Free agents in 2024: Top football players eligible to sign pre-contract agreement in January for free transfer

As the winter transfer window nears, European clubs begin to think not only about what they might need personnel-wise this year, but also take a peek at the coming campaign.

While the conclusion of the 2023/24 season is still over six months adrift, various players across the biggest leagues in Europe are eyeing the end of their current contract with their clubs.

For those players in the final months of their current deal, they are eligible to sign pre-contract agreements with certain other clubs in January, tying them down to a new destination for the coming season. That means we could see something of a scramble for some big names from January 1.

The Sporting News looks at the best players in Europe who are on contracts that expire in the coming summer, who could either be cheap transfer targets in January or possible candidates for free transfers after the 2023/24 season ends.

MORE: Top scorers in 2023/24 Premier League — can anyone catch Erling Haaland?

Top 10 free agents in 2024 who could sign pre-contract agreements in January

Below are 10 of the biggest names who could sign pre-contract terms with a new club from January 2024 onwards. There is a caveat: players can only sign such deals with teams from a different league to that in which their current team plays. For example, a Premier League player at Manchester United could not sign a pre-contract agreement with Arsenal.

10. Mario Hermoso (CB/LB, Atletico Madrid)

Possible destinations: Juventus, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham

Versatile 28-year-old defender Mario Hermoso has been a major part of Atletico Madrid’s success this season. Able to operate in the middle of Diego Simeone’s back line or out on the left, he provides quality in a variety of aspects.

He has been with the club since joining in 2019 as Espanyol’s record sale, but if Atleti don’t tie him down long-term, he could find a new home. There’s not been much noise on that front, but Juventus have reportedly poked around and a few Premier League clubs have been linked to a move in past transfer windows.

9. Wilfred Ndidi (CM, Leicester City)

Possible destinations: Barcelona, Tottenham, Celtic

When Leicester City were relegated from the Premier League last summer, it appeared as if the club would shed a number of valuable assets. Yet midfielder Wilfred Ndidi stayed and has excelled this season, proving valuable in attacking-third build-up as well as through his customary strength as a defensive midfielder.

Barcelona and Tottenham, both clubs with sudden holes in midfield thanks to injuries, could be interested in January, given that the 26-year-old’s contract is set to expire in the summer. The Foxes, who lead the Championship table, will have to weigh keeping Ndidi for a promotion push with securing a transfer fee for his services. If they make him available, he could be a hot commodity in the thin winter window, but if not, he could leave for free in the summer regardless of whether the club secures Premier League promotion or not.

8. Sheraldo Becker (ST, Union Berlin)

Possible destinations: West Ham, Fulham, Burnley, Everton.

After flirting with a departure from Union Berlin last summer following their shock Champions League qualification, 29-year-old striker Sheraldo Becker was kept in-house by his club for the final year of his contract. A good finisher with lightning-quick speed, Becker led the way with 11 goals and seven assists last season, but it’s all come crashing down this term as Union struggle on multiple fronts.

Becker has yet to score in league play this season, but he has had precious little service. He would be a great addition to a side with quality build-up play, with a host of Premier League teams possibly reviving their interest from the previous summer.

7. Valentin Barco (LB/LW, Boca Juniors)

Possible destinations: Man City, Chelsea, Brighton.

Helping lead Boca Juniors to the cusp of Copa Libertadores glory before ultimately falling short, 19-year-old Valentin Barco is now, by all accounts, on the verge of a move to Europe. He’s long been linked with Manchester City, but the defending Premier League champions have stiff competition.

Unlike most others on this list, Barco is available in the winter due to his South American club contract expiring at the end of the calendar year with the conclusion of their domestic season. Brighton attempted to trigger his release clause back in the summer but failed to secure a move, and now bigger clubs in England are swirling.

6. Piotr Zielinski (CM, Napoli)

Possible destinations: Liverpool, Inter, Juventus, Barcelona.

A creative, progressional midfielder, 29-year-old Poland international Piotr Zielinski is undoubtedly a wanted man. With Napoli taking a step back from their heights of last season, Zielinski could be on the move soon, just months removed from a summer in which he turned down Al Hilal to sign a one-year extension with his current club.

Be prepared for Barcelona to be linked with just about every single midfielder this winter, and Zielinski is no exception. Yet Liverpool also have reported interest, and other big Italian clubs are always in for other Serie A players, as the league loves to poach star performers from within its own ranks.

5. Anthony Martial (ST, Man United)

Possible destinations: Saudi Pro League, Juventus

Manchester United have the option to extend Martial’s contract by a further 12 months, thereby protecting his transfer value. The fact they seem undecided about whether it wouldn’t simply be better to let him leave for nothing tells you a lot about the striker’s situation.

