26th June – Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders to have ever played football and spent his full career at one club.

To play over 900 times for a team like AC Milan and over 100 times for Italy just shows how talented Maldini was. He was known for his positional sense and his reading of the game which led him to being labelled as the defender that doesn’t need to tackle.

Maldini Italy

Maldini made his debut on the 20th January 1985 against Udinese at the age of 16. In the following campaign he became a regular and was handed the number three shirt, which his father Cesare had also worn. With a promising start titles came soon after and the 1987-88 season marked his first Serie A title and this was down to Maldini and his fellow defenders as they conceded 14 goals Over the next two seasons, his form translated to European football as Milan won the European Cup back to back.

In the early 90s Milan became known as The Invincibles as they went the whole 1991-92 season unbeaten and a record 58 games without losing. They not only won three consecutive titles but they also reached three consecutive Champions League finals, winning one of them against Barcelona.

Maldini AC

The club went through a transitional period after Fabio Capello left and several of the more experienced members of the squad moved on. But Maldini was still showing his ability and he was rewarded by being made Milan captain . After he galvanised the squad, he led them to another Serie A title in the 1998-99 season.

It wasn’t until Carlo Ancelotti was named manager that they finally began to dominate in Europe again with Maldini lifting the Champions League trophy as captain for the first time after defeating Juventus on penalties in 2003 and was named man of the match. In the space of six years Milan got to the final three times. Maldini opened the scoring in 2005 against Liverpool and played in the 2007 final which they won against the same opposition becoming the oldest captain to lift the trophy.

Maldini

Maldini during this period would also go on to break Dino Zoff’s Serie A appearance record after playing his 571st league game. He did announce his plans to retire at the end of the 2007-08 season however his performances were still of the highest quality and he was convinced to stay on.

On the 16th February 2008, Maldini played in his 1000th professional game after coming on as a substitute against Parma. One season later he decided it was time to hang up the boots and played his 902nd and last game for Milan against Fiorentina on the 31st May 2009. Milan then decided to retire his number three shirt to honour their captain.

The final word can go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker.”

Advertisements

7th June – Cafu

Cafu is one of the best ever right backs in football and will be hoping that his country Brazil can win the World Cup in 2018.

The right back helped his country win the trophy in 1994 and 2002 as well as the Copa America twice and will be looking on keenly this summer to see how his national side get on. The only statistic that anyone needs to hear to prove how good Cafu was is that he is the most internationally capped Brazilian player of all time.

But it wasn’t always easy for the defender as he was turned down by a lot of clubs when he was younger and could not get signed, however, in 1988 he was given the opportunity to show his talents at home town club Sao Paulo. It did take him a little while to break into the first team but when he did he was influential in helping the club win back to back Copa Libertadores and World Championships in 1992 and 1993. Just a year later he was named South American Footballer of the Year.

Cafu SP

1995 was an interesting time for Cafu as he signed for Brazilian team Juventude but never played a game for the club and moved to Spanish side Real Zaragoza where he won the Cup Winners’ Cup. After 17 appearances he returned to Brazil, joining Palmeiras, this once again though was only a short stay and he was being linked with moves back to Europe.

Italian side Roma signed the right back and he was loved by the fans for his willingness to fly forward and join the attack as well as his solid defending. In 2001 he helped the club win Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana but these would be his only trophies during his six year spell. After 163 league games and 5 goals, Cafu made the move to AC Milan.

Cafu Roma

In his first season with the club, he won Serie A for the second time in his career and in the following campaign played a part in reaching the Champions League final, which they unfortunately lost to Liverpool, in arguably the greatest game in the competitions history. He did manage to get revenge for this defeat just two years later by winning the Champions League against the same opposition.

Cafu AC

His final season for the club was the 2007-08 season where he was not an automatic pick but in his last professional game he did manage to grab a goal in a 4-1 win over Udinese. To show how much he was loved in Italy, he has been named in both Roma and AC Milan’s Hall of Fame.

The final word can go to England World Cup hero Geoff Hurst. “Cafu was the complete package. It’s not often I find myself waxing lyrical about a defender, but Cafu was that and so much more. Sir Alex Ferguson once jokingly asked whether Cafu had two hearts, on account of his tireless running and unstinting stamina.”

20th March – Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres has had one of the most up and down careers ever because he was one of the most feared strikers in Europe and then suddenly went through long goalscoring droughts.

Torres is only 31 and should be in the prime of his career, however he has gone through one of the toughest periods in his career. It could be argued that he played too much and was too heavily relied on when he was younger and he is burnt out. It is a shame that his career didn’t keep progressing because on form he was one of the best players to watch and could score goals from all angles.

