9th February – Jordi Cruyff

Jordi Cruyff was always going to struggle to live up to his name and when your father is Johan Cruyff you know you are going to have to be a special player.

His dad got a turn and one of the most recognisable skills in world football named after him and Cruyff junior was a bit part player in Manchester United’s Premier League triumph during the 1996-97 season. Jordi was by no means a bad player and if he had a different second name his career would have been looked at in a different way because he played for some excellent clubs and put in some solid performances.

Now 41, he is the manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv but he started his career at Barcelona. He made his debut for the B team in the Segunda Division in 1992 and after 14 goals in 47 games he was moved to the first team by his father. He was given a chance in preseason and proved to everyone he was a good player in his own right by scoring hatricks against Groningen and De Graafschap. On the 4th September 1994 he made his top flight debut in a 2-1 defeat against Sporting Gijon and shortly after made a big impression in the Champions League, setting up the first goal in a 4-0 win over Manchester United.

Cruyff Barca

After his father was sacked by Barcelona it was clear that his son was also going to be moved on even though he had been a promising player and had scored 11 times in 41 appearances. But in August 1996 he made the move to Old Trafford for £1.4 million and got off to a great start by scoring twice in his first three appearances, helping the team get draws against Everton and Blackburn Rovers. He remained a regular in the team until late November but then suffered a knee injury and he never regained his place properly in the team again. In his four seasons at the club Manchester United lifted four trophies, the 1996-97 Premier League winners medal was the only one that Cruyff collected because of a lack of involvement and not playing enough games.

Cruyff MU

In 1999 Cruyff returned to Spain joining Celta Vigo on loan and played nine times, scoring two goals before returning to his parent club. He did feature a few more times for Manchester United but on the 30th June 2000 his contract expired and after four years and just 54 games, he signed for Spanish side Alaves.

Cruyff spent three years at Alaves and was a regular in the side until they were relegated at the end of the 2002-03 season. But during his time at the club he was involved in arguably the best UEFA Cup final ever, unfortunately they were on the wrong side of a 5-4 loss against Liverpool. He then joined Espanyol for a season and was regular in the side but he still left after just one year, signing for Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk. Injuries caught up with him and despite being an attacking player he was used as a centre back by the club for most of his 28 appearances.

Cruyff Alaves

His final destination as a player was Malta as he became player/assistant manager of Valletta and he was successful in this role as he scored 10 goals in just 17 league games and this sadly was probably the best time of his career.

The final word can go to Jordi himself who knew he didn’t live up to the standards of his father which must have been tough to take. “There are two types of football players – the legends and the mortals. My father is a legend and I am a mortal. The legends like my father – they come, they do and they remain. I am part of the vast majority of mortals – we come we do and we die.”

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11th November – Arouna Kone

Arouna Kone followed Roberto Martinez from Wigan Athletic to Everton but unfortunately for the striker it looks as though he is never going to get the opportunity to show his true quality.

The striker is now behind Romelu Lukaku, Samuel Eto’o and Steven Naismith in the pecking order and this will be frustrating because he proved at Wigan that if he was given the opportunity he can be a consistent goalscorer in the Premier League. This is part of the reason why Martinez was desperate to take him to Goodison Park. It does look like Kone will have to move club in January if he is to get more playing time and there will be plenty of clubs in the Premier League interested in him.

Now 31, Kone started his career at his hometown club Rio Sport d’Anyama and after a very impressive 17 goals in 30 games, he was given the chance to join Belgian side Lierse SK during the 2002-03 season at the age of just 18. At his new club he was equally impressive and helped the club to a fifth place finish and was the team’s top scorer. This meant that once again he was being linked with moves away and he joined Dutch side Roda JC. Once again he settled into the league very quickly and in both his full seasons he hit double figures, including 15 in the 2004-05 season and after 28 goals in 63 games he was on the move again and in the summer of 2005 he joined PSV.

