Ralf Rangnick has denied rumours of a power struggle between Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Manchester United captaincy.

Maguire has been widely criticised for his form this season and his underwhelming performances coupled with the apparent influence of Ronaldo was reported to have caused issues in the changing room.

A report in the Mirror on Thursday claimed interim boss Rangnick has tasked Ronaldo with mentoring the young players.

According to the story, Maguire has subsequently felt undermined by the former Real Madrid star.

But Maguire hit back on Twitter on Friday, insisting the claims "aren't true" and Rangnick has since lent his backing to the England international.

"Well, to start with, I must say this is absolutely nonsense," Rangnick told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with Leeds United.

"I have never spoken with any player about a possible change of captaincy, Harry was fully aware of that, so was Cristiano and the other players. This has never been an issue for me.

"It's me who decides who's the captain and therefore there is no reason for me to speak about that with another person. Harry is our captain and he will stay our captain until the end of the season and there is nothing else to add on to that."

Maguire's response to the initial story on Twitter came after Marcus Rashford reacted similarly on Thursday.

Rashford was responding to a German journalist declaring that "English players" like himself and Maguire "are irritated that Ronaldo wants to lead the dressing room with his own clique".

The England forward suggested the reporter was "just making it up as we go along" and "looking for divides".

Rangnick is not especially annoyed by the situation, and even believes the atmosphere in the dressing room is much better than it was just a few weeks ago.

"Well I'm not frustrated at all because I know it's not true," he continued. "I told you about Harry being the captain, it's not an issue at all, it's never been an issue for us or myself as manager.

"All the other things, to be honest, I don't listen to that noise that much because my full focus is on preparing the team for the next training, for the next game.

"Obviously, I have heard about what was written. I can only tell you from my personal experience in the last 12 weeks, yes, there were players unhappy until the closure of the transfer window because, as I always said, the squad was too big, we had too many players who just realised they wouldn't get game time and this has improved, for sure.

"From what I can tell, the atmosphere in the locker room is better than it used to be a couple of weeks ago for all those reasons I just spoke about.

"As you quite rightly said, for us it's about performing well, showing togetherness on the pitch, getting the best out of our performance and winning games, that's our job. Those are the things we can influence, all the other things we can't."

Manchester United made a mistake by re-signing Cristiano Ronaldo, and would be making another error by keeping him at the club next season, so says Jamie Carragher.

Ronaldo ended a six-game goal drought in United's 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion earlier this week, his worst such run since January 2009, but talk has focused upon whether the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's return to Old Trafford last year has improved the Red Devils.

Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford have both denied reports of a rift in the United dressing room, while there has been speculation that the 37-year-old will leave at the end of the campaign.

Liverpool great and Sky Sports pundit Carragher has now questioned the wisdom of signing Ronaldo, and predicted that keeping him at the club next season could cause more harm than good.

"Cristiano Ronaldo's invaluable contribution to Manchester United's Premier League win over Brighton was another reminder of his unparalleled appetite for goals", Carragher wrote in The Telegraph.

"But it does not change this reality: United made a mistake re-signing Ronaldo last summer. It will be a bigger one keeping him next season.

"Given the cost of signing such a superstar as Ronaldo (an estimated £500,000 a week), it is not a smart investment."

Ronaldo has struck nine Premier League goals from chances equating to 11.3 expected goals (xG) since returning to England, putting him one ahead of compatriot Bruno Fernandes at the top of the club's scoring charts.

His finishing has, therefore, been better than would be expected from the chances that have come his way. For example, his opener against Brighton on Tuesday had an xG of just 0.07, essentially giving Ronaldo just a seven per cent chance of scoring.

But with United drawing successive league games before their win over Brighton, Carragher is unsure whether the forward was ever the right fit for the current needs of the Red Devils, who are without a major trophy since 2017.

"How can I, or anyone, credibly criticise someone who has won five Champions League titles and scored over 800 goals?" Carragher continued.

"But if you sign Ronaldo right now, it is short-term recruitment expected to deliver instant success.

"United are way off the pace domestically, and it would be a major surprise if they win the Champions League. That is why Ralf Rangnick is openly speaking about the need for United to sign another striker before next season."

