1st March – Djimi Traore

When you think of Champions League winners, Djimi Traore is definitely not the first player that comes to mind even to Liverpool fans but he played an important role in the 2005 final.

The 2005 final will always be remembered for Liverpool coming back from 3-0 down at half time to win the trophy but what is often forgotten is that in the second half the Liverpool defence, including Traore put in some crucial blocks and tackles that stopped counter attacks and certain goals for AC Milan. The left back is now 35 and nobody can take away his Champions League winners medal but he did have some disastrous moments during his career.

Traore started his career at his hometown club Laval and after looking like a good prospect he made the move to Liverpool in 1999. The left back struggled to get into the first team and went out on loan in the 2001-02 season to Lens, making 20 appearances for the French club. On his return he started getting more chances but it looked like he was leaving during the 2003-04 season as he was very close to joining Everton. However, the move didn’t go through and when Rafael Benitez got the Liverpool job he got a new lease of life and improved defensively and offensively under the Spaniard.

UEFA Champions League: Anderlecht v Liverpool

The 2004-05 season was very mixed for Traore as he won the Champions League but he also scored one of the funniest own goals in a 1-0 defeat to Burnley in the FA Cup. He attempted a turn and a drag back inside his own six yard box but just ended getting himself mixed up and put the ball in the back of his own net. In the following season he struggled for game time as he was behind John Arne Riise in the pecking order and on the 8th August 2006 he joined Charlton Athletic for £2 million.

He got off to a terrible start after being sent off on his debut and a few months later against his former club he gave away a penalty after fouling Jermaine Pennant. After only half a season he was deemed not good enough and was allowed to join Portsmouth. He only featured 13 times at Portsmouth over the next season and a half before first going out on loan to Rennes and then Birmingham City.

Traore Monaco

On the 18th June 2009 his contract expired at Portsmouth and he joined Monaco where he put in some decent performances but once again after just two seasons he was on the move again, joining Marseille. In his only season he played 20 games and helped the club win the Coupe de la Ligue but he left at the end of the season and after a trial at Seattle Sounders he signed for the American side on the 23rd Feburary 2013. He played 28 times for the club but while he was there he scored an amazing 40 yard volley against Mexican side Tigres.

Traore SS

The final word can go to Seattle Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson. “Djimi has a great deal of experience and has played in the top leagues in Europe. He’s a very good defender and makes smart decisions with the ball coming out the back. Djimi brings us confidence and leadership.”

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14th June – Mohamed Diame

Mohamed Diame has been an important player for his clubs since joining the Premier League and will be hoping that he can help West Ham finish in the top half next season.

The midfielder is a powerful presence in the centre of the pitch but can also put in some good solid performances when used as a winger which he has done a lot of over the last few seasons. Diame has had a lot of health problems throughout his career but when he is on the pitch he never seems to struggle with the pace of any game and rarely picks up an injury.

He started his career at the Clairefontaine academy before joining Lens in 2003 where he stayed for a number of years but he faced a lot of health problems and he was restricted to just 28 league games for the ‘B’ team and after a full recovery he joined Spanish side CD Linares in 2007. He only stayed for one season but impressed enough to get a move to Spanish Segunda side Rayo Vallecano and was once again in great form that saw him linked with moves to Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona as well as Arsenal in England.
Diame RV
He did move to England in August 2009 when he signed for Wigan Athletic, however the move nearly fell through because of an alleged heart problem that was found during the medical. But the transfer did happen and he made his debut on the same day as the transfer but it did not go well as his team lost 5-0 against Manchester United. Diame scored his first goal for Sunderland on the 6th February 2010. Over the next few seasons he performed very well and was one of the main reasons why Wigan stayed in the Premier League for a number of years. But at the end of the 2011-12 season he decided after declining a new contract offer from the club.
Diame Wigan
On the 20th June 2012 he signed for West Ham on a three year deal and made his debut in a 1-0 win over Aston Villa. His first goal for the club came in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal but he had already proven that he was going to be a reliable player in the squad and one that would cause the opposition problems with his powerful running. His second goal was also in a 3-1 game but this time his side were on the right side of the result against Chelsea.
Diame WH
An injury against Liverpool could have ruined his season but he recovered a lot quicker than expected and has barely missed a game in his two seasons with the Hammers. In January 2013 there were a lot of clubs linked with the midfielder but he stayed with West Ham and last season he scored four times in 35 league games.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “His potential is really good and he’s ready to go and compete in the first team straight away. He can only get better and I hope he can go onto prove that to me and all of the West Ham United fans. He will be a very exciting addition to the squad.”

24th May – Vladimir Smicer

The Champions League final is being played today birthday boy Vladimir Smicer scored in one of the most memorable games in the history of the competition.

