United set to sign Mata: The Daily Telegraph claims an exclusive today, reporting that Manchester United are set to make a club record £37 million bid for Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata. The deal has been discussed with intermediaries, claims the report, which adds that the club admire Mata and might consider a move. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has said he does not want the Spain international to leave this transfer window, but it is "understood" the midfielder does now want to go. The paper expects an offer to be made within the next few days, in the hope that Chelsea will agree to a sale on the basis they will have plenty of time to find a replacement before January 31.
Paper Round's view: The mantra is 'never sell to a title rival', but since Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge, that is no longer applicable to United. And that, coupled with the size of the bid, could be key in any Chelsea decision to allow Mata to go to Old Trafford. Mata would certainly play more under David Moyes than Mourinho in the second half of the season and that can only suit him in a World Cup year - a summer move would do him no favours at all in that regard. It seems to add up - and it's the respected Telegraph reporting the rumour - so this could well turn out to be the big transfer deal of the month.
- - -
United's US tour in jeopardy: Meanwhile, United may have to cut short a pre-season tour of the US to play in a Europa League qualifier - a story picked up by a number of today's papers. The club are set to face the embarrassment of coming home early from a planned three-week tour of the States to the mark the start of their £53m-a-year shirt deal with car-makers Chevrolet if they miss out on a top-four finish. And that would be "hell" for Moyes, according to the Daily Mirror's headline, while the Daily Express believes the outcome sufficient enough to declare a "United state of emergency" on their back page.
Paper Round's view: It may be unfamiliar territory for United, but this is what happens to unsuccessful clubs: it's a spiral of decline that only results on the pitch can arrest. Failure to qualify for the Champions League has the obvious financial implications, but there are hidden costs too, as this story highlights. Still every cloud has a silver lining: these reports assume that United will secure a Europa League spot, but on current form that is anything but assured. A mid-table finish would at least ensure United can pick up some cash from an uninterrupted pre-season tour...
- - -
Eto'o wants Spain return: Just days after scoring a hat-trick against United, Samuel Eto'o has indicated he may return to Spain in the summer, reports the Daily Mirror. The former Real Madrid, Real Mallorca and Barcelona striker said: "I miss everything. My colleagues, my friends, Barcelona, the weather, the Spanish ham..."
Paper Round's view: There's not much meat on this story (no pun intended), although considering Eto'o only signed a one-year deal last summer, it's entirely conceivable he will be packing his bags once more at the end of this season. Spain would seem a reasonable choice of destination, although one hopes the Cameroon striker will make a decision on where he ends up on factors other than the quality of the local meat.
- - -
Wenger set to pen new Gunners deal: Arsene Wenger could sign a new deal with Arsenal by the end of the week, according to The Independent. The paper reports that Gunners majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has jetted in to London from his home in Colorado to finalise talks with the Frenchman, who has been linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain. Wenger has kept supporters on edge with his current deal expiring at the end of this season, but he himself suggested last week that there comes a time when he will have to make a decision regarding his future.
Paper Round's view: If true - and this is a reputable newspaper we're talking about here - Arsenal fans should be delighted. Wenger has proved he is not past it so far this season and the feeling is that he has just been waiting for confirmation of that before he puts pen to paper. With the Gunners top of the Premier League table and playing some of the best football on the continent at the moment, hopefully Wenger will commit to stay put for another couple of years at least.
- - -
Cazorla sorry for Spurs dig: Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla has apologised to Tottenham fans after posing for a photo holding a placard mocking the Gunners' arch rivals. The Daily Mail reports that Cazorla tweeted his remorse after being snapped with a female fan and former Arsenal player Robert Pires holding a piece of paper containing the terrace song: 'What do we think of Tottenham? S***! What do we think of s***? Tottenham!' The photo was retweeted more than 1,400 times.
Paper Round's view: While you'd think this was pretty cut-and-dry Tottenham-baiting, it turns out that is not at all the case. Cazorla, apparently displaying some of the myopia that has afflicted his manager Wenger on occasion the years, said in his tweeted apology that he "could not see the paper", despite holding the offending article in his own hands, just inches in front of his beaming face. Hilarious. Just admit you were winding Spurs fans up, as Theo Walcott and Wojciech Szczesny were too, and be done with it.
- - -