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Xavi’s Return to Barcelona Should Restore Emphasis on Youth

Ronald Koeman’s sacking at Barcelona was inevitable, but his replacement was equally unsurprising considering his roots.

Xavi Hernandez returns to Barcelona after nearly six years away from the club during his time as a player and manager at Al Sadd. During that time, Lionel Messi left the Blaugrana to embark on a new journey at Paris Saint-Germain and the club has gone through four managers. 

Everything hasn’t been going according to plan at the club since club greats like Xavi and Andres Iniesta left the club nearly a half-decade ago, and a lot of that can be attributed to Barcelona’s unwillingness to completely move into the future by embracing their youth.

By now, everyone knows about Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati given their star qualities, but the club’s hesitation to remove older players that have clearly lost a step is what’s holding Barcelona back.

Take Barca’s recent loss to Rayo Vallecano as an example. It was Barca’s first loss to Rayo since 2002 and the lone goal that won the match for the Spanish side came directly off of a mistake from past-prime players Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique.

This isn’t to say that young players don’t make mistakes because they certainly do. Sergino Dest missed a clear chance in front of goal against Rayo, but the American is still acclimating to life as a right winger after typically being deployed as a wing back.

Xavi won’t have the luxury of going out and building his squad based on stars from other clubs. Reports suggest that he and the club are interested in Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, but given Barcelona’s financial troubles most moves will be difficult to make until they offload expensive players.

That’s why La Masia is so important. Barcelona’s famed academy produced the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, as well as their current crop of next-generation stars, the youth system will be even more vital moving forward as the Blaugrana aim to climb out of their financial despair.

While rivals Real Madrid potentially eye up a move for Kylian Mbappe next summer to pair with Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr., Xavi needs to focus on what he has at his disposal.

What made Barcelona’s teams of the past so dominant were the relationships built in the middle of the pitch, and that clearly starts with Pedri and Gavi.

It’s way too early to call them Xavi and Iniesta, but the comparisons are natural. Both sets of players have innate senses of positioning as well as dribbling skills that make it very difficult for opponents to take the ball off their feet.

This may not be the Barcelona team of old, but if anyone is capable of getting the best out of the current group and building towards a ‘Tiki Taka’ team of the past it’s certainly Xavi.

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The History of El Clasico

El Clasico has been one of the biggest spectacles not only in the European football landscape, but in all of sports.

It is a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, two teams in the top Spanish football league known as La Liga, and two of the most successful clubs in all of Europe.

Leading up to match day between Real Madrid and Barcelona, fans are given the opportunity to reminisce the greatest matchups between the two historic Spanish clubs, like in 2014, when Gareth Bale turned into the human flash and dusted Barcelona at their Camp Nou, or in 2017, when Lionel Messi sent his flaming spear into the heart of Real Madrid at their Santiago Bernabeu.

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VALENCIA, SPAIN – APRIL 16: Gareth Bale (L) of Real Madrid celebrates beside Xabi Alonso after scoring Real’s 2nd goal during the Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on April 16, 2014 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Throughout the past decade, the intense rivalry of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi doubled the attraction that is already garnered for arguably the biggest soccer match on the planet. Even without two of the games greatest stars, the historic rivalry between the two teams and hatred amongst the fans should be enough to make this weekend’s El Clasico one to remember.

How did El Clasico Begin?
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Barcelona striker Gary Lineker (r) gets in a shot as Hugo Sanchez of Real Madrid looks on during the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on January 31, 1987 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images)

Football analysts and minds alike point to the 1940s as the timeframe for which El Clasico became what it is today. One of the more memorable matches from that decade happened in 1943. Barcelona were up 5-3 in the 73rd minute against Real Madrid during a La Liga match at Les Cortes, Barcelona’s home stadium. In a hostile environment, Madrid would proceed to score two unanswered goals to tie the score, salvaging a draw in a 5-5 result for the record books.

Who has the most goals in El Clasico?
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Alfredo Di Stefano entertaining in Real Madrid during September of 1963 / Getty Images

Argentinean striker Alredo Di Stefano was at the forefront of Real Madrid’s dominance against Barcelona during the 1960s. Di Stefano is the all-time leading goal scorer in El Clasico with 26 goals, and was known for playing some of his best football against arch rival Barcelona.

