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.

15th June – Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah proved a thorn in the side of many English clubs over the last few years and when Jose Mourinho signed him for Chelsea he even joked ‘at least he can’t score against us anymore’.

The winger has had half a season to adapt to the Premier League and will be hoping to make a big impact on the league next season and even if Chelsea do buy a lot of players, it will be difficult for them to find someone as direct and quick as the Egyptian international. He also has a phenomenal record for the national side too, scoring 17 times in 29 games.

Salah started his career at El Mokawloon in the Egyptian Premier League and made his debut on the 3rd May 2010 as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with Mansoura. In the next season he became a first team regular and scored his first goal on the 25th December in a 1-1 draw with Al-Ahly. He went on to play every game in the 2011-12 season for the club but unfortunately the Egyptian Premier League was stopped and the rest of the games were cancelled after the Port Said Stadium disaster in February 2012.
Salah EM
He moved club soon after and signed for Swiss side FC Basel and made his debut in a Champions League game against Norwegian side Molde and a few days later he made his league debut against FC Thun. He then scored his first league goal a week later in a 2-0 win over Lausanne. Basel comfortably won the Swiss Super League and were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Europa League with Salah one of the star performers. In the quarter finals he scored against Tottenham Hotspur and after the aggregate score finished 4-4 the Swiss side went through on penalties. Then in the semi final, Salah once again scored against English opposition by scoring against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, unfortunately they were beaten 5-2 on aggregate.
Salah Basel
On his first appearance of the 2013-14 season he scored against Aarau. But it was once again in Europe where Salah showed his real quality, particularly against Chelsea. They were drawn together in the group stages and on the 18th September he scored the equaliser at Stamford Bridge as Basel beat Chelsea 2-1 and then in the return match he scored the only goal of the game.

On the 26th January the winger joined Chelsea for a fee in the region of £11 million and made his debut as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Newcastle United. Over a month later he scored his first goal for the club after coming on as a substitute in Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Arsenal. He only went on to score one more Premier League goal but it was in a fantastic individual performance against Stoke City. He opened the scoring, won a penalty and then got an assist proving that he could be a vital part of Chelsea’s future if he is given the opportunities.
Salah Chelsea
The final word can go to the former Egypt manager Bob Bradley. “Salah is the future of Egyptian football. His performances are heroic. Salah is a perfect professional both on and off the pitch. He doesn’t take anything for granted, he’ll work hard and realise that to keep pushing himself along, he’s got to meet the new challenges.”

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.”

30th March – Emerson Thome

Some say that Brazilians do not settle well in England but there are a few that have succeeded and showed their true potential.

One player that did not quite do this was Emerson Thome but unfortunately it was not his fault and it was circumstances out of his control that stopped him being one of the best centre backs in the league. He is 42 today and he first came to England in the 1997-98 season joining Sheffield Wednesday and he quickly became a fan favourite and was given the nickname ‘The Wall’ due to his size and commitment to not conceding goals. One fan said: “I met him at Hillsborough once and shook his hand, he nearly crushed every bone in my hand, he was a monster of a bloke, but was really friendly and polite. On the pitch he and Des Walker formed a great partnership.”
Thome Wednesday
Unfortunately The Owls began to struggle in the Premier League and as relegation was getting closer they needed to get rid of some of their highest earners and those that could bring them in a decent transfer fee. Thome was one of these players and Chelsea paid £2.7 million for the centre back.

His time at Chelsea was when his career in England started to unravel and he could not become the player everyone had hoped. He only stayed at Stamford Bridge for nine months as he could not break the partnership up of experienced defenders Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf.
Thome Chelsea
Surprisingly Chelsea still made a profit on him and this just shows that he was still very highly rated and his potential was wasted at Chelsea. He signed for Sunderland for around £4 million and because of a clause in his contract he could not make as much of an impact as he hoped. Towards the end of the 2002-03 season as the club were heading towards relegation they could not play Thome as he was closing in on his 50th game which meant Sunderland had to pay Chelsea a considerable sum of money.
Thome Sunderland
So he left the club in the summer and joined Bolton Wanderers helping them to 8th in the table and the final of the League Cup but he did not do enough to earn a new contract and left for Wigan Athletic who he helped gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history. However he did not play much in the Premier League and went out on loan to Derby County.

When he returned to Wigan he was released from his contract and ended his career at Japanese side Vissel Kobe. Since retiring he became a scout and is working for Everton as their chief scout in Portugal.

The last word can go to Peter Reid who signed him for Sunderland highlighting his talents. “Emerson is a terrific acquisition for the club. He’s a very strong defender, has great pace and is good in the air.”