Summer transfer predictions: Bellingham to Madrid or City?

Europe’s summer transfer window is fast approaching and, with domestic leagues ending within a month, teams are starting to think hard about which players they want to bring in.

With most of the top leagues able to start doing business from July 1 — England‘s Premier League opened the 2022 window on June 10 but clubs could only sign players from domestic leagues for three weeks — it won’t be long before the money starts flowing again.

In 2022, Premier League clubs broke the transfer spending record for a season in the summer window alone, spending £1.9 billion ($2.2bn) during the period, according to finance company Deloitte. The previous record of £1.86bn ($2.5bn) for a whole season was set in 2017-18, while it also beat the previous summer spending record of £1.4bn ($1.6bn) set in 2017.

So what could happen this summer? We asked some of ESPN’s correspondents and writers for their predictions.

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What one big deal do you expect to happen?

Alex Kirkland: Real Madrid are optimistic of beating Manchester City to the signing of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, sources have told ESPN. Negotiations have advanced and Madrid’s chief scout Juni Calafat and managing director Jose Angel Sanchez have been key, while Bellingham’s desire to make the move to the Santiago Bernabeu has helped Madrid maintain belief that a deal will be possible. Indeed, sources said that City’s wage offer to Bellingham is larger so it down to the 19-year-old to decide. However, Dortmund’s transfer valuation of around €150 million won’t be met and Madrid are looking to pay around €100m with add-ons.

Whatever happens with Bellingham, Madrid will certainly try to sign a centre-forward. Karim Benzema‘s injury struggles — which he now appears to have finally overcome, just in time for the business end of the season — have left no doubt that Madrid need an alternative to help manage the 35-year-old’s body at this stage of his career. Benzema himself, coach Carlo Ancelotti and club executives all agree that a target man is required. A single candidate has yet to emerge, with the club still weighing up a wide range of options. It’s a position that Madrid have struggled to fill in the past, though. Remember spending €60m to sign Luka Jovic?

Rob Dawson: Dortmund haven’t given up hope of keeping Bellingham and Real Madrid’s interest is detailed above, but there is still hope at Manchester City that the England international will be wearing a blue shirt next season. He’s seen what manager Pep Guardiola has done for his former teammate Erling Haaland (51 goals in 45 games) and there is no better place in the world to improve as a player and win trophies while you’re doing it. Liverpool have already been put off by Dortmund’s valuation and City can put together a financial package that very few other clubs can match. If City can sign Haaland, they can certainly land Bellingham.

Julien Laurens: Personally, I think Bellingham will play at the Bernabeu next season. It will be the biggest, most expensive transfer of the window. Real Madrid are still strengthening their midfield and Bellingham is the last piece of the jigsaw. Florentino Perez has the money, and for the player it is hard to turn down a club like Real Madrid.

Mark Ogden: Sources have told ESPN that Lionel Messi will leave Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this summer and, while there is long-standing interest from former club Barcelona and Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, the financial power of the Saudi Arabian Pro League will see the Argentina captain move to Al Hilal.

The emotional pull of a return to Barcelona may tempt the 35-year-old, but nobody outside a very small circle of executives at Camp Nou believe that Barca can finance the deal — they might not even believe it themselves. A move to Inter Miami would be a gamechanger for MLS and the club has made no secret of its desire to sign Messi, but again, the financial equation just wouldn’t stack up for the league or team.

So unless a major Premier League side are prepared to break their wage structure for a fading star — his Champions League performances for PSG are a better gauge of Messi’s current ability than his 2022 World Cup displays — then Messi will head to Saudi Arabia to renew his rivalry with Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi has already made a fortune from his ultra-successful career, but the financial rewards on offer in Saudi Arabia will make it difficult for him to move elsewhere.

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2:15

Is bringing Lionel Messi back the right move for Barca?

Craig Burley and Steve Nicol debate whether a return to Barcelona would be beneficial for the future of the club.

Sam Marsden: Messi will leave Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expires, but where will he end up next? Two years after joining the Ligue 1 side, his stay in France is coming to a tumultuous end following a commercial trip to Saudi Arabia while his teammates trained after defeat to Lorient. A two-week suspension followed, pushing him closer to the exit door.

