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.

Fletcher 1

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.

Fletcher 2

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.

Fletcher 3

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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8th August – Louis Saha

The scorer of the quickest goal in an FA Cup final turns 36 today and that man is someone that scored consistently most of his career.

Whenever Louis Saha stepped on the pitch defenders knew they were in for a long afternoon and had to deal with his clever movement and fantastic finishing ability. The only reason the striker did not quite get as many goals as his quality deserved was because of injury problems but he still enjoyed a lot of success, particularly in England where he spent most of his career.

He began his career with Metz in 1995 before moving to the senior squad in 1997 where he played 21 league games in his first season scoring one goal. His performances impressed enough to earn him a move to Premier League club Newcastle United on loan in January 1999. While at the club he scored one league goal in 11 games and also scored in their run to the FA Cup final, however he was left out of the squad to play in the final and returned to Metz. He stayed at the French club for one more season before moving back to England.

Fulham signed the striker for £2.1 million in 2000 and scored 27 goals in his first season to help the club get promoted to the Premier League. He took to the league much quicker this time and ended the year with eight league goals. In the following season he was not as successful because of injuries but did still manage five goals in 17 games. In his final season he showed his true quality and by January he had 15 goals in just 22 games which convinced Manchester United to sign the forward for £12.4 million.
Saha Fulham
Saha impressed immediately by scoring seven times in his first 10 starts including a goal on his debut against Southampton. The following year was very stop start as he had niggling injuries and only made 22 appearances. In the 2005-06 season he became Wayne Rooney’s main strike partner after a good run of form in front of goal which meant that Ruud Van Nistelrooy had to settle for a place on the bench for large periods of the season. Saha ended the campaign with 15 goals and began the next very well however injuries once again caught up with him and he could not fulfil his potential.
Saha MU
The 2007-08 season followed a similar pattern and this turned out to be his last at Old Trafford as he left for Everton. It was in this season that he scored after just 25 seconds in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, unfortunately Everton went on to lose the game. In the 2009-10 season he also went on a good goalscoring run by scoring in seven consecutive games and ended the season with 13 Premier League goals. He left Everton in January 2012 to join Tottenham Hotspur and on his full debut for the club he scored twice in a 5-0 victory over Newcastle United.
Saha Everton
Despite his good form he was not given an extended contract and signed for Sunderland. But his time there was less successful as he failed to score in 14 appearances and left for Lazio on the 6th February 2013 and after six league games for them he announced his retirement.

The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson. “Louis is a young and exciting talent and has made incredible progress. We have got a young and gifted centre forward. To have finally secured this deal is fantastic and great boost to the club.”

6th August – Robin Van Persie

Robin Van Persie has been one of the best strikers in Premier League history and can potentially make the difference between winning the league and coming runner up.

Last season he only played 21 times in the league and scored 12 goals so if he had been available for all 38 games then he would have likely scored over 20 goals and Manchester United would have had a much better season. Now Louis Van Gaal is in charge the 31 year old could become an even better player and after seeing some of his goals at the World Cup it is clear to see that Van Persie fits into Van Gaal’s systems perfectly.

The striker started his career at Feyernoord and made his debut at the age of 17 and made 15 starts in the 2001-02 season and started in the final of the UEFA Cup final. Early in the next season he scored five times in a game against AGOVV Apeldoorn but he did not have as much of a breakthrough season as he hoped because of a falling out with manager Bert Van Marwijk. He stayed at the club for one more season but left after 15 league goals in 61 games.
RVP Fey
On the 17th May 2004 Van Persie joined Arsenal for £2.75 million but had to wait until the 27th October to make his competitive debut and against Manchester City in the League Cup he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win. He finished his debut season with 10 goals in 41 games. He started the next season well with eight goals in eight starts but his season was disrupted by a toe injury and he could not continue his great form.

Once again the 2006-07 was disrupted by injury but he still managed 13 goals and was ready to become Arsenal’s main striker after Thierry Henry left for Barcelona. He took to his new role well with seven goals in 10 games but yet another injury ruined his season and all the niggling injuries he picked up were holding him back.
RVP Arsenal
The 2008-09 season was a defining year for the striker because he proved that he could be the main man at a big club as he scored 20 goals in all competitions and also provided 11 assists. His form in January of the season was exceptional as he either scored or provided the assist for every goal scored that month. Over the next few seasons he scored 9 in 16, 18 in 25 and then finally 30 in 38 before leaving for Manchester United.

