26th March – Simon Kjaer

Simon Kjaer has been one of the more consistent centre backs around Europe in recent years but it seems like every time he is close to a really big move his form plummets and mistakes creep into his game.

The centre back is still only 26 but has a lot of experience and has played in some big games for both club and country so his career will more than likely get better. Over the years he has been linked with transfers to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea to name a few and it is felt that he would be good in the Premier League and the English top flight definitely needs more top quality defenders.

Kjaer started his career at Danish club Midtjylland and even at a young age he was linked with big moves and even had a trial with Real Madrid in August 2007 but unfortunately a deal could not be agreed. Instead he signed a new five year deal with his first club and made his debut in a 2-0 win over AGF on the 30th September 2007. He would play 21 times for the club before making the move to Italian side Palermo in July 2008.

Kjaer Palermo

He would have to wait until October to make his debut as a half time substitute in a 3-1 defeat to Fiorentina. Despite the loss Kjaer played well and quickly established himself as an important member of the side and ended the season with 27 appearances and three goals. After a very successful first season he was named the 2009 Danish Talent of the Year and during the 2009-10 campaign he would go on to produce even better performances, ending with a very consistent World Cup which meant once again that many other clubs were looking at him and Palermo had to accept they were going to lose him in the summer.

On the 8th July 2010 he made the move to Wolfsburg but unfortunately Kjaer and the club got off to an indifferent start and were not achieving what they had expected to. After manager Steve McClaren was sacked, Felix Magath took over and it was much tougher for Kjaer to get a regular place in the team and was made a scapegoat by the new manager for the problems Wolfsburg were having.

Kjaer Wolfsburg

After making three appearances at the start of the 2011-12 season the centre back made the move to Roma on a season long loan. This was also not a good move for him as he struggled to show his quality and was even sent off against Lazio in a 2-1 defeat which led to the club not buying him permanently and he had to return to Wolfsburg. After burying the hatchet with Magath he would eventually get back into the team but he only lasted one more season.

His next move was to Lille in France and was very impressive in his first campaign helping the club to 21 clean sheets and was included in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season after they only conceded 26 goals in 38 league games. The defender has continued to put in good performances and has proven that when he is on form he can be a leader and one of the best in Europe.

Kjaer Lille

The final word can go to Palermo director Walter Sabatini. “I have heard that Juventus and their observers have been watching Kjaer. There is also an interest from Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. But he’ll stay, even he knows that. All is well, he wants to complete his development. Simon should be valued based on the qualities he has.”

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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.”

24th September – John Arne Riise

John Arne Riise might be a left back but it wasn’t his defending he was best known for as he had a phenomenal left foot and scored some sublime goals.

He is now currently playing in Cyprus with APOEL and at the age of 34 he is coming towards the end of his career but he does have some good memories, particularly at Liverpool where he helped them win the Champions league in 2005 in that incredible match against AC Milan. Riise also has the honour of being Norway’s most capped player and is definitely seen as a hero in his home country.

The defender started his career at Norwegian club Aalesund and after a fantastic spell he was being linked with moves away from the club. His five goals in 25 league games convinced French club Monaco to sign the full back. During the 1998-99 season he only played eight times but in the following campaign he became a regular in the side and he helped them win the Ligue 1 title. However, soon after he fell out with manager Claude Puel after saying he wanted to leave the club. Riise had been frustrated because bids had been rejected for him as Monaco wanted a higher transfer fee.

Eventually in 2001 he joined Liverpool for £4 million and made his debut against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup and scored as Liverpool won the game 3-2. He quickly became a fan favourite because of his attacking play from left back and ended his first season in England with seven Premier League goals. The next few seasons were difficult for Riise but after the appointment of Rafael Benitez he rediscovered his form and helped the club win the Champions League. In the final he had a mixed game as he set up the all important first goal for Steven Gerrard but then went on to miss his spot kick in the shootout.
Riise LFC
In his time at Liverpool he also helped them win the FA Cup which also went to penalties and Riise was brave enough to step up once more and this time he managed to score. But after this he started getting less game time and although he made it into Liverpool’s top 50 appearance makers it seemed like his time at the club was coming to an end.

