With just three weeks to go before the start of the season, one of the most surprising aspects of this summer is the enhanced quality of the ‘out of work’ list – a roster of players that can be pondered with increasing incredulity here. In the past, the directory was populated with the kinds of players one might expect – journeymen who had reached the end of their shelf life and eternal fringe performers. Not so now – the ledger of those still seeking a club includes England internationals such as James Beattie and Emile Heskey, while the tally doesn’t only contain veterans.
The reality of modern football mans shortened contracts and the need to keep wage bills low. Hence, football league clubs in particular need to be no nonsense when trimming their squads – the remarkable array of talent left waiting for a new opportunity. Here are ten players I picked out as worthy of another look but their number could equally have included Lloyd Sam or James Hayter; Ricardo Gardner or Nigel Reo-Coker.
It’s actually faintly ridiculous that this steely minded, all purpose performer is without the club, even if it may be due to contract haggling and agent interaction. Scharner can arrive late at a corner to power in a header with the best of them, enact a limpet like man marking job and sweep up effectively in a more advanced role in front of the back four. Previously completely integral to Wigan’s tenacity in holding on to a top echelon place, he has latterly provided grit and vigour for West Bromwich Albion. I’d wager the Austrian could still do a job in the Premier League, let alone a level down.
Another denizen of the Albion, Bednář’s barmstorming forward play can be ideally suited to the one up front formation favoured by so many in these times. Originally springing to attention by way of Heart of Midlothian, his initial scoring record for the Baggies was impressive – his goals a major reason for promotion in 2007-8. However, a subsequent caution for possession of Class A drugs by West Midlands Police, together with a niggling hernia problem and a tendency to perhaps get a bit antsy in contract negotiations have all hampered his progress – stop-start spells at Leicester and Blackpool have left the 29 year old needing to get his career back on schedule.
Another who probably wouldn’t overly relish a drop below the top tier – but at 33, one of the Championship’s moneybags outfits (Nottingham Forest?) might see the signature of the Frenchman as a sound purchase – after all, a most recent stay at White Hart Lane saw him score a creditable three goals. The rest is amply chronicled and the man who gave Abba’s Knowing Me, Knowing You a new lease of life can be proud of his cultured showings at Craven Cottage, Old Trafford and Goodison Park. That he only turned out for France 20 times in an era where les bleus have often struggled to score goals is perhaps evidence of the zaniness of that country’s international management over the past decade.
That a man who was instrumental in the noughties rise to prominence of Reading FC, performing the role of crucial midfield metronome in the 2005-6 record breaking Championship side and performing admirably in the two year sojourn the Royals enjoyed in the Premier League (I remember a fine brace he plundered at the Toon) is now seeking a new club at 31 years of age is a stark reminder of the ruthlessness of the current sport. ‘Harps’ was a motor mouth dressing room presence throughout the Mad Stad glory years, a supremely fit cheerleader and a real bargain buy when he joined from the Arsenal reserve set up in 2001. Subsequently to be found at Hull City, he may have gotten used to large wages but surely he could do a job somewhere?
Small first came to prominence at the original Wimbledon and at 28, his experience of turning out for a host of clubs should surely stand him in good stead should a new club wish to take a punt on this former Don. Staying with the programme as it moved to the environs of Wolverton and Bletchley, his high profile switch to Sheffield Wednesday didn’t work out but subsequent spells at Chesterfield and Aldershot do punctuate his CV. Vastly experienced and a possible canny purchase for a League 2 or Blue Square team needing greater options.
It seems appropriate to mention Hoyte during this Olympic period, hailing as he does from a famous sporting family – his mother Wendy sprinted for Britain. The Waltham Forest native was a sporadic presence for Arsenal throughout the middle part of last decade, taking in a consistent loan spell at Sunderland in 2006-7. Having finally severed ties with the Emirates for good, he joined Middlesbrough in 2008; the fee a cool £3 million. It’s been an up and down time for the Boro, but the full back had chalked up 108 games for the Chemical Heads and many of these have fallen under the more stable Tony Mowbray regime – any right back slot that needs occupying could be effectively filled – and Hoyte can also operate on the left side.
37 makes him no springtime capon, but goalkeeper is a position that requires reliability and consistency and the Brazilian’s five year stint at Bristol City between 2005 and 2010 saw him act as a fundamental part of a bright Gary Johnson combination. Basso’s progress at the Gate was all the more encouraging given that he had been plucked from non-league Woking and it’s unfortunate that a spell at Wolves yielded no first team appearances. Late of Hull, he would appear to be the archetypal material for a sage one year loan deal should an unflappable custodian be required.
At the onset of Roberto Martinez’s Swansea project – and let us not forget that, for all the rich credit Brendan Rodgers is due, the groundwork was laid long before – Bodde was as important as anyone in the piece – buzzing around alongside the likes of Leon Britton, Paul Robinson and Andy Robinson as the Swans purred to a League 1 title win in 2007-8. But a series of injuries to his left knee have kept him out for nearly half a decade, with the most heartbreaking moment of all coming in a reserve game against Arsenal in May – this time it was his right knee that buckled. The former Den Haag man won’t be going anywhere soon unfortunately but who wouldn’t root for him to find a new club when fit?
A mainstay of the Northern Ireland international set up since 2006, Clingan is a tigerish midfielder who does a good job of linking defensive and offensive impulses. It’s true that his club Coventry City have suffered a dreadful few years, but this has not been for the want of Clingan’s trying – he has earlier been a regular at Nottingham Forest and Norwich. This is a man who set up a winning goal for David Healy as the Ulsterman defeated Spain – yes, Spain – in a 2008 win. For all round reliability, he would surely be an excellent acquisition for a forward thinking League 1 club.
The stand out performer of Ronnie Moore’s under rated Rotherham United side of a decade or so ago was Chris Sedgwick – a skilful winger who weighed in with not a few goals and who managed to notch up 244 appearances for the Millers before he had even turned 24. An upwardly mobile move to Preston followed and again, he did well – once again breaking the 200 barrier and gaining a reputation as one of the Football League’s most accomplished wide men. At Sheffield Wednesday, he was in and out of the team but nevertheless played 43 times and his part in a promotion winning squad will surely turn scouts’ heads.