16th March – Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott burst onto the scene and went to the 2006 World Cup without playing a single minute in the Premier League and he continues to divide opinion.

At the age of 26 he still has a long career in front of him but he seems to have been around for a long time and maybe hasn’t developed as much as some Arsenal fans hoped. However, on his day his pace is frightening and he can be one of the deadliest finisher in Europe. Unfortunately after going to the World Cup so young a lot was expected.

Walcott England

Walcott started his career at Southampton and became the club’s youngest ever player at the age of 16 years and 143 days after coming off the bench against Wolves in a 0-0 draw. Just four days later he would make his full debut against Leeds United and would go on to score in the game. This began a remarkable rise for him as he would go on to score against Millwall and Stoke City.

Walcott Soton

This form alerted some of the biggest clubs in England and after just 23 professional games he joined Arsenal on the 20th January 2006. He would have to wait until the start of the following season to make his debut and made a good impression setting up a goal for Gilberto Silva against Aston Villa after coming on as a substitute. His first goal for the club would come in the League Cup final against Chelsea, unfortunately they would go on to lose the game 2-1.

During the 2007-08 season he would score his first home and Champions League goals against Slavia Prague and his first Premier League goals against Birmingham City on the 23rd February 2008.The biggest compliment given to Walcott was that at the start of the following campaign he was given the number 14 shirt, previously worn by Thierry Henry. But after a positive start a dislocated shoulder meant he missed a lot of the season and after recovering he was rewarded for his form by being given a new contract. Yet again the 2009-10 season was marred by injuries and restricted to just 15 league starts but in the Champions League he produced one of his best performances in a 2-2 draw with Barcelona. This must have given him confidence as he quickly became an important player for the club and started the next season very well with a hatrick against Blackpool in a 6-0 win.

Walcott Arsenal

But controversy was to follow after he admitted to diving to try and win a penalty in an FA Cup against Leeds on the 8th January 2011. He ended the season with a career high nine goals in the league and 13 in total which showed that he was getting better every season. Despite playing more games the next season he didn’t match his previous efforts and it was a little tougher for him.

Walcott was a striker at Southampton and many fans felt that is where he should be played and in the 2012-13 season he was given the opportunity and proved that he could play in that role. In his first game as a lone striker he scored a hatrick and provided two assists in a 7-3 win over Newcastle United and shortly after signed a new deal that put an end to any speculation he was about to leave. At the end of the season he finished 14 goals and 12 assists in 32 Premier League games and a further seven goals in other competitions. Two bad injuries in the next season limited his playing time but he still managed in five goals in 13 games. This season he has slowly been coming back from his injury but will be hoping he can make a difference towards the end of the campaign.

The final word can go to Harry Redknapp who gave him his professional debut. “The kid can run through puddles and not make a splash. He’s lightning, he drifts over the ground and he’s a fantastic talent. I hope this kid can go on and be a top player. He’s got a long way to go but I’m sure he can.”

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12th February – Benik Afobe

Benik Afobe has been one of the highest rated youngsters in recent seasons and now he is getting his chance to show his potential in the Championship and is clearly showing everyone his talents.

Still only 22 he seems to have been around for quite a lot of time and played for many different clubs. This is to his credit as it seems like he just wants to play football and when he knew he wasn’t getting chances at Arsenal he went out on loan to try and play games in a lower level. A lot of young players are criticised these days for just sitting in the reserves and youth teams and because of this they don’t develop as well as they should have.

Afobe started his career at Arsenal when he was just six years old and after progressing very well through the youth teams and scoring a lot of goals, he was being linked with a move to Barcelona but he instead signed a professional contract with the Gunners in February 2010. To get his first taste of professional football he had to go out on loan and on the 2nd November he joined Huddersfield Town and made his debut that night in a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. He would go on to score his first professional goals against Rotherham United in the Football League Trophy to help his new team to a 5-2 win. After an injury to Anthony Pilkington, Afobe got an extended run in the first team and was in brilliant form for the rest of the campaign. During the second half of the season he picked up four man of the match awards in a row. In total he made 32 appearances, scoring eight times and providing 10 assists.

