Defending Premier League champions Manchester City may be facing an overhaul in the centre of midfield at the end of the season and are chasing one of the world’s best young players as a result. ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest.
Man City ready to rival Liverpool, Real Madrid for Bellingham
Manchester City are planning to revamp their midfield in the summer but will wait to learn whether Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan are set to stay before deciding on the level of investment required, sources have told ESPN.
City are interested in signing Jude Bellingham he leaves Borussia Dortmund, but the Premier League champions will face competition from Liverpool and Real Madrid, while the England midfielder will command a transfer fee of over £100 million, plus some hefty add-ons. There is also acceptance they may need to bring in more than one new midfielder if both Silva and Gundogan leave.
Gundogan, 32, has got a contract at the Etihad Stadium until the end of the season and is set to wait before deciding whether to move or extend his stay. Silva, meanwhile, has made no secret of his desire to leave after six years at the club and while Pep Guardiola will not stand in his way if he’s determined to move, City will expect a sizable fee. Silva, 28, is under contract until 2025 and has attracted interest from Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, with the Camp Nou club making plans to land him last summer.
Speaking on Wednesday, City manager Guardiola said of Silva: “He’s a key player, so important on and off the pitch. A guy who can talk, it’s always a nice conversation, always you learn about his humanity, his vision for the club. He’s an incredible player against top sides, incredibly reliable in decisive games he’s always there. Nothing has changed about his future, it belongs to him.”
Bellingham, 19, is considered a key transfer target ahead of next season but it’s not considered a simple deal given his future star status, even though sources have told ESPN that City have a good relationship with Dortmund after signing both Erling Haaland and Manuel Akanji. — Rob Dawson
Al Nassr roll out the green carpet for Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo‘s new club, Al Nassr, are attempting to ensure their stadium has a playing surface worthy of the highest-paid player in world football by hiring the same company used by Barcelona, Real Madrid and the English Football Association to lay a new pitch at the stadium, sources have told ESPN.
The Saudi club ripped up the original grass pitch at the 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park early last month after enlisting SIS Pitches, the England-based football pitch experts, to put down a new grass surface.
During the World Cup, Mrsool Park was used by Al Nassr to stage a fan park with a big screen for supporters to watch Saudi Arabia‘s fixtures during Qatar 2022. As a result, the grass pitch was left in need of repair once the screen, seating and food stalls were removed by organisers.
But when the Riyadh-based team were in advanced talks with Ronaldo over a free transfer move, following the cancellation of his Manchester United contract during the World Cup, Al Nassr decided to search out football’s leading pitch suppliers and hired SIS – who list Barcelona, Real and the English FA as clients, as well Argentine team River Plate and Scottish Premiership giants Celtic and Rangers — to lay a pitch in time for Ronaldo’s arrival.
Ronaldo will have to wait for his first appearance on the new surface at Mrsool Park, however, due to a two-game suspension imposed by the English FA for knocking a phone out of an Everton supporter’s hand still to be served. As a result, his Al Nassr debut is expected to be against Al-Ettifaq at Mrsool Park on Jan 22. — Mark Ogden.
Craig Burley is disappointed Cristiano Ronaldo has “followed the money” and signed with Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr.
Premier League clubs made to wait on Kolo Muani
Randal Kolo Muani is attracting interest from many Premier League clubs, including Man United and Chelsea, sources have told ESPN, but the France striker is keen on finishing the season with Eintracht Frankfurt before assessing his options in the summer.
The German club, who will face Napoli in the Champions League round of 16, want to keep the 24-year-old for the remainder of this campaign before perhaps allowing him to leave in the summer if a suitable offer is received. Their desired transfer fee for the Parisian, who arrived on a free transfer last summer from Nantes, is likely to be up to €90m as he will still have four years left on his contract and, sources have told ESPN, he doesn’t have a release clause.
Kolo Muani’s excellent World Cup, on the back of a strong club season so far (22 games, eight goals and 10 assists in all competitions), have alerted some top clubs. At 24, he is a late bloomer, having not gone through an academy and only making his Ligue 1 debut two years ago.
