New UEFA president open to move Champions League final stateside.

“What I know is that I’m a team player, a man of conviction, a passionate man and a man of his word. I am not a showman and I’m not a man of unrealistic promises.”

The words of the new president of UEFA Aleksander Čeferin. Indeed the Slovenian Football Association chief’s rise from relative obscurity to landing the most powerful role in European football in six months is a great story in itself.


When the 49-year-old faced the world’s media following his 42-13 triumph over the far more experienced Dutch FA president, Michael van Praag, both he and the media knew the work he had ahead of him and the changes he would need to make.

At the time of his appointment, Čeferin vowed his first priority will be to review the controversial recent deal to give more Champions League revenue to the continent’s bigger clubs.

Today the new UEFA president has said that he would be open to having the Champions League final played outside of Europe.

“I think it might be an idea in future but we have to speak about it,” the Slovenian said. “To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan for example is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no problem but we should see. It’s a European competition so let’s think about it.”

Personally I think the idea of that is as ridiculous as staging an All-Ireland final in Düsseldorf.

But Čeferin did also today say he was preparing the first open bidding process for the right to host the Champions League final. Up to now there is no public process for UEFA to award the the finals to football associations or cities. It all seems to be done in secret. Dodgy? Probably. For Wembley to be awarded it twice in three years under Platini’s tenure is something worth mentioning.

“The bidding process should be very clear because if you get the Champions League finals or Europa league finals as a political favour then it’s not OK,” he said. “With a clear bidding procedure I will protect also the administration and myself because whoever tries to call us, to push us, to ask us for such a favour we will have a clear answer, ‘Sorry there are clear rules we cannot do it.’”

I long for a Champions League final at the Aviva Stadium someday. Definitely not in Yankee Stadium.


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Is that it for Big Sam?

England manager Sam Allardyce is under serious pressure right now having been filmed giving advice to undercover Telegraph reporters posing as Far East businessmen on how to “get around rules” about third-party ownership of players. The 61-year-old said it was “not a problem” to bypass the rules which in 2008 were banned by his employer, the FA.

He spoken about knowing agents that were “doing it all the time”, the former Sunderland manager, talked about a deal for which he would be paid £400,000 a year to address investors in a firm that wanted to buy footballers in Singapore or Hong Kong around four times over the year.

Big Sam also mocked his predecessor Roy Hodgson, calling him “Woy”, and also spoke negatively about his assistant Gary Neville in the secret recordings. Allardyce also criticised the England players in the Euros, but personally I see little problem with that as it’s merely an opinion – and one that many England fans share.

Having only been in charge for England after one game, it’s safe to say his future as England manager is in jeopardy. The FA requested a full transcript of the meetings with the undercover reporters.

Stand by for further updates.


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Yaya’s agent given the Guardiola ultimatum.

Yaya Touré’s agent Dimitri Seluk has been in the media before. Who can forget the episode back in 2014, when he claimed Yaya was so upset with Manchester City for not wishing him a happy birthday with a cake, the Ivorian was thinking of leaving the club.

“What happened at his birthday meant the club don’t care about him. It was proof,” Seluk said at the time. “None of them shook his hand on his birthday. It’s really sick”.

I know.

Now Seluk has got himself on the wrong side of current Man City boss Pep Guardiola. Touré was left out of the 25-man squad earlier this month and has yet to feature for City this season.

That led the Ukrainian to criticise Guardiola, questioning whether the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss had “the balls to say that he was wrong to humiliate a great player like Yaya”.

Guardiola was not pleased.


“His manager spoke. In that moment, Yaya is out!” the Catalan said in a press conference on Tuesday. “Except if Mr Dimitri Seluk comes back into the press conference or his friends in the media, if he has not got the courage to call me, go to the media and apologise to Manchester City, the first one. The second one, his team mates and after that, the trainer. When that happens, Yaya will be part of the group and will have the same chance to play all of the games”

“I cannot imagine in my period when I was a football player,” Guardiola said. “My manager going to the media and speaking against Johan Cruyff, about this and about that.”

