Man United connect with top target Thomas Lemar
Despite the current suspension of football across Europe, clubs are hard at work on next season, in particular their recruitment plans. Manchester United are planning and hoping for summer of world-class signings and sources told ESPN they’ve begun meeting with agents. One name stood out: Thomas Lemar, whose representatives met with United in the past week.
The French international wants to leave Atletico Madrid where the style of football is not suited to his qualities and where he is not playing much. Lemar, still only 24, was on United’s shortlist of targets after a stellar 2016-2017 season with Monaco, when he was linked to Liverpool and Arsenal only to end up in Spain for 70m euros a year later. He still has a bit more than three years left on his contract, meaning he won’t be cheap, but United believe his left foot and creativity could be an asset next season.
Man United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and his team will be in contact with a lot of agents and players in the weeks to come, and this is one to keep an eye on. — Julien Laurens
Liverpool began lockdown early
Liverpool’s players were preparing for lockdown prior to their Champions League exit against Atletico Madrid last week, with the club imposing stricter measures on Jurgen Klopp’s squad due to the coronavirus pandemic. Players were told to limit contact solely to teammates and close family members before and after the game, with none allowed to visit the hospitality areas or private boxes at the end of the Round of 16 second leg.
Players not involved in Klopp’s matchday squad were also told to stay away from Anfield to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. — Mark Ogden
Neymar’s impromptu party
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The Paris Saint-Germain players swear they hadn’t planned it. Their 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last-16 second leg on March 11, putting the French champions into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015-16, led to some wonderful scenes of joy, happiness and communion with the fans. Once the Parisian players finally left the Parc des Princes, they all met at Neymar’s huge house in Bougival, a residential city 20 minutes west of the stadium, for an impromptu party. Despite some tension over the conduct and focus of the squad at times this season, PSG sporting director Leonardo and manager Thomas Tuchel were all too happy for the gathering to happen and to let the players enjoy themselves and celebrate.
Sources told ESPN that the music and dancing went on until the early hours of the morning. The squad had a day off the following day, meaning plenty of time to recover from their improvised celebrations. — Julien Laurens
Donnarumma on the move?
It’s probably not a coincidence that Gianluigi Donnarumma posted an Instagram story suggesting he was studying English while on lockdown. The Milan goalkeeper, who has already made nearly 200 appearances for the Rossoneri despite only turning 21 at the end of February, becomes a free agent at the end of next season, and according to multiple sources, it’s going to be extremely difficult for the club to hang on to him.
Donnarumma already earns a whopping £6 million ($6.9 million) per season net, which works out to close to £200,000 ($233,000) a week. That deal was signed in 2017 under the previous ownership group at Milan, and while he’s been playing at a high level, sources familiar with the situation said it’s highly unlikely he’ll get a raise, which is what you normally get when you extend a contract — particularly when your agent is Mino Raiola — in light of the club’s disastrous financial state.
If Donnarumma doesn’t renew his deal, Milan will face a difficult choice: sell when the transfer market opens for a cut-rate fee, or risk losing him for nothing in a year’s time. Hence why Raiola has been shopping him around discreetly, and why he’s letting the world know about his English lessons, the latter somewhat less discreetly.
It would look like another Raiola masterstroke, but as one veteran intermediary told ESPN, it’s not quite that straightforward.
“Everything points to him leaving either this summer or next,” he said. “But the market for keepers is a funny one. Even at his current salary, there are no more than eight or 10 clubs that can afford him. And if he moves, it’s guaranteed he’ll get a further raise. Especially if it’s as a free agent. The very few clubs who can afford him are generally happy with their keepers.” — Gab Marcotti
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Real Madrid vs. Granada. Barcelona vs. Espanyol or Eibar. Atletico Madrid vs. Real Sociedad. It was like any other cup draw in soccer, except the team names were on pieces of paper drawn from a large saucepan, and the host was sitting in his living room wearing a bathrobe.
With Spain officially in a state of lockdown and training sessions on hold, La Liga’s players are having to get creative to keep themselves entertained. This weekend, 19 footballers — one from each La Liga club, with the exception of Real Mallorca after winger Alejandro Pozo dropped out — will be playing FIFA 20 online in a tournament organised by content creator Ibai Llanos and now officially backed by La Liga.
Man United’s scouting: character matters
Manchester United now place as much importance on a prospective signing’s personality as his talent, with sources telling ESPN that one of the key criteria in every scouting report is now the player’s character. What may seem like a statement of the obvious only dates back to the appointment of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, with the Norwegian and his staff unhappy with the attitude of some of the players inherited from Jose Mourinho.
Sources told ESPN that too many players were focused primarily on themselves rather than the team, with one high-profile member of the squad unable to accept that he was not regarded as the biggest star at Old Trafford.
Since Solskjaer’s arrival, United have signed Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes, with each player regarded by Solskjaer as having the required mentality to shine at Old Trafford. Maguire and Fernandes, in particular, have impressed with their selflessness and also the demands they have placed on their teammates.
Solskjaer is determined to add players of similar quality, on and off the pitch, this summer, with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho a leading target. — Mark Ogden