Football Manager 2020 is finally here, which can only mean one thing: signings, and lots of them.
Well, perhaps not depending on your club of choice. If the financial constraints are hampering your ability to assemble a fully-fledged squad, then perhaps a little bit of ingenuity in the market is required.
As per the good ol’ Bosman ruling, players in the final year of their contracts can enter negotiations and sign pre-contract agreements with foreign clubs from January onwards.
And there are some clubs who have benefitted immensely from this transfer loophole in the past – we’re all looking at you, Juventus! So, why not follow in the footsteps of Europe’s pre-contract masters and lure some of football’s most prized assets to your club for zilch?
When the New Year strikes on your save, there will be an abundance of players whose contracts are set to expire in the summer. Last year we all enjoyed prising Adrien Rabiot away from Paris, but who is up for grabs this time around? Here are 15 of the best.
1. James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
The Colombian phenom returned to Real Madrid from Bayern Munich in the summer after a two-year sojourn in Bavaria, and nope, Zinedine Zidane still doesn’t fancy him. At 28, James is in the prime years of his career, but he is yet to rediscover his 2014 World Cup form. Perhaps you can end his Bernabeu nightmare and make him the centrepiece signing of your side.
2. Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain)
Surely PSG can’t lose another key player on a free transfer two years in a row? Cavani may be 32 – 33 come the summer – but he is still one of Europe’s most devastating No. 9s. Despite the French tycoons boasting some of the deepest pockets in world football, a number of players seem desperate to leave the Parc des Princes – ahem Neymar. Why not compound further misery on Thomas Tuchel and pluck this lethal striker from his clutches?
3. Blaise Matuidi (Juventus)
Now here’s a chance to play Juve – or Zebre as they’re known on FM20 due to licensing issues – at their own game. The Old Lady have enticed the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Aaron Ramsey, Paul Pogba and Emre Can to Turin for free, so here lies a perfect opportunity to hit this pre-contract doyen where it hurts most. Matuidi is one of Europe’s most tenacious, energetic and sophisticated midfielders; his experience and turbocharger exploits are sure to enhance any side.
4. Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Matuidi isn’t the only man up for grabs in the shadow of the Alps. Colombian winger Cuadrado is blessed with break-neck speed and a refined end product to match. Sure, he may be another player who is getting on a bit, but his performances on the pitch certainly aren’t showing it. He would bring a ridiculous amount of zest and byline panache to your squad, as well as the versatility to play as a wing-back.
5. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
For those outside the Premier League sphere, Eriksen is this year’s Rabiot – the creme de la creme of contract expiry players. His availability is set to spark a significant tug-of-war match across Europe so make sure to offer the Dane a very handsome wage package. Of course, Jose Mourinho has just rocked up in north London, so perhaps there is yet another twist to this tale, but fortunately for us, his transfer status is highly unlikely to change on Football Manager.
6. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Staying in the capital and Eriksen’s teammate Alderweireld is also on the menu come the New Year. He came dangerously close to parting ways with Spurs over the summer but now is your chance to see that departure come to fruition. His future – like Eriksen’s – is another which could alter considerably following the arrival of Mourinho. Let’s not forget the Portuguese tactician was desperate to sign him during his Manchester United stint.
7. Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Head to Napoli these days and you will find civil unrest between the hierarchy and Carlo Ancelotti’s playing squad, prompting intense rumours of a mass overhaul. And one player who looks destined to leave is diminutive forward Mertens, though perhaps not for East Asia; president Aurelio De Laurentiis has already crucified the idea of Mertens moving to China, stating: “If they [Mertens and Jose Callejon] want to sell themselves out in China, overpaid to live a life of s*** for two or three years, it’s their problem.”
Perhaps a move to the Premier League would keep emotions in check.
8. Jose Callejon (Napoli)
The San Paolo landscape looks set to undergo huge changes these coming months and another player who could be on the move is former Real Madrid winger Callejon. As mentioned, De Laurentiis doesn’t appear keen for his versatile forward to join Marek Hamsik in China, but recent reports are suggesting just that. Here is your chance to save the Napoli boss from further strain and add the Spaniard to your ranks – providing you’re not managing Dalian Yifang that is.
9. Willian (Chelsea)
Back to the Premier League, so those managing on these shores, look away now. Barcelona may finally get their bizarre wish of adding the Brazilian to a squad already replete with world-class wing talent, and it won’t cost them around £50m either. But you could pip the Catalonian giants to the post by agreeing terms with Willian. It will cost you north of £120k per week mind.
10. Pedro (Chelsea)
This situation threatened to offer Frank Lampard a wide-man quandary at the start of the campaign, but as it goes, Callum Hudson-Odoi has recovered excellently from his ruptured Achilles and Christian Pulisic is now firing on all cylinders. As such, Pedro may even be deemed surplus to requirements, but the ex-Barca winger still has plenty to offer and would be a wise investment for any top-flight club.
11. David Silva (Manchester City)
Silva has already announced his decision to leave the Etihad at the end of this current campaign, closing the curtains on an illustrious decade in the North West, but my word, he is certainly showing no signs of slowing down. At 33, Silva is very much in the twilight years of his career, but you wouldn’t think it. The elegant playmaker is of that rare breed of footballer who appears to age like a fine wine – think Pirlo – and will no doubt zhuzh up any midfield.
12. Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain)
David’s namesake is also on the market, but unfortunately for us FM aficionados it’s not Bernardo, but rather stalwart Thiago. The seasoned Brazilian defender has just turned 35 but he is still meanly locking the Parisian backline and could flourish under the right manager. His experience would also prove invaluable for anyone looking to develop a young centre-back.
13. Eric Bailly (Manchester United)
Staying true to the centre-back theme and Bailly is approaching the final months of his career in the immaculate red jersey of Man Utd, unless fresh terms are penned of course. But for us managing overseas, the Ivorian defender is available to sign a pre-contract with in January, and he could seriously beef up your backline. He’s had ill-luck with injuries but were he to hit his stride and avoid the treatment table, then he could yet develop into a world-beater.
14. Mario Balotelli (Brescia)
The mercurial Italian forward has a propensity to weave his way into these type of lists, but you would be unwise to ignore him come January. He may possess a sunshine-and-showers mentality, but if you provide him the right environment then he will certainly thrive in the final third.
15. Adam Lallana (Liverpool)
Another who hasn’t had much luck in terms of staying fit but, on his day, Lallana is still a fine playmaker. His Dribbling, First Touch and Technique attributes make for a very competent No. 10. He could be the star of the show for a middling top-flight club or an excellent squad player for any Champions League side.