The Premier League’s forgotten men: one per club

Date published: Friday 19th January 2018 8:10

ARSENAL – Chuba Akpom
Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla’s Arsenal contracts run out this summer. In 2019, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Nacho Monreal and Petr Cech’s deals will expire. But the greyest contract cloud looming over the Gunners comes in the form of Chuba Akpom, who will likely spend his final 18 months at the Emirates Stadium as he has spent the previous six. He has not made a Premier League bench, and has played just 53 minutes in all competitions. And remember, he was the reason Arsene Wenger didn’t sign a striker in 2016.


“Now Smith and Ibe are there and we have buy-back clauses,” Jurgen Klopp explained in August 2016. The likelihood of Liverpool exercising said clause on Jordon Ibe is remote; the chances of Smith returning to Anfield are non-existent. The left-back started six games in all competitions in his first season at Bournemouth, and a second campaign marred by injuries has knocked him further down the pecking order. He has made two Premier League matchday squads.


BRIGHTON – Steve Sidwell
It was last week when Chris Hughton confirmed that Steve Sidwell was “not expected” to return for Brighton for a “few months”. The midfielder made the bench in two of the club’s first three Premier League games, but a back injury sidelined him thereafter. Then, as he closed in on a return, the 35-year-old fractured his ankle as part of a clearly questionable recovery process. He has not started a top-flight game since November 2014.


BURNLEY – Jon Walters
Some people will go to great lengths to steer as clear as possible from the sh*tstorm that is Sunderland. At the start of the week Jon Walters was being linked with a move to the Stadium of Light. A matter of days later, he underwent minor keyhole surgery to repair a small split in his knee cartilage. The £3million summer signing would still be infinitely more useful than Callum McManaman.


CHELSEA – Baba Rahman
Schalke, Monaco and, rather unfathomably, Everton were all linked with a move for Baba Rahman last month. The left-back has not featured for Chelsea since May 2016, with an injury keeping him sidelined in the first half of this season. Yet the Daily Mail claimed on Christmas Eve that the £14m signing ‘has pushed himself into consideration’ to play for Chelsea this season, with Antonio Conte reluctant to spend £50m on Alex Sandro. Sure.


It’s Jordon Mutch. Mutch is young. Bristol City made a bid but they could not get him to agree. The Robins are now fifth in the Championship and in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. The 26-year-old has not started in the Premier League for Crystal Palace since May 2016. Fittingly, that game saw him substituted at half-time in a 4-1 defeat to Southampton. Palace fans adore him. Honestly.


EVERTON – Mo Besic
By the time Mo Besic was named Everton’s Player of the Month in January 2016, the Toffees thought they had unearthed a £4m midfield gem. He was combative, aggressive and impressive, a midfield enforcer who was strong in the tackle and had an underrated ability on the ball. He even found room in his pockets for Yaya Toure in a Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg victory over Manchester City that month. But injuries have curtailed the Bosnian’s progress, and a Goodison Park exit is now inevitable.


HUDDERSFIELD – Martin Cranie
Huddersfield have rarely been properly thrashed this season. They have lost 11 Premier League games, but only three by four or more goals. It does not reflect terribly well on Martin Cranie that his only two starts this campaign coincided with two of those fixtures. The 31-year-old centre-half was thoroughly exposed by Callum Wilson against Bournemouth in a 4-0 defeat in November, before being humbled in the 5-0 thumping against Arsenal. He has not been seen since. On the pitch, anyway. We’re sure he’s actually alright.


LEICESTER – Eldin Jakupovic
After being named in our top ten goalkeepers of the 2016/17 season, it was inevitable that Eldin Jakupovic would attract interest that summer. The 33-year-old was deserving of a better platform than relegated Hull, and it was Leicester who won a race involving Swansea, Watford, Crystal Palace and a queue of Championship clubs. Which is weird, because he has not even made a Premier League bench for them this season. Were Leicester expecting to sell Schmeichel? Let’s just hope Kasper has been a friendly host to his goalkeeping brethren. Sorry.


