Come and Get Me for Free!

Joe Cole and Michael Ballack will signal the start of a free transfer stampede when they are formally released by Chelsea.

After Manchester City showed the door to striker Benjani, winger Martin Petrov and full back Sylvinho, Chelsea will follow by letting England midfielder Cole and injured Germany World Cup captain Ballack leave after failing to offer them new contracts.

Cole will become one of the highest-profile free transfers in England, but will not hold talks with any club while he is with England's World Cup squad in South Africa.

Arsenal and Spurs are both keen on signing him, along with Manchester United, City and managerless Liverpool. He has turned down a return to West Ham.

While Cole and Ballack will attract much interest, there is an uncertain future ahead for other released players.

Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren is one of those in exalted company. I am not the gambling type but this is a gamble,' he says. It's not the first time he has rubbed shoulders with the game's finest but there is a darker spectre to this - what if I don't find a club?

Like Cole, Petrov and Fabio Aurelio, Ankergren is out of contract but he should find a club after helping guide Leeds back into the Championship and playing in their best FA Cup run for years.

Yet he can't help showing concern. On average, more than 500 players are released annually.

'It's difficult,' he says. 'On one hand it is a big concern, on the other it is exciting. I am reasonably secure financially but that doesn't last for ever,' he said. 'I respect (Leeds manager) Simon Grayson a lot but I want to prove he was wrong to let me go.'

While Cole's main challenge will be to convince Arsenal to pay him £100,000 a week, it is at the coal faces of League One and Two where reality bites hardest.

Morecambe have released longest-serving player Wayne Curtis at 30, and Tranmere's Chris Shuker is facing a halving of his £1,500-a-week wages to extend his career elsewhere at 28.

The players' union are relied on for support. Already they have listed more than 400 released players on their website, advertising their availability.

'It is a very insecure career.' - Gordon Taylor, CEO Professional Footballers Association

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