Why are there so many free agents this summer?

The list of footballers with contracts expiring this summer is a list of some of the biggest names in the sport. It’s normal for one or two stars to run down their contracts every year, but 2022 looks to be a bumper year for free transfers.

Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba, Paulo Dybala, Franck Kessié, Antonio Rüdiger, and Ousmane Dembèlè are just some of the big names looking for a new club ahead of next season. A number of talented young players will be available for free come the end of the season, and smart teams around Europe will be eyeing the likes of Boubacar Kamara, Noussair Mazraoui and André Onana.

Of course, free transfers aren’t really free. The money that doesn’t get spent on transfer fees tends to end up being spent on bonuses and agent fees instead, with a player’s wage usually inflated when they join on a free transfer. Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see why players run down their contracts. They get to wait for teams to pitch to them, rather than accepting whichever move their club decides to sanction.

However, that doesn’t explain why this summer sees a veritable smorgasbord of free agents. Some, like Pogba, are just players whose time at their club has reached a natural end. Others, like Mbappé, have enough star power that they have the freedom to take their time, knowing that every club in Europe will come knocking as his contract expires. Wherever the Paris Saint-Germain forward ends up, it’ll shorten the odds of success for his side on sites like Betdaq.

However, for most, the expiration of their contract is simply a knock-on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. Club finances were hit hard, with a fall in matchday income particularly painful as games took place behind closed doors across the world.

This meant that clubs went into transfer windows with smaller budgets and less spending power. Clubs would have reasonably expected to offload squad players, like Mohamed Elneny at Arsenal, or Divock Origi at Liverpool, for a decent fee.

However, the lack of spending in the market meant that it was no longer viable for teams to accept bids for these players. The fees that they would have received wouldn’t have been enough to cover the cost of losing the player from the squad, and bringing in a replacement.

The same is true for young talents. Before the pandemic, Marseille would have looked to cash in on the talent of Kamara, and Ajax would have looked to do the same with Mazraoui. However, the bids just haven’t come in at a level that would justify the clubs selling the players and looking to replace them.

As such, clubs have largely been happy to hold off on less urgent aspects of their recruitment until a point where there’s more money in the transfer market. This has been the best outcome for all parties, with players happy to run down their contracts. 2022 is a bumper year for these free transfers.

Most contracts at the top level of football are signed for three or four years, and so a large batch of contracts signed before the pandemic will be expiring this summer. Although football has largely returned to normal, the longer term effects of the pandemic continue to be felt.

It’s likely that 2023 will also see a notable number of free agents, although not to the same extent as this year. With the transfer market returning to normal, squad players are likely to move on this summer, and teams may once again be able to cash in on big talents. As such, 2022 will be the year of the free agent, before normal service resumes.

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