Ornstein: Kante not accepting Chelsea contract offer, Rashford parts with agency ally

The new ownership at Chelsea made their most contentious decision to date last week when Thomas Tuchel was relieved of his duties as head coach and quickly replaced by Graham Potter.

There will be many other significant calls ahead for the Todd Boehly-led consortium as they settle into Stamford Bridge and one of the more pressing relates to the future of midfielder N’Golo Kante.

Since joining Chelsea from Leicester City in 2016, Kante has continued to achieve extraordinary success — for club and country — and established himself among the world’s best in his position.

However, the 31-year-old France international has entered the final 12 months of his contract and unless there is progress in talks over an extension, Kante will depart as a free agent next summer.

Conversations have been taking place since 2021 and the previous regime were proposing fresh terms spanning three years — plus the option of a fourth — prior to all negotiations halting when the UK government imposed sanctions on Roman Abramovich, which heavily impacted Chelsea.

Following the American-backed takeover, discussions could resume and in August it is understood Chelsea tabled a verbal offer to renew Kante’s deal for two years, with the option of adding a third. The player, though, is presently unwilling to accept this and would be looking for a greater duration.


(Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

The same length was granted to 33-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when he arrived on deadline day, while Kalidou Koulibaly is Kante’s age and earned a four-year agreement in July.

Before exiting, Tuchel suggested Kante’s “injury rate” was a factor in deliberations about whether to award the deal he expects. Despite recording 42 appearances in 2021-22, the Frenchman’s time on the pitch was limited. He has also missed five of a possible seven games in the current season.

The counterpoint is that when Kante does feature — 262 times since moving — he tends to shine; in August’s victory away to Everton and the home draw against Tottenham Hotspur he was one of the stand-out performers. In Kante’s absence, there have been three defeats and Tuchel was sacked.

Kante could hardly be more popular at Chelsea, which is why they want to prolong his stay. He is very happy representing them and was ready to finish his career there. For that to happen, the situation will need to be resolved and lines of communication between all parties remain open.

The regard in which Kante is held across the sport seems not to have diminished and if he leaves, a host of leading teams are likely to battle for his services. It is said that two English suitors as well as one in each of Spain, Germany and France would look to pounce should he become available.

Kante catapulted to prominence at Leicester, helping them to a shock top-flight title and earning the Chelsea switch. He lifted the trophy again in 2017 and has since secured the FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup and also the 2018 World Cup in Russia.


Rashford parts with aide who helped drive campaign to end poverty

Marcus Rashford has enjoyed something of a return to form this season, scoring three goals in Manchester United’s opening six Premier League matches — including a match-winning brace against Arsenal — to boost his hopes of a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England squad next week.

The 24-year-old’s early displays under new United manager Erik ten Hag have been particularly encouraging given the difficulties he experienced in 2021-22, which followed a missed penalty in his national team’s Euro 2020 final loss against Italy and surgery on a problematic shoulder injury.

Prior to those struggles, Rashford had established himself as an important figure on the field for club and country, while additionally shooting to prominence beyond the pitch courtesy of his laudable efforts campaigning against racism, homelessness and child hunger in Great Britain.

An influential member of the set-up that has aided Rashford’s journey was Kelly Hogarth, who first partnered with him in 2019 and they later joined the Roc Nation entertainment agency founded by the rapper Jay Z. Hogarth then took Rashford to her business management agency Thelma Gwen.

She helped drive the immensely successful #endchildfoodpoverty campaign alongside Rashford, which claims to have benefited 1.7 million vulnerable children across Britain. As well as the social impact work, Hogarth has covered areas including the footballer’s other community initiatives, media responsibilities, commercial partnerships and brand strategy.

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(Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

But with Rashford’s focus on football and Hogarth engaged in different projects, she is believed to be stepping away from the role and his brother Dwaine Maynard — who already leads the sporting operation — will assume greater responsibility in supporting the attacking player’s progress.

Sources close to Rashford indicate the parting with Hogarth after four-and-a-half years is on good terms and she will continue working with his friend and international colleague Raheem Sterling.


UEFA given advance notice of controversial Russia friendly

Eyebrows were raised last week when Bosnia & Herzegovina announced they had agreed to play a friendly away to Russia on November 19. If it goes ahead, it will be Russia’s first match against a European nation since they were banned from all FIFA and UEFA competitions following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February.

Immediately after the news emerged on Friday, there were some outspoken critics of the friendly from within the Bosnia squad. Midfielder Miralem Pjanic said the decision to play the game was “not good — I am speechless”, while striker Edin Dzeko, who formerly played for Manchester City, publicly ruled himself out of contention for the game, adding: “I am against this, I am always and only for peace.”

