The New Year has arrived and time has run out for clubs across Europe to tie their players down to new deals as ‘pre-contract season’ rolls into town.
Some of the world’s biggest stars are now in the final six months of their contract and are able to speak to foreign clubs over a free transfer this summer.
With Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Juventus playmaker Paulo Dybala among the marquee names on the list – this could go down as one of the biggest free-agent markets in international football’s long history.
So, with the clock ticking, agents starting to make links and managers beginning to sweat, Sportsmail has highlighted some of those players who foreign clubs can speak to, right now!
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Paris Saint-Germain rejected two mega-money offers worth £137m and £154m from Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe in the summer.
Now, the French giants could be set to lose the world superstar for not even a penny.
Mbappe previously confirmed that he asked PSG to leave for Real Madrid in the summer and it’s widely expected that the LaLiga side will be his destination this summer.
Karim Benzema, Carlo Ancelotti and Real president Florentino Perez all spoke about the French attacker joining the Spanish side on a free transfer next year, forcing PSG sporting director Leonardo to slam the LaLiga club for a lack of respect.
Despite the disappointment of not moving to Madrid and the speculation surrounding him, Mbappe has stayed professional and been PSG’s best performer out of a front three also consisting of Lionel Messi and Neymar this season.
He has scored 15 goals and registered just as many assists in 24 games across all competitions this season.
Though it seems almost certain Mbappe will be lighting up the Santiago Bernabeu next season, not often does a player of his quality become available for nothing – so other clubs could yet be tempted to test their luck.
Real Madrid are expected to try and tie Kylian Mbappe down as soon as possible
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Paul Pogba’s Manchester United career resembles something of a soap opera.
Joining the club as a youngster, leaving them on a free and then returning for £89m in the summer of 2016 from Juventus.
There were high hopes for his return but after an underwhelming six seasons he looks likely to leave the club on a free for a second time.
Pogba has shown glimpses of his incredible talent in his second stint at Old Trafford, but unfortunately, those moments have not come consistently enough for a player who was viewed as one of the best midfielders in the world.
The French midfielder has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford for at least the past two years, with his agent Mino Raiola making regular statements about his client’s desire to leave for a fresh challenge.
Ironically, another potential destination is Juventus, who could snap him up on a free transfer for the second time.
Despite Raiola’s comments, Pogba has never said in public that he wishes to leave the club but with just six months left on his contract, it looks more than likely.
Paul Pogba could be set to leave Manchester United on a free for the second time in his career
Antonio Rudiger – Chelsea
The past twelve months have been memorable for Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.
Exiled by Frank Lampard, Rudiger has become a valuable asset at Stamford Bridge under Thomas Tuchel.
He was installed back into the Chelsea starting line-up and played a crucial part in helping the Blues lift their second Champions League trophy in the club’s history.
Rudiger has continued his excellent form this season and is considered one of the best players in his position in world football.
But the German is one of four defensive players at Chelsea who are in the final year of their contracts and could be set to leave the club.
Rudiger has been linked with moves to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG – three of Europe’s biggest clubs looking for a defender in their prime years.
Speaking to the Guardian in October, Rudiger said in regards to his future: ‘The most important thing is that I feel happy here. I think if people look at it, they can see I’m happy.
‘This is for nobody’s ears. It was how I said it would be after the Euros – there would be talks. There was a talk between Marina and my agent. We have the situation where we are at now and I have nothing to do with all the speculation.
‘This is not in my mind. I’m focused on what I’m doing because this is why I wake up every morning.’
Antonio Rudiger is one of four Chelsea defenders who could leave for nothing this summer
Gareth Bale – Real Madrid
After a much-scrutinised nine years in the Spanish capital with a transfer fee that broke English football records, Gareth Bale’s contract with Real Madrid is finally up in the summer.
Despite scoring 106 goals in 254 appearances to date and playing a big part in some of their success – most notably scoring twice in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool – the Welshman has struggled to endear himself to Madrid fans.
Some of that has arguably been through his own doing, such as holding a flag up while on international duty which read: ‘Wales, golf, Madrid…in that order’.
Last month, Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett said: ‘It’s not important, I don’t care what they think. I don’t care about them [Real Madrid fans]. Why should I care? I think the fans treated him disgustingly.’
With regards to his future, there is still some uncertainty whether Bale will continue.
The 32-year-old had to dismiss speculation in the summer that he was set to retire following Euro 2020.
Though the Welshman is not the player he was when he joined Real Madrid, there would be plenty of clubs still interested in his services – as long as his wages are affordable.
Gareth Bale’s future in football once he leaves Real Madrid is under some uncertainty
Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal
Alexandre Lacazette’s future at the Emirates remains unclear despite forcing his way back into the Arsenal team.
The 30-year-old has recently been given the captain’s armband which was stripped of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has disciplinary issues at the Gunners.
His future though has not been made up as yet, with Lacazette telling Telefoot, as per the Metro, that he would wait until this month to decide on his future.
‘Of course, my agents are starting to look to the right and to the left. But not until January, I really want to focus myself on something.