In 2005, he came on as a substitute in the first half for Liverpool and when his team were 3-0 down to AC Milan he probably thought his last game at the club was going to end in a terrible way but when Steven Gerrard pulled one back, Liverpool still needed something special and that is exactly what Smicer provided as he struck a great shot from 20 yards that flew into the bottom right hand corner. Liverpool went on to win the final on penalties and Smicer scored the last Liverpool spot kick and kissed the badge in front of the supporters moments before Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty.

What makes it all even more remarkable is that he had been told by manager Rafael Benitez that he would not be getting a new contract at the end of the season, so it just shows what a model professional the Czech international was, which he has been his whole career. He first came to prominence in 1996 as he helped his first club Slavia Prague to the semi final of the UEFA Cup and his country to the final of Euro 1996. He joined Lens shortly after and was also an instant success there scoring 16 times in 91 appearances from a wide position and helping them their first ever French title in the 1997-98 season.
Smicer Lens
In 1999 he joined Liverpool for £4.2 million and made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He scored his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Watford, however it was a difficult season for him personally as initially struggled with the pace of the English game and a few injuries. But the next season he was much more settled down and was an important member of Liverpool’s treble winning season, as they secured the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. He produced many memorable moments for Liverpool over the years and scored some unbelievable strikes, including a brilliant volley against Borussia Dortmund.
Smicer Liverpool
His old injuries started reoccurring though and he struggled to be a regular in the side under Benitez but he did make some key substitute appearances on the road to the Champions League final and as mentioned played a big part in the final. But in the summer of 2005 he left the club on a free transfer and returned to France.

He joined Bordeaux on a free transfer but only played 28 times in two seasons because of injuries and considered retiring but he continued playing and in 2007 he returned to Slavia Prague on a one year deal. The fans were delighted when he rejoined and they were even more pleased when he helped them lift their first Czech title for 12 years. He played his last football match on the 9th November 2009 and then a day later became the Czech sports manager of the national team.
Smicer Prague
The final word can go to Rafael Benitez who probably didn’t expect Smicer to be as influential as he was towards the end of his spell at Liverpool after deciding not to renew his contract. “He is a good professional and he’s determined to play as much as possible and he’ll do everything he can to help us in the last games.”

1st May – Marc Vivien Foe and Christian Benitez

Today is the birthday of two players that tragically died during their playing days and will be forever remembered.

Marc Vivien Foe was only 28 and Christian Benitez was only 27. Foe suddenly collapsed in the 72nd minute of a match for Cameroon against Brazil and Benitez died shortly after complaining about strong pains in his abdomen.

Foe started his career in 1991 for one of the biggest clubs in Cameroon, Canon Yaounde and stayed there for three years before signing for French club Lens. He made his debut in a 2-1 victory over Montpellier and won the French League title with the club in 1998. A season later he was linked with Manchester United and they bid £3 million for him but this was rejected by Lens.
Foe Cameroon
He did eventually come to the Premier League when he signed for West Ham for £4.2 million and played 38 league matches for the club scoring one goal against Sheffield Wednesday but at the end of the year he joined Lyon for £6 million. He missed most of his first season at the club after contracting malaria but when he recovered he helped his team win the French League Cup and for the second time in his career Ligue 1.

In 2002 he returned to the Premier League with Manchester City and after an amazing season in which he scored 9 goals in 35 league games he also has the honour of scoring the club’s final goal at Maine Road. Unfortunately he would not play club football again as he sadly passed way at the 2003 Confederations Cup.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter said: “Fifa and the whole family of football are shattered by this unbelievable tragedy. Football has lost a remarkable player and remarkable man.”
Foe Man City
Christian Benitez was the son of former Ecuadorian international Ermen Benitez and followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for the national side on 58 occasions scoring 24 goals. ‘Chucho’ started his career at El Nacional and had an impressive goalscoring record for them scoring 29 goals in 83 matches.
Benitez Ecuador
In July 2007 he transferred to Mexico to play for Santos Laguna and in his four years at the club he scored 51 times in 95 games which made a lot of European clubs take notice of him. Birmingham City decided to take a chance on him and signed him on loan after a long transfer saga for the 2009-10 season. He made his debut as a substitute on the opening day of the season against Manchester United and could have scored if it wasn’t for a wonderful one handed save by Ben Foster. He scored his first goal for the club in a 2-2 draw away to Liverpool and scored two classy goals against Everton but this was as good as it got for him and after only four goals for the club Birmingham chose not to sign him permanently.
Benitez Birmingham
He then returned to Santos Laguna and finished as their top scorer in his first season back. Although he had signed a new three year deal he transferred to Club America for $10 million dollars on the 22nd May 2011 and went on to play 79 times for the club scoring 52 goals.

His final transfer was to El Jaish Sports Club where he only played one game before sadly dying a day later. The final word can go to former teammate Lee Carsley. “It’s devastating news. I remember he had outstanding ability, was very quick and was a bit of a free spirit. He was a popular player in the dressing room, he got a grasp of the Birmingham accent quickly. It is sad to lose anyone like this.”