16th March – Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott burst onto the scene and went to the 2006 World Cup without playing a single minute in the Premier League and he continues to divide opinion.

At the age of 26 he still has a long career in front of him but he seems to have been around for a long time and maybe hasn’t developed as much as some Arsenal fans hoped. However, on his day his pace is frightening and he can be one of the deadliest finisher in Europe. Unfortunately after going to the World Cup so young a lot was expected.

Walcott England

Walcott started his career at Southampton and became the club’s youngest ever player at the age of 16 years and 143 days after coming off the bench against Wolves in a 0-0 draw. Just four days later he would make his full debut against Leeds United and would go on to score in the game. This began a remarkable rise for him as he would go on to score against Millwall and Stoke City.

Walcott Soton

This form alerted some of the biggest clubs in England and after just 23 professional games he joined Arsenal on the 20th January 2006. He would have to wait until the start of the following season to make his debut and made a good impression setting up a goal for Gilberto Silva against Aston Villa after coming on as a substitute. His first goal for the club would come in the League Cup final against Chelsea, unfortunately they would go on to lose the game 2-1.

During the 2007-08 season he would score his first home and Champions League goals against Slavia Prague and his first Premier League goals against Birmingham City on the 23rd February 2008.The biggest compliment given to Walcott was that at the start of the following campaign he was given the number 14 shirt, previously worn by Thierry Henry. But after a positive start a dislocated shoulder meant he missed a lot of the season and after recovering he was rewarded for his form by being given a new contract. Yet again the 2009-10 season was marred by injuries and restricted to just 15 league starts but in the Champions League he produced one of his best performances in a 2-2 draw with Barcelona. This must have given him confidence as he quickly became an important player for the club and started the next season very well with a hatrick against Blackpool in a 6-0 win.

Walcott Arsenal

But controversy was to follow after he admitted to diving to try and win a penalty in an FA Cup against Leeds on the 8th January 2011. He ended the season with a career high nine goals in the league and 13 in total which showed that he was getting better every season. Despite playing more games the next season he didn’t match his previous efforts and it was a little tougher for him.

Walcott was a striker at Southampton and many fans felt that is where he should be played and in the 2012-13 season he was given the opportunity and proved that he could play in that role. In his first game as a lone striker he scored a hatrick and provided two assists in a 7-3 win over Newcastle United and shortly after signed a new deal that put an end to any speculation he was about to leave. At the end of the season he finished 14 goals and 12 assists in 32 Premier League games and a further seven goals in other competitions. Two bad injuries in the next season limited his playing time but he still managed in five goals in 13 games. This season he has slowly been coming back from his injury but will be hoping he can make a difference towards the end of the campaign.

The final word can go to Harry Redknapp who gave him his professional debut. “The kid can run through puddles and not make a splash. He’s lightning, he drifts over the ground and he’s a fantastic talent. I hope this kid can go on and be a top player. He’s got a long way to go but I’m sure he can.”

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11th November – Arouna Kone

Arouna Kone followed Roberto Martinez from Wigan Athletic to Everton but unfortunately for the striker it looks as though he is never going to get the opportunity to show his true quality.

The striker is now behind Romelu Lukaku, Samuel Eto’o and Steven Naismith in the pecking order and this will be frustrating because he proved at Wigan that if he was given the opportunity he can be a consistent goalscorer in the Premier League. This is part of the reason why Martinez was desperate to take him to Goodison Park. It does look like Kone will have to move club in January if he is to get more playing time and there will be plenty of clubs in the Premier League interested in him.

Now 31, Kone started his career at his hometown club Rio Sport d’Anyama and after a very impressive 17 goals in 30 games, he was given the chance to join Belgian side Lierse SK during the 2002-03 season at the age of just 18. At his new club he was equally impressive and helped the club to a fifth place finish and was the team’s top scorer. This meant that once again he was being linked with moves away and he joined Dutch side Roda JC. Once again he settled into the league very quickly and in both his full seasons he hit double figures, including 15 in the 2004-05 season and after 28 goals in 63 games he was on the move again and in the summer of 2005 he joined PSV.

During the 2005-06 season he was in fantastic form and scored 11 goals in 21 games and followed this up with a further 10 goals in the next season, helping the team to win the Eredivisie title in both seasons. But unfortunately for the striker he contracted malaria at the end of July 2007 and after a mix up of dates he could not be match fit for the start of the season and this would mean the end of his time at the club.
Kone PSV
On the 30th August 2007 Kone joined Spanish side Sevilla and made his debut as a substitute against Recreativo de Huelva and won a penalty in a game that his side won 4-1. Nine days later he scored his first goal for the club against Espanyol and then on the 2nd October he scored his first Champions League goal in a 4-2 win over Slavia Prague. However, these turned out to be his only goals for the club in 47 games. So after falling out of favour Kone was loaned out to Hannover and he would go on to score on his debut against Hoffenheim in a 2-1 defeat. After seven more games and one goal he returned to his parent club and was once again loaned out, this time to Levante.
Kone Levante
Kone was very successful at Levante and scored his first goal for the club in a surprise 1-0 win over Real Madrid and would go on to be a regular scorer throughout the rest of the campaign, eventually finishing with 17 goals in all competitions. This convinced Wigan to sign the striker and he would go on to score his first Premier League goal in his first start for the club in a 2-0 win over Southampton. Despite the club getting relegated Kone still managed to score 11 league goals and was an important part of their FA Cup winning team.
Kone WA
With Wigan getting relegated and Roberto Martinez leaving it was inevitable that Kone would leave and on the 8th July 2013 he joined Everton but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to make much of an impact and after a knee cartilage injury in October he did not play again for the rest of the season.