He’s right about that. Can you imagine if a footballer’s agent was to criticise a figure such as Alex Ferguson?


Guardiola has received criticism in the past from agents and players. At Bayern Munich for example, Franck Ribery said the 45-year-old “lacks experience” and  “talks too much”. Others, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, famously disagreed with Guardiola’s ethics, which cost the Swede his career at Barcelona, which he called at the time his “dream club”.

Yaya Touré it seems could well be on his way out of the blue half of Manchester. Seluk is incredibly outspoken and don’t forget that Guardiola has in the past turfed out big name players such as Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco, and of course Ibrahimovic to name but a few.

But this is a man who also knows what he is doing. Pep Guardiola after all has won 14 trophies in the first four years of his managing career and is globally considered as one of the best managers in the world.

Like birthday cake-gate, we’ll see how this plays out.


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Five top footballers you forgot played for obscure clubs.

I was reading an article recently about how Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi went from Real Madrid to Barcelona via Italian side Brescia, where he played in Serie B, I had forgotten that the former Galatasaray manager has played in Italy’s second tier for a relatively obscure side. There are some other big name players that played for teams that most of us forgot about. Let’s look at some.

Yaya Touré – Metalurh Donestsk.

In 2003, the younger Touré brother had a trial with Arsenal. He even started a pre-season game against Barnet in which his performance was described as “average”. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was still keen to sign the the talented 20-year-old but Touré had difficulties in obtaining a work permit, and the Ivorian signed for Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk, where he spent one and a half years. Within two years of leaving Donetsk, he signed for a little known club called Barcelona.


David Bentley – FC Rostov.

The story of David Bentley is interesting in itself. Having not played for more than a year, the former-England international retired from football in 2014, aged just 29, citing his loss of passion for the game. In the 2012-2013 season, the midfielder went to Rostov-on-Don, in south-western Russia, to sign for FC Rostov, becoming the first Englishman to play in the Russian Premier League. An ankle injury hampered his time there, and he made seven appearances for the club.

Hulk – Tokyo Verdy.

Brazilian winger Hulk currently plays out in the Chinese Super League for SIPG, along with a plethora of talent following the ridiculous cash on offer to anyone with talent willing to play it seems. In the late-noughties, the Brazilian was one of the most sought-after players in the game signing first for FC Porto, then Zenit St. Petersburg. The latter spent €60 million on his transfer. But before his European triumph, Hulk had a three year stint in Japan, where was scoring goals for fun and setting up countless others.

Joan Capdevila – Lierse.

Joan Capdevila in an under-rated player in many ways. He was a mainstay in the Spanish national team, during their dominant years as a European and World Cup winning force. He was the only member of the Spanish side in the 2010 World Cup final who was not a Real Madrid or Barcelona player. Having played top flight football for years with Villareal, Deportivo, Benfica to name but a few, in 2015, Capdevilla signed for Belgian second division side Lierse, making five appearances. He now bizarrely plays for Andorran side Santa Coloma.


Samuel Eto’o – Antalyaspor.

In the mid-noughties, Samuel Eto’o was scoring goals left and right for Barcelona. Often regarded as the greatest ever Cameroonian footballer ever, he is also the most decorated African of all time. With successful stints at Inter Milan and Russian side FC Anzhi (remember them?), Eto’o had short stints with Chelsea, Everton and Sampdoria. He now plays for Turkish side Antalyaspor, aged 35.


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Super Mario regrets Liverpool, but insists the future is bright.

Well, it’s safe to assume that we won’t be seeing Mario Balotelli around Merseyside again. Not unless he joins Everton. The Italian striker was in the news this weekend having scored twice for his new club Nice against the mighty Marseille in a 3-2 win, and also claiming that his stint for Liverpool was “the worst decision of my life”.

The 26-year-old – he’s only twenty-six – scored four goals in 28 appearances in all competitions for the Reds. He scored only the one goal in 20 Serie A games on loan at Milan last season before Jurgen “The Normal One” Klopp deemed him surplus to requirements and Balotelli joined Nice on a free transfer.