Most Memorable El Clasico Moment
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Barcelona’s Brazilian Ronaldinho (L) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid with teammate Cameroonese Samuel Eto’o during their Spanish Liga football match in Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, 19 November 2005. AFP PHOTO/ Pierre-Philippe MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Imagine Alex Rodriguez earning a standing ovation at Fenway Park, or J.J Redick receiving love from UNC fans at the Dean Dome. Both of those inconceivable scenarios equate to what Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabau did for Barcelona’s Ronaldinho in 2005.

Ronaldinho was the reigning world footballer of the year. The golden boot winner (awarded to the player with the most goals in a league) was a stalwart on a Barcelona team full of such. Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi were forces to be reckon with as well during that year. Against Real Madrid in 2005 though, Ronaldinho put on a solo exhibit of greatness, and did it all with a big smile on his face. Among displaying his outstanding dribbling and playmaking to the Madrid fans during the match, he scored two spectacular goals to seal a comfortable Barcelona victory.

After his second goal, around half of the supporters in the stadium were standing up and cheering on the Barcelona superstar, just as he tormented their team.

What’s Next?
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Barcelona’s Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati (R) kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on February 2, 2020

This will be the first time in over a decade that we’ll see these two teams play without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on the team.

While there won’t be any players on the pitch that have half of the quality of those mentioned above, there are reasons to be as excited as ever for this weekend’s El Clasico.

There are young stars in both squads, including 18 year-old Ansu Fati for Barcelona and 21 year-old Vincius Junior for Real Madrid, that will vie to become the next El Clasico hero. After all, there was a point in time when a 20 year-old Lionel Messi wasn’t even considered the best player on his team, but nonetheless, burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in El Clasico in 2007.

Considering the amazing moments we’ve seen between these clubs, expect to see the birth of a new hero, and maybe even a world superstar, when the two teams play this Sunday. After all, it always delivers.

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Largest Release Clauses in La Liga History

Barcelona and Real Madrid have a long history of adding massive release clauses to contracts of newly-acquired players as a way to make it difficult for those talents to leave the club at a later date.

As we’ve seen over the years with players like Isco and Brahim Diaz, it can sometimes be challenging to lure a top player away from one of the two historic Spanish sides for this reason.

However, in some cases the teams will budge, as was the case with Barcelona recently when they offloaded Antoine Griezmann back to Atletico Madrid.

Spain’s unique system of release clauses dates back to 1985 when a Royal Decree was signed to protect footballers in the same manner as common workers.

The goal was to ensure that players could get out of their contracts if another employer, or another club in this case, wanted to bring them in.

Up until 2016, release clauses were also taxed under Spanish law, creating even higher numbers for clubs that were willing to buy out a player’s contract.

Unfortunately for players like Pedri and Karim Benzema, who have the largest clauses in La Liga history at over €1 billion, it’s extremely difficult for high-end players to leave even if they wanted to.

Here’s a look at the top 10 largest release clauses in La Liga history.

T-8. Marco Asensio – Real Madrid

€700 million

Injuries have always been the biggest issue for Asensio but the talent is certainly there. His top season to this point came in 2017/18 when he netted six goals and added six assists for Real in La Liga play.

T-8. Isco – Real Madrid
€700 million
David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

When Madrid brought in Isco there was massive attention around the Spaniard, but he never really fit into the squad mainly during the years of Zinedine Zidane as manager. The release clause simply served as a way for the club to hold onto a valuable player and keep him away from their competition. 

T-8. Vinicius Jr. – Real Madrid

€700 million

The next generation of Brazil could be led by Vinicius and that’s why Real has invested so much in him and are preparing to build their squad around the attack of Karim Benzema and potentially Kylian Mbappe.

T-5. Brahim Diaz – Real Madrid
€750 million
Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

The on-loan AC Milan attacker has been a huge commodity for Madrid for several years now and given his success in Serie A it could only be a matter of time until he gets his minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu.

