Uncertainty surrounds this summer’s transfer window. With the COVID-19 pandemic having put a stop to many leagues, financial insecurity has cast doubts over the ability of many clubs to spend similar levels of money to previous years.
What we may well witness is an NBA style free agency market this summer, whereby the top free agents become subjects to bidding wars amongst clubs. In Belgium, there are a few players who as of now have not signed contract extensions with their respective sides. The Pro League is well known for producing talent and some of these players may be sought after with the adage of not costing a transfer fee.
This data analysis will use Wyscout player data to compile a list of the top five free agents in the Pro League. This analysis will look at how they performed this season by looking at their statistics to determine how effective they were this season. Age and expected growth will also play a factor in ranking these players.
Experienced goalkeepers are at a premium on the Belgian free agent market this summer. Two first choice keepers who featured in most of their clubs’ games are William Dutoit of KV Oostende and Sinan Bolat of Royal Antwerp. Both are 31 years of age, so still in their goalkeeping prime. However, they had drastically different seasons.
Dutoit was part of a Oostende side that conceded 58 goals this season, 8 more than their xG against. Granted he only played 24 of the 29 matches, he still only managed one clean sheet and conceded 48, averaging two conceded per game. He did face on average 13.11 shots per 90 with an xG of 0.13, so he was certainly busy. Yet goalkeeping is far more than shots faced, it is also about being able to organise the defence.
Given the porous nature of the Oostende defence, when it comes to free agent keepers Sinan Bolat is more appealing. While there is still a possibility that Antwerp may issue Bolat a new contract, new manager Ivan Leko may well have another goalkeeper in mind that he wants to bring in. In Bolat, he would be losing a player who is averaging 2.6 saves per 90, with an impressive xG saved of 31.45.
Furthermore, Bolat is decent with his feet, something many modern managers want from their keeper. He averages 19.98 passes per 90 at an accuracy of 86.14%. for short passes, between 0-20 metres, his accuracy rating is up at 97%, the same for passes between 20-30 metres. As a shot-stopper and passer, Bolat is the best free agent goalkeeper on the market.
Dino Arslangic, again of Antwerp, is the most high-profile defender who may well be a free agent this summer. The 27-year-old has spent his entire career in Belgium and may feel it is time for a new challenge abroad. Arslangic is one of the best aerial defenders in the league, sitting fifth overall in aerial duels. He averages 6.83 per 90, winning 60.67% of these. In terms of defensive duels, he is winning 63% of his 6.6 per 90. These numbers are better than Sebastian Bornauw, the former Anderlecht defender who joined FC Köln in the January transfer window and has become a regular starter for them. Arslangic is also good on the deck, with almost 90% of his 32 passes per match being accurate.
Over 100km to the south of Antwerp, another contract is set to expire this summer is Nathan De Medina of Mouscron-Péruwelz. De Medina is only 22 years of age and is a former Belgian under 19 international. Age and versatility make De Medina and interesting prospect for many sides looking for a younger option in defence who can play anywhere across the back line, though this year he has mostly been used as a full-back. In terms of defensive duels, de Medina is ahead of Arslangic, averaging 9.96 with a 65.42% success rate. As an attacking full-back, de Medina’s stats are not as impressive. He averages under 1 cross per 90 and only 1.44 progressive runs per match.
De Medina is clearly not yet the finished article and needs time to develop. At 27 years old, Arslangic is in his prime and therefore would be considered a better option for teams wanting a proven player.
Upcoming free agent midfielders include some household names such as former EPL player with Burnley Steven Defour and former Arsenal and Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri. However, both have struggled to be at their best this season and look to be declining.
One of the most intriguing prospects who looks set to be a free agent is defensive-midfielder Frank Boya, again of Mouscron-Péruwelz. The 190cm Cameroonian is an imposing figure in the midfield who is adept in the air. He sits fourth in comparison to those in his position in aerial duels, winning 62.37% of his 6.33 duels per 90. He is also in the top 10 when it comes to recoveries, averaging 11.77 per 90.
As a defensive midfielder, he is one of the best prospects in his position. Areas of improvement may be in his desire to shoot too often. He is in the top 10 in terms of shots taken with 43 this season, yet the xG of his shot is the lowest at 0.05. Alongside a 79% pass success rate, Boya is by no means the finished article, but his upside should interest plenty of sides this summer.
At the other end of his career is experienced attacking midfielder and winger Danijel Miličević of KAS Eupen. The former Metz and Gent player has been in fine form for the side he first played for back in 2008/09, with five goals and seven assists in 23 appearances this season. While he may be 34, the Bosnian clearly still has something to offer at this level. While he is not the most mobile of players, with only 1.1 dribbles and 1.61 progressive runs per 90, he is still a very good playmaker. He currently sits fourth overall in shot assists with 2.44.
He has a high usage rate at Eupen, receiving the ball on average 28 times per match. Age-wise, Miličević may not attract many suitors, but teams looking for a quick fix or an experienced head to add to the dressing room may be interested in the Bosnian.
One name really stands out amongst free agent attackers, former Hull City and Norwich striker Dieumerci Mbokani. The DR Congo man is joint top scorer in the league alongside Jonathon David with 18 goals this season. Mbokani may be 34, but he is proving to be a top striker at this level. As with other Antwerp players, the arrival of Leko may see the club look for a younger option than Mbokani.
If they decide to let the striker go, he will certainly be appealing to other Belgian sides and perhaps others in Europe. Mbokani operated as a penalty area poacher for Antwerp, with all of his goals coming from within the 18 yard-box. However, the striker only averages 3.71 touches in the box per 90, as well as 2.3 shots per 90. With an xG of 0.26, we see that while Mbokani has taken more shots than David this season, he is taking them in better positions. He may be the oldest free agent striker, yet he is certainly the best option out there for sides looking to add a proven goalscorer while avoiding transfer fees.
Out of those we have highlighted, probably the most intriguing free agent would be Frank Boya, purely in terms of potential for the future. At his age, he may believe it is time to move on from Belgium and see if he can further his career and development elsewhere. He has already shown that he has the ability to contribute as a defensive-midfielder and should only get better with more experience.
After him, the four clear stand out players would be Bolat, Arslangic, Milicevic and Mbokani. Their clubs may well decide to extend their stays with all the uncertainty surrounding the transfer window this summer. The change of manager at Antwerp means that their three players on this list may not feature in the new manager’s plans and thus be allowed to leave. Other Belgian clubs would certainly be interested in all three of them if they do hit the free agent market. It would be a surprise to see Milicevic leave KAS Eupen, but as of now he has not agreed a new contract with the side and looks set to become a free agent when his current deal expires.
Whatever happens, this summer transfer window is likely to be completely different to the past couple we have seen, and it will be interesting to see how different clubs approach it.