Chelsea's Haaland pursuit halted by Abramovich sanctions; Ten Hag targets Ekitike

Chelsea wanted Erling Haaland amid doubts over Romelu Lukaku's future -- ESPN's Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: Ten Hag keen on rising French striker.

Jump to: Ten Hag keen on Ekitike | Rangnick's Hannibal snub explained | Qatar boats to cope with World Cup demand

Sanctions halt Chelsea's Haaland pursuit

Chelsea are frustrated that restrictions arising from the sanctions against owner Roman Abramovich halted their pursuit of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, sources told ESPN.

The Blues are unable to sign players as per the special licence granted to continue fulfilling fixtures following Abramovich's identification as a key figure with ties to Russia President Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

- The best 39 players, 21 and under: Where does Haaland feature?
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Head coach Thomas Tuchel admitted last week that in a normal season, "we would have some targets and we would have for sure contacted some players and found out about their situations [but] our hands are tied."

Sources told ESPN that one of the options senior figures at the club wanted to discuss was Haaland. Chelsea looked at the 21-year-old last summer prior to signing Romelu Lukaku, only to be told by Dortmund they would retain his services for another year.

Lukaku's first season back at Stamford Bridge has been a huge disappointment and the Belgium international is expected to discuss his future once Chelsea's ownership situation is resolved. It is possible Lukaku would be allowed to leave should Chelsea recoup a significant amount of the €115 million they paid Inter Milan, but a replacement needs to be identified and by the time the club can act, they may be too late to sound Haaland out.

There is a strong expectation that Manchester City will land the Norway striker, largely because they have been laying the foundations of a deal for several weeks. But City will not break their wage structure to land Haaland, sources told ESPN. The framework of the deal -- including agent fees -- is already in place and City have until June to formally trigger the €75m release clause in Haaland's contract at Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland is set to become one of the top earners at the Etihad Stadium, but the club have been clear during talks with Haaland's representatives they will not break the bank. Sources told ESPN that negotiations over his salary have not gone beyond the level agreed with Kevin De Bruyne when the Belgian midfielder signed his latest extension in April 2021, worth around £375,000 a week.

Chelsea wanted to see whether Haaland was interested in a move to west London and perhaps even discussed contract terms but the ownership situation continues to drag on. A consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly is the preferred bidder but talks are ongoing between merchant bank Raine Group, Chelsea and the U.K government over the finer points of an agreement.

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is waiting with a rival bid while the UK government have remained set on May 31 as a deadline for completion. The Premier League transfer window opens on June 10. -- James Olley and Rob Dawson

Ten Hag keen on Ekitike but Bayern, Arsenal, Newcastle lurking

Manchester United have made an enquiry over Reims striker Hugo Ekitike, sources told ESPN, but Bayern Munich are also in the running for the exciting teenager.

Sources added that Newcastle, who almost signed Ekitike in January, as well as Arsenal are also keen on the 19-year-old, who has scored nine goals in 22 appearances so far this season, with 14 appearances coming from the start. Sources said Ekitike would be available for around €15m.

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick has said the club need two strikers in the transfer window as well as needing to target rising stars rather than established names.

Ekitike fits the bill in that regard and sources said an approach has been made to the player's representatives to find out his plans for next season. Arsenal are also in need of a striker with Mikel Arteta likely to lose Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah on free transfers this summer while Bayern are looking to the future with Robert Lewandowski, 33, out of contract at the end of next season.

It promises to be a summer of change at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani among those set to leave, with two key scouts also departing the club in addition to director of football negotiations Matt Judge resigning recently.

New manager Erik ten Hag will be presented with a list of targets the club have been working on ahead of his arrival and the incoming manager will have power of veto over what is proposed, as well as being able to put forward his own names for consideration. Ten Hag is combining his present role as coach of Ajax -- who are top of the Eredivisie by four points with three games remaining -- as well as laying the groundwork for when he officially moves to United, but has asked the Premier League club for space while he looks to seal a third successive league title.

- ESPN's Insider Notebook: Ten Hag tells United: Leave me alone!

Sources added that while multiple sides are in the mix for Ekitike as they believe he has huge potential, he has yet to make a decision on where he wants to move to next. -- Julien Laurens

Rangnick's Hannibal snub explained

Hannibal Mejbri's cameo in the 4-0 defeat to Liverpool went down well with Manchester United fans and pundit Gary Neville, but sources told ESPN that interim manager Ralf Rangnick was not impressed.

The 19-year-old came on for the final six minutes at Anfield in April and picked up a yellow card after making a number of heavy challenges.

Former United captain Neville said he was "proud" of Hannibal for "making his presence felt" on an otherwise humiliating night for United but Rangnick did not share his view. Sources told ESPN that Hannibal was reprimanded by Rangnick for a reckless and erratic performance and punished the Tunisia international with a return to the under-23 team.

Hannibal has been omitted from the matchday squad since the defeat to Liverpool, with youngsters Alejandro Garnacho and Alvaro Fernandez named on the bench for the 3-0 win over Brentford on Monday. -- Rob Dawson

Don't go overboard! Boat emerges as option for Qatar World Cup stay

The lack of accommodation at the World Cup in Qatar is prompting some creative solutions with friends and family of the England squad expected to share a boat permanently moored in the Gulf state, sources told ESPN.

Estimates put the number of visitors for the tournament across November and December as high as 1.2 million people, with only around 130,000 rooms available.

Although VIPs can still expect a degree of preferential treatment, the battle to secure accommodation for the tournament has extended to those connected to the 32 competing teams. Sources told ESPN that England's wives, girlfriends and friends will take up an allocation of around 25% capacity on a boat also hosting FIFA delegates, who will comprise 50%. The remainder will be made up of friends and family from other nations, with two other European nations thought to be among those involved in talks.

One source suggested the boat will be stationed on The Pearl, an artificial island in Doha boasting luxury shopping, private beaches and restaurants.

Some family members are understood to have looked at staying in Dubai and flying into Qatar for the matches and on days when the families are given access to the players, but the boat has emerged as an option to reduce travelling.

England's team base has not been publicly confirmed but sources said they will stay at the Souq Al Wakra hotel, located to the south of Doha. -- James Olley