Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s interest in rising MLS and USMNT talent headlines this week’s ESPN’s Insider Notebook. PLUS: Chelsea’s squad overhaul continues.
Jump to: Chelsea maintain Rice interest | Kante edges to exit door | Solskjaer keeping faith with Maguire | Man Utd frustrated as clubs inflate transfer fees | Wenger rewrites history
MLS, USMNT talent on Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s radar
With El Clasico a week away, Barcelona and Real Madrid are already battling off the field, with a cluster of U.S. prospects and established talent on both La Liga clubs’ radars, sources told ESPN.
Real Madrid are tracking the progress of Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, club sources confirmed, with the club aware of his potential as a gifted playmaker, and off the pitch as a marketable USMNT star-in-waiting. Reyna, 17, has caught the eye for Dortmund this season, recording a hat trick of assists in a 4-0 Bundesliga win over Freiburg earlier this month.
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– Tom Hamilton: Captain America’s son making waves at Dortmund
Sources said Madrid are actively monitoring Reyna — and will watch how he develops for club and country over the 2020-21 season — and the same goes for a large number of talented youngsters of the same age as part of the club’s extensive scouting department.
Madrid already have Martin Odegaard lined up as a long-term attacking midfield replacement for veteran Luka Modric, 35, as well as Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo in wide positions — and 18-year-old Brazilian Reiner, who joined Reyna at Dortmund this summer on a two-year loan deal.
While Madrid are casting an eye over Reyna, Barcelona are stepping up their scouting operation in the U.S. and Canada, with Brenden Aaronson, Gianluca Busio and Cade Cowell all under consideration, sources said.
Barca have closely followed the North American market for several years. In 2018 they signed Ballou Tabla from Montreal Impact, although he returned to the Canadian side permanently earlier this year. Since signing Ballou, Barca have extended their presence in North America and have received glowing reports on a number of young players making their name in MLS.
Aaronson, 19, is an attacking midfielder who completed a move to FC Salzburg from Philadelphia Union on Friday. He has already been capped by the USMNT and was named in the Best XI at the MLS is Back Tournament earlier this year. Busio, 18, is another player who has caught the eye. The Sporting Kansas City forward, who is of Italian descent, has already made 44 appearances in MLS and has been capped by the USMNT at youth level. Cowell, at 17, is the youngest player on Barca’s radar. The California-born forward made his MLS debut for the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this year and scored his first goal for the club in a 3-2 loss against the LA Galaxy in August.
All three are being closely followed by Barca as they contemplate further adding to a growing American contingent at the club. They completed a deal worth up to €26 million for USMNT right-back Sergino Dest earlier this month, while U.S under-20 international Konrad de la Fuente has been regularly training with the first team. Elsewhere, there are two talented Americans in the club’s U15 team: goalkeeper Diego Kochen and midfielder Adrian Simon Gill.
Aside from the talent emerging in the U.S and Canada, Barca have also targeted America as a key market for growth on a marketing and sponsorship level. They regularly play games there in the summer as part of the International Champions trophy and sources say they are already seeing the benefits of having Dest and De la Fuente at the club. — Moises Llorens, Sam Marsden, Rodrigo Faez and Alex Kirkland
Chelsea plotting Rice move
Chelsea will look to sign Declan Rice in January if West Ham show signs of softening their stance in negotiations, sources told ESPN.
ESPN reported on July 7 that the Hammers were determined to keep Rice this summer despite the Blues registering their interest in him, and that position never changed throughout the summer window. Chelsea chose not to make any formal bid for Rice, 21, with West Ham demanding around £80m. They instead opted to commit £220m on strengthening other areas of their squad.
However, sources said Rice remains a top target for Frank Lampard and Chelsea would be willing to make a move in January if conditions allow. A deal is more likely next summer but West Ham’s financial concerns are complicated. They are about to commit around £30m to sign Said Benrahma from Championship side Brentford but they are also exploring short-term funding options. Rice has a contract until 2024 and the player has not agitated to leave but the club may choose to cash in should wider circumstances create fresh pressures.
Equally, Lampard will need to make space in his squad. Rice is used by West Ham and England as a defensive midfielder, but Chelsea are attracted by his versatility to play at centre-back.
The Blues kept midfielders Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, in addition to centre-backs Fikayo Tomori and Antonio Rudiger, in the transfer window. At least one of those players would have to leave before Rice could be acquired but regardless, they remain actively on the case. — James Olley
ESPN FC’s Alejandro Moreno says Chelsea covered all their weaknesses in the summer transfer window.
