Ornstein: Chelsea’s Mintzlaff talks, clubs keen on Champions League games outside Europe

The postponement of recent fixtures and upcoming international break have given Chelsea’s ownership a welcome opportunity to focus on other areas, as the Todd Boehly-led consortium continue to overhaul the club following their takeover from Roman Abramovich earlier this year.

After the closure of the recent transfer window and subsequent managerial upheaval in which Thomas Tuchel was replaced by Graham Potter, the Stamford Bridge hierarchy are intensifying the process to name a sporting director and there is a strong probability it will be Christoph Freund.

The Austrian currently occupies that role with Red Bull Salzburg — who drew 1-1 at Chelsea in the Champions League group stage last week — and Boehly has voiced his admiration for the Red Bull model, which also features RB Leipzig and New York Red Bulls in its sporting portfolio.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the work Chelsea are conducting to bolster their set-up resulted in them exploring the possibility of hiring the RB Leipzig chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff.

Although Tom Glick’s arrivals as president of business indicates a CEO is not an immediate priority, that could change in the future and Mintzlaff is among a number of individuals who have been spoken to as Chelsea attempt to prepare and strengthen their structure for the years ahead.

The 47-year-old German is believed to have been of particular interest to the west London regime and a meeting took place amid an early sense that he may be a good fit for what they might want.

But with two sides in contact over the summer (Chelsea’s sale of Timo Werner and interest in Josko Gvardiol some of the conversations) it was decided to park the matter until the market shut.

That gave both parties time to reflect on whether to continue the discussions and ultimately they decided mutually against doing so, which means Mintzlaff will be staying in his current position.

Once a distance runner and marketing boss, Mintzlaff joined Leipzig in 2014. He has helped to establish them as Champions League regulars and shrewd operators around player development and trading, while also gaining experience in the multi-team idea that Chelsea wish to implement.

Clubs keen to explore Champions League games outside Europe

This week brings the latest meeting of UEFA’s executive committee on the Croatian island of Hvar, before the general assembly of the European Club Association (ECA) in Istanbul later in the week, writes Adam Crafton.

The ECA represents the interests of clubs that regularly compete in European football’s major competitions, such as UEFA’s Champions League. At these conferences, executives come together to explore ways in which they can grow the sport and drive revenues.

The Athletic has learnt that one option favoured by some of the most powerful club executives in European football involves taking Champions League games outside of the continent to make meaningful games more accessible to the clubs’ global fanbases.

The Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who also chairs the ECA and is a member of UEFA’s executive committee, is among those supportive of such discussions, with leading club executives open to fixtures taking place in major markets such as the US, China or the Middle East.

It remains only an idea rather than policy, and any moves to take the competition abroad would likely be met with opposition from fans in Europe. However, sources close to the discussions said initial steps would surround early group games rather than high-stakes knockout matches.

Another option to take outside of Europe may be the Super Cup — the meeting between the previous season’s Champions League and Europa League winners. UEFA is already considering the introduction of a four-team mini-tournament at the start of each season, which would include the previous season’s Champions League winners and three other leading teams in what would be referred to as the “Opening Tournament”.

Following the failure of the Super League project last year, UEFA conceded more power to clubs when it embarked on a joint venture with the ECA to identify marketing partners to sell commercial rights for European club competitions in the 2024-27 cycle.

In February this year, UEFA and the ECA appointed Team Marketing and Relevent Sports Group as sales partners for the men’s club competitions.

In March, Al-Khelaifi said they had seen an “amazing 39 per cent increase in the forecasted commercial value of the men’s UEFA club competitions for the post-2024 cycle”. The first three markets that have gone to tender have produced significant revenue growth — an increase of 20 per cent in the UK, 25 per cent in France and 150 per cent in the US (excluding Spanish-language rights, which are still to be sold).

Some clubs are keen on the idea of playing games in markets such as the US, China or Middle East (Photo: Getty Images)

The case for taking matches abroad was underlined when the ECA last week released research on the changing nature of football fandom. It demonstrated survey results that claimed 34 per cent of football fans in China and 28 per cent in the US were influenced by a major competition or event to start following football.

