6th July – Georgi Kinkladze

Georgi Kinkladze is regarded as one of the greatest Georgians to have ever played football and is also fondly remembered by Manchester City fans.

Despite all the millions and star names that have played for Man City over the last few years there is a still a contingent of their fans that think Kinkladze is the best player to have worn a City shirt..

Kinkladze began his career at Mretebi Tbilisi aged just 16 and quickly became a first team regular and was an important player as they gained promotion in 1991. This helped convince Dinamo Tbilisi to sign the midfielder and in his first season he won the league and cup double. However, due to civil war in his country he had to leave and joined FC Saarbrucken in Germany. He never really settled there and only played 11 league games.

After trials at Atletico Madrid and Boca Juniors, Manchester City decided to take a chance on him in 1995. After a slightly difficult start to life in England, he became the star player of a struggling side and would go on to score some wonderful goals, including one against Southampton in which he beat five players and then chipped the keeper.

Kinkladze MC

Despite his performances the club were relegated to Division One and it looked as though Kinkladze would get a move, however he decided to stay and even though he won the Player of the Year award for a second season he could not guide them to promotion. Things got even worse as manager Joe Royle dropped him a lot and they were relegated to Division Two.

This meant after 119 appearances and 22 goals it was time for him to move on. He signed for Ajax but this move didn’t work out well as he only played 12 league games in his first season and was told to find a new club. He returned to England and signed for Derby County. Once again he proved a divisive figure, sometimes showing amazing quality, whereas other times looking a little lost. At the end of the 2001-02 season he endured the third relegation of his career.

Kinkladze DC

With Derby struggling financially they tried to get rid of Kinkladze but he stayed and put in some good performances and was named the Supporters Player of the Year. At the end of his contract he was offered a new deal but declined it and joined Cypriot side Anorthosis and somewhat remarkably they won the title with Kinkladze scoring two goals.

Ater just one season he signed for Rubin Kazan. He began brilliantly scoring twice and setting up a further seven in his first nine games. However, an injury at the start of the following campaign meant he never played a professional game again.

Kinkladze RK

The final word can go to John Gregory. “He’s an inspirational player. The rest of the team are probably his biggest fan, they appreciate he not only has great quality but he rolls his sleeves up and works hard.”

Advertisements

22nd June – Stephen Crainey

Stephen Crainey was part of Blackpool’s exciting Premier League campaign that saw them become one of the most enjoyable teams to watch.

Under Ian Holloway, Blackpool played an attacking brand of football that made many neutrals excited but it wasn’t always easy for Crainey in the top flight due to this style.

The defender started his career at Celtic and would play a total of 58 times for the club and helped the team win the Scottish League Cup and the SPL title. Although never a regular he earned a move to Premier League side Southampton on the 6th February 2004 and made his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. However, after just five Premier League appearances he was on the move again.

Crainey Celtic

Crainey signed for Leeds United, initially on loan and then permanently, and in doing so became the first player Leeds had paid for since 2004. Despite this, he still couldn’t hold down a regular place and after three seasons and the club being relegated to League One he was released from his contract.

Crainey LU

Blackpool signed the left back and he became a fan favourite and club hero. In his first season he would go on to score his first ever league goal in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United and helped the club to their highest finish in the Championship in 27 years. Due to his form he was linked with moves away but instead he signed a new contract. However, an injury at the start of the 2008-09 season meant he missed the first half of the campaign but he would recover and become a key player once more.

Crainey then helped Blackpool to arguably one of their greatest ever achievements by appearing in 46 games during the 2009-10 season which saw them gain promotion to the Premier League. In the top flight their efforts were very enjoyable to watch and if it wasn’t for an injury to Crainey in January they may have been more solid at the back and came closer to escaping relegation. Everyone expected them to be one of the worst in the history of the league but they almost pulled off a shock.

Crainey Blackpool

Upon relegation Crainey again signed a new contract to ward off interest from Premier League clubs, such as Wigan Athletic, and he continued putting in solid performances in the Championship and scored his second goal for the club against Birmingham City on the 26th November 2011.

He would stay at Blackpool for one more season before deciding to move on and he did eventually sign for Wigan. This only lasted for one season and in 2014 he signed for Fleetwood Town, where he would play 28 league games before leaving for AFC Fylde, his final club.

The final word can go to former Fleetwood Town manager Graham Alexander. “He has played at the top level and is still hungry for success. We thought we needed to bring in more added quality and experience. Crainey certainly provides that.”

31st May – Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of the best goalkeepers but he proved to be one of the most consistent in the United Kingdom.

The Finnish international proved himself as a great shot stopper and consistent performer throughout his whole career, beginning it professionally in Finland with HJK Helsinki, where he made 101 league appearances for the club before making the move to Copenhagen. At the Danish giants he played 47 league games and after impressing over the next two years, he was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs and it was Glasgow Rangers that signed him in 1997.

He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show his true abilities, only making 13 league appearances, at the club but he had settled well in Scotland and wanted to stay in the country. In December 1999, Hearts signed him and he became a fans favourite very quickly with his impressive performances. After three seasons though it was once again time to move on and this time to England, where he joined Southampton in 2002.

Niemi Hearts

There were many ups and downs while at Southampton, including helping the club reach the FA Cup final in 2003 but he made history by becoming the first goalkeeper to be substituted in a final after he suffered a calf injury. The team would ultimately go on to lose the game 1-0 against Arsenal. His ability was never in doubt in England and over the next few seasons there was a lot of speculation about him leaving for one of the teams challenging for the title. In 2005, however, Southampton were relegated from the Premier League and despite staying on, they never looked likely to return so Niemi felt it was time to leave and test himself once more in a top league. The player, himself, described this experience as his first bad one in British football.

