Football’s best free agents at the end of the season

As is all too often the case, the individual that lent their name to a significant ruling didn’t benefit from the law change.

Jean-Marc Bosman’s disgust at being discarded by Standard Liege in the 1990s ultimately led to the freedom of movement among out-of-contract footballers; a Bosman transfer. However, the litigious Belgian never reaped the rewards of his legal victory, rapidly spiralling out of the limelight before hitting the nadir of an assault charge in 2013.

Bosman may not have been a beneficiary, but clubs from across Europe continue to exploit the free agent market. Now that we have entered 2023, players in the final six months of their deal are allowed to sign a pre-contract agreement with other clubs sniffing out a bargain.

Here are some of the best players still available without a fee.

Lionel Messi, Leo Messi

Lionel Messi has enjoyed a greatly improved second season in Paris compared to his first campaign in the French capital / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

Leaving: PSG
Age: 35
Position: Forward

Argentina’s World Cup-winning skipper has an option for another year in his current deal with Paris Saint-Germain but is yet to put pen to paper.

At the start of February, 90min confirmed that PSG are pushing Messi for a decision but the 35-year-old – much like his approach on the pitch – will not be rushed.

Karim BenzemaKarim Benzema

Karim Benzema says that he’s completed his three life ambitions; buying his mother a house, joining Real Madrid and winning the Ballon d’Or / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Real Madrid
Age: 35
Position: Striker

In January, Benzema hardly quelled concerns among the Real Madrid fanbase by insisting that he is taking his future “year by year”.

Reports did emerge that Benzema’s Ballon d’Or win automatically renewed the Frenchman’s contract for another year but there has been no confirmation from the club.

Marcus ThuramMarcus Thuram

Halfway through the season, Marcus Thuram has already scored a career-best ten league goals / Adam Pretty/GettyImages

Leaving: Borussia Monchengladbach
Age: 25
Position: Winger

After a wholly uncharacteristic spitting incident was swiftly followed by injury derailing Thuram’s second and third seasons in Germany, the 25-year-old has emphatically recovered this season.

Already in double figures domestically, Thuram was an integral option off the bench for World Cup finalists France last winter.

Youri TielemansYouri Tielemans

Youri Tielemans has scored at least three goals from midfield in each of his five Premier League seasons / Malcolm Couzens/GettyImages

Leaving: Leicester
Age: 25
Position: Central midfielder

After a summer laced with transfer speculation – and a winter window with whispers of a move – Tielemans’ time at Leicester finally appears to be nearing its conclusion.

With his commitment to the Foxes so questionable he was dropped to the bench in August, Tielemans has since returned to midfield, even captaining Leicester in what may well prove to be his final season in the Midlands.

Wilfried ZahaWilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha has been Crystal Palace’s top scorer in each of the last two seasons / Craig Mercer/MB Media/GettyImages

Leaving: Crystal Palace
Age: 30
Position: Winger

A transfer window without a rumoured move for Wilfried Zaha would be unnerving. Like going through the summer months without being reminded Baba Rahman is still technically a Chelsea player.

However, the endless departures Zaha has been touted to take may finally be travelled this window as the 30-year-old winds down his deal at Crystal Palace.

Ngolo KanteNgolo Kante

N’Golo Kante hasn’t played for Chelsea since August / Robin Jones/GettyImages

Leaving: Chelsea
Age: 31
Position: Central midfielder

As recently as the 2021 Champions League final – when he was player of the match – N’Golo Kante was being upheld as the best defensive midfielder in European football.

The drop-off has been steep and defined by injury. Since Chelsea’s triumph against Manchester City, Kante has missed 47 matches for the Blues with fitness problems. Chelsea may not be willing to extend but another suitor could bet on an increased availability this summer.

Thomas LemarThomas Lemar

Thomas Lemar has scored eight La Liga goals in four and a half years. In 2016/17, he netted nine in Ligue 1 for Monaco / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Atletico Madrid
Age: 27
Position: Winger

Much like many of Atletico Madrid’s marquee signings in recent seasons, Lemar has struggled to forge a consistent starting spot.

Since his debut campaign in 2018/19 (when he started 22 out of 38 matches) Lemar hasn’t started more than half of Atletico’s La Liga matches. This summer may see the Frenchman find some more minutes.

Daichi KamadaDaichi Kamada

Daichi Kamada is enjoying the most prolific scoring season of his Bundesliga career this year / Adam Pretty/GettyImages

Leaving: Eintracht Frankfurt
Age: 26
Position: Attacking midfielder

The wispy, wiry creator-in-chief has been an integral figure floating behind Eintracht Frankfurt’s attack for four years, culminating in last season’s Europa League triumph.

With Tottenham and Bayern Munich looming, Kamada could be eyeing up a step up Europe’s footballing ladder this summer.

Roberto FirminoRoberto Firmino

In half a season, Roberto Firmino has already bettered (seven) his scoring tally (five) from the entirety of the previous campaign / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Leaving: Liverpool
Age: 31
Position: Striker

Jurgen Klopp insisted that “people will write books” about the way Roberto Firmino interpreted the number nine position. However, his chapter as Liverpool’s false nine may come to a close this summer as the 31-year-old heads into the final six months of his deal.

İlkay Gündoğanİlkay Gündoğan

Ilkay Gundogan is one of eight players to have scored 50 or more goals for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Leaving: Manchester City
Age: 32
Position: Central midfielder

Pep Guardiola’s first-ever signing at Manchester City could be on his way out of the Etihad after seven years in sky blue.

