16 huge stars going into the final year of their contracts: Messi, Salah…

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Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring for PSG against Manchester City. Parc des Princes, September 2021.

Free transfers are becoming more common in football as stars choose to run their contracts down and hold out for higher salaries. Some of the biggest names in football – including Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo – are currently set to become free agents in 2023.

High-profile players such as Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba have run their contracts down this season, and are expected to leave PSG and Manchester United for free, despite PSG rejecting large bids for Mbappe from Real Madrid last summer.

When a player only has one year left on their contract and no intention of signing a new deal, they are often available for cut-price transfers, and clubs around Europe will be keeping an eye on the men listed below.

We’ve picked out 16 top players who are about to enter the final 12 months of their contract with their deals set to expire in the summer of 2023, and looked at whether they might move on in the next two summers or sign an extension.

Mohamed Salah

The Liverpool star has been one of the best players in the world this season, but it currently remains unclear whether he will pen a new deal to keep him at Anfield beyond 2023.

It’s a saga which has dragged on a fair bit…

Jurgen Klopp and Mohamed Salah celebrate after the Champions League final over Tottenham Hotspur, Madrid, Spain, June 2019.

READ: Mo Salah’s Liverpool contract: Every word he & Klopp have said on deal

Raheem Sterling

The 27-year-old winger shone for England during Euro 2020, and has been a roaring success at Manchester City since his £50million move from Liverpool in 2015, but time is running out on his deal.

Pep Guardiola has stated that he wants to keep Sterling, and barring any hiccup, the Englishman should extend his stay at the Etihad stadium.

“Nobody doubts how important it is,” Guardiola stated in February. “What I want is to play good. Not just him, but all the players. If we count the amount of games he has played since we are together, it is a lot. He is a key player.

“About the future, I don’t know what is going to happen. The club decides. I give my opinion but of course the club takes the decision all the time.”

Sadio Mane

Like his Liverpool teammate Salah, the 30-year-old only has 12 months left to run on his current deal.

Unlike Salah, Mane’s situation has been scrutinised little. But with 19 goals this season, Jurgen Klopp would probably want to keep the Senegal star beyond 2023, despite his age.

Luis Diaz arrived from Porto in January, and many feel that he is the ideal long-term replacement for Mane, but the former Southampton man still has plenty more to give.

Lionel Messi

Messi signed a two-year deal when he made his shock transfer to PSG last summer and does not look likely to extend that after what has been a fairly difficult first season in France.

There is always the possibility that Messi returns to Barcelona once his PSG deal expires, but a new contract in Paris is not currently on the cards.

Serge Gnabry

The German winger has been a star at Bayern Munich since his arrival in 2018, but contract talks have stalled, and the 26-year-old may well be on the move if the situation can’t be resolved.

Gnabry has often spoken about his affection for Arsenal, where he came through the academy, and a potential return to north London could be on the cards.

He has plenty of history in the English capital…

Marcus Rashford

The Manchester United forward is having a nightmare season, attracting criticism for his poor performances as United sit sixth in the table.

The 24-year-old looks more likely to leave than sign a new deal with the club, and a fresh start to revive his career could be what Rashford needs.

With the World Cup coming up in December, Rashford will need to rediscover his form or risk losing his spot on the plane, and a move may be the best way to force his way into Gareth Southgate’s plans.

Jan Oblak

A legendary goalkeeper at Atletico Madrid, Oblak has had a poor campaign by his own high standards but remains the undisputed No.1 for Diego Simeone’s side.

There is no indication that he will sign a new deal, but the 29-year-old is still happy at Atletico and will likely stay beyond 2023.

Gavi

A teenage sensation who broke through into the Barcelona side so well that he earned his first Spain cap as a 17-year-old, Gavi is only contracted until 2023.

His situation is reportedly being monitored by Liverpool, but Barcelona will be doing everything in their power to keep Gavi at Camp Nou, and want to give the midfielder a new contract as soon as possible.

