Aubameyang in Arsenal limbo, UEFA consider relaxing FFP, Bielsa's unique check-ins with Leeds players
Welcome to our latest European football notebook, featuring contributions from ESPN writers across the continent. In this edition, Arsenal's star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ponders whether to stay or go, top defender Kalidou Koulibaly hints at a PSG move, Barcelona move on from a recent signing and much more.
Jump to: Aubameyang in limbo | Koulibaly moving to Paris? | Bielsa plays Big Brother at Leeds | UEFA to relax FFP? | EFL teams not cutting wages yet | Arsenal and rivals chasing Gueye | Spanish clubs reduce salaries | Semedo surplus at Barca | La Liga's music festival | Clubs scramble for installment payments | PSG wishes players stayed close?
Aubameyang could be available this summer
Like all his Arsenal teammates, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is staying home with his family and staying safe while football is suspended. With no team training, he'll naturally have a lot of time to think about his future.
The striker is out of contract in June 2021 and, because of the shutdown, he's yet to start discussions with the club regarding a possible new deal. Sources have also told ESPN that there has been no contact from Barcelona or Manchester United about a move or from Arsenal about a contract extension. There should be more clarity in the weeks to come. -- Julien Laurens
Koulibaly's new apartment catches PSG's attention
Where will in-demand defender Kalidou Koulibaly play next season? Despite being under contract at Napoli until June 2023, he will likely leave the San Paolo whenever the summer transfer window happens and PSG are very interested in his services. Sources tell ESPN that the French champions are preparing an offer and they've been really encouraged by the fact that the Senegalese international, born in France 28 years ago, has just bought a flat in the 15th arrondissement of the French capital for $4 million!
Koulibaly's new place is over 2,100 square feet (200 square meters) in size and spread over two floors with a great view of the Eiffel Tower. In Paris, it's seen as a very positive sign that Koulibaly has invested heavily in the city. -- Julien Laurens
Bielsa's "big brother" routine with Leeds squad
Manager Marcelo Bielsa is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to ensure that his Leeds squad stays fit during the coronavirus shutdown by measuring players' weight on a daily basis. But with the Championship leaders' Thorp Arch training ground shut down like every other professional club in England, Bielsa has had to find a way to guarantee that his players are giving accurate readings.
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The former Argentina, Chile, Lazio and Athletic Bilbao coach has ordered his players to contact the Leeds medical staff via FaceTime and film themselves on the scales, making sure that the physios can see the numbers. Bielsa has also devised daily email fitness plans for his players, who are desperate to return to action as quickly as possible in order to finish the job of winning promotion and end Leeds' 16-year exile from the Premier League. -- Mark Ogden
UEFA mulling temporary relaxation of FFP
As clubs around Europe face enormous revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic, UEFA are prepared to relax Financial Fair Play rules in response, though it remains to be seen what mechanism they will use, according to several individuals familiar with the matter.
FFP regulations already have provisions with regard to "force majeure" (Annex XI, art. e) and "major and unforeseen changes in the economic environment" (Annex XI, art. f). The first relates to "extraordinary events or circumstances beyond the control of the club," whereas the second refers to the "quantifiable financial impact" of "extraordinary national economic events which are temporary and considered to be beyond the general fluctuation of the economic environment." The issue is that while both quite clearly relate to the current situation, they are designed to be applied on a case-by-case basis. Given that the ongoing crisis relates to the game's entire ecosystem, some clubs would like to see a more comprehensive rewriting of the regulations.
Another issue is that in recent years, many clubs have relied on player trading to balance the books for FFP purposes. Or, put differently, cleverly using amortization and other accounting tools to improve the profit and loss statements. Given the uncertainty over the upcoming transfer window -- which, right now, extends to whether there will even be a transfer window -- it's unclear how to even begin to assess this. -- Gab Marcotti
France's next big thing linked to Premier League
You might not have heard of him yet but he might be coming to a club in England very soon.
Pape Gueye has been the big revelation of Ligue 2 so far. The Le Havre midfielder is only 21 years old, but has been bossing France's second division and now all the top Premier League clubs are after him.
Arsenal are the keenest on the France U19 international, who is out of contract in June 2021 and would only cost around €8 million. But the Gunners will face tough competition as Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City are also monitoring the left-footed prospect as are AC Milan and Sevilla. -- Julien Laurens
EFL regulations prevent wage cuts
English Football League clubs below the top tier are watching with interest as some teams consider asking their players to defer wages until the end of the coronavirus crisis. A senior figure at one Championship club has told ESPN that his team is holding off on such a move as current rules stipulate that sides who defer wages would be in breach of EFL regulations and face an immediate transfer embargo.
