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United’s Rice pursuit takes a twist; sheep not to blame for Ronaldo move

Manchester United are looking for alternatives to Declan Rice next summer — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: Why sheep were not to blame for Cristiano Ronaldo moving house.

Jump to: Sheep not to blame for Ronaldo’s move | Messi exit disappoints Barca sponsors | Tuchel’s present for former cleaner | Winter World Cups a possibility | Camavinga’s gift for Rennes staff | Garay’s career change

Manchester United to look elsewhere in Rice pursuitManchester United’s scouts have been instructed to identify alternative options to Declan Rice in the club’s search for a defensive midfielder next summer, sources told ESPN, amid concerns over West Ham’s valuation of the player and contrasting opinions within Old Trafford over his ability to significantly improve the team.

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Rice, 22, emerged from England’s Euro 2020 campaign as one of the key figures in Gareth Southgate’s team as the Three Lions reached their first major tournament final since the 1966 World Cup. His performances for England have been followed by an impressive start to this season for David Moyes’ team, who have faced United in their last two senior fixtures in the Premier League and Carabao Cup.

Though United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains an admirer of Rice, sources told ESPN the club’s recruitment team is yet to be convinced the former Republic of Ireland youth international possesses the qualities to take the team to another level.

Rice is regarded as being a powerful presence in midfield with a strong defensive mindset and has also caught the eye with his ability to break forward into attacking areas. But sources said some figures at United have cast doubt on whether Rice is quick enough, with and without the ball, and if he would be able to complement the qualities of Scott McTominay rather than replicate them.

With West Ham expected to value Rice at between £80-90 million, United believe an alternative can be found outside the Premier League who would be equally, if not more, effective and not subject to the inflation that accompanies the fees for English players.

Sources said United prioritised a right-sided forward and central defender prior to this season, a focus that saw them sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.

The plan for next year is to sign a defensive midfielder, as well as attempt to win the race sign Dortmund forward Erling Haaland, and that blueprint has not been altered by the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus, which was financed outside of United’s original summer transfer budget.

Although a move for Rice continues to have support within United, he is likely to be one of a number of options by the time the club make their move at the end of the season. — Mark Ogden

Sheep not behind Ronaldo house moveCristiano Ronaldo has already moved house since his return to Manchester because the garden of his first property was being overlooked, sources told ESPN. United have played down reports the move was made because he was being kept awake by nearby sheep.

Ronaldo was forced to quarantine in England after travelling from Lisbon following his move from Juventus, but has since moved out of his house. During his isolation, the 36-year-old maintained his fitness by training at home but sources told ESPN there were fears passers by could see into his garden. Ronaldo has since moved himself and his family into a nearby property owned by former United striker Andy Cole in a bid for more privacy.

– Wright Thompson: Ronaldo mania and the fight for the soul of Man United

Since his return to Old Trafford, Ronaldo has scored four goals in three games including two on his comeback in a 4-1 win over Newcastle.

His arrival has also had commercial benefits with the club shop briefly selling out his No.7 shirt but speaking to investors last week, group managing director Richard Arnold stressed he has predominantly been signed to help United win trophies.

“All of the players who have signed have exclusively signed for their ability to deliver on the pitch,” Arnold said.

“My job in running the commercial operations of the club is to generate as much income as possible, to sustain a virtuous cycle. So while every signing we make — and some are better known than others — has a positive effect on fan engagement and a positive effect on the activity that we do, that’s putting fuel into a well-run engine and we’re renowned in the sports industry for doing a good job of maximising the commercial opportunities that come to us.

“But our focus is on signing players who can deliver on the pitch and then to maximise that opportunity afterwards. To single out one player in terms of their impact would be wrong.” — Rob Dawson

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Shaka Hislop and Craig Burley discuss Cristiano Ronaldo’s fast start back at Manchester United, with four goals in three matches.

Barca partners unhappy at Messi exitOne of Barcelona’s main sponsors complained to the club when Lionel Messi left for Paris Saint-Germain in August, a senior member of the board said this week.

Vice president Eduard Romeu disputed that Messi’s departure would have a major effect on revenue from sponsorship but confirmed some of the club’s partners were left unhappy by his exit. Romeu stopped short of naming the sponsor who complained about Messi leaving, but sources told ESPN the grievance came from one of the club’s key partners. For a number of years, some of Barca’s biggest sponsors, such as Rakuten and Beko, have relied on being able to use Messi’s image to sell their products around the world.

Barcelona have already faced a backlash from Rakuten, the club’s main sponsor, after a video was leaked on social media which showed Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann appearing to mock Asian staff.

– Laurens: Inside story on Messi’s first week at PSG

– Messi business: How icon swapped Camp Nou for Parc des Princes

Messi’s exit comes at a critical time for Barca financially. Not only has gross debt at the club reached €1.4 billion, but they are also searching for a new shirt sponsor for next season.

Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten extended their deal by an additional year last November, albeit on reduced terms of around €35m per season. That agreement ends in 2022 and Romeu says talks are already underway with other possible sponsors.

