 1.

The 22-year-old also converted 60.5 per cent of his big chances - a rate that would help ease Real's problems with lack of goals outside of Benzema.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti can pull together the funds to start off his reign with such a high-profile signing.

Carlo Ancelotti is the new head coach of Real Madrid after Florentino Perez attracted the Italian from Everton.

Ancelotti dramatically jumped to the front of the queue for the job when it had looked as though Raul and Mauricio Pochettino were the main contenders.

His appointment means a return to the club that sacked him six years ago, with Perez having been head of the board that reached that decision at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Perez said at the time he had a good personal relationship with Ancelotti, and that will have been a factor in bringing the veteran coach back to the Spanish capital.

Trent Alexander-Arnold survived the cull of England's extended Euro 2020 squad as Gareth Southgate named his final 26-man list on Tuesday.

The Liverpool defender, arguably the standout full-back in world football in the 2019-20 season, was expected by many to pay the price for a dip in form over the previous nine months.

England have riches at the position, and Southgate has also selected further specialist right-backs in Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier, Manchester City's Kyle Walker and Chelsea's Reece James.

The players to miss out as Southgate trimmed the 33-man group he named last week were Jesse Lingard, Ben Godfrey, Aaron Ramsdale, Ollie Watkins, James Ward-Prowse and Ben White, with Mason Greenwood withdrawing from contention due to what his club, Manchester United, described as an "underlying injury".

Lingard had a highly productive second half of the season on loan at West Ham, but it was not enough to persuade the Three Lions boss.

Southgate said that decision proved "very difficult".

The players who were excluded will remain with the squad over the coming days and could feature in friendlies against Austria on Wednesday and Romania on Sunday, both of which will be played at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium.

Southgate said Lingard was likely to start the game against Austria.

The inclusion of defender Harry Maguire follows concern over the Manchester United player's ankle injury, which ruled him out of the Europa League final.

Southgate said he had "a lot more clarity" over who would be available for his squad after United's clash with Villarreal and the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Of those who missed out on his tournament selection, he said: "I know what a disappointment that is for them, not to be going to a major championship.

"With Jordan [Henderson] and Harry Maguire we have a couple of players who are not where they'd be ideally in terms of their physical prep. But we feel the experience they have, the fact we think we can get them to a point where they can have an involvement in the tournament, it's worth taking them, especially as we've got an extended squad of 26."
 

England squad for Euro 2020:

Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Declan Rice (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).

The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has been forced to pull out of its upcoming friendly international against Japan, as a breakdown in COVID-19 protocol communications will see the Caribbean team unable to field enough players.

The game was scheduled for Thursday, June 3rd but the majority of the team’s English-based contingent will not arrive in time for the fixture.  The issue stems from the fact the English-based players did PCR tests using the widely accepted dual method of the nostril and oral swabs, however, Japan only accepts the more complicated nasal PCR tests.

According to reports, the Japan Football Association (JSA) had not informed the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) of the specific requirement.  As a result, the six players were denied boarding in Amsterdam after they were found to not have the specific PCR coronavirus test results required for entry into Japan.

The England-based players have since returned home to do the necessary PCR test but, having rebooked, will not reach Japan until Wednesday. The members of the delegation who left Jamaica did the correct PCR test and were accepted on the flight from Houston to Japan, except for Tyreek McGee who did not board the flight to Japan for reasons yet to be conveyed.  The player, however, did have the required PCR test done. He is set to return home.

The remaining matches against Serbia, on the 7th, and the Japan Olympic team, on the 12th, will go ahead as planned.

Trent Alexander-Arnold survived the cull of England's extended Euro 2020 squad as Gareth Southgate named his final 26-man list on Tuesday.

The Liverpool defender, arguably the standout full-back in world football in the 2019-20 season, was expected by many to pay the price for a dip in form over the previous nine months.

England have riches at the position, and Southgate has also selected further specialist right-backs in Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier, Manchester City's Kyle Walker and Chelsea's Reece James.

The players to miss out as Southgate trimmed the 33-man group he named last week were Jesse Lingard, Ben Godfrey, Aaron Ramsdale, Ollie Watkins, James Ward-Prowse and Ben White, with Mason Greenwood withdrawing from contention due to what his club, Manchester United, described as an "underlying injury".
 

England squad for Euro 2020:

Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Declan Rice (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has declared Lionel Messi wants to stay at Camp Nou as talks over a new contract continue.

The Argentine forward wanted to leave last August before agreeing to stay and reconsider at the end of his existing deal, which expires on June 30.

The captain and record scorer's public show of discontent at Barcelona's leadership led to links with the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who hoped to sign him on a free transfer.

