Football: pounds 30m of talent available free

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The Independent Online
CLUBS will receive details over the next month of more than 500 players available on free transfers this summer due to the Bosman ruling - which could lead to the gulf between the salaries of Premiership and Football League professionals growing wider than ever.

The Premier League is circulating a list of around 75 players over the age of 24 who, despite being worth a combined total of more than pounds 30m, will be out of contract in June and available for nothing.

They include leading players such as the Aston Villa defender Steve Staunton, Leeds striker Rod Wallace, and goalkeepers Kasey Keller (Leicester) and Shaka Hislop (Newcastle).

Others are established veterans, such as Bolton's Peter Beardsley, Tottenham's Gary Mabbutt and even the former Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit.

Many are set to command massive signing-on fees and wages if they move on as their new clubs will save on paying out transfer fees of up to pounds 3m which would have been required if they had still been under contract.

At the other end of the scale, the Football League will soon send out its own list of an estimated 450 players whose deals at lower League clubs also run out at the end of this season.

With 140 of them at First Division clubs - compared with only slightly higher numbers at Second and Third Divisions teams - some will certainly be in demand and will earn more than they could have done before the Bosman ruling on free movement of out-of-contract players.

Yet the vast majority will be in stiff competition for places at other clubs. Last season, before the change in rules, just over half of the 299 players at the end of their contracts were not re- engaged by professional clubs.

The lack of a transfer fee will no doubt make them more appealing to clubs, but the fear remains that most players will reap an even smaller fraction of the rewards that their Premiership counterparts receive.

Clubs will always want to hang on to their best players on long-term deals, but those renegotiating contracts with less crucial squad members could show them the list of 450 potential replacements and argue there is no reason to pay them so much.

"Clubs can realise just how many players are available on free transfers and we hope they will not be tempted to sign a lot of players on lucrative contracts that will put themselves in financial jeopardy," a Football League spokesman said.