The 2018-19 season is reaching its decisive stage, but off the pitch another race is beginning to take shape.
Some star players at Europe’s biggest clubs are facing uncertain futures and are laying the groundwork for a move away this summer, while others are waiting to discover whether they will still be wanted next season.
So with the transfer window set to open again on May 16, what’s the story so far with the major impending transfer sagas?
Manchester United’s position on the French midfielder is that he is not for sale, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisting that the plan is to build his team around the 26-year-old. United sources have told ESPN FC that Pogba will not be sold, but don’t expect this story to go away anytime soon.
Pogba has made no secret of his admiration for Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane, claiming that a move to the Bernabeu is “a dream for anyone,” with the coach responding that the midfielder is a player he “likes a lot” last month.
Real want a star name to launch the rebuild of their squad, but United know they could hold out for £150m for Pogba, so this one could be the biggest saga of the summer.
VERDICT: Off to Real Madrid.
The Barcelona midfielder has started more games than he has missed this season, but there is a growing sense that he is becoming surplus to requirements at Camp Nou.
Coutinho has been unable to reproduce the form he displayed for Liverpool, which prompted his £142m move to Barca in January 2018, and sources have told ESPN FC that the prospect of cashing in on the 26-year-old appeals to the Spanish champions if they can recoup at least £90m to reinvest into the squad.
The Brazilian may not fancy a return to the Premier League, where both Manchester United and Chelsea would be interested, but his transfer fee and wages would make him affordable only for the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and top English clubs. That reality might see him spend at least another year at Barca.
VERDICT: Stays at Barcelona
With his 30th birthday approaching in July, Bale faces a crucial decision at the end of the season. Does he stay and fight for his Real Madrid future under Zidane, who has shown himself to be sceptical about the Welshman in the past, or choose to end his hugely successful six-year stint at the Bernabeu?
Bale has consistently maintained that he sees his future at Real, but if the club choose to sell, his options would be limited due to his salary and chequered fitness record.
Sources have told ESPN that Manchester United are no longer interested, while former club Spurs can’t afford him. PSG and Chelsea could find the money, but at 30, Bale could be regarded as too big a gamble, so Real may be forced to sell at a reduced price to strike a deal.
VERDICT: Sold to the highest bidder.
David De Gea
The Manchester United goalkeeper is out of contract in June 2020 and has so far shown no sign of agreeing a new one at Old Trafford.
United’s position on De Gea is that they will not sell this summer, though if they receive a huge offer for the Spain No. 1, they are unlikely to turn it down and risk losing him for nothing next year.
However, they also know that De Gea has few options if he leaves this summer. Barcelona (Marc-Andre ter Stegen) and Real Madrid (Thibaut Courtois) already have young, world-class goalkeepers; PSG have rising star Alphonse Areola ready to dislodge Gianluigi Buffon; while Juventus would struggle to finance wages in excess of £400,000 a week. So United and De Gea could be stuck with each other whether they like it or not.
VERDICT: Stays and leaves for free next summer.
The France forward has rejected interest from elsewhere to stay at Atletico Madrid in each of the past two summers, but the 28-year-old is now hinting at a move away from the Wanda Metropolitano.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu told ESPN that Griezmann’s decision to stay is “water under the bridge” after being rejected by him last year, but while Barca are not considering a deal, Manchester United are once again rumoured to be in the hunt.
In 2017, United made a point of expressing their admiration for Griezmann after choosing to sign a centre-forward — Romelu Lukaku — instead of a more deep-lying forward like the Atletico star. But with reports in Spain suggesting Griezmann’s buyout clause will drop to €120m this summer, he will suddenly be affordable for a host of top clubs.
VERDICT: Leaves Atletico and triggers a Premier League scramble for his signature.
The Chelsea forward has refused to distance himself from speculation linking him with a summer move to Real Madrid, and the Spanish club have also displayed little inclination to quell talk of a transfer.
Chelsea have already spent €64m on Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic to bolster their attacking options, almost certainly with Hazard’s likely departure in mind, and the deal highlights their readiness to take on life without the Belgian.
Hazard is 28. Chelsea know that they will have one last chance to cash in on him this summer, given his contract is due to expire in 2020, regardless of whether their worldwide FIFA transfer ban stops them from signing new players.
VERDICT: Off to Real Madrid.
The Tottenham midfielder could be one of the best buys of the summer if he fails to agree a new deal. With just over 12 months to run on his contract, Eriksen is unlikely to be allowed to leave for nothing by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, especially with the club having to pay for the costs of their new stadium.
The Denmark international has just become the first player to rack up 10 assists in four consecutive Premier League seasons since David Beckham, so his quality is unquestioned. But, at 27, he may feel it’s time for a new challenge.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich are all interested — all have other targets too — and that is why Spurs are fighting a losing battle to keep him.
VERDICT: Moving on this summer
The Juventus playmaker is under contract at the Italian champions until June 2022, but last summer’s arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has knocked Dybala down the pecking order.
Juve are aware of interest in the Argentine from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, and few clubs work the transfer market better than the Turin giants, who always seem to know the perfect time to cash in on a star player.
With an ageing squad, set to be bolstered by the free transfer arrival of Aaron Ramsey from Arsenal this summer, Juve will need to finance a rebuilding programme. Selling Dybala could be the key to raising significant funds.