Manchester City lead the race for Sporting star Rafael Leao
Manchester City lead the race for Sporting star Rafael Leao
The English Premier League club — which has outspent all domestic and European rivals since Pep Guardiola’s appointment as coach — has offered Sporting a fee of €25 million ($30.7 million) for the 18-year-old, according to sources familiar with the approach.
Aware of competing interest from Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid for a forward whose technical qualities and 1.88m physique have seen leading scouts place his potential on the same level as Kylian Mbappe, Sporting have already fielded a series of inquiries over his availability. The Lisbon club extended Leao's contract until 2022 in October, increasing the player's release clause to €60m.
The Lisbon club extended Leao’s contract until 2022 in October, increasing the player’s release clause to €60 million.
Leao made his senior debut the same month, scoring in a 20-minute Taca de Portugal appearance as a substitute and on Sunday, Sporting coach Jorge Jesus brought the teenager off the bench to help break a 0-0 Primeira Liga deadlock against Feirense.
The remainder of Leao’s playing time this season has been spent with Sporting’s B and UEFA Youth League sides. His progress through the Portugal national team’s age grades was accelerated again in November with a debut for the under-21s.
“He is a disconcerting player, powerful one-on-one,” said Jesus. “I gave him the opportunity to play. He is a strong kid and he was serene; everything he did was done with quality. We will work step-by-step with Leao, who is one of the great talents our academy has.”
Under Guardiola’s direction, City have markedly lowered the age profile of their senior squad in the last 20 months, creating a group of players with the potential to develop together into European champions. The focus on younger, more malleable individuals also suits Guardiola’s coaching style.
The move for Leao has parallels to the manner in which City acted to sign Gabriel Jesus in the summer of 2016 ahead of competing interest from Barcelona and Juventus.
A willingness to pay what was perceived at the time of the transaction to be an inflated price for the Brazilian enabled City to secure a forward who then rapidly established himself as one of the Premier League’s most impressive talents.
City also attempted to bring Mbappe from AS Monaco last summer, with Guardiola meeting the France international in person before he agreed to join Paris Saint-Germain in a record deal for a teenage footballer.
Guardiola asked his employers to add another forward in the January window, and has long harbored doubts about club-record scorer Sergio Aguero’s suitability to his tactical plans.
City’s preparations for the Catalan’s third campaign as manager are already well advanced with a deal in place to sign Brazil international Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, as first revealed by Arab News.
The midfielder would have moved to England last month if his current club had permitted the early transfer of an individual who is expected to share holding duties with compatriot Fernandinho, while also offering options as an attacking midfielder.
The Abu Dhabi owned club has committed €583 million to transfer fees alone in the first four windows of Guardiola’s reign. City’s cumulative investment in such transactions is more than 50 percent higher than their closest domestic rival over the same period, yet their manager recently commented on the limitations of his budget.
“Maybe it will happen in the future but so far we have not spent 100 million on one player, or 90 million or 80 million,” Guardiola said last month. “We cannot pay that right now, they tell me. That is the truth. Of course we have spent a lot of money, but only the same as other teams. I can assure you that we are not the only team in the world that spends money. There are many others.”
Jabeur becomes first Tunisian woman to make WTA final
- Jabeur, ranked 101st in the world and who came through qualifying, prevailed over Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
- In Saturday’s final, Jabeur will face sixth-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia, last year’s runner-up, who put out Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-3.
MOSCOW: Ons Jabeur made history on Friday when she became the first Tunisian woman to reach a WTA final by seeing off Latvian fifth seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Jabeur, ranked 101st in the world and who came through qualifying, prevailed in one hour 37 minutes.
“This is really amazing and I’m really happy. I gave it all today, and it wasn’t easy because she plays really good,” said 24-year-old Jabeur, who unleashed 45 winners on her way to victory.
“Maybe I was too relaxed in the second set. At the end, I stayed calm. It was a little bit frustrating because I missed some easy balls, but I said I was just going to play my game, and if it goes, it goes.”
In Saturday’s final, Jabeur will face sixth-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia, last year’s runner-up, who put out Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-3.
“They’re both playing good, so I hope they fight for four hours,” Jabeur had said. “The best win is that there is a Tunisian in the final.”
Jabeur lost her only career meeting against Kasatkina at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“She (Jabeur) plays interesting tennis with plenty of drop shots, often advances to the net,” Kasatkina said.
“Everything is possible in tomorrow’s final and I will just come onto the court and try to play my best.”
In the ATP event, France’s Adrian Mannarino ended Egor Gerasimov’s run beating the Belarus qualifier 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to set up a semifinal with Italy’s Andreas Seppi, who ousted fourth seeded Serb Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).
Second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia beat last year’s runner-up Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 will face third-seeded compatriot Karen Khachanov, who saw off Mirza Basic of Bosnia 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).