Gennaro Gattuso has denied reports the agent of AC Milan’s highly sought teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has demanded to have his contract renewal annulled.
After a drawn-out saga, Donnarumma signed new terms in July to commit to Milan until 2021, with his old contract having been set to expire in 2018.
However, reports in Italy have suggested Donnarumma’s agent Mino Raiola has told the San Siro club the 18-year-old felt pressurised into agreeing the extension and wants the contract to be cancelled – making him a free agent at the end of the season – with Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid among the clubs reportedly interested.
- Europa League draw: Arsenal vs Ostersund, Celtic vs Zenit, AC Milan vs Ludogorets & last 32 in full
- Rashford, Mbappe and Dembele among nominees for Golden Boy award
- AC Milan signed too many players, admits Fassone after €194m summer splurge
But Gattuso, placed in temporary charge following the dismissal of Vincenzo Montella, denied there is an issue with the Italy international, long considered to be the heir to compatriot and namesake Gianluigi Buffon.
“For me, there’s no problem with Donnarumma,” Gattuso told Milan TV .
“[Managing director Marco] Fassone and [chief executive Massimiliano] Mirabelli will talk if there are any problems with him.
“I talk to Gigio every day and I see a quiet lad, who hates it when he’s not winning. After Benevento, he was very sad.”
Gattuso indicated he will make changes to his team for Wednesday’s visit of Verona in the Coppa Italia, despite collecting the first win of his reign last time out against Bologna.
“We want to go through the next round,” Gattuso said. “We must, even if it will be a tough game.
“Squad rotation? We are considering the physical condition of some of our players. Let’s see after today’s training session.
“At the moment, the four-man defence gives us more security, but we are giving too much space to our opponents. We still have a lot to work on and improve.
“We needed to win against Bologna and although we managed it, we still have to improve a lot.”
Philippe Coutinho skilfully Garrinchas away from the subject; one that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is neither “sure nor unsure” about, which also had the club’s CEO Peter Moore citing the unavailability of “a crystal ball” to forecast what will happen next.
But as December grows older and the January transfer window creeps closer, the queries over the Brazil international’s future will only fatten as Barcelona continue to feed their objective of unveiling him at Camp Nou.
- Coutinho enjoying new role at Liverpool, but will it be enough to make him stay?
- ‘Nobody said Coutinho will leave in January’ – Klopp dismisses Barca transfer speculation
- Philippe Coutinho: From playmaker to unplayable in five years
- Ronaldo, Coutinho and the best of the Champions League with Goal+
The Reds boss is disinclined to have this topic dwarf all other talking points, as was the case in the summer, but there are valid questions to be asked and possibly uncomfortable answers to digest.
Why, having been so resolute in their not-for-sale stance in the off-season, would Liverpool be more open to Coutinho’s departure to Barca midway through the campaign?
And why would the 25-year-old, posting elite numbers and elevating his status further, cede Champions League football with a last-16 tie against Porto to contest and undertake the risk of moving in the winter preceding the World Cup?
The answer to the first largely circles around time. Liverpool were blindsided by Barca’s approach and the playmaker’s desire to leave in July, after his fresh five-year commitment at the turn of the year sans a release clause, and while the pre-season conditioning was in proper swing.
The Merseysiders were neither prepared for, nor willing to lose a player so core to their planning. “The only thing I can say about this is that in life everything is about timing – whichever club asks early enough,” Klopp explained in the summer.
“It’s like how we do it. If we ask early enough, we try to do it. If you ask early enough, you can either switch the plan or whatever.
“But you cannot come up, close to the start of the season and things like this. It’s like I said: the club is bigger than anybody. That is the most important thing. It’s about doing it in the right moment. It’s how we do it when we want to bring players in.
“It is about timing. That is how I understand it. And that is all I have to say. Maybe everybody has a price – in the right moment. In the wrong moment? No price.”
Ahead of the start of the season, while experiencing difficulties in landing two priority targets in Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita — the latter who will join on July 1 — as well as needing Mohamed Salah and the other new acquisitions to settle, letting Coutinho leave would’ve been negligent.
Why would Liverpool bow to Barca and help them rally after Neymar’s world-record switch to Paris Saint-Germain? Why would they sacrifice their own stratagem for the season and put themselves in the same situation as the Catalan side — wading through a ballooning market to replace an adroit Brazilian with loadsa money and loadsa clubs alert to the chance of profitting from this position of powerlessness?
It was, in all aspects, not the right moment. Fast forward, however, and there will have been 166 days between the first of three bids from La Liga’s leaders for Coutinho and the opening of the winter window.
Liverpool know what Barca want, what the player desires, and this wisdom will have permeated their recruitment designs for five months. They have had the valuable element of time.
Of course, this does not make replacing someone of his quality and capabilities easy, but it renders the process easier. It offers solid, constant thinking as opposed to buying out of pressure and panic, the opportunity to lay groundwork, as well as the ability to assess a potential sale as part of a full picture rather than an isolated decision.
