Inter are said to be in the lead in the race to sign Hellas Verona defender Marash Kumbulla – but Juventus are still showing an interest.
Kumbulla has emerged as one of the most exciting young defenders to currently be playing in Serie A, with his fine performances for Verona attracting the attention of Italy’s giants as well as other top clubs from around Europe.
Fabrizio Romano has taken to his Twitter account to report that it is actually Inter who are currently in ‘pole position’ to land the talented 20-year-old, adding that ‘advanced talks’ are still ongoing as they look to reach an agreement and conclude the deal.
While Juventus are also keen on securing his services and are ‘ready’ to move to make the deal happen, Romano notes that everything will depend on Inter’s actions. Furthermore, while a number of Premier League clubs were said to be showing an interest in Kumbulla, there have been no ‘serious bids’ from any clubs in England’s top division.
However, other reports from Italy suggest that it is Juventus who are in the lead for Kumbulla’s signature – and have even reached an agreement with the centre-back. La Stampa (via Sempreinter) report that Kumbulla has agreed a five-year deal with the Bianconeri and, as a result, the Italian giants are ready to launch an offer of around €32m in order to conclude the deal.
Whatever the case, Kumbulla has a very bright future ahead of him. His fine performances at the back have helped his side keep seven clean sheets in 19 appearances in all competitions this season.
The name ‘Ronaldo’ carries a lot of weight in football. Younger fans will be drawn to Cristiano, but the original Ronaldo – the Brazilian sensation – was busy tearing the world up when the Juventus man was still a kid.
Often described as the greatest striker in the history of the sport, many would go as far as to suggest that Ronaldo was the single-most talented player ever – greater than Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Pelé – but also one of the most unfortunate when it came to injuries.
By the time he hung up his boots in 2011, Ronaldo was a two-time Ballon d’Or winner and two-time World Cup winner, having dominated with both Real Madrid, Inter and PSV Eindhoven.
However, it was not with any of those teams that Ronaldo introduced himself to the world. Instead, it was with Brazilian side Cruzeiro during the 1993/94 campaign.
It wasn’t an easy route to the big leagues for Ronaldo. He was snubbed by Flamengo as a teenager after being unable to afford the bus fare to training, and Flamengo didn’t think he was worth the effort to cover his travel expenses.
Imagine being that wrong about something.
Cruzeiro swooped in and took advantage after a deal was recommended to them by the legendary Jairzinho, and that was all Ronaldo needed to take over the world – a chance.
Club officials knew immediately that they had stumbled upon something special. He had racked up silly numbers in academy football and was clearly far too good for that level, so he was thrust into the starting lineup of the first team against Caldense in May 1993 when he was just 16 years old.
“I felt so nervous and my heart was racing,” Ronaldo told FIFA of his debut. “But at the same time I felt optimistic. It was all I’d ever wanted: to play.
“I had butterflies because of the nerves and the pressure, but at the same time it was what I’d been working towards all my life. So I managed to get the nerves under control. Players usually feel nervous before a game, but it passes. You forget everything once you are in the game.”
From that moment on, it was non-stop success for Ronaldo.
He bagged his first goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Belenenses in August 1993, but the greatest day of his short time with Cruzeiro came in November in a meeting with Bahia. Cruzeiro emerged with a 6-0 victory, and Ronaldo scored five. It wasn’t easy for the global media to keep an eye on domestic football in Brazil, but word of this performance spread very quickly.
He started by slotting a penalty into the bottom-right corner, before bagging an assist for his side’s second. Ronaldo then left both a defender and the goalkeeper flat on the ground as he breezed past both and tapped into an empty net for 3-0.
He completed his hat-trick before half-time with a towering header, and he bagged a second penalty after the break. His fifth was perhaps the most memorable, despite also being probably the worst goal you’ve ever seen.
The Bahia goalkeeper pounced on a loose ball and stopped it dead. He left the ball on the ground as he raised his arms to taunt the crowd, allowing Ronaldo to poke his foot in and jab the ball into the back of the net. It was awful. It was beautiful.
When a 17-year-old scores five goals in one senior game, the world tends to take notice.
