Manchester United transfer news features in this week's ESPN's Insider Notebook. Plus: Why Arsenal fans had to wait so long for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's contract renewal.
Jump to: Arsenal fans' wait for Aubameyang | Real Madrid plot project Mbappe | Suarez rejected record MLS payday | La Liga's football gaffe a pain for fans | Man City won't overpay for key targets | COVID-19 disrupts 2021-22 season as PL Trophy cancelled
Twitter buzz over transfers a pain for Man United
Manchester United are growing increasingly frustrated at the social media frenzy around their transfer activity and believe it is creating a cloud of negativity ahead of their start to the new Premier League season, sources told ESPN.
Sources told ESPN that while United held preliminary talks with representatives of both players, negotiations never went beyond that. Sources also said the club are surprised at posts online from fans suggesting United "missed out" on the pair.
United ruled out Reguilon due to Real Madrid insisting on a buy-back clause in the agreement, sources said, while Bale was only considered an alternative for primary target Jadon Sancho. United believe their interest was exaggerated by those working on Bale's future because of Real Madrid's desperation to move the Wales international on.
With social media playing an increasingly bigger role in how footballers and clubs market themselves, United's interest in how their transfer dealings are discussed by fans and the media became apparent during a conference call with investors in February.
"Despite being linked in the media to 111 players in January, our acquisition of just one of them -- Bruno Fernandes -- is an important step, demonstrating our commitment to adding experienced, world-class recruits to the exciting crop of academy graduates that are at the heart of this developing team," executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said.
Referring to the surprise move to sign Odion Ighalo on loan on Feb. 1, managing director Richard Arnold also pointed out how United monitored activity on Twitter.
"He [Ighalo] was the top trend worldwide on Twitter," Arnold said, adding the social media numbers posted put Ighalo ahead of discussions about Britain leaving the European Union and the U.S. impeachment process.
The online whirlwind around transfers, coupled with clubs and agents using United's name to create a stir around a player, has, the club believe, led to their recruitment team coming under a skewed spotlight. Woodward's ability to broker deals, particularly, has come under scrutiny, with a plane carrying a banner labelling him a "specialist in failure" before Manchester United's match against Burnley in September 2018.
While fans are desperate for positive news on transfers, United have hit an impasse over Borussia Dortmund's reluctance to negotiate their £108 million price tag for Sancho. Sources close to the discussions insist United have been consistent in their message to the German club that a fee in excess of £100m is "unrealistic" during a transfer window in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of their opening Premier League match at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, United have only been able to make one major signing so far in the transfer window -- Donny van de Beek from Ajax for £40m -- while Chelsea have spent over £200m on new recruits. -- Rob Dawson
Arsenal's long wait for Aubameyang news
Arsenal finally confirmed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's new three-year contract this week, but the lengthy delay in an official announcement was not down to any glitch in negotiations.
Sources told ESPN there were lengthy internal conversations at the club about how to make the news public, with the club's new head of brand marketing, Adam Gardiner, keen to shake things up following their recent off-field restructure. As part of an overhaul that included Mikel Arteta's change in job title to first-team manager, 55 non-playing staff redundancies, the departure of head of football Raul Sanllehi and a number of long-serving scouts, the club also made Vinai Venkatesham chief executive.
- The Toe Poke: Aubameyang deal lights up Twitter
Gardiner, who has only been in the new job a few months, wanted Arsenal to move away from the conventional pre-recorded video and interview in favour of a live streamed event with the player himself. In the end, the club did both: Aubameyang hosted an Instagram live in which he spoke with Ian Wright and Arsenal teammate Alexandre Lacazette before the club released a video in which Aubameyang outlined how he wants to become a legend in north London.
Aubameyang agreed his deal -- worth £250,000-a-week plus bonuses -- early in August, but sources told ESPN he only signed the contract last Friday. The club then waited until Tuesday to make an announcement as the finishing touches to their release across various platforms was finalised.
Another factor in the timing of the announcement was Arteta's demand for full focus on Arsenal's preseason preparations. Arteta has known for some time that Aubameyang would stay at the club and expressed his preference for the players not to engage in off-field activities.
Gone are the days of a simple statement on the club website. -- James Olley
Project Mbappe: Real Madrid tread carefully ahead of 2021 mega deal
Real Madrid are laying the groundwork for a move for Kylian Mbappe next summer, sources told ESPN, but the club are proceeding with caution as they don't want to anger Paris Saint-Germain.
Mbappe's PSG contract expires in June 2022 and no progress has been made by sporting director Leonardo in agreeing an extension.
