Securing the signing of a high-profile free agent can be a fine way for any side to strengthen their options, with a host of leading clubs having acquired brilliant Bosman buys during the summer transfer window.
Amongst the notable names to move on free transfers this summer include David Silva, Willian and Edinson Cavani, though the current pool of players approaching the end of their contracts is perhaps the most exciting in recent seasons.
Several leading names will be free to negotiate with foreign clubs in just a matter of months as January approaches, and we’ve decided to look at some of the stars that are sure to attract plenty of attention.
Here is out best XI of players who are set to be out of contract in 2021.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan
It’s quite incredible to think that Gianluigi Donnarumma is still just 21-years-old, the goalkeeper having remarkably just begun his sixth season as AC Milan’s number one.
Since becoming the second-youngest goalkeeper in the history of Italian football, the youngster has been tipped as a star of the future, establishing himself as first-choice for club and country despite his tender years.
Donnarumma remains the jewel in the crown for a Milan side who have found themselves in the doldrums over the past decade, without a major trophy in nine years and having not featured in the Champions League in any of the past seven seasons.
The goalkeeper has been linked with virtually every major club in Europe since his emergence, but recent reports have suggested he is willing to extend his contract at the San Siro, though any deal is likely to include a significant increase in his salary and potentially an exit clause should Milan’s fortunes fail to improve.
Right-back: Elseid Hysaj – Napoli
A name likely to interest Premier League clubs after being continually linked with English football in recent seasons, Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj has previously been named as a transfer target for Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton.
The Albanian international has racked up nearly 200 appearances for Napoli since signing for the club five years ago, forging a reputation as a dependable full-back and one who is comfortable on either side.
Quick, strong and energetic, he would make a solid addition to any side seeking stability in the full-back positions and the prospect of signing the 26-year-old on a free is sure to attract suitors, several sides having been linked with triggering his €50m release clause just a year ago.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid
An indispensable figure for Real Madrid for more than a decade, it may come as a surprise to some that Sergio Ramos is yet to receive a new contract at the Bernabeu.
The centre-back remains a crucial player for both club and country despite entering the twilight of his career, the undisputed leader and figurehead of Zinedine Zidane’s Spanish champions.
Despite turning 34 earlier this year, he was arguably the club’s most reliable defender last season and the Real hierarchy are keen to secure his future, talks believed to be underway over a two-year extension.
That deal would represent a change from the regular one-year deals offered to players of Ramos’ age, but his continued fine performances and past achievements – including winning five league titles and four Champions League trophies – are likely to result in a compromise.
Barring any unforeseen changes, Ramos is expected to pen a new deal and retire with Los Blancos.
Centre-back: Jerome Boateng – Bayern Munich
Another player who has been amongst Europe’s finest defenders over the past decade, Jerome Boateng’s future at Bayern Munich remains up in the air as the centre-back enters the final months of his contract.
Boateng has enjoyed a wealth of success since signing for Bayern from Manchester City and has won eight Bundesliga titles and two Champions League trophies amongst his list of honours, though he has remained non-committal over his future in recent months.
The former Germany international has spoken previously of his desire for a new experience, with the MLS having been speculated as a potential destination, though recently declared he ‘can imagine’ penning a new deal to remain at the Allianz Arena.
Much may depend on the outcome of an impending assault charge, relating to an incident involving his ex-partner two years ago.
Left-back: David Alaba – Bayern Munich
The second of Bayern’s treble-winning squad to feature in this XI, David Alaba is yet to secure a new contract at the German champions despite continued negotiations between the club’s hierarchy and his representatives.
Alaba has been one of the club’s greatest servants in recent seasons and has spent his entire senior career in Bavaria to date, winning nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues during a trophy-laden period at the Allianz Arena.
The Austrian international is believed to be targeting a new deal that puts him in line with Bayern’s highest-paid players, a situation which has led to a concerning stand-off between the club and the defender’s camp.
Chelsea and both Manchester clubs are all believed to be on red alert should an agreement not be reached between Bayern and the versatile 28-year-old – who is comfortable at left-back, centrally and in midfield – with time running out to thrash out a new deal.
Midfield: Georginio Wijnaldum – Liverpool
Wijnaldum has been a manager’s favourite since signing for Liverpool four years ago, which makes his uncertain future on Merseyside all the more surprising.
The Netherlands international has been a virtual ever-present for the Premier League champions despite a wealth of competition for midfield places at Anfield, providing an assured and reliable presence in the Reds’ industrious engine room.
