Rakitic & Aleñá Deemed Surplus to Requirements as Barcelona Look to Offload Pair in January

?Barcelona are reportedly looking to offload both Ivan Rakitic and Carles Aleñá in the January transfer window as the midfield pair are deemed surplus to requirements by the Catalan club.

It is thought that both players would prefer to stay and fight for their place in the side. However, if the opportunity arises to gain more playing time elsewhere, the pair will not stand in the way of a transfer. 

Arturo Vidal,Ivan Rakitic

According to ?Mundo Deportivo, the Catalan giants are happy to sanction moves for the duo in order for them to gain more minutes. 

It is believed that Rakitic has two potential suitors in Italy, coming in the form of Serie A powerhouses ?Juventus and ?Internazionale. 

The Croat has found first-team opportunities hard to come by this season, after being a regular starter in the first two years of Valverde’s reign, starting just one of the opening seven games in the 19/20 season – the infamous 2-0 defeat at the hands of Granada. 

The introduction of 22-year-old Frenkie de Jong has seen Rakitic fall out of favour and limited the 31-year-old to the bench. Whilst the World Cup finalist has attracted interest in Italy, ?there is also supposed interest from within La Liga.

Carles Alena,Unai Lopez

The case of Aleñá is a bit more perplexing. The 21-year-old was a prospect for Valverde in the 2018/19 season, making 17 appearances in La Liga.

However the Spain Under-21 international has had limited game time thus far in the 2019/20 campaign, playing a meagre 45 minutes in the opening day defeat to Athletic Club and since then has only featured in the squad twice.

Barcelona blocked a move to Real Betis this summer, with Aleñá being told he was an important figure in Valverde’s plans. Although with six other central midfielders at the club (Sergio Busquets, de Jong, Arthur, Sergi Roberto, Arturo Vidal and Rakitic) it seems as though this is not the case.

Ernesto Valverde

It remains to be seen whether the midfield duo will feature again for Barcelona, who travel to the Ipurua Municipal Stadium to face Eibar in the league on Saturday before their Champions League clash away to Slavia Prague four days later.

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Spain’s 10 Most Capped Footballers of All Time as Sergio Ramos Breaks Record

?Over the years, we have seen countless superstars fail to hold down a place in Spain’s squad as a result of the ludicrous competition in their ranks. So, when a player does cement their place as a starter, it speaks volumes of their talent.

Some of the greatest footballers in the history of the game have hailed from Spain, whilst La Roja have been one of the most dominant sides in recent memory. Unsurprisingly, they have had some incredible players over the years.

Here are the ten most capped players in Spain’s history.


10. Cesc Fàbregas (110)

Cesc Fabregas

Cesc Fàbregas became the youngest player to appear for Spain in 70 years when he made his debut in 2006. 

Then with ?Arsenal, the central midfielder was tipped for greatness from a young age, and that’s exactly what he has achieved. He has gone on to make 110 appearances for his country, the last of which came in the round-of-16 defeat to Italy at Euro 2016.

Now 32, the former ?Barcelona and ?Chelsea man enjoyed a fantastic career with Spain, winning two European Championships in 2008 and 2012, as well as the World Cup in 2010.


10. Fernando Torres (110)

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Fernando Torres was one of the most prolific forwards in the history of Spanish youth football, which earned him a debut call-up to the senior side in September 2003.?

He went on to win 110 caps of his own, and he managed to rack up an impressive 38 goals before retiring from football in August.

The former ?Liverpool, Chelsea and ?Atletico Madrid star was also part of that dominant Spain squad between 2008 and 2012, and will always be remembered as one of the game’s finest.


8. Xabi Alonso (114)

Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso celebrate

Spain have always been known for their majestic passers, and Xabi Alonso certainly played his part in establishing that reputation.

After making his debut in April 2003, the midfield maestro racked up a huge 114 caps for La Roja, and he was yet another core part of the Spain side that took control over both Europe and the wider world. Can you see why they were so successful?

His final appearance came at the 2014 World Cup, before Alonso retired from international duty later that summer. He spent three more years with ?Bayern Munich, before hanging his boots up altogether in 2017.


7. Sergio Busquets (115)

Sergio Busquets

After Spain won Euro 2008, they began looking for a young defensive midfielder to replace veteran Marcos Senna, and they ended up committing to Sergio Busquets. Good call.

The Barcelona man made his debut in April 2009 and needed just three appearances to establish himself as a starter. He has gone on to make 115 appearances to date, but will certainly expect to add to that tally as the years go on.

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To date, Busquets has won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, and there is still time for the 31-year-old to add to his impressive trophy cabinet.


6. David Silva (125)

David Silva

Another example of the phenomenal quality of Spain’s midfielders, ?David Silva enjoyed a stellar international career.

His debut came against Romania in 2006, which was the first of his huge haul of 125 caps. He also lifted two European Championships and one World Cup, before retiring from international duty in 2018.

Silva still plays a starring role for ?Manchester City at club level, but he has already confirmed his intention to leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.


5. Andoni Zubizarreta (126)

Andoni Zubizaretta of Spain

The only player on this list to not be part of Spain’s recent golden generation, goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta actually held the record for the country’s most capped player for many years.