… as Kante edges to exit door
What does the future hold for Kante? The France international has over two years left on his contract at Chelsea but there are indications that this could be his last season at the club. While he is happy in London and playing in the Premier League, the 29-year-old does not feel he is part of the future plans at Stamford Bridge, sources have told ESPN.
Kante is also aware of aforementioned rumoured arrival of Rice. It was clear to Kante that Chelsea were to bring back former academy product Rice, who also counts Mason Mount as his best friend.
It almost felt at times that Chelsea were waiting for an offer for Kante to let him go and replace him with Rice. Inter Milan never bid for the Frenchman and as such, he remains happy to stay at Chelsea. But even in their communication, the London club and Lampard were never too clear about Kante.
Kante also didn’t take well that Lampard denied his request to take a day off training to attend one of his best friends’ wedding. Chelsea deny the story but French sources have confirmed it to ESPN — while Kante himself could have denied it while on international duty with Les Bleus last week but chose not to.
As amicable as the former Leicester City star is, he also has a strong personality. However, he will give his absolute best all season for Lampard and Chelsea as he has done since arriving in 2016. But next summer might be a totally different dynamic around him than in comparison to the last transfer window. — Julien Laurens
Gab Marcotti outlines the impact N’Golo Kante has on the pitch for Chelsea and explains why he could be up for sale.
Solskjaer to keep faith with Maguire
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to keep faith with captain Harry Maguire despite the defender’s difficult start to the season, sources told ESPN.
Maguire has endured a nightmare start to the campaign, including picking up a red card in England’s 1-0 defeat to Denmark on Wednesday, following his arrest while on holiday in Greece this summer.
Sources said that Solskjaer has had concerns about the impact the ongoing legal proceedings in Greece have had on Maguire, but the United boss is keen to keep picking his captain, including for the trip to Newcastle on Saturday. United have shipped 11 goals in three Premier League games and Solskjaer’s main issue is settling on a partner for Maguire rather than coming up with a new combination at the back, though Sevilla’s Jules Kounde has been added to their list of targets.
Victor Lindelof was first choice last season but was dropped for the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham. Eric Bailly started against Spurs but there are concerns over his injury record, and that of Axel Tuanzebe. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are lower down the pecking order after both were left out of the Champions League squad.
Solskjaer checked on Maguire when he returned to Carrington on Thursday. Sources said he will trust Maguire to decide whether he is ready to play against Newcastle but fully expects to pick the 27-year-old at St James’ Park. — Rob Dawson
Steve Nicol chimes in on Harry Maguire’s erratic form for club and country, but doesn’t think he should be dropped.
Man United frustrated as clubs ramp up prices
Bournemouth’s negotiations with West Ham for striker Josh King have caused a stir at Manchester United, sources told ESPN.
– Dawson: United fans expect the worst after transfer window
Bournemouth are quoting West Ham in the region of £18m to sign King, despite telling United they valued the Norwegian at close to £50m in January. Solskjaer was keen to bring in King last season when Marcus Rashford suffered a back injury, but after being put off by the price tag, turned his attention to Odion Ighalo,
United are pointing to the disparity over King as evidence of the difficulties they believe they face in the transfer market. Sources told ESPN that in January, analysts relayed to Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward that King’s market value was around £15m.
They were prepared to go higher given their need for a striker but were shocked when Bournemouth asked for a fee that would have made King, a former Old Trafford academy graduate, the fifth most expensive player in the club’s history despite having just 18 months left on his contract. — Rob Dawson
Mark Ogden blasts Paul Pogba’s recent comments about wanting to play for Real Madrid one day.
Wenger rewrites history a little
The release of Arsene Wenger’s autobiography was a reminder of how much his oratory and charm are missed with his weekly Arsenal news conferences a thing of the past. However, it also provided examples of the 70-year-old’s hazy memory which sometimes had journalists at London Colney fact-checking the detail of whichever eloquent argument he was making at the time.
– Wenger’s book: The best bits
Few managers last 22 years in one job, so Wenger’s sheer longevity affords him a degree of latitude. But in defending the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United and his archrival Sir Alex Ferguson in 2012, the Frenchman wrote: “After three of the four years that he signed for, he was injured and Ferguson sold him to the Turkish club Fenerbahce.”
Yet when Van Persie left Old Trafford in 2015, Ferguson had been retired for two seasons, United had already hired and sacked David Moyes with Louis van Gaal then in charge.
Similarly, in explaining Arsenal’s £40,000,001 offer for Luis Suarez at Liverpool, Wenger cites the Gunners’ pursuit taking place in 2014, adding they failed in part because “there was already an offer from Barca on the horizon.”
Arsenal’s bid actually came a year earlier. Suarez moved to Barcelona in 2014. — James Olley