Barcelona struggle to ditch Griezmann – Paper Round

Barcelona struggle to sell Griezmann

Spanish newspaper Marca reports on the struggles at Barcelona to balance their books. Selling Ousmane Dembele seems impossible with the 24-year-old French international injured, and Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic are not interested in having their contracts rescinded. That leaves the high-earning Antoine Griezmann, 30 years old and in the midst of another racism scandal, as the next in line.

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Paper Round’s view: Even when they signed him from Atletico Madrid, it was not clear how Griezmann was going to fit in at Barcelona. He’s been fine as a player, but nothing exceptional, and his 120 million transfer appears to be a huge waste of cash for the Catalans. The only thing is that with Philippe Coutinho to be sold as well, there will almost certainly be similar mistakes to come.

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‘We will enjoy tomorrow’s match’ – Chiesa on facing England or Denmark in Euro 2020 final

United target Goretzka

Bayern Munich hope to keep hold of Germany international Leon Goretzka. The 26-year-old midfielder has won titles with the Bundesliga champions and is in his final year of his contract at Bayern. That has seen him linked with Manchester United, but the Mail reports that he would rather remain in Germany than move to Old Trafford, even if it would make sense financially for Bayern.

Paper Round’s view: If Goretzka wants to stay at Bayern, few could blame him. The German side are likely to keep challenging for titles both at home and abroad, and there is presumably little appeal in switching to a Brexit-blighted Britain. Instead, he can hold out for a sizeable increase in his wages in the next few months and remain at the best-run club in Europe.

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Arsenal face Aouar difficulties

The Mirror reports on the struggles that Arsenal face in order to secure the signing of 23-year-old French international Hassem Aouar from Ligue Un side Lyon. Aouar posted a picture of his return to training in preparation for the next season, and the paper also suggests that Arsenal will need to sell players in order to raise funds in the transfer market to make the signing.

Paper Round’s view: Arsenal already have to sign Ben White from Brighton which will cost around £50 million, which is a pretty big sum for a club that seems to have little chance of finding its way to the Champions League in the near future. As well as that, Bruno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga will also cost a fair chunk of cash, meaning any move for Aouar seems unlikely.

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Real ready to sell Varane

The Sun suggests that Real Madrid are ready to entertain a £43 million deal for their French central defender Raphael Varane. The 28-year-old player is said to be a top target for Manchester United. In turn, Real would use the cash in order to build up funds to land Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe, who is above Erling Haaland as their top target.

Paper Round’s view: Mbappe is clearly the best striker in the world perhaps after Erling Haaland, but signing either of them would be a huge achievement for Real as they finally prepare to move on from Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Keeping Nacho and adding David Alaba means their defence is probably fine for a year or two, and they can let Varane go.

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Euro 2020

Italy: From farce to finalists – The Warm-Up

A DAY AGO

Transfers

Ramos set for PSG as Man Utd close in on Varane – Paper Round

A DAY AGO

Stylish Italy make perfect progress – The Warm-Up

MONDAY’S BIG STORIES

Wembley Blues

Three games, three wins. Seven scored, none conceded. And all done with performances almost as stylish as their jackets. Right now, at this moment, it’s good to be an Italy fan.

Euro 2020

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Victory over Wales yesterday extended Italy’s unbeaten run to 30 games, which is ridiculous behaviour that shouldn’t be allowed. It also secured them a last-16 game at Wembley and installed them, at least to the Warm-Up’s thinking, as the form favourites in the competition.

There is a thing that happens in some tournaments. A team will win their first two games and look good doing it; then they’ll make a raft of changes for the third game and stall. Momentum, that mystical tournament force that must always be building, will vanish. And it won’t come back, and all that early promise will be gone.

Here, Italy made eight changes, but looked precisely the same team. The same quivering intensity in midfield, the same inventive combinations, the same slick and relentless pressure. It helps having somebody as good as Marco Verratti in reserve, of course. But it was evidence that this side isn’t just 11 good players in formation: it’s 23. Wait, no, 26.

There are nits to pick. One goal wins are always close wins, even when they’re this lopsided, and had Gareth Bale stuck away his late chance you might be reading a far less excitable piece. Dominant football teams win games by turning possession into chances, then chances into goals, and maybe, maybe, there’s still a little doubt about that last crucial step. But then they do have loads of cute set piece routines, so that’ll balance things out.

Roberto Mancini was even feeling comfortable enough to start faffing around with his goalkeepers. Bringing on Salvatore Sirigu for the last few minutes could be taken as some kind of insult: to Wales, perhaps, or to the serious business of football that must be always taken seriously. Unfortunately for the very serious among us, it mostly looked kind of sweet. And Mancini has his own reasons for wanting everybody to get a good sniff of game time.

