Cristiano Ronaldo returns to protect his Manchester United legacy

Manchester United fans rejoiced yesterday as announcement came that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club despite having seemed certain to join bitter rivals Manchester City that very morning.

Manchester United fans rejoiced yesterday as announcement came that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club despite having seemed certain to join bitter rivals Manchester City that very morning.

Yesterday was the epitome of a game of two halves.

As a Manchester United fan waking up there was a slight sense of dread. Will it really happen? Will he tarnish his status amongst United fans by moving to City? If so, how will it feel if he guides them to glory? Or even their first Champions League title?

All of it sent slight shivers down my spine. However, all I could do was put on a brave face and pretend he never mattered in the first place.

Cristiano Ronaldo? Nah, never heard of him. Played for United? Think you’ve got the wrong bloke, mate. Three Premier League titles and a Champions League? Pull the other one. Moving to City? Couldn’t give a toss.

By 6pm, with Ronaldo’s Manchester United return all but confirmed barring a medical, the mood had been turned upside down.

Cristiano Ronaldo? What a player. 117 goals during his first spell? 118 actually. Greatest of all time? Sure. 36-years-old going on 28? Can’t disagree. United legend? Most definitely.

The match at Wolves on Sunday will probably come too soon for his second debut, therefore the attention instantly turned to playing Newcastle at home in a fortnight.

I thought Ole has to start him, surely? Imagine the ovation when he walks out. The first legend since Paul Scholes to return having initially left. Will his second spell be Mark Hughes or George Best like I wonder? Running down the wing? More like poaching around the six-yard box.

Never mind, let’s just savour his return and sing Viva Ronaldo.

I got my first season ticket in time for the 2006/07 season. United had gone three seasons without a league title. Jose Mourinho had arrived and taken Chelsea to great heights. Arsene Wenger was still guiding Arsenal towards the latter stage of his peak. Rafa Benitez had the red-half of Liverpool under his spell.

Meanwhile question marks were being asked of Sir Alex, despite a League Cup win the previous season.

Ronaldo, Rooney and Saha spearheaded the side, anchored by Van Der Saar, Ferdinand and Vidic. Giggs and Scholes offered the winning pedigree, with Michael Carrick proving the final jigsaw by cleaning up and pinging passes from all angles. The squad had the taste of something special.

My first three years as a season ticket holder saw three league titles and the holy grail of a Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo scored goals for fun. Then as soon as the Ronaldo/United dynasty began, it came to an end.

After reaching the pinnacle of European football by winning the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, Ronaldo instantly set about an exit strategy. He wanted out straight away. Sir Alex reaped another year out of him which saw another league title and coming close to retaining the Champions League only to lose to Barcelona in Rome.

Ronaldo got his move in 2009. He joined Real Madrid for £90million. An absolute bargain when looking back and comparing to the figures seen since.

He achieved more than a goal a game at Real Madrid with 450 goals in 438 matches. Ronaldo amassed a further four Champions League titles and yet another four Ballon d’Or accolades.

Whilst his stint at Old Trafford was to be forever cherished, there was also a sense of what might have been had we managed another season or two out of him.

He then moved to Juventus and scored yet another 101 goals in 134 matches. Now at 36-years-old he returns to Manchester United. Certainly not in his pomp, but I think United’s most ardent rivals would agree this just isn’t your average footballer.

His dedication to the profession is second to none. From hiring chefs at a young age to having enough of an entourage to efficiently run The Lowry Hotel. Ronaldo has squeezed absolutely everything out of his talents and more.

He now returns to Old Trafford very much a different individual to the one who first walked through the doors in 2003.

Where once he walked the corridors as a spotty showboating teenager, he now walks as the revered winning-machine and arguably the greatest to have played the sport.

A three-nation league title winner, five time Champions League winner, five time Ballon d’Or winner and the only Portugal captain to lead his side to a major honour by lifting the 2016 European Championship.

How might the likes of Mason Greenwood look at him? Working with such an individual can only improve the young star’s game. Elsewhere in the squad, there will surely be a boost – it’s only natural. The Cristiano Ronaldo-type players of this world are very much rare. They naturally drag teammates up a level. They show strength in leadership when others fold.