United are fourth in the Premier League table, but fellow top-four contenders Arsenal, Wolves, and Tottenham all have multiple games in hand, as Rangnick tries to salvage Champions League football from what is quickly becoming another underwhelming campaign.

Harry Maguire has denied suggestions that he is embroiled in a power struggle with team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo over who should be Manchester United's captain.

England international Maguire was named United's regular skipper by former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Ashley Young departed for Inter in January 2020.

However, according to a report by The Mirror on Thursday, interim United boss Ralf Rangnick has asked Maguire to consider relinquishing the armband to Ronaldo.

That is said to have made Maguire feel increasingly undermined by Ronaldo, who has had a big influence in the dressing room since returning to the club last year.

But the centre-back, who has struggled for form as of late, has rubbished those claims ahead of United's clash with Leeds United this weekend.

"I've seen a lot of reports about this club that aren't true and this is another," Maguire posted on his official Twitter account.

"Not going to start posting about everything that is written but I needed to make this one clear. We're united and focused on Sunday. Enjoy your day everyone @ManUtd."

Maguire is the second United player to hit out at media reports relating to Ronaldo this week.

On Wednesday, Marcus Rashford denied that United's English played have formed a "clique" in opposition to the Portugal international's dressing room influence.

Ronaldo ended a six-match goalless run by putting United ahead in Tuesday's morale-boosting 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

That came amid speculation that Ronaldo will look to leave Old Trafford at the end of the campaign.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner himself used social media to respond to his critics after the defeat of Brighton, which snapped a three-game winless run for United in all competitions.

"Back on track," Ronaldo posted. "Nobody gives up and there's only one way to get back on track: hard work, team work, serious work. Everything else is just noise."

With his strike against Brighton, Ronaldo has now scored against 168 different opponents for club and country as he scored for the 21st calendar year running.

He found the back of the net from one of a game-high five shots against Brighton, while the three chances he created are the most he has managed in the league this term.

Kylian Mbappe's name continues to dominate the transfer columns as he nears the end of his Paris Saint-Germain contract.

While Mbappe's future beyond this season remains uncertain, PSG appear to already have plans in place should he depart.

And if one superstar forward leaves the French capital, another could arrive in his place.


TOP STORY – PSG TO BRING IN RONALDO

According to The Mirror, PSG are looking to bring in Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United should they be unable to convince Mbappe to sign a new big-money deal.

Ronaldo only returned to Old Trafford last August, but the 37-year-old is said to be considering his future after an underwhelming campaign.

Should Ronaldo be tempted to move to Ligue 1, having already plied his trade in the Premier League, LaLiga and Serie A, he would get the chance to link up with Lionel Messi.

The pair have 12 Ballons d'Or between them and are regarded as two of the greatest players of all time.

ROUND-UP

- United are not expecting Paul Pogba to make a U-turn on his future by signing a new deal, according to the Manchester Evening News. The France international is set to become a free agent in four months' time and has been linked with PSG and former side Juventus.

- El Nacional claims that Chelsea are plotting a bid for Barcelona youngster Gavi. The Blues will reportedly have to pay £42million (€50m) to land the teenage midfielder, with other teams across Europe also showing an interest.

- Tottenham striker Harry Kane wants assurances that boss Antonio Conte will be backed in the next transfer window, suggests The Sun, after the Italian questioned the club's recruitment policy. That comes amid fresh rumours that Kane is considering his own Spurs future.

- According to Calciomercato, Real Madrid are ready to push ahead with plans to sign Kieran Tierney from Arsenal. Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti previously tried to sign Tierney during his time in charge of Napoli, but the Scottish left-back instead opted for the Gunners. 

- Manchester City are on the verge of getting a £5.4m deal over the line for Brazilian winger Savinho, says Fabrizio Romano. A medical is rumoured to have already been scheduled for the 17-year-old, who has impressed for Atletico Mineiro.

Cristiano Ronaldo insisted "everything else is just noise" in an apparent swipe at his critics after ending his goalscoring drought in Manchester United's win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Portugal international had gone six games without finding the net in all competitions – his worst run at club level since a run of seven games ending in January 2009 – prior to drilling home United's opener in Tuesday's Premier League contest.

