What does signing Paul Pogba actually mean for Manchester United?

The summer-long transfer saga regarding Paul Pogba was finally and perhaps unsurprisingly put to rest today as the Frenchman completed his £89 million return to Manchester United. But what does his arrival actually mean for the club? Lewis Addley explores…

In a summer market of crazy transfer fees, Paul Pogba has become the world’s most expensive player at £89 million, how long that fee will remain the highest remains to be seen. Pundits and fans alike have cast their opinion on just about every talking point regarding the 23-year-old Frenchman, from topics such as how Pogba is or isn’t worth the money to whether Manchester United actually need him.

So let’s have a look at what Pogba’s sensational return to United actually means for the club in terms of how Jose Mourinho will be able to get the best out of the highly-rated Frenchman and the impact his arrival could have on their current midfielders.

Where exactly can we expect Pogba to play?

Pogba netted eight goals last season for Juventus in Serie A from a central midfield role and in the modern game he plays a somewhat old-fashioned style. Pogba doesn’t tend to be deployed as an attacking midfielder, despite the fact that he can be a sensational finisher from inside and outside the box. He dictates the play, evident from the fact that his passing statistics are far more impressive than his shooting statistics. Pogba managed an average of 83% passing accuracy compared to 37% shot accuracy in Serie A last season.

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Jose Mourinho is widely expected to play his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. We can expect the new signings to feature from the off, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to lead the line. Behind him, Anthony Martial should start on the left, captain Wayne Rooney in behind in his preferred number ten role with Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right to form a frightening trio of attacking support. With those front four slots occupied, it is clear Pogba is likely to be used in an anchoring role, deep through the centre of the park, most likely alongside Morgan Schneiderlin.

Will midfielders be leaving now Pogba has joined?

As everyone was still waiting for Pogba to be announced, Mourinho made it very clear that he was looking to bring in one more ‘high-quality player’ and have his business done before the opening weekend of the season. With that in mind it doesn’t look like the United boss is looking to offload any other players than those who have already been reported.

Juan Mata’s torrid relationship with Mourinho came into question once again after he was substituted just 27 minutes after coming on in Sunday’s Community Shield final win over Leicester City. Despite Mourinho giving what some may accept as an appropriate reason for Mata being replaced, it has only increased speculation on the Spaniard’s future at the club.

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The future of Bastian Schweinsteiger remains up in the air. It has been made apparent that the German is surplus to requirements and he looks set to be on his way out from the club just one season after joining.

It looks likely that Mourinho has Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in his plans, but just how much playing time the three midfielders will amass is unclear.

The remaining midfielders in question will not be expected to challenge for a holding role at the club as they are either wingers or upcoming youth talent. One worth mentioning is Daley Blind, the dutchman can play in the holding role but he has predominantly featured at the back for United.

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There is no doubt the arrival of Pogba will be a boost for the United camp and some of his teammates have already taken to social media to show their excitement of his return. It is clear he has already made a huge impact in terms of talking points but now it is time for him to step up and deliver, to show any doubters that £89 million is a worthwhile fee for his services.

Is Pogba worth £89 million and are United right to have resigned the Frenchman?

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Three players Conte should bring to Chelsea this summer

Chelsea’s Premier League struggles in the 2015/16 season were well documented. Their defence of the title was shambolic and incoming boss Antonio Conte has a huge task on his hands to rebuild the side. Lewis Addley explores three top performers from Serie A who would improve the current Chelsea squad…

Strengthening the Chelsea squad is going to be the first area for Conte to address this summer after so many lapsed performances from the title winning side of just 12 months ago.

Chelsea have been renowned for a strong core through the middle of the pitch during their successful seasons and this is something they lacked in the 2015/16 campaign.

With Conte’s Serie A experience in mind let’s have a look at three potential suitors from the league who could stabilise Chelsea and become the new generation of core players.

Kostas Manolas 

The Roma centre-back had an impressive 2015/16 season and strikes a number of qualities which arguably make him a good suitor for the Premier League. He is a hard tackler who can play out from the back, something clubs are looking for in modern-day defenders.

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So let’s have a look at how the 24-year-old Greek international performed in the 15/16 season. He won’t come cheap and a number of clubs may be more tempting for Manolas, who will want to be playing Champions League football.

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Key stats from Manolas in the 2015/16 Serie A season

As we can see Manolas played all but one game, averaging more than one tackle per game, nearly two interceptions per game, 4.3 clearances per game and he won 76% of his aerial duels. The Roma defender’s stats show how often he was in the right position

Radja Nainggolan 

The Chelsea midfield lacked its industrial side through 15/16 and left its defence vulnerable to oncoming attacks in practically every game. Again from Roma, Nainggolan possesses the ability to break up play, move the ball quickly and keep things simple. He’s performance levels have alerted a number of the top clubs in Europe and he would surely come with a hefty price tag.

