Six players with way more Premier League appearances than you thought

As the seasons tick by at frightening pace, we often lose sight of our Premier League constants. We’ll be left watching Match of the Day asking ‘Crikey, when did Phil Bardsley turn 31?’. Some players are always in the right place, at the right time, at the right club and continue to rack up Premier League appearances. Here are six players who probably have more than you thought. Starts, cameos and stoppage time run-outs… they all count.

  1. Luke Young (378 appearances)

After a bright start to his career at Tottenham, Luke Young moved to Charlton Athletic and blossomed into one of the best young left-backs in the country. He became part of the Young-Fish-Costa-Fortune backline and was a mainstay through to the 2005/06 season by which point manager Alan Curbishley had added the likes of Matt Holland, Darren Bent and Dennis Rommedahl to the squad. Curbishley left, Charlton wobbled and a mishmash of Iain Dowie, Les Reed and Alan Pardew took Charlton to a 19th place finish. Young secured his own Premier League survival through a move to Middlesbrough and after one season upgraded to join Aston Villa. It was at the Villains that his career began a very slow nosedive. He was now very much out of the England picture but soldiered on for five more years of intermittent Premier League football (the last of which came in QPR colours). Young amassed a whopping 378 appearances – that’s ten more than Scott Parker and twelve more than Roy Keane.

  1. Aaron Hughes (455 appearances)

Aaron Hughes has made more top division appearances than the likes of Ashley Cole and has over 100 more than Kolo Toure. He even champions ageless goalkeepers Shay Given and Brad Friedel. Before we start poking fun at his unmemorable career, it’s only fair to applaud this feat of longevity. He played in decent Newcastle and Fulham sides, stayed almost injury-free for twelve years and was unfairly out-shone by centre-back partners with bigger names. From the 1999/00 season through to 2010/11 Hughes failed to play 30 Premier League games on just three occasions, hitting maximum apps in two Fulham campaigns. In his final three years at Fulham he navigated safely over the 400 mark yet I recall approximately no pub discussions featuring his name. He hardly ever scored – which never helps – but never made the headlines for doing the wrong things either. In his old age he tumbled into the Championship but completed a century of caps for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016.

  1. Wayne Routledge (266+ appearances)

Swansea’s Routledge has made 266 Premier League appearances (at the time of writing) and could hit 300 before his unspectacular career wraps up. After starting every game for promoted Crystal Palace in 2004/05, the Englishman made a career-stalling transfer to Spurs and played just 44 more times in the next four years (mainly through loan moves to Fulham and Portsmouth). Swansea snapped him up in the summer of 2011 and Routledge relaunched his career as a Premier League starter. He’s featured heavily in the last five campaigns and continues to make regular appearances in a Swansea side that have failed to improve their wide options. That’s not to say Routledge is a bad player – he presents an honest challenge to any full-back he’s paired against – but despite his 250+ appearances he’s never been more than fleetingly considered for an England cap.

  1. Steed Malbranque (336 appearances)

Steed Malbranque was wicked, right? The Frenchman was always a solid Fantasy Football choice with his classy displays for Fulham containing plenty of dangerous crosses and a fair share of successful strikes (he got six goals a season from 2003 to 2006). Malbranque’s talent saw him claim 40 Premier League assists putting him just ahead of the likes of Robert Pires, Emile Heskey and, erm, Matt Etherington. His transfer to Tottenham wasn’t exactly a roaring success and he grinded out 100 league games for Sunderland that pretty much nobody outside of Wearside can remember. Deep down I think we all quite liked the uncapped Frenchman and it was a shame to see him leave his adopted nation for St.Etienne in 2011. To put Malbranque’s tally into perspective, Sergio Aguero won’t reach 336 games until the 2021/22 season.

  1. Lee Bowyer (397 appearances)

Wow, Lee Bowyer came dangerously close to joining the elite group of footballers with 400 Premier League appearances. Much like others on this list, Bowyer had a solid grounding from a young age as a first team member of a successful Leeds United team. You might be more shocked to find the Camden-born midfielder netted 35 times in his six full seasons at Elland Road. He soon garnered a reputation as a footballing thug and 100 Premier League bookings prove there’s no smoke without fire. He battled on – often literally – with mixed spells at Newcastle and West Ham. Despite his obvious shortfalls, it’s fair to say he did an underrated job in the top flight. He dipped down to the Championship before returning with Birmingham City for two seasons in which he arguably played his best football in a decade. Nevertheless, I still find myself asking: how and when did Lee Bowyer sneak to 397 Premier League games?

