Transfer news: Giorgio Chiellini, Jack Wilshere, Pepe Reina, Yohan Cabaye and the best players out of contract
The bargain is a scarce commodity in modern football, cast aside on the scrapheap as the TV-backed, oil-fuelled juggernaut pushes football further to the outer reaches of absurdity.
Three times over the last six months clubs have paid more than £100million to sign a player, even with FFP still hanging onto their accounts by its bludgeoned fingernails. And yet this summer, bargains could be back in vogue.
Some of Europe’s biggest names are out of contract this summer, and with only wages to cover, clubs will be clamouring to get their hands on cheap talent.
Free agency can often be a signal of a declining former star, or one who just never made it at the top level.
But in this summer’s list there are an embarrassment of riches, ranging from Champions League winners to world champions, exciting young talent to those desperate to prove their worth.
Here, we rank the 15 best on offer this summer, and where they could end up:
15. KI SUNG-YUENG
The South Korean captain, 29, left Swansea City this summer after six years in south Wales. With a passing system born to fit the Swans’ fluid style, Ki quickly established himself after moving from Celtic in 2012. A loan spell at Sunderland exposed just how valuable he was to Swansea’s midfield, winning the club’s player of the season on his first term back in 2014/15. Now free to enter contract talks after his country exited the World Cup at the group stage, Ki will be on the radar of many Premier League clubs looking to add composure and defensive awareness to their spine.
Potential landing spots: Everton, AC Milan, Celtic.
14. FERNANDO TORRES
Now 34, Torres is almost a decade removed from his peak years with Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. After an emotional second farewell from his hometown club at the end of 2017/18, Torres remains a fearsome prospect if he can rediscover anything like the form he once showed at Anfield. Nemanja Vidic still gets nightmares. At his age however, his future likely lies away from Europe’s top tier.
Potential landing spots: Flamengo, Sagan Tosu, Chicago Fire.
13. HOLGER BADSTUBER
Still haunted by the trauma of back-to-back long-term injuries, Badstuber has quietly been resurrecting his career with Schalke and Stuttgart. While the latter were not keen to renew his one-year deal as they seek younger options, Badstuber is still only 29 and has every chance to find the form that won him numerous plaudits at Bayern and 31 caps for his country.
Potential landing spots: Newcastle United, Watford, West Ham United.
12. PATRICE EVRA
Tarnished by the karate kick incident which ended his spell with Marseille, Evra nonetheless found a home with West Ham at the end of last season. Overtly signed as a back-up to Aaron Cresswell, the Frenchman made just five appearances for David Moyes‘ side before his release. Few free agents will be able to better his career haul however, encompassing seven league titles, 13 cups and the 2008 Champions League for clubs in three different countries. His age, 37, may be a concern but there remains no substitute for experience in defence, and Evra has it in spades.
Potential landing spots: Everton, Wolfsburg, Valencia.
11. PAU LOPEZ
Lopez, 23, failed to make a single appearance on loan at Spurs two years ago but impressed for Espanyol either side of that season. His youth and pedigree in Spain make him an interesting case, with Real Betis already rumoured to be swooping for him this summer. With his path to the national side blocked by a string of world stars, Lopez has had to settle for the bench, but that in itself remains no small feat with the list of names challenging for a place in the squad.
Potential landing spots: Real Betis, Southampton, Roma.
10. YAYA TOURE
Frozen out by Pep Guardiola during Manchester City‘s record-breaking 2017/18 campaign, Toure will depart the club this summer with his reputation intact as one of the best players in City’s history, leading them almost single-handedly to two league titles in 2012 and 2014. Caught out at times by opposition teams employing a high press, Toure‘s relentless engine is not what it was but he remains as assured on the ball as ever, and one of the best free-kick takers the Premier League has ever seen.
Potential landing spots: Everton, Burnley, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
9. YOHAN CABAYE
A Toon Army favourite in his time with Newcastle United, Cabaye will have his pick of suitors after three years with Crystal Palace. A huge threat from dead-ball situations, Cabaye will rely on his excellent passing range to see him through the later years of his career, although at 32 he should have a few more seasons left at the top level. Palace were reluctant to let him leave and could still convince the midfielder to re-sign at Selhurst Park, with his other former Premier League club Newcastle also interested.
Potential landing spots: Marseille, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace.
