Bargain Bucket – Who is available on the cheap this transfer window?

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They always say players are more expensive in January.

Well, whoever “they” are just aren’t looking in the right places.

With the January transfer window open for business and begging clubs to give her a whirl, we take a look at some players who could be of assistance to clubs with a smaller budget.

Two things to remember. First, cheap moves and loans are infinitely more difficult to predict than big-money transfers.

Due to the much larger pool of clubs which could be in play for a cheap transfer, loan, or free, the ability to predict where players on this list will end up – or even if they will move at all – is a longshot at best.

Second, there are loan limits, and the rules are often foggy.

Without further ado, let’s plunge into the January transfer window edition Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with…

LOANS, FREE TRANSFERS, AND BARGAINS

(alright, nobody’s leaving on a free in January, but I had to try)

1. Younes Kaboul, CB – Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)

Frozen out by former manager Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham’s 27-year-old center-back has played just three Premier League matches so far, and it doesn’t look much better from here on out.

Kaboul has struggled severely with injuries the past year and a half, currently on his way back from a hip problem.  But with Jan Vertonghen, Vlad Chiriches, and Michael Dawson all ahead of the Frenchman, his prospects for playing time don’t look in the near future.

If new manager Tim Sherwood doesn’t completely want to part with defender depth given their injuries at that position, he could be available on loan.  If Sherwood decides he’s dead weight, he could leave on a cut-rate deal, with his contract expiring this summer.  AC Milan are rumored to be involved, but defending is needed around the Premier League’s bottom half as well.

2. Filip Djordjevic, ST – FC Nantes (Ligue 1)

The 26-year-old Serbian is hitting the prime of his career, and it seems now is a better time than any for Nantes to sell and sell high.

Djordjevic cooked up 20 goals in Ligue 2 last season, earning Nantes their first trip back to Ligue 1 since 2008.  But he didn’t stop there.

This season, the poacher has continued his stellar form, striking for eight goals in 19 league appearances, helping the newly-promoted side to their current position of seventh in the Ligue 1 table.

Premier League rumors have surfaced involving both Hull City and Crystal Palace, and at a cut-price cost of approximately £2-3 million ($3.3-4.9 million) he could be the crown jewel of any low-budget wish list if he can translate his French league success to England.

Oh, and did I mention his contract expires this summer? Bid away.

3. Aron Johannsson, FW – AZ Alkmaar (Eredivisie)

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American Aron Johannsson is making plenty of noise in the Eredivisie and attracting attention around Europe.

Bring out your USMNT links! A bargain bucket wouldn’t be complete without this scorching-hot youngster, who at 23 is blasting his way past Jozy Altidore in the Alkmaar record books.

With Celtic the clear frontrunners, a £2.4 million ($3.9 million) price tag for 18 Eredivisie goals (32 altogether) would certainly turn heads.

(MORE: Aron Johannsson’s move to Glasgow edging closer?)

However (there’s always a catch!), Eredivisie stars have a history of not translating successfully to more physical leagues such as the Premier League.  Look no further Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz.  The £11 million ($18 million) feather in Martin Jol’s cap proved to be one of the biggest flops in recent memory and a big reason Jol ended up without a job at Craven Cottage.

And then there’s always Altidore himself, who is yet again struggling to find the back of the Premier League nets, albeit not all of that is his doing. *shakes fist at Sunderland midfield*

4. Joleon Lescott, CB – Manchester City (Premier League)

The Premier League hasn’t seen much of the sport’s biggest forehead this season, with Lescott making just seven starts under Manuel Pellegrini.  Lescott has been hard done recently by the emergence of Matija Nastasic and the arrival of Martin Demichelis.

Much like Kaboul, being the club’s fourth-string option at a position that often sees iron men hold down the fort isn’t a preferable situation.  At 31 years old, Lescott also has an expiring contract, but is more likely to head out on loan whereas it would seem Kaboul is set for a transfer.  Some rumors also have Lescott taking a pay-cut to push through a move to Swansea.

5. Viktor Fischer, LW – Ajax (Eredivisie)

Am I mad? Putting one of the most talented and talked-about teenagers in the world into the Bargain Bucket? What’s gotten into my head?

