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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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7th November – Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand has been banned recently by the FA because of comments he made on Twitter and he has been judged harsher as he is seen as a role model.

Now at the age of 36 the central defender should probably know better and it is good to see that the FA have decided to take action against someone perceived as a role model, however they should probably be dealing with other things first rather than a comment on Twitter. But Ferdinand will be hoping that he can finish off this season on good form and be remembered as a great defender.

Ferdinand started his career at West Ham and made his debut on the final day of the 1995-96 season after coming on as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday in 1-1 draw. Before breaking into the West Ham team on a regular basis he went out on loan to Bournemouth in November 1996 and made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Blackpool. He played 10 games during his spell at the club and returned to Upton Park in January 1997. He got more and more first team chances and was awarded the Hammer of the Year award at the end of the following season at the age of 19.
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He would barely miss a game for the club over the next few seasons but in November 2000 he made the move to Leeds United for a British transfer record of £18 million. Despite a tricky start, he recovered to prove that he was worth the money the club paid and helped the club reach the semi finals of the Champions League in his first season, scoring against Deportivo La Coruna in the quarter finals. In his second season at the club things got even better on a personal level as he was given the captain’s armband because of his fantastic performances but unfortunately the club began to suffer financial problems and their star players needed to be sold.
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On the 22nd July 2002 Ferdinand transferred to Manchester United and again broke the British transfer record. He got off to a good start and helped the club win the Premier League in his first season at the club but then he almost ruined his career in September 2003. After failing to attend a drugs test he was given an eight month ban and he may have never been given another chance. But he did return and on the 14th December 2005 he would go on to score his first goal for the club in a 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic and then would later become a hero by scoring a last minute winner against Liverpool and then repeated it by scoring against them in a 2-0 win in the following season.

The 2006-07 season was arguably his best season as he helped the club win the title once more and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. The next season started brilliantly as the club kept six clean sheets in a row and Ferdinand chipped in with a goal against Aston Villa. During the season he had a ups and downs as he was involved with a steward in a defeat against Chelsea but on the pitch, he would lead his team to glory in the Champions League after beating the same opponents in the final.
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Afterwards most of his time at Manchester United was disrupted by injuries but during his spell at the club he won six Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, one Champions League and one Club World Cup so he will go down as one of the best. After being released he signed for QPR on the 17th July 2014 but he has struggled for form and the club have performed better when he has not been in the team so this looks like it will be his last season, especially if the club get relegated.

The final word can go to Harry Redknapp. “He’s a great role model. I signed him as 14-year-old, so I know him as well as anyone and I’m just so pleased to have him at the club. I spoke to Ryan Giggs to ask how much training he was doing and how fit he was and Ryan told me that, if he’d been manager at Old Trafford this season, he would’ve still been his No.1 centre-half.”

29th October – Edwin Van Der Sar

It is difficult to list who Alex Ferguson’s greatest signings were in his time at Manchester United but one name that should never be missing is Edwin Van Der Sar because he came in at a time when they were desperate for a top quality keeper.

Having the quality to play in goal for Manchester United is only half the battle but to be successful they also has to have a presence about them and deal with the mental pressure of barely being in a match and then having to pull off a world class save. Van Der Sar is rightly considered one of the greatest of all time.

The 44 year old started his career at Ajax under current Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and made his debut for the club in the 1990-91 season. He would have to wait until the 1993-94 season to become the number one at the club and he proved that he deserved the position as he was named Dutch Goalkeeper of the Year award and would hold on to the trophy for the next three seasons. Van Der Sar also helped the club win the Champions League in the 1994-95 season and was voted the Best European Goalkeeper. In total he played 226 games for the club and won four Eredivisie titles and three KNVB Cups and he even scored a goal from the penalty spot in a 9-1 win over De Graafschap.
VDS Ajax
In 1999 he left Ajax and joined Juventus. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Reggina and was the first non-Italian to play in goal for the club. He would be the first choice keeper for the next two seasons but on both occasions they missed out on the title. In the summer of 2001 the club bought Gianluigi Buffon and Van Der Sar was unwilling to sit on the bench.

