Free Agent Squad

The 1st July is the official start of the new season. With the last club season a distant memory clubs have been freshening up their squads and releasing player who have come to the end of their contracts. With so many players released what are the options out there. Is it possible to create a squad to compete in the Premier League comprised entirely of free agents? Have a read and see what you think…

*Please note this article was written before Victor Valdes and Mikel Arteta joined Middlesbrough and Manchester City respectively

Goalkeepers

valdes

Undisputed No. 1 is Victor Valdes, the Spanish goalkeeper started his careers at Barcelona and won everything in his time at the Nou Camp. After letting his contract run down Valdes joined Manchester United in January 2015. It was thought fellow Spaniard David de Gea would leave the Red Devils last summer but a proposed transfer to Real Madrid fell through at the last minute. Valdes spent last season on loan to Standard Liege in Belgium, following a dispute with manager Louis van Gaal. Despite van Gaal’s departure Valdes was still released when his contract expired. Back up to Valdes will be provided by the experienced Mark Schwarzer. The Australian was on the books at current champions Leicester City, but didn’t make an appearance during their title winning campaign. Further backup is provided in the form of veteran Steve Harper. After 20 years at Newcastle United the goalkeeper spent two years with Hull City before signing for Sunderland last season.

Defenders

toure

Kolo Toure was released by Liverpool despite appearing regularly at the end of last season following Mamadou Sakho’s suspension, often in preference to Martin Skrtel. Toure will be joined by Martin Demichelis.martin-demichelis The 35-year-old made over 100 appearances for Manchester City, helping them to three trophies in his three years at the club. Alternatives at centre back come in the form of Brede Hangeland, who spent the last two years at Crystal Palace having left Fulham after the Cottagers were relegated from the Premier League, and Steven Taylor, who departed Newcastle United after making 268 appearances in 13 years at the club. Taylor’s former United teammate, Jose Enrique, offers experience at left back despite being frozen out by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool last season. Former Chelsea Academy graduate Kevin Wright offers youthful enthusiasm having won the FA Youth Cup and the Under-21 Premier League in his time at the club. At right back Joey O’Brien was released by West Ham after five years at the club while while Tony Hibbert has spent his career on Merseyside with Everton.

 

Midfielders

flamini rosicky

Former Arsenal trio Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini come with vast experience at the highest level. Arteta and Rosicky have been plagued by injuries with the latter forced out of the Czech Republic’s Euro 2016 squad with a thigh strain. Other options in central midfield include former Arsenal trainee Steve Sidwell who has played in the Premier League with Chelsea, Aston Villa and Stoke. Nick Powell was signed by Manchester United as a promising youngster from Crewe Alexandra and despite not fulfilling his potential is only 22 years old and has represented England at all youth levels up to under 21 level. Like Tony Hibbert Leon Osman spent his entire career with Everton before being released this summer despite never considered a regular Osman has put in some impressive performances in an Everton shirt and received a call up to England in 2013. Osman’s former Everton teammate Steven Pienaar is also available having been released by the Toffees. During his time on Merseyside the South African made up one of the most effective left sided duo alongside Leighton Baines. On the flank other options are provided by Stephane Sessegnon, the tricky midfielder was impressive when he first arrived in England with Sunderland and last season at West Brom he showed occasional flashes to link up well with Saido Berahino and Salomón Rondón.

everton

Forwards

Emmanual Adebayor was released by Crystal Palace following a short spell at the South London club. The Togo international is a player who when on form can be unplayable, anyone able to play for Real Madrid and command a £25m price tag must have some talent. To complement Adebayor’s physical presence Peter Odemwingie offers pace and trickery. The Nigerian has spent time in the Premier League with West Brom, Cardiff and most recently Stoke City. Another player currently available is his international teammate and former colleague at West Brom Victor Anichebe. The former Everton man is as strong as an Ox has made it his trademark to pin defenders before turning and shooting. The last man to make up the squad is former Liverpool man Samed Yeşil, the 22-year-old represented Germany up to under-19 level. He was particularly successful in their under-17 team, whom he helped become runners-up in the European Championship and third place at the World Cup in 2011.