  1. Charles N’Zogbia (281 appearances)

Narrowly missing out on the 300 club, Charles N’Zogbia has never really lived up to his teenage potential. Whilst researching for this list I stumbled across plenty of reminders of just how exciting N’Zogbia was when he burst into the Newcastle first team. The Frenchman was a dynamic and exciting player and endeared himself to the Toon Army with a succession of fine goals including a free-kick vs. Sunderland. At that point, if you told me he’d make nearly 300 Premier League appearances I’d have imagined a career at the very top level. N’Zogbia’s form fizzled out under new Newcastle management but a move to Wigan Athletic saw him reinvigorated and some sparkling performances would follow. Deemed too good for relegation-bound Wigan, N’Zogbia moved to Aston Villa in 2011 where his career ground to a halt. Apparently he played 80 times for the Midlanders but you’d do well to remember those performances. He’s been hit by plenty of injuries but they haven’t saved him from harsh judgement by both fans and the media. He’s still only 30…


Mike Franchetti

Six players who haunted their old clubs

Nobody wants to run into their ex. Following Gonzalo Higuain’s dagger to the back of old club Napoli, we recall six players who haunted their former clubs. Each time a player nets against their old employer they provoke an emotional response ranging from sadness to fury. Some emphatically celebrate, others look genuinely upset and a whole host of players get caught in the middle delivering a painfully rehearsed non-celebration. Here’s six.

Gary McAllister vs. Coventry

After honing his craft at Leicester, Leeds and Coventry, Gary Mac raised eyebrows by upgrading to Liverpool at the age of thirty-five. His free transfer was vindicated as he slotted comfortably into Liverpool’s treble-winning first team showcasing his dead ball wizardry on a regular basis (including that 40 yard free-kick against Everton). The previous year he had been part of Gordon Strachan’s Coventry side that fought to 14th in the Premier League. However, as the 2001 season was coming to an end Coventry were big relegation candidates. A handful of wins boosted their chances of survival but they could not afford to lose at home to Liverpool at the end of April. The Reds edged ahead in the 83rd minute courtesy of a Sami Hyypia header. Coventry were given no time to rally as minutes later McAllister stepped up and dispatched a free-kick to seal the fate of his old teammates. Realising what he’d done he was visibly upset; a year earlier he had been netting twice for Coventry as they thumped relegation-bound Sheffield Wednesday but was now sentencing his pals to the lower division. He re-joined the club two years later aged 37 as player/manager but Coventry have never been back to the top flight.

Did he celebrate? No – he looked upset.


Carlos Tevez vs. Manchester United

Carlos Tevez was a supremely underrated striker (a prototype Luis Suarez, perhaps?) but that’s an argument for another time. His second season with Manchester United was unspectacular and he left in the summer of 2009 to join Manchester City. His move was messy – Tevez was actually owned by the MSI group – but he hit the ground running and fired City to a vastly improved fifth place netting 23 league goals. His first run-in with his old teammates came in a thrilling 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford. Tevez was booked for a lunge on Rio Ferdinand but the match will ultimately be remembered for Michael Owen’s winner. His second opportunity came in a League Cup semi-final and he clearly had a point to prove. The tone was typically fiery and Tevez’s 42rd minute penalty – to level the tie one apiece – only intensified the occasion. In the second half the Argentine nodded in a winner before running towards the United bench cupping both ears provocatively. Strangely, Tevez’s bitterness was fixed primarily on the United management, having experienced a reasonable relationship with the fans (needless to say they soon turned on him). The ghost of Tevez was exorcised in the second leg when a late Wayne Rooney goal put United through to the final.

Did he celebrate? Yes – he was annoyed.