He then made a surprising move joining newly promoted to the Premier League Fulham on the 1st August 2001. He made his league debut in a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. The goalkeeper stayed at Fulham for four seasons and was easily one of the best keepers in the Premier League meaning that every transfer window he was linked with moves away.
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After 154 appearances for Fulham he left for Manchester United on the 10th June 2005 and was an instant success at the club. He didn’t miss a league game in his first season and in his second he would be a key player as they lifted the Premier League title with the goalkeeper being named in the PFA Team of the Year. The following season was even better as he helped the club retain the title and win the Champions League final against Chelsea after saving Nicolas Anelka’s penalty.

Van Der Sar signed a new contract at the club and was getting better the older he got and set a new club, Premier League and overall English league record by not conceding a goal for 1311 minutes before Newcastle United striker Peter Lovenkrands scored past him. At the end of the season he had kept 21 clean sheets, lifted another Premier League title and was named the Best European Goalkeeper for a second time, 14 years after he first received the award.
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Injuries limited his playing time in the 2009-10 season but he bounced back in the following campaign and helped the club reach another Champions League final. In his last game, they would unfortunately lose against Barcelona and in May 2011 he retired after 820 career appearances.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “We had a bad period trying to replace Peter Schmeichel. It wasn’t until we brought in Edwin that we got back to the level we had with Peter. Edwin was a great buy for us, absolutely brilliant. There was a magnificence and calmness about him and he was great for our players.”

23rd October – Keiren Westwood

Keiren Westwood has arguably been the best signing of the season in the Championship as he has performed brilliantly for Sheffield Wednesday and has won them some valuable points in an encouraging start to the season.

The signing of Westwood was an interesting one as Wednesday already had Chris Kirkland, who in his own right is one of the best keepers in the Championship but it seems that Stuart Gray made a fantastic decision signing the goalkeeper. Now that he is once again first choice player he will be hoping that his form can convince the Republic of Ireland management that he deserves to be his country’s number one.

The 30 year old started his career at Manchester City but never played a first team game as he was understudy to David James and Nicky Weaver. In his final season at City he joined Oldham Athletic on loan, however he also didn’t play a game for them as he broke his hand and at the end of the season he was released by his parent club. In 2004 he had trials at Bradford City and Accrington Stanley but after being unsuccessful he contemplated retiring from the game and becoming a police officer.

But in 2004 he was given another chance at Conference club Carlisle United and was largely an understudy to Matt Glennon, finally making his debut in March 2005 after an injury to Glennon. In total he played four games in his first season. The following campaign Glennon left and the club brought in Anthony Williams who was expected to be the first choice. However, Westwood finally got his chance to be the club’s number one and proved his ability. He played 35 League Two games, helping the club win the title and continued to be an important member of the team.
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Over the next two seasons he remained first choice and at the end of the 2007-08 season he was named in the League One PFA Team of the Year and also won the club’s Player of the Year, this form led to interest from other clubs. On the 18th June 2008 Westwood joined Coventry City for an undisclosed fee and proved straightway that he could make the step up to the Championship as he was named in the Championship PFA Team of the Year. In the 2009-10 season he then went on to win the club’s Player of the Year.
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After 138 appearances he left the club on a free transfer and joined Sunderland on the 1st July 2011. His time at the club was less successful as he was never given a real run in the side as Simon Mignolet was usually in good form. But after the Belgian’s departure to Liverpool, it seemed as though Westwood would become first choice and at the start of the 2013-14 season he was given the opportunity to show his quality in the Premier League, however he would only play 10 Premier League games and because of the club’s poor results he was dropped for Vito Mannone.

Now at Wednesday he will be hoping that he can help the club challenge for the playoffs, although this may be out of reach this season, they have made a decent start and this has been down to some impressive performances from the goalkeeper, with the club only conceding 11 goals in the first 11 league games.
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The final word can go to Wednesday midfielder Chris Maguire. “He’s kept us in five or six games, making valuable saves at the right time. He’s up there with the best I’ve worked with, but Chris Kirkland is a great keeper as well, so it’s great for competition and it’s a hard one for the manager.”

