Transfer dominoes: How could Messi, Haaland, Mbappe or Pogba move affect the summer window?

Soccer's long-simmering tension between tradition and hyper-capitalism came to a head with the announcement that 12 huge clubs would be breaking from UEFA to form a Super League. That the whole thing fell apart within 48 hours was certainly entertaining, but it didn't really help us to understand what structural changes, if any, await the sport in the near- and long-term future.

We do know one thing, however: The 2020-21 European season will end in a few weeks, and teams are about to spend money -- whether they actually have any to spend, or not.

The transfer window will open around June 9 and close across Europe on Aug. 31, so let's talk about the most interesting possible moves that could -- we stress could, as we still need to see the fallout from the failed breakaway -- have a domino effect on the market.

The cast of lead characters

If you've allowed the firehose of transfer rumors -- which never actually stop, no matter the time, current events or level of realism -- to catch your eye for even a few seconds in recent months, you know the potential players at the top of most wish lists. These are the guys whose moves (or non-moves) could create the largest sets of dominoes to topple.

Lionel Messi, FW, Barcelona (33)
Maybe the greatest player in the sport's history. Almost left Barca after last season and will be eligible to leave for free as of July 1 after 17 seasons in Catalonia.

Erling Haaland, ST, Borussia Dortmund (20)
Already one of the best finishers in the game. Has seemingly already set every possible "youngest player to score X goals in Y competition" record. Also has a firmly set transfer fee of €180m.

Jadon Sancho, FW, Borussia Dortmund (21)
Has battled injury and "only" has eight goals and 12 assists in the Bundesliga and Champions League this year. He remains one of the sport's brightest young stars and will inevitably move on at some point soon.

Kylian Mbappe, FW, Paris Saint-Germain (22)
Already a World Cup winner, he is maybe the only young player better than Haaland right now. Mbappe could end the drama and sign a contract extension soon ... but also he might not.

Paul Pogba, MID, Manchester United (28)
He said kind things about his manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while slamming his former boss Jose Mourinho recently. But his agent, Mino Raiola, claimed "it's over between Manchester United and Pogba" in December.

Cristiano Ronaldo, FW, Juventus (36)
Still scores a million goals a year and has a massive contract. But he hasn't brought transformative success to Turin since arriving for €100m in 2018 -- Juve's run of Serie A titles is ending this year after winning the past nine -- and could move on.

The domino effect

Tons of teams will make moves this summer, but what happens with these six players -- the top two in particular -- will have the largest impact on the market as a whole, along with who might compete for Europe's biggest prize next year.

Again, this is purely speculative, and the chain reactions below can be combined in a number of ways if you so choose, but here are some of the more entertaining major domino effects we could witness when the summer moves begin. For each "domino," the starter move is at the top followed by the cascade of moves we think could come next.

Lionel Messi to Manchester City
Free transfer

Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero (Man City), Memphis Depay (Lyon) and
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) to Barcelona

Wesley Fofana, Leicester to Man City

Raheem Sterling, Man City to Real Madrid
Paulo Dybala, Juventus to PSG

With basically every Barcelona player gleefully taking pictures with Messi following the club's victory in last week's Copa del Rey final, it certainly seems "he's leaving" is written on the wall. So let's commit to that future. Messi indeed elects to leave Barcelona, moving to Manchester City and reuniting with the manager (Pep Guardiola) who guided Barcelona to the 2009 and 2011 Champions League titles.

Messi also joins forces with City Football Group, which means not only a lofty contract -- we'll say in the €700k to €750k-a-week range -- but also a future with another City team, Major League Soccer's New York City FC, where he agrees to move after three seasons.

With the money freed up from Messi's onerous contract, Barcelona finalizes free transfers for Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum and two now-former City players, defender Eric Garcia and 32-year-old forward Sergio Aguero. They are also able to add Lyon's Memphis Depay up front, again on a free transfer. But, in need of further depth in the back with Samuel Umtiti to depart, City make a shock move for Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, but instead settles for Leicester City's Wesley Fofana for around €40m.

With Messi now in place at the Etihad, and with City's rising star Phil Foden having served as one of the key cogs in City's 2020-21 reinvention, Raheem Sterling requests a transfer. He lands in Madrid, with Real having outbid Barca for his services.

Unable to find a proper home for Ronaldo, Juventus at least find a place to ship out unhappy striker Paulo Dybala: Paris, where PSG have swung and missed on Messi.

