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.

10th May- Dennis Bergkamp

He is definitely one of the best players to have ever been in the Premier League and is someone that made the league what it is today.

Dennis Bergkamp, now 45, is currently the assistant manager of Dutch side Ajax and may one day become a great manager but until then he will be considered one of the most technically gifted and intelligent footballers to have played in England and it must have been a real treat to watch him in training every day.

It always seemed like he was going to be a special player when he joined Ajax at the age of 11 and then was given his debut by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff in 1986. It only took him two months to score his first professional goal in a 6-0 win over HFC Haarlem and at the end of his first season he won his first European trophy and gained a lot of praise for his performances in the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Bergkamp Ajax
For the next few season he established himself as a regular in the side and was the top scorer in the Eredivisie from 1991 to 1993 as well as being voted Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1992 and 1993. These goals and performances helped the club win the league, the UEFA Cup and the KNVB Cup twice.

In 1993 he left Ajax for Inter Milan and made his debut against Reggiana on the 29th August. It was a tough first season for the Dutchman as the club struggled and he only managed eight league goals. They ended up finishing 13th in Serie A but they did win the UEFA Cup and Bergkamp finished as top scorer in the competition eight goals, including a hatrick against Rapid Bucharest. His second season at the club was even worse and his relationship with the press was at an all time low with them branding him a ‘donkey’ and when Massimo Moratti purchased Inter his time at the club was up.
Bergkamp Inter
Bergkamp joined Arsenal in June 1995 for £7.5 million and this price delighted Inter president Moratti who said. “You will be lucky if Bergkamp scored 10 goals.” At first it seemed like the Italian was correct as he failed to settle in England as he did not look good enough for the first six games, however a game against Southampton at Highbury would change everything. He scored twice and nobody ever doubted his abilities again.

Bergkamp was becoming a big player in England and was instrumental in the 1997-98 season. He finished as the club’s top scorer with 22 and this included his memorable hatrick against Leicester City and is regarded as one of the best ever seen. He unfortunately missed the FA Cup final through injury but was given the PFA Player of the Year award.

Once again in the 2001-02 season as Arsenal won the double, Bergkamp was a crucial part of the squad. He played in 33 games and assisted 15 goals and scored one of the best goals ever seen in a game against Newcastle United where he flicked it past the defender and rolled it into the net. In the next season he scored his 100th goal for the club and they won the FA Cup.
Bergkamp Arsenal
Bergkamp was also a major part of ‘The Invincibles’ with him playing 28 times and although the goals were beginning to dry up, his performances were still of the highest quality. After winning the FA Cup for the fourth time in 2005 he delighted everyone by signing a new one year contract with the club. Arsene Wenger said: “He has so much to offer, Dennis is a special talent with vast experience and that will certainly help us in our pursuit of honours.”

And in a day that was dubbed ‘Bergkamp Day’ by Arsenal fans he scored a goal in the 89th minute which proved to be his last competitive goal. The final word can go to the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “He has what we want to have at the club: dedication, huge desire to win, and a touch of class as well. I believe that ever single supporter who thinks about Dennis, speaks about class. He was completely dedicated to the club.”