If the players and clubs won't wait until the start of the transfer window, then why should we? With the European seasons winding down, here's a look at the top transfer stories and sagas to watch in what is sure to be an entertaining and landscape-changing coming weeks and months.
Summer transfer season is still technically weeks away from kicking off, and Europe's two biggest titles have still yet to be decided, but for players and clubs, the machinations and maneuvering has long been underway.
Barcelona and Bayern Munich agreed on big-money transfers for summer arrivals in the winter, Antoine Griezmann couldn't wait until the last game of the season to announce he was headed elsewhere, Eden Hazard has been publicly flirting with a Chelsea exit for months and the rumor mill has been churning at its usual pace, chewing up some of the biggest names in the game.
So if the players and clubs won't wait until the start of the transfer window, then why should we? With the European seasons winding down, here's a look at the top 10 transfer stories and sagas to watch in what is sure to be an entertaining and landscape-changing coming weeks and months.
1. Real Madrid's shopping spree
Real Madrid had a subpar season on all fronts. It cycled through three managers, landing on the one that left on his own accord less than a year ago. Its final matches of the season were dead rubbers. For all the talent at the Bernabeu, the lack of inspiring play and familiar results stood out quite starkly. Real Madrid is not the kind of club to stand pat, and as a result, expect a summer of change in the Spanish capital.
Gareth Bale appears to be on the outs. Keylor Navas may be as well. If there's a big name available in the summer market–or even if there's one that supposedly isn't–it's been linked to Real Madrid. Eden Hazard. Paul Pogba. Kylian Mbappe. Neymar. N'Golo Kante. Luka Jovic. Christian Eriksen. Joao Felix. The list goes on.
Real will be shopping like it's Black Friday and it's first in line with gift cards to burn through, and it may well wind up with a superpower melting pot made up of Europe's finest talents. Regardless of whether it works, it'll be fascinating to watch as it sets the market and determine what's left for its European rivals.
2. Manchester United's shopping spree
Man United is an even worse spot than Real Madrid, because it has spent big and still failed to become a regular Champions League-caliber club. United will be playing on Thursdays in Europe next season, which, again, means trying to convince top-tier talent that it's still a desirable destination. Money talks, of course, and the Red Devils will be prepared to spend big again, but the club is in desperate need of technical direction to act as a buffer between Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to maximize its spending efforts.
It also must decide what to do with some of its current talents. Cash in on David de Gea while it still can? Offload Paul Pogba or try to lure him to stay? Find some poor sap to take Alexis Sanchez? Reinforcements are needed just about everywhere, and United needs a bonafide plan instead of throwing expensive darts at a dart board in order to get back to the top.
3. Mbappe and Neymar
PSG has been adamant that both stars are staying put, going to great lengths to downplay Mbappe's own, very public comments about a potential departure on Sunday. It makes sense. Looking at the big picture, the Qatari-owned club isn't going to want to reduce its starpower heading into a Qatar-hosted 2022 World Cup at which Mbappe and Neymar figure to be two of the prime attractions. And according to ESPN, Mbappe's comments had more to do with wanting more of the PSG limelight than anything else. But it's clear that all is not copacetic at the Parc des Princes. A sixth Ligue 1 title in seven years was met with muted applause. Another Champions League failure via collapse shows what's still left to be done at this very costly project. And if Real Madrid were to come with record-breaking offers for either or both of its superstars, would PSG be able to see its situation through a different lense and balance its squad for the better?
4. The Ajax exodus
Frenkie de Jong is already headed to Barcelona. Matthijs de Ligt may join him there, though his destination isn't settled yet. David Neres, Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek and Nicolas Tagliafico are among the other in-demand Ajax players who could find themselves playing elsewhere next season. This is not uncommon for the Dutch champion, and it is prepared to have its top players picked off, ready to reload from within while also making shrewd and measured signings. But it's a sad state of affairs to see this particular team split after its inspiring run to being seconds away from reaching the Champions League final. No matter how talented a manger Erik ten Hag is, he'll be hard-pressed to mold next season's group into anything remotely close to the 2018-19 squad.
5. Barcelona's early business
De Jong is already in tow, Griezmann could be coming soon and de Ligt may follow. Aside from selling off the talent to make way for the incoming stars–Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho should be on high alert–Barcelona should largely be able to sit back and watch everyone else duke it out for scraps after completing their business relatively quickly.
6. Big money for center backs
The massive price that Liverpool spent for Virgil van Dijk and his subsequent success has helped his central defender brethren. The likes of de Ligt, Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, Leicester's Harry Maguire and others can expect inflated price tags attached to their names. Defending across the globe has deteriorated to the point where having a legitimate, shutdown option is that valuable.
7. Tottenham might actually buy someone!
It's been two windows since Tottenham was active in the transfer market, but on the heels of a run to the Champions League final (and perhaps winning it all), in addition to having its new stadium finally opened, the path to spending should finally be clear. It'd better be, if the club wants Mauricio Pochettino to stay for the long haul. Building squad depth and reinforcing its midfield and defense should be the top priorities, especially if Eriksen were to depart.
8. Chelsea's limitations, injuries could benefit Pulisic
The way things are looking, Chelsea won't be able to buy anyone this summer or next winter due to the transfer ban levied on the club for its signing of minors. It already has Christian Pulisic in tow after buying the American for $73 million in January and loaning him back to Dortmund for the rest of the season, and it will perhaps land Gonzalo Higuain on a permanent deal after a loan from Juventus. Beyond that, it'll come down to in-house solutions (i.e. calling on its loan army), and with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both tearing their Achilles late in the season, it'll be quite a while before the club can expect anything of on-field value from them. If Hazard does indeed to go Madrid on top of all of that, that puts plenty of onus on Pulisic to deliver–and plenty of immediate opportunity at his feet.
.@cpulisic_10 looks back on his challenging early days at @BlackYellow and reflects on his time at Dortmund in "Exploring Planet Fútbol: Germany."— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) May 16, 2019
Watch as @GrantWahl looks deeper into the @USMNT-@Bundesliga_EN connection with a FREE SI TV trial: https://t.co/FMCdRbJcsF pic.twitter.com/oXbIP6bbKw
9. Bayern's youth movement
Bayern Munich has won seven straight Bundesliga titles, but it's clearly in transition mode. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are headed elsewhere after legendary runs with the club, while 30-year-old center backs Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels could be as well. World Cup-winning French defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have already been signed, and while Hudson-Odoi's injury could put a wrench in the club's plans to sign him, Europe is not short on talented young wingers. The sensational reports that have Leroy Sane returning to Germany after being reduced to a backup role at Manchester City could be a game-changer. The club has also been mentioned in the same breath as Lille's Nicolas Pepe, RB Leipzig's Timo Werner and Benfica's Jota. Bayern is somewhere between Real Madrid and PSG in that it's not coming off any domestic struggles, has tasted European glory before and is desperate to do what it can to get there again. It's certainly acting with that urgency.
10. Will Cristiano channel his inner LeBron?
LeBron James has been known to wear an unofficial player-GM-like hat, crafting a roster of players he prefers in an effort to win titles (at least until he joined the Lakers). With Cristiano Ronaldo entering his age-35 season, how much sway might he have at a Juventus side that went all in on signing him to a four-year deal last summer, with the Champions League as its chief target? Former Real Madrid teammate Marcelo could be available, while Ronaldo is reportedly in favor of countryman and rising star Joao Felix joining him in Turin as well. Juventus also has the small matter of replacing manager Max Allegri to tend to, which will surely dictate plenty when it comes to its transfer desires, as well.