Free agency isn't a destination for European footballers in the same way as their American counterparts in baseball, basketball, or the NFL, where reaching the end of one's playing contract is often seen as an accomplishment rather than a last resort. With North American athletes frequently trapped by the confines of collectively bargained contracts earlier in their careers—where their pay is quite often well below their actual market value—your average shortstop, shooting guard, or running back may have to wait five years or more before they can truly bargain for a deal commensurate with their talents.
Not limited by such strictures, European footballers are free to negotiate their own contracts/salaries earlier in their career, so the end of one's contract isn't quite the same winning lottery ticket as it is for their colleagues in MLB, the NBA, or the NFL.
Nevertheless, Europe sees more than its fair share of Bosman transactions each summer, where players are free to pick and choose their next club free from the restraints of transfer fees and inter-club negotiations. In fact, Roma took advantage of this very situation when they signed Pedro to a three-year deal after his contract with Chelsea expired in June 2020.
Pedro is an intelligent and savvy player, one whose CV stacks up quite well to most of his peers, but he can't hold a candle to some of 2021's impending free agents. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that free agency may suddenly become “a thing” like it is in MLB or the NBA, but with so much financial uncertainty surrounding the sport now, contracts may get shorter and shorter, so perhaps players will start to see the value in betting on one's self and testing the open market more often.
That's a story for another day, but now that we're officially in 2021, players whose contracts are set to expire on June 30th can start to negotiate with other clubs, so let's take a look at this once in a lifetime free-agent class and see if Tiago Pinto and Roma can land any of these white whales.
We're not going to speculate on salaries or contract lengths, but instead, we're going to rank these free agents on how likely it is they'd actually sign with Roma. Market values are merely provided for reference.
The One They Have No Chance of Signing
Current club: Barcelona | Position: Wherever he wants | Age: 33 | Market Value: €100M
Might as well start with the man who needs no introduction. Even at 33-years-old and with only six months remaining on his deal, if you wanted to buy Messi right now, it'd still cost you at least €100 million. But when you're talking about the greatest player of all-time, one for whom you'd at least one Amazon warehouse to stock all the kits you'd sell, it's a small price to pay.
Pros: The only real knock against Messi is that he's never proven himself (take that lightly) outside of La Liga. So what better way to put the Ronaldo vs. Messi debate to rest than signing with Roma and lifting the Giallorossi to domestic glory? Ronaldo took the easy path signing with a Juve club that, at that time, had already won eight-straight titles. Fuck that, Messi. Sign with Roma, the perpetual bride's maids of Italy, lift Roma over the top, and prove you're the real GOAT once and for all.
Cons: It's fun to dream, but if he leaves Barca, it's likey for City or some other mega club.
The One They Need to Sign
Current club: Roma | Position: MF | Age: 31 | Market Value: €20M
Mkhitaryan is enjoying a rebirth in the Eternal City but lost among the hoopla of his MVP-level play is the simple fact that he's only bound to AS Roma for another six months. Mkhitaryan, Mino Raiola, and Roma CEO Guido Fienga did well to wrest him away from his Arsenal contract last summer, but now they need to take it a step further and really tie his future to Roma.
Pros: Mkhitaryan has resurrected his career with Roma, he knows the city, his teammates and has blossomed under Fonseca's tactics, so he'd be foolish to toss that aside. Plus, can you imagine how lost they'd be without him this year?
Cons: The world has taken notice of Mkhitaryan's resurgence, so he may have more suitors than we'd care to admit.
The Ones They Need but Will Require Convincing...a Lot of Convincing
Current Club: AC Milan | Position: GK | Age: 21 | Market Value: €60M
Roma fans are certainly no stranger to Donnarumma, who, at only 21-years-old, already has over 200 appearances for Milan. Size, reflexes, technique; Donnarumma has it all and it’s only a matter of time before he's hailed as the best keeper in the world—if he isn't already. Donnarumma's contract drama has been going on for a few years now—and indeed, Roma were connected with him in recent summers—but with no new deal on the horizon, Milan may be tempting fate with their young keeper.
Pros: He knows the league, he knows the pressure of playing for a giant Italian club and he's really, really good. Sign him up, pay him whatever he wants, and reap the benefits for the next 15 years.
Cons: Juventus, Chelsea, PSG. Name a mega-club and they're likey after him. It'd be extremely tough to outbid those clubs, but perhaps Roma can make an emotional appeal to keep him in Italy and spite Milan.
Current Club: Lyon | Position: F/W | Age: 26 | Market Value: €45M
No stranger to the Roma rumor mill, Depay has put the misery of his Manchester United stint behind him, scoring 51 goals and chipping in 31 assists in 119 Ligue 1 appearances for Lyon since 2016. Capable of playing as an attacking midfielder, a winger, and even as a center forward, Depay is just now hitting his prime years and would bring a wealth of talent and athleticism to Roma.
Pros: As a pacy, creative wide player capable of creating his own shot, beating defenders off the dribble, and playing in counter-attacking schemes, Depay is almost exactly what this Roma team craves right now.
Cons: Like most of the names on this list, it comes down to one essential question: is Roma big enough to satiate his needs/desires?
Current Club: AC Milan | Postion: MF | Age: 26 | Market Value: €35M
While Zlatan's renaissance has been a sight to behold, Milan wouldn't be in first place without their 26-year-old Turkish playmaker. With six assists and nearly four keypasses per match, Çalhanoğlu is one of the league's best playmakers at the moment and, much like Depay, is just entering his prime footballing years.