His debut came in 1985, and Zubizarreta quickly established himself as the clear starter in the squad. He racked up 126 appearances and appeared in multiple major tournaments – four World Cups and two European Championships – but he failed to win any major honours with La Roja.

As one of the most dominant goalkeepers in ?La Liga history, all of Zubizarreta’s honours came at club level with Athletic Club and Barcelona.


4. Andrés Iniesta (131)?

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia"Spain v Russia"

The epitome of Spanish football, Andrés Iniesta deserves his place as one of football’s all-time greats.

A versatile midfielder in his youth, Iniesta often featured on the wing after making his international debut in 2006, but he soon made the centre-midfield role his own. He racked up a huge 131 appearances for his country, before bringing the curtain down on his international career in 2018.

His metronomic genius was vital to Spain’s three major trophy victories between 2008 and 2012, and he was pretty decent for Barcelona as well.


3. Xavi (133)

Xavi Hernandez

Alongside Iniesta, Xavi was part of perhaps the greatest central midfield duo which has ever been seen at both club and international level.

The older of the two, Xavi’s senior debut for Spain actually came in a friendly in 2000, but he was in-and-out of the squad until around 2004. He went on to accumulate 133 appearances for La Roja, also getting his hands on the trophies between 2008 and 2012.

He called time on his international career in 2014, before hanging his boots up completely in May 2019.


2. Iker Casillas (167)

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Undoubtedly one of the greatest goalkeepers in history, Iker Casillas’ international career actually got off to a pretty bizarre start.

After making his debut in 2000, the former ?Real Madrid star was predominantly a backup to ?Santiago Cañizares, but was handed a permanent place in the starting lineup in 2002 after Cañizares severed a tendon in his foot after dropping a glass aftershave bottle.

Casillas never looked back as he racked up a whopping 167 appearances for Spain, and he held the record for Spain’s most capped player from November 2011 until October 2019.


1. Sergio Ramos (168)

Sergio Ramos

Now the out-and-out holder of the record, ?Sergio Ramos moved ahead of his former Real teammate by ?starting in the recent 1-1 draw win Norway.

He was handed his debut in 2005 and became Spain’s first-choice right back in early 2006. He went on to play a vital part in the squad’s glory days and in 2019 he remains one of the finest defenders around.

Ramos’ tally will likely continue to grow as the years pass, meaning his record may be incredibly tough to break.?


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Barcelona: Ranking the Club’s 7 Transfer Targets Who Could Succeed Luis Suárez Next Season

?Barcelona have been at the centre of transfer speculation over the last few weeks as they look to find a long-term alternative to Luis Suárez, whose time at the Camp Nou appears to be coming to a gradual end.

The Uruguay international been directly involved in 279 goals in just 255 appearances for the Blaugrana, but Suárez has scored just four goals in the Champions League since the end of the 2016/17 season and doesn’t look like the striker who can lead Barça to European glory once again…despite his fine domestic form this season.

Media publications in Spain have been in overdrive and a seven-man shortlist has been drawn up of targets which could replace Suárez over the next 12 months, ranging from unknown talents to household names.

So with the help of valuations from CIES Football Observatory, here’s a closer look at Barcelona’s list of transfer targets and exactly which order they should prioritise them at the end of the season.


7. Rafael Leão

FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019"Portugal U20 v Argentina U20"

CIES Valuation: €30m-€40m

Barcelona might be looking for a household name to eventually take on their infamous number nine shirt once Suárez’s time is up, but the club could be hard-pressed to find a better deal than signing AC Milan’s Rafael Leão.

The Portugal Under-21 international has only just moved to San Siro after an impressive season with French side Lille, but Leão would find it difficult to turn down the chance to follow in the footsteps of Barça’s Portuguese legends Deco and Luís Figo.

Leão hasn’t shown too much to suggest that the step up to Barcelona would be seamless but the 20-year-old’s career is still in its infancy and he could still benefit from the chance to learn from Suárez before becoming a starter at the Camp Nou.


6. Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford

CIES Valuation: €120m-€150m

It’s been a season to forget for Marcus Rashford, with the England international scoring just one goal since the opening day of the season, but the 21-year-old is still one of Manchester United’s most highly rated players.

Knowing that Rahsford comes with a premium price tag as a young English player, Barcelona would still be getting a versatile forward who can cause problems for any team on the planet thanks to his pace alone.

It’s still largely unknown if the United academy graduate is better suited down the middle or out wide, a problem Barcelona already have trying to fit Antoine Griezmann into their starting lineup, and Rashford could prove to be too much of a gamble in what would likely be a club-record deal.


5. Donyell Malen

Donyell Malen

CIES Valuation: N/A

Former Arsenal academy star Donyell Malen has been linked with a move back to England over the last few weeks in a €60m transfer, but Barcelona have most recently entered the conversation as they look for a new centre-forward.

Similarly to Rashford, Malen hasn’t always been a natural striker, but the 20-year-old has been directly involved in 22 goals across all competitions already this season, while he’s also had more shots than any other player in the Eredivisie.

Barcelona have a long history of signing Dutch players throughout their history, and while Malen would need some time to get used to life at one of the biggest clubs on the planet, he could become the face of their next generation of superstars. 