He was bought by Sir Alex Ferguson to make sure that they won their 20th league title and that is exactly what he did. On the 22nd April he scored a hatrick against Aston Villa which confirmed them as champions and after 30 goals in all competitions he was seen as one of the best signings Ferguson made during his time at Old Trafford. Unfortunately injuries in his second season stopped him having the same impact and may have been part of the reason David Moyes lost his job.
RVP MU
The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson. “He’s unbelievable. I think his goals tell you that, his performance levels told you that. In terms of impact he has made as big an impact as any player I can imagine. Arsene Wenger said he was better than I’d think and he was right. He has been unbelievable.”

4th August – Antonio Valencia

Antonio Valencia was the first Ecuadorean to win the Premier League and he could play a crucial role once again at Old Trafford next season.

If new manager Louis Van Gaal plays a 3-5-2 formation then this could suit Valencia perfectly as he would be able to play as one of the wing backs and be very effective as he has proved he can play both on the right wing and at right back. Although there are doubts over his future it could be a big mistake if Van Gaal does let him go because they have already lost quite a few experienced Premier League players this summer.

Valencia started his career at El Nacional in Ecuador and it wasn’t long before he broke into their first team and was being linked with moves to Europe, in particular Spain. But in his last season at the club he helped them win the 2005 Clausura Tournament and after 11 goals in 83 league games he decided to move to Europe.
Valencia EN
In 2005 he signed for Villarreal but he struggled to break into their first team and only played twice before being loaned out to Recreativo de Huelva and he was an important player for them, helping them to win the second division in Spain and gain promotion to La Liga. Although he only played 12 times he impressed enough to get some interest from other clubs and he joined Wigan Athletic on loan on the 3rd August 2006.

It did not take long to settle in England and he scored his first goal in an emphatic 4-0 win over Manchester City. However, he picked up an injury soon afterwards and was ruled out for three months before returning in January against Everton. Although he only got one goal and one assist his performances were good enough to convince the club to extend his loan deal and then make it permanent in January 2008. He would go onto make 88 appearances for Wigan but was continually linked with moves away and manager Steve Bruce confirmed that he turned down the chance to join Real Madrid.
Valencia WA
Eventually he did leave Wigan and joined Manchester United for a fee in the region of £16 million and in his first season he impressed the fans with his pace and crossing ability. His greatest moment came in the final of the League Cup when he set up the winning goal against Aston Villa for Wayne Rooney. In all competitions he played 49 times and scored seven goals.

His next season was very stop start because of injuries but he did still play enough games to pick up a Premier League winners medal and started in the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona which led to him signing a new contract with the club. During the 2011-12 season he proved his versatility by playing a lot of games at right back and he looked very threatening from this position and at the end of the year he was awarded the Fans and Players’ Player of the Year awards.
Valencia MU
After his fine form he was awarded the famous number seven shirt however this only lasted a season before returning to the number 25 and after signing a new three year deal in the summer he will want to get back to his best form under Van Gaal.

The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson. “Antonio is a player we have admired for some time now, having spent the last two years in the Premier League with Wigan. I am sure his pace and ability will make a significant contribution to the team.”

10th June – Carlo Ancelotti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27th May – Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne is one of the greatest players England have ever produced and in terms of natural talent not many have even come close.

He provided so many good memories for football fans in the 90s ranging from his impressive World Cup showing at Italia 90 to that goal against Scotland at Euro 96. Although he has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons since his retirement it should not be this that he is remembered for as he was a wonderful player.

Gazza started his career at Newcastle United and was a special talent from an early age as he captained the youth team as they won the Youth Cup in 1985 with him scoring twice in the final. He was soon quickly promoted to the first team and Jack Charlton gave him his debut on the 13th April 1985 against QPR. But it was Willie McFaul that gave him his first start on the opening day of the new season. He scored his first goal a few weeks later against Oxford United and impressed for the entire season, scoring another eight goals.
Soccer - Today League Division One - Newcastle United Photocall
Newcastle struggled in the next season but Gazza still managed to score five times in 24 league games and was vital in helping the club avoid relegation. The season after though was his best personally, as he was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and was in the PFA Team of the Year and in the summer he moved to Tottenham Hotspur for a British record of £2.2 million.

In his first season he scored seven times in 37 league games and helped the club reach sixth place. They then rose to the third place the season after and he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1990 and also Tottenham’s Player of the Year. In the 1990-91 season he played a key part in helping the club win the FA Cup as he scored six times in the competition, including one against Arsenal in the semi final. However, an injury in the final meant that he would miss the entire 1991-92 season.
Gazza Spurs
Lazio had already agreed a deal to sign the midfielder and they eventually got their man for £5.5 million. He was loved by the Lazio fans because he scored an 89th minute equaliser against fierce rivals Roma but he did have a tough time in Italy and did not settle well. Despite this he helped them qualify for Europe for the first time in 16 years. Over the next two seasons he struggled with injuries and in July 1995 he joined Rangers for £4.3 million.

