12 free agents with CL experience still looking for a new club: Mata…

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Manchester United's Juan Mata applauds the home supporters on his final appearance at Old Trafford, Manchester, May 2022.

The transfer window may have (slammed) shut on Thursday night, but there are still clubs whose rebuilding work remains unfinished – and they may be tempted by one of these glittering free agents.

Though no players can be transferred between clubs until January, there are plenty of free agents looking for a new club who can be snapped outside the restrictions of the transfer window. And a few of them have experience at the very highest level.

We’ve brought together 12 players who have previously turned out in the Champions League but are currently unattached.

Diego Costa

Ah, Diego Costa. The shithouse’s shithouse. The man who’d stamp on your toddler’s birthday cake and tell you to ‘cry more’ if you dared to complain.

But Costa’s love of bending the rules has often masked his ability as a player; the striker was lethal for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea during the 2010s and scored five times for Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro in 2021.

He’s been linked with an eclectic range of clubs this summer from Birmingham City and Rayo Vallecano to Manchester United but nobody’s taken the plunge on the 33-year-old just yet. They should.

READ: 11 of Diego Costa’s best sh*thouse moments: Ramos, Gabriel, Can & more

Juan Mata

One of the nicest guys in football, Mata was arguably the only player Manchester United fans were sad to see leave the club last season.

After 11 years in England – three with Chelsea, eight with United – it wasn’t surprising to see the former Spain international linked with a move to Leeds United over the summer.

But a switch to Elland Road hasn’t materialised. Neither has a move to America, with Mata turning down a number of approaches from MLS to stay at the highest level.

The 34-year-old is said to be taking a ‘patient’ approach to his next chapter, according to Spanish outlet Marca – perhaps a return to his home country would be ideal for Mata.

Marcelo

Marcelo is a Real Madrid legend. The defender is the most decorated player in the club’s history, winning 24 major honours with Madrid and making over 500 appearances in the famous white shirt.

The 34-year-old left the Bernabeu at the end of last season, after 15 years with the club, having been on the bench for their Champions League final victory over Liverpool.

“Thanks to my team-mates, coaches. But above all to the kit men, to the security, to the people who work behind the scenes and have dirty work,” he said in a highly-emotional final press conference.

“When I left Brazil I had in mind to play the Champions League. And today I leave here being the player with the most titles in the history of the biggest club in the world.”

It will be fascinating to see where Marcelo ends up next.

Ross Barkley

As Barkley rotted away on the Chelsea bench, becoming the footballing equivalent of that can of prunes left half-forgotten in your kitchen cupboard, it was easy to forget how exciting he looked at Everton.

With an impressive physique and nifty footwork, the midfielder was one of the most exciting talents in the Premier League and is still only 28.

A host of clubs, including Nice, Rangers and Southampton, are interested in signing Barkley after his release from Chelsea and he won’t be a free agent for long.

READ: Ross Barkley & the Everton goal he celebrated before he’d even scored

Dan-Axel Zagadou

The French defender was once seen as among the most exciting young defenders in the world. But after an injury-hit couple of seasons, Borussia Dortmund decided to let him go earlier this summer.

At 23 years old and standing at 6ft 5in, he really does have a lot going for him though. West Ham, Inter Milan and Roma have all been linked with a move.

If Zagadou can stay fit, he’ll be a hell of a free signing for whichever club gets him in.

Hatem Ben Arfa

Yes, he’s 35 and even less inclined to run than ever before.

But it’s Hatem Ben Arfa, for heaven’s sake. Somebody sign him up, please.

Hatem Ben Arfa celebrates scoring for Newcaslte United against Bolton Wanderers. St James Park, Newcastle, April 2012.

READ: Hatem Ben Arfa scored two goals of a lifetime in three months at Newcastle

Jason Denayer

He may be a Belgium international but Denayer is currently without a club after his release by Lyon and will be desperate to secure regular football before November’s World Cup.

Denayer, who made 139 appearances across four seasons with the French outfit, is not short of admirers and has previously been linked with Fulham.

And it’s believed Wolves have offered a contract to the 27-year-old, who has extensive experience at the top of European football.

Alan Dzagoev

Fans may have fond memories of Dzagoev tearing it up at Euro 2012 in an exciting, if infuriating, Russia side but the last decade hasn’t been the kindest to the playmaker.

Injuries kept him on the sidelines for long periods and the 32-year-old was released by CSKA Moscow this summer after 14 years of stellar service.

But there’s still magic in Dzagoev’s boots and it’d be a shame if his career was allowed to wither and die. Come on Everton, do your duty.

Fabian Delph

Whilst Delph holds the kind of footballing philosophy that caused Pep Guardiola to lose all his hair, the midfielder has been a Premier League stalwart for over a decade and is available for free after his release by Everton in May.

The former England international was crucial to The Toffees’ scramble away from the relegation places last year and you think he’d still do a job in the Championship at the very least.

Loris Karius

Karius played his last game for Liverpool in 2018 – yes, that one – and has spent the intervening years on loan at Besiktas, Union Berlin and as part of the training group at Kirkby.

But, while his time at Liverpool will always be marred that night in Kyiv, the goalkeeper is still just 29 and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he turned up somewhere like Turkey or Greece in the near future.

“I’m free and I can make my own decisions,” he said in June. “This is a new situation that I’m looking forward to. A new challenge is coming up, but that’s always a good thing. I’m ready, mentally and physically.”

Josip Ilicic

Ilicic was the goalscoring machine behind Atalanta’s recent renaissance but the Serie A club have now released the 35-year-old on a free transfer.

A statement on Atalanta’s official website said: “He has enchanted Bergamo with his plays, his inventions and his pure class since 2017. He made us dream with his magic on the pitch and moved us with his sensitivity and humanity off it.

“His four goals at Valencia will forever remain a portrait of the champion Ilicic, while the noble gesture of donating the ball of that magical evening to Bergamo’s Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital is a portrait of the man Josip.

“There would be goals and assists to list, but what these five seasons together have meant goes far beyond numbers.”

Ilicic has been linked with Hellas Verona but plenty of English sides could do worse than snap up the Slovenia international.

Adel Taarabt

Adel Taarabt underwent a remarkable transformation in his last three years at Benfica.

Following seven seasons at QPR, during which he repeatedly made yer da really angry and visited every 24-hour McDonald’s in west London, the Morrocco international went to Portugal in 2015. Then, for three and half years, he was loaned out or stuck in the reserves. Finally, though, he was given a chance in January 2019 and somehow became a Champions League-quality box-to-box midfielder. Bizarre.

Anyway, he was released by the Encarnados in the final hours of the transfer window and is now looking for a new home. We’d absolutely love to see him back in the Championship, reliving the glory days.


READ MORE: The 23 players to win the Champions League with more than one club