4. Lautaro Martínez

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CIES Valuation: €50m-€70m

If Barcelona are looking for a halfway house between dishing out a club-record fee for a new striker or signing one for the future, Inter’s Lautaro Martínez would be their go-to player when the transfer window opens next summer.

He’s only spent just over one year in Europe after leaving Racing Club, but Martínez has already made 44 appearances for Inter, scoring 12 goals across all competitions for the Nerazzurri.

The 22-year-old is still developing into a top-level striker, but Martínez has already shown Barcelona that he can make the step up during their meeting earlier this season, while he’s also picked up nine goals in 14 appearances for Argentina.


3. Roberto Firmino

Roberto Firmino

CIES Valuation: €120m-€150m

If Barcelona are looking for a striker who can bring the perfect balance of goals and build-up play, Roberto Firmino will be at the top of their list of targets.

The 28-year-old has transitioned from an attacking midfielder at Hoffenheim into one of the best centre-forwards on the planet under Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, where he’s been directly involved in 123 goals in 204 games across all competitions.

Firmino isn’t a long-term option but could be exactly what Barcelona need to bring the best out of their other attacking outlets, although as things stand the club’s key decision-makers still haven’t reached a consensus over a move for the Brazil international, according to the gossip.


2. Harry Kane

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CIES Valuation: €120m-€150m

Firmly in the conversation over who is the best striker on the planet, Harry Kane could be tempted to move away at the end of the season unless Tottenham’s current form undergoes a massive U-turn.

He’s among a select group of players in Premier League history to reach 100 goals in the top flight in less than 200 appearances, alongside the likes of Alan Shearer, Sergio Agüero and former Barça striker Thierry Henry.

Kane isn’t just one of the best goalscorers on the planet as he’s already shown off his ability to contribute assists, but Barcelona know they’d be getting much more of a one-dimensional striker who might not suit their slower build-up play, especially compared to some of their best throughout history.


1. Kylian Mbappé

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CIES Valuation: €200m-€250m

Barcelona aren’t just looking for a replacement for Suárez next season, as they’ll also be in the hunt for a player who can carry the club as Lionel Messi edges closer the end of his career in Catalonia.

 It might cost them a world-record fee to tempt Kylian Mbappé away from Paris Saint-Germain, especially as he still has a contract at the Parc des Prince until 2022, but Barcelona would be getting their hands on a player who looks certain eventually take the mantle as the best player on the planet.

It’s easy to forget that the World Cup winner is only 20, but Mbappé already has over 100 senior goals for club and country, winning seven major honours at Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco.

Mbappé doesn’t just bring guaranteed goals and bucket loads of potential either, as he’s shown enough versatility already to show that he could fill the boots of Suárez, Messi, or even both over the next decade at Barcelona.


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Barcelona and Real Madrid Set to Do Battle Over €40m-Rated Teen Sensation Eduardo Camavinga

Fierce rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid are set to battle it out for 16-year-old? wonderkid Eduardo Camavinga, who is valued at an extraordinary €40m. 

The midfielder has already become a key member of the Stade Rennais first team, making 12 appearances in all competitions for the French club, which included a brilliant man of the match display against PSG, where he also bagged himself an assist.

SS Lazio v Stade Rennes: Group E - UEFA Europa League

According to ?Mundo Deportivo, Barca director of football Eric Abidal is a massive fan of the player after scouting him on multiple occasions, and believes he is as good as the club’s stand-out youngster Ansu Fati.

With Sergio Busquets now 31 years old and approaching the end of his career, the signing of Camavinga would make sense as a long term replacement for the Spaniard.

However, they will face stiff competition from rivals ?Real Madrid, with manager Zinedine Zidane extremely keen on bringing the youngster into the squad.

Zinedine Zidane

Both clubs have been told that they will have to dish out a whopping €40m for the Congolese, which is a massive price tag for a 16-year-old who came into the picture just this season.

If Camavinga continues to perform well for the rest of 2019/20 campaign, then it is likely that his price will inflate even more, and he could become one of the most sought after players in the world during next summer’s transfer window.

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The Top 15 Footballers Ranked by Their Followers on Twitter

There is only one way to decide which footballer is truly the greatest in the history of the sport.

The amount of goals they’ve scored is irrelevant, as are their on-field performances and silverware collection. Even the number of individual awards they’ve racked up makes no difference to their claim of being the GOAT. All that matters is how many Twitter followers they have.

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-BARCELONA

That instantly rules ?Barcelona legend Lionel Messi out of contention, but surely no one believed he was the world’s best footballer, right? The Argentine steers clear of most social media sites, though many of his colleagues are rather prolific with their tweeting.

Here’s a look at the 15 most followed footballers on Twitter, with several surprise inclusions on the list.


15. Xabi Alonso

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Followers: 11.9m

Xabi Alonso was an expert at performing under pressure during his playing days, with his club trophy haul hitting double figures in the Spaniard’s final season as a professional.

He’s equally adept at handling the stress of getting his point across in 280 characters or less, regularly posting insightful, heart-warming messages, whilst also throwing in the odd picture of himself looking classy. He always looks classy.


