The January transfer window will open soon, and clubs will be looking to sign one or two players to strengthen their squad midway through the campaign.
However, there are also some players who have only six months left on their current contracts and could be signed on pre-contract agreements in January.
A pre-contract agreement is a useful clause as it allows clubs to get a jump start on their summer transfer business by signing the player in January itself.
Moreover, signing top players on a free transfer is a huge bonus, as it eliminates the need to negotiate any kind of fee with another club.
Although such deals often include huge signing-on bonuses for players, they eventually pay off depending on the quality of the player.
On that note, let's take a look at the five best players who could be signed on a pre-contract agreement in January.
#5 Memphis Depay
Memphis Depay's career, to a certain extent, has spiraled downward in the last couple of years. However, this did not deter Louis Van Gaal from selecting the striker in the Netherlands squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Depay played in all five games for the Oranje and scored one goal, albeit his contribution was far more than just that. His off-the-ball movement, ability to link up with players in tight spaces, and defensive work rate were all important components of how the Netherlands played.
However, these features are not something Barcelona fans have been privy to, as Depay has cut a miserable figure at the Nou Camp since his arrival.
Moreover, Xavi does not favor the striker and could be willing to let him leave on a free transfer in the coming summer. But this does not mean that the 28-year-old cannot become a useful asset for any other top side in Europe.
His 76 goals and 55 assists in 178 appearances for Olympique Lyon are proof that he can be a quality player when a team is built around him.
Hence, with only six months remaining on his deal, some clubs could sign Depay on a pre-contract agreement in the winter transfer window.
#4 Yann Sommer
Yann Sommer has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga since joining Borussia Mochengladbach in 2014.
The shot-stopper has made 335 appearances for the German club over the last eight years. Hence, he has averaged nearly 40 games per season and has maintained top form continuously.
His performances for the Swiss national team have also been commendable. Thus, it is a mystery why the player has not moved to a top club yet.
Regardless, with only six months left on his current contract, Sommer will be a steal for any club that lands him for free next summer.
However, with competition likely to be rife for the 34-year-old, signing him on a pre-contract agreement in January will be the smarter move.
#3 Stefan de Vrij
Stefan de Vrij has been one of the standout defenders in world football over the last couple of years.
He has been influential in Inter Milan's progress in recent years, especially considering their style of play. The Nerazzuri are effective and efficient at playing out from the back, courtesy of defenders like De Vrij having the technical nous to pass out from the back.
The Dutch star is also excellent at cutting crosses and stopping counterattacks. Thus, despite his wealth of experience and knowledge, it is puzzling why Inter Milan are yet to re-sign the center.
Hence, with the January transfer window looming large, De Vrij could leave Inter Milan for free, which is the same way he arrived from Lazio in 2018.
#2 Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans' progression as a box-to-box midfielder has been brilliant over the past year or so.
The Belgian has played in different formations at Leicester City, which has allowed him to become a complete midfielder. His defensive work rate, creative sense, and ability to dictate the tempo of a game have been priceless for the Foxes.
Add in the fact that he is yet to hit his professional peak, not to mention that joining one of the biggest clubs in the world will only expedite that process.
Although there were rumors about him leaving last summer itself, he stayed put at the King Power Stadium. However, with only six months left on his deal, many clubs will be eager to sign him for free through a pre-contract agreement.
Thus, Leicester will have to act fast if they have any hopes of keeping arguably their best player at the club beyond 2023.
#1 N'Golo Kante
Over the last half-decade, N'Golo Kante has been one of the best midfielders in the world, if not the best.
The Chelsea star has won every domestic trophy with the club, barring the Carabao Cup. His contributions to those victories have also been instrumental, with the player often picking up Man of the Match awards in key games.
However, Kante is far too injury-prone now and has missed out on huge chunks of games over the last two years.
Although he is still the best player on the pitch when he plays, there have been a few instances of that recently. Moreover, with the new Chelsea owners building a young squad, letting Kante leave might be a step in the right direction.
But Chelsea's supposed loss could be somebody else's gain. With Kante still having at least a couple of good years left in him, signing him on a free transfer could be profitable.
But like with many players on this list, signing him on a pre-contract agreement would be a clever decision. Regardless, only time will tell where the 2018 FIFA World Cup winner will play his football in the 2023–23 campaign.