Expiring Contracts – Summer 2015’s Top Ten Free Agents
As the summer transfer window looms before us, transfer talk rages. Squads look to strengthen their roster while players look to make a grand, expensive exit. Some of the season’s most exciting stories emerge from the non-playing period of the summer. While transfer fees are bandied about and the whirlwind of speculative “could he, would he” whips about, there are several cheaper options available. Free agency this summer is full of great talents and squad players that could make the move to or around the Premier League. The following series is an analysis of the top ten best free agents of the upcoming transfer window and how they might fit in English football.
#7. Luke Garbutt – Everton
This summer transfer window is packed full with defenders whose contracts are expiring. #7 on this list joins that side of the pitch. Now that 30 June lies less than three weeks away, there will be several Premier League teams after the signature of Everton’s Luke Garbutt. Garbutt is a Leighton Baines prototype with arguably more potential that his predecessor and the local-born Englishman has not signed a new contract with his Toffees. While Roberto Martinez has reported several times in the last month that a successful extension is imminent, each day that passes adds more doubt to that rumor. Pacey and always looking to burst forward into the attack, Garbutt has received mixed praise by Everton fans. His youth is used as a crutch for his poor Premier League performance, but they have indeed been poor. On the other hand, his loan spells with Cheltenham Town and Colchester City have been exceptional. Is there hope for Garbutt still in the Premier League? Judging by the number of teams looking to steal him away from the Toffees, there sure is.
This is not the most outstanding way of trying to endorse a player. Four matches, four losses. Starts against Arsenal, Stoke, and Newcastle as well as a substitution against Sunderland. Ick.
The stats above hardly help Garbutt’s marketability. His shot accuracy is one of the few positive stats, which is of little concern for a left back. His passing accuracy is also worth mentioning, especially considering Garbutt’s style of attacking play. His compatriot, Baines, maintained 84% accuracy in 31 matches.
Another comparative measure is Garbutt vs. Baines in relation to defensive actions. Baines won 53 of 68 attempted tackles (77%) in 31 Premier League matches. Garbutt was close, succeeding in 7 out of 10 attempted tackles (70%) in 4 matches. Average defensive are similar (Garbutt’s 6 a match to Baines’ five). On paper, these two might look pretty similar.
But anyone watching Garbutt’s matches in 2015 know that there was little to be proud of. As mentioned before, youth is a large factor. Another is the nature of his push into the first XI. Garbutt, the third choice left back, is typically third choice to Baines and Brian Oviedo. The former was injured on just a few occasions, while Oviedo spent the majority of the season hampered by ailments. It can be tough for young players to be thrown into the fray and expected to perform the level of consistent England international Leighton Baines.
On the other hand…
…anyone who saw Garbutt’s performance in European competition knows that there’s another story to be told here. Statistically, there’s a glaring difference that highlights Garbutt’s performance on the continent: key passes and chances created. Taking true form of Leighton Baines when playing against foreign opponents, the young left back increased his average chances created per match from 1.0 to 2.6. His dribbles completed percentage raised from 50% to 71%. His pass accuracy falls down to a less acceptable rate, but coupled with his chances created is understandable. His pairing with Kevin Mirallas on the left side was also really promising.
So what’s to be made from this? Once the Premier League and Europa League performances are mashed together, a player persona is on display that shows loads of promise. His attacking play, especially in Europe, was incisive and effective while his vision for the pass is absolutely worth mention. There’s some defensive work that needs to be done, but there are several Premier League teams that work with at least one aggressive full back. As Garbutt continues to develop into what looks like an ever-present left back, interest continues to gather.
The issue for Garbutt as a player lies in Leighton Baines: unless another club comes in and takes him away from Goodison Park, Baines is well-established in his starting role. Though Martinez has maintained Garbutt’s status as an Evertonian, surely the young full back sees where his career is headed behind Baines. If no extension, there are clubs that would take him without question.