Bruno Fernandes added a late second to seal a 2-0 win for United at Old Trafford, ending what has also been a poor run for the Red Devils, having drawn their previous two league games and been knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough.

Those results and Ronaldo's loss of form led to reports that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will look to leave Old Trafford at the end of the campaign, but he is happy to have done his talking on the pitch.

"Back on track," Ronaldo posted on Twitter. "Nobody gives up and there's only one way to get back on track: hard work, team work, serious work. Everything else is just noise. Let's go Devils!"

Ronaldo has now scored against 168 different opponents for club and country after netting against Brighton, while he has also scored at least once in each of the last 21 calendar years stretching back to 2002.

He found the back of the net from one of a game-high five shots against Brighton, while the three chances he created for team-mates are the most he has managed in the Premier League this term.

After recently leaving Ronaldo out of the starting line-up to face Burnley, United interim boss Ralf Rangnick was pleased with the former Real Madrid and Juventus star's improved display against Albion.

"The goal he scored was amazing," Rangnick said. "Not only an important one but an amazing goal. I think overall it was a good performance by Cristiano. 

"'Energetically, he was on there, he was always trying to help his team-mates, so I think in the last weeks this is definitely the best performance by him and a very, very important goal for us."

Cristiano Ronaldo ended a run of six matches without scoring in Tuesday's win over Brighton and Hove Albion, but the Manchester United forward's future remains uncertain.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner's second spell at Old Trafford has not gone quite to plan and a number of European clubs are said to be circling should he depart.

If reports are accurate, it may well be that a reunion with former boss Jose Mourinho is on the cards for Ronaldo in the coming months.


TOP STORY – ROMA IN FOR RONALDO

Roma are one of three clubs currently in the running to sign Ronaldo should he depart United in the next transfer window, according to The Sun.

Giallorossi boss Mourinho previously managed Ronaldo at Real Madrid and is eager to bolster his squad with a superstar signing.

However, it is not known if the 37-year-old would welcome a return to Serie A, where he previously spent three seasons playing for Juventus ahead of rejoining United.

European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are reported to be the other two sides to have expressed an interest in Ronaldo.


ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea are now solely focused on signing Jules Kounde from Sevilla after being told that top defensive target Marquinhos will not be sold by PSG.

- According to The Sun, Armando Broja's form on loan with Southampton has seen the Chelsea youngster's name added to Bayern and Borussia Dortmund's list of targets.

- Manchester City have bid £5.5million (€6.5m) for Atletico Mineiro's teenage winger Savio, suggests The Guardian, with the intention of then loaning him out to PSV.

- Juan Mata will depart United as a free agent at the end of the campaign, claims Nicolo Schira. The midfielder may look to see out his career in his Spanish homeland.

- Ralf Rangnick is eager for United to bring in Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, according to ESPN. Madrid, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal have also been linked.

Graham Potter is relishing the chance of going up against Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Brighton and Hove Albion boss believes the Manchester United star's troubles have been overblown.

Ronaldo has not scored or provided an assist since December 30, a run of six matches across all competitions.

The 37-year-old has created just six chances for team-mates across that run, while he has missed both of the big chances (defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score) that have come his way.

He has only registered an expected goals (xG) above 1.0 in one of those matches, against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup (1.6). Ronaldo missed a penalty in normal time before United crashed out in a shoot-out.

 

Indeed, he has only recorded an xG of over 0.5 on one other occasion across the last six games, suggesting the chances that are coming his way are not the best, or he is perhaps taking on shots that would be unlikely to result in a goal.

This is further reinforced by the fact Ronaldo has got just seven of his last 23 attempts on target.

Potter, however, does not buy the suggestion that Ronaldo is out of form.

"You run out of superlatives in terms of what he's achieved in his career and the player that he is," Potter, who is about to reach his 100th league game in charge of Brighton, told a news conference.

"He's had an absolutely amazing career, world-class, it's out-of-this-world class. There's nothing else to say with that.

"Too often we zoom into individuals and forget it's a team game. Sometimes when the team isn't scoring, the person at the front of the pitch gets the zooming in.

"From what I've seen, you still see the quality he has and the quality he brings to the group and the team.

