Manchester United are to pay Shanghai Shenhua £6m in order to extend Odion Ighalo’s loan deal until January 2021, while covering at least a third of the striker’s wage packet.
Ighalo joined United in January, scoring four times in eight appearances before the coronavirus brought football to a near-universal halt.
His loan move was due to expire on 31 May, but United confirmed on Monday that a deal had been reached between the two clubs to keep the striker at Old Trafford for the remainder of the 2019/20 season and the first half of the following campaign.
Seen as a short-term, budget option, the Times have reported that the Red Devils will pay Shanghai a loan fee of £6m for the extension, in addition to covering around one third of Ighalo’s £300,000 per week wages.
The Mirror claim the amount United will pay is actually £130,000 per week, while adding that there is not option to buy at the end of the loan, which has a total cost of £10.5m.
Prior to the official announcement, Shanghai had been proving to be stubborn negotiators, stating they would only accept a permanent deal for the Nigerian international, who they valued at £20m.
However, the uncertainty surrounding when the Chinese Super League will resume, coupled with the fact Ighalo is not allowed into the country at the moment due to China’s current strict border laws, meant Shanghai’s stance softened, and a formal agreement was reached.
The former Watford man was initially brought in on transfer deadline day as cover for Marcus Rashford, after United’s first choice forward suffered a back fracture against Wolves in January.
Ighalo was primarily used in the Europa League and FA Cup, and with United still in both competitions and facing the prospect of nine Premier League matches in the space of six weeks once the top flight resumes, he could still feature heavily for the Red Devils despite Rashford’s return to fitness.
The signing of the 30-year-old was initially mocked as a deadline day panic buy, but Ighalo soon proved to be a shrewd acquisition, popping up with a brace and turning in a man of the match performance against Derby in the FA Cup fifth round.
Shanghai have offered Ighalo a new year four-year deal, which they still expect him to sign once his extended loan spell at United finishes.
If the widely successful Galácticos 2.0 era ended the moment Cristiano Ronaldo departed in 2018 post Champions League win in Kiev, what will Real Madrid fans remember this current team for?
Of course, the majority of players still remain from that victorious side, and some will continue to play a major role for Los Blancos going forward.
Raphaël Varane is remarkably just 27 years old and will likely play out the next five to seven years at the Santiago Bernabéu. Similarly, Thibaut Courtois should be in Madrid for the long-term, and club officials would be silly to let the recently signed Eden Hazard go in a hurry.
And there’s plenty of younger players who could establish themselves as regulars in the famous white colours for a long time. Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo have shown flashes of the attacking stars they could become, while loaned-out duo Achraf Hakimi and Martin Ødegaard have been sensational at Borussia Dortmund and Real Sociedad respectively this season. You’ve also got the injured Marco Asensio to return, who looked primed for a bigger role before he tore his ACL in July 2019.
Yet the issue that remains is the looming decline of their world-class midfield duo, who may be headed for a major drop off in their physical abilities on the pitch. A few seconds slower in their sprint perhaps, or becoming less able to withstand an aggressive press from the opposition.
Make no mistake, Toni Kroos and Luka Modri? have both been fantastic servants for Real Madrid. They have run the engine room together for so long and have been excellent in continuing to create the openings for their attacking teammates to feast off. But there have been times this season where they have not looked up to speed against younger and more athletic opposing midfielders.
There’s certainly no need to part ways with them now, but the club will need to plan on how to implement the necessary changes needed to keep up with the best teams in the world. You only need to look at Liverpool, Bayern Munich and even rivals Barcelona – all three have put together midfield combinations designed to transition from defence to attack quickly, while also being able to sustain a high energy pressing game throughout the 90 minutes.
Granted, the club do have young players waiting in the wings. Federico Valverde has certainly been a revelation for Zinedine Zidane’s side, and his physicality gives him a great platform to improve his game on a technical level. Loaned-out youngster Ødegaard has also shown exactly why Los Blancos were keen to acquire him all those years ago with his impressive performances this season.
There’s also the rumoured arrival of 17-year-old whizzkid Eduardo Camavinga from Stade Rennes that could happen this summer, and of course you can expect Zidane to lavish praise on his countrymen Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté in the off-season, as a way of wooing them over to Spain.
The transition in midfield seems inevitable. But there’s one man who won’t be going anywhere – Casemiro.
