Mikel Arteta has heaped praise on Martin Odegaard for how he has started at Arsenal, calling the midfielder's effort "phenomenal".

Odegaard joined Arsenal on loan from Real Madrid towards the end of the January transfer window.

He is yet to register a goal or an assist in eight outings for the Gunners, prompting former players like Martin Keown and Nigel Winterburn to criticise his start.

But Arteta has been highly impressed by the 22-year-old and is thrilled with how well he has settled, amid speculation over whether Arsenal will opt to pursue a permanent move.

"I'm really happy with him," said Arteta. "I think he has settled really, really quickly into the team and with what we demand from the players. 

"His behaviour, his attitude and his work rate has been phenomenal. 

"He has had better moments than others during games to give us the special qualities he has, but overall, I'm really happy with him."

One of the players Odegaard is battling with for selection is emerging attacking midfielder Emile Smith Rowe.

Smith Rowe has been out of action with a hip injury for the last 10 days but might be back in time to face Olympiacos in the Europa League last-16 first leg on Thursday.

"He is going to have a full session [on Wednesday] to see if he can be involved for [Thursday's] game," said Arteta.

"After training, we will know exactly where we are with him."

The tie will see Arsenal come up against former player Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who joined Olympiacos on a two-year deal in January.

Arteta added ahead of the away first leg: "I am looking forward to seeing Papa, he is such a good character and a very popular player here. 

"He was liked and loved by everybody. It was a pleasure to work with him, such a pro. 

"It is true he knows what we try to do, but there isn’t a magic formula. I’m sure he will try to do his best and we will do the same."

Arsenal and Olympiacos have previously met on 10 occasions across all European competitions, with no encounter ending level and both teams winning five times each.

Greek champions Olympiacos dumped Arsenal out of the Europa League last season at the last-32 stage.

The Gunners are hoping to avoid back-to-back eliminations suffered at the hands of the same side, which last happened to them in 2012-13 and 2013-14 against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Manchester United have appointed Darren Fletcher as technical director and promoted John Murtough to the new role of football director.

Both former United midfielder Fletcher and Murtough will support manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the club announced on Wednesday.

United's search for a director of football has seen them linked with a number of their former players and some of the top sporting directors on the continent.

They have settled on two new roles, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward calling the appointments "hugely important" for United.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rivaldo believes Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos would be a good signing for bitter LaLiga rivals Barcelona.

Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and the superstar defender is yet to agree a new contract with the LaLiga champions.

The 34-year-old Spain skipper has been linked to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus.

Rivaldo, who won two LaLiga titles among other honours during his time with Barca, backed Ramos for a controversial move to Camp Nou.

"A player has to be professional, and if you have good offers, I don't think it's okay to hear them," former Brazil international Rivaldo told Betfair.

"Of course, Sergio Ramos would be a good signing for Barcelona. It would be historic and it would be controversial because of Sergio Ramos' history with Real Madrid."

Ramos has called Madrid home since joining from Sevilla in 2005, winning five LaLiga trophies, four Champions League titles, as many Club World Cup crowns and three UEFA Super Cup medals among 22 major honours at the Santiago Bernabeu.

There is also speculation over Lionel Messi's future, with the Barca skipper tipped to leave the Catalan powerhouse on a free transfer at season's end.

Messi – a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner – has been heavily linked with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League leaders City.

"If I were [PSG head coach Mauricio] Pochettino, I would tell the owner of PSG that we'd better stay the way we are before bringing in Messi," Rivaldo said. "I like Messi, but [Kylian] Mbappe is at home and there would also be everyone in their team.

"It is difficult to talk about a change from Messi to Mbappe, because football is money and if Messi goes to PSG, he will have many economic benefits. But of course, Messi is already more than 30 years old and in PSG there is already Mbappe with 22 years. It is difficult.

"PSG, I repeat, I think they do not need any signings because they have a great team… but football is also a business."

Edinson Cavani said he is proud to wear the Manchester United shirt after his father claimed the star forward is unhappy at Old Trafford and wants to leave at season's end.