Sources close to Messi insist his preference is to stay in Europe, with a return to Barcelona the most likely option in that scenario. However, how Barca can afford him now, two years after they could not afford to renew his contract, remains a quandary. There is willing on both sides for a deal to happen, but it will be up to LaLiga to green light the numbers involved and allow Barca to register Messi with the league. If not, a move to Saudi Arabia or Major League Soccer may await.

James Olley: This is the summer Harry Kane could finally leave Tottenham. Spurs are reluctant to let him go, understandably, but Kane turns 30 this summer and has one year left on his contract. They have no manager, no director of football and face another summer of transition. Any new head coach would of course want to keep a striker of Kane’s calibre but it increasingly feels like the time has come to move on.

Manchester United are the most logical destination but it will interesting to see if former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino takes the Chelsea job and tries to convince the two London rivals to do business at over £100m. Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are two overseas alternatives, while Real Madrid want a striker too, but the indications are at this stage that Kane would prefer to stay in the Premier League.

Tor-Kristian Karlsen: With a Messi-shaped hole to fill, Paris Saint-Germain could move for AC Milan forward Rafael Leao. With just one year to run on his contract, and talks over an extension yet to bear any fruit, Milan have their hands tied and the moment to strike a deal is now. He’s undoubtedly rated highly by the big-spending Premier League clubs, but it’s hard to see him fitting in at Manchester City, while Chelsea have to get their house in order before they can contemplate bringing in another big-name forward.

France striker Marcus Thuram‘s next move is also an intriguing story to follow. The 25-year-old’s contract is coming to an end at Borussia Monchengladbach, which allows him his choice of the top clubs across the continent.

Jon Molyneux-Carter: Chelsea will almost certainly try and sign a striker, and no doubt for big money too. Napoli‘s Victor Osimhen is reportedly a player who has appeared on the radar of the owners at Stamford Bridge — as well as Manchester United, Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid — but would cost upwards of €130m. Even after all their recent spending and with €115m striker Romelu Lukaku’s future still unclear after a loan spell at Inter, Chelsea need a No. 9, but it’s going to be hard for whoever it is to settle given the history of failure in that position.

Arsenal have had a great season and have also been linked with Osimhen, but are more likely to bring in a central midfielder. The club nearly spent £70m to land Brighton’s Moises Caicedo in January and could return for him, or turn attention to West Ham’s Declan Rice instead.

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0:41

Why it’s time for Christian Pulisic to leave Chelsea

Steve Nicol explains why he thinks Christian Pulisic should leave Chelsea in the summer transfer window.

Which team will be most active and why?

Olley: By definition it will be Chelsea, purely because of the number of players they have to offload. ESPN reported on Feb. 10 that the Blues will continue the radical overhaul of their squad with a host of exits needed to help offset the £600m spent since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital completed their takeover of the club last May. Chelsea have 31 players in the first-team squad, plus eight more out on loan.

The identity of specific players to leave may be influenced by the next head coach but Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kalidou Koulibaly are among those most likely to depart. Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount are yet to agree contract extensions too. Chelsea’s new head coach, expected to be Pochettino, will surely want one or two signings to mould the squad in his own image, but the incomings will start with the already-agreed arrival of €70m forward Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig.

Karlsen: As James says, Chelsea will face a mammoth task in offloading a significant number of first-team players. Keeping 30-odd internationals motivated is almost impossible and whoever takes over as head coach would want a major say in the squad reshape. In spite of their poor recent performances, the Blues’ squad is brimming with talent but the magnitude of their clearout mission is not to be underestimated and requires steady, experienced hands (which they are lacking.)

I’d also expect Spurs to make a number of signings. Not just because a new sporting director is likely to be appointed after the resignation of Fabio Paratici, but it’s a fair assumption that the club’s incoming head coach will represent a more dynamic, intense brand of football. I’m not sure the squad — particularly the centre-backs and the central midfielders — are well-suited to press efficiently or have the physical prerequisites to successfully defend higher up the pitch.

