22nd March – Luke Freeman

Luke Freeman has had a double celebration today after turning 23 and also helping Bristol City defeat Walsall 2-0 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.

The midfielder is looking to have a fantastic end to a season that has already been pretty special for Bristol City and their fans as they look like they are going to get promoted to the Championship as League One champions. Freeman has always been a very good player and one that definitely has the ability to prove it at a higher level so he will be hoping that the club can secure promotion as quickly as possible so he can prepare for the second tier of English football.

Freeman started his career at Gillingham where he made his debut against Barnet in the FA Cup on the 10th November 2007 at the age of just 15 years and 233 days, therefore becoming Gillingham’s youngest ever player and also the youngest player to appear in the FA Cup. Later in the month he would also make his league debut against Hartlepool United and his performances caught the eye of several Premier League clubs and joined Arsenal on trial in December 2007.

Arsenal signed Freeman on the 30th January 2008 and after impressing for the under 18s he was given a professional contract by the club just over a year later. After progressing through the youth teams and into the reserves he needed first team opportunities and joined Yeovil Town on loan at the start of the 2010-11 season. He got off to a great start scoring in a 2-1 win over Leyton Orient on his debut and would go on to play 12 more league games for the club before his loan was ended by injury.

Freeman YT

He recovered from his injury and would impress again for Arsenal’s reserves and was eager to go back out on loan, this time joining Stevenage on the 17th November 2011. In his second loan spell away he played nine games and scored one goal in a 6-1 win over Colchester United but his performances particularly off the bench were exciting and showed he had a lot of potential. This convinced Stevenage to sign Freeman permanently on the 10th January 2012. He would help the club reach the playoffs with seven goals in 32 games but unfortunately they would lose out in the semi finals.

Freeman Stevenage

The 2012-13 wasn’t as successful for the midfielder as he struggled for consistency and spent a lot of the season featuring as a substitute. However in the following season, despite Stevenage finishing bottom of League One, he put in some fantastic performances and ended the campaign with a career best eight goals. After 128 games and 17 goals for Stevenage, Freeman would leave for Bristol City on the 26th June 2014.

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So far for Bristol City he has played 48 times in all competitions, scored seven goals and provided 15 assists which just shows how important he is to the side and is a big reason why they are challenging at the top of the table.

The final word can go to Steve Cotterill. “He’s someone we’ve been keeping tabs on for some time and I’m delighted we’ve been able to bring Luke on board. He’s a good, young, exciting player. He’s an excellent addition to the football club for the short term and long term. He can play on the left, on the right and cut in, or play in a midfield three.”

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13th March – Edgar Davids

Going from winning the Champions League, Eredivisie and Serie A title to managing Barnet just shows how crazy Edgar Davids career was but he was certainly a very good player and one that was instantly recognisable.

Due to glaucoma Davids had to wear protective glasses and this made him stand out on the field to anyone that watched him play but for people that loved football they could see that not only was he one of the most combative and energetic midfielders he also had a lot of creativity and could see passes that attacking midfielders would have been proud of.

Davids Ajax

Davids is now 41 and started his career at Ajax, making his debut on the 6th September 1991 in a 5-1 win over RKC Waalwijk. The midfielder spent five years at the club and helped them to three league titles as well as a UEFA Cup and the Champions League in 1995. In total he played 106 league games and scored 20 times before moving to Inter Milan at the start of the 1996-97 season. Unfortunately he wasn’t very successful at the club and after just 19 games he left for Juventus in December 1997 for £5.3 million.

He quickly became an important member of the side and was known as the driving force in the midfield and had six very successful years at the club. He picked up three Serie A titles as well as two Italian Supercups but sadly for him and the club during his time there he reached the Champions League final twice but would go on to lose both games. In January 2004 his time with Juventus was over and he joined Barcelona in loan. They were nowhere near the team they are now and were struggling in midtable but recently appointed Frank Rijkaard realised they needed more of a presence in the centre of the park and Davids was the perfect man. After he joined the club soon found form and they would rise up to second in the table by the end of the season and this was seen as the catalyst for their dominance of Spanish and European football.

Davids Juve

Surprisingly in the summer of 2004 he made the move back to Inter Milan, however he once again only lasted one season and was released from his contract in August 2005. Davids then joined Tottenham Hotspur and was an instant success and quickly became a favourite. In both years he would help the club finish fifth but he only managed one goal in a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

Davids TH

Davids returned to Ajax on the 28th January 2007 and helped the club win the KNVB Cup by scoring the winning penalty against AZ. But a broken leg in the following pre season meant he couldn’t have the same impact in his second spell. On the 20th August 2010 he made another surprising move, this time joining Championship side Crystal Palace. He would only stay until the 8th November but he still described the experience as one of the best of his life.

