Man United transfers special: Solskjaer ‘frustrated’; Dortmund ‘baffled’


Manchester United’s chaotic conclusion to the transfer window dominates this week’s ESPN’s Insider Notebook. PLUS: Mikel Arteta’s growing influence at Arsenal.

Jump to: Dortmund baffled by United | Diallo’s journey to Old Trafford | Cavani snubbed Real Madrid and Juventus | Barca fuming with Dembele, Umtiti | Forlan helped United sign Pellestri | Arteta’s growing influence shown in Saliba loan | Aouar’s agent scuppered Arsenal move

Disappointed Solskjaer holds out hope for signing Haaland, Sancho

Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho remain top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s list of targets at Manchester United, sources told ESPN, despite the failure of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to strike a deal for either player in the past two transfer windows.

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United manager Solskjaer has been forced to accept the signing of players who were not on his initial list — sources said that even £40 million Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek was not a primary target — with the club completing four last minute deals on deadline day, including Edinson Cavani, a free agent since his release by Paris Saint-Germain in July.

While Solskjaer has been diplomatic when speaking publicly about United’s repeated failure to land his top targets, sources said he is frustrated at the missed opportunity to sign Haaland and Sancho over the past 12 months. Solskjaer met Haaland last December and believed he had struck an agreement with the then-FC Salzburg striker over a January move to United, only for Woodward to pull the plug on a €20m deal because of agent fees and the insistence of the Haaland camp that a release clause be inserted into his Old Trafford contract.

Borussia Dortmund paid €20m and agreed to a €75m clause, which cannot be exercised until 2022, but despite the strings attached to the deal, sources said Solskjaer believes signing Haaland would have made financial and sporting sense. After a hat trick on his Dortmund debut, Haaland has continued to impress at the club, scoring 21 goals in 23 appearances overall.

The failure to sign England winger Sancho, valued by Dortmund at £108m, is another source of frustration on the football side at United as they had no rivals to sign him this summer, but that is likely to change next year.

But although United have failed in their attempts to sign Haaland and Sancho, Solskjaer believes both are perfect for the team’s long-term development due to their age and potential.

Whether he remains in charge long enough to push for a move for Sancho next summer and Haaland in 2022 remains to be seen, but the disappointment of missing out on both in recent windows has not dampened his enthusiasm to sign them. — Mark Ogden

Dortmund ‘baffled’ by United’s transfer tactics

While Dortmund were left surprised by United’s negotiating tactics in the pursuit of Sancho, another move for his teammate on deadline day left the club “baffled,” sources told ESPN.

United made a bid for Dortmund wing-back Nico Schulz on deadline day, sources said, and they proposed a €1m loan fee and to pay the player’s salary for the rest of the season.

– Ogden: United losers in transfer window
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Sources said the move for Schulz led Dortmund to question the credentials of United’s recruitment and scouting team. The 27-year-old moved to Dortmund in a €25m deal from Hoffenheim last summer but he has endured a difficult time at the club.

Schulz’s last Bundesliga start for BVB came in a 2-1 defeat at Hoffenheim in late December 2019, while his last start overall came in 3-2 German Cup defeat at Werder Bremen on Feb. 4. That United were keen on a player who has barely featured for Dortmund surprised the club, and the enquiry was knocked back. While Schulz has hardly been a star, the club wanted to keep him in reserve ahead of what promises to be a gruelling season.

Schulz started in Germany’s 3-3 draw with Turkey on Wednesday, which led former World Cup winning captain Lothar Matthaus to criticise Joachim Low’s selection, telling Sky Germany: “The fans want to see the first team, not just substitute players, many of whom aren’t even starting for their respective clubs. I can’t understand how you can represent Germany when you’re the second or third choice at your club.”

While the Sancho saga and rumour mill went into overdrive in the final days of the window, sources said United’s final bid for Sancho came in the final week of September. Their €90m initial fee plus a proposed €15m in variables was rejected, because it arrived after Dortmund had set an Aug. 10 deadline for any move to be arranged.

Sources added that even if United had offered over the £108m demanded from Dortmund on deadline day, the move would have been rejected as the club hierarchy had made their position clear and accepting a bid would have seen their reputation plummet among the club’s supporters. — Stephan Uersfeld



Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens dive into the most talked about deals that didn’t pan out this transfer window.

