B/R Gossip Roundup: Cole in Demand, Arsenal See Sense with Sagna and More
A week of action that has provided a shake-up in both the English and Spanish title races has not distracted the papers from their hunt for transfer gossip.
The past seven days have brought the usual transfer rumours and gossip to the back-page headlines.
Ashley Cole made a couple of appearances, with both reported deals having merit for a player who could be one of the main free-transfer scraps of the summer.
Here, we take a look at the stories from the week and offer our assessment.
Liverpool Summer Transfer Move for Chelsea Defender Ashley Cole Has Merit
The future of Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is never far from the surface when it comes to newspaper speculation.
And David Woods of the Daily Star offered a further possibility for the England international in the summer, linking Liverpool with a move for the left-back.
The 33-year-old appears to have little future at Stamford Bridge, with his contract expiring at the end of the current Premier League season and no sign of a new deal forthcoming.
Add that to the fact that Cole has barely made an impression on the first team since Jose Mourinho made his return to West London last summer, and the cards seem stacked against the former Arsenal man staying on with the Blues.
Cole will not be short of suitors in the summer, and the Anfield connection should offer Cole plenty to consider.
Liverpool are in a strong position, and a first league title in 24 years is a genuine possibility.
However, the weak link in Brendan Rodgers' team's armour is, undoubtedly, its back line. The Reds have been heavily reliant on the form of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who have managed to score more than the defence has conceded.
And one area of defence that does need work is the left-sided role. Jon Flanagan, 21, has been impressive in the role, but he is still learning the game. Having an experienced player such as Cole to work with would offer a further chance of education.
It should also be remembered that Rodgers worked with Cole in his coaching role at Stamford Bridge before branching into management.
Perhaps Cole would not be guaranteed a first-team berth at Liverpool, but a transfer to Merseyside affords the full-back the opportunity to remain in the top flight with a leading club.
It is an intriguing possibility for all parties, and one which should be expored fully.
Believability meter: High
This is a definite possibility for both Cole and Liverpool.
The England international appears to have little future at Chelsea, and the chance to prove a point with the Reds might prove too difficult to resist.
For Liverpool and Rodgers, no transfer fee will offer some leeway in wage negotiations, and the Reds will also be taking in proven quality and experience.
Cole to Madrid Sounds Like a Real Deal
There has been no word from club or player, but the indications are that Cole will be heading away from Chelsea for a new challenge in the summer.
We've noted the link with Liverpool, but prior to Sunday’s copy of The Sun dropping through the door, not many would have thought about the full-back heading for Real Madrid.
That, though, is what Antony Kastrinakis of The Sun (Subscription) is suggesting.
In the piece, Kastrinakis quotes a Bernabeu insider as saying:
Ashley is a world-class player and Madrid have wanted to sign him for some time.
It is now the perfect opportunity as he is free.
At first glance, it would appear to be something of an odd deal. Cole is now 33, and he has lost his place in the Chelsea side to Cesar Azpilicueta.
That is not the sort of profile of player you would expect Real Madrid to be targeting, given the lavish spending they are famed for.
Cole, though, is still a top-class left-back. He may have only made 12 league starts this term, but that is due to the consistent excellence of Azpilicueta. He may not be as sharp as he once was, but Cole is still more than capable of operating at the highest level.
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti will know all about Cole’s qualities, having worked with him at Stamford Bridge from 2009 to 2011, so there is certainly some substance in the talk of Cole moving to Madrid.
As a free agent, if Cole winds down his contract at Chelsea as expected, the defender is unlikely to be short of offers come the summer.
The lure of Real Madrid would be strong, given the likelihood of being able to challenge for honours and the relationship Cole has with Ancelotti.
One potential stumbling block to any deal could concern Ancelotti. The Italian has gone from a position of authority to one of uncertainty in the past week, following defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla.
Should Real fall short in La Liga and also crash out of the Champions League to Borussia Dortmund, Ancelotti may find his position coming under threat—which would throw any potential transfer deals up in the air.
