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Soccer

Man Utd legend Gary Neville reveals what team-mates really thought of Wayne Rooney

Manchcester United legend Wayne Rooney was loved by his United and England team-mates, according to Gary Neville. Neville has revealed how United players forgave Rooney for wanting to leave the club because he was such a popular character.

Despite stating he wanted to leave the Red Devils on two occasions, Rooney ended up staying and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Actions such as that may lead to some players becoming less popular in dressing rooms but not when it came to Rooney, as Neville explained.

“He’s an honest lad but he was also driven, he had that stubbornness about him,” Neville said on Sky Sports’ Off Script podcast.

“He was getting close to the line that I’d seen players get to before and obviously they didn’t survive that line.

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“I think that when Wayne did that I thought that was the end for him, I thought that would be it, that the manager would sort of manage him out of the club over the next few months.

“And then obviously there was a new contract announced and we were all delighted from a point of playing because he was popular.

“What I would say is Wayne was so popular in the dressing room it was untrue.

“The players absolutely loved him. The England players loved him, when I was a coach, when I was a player.

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“The Manchester United players loved him, there was no one who didn’t like Wayne Rooney.

“So I think they forgave him for what would be his reasons for doing it because they liked him so much and he built up so much credit with us.

“And I think you’ve got to understand, one of the things we had in the dressing room over a 20-year period was tolerance.

“Tolerance of each other, we were all different, we were all from different countries, we were all from different parts of the world, we were all different ages.

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“We all had different characters.”

Neville also revealed how Rooney’s arrival was the signing that excited him the most when he was a United player.

“Wayne Rooney, Wayne Rooney’s probably No 1,” Neville said.

“I played with him with England and I knew what we were getting.

“We were getting a world-class player and fearless and horrible and everything that you’d want in a football player.

“Goals, tackling, running, endeavour, grit, everything that you’d want in a football player.

“So he was the one that excited me.”

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Soccer

What Arsenal and Everton were told about Jonathan David transfer before Barcelona talks

Arsenal and Everton face being defeated by Barcelona in the race for Gent rising star Jonathan David. The 20-year-old forward forward is being eyed by the Gunners as a potential replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette while he is on Toffees director of football Marcel Brands’ long list of transfer targets.

Gent are expected to sell David, who has scored 23 goals in all competitions this term, to the highest bidder in the summer.

Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven are also monitoring developments.

But, according to the Daily Star, Barcelona have attempted to trump their transfer rivals by launching a move for his signature.

Nou Camp bosses are eager to strengthen their attack and have already held talks with the player’s representatives.

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Gent are determined to hold out for £22million after rejecting what would have been a club-record fee for David from an unnamed bidder in the last transfer window.

The Belgian club’s stance represents a massive hike in price from what they told Arsenal and Everton before Barcelona’s interest came to light.

The Daily Star claim the Premier League duo were told David would be available for £13m due to the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Arsenal and Everton could hold an advantage over Barcelona, however.

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The Canada international, who has 11 goals in 12 appearances for his country, has admitted he would “love to play” in the Premier League.

When asked about the transfer rumours, he told the Guardian: “I don’t really focus on that or think much about it.

“Right now I’m playing almost every minute of every game and that has really helped me get to the level that I need to be. I just need to take a good step where I can make sure I am getting enough time on the pitch to keep developing. I don’t want to go somewhere and just stay on the bench so it’s about taking the right step.

“I want to become one of the best strikers in the world. That’s my goal. The Premier League is the best in the world and most competitive so obviously that is somewhere I would love to play in the future.”

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Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus star open to Man Utd transfer if coronavirus prompts exit

Cristiano Ronaldo would be open to moving back to Manchester United if he’s forced to quit Juventus this summer, reports say. The Portugal international spent six years at Old Trafford earlier in his career, winning three Premier League titles as well as the 2008 Champions League crown before leaving for Real Madrid.

Ronaldo loved his time at Manchester United with the Portugal international establishing himself as a club legend throughout his six years at Old Trafford.

He took a little while to find his feet in England but, after the 2006 World Cup, was a player transformed.

Ronaldo helped United end Chelsea’s Premier League dominance under Jose Mourinho, propelling them to three league titles.

He was also on target as the Red Devils beat the Blues in the 2008 Champions League final – although missed a spot-kick in the decisive penalty shootout.

Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Juventus, with the Serie A giants in a tricky situation because of the coronavirus crisis.

The 35-year-old, along with his Juventus team-mates, has agreed to take a pay cut in order to aid the club financially.

