Unheard of in recent football history. Since the opening of the winter transfer window, the first day of the new year, the best player on the planet, in the eyes of many observers, is free to engage with the club of his choice. Kylian Mbappé seems determined not to wait until the end of his contract, on June 30, to decide on his next destination, despite the insistent court of Paris Saint-Germain to keep him.
Consequence: the French prodigy will then be able to join any club without the latter needing to pay a penny in favor of Paris Saint-Germain to offer his services. The player going to the end of his commitment, his suitor does not need to pay transfer compensation to redeem the remaining years of contract.
Mbappé, Pogba, Dembele and other stars
Until very recently, this market for free players was reserved for less successful professional footballers, struggling to find an employer at the end of their fixed-term contract. We also came across former glories in search of an ultimate sporting challenge.
Now it’s some of the best active players who are making their mark there. From French internationals Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembélé and Hugo Lloris to the Croatian Ballon d’Or Luka Modric, or even the Argentine star of Juventus Turin, Paulo Dybala: all will be free next June.
How to explain this evolution ? “The clubs are facing great financial difficulties”, answers Mickael Terrien, professor of sports economics at the University of Lausanne. Hard hit by the health crisis, “they can no longer afford these great players”, continues the economist. Few, for example, were the European teams able to pay the 200 million euros requested for Kylian Mbappé last summer, or to meet the requirements of Ousmane Dembélé, whose salary at FC Barcelona reaches 20 million euros annually.
Seduced by all the biggest clubs of the Old Continent, these star players also know that they are not likely to find themselves unemployed at the end of their contract. “The player who goes to the end of his contract can not only choose his club but also maximize his income on signing”, explains Stéphane Canard, agent at CLK Foot and president of the union of French sports agents (Uasf). The buyer does not have to pay a transfer fee, he uses part of this sum to attract the desired player with bigger bonuses for him and his entourage.
Philippe Piat, former footballer and president of the French professional players’ union, welcomes this market development “Sometimes players signed contracts to be sold for more three weeks later. The contract was used to create a financial asset when its original purpose was to protect the players. »
The players in power
This new phenomenon is however not without consequence on the economy of football. In the medium term, the market for free players calls into question the economic strategy on which many clubs are based. “In France, most clubs live beyond their means and hope to bail out three or four years of deficit thanks to a big sale”, details the economist Mickael Terrien.
It remains to be seen whether this development will be long-term or whether it is a temporary phenomenon. According to Mickael Terrien, this will depend on the global economic context in the aftermath of the health crisis. “A few years after the subprime crisis, which also hit club finances hard, transfer prices have reached new records. » And, more specifically, income from television rights: “If these amounts stagnate, clubs will still find it difficult to afford the most expensive players. »
This new deal also testifies to the empowerment of star players in the relationship with their club. Sure of their sporting and marketing potential, they no longer hesitate to complete their contract, despite pressure from their employer to extend or sell them while there is still time. Leonardo, sporting director of Paris Saint-Germain, in the columns of JDD on December 19, thus declaring that Kylian Mbappé had “still good possibilities to extend”. A call from the foot that sounds like wishful thinking.
Paul Pogba tempted by PSG
Like Kylian Mbappé, his teammate in the France team, Paul Pogba is also free to engage with the club of his choice. Rather inclined to extend his contract with Manchester United last fall, the world champion now has desires elsewhere. Often injured, the 28-year-old midfielder has never been able to fully satisfy his leaders, who had paid 110 million euros to bring him back to the north of England in 2016. The native of Seine-et-Marne would be tempted by the Paris Saint-Germain project, very interested in repatriating a player estimated at 80 million euros for free last summer.