Chelsea’s ownership battle is turning sour — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: Why Erling Haaland snubbed Manchester United.

Jump to: Why Haaland snubbed Man United | Barca keen but Lewandowski move unlikely | Mata’s next move | No US-style World Cup prep for England

Chelsea bidder’s concern amid dirty tricks claims

The race to buy Chelsea is descending into acrimony and anger, with sources telling ESPN that one group attempting to acquire the club from Roman Abramovich believes it is the victim of a dirty tricks campaign by a rival bidder.

Four potential buyers have been shortlisted by Raine Group, the U.S. investment bank hired by Chelsea owner Abramovich to sell the FIFA Club World Cup and Champions League winners. Sources said the bidding process is likely to be resolved within the next 10 days, with the successful group to be identified and put forward for approval by the United Kingdom government.

A consortium led by former Liverpool chairman Sir Martin Broughton, another fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and a bid involving Stephen Pagliuca, the co-owner of Atalanta, have made it through to the final four alongside an attempt by the Ricketts family, the owners of the Chicago Cubs, to buy the Premier League team.

Chelsea supporters have mounted a campaign against the Ricketts bid due to historic Islamophobic emails from family patriarch Joe Ricketts, who is not involved in the bid to take ownership at Stamford Bridge.

But sources familiar with the four-way race to buy Chelsea told ESPN that figures involved with the Ricketts family, who are backed by American billionaire Ken Griffin, believe that the protests against their bid are being encouraged by rivals in the bidding process.

Stories have also emerged suggesting that the UK government have concerns over their potential ownership of the club, while one rival bidder was reported by The Times to have voiced concerns that the Ricketts group were being given favourable treatment in the bidding process.

A small group of fans outside Stamford Bridge protested against the Ricketts bid prior to last Saturday’s Premier League defeat against Brentford. But senior figures from the Ricketts group have since laid out an eight-point plan to fans about their plans for the club, including a pledge to never engage in any new talks over a possible breakaway Super League.

Abramovich’s decision to sell Chelsea was announced last month, prior to the Russian oligarch being sanctioned by the UK government and having his assets frozen as a result of his alleged connections to Russian president Vladimir Putin and those of his companies to the military campaign in Ukraine.

As a consequence of the sanctions against Abramovich, the UK government will have the final sign-off on who emerges as the successful bidder. — Mark Ogden

Why Haaland snubbed Manchester United

Erling Haaland has dismissed interest from Manchester United when considering his next move over fears they could not match his ambitions on the pitch, sources told ESPN.

United are looking for a striker this summer and indicated to Haaland and his representatives earlier this season they would be willing to match any financial offer he received from another club. However, sources told ESPN that intermediaries reported back that the striker would base his decision only on a club’s “sporting project” and not where he could earn the most money.

Manchester City and Real Madrid lead the race to sign the Norwegian if he chooses to leave Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Both clubs are regulars in the latter rounds of the Champions League while United have reached the quarterfinals only twice since 2011. United are not guaranteed to qualify for the competition next season, sitting seventh in the Premier League table, three points adrift of the top four.

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Manchester City and Real Madrid, meanwhile, are both top of their domestic leagues. City have three of the last four Premier League titles while United have not won a trophy since 2017.

Sources told ESPN that Haaland is also keen to ensure he continues his development as a player at his next club and one of the reasons behind his interest in moving to the Etihad is the chance to work under Pep Guardiola.

Haaland’s decision to snub United came before the club made a breakthrough in their search for a new manager, with Erik ten Hag the No.1 choice to become next permanent boss. — Rob Dawson

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Gab Marcotti doesn’t think Erling Haaland’s future has been decided just yet.

Lewandowski to Barcelona goes cold

Barcelona would be keen on Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski if he became available this summer but a deal remains difficult financially at this stage, sources have confirmed to ESPN.

Barca have made no secret of their desire to sign a new striker ahead of next season. President Joan Laporta had set his sights on Erling Haaland, but there is fierce competition for the Borussia Dortmund forward.

ESPN have previously reported that Manchester City are leading the race to sign Haaland. Sources add that Real Madrid are also better placed than Barca, which has forced the Catalan club to explore other options.

Coach Xavi Hernandez is keen for any new arrival to have top-level experience, which has led the club to Lewandowski, who has one year left on his contract with Bayern Munich.

Sources explain that the Polish international has always been keen to play in Spain, while Laporta maintains a good relationship with his agent, Pini Zahavi.

However, in the event that Lewandowski opts not to renew his contract with Bayern, the German club would still demand a lofty fee this summer. Despite his age — he turns 34 in August — he is still one of Europe’s most prolific strikers, scoring 45 goals in 39 appearances this season.

Barca are operating under strict financial restrictions imposed by LaLiga. They can only spend 25% of anything they save or bring in through transfers, so would have to move on several players to fund a move for Lewandowski.

Meanwhile, the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ansu Fati‘s return from injury could also be a factor in whether Barca decide to go all out for a striker. Aubameyang has scored nine goals in 12 games since joining from Arsenal in January, while Ansu is back in training after three months out. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens

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Sid Lowe explains how Xavi has masterminded Barcelona’s return to form after their big Clasico win.

Mata looks to the future

Juan Mata is looking to continue his playing career in Europe when he leaves Manchester United at the end of his contract in the summer but sources told ESPN that a return to Spain is not his first choice.

Mata’s deal at Old Trafford is set to expire at the end of June and after a season of limited opportunities, the 33-year-old is keen to find regular football.

Sources told ESPN he believes he can still make an impact in Europe’s top five leagues and while there is interest from clubs in LaLiga, Serie A and Ligue 1, it is understood that a move back to Spain is not a priority — despite links with both Valencia and Real Oviedo — and he would like to explore other opportunities. Sources added there has been interest from both Milan and Internazionale as well as other clubs in Italy although Mata is set to wait until there are formal offers on the table before making a final decision.

Mata left Valencia for Chelsea in 2011 and has spent the past 11 years in the Premier League. The midfielder, who joined United in January 2014, has been restricted to just five appearances so far this season. He has scored 51 goals for the club in 278 appearances, winning the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League. — Rob Dawson

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Futbol Americas reacts to England’s newspaper headlines after being drawn with the USMNT in Group B.

No U.S. style World Cup tune-up for England

England’s World Cup preparations will be restricted to fixtures against European nations, sources told ESPN, with no opportunity for manager Gareth Southgate to test his players against teams with similarities to Group B opponents Iran and the United States.

Iran, the highest-ranked Asian nation at Qatar 2022 at No.21, will face England on the opening day of the tournament (Nov. 21) at the Khalifa International Stadium, with England playing the USA, ranked No.15, on Nov. 25 at Al Bayt Stadium.

Although England have traditionally prepared for World Cup campaigns with friendlies against teams from the same confederation as their scheduled opponents — ahead of Russia 2018, England prepared for group games against Tunisia and Panama, with pre-tournament friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica — the lack of available dates in the international calendar between now and November has left Southgate with only Nations League games in which to prepare his squad for Qatar.

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England have four Nations League fixtures in June, against Hungary (home and away), Italy (h) and Germany (a) before playing the return games against the Italians and Germans in September.

The September international break will be the final opportunity for Southgate to assess his players in action ahead of the World Cup due to October and early-November being devoted to club football, both domestically and European competition.

With a round of Premier League fixtures due to be staged on the weekend of November 12-13 — a week before Qatar 2022 starts — England’s players will go straight from club duty to World Cup preparations without the prospect of a final warm-up game before the clash with Iran. — Mark Ogden