adebayor

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Hard work – you get what you put it

At the halfway stage of this topsy-turvy Premier League season one of the themes to take away is that hard work is certainly paying off. This might seem pretty obvious and the least fans expect from players earning vast fortunes each week but the success or Leicester City and the struggles of Chelsea have bought effort, desire and commitment to the fore this season. Here are a few examples of players who’ve always put in 100% for their team.

ozil

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Globe Blogs of Football – Escape to Suomi

In a new feature on the site is a collection of interviews with various websites which cover football in specific areas of the world. Hopefully this will give an insight into the work of people who share their knowledge of the game.

Part 1, with Bundesliga Fanatic, can be found here.

Part 2 with Scottish Soccer Show, can be found here.

Part 3 with Caribbean Football, can be found here.

The latest Q & A is with Escape to Suomi, who are also on Twitter.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself/the team/contributors?

My name is Rich Nelson, I’m 34 years old and based in South West London. I have a full time job, and have no aspirations to be a journalist, so it’s just me doing the blog. I do get a lot of help from both family members in Finland and some people I’ve met through doing the site. So far I’ve only had a couple of guest articles, but would like that to grow. I’d love to do more myself, but it’s just finding the time.

2. How did you first get interested in football from the region you cover?

When I first started visiting Finland with my wife (who is Finnish), I saw a couple of games and enjoyed it as an alternative to the English team I support. While perhaps football isn’t quite the dominant sport as it is here, there are still groups of fans who are just as committed to their support and improving the atmosphere.

3. What inspired you to start your site?

Whenever I came home from Finland, I’d find it nigh on impossible to keep up with what was going on, bar the results. Plus I’d done some football writing previously, and quite fancied doing my own thing with a proper purpose other than general stuff.

4. What is the purpose of your site?

Mainly to provide an outlet for people to get into Finnish football in English and create a bit more of a community. It’s evolved since it started, where I started with specific topics and match reports. Now I don’t have as much time to write reports or long-winded updates. Mine is the only English site allowed to show the official highlights, so I showcase those. If a large event occurs, like a high-profile transfer or important international match, I’ll still do a proper blog for it.

5. Summarise your site in your own words.

Highlights of games, the latest news, nostalgia and a look at the more surreal incidents that happen. Just a fan, I’m not an expert! Probably a bit too much Jari Litmanen content…

6. How long has the site been running?

I started in summer 2012 when work was a bit less time-consuming…

7. How has the site grown since you started?

I’ve got quite a few followers on Twitter and it seems to be the most prolific outlet, although I do have a Facebook and Instagram page too. I’m probably not as good at plugging the site as other people; I don’t have the time or patience to go nagging people for retweets or endorsements. I do get a lot of feedback, which has become more common with the increase in readers and followers.

8. What has been the most popular article/feature on the site?

I visited Helsinki last summer to watch Arsenal v Manchester City, and the before and after articles on that game were huge. Also a response to a Guardian podcast mentioning Sami Hyypiä’s wife has been very popular, although that’s because there are photos of her in it and she’s very attractive…

9. How do you keep up to date with the region you cover?

I follow a lot of different people on social media and online, from journalists and the official organisations to fans and supporter groups. Some of Mrs ETS’s family members have been invaluable; I often get a text from them when something happens! My wife also helps a lot with translation of articles and TV programmes. Some of the matches are streamed online which helps as well. I try to go to Finland at least once a year, although that varies with work commitments.

10. What advice would you give to other football writers/bloggers?

Be passionate about what you do. There are a million blogs out there, a lot of them are either cut-and-paste merchants or think that it’s easy to see a gap in the market and blag it. Note how many people suddenly become experts on lower-profile nations during World Cups for example. Don’t get caught up in how many readers or followers you have – if your site is interesting, that’s the important bit.

