Free Agents In Football

What Are Free Agents In Football? (Explained)

When the transfer season is near in football, you may have heard of the term ‘free agent’, where players can go to another club for free!

Here’s what you need to know about such footballers:

What does it mean when a footballer is a free agent?

A free agent is a player who is not attached to any club at a given time. This could occur when a player currently does not have a contract with a team, or has seen out his contract duration without a renewal. 

For clubs to sign a free agent, they do not have to pay any transfer fee.

This is because they do not have to buy out the player’s contract. Instead, all they need to do is pay a signing-on fee to the player and negotiate his salary.

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Why do footballers become free agents?

Here are 4 reasons why footballers may become a free agent:

#1 Personal Reasons

A player can decide not to sign a new deal after the expiration of his contract with a club due to personal reasons.

For example, Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is yet to extend his contract at the club despite being offered around €50 million per annum in salary. The Frenchman will become a free agent in June 2022, and has been linked to making a move to Real Madrid.

Funnily enough, he scored 2 goals against Real Madrid when the teams met in the Champions League!

Mbappe’s free agency choice is due to his personal preference to play for Real Madrid.

#2 Business-Related Reasons

Another reason a player could decide not to extend his contract with a club could be business-related. This usually happens when the club refuses to meet his demands while negotiating a new contract.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah may become a free agent soon despite making it clear that he intends to remain a Liverpool player.

This is because the club has failed to offer him a salary he feels is sufficient for his output level.

His current contract is set to expire in June 2023, after which he will be free to sign a contract with any other club.

Salah’s reason for not signing a new contract is purely business-related.

#3 Performance-Related Reasons

Most clubs believe that as a player advances to his 30s, he cannot provide the same level of performance as he could when he was younger. Hence, clubs prefer to offer players who are above 30 short-term contracts. 

However, this may be different for goalkeepers, who tend to retire later compared to other positions.

Sometimes, this set of players rejects the contracts in favour of longer contracts, as was the case of Willian and Chelsea.

The winger wanted a three-year deal, but Chelsea only offered him one year, and they could not agree on an extension. As a result, he joined Arsenal for free when his contract with Chelsea expired. 

After Willian joined Arsenal, he failed to pull in a massive shift, and the club cancelled his contract on mutual consent, allowing him to leave as a free agent.

Such examples like this occur when the football player does not live up to the standards with regards to his performance.

#4 Conflict-Related Reasons

Another reason players may become free agents is due to conflicts with their clubs. Some players enter into disputes with their clubs over unpaid wages or disciplinary issues. 

Clubs may eventually terminate the contract of these players as a result of the conflict.

An example is the case of Dani Alves; the veteran defender was not paid for several months by Sao Paulo in Brazil, and he cancelled his contract with the club.

Alves eventually became a free agent, and he signed for Barcelona as he returned to Camp Nou for the second time.

Can free agents be signed outside the transfer window?

In football, player transfers are mediated by the transfer windows. This means that players can only be signed in the two transfer windows every season, which are in the summer (June to August) and winter (January).

Free agents, however, are not bound by transfer windows or any specific period. Therefore, clubs can sign them at any time, regardless of whether or not the transfer window is open. 

For example, Barcelona signed Dani Alves in November 2021 outside the transfer window.

Similarly, Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres joined Southampton in February 2017 despite the fact that the transfer window was not open at the time.

This was permitted because he was a free agent unattached to any club after his contract with Juventus expired.

Famous examples of free agents

Here are 6 examples of famous players who signed for a club as a free agent:

#1 Michael Ballack

German midfielder Michael Ballack is one of the most prominent examples of a free agent. The midfielder was one of Germany’s national team stars in the early 2000s and was named the UEFA Midfielder of the Year in 2002

Ballack joined Chelsea in 2006 after his contract with Bayern Munich expired. He went on to win several trophies at the club, losing only 10 of his 105 Premier League appearances with Chelsea.

He later left the Premier League side as a free agent to return to Bayer Leverkusen in 2010.

#2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Regarded as one of the greatest strikers in history, Zlatan Ibrahimovic also got a taste of free agency on several occasions in his career. After becoming Paris Saint-Germain’s record goalscorer, the Swede moved to Manchester United for free in 2016 after his contract in Paris expired.

After that, Ibrahimovic secured a similar move in 2018 to Los Angeles Galaxy before he rejoined AC Milan as a free agent in 2019.

#3 Thiago Silva

Brazilian defender Thiago Silva has played for some of Europe’s biggest sides in his career. However, the he is arguably enjoying his most tremendous success as a Chelsea player.

Silva joined Chelsea for free after he was denied a contract extension by PSG and has gone on to win the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup

#4 Sol Campbell

Sol Campbell is greatly remembered for his time as an Arsenal player when he came very close to leading the club to Champions League glory.

However, many people do not know that the Englishman played for and captained Arsenal’s rivals Tottenham Hotspur, before leaving White Hart Lane as a free agent in 2001.

#5 Lionel Messi 

After spending nearly two decades of his career at FC Barcelona, Lionel Messi finally left the club in 2021. The diminutive forward became a free agent after the club could not afford his wages.

He was forced to move to PSG as a result.

#6 Robert Lewandowski

Two-time FIFA The Best Men’s Player of the Year Robert Lewandowski has enjoyed a successful couple of years at Bayern Munich. Before joining Bayern, however, the Poland international striker played for their rivals, Borussia Dortmund.

You can view a comparison between the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best awards here.

In a bid to join his dream club Bayern Munich, he refused to extend his contract with Dortmund and moved to Bayern Munich for free in 2014.

Other notable examples of players who left their clubs as free agents in football include Mats Hummels, Nicklas Sule, Mario Gotze, Andrea Pirlo, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Iker Casillas, Wayne Rooney, John Terry and many others.


Football players can become free agents due to a variety of reasons.

This will be most beneficial for the club who offers them a new contract, as they do not need to pay a transfer fee!

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