19th March – Kolo Toure

Kolo Toure may have been overshadowed by his younger brother Yaya in recent seasons but he has had an amazing career himself and is proving that on his day he can still be one of the best defenders in the Premier League.

At the age of 34 it is understandable that he is not a guaranteed first choice for Liverpool but as he proved away to Real Madrid earlier this season he can produce some immense performances. After winning the African Cup of Nations earlier this year he can finish his career knowing that he has accomplished almost everything in the game, as well as being a part of one of the best teams ever seen in England.

Toure started his career in his homeland with ASEC Mimosas before going on trial with Arsenal in 2002 and was signed by the club on the 14th February for £150,000. During his first season he didn’t play for the club but did start the Community Shield against Liverpool at the start of the following campaign. He was initially seen as a versatile player who could fit in either at right back or in the centre of midfield and he would go on to score his first goal in England in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Toure Arsenal

The 2003-04 season saw Toure become first choice at centre back alongside Sol Campbell and they were phenomenal as the club went unbeaten in the Premier League and gained the nickname ‘The Invincibles’. He was obviously a fan favourite because of his performances and he played 50 times in the 2004-05 season and pick up an FA Cup winners medal. By this point he was known as one of the best centre backs in England but in the following Champions League campaign he proved his ability in Europe as he helped Arsenal reach the final and keep 10 consecutive clean sheets in the competition and would even get the honour of scoring the final European goal at Highbury.

He stayed at Arsenal for a further three seasons but they were not having the same success and on the 29th July 2009 he signed for Manchester City for £14 million. He was quickly named club captain by Mark Hughes and helped the club finish fifth place in the Premier League. But after Roberto Mancini took charge he lost the armband to Carlos Tevez but was still a regular in the squad and would help the club lift the FA Cup. However, he was banned on the 3rd March 2011 for six months after failing a drugs test.

Toure MCFC

After returning he couldn’t break into the first team regularly but did make enough appearances to pick up another Premier League winners medal. In his final season at the club he would play more league games but this didn’t guarantee him a new contract and he left the club on a free transfer in the summer. On the 2nd July 2013 he joined Liverpool and made his debut in a 1-0 win over Stoke City but he once again struggled to become a regular in the first team. Even with Liverpool opting to play with centre backs he still cannot get in the team for a prolonged period and that is why it looks likely that he will leave the club in the summer.

Soccer - Pre-Season Friendly - Preston North End v Liverpool - Deepdale

The final word can go to Mark Hughes. “He is strong, quick, reads the game well and will be an influential figure in the dressing room. Kolo has been a central figure in a strong Arsenal team for many years, and I have been an admirer of him for a long time.

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25th October – Shaun Wright-Phillips

Shaun Wright-Phillips was a player that was very highly rated as a youngster but as the years have gone by he has become less effective and is now in the footballing wilderness, however if given the chance he could still help QPR avoid relegation.

The club are really struggling to create chances and if they could get the winger back on form they would have a real player on their hands. The 33 year old has made some big money moves in his career but he has largely failed to live up to his potential, despite six goals in 36 games for England and some fantastic performances for club and country. With him being on such a high wage it is difficult for QPR to get rid of him so they have will have to try and work something out.

Wright-Phillips started his career at Manchester City and made his debut in 1999 as a substitute in a League Cup match against Burnley. He made his league debut against Port Vale a few months later and helped his side turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win, with the winger having the shot that resulted in his team’s first goal, unfortunately it was given as an own goal. City were promoted to the Premier League at the end of the season but their stay only lasted one season with Wright-Phillips, playing in a number of positions in his 19 appearances.
SWP MC
After Kevin Keegan replaced Joe Royle as manager and the winger benefitted hugely from this as he became an automatic first choice in Keegan’s more attacking team. He was used as a right wing back and helped the club gain promotion once more, scoring eight times in 35 league games. From 2000-2003 Wright-Phillips won the club’s Young Player of the Year award and was quickly developing into one of the best young players in the country. In his final season at the club he scored 10 Premier League goals in 34 games and was being linked with moves away.

