18th March – Danny Murphy

Danny Murphy is now a pundit for the BBC and is doing a decent job but during his playing career he was slightly underrated and one that was usually a valuable member of any side.

Now at the age of 38 the former midfielder can look back on his career with pride after playing over 700 professional games but he will also be disappointed as he only got nine England caps even though he was one of the most consistent English midfielders during the 2000s. After being in the headlines for the wrong reasons recently but whenever he has been on Match of the Day he has been a lot better than some of the other new pundits that have been on this season.

Murphy started his career at Crewe and made his debut as a 16 year old against Preston after coming off the bench and would go on to score the winner. He spent the early years of his career as a deep lying striker rather than a midfielder and in his final season he would hit 10 goals as the club got promoted to the second tier of English football in 1997.

Murphy CA

He wouldn’t play for the club after promotion though as he joined Liverpool and made his debut on the opening day of the 1997-98 season against Wimbledon. After making 17 league appearances over the next two seasons, he rejoined Crewe on loan and played a vital role in the club avoiding relegation. On his return to Liverpool he found a new position as a wide midfielder and this proved to be a very successful change. Over the next few years he won the League Cup twice, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup and was a key member of the side but his best season unfortunately fell on Liverpool’s worst as he scored 12 goals and was voted the supporters’ player of the year at the end of the 2002-03 season. During his time at Liverpool he also became a fan favourite because he scored the only goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford three times.

Murphy Liverpool

But in August 2004, after playing 170 league games for Liverpool, Murphy joined Charlton Athletic. After a difficult first season, he found form in his second as he was named September Player of the Month and was linked with a call up to the England squad which arguably should have happened. This form meant that he was linked away from the club and on the 31st January 2006 he joined Tottenham Hotspur. It was not a very successful spell for him there though as he struggled to break into the first team and only played 22 Premier League games in a season and a half.

On the 31st August Murphy joined Fulham and he once again showed his ability and was part of the team that successfully avoided relegation when it looked like they would be going down for large periods of the season. On the 11th May he scored the only goal against Portsmouth which guaranteed their safety. In the following season he scored some important goals too, including his 100th club goal and yet another winner against Manchester United. The 2009-10 season started badly with the midfielder missing the first two months of the season with injury but ended with him captaining the club to the Europa League final which they unfortunately lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid.

Murphy Fulham

Murphy stayed at Fulham for another two seasons, playing over 40 times in both campaigns, but was surprisingly not given a contract extension and signed for Blackburn Rovers. He would only stay one season before retiring but was named club captain and was praised by Gary Bowyer for his contributions during a time of uncertainty at the club, with many managerial changes.

The final word can go to Steve Kean. “His record is there for all to see. He is a model professional, who has a real hunger to keep playing football and we are thrilled. This is a pivotal signing for us. Being able to bring Danny on board is a massive boost for everyone.”

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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.”

16th February – Ron Vlaar

Tim Sherwood has a big challenge in keeping Aston Villa in the Premier League but more importantly for them it looks like they will have their captain Ron Vlaar available for the run in.

Although it is scoring goals that has been the major problem for the team, having their captain back will still be a big boost and it will make Sherwood more confident in his back four. Vlaar had been having a great season before getting injured and that was coming off the back of a great World Cup with Holland and therefore has been linked with moves away, mostly to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. He would not look out of place at Old Trafford but he doesn’t seem to be distracted by these reports and will surely be as consistent as ever from now until the end of the season.

The defender now 30 has plenty of experience and started his career at AZ making his debut at the age of 20 on the 32rd April 2005 against RKC Waalwijk and then played a few days later in the semi final of the UEFA Cup against Sporting Lisbon. It was expected he would become a first team regular in the following season but this didn’t happen and he only played 10 games in total for AZ before leaving for Feyenoord on the 28th December 2005.

