Who is Aleksandr Golovin? ‘Russia’s Iniesta’ who lit up World Cup opener

After the success of Euro 2008, Russian footballers became fashionable on the continent. Andrey Arshavin, Yuri Zhirkov and Roman Pavlyuchenko all moved to English clubs, closely followed by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

It seemed that Russia was on the cusp of a great leap forward which would allow its clubs to compete in Europe, and its players to stand amongst the continent’s brightest stars.

But since then, no such leap has been taken, and Russian football has regressed. Before the World Cup, Russians became bitter and sarcastic, and reminisced about the days when their players’ ambitions went beyond a big salary at a domestic club.

Even Fedor Smolov, who has long been linked with a move abroad, is in no hurry to leave Krasnodar; he seems quite content to fight for a Champions League place via the Russian Premier League.

But things are not completely hopeless. Two players shone during Russia’s World Cup opener – the 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia – standing out against the dull, lifeless backdrop of the domestic game. First was Dmitry Cheryshev, who plays in Spain and was previously on the books at Real Madrid. The second was CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin.

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A creative midfielder, Golovin was first brought into the CSKA first team by Leonid Slutsky in 2016 as a relative unknown. Even then, Golovin stood out thanks to his vision, intelligence and quick thinking. His rise was quiet and gradual; he is not a flamboyant person and is not prone to announcing his ambitions publicly. But he worked hard, and a short time later he was a regular in the first team, replacing the experienced Roman Shirokov.

That year, Slutsky, having taken over the Russian national side, included Golovin in his squad for the European Championship. The playmaker featured in all of Russia’s group games, but was unable to influence the result: Russia crashed out of what was far from the toughest group including Wales and Slovakia.

What has changed since then? Golovin has matured, and his actions on the pitch have taken on a new level of class and confidence, although his playing style remains unchanged. Football agent Sandor Varga believes Slutsky is responsible for the midfielder’s progress.

Aleksandr Golovin CSKA

“I think the main contributor to his development has been Leonid Slutsky. He gradually brought Sasha into the fold, and in 2016 began to use him as a starter, despite the competition in CSKA’s midfield,” Varga says. “Then Slutsky took the kid to Euro 2016, where he took in the big game atmosphere.”

Over two seasons as a starter for one of Russia’s top clubs, Golovin has improved his best qualities: the ability to play across the whole width of the pitch, and to organise the transition from defence to attack, either with a pass, or with the ball at his feet. Golovin is one of the Russian league’s most technically-gifted players, and is also good at shooting from distance.

Arsenal fans had the chance to see this for themselves when Golovin converted a gorgeous free kick against their team in the Europa League quarter-final. Immediately afterwards, rumours began to surface that the Gunners were interested in buying him, with Arsene Wenger himself saying: “Golovin is a very interesting player and had a fantastic game tonight.”

Golovin vs Arsenal

Since then, Juventus, Milan, Monaco and even Barcelona have been linked with Golovin. The man himself only increased this interest with his performances late in the season, when CSKA leapfrogged Spartak to take second place despite a lack of squad depth and an ageing defence.

“Golovin? I have watched several videos of him, he is a good player,” Juventus coach Max Allegri confessed. Meanwhile, Juve CEO Giuseppe Marotta not only praised Golovin, but openly spoke about a possible transfer: “Buy Golovin? It is more than likely.”

However, it is not that simple. CSKA are understood to be holding out for more money in talks with Juventus. The Moscow club does not want to let its top star go cheap. Of course, they have every right to take this approach, and Golovin showed in the World Cup opener why he is worth the money.

Yes, Russia were only playing Saudi Arabia, but this does not diminish the midfielder’s exploits. Golovin provided two excellent assists, launched endless counterattacks, and capped off the performance with yet another beautiful free-kick goal.

Whichever club buys Golovin will get an intelligent and creative player who does not conform to the primitive style often employed by Russian clubs. He reads the game at the level of Europe’s top maestros. In a way, he is reminiscent of Iniesta, such is the ease with which he beats his man before delivering a perfect through ball to put his teammate clean through on goal.