T-5. Federico Valverde – Real Madrid

€750 million

The Uruguayan may be one of the most undervalued players in Real’s current squad, but that won’t last long once players like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are truly phased out. Valverde is an immensely talented box-to-box midfielder and Real will certainly want to recreate its midield of the past decade starting with Valverde and newly-signed Eduardo Camavinga.

T-5. Luka Modric – Real Madrid
€750 million
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

Modric is a former Ballon d’Or winner and nearly won a World Cup with Croatia, but his time at Madrid in the heart of the midfield has made him an elite player during the past decade. Although the release clause surely wouldn’t be enforced at his current state, Modric was certainly an elite talent just a few seasons ago.

4. Antoine Griezmann – Barcelona

€800 million

Griezmann moved back to Atletico Madrid after an up-and-down few seasons at Barcelona. In his case, Barcelona obviously didn’t enforce its massive release clause for the Frenchman because the Blaugrana have been trying to offload players during their financial crisis.

3. David Alaba – Real Madrid
€850 million
Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When Real brought Alaba in this summer to replace guys like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane there were obviously massive shoes to fill at the club. Alaba was highly valued during his time at Bayern Munich, so it makes sense Madrid wouldn’t want to lose another proven commodity at center back in the near future.

T-1. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid

€1 billion

Benzema is undoubtedly one of the premier strikers in all of football at this point, and Madrid knows that. The €1 billion price tag on the club’s release clause backs up how valuable they envision Benzema being for the club going forward and his relationship with Mbappe could be huge in bringing the PSG superstar to the Santiago Bernabeu next season.

T-1. Pedri – Barcelona
€1 billion
Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

Barcelona recently handed Pedri a new contract after a stellar season for club and country, and the young midfielder is expected to quickly become one of the top players in the world. This year, he’s nominated for the Kopa Trophy, handed out to the best young player in Europe.

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Top 20 Strikers in European Football

The European football season is underway and we’re already seeing some unbelievable performances across the board from some of the world’s best players.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are among the clubs that have already impressed and one thing they have in common is their star strikers standing up front.

Stout defenses are incredibly important in the grand scheme of football, but goals reign supreme in the sport and players like Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo offer great boosts to their respective squads.

Meanwhile, young talents in Erling Haaland and Dusan Vlahovic aim to lead the next generation of goal scoring greats while already shining in their early 20s.

Today, ONE37pm takes a closer look at the 20 best strikers in European football at this moment.

20. Andre Silva

The RB Leipzig striker is coming off of an unbelievable season at Frankfurt and certainly warrants the viewership of some of the other top goal scorers in the Bundesliga. His 28 goals last season were a key reason why Frankfurt finished fifth and qualified for Europe.

19. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Swedish great continues to ply his trade in Italy with AC Milan and even though he has a little competition up front with Olivier Giroud most recognize that Ibrahimovic is the man to watch and will be important in Milan’s chances of winning Serie A.

18. Alvaro Morata

Juventus may have lost Ronaldo this summer, but Morata continues to be an adequate finisher in the Bianconeri attack. Morata will serve as even more of a focal point in 2021/22 without CR7 present for the Old Lady.

17. Amine Gouiri

Nice won’t be on a lot of people’s radars this season, but Gouiri should certainly be a player that is consumed by fans. His goal scoring ability to innate and at 21 years old there’s no question he has the chance to find himself at a bigger club in the next year or two.

16. Victor Osimhen

Napoli have built a stout squad heading into this season, but with Osimhen hitting his mark early in the campaign it bodes extremely well for the Serie A side. If Osimhen can find his form from when he joined the team from Lille, Italian sides will need to be wary of Napoli.

15. Lautaro Martinez/Edin Dzeko

The Inter strikers are in a unique situation given everything that transpired this summer with Romelu Lukaku moving on to re-join Chelsea. Both players have started this campaign at a frightening rate for Inter, having combined for seven goals in Serie A matches.

14. Ángel Correa 

The Argentina international is finding his footing at Atletico after a solid showing last season, but he’s already bagged three goals in 2021/22 and Diego Simeone’s side will need him if they are to challenge Real Madrid and win back-to-back La Liga titles.

13. Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Everton’s front man doesn’t get the attention some of the other top players in England may receive, but DCL is very much worthy of the plaudits that Ronaldo, Harry Kane and others get. He’s started this season with three goals in as many matches and there’s plenty more to come.

12. Jamie Vardy

The Leicester star continues to perform at peak level as the Foxes strive for further glory this season. Vardy has been playing at a high level since Leicester’s marvelous title-winning campaign nearly six years ago.

11. Michail Antonio

The West Ham striker has been arguably the best in the Premier League to start the season and will certainly make the Hammers a European contender once again if Antonio continues to light up the scoresheet. 

10. Sébastien Haller

Despite his troubles at West Ham, Haller is finding new life quickly at Ajax. Since 2021 began, Haller already has scored more goals for the Dutch side than his entire time at West Ham, including a four-goal performance recently against Sporting Lisbon.

9. Dusan Vlahovic

The Serbia international is a player that every casual fan should become familiar with before he takes another step towards superstardom. Last season, Vlahovic only trailed Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Luis Muriel in Serie A for goals scored after bagging 21 of his own. Vlahovic is only 21, and similar to Erling Haaland, is considered to be among the players that will lead the way into the next generation of football.

8. Harry Kane

The Premier League’s immense talent at the striker position is one of the many reasons why fans love the league, and despite the transfer sags that Kane went through this summer he’s performed at a top level. He helped guide England to the Euros final as well after putting on a goal scoring clinic.

7. Ciro Immobile

The Italian struggled at the Euros but there’s no question that Immobile is a monster in front of goal in Serie A. Lazio benefits greatly from Immobile’s natural goal scoring ability and he’s certainly in line for a Golden Boot in Italy this season.

6. Kylian Mbappe

The attention may have fallen off Mbappe a bit with the arrival of Lionel Messi at PSG, but we can’t lose sight of what a promising talent the Frenchman is. Already a World Cup winner for France and UEFA Champions League finalist, Mbappe’s career trajectory could take another leap with UCL glory this season.

5. Karim Benzema

Real Madrid’s No. 9 quietly goes about his business and Los Blancos certainly won’t have any issues with that. While Barcelona’s struggles are well documented, Madrid looks like it’s beginning to build a core around Benzema that will succeed for many years to come.

4. Erling Haaland

The Norwegian superstar is one of the most exciting players on the planet at the moment and is truly a hybrid of a striker and attacking midfielder. Haaland’s pace makes him so dangerous when charging at defenders and it’s almost a certainty that he’ll be the best player in the world very soon.

3. Romelu Lukaku

Chelsea needed a striker this summer after Timo Werner’s first season at Stamford Bridge had its share of ups and downs, and Lukaku is already showing that he’s among the world’s best. Coming off of a strong season at Inter Milan, Lukaku is taking the Chelsea attack to another level.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portuguese superstar is reminding us of what a tremendous player Ronaldo is after rejoining Manchester United this summer. His time at Juventus may not have been filled with success, but the Red Devils have lofty goals in place with their man back at Old Trafford.

1. Robert Lewandowski

The Bayern Munich striker has been one of the best in the world for some time now, but coming off a season where he broke Gerd Muller’s Bundesliga record for goals in a single season Lewandowski is following it up with an unbelievable start to the 2021/22 campaign.

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La Liga’s Rules Prevent Barcelona From Retiring Number 10

To some players a number on the back of their kit is simply that; just a number. For many others though there’s significance behind the selection.

In Spain, Barcelona recently saw one of its all-time greats leave the club after a financial struggle led Lionel Messi away from the Camp Nou.

For over 12 years, Messi donned the famous No. 10 kit for Barcelona, a number previously held by other club legends like Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Pep Guardiola and Hristo Stoichkov. 

On Wednesday, Barcelona handed the number over to its new No. 10, Ansu Fati. The 18-year-old attacker has shown glimpses of brilliance early in his career, but after suffering a serious knee injury last season it’s no guarantee that he’ll be the same player immediately.

