June 30 is a significant day in the European footballing calendar each year. There might be no action on the pitch, but that is the date when player contracts typically end, officially freeing them up to test the water as free agents.
Understandably, clubs are generally keen to tie their top talents down to new deals long before their contracts expire. However, there seems to be a growing appetite among the game’s biggest names to run their agreements down as close to expiry as possible, in order to secure better terms on their next contract.
Kylian Mbappe playing Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain off against each other earlier this year – before signing a bumper extension with the Ligue 1 champions is a prime example of how today’s stars are now maximising their bargaining power.
Liverpool, though, wanted no such saga when it came to the future of prolific winger Mo Salah. Mere hours after the Egyptian ticked into the final year on his Anfield contract, the Reds announced via Twitter that they had signed the 30-year-old to a new three-year deal, which will make him the highest-paid player in Liverpool history.
Many other clubs around Europe would love to follow the Reds’ lead and secure the futures of their own players with less than 12 months to run on their existing deals.
Failing that, some would simply like to cash-in on their biggest assets this summer to avoid the risk of losing them for absolutely nothing next June.
Following confirmation that Salah won’t be departing Merseyside in that fashion, we’ve decided to take a look at the 25 most valuable players who could still become free agents at the end of the 2022/23 season.
Data has been taken per the good folks over at Transfermarkt. For reference, players that have the option to extend their deals for a further year come next summer, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, haven’t been included.
Let’s now delve into the top 25.
The 25 most valuable players with less than a year to run on their current contracts
25. Stefan de Vrij | Inter Milan | £25.2m
24. Karim Benzema | Real Madrid | £27m
23. Manuel Akanji | Borussia Dortmund | £27m
22. Roberto Firmino | Liverpool | £28.8m
21. Evan Ndicka | Eintracht Frankfurt | £28.8m
The heavy favourite to win the 2022 Ballon d’Or could be playing his football away from the Bernabeu for the first time in 14 years if Los Blancos can’t convince the 34-year-old to sign a new deal.
Elsewhere, Liverpool may have resolved Salah’s future, but that of his partner in crime Firmino is still very much up in the air.
20. Riyad Mahrez | Manchester City | £31.5m
19. Memphis Depay | Barcelona | £31.5m
18. Kalidou Koulibaly | Napoli | £31.5m
17. Douglas Luiz | Aston Villa | £34.2m
16. Wilfried Zaha | Crystal Palace | £34.2m
After scoring 24 times last season, Man City appear keen to keep Mahrez at the Etihad Stadium – and it would be no surprise to see the Algeria captain put pen-to-paper on a contract extension shortly. These things are never official until the paperwork is complete, though. The tricky winger would certainly have no shortage of admirers elsewhere.
With Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having arrived at Barcelona since Memphis joined last summer, re-signing the Dutchman isn’t likely to be high on La Blaugrana’s list of priorities.
Palace have refused some tempting offers for club favourite Zaha over the years, but face the prospect of losing him on a free if they can’t come to terms on a new contract.
15. Caglar Söyüncü | Leicester | £36m
14. Marco Asensio | Real Madrid | £36m
13. N’Golo Kante | Chelsea | £36m
12. Thomas Lemar | Atletico Madrid | £36m
11. Jorginho | Chelsea | £36m
After the double blow of losing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen this summer, Chelsea won’t fancy a repeat dose in 12 months’ time. That’s exactly what they are facing, though, with Jorginho and Kante both out of contract next June.
10. Jose Gaya | Valencia | £36m
9. Jan Oblak | Atletico Madrid | £40.5m
8. Robert Lewandowski | Bayern Munich | £40.5m
7. Carlos Soler | Valencia | £45m
6. Youri Tielemans | Leicester | £49.5m
The 2021/22 season was a tough one for Atletico’s Oblak by his own high standards. That said, he’s still one of the best ‘keepers on the planet and would have no shortage of offers if he decides his future lies away from the Spanish capital.
Lewandowski and Tielemans have both made it clear to their respective clubs that they have no intention of extending their contracts. Departures before the start of the new season seem inevitable.
5. Fabian Ruiz | Napoli | £49.5m
4. Gavi | Barcelona | £54m
3. Serge Gnabry | Bayern | £58.5m
2. Milan Skriniar | Inter | £58.5m
1. Raheem Sterling | Man City | £63m
Barcelona’s Gavi may only be 17 years old, but he’s already got a firm idea of his worth, rejecting the La Liga side’s most recent contract offer. The Catalan outfit will surely be back with improved terms for the youngster, but his future remains unresolved as of now.
Bayern Munich have plenty of options when it comes to pacey attackers. However, they are still keen for the 26-year-old to stay at the Allianz Arena for the long term. Former club Arsenal seemingly wait in the wings if a deal can’t be done.
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The Serie A form of Inter’s dominating centre-back Skriniar has already seen him make his way onto the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs. Free to explore his options with his contract running down, Inter could have a fight on their hands to convince him to stay.
The most valuable player set to become a free agent next summer after Salah pledged his future to Liverpool, Man City’s Sterling is currently the subject of serious interest from Chelsea.
While it’s never a positive to lose an asset like Sterling, the reigning Premier League Champions look willing to do business this summer, rather than wave goodbye to the England man without compensation in 2023.
Salah signs new Liverpool deal (Reaction via The Football Terrace)