Believability Meter: Medium to High
After the initial shock of seeing a back-page splash involving Cole and Real Madrid, there are actually plenty of reasons to believe that this deal could happen. However, it could depend on whether Ancelotti remains at the Bernabeu next season.
Offering Bacary Sagna a Three-Year Deal Makes Sense for Arsenal
On Saturday, reports emerged that Arsenal were prepared to break with tradition to offer right-back Bacary Sagna a new three-year contract to remain at the club.
John Cross reported for the Daily Mirror:
Sagna, 31, is a free agent when his current deal expires this summer and has already had interest from Manchester City, Inter Milan and Galatasaray.
But Mirror Sport understands that Arsenal are determined to try and persuade Sagna to stay and have broken with club tradition to try and keep him.
Arsenal have offered Sagna a three year deal which is a major statement as up until recently Arsene Wenger has only offered only one year extensions to their 30-somethings.
But they are bending the rules for Sagna and want to reward him for his loyalty with a deal which would see him finish his career at the Emirates.
Gunners boss Wenger is hopeful Sagna will stay even though foreign clubs are free to talk to him and even offer him a pre-contract. But Wenger denied City have made him an offer.
Earlier in the week there had been breathless reports that Manchester City had offered the France international a three-year deal, putting them in pole position to snare Sagna as Arsenal continued to drag their feet.
Arsenal's rumoured change of tack possibly indicates an admission on their part that the potential cost of losing Sagna to their league rivals is far higher than the cost of bowing to his contract wishes.
Believability Meter: High
Arsenal's stance on over-30 players—basically, not to offer them long contract extensions—often made sense in principle, considering that players can decline very rapidly once they get to the "wrong" side of 30.
Having said that, considering the advances in nutrition, physiotherapy and training, it has become almost normal for elite players to continue performing at the highest level until their mid- to late-30s. Sagna, conceivably, could remain a top right-back for another four or five years, so a three-year deal is not really the risk some might think.
Similarly, it is surely worth paying the extra years in to ensure they do not lose the right-back to an archrival. Replacing him would cost far more than the three-year deal he will surely now receive.
Whether he still opts for Manchester City's riches, however, is a different matter.
Manchester City Will Not Allow Joe Hart to Leave Without a Significant Fight
Ahead of the Manchester derby on Tuesday, one morning newspaper carried a report that could cause palpitations among some Manchester City supporters.
Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Star claimed that Real Madrid are planning a £25 million transfer move for goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Not exactly the perfect preparation for the trip to Old Trafford, although, ultimately, the England international was allowed plenty of time to consider his future with a lack of genuine activity around his goal on the night.
The 26-year-old has been an integral part of the team's successes in recent seasons and is one of very few squad members to have made his way through City's ranks since joining from Shrewsbury Town in 2006.
But this season has not been such a consistent one for Hart, with a number of errors earlier in the campaign seeing him omitted from the first team.
Hart admitted this week that he still hadn't come to terms with being axed from the starting XI by City manager Manuel Pellegrini, as Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph reported, which is, perhaps, the genesis of the Real link.
Hart is quoted as saying:
I don’t want it to seem as though everything is fine or that it was part of my life that I will forget because I’m still living it and I am trying to live in the moment more recently.
The past is the past and we don’t know what lies ahead, so it’s better to live day by day.
We are going to get some wonderful opportunities at this club, some I will be playing in, some I won’t, and I’m just trying to look at things the best I can.
Hart has since rediscovered his form to help City maintain their Premier League title challenge following their Champions League and FA Cup exits.
Pellegrini would be, understandably, reluctant to let Hart leave the club, but the possibility of the England No. 1 proving himself at the World Cup finals might add further value to a potential deal.
Kajumba also points out that Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas could be offered as part of a move for Hart—the Spain international has been a bit-part figure at the Bernabeu this season.
If City can tempt a big name to the Etihad Stadium in the summer, perhaps then Pellegrini would consider a deal. But it is still going to take some persuasion.
