While the 2021 summer transfer window was full of excitement and intrigue as the top clubs spent big, it did leave some star players waiting for their move.
Sources told ESPN that Real Madrid made an offer worth €200 million to Paris Saint-Germain to sign Kylian Mbappe, despite his contract expiring in 2022, but received no reply and therefore put their efforts to land the France forward on hold for now. But with Man United, Man City and Liverpool also following the 22-year-old, can anyone persuade him to join them over Madrid?
Tottenham's Harry Kane made it clear he wanted to leave the club, but his €175m move to Man City never materialised as Spurs refused to negotiate a lower fee. The England striker made a point in his statement to say he would be "staying at Tottenham this summer," which suggests he may be open to an exit in the future.
Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is the one every club wants, and the 21-year-old will be available for around €75m due to a release clause that comes into effect in 2022, while there are some big names ready to leave their clubs on free transfers when their contracts expire too -- including Manchester United's Paul Pogba, Juventus' Paulo Dybala and Real Madrid's Gareth Bale.
Where do our writers think these stars will be playing on Sept. 1, 2022?
Tor-Kristian Karlsen: Real Madrid. I'd certainly back Mbappe to join Madrid, but I still think there's a small possibility that he'll stay at Paris Saint-Germain for another year or two, or until after the 2022 World Cup. Sure, the forward wants to play for Real Madrid and he's free to negotiate with whichever club he wants outside France in four months; that said, PSG are the most formidable financial force in world football right now, and with that comes colossal convincing power.
Mark Ogden: Real Madrid. Mbappe will have a farewell tour of Ligue 1 this season before realising his dream to play for Real Madrid. Barring a serious injury, Mbappe is on his way to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Rob Dawson: Real Madrid. The Frenchman has a lot of admirers, particularly at Manchester United, but even at Old Trafford the feeling is that he only wants to leave PSG for Real Madrid. The Spanish giants failed to get their man this summer, but it feels like only a matter of time before he's in Madrid. It could even be as early as January.
James Olley: Real Madrid. The failed bids this summer felt both like a nod to the Mbappe family that Real still want to fulfill his dream of playing at the Bernabeu despite their financial difficulties, and also posturing to point out the absurdity of Paris Saint-Germain being able to turn down €200m for one player. He almost certainly won't sign a new deal, so he should be in Spain next year.
Tom Hamilton: Real Madrid. It looks likely that he'll be at Madrid. With his contract up in June, Real Madrid have already started their charm offensive on the French star, and are favourites to sign him.
Julien Laurens: Real Madrid. As much as I would love him to extend his contract at PSG and stay for one more season, it won't happen. So he will be a free agent next summer and he will join Madrid. It has always been his dream to play for them and it will finally happen.
Hamilton: PSG. I expect Bayern Munich to go for Haaland, with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic saying recently that the club would be "amateurs" if they weren't looking into a potential move for the Borussia Dortmund striker. That said, they're operating on a strict budget and would have to move a number of their top earners on so they may be outdone. If Mbappe moves to Madrid, then PSG will surely look to Haaland to fill that void. I think Kane will move to City, so PSG will pay Haaland's €75m release clause and do another bit of incredible transfer business.
Dawson: Manchester City. Kane was City's first choice this summer, but Tottenham's stance made a deal impossible to get done. City may feel that Haaland's age and release clause make the Norway international better value for money. City have an emotional pull for Haaland as his dad, Alfie, played there, while Pep Guardiola's team offer a chance to immediately challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.
Laurens: Manchester City. I don't think he would refuse the opportunity to play for Pep Guardiola, even just for one season before the manager leaves in 2023. There is a big attachment between the club and the Haaland family, while City are also capable of trumping any other financial offer from rivals to make sure they put the best deal in front of agent Mino Raiola.
Karlsen: Manchester City. Although he might not yet match Guardiola's perfect preference of a centre-forward, Haaland is developing his link-up game and is less unpredictable than he was a year ago. City would want to secure a budding star like Haaland, considering that Guardiola's contract is up in 2023 and Mbappe is out of reach. If it wasn't for the reported €40m agent commission for Raiola involved, I'd have expected Bayern to be in the running as well, but I simply can't see them paying such amounts to agents.
