Virgil van DIjk kicks a football again as Liverpool defender steps up recovery

OK, everybody calm down.

Virgil van Dijk is back on the training pitch… with A FOOTBALL.

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The big defender hasn’t been seen since he took a few Jordan Pickford studs to the knee, and a ruptured cruciate means he isn’t expected to return to action until late spring at the earliest.

The official line from Liverpool has been one of caution, and it is understood they are putting no pressure on him to return this season. Behind the scenes, though, the club are doing everything they can to nurse him back to fitness, and he has spent the early part of the new year doing physio work at the Nad Al Sheba sports complex in Dubai.

That explains the splitting sunshine in the background of a video he posted on his Instagram story that has fans all hot under the collar.

As shared on the player’s own Instagram stories, Van Dijk posted a short clip of himself back out on the pitch with the ball at his feet. And while we can’t read much into his recovery from nine seconds of tentative keepy-uppies, the fact that he is actually playing football again, so soon after a terrible injury, can only be a positive sign.

If you’re worried about Virg being out in Dubai on his lonesome, then don’t. As he continues his recovery, he has been joined by a member of the Liverpool physio team, while another familiar face swung by to pay a visit.

Former team-mate Dejan Lovren, currently on a mid-season break at Zenit, made sure to check in. The cheesing grins say it all.

On a more serious note, while the early prognosis on Van Dijk’s recovery is promising, we shouldn’t expect him back any time soon. The player is believed to be targeting the Euros in the summer for a full return to action, but Jurgen Klopp – speaking earlier in January – wouldn’t even give that as a target.

When asked by Sky Sports how he is faring, Klopp said: “Good, very good. I have no problem with talking about Virgil van Dijk. It’s very good but still a long way to go, that’s this kind of injury.

“I’m happy when I see these videos, to be honest, because it just shows that he makes good progress. But it will still take a lot of time, that’s how it is. I would like to say something else but these are the facts, unfortunately.”

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Man City prepare £200m summer spree with Erling Haaland & Romelu Lukaku on the list

Pep Guardiola is set to oversee a mammoth £200m transfer spending spree next summer, with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter’s Romelu Lukaku among the names supposedly on Manchester City’s shopping list.

The Citizens are in need of an attacking rebuild, and with Sergio Aguero’s future at the club hanging in the balance, they could be left with Gabriel Jesus as their only senior striker for next year.

Haaland has been a smash hit at Dortmund Haaland has been a smash hit at Dortmund
Haaland has been a smash hit at Dortmund | LEON KUEGELER/Getty Images

However, the Man City hierarchy are willing to put their hands deep into their pockets, and are preparing themselves for a massive summer spending spree.

According to The Telegraph, the Premier League giants could splash around £200m on new faces, with superstar strikers Haaland and Lukaku both linked with a switch to the Etihad stadium.

Haaland has not stopped scoring since joining Dortmund 12 months ago, hitting 35 goals in as many appearances for the German giants. At 20 years of age, he is already being tipped to become a fully-fledged global icon of the game, and his price tag will only rise with each passing year.

That may encourage Guardiola to force his employer’s hand, as he looks to find the missing piece to his puzzle. That missing piece could also be Inter star Lukaku, who has recaptured the form he showed at Everton, prior to a mixed couple of years at Manchester United.

The Belgian star equalled a Nerazzurri club record set by Ronaldo in 1998, scoring 34 goals in all competitions – the joint-highest for any player in his debut season at San Siro. Lukaku has continued that rich vein of form this campaign, and has silenced his critics time and time again.

Then again, their leading striker may still be right under their nose. Man City have not given up hope on convincing Aguero to extend his contract with the Sky Blues, and they believe he has the ability and fitness to regularly compete at this level.

However, should the Argentine decide to stay at the Etihad stadium beyond next summer, that won’t stop them from pulling the trigger on recruiting their all-time leading scorer’s successor.

Sergio AgueroSergio Aguero
Aguero has finally regained fitness for Man City | James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images

Man City began their rebuild in the summer, splashing over £100m on defenders Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake, along with Valencia winger Ferran Torres.

As well as a new superstar striker, City are also in the market for a defensive midfielder and left back.

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Didier Deschamps admits he will ‘never forget’ Karim Benzema’s racism accusations

France manager Didier Deschamps has admitted he will never be able to get over comments from exiled striker Karim Benzema, who accused the boss of racism over his decision to freeze him out.

Despite being one of France’s best strikers, Benzema hasn’t represented his country since 2015, when reports emerged suggesting Benzema had been involved in a ploy to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena – something he is soon set to face trial over.

While the official line from France has always been that Benzema’s exile is because of that incident, the Real Madrid man told Marca in 2016 that he believed Deschamps had ‘bowed to pressure from a racist part of France’, suggesting that his Algerian origins were the actual reason for the decision.

Karim BenzemaKarim Benzema
Benzema has been accused of blackmail | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

“The comments left a stain,” Deschamps told RTL. “Even if over time it calms down a bit, I cannot forget what was said.