On the 18th June 2008 he signed for Italian side Roma and once again quickly became a fan favourite because of his wholehearted displays and his important goals for the club. He seemed to always pop up in the games that mattered to the fans, he scored a goal against Inter in a pivotal game of the season and then followed this up against Milan with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory and then also scored a last minute header to give his team a 2-1 win over Juventus.
Riise Roma
After 99 league games and three seasons at the club he was on the move, this time joining Fulham on the 13th July 2011 and joined his brother Bjorn Helge at the club. He was a very consistent player during his three years there but he did not manage to score which was the most surprising thing about his second spell in England. His final year at the club was a disaster for everyone as they ended up getting relegated to the Championship and Riise left when his contract expired.
Riise FFC
Now at APOEL, he made his debut against Ayia Napa and set up two goals in a 3-1 away victory.

The final word can go to Martin Jol. “John Arne Riise is an experienced international left back who will bring a number of qualities to our squad and provide more options for me. He is an accomplished player defensively, who can also contribute to our attacking play.”

28th August – Bojan Krkic

A player going from Barcelona to Stoke City is not a transfer that many football fans expect to see especially when they have played over 100 times for the Spanish giants.

Bojan will take time to settle in the Premier League but with him signing a four year contract at Stoke he will definitely have the opportunity to adapt to the pace and power of the league. The 24 year old still has the best years in front of him and after a very impressive pre season much is expected of him over the season and if Mark Hughes’ side can perform like they did last year then they could push for Europe.

The striker, who can also play on the wing, started his career in Barcelona’s B team and impressed for them in the 2006-07 season by scoring 10 goals in 22 games and went on to become the youngest player to play for Barcelona on the 16th September 2007 against Osasuna after coming on as a substitute. Three days later he then made his debut in the Champions League against Lyon. On the 20th October 2007, aged just 17 years and 53 days he started his first game and scored in the 25th minute against Villarreal. He finished his first season as a professional with 10 goals, including one in the Champions League against Schalke.

For the 2008-09 season Bojan was handed the number 11 shirt but he had to settle for a place on the bench for the majority of the season. But he played a role in helping the club win La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey. He was particularly effective in the Copa Del Rey by scoring five goals in the competition, including one in the final against Athletic Bilbao.
Bojan Barcelona
The 2009-10 season followed a similar pattern with him being used mainly off the bench but he had a fantastic end to the season which saw him score seven times in the final 12 games. In the following season he changed number once again and was given the number nine shirt. However he found himself behind David Villa, Pedro and Lionel Messi in the pecking order and didn’t quite hit the standards of the season before but he did play his 100th game for Barcelona and marked it with a goal against Getafe.

On the 22nd July he signed for Roma with a buyback clause giving Barcelona the option to re-sign him. He had to wait until the 1st October to score his first goal for the club against Atalanta and ended the season with seven goals in 33 appearances. After just one season he joined AC Milan on loan and after just three goals in 27 games he returned to former club Barcelona who took up the buyback option.
Bojan Roma
Without playing again for Barcelona he was sent out on loan, this time to Ajax. He had a tough start at the club by picking up a hamstring injury that would keep him out for a part of the first half of the season. But when he returned he helped Ajax win the league with four goals in 24 games.
Bojan Ajax
Stoke City signed him on the 22nd July 2014 for an undisclosed fee and he made his debut in a 1-0 loss against Aston Villa but put in a good performance.

The final word can go to Mark Hughes. “Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him as a player. He’s desperate to prove himself in the Premier League and we’re pleased to be able to offer him that platform.”

11th August – Nigel Martyn

Nigel Martyn was one of the most underrated goalkeepers in Premier League history and was the first £1 million goalkeeper in British football.

Although he made his England debut in 1992 he only went on to play 23 times for his country and this was very unfortunate as if he had came along a few years later he would have definitely been an automatic first choice. Martyn was a fantastic keeper, pulling off some fantastic saves and was always a fan favourite at his various clubs.

