It is just 20 days until the January transfer window opens.
While most men’s club football paused for the duration of the World Cup, many sides have been busy trying to get business lined up before the market begins on New Year’s Day.
Holding a major international tournament effectively in one city midway through the European season has provided an unprecedented opportunity for the global game to descend on Qatar’s capital Doha, with a host of clubs sending representatives to take in matches and arrange meetings.
Players such as Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, England’s Jude Bellingham, the USA’s Yunus Musah and Ghana attacker Mohammed Kudus have caught the eye, while Morocco’s surprise run to the semi-finals has given Azzedine Ounahi, Selim Amallah and Sofyan Amrabat a platform to shine.
Other players – including Mykhaylo Mudryk, Matheus Cunha and 16-year-old Endrick – were not competing here but people at the World Cup have certainly still been talking about them.
Here’s what we have been hearing at the competition…
Phil Foden described England team-mate Jude Bellingham last week as “one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen”, and the 19-year-old was a stand-out performer in their run to the quarter-finals.
Bellingham’s rise has made him a dream target for the world’s biggest clubs, so if the midfielder decides he wants to leave Borussia Dortmund – and his German employers open the door to a sale – he will have his pick of a small number of teams who can afford what it will take to complete such a deal.
No decision was expected until after the World Cup but now that Bellingham’s involvement in Qatar is over, suitors will hope to intensify their efforts to prise him away from the Bundesliga side.
There is a feeling among interested parties that Liverpool may be front-runners, but they do not think the matter is closed and will hope the current uncertainty at Anfield plays into their hands.
Owners Fenway Sports Group have put Liverpool up for sale, with key director Mike Gordon stepping back from his role and sporting director Julian Ward leaving at the end of this season after only a year in the job.
Liverpool’s pursuit of Bellingham is being led by manager Jurgen Klopp but his team have experienced a difficult start to the league season, which puts their 2023-24 Champions League participation in doubt.
Read more: What is the transfer window? When does it end? How do transfers work?
Reigning European champions Real Madrid and current world champions Chelsea are also huge admirers of the Birmingham City academy graduate, while back-to-back Premier League winners Manchester City might not currently be at the head of the queue but have him in their thoughts.
Another credible option is to stay at Dortmund, where he is committed until the summer of 2025 already. They would welcome the chance to extend a stay which began in the summer of 2020.
Many in the industry are quick to praise Bellingham and his parents for the impressive manner in which his career is managed and tip them to diligently navigate the path ahead and ensure the best possible outcome is achieved.
The Premier League paused for six weeks to make room for this winter World Cup with Arsenal top of the table, leaving many keen to discover if the January window will be used to help maintain what is an unexpected title bid.
Arsenal are prepared to do so if an opportunity arises that the club deem right for the long term, with the Kroenke family — their American owners — wanting to back now-sporting director Edu and manager Mikel Arteta.
Their priority target is Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk and sources with knowledge of the matter think there is a good chance it will happen, though nothing is agreed at present.
Shakhtar have stated their value for the highly coveted Ukraine international as €100million (£85.9m, $105.3m) – but interested parties are of the understanding that a lower fee would be deemed acceptable.
Arsenal are among the clubs in touch with both Shakhtar and Mudryk’s representatives, with the 21-year-old known to be focused on moving to the Premier League and determined to make the Emirates Stadium his destination.
Brentford had a deal worth €25million in place last summer, when he was also on Arsenal’s radar, and his stock has since risen. It will ultimately come down to the price and while the north London club may have alternative possibilities, Mudryk is their focus.
A pivotal part of Morocco being surprise World Cup semi-finalists, Sofyan Amrabat will be sure to generate enquiries in January – but that does not mean a transfer is necessarily going to happen.
His Serie A club, Fiorentina, want to keep the 26-year-old midfielder until the summer, when there will be a year left on his contract, and they will aim to recoup at least the €20million paid to Belgium’s Club Bruges for him in the same window in 2020.
The likelihood of bids arriving next month of a level which might convince the Italians to alter their stance is regarded as low. If they do, the expectation is those offers will come from clubs in the lower reaches of the Premier League and would probably be turned down by Amrabat.
He was strongly considered by Tottenham Hotspur in the last January window, owing to their Italian head coach Antonio Conte being a huge fan, but ultimately they secured fellow midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur instead and Amrabat stayed in Florence.
Leading clubs will want to see whether the form he’s shown in Qatar continues when he returns to club football and, while the idea of a loan deal including either an option or obligation to buy may appeal to suitors, it is unlikely to tempt Fiorentina.
The United States’ hopes of a first World Cup quarter-final since 2002 may have been dashed by the Netherlands, but that does not mean their campaign wasn’t without its highlights.
One of the brightest of those was Yunus Musah, the 20-year-old Valencia midfielder who moved to Spain in 2019 after spending seven years in Arsenal’s academy.
Musah was born in New York while his mother was there on a family holiday and represented England at five youth levels before pledging allegiance to the US in 2021, and could now find himself a wanted man again.
