The end of June is approaching, which means all over Europe, players are nearing the end of their contracts. Many have already agreed free transfers elsewhere, while plenty of clubs are planning on extending their players’ deals late in the day.
There are a lot of players whose futures are still very much up in the air and could be on the move for free after 30 June. Here, we go through the best options that your club could sign for nothing this summer.
Marcus Thuram, Borussia Mönchengladbach
It was as early as March that Gladbach announced Thuram would not be renewing his contract at the club, yet he is heading into his final week at Borussia-Park still unsure where his future lies.
The Frenchman, who Didier Deschamps brought off the bench in the first half of the World Cup final in Qatar with his side 2-0 down before he then set up Kylian Mbappé’s equaliser to make it 2-2, could well prove to be one of the signings of the summer.
He is an explosive forward who gets into good goalscoring positions with remarkable frequency.
He had the highest expected goals both in total (16.6) and per 90 (0.59) in the Bundesliga last season, though his finishing left something to be desired. He averaged only 0.46 goals per 90, which left him ranked 12th in the entire league.
With just 13 goals from 92 shots, Thuram had a pretty underwhelming campaign in front of goal. He would, however, help create opportunities for any prospective new employer with his pace on the break and smart, sharp movement.
Adrien Rabiot, Juventus
Disregard any concerns about rumours of poor off-field behaviour, and you have an absolute steal of a player available on a free transfer here. There is talk that Manchester United have made contact with Rabiot, having last summer pursued – before eventually pulling out of – a deal for him.
Rabiot is a versatile midfielder who can play as a pivot player or a more advanced number eight and has also spent periods for both club and country on the left side of midfield, with licence to come infield looking for the ball and creating space on the outside for an overlapping full-back.
The 28-year-old started five games for France in a double pivot with Aurélien Tchouaméni at the 2022 World Cup, including the final, and he also has six league titles to his name already, so is used to playing top-level football.
He has an eye both for a goal and a pass, having scored eight times and set up four more in Serie A last season, while he is also a tenacious ball-winner. He was in the league’s top 15 players for possession regains in the middle third of the pitch, but only one player in the top 20 – Atalanta’s Teun Koopmeiners – came close to also matching Rabiot’s 12 goals and assists. He is a wonderfully gifted player who also adds bite to midfield, and there will be plenty of interest in him as a result.
Ilkay Gündoğan, Manchester City
Probably the best player in this list. Definitely the most successful.
It is hard to believe that someone who captained the best team in the world to the treble might actually be on the move this summer because the club and player can’t agree on the length of the contract they will be signing. But here we are.
If his importance to the team was in any doubt, Gündoğan made sure everyone was well aware of how crucial he was right up until the end of last season, scoring twice in the 2-1 Wembley win in the FA Cup final before playing the full 90 in Istanbul in the UEFA Champions League final.
He doesn’t just do important work in the opposition’s box, though, and his touch map for the 2022-23 campaign illustrates just how much ground he covers. He touched the ball in every single zone of the pitch and also did much of his work in the crucial central zone on the edge of the penalty area.
He wins the ball regularly and in key areas, too, ranking second in the Premier League last season to City teammate Rodri (11) for the number of open-play sequences he initiated which then led to a goal (seven). It looks like he could be on his way to Barcelona, meaning Xavi will be adding a brilliant player to his squad.
Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace
One of Crystal Palace’s greatest ever players could finally be off (again) this summer, with the offer the club tabled earlier this year still having not been accepted.
Zaha has long harboured dreams of playing in the Champions League, and is reportedly going to turn down a crazy-money offer from a Saudi Arabian team to chase that dream – or potentially to stay in south east London with a Palace side who ended last season in sensational form following the return of Roy Hodgson.
Since Zaha returned to Palace in August 2014 after brief spells at Manchester United and on loan at Cardiff City, the consistency and longevity he has provided since have been immense. Since his return nine years ago, Zaha has attempted nearly 800 more dribbles than any other player in the Premier League (2,002), completed over 200 more than anyone else (939), been fouled over 400 more times than anyone else (823), and won nearly 100 more free-kicks in the final third than anyone else (302).
Remarkably, he is still only 30 and could certainly perform for a top-half Premier League team for a few more years, though there is the possibility he has missed his chance for a move to one of Europe’s top clubs.
Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
Liverpool’s darling number nine, Roberto Firmino, a player who during his time at Anfield became one of the most effective false nines the game has ever seen, will depart the club this summer. Where his future lies remains unclear, though there has been talk of a potential move to Real Madrid to fill the void left by another roaming nine who has moved on in Karim Benzema.
