The pick of the freebies
The transfer market is a vast jungle where agents, players and clubs essentially play poker at high stakes. But for the keen eye, there is a large field of opportunities in the free-transfer list as the club takes a very small gamble when bringing a player on-board. There is always a gem uncovered from the muddle and this summer’s transfer window will be no different. A total of 123 players were released by Premier League clubs on Thursday, we look at the ten best free agents on offer.
Nigel Reo-Coker, 27
Nigel Reo-Coker started out at Villa Park fighting for a place in the midfield alongside Stiliyan Petrov and club captain Gareth Barry. But since the departure of Barry, Reo-Coker took control of the Aston Villa midfield and was even named captain by Gerard Houllier during Petrov’s long injured enforced absence.
Reo-Coker joined Villa in 2007 for £8.5 million and went on to made 102 appearances for the Villans. During his tenure at Villa Park, Aston Villa won the Peace Cup in 2009 and were Carling Cup runners up in 2010. Reo-Coker made a total 34 appearances for Villa this season and his form had been pretty decent but couldn’t do enough to change Villa’s fortunes during their wretched campaign.
During his West Ham days, the former England under-21 captain stood out in a talented midfield which included the likes of Yossi Benayoun and Matthew Etherington with his inspirational drive, robust tackling and incredible desire to chase down the ball. At 27 he is still a worthy purchase, but his attitude has always been a cause for concern and might even deter some Managers.
Lee Bowyer, 34
Lee Bowyer belongs to the Leeds United golden generation that qualified for the Champions League in 1999/2000, and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2000 and Champions League in 2001. Bowyer joined Birmingham on loan in January 2009 and signed a permanent contract at the end of the season following the expiration of his contract at West Ham United.
Bowyer started his career back in 1994 with Charlton and has represented the likes of Leeds, West Ham, Newcastle & Birmingham over the years making a total 573 appearances scoring 97 goals. Bowyer, although a talented midfielder, has had quite a few problems on & off the pitch. He holds the record for most yellow cards received in the Premiership, collecting 98 yellows and 5 red cards.
Bowyer has been a key player for Birmingham in recent times, especially in 2009/10 when the Blues went on a 15 games unbeaten en route to finishing 9th, their best finish in more than 50 years. Despite his advancing age, Bowyer would add experience, steel and the ability to score goals from midfield to a club’s arsenal.
James McFadden, 28
McFadden is the second of Birmingham stars to be released by the club after being relegated from the Premiership. McFadden, a cult hero in Scotland, joined Birmingham from Everton in January 2008 for an initial fee of £5 million, potentially rising to £6 million depending on appearances.
In a career that spans 13 years, McFadden has played 297 games, scoring 64 goals along the way. He has had a career marred by injuries though, averaging just 23 games per season. Even with his injury problems, McFadden is a highly rated forward with a knack of scoring important goals. Incidentally, his injury time goal against Charlton back in 2007 was voted the Goal of the season by Sky Sports.
The Scot only made 4 appearances for the Blues this season after a ligament injury in August forced him out of the entire season. But he has age on his side and should be a hot prospect in the window.
Patrick Vieira, 34
The fifth greatest Arsenal player of all-time becomes one of the many players released by Manchester City at the end of the season. The French midfield general joined the Citizens from Internazionale in January 2010, signing a 6 months deal, with an option for extension.
In his short City career, he has played 39 games while scoring 5 goals. He won his fifth FA Cup earlier this year, adding to his glorious career. Vieira had been a key part of the Arsenal team that dominated English football in the early 2000s, winning eleven competitions in eight years and also holds the record for the longest unbeaten streak in the Premiership back in 2003/04 of 49 games. Vieira later moved to Italy had continued his winning ways with Internazionale winning six competitions in four years.
In his 20 year career, Vieira has played 644 games, scored 55 goals while winning 7 Leagues and 12 Cup competitions in England & Italy apart from a World Cup, European Championships and a Confederations Cup. Anyone wants to buy some high quality experience?
Owen Hargreaves, 30
Sir Alex has finally lost patience with his Canadian born English midfielder, who failed to prove his fitness and has been released by United. Hargreaves, a hard tackling midfield anchor man, was brought to Old Trafford to fill the void left by the departure of Roy Keane.
