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Free agent XI: Pogba, Dybala and Mbappe lead stars who could leave on free transfer next year

It’s that time of year again. 

No, not the very early days of the festive season, but the countdown to the period when the term ‘pre-contract agreement’ is used more than than at any other point.

There are less than eight months to go until some of Europe’s elite players see their respective contracts come to an end, meaning they are just weeks away from being able to negotiate a free transfer with clubs abroad.

Several of Europe’s elite stars will see their contracts expire in June 2022, such as Paul Pogba 

This season is especially intriguing, with a host of big names yet to put pen to paper on fresh terms and clubs keen to cut down their transfer spending where possible. 

So, with the clock ticking, agents starting to make links and managers beginning to sweat, Sportsmail compiles a starting XI – and substitutes’ bench – of the best players whose contracts expire in 2022.

GOALKEEPER – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

World Cup-winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been the No 1 in between the sticks for Tottenham for nearly a decade.

In fact, the 34-year-old will celebrate 10 years as a Spurs player next year, but could commemorate that milestone by departing the club in the summer.

The Tottenham club captain’s £100,000 a week deal expires at the end of June and Spurs hinted at a possible succession plan by bringing in Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini on an initial loan deal last summer, with a £12million option to buy. 

Hugo Lloris is the top goalkeeper in European football without a contract for next season

Hugo Lloris is the top goalkeeper in European football without a contract for next season

Spurs signed Pierluigi Gollini (above) this season and he could replace him as No 1 next term

Spurs signed Pierluigi Gollini (above) this season and he could replace him as No 1 next term

Lloris has previously claimed he wants to finish his career in his native France, with the veteran goalkeeper representing Nice and Lyon before moving to Spurs in 2012. 

The shot stopper was asked about his future at Spurs just before the start of this season and revealed that Tottenham had not even opened talks over a new contract at that point.

‘There is nothing from the club, to be honest,’ Lloris said in August of this year. ‘I don’t have to show my loyalty towards the club after nine years and season No 10 that is coming.

Lloris has been at Tottenham for the best part of a decade but could quit north London in 2022

Lloris has been at Tottenham for the best part of a decade but could quit north London in 2022

‘I’m just calm and relaxed and focused on myself. I always give my priority to Spurs and we will see what will happen. I’m not affected about that, I’m just enjoying football.

‘My only reason to wake up every morning is to work, enjoy the training session and enjoy the competition.’

RIGHT-BACK – Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)

If Juan Cuadrado is hoping for a contract extension at Juventus, his contribution to their win over Fiorentina last week would have done his chances no harm at all. 

Cuadrado came off the bench to score a late winner in a 1-0 win over La Viola to keep Massimilano Allegri’s men in the hunt for a top four spot, with Juventus ending a run of three matches without a win. 

Juan Cuadrado is still a key Juventus player at 33 years of age despite his contract expiring

Juan Cuadrado is still a key Juventus player at 33 years of age despite his contract expiring

The Colombian wide man, who has spent the last six years playing in Turin, has been in talks over a new two-year contract at Juventus since the summer but there has been no resolution as of yet. 

But even at the age of 33, Cuadrado has still been a main figure down the right-hand side of Allegri’s team, featuring in every Serie A game bar two for Juventus this season.

The former Chelsea man ideally wants to end his career in Turin and if he does stay and sign a two-year deal, it may be the last contract of his career.

CENTRE-BACK – Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea) 

This year has been a memorable one for Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger.

The Germany defender was exiled at Stamford Bridge by Frank Lampard before the England and Chelsea legend was sacked in January. But following the appointment of compatriot Thomas Tuchel, things are looking up again.

Rudiger was installed back into the Chelsea starting line-up and helped the Blues pick up their second Champions League trophy in the club’s history. After a solid Euro 2020 for Germany, he has made an excellent start to the current campaign and is arguably playing the best football of his career.

Antonio Rudiger's Chelsea future is unclear amid reported interest from Europe's elite clubs

Antonio Rudiger’s Chelsea future is unclear amid reported interest from Europe’s elite clubs

Having scored against Tottenham in September, Rudiger was described as one of the best defenders in the Premier League by Rio Ferdinand and it’s hard to disagree. 

Rudiger’s deal expires at the end of June and his recent displays have caught the eye of Europe’s elite. The 28-year-old has been linked with moves to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG – three heavyweight clubs looking for a defender in his prime years.

The defender himself last gave an update on his future at the end of October, but remained coy on whether he will commit to a new deal or not. 

Thomas Tuchel's (right) Chelsea are trying to tie down Rudiger, 28, to a new contract

Thomas Tuchel’s (right) Chelsea are trying to tie down Rudiger, 28, to a new contract

‘The most important thing is that I feel happy here. I think if people look at it, they can see I’m happy,’ he told The Guardian last month. ‘About the contract situation, I talk with the club. 

