Even deeply embroiled in a recession, football fans expect their respective clubs to restructure their playing squads during the offseason. This summer is likely to be remarkable because it features a major tournament; this befuddles the break's early weeks as players inflate their purchase prices with tantalising glimpses of form or potential.
A nearly pathological desire for value for money now permeates football at all levels. Players and transactions are judged early, often and viciously. This means the best transfers a club can make are often those which cost nothing: a Bosman move, where players become free agents after their current contract expires. The full list of Premiership players available “on a Bosman” is posted at Goal.com or transfermarkt.co.uk, although both need updating.
So here's the big question: could we frugally build a squad capable of surviving using players acquired only via Bosman moves?
Firstly, we should look for strength down back. I'd look no further than Fulham's Mark Schwarzer to start a team with – partly because he's still, at 39, one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premiership; and also because he's my favourite Socceroo of all time. His closest competition comes from Jussi Jaaskelainen, who has fallen behind Adam Bogdan at Bolton for no apparent reason.
The best defenders available include Aston Villa's Carlos Cuellar, Jose Boswinga of Chelsea, perma-crocked Ledley King and his erstwhile partner Jonathon Woodgate, who's now at Stoke City. Unfortunately, this list includes an criminally overpaid full-back and two centre-halves renowned for legs made from glass, so if it's Value for Money we're looking for, it's time to search for alternate options.
The classy-but-brutal Zdynek Grygera is available, but coming off knee surgery. The man he was ostensibly to replace, Stephen Kelly, looks likely to leave Craven Cottage as well; Maynor Figueroa was thought to be a wonderful left-sided defender as recently a Roberto Martinez ago, while Clint Hill and Fitz Hall have featured intermittently for QPR this term.
In terms of durability, skill and cost, however I'd suggest lumping for a foursome of Cuellar, Figueroa, Bolton's Gretar Steinsson and finally, Everton's Atlas Sylvain Distin.
As both Swansea and Norwich Cities have proved this season, a competitive midfield is crucial in not only saving games, but winning them. The best centre-mids available include Mohamed Diame and Jordi Gomez of Wigan, Mahamadou Diarra of Fulham (who's likely to see his deal extended, and therefore ineligible), Newcastle's Danny Guthrie and Fulham OAP Danny Murphy. Murphy can still thoroughly influence a game, so despite his 35 year-old legs I'm selecting him alongside Diame for a combative and effective pairing.
The decisions out wide are made simpler by the presence of Blackburn prodigy Junior Hoilett, who walks into the wide-left position (even though he naturally belongs on the opposite side). After kicking the tires twice before deciding Florent Malouda isn't worth the sticker price and that Martin Petrov's form has slipped too far since his debut Bolton season, the man I want for the right is Cameroon megalith Somen Tchoyi. It's a relief to have these two available because other options aren't exciting at all: Akos Buzsaky, Peter Lovenkrands, Hogan Ephraim and Jerome Thomas.
Up front, we'll surprise by signing the cheap (but perhaps litigious) Ryan Noble, who has impressed every judge but his managers at Sunderland. He'll pair Hugo Rodallega, who this time last year led Wigan from a fate worse than relegation into another year (or more) of Premier League football. We'll have to rely on pace for incision, rather than height or tricks, but this duo comes significantly cheaper than “name” forwards Andrei Arshavin, Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba. Other options include Stoke City's Ricardo Fuller, the desir'd Andy Johnson (again of Fulham).
Squad (4-4-2): Schwarzer, Steinsson, Cuellar, Distin, Figueroa; Tchoyi, Murphy, Diame, Hoilett; Noble, Rodallega.
Total weekly wage budget estimate: ₤300, 000.