1st July – Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Ruud Van Nistelrooy is one of the best strikers to ever grace the Premier League and should go down as one of Manchester United’s best goalscorers.

Despite his brilliance he was one of those players that crossed Sir Alex Ferguson and found out that nobody is bigger than the club. His departure from Old Trafford was surprising and meant he couldn’t join the 100 Premier League goals club.

The Dutchman started his career at Den Bosch and after netting 12 goals in the 1996-97 campaign he earned a move to Heerenveen. He only stayed for one season, grabbing 13 goals, before a big move to PSV.

He started brilliantly with 31 goals in 34 matches and capped the year of by winning the Dutch Player of the Year and the Eredivisie title. The following season they retained the title with Van Nistelrooy scoring 29 goals. In the summer of 2000 it looked as though the striker was about to leave but an injury meant he was out of action for a year.

RVN PSV

Manchester United kept the faith and signed him once he had recovered and scored against Liverpool in the Charity Shield and twice on his Premier League debut against Fulham. At the end of the campaign he had 23 league goals and 10 in the Champions League as well as scoring in eight consecutive games. In the next season he went even better getting 14 in Europe and 25 in the league, which earned him the Golden Boot.

Goals kept flowing for the striker and he even overtook Denis Law’s European goal record however Van Nistelrooy was left on the bench for the 2006 League Cup final against Wigan Athletic. From then till the end of the season he was regularly left on the bench and an argument with Cristiano Ronaldo meant it was time to move on.

RVN MU

After 150 goals in 219 appearances, Real Madrid signed the striker. He didn’t take long to settle, scoring a hatrick against Levante and a few weeks later all four in a victory over Osasuna. As the club clinched the title, Van Nistelrooy equalled the longest consecutive scoring streak in La Liga history. During the following campaign he picked up an injury and never got his place back in the team. He managed 64 goals in 96 games before moving on to German side Hamburg.

RVN RM

After just half a season and seven goals in 18 games he was remarkably linked with a move back to Madrid however his new club rejected it. In his only full season he scored seven times in 25 league games. His final move was to Malaga but after just one season he announced his retirement from the game with 347 career goals.

The final word can go to PSV spokesman Pedro Salazar-Hewitt. “He can play in any competition and score goals. He’s a great player and a very nice guy. He has the mentality and the ambition to become one of the biggest players in the world.”

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28th June – Fabien Barthez

Fabien Barthez is a World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and Premier League winner yet his abilities as a goalkeeper were still questioned.

The Frenchman had a fantastic career and should be up there with the best goalkeepers ever and if some of his previous coaches are to be believed then he was actually a better outfield player than in goal.

Barthez began his career at Toulouse, making his debut in 1991 against Nancy. He established himself as the club’s number one, playing 26 times during the 1991-92 season. At the end of this season he joined Marseille and would go on to win the French Cup and Champions League in his first campaign and in doing so becoming the youngest keeper to win the competition.

Barthez Marseille

After this the club went through many controversies and would suffer relegation to the second division. Many expected Barthez to leave, however he stuck around and helped the club win the title. He stayed until 1995, when he joined Monaco and gained even more success by helping the club win Ligue 1 in 1997 and 2000. During this time he also helped France win the World Cup and European Championships.

Barthez Monaco

Manchester United signed Barthez for £7.8 million in 2000 and would quickly become a fan favourite for his remarkable reaction saves. He helped the club win the Premier League title but he did still show some problems in his game, most notably in an FA Cup tie with West Ham as he stood there with his hand in the air appealing for offside as Paolo Di Canio scored

The start of the 2001-02 season was a struggle for him as high profile mistakes against Deportivo and Arsenal led to some wanting him to be dropped from the team. However, manager Alex Ferguson backed Barthez to bounce back. The following season ended with another league title but once again he had some ups and downs and he was heavily criticised especially after defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, which turned out to be his last game for the club as he was dropped for Roy Carroll.

Barthez MU

With the signing of Tim Howard, Barthez knew his time was up at Old Trafford and returned to Marseille on loan. His form returned but in February 2005 he allegedly spat on a referee and was given a six month ban. After his ban and 102 games for Marseille it looked as though his career was over as he announced his retirement from the game.

On the 17th December 2006, Barthez was convinced to sign for Nantes but after a decent start he was involved in more controversy, involving an altercation with a fan, that forced him to leave the club.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “Fabien is a World Cup winner and not only has the personality but the vast experience that is required at Manchester United. Apart from his obvious goalkeeping skills, he has the personality to play on the biggest stage.”

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.”

9th March – Juan Sebastian Veron

Manchester United have spent a lot of money over the years and a lot of this has been on Argentinean midfielders, including Juan Sebastian Veron.

