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Top 10 free transfers of all time

Gary McAllister, Liverpool
Gary McAllister proved to be a shrewd signing for Liverpool despite his age

In the day and age where shelling out millions for top quality players is the norm, free transfers, also known as Bosman signings, are considered god-sends. Over the course of history , a number of players have run down their contracts and moved to new clubs for free and gone on to leave their mark on said football club. Some have, however, fizzled out and been left in the doldrums for the remaining parts of their careers. That being said, free transfers represent an opportunity for managers to make a shrewd coup.

Also read: English Premier League free transfer XI

On that note, take a look at the 10 best free transfers of all time.


#10 Gary McAllister: Coventry to Liverpool

When the then-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier decided to sign a 35-year-old midfielder from Coventry, it was met with massive surprise from Reds fans throughout the world but boy did they change their tune after seeing what McAllister had to offer.

Gary Mcallister had already established a name for himself at Coventry but it was his move to the Premier League giants that truly unlocked his potential. The Scot did not waste any time and slotted into the Liverpool lineup right from the get-go.

McAllister was part of Liverpool's squad that won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Super Cup treble he and was later described by the manager as his most inspirational signing ever. Gary produced many a moment of brilliance in Liverpool colors but by far his finest moment was his 40-odd yard pile driver against Everton in the dying seconds of the Merseyside derby which secured Liverpool the win.

After making 55 appearances for Liverpool over the course of 2 seasons, McAllister moved back to his beloved Coventry to play out his career.

#9 Henrik Larsson: Celtic to Barcelona

Henrik Larsson, Barcelona
Henrik Larsson won Barcelona a Champions League single handedly

Larsson was ridiculously prolific for Celtic, scoring 242 goals for the club in 7 years. After a fantastic Euro 2004 campaign, the Swedish international made the switch to Barcelona in order to make a name for himself in the big leagues.

Although he did not enjoy similar success in Spain, Larsson still managed to produce his best when it mattered most. In the 2006 Champions League final with his side trailing to a solid Arsenal 1-0, Larsson came on with 30 minutes to go and scripted a miraculous turnaround, providing 2 assists and leading Barcelona to victory.

Thierry Henry later credited Larsson with being the sole difference between the sides. “He changed the game,” said the Frenchman. “Sometimes you talk about Ronaldinho and Eto'o and people like that, you need to talk about the proper footballer who made the difference and that was Henrik Larsson tonight,” he went on to add.

That moment alone validates his presence on the list.

#8 Michael Ballack: Bayern to Chelsea

Michael Ballack, Chelsea
Ballack was arguably one of Germany’s best ever players

Ballack was another unbelievable free transfer at the time. The German international decided against a move to Manchester United and Real Madrid in 2006 in favour of Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge, the midfield maestro enjoyed huge success.

The former Bayern midfielder gathered a Premier League title, 3 Fa Cups and a League Cup in 4 seasons at the club. He was also instrumental in leading the Blues to the Champions League final in 2008.

One of the finest players in the Premier League at the time, Ballack amassed over 100 appearances for the Stamford Bridge club before deciding on a return to Germany.

#7 Steve McManaman: Liverpool to Real Madrid

Steve McManaman, Real Madrid
McManaman was close to a Barcelona switch but moved to Madrid in the end

Mcmanaman continues to be one of the greatest Bosman exports from England. At Liverpool, Steve reached the peak of his powers and he was close to a £12m move to Barcelona in 1997. The Englishman failed to agree on personal terms, however, and the move broke down. Real Madrid then came calling in 1999 and this time, a deal was completed.

At Madrid, McManaman bagged 2 Champions Leagues crowns as well as 2 La Liga titles and was a fan favourite in the Spanish capital. McManaman made over 100 appearances for Los Blancos and delighted fans for over 4 seasons with his best moment being the fantastic volley he scored in the Champions League final against Valencia.

Having had immense success, McManaman decided to move back to his home country of England and sealed a switch to Manchester City where he finally retired in 2005.

#6 Esteban Cambiasso: Real Madrid to Inter to Leicester

Esteban Cambiasso, Inter
Cambiasso was a stalwart in Inter’s midfield under Mourinho

Esteban Cambiasso left Real Madrid for Inter in 2004 where he went on to enjoy tremendous success. Despite winning 4 consecutive Scudetto titles, his greatest moment came when he won the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010.