Vlaar AZ

In his first half a season at the club he played 16 times but an injury in the following preseason meant that he had to sit out the first half of the following campaign. But after recovering he did become an important member of the side and scored his first goal against FC Utrecht. Once again though his development stalled after being ruled out for most of the 2007-08 season after surgery on a cruciate ligament injury. He returned to training but picked up yet another injury and missed another season.

After two years on the sidelines he came back and scored a great goal in the KNVB Cup against Harkemase Boys on the 24th September 2009. His performances began improving and was getting more praise from everyone and during the 2011-12 season he helped Feyenoord qualify for the Champions League after they finished second in the Eredivisie.

Vlaar Feyenoord

But on the 15th July he joined Aston Villa, however the deal initially seemed like it wouldn’t be completed after he returned to Holland. After another turn of events he did eventually join the Premier League club on the 1st August. Shortly after he was named captain due to the continued absence of Stiliyan Petrov. He went on to score his first goal for the club in the 6-1 win over Sunderland with a 30 yard strike and his second goal was even more spectacular in the 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic.

Vlaar AV

The club know how important he is to the team and how much he helps the younger players in the squad so they need to keep hold of him if they stay in the top flight and help them become more than a team that battles relegation.

The final word can go to teammate Andreas Weimann. “Ron is our captain so everyone knows he’s important. Ron was always our leader and captain. He’s always been vocal and the player we look up to in the changing room. There are definitely signs that he has grown in confidence even more since the World Cup in Brazil.”

10th February – Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao has been one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe over the last few years but his move to Manchester United has been very stop start because of injuries and he hasn’t quite lived up to what people expected.

Just four goals in 16 games is not that great for someone with his talents but as everyone knows the English league does take more time to adapt than any other. It is up in the air whether he will be given more than just this season at Old Trafford but it is not just him that is suffering, Robin Van Persie doesn’t look the same player this year and Wayne Rooney is being asked to play a lot deeper which has restricted his goalscoring opportunities.

Falcao is now 29 but remarkably he made his debut 16 years ago as a 13 year old in the Colombian Categoria Primera B on the 28th August 1999 for Lanceros Boyaca. Over the next two years he played eight games and scored one goal which is incredible. His performances convinced Argentinean side River Plate to sign him and after playing in their youth team he finally made his first team debut in 2005. Manager Reinaldo Merlo placed a lot of trust in Falcao and he repaid him with seven goals in seven games. But a knee injury meant that he was out for the next six months.

Falcao RP

He recovered from this and after two great seasons he was being linked with moves to Europe and eventually on the 15th July 2009 he joined Portuguese side Porto and was an instant success, scoring in the first four league matches and finished his first season with 34 goals in all competitions. The Europa League became his favourite competition as he scored a lot of goals in both years and ended the 2010-11 season with 17 goals in 14 games and just proved to everyone he should be playing at a higher level. He had found the back 72 times in all competitions for the club in just two seasons.

FC Porto's Colombian forward Radamel Fal

On the 18th August 2011 Falcao did make the move away and joined Spanish side Atletico Madrid. The goals kept flowing for him and he was once again lethal in the Europa League, helping the team win the trophy like he had done with Porto. He ended his first campaign with 36 goals, the highest ever for a player in his first year at the club. In the following season he inevitably scored goals but he also adapted his game slightly and became more than just a goalscorer and this was most shown in the Copa Del Rey final win over Real Madrid when he produced a fantastic performance and didn’t even score which would have been a rare for him earlier in his career.

Falcao AM

Then came one of the most surprising moves when he decided to leave Atletico and join Monaco. It seemed like it was going to be business as normal for the striker when he scored on his debut against Bordeaux. After hitting 11 goals in 19 games he suffered an injury that not only kept him out for the rest of the season but also the World Cup. He did return on the 10th August 2014 and scored against Lorient and then added another against Nantes before making another surprising move on loan to Manchester United.

It took him until the 5th October to score his first goal in a victory over Everton but they haven’t really flown for him since and he needs a productive end to the season if he wants to stay at the club.

