25th August – Luke Ayling

Luke Ayling has been one of the best defenders in the Championship for a lot of his career and will be hoping he can make the step up to the Premier League soon.

The defender usually plays at right back but he can also fill in at centre half or play as one of the defenders when his manager decided to play three at the back. Under the stewardship of a manager like Marcelo Bielsa he will surely get better and will be hoping that this could be the manager that takes him to the top flight.

Ayling started his career at Arsenal and despite an impressive record at youth level in which he was part of their double winning team of the 2008-09 season, he failed to make a first team appearance for the club but was named on the substitute bench for a Champions League game against Greek side Olympiakos. Towards the end of his time at the club he signed for Yeovil Town on loan in March 2010. He played four times and did enough to convince them to sign him permanently.

Ayling YT

In his first full season he was a key player, making 40 appearances, however his disciplinary record was quite poor as he picked up 13 yellow and two red cards. He played in 40 games every season he was at the club and helped them win the League One playoff final on the 19th May 2013 and therefore secured them a place in the Championship. The team found it very tough in the higher division but Ayling was certainly one of the bright spots.

After relegation, Ayling decided not to sign a new contract with the club and joined Bristol City on a free transfer. It turned out to be an impressive season as he played 58 times in all competitions and Bristol City went on to win the League One title and the Football League Trophy beating Walsall 2-0 at Wembley on the 22nd March 2015. He would continue to impress in the following season as they managed to avoid relegation in the following campaign, playing 33 times at either right back or centre back.

Ayling BC

On the 11th August 2016 the right back signed for Leeds United and would play 43 times in his first season. With many changes at the club throughout his time there so far, he has managed to convince every manager that has been in charge that he deserves his place in the team. During the 2017-18 season he was also named as the club’s vice captain and was also rewarded with a new four year contract. He had to wait until the 18th August 2018 to score his first goal for Leeds in a game against Rotherham United.

Ayling LU

The final word can go to Steve Cotterill. “He’s a very versatile player and therefore offers us competition and cover in a variety of positions. He was instrumental in Yeovil’s promotion from League One and did very well in the Championship.”


12th July – Stelios Giannakopoulos

Stelios Giannakopoulos is a player that helped his teams achieve much more than what was expected of them at both club and international level.

The midfielder helped Greece win the European Championships in 2004, playing in four of their six games, when nobody thought they would do anything in the tournament but it was largely down to how hard the team worked and their organisation and this is something Stelios has shown throughout his career.

Stelios Greece

In 1991, Stelios made his debut for Greek side Ethnikos Asteras and helped the club gain promotion to the Third Division and he was quickly impressing scouts from bigger clubs. He made the move to Paniliakos, where he continued developing and in three years scored 26 goals and was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs.

Olympiakos took a chance on him in 1996 and he would play a key role in helping them win the title every season he was there. But in his seven successful seasons, his most iconic contribution was in the Champions League as he scored the club’s first ever goal in the competition and it was even voted the goal of the tournament by fans.

Stelios Olypiakos

After his success in his homeland he wanted to test himself abroad with many suitors looking at him and English side Bolton Wanderers signed him on the 28th May 2003. In his first season he helped the club to their highest finish in the Premier League and also to the final of the League Cup. His performances were of the highest quality and other big clubs were trying to sign him. However, he stayed at Bolton and finished as their top scorer at the end of the 2004-05 season.

Injuries did start catching up with Stelios and he started playing less and less but he still managed to score some very important goals, including his last one for the club against Tottenham Hotspur which helped Bolton avoid relegation. With his contract coming to an end, he decided to join Hull City on a free transfer.

Stelios BW

He never really got the opportunity to show his quality at Hull and after just two league appearances he returned to Greece, joining AEL. He scored three times in his first four games and was influential until the end of the season as the club qualified for the Europa League which was seen as a miracle due to the size of them. A difficult second season followed and it ended with Stelios’ contract being cancelled and announcing his retirement.

Since retiring he has been the president of the Greek Professional Footballers Association as well as a spell as manager of former club Paniliakos from the 13th August 2012 to the 20th January 2013.

The final word can go to former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. “He might be small but he’s very aggressive and very strong. He doesn’t mind the physical side of the game. He’s proved that. He’ll take it and just get up and get on with it.”

5th October – Kevin Mirallas

Kevin Mirallas will be a big loss for Everton and they seemed to miss him in their defeat to Manchester United as he adds something extra to their attack and would have caused the defence more problems.