Cavani joined United as a free agent on a one-year deal at the start of the season and the 34-year-old has impressed in Manchester, where the Uruguayan has scored seven goals and supplied two assists across 25 appearances in all competitions.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has flagged the possibility of a contract extension amid Cavani's links to Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors.

Cavani's father, Luis, claimed Paris Saint-Germain's all-time leading goalscorer is not happy in the Premier League and "would like to play for Boca".

But Edinson Cavani dispelled those comments via social media on Tuesday.

"Proud to wear this shirt @manchesterunited," Cavani wrote in an Instagram post.

Earlier, Luis Cavani had told TyC Sports: "My son is not happy in England and wants to return nearer his family. He wants to play in South America.

"I want Edinson to play for a team which fights for important trophies. He has had many conversations with [Boca vice-president Juan Roman] Riquelme and would like to play for Boca.

"At the halfway point of the year, he'd like to return to South America. My son’s idea is not to continue there [in Manchester]. He wants to return.

"I think he's going to come back in June this year."

Cavani Sr cited his son's punishment by the Football Association (FA) for using a racially insensitive word in a social media post as a factor in his unhappiness.

"There are things which sometimes annoy us as humans, as people. The whole ban issue annoyed him," Luis Cavani added.

"That has been playing on him, sometimes players can't find form either. These things can weigh heavy on you. Sometimes mentally you can get dragged down."

English Premier League club Manchester United has reportedly contacted agents of Jamaica international Leon Bailey with a view to potentially securing the services of the player this summer.

The 23-year-old winger is under contract with German club Bayern Leverkusen until 2023 but rumors have run rife that the player could be set for a move away from the Bundesliga this transfer window.

With United in the marketplace for more attacking options, the Jamaica winger, who is valued somewhere in the region of £50 million, could be a solid bet.  According to reports, the Reds Devils have sent scouts to keep an eye on his development in the past 18 months.  Initially, the club was thought to be interested in Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho but the clubs remain far apart on valuation numbers.

The Jamaican has had a strong season for the German club in both the Bundesliga and European League.  In the Europa League, the player scored five times and provide 4 assists in 6 appearances, while so far, he has scored 6 league goals and dished 6 assists in 20 appearances.

Edinson Cavani's father has claimed his son is unhappy at Manchester United and wants to leave at the end of this season, with Boca Juniors his preferred destination.

Uruguay international Cavani has proved a popular addition to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad this term, scoring seven goals and supplying two assists across 25 appearances in all competitions.

Solskjaer recently said an extened stay at Old Trafford was possible for the 34-year-old, but Cavani's father Luis told TyC Sports that a return to South America could be on the cards.

"My son is not happy in England and wants to return nearer his family. He wants to play in South America.

"I want Edinson to play for a team which fights for important trophies. He has had many conversations with [Boca vice-president Juan Roman] Riquelme and would like to play for Boca.

"At the halfway point of the year, he'd like to return to South America. My son’s idea is not to continue there [in Manchester]. He wants to return.

"I think he's going to come back in June this year."

Cavani Sr cited his son's punishment by the Football Association for using a racially insensitive word in a social media post as a factor in his unhappiness.

Cavani was handed a three-game ban for bringing the game into disrepute by the Football Association (FA), although CONMEBOL and the Uruguayan FA came out in defence of the player.

"There are things which sometimes annoy us as humans, as people. The whole ban issue annoyed him," Luis Cavani added.

"That has been playing on him, sometimes players can't find form either. These things can weigh heavy on you. Sometimes mentally you can get dragged down."

It remains to be seen what impact this development has upon Cavani's future, with Solskjaer having previously stated United were open to taking up an option of a further 12 months with the former Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli star.

"I can only say Edinson has done well," the United manager said. "I've been impressed by him, he's really gelled in the group and we’ll sit down and speak with him in the near future to see his plans and our plans.

"It's a good discussion to have. We always speak to the players, and with his contract situation at the moment we’re very pleased with what he’s done."

Lionel Messi's history with newly elected Barcelona president Joan Laporta is a good thing for the club but it still may not be enough to convince the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to stay, accepts Ronald Koeman.

