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Sports Mole's out-of-contract XI - Lionel Messi, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema

Sports Mole selects a best XI from soon-to-be free agents, including Lionel Messi, N'Golo Kante and Karim Benzema.

With domestic and continental fates being settled far and wide, sporting directors and agents will soon be in constant dialogue over the uncertain futures of some of their clients.

While plenty of household names will put pen to paper on contract extensions with their clubs, others have now entered the final months of their deals, and interested parties may be licking their lips at the prospect of a cut-price summer transfer.

Some players are already believed to have earmarked their next destinations once their time at their current stomping ground comes to an end, while others are waiting for the phone to ring, and there is an abundance of talent on offer in all areas of the field in the free agent market this summer.

Here, Sports Mole whittles down the best soon-to-be free agents into one out-of-contract XI.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea

David de Gea in action for Manchester United on May 7, 2023© Reuters

Talk about mixed fortunes; Manchester United number one David de Gea ended the 2022-23 season with the Premier League's Golden Glove award, an EFL Cup winners' medal around his neck and the esteemed honour of keeping the most clean sheets in Red Devils history, surpassing the legendary Peter Schmeichel.

The Spaniard recorded 25 shut-outs in all competitions - including a league-high 17 in the Premier League - but an ongoing propensity for mistakes will be remembered better than his successful exploits in between the sticks, having made four errors directly leading to a goal in all tournaments this term.

De Gea did not cover himself in glory in Man United's FA Cup final loss to Manchester City either, and while the 32-year-old's contract includes a one-year extension option, the Red Devils are unlikely to take up that option and keep him on his club-high £375,000-a-week wages.

A renewal on reduced terms is believed to be on the table, but De Gea is yet to sign on the dotted line and will not be guaranteed the number one shirt at Old Trafford next season, only adding fuel to the fire surrounding the Spaniard's next career move.

Honourable mentions: Samir Handanovic (Inter Milan), David Soria (Getafe), Pepe Reina (Villarreal)

Right-back: Joel Veltman

Joel Veltman in action for Brighton & Hove Albion on August 7, 2022© Reuters

Despite previously making a name for himself in the heart of defence, Brighton & Hove Albion's Joel Veltman proved to be an effective outlet on the right-hand side for the Seagulls during their successful push for Europa League football.

Taking advantage of Tariq Lamptey's fitness woes to cement his place in the team, Veltman scored one goal and set up one more in 31 Premier League outings for Roberto De Zerbi's side, albeit while suffering from a few niggling injuries himself.

Boasting bags of domestic and continental experience at 31 years old, the former Ajax man should not be short of possible suitors this summer, but Brighton are said to be confident of agreeing a new deal with the versatile Dutchman.

Honourable mentions: Hamari Traore (Rennes), Vladimir Coufal (West Ham United), Matt Doherty (Atletico Madrid), Hector Bellerin (Sporting Lisbon)

Centre-backs: Milan Skriniar, Sergio Ramos

Inter Milan's Milan Skriniar celebrates their third goal on October 12, 2022© Reuters

By far the most valuable player in this XI - rated at €60m (£51.7m) by Transfermarkt - Inter Milan and Slovakia centre-back Milan Skriniar is preparing to bid his farewells to the Nerazzurri after a hugely successful six-year spell.

Establishing himself as one of Europe's leading centre-backs during his time at San Siro, Skriniar will leave with a Serie A title, two Coppa Italias and two Supercoppa Italiana crowns in the bag, and the biggest prize of them all could also be his if Inter upset Manchester City in next weekend's Champions League final.

A back injury has hampered Skriniar's final season in Nerazzurri colours, but he was back on the bench for the weekend's win over Torino and could sign off in Istanbul in the perfect way before an expected move to Paris Saint-Germain.

From one player arriving at the Parc des Princes to another packing his bags in the French capital, Sergio Ramos will vacate his spot in the PSG dressing room for Skriniar's arrival.

The Real Madrid icon was only a bit-part player during an injury-hit first year at the Parc des Princes, but he has been one of the first names on the teamsheet under Christophe Galtier this season, in spite of questions over the consistency of his performances.

Following brief talk that his stay in Paris could be extended, Ramos confirmed last week that he would be seeking pastures new when his contract came to an end, and a final mammoth payday in Saudi Arabia could now await the 37-year-old.

Honourable mentions: Stefan de Vrij (Inter), Evan Ndicka (Eintracht Frankfurt), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid)

Left-back: Raphael Guerreiro

Borussia Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro pictured on July 29, 2022© Reuters

Having lost the Bundesliga title to Bayern Munich in heartbreaking fashion, Borussia Dortmund are now about to lose one of the best playmakers from the 2022-23 top-flight season in Portuguese left-back Raphael Guerreiro.

The 29-year-old set up a league-high 12 goals in 27 Bundesliga matches in the now-concluded campaign - one more than second-placed Randal Kolo Muani - and he now boasts a respectable 40 goals and 50 assists from 224 games in a Dortmund shirt since leaving Lorient in 2016.