“It is not related only to Karim Benzema. There are statements from other people who turned to violence, which also affects my family.”

Deschamps’ family home was vandalised in the summer of 2016, with those responsible writing the word ‘racist’ on a wall, and the France boss believes it stemmed from Benzema’s unfounded accusations.

“When it concerns me, my choices as a coach, the tactics, the technical aspect, that’s fine. It does not matter,” he continued. “This crossed a line.

Didier DeschampsDidier Deschamps
Deschamps believes Benzema crossed a line | Xavier Laine/Getty Images

“It affects my name, my family. For me, this is unacceptable. Saying certain things will always lead to verbal or physical aggression. I suffer the consequences. We cannot forget. I cannot forget. I will never forget.”

The Versailles prosecutor’s office confirmed that Benzema and four other people will soon stand trial on the charge of conspiracy to attempt blackmail, but a date for the proceedings has not yet been set.

The Real Madrid striker is said to have been approached by a childhood friend to encourage Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers, although he has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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Jurgen Klopp claims texting pal Sir Alex Ferguson has ‘forgiven’ him

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has revealed he remains in contact with Manchester United great Sir Alex Ferguson, who he believes has forgiven him for snubbing a move to Old Trafford in 2013.

Ferguson retired from management in 2013 and had sounded out Klopp as a potential replacement. However, the German rejected the move in favour of staying with Borussia Dortmund, only to end up in England with rivals Liverpool two years later.

Alex FergusonAlex Ferguson
Ferguson wanted Klopp as his successor | Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It’s believed that United failed with a handful of approaches to Klopp, but the Liverpool boss insisted he has no regrets about his decision and Ferguson hasn’t taken it personally – even ‘honouring’ Klopp with his personal phone number.

“I have never thought how it would have been in Manchester,” he revealed (via The Mirror). “Not once. Not one second.

“I am completely fine here. I am in the right place and it’s all good. Even the weather is better in Liverpool than in Manchester.

“I think Sir Alex has forgiven me. We have contact. He texts me. Sir Alex changes his telephone number quite frequently and I always get the new version. So that’s a big honour. He texts me to say ‘this is my new number’ and I always think ‘wow.’

“I have a really good relationship with Sir Alex, but on Sunday he wants Manchester United to win and I want Liverpool to win.”

Sunday’s meeting with the two sides is a real top-of-the-table clash, with United first and Liverpool second heading into the weekend, and Klopp admitted he is happier being part of the chasing pack than the leaders.

“Both are pressure, because you either want to have something you don’t have in the moment or if you’re top you want a bigger lead or a bigger gap,” he added.

“There is pressure on both. I find it easier to be the hunter, the chaser, the challenger if you want, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t in the other situation as often in my life.

“We will see. My players obviously deal with both situations pretty well so far and that is absolutely fine.”

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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Joan Laporta insists Lionel Messi ‘will do everything in his power’ to stay at Barcelona

Presidential candidate Joan Laporta has claimed that Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona beyond the summer, as long as the club can make an offer that ‘suits him’.

Messi’s future has been the hot topic at Barcelona for more than half a year now after the player attempted to force a transfer last summer, amid Barça’s on-field disappointments and off-field scandal.

Eventually he relented in his desire to move, but his contract will expire this summer regardless. As of 1 January, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has been free to negotiate a pre-contract arrangement with a foreign club.

Barcelona's former President Joan LaportBarcelona's former President Joan Laport
Laporta and Messi together in old times | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

In a recent interview, Messi hinted at his desire to play in Major League Soccer in the future, while obvious candidates Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain continue to be linked.

Mounting debt and a bubbling financial crisis means keeping Messi could be a struggle for Barça. However, presidential candidate Laporta insists the desire is there from the player’s side.

“Messi is now totally focused on us catching Atlético in the League and in the PSG tie in the Champions League,” he said via SPORT. 

Lionel Messi, Dimitri FoulquierLionel Messi, Dimitri Foulquier
Messi in action against Granada | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

“I know he wants to stay and I know that he will do everything in his power to stay as long as the club can make him an offer that suits him.”

Laporta, who is the favourite to be voted in as Barcelona’s next club president, will have to wait a little longer for the elections which have been delayed until 7 March due to the pandemic.

As a result of the delay, he confirmed that the interim board at Barça will not be able to make any first-team signings (including Eric Garcia from Manchester City) this transfer window.

He continued: “Eric Garcia will not come to winter. We cannot give a letter to the manager to carry out decisions like this. 

Eric GarciaEric Garcia
Eric Garcia had agreed personal terms with Barça | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“The options and figures have been explained to us and we have all concluded that if his contract ends, the new board will decides to sign. We have assessed the player’s salary, and it was an operation that had to be carried out by assessing the financial situation of the club.”

Learn more about the remaining Barcelona presidential candidates and their position on key issues here.

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