"I've never played against him, we're looking forward to going there and pitting our wits against one of the best players of all time."

Ralf Rangnick has lamented United's profligate finishing at one end, and sloppy defending at the other.

He is right, though. United have been creating opportunities, mustering an xG of 23.3 since Rangnick's first game in charge on December 5, but they have scored just 17 times, giving them the third-largest xG-goals differential among all teams in Europe's top five leagues in that time (-6.3).

 

Potter is all too familiar with such a statistic, with Brighton having had an xG differential of -11.7 in the Premier League last season, having scored 40 goals from an xG of 51.7.

Brighton are still underperforming in that regard so far in 2021-22, but by only 3.8, netting 25 league goals from an xG of 28.8 so far.

However, his team have won 19 points away from home in the Premier League this season, with no side losing fewer on the road this term.

"Regardless of what the narrative around Manchester United is, you only have to look at the players that they have," Potter added.

"Going to Old Trafford in itself is a huge challenge because the crowd are so powerful there; the way they play, in a moment the game can completely change because they've got world-class players.

"The game is another test for us to see how our game has developed in as tough an away environment as you can get."

Ralf Rangnick believes it is "obvious" Manchester United need to buy a striker in the next transfer window.

United's interim manager has overseen a mixed period of results in recent weeks, with the Red Devils knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough in the fourth round and sitting sixth in the Premier League after a 1-1 draw at lowly Burnley.

Former RB Leipzig head coach Rangnick currently has Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford to call upon as striker options, with Mason Greenwood currently unavailable and Anthony Martial on loan to Sevilla.

However, Ronaldo has not scored in his last five appearances across all competitions – the last time he had a longer run without a goal at club level was a run of seven games in December 2008 and January 2009 – and Cavani's contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's home league match with Southampton, Rangnick acknowledged it is an area that United need to address ahead of the next season.

"This is obvious," Rangnick told a news conference when asked specifically if United needed a "younger" striker adding to the squad.

"Edinson's contract is running out in the summer, and the club needs the best possible centre-forward. This is an obvious one. I think everyone is aware of that."

The issues in front of goal were apparent in Tuesday's draw at Burnley – United had 64 per cent possession and 22 attempts on goal but could not battle past Sean Dyche's side.

In fact, Rashford – who has netted four times from an expected goals (xG) value of 2.63 – is the only active United forward to significantly outperform his xG in the Premier League this season.

Ronaldo has found the net eight times from an xG of 10.36, while Cavani has scored just twice in the league, well below his xG total of 3.53.

Rangnick has already questioned United's finishing, stating that his side are not managing enough goals from the quality of chances they are creating as he demanded his players start reaping the rewards of the situations they create.

If United are to be in the market for a new striker in the close season, the Red Devils are known to be long-term admirers of the much coveted Erling Haaland, while a new permanent managerial option could open the door for a variety of centre-forwards. 

 

Ralf Rangnick has challenged Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United to find their scoring form after blaming poor finishing for a dip in results.

United were unable to satisfactorily bounce back from the shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Middlesbrough as they drew 1-1 with the Premier League's bottom club Burnley on Tuesday.

Rangnick's side had 64.1 per cent of the possession at Turf Moor and 22 goal attempts. Five of those were on target, but Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope was in excellent form, while United also had two goals disallowed.

Ronaldo started on the bench, but came on to make his 100th career appearance as a substitute. 

He did not have the desired impact, however, having just nine touches, getting none of his three attempts on target.

Ronaldo has failed to score in any of his last five appearances in all competitions – the last time he had a longer run without a goal at club level was a run of seven games in December 2008 and January 2009.

Rangnick, though, insists United's players must all take the onus to improve and capitalise on the chances they are creating.

Ahead of Saturday's meeting with Southampton, interim manager Rangnick told a news conference: "It's not only about Cristiano. He should score more goals, it's obvious.

"We have created a lot of chances, but we didn't score enough goals based on how many chances we created. I think 70 minutes [against Burnley] was very close to the game plan, but now it's about rewarding ourselves and getting the results we should have deserved."

On Friday, reports surfaced suggesting United's players had been unimpressed with Rangnick's training sessions.

However, the former RB Leipzig boss shrugged off such talk.