The beginning of his career is somewhat unbelievable as Ian Holloway said in his autobiography that the goalkeeper was spotted by Bristol Rovers tea lady while on holiday and invited Martyn to the club for a trial. He obviously impressed the coaching staff as he was given a professional contract in 1987. Over the next two seasons he became first choice and played over 100 league games for the club before moving onto Crystal Palace in 1989 for £1 million.
Martyn CP
Once again Martyn was first choice for a long time and proved his ability by helping the team reach the FA Cup final in 1990 and although they lost against Manchester United after a replay, it was a fantastic effort and the goalkeeper received a lot of praise for his performances. He remained at Palace for seven years and made 349 appearances for the club before once again setting a record fee for a goalkeeper.

In the summer of 1996 Leeds United signed him for £2.25 million. While at Leeds he never let the club down and his performances were outstanding both in domestic competitions and also on the European stage. His display against Roma at the Olympic Stadium will be remembered for a long time by the Leeds fans as it helped them progress to the UEFA Cup semi finals in the 1999/00 season. Again in Europe Martyn was in inspirational form as he was part of the squad that defeated Barcelona, Lazio and Deportivo as they reached the semi finals of the Champions League under David O’Leary.
Martyn LU
Martyn was first choice at Leeds for six seasons and he was named officially as Leeds United’s greatest ever goalkeeper which was a huge honour as the club have had some other magnificent keepers in the past such as Gary Sprake and John Lukic. His time at the club came to an end after the 2002-03 season with Paul Robinson being the number one for that year and him failing to play a league game.

Everton signed the goalkeeper on a free transfer and after an injury to their first choice Richard Wright, he took over from him and his consistent performances meant that he kept his place in the team.
Martyn Everton
Despite coming towards the end of his career he arguably had his best year in the 2003-04 season as he helped Everton finish fourth in the table with many fans believing that he kept them in that lofty position almost singlehandedly. In his final season in the professional game he was picking up more injuries and on his final and 100th appearance for Everton he produced one more fantastic display in an FA Cup fifth round tie against Chelsea. He was then later described by manager David Moyes as his ‘greatest ever signing’.

The final word can go to David Moyes. “You are always planning for who is the next Nigel Martyn. When Nigel was leaving, he was reliable, consistent and a great man to work with. To try and find a goalkeeper like that who you can trust was not easy.”

22nd June – Kieran Lee

Kieran Lee had a pretty slow start to his career at Sheffield Wednesday but last season proved to be one of their best players and was a very influential player on the pitch.

It is not surprising that he eventually showed his quality at Hillsborough because of how well he had already done in the past at previous clubs. It seemed like injuries were going to be a problem for him but his form improved dramatically after Dave Jones left the club and he started playing in the centre of midfield under Stuart Gray.

Lee did start his career as a central midfielder but at first club Manchester United he was used mostly as a fullback and after impressing for the under 18s and the reserves he was offered a professional contract at the club. During the 2006-07 season he was named the captain of the reserves team and also made his first team debut coming on as a substitute in a third round League Cup game against Crewe Alexandra. The scores were level at full time so the game went to extra time and Lee scored to make it 2-1 with a composed finish that seasoned pros would have been proud of.
Lee MU
He played once more in the League Cup that season and also made his Premier League debut against Chelsea on the 9th May and at the end of the season he was named the Reserve Player of the Year. Although he was named as a substitute in a Champions League game against Roma he never played for the Old Trafford club again and on the 2nd January he joined QPR on loan. He spent four months at the London club and made seven appearances before being released by his parent club.

In the summer of 2008 he joined Oldham Athletic and his career really kicked off and he became one of the most consistent players for the next few seasons. But he had to wait until the 26th December to make his debut in a 3-0 win over Crewe and to make it better he even provided the assist for the final goal. Lee had to wait until the next season to get his first goal and it was an important 95th minute equaliser against Swindon Town and he eventually became a first team regular for the first time in his career.
Soccer - npower Football League One - Oldham Athletic v Milton Keynes Dons - Boundary Park
When Paul Dickov became manager of Oldham his performances went to the next level and he was regarded as one of the best fullbacks in the Football League. At the end of the 2010-11 season he picked up four Player of the Year awards at the club, including Players’ Player of the Year and the Fans’ Player of the Year. Remarkably at the end of the following season he followed this up once more with yet another four awards.

