independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Bargain XI worth a punt on hard road to safety

January is meant to be the time when a manager of a faltering team gets to work. In order to beat relegation, deals need to be struck, bargains sought out.

After all, it is his job now on the line. And how hard can it be to bring in a decent 'keeper, a couple of full-backs, a pair of steady central defenders, four hard-working midfielders and two predatory strikers? Which is all that several of those sides teetering on the lip of Premier League expulsion require.

But according to Queens Park Rangers' Harry Redknapp, rather than offering an escape route, these are the days when a manager in charge of a downwardly mobile side finds himself circled by rapacious agents and greedy chairmen, all attempting to offload their dead wood as if it were new timber.

If there are any bargains out there, they will not come cheap. That is if they are prepared to come at all. Yet that is not the impression given by a quick trawl of those available.

Indeed an extraordinary opportunity presents itself this year as the transfer window opens for business.

Now is the time when players who will be without a contract in the summer can begin discussions with putative employers. And what a selection is available.

smooth

A little bit of smooth talking could land the following team ahead of pre-season training: Mark Schwarzer ( Fulham); Jamie Carragher ( Liverpool), Sylvain Distin ( Everton), Brede Hangeland (Fulham), Ashley Cole ( Chelsea); Phil Neville (Everton), Paul Scholes ( Manchester United), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United); Theo Walcott ( Arsenal), Florent Malouda (Chelsea).

What experience there is in that line-up. What dedication, what professionalism, what will to win. That is not a team likely to surrender in the manner of Redknapp's current bunch.

Imagine what Carragher, Neville and Scholes would do if faced with someone like Jose Bosingwa, currently doing his best at QPR to redefine football as an individual pursuit. A few sharp reminders of the need to assume collective responsibility would be quickly issued around the training ground.

True, Walcott apart, it is not a side exactly brimming with youth. But then you could pick up fresh-faced Andrei Arshavin from Arsenal to put on the bench. And there is always that promising youngster Michael Owen about to be out of contract at Stoke, if you need to keep your physio staff on their toes. Or, if your players require first-hand advice on social media, Rio Ferdinand is available at Manchester United.

True, there are a couple of caveats in such a recruitment policy: Premier League rules prevent the players concerned from talking pre-contract terms with anyone but the representatives of foreign clubs; and none of them would be available immediately to help with the more pressing demands of the sort that Redknapp, Brian McDermott ( Reading), Paul Lambert ( Aston Villa) and Nigel Adkins ( Southampton) now face. At least, not without a fee.

What that line-up represents, however, is the huge gamble Premier League clubs take with their senior players by allowing contracts to wind down – a lesson apparently not learnt by the experience of Arsenal over the past five years when the brightest and the best have headed for the exit.

It is often stated by managers that you cannot buy the experience of someone like Lampard. It is invaluable. Yet here it is being made available for nothing. Advertised to putative employers as if it were a commonplace. Already Lampard's phone must be ringing hot. Come and join us Frank, the callers will be saying, we want you. Unlike your current employers.

Yet Chelsea appear happy to let the calls come. Soundings taken within the Stamford Bridge hierarchy suggest the most authoritative player ever to wear a blue shirt will not be offered an extension to his contract beyond June.

Even as he continues to contribute massively to the team, even as he scores the goals which have lifted them closer to the Premier League summit, even as he looks like a player holding back the march of time, he will be free to move on in the summer, let go as if a replacement can be plucked at any time from the shelves of the King's Road Waitrose.

Of all the employment decisions taken at the club over the Roman Abramovich years, this one surely rivals the sacking of Jose Mourinho as the most reckless.

Certainly Redknapp would relish the opportunity to tempt his nephew to Loftus Road. He has already spent much of his new-year press conference lauding the player. Imagine what he would bring to the Loftus Road pitch. Imagine how players like Adel Taarabt would bloom with a winner like him alongside.

Yet even the most binding of familial ties are unlikely to facilitate any such move. Lampard still has the marketability to spark a bidding war among clubs which would help him to continue to fill his trophy cabinet. The smart odds are on him heading 750 miles south rather than two miles west.

As he knows all too well, Redknapp will instead be obliged to look elsewhere.

It appears he is about to pull off a perfect example of the old Hollywood casting couch saying: "you want, you'd settle for, you get". It goes like this: when thinking of who would best serve their purposes for their next movie, directors want George Clooney, would settle for Robert Pattinson but instead wind up with Zac Efron.

It seems Redknapp wants Lampard, would settle for Scholes but Joe Cole was the only realistic prospect, until West Ham appeared on the horizon.

No wonder he currently resembles Jack Dee chewing a wasp: as a transfer coup, it does not have quite the same ring. But then, as he says, this is January. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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