Now that the promotion playoffs are over, we have a little clearer picture of who might and might not be available. Fulham’s promotion probably means there’s no hope of reuniting with Anthony Knockaert, but all is not lost! There are some gems to be found among the sides who won’t be playing in the English top flight next year.
So, the criteria for this list are slightly different than the last two. We’re looking at players who:
- Play in the United Kingdom
- Are 25 years old or younger
- Fill an apparent need for the Foxes
- Won’t be in the Premier League next season
You probably know who the first name on the list will be, so let’s not be coy and get right to it:
Hi, is that Brentford? Yes, one Benrahma, please.— Fosse Posse (@TheFossePosse) August 4, 2020
Leicester have brought in quite a few Algeria internationals over the last decade, some good (Mahrez), some not good (Ghezzal), and some better than you probably remember (Slimani). Where does Benrahma fall on this spectrum? If his performance for the Bees this year is any indication, he’s going to be on the good side of the ledger.
Benrhama scored 17 teams for Brentford and tallied 9 assists, which is a pretty ridiculous goal-participation rate. He can dribble, pass, and shoot..well, not just shoot, but shoot and hit the target in a way that goalkeeper’s find bothersome. He’s the complete package in attack and, while you’d hope he’d contribute a little more when it comes to winning the ball back, that’s just quibbling at this point.
- Pros: Does everything you want an attacking player to do. Everything.
- Cons: Left wing isn’t the most pressing need, the bidding for him is likely to be fierce.
Position: Attacking midfielder (left, center, and right)
Club: Queens Park Rangers (Championship)
Preferred foot: Right
WhoScored.com rating: 7.36
Transfermarkt.com valuation: €9.00m
Eze is probably the consolation prize in the Benrahma sweepstakes, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t help most teams in the top flight. The Nigerian scored 14 times for Rangers and added 8 assists. He’s not the finished product that Benrahma is, but he’s two years younger, has superior pace, and he’s more versitile.
Rangers deployed Eze on the left, center, and right in midfield and as an attacking midfielder, and he scored at least 7.16 on WhoScored in each of those roles. He’s the sort of player who would suite Brendan Rogers’ tactics well because, frankly, he’s versatile enough for almost any manager’s tactics.
- Pros: Great pace, youth, already very productive in multiple roles.
- Cons: Not quite as finished as Benrahma, and I harbor an irrational distaste for all things QPR.
Robinson has been a fixture in the Championship for the last three years, so it’s easy to forget he’s still only 22 years old. The USA international has improved every season and now looks like he might be ready to make the leap up to the Premiership.
Robinson is a calm ball-winner at left back who is confident with the ball at his feet and likes to get forward. His end product is still short of where you’d like it to be, whether he’s shooting or passing, but he’s getting better and wouldn’t need much to be a regular on a good side in the top flight.
- Pros: Wins the ball, gets it forward.
- Cons: Loses the ball too easily, doesn’t get it in dangerous positions often enough.
Buendia was the Canaries’ best player during their promotion campaign and maintained that distinction last year. In spite of this, he’s not often spoken of as a top player or a transfer target. This is a mistake.
The Argentine is an absolutely brilliant passer, excelling at both short passes and crosses. He’s tricky on the ball, difficult to dispossess, and works hard to win it back when he loses it. He only scored once last year, but he netted 8 times the previous season, so he has it in his kit. At 23, he’s already one of the best right wings in England.
- Pros: Young, proven in the top flight, well-rounded abilities.
- Cons: A conventional right-footed right winger, his crossing might be wasted with Leicester.
This one’s a reach. Sarr had what might be generously described as a mixed debut campaign in England. He found the goal 5 times and assisted 4 in just 22 starts, which is a decent enough return. He has the pace and the trickery to put defenders on their backsides and enough strength that he can tussle in the box.
However, he didn’t actually do much with those traits, at least, not much that was useful. He gave the ball away too often, both when trying to pass it or trying to beat defenders one-on-one. He didn’t offer much on defense, either. All of which is to say, he has potential, but he’s probably more raw than either of the Championship wingers on this list.
- Pros: Great potential, can singlehandedly defeat Liverpool.
- Not really ready to start yet and may not be for a bit.
If the Foxes are looking for a player to replace Wilfred Ndidi in case of an extended injury or, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, a transfer, then Billing is almost certainly The Man. The Denmark international brings the same traits that Wilf does: He’s imperious in the air and in the tackle. He positions himself well, allowing him to pick off loose passes in quantity.
He’s also not much of a threat going forward. He’s an old-school midfield destroyer who breaks up play and then gets it to a creative player as quickly as possible. As such, he’s not someone you’d pair with Ndidi so much as someone you’d use when Ndidi wasn’t available.
- Pros: Two solid seasons in a row suggest he’s found his level.
- Cons: Could be sort of redundant in a Leicester squad.
Note: Before we go north of the border, let me address the question that is surely on the tip of your tongue: “What of David Brooks and Todd Cantwell?” Both of these relegated players are tipped for big-money moves and, while I agree they both have some serious positives, neither were especially good last year. Cantwell’s form fell apart with that of the rest of Norwich, while Brooks simple didn’t play well on those rare occasions when he was on the pitch. I am not suggesting either of them are bad players or that they won’t blossom after a move, but they simply haven’t shown enough yet for me to recommend them.
The powerful French striker scored 22 goals in just 27 league games for the Bhoys last season. While WhoScored didn’t bestow scores in the SPL until this year, I think he can safely assume his would have been somewhere in the “oh my” range. He added 6 in 13 European matches as well, and he’s only 22 years old.
So what’s the catch? Well, honestly, the only concern is the level of competition in Scotland. Edouard has reached the level where we can’t really learn anything more about him until he moves on. The last player I remember being that much better than everyone else in the league was Virgil, and who knows what he’s been up to lately?
- Pros: Incredible scorer. Really, really good at scoring goals.
- Cons: Only the fact that he doesn’t really seem challenged by his opponents.
We’ll end with a wildcard. Hagi’s surname might ring a few bells and that’s not a coincidence. He’s the son of Gheorghe Hagi, who was a footballer of some repute. Hagi-the-younger is an attacking midfielder most often deployed in the center but he’s more than capable of manning either wing.
His skills videos are impressive, but even Ali Dia probably would have been able to put together a presentable highlight reel. His record is incredibly thin at this point. He probably needs at least another year in Scotland before considering a move south, but there are definitely some tantalizing skills there.
- Pros: If you squint, looks more than a little like his father.
- Con: You kind of have to squint to see it right now, but the potential is there.
This concludes our annual “players who are interesting but there’s very little chance we’ll actually try to sign” survey of the continent and the UK. Did you see anyone here you liked? Let us know in the comments!