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Nainggolan is 28, so he is in his prime and fitness providing, he could potentially offer six more years at the highest level. Let’s have a look at his key stats in Serie A from the 15/16 season.

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Nainggolan’s key stats in the 15/16 Serie A season

The standout stat for Nainggolan is his pass accuracy, coming in at 85%. He averaged 1.4 tackles won per game and 1.3 interceptions per game. Nainggolan also adds the occasional goal and creates chances for teammates, both of which aren’t the main focus of his game, so he clearly has the all-round quality to be a success in the Premier League.

Gonzalo Higuain 

Chelsea lacked quality in depth in striking options last season and the mixed bag of Radamel Falcao, Loic Remy and Alexandre Pato were insufficient support for Diego Costa, who too had a quiet campaign in front of goal.

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Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain had far from a quiet season, he netted 36 times and broke the 66-year long standing record of 35 goals. The Argentine forward has a wealth of experience and at 28 he would be an ideal striker for just about any club in Europe.

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As we can see, Higuain scored more than one goal a game, an incredible stat every striker strives to achieve. He set up two goals along the way and created 51 chances for teammates. His shot accuracy and pass accuracy may look a little low, but when you’ve scored as many as he did they are not concerning stats.

If Conte was to sign Higuain and play him alongside Costa he would have one of the most physical and deadly strike partnerships in the Premier League. Problems could well arise if Costa remains at Chelsea and Conte only opts for a lone striker, as neither of the two will be happy sitting on the bench.

While these signings are hypothetical at this stage it is worth mentioning the potential newcomers at Chelsea would be in for a tougher challenge in a more competitive Premier League.

However, as the stats mentioned suggest all three of these players are top performers and would be expected to improve the four-time Premier League champions and fire them back into a side capable of challenging on all fronts.

Would the Chelsea squad improve with these potential signings? Will Conte be given the funding needed to revamp Chelsea?

Getting Stuck In: How good is MLS?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into just how good Major League Soccer is and how it compares to other divisions around the world…

Sitting in front of my laptop one morning I read a quote from the Don of MLS saying: “I do believe in 10 years’ time or less, people will think of us [MLS] like Serie A, La Liga, and hopefully the way they think about the Premier League.” Then I click on another site and read what Kaka had to say about the league, that it will be “one of the biggest leagues in the world in 5 to 10 years.” Holy crap! Are they high? Do they actually believe that or is it just lip service?

I have had the debate with my mate Eric for a while now: How does MLS stack up against other leagues in the world? We have had this heated discussion over and over again. I have an overinflated view of MLS and he has a deflated view. A few years back we saw publications ranking MLS anywhere from 30th in the world to 50th behind some weird league from an unknown country with too many consonants in its name. What killed me was that Eric nodded his head in agreement saying “that sounds about right.”

Well, Eric has started to come around. He now ranks MLS 12th and he is not the only one to see the light. Bleacher Report put out their rankings in 2014 saying MLS was the tenth best league in the world. Holy crap? MLS is a top ten league in the world? Can that be true? And how did they arrive at this lofty number?

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The four areas Bleacher Report focused on were: Goals per game, red cards per game, continental victories and point differential from first to last.

Say what? They lost me with goals per games played.

The randomness of what people deem important to grading a league is all over the map. I saw one site that used the quality of the food in stadiums as criteria. I am no genius but I can gather that a leathery hot dog at a stadium really shouldn’t be a point reducer.

When a buddy of mine from Southampton weighed in on the state of MLS, he doled out a harsh evaluation when he said that the level of play is that seen in the lower levels of the English Championship or the upper levels of League One. What? After I picked my jaw off the ground I realised I needed to use my own common sense and some loose scientific analysis to find out what level MLS is really at.

Before I dive into major analytics (translation: throwing darts at a board), there are a few disclaimer- type things I need to get off my chest. I am a huge EPL, Liverpool and MLS/Columbus Crew supporter. I have been to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Highbury, Craven Cottage, many MLS stadiums and Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League. I have watched most of the leagues on television and have even caught a few games in the Bulgarian first division. Don’t ask why.

So here we go. My unbiased take on where MLS stands in the world right now.