“Apart from the fans, who were fantastic, and some players who I got on really well with, I didn’t like the club,” the former Man City striker said. “I had two coaches, with Rodgers and Klopp for a short time, but neither their methods nor their personality left me with a good impression”

I rate Balotelli highly. I think he’s a gifted player. But, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, he appears to have a lack of interest at times. I’ve seen him train a few times and needless to say, he’s wasn’t exactly giving it 100%.

But perhaps Balotelli can turn it around at Nice (I know, I know, we’ve said that before). He’s 26 now. When he was 18 or 19 and promising if difficult player, managers made allowances. Ask Roberto Mancini.

He still regards himself as an elite player. When asked about the Ballon d’Or, he said “I think I could have already won it by now, but by working hard in training I could still win it in the next two or three years.”

The truth is that he’s been nowhere near making the final three, let alone winning it. But he’s right. It’s not too late. Football is a short career and regrets last a lot longer. I wonder is Super Mario finally realising this and will he get down to showing the world what a remarkable player he truly can be.


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Robbie Keane to call time with Ireland.

Republic of Ireland captain, legend, and leading goalscorer Robbie Keane will make his final international appearance next Wednesday, when the Boys In Green face Oman at the Aviva Stadium.

“It has also been a great honour, for both me and my family, to have been given the opportunity to captain my country for over ten years,” a statement read.

“As a young boy growing up in Dublin playing football on the street I could never have imagined the path my life would take – it has exceeded my wildest expectations. I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to play for and captain my country – it was my ultimate goal all those years ago and it has been, by far, my greatest achievement.”

Keane made his debut against Argentina back in 1998 at the old Lansdowne Road. Since then, as we all know, he went on to score an astonishing 67 goals for his country.–iX8FWQ

“I had always hoped this day would never come and I will miss putting on the Ireland jersey and walking out to a sea of green,” the LA Galaxy forward said. “I am looking forward to the game against Oman & putting on the jersey and singing the national anthem one last time in front of the home crowd at the Aviva.”

It’s the end of an era for all Irish fans, but hopefully Keano can add to his 67 goals in his last ever game.

"How long is the flight from Heathrow to LAX?"


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Why I won’t be renewing my FAI season ticket.

I’m quite passionate about my national team. I always have been. My earliest memories of the Boys In Green is them getting knocked out of Euro ’88 at the hands of Wim Kieft’s late goal for The Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen. When the FAI announced the season ticket scheme a number of years ago, I jumped at the opportunity. I feel I can no longer fund the FAI and here’s why.

You’re probably aware by now of the FAI’s €100,000 grant programme to 20 clubs, granting €5,000 per club to assist them in meeting five-year strategic plans. That’s a grand per year per club. It was refused immediately by first Derry City, calling the figure “disgraceful and disrespectful”.


Then it was refused by St. Patrick’s Athletic, who said in a statement that the FAI had “utterly failed in its responsibility to the domestic game and to those clubs who, in spite of its indifference, have managed to keep some semblance of professionalism within football in Ireland.”

The FAI hit back with a statement of their own expressing “extreme disappointment” with the Inchicore club.

It was quite astonishing to many, myself included. Pat’s responded. “Our game is in crisis,” they wrote. “What prevails with the FAI is an approach whereby it decides everything and where it dictates policy with the occasional PR flurry to try and create a public image that its senior executives are committed to change and to improvement.”


It should be pointed out at this point the salary of the FAI’s CEO John Delaney is €360,000 – after two pay cuts. That’s around €7,000 a week – more than the actual figure each League of Ireland club will receive from the FAI for the five-year plan. Let’s not forget that this is the man who called the League of Ireland “a difficult child” – a phenomenally disrespectful statement to say the least.

If the league is a difficult child, that man is certainly an absent parent.

Besides, isn’t it in the FAI’s interests to improve the league properly so we can produce more top international players like Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman etc.?

I personally feel that I can no longer fund the FAI with buying tickets and merchandise. I cannot fund that man’s salary any longer. There’s something not quite right with the huge salary he receives compared to the League of Ireland teams barely keeping their head above water.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)




Dundalk dare to dream. And dream big!

