9th March – Juan Sebastian Veron

Manchester United have spent a lot of money over the years and a lot of this has been on Argentinean midfielders, including Juan Sebastian Veron.

Obviously Angel Di Maria has been grabbing all the headlines lately for his somewhat average performances after a massive money move and to a lot of the Old Trafford faithful it must feel like déjà vu. Veron came to Manchester United with a reputation of being one of the best players in the world and he will forever go down as one of Alex Ferguson’s biggest flops as he struggled to adapt to life in England and failed to produce the goods while in the Premier League.

Now 40, Veron started his career in Argentina with Estudiantes, where he is currently chairman, in 1993. During his second season at the club he became a valuable member of the team and helped the club get promoted to the top flight. After 60 league games he would leave and join Argentinean giants Boca Juniors. While there he lined up alongside Diego Maradona but he would only last 17 league games before moving on to try his hand in Europe.

JSV Estudiantes

In 1996 he joined Italian side Sampdoria, who were managed by Sven Goran Eriksson at the time, and was an instant success. This convinced Parma to splash out on the midfielder after an impressive 1998 World Cup and he was once again one of the first names on the team sheet as the club won the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. Despite this success he would only stay the one season and was signed once again by Eriksson, this time for Lazio and he would go on to even better things.

JSV Sampdoria

During the 1999-00 season he was the driving force and it was not a surprise that they were so successful as Veron was one of the best attacking midfielders in the world at that point and would create numerous chances for the strikers. Lazio ended the season winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup as well as lifting the European Super Cup. His second season was not quite as productive as he was involved in a lot of off field matters that seemed to affect his performances.

On the 12th July 2001 Veron was signed by Manchester United for £28.1 million which was a new British transfer record. But the midfielder never lived up to this price tag and despite some impressive performances in the Champions League, he never quite showed his talents in the Premier League. Injuries also didn’t help his situation but he did manage to pick up a Premier League winners medal at the end of the 2002-03 season. After 51 fairly disappointing league games, Veron somewhat surprisingly moved to another English club, signing for Chelsea for £15 million.

JSV MU

At Chelsea he got off to a good start by scoring a winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield but not a lot went right for him after that and he only ended up playing 15 times in total for the club. When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager he loaned Veron out to Inter Milan for two seasons and his performances were better in Italy as he helped the club win the Coppa Italia twice. He did return to Chelsea but it wasn’t for long as he was quickly loaned back out to Estudiantes until the end of his contract. He was back to his best in his homeland and played for a further six seasons and was even voted South American Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2009 as well as best player of the 2009 Copa Libertadores as his side went on to win the competition.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “He is a marvellous player. He brings a nice pace to the team. What we have done is bring in a really top player, one of the best in the world. He’s a fantastic footballer and will bring a personality to the team.”

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5th November – Kasper Schmeichel

Kasper Schmeichel has a lot of pressure on his shoulders as he has to be on top form to help keep Leicester City in the Premier League and he also has to deal with the comparisons with his dad.

Peter Schmeichel will go down as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever and Kasper has a long way to go to even be in the same league as him but in his own right he has had a very good career and developed into a brilliant goalkeeper. It can’t be easy for him to stand in the goal while opposition fans behind the goals are shouting at him, you’ll never be as good as your dad.

The 28 year old started his career at Manchester City but got his first opportunity in a loan spell at Darlington in January 2006. He made his professional debut against Peterborough United, helping his side to a 2-1 win and then followed this up with a clean sheet against Grimsby Town. After two more games for the club he returned to his parent club but this only lasted a month as he was loaned out, this time to Bury. He would play 29 league games at Bury over two separate loan spells.

Schmeichel was desperate to play games and did not want to sit on the bench so in January 2007 he joined Scottish side Falkirk. After some impressive performances, including a man of the match against Rangers, he was linked with a permanent move but instead at the start of the 2007-08 season he found himself as first choice at Manchester City. He played the first seven games of the season, conceding just five goals and helped his side to a 1-0 win over rivals Manchester United.

