26th June – Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders to have ever played football and spent his full career at one club.

To play over 900 times for a team like AC Milan and over 100 times for Italy just shows how talented Maldini was. He was known for his positional sense and his reading of the game which led him to being labelled as the defender that doesn’t need to tackle.

Maldini Italy

Maldini made his debut on the 20th January 1985 against Udinese at the age of 16. In the following campaign he became a regular and was handed the number three shirt, which his father Cesare had also worn. With a promising start titles came soon after and the 1987-88 season marked his first Serie A title and this was down to Maldini and his fellow defenders as they conceded 14 goals Over the next two seasons, his form translated to European football as Milan won the European Cup back to back.

In the early 90s Milan became known as The Invincibles as they went the whole 1991-92 season unbeaten and a record 58 games without losing. They not only won three consecutive titles but they also reached three consecutive Champions League finals, winning one of them against Barcelona.

Maldini AC

The club went through a transitional period after Fabio Capello left and several of the more experienced members of the squad moved on. But Maldini was still showing his ability and he was rewarded by being made Milan captain . After he galvanised the squad, he led them to another Serie A title in the 1998-99 season.

It wasn’t until Carlo Ancelotti was named manager that they finally began to dominate in Europe again with Maldini lifting the Champions League trophy as captain for the first time after defeating Juventus on penalties in 2003 and was named man of the match. In the space of six years Milan got to the final three times. Maldini opened the scoring in 2005 against Liverpool and played in the 2007 final which they won against the same opposition becoming the oldest captain to lift the trophy.

Maldini

Maldini during this period would also go on to break Dino Zoff’s Serie A appearance record after playing his 571st league game. He did announce his plans to retire at the end of the 2007-08 season however his performances were still of the highest quality and he was convinced to stay on.

On the 16th February 2008, Maldini played in his 1000th professional game after coming on as a substitute against Parma. One season later he decided it was time to hang up the boots and played his 902nd and last game for Milan against Fiorentina on the 31st May 2009. Milan then decided to retire his number three shirt to honour their captain.

The final word can go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker.”

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23rd June – Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane was a fantastic footballer that amazed fans all over the world and is now proving that he is equally adept at being a manager.

It will be interesting to see what he does after leading Real Madrid to three Champions League trophies. He has surprised a lot of pundits by showing tactical knowledge but it shouldn’t be a surprise after everything that happened to him during his playing days.

The midfielder started his career at French side Cannes and made his professional debut on the 18th May 1989 against Nantes and in his first full season he helped the club to a fantastic 4th place in Ligue 1.He showed a lot of talent in his early years and this earned him a move to Bordeaux in 1992.

While at Bordeaux it seemed like he was consistently linked with moves away from the club due to his form but for whatever reason it seemed like clubs were not willing to take a chance on him. But in 1996, and his finally year at the club, he won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year. During his time there he played 139 league games and scored 28 goals.

Zidane Bordeaux

Juventus signed Zidane and he was an instant success in Italy and even though they had just won the Champions League many believed that he would improve the squad. In his first season they reached the final again but were beaten by Dortmund, however they did win the Serie A title. In the following season he scored seven times in 32 games as they retained the title and once again they reached the Champions League final but were beaten, this time to Real Madrid. In 1998 he was named World Player of the Year.

Zidane Juve

He stayed with Juventus until Real Madrid paid a world record fee for the playmaker in 2001. In his first season he got his hands on the Champions League trophy and scored one of the greatest goals ever seen against Bayer Leverkusen. At Real Madrid the trophies didn’t flow as often as he would have hoped but he did help them win the La Liga title at the end of the 2002-03 season. His ability was never questioned but occasionally he did show a different side and his disciplinary record was not the greatest and he received more red cards than people realise.

Zidane RM

On the international stage he also showed these two sides of his game by scoring two goals in the final of the 1998 World Cup final and being named the best player of Euro 2000. However, he might always be more remembered for his headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the final of the 2006 World Cup. This would be his last moment as a footballer.