During the 2005-06 season he was in fantastic form and scored 11 goals in 21 games and followed this up with a further 10 goals in the next season, helping the team to win the Eredivisie title in both seasons. But unfortunately for the striker he contracted malaria at the end of July 2007 and after a mix up of dates he could not be match fit for the start of the season and this would mean the end of his time at the club.
Kone PSV
On the 30th August 2007 Kone joined Spanish side Sevilla and made his debut as a substitute against Recreativo de Huelva and won a penalty in a game that his side won 4-1. Nine days later he scored his first goal for the club against Espanyol and then on the 2nd October he scored his first Champions League goal in a 4-2 win over Slavia Prague. However, these turned out to be his only goals for the club in 47 games. So after falling out of favour Kone was loaned out to Hannover and he would go on to score on his debut against Hoffenheim in a 2-1 defeat. After seven more games and one goal he returned to his parent club and was once again loaned out, this time to Levante.
Kone Levante
Kone was very successful at Levante and scored his first goal for the club in a surprise 1-0 win over Real Madrid and would go on to be a regular scorer throughout the rest of the campaign, eventually finishing with 17 goals in all competitions. This convinced Wigan to sign the striker and he would go on to score his first Premier League goal in his first start for the club in a 2-0 win over Southampton. Despite the club getting relegated Kone still managed to score 11 league goals and was an important part of their FA Cup winning team.
Kone WA
With Wigan getting relegated and Roberto Martinez leaving it was inevitable that Kone would leave and on the 8th July 2013 he joined Everton but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to make much of an impact and after a knee cartilage injury in October he did not play again for the rest of the season.

The final word can go to Roberto Martinez. “Arouna is not a young boy. He is experienced and whatever happens he always shows for the ball and is really strong with his back to play. His record stands up well. He’s been successful in Holland and Spain. He will be important for us. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

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 August – Alvaro Negredo

Alvaro Negredo started last season fantastically at Manchester City and despite a difficult end to the campaign it seems strange that he is being linked with moves away from the club.

23 goals in 48 games is a phenomenal record for a player at a new club in a different country and this is also while competing with the talents of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic for a starting place. A foot injury has stopped him being fit for the start of the season and it could be a blessing in disguise for both player and club because it means he is less likely to leave the club.

Negredo started his career at Rayo Vallecano and after impressing for the ‘B’ team (scoring 28 goals in 40 games) he made his professional debut in early 2005 in the second division of Spain. After scoring one goal in 12 games he moved to Real Madrid’s affiliate team Real Madrid Castilla and in his second season he scored 18 times which convinced first team manager Fabio Capello to put him in the Real Madrid squad for some Copa Del Rey games but he unfortunately did not make it onto the pitch.

In July 2007 he joined Almeria and the newly promoted side performed well above expectations and Negredo was a huge part of that. He ended the campaign as their top scorer with 13 goals, including strikes against Real Madrid in a 2-0 win and Sevilla in a 4-1 win. He followed this up with a brilliant start to the next season with five goals in the first six games and was a regular scorer right through the season and ended it with 19 goals in just 35 games.
Negredo Almeria
This form led to Real Madrid resigning the player due to a buyback clause in his contract but the manager at the time Manuel Pellegrini could not guarantee him first team football so he moved on almost straight away to Sevilla. Negredo later revealed that he admired Pellegrini’s honesty during the whole situation.

The 2009-10 season was interesting for the striker as he was first choice but he did go through some barren spells in front of goal and was also sent off three times over the course of the season, however he did still manage 14 goals in all competitions. 2010-11 was a much kinder season to Negredo as he continually scored goals and finished the season with braces against Villarreal, Deportivo, Real Madrid, Osasuna and Espanyol. He ended his second season with 27 goals in all competitions and was one of the most feared strikers in Spain.
Negredo Sevilla
His final season at the club ended with him finishing as the highest Spanish goalscorer in La Liga with 25 goals and was therefore awarded the Zarra Trophy. He was helped by scoring a hatrick in the victory over Celta Vigo and all four goals in a 4-3 win over Valencia on the last game of the season.

On the 19th July 2013 Negredo signed for Manchester City and helped the club win both the Premier League and the League Cup with 23 goals in his first season, including five in the Champions League.
Negredo MC
The final word can go to Tim Sherwood who compared him to Premier League record scorer Alan Shearer. “They both score goals. I haven’t studied Negredo as much as I knew Alan but they both score every type of goal, they hold the ball up well. He is probably the most similar to Shearer as there has been in recent years.”

12th June – Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho had a very good season at Liverpool and in a lot of people’s opinions was very unlucky to have been left out of Brazil’s World Cup squad.

But the midfielder is only 22 and his time will surely come again and now he can concentrate fully on helping Liverpool challenge for the title again next season and show off his skills in the Champions League. He has always had a lot of potential and it is no wonder that there are a lot of people including Brendan Rodgers who believe that Coutinho will get better and become one of the best players in the world.

From an early age he impressed everyone and was signed by Inter Milan at the age of just 16, however he was allowed to stay at first club Vasco da Gama until his 18th birthday. While at the Brazilian club he played 26 times and scored two goals before he moved to Italy in July 2010 and in the same year he played for the Brazil national team so there was already a lot of spotlight on the playmaker.
Coutinho Vasco
On the 27th August he made his debut in the UEFA Super Cup as a substitute, unfortunately they lost the game 2-0 against Atletico Madrid. Although he did not play as many minutes as he would have liked, he did provide a moment of magic in the Champions League as he helped his team beat Bayern Munich 3-2 in the quarter finals. And then on the 8th May 2011 he scored his first goal for the club with a wonderful free kick against Fiorentina in a 3-1 win.

