When we’re talking about moments that changed the history of football, they don’t get much bigger than the Bosman Ruling of 1995. For those who’ve forgotten or don’t know, the ruling was a legal decision that meant that once players reached the end of a contract with their club, they were free to join another club with no transfer fee involved.
The debate over whether this is a good thing for football rages on – it’s certainly allowed players to maximise their worth in the market, but it’s also led to way too much power for agents representing said players – but it’s certainly meant that a lot of top level players have been able to move, and have massive success as free agents.
Here, then, is a full XI of the best free agent signings of the 21st century.
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas became a legend of the game during his time at boyhood club Real Madrid, where he won 3 Champions Leagues and 5 La Liga titles across 725 appearances in 16 seasons. In 2008 he was even awarded a ‘contract for life’ with the club – in reality, a contract extension to keep him at the Bernabeu until 2017.
Unfortunately though, that didn’t pan out and after a fall-out with club president Florentino Perez, Casillas was let go by Los Blancos at the end of 2014/15, leaving largely under a dark cloud. At the age of 34 he could’ve been forgiven for simply fading out of the game, but instead he signed with Portuguese club Porto as a free agent in time for the start of 2015/16.
From there, the legendary keeper proved that he still had the magic that made him one of the world’s best; 2015/16 saw him break the record for the most clean sheets in Champions League history, while 2016/17 saw him set a new personal record for clean sheets during a single season with 16.
2017/18 went even better, as Casillas helped Porto to win their first Primeira Liga title since 2013, and he’s since become the only player to appear in 20 Champions League editions as well as just the second player to win 100 Champions League games. Not bad for a goalkeeper simply let go by Real Madrid for nothing!
Defender: Dani Alves
Brazilian full-back Dani Alves largely made his name at Barcelona, where he was part of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side of the late 2000s and early 2010s. He won 6 La Liga titles and 3 Champions Leagues with the Catalan side, but despite becoming one of the most expensive defenders ever when he signed for them for around £30m in 2008, he ended up leaving the Nou Camp for free in 2017.
Despite being 33 when he was released by Barca, Alves has remained at the top of the game ever since – and has made another successful move as a free agent, making him a definite for a list like this.
His first move took him to Italian giants Juventus, where he was a huge hit, playing a key role in The Old Lady making the Champions League final in 2016/17 and winning the Serie A title with the club.
After just one season though, the Brazilian was on the move again after having his Juventus contract cancelled by mutual consent. This time he moved to Paris St. Germain – hooking up with his international teammate Neymar Jr – and made an immediate impact by providing an assist for the club’s first goal of 2017/18.
Since then he’s won the Ligue 1 title twice, and has chipped in with 7 assists in both of his seasons at the Parc Des Princes with no real sign of slowing down yet – making him one of the best double free agents in football history.