Man United and Frenkie De Jong: The saga continues
Think the Frenkie de Jong story is over at Man United. You might be wrong. ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the most recent.
Jump to: Barcelona … in Real Madrid white? | Lukaku, Potter set for Chelsea talks | Ronaldo no longer a poster boy | English football’s big decision amid fixture crisis | Man City’s Etihad Stadium boost | LaLiga clubs’ ‘fear clause’ quandary
Man United hunt De Jong, keen to be in Bellingham battle
Barcelona‘s Frenkie de Jong remains on Manchester United‘s transfer wish list, sources told ESPN, while Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham will also be central to United’s transfer plans next summer. Despite strong interest from United during the transfer window De Jong said he didn’t want to leave the Spanish giants. But sources told ESPN that United manager Erik ten Hag isn’t put off by the 25-year-old’s public stance and won’t rule out the possibility of making another bid next summer. Old Trafford still believes that De Jong could leave Barcelona in future. He could be persuaded to move to Manchester, where he would reunite with Ten Hag, his former Ajax manager.
United reached an agreement with Barcelona in the summer, but negotiations were halted by United’s refusal to pay De Jong’s deferred wages.
– Insight: Where should Bellingham go?
“I always wanted to stay at Barcelona and this is why I always remained calm in the summer,” he said. “I can’t give too much details away. Each club has its own ideas, and I have my own. Sometimes, these clash with one another. But at the end of the day things went OK.”
Bellingham is set to be one of the most sought after players in Europe next summer, and Dortmund are likely to demand a huge transfer fee for the England international, whose contract runs out in 2025. The 19-year-old, fourth on ESPN’s 39 under-21 list of stars back in April, is enjoying a fine start to the season and is expected to play a key role for Engand at the World Cup in Qatar.
Sources at United added there is an acceptance they will face stern competition from Manchester City, Liverpool and Real Madrid but they will be in the queue for his signature, having registered their interest in him during his time at Championship side Birmingham. Bellingham rejected offers from a range of Premier League clubs in 2020, eventually signing for Dortmund in a PS22.5 million deal — a world record fee for a 17-year-old.
United will not be making major changes to their squad in January. They will wait until the summer to make any further changes. The club recently announced a net loss of PS115.5m for 2021-22 and an increase in net debt of PS94.5m, with no major arrivals likely in the January window. — Rob Dawson
Barcelona in Real Madrid colours?
Barcelona will move ahead with plans to wear white away from Camp Nou next season in a decision that has created plenty of debate inside the club. The colour is strongly connected to Real Madrid, especially in Spain, and there are people at the club who would prefer to avoid wearing the same shade as their Clasico rivals. However, the board made the decision to move ahead after surveys and reports that suggested that a white Barca shirt would be a popular choice.
– Stream on ESPN : LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (U.S.)
Barca first sounded out the possibility of wearing white last year when it was leaked that one of this season’s change strips would be white. In the end, a grey jersey with a red and blue cross was selected but the reaction among fans to the idea of a white kit was deemed positive enough, along with the surveys, to introduce a white shirt for the 2023-24 campaign. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Frank Leboeuf says he was “disappointed” with Chelsea’s performance in their 1-1 draw vs. FC Salzburg.
Lukaku, Potter set for Chelsea talks
Graham Potter has not closed the door on Romelu Lukaku reviving his career at Chelsea and is expected to hold talks with the forward at the end of the season, sources told ESPN.
Lukaku fell out of favour under Potter’s predecessor Thomas Tuchel and returned to Inter Milan on loan just a year after making a EUR115m move from the Serie A side to Stamford Bridge. Sources suggested the 29-year-old is very keen on staying at Inter on a permanent basis but there is no option or obligation to sign as part of the existing loan agreement. Potter said he is open to discussing the situation in person with Lukaku, if Inter decides not to pursue a permanent agreement. Inter has significant financial problems and it remains to see if they can afford Chelsea’s valuation.
Lukaku had previously thrived playing with a strike partner in Lautaro Martinez at Inter and Potter’s preferred 3-5-2 system would at least give him the option of playing alongside another forward.
Lukaku is under contract at Chelsea until 2026 and so a second loan at Inter would theoretically also be possible but the player’s transfer value would further depreciate given he turns 30 in May next year. With Chelsea expected to be aggressive in the transfer markets in January and beyond, a permanent solution would be preferred for all parties. — James Olley
Ronaldo no longer Portugal’s poster boy
Cristiano Ronaldo will be leading Portugal‘s attempts to win the World Cup when Qatar 2022 kicks off in two months’ time, but in a sign of the Manchester United forward’s diminishing status on the pitch, sources told ESPN he won’t be one of 32 stars honoured with a huge presence in Doha during the tournament.
