April 14, 2023

Messi, Gundogan, Thuram among top summer free agents

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The list of high-profile players whose contracts expire this summer is impressive, but there are a number who look set to remain at their clubs. Real Madrid veterans Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are all reportedly close to agreeing another year, with forward Marco Asensio ready to sign up for another four, while the futures of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus are likely to be resolved soon too.

Manchester United have an option to extend goalkeeper David de Gea by a year, though want him to accept a lower salary, so that could go either way. Meanwhile, a number of players have already agreed to move on including: Inter Milan centre-back Milan Skriniar, Eintracht Frankfurt attacking midfielder Daichi Kamada and RB Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer.

Yet there are several exceptionally talented players who are still to have their futures sorted just weeks before the end of the season. So here’s a rundown of the most coveted.

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The most high-profile of them all, Messi looks set to leave PSG as the option to extend into a third year of his contract is reportedly required to have the consent of both club and player. Sources have told ESPN that the Argentina World Cup winner is not prepared to reduce his salary, despite a disappointing season in Paris, and is awaiting offers.

MLS side Inter Miami are keen, as are his former club Barcelona if they can work out the financial aspect, while there remains interest from Saudi Arabia club Al Ittihad. A return to his first club, Newell’s Old Boys, has been mooted, but it’s unlikely Messi will want to head back to Argentina just now.

Undoubtedly the most attractive young free-transfer proposition available this summer. The France international mostly featured as a winger early in his career but has successfully claimed the centre-forward spot for Gladbach this season with 16 goals from 28 games.

His finishing abilities still require some polishing, but his hold-up play — he drops deep to provide a link to the midfield and distributes well with nice touches and lay-offs — plus his aerial prowess and clever movement off his defender make him a fairly complete target man.

While Serie A side Inter appeared early favourites to close a deal, the Premier League increasingly looks like his next destination with Man United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle all reportedly prepared to battle it out for his signature.

Evan N’Dicka, 23, centre-back, Eintracht Frankfurt

Recently linked with a move to Liverpool, N’Dicka has repeatedly attracted interest from European powerhouses since contract extension talks with Frankfurt broke down last year. Barcelona and Arsenal had seemed the most insistent suitors, but it appears that the left-footed centre-back is delaying any decision on his future until the end of the season.

As much as the powerful 6-foot-3 defender possesses great pace and aerial dominance, his audacious style — which often sees him setting off on high-risk runs — and recurring concentration lapses, can make him prone to errors. The France U21 international may not command more than a back-up role at the aforementioned giants, so needs to consider his next move carefully.

Though the Belgium international hasn’t managed to hit the heights of previous seasons — injuries have played a part, as well as a deteriorating Leicester side — Tielemans is a tantalising proposition for clubs hovering around the Champions League spots.

With over 500 games at senior level before his 26th birthday, Leicester City’s record signing (€45m from AS Monaco in 2019) is not just experienced, but his defensive work-rate, attacking creativity, purposeful off-the-ball movement and excellent shooting skills make him a multi-faceted central midfielder.

While he might lack the extra touch of dynamism and line-breaking ball-carrying associated with the best in the business, it would be surprising if Tieleman doesn’t seal a move to a big club this summer.

Long considered a player of potential, over the past year Rabiot has established himself as a key component for France at the World Cup and Juventus in a troubled Serie A season. In addition to his strength and ability to regain possession by way of pressing, smart positioning and winning aerial duels or tackles, the former PSG star also brings leadership to the midfield.

Fielded in a slightly more attacking No. 8 role at Juventus, the Frenchman has taken his goal-scoring tally into double figures (10 from 35 games.) And while extending his stay in Turin has not been ruled out, he almost left for Manchester United last summer and could head to the Premier League if afforded the chance.

Though no longer one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp’s teamsheet, the 31-year-old has been one of the few Liverpool players to have performed close to expectations this season. When it comes to link-up play, pressing and creating space in the final third, the energetic Brazilian can still be relied upon and his 11 goals this season saw him reach a century for the club.

Firmino still has plenty to offer Europe’s top sides, but his age and desire for a long-term contract indicates that the next step of his career could be played out further afield, with recent reports linking him with a move to Saudi Arabia or MLS.

The first signing by manager Pep Guardiola at Manchester City in the summer of 2016, Gundogan has been instrumental to the club’s recent success and is captain of the team. Yet the midfielder’s future is still up in the air.

Given Gundogan’s intelligence, spatial awareness, end product (1.5 shots and 1.4 key passes per 90 minutes) and proficiency in one-touch football, it’s no surprise that Barcelona are reported to be keen to sign him.

One does wonder why City won’t go the extra mile to keep such an influential player, who’s still very much performing at the top of his game, for another couple of seasons. Showing restraint in offering extended deals to players over the age of 30 might be a sensible policy in general, but an exception surely applies to a such a fine player whose impact extends beyond the pitch.

With more than 300 Premier League appearances and 67 goals to his name, Zaha ranks among the most underappreciated players in the top flight. A consistent threat with his acceleration, fine technical ability and penetrative pace, Zaha draws fouls with his relentless dribbles (four successful per 90 minutes) and trickery on the ball. Furthermore, he’s hardly ever injured.

The forward has been a vital player for Palace and, despite having turned 30, the Ivory Coast international would prove great value for his next employer. A lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia was reportedly turned down last month, while recent reports have seen him linked with Premier League sides Arsenal, West Ham and Newcastle.

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