Most of you will be aware of the draft system in American sports and how it works – so this is just that principle applied to the Premier League, with a few twists.
Imagine that all current Premier League players have been released from their contracts, and that twenty teams – all with empty squads – are given the opportunity to ‘draft’ the free-agents.
Who would the first twenty players taken be, and in what order would they be selected?
This is a projection based not just on ability, but age, appeal to fans, character, personality and any other variable by which an athlete’s importance to a team can be assessed. Remember, all things are equal: team histories, stadia, financial resources, and everything else. True perfect competition.
One caveat though: age, in this list, goes against a player, so that should explain a couple of notable absentees. The purpose here is to build a side for the long-term, not just for a season or two.
Here are picks 1-10:
Pick 1: Gareth Bale – Tottenham
Bale may not quite be the best player in the league, but he would certainly command the biggest revenue if he was sold tomorrow. He ticks a lot of boxes: he’s a difference-maker that has to be accounted for by an opposition in every game he plays, he’s only 23 years-old, has no base-level fitness concerns, would put fans in the stands and shift a truck-load of merchandise. He wins games by himself, and, at his best, is uncontainable. There are very few players in the world who you can say that about.
Pick 2: Vincent Kompany – Manchester City
If God moulded Premier League captains, then they’d look like Vincent Kompany. A lot of importance in modern football is placed on the creation of a strong spine within a side, and what better place to start than with the 26 year-old Belgian. Aside from his obvious playing attributes, Kompany has that special human quality which binds teammates to him. He’s a leader and a winner, and would be a fixture in any side for at least 5-7 years.
Pick 3: Jack Wilshere – Arsenal
In a way, Wishere suffers because of his nationality and his talent has been somewhat exaggerated by a needy nation in search of its next superstar. But that apart, look at what he would bring to a team. Technically-gifted, but durable in a way that suits the Premier League – this is no soft touch of a player, he’s someone who can grow into any number of midfield roles. He’s comfortable deep, he could theoretically play behind one or more forwards, and he has ten years of prime ahead of him. Versatility is King in the modern game, and that’s what Wilshere can provide.
Pick 4: Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
A truly gifted player, who can influence a game as an advanced striker, a deeper-lying forward, or – if necessary – from wide. He drops a couple of places in this list because of his tendency to experience downturns in form, but he’s as close to a guarantee of goals as you can possibly get in the Premier League. He’s 24, and so obviously a long-term option, and unusually for precocious talented South Americans, he doesn’t present any kind of off-pitch melodrama.
Pick 5: Marouane Fellaini – Everton
What a monster of a player. While we gush and rave about the return the silly-haired Belgian has provided at Everton, it’s worth remembering that he’s managed to do that in a contextually under-talented side. With all due respect to David Moyes and his players, could you imagine what he would be capable of if surrounded by world-class players? Fellaini’s usefulness is not just about what he provides in an opposition’s box, but also what he does in his own defensive third. He’s as physically-dominating as any two-way midfielder in the league – including Yaya Toure – and at 25, his best years are ahead of him. A solid pick, and one which would automatically make any side an uncomfortable proposition.
Pick 6: David De Gea – Manchester United
There’s a tendency to fixate on the under-developed aspects of the Spaniard’s game, but his aerial-hesitancy and his decision-making are qualities which will maturate over time. The attributes which De Gea does possess – shot-stopping, freakish reaction speed – are those which can’t be taught and are what mark him out as an outstanding goalkeeper in the making. Another pick with the concept of ‘spine’ in mind. Here’s someone who will inevitably play at an extremely high level for maybe 15 years.
Pick 7: Juan Mata – Chelsea
Some might say that the diminutive Spaniard is a luxury item, but there’s nothing frivolous about a player who does so much to win games for his side. This season, Mata currently leads the Premier League assist table with 8, and has contributed the same number of goals. Talent-wise, he probably deserves to be below his teammate Eden Hazard on this list, but Mata’s attitude and balanced personality make him a safer pick. A natural fan-favourite too, and another player who supporters would happily pay to watch.
Pick 8: Romelu Lukaku – West Brom/Chelsea
The word for Lukaku is ‘frightening’. The Didier Drogba comparisons were inevitable, but it’s hard to dismiss them – the Belgian forward is almost an attribute-transplant of the Ivorian legend: strong, direct, dominant, quick, and an improving finisher. If you remember that Drogba only really emerged as a stand-out talent in his mid-20s, Lukaku’s rate of progression means that he’s likely to surpass that level. In the modern Premier League, where the lone forward is now the tactical preference, this is the prototype player. He has personality issues, and a tendency to be rather outspoken at times, but those lessons seem to have been learnt. Ten years with this monster leading your line? Not a bad pick at all.
Pick 9: Sandro Ranieri – Tottenham
A quick stat for you: nobody in the Premier League makes more interceptions per game than Sandro. That’s almost the end of the discussion: the league’s best exponent of a priceless commodity – Sandro wins the ball. If all goes well with the recovery from his knee injury, the Brazilian may well go on to captain both his club and his country. This isn’t some trick-loving South American who will shrink away when the weather turns cold, he’s warrior who leads by example and is a physical match – by himself – for any midfield that could conceivably be assembled. He’s 23 years-old, and is destined to be one of the world’s best in the complete midfielder role.
Pick 10: Shinji Kagawa – Manchester United
No, not just because of the ‘commercial opportunities in Asia’ benefit, although that’s undeniably a benefit. Kagawa has the attribute-set which all Asian players seem to share: he’s extremely economic with the ball, has an outstanding first-touch, and is highly-intelligent in possession. As of yet, Kagawa and his Manchester United teammates haven’t completely adjusted to one another, nor has Sir Alex Ferguson really found the optimum position for his new playmaker. When both of those two things happen though, be very afraid of this guy – his reputation in the Bundesliga wasn’t what it was for no reason. He’s a star of the game in the making, and his development will be aided by what seems to be a very even-keeled personality.