The All-Out-of-Favour XI
Perhaps one of the most intriguing stories to come out of a rather tedious and turbulent transfer window had to be the saga of Robbie Keane. The bullish forward, who Liverpool ponied up £20.3 million for in the summer, had struggled to weave his way into Rafa Benitez’s squad in his first season at Anfield. But the real fireworks started when the former Tottenham star was left out of the squad for Liverpool’s 1-1, FA Cup draw against Everton.
And so began a week’s-worth of rumors about yet another footballer who had fallen from grace. The speculation culminated in a shock transfer that sent Keane back to Tottenham, the club that he had served so well before his ill-fated move this summer.
Keane got his wish: A move away from a squad where he just didn’t fit. But what about the other former-stars and misfits around the world, players who once shined on the international stage but now can’t seem to get a game in with their current squads. You could probably make a pretty good starting XI solely out of players who are now spending most of their time on the pine.
That’s what I’ve done here. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring my 2009 All-Out-of-Favour XI.
GK – Dida, AC Milan
There are a lot of things I don’t like about Dida, not the least of which was his embarrassing display against Celtic in Oct. 2007, who collapsed to the ground stricken in supposed pain after he was tapped on the shoulder by a Celtic supporter. There are other things too: His unpredictability, his injury history and his seeming propensity to make huge gaffes. But let’s remember Dida was a part of two Champions League winning squads with the Rossoneri, and happens to be a former Serie A goalkeeper of the year. He was capable of greatness in the past. He’s 35, which for a goalkeeper means he’s not quite over the hill yet, and though he hasn’t played in a single league match this year for Milan, I have a feeling a change of scenery might be exactly what Dida needs. For that reason, I’ll take a flier on the 6-foot-5 Brazilian.
Estimated Cost: Able to leave for free in the summer.
RB - Micah Richards, Manchester City
It’s undeniable that Richards has suffered a dip in form this season for City, and consequently has seen his place in the squad come into doubt. Many feel Richards, who isn’t quite as tall a traditional center back, is better suited being moved out to one of the fullback slots. Others feel Richards could have a future as a holding midfielder. It’s pretty much undeniable, however, that his time at centre-back has not worked out so far. His recent arrest for alleged assault certainly hasn’t helped, either.
His name was tossed around a bit this transfer window, with Arsenal and Aston Villa mentioned. Richards has said he’s happy to stay and fight for his spot with the Sky Blues. He is still just 20 years old, and move out back to his more natural right back spot would help him. That’s where he would play on this team.
Estimated Cost: £10 million
CB - Kolo Toure, Arsenal
The longest-tenured Arsenal player has had a fine career in Red and White. At his best, Toure is a strong, pacey defender with the ability to make timely tackles. But Toure hasn’t looked himself this season – perhaps in part due to a bout with Malaria during the summer – and as a result has rarely found a consistent run of play in what has been an extremely inconsistent Gunners defense. More than anything, Toure may be a victim of a bad partnership. The Ivory Coast international and former Arsenal skipper William Gallas don’t get along, and don’t work very well together.
With Gallas injured, Toure got a brief run of play in January, and has surprisingly partnered with Gallas the last two matches. Still, with Johan Djorou in form, one wonders what Toure’s role will be with Arsenal the rest of the year. Manchester City made a run at him, but Arsenal weren’t willing to sell quite yet. If he isn’t able to lock down his first-team place, a summer move could be in store.
Estimated Cost: £11 million
CB - Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
The Serbian centre-back hasn’t found many games since joining the Blues from Lokomotiv Moscow two summers ago. He didn’t feature at all last year, and has only played in nine games this year. But don’t forget, when Chelsea signed him for £9 million, they beat out AC Milan, Inter and Ajax to his signature. Ivanovic’s name has been mentioned quite a bit this January, and one would have to believe that in the summer, Ivanovic will be moving somewhere to get the first time football he’s missed out on. Fiorentina have been mentioned quite a bit.
Estimated Cost: £6 million
LB – Nicky Shorey, Aston Villa
I debated for a while on this one. To be honest, I couldn’t really find a player that I really could get behind. In the end, I chose Shorey over, say, a Jose Enrique, solely because Shorey has more match experience and I would imagine he’d be less prone to mistakes. He’s been buried on Aston Villa’s roster this term, but he was a very good with Reading for several years, and garnered plenty of interest in the January transfer window. Plus, he’s a left-back who actually defends, unlike, say, Gareth Bale. What a novel concept.
Estimated Cost: £3 million
LM – Florent Malouda, Chelsea
The second of three Chelsea men to make the squad. It’s safe to say Malouda has never really lived up to expectations at Stamford Bridge, and his place in the team will come into further doubt with the arrival of Christiano Ronaldo’s infinitely-less-talented, but stylistically-similar Portuguese counterpart Ricardo Quaresma (who, had he not been loaned out of deadline day, would have made this list). He was even linked to a loan move to Juventus this window.
But Malouda’s pace cannot be doubted, and at his best he’s the sort of player that puts a ton of pressure on defenders and can score the occasional goal. Any good XI needs a pacey player down the flank, and Malouda fits the bill for this squad.
Estimated Cost: £10 million
CM – Mathieu Flamini, AC Milan
Perhaps it’s unfair to call Flamini, who’s still settling into the Italian game after leaving Arsenal in the summer, “out-of-favour.” But Flamini has yet to gain the confidence of Carlo Ancelotti. Even with Gattuso – the very player many thought Flamini was bought in to replace – out injured form the rest of the year, Massimo Ambrosini still seems to be the favored choice.
But at 24-years-old, Flamini has a lot to offer. His work rate is one of the best around, and he can seem to be everywhere on the field at once. I would make the argument he was one of Arsenal’s two or three best players last season. His performances were so consistent, and his prowess at the holding midfield spot freed up the like of Cesc Fabregas, allowing him to flourish. It’s hard for me to imagine him not having a spot on the Milan team right now. But he can certainly have a place in this one.
Estimated Cost: £7 million
RM – Elano, Manchester City
The creative Brazilian was perhaps the driving force in Manchester City’s torrid start last season, scoring eight goals in 34 games and creating several others. He can play in the centre of the park in an attacking role (as he has of late with Brazil, even scoring in his country’s 2-0 win over Italy this week) or out on the right side, and at his best, he is the type of player that can carve out chances, whether it be with an incisive pass or a free kick, which he’s shown a particular prowess with. But with arrivals such as Shaun Wright-Phillips and Robinho, and with more sure to come in the near future, Elano has seen his role with City limited this season. But if he can play like his did last year, he’s the sort of attacking player that would mesh well with Flamini in the midfield and give our team some balance.
And if you think that a player that can’t hack it at Man City isn’t good enough to play anyway else, you obviously didn’t see Jo’s debut with Everton.
Estimated Cost: £7 million
F – Fred, Lyon
When he first moved to Lyon, he was lauded as one of the next big names in European football. Initially a hit at the Stade de Gerland, the Brazilian forward has barely seen the field of late for the French champions, blocked by French prodigy Karim Benzema. After featuring in Brazil’s 2006 World Cup side, he’s seen himself drop further in Brazil’s pecking order as his playing time has dwindled in France. In the past two seasons, he’s been rumoured be heading to a slew of English teams, being linked with West Ham, Middlesborough, Tottenham, and even Premier League misfits Stoke City. Ouch.
On the bright side, Fred is still just 25. He’s proven to be an effective player, scoring 16 goals in his first season with Lyon and 34 in 81 career appearances with the French side, which isn’t bad. He’s even got four goals in 19 appearances this year, which is decent considering most of his appearances have come as a sub late in games. Most recently, he’s been linked with a return to Brazil with Fluminese, but monetary disputes with Lyon have kept a move from happening.
Estimated Cost: £6 million
F - Didier Drogba, Chelsea
When healthy, there aren’t many more effective target men up front than Drogba. He’s so strong and so adept at shielding off defenders or winning headers. Just two years ago, he scored 39 goals in all competitions for Chelsea. But Drogba’s ineffectiveness (one goal in Premier League games this year) along with the resurgence of Nicolas Anelka (14 goals) and a reported bust up with ex-manager Luiz Felipe Scolari have limited Drogba’s opportunities. He was dropped from the squad for two games in January, but of late has featured more as an attacking option off the bench.
The 30-year-old has been featured in several rumor this transfer window, first as part of swap to land Manchester City’s Robinho and then as a target for Inter, where former Blues manager Jose Mourinho has admitted he’d love to have Drogba back. But Drogba said in January he preferred to remain at Chelsea, and perhaps Scolari’s sacking could open up some more chances for Drogba. Otherwise expect plenty of interest in the summer.
Estimated Cost: £15 million
F – Vincenzo Iaquinta, Juventus
Iaquinta’s never really gotten a chance at Juventus, buried behind first del Piero and Trezequet and now Amauri. The fans in Turin seem to like him, but it’s clear he’s not going to get the first-team football he deserves until he gets a move. He was rumoured to be heading to Zenit St. Petersburg this winter, and has been linked with other places as well (Newcastle being one of them). He obviously has some quality, having played in five of seven games during Italy’s 2006 World Cup run. He’s tall (6-foot-3), good in the air and is versatile enough to still be
effective if he is forced out wide. Combined with Drogba, Iaquinta gives us plenty of muscle and skill around the goal up front.
Estimated Cost: £9 million
Mario Balotelli, F, Inter; Kevin Kuranyi, F, Schalke; Michael Johnson, M, Man City; Emerson, M, AC Milan; Jose Enrique, LB, Newcastle; Gregory Coupet, GK, Athletico Madrid.
Well, there it is. Certainly far from a perfect squad, but I’d back them to challenge for the Top Four any day. Now, it’s your turn to chime in. What players out there did I miss?