Alvaro Morata vs. Real Madrid

Alvaro Morata was born in Madrid, nurtured in Real’s b-team Castilla and scored three minutes into his full debut against Rayo Vallecano. However, despite recently moving back to the Bernabau, he never looked more comfortable than when at Juventus – his holiday home for two seasons. Real Madrid cut their ties with the striker for €20 million in the summer of 2014 but a buy-back clause gave the Spanish mega-power a safety net. Morata netted a modest 15 league goals in his two years in Turin but developed his all-round game and was welcomed with open arms by the Italian-heavy squad. He also had a penchant for knockout football netting home and away against Dortmund in the Champions League round-of-sixteen. Fate would see Juventus face Real Madrid in the semi-final and Morata scored in Turin as Juventus sealed a 2-1 win. Madrid’s away goal had left the tie finely balanced but when Cristiano Ronaldo dispatched a penalty 23 minutes into the second leg Los Blancos became heavy favourites. It would be Morata who swung the tie back Juventus’ way when he volleyed home a scrambled chance in the 57th minute. He didn’t celebrate – though his jubilant teammates mobbed him – and Juventus progressed 3-2 on aggregate.

Did he celebrate? No – he looked torn.


David Luiz vs. Chelsea

The erratic, emphatic and overly-emotional David Luiz joined Chelsea in 2011. His time there was a blur of defensive errors, a spell in the midfield and the occasional outrageous strike. If the likes of John Stones are the modern-day defender, then David Luiz is the defender they haven’t invented yet. Nevertheless, he was warmly received by fans and they grew to love his obvious will to win. Jose Mourinho’s arrival phased out any players liable of defensive mistakes and when PSG came knocking with a cheque of £50 million Luiz’s departure was obvious (a monumental piece of business on Chelsea’s behalf). In his first season in France, PSG drew Jose’s high-flying Chelsea in the Champions League round-of-sixteen. With four minutes left in the Stamford Bridge second leg Chelsea led 1-0 (2-1 on aggregate). A frustrating night for PSG roared into life as David Luiz thumped home a header to send the tie to extra time. He sprinted off in celebration (boy did he!) but in his visible joy it seemed he had forgotten his old employers rather than launched a revenge campaign against them. Getting ‘caught up in the moment’ would be a watery excuse for most footballers but it’s easy to believe that’s exactly what happened to Luiz. He seems the type of player who would have cried for a week when their school side lost a cup final (and was the player left crying on the pitch when Brazil got hammered by Germany). PSG went on to win in extra time, Luiz apologised for celebrating and the Brazil international has recently arrived back at Chelsea ahead of his best years.

Did he celebrate? Yes – because he forgot he wasn’t going to.


Emmanuel Adebayor vs. Arsenal

Ahh, this one. It had to be on the list, didn’t it? Any player whose form blows as searing hot and freezing cold as Emmanuel Adebayor’s is always going to be a divisive character. However, the Togo striker’s questionable attitude and numerous quirks had a knack of rubbing people the wrong way. He hit his stride at Arsenal before leaving for Manchester City in a big money move that Gunners fans called a downgrade. They quickly turned on Adebayor, who responded by scoring in his first three league games for his new club. The fourth game of the season saw City host Arsenal and it was set to be lively affair long before a wild Adebayor leg caught a prone Robin Van Persie in the face (or, to put it a more damning way, a clumsy attempt at a stamp). The match was balanced at 1-1 before an impassioned City bagged a trio of quick goals to seal the win. Craig Bellamy sent the home fans into raptures before Adebayor powered home a header to double their lead. What happened next was almost comical. It wasn’t so much Adebayor’s knee slide in front of the Arsenal fans that makes me laugh (and the selection of rubbish thrown his way) but the fact he had sprinted the full length of pitch in order to reach them. Pictures of Adebayor celebrating, on his knees, surrounded by rubbish, have turned the moment into a bit of a classic. Shawn Wright-Phillips dinked home City’s fourth that day and Adebayor would later move to Tottenham.

Did he celebrate? Yes – big time!