Ideally and undoubtedly, Liverpool want to keep their premier players. They also exist in reality, and if Barca’s New Year’s resolution is to give up ridiculous add-ons to markedly improve their base offers — the highest of which was £82 million — with Coutinho again emphatically stating his desire to exit, there will be more to discuss than there was prior to 2017-18.
The Catalans will certainly not be encouraged, and there will be the hope that the Rio-born virtuoso wants to continue being on the supply chain for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino until the end of the campaign.
To answer why he would be open to not being involved again in the Champions League this season in order to move to Barca is to understand the sacrifices he has already made to date.
Coutinho left Brazil at 18 to move to Inter, with his parents and wife Aine giving up everything to join him on an unpredictable journey. “They moved with me to help make the settling easier,” he told this writer in an exclusive for CNN Sport. “But it was hard for them. As they were old, it was difficult for them to learn the language or adapt to a new culture and ways of doing things like I could.
“Aine had to change her entire routine, my dad had to quit his job which was painful because he loves to be busy. My parents eventually moved back to Brazil, so since then it has been me and my wife, although they are always involved.”
By the age of 20, Coutinho had kitted up in four different countries across two continents, in order to advance in his career. He may feel that everything he has had to surrender or overcome since his teens to now is much more significant than continued participation in the showpiece to take another step forward.
January will mark five years at Anfield for Liverpool’s two-time Player of the Season, in which he has developed and delivered.
As per Klopp, Coutinho, and Moore, no-one definitively knows what the window holds yet, but a depreciation of the club’s hardline stance if the moment and price is right would not be a huge surprise.
Time has made it so.
Chelsea are the latest club to show an interest in Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, but they will have to battle Liverpool and Arsenal who see him as a long-term target.
Arsenal and Liverpool both tried and failed in an effort to secure Lemar over summer, with Arsene Wenger’s side making a deadline day attempt to bring him in for £92 million to replace Alexis Sanchez. Liverpool also made two bids for Lemar just days before the transfer window closed.
Monaco will likely demand at least the £92m that Arsenal offered on August 31 for Lemar, who initially rejected the move to the Emirates as Wenger’s side were mulling over an offer from Manchester City for Sanchez.
- Wenger refuses to rule out rekindling Arsenal’s interest in Lemar
- Chelsea striker Morata set to welcome new arrival
- Conte in the dark regarding Chelsea’s January transfer plans
- Chelsea risk losing Hazard unless they can match Man City’s ambition
Monaco were happy with the offers they received in the summer but Lemar decided to stay as he targets a spot in France’s World Cup team for Russia 2018.
Lemar’s contract runs out in 2020 and it is likely that he will wait until the summer to move despite Monaco having dropped out of the Champions League and looking highly unlikely to defend their Ligue 1 title against a powerful Paris Saint-Germain side.
Chelsea are interested in adding depth to their forward line in January after missing out on Fernando Llorente over the summer, who chose to move from Swansea City to Tottenham for £15 million. Juventus’s Alex Sandro and Everton’s Ross Barkley are other targets that Chelsea missed out on but retain an interest in.
The 22-year-old’s fee will likely represent a transfer record for all three clubs holding an interest in him.
Arsene Wenger has called on Olivier Giroud to shelve any transfer plans and see out the 2017-18 campaign at Arsenal.
The France international striker equalled the Premier League record of ex-Manchester United favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during a 1-1 draw with Southampton last time out, with his 17th goal as a substitute the level best for a single club.
But Giroud, who was linked to Everton before the start of the campaign, has made all 13 of his top-flight appearances this season from the bench following the big-money arrival of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon.
- Ramsey boost for Arsenal as hamstring injury ‘not a big one’
- Boost for Arsenal as Arda Turan’s agent reiterates desire for January exit from Barcelona
- Wenger sees sumo solution for City and United following Manchester derby tunnel brawl
- No ultimatum as Arsenal’s Ozil and Alexis contract talks rumble on
As a result, and with places at the 2018 World Cup to think about, the 31-year-old has hinted that he could be tempted to leave Emirates Stadium in search of more regular game time during the January window.
Wenger, though, considers Giroud to be an important asset for Arsenal and is reluctant to sanction a move, telling reporters: “He is not a super-sub for me, he is a regular player. I have plenty of good strikers and I cannot play all of them together.
“I speak to all my players but it is very difficult to speak about what we talk about.
“He is a very important player. I have big respect for him and I am an admirer of Olivier Giroud. Look at how many French caps he has got since he joined Arsenal. I do not think he has wasted his time.
“Personally, I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season and then we’ll see.
“I can give you 10 more cases. Every player who doesn’t play wants to start in the Premier League.”
Giroud has been with Arsenal since 2012, with the current campaign seeing him pass the 100-goal mark for the club.
He has broken into double figures in terms of Premier League efforts in each of his five seasons in north London and needs just one more appearance to reach 250 for the Gunners.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was literally about to sign for Fiorentina on July 25, 2015 when the Serbian broke down in tears, confessing, “I’m sorry but I can’t. I really can’t.”