The final word can go to another former Colombian striker that played in the Premier League Faustino Asprilla. “He’s a great goalscorer, a natural finisher and is among the best in the world in that position. His move took everybody by surprise. I’m sure he will do very well for Manchester United.”

9th February – Jordi Cruyff

Jordi Cruyff was always going to struggle to live up to his name and when your father is Johan Cruyff you know you are going to have to be a special player.

His dad got a turn and one of the most recognisable skills in world football named after him and Cruyff junior was a bit part player in Manchester United’s Premier League triumph during the 1996-97 season. Jordi was by no means a bad player and if he had a different second name his career would have been looked at in a different way because he played for some excellent clubs and put in some solid performances.

Now 41, he is the manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv but he started his career at Barcelona. He made his debut for the B team in the Segunda Division in 1992 and after 14 goals in 47 games he was moved to the first team by his father. He was given a chance in preseason and proved to everyone he was a good player in his own right by scoring hatricks against Groningen and De Graafschap. On the 4th September 1994 he made his top flight debut in a 2-1 defeat against Sporting Gijon and shortly after made a big impression in the Champions League, setting up the first goal in a 4-0 win over Manchester United.

Cruyff Barca

After his father was sacked by Barcelona it was clear that his son was also going to be moved on even though he had been a promising player and had scored 11 times in 41 appearances. But in August 1996 he made the move to Old Trafford for £1.4 million and got off to a great start by scoring twice in his first three appearances, helping the team get draws against Everton and Blackburn Rovers. He remained a regular in the team until late November but then suffered a knee injury and he never regained his place properly in the team again. In his four seasons at the club Manchester United lifted four trophies, the 1996-97 Premier League winners medal was the only one that Cruyff collected because of a lack of involvement and not playing enough games.

Cruyff MU

In 1999 Cruyff returned to Spain joining Celta Vigo on loan and played nine times, scoring two goals before returning to his parent club. He did feature a few more times for Manchester United but on the 30th June 2000 his contract expired and after four years and just 54 games, he signed for Spanish side Alaves.

Cruyff spent three years at Alaves and was a regular in the side until they were relegated at the end of the 2002-03 season. But during his time at the club he was involved in arguably the best UEFA Cup final ever, unfortunately they were on the wrong side of a 5-4 loss against Liverpool. He then joined Espanyol for a season and was regular in the side but he still left after just one year, signing for Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk. Injuries caught up with him and despite being an attacking player he was used as a centre back by the club for most of his 28 appearances.

Cruyff Alaves

His final destination as a player was Malta as he became player/assistant manager of Valletta and he was successful in this role as he scored 10 goals in just 17 league games and this sadly was probably the best time of his career.

The final word can go to Jordi himself who knew he didn’t live up to the standards of his father which must have been tough to take. “There are two types of football players – the legends and the mortals. My father is a legend and I am a mortal. The legends like my father – they come, they do and they remain. I am part of the vast majority of mortals – we come we do and we die.”

2nd February – Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique has won everything in the game and it is always surprising when he gets criticised by pundits and has to go down as one of the most consistent central defenders in the last 10 years.

Yes it could be argued that the defender, who turns 28 today, has always been in great teams and therefore has never been tested fully but nobody can take away all his winners medals, including the World Cup, European Championship, four La Liga, two Copa Del Rey, two Club World Cup, three Champions League and a Premier League title. It could even be argued that he is one of the few mistakes Alex Ferguson made, letting him go so early in his career.

Pique MU

The defender actually started his career as a holding midfielder at Barcelona but signed his first professional contract with Manchester United and made his debut in October 2004 as a substitute in a League Cup win over Crewe Alexandra. His performances for the reserves earned him an extended contract and would go on to make his full Premier League debut on 29th March 2006 against West Ham as a right back.

