31st May – Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of the best goalkeepers but he proved to be one of the most consistent in the United Kingdom.

The Finnish international proved himself as a great shot stopper and consistent performer throughout his whole career, beginning it professionally in Finland with HJK Helsinki, where he made 101 league appearances for the club before making the move to Copenhagen. At the Danish giants he played 47 league games and after impressing over the next two years, he was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs and it was Glasgow Rangers that signed him in 1997.

He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show his true abilities, only making 13 league appearances, at the club but he had settled well in Scotland and wanted to stay in the country. In December 1999, Hearts signed him and he became a fans favourite very quickly with his impressive performances. After three seasons though it was once again time to move on and this time to England, where he joined Southampton in 2002.

Niemi Hearts

There were many ups and downs while at Southampton, including helping the club reach the FA Cup final in 2003 but he made history by becoming the first goalkeeper to be substituted in a final after he suffered a calf injury. The team would ultimately go on to lose the game 1-0 against Arsenal. His ability was never in doubt in England and over the next few seasons there was a lot of speculation about him leaving for one of the teams challenging for the title. In 2005, however, Southampton were relegated from the Premier League and despite staying on, they never looked likely to return so Niemi felt it was time to leave and test himself once more in a top league. The player, himself, described this experience as his first bad one in British football.

Niemi Soton

Niemi returned to the Premier League in January 2006, signing for Fulham. And was their first choice keeper until March 2008 when an injury led to him losing his place to Kasey Keller. After 62 league games for the club, Niemi announced his retirement from the game. However, he did sign a one year contract with Portsmouth to provide backup to David James. He left the club without making a single appearance for the club and once again announced his retirement.

Niemi Fulham

On the international scene he was first choice for almost a decade, being capped 67 times by Finland and he kept his place ahead of fellow Premier League goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen and Peter Enckleman, which just shows how much quality he had.

The final word can go to former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe when signing the stopper. “He has a good character. He is the Finnish number one and he played an absolute blinder to keep out Germany so that England qualified for the World Cup. We are confident he will be a tremendous addition to our squad.”

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29th May – Claudio Cacapa

Claudio Cacapa is one of the most decorated players of the 2000s in France but his reputation in England is not as positive.

The central defender was never the tallest and some felt this is why he didn’t succeed in the Premier League and looked better in other leagues. Cacapa started his career in Brazil with Atletico Mineiro where he established himself quickly as first team regular after making his debut in 1996. In 1999 he was voted the best defender in the league receiving the Bola de Ouro award.

Cacapa AM

In 2001, he was linked with moves to Europe and eventually moved to Lyon, making his debut on the 17th February. His success was instantaneous as he scored in the Coupe de la Ligue final which Lyon won and this helped him earn a full time contract. Lyon awarded him with a five year deal and was given the captain’s armband. Over the next five years he lifted the Ligue 1 title each season and played a part in their Champions League campaigns.

Cacapa Lyon

When his contract came to an end there was a lot of interest and on the 3rd August 2007 he signed for Newcastle United. He made his debut as a substitute against Aston Villa and in doing so he became the 1000th player to play for the club in a competitive fixture. Later in the month he would make his full debut in a 2-0 win against Barnsley and followed this up three days later with his full Premier League debut, helping his team to a 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

After a goal in a 3-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur, his career at Newcastle went downhill. In a game against Portsmouth, Cacapa was withdrawn after just 18 minutes after a few horrendous errors and his reputation was ruined. It was announced that he had an injury leading up to the game but he was heavily criticised.

Cacapa Newcastle

Despite being at the club until the end of the 2008-09 season, which ended in relegation, he only managed 25 league games and was released at the end of the campaign. Cacapa returned to Brazil and in a surprising move he joined Cruzeiro, big rivals to first club Mineiro. He played 22 times for the club, scoring one goal.

On the 25th January 2011, the defender joined French side Evian on a six month deal and helped the club win the Ligue 2 title and promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history. However, he wasn’t given a new contract and he joined Avai, where he stayed until his retirement on the 20th March 2012.

The final word can go to the manager that signed him for Newcastle, Sam Allardyce. “He is a top player. Our fans should not be put off by the fact they may not have heard of Cacapa. He has been captain of Lyon for the past five years and for every one of those five years they won the French title.”

23rd May – Stephen Glass

Stephen Glass is one of those players that if it wasn’t for injuries could have become one of the most exciting wingers in the early 2000s.

The Scottish international showed a lot of talent in his early years, starting his career at Aberdeen and was regarded as one of Scotland’s hottest prospects. He was an instant success in a difficult season for Aberdeen during the 1994-95 campaign, scoring important goals in their final league fixture and also in both legs of their relegation playoff which helped secure their place in the top flight. He was also influential in the League Cup final against Dundee setting up both goals in a 2-0 win and earning himself the Man of the Match award.

In 1998, for a fee of £650,000, Glass signed for Newcastle United and despite making 29 appearances in his first season his injuries started to hamper his progress. His second season was blighted with injuries and new manager Bobby Robson saw him as a solid squad player. In the following two campaigns he only made six starts but his best moment came in December 2000 when he scored an equaliser against Manchester United.

