There has never been more money flowing around European football, yet there are still bargains to be found.
Plenty of the continent’s top clubs have made good use of the free-agent market, so much so that it was easy for us to put together an XI of freebies getting minutes towards the top of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Here are some of the best players getting regular game-time in the upper echelons of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga after arriving on a free, either this summer or in years gone by.
Adrián wasn’t meant to play this frequently. After all, last season’s back-up goalkeeper Simon Mignolet played just twice.
However, with Alisson picking up an injury in the first game of the season, the Spaniard – brought in from West Ham over the summer – has been an ever-present since replacing last season’s Champions League-winning keeper during the opening-day win over Norwich.
He has not been without his hairy moments, but there have been some big saves too, and Liverpool are already five points clear at the top of the Premier League having won all six of their games.
Fredericks had a difficult first season after joining West Ham on a free from Fulham in 2018, playing just 15 times in an injury-hit campaign, but after a solid April and May he has established himself in one of the surprise packages of the Premier League.
The former Tottenham youngster has been an ever-present, restricting Pablo Zabaleta to just 31 league minutes and linking up well with Andriy Yarmolenko down the right.
He’ll hope the knock he picked up in the win over Manchester United isn’t serious.
A few Liverpool fans expected this to be the season when Matip would lose his place to Joe Gomez, but the Cameroonian has made himself very difficult to drop.
The goal against Arsenal helped, but his all-round performances have really caught the eye.
One of Jürgen Klopp’s first signings when he arrived from Schalke in 2016, Matip has arguably never looked better in a Liverpool shirt.
RB Leipzig’s run to the top of the Bundesliga has been founded on an ability to make shrewd signings, but there are surprisingly few freebies in the mix.
One of the exceptions is Konaté, a French youth international who has gone on to represent his country at Under-21 level since joining for nothing from Sochaux in 2017.
The centre-back has been an ever-present this season as Julian Nagelsmann’s team have remained unbeaten domestically and seen off Benfica in Lisbon in their Champions League opener.
In De Vrij’s three appearances this season, Inter have conceded just one goal and beaten AC Milan and Udinese in the process.
Inter’s expensively-assembled squad has caught the eye, but the Dutchman – signed on a free from Lazio in 2018 – has shown his value.
He’s not the only centre-back who cost the club nothing, with Diego Godín also playing his part to help the Nerazzurri to the top of Serie A.
Another Inter man on the list, Asamoah has been far more prominent for the Milanese club than at previous employers Juventus.
The Ghanaian’s versatility arguably worked against him in Turin, but after 30 games last season, the midfielder-cum-left-back has kept his starting place despite a summer of change.
Asamoah has played every minute in the league as Inter have picked up 12 points from 12, and also picked up 90 minutes in the Champions League draw with Slavia Prague.
Lukaku will get the plaudits, and deservedly so. Godin too. Sensi, Barella and various others deserve recognition too. But let us raise a toast to Asamoah, who gave absolutely everything on that pitch tonight in terms of work rate, athleticism and determination. A great man
— Serpents of Madonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) September 21, 2019
Athletic Bilbao have been one of the surprise quick-starters in La Liga, beating Barcelona on the opening weekend of the season and going top after five games in which they have conceded just once.
Midfield man García is one of a handful of players to rack up 450 league minutes, and the former Eibar man has played his part as Barça, Real Sociedad, Mallorca and Alavés have all drawn blanks against Gaizka Garitano’s team.
Not bad for someone who didn’t just arrive on a free but who didn’t even make his La Liga debut until he was 24 years old, coming through with Eibar as they climbed into the top flight in 2014.
Ramsey had to wait for his Juventus debut after picking up an injury towards the end of his time at Arsenal, but the Welshman has already made an impact.
After making his bow in the Champions League as a late sub against Atlético Madrid, Ramsey marked his first Serie A start with a goal against Verona.
We’re expecting plenty more where that came from.
Ramsey’s replacement against Verona, Khedira is part of a long line of smart Juve pick-ups.
The German World Cup winner joined from Real Madrid in 2015, and seems to currently have the upper hand over compatriot and club team-mate Emre Can.
Khedira has started four games this season, four more than fellow free transfer Adrien Rabiot.
Fiorentina might be struggling at the bottom of Serie A, but the one bright spark comes in the form of Ribéry.
The French veteran joined after a decade at Bayern Munich, and is already off the mark with a goal against Atalanta.
The Viola themselves, though, have had a hard time of it, with two narrow defeats and a late Atalanta equaliser leaving them bottom after four games.
One of the best free transfer pick-ups of this generation, Lewandowski has scored more than 200 Bayern Munich goals since letting his Borussia Dortmund contract run down in 2014.
The Pole has started 2019-20 in fine form, scoring 11 goals in his first eight games in all competitions including a hat-trick at Schalke.
An honourable mention goes to a more recent freebie, Fernando Llorente, who has already got off the mark for new club Napoli in the Champions League and scored his first league goals against Lecce.