And he once again became a club legend by scoring in the Old Firm Derby, it was an extraordinary goal as he ran almost the full length of the pitch before scoring. Rangers won the league that season and he scored a hatrick against Aberdeen to clinch the title. They also went on to win the Scottish Cup and Gascoigne finished the season with 19 goals.
Gazza Rangers
Rangers won the title again in the 1996-97 season and Gascoigne scored hatricks against Kilmarnock and Motherwell and finished the year with an impressive 17 goals in 34 appearances. He also scored twice in the League Cup final victory over Hearts. His last season at the club was less successful as Rangers lost their title and didn’t win their single trophy which led to the player moving back to England, this time joining Middlesbrough for £3.45 million.

It started well for him as he helped them get promotion back to the Premier League and was then even more impressive in helping them finish sixth in their first season back but unfortunately his form did not last and he eventually left the club and joined Everton.

He started well but only played 32 league games for the club, scoring one goal which turned out to be his last in England away to Bolton Wanderers. He left the club in March 2002 and ended the season at Burnley where he made six appearances but they narrowly missed out on the playoffs and he left after just two months. Gascoigne then had a short spell in China playing for Gansu Tianma and started off well by scoring twice in his first four games but troubles off the pitch meant he had to leave. His last club was League Two Boston United but after only playing five times in three months he decided to retire.

The final word can go to Sir Alex Ferguson who has admitted he wished he signed the player. “He was a fantastic footballer. He was the best player England produced since the days of Bobby Charlton. He was the best player of his era, a breath of fresh air because he played with a smile.”

2nd May – David Beckham

One of the most recognisable footballers ever has not only had a good career on the pitch but off it too with his name known all round the world.

David Beckham turns 39 today and to some people he is more known for what he has done off the pitch due to him becoming a fashion icon and being married to Victoria Adams a member of the girl band Spice Girls. But his playing career has sometimes been overlooked and a lot of people have missed how good he was on the pitch.

Beckham started his career at Manchester United and after playing a few games for the club he was ready to play more first team football and had an impressive five game spell at Preston North End where he scored two goals including one directly from a corner. But he had to wait until the opening day of the 1996-97 season to become centre stage as he scored from the halfway line in a victory over Wimbledon and from there his season just got better as the club won the title and he won the PFA Young Player of the Year.
Soccer - David Beckham Retires
The following season after Eric Cantona retired, Beckham was given the famous number 7 shirt and in 1998-99 he had arguably his greatest season ever in terms of trophies as he won the treble and sent in both the corners in which they scored from in the Champions League final. He went on to win another three Premier League titles before the famous boot kicking incident with Sir Alex Ferguson led to speculation that he was going to leave the club.

In the summer of 2003 he was transferred to Real Madrid in a move that seemed to fit all parties involved. It wasn’t as easy as the player had hoped at Madrid with the club unable to win any trophies until his final season at the club when he had already announced that he was leaving for America. They ended up piping Barcelona to the title on the final game of the season but it was Beckham being taken off that changed the game, they were losing 1-0 and his replacement Jose Antonio Reyes scored twice to win them the game and La Liga.
Beckham madrid
Beckham signed a huge contract for LA Galaxy and some would argue that he was too good to go there and should have continued to play at a higher level but others argue that he was trying to grow the name of ‘soccer’ in America and surely this was a good thing. With the MLS running at different times to European competitions it did allow him to join other teams on loan. He decided to join Italian side AC Milan and he fit into their team pretty well with them having a slower pace and he played 20 games scoring 2 goals for the club in his first spell there.

Upon returning to LA Galaxy he was disliked by a section of the supporters telling him to go home and that he was only a part time player. However he played a key role in helping the club win the Western Conference final. This did not stop him signing for AC Milan for a second time, this time however it ended badly as he suffered an injury which would keep him out for around six months.
Beckham LA
When he did return playing for Galaxy he scored in 2-1 win over Dallas which secured them their second successive Western Conference title. At the end of his contract he signed for PSG on a five month deal and decided to donate all his wages during this period to a local children’s charity. At the end of the season he became the first English player to win titles in four different countries as he helped them clinch the Ligue 1 championship. On the 16th May he announced that he was retiring from football.

The final word can go to his manager at Real Madrid and England Fabio Capello. “At Madrid I left him out of the squad because he had signed a contract with Los Angeles but he continued to come on the field and train and I put him back in the team. He is a very serious lad, very sensible, a professional. People think he is a playboy off the field, it’s not true at all.”