In such unprecedented times, that sanction may yet be lifted in order to help clubs stave off financial crisis. Yet the threat of a transfer ban is currently enough to stop many clubs from making such a difficult decision. -- Mark Ogden
Spanish clubs considering salary reduction
In Spain, clubs and players are divided over how to deal with the potentially catastrophic financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic. With La Liga suspended indefinitely, some of its biggest clubs -- notably Barcelona, with their vast wage bill, and Atletico Madrid, with their already precarious finances -- are openly considering negotiated pay cuts for their first-team squads.
Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo said on Thursday that the club "won't have any problems" reaching an agreement with players and coaching staff. However, two key Atletico Madrid first-team players told ESPN that the club has yet to present them with a detailed proposal.
At Barcelona -- where the first-team squad's wages account for around half of the club's budget -- players rejected the board's initial offer. The club confirmed on Thursday that they will seek to temporarily reduce employees' salaries, without going into details.
One club notable in their absence from discussions so far are Real Madrid, who are on a steadier financial footing than their rivals.
Further down the La Liga table, ESPN has spoken to three other Primera clubs where the players' initial position is to refuse to consider an agreed settlement. Their stance -- backed by Spanish footballers' union AFE -- is that a reduction in salary now would be premature while it still remains possible that the 2019-20 season could be completed at some stage. -- Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
Semedo surplus at Barcelona
Barcelona will make Nelson Semedo available for transfer at the end of the season after turning down multiple bids for the Portugal right-back last summer, sources have told ESPN.
Atletico Madrid pushed for Semedo to be included in the deal for Antoine Griezmann last year, but Barca stood firm and, in the end, paid the French forward's €120 million release clause. There was also interest from several Premier League sides.
Semedo, 26, has featured regularly in his three years at Camp Nou, making 111 appearances in all competitions, although he has never made the right full-back position his own. Sergi Roberto has often been preferred to him. Therefore, as Barca look to balance the books, minimise the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and raise funds to invest elsewhere -- Neymar and Lautaro Martinez remain their top targets -- the club will now listen to offers for Semedo when the campaign eventually ends. -- Moises Llorens
La Liga creates music festival for charity
With football suspended in Spain indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, La Liga continue to seek new ways to help supporters fill their weekends. Last week, they endorsed a FIFA tournament that featured 18 of the 20 clubs. The competition, which raised over €140,000, was won comfortably by Real Madrid's Marco Asensio.
This Saturday (starting at 6 p.m. local time) they're aiming to give Glastonbury and Coachella a run for their money as they step into the music sphere. Acts include Latin favourites Alejandro Sanz, David Bisbal, Aitana, Sebastián Yatra and Antonio Orozco, all of whom will perform as part of the inaugural LaLiga Fest. There will also be appearances from players associated with each of the league's 20 clubs.
All the acts and players, of course, will be broadcasting from their homes, with money raised from the event going toward the purchase of medical supplies in the fight against the coronavirus. The festival will be live on LaLiga's channels online and will also be made available to the league's international broadcast partners -- Sam Marsden
Clubs anxious about funding already completed transfers
Football's lockdown threatens to be disastrous for many clubs from a financial perspective, even if the cash freeze proves to be no more than a short-term shock.
One area that's gone largely unnoticed is the way that clubs pay for transfers. Don't be fooled into thinking that it is a simple transaction that sees Club A agree to a fee and then Club B receive it straightaway. It's common practice in football for transfer fees to be paid over the duration of a player's contract, which is why Manchester United went into 2019 owing £187.5m to other clubs for players signed in recent years. That figure has now fallen to £97.9m following payments made last year, but this summer's financial outlay will still require, among others, a payment of £22.5m to Crystal Palace for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
For a club of United's stature, with cash reserves in excess of £100m, the payments are manageable, but for less wealthy teams, it is easy to see how the current lockdown threatens to cause major problems when it comes to player trading this summer. -- Mark Ogden
PSG wishing players had remained in Paris
As revealed last week, PSG stars Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva have all returned home to South America while France is in lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak. Neymar and Silva are back in Brazil with their families, while Cavani is back in Uruguay and ready to help in his hometown of Salto if needed.
Although PSG were not going to stand in the way of their players and their desire to be with their loved ones, sources have told ESPN that the French champions would have preferred that all of their players and staff remained in the country. The reason for PSG's stance is the possibility that Neymar, Cavani and Silva are unable to return to France to prepare and participate in the event of any potential return to Ligue 1 action.
Although that seems a long way off right now, and with no specific date set, the LFP are targeting a late-June or mid-July finish to the Championnat season. Depending on how the situations evolve in France, Brazil and Uruguay, the players could be unable to re-enter to finish whatever is left of this campaign.
ESPN sources have added that the situation in Lyon is similar, with midfielder Thiago Mendes back in Brazil with family. -- Jonathan Johnson