Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC6 minute reading
Some clubs have managed the transfer market particularly well in recent years (Real Madrid, Manchester City and Liverpool have led the way) while others have struggled to match (namely Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea.) But sometimes there’s little they can do as it’s the players who hold the power .
July 1 marks the moment stars including Tottenham forward Harry Kane, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe will be handed control as they will have 12 months left on their contracts. In Europe’s big leagues, contracts run from July 1 to June 30, so there will be many top players – including United goalkeeper David de Gea, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Juventus midfielder Adrian Rabiot and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram – officially set to be free . agents at the weekend, without having already agreed to another club.
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But for those entering the final year of their deals, there will be a real power shift in their favour. Kane and Mbappe, leading targets for some of the biggest clubs in the game, could use their dwindling contract status to force their current employers away.
One of the world’s most exciting young players, Mbappe has until July 31 to trigger a one-year extension to the contract he signed in 2022 when he turned down a free transfer to Real Madrid. But the France international insists he will not put pen to paper and, while he is happy to stay in Paris for another year, will try to leave for free.
Sources have told ESPN that PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi is reluctantly open to letting the 24-year-old leave this summer, but wants a transfer fee in the region of €150 million ($163 million). Few (if any) clubs will pay that, and the fee will decrease the longer the saga plays out.
It’s a similar story with Kane. Although he has yet to openly express a desire not to extend his contract at Tottenham, which also expires in 2024, club chairman Daniel Levy knows he is running out of time to persuade the England striker to stay.
In the summer of 2021, Levy faced Manchester City by refusing to negotiate at all unless they offered a transfer fee of £150m. to retrieve Kane. City walked away, bowed out and landed Erling Haaland for £52m from Borussia Dortmund 12 months later.
Two years ago, Levy and the Spurs were in a position of strength; Kane had three years to run on his contract and the value to the club was to keep him rather than make money by offloading him. Now the dilemma is whether one more season of Kane is worth more than taking a fee approaching £100m. this summer. If Kane makes it clear he wants to leave as a free agent next summer, Levy will have until the window closes on September 1 to decide whether to take his last chance to cash in or accept his star player could walk out the door at . nothing.
Spurs and Levy, at least publicly, are yet to make up their mind about Kane, while United have made it clear they are committed to agreeing a new deal for Rashford. The 25-year-old is not openly courting a move away from Old Trafford, but the prospect of him entering the 2023-24 season without committing his long-term future to the club will worry them given his 30 goals in 56 games in the last season.
Few leading players take advantage of their ability to negotiate a free transfer with overseas clubs in the January transfer window. But PSG, Spurs and Man United know they are losing their grip on their stars with every month that goes by without them committing to a new contract.
As soon as the calendar turns to July, the pressure mounts. The clubs have two months to turn the tide in their favor as what little influence they have now will be gone by the time January arrives. It’s a situation you’ll see across Europe as the transfer window draws to a conclusion.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount wants to see out his contract after failing to agree new terms, but his club have rejected three bids (the latest £55m) from Man United to sign the England midfielder as they hold out for 70 million pounds. It is a dangerous strategy for the Blues as United could turn their attention elsewhere.
West Ham chairman David Sullivan said after their UEFA Europa Conference League final victory that he has agreed to let midfielder Declan Rice leave, despite the club having a one-year option to extend his deal until 2025. But they have already declined two bids from Arsenal (the latter of which was £90m in total, consisting of £75m plus £15m in additions) as they want more than £100m.
Manchester City recently rolled the dice on midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and lost out, with the 32-year-old midfielder opting to join Barcelona on a free when his contract expired in the summer instead.
So will Tottenham and PSG put economy first by giving Kane and Mbappe a move? Will United pay Rashford more than they really want to avoid the saga of him running down his contract, as Paul Pogba did before returning to Juventus 12 months ago?
The answer to these questions will likely change in the coming weeks based on the actions of the players involved because the clubs are no longer in control. Suffice to say, the clock is ticking.