The striker started his career at Atletico Madrid and made his debut on the 27th May 2001 against Leganes and a week later scored his first professional goal against Albacete. In the following season Atletico gained promotion to La Liga with Torres managing to contribute six goals and in his first season in the top flight he would go on to score 13. His career would continue to grow and a further 19 goals in the 2003-04 season meant he was one of the highest rated youngsters at the time.

Torres AM

Surprisingly at the age of 19 he was given the captain’s armband and would remain a consistent goalscorer over the next three seasons and ended his time at the club with 91 goals. In 2007 he joined Liverpool and some were unsure whether he would adapt to the Premier League but he wouldn’t have any problems as he became the first Liverpool player since Robbie Fowler in the 1995-96 season to score 20 league goals and would end with 33 in 46 games in all competitions.

Torres Liverpool

It was a fantastic start for Torres and despite a few injuries in his second season he was named as number 50 in Liverpool’s all time greatest players showing how much of an impact he had made already. On the final day of the season he would score his 50th goal for the club in just his 84th game. Later on he would become the fastest player to reach 50 league goals for Liverpool after scoring a last minute winner against Aston Villa on the 29th December 2009. Injuries meant he couldn’t feature in the last few months of the season but still 22 goals in 32 games was very impressive. This would be his final full season at the club and on the 31st January 2011 he would set a new British transfer record by joining Chelsea for £50 million.

Torres would then go through a terrible spell and would have to wait 903 minutes for his next goal, which would come in a 3-0 win over West Ham but would be his only goal in 18 appearances for his new club. During the 2011-12 season he would also go through a goal drought but did manage to score a last minute goal against Barcelona to help Chelsea qualify for the Champions League final which they would win. He ended his first season with 11 goals but towards the end of the season he had looked a lot sharper. But it still didn’t look like it was going to happen at Chelsea, however 22 goals in the 2012-13 season wasn’t a bad return and many of these were important goals in their run to picking up the Europa League, including the opening goal in the final against Benfica.

Torres Chelsea

One more disappointing season followed and on the 31st August 2014 he joined AC Milan and would score on his second game in a 2-2 draw with Empoli, however this would be his only goal for the club as he has been loaned out to Atletico Madrid for the rest of the campaign. He has scored three times since returning, all in the Copa Del Rey, two against Real Madrid and another against Barcelona.

The final word can go to AC Milan coach Stefano Eranio. “Torres is a very humble player, he has great technical and human qualities. He is like a car, he needs to play to find his form. He needs the confidence of the coach. As a coach, I say that I would always want someone like Torres in the team.”

4th March – Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan is known as America’s greatest ever soccer player and to everyone else he is known as a very talented footballer that maybe should have made the permanent move to England.

Despite only being 33 he has decided to retire as a player and many feel he could have offered more to the game on the pitch but he has done a lot already for the sport in terms of building the reputation of football in his homeland. It would have been good to have seen him get more chances abroad but it never quite happened for him when he was younger and he has accomplished everything he wanted to in America so it seems like a wise decision to retire.

Donovan first came to attention in 1999 when he was at the IMG Academy in America and after impressing in a youth tournament in Europe he was given a six year contract by German side Bayer Leverkusen. However he struggled to adapt in Germany largely because of his young age and spent a lot of time back home training with the USA under 17 team. In 2001 he did eventually move away and joined San Jose Earthquakes on loan and was an instant success, leading them to the MLS Championship in 2001 and 2003 and become one of the first recognisable football players in America. In his four years at the club, he scored 32 goals and provided 29 assists.

EARTHQUAKES DONOVAN CELEBRATES MLS TITLE WIN OVER CHICAGO FIRE.

In 2005 he returned to Leverkusen to give it another try but after just seven appearances he made it clear he wanted to return to America and he signed for LA Galaxy. His first season at the club was exceptional as he scored 12 goals and got another 10 assists as he helped his club win the MLS Cup but the following year was not as successful for the club but Donovan still performed very well.

It was difficult for Donovan in 2007 after David Beckham joined the club because he had to give up the captain’s armband and this seemed to annoy the American international. He was still producing good football but when Beckham joined AC Milan, Donovan gave an interview which was equally praised and criticised by the media as he slated Beckham. However, on Beckham’s return they patched up their differences and he went from strength to strength as a player and the two were very effective going forward.