After this spell he stayed in London and wanted to get back into the game so joined Barnet as player-manager on the 11th October 2012 and would be named as man of the match on his debut in a 4-0 win over Northampton Town. However, despite his early success he could not keep Barnet in the Football League and after failing to challenge for promotion he resigned from the club on the 18th January 2014 with a 36% win rate.

The final word can go to George Burley after he left Crystal Palace. “It was a privilege to work with him, everybody at the club enjoyed it, he’s been a world class player. It was a great experience for everyone at the club and if you asked me to do it again I would.”

6th March – Garry Monk

Garry Monk will go down as a Swansea City legend for what he did as a player but he is also doing a fantastic job as their manager and leading them to another top half finish.

When Monk first joined the club he wouldn’t have believed that they would be in the Premier League never mind being one of the best footballing sides in the top flight. Many people were surprised when the 36 year old was given the job because he didn’t have any experience and they felt that under Monk they would be battling relegation. However, he knows everything about the club and the way they want to play.

The former central defender started his career at Torquay United and was very highly rated, making five appearances for the club before he had even turned professional. This meant other clubs were looking at him and he signed for Southampton at the end of the 1995-96 season. In 1998 he would return to Torquay on loan and once again impressed so on his return he found himself in the Southampton first team and made his debut on the 28th November 1998 against Derby County. He would go on to play a further four games over the season.

Monk Soton

In September 1999 he went out on loan to Stockport County but was recalled because of an injury crisis at his parent club and he played the first two matches in January 2000 for Southampton. A year later he went out on loan to Oxford United but once again he was recalled because of injuries and would go on to play the last two home games at The Dell against Manchester United and Arsenal which were both won by Southampton.

Monk struggled once more to become a first team regular so was sent out on loan again. This time it looked as though it would be turned into a permanent move but after playing 15 times for Sheffield Wednesday and not helping them avoid relegation to Division Two, the move didn’t materialise. He did eventually leave the club permanently and joined Barnsley in February 2004. However he only lasted half a season and left for Swansea City in June.

Monk SWFC

It was a great start for him at Swansea as he helped them get promoted from League Two in his first season and then reach the League One Playoffs in his second season. In August 2006 it was announced that he would be the club captain. Unfortunately after just two games in the 2006-07 season he picked up a cruciate ligament injury and was ruled out for the rest of the campaign. Monk returned to the team and captained the club to promotion.

In their first season back they were excellent and finished 8th place but the 2009-10 season was not the best for Monk as he struggled with injuries and only played 22 times. Also during this period Monk and the manager Paulo Sousa did not see eye to eye and after the Portuguese man left the club Monk was back in the starting 11. He would then lead the Swans to the Premier League after defeating Reading in the Playoff final and he was given a new three year contract by the club.

Monk SC

Over the next two seasons he began to play less but was still able to lift his first major trophy after Swansea won the League Cup in 2013 after defeating Bradford City 5-0 in the final. Just under a year later he would be given the manager’s job and currently has a 38% win percentage as manager.

The final word can go to someone that didn’t get on well with Monk but knew his quality, Paulo Sousa. “Garry is one of the players we think is very important to our project for his experience, quality and leadership. He is an important figure in the dressing room and on the pitch. He knows the club’s philosophy.”

5th March – Matty Fryatt

Nottingham Forest are definitely outsiders to reach the playoffs this season and with Britt Assombalonga out injured they will be relying on Matty Fryatt to score the goals.

Fryatt is now 29 and has been a consistent goalscorer for a number of years and he has proven that when he’s given the chance he can find the back of the net. When he has started games in his career he has always been one of the most awake on the pitch and he has proven this by scoring Leicester City and Walsall’s quickest ever goals both after just nine seconds, surprisingly though in both games his side would go on to lose the games 2-1.

The striker started his career at Walsall and made his debut in the League Cup against Bolton Wanderers on the 24th September 2003. But he had to go out on loan to Carlisle United to get more experience in December and he played well during his 10 game spell. The following season he was a regular for Walsall and was awarded their Player of the Year after hitting 15 goals in 36 games. This led to speculation about his future but he stayed with Walsall until January when he signed for Leicester City after another good start to the season.

Fryatt Walsall

He made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in a 2-1 defeat and a week later he scored his first goal for the club in a 2-1 defeat against Cardiff City. Despite manager Craig Levein being sacked, Fryatt believed he made the right move and scored six goals to help the club avoid relegation from the Championship. The following two seasons were a struggle as he suffered from injury problems and only managed six goals and with the club getting relegated his future was in doubt.

However, he made a positive start to the 2008-09 season, scoring five goals in the first four games and was named the League One Player of the Month. The goals kept coming and he became the first player for 42 years to score 20 goals before Christmas for the club. During this fantastic run he also became the first player in 83 years to score consecutive hatricks. He ended the season with 32 goals and was named the League One Player of the Year after helping Leicester gain promotion.

