Welcome to our European football notebook, featuring contributions from ESPN writers across the continent. In this first edition, we look at why signing Jadon Sancho would mean so much for Man United, how the coronavirus could impact upcoming England friendlies, Kylian Mbappe‘s Olympic dream and more.
Jump to: Sancho is a test for Man United | PSG also want Sancho | Haaland almost joined Everton | Coronavirus could affect England games | Allegri’s assistant stays busy | Olympics unlikely for Mbappe | Wolves stars in demand | Henderson set for another loan
What Sancho symbolises for Man United
Manchester United have emerged as front-runners to sign Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, but their pursuit of the 19-year-old is being viewed within the game as a test of the club’s ability to get a big deal done, especially if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Sources have told ESPN that Dortmund are resigned to losing the England international after this season, with the German outfit already lining up Birmingham City’s 16-year-old sensation Jude Bellingham as Sancho’s replacement. United had attempted to sign Bellingham in January before focusing all efforts on completing a deal for Bruno Fernandes.
But while Dortmund are ready to cash in on Sancho — an £8 million signing from Manchester City in August 2017 — if a club is willing to pay in excess of £100m, sources have told ESPN that United have become notorious for dragging their feet in negotiations and that they risk losing out to a rival unless they, according to one, “get their act together quickly.”
Last year’s signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire became protracted sagas due to United haggling over fees with Crystal Palace and Leicester, respectively, while there was frustration behind the scenes at Old Trafford over the length of time it took to complete a deal for Fernandes in January.
Sources have also told ESPN that Dortmund’s success in signing Erling Haaland was due in part to United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and contract negotiator Matt Judge taking too long to allow the club’s football staff to speak to the player and sell their vision of what he could do for the team on the pitch.
Premier League champions-elect Liverpool are also keen on Sancho, but the prospect of regular football at Old Trafford, rather than battling for a place at Anfield, is understood to be a key factor. United’s position, though, will be significantly weakened if they cannot offer Champions League football.
Not only would the club miss out on prize money in excess of £80m by failing to qualify, but they would be unable to sell themselves as a destination capable of providing top players with the platform of playing against Europe’s elite.
There is confidence at United that a top-four finish can be achieved and that top targets will be landed, but many outsiders remain sceptical of their ability to move quickly and decisively in the transfer market. — Mark Ogden
PSG also in the mix for Sancho
Paris Saint-Germain are getting ready for a busy summer, with Barcelona set to come back for Neymar and Real Madrid moving for Kylian Mbappe. Both players are under contract with the French champions, but sources have told ESPN that sporting director Leonardo has identified Jadon Sancho as a potential signing.
PSG believe that their project, as well as financial power, can convince Sancho to move to France. The transfer fee and wages would not be an issue and the club’s hierarchy think the young England international can continue to develop in the French capital. — Julien Laurens
How Haaland almost joined Everton
Talking of Erling Haaland, there is no bigger sensation in football than the Norwegian teenager, but while Manchester United must rue the 19-year-old slipping through their net, another Premier League club could have snapped him up for just €10m two years ago.
Everton had the then-17-year-old forward on trial at the club’s Finch Farm training ground in 2018. But when Haaland’s Norwegian club Molde wanted €10m, Everton instead opted to back the potential of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has since established himself as a first-team regular. — Mark Ogden
Coronavirus puts England friendlies in doubt
The English Football Association has placed the fate of the national team’s friendly against Italy at Wembley, scheduled for March 27, in the hands of the UK government.
England’s Euro 2020 warm-up against Roberto Mancini’s side is set to go ahead, despite the weekend decision of the Italian government to place up to 16 million people in the Lombardy region under quarantine until April 3 due to the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
The UK Foreign Office is advising against “all but essential travel” to Italy, which is the worst-affected part of Europe, and is asking any Britons who have visited the area to self-quarantine.
Despite the strict travel advice, however, the FA has not yet been told to cancel the Italy friendly. Sources have told ESPN that it — and the Wembley clash against Denmark four days later — are in doubt, but the final decision rests with the government’s official advice. — Mark Ogden
While Allegri relaxes, his assistant stays busy
Max Allegri has been biding his time, waiting for opportunities after leaving Juventus at the end of last season. After five seasons, in which he won five league titles, four Italian cups and reached two Champions League finals, there is a finite number of clubs he would even consider.
Sources familiar with his thinking say Allegri does not want to be seen as taking a “step down,” which means the list of potential destinations is not long: Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and the traditional top six in England. Many of those clubs, however, have only recently appointed a new manager or are unlikely to have a job opening this summer.
Things can change quickly in football, though, which may be why his longtime assistant Aldo Dolcetti has spent much of this season in England, where his son Lorenzo is a performance analyst at Southampton. Dolcetti has been traveling around, visiting various clubs and improving his English — all skills that will be handy should Allegri head to the Premier League. — Gabriele Marcotti
No Olympics for Mbappe
At 21, Kylian Mbappe is eligible for the France Under-23 team and had dreams of playing at the Olympics with many of his friends, even though the tournament begins just 11 days after the final of Euro 2020.
However, for now, his hopes have been dashed. Sources told ESPN that PSG notified the national federation that they will not release any of their French players for the competition, which takes place outside FIFA dates. FA president Noel Le Graet has not given up, but Mbappe in Tokyo looks unlikely. — Julien Laurens
Might Wolves be victims of their own success?
Wolves are riding the crest of a wave, chasing Champions League qualification in the Premier League and Europa League, but their success under Nuno Espirito Santo has left the club vulnerable to a raid on their squad by Europe’s biggest clubs.
Sources have told ESPN that Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves are being eyed for moves to major clubs in Spain, France and England and that Wolves face a battle persuading them to stay.
Barcelona and Manchester City have scouted Traore this season, while Arsenal and Tottenham are interested in Mexico striker Jimenez. Meanwhile, Neves, Jota and full-back/midfielder Matt Doherty have also raised their profile during Wolves’ rise from the Championship to the Champions League shake-up.
While the club has money to resist from a financial point of view, one source told ESPN that even the prospect of Champions League football at Molineux will not be enough to keep some players because “you have to take a big opportunity when it comes.” — Mark Ogden
Another loan likely for Henderson
Manchester United’s decision to hand third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant a one-year contract extension has increased the likelihood of Dean Henderson spending another season on loan away from Old Trafford.
The 22-year-old has emerged as a contender for Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020, following a hugely impressive Premier League campaign with Sheffield United, and sources have told ESPN that the 22-year-old is regarded by United as a “certainty” to become a top-level keeper.
But while Henderson has the self-confidence to match that belief, there is also acceptance at United that he will not benefit from — nor relish — a season as David De Gea‘s understudy. Instead, it is viewed that the best way to keep him happy and under the club’s control will be to loan him out for the sixth time since he moved to Old Trafford in 2015. — Mark Ogden