The 2021-22 club season in Europe is less than a month away, with the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 all due to kick off before mid-August, while Serie A starts on Aug. 22. But despite all of the major leagues getting ready to slip into gear, the transfer market is yet to spring into life.
Big moves have been conspicuous by their absence. Liverpool made an early start by sealing a £36 million deal for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate, while Manchester United have ended a two-year pursuit of Jadon Sancho by agreeing a £72.9m fee for the Borussia Dortmund forward, with only the final paperwork preventing that transfer from being officially confirmed.
Paris Saint-Germain have had an excellent window, adding Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum on free transfers, as well as Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan, while AC Milan have also bolstered their numbers by signing Olivier Giroud and Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea.
But where are the box-office deals that had been on the agenda this summer? Harry Kane, Erling Haaland, Raphael Varane and Jack Grealish are still at the same clubs as last season, while Lionel Messi ended the prospect of a move away from Barcelona by committing to a new contract at Camp Nou.
So with the new club season around the corner, ESPN has assessed the state of play of the transfer sagas that are waiting to be settled.
It is now two months since England captain Kane made it clear to Tottenham Hotspur that he wanted to leave the club this summer, but new Spurs coach Nuno Espirito Santo expects the 27-year-old to be part of his plans in the new season.
Manchester City is Kane's most likely destination, with the Premier League champions needing a replacement for Sergio Aguero following his departure to Barcelona. But with three years still to run on his Spurs contract, City are faced with having to pay at least £150m to persuade the London club to sell. Despite their wealth, courtesy of owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, City have consistently walked away from deals they regard as too expensive -- Virgil van Dijk being a recent example when City refused to pay Southampton's £75m valuation in January 2018 -- and sources have told ESPN they will not pay £150m for Kane.
Kane's contract is the key factor here because Spurs are in no danger of losing their star player as a free agent anytime soon. City have several players they are willing to offload in order to make a deal happen -- Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva and even Raheem Sterling could be used to tempt Spurs into an agreement, but Kane may have to force the issue with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to have any hope of getting a move this summer.
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Having sealed a deal with Dortmund for Sancho, Manchester United's next priority is to sign Raphael Varane from Real Madrid. Sources have told ESPN that United are confident the France centre-back will be at Old Trafford in time for the Premier League opener against Leeds on Aug. 14. Sources have also said that Varane wants to move to United after 10 years at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The holdup at this stage is Real's determination to drive the transfer fee up for the 28-year-old, with the Spanish side initially wanting £70m for a player whose contract expires at the end of next season. Sources have said that a fee of £50m for the defender is more realistic, but United believe that figure can be reduced even further. Real's need to raise funds and cut their wage bill in order to rebuild Carlo Ancelotti's squad is why they are likely to agree a deal, but as United have discovered several times in the past, dealing with Real is never easy.
United are also keen to sign England full-back Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, with sources saying the player wants to return to his roots in the northwest of England. United want Atletico to reduce their expectation of a £35m transfer fee before striking a deal for the 30-year-old.
Messi's decision to sign a new contract at Barcelona is not without its consequences for coach Ronald Koeman's rebuilding plans at Camp Nou. While keeping Messi was always the top priority this summer, the Argentina captain remains a huge drain on the club's resources, despite reportedly taking a 50% pay cut to stay. Club president Joan Laporta has said that the club's finances are worse than he imagined when elected in March, with gross debt just short of €1.2 billion.
Antoine Griezmann, a €120m signing from Atletico Madrid in 2019, is now expected to return to his former club in a swap deal involving midfielder Saul Niguez. That deal would take Griezmann's €300,000-a-week wages off the Barca payroll. Miralem Pjanic, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Martin Braithwaite and Samuel Umtiti are all available, but their Barcelona wages are likely to be an obstacle for any club prepared to make a move to sign them.
The Borussia Dortmund striker has given little indication that he wants to leave Signal Iduna Park this summer, despite emerging as the No. 1 target for every major club in Europe.
Chelsea, in need of a proven goal scorer, have attempted to test Dortmund's resolve this summer due to the German club facing the Norwegian's £68m release clause becoming active in 2022, but neither Dortmund nor the Haaland camp has taken the bait. Having sanctioned the departure of Sancho to Manchester United, Dortmund are unlikely to allow another of their star forwards to move this summer, but there is an expectation that Haaland will move in 12 months' time.
Haaland turns 21 on Wednesday, and sources have told ESPN that the former FC Salzburg forward is in no hurry to leave Dortmund, with his friends and advisers believing that another year in the Bundesliga will help his development. But with arguably the hottest property in world football becoming available for just £68m next year, expect an almighty scramble to sign him in 2022.
Ever since signing for Manchester United in a then-world-record £89.1m deal from Juventus in 2016, Paul Pogba's future at Old Trafford has rarely been out of the headlines.
This summer, the ongoing financial impact on the game of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned down the volume on the Pogba saga, but it is perhaps the most crucial period of his time at United. With the France midfielder's contract due to expire in June 2022, it is make-or-break time for United and Pogba. He either signs a new deal this summer or United risk losing him for nothing in 12 months' time. Pogba could negotiate a free agent move to a club outside the Premier League as early as Jan. 1, 2022.
United have been given no indication that Pogba wants to sign a new contract that would commit the 28-year-old to the club for the remainder of his career, but there is no sense of a move being on the agenda either due to the lack of clubs willing to match his £300,000-a-week wages. Sources have told ESPN that Pogba is likely to run down his contract and decide his next move next summer -- but a new deal at United in 12 months' time remains an option because few other clubs are capable of paying his wages.
The Aston Villa midfielder is regarded as a priority target by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, but signing him could cost the champions as much as £100m. With City also in the hunt for Kane, the potential cost means City must raise funds by selling some of those players regarded as surplus to requirements by Guardiola.
Grealish signed a five-year contract at Villa last summer that ties him to the club until 2025, but it is not known whether the England international negotiated a release clause before penning that deal. But Villa's £33m deal for Norwich midfielder Emiliano Buendia last month suggested that the club are already preparing for life without Grealish, who is not expected back at Villa until the end of this month due to a post-Euro 2020 break.
Guardiola's determination to sign Grealish makes this deal one that is likely to happen before the season starts.
Having missed out on European qualification last season, Arsenal have made a busy start to overhauling Mikel Arteta's squad. Nuno Tavares has already completed a £6.8m move from Benfica, while a £50m transfer has been agreed with Brighton for England defender Ben White -- a deal that could be finalised before the Gunners travel to the United States for a preseason tournament in Florida.
But Arsenal face competition for Italy midfielder Manuel Locatelli and Lyon's Houssem Aouar. Juventus are in talks with Locatelli over a £34.3m move from Sassuolo, which would be an initial loan before a permanent deal in 12 months' time. Sources have said that Sassuolo will only agree to a permanent deal this summer, which could boost Arsenal's chances of signing the Euro 2020 star.
And Tottenham have emerged as the main rivals in the race to sign Aouar, who has been a yearlong target for Arsenal. Sources have told ESPN that Spurs are prepared to offered Tanguy Ndombele as part of any deal to sign Aouar, but Arsenal remain in the hunt for the France international.