The Athletic FC: Yamal, perfection and payback; will Messi reach Ronaldo's goalscoring mark?

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Hello! Only speak when it’s time to say checkmate. Lamine Yamal is taking the crown.

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(Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

On the way:

🌟 Yamal’s star is born

🤕 Freak injury for Morata

📈 Messi climbs the all-time list

💰 Liverpool owner targets Bordeaux

Yamal’s one-move checkmate

And just like that, the world can see why Lamine Yamal’s buy-out clause at Barcelona is off the scale. It’s €1billion if you plan to buy him. That’s £850million. Or $1.1bn. Priceless, in other words.

Barca routinely guard their kids with mega price tags and frankly, some of them are ludicrous. But not Yamal’s. He’s the real deal, he’s next in line, and after his piece de resistance at the Euros last night, his smiling face will be everywhere.

This morning, The Athletic went with the headline: Perfection, by Lamine Yamal. There’s no other way of framing his goal for Spain in their semi-final win against France, a flawless curler from the hinterland blessed with the purest of connections.

It’s not just the shot itself. It’s the little steps leading up to it, the dance into space, the vision to spot that the needle could be threaded inside Mike Maignan’s right-hand post. The reaction of Pedri, a Barcelona team-mate who sees Yamal in action most days, says it all.

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France had no response. Adrien Rabiot talked (rashly) beforehand about Yamal needing to up his game and it was Rabiot who gave a quintessentially Gallic shrug as Yamal’s slingshot nestled in the net. Kylian Mbappe blew out his lips. Didier Deschamps went pale. France have been perennial contenders for so long, but they’ve eaten themselves to a standstill. And as far as manager Deschamps goes, they might have had their fill.

The French tried everything to rouse themselves. Antoine Griezmann was dropped. Mbappe binned his face mask. But in a 2-1 defeat in Munich, there was no denying Barca’s billion-dollar asset — at 16, the youngest goalscorer in the history of men’s major tournament football.

Beforehand, Yamal posted what could only have been a cryptic response to Rabiot’s comments on Instagram, saying: “Move in silence. Only speak when it’s time to say checkmate.”

At full time he went further, shouting “Speak now! Speak now!” at the nearest TV camera. Don’t worry about that. The world is yours. And your name is on everybody’s lips.

Morata’s unlucky late tackle

Spain’s victory did not pass without a bizarre and somewhat unprecedented occurrence: striker Alvaro Morata getting injured seconds after the final whistle.

The Spanish captain was celebrating on the touchline when a security guard tried to intercept a pitch invader and accidentally slide-tackled Morata. Outrageously, his availability for Sunday’s final against England or the Netherlands is now in doubt. The leg in question is being assessed. BBCSport 3214491 crop

It’s like we said a fortnight ago about countless invaders trying to get to Cristiano RonaldoThese incursions might be good-humoured, but they risk negative consequences and the security in Germany has been well below par.

England, Koeman and so many subplots

To fully appreciate the pound of flesh taken from every England manager, read up on the late Graham Taylor.

Taylor was the manager whose face was superimposed on a turnip by a merciless national newspaper. He’s the last England boss to fail to qualify the national team for a World Cup — a victim of the Netherlands’ incumbent coach, Ronald Koeman.

Alright, that’s not strictly true. England’s qualifying campaign for World Cup 1994 meandered from the get-go, but a 2-0 away defeat to an equally laboured Dutch team in its second-to-last match blew the wheels off. Koeman was the architect of that loss, dodging a deserved red card before opening the scoring minutes later with his speciality, a curling free kick.

As a consequence, Koeman, who was to free kicks what Ivan Toney is to penalties, became a pantomime villain in England. But the real fault lay with the referee — which might be portentous because the match official for England against the Netherlands tonight, Felix Zwayer, is not without his issues.

Zwayer served a six-month suspension in 2006 over his connections to another referee who was banned for life for match-fixing in Germany. England midfielder Jude Bellingham incurred a £34,000 fine for referencing Zwayer’s misdemeanour while he was playing for Borussia Dortmund three years ago.

They’ll share a pitch again this evening. It’s one of many subplots. Game on.

📺 (Times ET/UK) Euro 2024 semi-final: Netherlands vs England (3pm/8pm), Fox, Fubo, ITV 1. Live blog.

Greenwood going?

In a parallel universe, Mason Greenwood would have been limbering up to turn out for England in Dortmund tonight. He’s got the talent, in spades.

But he’s got baggage, too. Baggage created by criminal charges brought against him in 2022. He was charged with attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and controlling and coercive behaviour. Greenwood denied all allegations and the charges were subsequently dropped, but the process effectively ended his Manchester United career. He hasn’t played for them competitively in 29 months.

A permanent exit from Old Trafford is potentially in sight now after United agreed to sell him to Marseille for £23.3million plus add-ons. Two obstacles stand between him going. The decision on whether to join French club Marseille is Greenwood’s to make. Other clubs, including Napoli of Italy and Portugal’s Benfica, have discussed signing him. 

But beyond that, it remains to be seen if, on account of his history, Marseille suffer significant blowback from their fanbase in response to their bid.

Decisions are pending, but one thing is crystal clear: where Greenwood is concerned, United are cashing out.

Copa Corner: Messi and Argentina bid to be the greatest

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No nonsense at the Copa America last night. Argentina did what Argentina do, rolling on to Sunday’s final (early Monday in the UK). Lionel Messi did what Lionel Messi does, scoring in a 2-0 semi-final win against Canada (the merest of touches, but he’s claiming it).

In the grand scheme of posturing, his effort was a significant moment. With it, Messi goes second in the list of all-time leading international scorers with 109, one ahead of Iran goal machine Ali Daei and 21 behind You-Know-Who. 

Messi, if you haven’t noticed, is an all-time great, but there’s an argument to say (with apologies to Diego Maradona) that this is Argentina’s greatest team, too. It’s four finals in a row for them, their results ticking over like clockwork.

We’ll learn tonight whether Colombia or Uruguay will stand in their way on Sunday. Hopefully the second semi-final flows better than Uruguay’s foul-strewn win over Brazil in the last eight, although tactical fouls are in vogue at the Copa. One conclusion I drew from Stuart James’ piece of analysis: Uruguay are masters of sticking a foot in and getting away with it.

📺 (Times ET/UK) Copa America semi-final: Colombia vs Uruguay (8pm/1am) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports 1.

Around The Athletic FC

  • Liverpool owner Fenway Sports Group (FSG) has had its heart set on creating a multi-club group. We could be about to see stage one of the plan. It’s deep in talks about buying stricken French side Bordeaux.
  • Away from Yamal, my two standout players from the Euros are Spanish pair Fabian Ruiz and Dani Olmo. Olmo is on for the Golden Boot and Pol Ballus thinks he should be on for a big move out of RB Leipzig.
  • Attorney, football club president, fitness guru, referee and TV analyst for Euro 2024. Let’s just say Christina Unkel is multi-multi-talented. Sickeningly so.
  • Mate, the caffeinated South American drink, pronounced mah-teh since you ask, is all the rage in football. Messi and half of the Argentina squad swear by it. Marcelo Bielsa does, too. But what’s the vibe?

And Finally… Flick’s First Day 🎒

That anxious feeling on your first day in a new job? Hansi Flick had it this morning. It’s the start of his reign at Barcelona — Spanish football’s very own ghost town.

Barca’s recruitment has been non-existent and so many players are injured or absent on international duty that Flick expected to have just nine senior players to work with on day one. Still, at least he’ll have a billion-dollar teenager returning before long…

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(Top photo: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

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