12th August – Jesper Gronkjaer

Jesper Gronkjaer should go down in Chelsea history that kick started their success in the Premier League years and will be remembered fondly by the fans.

If it wasn’t for Gronkjaer who knows where Chelsea would be these days as he scored the goal that meant they qualified for the Champions League and it became known as the ‘billion pound goal’ as their qualification meant that Roman Abramovich would definitely take over the club and the rest is history.

The Dane started his career at Aalborg and quickly became an important member of the side and was known for his incredible speed. He stayed at the club for three seasons, playing 86 league games, scoring 10 goals. His form attracted the interest of other clubs around Europe and he signed a deal with Ajax in 1997 before joining them in July 1998.

Gronkjaer AAB

Once again he settled quickly and was a fan favourite and was rewarded with his performances by being named the fans player of the year at the end of the 1999-00 season. Although he was thriving personally the club did not win much but he did help them win the KNVB Cup during his time there.

In October 2000, Gronkjaer became the most expensive Danish player after signing for Chelsea for £7.8 million. An injury meant he had to wait for his first start until the 28th January 2001 where he started an FA Cup game against Gillingham in which he scored twice and also hit the post twice in a 4-2 win. Unfortunately he never quite lived up to his full potential at the club but in his four seasons at the club he did score some important goals, including the winner on the final day against Liverpool which got them into the Champions League, he then scored against Monaco in the semi final of the competition as well as goals against Manchester United at Old Trafford and a winner against Leeds United.

Gronkjaer Chelsea

With Claudio Ranieri leaving Chelsea, it was time for the winger to move on and he signed for Birmingham City in July 2004. This move only lasted half a season and 16 appearances before moving onto Atletico Madrid. Again he struggled to settle and after another 16 games he was on the move again, joining Stuttgart.

He would only spend one season at Stuttgart after 35 games and no goals he returned to Denmark joining Copenhagen. At the end of the season he was named the league player of the year. However, injuries did limit his playing time over the next couple of years. But before retiring he did manage to win four league titles in Denmark. On his very last career game he managed to score in a 2-0 win over first club Aalborg.

Fodbold Superliga Esbjerg - FC K¿benhavn

The final word can go to Steve Bruce after some impressive performances. “There is no finer sight than when he is like that. He is used to dominating the opposition and he is used to the ball more often.”

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29th September – Per Mertesacker

Per Mertesacker may have won the World Cup in the summer but he now faces a big task in helping Arsenal compete for the Premier League and Champions League.

Although they are unbeaten in the league they have not been convincing and Dortmund destroyed them in the first Champions League game. But as Mertesacker has proven in the past he usually gets better as the season goes on and his partnership with Laurent Koscielny has been one of the best Arsenal have had for a while. The 30 year old has never been blessed with pace so there is no reason why his performances should drop in the later years of his career.

The 6 foot 6 defender started his career at Hannover and after playing under his father in the youth teams he made his league debut in November 2003 against FC Koln. Early in his career there were suggestions that he would not become a footballer and pursue another career, especially after a shaky start which saw him score an own goal and also broke his nose.
Mertesacker Hannover
But he recovered from this and became known as one of the most promising defenders in Germany and was also known as a defender that timed his tackles perfectly, only picking up two yellow cards in his 76 league appearances for Hannover. After three years he played his last game for the club on the 13th May 2006 against Bayer Leverkusen and opened the scoring in a 2-2 draw.

After an impressive 2006 World Cup, Mertesacker joined Werder Bremen. He did not get off to a quick start at the club as he was out injured for the first month of the season but when he did return he became a rock in the centre of the defence. In November he scored his first Champions League goal against Chelsea in a 1-0 win.

The 2007-08 season was a mixed bag for the defender as he received the first red card of his career in a 6-3 defeat to Stuttgart but played in every game he was available and helped the club finish as runners up in the league, finishing with just two less wins that eventual champions Bayern Munich. For the rest of his time at the club he proved he was more than just a defender that won headers as he had improved a lot when he had the ball at his feet. This was part of the reason why Arsene Wenger signed him.
Mertesacker WB
He played 210 times for Bremen before joining Arsenal on the 31st August 2011. They had just been beaten 8-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford and desperately needed reinforcements at the back. Mertesacker started well and was consistent throughout his first season before it was cut short by injury in February 2012. He returned for the start of the 2012-13 season and helped keep two clean sheets in the opening two games against Sunderland and Stoke City. His performances continued to improve and he was awarded the man of the match after a 1-1 draw away to Manchester City.
Mertesacker Arsenal
Arsenal fans then loved the centre back even more after he scored his first goal for the club in a 5-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur and this was when the German and Koscielny were in great form together and were arguably the best centre back partnership in the league. But it was last season that he showed his top form as he was voted into the Premier League Team of the Year for his fantastic performances and on the 4th March 2014 he was rewarded with a new contract by the club.

The final word can go to Arsene Wenger. “I think he is a good player. He is a good organiser as well, he understands the game, he is an intelligent player. Now we look less nervous at the back, and I think he contributes to that.”

5th April – Thomas Hitzlsperger

Earlier this year Thomas Hitzlsperger came out as gay and is the most high profile player to do so and today he turns 32.

Firstly it should not really matter what the sexuality of a footballer is but it did create a lot of news headlines and it is something that cannot be avoided and it is easy to see why the player decided to wait till he retired till he made the announcement.

It is quite sad that he may now be more known because of this rather than his very good football career which saw him win the Bundesliga, be part of the Germany squad to come runner up at Euro 2008 and third at the 2006 World Cup.

He started his career at Bayern Munich but unfortunately could not break into their squad and left for his first spell in England. It took him a short while to settle in England and a loan spell at Chesterfield was just what he needed to get used to physical side of the game. When he came back to Villa, manager Graham Taylor gave him a chance in the first team and he impressed the fans and became one of their favourites, earning him the nickname Der Hammer because of his long range shooting and the fact that nearly all of his goals were very powerful strikes.
Hitz Villa
After falling out of favour he joined Stuttgart and in his second season at the club he won the Bundesliga playing in 30 of their 34 league games and scoring seven times. He was then given the captain’s armband however this did not last as new manager Markus Babbel decided to take the team in a different direction and therefore Hitzlsperger had to leave the club to get more first team opportunities.
Hitz Stuttgart
He only spent six months at his next club Lazio but scored once against Udinese in a 3-1 win. After this he came back to England and joined West Ham but injuries were catching up with the midfielder and he spent a lot of time on the sidelines but whenever he did play he produced some good performances, however they were not good enough to keep the team in the Premier League.

His career came to an end pretty soon after with short spells at Wolfsburg and Everton not leading to contract renewals and he decided to retire after, in his own words, “many transfers and some injuries”.
Hitz Everton
It would be easy to give the last word to the many people that commented on his decision to come out as gay because they were all very supportive however this has mostly focused on his career so the last word can go to his former Wolfsburg manager and the current Fulham manager Felix Magath after signing the German. “I am pleased he is now with us because he is a player that can lead the team and a player who will help us with his professional approach and international experience.”