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With Silva joining Chelsea and Messi set to follow him to England – here’s the best free signings

What would be the most expensive free transfer ever is brewing with Lionel Messi plotting to leave Barcelona via a disputed clause in his contract.

Manchester City are favourites to sign Messi, but their Premier League rivals Chelsea have already made quite the free signing of their own after snapping up Thiago Silva from Paris Saint-Germain. 

The 35-year-old Brazilian signed a two-year deal at Stamford Bridge for no transfer fee earlier this week as Frank Lampard continues a £200million-plus overhaul of his Chelsea squad.

With Silva making the move to England – and with Messi on the brink of joining him, Sportsmail takes a look back at the best free transfers in Premier League history.

After being a goal machine at Tottenham in his first spell at the club, Teddy Sheringham joined Manchester United for £3.5million. After four seasons winning everything under Sir Alex Ferguson, the striker returned to Spurs on a free transfer in 2001. 

After being welcomed back as a hero, Sheringham scored double-digit goal tallies in his final two top-flight seasons at Spurs. The first helped the north Londoners finish in ninth place – their highest league spot in six years. Overall, his second Spurs spell saw him score 26 goals in 80 matches. 

One minute Youri Djorkaeff was playing in a UEFA Cup semi-final with Kaiserslautern, the next he was at Bolton Wanderers.

The silky French international moved on a free transfer to form an iconic Bolton midfield with ex-Real Madrid man Ivan Campo and Nigerian enigma Jay-Jay Okocha (more on him below). While Djorkaeff took a while to get into the swing of things at the Reebok Stadium, he ended his Bolton stint with 21 goals in 87 matches. 

After heading to boyhood club Cardiff City on loan in the Championship in 2010 due to troubles with Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, Craig Bellamy stunned everyone by rejoining Liverpool a season later. 

The Welsh forward scored six Premier League goals during the 2011-12 season, while he also helped Kenny Dalglish’s side win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final. 

Aston Villa thought Marc Albrighton was not good enough for their first team in 2014. Two years later, he was a Premier League champion with Leicester City and Villa were relegated to the Championship. 

The winger joined the King Power Stadium after being let go by the Midlands club – he has since been a regular fixture for the Foxes, having made over 200 appearances for the club. He has even played in a Champions League quarter-final. 

After being a back-up player at Liverpool, goalkeeper Brad Friedel joined First Division side Blackburn in 2000. 

The American then became an iconic Premier League goalkeeper, missing just four top-flight matches in his seven seasons at Rovers. He even ended up on the Premier League scoresheet a couple of times too. 

Senegal striker Demba Ba joined West Ham in January 2011 but couldn’t prevent the Hammers from getting relegated that season. He then moved to Newcastle on a free transfer and became part of Alan Pardew’s exciting Magpies team that qualified for Europe in 2012. 

Ba scored 29 goals in 48 matches at St James’ Park before Chelsea snapped him up for around £7million in 2013.  

England midfielder Gareth Barry made a permanent switch to Everton in 2014 after a successful loan move which saw him fire the Toffees to fifth place in the table. Barry was a lynchpin in the Everton side for three seasons before moving to West Brom in 2017. 

Boy, could he hit a football. Thomas Hitzlsperger moved to Aston Villa from Bayern Munich on a free transfer in 2000 but had to wait a year before his Premier League debut after being sent out on loan to Chesterfield. The midfielder had a cannon of a left boot which led to some thumping goals in the top flight and earned him the nickname ‘Der Hammer’.

Ex-Inter Milan and Real Madrid star Esteban Cambiasso only played one season at Leicester City, but he helped keep the Foxes up the season before they won the Premier League. 

The Argentinian legend scored five goals in 31 matches for Nigel Pearson’s side, who completed the great escape with a few games to spare. He left the club before Claudio Ranieri steered them to the top-flight title, but his contributions have not been forgotten.