Despite the widespread outrage, however, The Athletic can reveal UEFA was made aware of the planned friendly before its announcement. And sources close to the two national associations insist they have followed all necessary regulatory processes to play the high-profile game in Saint Petersburg on the day before the World Cup is due to start in Qatar.

The Russia men’s team have not played since November but are close to returning to action, with a friendly away to Kyrgyzstan — ranked 95th in the world by FIFA — planned to take place on September 24 in Bishkek, the capital city of the central Asian nation that was part of the Soviet Union until 1991.

But the friendly against Bosnia will be of a far higher profile and it will likely come as a blow to those who have campaigned for Russia’s exclusion from the international stage that UEFA was made aware of the fixture and did not make its disapproval publicly known.

Ali Humayun


Saudi chief would ‘love to see Cristiano Ronaldo move’

The passing of the summer transfer deadline has largely ended the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer speculation for now. But some uncertainty persists over his future at Manchester United.

The Portugal forward has started just one of United’s six Premier League matches so far under new manager Erik ten Hag and, although he has looked more engaged when coming off the bench in recent weeks, he struggled to make an impact after starting the Europa League group stage loss at home to Real Sociedad on Thursday.

Ronaldo, 37, told the United hierarchy in June he wanted to end his second spell at the club after just one season to continue playing in the Champions League but no real exit route emerged for him this summer.

Despite tentative interest from Chelsea and Italy’s Napoli, both Champions League sides, the only firm proposals he received were from Saudi Arabia. He rejected what was described as an “obscene” offer from champions Al-Hilal, and their rivals and Riyadh neighbours Al-Nassr were also reported to have failed with a proposal.

Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo


(Photo: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

Ronaldo’s lack of suitors this summer raised questions about his next step if he is to continue playing into his forties as he has suggested.

The Saudi option isn’t going away. That much has been made clear to The Athletic by Yasser Al-Misehal, president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.

Al-Misehal would not talk specifically about the interest in Ronaldo from different clubs in his country but he expects efforts to sign him to continue.

“We would love to see a player like Cristiano Ronaldo playing in the Saudi league,” he told The Athletic. “It would bring a huge positive feedback and it would be big news for everyone. I’m sure everyone knows the achievements and records of Cristiano Ronaldo, but also as a player who is a great role model.

“I think, ‘Why not?’. I’m sure it would be a very expensive deal, of course, but we can see our clubs getting higher revenues in the past couple of years. We have already seen some big players who used to play in the Premier League come to the Saudi league.

“I like Cristiano Ronaldo as a player and I would like to see him play in Saudi Arabia.”

Asked whether a move in January seemed feasible — although not for Al-Hilal, who are banned from signing players in the next transfer window — Al-Misehal said, “To be honest, I don’t have the answer. If I was the president of a club, I could give you the answer. But my colleagues at the clubs don’t have to share their negotiations with me.

“It wouldn’t be an easy transaction for a Saudi club or even for him, but we would love to see him or even some other top players of the same level.”

Oliver Kay


Chelsea hierarchy tried to keep Gilmour before Tuchel sacking

Graham Potter’s decision to leave Brighton & Hove Albion for Chelsea will have disappointed everybody at the Amex Stadium — but perhaps none more so than midfielder Billy Gilmour, who moved in the opposite direction before the transfer window shut.

As the market drew towards a close Gilmour did not have a shirt number and is believed to have been advised by then Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel that he was not part of his plans.

Gilmour later received the No 35 for Chelsea’s trip to Southampton on August 30, yet there was an offer for the Scotland international from Brighton and Tuchel encouraged him to take it on the basis that playing under Potter would be perfect for his career development.

Although the 21-year-old eventually headed to the Amex Stadium for around £9million, the new Chelsea ownership were less enthusiastic about sanctioning the deal and informed Gilmour during a meeting on deadline day that they would like him to remain at the club.

Chairman Todd Boehly is thought to have suggested Gilmour wait for his opportunity at Stamford Bridge and implied, without going into detail, the situation could soon change.

Even if Gilmour did not win a place in Chelsea’s starting XI, it would not be long until the 2022 World Cup break and then January presents another chance to make a switch.

Gilmour, though, was adamant he wished to leave and, with neither party interested in another loan arrangement, he signed permanently for Brighton. A week later, Chelsea had dismissed Tuchel and appointed Potter to replace him as head coach in west London.


Arsenal youth head leaves

Arsenal have enjoyed a strong start to the new season.

Mikel Arteta’s first team are top of the Premier League, and it should not go unnoticed that Mehmet Ali’s under-21s are also leading the age group’s Premier League 2 courtesy of four wins and a draw from their opening five games.

