Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Alternative XI: Our dearly, nearly departed

Season 2013-14 has only a few weeks remaining, before football plunges into the World Cup in Brazil and a plethora of cross-continental friendlies before we start season 2014-15.

It’s going to be a very short offseason. The World Cup usually spurs clubs to get much of their transfer business done before the tournament so that they can concentrate on getting – rather than assembling – a squad in its aftermath. Notable examples include the early signing of Robert Lewandowski by Bayern Munich from rivals Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic bowling up at Inter Milan (and the warmer weather he’s always craved).

Fallen Greek power AEK Athens have taken full advantage of the upcoming window and – according to the generally-reliable site – have already signed 8 players who will arrive at the club when the movement window opens again on July 1st.

There’s already been some significant player movement across Europe; here’s an XI of players who have already signed elsewhere. To qualify, a player must have agreed their move after the conclusion of the last transfer window (on January 31) and must not be a player either going out on, or returning from a loan.

Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen has already departed Borussia Monchengladbach on his way to replace Victor Valdes, who has not yet chosen a new club. ter Stegen is a quality ‘keeper who will probably man the sticks at the Camp Nou for at least a decade, and was purchased quite cheap. The XI is fortunate to have him, considering Barca’s now-stalled transfer ban.

Defenders: There seem to be plenty of defenders on the move this summer across the continent – but most of them are either centre-backs or right-backs. The best option we have here is to install two right-backs and have one of them play on the opposite side; in doing so it’s a split decision between Norwegian Tom Høgli, who will leave Club Brugge for FC Kobenhavn, or Florian Klein, who will compete for a place on the right side of VfB Stuttgart’s defence. Both are experienced full internationals, but the choice here is for Høgli.

Manning his preferred position is USMNT stalwart Fabian Johnson, who will trade Hoffenheim for Gladbach.

The heart of the back four features Vidic and Johan Djourou, once of Arsenal, who has agreed to make his loan to Hamburg permanent.

Midfielders: There are a couple of very easy selections in this squad and most of them involve the Bundesliga. Nuri Sahin will permanently return to Borussia Dortmund after star-cross’d seasons at Real Madrid and Liverpool and practically selects himself in this XI. Beside him in the middle of the park is Elias, who has already departed Sporting Lisbon for the Campeonato Brasileiro.

The flanks are more challenging as once again, there are a plethora of one-sided players with little from the switch side. In the midfield, there are plenty of players capable of playing on the left; only one is able to switch side with any success. This is soon-to-be Schalke 04’s Sidney Sam, who is another “must-pick” after his success over the past two seasons at Bayer Leverkusen. Opposite him we have our choice of Ibrahima Traore, who will transfer from Stuttgart to Gladbach, and Albert Riera (Watford to Udinese). The choice here is for the regal experience of Riera.

Forwards: It seems every team needs a centre-forward – especially if yours leaves for a rival club. It is so with Borussia Dortmund, who contribute outgoing and incoming forwards to this makeshift squad – Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in Europe and will switch to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. His replacement will be €10 million man Adrian Ramos formerly of Hertha Berlin.

While weak in a few places – particularly left-back and the right-side of midfield – this lineup has all the pieces of a top-division side that could challenge for continental competition. The forward corps is automatically better than many teams already playing in the Champions League, while the spine (ter Stegen, Vidic, Sahin, Lewandowski) has a stolid and powerful look about it. There’s even room for growth, as Sam, Ramos, Sahin and Elias are far from the players they will end up becoming.

The grand total spent across this entire lineup was £32,844,000, most of which went to ter Stegen (10 million), Ramos (8.2 million) and Sahin (6.16 million). There are five free transfers (Johnson, Vidic, Høgli, Riera and Lewandowski), of whom only the two most high-profile made our 2014 Bosman XI.

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