Niemi Soton

Niemi returned to the Premier League in January 2006, signing for Fulham. And was their first choice keeper until March 2008 when an injury led to him losing his place to Kasey Keller. After 62 league games for the club, Niemi announced his retirement from the game. However, he did sign a one year contract with Portsmouth to provide backup to David James. He left the club without making a single appearance for the club and once again announced his retirement.

Niemi Fulham

On the international scene he was first choice for almost a decade, being capped 67 times by Finland and he kept his place ahead of fellow Premier League goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen and Peter Enckleman, which just shows how much quality he had.

The final word can go to former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe when signing the stopper. “He has a good character. He is the Finnish number one and he played an absolute blinder to keep out Germany so that England qualified for the World Cup. We are confident he will be a tremendous addition to our squad.”

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.”

6th March – Garry Monk

Garry Monk will go down as a Swansea City legend for what he did as a player but he is also doing a fantastic job as their manager and leading them to another top half finish.

When Monk first joined the club he wouldn’t have believed that they would be in the Premier League never mind being one of the best footballing sides in the top flight. Many people were surprised when the 36 year old was given the job because he didn’t have any experience and they felt that under Monk they would be battling relegation. However, he knows everything about the club and the way they want to play.

The former central defender started his career at Torquay United and was very highly rated, making five appearances for the club before he had even turned professional. This meant other clubs were looking at him and he signed for Southampton at the end of the 1995-96 season. In 1998 he would return to Torquay on loan and once again impressed so on his return he found himself in the Southampton first team and made his debut on the 28th November 1998 against Derby County. He would go on to play a further four games over the season.

Monk Soton

In September 1999 he went out on loan to Stockport County but was recalled because of an injury crisis at his parent club and he played the first two matches in January 2000 for Southampton. A year later he went out on loan to Oxford United but once again he was recalled because of injuries and would go on to play the last two home games at The Dell against Manchester United and Arsenal which were both won by Southampton.

Monk struggled once more to become a first team regular so was sent out on loan again. This time it looked as though it would be turned into a permanent move but after playing 15 times for Sheffield Wednesday and not helping them avoid relegation to Division Two, the move didn’t materialise. He did eventually leave the club permanently and joined Barnsley in February 2004. However he only lasted half a season and left for Swansea City in June.

Monk SWFC

It was a great start for him at Swansea as he helped them get promoted from League Two in his first season and then reach the League One Playoffs in his second season. In August 2006 it was announced that he would be the club captain. Unfortunately after just two games in the 2006-07 season he picked up a cruciate ligament injury and was ruled out for the rest of the campaign. Monk returned to the team and captained the club to promotion.

In their first season back they were excellent and finished 8th place but the 2009-10 season was not the best for Monk as he struggled with injuries and only played 22 times. Also during this period Monk and the manager Paulo Sousa did not see eye to eye and after the Portuguese man left the club Monk was back in the starting 11. He would then lead the Swans to the Premier League after defeating Reading in the Playoff final and he was given a new three year contract by the club.

Monk SC

Over the next two seasons he began to play less but was still able to lift his first major trophy after Swansea won the League Cup in 2013 after defeating Bradford City 5-0 in the final. Just under a year later he would be given the manager’s job and currently has a 38% win percentage as manager.

The final word can go to someone that didn’t get on well with Monk but knew his quality, Paulo Sousa. “Garry is one of the players we think is very important to our project for his experience, quality and leadership. He is an important figure in the dressing room and on the pitch. He knows the club’s philosophy.”

13th February – Eljero Elia

Southampton have had a fantastic season so far and to help them secure European football next season they brought in winger Eljero Elia on loan and he looks to be a fantastic addition.

At the age of 28 he has been around a while and many people believe he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential and has had a few fallings out in his career which have stopped him reaching the very top but he is showing now that he can succeed at the very top. Koeman will be hoping his unpredictability helps him on the pitch and if they can secure a top four place then Elia will have a big part to play.

Elia ADO

Elia began his career at ADO Den Haag and made his professional debut at the age of 17 against Groningen and he went on to play a further three games over the season and scored his first goals against AZ. In the following seasons he was a first team regular but after several disagreements with the new coach at the club he left for Twente in 2007. In his first season he played 30 times and scored two goals but produced some exciting performances and when Steve McClaren became manager he seemed to get the best out of him, scoring 11 goals and being named the Dutch Football Talent of the Year in 2009. This led to him being linked with moves away and he eventually left for German side Hamburg. His first season at the club was blighted by injuries and he only managed to play 24 games and in his second season he began to get frustrated at not getting more chances in the first team and was subsequently fined after he claimed the club didn’t look after him when he was injured.

Elia Twente

On the 31st August 2011 he made the move to Italian giants Juventus but once again he found first team opportunities limited and after just one season he was on the move again this time to Werder Bremen. Elia found it difficult to adapt to the team’s style of play and was also suspended by the club after being caught speeding. A better second season meant the club changed their mind about selling him but it wasn’t long before he was causing controversy again and manager Viktor Skrypnyk decided to drop him before the Nordderby against former club Hamburg.

Elia WB

This seemed to be the last straw at the club and it was announced that he would be joining Southampton on loan soon afterwards. He made his debut for the club in a 1-0 win over Manchester United and then followed this up in the next Premier League game with two goals in the win over Newcastle United. Southampton fans will be hoping he can keep up his early promise and just give them the extra energy needed in their push for the top four.

The final word can go to Ronald Koeman. “He is a good option for us. I believe in his qualities. He is fast, can play from the left and right, and can take people on one on one. He is hungry and that is the most important thing. We need really good players who want to develop themselves.”

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.”