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Paul Pogba’s Manchester United future is shrouded in mystery — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: United may have found their replacement.
Barcelona step in as Pogba’s future takes new twist
Pogba, 28, is out of contract at Old Trafford at the end of the season and his agent, Mino Raiola, is sounding out some of Europe’s heavyweights with a view to finding a new club for the midfielder. Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and several Premier League clubs have also been approached regarding Pogba, who can begin negotiations from Jan. 1.
Pogba has made no decision on his future and has not ruled out extending his stay at United, although he is also going to explore what other options he has available to him. Barca would consider signing the France international on a free transfer as they look to rebuild their squad under new president Joan Laporta.
However, while there would technically be no fee involved, the Catalan club are unsure whether, in their financial position, they would be able to afford the commission Raiola would demand. Barcelona’s gross debt stands at €1.4 billion. There are also doubts about whether Pogba would fit into the club’s new wage structure at a time when some of the team’s biggest earners are being asked to take pay cuts.
Laporta revealed recently that salaries and amortisation payments still account for around 80% of the predicted revenue of €765m for the season. The league’s economic controls demand that figure is around 70%, although Barca’s is even lower this season as they must make amends for recent losses. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Tchouameni: Pogba’s replacement?
Move over Pogba: Aurelien Tchouameni is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment. Scouts from Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City have all watched the Monaco midfielder in action this season as the race hots up to land one of Europe’s top prospects.
Sources told ESPN a fee between €50m and €60m will be needed in order to bring Monaco to the negotiating table, with Tchouameni on United’s radar if they fail to agree a new deal for Pogba. Chelsea have also registered an interest in the 21-year-old in the past, and the Champions League winners are on good terms with the player’s agent Jonathan Kebe, who also represents Sevilla‘s Jules Kounde. Chelsea tried to land Kounde last summer but failed to agree a deal for the centre-back.
– Laurens: France are back on track
Tchouameni, 21, has five caps for France and was outstanding in their Nations League final win over Spain. He also shone on his full international debut last month against Bosnia, and has enjoyed a stellar start to the Ligue 1 season, on the back of an impressive campaign last year.
He has improved a lot under coach Niko Kovac, since moving from Bordeaux to the Principality for €18m in January 2020. Monaco believed they would receive offers last summer but Europe’s heavyweights turned their attentions elsewhere. However, given Tchouameni’s form, the Ligue 1 side are preparing for a wave of bids for their in-demand star. — Julien Laurens
Julien Laurens explains why there’s plenty of Premier League interest for midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni.
Sterling to fight for City place before sorting future
Sterling has a contract until 2023 and although City want to agree a new long-term deal, the England international will first ensure he will play a key role for the club in the future. The 26-year-old has won three Premier League titles since arriving from Liverpool in 2015 but has found few opportunities after falling out of favour with manager Pep Guardiola, starting two of City’s seven Premier League games so far this season.
Sources told ESPN that City’s staff have been impressed by the way Sterling has worked in training to adapt to a new No.9 role following the departure of Sergio Aguero and the summer signing of Jack Grealish. He won plaudits in the role against Paris Saint-Germain, despite City falling to a 2-0 defeat.
Sterling hinted at his unhappiness with his lack of playing time on Thursday when he said he could seek to move if things don’t improve, and while he suggested he would be open to playing abroad, sources told ESPN he has not made a decision over his next destination.
Should Sterling decide his future lies elsewhere, sources told ESPN Barcelona are monitoring his situation and may attempt to bring him to Camp Nou. Barca boss Ronald Koeman has made it clear the club are short in attack, with width and pace a particular problem for the misfiring Catalans, who have won just once in their last six games.
While Barca CEO Ferran Reverter has said they need to reduce their wage bill further, he said there could be some cash available for a signing in January, although sources indicate any move for Sterling would likely be dependent on him being available initially on loan.
Sterling was one of England stand-out players during their run to the European Championship final in the summer and is closing in on 100 Premier League goals and 300 appearances. — Rob Dawson, Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden
Julien Laurens makes his pitch for Spain boss Luis Enrique to replace Ronald Koeman at Barcelona.
Barcelona fear another Ilaix with Dembele
Dembele’s contract with Barca expires next summer and he’s yet to agree a new deal with the club. The player has expressed a desire to prolong his stay but talks with his representative, Moussa Sissoko, have not been as straightforward.
The France forward is free to negotiate with other clubs from Jan. 1, when he moves into the final six months of his contract, and sources say Barca are seeing parallels with Ilaix Moriba‘s exit in the summer. Ilaix was also in the final year of his contract. When his agents rejected an offer to renew, Barca sent him to train with the B team and told him he wouldn’t play for the club if he didn’t sign new terms. The young midfielder eventually signed for RB Leizpig for around €20m in August, with his representatives making a handsome amount of commission on the deal.
If Dembele, who came close to joining Manchester United in 2020, were to run his contract down and leave Barca for free, those involved in the move would also stand to receive a considerable signing bonus.
Sources at Barca say the next month will be key as the January transfer window approaches. If an agreement cannot be struck with Dembele’s agent, the former Borussia Dortmund winger could find himself confined to the stands for the rest of the season. — Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden
Julien Laurens and Alejandro Moreno can’t believe that Barcelona president Joan Laporta would admit publicly that he had hoped Lionel Messi would play for free.
Jese, a row, a car collision and ‘fake news’
Jese Rodriguez, a former Real Madrid and PSG forward, hit out at “fake news” and asked for “respect” this week after reports that his partner had run over his foot with her car following a row.
The incident occurred after Jese — who is enjoying a career renaissance at hometown club Las Palmas with three goals and four assists in LaLiga 2 this season — had attended a concert at the Gran Canaria Arena on Sunday. A video which went viral appeared to show Jese limping and being assisted by friends outside the venue.
Sources told ESPN that although Jese had been hit by the vehicle, it was not clear if the collision had been intentional or an accident — although both the player and his partner, the model and reality TV star Aurah Ruiz, denied the claims on social media.
Jese missed training on Monday and Tuesday, sparking fears that he would be absent for Las Palmas’ derby with local rivals Tenerife on Saturday, before being involved as normal on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old was a top-rated prospect as a youngster at Real Madrid’s academy, breaking the record for goals scored in a season for B-team Castilla in 2012-13. His progress was disrupted by a cruciate ligament injury in 2014 and he had disappointing spells with PSG, Stoke City, Real Betis and Sporting Lisbon before returning to Las Palmas this year.
Jese has frequently made headlines for his off-the-field activities, releasing a series of reggaeton singles as his musical alter ego ‘Jey M’. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
Transfer blunders: Fenerbahce mistakenly sent money to Dutch car dealer
In January 2019, Empoli agreed to Zajc’s exit to the Turkish side for a fee of €4m, payable in three instalments. However, the final payment of €830,000 did not arrive in their bank account until September 2021. Fenerbahce made the payment on Sept. 30, 2020 but inserted the wrong recipient’s bank details and the money ended up at a car dealership in the Dutch city of Doetinchem.
Upon finding out about the administrative error, Empoli contacted the company to request the money, but it was rejected. Empoli threatened to cancel the transfer, which led Fenerbahce to sue the Dutch company, and it was not until the following September that a Gelderland court ruled in the Turkish side’s favour.
Slovenia international Zajc joined Empoli from Olimpija Ljubljana in his homeland in January 2017 and following relegation to Italy‘s second tier, played a fundamental role in their promotion back to Serie A the following campaign.
The 27-year-old struggled to nail down a regular place at Fenerbahce and spent the 2020-21 season back in Italy on loan at Genoa. — Andrew Cesare Richardson