On the 18th July 2005 the winger completed a £21 million move to Chelsea. In his first season he struggled to make his mark on the team and only started 15 games all season. Wright-Phillips would have to wait 52 games and 17 months before scoring his first goal for the club on the 5th December 2006 in a 2-0 win over Levski Sofia in the Champions League. Afterwards he gained confidence and got a lot more game time, including the FA Cup final which Chelsea went on to win.
SWP Chelsea
At the beginning of the 2006-07 season it seemed as though he was going to be a regular but this did not last and after 65 starts and 60 substitute appearances he returned to Manchester City on the 28th August 2008. On his second debut he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Sunderland and then just over a month after joining the club he equalled the same amount of goals in his entire time at Chelsea but his form slowed towards the end of the season.

The 2009-10 season started well and he scored in three consecutive games against Burnley, Hull City and Arsenal but after Roberto Mancini became the new manager, he did spent the rest of his time on the bench and in the following season he only played seven times. On the 31st August 2011 Wright-Phillips signed for QPR and made his full debut against Newcastle United on the 12th September. His time at QPR has been disappointing and failed to score for almost a year before scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over former club Chelsea. QPR were relegated at the end of the season and last season the winger only featured 13 times in their promotion campaign.
SWP MCFC
The final word can go to Kevin Keegan. “He’s a very special player. I haven’t seen a player like him in all my time in the game. He’s got terrific balance and courage. He may be small but he can win the ball in the air and he never stops running.”

12th August – Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli is loved by a lot of football fans but this is not always because of what he does on the pitch and has gained a lot of attention for his antics off the pitch.

While he does do some extraordinary things off the field, he certainly has proved over the years that he is a phenomenal footballer and a lot of people forget. At the age of just 24 he has the potential to become one of the best goal scorers in the game and one of the most feared strikers in the world. One thing that can always be said about Balotelli is that he turns up on the big occasion.

Balotelli began his career at Lumezzane and made his debut in Serie C1 at the age of just 15 against Padova on the 2nd April 2006. He was linked with big clubs in Europe and joined Inter Milan. He made his Serie A debut against Cagliari on the 16th December 2007 and three days later he scored twice in a Coppa Italia game against Reggina and then gained even more attention after scoring twice against Juventus in the same competition.
Balotelli Inter
In the following season he became Inter’s youngest ever scorer in the Champions League after netting against Anorthosis Famagusta. However, his second year was more difficult as him and then manager Jose Mourinho did not get along and he was frozen out of the squad. Despite this and him having to make a lot of appearances as a substitute he still managed to score 20 league goals in just 59 games before leaving.

Manchester City signed the striker and he made his Premier League debut against Arsenal on the 24th October but he had to wait until the 7th November before scoring his first goals for the club in a 2-0 win over West Brom. However, in the same game he was sent off. But he recovered from this and scored a hatrick against Aston Villa in December and was then later named man of the match in the final of the FA Cup which they won 1-0.
Balotelli MC
The striker then started the new season brilliantly with three goals early on and then the opening two goals in the 6-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. After the first goal he also revealed a t-shirt that said ‘why always me’. Despite a very good season in which he scored 17 times in 32 games in all competitions he also picked up his four red cards during the season and it looked like manager Roberto Mancini had lost patience with his striker. However, when he was most needed he turned up for City and provided the assist for the Sergio Aguero goal that won them the Premier League title in the 94th minute against QPR.

His final season at City was much tougher after only scoring one Premier League goal in 14 games before leaving in January 2013 for AC Milan. He was sensational for the club straight away and proved his quality by scoring twice on his debut and then went on to finish the season with 12 goals in just 13 games.
Balotelli AC
Last season Balotelli kept up a good goalscoring record by hitting the back of the 14 times in Serie A and was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible season for the Italian club.

The final word can go to Roberto Mancini. “I think that Mario is one of the best players of his age in Europe. His style of play will suit the Premier League, and because he is still so young there is a big chance to improve. He is strong and exciting player, and City fans will enjoy watching him.”