"I don't know about those articles," he said. "The way the team has developed is obvious and that is due to the training, including all the analysis and the important training games, a lot of little games to increase fluidity and get better in possession of the ball.

"It's important that the players realise that there has been a good development in the last couple of weeks, that we controlled the games. But if we concede a goal, we should stick to the game plan and not all of a sudden lose shape and composure.

"This is the most harmful part, that we didn't stick to the game plan, we didn't have the same positioning on the pitch. When we analyse the games, this is what we have to do better. Not lose composure, shape. In those 15 minutes against Burnley we lost that shape."

United face a Southampton team who beat Tottenham 3-2 in their last outing, though the Red Devils are unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League games against Saints, winning five of those fixtures.

Indeed, Southampton have won just two of their 22 Premier League away games against United (D4 L16), losing the corresponding fixture 9-0 last season, and Rangnick has only overseen one top-flight defeat since replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ronaldo scored on his last Premier League appearance against Southampton, in a 3-0 win in December 2004. If he scores this weekend, it will be the third-longest gap for a player between goals against a specific opponent in the competition (17 years and 70 days), after Ryan Giggs against Norwich City (18y 84d) and Paul Scholes against QPR (17y 120d).

"We are fully aware that this will be difficult," Rangnick said of the game.

"I watched the game at Spurs during the week, they really deserved to win, tactically played a very high level. It will be a challenge, but I’m sure we will be up for the challenge. We need top performances for the whole game."

Things have not quite gone to plan for Cristiano Ronaldo in his second coming at Manchester United.

The Red Devils are out of both domestic cup competitions and sit well off the pace of Premier League leaders Manchester City, making an unlikely Champions League triumph their remaining hope for silverware this season.

Ronaldo is enduring a five-game goal drought and, according to a report, he could choose to end his second United spell after only one season.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO WANTS MENDES TALKS OVER FUTURE

Cristiano Ronaldo will speak with his agent after growing disillusioned with life at Manchester United, according to the Daily Star.

The forward is hoping to speak with Jorge Mendes when he is back in Portugal for March's World Cup play-off against Turkey about his options after the end of the season.

Ronaldo, whose contract runs until the end of 2022-23, wants to see who will be appointed as United's next permanent manager – but he is not in favour of giving the job to interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba is also looking to leave Manchester United this year when his contract expires, but he will have to accept a pay cut to get a move abroad that he wants, the Mirror says.

- A possible replacement for Pogba could be Youri Tielemans. Het Nieuwsblad reports Leicester City have dropped their asking price for the midfielder, who is wanted by United and Arsenal.

Real Madrid rejected the idea of signing Dusan Vlahovic, now at Juventus, because they are putting everything into getting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, says Cadena Ser.

- However, AS reports Madrid are still seriously interested in Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, which could scupper Robert Lewandowski's hopes of moving to the Spanish capital.

Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt is flattered by interest from Chelsea and Barcelona, Sport Mediaset claims.

Barca are also desperate to sign Haaland and will therefore prioritise cut-price deals for defenders, says ESPN. Chelsea trio Cesar AzpilicuetaAndreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso are on their shortlist.

Wayne Rooney has revealed the difficulty he had adapting to life as a Premier League superstar, which led to locking himself away to drink and "raging" on the football pitch.

Rooney, Manchester United and England's record goalscorer, is releasing a documentary on Amazon Prime.

And the now Derby County manager has discussed all aspects of his career, including how he struggled to deal with the pressure of playing for United.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Rooney said becoming a top player at a young age was "something I wasn't prepared for" after growing up in his council estate in Croxteth, "always getting into fights and arguments".

"It took a long time for me to get used to that and figure out how to deal with it," Rooney told the newspaper. "It was like being thrown in somewhere where you are just not comfortable. That was tough for me. 

"I had made a lot of mistakes when I was younger, some in the press and some not in the press, whether that's fighting or whatever.

"For me to deal with that, deal with stuff that was in the newspapers, deal with the manager at the time, deal with family at the time, was very difficult.

"In my early years at Manchester United, probably until we had my first son, Kai, I locked myself away really. I never went out. 

"There were times you'd get a couple of days off from football and I would actually lock myself away and just drink, to try to take all that away from my mind."

