With players on the continent now able to discuss summer free transfers to English clubs, WhoScored find five potential gems available for a song at the end of the season...
All the Premier League ins and outs in one place...
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at pundits and commentators and pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, ooh well I'll go to the foot of our stairs, I bet he takes some feeding, can you hear me, mother? Here he is...it's Lawro!
Possibly the most distinctive-looking of anyone in football on TV, so much so that his attire is almost a template for the older pundit. The missing Chuckle Brother. Those puffy shirts - like a pirate who has got himself wrapped up in the curtains. That moustache, of the sort rarely seen outside police stations or 70s gay porn. Lawro is one of those uber 'tached chaps who, even when clean-shaven, still appears to wear one. Not even one microbe of a metrosexual is present in the Lawrenson DNA. Plays a lot of golf and therefore is a martyr to the V-necked lambswool sweater. It's hard to imagine a young, carefree Lawro, rather he seems to have been born aged 57 and a little narked by the kids next door kicking a ball into his garden.
Clubs being "fine". Preston North End. Finishing sentences with "Gary". Playing golf with Kenny.
Strengths and Weaknesses
That unmistakeable, withering delivery and his easily imitable accent. Other pundits may be able to generate more disdain (Hansen) or more disappointment (Hodd) or more fury (Keano), but nobody else manages to convey the sense that a badly positioned full-back is a personal assault. So affronted does Lawro sound, it's as if bad football has been perpetrated as a calculated and spiteful trick to spoil his day.
We vividly remember his co-comm on the Barcelona v Chelsea game when Didier Drogba went bonkers. "Get 'im away, get 'im away," intoned Lawro with the loud, flat, nasal drone of a disappointed games master seeing a rough boy fighting in the schoolyard with the weedy French teacher. It was magnificent.
When paired with Alan Green on the radio, the levels of "this is boring, what a load of rubbish, I hate being here" can go off the charts. Lawro really does make sitting around getting well paid to yak about football seem like the worst job a man could possibly have but then, the forever cheerful and hyperbolic alternative is, if anything, less appealing. No Sunday is ever a Super Sunday to Lawro and we like him for that. But do cheer up, love.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
A reader actually got in touch the other day about this column and asked if we had done Lawro yet. Oddly, we hadn't, and we've done more than 20 so far. Had we been doing this a few years ago, Lawro would have been the first name on the teamsheet, more or less. This is indicative of his gradual move down the pecking order.
Time has moved on for Lawro. Compared to the analysis of Nev 'n' Carra, his stuff feels somewhat old and dry. That's not to say that he doesn't have interesting things to say, it's just that he's of that pundit generation where, frankly, you didn't have to.
Often seems a little cynical of tactical analysis as though it is pretentious and the sort of stuff only nerds are bothered about. Seems to hate all forms of technology on the same basis. His withering put-downs about social media and all things internety reflect a strictly analogue world-view and a steadfast refusal to get with the interactive, multi-platform, digital programme. We actually really like this about him. There has to be at least one curmudgeon who, on hearing the word 'Twitter', is almost physically ill with disgust.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Mark is that very interesting sort of creature: a chap both screamingly camp and yet also very much a man's man. We've noticed this unusual blend mainly in people from the north-west. There is a unique duality between his "Oooo look at the muck in 'ere" schtick and the brusque, dismissive way he speaks when riled. Hard to imagine him giving much of a toss what anyone "outside football" thinks (especially men such as ourselves writing on the bloody internet), but never seems especially warm with anyone IN football either.
We imagine playing a practical joke on Lawro would produce one of the all-time great tantrums. Very hard to see him having a sense of humour on anything other than his own terms and we imagine those terms involve Stan Boardman and a joke about a chip shop. Probably thinks alternative comedy still exists and "it's alternative because it's not funny, Gary". Misses Dick Emery. Legendarily, it was Lawro's kit bag which felt the full force of Robin Friday's bowels, so we imagine this has somewhat scarred him as regards practical jokes.
No. Or at least, when he does say something clichéd, it is a cliché of himself. Probably second only to Big Ron in the creation of a football lexicon of his own devising. His many hits have included:
"Oooh, the goalkeeper's come out waving at his mother."
[on sight of a large player] "I bet he takes some feeding."
[A player shoots over the bar] "Half a pound of bacon: lean back."
Even the way he says, simply, flatly and resolutely "No" after being asked a long and detailed question by the commentator in the hope of eliciting a more detailed response, is part of his style.
Why does he get gigs?
He's got a unique persona. You know it's him. There's nothing at all anonymous about Lawro both in the aesthetics of his voice and the nature of his utterances. While he gets stick from those who dislike his style, in a way, that's a little unfair because we also abhor bland pundits who are indistinguishable from each other. He's also honest about how he feels: we might not like how he feels, but there is nothing at all fake about him. That deserves some praise. He often reflects the sour, bitter feeling all of us have about football and footballers from time to time, especially when feigning injury or serving up an hour and a half of dross.
His presence has been reduced somewhat this year, largely because it's now a long time since Mark was a professional footballer and it's inevitable that younger voices need to be heard instead. Easy to forget now just what a magnificent defender he was. Indeed, it kind of feels to us that he's never even been a footballer. But, whatever the coming years hold for Lawro, we think "they'll be fine, Gary".
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.