23rd June – Patrick Vieira

With three Premier League winners medals and another four Serie A title to his name, Patrick Vieira has certainly had a career to remember and now at the age of 38 he is happy leading Manchester City’s reserve team.

The midfielder dominated most players that came up against him and he had some of the best battles ever seen in the Premier League whenever he stepped on the pitch against Roy Keane and is considered one of the greatest rivalries of the last 20 years.

Vieira was always destined for greatness it seemed and had leadership qualities from a young age after he began his career at French club Cannes, making his debut at the age of just 17 and then captaining the side just two years later. After 49 league appearances for the club, a lot of the bigger European teams were looking to sign him and he eventually went to Milan. However, it was not easy for him and he only played twice in the league before joining Arsenal in August 1996.
Vieira Cannnes
He made his debut as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday and then made his full debut three days later against Middlesbrough. His performances quickly made him a favourite among the fans and also his own players who could see the quality that he was bringing to the side and something different that they were previously lacking. He finished his first season with 38 appearances in all competitions but it would be the next year that really kick started his career.

Alongside Emmanuel Petit there was arguably no better central midfield partnership in the league as they were both instrumental in winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup. Vieira scored his first goal of the season in an important victory over Manchester United and although he started picking up a lot of bookings and red cards in the middle part of the season, when he was really needed he was there and towards the end of the season he only picked up one more booking.

However, over the next few seasons Arsenal struggled to win trophies and this was not helped by Vieira’s poor disciplinary problems and at the start of the 2000-01 season he was sent off twice in the space of 72 hours. Although he scored twice against Charlton Athletic in his next match, there was a lot of speculation he was about to leave the club, however he decided to stay.
Vieira Arsenal
Success finally returned for both club and player in the 2001-02 season after they once again won the League and FA Cup double and at the end of the season Vieira was named the new Arsenal captain after Tony Adams left the club. After being handed the armband his performances got even better and was one of the key players in the ‘Invincible’ team of the 2003-04. His next taste of success would be the FA Cup in 2005 where with his final touch for the club he scored the winning penalty against Manchester United after the game had finished 0-0.

In July 2005 Vieira signed for Juventus and made his debut against Chievo. Although he helped the club win Serie A, it was later stripped from them because of the match fixing scandal but the defining moment of his time was when he came up against Arsenal and a young Cesc Fabregas who had replaced him in the team in the Champions League. Arsenal went on to win the tie and send Juventus out and this must have been tough for Vieira to take.

After Juventus were relegated to Serie B, Vieira left to join Inter Milan and helped the club to win the next three Serie A titles. However, towards the end of his time at the club he began to feature less and was on the move in the January transfer window of 2010.
Vieira Inter
The French man returned to England and joined up with his former Inter manager Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. He didn’t get off to a great start though as on his debut they lost to Hull City. Three days later he made his full debut in a 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers and set up the first goal for Emmanuel Adebayor and went on to score his first goal later in the season against Burnley in a 6-1 win and his performances convinced the manager enough to give him a new one year contract. In his final season he was very influential in the club’s FA Cup success as he scored three times in the competition. He retired soon after and ended his career with 651 club appearances and 58 goals.

The final word can go to Roberto Mancini. “Patrick is a world class midfielder with a winner’s mentality and will fit into this group very well. Patrick is one of the great players of his era with almost every honour in the game against his name.”

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.”

20th April – Shay Given

It might be getting towards the end of his career and him looking for the next step into coaching but nobody can deny he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League era.

Shay Given is 38 today and has been one of the most respected players in the Premier League because of his wonderful performances and his consistency. Most recognisable for his time at Newcastle United some people may have been surprised that he in fact started his career at Blackburn Rovers and enjoyed a very successful loan spell at rivals Sunderland. He played 17 games for the club keeping 12 clean sheets and helped them to win promotion to the Premier League as champions.