2010 LA Galaxy Headshot

Donovan also spent time away from LA Galaxy during the off season like Beckham, firstly having an unsuccessful spell at Bayern Munich in 2008 but becoming somewhat of a cult hero at Everton after joining them in January 2010. Straight away he showed his talents in the Premier League by being named the club’s Player of the Month in January but after 13 games and two goals he returned to America. On his return he would go on to score his 100th goal for Galaxy and become their all time leading scorer.

He wasn’t to stay away from Everton for long as in December 2011 it was announced he would be signing for them on loan again. Once again he was equally successful and in his nine games this time he managed to set up seven goals and produce some excellent performances and the Everton fans and players were once again sad to see him leave.

Britain Soccer Premier League

On the 25th May 2014 he became the highest ever goal scorer in MLS history, hitting his 136th goal against Philadelphia Union but on the 7th August he announced he would be retiring from the game.

The final word can go to Everton teammate Phil Neville. “He’s a hero at Goodison Park, and he’s played less than 20 games for us. I’ve played with some world class right sided players in my time, and he’s up there with them. I’m telling the truth here when I say the last two times he’s been over he’s totally transformed our season.”

1st March – Djimi Traore

When you think of Champions League winners, Djimi Traore is definitely not the first player that comes to mind even to Liverpool fans but he played an important role in the 2005 final.

The 2005 final will always be remembered for Liverpool coming back from 3-0 down at half time to win the trophy but what is often forgotten is that in the second half the Liverpool defence, including Traore put in some crucial blocks and tackles that stopped counter attacks and certain goals for AC Milan. The left back is now 35 and nobody can take away his Champions League winners medal but he did have some disastrous moments during his career.

Traore started his career at his hometown club Laval and after looking like a good prospect he made the move to Liverpool in 1999. The left back struggled to get into the first team and went out on loan in the 2001-02 season to Lens, making 20 appearances for the French club. On his return he started getting more chances but it looked like he was leaving during the 2003-04 season as he was very close to joining Everton. However, the move didn’t go through and when Rafael Benitez got the Liverpool job he got a new lease of life and improved defensively and offensively under the Spaniard.

UEFA Champions League: Anderlecht v Liverpool

The 2004-05 season was very mixed for Traore as he won the Champions League but he also scored one of the funniest own goals in a 1-0 defeat to Burnley in the FA Cup. He attempted a turn and a drag back inside his own six yard box but just ended getting himself mixed up and put the ball in the back of his own net. In the following season he struggled for game time as he was behind John Arne Riise in the pecking order and on the 8th August 2006 he joined Charlton Athletic for £2 million.

He got off to a terrible start after being sent off on his debut and a few months later against his former club he gave away a penalty after fouling Jermaine Pennant. After only half a season he was deemed not good enough and was allowed to join Portsmouth. He only featured 13 times at Portsmouth over the next season and a half before first going out on loan to Rennes and then Birmingham City.

Traore Monaco

On the 18th June 2009 his contract expired at Portsmouth and he joined Monaco where he put in some decent performances but once again after just two seasons he was on the move again, joining Marseille. In his only season he played 20 games and helped the club win the Coupe de la Ligue but he left at the end of the season and after a trial at Seattle Sounders he signed for the American side on the 23rd Feburary 2013. He played 28 times for the club but while he was there he scored an amazing 40 yard volley against Mexican side Tigres.

Traore SS

The final word can go to Seattle Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson. “Djimi has a great deal of experience and has played in the top leagues in Europe. He’s a very good defender and makes smart decisions with the ball coming out the back. Djimi brings us confidence and leadership.”

28th October – Obafemi Martins

Obafemi Martins is a player with a fantastic history, having been the number nine at Newcastle United and also scoring the winning goal for Birmingham City in the League Cup final.

The striker had electric pace and a brilliant shot on him that a lot of goalkeepers struggled to keep a hold of. He has had a lot of ups and downs in his career but has largely been a fan favourite at every club and is now currently scoring regularly for Seattle Sounders in the MLS and his goals have helped his side to the top of the table.