Afobe HT

During the 2011-12 season he suffered a few injuries but did eventually get fit enough to join Reading on the 22nd March 2012. He only played three times for the club but he did still play a part in helping them secure the Championship title. At the beginning of the following season the striker joined Bolton Wanderers on a season long loan. He scored his first goal for the club on his first start in the League Cup against Crawley Town but he was largely used as a substitute and had to wait until the 23rd October to score his first league goal in a 2-2 draw with Wolves. In January his loan was cancelled and he subsequently joined Millwall, unfortunately an injury meant he only played five times for the club.

Afobe BW

He spent eight months on the sidelines and when he returned he went back out on loan, this time to Sheffield Wednesday, where he played 12 times and scored two goals. This season started with Afobe joining MK Dons on loan for the season and went on to score his first goal in a 1-0 win over Chesterfield on the 19th August. But the League Cup second round was probably the best moment of his career so far as he scored twice in a 4-0 win over Manchester United and carried on his superb form in the competition by scoring two more in the next round against Bradford City. On the 29th November he bagged a hatrick against Colchester United in a 6-0 win. After 19 goals in the first half of the season there were other clubs looking at the striker and he joined Wolves in the January transfer window and he scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Blackpool. Afobe so far has three goals in five Championship games for his new club.

Afobe MK

The final word can go to Wolves head of football development Kevin Thelwell. “Benik seems like a really outstanding young man. He is very pacey and powerful, good technically, and has an outstanding goalscoring record. We are really excited about him signing.”

1st February – Darren Fletcher

Darren Fletcher is celebrating his birthday today but he must have lots on mind as his long career at Manchester United seems to be over and he will have some tough decisions to make over the next few days.

Fletcher 1

The 31 year old should be in the best years of his career but unfortunately injuries and other problems have stopped him from getting on the pitch in recent seasons. Fletcher has been linked with West Ham and West Brom as well as many other teams in the last few weeks so it will be interesting to see where he ends up but he could definitely add something to a lot of teams.

Fletcher joined Manchester United as an 11 year old and would sign his first professional contract with the club on his 17th birthday and helped the reserve team win the Manchester Senior Cup during the 1999-00 season. However, his progress was halted by injuries and he had to wait until the 12th March 2003 to make his first team debut in a Champions League game against Basel. During the following campaign he began to get more opportunities and even started in the FA Cup final win over Millwall in May 2004. But he was still in and out of the team and just couldn’t make the central midfield position his own, and had to wait until the 1st January 2005 to score his professional goal in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Fletcher 2

After allegedly being criticised by Roy Keane in a TV interview in October 2005, Fletcher began to put in more commanding performances from then on and was always on the team sheet for the important games. On the 6th November he scored the only goal in a win over Chelsea which put to an end their 40 game unbeaten run.

Over the next two seasons he struggled to break into the team again after further signings were made but he did manage to pick up a Champions League winners medal at the end of the 2007-08 season. In the opening months of the following season he was given more chances in the team and scored three times. Arguably the biggest moment of his career came in the semi final of the Champions League against Arsenal where he was sent off and would miss the final. This made many realise how important he was to the team. Inter manager at the time Jose Mourinho said. “Fletcher is more important than people think. His work in midfield, especially in the midfield ‘wars’, in crucial matches is very important. Man United will miss his pace and aggression in defensive actions: he ‘eats’ opponents in defensive transition”

The 2009-10 saw Fletcher consolidate his place in the team and was very influential in one of the most dramatic Manchester Derbies as he scored twice in 4-3 win over City. During the campaign he was also named as the club’s vice captain and for his performances he was even named in the PFA Team of the Year.