But he could leave if the Serie A giants continue to struggle to balance the books.

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And Marca say Ronaldo would be open to returning to United, with the club a ‘real option’ should Juventus decide to cash in.

It’s said he’s always left the door open for a return.

And United also have the financial muscle in order to bring Ronaldo in again, 11 years after his sensational departure.

For now, it still appears unlikely.

United have focused on signing younger, proven talent ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succeeded Jose Mourinho as manager.

But they do make the odd exception and Ronaldo was one of Ed Woodward’s four fantasy targets when he replaced David Gill in 2013.

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Solskjaer played alongside Ronaldo, too, which would make the possibility of a return potentially more appealing.

But whether United choose to pursue their old No 7, particularly at a time where they’re keen on Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, is something only time will tell.

Meanwhile, former United star Gary Neville recently opened up on when Ronaldo left – admitting the English weather was a ‘big problem’ for the Portugal skipper.

Neville told Sky Sports: “I think because he did the interview after the 2008 final where he sort of alluded to the fact that he was going, it was almost like you had an advanced warning.

“So you were almost ready-prepared for it, you knew he was leaving the year after.

“It was coming, it was obvious that one day he would want to go and experience Madrid and La Liga.”

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He then added: “I didn’t speak to Cristiano for instance about him staying at the club for longer. I think I may have said to him during the year when he was maybe… the weather was a big problem for Cristiano.

“I think he also wanted to obviously live in Spain and do La Liga. But the weather was a big problem for him and I felt like he’d almost travelled his path, he’d done the journey. And I didn’t feel that anything I was going to say was going to bring him out of that.

“I think generally with players that were leaving there were very few who were leaving to go up. Now Cristiano you could argue going to Real Madrid and winning four or five European Cups is a step for him where he wanted to challenge himself.

“The players that were leaving mainly were because they had come to the end of the road for one reason or another, either their contracts had run out, or their age was getting too much, or the manager had had a word with them saying they’re not going to play football too much anymore.

“Most of the players that left Man United would have wanted to stay.

“Let’s be clear, 99 per cent of the players that left Man United during the time I was there would have stayed if the manager had said you’re staying. There’s only the one or two per cent who left against the wishes of the club.”

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Rugby

Coronavirus: Super League bosses agree to pay cuts

Super League chief executive Robert Elstone is to take a 40 per cent pay cut.

Other Super League executives will take a 30 per cent cut as the sport reacts to the financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like all sports, rugby league is currently suspended due to the outbreak and the financial implications for the sport are likely to be serious.

The 12 Super League clubs are likely to take advantage of the furloughing initiative, in which the UK government will pay 80 per cent of salaries up to £2,500 a month.

Elstone said last week: “I think every club and Super League is looking very closely at how that allows us to get through this situation.

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Soccer

Jordan Henderson interview: Liverpool captain reflects on how mentality shift has been key to success under Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been reflecting on the season so far, how he and his team-mates are keeping in touch and how Jurgen Klopp changed the club’s mentality during an interview with Jamie Carragher for Sky Sports.

Klopp’s side find themselves potentially two Premier League games away from a first league title since 1990, but the coronavirus pandemic has placed professional football at a virtual standstill around the globe.

Liverpool voluntarily suspended all activity at their Melwood training headquarters on March 13 following the Premier League’s announcement fixtures would be postponed until April 4.

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That has since been pushed back until the end of next month, with a further announcement expected on Friday at the next Premier League meeting. It leaves Liverpool – like all Premier League clubs – facing an uncertain time, but the runaway leaders have adapted to the unprecedented set of circumstances.

Henderson told Sky Sports: “We’ve been given our own training programmes to do, a bit like during off season when you’re on holiday doing your own stuff to keep ticking over.

“We’ve got a group chat so we’ve got all sorts of videos flying in with different challenges for us to do. So there’s a bit of banter and just normal stuff, really, so things are going well so far.

“Even the manager’s in the group chat! Everybody is, it’s all one big group chat and there’s all sorts of things which go into it so it’s a good idea in terms of keeping us busy.”

After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last season to Manchester City, Henderson admits the disappointment spurred him and his team-mates on to go one step further this time around – but Liverpool’s dominance this term has been two years in the making.

Losing the Champions League final against Real Madrid was the worst feeling in my career. It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again

Jordan Henderson

“I think losing the Champions League final the year before against Real Madrid, that was the worst feeling in my career in football and for a lot of us,” Henderson said. “Having been through that having played such a good season, I felt we were going in the right direction and were still improving.

