7th August – Paul Lambert

When asked which Premier League manager won the Champions League as a player quite a few people will not know the answer to this question but birthday boy Paul Lambert did just that.

Now 45, Lambert had a very good playing career and he is now hoping to have as much success as a manager although he has found it a lot tougher in recent seasons at Aston Villa. Next season will probably be about survival once again for Villa as it is for so many clubs in the Premier League but Lambert certainly has the quality to keep them in the top flight and if given the chance could build them back up to what they once were.

Lambert has never been a stranger to success and at the age of just 17 while playing for first club St Mirren he won the 1987 Scottish Cup final. He stayed at the club for eight years playing 227 league games and scoring 14 times but in September 1993 he moved onto Motherwell for a fee of £250,000. In his first season at the club they finished third but they went one better the year after and finished as runners up, the club’s highest finish since the 1933-34 season. He also played for the club in the UEFA Cup and they were drawn against Borussia Dortmund but they were knocked out by the Germans.
Lambert STM
However, Lambert must have impressed the manager Ottmar Hitzfeld because he signed him for the German side in 1996 and changed his position to a defensive midfielder. He helped the club reach the final of the Champions League that year against Juventus and Lambert set up the opening goal in a 3-1 win. Despite only staying at the club for a year he is fondly remembered by their fans.

In November 1997 he signed for Celtic and made his debut against Rangers and three weeks later he picked up his first winners medal after coming on as substitute in the final of the Scottish League Cup against Dundee United. Lambert spend seven years at Celtic and won four SPL titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups before leaving to become manager of Livingston.
Lambert Celtic
He intended to just be manager but he then changed his mind and registered as a player however his spell at the club only lasted 32 games and resigned after only winning two league games in this time. His next attempt at management was at Wycombe Wanderers where he had more success and took the club to the semi final of the League Cup by beating Premier League sides Fulham and Charlton Athletic before being defeated by Chelsea. But after failing to get them promoted in 2008 he resigned.

On the 9th October 2008 he was appointed manager of Colchester United where he stayed for 43 games but it was the 7-1 victory over Norwich City that he will be most remembered for. This is mostly because he took over as manager of Norwich not long after and led them to the League One title. He followed this up with a second successive promotion and then kept them in the Premier League but then shocked everyone by offering his resignation and then joined Aston Villa shortly afterwards.
Lambert NC
He has had a few ups and downs at Aston Villa but he has brought in a lot of younger players so hopefully they can develop into an exciting Premier League side.

The final word can go to the Norwich chairman Alan Bowkett. “Paul has done a fantastic job for us and has played a full part in restoring some pride to Norwich City Football Club. He is an excellent young manager.”

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4th June – Lukas Podolski

Lukas Podolski has one of the best left foots in football and is always looking to smash the ball into the back of the net and he will be hoping he can have a positive impact at the World Cup.

At the age of 29 he has played 113 times for Germany and scored 46 goals which makes him the fifth highest in German history and will be an important member of the squad and along with Miroslav Klose is the most likely to put away the chances the team create in Brazil.

He has always been a promising player and when he was just 18 he made his debut for first club FC Koln and despite scoring 10 goals in his first 19 appearances, they could not avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. Even though he was linked with moves away he stayed at the club and played a big part in getting them promoted by scoring 24 times and finished as the top scorer in the league. The pressure was on Podolski to keep them in the top division and he almost succeeded singlehandedly by scoring 12 goals but they did eventually get relegated and it was time to move on.
Podolski Koln
He signed for Bayern Munich in 2006 and made his debut against Borussia Dortmund but he did not start many games and had to deal with coming off the bench and found it tough to make an impact. The next season was even tougher as the club signed striker Luca Toni and first team opportunities were harder to come by, despite this he still managed to score double figures in all competitions.
Podolski Bayern
When Jurgen Klinsmann took over at Bayern it seemed like he would get more chances and his goal record did improve as he got six in 24 games. But in July 2009 he returned to first club Koln with the club coming up with a unique way or raising the money for the transfer. They sold pixels of an image of the player in order to gather €1 million. Formula One racer Michael Schumacher bought several of these pixels for nearly €900. Podolski had a difficult return and only scored three times all season with one salvaging a point against Bayern Munich, but he returned to form in the next season, scoring his 50th goal in the Bundesliga and ending it with 13 in total and made seven assists. The 2011-12 season would be his last at Koln as they were once again relegated but Podolski scored 18 goals in 29 games.

