Before Premier League teams begin to re-construct their squads this summer, there’s a constraint to consider: despite 25 squad places up for grabs, the rule book insists that no more than 17 of them can go to overseas players. It's partly – although not exclusively – why Chelsea hastily ditched Fernando Torres, Marko Marin and Marco van Ginkel late in last summer’s window.
The remaining gaps must then be given to homegrown players, or left vacant (hi again, Chelsea), although it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds. To qualify as homegrown, a player must have been trained by a club in England or Wales for a period of three years between the ages of 15 and 21, so while England internationals Eric Dier and Owen Hargreaves don’t/didn’t count, Spaniards Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique would – a useful loophole in a market where young Englishmen carry a London pint-style premium.
With this in mind, FFT went digging and unearthed 11 of the best surprise homers that your club could sign...
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover)
No doubt a Pointless answer in waiting under the category ‘2014 World Cup winners’, German goalkeeper Zieler is in fact homegrown in England. The 26-year-old spent five seasons at Manchester United with only a brief spell at Northampton Town to show for it, but eventually found his groove back home with Hannover.
Where could he go? First-choice goalkeeper vacancies are few and far between in the Premier League but if Hugo Lloris was to leave Tottenham, and likewise Tim Krul at Newcastle, then Zieler may come under consideration. It's no mean feat getting into a Germany squad as a goalkeeper given Die Mannschaft's strength there.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
Rumours continue to swirl about the future of current prized asset Schneiderlin, who is a France international masquerading as a Brit. Having signed from Strasbourg as an 18-year-old and remained at St. Mary’s ever since, the combative midfielder, in the eyes of Premier League rulemakers, is as homegrown as, er, rhubarb.
Where could he go? Arsenal and Manchester United are the supposed front-runners, although neither are in urgent need of quota boosting. Tottenham tried and failed a year ago, and the midfielder has loftier ambitions this time around.
Tim Krul (Newcastle)
Krul has been Newcastle’s undisputed No.1 when fit for five years now, although it took the Dutchman a similar length of time to break into the side following his switch from ADO Den Haag a decade ago.
Where could he go? Spurs, if Lloris leaves. Southampton have also been linked, given the long-term injury suffered by Krul’s former Magpies team-mate Fraser Forster in March, while Manchester United could be tempted if Real Madrid have their wicked way with David de Gea.
Alex Song (Barcelona)
After seven years at Arsenal, Song’s career seemed to be taking an upward trajectory when he followed the frequently-trodden path from north London to Barcelona. Sadly, the Cameroonian was more Alexander Hleb than Thierry Henry at the Camp Nou and spent the last 8 months pretending to look busy while on loan at West Ham following a promising start to the campaign.
Where could he go? The Hammers are likely to go in an alternative direction, but Southampton are the latest club (alongside Liverpool and Manchester City) to be linked with Song, who could replace Morgan Schneiderlin at St. Mary’s.
Max Gradel (Saint-Etienne)
The Ivorian’s 17 goals couldn’t quite deliver a Champions League place for Saint-Etienne last term, and that might be the 27-year-old's cue to leave. If that’s the case then England is a likely destination for Gradel, who signed for Leicester as an 18-year-old before rising to the fore at Leeds United.
Where could he go? Everton, if Kevin Mirallas gets his reported wish to leave or a permanent deal for Aaron Lennon fails to materialise. Alternatively there's West Brom and Tony Pulis, who liked to deploy two out-and-out wingers during his time at Crystal Palace and is currently short of them at West Brom.
Jeffrey Bruma (PSV)
A regular in a PSV Eindhoven side that won its first Eredivisie title in seven years last term, Bruma is certainly benefiting from his decision to leave Chelsea as a 21-year-old. The Netherlands international spent six years in west London before his 2013 departure, although he he toddled off to Hamburg for the final two of those after a brief stint at Leicester.
Where could he go? Sunderland. The Mackems are currently short of centre-halves after Sebastian Coates went back to Liverpool, and sporting director Lee Congerton will be familiar with Bruma from his time at Stamford Bridge.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea)
An Iceland international who initially arrived in the Premier League via the Bundesliga, Sigurdsson served the latter part of his footballing education on these shores with Reading. The attacking midfielder, who also spent time at Shrewsbury Town and Crewe Alexandra, was one of the Championship’s standout performers in 2010/11, before a £6.5m-plus move to Hoffenheim.
Where could he go? Brendan Rodgers failed to lure his former player to Liverpool three years ago and appeared to have lost interest by the time Tottenham made him available last summer. The Ulsterman may be more keen following Steven Gerrard’s departure, but Swansea seems to be Gylfi’s happy place.
Albert Rusnak (FC Groningen)
Only five months after leaving the Premier League for good, Rusnak is already being linked with a return after scoring six goals in 19 games for Eredivisie side FC Groningen – including two in the KNVB Cup final. Manchester City, where the Slovakian spent five years and was sent on loans at Oldham, Birmingham and SC Cambuur-Leeuwarden, are surprise suitors.
Where could he go? Southampton have also been linked with the attacking midfielder, although Tim Sherwood’s quest to sex up Aston Villa could make him a good fit for the FA Cup finalists. Unless Rusnak wants the Dedryck Boyata treatment, a return to Manchester seems a little farfetched.
Asmir Begovic (Stoke)
Begovic may have been born in Trebinje, Yugoslavia (in the bit that’s now Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country he represents internationally) and part-raised in Canada, but as far as your club is concerned, he’s English. Despite problems acquiring a visa initially, the goalkeeper eventually joined Portsmouth in 2005 and was loaned to La Louviere, Macclesfield, Bournemouth, Yeovil and Ipswich before moving to Stoke, where his contract expires in a year’s time.
Where could he go? Again, Manchester United and Tottenham would be the most likely destinations, but only if their respective No.1 shirts become available. Chelsea have been linked with the 27-year-old of late, although he won’t be anyone’s understudy according to team-mate Charlie Adam.
Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)
After seven years as an Arsenal player brought fewer than 30 Premier League games and five loan spells of mixed success, Vela has finally cracked on at Real Sociedad. Fifty seven goals in little more than 150 outings since joining La Real (initially on loan) is good going, but injury slowed progress last term.
Where could he go? Arsenal could have had him for £3.5m last summer (as part of a clause agreed upon leaving the Emirates) but didn’t, so consider them out of the running now he’s a bit pricier. Liverpool need strikers; Tottenham may also be on the lookout.
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