8. PEPE REINA
A mainstay in Napoli‘s recent ascension to genuine title contenders, Reina departs the club this summer and at 35 is still in his prime years between the sticks. The Spaniard has started at least 30 league games for 15 of the last 16 seasons, with the only exception being his time as Manuel Neuer‘s back-up at Bayern. That longevity and his lingering reflexes could see him add another top club to his CV. AC Milan are said to be closest.
Potential landing spots: AC Milan, Roma, Chelsea.
7. HATEM BEN ARFA
A renaissance at Nice in 2015/16, which bought him a call-up to France‘s Euro 2016 squad and a move to PSG, seemed to have ended Ben Arfa’s career slide. But in his second year at the Parc des Princes he was completely ignored by then-boss Unai Emery. Ben Arfa, now 31, did not make a single appearance last season and but clubs have not been put off, with reported interest from across Europe.
Potential landing spots: Leicester City, Rubin Kazan, Dynamo Kiev.
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6. JACK WILSHERE
Seventeen years after first walking through the doors at Arsenal, Wilshere said a sorry goodbye this summer after refusing to accept a bit-part role under Unai Emery. A sad indictment of Arsene Wenger‘s ‘Project Youth’ as the main face of the enterprise, Wilshere never fully recovered from the season-long ankle injury he first suffered in 2011. Memories of the bandy-legged exuberance that saw him shine in both legs of a Champions League tie with Barcelona remained, but as the years wore on they were never replaced with other big game performances. His ability is unquestioned however, and he could be the first name off the list when his contract expires in July.
Potential landing spots: West Ham United, Roma, Galatasaray.
5. ANDREA BARZAGLI
The first of a trifecta of contract worries facing Juventus this summer, Barzagli remains the under-stated member of a backline feared across Europe. While often less fancied outside his club in favour of Giorgio Chiellini and formerly Leonardo Bonucci, the Juventus top brass are determined to get 37-year-old Barzagli back to the club on a new deal. With a Serie A title in each of his seven seasons in Turin alongside seven cups and the 2006 World Cup with Italy, Barzagli will be highly sought-after should he reject the chance to stay.
Potential landing spots: Juventus, Manchester United, AC Milan.
4. MAX MEYER
Quitting boyhood club Schalke amid claims he was bullied by sporting director Christian Heidel, Meyer is probably the best young talent available on a free in this summer’s transfer window. The attacking midfielder made his Germany debut aged just 18 in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup but has just three additional caps since, although he did star in the Olympic side’s run to the final in Rio in 2016. At just 22, Meyer still has plenty of years left to rebuild his career, although he may need to lower his wage demands to secure a new club.
Potential landing spots: Liverpool, Arsenal, Marseille.
3. MILAN BADELJ
One of the truly golden generation of Croatian midfielders, Badelj looks set to quit Fiorentina this month and seek pastures new upon his return from the World Cup. Most comfortable at the base of a midfield three, Badelj’s two-way ability has seen him tracked by a number of big names in the final year of his contract, and with no club to reject approaches for him anymore, this could be the season he finally makes his big move.
Potential landing spots: Tottenham Hotspur, AC Milan, Lazio.
2. GIANLUIGI BUFFON
A generational icon, Buffon is the survivor of three Champions League final defeats, an enforced relegation to Serie B and a staggering 656 appearances with Juventus ever since making a then-record switch from Parma in 2001. Nearing 900 career games, and also his 41st birthday, there is little left for Buffon to win in the game, with his 178-cap Italy career also yielding the greatest prize of all in 2006. But those Champions League final-hurdle failures cut Buffon deep, and nothing drives him more than the pursuit of European club football’s highest honour. French champions Paris Saint-Germain, themselves partial to a European catastrophe, are said to be closest to locking up the legendary stopper when his Juventus contract expires.
Potential landing spots: PSG, Liverpool, Manchester City.
1. GIORGIO CHIELLINI
In a spectacular display of inefficiency on the contracts front, Juventus find themselves faced with the prospect of losing not just Barzagli and Buffon, but man mountain Chiellini too. A veteran of 472 games and seven Serie A titles with the club, Chiellini could join his backline companions in the Turin departures lounge this summer, after 13 years with them. Perhaps furthering his already-storied reputation by holding Juventus together despite the loss of Bonucci last year, the 96-cap centre-back may be tempted to end his career elsewhere, and will be the bargain of the year should he quit the Old Lady.
Potential landing spots: Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid.
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