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.”

13th March – Edgar Davids

Going from winning the Champions League, Eredivisie and Serie A title to managing Barnet just shows how crazy Edgar Davids career was but he was certainly a very good player and one that was instantly recognisable.

Due to glaucoma Davids had to wear protective glasses and this made him stand out on the field to anyone that watched him play but for people that loved football they could see that not only was he one of the most combative and energetic midfielders he also had a lot of creativity and could see passes that attacking midfielders would have been proud of.

Davids Ajax

Davids is now 41 and started his career at Ajax, making his debut on the 6th September 1991 in a 5-1 win over RKC Waalwijk. The midfielder spent five years at the club and helped them to three league titles as well as a UEFA Cup and the Champions League in 1995. In total he played 106 league games and scored 20 times before moving to Inter Milan at the start of the 1996-97 season. Unfortunately he wasn’t very successful at the club and after just 19 games he left for Juventus in December 1997 for £5.3 million.

He quickly became an important member of the side and was known as the driving force in the midfield and had six very successful years at the club. He picked up three Serie A titles as well as two Italian Supercups but sadly for him and the club during his time there he reached the Champions League final twice but would go on to lose both games. In January 2004 his time with Juventus was over and he joined Barcelona in loan. They were nowhere near the team they are now and were struggling in midtable but recently appointed Frank Rijkaard realised they needed more of a presence in the centre of the park and Davids was the perfect man. After he joined the club soon found form and they would rise up to second in the table by the end of the season and this was seen as the catalyst for their dominance of Spanish and European football.

Davids Juve

Surprisingly in the summer of 2004 he made the move back to Inter Milan, however he once again only lasted one season and was released from his contract in August 2005. Davids then joined Tottenham Hotspur and was an instant success and quickly became a favourite. In both years he would help the club finish fifth but he only managed one goal in a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

Davids TH

Davids returned to Ajax on the 28th January 2007 and helped the club win the KNVB Cup by scoring the winning penalty against AZ. But a broken leg in the following pre season meant he couldn’t have the same impact in his second spell. On the 20th August 2010 he made another surprising move, this time joining Championship side Crystal Palace. He would only stay until the 8th November but he still described the experience as one of the best of his life.

After this spell he stayed in London and wanted to get back into the game so joined Barnet as player-manager on the 11th October 2012 and would be named as man of the match on his debut in a 4-0 win over Northampton Town. However, despite his early success he could not keep Barnet in the Football League and after failing to challenge for promotion he resigned from the club on the 18th January 2014 with a 36% win rate.

The final word can go to George Burley after he left Crystal Palace. “It was a privilege to work with him, everybody at the club enjoyed it, he’s been a world class player. It was a great experience for everyone at the club and if you asked me to do it again I would.”

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.”

29th October – Edwin Van Der Sar

It is difficult to list who Alex Ferguson’s greatest signings were in his time at Manchester United but one name that should never be missing is Edwin Van Der Sar because he came in at a time when they were desperate for a top quality keeper.

Having the quality to play in goal for Manchester United is only half the battle but to be successful they also has to have a presence about them and deal with the mental pressure of barely being in a match and then having to pull off a world class save. Van Der Sar is rightly considered one of the greatest of all time.

The 44 year old started his career at Ajax under current Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and made his debut for the club in the 1990-91 season. He would have to wait until the 1993-94 season to become the number one at the club and he proved that he deserved the position as he was named Dutch Goalkeeper of the Year award and would hold on to the trophy for the next three seasons. Van Der Sar also helped the club win the Champions League in the 1994-95 season and was voted the Best European Goalkeeper. In total he played 226 games for the club and won four Eredivisie titles and three KNVB Cups and he even scored a goal from the penalty spot in a 9-1 win over De Graafschap.
VDS Ajax
In 1999 he left Ajax and joined Juventus. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Reggina and was the first non-Italian to play in goal for the club. He would be the first choice keeper for the next two seasons but on both occasions they missed out on the title. In the summer of 2001 the club bought Gianluigi Buffon and Van Der Sar was unwilling to sit on the bench.

He then made a surprising move joining newly promoted to the Premier League Fulham on the 1st August 2001. He made his league debut in a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. The goalkeeper stayed at Fulham for four seasons and was easily one of the best keepers in the Premier League meaning that every transfer window he was linked with moves away.
VDS Fulham
After 154 appearances for Fulham he left for Manchester United on the 10th June 2005 and was an instant success at the club. He didn’t miss a league game in his first season and in his second he would be a key player as they lifted the Premier League title with the goalkeeper being named in the PFA Team of the Year. The following season was even better as he helped the club retain the title and win the Champions League final against Chelsea after saving Nicolas Anelka’s penalty.

Van Der Sar signed a new contract at the club and was getting better the older he got and set a new club, Premier League and overall English league record by not conceding a goal for 1311 minutes before Newcastle United striker Peter Lovenkrands scored past him. At the end of the season he had kept 21 clean sheets, lifted another Premier League title and was named the Best European Goalkeeper for a second time, 14 years after he first received the award.
VDS MU
Injuries limited his playing time in the 2009-10 season but he bounced back in the following campaign and helped the club reach another Champions League final. In his last game, they would unfortunately lose against Barcelona and in May 2011 he retired after 820 career appearances.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “We had a bad period trying to replace Peter Schmeichel. It wasn’t until we brought in Edwin that we got back to the level we had with Peter. Edwin was a great buy for us, absolutely brilliant. There was a magnificence and calmness about him and he was great for our players.”