The report added: “This highlights that there are opportunities for European clubs and competitions to build on this interest and influence; to increase the availability of European club football to these audiences and allow exposure to these events to continue building further and deeper interest and engagement.”

Sources close to discussions insisted there is no harm in ideas being debated and say the UEFA and ECA joint venture is the type of environment in which new ideas on the commercial side should be discussed at a time when clubs are looking for new revenue sources post-COVID-19.

This week’s ECA summit will also host Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of Formula 1, as European football seeks to learn lessons and hear expertise from sports that have grown their audiences substantially in the US in recent times. Previous recent summits have featured talks from experts from the Harvard Business School, as well as the former Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore delivering a session on opportunities relating to the metaverse.

Phillips to have shoulder surgery next week amid optimism he can make World Cup

A difficult start to life at Manchester City has led some to question whether Kalvin Phillips might lose his England place ahead of the World Cup — and that possibility was heightened on Saturday when it emerged he may need surgery on a shoulder injury.

The potential recovery time from such a course of action could have meant Phillips, who has so far appeared only three times competitively since swapping Leeds United for City in July, faced a race against time to make Gareth Southgate’s squad.

With other midfield options available to Southgate — including Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham and James Ward-Prowse — a seat on the plane to Qatar looks less certain for Phillips than it was when he helped England to the Euro 2020 final.

But the 26-year-old is wasting no time in attempting to ensure his availability, with an operation set to take place next week and optimism among City and England staff that he will be fit for the tournament.

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Phillips has a history of shoulder injuries and will have surgery this week (Photo: Getty Images)

Phillips has grown into a key player for his country after an international breakout at last summer’s European Championship. The Yorkshireman has collected 23 caps since his debut two years ago.

The Leeds academy graduate — transferred to City for an initial £42million ($48m) — was called up for England’s Nations League games away to Italy and at home against Germany later this month. However, the shoulder issue has forced him to withdraw.

Everton start Iwobi contract talks

Everton are looking to stabilise after a tumultuous period and an important part of their plans — especially before moving to a new stadium — is to renew the contracts of their most important players.

They are determined to tie down key men such as goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and coveted winger Anthony Gordon, while it can be revealed that they are also working to secure the future of Alex Iwobi.

Iwobi had a difficult start after arriving from Arsenal in 2019, but he has hit form and become something of a fans’ favourite thanks to the increasingly pivotal role he is assuming in Frank Lampard’s midfield. On Sunday he assisted the winning goal as Neal Maupay’s strike beat West Ham 1-0 at Goodison Park.

The 26-year-old is contracted until 2024 and has said this is his “most enjoyable time” at the club. Amid that upturn, Everton have opened talks with the Nigeria international about a fresh deal.

Preliminary conversations have taken place in regard to Iwobi — as well as team-mates like Pickford and Gordon — and that dialogue is set to ramp up in the coming weeks, with the Goodison Park hierarchy seeking to extend their careers on Merseyside.

Ten Hag eyes January signings but Manchester United focused on the summer

Manchester United do not have a game until they face Manchester City on October 2 and Erik ten Hag will use the break to evaluate his squad and plan possible additions, writes Laurie Whitwell.

“We have many meetings — we have to improve the structures in and around the club,” Ten Hag said. “And we will also look to the window in January or next summer already.”

Ten Hag mentioning the winter window was telling. He is understandably keen to get to the next stage of his rebuild as soon as possible after seeing early signs of encouragement from signings he led on. There may need to be some reconciliation between Ten Hag’s aspirations and budget realities, however.

United had a net spend of more than £200million this summer, almost double the original projections when Ten Hag took charge, and therefore funds are expected to be very tight when the winter market opens. Owner Joel Glazer, chief executive Richard Arnold and football director John Murtough are focused firmly on summer 2023 as the next opportunity to significantly add to Ten Hag’s squad.