A £20million figure for a 36-year-old might sound astounding. Yet it really does need reminding that this isn’t the average 36-year-old. Add to this the acquisitions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane and it makes even sweeter reading.

Some might wonder how the likes of United are able to spend such figures given the effects of Covid on everyone’s wallets. Though you really do need to bear in mind that United are among the most self-sustainable of clubs – this despite the £1billion+ taken out of the club’s coffers by the Glazers since they took charge.

On the Glazer point; whilst signing Ronaldo does make sense on the field and as a nostalgic moral booster too, surely they also thought back to the effect Tom Brady had on their NFL side Tampa Bay Buccaneers just last year? Upon joining from New England Patriots the veteran quarter-back guided them to the Super Bowl, might they hope for the same from Ronaldo’s return to United?

Nevertheless, all I can say as a United fan is his second debut will be extra special.

Having already witnessed his talents and lost my voice countless times singing his name during his first stint, his Old Trafford return will surely make many a grown man emotional – myself included.

Viva Ronaldo will ring around Old Trafford like never before and I’ll enjoy the ride whatever it may bring.

Though that 21st league title would be more than enough, Ronnie.

Featured imaged sourced off Wikimedia.

Jorge Jesus has Benfica on the march as they aim to regain the Portuguese Primeira Liga

With Jorge Jesus reaching the twilight of his stellar managerial career, he will know that this season might well be his last hurrah and he will surely want to go out on a high with Benfica.

Jorge Jesus led Benfica into the UEFA Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth as they edged PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on aggregate, despite having had their backs to the wall for over an hour following Lucas Verissimo’s dismissal. As a reward for their progression Benfica have been gifted both Bayern Munich and Barcelona in their group with Dynamo Kiev also joining them.

Their qualification for the Champions League group stage follows a strong start to the season. Having made relatively easy work of Spartak Moscow over two legs, they quickly racked three consecutive wins in the Primeira Liga against Moreirense, Arouca and Gil Vicente and now ensuring Champions League qualification.

Jorge Jesus will be looking to maintain momentum when they face Tondela this weekend. In his spectacular first stint at Benfica between 2009-2015 he guided the side to three league titles. Upon leaving Benfica, Jesus had two rather underwhelming spells firstly with Benfica rivals and his boyhood club Sporting CP and then with Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia.

The veteran then came alive when he was surprisingly named Flamengo’s new head coach. Despite an initial negative reaction to his appointment, the Portuguese guided Flamengo to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and the holy grail of the Copa Libertadores in his first season in charge.

In doing so he became only the second European coach to win the Copa Libertadores, whilst he was subsequently awarded the Order of Prince Henry commander medal by the Portuguese President as his achievements aided Portugal’s reputation abroad.

He then followed this up by running Liverpool close in a narrow 1-0 in the FIFA Club World Cup. He added an extra three trophies in his final season with Flamengo and left the country with a real cult status having won an impressive 43 out of 57 games.

Many expected his Flamengo stint to be the last in a stellar managerial career. Yet despite the old saying being never go back, he returned to Benfica in August 2020 on a two-year contract.

Despite an early elimination in last season’s Champions League, they maintained a strong finish in the Primeira Liga despite finishing nine-points off eventual winners Sporting CP – who they beat 4-3 in the penultimate match of the season to provide a boost for this season – whilst losing the Taça de Portugal final 2-0 to Braga, having seen goalkeeper Helton Leite sent off early on.

On their start alone, Jorge Jesus certainly seems to have his side primed for this season’s domestic charge. However, with both Rui Vitoria and Bruno Lage having lifted league titles with Benfica since Jesus left in 2015, the pressure is certainly on the 67-year-old to come out on top this season.

His side will depend heavily on the attacking talents of Pizzi, Everton and Rafa Silva, whilst new summer signing Roman Yaremchuk should provide a boost having scored 20-goals at Gent last season.

Still question marks remain over the future of Uruguayan Darwin Nunez who is currently linked with a big money move to Premier League side Brighton. Nevertheless if Nunez was to leave, much is expected this season of young academy forward Goncalo Ramos with many tipping a breakthrough campaign.