Leading all other La Liga players in the number of tackles and interceptions made, the 28-year-old remains indispensable for his side in stopping any other attacking midfielder from pulling the strings and affecting the game.
His ability to win back the ball is huge for the capital club in spearheading any counter-attacks. But he won’t stop and admire the defensive work he’s done – the Brazilian has the capacity to charge up the field and drive forward his team from his deep position, pining the opposition back into their own half and effectively breaking the press that had previously nullified his team.
Being able to play in that withdrawn role means he’s also developed his ability to read the game even further, and the midfielder’s intelligence in positioning himself just where he needs to be to halt any pacey attacking threats has got better with every season that he’s played.
And as his brace against Sevilla earlier in the season showed, he’s capable of getting a crucial goal or two, at times when his team need him the most.
In the current era where intense pressing and high-octane counter-attacking football is seen as the most successful style of football, Casemiro’s presence is essential for Los Blancos’ chances of continuing to reign supreme over the best teams in the world.
Whichever direction Real take next season, the Brazilian shapes up as an crucial figure for Zidane. With Kroos and Modri?, he’ll likely be asked to evolve his game and like Kanté, take on a more advanced role in linking defence and attack.
But if it’s decided for him to play with his younger teammates in Valverde and Ødegaard, then he’ll likely continue the ball-winning role he’s excelled at. The interesting thing here is what role would he play if he’s paired with Camavinga – does he take on a hybrid role and become a more complete midfielder? Who knows if we’ll see it happen.
Nevertheless, in whatever Real Madrid team that ends up being formed next season – Casemiro will remain the key. A defensive midfielder leading the post-Galácticos era? Who would have thought that.
It’s the summer of 2019, and you have the world at your feet. You’ve just become the youngest player in Premier League history, and having just left Fulham on a free transfer, you can take your pick of Europe’s elite.
You have a list of offers longer than your arm; Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and virtually every major club in England have expressed an interest.
Los Blancos have tabled one of the more serious offers; they’re so keen on securing your services, in fact, that they have offered you the chance to meet club captain Sergio Ramos, clearly believing that you – a 16-year-old with next to no senior experience – will be so starstruck that you will have no choice but to sign there and then.
So what do you say when the 13-time European champions, and one of the biggest institutions in sport, make such a life-changing proposition?
“No, it’s OK, thanks.”
You’re Harvey Elliott, and in one remark, casually polite, yet dripping in disarming, self-assured swagger. you have announced your intentions to the world.
It was a decision made, Elliott says, out of loyalty to the club he supports. He’d watched Real’s pantomime villain injure Mohamed Salah in the Champions League final a year earlier, putting the Egyptian’s World Cup at risk and ultimately contributing to a heartbreaking defeat for Liverpool in Kiev.
As he flagrantly thumbed his nose at one of the great sporting institutions, gambling with his own career for the sake of his morals, it was the first major sign of an unnatural, unerring confidence in his own abilities.
It might have been naive and against everything his advisors were telling him at the time, but shortly after telling a contingent from Madrid where to go, Elliott’s confidence in himself was repaid. Within three months, he had made his senior Liverpool debut.
It came in a 2-0 League Cup victory at MK Dons back in August, and there was a truly special quality to the level of performance he delivered. Steven Gerrard was 18 years and five months old when he made his Liverpool bow, but here was Elliott – closer to his 16th birthday than his 17th – running the show as if he had been here for years.
Watching him, boy-bun and all, as he lasted the 90 minutes despite the best efforts of Dons’ Joe Walsh and Brennan Dickenson, there was an air of composure and measured entitlement to his game. He knew he belonged, and that, accompanied by his evident creative intelligence and ability on the ball, was a frightening prospect.
Still in his mid-teens, he was never going to build on that performance by unseating Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané from the starting XI, but the frequency with which he has since been deployed as a first-team player suggests that the faith he has in his own abilities is echoed elsewhere.
He’s made a further six first-team appearances, and his energy and vibrancy – both in ability and personality – have generated a clamour to see him included more often.
That may seem a little over-the-top for such a young player, but he has almost transcended youth level already. He made a mockery of the UEFA Youth League in his debut campaign, scoring or assisting in six of the young Reds’ seven matches. When he has been used in Premier League 2 – making an intermittent 11 starts due to his senior duties – he’s managed two goals and four assists.
