Welcome to ESPN's Insider Notebook, featuring contributions from our reporters across the top leagues around the world.
In this edition, there's a frantic contract scramble brewing in the Premier League. Plus: The secret behind Mikel Arteta's fabulous hair.
Jump to: United not giving up on Bellingham | Arteta's hair secret | Messi's ex-coach a Barcelona scout | Ronaldo: Who is Werner? | Arthur fights for Barcelona future | Why Kouassi chose Bayern over PSG | Neymar's party in St. Tropez
Premier League clubs' frantic transfer scramble
The standard June 30 expiration date for contracts was highlighted early on in the coronavirus pandemic as a potential issue, and it has now become a reality for many clubs. Although the revised Premier League schedule has been in circulation for some time, several clubs delayed making firm decisions about extending players' contracts, even on a temporary basis, due to uncertainties over future income as a result of COVID-19. This partly explains why David Luiz is one of four Arsenal players with less than two weeks left on their existing agreements and just days to resolve the situation.
Clubs agreed a June 23 deadline to give players being released a full week to find another team. Arsenal must also decide whether to extend the loans of Cedric Soares and Dani Ceballos, with a key factor being the overall injury situation and whether head coach Mikel Arteta will be short of options if they are returned. Arsenal are expected to make Pablo Mari's loan deal permanent, but wider concerns about the financial pressures mean every penny counts, so even a modest transfer fee of around £8 million warrants serious consideration -- especially considering Mari potentially has a serious injury following the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City.
This situation is replicated at other London clubs but is complicated further by Chelsea and Tottenham finding themselves in the curious position of trying to negotiate extensions with players they're prepared to let go once the protracted season is over.
Jan Vertonghen is close to leaving Spurs on a free transfer, but Tottenham are hopeful he will play out the remaining nine matches of their league campaign despite the potential risk of injury jeopardising a move elsewhere. Michel Vorm is also out of contract and likely to depart, but Jose Mourinho confirmed on Thursday he wanted the goalkeeper to stay in the short term.
Across the capital, Chelsea are not prepared to offer Willian the three-year deal he craves but would still like him to complete the existing campaign. Pedro is set to join Roma and is therefore reluctant to stay on to play for a club ready to dispense with his services. A hectic few days of negotiations await. -- James Olley
United still fighting Dortmund for Bellingham
United believe they've made a strong case to Bellingham, built around the plan for his development. The midfielder, 16, has been told he would immediately be part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first-team squad rather than being placed with the academy, while the rapid progression of 18-year-old Mason Greenwood has also been highlighted as a selling point to Bellingham's family and representatives.
United are aware that Bellingham, who has made 35 appearances in his breakthrough season with Birmingham and is also wanted by Arsenal, is leaning toward joining Dortmund -- who have used Jadon Sancho as an example of what they can do for young players -- but have not admitted defeat. Dortmund have not yet been able to agree a deal with the Championship side -- Birmingham are in financial trouble and want a large chunk of the fee in guaranteed payments, rather than waiting for bonuses to be triggered -- and United have not given up hope of signing the teenager.
United's pursuit of Bellingham will not affect their chances of landing Sancho. The England winger is one of Solskjaer's top targets, but United believe Dortmund's €130 million valuation is unrealistic given concerns about the market amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There is hope that Sancho's desire to move this summer will force Dortmund to make a compromise, but with two years left on his contract, the Bundesliga side are determined to stick to their price tag. -- Rob Dawson
The secret behind Arteta's flawless hair
Despite the closure of barbers and hairdressers during the United Kingdom's coronavirus lockdown, Arteta's hair has remained immaculate. The Arsenal head coach has always been admired for his perfect hair, but it has attracted even more attention during the pandemic as, compared to some of his players, he has managed to keep everything intact.
His secret weapon can now be revealed: his wife, Lorena. She has made sure her husband's hair has stayed perfect. Her mum was a hairdresser, while she has good knowledge herself when it comes to cutting and styling.
Messi's ex-coach appointed chief Barca scout
Lionel Messi's former youth team coach at Barcelona has been appointed as the club's new chief scout. Alex Garcia, who managed Messi at the under-16 level in a team that also included Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, will start the role at the end of the season.
Garcia's appointment is part of a large restructuring of the club's scouting department, which will be cut from 40 employees to only 20. Sources at the club insist the move was preplanned and is not a response to the financial problems generated by the coronavirus pandemic. They say a revamp is overdue as they seek to streamline their resources.