Ogden: Manchester United. United also have the finances and the desire to do the deal, and they've seen Chelsea drop out of the running following the €115m signing of Romelu Lukaku. City still want Kane and Real Madrid, while always capable of finding money from somewhere, will need reinforcements elsewhere if they sign Mbappe. PSG and Bayern Munich will also be in the hunt for Haaland, but United are in pole position.
Olley: Manchester United. There may be a release clause, but this will descend into a bidding war over personal terms and agent fees, meaning Bayern Munich could be priced out. The unknown factor is what happens this season. United need to push City close for the Premier League to show Haaland the gap can be bridged. Then other factors -- such as his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, strong relationships with former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and former teammate Jadon Sancho -- will come into play. City obviously want Kane, and another year without a trophy in north London could force the England captain to push more aggressively for a move away.
Karlsen: Tottenham. While I was fairly convinced that he'd get his move this summer, I think the window of opportunity might have closed. I struggle to see Man City coming back to Spurs with anything near the €175m that Tottenham wanted this summer -- especially as he turns 29 next summer. As much as United are long-standing admirers too, it's hard to see them investing over €150m on a striker with the options they already have.
Laurens: Tottenham. He was desperate to leave this summer and will be desperate to leave again next summer, but I don't think anyone will come for him this time, not even City. That's because between Mbappe, Haaland and a few others, it will be a congested market for strikers. I'm sorry, but I think Kane will still be at Tottenham come September 2022.
Dawson: Manchester United. They registered an interest, along with Chelsea and City, when it became clear Kane wanted to leave Tottenham this summer, but their priorities were always a winger (Jadon Sancho) and a centre-back (Raphael Varane). A striker will be among the top targets next year, and Kane remains on the list, even though they have brought Cristiano Ronaldo back. United have other options -- namely, Haaland and Mbappe -- but Manchester City and Real Madrid will also be looking for proven scorers.
Ogden: Manchester City. Maybe even as early as January. Kane's "I'm staying this summer" statement last month was nothing more than a short-term solution to a long-standing issue and, if he stays fit, I see no reason why he won't end up at City sooner or later. For me, he is a better option for a Guardiola team than Haaland because of the way he plays, but both City and Kane need to work on their strategy for dealing with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.
Hamilton: Manchester City. Despite the potential of a new contract at Tottenham, I expect he'll be at one of the two Manchester clubs. Much will depend on where the merry-go-round of Haaland and Mbappe stops, but Kane is a perfect fit for what Guardiola wants in a striker. United will also look to bolster their attacking options, but I think Kane will end up playing for Guardiola.
Olley: Manchester City. Kane is driven by a desire to win trophies. For all the speculation this summer, he did not take the nuclear option to hand in a formal transfer request or refuse to play for Spurs, though another season without silverware could change that. Chairman Daniel Levy could be more amenable to letting Kane go, given he will have only two years left on his contract, but City will still have to pay over €120m. For Guardiola's likely last season at the club, they may consider it worthwhile.
Laurens: Real Madrid. Like Mbappe, Pogba will be a free agent in summer 2022 if he doesn't extend his contract at United, which is looking unlikely. So either they let him leave in January when they can still command a fee, or he will join Real Madrid (which is his dream, too) for free.
Olley: Real Madrid. It has often seemed that Pogba has had one eye on a future away from Old Trafford, and a move to Spain has seemingly always appealed to him. The situation is linked to Haaland because they share an agent in Raiola. Could United stomach two big paydays for Raiola in one summer? Possibly, but if it comes to a choice between renewing Pogba and signing Haaland, the latter probably has greater appeal given their respective ages (28 vs. 21). United's principle weakness has long been in central midfield and losing Pogba would be a huge blow in that regard, though perhaps Donny van de Beek is the replacement-in-waiting.