When Messi departed Barcelona for a new chapter at Paris Saint-Germain a logical question arose; why not retire his number?

Arguably one of the greatest to ever play the game, Messi meant more to Barcelona than most players could possibly bring value at any other club. His accolades are endless. Meanwhile, Messi was fully ingrained in the Barca culture for so long that he felt like a true native of the city by the time his journey came to an end.

The simple answer is that La Liga prevents its clubs from retiring jerseys by utilizing a frustrating system that makes it very difficult for a team to do so.

Squad numbers in Spain are arranged No. 1 through 25, with the first number being designated for a club’s goalkeeper. Any additional goalkeepers on the senior team can wear a number between 13 and 25.

These numbers correspond with how many players La Liga clubs are able to register for each season; 25.

When it comes to players that graduate from a club’s academy and reach the senior side they are handed a number 26 through 50 if all other spots 1 through 25 are taken by squad members.

In the current case of Barcelona, Nico Gonzalez — who splits time between Barca’s senior team and Barcelona B — wears No. 28.

So back to Messi real quick. If Barcelona really wanted to honor the Argentina legend by retiring his No. 10 the club would have to permanently remove that number from its squad list.

In doing so, La Liga wouldn’t allow the club to replace No. 10 with another number 26 or greater, leaving Barca with 24 players available for selection.

It may not seem like a big deal but it certainly would be when it comes to registering new signings.

Additionally, it would bring up the other issue of deciding when it’s feasible to retire a player’s number. There’s no question that Messi is fully deserving of the gesture, however, what happens when Gerard Pique retires? What if Pedri goes on to have a legendary career?

It’s a challenging situation, and one that La Liga has clearly drawn a line in the sand as to preventing its clubs from retiring numbers on a whim.

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Kylian Mbappe’s Dream Move to Madrid Speaks Volumes About PSG

Money can’t buy happiness. That’s a mantra that rings true in many facets of life, but in the case of Paris Saint-Germain the French side have been doing just fine operating under unlimited financial means since the club was overtaken by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) in 2011.

Since club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the rest of Qatar’s powerful brass took over nearly a decade ago, money has reigned supreme in France and it’s led to a great deal of success both on and off the pitch.

For starters, the club’s presence on a global scale has never been more significant and that’s in large part due to the star talent the organization has been able to acquire over the years.

PSG’s relevance created one of the most important branding deals in recent football history when the club signed on with Nike’s Jordan Brand, an iconic global presence founded by none other than Michael Jordan himself. 

During Qatar’s influence on the club, PSG have won Ligue 1 seven times and reached the Champions League final just two seasons ago.

With that goal in mind, PSG dug even deeper into its infinite checkbook this summer, adding onto existing superstar talents like Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel di Maria.

When Lionel Messi’s contract situation at Barcelona became so dire that the Argentina legend was forced to leave the club, the Parisians pounced and secured one of the greatest footballers of all-time to move to the Parc des Princes.

The club had previously already added Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Giorginio Wijnaldum during the summer transfer window to bolster an already-talented roster.

But sometimes, greed creates problems. That’s not to say that PSG hasn’t built something incredible and in many ways the club should be applauded for the awareness that has been brought to it.

Conversely though, by bringing in additional star talent Mbappe has grown displeased in Paris — his home since he was a young boy. The common narrative since Mbappe joined PSG in 2017 was that he would forever be the savior of Paris if he could deliver the club’s first Champions League title in club history.

When Mbappe and Co. fell short in the 2020 final against Bayern Munich though the tide began to turn. The pressure began to build further. And Mbappe was left in a no-win position if he and his teammates couldn’t get the job done the following season.

Again, they weren’t able to after falling short against Manchester City in last season’s semi finals. That shortcoming led to the massive summer spending spree that PSG are currently in the midst of.

In the new age where the top-tier clubs control nearly all the transfer movement in global football, there’s something to be said about having too many stars on one team.

For years, La Liga supporters had the opportunity to witness one of the greatest back-and-forth battles in the history of the league when Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo battled it out twice — sometimes more — each season for Barcelona and Madrid, respectively.

