Rodgers eyed as Solskjaer successor

Brendan Rodgers could take over at Manchester United if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is sacked. — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: How the players at Old Trafford rallied around Solskjaer amid questions over his future.

Jump to: Players sent Solskjaer messages of support | Clubs refuse police talks over tackling racism | Haaland’s 2022 fear | NWSL club’s landmark fertility initiative

Rodgers ahead of Conte in race to replace Solskjaer

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers is a potential replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager, sources told ESPN, with the club prepared to recruit a new manager from within the Premier League if the former Molde and Cardiff City coach is unable to inspire an immediate upturn in results.

Solskjaer will take charge of United against Tottenham on Saturday, and almost certainly Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday, after the Old Trafford hierarchy resisted pressure to dismiss the 48-year-old in the wake of last Sunday’s 5-0 home defeat against Liverpool.

Although he remains in his job, sources told ESPN that United are assessing alternative options in the event of the Norwegian being unable to halt a disastrous run of form. The club have suffered five defeats in the last nine games in all competitions, including just one point from their last 12 in the Premier League.

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The determination within United to retain the approach of promoting youth and playing with an attractive style has led to a focus on possible domestic targets, and ESPN has been told that Leicester manager Rodgers has impressed senior figures at Old Trafford with his work at the King Power Stadium, where he won the FA Cup last season, as well his success at Celtic and previously at Liverpool, where he transformed the team and almost won the Premier League title in 2014.

Rodgers, 48, signed a long-term contract in December 2019 committing him to Leicester until 2025, raising the prospect of a costly compensation bill should United attempt to negotiate his release from the Foxes. The club have appointed a succession of foreign coaches — Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer — since sacking David Moyes less than a year into his six-year contract in 2014, but sources said that the failure of that appointment has not deterred the club from hiring a British coach again.

When asked about links with the United job, Rodgers told a news conference on Friday afternoon: “I don’t even think about it. I’m sure the supporters are probably tired of it. At Leicester, there is always a link. My focus is always here with Leicester and developing the football club and challenging for honours. The directors, staff and players all have the same vision.”

A lack of credible interim appointments proved to be a key factor in Solskjaer staying in charge this week, but the United hierarchy are prepared to dismiss him if the team continues to under-perform and the next two games are crucial in his prospects of surviving in the role.

Former Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte is available and interested in the United job, but sources said that senior figures at Old Trafford have reservations about his abrasive personality and likely demands for significant spending in the transfer market. However, Conte has not been ruled out as a potential appointment if circumstances dictate that a swift change be made.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino has support within the United boardroom, sources told ESPN, but there is an acceptance that a move for the former Tottenham manager is unlikely as it stands. — Mark Ogden

Solskjaer’s text messages of support

Under-pressure United boss Solskjaer received messages of support from members of his squad in the wake of the humiliating defeat to Liverpool when it looked like he could lose his job, sources told ESPN.

While there have been a number of dissenting voices in the dressing room after a 4-2 loss at Leicester was followed by the 5-0 home hammering to Liverpool, sources told ESPN that sections of the first team squad remain behind their manager.

A group of senior players sent text messages to both Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward on Monday to express their support, while admitting their own poor form has contributed to the club’s malaise. Sources added that some players felt in the dark over what was happening, and messaged Woodward asking about the manager’s position amid a lack of clarity this week following a raft of media speculation that Solskjaer would be sacked. Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson and former chairman Martin Edwards were pictured arriving at the club’s Carrington training base on Monday, but sources told ESPN that the pre-planned visit was so they could get fitted for new club suits.

Solskjaer is set to remain in charge for Manchester United’s trip to Tottenham on Saturday, although sources told ESPN his future has not been guaranteed beyond that.

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Woodward and group managing director Richard Arnold are satisfied Solskjaer has enough backing from within the squad to make a positive result at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a realistic possibility, despite the difficulties surrounding the club. — Rob Dawson

Police frustrated by lack of action over online abuse

One unnamed Premier League club rejected an invite from the police to speak to players about online racist abuse, National Police Chiefs Council’s football lead Mark Roberts has told ESPN.