Newly appointed Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish knew Given from his time at Blackburn and spent £1.5 million to bring the Irish man back to the North East. It did not take him long to establish himself as first choice ahead of Pavel Srnicek, Shaka Hislop and Steve Harper and helped the club reach the final of the FA Cup which they lost 2-0.

Arguably his best year was the 2001-02 season as Newcastle under Bobby Robson emerged as surprise title contenders and ended the season in fourth place. Personally it was a great year for himself as he was selected in the PFA team of the year and knew that he would be competing in the Champions League the next season. And during this season he was involved in one of the best comebacks ever as Newcastle lost their first three group games but still managed to qualify for the next round after beating Feyenoord 3-2 in a dramatic final match. He did not miss a single Premier League game either as the club went one better and finished third in the table.
Given Newcastle
The next few seasons he continued to be as consistent as ever and was constantly linked with moves away from the club to teams that were regularly competing in Europe. Unfortunately by the time Given left Newcastle they were a shadow of the team he played for under Bobby Robson and wanted to leave the club. He joined Manchester City in January 2009 just 34 games away from breaking Newcastle’s appearance record.
Given City
He quickly established himself as first choice at City and in his first full season at the club he performed very well and produced one of the best penalty saves ever against Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. During the season he was voted as the Premier League goalkeeper of the noughties and received a lot of praise from his then manager Roberto Mancini: “I have been impressed with Shay Given, who is one of the five best goalkeepers in the world.”

A dislocated shoulder meant he lost his place at City and could not win it back so he left the club for Aston Villa. He was Alex McLeish’s first signing and he was looking forward to working with the keeper. “Everybody who was watched him perform will know his pedigree. He’s a real competitor and a world class keeper.”
Given Villa
Everyone that has worked with him regards him as one of the best and in a recent loan spell at Middlesbrough he proved that he is still very capable when called upon, keeping 10 cleans sheets in 16 league games.

He is currently temporary assistant to Paul Lambert and is embarking on a new stage in his career. But the final word can go to Sir Bobby Robson: “I think Shay is in the top five Premier League goalkeepers. He really is top class. He’s got great agility, great courage and he anticipates well. He’s a terrific boy to work with.”

10th April – Vincent Kompany

£6 million in the modern transfer market does not get you a lot in the Premier League but that is what Manchester City paid for arguably the best ever signing in the 2000s.

Vincent Kompany is 28 today and there are not many players that make such a difference when they are in the starting 11. When he is missing opposition teams immediately get a lift and think they have more of a chance of scoring and getting a result. Former manager Mark Hughes said: “He wants to improve, he is ambitious and he is desperate for success.” Now he is getting that success that his talents deserve and it is hard to argue against him winning trophies and personal awards as any team in the world would be improved with him in their side.
Kompany City
Hughes had an indifferent time at City but one thing he did right was sign the Belgian centre back and also make him captain. Since then he has improved further and it is down to his own hard work and determination. It did not take him long to settle in the Premier League and when Roberto Mancini took over from Hughes the club started competing for trophies and Kompany was a vital part of the team that won the FA Cup against Stoke City.

But it was the next season when nobody could argue against his talents as he won the Supporters Player of the Year, Manchester City’s Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Year. As the season was coming to a close it looked as though it would be a trophyless one for the club but Kompany scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Manchester United which put them top of the table with only two games to play and the rest is a well known story that ended with the centre back lifting the Premier League trophy.
Kompany captain
The next season was slightly tougher with him picking up niggling injuries and City failing to defend their title, manager Roberto Mancini knew that Kompany would keep improving. He said: “Vincent can become number one in the world. He has improved a lot and is now one of the top defenders in Europe.”

It has been a remarkable rise for the former Anderlecht and Hamburg man but it is one that has been enjoyed by many because he seems like one of the good guys in football and is someone that puts himself across very well in interviews and when doing media work.
Kompany Belgium
The last word can go to Manchester City legend Francis Lee who has seen a lot of players play for the club. “Kompany is sensational. He’s one of the best I’ve seen, he’s certainly the best Manchester City centre half I’ve seen.”