The January transfer window is now closed but with a whole host of stars nearing the end of their contracts, the speculation is by no means finished.
Lionel Messi is the most obvious player falling into this category, with that one-year extension infamously triggered by Barcelona last summer now approaching its conclusion.
However, the six-time Ballon d’Or-winner is by no means the only hot property on this summer’s free market. To give you a sense of just how much quality could be available for a zero-sum transfer fee, we’ve created a combined XI which could honestly challenge for major honours in its own right.
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Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma
Current club: AC Milan
International caps: 22 (Italy)
Given that he’s represented by none other than Mino Raiola, expect plenty of drama to follow Gianluigi Donnarumma this summer with his contract winding down. That said, with 22 international caps for Italy and almost 200 Serie A appearances under his belt at just 21 years old, he’ll be well worth the trouble. Considering how AC Milan are motoring on in Serie A, he might even move clubs as a Scudetto winner, should he fail to agree a new contract at the San Siro. The list of suitors will be long.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos
Current club: Real Madrid
International caps: 178 (Spain)
Over the past six-and-a-half years, it’s hard to think of a more influential centre-back or captain than Sergio Ramos. The 178-time Spain international (one hundred and seventy-eight!) has helped inspire Real Madrid to four Champions League titles, two La Liga crowns and a Copa del Rey during that time, as well as four Fifa Club World Cups, three European Super Cups and two Supercopa de Espanas. And that’s on top of the multitude of club and international honours he mopped up prior to 2014. At 34, he’s not going to be a great long-term option, but what an incredible wealth of experience and winning pedigree to bring in on a free transfer.
Centre-back: Jerome Boateng
Current club: Bayern Munich
International caps: 76 (Germany)
Like Ramos, Jerome Boateng also has a ridiculous CV to show any potential employers, including World Cup and Champions League medals (x2) to go with his boatload of German domestic titles. Boateng has endured something of a tumultuous relationship with the Bayern Munich board over the past couple of years and that, combined with various fitness issues, means he hasn’t managed more than 24 league appearances in a single season since 2014/15. Even so, there are plenty of clubs that could benefit from the experience he has to offer, not to mention the immense defensive qualities when Boateng is on top form.
Centre-back: David Alaba
Current club: Bayern Munich
International caps: 76 (Austria)
David Alaba is arguably one of the most attractive options on this list. Able to play at left-back, centre-back and central midfield at a world-class level, his versatility alone adds serious depth to any squad, while the fact he’s still on 28 and in peak physical shape means he can slot in right away and solve a potential problem for the next five years. Real Madrid and Chelsea seem to be the two clubs battling for the Bayern Munich star right now. He would undoubtedly improve either.
Right wing-back: Lucas Vazquez
Current club: Real Madrid
International caps: 9 (Spain)
Lucas Vazquez isn’t the most glamourous name at Real Madrid nor in this team, he’d probably admit that himself. However, his versatility, industry and willingness to do whatever it takes for the team makes him a manager’s dream. Just ask Zinedine Zidane where he would be if he had been unable to rely on Vazquez to fill in at right-back so many times over the past couple of years. Vazquez’s ability to play as a marauding wing-back or a solid winger who can help shut the game down will likely be enough to tempt a few clubs into negotiations with the nine-cap Spain international.
Central midfield: Georginio Wijnaldum
Current club: Liverpool
International caps: 70 (Netherlands)
One of the unsung heroes of a Liverpool side with Premier League and Champions League trophies in the cabinet, Georginio Wijnaldum’s reputation has sky-rocketed since moving to Anfield – remember when he was relegated with Newcastle? Able to play as a box-to-box midfielder, the very least you’ll get from Wijnaldum is immense industry and 70 caps worth of international experience. At his best, he can be the difference in the biggest games. Just ask reported suitors Barcelona about that.
Central midfield: Hakan Çalhanoğlu
Current club: AC Milan
International caps: 51 (Turkey)
Whether from set-pieces or open play, Hakan Calhanoglu is an absolute wizard with the ball at his feet and already this season, the 51-time Turkey international has created 59 chances in Serie A, 10 more than any other player in the league. Alongside Donnarumma, Calhanoglu is spear-heading AC Milan’s Scudetto assault but it appears as if club and player have reached a contract stalemate, leaving the door open for another European giant to swipe an incredible creative midfielder for absolutely nothing.
Left wing-back: Juan Bernat
Current club: PSG
International caps: 11 (Spain)
There are already whispers going around that Barcelona are looking to agree a deal to bring Juan Bernat to the Camp Nou, and signing a player of his quality and pedigree for free would undoubtedly make a huge amount of sense. Bernat already has 51 games’ worth of La Liga experience under his belt from his time at Valencia, while he’s won a raft of league and cup titles during spells with Bayern Munich and PSG. Despite not always being a regular starter, the 11-time Spain international provides real attacking thrust down the left flank and at 27, still has plenty of years left in the tank.
Left attacking midfield: Memphis Depay
Current club: Lyon
International caps: 59 (Netherlands)
That Memphis Depay’s contract is running down and the Netherlands international is open to offers is no secret. In fact, the story has dominated the back pages for months now with the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool linked with him in the recent past. Even Depay himself has admitted he and teammate House Aouar want to leave Lyon for one of the world’s ‘top three’ clubs.
“We know we play for a very big club but we want to go to one of the top three clubs in the world,” he said. “Then you will see Houssem, he will get 10 times better. For me, it’s the same.”
With that in mind, Depay is highly unlikely to sign a new deal at Lyon so expect a scramble over the next few months from clubs looking to secure his signature.
Right attacking midfield: Lionel Messi
Current club: Barcelona
International caps: 142 (Argentina)
Although he didn’t actually move, the Lionel Messi transfer saga dominated the summer window with a public falling out between player and club making it seem almost inevitable that he’d join Manchester City. In the end, Barca triggered a one-year extension in his contract and Messi, not wanting to take his beloved club to court, backed down. Given the Catalan club’s financial crisis, not cashing in on the 142-time Argentina international now looks like a questionable decision. There’s an extremely strong chance that Barca are going to lose arguably the greatest player of all time on a free transfer this summer, which is simply unforgivable.
Man City will undoubtedly remain in the race but PSG forward Angel Di Maria — himself out of contract in the summer — has called upon his international teammate to join him in Paris. Brace yourselves for another wild summer of speculation.
Striker: Sergio Aguero
Current club: Manchester City
International caps: 97 (Argentina)
There has been a gradual changing of the guard over the past couple of years at Manchester City, with club legends like Vincent Kompany and David Silva — key to so much of their success for the past decade — departing. Sergio Aguero is right up there among those revered names at the Etihad Stadium but, with fitness severely limiting his minutes and ability to influence things on the pitch, could his time also be up? Pep Guardiola recently described Aguero as a ‘unique’ striker who remains hugely important to his squad but the fact remains that the Argentine is yet to agree on a new contract. The longer that situation rolls on, the more you can expect interested parties to begin circling.
Substitutes: Lukasz Fabianski, David Luiz, Javi Martinez, Fernandinho, Julian Draxler, Florian Thauvin, Angel Di Maria.