28th August – Bojan Krkic

A player going from Barcelona to Stoke City is not a transfer that many football fans expect to see especially when they have played over 100 times for the Spanish giants.

Bojan will take time to settle in the Premier League but with him signing a four year contract at Stoke he will definitely have the opportunity to adapt to the pace and power of the league. The 24 year old still has the best years in front of him and after a very impressive pre season much is expected of him over the season and if Mark Hughes’ side can perform like they did last year then they could push for Europe.

The striker, who can also play on the wing, started his career in Barcelona’s B team and impressed for them in the 2006-07 season by scoring 10 goals in 22 games and went on to become the youngest player to play for Barcelona on the 16th September 2007 against Osasuna after coming on as a substitute. Three days later he then made his debut in the Champions League against Lyon. On the 20th October 2007, aged just 17 years and 53 days he started his first game and scored in the 25th minute against Villarreal. He finished his first season as a professional with 10 goals, including one in the Champions League against Schalke.

For the 2008-09 season Bojan was handed the number 11 shirt but he had to settle for a place on the bench for the majority of the season. But he played a role in helping the club win La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey. He was particularly effective in the Copa Del Rey by scoring five goals in the competition, including one in the final against Athletic Bilbao.
Bojan Barcelona
The 2009-10 season followed a similar pattern with him being used mainly off the bench but he had a fantastic end to the season which saw him score seven times in the final 12 games. In the following season he changed number once again and was given the number nine shirt. However he found himself behind David Villa, Pedro and Lionel Messi in the pecking order and didn’t quite hit the standards of the season before but he did play his 100th game for Barcelona and marked it with a goal against Getafe.

On the 22nd July he signed for Roma with a buyback clause giving Barcelona the option to re-sign him. He had to wait until the 1st October to score his first goal for the club against Atalanta and ended the season with seven goals in 33 appearances. After just one season he joined AC Milan on loan and after just three goals in 27 games he returned to former club Barcelona who took up the buyback option.
Bojan Roma
Without playing again for Barcelona he was sent out on loan, this time to Ajax. He had a tough start at the club by picking up a hamstring injury that would keep him out for a part of the first half of the season. But when he returned he helped Ajax win the league with four goals in 24 games.
Bojan Ajax
Stoke City signed him on the 22nd July 2014 for an undisclosed fee and he made his debut in a 1-0 loss against Aston Villa but put in a good performance.

The final word can go to Mark Hughes. “Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him as a player. He’s desperate to prove himself in the Premier League and we’re pleased to be able to offer him that platform.”

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16th July – Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale is one of the few players in the world that can be compared to Lionel Messi and teammate Cristiano Ronaldo but at the age of 25 he will only get better.

The Welsh international hasn’t always had the easiest career and has worked hard for his success and now playing for Real Madrid he will certainly get to pick up a lot of trophies and score a lot more goals before the end of his career. He will also be hoping to help Wales qualify for a major tournament in the near future and there will be a lot of pressure on him and Aaron Ramsey to deliver when the 2016 Euros qualifying starts.

Bale started his career at Southampton and became the second youngest player to ever play for the club when he came on the 17th April 2006 against Millwall at the age of 16 years and 275 days. It did not take him long to become a first team regular and when he broke into the side at the start of the next season he was known as a free kick specialist as he scored two in the opening two games of the season. He finished the year with five goals in 43 games and left for Tottenham Hotspur in May 2007.
Bale Soton
He started off brilliantly at his new club, scoring against Fulham, Arsenal and Middlesbrough in his first four starts, however an injury against Birmingham City meant he missed the rest of the season. Bale then struggled to break into the Spurs side and he was considered their second choice left back for the majority of the next two seasons. However, things changed in April 2010 as he scored the winner against Arsenal and then three days later once again got the winning goal against Chelsea. These results played a big part in the club qualifying for the Champions League.
Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group A - Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan - White Hart Lane
It was in the Champions League where bale showed everyone how much potential he had, firstly he set up all four goals in a qualifying match against Young Boys, then scored against FC Twente in the second group match. But it was against Inter Milan and Maicon, who was known as one of the best defenders in the world at the time, where he announced himself to the world. Although they lost 4-3 away, Bale scored a hatrick and then in the return match he set up two goals. Some would argue that Maicon never fully recovered from these two matches.

He continued to play well in all competitions but it was in his final year at Spurs that he went to the next level and his 26 goals convinced Real Madrid to pay a world record fee for the winger and in September he joined the Spanish giants. His first half a season was tough though as he struggled with injuries but he did score on his debut against Villarreal. But he did justify his price tag by scoring a sublime goals in the final of the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona and then scored the important second goal against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final.
Bale RM
Bale finished his first season at Real with 22 goals and 16 assists and now that he has settled more into the league and learned more about his teammates, he will have even more success.

The final word can go to the former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp. “He’s an amazing player. He’s got everything, there’s not a weakness in his make-up. He can head the ball, he’s as strong as an ox, he can dribble and shoot. Most important of all, he’s a smashing lad.”

8th June – Javier Mascherano

Javier Mascherano could be the most important player in the Argentina squad and even though he won’t get the headlines like Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero, their hopes of winning the World Cup could depend on how well he plays.