Laporta was confirmed as the permanent successor to Josep Maria Bartomeu on Sunday, winning over 50 per cent of the votes in the long-delayed elections.

Bartomeu left the club in October last year after facing the brunt of the criticism in response to Messi's attempted departure, with the player publicly castigating him and accusing him of reneging on promises.

Laporta had long been seen as the favourite for Sunday's election due to holding the post from 2003 to 2010, one of the club's most successful eras and the period that elevated Messi from youth prospect to global superstar.

Resolving Messi's future is now one of Laporta's chief focuses, with the Barca captain previously suggesting he will only look to stay beyond June – when his contract expires – if the club is competitive.

Laporta routinely emphasised his relationship with Messi during his election campaign, adamant he was the only one of the three candidates able to ensure the player would stay, but Koeman knows the decision ultimately rests with the captain.

"I don't know if it's more likely for Messi to continue [at Barca now Laporta is president]," the Barca boss told reporters on Tuesday ahead of the Champions League last-16 second leg with Paris Saint-Germain.

"It's true that Laporta has a past with Leo and other players. That is positive, but I don't know [if that will help] – he has said that he will decide.

"Only Leo knows what he will do. Hopefully, he continues with us. We all want him to stay.

"Laporta won the election by a considerable distance. The members voted and for the club, it is good to have a president like him to work things out and improve things for the future of this club."

Koeman's own future has been a subject of contention connected to the election, with numerous reports suggesting other coaches had been sounded out by the various candidates.

Mikel Arteta and Xavi are the two names to have been linked most prominently with Koeman's job in recent weeks, but the former Netherlands coach insists he has only received positive vibes from his new boss and those who have worked with him before.

"I know Laporta, we've greeted each other several times in the past. I also know [Frank] Rijkaard well, who worked with him here when Laporta was president last time," he said.

"Laporta gives the coaches a lot of confidence and also his players. He is very involved in his role of helping both. In the end, everything depends on the results."

When asked to relay what Laporta said while addressing the team on Monday, Koeman added: "They were normal things. It went well, he said a few words to the players and staff in the dressing room and there were good vibes.

"Now we have to continue on the path we have started on. Tomorrow [against PSG] we have to continue on that."

Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

Matthijs de Ligt was linked with Manchester United before his move to Juventus in 2019.

United have reportedly renewed their interest in the 21-year-old Dutch defender.

Could he end up in Manchester?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT DE LIGT

Manchester United are set to target Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, according to TodoFichajes.

United were heavily linked with De Ligt before the Netherlands international swapped Ajax for Serie A champions Juve in 2019.

With United reportedly not advancing in their pursuit of Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, the Red Devils are eyeing De Ligt.

United have also been linked with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Paris Saint-Germain are poised to offer David Alaba a €25million-per year deal in an attempt to prise the Bayern Munich star to the French capital. Out of contract at season's end, Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid. Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City have also been linked.

United have been left alone in the fight to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims TodoFichajes. Unwilling to match Villa's valuation, City have reportedly exited the race for Grealish. The report also says United could sell Marcus Rashford to fund the move.

- Madrid stars Lucas Vazquez and Isco are wanted by Everton, according to Calciomercato. After prising James Rodriguez from the LaLiga champions, Everton are targeting another two players from the Spanish capital, though Milan and Juve are also keen.

- Diario AS reports Madrid are prioritising a move for in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. Chelsea, United, City, Juve, PSG, Barca and Bayern have all been linked but Madrid are reportedly shifting their attention from Kylian Mbappe to Haaland.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he is open to extending his Milan contract if technical director Paolo Maldini "wants".

Ibrahimovic has been a revelation since returning to Milan for a second spell in January last year, the evergreen 39-year-old spearheading the club's Scudetto charge this term.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star – out of contract at season's end – has scored 14 Serie A goals to help Milan up to second position, three points adrift of city rivals Inter.

Asked about his future, Ibrahimovic told RAI's Che Tempo Che Fa via RAI: "I don't know, let's see. If Paolo wants, I am up for it.

