Football can be a savage business and while the sums of money thrown around can be eye watering, what can be equally tear-jerking – for players' former clubs at least – is when truly exceptional talent departs for the free.
This summer's transfer window saw a huge array of massive moves without a penny exchanged between clubs, and it is looking likely to continue in 2022 as we revealed that France international Paul Pogba, 28, is set to leave Old Trafford at the end of the season.
Manchester United are reportedly allowing the midfielder to leave and will not try to sell him in January. This will be no doubt be painful, as the club bought him in 2016 for a then-world record fee of £89.3 million from Juventus – the club they had released him for free to in 2012.
With this toe curling loss in mind, and with the spate of huge free deals last season, including Georginio Wijnaldum and Gianluigi Donnarumma, we thought it only appropriate to celebrate some of the other biggest free transfers in the game's recent history.
1. Lionel Messi
Where else could you start? The four times Champions League, 10 times La Liga and five time Ballon d'Or winner is heralded by many as the greatest player in the world and perhaps of all time.
Speaking about the Argentine wizard, BBC pundit and former England striker, Gary Lineker once wrote: "Even on his quiet days, there are moments when you just go 'how does he do that?' He does things three or four times in one game that I probably never managed once in my entire career. He does things no-one else can."
Which is why when Messi left Barcelona, the only club he had ever played for, it was an internet-breaking moment of Kardashian magnitude.
The exit saw the 474 time La Liga goalscorer, who left Spain because his former club couldn't pay his wages, collect a new salary believed to be in the region of £25 million per year in order to link up with the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.
2. Sergio Ramos
The veteran Real Madrid centre back joined long-time rival Messi at PSG this year. A fellow four-time Champions League and five-time La Liga winner with a world cup to his name he is footballing royalty.
He was said by Transfermarkt to be worth £45 in only 2018: now the Spanish captain is thought to be on a deal worth in excess of £15 million per year in a season where PSG have re-written the rule book on how to sign top players for little to no cost.
3. Robert Lewandowski
Seven years on from his sensational free transfer to Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski is still a contender for the Ballon d'Or.
At his time at Borussia Dortmund he scored what seemed like an exceptional 74 goals in 131 league appearances. Exceptional that is until went on to score, to date, 213 league goals in in 228 games for his new club.
Up to the end of last season, 18 of these goals came against Dortmund in 14 league games; there were two hat-tricks.
4. Andrea Pirlo
Italy legend Andrea Pirlo moved from AC Milan to key league Juventus in 2011. Pirlo went on to dominate the league with his new club, playing 164 games and winning the league in all four seasons there.
At the time of his signing new teammate Gianluigi Buffon, arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time time, said: "When Andrea told me that he was joining us, the first thing I thought was: "God exists". A player of his level and ability, not to mention that he was free, I think it was the signing of the century!"
Pirlo will forever be a near-mythical figure in Italian football; unfortunately for Milan, it will in be in a Juventus shirt that people remember him.
5. Sergio Agüero
The 33-year-old striker joined Barcelona from Manchester in the summer.
With 184 goals Premier League goals in 275 games, he is one of the greats of the modern era for both his old club and league.
He joined alongside fellow free transfer and honourable mention for this list, Memphis Depay, who has scored 35 goals in 73 appearances for the Dutch national side. In a season were the Catalans lost Messi, it's easy to forget they too conducted some rather savvy business.
Would you change anything on this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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