MEDIA coverage of transfers inevitably focuses on money – how much cash has been spent in the transfer window, the big buys and the eye-popping pay packets – writes GARETH ROBERTS
Yet football isn’t always about the telephone number deals.
Players can become available on a free transfer for any number of reasons, be it that they have run down their contract or their club has decided not to offer a new deal.
And with that comes an opportunity for other clubs to scrap it out for their services. Some players may have been overlooked because of their age, others because of their injury record, yet more because of their attitude.
But history shows that one last chance can often yield big results.
Here’s our pick of five of the best free transfers. Who have we missed? Tell us your favourites in the comments section below.
1: Jurgen Klinsmann to Tottenham, 1997
Two-and-a-half years after leaving White Hart Lane having enjoyed a season of 29 goals and a Footballer of the Year award, the swan-diving celebrations of Klinsmann returned to London.
The 33-year-old striker was tempted back in December 1997 with the brief of saving Spurs from the drop. Four goals against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, see above, in the penultimate game of the season helped, and Klinsmann finished the season with nine goals in 18 games before retiring from football.
2: Jay-Jay Okocha to Bolton Wanderers, 2002
Big Sam Allardyce’s stock was perhaps at its highest during his spell at Bolton Wanderers. And one of the reasons for the love was the string of entertainers he plucked from nowhere in the early noughties.
Perhaps the best of all was Jay-Jay Okocha, a magical player who had moved for £10m just four years earlier.
Sam plucked him from Paris Saint-Germain for free when his contract was up and his flicks and tricks kept Bolton entertained in a fun-filled four years.
3: Gary McAllister to Liverpool, 2000
There were frowns of fear on Merseyside when Gerard Houllier secured the veteran Coventry City man on a free in the summer of 2000.
But it soon became clear that it was stroke of genius. Not only was the fans’ favourite a guiding light for a crew-cut-sporting Steven Gerrard, he also scored a string of crucial goals.
A 40-yard, last-minute, free-kick winner in the Merseyside derby and a man-of-the-match display in a UEFA Cup final win over Alaves were among the highlights as he played 49 times in Liverpool’s season of a treble of cup competitions.
4: Henrik Larsson to Barcelona, 2004
Perhaps sick of the ‘could he cut it in another league’ jibes, a 32-year-old Henrik Larsson headed for Barca having fired 242 goals in seven years at Celtic.
A knee injury threatened to put a stop to all that, but the Swede was made of tough stuff and his moment came in the 2006 Champions League final.
With Barcelona trailing Arsenal 1-0, Larsson set up two goals to give the Catalans their second European title – and prove the striker was more than just a flat-track bully.
5: Steve McManaman to Real Madrid, 1999
One of the first high-profile players to take advantage of the Bosman ruling, Steve McManaman’s move to Madrid was less than popular on Merseyside.
Many wondered aloud whether he could cut it in La Liga, but the shaggy-haired Scouser didn’t share their doubts.
A sensational volley in the 3-0 Champions League final win over Valencia was among the highlights of a 158-game spell at Real that yielded two European Cups, a European Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, two league titles and one Spanish Super Cup.