In September 2007 Schmeichel signed a new four year deal with the club but was loaned out to Cardiff City where he played 14 times and despite both the player and the club wanting to extend his stay, Sven Goran Eriksson did not let this happen as he needed a substitute keeper. However, on the 13th March 2008 he joined Coventry City on loan for the rest of the season. Afterwards, both the goalkeeper and his father admitted that they regretted signing the new deal.

Despite being at the club for such a long time, he only played eight league games and on the 14th August 2009 he made the surprising move to League Two side Notts County. It was clear that he was too good for that level and was influential in winning the title for the club, only conceding 29 goals in 43 matches and keeping 24 clean sheets. At the end of the season he had to be released from his contract as his wages were too high. However, Schmeichel was praised as he agreed to forgo all his future wages which if he hadn’t would have put the club in even more financial problems.
Schmeichel NC
On the 1st July 2010 he joined Leeds United on a two year deal but despite putting in some impressive performances for the club and being highly praised he was sold after just 37 league appearances and one season because they felt his goals against ratio was poor. So on the 27th June 2011 Schmeichel joined Leicester City and in his first season he won the Club’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards after 17 clean sheets in 52 games and saving four penalties. In the following season his performances got even better and he was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
Schmeichel LU
Last season he helped the club win the Championship and so far has been solid in the Premier League, however after a good start the club are now starting to find it difficult which means the experienced players like Schmeichel need to make sure their heads don’t drop.
Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Cardiff City v Leicester City - Cardiff City Stadium
The final word can go to his dad, Peter. “He’s played exceptionally well for Leicester over a long, long period of time. He’s been very, very patient. He’s played every week and played to a high level and I think it is great that he gets his opportunity. As a dad I’m really, really proud I have to say.”

2nd October – Michael Ball

A lot of people say that more British players should go abroad and learn how football is played in different countries and that is exactly what birthday boy Michael Ball did.

He may not be the most famous to go play abroad but at least he took the risk and decided to give it a go, a lot of British players are criticised because they take the safe option and would rather stay in a league that they understand. So the 35 year old left back definitely deserves credit for deciding that his football would improve by leaving England and trying to adapt to a new culture.

The one time capped England defender started his career at Everton and made his debut in April 1997 as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur and then started the match against West Ham a week later. He developed into a very solid full back and could also fill in at centre back when it was required and in his five years at the club he played 121 Premier League games, scoring eight times. His form at club level impressed England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and was included in his squad for a friendly against Spain in February 2001. Ball would come on at half time for Chris Powell to get his one and only England cap.
Ball at Everton
In 2001 Everton had to sell some of their better players, including Ball who joined Rangers for £6.5 million. Ball had a difficult start at Rangers as he was fined £10,000 by the club for swearing at manager Dick Advocaat in the Old Firm Derby against Celtic after being substituted and then in only his 11th game he suffered medial ligament damage that would keep him out for 18 months.

After missing the entire 2002-03 season he regained his fitness and became a first team regular in the following season and in his first month back he scored his first goal against Dundee United and also won the Player of the Month award. In all competitions he played 43 times during the season but this caused problems as Rangers would have to pay more money to Everton after he played a certain amount of games so they were reluctant to use him at the start of the 2004-05 season.
Ball Rangers
This was eventually solved in December 2004 and Ball helped the club win the Scottish League Cup and the SPL title but at the end of the season Rangers wanted to get rid of some of their highest earners and after 55 SPL games Ball joined Dutch side PSV. Unfortunately the manager Guus Hiddink and the PSV fans could not see the best of the defender because of injury problems that ruined his time at the club but he did still help them lift the Dutch title in his first season.

Injuries meant he did not even play a game in his second season at the club and joined Manchester City on the 31st January 2007 on a six month deal after impressing on a trial. He quickly regained his form and became a dependable defender for City and in his first season and a half at the club he captained the side on a number of occasions. But in January 2009 he needed an operation on his knee which would keep him out of action for nine months and on the 1st July he was released by the club.
Ball MCFC
To get back to match fitness he joined several clubs on trial but none of these led to contracts and he had to wait until the 8th August 2011 to get signed to another club. Leicester City signed him but he only made three appearances for the club in his only season at the club.