In January, Gundogan admitted “something is missing” at City after a chastening Carabao Cup defeat to Southampton. The presence of the cerebral German could be absent this summer.

Adrien RabiotAdrien Rabiot

Adrien Rabiot is on course for the best scoring season of his senior career, averaging a goal every 436 minutes / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Juventus
Age: 27
Position: Central midfielder

Despite the infamous negotiating powers of his agent Veronique Rabiot – who happens to be his mother – Rabiot is yet to command a transfer fee in his career.

Four years after Juventus snapped him up for free, Rabiot could leave the Italian giants without any compensation as talks of a contract extension stall over his wage demands – which were too rich for Manchester United last summer.

Marco AsensioMarco Asensio

Since joining Real Madrid in 2016, Marco Asensio has scored eight La Liga goals from outside the box / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Real Madrid
Age: 27
Position: Winger

By the end of the World Cup, Asensio had made as many starts for Spain on the global stage as he could muster for Real Madrid across all competitions (three).

Since returning from Qatar, Asensio has been unshackled from the sidelines but is yet to meet Madrid officials to discuss any contract renewal.

Alejandro GrimaldoAlejandro Grimaldo

Alejandro Grimaldo has been linked with a move to Manchester City in the past / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Benfica
Age: 27
Position: Left-back

The prolifically creative full back has been a reliable route to goal in Lisbon since swapping Barcelona’s B team for Benfica as a teenager.

In three of the last four seasons, Grimaldo has hit double digits for combined goals and assists, attracting widespread attention from elsewhere on the continent. Without a transfer fee this summer, Grimaldo may finally leave the Estadio da Luz.

Daniel CeballosDaniel Ceballos

Dani Ceballos created three goals and scored one himself in Real Madrid’s first three Copa del Rey games of the season / Denis Doyle/GettyImages

Leaving: Real Madrid
Age: 26
Position: Central midfielder

Until January, Ceballos’ future seemed destined for anywhere outside the Spanish capital. However, a burst of crucial outings in the Copa del Rey seem to have swung the 26-year-old’s future back towards the Santiago Bernabeu.

If Carlo Ancelotti can’t convince Ceballos to commit to Los Blancos, there will be a queue of suitors lining up for the silky midfielder’s signature.

Ligue 1 Uber Eats"Lille OSC v Stade de Reims"Ligue 1 Uber Eats"Lille OSC v Stade de Reims"

Jonathan Bamba leads Lille for carries into the final third this season / ANP/GettyImages

Leaving: Lille
Age: 26
Position: Winger

Jonathan Bamba was hardly alone in experiencing a drop-off after Lille’s sensational title snatch in 2021. However, the 26-year-old has rediscovered his best form for Les Dogues this term, averaging a goal or assist every other game.

Atalanta and Fiorentina – two Italian clubs that have made a habit of snapping up hidden gems in the market – are interested in Bamba.

Adama Traoré - Spanish Soccer PlayerAdama Traoré - Spanish Soccer Player

Traore’s future remains up in the air / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Leaving: Wolves
Age: 27
Position: Winger

In January, Adama Traore claimed that his uncertain future in Wolverhampton “will depend on the club”.

Traore and his baby-oiled biceps couldn’t convince Barcelona to make his loan move last January permanent. The 27-year-old is keeping his cards close to his huge chest this season. “We’ll see what happens,” he ominously offered at the start of 2023.

Rami BensebainiRami Bensebaini

Ramy Bensebaini has scored at least four goals in all four of his Bundesliga seasons / Lars Baron/GettyImages

Leaving: Borussia Monchengladbach
Age: 27
Position: Winger

Upheaval among Gladbach’s hierarchy, chiefly the departure of long-time sporting director Max Eberl, has undoubtedly contributed to the gaggle of stars approaching the final months of their contract at Borussia Park.

Bensebaini has also informed Gladbach of his intention to leave for free this summer. Borussia Dortmund head a chasing pack which includes Inter and Bayern Munich.

Moussa DembeleMoussa Dembele

Moussa Dembele has scored just two Ligue 1 goals this season / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

Leaving: Lyon
Age: 26
Position: Striker

Only Kylian Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder scored more Ligue 1 goals than Dembele last season. However, the temperamental striker has struggled for game time in a floundering Lyon side this term.

Dembele rejected the chance to join Southampton in January. Perhaps the absence of a transfer fee will tempt an offer Dembele deems suitable this summer.

Naby Keita, Kaoru MitomaNaby Keita, Kaoru Mitoma

Naby Keita has never started more than 16 Premier League games in a single season for Liverpool / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

Leaving: Liverpool
Age: 27
Position: Central midfielder

Four and a half years after Liverpool forked out more than £50m for the spritely midfielder, Keita’s tumultuous, injury-plagued time on Merseyside is drawing to an underwhelming conclusion.

With just two Premier League starts so far in what may prove to be his final Liverpool season, any potential suitors will be gambling on his fitness.

David SoriaDavid Soria

David Soria has an average save percentage of 72% across four and a half seasons for Getafe / Denis Doyle/GettyImages

Leaving: Getafe
Age: 29
Position: Goalkeeper

Not necessarily the flashiest free agent in this list – and arguably the least – Soria has been a starting La Liga goalkeeper for the last five years.

Across his time at Getafe, the 29-year-old has conceded between nine and ten goals fewer than the average shot-stopper. As a first-choice upgrade for a mid-table club or experienced cover for one of the division’s elite, Soria could be a bargain this summer.

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