On the pitch, it meant playing with anger – although Rooney suggests that made him a better player.

"Early on in my career, I played with a lot more anger and picked up the odd red card," he said. "The anger was all the time when I was drinking, when I was having these moments. Still constantly in my head, I was raging. 

"When I learned to control it, it took that away from me. It was almost as if being right in my head took a bit away from my game. Not being right in my head gave me that added unpredictability."

Yet one notable example of a costly red card saw Rooney sent off for England in a World Cup quarter-final against Portugal, which ended in defeat on penalties.

United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo played a prominent role in appealing for Rooney's dismissal – for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho – and was famously then caught on camera winking to the Portugal bench.

While that incident prompted plenty of discussion as they returned to United, Rooney says: "After I was sent off in the World Cup quarter-final against Portugal and we lost on penalties, I got Ronaldo out into the tunnel. 

"I said: 'Listen, you're going to get a lot of stick from the press, I'm going to get a lot of stick from the press, my focus now is on Man United. There is no issue with me whatsoever, I would have done exactly the same trying to get England a win against Portugal and this is a big year for us and we have every chance of winning the league.'

"My attention, once we were out, completely flipped back to Manchester United.

"There was never any issue. I actually tried to get him booked in the first half for diving. I'm playing for England, he's playing for Portugal, do whatever you can to win."

Perhaps there is something special to February 5. Or at least there is when it comes to world-class footballers.

On this day in 1985, Cristiano Ronaldo was born on the island of Madeira. Seven years later, Neymar came into the world in Mogi das Cruzes, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo.

Two of modern football's greats being born on the same day is quite the quirk, but while Ronaldo has gone on to cement himself as one of the best ever, it's hard to shake the feeling Neymar has never quite lived up to his extraordinary potential.

He emerged at Santos as Brazil's golden boy, a bona fide superstar in the making. By the time he left for Barcelona in 2013 at the age of 21, he was already been talked up as a shoo-in for a Ballon d'Or success.

Yet, as the forward hits 30, no Ballon d'Or has arrived. Indeed, he finished 16th in the voting for the 2021 award, and his move to Paris Saint-Germain has not seen him scale new individual heights.

Instead, he has been somewhat overshadowed by Kylian Mbappe, one of the new kids on the block, and it was his team-mate and close friend Lionel Messi who claimed a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or last year.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, turns 37 back at the club where he became a global star.

Manchester United may not be the force they were under Alex Ferguson in Ronaldo's first stint, but his shock return to Old Trafford was a sensational story, and he continues to provide match-winning moments even if the comeback hasn't quite transformed the Red Devils into title contenders.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks back at what Neymar has achieved so far in his career, and how that stacks up against Ronaldo's feats by the time his twenties were over.

The trophies

Ronaldo was at Real Madrid when he turned 30 in 2015, a year after collecting his third Ballon d'Or, and a year prior to receiving his fourth. He went on to claim what was at the time a record-equalling fifth in 2017.

By the time he hit 30, Ronaldo had won four league titles (three Premier League wins, one in LaLiga), five domestic cup trophies and had enjoyed two Champions League triumphs. He had two Club World Cup successes to his name, and the UEFA Super Cup.

He played a pivotal role in Ferguson's dominant United team of the 2000s, combining with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in a thrilling attack to win three successive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009, before his departure to Madrid in a then world-record transfer. His maiden Champions League success came in 2007-08, and he left United after losing to Barcelona in the 2009 final.

Indeed, Barca were the dominant force upon Ronaldo's arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu, and for much of the time before he turned 30.

In total, Ronaldo had won 16 major trophies by the time his twenties ended. Neymar, on the other hand, had already won six titles by the time he left Santos.

He added a further two league crowns to his name in Spain and won the Copa del Rey on three occasions, as well as the Champions League, Club World Cup and the Supercopa de Espana once each.

The Champions League has evaded Neymar so far at PSG, though he nevertheless has a trophy count of 10 and counting from his time in France, while unlike Ronaldo, he can count an Olympic gold – earned in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – among his honours.

Neymar has won 28 titles, with 21 of those coming in Europe and one with the Selecao (Confederations Cup 2013). However, Neymar missed Brazil's triumphant 2019 Copa America campaign through injury.