In his four years with United, Hargreaves has managed to play just 39 games and has been sidelined for a large part of the last three seasons. Over his entire career that spans eleven years, Hargreaves has played 257 games averaging 24 games per season.
Although prone to injuries, Hargreaves enjoyed his days in Germany with Bayern Munich where he became a first team regular. He won nine competitions with Bayern and is only the second Englishman to win the Champions League with a non-English Club. There is a good chance Hargreaves might find a suitor outside England.
Jonathan Woodgate, 31
Woodgate, another member of the Leeds United Golden Generation, joins the free agent club after being released by Tottenham Hotspur. The former Real Madrid defender was a consistent performer for Leeds fighting for a first team place with Rio Ferdinand, Lucas Radebe and Dominic Matteo and was considered one of the best players to come through the Leeds academy.
Woodgate joined Tottenham from Middlesbrough in January 2008 and became an instant hero for Spurs, helping them win the League Cup. He put in a man of the match performance as Spurs overcame Chelsea in the final at Wembley. Under Harry Redknapp, Woodgate was appointed vice captain behind Robbie Keane and was a key member of the Tottenham team that finished eighth in 2008/09.
The last two seasons have been disastrous for Woodgate, being side-lined for most part and managing just 4 appearances. Woodgate was offered a pay-as-you-play deal which he refused and was then released by the club.
Matthew Upson, 32
Upson was introduced to Premier League football by Arsène Wenger but the presence of other centre backs Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown forced him to leave the Gunners in search of first team football. Over the years, Upson has emerged as a quality defender for his club and country.
Upson joined West Ham for £6 million in January 2007, but did not have a good start to his Hammers career due to injuries. But he showed his importance later on as he became a regular starter and was also appointed captain in 2009 after the departure of Lucas Neill.
Upson made a total of 145 appearances for the Jammers and captained the club through the difficult 2009/10 season but decided to leave after West Ham were relegated from the Premier League.
Jonathan Spector, 25
Spector started off as striker but an injury to a team mate gave him the opportunity to showcase his defensive skills. Manchester United scout Jimmy Ryan was impressed with his performance and Spector was signed by United in 2003. But failing to make the cut with United, Spector joined West Ham in June 2006 after a season-long loan to Charlton Athletic in 2005/06 where he made 20 appearances.
Over his five year Hammers career, Spector has made 111 appearances and has been comfortable playing anywhere in the backline. Under Avram Grant, Spector was tried in the midfield and even managed to score twice against his former club in a League Cup game in 2010.
Although considered inconsistent at times, Spector has the potential to be a regular starter for any Premier League club given the right guidance. Spector is one of the many players released by West Ham following their relegation from the Premier League.
Abdoulaye Méïté, 30
Méïté is one of the many defenders released by clubs across the Premier League at the end of the season. Méïté joined West Brom following a controversial spell at Bolton Wanderers where he was demoted to the reserves at the end of the 2007/08 season after he refused to play in the second half against Manchester United claiming an injury. Before joining Bolton, Méïté had made 172 appearances for Marseille, which included a UEFA Cup final appearance in 2004.
Méïté has been with West Brom for three seasons and has made 48 league appearances. In his second season, Méïté was left in the cold by then manager Roberto Di Matteo who preferred Shelton Martis to Méïté. But he fought his way back into the side. Under new manager Roy Hodgson, Méïté became a first team regular and guided West Brom to safety. While Meite’s temperament might be in doubt, there are no questions about his ability, and he might just look for a better paymaster elsewhere on the continent.
Benjani Mwaruwari, 32
Benjani was brought to England in 2006 by then Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp on the recommendation on Arsène Wenger. The Zimbabwean striker came into the limelight with his prolific goal scoring in the 2007/08 season where he scored two hat tricks. His goal scoring efforts attracted interest from Manchester City manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, who had been looking for a striker. Benjani moved to Manchester City in 2008, where he played 23 games scoring 4 goals.
After a loan spell with Sunderland, Benjani joined Blackburn on a one year deal and has made 23 appearances and scored 3 goals. Benjani failed to win a contract extension and was released by Rovers. Benjani is a better player than his record in England suggests and given an extended run in the team and played as part of a two man strikeforce could do some serious damage.