"The season is still long, there are many games left.

"We always play to win, even if they can play once a week."

Nursing an injury, Ibrahimovic has been sidelined as he participated in the Sanremo music festival during the week.

Ibrahimovic was in attendance for Milan's 2-0 victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

"I am Zlatan, I feel the responsibility and I feel like a leader. This team is the only one that made me feel thrilled. I want to teach, I want to be a guide," he added.

"When I say something, they others are like: 'Ok, we are doing it'. Today I wanted to be in Verona, I felt it inside.

"When I spend a day without them is like staying without my sons."

Joan Laporta is optimistic superstar captain Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona after being elected president of the LaLiga giants.

Laporta – who held the post from 2003 to 2010 – won the presential race on Sunday, seeing off competition from Victor Font and Antoni Freixa to return to the position as Josep Maria Bartomeu's successor.

Attention will now turn to six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi amid serious doubts over his future at Camp Nou.

Messi has been tipped to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season, with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League leaders Manchester City the reported frontrunners for the 33-year-old.

After his victory, Laporta delivered a speech and said: "Today marks 20 years since a boy named Leo Messi debuted with Barcelona's Infantil B [U12-13] team.

"Seeing the best player in the world come to vote with his son is an example of what we've said.

"Leo loves Barcelona. That's the reflection of it. The best player in the world loves Barcelona.

"Hopefully that will help him to stay at Barcelona. That's what we want."

Laporta also paid tribute to Barca great Johan Cruyff, adding: "I want to thank all the members for coming out to vote what has been the most important election in the club's history due to [the effects of] the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed our lives.

"I want to thank the members that have supported our campaign. This has been a celebration of democracy and of Barcelona. I also want to pay special thanks to Johan Cruyff, who's no longer with us. I am sure he's helped us.

"Barcelona is a huge family and we will overcome the difficulties together. We will achieve the objectives that we have set out."

Barca are three points adrift of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Ronald Koeman's Barca will face Athletic Bilbao in next month's Copa del Rey final, while they are looking to overturn a 4-1 deficit against PSG in the Champions League last 16.

French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain are plotting an ambitious move for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.

PSG, headed up by ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, are keen to replace 34-year-old Keylor Navas.

De Gea has been with United since 2011 and has two years remaining on his contract.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO TEMPT UNITED

Mega-rich PSG would be able to offer United a significant fee for the 30-year-old De Gea and match his £375,000-a-week wages, according to The Sun.

United have been linked with a move for Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is coming off contract, while Dean Henderson has pushed De Gea this season to be number one.

PSG have also been linked with Tottenham custodian Hugo Lloris given his connection with Pochettino from their time together at Spurs.

ROUND-UP

- AS reports that Liverpool could enter the race for Kylian Mbappe, due to the alleged rift between forward Mohamed Salah and manager Jurgen Klopp.

- West Ham have turned to Stuttgart's Sasa Kalajdzic in their search for a striker, according to the Daily Mail. In the queue already are RB Leipzig and Roma.

- Limited funds means Barcelona are out of the race for Wolves' Adama Traore, according to Mundo Deportivo. The Spain international has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City.

- UOL Esporte reports that Manchester United have registered an interest in Leeds United winger Raphinha.

Borussia Dortmund do not expect to see their resolve to keep Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho tested by huge bids this close season.

Haaland and Sancho continue to be Dortmund's outstanding performers, predictably prompting transfer speculation.

Twenty-year-old striker Haaland has 29 goals in all competitions this season, a tally only topped by Robert Lewandowski (34) across Europe's 'top five' leagues.

Luis Muriel (one every 79 minutes) is the sole star to have scored 10 or more times at a faster rate than the Bundesliga pair; Lewandowski nets every 80 minutes, with Haaland marginally slower at every 86 minutes.

Meanwhile, winger Sancho ranks joint-fourth with his 13 assists and third with 82 chances created.

Haaland is expected to interest Europe's leading clubs, while Sancho was widely linked with Manchester United ahead of the 2020-21 campaign before staying in Dortmund.

