7th June – Cafu

Cafu is one of the best ever right backs in football and will be hoping that his country Brazil can win the World Cup in 2018.

The right back helped his country win the trophy in 1994 and 2002 as well as the Copa America twice and will be looking on keenly this summer to see how his national side get on. The only statistic that anyone needs to hear to prove how good Cafu was is that he is the most internationally capped Brazilian player of all time.

But it wasn’t always easy for the defender as he was turned down by a lot of clubs when he was younger and could not get signed, however, in 1988 he was given the opportunity to show his talents at home town club Sao Paulo. It did take him a little while to break into the first team but when he did he was influential in helping the club win back to back Copa Libertadores and World Championships in 1992 and 1993. Just a year later he was named South American Footballer of the Year.

Cafu SP

1995 was an interesting time for Cafu as he signed for Brazilian team Juventude but never played a game for the club and moved to Spanish side Real Zaragoza where he won the Cup Winners’ Cup. After 17 appearances he returned to Brazil, joining Palmeiras, this once again though was only a short stay and he was being linked with moves back to Europe.

Italian side Roma signed the right back and he was loved by the fans for his willingness to fly forward and join the attack as well as his solid defending. In 2001 he helped the club win Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana but these would be his only trophies during his six year spell. After 163 league games and 5 goals, Cafu made the move to AC Milan.

Cafu Roma

In his first season with the club, he won Serie A for the second time in his career and in the following campaign played a part in reaching the Champions League final, which they unfortunately lost to Liverpool, in arguably the greatest game in the competitions history. He did manage to get revenge for this defeat just two years later by winning the Champions League against the same opposition.

Cafu AC

His final season for the club was the 2007-08 season where he was not an automatic pick but in his last professional game he did manage to grab a goal in a 4-1 win over Udinese. To show how much he was loved in Italy, he has been named in both Roma and AC Milan’s Hall of Fame.

The final word can go to England World Cup hero Geoff Hurst. “Cafu was the complete package. It’s not often I find myself waxing lyrical about a defender, but Cafu was that and so much more. Sir Alex Ferguson once jokingly asked whether Cafu had two hearts, on account of his tireless running and unstinting stamina.”

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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.”

1st September – Jose Antonio Reyes

With Arsenal fans desperate for their club to sign a striker on transfer deadline day, it is the birthday of one of their former forwards Jose Antonio Reyes.

Now at the age of 31 he may not have been prolific but was he a better option than their current crop of strikers? With Olivier Giroud out injured, they only have Yaya Sanogo as a recognised a striker and then others in Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Alexis Sanchez that can play upfront. Reyes may not have quite worked out as well for Arsenal as they hoped and maybe that is a warning to Arsenal fans who are begging for a signing.

The forward started his career at Sevilla and signed his first full contract in 1999, making his debut as a 16 year old against Real Zaragoza. Over the next four seasons he became well known around Europe as someone that can play in any of the forward positions and score from any angle. In his 86 league appearances for the club he scored 21 times.

Arsenal signed Reyes in the January transfer window of the 2003-04 season and made his debut in a 2-1 win against Manchester City. In his first half a season he scored five times in 21 games, helping Arsenal go unbeaten in the Premier League. In his first full season he started off brilliantly and many people thought that he was going to lead Arsenal to the title but midway through the season he began to struggle and remained inconsistent.
Reyes Arsenal
In early 2005 there were claims that Reyes was homesick and wanted to return to Spain and despite and helping Arsenal win the FA Cup in 2005 and then reach the final of the Champions League in 2006, he was very inconsistent and could not reproduce his best form. After 69 Premier League appearances and 16 goals he was included in a swap deal with Real Madrid.

Reyes was a regular for Madrid and scored some important goals, including his first on the 17th September 2006 with a free kick against Real Sociedad. More importantly he scored twice on the final day against Mallorca to help Madrid come from behind and not only win the game but also the league.