14. David de Gea

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-MAN UTD

Followers: 12.4m

It’s official: David de Gea is the finest goalkeeper the game has ever seen. As the highest ranking shot-stopper on this list, the ?Manchester United stalwart beats off the likes of Oliver Kahn and Iker Casillas to earn that illustrious title.

The 28-year-old owes much of his prestige to the Red Devils, who have provided a platform for De Gea to show his skills to the world, though he isn’t a million miles behind United’s official Twitter account in terms of followers.


13. Sergio Aguero

Followers: 13.4m

Despite securing the treble in 2018/19, ?Manchester City’s star-studded team has failed to dominate the social media sphere, much like how they’ve struggled to conquer Europe.

Talismanic forward Sergio Aguero is – pretty unsurprisingly – the Sky Blues’ best performer when it comes to Twitter. Given he’s the club’s greatest goalscorer of all time, that seems appropriate.


12. Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez

Followers: 15.8m

English football supporters don’t have much love for Luis Suarez, yet their distaste for the Uruguayan has had no obvious impact on his popularity across the globe.

The Barcelona striker has hit many goalscoring landmarks since leaving his home country in 2006 and you’re likely to find him celebrating them with his growing army of followers.


11. Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos

Followers: 16.5m

Sergio Ramos has plenty to say about plenty of things, often giving his two cents on topic via a thread of tweets. Whether or not you agree with what he writes, the World Cup winner’s musings are always of interest.

No player in the history of ?La Liga has amassed more yellow and red cards than Ramos, demonstrating his bullish attitude, with that hot-head of his making for some memorable posts on social media.


10. Wayne Rooney

Followers: 17.1m

Sadly misrepresented as a bad guy by the UK press, Wayne Rooney has shown his delicate, compassionate side on Twitter in recent years.

Wazza’s sentimentality is actually quite touching, the former England captain frequently uploading images of his young children or a tribute to the DC United fan-base. 


9. Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao Garcia

Followers: 17.4m

If you have 25,000 people awaiting your arrival at a new club, you’re probably no stranger to the limelight. As Radamel Falcao stepped off the plane to finalise his move to Galatasaray in September, that was the sight that greeted the veteran forward.

It’s no wonder the Colombian icon has so many followers after a stellar career in Europe. More than just a goal machine, Falcao made his name by scoring stunners on the regular for the likes of Porto and ?Atletico Madrid. Let’s just forget about how his two years in England went.


8. Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale

Followers: 18.2m

Gareth Bale is the poster boy of Welsh football, but his 18.2m fans can’t all come from the land of dragons – the country’s population is almost six times smaller than his Twitter following.

Though the winger has been in conflict with ?Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane since the latter’s return to the Bernabeu, Bale remains positive in his posts, handing out praise for teammates and always offering reasons to be cheerful.


7. James Rodriguez

Followers: 18.5m

Falcao may be big on social media, yet he isn’t the top-ranking Colombian. That honour belongs to silky playmaker James Rodriguez, who’s currently working his way back into the hearts of Real Madrid supporters.

Los Blancos’ fan-base were distinctly underwhelmed following his £64m switch from Monaco in 2014, leading to a loan spell at ?Bayern Munich. 

Rodriguez is looking back to his old self having returned to Madrid in the summer, yet his poor performances in recent seasons did little to harm his online reputation.


6. Gerard Pique

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-VALENCIA

Followers: 19.5m

Football may not be the only factor in Gerard Pique’s successful stint on Twitter – the fact he’s married to superstar singer Shakira would have no doubt boosted his follower numbers.

Still, the centre-back had to work hard to make himself so well-known, finding his way back to boyhood club Barça in 2008, before helping the Catalans win three ?Champions League titles, amongst many other trophies.


5. Mesut Ozil

FBL-EUR-C3-ARSENAL-CSKA MOSCOW

Followers: 24.3m

It seems you don’t need to have the backing of your own fans to grow your online following, as demonstrated by Mesut Ozil. ?Arsenal supporters lost their patience with the German several seasons ago, but the good people of Twitter have nonetheless pledged themselves to him.

There are countless footballers in far better form than Ozil, with the vast majority of them having a strong relationship with the crowd. However, only four of his competitors can beat the midfielder when it comes to tweeting.


4. Andres Iniesta

Followers: 24.5m

A stylish, virtuoso talent like Andres Iniesta was always going to prove a hit on Twitter. Of course, choosing to end his playing days in Japan was also useful in gaining new followers from Asia.

As is the case with many players on this list, the Spaniard is fond of posting inspirational messages, along with dramatic shots of him in action and homages to his beloved Barcelona.


3. Kaka

Ricardo Kaka

Followers: 29.7m

No one on the planet has a bad word to say about Kaka. He’s just such a likeable human being and that’s reflected in his online presence.

The Brazilian hung up his boots in 2017 following a brief stay in the MLS with Orlando City, yet his Tweeting days are far from over. Kaka remains rather active on the website, letting fans know how he’s spending his time post-retirement.


2. Neymar

Neymar Jr.

Followers: 44.4m

There’s a sizeable gap between third place and second. Given that the runner-up is a man of Neymar’s standing and prestige, that is to be expected. Everyone knows exactly who the Paris Saint-Germain forward is.