Obviously Angel Di Maria has been grabbing all the headlines lately for his somewhat average performances after a massive money move and to a lot of the Old Trafford faithful it must feel like déjà vu. Veron came to Manchester United with a reputation of being one of the best players in the world and he will forever go down as one of Alex Ferguson’s biggest flops as he struggled to adapt to life in England and failed to produce the goods while in the Premier League.

Now 40, Veron started his career in Argentina with Estudiantes, where he is currently chairman, in 1993. During his second season at the club he became a valuable member of the team and helped the club get promoted to the top flight. After 60 league games he would leave and join Argentinean giants Boca Juniors. While there he lined up alongside Diego Maradona but he would only last 17 league games before moving on to try his hand in Europe.

JSV Estudiantes

In 1996 he joined Italian side Sampdoria, who were managed by Sven Goran Eriksson at the time, and was an instant success. This convinced Parma to splash out on the midfielder after an impressive 1998 World Cup and he was once again one of the first names on the team sheet as the club won the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. Despite this success he would only stay the one season and was signed once again by Eriksson, this time for Lazio and he would go on to even better things.

JSV Sampdoria

During the 1999-00 season he was the driving force and it was not a surprise that they were so successful as Veron was one of the best attacking midfielders in the world at that point and would create numerous chances for the strikers. Lazio ended the season winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup as well as lifting the European Super Cup. His second season was not quite as productive as he was involved in a lot of off field matters that seemed to affect his performances.

On the 12th July 2001 Veron was signed by Manchester United for £28.1 million which was a new British transfer record. But the midfielder never lived up to this price tag and despite some impressive performances in the Champions League, he never quite showed his talents in the Premier League. Injuries also didn’t help his situation but he did manage to pick up a Premier League winners medal at the end of the 2002-03 season. After 51 fairly disappointing league games, Veron somewhat surprisingly moved to another English club, signing for Chelsea for £15 million.

JSV MU

At Chelsea he got off to a good start by scoring a winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield but not a lot went right for him after that and he only ended up playing 15 times in total for the club. When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager he loaned Veron out to Inter Milan for two seasons and his performances were better in Italy as he helped the club win the Coppa Italia twice. He did return to Chelsea but it wasn’t for long as he was quickly loaned back out to Estudiantes until the end of his contract. He was back to his best in his homeland and played for a further six seasons and was even voted South American Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2009 as well as best player of the 2009 Copa Libertadores as his side went on to win the competition.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “He is a marvellous player. He brings a nice pace to the team. What we have done is bring in a really top player, one of the best in the world. He’s a fantastic footballer and will bring a personality to the team.”

26th February – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have been known as a super sub during his time at Manchester United but he was a lot better than just that and arguably could have scored even more goals in his career.

Now 42 he is trying to become known as a good manager but after getting relegated with Cardiff City from the Premier League and not being able to challenge for promotion he now has some rebuilding to do after a successful spell in charge of Molde in Norway. ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ was feared whenever he was on the sidelines as a player and he will be hoping that in the future other teams and managers will have that same fear when he is giving instructions from the dugout.

Solskjaer started his career in Norway with Third Division side Clausenengen and as a 17 year old impressed in the Otta Cup with 17 goals in just six games. In his five years at the club he averaged more than a goal a game and in 1994 he scored 31 of Clausenengen’s 47 goals in the Second Division. Ahead of the 1995 season he signed for Molde and scored 20 times in his first season in the top flight and then followed this up with 11 goals in the first 12 games of the following campaign which led to a lot of speculation about his future.

OGS Clause

On the 29th July 1996 Solskjaer joined Manchester United and would quickly become known as one of the best Premier League bargains ever. After coming on as a substitute he scored six minutes into his debut against Blackburn Rovers and would go on to finish the season with 18 league goals. The striker was lethal off the bench and was always capable of grabbing important and memorable goals, especially during the 1998-99 treble winning season. Famously the Norwegian scored the stoppage time winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and will forever be a Manchester United legend because of that moment.

OGS Molde

Despite a fantastic goals to minutes ratio he never became a regular until the 2001-02 season but this was really the only time he was first choice as a striker as afterwards he was either dropped back to the bench or played on the right wing. He proved to himself as a right winger and was intelligent enough to still score a lot of goals from this position. At the start of the 2003-04 season he was first choice in this position but an injury against Panathinaikos kept him out for several months. When he returned he helped the club win the FA Cup but had to undergo surgery in the summer and missed the entire 2004-05 season.

More injuries would keep him out of action and when he scored against Charlton Athletic on the 23rd August 2006 it was his first league goal since April 2003. He went on a decent run of goalscoring form afterwards and ended the 2006-07 season with 11 goals which was quite impressive. However, his career ended on a slightly negative note as his final game was the 2007 FA Cup final which they lost to Chelsea 1-0.