United’s new signing Diallo’s eventful journey to Old Trafford

With a fee that could rise as high as €41m (€21m plus a further €20m in bonuses if certain targets are reached), 18-year-old Amad Diallo could end up being Manchester United’s most expensive teenage signing ever, eclipsing the £25m they paid for Wayne Rooney, also 18 at the time, in 2004. But Diallo’s journey to Old Trafford, where he is expected to arrive in January, has been far from straightforward.

The teenager, who scored on his debut for Atalanta last season, has featured in an investigation into immigration and child trafficking by Italian authorities after the arrest of an agent named Giovanni Drago back in 2017. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on Diallo’s part, but Drago is accused of helping him and another player, Hamed Junior Traore of Sassuolo, emigrate to Italy from Ivory Coast in 2014 with the help of a married couple of Ivorians legally residing in Italy: Marina Teher and Hamed Mamadou Traore. The pair filed paperwork attesting to the fact that both Amad and Hamed Junior, who were 12 and 14 at the time, were their children and, as such, they were able to legally emigrate to Italy.

According to people familiar with the case, fraudulent paperwork was submitted on behalf of Amad, which is why he came to be known as Amad Traore, after his fake “father”. Hamed, who is unrelated to both, had no such problem since he happened to have the last name of Traore, which is common in Ivory Coast. When the “fake” parents obtained Italian citizenship a few years later, both Amad and Hamed became eligible for citizenship.

DNA testing and evidence collected by investigators unmasked the “fake” parents, but it left the two in legal limbo. Technically, their Italian citizenship was fraudulently obtained and they entered the country illegally. Sources close to the case suggest that Amad, who has collaborated with investigators and has not been charged, is almost certain to obtain his citizenship, this time under his actual name, Amad Diallo.

In the meantime, he has applied for an Ivorian passport and is likely to obtain one shortly. It is unclear under which nationality Manchester United will register him — Italian or Ivorian — but they are prepared for both eventualities. — Gabriele Marcotti



Frank Leboeuf says Manchester United must react immediately after their 6-1 loss to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham.

Cavani snubbed Real Madrid, Juventus for United move

Cavani held talks with Juventus and Real Madrid before finally joining Manchester United on a free transfer, sources told ESPN.

– United’s new No. 7: The striker with a passion for ballet
– Cavani: I can handle the pressure of the shirt

Cavani, 33, was one of the most sought-after strikers on the market this summer after leaving Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expired in June. Juve offered a two-year deal with a salary of €8m a season but Cavani wanted a three-year deal worth €9m annually. Spanish champions Madrid also sounded out a move for the Uruguay international, but sources say Atletico Madrid, despite reports to the contrary, were never a real option. Cavani was also approached by Benfica, whom he initially turned down, but negotiations resumed last week around the time United made their move.

Cavani was immediately attracted to the Premier League side because of their global reach and popularity around the world, and an agreement over a move to Old Trafford was closed last Saturday following various meetings. The delay in getting the deal over the line was down to a small issue over image rights.

Cavani has been training alone in Paris over the summer and, since Tuesday, has been able to train in isolation at United’s Carrington base in line with the coronavirus protocols for arrivals from outside the United Kingdom.

The search for a house in the Cheshire countryside began immediately after he penned a two-year deal in Manchester. — Moises Llorens



Frank Leboeuf and Steve Nicol both agree Edinson Cavani will be a positive signing for Man United.

Barca fuming with Dembele, Umtiti

Barcelona were left angered by Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti‘s reluctance to leave Camp Nou during the transfer window, sources told ESPN.

Barca began a major restructuring of the club’s playing staff over the summer, with Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Nelson Semedo among those to leave in the wake of the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Dembele, 23, was also made available for transfer but following talks with Manchester United, he ended up staying at Barca. The Catalan club had made it clear they couldn’t guarantee him minutes this season and coach Ronald Koeman was keen for him to leave to free up funds to sign Lyon‘s Memphis Depay.

