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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Messi is still adapting to life in Paris after his switch from Barcelona to the French capital.

Messi moved to Paris Saint-Germain in an astonishing free transfer after the Catalan giants' financial difficulties prevented him from signing a new, pre-agreed contract.

The 34-year-old has claimed several clubs were in contact, but his move to PSG was swiftly completed as he spearheaded a star-studded collection of arrivals at the Parc des Princes over the recent transfer window.

Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma also joined Messi in bolstering Mauricio Pochettino's squad, with Portugal full-back Nuno Mendes subsequently joining on loan late in August.

Messi has not exactly hit the ground running, however. He came agonisingly close to opening his PSG account in a Champions League match against Club Brugge when he struck the woodwork, before then hitting the crossbar with an outstanding free-kick against Lyon in Ligue 1 a few days later.

The Argentine forward was substituted off in that clash with Lyon, missing PSG's next two matches before returning to score a sublime goal against Manchester City in the Champions League, only to then play the full match in a 2-0 defeat at Rennes last Sunday.

While there is still no doubting Messi's stellar quality, he acknowledged he is feeling somewhat "lost" in Paris, as he continues to adapt to the city, culture and his new club.

"At the moment I have to admit that I am still a bit lost," Messi told France Football in an interview published on Saturday.

"It was very painful for me to leave Barcelona after all these years. I had made up my mind, and my family too, that I was going to end my career in Barcelona.

"I had the idea to sign my contract and resume training immediately. I thought that everything was settled and all that was missing was my signature.

"But, when I arrived in Barcelona, ​​I was told that it was no longer possible, that I could not stay and that I had to find myself another club, because Barca did not have the means to extend [my deal]."

However, Messi has no regrets over joining PSG, as he linked up with former Barca team-mate Neymar and France star Kylian Mbappe in a fearsome attacking unit.

"[I am] very happy to be here today," said Messi, who has once again been nominated for the Ballon d'Or, an award he has won a record six times.

"We were very motivated, we really wanted to come. PSG have a fantastic team, with which we can aspire to win lots of titles, which is my goal for the years to come.

"We have great individualities, but we still have to get to know each other well to form a team. This will perhaps avoid falling into certain traps, such as the one set last weekend by Rennes."

While Messi continues to adapt to Parisian life, his sons are seemingly finding the transition to be a smooth one.

"They go to school and learn [French] there," Messi said. "They pick up the words and remember them immediately. They are better than me at that!"

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

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

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

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE ENTER CHASE FOR ICARDI

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

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

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

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Messi

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

Jorginho

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

N'Golo Kante

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

Robert Lewandowski

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

Cristiano Ronaldo

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Barcelona are proud to have Ronald Koeman as head coach and must trust him as they once did Frank Rijkaard, says president Joan Laporta.

Ex-Netherlands boss Koeman appeared to be on the brink of being sacked by Barca when widespread reports ahead of the match with Atletico Madrid on Saturday suggested it would be his last at the helm.

But Laporta came out to insist Koeman would be staying with the club regardless of the result, which proved to be the case despite the Catalans suffering a disappointing 2-0 away defeat in LaLiga.

That left them ninth in the table, while they are bottom of Champions League Group E after woeful defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

Koeman said he was grateful to have been given "clarity" over his future after a meeting with Laporta, with the president citing the backing he had once given Rijkaard, who went on to secure Champions League glory in 2006.

Laporta explained he recognises the difficulties Koeman has had after the departure of talisman Lionel Messi, financial chaos at the club and a long injury list.

"The decision is that Koeman continues," he said to RAC1.

"Everyone, including him, is discouraged at the moment - things have happened that we did not want. 

"But he wants Barca to do well. He has a valid contract and he has to be respected. I am happy with the decision."

 

Laporta continued: "As president I have evaluated everything, I have listened to people I trust and I have come to the conclusion that I must trust and support him as I did with Rijkaard. 

"He is a cule like us, he loves Barça and he is a legend of this club.

"Indeed, has decided to come to us during a moment of sporting and institutional crisis. 

"I wanted to know if he trusted the team and he responded positively and forcefully. He said he needed time to recover the injured players and I saw a person determined to continue."

 

A host of other coaches have been connected with the Barca job, with Koeman's contract due to expire in 2022. Club great Xavi is persistently linked to the role.

Laporta added: "People can think what they want. 

"With Xavi I speak frequently because we are friends. Also with Pep [Guardiola]. I like to know what they think because they know more than me.

"But the coach we have is Koeman. We are proud to have him as a coach."