In the summer of 2012 he joined Arsenal and started the season well by scoring in consecutive games against Liverpool and Southampton. In his first season at the club he impressed the fans not only with his goals but also his assists. He ended the season with 16 goals and 11 assists and when Arsenal were on form he was certainly a big part of it.
Podolski Arsenal
Last season he had a lot of ups and downs, he started off well scoring twice against Fulham but then he got injured in the next game and was ruled out for 10 weeks. On his return he scored against West Ham in a 3-1 win and then was an important part of Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph, ending the club’s nine year trophy drought as he scored twice against Coventry City and then an important goal against Liverpool. He ended the season with 12 goals in 27 games which was impressive as he rarely played 90 minutes.

The final word can go to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “He is a top class player, a very good finisher and a proven performer at club and international level. A level where he has already made 95 caps at the age of 26. That is a phenomenal record.”

24th May – Vladimir Smicer

The Champions League final is being played today birthday boy Vladimir Smicer scored in one of the most memorable games in the history of the competition.

In 2005, he came on as a substitute in the first half for Liverpool and when his team were 3-0 down to AC Milan he probably thought his last game at the club was going to end in a terrible way but when Steven Gerrard pulled one back, Liverpool still needed something special and that is exactly what Smicer provided as he struck a great shot from 20 yards that flew into the bottom right hand corner. Liverpool went on to win the final on penalties and Smicer scored the last Liverpool spot kick and kissed the badge in front of the supporters moments before Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty.

What makes it all even more remarkable is that he had been told by manager Rafael Benitez that he would not be getting a new contract at the end of the season, so it just shows what a model professional the Czech international was, which he has been his whole career. He first came to prominence in 1996 as he helped his first club Slavia Prague to the semi final of the UEFA Cup and his country to the final of Euro 1996. He joined Lens shortly after and was also an instant success there scoring 16 times in 91 appearances from a wide position and helping them their first ever French title in the 1997-98 season.
Smicer Lens
In 1999 he joined Liverpool for £4.2 million and made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He scored his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Watford, however it was a difficult season for him personally as initially struggled with the pace of the English game and a few injuries. But the next season he was much more settled down and was an important member of Liverpool’s treble winning season, as they secured the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. He produced many memorable moments for Liverpool over the years and scored some unbelievable strikes, including a brilliant volley against Borussia Dortmund.
Smicer Liverpool
His old injuries started reoccurring though and he struggled to be a regular in the side under Benitez but he did make some key substitute appearances on the road to the Champions League final and as mentioned played a big part in the final. But in the summer of 2005 he left the club on a free transfer and returned to France.

He joined Bordeaux on a free transfer but only played 28 times in two seasons because of injuries and considered retiring but he continued playing and in 2007 he returned to Slavia Prague on a one year deal. The fans were delighted when he rejoined and they were even more pleased when he helped them lift their first Czech title for 12 years. He played his last football match on the 9th November 2009 and then a day later became the Czech sports manager of the national team.
Smicer Prague
The final word can go to Rafael Benitez who probably didn’t expect Smicer to be as influential as he was towards the end of his spell at Liverpool after deciding not to renew his contract. “He is a good professional and he’s determined to play as much as possible and he’ll do everything he can to help us in the last games.”

23rd April – Lee Young-Pyo

Not many South Koreans have played in the Premier League but when they have they have usually been very consistent and never let their team down.

