Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland all made the headlines in 2022, while Argentina and Real Madrid claimed football's biggest trophies by winning the World Cup and Champions League, respectively, but there are already big storylines brewing for 2023. Some of the game's biggest players will move to new teams, and there's likely to be a change of ownership at two of football's most high-profile clubs.
And although 2023 will be a quiet year on the international front in the men's game -- with the Asian Cup, to be staged in Qatar, the only major tournament on the calendar -- the FIFA Women's World Cup will see its champion crowned in Australia and New Zealand in July and August.
There are some big issues to be resolved in the months ahead, so how will they all play out?
Where now for Cristiano Ronaldo?
Ronaldo has been a free agent since Manchester United cancelled his contract during the World Cup, so there has been nothing to stop the 37-year-old from already finding a new club. But although the Portugal forward has been training with former team Real Madrid to stay in shape, Ronaldo has yet to announce his next destination.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (U.S.)
The most likely outcome for Ronaldo is a move to Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh-based team Al Nassr having made a hugely lucrative offer for the player. Sources have told ESPN that Al Nassr are prepared to pay Ronaldo £175 million a year to join the club.
Ronaldo cited a desire to play in the Champions League when he attempted to force a move from United during the summer, but a move to Saudi Arabia would end his prospects of a Champions League swansong. Yet as it stands, any hope of a major European team making a move for him now seems unlikely to come to fruition.
A move to MLS is another possibility, but not even the glamour teams in Los Angeles or Miami could come close to competing with the money on offer in the Middle East.
Haaland on course for Premier League history
Predictions are always a risky business in football, but if you want a safe bet for 2023, there's probably nothing safer than tipping Haaland to smash the Premier League record for goals in a single season.
Andy Cole (Newcastle 1993-94) and Alan Shearer (Blackburn 1994-95) jointly hold the record of scoring 34 goals in a Premier League season, but those two recorded their goal tally when there were 22 teams in the top division and 42 games a season, rather than today's 20-team / 38-game Premier League season. Meanwhile, Manchester City forward Haaland took his Premier League goal haul to 20 during the 3-1 win at Leeds on Wednesday. He also became the quickest player ever to reach that figure, doing so in just 14 appearances.
It seems inevitable that Cole and Shearer will be erased from the record books in the weeks ahead, with the only real question surrounding how many goals Haaland will score. The last player to break the 40-goal barrier in England's top division was Chelsea's Jimmy Greaves, who scored 41 in the 1960-61 season. The Norway international is almost certain to be the next.
Shaka Hislop and Julien Laurens discuss Erling Haaland's performance vs. Leeds and whether it's possible for him to reach 50 goals on the season.
New owners at Manchester United and Liverpool
Manchester United and Liverpool are the Premier League's two biggest and most historic clubs, and both are on the market to be sold.
With Chelsea sold by former owner Roman Abramovich to an American consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly for £2.5 billion in May -- with another £1.75 billion committed to future investment -- it is expected that United and Liverpool will be sold for figures much higher than the Chelsea sale price. Sources have told ESPN that United's owners, the Glazer family, believe they can raise over £6 billion for the club, while Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool's owners, are expected to command a figure in excess of £4 billion for the six-time Champions League winners.
- Explainer: What's next for Glazers, Man United?
The rarity value of two such historic and globally renowned clubs being on the market is likely to inflate the sale price of both United and Liverpool, but sources have said that the Glazers' asking price is optimistically high. With champions Manchester City (United Arab Emirates) and an emerging Newcastle (Saudi Arabia) owned by oil-rich states, United and Liverpool risk falling behind in the race for honours unless they can find new owners capable of matching the incredible financial power of two of their Premier League competitors.
Julien Laurens praises Kylian Mbappe for his mature response to France's defeat in the World Cup final.
Will Kylian Mbappe stay at PSG or go?
Every transfer window brings a Kylian Mbappe saga about whether he will stay at Paris Saint-Germain or move to Real Madrid.
During the past two summer windows, PSG fended off strong interest from Real to keep Mbappe at Parc des Princes, and the Qatari-owned French champions were able to persuade the 24-year-old to sign a three-year contract when his existing deal expired this summer. But Mbappe has cut a frustrated figure at PSG at times this season, with constant reports of his unhappiness at the club and ongoing desire to move to Madrid.
- Laurens: Why Mbappe wants to leave PSG already
Mbappe's PSG contract is reportedly worth more than £540 million over three years, so the financial cost of doing a deal to take him from Paris would be huge for Real. But having missed out on Mbappe and Haaland last summer when they wanted both, Real will push hard again for Mbappe this time around. In short, expect another big transfer showdown this summer.
A three-peat for USWNT or England's first time?
The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup promises to be the most competitive ever, with reigning champions the United States facing a real challenge from European champions England in Australia and New Zealand.
A 2-1 England win against the USWNT in a friendly at Wembley Stadium in October has given the Lionesses an early psychological advantage over their big rivals, but the Americans remain the team to beat in July and August. After all, Vlatko Andonovski's team will be attempting to win their fifth World Cup and third in a row -- something that has never been achieved in the women's or men's World Cup -- while England head Down Under in pursuit of their first world title.
- Thompson: What to expect from Women's World Cup
Although Sweden, Germany, France and Spain will also expect to challenge for the title, England and the USA are the outstanding teams in the tournament, and with those two on alternate routes to the final, it is already set up for them to meet in the World Cup final in Sydney on Aug 20.
Gab Marcotti believes it makes sense for Lionel Messi to extend his PSG contract, but feels there is no need to rush a new deal.
What will Lionel Messi do next?
Messi's Paris Saint-Germain contract runs out on June 30, so the 35-year-old can start to negotiate in January with clubs over a free transfer move at the end of the season.
Both Messi and PSG have the option to extend his contract in Paris for a further 12 months, and sources have said that is the most likely outcome, with PSG determined to hold on to the player who inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar. But Barcelona president Joan Laporta has spoken publicly in recent days about his desire for Messi to return to Camp Nou and see out his playing days at the club where he enjoyed such incredible success.
Sources have told ESPN that Inter Miami have spoken to the Messi camp about a move to MLS, in 2023 or 2024. Right now, a move to MLS seems unlikely in the coming year with Messi still having unfinished business in the European club game, although that could change if he helps PSG win their first Champions League this season.
Ultimately, nobody can compete with PSG's financial might, which means a return to Barcelona or a move to MLS seem to be at least 18 months away.
Who'll win the race to sign Jude Bellingham?
Borussia Dortmund will be at the centre of the biggest transfer chase of the summer for the second successive year, with Jude Bellingham set to be the 2023 version of Haaland.
Every major club in Europe tried to sign Haaland from Dortmund last year before Manchester City won the race for the striker by triggering his £51 million release clause at the German team. The same clubs are already vying for position to sign Bellingham, who emerged from the 2022 World Cup as one of the stars of the tournament with England, despite being just 19 years old during Qatar 2022.
Sources have told ESPN that Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid are leading the chase to sign the midfielder, with Manchester United accepting that they cannot compete for a player they came close to signing as a 17-year-old when he left Birmingham City for Dortmund in 2020.
Liverpool have spent more than 12 months attempting to put themselves in pole position for Bellingham, and sources have said they remain a strong contender, but with the player not having an escape clause like Haaland had in his contract, Dortmund will expect a transfer fee in excess of £120 million -- a sum that could price Liverpool out.
If it comes down to which club can pay the biggest fee, City and Real will be the final two again, just as they were with Haaland. But don't rule Liverpool out. They have done so much groundwork on Bellingham that it might yet prove decisive.