The rivalries

Ronaldo was 28 when Barca signed Neymar for €86.2m. The days of the Guardiola-Jose Mourinho Clasico rivalry were over, though the clash was still littered with superstars on each side.

Prior to his 30th birthday, Ronaldo featured in 22 Clasico matches, starting 21 times. He scored 14 goals and provided one assist across 1,928 minutes of action. 

Neymar played against Ronaldo's Madrid in four of these games, scoring twice, including on his Clasico debut when he opened the scoring and teed up Alexis Sanchez's sublime winner in a 2-1 Barca victory.

Barca won two of the four Clasico games in which Neymar played while Ronaldo was in his 20s, with Madrid taking the bragging rights in the other games.

Neymar's overall Clasico record stands at three goals and as many assists from eight appearances.

The goals

Neymar has scored 195 goals in European club football since arriving at Barca in 2013. 

It is hardly a total to be scoffed at, yet it pales in comparison to the 411 Ronaldo had managed across his spells with Sporting CP, United and Madrid by his 30th birthday.

Indeed, by February 5, 2015, Ronaldo had already netted 36 goals in all competitions in 2014-15. He finished that campaign with an incredible 61 goals, the highest single-season total of his career.

That 61-goal haul came towards the tail-end of a run in which Ronaldo netted at least 50 times in six straight seasons. Neymar's best tally in a single campaign stands at 39 (2014-15), while his totals at PSG have dropped year-on-year, with his total for 2021-22 standing at three in all competitions, compared to Ronaldo's 14.

Ronaldo is also now of course the outright leading goalscorer in the history of international football, having overtaken Iran great Ali Daei.

The Portugal captain has netted 115 times for his country, with 52 of those coming in his twenties.

Interestingly, Neymar wins out by 18 goals in this regard, totalling 70 across 11 years of playing for Brazil. 

He still has some way to go to catch Ronaldo, who is of course still going strong for Portugal, though that is one target that may well be in Neymar's sights should he match Ronaldo's longevity.

That being said, Neymar's injury record would suggest that, unlike Ronaldo and Messi, his chances of going down as one of the all-time greats appear slim heading into his thirties.

Manchester United exited the FA Cup on penalties after a contentious 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough in the fourth round at Old Trafford.

Anthony Elanga blazed over to send Boro through 8-7 following United's seventh spot-kick defeat in eight contests, although they would no doubt argue the tie should not have advanced to that stage.

Ralf Rangnick might point to generous officiating from Anthony Taylor that did not punish Duncan Watmore's handball in the build-up to Matt Crooks' second-half equaliser for Boro.

But United's inability to add to a lead secured by Jadon Sancho was equally damaging, their 30 shots worth a combined 4.32 expected goals – an early Cristiano Ronaldo penalty among the misses as the Red Devils crashed out.

By the time Sancho made the most of Boro's latest piece of haphazard defending to break the deadlock with a deflected shot across Joe Lumley, United could have been two or three up.

Sancho clipped a delicate attempt onto the crossbar after Lumley spilled a long ball, then Anfernee Dijksteel clumsily brought down Paul Pogba in the box, only for Ronaldo to drag his spot-kick wide. Bruno Fernandes volleyed wildly over when played onside, too.

Chances continued to come and go after the 25th-minute opener, with Marcus Rashford letting Boro off the hook again early in the second half.

And that profligacy came back to bite United in bizarre circumstances when Watmore blatantly controlled Isaiah Jones' cross with his hand but directed a lob across the face of goal, allowing Crooks to steal in and net a leveller that the VAR did not overturn.

Fernandes pulled a straightforward finish against the foot of the post soon afterwards, failing to prevent an extra time period in which Dean Henderson was required to make a close-range stop from Aaron Connolly to reach the shoot-out.

Each of the first 15 kicks were scored, before Elanga finally failed, stunning the home support.

Roger Goodell's description of Tom Brady on Tuesday as merely "one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL" felt a little generous to the competition. 

In the period of claim and counter-claim between reports of his retirement on Saturday and confirmation on Tuesday, the verdict had been cast – not that it was ever in doubt. 