By now you are probably aware of Dundalk’s amazing 3-0 victory over BATE Borisov which progresses the League of Ireland side to the Champions League play-off stages. It is, and I know I’m not alone here, probably one of the most remarkable achievements by a domestic club side in history.

The victory guarantees Stephen Kenny’s side with group-stage European football. A remarkable achievement in itself. But the victory against BATE, who have beaten Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Lille and a little-known club in Bayern Munich in the Champions League since 2012, is wonderful. The Lilywhites want to go that one step further.

“We’re not content with the Europa League,” said midfielder Robbie Benson. “We want to make the Champions League.”


Whoever Dundalk’s opponents are at the next phase may not be that clued up on them. And that could make Stephen Kenny’s men dangerous – as BATE Borisov, a mainstay in the Champions League in recent years – found out first hand.

Money and the League of Ireland have never gone together. When the FAI announced that they were going to invest in all League of Ireland clubs, eyebrows were raised. The amount? €5,000. I could write plenty of posts about that and the FAI’s CEO, but I’ll resist.

They are guaranteed a figure of around €5.6m and qualification for the group stages of the Europa League – more should they do the impossible and get into the Champions League group stages. Invested properly and they could be a force to reckon with at both the domestic and European scene.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Join the official Hot Press fantasy football.

That time of year again is upon us. Time to get cracking on the single most important part of pre-season – selecting your fantasy football team.

If you have already been in our league in previous years, you will automatically be put back in once you have selected your team. If you’re new, follow these simple instructions:

  1. Go here.
  2. Register (takes less than a minute), then select your team.
  3. Go to join leagues and enter code: 689593-190904

That’s it.

I didn’t do so well last year. While on paper my team looked flawless, in truth, they were rubbish. Select carefully and log in regularly. While Zlatan is £11.5 million, you’d expect him to play every match and score 30 goals this season because he is a superstar. But he might not. Then again he might. Oh, the decisions….




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From Limerick to England: How will Big Sam fare

The England manager’s job is possibly the most thankless job in football. With the news that Sam Allardyce will take over after Roy Hodgson’s resignation following England’s Euros exit, it was not the first choice most of the press had preferred.

I’ve read some fans complaining about Big Sam’s lack of silverware and that’s fair enough (even though I love to mention his winners medal for the 1991-92 League of Ireland, when he managed Limerick). But Allardyce is pretty much a classic English manager in every sense. And even though the FA’s first choice was his polar opposite in Arsene Wenger, there’s something very likeable and traditional about Sam. This could work well in his favour during his tenure at England boss.

When Hodgson was appointed manager of England in 2012, it came as a surprise to some. Harry Redknapp was long touted for the gig. This time around, there was no obvious successor. And Big Sam wasn’t the obvious choice, yet he saw off competition from Jürgen Klinsmann, Eddie Howe and Steve Bruce, who resigned as Hull City’s manager on Friday.

I have a hunch that it will go either phenomenally right or spectacularly wrong for him. It will be interesting, that’s for sure.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


In the name of the father

Enzo Fernandez currently plays with Real Madrid’s B team. He was named after former River Plate and Marseille star and Uruguayan international Enzo Francescoli. He chose his mother’s surname to try avoid the possibly unavoidable comparisons with his father, one of the greatest to ever play the game, Zinedine Zidane. The 21-year-old clearly has ability, but he is not the only up-and-coming footballer to follow in his footsteps in football.

When Paolo Maldini retired from professional football in 2009, his one and only club AC Milan retired the number 3 shirt in his honour, but with the possibility of having it reinstated should either of the former Rossoneri skipper’s sons Christian or Daniel play for the club at senior level. Actually that could well happen: eldest son Christian is touted to being brought into the senior side sooner or later which would come to no surprise given Milan’s reputation of promoting from within. He recently captained Milan’s under-19 side to much praise. Watch this space.