World Cup organisers in Qatar are in the process of dressing the many skyscrapers in downtown Doha with 75ft images of some of the players expected to impress for their national teams in November and December. But sources said Ronaldo, the all-time leading international goalscorer with 117 goals, is not part of the plans to have his image adorning a Doha skyscraper, with Portugal expected to be represented by one of the younger members of Fernando Santos’ team.
While negotiations are still ongoing with representatives and national associations over the image rights of some players, sources said Neymar is likely to be the face of Brazil in downtown Doha. The Paris Saint-Germain forward would join players including Harry Kane (England), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Luka Modric (Croatia), Sadio Mane (Senegal), Alphonso Davies (Canada) and Qatar captain Hassan Al-Haydos, whose images already dominate the city skyline with their skyscraper posters. Ronaldo is not the only star name to be denied the honor of being featured on a poster. Argentina‘s player has yet to be unveiled, so Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may end up in the unusual position of having to look up at teammates and rivals. — Mark Ogden
English football faces major decision over cups, fixtures
Could the Premier League be reduced to 18 teams? That’s the scenario English football faces amid UEFA’s plan to expand European football from 2024 onwards, unless there’s a major overhaul of domestic cup competitions.
ESPN has seen the match calendar for the 2024-25 season onwards, with Europe’s major competitions set to expand not only in size, but also in duration. The Champions League (UCL), Europa League (UEL) and Europa Conference League (UECL) will all be increased from 32 teams to 36, with clubs in the UCL and the UEL playing two additional matches. UEFA is also increasing the footprint of European football further, spreading matches across 10 weeks rather than six.
English football is therefore faced with no choice but to revamp its cup competitions, sources told ESPN, or face the last resort of having to cut the Premier League from 20 teams to 18 — as seen in France. Ligue 1 is currently doing exactly that, promoting two teams and relegating four others.
Like the Premier League, both LaLiga and Serie A will continue with 20 teams for now (the Bundesliga has always operated with 18) but English football is the only top league in Europe with the added pressure of a secondary cup competition. France scrapped the Coupe de la Ligue in 2020 partly to ease workload among players.
English football is facing a fixture dilemma, as UEFA’s new programme places two rounds of fixtures on the dates used for EFL Cup. The first Europa League games are set to be played when the third round of the Carabao is held on the week of Sept. 24 and the final round of the Europa Conference League group stage clashes with the Carabao Cup quarterfinals on Dec. 18. The January effect is even more severe. The second leg of the Carabao semifinals (Jan. 21) and a full round of Premier League midweek games (Jan. 28) will be wiped out by the final two rounds of the UEL and UECL. There must be something.
The only way to stop further pressure from other areas of the calendar is to cancel FA Cup replays starting in the third round. This opens up two midweeks in February and January where the Carabao Cup semi-final and the round Premier League games can be brought forward.
This doesn’t resolve all the problems. The Carabao Cup dates for teams in the UECL and UEL are still blocked. There is also the added pressure of eight group games for clubs within the UCL or UEL. Playing under-21 teams, as Liverpool did in 2019 when their Club World Cup commitments clashed with the Carabao Cup, would appear to be the most viable solution but that would only devalue the competition further.
Liverpool’s youngest-ever side (average age: 19) lost 5-0 at Aston Villa in 2019, with Jurgen Klopp’s senior players in action in Qatar. — Dale Johnson
Rob Dawson feels Pep Guardiola managing USMNT in a World Cup when he leaves Manchester City is a particularly intriguing prospect.
Man City’s stadium bid for Champions League finals
Manchester City are hoping to increase the capacity of the Etihad Stadium to 60,000 to allow them to host Champions League finals, sources told ESPN. City’s stadium holds 55,000 but plans are in place to add another 5,000 supporters. Reaching 60,000 would make the Etihad eligible to host UEFA finals in line with the European governing body’s guidelines. Sources said that ESPN has already given permission to extend the North Stand. It is the last stand that has two tiers, after work on the South Stand. The expansion, completed in 2015, added 6,000 seats and increased the capacity to more than 53,000.
City have played at the Etihad since 2003 after moving from Maine Road. It was initially built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, with a capacity of 38,000. — Rob Dawson
‘Fear clause’ quandary for LaLiga clubs
Valencia and Osasuna will be hit in the pocket if they field Nico Gonzalez or Abde Ezzalzouli in matches against Barcelona this season.
Barca loaned Nico and Abde to Valencia and Osasuna in the summer, but included a clause to discourage both sides from using the players against Xavi Hernandez’s team. Osasuna and Valencia will pay an additional fee if they choose to use Nico or Osasuna’s Abde in their meeting with Barca. This is on top of what they already agreed to in terms of the salary contribution and loan fee.
This is a change of stance by Barca, who have historically not included such clauses (known as the “fear clause in Spain) or prevented loaned player from playing against them. — Sam Marsden, and Moises Llorens
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.