“It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again the following season. We felt there was still more to come from us as a team, and what we then managed to achieve in the league and the Champions League was fantastic.

“To lose the league on the last day was a sore, tough moment for the team, but then within a few weeks it was the best moment of our careers so far. It was a quicker turnaround in terms of emotions last season, from May to the start of June. It was massive for us as a team to finally get the first trophy over the line. Since then, the confidence has just kept growing.”

Developing a taste for silverware

Liverpool started the 2019/20 campaign with defeat on penalties to Manchester City in the Community Shield, but shootout success would swiftly follow in the European Super Cup against Chelsea.

The message under Klopp was clear back then in August, with the club keen to win as many trophies as possible over the coming nine months.

“It was really important for us as a team,” added Henderson when reflecting on the showpiece event in Istanbul. “Having won the Champions League, we were determined to carry on winning trophies, so it became a habit. When you get a taste for it, you want it more and more.

“That’s what has led to winning the Club World Championships and performing so well in the Premier League. We didn’t just want to be known as the Champions League winners, so to pick up two more trophies so soon after that was really important for us as a team.”

While Liverpool carried on where they left off at the start of the season, despite a curious lack of clean sheets, Manchester City dramatically dropped points at home to Tottenham before defeats to Norwich and Wolves.

It allowed Liverpool to open a six-point lead, which was preserved at Aston Villa in early November after two late goals secured a 2-1 win. It felt a seminal moment in the season, coming the week before the two title protagonists met at Anfield.

“That mentality and resilience within us this season has been massive,” said Henderson. “I feel that’s something the manager tried to instil in the squad when he first came in. When he first arrived, I remember him talking about never stopping and never changing your mentality within a game.

“I remember him saying right from the very beginning, no matter what the score, to keep going until the very end as you never know what can happen in football. If I look back at the games he’s been here I think of the game against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League.

“I feel it’s been a progression over a few years and not just one season. This year has been massive in terms of how consistent we’ve been, but I feel it’s been a work in progress and now it’s just part of our identity to never change the mentality until the game is finished.”

From also-rans to Klopp’s mentality monsters

Klopp attempted to convey this message to the supporters early on in his tenure when he criticised some for leaving the stadium early in December 2015. He was ridiculed in some quarters for locking hands with his players in front of the Kop following a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to West Brom, but the togetherness he has nurtured in nearly four-and-a-half years is paying huge dividends.

“Looking back at that West Brom game, it wasn’t about the result,” reflects Henderson. “It was more about the mentality, and that’s when the manager could start to see a change. There were tough moments within that game, but he was happy with the way we reacted.

“The manager is always looking at how we react to conceding goals or losing momentum. It’s always about how you react, and the manager is always looking for that. It’s been a really big part of our game for a long time now.”

Liverpool duly opened a nine-point lead over City following that win at Villa Park, leading to Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane to describing the title race as “done” by mid-November.

Henderson admits there is a definite rivalry between themselves and City that has emerged over the past couple of seasons.

“Every time you come against them, you know they’ve got such a good team,” he said. “You know it’s going to be a tough game no matter what. Especially with that game being at Anfield, we felt that if we gave it everything, we knew we could hurt them and get a result that would put us in good stead in terms of our position in the league.

“There’s no hiding from the fact it did feel big. When you go head to head with your title rival and win, it does feel like a double hit. It was a big result, but the mentality was still all about the next game as we know how quickly things can change in football.

“It’s a big thing about this team over the past couple of seasons has been the focus and work ethic of the team always looking to the next game very quickly and respecting every team we come up against.”

How Liverpool overcame defining festive schedule

In early December, Klopp surprised onlookers with his much-changed team selection for the first Merseyside derby of the season, coming a week before the squad was due to fly out to Qatar for the Club World Cup.

It was part of a hectic period of 14 games in six weeks either side of Christmas, which Liverpool successfully navigated albeit exiting the Carabao Cup to Aston Villa at the quarter-final stage with an under-strength team.

Marco Silva was coming to the end of his turbulent Everton reign and arrived at Anfield on the brink of being sacked, but despite missing six first-team regulars in Alisson, Joe Gomez, Fabinho, Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, the hosts cantered to a 5-2 win.

“The manager has always been really big on the strength of the squad,” the Liverpool captain continued. “It’s not just about the 11 that might be playing that day. There’s a lot of good players that might not even make the 18 sometimes.

