The Best Ever Free Transfer XI


This article was first published on June 28th 2015.

The silly season is back in earnest as the transfer window officially opened last week. We’ve seen plenty of rumours to keep our gossiping minds at play, and a couple of moves done and dusted already to go with it. Liverpool have been one of the most active in the window this summer so far, picking up a couple of bargains that will no doubt play an important role for them next season.

James Milner is already signed, sealed, and delivered on Merseyside, while Danny Ings looks to follow very soon technically on a free transfer. Here, we look for the best team that could be built entirely out of free transfers throughout England and Europe over the years.

Goalkeeper – Brad Friedel – Aston Villa to Tottenham Hotspur 2011

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Brad Friedel – a true Premier League legend! Pic: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The evergreen American was one of the best and most reliable goalkeepers in the Premier League throughout his career. This was underlined by the fact that he became the oldest player to ever feature in the league while at Spurs, and his incredible record of having made 310 consecutive Premier League appearances in his time as a professional footballer.

Despite his age, he arrived at Spurs and was immediately made a starter in a highly ambitious team that were gunning for glory under Andre Villas Boas. While the Portuguese’s stint at the club eventually ended without glamour, the American between the posts was a constant rock at the heart of the Tottenham defence, before retiring just this summer.

Defence – Markus Babbel – Bayern Munich to Liverpool 2000

Markus Babbel was the right back that Philipp Lahm learned from at Bayern Munich. His marauding runs on the right wing from deep struck fear in many opponents’ defences, and was a hugely effective tool for Gerard Houllier, equally as adept on either side of the ball. Babbel played 51 times for Germany, including winning the 1996 European Championships, and was a hugely impressive player to pick up for free.

Babbel was a member of the Liverpool ‘treble’ winning team in 2000/01, picking up the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, and the League Cup. Unfortunately for the defender, his Merseyside career was cut short after being diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome, limiting his ability to play to the level he once could.

Defence – Sol Campbell – Tottenham to Arsenal 2001

One of the most divisive moves in the Premier League’s history, Sol Campbell made his name at Tottenham Hotspur, where he spent nine seasons before moving just down the road to Spurs’ arch rivals Arsenal. Not only is the switch between North London clubs controversial enough, but it came after Campbell gave public assurances that he would stay at Spurs, and after months of contract negotiations without striking a deal.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League

The nature of Campbell’s move forever haunted him. Pic: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Despite the initial trouble in making the move, Campbell found immediate success at Arsenal, and was one of their strongest assets in winning the double in his first season at the club. The defender was also a pivotal player in Arsenal’s 2003/04 Invincible season, when they went the entire season unbeaten. In total Campbell spent five years at the club, before returning for a short stint in 2010.

Defence – Sylvinho – Barcelona to Manchester City 2009

Brazilian Sylvinho was a significant player with Barcelona for five years, during which time he picked up three Liga titles and two Champions Leagues. Sylvinho only played at City for the one season, his last year in professional football, but was an important figure in a quickly developing Blues team.

When the money came in to the blue half of Manchester, there was a long and uncertain road to go between turning a relegation-fighting team into Premier League champions – a difficult task no matter how much money is put into a squad. Sylvinho arrived for the first season that City legitimately challenged for the top four, a race they eventually lost to Tottenham Hotspur, but a season in which valuable lessons and experience was earned for all at the club. Sylvinho’s wealth of experience was no doubt hugely valuable to the rest of the squad, as City took another leap in their transformation to becoming a big club fighting for titles. The Brazilian makes this list for what he added to the squad and club behind the scenes, more so than performances played out on the pitch.

Midfield – Steve McManaman – Liverpool to Real Madrid 1999

A Champions League Final goalscorer, for free? Why thank you very much. Steve McManaman grew up through the ranks at Liverpool’s youth system and played nine years with the senior team. He became a mainstay in the Reds lineup at a young age, and even has the 1995 League Cup final colloquially named “The McManaman Final” for his two goals giving his side a 2-1 win over Bolton.

In a team that could afford any player in the world once Florentino Perez came to the club – even their greatest rival’s best player arrived at a handsome price – free transfer Steve McManaman was pivotal in Real Madrid’s team between 1999 and 2003. He was a key player during his time in Spain and picked up a whopping eight trophies, between two La Ligas and two Champions Leagues, and even scored in the 2000 final, which Madrid dominated Valencia in.

Midfield – Andrea Pirlo – AC Milan to Juventus 2011

Juve picked up Andrea Pirlo when the ageless midfielder was deemed “too old” to play for Milan, who had just been crowned champions. What were they getting for free? One of the most beautiful passers in the game, who had accumulated two leagues and two Champions League titles while a Milan player, not to mention a World Cup.