11th October – Seamus Coleman

Seamus Coleman has been one of the best full backs in the Premier League over the last few seasons but unfortunately like a lot of Everton players this year he has suffered from injuries and is one of many in their treatment room.

The 26 year old has always been good going forward but he has improved a lot defensively and although he adds a lot in attack, it is no surprise that when he is in the starting eleven Everton concede less goals and look more solid. David Moyes give him a chance but it has been Roberto Martinez that has developed his talent and now he is being linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe.

After initially starting out as a Gaelic Footballer, he made the move to professional football and signed for Sligo Rovers. He made his debut against Derry City in October 2006 after coming on as a substitute. He did not have an easy start as manager Rob McDonald did not rate him and thought he should move down a division but when he was sacked and replaced with Paul Cook, the new manager gave Coleman a lot of praise and the defender began to flourish.
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In total he made 60 appearances for the club, scoring once against Bray Wanderers in May 2008 before moving on to Everton in January 2009 for the very small fee of £60,000. Even though he had not kicked a ball for the club, his career could have been over but surgery saved it and he eventually made his debut in the Europa League against Benfica, unfortunately they went on to lose the game 5-0.

His Premier League debut was a much better experience, after coming on as a substitute he helped set up both goals in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur and was awarded the man of the match at the end of the game. Despite this he still struggled to get first team opportunities and went out on loan to Blackpool to help them in their promotion push in March 2010. In his 12 game spell, including the playoff final win over Cardiff City 3-2, he scored once in a 4-2 away win against Scunthorpe United. During his time out on loan he also signed a new four year deal with his parent club.
Coleman Blackpool
The following season he broke into the Everton side and was originally used as a right winger and scored his first Premier League goal against former club Blackpool. He finished the season with our goals but also received the first red card of his career in the final day in a 1-0 win over Chelsea. His performances meant that he was nominated for the 2011 PFA Young Player of the Year.
Coleman Everton
Coleman was a very solid player for a number of seasons but finally received all the attention that he deserves during the 2013-14 season. He scored six league goals, was named as Everton’s Player of the Year, their Players’ Player of the Year and also in the PFA Team of the Year. During the course of the season he set up 45 chances and helped them to a club record 72 Premier League points.

The final word can go to Roberto Martinez. “He just grows month by month. He is a good example of a footballer with an incredible attitude and appetite for the game. I haven’t done anything to coax that out of him. He knows his potential. He plays in a demanding position which needs you to be so good in many areas. He’s one of the best full-backs in world football.”

8th September – Gary Speed

Gary Speed would have been 45 today and is someone that the footballing world has missed because of how likeable he was and how much effort he put in every time he was on the pitch.

The midfielder was a fan favourite at every club he played for and his death shocked everyone as it was so unexpected and he had begun to change Wales’ fortune on the international stage and there were many people that believed he would be the man that took them to a major tournament. The 27th November will be a tough day for all his friends and family but today is one to celebrate his life and his career achievements.

Speed began his career at Leeds United and signed his first professional contract on the 13th June 1988 and was quickly recognised as a player with huge potential by the manager at the time Howard Wilkinson. He made his debut as a 19 year old in the Second Division against Oldham Athletic, this was his only appearance that season but in the following campaign he played 25 times and scored three goals, helping Leeds gain promotion.