Veteran Italian forward Gianluca Vialli joined Chelsea in the final move of his career in 1996. He then scored 30 goals in 64 appearances for the Blues as they won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in Vialli’s first two seasons.

Vialli was then asked to take over as Chelsea manager when Ruud Gullit was sacked and added another FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Charity Shield to his Chelsea winners’ medals. Remains a club legend.

The iconic Swedish striker had a brilliant first season at Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho, scoring 28 goals in all competitions as the Red Devils won the League Cup and the Europa League in 2017. Sadly his second season at the club was ruined by a serious knee injury, but what an impact he had made. 

Newly-promoted Bournemouth snapped up ex-Manchester United talent Josh King from Blackburn in 2015, with the Norwegian forward being a major reason why the Cherries stayed up in the Premier League for so long. 

King scored 50 goals in 167 appearances for Eddie Howe’s side and will be looking for a big move following Bournemouth’s relegation to the Championship this year.

Boyhood Toffees fan Alan Stubbs completed his dream move to Goodison Park in 2001 following a tough battle with cancer while at Celtic. He would go on to play 169 matches for the club and captained David Moyes’ side when they qualified for the Champions League in 2005. 

Stubbs was an indispensable defender and leader who was tough in the challenge and could match up against any opponent in the air. 

Skills so nice they named him twice. After starring for Nigeria in the 2002 World Cup, PSG midfielder joined Bolton where he immediately became a cult hero at the Reebok Stadium. 

Over four years and 124 appearances for Wanderers, his silky skills and unbelievable goals dazzled Premier League fans. He even held the captain’s armband for a couple of years before leaving in 2006.

Chelsea fans couldn’t believe their luck when they pipped Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan to German international midfielder Michael Ballack in 2006. 

The German scored 25 goals for the Blues in his four seasons at Stamford Bridge, which is not a bad total for someone who was a deep-lying playmaker. At Chelsea, Ballack won three FA Cups, the league and cup double in 2010 and the League Cup in 2007. 

Uruguayan star Gus Poyet scored a goal every three matches for Chelsea in his four-year spell there between 1997 and 2001. The attacking midfielder scored 36 goals in two seasons as the Blues finished third in the top-flight in 1999 before reaching the Champions League quarter-finals a year later. 

The England midfielder was already a Premier League champion with Manchester City when he moved to Liverpool in 2015, but the effect he has had on the Reds since then has eclipsed anything he achieved before arriving at Anfield.

Milner has been a key yet underrated figure of the Liverpool side that has gone from top-four challengers to Champions League and Premier League winners in the last two seasons. Reliable in midfield and at left-back, Liverpool fans will be hoping he can add to his 215 appearances over the past half-decade. 

The Scottish defender only moved to Liverpool when he was aged 35 and only spent two seasons at Anfield – but his role in helping Gerard Houllier’s side win multiple titles cannot be understated.

McAllister was a key playmaker when Liverpool completed their FA Cup-League Cup- UEFA Cup treble in 2001, complimenting the likes of Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen further up the pitch. 

The unmistakable, dreadlocked figure of Ruud Gullit moved to Chelsea in 1995 to end his career in a quite remarkable coup for then unfashionable Chelsea. The hulking forward had been a key figure in the great AC Milan team that had dominated Europe, and the Holland team who won the European Championship in 1988, but he moved back into a deep, sweeper role at Chelsea before taking the league by storm as a midfielder.

Gullit’s style of ‘sexy football’ soon became famous after he was appointed player-manager at the Blues just a year later, and they won the FA Cup in his first full season in charge. More importantly, Chelsea were now on the map, a club’s image forever transformed.

It’s the transfer that not even the boldest of Arsenal fans could ever have expected. 

Tottenham captain Sol Campbell repeatedly claimed he would be staying at Spurs for the 2001-02 season. He then ended up at fierce rivals Arsenal, where he won the league and cup double in his first season at Highbury. Two years and a lot of Judas taunts later, his Arsenal side won the league at White Hart Lane, having not lost a match all season, making Campbell an Invincible.

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