With only a Confederations Cup to divert our post-season attention, this summer is likely to be dominated by the potential departures of several Premier League stalwarts. We’ve already endured Frank Lampard’s long goodbye, with his Chelsea departure seemingly assured. The MLS has been mooted, where a high-profile vacancy exists at champions LA Galaxy. With John Terry’s contract expiring in 2014, next season’s protracted Stamford Bridge exit is already scheduled.
Manchester United also have Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand approaching the end of their current contracts. Giggs, the most decorated player in United’s history, will wait until the end of the season before deciding whether or not to accept the offer of a further 12 months. Ferdinand, having completed a decade of service at Old Trafford, is in the dark regarding his future while Scholes may decide to retire for a second time.
Scholes has been a part of the senior set up at United since 1993, the same year that Steve Harper joined Newcastle United from Seaham Red Star, in his native Easington. Not nearly as influential as Scholes, Harper has largely existed in the shadows at St James Park, throughout his professional career. As understudy to Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and Shay Given, he was loaned out to a succession of clubs before eventually making his debut as a second-half substitute against Wimbledon in 1998.
Since then he has been used infrequently, but still managed to feature in both the Champions League and an FA Cup final. His longest run in the side resulted from Shay Given’s move to Manchester City in January 2009. Rewarded with a new long-term deal, he became first choice for the first time, aged 33 after 16 years of service. Newcastle were relegated at the end of the season, but made a prompt return to the top flight and Harper was instrumental during this period. He has since been superseded by Tim Krul, who inherited Harper’s No 1 shirt in the summer, but he remains an able deputy.
Harper recently spoke out in support of the long-term deal awarded to Alan Pardew, as stability has been scant at Newcastle during Harper’s time at the club. Unfortunately, it looks like Harper may not be around to witness the continuity first hand, although, should Newcastle’s recent poor form return, you would not bet against him outlasting his under-fire manager.
Three years Harper’s senior, Mark Schwarzer has been a mainstay in English football since joining Bradford City from the Bundesliga in 1996. A top flight regular with Middlesbrough and Fulham, he is closing in on his 500th game at that level and already holds the record for the most Premier League appearances for a foreign import. The figure may dwarf Harper’s tally but a similar fate may await, as the current campaign, his fifth at Craven Cottage, is the last under his current deal.
A losing finalist in two Europa League finals with two different sides, Schwarzer has designs on playing one more season before taking his bow at the 2014 World Cup. Whether or not that wish will be granted by Fulham boss Martin Jol remains to be seen, but the Australian veteran is keen to extend his English residency.
He has claimed that he is keen to play regularly at Premier League level and will look elsewhere if his current deal expires in the summer. Despite making only his second start of the season against Norwich recently, Brendan Rodgers is believed to value Carragher’s professionalism and experience, having since selected him for back-to-back 2-2 draws with Arsenal and Manchester City. An extension is a distinct possibility, but in bit-part role capacity.
“The manager has been great with me. He has tried to keep me involved. But listen, I want to start. I’m no different to any other player,” Carragher revealed after the Norwich victory.
“It was only my second start in the league this season, which is disappointing from my point of view, but I said I wouldn’t complain and I’m just trying to get more starts and be involved between now and the end of the season.”
Three years ago, Carragher was in a similar position and sought clarity from Rafael Benitez regarding his long-term prospects before signing his current contract. This time, he may not receive the required response and may need to look elsewhere if he has designs on making a regular, meaningful contribution.
Should he depart, his Liverpool legacy is already fixed. He has won a Champions League, UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and three League Cups, while Anfield dreamt of a team of Carraghers. The team may no longer require his presence, but the club certainly does and with his son James in the Liverpool academy, his ties with the club look set to remain.
Carragher’s fellow own goal enthusiast Richard Dunne also rose to prominence in 1996, on the blue half of Merseyside as part of Everton’s FA Youth Cup winning side. Making his senior debut the following year aged 17, he departed for Manchester City in 2000 for a fee of around £3m. He won their player of the year award in four consecutive seasons before the Sheikh Mansour revolution resulted in the arrival of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott. Dunne subsequently joined Martin O’Neil’s Aston Villa, where his four-year deal is set to expire shortly.
A succession of shoulder, groin and hip operations have side lined Dunne in the past 12 months and Paul Lambert has been unable to select the experienced Ireland international thus far. The current, wet behind the ears Villa side would certainly benefit from his leadership and no nonsense defending at present. A switch to New York Red Bulls has been proposed but only time will tell whether Dunne will be able to recapture the fine form and fitness he exhibited before his injury concerns took hold.
The end of every season results in the culling of a number of seasoned campaigners, but the likes of Harper and Carragher, veterans of a solitary top flight club, are an increasingly rare breed. The professionalism and desire, both domestically and internationally, of Dunne and Schwarzer would also be a loss to not just their clubs, but also the Premier League as a whole. Should any of the above become free agents for the first time, there is sure to be no shortage of takers.
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