His world-record €222m transfer to France was staggering news, although it wouldn’t have added much to Neymar’s celebrity. The 27-year-old has always been in the public eye, with his mesmerising skill-set leaving viewers speechless since his teenage days at Santos.


1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Followers: 80.4m

Cristiano Ronaldo is always trending on Twitter. People are invariably talking about the Portuguese phenomenon, discussing his rivalry with Messi, stupidly-good goal count, and countless other topics.

More than just a footballer, Ronaldo is a global brand, which is demonstrated by his status as the sixth most-followed person on the social media website. 

Sure, Barack Obama is the overall winner, but has the former president mastered the knuckle-ball technique?


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Jose Mourinho Names the Greatest Footballer He Has Ever Seen

Jose Mourinho has claimed ?Brazil icon Ronaldo is the greatest player he has ever witnessed on the field of play.

Often dubbed ‘O Fenomeno’ by supporters, the striker twice broke the world-record transfer fee before his 21st birthday, having initially moved to Europe in 1994 after agreeing to join PSV Eindhoven from Cruzeiro. He swiftly moved on, switching to Barcelona two years later in a £16m deal, only to leave Catalonia for Inter after just a single season at the Nou Camp.

Foot : Final / Germany - Brazil / Wc 2002

Aside from Ronaldo’s tally of 13 trophies with various clubs – including ?Real Madrid and the aforementioned trio – the forward collected numerous individual honours, with a brace of Ballon d’Or victories standing as one of his finest achievements in the game.

During an interview with LiveScore, Mourinho took time to discuss the best footballers he’d seen in his lifetime. Asked which of them stood out amongst the rest, the 56-year-old replied (as quoted by ?Marca): “Ronaldo, the phenomenon. 

?Cristiano Ronaldo and ?Lionel Messi have had longer careers, they have remained at the top every day for 15 years. But, if we talk strictly about talent and skill, nobody surpasses Ronaldo. 

“When he was in ?Barcelona with Bobby Robson, I realised that he was the strongest player ever seen on the field.”

Real Madrid's Brazilian Ronaldo (down) l

Ronaldo reached over 400 career goals, despite his career being hampered by injuries. Knee issues began to plague the double world champion during his time at ?Inter in 1999, with fitness problems seeing him miss the entirety of the 2000/01 campaign.

Mourinho took those struggles into account when making his decision, explaining: “The injuries killed a race that could have been even more incredible.

“But, the talent that this 19-year-old boy had was something incredible. In 1997 there is a Barcelona final against Paris Saint-Germain in Rotterdam and goal of Ronaldo, 1-0. Awesome.”


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Gerard Pique Hits Comedy Highlights With Repeat Appearance on Spanish TV Show

?Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique has made the most of the international break by appearing on chat show La Resistencia in Spain.

The 32-year-old, who infamously mugged off Real Madrid in his previous appearance on the show last year, was in fine and mischievous form once again – having been called ‘Luis Figo’ on the show the day prior.

He discussed a range of topics starting with Barcelona’s catastrophic collapse against Liverpool in the Champions League last year, with Pique handed a picture of a tweet which had Liverpool’s winning goal against the Catalan giants in it; saying: “Yesterday you called me Luis Figo and I had to become Luis Figo in the dressing room,” signing the picture: “Suck my c**k. [By] Figo.”


Broncano then offered Pique the challenge of buying an expensive item off of Amazon, with the host in the end offering to buy the World Cup winner a stone sculpture that was 2,500kg in weight and two meters tall; with a cost of almost €38,000.

As quoted by the ?Marca, Pique’s reply to this offer whilst laughing was: “It’s ugly as s**t.” 

The former Spanish international is the founder and president of Kosmos Holding, a sports and media investment group he started up with Hiroshi Mikitani in 2017. Recently, Kosmos has stuck up a partnership with the International Tennis Federation in a partnership worth £3bn that involves the transformation of the Davis Cup; also discussed on the show.


Speaking on this matter, Pique proposed that Broncano do a special La Resistencia show at La Caja Magica in Madrid at the venue for the upcoming Davis Cup tournament; and also revealed further concrete plans.

He stated: “Shakira is going to do the closing ceremony of the Davis Cup.”

Pique is set to return to the field next weekend for ?Barcelona’s La Liga clash against Eibar. 

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Lionel Messi: One Man to Rule Them All & in the Darkness Bind Them

Lionel Messi is number 1 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.


Lionel Messi. The name is enough to send shockwaves through the system, the blurry images flashing through the brain enough to make you question everything you thought you knew about physics. About movement. About the difference between solids, liquids and gasses. About life. 

That is what happens when you’re confronted with the best player of his generation and ergo the best player of this decade. You question things, because watching Messi is an existential experience. But you never question Messi himself. 

For he is unquestionable.

Lionel Messi

At least he hasn’t been for some time. But it wasn’t always that way.

We’ve all heard about the growth hormone issues, the ‘he’s too small’ admonishments from coaches and the subsequent hesitancy from Newell’s Old Boys and River Plate to fund the treatment. It’s well documented. But that doesn’t make it any stranger.

Now, I do not have a tape measure nor a time machine to reveal just how tall the Argentine was at these various stages of his stunted development, but I do know that – at this time – he stands at a full two inches taller than a certain Diego Maradona, at least in the annals of Wikipedia.