Firmino arrived in the Premier League from Hoffenheim as a number 10 and was initially not really fancied by Brendan Rodgers, but Jürgen Klopp turned him into one of the best pressing, all-round forwards in Europe.
Since he joined Liverpool in 2015, Firmino scored and set up goals consistently, while only Kevin De Bruyne (218) and Wilfried Zaha (202) won the ball back in the final third more times than him (194). He helped to give the Kop some of their best recent memories and should be a success wherever he goes next.
David De Gea, Manchester United
It has been widely reported that De Gea is expected to extend his stay at United, but a week out from expiry no contract has been signed, and there are now certain sections of the media saying that he could be off.
De Gea has split opinion for much of his time at Old Trafford – particularly when it comes to his ability with the ball at his feet – but he would still be a top-class goalkeeper for many teams.
His shot stopping has declined, though. At his peak in 2018-19, De Gea prevented 13.7 goals – calculated as the difference between the expected goals on target he faced (i.e. the number of goals he should have conceded minus the number of goals he actually conceded) – while in his six seasons at United before that one, on four occasions he prevented more than five goals, and he always had a positive differential in this regard.
In three of the five most recent seasons, however, he has conceded more goals than our expected goals model suggests he should have and hasn’t prevented more than three.
It could be time for United to move on, but it should be noted that his numbers are, even when he’s not been at his best, still very good and his ability should not be underestimated.
Jonathan Bamba, Lille
Bamba has played on the left wing for Lille for five years and is apparently keen to try something new next season. A flying winger who dribbles, provides a goal threat and has a dangerous delivery from set-pieces, Bamba is one of the most creative players in Ligue 1.
Since he joined Lille, only seven players have created more chances than Bamba (192), and three of those are PSG players in Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Ángel Di María. His total was also at least 80 more any other Lille player.
In that time, Bamba has scored 27 goals and picked up 26 assists, a consistently key player for a Lille side that famously beat PSG to the Ligue 1 title in 2020-21. He will bring plenty of attacking threat as well as experience of winning trophies to the club he joins next.
Adama Traoré, Wolves
It’s incredibly difficult to predict what will come next for Traoré. Only a few seasons ago he seemed utterly unplayable and was being linked with top clubs all over Europe. Yet now, after his bizarre and unsuccessful six-month loan spell back at Barcelona and a full season at Wolves in which he did very little indeed, there seems next to no chance he will renew his contract at Molineux, and not a great deal of reason to believe he will get a deal at a bigger club.
His dribbling ability is undeniable, though. Since joining Wolves in August 2018, he has completed at least 78 more dribbles than any other player, despite the fact he has only played 50.8% of available minutes (8,688 of 17,100).
The height of his dribbling came in 2019-20, when he averaged a remarkable 6.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. His end product needs a lot of work, though, with his total of just five assists in league games in the last three seasons for Wolves and Barcelona decidedly underwhelming.
Jesse Lingard, Nottingham Forest
Lingard’s move to Forest started off well, but he quickly faded into the background among the many, many, many other new signings the club made last summer. There had been a great deal of excitement around Lingard’s move, but he failed to register a single goal or assist in the league and ended up only making 17 appearances over the course of his one season at the club.
But those of us with slightly longer memories will recall what Lingard did at the 2018 World Cup with England, when he was integral to a side that made it to the semi-finals. No England player was involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences at the tournament than Lingard, who thrived as a number eight with freedom to get forward and attack.
If any new club can get Lingard back to anything like his 2018 form (yes, I’m aware that was five years ago), they could be picking up a gem of a free transfer.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool
Injuries have been the main disruption to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Liverpool career, and they have been the biggest reason he has failed to get a consistent run in the team or stake his case for a regular starting spot.
In his six seasons at Anfield, he started just 49 of 228 Premier League games (21.4%) and played just 4,603 of a possible 20,520 minutes (22.4%).
There were signs of his ability throughout his time at Liverpool, though, and had he been fit to play more, we surely would have been treated to more of his powerful bursts through midfield. Over the course of his Liverpool career, he completed 1.8 successful dribbles per 90, which was the second-best rate of all players to play at least 2,000 minutes in that time, behind only Sadio Mané (2.0).
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Arsenal
Everton are apparently keen on a deal for Maitland-Niles, who surely has something to offer a Premier League side, despite suffering relegation with Southampton and parent club Arsenal deciding against renewing his contract.
Part of the trouble for Maitland-Niles is that he is so versatile, having played in so many different positions, that it’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint where he is best deployed.
Prospective employers will have to take a risk on him in a certain position, or just consider him a bit of a utility man. He would probably still insist he can be a Premier League central midfielder, but he played everywhere across the backline for Southampton last season and hasn’t consistently played in central midfield at the top level for a long time.