The final word can go to Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano. “He dominates the ball, he is a walking spectacle and plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot. He makes it worthwhile going to the stadium.”

7th June – Cafu

Cafu is one of the best ever right backs in football and will be hoping that his country Brazil can win the World Cup in 2018.

The right back helped his country win the trophy in 1994 and 2002 as well as the Copa America twice and will be looking on keenly this summer to see how his national side get on. The only statistic that anyone needs to hear to prove how good Cafu was is that he is the most internationally capped Brazilian player of all time.

But it wasn’t always easy for the defender as he was turned down by a lot of clubs when he was younger and could not get signed, however, in 1988 he was given the opportunity to show his talents at home town club Sao Paulo. It did take him a little while to break into the first team but when he did he was influential in helping the club win back to back Copa Libertadores and World Championships in 1992 and 1993. Just a year later he was named South American Footballer of the Year.

Cafu SP

1995 was an interesting time for Cafu as he signed for Brazilian team Juventude but never played a game for the club and moved to Spanish side Real Zaragoza where he won the Cup Winners’ Cup. After 17 appearances he returned to Brazil, joining Palmeiras, this once again though was only a short stay and he was being linked with moves back to Europe.

Italian side Roma signed the right back and he was loved by the fans for his willingness to fly forward and join the attack as well as his solid defending. In 2001 he helped the club win Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana but these would be his only trophies during his six year spell. After 163 league games and 5 goals, Cafu made the move to AC Milan.

Cafu Roma

In his first season with the club, he won Serie A for the second time in his career and in the following campaign played a part in reaching the Champions League final, which they unfortunately lost to Liverpool, in arguably the greatest game in the competitions history. He did manage to get revenge for this defeat just two years later by winning the Champions League against the same opposition.

Cafu AC

His final season for the club was the 2007-08 season where he was not an automatic pick but in his last professional game he did manage to grab a goal in a 4-1 win over Udinese. To show how much he was loved in Italy, he has been named in both Roma and AC Milan’s Hall of Fame.

The final word can go to England World Cup hero Geoff Hurst. “Cafu was the complete package. It’s not often I find myself waxing lyrical about a defender, but Cafu was that and so much more. Sir Alex Ferguson once jokingly asked whether Cafu had two hearts, on account of his tireless running and unstinting stamina.”

22nd May – Danny Tiatto

Danny Tiatto might not be well known to younger Manchester City fans but once upon a time he did win their Player of the Year vote.

The left back was a very solid player that was never too far away from controversy all throughout his career and was part of the Manchester City squad that had a lot of ups and downs. Before he arrived at City, he started his career in his native Australia with the Victorian Premier League side Bulleen Lions and after an impressive start to his career he made the move to Melbourne Knights. Tiatto was largely used as a left winger and was a key part of their back to back championship winning sides.

Tiatto Knights

In 1996, Tiatto decided it was time to try and move to Europe and start a career over there and his first stop was Italy. He joined Salernitana in Serie B, however, he only lasted 11 games and moved onto Swiss side Baden for a short spell.

Tiatto then got a move to England, joining Stoke City on loan, and would go on to play 15 times for the club scoring one goal against Huddersfield Town. In the summer of 1998, Manchester City paid £300,000 for services and initially struggled to hold down a first team place in his first season. The following year was much more successful as the club gained promotion to the Premier League with Tiatto making 35 appearances. It was much tougher in the top flight with the club getting relegated at the end of the year but the defender performed well and was the one bright spot, meaning he was getting linked with moves to other Premier League teams.

Tiatto Man City

He decided to stay and helped the club once again gain promotion. On their return to the Premier League, Tiatto struggled to keep his place in the team and over the next two years only made 13 starts and his contract was not extended by the club. Leicester City quickly signed the free agent and quickly became a firm favourite and voted the Fans Player of the Year in 2005. This though as fans have acknowledged was a very poor time for the club. He did also have a spell as captain of the club but after 83 games in three seasons he decided to return to Australia.

