Messi wanted to me at Barcelona, claims Inter star Martinez

By Sports Desk December 02, 2021

Lautaro Martinez claimed Lionel Messi previously attempted to convince the striker to leave Inter for Barcelona.

Messi has since ended a 21-year association with Barca as he joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, while Martinez recently renewed fresh terms with the Serie A side until the end of the 2025-26 campaign.

The pair enjoyed success at the Copa America last July, collecting Argentina's first major trophy in 28 years as Messi starred with four goals.

But Martinez revealed the Blaugrana legend wanted to partner up with him at club level as well as he attempted to tee up a deal for the Inter man to join him at Camp Nou in 2020.

"We talked about it a lot in the national team, he asked me what the situation was like between me and Inter, but I always remained calm because we talked to the club to find an agreement to be happy here," Martinez told Sportmediaset.

"That's how it went and I'm happy to have stayed, I'm fine in Milan: I like my family."

Martinez, who signed from Racing Club in July 2018, was an integral part of Antonio Conte's title-winning team as he featured in every Serie A game for Inter.

The 24-year-old formed a dominant partnership last season with Romelu Lukaku, who left for former club Chelsea in August, but the Argentina international explained his strike partner's departure was a personal decision.

"Did he regret Chelsea? I don't know, he made a personal choice," Martinez added on Lukaku.

"He was happy at Inter, we talked often but if he chose to leave it was obviously because he felt like it. We are the ones who now work to give Inter the best."

Martinez, who netted 17 times last term, thrived under the now Tottenham head coach as Inter ended a 10-year wait for the Scudetto, but he revealed he is also enjoying life under new boss Simone Inzaghi.

"He's helping me so much," he told Inter's official website when asked about Inzaghi.

"We met when I came back from the Copa America and before that point, we'd already spoken quite a lot on the phone. He's helped me so much with my performances. 

"I always try to learn as much as I can from coaches because they have a wealth of experience and they always try to do the best for their players."

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    January has so far been a quiet month for Milan – not that the Rossoneri will necessarily complain.

    While technical director Paolo Maldini has failed to this point in his pursuit of a new centre-back – Lille's Sven Botman was a target – he has crucially kept together a Milan team who are again contending for the Serie A title.

    The side's progress under Stefano Pioli has prompted links between a number of their players and super-rich suitors, with each possible departure having the potential to derail Milan's season.

    Indeed, Theo Hernandez's future could so easily have been the subject of a mid-season soap opera, such is the demand for superstar full-backs in the modern game. 

    Hernandez certainly falls into that bracket. Just three defenders in Europe's top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold (38), Achraf Hakimi (36) and Robin Gosens (35) – have registered more goal involvements than Hernandez's 30 (tied with Raphael Guerreiro) since he joined Milan in 2019. In 2021-22, the France international's nine (matched by Reece James) are topped only by Alexander-Arnold (12) and Jonathan Clauss (11).

    Murmurs of a Chelsea bid were inevitable this month with Ben Chilwell out for the season, while Manchester City – playing right-back Joao Cancelo at left-back – and Paris Saint-Germain – never afraid to splash out at any position – have been credited with an interest in the past.

    Instead, Hernandez looks to be staying at San Siro.

    Hernandez happy at San Siro

    Hernandez, whose existing contract expires in 2024, is widely expected to agree an extension, snubbing the prospect of a big move. Of course, the player, who came through Atletico Madrid's academy, has already had one such transfer.

    Having impressed on loan at Alaves, Hernandez headed to Real Madrid in 2017 for an unsuccessful stay at the Santiago Bernabeu. In a single season in the Madrid first team, the defender was restricted to 13 league appearances (10 starts) and failed to contribute either a goal or an assist, creating a meagre eight chances.

    A return to some sort of form with Real Sociedad was followed by a permanent switch to Milan and at last certainty and a clearly specified role, leading the attack from left-back.

    Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (42), Ante Rebic (32) and Hakan Calhanoglu (31) have since registered more Milan goal involvements in Serie A; Calhanoglu (168), now at Inter, alone has created more chances (107).

    "At Real Madrid, I lacked the confidence to play more loose and drive forward," Hernandez told The Athletic this week. "But at Milan, I've got it.

    "I can link up better with the strikers and forwards. What is it that I like? Attacking and going up the pitch. I play with more freedom to score goals and assist more."

    Perfect fit for Pioli's side

    While these attacking contributions are no doubt what has caught the attention of Chelsea and Co., Hernandez is unlikely to enjoy that same freedom in another side.

