Exclusive: Liverpool not out of Bellingham race, Man Utd considering Portuguese goal machine & more – Ben Jacobs

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Liverpool are NOT out of the race for Jude Bellingham

The race for Jude Bellingham remains open and complicated due to the number of moving parts. The England midfielder is contracted at Dortmund until 2025 and there is no release clause. That means Dortmund don’t actually have to sell this summer, although suitors are pushing for a transfer at the end of the season. To succeed, it’s going to cost £100m+.

Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid remain the three primary contenders. The Manchester United and Chelsea links are less concrete at this point. Manchester United will prioritise a traditional number nine, and the outlay required to do so, and afford Bellingham on top, would require close to a record window spend – and right now it remains unclear who would foot that bill: the Glazers or a new owner. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s owners hugely admire Bellingham, but they are not frontrunners.

Liverpool have put in the most legwork to date, including developing close ties with Bellingham’s father Mark. And my understanding remains that Liverpool are not out the race. Liverpool’s budget will, however, be affected by a lack of Champions League football.

Jurgen Klopp really wants Bellingham, so Liverpool have absolutely not given up. And there has been a long-standing confidence that their project is the right fit. Unfortunately, this season hasn’t gone to plan, though, and that could yet have an impact, which is perhaps why other clubs’ chances are being talked up.

Liverpool have always been braced for another Premier League rival to seriously enter the race, and Manchester City are now the ones to watch. Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish have both told Bellingham to join. Bellingham is not necessarily swayed by what friends or teammates think, but every little bit of input only adds to the intrigue over a potential transfer. From what I am told, Bellingham will score his next move quite dispassionately – as Haaland did when he joined Manchester City.

Ultimately. Haaland ended up at his dad Alfie’s club, so sentiment can play a factor within that process. But Haaland, like Bellingham will, also looked at finances, the coaching staff, his teammates, the city and everything in between, to ensure the move made sense on paper as well as in his heart. That’s what still gives Liverpool some hope because from what I am told Bellingham likes a lot of what he’s heard.

Real Madrid have also put in a lot of work on the player side as well. Although it’s not true Bellingham has already picked Real, recent and positive meetings were held in London to try and make progress.

Real could yet be priced out of the market, especially with at least two Premier League suitors. Their plan has always been to try and get a verbal agreement in place, and as a result feel confident Bellingham won’t extend at Dortmund. This strategy led them to believe last summer Bellingham might be available for under £85m. That number doesn’t look feasible right now, especially not for a player so in demand, insanely talented and a leader on and off the field.

The other thing in all this to again reiterate is Dortmund don’t have to sell, so don’t rule out a new contract either. It’s not currently the most likely scenario, but Dortmund may well try to extend Bellingham in order to further inflate his price. Bellingham may see value in staying an extra year and getting a short-term boost in his package that can be used as leverage.

So there are a lot of variables at play, which is normal for this time of year. The race is on, and what makes it so complicated is the team has to be able to both afford Bellingham and convince him they are the right club. As a result, who Dortmund want to sell to and where Bellingham wants to go could be different.

Goncalo Ramos is on long list of Manchester United targets up front

Goncalo Ramos has been on a number of top club’ radars for quite some time – long before his World Cup hat-trick for Portugal in the 6-1 win over Switzerland. The Benfica forward is in excellent club form with 24 goals and 10 assists in all competitions.

Ramos, who has a release clause of €120m, almost joined PSG last summer. But Benfica held out for close to €45m, which was seen as too high at the time.

At the same time, several Premier League clubs looked with differing degrees of intent, including Manchester United, Newcastle, Leeds, Wolves, Southampton and Nottingham Forest.

It’s no surprise therefore to see Ramos linked against with a move to Old Trafford. But Ramos himself has actually been expecting a new deal at Benfica. Rui Costa is yet to provide one. The 21-year-old would gladly stay another season for the right terms.

Manchester United are looking at several strikers. It’s more a long list than a short list. As a result Ramos, a bit like Tammy Abraham, is there but not necessarily right at the top.

Manchester United are still obsessed with Victor Osimhen, who almost joined them before moving to Napoli, but decided against it due to a lack of game time.

