Just like the NBA and NFL, the Premier League has seen COVID outbreaks force teams to dig through the depths of their organizations to field teams. While the Premier League has postponed games and team owners have discussed pausing the league, the NBA has allowed teams to sign free agents to 10 day contracts. The Premier League will likely never reach the desperation of the NBA, as teams can use academy or reserve players in league play, but it would be interesting to see which current free agents could be signed.
A number of games have so far been postponed due to COVID outbreaks in various teams, leading team owners to discuss a temporary pause to the season to allow for the spike in cases to drop. Ultimately that pause was rejected, as owners and league officials felt that teams could still field competitive lineups.
It is objectively easier for a team in the Prem, or any other soccer league, to fill out a gameday lineup, as teams can promote players from their academies or sign free agents with little restrictions. The NBA, on the other hand, has had to implement a new rule just to allow the league to continue play. This rule allows for teams to sign free agents to 10 day contracts, allowing players who haven’t played in the league in years to take the place of stars.
Again, the Prem would never need to implement a similar rule, but it is a fun hypothetical to consider with the current batch of free agents. While none of the current free agents are game changers, there are still a few names that should be recognizable to fans.
Nabil Bentaleb is a player that both Spurs and Newcastle fans will be familiar with, as he played for both clubs in the Prem. FIFA career mode players may also be familiar with him, as he was a cheap option with high potential in FIFA 17. While he never lived up to that potential, he was a quality Bundesliga midfielder with Schalke for a few seasons in the late 2010s.
Bentaleb is a center midfielder who is closer to a box to box player than someone who can dictate the tempo of the game. An area where he is above average at is his goal scoring, as he was able to chip in a respectable amount of goals from the midfield in Schalke sides that were desperate for goals. He’s also a fine passer, averaging around 84% for pass completion.
While he will likely never be at the level to play for a team challenging for Europe, teams towards the bottom of the table could benefit from him. A team such as Watford or Burnley who are towards the bottom of the league for both pass completion percentage and goal scoring could benefit from an experienced player who can offer some stability in passing and goalscoring.
HATEM BEN ARFA
Another player that should be famous amongst fans, Hatem Ben Arfa is a player who lit up Ligue 1 over a decade ago and had an interesting spell at Newcastle. One of the most technically gifted players of his generation, Ben Arfa could create space on his own with his incredible arsenal of skill moves. He remains one of the biggest what ifs in recent soccer memory with him having all the potential in the world but he was never able to live up to that potential.
It does seem like he completely fell off the map after leaving Newcastle in 2014, but he had some solid years back in Ligue 1 with his 2015/16 season with Nice being the best of the bunch. At the age of 34 it would be expected for his stats to have completely fallen off, but he has been able to continue scoring in competitive leagues while still contributing assists. Injuries have plagued him in the past few years, as they have for a lot of his career, meaning that his career as a starter is likely over.
Ben Arfa is not the player that scored 17 with Nice, but for a team that is desperate for goals and wants to give fans something to cheer for, he might be the man. In a weird way, a return to Newcastle would be poetic with the team likely heading for relegation, it’d be a great way to let an old legend bring fans to a game like Joe Johnson in the NBA with the Celtics.
Out of all the players mentioned, Eliaquim Mangala’s return to the Prem feels the most likely, as the former Man City defender is still in his prime and could help struggling teams. Signed in 2014 by City to be their defensive stalwart for the next decade, Mangala would never truly be able to fit in at City with injuries and mixed performances marring his time there. Mangala last played for Valencia in Spain after his contract ended at City, but failed to get an extension and is now left as a free agent.
Mangala is not a defender who thrives on his passing ability, but is a confident tackler who can also win his fair share of headers. Being a no nonsense defender allows him to bring stability to a backline that desperately needs help on the defensive side. The biggest knock on Mangala is his injury history, as he hasn’t played a full season in over five years.
Again, Mangala is still a capable defender who will likely find a club sometime soon, so a team towards the bottom of the table. Teams like Norwich or Watford that have just bled goals should take a chance on Mangala, as he could provide experience and stability.
While a fun hypothetical, the Premier League doesn’t need the same type of a rule that the NBA implemented regarding filling out rosters impacted by COVID. The free agents mentioned may not get their chance in the Prem again, but fans could still remember some great times those players had in the league.
Featured Image: Adam Davy/AP