Ronaldo, Mbappe futures; United eye striker

The 2022 World Cup is over, but just two weeks later, the January 1 transfer window opens for most of Europe’s top clubs.

This year the focus will be more than usual on Qatar’s star players as clubs look to strengthen their energy-starved and injury-plagued squads ahead of the second half of the season. And while finances are still aching amid the ongoing Great Depression, football will still find a way to spend big – even if it won’t be at record summer levels.

So what are the big storylines ahead of the January window?

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)

Where will Cristiano Ronaldo end up?

It’s not linked to the January transfer window but the future of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a free agent after leaving Manchester United last month, will continue to dominate the headlines until he finds a new team.

Ronaldo trained at former club Real Madrid and on paper a move back to the Bernabeu to cover for Karim Benzema makes a certain amount of sense given the club’s lightness in attacking zones. However, the 37-year-old’s return to United has damaged his legacy and Madrid fans won’t want the same to happen. Also, Madrid have had a very strong focus on young players, so signing Ronaldo, even in the short term, could do more harm than good to the dynamics in the dressing room.

– Dawson: Ronaldo’s options after the World Cup

Sources have told ESPN that Saudi Arabia club Al-Nassr have offered him a 3½-year deal worth more than $119m a year. But Ronaldo wants to play at the highest level for as long as possible. His pride may limit his options in that respect as there has been no interest in his services from big clubs since the summer.

Mbappe’s dream move to Real Madrid put on hold?

Kylian Mbappe’s hat-trick in France’s World Cup final loss to Argentina earned him the Golden Boot and reminded all viewers what a generational talent he is. However, after all the drama in Qatar, it must be remembered that the 23-year-old has been pushing to leave Paris Saint-Germain since October, with sources telling ESPN that he feels at odds with the club’s direction on and off the pitch.

The striker signed a new deal in the summer until 2025, missing out on a free transfer to Real Madrid and jeopardizing his prospects for a future move to the Bernabeu. He still prefers Madrid despite they just agreed a €60m deal to sign 16-year-old Brazilian striker Endrick in 2024 and sources said the club have no plans to rekindle their long-standing interest in him.

Of course, any other top club in Europe would be interested in signing Mbappe if an agreement can be reached. The matter? He is the highest paid player in the world. And he also has a transfer valuation of over €150m which few clubs can afford.

Mbappe might not leave in January but speculation about his long-term future at Paris – and his relationship with teammates Neymar and Lionel Messi – will linger well into the new year.

Can Manchester United sign a striker?



Rob Dawson explains why Erik ten Hag wants Manchester United to explore their options in the January transfer window following Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit.

United terminated Ronaldo’s contract by mutual consent in November but now they need a replacement and sources have told ESPN the club will make a move for Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos in January. The 21-year-old replaced Ronaldo for Portugal in the World Cup round of 16 against Switzerland and scored a hat-trick; Now he could also follow in the footsteps of the legendary No. 7 at Old Trafford.

Ramos is still young but has scored 14 goals in 21 games for Benfica so far this season. Although his pre-tournament valuation has increased significantly to €20m, it’s still cheaper than other players United have been watching: namely €100m pair Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid) and Rafael Leao (AC Milan). ).

– Karlsen: Why every club wants Rafael Leao

United could also sign for PSV Eindhoven and Dutch striker Cody Gakpo, who isn’t a centre-forward but had a nice World Cup. United were quoted a transfer fee of around €30m from PSV Eindhoven in the summer but after three goals in Qatar it is now closer to €50m and the club may opt for the cheaper option of Atletico’s Alvaro Morata if they fail to reach can a business.

PSV are likely to want to keep Gakpo until the end of the season and there’s a chance United won’t be able to meet any of their goals given budget constraints after spending €240m in summer.

Will Liverpool join Bellingham?

England midfielder Jude Bellingham, another player whose shares have risen after a good World Cup, is arguably the most sought-after talent in the world right now. At 19, he’s still a long way from realizing his incredible potential and Borussia Dortmund knows it in their demands for at least €150m in fee.

Sources have told ESPN that Liverpool are the favorites to land Bellingham – with his relationship with Reds midfielder Jordan Henderson in the spotlight in Qatar – and Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG and Real Madrid are also chasing the Dortmund star. But it’s unlikely any club will pay that fee next month.

Still, Liverpool are struggling with midfield injuries, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Naby Keita are all out of contract next summer, potentially leaving them for more than one player. If so, two other midfielders who impressed at the World Cup could also be on the agenda: Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat, who Fiorentina reportedly values ​​at €50m, and Argentina’s world champion Enzo Fernandez, who is valued at over €100m by Benfica is valued in euros.

Who will sign Josko Gvardiol?

It’s not often that a defender is a window’s most expensive signing, but RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol could be in January after a stellar World Cup for Croatia. The left-footed centre-back is only 20 years old but already has the elite of Europe after signing.

– Karlsen: Why clubs want to sign Gvardiol

Chelsea spent €80m to sign centre-back Wesley Fofana from Leicester in the summer but also reportedly made a late move for €90m to sign Gvardiol before the rejected deadline. The Blues are likely to step up for the defender again as they try to arrange a future move for his Leipzig team-mate Christopher Nkunku, but it will cost them a world-record fee for a defender.

Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham have all been linked with Gvardiol but Chelsea’s reported desire to finalize a deal next month could put them at the front of the queue.

Will clubs cover injury problems with newcomers?

The timing of this year’s World Cup means everything is different. Clubs have just a few weeks from the end of the tournament to the opening of the transfer window, as opposed to around a month; Players who have not traveled to Qatar have had a month off to rest or work on their fitness, while the fee increase for players who have impressed is likely to be higher than ever.

Added to this is the fact that some clubs may have to replace injured players. Sources told ESPN Arsenal’s top target in January is Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk, but they also need cover for injured striker Gabriel Jesus in the next three months. Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic and Atletico Madrid’s Matheus Cunha have been linked but how much should a team spend on a short-term fix?

Chelsea will also be looking for a striker as Armando Broja has been sidelined for the season through injury, leaving only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kai Havertz up front. Dortmund teenager Youssoufa Moukoko is reportedly interesting with six months left on his contract. Barcelona’s Memphis Depay, who could sign for just €2m, could also be worth a gamble given his experience.

And if you thought it’s just teams that need cover at the striker, a number of names have also been linked to replace Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who broke his leg skiing after he had returned home early from Qatar with Germany. Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez, Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou (better known as Bono), Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Yann Sommer and Dinamo Zagreb’s Dominik Livakovic have already been talked about, although it will be difficult for Bayern to land any of them as Neuer will almost certainly be the No. 1 place when he returns next summer. Ronaldo, Mbappe futures; United eye striker

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