Fletcher 3

After this ulcerative colitis kept him out of action for long spells and it is good to see him starting to get his career back on track and if he can join a club where he will play regular football then he will definitely be a consistent player and someone that will pass on a lot of experience to the younger players. He has played 342 times for Manchester United during some of their most successful years which just shows how good of a player he is.

The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson. “There isn’t a nicer boy at the club and he’s a star professional. He’s a fantastic character, a brilliant boy, and he’ll does his best as he always does. He has started sitting in the front of the back four and that could be his role in the future.”

1st November – Carl Cort

Newcastle United have a history of having great strikers and sometimes it is tough to live up to the expectations in the North East but unfortunately for Carl Cort he never got the chance to show his true potential.

The striker had a lot of potential and could have become an England international had it not been for the amount of time he spent on the sidelines. He was one of the many young players that Bobby Robson brought to St James’ Park but unlike the others he never got a run in the side.

Now 37, Cort started his career at Wimbledon but had his first taste of professional football on loan at Lincoln City in February 1997, where scored once in six games before returning to his parent club and making his debut on the 9th April against Aston Villa. Cort would have to wait until the 13th September to make another appearance and he showed his potential by scoring in the first minute against Newcastle in a 3-1 win. He followed this up three days later with a double against Millwall in the League Cup. His greatest moment in a Wimbledon shirt was also in the League Cup as he scored a hatrick against Sunderland in October 1999.
Cort Wimbledon
After 16 league goals in 73 games and an impressive goal record for the England under 21s, he joined Newcastle in the summer of 2000 for £7 million. He made his debut against Manchester United and then scored on his home debut against Derby County. However, this would be one of the few high points at the club as he began to struggle with hamstring problems kept him out for a long time. He eventually returned in March 2001 and scored five times in the final 10 games.

But during the 2001-02 season he suffered more injuries and barely played. With seven goals in 22 games it shows that when he was on the pitch he was a fantastic option and one that could have made a big difference to the side. But the problem was that he only made 22 league appearances in three and a half seasons.
Cort NUFC
In January 2004 he joined Wolves for £2 million and scored five times before the end of the season but this was not good enough to keep the club in the Premier League. During the 2004-05 season he had a relatively injury free season and he was a regular goalscorer, hitting the back of the net 16 times and causing a lot of problems for opposition defences. Cort began the following campaign in phenomenal form, scoring nine goals in the first 11 games but unfortunately his old injury problems returned and he only managed another 13 appearances and two goals over the rest of the season. After another season of injuries he was released by Wolves in May 2007.
Cort WW
On the 8th June 2007 he signed for Leicester City but this was a largely unsuccessful time as he only scored once in the League Cup and was released on the 11th January, allowing him to join Spanish side Marbella. After seven appearances and one goal he returned to England and signed for Norwich City. He scored once for the club against former team Wolves but this was not enough to stop Norwich getting relegated to League One.

After leaving Norwich, Cort spent the next two seasons at Brentford and scored six times in his 31 league games for the club. But on the 10th August 2012 he joined American side Tampa Bay Rowdies and has been there since.

The final word can go to Bobby Robson. “I still have a lot of faith in his ability. When he first came to the club he looked superb alongside Alan Shearer and he did very well for us. We did our research and we knew what a good player he was. It’s not his fault he has been injured the whole time.”

17th October – Kevin Lisbie

Kevin Lisbie might be 36 but he has just got better as his career has gone on and last season he was a massive part of Leyton Orient’s promotion challenge.

Leyton Orient surprised everyone last season and were unlucky to not get promoted after losing to Rotherham United on penalties in the League One playoff final. Lisbie has been a consistent goal scorer for the club and although this season has started slowly for the club, they will be hoping to pick up some better results and recover from losing manager Russell Slade. The striker is just as important off the field as he is on it and his experience will be vital now.

The Jamaican international started his career at Charlton Athletic and made his professional debut during the 1996-97 season and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League in his second season. He did not get much of a chance in the top flight and had to go out on loan. He joined Gillingham and played seven times for the club, scoring four times. With Charlton getting relegated he was expected to play a part in the first team but this did not happen and he had to go out on loan during the 1999-00 season, joining Reading, however he only played twice.