Aleksandr Golovin Russia

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Of course, Golovin is still young and lacks experience in Europe, so his transfer carries certain risks. However, for Russian fans, the praise heaped on Golovin from football’s big names is a point of national pride, allowing them to hope for a better future for Russian football despite all of its problems.

It is rare for Russian fans to feel this way about a player. Usually, footballers are seen as arrogant and conceited. But Golovin is different; after the game with Saudi Arabia, he appeared via satellite on a Russian TV talk show and, faced with a tirade of flattery, took off his microphone and retreated to the team bus.

Golovin’s humility could work against him. Aleksandr is quiet and does not speak any English. However, this could also help his development; wherever he ends up playing, he will get his head down and do his job without falling victim to fans’ adoration, as so many would-be superstars do.

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Will Real Madrid target Lewandowski leave Bayern Munich this summer?

It’s a matter of public record that Robert Lewandowski intends to leave Bayern Munich. His agent, Pini Zahavi, said as much in an interview with Sport Bild at the end of May.

“[Robert] feels that he needs a change and a new challenge in his career,” the Israeli said.

“Robert’s motives are not money or a specific club, because almost all the top clubs would like to have the best striker in the world in their ranks.

“Everybody in the club leadership of FC Bayern has had a great playing career. They should understand his situation.”

That declaration cannot have gone down well in the corridors of power at the club, where they pride themselves on their ability to steadfastly refuse all offers for players they do not wish to leave.

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There would appear to be a standoff. With Zahavi – and by extension Lewandowski – talking about the need for new challenges, Bayern are in an awkward situation.

Do they accede to Lewandowski’s requests and be left with a hole to fill? Or do they instead demand he stays put for the terms of his contract. Neither is particularly desirable and it appears nothing will be resolved until after the World Cup.

Lewandowski was noncommittal on his future at a pre-tournament Poland press conference last week, insisting that his attentions lay entirely on Russia.

“The answer is simple, my manager deals with these matters,” he said. “I want to focus on what is most important to me, how to prepare for the World Cup.

“At the moment I am not thinking about my club future, my manager is the one to do it.

“This way I have a free mind to think about how to best prepare for the World Cup so the team can perform their best.”

Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich top scorer award

His immediate objective is to help Poland out of their group and in turn become the first Pole to be top scorer at the World Cup since Grzegorz Lato in 1974.

The country’s all-time top scorer, Lewandowski scored three goals in two pre-tournament friendlies and is coming off the back of another solid goalscoring season at Bayern.

There were 39 in 44 games for Bayern. No one else got close to matching that tally. There was another Bundesliga title – a fourth in succession since joining on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund – but disappointment in both the DFB Pokal and the Champions League.

Defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the cup final stung but the loss in the Champions League semi-finals to Real Madrid ensured the season as a whole would be considered underwhelming.

Lewandowski’s efforts in both games earned him plenty of criticism with his inability to convert basic chances in the most important game of the season one of the key reasons Bayern failed.

It led to talk of whether or not Bayern would be better off without him and, instead, with money to reinvest in the team.

Robert Lewandowski Bayern Sergio Ramos Real Madrid

Club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge rubbished suggestions back in the spring when Lewandowski dumped his long-term representative Cezary Kucharski for Zahavi that €200m would be enough to secure his services. That stance endures.

“I said weeks ago that I am taking bets on Lewandowski staying and I am still taking them today,” Rummenigge told the press earlier this month.

“In the past, we had a player that [Real Madrid president Florentino Perez] was highly interested in. But we closed the door on that, and from this episode, I know that he would be open about it. It wouldn’t interest us anyway even if he did ask about Lewandowski. We as a club made a firm decision and that still applies.”

Bayern, publicly, maintain that Lewandowski is going nowhere but that is at odds with the player’s wishes.

And while Lewandowski and Zahavi have made their wishes known, there are a number of factors complicating an exit.

Aside from the fact that Bayern do not intend to sell, the number of destinations that could give Lewandowski what he needs is exceedingly small.