Ogden: Chelsea will want to be busy, but they will quickly discover how tough it is to offload players on huge contracts, so my tip is for Manchester United to be more active in the market. United will have a similar problem to Chelsea in that they have high-earners who need to be moved on, but the good news for manager Erik ten Hag is that the majority of the players he wants to transfer out are approaching the end of the long-term deals they were given three or four years ago.

The one tricky deal to pull off will be moving on defender Harry Maguire, who has two years to run on a £200,000-a-week contract. Having signed for £80m from Leicester in 2019, United will have to accept a significant loss on that outlay and also face subsidising Maguire’s wages. But United still have plenty of players who could leave including Victor Lindelof, Scott McTominay, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Donny van de Beek and Anthony Elanga. They will also look to sign at least three new players, so Old Trafford will be busy this summer, regardless of whether the club has new owners or not.

Dawson: Man City could end the season with a Treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup but there are still plans to refresh the squad over the summer. Guardiola would like a central midfielder (namely, Bellingham) and the long-term issue at left-back is also set to be solved. Oleksandr Zinchenko was allowed to leave for Arsenal last summer and Joao Cancelo departed for Bayern Munich on loan in January, meaning that centre-back Nathan Ake has had to fill in for most of the season. It’s possible that Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kalvin Phillips could all leave in the next window which would leave City looking for more than one midfielder.

Laurens: PSG, without a doubt! What a summer it will be for them, both in terms of ins and outs. There is a big rebuilding job to do and a big overhaul of the squad. Messi will leave and his huge €30m net salary with him. Luis Campos, the sporting director, will target young, French players ideally Parisians like Randal Kolo Muani, Manu Kone, Kephren Thuram, Evan N’Dicka, Moussa Diaby, Michael Olise but also bigger and most expensive names like Bernardo Silva, Kane or Osimhen. PSG believe that they can spend big and still stay within the rules of FFP. But the biggest move, maybe, for the club, will be to find the right manager to replace Christophe Galtier who will be let go in the summer despite having a year left on his contract.

Jon Molyneux-Carter: Liverpool are in need of an overhaul after a very disappointing season. Jurgen Klopp’s side pulled out of a deal for Bellingham because they didn’t want to spend their entire budget on one player, so expect a number of arrivals and departures at Anfield — particularly in midfield. Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita are set to leave, with a host of players including Chelsea‘s Mason Mount, Sporting CP‘s Manuel Ugarte, Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Bayern’s Ryan Gravenberch linked to replace them.

Marsden: The answer is always Barcelona, surely?! The drama has already started at Camp Nou with the confirmation that director of football Mateu Alemany will leave the club this summer. Alemany, who will move to Aston Villa, has committed to finishing the plan he has already drawn up for the upcoming transfer window, though, and speaking last weekend promised a “very interesting summer” at the Catalan club.

Even while targeting free agents — Athletic Club‘s Inigo Martinez, City’s Gundogan and PSG’s Messi — Barca still need to make at least €150m of savings to be able to register any new arrivals under LaLiga’s salary cap. Therefore, offers will be considered for several players. Franck Kessie, Eric Garcia, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and Raphinha are some of the names who could leave, but Europe’s wealthier clubs may want to test Barca’s resolve to hang on to some of their best players. If Barca do raise some money, they are keen to sign a right-back, a striker, a left winger and possibly another midfielder on top of the aforementioned free transfers. More drama awaits.

Kirkland: Real Madrid’s business will depend on how much they end up spending to sign a centre-forward and whether they land Bellingham. A €5m deal to bring academy product Fran Garcia back from Rayo Vallecano to provide competition at left-back is already in place.

Elsewhere in Spain, LaLiga clubs’ limited spending power will dictate their movements. Atletico Madrid‘s finances have been squeezed more than most, and their summer planning so far has been restricted to agreeing a free transfer move for Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu. Real Sociedad could look to invest some of their Champions League windfall if they finish fourth, while Sevilla have plenty of work to do after flirting with relegation thanks to sporting director Monchi’s botched transfer dealings last summer.