Charlton once again gained promotion but this time Lisbie got more of a chance after a loan spell at QPR in December 2000, he went on to play 18 Premier League games. He had his best goalscoring season in the following campaign for the club, hitting the back of the net five times but in February 2002 he was placed on the transfer list. He eventually signed a new contract in May.
Lisbie CA
His best moment in a Charlton shirt came in September 2003 when he scored a hatrick in a 3-2 win over Liverpool but unfortunately he could not build on this as he suffered from injuries and ended it with five goals in just 10 games. After he returned he became a regular in the side during the 2004-05 campaign but after suffering from nosebleeds it was discovered that he had a benign tumour in the back of his nose which had to be treated.

In the 2005-06 season he was loaned out a few times, firstly to Norwich City and then Derby County and this signalled that his time at Charlton was over. After 176 games for the club he was released and after a successful trial at Colchester United he joined the club in August 2007. Despite the club getting relegated from the Championship, Lisbie was in fantastic form and in just one season he surpassed his league goals for Charlton after scoring 17 times and finished as the club’s top scorer.
Lisbie CU
This meant that clubs were interested in him and he joined Ipswich Town for £600,000 in July 2008. He started off quite well at the club but struggled to hold down a first team place, with him failing to play a single game in the last two years. During this time he had to go out on loan again, and rejoined Colchester in August 2009 and scored twice on his second debut on the opening day in a 7-1 win over Norwich. He once again became a fan favourite as he finished as their top scorer with 13 goals but with the club failing to get promoted he decided not to sign for the club permanently.

He then spent the 2010-11 season on loan to Millwall in the Championship but injury problems meant he could not play to his full potential and he only managed four goals in 20 appearances. After being released by Ipswich he joined Leyton Orient on the 9th September 2011 and has become a hero for the club, scoring 46 times in his three full seasons at the club so far, with a best of 18 coming last season.
Lisbie LO
The final word can go to Russell Slade. “Kevin is a huge player for us. He’s a class act and an excellent professional, who offers us valuable experience and quality, both on and off the pitch.”

27th September – Lloyd Sam

A lot of high profile players have gone over to America in recent years but there are others that have went over from England and made a big impression, like Lloyd Sam.

The 30 year old plays alongside world superstars such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill as well as others that have played in England such as Bobby Convey, Richard Eckersley and Bradley Wright-Phillips. So Sam will certainly feel at home at the New York Red Bulls and is known as someone that can use his pace and direct running to create chances for his teammates and it is no surprise to see him setting up a lot of goals.

Sam started his career at Charlton Athletic and became a professional in 2003 at the age of 18. He began to impress in the youth team and was called up to the first team squad for a game against Arsenal but unfortunately did not get on the pitch. He then went out on loan to get some more first team experience and joined Leyton Orient in 2004 and played 10 times for the club before returning to Charlton and making his debut for them on the final day of the 2004-05 season against Crystal Palace.
Sam CA
His opportunities were still limited and after playing just twice in the following season, he went out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Southend United during the 2006-07 season. Sam did also play seven times in the Premier League that season but unfortunately Charlton were relegated but this meant that the winger was now going to get a chance in the first team on a regular basis.

At the start of the season he was a bright spot for Charlton and scored his first professional goal against Stockport County in the League Cup. After this the club began to struggle and after missing out on promotion they started to fall down the table and were relegated once more at the end of the 2008-09 season. They narrowly missed out on a return to the Championship with Sam playing 43 league games as they lost in the playoff semi finals against Swindon Town.

