28th June – Fabien Barthez

Fabien Barthez is a World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and Premier League winner yet his abilities as a goalkeeper were still questioned.

The Frenchman had a fantastic career and should be up there with the best goalkeepers ever and if some of his previous coaches are to be believed then he was actually a better outfield player than in goal.

Barthez began his career at Toulouse, making his debut in 1991 against Nancy. He established himself as the club’s number one, playing 26 times during the 1991-92 season. At the end of this season he joined Marseille and would go on to win the French Cup and Champions League in his first campaign and in doing so becoming the youngest keeper to win the competition.

Barthez Marseille

After this the club went through many controversies and would suffer relegation to the second division. Many expected Barthez to leave, however he stuck around and helped the club win the title. He stayed until 1995, when he joined Monaco and gained even more success by helping the club win Ligue 1 in 1997 and 2000. During this time he also helped France win the World Cup and European Championships.

Barthez Monaco

Manchester United signed Barthez for £7.8 million in 2000 and would quickly become a fan favourite for his remarkable reaction saves. He helped the club win the Premier League title but he did still show some problems in his game, most notably in an FA Cup tie with West Ham as he stood there with his hand in the air appealing for offside as Paolo Di Canio scored

The start of the 2001-02 season was a struggle for him as high profile mistakes against Deportivo and Arsenal led to some wanting him to be dropped from the team. However, manager Alex Ferguson backed Barthez to bounce back. The following season ended with another league title but once again he had some ups and downs and he was heavily criticised especially after defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, which turned out to be his last game for the club as he was dropped for Roy Carroll.

Barthez MU

With the signing of Tim Howard, Barthez knew his time was up at Old Trafford and returned to Marseille on loan. His form returned but in February 2005 he allegedly spat on a referee and was given a six month ban. After his ban and 102 games for Marseille it looked as though his career was over as he announced his retirement from the game.

On the 17th December 2006, Barthez was convinced to sign for Nantes but after a decent start he was involved in more controversy, involving an altercation with a fan, that forced him to leave the club.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “Fabien is a World Cup winner and not only has the personality but the vast experience that is required at Manchester United. Apart from his obvious goalkeeping skills, he has the personality to play on the biggest stage.”

Advertisements

2nd February – Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique has won everything in the game and it is always surprising when he gets criticised by pundits and has to go down as one of the most consistent central defenders in the last 10 years.

Yes it could be argued that the defender, who turns 28 today, has always been in great teams and therefore has never been tested fully but nobody can take away all his winners medals, including the World Cup, European Championship, four La Liga, two Copa Del Rey, two Club World Cup, three Champions League and a Premier League title. It could even be argued that he is one of the few mistakes Alex Ferguson made, letting him go so early in his career.

Pique MU

The defender actually started his career as a holding midfielder at Barcelona but signed his first professional contract with Manchester United and made his debut in October 2004 as a substitute in a League Cup win over Crewe Alexandra. His performances for the reserves earned him an extended contract and would go on to make his full Premier League debut on 29th March 2006 against West Ham as a right back.

During the 2006-07 season Pique went out on loan to Real Zaragoza and formed a solid partnership with Gabriel Milito in the centre of the defence. After 22 games he returned to Old Trafford and was told he would be part of the first team squad and in the 2007-08 season he made enough appearances to pick up a Premier League winners medal but it was in the Champions League where he showed his true potential. He scored on his first start in the competition against Dynamo Kiev and added another against Roma as the club went on to lift the trophy.

Pique RZ

On the 27th May 2008 the defender joined Barcelona and his first season could not have gone much better as he helped the club win a treble, including beating former club Manchester United in the final of the Champions League becoming only the fourth player in history to win the competition two years in a row with different teams. His other Champions League win with Barca was also against his former club and although he has stated he enjoyed his time at Old Trafford it must have made it even sweeter to lift the trophy.

Pique Barca

Throughout his time at the club he has always been first choice and with former captain Carles Puyol retiring he is now seen as the best defender at the club and although things haven’t been so easy for Barcelona in recent years, Pique’s performances have still be very good. With over 300 games at two of the biggest clubs in the world and being first choice for Spain while they were dominating the international stage just proves that he should be considered as one of the best of his generation, especially when there aren’t a lot of great central defenders around at the moment.

The final word can go to his former manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. “I do not believe that there is any other player in Europe playing at his level. He is very competitive and ambitious. He is strong in the air and dominates at set pieces.”