Joan Laporta has revealed he hoped Lionel Messi would make a last-ditch offer to play for free to avoid him leaving Barcelona.

Messi ended up moving to Paris Saint-Germain in a blockbuster free transfer move in August.

It came after long negotiations over his new Barcelona contract reached a point where the Catalan giants could no longer afford to renew his terms while complying with the financial rules in LaLiga.

Messi, who this week insisted he had not made a mistake in joining PSG, was in tears as he attended his farewell news conference at Camp Nou and admitted he was leaving against his will.

Barca president Laporta was holding out hope Messi would end up staying without taking a salary but ultimately felt it was unreasonable to expect that from the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"With Messi I do not get angry because I appreciate him," Laporta said to RAC1. "I love him too much to be angry.

"I know he had a huge desire to stay, but also a lot of pressure because of the offer he had. 

"Everyone knew that he had a very powerful offer. Everything indicated that he already had the offer from PSG and would go there if he did not stay."

Laporta added: "There comes a time when you see that things just cannot happen, and there was disappointment on both sides.

"When it came to making the decision, I thought I was doing the best thing for Barcelona - nothing can put the institution at risk.

"I did hope that at the last minute there would be a change and Messi would say that he would play for free. 

"I would have liked that and he would have convinced me. I understand that the league would have accepted it. But we cannot expect that from a player of his level.

"We have a very good relationship. I knew that if we recovered financially we would compensate him, but we couldn't make demands knowing the offer he had in Paris."

Messi scored his first PSG goal in the Champions League win over Manchester City last week but has failed to score in his first three Ligue 1 appearances, including Sunday's shock 2-0 loss to Rennes.

Gavi has fast become the talk of Spanish football.

The 17-year-old is a regular for Barcelona and now an international for Luis Enrique's Spain.

His exploits have reportedly attracted interest from Europe's elite.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO CHASING GAVI

Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Manchester United are interested in Barcelona and Spain sensation Gavi, according to El Nacional.

Gavi has enjoyed a rapid rise at Camp Nou this season, while he earned his first international cap in Spain's Nations League semi-final success against Italy on Wednesday.

PSG, Liverpool and United are eyeing Gavi as Barca try to extend the 17-year-old's contract, claims Mundo Deportivo.

 

ROUND-UP

- ABC claims Liverpool have set their sights on Real Madrid attacker Marco Asensio, who is reportedly unhappy at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Juventus and Inter are eyeing Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule, says Calciomercato. The Germany international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has also been linked with Chelsea.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern are monitoring PSV winger Cody Gakpo. The 22-year-old is seen as an ideal replacement Kingsley Coman, who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Liverpool and United.

Valencia and Real Betis are battling to sign out-of-favour Inter forward Alexis Sanchez, per Calciomercato. The Chilean forward has also emerged as a target for Rayo Vallecano.

Mauro Icardi could swap PSG for Juve as the Serie A side view the former Inter captain as an alternative to Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Vlahovic is set to leave Fiorentina amid links with Manchester City, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Inter.

Luis Suarez says the phone call in which Ronald Koeman told him he was surplus to requirements at Barcelona lasted only 40 seconds.

Koeman wasted little time in deciding to move Suarez on after the Dutchman took the reins at Camp Nou in August last year, with Atletico Madrid the beneficiaries.

It came as a surprise to many, not least of all Suarez himself, with the Uruguay international having enjoyed a prolific six years in Catalonia.

The former Liverpool forward scored 198 goals and provided 97 assists in 283 games, winning LaLiga four times and the Champions League in 2015.

Suarez was on the scoresheet as Atletico ran out 2-0 winners over Barca at the start of this month, piling the pressure on Koeman, who watched on as the player he let go celebrated by pretending to take a phone call – a gesture Suarez insisted was not aimed at his old boss.

Speaking to Gerard Romero on Twitch regarding his departure, Suarez revealed: "The call from Koeman to tell me that [I wasn't in his plans] lasted 40 seconds, it's not the way to say goodbye to a legend.

"First he told me that I wasn't in his plans, and then he told me that if I didn't get my contract sorted out I was going to play against Villarreal.

"He lacked the personality to tell me clearly if he didn't want me or if it was really the club that didn't want me."

 

Suarez left at a time when Lionel Messi was also seeking to move on and he admitted it had been a tough period.

"They were very difficult days because of everything I gave to the club," he added.

"I spoke to Sofia [Suarez's wife] and Leo after the phone call. It was a complicated year due to everything.

"Messi asked to leave and I was being sent away. Both of our families had a very bad time."

