In this week’s ESPN Insider Notebook, Hector Bellerin could leave Arsenal after a decade at the Emirates after talks with Mikel Arteta. PLUS: Manchester United await Cavani’s recovery before deciding his future.
Jump to: Man United await Cavani’s recovery before deciding future | Man City search for additional striker | Money-saving experts PSG target free agents | Zlatan’s music festival clashes with Milan fixtures | Southgate grants Shaw England return | Premier League set to dethrone La Liga at No. 1 | Man United’s baby Shoretire chaperoned home | PSG fined for failure to pay bills
Arsenal will consider Bellerin’s desire to leave
Hector Bellerin could leave Arsenal this summer as part of an agreement with manager Mikel Arteta, sources have told ESPN.
The 25-year-old wanted to quit the Gunners at the end of last season when Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona emerged as serious options, but stayed following heart-to-heart talks with Arteta, whom he has a close relationship with from their playing days at the club.
ESPN can reveal that in discussions last year Arteta asked Bellerin to give the club one more season and in return, they would consider an exit this summer. PSG and Barcelona were keen on exploring a deal for Bellerin — although the Ligue 1 club have privately played down reports they made a £30 million offer — but the defender stayed in north London, committing himself at fellow Spaniard Arteta’s request for one more season.
Their bond was vital in helping the Gunners push through a 12.5% wage cut — which was later reduced to 7.5% upon winning the FA Cup — last April as Bellerin, the club’s designated Professional Footballers’ Association representative, led talks on behalf of the first-team squad.
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Sources have confirmed there are no open conversations between Bellerin and the club regarding his future, but there is a sense from both sides that with two years left on his contract, this summer represents the right time to move on after a decade at the Emirates.
Bellerin has not been short of suitors in the past, but a potential destination now appears unclear. PSG are not expected to be in the running given they signed Alessandro Florenzi on loan from Roma and are planning to take up an option to make the deal permanent for €9m.
Barcelona signed USMNT international Sergino Dest in a £23.8m deal last October. Manchester United expressed an interest in Bellerin several years ago but spent £50m on Aaron Wan-Bissaka in June 2019. — James Olley
Man United await Cavani recovery before deciding future
Manchester United are keen to wait until Edinson Cavani has recovered from injury before making a decision about his future, sources told ESPN.
United are happy with Cavani’s impact since arriving on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, and would need to pay the striker close to €2m if the club decide against keeping him for a second season. Both sides have the option to terminate the deal in the summer but a penalty fee will apply if United, who also have Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood as options in attack, are the ones to pull the plug.
Cavani is wanted by Boca Juniors, but sources have told ESPN he is happy at Old Trafford and is open to staying for a second season because he is keen to stay in Europe for as long as possible before finishing his career in South America.
The 34-year-old has scored seven goals in 24 appearances so far this campaign, and United have also been impressed with Cavani’s commitment to the club after he immediately decided to move his family into a rented house in Cheshire rather than stay in a hotel.
However, he is still upset by the FA suspension he received after using a term which could be interpreted as offensive in the UK in an Instagram post to a friend. Cavani decided against fighting the suspension, which ruled him out of three games in January, but sources have told ESPN he remains deeply upset about the charge. — Moises Llorens and Rob Dawson
Ale Moreno delves deeper into the transfer rumours surrounding Sergio Aguero to Inter Milan.
Man City search for additional striker
Manchester City will continue their search for a new striker even if Sergio Aguero extends his stay at the Etihad Stadium.
Aguero’s contract is up in the summer and Juventus are among the clubs interested in signing the 32-year-old on a free transfer. The Argentina international’s preference is to stay at City, where he is the all-time leading scorer with 256 goals and has won four Premier League titles, but the club have been cautious while he works his way back into the first team following a year ravaged by injury and illness.
It is understood Aguero’s future is not linked to City’s summer transfer plans and adding a new striker to Pep Guardiola’s squad remains an option, regardless of whether or not the 32-year-old leaves.
Aguero played the final 10 minutes of City’s 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday but has not started a game since October. He has scored two goals in 10 appearances this season. –– Rob Dawson
ESPN FC’s Craig Burley on how Mbappe and Neymar, under Mauricio Pochettino’s management, finally make PSG a European contender.
Money-saving experts PSG target free agents
Last summer, Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo showed how thrifty he could be when it came to recruiting on a budget when he signed midfielder Danilo Pereira, midfielder Rafinha, and wing-back Alessandro Florenzi. He faces a similar challenge this summer to strengthen new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s squad with little funds available as football recovers from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sources told ESPN that at present, Leonardo is targeting out of contract players for next season including Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, Lyon striker Memphis Depay, Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, or Elseid Hysaj, the Napoli right-back, as well as hoping to reach an agreement with Everton for Moise Kean who is on loan. PSG want to keep Kean and could push for another loan deal with a permanent option.
Lionel Messi, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, is another major target if he decides to leave Barcelona.
The priority, though, is to retain key players. Sources told ESPN that Leonardo is considering contract extensions for Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Juan Bernat and potentially Julian Draxler. — Julien Laurens
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Zlatan’s music festival clashes with Milan fixtures
AC Milan have provided Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a detailed training schedule while he co-hosts the San Remo music festival, sources told ESPN.
