With transfer fees reaching astronomical levels in recent years, clubs are increasingly turnings towards free transfers for value. It is a move that often works out well for the player as well, with in-demand free agents able to command huge wages which the clubs are more willing to pay in the absence of a transfer fee. So, who are the five best free transfers ever? Let’s take a look.
5 greatest free transfers ever
There were far more talented players than Flamini left off this list and the likes of Steve McManaman, Paul Pogba and Robert Lewandowski can all feel aggrieved to have been omitted. However, Mathieu Flamini makes the list through his sheer, unadulterated commitment to being a free transfer.
Having reneged on a promise to sign a professional contract with Marseille, Flamini signed for Arsenal in 2004, a move his former manager described as ‘a beautiful treason’. The Frenchman stayed in North London for four seasons before leaving AC Milan once his contract expired. Four years passed in Italy and another Flamini contract ran down before he made the return journey to the Emirates for another stint at Arsenal.
He eventually signed another four-year agreement with the Gunners which, true to form, he rand down, before moving on again. This time the destination was far closer, with Flamini making the short journey across London to join Crystal Palace on a one year deal.
He only made ten appearances for the Eagles before being released, allowing him yet another free transfer to Getafe, where he remains now. Five clubs, six transfers, not a penny spent on transfer fees. Remarkable. If practice makes perfect, Flamini must be one of the best free transfers ever. Now unofficially retired, Flamini is one of the wealthiest footballers on the planet.
Like Flamini, he isn’t the most naturally gifted player on this list and there are better players who were left out. However, Milner makes the cut through the incredible value which he has provided Liverpool since moving to Anfield on a free transfer from Manchester City in 2015.
The Yorkshireman is versatility personified and is renowned for being able to play virtually any position when required. In fact it is a trait that has probably held him back through his career, with Milner often used as the ultimate utility player rather than being allowed to make a single position his own.
After deciding to leave City for Liverpool, Milner became Jurgen Klopp’s Mr Reliable and has been a key contributor to Liverpool reaching three consecutive European finals, including breaking the Champions League assists record in 2017/18 as well as finally winning the league. He is one of very few players to have won the Premier League with two different clubs.
After a long and distinguished ten-year career at Inter Milan where Cambiasso won five consecutive Serie A titles and the Champions League, the Argentine left for newly promoted Leicester City in 2014 on a free transfer.
It was an entirely different kind of season to what he had experienced in Milan, with Leicester finding themselves firmly entrenched in the Premier League relegation battle at the end of March. Things looked bleak but a Cambiasso-inspired revival saw them embark on a miracle run, winning seven of their final nine games of the season to finish 14th.
After winning the club’s player of the season award, Cambiasso opted to move on rather than sign a new contract. It was a decision that he may regret as Leicester recruited a certain N’Golo Kante to replace him and remarkably won the league the following season.
A move that is something of a touchy subject, especially if you’re of a Tottenham persuasion. However, nobody can argue that, on ability alone, Campbell doesn’t deserve to be on any list of the best free transfers ever.
Campbell joined Spurs as an 18-year-old and, after signing a four-year contract, enjoyed several successful years at the club, establishing himself as one of the finest defenders in world football.
Tottenham fans loved him and he was offered a new contract that would have made him the highest paid player in the club’s history but, despite several assurances that he would stay with the club, he eventually left seeking Champions League football. His destination? Tottenham’s biggest rivals, Arsenal. The move incensed every Spurs fan in the land and won him the nickname ‘Judas’.
From a professional point of view, it’s tough to argue with the decision as Campbell won two league titles, two FA Cups and was runner up in the Champions League with the Gunners. He was also part of the famous ‘Invincibles’ side in 2003/04. He was an incredible free transfer and definitely merits his place on this list. However, should we ever create a ‘biggest football traitors’ list, he’ll probably find his way onto that as well.
The only non-Premier League related free transfer in the five but the mercurial Pirlo, one of the best free kick takers ever, is impossible to leave out.
Following a ten year spell at AC Milan, during which Pirlo won two Serie A titles and the Champions league, he was allowed to leave the club on free transfer in 2011 by mutual decision.
Juventus wasted no time snapping up the then 32-year-old and it proved to be a marriage made in heaven as Juve went on to win four consecutive league titles before Pirlo departed for New York City.
Gianluigi Buffon would go on to say; “When Andrea told me that he was joining us the first thing I thought was that God exists. A player of his level and ability, not to mention that he was free, I think it was the signing of the century”. On balance it’s tough to disagree. One of the greatest free transfers ever and one of the best players of the century so far.
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