Ajax have confirmed youth player Noah Gesser has died in a car accident at the age of 16.

Gesser, who joined the Eredivisie club three years ago, was due to be part of the Under-17 set-up in the coming season.

A minute's silence will be held ahead of Ajax 1 and Jong Ajax matches on Saturday, with flags flown at half-mast at the training centre.

The club said in a statement on Saturday: "Ajax has received the terrible news that Noah Gesser has passed away. The sixteen-year-old youth academy player was killed in a car accident with his brother on Friday evening.

"Ajax is deeply moved by this tragic event. The club wishes Gesser’s loved ones strength in the coming time in dealing with this immeasurable loss."

Borussia Dortmund have confirmed the signing of Dutch forward Donyell Malen from PSV on a five-year contract.

The 22-year-old, who featured in all four of the Netherlands' Euro 2020 matches, is reported to have cost Dortmund up to €40million.

Malen previously spent time in the academies of Ajax and Arsenal, but it is with PSV that he made his senior breakthrough in February 2018.

He went on to make 116 appearances for the Eredivisie side in all competitions and played a direct part in 79 goals, finding the net 55 times himself and setting up a further 24.

Last season was Malen's best to date in terms of his attacking output as he scored 19 times in 32 Eredivisie games to help PSV finish second to Ajax. 

Those 19 goals were scored from 113 shots, 87 of which were not blocked.

Sixty of those efforts found the target, giving him a shooting accuracy of 68.97 per cent – the best return of any player in the Dutch top flight to have had at least 50 attempts.

In February, he became the second youngest player to score 10 or more goals for PSV in three successive league campaigns after Willy van der Kuijlen between 1964 and 1967.

Malen carried that form into Euro 2020, with his four big chances created bettered by only Gareth Bale (five) at the tournament.

 

After being granted permission to train with his new Dortmund team-mates for the first time on Tuesday, BVB confirmed the signing on their official website later in the day.

The forward's arrival will soften the blow of losing Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, at a time when questions persist over Erling Haaland's future at the Westfalenstadion.

However, speaking earlier on Tuesday, Dortmund's head of first team football Sebastian Kehl dismissed suggestions Malen has been brought in to replace Sancho.

"To compare anyone with Jadon is really unfair," he told Sky Sport Germany. "Jadon needed a certain amount of time to develop to that point himself.

"Donyell is a different player. He likes to cut inside from the wing, whereas Jadon liked to stay out wide. 

"We have tried bringing in a player with a different profile, and we are very happy with that."

Jack Grealish was the player England fans wanted to see during Euro 2020.

Now a move to a bigger Premier League club might be on the cards.

Grealish is reportedly moving closer to leaving Aston Villa.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE GREALISH SWOOP

It seems increasingly unlikely Aston Villa will be able to hold onto Jack Grealish.

The England winger has agreed to personal terms with Manchester City, according to a Football Insider report.

Though he grew up a Villa fan and has spent his entire career with the club, save for a season on loan to Notts County, Grealish is in demand among the Premier League's big-money clubs.

City reportedly are preparing a £90million offer that would be difficult for Villa to refuse.

ROUND-UP

- With Paul Pogba and Manchester United at a stalemate in contract talks, the Telegraph says Paris Saint-Germain believe they can sign the midfielder with a £43million bid.

- Alexandre Lacazette is entering his final year under contract with Arsenal but the Gunners are ready to move on. According to the Sun, they are hoping to net £15m for Lacazette after paying £52m to sign him four years ago.

- Arsenal remain interested in a move for James Maddison, reports the Mirror, and they could explore a swap deal with Leicester City to get it done.

- PSG want to keep Moise Kean on a permanent deal after his year on loan from Everton, but Juventus also are interested, Le 10 Sport reports.

Harry Kane looks like he might soon get his wish to leave Tottenham.

Spurs had previously dug in their heels and were determined that Kane, who is contracted until 2024, would stay.

The England captain won last season's Premier League Golden Boot with 23 goals, and now he could be heading to the champions.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SET FOR BUMPER KANE DEAL

Tottenham forward Harry Kane is poised for a £160million move to Manchester City, reports The Sun.

According to the report, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will allow Kane to exit the club for such a sum.