During the 2006-07 season Pique went out on loan to Real Zaragoza and formed a solid partnership with Gabriel Milito in the centre of the defence. After 22 games he returned to Old Trafford and was told he would be part of the first team squad and in the 2007-08 season he made enough appearances to pick up a Premier League winners medal but it was in the Champions League where he showed his true potential. He scored on his first start in the competition against Dynamo Kiev and added another against Roma as the club went on to lift the trophy.

Pique RZ

On the 27th May 2008 the defender joined Barcelona and his first season could not have gone much better as he helped the club win a treble, including beating former club Manchester United in the final of the Champions League becoming only the fourth player in history to win the competition two years in a row with different teams. His other Champions League win with Barca was also against his former club and although he has stated he enjoyed his time at Old Trafford it must have made it even sweeter to lift the trophy.

Pique Barca

Throughout his time at the club he has always been first choice and with former captain Carles Puyol retiring he is now seen as the best defender at the club and although things haven’t been so easy for Barcelona in recent years, Pique’s performances have still be very good. With over 300 games at two of the biggest clubs in the world and being first choice for Spain while they were dominating the international stage just proves that he should be considered as one of the best of his generation, especially when there aren’t a lot of great central defenders around at the moment.

The final word can go to his former manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. “I do not believe that there is any other player in Europe playing at his level. He is very competitive and ambitious. He is strong in the air and dominates at set pieces.”

10th November – Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha was considered one of the best talents in England but since joining Manchester United his career has stalled and he has to get it back on track quickly or he may never reach his full potential.

Already with two England caps to his name the winger still has a lot of time left to really make his mark both in the Premier League and on the international stage and will be hoping that his loan spell at Crystal Palace can convince Louis Van Gaal he is good enough for Manchester United. There is no doubting that he is talented but he has to work on his decision making and maybe this is why he hasn’t really had a chance at Old Trafford.

The 22 year old started his career at Selhurst Park and after joining Crystal Palace at the age of 12 he would go on to make his debut as a substitute on the 27th March 2010 against Cardiff City. Soon afterwards he was given his first professional contract by manager Paul Hart. After an impressive pre-season in the following campaign he quickly became an important member of the team and would score his first goal in a 3-2 win over Leicester City on the 7th August. He would not have as much luck against the same opposition later in the season as he was sent off, however it was later rescinded. Zaha ended his first season as a regular with 44 games, one goal and two assists.
Zaha CP
During the 2011-12 season he would go onto grab mainstream attention with his performances after impressing in a 2-1 win over Manchester United in the League Cup on the 30th November and would later be voted the The Football League’s Young Player of the Year. Towards the end of the season he was used as more of a striker by manager Dougie Freedman and this led to him creating more chances and scoring more goals. Zaha was then voted Crystal Palace’s Young Player of the Year for a second time after nine goals and five assists in 48 games.

Once again he started the 2012-13 season brightly and he was being linked with moves away from the club and on the 25th January 2013 Zaha signed for Manchester United but was immediately loaned back to Palace to help them gain promotion. He would then go on to play a crucial part in the playoffs as he scored twice in the semi finals against Brighton and then won the penalty in the final against Watford which Kevin Phillips converted.
Zaha MU
In the summer Zaha linked up with his Manchester United teammates unfortunately he did not get given much of an opportunity and was not in David Moyes’ plans. After just four appearances in all competitions he was loaned out to Cardiff on the 31st January 2014. The winger played 11 times for Cardiff but could not help them stay in the Premier League and returned to his parent club at the end of the season.
Zaha CC
On the 28th August he rejoined Crystal Palace on a season long loan and two days later he would score a dramatic equaliser in a 3-3 draw with Newcastle United and his performances have been encouraging and it looks like he could get back to top form soon and prove his worth in the Premier League.

The final word can go to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “Wilf is a young player and it is the first time he is in the Premier League. He is just a boy who wants to play football and prove himself. He has talent and he will become a good player. He will have a very good career wherever he plays.”