BVB entered Saturday's game against Bayern Munich four points outside the Champions League places in the top flight, potentially increasing pressure when it comes to the futures of their leading stars.

But the coronavirus pandemic will limit spending again this year, according to BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

"I do not believe that 'immoral' offers will come because I know the situation in the European leagues very well, also through my work in the ECA (European Club Association)," he told Sky Sport.

"The clouds are getting darker rather than brighter and I don't expect an extraordinary transfer summer.

"There are, of course, always two or three clubs, with whole states behind them, who find the means to pump money in. But in its entirety, I don't think crazy things happen [in the window].

"At the end of the day, it's our decision anyway [with Haaland and Sancho].

"But of course we always do it in such a way that we discuss it with the players. We would also like the players to be there with conviction and we will discuss every single case with the players if really extraordinary things happen.

"That is Michael Zorc's and Sebastian Kehl's task above all and we will get there. But I don't think it's going to be a huge transfer summer."

A fifth consecutive Bundesliga win against Dortmund would take Bayern back to the summit, but Saturday's visitors are well outside the title picture.

That is not a concern to Watzke, though, who added: "Oh, we honestly didn't have that on our radar this year. We saw it very defensively from the start.

"The times will come again, when we will be closer together again.

"Two years ago we had a huge opportunity. Unfortunately we didn't take it and then we finished second, but there was definitely the possibility.

"This year we are still in all three competitions. You have to see that and we have every opportunity to make another good season out of it."

Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic said anything is possible as he weighs up his future during his loan spell at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Jovic re-joined Eintracht on loan until the end of the season, having endured a difficult period at LaLiga champions Madrid.

The 23-year-old Serbia international only scored twice in 32 appearances under Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane in the Spanish capital, where he arrived from Eintracht for €60million in 2019.

Jovic has impressed in his second spell with Eintracht, scoring three goals in eight Bundesliga appearances this term.

Amid speculation Eintracht could sell star Andre Silva to help fund a permanent deal for Jovic, the loanee told Bild: "I will think about my future when the season is over.

"Right now, I only think about Eintracht and I work hard to play in the next matches as best as I can.

"Anything is simply possible, because you never know what will happen in professional football.

"Coming back [on loan] was the right decision because a lot of things fit for me here.

"But, most important is the success of the team. If the team is doing well then that's positive for me.

"Each win for the team is a step forward for me. Of course, I want to play my part and help the team."

 

Real Madrid star Toni Kroos said he is planning to retire at the LaLiga champions.

Kroos has enjoyed great success since joining Madrid from Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich in 2014, winning three Champions League trophies and two LaLiga titles among 13 honours.

The 31-year-old midfielder has made 309 appearances for Madrid across all competitions – the most by a German player at the Santiago Bernabeu, surpassing Uli Stielike.

Reflecting on the feat, Kroos – who has scored 21 goals since moving to the Spanish capital – told Real Madrid TV: "It's something special. When you look at the Germans who have played here you realise that they are big names: [Gunter] Netzer, [Bernd] Schuster or Stielike.
 
"Overtaking Stielike, who is a club legend, makes me really happy. It's a special record and I'm delighted to get to this point.

"As I've always said, my idea is to retire here and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Kroos has scored two goals and supplied six assists in 22 LaLiga appearances this season, while he has made 31 appearances across all competitions.

Madrid are third in LaLiga, five points adrift of neighbours and leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of Sunday's derby.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid have not lost any of their three games at the Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga (W1 D2), and remain the only team to have played in the new Atletico venue without losing in the league.

Zidane is unbeaten in his three away LaLiga fixtures against Atletico as a head coach (W1 D2) and could become the second Madrid boss to avoid defeat in his first four away derbies versus Rojiblancos in the history of the competition, after Luis Molowny in 1986 (W3 D1).

"I try to give my best in every game and every pass I make that doesn't reach my team-mate annoys me," Kroos added.

"I try to strive for perfection in this sense, although you can never be perfect.

"I practice it and I've been working on it continuously for many years."

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