Kane is said by the newspaper to have agreed personal terms on a £400,000-a-week deal with City, which is reportedly double his current Tottenham contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba has rejected a £50million contract offer at Manchester United and is set to leave this summer, according to The Mirror as rumours swirl about Paris Saint-Germain's interest.

- Marca reports that Kylian Mbappe will reject Paris Saint-Germain's latest contract offer and look to seal a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

- Fabrizio Romano has reported that talks are ongoing between Atalanta and Tottenham for Cristian Romero with personal terms agreed and a €55m price tag on the table.

- Atalanta want Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez included in any deal, reports Sportitalia.

- Milan are interested in signing Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech on loan, claims Calcio Mercato.

- Donyell Malen 's transfer from PSV Eindhoven to Borussia Dortmund is all but done according to Dutch outlet ED, with an anticipated €30m fee.

Milan target Dusan Tadic will not be moving to San Siro, with the forward having agreed a new three-year deal with Ajax.

Ajax captain Tadic was reportedly close to a switch to the Serie A giants, who are back in the Champions League for the 2021-22 season after a second-place finish last term.

However, the 32-year-old has opted to stay in Amsterdam, penning a new deal keeping him at Ajax until June 2024.

It is a one-year extension on his previous contract, which was set to expire at the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

Tadic joined Ajax from Premier League side Southampton in 2018 and went on to play a key role in the Dutch team reaching the Champions League semi-finals that season.

He scored 28 goals in the Eredivisie and added a further six in the Champions League proper, following three goals in Ajax's qualifiers.

Only Lionel Messi (12) and Robert Lewandowski (eight) scored more times than Tadic in UEFA's flagship competition in 2018-19, with his tally of four assists second to Kylian Mbappe and Jordi Alba (five). No player created more chances than the Serbian (37), who was eight ahead of his nearest rival in that regard (Toni Kroos, 29).

Tadic outscored his expected goals (xG) figure of 4.79, suggesting his finishing from certain situations was more proficient than would be expected. His standout performance came in a 4-1 last-16 win at Real Madrid, with the former Twente forward scoring a stunning effort and assisting two other goals.

In total, Tadic has played 149 competitive games for Ajax, scoring 76 times, and he was named Dutch footballer of the year in 2020-21 as he helped Ajax retain the title, with the previous season having been voided due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ajax's director of football Marc Overmars told the club's official website: "It is no secret that Dusan plays a very important role for the team.

"Both on and off the pitch, he is a real leader. So, it's fantastic that we can keep him at Ajax even longer."

Arjen Robben's playing days are officially over (again), with the Bayern Munich and Netherlands great confirming on Thursday that he is hanging up his boots.

Of course, this is not the first time Robben has made such a decision – he initially retired in 2019 after a decade with Bayern before returning to his first club Groningen.

Although the fairy-tale conclusion he may have hoped for never quite materialised, ending his career where it all began has seen his playing days come full circle.

In honour of Robben's retirement, Stats Perform takes a look at greats who have gone back to their spiritual home in the twilight stages, starting with an overview of the king of inverted wingers…

Arjen Robben - Groningen

Robben's first retirement lasted just a single season, having announced last year he would be returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his availability, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances. Club director Mark-Jan Fledderus wanted him to stay on for another year, but when Robben said at the end of the season that he was going to have a long think about his future, the writing was seemingly on the wall. Another U-turn appears unlikely.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He is expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca next season.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021, though it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Gianluigi Buffon - Parma

Okay, he is not technically retired yet, so perhaps Buffon does not strictly qualify here. However, after departing Juventus for the second time at the end of 2020-21, the Italy great suggested he had not finished playing just yet. Parma quickly emerged as a potential destination despite their recent relegation to Serie B, and after a few weeks of contemplation, it was confirmed that Buffon was heading back to the club. Now 43, the iconic goalkeeper will wear the Gialloblu for the first time in 20 years, and he is set to remain with them until he turns 45, given he signed a two-year contract. What happens after that is anyone's guess but calling it a day with his first club could be a satisfyingly romantic conclusion.

He is back where he belongs.
He is back home. #SupermanReturns @gianluigibuffon @Kyle_J_Krause @ParmaCalcio_en pic.twitter.com/bh2FO6P8YX

— Parma Calcio 1913 (@1913parmacalcio) June 17, 2021

Arjen Robben has decided to bring his playing career to an end just a year after announcing his return with boyhood club Groningen.