The midfielder will play just in front of the back four allowing the more attacking players to go and do what they do best with the knowledge that one of the best ball winners in Europe is protecting their defence. It is a job that only a few players can effectively do and Mascherano is one of the best at it.

The 30 year old began his career at River Plate and in his first season he won the Clausura Championship and also helped the club reach the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores, unfortunately they lost to rivals Boca Juniors on penalties. Several European clubs tried to sign Mascherano at this time, including Real Madrid but River decided to keep that player for another season. However, this one was less successful as they struggled in the league and once again lost in the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores.
LIBER CUP MASCHERANO
In 2005 he did leave the Argentinean side for Corinthians in Brazil but he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot which meant after just nine games he would not play again that season. After six months out he returned to a struggling side who were battling relegation and although his performances were still very high, the team were struggling. After just 28 games for the club, one of the most bizarre transfer happened in world football as he and Carlos Tevez joined West Ham. Mascherano did not have the same impact as Tevez and he only played 15 league games for the Hammers and in Janauary 2007 he was on the move once again.

Liverpool signed him and he made his debut against Sheffield United on the 24th February in a 4-0 win and was praised by manager Rafael Benitez. “He is young but he has great experience having played for his country. It’s clear that he is one of the best midfielders in the world but he can get better with us.” Mascherano and Xabi Alonso’s partnership in the centre of midfield was a key part of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final.
Mascherano Liverpool
In 2008 he signed a new four year deal and within a month he scored his first Premier League goal with a 20 yard strike against Reading. The 2009-10 season was a little harder for the hard tackler as he picked up two red cards during the season and had the worst disciplinary record in the league but he was considered undroppable when available and he was quickly becoming a fans favourite. However, after the 2010 World Cup he told new manager Roy Hodgson that he wanted to leave the club.

In August 2010 he joined Barcelona and his time there did not start well as his league debut ended in a 2-0 defeat to newly promoted Hercules at home. It was a difficult first season at the Spanish club with a lot of his early appearances being as a substitute and then in the second half of the season playing out of position as a central defender. But he performed well in this position, especially in the Champions League and he started the 2011 final alongside Gerard Pique and helped his team to a 3-1 win over Manchester United. Since then he has played most of his games in defence and has been a consistent performer for the team and even though he is not the tallest, he has never let the team down.
Mascherano Barca
He is yet to score for Barcelona in his 184 appearances but he is a valued member of the team and this summer was awarded a new contract keeping him at the club until 2018.

His teammates know how important he is and the final word can go to Lionel Messi. “He has turned into a fundamental player for us. He hasn’t had a bad game for us since Guardiola put him in the middle of the defence.”

7th April – Franco Di Santo

Argentina have one of the best strike forces in world football so it is really surprising to see that a Wigan Athletic player was included in their squad.

Franco Di Santo who is 25 today was called up in 2012 and has gone on to make three appearances for his country. His manager at the time Roberto Martinez summed it up perfectly by saying: “He’s come back after sharing a dressing room with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. As a striker, that’s as nice a dream as you can have.”

The striker first came to England in 2008 joining Chelsea as an 18 year old for £3.4 million after he scored 26 goals in 76 matches for Chilean club Audax Italiano. Remarkably he finished as the top scorer for Chelsea’s reserves even though he was only there for half a season which led to him being part of the first team squad in the next preseason and on the 31st August he made his Premier League debut against Tottenham Hotspur. Although he didn’t score that season he showed a lot of promise and was linked with loan moves away from the club. Even though the fans did not see the best of him his teammates were clearly impressed and defender Ricardo Carvalho gave him the nickname ‘Crespito’ which means Little Crespo in reference to Hernan Crespo who was a phenomenal striker.
Di Chelsea
Blackburn Rovers were the team to take a chance on him and on his debut against Aston Villa he provided an assist for David Dunn and was a constant threat and manager Sam Allardyce was very impressed and decided to extend his loan till the end of the season. However, his time was limited after Christmas and he did not play as much as he would have hoped but he did play well in a game against local rivals Burnley, once again setting up Dunn and this time grabbing a goal himself.
Di Blackburn
It looked as though his talents were going to waste until Wigan Athletic signed him for £2 million and although his goal record did not improve, his performances were consistent and under Roberto Martinez he was definitely a vital part of their team and helped them play an exciting style of football. During his time at the club he seemed to score important goals including a last minute winner against Sunderland, two against relegation rivals QPR and once against Southampton which helped the club to an away victory. He was also crucial in helping the team win the FA Cup against Manchester City so he will surely look back on his time at the club fondly.
Di Wigan
Di Santo is currently playing in the Bundesliga at Werder Bremen so he is still highly rated and at the age of 25 he could become the striker everyone thought he was going to become. Former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari thought the future should have been built around him and he will get the last word on the striker saying after a preseason game. “It’s important for us to put some good young players in the team. Di Santo scored one goal for us and it’s good for him that he played in this match. He will grow as a player and we can continue to build for the future of the team for the next 11, 15 or 20 years.”