Following up on my exclusive story for you last week, I spoke with Chelsea to learn the latest regarding a possible move for Gonzalo Higuain from AC Milan where he is on loan from Juventus. After my story, AC Milan issued a statement saying they wanted to keep the striker. However, I have learned that they are frustrated with Higuain who has scored only eight goals for the Serie A club this season. AC Milan paid Juventus £16million for his current loan with a possible further £32million if they sign him on a permanent deal. Why I know the move to Chelsea is still alive is because this week, AC Milan’s Sporting Director Leonardo hinted that Higuain’s future at the club is in doubt. He said: “His future is in his own hands and he has a decision to make. He needs to take responsibility. He is our player at the moment and one or two goals could change things dramatically. I am not sure what will happen.” Chelsea are in need of a strong striker like Higuain. Alvaro Morata could be shipped out to Sevilla and his agent Juanma Lopez met with the Spanish side this week. Morata and Giroud have scored only 14 goals between them for Chelsea and that is the problem. I understand Sevilla would like to pay £5million to loan Morata until the end of the season and then pay a further £35million to sign him permanently. Chelsea told me they intend to be busy in the transfer window and are chasing Cagliari’s Nicolo Barella and midfielder Leandro Paredes who plays for Zenit St Petersburg in Russia. Signing Paredes will trigger the release of Cesc Fabrigas to Monaco where he has already done a deal.
Players vote for Solskjaer
While Manchester United’s board of directors concentrate on luring Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham to take over in the summer as manager, players have gathered around interim manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer and I can tell you exclusively that he is their chosen successor to Jose Mourinho. Several players have contacted Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward and made their feelings known because of the new lease of life they are enjoying under the Norwegian manager. Paul Pogba’s brother, a decent but less celebrated player, appeared on French TV and said that Paul is feeling like a new player now that Mourinho has gone and Solskjaer has given him freedom to play football the way he likes. Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford have taken advantage of having the shackles removed from their play and moved forward up the pitch and the goals are flowing. The United board now have a dilemma…they never considered Solskjaer as a permanent replacement for Mourinho. However, player power is beginning to influence them and it will be an interesting few months to see who eventually takes over permanently in the summer.
Solskjaer still looks to Sir Alex
You will remember that I said last week how Ole Gunner Solskjaer used to hang on every word of Sir Alex Ferguson when he played for the ‘gaffer’ at Manchester United. Over the years, since Solskjaer retired, he has kept in touch with Sir Alex and often phoned him before a big match in the Norwegian top division where he was manager of Molde. He was always telling the Norwegian players of stories about Sir Alex and still calls him the boss. It has now been revealed that Ferguson was instrumental in Ole taking over as manager following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Last week Sir Alex was on the training ground with United players and giving his friend Ole Gunner Solskjaer the benefit of his vast experience and the two have been seen sharing a joke or two. Ole even invited Sir Alex to join them on their trip to Dubai this week where the players have been enjoying themselves at an exclusive hotel however Sir Alex thanked Ole but politely turned down the offer because he limits his activities these days since suffering a stroke. It all demonstrates the new spirit at United as the good mood is rubbing off on the players. Winning his first four Premier League games is quite an achievement by Solskjaer but in the next few weeks United take on Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and of course Paris St Germain in the Champion’s League. Those tough matches will define the new United spirit and test their improvement. Talking with Solskjaer, it is obvious he is extremely happy with Marcus Rashford who he clearly sees as his young student. I mentioned to you how Ole has taught Marcus to remain calmer and more composed when taking a shot at goal but there is also a clear improvement in his free-kick technique. Ole said, “Marcus has the Cristiano Ronaldo technique; he hits it and it swerves everywhere.” The 21-year-old scored from a set piece in Solskjaer’s first game in charge and set up Romelu Lukaku’s goal from another set piece against Newcastle.
Inside Arsenal’s new super gym
Walking around Arsenal’s highly secret new gym set-up, it is difficult to imagine how better the Gunner’s players can be looked after and trained. The aircraft hanger size gym is part of the new build on 143 acres of what used to be farmland. Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis is quick to point out that it is previous manager Arsene Wenger who paid for all of the high-tech wizardry with his careful management of the club. The gym has a sprung floor, running track down the middle of the hangar and touch-screen panels which are programmed with individual schedules for each player. Named Colney, off the northern part of the London M25 motorway, this set-up is fantastic. Players are expected to take off their “outside shoes” as they enter the gym and each one has a special place to hang them. The original 1999 gym, which was state-of-the art when it opened, is now only used for the academy kids. All of them aim to walk along the short corridor to the new gym because it means they have made it to first team training. The new gym dressing room is big and you feel you can breathe properly and here the players hang their coats, deposit their Rolex watches and jewellery in their own personal safe deposit boxes and their wardrobes are also big enough to house a complete outfit and a spare. A hydrotherapy pool is next to the dressing room and each player is expected to spend three minutes in freezing temperatures after training. This helps with tissue damage and muscle strain. Players’ heart rates are monitored and hamstrings measured with ultra-sound to make sure they are not going to get injured easily in the next match. Around the room are charts for each player and put there by their personal Sports Psychologist. Players only spend 3% of their week working in the gym so there is plenty of time for video games on the soft sofas in the rest room. Finally, and not quite complete yet, is a visualisation room where players will wear a reality headset and be able to drop into a real match situation which tests their reflexes and actions under pressure. Times have changed since the days of Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp and one wonders what extra performances state-of-the-art facilities such as those now being used by Arsenal would have given those brilliant players.
De Bruyne’s knee still a problem
Manchester City are taking no chances with their star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne. After two long lay-offs with serious knee injuries, club medics are monitoring Kevin’s return to fitness very carefully after he complained of muscle soreness in the Boxing Day match against Leicester. He played in a Cup match this week but the club told me yesterday that it could take Kevin up to a month to fully recover and much of his time will be spent with club physios during the next few weeks. He is being eased back into the team with limited time appearances but all is not well yet.
Talking with Spurs this week, I have learned that they fear Real Madrid are a bigger threat than Manchester United in their battle to hold on to manager Mauricio Pochettino. United have made the Argentine their main target to take over from Jose Mourinho and are prepared to pay a world record fee to secure his services however Real are known to be very interested and would match any bid made by the English club. Pochettino’s advisors are in London meeting with their client and an announcement is expected soon however the manager himself is playing down speculation in a very diplomatic way and refusing to announce his plans although I know he is attracted to the Spanish club and is reluctant to leave Spurs for another Premier League opponent.