However, Kolo Muani is happy and settled in the Bundesliga and it would be his preference for his next club to be in the same league. If Frankfurt are back in the Champions League next season he would not be against staying, but Bayern Munich, who are still looking for a long-term replacement for Robert Lewandowski, and Borussia Dortmund, who are yet to commit Youssoufa Moukoko to a contract beyond the end of the season, are also admirers of the forward. — Julien Laurens
… but Thuram could be a target for top clubs
Marcus Thuram is another France international from the Bundesliga to attract big interest from Premier League clubs, sources have told ESPN. And with only six months left on his contract at Borussia Monchengladbach, he is a very interesting proposition as a free agent in the summer, and could even be available in January for a reduced fee.
Premier League clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Newcastle and Aston Villa, as well as Bayern Munich in Germany and AC Milan in Italy, are all following his progress closely. No offers have been made so far for the 25-year-old, and the player would equally be happy to finish the season with Gladbach as move elsewhere.
The son of 1998 World Cup winner Lilian, Marcus impressed at the World Cup with France, especially in the latter stages, and has been excellent in the first half of the season for Gladbach with 10 goals and three assists in 15 league games so far.
Thuram’s move from the left wing to a centre-forward role has paid dividends, and he has been a big part of the club being eighth in the table despite an inconsistent season, but he is ready to take his game to the next level in a club with higher ambitions. — Julien Laurens
Spence set to be shipped out by Tottenham
The 22-year-old right-back signed from Middlesbrough last summer for £19m but has made just five substitute appearances across all competitions, totalling 32 minutes this season. Although Spence is determined to make a success of his move to north London, there is a recognition on all sides that he needs to play more, with Spurs head coach Antonio Conte preferring Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal in that defensive role.
Sources have told ESPN that Spence has attracted interest from at least four Premier League clubs, plus Bayer Leverkusen in Germany among various alternatives. However, no agreement with any club is close as of now and Spence will assess his options now the January window is open.
An injury to either Doherty or Royal could force a rethink but as things stand, Spurs are ready to allow Spence to leave on a temporary basis.
Reports suggesting Royal could leave the club this month are thought to be wide of the mark at this stage and one source with close connections to Tottenham has played down speculation of an imminent move for Sporting CP right-back Pedro Porro, who would cost around £40m. — James Olley
Real Madrid opponents prepared for clash with Nepal trip
The coach of Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey opponents Cacereno admitted their preparations “possibly hadn’t been the best” after the team took a 10,000 mile round-trip to play two friendlies in Nepal, returning just three days before the biggest game in the club’s history.
The round-of-32 match ended in a 1-0 defeat on Tuesday as Rodrygo‘s 69th minute goal booked Madrid’s place in the round of 16 (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.), but it was the fourth-tier club’s unusual prematch itinerary which raised eyebrows.
The first-team squad left their homes in Caceres — a city in the Extremadura region, close to the Spain-Portugal border — on Christmas Day to fly to Nepal to play friendlies against the country’s senior and under-21 sides, arriving back in Spain on New Year’s Eve. The trip, which even included a meeting with Nepal’s president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was organised by the charitable foundation Lumbini Garden under the slogan “Football for Peace” as part of a deal signed with Cacereno last November.
“It was very long,” Cacereno coach Julio Cobos told Relevo when asked to describe the Nepal trip. “We left Madrid at 8 a.m. and arrived in Nepal at 8 a.m. [the next day], with a long stopover in Doha … We went to play two friendlies for peace. It’s for charity, so we were happy to be able to help.”
Lumbini Garden hopes to build the world’s largest Buddha statue — standing at 155 feet tall — on the outskirts of Caceres, as part of what would be the largest Buddhist centre in western Europe.
“The games were good for the club institutionally,” Cobos said. “I understand it will generate income. In a sporting sense, it came at a difficult time.” — Alex Kirkland