The Alternative League Table – Part 2

The idea of this list is to rank Premier League clubs based on who ran each club. The focus isn’t just on the money that is spent on wages and transfers fees. Obviously finances dictate what team’s objectives are and have a large say on where teams eventually finish. This list aims to show the impact each owner/chairman has during their time at the club. This second instalment contains my choice on who I believe are the 6th – 10th best run clubs in the division. Let me know if you agree @bewareflyingfb

6 Delia Smith – Norwich

One of Delia Smith’s most memorable moments at Norwich was her drunken “Lets be ‘avin’ you” rant at half time during their 3-2 defeat to Manchester City in 2005. Delia Smith is joint majority shareholder alongside Geoffrey Watling, and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones. In 2009 the club had been relegated twice in quick succession and found themselves at the foot of League One after a 7-1 mauling at the hands of Paul Lambert’s Colchester. That defeat led to the sacking of club legend Brian Gunn and the subsequent appointment of Lambert. It was an inspired move as the Scot led the Norfolk club to the title in his first season in charge. That was followed by a return to the top flight for the first time since 2005. They managed to survive but lost Lambert to Aston Villa at the end of the season. They appointed one of the most underrated managers in Chris Hughton, who led them to wins over Arsenal and Manchester United. The board released funds to bolster their squad which has seen the arrival of 8 new players including Gary Hooper, Nathan Redmond, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer for a total outlay of £25.7m. In an increasingly globalised game it is good to see a board of directors made up of local, lifelong supporters of the club.

7 Nicola Cortese – Southampton

Before Markus Liebherr bought Southampton in 2009 it looked like their demise would be similar to that which has played out at their local rivals, Portsmouth. The Saints were in the third tier of English football for the first time since 1978 when Liebherr bought the club. With his investment Alan Pardew signed Bristol Rovers frontman Ricky Lambert for £1million which immediately paid dividends as they won the FL trophy later that season. The day to day running of the club was led by Italian businessman Nicola Cortese. He has a strong reputation and when they missed out on promotion Pardew was sacked and replaced with Nigel Adkins. Successive promotions followed before the likeable Scouser was in turn replaced by Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino. Critics thought that the decision was harsh on Adkins but Pochettino’s side have started this season well and has implemented his style on the team. Markus Lieberr died in 2010 but his estate still finances the club with considerable investment in the summer. In only their second season since returning to the top flight their total outlay was the 6th highest in the division at £36m. Cortese has delivered on his aim to bring Premier League football back to St. Mary’s and has continued the clubs tradition of bringing youth team players into the first team.

8 David Gold & David Sullivan – West Ham

When the Icelandic banks collapsed in 2010 West Ham looked to be heading into dangerous waters. Thankful 2 local boys made good, David Gold and David Sullivan bought a controlling share in the club. Alongside Karen Brady they were able to bring the experience of running a football club from their time together at Birmingham City. At the time of the takeover they said that it didn’t make financial sense for them to get involved but it was because of their shared love for the club. They inherited an ageing squad with players on huge and unsustainable contracts. Despite relegation in 2011 they have put significant funds into the club. They appointed Sam Allardyce to take them back to the top flight which was achieved at the first attempt despite reservations from the fans due to Allardyce’s perceived long ball tactics. This summer they have again invested in the squad with the record signing of Andy Carroll from Liverpool for £15m, following a successful loan spell. Off the field the club have been successful in agreeing to move into the Olympic Stadium which will increase their capacity to 54,000. This is a positive move for the club as it should bring in extra revenue to the club and attract more sponsorship and investment.

9 Stan Kroenke – Arsenal

Arsenal are one of the best run clubs in world football. They don’t rely on an individual investor and try to run a self-sustainable model. Red & White Holdings chaired by former Arsenal vice-chairman and backed by Alisher Usmanov tried to take control of the club but eventually lost out to Stan Kroenke. The American took over in 2011 having purchased a controlling share from other members of the Arsenal board and has bought into this philosophy; they have rarely spent big in the transfer market, until Mesut Ozil’s arrival last summer. This is also down to the constraints of their move to the Emirates, having now paid that off and with a new sponsorship agreement with Puma, worth £30m a year, Arsenal may now be able to compete with the biggest spenders in the league. Stan Kroenke, also known as “Silent Stan”, deserves respect for his support of Arsene Wenger when some supporters were calling for change. He had to deal with a lot of criticism but didn’t panic as other clubs have done in the past. The price of watching Arsenal remains the highest in the English game with season tickets costing up to £1900 with the club justifying prices by saying the demand is there.

