It's been a fairly quiet January transfer window. In relative terms, there's been about as much action as usual, but the Premier League in particular seems an odd case. With the title up for grabs, and Champions League qualification even up-for-grabsier, most of the top clubs in England have kept their purses shut, or in Manchester City's case, actually weakened their squad. It's quiet. Too quiet.
This time, however, there's a reason. That reason is that everybody is bracing themselves for a gigantic, orgiastic free-for-all in summer which will represent one of the biggest windows... well, ever. Much of the intrigue concerns the web of mystery connecting several of the big players: Jose Mourinho, his potential suitors Manchester United, their possibly-departing figurehead Sir Alex Ferguson, and the mooted transfer wave it would unleash.
Some have claimed that Alex Ferguson managing to conjure up a series of determined trophy pursuits - some successful, others almost so - with a team that lacks a midfield and contains myriad other flaws may be his finest achievement as a manager. It's certainly the most difficult thing he's done, but it's not a sustainable plan or a workable long-term strategy - in comparison, it's more of a Buster Keaton novelty act, an improvisation showcase. It surely can't go on for yet another year, and with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes saddling up and riding off into the sunset together, United will need an overhaul whether Ferguson joins them or not.
Many targets have been suggested to fill United's midfield black hole - Kevin Strootman, Lars Bender, and Ilkay Gundogan among them - but they will also require strengthening elsewhere. Rio Ferdinand may be off, or if not will suffer a further reduction in playing time. Nemanja Vidic is also likely to suffer the latter fate, while a replacement for Patrice Evra will need to be found at some point. Then there are the wingers - Nani looks a goner, while Antonio Valencia has been anonymous all season and Wilfried Zaha is unproven at this level.
Of course, the biggest move to Manchester United this season could well be a managerial one. José Mourinho looks increasingly likely to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season, as the rapidly-burning bridges surrounding him that link to people of influence in Madrid and Spain have begun to look more deliberate than accidental. A return to Chelsea has also been suggested, but he is likely Ferguson's preferred replacement and one of what must now, in the event of Pep Guardiola signing up to Bayern Munich, be a very short shortlist to take the role.
Whoever is holding the keys to the wine cabinet at Old Trafford come July will have his own targets, but if he is looking for players of the requisite standard, he'll have plenty of competition. Chelsea are also in need of a midfield general in the same mould United require, although not quite so desperately, and concerns over Financial Fair Play aside, whoever replaced Rafael Benitez (we can begin to call it a certainty at this point) will want backing in the transfer market. Along with Manchester City, even complying with FFP, they surely both have one big shot in them. Edinson Cavani, Falcao, and Daniele de Rossi have all been mooted, and all would be enormous.
To add to this, there are the newly-nouveau riche looking to fill their squadsheets, and much as Chelsea laughably sniffed at Manchester City throwing money around, Roberto Mancini may find that once again bigger, scarier, more oil-rich tribes are over the hill in the form of Paris Saint-Germain, who can probably comfortably outbid him for any player. Unlike Manchester City, PSG are still some way away from realising the construction of a world-class team, and have serious moves to make in the window.
There's also the rumour that Bayern Munich have unearthed some sort of ancient treasure hoard, leaving Guardiola with some nine-digit sum to spend in the summer. While that sounds like a fun idea (Lionel Messi? Welcome to the Allianz!), with a squad like Bayern's it's difficult to see just how they'd find a place to spend that much money. Instead they'll be their usual selves -- which means that they'll be major players for at least one star player this summer.
In short, this summer is going to be quite something. It's been building up for a while, in big players staying at clubs too small to hold them, teams letting long-term problems fester, the formation of a true duopoly in Spain, the oil-rich laying the groundwork for serious moves and heavy restructuring in Italy. In summer, it's all going to come to a head, because it can't possibly do anything else. As soon as the trivial business of actual football is settled in May, we will be anxiously waiting for the first domino to fall.