Former Bayern Munich and Netherlands great Robben initially called it quits in 2019 following a decade in Bavaria, having seen the final few years of his time in the Bundesliga partially interrupted by fitness problems.

After a season away he announced in June 2020 that he was to return to football with Groningen, the club at which he started his career, in an attempt to help them out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It was to be his first season in the Eredivisie since 2003-04, which was the last of his two campaigns with PSV prior to joining Chelsea.

However, injuries and fitness issues restricted Robben to just six league outings and he hinted at the end of the season that he may not return.

Now it is official that Robben has hung up his boots, with another U-turn somewhat more unlikely this time at the age of 37.

He said: "A year ago I announced my comeback as an FC Groningen player. I embarked on this adventure with great energy and enthusiasm.

"Looking back on the past season, I have to come to the honest conclusion that the number of match minutes was disappointing. After the last game I said I would take the time to make an informed decision about the future.

"That was very difficult, because the mind and the emotion were in direct opposition. The football heart wanted to move on, especially with that ultimate goal of a full Euroborg [Groningen's stadium] in prospect.

"But the decision to quit is fair and realistic. That is why from today I am no longer a player, but a supporter of our football club.

"I would like to thank all football supporters and enthusiasts for all the warm support and sweet messages I have received over the past year. That was wonderful and heartwarming.

"I wish everyone a great football season in full stadiums, but above all good health."

Groningen technical director Mark-Jan Fledderus was keen to stress that the club's wish was for Robben to carry on for another season, but his decision has been met with respect and understanding.

Fledderus said: "It was common knowledge that we really wanted Arjen to stick with it for another year, but we also said that we appreciate and respect every decision made by him.

"We are especially grateful to Arjen that he took the step last year to make his comeback at FC Groningen.

"What that decision has meant for the club is unique. It shows the incredible commitment to FC Groningen and his love of the club.

"That is unprecedented for a player with his track record. His presence and influence on and off the field was invaluable."

While the Groningen return perhaps was not the fairy tale ending he had hoped for, Robben's career was a glorious one.

Robben made his professional debut with Groningen in 2000 and spent two seasons there before joining PSV, where he won a league title in the 2002-03 season.

He won further championships in England, Spain and Germany with Chelsea, Madrid and Bayern respectively, in the process becoming one of the world's best wide players.

He helped win eight Bundesliga titles during his decade with Bayern, plus the Champions League in 2012-13, making 309 appearances across all competitions.

Despite the injuries, Robben still managed to score 144 times for Bayern, including six in 19 matches in his final campaign.

He won 96 caps for the Netherlands, scoring 37 times, and was part of the Dutch team that was beaten in the 2010 World Cup final by Spain in South Africa.

Will Kylian Mbappe move to Real Madrid?

Will Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain?

The star pair are dominating headlines in the transfer market.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Real Madrid believe they will be able to prise Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain if the Ligue 1 giants sign Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Diario AS.

Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract – has long been tipped to join LaLiga powerhouse Madrid, while Liverpool have also been linked.

Messi is out of contract at Barca and while the Catalan club remain confident of re-signing the superstar captain, PSG and Madrid are hoping to make the most of the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal have joined PSG and Atletico Madrid in the chase to sign Lyon star Houssem Aouar, reports Le10 Sport.

- Calciomercato says Serie A champions Inter and Ligue 1 outfit Lyon are both eyeing Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Milan have increased their contract offer for star midfielder Franck Kessie, per Gazzetta dello Sport. Having already lost Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu, the Rossoneri are keen to re-sign Kessie, who has been linked with PSG, Tottenham, Arsenal and Inter.

Manchester City are interested in Napoli star Piotr Zielinski, according to Tuttosport. Napoli are believed to be willing to listen to offers. Premier League champions City have also been linked with the likes of Tottenham's Harry Kane, Inter forward Romelu Lukaku, Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland and Madrid defender Raphael Varane in the transfer window.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga and Varane both moving to Manchester United, while not impossible is "remote in reality", according to Sky Sports.

Lionel Messi is out of contract but tipped to re-sign with Barcelona.

However, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly not prepared to give up on prising Messi to Paris.

Messi's future could become clearer after the Copa America.

 

TOP STORY – PSG STILL DREAMING OF MESSI

Paris Saint-Germain are trying to trump Barcelona's offer to Lionel Messi, according to Diario AS.