San Remo, an annual Italian music festival which runs from March 2-6, has generally been the precursor to the country’s Eurovision Song Contest entry and has seen global music stars such as Eminem, Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears perform. Ibrahimovic’s decision to participate has caused controversy in Italy with several pundits accusing him of taking his eye off the ball at a time when Milan have lost back-to-back matches in Serie A including Sunday’s derby to Inter Milan which left them four points behind the table-topping Nerazzurri.
A club source told ESPN that as well as Ibrahimovic’s bespoke training regime, he will be accompanied by a member of Milan staff for that week and will follow the team’s schedule on matchdays for the games against Udinese on Wednesday and Verona on Sunday.
As co-host Ibrahimovic will remain for the entirety of the festival and will sing a duet with good friend and Bologna manager Sinisa Mihajlovic. He signed the contract to co-host the festival before penning his 12-month extension at Milan at the beginning of the campaign. — Andrew Cesare Richardson
Southgate grants Shaw England return
England manager Gareth Southgate is preparing to hand Luke Shaw an international return next month, sources have told ESPN, after overlooking the Manchester United left-back for the past two years following a series of withdrawals from squads.
Southgate is assessing his options at left-back for the March World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland and Shaw has forced his way into contention for a call-up after producing his most consistent form in a United shirt this season since a £28m transfer from Southampton seven years ago.
The 25-year-old has endured a stop-start England career since making his debut under Roy Hodgson as an 18-year-old in 2014, with injuries and loss of form restricting him to just eight caps. Although he is rated highly by Southgate, sources told ESPN that the manager has been frustrated by Shaw’s reliability due to injuries which have forced him to miss six out of the last seven international fixtures that he was called up for.
Shaw has not been selected by Southgate since withdrawing from the squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Czech Republic and Montenegro in March 2019, but with Ben Chilwell losing his first-team spot at Chelsea following the arrival of manager Thomas Tuchel last month and Kieran Trippier only just approaching the end of a 10-week worldwide ban for breaking betting rules, Shaw is in contention to return to the fold.
So far this season, Southgate has used Atletico Madrid right-back Trippier as a left wing-back, as well as selecting Chilwell, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka in the position.
Shaw’s form for United has put him back in the frame, sources say he is likely to be selected when Southgate names his squad next month. — Mark Ogden
Premier League set to dethrone La Liga at No. 1
The Premier League is almost certain to dethrone La Liga as the No. 1 league in Europe for the first time in eight years.
The top spot in UEFA’s club coefficient — which ranks each league based upon the average performance of all its clubs in Europe over a five-year period — may not offer any special privileges, but it provides prestige and a snapshot of which league is strongest.
Spanish clubs have enjoyed a lengthy period of recent dominance in European club competition, winning the Champions League in five consecutive seasons and securing the Europa League title in seven years out of nine. It will complete the gradual decline for La Liga, which has seen its coefficient score drop for five consecutive seasons since an all-time high achieved in 2015-16. While Sevilla won the Europa League last season, it was the first time Spain failed to have a team in the semifinals of the UCL since 2007. Overall, it was the country’s worst campaign since 2012-13 — and this year threatens to be worse still.
That clear drop in standards in Spanish football, coupled with a resurgence from English clubs, is set to see the Premier League take the No. 1 position.
Both leagues still have six clubs left in Europe this season, but three of Spain’s teams are in serious trouble in the Champions League. Barcelona lost 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain while Sevilla were beaten 3-2 by Borussia Dortmund, and Atletico Madrid were defeated 1-0 by Chelsea. It could be left to Real Madrid, who won 1-0 away to Atalanta, to save Spain from not having a team in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004-05.
England is now 0.715 coefficient points behind Spain, which basically equates to two wins and a draw. With all three English teams in the UCL winning away from home, and additional bonus points on offer for reaching the quarterfinals of either competition, the Premier League is in a position of strength.
England took top spot off Spain at the end of the 2007-08 season, until Spain won it back in 2013. Eight years on, the Premier League is set to rule the roost in Europe once again.
And it will get worse at the start of next season, when Spain will lose the dominant 2016-17 season from its five-year score. With financial issues affecting Spanish football’s biggest clubs, another period of domination for the Premier League looks increasingly likely. — Dale Johnson
Adnan Januzaj explains why it was harder for him to break the Man United first team than youth players now.
Man United’s latest teen talent Shoretire given chaperone
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided Shola Shoretire was old enough to make his Manchester United debut against Newcastle but club bosses thought the teenager needed a chaperone to walk to his car after the game, sources have told ESPN.
At 17-years-and-19-days, Shoretire became United’s second youngest Premier League player and seventh youngest in their history when he came on as a second-half substitute during the 3-1 win at Old Trafford.
United like to protect their young players, particularly when they break into the first team, and for Shoretire, who has recently passed his driving test, that extended to a member of staff accompanying him safely from the dressing rooms to the car park after the final whistle.
Shoretire has impressed Solskjaer since joining the first team training bubble and is set to stay with the senior squad for at least the rest of the season. — Rob Dawson
Ed Dove and Colin Udoh look at Manchester United’s young star, Shola Shoretire.
PSG fined for failure to pay bills
PSG have been fined €700,000 for failing to pay some of the invoices owed to their suppliers.
The DIRECCTE, a government organisation in charge of ensuring companies pay suppliers, has found them guilty of unpaid invoices dating back to 2018.
They were owed for services given to the club by some of their usual suppliers who had enough of not being paid and asked the DIRECCTE to intervene.
PSG have been ordered to immediately pay the fine as well as the outstanding invoices. The French champions have planned to lose around €200m this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. — Julien Laurens