The startling strides forward he has made in his first year at Anfield suggest there is only room for an upward trajectory, and with the Reds seemingly set for another summer of cautious spending – the prospect of Timo Werner grows less likely by the day – you wonder if it might already be time to pull the trigger.
None of this is to say Elliott is certainly ready to be thrust into a role as Mohamed Salah’s understudy, but it’s often unclear just how prepared a young player is until they’ve been left in the deep end with no rubber ring to cling onto.
Jadon Sancho came highly-rated when he arrived at Dortmund, but few would ever have predicted that within a couple of years, he’d be hitting 20 goals and 20 assists with weeks of the season to spare.
For Elliott, it’s all there. He has a manager who trusts him and has a clear plan in place for his development. He has ability and confidence in himself; he even has the unprecedented opportunity of a dead-rubber end to the season, in which he can be gradually introduced to league football with the pressure off.
In theory, it’s a perfect storm. Rarely has a young player had such a clear pathway into such an impressive and formidable first-team, and rarely does a young player have the talent to take advantage of it. Yet here we are with both boxes checked.
Then again, this is a young player with the gall to laugh in the face of Real Madrid – we shouldn’t really be surprised.
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Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari has urged all footballers to take a knee in order to protest the killing of George Floyd and show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed in Minneapolis after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes.
The Liverpool squad were pictured down on one knee in the Anfield centre circle in a show of solidarity – a gesture first adopted by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 in protest against police brutality in the States.
Bhandari has encouraged other players to follow suit once the Premier League resumes.
Speaking to the Guardian, the Kick It Out chairman said: “I wonder if that’s the thing I would encourage if players want to protest. If you score a goal and take a knee could everyone do that? Not just the black players. The white players too – everyone.
“Every player should do it. It should be teams doing it. You saw the Erling Haaland celebration after the first game back where all the Borussia Dortmund players did the social distancing celebration.
“They could all take a knee. Racism’s not about black players or brown fans. It’s about all of us. Racism corrodes society and we’re all hurt by it. Everyone should want to demonstrate their solidarity and disgust.”
A number of Bundesliga players used the weekend’s fixtures to pay tribute to Floyd.
Jadon Sancho revealing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Justice for George Floyd’ after scoring Borussia Dortmund’s second during their 6-1 victory over Paderborn.
Schalke captain Weston McKennie wore a captain’s arm band baring the same message, while Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram marked his side’s opening goal by taking a knee.
Sancho was booked for displaying a message under his shirt, and Bhandari has urged the FA to not discipline players for taking a knee.
“I would like to encourage the players to protest if they want to,” he added. “But I would also like to encourage them to do it in a way that doesn’t expose them to unnecessary sanction.
“If they could do that by taking a knee, well if every player did that it would be quite a powerful message. I would be interested to hear what the authorities thought of that, whether it would constitute a breach of the rules.
Chelsea have submitted a proposal to the Premier League requesting the number of substitutes be increased from seven to nine as the top flight’s return nears.
The Premier League is poised to resume on 17 June following a three month hiatus due to the coronavirus, with adjustments to the substitution laws in place to reduce the risk of injury.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) have increased the number of substitutions per game from three to five, with the new law already adopted in the Bundesliga.
According to the Daily Mail, Chelsea have gone further still and submitted a proposal to the Premier League requesting that nine substitutes be permitted on the bench, on the grounds of health and wellbeing concerns.
By the time play resumes in England’s top flight, players will not have been involved in competitive action for three months. However, stars face the prospect of playing nine games in the space of just six weeks amid attempts to conclude the season as soon as possible.
The proposal will be discussed at the Premier League’s shareholder meeting on Thursday, before a vote on the issue on 11 June.
Should shareholders vote in favour of the proposal, this does not mean the number of substitutions made per game – which has already been increased to five – will increase further.
However, IFAB could yet choose to do so to improve player welfare.
Chelsea currently sit in the final Champions League place, with just three points separating them from fifth place Manchester United.
The Blues returned to group training on 20 May, but N’Golo Kante was late to join up with the rest of the squad.
The French midfielder was reluctant to return due to concerns regarding coronavirus and his family, and he has been following an individual training program since coming back.
Clubs returned to full contact training following a unanimous vote on 27 May, although Kante is yet to join in with his teammates, leading to speculation he could miss Chelsea’s first game back.