“When we achieve something, it is down to everyone, not just what everyone sees on a weekend. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and on the training ground where the intensity needs to be high and no one can drop their heads.

“It’s a big strength of ours that we’ve managed to use really well as when we make changes the intensity has been there in training. The manager has shown a lot of faith in young players and he knows we’re all ready to go as he’s seen them throughout the week.”

Henderson revealed a lot of Liverpool’s sessions at Melwood this season have been largely focused on recovery due to the high level of games the side has been faced with, but that has not led to any complacency among those who have been regularly selected.

“As a player, reading into things is not the right thing to do because the manager can always change it,” Henderson said. “Training, no matter what, you need to be at 100 per cent because you never know what team the manager is going to pick.”

It would seem over the past decade, no matter what side has been fielded against their local rivals, Liverpool have had the edge, with Everton’s last win in the derby coming back in October 2010.

Silva became the first Blues manager to concede five league goals against Liverpool in a single match since Howard Kendall in November 1982, but Henderson still views the encounters as significant for those in the city.

He said: “It’s still unique. They’re still derby games, and all derbies are special. Having been here for so long, I do feel that. The manager will always tell us to use the adrenaline that you get for a derby in the right way. It’s about not getting too emotional within the game. We’ve found a good balance of doing that over a long period of time now so hopefully that can continue.”

Liverpool went from strength to strength with a 1-0 win at Tottenham in January meaning the side set a new European points record, taking their tally for the season to 61 from 21 matches – the best start to a campaign for any team in the history of Europe’s top five leagues.

Now 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, a first title in 30 years looked all but assured. Henderson, however, believed those who criticised Liverpool’s performance that evening were right to do so.

“Looking back at the game, it was a great result to go to Spurs and win,” he said. “You can never take wins in the Premier League for granted, but at the same time I felt we should never have got ourselves in the position we found ourselves in during the last 10 or 15 minutes.

“We were so comfortable in the game and we should’ve made it a lot more comfortable with 2-0 or 3-0. It was very close to them coming back into the game and very nearly conceded. But that’s the expectation level of the team. We’re always thinking of how we can perform better.

“We’re always trying to improve, trying to listen to the manager on the training field and trying to implement that at the weekend.”

‘Improvement, not records, has always been the focus’

Prior to the shutdown, Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea and were defeated in extra-time in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid – two setbacks which came after stuttering performances in the league at Norwich, against West Ham and Bournemouth albeit in victory.

The 3-0 loss to Watford at Vicarage Road brought an end to hopes for an undefeated league season, and the chance of eclipsing Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten record.

Henderson said: “We knew the time would come when we might drop points or suffer a defeat. We knew it would come so we were prepared for how to react.

“We never really spoke about the record in the dressing room, to be honest. The main aim was to just keep winning games. The ultimate goal is still to win the league, so after that loss, we spoke and the focus was still on the next game.

“Everybody else was talking about the records, but when you’re winning games and taking each one as they come, the records follow. You’re always just focusing on how you can improve, and that was our thought process after the Watford game.

“It felt really bad, like it does losing any game of football, but it was the manner of the defeat which really disappointed us. It wasn’t a performance that we had seen from us from a long time, but the next day in training, the lads’ attitude was onto the next game, learning from the mistakes we made.”

Liverpool’s procession to their first Premier League title has been put on hold, with the competition’s chief executive Richard Masters holding the next meeting with member clubs on Friday.

Henderson, like most people, is monitoring all government advice with the situation under constant review, but supporters have been assured he and his team-mates will be in the best physical condition possible when the competition finally resumes.

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Soccer

Man Utd market operators exploring Edinson Cavani transfer – but there’s a problem

Manchester United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing Edinson Cavani on a free transfer this summer, reports say. The PSG star’s time in France is winding doubt and the Uruguay international is ready to pursue a new challenge elsewhere. He was linked in January but, on that occasion, the club ended up swooping for Odion Ighalo instead.

Manchester United have long admired Cavani, with interest in the 33-year-old dating back to when he played in Italy with Napoli.

The Red Devils looked to sign the Uruguay international when Louis van Gaal ruled the Old Trafford roost but, after being given an indication that he could move, he ended up staying in France.

Now, Cavani is poised to become a free agent at the end of the season.

And Area Napoli say that United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing the PSG striker for nothing this summer.

However, there’s a problem.

Boca Juniors also want to sign the veteran and pair him alongside Carlos Tevez next season.

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And Cavani would prefer to stay in Europe with Spain or Italy instead.

