Football in 2020 has been an adjustment for us all.
Postponements, Covid-19 tests, empty stadiums, five subs, international triple-headers: the pandemic has dramatically altered the beautiful game.
It is still beautiful, but there are some unavoidable imperfections.
Predicting how the landscape will look in 2021, of course, seems like a fool’s errand. There is no telling how the fight against coronavirus will have progressed over the next year, although it seems safe to say that it will be a long time before we see stadiums at capacity on a matchday, providing that electric atmosphere that has been sorely missed over the last seven months.
Despite the financial implications of lockdown, football clubs this summer continued to spend heavily on transfers. Premier League clubs, for example, spent £1.2bn on transfers.
While the financial ramifications of the global crisis are likely to continue, football’s elite are expected to continue their heavy spending.
Several high-profile players, including arguably the greatest two of all time, may be on the move in 2021 so, with that in mind, let’s have a look at how football may look in 12 months’ time.
Ronaldo to Paris Saint-Germain?
Paris Saint-Germain are poised to make a move for Cristiano Ronaldo next summer, according to reports.
This is an interesting one. Ronaldo will be 36 in February, and in the twilight of his career, he may be attracted by a new challenge, one that would involve lining up in a star-studded PSG side.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is not thought to be agitating for a move away from Juventus, though. Having joined the Italian giants in 2018, he remains singularly focused on taking the Serie A champions back to the summit of European football, with their last Champions League success coming back in 1996.
Ronaldo has already led Juve to two Serie A titles during his time in Turin, scoring 52 goals in 64 games across his first couple of seasons.
A move to the French capital seems unlikely at present, although that would likely change if he achieves his ultimate ambition with Juve and wins what would be his sixth Champions League with three different clubs.
PSG, like Juventus, have designs for European domination having narrowly missed out this year. Even if Juventus fail to land the big one, it seems likely Les Parisiens will try to lure Ronaldo to the Parc des Princes.
Messi to City?
While it failed to materialise this year, Lionel Messi signing for Manchester City is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
Messi was linked with City during a summer in which he confirmed his desire to leave Barcelona. Ultimately, he stayed, although there remains doubts over his long-term future at the Camp Nou.
And it seems plausible that City will be heading the queue for his signature should his disillusionment with life at Barca only deepen come 2021.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, City chief operating officer Omar Berrada confirmed the club have the ‘financial strength’ to make significant investments in their squad, thus leaving the door open for Messi’s long-awaited arrival in English football.
Even at 34, the Argentine would be a sensational coup for City, and should Pep Guardiola’s men miss out on the Premier League title to Liverpool once again, there is a strong chance that they will turn to the man who was central to Barcelona’s golden era under Pep and who casually boasts a record of 635 goals in 734 games for the Catalan giants.
Messi’s departure would only deepen the sense of uncertainty around Barca, of course. Now under Ronald Koeman’s management, they are braced for a transitional season after a transfer window which saw Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Arthur and Arturo Vidal all leave the club.
Real’s latest Galacticos splurge
Real Madrid were suspiciously quiet this summer. After reclaiming their La Liga title, Zinedine Zidane’s side failed to sign a single player - the first time that has happened in 40 years.
The reason for this, some feel, is that Los Blancos are biding their time before launching an all-out assault on the market in 2021.
Should Zidane deliver his fourth Champions League crown as manager, the Frenchman will be in a position to demand pretty much anything he wants.
And, according to AS, he covets PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, who he sees as the glittering centrepiece of Madrid’s new era.
Mbappe would not be the only high-profile arrival, however, with Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba also on Real’s radar. That AS report claims that Zidane has twice failed to sign Pogba - could it be third time lucky? It is also worth asking the question that, should Pogba’s sketchy form at United continue, would Real’s interest fade?
Other emerging talents attracting admiring glances from the Bernabeu are Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, who was linked with Arsenal over the summer, RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and exciting Rennes starlet Eduardo Camavinga.
Real Madrid were quiet this summer. Don’t expect the same in 2021.
Can United finally land Sancho?
It is safe to say that the blow felt by Pogba’s departure from United would be softened by the arrival of top target Jadon Sancho.
United failed to prise Sancho away from Borussia Dortmund despite a summer-long pursuit that dominated the gossip columns.
And while United did add two exciting wingers in Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, the Red Devils will surely revive their interest in Sancho next summer.
Of course, it appears unlikely that United’s pursuit will remain unchallenged, especially if the England international enjoys another strong campaign in Germany.
Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Chelsea - they all seem like possible destinations for the 20-year-old. United will have to play their cards right or they will risk missing out on Sancho altogether.
Project Big Picture alternative
Finally, how will the Premier League itself look? Rradical new proposals, spearheaded by Liverpool and Manchester United, which aim to reform English football were proposed under the name 'Project Big Picture'.
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They have been since rejected - but a full reform is set to be considered by all 20 Premier League clubs.
It will likely include a bailout to clubs down the pyramid, and could keep some of the original proposals.
For example, this time next year, the League Cup may no longer exist. The same for the Community Shield.
And could the Premier League be reduced in size? Probably not, but there could be some sort of plan to change the face of English football forever.