Harry Kane has also been discussed internally, but it all still depends on the England striker. Spurs want him to extend and that had been Kane’s primary intention before Antonio Conte’s dramatic exit.

As I have reported many times, it’s going to cost around £100m to get Kane and that’s still assuming Spurs are willing to do business. Daniel Levy simply won’t make things easy, and Manchester United know just how much of a thorn in their side he can be from when they signed Dimitar Berbatov back in 2008.

Neither Kane nor Osimhen will be easy to get, and that’s where Ramos or Abraham might prove smoother to facilitate and cheaper, too.

Sense of relief following Antonio Conte departure

I think in many ways there is a sense of relief at Spurs now that Antonio Conte has departed. Players were left in the dark for much of the international break as to whether he would definitely depart. And it has been an uncertain start to 2023, regardless, since the expectation was always that Conte would leave at the end of the season.

With it being pretty obvious for some time that Conte was outgoing, his explosive press conference after the 3-3 draw at Southampton felt like he was almost asking to be sacked.

Conte made some valid points in my opinion, but was clearly frustrated and it’s never the best time to talk when emotions are running so high. You can’t effectively call the side you are managing serial failures, or accuse players of being “selfish” without immediate consequences.

Conte felt increasingly handcuffed at Spurs from what I am told. Having qualified for the Champions League last season, the project appeared to be moving forward – and it still might be if Spurs can finish in the top four – but the Italian just didn’t feel backed.

There are two sides to every story, though: Daniel Levy did spend over the summer, and in many ways Conte had more control than most Spurs managers. Ivan Perisic, for example, was a very Conte-like signing and perhaps not the type of profile Levy would have sanctioned in seasons gone by.

But Conte felt some marquee names, or at least players who could be dropped straight into his starting XI, were missing. A lot of depth arrived but not necessarily that box office game changer.

On top of this, there were understandable personal issues leading to Conte wanting out. Managers are ultimately just human beings and Conte had become unsettled. I think the deaths of his friends, Gianluca Vialli and Gian Piero, plus his own gallbladder surgery, emphasised just how important being close to his family is going forward.

I have no doubt Conte will get another top job, and it is highly likely that it will be in Serie A. I don’t see him waiting for the Italy job, though.

Roma are the ones to watch because they see Conte as a perfect successor to Jose Mourinho. A return to Juventus is not impossible either, especially with Max Allegri’s future uncertain come the end of the season, although I am told Conte has some reservations until the fallout from the Prisma investigation is clearer. Even a move to Inter can’t be ruled out, but Conte would have to lower his wage demands. Inter also won’t be rash with Simone Inzaghi. They are still in the Champions League after all. But let’s see what happens come the end of the season.

Manchester United and Chelsea among Evan Ferguson suitors

There is a real buzz around Brighton wonderkid Evan Ferguson. The 18-year-old has scored seven goals in 16 appearances for the Seagulls and got his first Republic of Ireland goal against Latvia during the international break.

Brighton have no intention to sell Ferguson this summer, so it’s a real challenge for suitors wanting to move quickly.

Brighton always only sell on their own terms, and don’t need the fee either having sold Leandro Trossard, Marc Cucurella and Yves Bissouma recently to name but three. And even though he only just signed a new deal, Brighton may well get a healthy fee for Moises Caicedo this summer with Arsenal and Chelsea still lurking.

Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Barcelona and Roma have all scouted Ferguson. This is normal since clubs know they have to track this type of player early and start building relationships ready for when they choose to move.

Ferguson is of appeal to all these top clubs because he has a bit of everything: he’s strong, clinical and intelligent… but perhaps most importantly from Brighton’s perspective, loyal.

Ferguson is contracted until 2026, so it’s very difficult for any club to prize him away this summer, at least at value, especially given Ferguson’s priority is game time, and if Brighton qualify for Europe there is really no reason for him to leave in 2023.

More Stories Antonio Conte Ben Jacobs Erling Haaland Evan Ferguson Goncalo Ramos Harry Kane Jack Grealish Jude Bellingham Moises Caicedo Victor Osimhen