Soccer players are not bound to a single club throughout their whole career. Based on my own experience of following the soccer news for more than a decade, I can easily assume that a lot of the world class players play for at least 2 teams throughout their journey.
The transfer system in soccer ensures that a player can move from one team to another when they get the chance to. While most of the transfers require a payment for the team that owns the player, some of them are “Free transfers” due to the player transferred being a “Free agent”.
What does a free agent exactly mean when it comes to soccer?
A free agent in soccer is a player who is not under any contract obligations with any soccer club. Free agents can be signed by any soccer club without the club having to pay for a transfer fee because technically the free agents do not belong to any particular club.
As you can already tell, free agents are very attractive to soccer clubs because the clubs will be able to save a lot of money when signing the player, especially if the player is a world class player.
In general, letting a world class soccer player become a free agent so that they can join another club on a free transfer is not very common. However, it isn’t very rare either.
But you might ask, how does a soccer player become a free agent? And why would a club allow a world class soccer player to become a free agent and leave the club for free?
How do soccer players become free agents?
A player becomes a free agent whenever their contract expires with their current club. It is as simple as that. A player is also considered a free agent after their own club terminates the contract between them and the player.
As you already know, contracts in soccer have an expiry date like any other business contract out there.
Before the expiry of a player’s contract, if the club that owns the player is interested in keeping the player, then they usually offer the player a new contract to keep the player for a few more years.
However, if the club is not interested in keeping the player, then they might try their best to sell them before their contract expires just to make sure that they make money from the transfer.
If they do not manage to sell the player before their contract expires, then the player becomes a free agent and will be free to join any other club without any transfer fees.
But what about the opinions of the soccer players themselves in all this? A soccer player may want to move to another club for a better career opportunity.
However, if the club that the player is hoping to join does not have enough money to cover the transfer fee of the player, then this player might choose to wait until their contract expires to then join their dream team as a free agent.
In other words, some soccer players refuse to sign any new contracts with their current clubs just to be able to join a different club once their contract expires.
This is how some of the world class soccer players manage to leave their teams with no transfer fees.
Are the free agents completely free?
Although it is fairly obvious, it is still worth noting that the soccer club that signs a free agent will still have to pay wages for the signed player.
However, what the clubs do not pay is only the transfer fee.
When a player is under a contract with a certain club, any other club who wants to buy this player will have to pay the player’s club an amount of money that convinces them to let the player leave.
Signing a free agent however does not involve paying money for the current owner of the player, and that’s why a free agent transfer is known as “a free transfer”.
Can free agents sign outside the transfer window?
If you don’t already know, the soccer transfers should happen during a transfer window that is set by the soccer associations around the world.
There are 2 transfer windows each year, and all transfers between soccer clubs can only happen during these transfer windows. However, there is an exception to this rule, and it has something to do with the free agents.
Soccer clubs are allowed to sign free agents outside the transfer windows set by the soccer associations. If a player becomes a free agent prior to the end of a transfer window, then this player is allowed to sign with any soccer club even after the transfer window comes to an end.
While it is true that a soccer club will try their best not to let a world class player become a free agent, sometimes things do not go well for the club that owns the player due to conflicts with the player or due to a strong desire from the player to move to a different club, or due to any other reason.
Once a good soccer player becomes a free agent, you will usually find many clubs interested in signing the player. Some of these clubs will try to offer a higher salary just to be able to convince the player to join them.
If you are interested in reading more, you can check this related article that discusses soccer loans in detail.