    At Milan, the 24-year-old's initial task is often simply to get the team up the pitch and into the final third – something he does exceptionally well; no team-mate since 2019 has carried the ball further (231.7 metres) or progressed further up the field (161.7m) per 90. With the license then to orchestrate the play as he sees fit, Hernandez does not always hug the touchline like other players in his position, preferring instead to come inside and use his close control to beat defenders, taking on opponents with 9.7 per cent of his carries.

    In the final third, as Alexander-Arnold – perhaps far more akin to what was traditionally expected of an attacking full-back – delivers 5.9 open-play crosses per 90, Hernandez opts for this route just 2.3 times over the same period. In fact, the Milan man takes shots himself (1.5 per 90) more often than he creates chances for others (1.3).

    Hernandez has similarities with Gosens (1.9 shots, 1.2 chances created per 90) in this sense, with both posting higher figures for expected goals (Hernandez – 0.17, Gosens – 0.25) than for expected assists (Hernandez – 0.15, Gosens – 0.12). However, unlike Gosens, very much a wing-back at Atalanta, Hernandez is typically playing in a back four.

    The signing of a strong left-sided centre-back like Botman – or Diego Carlos of Sevilla, another mooted option – would therefore appear to represent a commitment to Hernandez and his carefree approach.

    Hernandez's nine errors leading to shots in the past three seasons have resulted in three goals, as many as from errors by Alexander-Arnold (two), Guerreiro (one), Gosens, Hakimi and Clauss (all zero) combined. Such mistakes would surely be less costly with a reliable colleague providing back-up, allowing the full-back to continue attacking effectively.

    The leader from left-back

    Although "a complete defender" in the middle – as Pioli describes the blueprint for Milan's ideal signing – would help, Hernandez is determined to play his part in defensive improvement.

    "A full-back firstly has to defend and then has to attack," he told The Athletic. "That is what I'm improving on, little by little. I'm young still, I have many years of football left, and I'm improving on that defensive phase that I was missing."

    The need for improvement was evident in September's reverse fixture against Juventus, Sunday's visitors, when Hernandez's slack early header in the attacking half allowed the Bianconeri to break and, with the defender unable to recover, score through Alvaro Morata.

    Hernandez could still have teed up a winner at the end of that 1-1 draw when a drive through the middle of the pitch found him in position to slide in Pierre Kalulu for a chance the 21-year-old would like to have back.

    Indeed, Hernandez is far from the youngest, rawest talent in the Milan squad and has increasingly established himself as a leader since the game in Turin, wearing the captain's armband in the team's most recent league win at Venezia and marking the occasion with two goals.

    How he and Milan, stunned by Spezia in midweek, when Hernandez missed a penalty, would love to be celebrating again this weekend. With a contract extension on the horizon, Rossoneri fans soon will be regardless.

  • Rumour Has It: Chelsea to make January move for Barcelona's Dembele Rumour Has It: Chelsea to make January move for Barcelona's Dembele

    Ousmane Dembele's future with Barcelona has been unclear for months.

    The 24-year-old has snubbed a fresh contract extension offer at Barca.

    On Thursday, it was confirmed the Blaugrana have subsequently put him up for sale in January.

     

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    Chelsea are ready to make a January move for Barcelona's Dembele, claims The Sun.

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    - Roma are prepared to offer Jordan Veretout in exchange for Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Goal and The Athletic claim that Paris Saint-Germain  are in talks with Spurs and Ndombele over a loan move.

    - The Telegraph claims Tottenham are ready to make a January swoop for Milan's Franck Kessie, whose contract expires at the end of this season.

    - Sevilla are still keen to sign Manchester United forward Anthony Martial on loan, according to Marca. The Spanish club had an initial offer rejected and could move for Lyon's Moussa Dembele as an alternative.

    - Real Betis want to sign Manchester City full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko this month, with the lure of regular football, claims The Sun.

    - Crystal Palace have pulled out of the race to sign Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, reports the Daily Mail. Ramsey has had interest from Newcastle United, Wolves and Burnley.

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    Life under interim manager Paul Hall got off to a shaky for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz following a 3-0 loss to Peru at the Estadio Nacional, in Peru, on Thursday.

    Following a scoreless, even first half the game burst into life when Lewis Iberico outjumped the Jamaican backline to head past goalkeeper Amal Knight in the 48th minute.  Another bit of poor defending saw Alex Valera intercept a ball played across the area to double the host’s lead in the 66th minute.

    Given too much room just outside the area, Yosimar Yotune finished things off with a long-range blast, which saw a diving Knight come up empty-handed.  The mostly locally-based team put together enterprising play at times but seemed to lack ideas and accuracy in the final third of the pitch.

    The full squad will be back in action next Thursday when they host Mexico in the World Cup qualifiers.  Three days later the team will head to Panama, before hosting Costa Rica at home.  Hall replaced Theodore Whitmore as head coach of the team last month, following a string of disappointing results.  

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