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Pogba’s United future: No Sanchez-style pay bump

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Paul Pogba’s Manchester United future is the subject of this week’s ESPN’s Insider Notebook. PLUS: Axel Tuanzebe shows captain material.

Jump to: Tuanzebe a United captain in waiting | Fabinho set for new Liverpool deal | Hazard warning for Madrid | Tuchel wanted Suarez, PSG said no | Bale’s golf course bail out | Euro League doesn’t worry elite leagues

United won’t break bank to keep Pogba

Manchester United have warned Paul Pogba they are not willing to give him a bumper pay rise to keep him at Old Trafford, sources told ESPN.

The club are keen to extend Pogba’s stay with a new long-term deal, but sources have said it will have to be a reasonable offer. After finally getting Alexis Sanchez off the books in the summer with his permanent move to Inter Milan, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are in agreement the wage structure will not be broken for any player, including Pogba.

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– Laurens: Pogba’s United troubles
– Dawson: Sanchez’s United nightmare

Sanchez still had two years left on his mammoth contract at United — worth around £400,000-a-week before bonuses — before he left and the club saved close to £40 million in wages by negotiating a deal with Inter and ending his stay early. Pogba would be given a pay rise on his £270,000-a-week deal if he signs a new contract, but intermediaries involved in preliminary talks have been clear that, despite Pogba’s high profile, Woodward and Solskjaer will not be offering extortionate wages to convince him to stay. A “Sanchez-style” contract is out of the question.

Sources said United are “relaxed” about Pogba’s future and Woodward remains open to allowing the 27-year-old to run into the final year of his deal if fresh terms cannot be agreed. United recently exercised their option to extend Pogba’s deal at the club until 2022. Based on that option the France international would be allowed to open negotiations with teams outside the Premier League from January 2022 and leave on a free the following summer.

Meanwhile, the player faces a battle to win back his place in Solskjaer’s team after being left on the bench for back-to-back victories against Newcastle and Paris Saint-Germain. Sources said Pogba hasn’t yet made a decision about where his future lies, although he has publicly courted interest from Real Madrid, saying during the international break it would be “a dream” to sign for the Spanish giants. Former club Juventus have also expressed interest in the past. — Rob Dawson

Mbappe silenced as Tuanzebe shows captain material

Axel Tuanzebe‘s impressive performance while marking Kylian Mbappe during Manchester United‘s 2-1 Champions League victory against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday was no surprise to United boss Solskjaer, who believes the 22-year-old is a future captain of the club due to his qualities on and off the pitch, sources told ESPN.

– Ogden: Mbappe silenced, Rashford a hero again

Solskjaer and his coaches have identified the need for the United squad to be more vocal and demanding of each other, and the signings this year of Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani have been made with that requirement factored in, with both players possessing the leadership qualities demanded by the manager.

But despite being restricted to fewer than 20 first-team appearances for United as a result of injury and two season-long loan spells at Aston Villa, Tuanzebe’s character and readiness to challenge his teammates has been noted by Solskjaer and senior figures at Old Trafford.

Tuanzebe captained United in the Carabao Cup win against Rochdale in September 2019, with Solskjaer handing the youngster the armband ahead of more experienced starters including Pogba, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard.

Solskjaer justified the surprise decision at the time by saying: “It is just a way of telling Axel that we trust him,” but sources said that United’s faith in Tuanzebe runs much deeper and his leadership qualities, combined with his pace and his ability to read the game, mark him out to be a first-team regular and a player with the attributes to become captain in the long-term. — Mark Ogden

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ESPN FC’s Craig Burley says Solskjaer had the guts to make the moves that his PSG counterpart didn’t.

Fabinho set for Liverpool contract talks

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho is set for talks over a new deal after the Brazil international became a key player for Jurgen Klopp’s side, sources told ESPN.

Fabinho, 27, still has two years left on the contract he signed when he joined Liverpool from Monaco for €50m in 2018, but he has become such an important player that he is set to be rewarded with a new deal.

After joining on July 1, he didn’t make his first appearance until Sept. 18 and waited until Oct. 18 for his Premier League debut as Klopp integrated him into Liverpool’s culture and playing style. Since he secured a place in the team, though, he played a huge part in Liverpool winning the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020.

He has become one of Europe’s best holding midfielders and his versatility makes him indispensable to Liverpool, who used him at centre-back for the 1-0 Champions League win against Ajax on Wednesday with Virgil van Dijk ruled out through injury. — Julien Laurens

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Steve Nicol believes Liverpool players need to move on and put aside Virgil van Dijk’s absence.

Hazard warning for Real Madrid over injury fears

There’s growing concern at Real Madrid over Eden Hazard‘s latest injury setback, with the €100m forward facing another longer-than-expected layoff which could see him absent until after the next international break.

