10 Of The Best Free Transfers In Football History

10 Of The Best Free Transfers In Football History

Lionel Messi — Andrea Pirlo — Lewandowski — Paul Pogba — Sol Campbell — Michael Ballack — Cambiasso — Jay-Jay Okocha — Cafu — James Milner

With the huge money involved in football transfers, signing a player on a free transfer is a great achievement — especially when it involves a top-class footballer.

In football, signing a player for free is called a “Bosman transfer”. The name came about due to a legal issue involving Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman, and Belgian club, RFC Liège.

When Bosman’s contract with the club expired, the club demanded a huge fee from prospective buyers which prevented a transfer from taking place and the player took them to court.

In 1995, an European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Jean-Marc Bosman. The ruling banned restrictions on foreign EU players within national leagues and allowed players in the EU to move to another club at the end of a contract without a transfer fee being paid.

In this post, FootballOrbit presents you with the top 10 best free football transfers in history.

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona to PSG — 2021)

Lionel Messi - PSG

Due to financial limitations, Barcelona were unable to renew the contract of Lionel Messi in the summer of 2021 and the Argentine became available on a free transfer.

PSG quickly seized the opportunity and signed arguably the greatest footballer of all-time on a free!

Although Messi didn’t impress in his first season in Paris, but he was an absolute steal for PSG.

2. Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan to Juventus — 2011)

Andrea Pirlo Juventus

Andrea Pirlo was one of the best midfielders of his generation and won everything there is at AC Milan.

In 2011, Milan shockingly allowed him to leave on a free transfer and Juventus quickly signed him up.

When Andrea told me that he was joining us, the first thing I thought was: “God exists”. A player of his level and ability, not to mention that he was free, I think it was the signing of the century!

Gianluigi Buffon on Pirlo’s transfer to Juventus in 2011.

At Juve, Pirlo showed that he still has it as he even took his game to a whole new level.

In Turin, he won 4 consecutive Serie A titles and helped the Old Lady reach the UEFA Champions League final in 2015.

3. Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich — 2014)

Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich
Lewandowski poses with the Champions League trophy

Robert Lewandowski established himself among the best strikers on the planet at Borussia Dortmund — helping the club win two Bundesliga titles and reaching the 2013 UEFA Champions League final.

Ahead of the 2014/15 season, Lewandowski agreed to join Dortmund’s domestic rivals, Bayern Munich, on a free transfer.

In Munich, he won everything available, including 8 successive Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League win in 2019/20 — as part of a treble.

Robert Lewandowski also won the UEFA Best Player of the Year and FIFA Best Player of the Year awards at Bayern Munich.

4. Paul Pogba (Manchester United to Juventus — 2012)

Paul Pogba Juventus
Paul Pogba during his first spell at Juventus (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Paul Pogba joined Manchester United as a prodigious youngster in 2009 but found it difficult to break into the first team and the Red Devils allowed him to leave on a free after failing to reach an agreement with him over a new contract.

Pogba joined Italian giants Juventus on a free transfer in 2012.

In Italy he won 4 consecutive Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italias, 2 Supercoppa Italiana titles as well as helping Juve reach the 2015 UEFA Champions League final — their first in 12 years.

He also established himself as one of the most promising young players in the world and won the Golden Boy award in 2013, followed by the Bravo Award in 2014.

Furthermore, he was included in the 2015 UEFA Team of the Year, as well as the 2015 FIFA FIFPro World XI.

Pogba’s performances at Juventus made Manchester United sensationally re-sign him in 2016 for a then-world record transfer fee of €105 million (£89.3 million).

5. Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal — 2001)

Sol Campbell - Arsenal
Sol Campbell with the Premier League trophy

Sol Campbell began his career with Tottenham Hotspur in December 1992.

He spent 9 years at Spurs, scoring 10 goals in 255 appearances, and captained the team to win the the League Cup in 1999.

Campbell drew the anger of Tottenham fans when he made a controversial move to their North London rivals Arsenal in 2001, on a free transfer.

He was very successful during his 5 years at Arsenal, as he won 2 Premier League titles and 2 FA Cups and was part of the legendary “Invincibles” side that went undefeated throughout the 2003/04 Premier League campaign.

Campbell scored Arsenal’s only goal in their 2–1 defeat to Barcelona in the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final.

6. Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich to Chelsea — 2006)

Michael Ballack Chelsea

Michael Ballack was a prolific goalscoring midfielder at Bayern Munich, where he won the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double three consecutive times in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Bayern allowed him join Chelsea on a free transfer in 2006 and his time at Stamford Bridge was equally successful.

With the Blues, Ballack won the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup as well as helping the club reach the UEFA Champions League final in 2008.

7. Esteban Cambiasso (Real Madrid to Inter Milan — 2004)

Esteban Cambiasso Inter Milan
Cambiasso raises the Champions League trophy

Esteban Cambiasso couldn’t establish himself in Real Madrid’s first team that was full of Galacticos and was allowed to leave on a free transfer in 2004.

He was snapped up by Inter Milan and went on to represent the Nerrazurri for 10 years — winning 5 successive Serie A titles, 4 Coppa Italia, 4 Supercoppa Italiana, FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League (as part of a treble in 2010).

8. Jay-Jay Okocha (PSG to Bolton — 2002)

Okocha was one of the greatest dribblers of his generation and one of the most skillful footballers ever.

Bolton Wanderers made one of the best transfer deals ever when they signed the Nigerian wizard on a free from PSG in 2002.

More incredible was the fact that Bolton were not a top club then.

Okocha took them to an higher level as he mesmerised Premier League defenders and entertained the whole world with his bag of tricks.

9. Cafu (AS Roma to AC Milan — 2003)

Known for his pace and energetic attacking runs along the right flank, Cafu is regarded as one of the greatest full-backs of all time.

He won the Serie A and reached the final of the Coppa Italia with Roma but was allowed to leave on a free transfer in 2003.

AC Milan saw a bargain and signed him up on a free. He won every trophy available with the Rossoneri, including the UEFA Champions League in 2007.

10. James Milner (Manchester City to Liverpool — 2015)

James Milner Liverpool

A very versatile player, Milner can play in multiple positions including on the wing, in midfield and at full-back.

He made his debut for Leeds United in 2002 aged just 16 and gained prominence as the youngest player to score in the Premier League.

At Manchester City, he won 2 Premier Leagues, an FA Cup, League Cup and one FA Community Shield but was not highly regarded, thus he was allowed to leave on a free in 2015.

Milner signed for Liverpool on a free transfer and was appointed vice-captain.

He went on to win the UEFA Champions League in 2019, as well as his third Premier League title, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Notable Mentions

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG to Man Utd — 2016)
  • Sami Khedira (Real Madrid to Juventus — 2015)
  • Fernando Llorente (Athletico Bilbao to Juventus)
  • Raul (Real Madrid to Schalke 04 — 2010)
  • Joel Matip (Schalke 04 to Liverpool — 2016)
  • Miranda (Sao Paulo to Atletico Madrid — 2011)
  • David Alaba (Bayern Munich to Real Madrid — 2021)