It’s claimed he was offered to Lazio, who would like to field him alongside Ciro Immobile up top.

But their offer didn’t please the striker and what he does next, with his contract winding down, is something only time will tell.

Boca certainly seem frontrunners for the player.

And, speaking recently, former United star Diego Forlan expressed a belief that Cavani would flourish back in South America.

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“I imagine the shirt of Boca’s, like River, is very heavy because they are so prestigious in South America, they always fight for the Argentine championship and the Libertadores,” Forlan said.

“In the prime of their career it is more difficult for them (top players) to come to either due to the economic issue, because there is no comparison to what they earn in European football.

“But if you look at the professional side and not the economic side, it is a very big challenge and a tempting challenge.

“Cavani is a top player and I could see him there.”

Meanwhile, in February, former United star Robin van Persie called on Solskjaer to bring Cavani to the Premier League.

“Edinson Cavani. I would definitely go for Cavani,” he said when asked who he’d go for.

“He’s very fit, he’s a proven goalscorer, a goal machine, he has proven it at Napoli, PSG and Uruguay.

“With him, if he starts, he will get you 25 goals a season.

“I’ve watched him play, I’ve played against him, he is like a proper goalscorer. He lives by scoring goals so I’d go for him.”

Chelsea were linked with Cavani in January but the Blues are expected to pursue other targets in the summer window. 

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Racing

Mercedes blast back as Toto Wolff tipped to quit F1 team and leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo

Mercedes have slammed speculation Toto Wolff might leave his role as head of their F1 operation to take up a position at Aston Martin. Rumours regarding Wolff’s future have rumbled on for months due to his growing friendship with Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.

The Canadian billionaire has just injected millions of pounds into Aston Martin, which will see Racing Point rebranded with their name for the 2021 F1 season.

Wolff has, in the wake of that investment, been tipped by none other than former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to quit Mercedes and join the board of Aston Martin.

If the Austrian headed to the British car manufacturer, it would leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo, with the driver admitting his future is linked to that of his boss.

Wolff denied last weekend that he is on course to become the chief executive of Aston Martin, blasting a story regarding the potential move as “not true”.

Mercedes have now issued their own verdict on the speculation that Wolff is set to call time on his spell as team principal.

Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 vodcast, presenter Natalie Pinkham revealed Mercedes’ theory on what’s going on.

“Just a line from Mercedes, on Toto, they truly believe that it’s all political attempts to destabilise and make mischief, this talk of him going to Aston Martin,” Pinkham said.

“‘None of it is to be taken seriously. Simply some journos are happy to be the instruments of others putting out misinformation or misinformed speculation.

“‘Toto has said very clearly he’s not going to Aston Martin. Likewise, he has a strong and very close relationship to the Daimler CEO [Ola Kallenius]’. So, absolutely slamming down those rumours that we’ve been hearing.”

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Wolff has overseen Mercedes’ dominance of F1 over the past six years, with the Silver Arrows winning drivers’ and constructors’ title doubles each season.

Hamilton has won five of the past six World Drivers’ Championships, with his former team-mate Nico Rosberg scooping the one the missed out on in 2016.

Hamilton’s £40m-a-year Mercedes contract is due to expire at the end of the 2020 F1 campaign, the start of which has been pushed back until the summer due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Ferrari are known admirers of the six-time champion and last year it was confirmed preliminary, informal talks over a possible switch had been held.

Hamilton is, though, expected to put pen to paper on a bumper new Mercedes deal in the coming months.

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Soccer

Chelsea held advanced talks with Liverpool star before he joined Reds

Chelsea were in advanced talks to sign Alisson from Roma in 2018 but missed out to Liverpool after hesitating over the transfer, according to reports. The Reds experienced no such indecision and splashed out £67m in what was then-world record fee for a goalkeeper.

They have been richly rewarded with Alisson establishing himself as one of the best stoppers on the planet, but things could have been so different if Chelsea had acted swiftly.

The Blues were reportedly in advanced talks to sign the Brazilian, who was supposedly keen on a move to Stamford Bridge.

But they missed their opportunity to finalise a deal because they were trying to convince want-away star Thibaut Courtois to remain in west London, according to The Athletic.

Courtois had made it clear that he desired a move to Real Madrid and went on strike before the start of the 2018/19 campaign in order to force through a move.

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However, Director Marina Granovskaia and the rest of the Chelsea hierarchy believed there was a chance to convince the Belgian to change his mind.

