Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona eye Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz


The summer transfer window was unlike any other; see all the major deals and check out how we graded the biggest signings. And just because the window is shut until January, that doesn’t mean the rumours won’t keep coming. Here’s the latest gossip and speculation.

TOP STORY: Chelsea, Madrid, Barca eye Wirtz

Chelsea and Real Madrid could battle over the signing of Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Florian Wirtz.

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El Nacional reports that the two clubs are interested in a deal for the 18-year-old, who has had a breakout year in the Bundesliga, but Barcelona are also said to be weighing up a potential move in the future.

Xavi Hernandez’s side would not be able to flex their financial muscle compared to the other two clubs though, due to their well documented issues regarding money at Barcelona. As a result, the club would wait until 2023 to make a move, however the player is said to admire the new manager — which could help with any move.

As for Real Madrid, the report claims that the Los Blancos are keen to not miss out on another youngster from Leverkusen, losing out on the race for Kai Havertz from them in 2019 — coincidentally to Chelsea.

The 18-year-old has impressed so far this season, making nine Bundesliga appearances with four goals and six assists in those games. The playmaker also earned a senior Germany call-up in September, making four appearances on the international stage.

The Blues are said to be the side following him closest as of now, but there are set to be plenty of suitors for the talented youngster.

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15.21 GMT: Arsenal’s young striker Folarin Balogun has admitted that he is open to looking elsewhere in the January transfer window to get more first-team football.

Balogun scored his first goal for England under-21s in Friday’s 3-1 win over Czech Republic on his first start for the national team at that level.

The 20-year-old made three first-team appearances early in the season, including a start on the Gunners’ Premier League opener at Brentford, while last term he scored two goals in group stage of the Europa League.

“I feel like I am ready for a new challenge,” Balogun told reporters. “I feel like I have played youth football for a while. I have scored goals at that level and improved at that level drastically compared to now. At the same time I am not sure what that challenge might be.

“It might be a loan, or if I am needed at Arsenal I am here and the gaffer knows that as well. I feel like I am definitely open to a new challenge, wherever it is I will be ready. As a striker and as a young player you need minutes. It is the best way to learn and get consistency.”

When asked what Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s plans for him were, Balogun added: “I would like to get minutes at Arsenal. I am not sure what his plans are.

“We did speak prior to me signing my contract and he said I should trust in him and that he has a plan for me. That was a big reason I stayed and decided to resign.

“I wouldn’t say I know his plan, per se, but there is a plan and I have spoken about it with various people at Arsenal.”

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14.29 GMT: Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers has been put forward as the leading candidate to take over at Old Trafford in the event that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fired, according to The Sun.

Rodgers was reportedly on a four-man shortlist of potential successors put together by the United board which also included Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Erik ten Hag, with a recruitment agent was tasked with approaching those targets.

Conte has since taken over at Tottenham Hotspur, while former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane indicated that he would not be interested in the job and Ajax coach Ten Hag was unwilling to enter into a discussion about a job that was not available.

The agent, however, has reported to United their confidence that Rodgers could be hired is needed. The 48-year-old, who led Leicester to an FA Cup final victory over Chelsea last season, has won each of his last three matches against Solskjaer’s United, most recently in last month’s 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium.

13.35 GMT: Manchester City will resist any approach from Barcelona to sign Raheem Sterling in January, sources told ESPN’s Rob Dawson. The Spanish giants have been linked with a move for Sterling, who has said he would be open to a move abroad if he cannot find regular football at the Etihad Stadium.

However, sources told ESPN that City will not consider any offer for the 26-year-old — either permanent or on loan — during the January window because he remains a key part of Pep Guardiola’s squad.

Sterling has paused contract talks with City until he is sure he will play a prominent part for the club in the future. His existing deal expires in 2023. The England winger has been in and out of Guardiola’s team this season and is reluctant to sign a new long-term contract if it means spending a lot of time on the bench.

If fresh terms cannot be agreed by next summer, City would be left with a decision to make about whether to sanction a departure for Sterling or risk letting him enter the final year of his contract.

The former Liverpool man, who has won three Premier League titles at the Etihad, would be available as a free agent in 2023, by which time he would still be only 28.

12.42 GMT: Barcelona striker Sergio Aguero will not be rushed into a decision on retirement after a report suggested his heart condition could force him to hang his boots up at the age of 33, sources have told ESPN’s Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens.

Aguero first experienced chest pain in Barca’s draw with Alaves on Oct. 30. The Catalan club later announced that the discomfort had been caused by a heart arrhythmia, which would require treatment over a three-month period. Sources close to Aguero and Barca stress that is still the case, with the Argentina international undergoing regular cardiac exams to monitor his health.

Catalunya Radio, though, reported on Friday that the latest tests have revealed Aguero’s heart problem is worse than initially feared and could bring a premature end to his career. However, sources told ESPN that while the condition should not be downplayed, it would be irresponsible to draw conclusions until Aguero has finished the initial three-month treatment process.