Pros: Çalhanoğlu is one of Serie A's best passers and playmakers, and while it may appear that Roma are well-stocked in that area, few players in the league are as effective or efficient as Çalhanoğlu when it comes to creating for others.
Cons: Chances are he'll re-up with Milan, but Roma would have to fight with Manchester United and PSG for his signature. He also seems more suited for a 4-2-3-1, but Fonseca could certainly find a way to use him in any setup.
Current Club: Napoli (kinda) | Position: F | Age: 26 | Market Value: €22M
Definitely no stranger to the Roma rumor mill, the essentially club-less Milik was cast out from Napoli this season and has spent most of the year training on his own. While he has a pretty robust injury history, Milik made 61 appearances between the ‘18-’19 and ‘19-’20 seasons, scoring 28 goals along the way.
Pros: Borja Mayoral is definitely an intriguing young player, but the one area in which he's struggled is the one area in which Milik excels: scoring goals consistently and efficiently. Roma nearly signed him this summer, so one would assume Milik is intrigued by Roma's project.
Cons: Welp, he's still out there and in their prime strikers like Milik don't hit the Bosman market every year, so whether he's sold by Napoli now or signs as a free agent in June, Milik will have no shortage of options.
The Ones They Don't Necessarily Need but Might As Well Call
Current Club: PSG | Position: MF | Age: 27 | Market Value: €24M
A Roma rumor mill member from way back, Draxler has had a quiet but steady career in Paris, making well over 100 appearances for the Parisiens since 2016. Draxler is about as pure an attacking midfielder as you'll find in the game today but can play more withdrawn in a pinch.
Pros: He wouldn't necessarily be a massive upgrade but when healthy, Draxler is a smooth trequartista-type who could slot right into Fonseca's attacking midfield role, providing through balls and keypasses to Edin Dzeko's delight.
Cons: He never really became the conqueror many envisioned several years ago but he's still going to draw interest from some pretty big clubs. Even if Roma were his safety school, he'd be a great addition.
Current Club: Napoli | Position: RB | Age: 26 | Market Value: €14M
No stranger to Roma fans, Hysaj has been a Serie A regular for several years now, having made his top-flight debut with Empoli in 2014. While he's not necessarily a highlight-reel player, Hysaj is a steady and reliable performer at right-back for Napoli.
Pros: Logging more than 3,000 league minutes in four of his past six seasons, Hysaj is the very picture of dependability, something Roma have been sorely missing at the position for well over a decade now. So whether he'd start or not, Hysaj would be a tremendous boost to Roma's right-back corps.
Cons: Is he really that much of an upgrade over a healthy Rick Karsdorp? He's certainly a worthwhile and dependable addition, but is he a gamechanger?
Current Club: Marseilles | Position: F/W | Age: 27 | Market Value: €32M
Another bygone member of the Roma rumor rags, Thauvin has been incredibly productive for Marseilles over the past several years. Since returning to the port city in the summer of 2015, Thauvin has racked up 61 goals and 34 assists in league play.
Pros: Outside of those incredible numbers, Thauvin is a pretty versatile player, capable of playing attacking midfield and anywhere along the frontline. Thauvin can cut-in, beat you outside, create for others, and find his own shot. He's not a household name but he's got that type of talent.
Cons: Right-wing may not be Roma's greatest area of need and they'd likely face intense competition for a player this productive...but man, this guy is underrated.
The Older Ones That Would Provide Depth & Experience
Current Club: Real Madrid | Position: CB | Age: 34 | Market Value: €14M
Another player who needs no introduction, the Real Madrid legend may see his 16-year run with the club come to an end this June. He may be on the wrong side of 30, but Ramos remains a workhorse, logging more than 2,200 La Liga minutes in four of his past five seasons.
Pros: If you feel like Roma is lacking grinta, look no further; Ramos is as intense as they come. He may have a lot of miles on his legs, but there's still a lot of quality in those 34-year-old stems.
Cons: I mean, after 16 years with Madrid, would it really end so easily? I'm not convinced he'll leave, but I'd take him in a heartbeat.
Angel Di Maria
Current Club: PSG | Position: RW | Age: 32 | Market Value: €32M
It feels like Di Maria should have played in Italy by now, doesn't it? And after an illustrious 14-year career filled with plaudits and trophies, now might be the time for Di Maria to put that Italian passport to use.
Pros: He's been around a long time, but Di Maria is still incredibly effective. He may have lost a step or two but since turning 30 prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, Di Maria has scored 36 goals and provided 45 assists in all competitions. What's more, he can nearly anywhere in attack.
Cons: As good as he is, Roma already has a load of 30+-year-old wingers, so they may not be eager to add to that lot.
Current Club: Manchester City | Position: F | Age: 32 | Market Value: €35M
We already covered Agüero earlier in the fall when looking for Roma's next Premiership castoff, and while he's barely played for City this season, he managed 16 goals and three assists in 24 league appearances last season, proving there's plenty of life left in those 32-year-old legs.
Pros: Just like Di Maria, Agüero has continued to excel since turning 30, scoring 51 goals and chipping in 12 assists in all competitions since the start of the 2018-2019 season. You wouldn’t Agüero to do much other than score and he can certainly do that.
Cons: Well, Roma already have an aging but effective striker in Dzeko, so he might be a bit redundant.
The Other Guys
If Roma swing and miss on all these guys, players like Moussa Marega, Shkrodan Mustafi, Otavio, Nikola Maksimovic, Javi Martinez or even Jessie Lingard could entice the Giallorossi, adding depth, versatility, and experience to a rather young bench.
So, what do you say? Do any of these names tempt you?