This ultimately proved a fruitless effort and the time wasted had a big impact of the Blues’ transfer plans as Liverpool swooped in for Alisson.

Chelsea instead turned to Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, with the young Spaniard one of the only other suitable stoppers on the market at the time.

And the Blues made sure they got their man this time, setting a new world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper by stumping up £72m.

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But this signing currently represents a rare mistake from the Chelsea recruitment team, who were backed into a corner by Courtois’ actions.

The Blues are yet to see value for money and the jury is still out on the 25-year-old, who was dropped by manager Frank Lampard earlier this season following a string of poor performances.

Kepa was replaced by 38-year-old Willy Caballero but did regain his first-team spot shortly before the coronavirus pandemic brought about the postponement of all UK football fixtures.

The Blues keeper is now being linked with a summer exit while a host of high-profile names including Jan Oblak, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Andre Onana, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson and Juan Musso have been touted as his replacement.

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As for Alisson, the 27-year-old has formed part of a resolute rearguard at Anfield and proved a vital component of Liverpool’s resurgence under Jurgen Klopp.

The Reds missed out on the Premier League title by a single point last season but won the Champions League and also picked up silverware in the Club World Cup.

They are dominating the league this time around and sit 25 points clear of Manchester City, although it remains to be seen if and when the current campaign will be completed.

Alisson has made 79 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions since his move, and has let in just 11 goals in 20 league outings this term.

Meanwhile, Kepa has conceded 43 goals in 33 appearances across all competitions so for this season, managing just eight clean sheets.

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Rugby

Eddie Jones extends England contract until 2023 to lead side into World Cup

Eddie Jones has penned a new contract with England.

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Fighting

Tony Ferguson demands Khabib be stripped of title following UFC 249 withdrawal

Tony Ferguson has launched a blistering attack on Khabib Nurmagomedov after the Russian confirmed he’s withdrawing from their showdown later this month. Ferguson was set to challenge Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title a fortnight on Saturday in the main event of UFC 249, a card which currently doesn’t have a location due to coronavirus outbreak.

On Monday, however, it emerged that Nurmagomedov was trapped in his homeland of Russia after the government introduced a blanket travel ban to curb the spread of COVID-19.

And on Wednesday night, the Russian revealed he would not be breaking quarantine and putting his life and the lives of others at risk to ‘face ‘El Cucuy’, who he’s now been scheduled to fight five times.

Ferguson understands that sentiment given the current climate, although he firmly believes ‘The Eagle’ returned to Russia because he had no intention of fighting him.

“Obviously I was very upset, I feel more for everybody else that’s actually going through some hard times,” Ferguson told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “It’s a little bit different, of course, I’m a little bit p****d.

JUST IN: Khabib Nurmagomedov confirms he will not compete UFC 249

The guy does not want to fight, he was scared, he’s running, he should be stripped of his title.

Tony Ferguson on Khabib Nurmagomedov withdrawing from their UFC 249 clash

“He had the opportunity to stay here, he was in Abu Dhabi, but had the opportunity to come back before the borders were closed in Russia. He decided to go back to Dagestan to finish his camp.”

Nurmagomedov, 31, is unlikely to fight until September at the earliest as he’ll soon be partaking in Ramadan.

Such a scenario will mean the lightweight title won’t have been defended for a year, although that won’t have been through any fault of his own.

Ferguson doesn’t agree with that notion and believes Nurmagomedov should be relieved of his title.

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He added: “The guy does not want to fight, he was scared, he’s running, he should be stripped of his title.

“I’m always down to fight anybody, anytime anywhere.

“The fight’s against Khabib, man, this is the guy, everybody just wants to fight him.”

Nurmagomedov revealed he’d no longer be fighting Ferguson in a lengthy Instagram post, in which he questioned those wanting the fight to go ahead in the midst of a global pandemic.

“Staying home in quarantine and reading the reaction of people to the situation around my fight,” he wrote on Instagram. “It turns out that the whole world should be in quarantine, governments of all countries.

“Famous people around the world urge people to follow all safety requirements in order to limit the spread of the disease, to save people.

“And Khabib is the only one relieved of all obligations and must demonstrate free will and train flying around the world, for the sake of fight?

“I understand everything and I’m definitely upset more than you to cancel the fight, probably like all others.

“I had many plans after the fight, but I can’t control it all.

“The greatest countries and the largest companies of our time are shocked by what is happening.

“Every day the situation changes unpredictably.

“But Khabib still has to fight, is that what you saying? Take care of yourself and put yourself in my shoes.”

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