Manchester United’s pursuit of Jadon Sancho headlines this week’s ESPN’s Insider Notebook. Plus: The latest gossip from the grapevine ahead of the transfer window closing on Monday.
Jump to: Inside Barca’s battle with Bayern for Dest | Barca avoid Messi situation with Fati | Mourinho’s Sorloth smokescreen | City beat United to Dias | Atletico’s push for Cavani | Johnson wants European stay ahead of MLS
Sancho saga takes twist as United consider Dembele, Ocampos
Manchester United‘s pursuit of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund has taken another twist as the club are now progressing with Barcelona‘s Ousmane Dembele as a Plan B, sources told ESPN, and talks between the two clubs are “going well.”
Dembele, who cost Barcelona an initial €105 million when he joined from Dortmund in 2017, was reluctant at first to leave the Catalan giants but conversations with Paul Pogba have convinced him to join United, sources added. Pogba sold the idea of moving to United to his friend and the fact that they would play together at Old Trafford. Sources told ESPN Dembele is now on board and negotiations between the two clubs have accelerated.
Sources said United plan to pay around €50m for Dembele but Barcelona are holding out for more. There is, sources added, optimism on both sides that an agreement can be found before Monday night. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is pushing for a loan deal but Barcelona want to sell, aware that Woodward and United are determined to sign a winger in the final days of the window.
Dembele is not the only name in the frame, though, if United cannot seal a deal for Sancho. Sources told ESPN that Sevilla forward Lucas Ocampos has emerged as another option as the clock ticks down to the window closing. Representatives from United have made extensive checks as to Ocampos’ skill-set, temperament and situation with Sevilla, whom he joined in July 2019 from Ligue 1 side Marseille. Sources told ESPN Sevilla are willing to part with Ocampos, who scored 17 goals in all competitions for the Europa League winners last season, for around €40m.
The 26-year-old Argentina international appears well-suited to the physical nature of the Premier League, standing at 6-foot-2, and sources told ESPN that United have noted his flexibility as he can play multiple roles across the forward line. Solskjaer looked at left-back Sergio Reguilon during Sevilla’s run to Europa League glory while he was also alerted to Ocampos during the mini-tournament in Germany. United ruled out Reguilon due to Real Madrid insisting on a buy-back clause in the agreement, sources said, and the player eventually signed for Tottenham.
United have become frustrated at the pace of negotiations over Sancho, believing they have been slowed down because of Dortmund’s insistence talks are conducted through a third party. Despite the Bundesliga club’s private claims Sancho will not be sold before Monday, United have not given up hope. Sources told ESPN Dortmund have never relayed that message directly to United, leading them to believe the door is still open for a move.
In a further example of how frantic United’s transfer window will be as it comes to a close, Solskjaer is prepared to sell United winger Daniel James to fund a late move for Sancho, told ESPN, but the Old Trafford manager has yet to convince the club’s hierarchy of the merits of a potential £25m sale of the Wales international. — Julien Laurens, Rob Dawson and Mark Ogden
How Barcelona beat Bayern in heated Dest transfer battle
Sergino Dest snubbed Bayern Munich for Barcelona as the move offers him the chance to follow in his idol Dani Alves’ footsteps, sources close to the deal told ESPN, in a transfer battle that finally ended in the La Liga side’s favour.
Champions League winners Bayern appeared to be favourites to sign USMNT star Dest two weeks ago, with the club locked in discussions with Ajax. But sources told ESPN they failed to match the asking price of €21m plus a potential €5m in add-ons.
Bayern were originally the only club in the race, until Barcelona met Ajax’s asking price as they generated money from the sale of Nelson Semedo to Wolves. Sources told ESPN the good relationship between Ajax director of football Marc Overmars and Barcelona helped speed up the deal — Barcelona signed Frenkie de Jong from Ajax last summer — and once Barcelona had firmed up their interest in Dest, the 19-year-old had his heart set on a move to Camp Nou.
The drama did not stop there, though, as once Barca agreed a deal, Bundesliga giants Bayern came back in with an improved offer to tempt Dest into joining. But he was impressed by Barcelona’s commitment to the deal and did not want to let the opportunity pass him by.
Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman is a long-standing admirer of Dest and tried to persuade him to declare for the Netherlands during his tenure as coach of the national team. Barca did make a move for Norwich’s Max Aarons when the Dest deal was in the balance, as their former sporting director Eric Abidal had left glowing reports about him, but Dest was Koeman’s No.1 choice to bolster Barcelona’s right-back position.
The Koeman connection was important to Dest. Koeman knows the Ajax way, and his assistant at Barcelona is former Ajax coach Alfred Shreuder, who Dest knows well. The player also knows De Jong from their days at Ajax and Konrad de la Fuente from USMNT duties.
Dest met some of his new teammates on Thursday who weren’t involved in their trip to Celta Vigo, and then took in some of Barcelona’s rich history as he had a quick tour of the Camp Nou with his father, Kenneth Dest, and agent, Joes Blakborn.
He will wear the No. 2 shirt at Camp Nou — the shirt worn by Alves, whom he has modelled much of his right-back play on. Sources told ESPN Dest originally wanted No.28, the shirt he wore at Ajax, but rules in Spain prohibit first team players wearing a number over No. 25 in the senior squad, so Dest opted for No. 2. — Tom Hamilton
Jurgen Klinsmann cannot heap enough praise on Sergino Dest as he’s set to join Barcelona from Ajax.