Fryatt LC

Once again he started the next season in fantastic form, finding the back of the net three times in the opening five matches. A broken jaw towards the end of the season stopped him having as much of an impact as he would have hoped but with 13 goals he was still the top goalscorer. He only spent a further six months at Leicester as he joined Hull City on the 1st January 2011 and got off to a great start, scoring on his debut against Portsmouth and then another against Barnsley. On the 5th February he would score a hatrick against Scunthorpe United and on his 25th birthday he scored his 100th career goal in a win over Nottingham Forest. He ended the season with nine goals at Hull.

Fryatt HC

The 2011-12 season was the last time he was first choice at Hull as he played every league game and scored 16 times but in his first appearance in the 2012-13 season he picked up a serious achilles injury. So on the 27th September 2013 he joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan and made a good impact. He scored against Brighton, Barnsley and twice against Reading before returning to Hull and scored his first Premier League goal in a 6-0 win over Fulham and would later play an important role in getting the club to the FA Cup final by scoring in the semi final against Sheffield United. On the 9th June 2014 Fryatt signed for Nottingham Forest and so far has six goals for the club.

The final word can go to Nigel Pearson. “Matty’s goalscoring record is pretty good. He is a predator and he also has the ability to score goals out of nothing. He works phenomenally hard for the team and he makes himself chances because of his work rate as much as anything.”

24th February – Kevin O’Connor

One club players don’t come around too often and Kevin O’Connor has progressed right from the youth team at Brentford to now being part of their coaching staff.

He is only 33 but it seems like he is focusing on the next stage of his career as he has had limited playing time this season but he will be happy to still be involved at Brentford. They are definitely a team on the up despite the uncertainties around the managerial position. Since signing for the club he has played in every position and is currently fourth on Brentford’s all time appearance list.

O’Connor first signed with Brentford as a striker and after a run of 23 goals in 30 reserve games he was given a professional contract in 1999. He went on to make his debut on the 15th February 2000 as a substitute in the Football League Trophy defeat to Exeter City and went on to make his first start in a draw with Wycombe Wanderers a few days later. An injury slowed his progress and he had to wait over a year to score his first goal in a 2-1 win over Bristol City.

OC Brent 1

After Steve Coppell became manager in 2001, O’Connor became a regular in the side and made 32 appearances helping his club reach the playoffs, unfortunately they were beaten in the final by Stoke City. New manager Wally Downes was impressed by his performances and he was an ever present in the side for the following campaign and was now seen as a winger and contributed nine goals.

During the 2004-05 season O’Connor was moved to right back and was given the captain’s armband on the 19th October against Hartlepool United. The season again ended in disappointment as they were defeated in the playoffs, this time by Sheffield Wednesday. He would go on to suffer even more heartbreak in the playoffs in the 2005-06 season but he did manage to score eight times in 38 games. Even worse was to follow as the club were relegated in 2007 after finishing bottom.

OC Brent 3

Relegation meant another position change for O’Connor as he played predominantly in the centre of midfield in League Two. He started off well in his new position by scoring goals against Notts County and Barnet in August 2007. But he only added one more goal over the course of the season as the club finished midtable. In the following season Brentford won the league and O’Connor was awarded a new contract. He was impressive once again in League One and made 49 appearances over the season and was given a testimonial at the end of the campaign.

The 2010-11 season was the last one that he featured regularly for the club as injuries stopped him from playing. But he was on the pitch for one of the most exciting endings to the season ever against Doncaster Rovers in the final game of the 2012-13 season. Brentford were awarded a penalty in the last minute and Marcello Trotta took the ball off O’Connor but missed the spot kick and Doncaster ran down the other end and scored, winning the game 1-0 meaning Brentford and O’Connor had to go through the playoffs. Once again they failed to get promoted after losing against Yeovil Town.

OC Brent 2

Finally in the next campaign they would get promoted to the Championship and on the final day of the season O’Connor made his 500th appearance for the club. Since promotion he has not played a league game but he has been an important member of the coaching staff, helping the team challenge for the playoffs and will be needed now more than ever with Mark Warburton expected to leave in the summer.

The final word can go to Mark Warburton. “Kevin has seen so much change at the club and yet has maintained his exceedingly high standards throughout and it is this outstanding quality that we need to keep at Brentford. I am delighted that Kevin O’Connor will be extending his stay at the club.”

12th February – Benik Afobe

Benik Afobe has been one of the highest rated youngsters in recent seasons and now he is getting his chance to show his potential in the Championship and is clearly showing everyone his talents.

Still only 22 he seems to have been around for quite a lot of time and played for many different clubs. This is to his credit as it seems like he just wants to play football and when he knew he wasn’t getting chances at Arsenal he went out on loan to try and play games in a lower level. A lot of young players are criticised these days for just sitting in the reserves and youth teams and because of this they don’t develop as well as they should have.

