He may be 35 years of age, but the way Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been playing for Manchester United it is hard to believe Jose Mourinho signed the classy Swede for free. The former PSG player scored 50 goals in 2016, only one less than Messi, and has settled into life at Old Trafford, as well as the Premier League, with aplomb, along with 17 goals so far for Manchester United. You would be forgiven for thinking Ibrahimovic is 10 years younger than his actual age, his fitness and physique is exceptional for a footballer supposedly nearing the end of his career.
Having cost Barcelona nearly £60million in 2009 and with a staggering 409 career goals so far, it was an outstanding coup for The Red Devils when Ibrahimovic signed for the club as a free agent in July 2016. Goals, exquisite passing and a flamboyance on the pitch that ‘The King’ Eric Cantona would be proud of.
Getting something for nothing is a great feat, we all love a freebie in any aspect of life, especially when it works just as well as something you could have spent a fortune on. In football, where millions of pounds are paid out on a single transfer, a free signing that is anywhere as near as good Ibrahimovic smells even sweeter, and there have been a few fantastic footballing freebies’ over the years.
You could argue that Chelsea have had two of the best free transfers of all time – Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli. Glenn Hoddle signed Gullit from Sampdoria for nothing in 1995 and the Dutchman’s impact in midfield was so impressive that he ended his first season as footballer of the year runner up to Eric Cantona. Gullit went onto become player/manager of Chelsea in 1996 and he made Chelsea’s second remarkable free signing in Gianluca Vialli. An exquisite finisher in front of goal and finding the net at critical moments in matches, the Italian was an exceptional player for Juventus and is a Blues legend after going onto become their player/manager in 1998 and winning the Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup in his first season in charge.
Whilst talking of London clubs, the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham is one of the biggest and most historic in English football. So when Sol Campbell joined the Gunners from Spurs in 2001, not only did it cause shockwaves that a player would make a move, such is the animosity between fans, but to join on a free transfer incensed Spurs fans even further. However, it was a great move for Campbell who won the Premier League twice with Arsenal and was a rock at the back for Arsene Wenger for absolutely no cost at all.
Another big rivalry is of course the one between the Manchester clubs, so, as with Campbell, it was a quite a revelation when Dennis Law made a free signing move from United to City in 1973. The Scot had spent 11 incredible years with The Red Devils scoring 237 goals in 404 appearances. He may have been nearing the end of his career, but in making the switch from red to blue, Law scored 12 goals for Man City in 29 games and famously scored the winner in 1974 at Old Trafford which ended any hope of his former side escaping relegation.
While the coups English clubs have made from free transfers are there to see, European clubs have also made some incredible signings for a zero fee. One of the most astonishing was Robert Lewandowski moving from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich in 2014. The German champions completed an amazing deal for a world-class player in his prime for free. Juventus have also secured some extraordinary free transfers signing Paul Pogba in 2012 and Sami Khedira in 2015. This was shrewd business by the Italian giants as well as staggering when you consider how much they sold Pogba back to Manchester United for.
In a footballing world with increasing and exorbitant transfer fees, if a club can sign a player on a free transfer then it’s a fantastic feat especially if they have the talent and class of any of the footballers mentioned above. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have some competition as to whether he is the greatest free transfer in the history of football, but there is no doubt, even in his short Manchester United career that he is at the top end of the list and The Red Devils have signed a world-class player for free.
The Ibrahimovic deal may have inspired clubs to look even more intently for the dream free deal and it might be worth them keeping an eye on Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla, Real Madrid’s Pepe, Arjen Robben currently playing for Bayern Munich and Chelsea’s John Terry who will all be out of contract at the end this season with their present clubs. If any team can acquire any of these players for free then it would be considered a supreme coup and maybe one to challenge Jose Mourinho’s 2016 finest freebie; Zlatan Ibrahimovic.