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European soccer finds itself on ice at the moment, both literally – with a solid smattering of snow covering much of the continent – and also in the transfer market.
With the World Cup just a few months away, the early days of the January transfer window have yielded little in the way of meaningful deals, or even some healthy speculation and gossip. However, just as the weather is expected to heat up over the next couple of weeks, so too should the market, depending on a couple of factors that are needed to open the checkbooks.
Here is what to expect over the next month as Europe's top teams get one final chance to bolster their squads before the end of the campaign.
The big spenders
Real Madrid did its primary business in the summer and Serie A's big hitters are likely to remain stagnant. So, more than anything, a fluid market depends on plenty of activity involving the clubs with the deepest pockets in England – Chelsea and Manchester City.
With all its debts having been wiped out, Chelsea is ready to once more splash owner Roman Abramovich's cash, while City's new boss Roberto Mancini has tens of millions of Arabian oil wealth ready to splurge. If those two clubs do their spending early, then that money will filter down and enable some middle- to lower-tier teams to flex some financial muscle of their own.
The glory chasers
The English Premier League is enjoying an interesting year, with the race for the fourth Champions League spot especially competitive. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal seem to have the top three positions locked up, but City, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur all have their sights set on fourth place.
They, along with teams like Fulham and Birmingham City (whose ambition will be to get into the Europa League), and clubs like Everton and Bolton Wanderers who need to pull clear of the lower reaches of the table, will be keen to spend their way to better times.
The bargain bin
Soccer's financial crisis is, for the most part, ironing itself out at last. But the goalposts have shifted somewhat.
The need for greater fiscal prudence is a big deal in Spain right now, making for a relatively depressed transfer market. As a result, some genuine bargains are to be had and English, Italian and even German clubs could be poised to take advantage.
It is not so much about the big-name superstars but good, strong performers like Zaragoza's Brazilian striker Ewerthon, who would be a steal for just a few million dollars.
The hot prospects
The weeks following this summer's World Cup will be full of transfer activity, as always. The biggest stage in soccer is a wonderful way for the game's top prospects to boost their profile – and earning potential.
Having said that, a handful of rising stars could end up in new pastures before the end of this month.
Argentinean youngster Sergio Aguero is once again on Chelsea's radar, and with Atletico Madrid in urgent need of money, it won't be long before he moves on. Aguero has issued the standard "I'm happy where I am" statement, but don't be fooled. He'll be on his way soon.
Bosnian powerhouse Edin Dzeko has been a sensation for Wolfsburg and won't get to showcase himself at the World Cup. With his stature at an all-time high and the club out of Bundesliga contention, Wolfsburg could elect to cash in now. Chelsea and Man United would be interested, but don't rule out Barcelona and City.
Benfica winger Angel Di Maria has played only six times for Argentina, but he is likely to be a hot target this January. Manchester United has already had one bid turned down and won't be giving up on trying to acquire the speedy 21-year-old.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil Sir Alex Ferguson could not control his fury – and who could blame him after Manchester United suffered a monumental upset defeat in the FA Cup. United was humbled 1-0 at home to League One side Leeds, leaving the Old Trafford crowd, and Ferguson, stunned.
On a weekend that offered little in the way of the usual FA Cup third-round upsets, this was just the result the competition needed. But that will be of little consolation to the United players when Ferguson takes out his anger on them in training this week.
2. Get him a beer
Brad Guzan boosted his reputation as a penalty-saving king by keeping out David Dunn's effort in Aston Villa's 3-1 FA Cup win over Blackburn Rovers.
The USA No. 2 keeper has impressed at Villa despite limited opportunities and will likely start again Tuesday in Villa's Carling Cup semifinal, also against Blackburn.
3. Get him some earplugs
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the receiving end of some angry words from Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola after losing his temper in the side's 1-1 draw against Villarreal. The Swedish striker engaged in a running battle with referee Bernardino Vasquez throughout the game and was fortunate not to be sent off for a dreadful late challenge on Diego Godin.
4. Keep an eye on …
Freddy Adu. The former wunderkind is set for his latest move as he continues to bounce around Europe in search of regular action. Adu is once again being farmed out by Benfica, with Greek club Aris his likely destination. If this one doesn't work out, it will be the latest blow in a faltering career.
5. Catch a flight to …
Turin. Italy's Serie A returns from its winter break this week, and the heavyweight clash between Juventus and AC Milan on Sunday is the pick of the action.
6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week
26 – The number of Manchester City fans who did not get a Roberto Mancini scarf for Christmas. The club has sold out of Mancini's trademark fashion accessory, just two weeks after the Italian boss replaced Mark Hughes.
7. Fond farewell
Soccer says goodbye to Jack Brownsford, a fine ambassador for the game who played nearly 600 times for Scunthorpe United after World War II without ever being yellow-carded. Brownsword died just before Christmas at age 86.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Robert Pires. The former Arsenal star, now in Spain with Villarreal, revealed last week that he wishes to end his playing career in Major League Soccer.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Brek Shea. The FC Dallas youngster (and second pick in the 2008 MLS draft) is being targeted by Fulham, the EPL club that never seems to have enough American imports.
10. Get excited about …
InterLiga. There's not much in the way of pro soccer going on in the U.S. right now and this annual competition involving some of Mexico's leading sides is well worth a look.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at television presenter Christine Bleakley, the new girlfriend of Chelsea and England star Frank Lampard.
- Manchester United
- Roberto Mancini
- Manchester City
- Aston Villa
- English Premier League