Marcus Rashford is enduring a long-term battle against injury at Manchester United. ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest.
Jump to: Sarri closes in on Roma | Zlatan could be dropped as face of COVID | Saul at career crossroads | Severed pig’s head threat at Bari | Rising star Spence in demand
Rashford playing through pain for two years
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford has not played a game completely pain-free in two years, sources told ESPN. The forward is managing shoulder and foot problems but is determined to make himself available for England at the European Championships in the summer.
Rashford has made 264 appearances for United since making his debut as a teenager in 2016 but despite dealing with a number of injuries for the past two years, the 23-year-old has only had one extended period on the sidelines, when he missed 14 games with a back problem last season.
Sources told ESPN he could elect to have shoulder surgery after featuring for England at the Euros but has told manager Gareth Southgate he will be available for the tournament, which kicks off in June.
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It is expected that a foot injury that ruled him out of the 3-1 FA Cup defeat to Leicester before the international break and forced him to pull out of the England squad for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland will have to be carefully managed between now and the end of the campaign. He has started seven of United’s last nine games but has not been able to complete 90 minutes since the 1-0 win over West Ham on March 14 more than a month ago.
“Marcus, yeah, we’ve managed him and we’ve had to manage him for quite a while actually,” Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
“Of course last year with his back, then he had his shoulders, which he’s recovered really well from, and I feel he’s gone through the worst of this foot as well and he almost played a full game against Leeds.”
Despite playing through the pain, Rashford has managed to make 93 appearances since the start of the 2019-20 season and score 42 goals. He passed 20 goals in all competitions for the first time last season, ending the campaign with 22 in 44 games. He has featured in 51 matches so far this season, scoring 20 goals. Rashford’s season total of 3,780 minutes is fourth on United’s list behind Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes. — Rob Dawson
Sarri closes in on Roma job
While coach Paulo Fonseca could still win a trophy this season, though Roma’s 6-2 defeat to Manchester United in the Europa League semifinal first leg means that is now highly improbable, he is almost certain to leave after a troubled campaign. Roma sit 11 points off the Champions League places, have failed to register a victory against any of the top eight sides and have had two results awarded as 3-0 victories to their opposition due to administration errors.
Sources told ESPN that Fonseca has clashed with several of Roma’s senior players — including Edin Dzeko, who was left out of the matchday squad for periods earlier in the season — and that a deal for Sarri is almost complete, with a verbal agreement over a two-year contract in place.
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The Friedkin Group, who bought Roma in August 2020 with American Dan Friedkin the club’s president, had looked at former Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri as a candidate. But sources told ESPN they abandoned that move and are focusing on finalising Sarri’s arrival.
Despite being sacked by Juventus last summer, Sarri’s stock remains high in Italy due to his impressive stints in charge of Empoli and in Napoli. Sarri took Napoli close to the Serie A title in the 2017-18 season, and his side were admired for their thrilling style of play. Sarri then moved to Chelsea for the 2018-19 season, winning the Europa League in his final match before he left the club.
The Roma manager’s job is among the most high pressured positions in Italy, with fans demanding success despite having won the Serie A title just three times in their history — with the most recent in 2001. Their last major trophy was in 2008.
Fonseca arrived at Roma in 2019 after an impressive three-year spell at Shakhtar Donetsk where he won the league title each season he was there. His time in the Italian capital has been largely underwhelming, though, with a fifth-place finish in his first campaign. — Andrew Cesare Richardson
Paulo Fonseca praises Bruno Fernandes ahead of Roma’s Europa League semifinal against Manchester United.
Ibra could be dropped from COVID campaign in Milan
Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be dropped as the face of a coronavirus campaign in Milan after he was accused of having flouted COVID-19 lockdown rules. The forward was recently pictured in a restaurant when all hospitality venues in the city’s “red zone” were shut.
AC Milan insisted Ibrahimovic had not committed any errors and continued to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
A spokesperson told ESPN: “He was in a private work meeting with a limited number of people. He did not eat lunch and was there a little over an hour to discuss business. He has been following the protocol which has kept him constantly monitored and has already taken his COVID test, like every other Serie A player.”