Afobe started his career at Arsenal when he was just six years old and after progressing very well through the youth teams and scoring a lot of goals, he was being linked with a move to Barcelona but he instead signed a professional contract with the Gunners in February 2010. To get his first taste of professional football he had to go out on loan and on the 2nd November he joined Huddersfield Town and made his debut that night in a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. He would go on to score his first professional goals against Rotherham United in the Football League Trophy to help his new team to a 5-2 win. After an injury to Anthony Pilkington, Afobe got an extended run in the first team and was in brilliant form for the rest of the campaign. During the second half of the season he picked up four man of the match awards in a row. In total he made 32 appearances, scoring eight times and providing 10 assists.

Afobe HT

During the 2011-12 season he suffered a few injuries but did eventually get fit enough to join Reading on the 22nd March 2012. He only played three times for the club but he did still play a part in helping them secure the Championship title. At the beginning of the following season the striker joined Bolton Wanderers on a season long loan. He scored his first goal for the club on his first start in the League Cup against Crawley Town but he was largely used as a substitute and had to wait until the 23rd October to score his first league goal in a 2-2 draw with Wolves. In January his loan was cancelled and he subsequently joined Millwall, unfortunately an injury meant he only played five times for the club.

Afobe BW

He spent eight months on the sidelines and when he returned he went back out on loan, this time to Sheffield Wednesday, where he played 12 times and scored two goals. This season started with Afobe joining MK Dons on loan for the season and went on to score his first goal in a 1-0 win over Chesterfield on the 19th August. But the League Cup second round was probably the best moment of his career so far as he scored twice in a 4-0 win over Manchester United and carried on his superb form in the competition by scoring two more in the next round against Bradford City. On the 29th November he bagged a hatrick against Colchester United in a 6-0 win. After 19 goals in the first half of the season there were other clubs looking at the striker and he joined Wolves in the January transfer window and he scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Blackpool. Afobe so far has three goals in five Championship games for his new club.

Afobe MK

The final word can go to Wolves head of football development Kevin Thelwell. “Benik seems like a really outstanding young man. He is very pacey and powerful, good technically, and has an outstanding goalscoring record. We are really excited about him signing.”

7th February – Clayton Donaldson

Clayton Donaldson has played a big part in Birmingham City’s revival this season under Gary Rowett and helped his side to a 1-1 draw with Fulham on his birthday but unfortunately could not add to his goal tally.

Now 31 it has been a long road for the 31 year old to reach the Championship but he has always scored goals at whatever club he has been at in England. It seemed like he made a bad decision leaving Brentford for Birmingham in the early months of the season but in recent weeks his new club have started playing much better.

The striker started his career at Hull City and scored on his debut on the 22nd October 2002 against Port Vale in the Football League Trophy. Shortly afterwards he joined Northern Premier League club Harrogate Town on loan and also scored on his debut for them against Gateshead. He spent three months at the club, scoring five times in 10 games. Back at his parent club he signed a new two year deal and made a further two appearances before the end of the season. After short loan spells at Scarborough and Halifax Town, he returned to Harrogate again on loan and had more success with the club, winning the Conference North Player of the Month in October 2004 and scored four times in 11 games before being released by his parent club.

In June 2005 Donaldson joined York City and had an impressive first season, finding the back of the net 18 times and being named Clubman of the Year. During his second season he was being linked with moves away from the club and this may have distracted for short periods and many clubs tabled bids for the striker but none were accepted. After 26 goals in the Conference he did leave York in the summer of 2007 and made the step up to the SPL and joined Hibernian. Donaldson got his first goal for the club after winning and scoring a penalty against Falkirk but was later sent off in the game. After serving his suspension he scored on his return against Motherwell and then later in the month got a hatrick against Kilmarnock.

Donaldson York

During the second half of the season he was frozen out of the team and didn’t play leading to a transfer to Crewe Alexandra in the summer. He first season wasn’t as prolific as he hoped but he improved in his second season despite injuries and eventually in his third season he showed his true potential. He ended the campaign as League Two’s top scorer with 28 goals.

Donaldson CA

Once again his talents were seen by teams in higher leagues and on the 1st July 2011 he joined League One side Brentford. In each of his three seasons he hit double figures and was a constant threat to the opposition, ending his time there with over 50 goals but even though he helped them to promotion at the end of the 2013-14 season he declined their new contract offer and joined Birmingham. He is already in double figures so he has proved he can make the step up to the level and it will be interesting to see how far he can go.

Donaldson Brentford

The final word can go to Birmingham manager Gary Rowett. “He deserves his purple patch because he works so hard for the team. His role is pivotal to the way we play and he plays it brilliantly. He occupies defenders and all the players appreciate the role he does. He’s picking up goals as well and for me they’re bonuses.”