The world’s favourite sport may be watched and adored by millions, however, footballers come with a heavy price tag. Simply put, the club football scene has reached an era where clubs across continents now spend astronomical transfer fees on players. However, amid all this chaos, the transfer market occasionally has thrown some of the best signings at absolutely no cost at all.
Here we look at ten best free transfers since 2000:
2001: Sol Campbell –Tottenham to Arsenal: After breaking through the Tottenham academy, Campbell made the move to north London rivals, Arsenal. The former England international spent five years with the Gunners, where he won two Premier Leagues and two FA Cups. He was also an integral part of the famous ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04.
2002: Jay-Jay Okocha – Paris Saint-Germain to Bolton Wanderers: Not only did Okocha become Nigeria’s most expensive footballer in history (at GBP 10 million then) when he made the switch from Eintracht Frankfurt to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG),but Bolton picking him up for nothing four years later was incredible business. The skilled midfielder made 124 appearances and scored 14 goals for his new side.
2003: Cafu – Roma to AC Milan: Marcos Evangelista de Morais, better known as Cafu, was in the latter stages of his career when he arrived at AC Milan on a free transfer in 2003. The Brazilian spent five fruitful years with the Italian giants in which he helped them win the Serie A title in his first year and Champions League title in 2007, before hanging up his boots a year later.
2004: Esteban Cambiasso –Real Madrid to Inter Milan: The Argentine midfielder moved on as free transfers from Real Madrid to Inter Milan in 2004 and then to Leicester City, a decade later. Cambiasso remained impressive in both stints, he made 431 appearances for Inter in which the Nerazzurri won five league titles, four Italian Cups and a Champions League title. Although he was unlucky to miss out on their Premier League success with Leicester, he played a crucial role in their top-flight survival.
2004: Henrik Larsson –Celtic to Barcelona: After a blitzkrieg stint with Celtic, the Swedish great eventually left on a free transfer to join Barcelona, who signed him on the back of an impressive Euro 2004 campaign. In his two seasons at Catalunya, he scored only 19 goals. However, his telling contribution came in the 2006 Champions League final, where he set up both goals in the 2-1 comeback against Arsenal.
2006: Michael Ballack – Bayern Munich to Chelsea: The former German skipper was an eye-catching free transfer in 2006. The Bayern Munich midfielder was a three-time Bundesliga winner and was named as the German footballer of the Year on three occasions –2002, 2003 and 2005. However, in his four years at Stamford Bridge, Ballack enjoyed a trophy-laden stint winning two FA Cups, the League Cup and most importantly, two Premier League titles.
2010: Raul – Real Madrid to Schalke: The legendary Spanish striker surprised the world when he moved to join Schalke after spending close to two decades with Real Madrid. The Spaniard scored 40 goals in 98 appearances for the German club, before making two more stops –with Al Sadd and then New York Cosmos.
2011: Andrea Pirlo – AC Milan to Juventus: It was one of the most bizarre transfers within Serie A, when Pirlo was allowed to join rivals Juventus. The Italian legend had enjoyed a glittering and trophy-laden career with his former club. But post his move, the legendary midfielder went to play 164 games for the Old Lady and won the Scudetto four consecutive times.
2012: Paul Pogba – Manchester United to Juventus: After failing to impress Sir Alex Ferguson, the Frenchman moved to Juventus and in his four years, he went on to win Serie A titles, two Italian Cups and two Italian Super Cups. Juventus sold him back to United for a world-record GBP 89 million in 2016, to re-secure his services.
2014: Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich: The Polish forward’s transfer is another case of Borussia Dortmund’s feeder club moniker coming true. Call it Dortmund’s stubbornness or Lewandowski’s luck, the Polish international joined his Bundesliga rivals despite interest from the Premier League clubs. He netted 30 goals in his first full season with Bayern Munich, winning consecutive Golden Boot awards (2017-19) as well as five straight Bundesliga titles.