Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alternative XI: The 2014 Bosman XI

With transfer prices inflating, the most acquisition value a club can get comes from signing players whose contracts have expired. While this can happen at any time, the duration of the standard European professional contract concludes on June 31st.

A player (or, more correctly, a player’s agent) can officially listen to offers from clubs in their present country during the last four weeks of that contract. Discussions with foreign clubs can occur in the last six months of a deal, as happened with Nemanja Vidic’s move to Inter Milan.

Don’t doubt free-agent impact: Arsenal’s slip from the summit of the EPL table this year has come with an injury to Aaron Ramsey but also a form slump from defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini, an el cheapo signing from AC Milan whose early effectiveness helped solidify a lightweight midfield.
It’s an annual challenge of mine to try to select a reasonably-priced Premier League outfit comprising 11 new Bosman signings; usually the new guys should fit into a a wage budget of £300,000. Due to inflation, let’s expand that budget by 20% for the summer of 2014.

Goalkeepers: There aren’t many Premiership goalkeepers available for free; highlights of the list include Brad Friedel, Gomes, Mark Schwarzer and Thomas Sorenson. The best of the bunch is Lukasz Fabianski, the maligned Arsenal goalkeeper who could actually perform well for a club in European competition. Another option is Sunderland’s Kieren Westwood.

The only players to consistently start in goal this year have been Jussi Jaaskelainen at West Ham, and Crystal Palace stalwart Julian Speroni. The latter is a reliable option, steady and unflustered who at best guess wouldn’t put too great a dent in the wage budget – as opposed to Fabianski. Speroni’s in.

Defenders: Here’s where things get interesting – there are several big-name defenders available on a free this summer, but the next generation actually provides a more helpful cost/benefit ratio. Philippe Senderos is capable, if unspectacular. West Bromwich Albion left-back Billy Jones is also an established Premier League defender, but faces competition from Sunderland talisman Phil Bardsley. In all, Jones is likely to be cheaper, so the left-back role is his.

The right side is more problematic. Jones’ WBA teammate Steven Reid is available, as is Everton club favourite Tony Hibbert – and that’s about it. Let’s plump for Hibbert, simply because there’s no mystery to his game: Tony see ball, Tony kick ball, Tony no run with ball. Ever.

Rather than paying Younes Kaboul somewhere in the region of £70,000 per week, the final centre-back is a flyer on a youngster who probably he’ll never get the chance his talent warranted at Manchester City: Dedryck Boyata. Athetlic – and, perhaps critically, Belgian – he may provide some a little spring in a defence that lacks dynamism.

Midfielders: I’m not chasing expensive players with big names (e.g. Joe Cole), but seeking effective players who might fit into a tight wage structure. Jack Colback has had a fantastic season at Sunderland, so I’m even prepared to pay him a little more to make sure he mans the center of midfield. Right midfielder Marc Albrighton seems to irritate Paul Lambert, but has been part of many pretty Villa counter-attacks; he’s another walk-up start. It’s disappointing to omit WBA’s Chris Brunt, but Albrighton is younger with more upside.

On the left is Peter Whittingham, who has been excellent in the Championship for several years despite featuring prominently in Cardiff City’s disappointing debut EPL season.

A defensive midfielder is needed next, with options being Stoke City’s Marc Wilson, Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey and Fulham’s Steve Sidwell (who’s more of a box-to-box type, anyway). Wilson may be too costly, while Tettey has a club option which Norwich are certain to use; this leaves room for another Villa expat, Australian Chris Herd – a good player who just needs minutes to flourish, as per his compatriot Mile Jedinak.

Forwards: While Marouane Chamakh is absolutely not outstanding, he does do several things well at Premier League level. With crosses coming in from Whittingham and Albrighton, he might be a functional target man. His competition for a forward role comes from Newcastle United’s formerly-ever-present Shola Ameobi, who despite never turning into awesome, has played many key hands for many reasonable Magpie lineups. He’s also more “present” on the pitch than the Moroccan eagle; for this reason, the choice is Ameobi.

There is also a complete lack of Bosman striking depth*. Playing off Ameobi is youngster Apostolos Vellios, who sprung to prominence at Everton two years ago before the arrival of Nikica Jelavic and Arouna Kone. Vellios has struggled for game time this year, but at 6’4 and briskly athletic (could he be said to “bustle”? Yes, he could), Vellios would team up with Ameobi to create a … functional forward line.

* Samuel Eto’o was excluded, as his wage demands would likely comprise this exercise’s entire budget.

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