Glass Newcastle

After his contract expired, he joined Watford and was seen to be a key player in Gianluca Vialli’s side. Unfortunately, the club had financial issues and, despite the club being keen to keep the midfielder, he was released after just two seasons.

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He returned to Scotland and joined Hibernian on a three year deal. After a promising start, once again, injuries took their toll and during the first campaign he missed the final of the 2004 League Cup. During the 2004-05 season Glass would only miss two league games and this would be one of his most successful as he helped the club finish third and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

Glass Hibs

The 2006-07 season was a difficult one as he found himself playing out of position and after Tony Mowbray left the club, he was further down the pecking order under new manager John Collins. After just two starts in the following season, Glass joined Dunfermline in January on loan until the end of the season and in the summer he was given a permanent deal.

He showed his influence on the younger players in the squad and would go on to be named club captain but injuries struck and after an early knee injury he was released at the end of the 2009-10 season. After an unsuccessful trial at St Mirren, North American Soccer League side Carolina Seahawks offered him a deal but a hip injury limited him to just seven appearances and would soon announce his retirement.

The final word can go to former Newcastle great, Bob Moncur. “What I really like about him is that he goes either side to take on his full-back. And he doesn’t drift across the park. He goes straight at his man. He gets the ball in early too, which is going to benefit Alan Shearer so much.”

22nd May – Danny Tiatto

Danny Tiatto might not be well known to younger Manchester City fans but once upon a time he did win their Player of the Year vote.

The left back was a very solid player that was never too far away from controversy all throughout his career and was part of the Manchester City squad that had a lot of ups and downs. Before he arrived at City, he started his career in his native Australia with the Victorian Premier League side Bulleen Lions and after an impressive start to his career he made the move to Melbourne Knights. Tiatto was largely used as a left winger and was a key part of their back to back championship winning sides.

Tiatto Knights

In 1996, Tiatto decided it was time to try and move to Europe and start a career over there and his first stop was Italy. He joined Salernitana in Serie B, however, he only lasted 11 games and moved onto Swiss side Baden for a short spell.

Tiatto then got a move to England, joining Stoke City on loan, and would go on to play 15 times for the club scoring one goal against Huddersfield Town. In the summer of 1998, Manchester City paid £300,000 for services and initially struggled to hold down a first team place in his first season. The following year was much more successful as the club gained promotion to the Premier League with Tiatto making 35 appearances. It was much tougher in the top flight with the club getting relegated at the end of the year but the defender performed well and was the one bright spot, meaning he was getting linked with moves to other Premier League teams.

Tiatto Man City

He decided to stay and helped the club once again gain promotion. On their return to the Premier League, Tiatto struggled to keep his place in the team and over the next two years only made 13 starts and his contract was not extended by the club. Leicester City quickly signed the free agent and quickly became a firm favourite and voted the Fans Player of the Year in 2005. This though as fans have acknowledged was a very poor time for the club. He did also have a spell as captain of the club but after 83 games in three seasons he decided to return to Australia.

Tiatto Leicester

Brisbane Roar was his first destination and he had a few controversies while there and was eventually sacked in 2010 by manager Ange Postecoglou. Before retiring from the game he returned to Melbourne Knights and also had short spells at St Albans Saints, Werribee City and Point Cook.

The final word can go to former Manchester City manager Joe Royle. “When he first came here he was a little bit undisciplined in his play. But he’s played at left back, in left midfield, and centre midfield, and wherever he’s played he has acquitted himself very well. In a season of struggle, he’s certainly been one of the big bonuses.”

17th May – Leon Osman

Leon Osman was one of those players that proved that consistent performances will eventually lead to England caps and others should look to his example in the coming season.

With the squad for the 2018 World Cup announced there will be a lot of disappointed players that missed out and throughout his career Osman would have looked at some squads and thought he should be in there. Eventually, at the age of 31, he made his England debut against Sweden and would add one more cap against San Marino.

Osman England

Osman started his career at Everton where he would stay for his whole career. However, he made his first team debut for Carlisle United after joining them on loan in October 2002. In his short spell he played 12 times in the league and scored once in a draw against Macclesfield Town. On his return to Goodison Park he made his Premier League debut in a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and would go on to make one more substitute appearance before the end of the season.

Despite being given a contract extension he failed to break into the team and was loaned out, this time to Derby County, and played a key role in helping them avoid relegation. Again on his return he was given an opportunity at his parent club and managed to score his first goal against Wolves.

Osman Derby

Finally during the 2004-05 season the midfielder became a first team regular and never looked back after this and was rarely out of the side. He finished his first season as a regular with seven goals in 35 games. Up until his final season he remained first choice for the majority of the time and played a key role in the club during their time in the Europa League and also scored two goals on the final day of the 2008-09 season against Fulham to secure a 5th place finish.

In March 2013, Osman made his 300th start for Everton in a game against Manchester City and scored his 50th goal for the club and would later go on to break David Unsworth’s Everton Premier League appearance record.