United did not make a signing at the start of 2022 and in recent years have not tended to do much business midway through the season (the transfer of Bruno Fernandes in January 2020 being an exception).

That said, Ten Hag has already shown himself a strong personality on recruitment — pressing for Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen and Antony, and getting more money after two Premier League defeats looked to have put his chances of a good first campaign in serious jeopardy. Glazer, Arnold and Murtough, under pressure to support Ten Hag after a disastrous loss at Brentford, sanctioned a late splurge. Money raised from any sales would of course be available for reinvestment.

Manchester United

Ten Hag encouraged United to sign Antony after a tough start to his tenure (Photo: Getty Images)

It was Ten Hag’s decision to go all out for Antony, who became the second most-expensive signing in United history (behind Paul Pogba), rather than bring in a right-back, which would have been targeted if money was no object. In any case, Diogo Dalot’s form has perhaps lessened the urgency.

Numerous industry sources believe United overspent on their six summer signings. Cannier recruitment would grant greater flexibility on transfers, which may be what Ten Hag was hinting at in his “improve the structures” comment.

Bowen’s next England cap will earn Allams £1million despite selling Hull

Jarrod Bowen will be aiming to strengthen his place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad over the next week and doing so would bring a £1million windfall for Hull City’s former owners, Assem and Ehab Allam, writes Phil Buckingham.

Bowen won his first four England caps at the end of last season against Hungary (twice), Germany and Italy in the Nations League and a fifth international appearance will trigger an add-on from the deal that took Bowen to West Ham United in January 2020.

The transfer was an initial outlay of £14million but included clauses for additional payments and Bowen winning five England caps was one of those.

That will mean an appearance against either Italy or Germany in the next week will see West Ham pay £1million, but that money has already been ring-fenced for the club’s former owners, the Allam family.

As part of the agreement struck that saw Hull sold for £20million to Turkish businessman Acun Ilicali in January, legacy payments on former players sold before the takeover, such as Bowen, would be passed on to the Allams.

Bowen spent five and a half years with Hull after joining the club’s academy from Hereford United in 2014. The winger scored 54 goals in 131 appearances before his move to West Ham on the final day of the winter window in 2020.

Cardiff to give Hudson chance after sacking Morison
Steve Morison was dismissed as Cardiff City manager on Sunday after their loss to Huddersfield Town and a tough start to the season, which has left the club in 18th in the Championship.

Cardiff are not planning to make a permanent appointment to replace Morison in the immediate term — it is believed they intend to leave Mark Hudson, who has been named as caretaker, in charge for now. Hudson will receive a fair opportunity to guide the team forward.

Among those who are interested in being considered for the role if it is to be filled is Sol Bamba. The 37-year-old is popular from his time there as a player, when he helped the Welsh side win promotion from the Championship in 2017-18.

He also has qualifications and is known to have support from staff within a number of departments at the club. Bamba also trained the club’s under-23 side when he was with Cardiff and is said to have impressed people with his methodology, style and connection with the players.

Middlesbrough recruit head of scouting from Palace

Middlesbrough have ended their search for a head of scouting by securing the highly regarded Chris Jones from Crystal Palace, writes Dominic Fifield.

Jones, who has had previous stints at Wolves, Huddersfield, Leeds and Norwich, will oversee the Championship club’s scouting and recruitment analysis departments, working closely with the club’s head of football, Kieran Scott.

Scott, whose role is akin to that of a director of football despite the rather unusual title, confirmed earlier this year that their process of hiring a senior figure to work with him was well underway. He and Jones know each other from their time together at Norwich, where Scott had a spell as head of recruitment.

Jones moved to Palace from Carrow Road in the summer of 2021 to take up the role of UK and international scout, which focused on the first team when the Premier League side had embarked on an ambitious revamp of their senior squad after several players departed on free transfers. Jones reported to Dougie Freedman, the sporting director at Selhurst Park, and parts the Premier League side on good terms.

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Ornstein: Chelsea’s Mintzlaff talks, clubs keen on Champions League games outside Europe

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