13 free agents with Champions League experience still looking for a club

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The transfer window may have (slammed) shut on Tuesday night, but there are still clubs looking for solutions in the market. Luckily for them, there are solutions to be found.

Though no players can be transferred between clubs until January, there are plenty of free agents looking for a contract 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 13 players who have previously turned out in the Champions League but are currently unattached.

Eliaquim Mangala

Only seven years have passed since Manchester City saw fit to spend £42million to take Mangala to the Etihad, which was a British record for a defender at the time.

It’s probably fair to say that the move didn’t work out. In his second game for City, the French centre-half gave away a penalty and scored an own goal against Hull and never really recovered.

“City were the Premier League champions and I found a league that is very tough,” Mangala told the Athletic in 2020. “It was totally different to what I knew before. It was very intense. Everyone is strong and quick, even the little players! It’s challenges, it’s second balls.”

He joined Valencia in 2019, where he spent two seasons but played just 14 times in the league owing to injury.

David Luiz

An offer from Brazilian champions Flamengo is very much on the table after Luiz’s Arsenal exit, but the self-proclaimed ‘Geezer’ reckons he can do one last job in Europe before he crosses the Atlantic.

The clock’s ticking, so if a European side does want him, they’ll have to make their offer soon.

Franck Ribery

He’s 38 now, our Franck. But he’s a European champion, he’s been training with his old club Bayern Munich – who’ve been linked with a surprise move to sign him again – and he’s very much still got it.

Just have a look at what he was getting up to in a Fiorentina shirt at the back end of last season…

WATCH: Franck Ribery may be 38, but four Napoli men still couldn’t tackle him

Lucas Perez

Remember when Arsene Wenger shelled out £17million to bring Perez over from Deportivo La Coruna in 2016? Halcyon days. He had just come of the back of a 17-goal season for Deportivo in La Liga. Arsenal had qualified for the Champions League for the 19th time on the trot.

Now look at them. Arsenal in a state. Deportivo in the third tier. Anyway, let’s not dwell on the negatives.

After his solitary season at Arsenal, where he scored once in 11 Premier League outings, Perez rejoined Deportivo on loan for a season.

He then spent a thoroughly forgettable year in east London with West Ham and most recently played for Alaves, where he got a commendable 15 goals and nine assists over two seasons.

Now, he’s looking for a new club. Apparently, Rayo Vallencano are interested, but there’s still time for someone else to get there first.

Nabil Bentaleb

Bentaleb is still only 26. Feels like ages ago that he was breaking into Tim Sherwood’s Spurs side.

After leaving the north-London outfit, the Algeria international made his way to Schalke, where he experienced the highs of playing Champions League football and the lows of being banished to the Under-23s as the Royal Blues sunk to an embarrassing, 16-point relegation season.

After being cast out of the club – they say it was down to “disciplinary issues”, which he denies – Bentaleb is looking for a new home. There is a fine midfielder in there for anyone who can get him settled.

Hatem Ben Arfa

Newcastle fans would love it – love it! – if Ben Arfa returned to the Toon. And according to the translator who worked with him during his first stint on Tyneside, Ben Arfa would love it too.

Whether it’ll happen or not is another matter.

After leaving Bordeaux, Ben Arfa’s looking for a new club. But with his fulsome physique and the issues he had with team-mates in south-west France, many will be understandably reluctant.

There is a genius in there though. Which, we imagine, is why Jorge Sampaoli reportedly wants to take him to Marseille. Ben Arfa and Dimitri Payet in a Sampaoli team? That we would pay to see.

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

Serge Aurier

After Spurs signed Emerson Royal from Barcelona on deadline day, there was a glut of right-backs at the club and something had to give. That something – or indeed someone – was Aurier.

Tottenham were not able to find a club will to pay a fee and the Frenchman was allowed to terminate his contract, which had a year left to run, by mutual consent.

According to Sky Sports, Watford, Real Betis, Spartak Moscow and Genoa are interested in taking him, yet Aurier feels he can find a club at the top level. He’s prone to an error, but at 28 and in good physical condition, he might be right – especially now he’s available for nothing.

Jemerson

Jemerson was an integral part of the Monaco side that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2017, but his career has taken a nosedive since.

After being deemed surplus to requirements in the principality, his contract was terminated in November 2020, and he joined Corinthians back in Brazil. His eight-month deal came to an end in June, and he’s now available for nothing.

He’s not 30 yet, so surely somebody will give him a chance.

READ: Where are they now? The Monaco XI that reached the 2017 UCL semi-finals

Ramires

Ramires returned to Brazil from China in 2019 and spent a year with Palmeiras. His performances were poor, however, and the Big Green let him go in November 2020.

He’s been without a club since, though his agent has been negotiating and Ramires was reportedly close to signing with Sport Recife in March. At 34, this may well be his last contract.

Rafael

We love Rafael. You probably love him too. I mean, who doesn’t? Just look at that cheeky smile. And having left Istanbul Basaksehir – where he spent a single season, turning out against his old club Manchester United in the Champions League group stages – he’s now free on the market.

He’s been linked with a move back to France, where he could link up with his twin brother Fabio at Nantes. But there’s one destination he’s got his heart set on, it seems.

Asked by Sky Sports about his chances of joining an English side, Rafael said: “Who knows? Maybe, you never know. It would be amazing if I could come back to England and play in the Premier League again, it’s massive.”

READ: A tribute to Rafael, an embodiment of Man Utd’s Sir Alex Ferguson era

Javier Pastore

“It’s not easy for me to leave [Roma],” Pastore wrote on Instagram in August 2020. But, after three very injury-interrupted seasons in the Italian capital, he has done just that.

Owing to those injuries, he might find it difficult to remain at the level of Roma or PSG, for whom he played previously. But he is a fine footballer at his best and could perhaps inject some quality into a slightly lesser side.

Jack Wilshere

After half a season with Bournemouth at the beginning of 2021, Jack Wilshere is again without a club, aged just 29. Given what was expected of him a decade ago, this was a difficult situation to foresee.

In August, he related his struggles to the Athletic: “[My son Archie, nine] loves football. He knows everything about football. And it is difficult to explain to him. He’ll say to me, ‘How come no club wants you?’ I don’t know. But how do I explain that to him?”

As the transfer window shut, Wilshere was seen training with Italian Serie B side Como. Owing to the fact that he has a non-EU passport, however, Como are unable to register Wilshere and his search for a new employer goes on.

Clement Grenier

Like Wilshere, Grenier is a skillful, intelligent attacking midfielder who promised a great deal when he emerged at the start of the last decade.

Whilst coming through at Lyon, the Frenchman was linked with Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Inter Milan and was even compared with Kaka.

Like Wilshere, however, his progress was hampered by repeated injuries and, aged 30, he finds himself out of work.

He was most recently at Rennes, where he started 12 times in the league in 2020-21, getting four goals and three assists.


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