The regular EFL season is over which means only one thing: the free agent merry-go-round is underway.
With clubs being promoted, relegated and others looking to balance the books, the off-season promises to be one of the busiest in history. Here are the best options for Championship sides ahead of the 2021/22 season, sorted by their current club.
AFC Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere, 29, midfielder
Jack Wilshere bossed Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquests in his breakthrough season at Arsenal and is widely considered one of the most technically-gifted Englishmen of his generation, but injury after injury have ultimately put an end to his hopes of fulfilling that potential. A brief spell at West Ham United didn't go to plan and so Wilshere returned to Bournemouth on a free transfer, after also spending a season on loan with the Cherries. If he leaves them on a free, he'll find a new club in no time.
Barnsley: Alex Mowatt, 26, midfielder
Ex-Leeds United man Alex Mowatt has been tipped to make the step up into the Premier League for some time, but never has. His levels may have dropped over the last couple of seasons, but with Barnsley still in the top-flight hunt, he may yet get his chance. If not, though, he’ll be snapped up in no time. No time at all.
Birmingham City: Jon Toral, 26, forward & Alen Halilovic, 24, midfielder
The Blues flirted with relegation to League One for the vast majority of this season and – for a club that won the League Cup not too long ago – that’s not good enough.
They’ll be looking to offload players before building their squad and there are a couple of gems heading out of the door. Having come through Arsenal’s academy, Jon Toral left fellow Championship club Hull City to join Birmingham, but didn’t live up to expectations. The Spanish playmaker’s career has followed that path and is sometimes criticised for his languid style but, when he’s on form, his quality is clear for all to see to.
Alen Halilovic was lauded as one of world football’s hottest prospects when he joined Barcelona for around £2m in 2014 but, like Toral, hasn’t fulfilled his potential. After failing to impress in Catalunya, the Croatian signed for Hamburger SV and then Italian giants AC Milan on a free transfer in 2018. Again, though, it didn’t work out and he is now available for free for the second time in his career. Despite not impressing consistently, maybe he just needs a manager who puts true faith in him. He’s still only 24, after all.
Blackburn Rovers: Lewis Holtby, 30, midfielder
The German technician is one of the most surprising names on this list. After a successful spell in his home country, Lewis Holtby joined Tottenham Hotspur and struggled for regular game time amongst a squad fighting for European football. After a few years, he joined Rovers and has been a reliable figure, but not electrifying. That being said, however, he remains more than good enough for a play-off chasing team.
Bristol City: Famara Diedhiou, 28, striker & Henri Lansbury, 30, midfielder
Famara Diedhiou is one of those strikers who seem awkward in front of goal, but is also very hard to defend against and always seems to be one the scoresheet when you check the weekend’s results. But after their worst season in recent memory, the Robins are looking for a squad overhaul.
Another quality player heading out the door at Ashton Gate is Henri Lansbury. A key figurehead of Nottingham Forest’s promotion-chasing side, a stint at Aston Villa followed which didn’t go quite as well before the switch to the South West. Experienced and quality on the ball, he’d be a steal.
Cardiff City: Junior Hoilett, 30, winger
Junior Hoilett. What a player he was in Cardiff City's Premier League season in 2013-14. The then-rapid winger may have lost a yard of pace over the last few years, but his quality from set pieces and ability to not only pick out a man but the top corner make him as hard to defend against as ever.
Huddersfield Town: Oumar Niasse, 31, centre forward, Alex Pritchard, 27, midfielder, Yaya Sanogo, 28, centre forward & Christopher Schindler, 31, centre-back
If you were to choose one club that’s preparing for a changing of the guard, Huddersfield Town would be the one. Nine players are leaving on free transfers – including cult hero Christopher Schindler, who scored the penalty to send the Terriers to the Premier League for the first time in their history. Alex Pritchard’s departure leaves Jonathan Hogg as the only remaining player from their last top-flight campaign.
Yaya Sanogo never got going in West Yorkshire, really, but could prove a vital cog in the machine if given regular starts at a club when fit.
Middlesbrough: Jordan Archer, 28, goalkeeper, Britt Assombalonga, 28, striker & Ashley Fletcher, 25, striker
Jordan Archer made his reputation as a cat between the sticks at Millwall and, at only 28 years old, still has plenty of time left. Ashley Fletcher has even longer than that. The ex-West Ham youngster almost joined Hull City in 2018/19 before the club pulled out of the deal and he’s held his own alongside Britt Assombalonga and even out-shone his partner at times. Assombalonga should have been in the Premier League years ago but wasn’t given the chance. Has his opportunity gone? He will hope not. He deserves to be in a top-six team again.
Norwich City: Mario Vrancic, 31, midfielder
The Champions are heading back to the Premier League for the second successive time. Marko Vrancic was a bright light in the disappointing top flight campaign two seasons ago but hasn’t shown up regularly as younger counterparts have come through at Carrow Road. It’s surprising that his contract is running down, but what a bargain he would be for any team in the division.
Preston North End: Billy Bodin, 29, winger
Billy Bodin would be a star turner in any bottom-half side, arguably higher. He has quality to win games in his time at Preston North End, but his injury troubles have let him down and left him looking for a new club in the summer. His fitness would make it a risk, but if he went on to have better fortunes, he could turn out to be a quality free signing.
QPR: Tom Carroll, 28, midfielder
Tom Carroll. The man still has so much untouched potential. It feels as though he should still be 23-24, but at 28 years old the ex-Tottenham Hotspur player needs to command the middle of the park if he’s going to have a shot at the big time again. Always giving a 6-7 out of ten, he’s a dependable player and deserves a chance at another Championship club.
Reading: Sone Aluko, 32, forward & Sam Baldock, 32, striker
Sone Aluko first came to the Championship when he signed on a free transfer for Hull City in 2012. Coming in from Rangers, the Nigerian was the league’s top scorer before a season-ending injury stopped him in his tracks. Hull scraped up into the Premier League without him and, when he returned, smashed a super volley away against Newcastle United to instantly remind everyone of his quality. He even scored for the Tigers in the Europa League qualifying rounds.
Sam Baldock is more reliable nowadays, though and, aged 32, both strikers are looking for that one last move as they look to end their careers on positive notes. The Royals were so close to the play-offs this season and the pair should be looking to stay in the mix.
Sheff Wednesday: Moses Odubajo, 27, full-back & Adam Reach, 28, midfielder
Moses Odubajo broke onto the scene with Brentford, like Aluko, joining Hull and suffering a massive injury. That spelled the end to his time in east Yorkshire and his career hasn’t really reignited since, but he has to stay in the second tier.
As does Adam Reach. A scorer of incredible goals on the regular, Reach should never have been in a side fighting relegation but stayed loyal to Wednesday when they were handed the points deduction. Everyone will understand – and expect- his desire to move to a club on the up as he looks to follow ex-teammate Keiran Dowell into the Premier League in the near future.
No club: Tom Huddlestone, 34, midfielder
Tom Huddlestone has had a career that most footballers can only dream of: the best part of a decade in the top flight and international caps alongside some of the country’s greatest ever players. After coming up through Derby County's ranks and enjoying the following eight years with a successful time at Tottenham, Huddlestone moved to Hull in 2014 and almost worked his way back into the England set up as he helped fire his club to their first-ever FA Cup final.
But that was as good as it got for Hull during his time there and the deep-lying midfielder moved back to where it all began with Derby for the 2017/18 season. Injuries, though, plagued his return and he has now been without a club for almost a year. Surely someone will snap up his wand of a right foot?