26th June – Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders to have ever played football and spent his full career at one club.

To play over 900 times for a team like AC Milan and over 100 times for Italy just shows how talented Maldini was. He was known for his positional sense and his reading of the game which led him to being labelled as the defender that doesn’t need to tackle.

Maldini Italy

Maldini made his debut on the 20th January 1985 against Udinese at the age of 16. In the following campaign he became a regular and was handed the number three shirt, which his father Cesare had also worn. With a promising start titles came soon after and the 1987-88 season marked his first Serie A title and this was down to Maldini and his fellow defenders as they conceded 14 goals Over the next two seasons, his form translated to European football as Milan won the European Cup back to back.

In the early 90s Milan became known as The Invincibles as they went the whole 1991-92 season unbeaten and a record 58 games without losing. They not only won three consecutive titles but they also reached three consecutive Champions League finals, winning one of them against Barcelona.

Maldini AC

The club went through a transitional period after Fabio Capello left and several of the more experienced members of the squad moved on. But Maldini was still showing his ability and he was rewarded by being made Milan captain . After he galvanised the squad, he led them to another Serie A title in the 1998-99 season.

It wasn’t until Carlo Ancelotti was named manager that they finally began to dominate in Europe again with Maldini lifting the Champions League trophy as captain for the first time after defeating Juventus on penalties in 2003 and was named man of the match. In the space of six years Milan got to the final three times. Maldini opened the scoring in 2005 against Liverpool and played in the 2007 final which they won against the same opposition becoming the oldest captain to lift the trophy.

Maldini

Maldini during this period would also go on to break Dino Zoff’s Serie A appearance record after playing his 571st league game. He did announce his plans to retire at the end of the 2007-08 season however his performances were still of the highest quality and he was convinced to stay on.

On the 16th February 2008, Maldini played in his 1000th professional game after coming on as a substitute against Parma. One season later he decided it was time to hang up the boots and played his 902nd and last game for Milan against Fiorentina on the 31st May 2009. Milan then decided to retire his number three shirt to honour their captain.

The final word can go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker.”

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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.”

28th October – Obafemi Martins

Obafemi Martins is a player with a fantastic history, having been the number nine at Newcastle United and also scoring the winning goal for Birmingham City in the League Cup final.

The striker had electric pace and a brilliant shot on him that a lot of goalkeepers struggled to keep a hold of. He has had a lot of ups and downs in his career but has largely been a fan favourite at every club and is now currently scoring regularly for Seattle Sounders in the MLS and his goals have helped his side to the top of the table.

The 30 year old started his career in Nigeria before getting a trial at Serie C side Reggiana in Italy and signed a youth contract with the club in 2000. After just two appearanceshe joined Inter Milan and would go on to make his debut against Parma in December 2002. Martins began to make an impact during the 2002-03 season where he showed his quality in the Champions League, scoring against Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. His best season for the club was in the 2004-05 season, where he scored 22 goals in 45 games, unfortunately for him, Inter decided to sign other strikers soon after.
Martins IM
In total he scored 49 goals for the Italian side before signing for Newcastle United on the 24th August 2006 and was handed the number nine shirt, taking over from Alan Shearer. After a difficult start, in which he suffered a few injuries, he would go on to score his first goal for the club on the 17th September against West Ham in a 2-0 win and he became a regular scorer hitting one of the goals of the season when he scored from 20 yards against Tottenham Hotspur at a speed of 84mph. Martins ended his first season with 17 goals in all competitions. His second season at the club was mixed as he had to settle for a place on the bench under Sam Allardyce, as he preferred Michael Owen and Mark Viduka upfront. But after Kevin Keegan became manager he found a system that allowed all three players to be on the field and combine well. He finished the season with 10 goals in 33 games.
Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Villa Park
Martins then started the 2008-09 season in fantastic form, scoring six goals in 12 games before tearing his hamstring and later in the season needing an operation on a hernia, meaning he could not continue this form. After being out since January he returned to the side in a relegation six pointer against Middlesbrough and scored twice. However, this would not be good enough to keep them in the Premier League.

On the 31st July 2009 Martins joined Wolfsburg for £9 million and went on to score on his debut against FC Koln. He only stayed at the club for one season but scored six times in 16 Bundesliga games. He then moved on to Russian side Rubin Kazan and helped them win the Russian Cup but it was not the greatest time for the striker and on the 31st January 2011 he joined Birmingham City on loan. Although his time at the club was ruined by injuries, he still managed to write himself into their history books as he scored the winning goal in the League Cup final against Arsenal.

With the club getting relegated from the Premier League a permanent move was no longer on the cards and Martins joined Levante. On his league debut he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad and was a decent goalscorer, hitting the back of the net in a third of his league games. But on the 15th March 2013 he joined MLS side Seattle Sounders and last season finished with 17 goals, as well as 13 assists for the club, a joint club record with Mauro Rosales.
Martins SS
The final word can go to Kevin Keegan. “He excites me very much as a player. He is very, very different to not only anything we have got at this football club, but probably in the Premier League. It sends up all sorts of ideas in your mind what this player can bring to the football club.”

7th October – Diego Costa

Diego Costa has made a fantastic start to life as a Chelsea player and he singlehandedly could make the difference between them competing in competitions to winning the Premier League and the Champions League.

After a disappointing World Cup with Spain a lot of people were worried that he would struggle in England but that couldn’t be further from the truth as he has already proven that he is one of the best strikers in world football. Costa does have to pay tribute to his fellow countryman Cesc Fabregas for setting up a lot of chances for him, but he has still had to put them away which in a lot of Chelsea strikers have failed to do recently.

