THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

A genuinely intriguing transfer

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If we’re being honest “James Rodríguez to Everton” sounds entirely made-up. A sequel, perhaps, to the persistent and much-missed rumour that Juan Román Riquelme was on his way to Goodison Park. That rumour worked because Riquelme and Everton shared a slightly sad, misunderstood air, as though they were trapped in the wrong moment of footballing history. You can see how James might make sense as a replacement.

What would not make sense is for James to actually go and move to Goodison Park. Yet here we are: reports suggest that the prospect of working with Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrow has lured the former Porto, Monaco, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich playmaker to Merseyside. He had a medical yesterday, apparently. That’s a lot more concrete than your sister’s friend’s cab driver’s mother seeing him at the airport.

Despite having been around for ever, James is still just 29 years old, and though Zinedine Zidane clearly doesn’t rate him, the Warm-Up’s excited to see if Everton can make things work. It’s not been that long since the 2014 World Cup: the goals, the glory, the giant insects. And, of course, if things do go well for James, we can look forward to this masterpiece returning to public attention. Get it done, Carlo.

Football with fans? What an idea

It looks like fans may be returning to the Premier League sooner than anticipated. Arsenal are hoping to have some fans — all scrubbed and socially distant, of course — back in early October.

Although our home fixture against West Ham United on Sunday 20 September will be played behind closed doors, based on the current UK Government guidelines, we hope to be able to welcome supporters back to Emirates Stadium on a reduced capacity basis from the Sheffield United game scheduled for Saturday 3 October.

As a plan this is clearly on the optimistic end of things, but it does suggest a certain faith among football’s decision makers that things, generally considered, are approaching something like a manageable state.

Now the bad news: this optimism comes at the same time as what appears to be a rash in positive tests for football players and staff. Neymar has been confirmed as one of three PSG players to have tested positive this week, David Silva has likewise tested positive, and the entire Czech Republic squad is being re-tested ahead of their game against Scotland, after a member of the backroom team returned a positive diagnosis. No postponements, yet. But a reminder that even these systems we’ve created are fragile.

For the first time in months, The Warm-Up went to an actual game of football last night. Balham FC against Hassocks, in the FA Cup extra preliminary round. And even with a tiny, socially distanced crowd it was a reminder of just how special this all can be. Particularly when Hassocks’ last penalty taker slammed the ball home and then went full Adebayor, treating 130 people to a fifty-yard sprint and a fist-pumping knee-slide.

Proof, not that it was needed, that the game needs fans back as soon as its safe: an Adebayor knee-slide in front of an empty stand would be a sad and strange thing indeed.

My Dad is bigger than your Dad

The biggest transfer story of all-time is rumbling along, and we’ve entered the stage where the showdown talks happen. As of yesterday, Messi’s father — who manages the whole family business — is in Barcelona to meet the club’s hierarchy and Sort Things Out.

In The Warm-Up’s imagination, this looks kind of like a parent being summoned to a meeting with a headteacher. Except here the power dynamics are completely different. Here Messi’s dad is sitting behind the big desk, frowning sternly, and Messi’s standing by the window, looking out at the playing fields, saying nothing but saying it very loudly. Meanwhile Bartomeu’s squirming uncomfortably in a too-big chair.

It’s not his fault he burned down the PE shed. He definitely won’t do it again.

Reports suggest that the first round of talks ended in stalemate, as Barcelona insisted Messi can’t leave and Messi Sr. insisted that, actually, he can and he will. But politely. We’re not at the “see you in court” stage yet; everybody’s still good friends. The Warm-Up gives that state of affairs until the end of the day.

IN OTHER NEWS

Thiago … bounce, bounce, bounce, ping. Rodri … bounce, bounce, bounce, ping. Thiago … bounce, bounce, bounce, ping. Rodri … bounce, bounce, bounce, ping. Footballers really are good at this whole football thing, aren’t they?

IN THE CHANNELS

Steel yourself: here’s newly-minted Manchester United player Donny van de Beek issuing a “thank you” note to his father, for his belief and support throughout his time at Ajax. Bless him. And... hang on, how hard did he head that ball for his first goal? He’s covered in blood!

HAT TIP

The first big drama arrived less than 12 months after [Messi] arrived. Barca had a new general manager who questioned why the club were paying so much money (about €120,000 a year) to a kid who was not yet playing competitive games. Jorge reacted by making contact with another Rosario native Jorge Valdano, to see about moving to Real Madrid. It all got sorted, but not before one Barca director reacted to hearing that the Messis were threatening to pull a Figo by asking Who does he think he is, Maradona?. Few outside La Masia or Argentina had ever heard of Leo, but Jorge had already shown he was willing to use any leverage he could when dealing with the club.

It’s a fathers and sons special today. Over at the Athletic (£), for Dermot Corrigan and Adam Crafton have been looking into the Messi family business: how Jorge ended up at the centre of it, how they handle all that money, and how they’re positioned against the might of Barcelona’s lawyers.

COMING UP

Men’s international football is back, and it’s not messing around: Germany v Spain would make for a decent World Cup final, let alone a Nations League group stage game. Elsewhere the Republic of Ireland play Bulgaria, and Wales take on Finland.

Tom Adams will be here tomorrow to round up all that international goodness.

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