Clubs all across the world have spent a lot of money over the years trying to get the greatest players available. They create the greatest buzz, elicit the most excitement from their followers, and keep their opponents on their toes.
However, there have been a few free-agent acquisitions who have proven to be vital to the clubs’ success both on and off the field. Here are ten of the greatest free transfers in history
- Ruud Gullit (Sampdoria to Chelsea)
Ruud Gullit joined Chelsea before the London side became a superpower in world football. Back in 1995, the Dutchman’s move surprised more than a few, as he was expected to sign with an established European giant. However, it turned out to be the right call for Gullit, as he became a cult hero in his playing days. He later became the coach of the team and guided them to the historic FA Cup triumph back in 1997.
- Luis Enrique (Real Madrid to Barcelona)
Transfers between the two Spanish giants are a rarity; even more so are the ones that happen for free. Enrique crossed the divide in 1996 and soon rose through the ranks, becoming a fan favourite and later the captain. He won La Liga (twice), the Copa del Rey (twice), the Supercopa de Espana, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
- Henrik Larsson (Celtic to Barcelona)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic might be the most famous Swedish player right now, but Henrik Larrson was the undisputed king of Sweden in his heyday. He took the Scottish league by storm in his five years there with his incredible poaching skills. When he did great things at Euro 2004, Barcelona was very impressed and quickly signed him.
Alongside Ronaldinho, Deco, and the rest of the ensemble, Larsson was on top form in Spain, with his crowning moment being the two assists in the 2006 Champions League final that helped the Cataluynian side come from behind and defeat Arsenal to claim the trophy.
- Esteban Cambiasso (Real Madrid to Inter Milan, Inter Milan to Leicester City)
The Argentine midfield star made two big moves as a free agent. First, he moved from Real Madrid to Inter Milan in 2004, where he made 431 appearances, winning Serie A titles, four Italian Cups, and the Champions League.
Later, Leicester City signed him on a free transfer in 2014. Cambiasso played a huge role in helping the team avoid relegation to the Championship that year. In his one season there, he helped them stay in the top flight before the team did the unthinkable and won the Premier League the next year.
- Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich to Chelsea)
When Ballack moved to Chelsea in 2006, he was the German national team captain and came to England on the back of three consecutive Bundesliga triumphs. The multiple-time German Footballer of the Year (2002, 2003, and 2005) formed an enviable midfield with Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele, and Michael Essien. Ballack made 166 appearances in total across four years, winning two FA Cups, the League Cup and the Premier League.
- Steve McManaman (Liverpool to Real Madrid)
An icon from the ‘90s, Steve McManaman did not endear himself to the Liverpool faithful when he refused to sign a contract in 1998. Barcelona agreed on a fee with the Merseyside club, only for the deal to fall through. The English winger then saw out the remainder of his contract and moved to Real Madrid on a free transfer.
He became a huge fan favourite during his time with Los Blancos, where he became the first English player to win the Champions League with a foreign club. He then repeated the feat two years later, cementing his legacy in Madrid.
- Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal)
Sol Campbell caused a huge stir in North London when he swapped Tottenham for Arsenal in 2001. Did it make him a hate figure among Spurs fans? Absolutely. Did it matter to him? Well, the two Premier League titles he won, one as an invincible, and two FA Cup trophies he won with the Gunners speak for themselves.
- Paul Pogba (Manchester United to Juventus)
Paul Pogba joined Juventus on a free transfer from Manchester United back in the summer of 2012. The French midfielder took the league by storm and formed a brilliant trio in the middle of the park alongside Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. He later joined Manchester United for a world-record transfer fee of €105 million. As things stand, Pogba looks set to re-join Juventus on a free transfer from Manchester United.
- Andrea Pirlo (from AC Milan to Juventus)
Pirlo past his prime and chose not to renew his contract. He joined Juventus, played 164 games across four seasons and won the Serie A title in each. Juventus re-established themselves as Italy’s biggest club. Milan had to wait for a decade before finally getting their hands on the league title again.
- Robert Lewandowski (from Dortmund to Bayern Munich)
Robert Lewandowski has established himself as one of the best strikers in the world in the past few years.
Dortmund, as they always do, moved on slowly while Lewandowski went on to establish himself as one of the best strikers to ever grace the game. He spearheaded Bayern to eight Bundesliga titles in eight years, three German Cups and also the Champions League. Free transfers don’t get any better than this.