Whilst the creativity of Alex Grimaldo from left wing-back will prove invaluable as the season goes on, they will certainly look to the experience of Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Verthongen to guide them through the season – with both having won league titles previously in their careers. Both might see David Luiz join their elder ranks with reports emerging he also is in talks over a return on a free transfer.

In Jorge Jesus they will be sure to know they have a proven manager to fall back on when the going gets tough. Yet with Jesus also reaching the twilight of his managerial career, he will know that this season might well be his last hurrah and he will surely want to go out on a high. What better conclusion than returning Benfica to the pinnacle of Portuguese football.

Feature image sourced on Wikimedia.

The attacking players feeling the pressure as Athletic Bilbao aim to achieve La Liga improvement

We take a look which attacking players need to step it up in La Liga to see Athletic Club push on under Marcelino.

Athletic Bilbao came close to a major early season La Liga boost last weekend with only a late equaliser by Barcelona’s Memphis Depay having seen them denied victory in front of 9,394 fans at Estadio San Mamés.

Los Leones had initially gone ahead just after the restart when Inigo Martinez nestled a glancing header past Neto, thus ending a run of four matches without a goal for the hosts.

Their lack of luck in front of goal is no surprise given their lack of striker options.

Just as they did in the season opening stalemate against Elche, Athletic Club once again opted for a front two pairing iof Inaki Williams (initially a winger) and Oihan Sancet (a young central midfielder by trade). Both were supported by Iker Muniain and Alex Berenguer from the wings, whilst Unai Vencedor and Dani Garcia offered protection as the double pivot.

Veteran Raul Garcia at 35-years-old was the striker option called upon from the bench, however given his age it remains to be seen what significant part, if any, he will play this season. He has notched 204 league appearances and 56 goals since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2015, although again it needs reminding that Garcia is also a central midfielder by trade.

Asier Villalibre is the only out-and-out striker in Athletic’s squad. He was called upon for the final 15mins against Elche on the opening day but ignored against Barcelona.

This first full season under Marcelino was always going to be a testing one for Athletic Club having scaled rather lofty heights last season by winning the Supercopa de España and finishing runners-up in the Copa del Rey. Nevertheless Marcelino himself is a very ambitious manager and he will most certainly expect a league improvement over the course of the 2021/22 campaign having seen them finish mid-table last season with a lowly total of 46 points.

Yet to see improvement over a 38-game La Liga season would require consistency in performance and an improvement on the 46 goals they accumulated last season.

Therefore which attacking players needs to step it up in to see Athletic Club push on in the league under Marcelino?

Inaki Williams

Williams has been heralded as Athletic Club’s next saviour since hitting the scene back in 2014/15. However, now at 27-years-old and having appeared in each and every La Liga match over the past five seasons, the time has come to push on and make a real name for himself.

Having scored 13 goals in 2018/19, he has since only notched six La Liga goals in each of the last two seasons. This total will require improvement if both himself and the club are to improve on last season.

Whether from the right, left or centrally, the onus is now very much on Inaki Williams to spearhead the club onto greater heights. He always had the scintillating pace and dribbling ability but now he also has the experience to match his talents. Can he push on with his beloved Los Leones in the league as he did in last season’s Supercopa de España?

Iker Muniain

Having burst on to the scene nearly a decade ago as the then young star of Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic side who took Europe on an amazing ride, Muniain will certainly go down as one of the club’s all-time greats having since accumulated 351 appearances in La Liga.

However, having never reached double figures for goals and never assisted more than four goals in a league season – with only five goals and three assists coming last season – it does leave a slight taste of what might have been for Muniain’s Athletic career.

Injury issues have certainly hampered him at times but there is no denying the fact that a season best league total of seven goals is disappointing for a player with such clear talent.

Whilst occupying a wide-playmaker role under Marcelino he will need to seriously step-up both his goals and assists ratio if Athletic Club are to progress from mid-table underperformers to European challengers in La Liga.

