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.

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28th September – Willy Caballero

Manchester City definitely needed real competition for Joe Hart and in the summer they signed birthday boy Willy Caballero as they believe they can really push the England number one.

The new goalkeeper is 33 today and this would suggest that he is in the best years of his career and won’t want to just sit on the bench behind Joe Hart. This could be a stroke of genius from Manuel Pellegrini as it will either make Hart play better or if he does have another dip in form like he has done at times during the last two seasons there is an able deputy.
Willy MCFC
Cabellero is also an Olympic gold winner as helped Argentina win the football tournament in 2004 and he started his career in his country of birth with Boca Juniors, making his debut in 2001. He stayed at the Argentinean giants for three years and helped them win the Argentine Primera Division, the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup all in 2003.

But in 2004 he decided it was time for him to try and make his mark in Europe and joined Spanish side Elche. After a difficult start he returned to Argentina in 2006 when he joined Arsenal de Sarandi and appeared in 13 league games for them. When he went back to Spain he got his confidence back and became Elche’s undisputed number one goalkeeper and produced a lot of fantastic performances in his 186 league games for the club which convinced Malaga to sign him on the 10th February 2011.
Willy Elche
He made his debut against Villarreal in a 1-1 draw on the 20th February and went on to play in every game until the end of the season. The goalkeeper quickly became a fan favourite as his saves and consistent performances helped the club eventually pull away from the relegation zone after a very difficult season.

The following season started better for the club and the goalkeeper kept his place in the starting lineup and on the 1st October he became a record holder for Malaga. He did not concede a goal for 480 minutes beating Pedro Contreras’ previous record of 429. Unfortunately just a few days later he was sent off against Levante for handling outside the box and his team went on to lose the game 3-0.

He quickly returned to the side and on the 18th January 2012 his contract was extended by the club, tying him down until 2016. However, a fracture in his left hand caused in a game against Espanyol on the 25th March meant he had to sit out the rest of the season. Caballero returned to full fitness and only missed two league games all season during the 2012-13 campaign and helped his team finish in 6th place in La Liga and was seen as one of the best keepers in the division.
Willy Malaga
On the 8th July 2014 he was reunited with former Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City after they paid a fee believed to be around £6 million for his services. He made his debut in the Community Shield as City lost 3-0 to Arsenal but he had to wait until the 27th September to make his Premier League debut in a 4-2 win over Hull City.

The final word can go to Manuel Pellegrini. “Caballero can be in any team, he is a very good goalkeeper. If you want to be a top goalkeeper you must have all the attributes, good distribution, to know when to go for the ball, to be good one on one and to not concede early goals. Replacing Hart with Caballero doesn’t make a difference.”

20th May – Petr Cech

As birthdays dominate the headlines today it is a day that we must not forget one of Chelsea’s greatest ever signings in Petr Cech.

Yaya Toure may feel he is not getting appreciated enough by his club but the Chelsea number one is loved by everyone at the club and his birthday will have been celebrated in the right way with him receiving many messages. Cech turns 32 today and if other goalkeepers are to go by his best years are still to come.

The Czech international began his career in his homeland at FK Chmel Blsany and made his league debut in October 1999 as a 17 year old in a 3-1 loss to Sparta. In January 2001 he joined Sparta Prague but was allowed to stay at his first club to gain more first team experience until the end of the season and he went on to play 27 times in total for the club.

It wasn’t long before he was in the Sparta first time and was breaking records as in November 2001 he played 855 minutes without conceding a goal in the Czech professional league. Unfortunately for Cech and the club they could not win any trophies but the goalkeeper was attracting interest from the rest of Europe and was close to joining Arsenal but he could not get a work permit and the deal fell through.
FBL-FRA-L1-BORDEAUX-RENNES
So instead he joined French club Rennes in the summer of 2002. Rennes struggled for large periods of time while he was at the club but this did not stop him showing how good he was and once again bigger clubs were looking to sign him. Although their first bid was rejected, Chelsea persevered and got their man for £7 million which made him the most expensive goalkeeper in Chelsea’s history.

He was initially just signed as back up but when first choice Carlo Cudicini suffered an injury, Cech stepped in and made his debut on the first day of the season which they went on to win 1-0 at home to Manchester United. He could not have imagined his first season would be so successful as he set a new record of 1025 minutes without conceding a goal in the Premier League. At the end of the season he lifted the Premier League trophy with the team only conceding 15 goals and him keeping 21 clean sheets.
Cech Chelsea
Chelsea retained the title the next season and they only conceded 22 times this time around. It was a good year personally for the keeper too as he was named the Czech Player of the Year for the first time. Early in the 2006-07 season he suffered a horrible head injury against Reading but he did thankfully return on the 20th January in a game away to Liverpool. From then on he has worn a headguard for every match. Although they lost his comeback game, he then went on another incredible record of not conceding in 810 minutes and was awarded the Player of the Month in April. He then ended the season well by keeping a clean sheet in Chelsea’s FA Cup win.

After an injury hit season, he signed a new contract at the start of the 2008-09 season and Luiz Felipe Scolari said of him. “In my view he is the best goalkeeper in the world, so I am very pleased that he will remain with me at Chelsea.” And in November he kept his 100th clean sheet at Chelsea which is a remarkable achievement. He finished the season with yet another FA Cup win despite conceding the quickest ever goal in a final.
Cech Chelsea 2
The 2009-10 season started with more success as he saved two penalties against Manchester United in the Community Shield after the game finished 2-2 and he ended it with another Premier League winners medal and a third FA Cup success.

After winning every competition Chelsea had competed in he finally got the chance to win the Champions League against Bayern Munich in 2012 and he performed heroically and even though Didier Drogba took the headlines, Cech saved a penalty in extra time and then another two in the penalty shootout to allow Drogba to score the winning penalty. He followed this up the next season by winning the Europa League.

Although the 2013-14 season did not bring the club any trophies he managed to break Peter Bonetti’s record of most clean sheets for the club and ended the season winning the Premier League Golden Glove for the third time by keeping 16 clean sheets.

The final word can go to a goalkeeping great in Bob Wilson. “He is probably the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. People say ‘go and buy a goalie’ – but outside of Petr Cech I cannot give you a list.”