13 of the best free transfers of the modern era: Milner, Larsson, Pirlo

Quick Reads

Juventus are known for enjoying a bargain hunt when it comes to signing players, while Liverpool and Arsenal have also pulled off some of the best free transfers in recent years.

Football clubs now spend astronomical transfer fees on players, but there are still good-value deals to be sought.

Amid the chaos of the hundreds of millions, occasionally some of the best signings cost absolutely nothing at all. Here is a selection but certainly not all of the best free transfers of recent times.

Andrea Pirlo 

One of the most bizarre transfer decisions of all time saw AC Milan allow veteran midfielder Pirlo to join their Serie A rivals in Juventus.

Funnily enough ever since that transfer, the only way has been up for the Turin giants, whereas Milan endured a period of decline without the little maestro.

The legendary Italian midfielder went on to play 164 games for Juventus, winning the league in every single campaign along the way.

Jay-Jay Okocha

So good, they named him twice.

A previous £10million move from Eintracht Frankfurt to PSG made him Nigeria’s most expensive footballer, making the arrival of the attacking midfielder on a free even more of a coup for Bolton.

One of the most skillful players to ever grace the Premier League, Okocha made 141 appearances, becoming a Bolton legend. Oh, and he loved a free kick.

Henrik Larsson

The Swedish goalscoring machine’s move to Barcelona from Celtic came as a shock to many, but he very much answered the critics.

Larsson signed for the Catalan giants on the back of an impressive Euro 2004 campaign and seven stellar seasons in Scotland.

He described the move as “a dream come true” and repaid the faith the club showed in him when he came on as a substitute in the 2006 Champions League final, assisting both goals in the 2-1 comeback against Arsenal.

Sami Khedira 

This list wouldn’t be complete without Juventus having a say or three in it.

Surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, it was the Italian club that were the first to snap the Germany midfielder up, fending off interest from a host of clubs including Arsenal.

Since joining in 2015, Khedira has made 110 appearances, winning the Italian title and Coppa Italia three years on the bounce.

Miroslav Klose 

Like a fine wine, he just got better with age, didn’t he?

Bayern would have been forgiven by most for not pulling out all the stops to get a 33-year-old striker to sign a new deal, but of course Klose only went and proved them wrong.

Moving to Lazio, where he managed to rack up 171 appearances before retirement in 2016, he scored 63 goals, becoming the first player in the club’s history to bag five in one game.

James Milner

‘Boring James Milner’ may not be the most exciting of footballers, but he has proved a shrewd acquisition for Liverpool, having joined from Manchester City in 2015.

The ex-England international started the season outside Liverpool’s starting XI but went on to play an integral part in their run to the Champions League final as a vital cog in Jurgen Klopp’s machine.

Milner played 47 times during the busy schedule on Merseyside last season and broke the record for most-assists in a single Champions League campaign a long the way.

READ: James Milner is making us question everything we were told about football

Michael Ballack

In July 2006, Jose Mourinho made his first signing of the summer bringing Ballack to Chelsea.

The then-Germany captain was well known around the world as a goalscoring midfielder, and had been crowned German Footballer of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2005 prior to the signing.

Over 150 appearances followed, as he went on to win two FA Cups, the League Cup and, most importantly, the Premier League in 2010.

Paul Pogba

While he may have his detractors at Manchester United, Pogba established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world at Juventus.

Making 178 appearances for the Turin club, he scored 34 times and made 43 assists as they claimed four league titles, two Italian Cups and two Italian Super Cups, all while still being only 23 years of age.

If the help on the pitch wasn’t enough from the young player, the financial gain Juventus made from Pogba off the pitch makes this one of the greatest free transfers of all time.

In 2016 ‘Pogback’ became a thing and the midfielder returned to United just four years after leaving on a free for a world record £89million.

Robert Lewandowski

Bayern must be a pain in the backside for Borussia Dortmund fans. They take all their best players year after year and sometimes even have the cheek to do it on a free.

It was the stubbornness of Dortmund that allowed this free transfer to happen in the first place, but you can’t really blame them.

Bayern had picked up Mario Gotze the previous summer, which led to Dortmund refusing to let Lewandowski leave, even though he only had a year left on his contract.

Despite interest from the Premier league, the Polish forward opted to join his Bundesliga rivals – as has become a recurring theme over the last few years.

The big striker has not looked back since. A staggering 151 goals in 195 appearances have followed, as well as four consecutive Bundesliga titles. Not a bad return for a freebie.


The legendary Spanish striker ended his 18-year spell with Real Madrid to move on a free transfer to Schalke in 2010.

Even at 33 years of age, Raul was attracting interest from all around the world and showed no signs of slowing down in the Bundesliga – which he described as the best league in the world.

Raul scored 40 goals in 98 appearances for Schalke, proving he could very much still perform at the highest level.

Sol Campbell 

Making the move across North London is one of the riskiest moves a player could make, and this transfer still goes down as one of the most controversial of all time.

It’s safe to say the Spurs faithful never forgave Campbell for the move, but with the success the big centre-half ended up having with Arsenal he probably doesn’t care.

The former England international made 210 appearances for the Gunners and was an integral part of the famous ‘Invincibles’ side of 03-04.

READ: Sol Campbell: Arsenal 2004 wouldn’t have been scared of this Man City

Esteban Cambiasso

The Argentine midfielder has proved quite good value over the years so it seems.

Although he was unfortunate to miss out on the title-winning squad the following year, he played a huge role in Leicester City’s Premier League survival in 2015, earning their Player of the Season award.

Arguably more impressive, however, was his move to Inter from Real Madrid in 2004. Cambiasso became one of the club’s most important players over the next decade, making 431 appearances across his 10-year spell.

During that time he helped Inter become a dominant force in Italy, winning five league titles, four Italian Cups and a Champions League.

Demba Ba

Following West Ham’s relegation to the Championship in 2011, it was Newcastle United that quickly made their move for the Senegalese striker.

Ba had joined the Hammers in January of that same season – after initially failing a medical at Stoke City – but a relegation release clause allowed him to move on a free.

The forward went on to score 29 goals in 54 appearances for the Magpies before earning himself a big move to Chelsea in 2013.

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