Lionel Messi to PSG
Free transfer

Kylian Mbappe, PSG to Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus to PSG
Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero (City), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

and Andre Silva (Frankfurt) to Barcelona
Memphis Depay, Lyon to Juventus
Jack Grealish, Aston Villa to Man City

Kylian Mbappe's contract is scheduled to expire in 2022, and the thought is that if PSG cannot come to an agreement with him -- it appears he's looking for something in the €650k to €700k-a-week range, to match Neymar -- they would move him on now instead of risking a free transfer in 12 months' time.

It probably goes without saying that PSG's owners, Qatar Sports Investments, can afford what Mbappe is asking for, and as the club stays alive in the fight for their first Champions League title, so one has to consider it likely that the club and player will reach an agreement. But if they don't, Real Madrid will be on the phone post haste.

In this scenario, Los Blancos have a bit of extra cash around from letting defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane depart -- as well as some fringe players like Isco and Eder Militao -- so they pry Mbappe away for [insert ridiculous sum here] ... we'll say €200m. This opens the door for PSG to outbid City for Messi's services and reunite Messi with former teammate Neymar.

They don't stop there, however! PSG complete their front line with another legend, pulling Cristiano Ronaldo over from Juve on a one-year loan.

[We're going to pause here for a moment to see if the world explodes upon bringing this thought into public consciousness ... I guess we're good? Alright, let's continue.]

Barcelona still move on the Garcia-Aguero-Wijnaldum trio, but Juventus are now able to steal Memphis Depay from under Barca's noses. Barca instead splash out €50m to sign Eintracht Frankfurt striker Andre Silva.

Back in England, having missed out on Messi and decided that Haaland's €180m price tag is too steep, City elect to move even further toward a strikerless future. Guardiola shifts creator Kevin De Bruyne into more of a centre-forward position (as he has done on a couple of occasions this season), and City successfully pursue Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish instead.

Lionel Messi re-signs with Barcelona

Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero (Man City) and Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) to Barcelona
Memphis Depay, Lyon to PSG
Andre Silva, Frankfurt to Liverpool
Jack Grealish, Aston Villa to Man City

Maybe second-time Barcelona president Joan Laporta isn't just blowing smoke when he says he believes Messi will remain in town. What if he is correct?

For starters, Barca don't seem to have much money for further moves. So here, if Messi stays, they can still land the trio on free transfers, but won't need to add Depay -- who lands in Paris to play alongside Mbappe (who has re-signed) and Neymar -- or Silva, who heads to Liverpool. Grealish still ends up with Man City to fulfill his "create 200 chances in a single season" destiny.

Erling Haaland to Manchester City

Jadon Sancho, Dortmund to Manchester United
Patson Daka (FC Salzburg), Max Arnold (Wolfsburg) and
Jonas Hofmann (Gladbach) to Dortmund
Gabriel Jesus, Man City to AC Milan

Having failed to catch Frankfurt for the final spot in the Champions League, Dortmund are forced into a fire sale. Despite Guardiola's mournful proclamations, City find the money to pull Haaland out of North Rhine-Westphalia at a discounted price of €150m. This move triggers pressure from Sancho's agent, Emeka Obasi, to find the young Englishman a new home as well. Manchester United, in approximately their 134th attempt to land Sancho, finally succeed, agreeing to pay €100m.

Even without this duo, Dortmund still have a fantastic young core to build around: midfielder Jude Bellingham (17), wingers Gio Reyna (18) and Ansgar Knauff (19), attacking midfielder Reinier (19, and on loan from Real Madrid until 2022), defender Dan-Axel Zagadou (21), forward Youssoufa Moukoko (16), etc.

With the money from these two huge transactions, Dortmund both move to add another exciting young player -- Salzburg forward Patson Daka for €40m -- and shore up their midfield with the addition of two veterans, Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold (26) and Jonas Hofmann (28), a former BVB midfielder and new coach Marco Rose's most consistent player at Borussia Monchengladbach this season, for about €35m each.

