Free transfers this summer: Who are the best players available?
Who are the best players available on free transfers this summer?
With the domestic season ending, all eyes are turning to the transfer market as clubs weigh up who to bring in and who to let go.
Manchester City have stolen a march on the rest of Europe by agreeing a fee with Borussia Dortmund for star striker Erling Haaland.
There will be more big-money signings ahead, but with the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba and Antonio Rüdiger out of contract, some of the shrewdest pieces of business this year are likely to be free transfers.
We have had a look at the best players available on free transfers this summer, which clubs are set to lose key players, and how previous free agents fared.
Which players are available on free transfers this summer?
Across Europe’s top five leagues there are more than 350 players out of contract this summer and available to sign for nothing. Many of them are full internationals with plenty of top-level experience to call upon.
We have built a formidable starting XI from the pool of players available this summer that will have no shortage of suitors.
With an estimated value of £144 million, Kylian Mbappé picks himself as the central striker. PSG are desperate to hang on to their star man, who still has the majority of his career ahead of him, but he looks set on leaving the French league in search of a new challenge and would walk into any squad in world football.
Cameroon goalkeeper André Onana gets the nod in between the posts, behind Chelsea duo Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, who both appear set on switches to Spain.
Former Tottenham defender Serge Aurier slots in at right-back, with AC Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli selected on the left of a back four.
World Cup winner Paul Pogba – rumoured to be considering a return to Juventus – is in central midfield alongside AC Milan regular Franck Kessié.
Ahead of them is an attacking midfield trio of Christian Eriksen, who has impressed for Brentford since joining in January, Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembélé and Juventus star Paulo Dybala.
In total, the team is worth an estimated £416 million, boasting a combined 636 international caps and 381 Champions League appearances; surely of sufficient calibre to compete for silverware.
If we had a substitutes’ bench then there are plenty of other big names available on free transfers this summer that we haven’t squeezed into this XI, including Champions League winners Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María and Luis Suárez.
In the Premier League, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard, Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal and Liverpool’s Divock Origi are expected to move on free transfers this summer and would improve most attacks.
Meanwhile teenager Fábio Carvalho – who helped Fulham to the Championship title – is attracting interest ahead of his contract expiry at the end of June.
Which clubs are losing the most minutes?
There are 12 top-half clubs across Europe’s big five leagues who are set to lose players who accounted for at least 10% of their league minutes this season and will therefore be likely to enter the market in search of replacements.
In the Premier League, Chelsea will surely be in the market for at least one top-class central defender to replace their outgoing pair.
With West Ham establishing themselves in continental competition but seeing their lack of squad depth exposed at times this season, it is likely that the four players set to depart the London Stadium will spark a summer spending spree.
The Serie A title race could involve lots of new faces next season with several of its biggest clubs in need of some serious recruitment.
Two of Inter’s first XI, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and winger Ivan Perisic, have let their contracts run down, while the Lazio back line will look a lot different with Luiz Felipe one of five defensive players whose current deals are almost up.
How do free agents do in their first season?
Snapping up a big player without paying a transfer fee can be shrewd business, but how often does an out-of-contract player adapt to new surroundings?
We have analysed the 20 free signings who had the highest market value at the time – according to Transfermarkt – to see how well they performed in their debut season.
First of all, 15 of these 20 players featured for fewer minutes than they had in the previous season. On average, they played 68% of minutes in the season before leaving, compared with 53% the season after.
PSG’s swoop for superstar Lionel Messi stole the headlines last year but after featuring for 88% of Barcelona’s La Liga campaign in 2020-21, he has been on the pitch just 62% of the time in Ligue 1 this term.
The French champions also snapped up one of the best young goalkeepers in the world – Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma – only to rotate him with the veteran Keylor Navas.
It is possible that in some cases the player’s contract has been allowed to run down because their current club has doubts about their attitude or long-term fitness.
We can also look at whether free transfers work out for the clubs themselves. Losing a big star on a free can definitely damage a club, with those 20 departures seeing their previous employer’s points totals drop by over 9% on average the following season.
However, they do not confer a noticeable advantage to their new team either, making a slightly negative impact overall and with only eight of these 20 arrivals coinciding with an increase in the rate of points won.
Chelsea made waves when they signed German midfield superstar Michael Ballack from Bayern in 2006, but finished eight points worse off than they had the season before.
More recently, younger stars like Stefan de Vrij and Leon Goretzka saw their new clubs falter after their arrival.
Patience can pay off though, with Goretzka now part of a thriving Bayern midfield and playing behind another example of a good long-term decision. Robert Lewandowksi is one of the world’s most lethal strikers but when he arrived from Dortmund in the summer of 2014 he saw his new team win 11 fewer points and score 14 fewer goals in his debut season.
Who has just one year left on their deal?
With so much talent set to change hands for nothing this summer, a few club chairmen will undoubtedly be looking at which of their stars are nearing the end of their current deals.
Several clubs will surely have to face the dilemma of whether to cash in on a big player now or risk them walking away for nothing next summer.
We have also constructed a starting XI of players whose current deals expire in 2023, many of whom ply their trade in the Premier League.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is in the unique position of having all three of his first-choice attackers – Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino – out of contract next summer.
While the Reds have recruited capable successors such as Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, they may have some difficult decisions ahead to ensure a smooth transition to the next generation of forwards.
Raheem Sterling also rose to prominence in the Liverpool attack and could be on the move again with just one year left on his Manchester City deal.
With a first-team place not guaranteed and Erling Haaland inbound, the England international may decide to look elsewhere this summer and find Pep Guardiola willing to reinvest his transfer fee elsewhere.
View the latest football odds