It was in April 1994 that a public campaign to hand Ronaldo a spot in the upcoming World Cup squad began. Up against Boca Juniors in a Copa Libertadores tie, Ronaldo embarked on a 50-yard run which saw him drop four defenders and the goalkeeper before tapping into an empty net. This kid was special.
That form saw him rack up 56 goals in 58 games with Cruzeiro, and it earned him that spot in Brazil’s World Cup squad for the 1994 tournament.
Manager Carlos Alberto Parreira took a chance on the 17-year-old, giving him experience alongside legendary forwards like Bebeto and Romário. It was like Theo Walcott going to the 2006 World Cup with England, apart from this one wasn’t a complete and utter shambles.
During the tournament, in which Brazil emerged victorious, Ronaldo didn’t see a single minute of action. He was rarely even shown on TV, but he was given a few seconds of fame as he walked up to collect a winner’s medal.
“And there’s the number 20, the wonderkid Ronaldo,” a commentator said. “We haven’t seen him, but they say he’s a special one.”
Yeah, pretty much.
The tournament might not have given him the chance to play, but it was an opportunity for Ronaldo to discuss his future with some of the best. Romário was particularly interested, telling the 17-year-old that a move to PSV was nothing to be sneezed at.
Hearing that from such an icon was all Ronaldo needed to make such a move, and he set off for Eindhoven ahead of the 1994/95 season.
To quote the legendary Tostão from an interview with Superesportes: “He was, with absolute certainty, the greatest player who ever came through at Cruzeiro.”
Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali has admitted he is confident in his ability to become one of the finest players around.
The coveted 20-year-old has been viewed as one of the hottest prospects around ever since breaking into the Biancazzurri first team towards the end of the 2017/18 campaign, and his form in Serie A this season has only intensified the hype around him.
Inter are understood to be leading the race for his signature, with Juventus also monitoring the Italy international, and Tonali admitted to La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Sportweek that he is ready to do whatever it takes to become the best.
“I know that with the right sacrifices I can reach the top of the world,” the youngster said. “I have not even achieved half of what I have in mind, but I feel strong enough to do it.”
Whenever anyone mentions Tonali, Andrea Pirlo’s name is never far behind. Tonali has long been touted as the heir to Pirlo’s throne in the Italian national team, but the Brescia man has understandably distanced himself from such comparisons.
“No, I’m not his heir,” Tonali added. “To begin with, I don’t have his long, millimetre-precise through balls. And I do envy him.”
Pirlo recently insisted that Tonali is a ‘more complete player’ than he ever was during his time with Milan, Inter and Juventus, claiming that the only reason the two are compared is because they both have long hair and both began their senior careers with Brescia.
Pirlo left Brescia for Inter in 1998 and Tonali is expected to follow suit this summer, with the Nerazzurri ready to reinvest the €50m raised by Mauro Icardi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain to get a deal over the line.
Juventus are hesitant to spend more than €35m to land the 20-year-old after analysing their financial situation in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, leaving Inter with a relatively obstacle-free path to sign Tonali.
To the uninitiated, the Brazilian Serie A is often maligned as nothing more than a humble ‘farmers league’ that loses all of its talent before they have a chance to make an impact at home.
It is often true that the best Brazilian players leave for Europe at a young age. Only three of Brazil’s victorious 2019 Copa America squad were playing in the country, but there are many great players who stay in Brazil well into their careers.
Players from Brazil – unless they have Neymar-like talent – often have to prove themselves at slightly smaller clubs before they get a shot at the big time.
Here, we take a look at five of the best players the Campeonato Brasileiro has to offer, each of whom have never played for a European club, as well as the sides they would suit.
Gremio winger Everton Soares is arguably the best footballer currently playing in Brazil. He was the 2019 Copa America’s top scorer, and also won the Copa Libertadores with Gremio back in 2017. He is a true superstar in waiting.
How Everton hasn’t been picked up by a big European club already is insane. Carlo Ancelotti has been an admirer for a while and links with Napoli haven’t dissipated, but they have followed him to Everton – the club, that is.
A move to another of Ancelotti’s former clubs Chelsea would arguably suit Everton best. Valued around £30m, he’d prove a bargain for whoever signs him.
‘When football becomes art’ is a phrase that can be used to describe Flamengo star Giorgian De Arrascaeta.
