CHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 09: Michael Owen walks in the paddock at Chester racecourse on May 09, 2012 in Chester, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Just about every Liverpool fan can agree that while many of the moves made during the summer transfer window were positive, action on the final days that left the squad dangerously thin in attack and saw players shipped out to make room for replacements that never arrived was at the very least a sour note to end things on and makes success this season far more difficult than it likely should have been. Where the club should go from here, though, is less of a settled question, and though some would preach waiting until January and hoping Luis Suarez can remain fit, Fabio Borini can find form, and Raheem Sterling doesn't burn out, for most there is a feeling that the club could use someone—maybe anyone—to at least provide a bit of depth between now and then.
Though the transfer window closed on Friday, players not currently under contract can still sign with clubs. The free agent market is sparse to say the least, but for a side in Liverpool's position there may be little choice but to dip into it or risk exhaustion and potential catastrophe with matches in the league, league cup, and Europa League group stages beginning to pile up within the month. It's all well and good to say that manager Brendan Rodgers should focus on the league and play fringe players and reserves elsewhere, but as it stands today Liverpool is so devoid of attacking options that it may mean raiding the youth squads in order to find players who won't be regular participants in league action.
And so the question becomes, are any of the free agent forwards good enough to help? Despite rumours to the contrary, neither Didier Drogba nor Nicolas Anelka are available at present. It's true their futures at Shanghai Shenhua are uncertain, with the club's chairman and minority shareholder struggling to wrest total control of the club from various state corporations who control the majority but have so far refused to pay a portion of player salaries and general operating costs to match their share. However, for the time being at least the two ex-Chelsea players remain on the books of the Chinese club.
In which case, we'd best move on to the options that are actually currently available options:
He turns 35 in January and was released by Aston Villa after a 2011-12 campaign that saw him score just one goal in 29 appearances, but when you're picking through the free agent pile that's pretty much par for the course. Never a prolific goalscorer, the targetman instead looks to use his size to open up space for teammates, and in theory at least his style of game isn't too dissimilar to that of the recently departed Andy Carroll. Whether it would make any kind of sense for Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool to sign that kind of player would normally be a question with a fairly simple answer, but for a squad with no real options he would at least provide a Plan B. And a pulse. Which might be the only thing that really matters come November.
Another traditional English striker, Beattie has spent his career bouncing from Blackburn to Everton to Stoke to Blackpool to a half dozen other clubs, and though in his prime he had a decent scoring rate—a goal in every three games in seven season with Southampton and a goal in every 1.8 games in his two seasons spent at Sheffield—in recent years he's barely stayed fit enough to get a game, let alone to score any goals. In the last two seasons, in fact, he has scored no goals while playing less than twenty games a season. In May he was released by Sheffield United after failing to score a single goal on his return to the club where he'd had his most successful run earlier in his career.
At 32, Vassell is the youngest of the lot, but the ex-Leicester City forward suffered a ruptured ACL in October of 2010 and has been out of action ever since. With doubts he has yet returned to full fitness, Leicester chose not to renew his contract in the summer and so the 5'7" forward who can play at both wing and striker finds himself without a club and facing the possibility that his career may have for all intents and purposes ended. Having played for both Aston Villa and Manchester City for much of the past decade, however, if he was fit enough to pass a medical he might provide an intriguing and cheap squad option.
A former Barcelona and Chelsea player, the Icelandic forward and midfielder who turns 34 this month is one of the most recognizable names available on the free agent market. However, in recent seasons fitness has been a major concern for him, and he played only ten games for AEK Athens in an injury-plagued 2011-12 season before the club and player reached a mutual agreement to termenate his contract. Before last season, he spent the 2010-11 campaign struggling to make an impact as he spent time with three English clubs—Tottenham, Stoke, and Fulham—in a failed attempt to resurrect his career in a top league.
The Italian attacker is probably the most recognisable name on the list, but at 37—and with his 38th birthday coming in November—he is also by far the oldest. He still has a desire to play football and is actively searching for a new home, but there would have to be serious questions as to whether he would be able to contribute in any of Europe's top leagues any more, and the currently stalled move to Sydney FC that had up until the weekend seemed a done deal would appear to be the sort of destination best suited to the veteran at this stage of his career. Though if he did want to take a run at leading a side of scrubs to victory in the League Cup in England, it would be hard to not at least be intrigued by the name.
The man, the myth, the Manc benchwarmer. He's 33 years old but after being overplayed early in his career he could be a decade older, most Liverpool fans will always feel as though he betrayed them and the club, and about the most impressive thing he's done since leaving Liverpool was put together the sales brochure that convinced Alex Ferguson to take a chance on brining the striker to United to sit on the bench. With all that said, he can certainly score if given the chance, and if the club needs an option to play in the league cup or come on for the final ten minutes of Europa League matches, on paper at least Owen looks a strong option.
Can Any Free Agent Forward Help Liverpool?
Emile Heskey (45 votes)
James Beattie (11 votes)
Darius Vassell (29 votes)
Eidur Gudjohnsen (48 votes)
Alessandro Del Piero (298 votes)
Michael Owen (329 votes)
I'd rather cross my fingers and wait for January (339 votes)
1099 total votes