Please tell me this Stephan El Shaarawy transfer noise isn’t real

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I have this weird impression Milan’s a big club. Maybe that’s me being old, but throughout my lifetime, the Rossoneri have been one of Europe’s marquee clubs. Although financial considerations have tempered that reputation over the last few years, I’d have a difficult time naming 10 clubs in world soccer I thought players would like to play for before AC Milan.

But when you hear things like these Stephan El Shaarawy rumors, you wonder: Would a truly big, elite, near-the-top-of-the-pecking club even consider selling a 20-year-old who, after scoring 16 goals while seeing his first regular time in Serie A, earned a trip to Brazil with the Italian national team this summer? Barring some huge, unprecedented bid that would have the buying team assuming too much of the risk for a young player’s development, there’s no way players like El Shaarawy should move from club like Milan.

Yet here we are, with persistent rumors linking the young half-Egyptian attacker with a life beyond the San Siro. The whispers started in earnest last week and have persisted, with the most reported scenario having Manchester City make up part of Milan’s $53 million (€40 million) evaluation with Carlos Tévez. The Argentine’s inclusion would reportedly drop El Shaarawy’s price to $33 million.

That this rumor didn’t perish in a death of smoldering absurdity breaks my heart, because with the Rossonerin recent years having taken on the pricey likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho while being convinced to part with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, there seems to be some deranged string on which this reality might exist. Yet even in that world, there are reasons Milan should either hold on to their man or jack up the price:

  • El Shaarawy is on very low wages. He made just over $1 million last season. If Milan sell him, a big chunk of their intake will go straight into the wages needed to acquire an equivalent replacement.
  • And that replacement isn’t going to be a 20-year-old you know can perform for your coach, with your players, at your club. There’s a reason we’re even having this conversation, and it’s because those players a rare. Really, really, rare.
  • Players who are slightly more common: The Carlos Tévezes of the world. He’s a great player, but he’s also older and overpriced. He’ll make around $13.5 million this season. The difference in wages means, after three seasons, you’ve funneled the transfer fee into Tévez’s pocket. All your left with is the older and, by that time, likely inferior player.

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with the astronomical fees players garner in the transfer market, but this scenario highlights how it works. Young players who are cheap, under contract, and highly productive save you a ton of money over the alternatives. You start with that difference and make some educated guesses as to their contributions to other goals (titles, league placements, European spots) and revenue streams (merchandise, ticket sales). Add in some market factors (scarcity, is he in the last year of his deal) and you get some high figures.

For El Shaarawy — a 20-year-old who’s giving peak-level output — the evaluation’s incredible high. It’s probably higher than the $53 million we’ve seen quoted. It’s definitely more than $33 million plus and overpriced Tevez.

The only teams that justify this kind of deal are teams that either (a) don’t have alternatives, or (b) have the type of real world cash considerations that force you to value the money above your club’s prestige. It’s not the move of one of an actor that’s trying to stay among the world’s marquee clubs.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.