The 26 year old started his professional career at Portuguese club Braga. But he had to wait until a loan spell at Second Division club Penafiel to make his debut and after five goals in 13 appearances he had impressed enough to be bought by Atletico Madrid in December 2006. But he would remain at Braga until the end of the season. He would only score one goal for Braga but it was an important last minute winner against Parma in the UEFA Cup to give his side a 1-0 win.

In the following two years he had loan spells at Celta Vigo and Albacete, both in the Segunda Division in Spain. At Celta he struggled with only five goals in 31 games but at Albacete he had a better time, scoring 9 times in 35 games. With his parent club still not convinced by the striker they sold him to Valladolid on the 8th July 2009. He started off well, scoring six times in the first 12 games but then he only scored once in the next five months which was a reason why the club got relegated.
Costa Vallodolid
There was a buyback clause in his contract and in June 2010 Costa rejoined Atletico as backup to Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero. Despite limited playing time he still managed six goals in the league and scored his first hatrick on the 3rd April 2011 in a 3-2 win over Osasuna. At the end of the season it looked like he would be leaving again but a serious knee injury saw a move to Besiktas to collapse. When he recovered he was sent out on loan to Rayo Vallecano for the rest of the season on the 23rd January and got off to another fantastic start by scoring four goals in his first three appearances. This time he managed to keep up a good goalscoring record and ended the campaign with 10 in 16.
Costa Albacete
The 2012-13 season saw Costa become first choice at Atletico and he repaid manager Diego Simeone by scoring some crucial goals, particularly in the Copa Del Rey. Atletico went on to win the trophy and Costa finished the tournament as the top scorer but it was in the following season that he became well known outside of Spain.

Atletico surprised a lot of people by winning La Liga and reaching the final of the Champions League and this was largely down to a solid defence and the goals of Costa. His 36 goals in all competitions was a fantastic return for a striker that had been wrote off several times already in his career and convinced Chelsea to pay £32 million for his services.
Costa AM
He could not have got off to a better start with him winning the Player of the Month in August and hitting nine goals, including a hatrick against Swansea City, in the first seven Premier League games as Chelsea lead the table and look like the team to beat this season.

The final word can go to the Premier League’s highest ever scorer Alan Shearer. “Everything impressed me about Diego Costa, he is tailor made for the Premier League. The way he runs the line, in behind and can hold the ball up. He is going to love the Premier League and the Chelsea fans will love him. When it is not going for them they have a goalscorer who can get them out of it.”

10th June – Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti is one of the greatest managers ever and he did not have a bad playing career either, wherever the Italian goes success follows and it is difficult to find a better manager than him, past or present.

His latest success was the Champions League win with Real Madrid which took his overall tally to five European Cups, with two coming as a player and the last three as a manager. Ancelotti is closing in on his 1000th game as a manager and he has an incredible win percentage of 57.54% but in his last three jobs has averaged over 60% which means he is getting better with age and more trophies will follow.

He started his playing career at Parma in 1974 and stayed with the club for five years before joining Roma and won the Italian Championships in 1983, four Coppa Italia trophies and helped them reach the European Cup final in 1984. But in 1987 he joined one of the best teams ever assembled as he joined AC Milan and was an important part of the team that won consecutive European Cups. He retired in 1992 after playing 442 games, scoring 41 times and began his managerial career in 1995 with Reggiana where he led them to promotion from Serie B in his only season in charge.
Ancelotti Roma
Ancelotti’s next job was at first club Parma where he led them to second place in Serie A which guaranteed them a place in the Champions League. The second season was less successful but they still managed to finish fifth and meant they still qualified for European competition. In 1999 he became manager of Juventus and although his time at the club ended with him only winning the Intertoto Cup his sacking was still seen as very harsh.

On the 6th November 2001 he was appointed manager of AC Milan and although he was initially criticised for his defensive tactics, he turned the club into one of the best in Europe. He is also the man that modified Andrea Pirlo’s game making him one of the best deep lying playmakers the world has ever seen. At the end of the 2003 season he won the Champions League final on penalties against former employers Juventus which must have been sweet revenge for the manager. The following season they won Serie A, however this would be his only Italian league title. But after losing the 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool, he once again got his revenge by beating the same opponents in the 2007 final.

Chelsea appointed Ancelotti on the 1st June 2009 and after an up and down season which saw them knocked out of the League Cup in the quarter finals and the Champions League at the same stage, he did deliver the Premier League title with his team finishing the campaign with 103 goals – the first time a Premier League team had scored over 100 goals in a season. They secured the title in with an 8-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge and a few days later they won the FA Cup by beating Portsmouth 1-0 in the final.
Ancelotti Chelsea
However his second season did not go to plan and at one stage it looked like they would struggle to qualify for the Champions League but they recovered and ended up finishing second in the table. This was not seen as good enough by owner Roman Abramovich and he was sacked less than two hours after the final game of the season.

His next move was to PSG where he took over halfway through the season and guided them to second in the table. But his first full season in charge was much more successful as they were crowned champions of France and they narrowly lost out to Barcelona in the Champions League quarter final, only losing on away goals.

This would be his only full season in charge as he asked to leave for Real Madrid and once again trophies followed the Italian. On the 16th April Real defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the Copa Del Rey final after a wonderful goal from Gareth Bale and although he could not win the La Liga title, he provided some great moments in the Champions League. In the semi finals they defeated Bayern Munich 5-0 on aggregate and then won the fifth Champions League of his career by beating Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final.
Ancelotti Real Madrid
The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson. “I certainly have every respect for Carlo Ancelotti, an outstanding man and a great coach. He has won both the European Cup and the Scudetto as a player and a manager and did the league and FA Cup double with Chelsea. It will be an honour to have him at Old Trafford.”