Oh yes – It’s that time of the year again.
The time of year when people claim to be “ITK” and the name David Nugent gets whispered ironically, but also earnestly as people drool over the potential heroic homecoming of past relics. Embed from Getty Images
It’s only May and already we’re seeing transfer rumours whirling around and the names of free agents bandied about.
But which names are realistic and which free agents could actually bolster the ranks of Preston North End?
Here are a few names, both realistic and maybe completely out of the realms of possibility, that I quite fancy:
Frederik Nielsen (Sheffield Wednesday)
The towering 6 ft 7 in Danish international youth defender would add much needed height to a relatively diminutive Preston North End side. At the age of just 21, Nielsen has little first team experience under his belt, making him a relatively unknown quantity. Former Wednesday boss Jos Luhukay gave the Dane a number of chances, however, since Christmas and the departure of Luhukay, Nielsen has fallen out of favour. He first landed on these shores back in 2014 when he joined Nottingham Forest from Danish side Viborg. Admittedly, this one is a bit of a wildcard.
Surprised at Nielsen thought he was rated— Greg Cox (@G3_Cxy) May 7, 2019
Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)
When Aston Villa announced that legendary fullback Alan Hutton would be leaving Villa Park, there was an outpouring of emotion from the Villa faithful. Barring a few short loan spells, Hutton has largely been an ever-present figure since he joined Villa in 2011. His loyalty and immense work-ethic has earned him the nickname “Scottish Cafu” and while the 34-year-old fullback certainly isn’t getting any younger, he has a wealth of experience that fellow Scot Alex Neil could really tap into. Embed from Getty Images
Jake Bidwell (QPR)
Formerly of Everton, QPR left-back Jake Bidwell has plenty of Championship experience, but could well be looking for a fresh start after an “unsettling” season in Central London. The 26-year-old still has plenty to give and will be looking to recapture his form of past campaigns. A solid and dependable player, Bidwell enjoyed a five year stint with Brentford, captaining the side on a number of occasions. An ideal replacement for Josh Earl who could be poised for a loan move.
Paul Coutts (Sheffield United)
A former North End captain who lost his way under the tenure of Graham Westley, Coutts received a text from Westley in the summer of 2012 telling him he was not part of his plans. Unsurprisingly, the midfielder then left for Derby County, where he was later named the 37th best player in the 2012–13 Championship by the Actim Index. Coutts has had his problems, granted. But at the age of 30 and with bags of experience at Sheffield United, the Scot ticks plenty of Alex Neil’s boxes. Coutts leaves the Blades as a legend thanks to his pivotal role in their promotion season and boss Chris Wilder revealed that releasing Coutts was “One of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make as a manager”. This is just testament to the telling impact Coutts has had at Bramall Lane, with some fans lauding him as one of the best midfielders they’ve had in decades when at his peak. Clearly the injury is a problem, but if Coutts can regain fitness and form, then he would be the experienced cog that we are after.
Genuinely sad about Coutts leaving. Brutal, freakish injury when he was at the absolute peak of his abilities, and had gone to a level I don't think many of us had seen from a Blades midfielder for years (decades?). Hope to see him starting games for someone very soon.— BladesPod (@bladespod) May 8, 2019
Jacob Butterfield (Derby County)
A player with plenty of unfulfilled potential. Butterfield was bought by Derby for a ridiculous fee back in 2015, however a glance at his CV reveals an impressive career. A central midfielder, Butterfield has become the forgotten man at Pride Park, but a move to Preston could reignite his confidence and help him recapture his hidden ability. When inform, Butterfield has the ability to make a team tick with his ball retention and passing range. Oh, and he also has the odd screamer in his locker.
Josh Vela (Bolton Wanderers)
After the 25-year-old attacking midfield starlet announced his exit from Bolton last week, the vultures have already started circling. Vela has spent the past 17 years with Wanderers, making his professional debut for the club in April 2012, when Bolton were a Premier League outfit. Since then he has been utilised as both a fullback and an attacking midfielder, with many proclaiming the latter is his optimum position. Awarded The Bolton News Readers’ Player of the Year trophy during the reign of Neil Lennon and scoring 10 goals to help fire Bolton back to the Championship, Vela still has plenty to give and could kick start his career under the guidance of Alex Neil. He has featured a mere 19 times this season after rumours of a fallout with Phil Parkinson materialised. He is rated by many Bolton fans, while others believe he is League One standard at best. Surely worth a punt on a free?
Joe Aribo (Charlton Athletic)
The 22-year-old all-action midfielder has been instrumental in Charlton’s success this season. The Londoner has contributed 9 goals and 3 assists from midfield, something which has caught the attention of many clubs including Arsenal. With the knowledge that his current contract expires in the summer, Aribo is a name that Alex Neil should consider, especially if talisman Callum Robinson departs. Addicks fans are begging Aribo to stay at The Valley, but if Lee Bowyer’s side miss out on promotion, a move to the Championship may well be on Aribo’s mind. Embed from Getty Images
Nick Powell (Wigan)
Although the talented midfielder’s contract is up, Powell is unlikely to up sticks and move to Preston. Nonetheless he would be a real coup on a free if the wages are right. The Latics will be desperate for Powell to pen a new deal, but PNE could swoop in for the No.10 who looks set to keep on improving.
Nick Blackman (Derby County)
Big, mobile and experienced, but hasn’t featured for the Rams competitively since May 2017. After a turbulent couple of seasons the 29-year-old has made a name for himself on loan at Spanish side Sporting Gijon: one of Spain’s best supported clubs outside La Liga. And while Frank Lampard has given Blackman little consideration, a fellow Championship club could benefit from the striker’s knowledge and ability. He can also play on the right, and can be potent when cutting in on his left peg, it’s just a case of finding consistency. Worth a gamble if he’s willing to take a wage cut.
Tom Eaves (Gillingham)
During his past two seasons as a Gillingham striker, Eaves has netted an impressive 40 goals across 97 games. But with the season now at a close, Eaves has in-explicitly expressed his desire to move on: “ultimately I will just do what is best with me and my partner.” The 6 ft 5 in target man would be more of a throwback to Jordan Hugill, giving us a dominant physical presence in the box with his knack for headers and ability to find pockets of space.