Currently, Garcia is one of the first team's analysts. As a player, he came through the La Masia academy and made his Barca debut under Johan Cruyff. Since retiring, he has held a number of roles at the club since returning in 2001. -- Sam Marsden.
Ronaldo doesn't know who Werner is
Brazil legend Ronaldo is one of the greatest strikers of all time, but he can't offer Chelsea fans any insight into the club's new £53m forward Timo Werner.
"He's the one from Leverkusen, right?" Ronaldo said at an event for Champions League sponsor Banco Santander, when asked if Barcelona and Real Madrid had missed out on the RB Leipzig man.
Germany international Werner was linked with both La Liga clubs, as well as Liverpool, before Chelsea sealed the deal this week.
"The truth is I haven't seen him, although I watch a lot of football," said Ronaldo, who is now president of Real Valladolid. "Once a player is beyond our budget, I don't watch them too much. But Barcelona and Real Madrid can't sign everybody."
The 2002 World Cup winner was more forthcoming on Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland -- "He's a great player. I thought you were going to ask if I'd sign him for Valladolid!" -- and Kylian Mbappe, saying the Paris Saint-Germain forward "reminds me of my time as a player." -- Alex Kirkland
Arthur fighting for Barca future
Arthur Melo has enlisted the help of a personal trainer and a nutritionist as he battles to prove his worth to Barcelona, sources close to the player have told ESPN. The Brazilian midfielder has been offered to Juventus in exchange for Miralem Pjanic, but he has rejected the chance to move to Turin. Instead, he has said he wants to stay and fight for his future at Barca, whom he joined from Gremio in 2018 for around €30m.
To do so, he has expanded his home gym and drawn up an intense routine outside of the work he's already doing with the club. Sources explain that in collaboration with a personal trainer and a physio, he's doing six additional sessions per week, alternating between cardiovascular activities and more specific exercises focused on strengthening areas where he has suffered injuries in the past, such as the groin and the ankle.
He has also changed his diet, with a nutritionist in charge of drawing up a new menu each week. What he eats and drinks is now dependent on the day, with his consumption the day before a game completely different from the food he enjoys on the day of a match or the day after.
Arthur says he hopes it will help convince Barca to keep him. Despite the fact they're willing to let him leave, sources at the club believe he's one of the few players "capable of understanding" the mechanism of the team's style and that he could still have a part to play in future plans if he stays.
He made his first start since La Liga returned on Tuesday in the 2-0 win over Leganes. In total this season, he has made 18 appearances in the league, although five of those have been as a substitute. -- Moises Llorens
Why Kouassi chose Bayern over PSG
Sources have told ESPN that PSG lost rising star Tanguy Kouassi to Bayern Munich because they couldn't compete with the terms presented by his agents, Hakim Hamouche, Mounir El Maoujoudi and Yohan Fontaine.
Kouassi decided he would sign his first professional contract for Bayern after weeks of discussions, meetings, rumours, offers and counteroffers.
The 18-year-old is Paris-born and raised, and he went through the club's youth teams, as well as making 13 appearances for the first team this season. In terms of game time, the teenager will arrive in an even more competitive environment than in Paris. PSG sporting director Leonardo and the coach, Thomas Tuchel, promised him he would play regularly next season, but Kouassi says he thinks he will play just as much in Munich.
- Laurens: Why do youth stars fail at PSG?
It's a coup for Bayern, who beat PSG, AC Milan, RB Leipzig, Manchester City and many others to his signing. But it's a big setback for the French champions, who once again lose one of their talented youngsters on a free. Kouassi joins Moussa Dembele, Kingsley Coman, Dan-Axel Zagadou and many others in leaving Paris, raising questions about how the club plans to keep hold of the talent they nurture. -- Julien Laurens
Neymar's party in St. Tropez
Paris was looking forward to seeing Neymar again. The Brazilian superstar left the French capital on March 15 to spend lockdown in his native Brazil. He came back last Saturday ... but not for long.
Pretty much as soon as he landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Neymar was ready for a break. He took another private flight, south this time, joining some of his teammates in St. Tropez. Marco Verratti and his wife, Jessica, were there, along with with Ezequiel Lavezzi. Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes and their families have also hired a villa there.
PSG's stars are expected back for training by the middle of next week. They are set to leave St. Tropez on June 21 -- who would blame them for spending as long as possible there? -- Julien Laurens