January transfer window storylines: Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe futures; Man United striker chase

Olley: No interest in Ronaldo from European clubs (2:10)

James Olley says the lack of interest in Cristiano Ronaldo shows the gap between how highly he rates himself compared to what top clubs think of him. (2:10)

The 2022 World Cup is over, but just two weeks later the transfer window opens for the majority of Europe's top clubs on Jan. 1.

This year, more than most, the focus on the star performers from Qatar will be evident as clubs look to strengthen their energy-sapped, injury-laden squads ahead of the second half of the season. And while finances are still hurting amid the ongoing global economic crisis, football will still find a way to spend big -- even if it won't be to the levels of a record-breaking summer.

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

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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 headlines until he has found a new team.

Ronaldo has been training at former side Real Madrid and, on paper, a move back to the Bernabeu to cover for Karim Benzema makes a modicum of sense given the club are light in attacking areas. However, the 37-year-old's return to United damaged his legacy and Madrid fans won't want to see the same thing happen. Also, Madrid have been very much focused on young players, so signing Ronaldo, even in the short term, could do more harm than good to the dressing-room dynamic.

- Dawson: Ronaldo's options after the World Cup

Sources have told ESPN that Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr have offered him a 3½-year contract worth more than $119 million (€112m) a year. But Ronaldo wants to be playing at the highest level for as long as possible. His pride may limit his options in this regard, as there has been no interest in his services from big clubs since the summer.

Mbappe's dream move to Real Madrid on hold?

Kylian Mbappe's hat trick in France's World Cup final defeat to Argentina won him the Golden Boot and reminded everyone watching what a generational talent he is. However, after all the drama in Qatar, it bears remembering 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 forward signed a new contract until 2025 over the summer, snubbing a free transfer to Real Madrid and endangering his prospects of a future move to the Bernabeu in the process. His preference is still Madrid, though they have just agreed a €60m deal to sign 16-year-old Brazilian striker Endrick in 2024, and sources said the club are not planning on reigniting their longstanding interest in him.

Of course every other top club in Europe would be keen to sign Mbappe if a deal can be reached. The issue? He is the world's highest-paid player. And he also has a transfer valuation of over €150m, which precious few clubs can afford.

Mbappe may not get a move in January, but speculation over his long-term future in Paris -- and his relationship with teammates Neymar and Lionel Messi -- will continue long into the new year.

Can Manchester United land a striker?

United terminated Ronaldo's contract by mutual consent in November but now they need a replacement, and sources told ESPN that the club are set to make a move for Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos in January. The 21-year-old replaced Ronaldo for Portugal at the World Cup in the round-of-16 tie against Switzerland and scored a hat trick; now he could be stepping into the legendary No. 7's boots at Old Trafford too.

Ramos is still young but has scored 14 in 21 games for Benfica so far this season. While his pretournament valuation of €20m has risen considerably, it's still cheaper than those of other players United have been monitoring: namely €100m-rated pair Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid) and Rafael Leao (AC Milan.)

- Karlsen: Why every club wants Rafael Leao

United could also move for PSV Eindhoven and Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo, who is not a central striker but had a fine World Cup. United were quoted a transfer fee of around €30m by 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 can't reach a deal.

PSV are likely to want to keep Gakpo until the end of the season and there's a possibility that United aren't able to bring in any of their targets given the budget constraints after €240m of summer spending.

Will Liverpool move for Bellingham?

Another player to have seen his stock rise after a fine World Cup, England midfielder Jude Bellingham is arguably the most in-demand talent in the world now. At 19, he is still far from reaching his incredible potential and Borussia Dortmund know that in their demands for at least €150m in transfer fee.

Sources have told ESPN that Liverpool are favourites 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 also tracking the Dortmund star. But it's unlikely that any club will pay that kind of fee next month.

Still, Liverpool have been struggling with injuries in midfield, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Naby Keita are all out of contract next summer, so they may move for more than one player. If so, two other midfielders to have impressed in the World Cup could be on the agenda: Morocco's Sofyan Amrabat, who Fiorentina reportedly value at €50m, and Argentina World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez, rated over €100m by Benfica.

Who will land Josko Gvardiol?

It's not often that a defender is the most expensive transfer of a window, 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 his signature.

- Karlsen: Why clubs want to sign Gvardiol

Chelsea spent €80m to sign centre-back Wesley Fofana from Leicester in the summer, but reportedly also made a late €90m move to land Gvardiol before the deadline that was rejected. The Blues are likely to be back in for the defender as they seek to agree a future move for his teammate at Leipzig, 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 wrap up a deal next month could put them at the front of the queue.

Will clubs cover injury issues with new arrivals?

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 a month or so; players who didn't travel to Qatar have had a month off to rest, or work on their fitness, while the rise in fees for players who impressed are likely to be higher than ever.

Adding to the issue for some clubs is the fact that they may have to replace injured players. Sources told ESPN that Arsenal's top January target is Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk, but they also need cover for the injured striker Gabriel Jesus over 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 was ruled out for the season through injury, leaving them with just Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kai Havertz up front. Dortmund teenager Youssoufa Moukoko is reportedly of interest, given he has six months left on his contract. Barcelona's Memphis Depay, who could be signed for as little as €2m, may be worth a gamble too given his experience.

And if you thought it's just teams needing cover at striker, a host of names have also been linked to replace Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who broke his leg skiing after returning home early from Qatar with Germany. Argentina's Emiliano Martinez, Sevilla's Yassine Bounou (better known as Bono), Borussia Monchengladbach's Yann Sommer and Dinamo Zagreb's Dominik Livakovic have all been talked about, though landing any of them will be a tough sell for Bayern as Neuer will almost certainly regain the No. 1 spot when he returns next summer.