‘This is for nobody’s ears. It was how I said it would be after the Euros – there would be talks. There was a talk between Marina and my agent. We have the situation where we are at now and I have nothing to do with all the speculation.

‘This is not in my mind. I’m focused on what I’m doing because this is why I wake up every morning.’

CENTRE-BACK – Niklas Sule (Bayern Munich)

Niklas Sule has been a key figure for Bayern Munich this season, starting all but three of their Bundesliga and Champions League matches so far.

But the German international’s contract situation has not been resolved, as Bayern continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their club finances. 

As the 26-year-old’s contract grinds towards expiration, speculation is growing about the centre-back coming to the Premier League, with European champions Chelsea one of the teams reportedly monitoring his situation. 

Niklas Sule (right) is a key Bayern defender but the German giants are struggling to keep him

Niklas Sule (right) is a key Bayern defender but the German giants are struggling to keep him

Back in February of this year, Bayern Munich chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge revealed that the German giants are trying to juggle their finances so they can offer their defender a suitable extension package, but the president made no guarantees. 

‘We want the good German national team players at FC Bayern,’ the Bayern chief told ZDF this year. ‘We will hold talks and see where they’ll lead. Corona (Covid-19 pandemic) has also caused financial damage to FC Bayern. 

‘If we find a solution, we are happy to extend the contract, but that will only be possible under certain conditions.’ 

LEFT-BACK – Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta is another Chelsea defender whose future at Stamford Bridge is far from certain.

The 32-year-old will celebrate 10 years as a Blues player next year, a period in which the current skipper has has lifted the Premier League twice, the FA Cup once and the Champions League and Europa League once each.

Cesar Azpilicueta is not concerned about his Stamford Bridge future, which is uncertain

Cesar Azpilicueta is not concerned about his Stamford Bridge future, which is uncertain

But the emergence of young Chelsea defenders Reece James and Trevoh Chalobah in the full-back and centre-back roles could mean Azpilicueta is no longer required at Stamford Bridge.

Azpilicueta, who started every Premier League game until October 23 for the Blues, admitted at the beginning of the season that he is relaxed about his contract situation and that ‘everything will take care of itself’.  

‘I don’t have any concerns,’ he said in September. ‘I feel fully trusted by the club since I arrived.

Azpilicueta was a key player but has now been unused in Chelsea's last three league games

Azpilicueta was a key player but has now been unused in Chelsea’s last three league games

‘At the moment it is true that my contract ends in June but I just focus on what’s next, to train and play the best I can. 

‘Everything will take care of itself, I don’t need to say anything more. I have to keep doing what I am doing and it will come by itself.

‘Of course, I love to be here, I feel loved since I arrived and my aim is to be here for as long as I can be.’

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Ah, the Paul Pogba soap opera at Manchester United. Just where do we start with this one?

The French midfielder has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford for at least the past two years, with his agent Mino Raiola making regular statements about his clients’ desire to leave for a fresh challenge.

Pogba has been continually linked with a move away from Manchester United since 2019

Pogba has been continually linked with a move away from Manchester United since 2019

Pogba is in the sixth and final year of his contract and remains open to staying at Old Trafford, although he did reject a single contract offer from United last summer.

He is currently struggling to become a regular in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United set-up, with the Norwegian switching to a 3-5-2 formation which does not suit the World Cup winner.

The 28-year-old’s recent performances for the Red Devils have not helped him either. Pogba was sent off just minutes after coming off the bench in a 5-0 loss to Liverpool, while he also disappointed in his most recent outing against Atalanta in the Champions League. 

The Frenchman's recently displays could see him go out of the Old Trafford exit door in 2022

The Frenchman’s recently displays could see him go out of the Old Trafford exit door in 2022

Previously he has revealed that it is a ‘dream’ of his to play for Real Madrid, while he welcomed questions about his relationship with his ex-Juventus team-mates earlier this year. 

The way this Pogba drama has manifested itself over the years, nothing can be ruled out as his contract reaches its final few months. 

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER – Franck Kessie (AC Milan)

Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie is the beating heart of an AC Milan team that is returning to the upper echelons of Italian football.

The 24-year-old’s performances in the middle of the park have made him one of Serie A’s best midfielders – and his displays have attracted the eyes of Europe’s elite clubs.

Kessie’s deal expires at the end of the season and the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have all been linked with a move for the Ivorian. 

Franck Kessie is now one of Serie A's best midfielders after a good few years for AC Milan

Franck Kessie is now one of Serie A’s best midfielders after a good few years for AC Milan

The midfielder’s agent revealed last month that AC Milan have been in talks with Kessie over an extension to his deal, but also hinted the Rossoneri need to up their latest bid.  

‘A player of Franck’s calibre does not need to be offered to anyone,’ said George Atangana to Calcio Mercato. 

‘An important player needs a contract that is up to his standards.’