‘And then we will see what is on offer, if the challenges are interesting, if there are beautiful projects, how they are counting on me, so there are still many questions, I prefer to wait until January to position myself.’
Mikel Arteta when asked on the subject in a press conference in November said: ‘There is so much talk. What I can say is that I’m really happy with what Laca is doing at the moment, and I’ve said that we are not going to be talking about any of that until the end of the season.’
Clubs including Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Sevilla have all been linked with the Frenchman over recent months.
Alexandre Lacazette has worked his way back into the Arsenal fold in recent months
Paulo Dybala – Juventus
Letting Cristiano Ronaldo go was not an easy decision for Juventus to make, but one of the justifications was that it would improve the chances of getting Paulo Dybala tied down to a new contract.
The Argentine attacker has once again shown his importance to the Old Lady this term, scoring eight goals and registering four assists in 17 matches.
Dybala has been one of the stars of Juventus since his arrival since from Palermo in 2015 and there has been a desire from both parties to extend the deal.
The 28-year-old hinted that his long-term future would be at Juventus, telling German tennis star Alexander Zverev when asked if he would still be in the Italian city in five years: ‘Maybe, I hope so. If you come to Turin in the next five years you will find me’.
Juventus though are struggling to agree an extension as they continue to fight the financial woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Juve announced losses of £99m in February 2021 for the first half of the 2020-21 season, deficits mainly caused by the lack of fans in Serie A stadia during that period.
Now Dybala is holding out for a £10m-a-year contract, with reports in Italy claiming negotiations between Juventus and their No 10 have hit an impasse because the Italian club are offering below that figure.
Some of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with Dybala in the past, including; Liverpool, PSG, Real and Atletico Madrid, as well as Tottenham.
Juventus are struggling to tie Paulo Dybala down to a new contract past this season
Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta is another player who could leave Stamford Bridge for nothing come the end of the season.
Barcelona are the favourites to sign the veteran defender, with new manager Xavi monitoring the transfer market in the hope of landing bargain deals.
The 32-year-old’s experience for both Chelsea and Spain, as well as his leadership skills, would prove useful at the Nou Camp as part of a very young squad.
Azpilicueta can play at right back, left back and at centre back and would be an attractive free agent if he decides to leave Chelsea.
When asked about his contract situation, Azpilicueta has previously said: ‘I don’t have any concerns.
‘I feel fully trusted by the club since I arrived. At the moment it is true that my contract ends in June but I just focus on what’s next, to train and play the best I can.
‘Everything will take care of itself, I don’t need to say anything more. I have to keep doing what I am doing and it will come by itself.
‘Of course, I love to be here, I feel loved since I arrived and my aim is to be here for as long as I can be.’
Barcelona are also interested in signing Azpilicueta’s Chelsea team-mate Andreas Christensen, who is also in the final year of his contract.
Barcelona manager Xavi is keen to bring Cesar Azpilicueta to the Nou Camp this summer
Hugo Lloris – Tottenham
World Cup-winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been the No 1 in between the sticks for Tottenham for nearly a decade.
In fact, the 34-year-old will celebrate 10 years as a Spurs player next year, but could commemorate that milestone by departing the club in the summer.
The Tottenham club captain’s £100,000 a week deal expires at the end of June and Spurs hinted at a possible succession plan by bringing in Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini on an initial loan deal last summer, with a £12million option to buy.
Lloris has previously claimed he wants to finish his career in his native France, with the veteran goalkeeper representing Nice and Lyon before moving to Spurs in 2012.
The shot stopper was asked about his future at Spurs just before the start of this season and revealed that Tottenham had not even opened talks over a new contract at that point.
‘There is nothing from the club, to be honest,’ Lloris said in August of this year. ‘I don’t have to show my loyalty towards the club after nine years and season No 10 that is coming.
‘I’m just calm and relaxed and focused on myself. I always give my priority to Spurs and we will see what will happen. I’m not affected about that, I’m just enjoying football.
‘My only reason to wake up every morning is to work, enjoy the training session and enjoy the competition.’
Hugo Lloris could be set to leave Tottenham at the end of the season after a decade at the club
Ousmane Dembele – Barcelona
Barcelona have made several expensive transfer mistakes over the years, but losing Ousmane Dembele for nothing would be one of the worst bits of business in their history.
Dembele moved to the Nou Camp in a mega, £124m deal four years ago but he could now walk away for nothing at the end of this campaign, with Manchester United and Liverpool among those reportedly interested.
What has not helped Barcelona or the French winger’s cause is a long history of injuries, with Dembele missing the start of this season due to a knee problem and then picking up a hamstring issue just one game into his comeback last week.
The 24-year-old briefly showed he is capable of producing the goods for Barcelona last season by scoring 11 goals in all competitions in arguably his best season to date.
But the winger has a long way to go to prove he deserves the contract extension he has reportedly asked his agents to arrange for him while he continues his comeback from injury.
A number of top clubs have been linked with Ousmane Dembele despite his struggles
Angel Di Maria – Paris Saint-Germain
Kylian Mbappe is not the only PSG star who could leave the club this summer.