Among others, Patrick Mahomes, better placed than most to consider quality quarterback play, told ESPN: "His career is one of a kind. That's why he's the GOAT." 

There is no dispute, no debate: Brady is the greatest. 

The 44-year-old leads the way by most metrics, including the most important one, with an unprecedented seven Super Bowl championships. 

Yet the stunning nature of some of those successes mean the emotional argument in Brady's favour is as convincing as the statistical one. 

Unmoved by his NFL-record 84,520 passing yards? Try the Super Bowl LI comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. 

This career had it all, and most dissenting voices had long since disappeared by the time Brady arrived in Tampa in 2020 "as the greatest football player of all time", as Bruce Arians put it. He still had another title in him. 

But Brady has not just set the standard in the NFL for the past 22 years; his achievements are surely unmatched across the entire sporting world. 

BEATING THE BEST

Wrestling with past legacies is never easy for an elite sports star. Even as the best of their generation, comparisons will be drawn with those who have gone before. 

In the case of LeBron James in the NBA, Michael Jordan casts a long shadow. 

James may now widely be considered the second-greatest player in the history of the league, but the gap to the number one spot scarcely seems to be closing, even now with titles and Finals MVP recognition on three different teams – and his own Space Jam sequel. 

Elsewhere, Formula One's Lewis Hamilton has done what James could not with Jordan in matching Michael Schumacher's haul of titles. 

But when Hamilton closed in on a record-breaking eighth drivers' championship in 2021, rival Sebastian Vettel scoffed: "Even if Lewis wins, to me Michael is still the greatest. Lewis can win one more, two more, three more, five more championships, but it doesn't change anything for me." 

The combination of being unable to see two athletes side by side and having memories tinged with nostalgia makes life hard on the modern great. 

For Brady, Joe Montana was the closest thing to a Jordan or Schumacher figure at quarterback. 

Although Montana ranked sixth for all-time passing yards – Dan Marino, the 20th century's passing yards leader, never won a title – his four Super Bowls had matched Terry Bradshaw's benchmark and were still fresh enough in the memory in 2000, the last coming in the 1989 season. 

Yet that was a gap Brady was swiftly able to bridge. By August 2005, with three rings already in his collection, the headline of a GQ profile asked if the Patriots passer was "the best there ever was". 

At 27, 10 years younger than James and Hamilton are now, there appeared little doubt Brady would leave Marino behind. 

TOP OF HIS CLASS

Perhaps Brady benefited from the standard of the competition. His career overlapped with Brett Favre at the start, Mahomes at the end and met with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers somewhere around the middle, all of them forcing him to raise his game. 

But such depth of talent can so easily muddy the waters. 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have matched each other stride for stride, meaning there remains no consensus pick for football's 'GOAT'. Both merit the position, yet neither have dominated an era like Pele or Diego Maradona. 

In tennis, the tussle is even more intense. Until Rafael Nadal's Australian Open triumph on Sunday, three men were tied on a record 20 grand slam titles. 

Injuries to Roger Federer and coronavirus complications with Novak Djokovic may be enough to keep Nadal at the summit, but personal preference dictates the all-time rankings when the margins are so fine. 

Again, however, Brady came through. None of those modern-day rivals have won three Super Bowls, let alone matching Montana's four or Brady's staggering seven. 

Mahomes had appeared the most likely to challenge that mark in the years to come, but four seasons as a starter have now yielded one title. At the same point, Brady had three and that GQ headline. 

"To win that many Super Bowls and win that many games, it's hard," Mahomes said after losing Sunday's AFC Championship Game. "I understand that. The years that I've had, I've been close a lot.  

"I've only been there twice, and I've only won once. I understand it takes a special player ... for that to happen." 

In Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert, Mahomes will not have it easy going forward either – an exciting new generation guarding Brady's legacy, not that he could not have done it himself had he chosen to play on. 

Brady, in the regular season and playoffs, holds a 3-2 record against Mahomes, 4-0 against Allen and 1-0 against Herbert. He never faced Burrow, potentially the next Super Bowl-winning QB. 

Instead, the perennial winner departs not as a champion – he has been that enough times – but as undoubtedly the best player his sport has ever seen. A rare phenomenon indeed. 

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