What is free transfer in football

Lionel Messi recently joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after leaving his boyhood club Barcelona.

By Abhishek Purohit
Picture by Sebastien Muylaert

Lionel Messi recently moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after leaving his long-time club Barcelona.

Usually, a player transfer involves the payment of compensation to the footballer’s existing club by the club the footballer is moving to.

This compensation is known as transfer fee, and depends on several factors, including the value of the player’s existing contract and the duration left on the contract.

However, a free transfer happens when a player moves from one club to another without his new club having to pay a transfer fee to his former club.

A free transfer usually takes place when a player’s existing contract has ended or is about to end. A player can also switch clubs on a free transfer if his existing club agrees to release him from their existing contract based on mutual consent.

Since Messi was no longer on contract with his former club Barcelona, PSG were able to sign him without having to pay a transfer fee to Barcelona.

When there are only six months or less remaining for a player’s current contract to expire, he is free to negotiate a potential move with other clubs without a transfer fee coming into the picture.

Bosman transfer

A free transfer is also known as a Bosman transfer. The Bosman ruling is a European Court of Justice verdict delivered in 1995 on freedom of movement and association for workers.

The verdict was given in cases involving Belgian professional footballer Jean-Marc Bosman, and allowed players in the European Union to move freely to another club at the end of their contract with their current side.

It meant that football clubs could no longer block their player’s move or demand a fee -- either from the player or from the club he was moving to -- if the player was moving at the end of his contractual term.

The very next year after the verdict, Edgar Davids became Europe's first high-profile player to benefit from the ruling when he moved from Dutch side Ajax to Italian club AC Milan.

Besides Messi’s much-talked-about move, Robert Lewandowski’s move from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich in 2014, Andrea Pirlo’s switch from AC Milan to Juventus in 2011 and Michael Ballack’s Bayern-Chelsea swap in 2006 are some of the other high-profile free transfers in recent memory.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani’s free transfer from PSG to Manchester United in 2016 and 2020 respectively also made headlines.

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