Asier Villalibre

As previously mentioned, Villalibre is the only recognised striker in the Athletic Club squad. At 23-years-old he will expect to push on this season and attempt to tie down one of Marcelino’s two striker spots in his preferred 4-4-2.

Having progressed through the ranks, Villalibre’s scoring record has been sporadic at best with only seven La Liga goals since scoring an impressive 23 goals in 17 appearances for Bilbao Athletic in Segunda Division B – Grupo II in 2018/19.

A run of games in his favoured position would certainly help matters. That would go a long way to confirming whether he prefers to be Athletic’s in-house trumpet player or their heavily relied-upon goalscorer for the next decade.

One to watch: Nico Serrano

At 18-years-old Serrano has never competitively made it on to the pitch in an Athletic Club shirt. However, having made it into the matchday squad against both Elche and Barcelona it certainly won’t be long until he makes his debut for Los Leones.

Serrano is very highly-rated at Estadio San Mamés with much expected of him. He is known as a determined individual and prefers to operate off the left-wing whilst also being an adept finisher.

Whilst it is certainly too early to say whether they can shape him into the next Aduriz, Zarra, Pichichi or Llorente, his progress is certainly worth keeping an eye on this season.

New Man Utd season ticket system branded a ‘joke’ with fans unable to forward tickets

Manchester United season ticket holders have branded the club’s new season ticket system a ‘joke’ with some fans left unable to forward and receive tickets just two days before their opening league match against Leeds United at Old Trafford.

Manchester United season ticket holders have branded the club’s new season ticket system a ‘joke’ with some fans left unable to forward and receive tickets just two days before their opening league match against Leeds United at Old Trafford.

The club have brought in a new online ticket system for this season. This meant the end of the traditional season ticket card, with the season ticket now being fully electronic as part of your mobile device’s ‘wallet’.

However, the new system has seen nothing but issues.

On Tuesday 3 August season ticket holders received a text stating: “We’re still working hard with our ticketing system provider to ensure this functionality is available prior to the Leeds game next week.”

Then on Monday 9 August an email came through confirming the online ticket forwarding function was now available to use. The email included pointers on how to forward tickets on to friends and family and an apology for the delay.

As of today, Thursday 12 August, many Man Utd fans are still having issues. The club ticket office are refusing all calls, not answering replies to a text-line or online social media enquiries.

Issues range from being unable to setup crucial ‘relationships’ to pass on and sell your ticket, meant recipients of the forwarded ticket never receiving their ticket and issues accessing the new online ticket portal.

Fans are now at risk of being unable to attend the first match of the season. Each ticket that is unable to be forwarded will also see ticket holders lose out on around £30-£55 per ticket.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United know they must deliver trophies with both Sancho and Varane on board

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United head into the new season knowing that trophies is a must to keep on showing signs of progress.

As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United head into the season on the back of a 4-0 pre-season win against Everton, both manager and club will know that trophies is a must this upcoming season – anything less would be deemed a failure.

A very respectful year-on-year improvement has seen Manchester United push on under Solskjaer. Having finished sixth on 66 points in his first season, a third-placed finish followed again on 66 points and a second-placed finish last season on 74 points. Goal difference spiked by +19 from 2018/19 to 2019/20, with a one-goal decrease last season to +29.

To consider results alone would be unfair on Solskjaer. He has transformed the club from top to bottom. Emphasis is now once again placed on youth recruitment and signing players with a desire to win and excel in the red shirt, rather than the big name who lacks determination and might be more willing to sit on a large pay packet.

Signings are much more targeted than they once were – it seems that gone are the days of haphazard transfer policy whereby the club made do with whoever was available or whichever player was pushed on them by certain big-name agents.

Just look at the signings under Solskjaer. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles. No square pegs for round holes and,  whilst some might have proven more success than others, they are all decent enough players who seem to possess a real hunger to do right by the famous Manchester United badge.

Edinson Cavani might be deemed an exception to the rule given his ripe age. However, the Uruguayan has been nothing but a hit since arriving at Old Trafford. Solskjaer will have been ecstatic when Cavani signed on for another year – his experience and guidance must prove invaluable to the likes of Mason Greenwood, whilst his eye for goal certainly isn’t diminishing if we go on his form from last season.