The final word can go to Sven Goran Eriksson who was also his manager at Manchester City. “Michael’s experienced, having played in Scotland and Holland as well as England and it’s good he is staying with us as he’s going to be very useful. We had to build on what was good here, so I’m happy that he’s signed.”

13th June – Darius Vassell

Darius Vassell will probably remembered most for missing a penalty against Portugal after he told manager Sven Goran Eriksson he definitely did not want to take one.

It was the goalkeeper who saved the penalty, Ricardo who let it slip that Vassell never wanted to take a penalty in the tournament as he did not want that pressure on his shoulders. Unfortunately for the striker this would be his last kick in international football. Before this he had a pretty decent record for England scoring six times in 22 games. Now 34, he hasn’t had a club since 2012 but there have been reports that he is looking for a new team this summer.

Vassell started his career at Aston Villa and was one of the best players in their youth team and set a club record of 39 goals in a single season. He made his first team debut as a substitute in a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough. Over the next few seasons he became known as a super sub because he would terrorise defences in the last 15 minutes of matches and the tiring opponents could not catch him. Throughout his whole time at Aston Villa whenever he scored in the league they did not lose a game which is an incredible record as he finished his time at Villa Park with 35 goals in 162 games. Many fans felt that he should have been given more of a chance but in July 2005 he signed for Manchester City for £2 million.
Vassell Villa
In his first season at the club he formed an effective partnership with Andrew Cole and scored eight league goals in 35 games. Manager Stuart Pearce was very happy with his signing. “He’s got pace which we’re short of up front. You know that once he got the wrong side of you that you were not seeing him again. I don’t think you can intimidate him physically, which I always liked in a player.”

The 2007-08 season was more difficult for Vassell as he was not used as a striker and had to play as a wide midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation. But on the 10th February 2008 he scored his 50th Premier League goal in a victory over Manchester United. In the season after he only played 15 times in all competitions and at the end of the season he was released.
Vassell MC
His next move was to Turkey as he signed for Ankaragucu where 3000 fans turned out for his arrival and he scored his first goal in the second game of the season. However he only stayed for one season as there were a lot of problems during his time at the club.

On the 20th October 2010 he returned to England and signed for Leicester City on a two year deal reuniting him with Sven Goran Eriksson. In his first season he scored four times in 32 games and started the next season well by scoring winning goals against Southampton and Derby. However an injury against West Ham ended his season and at the end of the season his contract was not extended.
Vassell LC
The final word can go to Sven Goran Eriksson. “He is as good today as he was then for England. He has not lost his pace. Things always happen around him.”

3rd May – Steve McClaren

Not many England managers have took on jobs abroad but this particular one has had a lot of success and is now in with a good chance of gaining promotion to the Premier League.

Steve McClaren is 53 today and is currently in charge of Derby County where he has led them to a third place finish and will compete in the playoffs for a place in the top flight. It has been a long journey since the last time he managed in the Premier League which has seen him be the national team manager, manage in Holland and Germany and then have a spell at local rivals Nottingham Forest.

He spent most of his playing career in the lower leagues playing for Hull City, Derby County, Lincoln City, Bristol City and Oxford United until an injury in 1992 forced him to retire. He became a coach at Oxford until 1995 when he joined Jim Smith at Derby to help them gain promotion in their first season and helped them consolidate their position. He was gaining a very good reputation and in 1999 he moved to Manchester United and in his first half a season he helped the club win the treble. The success continued as every year he spent at the club they won the league title but at the end of the 2000-01 season he was actively looking for a managerial position and he had three clubs chasing him. Ultimately he decided to join Middlesbrough.

Every season there was slight improvement and in 2004 he led the team to victory in the League Cup final against Bolton Wanderers, meaning he was the first Middlesbrough manager to win a major honour and take them into Europe. Middlesbrough’s games in Europe against Steaua Bucharest and FC Basel will live long in the memory as the club recovered from positions that never seemed possible and meant they got to the final of the UEFA Cup. Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson said of his manager: “What he has achieved in his time here is highly impressive, and yet I don’t feel he has had anything like the praise his achievements deserve.”
Mcclaren England
However he was being recognised by some and on the 4th May 2006 McClaren became England manager. Taking over from Sven Goran Eriksson who said: “I have worked closely with Steve ever since I came to England and know how good of a coach he is. He is well liked and well respected by all the players and staff.” Unfortunately he only lasted 18 games and failed to qualify for Euro 2008 but he did win nine of his games in charge.

