United, Chelsea, Arsenal legends: 19 PFA Team of the Year awards all free in the summer

Rio Ferdinand

As four of the Premier League's best ever defenders look likely to join Vidic in heading out of England, we ask who will replace them and why they're off

If you thought last summer was messy, this summer promises to be a time of huge upheaval at many of the Premier League's top clubs.

Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic has already disclosed his intention to leave the Old Trafford outfit at the end of the season, possibly heading to Serie A, and it could just be the start of a series of players previously held as untouchable at their clubs deciding to move on from the Premier League.

What is particularly interesting about these likely exits is that between them they have amassed a staggering NINETEEN appearances in the PFA Team of the Year and an even more heady SIXTY-ONE trophies for their clubs.

Vidic is probably going to be only the first of three big-name departures from United. And all three have been fixtures in the second half of the Red Devils successful Premier League period under Sir Alex Ferguson. Rio Ferdinand, who at 35 is the oldest of all the players, has barely played this year despite making it into the PFA Premier League best team last season, and it looks like a series of back injuries may have finally taken their toll. With his contract set to expire this summer, it is most likely he will hang up his boots and maybe take up a role on the club's coaching staff.

It's not just United's former central defensive partnership that will be on its way out. Patrice Evra has long been rumoured to be interested in a move back to France, likely to old club Monaco. These three players have over 1000 games and countless trophies for the club, and it promises to be a huge challenge to replace them. The Reds will be very interested in Luke Shaw, while it is clear that there needs to be central reinforcements alongside Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. 

It is looking increasingly likely that Chelsea's Ashley Cole, described by many as the best left-back in the world as recently as one year ago, will leave the club in the summer. He has already lost his place in the Chelsea team to someone playing out of position, and having only recently turned 33, will still have something to offer somewhere, with a link up with Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls mooted. His sixteen trophies for Chelsea and Arsenal is an impressive haul, and he has been voted the league's best left-back four times. The man that has replaced him, Cesar Azpilicueta, could adequately continue on the left side of the defence, but otherwise expect Chelsea to battle United for Luke Shaw this summer.

Cole's former side Arsenal may also lose a player who has been arguably their best defender in his seven years at the club. Bacary Sagna, twice voted the best right-back in the league, is only 30, but looks set to jump ship back to France, with both PSG and Monaco interested. Given his age, and the fact that Arsene Wenger is very much interested in retaining him, his loss may be the most keenly felt in terms of losing a player who could still perform in the Premier League. The league title may be the only thing that convinces him to stay, though it could also send him away from the club after finally registering a trophy. Whether his understudy Carl Jenkinson is a strong enough replacement is debatable, so a move for a young European talent may be on the agenda.

The onus will certainly be on these clubs to replace such successful players, as well as their hugely influential personalities routed in winning trophies.

Rio Ferdinand aside, all players have performed strongly enough this year to warrant at least another year or two at the top level, and even the former England man made the Team of the Year last season.

The reality is that there is enough money elsewhere in football right now to tempt these legends to pastures new, at least for one last hurrah. Uncertainty at United could have perhaps played a part, but who knows what Ferguson would have done with Vidic, Evra and Rio had he still been in charge. 

What is clear though, is that the Old Trafford club have the biggest gaps to fill, as three of their defensive stalwarts look almost certain to depart. It will be the biggest task for them to bring in players who can either grow into being one of the top three players in the world in that position, or already are. Either tact is likely to require a very open chequebook.

image: © gordonflood.com

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