That brings us to this pre-season. Having finally tied up Jadon Sancho (a year late for some..) and later Raphael Varane – once again, all we see are well thought out signings.

Right-wing, despite all of Dan James’ effort, was still an issue. Whilst Greenwood is an intriguing option from the right, he will certainly move central at some point over the coming years. Therefore a very talented attacker like Jadon Sancho should prove crucial when it comes to tight games both at home and away.

Then we have Raphael Varane. Since joining Real Madrid, Varane gathered 18 major honours including three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey title, four UEFA Champions League titles and four FIFA Club World Cup titles. He was also a World Cup winner with France in 2018.

Varane’s pace will prove vital alongside Maguire and although some worry he might take some time to adapt to the Premier League – long term worries should definitely be quelled given his obvious talent and proven pedigree. This is a centre-half who should also be approaching his prime at 28 years-old and has averaged 32 La Liga matches across each of the last three seasons.

Ultimately, however, the currency at a club of Manchester United’s stature should and will always be silverware.

The second-placed league finish, Europa League final appearance, League Cup semi-final and FA Cup quarter-final was decent enough but will never be deemed good enough for Manchester United.

Some cause for concern emerges when you look closer at the limp defeats to both Villarreal in the Europa League final and to Leicester in the FA Cup quarter-final, as well as the rather weak surrendering of the league in the second-half of the season.

Yet the new three-year contract certainly offers an added sense of security to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial position. Still a valid question mark remains against Solskjaer and this squad’s ability to get themselves over the line on the biggest occasions.

Obviously all of this is subject to change. Varane’s winning mentality might be all they require. Or it might be that Sancho’s added x-factor was all that was missing. A packed Old Trafford crowd will be eagerly awaiting some answers against Leeds United next week.

One thing for certain is the upcoming season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United will either be the catalyst to bigger and better things or a case of what might have been for this romantic partnership between legendary player and former club.

Van Bommel aims to continue Wolfsburg rise heading into new Bundesliga season

With a promising 2020/21 Bundesliga season behind them and a return to the UEFA Champions League, Die Wölfe will be hoping to put behind them the disappointment of losing manager Oliver Glasner.

Preparation for the new season is nearly complete as VfL Wolfsburg prepare for Mark van Bommel’s first competitive match in charge when they face fourth division Prussia Münster in the DFB Pokal.

With a promising 2020/21 Bundesliga season behind them to build further momentum upon and a return to the UEFA Champions League, Die Wölfe will be hoping to put behind them the disappointment of losing manager Oliver Glasner.

Glasner, having led Wolfsburg to an impressive fourth-placed finish whilst also bringing the best out of Ridle Baku and Wout Weghorst, left for Frankfurt in late May – the side Wolfsburg pipped to the final UEFA Champions League spot.

“Eintracht Frankfurt is an exciting club and has made great development in the past years,” Glasner said upon his departure.

“The passion in the city and region is fantastic and internationally known, not least through great performances in the Europa League in recent years.”

Glasner’s departure will definitely be felt at the Volkswagen Arena. Having arrived back in 2019 from LASK he quickly set about bringing an expansive style to the team, whilst also remaining strong defensively.

Whilst his replacement Mark van Bommel brings much in personality and stature as a world-renowned former player his managerial is yet to take off.

Having started off as assistant manager at both Netherland U17s and then Saudi Arabia, he then moved on to his beloved PSV Eindhoven as manager of the U19s – before quickly being promoted to the first-team manager role.

After only 18-months at the helm Mark van Bommel was sacked as head coach of PSV Eindhoven after a run of two wins in eight games in the Dutch Eredivisie.

At that moment in time, PSV had just lost 3-1 to rivals Feyenoord, were fourth in the league and already 10 points behind leader Ajax.

The ex-Barcelona, AC Milan and FC Bayern player, who also lifted four league titles across two playing spells with PSV, had failed his one and only managerial task to date.