Right now, it looks like only two things can stop Italy. One, France. Two, that other thing that always happens at tournaments, where the team that makes the best start reaches an early end. Momentum again: even when squad rotation doesn’t burst it all, it still leaks away, like helium from a balloon. Start slowly, get better. That’s the way to do it.

And if we look carefully, we can already see the cracks appearing. (Cracks? In a helium balloon? Sort your metaphors out.) A great football team is a little like a family. (A family of balloons?) And here we see Manuel Locatelli channeling the purest big brother energy. Mancini’s about to turn around and tell them both off, and it’s not faaaaair. Maybe they’ll win the tournament. Maybe it will all end in tears at a service station.

Second Place Dragons

Kudos to Wales for mastering the difficult art of losing a football game, but not by quite enough for it to be a problem. Their obdurate refusal to get absolutely battered secured them second place in the group and a game in Amsterdam against one of Denmark, Finland or Russia. And Rob Page is feeling chirpy.

On paper, it seems like a great idea to have it all over Europe but logistically it is an absolute nightmare. And then you throw Covid into the mix as well. I’m really proud of the group and I’m looking forward to the last 16. It’s phenomenal, the character we have in the changing room. Don’t underestimate the character of a Welshman.

There was a lot to like about Wales’ performance, even as they were buffeted and blown about by the waves of Italian attacking. This team is pretty good at the kind of almost-desperate defending that smaller teams sometimes have to rely on, even with 10 men, and they still haven’t conceded a goal from open play in the tournament.

As quoted above, Page mentioned “character” after the game, and this is the kind of Job Done performance that gets called character-building. But we learned something about the coach as well. After Ethan Ampadu was sent off, Page turned to his bench, but not to any of the attackers. Instead, on came Kieffer Moore, who (a) is a striker, and (b) was carrying a booking.

“Intriguing,” thought the Warm-Up. “Counter-intuitive and high risk.” We, er, didn’t use quite those words. More along the lines of “What? What?” But more fool us, for Page knew exactly what he was doing and, more importantly, he trusted his player to get it done. Instead of bunkering down, Wales needed an out-ball. And while a suspension for Moore would utterly banjax Wales’ Plan A, Page backed his man to play sensibly, safely, and entirely without provocation.

I said to Kieffer: ‘Go on, but do not lift your arm.’ Watching him jump was hysterical. My heart overruled my head; we needed to get up the pitch.

Cold Turkey

At heart, it’s a game, and we’re all competing. A team making a surprise run deep into a tournament is a glorious thing, and if you call it before the event — if you pick out the dark horse — then you get to share in the glory. You called it, you own it. It’s basically one-shot fantasy football, which means very little admin.

Turkey were a popular choice. Turkey had proper central defenders, a playmaker from AC Milan, a veteran striker coming off a surprise season. Turkey had form, too: that run from nowhere into third place in 2002. And now Turkey are going home have scored precisely one goal and gathered exactly no points.

Obviously there is always the chance of this sort of thing happening: if Turkey had been guaranteed to show up, there would have been nothing dark about their horsiness. And nobody gets any kudos for picking out an easily visible horse that everybody can see. Oh, you think Belgium might be good this year? You brave maverick you.

And while Turkey were pretty dreadful, it might be the case that we all underestimated the group. Italy being excellent was predictable, but Wales appear to be doing that thing again, where they channel all the magic intangibles of team spirit and togetherness and really intense post-match huddles. That just leaves Switzerland. And if there’s one thing we know about Switzerland at tournaments, it’s that Ricardo Rodriguez will always be playing left back. He was there in 1934 when they played their first World Cup, and he will be there in the far distant future, when the sun is small and red and cold and the Euros has expanded to 512 teams playing across five different planets.

But if there’s two things we know about Switzerland at tournaments, it’s that Xherdan Shaqiri will always, always, always have one great game and score one great goal. It is his nature. It is what he does. How could any mere dark horse hope to compete with football’s squarest and most inevitable part-time genius?

IN OTHER NEWS

Once, twice, three times the crossbar. Once, twice, three times Brad Guzan.

RETRO CORNER

On the occasion of his 66th birthday, we’re guessing Michel Platini’s feeling a little peculiar. On the one hand, his grand cross-continent tournament dream has finally come to fruition. And though it’s obviously ridiculous and silly in lots of important ways, it’s still an international football tournament and so we’re all having a good time. Except Turkey.

On the other, he’s not around to bask in any of the glory. He could have been ruling the world by now. Or at least in charge of FIFA. He should have been accepting applause in stadiums all across Europe. Instead… well, here are all the goals he scored at Euro 1984. All nine of them. What a player.