The 27 year old has been a big success since coming to England and has shown that he can play in a lot of different positions and in various formations which has made him one of the manager’s favourite players. He had started the season well, scoring twice in the opening six Premier League games before suffering an injury in the Merseyside derby which could keep him out until December.

Mirallas started his youth career in his native Belgium and was a part of Standard Liege’s squad but before he could make a first team appearance he moved to France and signed for Lille. He got his chance to show his talents during the 2004-05 season and started getting more and more game time before becoming a first team regular in the 2007-08 season where he played 37 times and scored seven goals.
Mirallas Lille
This proved to be his last season at the club as he joined Saint Etienne after 89 appearances and 11 goals for Lille. Mirallas got off to a great start at his new club by scoring in the Rhone-Loire derby against Lyon on his debut. However, he struggled to make much of an impact and in his two seasons he played 69 times and only found the back of the net five times.
Mirallas SE
In June 2010 he joined Greek side Olympiakos initially on loan and after finishing as the club’s top scorer this move was made permanent. In his first campaign he scored 14 goals and only Djibril Cisse outscored him in the league but his goals were enough to secure the title for Olympiakos. In the following season he scored the first hatrick of his career in a 4-0 win over Levadiakos and then went one better by scoring four times in a 7-2 win over Asteras Tripolis. His form was beginning to attract attention from other clubs around Europe as he finished with a second league winners medal and also finished as the top scorer in the division with 20 goals.

On the 12th August 2012, Mirallas joined Everton for £6 million which is a bargain for a player of his quality. He made his debut as a substitute against Aston Villa and thought he’d got off to a great start but his headed goal was disallowed for offside. In his first start for the club he scored twice and set up another two goals in a 5-0 win over Leyton Orient in the League Cup. A number of injuries slowed his progress but he ended the season very well and scored twice in David Moyes’ final home game against West Ham.
Mirallas Everton
Under Roberto Martinez he has further developed his game and although the goals are not as easy to come by as his time in Greece, he is showing other qualities of his game. In the 2013-14 season he created 61 chances for his teammates which was more than any other Everton player and managed to score eight times from 32 games.

The final word can go to Roberto Martinez. “His game has gone from strength to strength and the way he had started the season had been really positive. Last season he had a very important role. He was scoring goals and being a real threat in everything we do going forward. We have plenty games for him to be as influential.”

26th August – Colin Kazim-Richards

Colin Kazim-Richards was once dubbed the ‘Coca Cola Kid’ after the company ran a competition for football fans to sign a player for their club.

Kazim-Richards was the player that Brighton signed after a fan of their club won the competition and the £250,000 was given to the club to sign a player. This is an extraordinary start to a career that just kept on getting more incredible as it went on with the striker travelling over Europe to play football and also represent Turkey’s national team despite being brought up in England but qualified for Turkey through his mother.

The striker started his career at Bury and after progressing through their youth team he was already attracting attention from bigger clubs at the age of 15. He broke into the first team in the 2004-05 season and scored three times in 30 appearances but his performances were very impressive for someone so young. It was at the age of 18 he signed for Brighton but as expected he played a lot from the bench in his first season at the club, however his still managed six goals, including their 5000th league goal.
Kazim Richards Brighton
He only stayed at the club for one season and submitted a transfer request which Brighton accepted and then sold him to Sheffield United for £125,000 on the 31st August 2006. He once again only lasted one season at the club and in his 27 league games he only managed one goal in a 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers.

On the 15th June 2007 he joined Turkish club Fenerbahce and in his first two seasons at the club he was in and out of the first team but he did manage to score in the Champions League quarter final against Chelsea on the 2nd April 2008. Despite his good performances when he was on the pitch he had a difficult relationship with the fans at times and was loaned out to French club Toulouse in January 2010 and scored on his debut in a 3-1 win over Le Mans.
Kazim Richards Fener
After 18 appearances and two goals he returned to Fenerbahce but after just another five games he was released on the 3rd January 2011 and joined local rivals Galatasaray and in his first half a season he scored five times including one against former club Fenerbahce. After a total of 35 games and seven goals and a short loan spell at Olympiakos, Kazim-Richards returned to England.
Kazim Richards Gala
Blackburn Rovers signed the striker on loan but his time at the club was blighted by a court appearance over an alleged homophobic gesture in a match away to former club Brighton. He managed to score five times in his 31 games but his loan was not made permanent and he signed for Bursaspor on the 4th September 2013 on a four year deal but after just one season he has joined Dutch side Feyenoord on loan.