However, the election of a new president in Laporta appears to have salvaged the 33-year-old's relationship with the club where he has spent the entirety of his professional career.

Amid reports a two-year contract extension is close to being agreed, Laporta has offered his most optimistic update yet.

He said: "Our talks with the agents of Leo Messi are going well. We hope they continue to progress. It's not done... but we know Leo wants to stay."

Barcelona's summer business has begun with two free transfer signings in the form of Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, both of whom have arrived from Manchester City.

They are expected to be joined by Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, whose respective contracts at Liverpool and Lyon are also up this summer.

This approach owes much to the club's latest financial results, which showed overall debt of almost €1.2billion.

However, Laporta insists Barca will still be able to renew Messi's deal, even as they look to make savings elsewhere.

He said: "The renewal of Messi does not depend on the audit. We are in talks with the agents of Leo and they are going well.

"We hope they continue to progress. What happens with Leo is not a matter of money, but a matter of the future and sports.

"He wants to continue with this idea because he wants a team that can help him win leagues, Champions [League] and titles in the short-term."

Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen will miss Euro 2020 after testing positive for coronavirus.

The 32-year-old was forced to sit out the Netherlands' pre-tournament training camp in Portugal after returning a positive result last week.

Cillessen has 60 caps for his country and was expected to be first choice at the European Championship finals, but boss Frank de Boer has omitted the Valencia stopper from his squad.

AZ keeper Marco Bizot, who has been part of the Netherlands' warm-up preparations, has now been included in the final 26-man group.

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) confirmed the news in a statement on Tuesday, a day before facing Scotland in their penultimate friendly in the Algarve ahead of the tournament.

Explaining his decision to leave out experienced keeper Cillessen, De Boer said at a news conference: "Let me start by saying this is incredibly sour for Jasper.

"I informed him of my decision this morning. I had to take the plunge. He tested positive for coronavirus and as a result missed an important part of our preparations.

"We don't know how long it will take until he is 100 per cent fit again. I don't want to taken any chances. We are on the eve of a European Championship and I want certainty."

Tim Krul and Maarten Stekelenburg, of Norwich City and Ajax respectively, will now battle it out to be first choice for the Netherlands, with late call-up Bizot acting as a back-up.

De Boer's side kick off their Group D campaign against Ukraine in Amsterdam on June 13 before facing Austria and North Macedonia.

Serge Gnabry believes he could be the answer to Germany's goalscoring problem at Euro 2020.

The Bayern Munich forward has spent most of his career in wide roles, but coach Joachim Low – who will step down after the tournament – has selected just two strikers in his squad.

That suggests the coach is looking for others to make themselves available for central attacking duties, and the likes of Gnabry and Kai Havertz could be made for the job.

Havertz's Chelsea team-mate Timo Werner and Monaco forward Kevin Volland are the two frontline strikers at Low's disposal.

Germany were thrashed 6-0 by Spain last November in the Nations League, and although they began their World Cup qualifying campaign in March with wins over Iceland and Romania, a subsequent defeat to North Macedonia pointed to shortcomings.

On Wednesday they will tackle Denmark in a friendly in Innsbruck, a penultimate game before Germany launch their Euro 2020 campaign with a June 15 clash against France in Munich.

"I don't know yet whether I'll play on the wing or in the middle," Gnabry said in a pre-game news conference. "I haven't had a concrete conversation with the national coach.

"I'll do my best when I play in the centre and imitate the striker. But we have so much potential on the offensive that it doesn't really matter who is up front."

Gnabry suggested he enjoyed the central role because it inflated his chances of personal glory.

"Because you're closer to the goal, that's the only reason," Gnabry said. "I just love to score goals."

The former Arsenal player warned, however: "I'm not a [Robert] Lewandowski or [Erling] Haaland."

Gnabry scored just 11 goals for Bayern in the season just ended, after a 23-goal campaign in 2019-20, while Werner netted 12 for Chelsea and Volland hit the back of the net 18 times.

Gnabry's goals came at a healthy rate of one every 216.55 minutes, behind Volland (one every 177.11 minutes) but well ahead of Werner (one every 318.83 minutes).

Germany's Champions League finalists are not available for the Denmark game, meaning Low must get by without Havertz, Werner, Antonio Rudiger and Ilkay Gundogan.

Toni Kroos, Jamal Musiala and Leon Goretzka are also expected to be absent, the coach seeing his 26-man squad depleted.

Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels should win their first caps since November 2018, having been frozen out over the last two and a half years as Low attempted to give his team a younger look.

The coach went cap in hand to both recently, beckoning them back into his squad, and the experienced pair accepted the invitation.

