As the clock ticked on deep into extra time, the Real Madrid players, out-run and out-played, desperately attempted to cling on for the dying seconds of their first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain. PSG, stubbornly foiled at each attempt, had fired away on countless occasions only to be denied by Thibaut Courtois, with the Belgian goalkeeper saving Lionel Messi’s spot-kick attempt. And yet, in storybook fashion, Kylian Mbappé wriggled his way past Lucas Vázquez and Éder Militão before firing into the bottom corner to give his side a 1-0 lead going into the second leg in Madrid on March 9.
After their attempts to sign Mbappé last summer were rejected by a defiant PSG, Real Madrid have the opportunity to sign the Frenchman on a free transfer this summer. He is one of several players, like Paul Pogba, Antonio Rüdiger and Paulo Dybala, who is entering the final four months of his contract, and he has once again proved why he is one of the deadliest players in world football.
It goes without saying that each of these players will be highly coveted due to the lack of a transfer fee, but they aren’t the only set of players who will be available for a cut-rate fee this summer. Footballers with just a year left on their deals also represent prime opportunities for bargain rates, with the likes of Mike Maignan and Raphaël Varane being allowed to depart for modest fees in the previous summer due to their contract leverage. Today, we’ll be taking a look at five players whose contracts expire in 2023 and who could be available for cheap fees.
“Schlotterbeck joined Freiburg in 2017 and made his professional debut on March 9, 2019, but was unable to consolidate a starting spot under Christian Streich before heading out on loan to Union Berlin. With just two years left on his contract, he could be the next player to secure a big-money move after impressing for the Breisgau-Brasilianer, following in the footsteps of Çağlar Söyüncü, Robin Koch, Maximilian Philipp and Luca Waldschmidt.”
It’s been six months since I wrote about Nico Schlotterbeck following his impressive performance against Borussia Dortmund, and it’s fair to say his stock has only risen since. After leading Germany to glory in the U-21 Euros, Schlotterbeck earned a maiden call-up to the senior team and has continued his impressive form on the left side of the back three for Freiburg, who sit sixth in the Bundesliga, albeit level on 44 points with fourth-placed RB Leipzig, fifth-placed Hoffenheim and seventh-placed Union Berlin.
Even if Freiburg are able to seal qualification to the Champions League for the first time in club history, don’t be surprised if the 22-year-old centre back does leave this summer. Borussia Dortmund, despite signing Niklas Süle on a free transfer, are in need of more security at the back and could make a move, whilst Bayern will also be eager for a young centre back to fill the vacancy of Süle. One thing’s for sure; Schlotterbeck is bound to have quite a few suitors for his signature.
Another player who has perhaps grown ‘too big for his britches in his Bundesliga club is Marcus Thuram. Born in Parma, Italy, Marcus followed in the footsteps of his father Lilian and became a professional footballer, making his Ligue 2 debut on March 20, 2015, for Sochaux. Alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Ludovic Blas, Thuram led France to victory in the 2016 U-19 Euros before moving to Guingamp in 2017. However, after the club were relegated from Ligue 1 in 2018/19, Thuram packed his bags once again and departed his homeland for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Thuram impressed in Marco Rose’s attack with 14 goals and 9 assists for Die Fohlen to lead them to a fourth-place finish, before following that up with 11 goals and 12 assists in 2020/21. However, Rose’s announcement of his eventual departure to Borussia Dortmund saw Gladbach’s form take a nosedive, with the club finishing eighth and being humiliated in the Champions League by Manchester City.
The 24-year-old looked set to join Inter Milan only for a knee injury to rule him out for several weeks and prompt Inter to go with Joaquín Correa from Lazio instead. Gladbach currently sit 13th in the league and Thuram, who has scored zero goals and zero assists in 535 minutes, looks a prime candidate to follow in the footsteps of Denis Zakaria and Matthias Ginter and leave Gladbach in 2022.
After edging Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title and cementing their names in the annals of history, it’s fair to say that Lille have been knocked back down to Earth this season. The club lost manager Christophe Galtier to Nice and were forced to sell Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumaré and Luiz Araújo in the summer, before selling Jonathan Ikoné and Reinildo Mandava in the summer window. Currently 10th in the table, Les Dogues could be set for another summer exodus with Sven Botman, Jonathan David and Renato Sanches tipped for moves away from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
With a career that has witnessed a European Championship, a Golden Boy award, and league titles in Germany, France and Portugal, it can be hard to forget that Renato Sanches is still just 24 years of age. After struggling to live up to expectations at Bayern Munich, the Portuguese midfielder has enjoyed a revival in form for Les Dogues, and his combination of physicality, technique and explosiveness could be a real boon for a team such as Milan, who are resigned to losing Ivory Coast international Franck Kessié for free this summer.
In a team that has produced the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Christian Eriksen in recent years, it can be hard to stand out in Ajax’s famed De Toekomst academy. However, since joining the club in 2010, Ryan Gravenberch has emerged as one of the club’s brightest talents and established himself as one of the most promising midfielders in Europe.
In 2018, Gravenberch became the first recipient of the Abdelhak Nouri Trofee which recognizes the best talent in the Ajax academy, while he also won the U-17 Euros with the Netherlands and became the youngest player to play for Ajax in the Eredivisie, surpassing Clarence Seedorf’s 26-year-old record. Four years later, Gravenberch has emerged as a starter in midfield for Erik Ten Hag’s Ajax, offering agility, close control, physicality and an impressive passing range.
“I am very happy at Ajax and I don’t yet want to leave. I am in talks with the club about a new contract. Things are progressing and hopefully, they turn out well,” said Gravenberch in November.
Whilst extending his contract and spending a few more years at his boyhood club may be a shrewd option, there will be no shortage of clubs who will be looking to sway his mind and convince him to push for a move in the summer.
Since ending a 34-year absence from the top-flight in 2017, Brighton have gradually progressed up the Premier League table, staving off various relegation battles to become a comfortable midtable side under Graham Potter. They’ve done so with the 15th highest wage bill in the league; only Leeds, Burnley and the three promoted sides are spending less on salaries.
Adam Lallana is the club’s highest-paid player with an annual wage of £4,700,000, but it is undeniable that they will need to make a huge financial effort if they are to extend the contract of prized midfield asset Yves Bissouma. Since arriving from Lille in 2018, the Malian international has emerged a skilful presence in the centre of the pitch, ranking in the 95th percentile for tackles (3.59 per 90), 92nd for dribbles completed (1.57) and 87th for interceptions (2.44) amongst midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues, per FBRef. With Manchester United looking for a replacement for Paul Pogba and other sides such as Liverpool and Arsenal aiming to upgrade their midfield options, Brighton will either need to fork out a hefty wage packet to keep hold of Bissouma or resign themselves to losing another player to a Premier League rival following the sales of Dan Burn and Ben White.