Leeds v Man Utd/Solskjaer

As a manager he won the Norwegian Premier League title twice with Molde as well as the Norwegian Football Cup. Solskjaer will be hoping that he gets another chance in England and can show everyone his ability.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “It was obvious that his desire was to be a coach but more than that it was a desire to be the best you can be. I’m very lucky that he never complained. I don’t think any other player of that quality would have stood for it. He had that fantastic patience.”

5th February – Cristiano Ronaldo

5th February is a day that all football fans will be thankful for as many great players in this generation were born today, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Neymar. This is a pretty special list as it stands but it is backed up even more by the quality of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Vedran Corluka who are also big names in the game. Going even further down the list of birthdays today, you will find other recognisable names such as Jesper Blomqvist and Jordan Rhodes. For those of an older generation they can remember Gheorghe Hagi who was in his own right and incredible player.

So it is very difficult to choose who to write about on this day but the one that stands out from that list still is Cristiano Ronaldo who has been one of the best players ever to step foot on the football pitch. There will always be a debate about who the best in the world is but Ronaldo has earned every plaudit and is very deserving of all the praise he gets.

Ronaldo started his career at Sporting and his talents saw his rise very quickly as he became the first player to play for their under 16, under 17, under 18, B team and the first team all within one season. To make this rise even more impressive he scored twice on his league debut against Moreirense. After being linked with moves to Arsenal and Liverpool, Ronaldo eventually joined Manchester United in 2003.

CR Sporting

A lot of people seem to forget that in his early days at Old Trafford he was criticised and many felt that he wasn’t quite ready for the Premier League. In his first three seasons he scored just 18 goals but every year he improved and was determined to get better. Then in the 2006-07 season his career really took off and he began showing everyone that he could turn his potential into real quality and in the following three seasons he scored 88 goals in all competitions. During his time at the club he won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup, the League Cup twice and also the Champions League.

CR MU

On the 26th June 2009 it was confirmed that Ronaldo would be joining Real Madrid for a world record fee of £80 million. Since being at the club he has got even better and his goalscoring is just incredible and he has actually scored more goals than he has played for the Spanish giants which even by their standard is incredible. 288 goals is good enough for most strikers in the world during their whole career but he has done it in just 277 games. This season so far he has just been unstoppable with 28 league goals in 18 games.

CR RM

Unfortunately for him though, it doesn’t matter how good he is or how impressive his performances are, he will probably never achieve anything on the international stage with Portugal.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best player in the world. His contribution as a goal threat is unbelievable. His stats are incredible. Strikes at goal, attempts on goal, raids into the penalty box, headers. It is all there. Absolutely astounding.”

2nd February – Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique has won everything in the game and it is always surprising when he gets criticised by pundits and has to go down as one of the most consistent central defenders in the last 10 years.

Yes it could be argued that the defender, who turns 28 today, has always been in great teams and therefore has never been tested fully but nobody can take away all his winners medals, including the World Cup, European Championship, four La Liga, two Copa Del Rey, two Club World Cup, three Champions League and a Premier League title. It could even be argued that he is one of the few mistakes Alex Ferguson made, letting him go so early in his career.

Pique MU

The defender actually started his career as a holding midfielder at Barcelona but signed his first professional contract with Manchester United and made his debut in October 2004 as a substitute in a League Cup win over Crewe Alexandra. His performances for the reserves earned him an extended contract and would go on to make his full Premier League debut on 29th March 2006 against West Ham as a right back.

During the 2006-07 season Pique went out on loan to Real Zaragoza and formed a solid partnership with Gabriel Milito in the centre of the defence. After 22 games he returned to Old Trafford and was told he would be part of the first team squad and in the 2007-08 season he made enough appearances to pick up a Premier League winners medal but it was in the Champions League where he showed his true potential. He scored on his first start in the competition against Dynamo Kiev and added another against Roma as the club went on to lift the trophy.

Pique RZ

On the 27th May 2008 the defender joined Barcelona and his first season could not have gone much better as he helped the club win a treble, including beating former club Manchester United in the final of the Champions League becoming only the fourth player in history to win the competition two years in a row with different teams. His other Champions League win with Barca was also against his former club and although he has stated he enjoyed his time at Old Trafford it must have made it even sweeter to lift the trophy.

Pique Barca

Throughout his time at the club he has always been first choice and with former captain Carles Puyol retiring he is now seen as the best defender at the club and although things haven’t been so easy for Barcelona in recent years, Pique’s performances have still be very good. With over 300 games at two of the biggest clubs in the world and being first choice for Spain while they were dominating the international stage just proves that he should be considered as one of the best of his generation, especially when there aren’t a lot of great central defenders around at the moment.

The final word can go to his former manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. “I do not believe that there is any other player in Europe playing at his level. He is very competitive and ambitious. He is strong in the air and dominates at set pieces.”