With virtually all European Leagues suspended due to the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the knock-on effect on global football has been sharply felt.
The announcement made by UEFA to defer the EURO 2020 Championships for a year was clear as it was decisive, though the plans for some leagues to be played into July raised legal pitfalls of what to do about players’ contracts set to expire on June 30th?
As it stands, here is a Top 10 List of such players whose contracts are set to expire on June 30th.
10. Dries Mertens
The Napoli man started his career as a winger but was moved to a central role by Carlo Ancelotti in 2016-17, and proved a revelation, with 28 goals in the league that season. Napoli’s all-time top-scorer in European competitions (surpassing Diego Maradona’s record in October 2019), he is one goal shy of being their all-time leading scorer in all competitions, and his eye for goal and versatility would have seen him higher on the list, if not for the fact he would be 33 by the time his deal expires at the end of this season.
Would be good for - Any European side challenging for a Champions League place that needs a proven backup goalscorer (AC Milan, Valencia, Tottenham Hotspur)
9. Mario Gotze
How far the mighty have fallen.
Once the wunderkind of German football, Mario Gotze broke the hearts of Dortmund fans by moving to arch-rivals Bayern Munich, announcing the move on the eve of a Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid, much to Jurgen Klopp’s annoyance. His time at Bayern was stop-start, never really convincing Pep Guardiola, and while he scored the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final, the creative midfielder who eventually returned to Dortmund in 2016, where it was found that he suffered from the muscular condition myopathy. Unable to find a regular place in the starting XI for Dortmund, he will likely leave the Signal Iduna Park at the end of this campaign.
Would be good for - An attacking side that does not have the rigours of European football or who need to replace their playmaker (Arsenal, Villarreal, Napoli)
8. Jan Vertonghen
Once one of the leaders in Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side, Jan Vertonghen’s days at Spurs seem numbered. New boss Jose Mourinho, is preferring other options at centre-back, even with playing with a back three. Also already in his thirties, Vertonghen still has a good eye for reading the game and the ability to play the ball out from the back, but questions remain over his declining physical attributes.
Would be good for - A possession-based side that does not require pacy, covering defenders or a team that sits deep (Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, PSG)
One of the casualties of Frank Lampard’s youthful revolution at Chelsea, the World Cup and Champions League winner brings experience and consistency to the side but has perhaps always been seen as being one or more tiers below having “superstar” quality, often compared to more illustrious team-mates such as Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard. The Spaniard works hard for the side and has played in a variety of tactical systems, ranging from Pep Guardiola’s Tiki-Taka to Antonio Conte’s physical 5-3-2. Good off the ball, he is more a finisher than playmaker or regular winger, though his goalscoring tends to be spectacular if irregular.
Would be good for - Any side needing a backup wide forward they are willing to pay high wages to (Tottenham, Everton, Roma)
Another of Chelsea’s old guard that have been pushed aside this season, Willian can be equal parts frustrating and fantastic. A skilful dribbler who is always willing to take on his man, and possessing dangerous set-piece delivery, he can still be a formidable asset for teams that can utilize his strengths. While he, too, is another player on this list who is the wrong side of 30, the Brazilian has consistently played over 30 games a season when seen as a regular starter, and so has rarely suffered from injury or fitness concerns. His work ethic and experience are often overlooked, and so the Copa America and Premier League winner is more than just a tricky winger.
Would be good for - A counterattacking side that relies on set-pieces (Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Wolves)
5. Ryan Fraser
The diminutive Scot had a stellar 2018/19 season for Bournemouth, racking up 9 goals and 15 assists for Eddie Howe’s men. His performances attracted interest from Arsenal, although no serious bids materialised. Fraser’s form this season has dipped sharply, however, the same could be said for the majority of his teammates. Were Bournemouth to get relegated, a free-agent in Ryan Fraser would not be short of Premier League suitors.
Would be good for - A premier league side that needs good set-piece deliveries and a hardworking wide man. (Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United)
4. Santi Cazorla
Having spent the best part of 3 seasons out of football due to an ankle infection Arsene Wenger described as, “the worst he’d ever seen”, Santi Cazorla’s return to football has been nothing short of miraculous. Now 35 years old and plying his trade at his beloved Villarreal, the Spaniard has rediscovered some of his best form. So much so that he lined up for the national side back in November and scored in the 7-0 rout against Malta. Rumours of a swansong return to Arsenal have been quelled for now, but on his day, there are few players with the skillset the magician possesses.
Would be good for - Any league in which he is able to have to dictate play and not expose him. (Any MLS side, Villarreal)
3. Layvin Kurzawa
The PSG left-back recently flaunted COVID-19 security measures by celebrating PSG’s win over Dortmund in the streets with Parisian ultras. A gifted attacking full-back but with a history of injury problems and purported defensive vulnerabilities.
Kurzawa has been unable to hold down the starting left-back position since signing from Monaco back in 2015. At 27 years of age, and deemed surplus to requirements for PSG, the Frenchman may have to take a step down in order for guaranteed first-team football.
Would be good for - Any Champions League or Europa League side with attacking full backs. (Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Marseille, Valencia)
2. David Silva
David Silva is amongst the greatest midfielders to have played in the Premier League. Currently Manchester City’s longest servant and the player with the most Premier League appearances for the club with 301. In a ten year spell, in which he helped the Sky Blues lift four Premier League titles, the 34-year-old World Cup winner decided his time was up with the Cityzens back in June last year. What the future holds for the Little Wizard is uncertain, rumours of a swansong in MLS could perhaps beckon?
Would be good for - Any top 4 team in Europe as he’s still very good, but the likelihood could be a return to boyhood club Valencia. (Valencia, LA Galaxy, Inter Miami)
1. Olivier Giroud
The emergence of Tammy Abraham at Chelsea has seen Olivier Giroud’s game time at Chelsea reduce significantly. In January and ahead of the impending Euros, the Frenchman sought more game time under Frank Lampard but with the Chelsea boss unable to guarantee more minutes, a move to Inter Milan appeared to be in the offing, only for it to collapse at late in the day in January. A consummate professional, the World Cup winner has since grabbed opportunities afforded to him in Abraham’s absence by scoring a vital goal against Tottenham in the 2-1 victory. At 33 years of age and, the former Arsenal man may have slowed down, but his touch, vision and aerial ability continue to be useful foils at the elite level.
Would be good for - A team looking for a back-up striker who is looking for more than just plan B. (Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur, Lyon, Marseille)