There is a lot to sort out at Manchester City in the next six months.
On the pitch there is the obvious task of reclaiming the Premier League title and challenging for a first Champions League trophy. Off the pitch, there will be business negotiations that are vital to the next stage of the club's journey.
Top priorities are to secure Pep Guardiola to a new contract and identify a new elite striker. On top of that, sources indicate there are intentions to tie down star players Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling to improved long-term deals.
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Oh, and there’s that other dream to chase too. The one that sees them sign Lionel Messi.
We’ll get on to Messi later, but let’s begin by exploring the big storyline that currently surrounds the boss.
GUARDIOLA: STICK OR TWIST?
Pep Guardiola's contract expires after this season and with every day that passes we move closer to the prospect of a new dawn at City. They want him to stay, there is no doubt about that. But while club officials remain hopeful their manager will put pen to paper on an extension, there is also a sense of dread among some that he might leave.
This is his longest serving job in management but mental fatigue led him to leave Barca in 2012 and if he feels the need to walk away again, it would be understandable. The relentless pursuit of perfection during his reign at City was clearly visible in their Amazon documentary and since then the world has changed due to Covid-19.
Pep Guardiola's future is uncertain, what does it mean for Manchester City's transfer planning?
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The football schedule has become even more hectic, and Guardiola's personal life has been impacted by the pandemic as his mother died after contracting the virus earlier this year.
As one source described, Guardiola has looked and sounded more deflated in recent times than at any point in his City reign. It could be a sign he is ready to take a break but, then again, this is Guardiola. There is always going to be that engrained drive to keep pushing on.
City chiefs have previously invited him to discuss his next contract, which he politely declined. While he has never signalled that he has had enough, the truth is that no one at the club seems to know what will happen. They just hope the contract situation will be resolved soon, in their favour. Ideally the club want a decision by January, so their season does not become overshadowed as they head into the most crucial stages.
For Guardiola himself, after five years in Manchester, he has to feel totally committed to a rebuild. He has begun to build City 2.0 over the past year and whether he sees this through or not is going to have implications across the club.
BIG PAY RISES FOR STAR NAMES?
In terms of the current team, De Bruyne and Sterling are the two most high-profile and sources state that plans are being worked upon to convince both to sign improved deals of their own. City recognise their value and cannot allow an avenue to open up where either leaves anytime soon. Both players are contracted until 2023 yet ideally the club want both on five-year agreements.
Negotiations may even open before the new year and it is thought both players would earn rises that take them in excess of £400,000-a-week. The pair could feasibly become the league’s highest earners.
But while all of this plays out, fears have been intensified by the situation over at Barcelona.
A presidential election is on the horizon and, naturally, Guardiola is being mentioned in some circles - particularly that of candidate Victor Font - for a potential return to Camp Nou. Ronald Koeman was only recently appointed, but few experts in the region expect him to have a lengthy stay in the dugout.
And this brings us onto the Messi situation.
After publicly declaring his desire to leave Barcelona over the summer, Messi is currently taking time to consider his next contract while the current one winds down, and the signals from Spain are that he will decide at the end of the season.
It's not ridiculous to imagine him being reunited with Guardiola - but is that more likely in England or Spain?
Inside Football: Lionel Messi
Image credit: Eurosport
City were serious about trying to sign him when he considered his future over the summer, and that interest remains. As one source indicated, Messi does see City as an intriguing move if he quits Barca. That’s because of the overall project, ambition and the figures involved at the club. But also because it also opens up a follow-on move into MLS at sister club NYCFC. The US is where he is likely to move when his time in Europe is done.
For now though, it's a case of wait and see.
The club’s transfer plans for 2021 will begin to take shape soon and Guardiola remains central to the vision of how this new team evolves.
TARGETS: LUIZ, LAUTARO AND... HAALAND?
Sources are indicating that City will look for another centre-back, despite the additions of Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias in the last window. It’s possible they look at the situation in January but more likely they wait until summer unless a new injury or problem arises.
They are continuing to monitor the central midfield position, with eyes on Douglas Luiz’s impressive displays at Aston Villa and the possibility of bringing him back to the club.
Attack is the most exciting place they will aim to make an addition next summer. Sergio Aguero’s contract is up at the end of this season and while the prospect of an extension is certainly possible, recruitment staff are having to clearly define candidates to replace the club’s record goalscorer long-term.
Of course, there is always that Messi dream to consider - he could even work well in the same side as Aguero - but other stellar talent is being identified in the meantime.
Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez, also from Argentina, is one figure they feel could fit well as the next focal point of the side. Borussia Dortmund’s brilliant Erling Haaland is also a genuine target. He’s viewed as the all-action front man who will ensure the goals do not dry up in the coming years. Fresh enquiries can be expected to at the start of the year.
There is plenty to be excited about at City - yet with an edge of anxiety at the same time. At the moment it's all eyes on Guardiola as we wait to find out if he stays or if he goes.
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