11.47 GMT: It’s “now or never” for Paul Pogba and Real Madrid, Marca reported on Saturday, as the midfielder’s latest injury — picked up on international duty with France — “could be the latest reason that leads Pogba go think his time at [Manchester] United is over.”

Pogba is expected to return from the thigh injury in January, when he’ll have just six months left on his Old Trafford contract and be free to negotiate with other clubs.

According to the newspaper, “the Pogba option is still on the table” for Real Madrid.

The 28-year-old was a long-term target for previous coach Zinedine Zidane, although the club had doubts about his then price tag.

A free transfer next summer would still not be a bargain deal, Marca says, with Pogba earning €12m a year after tax at United and looking for one last bumper contract.

10.51 GMT: Newcastle United‘s lengthy managerial search was a confused process that left several candidates baffled at the club’s lack of clarity over their future plans, sources told ESPN’s James Olley.

Former Bournemouth and Burnley boss Eddie Howe was eventually appointed on Tuesday, handed a two-and-a-half-year contract which ended an almost three-week long process that saw a raft of individuals interviewed and the job formally offered to Unai Emery.

Sources close to more than one candidate involved claimed there were competing voices within the Newcastle hierarchy over how to transform the club from battling relegation to Premier League title challengers following the Saudi-led £305m takeover. That led to a delay in identifying a clear first choice with directors Amanda Staveley and her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi leading the process with a third director, Jamie Reuben, who is also one of several other prominent voices in discussions

Sources have also told ESPN that at a relatively late stage in the process, senior figures at Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund sought advice from financiers Citibank over who to target for a variety of executive positions including first-team manager and director of football.

Emery’s decision to stay at Villarreal was partly based on the mixed messages over how to take the club forward. Howe’s job will therefore include helping to deliver a clear vision in the boardroom as well as the pitch.

09.56 GMT: Frank Lampard has pulled out of the race to become the next Norwich City manager, according to the BBC.

Former Chelsea manager Lampard, 43, held talks with the Canaries to replace Daniel Farke this week, but will not taking over at the Premier League’s bottom club.

Lampard has been out of management since he was fired by Chelsea in January. He was recently linked with the job at Newcastle United, which eventually went to Eddie Howe.

Dean Smith, who was sacked by Aston Villa last week, is among the candidates to take over at Carrow Road.

09.00 GMT: Defender Dani Alves completed a shock return to Barcelona on Friday to become the first signing under new coach Xavi Hernandez, his former teammate. The Brazil international had been a free agent since leaving Sao Paulo in September.

Sources previously told ESPN that Barca were reluctant to bring back Alves, but the return of Xavi, who was appointed as manger last week following the sacking of Ronald Koeman, caused a change of opinion. Sources have told ESPN that Xavi will be given less than €10m to strengthen the faltering squad in January, despite chief executive Ferran Reverter saying earlier this year that the club would have double that amount.

Alves, who had a successful eight years at Barca before leaving the club for Juventus in 2016, posted a photograph of himself on Instagram kissing the Barcelona emblem at the Camp Nou, and wrote: “Almost five years fighting like crazy to arrive at this moment. I didn’t know it would last so long, I didn’t know it was going to be so difficult, but I knew inside my heart and my soul that this day would arrive.

“I return to the home that I never left and as I said before I left: I’M ONE OF YOU, I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG THIS DREAM WILL LAST, BUT MAY IT BE ETERNAL WHILE IT LASTS!!

“See you soon where most fascinates me, with the same enthusiasm as the first time and the same eagerness to help rebuilding THE BEST CLUB IN THE WORLD!! “I return to my home…”

Alves’ last game was on Sept. 9 when he featured in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Peru in a World Cup qualifier. Alves will be almost four months without playing an official game by the time he can play for Barca in January.

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PAPER GOSSIP (by Luke Thrower)

– Barcelona are interested in a move for FC Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi, according to Sport1 journalist Florian Plettenberg. The report claims that the 19-year-old was in Spain for talks over a move to the LaLiga club a few weeks ago, with his agent aware of a potential move.

– Barcelona are also weighing up a deal for Fulham wonderkid Fabio Carvalho, reports journalist Ekrem Konur. Reports have claimed the 19-year-old has turned down a new contract at the London club, with his current deal expiring in the summer. LaLiga rivals Real Madrid have also previously been linked with a move.

– Manchester United will enter talks over a new contract with goalkeeper David de Gea, says journalist Ekrem Konur. The 31-year-old is out-of-contract in 2023 and has returned to some of his best form at the club since becoming No. 1 again ahead of Dean Henderson.

– Real Madrid are targeting 20-year-old forward Luiz Henrique for a potential transfer, according to AS. The Fluminense striker is seen as another emerging Brazil international, in the same vein of players such as Vinicius Jr. that Los Blancos have signed and made a success out of at the club.

– Internazionale have set a deadline of the end of the year for midfielder Marcelo Brozovic to sign a new deal with the club, according to Calciomercato. The Croatia international is out-of-contract in the summer, with several clubs linked with the 28-year-old on a free transfer. The club are willing to offer €4.5m-a-year, whilst the player is said to be holding out for €6m to sign a new deal.



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