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Pirlo celebrates with the Serie A trophy. Pic: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Since joining the Old Lady in 2011, Pirlo has not been able to stop winning trophies. In each of his four seasons at the club, Juve have been crowned champions. In 2014/15, to go along with the Scudetto picked up, Pirlo and co. also won the Coppa Italia, as well as making the Champions League final, which they ultimately lost to Barcelona. Pirlo has been central to Juve’s successes over the past four years, and one of the best free transfers world football has ever seen.

Midfield – Esteban Cambiasso – Real Madrid to Inter 2004

Another player who has picked up Champions League titles in both the club he left and club he joined, Esteban Cambiasso was a mainstay in an Inter team for ten years that terrorised all other Italian clubs for such a long time. Under Roberto Mancini Inter looked simply unbeatable, as they picked up five consecutive Serie A titles between 2005/06 and 2009/10.

One of the most fearsome defensive midfielders in the game, Cambiasso won an incredible ten major honours with Inter, including a league, cup, and Champions League treble. This all came after he was deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, when Florentino Perez was making space for Beckham, Ronaldo, Figo, and Zidane, in one of the most unbalanced yet star-studded midfields the game has ever seen.

Midfield – Jay-Jay Okocha – PSG to Bolton Wanderers

So good, they named him twice! Jay-Jay Okocha signed for Paris Saint-Germain for a whopping £10 million, but felt too much was expected of him and didn’t like the treatment he received from the club as a result. Not as much was expected of his teammate Ronaldinho, however, where the Brazilian made his name in Europe!

Okocha joined Bolton on a free transfer and although his first season was drastically hampered by injury, he still managed to score some very important goals to help Wanderers avoid relegation. In his following three years with the club, he had them fighting for Europe! Led by the tremendously joyful Nigerian star, Bolton finished as high as 6th in 2004/05, level on points with Champions League winning Liverpool. The Premier League has seen few characters as exciting as Okocha!

Forward – Roberto Baggio – AC Milan to Bologna 1997

The legendary Italian attacker is another mistake in Milan’s past. Baggio became the first Italian to net 300 career goals in more than 50 years while at Brescia in 2002, and signed for Juventus from Fiorentina for a then-world record transfer fee. But Arrigo Sacchi had it in for Baggio from day one, and when he was called in to take over the reigns at San Siro in Baggio’s first season, it was to the bench for the famous rat tail!

Shunned out of the side that struggled to eventually finish 11th, Baggio joined Bologna on a free transfer to get out of Milan. The summer of the move, he cut off his ponytail, signifying his new rebirth. He joined a Bologna team that would have otherwise likely fought relegation that season, but with a hugely impressive 22 goals in 30 appearances, he helped his new side qualify for the Intertoto Cup through an 8th place finish. He also earned himself a call up to the national team for the 1998 World Cup, and a nomination for the Italian Player of the Year Award, which he narrowly lost to Alessandro Del Piero.

Forward – Henrik Larsson – Celtic to Barcelona 2004

Swedish striker Henrik Larsson will unquestionably be remembered as one of Celtic’s best players ever, scoring at a rate of around 0.78 goals per game. Larsson also picked up four Scottish Premier League titles, and in 2000/01 won a domestic treble with the Glasgow club, with both Scottish Cups to go along with the league title.

Barcelona v Espanyol

Larsson celebrated by his Barcelona teammates. Pic: Luis Bagu/Getty Images

In 2004, his time to move on had come, and nobody could have begrudged his decision after all he had given Celtic. Larsson played a big role in a phenomenal team that, in only the two seasons that the Swede spent in Catalonia, won two Liga titles and a Champions League. While Samuel Eto’o stole the show during the 2006 Champions League final with an unbelievable man of the match performance, Barca couldn’t have gotten there without Larsson’s contributions throughout the couple of years.

Forward – Miroslav Klose – Bayern Munich to Lazio 2011

At the age of 33, Bayern Munich decided to let go of their ageing goal machine in favour of up-and-coming talent. Not necessarily a bad decision, but one that Lazio certainly benefitted from, picking up Germany’s all time record goalscorer, and the man that’s scored more goals in World Cup finals tournaments than anyone else.

The old age hasn’t affected Klose’s ability to find the net at all – or if it has, it’s only improved it! Klose has scored more goals for Werder Bremen than any other club, but should he score five times this upcoming season, that honour will go to Lazio. An ever-reliant positional genius, Miroslav Klose could play for almost any team and find a way to score. One of the best bits of business Lazio have made in recent years, Miroslav’s goals have fired them into next season’s Champions League, a competition they’ll appear in for the first time in eight years.

Total trophy haul at clubs moved to:

15 League titles

4 Champons Leagues

10 Domestic Cups (FA Cup/Cope Del Rey/Coppa Italia)

1 League Cup

1 UEFA Cup

11 Community Shields/Domestic Super Cups

2 UEFA Super Cups

2 Intercontinental Cups

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