The two players never teamed up. Then again, they never needed to. Messi and Ronaldo won every trophy imaginable at the club level and that’s why their ability to succeed on the biggest stages has led to the constant debates over which one is better.

Mbappe, who will turn 23 in December, is at a point in his career where he has the opportunity to move into that same breath as the two aforementioned legends. The Frenchman is already a World Cup champion — something neither Messi or Ronaldo have added to their resume.

There’s no question that Messi, Ronaldo and other greats throughout history have had tremendous talents on their squads to help ease the burden and carry those teams to greater heights, but it’s becoming more and more evident that Mbappe wants the challenge of winning a Champions League without the shadow of Messi or Neymar lingering.

For that very reason, Mbappe reportedly rejected three different contract extensions from PSG within the past year, some of which came prior to Messi even joining the team.

For years now, one specific photograph of Mbappe continues to make its rounds across social media. It’s an image of a young Mbappe in his childhood bedroom with photos and posters covering his walls; nearly all of which represent his love for Real Madrid.

His love for Ronaldo and many of Madrid’s Galacticos throughout the club’s history created an enticement that was always leading to this very moment. Now, the French superstar is at a point in his career where PSG have little say in what comes next, because the truth is there’s only one destination for Mbappe at this point in time.

There’s something to be said about that determination and Mbappe’s willingness to constantly challenge himself. The aura of Real is something unmatched in comparison to playing in Paris, and the Frenchman clearly views the opportunity as something he cannot pass up.

It’s been well documented that Mbappe has always wanted to compete at the Santiago Bernabeu, and now the young superstar could be on the brink of making that dream a reality.

Similar to how Messi and Ronaldo dictated the pace set by their clubs for the longevity of their stays in Spain, Mbappe will have that opportunity in Madrid, if a deal is completed, and his chance at creating a lasting legacy will be immensely enhanced.

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Barcelona’s Financial Crisis Could Force Lionel Messi to Leave

Lionel Messi is on the brink of competing in a Copa America final, but the headlines surrounding the Argentina superstar aren’t all about his national team’s current success.

Barcelona have been in a position to re-sign Messi over the summer after a turbulent year that nearly saw the attacker leave the club ahead of the 2020/21 La Liga season.

With moves for Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and others reportedly in the mix to join Barcelona, things were beginning to look up for the club in its efforts to keep Messi at the Camp Nou next season.

However, there’s been delays in announcing players due to financial restrictions placed on Barcelona recently due to the club’s massive wage bill being paid out.

Much like Financial Fair Play rules created by UEFA to create a semblance of competitive balance throughout Europe, La Liga has a similar set of financial guidelines to maintain Spain’s spending on salaries for each club.

Reports suggest that Barca needs to cut roughly $200 million from its salary cap in order to register Aguero and other new players, but more importantly, they cannot sign Messi until they do so.

After a tremendous season for the Blaugrana and the integration of many young players into the squad like Pedri, Sergino Dest and Ilaix Moriba, Messi’s attitude towards staying at Barcelona began to change for the better. 

They also played nearly a full season without star winger Ansu Fati, who has been dubbed one of the next great players in Spanish football.

The answer for Barcelona’s current spending issues should be simple. Sell unwanted players, especially those that have been on the trade block for some time. 

However, with the public knowledge that the club is in such dire straits at the moment, opposing clubs aren’t lining up to sign the Blaugrana’s dead weight. Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann are among the biggest salaries carried by the club, but the idea of cutting them loose won’t be easy after Barca went through a similar situation last year with several of its high-profile players.

Barca was forced to allow Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and others for essentially nothing in return, and although the club had to recognize it was time to proceed forward with various youth talents in its squad the financial ramifications are visible now more than ever.

Barcelona’s main rivals, Real Madrid, are preparing its future, which could be with a young superstar like Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, and that’s a scary proposition for the Blaugrana. 

Meanwhile, with teams like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain having shown the capabilities of spending at will, if Barcelona can’t satisfy Messi’s contract soon there’s a very real chance he will actually depart the Camp Nou this summer. 