After not being offered a new contract he joined Leeds United on a free transfer on the 9th July 2010 but he did not make a great start as he gave away a penalty on his debut against Derby County in a 2-1 defeat. However, in the next league game he scored against Nottingham Forest and also received the man of the match for his performance. He then went on to score against Millwall on 21st August but this positive start did not last as Sam suffered several niggling injuries which kept him out of action for long periods.
LEEDS UNITED V LINCOLN CITY CARLING CUP  10/8/2010
He only featured in 18 league games for Leeds in his first season and did extra work in preseason to get himself fit for the new season and in the friendly matches he provided a lot of assists and topped it off by scoring in a 3-1 win over Newcastle United. This was still not good enough to get him a regular place in the side and on the 14th March 2012 joined Notts County on loan for the rest of the season and scored five goals in 10 games, including a hatrick against Yeovil Town in a 3-1 win.

When his contract came to an end at Leeds he signed for New York Red Bulls on the 16th August 2012 and impressed in his first five games before and injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. He has now recovered from this and helped the club win its first ever Supporters’ Shield in 2013, scoring the third goal in a 5-2 win over Chicago Fire.
Lloyd Sam
The final word can go to the Notts County manager that brought him in on loan Keith Curle. “I like Lloyd. It took him a bit of time to settle at first, but in the end he was enjoying it and was playing free flowing, entertaining, attacking football. Lloyd just keeps getting better and better.”

21st August – Scott McDonald

Scott McDonald was a prolifc scorer in Scotland but since coming to England he has modified his game slightly and became a different threat to the opposition.

The Australian international has been involved in every Millwall game so far this season and despite not scoring he has played a big part in helping them to third in the Championship table after two wins and a draw in the early weeks of the season. Many expected Millwall to struggle but under Ian Holloway anything is possible as has been proven in the past and if he can get the 31 year old to start scoring regularly they will be in with a chance of reaching the playoffs.

McDonald started his career in Australia and became the youngest ever player to play in the National Soccer after he made his debut at the age of just 15. He soon made the move to Europe and signed for Southampton and stayed for two years and had loan spells at Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth in 2002. After being released by Southampton he signed for Wimbledon on a rolling contract, however after just two league games he moved to Motherwell in January 2004.

Despite some impressive performances he only managed one goal in his first half a season at the club but he followed this up with 15 goals in the next campaign, including two late goals against Celtic which denied them the title. Over the next few seasons he continued to be a regular goalscorer for Motherwell, hitting 11 in 35 and then 15 in 32 and also went down as the man that scored the 5000th goal in SPL history when he scored against Falkirk on the 25th November 2006.
McDonald Motherwell
After 45 goals in 108 appearances, Celtic signed the striker for £700,000 and he moved to the club at the start of the 2007-08 season. He made his debut in the third round Champions League qualifier against Spartak Moscow and scored his first goal in the return leg and a few days later he scored his first league goal against St Mirren. In his first season he scored 25 goals in 36 league appearances but his best moment was when he scored the winner against AC Milan in the final minute.

After changing his number at Celtic he got off to a slow start the next season but did manage to score in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United and he also scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in the Old Firm Derby against Rangers. On the 2nd May he scored his 49th and 50th Celtic goals against Aberdeen to cap off two extraordinary seasons.
McDonald Celtic
After an impressive start to the 2009-10 season he was being linked with moves to England and eventually on the 1st February 2010 he joined Middlesbrough and scored his first goal against Newcastle United and finished the campaign with four goals in 13 games. The next season started better but tailed off slightly but towards the end of the season he did manage to score a hatrick against Hull City in a 4-2 win. For the rest of his time at Boro he had a decent goal return but he seemed to spend a lot of time on the bench. His time at the club ended with 40 goals in 124 appearances which is not a bad return and was the reason why Millwall signed the player.
McDonald Boro
He had a tough first season at the club only getting three goals in 30 games but his performances so far this season suggest that he will play a big part in helping the team reach their objectives.

The final word can go to the manager that signed him at Millwall Steve Lomas. “I’ve watched Scott throughout his career and he has a proven track record, scoring at better than one in three games over a long period. He works hard for the team, links play well and can operate in different formations.”