Sure, the treatment obviously helped, but all I’m saying is that small players from Argentina…they’ve worked out okay before.

And yet, as a little boy, Maradona was a national sensation, juggling oranges and bottles with his feet during breaks in broadcast games*, and quickly became known by such nicknames as ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (The Golden Boy) and ‘Cosmico’ (you get it), while Messi was stuck with ‘La Pulga’. ‘The Flea’. Not quite the same, is it. 


Clearly, Argentina wasn’t quite ready for another Maradona. But – surprisingly, given his so-so exploits at the Nou Camp – Barcelona were.

[*Now, if I’m being honest, Messi is said to have done the same kind of half-time antics at some point, albeit mainly with footballs, but that doesn’t help the narrative does it? And that narrative isn’t falsified, I promise. Both sides chose to not pay for the treatment. That’s a fact.]

At a mere 13, Messi made the migration from the city of Good Air to the city of Gods. No, not Rio de Janeiro. Barca, the home of Cruyff, Rivaldo, Stoichkov and more.

And it was there that The Flea – via some better coaching, better conditions and some biological meddling – became a Butterfly. He rose up the ranks at record speed, shining for the Under-14s, Barca C and then Barca B before finally making his official senior squad debut on October 16th, 2004.

La Liga - Barcelona v Albacete

Injuries to established players meant the Argentine soon became a regular-ish fixture in the side, notching his first goal seventh months later on May 1st 2005, in a La Liga clash against Albacete. A nice nod to his Albiceleste heritage, then, but also a record-breaking one, as the playmaker became the youngest ever goalscorer for the club.

Of course, this has since been eclipsed by such icons as Bojan Krkic and Ansu Fati, but the premise of his precocity still stands.

That summer, he would show his country what they gave up on, taking Argentina to victory at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in the Netherlands, and landing both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for best player. 

A quasi-breakthrough season was then had in 2005/06, with standout displays against Chelsea in the Champions League and Real Madrid in El Clasico peppering an impressive season that was blighted by injury. 

And then came the real breakout. The Ballon d’Or Nominee breakout. The Greatest Goal in the Club’s History Breakout. 2006/07. The year Messi graduated from precocious teen to bona fide, boisterous superstar.

Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (C) is

The goal? That Maradona-esque gliding masterclass against Getafe, which you can find analysed here. The Ballon d’Or? Lost to Kaka, with Cristiano Ronaldo pipping him to second. After all, this was a trophy-less season in Catalunya, unless you’re one of those freaks who counts the Spanish Super Cup.

The next one would be similarly barren for Barca and oh-so nearly prosperous for Leo, with the number 10 losing out to Champions League-winner Cristiano Ronaldo as runner-up.

Fortunately, the wait wouldn’t be long until both desires were satiated.

In 2008/09, after a summer in which Messi had triumphed at the Olympics with his national side, La Blaugrana would beat Real Madrid to the league title, Athletic Bilbao to the Copa del Rey and Manchester United to the Champions League, with Leo finally beating Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or. 

That European final was won with a leaping header from ?Messi, which he recently called his favourite goal ever. This is kind of funny, until you consider what it must’ve meant to put to bed all those previous doubts about his height with a header on the biggest stage of all. 

And what a header it is, to be fair.


But further heights were to be reached in the coming years, the crest of which for both player and club was surely the 2010/11 season (although the fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or in 2012 can’t have been a bad moment).

Sure, the Copa del Rey wasn’t won to make it a treble, but La Liga was. And the Champions League, in seminal fashion. By seminal fashion, I mean the greatest combination of team and individual performance the competition had ever seen. ‘Arguably’, I guess. 

This was the start of a decade of irrepressible success. All in all, the magician has managed 563 goals (91 of which came in one record-breaking, out of this world season), seven La Ligas, five Copas del Rey and two Champions Leagues. 


That last part is what sticks in his craw. As does the 2014 World Cup Final. Indeed, it’s funny to think that if a speculative run and cross from Andre Schurrle hadn’t been converted by Mario Gotze – two players whose participation in such a pivotal moment in history has not aged well in the intervening years – and a Gonzalo Higuain chance had, Messi’s status as the true GOAT would probably be irrefutable. 

Now, that’s a bit of an oxymoron, and irrefutable is not a word that can be used in football, but you get the point. It would be much harder to argue against. Alas, that is the cross he must bear. The blue bird-shaped cross.

Lionel Messi

But thankfully, I can now say – and this, for once, is irrefutable – he is still 90min’s Player of the Decade. He is the one man who can claim this title.

He is the one man who rules them all. The one man who finds them all (the goals). The one man who brings them all (again, goals), and in the darkness binds them (us, the fans, sort of).

And that’s just as good, IMO.


