Welcome to ESPN’s Insider Notebook, featuring contributions from our reporters across the continent. In this edition, there’s transfer talk involving Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as a feisty response to comments by Angel Di Maria’s wife about the “weird” women of Manchester. PLUS: Barcelona have a player banished from training.
Lindelof doubts make Man United look at centre-backs
Solskjaer is intent on strengthening his attack ahead of next season and will be backed in the transfer market despite concerns about how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will affect club’s finances. But while the focus remains on bringing in a striker and a winger, intermediaries and agents have not been discouraged from pitching centre-back targets to the club.
Lindelof will stay at Old Trafford after signing a new long-term contract in September, but enquiries have been made about other defenders, including 21-year-old Real Valladolid centre-back Mohammed Salisu.
Manchester hits back at Di Maria’s wife’s comments
Angel Di Maria’s wife caused a stir this week with her outburst regarding the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s time in Manchester, calling it “horrible” and criticising its culture, “weird” female inhabitants and “disgusting” food.
“Manchester is the worst. It is all horrible in Manchester,” Jorgelina Cardoso told Los Angeles de la Manana.
ESPN contacted Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s office for comment and … well, it’s fair to say one of his key advisers has responded in kind.
“Before I comment, I do agree with her on one point,” Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and one of Burnham’s key allies, said. “Having been a United supporter all my life, I also found that period quite depressing. Her husband was bought for almost £60m, sold a year later and was undoubtedly one of United’s biggest flops.
“As for our food, we have many outstanding restaurants across the whole of our city region. I can only think her taste buds have been tarnished by how sour and bitter she is.
“As for our culture, when I think of Manchester, I think of the Industrial Revolution, the suffragettes, the co-op movement, Marx and Engels, the Peterloo Massacre, the computer, splitting the atom, graphene, Alan Turing, textiles, canals, railways, football and music.
“As for women always being dolled up, it may have helped if she had ventured out of the leafy suburbs of Alderley Edge at some point during that period.”
“Having said that,” Lord continued. “I wish the couple all the best during lockdown and hope she has used her time wisely, dusting off some of her many overpriced handbags.” — Alex Shaw
Premier League restart battle lines drawn
There is a growing mood of unrest within the Premier League, with sources telling ESPN that many clubs and players believe that a vocal minority of those connected with teams in the relegation battle are driving an agenda of attempting to scupper plans to restart the season.
ESPN reported last week that some players are against a return to action due to concerns over their safety amid the pandemic. Since then, senior figures from Brighton and Aston Villa — both teams are in the bottom six — have gone public with their opposition to the government-led insistence that the Premier League season can only resume if games are played at neutral venues.
Sources have told ESPN there is a concern that clubs in relegation trouble risk triggering financial meltdown if they are able to block the plan for games to be staged at neutral venues.
“Football is rapidly running out of money, even at the top end, so it makes no sense for any club to block a return to playing because they don’t want to play at neutral grounds,” one source told ESPN.
A senior figure at one EFL Championship club has told ESPN that he is receiving “10 WhatsApp messages a day” from players desperate to know when they will be returning to action. Sources have said that some players are increasingly antagonised by high-profile players voicing concerns from “their pools at their holiday homes in the sun” about safety issues when many players need, and want, to return in order to safeguard their careers and playing future.
Premier League clubs could vote on the proposal Monday, with seven clubs needing to vote against the plan in order to prevent it going ahead.
Under Premier League rules, a 14-6 majority is required to carry votes. Brighton sit sixth from bottom in the Premier League, with a five-point gap between themselves and seventh-bottom Southampton. — Mark Ogden
Pedro hopes Chelsea have change of heart
The pandemic is forcing clubs to rethink their stance on a variety of players, and Pedro is hoping for a late change of heart from Chelsea.
So far, the Blues have shown little willingness to extend the 32-year-old’s contract, which expires at the end of the season. The winger turns 33 in July and Chelsea have a policy of only offering one-year extensions to players over 30.
They have, however, made exceptions in recent times, with David Luiz receiving a two-year deal last summer (although he was sold to Arsenal later at the end of the window due to Frank Lampard’s arrival as head coach) and have tried to tie down Willian with the same offer this season.
No such attempt has been made for Pedro. The Spaniard last week claimed “we have not yet sat down to discuss whether to renew and continue here or not,” and sources have told ESPN that he will request the same two-year deal offered to his teammates when negotiations begin.
Pedro joined Chelsea in 2015 and is open to staying, but the silence from the club so far has been deafening. Several other clubs, including Real Betis, have expressed an interest in signing him, so he won’t be short of options. But whether Chelsea suddenly view Pedro as part of their post-coronavirus future remains in serious doubt. — James Olley
Planes grounded in La Liga
La Liga is studying different scenarios to make the return of football as safe as possible, with eliminating plane trips for away games an option, sources have told ESPN.
The league’s president Javier Tebas is in contact with Spain‘s National Sports Council, La Liga clubs and the players’ association. A source involved in the conversations has told ESPN that in one recent meeting they discussed the possibility of replacing the flights for away matches by train or bus.
Those who back the idea believe it would be more difficult to respect social distancing during plane travel, but those against the idea point out the long distances involved when travelling by road. For example, a trip from Barcelona to Seville by bus could take more than 10 hours. The only difference would be with Mallorca, who would still need to fly.
La Liga has also floated the possibility of players being isolated in training camps during the period it will take for teams to play the remaining 11 games of the competition.
However, sources have told ESPN that most La Liga players are against the idea, having already spent nearly two months in their homes because of the strict lockdown laws in Spain. — Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal
Dembele banished from Barcelona training
Barcelona players returned to work on Wednesday to be tested for the coronavirus before a return to training over the weekend. The players arrived at the Ciutat Esportiva in staggered groups, although there was one notable absentee: Ousmane Dembele.
The France forward was not provided with a test by La Liga and, under the strict protocol in place, is not allowed to step foot on the club’s training ground for the time being. La Liga have only provided tests for the players registered in the league, and Dembele was deregistered when he got injured earlier this season to make room for the signing of Martin Braithwaite.
Dembele, therefore, is at home continuing with recovery work after undergoing surgery on a ruptured hamstring in February. Barca still don’t know when he will be allowed to return to their training base. And, when he is back, he will have to come in at a time when the first-team squad are not training, per league protocol. — Sam Marsden.
Fabregas talks up Madrid-linked Camavinga
Cesc Fabregas has a lot of contacts in the world of football and his opinion matters to a lot of people. So it’s not surprising that he recently got a call from a scout at an English club to talk about Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga, the 17-year-old French prodigy that Real Madrid are keen on.
Fabregas always has a sharp point of view when it comes to tactics or players. He has been in the game long enough and he is intelligent enough to have a great analysis on things. He faced Camavinga while playing for Monaco this season so has seen the phenomenon from close range.
– The best players under 21: Where does Camavinga feature?
So the scout asked his opinion on the Rennes midfielder and was probably surprised by what came next.
Fabregas said: “You know me, I’m better than all of them, I eat them all!”
They both laughed before Fabregas could be serious again.
“[Camavinga] is so strong physically, fitness-wise. He is good on the ball, disciplined. You would think that he has been playing in Ligue 1 for four or five years, not that he is just 17.” — Julien Laurens