Believability meter: Low
This appears to be a story born from Hart's initial comments that he is still hurting from his dropping from the team earlier in the season.
Casillas is 32, while Hart is still a sprightly 26—a big difference in footballing terms.
It is unlikely Pellegrini will let Hart go without a significant fight.
UEFA Nations League Holds Promise in Place of Staid International Friendlies
The issue of friendly internationals and their lack of meaning in the football calendar have long been a bugbear for club managers, such as Arsene Wenger.
When Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture of his foot while playing in for England this month, the Gunners were immediately looking for compensation, according to Mark Irwin and Shaun Custis of The Sun (subscription required).
But while friendly internationals have been a bane for club bosses, they have also rarely produced any genuine excitement for supporters.
So when Ben Rumsby of the Daily Telegraph broke the news of a UEFA Nations League this week, the story offered an encouraging sign for fans.
Sure enough, UEFA president Michel Platini unveiled the plan later in the week (UEFA.com), with the Nations League to replace friendlies from the 2018-19 campaign.
It is a refreshing idea for international play and one which, arguably, needed doing to resurrect the football calendar.
To ensure competition, UEFA has also announced that four berths at the Euro 2020 finals will be available to non-qualifying countries, as BBC Sport reported.
UEFA missed a trick with the Europa League by failing to give the winners of the tournament a place in the Champions League when the revamped UEFA Cup got underway in 2009.
But the European governing body appears to be on the right track with the incentive of a finals place on offer via the new Nations League.
Of course, countries with a relatively straight-forward Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, such as England, may decide that the Nations League could be used as somewhat of a reserve league for fringe players to make their mark.
However, the promise of genuine competition in place of the near-moribund friendly system currently in place represents a solid step forward by UEFA.
Whether Wenger and his fellow club managers will welcome the new competitive format is another question.
Believability meter: High
This is definitely a forward-looking move by UEFA, with friendly internationals offering less and less attraction in terms of excitement for fans and players alike.
It is understandable that club managers will be wary of competitive action outside of the mainstream calendar, with the threat of injury more prevalent in a game with something at stake.
But the prospect of the new tournament is a welcome addition to the international season to replace the staid friendly match.
Plane Protest Against David Moyes Does Manchester Utd Fans Little Credit
So, the plane was bought, flew its little banner and the money spent by some Manchester United supporters was all worth the effort, wasn't it?
David Anderson of the Daily Mirror reported on Friday that "season-ticket holders and members of the Red Issue fans' website forum" had clubbed together for a light aircraft to encircle Old Trafford with a banner reading "Wrong One—Moyes Out" on its tail.
What larks to be had here, but such antics deserve little more than contempt from other fans, a situation borne out by the booing among many United supporters as the plane passed over the stadium.
For the past 20 years, United have been accustomed to success under Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the greatest manager the game has seen. Certainly the most successful.
Moyes was handpicked by his predecessor to replace him at the Old Trafford helm before the end of last season, but the handover has not gone as planned.
These things happen. It is part of football life and United and their fans need to accept that it is their turn to suffer the slings and arrows of the cycle.
But, no. Just short of two weeks on from the phenomenal support shown to the team during the 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, some fans have progressed to flying a plane over Old Trafford.
Perhaps someone should tell them that they might as well fly a kite.
Fans of a certain vintage will remember the reaction to Ferguson's early years when United fan Pete Molyneux unfurled a flag at Old Trafford declaring "Ta ra Fergie" after three unsuccessful years under the former Aberdeen boss, as Daniel Taylor noted in The Guardian. He would later regret his actions.
Admittedly, the world of football is different now and slipping off the pace in the chase for the Champions League affects more than just personal pride, with share prices and PLCs all part of the game.
Whether Moyes is the right man for United is not the issue here, although few would begrudge the 4-1 win over Aston Villa as an exercise in personal vindication.
United performances this season have been dire at times, and few would have fancied being in the shoes of a Red Devils fan on Wednesday morning after the display in the 3-0 defeat to City.