The Uruguayan attacking midfielder is the full package. He’s got flair, can score from anywhere, and can pick a pass through a minefield. His signing inspired Flamengo to their Campeonato and Copa Libertadores double last season, as he scored 14 goals and assisted 17.
A wonderful player who, at 26, is approaching the peak of his powers, De Arrascaeta would fit into any club in the world. With Lautaro Martinez expected to leave Inter, he’d be an ideal replacement. Failing that, Atletico Madrid could do with him if Saul departs this summer.
Gremio have one of the most exciting forward lines in Brazil, and Matheus Henrique is the reason they can be so flamboyant. Henrique can read a match so well that he’s drawn comparisons with the likes of Gilberto Silva and Fernandinho, and he can time a tackle as if he’s been made by Rolex.
Gremio are set up in a similar way to Liverpool, with Henrique sitting deep to let players like Everton and Thiago Neves create all manner of opportunities.
He’d be a great addition to the Reds squad, and he’d also improve Tottenham’s midfield – they’d be able to get him for less than £20m, too.
Soteldo is perhaps the most exciting player Venezuela have ever produced. The winger currently plays for Santos and really impressed in his first season last year with ten goals, as Santos missed out on the league title to an imperious Flamengo.
His ability to play on either flank would benefit a number of clubs, but nobody needs a quality winger more than AC Milan.
If England is his next destination, his style of play would suit Manchester United, especially if they miss out on Jadon Sancho. Milan and United need exciting revamps, and Soteldo would certainly help in that regard.
Flamengo spent a lot of money to achieve their historic double last season, and Rodrigo Caio was one of the best bits of business they did. Signed from São Paulo, he’s been one of the finest defenders in Brazil since 2013.
Commanding and uncompromising, Caio deserves a chance to show just how good he is. He’s been touted as the natural replacement to Gerard Pique at Barcelona, which is high praise indeed. He could very easily slot into the Barça back line, but Manchester City are in even more need of a colossal centre back and Caio would be the perfect foil to Aymeric Laporte.
City really need a couple of centre backs, but since Caio is valued at less than £10m, they’d still be able to look for another one if they did sign him.
Manchester United could struggle to secure permanent transfers for a number of fringe players currently on loan, with Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo not thought to have a future in the new-look squad being built by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But failure to offload the trio could also have the added side effect of impacting the club’s summer transfer budget as money raised from sales to boost available funds might be limited.
The Evening Standard notes that United usually allow money raised from players sales to go towards transfer budgets. But desire to sell the likes of Sanchez, Smalling and Rojo may not be met by the same demand as clubs around the world struggle with the financial impact of coronavirus.
Although finding a permanent buyer who could meet Sanchez’s vast wage demands was always going to be a challenge, the Evening Standard explains that Rojo and Smalling represented ‘an opportunity to bring in significant funds’.
That may now not be the case with transfer budgets generally slashed. Ultimately, United might need to accept less than they originally wanted in order to get the players, who are unlikely to feature in plans moving forward, off their books.
Further loan deals, which may become a more common feature of the market as clubs look to do business with smaller funds, is the other alternative.
Smalling has restored his reputation with a promising loan spell at Roma this season, which may help reel in an offer for the centre-back. Rojo is a different story as he hardly played in the first half of the campaign and then saw a loan at boyhood club Estudiantes plagued by injury.
Estudiantes coach Leandro Desabato has already cast doubt over whether Rojo will even complete his existing loan, suggesting on Argentine radio it is ‘likely’ he will leave.
“We have to wait, but Rojo is likely to leave. The loan is due, and if Manchester do not want to continue loaning, it’s understandable,” Desabato said.
There is some questionable clarity in those comments. The only reason United would refuse to honour the existing loan is if the club wanted Rojo back at Old Trafford to boost the squad for the remainder of the season, which is known not to be case.
Beyond first choice centre-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, Solskjaer has Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe at his disposal. Luke Shaw has also been used in a back three system in recent months, while even Phil Jones still remains on the books for the time being.
90min understands that despite concerns over coronavirus, which has already started to impact finances, United remain confident of securing the signings of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.
With regard to Sancho in particular, a source close to the situation has told 90min, “…the expectation from both sides is that this deal will get done – at some point this summer.”
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