What is a pre-contract in football & when can players sign them? Transfer term explained

Kylian Mbappe PSG 2021-22Getty Images

Contracts are always a hot topic of conversation in football circles, with speculation never far away when it comes to fresh terms being signed by superstar performers or lucrative deals being run down towards free agency.

Transfers and price tags can be dictated by how long is left to run on any given agreement, with many clubs backed into a corner by those who make it clear that no extension will be agreed.

Players who opt against penning more paperwork with their respective clubs will find themselves in a position at some stage where discussions can be opened with other suitors. What, though, is a pre-contract agreement? GOAL takes a look…

What is a pre-contract in football and when can they be signed?

A pre-contract is an agreement between a player that club that commits to a move being made once the player’s current deal comes to a close.

This allows interested parties to line up recruitment business well before it is actually completed, with long-term planning put in place.

Said talks can be opened up to six months before the expiration of a previous agreement in alternative surroundings.

That rule was put in place as part of the famous 1995 Bosman ruling relating to freedom of movement for professional footballers.

Any player running down their deal can now sign for another club with no fee having to change hands.

FIFA regulations state: "A club intending to conclude a contract with a professional must inform the player’s current club in writing before entering into negotiations with him.

"A professional shall only be free to conclude a contract with another club if his contract with his present club has expired or is due to expire within six months.

"Any breach of this provision shall be subject to appropriate sanctions."

Can Premier League players agree a pre-contract with another English club?

The six-month rule when it comes to discussions regarding a future change of scenery relates to teams outside of the country in which the player plies their trade at that time.

Premier League players can, therefore, only enter into talks with interested parties outside of England – with the same regulations applying to those in Germany, Spain, Italy etc.

Any player looking to move from one English team to another as a free agent can only open talks after entering the final month of their previous contract – with that effectively delaying discussions until any given season has come to a close.

That is because domestic transfers are regulated by individual football associations, rather than world governing body FIFA.

The FA in England is eager to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between clubs working under its remit, with mid-season, inter-competition free agent agreements banned as a result.

Who could sign a pre-contract in 2022?

Gareth Bale Kylian Mbappe Luis Suarez 2021-22
Getty/Goal

There are a number of high-profile players that are running down their respective deals in 2022.

In England, World Cup-winning midfielder Paul Pogba could depart Manchester United as a free agent this summer, while German defender Antonio Rudiger is sparking talk of interest from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain after opting against the signing of fresh terms at Chelsea.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen are in a similar situation at Stamford Bridge, while Old Trafford is preparing to bid farewell to home-grown star Jesse Lingard at some stage in the near future.

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There are more household names to be found further afield, with Gareth Bale and Isco approaching the end of their contracts at Real Madrid while over at Atletico, Luis Suarez could soon hit free agency.

Another of those to have generated plenty of debate in Spain is Ousmane Dembele, with Barcelona open to the idea of selling the France international winger after failing to get him tied down on a new deal.

Arguably the biggest name, though, that is currently free to sign a pre-contract agreement is Kylian Mbappe, with the superstar French forward being heavily linked with La Liga giants Real Madrid as he considers a move away from Paris Saint-Germain.