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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Transfer tales: Kevin Doyle and Shane Long – Reading

Reading have had great success in the 21st century with bargain signing; Nicky Shorey from Leyton Orient for £25,000 in 2001, made over 250 for the Royals and represented England on two occasions and was the first Reading player to be capped by England since Herbert Smith in 1907. Or Dave Kitson, bought for £150,000 from Cambridge in 2003, scored over 50 goals for the club, helped secure promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history before being sold to Stoke City for £5.5million. However, in my opinion, the greatest transfer in Reading’s history has been that of Kevin Doyle.

Doyle and Long
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One for the Neutral

One of the tightest relegation scrap has been somewhat overlooked by the 3 way race for the title between Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Who do you THINK will win the title? And who do you WANT to win the title?

The merits of all three teams have been discussed, from the strengths and weaknesses of each side, to the key players and the respective sides run in. All facts can build a conclusive answer to who you THINK will win the title.

What about who do you WANT to win the title? Obviously the fans of the three teams left in the hunt for the Premier League will want their team to win, but what about everyone else, the neutrals.

While previewing the recent match between Liverpool and Manchester City Gary Neville said “Choosing City or Liverpool to take the title is like ‘choosing which bloke nicks your wife.” This is probably a similar opinion to all other Manchester United fans who would class the Sky Blues and The Reds as their biggest rivals.

Everton, who are having a fantastic season and challenging for the final champions league place are Liverpool’s cross city rivals. Their defender Sylvain Distin was quoted as saying some Everton fans would rather forgo a 4th place finish if it means Liverpool didn’t win the league.

“We’ve spoken about it with some of the staff and said, ‘what if we have to beat (Manchester) City to be in the Champions League but by doing that Liverpool win the league?'” Distin said.

“The funny thing is, some people would rather we don’t get Champions League as long as they don’t win the league. It’s mad.

“Personally I’d rather be in the Champions League. You can’t miss a chance for that. It would be amazing for the city if both clubs made it. I think deep down both sets of fans would like it if both clubs were in it.”

I’m not sure most Everton fans would agree with that sentiment. Surely the opportunity to play against Europe’s elite sides and attract the best players to the club is better than seeing your neighbours slip up.

What about everyone else? Those who don’t have a direct rival involved in the race? Some might say that they want Liverpool to win it as the team has played the best attacking football in the division and that Steven Gerrard deserves to win the league for the years of service to his hometown club. Despite this there will be those who are old enough to remember Liverpool’s dominance of the domestic game in the 70s and 80s and have enjoyed the barren years since there last championship in 1990. This is probably a similar feeling a younger generation are having what Manchester United struggle this season.

If the neutral isn’t endeared to Liverpool, what about Chelsea? The Blues were always likely to be challenging once Jose Mourinho returned to the club. Despite the self-proclaimed Special One’s insistence that they’re not contenders, they are right in the mix. Good or bad, everyone will have an opinion on the Portuguese manager. Some will think he is a charming genius with great tactical acumen, while others will despise his mind games and arrogance. There is no doubt he will have some bearing on neutral’s opinion of Chelsea.

Finally Manchester City, perennial title challengers thanks to the investment for Sheik Mansour. That would be the first reason why the neutral wouldn’t be routing for City. The same could really be said of Chelsea with Roman Abramovich still making the occasional splash in the transfer market. Manuel Pellegrini, is really the polar opposite of Mourinho, a calm self-effacing character who philosophy on the game is to attack and score goals. While everyone does have an opinion on Mourinho, few will feel strongly about the Chilean either way and is unlikely to make too many enemies, other than the Chelsea manager.

So for the neutral, who do they want to win the league? A lot will probably say Liverpool but on the other hand quite a few would say they wouldn’t want the Reds to end 20 years of hurt, and would rather it be either shade of blue.

One for the neutral, who do you want to win the league?

 

Let me know @bewareflyingfootballs

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.