The 30 year old started his career in Nigeria before getting a trial at Serie C side Reggiana in Italy and signed a youth contract with the club in 2000. After just two appearanceshe joined Inter Milan and would go on to make his debut against Parma in December 2002. Martins began to make an impact during the 2002-03 season where he showed his quality in the Champions League, scoring against Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. His best season for the club was in the 2004-05 season, where he scored 22 goals in 45 games, unfortunately for him, Inter decided to sign other strikers soon after.
Martins IM
In total he scored 49 goals for the Italian side before signing for Newcastle United on the 24th August 2006 and was handed the number nine shirt, taking over from Alan Shearer. After a difficult start, in which he suffered a few injuries, he would go on to score his first goal for the club on the 17th September against West Ham in a 2-0 win and he became a regular scorer hitting one of the goals of the season when he scored from 20 yards against Tottenham Hotspur at a speed of 84mph. Martins ended his first season with 17 goals in all competitions. His second season at the club was mixed as he had to settle for a place on the bench under Sam Allardyce, as he preferred Michael Owen and Mark Viduka upfront. But after Kevin Keegan became manager he found a system that allowed all three players to be on the field and combine well. He finished the season with 10 goals in 33 games.
Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Villa Park
Martins then started the 2008-09 season in fantastic form, scoring six goals in 12 games before tearing his hamstring and later in the season needing an operation on a hernia, meaning he could not continue this form. After being out since January he returned to the side in a relegation six pointer against Middlesbrough and scored twice. However, this would not be good enough to keep them in the Premier League.

On the 31st July 2009 Martins joined Wolfsburg for £9 million and went on to score on his debut against FC Koln. He only stayed at the club for one season but scored six times in 16 Bundesliga games. He then moved on to Russian side Rubin Kazan and helped them win the Russian Cup but it was not the greatest time for the striker and on the 31st January 2011 he joined Birmingham City on loan. Although his time at the club was ruined by injuries, he still managed to write himself into their history books as he scored the winning goal in the League Cup final against Arsenal.

With the club getting relegated from the Premier League a permanent move was no longer on the cards and Martins joined Levante. On his league debut he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad and was a decent goalscorer, hitting the back of the net in a third of his league games. But on the 15th March 2013 he joined MLS side Seattle Sounders and last season finished with 17 goals, as well as 13 assists for the club, a joint club record with Mauro Rosales.
Martins SS
The final word can go to Kevin Keegan. “He excites me very much as a player. He is very, very different to not only anything we have got at this football club, but probably in the Premier League. It sends up all sorts of ideas in your mind what this player can bring to the football club.”

24th September – John Arne Riise

John Arne Riise might be a left back but it wasn’t his defending he was best known for as he had a phenomenal left foot and scored some sublime goals.

He is now currently playing in Cyprus with APOEL and at the age of 34 he is coming towards the end of his career but he does have some good memories, particularly at Liverpool where he helped them win the Champions league in 2005 in that incredible match against AC Milan. Riise also has the honour of being Norway’s most capped player and is definitely seen as a hero in his home country.

The defender started his career at Norwegian club Aalesund and after a fantastic spell he was being linked with moves away from the club. His five goals in 25 league games convinced French club Monaco to sign the full back. During the 1998-99 season he only played eight times but in the following campaign he became a regular in the side and he helped them win the Ligue 1 title. However, soon after he fell out with manager Claude Puel after saying he wanted to leave the club. Riise had been frustrated because bids had been rejected for him as Monaco wanted a higher transfer fee.

Eventually in 2001 he joined Liverpool for £4 million and made his debut against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup and scored as Liverpool won the game 3-2. He quickly became a fan favourite because of his attacking play from left back and ended his first season in England with seven Premier League goals. The next few seasons were difficult for Riise but after the appointment of Rafael Benitez he rediscovered his form and helped the club win the Champions League. In the final he had a mixed game as he set up the all important first goal for Steven Gerrard but then went on to miss his spot kick in the shootout.
Riise LFC
In his time at Liverpool he also helped them win the FA Cup which also went to penalties and Riise was brave enough to step up once more and this time he managed to score. But after this he started getting less game time and although he made it into Liverpool’s top 50 appearance makers it seemed like his time at the club was coming to an end.

On the 18th June 2008 he signed for Italian side Roma and once again quickly became a fan favourite because of his wholehearted displays and his important goals for the club. He seemed to always pop up in the games that mattered to the fans, he scored a goal against Inter in a pivotal game of the season and then followed this up against Milan with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory and then also scored a last minute header to give his team a 2-1 win over Juventus.
Riise Roma
After 99 league games and three seasons at the club he was on the move, this time joining Fulham on the 13th July 2011 and joined his brother Bjorn Helge at the club. He was a very consistent player during his three years there but he did not manage to score which was the most surprising thing about his second spell in England. His final year at the club was a disaster for everyone as they ended up getting relegated to the Championship and Riise left when his contract expired.
Riise FFC
Now at APOEL, he made his debut against Ayia Napa and set up two goals in a 3-1 away victory.

The final word can go to Martin Jol. “John Arne Riise is an experienced international left back who will bring a number of qualities to our squad and provide more options for me. He is an accomplished player defensively, who can also contribute to our attacking play.”