Why free agents are riskier than you think

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Real Madrid seems to be pursuing a strategy that includes signing veteran players on free transfers as a way to complement the most amazing signings they make, which will mostly be an exciting (offensive) young talent.

This summer, Real Madrid’s target is a high-ranking young striker and, thanks to the stubbornness of Paris Saint-Germain, a free agent. Kylian Mbappe. In addition to Mbappe, Los Blancos have been linked to Chelsea heartthrob Antonio Rudiger and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba. The two players can stay with their clubs in the Premier League, but they are expected to strike free agency. Ostensibly, Real Madrid will be the favorite for both.

Any free agent can sign a pre-contract agreement next January, so it’s time to start thinking about signatures. Pogba and Rudiger are solid players, as Pogba was world class in his day. They are the best players to be signed without a transfer fee, which is why Real Madrid are so interested.

Neither will be as consistent or easy as the versatile David Alaba, who was LaLiga’s best signing so far from the 2021-2022 campaign. And there is this confusion of “no cost” and “no risk” with free factors that must be dismantled.

Free agents get paid high and it can become impossible to move later

Free agents may not cost a transfer fee, but they are not free. The team will still have to pay bonuses to the player, agents, and possibly another party to get past the deal. Since the player and their representative know there are no transfer fees, they can claim more money in wages and bonuses. Look no further than how much Alaba Madrid cost.

There is another key aspect here. Free agents get high wages, and they are usually older players. Someone like Mbappe hitting free agency is extremely rare. It only happened because PSG is funded by an entire country, and therefore they can turn down more than 150 million euros. Even Alaba was a rare case. Bayern Munich has quietly started a strict policy of not matching other clubs and disturbing their wage structure.

Pogba and Rudiger are undoubtedly good players, but they have their questions. There are injury issues with Pogba, however, come consistency issues. As for Rudiger, he was amazing in 2020-2021 for Chelsea to win the Champions League, but he had never played at such a high level before. How far has he been playing in the triple defense position and Thomas Tuchel’s system?

Signing up for seasoned free agents is a risk. Even with Alaba, there is a risk, despite how safe it is. You are paying large amounts of cash in wages to a player who is either approaching the age of 30 or over. This means that this player has high wages and very little resale value already. When you consider wages, teams will not want to face this player. Real Madrid already knows how difficult it is to weed out players with high wages. And you just have to look at Juventus with deals like Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey to see how this approach could easily backfire.

The key with signing free agents is risk mitigation. You have to go after players who are great, consistent, have a low injury history (so, not Ramsey, for example), and are either relatively young or in positions where physical deterioration isn’t expected or doesn’t spoil the deal. Alaba fits the bill in the latter case.

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Real Madrid must carefully consider options in the upcoming summer transfer window. Rudiger and Pogba can help this team as a third center back and central midfielder in the play industry, with respect. But Real Madrid must make a careful assessment of the risks with both. They don’t want to end up with a contract they can’t get rid of and a player who would become an unfair target for the Madridista, as many have done in recent years.

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