But some United fans have moved too quickly from standing by their man to the alternative end of the scale with the open vilification of the manager via the medium of a light aircraft and the potential tearing down of a banner, as Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph noted.
What should also be highlighted in Anderson's report is that the quoted source wishes only to be "called Jake and did not want his surname published in case of reprisals by the club."
"Jake" was quoted as saying of the plane idea:
It was an idea put forward by a member of the Red Issue forum, because we have had enough of the "Chosen One" banner.
We set up a PayPal account on the forum and we raised nearly £1,000.
The forum is made up of hardcore fans and I would say 90 per cent of them have had enough of David Moyes.
It all brings to mind illusionist Derren Brown's The Gameshow on Channel 4, which was his social experiment into "deindividuation" as people protected by anonymity excessively increased the suffering inflicted on another person.
Flying a plane and pulling down banners all seems so beneath the integrity that so many genuine United supporters have.
The true spirit of United fans was found in the ones applauding Moyes as he walked out ahead of his team for the game against Aston Villa.
To their credit, the United hierarchy will not be moved significantly enough to axe Moyes on the back of a cheap stunt, although events are sure to be monitored.
But this all leaves a fairly unpleasant taste in the mouth. Cheap stunt, cheap shot.
Believability meter: High
This really is a severe case of overreaction on the part of some Manchester United supporters. No matter the issues where Moyes is concerned, people chucking a few quid toward hiring a plane to fly over Old Trafford deserve little respect.
A significant question here is why was the plane publicised so widely before it even flew over Old Trafford? Surely the impact would have been more impressive if nobody knew of its existence?
Was it worth it? No. It was a cheap stunt and one which does genuine United fans no credit at all.
Giving Referee Andre Marriner Immediate Premier League Game a Risky Choice
With the greatest respect to both clubs and their supporters, a match between Southampton and Newcastle United is not usually guaranteed to generate much attention.
But, on a weekend during which the Premier League fixture list carried a trip to Arsenal for Manchester City and Manchester United's attempt to bounce back from the derby demolition with the arrival of Aston Villa, there was a significant media interest in the game at St Mary's Stadium.
One week on from his awful case of mistaken identity when he sent Kieran Gibbs off instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during Chelsea's rout of Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, referee Andre Marriner made an immediate return to officiating Premier League football.
The heat was firmly on the West Midlands official, but the Saints' 4-0 victory and Alan Pardew's suspension from the dug-out ensured the possibility of controversy was reduced.
All eyes were on the man in the middle rather than any action that took place on the field, leaving him open to scrutiny from every angle and his every decision open to all sorts of interpretations.
Even in the wake of his appointment to the game, the Metro offered some potential mistaken identities for Marriner to be aware of.
The match official was said to be "devastated" by his wrongful dismissal of Gibbs, as Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail reported earlier in the week.
Dan King of The Sun (subscription required) offered Marriner an excuse for the mistake by outlining the travel he was involved in for a Europa League tie in Italy ahead of the game.
We are all for the idea of getting back in the saddle immediately after falling off a horse, but the intensity of the pressure Marriner will have been under at Southampton was enormous. Thankfully, there were no questionable decisions for him to deal with.
Think back to the Sian Massey controversy in January 2011, when Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray were recorded making comments about the assistant referee.
In the eye of a media storm, the Premier League took the sensible decision to keep her off matches for two weeks while the interest calmed.
Massey has since thrived while running the line after commendably dealing with the media interest.
Several Premier League officials have found themselves demoted to a lower-league match after making a mistake, so there would appear to be a sense of inequality.
It was a strange decision to see Marriner back in the middle quite so quickly.
Believability meter: Medium
Giving Marriner a Premier League match immediately after his high-profile error at Stamford Bridge was an odd choice, which few people expected.
The fallout from his wrongful red card was terrific and still hovered over the official at Southampton on Saturday.
Standing by your man is always a good sign, but the Premier League took a risky strategy with this one, even if Marriner enjoyed a solid 90 minutes.