Well, here’s my thinking. Fischer (pictured, top) has been close to a household name for the better part of two years now.  At just 18 years old, the young Dane bagged 10 Eredivisie goals in 23 appearances last season for a Champions League side.  That got people’s attention.

Now, at 19, Fischer is having what we in the media like to call a sophomore slump (3 goals and 4 assists in 18 appearances).  With an asking price of around £7 million ($11.5 million) likely to scare away many, I’m not so convinced Ajax wouldn’t like to send him out on loan for the rest of the season. Especially considering his dip in form this year surely cooling rumored summer interest from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Roma.

A short-term loan deal would serve multiple purposes for both parties.  With Ajax in the lead of a very hotly contested Eredivisie title race, they can’t exactly afford to weather many more below-par matches from their best young talent. Sending him out on loan would not only possibly give him a fresh start to boost his confidence, but also give other clubs a good look at what he can do in another league.

Think of it as a sales pitch. If Fischer performs well at, say, a Cardiff City or Swansea City, then many other Premier League clubs with deeper pockets would unquestionably come calling, and his price would skyrocket.

6. Cristian Tello, LW – Barcelona (La Liga)

With just two starts (10 appearances) in Spain’s La Liga, it’s no surprise Barcelona’s 22-year-old starlet is looking for minutes elsewhere before making a run at breaking into Gerardo Martino’s first team.

Reports are abound that Liverpool has jumped on the opportunity to give Tello more playing time, but that doesn’t mean it’s the Reds or bust. It would be shocking to see Barcelona allow him to leave on anything other than a loan, but with Liverpool reportedly trying to convince them to give him up permanently, someone else could swoop in.

7. Kevin De Bruyne, AM – Chelsea (Premier League)

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With pressure from his national side, Kevin De Bruyne is openly seeking more playing time before he is able to break into Chelsea’s first team.

Jose Mourinho wants £25 million for the young Belgian. Any clubs have that laying around somewhere for a 22-year-old who has made three league appearances this year? Bueller?

Didn’t think so.

Cue the loan sharks.  And with both De Bruyne himself and Belgium manager Marc Wilmots pleading for more time on the pitch, a loan is certainly in order.

8. Fabio Coentrao, LB – Real Madrid (La Liga)

With Ashley Cole struggling to stay fit and Branislav Ivanovic recently ruled out for a significant amount of time, Jose Mourinho is rumored to be in the market for a left-back.

Enter Fabio Coentrao and his paltry four La Liga appearances this season with Real Madrid.  Carlo Ancelotti would no doubt prefer to keep the 25-year-old’s future under his control, so a loan could be in order for the Portugese international.

Chelsea isn’t the only club in need of a left-back of Fabio’s quality though.  Tottenham Hotspur are in desperate need after a long-term injury to Danny Rose left them exposed at the position, and Everton’s left-back situation could be thrust into clout if Leighton Baines leaves for Manchester United.

9. Urby Emanuelson, LW/LB – AC Milan (Serie A)

Expiring contract alert! With AC Milan sure to make plenty of changes this January to make a desperate attempt at improving their horrific Serie A positioning, Emanuelson may be one of those.

The 27-year-old is out of a contract this summer, and having already been somewhat successful in the Premier League at Fulham on loan last year, he has been open about looking for another shot at the English top-flight.

With his Serie A form dipped this season (alongside many of his teammates) and his contract situation the way it is, the £6 million ($9.8 million) Dutchman could be available for significantly less.

10. Thomas Ince, ST – Blackpool (Championship)

The longer he stays at Blackpool, the more his price seems to increase, leaving him already barely at bargain status.  Unfortunately for his club, they can’t hold onto him forever.  His contract expires at the end of this season, and that may cause the 21-year-old to finally make his way to the Premier League after years of rumors.

At 21, Ince’s numbers didn’t turn as many heads as they did last year, but they’re still enough to intrigue those in the top flight.  He’s got seven goals and six assists from play out on the left wing.  With Blackpool last year, he played in 44 of their 46 league matches (started 42 of them) and bagged 18 goals and 14 assists.

The Championship club, coached by his father Paul Ince, will want to fetch a price in the range of £6-7 million for him or maybe more, but so far all that tag has done is cause Premier League clubs to balk, and the last thing they’ll want is to let him walk come summer. Due to that, he could be available for cheap if Blackpool believe he’ll walk at season’s end.

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

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Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”