Number 20 – Arjen Robben: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Modern Legend at Bayern Munich

Number 19 – Mohamed Salah: The Humble King Who Conquered Rome and Took Liverpool By Storm

Number 18 – Sergio Aguero: The Man Who Painted Manchester Blue With One Kick of a Football

Number 17 – Manuel Neuer: The Bayern Munich & Germany Legend Who Revolutionised Goalkeeping

Number 16 – Eden Hazard: The Brilliant Belgian Who Mesmerised Fans Across the World

Number 15 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Man Who Needs No Introduction

Number 14 – Toni Kroos: The Underrated Jahrhunderttalent Who Was There for the Biggest Occasions

Number 13 – Giorgio Chiellini: The Juventus Legend Who Has Always Found a Way to Win

Number 12 – Marcelo: From Favela Kickabouts Under Grandad’s Watch to 4 Champions League Wins

Number 11 – Robert Lewandowski: Bayern Munich’s Best Foreign Player & Europe’s Most Underrated Star in History

Number 10 – Neymar Jr: Brazil’s Generational Talent Who Dictated the Greatest Champions League Night in History

Number 9 – Gareth Bale: The Cursed Talent Who Went on to Conquer Europe Four Times

Number 8 – Dani Alves: The Maverick Who’s Just Too Good to Be Copied

Number 7 – Franck Ribery: The Serial Entertainer Who Was Born to Win

Number 6 – Luis Suarez: The Uruguayan Heel Who Never Bit Off More Than He Could Chew

Number 5 – Andrés Iniesta: The Enigmatic Architect Behind the Best Barcelona Team in Modern History

Number 4 – Sergio Ramos: Football’s Big Bad Who Has Dominated the Sport Like No Other

Number 3 – Luka Modric: The Only Other Ballon d’Or Winner of the Decade

?Number 2 – Cristiano Ronaldo: The GOAT Contender Who Knows There Is No Substitute for Hard Work

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90min’s Definitive European Power Rankings – Week 7: Succession Special

?Following a week during which: 

– Juventus put Inter in their place AGAIN.

– Chelsea’s young guns shot the lights out AGAIN.

– Liverpool won AGAIN.

– Manchester City dropped points AGAIN.

We, using quotes from Succession season two, and while listening to Pusha T’s remix of the Nicholas Britell penned Succession soundtrack (?yes, this is a real thing), rank the 15 best teams in Europe.


15) Nantes (New Entry) 

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-NANTES-NICE

If I was to give Tom a letter grade, I’d give him a B+ for Bad plus Terrible.”

If I was to give Nantes a letter grade, I’d give them an A+ for Amazing plus Incredible. 

La Maison Jaune have won three on the bounce in Ligue 1 and now sit second in the table, just two points adrift of Paris Saint-Germain.

If that’s not Amazing plus Incredible then I don’t know what is. 


14) Inter (Down 5) 

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-JUVENTUS

Worried that I agreed to be CEO of a dumpster fire pirate death ship.”

In previous iterations of 90min’s Definitive European Power Rankings, the following was written about ?Inter: 

We’re 95% sure Antonio Conte’s Inter are a great team. 95% sure. However, due to how disastrously pathetic Inter have been for the majority of the past decade, there’s 5% of doubt still lingering.”

BUT hold your horses, and maybe quell the “OMG Inter are going to win the league” chatter. Because we’ve seen this story play out so many times over the past few years: hope of a new dawn, painful setbacks, then embarrassing defeats, then the kicker, a fifth place finish. This season may very well be different…but…you know…it might not be…”

So after last weekend’s humbling at the hand of Juventus, we’re not going to say ‘we told you so’ but…yeah, actually, we are: 

We told you so. 


13) Red Bull Salzburg (Re-Entry) 

FC Red Bull Salzburg v Cashpoint SCR Altach - tipico Bundesliga

“I’m golden, baby.”

Played: 10

Won: 9

Drawn: 1

Lost: 0

Goals Scored: 46 (yes, 46) 

Goals Conceded: 9

Goal Difference: +37 (yes, +37)

In the Austrian Bundesliga, Red Bull Salzburg are golden, baby. 


12) Atalanta (Re-Entry) 

Duvan Zapata

“It looks like there might be a slight uptick in ticket sales.”

– Champions League football? Check.

– A top three side in Serie A? Check. 

– Exciting style of play? Check.

– World class goalscorer? Check.

– World class trequartista? Check. 

– World class, newly refurbished stadium? Check. 

It looks like there’s going to yet another uptick in ticket sales for Atalanta games in the coming months. 


11) Famalicão (-) 

Diogo Goncalves

Good story.”

New DEPR favourites Famalicão didn’t actually play this past week, but neither did any other team in the Primeira Liga, so guess what:

Famalicão are still top of the league!

So rejoice at the feel-good story of the year for one more week (at least). 


10) Manchester City (Down 7) 

Sergio Aguero

I think this might be the end of the company. We might get sucked into a black hole of embarrassment that we never get out of.”

It’s become abundantly clear in recent weeks that Aymeric Laporte’s injury might be the end of ?Manchester City’s title challenge. 

They been sucked into a black hole of playing the embarrassingly awful John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, and until Laporte is back, they will not get out of it. 


9) Ajax (-) 

Dutch Eredivisie"ADO Den Haag v Ajax Amsterdam"

Yeah. So, I think I just, uh, turned down a quarter of a billion dollars.”

Ajax made about a quarter of a billion dollars during the 2019 summer transfer window, but they also turned down about a quarter of a billion dollars too.

And thank God they did. 