Back in England, the acquisition of Haaland leads to City's Gabriel Jesus requesting a transfer. Juventus and City entertain a Jesus-for-Dybala swap, but with City having no need for Dybala, Jesus instead goes to AC Milan, who are looking for a long-term option up front to eventually replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Erling Haaland to Chelsea

Jadon Sancho, Dortmund to Man United
Jack Grealish, Aston Villa to Man City
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) and Harry Kane (Tottenham) to Real Madrid
Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), Arnold (Wolfsburg) and
Jonas Hofmann (Gladbach) to Borussia Dortmund
Patson Daka (Salzburg), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and
Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) to Liverpool

Another potential Haaland suitor who has given no impression that Dortmund's fee is out of reach. With City focusing on the Messi/Grealish options, Chelsea barge in and leave no doubt, offering up €180m for the Norway star, plus Blues striker Tammy Abraham. Sancho still goes to United, and City turn their focus back to Grealish.

With a more established and prototypical striker up front, Dortmund leave the pursuit of Daka to Liverpool, who continue to upgrade their front line for the future with the addition of Aston Villa 25-year-old Ollie Watkins as well. With the youth movement of sorts underway up front at Anfield, the Reds also entertain Salah's ongoing transfer flirtations, eventually sending him to Real Madrid in a swap of sorts for defender Raphael Varane.

Los Blancos don't stop there, either; having missed out on Haaland (and, in this example, Mbappe), they instead spend their upgrade money on Salah and Tottenham's Harry Kane, the latter of whom has grown tired of winning no silverware in North London.

Erling Haaland to Real Madrid

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) and Memphis Depay (Lyon) to Barcelona,
(Plus Garcia, Aguero and Wijnaldum)
Jack Grealish, Aston Villa to Man City
Jadon Sancho, Dortmund to Man United
Andre Silva (Frankfurt) and Niklas Sule (Bayern) to Chelsea
>>Patson Daka (Salzburg) and Ollie Watkins (Villa) to Liverpool
Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes) and Florian Neuhaus (Gladbach) to Bayern

Alassane Plea and Hofmann (Gladbach), Arnold (Wolfsburg) to Dortmund

If/when Haaland leaves Germany, there's nothing saying he has to end up in England. Haaland's agent, Raiola, had meetings with both Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent weeks, after all, and while it might be difficult for Barcelona to make the money work this summer, Real Madrid could. They outbid Chelsea and bring Haaland to the Spanish capital.

Still hoping for an upgrade at striker, Chelsea join (and win) the Silva race and use leftover transfer funds to sign centre-back Niklas Sule, a rumored favourite of manager Thomas Tuchel, from Bayern Munich. That assures that Bayern complete moves for Rennes' Eduardo Camavinga and Borussia Monchengladbach's Florian Neuhaus.

Meanwhile, a desperate Barcelona forage for the funds emerges to afford moves for both Salah and Depay, in addition to the omnipresent free transfers above.

City and United still pursue Grealish and Sancho, respectively, and BVB still land Arnold and Hofmann. They swing and miss on their preferred goal scorer, though, because Liverpool still have the money to go after both Daka and Watkins. That leaves Dortmund to take the thrilling but inconsistent Alassane Plea off of Gladbach's hands.

Are you dizzy yet? Because I am.

Paul Pogba to Juventus

Luis Alberto (Lazio) and Paulo Dybala (Juventus) to Man United
Memphis Depay, Lyon to Barcelona
Anthony Martial, Man United to Lyon
Jadon Sancho, Dortmund to Man United

It's difficult to figure out what awaits Pogba. We know what his agent said and we know his contract expires in 2022, so if he's not going to re-sign for Man United, now's the time to ship him out of town. We also know, however, that he's fit and playing well and seems to be enjoying his role under Solskjaer at this moment.

If United and Pogba can't reach an agreement, one destination sticks out: his former team, Juventus.

Juve are desperate to reestablish themselves among Europe's elite, and Pogba played some of the best football of his career in Turin from 2012 to '16. To make the money work, Juve could send a combination of transfer funds and €60m-rated Paulo Dybala to United, which in turn would allow striker Anthony Martial (once fit) to return to his original club, Lyon, when Depay departs.

United still attempt to pursue Sancho but also look to add a veteran creator in midfield: Lazio's Luis Alberto (28), a one-time Liverpool prospect and now one of the most prolific chance creators in Europe's "Big Five" leagues. He moves to Old Trafford for around €60m.

Haaland, Mbappe and Pogba to Real Madrid

What do you do when your president, Florentino Perez, has indirectly become the face of the incompetent Super League bid, and your plans have fallen apart around you? You go ALL-IN ON DOMINATING THE SPORT.

We don't really need to go into the dominoes with this one, as it probably won't happen. But if you're going to be the villain, be the villain.