Zinedine Zidane – when in charge of Real Madrid – demonstrated persistent faith in Karim Benzema up front. He was not necessarily looking for a 30-goal striker. Instead he preferred a facilitator to his other scorers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

But the situation might change now that Zidane has departed. It’s well known that president Florentino Perez is an admirer of Lewandowski – ever since he ripped them apart in the Champions League in 2013 – and it remains to be seen to what extent new coach Julen Lopetegui will exert control over transfers.

Robert Lewandowski Poland 2018

In any case, it has been reported that Lewandowski’s performances against Real this season left the club in two minds over whether or not an expensive transfer would be worth it.

There was a meeting between Real and Bayern’s top brass over dinner during the semi-finals but attendees maintain that the striker was not a topic of conversation.

Lewandowski turns 30 in August; time is of the essence if he is to realise his dream of one more big move even if he himself believes he will have five more years at the top level.

Chelsea, too, are credited with long-standing interest. Complicating the picture at Stamford Bridge is the presence of Alvaro Morata. A buyer for the Spanish misfit must surely be found before any bid for Lewandowski could be furnished.

Lewandowski had a grumpy season in Bavaria ever since the summer when he declared in an unauthorised interview that Bayern would continue to slip behind Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid so long as they refused to cross the €100m mark in transfers.

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He had signed a contract in December 2016 but Neymar’s move to PSG shifted the paradigm in terms of what top stars could expect to earn.

He had already criticised his team-mates for failing to help him become the top scorer the season before and was embroiled in a high-profile row with Mats Hummels in the spring.

Despite those troubles, Bayern intend to hold him to the terms of his contract to 2021.

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‘The World Cup won’t change my life’ – Arsenal forward Joel Campbell keeping calm amid exit talk

Arsenal forward Joel Campbell looks likely to leave the club this summer, but is not letting stories of an exit distract him from the World Cup.

Costa Rica suffered a 1-0 defeat against Serbia in Samara, with the Real Betis loan star coming off the bench as they were unable to avoid defeat in the opening Group E match.

The 25-year-old has been at Arsenal for seven years making just 40 appearances, having gone on loan to six different clubs in that time. His contract expires in June 2019, which has led to rumours that Arsenal will finally cash in on the Costa Rican. However, Campbell is relaxed about whether the World Cup can help him earn the next big move.

“The World Cup won’t change my life, I don’t come here to show myself,” Campbell said in Samara. “I came to help my national team, everyone writes his own history and we have to look after group. I know about my contract and I know who I am. God has a plan for me”

Costa Rica face an upwards battle to qualify with Brazil and Switzerland to come in Group E following their loss to Serbia.

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Head coach Oscar Ramirez has come under fire over his use of negative tactics in the opening game, but Campbell thinks his side are still in with a shout to get out of the group, despite the difficulty of the upcoming matches. 

“We trust in what our coach thought for this game,” Campbell added. “He is super able, he decided this and we have to respect it. I think our team tried to do good things independently before I was on the pitch. It was an equal game that was decided by a free kick.

“Now it is more difficult, but there are two remaining games and we will go to win. It’s a World Cup, here there are the best national teams around the world and we are one of them. We will try to give our best at the next match.”

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‘The story isn’t over’ – Fekir’s agent gives Liverpool hope after failed transfer

The agent of Lyon star Nabil Fekir has suggested there may be hope yet for Liverpool after the playmaker’s transfer to Anfield collapsed.

Fekir had appeared set to join Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League finalists after agreeing a £60 million (€68m/$80m) move.

Lyon, however, later stated that the move was off, with reports that a failed medical was behind the shock move.

Speaking on Monday, however, agent Jean-Pierre Bernes revealed that he could still complete a deal this summer.

“Well he didn’t sign because well… it is not over!” he told LCI.

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“This is not the end of the story.”

Fekir was one of the stars of the season in Ligue 1, notching an impressive 18 goals and eight assists in 30 league games. 

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And upon revealing that talks with Liverpool had broken down, Lyon underlined their intentions to keep the France international. 

“Although Liverpool made the possible transfer of Nabil a priority, and [we have been] subject to other proposals consistent with the interests of Nabil and OL from ambitious clubs, Olympique Lyonnais is delighted soon to be able to count on the presence of our captain, who is a leading player for this 2018-19 season, during which the club will play the Champions League as a third seed,” the club added in their statement. 