If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have the likes of Hakim Ziyech and David Neres keeping them relevant in the Netherlands and on the continent. 


8) Real Madrid (Re-Entry) 

James,Zinedine Zidane

“So I hereby convene the meeting of the newly formed ‘what the f*ck are we gonna do’ committee.”

There were, approximately 23,458 ‘what the f*ck are we gonna do’ committee meetings over the past 12 months at ?Real Madrid, as the club’s hierarchy tried – mostly in vein – to turn their faltering football team around. 

Now, it looks like they might have just worked it out. They finally found that the answer to many of their problems was right in front of them all along. 

It’s James Rodriguez…of all people. 


7) Bayern Munich (Down 6) 

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-BAYERN-MUNICH-HOFFENHEIM

The weakest strong man at the circus.”

Lads, what happened? 

How did you lose to Hoffenheim at the Allianz Arena? 

How does that happen? 

It was all going so well Bayern, you looked like the strongest strong man in all of Europe; now you’re the weakest strong man in the Bundesliga. 

Shambles. 


6) Chelsea (Up 4) 

FBL-ENG-PR-SOUTHAMPTON-CHELSEA

“Let’s move ahead with that process shall we?”

Even the most optimistic of ?Chelsea fans didn’t see this one coming. 

The Blues, armed with a myriad of young go-getters, are – out of nowhere – the second best team in the Premier League.*

They’re better than Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Manchester United (everyone is), and maybe even the Laporte-less Manchester City. Nice one. 


5) Paris Saint-Germain (-)

Pablo Sarabia

This is all normal.”

Oh, would you look at that…Paris Saint-Germain won a Ligue 1 game. 

Whoop-de-doo. 


4) Borussia Monchengladbach (New Entry) 

Denis Zakaria,Breel Embolo

The world’s tallest dwarf.”

Hallelujah! The world’s tallest dwarf (Borussia Monchengladbach) has bested the weakest strong man in the circus (Bayern Munich) and is now top of the Bundesliga. 

It’s the first time a rather tall dwarf (any German team other than Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich) has sat atop of the BuLi table in five years, and it was run of strong man dominance that Gladbach broke in style as – thanks to a Patrick Herrmann (the German) masterclass – they thumped Augsburg 5-1. 


3) Barcelona (Up 3) 

Lionel Messi

“One hundred percent based on truth.”

?Barcelona beat Sevilla 40-0 despite having nine of their ten outfield players sent off this past weekend in La Liga. 

That sentence is 100% based on truth.*

*The truth is, Barca beat Sevilla 4-0 despite having two of their ten outfield players sent off…which is still impressive…but I like my version better; it’s more dramatic. 


2) Liverpool (-) 

Jurgen Klopp

“Hey, this is where the party is at. Look at us, all the cool and beautiful people in one spot.”

?Liverpool fans, it’s time to party. 

For the first time in what feels like 3,000 years (since 1990, to be exact), your football time has won the English top flight; and deservedly so. 

What. A. Team. 


1) Juventus (Up 3) 

Maurizio Sarri

“Bill. The best boss that ever lived. It’s like Mandela f*cked Santa and gave birth to Bill.”

Maurizio. The best boss that ever lived. It’s like Arrigo Sacchi f*cked Marcello Lippi and gave birth to Maurizio. 

For he has worked wonders at ?Juventus. 

He’s revitalised Paulo Dybala, rejuvenated Gonzalo Higuain, and reinvigorated Leonardo Bonucci to make Juventus play the best football in all Europe. Impressive. 


For more from Jack Gallagher, follow him on Twitter! 

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Gerard Pique Failed in £20m Attempt to Buy English National League Side Notts County

?Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was unsuccessful in an attempt to buy National League side Notts County for £20m this summer. 

The former Manchester United centre back was attracted to the rich history of Notts County, who finished third in England top flight in the 1890/91 season and won the FA Cup in 1894. 

According to the Athletic, had the takeover been successful, Pique would have turned Meadow Lane into a school to nurture England’s homegrown talent and ease youngsters into the professional game. 

Notts County v Stockport County - Vanarama National League

The report claims previous Notts County owner Alan Hardy met with representatives from Kosmos Global Holding Group, a sports, media and entertainment company co-owned by Pique. 

However, financial struggles at Notts County halted the deal, whilst an impending High Court date due to an unpaid tax bill forced Hardy’s hand, subsequently selling the club to Danish brothers Kristoffer and Alexander Reedtz, who own betting analysis company Football Radar.

Kosmos is also owned by Japanese e-commerce tycoon Hiroshi Mikitani, who owns the firm Rakuten, also the kit sponsor for ?Barcelona, and investors include Lionel Messi and technology billionaire Larry Ellison. 

Pique is keen to set up his life after football, coming from a well connected family in Catalonia, but has faced legal difficulties in the last few years.

Alan Hardy


The 32-year-old was ordered to pay £1.89m in tax arrears and fines for tax evasion to Spanish authorities in July earlier this year, following other high profile cases involving football figures like Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Notts County have enjoyed a successful start to the league season under their new owners, currently sitting in eighth place in the National League. 

Neal Ardley’s side most recently triumphed 2-0 at home to Dagenham & Redbridge and will host Torquay United at home on Saturday afternoon. 

Let’