Modern football can seem like a game of false nines and No. 10s, attacking midfielders and inverted wingers, but 2017 threatens to be the summer of the striker -- not so much on the pitch but in the transfer market.
Sometimes a window acquires a theme. January 2017 was defined by Chinese spending, the summer of 2016 was notable for Paul Pogba's world-record move to Manchester United, and those of 2009, 2013 and 2014 were significant for the footballing talent races between Real Madrid and Barcelona, with each seeking to buy the best players in the world in the form of rival superstars.
But this June, July and August seem likely to be shaped by strikers. It is rare, if not unique, that so many high-class or high-profile forwards could be sold in the same window. There are reasons to believe that each of Sergio Aguero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Diego Costa, Antoine Griezmann, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Lacazette, Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe, Alvaro Morata, Wayne Rooney, Alexis Sanchez and Daniel Sturridge might have a new employer by September.
It would be remarkable if all go, but it is not an outlandish prediction that the majority will move. It is quicker to name the most coveted centre-forwards likelier to stay put -- Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez form a small band -- than to list the litany who might be hiring removal firms.
Several factors seem to be converging at the same time, creating a lucrative merry-go-round. Chinese money adds an extra element to the market, and Rooney and Costa appear likeliest to be lured east. Contractual issues contribute: Normally elite clubs can afford to refuse to sell, but Arsenal risk losing Sanchez on a free transfer in 2018 while Ibrahimovic, whose deal expires this summer, is in a position of ultimate power.
Then there are the opposite journeys of those on an upward and downward curve: Mbappe is the shooting star, a teenage sensation perhaps progressing too quickly for Monaco to keep him, while Rooney, an old 31, is in decline. There are those displaced by managerial change, with Rooney dropped by Jose Mourinho, Sturridge losing his place at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp and Aguero demoted to the Manchester City bench by Pep Guardiola in the brief time Gabriel Jesus was fit.
Champions League football seems a motivation for both Sanchez and Lukaku to go, and the Belgian might also reflect a reason this summer's market should be so busy: Last year's was comparatively quiet. Of the genuine elite, only Higuain, Ibrahimovic and Morata, when Real Madrid exercised their buy-back clause to reacquire him from Juventus, exchanged clubs in 2016. Lukaku appeared eager to exit Everton, just as Costa wanted to rejoin Atletico Madrid. This year, therefore, could contain two summers' trading in one. It will be a belated correction after stagnation.
It offers more opportunities for the upwardly mobile. It offers the chance for the wealthy and acquisitive to spend in time-honoured fashion on the most glamorous and prolific players of all, the strikers. Uncharacteristically, Real went a summer without buying a Galactico last year. Now, with the threat of a transfer embargo gone, it is easy to envisage that changing with an offer for Aubameyang. United spent heavily on a midfielder, Pogba, in 2016, but 2017 could bring a bid for a goal scorer in Griezmann.
Then the domino effect would kick in. If Atletico need a replacement for the Frenchman, Costa or Lacazette might be targeted. If Costa leaves Chelsea, then two reportedly on Antonio Conte's short list last year, Lukaku and Morata, would seem logical arrivals. If Aguero departs City, would Mbappe, their Champions League tormentor, or Sanchez, who played for Guardiola at Barcelona, come in? And in each case, that would give the selling club a windfall, allowing them to spend in turn, in some cases meaning the next bracket of forwards also swap employers.
At a time when protectionism is gaining in popularity, this is football's version of free trade in a globalised game, money circulating between clubs and leagues. Considering Higuain, then 28, became the fourth-most expensive player ever last summer, the fees might be huge. Only two of the 10 most expensive deals ever have involved an out-and-out striker, with the Argentine and Suarez vastly outnumbered by attacking midfielders and wingers. It would be a surprise if that statement is still true in four months' time.
This year should be different from last summer when major clubs' striking buys often involved a lower calibre of forward, whether Vincent Janssen, Michy Batshuayi or Lucas Perez. It ought to provide a contrast with the usual preservation of the striking status quo. Because when most of the top players have already gravitated to the summit and the most powerful clubs have no need to sell, it is impossible to secure an upgrade, and thus, it is best for those same clubs to not weaken themselves by parting company with a proven scorer.
Not this year. Not in the summer of the striker.