Madrid are following negotiations closely, but club sources say they won't get involved -- and risk angering PSG -- until Mbappe takes a definitive position on his future. If he decides not to extend, Madrid will consider opening talks next year, taking advantage of the fact that PSG would not want to lose Mbappe for free in 2022. Any approach would be carefully presented as going direct to the club, with president Florentino Perez keen to maintain his strong relationship with PSG counterpart Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Mbappe has come close to joining Madrid on multiple occasions. He had a trial with them aged 13 in December 2012 at the request of then-sporting director Zinedine Zidane, posing for a photo with childhood idol Cristiano Ronaldo before eventually signing for Monaco. Five years later at the Ligue 1 club, Mbappe was close to joining Real again before opting for Monaco's rivals PSG in a deal worth €180m, plus bonuses.
After a quiet summer transfer window this year, Madrid want to significantly strengthen the squad in 2021 and Mbappe is their top target. Sources told ESPN the dressing room would welcome his arrival, with senior players recognising the need to bring in a goal-scoring forward since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in 2018. -- Alex Kirkland and Rodri Faez
Suarez turns down Inter Miami, rejects biggest MLS payday ever
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez turned down an offer from Inter Miami this summer that would have seen him become Major League Soccer's highest-paid player of all-time, sources told ESPN.
Suarez, 33, has been told he can leave Camp Nou and was offered a way out by Miami. The franchise, co-owned by David Beckham, were prepared to offer a four-year deal with a salary worth around €8 million net annually, surpassing the all-time salary record held by Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he banked $7.2m a year while at LA Galaxy.
ESPN first revealed earlier this summer that Suarez was a target for Miami. Former Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani had also been an option before Miami finally agreed a deal to sign Gonzalo Higuain.
Sources told ESPN that Suarez does maintain an interest in playing in MLS before retiring, but that he didn't feel the timing was right at the moment. If he does end up leaving Barca -- with the club threatening to banish him to the stands if he stays -- he would like to play for a top European side.
Suarez has flown to Italy to take an exam that would see him granted Italian citizenship ahead of a proposed move to Juventus, multiple sources told ESPN. -- Moises Llorens
La Liga's "football" stunt a pain for fans
Sportswear giant Puma and La Liga were left red-faced this week after a marketing campaign in Madrid intended to promote the new match balls for 2020-21 had to be taken down over public safety concerns.
The stunt saw spherical concrete bollards around three famous squares -- Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Callao -- redesigned into extra-large footballs in what La Liga described as "a creative and transgressive guerrilla action."
The transformation was so successful that passers-by kicked them, thinking they were real, only to get a nasty and painful shock when they connected with the concrete. The balls, which were meant to coincide with the first weekend of the new season, were withdrawn after three days following complaints from the public.
"You're absolutely right," Madrid vice-mayor Begona Villacis told one resident who pointed out the confusion. "We've just removed them." -- Alex Kirkland
Man City won't overpay for Koulibaly, Gimenez
After successfully appealing their Champions League ban over alleged financial fair play irregularities, Manchester City have been battling back against a belief held by some clubs and agents that they are prepared to go on a major spending spree in the transfer market, sources told ESPN.
City are interested in adding another centre-back to Pep Guardiola's squad before the transfer deadline, but have baulked at the fees quoted for Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez. Koulibaly is available for around £80m, while Atletico point to Gimenez's £120m release clause when any interested club make contact.
City walked away from deals for Alexis Sanchez and Harry Maguire because they were not prepared to pay the money Manchester United offered. Sanchez left Arsenal for United in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan in January 2018, earning around £350,000-a-week before bonuses. Maguire left Leicester for Old Trafford for £80m last summer.
Sources told ESPN City will stop negotiating again if prices do not come down before the window closes on Oct. 5.
City, who begin their season with a trip to Wolves on Monday, have signed defender Nathan Ake and midfielder Ferran Torres this summer for a combined fee of around £60m. -- Rob Dawson
COVID-19 disrupts 2021-22 with Asia Trophy cancelled
The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on football has now had a knock-on effect on the 2021-22 season, with the Premier League forced to cancel plans to stage the Premier League Asia Trophy next summer.
The competition, held every two years since 2003, has focused heavily on China in recent years, with six of the last seven editions of the competition staged on the Chinese mainland or in Hong Kong.
Wolves won the 2019 competition, which was hosted in Shanghai and Nanjing, and four Premier League teams were due to return to Asia next July for the 2021 tournament.
But Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has confirmed that the trophy will be cancelled due to the pandemic preventing the necessary pre-planning for the event.
"I don't think we will be having one [Asia Trophy] next summer," Masters said. "Having been centrally involved in organising previous Asia Trophies, it is an enormous undertaking and to make it happen, it requires an enormous amount of forward planning, which we just haven't been able to get done."
Despite the loss of the tournament, Masters says that the financial impact will not be significant.
"Not really," he said. "It is largely a promotional exercise. There are all sorts of aspects to it, but it won't have a financial impact [by not having one next summer.]" -- Mark Ogden