He was quickly becoming the first name on the team sheet and played a key role in the 1991-92 season as Leeds won the First Division title. He played alongside Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty in the midfield and they are considered one of the greatest line-ups in the modern game. In the first two years of the newly formed Premier League, Speed hit double figures and was also named in the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 1992-93 season.
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He stayed at Leeds for eight seasons and because of his consistency and the fact he rarely picked up any injuries, he played 312 games before moving to Everton before the 1996-97 season for £3.5 million. He made his debut on the 17th August 1996 and scored against Newcastle United. He finished as the club’s joint top scorer with 11 goals, including a hatrick against Southampton in a 7-1 win. Despite being named the new club captain by Howard Kendall, their relationship turned sour and the midfielder was sold for £5.5 million to Newcastle on the 6th February 1998.
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While at Newcastle, he helped them to two FA Cup finals in 1998 and 1999 but unfortunately they lost both. His performances at the club were exceptional and were a main reason why they rose up the table and started being considered as Premier League contenders and regulars in Europe. He stayed at Newcastle until July 2004 and many were surprised that the club were willing to let him go but after 285 appearances and 40 goals he joined Bolton Wanderers.

In December 2006 he became the first player in history to play 500 games in the Premier League after featuring in a 4-0 win over West Ham. He once again barely missed a game for the club and in his first three seasons he played 40 times or more and in the 2006-07 season he even managed to score eight Premier League goals.
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Speed ended his playing career at Sheffield United but injuries stopped him being as influential for them as he had been for his previous clubs. So he ended his career having played 841 times and hitting the back of the net 136 times.

The final word can go to his former teammate and friend Craig Bellamy. “Gary Speed was a leader. He was the person I admired most. I looked up to him and I always took it as a great compliment he, in turn, looked out for me and valued me as a player. He was a mentor to me, someone whose advice I sought, someone I listened to. I was a little in awe of him. I adored him and looked up to him.”

20th June – Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard’s 36th birthday may have been ruined by England getting knocked out of the World Cup but he has still had a phenomenal career and is Chelsea’s all time top scorer.

The midfielder has now officially left Chelsea but he will have a lot of offers to consider and it could be his last move before retirement so he will probably take his time to decide. He has been one of the best ever goalscoring midfielders in Europe and has always worked hard to get to the level that he wanted. Frank Junior started his career at West Ham United but had to get his first taste of first team football on loan to Swansea City where he played nine league games and scored his first professional goal against Brighton.

He eventually made his West Ham debut on the 31st January 1996 after coming on as a substitute against Coventry City and in the following season he started his first game against Arsenal. He made a further 15 appearances that season but a broken leg ended it early. The 1997-98 season was the breakthrough year for Lampard as he played a lot of games and scored his first Premier League goal on the opening day of the season and later scored a hatrick against Walsall in the League Cup. In total he played 42 times and scored nine goals.
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He played every game for West Ham the following season as they finished fifth in the Premier League and qualified for the Intertoto Cup. Lampard scored a few important goals in their European run, including one in the final against FC Metz. He finished the season as the club’s third highest scorer with 14 goals. However, the 2000-01 season was not as good for the club as they struggled in the league and finished 15th, despite this Lampard still managed nine goals from midfield. This would be his last season at the club as he joined Chelsea for £11 million in June 2001.
Lampard Chelsea
In his first few seasons at Chelsea he was a solid player for the club but he did not exactly look like he was going to break any records but he did spring to life in the 2003-04 season as he reached double figures for the first time in his career and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. The next season he really announced himself as one of the best with impressive performances both in the league and in Europe. In April 2005 he scored twice in a victory over Bolton Wanderers that won Chelsea their first title in fifty years.

After a lot more trophies and even more goals Lampard was one of the most feared midfielders in the world as he continued to break into the box and cause the opposition problems. There are many strikers that are jealous of his record and on the 11th May 2013 he scored twice against Aston Villa to equal then beat Bobby Tambling’s goal record. His final season at Chelsea started off brightly with him scoring in the opening day win over Hull City and later in the season moved into fourth place in the all time Premier League goalscoring list but he was not on the pitch as often as he would have liked and at the end of the season his contract was not extended and he leaves Chelsea after playing 648 times for the club and scored 211 goals.
Lampard England
The final word can go to his club captain John Terry. “He is different class. He’s not just done it for one year and then tailed off as we have seen a lot of players do. We have seen him for the past four, five, six years playing at a top level, scoring goals, passing brilliantly and working on things he’s not good at in training.”