Messi is officially a free agent following the expiration of his Barcelona contract and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with PSG and Manchester City.

While Messi has been tipped to re-sign at Camp Nou, PSG are reportedly refusing to give up hope on signing the Argentina superstar.

Amid uncertainty over Real Madrid and Liverpool target Kylian Mbappe, PSG have also been eyeing Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham's Harry Kane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Manchester United are considering a swap deal involving Paul Pogba and Madrid defender Raphael Varane. The Red Devils are interested in signing Varane to bolster their defence, while Pogba has long been linked with Madrid and Juve.

Barca are stepping up their interest in Sampdoria and Denmark star Mikkel Damsgaard, claims Mundo Deportivo.

- Ajax star Dusan Tadic has emerged as a target for Milan following the departure of Hakan Calhanoglu, says Calciomercato.

Eduardo Camavinga's Rennes departure is inevitable, according to Le Parisien. The France sensation has been linked with Madrid, PSG, United, Arsenal and Bayern Munich among others.

- The Transfer Window Podcast says free agent Sergio Ramos has been offered to Chelsea. After leaving Madrid, Ramos is reportedly poised to join PSG. At Stamford Bridge, Champions League holders Chelsea are eyeing Borussia Dortmund's in-demand forward Erling Haaland.

Are Manchester United set for a busy transfer window?

After finishing runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and losing in the Europa League final, United are keen to strengthen.

A trio of stars are reportedly on the club's shortlist.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT THREE MORE PLAYERS

Manchester United are targeting three more signings this off-season, according to The Guardian.

United have agreed a deal to bring Jadon Sancho to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants more.

The Red Devils are reportedly closing in on Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, though Villarreal's Pau Torres has also been linked, with Tottenham star Harry Kane and West Ham midfielder Declan Rice also on the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Italy and Roma full-back Leonardo Spinazzola is attracting interest from Madrid following his exploits at Euro 2020, reports Calciomercato. LaLiga rivals Barcelona have also been linked.

- After agreeing to sell Sancho, Dortmund are eyeing PSV's Donyell Malen and RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg, reports Sport Bild.

Paris Saint-Germain are planning to announce the arrivals of Sergio Ramos, Inter star Achraf Hakimi and former Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma within 15 days, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ramos has agreed to sign a two-year deal in Paris.

- Antena 2 claims James Rodriguez is in talks with Serie A runners-up Milan over a move from Everton.

United are prioritising a contract extension for star Bruno Fernandes, says Romano. Fernandes has flourished since arriving from Sporting CP.

Madrid have joined Milan in the race to sign United and Portugal full-back Diogo Dalot, claims Calciomercato.

PSG have emerged as the only likely suitor for Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after United signed Sancho, reports Calciomercato. However, a move depends on whether Kylian Mbappe leaves PSG for Madrid or Liverpool.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain star is wanted in France and Spain.

France striker Mbappe is reportedly facing a decision over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE HAS DECISION TO MAKE

Kylian Mbappe has a decision to make over his future as he enters the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract, according to the front pages of Wednesday's Marca and Diario AS.

Mbappe will become a free agent at the end of the 2021-22 season and the PSG star continues to be heavily linked with LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

L'Equipe, however, claims PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has taken over from sporting director Leonardo in contract negotiations and Mbappe is reportedly pleased with the club's early transfer business as Gianluigi Donnarumma prepares to join Georginio Wijnaldum in Paris.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports Cristiano Ronaldo's future at Juventus is uncertain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with PSG, Madrid and Manchester United. Contracted to Juve until 2022, Romano says Ronaldo is not negotiating a new deal as the Serie A giants wait for the superstar to decide whether he stays or leaves.

- Aston Villa are hopeful of keeping star captain Jack Grealish amid interest from Premier League champions Manchester City, per The Telegraph.

- Bild reports RB Leipzig are set to sign Eintracht Frankfurt forward Andre Silva. The Portugal international starred in 2020-21 and has been linked with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Madrid, United and City.

- United are eyeing Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka as a possible replacement for Paul Pogba, according to Sport Bild. Bayern and Goretzka have been discussing a new deal. It comes as Bayern also try to re-sign Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich. Coman has been linked with United and Liverpool.