Karlsen: Real Madrid. Madrid are doing a fine job at rebuilding their midfield, but signing a world-class player on a free transfer would be hard to resist. Manchester United certainly have the resources to renew the Frenchman's wages on competitive terms, but unless Pogba carries the club to a successful season -- something he's capable of doing -- he may need a move away from Old Trafford in order to consistently play his best football.
Dawson: Manchester United. Time is running out for United to renew Pogba's contract, but they can still offer him a wage packet that would be hard to turn down. He has made no secret of his desire to win top trophies, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now put together a squad that should be good enough to challenge.
Ogden: Manchester United. The financial realities of a game struggling for money and the top clubs having other priorities mean that Pogba has no obvious destination, so don't be surprised if he runs his contract down at Old Trafford and then signs a new one as a free agent. Few clubs can compete with United in terms of wages right now, and Pogba knows that.
Hamilton: Flip a coin between Real Madrid and Manchester United. With his contract up in June, Pogba won't be short of admirers, but United have the financial muscle to keep him. If Real Madrid move for Mbappe -- as expected -- then that'll take a fair old wedge out of their kitty, so Pogba may be a step too far for them. And though PSG clearly have a fondness for free transfers, United will be hopeful of keeping their man.
Laurens: Juventus. I still expect him to extend his contract now that Massimiliano Allegri is back. Now that Ronaldo has left, Dybala is clearly a key player again for the team, which was not the case under Andrea Pirlo last season. The Argentina forward still has much more to offer to this club.
Hamilton: Juventus. They must prioritise Dybala's contract. With Ronaldo's wage off their books, getting Dybala on a new deal is essential to their short- and long-term prospects. But if contract talks break down, then expect some of the LaLiga giants to come in for him.
Karlsen: Juventus. His importance for Juventus will increase now that Ronaldo leaving has freed up some space and Allegri is back in the dugout. If he can make a similar impact to his early days in Turin, he might have the likes of Barcelona, PSG or Bayern looking at him as well, but I would expect Juventus to sign him to a long-term deal as soon he hits that kind of form.
Dawson: Juventus. They are looking to rebuild after allowing Ronaldo to leave and players like Dybala, who is still only 27, should form a key part of their core group. Extending Dybala's contract should be a priority over the next few months.
Olley: Juventus. The noises in Italy are that Dybala wants to fill the talismanic role left by Ronaldo. Wages are reportedly the stumbling block in his contract negotiations, but it feels significant that his desire is to stay in Italy. So although time is running out, Allegri could convince Dybala to stay put.
Ogden: Barcelona. Money is tight at Camp Nou, but having lost one creative Argentine forward in Lionel Messi for nothing this summer, they could replace him with another in 12 months. Free transfers are likely to be Barca's priority for a good while yet, so Dybala would be a good option.
Olley: Next year's World Cup is his target. Wales have a big challenge to qualify, but if they succeed, Bale will have to find a new club next summer once his Real Madrid contract expires because the finals in Qatar don't start until November. A short-term loan at Cardiff makes sense to keep him ticking over if they can make the financials work. Major League Soccer is an obvious option, but he may hang his boots up altogether after the World Cup. He'll be only 33 then, but Bale's appetite to continue playing into his mid-to-late 30s is questionable.
Ogden: Bale will be 33 and a free agent next summer, so anything is possible. If hometown team Cardiff City are promoted back to the Premier League, it would be no surprise if he opted to take a massive pay cut to play for them. A move to MLS is another option.
Dawson: Where Bale ends up will depend largely on his ambition and wage demands. Even at his age, there is likely to be interest from the Premier League and possibly Serie A, but it would be a fitting end to his career to spend a couple of seasons at Cardiff.
Laurens: I would love to see him finish his career in Cardiff, even if they are still in the Championship. It's most likely, though, that he will go to MLS, probably Inter Miami or one of the LA teams.
Hamilton: It'd be great to see him at Cardiff. He looked happier in the Wales national team jersey over the summer than he has in club colours recently, so Cardiff would be the best of both worlds. But I expect him to head to MLS.
Karlsen: Either he sets off on a long and successful career in MLS or he joins a nouveau riche club in the Premier League ... perhaps the Newcastle takeover finally will have gone through by then?