Released and Re-signed? The 2024 Wingback Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Welcome back to released and re-signed 2024. Last time we looked at seven goalkeepers The Dons could sign for free this summer but now it’s time to start looking at the outfield players. Wingback is a position that Dons can be fairly happy with as things stand with Cameron Norman on the right and a choice of Joe Tomlinson or Daniel Harvie on the left. This is in addition to Phoenix Scholtz and Brooklyn Ilunga who both have the potential to break through this season. The current crop are quite versatile with Tomlinson able to play on the right, Norman able to operate as a centre-back and Harvie able to play pretty much anywhere across the back line.

In terms of incomings, it looks like Mike Williamson may want more players that are willing to get forward and join the attack but also have the work rate to come back and defend. It’s quite a demanding role so targets should be particularly athletic. If they’re capable of playing in other positions or even just on the other wing then that’s a huge bonus as well. With this in mind, here are seven potential wingbacks The Dons could look to bring in for free this summer:

1) Rio Adebisi

Unlike the goalkeeper list, a lot of the wingbacks I’ve chosen have played League Two football in the last 12 months and the first of these is Rio Adebisi. The left-sided wingback came through the ranks at Crewe and helped them reach the play-off final in the season just gone. He played all 46 league games, scoring four goals and assisting an additional seven, an impressive return from the 23 year old. His disciplinary record is also respectable given the amount of games he played, recording just five yellow cards. Despite being left footed, Adebisi is able to operate on both wings which is very handy given that Tomlinson and Harvie both usually operate on the left.

However, there are a couple of downsides to this move. It would be difficult to fit all three of the above players into the same squad. Harvie would likely play left centre-back but either Tomlinson or Adebisi would have to play on the right side every game as they’re both players that would expect to be key starters. They do have the flexibility to do this but it is a risk given that both have mostly played on the left in recent times. There’s also the problem of competition for his signature. Adebisi is a top talent for this level so there will probably be plenty of clubs looking at him as well as Crewe themselves, who want to tie him down to a new contract. Crewe have shown signs of weakness already by letting their main striker Elliott Nevitt move to Gillingham so it may be possible to poach Adebisi, but if League One clubs come calling, it’s hard to see him turning them down.

2) Fankaty Dabo

Fankaty Dabo is an interesting case. Not so long ago he was playing for Coventry in the Championship play-off final but now he finds himself released from a Forest Green side that just fell out of the football league altogether. He managed 31 games and two assists in his time with The Green Devils, picking up six yellow cards in the process. The 28 year old primarily plays on the right but has the versatility to cover the left wing as well as a more advanced attacking position. He would provide decent competition for Cameron Norman and would likely be considered the more attacking option of the pair.

However, questions have to be asked about Dabo’s fall from grace. Why did he drop two divisions from playing semi-regular Championship football only to then struggle in League Two? There’s a top player in there somewhere but his attitude could be a concern. The other major concern would be his wages. Dabo would likely want a high wage and although Dons have the funds to do this, it’s quite a gamble to be making on a player that could end up sitting on the bench if he fails to live up to expectations. Norman is a very reliable player so if Dabo’s not cutting it, he simply wouldn’t play. This would lead to the problems of last season where the likes of Mo Eisa and Jonathan Leko were wasting away in the reserves whilst simultaneously eating into the wage budget.

3) Joel Senior

Carrying on the trend of player’s that were in League Two last season is Joel Senior. The 24 year old made 43 league appearances from Morecambe, contributing a goal and four assists, picking up six yellow cards in the process. Senior primarily operates on the right but is capable of filling in at left wingback as well. He was the standout player for The Shrimps, even picking up four awards in their end of season awards evening. Notably these included Players’ Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year. With Morecambe in a precarious financial state, most of their senior players have departed including Senior, who turned down a new contract during the season.

The only problem with this potential signing is the geography. On paper Senior would be a fantastic signing but the reality is that he has exclusively played for northern teams throughout his career so far, having grown up playing for Oldham’s academy. He was released before he broke through into their first team but was later picked up by Burnley after a couple of seasons in non-league. He clearly has the talent, but a move to Milton Keynes might just be too far from home for Senior to sign the contract.

4) Declan John

Declan John is the first player on this list to be made available from a club in a higher division, though he spent the season on loan at Salford as Bolton had good depth in this area of the pitch. The 28 year old played 32 league games for Salford, picking up three assists whilst maintaining a solid disciplinary record with just the three yellow cards. John operates primarily on the left side but just like the other options, he’s capable of playing on the opposite wing as well. His list of former clubs is intriguing. He came through at Cardiff and played some games in the Championship and even a few in the Premier League. He also boasts appearances for Rangers and Swansea as well as seven caps for the Welsh national team.

