The January transfer window opens across Europe in just a matter of days (find out when for each league here) and for some players the chance to relaunch their career elsewhere can’t come quickly enough.
With the COVID-19 pandemic inflicting long-term damage on the finances of clubs throughout the game, recent windows have led to reduced business in the transfer market and many players have missed out on moves due to the lack of money circulating within the major leagues.
But as the January window prepares to open at the start of a World Cup year, a number of top players have now reached the stage where they will have to push for a transfer — permanent or loan — in order to guarantee themselves the opportunity of regular football.
Some players need to play, while others are entering the final six months of their contract and may choose to move now if the right offer comes their way. So who are the top players in Europe’s major leagues who should be targeting a transfer in January?
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Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick has confirmed that Martial wants to leave Old Trafford in January, but moving him won’t be as straightforward as it seems. The France international forward has two years left on his United contract, so any club interesting in signing the 26-year-old will likely have to pay in the region of £30m.
Having scored just one goal in 10 appearances for United so far this season, Martial’s recent form has not been impressive, but the view within Old Trafford is that the player is still able to realise the potential he displayed as a youngster when signed from Monaco in 2015, so he won’t be allowed to leave cheaply.
Newcastle, who are planning to spend big in January following their recent takeover by Saudi-backed owners, are interested in Martial, so United know they can hold out for a sizeable fee.
Having been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy for disciplinary issues earlier this month, Aubameyang has since been left out of the team’s last five matchday squads by manager Mikel Arteta. Sources have told ESPN that Arsenal are prepared to listen to offers for the former Borussia Dortmund forward in January and a move now seems inevitable for the 32-year-old.
Aubameyang’s involvement at the Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon in January may complicate his situation, but Barcelona are interested in signing him following the retirement of Sergio Aguero recently.
Throughout his career, Aubameyang has delivered goals wherever he has played, and reliable scorers are always in big demand in January, so it would be a surprise if he is still at the Emirates when the window closes.
Both Aubameyang and Pulisic could be looking for a fresh start. Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images
Pulisic is embarking on a pivotal year in his career and may have to start 2022 by seeking a move away from Chelsea. With the prospect of his first World Cup with the United States men’s national team in Qatar at the end of the year — the U.S. failed to qualify for Russia 2018 — Pulisic needs to get back on the pitch and enjoy more game time than he is getting under Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge.
Despite playing under Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic has struggled to win a starting spot under the Chelsea coach. This season, he has made 14 appearances for Chelsea, but only six of those have been starts.
Chelsea’s attacking riches have severely reduced Pulisic’s opportunities, and at 23 and with little prospect of a regular starting spot, a loan or permanent transfer increasingly looks like his best option.
Hazard achieved a boyhood dream when he moved from Chelsea to Real Madrid for an initial £88.5m in the summer of 2019, but the reality of his time in Spain has been nothing short of a nightmare for both player and club.
Injuries, fitness issues and an inability to reproduce his best form have seen Hazard score just five goals in 57 games for Real in almost two-and-a-half years. This season has been equally unimpressive with the 30-year-old managing just one assist and no goals in 14 appearances. The Belgium international has become a bit-part player at Real, and a January move would suit both parties.
A permanent deal is unlikely in January unless Real Madrid are prepared to make a huge loss, but a loan move could reignite his career and maybe even get him back in form ahead of next season.
Wijnaldum was a key component of Liverpool’s 2019 Champions League triumph and their 2019-20 Premier League title win, but his free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain this summer has not worked out for the 31-year-old midfielder.
Although the Netherlands international has made 22 appearances in all competitions for Mauricio Pochettino’s team, Wijnaldum has made just 12 starts and completed just one 90-minute outing in the Champions League.
With PSG blessed with depth and quality in midfield, Wijnaldum has found himself spending more time on the bench than on the pitch. And although his wages at Parc des Princes will put off some interested clubs, his top-level résumé will appeal to those teams in need of a proven midfielder on loan.
Alli was billed as one of the most exciting talents in world football when he built on an impressive start at Tottenham with a starring role in England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semifinals. But the 25-year-old midfielder’s career has been stuck in a rut for over two seasons and his international career has been on hold since winning the last of his 37 caps in June 2019.
Antonio Conte’s arrival as Spurs coach in November has not sparked a resurgence in Alli’s appearances and, despite his talent, his opportunities are likely to be limited under the former Chelsea coach unless he rediscovers the form he showed in 2018.
Pochettino (who previously coached Alli at Spurs) has shown interest in taking Alli to PSG, but while that now looks unlikely, it’s clear that few players need a new start more than Alli.
Craig Burley feels Paul Pogba’s time at Manchester United is nearing the end.
Pogba’s Manchester United career has been one of disappointing underachievement since he rejoined the club in a then-world-record £89.3m transfer from Juventus in August 2016 and he is now entering the final six months of his contract. Sources have told ESPN that United expect the 28-year-old to run down his deal and become a free agent next summer, but there remains a slim chance of the player moving on in January.
If interim manager Rangnick chooses to push forward without Pogba, who is still sidelined with a thigh injury, the France midfielder may choose to seek a move in January to avoid spending six months on the periphery at United.
PSG, Real Madrid and Juventus are all long-term admirers of Pogba, and one of them may want to cut out the risk of missing out on him next summer by attempting to do a deal next month. That would suit United, but Pogba may ultimately decide to sit tight and wait to become a free agent.
The £100m summer signing of Jack Grealish and outstanding form of Bernardo Silva have pushed Sterling to fringes at Manchester City, and he has already said publicly that he will consider a move away from the Etihad in January.
Read all the latest news and reaction from ESPN FC senior writer Mark Ogden.
With his City contract due to expire in June 2023 and no sign of a new deal being negotiated, Sterling is likely to be moved on by City in the summer. But with Barcelona reportedly interested in a loan move next month, while also spending €55m to land Ferran Torres from the Etihad, the England forward could get a chance to secure regular football in January.
The 27-year-old has managed a respectable nine goals in 24 games for City so far this season, but he has started only 14 games in all competitions, which is hardly enough to satisfy a player who was one of the outstanding performers at Euro 2020.
Juventus have been attempting to negotiate a new contract with Dybala for months, but they have so far been unsuccessful and now face the prospect of the Argentina forward becoming a free agent when his existing deal expires next June.
Dybala, 28, can start to negotiate a summer deal with non-Italian teams on Jan. 1, so Juve will have little control over the player’s future. But if he doesn’t agree to a summer move, or pen new terms next month, Juventus could attempt to cut their losses by moving him on for a reduced fee in January.
Barcelona are keen, despite their financial situation, while there is also likely to be Premier League interest in a player of proven attacking talent.
The Manchester United defender hasn’t made a senior appearance since January 2020 due to a knee injury, but the 29-year-old is now fit and ready to play again.
Eric Bailly’s impending departure to the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast could open up an opportunity for Jones at United next month, but with 18 months still to run on his contract at Old Trafford, the best option for club and player is likely to be a permanent transfer in January.
Whether United seek a fee for Jones has yet to be decided, but after such a lengthy injury nightmare, a move away offers the best chance of Jones kick-starting his career again.