PSG reportedly has sent in a two-year offer to the Argentina star after bringing in notable defenders Sergio Ramos and Achraf Hakimi this summer. With Mbappe’s contract expiring at the club next summer, Messi could be a potential target for the Parisians.

The French side has quickly become one of the global powers in recognition since bringing in players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and most recently Mbappe.

For that reason, Paris could be an attractive destination for Messi, who could reunite with Neymar, as well as fellow Argentina internationals Angel di Maria and Leandro Paredes.

If Messi has in fact played his final game at Barcelona there’s no question he’s the greatest player to ever suit up for the Blaugrana and his next club will benefit greatly from his presence.

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Where Should Sergio Ramos Continue His Career?

Sergio Ramos’ stellar career at Real Madrid came to an end last month, but the Spanish defender still appears to have the legs to continue his career.

With the decorated center back a highly-coveted piece for many teams across Europe it’s time to look at where Ramos could join next season as he trends towards the end of his football career at the highest level.

Various Premier League teams are believed to be in the mix for his services, while Paris Saint-Germain have the finances to sign almost any player, but where does Ramos make the most sense?

Below we take a look at where Ramos could wind up this summer and grade which clubs would be the best fit for the veteran defender.

Manchester City – 9/10

The Citizens hit it big last offseason with the addition of Ruben Dias, who quickly became one of the best defenders in the Premier League upon arrival. City boasted the best defense in all of Europe throughout the season, so why would they need Ramos?

Ramos’ veteran experience and championship pedigree could be useful for a club that’s won everything except the Champions League.

That’s the one box left unchecked so far in Pep Guardiola’s Man City career and the addition of a player like Ramos could not only help them achieve their goal but also help develop some of the raw center back talent surrounding him.

Paris Saint-Germain – 8/10

Look up and down PSG’s squad list and it’s quite clear that defensively the team is way shakier than up front. That’s pretty much a given though for a club that has Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in their attack.

PSG failed to win Ligue 1 last season, which was a massive letdown for a team that always has domestic title aspirations, while their Champions League loss to Man City served as another reminder that their clock is ticking as Mbappe’s future remains unknown.

With the club already investing heavily in Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ramos would be a significant upgrade at center back for the next few seasons. Presnel Kimpembe has been inconsistent at times, so Ramos’ presence next to Marquinhos would allow for a much more stout PSG back four.

Manchester United – 7/10

Similar to their rivals Man City, the Red Devils boast a lot of young talent in their squad, so another veteran presence could be a huge assistance for the club as they look to get back into the Premier League title race.

Harry Maguire has established himself as one of the best central defenders in England, but he’s lacking a consistent partner in the heart of the United defense.

Ramos could elevate the Old Trafford side to another level and allow United to win their first league title since 2012/13.

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Barcelona’s New Transfers Will Bring More Lionel Messi Success

It started last summer with a series of reports and a lengthy interview with Goal’s Ruben Uria.

Lionel Messi was set to leave Barcelona after a successful career with the Catalan side. Or at least that’s how it appeared.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had the financial means to pull off such a move, and the Premier League side, in particular, made a lot of sense given Messi’s ties to longtime friend and fellow Argentina international Sergio Aguero as well as Man City manager Pep Guardiola.

What transpired after the reports though exemplified why Messi is so beloved at Barcelona. 

Despite being publicly dragged by the club and even threats of going to court to prevent Messi from leaving, the La Liga superstar announced he’d stay until 2021 and make a decision on his future after the season.

Former Barca president Josep Bartomeu has since stepped down, while Joan Laporta has filled the empty executive role after previously holding it for many years and having a strong relationship with Messi.

While the 2020/21 season had its share of ups and downs, there were a lot of good takeaways for Barcelona, who looked lost over the first half of the season.

Youth being the biggest difference from past seasons.

While it’s been clear for a few years now that Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets aren’t the same players they once were, young talents like Sergino Dest, Pedri, Ronald Araujo and Ilaix Moriba have found a place for themselves in the squad moving forward.

With the inclusion of many of these youthful pieces, Barcelona made a push for La Liga towards the end of the season, but fell short. However, they did capture the Copa del Rey title, ensuring Messi and Co. wouldn’t go trophy-less in 2021.