The final word can go to former Blackburn manager Steve Kean. “He could be a real versatile player for us as he can play through the middle or he can play out wide. He’s got great power in his right foot and technically he has improved dramatically having played with some top players out in Turkey.”

30th May – Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard is going to be England’s captain at the World Cup and will be hoping that they finally produce at a big tournament despite low expectations from the fans.

The Liverpool captain who turns 34 will want to continue his fantastic club form in the tournament and as this may be his last major international tournament he will surely want to make a mark. Unfortunately Liverpool could not win the Premier League title last season and it is the closest the skipper has been to picking up the trophy but he has had an exceptional career and is surely one of the best to have never won the title, however he has picked up ever other trophy in club football.

He is a one man club and signed his first professional contract with Liverpool in 1997 and made his first team debut on the 29th November 1998 against Blackburn Rovers. He became a first team regular in the 1999-00 season in the centre of midfield, partnering Jamie Redknapp but it was a season of ups and downs with him receiving his first red card and he struggled with injuries that required operations, slowing down his progress but he did manage to score his first goal against Sheffield Wednesday.
Gerrard Liverpool
He recovered from his injuries and in the 2000-01 season he played 50 times and won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup and scored 10 times in all competitions. His next big moment came in October 2003 when he was named Liverpool captain by Gerard Houllier. Soon after he was linked with moves away but decided to stay with the club. The next season started slowly for Gerrard as he was injured in September and wouldn’t return until November. On his return he scored one of the best and most memorable goals of his career against Olympiakos securing Liverpool’s place in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Liverpool reached two finals that season and Gerrard had a major impact in both. Firstly in the League Cup final he scored an own goal in a 3-2 loss to Chelsea but he had a much more positive impact in the Champions League final, scoring the first in Liverpool’s incredible comeback and then winning the penalty that levelled the scores. He was also given the man of the match award by UEFA after the game.
Gerrard Liverpool 2
In the next season he became more of an attacking midfielder and scored 23 times in 53 appearances and was named PFA Player of the Year. But more importantly he scored twice in the FA Cup final against West Ham which meant he is the only player to have scored in FA, League, Champions League and UEFA Cup finals.

Even though Gerrard continued to play exceptionally and gain respect from everyone in the game the trophies dried up at Liverpool. His greatest week in recent years is in March 2009 when he scored twice in a 4-0 win over Real Madrid and then four days later he scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford in a 4-1 win.

The 2011-12 season Liverpool seemed to be getting back on track and Gerrard was a big part of that, helping them win the League Cup against Cardiff City. During the season he also scored a hatrick against rivals Everton. Unfortunately they could not build on this and the 2012-13 season was more difficult.
Gerrard Liverpool 3
But onto the season just finished and Liverpool looked like the team that was going to win the title for a long time. Gerrard scored his 100th Premier League goal against Newcastle United and then the club went on a great run in the second half of the season that brought them to within touching distance of the title but all the momentum was lost when they were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea at Anfield with the first goal a result of a Gerrard slip. This maybe the most defining moment of the season but Gerrard had one of the best seasons of his career as he adapted to a new role in the team and was fantastic all through the campaign.

The final word can go to Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane. “He has great passing ability, can tackle and scores goals, but most importantly he gives players around him confidence and belief. You can’t learn that – players like him are just born with that presence.”

13th May – Yaya Toure

He might have just won the Premier League for the second time but this time it is more special because he beat his older brother to the title.

Yaya Toure’s Manchester City were behind Kolo’s Liverpool until the last few weeks of the season but Liverpool let it slip and City were there to take advantage. The younger Toure brother has had a very interesting career which has seen him play in Belgium, Ukraine, Greece, France, Spain and England.

After joining the ASEC Mimosas youth team in 1996 in his home country of Ivory Coast he showed a lot of potential and was one of a number of Ivorian players to join Belgian club Beveren in 2001. In his time at the Belgian club he played 70 times and scored three goals and he thought his big moment was coming when he had a trial at Arsenal in 2003. He played in a pre-season friendly against Barnet and missed a good chance and then had his performance described as ‘completely average’ by manager Arsene Wenger. However, Arsenal did try and sign him but were unable to get a work permit and Toure decided to join Ukrainian club Metalurh Donetsk where he stayed for a year and a half before being watched by bigger clubs.
Toure Beveren
Greek side Olympiakos took a chance on him and he was quickly dubbed ‘the new Patrick Vieira’. The club won the double and Toure was one of their best players which meant he was linked with a move away from the club and after a good 2006 World Cup he did get a move to French side Monaco. It was not until new manager Laurent Banide came in that the fans got to see the best of him and in the second half of the season he scored five times and was crucial in pulling the club away from the relegation zone. Banide said of him: “Yaya has got terrific technique and uses his body strength to effect. He can do just about anything.”