Both Arsenal and Bayern are believed to be keeping a close eye on developments surrounding Guerreiro, who was recently confirmed to be leaving Dortmund by sporting director Sebastian Kehl after the two parties failed to come to an agreement over a renewal.

Honourable mentions: Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach), Daley Blind (Bayern), Sead Kolasinac (Marseille)

Defensive midfield: N'Golo Kante, Ilkay Gundogan

Chelsea's N'Golo Kante pictured during the warm up before the match on March 18, 2023© Reuters

While Real Madrid duo Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are both out of contract at the Bernabeu this month, Los Blancos are expected to imminently announce extensions for both men, leading us to scope out other soon-to-be free agents for our double pivot.

Luckily, we were spoiled for choice in the engine room, and in spite of his never-ending fitness problems over the past couple of years, Chelsea lynchpin N'Golo Kante was a simple pick.

During the 32-year-old's fleeting appearances in the 2022-23 season, he showed flashes of his perennial quality in the middle of the field, and Chelsea were initially believed to be closing in on an agreement to tie him down for longer.

However, updates on Kante's situation have since been few and far between, and Paris Saint-Germain are believed to be lurking in the background if talks ultimately fail to yield a positive solution.

Over at Manchester City, Ilkay Gundogan is giving the Citizens faithful the best parting gift that he could with an exceptional run of end-of-season form, one which saw him captain the Citizens to Premier League and FA Cup glory as they vie for a famous treble.

The German's stunning 12-second volley against Man United on Saturday was the fastest-ever in an FA Cup final, and while Pep Guardiola is pushing to retain his services, a move to Barcelona is apparently imminent.

Honourable mentions: Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Konrad Laimer (RB Leipzig), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Naby Keita (Liverpool)

Right midfield: Lionel Messi

Paris Saint-Germain attacker Lionel Messi warms up on May 27, 2023© Reuters

After an unsanctioned commercial trip to Saudi Arabia strained his relationship with PSG and the club's unforgiving fans, Lionel Messi could now be heading to the Middle East for good as he prepares to bid a bittersweet farewell to PSG.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will exit the Parc des Princes with two Ligue 1 titles to his name, but he was often targeted by a cacophony of boos from his own fans, many of whom will seemingly welcome the Argentine's imminent departure only a few months after an extension until 2024 was believed to have been in the pipeline.

While Barcelona are not giving up hope of bringing Messi back to Catalonia, clubs in the Saudi Pro League are better-placed financially to hand the 35-year-old a lucrative contract, while Inter Miami continue to dream of making Messi the MLS poster boy.

Honourable mentions: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Angel Di Maria (Juventus), Adama Traore (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Attacking midfield: Roberto Firmino

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino pictured on May 20, 2023© Reuters

In a few weeks' time, Mohamed Salah will be the only member of Liverpool's famed attacking trident left standing at Anfield, as Reds fans up and down the land pay tribute to Roberto Firmino after a trophy-laden eight-year spell.

Often providing the glue to stick Liverpool's frontline together, Firmino's final two years at Anfield have been underwhelming affairs given his injuries and greater competition for attacking places, but 11 Premier League goals in the 2022-23 season is nothing to be sniffed at.

It was only fitting for Firmino to score Liverpool's final home goal of the campaign against Aston Villa - albeit one that was not enough for Champions League qualification - and one can be sure that the Brazilian will always be welcomed back to Merseyside with open arms.

Honourable mentions: Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Jesse Lingard (Nottingham Forest), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United)

Left midfield: Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha celebrates scoring for Crystal Palace on April 29, 2023© Reuters

For the past few years, not a single transfer window has gone by without Wilfried Zaha's future being called into question, but the Ivorian has remained loyal to Crystal Palace while the rumour mill continues to swirl.

However, the Ivorian attacker finally looks set to end his eight-year stint with his boyhood club, having come through the Eagles' youth academy before a forgettable spell with Manchester United, and he will depart having scored an impressive 90 goals in 458 matches for the Eagles.

Even the offer of a record-breaking contract may not be enough for Palace to retain the 30-year-old's services, and with clubs both in and outside of Europe monitoring the situation, Zaha could be spoiled for choice this summer.

Honourable mentions: Jonathan Bamba (Lille), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Ryan Kent (Rangers)

Striker: Karim Benzema

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates scoring against Chelsea on April 12, 2023© Reuters

The past few days have been a whirlwind for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who was reported to have been on the brink of a switch to the Middle East before playing down such speculation over his future.

Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti also sought to reassure Real fans that the Ballon d'Or winner would stay put, but on Sunday morning, the club dropped the bombshell announcement that Benzema would be ending his glittering 14-year stay in the Spanish capital.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals than Benzema's astonishing total of 353 for Real - 30 of which came in a disrupted 2022-23 season - and whoever tries to fill the Frenchman's boots at the Bernabeu next year will have one incredibly tough act to follow.

Honourable mentions: Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan), Edin Dzeko (Inter Milan)


Out-of-contract XI June 2023

Sports Mole's out-of-contract XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Veltman, Skriniar, Ramos, Guerreiro; Kante, Gundogan; Messi, Firmino, Zaha; Benzema

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Paris Saint-Germain's (PSG) Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal on April 8, 2023
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