Paul Pogba's future with Manchester United has been a constant point of speculation for the past few years.

The 2018 World Cup winner is into the last season of a five-year deal with the Red Devils.

Pogba has been on United's books since returning from Juventus in 2016.

TOP STORY – POGBA TO PEN BUMPER NEW DEAL

Paul Pogba has decided he wants to extend his stay with Manchester United, claims L'Equipe.

The French midfielder has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford, with interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, as well as return to Juventus.

Pogba's renewal is expected to command one of the highest salaries in Premier League history.

ROUND-UP

- AS reports that Borussia Dortmund will double Erling Haaland's salary in a bid to ward off interest from Spanish pair Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Manchester City and Chelsea. Dortmund will bump the Norwegian's wages up from €8million to €15m in order to keep him, with the release clause in his contract to activate next off-season.

- Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey is to be put up for sale by Juventus, according to the Daily Mail. Juve are ready to listen to offers for the Wales midfielder, who has fallen out of favour in Turin.

- Liverpool have entered the race to sign Fiorentina's Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic, according to the Mirror. Vlahovic's contract talks with Fiorentina have collapsed.

- Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks is willing to make a January loan move away from Spurs and is open to moving abroad, claims The Times.

- Calciomercato reports that River Plate's 21-year-old Argentina international Julian Alvarez is drawing attention from city rivals Inter and Milan .

- French defender Samuel Umtiti will be made available in January by financially-embattled Barcelona, reports Sport. Umtiti has not played in LaLiga this season.

Lionel Messi insisted he did not make a mistake leaving boyhood club Barcelona for Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi joined PSG on a free transfer after Barca were unable to re-sign the six-time Ballon d'Or winner due to their financial crisis.

It ended Messi's long-standing association with Barca, having made his senior debut for the LaLiga powerhouse in 2004-05.

Messi won 35 trophies at Camp Nou, scoring a record 672 goals across all competitions.

Now settling into life with PSG in the French capital, Messi said he is happy with his decision.

"I didn't make a mistake in going to PSG," Messi told France Football in a preview of his interview, which will be published in full on Saturday.

Since making the move to PSG, Messi has scored once – a goal in the club's 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester City.

The 34-year-old is yet to find the back of the net in Ligue 1, where PSG suffered a shock 2-0 loss at Rennes last week.

It snapped PSG's perfect start to the league season after eight consecutive wins, though Messi's men are still six points clear atop the table through nine rounds.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed Gavi's performance after his record-breaking debut in Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy on Wednesday.

Gavi became Spain's youngest ever player, aged 17 years and 62 days, in the clash at San Siro.

The Barcelona midfielder completed 94.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition's half – a total only bettered by one other Spanish starter – while he contested a game-high 19 duels and made more tackles (four) than any team-mate.

He looked at home on the big stage, and Luis Enrique compared his display to the kind he might serve up in his garden at home.

"He plays like he does at school or in the garden of his house, and it is a pleasure to have a player of this quality and personality," he told reporters.

Spain's victory ended Italy's world-record 37-match unbeaten run and booked a spot in Sunday's Nations League final where they will play France or Belgium, who face off in Thursday's other semi-final.

The triumph was sealed by two goals from Manchester City forward Ferran Torres either side of Leonardo Bonucci's dismissal for the Azzurri before half-time.

 

Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled one back for Roberto Mancini's side late on, but La Roja held firm to record a memorable win against the side who beat them in the Euro 2020 semi-final in July.

"We have once again created chances, and we have overcome them," Luis Enrique added.

"It was a very good game with two sides showing their best. It is very difficult with only one-and-a-half training sessions to transmit what you want, but the players have been very involved, as always.

"The best thing since I've been with the national team is that we've managed to play our game, regardless of the rival and the tournament. I am privileged, because I have a list of 40 or 50 extraordinary players."

Barcelona recorded losses of €481million for the 2020-21 financial year, the club announced on Wednesday.

After a tumultuous year, which ended with Lionel Messi leaving the club as the Catalans could not afford his contract, Barca's revenue was €631m. This fell well below the €828m set in the budget.

With expenditure of a record €1.136billion, up from €955m, Barca posted an operating loss of €505m, a net loss of €555m and a post-tax loss of €481m.

The Blaugrana cited "falling revenues and the inability to contain spending" during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Barca acknowledged they had calculated their loss even without the pandemic at €390m.

Their net debt subsequently stood at €680m, according to LFP criteria, although €122m of this was due to the investment in the Espai Barca project, which is renovating club facilities. Barca's bank debt was €533m.

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