Asked about Bayern team-mate Muller, Gnabry said: "He absolutely deserves it. He is incredibly effective and particularly valuable in terms of motivation. It's good to have him here."

Muller was one of only five players from Europe's top five leagues to score at least 15 goals and have at least 15 assists across all competitions in the 2020-21 season.

He scored 15 times and set up 19 goals, with the others in that exclusive club being Tottenham's Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes and Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho.

Hummels also had a stellar season in defence for Dortmund. He is 32 and Muller is 31, and Gnabry sees their experience and leadership qualities as being a major boon for Die Mannschaft.

"It's always good to have leaders on your team," Gnabry said. "If we all pull together, we will be successful."

John Fleck has tested positive for coronavirus at Scotland's pre-Euro 2020 training camp in Alicante.

The Sheffield United midfielder will self-isolate in La Finca, where the Scotland squad have spent the last four days, and will not travel with the rest of his team-mates for Wednesday's friendly against the Netherlands in Portugal.

Scotland also face Luxembourg in a friendly on Sunday before their Euro 2020 opener against the Czech Republic in Glasgow on June 14.

The rest of the squad were tested on Tuesday following five-cap Fleck's positive result and all returned negative tests.

Scotland boss Steve Clarke said: "He has no symptoms. Obviously, he's got to isolate for a few days so we'll keep an eye on him and look after him like we do everybody. So hopefully it stops there.

"We're looking at the information we’ve got and relying on the doctors and the medical opinions and we’re 90 per cent sure that John brought it into the camp.

"It's one of those things. We know the state of the world at the moment with the pandemic. We just have to deal with it, as other countries might have to deal with it as well."

Scotland, who are preparing for their first major tournament in 23 years, also face England and Croatia in Group D.

Central Coast Mariners missed the chance to guarantee a top-six finish in the A-League regular season as they suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to lowly Newcastle Jets.

The division's bottom team ended a run of 14 games without victory as they enhanced their chances of climbing off the foot of the table before the end of the campaign.

The Mariners sit third but their finals series hopes will go down to the last round of games, which sees them host Western United on Saturday, if Perth Glory beat Brisbane Roar on Wednesday.

Having dominated the opening exchanges at Central Coast Stadium, the hosts' evening took a turn for the worse in the 27th minute when they were hit by a well-executed counter-attack.

A poor headed clearance landed to 16-year-old Archie Goodwin, who made the most of the space he was afforded to play in Ray O'Donovan for an excellent finish into the far left corner.

Newcastle made it 2-0 just six minutes later, Lucas Mauragis twice winning the ball high up the pitch before latching onto Angus Thurgate's through pass to squeeze the ball home.

Central Coast throught they had found a way back into the game before the break, only for a Daniel Bouman close-range strike to be ruled out for offside.

Alen Stajcic's home side started the second period in similar fashion to the first, controlling possession and constantly probing the visitors' backline.

But they came up against a surprisingly obdurate Newcastle defence that, ultimately, did not give up a chance of real note as they eased to a deserved three points.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will retire as Bayern Munich chief executive and Oliver Kahn will replace him on July 1.

Bayern and Germany legend Rummenigge spent 10 years with the Bundesliga champions as a player and was appointed as a vice president of the Bavarian giants back in 1991.

Rummenigge took over as chairman in 2002 and oversaw a hugely successful spell in the history of one of the biggest clubs in the world.

The 65-year-old was contracted until the end of the year, but has decided to step down and former Bayern goalkeeper Kahn will be his successor.

Rummenigge told the club's official website: "It is the strategically most sensible and logical point in time. It's the end of the financial year, and a new section begins with a new team of coaches. 

"Oliver Kahn as the new CEO should be responsible for the new season right from the start – also in the interests of the people involved and thus in the interests of the future of FC Bayern. 

"I said two years ago that we were planning a prudent transition, and that is now finally being made. That's how it should be."

Bayern president and supervisory board chairman Herbert Hainer paid tribute to the long-serving Rummenigge.

He said: "I would like to thank Karl-Heinz Rummenigge from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the association and the supervisory board.

"Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had a major impact on FC Bayern, already as a striker, but above all after the end of his active career, initially as vice president and from 2002 as chairman of the Board. 

"Together with Uli Hoeness, he made FC Bayern one of the best addresses in top international football - both athletically and economically. It was a pleasure and honour for me and all of us to have worked with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. 

"As soon as the Corona situation allows, we will officially say goodbye to him at FC Bayern. The name Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will always be closely associated with FC Bayern."

Hainer is in no doubt Kahn is the right man to replace Rummenigge.