Atalanta are in advanced talks to sign Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso, claims Sky Sport Italia. Musso has previously been linked with Serie A champions Inter, who are reportedly eyeing Ajax's Andre Onana.

- Le10 Sport claims negotiations between PSG and former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos have hit a snag due to the club's unwillingness to offer a two-year deal. Ramos has also been linked with United, City, Chelsea and Juventus on a free transfer.

- A resolution for Lionel Messi's contract renewal at Barcelona does not seem to be close as he is set to officially become a free agent at midnight on Wednesday, claims Marca. Barca are pushing to complete the new deal.

Kylian Mbappe understandably has a long list of admirers as speculation swirls over his Paris Saint-Germain future.

The 22-year-old's contract with PSG is due to expire in 2022 and Mbappe has previously hinted at his desire for a move.

He has been heavily linked with Real Madrid but one of the biggest clubs in England reportedly have their eye on the France international.

 

TOP STORY - LIVERPOOL'S AUDACIOUS MBAPPE ENQUIRY

Liverpool have entered the race to sign PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, claims Marca.

Marca reports that the Reds have enquired with PSG about Mbappe's availability.

The audacious move comes as Liverpool plan for a long-term future with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Rennes' 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga is on the radar of Manchester United, claims The Mail. Camavinga has already caught the eye of several top clubs.

- Manchester City are circling for Chelsea defender Reece James, with The Athletic reporting he is on their "wish list".

- Tottenham are homing in on a move for Bologna's Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, according to The Sun. It is understood the deal is worth £15million (€17.5m).

- With Jadon Sancho set to leave Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United, the German club are targeting PSV Eindhoven's Donyell Malen, claims The Mirror.

- Sport claims that AC Milan are close to agreeing a loan deal with Barcelona's Junior Firpo.

In a move that football purists, romanticists and aficionados of 1990s Serie A will be excited by, Gianluigi Buffon is returning to Parma after 20 years away.

Buffon came through the club's academy in the early '90s and made 220 appearances for them in all competitions, winning the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and UEFA Cup during a six-year spell in the first-team.

Juventus made Buffon the world's most-expensive goalkeeper at the time when they paid €52million for him in 2001 and he played 685 times for them across two spells, 20 short of Alessandro Del Piero's club record.

Nevertheless, Buffon's longevity has ensured he is the record holder for the most Serie A appearances (657) and titles (10) in the league's history.

After leaving Juve at the end of the 2020-21 season, it was unclear what would be next for Buffon, but links with Parma began to stir despite their relegation to Serie B.

And on Thursday the club confirmed Buffon is back. While the days of challenging for major honours are long gone for Parma, the goalkeeping great represents a coup and the kind of transfer that tugs at heartstrings.

In honour of Buffon's momentous return, Stats Perform takes a look at other greats who've gone back to their spiritual home to close out their career.

Arjen Robben - Groningen

Arjen Robben's retirement lasted just a single season, as the Netherlands and Bayern Munich great announced last year that he was returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his season, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances. It's unclear if he'll play on into 2021-22, though either way it's safe to assume Groningen will be where he retires once and for all.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He is expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca next season.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021, though it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Borussia Dortmund appear to be more willing to allow Jadon Sancho to depart this off-season.

The England international has been courted by several Premier League clubs in the past.

He almost joined Manchester United 12 months ago in a drawn out transfer saga.

 

TOP STORY - SANCHO DEAL BACK ON FOR UNITED

The Mirror claims that Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho has agreed personal terms on a move to join Manchester United.

The 21-year-old winger came close to signing with the Red Devils 12 months ago but this time around Dortmund are more willing to part ways with him.

Sancho has reportedly settled on the details of the contract offer but United and Dortmund still need to agree on the transfer fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham's search for a new manager has moved to Ajax boss Erik van Tag according to the Mirror. Spurs' move for Antonio Conte has collapsed.

- New Roma head coach Jose Mourinho is chasing a goalkeeper, with Tottenham's Hugo Lloris, Juventus' Wojciech Szczesny and Wolverhampton's Rui Patricio top of the list, reports La Gazetta dello Sport.

- Roma are also keen on Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Mirror also reports that England full-back Kieran Trippier has informed his Atletico Madrid teammates that he wants to join Manchester United this off-season.

- Marca reports that Barcelona plan to offer a new contract to youngster Ilaix Moriba following interest from several top clubs after his breakout season.

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

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