19th March – Kolo Toure

Kolo Toure may have been overshadowed by his younger brother Yaya in recent seasons but he has had an amazing career himself and is proving that on his day he can still be one of the best defenders in the Premier League.

At the age of 34 it is understandable that he is not a guaranteed first choice for Liverpool but as he proved away to Real Madrid earlier this season he can produce some immense performances. After winning the African Cup of Nations earlier this year he can finish his career knowing that he has accomplished almost everything in the game, as well as being a part of one of the best teams ever seen in England.

Toure started his career in his homeland with ASEC Mimosas before going on trial with Arsenal in 2002 and was signed by the club on the 14th February for £150,000. During his first season he didn’t play for the club but did start the Community Shield against Liverpool at the start of the following campaign. He was initially seen as a versatile player who could fit in either at right back or in the centre of midfield and he would go on to score his first goal in England in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Toure Arsenal

The 2003-04 season saw Toure become first choice at centre back alongside Sol Campbell and they were phenomenal as the club went unbeaten in the Premier League and gained the nickname ‘The Invincibles’. He was obviously a fan favourite because of his performances and he played 50 times in the 2004-05 season and pick up an FA Cup winners medal. By this point he was known as one of the best centre backs in England but in the following Champions League campaign he proved his ability in Europe as he helped Arsenal reach the final and keep 10 consecutive clean sheets in the competition and would even get the honour of scoring the final European goal at Highbury.

He stayed at Arsenal for a further three seasons but they were not having the same success and on the 29th July 2009 he signed for Manchester City for £14 million. He was quickly named club captain by Mark Hughes and helped the club finish fifth place in the Premier League. But after Roberto Mancini took charge he lost the armband to Carlos Tevez but was still a regular in the squad and would help the club lift the FA Cup. However, he was banned on the 3rd March 2011 for six months after failing a drugs test.

Toure MCFC

After returning he couldn’t break into the first team regularly but did make enough appearances to pick up another Premier League winners medal. In his final season at the club he would play more league games but this didn’t guarantee him a new contract and he left the club on a free transfer in the summer. On the 2nd July 2013 he joined Liverpool and made his debut in a 1-0 win over Stoke City but he once again struggled to become a regular in the first team. Even with Liverpool opting to play with centre backs he still cannot get in the team for a prolonged period and that is why it looks likely that he will leave the club in the summer.

Soccer - Pre-Season Friendly - Preston North End v Liverpool - Deepdale

The final word can go to Mark Hughes. “He is strong, quick, reads the game well and will be an influential figure in the dressing room. Kolo has been a central figure in a strong Arsenal team for many years, and I have been an admirer of him for a long time.

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.”

8th June – Javier Mascherano

Javier Mascherano could be the most important player in the Argentina squad and even though he won’t get the headlines like Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero, their hopes of winning the World Cup could depend on how well he plays.

The midfielder will play just in front of the back four allowing the more attacking players to go and do what they do best with the knowledge that one of the best ball winners in Europe is protecting their defence. It is a job that only a few players can effectively do and Mascherano is one of the best at it.

The 30 year old began his career at River Plate and in his first season he won the Clausura Championship and also helped the club reach the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores, unfortunately they lost to rivals Boca Juniors on penalties. Several European clubs tried to sign Mascherano at this time, including Real Madrid but River decided to keep that player for another season. However, this one was less successful as they struggled in the league and once again lost in the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores.
LIBER CUP MASCHERANO
In 2005 he did leave the Argentinean side for Corinthians in Brazil but he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot which meant after just nine games he would not play again that season. After six months out he returned to a struggling side who were battling relegation and although his performances were still very high, the team were struggling. After just 28 games for the club, one of the most bizarre transfer happened in world football as he and Carlos Tevez joined West Ham. Mascherano did not have the same impact as Tevez and he only played 15 league games for the Hammers and in Janauary 2007 he was on the move once again.

Liverpool signed him and he made his debut against Sheffield United on the 24th February in a 4-0 win and was praised by manager Rafael Benitez. “He is young but he has great experience having played for his country. It’s clear that he is one of the best midfielders in the world but he can get better with us.” Mascherano and Xabi Alonso’s partnership in the centre of midfield was a key part of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final.
Mascherano Liverpool
In 2008 he signed a new four year deal and within a month he scored his first Premier League goal with a 20 yard strike against Reading. The 2009-10 season was a little harder for the hard tackler as he picked up two red cards during the season and had the worst disciplinary record in the league but he was considered undroppable when available and he was quickly becoming a fans favourite. However, after the 2010 World Cup he told new manager Roy Hodgson that he wanted to leave the club.

In August 2010 he joined Barcelona and his time there did not start well as his league debut ended in a 2-0 defeat to newly promoted Hercules at home. It was a difficult first season at the Spanish club with a lot of his early appearances being as a substitute and then in the second half of the season playing out of position as a central defender. But he performed well in this position, especially in the Champions League and he started the 2011 final alongside Gerard Pique and helped his team to a 3-1 win over Manchester United. Since then he has played most of his games in defence and has been a consistent performer for the team and even though he is not the tallest, he has never let the team down.
Mascherano Barca
He is yet to score for Barcelona in his 184 appearances but he is a valued member of the team and this summer was awarded a new contract keeping him at the club until 2018.

His teammates know how important he is and the final word can go to Lionel Messi. “He has turned into a fundamental player for us. He hasn’t had a bad game for us since Guardiola put him in the middle of the defence.”