Griezmann understands Atletico fans’ nerves over Barcelona speculation

Antoine Griezmann understands why Atletico Madrid supporters were anxious about his future amid continued strong speculation linking the striker to Barcelona.

Griezmann announced his intention to stay at Atletico in a televised documentary prior to France’s first game at the World Cup.

The forward then confirmed his plans to remain with the La Liga side for the 2018-19 season by extending his contract at the Wanda Metropolitano by a further year, through to 2023.

Barcelona have reportedly tried to sign Griezmann two years in a row but the Catalan giants have been unable to lure him away from Atletico.

However, that speculation may have contributed to moments of discord between Griezmann and the fans, with Atletico boss Diego Simeone warning in February the supporters risked driving the forward away.

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But Greizmann has now said his close connection with the club and their supporters is the reason he has decided to stay.

“We are family and that is evident in the pitch, we all fight for the same goal,” Griezmann told Atletico’s official website. 

“I always felt loved by everybody, and that’s very important for me. We are a very closely-knit team.

“I understand that some fans could get nervous due to uncertainty. It’s logical. But I can only have words of thanks for our fans, they are always supporting me and I try to give those signs of affection them back giving my best in the pitch.

“There’s nothing that excites me more than hearing them singing my song in the Wanda Metropolitano, it’s incredible.”

Griezmann, top goalscorer at Euro 2016, is now turning his attention to ensuring Europa League champions Atleti have a bright future.

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“I’m very happy and convinced we’ll accomplish great things together,” Greizmann added. “This past season, I won my first European title with the club, which was something I had been really trying to achieve. Now, my only wish is to keep on competing in pursuit of more success.

“Since I arrived at the club we have grown so much. We have a brand new stadium which has been praised by everybody and which allows us to empower the growth of the last years. I love the project we are creating, with great players. I thank the big effort the club are doing.

“Miguel Angel Gil [Atletico Madrid CEO] told me his ideas for the next seasons and I got really excited. The project is incredible.”


Arsenal close in on Leno with Torreira set to be confirmed after the World Cup

Arsenal are closing in on the signing of Germany goalkeeper Bernd Leno for a fee in the region of €22m (£19.2m/$25m), Goal understands, with the Gunners also set to sign Lucas Torreira once his World Cup campaign with Uruguay comes to an end.

Unai Emery’s side are on the look out for a new goalkeeper with Arsenal open to offers for 36-year-old Petr Cech and backup option David Ospina, both of whom have one year remaining on their current contracts.

It’s likely that Ospina will depart Emirates Stadium this summer and Emery will be hoping that the shot stopper has an impressive World Cup with Colombia to increase his transfer fee.

Emery is also targeting a new defensive midfielder and a deal for 22-year-old Sampdoria star Lucas Torreira looks likely to be completed after the World Cup.

The Uruguay international has a €25m (£22m) release clause in his deal with the Serie A club and Arsenal are expected to spread the fee over several years.

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Torreira is one of several players identified to improve Arsenal’s spine this summer with Emery having already signed Stephan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer after his Juventus contract expired.

Confirmation of Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ arrival at the club will come at the beginning of July as Borussia Dortmund do not want the transfer to go through until the next fiscal year.

Talks are also ongoing with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere over contract extensions although there is a growing feeling that the latter could sign for another Premier League side, as Crystal Palace and Southampton are both keen on signing the 26-year-old.


Impossible for Barcelona to replace Iniesta, says Abidal

Newly appointed Barcelona technical director Eric Abidal admitted that Andres Iniesta is irreplaceable at Camp Nou.

Abidal, who made 125 league appearances for the club between 2007 and 2013, replaced Robert Hernandez after the Spaniard’s contract expired and will work alongside head coach Ernesto Valverde in the 2018-19 season.

Barca have been linked with the likes of Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan and Frenkie de Jong of Ajax as potential midfield signings this summer, but Abidal feels that no one can fill the void of the man who broke Catalan hearts when he left for Japanese club Vissel Kobe at the end of the season.

“We will make the decisions according to the needs of the team,” the former Monaco and Lyon defender said at his presentation to the media.

“But we cannot replace Iniesta with a player of the same quality, that’s impossible.”

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Abidal was asked about his young compatriot Ousmane Dembele, who has faced criticism in the wake of an uncertain debut season following a big-money move from Borussia Dortmund.

However, the ex-France international is confident the 21-year-old’s form will pick up next season.

“We want Dembele to have a brilliant World Cup, after that he can rest and then return here.

“We are looking forward to bringing the best out of him.”

Abidal refused to be drawn into the discussion about Antoine Griezmann, or whether the club’s failure to sign the Frenchman left them searching for other strikers.

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Griezmann committed his future to Atletico Madrid shortly before the World Cup, ending weeks of speculation over a possible move to Barcelona.

“Griezmann’s decision is his and I do not want to enter this debate. The most important thing is the planning of next season and the future of the team.

“We will have to talk internally. I talked to Valverde but we did not talk about players because he was on vacation.”


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.


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.