Tiatto Leicester

Brisbane Roar was his first destination and he had a few controversies while there and was eventually sacked in 2010 by manager Ange Postecoglou. Before retiring from the game he returned to Melbourne Knights and also had short spells at St Albans Saints, Werribee City and Point Cook.

The final word can go to former Manchester City manager Joe Royle. “When he first came here he was a little bit undisciplined in his play. But he’s played at left back, in left midfield, and centre midfield, and wherever he’s played he has acquitted himself very well. In a season of struggle, he’s certainly been one of the big bonuses.”

26th March – Simon Kjaer

Simon Kjaer has been one of the more consistent centre backs around Europe in recent years but it seems like every time he is close to a really big move his form plummets and mistakes creep into his game.

The centre back is still only 26 but has a lot of experience and has played in some big games for both club and country so his career will more than likely get better. Over the years he has been linked with transfers to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea to name a few and it is felt that he would be good in the Premier League and the English top flight definitely needs more top quality defenders.

Kjaer started his career at Danish club Midtjylland and even at a young age he was linked with big moves and even had a trial with Real Madrid in August 2007 but unfortunately a deal could not be agreed. Instead he signed a new five year deal with his first club and made his debut in a 2-0 win over AGF on the 30th September 2007. He would play 21 times for the club before making the move to Italian side Palermo in July 2008.

Kjaer Palermo

He would have to wait until October to make his debut as a half time substitute in a 3-1 defeat to Fiorentina. Despite the loss Kjaer played well and quickly established himself as an important member of the side and ended the season with 27 appearances and three goals. After a very successful first season he was named the 2009 Danish Talent of the Year and during the 2009-10 campaign he would go on to produce even better performances, ending with a very consistent World Cup which meant once again that many other clubs were looking at him and Palermo had to accept they were going to lose him in the summer.

On the 8th July 2010 he made the move to Wolfsburg but unfortunately Kjaer and the club got off to an indifferent start and were not achieving what they had expected to. After manager Steve McClaren was sacked, Felix Magath took over and it was much tougher for Kjaer to get a regular place in the team and was made a scapegoat by the new manager for the problems Wolfsburg were having.

Kjaer Wolfsburg

After making three appearances at the start of the 2011-12 season the centre back made the move to Roma on a season long loan. This was also not a good move for him as he struggled to show his quality and was even sent off against Lazio in a 2-1 defeat which led to the club not buying him permanently and he had to return to Wolfsburg. After burying the hatchet with Magath he would eventually get back into the team but he only lasted one more season.

His next move was to Lille in France and was very impressive in his first campaign helping the club to 21 clean sheets and was included in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season after they only conceded 26 goals in 38 league games. The defender has continued to put in good performances and has proven that when he is on form he can be a leader and one of the best in Europe.

Kjaer Lille

The final word can go to Palermo director Walter Sabatini. “I have heard that Juventus and their observers have been watching Kjaer. There is also an interest from Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. But he’ll stay, even he knows that. All is well, he wants to complete his development. Simon should be valued based on the qualities he has.”

9th March – Juan Sebastian Veron

Manchester United have spent a lot of money over the years and a lot of this has been on Argentinean midfielders, including Juan Sebastian Veron.

Obviously Angel Di Maria has been grabbing all the headlines lately for his somewhat average performances after a massive money move and to a lot of the Old Trafford faithful it must feel like déjà vu. Veron came to Manchester United with a reputation of being one of the best players in the world and he will forever go down as one of Alex Ferguson’s biggest flops as he struggled to adapt to life in England and failed to produce the goods while in the Premier League.

Now 40, Veron started his career in Argentina with Estudiantes, where he is currently chairman, in 1993. During his second season at the club he became a valuable member of the team and helped the club get promoted to the top flight. After 60 league games he would leave and join Argentinean giants Boca Juniors. While there he lined up alongside Diego Maradona but he would only last 17 league games before moving on to try his hand in Europe.

JSV Estudiantes

In 1996 he joined Italian side Sampdoria, who were managed by Sven Goran Eriksson at the time, and was an instant success. This convinced Parma to splash out on the midfielder after an impressive 1998 World Cup and he was once again one of the first names on the team sheet as the club won the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. Despite this success he would only stay the one season and was signed once again by Eriksson, this time for Lazio and he would go on to even better things.

JSV Sampdoria

During the 1999-00 season he was the driving force and it was not a surprise that they were so successful as Veron was one of the best attacking midfielders in the world at that point and would create numerous chances for the strikers. Lazio ended the season winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup as well as lifting the European Super Cup. His second season was not quite as productive as he was involved in a lot of off field matters that seemed to affect his performances.

On the 12th July 2001 Veron was signed by Manchester United for £28.1 million which was a new British transfer record. But the midfielder never lived up to this price tag and despite some impressive performances in the Champions League, he never quite showed his talents in the Premier League. Injuries also didn’t help his situation but he did manage to pick up a Premier League winners medal at the end of the 2002-03 season. After 51 fairly disappointing league games, Veron somewhat surprisingly moved to another English club, signing for Chelsea for £15 million.

JSV MU

At Chelsea he got off to a good start by scoring a winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield but not a lot went right for him after that and he only ended up playing 15 times in total for the club. When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager he loaned Veron out to Inter Milan for two seasons and his performances were better in Italy as he helped the club win the Coppa Italia twice. He did return to Chelsea but it wasn’t for long as he was quickly loaned back out to Estudiantes until the end of his contract. He was back to his best in his homeland and played for a further six seasons and was even voted South American Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2009 as well as best player of the 2009 Copa Libertadores as his side went on to win the competition.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “He is a marvellous player. He brings a nice pace to the team. What we have done is bring in a really top player, one of the best in the world. He’s a fantastic footballer and will bring a personality to the team.”

13th February – Eljero Elia

Southampton have had a fantastic season so far and to help them secure European football next season they brought in winger Eljero Elia on loan and he looks to be a fantastic addition.

At the age of 28 he has been around a while and many people believe he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential and has had a few fallings out in his career which have stopped him reaching the very top but he is showing now that he can succeed at the very top. Koeman will be hoping his unpredictability helps him on the pitch and if they can secure a top four place then Elia will have a big part to play.

Elia ADO

Elia began his career at ADO Den Haag and made his professional debut at the age of 17 against Groningen and he went on to play a further three games over the season and scored his first goals against AZ. In the following seasons he was a first team regular but after several disagreements with the new coach at the club he left for Twente in 2007. In his first season he played 30 times and scored two goals but produced some exciting performances and when Steve McClaren became manager he seemed to get the best out of him, scoring 11 goals and being named the Dutch Football Talent of the Year in 2009. This led to him being linked with moves away and he eventually left for German side Hamburg. His first season at the club was blighted by injuries and he only managed to play 24 games and in his second season he began to get frustrated at not getting more chances in the first team and was subsequently fined after he claimed the club didn’t look after him when he was injured.

Elia Twente

On the 31st August 2011 he made the move to Italian giants Juventus but once again he found first team opportunities limited and after just one season he was on the move again this time to Werder Bremen. Elia found it difficult to adapt to the team’s style of play and was also suspended by the club after being caught speeding. A better second season meant the club changed their mind about selling him but it wasn’t long before he was causing controversy again and manager Viktor Skrypnyk decided to drop him before the Nordderby against former club Hamburg.

Elia WB

This seemed to be the last straw at the club and it was announced that he would be joining Southampton on loan soon afterwards. He made his debut for the club in a 1-0 win over Manchester United and then followed this up in the next Premier League game with two goals in the win over Newcastle United. Southampton fans will be hoping he can keep up his early promise and just give them the extra energy needed in their push for the top four.

The final word can go to Ronald Koeman. “He is a good option for us. I believe in his qualities. He is fast, can play from the left and right, and can take people on one on one. He is hungry and that is the most important thing. We need really good players who want to develop themselves.”