Bargains! 11 of football's best free transfers EVER
1. Roberto Baggio (Milan to Bologna, 1997)
Baggio scored 22 goals and provided six assists as the so-called relegation candidates secured an eight-place finish
The Divine Ponytail’s powers seemed to be on the wane when he left Milan in 1997, so much so that Parma boss Carlo Ancelotti passed up the chance to sign him for nothing that summer.
Bologna duly stepped in and were rewarded with some stunning showings the following season: Baggio scored 22 goals and provided six assists as the so-called relegation candidates secured an eighth-place finish. The playmaker’s performances earned him a spot in Italy’s World Cup ‘98 squad, and a transfer to boyhood club Inter.
2. Steve McManaman (Liverpool to Real Madrid, 1999)
Raul warned that the club’s dressing room was a “cesspit of lies, treachery and whispers” and suggested that McManaman had made a mistake
McManaman was heavily criticised for signing a pre-contact agreement with los Blancos midway through the 1998/99 campaign, but his decision to swap Merseyside for Madrid was soon justified. Not that he was joining a particularly happy camp, however: Raul warned that the club’s dressing room was a “cesspit of lies, treachery and whispers” and suggested that McManaman had made a mistake in choosing Madrid as his next destination.
The England international didn’t take long to prove his worth at the Bernabeu, though, helping the club claim two La Liga crowns and two Champions Leagues within the space of four seasons.
3. Gary McAllister (Coventry to Liverpool, 2000)
The former Leeds man made 49 appearances in all competitions that year, scoring crucial goals against Everton, Barcelona and Alaves
Eyebrows were raised when the Reds added a 35-year-old freebie to their number in 2000, but McAllister proved he wasn’t over the hill by starring in midfield as Gerard Houllier’s charges won a unique FA Cup-League Cup-UEFA Cup treble in his first season at Anfield.
- ONE-ON-ONE Gary McAllister: "The editor of a local fanzine said that if I played more than 10 matches, he’d show his bare arse in Woolworths"
- FEATURE 7 Premier League veterans who defied age to dazzle in the top flight
4. Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001)
The England centre-back ensured he had no regrets over the move by winning two league titles and three FA Cups with Arsenal
A free transfer that provoked wildly different reactions on the two sides of the north London divide: Tottenham academy product and captain Campbell stunned the Premier League when he pitched up at Arsenal in 2001.
The anger of Spurs supporters has never truly subsided – over the years Campbell was subjected to taunts and vitriol that went way beyond the line – but the England centre-back ensured he had no regrets over the move by winning two league titles and three FA Cups during his five years with the Gunners. He also scored the opening goal in the 2006 Champions League Final, before Barcelona came from behind to lift the trophy in Paris.
- ONE-ON-ONE Sol Campbell: "Football-wise, the crowd got me wired... but on an emotional level, it was disgusting"