The excitement now shifts towards the future, or perhaps the present, because Barcelona is shaping its roster for next season.

Aguero and Eric Garcia have both joined from Man City, with the former holding close ties to Messi due to their Argentina upbringings. 

Meanwhile, the Blaugrana are nearing deals with two more significant talents in Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, which could really add another level to the Barcelona attack.

The chemistry alone between Messi and Aguero would be undeniable, even with Aguero coming off a tough season where he missed significant time due to injuries and Guardiola reshaped the Man City attack to play with a false 9 up front.

Meanwhile, Wijnaldum would offer another strong two-way option in the midfield that’s good on the ball and can help disperse it around the pitch similar to Frenkie De Jong.

Defense remains the one area that Barcelona needs to continue to bolster though, and another left back option to replace Jordi Alba long term could be a good start for the club as they continue to phase out some of the old guard.

With Euro 2020 and Copa America having not kicked off yet, there’s still plenty of room for transfers in Barcelona’s summer plans and that creates more excitement for a club looking to climb back towards Spain’s summit.

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Sports Strength

Top Goalscorers From Europe’s Five Major Leagues

There weren’t many surprises this season when it came to which players finished atop the goal scoring charts in Europe, with several superstars claiming their respective thrones across the continent’s five major leagues.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane each finished the season with the most goals in their respective leagues, but there were a number of talents that did break onto the scene and made a run at those five elite scorers.

Lewandowski finished atop Europe with 41 goals in 2020/21, breaking Gerd Muller’s Bundesliga record in a single season. The Bayern star helped propel his side to their seventh consecutive German title since joining the club from Dortmund.

In France, Burak Yilmaz and Lille pulled off a stunning title victory over Paris Saint-Germain, whom almost everyone expected to gain Ligue 1 honors once again. 

The 35-year-old Yilmaz signed with the club on a free transfer during the offseason and finished tied for fourth in France this season in goals.

Meanwhile, Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford finished top five in goal scoring in the Premier League after helping guide the English side to a top 10 finish in the top flight.

Below, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 goal scorers from each of the five top leagues in Europe.

PREMIER LEAGUE

1. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) – 23

2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 22

3. Bruno Fernandes (Man United) – 18

4. Patrick Bamford (Leeds United) – 17

5. Heung-min Son (Tottenham Hotspur) – 17

6. Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) – 16

7. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 15

8. Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) – 14

9. Ilkay Gundogan (Man City) – 13

10, Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – 13

BUNDESLIGA

1. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) – 41

2. Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 28

3. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) – 27

4. Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg) – 20

5. Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) – 20

6. Sasa Kalajdzic (Stuttgart) – 16

7. Lars Stindl (Borussia Monchengladbach) – 14

8. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) – 11

9. Max Kruse (Union Berlin) – 11

T-10. Silas Wamangituka (Stuttgart) – 11

T-10. Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen) – 11

LA LIGA

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – 30

2. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) – 23

3. Gerard Moreno (Villarreal) – 23

4. Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid) – 21

5. Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla) – 18

6. Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad) – 17

7. Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo) – 14

8. Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona) – 13

9. Jose Luis Morales (Levante) – 13

10. Rafa Mir (Huesca) – 13

SERIE A

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) – 29

2. Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan) – 24

3. Luis Muriel (Atalanta) – 22

4. Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina) – 21

5. Ciro Immobile (Lazio) – 20

6. Simy (Crotone) – 20

7. Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) – 19

8. Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo) – 17

9. Lautauro Martinez (Inter Milan) – 17

10. Joao Pedro (Cagliari) – 16

LIGUE 1

1. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) – 27

2. Memphis Depay (Lyon) – 20

3. Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco) – 20

4. Gaetan Laborde (Montpellier) – 16

5. Kevin Volland (Monaco) – 16

6. Burak Yilmaz (Lille) – 16

7. Ludovic Ajorque (Strasbourg) – 16

8. Andy Delort (Montpellier) – 15

9. Karl Toko Ekambi (Lyon) – 14

T-10. Terem Moffi (Lorient) – 14

T-10. Boulaye Dia (Reims) – 14