RIGHT WINGER – Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Barcelona have made several expensive transfer mistakes over the years, but losing Ousmane Dembele for nothing would be one of the worst bits of business in their history. 

Dembele moved to the Nou Camp in a mega, £124m deal four years ago but he could now walk away for nothing at the end of this campaign, with Manchester United and Liverpool among those reportedly interested.

Ousmane Dembele joined Barcelona for £124m four years ago but could walk for nothing soon

Ousmane Dembele joined Barcelona for £124m four years ago but could walk for nothing soon

What has not helped Barcelona or the French winger’s cause is a long history of injuries, with Dembele missing the start of this season due to a knee problem and then picking up a hamstring issue just one game into his comeback last week.

The 24-year-old briefly showed he is capable of producing the goods for Barcelona last season by scoring 11 goals in all competitions in arguably his best season to date. 

But the winger has a long way to go to prove he deserves the contract extension he has reportedly asked his agents to arrange for him while he continues his comeback from injury. 

ATTACKING MIDFIELDER – Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Letting Cristiano Ronaldo go was not an easy decision for Juventus to make, but one of the justifications was that it would improve the chances of getting Paulo Dybala tied down to a new contract.

The Argentine attacker has once again shown his importance to the Old Lady this term, scoring six goals in 11 matches as he tries to fill the void left behind by now-Manchester United forward Ronaldo. 

Juventus want Paulo Dybala (above) tied down to a new deal after Cristiano Ronaldo's exit

Juventus want Paulo Dybala (above) tied down to a new deal after Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit

But Juventus are still struggling to agree a contract extension with Dybala, as the Italian giants continue to fight the financial woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Juve announced losses of £99m in February 2021 for the first half of the 2020-21 season, deficits mainly caused by the lack of fans in Serie A stadia during that period. 

Now Dybala is holding out for a £10m-a-year contract, with reports in Italy claiming negotiations between Juventus and their No 10 have hit an impasse because the Italian club are offering below that figure.  

LEFT WINGER – Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

This year has also been a golden one for Napoli and Italy’s Lorenzo Insigne.

The 30-year-old played a key role in Italy’s triumphant Euro 2020 campaign and is now part of a Napoli side that currently leads the Serie A table after a brilliant start by new boss Luciano Spalletti. 

But the only downside is that this could be the Napoli talisman’s final season for the club, just as he is starting to show talismanic form for the title hopefuls. 

Lorenzo Insigne has enjoyed a very good 2021 but could leave Napoli at the end of the season

Lorenzo Insigne has enjoyed a very good 2021 but could leave Napoli at the end of the season

Insigne has five goals and four assists for Napoli this season but his contract is winding down, with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis hinting that his club have done all they can to try and convince the winger to extend his deal. 

De Laurentiis also appeared to put the blame on Insigne and his representatives for not being co-operative enough in negotiations, with Inter Milan one of the reported teams eyeing up the winger on a free transfer. 

Reports do claim that Napoli winning the Serie A title could change Insigne’s mind about an extension, but there is a long way to go for Spalletti’s men to start making guarantees on that.  

STRIKER – Kylian Mbappe (PSG)  

Another French star, another transfer saga.

Kylian Mbappe has made no secret of his desire to leave Paris Saint-Germain, giving two explosive interviews earlier this season where he outlined his desire to quit. 

Real Madrid, who put in bids of £137m and £154m during the most recent transfer window, was his preferred destination but the 22-year-old is now with the French giants for the rest of the season.

Kylian Mbappe's desire to join Real Madrid next season is not a secret in the football world

Kylian Mbappe’s desire to join Real Madrid next season is not a secret in the football world

But while Mbappe’s short-term future calmed down a little, the talk off the pitch continued. 

Karim Benzema, Carlo Ancelotti and Real president Florentino Perez all spoke about the French attacker joining the Spanish side on a free transfer next year, forcing PSG sporting director Leonardo to slam the LaLiga club for a lack of respect. 

Mbappe, meanwhile, has continued to be in and around the goals this season, with seven strikes and 11 assists in 16 games for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.

Despite Real’s confidence in trying to sign Mbappe next year, there is a feeling that nothing can be ruled as PSG refuse to give up on him signing a new contract

SUBSTITUTES’ BENCH 

It’s not just Mbappe who could walk away from PSG next summer, with Angel Di Maria yet to commit to a new deal once his current contract ends in 2022. 

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lacazette has just forced his way into the Arsenal team again but the 30-year-old striker could walk away from the Emirates Stadium when his deal ends. 

As well as Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard could leave Manchester United if his game time does not improve before his contract expires in June. 

Former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan also needs to convince Jose Mourinho that he deserves a new deal at Roma.

In Spain, Real Madrid could lose Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Isco for nothing next summer – though all three players would command big wages.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic are other players whose contracts expire in 2022.

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