In June 2008 he returned to football and took over Dutch club FC Twente. In his first season at the club they finished in second place and many predicted they would struggle the next season after losing key players but this did not happen as they were crowned champions in 2010 for the first time in their history. Twente won 16 of their 17 home matches and had to withstand some serious pressure from Ajax who won their last 14 games which shows how impressive McClaren had to be.
Mcclaren Twente
Even after this achievement he decided to move on and join German side Wolfsburg. However he did not do as well as he hoped and was only in charge for 24 games and was sacked in February 2011. McClaren then decided to return to England but success did not return as he only won three games out of 13 with Nottingham Forest and resigned.

He then returned to Twente but once again he could not rediscover the golden touch and after a disappointing 6th place finish and tough time in the next season he resigned from his post. After a brief spell as coach at QPR he joined Derby County and in his 37 games in charge so far he was won 22 games and it is hard to argue against them winning the playoffs and he will be quietly confident that he will be a Premier League manager once again next season.
Mcclaren Derby
The final word can go to Jim Smith who made him his assistant at Derby. “He’s a very talented coach and very good at man management. He’s up there with the best in coaching terms.”

28th April – Diego Simeone

He was once most well known for being the man that got kicked by David Beckham at France 98 but he is now one of the most wanted managers in Europe.

Diego Simeone is close to giving the Atletico Madrid fans the season of their lives with the club currently leading the way in La Liga and one match away from the Champions League final. He is 44 today and even he couldn’t have imagined this year would have went so well, but as he showed his playing career he will do anything to make sure his team get their hands on the trophies at the end of the season.
Simeone Atletico
As a player he started out at Argentinean side Velez Sarsfield but after 76 league games he was on his way to Europe to play for Italian side Pisa. In his first season he got relegated with the club and when they failed to win promotion he moved to Sevilla in Spain. But it was when he made his move to Atletico Madrid that success came as he won the La Liga title and the Copa Del Rey during the 1995-96 season.

Afterwards he moved back to Italy and won more silverware, with Inter Milan he won the UEFA Cup and with Lazio under Sven Goran Eriksson he won the Italian League title after a dramatic final day and the Coppa Italia. Simeone then returned to Atletico in the summer of 2003 and played for two more seasons before returning to Argentina with Racing.
Simeone Lazio
On the international stage he played over 100 times for Argentina and he will be remembered for that incident in 1998 with David Beckham but in 2002 Beckham got his revenge by scoring a winning penalty. However Beckham learned more about the midfielder that day saying. “He showed me what a gentleman he is by coming up to me at half time and then at the end of the game shaking my hand. I have always said he is a good player and now we have a healthy respect for each other.”
Simeon Becks
After retiring he first became the manager of his final club Racing and although he was doing a decent job a change in ownership meant he was sacked. It did not take him long to get a new job as Estudiantes appointed him in the same month and Simeone repaid them by guiding them to their first title in 23 years and was later voted as the best manager in Argentina with former Argentine international Roberto Perfumo saying he was born to be a manager.

His next move was to River Plate where he did not have as much success but still had a good win percentage of 45.45%. After not winning for 11 games he handed in his resignation and was on the move to San Lorenzo where once again poor results did not help his cause and he was heavily criticised so he left them after 48 games.

Simeone decided to come back to Europe and managed Catania who he saved from relegation however he did not extend his contract and went back to managing Racing in Argentina but this only lasted 20 games and on the 23rd December 2011 he was appointed manager of Atletico Madrid. At the end of his first season he won the Europa League and then followed this up by beating Chelsea 4-1 in the Super Cup. They are now top of the league and are competing in their first Champions League semi final for the first time in 40 years.

The final word can go to his once nemesis now friend David Beckham. “I’ve been asked countless times if I have forgotten what he did in France 98. You have to forgive and forget. There is no lingering grudge between us – just mutual respect between people who regard each other as good players and professionals.”