But despite the understandable sense of positivity in north London, it will have come as a disappointment to the club to learn that their head of emerging talent, Yousuf Sajjad, will be leaving their Hale End academy next month for a new role.

Sajjad joined Arsenal from London rivals Chelsea in 2019 and has made a strong impression.

Arsenal were close to the relegation spots in the top division of the Premier League’s developmental competition when Sajjad arrived, but he quickly helped make a series of promising signings — including Reuell Walters, Mika Biereth, Salah Oulad M’Hand and Lino Sousa — and an impressive third-place finish in Premier League 2 followed last season.

He worked closely with technical director Edu, academy manager Per Mertesacker and head of talent identification Lee Herron, as the Arsenal academy adopted a successful strategy of lowering the average age of the squad and loaning players out to gain experience.

Sajjad resigned at the beginning of the month and is working his notice until starting a new job in player recruitment at another club on October 1.


Potter’s dilemma over house

After leaving Brighton for Chelsea, Potter also faces a decision about where to live.

The former Brighton head coach’s family home is close to the seafront in neighbouring Hove, which is a manageable 75-minute drive from his new employers’ training ground on London’s southern outskirts.

Potter has enjoyed the relative anonymity and friendly chats with fans who recognise him on outings with his wife, Rachel, and their three school-age sons. But the scrutiny will be much greater now he’s taken charge of an elite club.

Another factor is the shift in mood among Brighton supporters following Potter’s departure.

They were resigned to long-time assistant Billy Reid, coach Bjorn Hamberg and recruitment analyst Kyle Macaulay joining him at Stamford Bridge. But a wave of anger broke out among fans on social media when it was announced that long-serving pair Bruno Saltor (assistant coach) and Ben Roberts (goalkeeping coach) have gone with Potter, too.

The anticipated warm reception, after steering Brighton to their highest ever Premier League finish of ninth last season and leaving them in fourth early in this one, could be more hostile now when Potter returns to the Amex Stadium for the first time with Chelsea at the end of next month.

Andy Naylor


West Brom looking for new auditors

It is not just new players, Championship goals and loan repayments West Bromwich Albion are lacking: they are also looking for a new auditor, Matt Slater reports.

The Birmingham branch of financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers had been doing the West Midlands club’s books since 2018 but the much-delayed 2020-21 accounts will be the last.

Those accounts told the story of a second relegation from the Premier League in four years but the big headline was that the club’s owner, Lai Guochuan, intends to use a dividend to repay the £7million he has borrowed from the club and its parent company for his businesses back home in China.

In other words, the club will repay the loans he has taken from the club.

And this is on top of the £5million debt Lai inherited when he bought Albion in 2016. That debt, which arose after former owner Jeremy Peace himself borrowed money from the club, is now the subject of an independent investigation.

But accounting for all these IOUs is no longer PwC’s problem.

The club were unable to tell The Athletic who the new auditor is, despite usual practice stating that a replacement should be named within 28 days of the most recent accounts’ publication, which was June 30. Whoever it is will be West Brom’s fourth auditor in seven years, after the club had entrusted their books to local firm Clement Keys for decades.

But the unanswered questions are mounting at The Hawthorns.

Shareholders For Albion, an association representing the 430 individuals who account for the 12 per cent of West Brom not owned by Lai, sent the club 40 questions relating to their governance six weeks ago.

They are yet to receive a response.


Rangers scout joins English FA

The lead domestic scout at leading Scottish side Rangers has left to head the English FA’s talent ID programme from under-18s up to senior level.

Robert Clarkson joined Rangers in 2017 as part of a scouting team put in place by their then-director of football Mark Allen. There was no scouting system in place at that point as the club’s infrastructure had been neglected for years during the financial troubles that saw them having to start over in the fourth division.

He helped build Rangers’ 2020-21 title-winning squad with then-manager Steven Gerrard but has now left Ibrox following the conclusion of the summer transfer window.

It was Clarkson’s job to have in-depth knowledge of the Scottish and English markets primarily, and the FA has recruited him to identify talents who could make the jump into Gareth Southgate’s senior England side.

His departure follows the exit of Rangers’ head of scouting Andy Scoulding earlier this summer to join Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in a new-look structure.

Sporting director Ross Wilson has brought in John Park, former head of recruitment at rivals Celtic, to bolster the department. Park started work straight away following the expiry of his contract at English Championship side Blackburn Rovers.

Jordan Campbell

(Lead pictures: Getty Images)



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Ornstein: Kante not accepting Chelsea contract offer, Rashford parts with agency ally

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