 

Level 1

The EPL (England), Bundesliga (Germany), La Liga (Spain) & Serie A (Italy)

My take:

Ok, I would lose all credibility if I told you MLS was better than the established top four leagues in the world. The top teams play in the Champions League, have some of the best players in the world and are technically light years ahead of MLS. The TV money in these leagues, especially in the EPL, is ridiculous, with flocks of away supporters at each game – something MLS could never match with the hugeness of North America (the U.K. has the same square mileage as California). No need to go any further.

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MLS does well in:

Attendance. I found out that MLS is one of the highest-attended leagues in the world. MLS averages just under 22,000 fans per game, with the Seattle Sounders averaging more than my beloved Liverpool on a weekly basis. This makes MLS the seventh-most attended league in the world ahead of well-established and popular divisions like Ligue 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie. And MLS is catching up with Serie A – only 2,000 behind in average attendance. And one quick shot aimed at my Saints pal: The Championship average attendance hovers at a mere 17,000. Badabing!

Where an MLS team would finish:

Relegated.


 

Level 2:

Ligue 1 (France), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Primeira Liga (Portugal), Premier League (Russian), Super Lig (Turkey)

My take:

Ok, we are getting a little closer in class, but still have a way to go. Teams from this group have won the Champions League, whereas no team from MLS has won the much weaker CONCACAF Champions League, with Montreal’s trip to last year’s final the closest the league has come to success in that competition. There are plenty of young stars in the French and Dutch feeder leagues that get gobbled up by the big boys. MLS is starting to develop this reputation of being a development league (see Miazga to Chelsea), but they still need to shed the retirement league stigma.

MLS does well in:

Attacking football. Nobody has ever accused anyone in the Dutch League of deft defending. The same goes for MLS, with most of the money spent on attacking players like Sebastian Giovinco. Watch a Columbus Crew SC game with Kamara, Higuain and Finlay, or an LA Galaxy game with Dos Santos, Gerrard, Keane, Zardes and you will be fully entertained.

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Where an MLS team would finish:

Likely to be relegated but with a chance of staying up.


Group 3:

Brasileiro (Brazil), Primera ( Argentina), Pro League (Belgium), SuperLiga (Serbia), Premier League (Ukraine), Super League (Greece)

My take:

The South American teams are either debt-ridden, corrupt or both. In Brazil players fear for their lives, often don’t see a paychecks and are under constant media scrutiny. And that’s the good news. Players are sold like cattle, being shipped to leagues all over the planet. There are a lot of players from Argentina plying their trade in MLS so that shows how respected the league is down there. In fact, two of the greatest players in Crew history come from Argentina: 2008 MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Federico Higuain. Mega teams like Boca Juniors are still really good, but they have slipped. MLS teams are catching up and would have no problems competing against the teams in the mid and lower end of the table in the smaller European leagues.

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MLS does well in:

Lifestyle. It’s not South America or Eastern Europe. “As soon as I came here, the first two weeks I was training, I didn’t want to go back,” New York Red Bulls Englishman Wright-Phillips once said. “A lot of people, they know that when you come to America you have a good lifestyle.” Enough said on that front.

Where an MLS team would finish:

Definitely staying up with an occasional mid-table finish.


Group 4:

Liga MX (Mexico), J-League (Japan), Scottish Premier League, Allsvenskan (Sweden), Super League (Switzerland)

My take:

This looks like where MLS belongs right now. They might struggle against a side like Celtic (not even sure about this) but they would be fine against the rest of the Scottish Premier League – maybe even dominating them. Plus, the league is a mess financially and averages an embarrassing 10,000 people a game. MLS may be slightly below the Mexican league, although debatable. It would definitely win titles in Japan – a lot. On second thought, not sure the Japanese league belong in this group. Gone!

MLS does well in:

Marketing. They now have nationally televised games on multiple days of the week. Most of the playoffs are televised nationally and all regular season games are available via internet and local broadcasts. The All-Star game is a hit, bringing the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and many other top clubs to play in it. And they know how to market their players with a preseason media day this year that included access to some of the world’s greats: Pirlo, Gerrard, Keane, Villa, Dos Santos, Kaka. Yes, most are old, but not many leagues can boast that lineup of stars.

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Where an MLS team would finish:

Consistently finish in the top four, winning titles too.


A Leagues MLS needs to worry about:

China. MLS can’t compete with the kind of money being thrown around in Asia. China has better attendance right now and are buying top players in their prime (see Teixeira, Jackson and Ramires). The league could steal some of MLS’ thunder. But their model is not necessarily sustainable with so little emphasis on youth development. One to keep an eye on.