With this being said, signing John would create the conundrum of someone having to play on the wrong side again. Either that or he would be signed as direct cover for Tomlinson since he doesn’t have the same attacking potential as Adebisi. This would be with the view that Harvie plays as a centre-back permanently. There’s certainly a quality player there, but it would need to be coached out of him. Mike Williamson could probably get the best out of John but is it worth the project given that he operates on the same side as Tomlinson? There’s also geography to factor in, with John’s recent clubs all being northern. With that being said it’s probably less of a problem for him than Joel Senior since John has travelled more for game time, with spells in South Wales as well as Scotland.

5) Kane Vincent-Young

Kane Vincent-Young is the first player on this list to have struggled somewhat for minutes last season, with the 28 year old only making 17 league appearances for Wycombe in League One. He wasn’t able to score or assist in this time, though he picked up two yellow cards for his efforts. However, his lack of game time hasn’t been from lack of ability. Vincent-Young had two separate spells on the side-lines due to injury but was a starter when fit. Operating primarily on the right, he would provide decent competition for Norman whilst also being a suitable cover option for left wingback as well.

Obviously the concern for this signing would be the recent injury record. Sometimes in football you need a bit of luck with injuries and Vincent-Young has been unfortunate in that sense. If there’s reason to believe he can stay fit then it’s a good signing, if not then you’re looking at Norman being the only senior right wingback in the squad again. On the plus side, Vincent-Young would be very attainable having spent most of his career at Colchester and Ipswich. Having just left Wycombe, a move across Buckinghamshire would make a lot of sense.

6) Callum Johnson

Dons have already signed one player that got promoted from League Two last season, why not sign another? Callum Johnson played right wingback for Mansfield, making league 17 appearances scoring one goal and assisting another. He picked up four yellow cards which is a little concerning for someone who played so few games but he wouldn’t be the first Dons wingback with a habit of picking up bookings, naming no names… Just like Vincent-Young, Johnson’s problem hasn’t been lack of ability, just a frustrating injury record. He was one of many defenders to be absent in Mansfield’s injury crisis though he started more often than not when he was available.

The 27 year old is the tallest player on this list standing at six foot two. This means that with time and training he could probably compete with Norman for both right wingback and right centre-back. Location doesn’t appear to be a problem for Johnson, having gone from Accrington down to Portsmouth, before going all the way up to Ross County in the Scottish Premiership. Potential injuries are the problem with Johnson, though his track record from previous years shows that he can keep fit so signing him could be less risky than signing Vincent-Young.

7) Clinton Mola

The final player on this list is a bit of a wildcard. Clinton Mola featured 30 times in League One last season for Reading, contributing with one assist and picking up six yellow cards in the process. The 23 year old primarily operates on the left side of defence but can play anywhere across the backline in addition to holding midfield. He was initially part of Chelsea’s academy but was picked up by Stuttgart where he did actually play a few times for the Bundesliga club. However, his contract was terminated by mutual consent before he could fully break through into their first team and that’s when Reading picked him up.

The major risk with Mola is that he’s still fairly inexperienced. Last season at Reading was the first time he was playing week in week out as a senior footballer so it’s hard to gauge how good he is, or even what his best position is. For clubs the size of Chelsea and Stuttgart to show interest in him, he must have some talent. He even gained a cap for England U21’s back in 2021 in a squad of players where most have gone on to play in England’s top two divisions since. It’s simply a case of if Mola is worth the risk as he is more of a project signing. He could easily end up becoming more of a left centre-back which would give Harvie direct competition but he could also easily flop and leave Dons with another wasted talent sitting in the reserves.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

The good news is that there’s plenty of options for wingback signings so even if Dons sign a free agent that isn’t one of these seven, they could still be a fantastic option. Other potential players include Macauley Southam-Hales (Stockport), Will Ferry (Cheltenham), Stephen McLaughlin (Mansfield) and Tom Pearce (Wigan). However, out of the players listed my pick of the bunch would be Rio Adebisi. He’s probably the least likely signing but when there’s a player of his standard available on a free, you’ve got to show ambition and at least offer a contract. He would create some problems in terms of who plays where but it would be worth it to bring in a player of that standard.

If we miss out on Adebisi, I would personally be looking at Joel Senior or Callum Johnson. Left wingback is already pretty well covered so it would be nice to see some proper competition for Cameron Norman. Of course there are plenty of other options when you realise that we could buy a player or loan someone in like we did with Kyran Lofthouse last season, but with that being said it feels like it would be a waste if we didn’t utilise the free market for this position, given the abundance of wingbacks floating around at the minute.

I hope you enjoyed reading the second article of the released and re-signed series. Join me next time where I bring you seven centre-backs The Dons could look to bring in this summer for free. Thank you for reading!

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