Welcome to ESPN's Insider Notebook, featuring contributions from our reporters across the top leagues around the world.
In this edition, Barcelona blow their rivals out of the water for a 16-year-old. Plus: Manchester United's stance on Ansu Fati.
Jump to: United and £100m Ansu rumours | Werner's release clause may change | Silva favours MLS move | Payet's pay remarks cause anger | Pep's No.2 in curious exit | 'Speed dating' transfer spike | Champions League group stage latest | Spanish clubs' gambling relief | Beefed up Club World Cup
Barcelona beat Madrid to land wonderkid
Barcelona are set to complete the signing of young Rayo Vallecano forward Fabian Luzzi after flexing their financial muscles to beat Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, various sources have confirmed to ESPN.
Madrid and Atletico had both been in the race for Luzzi, but Madrid pulled out once they saw how much Barca were prepared to offer the Spain youth international. A source with knowledge of the figures involved would not confirm the full details to ESPN but said Real Madrid would never pay that much for an academy player.
Luzzi, 16, has been tracked by several of Europe's top clubs, and while he hasn't made his full debut for Rayo, he has been training regularly with the first team.
The teenager has still not signed a deal with Barca, who will have to pay Rayo only a small amount in development rights, but sources say he has committed to joining the Catalan club this summer.
Barca are prepared to pay big to secure young talent. Last year, they accidentally emailed Ilaix Moriba's contract offer to Espanyol, who were left "gobsmacked" at the figures being offered.
Once Luzzi signs, he will join up with Barca's under-19 team with an eye on progressing to the B-team, who could be promoted to the second division when they take part in next month's playoffs. -- Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Man United expect Ansu to stay at Barcelona
Manchester United have watched Ansu Fati's progression into the Barcelona first team, but there is an acceptance he will remain with the Spanish giants despite rumours of a £100m bid, sources have told ESPN.
United and other Premier League clubs that have monitored the forward expect him to agree to a contract extension at Camp Nou after breaking into the senior squad this season. Sources have told ESPN that United are also wary about how agents often use their name in the transfer rumour mill when discussing new contracts with their clients and existing clubs, as a way of drumming up interest in them.
- The best players under 21: Where does Fati feature?
Barcelona are hoping to fund any transfer business by selling players surplus to requirements, such as Philippe Coutinho, but Ansu, who has made 24 appearances in all competitions this season, is unlikely to fall into that category.
Ansu, 17, signed a new contract in December that runs until 2022 and includes a €170m release clause. However, once he's officially promoted to the first team -- he's still technically registered with the B-team -- the terms will be extended until 2024, and the clause will increase to €400m.
Sources at the Catalan club say the plan is for him to become a full part of the first team next season, but he will remain registered to the B-team for now and could feature in the third-division playoffs, which will take place in July. -- Rob Dawson and Sam Marsden
Why 'MLS is Back Tournament' is an absolute toss-up
Ale Moreno says a CCL spot will motivate teams that would have struggled to earn one from the MLS season.
Werner's release clause not set yet
The two-month delay in Bundesliga matches caused by the coronavirus pandemic has created a curious situation where player contract clauses influenced by league finishing positions are now expiring before the season has actually finished.
Werner's fixed price expires on June 15. However, the exact figure a buying club would have to pay Leipzig depended on whether they won the title, qualified for the Champions League or missed out altogether.
The fee could have been as high as €60m or as small as €50m. With all parties keen to reach an agreement, Chelsea and Leipzig entered into negotiations, which essentially constituted a guessing game over his exact value given the outstanding fixtures.
Leipzig are 11 points behind leaders Bayern Munich with four games to play. But they sit in third place, three points ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach in fourth and Bayer Leverkusen in fifth with this season's Champions League quarterfinal to come.
Sources have told ESPN that while Werner quickly agreed to personal terms on a five-year deal worth up to £200,000 a week, the two clubs took considerably longer to finalise the precise fee Chelsea would pay.
They are thought to have settled on €53m, €2 million less than if Leipzig qualified for the Champions League but €3 million more than if they missed out altogether.
Now, all that is holding up the deal is the location of Werner's medical. He cannot fly to London due to the Bundesliga's regulations regarding COVID-19 and Chelsea's doctors are reluctant to travel to Germany because they would have to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon returning to the United Kingdom.
The issue is yet to be resolved, but all parties expect the deal to be completed. -- James Olley
Moreno 'all for' UCL final 8 in Lisbon
Ale Moreno says he's excited for the reported return of Champions League and the World Cup-style format.
Silva lining up next move, favours MLS
The 34-year-old midfielder has confirmed he will leave the Etihad this summer, 10 years after being signed from Valencia, and is considering offers from the United States, Japan, Qatar and Spain before making a final decision on his future.
But while the World Cup winner has previously made no secret of his desire to play for Las Palmas, the Segunda Division club from Silva's native Canary Islands, sources have told ESPN he is also keen to experience a new culture.
Silva had initially favoured a move to the J-League, where he was the subject of interest from Vissel Kobe, the club that employs former Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta.
But with Inter Miami and New York City -- City's sister club within the City Football Group -- also interested in taking Silva to MLS, sources have told ESPN the player is now favouring a move to the U.S. before potentially seeing out his career with a move to Las Palmas. -- Mark Ogden
Payet refuses pay cut, infuriates fans
Marseille's president, Jacques-Henri Eyraud, has been trying to get his players to take a pay cut to ease the financial difficulties at the club, which were in a precarious situation before the coronavirus pandemic hit and Ligue 1 was cancelled.