Liverpool have tied the majority of their key players to long-term deals but a new contract for Wijnaldum is difficult to agree given the player turns 30 next month, with the Dutchman likely to be seeking one last big contract.
Barcelona were reportedly interested in his services this summer and Ronald Koeman is understood to be keen on reuniting with a player he previously coached with the Netherlands national side, the Spanish giants expected to return in the winter should a new contract not materialise in the meantime.
The summer signing of Thiago Alcantara perhaps leaves Liverpool more open to his exit than they once were.
Midfield: Paul Pogba – Manchester United
There never seems to be any great length of time between discussions over Paul Pogba’s future, the Manchester United midfielder rarely away from the headlines in recent years.
Last summer saw the France international publicly declare his interest in leaving Old Trafford in search of a ‘new challenge’, only to remain with the club and endure an injury-hit season.
After returning towards the season’s end there was talk of his happiness with life under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a strong end to the campaign, but a disappointing start to the season has once more led to speculation, Pogba speaking of his Real Madrid ‘dream’ during the international break.
Despite his undisputed talents, the 27-year-old remains frustratingly inconsistent and has been somewhat overshadowed since the arrival of Bruno Fernandes earlier this year, but remains arguably United’s most valuable asset.
His current contract expires next summer, though the club are almost certain to trigger the option of a one-year extension to his deal.
Right-wing: Lionel Messi – Barcelona
Indisputably the biggest fish in the free agency pool next summer, there was once a time that the prospect of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona was little more than vivid imagination.
The club’s current turmoil has seen the Argentine’s relationship with the Catalans deteriorate in spectacular style, however, with Messi having attempted to engineer an exit from the Camp Nou during the summer transfer window.
Manchester City were deemed the likeliest suitors for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who ultimately decided not to take his desire to leave to court, though there will be no need for such drastic measures should he remain keen to leave next summer.
No new contract has yet been signed and Barcelona face a fight to convince their greatest ever player to remain beyond the current season, a difficult relationship with the president and the club’s on-field struggles leaving Messi unsettled.
The race to seal his future is on with foreign sides free to negotiate with the 33-year-old in a little over two months time, in what would be the story of the summer should Messi opt to move.
Left-wing: Memphis Depay – Lyon
Memphis Depay has come a long way since an ill-fated move to Manchester United earlier in his career and has rebuilt his reputation during a fruitful spell at Lyon, scoring prolifically to establish himself as a talismanic figure for both club and country.
Depay played a crucial role in Lyon’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, scoring six goals in just eight appearances as the French outfit eliminated both Juventus and Manchester City.
His current record stands at an impressive 58 goals and 43 assists in 144 appearances in all competitions for Lyon, thriving in a variety of roles across the forward line including as a central striker.
Barcelona were reportedly interested in his services during the summer though their precarious financial situation and their inability to offload player prevented a deal, though they are expected to renew their interest in a forward who is unlikely to be short of suitors given his availability on a free transfer.
Depay’s performances under Ronald Koeman were excellent for the Dutch national side and he could represent a bargain signing as the Catalan club heads toward a new – potentially Messi-less – era.
Forward: Arkadiusz Milik – Napoli
One player who looks certain to move onto pastures new in the coming months is Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, who has surprisingly fallen out-of-favour at the club and has not even been included in their squad for the 2020/21 Serie A season.
It is a remarkable fall from grace for the Poland international who has scored 48 goals in 122 appearances during his four seasons in Naples, finishing as the club’s leading league scorer in each of the past two seasons.
At 26-years-old his best years still appear to be ahead of him and he has reportedly attracted interest from Italian rivals Juventus and Roma, as well as admiring glances from Premier League sides in Tottenham and Everton.
His current exile means a winter window exit is perhaps more likely than waiting until next summer with the European Championships looming, but any side interested in his services is likely to acquire a fine goalscorer for a bargain fee.
Forward: Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
Could this be Sergio Aguero’s final season as a Manchester City player?
The club’s all-time record goalscorer has regularly spoken of his desire to return to Argentina in the twilight of his career and now could be the time for the 32-year-old to move on, his current deal expiring at the end of the season.
Aguero is the last remaining of the iconic figures of City’s rise to the elite and will celebrate a decade at the Etihad next summer, perhaps a fitting time to walk away whilst he can still contribute at the very highest level.
The Argentine said he would return to former club Independiente at the end of his previous contract before signing an extension, his boyhood side appearing his likeliest destination should he depart, despite reported interest from Inter Milan.
Finding a replacement for a player who has scored 254 goals in all competitions for the club will prove an unenviable task for City and Pep Guardiola, should an extension not be agreed.