Osman Everton

Some outsiders thought that Osman was only getting picked as he was one of David Moyes’ favourites rather than on ability but he proved this was not the case as he was only player to feature in every league match in new manager Roberto Martinez’s first season. He was rewarded with a contract extension soon after but afterwards his appearances started to slow down.

At the end of the 2015-16 season with 433 games and 57 goals to his name for Everton he was released and despite interest from other clubs he decided to retire.

The final word can go to his former manager David Moyes. “We sent Leon out on loan as a kid to develop the physical side. He made himself a career by being very combative and tough. If he had to mix it, he wouldn’t shy away from that.”

16th May – Lionel Scaloni

Lionel Scaloni will be hoping that he can have a big impact this summer at the World Cup, not as a player but as the assistant manager of Argentina.

Scaloni is the number two to Jorge Sampaoli, and with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain all heading to Russia, he will be hoping that his coaching can take them one step further than the last World Cup where they were narrowly beaten in the final.

During his playing career, Scaloni played mostly at right back and started his career in 1995 with Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys but after only season and 12 league appearances he left for Estudiantes. While there he started getting attention from European clubs because of his performances and in March 1998 he joined Spanish side Deportivo.

Scaloni Depor

He made 200 league appearances and scored 14 goals during his eight and half year spell in Spain. It might seem hard to believe now but at the time Deportivo were competing at the top of the table. Despite only making 14 appearances during the 1999-00 season it was enough to earn a league winners medal as the club won La Liga. He also helped the club win the Copa del Rey.

With the 2006 World Cup round the corner, Scaloni knew he needed to be playing regular football to be guaranteed a place in the squad. So after a falling out with manager Joaquin Caparros, he joined West Ham on loan and made his debut against Sunderland and would help the club reach the FA Cup final that season which they would unfortunately lose to Liverpool. This tactic worked as he was picked by his country for the tournament, however, his performances were not good enough to be offered a permanent deal by West Ham.

Deportivo released the defender and he was subsequently signed by fellow Spanish side Racing Santander. He only stayed for one season but put in some solid performances and helped the club to a comfortable midtable position. Scaloni then made a big move to Lazio on a five year deal but in January of the following year he was sent out on loan to Mallorca for 18 months. After returning to the Italian side he barely featured for the remainder of his contract and in total he only made 52 appearances for the club. Then in January 2013 he joined Atalanta but yet again he failed to become a first team regular.

Calcio Lazio Mura 05 Europa League

On the international scene he made his debut for his country in a friendly against Libya on the 23rd April 2003 and went on to win seven international caps, including one in the 2006 World Cup after playing the full 120 minutes against Mexico.

Scaloni

The final word can go to Mallorca president, Vicente Grande, after signing the player. “We all know Scaloni because he has played many years in Spain, in Deportivo and in Racing, he has won many titles and he is an absolute international with Argentina.”

12th May – Jamie Ward

Jamie Ward at only 5 foot 5 might have been told at times that he was too small to become a professional but he has spent the majority of his career in one of the toughest leagues in the world.

The Northern Ireland international has enjoyed a lot of good spells during his career and even though his goal record is not superb he has always been appreciated for the work he puts in.

Ward started his career at Aston Villa and despite being involved in a car accident in 2004 he gained a professional contract in 2005 and later became captain of the reserve team. He had to wait until a loan spell at Stockport County to make his first team debut and in his short spell he managed one goal.

After being released by Villa in 2006 he signed for Torquay United and performed well during his time there but after just 25 appearances he requested a transfer and moved to Chesterfield in January 2007. Despite injuries he managed 12 goals for the club in his first season and was being linked with moves away and after rejecting a new contract offer it looked as though the striker was going to move to Barnsley. However, he could not agree personal terms and moved to Sheffield United.

Soccer - Friendly - Chesterfield v Sheffield Wednesday - Saltergate

His time with the Blades had some ups and downs including being sent off in the 2009 Playoff Final against Burnley but after coming back from suspension in the following season he scored four goals in the first seven games including the opening goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Injuries caught up to him and he never regained his form and this led to a loan move to Derby County.

Ward Sheffield United

During his loan spell he scored five goals in 13 games helping his new side stay up while his parent club were relegated from the Championship. In his first full season with the club he wasn’t at his best but once again he became a fan favourite by scoring a goal against their rivals Nottingham Forest in a 2-1 win.

Injuries during the 2012-13 season stopped him from reaching his full potential once again but despite missing significant portions of the season he managed 12 goals in 26 games and finished third in the player of the season votes. A few more decent seasons followed but then he made the shock decision to sign for Nottingham Forest on the 2nd July 2015, especially after some of his antics in recent derby games.

Ward Derby

Although still at Forest, he hasn’t really hit the heights and and has been out on loan twice since signing, firstly to Burton Albion and then to Cardiff City. Ward will be hoping that he can get his injuries behind him next year and reach 100 goals in his career.

The final word can go to former manager Nigel Clough. “He’s a niggly little so-and-so, one of those players you don’t like playing against. We need that feistiness. He gives us options.”