Winter is coming. And not only does that mean another transfer window is just around the corner, but players out of contract in the summer can talk to interested parties.
Premier League teams, especially Leicester City and Everton with new management in place, as well as others near the bottom – Crystal Palace, Stoke City, West Ham United to name a few – will want, nay need, to strengthen.
Doing it on the cheap, if there are bargains to be had, is the best way at this stage.
Targeting players out of contract means you can tempt the selling club with some compensation before the players are allowed to leave for nothing.
We’ve picked out seven players from Ligue 1 who will be available on a free this summer. Can you see any of them arriving at your club in January?
Mario Balotelli – Nice
Scoring twice on your debut will quickly endear you to any fan base. Balotelli did just that, in a 3-2 home win over Marseille, and 31 goals in 47 games for Les Aiglons is a superb return which more than justifies the club’s decision to bring him to the south of France.
He’s been a focal point of the attack, a teacher, but also a menace. There have been bad points, including some questions over his attitude last term, but overall he has made a difference.
A huge part of their third-placed finish last season, he is back up and running after an injury at the start of this term and, more important, back on the scoresheet.
Just like last summer, his contract is up at the end of the season. If you play to his strengths – not expecting him to run and working your attack around him – there is bargain to be had.
Will he fancy one more attack on the Premier League? Maybe.
João Moutinho – Monaco
It was a surprise to everyone when he joined the revolution at Monaco, arriving in the deal that also took James Rodríguez to the principality.
In reality, the 31-year-old has never really sparkled as everyone expected. A solid and steady midfielder with a wonderful ability to pick a pass, there is still a lot for Moutinho to give. In more than 190 games for Monaco, he has scored ten goals and supplied 38 assists. It’s good, just not great.
Last term, he started 19 of 34 league games, but seven of 11 in the Champions League. He is that wise old head; a much-needed experienced campaigner when you are focusing on developing young talent.
With his contract winding down, a move could be on the cards for the Portugal international.
“I have always said that I’d like to play in England one day,” the former Porto and Sporting Lisbon midfielder said in 2016. “But for the moment, I’m happy in Monaco. I’m going to continue giving my best until the two parties decide to go their separate ways.”
That moment could be this summer. A very intelligent central midfielder, he would be a great addition to any team.
Yoan Cardinale – Nice
Going into the 2016/17 campaign, no one quite believed Cardinale was the right choice to protect the Nice net. Walter Benitez had been brought in, with veteran Simon Pouplin waiting in the wings. Yet, the 23-year-old defied logic again, increasing his appearances from 26 to 36, and this season, again, he started as first-choice.
Nice have struggled. Trying to juggle Europa League commitments, with the expectation to build on their third-placed finish last season, has proven too much. After three defeats in a row, Cardinale was replace by his Argentine team-mate for the Week 11 fixtures away to Paris Saint-Germain.
The former France Under-19 international signed a new deal in 2016, but it expires this summer. His demotion means he is unlikely to find a new contract coming his way and he will be up for grabs come the end of the season.
Standing under six-foot-tall, he is small for a goalkeeper, something many will see as an issue. Although he does have an error or two in him, he possesses excellent reflexes and can make some ridiculous saves. For no fee, he is worth the risk.
Jonathan Bamba – Saint-Etienne
Before this season, Jonathan Bamba wouldn’t have been on the radar for most. The young Saint-Etienne forward had spent time on loan with Paris FC, Sint-Truiden and Angers – all without pulling up any trees.
He returned to Les Verts this summer to join new coach Óscar García – now fired – and on the pitch the results, although started positively, have been mixed.
Used as a winger for most of his early career, the Spanish coach used his pace through the centre. The 21-year-old chases down defenders, pressures the ball and his youthful exuberance has paid off.
Four goals in eight games was an excellent start. He demonstrated his versatility and intelligence to become an important part of the squad.
However, a contract dispute saw him sidelined. Out of contract in the summer, the forward wants to triple his wages.
He knows there is outside interest, with Newcastle United enquiring about his availability, but being frozen out has done enough to spark new talks with the French club.
The longer it goes on, the more there is a deal to be done for this exciting young forward.
Hatem Ben Arfa – PSG
Everyone loves a good rag to riches story. Dumped from Lyon to Marseille, Newcastle to Hull City, finally coming good with an amazing season at Nice, it looked like Hatem Ben Arfa had finally turned his career around. No longer le enfant terrible of French football.
The 30-year-old scored 18 and picked up six assists in 37 games in the south of France.
Born in Clamart, just south of the French capital, it was a sure thing when he decided to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2016. The prodigal son, the one that got away, finally coming home.
That’s where the dream ended. Starting just five of his 23 league appearances, he’s not featured in the PSG squad since April and on a few occasions, much to annoyance of his lawyer, Ben Arfa has been banished to the reserves.
Only his stubbornness stopped him from leaving in the summer. Now he will either run down his contract until the end of the season, or find a new home in January. Both will happen on a free.
There is still ability there; he has the burst of pace, the footwork and the genius to make things happen. It’s a risk, but it’s one worth taking.
Yannis Salibur – Guingamp
In January of last year, as Marco Silva was trying to turn around Hull City’s fortunes, a move for Guingamp’s Salibur was on the brink. But, as the deadline came and went, the two sides couldn’t finalise a move on time.
At that stage of the season, the winger, who loves cutting in from the right onto his deadly left foot, had five goals and two assists in Ligue 1.
There was a brief spell of dwelling on what could have been, but the 26-year-old picked himself up to score three more and add another four assists last season.
In 90 games with the Breton club, the former Lille youngster had contributed to an impressive 32 goals.
This season has been much slower, with two goals in 11 games as the forward has missed a couple of fixtures through injury. Yet, all the attributes are still there. With pace and power off the flank, he leads his team in shots, key passes and completed dribbles.
Due to Guingamp doing well without his impact this season, they may look to cash in this winter, rather than let him just leave on a free.
Florentin Pogba – Saint-Etienne
Everyone would love a Pogba in their squad, right? Florentin Pogba, the older brother of the £89million Manchester United star isn’t anywhere near the talent of Paul, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own merits.
Still only 27 years old, the mobile centre-back has played for Saint-Etienne since 2012 and during that time he has demonstrated an eye for a long pass, grace and composure on the ball, plus a fight and determination to succeed. Sound familiar?
He faced off against his younger brother in the Europa League last season and although they couldn’t cause a shock, he did leave Zlatan Ibrahimović on his backside at Old Trafford.
— Andrew Gibney (@Gibney_A) February 17, 2017
Keen to one day play in the Premier League, he was close to leaving this summer, a known Everton transfer target for Ronald Koeman, he has also been linked with Sunderland in the past.
A born leader, he has captained Guinea in the past. He would suit most mid to lower level Premier League clubs.
Back from injury, he has made a handful of appearances for Les Verts, enough to gauge is he’s still a person of interest for clubs looking for a defender.