He said: "Oliver Kahn will take over responsibility at the head of FC Bayern München AG as early as July 1st. 

"After his extremely successful professional career and his time as an entrepreneur, he has now been intensively involved in the board of directors of FC Bayern München AG for a year and a half. 

"He was already involved in the decisive decisions for the future of FC Bayern and set the course for the next few years with the FC Bayern AHEAD strategy project. We are all convinced that Oliver Kahn is the right man to successfully shape the future of FC Bayern Munchen AG. "

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gave Argentina vital time as they sought to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

Rather than an international tournament, Messi spent the last close-season negotiating his next move – which ultimately meant staying in Catalonia. His contract is up again in 2021, but the legendary forward must also negotiate the rearranged Copa this time.

Realistically, this tournament and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – the late Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds was a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core.

Goals in the early stages of World Cup qualifying this season have been slightly more sparse – six in four games – but Argentina have still taken 10 points to remain unbeaten, second to Brazil in the standings.

Lautaro Martinez has been involved in half of those qualifying goals (two goals, one assist) and has now firmly established himself as the number one option at centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing.

Going slightly further back, since Scaloni first took charge, the Inter star has 11 goals in 20 games – averaging one every 120.3 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 7.8. Messi has six goals at 193.7 minutes per goal from an xG of 8.0 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, as evidenced by that slightly more ordinary return, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has to date during his 100-game Serie A career (37 goals at one every 172.4 minutes).

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero – a regular until Martinez came to the fore – may still have a role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. But Scaloni has come to rely on new faces as he quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of three years ago into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties.

A pair of substitute appearances in November were Di Maria's first international outings since being dropped during the Copa. Paulo Dybala is fit again but seemingly now no longer even a bench option in the coach's eyes.

Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul, whose 122 completed dribbles led Serie A this season, while his 18 goal involvements (nine goals, nine assists) ranked joint-third among midfielders.

Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes has started alongside De Paul in each qualifier to date, and Giovani Lo Celso has two assists in just 159 minutes of international action this season.

Disappointingly, winger Nicolas Gonzalez has been dogged by thigh injuries since scoring twice in November. With a goal every 155.8 minutes in the Bundesliga this term, he had been one of those set to profit from the Copa's new date.

Selection has also been consistent in defence this season, but German Pezzella's ill-timed injury absence meant Lucas Martinez Quarta was the Fiorentina defender allowed to settle in the heart of the back line.

Pezzella – a stand-in captain for the national team not so long ago – remains the main man in Florence, playing 32 league games to Martinez's 21, yet his younger colleague averages more tackles (1.9), interceptions (2.4) and blocks (0.6) per 90 minutes.

It looks like a case of either/or next to Nicolas Otamendi and his frequent reversions to slapstick, although Atalanta duo Cristian Romero and Jose Luis Palomino are also both now in the mix.

Elsewhere, despite the new call-ups – Emiliano Buendia is another debut option but has been plying his trade in the Championship – Scaloni's reliance on a steady XI might hint at a lack of depth. When the Copa was delayed by 12 months, one of world football's heavyweights might have hoped for more than the development of Inter's second-best striker and a wealth of defensive options in the meantime.

Instead, the narrative remains frustratingly familiar: Argentina need Messi to fire.

Inter midfielder Arturo Vidal is isolating in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.

The 34-year-old returned a positive test while with the Chile national team and looks set to miss the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia as a result.

La Roja sit sixth in the CONMEBOL qualification standings, two points behind fourth-placed Paraguay in the final automatic spot.

Vidal's participation in the Copa America, which kicks off on June 11, will not be in doubt should he recover as expected.

The Football Federation of Chile revealed the midfielder's diagnosis came after he was struck by a bout of tonsillitis.

A statement on the national team's official website said: "The medical staff of the Chilean national team point out that at the request of Arturo Vidal, it is announced that he was diagnosed in the daily preventive examination with positive COVID."

Posted on Monday evening, the statement added: "Arturo has been hospitalised and isolated from the group for more than 72 hours in a preventive measure indicated by the medical team, due to the presence of previously reported severe pleural tonsillitis, corroborated by specialists in infectious and respiratory diseases and with negative PCR controls.

"It is noted that all the rest of the delegation is with negative PCR today in accordance with health protocols."

In a post on his Instagram page, Vidal shared his belief that he had caught COVID-19 from a friend who had carried the virus without showing symptoms.

Chile will continue carrying out regular tests in order to ensure that one infection does not result in an outbreak.

Vidal joined his national team off the back of a successful season in which he helped Inter win the Serie A title under Antonio Conte.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.