Ibrahmovic, who was not wearing a mask in the picture, is at the centre of a local advertising campaign which urges people to wear face coverings.
Vice president and Assessor of Welfare of Lombardy Letizia Moratti said she would discuss the issue with Stefano Bolognini, the head of the campaign.
“It will be my responsibility to speak with the communications councilor who is responsible for the campaign and to discuss the episode that you have appropriately reported,” she said to politician Michele Usuelli, when asked about the incident. — Andrew Cesare Richardson
Mina Rzouki speaks about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s influence on Milan and how he can help secure UCL qualification.
Atleti’s Saul talks: United, Barca target at career crossroads
Atletico Madrid have held talks with Saul Niguez and his representatives over the midfielder’s future at the club, multiple sources told ESPN.
Saul, 26, has lost his status as an automatic first-choice pick for coach Diego Simeone this season, with midfield alternatives Marcos Llorente and Thomas Lemar taking more prominent roles in the team.
Sources close to the player told ESPN they were “still discussing” plans for this summer, after reports in Spain that Atletico would consider a sale. Saul’s contract runs until 2026 after signing a long-term extension in 2017, when he looked set to become one of Atletico’s most important players.
Sources told ESPN that some within the club are frustrated with what they see as the player’s lack of development there’s been some frustration within the club at his developmentd. Atletico have previously turned down approaches for Saul from Manchester United and Barcelona. But there are now doubts as to whether clubs of that stature would maintain an interest, given his performances this season, and question marks over whether Atletico can expect to receive a sufficiently attractive offer. — Alex Kirkland and Rodri Faez
Severed pig’s head warning for promotion-chasing Bari
There was a surreal scene outside the gates of Bari’s San Nicola stadium this week, when a severed pig’s head appeared above a menacing banner.
Bari, pushing for promotion from Italy’s third tier, fell to a 3-0 defeat at struggling Turris on Sunday, which made it three successive matches without a victory.
On Tuesday morning, the grim display was discovered and the banner read: “Se non ci credete, questa fine farete” (If you don’t believe, this will be your end.) Above the banner, the severed pig’s head was attached to the gates with a butcher’s hook. Forensic police were called in an attempt to find those responsible.
This was the latest threat aimed at the club. As they returned from their defeat at Turris, the team bus — which had a police escort — was attacked by flares while on the motorway. While no one was hurt, the incident endangered the police and other drivers. At the exit the coach took to get off the motorway, another banner read: “Uniti e piu forti di chi ci vuole morti.” — United and stronger than those who want us dead.
Bari are a historic club in Italian football. Their San Nicola stadium, which has a capacity of just under 60,000, was built for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. In 1991, they broke the British transfer record to sign David Platt from Aston Villa while Antonio Cassano came through the club’s ranks, making his debut in 1999, and joining Roma in 2001 for €30 million at the age of 19 — then a world-record fee for a teenager.
However, they have fallen on hard times in recent years and declared bankrupt in 2018. Later that year, Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis bought the rights after a phoenix club was created and renamed it SSC Bari. His son, Luigi, is the chairman.
They restarted in Italy’s fourth tier, Serie D, and were promoted to Serie C at the first attempt. — Andrew Cesare Richardson
Spence in demand as top clubs plot move
The 20-year-old has two years remaining on his deal at the Riverside Stadium but is attracting interest from several clubs, with Middlesbrough expected to listen to bids in excess of £5m plus add-ons.
Sources said Wolves have stepped up their interest and are ready to offer regular first-team football in the Premier League with right-back Nelson Semedo’s future uncertain.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers and Everton are also keen on Spence, although the Toffees remain hopeful of completing a much more expensive deal to lure Max Aarons from Norwich.
Tottenham were previously monitoring Spence with Jose Mourinho known to be an admirer of the former Fulham academy youngster, but Spurs are yet to enter the running and Mourinho has since left the club.
Developments are expected in the coming weeks with Middlesbrough destined to end their Championship campaign in midtable, safely clear of the relegation zone but with no chance of making the play-offs. — James Olley