24th September – John Arne Riise

John Arne Riise might be a left back but it wasn’t his defending he was best known for as he had a phenomenal left foot and scored some sublime goals.

He is now currently playing in Cyprus with APOEL and at the age of 34 he is coming towards the end of his career but he does have some good memories, particularly at Liverpool where he helped them win the Champions league in 2005 in that incredible match against AC Milan. Riise also has the honour of being Norway’s most capped player and is definitely seen as a hero in his home country.

The defender started his career at Norwegian club Aalesund and after a fantastic spell he was being linked with moves away from the club. His five goals in 25 league games convinced French club Monaco to sign the full back. During the 1998-99 season he only played eight times but in the following campaign he became a regular in the side and he helped them win the Ligue 1 title. However, soon after he fell out with manager Claude Puel after saying he wanted to leave the club. Riise had been frustrated because bids had been rejected for him as Monaco wanted a higher transfer fee.

Eventually in 2001 he joined Liverpool for £4 million and made his debut against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup and scored as Liverpool won the game 3-2. He quickly became a fan favourite because of his attacking play from left back and ended his first season in England with seven Premier League goals. The next few seasons were difficult for Riise but after the appointment of Rafael Benitez he rediscovered his form and helped the club win the Champions League. In the final he had a mixed game as he set up the all important first goal for Steven Gerrard but then went on to miss his spot kick in the shootout.
Riise LFC
In his time at Liverpool he also helped them win the FA Cup which also went to penalties and Riise was brave enough to step up once more and this time he managed to score. But after this he started getting less game time and although he made it into Liverpool’s top 50 appearance makers it seemed like his time at the club was coming to an end.

On the 18th June 2008 he signed for Italian side Roma and once again quickly became a fan favourite because of his wholehearted displays and his important goals for the club. He seemed to always pop up in the games that mattered to the fans, he scored a goal against Inter in a pivotal game of the season and then followed this up against Milan with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory and then also scored a last minute header to give his team a 2-1 win over Juventus.
Riise Roma
After 99 league games and three seasons at the club he was on the move, this time joining Fulham on the 13th July 2011 and joined his brother Bjorn Helge at the club. He was a very consistent player during his three years there but he did not manage to score which was the most surprising thing about his second spell in England. His final year at the club was a disaster for everyone as they ended up getting relegated to the Championship and Riise left when his contract expired.
Riise FFC
Now at APOEL, he made his debut against Ayia Napa and set up two goals in a 3-1 away victory.

The final word can go to Martin Jol. “John Arne Riise is an experienced international left back who will bring a number of qualities to our squad and provide more options for me. He is an accomplished player defensively, who can also contribute to our attacking play.”

23rd September – Paolo Rossi

Paolo Rossi is celebrating his 58th birthday today and he is a legend in his home country of Italy because he led them to the World Cup title in 1982.

In the tournament he scored six goals which meant he won the Golden Boot and was then also awarded the Golden Ball for being the player of the tournament becoming only the third player after Garrincha in 1962 and Mario Kempes in 1978 to pick up all three awards at a World Cup. Although his reputation was slightly tarnished after a betting scandal in 1980 he claimed he was innocent and came back from a two year ban just in time to become the country’s hero.
Rossi Italy
Rossi started his career at Juventus but had a difficult time there and after three operations on his knee he was sent out on loan to gain experience at Como. He was shifted out to the right wing by Como and could not show his true potential. But in 1976 he moved to Vicenza where his career really started and he began to play as the centre forward and immediately showed his eye for goal.

In his first year at the club he won the Serie B Golden Boot after his 21 goals in 36 games. These goals also helped the club gain promotion to the top flight, where Rossi just seemed to get better and better, hitting 24 goals in just 30 games and becoming the first player to ever finish as the top scorer in Serie A and Serie B in consecutive seasons. After his impressive spell at Vicenza he was called up to the Italy squad for the 1978 World Cup and gained international fame as one of the world’s best strikers after scoring three goals and assisting another four in the tournament.

Despite averaging better than a goal in every game in the following campaign, he could not stop Vicenza getting relegated and was loaned out to Perugia for the 1978-79 season. He scored 13 times in his first year with the club but then the betting scandal stopped him playing more games for them.
Rossi Vicenza
After he completed his ban he rejoined Juventus in the 1980-81 season but could only play three times, scoring one goal but this earned him his call up to the Italy squad for the 1982 World Cup which was heavily criticised before the tournament. The criticism was justified as he looked a shadow of his former self in the three group games, however Enzo Bearzot stood by his striker. He repaid this faith by scoring a hatrick in the quarter final against Brazil in a 3-2 win and then followed this up with two against Poland in the semis. Then in the final against Germany he scored the first of Italy’s three goals to help them lift the trophy.

After the World Cup he could not keep up his phenomenal goal scoring record for Juventus but he did still have a record that many strikers would be proud of – 24 league goals in 83 games. These goals were good enough to win two Serie A titles, the Italian Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the European Cup in his four years at the club.
Rossi Juventus
In 1985 Rossi joined AC Milan and although he only scored two goals he went down as a legend as these goals came in a derby victory over Inter. He only spent one season at the club and then went on to play for Verona, and scored the 100th league goal of his career at the club and finally retiring with a record of 103 goals in 251 games, as well as 20 in 48 games for the national team.

The final word can go to the Italy manager Enzo Bearzot speaking after the 1982 World Cup. “I knew that if Rossi wasn’t in Spain, I wouldn’t have had an opportunist inside the penalty box. In that area, he was really good, really fast, always ready to fool defenders with his feints.”