Cristiano Ronaldo has told Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that Man United need to play quicker for him — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: Football’s push for mixed gender matches.
Ronaldo wants a faster United
Cristiano Ronaldo‘s demand for the highest standards at Manchester United has led to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to urge his players to move the ball quicker in attacking areas in order to get the best out of the Portugal forward, sources told ESPN.
Ronaldo has scored five goals in five games for United since returning to the club from Juventus in the summer, after a 12-year absence. But sources told ESPN that Ronaldo has made it clear to Solskjaer and his coaches that he can further increase his goal ratio if United become sharper and quicker when distributing the ball in the opposition half.
Ronaldo has been deployed in a central attacking position by Solskjaer since making his debut against Newcastle last month, with Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood used as inverted wingers alongside the 36-year-old.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have been used as attacking midfielders behind Ronaldo, but sources said that United’s coaching team want the team’s defensive players to get the ball to the attackers more quickly, which will in turn enable them to feed Ronaldo and take advantage of opponents being out of shape at the back.
– Wright Thompson: Ronaldo mania and the fight for Man United’s soul
Sources told ESPN that United’s coaching staff believe Raphael Varane‘s arrival from Real Madrid has helped improve the team’s speed of play, with the France international more capable of moving the ball forward with pace and precision than Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly.
But work is ongoing on the training pitch to get the ball to Ronaldo quicker, as Solskjaer attempts to make United more ruthless in front of goal. — Mark Ogden
Trailblazer Fokkema could pave way for mixed gender football
Ellen Fokkema made Dutch football history last week as the first woman to play for a senior men’s team in league play and sources told ESPN there’s hope from football associations across Europe that mixed gender matches could become more widespread.
Fokkema, 20, was prohibited from continuing to play for her team, VV Foarut, as the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) only allowed mixed gender football up to the age of 19. But after a successful pilot scheme in which Fokkema played seven matches under KNVB supervision, the Dutch FA changed its eligibility rules in May 2021. It allowed Fokkema to make history when she came on as a 60th minute substitute in her side’s “4e Klasse” (Dutch ninth tier) opener against Sleat last weekend.
– Hamilton: The day Fokkema made history
Sources told ESPN that FIFA and UEFA are in discussions with the KNVB to find out more about the pilot scheme in the Netherlands that paved the way for Fokkema’s landmark appearance, and the German FA has also been in touch to ask for the research results. Fokkema’s seven pilot matches in the senior men’s team were watched by a representative of the KNVB and she was interviewed after each match, along with her opponents.
Sources added that amateur clubs from England are also keen to find out more from the Dutch FA with a view to taking the Fokkema case to the English Football Association to change its eligibility rules.
“I guess it’s a milestone for soccer in general,” Fokkema told ESPN following her debut last weekend. “Women will be able to choose in which team to play … that’s new, that they have the choice. I hope I won’t be the last, or else it would have all been for nothing.” — Tom Hamilton
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opens up on Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact since his return to Manchester United.
Pow! Taekwondo champ is Barca’s new head of player care
Barcelona have appointed an Olympic taekwondo champion to head up their player care department as president Joan Laporta continues to make changes behind the scenes.
Joel Gonzalez, who won a gold medal at London 2012 and a bronze in Rio de Janeiro four years later, has replaced Pepe Costa, who has moved to Paris Saint-Germain with Lionel Messi. Costa’s contract expired on June 30 and Barca did not offer him a new deal, making it easy for him to follow Messi to France. He was known around Barca as “Messi’s shadow.”
Gonzalez, 31, was recommended for the role by former handball player Enric Masip, who now works as an advisor to Barca chief Laporta. In addition to winning gold in London, which saw him named Spain’s male sportsperson of the year in 2012, Gonzalez is also a two-time taekwondo world champion in the 58kg (128 lbs) division.
His tasks at Camp Nou will include building and strengthening relationships with the players at the club and supporting them with any problems they may have away from the pitch. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Ellen Fokkema explains the decision to allow her to train and play with the senior men’s team.
Salah saga rumbles on
Mohamed Salah‘s contract situation at Liverpool remains unresolved, with the forward yet to agree a deal to replace his existing terms which expire in June 2023, but sources told ESPN his focus and dedication amid the uncertainty have further enhanced his reputation among his teammates.
Salah and fellow forwards Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, who are all free agents at the end of the 2022-23 season, have yet to extend their contracts, but Salah’s situation is the one that is likely to be the most challenging according to sources, with talks ongoing.
The former Chelsea and Roma forward has previously refused to play down the prospect of a move to LaLiga, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona both linked with the 29-year-old in the past, but neither team are in a position to sign Salah in the coming transfer windows due to financial issues at both clubs and Real’s primary focus on signing Kylian Mbappe. Paris Saint-Germain have also been admirers of Salah over recent seasons, but the summer signing of Lionel Messi appears to have closed the door on any possible move.
Liverpool are aware of the limited options Salah has in terms moving away from Anfield for a fee in 2022, but with the Egypt international set to turn 30 next June, sources said the club must also consider the financial implications of committing to a long-term deal for a player who would be in his mid-30s by the time it expires.
Despite the off-field distraction of his contract, Salah has started the season in impressive form and is the joint top scorer in the Premier League with five goals. Last Saturday’s goal at Brentford saw him become the quickest player in Liverpool history to score 100 Premier League goals.
Sources have said Salah has been “sensational” in training and that he has displayed no frustrations within the squad or to manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool made one significant summer signing in the form of RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate, as the club have spent recent months securing Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to new long-term contracts. — Mark Ogden
Julien Laurens speaks after Ansu Fati scored on his Barcelona return against Levante in LaLiga.
Lacazette edges to Arsenal exit door
The chances of Alexandre Lacazette leaving Arsenal in January are increasing as the striker’s lack of game-time continues, sources told ESPN. Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Sevilla are among the clubs who have expressed an interest in Lacazette, who could be used in a player-plus-cash deal. Arsenal have previously scouted Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri.
Lacazette, 30, has made one substitute appearance in the Premier League this season — in August’s 5-0 defeat at Manchester City — and the Gunners’ absence from European football this season means there are fewer matches and less chance of rotation.
Manager Mikel Arteta has insisted Lacazette remains a part of his plans but ESPN reported on Sept. 17 there is no contract offer on the table despite his deal running out at the end of the season. Lacazette is free to talk to overseas clubs from Jan. 1 but would not be able to complete a free transfer until the summer.
However, sources claim the France international is becoming minded to push for a move before then — a situation that has financial appeal to Arsenal given they would be able to command a transfer fee if he left midseason.
The Gunners are scouting options to remodel their forward options given the situation with Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, who sources at Arsenal had indicated would have joined Crystal Palace this summer had the player’s agent not complicated a deal once a transfer fee had been agreed. — James Olley
Janusz Michallik speaks after Mohamed Salah became the fifth fastest player to score 100 Premier League goals.
In-demand Phillips holds Leeds deal talks
Leeds are aware of growing interest in Phillips in the wake of his impressive performances during England’s run to the Euro 2020 final this summer and are determined to reward the player with a lucrative new deal to avoid the risk of him being tempted away from the club.
Sources said that Liverpool and City are both monitoring Phillips’s progress with Leeds and England, while reports this week linked United with a move as they search for alternatives to West Ham’s Declan Rice.
But while talks with Leeds are at an early stage, sources said they are confident a deal can be struck with a player who has become a key figure under coach Marcelo Bielsa. — Mark Ogden