Summary:

According to my abacus, MLS is the 16th best league in the world. It’s not top ten or even close to being what Don Garber wants it to be just yet – but it’s climbing. It’s hovering around the Level 3 bracket with an eye toward Level 2. With the salary restrictions, there doesn’t seem to be enough flexibility in place to push for a Level 1 spot in the foreseeable future. But when players like Jordan Morris say no to the Bundesliga and yes to MLS, well, you never know.

LA Galaxy making ‘significant advances’ with Nigel De Jong, deal close

LA Galaxy are closing in on the signing of AC Milan midfielder Nigel De Jong, with the latest reports indicating that “significant advancements” have been made.

The 31-year-old Dutch midfielder still has two-and-a-half years left on his Milan contract but is deemed surplus to requirements at the Serie A outfit.

Milan will likely want to offload De Jong before the January transfer window closes in a couple of days, though the Galaxy cannot sign anyone until the MLS transfer window opens in a few weeks.

Premier League side Leicester City are also reported to be interested in the former Manchester City man, though the Galaxy appear to be the frontrunners for his signature.

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Reports out of Italy on Saturday claimed that the deal was close to being agreed, but that a contract had not yet been signed.

The signing of De Jong would be a major coup for the Galaxy, though he would not be able to join as a Designated Player as those three slots are already being used on Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos.

Ashley Cole joined the club last week on a non-DP contract and bringing in De Jong in the same way would represent two major signings for the Western Conference side.

Would Nigel De Jong be a good signing for LA Galaxy?

AC Milan midfielder nearing MLS switch with offer “expected”

Another Italian international could be heading for MLS as AC Milan’s Antonio Nocerino is seemingly on the radar of at least one Major League Soccer outfit.

The 30-year-old central midfield enforcer has struggled to play a part in the AC Milan side over the past two seasons and has been sent on three consecutive loan spells to West Ham, Torino and most recently, Parma.

He is currently still in Milan, but with just five months left on his current contract, he will be heading out of the club by the summer at the very latest.

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AC Milan vice president and CEO, Alberto Galliani, has had his say on the future of Nocerino and has interestingly revealed that an offer from MLS “is expected”.

“Antonio Nocerino? He’s the only player heading out, we’re expecting an offer from MLS to arrive and that could be a solution,” Galliani is reported as saying on Monday.

Nocerino would be the third high-profile Italian to join MLS over the past year if a move does come to fruition, as he would follow Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo in making the switch stateside.

At 30, he still has a lot to offer and will hope to reignite his career once he escapes the limbo he finds himself in at Milan.

The Juventus academy product captained the Italian U23 side in 2008 as well as the Italian team at the Beijing Olympics during the same year.

He has made a total of 15 international appearances for the Azzurri, but has not played for the national side since November 2012, following his participation in Italy’s Euro 2012 squad.

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It’s unclear which MLS side are reportedly chasing Nocerino, while it is as unclear whether he would join the league as a Designated Player or not.

LA Galaxy are one possible destination, given the fact that they are looking to replace Juninho this offseason following his departure, though Nocerino would have to accept a non-DP role if he were to make that move.

Would Antonio Nocerino be a good signing for MLS? Which club could benefit from his services?

Juventus preparing moves for Arsenal and Chelsea playmakers – report

Juventus are looking to raid the Premier League for some of its best playmaking talents with Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs stars all reportedly being targeted by the Italian giants.

Italian media outlet Calciomercato claims Juventus sporting director Fabio Guild has been in London in recent days as he is looking to sign Chelsea star Oscar, with Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil also a major target.

Oscar has long been linked with a move to the Serie A giants and Juventus believe they could land the Brazilian in January if they agree to pay in excess of €30 million.

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Chelsea’s horrendous start to the season could mean that several changes are made in January and Oscar could be one of those allowed to leave after only starting five Premier League games so far this campaign.

Ozil is an alternative to Oscar but would likely be a more expensive investment, especially after his fine start to the season with Arsenal.

The German playmaker has more assists than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues so far this term and has now recorded at least one assist in each of his last six Premier League games.

Arsenal are looking to tie him down to a new four-year contract and so a move away from the Emirates looks unlikely as this stage.

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While Juve are also keeping tabs on Tottenham’s Danish superstar Christian Eriksen. The 23-year-old has also previously been linked to Juventus but Spurs reiterated that he is not for sale back in August.

Juventus have started the 2015/16 Serie A season in poor form by their high standards. They sit seventh after 12 games after winning just one of their first six league games and will look to strengthen in January.

Should Juventus be looking to sign Oscar, Mesut Ozil or Christian Eriksen? Which playmaker is the best?