Koeman wasn’t even going to include Dembele in the 23-man squad for last Thursday’s win at Celta Vigo until a last-minute injury to Junior Firpo. Dembele, whose contract expires in 2022, has been an unused substitute in each of Barca’s last two games. However, despite the obstacles to playing time, he made the call to stay put beyond the closure of the transfer window on Monday, a decision which sources say didn’t sit well with some people among the club’s hierarchy.

Umtiti, meanwhile, never came close to leaving despite being told he was free to find a new club. Sources feel the defender, who has struggled with persistent knee injuries, didn’t do enough to encourage interest from elsewhere and that he was happy to stay at Barca and pick up his salary. His contract runs until 2023. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens



Sid Lowe breaks down Ronald Koeman’s comments regarding his transfer targets for Barcelona.

Cult hero Forlan convinced Pellistri to snub Lyon

Facundo Pellistri was one of four deadline day arrivals at Manchester United, but only after they took him from under Lyon‘s noses — with a little help from an Old Trafford cult hero, sources told ESPN.

Diego Forlan, who won the Premier League with United during his two-year spell at the club from 2002-04, had a brief spell in charge of Penarol in Uruguay before leaving his position in September this year. Sources told ESPN that Forlan convinced Pellistri to abandon the move to Lyon and sign for United instead.

Everything was sorted from Lyon’s perspective. After a €5m bid was rejected, a €7m improved offer including a 40% payment to Penarol for any future move, was accepted and a five-year contract was ready to be signed. But that’s when talks with Pellistri and Lyon went quiet.

Forlan held talks with United boss Solskjaer as well as Woodward and the club’s scouting department, who knew all about the 18-year-old. A €10m move was agreed quickly and United rejected Penarol’s proposal to keep the player on loan until January. Sources told ESPN Solskjaer sees Pellistri, one of the rising stars of South American football, as part of his first team plans at United. — Julien Laurens.



Ale Moreno explains why Thomas Partey is an important piece of Mikel Arteta’s jigsaw at Arsenal.

Arteta’s growing stature at Arsenal

Further signs that Mikel Arteta’s job title change from head coach to first-team manager was much more than mere symbolism can be found in William Saliba‘s imminent departure on loan.

The prospect of Arsenal shipping out a £27m defender 12 months after signing him and just a couple months into his assimilation into the first-team would have been unheard of at a club where every penny counts. Yet Saliba is set to join a Championship club before the Oct. 16 deadline — Watford and Brentford are among the possible destinations — as a result of Arteta’s assertion the centre-back is not ready for regular Premier League football.

The deal to sign Saliba was struck during Unai Emery’s tenure but Arteta and his backroom staff believe the 19-year-old needs more time to develop despite impressing in Ligue 1. Sources told ESPN that they would like to see the Frenchman improve in defending set-pieces and mature in style, notably avoiding diving into tackles.

He is still rated as a bright prospect, but Saliba is expected to be continue his development at another club as Arteta focuses on delivering immediate improvement. Arteta played an influential role in convincing owner Stan Kroenke to stump up the £45m to sign Thomas Partey on deadline day to aid him in that mission.

Arteta may only be embarking on his first full season as a manager, but his importance to Arsenal cannot be underestimated. — James Olley



Stewart Robson jokes that Mesut Ozil would be better served playing Gunnersaurus than sitting on Arsenal’s bench.

Why Aouar to Arsenal collapsed

Houssem Aouar‘s proposed move from Lyon to Arsenal collapsed this summer, with the player’s agent largely to blame, sources told ESPN.

Sources said Brahim Aouar asked for a large commission for his brother to sign for Arsenal, or any other club. A figure of £10m has circulated among reports in France, but that has not been confirmed. Brahim Aouar did not respond when asked for comment by ESPN.

Nevertheless, it seems negotiations with the Aouar camp were difficult and it may explain why Arsenal were the only club to make an official approach for the Lyon playmaker, despite rumours of interest from Juventus and PSG.

In the end, Aouar, 22, decided to stay in Lyon despite the fact they are not in Europe this season. Sources told ESPN he wanted to leave Lyon last summer but was persuaded to stay. This time around, he had his heart set on a move to Arsenal but the club could not agree terms. — Julien Laurens

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