Antonio Cassano has criticised Chelsea’s reported interest in Cagliari’s Nicola Barella and stated that the midfielder’s price tag proves “football is going in a very wrong direction”.Barella is believed to be closing in on a move to Stamford Bridge after the departure of Cesc Fabregas to Monaco.Many consider the 21-year-old to be one of Italy’s brightest young prospects and it’s been reported that he could cost the Blues as much as £45 million ($58m) this month. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? But iconic Italian forward Cassano, who retired last October, believes it would be “madness” for Chelsea to spend so much on Barella.”Unfortunately today football is going in a very wrong direction,” Cassano said in an interview with Sky Sports Italy.”Barella is worth 50 million euros? OK, so how much is Thiago Alcantara of Bayern Munich?”He [Thiago] is young too, he is 27 years old. He is worth at least four or five times more than Barella.”A player makes two good games, he runs right and left, maybe he is also a player of quantities like Allan or Barella, and then he is worth immediately 50, 60, 80 million?”For me it is madness.”Another Italian youngster that has caught the eye this season is Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo, who joined the club from Inter Milan last summer.Aged just 19, the exciting attacking midfield player netted his first goal for the club on Boxing Day, with some even comparing him to Roma great Francesco Totti.Cassano, though, has laughed off that comparison, despite stating his admiration for Zaniolo.”I saw him [Zaniolo] play a couple of games, he’s good, but he’s still young,” he added.”We’re not making comparisons with Totti, he’s a different player from the classic natural talent, in the sense that he’s very physical, he must be physically fit to play.”He has good quality, he has room for improvement and he has personality. I still haven’t figured out if he’s a midfielder or a forward, but I like him.”
Portugal’s Jose Fonte believes ex-team-mate Virgil van Dijk is in with a chance of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or, following a stunning season with Liverpool which culminated in winning the Champions League last Saturday.Euro 2016 winner Fonte played alongside Van Dijk over 50 times at the heart of the Southampton defence from 2015 to 2017 and says he always knew that the Dutchman would go on to become one of the finest centre backs around.“I had many conversations with my international teammates, including Cedric [Soares],” Fonte said. “I remember telling him ‘listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world’. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? “It is obvious, it is not only me, everyone could see the pace he had, how strong he is, [he] wins every duel.“It was just about improving his positioning, and that is what he did when he came to Southampton, he stopped coming out with the ball too much, trying to dribble too much, playing simple.”Van Dijk has been the Premier League’s best defender since joining Liverpool, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side reach 97 points this season just past and making it to consecutive Champions League finals. While Fonte is reluctant to take much credit for helping the Netherlands captain improve throughout their time together, he is nonetheless delighted to see him shining on the world stage.“I have a little bit of credit but the main thing is him, he is an amazing talent,” said the Lille man.“I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d’Or this year, I am just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this.“I think he has a shot to be honest. He was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not?“We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything, but it is about time a defender gets one, no?”Should the Netherlands defeat England in Guimaraes on Thursday, they will take their place alongside Portugal in the first-ever UEFA Nations League final in Porto on Sunday, where Van Dijk will come face to face with Cristiano Ronaldo.The all-time Portuguese top goal scorer netted a spectacular hat-trick against Switzerland in the semi-finals on Wednesday night and Fonte believes if there is any player in the world who can end Van Dijk’s incredible run of not being dribbled past then it is Ronaldo.“It is not easy, but no one is unbeatable,” said Fonte. “It is an incredible stat, isn’t it? If there is someone, Cristiano is one of them.” Check out Goal’s Premier League 2019-20 fantasy football podcast for game tips, debate and rivalries.