In 10 years at the club, Cambiasso went on to make over 300 appearances for the Italian giants before making another Bosman switch to minnows Leicester City.

At Leicester, Cambiasso was again at his best and was voted the Club’s Player of the Year after helping steer them to safety. He, however, did miss out on their biggest moment in history as he left The Foxes in the summer of 2015, the year they went on to upset all the odds and win the Premier League.

#5 Sol Campbell: Spurs to Arsenal

Sol Campbell, Arsenal
Sol Campbell sparked controversy with his switch from Spurs to Arsenal

Sol Campbell is arguably one of the best free transfers of the Premier League. The former England defender made the switch from Spurs to London rivals Arsenal in 2001, a move which was considered one of the most controversial at the time.

At Arsenal, Campbell made 195 appearances and won 2 Premier League titles. He was a part of Arsenal’s invincibles, possibly the greatest side in club history.

Also read: Debt Financing: The secret behind big money transfers in football

Campbell also led his side to the Champions League finals and is considered one of the Gunners’ best ever defenders. Campbell went on to retire in 2011 but continues to receive hate from the Spurs fans for his treachery.

#4 Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester United

Zlatan, Manchester United
Zlatan on a free transfer is an astonishing bargain

Zlatan could go on to become the best Bosman signing of all time but for now, he just makes it to the 4th spot on the list.

Ibrahimovic has nearly all the club-level honors in his name except the Champions League which makes it more surprising that he made the switch to Manchester United from PSG for free in the year that United failed to qualify for the Champions League.

At Old Trafford, Zlatan got off to a flying start scoring in his opening 3 games before the goals dried up in recent times. A player of his ability will get his mojo back soon though and he could well go on to become the Premier League’s top scorer in his first season.

#3 Paul Pogba: Manchester United to Juventus

Paul Pogba, Juventus
Pogba reached possibly the peak of his powers at Juventus

Pogba moved from Manchester United to Juventus for free and was re-signed by the Red Devils earlier this season for a world record £89m. Pogba established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world during his stint at Juventus. A player with all-round offensive and defensive abilities, The Frenchman made 125 appearances for the Old Lady and helped them reach the finals of the 2015 Champions League.

The 23-year-old won 4 Serie-A titles, 2 Coppa Italias and 2 Supercups in Italy and was one of 23 players named on the shortlist for the 2014 Ballon d’Or. Pogba is yet to find his feet at Manchester United although he has shown glimpses of his brilliance.

Ultimately, Juventus gained £89m through the sale of Pogba which makes it easily one of the smartest deals in the history of football.

#2 Andrea Pirlo: AC Milan to Juventus

Andrea Pirlo, Juventus
Pirlo was Juventus’ best player for a number of seasons

Andrea Pirlo’s departure from AC Milan to Juventus probably contributed to the Milan side’s decline. Although Pirlo was 32 at the time, the decision to offload him was still extremely questionable.

The Italian’s contract ran out in the summer of 2011 after a number of successful seasons at Milan and while it looked like he would drift into retirement, he ultimately chose a switch to Juventus where his career has possibly gone on to reach even greater heights.

The 37-year-old went on to make over 100 appearances for Juve bagging 4 Serie-A titles, a Coppa Italia and 2 Italian Super Cups and along with Pogba, formed one of the best central midfield partnerships in the world. Pirlo, like fine wine, just got better with age and while AC Milan are now a spent force in Europe, the midfielder continues to chug along tirelessly.

A move to the MLS followed for the midfield maestro and he is currently plying his trade at New York City.

#1 Robert Lewandowski: Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Lewandowski has been a revelation at Bayern

Quite possibly the best Bosman transfer of all time, Lewandowski made the switch from Dortmund to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2014 much to the chagrin of the BVB fans. The Pole had already established himself over the past couple of years as one of the greatest strikers on the planet and at Bayern, he went on to enhance his reputation further.

Interestingly enough, before he became a Dortmund great, he had a dream switch to Blackburn Rovers scuppered due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

At Bayern, the 28-year-old has smashed in goals for fun, amassing a whopping 52 goals in 69 appearances. Lewa has bagged 2 Bundesliga titles, 1 DFB Pokal as well as a Supercup in his 2 years and is well poised to add significantly to that tally.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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