What do Sol Campbell, John Carew, Marcus Bent, James McFadden, Bolo Zenden and Jason Koumas have in common? Apart from being decent squad players at the very least, they are all available, right now, at a fee of absolutely nothing Add to this list, Matthew Upson and Thomas Hitzlsperger, as well as former frees Kieron Dyer, Daniel Gabbidon – all formerly of West Ham, and you have the potential for a decent team. Never before has there been such an influx of quality players into the market at the same time, and it shows – with only 25% of players available on a free at the beginning of the window having found a new club. Stoke could be doing with one or two players like this, namely Upson and Hitzlsperger. Two players with immense EPL experience, with a high level of skill, and both bringing something a bit different to the squad.
Upson was supposed to be the next big hope for English defending, well let’s face it – they need it, but his career has stalled at relegated West Ham. Hitzlesperger is another surprise on the list, after having a great career at Aston Villa, Stuttgart and Lazio; he performed well in the latter part of the season as part of that same relegated West Ham team. But are they poor quality players? Of course not, so while their wages may be high, let’s have a look at what they contributed to their clubs last season – and what they could give to a club like Stoke next time out.
32 year old Upson had a disappointing 30 games at West Ham last season, conceding on average 1.63 goals per game, and seeing his team relegated in 20th with an astonishingly poor 33 points. His only goal of the season was, you guessed it, an own goal, but for a defender who’s only scored a total of 10 goals in his career, not much else is to be expected. In nearly 15 years he has only played in a total of 354 games, with the large majority coming in his time after leaving Arsenal at West Ham and Birmingham.
Upson attempted a total of 8 shots, with only 25% – a shot on target every 15 games. Surprisingly for a central defender, he only made 48 tackles, just over 1.5 per game, but won 62.3% of his 231 possession duels (144), while winning 64.6% of his Aerial duels as well. Making 73 interceptions, 159 total clearances and 79 headed clearances, Upson had a solid season at the Boleyn Ground, while only conceding 25 fouls – one ever 0.83 games, and picking up only 4 bookings.
In terms of passing, Upson had an impressive pass completion rate – 78 %( 591) out of 754 attempted passes. He made nearly double the amount of passes in his own half – 392/197, and lost possession while in control of the ball only 4 times. Throughout his 2475 minutes on the pitch, he touched the ball 1274 times, touching the ball on average just over 2 times per minute.
Compared to Stokes number one central defender, Upson would seem to be a solid buy. While Robert Huth had a good season in front of goal, scoring 6, and being part of one of the best non top 4 defensive lines, Upson fairs well in comparison in pass completion (78%-60%) and only just beats Huth in terms of possession duels (62.3% to 60%). Upson has shown he can be very good in the right team, and obviously West Ham weren’t that sort of team this past season.
At 29 years old, 52 German caps, and one of the sweetest left foots in world football, would someone mind telling me exactly why this lad is out of work? Admittedly, his first and last season at West Ham could be seen as a minor disaster, getting injured before playing a game, and ending up with only 2 goals from 11 games in the league. He lived up to reputation on the shots front, hitting two shots per game on average, with 10 hitting the target and 12 off – or into row Z, as you would expect. 4 assists from 11 games is not a bad statistic, especially for a team who struggled as much as the Hammers.
Hitzlesperger managed a hugely impressive 40 accurate passes per game on average, with a 75% pass completion rate from 590 passes, and a split of 114 between attacking half(276) and defensive half(162) passes. He pinged in 50 uncaught crosses, and made 2 accurate throws from 3. Defensively, the team let in a total of 22 goals in his 11 matches, whilst individually made 9 effective clearances, one block, and lost possession a total of 23 times. He made 16 effective tackles, won just under half of his possession duels (34-38), and won 66.66% of his aerial duels.
Dean Whitehead, was virtually ever present in the Stoke midfield this season with 37 appearances, 26 more than Hitzlesperger, yet still only managed the same number of goals, 2, and only 1 assist to Hitzlespergers 4. They had virtually the same pass completion rate and possession duel wins, while Whitehead only won 26.5% of his aerial dues, compared to Hitzlesperger’s 66.66%. Hitzlesperger would be an exceptional signing for Stoke, bring a touch of class to a midfield which is seemingly bare of somebody who can put their foot on the ball.
So why are they available right now? Okay, average seasons taken into consideration; they are still quality premier league players. Upson could fit into any team as a first choice – except at Chelsea and United, where he would be 3rd or 4th choice at worst. With a good range of passing, a good command of the back line and a cool head on him, it would be a travesty for him to be battling at the bottom of the table for yet another season. Hitzlesperger is a player I’ve admired since he broke into the Aston Villa first team in 2002. He is what can be described as a complete midfielder, able to defend and attack in equal measures, with a great range of passing and the ability to score a goal or two – I have no idea why teams aren’t swarming round him like bees to pollen. Stoke would make an ideal destination for both, as with both of these players, in my opinion, they wouldn’t be sucked into a bottom of the table fight. In conclusion, teams in the Premier League are idiots for not snapping up these two the moment their contracts were up.