That failed to put off Wolfsburg this summer once Glasner’s Frankfurt intentions became known. The 44-year old quickly joined Die Wölfe on a two-year deal in early June.

“We have dealt intensively with Mark van Bommel and the personal talks have confirmed our impression that he fits perfectly with our philosophy,” said Wolfsburg chief Jörg Schmadtke.

“He is an internationally recognized football professional and knows what to expect in the Bundesliga. He also has enormous ambition, which has already distinguished him in his long playing career.

“Mark van Bommel is our desired solution and we are convinced that together with him and his coaching team we can continue VfL’s successful path.”

Van Bommel himself seemed enticed by the challenge awaiting him.

“I am very much looking forward to working at VfL Wolfsburg and am excited about my new environment, the people and the task that awaits me,” said Van Bommel.

“The ideas and perceptions of those responsible are identical to mine and I can identify very well with the path the club has taken.

“To be allowed to work as a coach in the Bundesliga, where I played for so long, is a great honor and challenge for me, which I will approach with great joy and commitment together with everyone involved.”

Whilst his stature and initial intentions will prove a lure to the Wolfsburg fans, results on the pitch will ultimately prove decisive. However, that’s not to say that van Bommel will do it all himself – as, arguably, the much stronger presence of managing director Jörg Schmadtke, with the help of sporting director Marcel Schäfer, will be there to help guide him.

When Schmadtke arrived in 2018, Wolfsburg had been on the end of two close flirtations with relegation to 2. Bundesliga. Nevertheless he set about his task in fine fashion, redefining the Wolfsburg mantra and ensuring they were best placed to challenge at the upper echelons of the Bundesliga.

This close season Sebastiaan Bornauw , Aster Vranckx, Lukas Nmecha and Maximilian Philip have all arrived for around €30million to further compliment an already talented squad spearheaded by the goals of Wout Weghorst.

However, question marks surround the future of influential Croatia winger Josip Brekalo. Marcel Schafer admitted last week that Brekalo had requested a transfer following interest from La Liga. His talents would be missed having scored seven and laid on three across 29 Bundesliga matches last season.

Another attracting interest is Ridle Baku. Talk remains around the links to FC Bayern following an impressive campaign last time around. Baku hasn’t done much to calm speculation either.

“I definitely have the confidence to take a bigger step at some point. But I don’t have to leave Wolfsburg now, I’m totally satisfied,” Baku said.

Whilst the in-tray at Wolfsburg certainly has more positives than negatives for Mark van Bommel, he’d be wise to not get complacent during his first few months in charge. Wolfsburg are on an upward trajectory, especially if they manage to keep the likes of Ridle Baku for the foreseeable future – however, that could change quickly.

An initial win against lower-league Prussia Münster will do much to calm any jitters, whilst the opening match to Bochum certainly offers an opportunity for a fine start in front of a decent crowd.

It is certain that Van Bommel the player would be relishing the challenge ahead this coming season. We’ll soon find out if the same can be said of Van Bommel the manager.

Main image sourced off VfL Wolfsburg Fans Facebook page.

The five stand-out stats of Lionel Messi’s Barcelona career

The surreal statistics behind Lionel Messi’s Barca career are well known. Here are our five stand-out figures.

Lionel Messi has officially left Barcelona following the end of his contract and the financial issues which left them unable to sign-off on an extended stay.

Having seen his previous deal expire on 30 June, news came out last week that a contract was provisionally agreed and only awaiting La Liga’s go ahead. However, Barca have now admitted defeat and made no effort to hide the fact that they’re blaming La Liga – as well as the previous calamitous leadership of Josep Bartomeu – and looking towards protecting the club’s future.

“I can’t make a decision that will affect the club for 50 years,” said president Joan Laporta.

“The club is over 100 years old and it’s above everyone and everything, even above the best player of the world. We will always thank him for everything he’s done for us.

“In order to have fair play, we need to do this or make an effort which would put the club at risk. We couldn’t keep going with this and we needed to make a decision, which we have.”

Whilst a massive hole remains in Barca’s finances, an even bigger one has just developed at the heart of the team. The surreal statistics behind Messi’s Barca career are well known. Here are five stand-out figures.