Former PSG, Inter and Bolton Wanderers man Youri Djorkaeff is one of the most respected names in football. Coming from a footballing family, his brother was a former pro, and his father Jean is a former French international. The Djorkaeff dynasty doesn’t end there. His son Oan currently plays for Evian’s under-19 side, yet is tipped by the French media to jump into the senior side.

Ianis Hagi is a gifted player who has made 38 appearances for Viitorul Constanța in the Romanian top tier before making a huge move to Fiorentina in Serie A. The country’s public will clearly be hoping that the 17-year-old can go forward and replicate the achievements of that of his father – the supremely gifted former Real Madrid, Barcelona and Galatasaray star Gheorghe. A natural number 10 like his father, Ianis is definitely one to watch.


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The best kits of 2016/2017

Another season is around the corner. Another change in football jersey design. Let’s have a look at some new kits for the forthcoming season.



Arsenal’s new kit is made by Puma who are notorious for making tight shirts that aren’t exactly fan friendly. The design is smart however.



I’m sure Liverpool wore this a few years ago?

Man City


I’m not sure about the two shades of blue, but the old crest will surely be welcomed by Citeh faithful.

Inter Milan


An interesting design from Nike. The Pirelli and Nike logos in yellow is a nice touch.



Not keen on this, but not the worst kit I’ve ever seen.



Gorgeous modern design and the return of the classic crest is always welcome.



An elegant design once again.

FC Bayern Munich

bayern-16-17-kit (5)

Classic design with modern look. One of the finest new shirts around.

Borussia Dortmund


Not too different from Juve’s kit. Not overly keen.



The return of vertical stripes. Classic design and shade of red and blue.

Real Madrid


There’s not a lot you can do with an all white kit, but this very tasty.



Not sure how I feel about the orange stripes, but it’s a lovely design.



Classic hoops. Collar makes it look smart in my view.

FC Porto


More white than blue. Not the worst shirt they’ve put out in recent years.



Lovely design across the top half. Very smart.



Modern design and darker shade of red. Not bad.

Boca Juniors


The yellow stripe should be lower, but not a bad one.


corinthians-2016-17-home-kit (2)

Without the Nike logo, it would look like a shirt from any era. Timeless classic look.



If it wasn’t for the ridiculously large Opel logo, it would be a superb design.



I’m sad to see PSV ended their 30 year sponsorship agreement with Philips. This is a nice shirt. Classic.


Any other kits tickle your fancy? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Transfers and rumours: part one

Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks. Leo Messi retired from international football while his nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal (though not in the final itself) to European glory. Ryan Giggs left Man United, Antonio Conte is now Chelsea’s 40th or 50th manager in a decade, while former Limerick player-manager Big Sam is looking increasingly likely to be the next England manager.

Of course we are also now in the summer transfer window. Let’s have a look at some done deals, as well as rumours from the press around Europe:

In the Premier League, Liverpool have unsurprisingly bought a Southampton player in Sadio Mané for a mere £34 million. Arsenal have acquired the frankly excellent Granit Xhaka from Moenchengladbach while Man City, under new boss Pep Guardiola, have got their hands on Dortmund’s brilliant (if slightly injury-prone) Ilkay Gündoğan and the hugely under-rated Nolito from Celta Vigo.

Elsewhere in Blighty, more players have left Southampton in Victor Wanyama to Spurs and Graziano Pellé to Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng – a league worth keeping an eye on for the plethora of talented players flocking there for, I can only assume, the prestige of the league.


Andros Townsend has left the North East for South London in Crystal Palace, who also managed to get the supremely talented French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda from Marseille for just £1.5 million, while Manchester United captured the biggest headlines so far in acquiring Heinrikh Mkhitaryan and a little-known player called Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

There were some massive and interesting signings outside of England too.

In Germany, Borussia Dortmund got the brilliant Barcelona defender Marc Bartra to replace the supremely gifted Mats Hummels who left for Bayern Munich. Carlo Ancelotti also has Portugese midfielder Renato Sanches at his disposal following his move from Benfica.