Gavi of Barcelona in action against Sevilla, Camp Nou, April 2022

READ: Dial 999, Gavi stole Leo Messi’s killer instinct and is using it to end careers

Youri Tielemans

Leicester’s Belgian midfield maestro reportedly has no intention of signing a new deal, and could very well be on his way out of the club.

Arsenal have been strongly linked with the 24-year-old, and Tielemans could be available for as little as £25million.

One to watch in the summer window.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s shock return to Old Trafford has not been the fairytale story that was on the cards when he moved from Juventus last summer.

Despite performing well and scoring 22 goals, United have finished a fifth consecutive year without silverware and look set to miss out on Champions League qualification.

The 37-year-old penned a two-year deal on his return to Manchester, but it remains to be seen what the future holds for Ronaldo whilst United undergo a rebuild under Erik ten Hag.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo during the victory over Burnley at Old Trafford, Manchester, December 2021.

READ: A breakdown of the stats behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100 PL goals

Robert Lewandowski

The 33-year-old Bayern Munich striker is still operating at a very high level, but with just one year left on his deal, Lewandowski is reportedly interested in a move to Barcelona.

Whether Bayern decide to cash in now rather than losing one of their best ever strikers for free will depend on their ability to convince Lewandowski to commit his future to the club he joined in 2014.

With 48 goals in 43 appearances this season, there will be no shortage of interested clubs should Bayern decide to sell.

N’Golo Kante

Everyone’s favourite Chelsea midfielder, the 31-year-old Frenchman is still a key player for Thomas Tuchel’s side, and the club will not want to lose a fan favourite cheaply.

Whilst Chelsea’s ownership situation means that they cannot give Kante a new contract just yet, they will be encouraged that he has shown no indication that he wants to leave the club.

He’s got plenty left in the tank.

READ: 12 reasons why it’s impossible not to love Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante

Kalidou Koulibaly

Napoli’s brick wall at the back, the 30-year-old was one of the most in-demand centre backs in Europe in his younger days, and still remains one of Serie A’s best defenders.

Koulibaly looks set to sign a new deal to keep him in Naples until 2026, despite reported interest from Manchester United.

Wilfried Zaha

Crystal Palace’s talisman was once the subject of heavy interest from Arsenal and Everton, but now, at the age of 29, there is less demand for the winger.

Zaha and Crystal Palace are a match made in heaven, but this would likely be Zaha’s final opportunity to secure a big move elsewhere, and there is no talk of a contract extension at present.

“Wilfried is a massively important player for us and we are strong with Wilfried on the team,” manager Patrick Vieira recently told Crystal Palace’s website.

“In every team in the league, you have a player who can make a difference and Wilfried is one of those. I’m glad he’s playing well, creating chances and scoring goals and in a really good period at the moment.

“[The way to motivate him] is to challenge him. There is a lot more he can do for the team. He’s working hard, creating chances, scoring goals, and I’m really happy with his performances at the moment. The challenge is the same for him as the rest of the players: to maintain those performances.”

Riyad Mahrez

The 31-year-old winger has been inspired at Manchester City, and with 23 goals this season is having one of his best seasons yet.

Mahrez is a popular figure at the Etihad Stadium and is reportedly close to signing a new contract which will keep him at the club beyond 2023.

The Algerian joined City from Leicester in 2017 and has played an integral part in winning countless trophies under Pep Guardiola.

“He has scored a lot of goals, penalties, assists and everything,” Guardiola stated in March.

“A part of that is the quality he has to read the game perfectly – when he has to attack he must give extra passes. But I would not say it is his best season because he has played in the Premier League at a high level for many years.

“Last season he was exceptional, he was so important in the last quarter of the season and playing really well.”

Fabian Ruiz

The Spanish midfielder joined Napoli from Real Betis in 2018 and has been sensational in the middle of the park in over 150 appearances.

The 26-year-old has been linked with a big move, and Napoli will be concerned that they might be forced to part ways with one of their best players cheaply.

Real Madrid and Arsenal are rumoured to be among the clubs interested in the Spain international, who could be tempted by a move to a Champions League club.


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