The 2011-12 season wasn’t as successful for the Brazilian as he only played 11 times for Inter but he was loaned out to Spanish side Espanyol where he showed his ability. Once he got going he was difficult to stop and he scored some brilliant goals in La Liga. He scored twice in a 5-1 win over Rayo Vallecano and then followed this up with a sublime volley against Racing Santander and then a great free kick against Malaga. In total he scored five times in just 16 appearances and this meant he was going back to Inter full of confidence.
Coutinho Inter
He did enjoy a little more success but he only lasted another half a season as he joined Liverpool for £8.5 million on the 26th January 2013. His debut was not a good one for the club once again though as he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 loss to West Brom. But less than a week later he scored on his full debut in a 5-0 win over Swansea City and then a few weeks later set up the first two goals in 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic. He continued to impress in his first half a season and finished it with three goals in 13 appearances.
Coutinho Liverpool
After a frustrating start to the next season due to injuries, he opened the scoring in the Merseyside derby on the 23rd November and then towards the end of the season he scored another crucial goal against Manchester City which put Liverpool seven points clear at the top of the table. However, his five goals and his brilliant performances were not enough to secure the title.

The final word can go to his manager at Espanyol Mauricio Pochettino. “As with most Brazilians, Philippe has a special magic in his feet. He also has amazing work rate and that makes us doubt whether he fits the mould of a typical Brazilian player. What is important about him is he is a good lad, a good kid – a great humble person.”

27th April – Walter Pandiani

Uruguayans have been hit and miss in the Premier League, there have been some like Luis Suarez and then others that had a lot of quality but did not quite cut it like Diego Forlan.

Unfortunately ‘El Rifle’ fits more into the second category. Walter Pandiani had two spells at Birmingham City while they were in the Premier League and it seemed like they had signed one of the best finishers in Europe at the time. After playing for Progreso, Basanez and Penarol in his home country he made the move to Spain to play for Deportivo La Coruna. Although he was never a regular starter he had a phenomenal record and scored a lot of goals off the bench. In between the years of 2000 and 2005 he played 86 league games for the club and scored 31 goals including 13 in the 2003-04 season. During his time at the club he went out on loan to Mallorca and scored 13 goals in 33 games for them and was getting a growing reputation of someone that knew where the back of the net was.
Pandiani Depor
After several run ins with Deportivo coach Javier Irureta he made his move to Birmingham City initially on loan. It did not take him long to show off his talents as he scored on his debut in a 2-1 win over Southampton. Manager Steve Bruce said after the game: “Walter Pandiani arrived yesterday with no boots, and he doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’ll give us a lift.” In his next 13 appearances he managed three goals and this led to Birmingham signing him permanently for £3 million.
Pandiani Birmingham
However he failed to show the form of his loan spell and only half a season later he was sold to Espanyol for £1 million. He played 31 times in the league for Birmingham scoring only six goals. His first full season at new club Espanyol was interesting as he only scored seven league goals but this included a first half hatrick away to Real Madrid. Although he struggled domestically everything he touched in the UEFA Cup seemed to go in as he ended the campaign as the top scorer in the competition with 11 goals. The club lost in the final on penalties against Spanish rivals Sevilla.

Pandiani then left the club for Osasuna where he was hardly used in his first season at the club but in his second season he ended it as their top scorer. He played a key role in a victory over Real Madrid in which he was involved in a verbal spat with Cristiano Ronaldo. Pandiani saying about the Portuguese player. “As a footballer he is a phenomenon but to do the things he does, maybe he has a screw loose.”
Pandiani Osasuna
After leaving Osasuna he rejoined Espanyol but this was only for one season which he spent mostly on the bench but he did manage to grab late winner against Getafe and Real Betis. In 2012 he joined Villarreal and on his debut he scored the winning goal and followed this up the next week by scoring the winner again. However these were the only two goals he scored in the league.

At his next club Atletico Baleares he started in a game alongside his son with Pandiani Senior scoring in a 2-1 defeat. In October 2013 they both joined Uruguayan club Miramar Misiones where they still play.

The last word can go to former Birmingham City co owner David Sullivan just after selling the player: “Walter is not a bad player and he did well recently against Manchester United and Chelsea. You’ve got to take your hat off to his commitment towards the club, he scored important goals