Liverpool could lose Germany international Emre Can on a free transfer at the end of the season if the midfielder decides against signing a contract extension with the club. Everyone connected with the club would be disappointed to see a player of his value, reputation and potential make an exit with the club recouping nothing for his services. But we have been the beneficiaries of free transfers in the past.
So here we take a look at what happened when the club signed players on freebies…
When the club completed the signing of Markus Babbel from Bayern Munich on a Bosman free transfer back in 2000, it was seen as quite the coup. He had attracted bids from Real Madrid and Manchester United before making the move to Anfield. Some thought his best years were behind him, but he went on to be a key component in Gerard Houllier’s treble winning side of 2000/01. He added those trophies to the four Bundesliga titles, two German cups and UEFA Cup he had won with Bayern. He was also a part of the German national side which claimed the European Championship title at Euro 96 in England. He would have gone on to make many more appearances for the club had he not contracted the debilitating Guillan-Barre syndrome in 2001. It left him in a wheelchair for a while and put the skids on his Anfield career. He never recaptured his best form and was loaned to Blackburn Rovers before returning to German football with VfB Stuttgart. A contender for the best right-back the club has had during the modern era.
The Finland international grew up supporting the club, but didn’t manage to realise his dream of represting Liverpool until signing in January 2001 on a free transfer from Barcelona. He had made his name as the star player in the great Ajax side of the nineties before leaving them for the La Liga giants on a Bosman deal in 1999. Roy Evans had tried to bring him to Anfield previously, but wasn’t afforded the required funds to get the deal done. Gerard Houllier subsequently attempted to bring him in when his Ajax contract expired, but was beaten to the punch by Barcelona. Louis Van Gaal was in charge at the Camp Nou at that time and the two were reunited when he followed his former coach to Spain. But things took a turn for the worse when Van Gaal was sacked and Litmanen was dropped from the team. He was able to finally head to Anfield less than two years after joining the Catalans. But things didn’t turn out as he would have hoped, despite a promising start. Houllier opted to use him sparingly, despite heralding him as a “world class” talent upon signing him. Litmanen decided to call it quits and headed back to Holland to rejoin Ajax in 2002.
The Scotland international arrived at the club in the Summer of 2000 at the ripe old age of thirty-five. It was a surprise deal to most onlookers as he left Coventry City to move to Anfield, but few doubted it was the right thing to do when he left just two years later to become player-manager of his former club. McAllister added experience, nous and class to a young Liverpool side in need of just that. It was a masterstroke by Gerard Houllier to bring the veteran midfielder in and it paid off for the Frenchman. McAllister made a big contribution as Liverpool won three cups and qualified for the Champions League for the 2001/02 campaign. His last ditch free-kick at Goodison Park to seal a 3-2 win over Everton will go down in folklore, along with his penalty against Barcelona to beat the Spanish side in the UEFA Cup semi-finals. He had a short lived spell as a coach at the club under Brendan Rodgers in 2015 and will forever be remembered as a legend at Anfield.
The England international arrived at Anfield in the Summer of 2010 soon after Roy Hodgson was appointed to succeed Rafa Benitez as manager. Many supporters had high hopes for the former Chelsea midfielder, but the tone was well and truly set when he was sent off against Arsenal in the opening Premier League match of the season. He never looked capable of recapturing his best form and had a similar fate to that of his manager when he was loaned to French club Lille a year later. He ultimately left to make a permament return to boyhood club West Ham United in January 2013. Few were sad to see his Anfield career come to an end.
The Wales international had already played for the club when he came back from Manchester City on a free transfer. Kenny Dalglish, who was having his second spell in charge of the club, decided it made sense to re-sign the striker on deadline day in August 2011 and it proved a good decision. He scored the goal which sent the club to the 2011/12 League Cup final when he notched against former club City at Anfield. He also provided the assist for Andy Carroll to head the winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool won the League Cup final, but were beaten in the FA Cup by Chelsea. Cardiff City were the beaten finalists in the League Cup and Bellamy went on to return to the Welsh club at the end of that season.
The Ivory Coast international centre-back was another free transfer signing from Manchester City. He arrived at the club in the Summer of 2013 following the retirement of Jamie Carragher to add some experience to the defence. He signed a two year deal and later signed a one year extension to continue his spell at Anfield into the 2015/16 season. The sacking of Brendan Rodgers didn’t mean an end to his time at the club, as Jurgen Klopp kept him around until the end of that season. Toure was drafted in to start the Europa League final against Sevilla, which the club lost 3-1, following Mamadou Sakho’s suspension. But the veteran defender was the best player that night and did not deserve to be on the losing side. He was, however, subsequently released and followed Rodgers north of the border to sign for Celtic, where he is now a coach following his retirement last year.
Holland international Zenden arrived at the club on a free transfer deal in the Summer of 2005 from Middlesbrough. He had impressed for the Premier League club following a spell with Chelsea and went on to play in the 2007 Champions League final for the club, which resulted in a 2-1 loss against AC Milan in Athens. His contract was not renewed after that game, however, and he went on to sign for Marseille on a free transfer before returning to English football for a brief spell with Sunderland.
This will probably be the free transfer signing most Liverpool will remember the most fondly. One of the biggest fan favourites the club has ever seen, Fowler left to join Leeds United in 2001 following a strained relationship with manager Gerard Houllier. Few thought that he would ever return to the club, especially as his goalscoring form had declined after joining Manchester City from Leeds. But Rafa Benitez decided to bring him back to the club in January 2006 and the decision was met with jubilation by supporters. He made a false start on his second debut against Birmingham City when he had a goal ruled out for offside, but he finally got off the mark a month later in the 5-1 midweek win at Anfield over Fulham – the same club he scored his first goal for the club against. He went on to score goals against West Brom, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers to help earn a one year extension to his contract. He only made six league starts in his final season with the club, though he did score his first Champions League goals for the club in a 3-2 loss against Galatasaray. He captained the side on his final appearance against Charlton Athletic in May 2007. He signed a two year contract with Cardiff City that Summer.
Milner was another player to join on a free transfer from Manchester City when he signed in the Summer of 2015. He decided to call time on his spell at The Etihad in order to seek more regular football, particularly in the centre of midfield, and was given assurances by Brendan Rodgers that he could get this at Anfield. The Northern Irishman was subsequently sacked a matter of months later, but successor Jurgen Klopp has kept the former England international as part of his squad and he remains vice-captain to skipper Jordan Henderson to this day. He has since scored against City and been booed by his former supporters, which didn’t seem to bother him in his celebrations. What the future holds for the thirty-two year old remains to be seen. He is on relatively high wages for a player of his age and standing at the club, but his versatility and work-rate remain useful traits for Klopp to utilise.