Despite this success he did not sign permanently and instead joined city rivals Atletico Madrid. He got off to a very poor start as he could not force his way into the side and failed to score in his 26 league appearances. After just one season it seemed like his time at the club was over as he left for Benfica on loan and had a better time scoring four goals in 26 games and producing better performances.
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After returning to Atletico, he was reunited with his manager from Benfica Quique Flores and became one of the most important members of the team. Over the next two seasons he played 90 games but after the manager left he lost his consistency and had a falling out with new manager Gregorio Manzano which led to him leaving the club and on the 5th January 2012 he rejoined Sevilla.
Reyes Sevilla
Although he is not as much a goalscoring threat for Sevilla, he does still play an important role and helped them win last season’s Europa League by scoring twice in nine games.

The final word can go to Arsene Wenger. “Jose Reyes is a fantastic signing. He can play in midfield or as a supporting striker. He can play on the left or on the right, in fact, anywhere as an offensive player. Jose will be a great asset to our squad.”

14th August – Ander Herrera

Ander Herrera will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders this season with Manchester United chasing him for a long time and finally getting their man.

Herrera, now, 25, is being touted as the player the club have needed since Paul Scholes retired (both times) and if he is expected to live up to those expectations then it certainly won’t be easy but in pre season he has proved that he can pick a pass and some of his through balls will have definitely got Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie excited to play alongside him. The central midfield area has been a problem for Manchester United for a number of seasons now and it could finally be sorted.

The midfielder started his career at Real Zaragoza where he first made his name in the ‘B’ team where he played 10 league games and scored two goals before being moved to the first team during the 2008-09 season. At the time Zaragoza were in the second division of Spanish football and with the emergence of Herrera in their midfield they gained promotion back to the top flight. Herrera played 19 times and added another two goals to his career total.
Herrera RZ
In his first season in La Liga Herrera was one of the most used players in the Zaragoza squad and he was vital in keeping them in the league and once again scored two goals in his 30 appearances. Despite a change of manager in the following campaign he was still one of the main players in the squad and was giving more impressive performances as his experience grew. Again he scored two league goals, which shows he was consistent in that department. But it was not his goalscoring that was catching the eye, it was his solid tackling and his very good passing statistics.

Athletic Bilbao were the team that decided to buy the player and bring him back to his hometown club. This would have been a great moment for the midfielder as Bilbao only sign players from the Basque area and it is seen as a huge honour to represent Bilbao if you are Basque.
Herrera AB
Herrera made his debut in a Europe League tie with Turkish side Trabzonspor and in his first season he appeared in 54 games in all competitions as the club reached the final of both the Copa Del Rey and the Europa League. Unfortunately they lost both but it was in the Europa League that first made Manchester United aware of Herrera as he performed brilliantly over two legs as Bilbao won both home and away.

It has been since then that Manchester United have been linked with the midfielder but he stayed at Bilbao for another two seasons and in total he played 128 games for Bilbao scoring 11 goals. His low goalscoring record should not be a worry for the fans at Old Trafford as he is certainly more of a deep lying playmaker and someone that should provide a lot of chances for their more attacking players.
Herrera MU
The final word can go to Ryan Giggs on the new signing. “Ander is a fantastic young player, with great energy and creativity. We believe him to be one of the brightest young prospects in Spain and I am certain he will be a big hit with the United fans.”

9th August – Filipe Luis

Filipe Luis has a tough job this season in being the true replacement for Ashley Cole at Chelsea but if his time in Spain is anything to go by then he will be a success.

Jose Mourinho knew he needed a new left back and even though Cesar Azpilicueta did a very good job it does give him more options at the back. If Chelsea are to challenge for both the Champions League and Premier League they will certainly need top quality players and come the end of the season Luis could be the best signing of the summer or at least the most reliable.
Luis Fig
The left back started his career at Brazilian club Figueirense where he played for two seasons and made 22 appearances for the club before moving to Real Madrid in 2005, however he did not play for the first team and was instead moved to their B-team in the Segunda Division. He played 37 times in the league and impressed enough to earn a loan move away to La Liga side Deportivo La Coruna.

