A few weeks ago I thought of a piece I wanted to write, regarding players who would be available on a free transfer this summer, having come to the end of their contracts with their current clubs.
The idea got put on hold because several of the players I was going to mention upped sticks and found a new club during the recently closed January transfer window, but since the essential point still remains, I guess it is still worth writing about.
For those who are not completely clued up on the ruling, the ‘Bosman’ signing came about as a result of a Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman, who took his club Liege to court because his contract with them had expired and they would not accept an offer from another team, Dunkerque of France, to let him move. The specifics surrounding the EU law can be found in other places – suffice to say that the end result was that the player got his way, meaning any EU player could leave his club for another EU club in a different country without them having to pay a transfer fee. Thus coining the term a ‘Bosman Transfer’.
The earliest most notable player who traded clubs in this way from the Premier League was Liverpool’s Steve McManaman, who left the club for Real Madrid in 1999. Liverpool have, over the years, made use of the system in the opposite direction with the likes of Markus Babbel, Eric Meijer, Andrei Voronin and, only seven months ago, Milan Jovanovic coming in on free transfers.
Other Premier League players who have transferred under the same ruling include Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal to AC Milan), Michael Ballack (FC Bayern to Chelsea), Olof Mellberg (Aston Villa to Juventus) and Claude Makelele (Chelsea to Paris SG). Had they been under contract, it is likely that all of these players would have commanded fees in excess of £5 million. Of course, the reduced cost to the buying club may not turn out to be quite such a considerable saving, given the increased wages the “free” player will ask for, but it certainly must make the negotiating part a lot easier when the selling club is no longer involved.
Back to the current players affected by this ruling, and it came to my attention that a large number of well-known players were approaching the end of their current contracts this season. This was around the beginning of the January window, when not much movement had taken place in terms of transfers, and I was wondering if perhaps teams were saving themselves almost entirely for the longer summer transfer window, when players would immediately be available to move on a free transfer and a lot of money could be saved.
In the end, of course – from a Premiership perspective – a lot of money was spent in the final week or so on players on much longer term contracts, while around Europe in the likes of the Italian and Spanish leagues, several almost-out-of-contract players were snapped up for much lower sums.
Take Ivan Rakitic for example. The Croatian, at 22 years of age, is a very talented ball playing central midfielder. After spending the past three and a half seasons at Schalke in Germany, he has moved on to Spanish outfit Sevilla, who picked him up for around € 1.5 million, perhaps a quarter of what they might have paid for him had his contract not been up in the summer. Of course, Sevilla could have gotten him for nothing in the summer, but they would have run the risk of increased competition from other clubs, especially if Rakitic had gone on to have a good second half of the season. Additionally, as Sevilla also completed the signing of Chilean midfielder Gary Medel in January, the two new-comers will have an extra half a season to bed into their new surroundings and perhaps even form a partnership in the middle of the pitch before launching a full season assault on La Liga and the Europa League – should Sevilla manage to qualify. As they currently sit in seventh position, the talents of Rakitic in the middle of the park, an area lacking in creativity and attacking quality for Sevilla this term, could well be the difference between European qualification and not this season – something which would make the € 1.5 m outlay look all the more of a bargain.
Other players such as Dutch top flight duo Ibrahim Afellay (PSV to Barcelona) and Urby Emanuelson (Ajax to AC Milan) chose to jump ship half a season before their contract expired; or perhaps rather, their clubs decided to cash in on them for what they could, rather than lose them for free in the summer. Both are quality young players with good futures ahead of them; potentially very good business from the two giant clubs who signed them. Nicola Legrottaglie swapped Turin for Milan and Mark van Bommel swapped the Bundesliga for the Calcio; short term measures perhaps for their new clubs, but the low transfer fees will seem to make it worthwhile.
So what about in the summer? Are all the best bargains now gone? Far from it.
The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 – all will see Bosman departures (and arrivals) come July and August.
In England, experienced campaigners such as Manuel Almunia (Arsenal) and Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Liverpool) are out of contract, as are creative midfielders Seb Larsson (Birmingham) and Zoltan Gera (Fulham). Long-term injury casualties Jonathon Woodgate (Tottenham) and Owen Hargreaves (Manchester United) are also facing an uncertain future, with neither able to play much football over the past couple of seasons.
Valencia stalwarts David Navarro and Vicente are awaiting a new contract offer, while FC Barcelona academy graduate Thiago Alcantara only recently signed pro terms for next season after initially being expected to leave the club. Backup goalkeepers from the two biggest clubs in Spain are also out of contract (Jerzy Dudek and Jose Pinto).
Sylvain Marveaux of Rennes, Danijel Ljuboja of Nice, Lyon’s Cesar Delgado and Auxerre pair Jeremy Berthod and Valter Birsa are just some of the bigger names able to leave France’s top division on a free transfer, while in Italy a whole host of household names face waits to see if they will remain at AC Milan beyond the summer – Marek Jankulovski, Alessandro Nesta and Pippo Inzaghi amongst them. Fiorentina winger Mario Santana and Palermo midfielder Fabio Liverani are both set to depart their clubs in summer as well.
Germany could see Ruud van Nistelrooy depart Hamburg for nothing, as well as the likes of Bayern Munich’s versatile Hamit Altintop.
The likes of Tim de Cler (Feyenoord), Luis Garcia (Panathanaikos), Banel Nicolita (Steaua Bucharest) and Thomas Hubschmann (Shakhtar Donetsk) prove that all over Europe, bargains aplenty are to be found this summer for those teams looking to reconstruct entirely on a shoe-string budget, or to find that extra player to take the team one step further without breaking the bank.
Of course, between now and the end of the season (and the end of those players’ contracts) it is not just all about sitting out the last few months and waiting for the offers to roll in; some players will desperately want to remain with their clubs and will be playing for their futures, some will be putting themselves in that wonderfully metaphorical shop window, while still others will be recovering from injuries or unable to break into the team.
There is always the chance that, free signing or no free signing, some of the elder statesmen of the game may not find the offers forthcoming, at least at the level of the game they wish to play at, and of course the clubs could decide – and no doubt will in several cases – later on in the season to offer players contract extensions.
Whatever players are left, it is almost certain that someone, somewhere, will be convinced they have made the signing of the summer when they snap up that missing piece of the jigsaw – for free.