Hazard was last named in a matchday squad on Sept. 30 for Madrid’s La Liga game with Real Valladolid — due to be his first appearance of the season — but he was withdrawn hours before kick off with a muscular problem in his right leg. An initial diagnosis suggested he would miss three to four weeks, but coach Zinedine Zidane admitted this week that “his injury was a bit more than we thought.”

Since then, the Belgium international had been targeting Madrid’s Champions League clash with Inter on Nov. 3 for a return, but the club would prefer to wait rather than risk another relapse. That means Hazard might not feature until the trip to Villarreal on Nov. 22, after the upcoming round of international matches.

Hazard has suffered one injury blow after another — fracturing his ankle playing against Paris Saint-Germain last November and requiring surgery after a repeat of the same injury against Levante in February — since moving to the Bernabeu from Chelsea in 2019, describing last season as “the worst of my career” and facing repeated questions from the media over his form and fitness. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez

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Ale Moreno wonders if Eden Hazard will go down as a bad signing for Real Madrid due to injury concerns.

Tuchel wanted Suarez, PSG said no

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel wanted to sign Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and striker Luis Suarez from Barcelona during the summer transfer window as he looked to strengthen the Champions League finalists’ squad ahead of another tilt at European glory this season.

However, sporting director Leonardo was not keen and vetoed moves for both, much to the disappointment of Tuchel.

Sources told ESPN that the pair clashed over transfers during the summer window and tensions between the pair have increased after the club were beaten 2-1 at home by Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday.

A couple of weeks ago, Tuchel publicly moaned about the lack of arrivals, with Leonardo responding that he must “respect the choices of the sports management” amid speculation that Mauricio Pochettino and Massimiliano Allegri are options to replace Tuchel on the PSG bench.

Sources said that the manager thinks Leonardo didn’t do enough to strengthen PSG’s squad and doesn’t understand why the sporting director was not keen on Rudiger, who would have come on loan, and Suarez, who left Barca for free, so tensions continue. — Julien Laurens

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Frank Leboeuf reacts to the latest in a public feud between PSG manager Thomas Tuchel and director Leonardo.

Bale out, bail out: Welshman’s favourite golf course needs help

Gareth Bale‘s favourite Madrid golf course has had to be bailed out of financial trouble just weeks after its most high-profile customer left for a return to the Premier League with Tottenham.

Golf fanatic Bale was a regular at the swanky Golf Santander complex, near his home to the west of Madrid, during his seven-year stay in the Spanish capital. Bale was even reported to have taken to the greens in August while his then-Real Madrid teammates were preparing for a must-win Champions League knockout tie with Manchester City, after refusing to travel.

The 18-hole course in upmarket Boadilla del Monte was designed by the legendary, late Seve Ballesteros — winner of five majors — and has consistently been named one of Europe’s best.

Now its backer, Banco Santander, has approved a €9.1m capital reduction to compensate for losses caused by significant recent investment in the facilities, as well as 2020’s drop in international tourism.

A spokesman for the bank told ESPN the move was a “mere accounting adjustment” in the company that runs the course alongside its other sporting centres used by employees and the public. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez

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1:52

Mark Ogden believes talks of a European Premier League are far too optimistic to be true at the moment.

Top leagues not troubled by European Premier League talk

UEFA, along with most leagues and clubs, were caught by surprise when news of a $6 billion (£4.6 billion) European Premier League broke on Wednesday, but sources told ESPN there is little concern among leagues about it. Instead, they see this as a unique opportunity to reshape the global football calendar.

The format of the Champions League for the 2024-27 cycle must be decided next year, with the biggest clubs wanting a larger slice of the financial riches, and to play more games against their top rivals from other leagues.

– Marcotti: How a Super League could happen

UEFA, which stands to lose most from a breakaway if its marquee clubs form a new competition, has condemned the idea of any kind Super League, calling it “boring.” But sources say it is aware that investment firms are circling around football as a relatively safe bet to recover from the coronavirus crisis. In Italy, Serie A is being heavily targeted by CVC Capital Partners and Advent International, who are working together to take a stake in the league’s commercial rights.

While the top clubs may be attracted to go their own way with the promise of a large payday, sources said the top leagues are confident a solution will be found that suits the game as a whole, and that any breakaway would jeopardise plans to find a wider solution.

With FIFA’s international match calendar due for renewal in 2024, along with the Champions League, there may not be another chance to reshape how club and international football fits together for many years.

Sources said that the World Leagues Forum, which represents 41 of the leading leagues around the world, has been in regular dialogue with FIFA and UEFA to discuss the calendar. Talks continue to find a solution for all, but they have not involved any breakaway from UEFA competition from the top clubs. — Dale Johnson

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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