The best things in life are free… apart from for Wayne Rooney
OTP loves this quote from Roy Hodgson:
“Free transfers don’t necessarily mean that you have got a bargain. My experience of them has been very mixed.”
Although it would be churlish to discuss exactly who Woy is referring to, Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic can’t be too far from the front of his mind!
Forgetting the worst culprits for a while, today we focus on the top ten best free transfers since the introduction of Bosman transfers in 1995:
10) John Collins – Celtic to AS Monaco
It is only once in a blue moon that a Scottish player is able to go abroad and be an instant success, and Paul Lambert and Collins are two rare examples.
After leaving Celtic, having become their first million pound player, Collins moved to the principality of Monaco. Celtic appealed for compensation in vain, and the French club had a steal. Collins helped Monaco to the league title in 1997 and the semi-final of the Champions League in 1998, knocking out Manchester United.
9) Jay Jay Okocha – Paris St Germain to Bolton
Quite simply one of the most exciting players to grace the Premier League. So good they named him twice, Okocha defined the rebirth of Bolton Wanderers. Made club captain, the Nigerian was responsible for bringing European football to the Reebok, and played with a smile on his face that made him impossible not to admire.
Midway through his Bolton career, Okocha was named by Pele in the top 125 living players of all time.
8 ) Mark Schwarzer – Middlesbrough to Fulham
Australian players in the Premier League have a reputation for becoming hate figures. Harry Kewell lingered around unhelpfully like a bad smell, Lucas Neill received the wrath of Anfield after choosing money over success, and Mark Viduka turned out to be as useful as Stevie Wonder doing a Where’s Wally at Newcastle.
Schwarzer blows away this stereotype. Arguably the greatest shotstopper in Premier League history, Fulham claimed an unbelievable scalp when Schwarzer chose a guarantee of first-team football over moves to Bayern Munich and Juventus. Now 38, remains a true Premiership hero.
7) Henrik Larsson – Celtic to Barcelona
There was a feeling that Henky was owed one big shot at world stardom after gaining deity status at Parkhead. Whilst he helped the Glasgow club to trophies galore, he deserved to be performing on the finest stage.
So when Barcelona knocked on the door, Celtic said a teary goodbye to a striker who had scored 242 goals for the club. Although injuries to Larsson meant that he played a secondary role in consecutive La Liga titles, in his last game for the club he provided both assists in a Champions League Final win over Arsenal.
6) Steve McManaman – Liverpool to Real Madrid
Macca fulfilled a dream of playing abroad when he moved to the Spanish giants after Gerard Houllier took over at Anfield. Thought of by many as a risk at a time when English players had not been recently overly successful abroad (Paul Ince, Des Walker, Paul Gascoigne to name but three), the Scouse winger proved all doubters wrong, winning two league titles and two Champions League winners’ medals, including a goal in the Final of 2000.
Cynics may suggest that he was carried in a side containing Zidane and Figo, but contributing 14 goals and 33 assists in 157 games tells its own story.
5) Kevin Davies – Southampton to Bolton
Davies is a marmite footballer, of that there is no doubt. Frustrating, moaning, and fouling, but respected, admired and fouled.
Whether or not you like Kevin Davies, his own mother would not claim that Blackburn should have spaffed away £7.5million on his services. After a return to Southampton and a significant stagnant period in his career, he was eventually allowed to go to the Reebok on a free.
The rest, as they say, was history. But he should not be an England international.
4) Sol Campbell – Spurs to Arsenal
Everyone’s favourite Judas, and by far the most ignominious transfer on this list. Although he risked, and promptly received, eternal hatred from the white half of North London, it must be said that Campbell was justified in his decision: In his time at Arsenal he won as many titles as Spurs have in their history.
Campbell became an English rock in an often foreign sea, providing Arsenal with the defensive stability needed to entertain fluid attacking players. Arguably one of England’s most underrated defenders of all time, Sol went from Premier League class at Spurs to world class at Arsenal.
3) Brad Friedel – Liverpool to Blackburn
Alongside Shay Given, the most consistent Premier League keeper of the last decade. At Liverpool Friedel took over aptly from David James by looking generally cock-up happy. It took three years of bench-warming, often behind Sander Westerveld, before Liverpool let the American go on a free.
To be frank, the Scousers must have scratched their heads as Friedel suddenly became a mountain in the Blackburn Rovers defence, and he topped this off by being named in Andy Gray’s Team of the Decade (although we’re not sure if this is necessarily a compliment!)
2) Luis Enrique – Real Madrid to Barcelona
Whilst our list has had a domestic feel to it so far, we finish with a European flourish. Not many players are allowed to move between the Spanish giants for no money (Javier Saviola is another), but the introduction of the Bosman allowed Luis Enrique to run down his Real Madrid contract and move to fierce rivals Barcelona.
Enrique was simply stunning at the Nou Camp, scoring 46 six goals in his first three seasons, helping the club to win an impressive seven trophies in this period. Remains in an elite club of players adored by both of Spain’s biggest clubs.
1) Esteban Cambiasso – Real Madrid to Inter Milan
Real , Real , Real, what were you thinking? The most successful free transfer of all time was allowed to leave Los Galacticos in 2004. A year later they bought Thomas Gravesen to play in the same position.
After moving to the Nerazzurri, the Argentine midfielder has become one the greatest midfielders in the world, if underrated. In the six years before he joined Inter did not win a single trophy. In the six years since they have won 13.
Whereas Real Madrid have purchased a steady stream of attacking players, all they have been crying out for is a world class defensive midfielder. Inter Milan have gained greater domestic and European success by using a tactical model based on stability, with Cambiasso at its core. Gravesen, Mohamadou Diarra, Lassana Diarra, Gago and Khedira have all been used to try and find a long-term replacement for Claude Makelele. While Alonso may now be the answer, the best solution may just have slipped through the net.