Although he did not get as many chances as he would have liked his loan was extended for another season and in the 2007-08 season he went onto become their first choice left back and on the 10th June he made his move permanent by signing a five year deal. During his first season as a Depor player he was the only outfield player in La Liga to appear in every league match and he also scored two goals.
Luis Depor
Once again in the following season he had played every minute and helped Deportivo to fourth in the table, however a horrific injury to his right fibula in January meant he was likely to miss the rest of the season. Amazingly he returned to action in less than four months and on his comeback was involved in the goal that helped the club win 1-0 against Mallorca.

Luis’ form meant that other club were looking at him and on the 23rd July 2010 Atletico Madrid signed him for an undisclosed fee on a five year deal. He made his debut against Real Zaragoza and set up Diego Costa for the only goal of the game and was awarded the man of the match award. Despite some impressive performances he struggled to hold down the left back spot in his first season but eventually he became a vital member of the team.
Luis AM
From then on the team became much more successful and he played the full 90 minutes in their Copa Del Rey final victory over Real Madrid in 2013 which was the catalyst for even more trophies. In his final season at the club he helped the team reach the Champions League final and also was part of the defence that conceded only 26 goals in the league and lifted the La Liga trophy at the end of the campaign. On the 18th July Luis made the move to Chelsea for £15.8 million.

The final word can go to Jose Mourinho. “We needed a pure left back, a real left back. He is experienced. Very stable, very reliable. He is a player who normally does not make mistakes.”

15th April – Andres D’Alessandro

Foreign players need time to settle in England and are very rarely put in a position where if they fail their club could get relegated.

Andres D’Alessandro had to come into a new country and perform straight away after joining Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth who were in a very difficult situation and were looking certainties for relegation. When he joined the club it was a real surprise because he was considered one of the best attacking talents in Europe and earlier in his career he was seen as the next big thing to come out of Argentina.

This led to Wolfsburg splashing out a club record fee for the midfielder after helping his country win the 2001 Youth World Championships and outshining future stars like Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola. It was not long before he was in the headlines again after another very impressive showing at the Olympic Games where Argentina won the gold medal. His first season at Wolfsburg was ok after playing 34 times but over the next two seasons he was playing less and less. Eventually this led to him and the club coming to an agreement to allow him to leave on loan.
D'All Wolf
This was when he joined Portsmouth and Harry Redknapp said on his signing. “The boy is a really influential playmaker. This is a massive signing for the club and I am delighted.” A lot of other clubs fans were jealous of this signing and could not believe that he had joined a club that was battling relegation. His first goal for the club was one of the best of the season unfortunately it was in a losing effort against Charlton. Although he did not score again he was very influential and was one of the main reasons his side stayed up with his brilliant passing and accurate set pieces.
D'All Pompey
Portsmouth wanted to make the signing permanent but his form had made a lot of clubs sit up and take notice of him once again. D’Alessandro ended the speculation by signing for Real Zaragoza on loan. He wanted to try his hand in Spain and felt his game was suited to the Spanish style. After a good loan spell he joined the club permanently and his career stalled slightly but he was still seen as a threat every time he played.

As a lot of South American players do he decided to return there and he joined Brazilian side Internacional. Since being there he has proven to be an important player, in 2011 he played 48 times and scored 15 times but he is getting even better as he gets older and more experienced. In 2013 he scored the most goals in a season in his career when he scored 20 times.

The Argentinean is a fantastic player and he excited the fans every time he was on the pitch and it was great to see him play in the Premier League even if it was only for half a season.
Da'All Internacional
The last word can go to Harry Redknapp who knew how good he was going to be after only a few games. “He has already been superb for us. He is a bit of a throwback to Graham Rix as a player with his magical left foot.”