Cristiano Ronaldo and his long-standing agent Jorge Mendes could be set to part company, while Chelsea are still looking to splash some serious cash on a Ukraine international coveted by Arsenal. ESPN's Insider Notebook has the latest.
Ronaldo's relationship with agent under strain
Mendes, whose other clients include Jose Mourinho, Darwin Nunez and Joao Felix, has represented Ronaldo throughout his illustrious career, but the 37-year-old's frustrations date back to a lack of options when seeking a transfer last summer.
After Manchester United failed to qualify for the Champions League, Mendes met with a series of clubs including Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Sporting CP, but a concrete offer from a top European club failed to materialise. Sources said that Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly was interested in exploring a deal for Ronaldo, but then-head coach Thomas Tuchel repeatedly dismissed the idea.
Although a move to Saudi Arabia was a possibility during the summer transfer window, Ronaldo chose to stay at United in the hope either his fortunes would improve or a positive showing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar would tempt a European club into making an offer to sign him. However, Ronaldo found himself marginalised by United boss Erik ten Hag and his contract was eventually terminated by mutual consent in November after his explosive interview with Piers Morgan, before he was benched by Portugal boss Fernando Santos for both their knockout matches at the World Cup.
Despite Ronaldo becoming a free agent, Mendes was once again unable to generate any concrete interest from a side capable of giving the forward a chance to win a sixth Ballon d'Or award or sixth Champions League trophy.
Sources said that Ronaldo's personal manager of almost 20 years, Ricardo Regufe, was heavily involved in the negotiations to sign for Al Nassr. One source suggested that there was no agent officially involved in the deal with Al Nassr, tallying with speculation that the relationship between Ronaldo and Mendes could soon come to an end.
Sources have not been able to corroborate speculation of a formal split, and Mendes' agency, Gestifute, did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by ESPN. -- James Olley.
Chelsea still in talks over Mudryk despite Felix arrival
Arsenal's hopes of having a clear path to complete a deal for Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk following Felix's loan move to Chelsea have been dashed, with sources telling ESPN that the Gunners' London rivals are still attempting to sign him.
Mudryk, 22, is Arsenal's primary target during the January transfer window, but the Premier League leaders have failed to make a breakthrough during talks with Shakhtar. An initial €65 million bid was rejected by the Ukrainian team and an increased second offer has also been insufficient to tempt Shakhtar, who are holding out for a €100m fee.
ESPN reported on Jan. 3 that Chelsea had emerged as a rival to Arsenal for Mudryk's signature, with the club holding talks with Darijo Srna, Shakhtar's director of football, in London last week.
But with Chelsea instead shifting their focus to sign Portugal international Felix from Atletico Madrid on loan until the end of the season, following injuries to Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic, it had appeared that Arsenal would take pole position in the race for Mudryk, who is working on his fitness with Shakhtar at their winter training camp in Turkey.
However, sources have told ESPN that talks over a deal for Mudryk are still ongoing with both Arsenal and Chelsea and that the Felix deal has not altered Chelsea's determination to sign the Ukraine international. -- Mark Ogden.
Don Hutchison and Julien Laurens explain what Mykhailo Mudryk could bring to Arsenal.
De Gea and Fred wait over new Man United contracts
De Gea, 32, signed a new deal in 2019 worth around £375,000 a week, but United are now reluctant to match that salary. The club have not yet triggered a one-year extension in the Spaniard's deal, due to expire in June, and would like to agree on a lower salary before they commit.
Meanwhile, United are making midfielder Fred wait before starting new contract talks, sources have told ESPN. The club have triggered a one-year option in the Brazilian's deal, which will keep him at Old Trafford until June 2024. United have done the same with Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw, but while negotiations have started with the England pair in an effort to tie them to longer contracts, Fred will have to earn a new deal with his performances over the next 18 months.
Fred has slipped down the pecking order under manager Erik ten Hag and, after being picked for the defeats to Brighton and Brentford in August, has since started just two games in the Premier League. The 29-year-old, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018, could face even more competition for his place next season with United looking to add a world-class midfielder ahead of the summer transfer window. -- Rob Dawson.
Barcelona embarrassed as Barca TV goes on strike
Barcelona were left red-faced as their own TV channel had no coverage of Spanish LaLiga games against Espanyol and Atletico Madrid, with workers going on strike this month.
Employees of the station are demanding significant improvements to their working conditions and their salaries, which have been frozen since 2015. Some workers have even had to dip into their own pockets to pay for trips to cover Barca's away games, only to then wait months for the money to be reimbursed.
Barca pay third-party company Telefonica around €7m annually to run the channel, with the Catalan government acting as a mediator in talks between the Spanish telecommunications giant and Barca TV staff. A satisfactory agreement has still not been reached, though, and further action has not been ruled out ahead of more talks on Friday.
The contract with Telefonica expires this summer and it has been suggested Barca could bring the station back in-house under the bracket of Barca Studios, which the club sold a chunk of last summer to fund €150m of new signings in the transfer market. Just under 50% of the production company -- which now also focuses on digital, NFT and Web.3 projects -- was bought by Socios.com and Orpheus Media for a total of €200m. -- Sam Marsden.
Atletico close on Soyuncu and a No. 9 striker
Atletico Madrid are looking to strengthen their squad during the January transfer window by bringing in Leicester City centre-back Caglar Soyuncu, as well as a No. 9 striker to cover the departures of Joao Felix and Matheus Cunha, sources have told ESPN.
The LaLiga club already have an agreement with the 26-year-old Soyuncu for a free transfer when his contract expires next summer, but sources said Atletico would now like to bring his arrival forward by paying a minimal fee to Leicester in the January window.
The Turkey international has made just one Premier League appearance this season -- having been a regular starter for Leicester in their three previous campaigns -- with manager Brendan Rodgers preferring a partnership of Wout Faes and Daniel Amartey in recent weeks.
Atletico would like to move on their error-prone defender Felipe to make room for Soyuncu, but the Brazilian has so far proved reluctant to leave.
Coach Diego Simeone also wants to bring in a centre-forward to compete for a place in the team with Alvaro Morata, following Cunha's move to Wolves and Joao Felix joining Chelsea on loan, and they have stepped up their interest in Barcelona's Memphis Depay. -- Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez.