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Rovers and Wanderers: Who Will Likely Leave the Relegated Clubs

European football’s silly season began on Sunday, when the transfer window opened and the leagues finally recognized long-negotiated deals.  But there is still a lot of jockeying to come.  Rumours will fly, agents will promise that their clients are going to the biggest clubs, while the clubs deny everything.

It’s also the time when the newly-relegated sides struggle to keep their lineups together.  They all make the same noises about not letting players leave.  But money talks… and clubs don’t relish the reduced revenues that come with their lowered status.

Here then is a look at who could be on the market from the three clubs who fell through the Prem’s trapdoor.

Hoilett hasn’t said which club — or country — he will play for…

Blackburn Rovers
Let’s face it: it only took Venky’s 18 months to sink the Good Ship Blackburn.  Buying a team and then watching it do the drop is bad enough.  But doing it while watching your litigious ex-manager go the other way has got to, well, burn.   Meanwhile the owners are sticking with the guy who some say pushed the other guy out the door.

Meanwhile, the exodus has started as several players have left on a Bosman.  The two most prominent players are Yakubu and Junior Hoilett.  The Nigerian overcame everyone’s expectations (including mine) to score 18 goals for Rovers.  Meanwhile, Hoilett has yet to find a home, but that should be rectified shortly.  Other players that could get scooped up by top clubs include defenders Martin Olsson, Stephen N’Zonzi and Gaël Givet, as well as midfielder Mauro Formica.  But sub-par performances from Scott Dann and Paul Robinson mean they shouldn’t expect to get picked up by a top-flight club.

Bolton reluctant to let go of Davies

Bolton Wanderers
Bolton was another team where their management change wasn’t necessarily for the better.   Owen Coyle left newly-promoted Burnley in January 2010 to take the reins at Bolton.  He’ll now have to face the fans he left behind… likely with a different squad than the one that dropped in May.  Long-time keeper Jussi Jääskeläinen will fill in the gap left by Robert Green at West Ham.  Mark Davies was Bolton’s best player last season… and there are rumours that Liverpool have been sniffing him out.  Martin Petrov could get picked up by a Premier League minnow, and Stuart Holden may feel he needs a bigger stage to figure in Jürgen Klinsmann’s Team USA plans.

Tyrone Mears is too good for the Championship, but after spending last season mending a broken leg, he may feel the need to repay the club.  Both he and Chris Eagles may be reluctant to leave the man that plucked them from Burnley,  especially with former teammate Joe McKee set to play alongside Eagles.

“Now a show of hands please. Who wants to leave the club?…”

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves have been quiet so far this summer, but don’t expect that to last long.   Steven Fletcher scored 30% of the club’s league goals last season, and the word is that Sunderland is tracking him, especially since no one exactly lit up the scoreboard for the Black Cats last season.  Fletcher would be a great target man for Stéphane Sessègnon and Sebastian Larsson at the Stadium of Light.

After spending five years as a loyal servant, Matt Jarvis deserves a chance to jump back into the Premier League.  Ditto Kevin Doyle… although his performance for Ireland at the Euros may not help.  That may also apply to another Irishman (there are seven in the Wolverhampton side), Stephen Hunt. But the left-winger always seems to show up in a lower-table side mere weeks after his former team suffers relegation (Reading to Hull to Wolves).

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem 2012: Arsenal to Chelsea

No waffling for this Belgian as his team takes their first title in 44 years.

This season produced some crazy football results, where old dynasties stumbled — in Liverpool’s case, fell hard — while Premier League stalwarts faded from view.

As always, there were some players who simply shone over the entire season.  Some were the brightest jewels in a champion’s crown, while others were gold pieces in a pile of iron slugs.

Here then is the first in my annual series of the Premier League’s best.

RVP to leave ASAP?

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) – After his injury-marred 2010/2011 season, the Dutchman stayed healthy for an entire season… and it paid off in spades for the Gunners.  Thirty-seven goals in all competitions, including 30 to win the Premier League Golden Boot.  Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more times in a single EPL season; lofty company, indeed.  In fact, it may be too lofty for Arsene Wenger to hold on to him.

Frustration for Warnock at Villa

ASTON VILLA
Stephen Warnock (ENG) – The biggest club in Birmingham endured a dreadful season under a dreadful manager.  But to his credit, the newly-departed Alex McLeish kick-started Warnock’s career again, after former Villa boss Gerard Houllier had consigned the Scouser to the bench.  Warnock featured in 38 out of 42 matches this season, starting all but one of them.  A defending left-back on a drearily defensive side, Warnock is the best of a lifeless bunch that sorely missed Young, Downing, Milner and Walker.

Will the Yak be back?

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Yakubu (NIG) – He’s too fat.  He’s past his prime.  He’s too old to play as a centre forward.  Almost everyone — including me — wrote off the big Nigerian.  Why on earth would Blackburn pick up a 29-year-old player who has just spent half a season in the Championship?!? Turns out Steve Kean actually did something right.  Yakubu scored 18 goals, including a magnificent four-goal slaughter of Swansea City, as well as a brace that helped defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford.   Now that Rovers have done the drop, will the Yak be back in the Prem?

Despite Davies’ best efforts, Bolton still dropped.

BOLTON WANDERERS
Mark Davies (ENG) –  Owen Coyle put his faith in the former Wolverhampton player, after leaving him on the bench for most of Davies’ first two seasons with Bolton.  Davies wasn’t a prolific goal scorer, but he was the anchor of the Bolton midfield, starting plays that would lead to others finding the back of the net. The highlight of his season was a great run against Liverpool, scoring after just three minutes. He should get picked up by a small Premier League club.

One of these players didn’t cost 50 million pounds…

CHELSEA
Juan Mata (ESP)– The gifted winger was brought in to help bring the title back to West London, and win the Champions League honours that has eluded Roman Abramovich after nearly a decade in charge.  Mata has held up his end of the bargain, bombarding opponents’ boxes with cross after cross, and helping his teammates score.  He started more than any other Chelsea outfielder and had an astonishing on-target ratio.   As Chelsea’s old guard fades, look for the Spaniard to help the Blues get back to former glories.

Brent Lanthier

Next: Everton to Manchester United

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Best of the Prem: Burnley to Hull City

Brent Lanthier

Don’t get yer knickers in a bunch, we’ve got more World Cup coverage coming! But you should probably keep the Premier League in the back of your mind, since the backroom machinations are still ongoing. Several clubs can’t wait for the tournament to end to start their wheeling and dealing.

Burnley: Wade Elliott (ENG)
Burnley’s Player of the Year, At The Rails has already sung the praises of Wade Elliott. He created width down the right while adding some grit to the Clarets: he led the team in both fouls and yellow cards. A team leader on last season’s version of Blackpool.

Future: While Burnley descends back into the Championship, Elliott will likely remain behind with one of the Prem’s lesser lights. Reports say his former boss Owen Coyle will offer Burnley 750,000 pounds to bring the winger to Bolton.

World Cup-bound? No, but at least it would have been nice to see him get a taste. Alas, playing on a relegation-bound club shut him out of Don Fabio’s plans immediately.

Chelsea: Frank Lampard (ENG)
This is going to bring the wrath of my fellow ATR writers: Fat Frank should have been the league’s Player of the Year.  After a shaky start, he was the real leader of Chelsea when Captain Schtupping was busy…. um, getting busy. The axis around which the entire team rotates, Lampard had 22 goals (as a central midfielder!) and led the league with 14 assists. Rooney had a stunning season but Frank was the complete player.

Future: Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London, SW6 1HS.

World Cup-bound? Yes but where to play him? And who with? Barry or Gerrard?

Everton: Leighton Baines (ENG)
Last Monday’s performance notwithstanding, Baines was a model of consistency this season.  He started more games than any other Everton player and proved to be a force on the left side, defending and attacking with equal measure.  He also led in time of possession for the Toffees.

Future: A Scouser who grew up in Wigan’s system, he seems to finally be home.  Let’s hope his England experience will leave him with something to prove next season.

 World Cup-bound? No.  Apparently Baines is painfully shy… and now the whole world knows. Ugh.

Fulham: Mark Schwarzer (AUS)
The Cottagers allowed one more goal than Manchester City this season, and Schwarzer was a big part of that. The big Aussie faced a barrage of shots this season in the League, not to mention the club’s improbable run to the Europa Cup final. In fact, the last two seasons have been improbable for tiny Fulham. Guess when Schwarzer showed up?

Future: Schwarzer has one more year on his contract. But there are rumours Arsene Wenger wants to bring him to the Emirates… because Almunia is sh!te.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Pim Verbeek has built his team around Schwarzer and a strong back-four.  Many a punter has picked the Socceroos as their dark horse this tournament.

Hull City: Stephen Hunt (IRE)
Is he a bad luck charm or is he just unlucky? Hunt has been relegated from the Premier League twice… but it’s not been his fault.  The Irishman led the Tigers in scoring, even though he was injured for the last two months of the season. An intense midfielder, he was voted Player of the Year by the Hull faithful.

Future: Hull will be selling and he doesn’t appear to want to go back anyway.

World Cup-bound? Ask Thierry Henry.

Up Next: Liverpool to Stoke City

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Best of the Prem: Arsenal to Bolton

Brent Lanthier

Oh look, I finally put my name on an article! This is a five-part series on picks for each Premier League team’s player of the season. The reasons why they were picked, what the future holds for each player, as well as their World Cup prospects (if any!).

In the fifth piece, I’ll pick my Team of the Year, as well as Player of the Year. Most of you won’t be happy….

Arsenal: Francesc Fabregas (ESP)
The Gunners’ captain missed the last six weeks of the season with a broken fibula and his team definitely missed him. Arsenal only won two of their last seven games, including a humbling 4-1 loss to Barcelona, followed by losses to hated rivals Tottenham at the Emirates… and then to lowly Wigan.

Future: There are reports that Arsene Wenger called the Catalonian at home in a last-ditch plea to keep him from bolting back to Barcelona.

World Cup-bound? Yes. But this EPL Player of the Year candidate will likely start on Del Bosque’s bench, behind Barcelona’s formidable midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta.

Aston Villa: Gabriel Agbonlahor (ENG)
“Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby Agbonlahor. He’s f#cking fast, he’s f####cking faaaaaast.”
Sung to the tune of Karma Chameleon, the Villa fans colourfully sum up the skills of the speedy scorer. Agbonlahor led the club in goals, on a talented team that should have scored more. Critics say Gabby himself should have done better, given the amount of times he went through defenders. Brad Friedel gets honourable mention here: he faced more shots than 75% of Premier League keepers, yet Villa was fourth in goals against.

Future: Rumours of a move to Man City are likely just talk for Agbonlahor, a native Brummie.

World Cup-bound? No. There’s really only three spots up front after Rooney. With Jermaine Defoe playing the role of speedy striker, teammate Emile Heskey adding some heft up front, and Darren Bent having both speed and size, Agbonlahor never really stood a chance.

Birmingham City: Joe Hart (ENG)
An injured Shay Given means Man City will recall on-loan Joe Hart. But what a season. Birmingham was expected to rebound back to the Championship. But despite facing the third-most shots in the Premier League, Hart backstopped Brum to eighth place, with the Blues being especially stingy at St. Andrew’s.

Future: The numbers say Joe Hart is a better keeper than Shay Given, and he could be one more important piece in Man City’s Champions League puzzle.

World Cup-bound? Yes, yes, yes. This writer thinks Joe Hart will get the Go signal from Don Fabio, over Robert Green and too-old Calamity James.

Blackburn Rovers: Ryan Nelsen (NZ)
It was a toss-up between Nelsen and the resurgent David Dunn. But in the end , the 32-year-old captain for both Blackburn and New Zealand won out. Hard without being dirty, the central defender was third in scoring on a typically boring Allardyce team.

Future: After Rovers’ surprising ninth-place finish, Big Sam is unlikely to deal his defensive lynch pin. However, an exceptional showing by New Zealand in the World Cup could thrust Nelsen into the spotlight, and onto the auction block.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Nelsen will be the All Whites’ keystone in South Africa.

Bolton Wanderers: Jussi Jaaskelainen (FIN)
Owen Coyle escaped the drop when he swapped Lancashire clubs, and he can thank Jaaskelainen for helping him escape again. The big Finn faced more shots than any other keeper in the Prem. But it’s not a good sign for a side when their best player is the goalkeeper. Despite Bolton’s 14th place finish, they’ll likely have to battle local rivals Wigan to avoid the relegation next season.

Future: Jaaskelainen has been Bolton’s go-to man for a decade. With over 400 games under his belt, the Finn should retire in the black and white.

World Cup-bound? No. Finland failed to qualify on the back of losses to Russia, and a draw against Liechenstein. Jaaskelainen retired from international competition at the end of qualifiers.

Up Next: Burnley to Hull City

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Love for Sale: Burnley

We now know who will join Portsmouth in relegation. Hull City’s loss to Sunderland and Burnley’s drubbing by Liverpool — combined with West Ham’s dramatic 3-2 win over Wigan — means that Hull and Burnley are done.

Burnley

They were the Little Team That Could. Burnley finished sixth in the Championship last year and then dispatched both Reading and Sheffield United to win promotion.  They started their Premier League season in style — beating three-time defending champions Manchester United in a famous win at Turf Moor.  But they only won once after October and then their manager jumped ship to Bolton.  Burnley’s Premiership experiment was over.  But the following players showed their mettle and should get snapped up by other outfits.

Steven Fletcher: Burnley broke their transfer record when they paid Hibs 3 million pounds for this Scotland international. Fletcher led the team in goals and has already been linked to former Scotland manager Alex McLeish at Birmingham — and to his old boss, Owen Coyle, at Bolton.

Graham Alexander: Another Englishman-turned-Jock, Alexander spent 16 years in the lower leagues before getting promoted with Burnley. A former right-back turned defensive midfielder, Alexander scored seven goals this year — although to be fair, four were penalties. Burnley’s Ironman could get find life at another Prem outfit, if only to bring some experience to the bootroom.

Wade Elliott: Burnley’s reigning player of the year, Elliott is a speedy winger who can do wonderful things with his right foot (see here and here).  He gets stuck in, gives his team some width and can create goalscoring opportunities. In fact, this writer thinks Don Fabio would be better off with Elliott in South Africa than a three-initialed dunce who can’t see over the counter at the hotel.

Tyrone Mears: Sometimes good players have bad karma.  This is the second time Mears’ team has gotten relegated: he was a member of that dreadful Derby County team in 2008. And although he’s English, he mistakenly thought his family was from Jamaica. He ended up playing one for the Reggae Boyz — making him uneligible for the Three Lions — until the right back found out his family came from Sierra Leone.  Too bad — because deputies for the oft-injured Glen Johnson are far and few between.  Mears was a bright spot on the Premier League’s most porous defence and he should get another crack at top-flight football.

Chris Eagles: He’s been called the next David Beckham and was a United player for eight years before joining the Clarets. Eagles wasn’t a regular starter this season. But at 24 years old, he’s still attracting interest from some of the bigger clubs.  The best days may still be yet to come for this attacking midfielder.

Brian Jensen: This old Dane surprised many observers early on, providing heroics for the aforementioned victory over United — as well as helping those fantasy league owners who bought Jensen on the cheap. “The Beast” was a perpetual second-stringer for years and only got a regular gig after joining Burnley. He is their longest-serving player but could be pried away by a team who needs a quality keeper aka Wolves, Wigan or even Sunderland.

David Nugent: Actually, Nugent is not a Burnley player. He belongs to Portsmouth but they need to sell, sell, sell to pay Her Majesty’s government. Nugent was famously capped for England as a Preston North End player, scoring a 90th minute goal against Andorra. He is a boyhood Evertonian — and the Toffees could use another striker to take the pressure off the perpetually-injured Louis Saha.

Final look: Hull City

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