10 John Henry – Liverpool

John Henry arrived into Liverpool as a saviour after the disastrous management of John Hicks and George Gillette. The club was in a weak position and had been made a lot of false promises. After getting rid of Hodgson he pleased the fans by appointing club legend Kenny Dalglish as manager. Henry has always backed his managers financially, even if some of the transfer fees have been rather inflated when he first arrived at the club. It was thought that he would operate a “Moneyball” system which is commonly used in baseball; Henry is also owner of the Boston Red Sox. He stood firm in the Luis Suarez transfer saga when the player was desperate to leave. It was a strong move from the American as in the modern game players usually are able to push for a transfer and usually succeed. He dismissed a £50m bid from Arsenal and the clubs positive start to the season has persuaded the Uruguayan to stay, along with a new £200,000 a week contract. With Brendan Rodgers seen as the long term option at Liverpool and plans for redevelopment work at Anfield, John Henry is certainly a very popular man in the red half of Merseyside.

How Joe can take Hart from Szczęsny

Joe Hart

Joe Hart hasn’t been performing to the best of his ability this season and has made a series of errors leading to Manuel Pellegrini dropping him for the game against Norwich. Is it possible that Hart can learn from the experiences of Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczęsny?

There are a number of similarities between Joe Hart and Wojciech Szczęsny. Both are young, talented goalkeepers with an extreme belief in their own abilities. Their respective career paths also follow a familiar pattern; signed from a smaller team as a youngster, successful loan spells and returning to their parent clubs to claim the No. 1 jersey. They have also made a series of high profile errors in their careers leading critics to accuse both of a lack of concentration and cockiness.

Before making an appearance in the Premier League Szczęsny was sent on loan to League 1 Brentford to gain more experience, making 28 appearances during the 2009/10 season. He returned to Arsenal the following season ready to challenge with Manuel Aluminia and Lukasz Fabianski for the No. 1 spot.

At the start of the 2010/11 season Joe Hart returned from a successful loan spell at Birmingham City to compete with Shay Given for a place in Manchester City’s first team. There was a lot of speculation who Roberto Mancini would select for the opening match of the season at Tottenham Hotspurs and the Italian opted for Hart. The young Englishman was determined to keep his place in the starting line-up and repay his manager for showing faith in him. Joe Hart worked hard to maintain his level of performance and saw off the competition of his more experienced team mate who was sold to Aston Villa at the end of the season.

Once both goalkeepers had reached the top and established themselves as first choice they may have become complacent. There was a vast gap in the quality of their respective back-ups with Fabianski, Vito Mannone, Costel Pantilimon untested at the highest level. Both were undisputed first choice at club level and their places weren’t under threat.

After being sent off in the opening game of Euro 2012 against Greece Szczęsny was dropped for Poland’s final game in the competition, following his suspension for the match against Russia. Last season he was also dropped at club level by Arsene Wenger in favour of his Polish compatriot, Lukasz Fabianski. His return to the side coincided with an injury to Fabianski and kept clean sheets in his next two games.

Over the summer there was speculation that Arsenal were in the market for a top quality goalkeeper to provide competition for Szczęsny with Pepe Reina and Julio Cesar both linked with the club. Arsenal did sign Emiliano Viviano on loan from Palermo but Szczęsny started the season as undisputed No. 1.

This season Wojciech Szczęsny has played with a new found maturity to compliment the ability and confidence which has never been in doubt. His performances have helped Arsenal to the top of the Premier League and have been a message to Wenger that he deserves his place in the first team. Hart should take inspiration from this to regain his focus and work hard in training to reclaim his place in Manchester City’s starting line-up.