Clubs will also be available to speak to veteran Argentina international Angel Di Maria over a free transfer this summer.
The French side though will have more optimism over keeping the 33-year-old than they do with Mbappe.
Di Maria has iterated his desire to stay at PSG past next summer and he could repeat what he did in 2021, when he signed a one-year extension back in March.
Though a number of clubs would certainly be interested in his talents should he decide to leave, Di Maria has also commented on returning to his boyhood side Rosario Central.
‘I want to stay because I’m very happy here [in Paris], and so are my family,’ Angel Di Maria told TNT Argentina as per the Mirror. ‘The children are very happy at school. I would like to leave through the front door.
‘If I leave it would be to go back to Argentinian football. My wish is to end my career at Rosario Central but not in ‘pre-retirement’. I want to be in good shape and be able to give my best.’
Angel Di Maria could join Kylian Mbappe out of the door at PSG at the end of the season
Franck Kessie – AC Milan
Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie is the beating heart of an AC Milan team that is returning to the upper echelons of Italian football
The 24-year-old’s performances in the middle of the park have made him one of Serie A’s best midfielders – and his displays have attracted the eyes of Europe’s elite clubs.
Kessie’s deal expires at the end of the season and the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have all been linked with a move for the Ivorian.
The midfielder rebuffed Milan’s latest offer of €6.5million (£5.5m) a year but the Ivory Coast international is reportedly holding out for around €9m (£7.7m).
With no new deal on the horizon, Kessie is free to sign a pre-contract with any European club in January before a move in the summer.
The midfielder’s agent revealed last month that AC Milan have been in talks with Kessie over an extension to his deal, but also hinted the Rossoneri need to up their latest bid.
‘A player of Franck’s calibre does not need to be offered to anyone,’ said George Atangana to Calcio Mercato.
‘An important player needs a contract that is up to his standards.’
Franck Kessie is one of world football’s most in-demand midfielders after fine displays for AC Milan
Luis Suarez – Atletico Madrid
Luis Suarez made Barcelona regret their decision to let him go in 2020, as he helped Atletico Madrid to the LaLiga title last season by scoring 21 goals.
The two-year-contract he signed on his arrival though is coming to an end, though the 34-year-old is said to be open to renewing his deal at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Though in the latter days of his career and past the player who lit up the stage for Liverpool and Barcelona, Suarez’s displays last season proved that he can still be a valuable asset to a team.
There has been some recent tension at Atletico with Suarez launching a foul-mouthed rant at Simeone after he was hauled off during Atletico’s 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in Andalusia.
Suarez was visibly frustrated by his manager’s decision and was seen shouting in Spanish: ‘F****** idiot, always the same.’
Despite not being used as heavily as last season, Suarez has still scored seven goals in 12 appearances.
Luis Suarez showed his worth last season guiding Atletico Madrid to the LaLiga title
Thiago Silva- Chelsea
Thiago Silva, along with Christensen, Azpilicueta and Rudiger is also a player that could leave Chelsea for nothing this summer.
The Brazilian made an instant impact at Stamford Bridge after joining the club on a free transfer in the summer of 2020.
Chelsea opted to renew his contract until the end of 2022 after Silva played a crucial part in the club’s Champions League success.
The club are hopeful of extending Silva’s contract past the end of this season – though at the age of 37, there is no certainty how long the Brazilian will be looking to stay at Stamford Bridge in the latter part of his career.
If Chelsea were to lose all four of their defenders on expiring contracts then it could prove to be a tough summer ahead to replace players of their quality.
Chelsea hope to keep 37-year-old Thiago Silva for a third season at Stamford Bridge
Luka Modric – Real Madrid
Like others on this list, Luka Modric is in the latter part of his playing career but could could still prove to be an asset whether it’s at Real Madrid or elsewhere.
At the age of 36, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner still plays a regular part at Real Madrid, making 18 appearances in all competitions this season.
Inter Milan have strongly been linked with a move for Modric in the past, while there has been speculation that even Manchester City are interested in the Croatian in recent months.
According to Marca, Real Madrid are eager to extend veteran Luka Modric’s contract to 2023, stretching his current deal by a year.
Modric could continue to play a vital part in their midfield trio with Casemiro and Toni Kroos until next season.
Luka Modric is still plays a regular part in Real Madrid’s midfield at the age of 36
Jesse Lingard – Manchester United
Jesse Lingard was heavily expected to leave Manchester United in the summer following a highly successful loan spell at West Ham last season.
Instead, he opted to stay at Old Trafford, though chances have come few and far between, with summer signings Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo offering greater challenge for a starting place.
The midfielder reportedly decided to shelve contract talks and it appears likely he will be looking to leave the club at the end of the season, with a move in January also a possibility.
Lingard has eyes on making this year’s World Cup – something that will only happen if he gets regular football at whichever team he plays for.
It’s highly expected West Ham will be back in for Lingard, with David Moyes a big fan of the England international.
His performances at the London Stadium will certainly have alerted other Premier League teams also, hopeful that he could make a similar impact at their clubs.
Jesse Lingard is expected to leave Manchester United to get first-team football elsewhere