In Spain, while Barcelona said goodbye to Dani Alves, Bartra and Sandro, they purchased two French defenders in Samuel Umtiti and (just today) Lucas Digne from PSG. Rivals Real Madrid excercised their buy-back clause of Alvaro Morata from Juventus, while Nani just a few days ago became a Valencia player.

There’s also been plenty of rumours.

The biggest name being mentioned by the world’s media is Paul Pogba. The French star has been linked with both Manchester United and Real Madrid and various media outlets have reported different fees – but they are all the nine figures. A great player, but a ridiculous sum for him – even in footballing terms.


Arsenal have been keeping an eye out for either Gonzalo Higuain or Julian Draxler. Both players could be a bit pricey for Arsene Wenger (the former valued at a staggering €80 million, the latter €50 million), but Draxler (who I’ve written about before) has many of the attributes of a player that Wenger would want.

Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Mario Balotelli has more or less no future at Anfield, prompting Sampdoria to take an interest in the former Man City striker. Another striker who could be on his way out is Christian Benteke, who is linked with Crystal Palace for a fee of approximately £30 million.

West Ham could be busy in the striker department too, with Carlos Bacca looking likely to join the Hammers from AC Milan, which could see Enner Valencia leave for Lazio.

Man City have got a firm eye on Schalke’s Leroy Sané and a fee of around £40 million plus has been mentioned a number of times. Pep Guardiola is also keen on Everton’s John Stones, but the Toffees won’t entertain the idea unless £50 million is on the table. Speaking of Everton, they are thought to be interested in Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder. I’m sure they Merseysiders could get the Dutchman at a cut-price given the Istanbul side’s European ban.

Finally, and a little closer to home, Jeff Hendrick is being persued by Burnley following his impressive performances at Euro 2016. The Times reported that Galatasaray were interested in the Dubliner, but wouldn’t pay more than £2 million for his services.

Ireland’s Euro 2016 hero Robbie Brady looks set to leave Norwich with Premier League champions Leicester City, Southampton, West Brom, West Ham, Stoke City and Sunderland all said to be interested in the 24-year-old.


It’s still mid-July. Plenty more time to go.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Lionel Messi retires from international football.

When headlines should have been about Chile’s triumph in the Copa America final, it was instead all about the world’s greatest player calling time on his national team.

Lionel Messi, who turned 29 just three days ago, won’t be wearing the Argentine shirt again after missing in a penalty shootout as La Albiceleste lost a fourth major final in nine years.

“For me, the national team is over,” he said after his 113th and final appearance for his country. “I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”

There may be more to it than that.

The blog was in Buenos Aires recently (making a pilgrimage to Boca’s La Bombonera), and the opinion of Leo Messi is a lot lower than it is in Europe. Here, we adore him. There, the general opinion is that he is a great player who doesn’t love Argentina.

While in the Argentine capital, I was speaking with many locals about the Barcelona star who they told me that they don’t really consider him on of their own. That’s a bit strange? Indeed Messi has been living in Catalonia on a full time basis since February 2001 and spent no time playing in Argentina’s league beyond a youth career with Newell’s Old Boys.

Yet the Barcelona fans also certainly don’t consider Messi as truly theirs. Catalans are very proud people, as patriotic about the autonomous commuinity as the Argentines are about their country. If you were to say to a Catalan that Messi is “on of your own”, they’d certainly laugh at you. It simply doesn’t work like that. Poor Leo is in limbo.


He’s also fed up of the Argentine FA (AFA), who a Buenos Aires taxi driver told me “is run by absolute crooks and gangsters”. Leo even posted an Instagram photo of himself (looking less than pleased) and Sergio Aguero sitting on a plane with the caption “Once again waiting on a plane to leave for our destination. What a disaster AFA are, my God!!!!”

But it’s also worth considering that it’s exactly the national pride Argentines feel that may cause Messi to reverse his decision. To try and win the 2018 World Cup and the Copa America in Brazil a year later could be preferable as opposed to regretting it years later in retirement. At club level, he has won all there is to be won. At international level, far from it.

One of the most decorated players in the game, Messi’s only international honour is a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Let’s hope he changes his mind and gives us one more World Cup. It could be the one.


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