Miroslav Klose ‘seriously considering’ MLS move, three clubs interested – report

Miroslav Klose is once again being linked with a move to Major League Soccer as the German striker reportedly wants to experience playing in the United States before ending his illustrious playing career.

The 37-year-old’s Lazio contract expires at the end of the season and so he could sign a pre-contract agreement from January 31, when he will have less than six months remaining on his current deal.

Reports from Italian outlet La Lazio Siamo Noi claim the German forward is keen on a move to MLS with LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire all apparently interested.

The all-time leading FIFA World Cup goalscorer has not scored in five Serie A appearances so far this term and would seemingly like one last challenge before hanging up his boots.

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Klose was desperate to play in the Champions League with Lazio this season but he reportedly lost motivation after the club’s playoff exit to Bayer Leverkusen in August.

Of the three clubs linked with the German, LA Galaxy’s interest seems most strange. They are stacked in terms of attacking options and already have three Designated Players.

Chicago Fire and the Red Bulls both have one DP slot available but are unlikely to use that final slot on a 37-year-old. That said, Klose might decide to join on a non-DP deal and would therefore be a much more appealing option.

Should Miroslav Klose move to MLS before retiring from football? Which club need him most?

Drogba set to return to Europe on loan despite Chelsea snub – report

Didier Drogba’s sensational exploits in Major League Soccer since joining the Montreal Impact have led to ongoing loan links to Europe during the upcoming offseason.

The 37-year-old Ivorian forward has netted 12 goals in 13 appearances for Montreal since making his debut in late August. He’s already the club’s seventh-highest goalscorer in their short history and is taking the league by storm.

But that’s inevitably attracting interest from across the pond. The Chelsea legend had been linked with a short-term return to the Blues for a third spell in London but Jose Mourinho denied reports that he could be brought in to help turn their season around in January.

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Instead, Serie A side Bologna are being touted as a possible destination for Drogba. The Italian side sit third from bottom after 11 games and are in an early relegation battle.

Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo also part-owns Bologna and could be keen to use Drogba to help save the Italian club from relegation with the injection of some mid-season goals.

Drogba signed an 18-month contract with Montreal in July and will enjoy one full season in MLS next term.

The new campaign will start in March and so a loan move to Italy would mean Drogba misses preseason preparations with the Canadian side.

Would a short-term loan move to Bologna make sense for Didier Drogba?

Inter Milan ‘desperate’ to bring in Andrea Pirlo on loan from NYCFC

Inter Milan are looking to bring Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo back to Serie A just six months after leaving to join New York City FC in MLS, according to reports out of Italy.

Sport Mediaset claim Inter boss Roberto Mancini is desperate to bring Pirlo in on loan from January through to the start of the new MLS season in March.

Pirlo, who joined Inter as a 19-year-old in 1998, has said he is not looking for a loan move to fill his time during the MLS offseason as he would rather focus on his NYCFC commitments ahead of his first full season.

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“No, I do not think I will go to Europe, it would not be fair to my team,” he recently told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“All I’m thinking about is training this offseason for the 2016 campaign at New York.”

Inter Milan would not be the first Serie A side to look to MLS as a way of strengthening during the winter. Fierce rivals AC Milan twice loaned David Beckham from LA Galaxy in 2008 and 2009.

Pirlo joined New York City in July and went on to make 13 MLS appearances towards the end of the regular season. He will be disappointed not to have scored a goal but will look to improve in 2016 as the expansion franchise look to bounce back after not making the playoffs at the first attempt.

Should Andrea Pirlo consider a loan move to Inter Milan? How important will he be to NYCFC next season?

Is this Lazio star set for a move to MLS?

Reports from Italy suggest Lazio captain, Stefano Mauri, has been released from his contract after it expired on June 30.

On Tuesday, July 7, it was claimed a breakdown in negotiations between the two parties ended with the conclusion that his future is elsewhere. Mauri has been tempted to a move Stateside that would see him follow footsteps of Italians Sebastian Giovinco, who moved to Toronto FC earlier this year and former Montreal Impact striker Marco Di Vaio. 

In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport Mauri claimed he would be interested in a move to MLS.

“If an interesting offer were to come from the MLS, then I would have to think about it, that’s for sure.”

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Mauri and several others are currently embroiled in a match fixing probe, which saw him suspended from football for six months toward the back end of 2013.

With Lazio President Claudio Lolito keen to distance himself and the club away from the match fixing allegations, negotiations of a new contract appear to have ended.

Mauri joined Lazio in 2006 from Serie A rivals Udinese and was reportedly close to agreeing a one year extension, but with that looking increasingly unlikely, a move to MLS could be on the cards.

Would a move to MLS be good for Mauri?