However, the players, represented by Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin and Payet, have so far rejected all propositions made by Eyraud and his team.
Payet has been the most vocal about it. And the former West Ham star, 33, has justified his decision by saying he could not take a pay cut because "I have a family and I have important bills to pay."
He also said he has to defend his own interests and his family's interests. However, his explanation has been met with anger among fans in Marseille and the rest of France. -- Julien Laurens
Pep's No.2 in curious exit story
Manchester City's appointment of Juanma Lillo as Pep Guardiola's assistant has raised some eyebrows among the club's rivals.
Lillo replaced Mikel Arteta at the Etihad Stadium after his contract with Chinese side Qingdao Huanghai was terminated "by mutual consent." One of the reasons given by Qingdao Huanghai was the ill health of Lillo's mother, only for the 54-year-old to sign a one-year deal at City shortly afterward.
Sources have told ESPN that Lillo's future at City is linked to Guardiola, who has one year left on his deal and hasn't yet confirmed his future plans. -- Rob Dawson
'Speed dating' transfer platform a big hit in Premier League
Transfer Room, a speed-dating-style platform aiming to streamline and digitise the transfer market, has seen a "big spike in activity" from teams looking to get ahead as they continue to deal with travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The platform has seen an increase of over 200% in activity in the past 12 months and has amassed a total of 550 active clubs, with new teams joining every week.
Last Thursday, directors and scouts from major European clubs including Arsenal and Manchester City were among 245 teams that took part in a series of 10-minute virtual meetings over a couple of hours in an event set up by Transfer Room. The event, which included 13 Premier League clubs, was set up to allow teams to talk transfers without the use of agents or intermediaries.
Started in 2017, the platform aims to digitise the transfer market. Most deals on the platform are made between clubs in England's top two divisions.
"We have seen a big spike in activity on the platform since mid-April," Transfer Room founder and chief executive Jonas Ankersen told ESPN. "The travel restrictions force new ways of working and new ways of connecting.
"Not only did they [clubs] save costs and time by being able to meet online, they were constrained by a 10-minute slot per meeting so they went straight to business and some of them even agreed deals." -- Connor O'Halloran
Champions League group stage affected by virus backlog
The 2020-21 Champions League and Europa League group stages will not start until mid-October due to the fixture backlog created by the coronavirus shutdown, sources have told ESPN.
With this season's competition not scheduled to be completed until the final weekend of August -- likely to be staged as mini-tournaments in Lisbon for the Champions League and Frankfurt for the Europa League -- the majority of Europe's domestic leagues will not kick off next season until mid-September, which is traditionally when the group stages begin.
Sources have told ESPN, however, that the working plan for next season is for matchday one to be held on the midweek usually assigned to matchday three and subsequent match dates to follow on accordingly.
UEFA is aiming for all groups to be completed by mid-December, so there remains work to be done to find a way to squeeze six matchdays into the space of two months. -- Mark Ogden
Spanish clubs' relief over multimillion-pound gambling sponsors
Eight La Liga clubs are relieved after their fears they would return to action without sponsors' logos on their kits proved to be unfounded.
Sevilla, Valencia, Leganes, Osasuna, Levante, Alaves, Granada and Mallorca all have multimillion-pound deals with bookmakers including Marathonbet, Bwin and Betway as their main sponsors. A number of other club kits feature them on sleeves or shorts.
Gambling advertising was restricted by Spain's government in an attempt to protect the vulnerable during the country's state of emergency, with adverts allowed on television only between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. While there was little to no sport to gamble on when the pandemic was at its peak, the restriction imposed by the government extended to all forms of betting, away from sports.
That was due to continue until June 21, leading to concerns among teams they would have to play in plain kits, without sponsors, for the first three rounds of La Liga matches. Gambling companies on shirts would also have been banned under the government's restrictions, and this could have led to sponsors asking for their money back from clubs for not displaying their logos or names on shirts.
An update to legislation published on Wednesday removed the restrictions just in time for the opening game featuring one of those affected, Sevilla, as they faced Real Betis in the Seville derby on Thursday night. -- Alex Kirkland
Beefed-up Club World Cup an option
FIFA's grand plan for a 24-team Club World Cup in China in the summer of 2021 was shelved when the coronavirus pandemic hit and Euro 2020 and the Copa America were put back a year, but world football's governing body is still looking to hold this year's edition in December if the COVID-19 situation allows, sources have told ESPN.
That puts some pressure on confederations to finish up their Champions League tournaments before the December showpiece in Qatar, which could be played without fans if necessary.
Doing so will be easier for some confederations than others. The UEFA (17 games left to play), CONCACAF (11 matches left), Oceania (seven) and Africa (five) editions have a less complicated path to completion. Spare a thought for Asia and South America, however. In the AFC Champions League, the group stage would need to be finished before embarking on the 32-game knockout stage, at least if the existing format is adhered to. One option being discussed in Asia is to play all the remaining games in Qatar, although no decision has been finalised.
And then there's CONMEBOL. Finishing the Copa Libertadores -- still in the group stage when games were suspended -- and crowning a South American champion is one of the more substantial obstacles to the Club World Cup going ahead in December, especially given the COVID-19 situation in Brazil, Chile and Peru.
If FIFA's Club World Cup can't go ahead as planned in December, a back-up option being floated is to have a 2021 edition in the winter, with the 2020 and the 2021 champions from each confederation represented in a bumper edition. The priority, however, is for confederations to crown champions and meet in Qatar this year. -- Tom Marshall