The final word can go to Roberto Martinez. “Arouna is not a young boy. He is experienced and whatever happens he always shows for the ball and is really strong with his back to play. His record stands up well. He’s been successful in Holland and Spain. He will be important for us. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

1st June – Moustapha Salifou

Moustapha Salifou is a player that not many football fans will remember from his time in the Premier League but he gained cult hero status at Aston Villa and turns 31 today.

Before he even played a game for the first team, the fans already had a song for him and were sang while he sat on the bench. They sang his name to the tune of Daddy Cool by Boney M but it was not just the fans that loved him, it seemed like everyone connected to the club had positive things to say about him. He was constantly praised by staff for helping the younger players in the squad and giving them advice, helping them break into the first team and become better players.
Salifou Togo
The midfielder started his career in his home country of Togo and was labelled the ‘Togolese Zidane’ while he was at AC Merlan and was being linked with moves away from an early age and it was not long before he was an important part of the Togo National team. He eventually left in 2002 for Europe and signed for German side Rot-Weib Oberhausen and played 33 league games for them in a four year spell. While at the club he also went out on loan to French side Stade Brestois who he hoped would sign him permanently. However, this never happened and he ended up in Switzerland at FC Wil.

He only spent one season there but was in good form and scored twice in 23 games and in August 2007 he joined Aston Villa for a small fee. Manager at the time Martin O’Neill was happy with his signing. “He has great determination to succeed at this level and he may well prove to be an excellent asset. There’s a real hunger from him to play, he was really dead keen to come.”

Despite the positive words it was a difficult start for the midfielder because of work permit problems but he eventually made his debut for the reserve team in a 6-0 win over Chelsea in which he created two of his team’s goals. But he had to wait even longer for his first team debut. On the 12th January 2008 he came on as a 90th minute substitute against Reading with the whole of the Holte End chanting his song. He had to wait until March for his next appearance where he also came on as a late substitute against Portsmouth and then made his third appearance in a 4-0 loss against Manchester United.
Salifou AV
Although he hadn’t played much he signed a new one year contract and was given a start in the UEFA Cup against Slavia Prague on the 6th November. He rarely played for the next two seasons and at one point his number was taken off him to be given to new signing Jean Makoun and he was switched from 17 to 37. On the 27th May 2011 he was released by the club after playing just four Premier League games in four seasons.
Salifou Saarbrucken
His next move was back to Germany as he signed for FC Saarbrucken where he played 11 times and scored once against his former club Rot-Weib Oberhausen. After being released he signed for the German side Rosenheim who play in the fourth tier of German football. Last season he played 11 times and provided three assists as well as scoring once.

The final word can go to Gary McAllister who coached him at Aston Villa. “The way its gone he’s not had a great deal of chances, to be perfectly honest. We’ll do everything we can to help him to move on with his career. We’ll do anything he needs with a CV because we can’t fault his effort and the type of person he is. So anything we can do for him, we’ll gladly do it.”

24th May – Vladimir Smicer

The Champions League final is being played today birthday boy Vladimir Smicer scored in one of the most memorable games in the history of the competition.

In 2005, he came on as a substitute in the first half for Liverpool and when his team were 3-0 down to AC Milan he probably thought his last game at the club was going to end in a terrible way but when Steven Gerrard pulled one back, Liverpool still needed something special and that is exactly what Smicer provided as he struck a great shot from 20 yards that flew into the bottom right hand corner. Liverpool went on to win the final on penalties and Smicer scored the last Liverpool spot kick and kissed the badge in front of the supporters moments before Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty.

What makes it all even more remarkable is that he had been told by manager Rafael Benitez that he would not be getting a new contract at the end of the season, so it just shows what a model professional the Czech international was, which he has been his whole career. He first came to prominence in 1996 as he helped his first club Slavia Prague to the semi final of the UEFA Cup and his country to the final of Euro 1996. He joined Lens shortly after and was also an instant success there scoring 16 times in 91 appearances from a wide position and helping them their first ever French title in the 1997-98 season.
Smicer Lens
In 1999 he joined Liverpool for £4.2 million and made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He scored his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Watford, however it was a difficult season for him personally as initially struggled with the pace of the English game and a few injuries. But the next season he was much more settled down and was an important member of Liverpool’s treble winning season, as they secured the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. He produced many memorable moments for Liverpool over the years and scored some unbelievable strikes, including a brilliant volley against Borussia Dortmund.
Smicer Liverpool
His old injuries started reoccurring though and he struggled to be a regular in the side under Benitez but he did make some key substitute appearances on the road to the Champions League final and as mentioned played a big part in the final. But in the summer of 2005 he left the club on a free transfer and returned to France.

He joined Bordeaux on a free transfer but only played 28 times in two seasons because of injuries and considered retiring but he continued playing and in 2007 he returned to Slavia Prague on a one year deal. The fans were delighted when he rejoined and they were even more pleased when he helped them lift their first Czech title for 12 years. He played his last football match on the 9th November 2009 and then a day later became the Czech sports manager of the national team.
Smicer Prague
The final word can go to Rafael Benitez who probably didn’t expect Smicer to be as influential as he was towards the end of his spell at Liverpool after deciding not to renew his contract. “He is a good professional and he’s determined to play as much as possible and he’ll do everything he can to help us in the last games.”