Viola sporting director Daniele Prade was as annoyed as he was astounded. He refused to try to change the Genk midfielder’s mind.
“We don’t beg anyone to come here,” Prade declared. “Sergej asked us to hold off on doing the medical so that he could speak with his girlfriend and then decide.
- A Mourinho myth? Man Utd booked for simulation more than any Premier League side
- Champions League last 16 draw: Man Utd vs Sevilla, Real Madrid vs PSG, Barcelona vs Chelsea
- Man Utd ‘far more boring’ under Mourinho – Van Gaal
- After Mourinho soaking and Arteta cut, FA seek information over Manchester derby tunnel row
“But, for us, that wasn’t on. If he has issues outside of football to resolve, then we’re going to take a step back and say, ‘Enough’.”
There were subsequent claims that Milinkovic-Savic had already agreed personal terms with Lazio and, therefore, felt guilty going back on a promise made to sporting director Igli Tare to move to Rome.
Either way, an irate Prade was uninterested in trying to placate a player that he felt had embarrassed both him and the club.
“He’s not convinced, he’s hesitant and we cannot wait around to accommodate a kid of 20 years of age,” he sniped.
In hindsight, perhaps the Viola should have been a little more patient and understanding – and not just because Milinkovic-Savic, rather typically, opened his Serie A account against Fiorentina, in January 2016.
At the time of his arrival in Florence, Milinkovic-Savic was, as Prade acknowledged, still very young.
Fiorentina’s hardline response to his 11th-hour breakdown was perhaps justified but it wasn’t particularly shrewd, as it ultimately paved the way for Lazio to sign the Serbian the very next day for €9 million and Fiorentina’s loss has proved the Biancocelesti’s gain. Indeed, that gain could be about to get a whole lot bigger.
As well as having played a colossal part in Lazio’s return to prominence in Serie A over the past two years – last season they finished a surprising fifth, above both Milan clubs, and reached the final of the Coppa Italia – Milinkovic-Savic has also caught the attention of Europe’s elite.
In response, Lazio have slapped a €100m price tag on his head. Manchester United, among others, are now considering paying it.
According to Vittorio Campanile of the podcast ‘Lazio Lounge’, Milinkovic-Savic would be worth another club-record fee for the Old Trafford outfit: “He has it all: he is big, he is strong, he is skilled and he is built to succeed in modern football.”
Certainly, Milinkovic-Savic has been blessed physically, which can be attributed to the fact that his father Nikoka is a former professional footballer, while his mother Milana played basketball – it is also worth noting that his brother Vanja plays for Torino as a goalkeeper.
He has long been a prodigious talent, too. His agent, former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman, decided to sign him up after watching just 10 minutes of Milinkovic-Savic in action during a training session with Vojvodina’s youth team.
It was the right call. Milinkovic-Savic broke into the senior side at just 18 and earned a move to Belgian outfit Genk just seven months later.
He adapted quickly to the Jupiler Pro League but it was his performances at under-age level for Serbia that really marked him out as one of the most exciting young players in world football.
Milinkovic-Savic had already tasted European Championship glory at Under-19 level in 2013 when he helped his country win the Under-20 World Cup in the summer of 2015.
His dominant displays in the Serbian midfield earned him both the tournament’s Bronze Ball but also the attention of a number of top clubs, principally Fiorentina and Lazio.
He may have handled that particular situation poorly but he has since proved his mettle by almost always shining in the Biancolesti’s biggest games, developing a particular propensity for delivering in the derby.
Indeed, he scored the opening goal in both legs of Lazio’s Coppa Italia semi-final success over Roma earlier this year, which only further endeared him to an already adoring Curva Nord.
For the Biancocelesti faithful, Milinkovic-Savic is already priceless but whether he would really be worth €100m to United – or anyone else – is open to debate.
He is both brave on the ball and in the tackle: no midfielder has taken part in or won more duels in Serie A this season. He is also excellent in the air, as underlined by the fact that he ranks second among midfielders for aerial duels won.
However, his passing needs to improve dramatically – he is the seventh worst midfielder in Serie A in terms of possession lost – and he also gives away too many silly free-kicks.
Still, Milinkovic-Savic is acutely aware of his flaws: “I’m still young and can make mistakes.”
There are obvious comparisons with Paul Pogba during the Frenchman’s first few seasons at Juventus and, as Campanile points out, Milinkovic-Savic is a versatile, talented midfielder who is getting better all the time.
“He can play in different positions and still be a key player. He can play near the striker as a trequartista or as a more orthodox central midfielder, protecting the back four.
“I really believe he is set to become the best midfielder in Europe.”
There is every chance that he could fulfil that potential at Old Trafford, too.
Juventus are interested in signing Milinkovic-Savic, having identified the need to reinvigorate their midfield in 2018, but the player is clearly open to moving to Manchester.
“Mourinho is the best manager in the world,” he enthused in January. “He’s intelligent. And simply the best.”
Mourinho would, therefore, be advised to wrap up a deal as quickly as possible for Milinkovic-Savic. Otherwise, it could all end in tears.