Barca to avoid Messi situation with Fati
Ansu, 17, is under contract until 2022 but Barca have already paid him a lump sum that enables them to extend his terms until 2024 whenever they deem fit.
The Spain international has been targeted by a number of clubs, including Manchester United, since breaking on to the scene last season and speculation surrounding his future has increased since Jorge Mendes became his agent in August.
There was confusion this week when several reports in Spain claimed Mendes would have the power to veto any extension to Ansu’s contract, with the possibility of the player leaving for free in 2022. Parallels were drawn with Messi’s push to leave the club this summer. Messi thought he could go for free and it led to a battle over the interpretation of a clause in his contract. He eventually shied away from a legal battle and stayed.
However, sources at Barca insist there will be no repeat with Ansu, who doesn’t turn 18 until the end of the month and started the season with two goals in the win over Villarreal, before following that up with another strike in the victory at Celta Vigo on Thursday.
The contract, which Ansu signed in 2019 when he was still advised by Messi’s brother, Rodrigo, makes clear the club are free to extend the contract having already paid for that option. They have added similar clauses to other young players’ deals in the past.
That said, sources add that another new deal for Ansu, whose release clause rose to €400m when he was officially promoted to the first team last week, is not far away, although there are no immediate plans to start talks with Mendes. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Ale Moreno breaks down Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho’s play in their 3-0 win vs. Celta Vigo.
Mourinho used Sorloth as a smokescreen for Vinicius
Managers often tire of news conference questions about potential transfer targets, but Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho welcomed the opportunity to stoke rumours of his interest in striker Alexander Sorloth, as it helped play a part in his pursuit of Benfica‘s Carlos Vinicius.
Spurs made little secret of their desire to find a back-up to Harry Kane in the transfer window and that admission led to the club being linked with more than 20 different forwards.
Trabzonspor president, Ahmet Agaoglu, fuelled rumours of Sorloth moving to north London by claiming “we are meeting with Red Bull Leipzig and Tottenham” and when those quotes were put to Mourinho, the Tottenham manager sensed an opportunity.
“If the president of Trabzonspor said that, I’m not going to say that it’s not true,” Mourinho said.
His response prompted some outlets to speculate Tottenham were actively chasing Sorloth, but sources told ESPN that Spurs never seriously considered an offer for the 24-year-old. Mourinho used the chance to create a smokescreen while he pursued other options.
Sorloth has since joined Leipzig and Spurs are closing in on the signing of Vinicius. Tottenham’s pursuit of a striker has been a fraught process but the Sorloth talk at least provided a few days of cover to look elsewhere.
Tottenham are set to complete a loan move for Vinicius which will also include an option to make the deal permanent for around £36m, sources told ESPN. — James Olley
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens explain the details of Carlos Vinicius’ proposed transfer to Tottenham.
City beat European heavyweights, including rivals United, to Dias
United and Juventus have both monitored Dias for more than a year while sources told ESPN that Arsenal had a £60m bid turned down last summer.
Dias had a release clause in his contract set at £71m but City were able to sign the 23-year-old defender for £64.3m with Nicolas Otamendi going the other way for £13.7m in a separate deal.
Sources told ESPN that City were also interested in Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Gimenez before landing Dias but were put off by the price tags set by Napoli and Atletico Madrid respectively. Aside from that, there were also concerns about Koulibaly’s age — he turned 29 in June — and Gimenez’s injury record. — Rob Dawson
Julien Laurens breaks down the complications involved in Ruben Dias’ transfer from Benfica to Man City.
Atletico’s hope for Cavani deal
Costa — while still valued by teammates and coaching staff for the character he brings to the team — has largely been a flop since returning to Madrid from Chelsea in 2018, scoring just 11 league goals in two-and-a-half seasons. He’s willing to go if the right destination can be found.
“I’ve heard they wanted to sell me and I’ve said the club can decide my future,” Costa said last Sunday and agent Jorge Mendes has been looking for options.
Atletico would like to move on Costa to free up space on their wage bill to sign Cavani, who was close to joining from Paris Saint-Germain in January and has since been offered to them, as well as Real Madrid and Manchester United, as a free agent.
Time is running out, though, and the club believe it will be difficult to successfully negotiate both transfers, each depending on the other, before the window closes. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
Mark Ogden feels free agent Edinson Cavani would be perfect for Man United as he is an upgrade on Odion Ighalo.
Johnson not keen on MLS yet
Former U.S. international Fabian Johnson continues to explore opportunities in the Bundesliga, and likely wouldn’t consider an MLS offer until the winter, according to a source close to the player.
Johnson, 32, has yet to sign for a new club after his contract with Borussia Monchengladbach expired at the end of last season. There have been reports claiming interest from MLS sides, with FC Cincinnati among those mentioned. But at present, Johnson’s preference is to remain in Europe. The source added that Johnson is open to opportunities with European clubs outside of Germany.
A versatile player capable of playing in midfield or defence, as well as on either wing, Johnson began his professional career with 1860 Munich in 2006 before joining Wolfsburg and later Hoffenheim. He had been with Gladbach since 2014, making over 140 league and cup appearances, scoring 15 goals.
After representing Germany at youth level, the Munich native switched to represent the U.S., making 57 appearances and scoring two goals.
He was also part of the U.S. squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He last appeared for the U.S. in a World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica in 2017. — Jeff Carlisle