One of the ever-presents on this list had reported interest in Garbutt around the January transfer window. It was brief, lasting only a few weeks. But there’s always a chance the Gunners might start looking his way come July. I might question the motive here, though. Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs started the 2014/15 season poorly (as did the rest of the squad, save Sanchez), but the former realy developed into a sort of yeoman in both attack and defense. The Spaniard raced up and down the left side of the pitch and was rarely caught out of position. At age 29, the question for Arsenal is whether they can trust Gibbs with the job once Monreal is too old. This is where I think the interest in a player like Garbutt comes from. Gibbs has been mostly unimpressive, especially this past season, and Garbutt fits the Monreal-style “intensity of play.” In a years’ time, perhaps two, I could see Garbutt taking the position.
Worth the Buy? Yes.
Likelihood of Transfer? Moderate to High.
And here’s the other consistent member of the “Reported Interest” section. As recently as last week, there has been paper talk of Garbutt crossing over Goodison Park in Merseyside. Personally, this would be another unwise move for Liverpool. With Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson finally leaving this summer, Alberto Moreno should be uncontested for the left back position. Another really promising young full back that showed the same spurts of brilliance that Garbutt did, Moreno is worth keeping around. Having two left backs that develop into great players is all well and good, but one will be for play and the other for sale. Having to choose between Garbutt and Moreno, in this specific case, is easy: Moreno, because he’s already on the books. There’s no sense in adding squad depth here, especially while Jon Flanagan still has proving to do.
Worth the Buy? No.
Likelihood of Transfer? Moderate.
This was an interest that I was shocked about at first. I can’t even remember where I read it, but my response was immediate: “Nope.” Big, bruising Stoke in for flashy, skillful Garbutt? Surely not.
After further consideration, the transfer might make more sense than originally anticipated. Based on some of Mark Hughes’ more recent purchases, there’s the notion that big, bruising Stoke wants to add some flair. Krkic, Assaidi, Arnautovic, and Diouf are all more “pretty” footballers that bring skill and fancy footwork to the pitch rather than size and touch tackling. Three midfielders and a striker already—why not a left back as well? The current starter is Eric Pieters, who’s by no means a poor players. But the assistive play out wide could be improved with more than just the staccato use of wingers and wide midfielders. Play Krkic or Arnautovic, players who like cutting inside, out on the left and have Garbutt bomb forward and fill the space.
Worth the Buy? Yes.
Likelihood of Transfer? Moderate.
Who Would Garbutt Most Benefit?
By season’s end, Newcastle were almost to the point of asking fans to don the bar code jerseys and play defense for them. Injury after injury forced the Magpies into severe tactical shifts. Anita and Cork were forced to play left back while Ryan Taylor and Paul Dummett were on the sidelines. So Newcastle just need defenders, regardless of who they are. On the other hand, Garbutt does fit the bill here. A developing player for a redeveloping team, Garbutt could be the start to defensive reformation on Tyneside. Newcastle just need a surge in the right direction, but with Mike Ashley in charge it seems unlikely.
Worth the Buy? Yes.
Likelihood of Transfer: Moderate to Low.
Currently, the choices at left back for the Baggies are Chris Brunt, Sebastien Pocognoli, and Joleon Lescott. Brunt, as witnessed at the end of the season, is best used as a midfielder. Lescott is a center back that plays as a limited full back when he’s sent to the left side. For Garbutt, then, the primary competition at West Brom would be Pocognoli, who had a decent season. Though Garbutt’s sample size of matches is admittedly smaller, some of his percentages show were West Brom could use improvement. Garbutt had a better overall pass completion rate and chances created. On the other hand, Pocognoli had a much higher tackle success rate. Using the “eye test,” Pocognoli just isn’t an attacking full back. When he went forward, it felt awkward and unsure. Garbutt would absolutely fix that problem with his attacking play. But will the young Englishman develop into both and attacker and a defender? This might be the place to do just that.
Worth the Buy? Yes.
Likelihood of Transfer: Low.