Martial signed for United eight years ago and, despite fleeting bursts of good performances, he has never managed to maintain regular form and fitness. In 2023/24, he has found himself back-up to Rasmus Hojlund and, in his most recent Premier League start at Newcastle United, he was berated by his manager from the touchline in a listless performance.

Martial could still have a future at Old Trafford, but United may well decide they are better off getting his significant wages off the books. Indeed, it’s his salary that has put off suitors in the past, and ESPN reported that only the wealthy Saudi Pro League showed real interest in signing him last summer. Once a free agent, he would be more appealing, and Juventus could be in the market for a new forward.

4. Presnel Kimpembe (CB, PSG)

Possible destinations: Chelsea, Juventus.

Twenty-eight-year-old Presnel Kimpembe has only known life at Paris Saint-Germain, coming up through the club’s youth system and remaining in the French capital his entire career thus far. Yet after two straight seasons blighted by injury, including an Achilles tear that has kept him out since February, a change of scenery is in order for the France international.

Chelsea and Juventus were interested this past summer before Kimpembe signed a new one-year deal at PSG, but it seems he’ll move on for sure this time around. Kimpembe is a talented centre-back who can instantly improve any team he joins, but there is inherent injury risk to this move as well. If he can find a new Champions League club and stay on the pitch, he’ll be a quality signing for anyone in Europe.

3. Adrien Rabiot (CM, Juventus)

Possible destinations: Man United, Newcastle, Barcelona.

Manchester United seemed on the verge of signing French midfielder Adrien Rabiot on a free transfer last summer, but he eventually decided to stay in Italy for another season, signing a one-year contract extension. That only delayed talk of a move for about six months, and with Rabiot now again eligible to sign elsewhere, the chatter ramps up once again.

It’s always possible the 28-year-old remains in Turin yet again, but he could also reignite conversations with Man United, or join an injury-stricken team such as Newcastle United or Barcelona. With his mercurial mother acting as agent, Rabiot has a number of options, having established himself as a regular in the France setup along with his usual Juventus starting spot.

2. Guido Rodriguez (DM, Real Betis)

Possible destinations: Barcelona, Man United, Atletico Madrid

Midfielder Guido Rodriguez, now 29, has been a fringe player in the Argentina squad for some time now, but his recent performances for club and country have put him on the free transfer radar of big clubs as the summer of 2024 draws closer. A pure No. 6, Rodriguez can shield the back line with the best of them.

It seemed he was close to a move to Atletico Madrid, but the loss of Gavi at Barcelona has caused the Catalan club to explore its options, and now things have become more complicated. Real Betis could be convinced to sell so they don’t lose him for free, but they are also fighting for a European place and his loss would be a big blow to that chase.

1. Kylian Mbappe (FW, PSG)

Possible destinations: Real Madrid, Liverpool

Far and away the most coveted free agent of the 2024 summer transfer window, Kylian Mbappe has long been rumoured to be heading to Real Madrid.

However, as doubts grow about the relationship between club and player given what transpired back in 2022, other clubs could swoop in. PSG have already once come out of nowhere to re-sign their star, while Liverpool are seemingly lurking in the wings.

Other free agents with expiring contracts in summer 2024

While this list represents the 10 players who are most likely to garner interest from outside clubs, there are plenty of other quality individuals who could be candidates to sign pre-contract agreements in the coming months.

Tottenham must make a decision on the future of long-time servant Eric Dier, whose deal is up this summer, leaving him in limbo. Bournemouth face the same with 25-year-old defender Lloyd Kelly.

Thirty-one-year-old Porto striker Mehdi Taremi seems to be slowing and may be losing his place to up-and-coming Brazilian Evanilson, and thus may look to move on in the summer as his contract runs out. Also potentially seeing his time in Portugal come to a close is 30-year-old winger Rafa, who has had a solid season at Benfica and could attract interest.

West Ham playmaker Pablo Fornals could leave on a free transfer this coming summer, having fallen out of favour at the London club, while down in the championship Che Adams is struggling for service at Southampton and could look to see if any Premier League clubs will sign him for free.

Kelechi Iheanacho has been a big part of Leciester City’s playoff push, but whether they are promoted or not, he could attract interest as his contract runs down.

There are a few players whose clubs retain an option to extend their current contracts by another season, including 21-year-old Hannibal Mejbri of Manchester United. The youngster has yet to extend his deal beyond the summer of 2024, but the Red Devils can trigger an option to give him at least another season at Old Trafford. The same goes for Aaron Wan-Bissaka who has yet to sign new long-term deal, although the 26-year-old right-back is expected to do so eventually, as well as his teammate Victor Lindelof.

West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek is in the same boat, as the Hammers hold an option to extend his contract for a further year and are almost sure to do so, pushing this conversation at least another 12 months.

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