Valencia have been open to offers for him in the past but meaningful interest failed to materialise. The La Liga club are still willing to listen to bids and hope Musah’s impressive displays in Qatar might stimulate the market for him.
The opportunity is being explored by a number of Premier League clubs, with Valencia’s financial position meaning he would be available for north of €20million.
Musah, who is under contract until the end of the 2025-26 season, is thought to be keen on experiencing a new challenge after three and a half years in Spain.
Atletico Madrid chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin very rarely speaks publicly, so his comment last week that it is “reasonable to think that he (Joao Felix) might leave” has been interpreted in some quarters as an admission the 23-year-old will move in January.
That interpretation is accurate, with interest in Felix from several top clubs. Some Premier League sides have been led to believe the Portugal forward could even be available on loan, albeit with a sizeable fee and salary. Others, though, think a permanent transfer is more realistic for a player who joined Atletico in 2019 from Benfica for €126million and is contracted until 2026.
Aston Villa is an option that Felix’s agent Jorge Mendes is believed to be pushing. He has a strong relationship with the Villa ownership after doing the deal for Unai Emery to be appointed as manager.
Some who work in top-level recruitment, however, think Felix may be better suited to Arsenal given the stylistic fit and their potential need for attacking reinforcements after Gabriel Jesus underwent knee surgery.
Chelsea are exploring the possibility of bringing Youssoufa Moukoko to Stamford Bridge.
Moukoko became the youngest player to represent Germany at a World Cup when he came on as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat by Japan in their opening group game, aged 18 years and three days.
A move to Chelsea is certainly not done but other Premier League clubs are under the impression it is advanced and are watching closely, given it may have implications for the availability of Armando Broja, who was taken off the field on a stretcher during a friendly against Aston Villa in Dubai on Sunday.
Moukoko is set to be out of contract at Dortmund at the end of this season and there is a school of thought that Chelsea are doing the groundwork for a summer deal ahead of time, but may find a way to bring him to west London next month.
Brazil’s early (as far as they were concerned) World Cup elimination at the quarter-final stage gave further reason to question the wisdom of omitting Matheus Cunha from their 26-man squad – and it is likely the Atletico Madrid striker will now get a chance to show what his national team missed, with a January move to the Premier League expected.
The early favourites to sign Cunha were Wolverhampton Wanderers after they started dialogue over a deal that would potentially have also seen Atletico defender Felipe head to Molineux.
Seeking a package of around €50million for the pair – which was proposed by the super-agent Mendes, who does not represent Cunha but has established links to both clubs – the Spanish side had a strong preference to do business with Wolves ahead of alternative suitors.
Despite concerns about joining the team currently bottom of the league, Cunha’s respect for newly appointed head coach Julen Lopetegui and Wolves’ readiness to make the highest salary offer among interested clubs created optimism in the West Midlands.
However, it is now uncertain if Wolves will meet Atletico’s financial demands and that not only casts doubt on their pursuit but also gives encouragement to others competing for his signature.
Everton are long-term admirers and would like to bring Cunha to Goodison Park this winter. It is not clear if they are in a position to buy him or would need to structure a package differently, nor whether the 23-year-old would ultimately pick Frank Lampard’s side.
There is serious interest, too, from Leeds United. They tried to get Cunha before he went to Atletico from Hertha Berlin in the summer of 2021 and he knows their head coach Jesse Marsch from their time together at another German club, RB Leipzig, in 2018-19. Having narrowly missed out on Cody Gakpo of PSV Eindhoven and the Netherlands in the summer, Leeds know how important it is to pounce before players they want in the market become out of reach for them.
Aston Villa have figured in the Cunha conversation but not as prominently as their rivals, with new head coach Emery said to be prioritising another position initially. Meanwhile, Arsenal are weighing up whether to enter the frame as manager Arteta considers how best to cope in the absence of Jesus.
Cunha joined Atletico on a five-year contract but is known to be disengaged after seeing his game-time in the Spanish capital decline and with it, seemingly, went his hopes of a World Cup place.
Manchester United, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest all had opportunities to sign Croatia’s World Cup hero Dominik Livakovic in the summer transfer window.
Livakovic has emerged as one of the breakout stars of the tournament in Qatar. The Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper saved three penalties to eliminate Japan in the round of 16, before denying Rodrygo to help Croatia win a second successive shootout against Brazil.
But a number of Premier League sides passed up the chance to bring Livakovic to England ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
The 27-year-old was available for a cut-price fee of between €5m-€10m — but Manchester United opted against recruiting him to provide back-up to David de Gea, instead relying on Tom Heaton and taking Martin Dubravka on loan from Newcastle United.
Forest were close to agreeing a deal with Zagreb for around €6million but decided they wanted a more high-profile player when Brice Samba departed for French club Lens, which proved to be Dean Henderson on loan from Manchester United.