Following an “explosion” of online hate crime during Euro 2020, Roberts wrote to the 92 professional clubs in England and Wales ahead of the 2021-22 season, offering for police officers to visit training grounds to meet players and discuss online racist abuse, and how authorities could work with them to deal with it.

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To date, only 11 out of the 92 have allowed the police to visit, of which none play in the Premier League. A total of four clubs across the English football pyramid refused the offer to help. It has not been made clear on what grounds the invite was refused, or the lack of urgency from clubs in replying to the police’s request.

“It [online hate crime] was a growing problem. We saw an increase in previous seasons during lockdown and during the Euros we had an explosion in the number of incidents being picked up and reported,” Roberts told ESPN.

“You can’t turn on a sports channel without someone saying they’re committed to tackling racism, saying ‘We’re all in this together. We all stand united.’ So it was disappointing when there was a lack of response. I was hopeful it was something clubs would jump on, in briefing their players.

“Clubs are very wealthy organisations that we would have hoped would have made time.

“It’s important to remember players are the victims here. I think it’s a missed opportunity [from clubs] to support players.”

When contacted by ESPN, a Premier League spokesperson said: “The Premier League is taking action against online abuse — since 2019 we have been proactively monitoring social media platforms to report any abuse targeted at Premier League players, and have reported thousands of incidents to social media companies since.

“We also support players, managers and their families through our online abuse reporting system, working closely with the relevant police authorities throughout this process.” — Connor O’Halloran

Haaland’s World Cup fears as injury concerns grow

Erling Haaland’s hopes of playing in the 2022 World Cup have been dealt a serious blow with sources telling ESPN that the Norway forward’s hip injury will force him to miss his country’s crucial qualifying games against Latvia and Netherlands next month. The 21-year-old suffered a hip flexor injury during Borussia Dortmund’s 4-0 Champions League defeat against Ajax in Amsterdam on Oct.19 and had been initially ruled out for “a couple of weeks” by coach Marco Rose.

But sources told ESPN that Haaland’s injury is worse than first feared and there are concerns he may be sidelined until mid-December at the earliest.

Such a lay-off would see Haaland sit out Dortmund’s remaining three games in Champions League Group C, where they are second following the Ajax defeat, and Norway’s decisive fixtures in their attempt to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.

Norway will qualify for Qatar 2022 if they beat Latvia and the Netherlands in their final two games in Group G, where they sit in second spot, two points behind Louis van Gaal’s Dutch team, going into next month’s fixtures.

Haaland has been crucial to Norway’s progression to second position having scored five goals during the qualification campaign so far, but his absence for the Latvia and Netherlands fixtures would leave the Norwegians without their best player and severely dent their qualification hopes.

A second place finish would mean a playoff sport on the road to the World Cup, although Turkey are two points behind Norway with two games remaining.— Mark Ogden

Racing Louisville’s landmark fertility initiative

Racing Louisville set a new standard for women’s soccer this week when the club announced it would provide players with free fertility preservation services including egg freezing, embryo freezing and long-term storage.

The deal, which is the first of its kind in the National Women’s Soccer League, will see the club partner with Kentucky Fertility Institute to give players more flexibility in starting a family and continuing with their careers on the field.

There is a precedent for this kind of healthcare in women’s sport with the WNBA writing into its collective bargaining agreement that there should be reimbursement for veteran players towards adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing or fertility treatment.

Players who use preservation services with Racing Louisville and then transfer away from the club or retire will still be covered for cryo-storage fees.

“Women professional athletes have long been burdened with an excruciating choice of continuing their finite careers or taking time off — sometimes retiring — to start a family,” Racing Louisville’s director of player experience Brynn Sebring said. “With the Kentucky Fertility Institute’s help, Racing Louisville has effectively eliminated the financial burden of an alternate solution, allowing our athletes a choice few other players have.”

Egg freezing requires at least two weeks off training but many sportswomen who choose to undergo the therapy do it during their offseasons. — Kathleen McNamee

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