Once again he only stayed for a season and moved onto bigger things. This time to Spanish giants Barcelona for £6.7 million. He played in the defensive midfield role for the team and his attacking runs were limited and after being forced out of the team by Sergio Busquets he started playing as a centre back and this is where he played in the 2009 Champions League final. After staying for three seasons he was on his way to England.
Toure Barca
It cost Manchester City £24 million to sign him but nobody can argue that he isn’t worth every penny. In his first season he saved his best performances for the FA Cup as he ran the midfield and scored the only goal of the game in the semi final against Manchester United and then repeating it in the final against Stoke City securing the club’s first major trophy for 35 years.

The Premier League title would follow the next season and in the match that was billed as the title decider Toure’s performance against rivals Manchester United was dominant and magnificent. As for much of the season they could not handle his power and he ran the midfield in the 1-0 victory. But he then went on and performed even better when the pressure was higher against Newcastle United by scoring twice in a game that would mean they only needed to win their last game to clinch the title.

Although the 2012-13 season did not go as well for the team, Toure kept his performances as consistent as ever. But in the 2013-14 season he went on to a whole new level, he scored 20 Premier League goals including his first professional hatrick, as well as scoring the equaliser in the League Cup final against Sunderland which they went on to win 3-1. Manuel Pellegrini knw how important he was to the side. “If the team did a good performance it was because of the individual high level from players like Yaya.”
Toure City
The final word can go the manager that brought him to England Roberto Mancini. “It is clear he has class – if he didn’t we wouldn’t have bought him. When you are a top player you can play in every position, and for me Yaya is one of the best players in Europe. But he is also a good guy, which is another important asset.”

14th April – Matt Derbyshire

From Great Harwood Town to Olympiakos to scoring against QPR last weekend this player has had an interesting career.

Matt Derbyshire is 28 today and his career started at Great Harwood Town where he was showing a lot of potential and was scouted by a few clubs including Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers. As a Rovers fan it must have been a dream and when they paid £20,000 (unsurprisingly Great Harwood’s record fee received) it must have been an easy decision to join the club. He knew he was not going to get a place in the team straight away and after a loan spell at Plymouth Argyle, he showed what he could do at Wrexham by scoring 10 goals in 16 games.
Derbyshire Blackburn
When he came back to Blackburn he was in and around the first team squad and January 2007 was a great month for him, scoring his first goal for the club against Wigan Athletic and then the opener in the 4-1 victory over Everton. The next week he started his first game against Arsenal and a week later he was on the score sheet again, this time against Manchester City. He finished this season with 9 goals in all competitions in just 14 starts and 16 substitute appearances.

The next season and a half were quieter for him but he did prove to be someone that was good at coming off the bench becoming known as a super sub. He scored winners against Middlesbrough, Newcastle United and Fulham. Although he was successful at this role he wanted to start more games and he joined Greek side Olympiakos on loan. Ironically his first goal for the club was after coming off the bench and it was not long before he became a club hero for his performances from the bench.
Derbyshire Olympiakos
It was in the Greek Cup final against rivals AEK Athens that he will never be forgotten. With his team 2-0 at half time Derbyshire was brought on and within three minutes he had reduced the score line but this was only the start. Olympiakos made it 2-2 however AEK scored in stoppage time to put them in the lead once again and surely won them the cup. But with the very last touch of the game Derbyshire still nursing a concussion scored a header in the sixth minute of stoppage time. His team went on to win 15-14 on penalties and Derbyshire was awarded the man of the match award.

Unfortunately a change in manager meant Derbyshire was no longer in their plans and made the move to Birmingham City on loan. However he never really settled at the club and could not establish himself in the first team.

Sam Allardyce said about him on his return to England. “He’s a very good goalscorer, we all know that, and that is why we (Blackburn) got an unbelievably good fee. We let him got there on loan and he became a hero at Olympiakos.”

After leaving Birmingham he moved to Nottingham Forest where he struggled initially and went on loan to Oldham Athletic to resurrect his career and he did just that scoring six times for the club. But this season he has returned to form for his parent club and scored a great header against QPR recently.
Derbyshire Forest
The last word can go to the man that brought him back to England Alex McLeish. “Matt has had his journey in Greece and, from speaking to him, he’s keen to get on that Premier League pitch once more. He’s shown he can score a goal and he’s learned new tricks abroad.”