Livakovic was also offered to Leicester as they sought goalkeeping depth following Kasper Schmeichel’s departure for Nice. In the end, Alex Smithies was acquired on a free transfer to back up Danny Ward and Daniel Iversen.
Livakovic is expected to be a target for a number of top European teams next summer, with Dinamo usually open to trading their most coveted players if the price is right.
Ghana midfielder Mohammed Kudus has a firm desire to leave Ajax in January and teams from the Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 are watching closely.
The 22-year-old, who returned to the Netherlands following Ghana’s group-stage elimination, wants to establish whether his Amsterdam-based club are open to a transfer and what kind of fee it might take to sign him — €35m-€40m is estimated as a minimum, although early indications suggest a reluctance at Ajax to let him go.
Everton agreed terms with the player on deadline day in September, only for the Dutch champions to block his exit having already sold Antony and Lisandro Martinez to Manchester United, Ryan Gravenberch to Bayern Munich and Sebastien Haller to Dortmund in that window, while also losing head coach Erik ten Hag to United. Frank Lampard and company are still keen. There was informal contact with Everton’s neighbours Liverpool last summer, as well as interest from French sides over a loan.
The Premier League is Kudus’ first-choice destination and operating in midfield is a key factor. Ajax have been using him as a false nine and there seems little prospect of that changing under Ten Hag’s successor Alfred Schreuder, whereas he shone at the World Cup when deployed in his favoured position.
Although suitors are enquiring about his availability, there have been no formal discussions yet. It will come down to the stance of Ajax, where Kudus has a contract that runs until June 2025.
Real Madrid are on the verge of closing a deal worth €60million to sign the 16-year-old from Sao Paulo side Palmeiras, which would see the Brazilian starlet arrive at the Bernabeu in the summer of 2024 — when he turns 18.
The move is expected to be completed in the coming weeks and while his contract has not yet been finalised, it is set to be for at least four years.
Endrick and his family were impressed by Chelsea but found the Premier League side to be more hesitant in committing to the financial terms, even though a large element of the deal was performance-related. The timing may also have worked against the London club, given their recruitment operation is still being constructed following a raft of changes made by the new ownership.
Serial French champions Paris Saint-German made Endrick an attractive pitch, too, though ultimately it was felt Real Madrid offered the smoothest adaptation to life in Europe — plus the attraction of representing such an illustrious club.
Real Madrid’s position was also boosted by their Brazilian sporting director Juni Calafat.
His knowledge of the South American market is renowned and he has a proven track record after signing the likes of Endrick’s countrymen Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo and Federico Valverde of Uruguay.
Preferred to 118-goal Cristiano Ronaldo to start Portugal’s World Cup last 16 tie against Switzerland despite only winning his first cap last month, Goncalo Ramos responded by scoring a brilliant hat-trick.
Benfica rejected offers for the 21-year-old last summer and are likely to stand firm again in January given they have reached the knockout phase of the Champions League and Ramos is under contract with them until the end of 2025-26.
If a sizeable bid were to arrive off the back of his performances in Qatar, however, Benfica might be persuaded to sell — although there is a strong desire to keep him until the summer at least.
As for Ronaldo, he is a free agent after parting ways with Manchester United last month. An offer to play in Saudi Arabia remains on the table. He is expected to make a decision on his future in the next few weeks ahead of his 38th birthday in early February.
Having excelled for Morocco in Qatar, Selim Amallah is drawing interest from clubs at the lower end of the Premier League and towards the top of the Championship, as well as in Germany, France and Spain.
The 26-year-old midfielder is on course to be out of contract in the summer at Standard Liege and his refusal to sign a new deal means the Belgian club will almost certainly let him exit for a nominal fee next month.
That is attracting sides who would prefer to buy him now than enter a free-agent auction in the off-season. Because of the contract situation, Liege have not picked Amallah since September 30, and he was granted permission to join up with his international squad early to prepare for the World Cup.
Midfielder Azzedine Ounahi is another who has played a key role in Morocco’s run to the semis and he is now attracting interest from clubs in the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga.
The 22-year-old extended his contract at French club Angers last summer, by a year, until June 2026.
Conversations took place before the World Cup about a potential move but it remains unclear what kind of fee Angers, currently bottom of Ligue 1 with two wins from their 15 games, would seek. Ounahi does not have a release clause in his deal.
An Angers spokesperson told The Athletic: “The club does not have as a priority the departure of Ounahi but will study all serious proposals for a possible transfer, preserving the interests of the club and the player.”
Palmeiras midfielder Danilo said, “I see myself mature enough to be able to play in any competition in the world, I’m ready” in an interview with Brazilian media outlet UOL Esporte last month, feeding speculation he is heading for the Premier League.
The 21-year-old has been heavily linked to Arsenal in particular but is not thought to be a target for them at present.
Danilo was called up for two friendlies against South Korea and Japan in June but didn’t get on the pitch in either and got overlooked for coach Tite’s 26-strong World Cup squad.
(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)
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