LIVERPOOL – Lazar Markovic
He might be forgotten, but the £20m fee Liverpool paid Benfica to sign Lazar Markovic in 2014 never should be. The winger has been sent out on loan three times since, yet was not even afforded that courtesy this summer. He was named in Liverpool’s 25-man Premier League squad, despite not playing for the club since May 2015.


There is something cruel and sinister about Pep Guardiola limiting Yaya Toure to 89 minutes of Premier League football this season, the Spaniard refusing to allow the midfielder to complete a full 90. Of all Manchester City players to play in the Premier League this season, only Claudio Bravo (45), Oleksandr Zinchenko (17) and Phil Foden (7) have featured less often.


MANCHESTER UNITED – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Johnny Giles in 1963. Gordon Strachan in 1989. Lee Sharpe in 1996. Danny Pugh in 2004. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was the tenth man to undertake the dangerous, unenviable journey from Manchester to Leeds – train services in the north are f***ing abhorrent – but his stay at Elland Road was ill-fated. He made one Championship start, and that was in August. And yet he is probably still ahead of Matteo Darmian in the Old Trafford left-back pecking order.


NEWCASTLE – Jack Colback
On August 28, 2014, Jack Colback received his first call-up to the England national team. On August 28, 2017, Jack Colback was one of six players Rafael Benitez said he wanted to sell at Newcastle. The pair fell out in the summer, the midfielder has trained with the youth team since, and he has now been linked with moves to at least two-thirds of the Championship.


SOUTHAMPTON – Florin Gardos
Sometimes I go to bed at night wondering about the curious case of Florin Gardos. The centre-half joined Southampton for around £5m in summer 2014, and has started a grand total of five Premier League games since. He suffered one long-term knee injury, but has not been loaned out whatsoever. He has made one first-team appearance since February 2015 – in a 5-0 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal last January. He has not been in a single matchday squad in any competition all season. If you are Florin Gardos, please just let us know you are okay.


STOKE – Ibrahim Afellay
Before Philippe Coutinho’s arrival earlier this month, the most recent winter transfer window signing Barcelona made was that of Ibrahim Afellay in 2011. Seven years later, he is constantly finishing last in the most uninspiring battle ever against Darren Fletcher, Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland to partner Joe Allen in central midfield. Paul Lambert genuinely cannot be too far from getting a game.


SWANSEA – Kenji Gorre
Manchester United academy graduate Kenji Gorre signed a one-year deal with Swansea in May 2013, a two-year deal in July 2014 and a three-year deal in July 2015. He has both had more contract offers (3) and more loan clubs (2) than he has made career appearances for the Welsh club (1).


TOTTENHAM – Cameron Carter-Vickers
“I couldn’t see him getting in regularly,” said Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder when the early termination of Cameron Carter-Vickers’ loan spell was confirmed. The centre-half started 17 of 27 Championship games for the Blades this season, but January additions were likely to restrict his opportunities. It would be a surprise if he played a single minute of football for Tottenham in the second half of the campaign.


WATFORD – Jerome Sinclair
More Isaac Success than Richarlison on the sliding scale of Watford strikers. He ranks 437th for playing time out of 462 players to have featured in the Premier League this season, with 27 minutes.


WEST BROM – Jonathan Leko
The first player born in 1999 to feature in the Premier League, West Brom’s Young Player of the 2015/16 season and a nominee for the 2017 Golden Boy award, Jonathan Leko should have been a loan coup for Bristol City. But he returned to the Hawthorns on January 1 after starting just five out of 26 Championship games. He has not made either of West Brom’s subsequent two Premier League matchday squads.


WEST HAM – Sam Byram
A solid 90-minute performance in the extra-time FA Cup replay victory over Shrewsbury nudged Sam Byram back into the West Ham picture, but there is still plenty of work to do for the 24-year-old. Injury has stalled his development this season, yet he did not feature for a single Premier League minute even before he was sidelined. Pablo Zabaleta is proving to be a particularly ageing obstacle.

Matt Stead


More Related Articles