Lee Young-Pyo played over 100 times for his country and had a very good club career that led to him playing in a Champions League semi final. But it was at Anyang LG Cheetahs where he began playing and showed good form from an early age which meant he was picked for the 2002 World Cup squad. South Korea performed brilliantly in the tournament and reached the semi finals. The player himself put in some impressive performances and was linked with moves away from his homeland.

It was the former South Korea manager Guus Hiddink that brought him to Europe to play for Dutch side PSV. Lee alongside his countryman Park Ji Sung helped the club to the Eredivisie title twice and the KNVB Cup. After playing 109 times for the team he was heavily linked with moves to France and England but PSV were reluctant to let him go. In the end he was allowed to leave and he joined Tottenham Hotspur. Hiddink said on his departure. “I didn’t want him to go. But he did well from his very first working day and has made so much progress.”
Lee PSV
Lee settled into the Premier League very quickly and in his first season played nearly every game with Spurs conceding the fourth lowest in the league. Martin Jol was impressed by his signing and the pedigree he brought with him. “Lee has played at PSV for three years and was in the South Korean side which reached the semi finals of the World Cup. He has played in the Champions League – reaching the semi finals last season – and was the best left back in Holland.”

He played mostly at left back at Spurs but was moved to right back for the start of the 2006-07 season. However he lost his place after the club signed Pascal Chimbonda and he could not dislodge Benoit Assou-Ekotto from the left back spot. When he did finally win his place back he suffered a season ending knee injury against Sevilla but he did manage to recover enough to win a League Cup winners medal in the next and his final season at the club.
Lee Spurs
His next move was to the German side Borussia Dortmund where he spent one season playing 22 times and even though he signed a contract extension, he moved to Al-Hilal in 2009. He only spent two years in Saudi Arabia but he did score his first goal in five years and won the league title both years he was at the club.
Lee Vancouver
His final move was to Vancouver Whitecaps where he enjoyed a lot of personal success and was named their player of the year in 2012. Lee played his final professional game on 27th October 2013 and was given the match ball by his teammates after a very solid performance. The last word can go Martin Rennie the Whitecaps head coach. “Lee is a quality individual and leader – both on and off the pitch – that has excelled at all levels of the game.”

24th March – Raimond van der Gouw

Raimond van der Gouw is not a name that many football fans will use on a daily basis anymore, in fact during his time in England most fans would not have even seen him play.
RVDG
But the Dutchman who turns 51 today has won two Premier League titles, a Champions League and an FA Cup. Some of you will know where he picked up these medals but for those that do not, he was at Manchester United from 1996 to 2002. During these years he warmed the bench mostly as he only played 60 times with most of these appearances coming in the 1999-2000 season where he played 23 games.

Although he maybe did not play as much as he would have liked his teammates appreciated his efforts and were never worried when he was called upon. Roy Keane admired him and said “he is a true professional and works extremely hard” this led to Keane signing him as a goalkeeping coach when he was in charge of Sunderland which shows how much faith and trust he had in him.
RVDG with Keane
The goalkeeper made his debut against Aston Villa and managed to keep a clean sheet and was then thrust into the limelight in the semi final of the Champions League that season once again producing a number of brilliant saves against Borussia Dortmund. Unfortunately they ended up losing the game 1-0. He saved his best performances for that competition when in 1998 against Monaco he was once again almost unbeatable after saving several clear cut chances. It was in the 1999-2000 season when he was considered as first choice for the only time in his United career but this did not last long and was replaced by Mark Bosnich.
RVDG champions league
After leaving the club he joined West Ham United where he did not play a game and then RKC Waalwijk (Holland) only featuring once. He did enjoy a good end to his career playing 100 league games for AGOVV Apeldoorn and in the final appearance of his career he scored his first professional goal from the penalty spot.

The last words go to Sir Alex Ferguson who said: “I felt that Raimond could handle the big games, I felt that some people’s games are suited to Europe, and that applies to Raimond. He gets around his area very quickly.”