Meanwhile, Romeu says the club will also have to do a better job of marketing their other players following Messi’s exit. He explained that 50% of all shirts sold previously were sold with names on the back. Of that 50%, 80% carried Messi’s name.

“What we have to do open the door to all the players,” Romeu told Diario SPORT. “I am certain we can grow in terms of merchandising.” — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens

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Julien Laurens and Frank Leboeuf provide an update on Lionel Messi’s knee injury that will keep him out of PSG’s match vs. Metz.

Tuchel’s grand gesture for Paris cleanerChelsea manager Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain legacy means the world for one family in particular: his former cleaner in Paris.

Tuchel and his family employed a cleaner during his tenure as PSG coach from 2018-20. After being told by his wife Sissi that the cleaner had been working extra hours as she looked to afford surgery for her son, who had a heart problem, Tuchel paid for the hospital costs involved, sources told ESPN.

When his spell at the Ligue 1 giants was coming to a close, Tuchel had a long chat with his cleaner in Paris about her wishes for the future. Sources told ESPN the woman said her biggest dream was to own a house in the Philippines, where she was from.

Tuchel was sacked by PSG just before Christmas in 2020 and moved to London a month later to take over as Chelsea boss from Frank Lampard, but not before giving his cleaner the keys to a property he bought for her. — Julien Laurens

play1:38

Shaka Hislop says he’s starting to see Chelsea as Premier League favourites after comfortably beating Spurs.

Winter is coming … for more World Cups?Arsene Wenger’s FIFA-backed plan to re-shape the international calendar, including the staging of a World Cup every two years rather than four, would not signal the end of winter World Cups, sources told ESPN.

Former Arsenal manager Wenger, now FIFA’s chief of global football development, has been working on his blueprint since the Saudi Arabian Football Federation sponsored the feasibility study in May. Within Wenger’s plan, major tournaments would be staged across June and July every year, with World Cups and continental championships played on an alternate basis.

– Marcotti: Why FIFA wants biennial World Cups

However, the plans would rule out the prospect of Saudi Arabia hosting a World Cup, since average temperatures in the desert kingdom hit 36c (96F) in the summer months, and the country’s leaders have already shown their desire to host the tournament in the short-to-medium long term.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has already been moved from its original June-July slot to November-December due to the summer heat and Saudi Arabia would face the same issue.

But sources told ESPN that, with Wenger proposing a lengthy international break in October, a future World Cup host with summer climate issues could be able to stage the tournament in October rather than June-July.

A decision on re-shaping the international football calendar is expected to be taken in a FIFA vote later this year. UEFA is opposed to the biennial World Cup plan, but 166 of FIFA’s 210 member associations have signed up to Wenger’s feasibility study. — Mark Ogden

Camavinga’s gift for Rennes staffEduardo Camavinga left replica Real Madrid shirts for every member of the Rennes backroom staff following his move to the Bernabeu, sources told ESPN.

The midfielder exited the Ligue 1 club in a £30m deal in the transfer window, as he had one year remaining on his contract. Rather than leave as a free agent, he wanted to ensure the club received a transfer fee, out of respect for the opportunity they handed him as a 10-year-old.

In addition, Camavinga sent a shirt with his name on the back to 166 people working at Rennes, sources told ESPN, with the club touched by his gesture. The 18-year-old has begun brightly in Spain, scoring on his debut in Real Madrid’s win over Celta Vigo. — Julien Laurens

Garay moves into property developmentFormer Valencia and Real Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay revealed a surprise career change this week: selling luxury houses worth over €500,000 in a development near his home.

Garay retired this summer aged 34, after failing to find a new club when his Valencia contract expired 12 months earlier, as he revealed he had been battling coxartrosis, a chronic hip problem, for the last three years.

In an Instagram post accompanied by a photo wearing a hard hat and hi-vis jacket at the construction site, Garay explained his new direction, calling it “a great project that I’ve been working on for the last two years,” adding: “We all have dreams in life. I had one that today I can say I’ve fulfilled.”

The website of builders Gargor Real Estate says the high-end, detached properties “include four bedrooms, three bathrooms, an ample living and dining room, kitchen and grounds with private pool included,” and claims that all 15 have already been sold.

The development, called “Los Altos Argentinos” in a nod to the former Argentina international centre-back, is located on the outskirts of Valencia, around 15 minutes’ drive from Garay’s former workplace, the club’s training ground.

Garay began his club career at Newell’s Old Boys before moving to Spain with Racing Santander, joining Real Madrid and then successful spells at Benfica, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Valencia. The centre-back played 31 times for Argentina, starting all seven games in the country’s run to the 2014 World Cup final.

Garay previously made headlines when he fell out with Valencia in his final season at the club. He sustained a cruciate ligament injury in February 2020 and then hit out on social media in May that year in a 12-minute video in which he accused the club of a “campaign to discredit him” over failed contract renewal talks. — Alex Kirkland

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