HAT TIP

Enjoyed this piece from Marcus Christenson, over at the Guardian, about the unlikely career path of Robin Gosens, the flying wing back who has made Germany fun again.

When Robin Gosens was a young man he wanted to be a police officer, just like his grandfather. However, he was told by one regional office that his legs were too different in height to make it so he ended up pursuing plan B instead: a career as a professional footballer.

COMING UP

Group B stands for “Bunched up Behind Belgium”. If Denmark beat Russia and Finland lose to Roberto Martinez’s entertainers, then that will leave three teams on three points, each with a win over one of the others. Could come down to goal difference. Could come down to disciplinary points.

Then come Group C, which stands for “Crunch Match”. Ukraine and Austria will play off for second place and the right to face Italy at Wembley, while the Netherlands, who are guaranteed first place, get to kick back and relax against already-eliminated North Macedonia.

With his powder blue jacket slung over his shoulder, Ben Snowball will be here with tomorrow’s Warm-Up

Euro 2020

Opinion: Bale may have to consider his future for club and country

20 HOURS AGO

Euro 2020

Bale: I’m proud we made it through but we must recover

21 HOURS AGO

Opinion: Bale may have to consider his future for club and country

Gareth Bale might have been relieved that his late miss against Italy did not cost Wales a place in the last 16 at Euro 2020, but he must now consider his future in football.

With five minutes remaining of the crucial tie between Italy and Wales, Robert Page elected to withdraw the Real Madrid forward. In the past, it would have been Bale who would remain on the pitch come what may, given his ability to decide a game through the sheer strength of his determination, often assisted by the power he developed, and the match-winning technique he could rely upon.

As we have seen over the course of his spell with Spurs, that Bale is gone. At Real Madrid there was enough under Zinedine Zidane to suggest he was not being given a fair chance, but those arguments are largely negated by the fact Zidane and Real simply kept winning. The chance for Bale to prove that he should have remained in Madrid last season came when he returned to north London.

Euro 2020

Stylish Italy make perfect progress – The Warm-Up

9 HOURS AGO

Now, there is obviously more than a single reason for his struggles this season. For almost every player, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have been an unusual obstacle to their form and fitness. Bale does not have to be any different to be similarly afflicted. As well as that, Jose Mourinho had accelerated quickly into his standard end times operating procedure, and when he engineers an atmosphere that is toxic, few manage to impress on the pitch.

As well as that, this Spurs team simply are not as capable as the one that Mauricio Pochettino impressed with, even if the personnel is relatively unchanged. As Spurs struggle to attract a new permanent manager to step in for Mourinho and replace Ryan Mason, it seems that the situation under Daniel Levy is not as attractive as it once was.

But when Bale was at his peak, that kind of thing wouldn’t matter. Under Harry Redknapp, for goodness’ sake, he looked like he could be the next best player in the world, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Even while he may not have met the standards that his Spurs performances promised, there were enough special moments for him to have held down a career at Real.

One can speculate why he did not build upon his successes to become an even better player. It seems too easy to blame his obsession with golf, or his lack of integration with life in Spain. Nevertheless, he has offered little compelling argument otherwise. This is a player with all the talents to be close to the best, at a side that dominated in the league and also in Europe, and he could not quite grasp the opportunity.

‘I can’t be any more proud of them’ – Page after Italy defeat

Bale retreated into himself, and did not appear to be one of those players loved by a squad regardless of his involvement – he is no Juan Mata style figure. Instead, he tried to engineer a huge semi-retirement to China before having the move dissolved by Real’s president Florentino Perez. At Spurs, he has proven himself to be a capable player who has problems with fitness. He more or less admitted in one interview that he intended his emotional homecoming to his former side to be useful merely as a training exercise. That might insult and disappoint Spurs fans, but it is more alarming for Bale’s career.

In the past four seasons, he has played just 90 league games. This is no longer a player who can be relied upon when needed. And at 31, he has been out of the loop for one of the few remaining important seasons he has left. By considering a move to China the year before, perhaps Bale should admit that he is now willing to wind down a career that will perhaps offer one last World Cup jaunt with Wales and nothing else. Is it worth holding down a career by taking a huge step down elsewhere, just to play for his country?

He might say yes, but on the evidence of the past year for Wales, perhaps his country would be less insistent. Wales have already been burned before on Ryan Giggs, a player who could not commit to them as they wished, and by seeing his club career flounder, perhaps Bale is letting down his country in a different way, but he is undeniably allowing his standards to slip.

Euro 2020

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‘Class is permanent’ – Gareth Bale rolled back the years for Wales

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