672

Lionel Messi has scored 672 goals in a Barcelona shirt across all competitive competitions. These have come in 778 matches – of which have also seen a remarkable 305 assists.

42,142

Messi has played a total of 42,142 minutes across all La Liga matches. The last of which came in a 2-1 home defeat to Celta Vigo on 16 May. Messi scored Barca’s only goal that day.

1

One red card. Lionel Messi received just the one dismissal across his Barca career. This came as they were beaten 3-2 by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup final in January 2021.

35

Messi’s 35 trophy honours with Barcelona includes 10 league titles, four Champions League winners medals, seven Copas del Rey, three Club World Cups, three European Super Cups and eight Spanish Super Cups.

6

Lionel Messi has won six Ballon d’Or titles during his time at Barcelona. He is out on his own as the only player to have won it six times – leading Cristiano Ronaldo on five.

Here is our most memorable Messi match in a Barca shirt 👇 What’s yours? 👀

Image Courtesy: 2 TOP (www.flickr.com/photos/2top/8729191435), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr

Serie A champions Inter Milan and their sudden fall from grace

New Inter Milan head coach Simone Inzaghi certainly has an unenvious task on his hands at the reigning Italian champions as Romelu Lukaku joins Achraf Hakimi in heading for the exit, whilst talk surrounds the future of Lautaro Martinez.

It’s been quite a three-month period for Inter Milan. From winning the Serie A and breaking the Juventus stranglehold on the league, to Antonio Conte leaving his managerial role and this week’s news that Romelu Lukaku has instructed his board to accept a suitable offer that will see him return to Chelsea.

The league triumph might have heralded the start of an Nerazzurri dominant period, however that moment now seems like the dawning of a premature end. Antonio Conte and Inter were never meant to be an everlasting marriage – however it now seems more like a lust-filled fling left with a crash and burn taste to the aftermath.

Clearly the new head-coach Simone Inzaghi has an unenvious task on his hands. A talented squad remains, even if Romelu Lukaku leaves, but if the cost-cutting continues it will be interesting to see what sort of squad might be left for Inzaghi come the end of the transfer window.

In early July Achraf Hakimi left for PSG in a €60million and is yet to be replaced despite constant noise around PSV Eindhoven’s Denzel Dumfries following his fine showing for Netherlands at Euro 2020. Speculation also surrounds the future of another forward in Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez having recently been linked with Arsenal.

Whilst it is hard to imagine a transfer window whereby both Lukaku and Martinez might depart, this clearly isn’t any normal window.

Sides from the English Premier League seem to have the pick of the finest players on the continent. Whilst the Coronavirus financial effect has taken a toll on the game as a whole, the English sides certainly seem more adept to weathering the storm thanks to their mammoth television deals – which is further emphasised by their transfers so far this summer.

Compare that with the cost-cutting at Inter. Their owners Suning Holdings Group have been a cause for concern for some time. This resulted in their failure to convince Antonio Conte that his key players would not be sold and led to his departure.

Conte has certainly been proved right – more so if Lukaku and Martinez join Hakimi in departing.

With this in mind a group of Inter ultras have thought enough is enough. Expecting to push on from their Serie A triumph, they’re now staring down the barrel with Suning Holding Group holding the trigger.

A huge banner was recently unfurled outside Inter’s headquarters reading “To the club, watch out, promises must be maintained.”

Former Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti has also publicly said Romelu Lukaku’s sale will be a huge blow.

“I don’t know the exact situation, but I think they are certainly attracted by the idea of such a huge sum. I don’t know if that’s enough to change Inter’s economic status,” Moratti told Calciomercato.it.

“In one respect, keeping Lukaku means having a strong team, so we need to see what’s more important to them, if it’s cash or the team.

“It depends I guess on whether a sale is absolutely necessary for them. It’d be a huge disappointment on the sporting level to lose Lukaku, that’s for sure.”

What happens now remains to be seen. Much depends on whether Lukaku does leave, and whether he is then quickly followed by Martinez. What once seemed like the dawning of a new Inter dynasty now seems like a farfetched dream.

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