Fellow Reds target Thomas Lemar, meanwhile, has since landed a move to Atletico Madrid, while Paris Saint-Germain star Julian Draxler has also been mentioned as a possibility should they fail to land Fekir.

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Transfer news & rumours LIVE: Man City close in on £46.5m Jorginho


Man City close in on £46.5m Jorginho


Manchester City are nearing a deal to sign Napoli midfielder Jorginho for around £46.5 million (€53m/$62m), reports Sky Sports News.

There are still details to be ironed out, but the Italy international appears set to join up with the Premier League champions. 


Barcelona keeping tabs on Lozano


Barcelona are tracking Mexico star Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, reports ESPN FC.

The PSV star scored the lone goal in Mexico’s shock win over Germany on Sunday, and will likely depart the Eredivisie side this summer amid interest from across Europe. 

The Blaugrana could struggle to land Lozano, with Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho and Yerry Mina currently occupying the club’s non-E.U. spots and Arthur Melo on his way in the winter. 


Everton target Martins and De Ligt


Everton are hoping to sign Sporting Lisbon winger Gelson Martins and Ajax defender Matthijs De Ligt, reports The Telegraph.

De Ligt, 18, is one of Europe’s most sought-after defensive prospects, drawing interest from the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City. 

Martins, 23, is also likely to be in high demand this summer, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham all looking to make a move. 


De Jong fuels Barcelona transfer talk 


Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong is not ruling out a move to Barcelona. 

The 21-year-old is tipped for a big future, and the Blaugrana have identified him as a possible replacement for Andres Iniesta. 

Read what De Jong had to say about Barcelona right here!


CSKA rejects €17m Juve offer for Golovin


CSKA Moscow have rejected Juventus’ first offer for midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, reports Gianluca Di Marzio.

The Serie A champions offered €17 million (£15m/$20m) plus bonuses, but CSKA are holding out for €25m (£22m/$29m) for the Russia international star. 


Liverpool to demand £15m for Sturridge


Liverpool will demand £15 million (€17m/$20m) for striker Daniel Sturridge, reports The Telegraph.

Sevilla and Fenerbahce are both interested in signing the 28-year-old, who will likely depart Liverpool this summer after falling out of favour under Jurgen Klopp. 

Sturridge spent the second half of last season on loan at West Brom, but injuries limited him to just six appearances with the club. 


Southampton join race for Wilshere


Southampton have joined the race for Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, reports the Mirror

Wilshere will be out of contract on July 1, and has yet to make a decision on his future with the Gunners. 

The 26-year-old has offers from a variety of clubs, including West Ham, Wolves, Sampdoria and AC Milan. 


Griezmann, Hernandez & Lemar agree Atleti deals


Atletico Madrid have announced deals for France internationals Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez and Thomas Lemar.

Griezmann and Hernandez have inked extensions with the La Liga runners-up, signing through 2023 and 2024 respectively. 

Lemar has agreed personal terms with Atletico, and his move from Monaco will be confirmed following the completion of paperwork and a medical. 

Read the full story on Goal!


Maddison set for Leicester move


In-demand Norwich midfielder James Maddison has decided to join Leicester City, reports Sky Sports News.

Several Premier League clubs were chasing the 21-year-old, and Maddison eventually decided to move to the King Power Stad over Southampton.

Both Leicester and Southampton had previously agreed a fee in the range of £22 million (€25m/$29m) for the England U-21 international.  


West Ham agree £22m Diop fee


West Ham have agreed a fee of £22 million (€25m/$29m) with Toulouse to sign defender Issa Diop, reports the Daily Mail.

The 21-year-old is due in London on Monday to discuss personal terms, which are no sure bet to be finalised. 

Diop is understood to be demanding significantly more than the Hammers are proposing in their contract offer.

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 €25m Leno set for Arsenal switch


Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno is set to complete a €25 million (£21.9m/$29m) move to Arsenal, reports Kicker.

Leno has attracted attention from across Europe this summer, with Atletico Madrid and Napoli further rumoured destinations. 

But he has ultimately plumped for the Emirates Stadium, where he will sign a five-year contract on Tuesday pending a medical.

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