Sheffield Wednesday then signed Lee in 2012 and the 26 year old is now one of their most important players and in the season just gone he played 26 times, scoring once and creating another four goals.
Kieran Lee of Sheffield Wednesday
The final word can go to the Oldham chairman Simon Corney. “Sometimes when players leave, you feel let down because you think they owe you something, but this is absolutely not the case with Kieran. He’s a great boy; I can’t speak highly enough of him; I wish we had 11 Kieran Lees”

18th June – Fabio Capello

Fabio Capello is statistically the best manager England have ever had but his time in charge was seen as a failure by most as he made some interesting decisions and was not too keen to learn the language either.

There is no doubting that he is a manager of great quality and gained a lot of respect but he did not perform well at the 2010 World Cup and it was one of the worst times to be an England fan. He is now at his second World Cup as a manager with Russia and he must have had the feeling of déjà vu as his keeper made a terrible mistake in the first game just as Rob Green did against USA in 2010.

As a player Capello turned out for SPAL, Roma, Juventus and Milan and won the Serie A title four times and was capped 32 times by Italy between the years of 1972 and 1978. He ended his playing career after 341 league games and 45 goals which was a decent record for a holding midfielder.
After retiring as a player he became a youth coach at Milan throughout the 1980s and helped develop two of the best defenders the country has ever seen in Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta. His first taste of management also came at Milan when he led the club for the last six games of the 1986-87 season but he was not giving the job permanently despite qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
Capello Juve
He did eventually get given the job in June 1991 and he played a slightly more attacking game than the previous manager that worked well and they went on to win the title at the end of his first season in charge. They were once again the best team in Italy in the following season and also had success on the European stage as they reached the Champions League final, however they lost 1-0 against Marseille. During this period they went 58 league games unbeaten from the 19th May 1991 to 21st March 1993.

The following season he did lead the club to Champions League glory as they beat Barcelona 4-0 in the final. He went on to reach another Champions League final and win another Serie A title before leaving for Real Madrid in 1996. In Spain it was strange for Capello as he won the league title but he was not a favourite of the fans who did not like his style and after a falling out with chairman Lorenzo Sanz he left the club after just one season.

Capello then returned to Milan but this spell was nowhere near as successful as the team struggled and they finished in 10th place as they only won 11 league games all season and had to endure big defeats to rivals Juventus and Roma. After being sacked by Milan he took some time away from the game but returned in 1999 to manage Roma where he had been a player.

He had a slightly disappointing start to his time there but in 2001 he rediscovered the golden touch as he led the club to the title even though earlier in the season the fans had called for him to resign and he had fallen out with a number of players at the club. But Roma won their first major honour in a decade and only the third title of their history. Unfortunately they had to settle for second place in the following season and they would not win another trophy under Capello.
Capello Roma
Despite being highly critical of the way the club had been run in the past, the Italian joined Juventus and he helped them win the Serie A title in both 2005 and 2006 however the club were later stripped of these because of the match fixing scandals. During the investigations of these scandals Capello left for a second spell at Real Madrid and once again the fans were not happy with his style of play and had more fallings out with high profile players and in March they were knocked out of the Champions League and were struggling in fourth place, six points behind Barcelona. However, on the last day of the season Madrid beat Mallorca 3-1 at home which meant that Real won the league. Despite winning the league Capello was sacked.

On the 14th December the Italian was appointed England manager and he qualified comfortably for both the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012. However he would not be in charge during the European Championships as he resigned after the FA removed the captaincy from John Terry.
Capello Eng
He is now in charge of Russia and will most likely stay there until after the 2018 World Cup which is being held in their country.

The final word can go to the FA Chief Executive Brian Barwick. “Fabio is a winner. His record over the last decades speaks for itself. At every club he has managed, Fabio has won the league title. Sir Trevor Brooking and I were left in no doubt of his passion and commitment to bring that success to the England team.”