Frank Lampard vs. Chelsea

Manchester City have a knack of poaching players for use against their former clubs. Their third appearance on this list comes with Chelsea and England legend Frank Lampard (yes, he is an England legend). The Lampard transfer was a far cry from those of Tevez and Adebayor. The midfielder was ushered towards the backdoor by Chelsea and headed into the sunset via the newly formed New York City FC. However, he didn’t initially make it to the Big Apple and settled instead for Manchester. The rumour mill went into overdrive forcing Lampard into publically stating he had originally intended to go straight to New York and would still be joining for the 2015 campaign. Nevertheless, when the dust settled Lampard was wearing a City shirt and a Chelsea match loomed in September. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea visited the Etihad with a perfect record and when Andre Schurrle broke the deadlock ten-man City were left with a mountain to climb. Lampard entered the fray with 13 minutes left on the clock; five minutes later he had written the headlines. James Milner received the ball on the left hand side and knocked a ball across the box. Lampard had ghosted into space – because of course it had to be a typical Lampard goal – and fired home with the ease of a man who had done so hundreds of times before. The stadium was stunned and a muted Lampard walked towards his delighted new teammates.

Did he celebrate? No – he looked miserable.


Mike Franchetti 

 

Six players who really should’ve been on the Ballon d’Or shortlist

So the Ballon d’Or list was announced with a fair few notable names missing. Here we look at six players who can count themselves a little unlucky to have missed out.

Claudio Bravo

People may be surprised to see him on this list, especially because I’ve been scathing about his performances since he signed for Manchester City in the summer. But the Chilean international certainly does deserve some recognition for his achievements in recent years. Having captained his national team to consecutive Copa América titles, and winning back-to-back La Liga titles with Barcelona, there can be no doubting his pedigree. Whether he will enjoy the same success in the Premier League is a different issue altogether.

José Fonte

This is a left field choice and one that will no doubt cause a bit of bewilderment. Nevertheless, the Southampton centre half has been in imperious form over the last twelve months. It is easy to forget that he was playing League One football just five years ago. Having captained Southampton to their best ever Premier League finish and winning Euro 2016 with Portugal, he more than merits some acknowledgement for his achievements. There are only three other defenders on the original list of 30, including his international centre back partner, Pepe. Fonte had to bide his time initially, having been overlooked in favour of veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho. However, after a 3-3 draw with Hungary, the result that sealed Portugal’s passage through to the knockout stages, he came into the team and formed a formidable partnership with Pepe. When playing alongside each other Portugal conceded only one goal in their remaining four matches.

Marcelo

Whilst there will always be question marks regarding his defensive ability, there can be no doubt that the Brazilian is the best attacking left back in the world. Quick, strong, and technically gifted, the former Fluminese man really does have it all. He is so important to the way that Real Madrid play, offering them that extra width when the wingers choose to come inside. It can be difficult to get the acclaim you deserve when Bale, Benzema, and particularly Ronaldo are your team mates, yet Marcelo quietly and efficiently goes about his business. Despite only being 28, it feels like the Rio de Janeiro native has been around for years. Now in his eleventh season at Real, he will no doubt be looking to help retain the Champions League this season.

N’Golo Kanté

It’s absolutely farcical that this guy isn’t on the list. Quite frankly he was the standout midfielder in Europe last season as Leicester claimed the unlikeliest of Premier League titles. His omission really does go some way to devaluing the whole award. Last season he demonstrated his exceptional energy levels and reading of the game whilst forming a formidable midfield partnership with Danny Drinkwater. His tactical discipline and unselfish work rate enabled flare players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to excel further up the field. Kanté carried his form into Euro 2016, and has started this season with Chelsea in equally excellent form.

Blaise Matuidi

His absence from the list is also baffling. This is a guy who has won eight trophies with PSG in the previous two seasons. Like Kanté, he featured extensively for Les Bleus as they finished runners up to Portugal at Euro 2016. However, many still choose to devalue the achievements of Matuidi and his PSG side, decrying the alleged weakness of Ligue 1. This perception somewhat overlooks the fact that Matuidi himself has been in excellent form for an awfully long time now. Having joined PSG in 2011 shortly after the club had been purchased by Qatari investors, Matuidi remains the only player from that first wave of signings to still be at the club. He, like PSG, has grown, developed, and improved and consequently now really should be considered amongst the world elite.

Harry Kane

He may have endured a miserable Euro 2016, but there can be no devaluing his achievements in the Premier League last season. Kane was simply sensational, scoring 25 league goals as Tottenham recorded their highest league finish in over 25 years. His finishing and link up play is up there with the best in the world; in a Spurs shirt he really does seem to have the Midas touch. Whilst his performances for England have often been below par, there can be no doubting that he has all the credentials to be one of the all time great English centre forwards. Having scored more league goals than Karim Benzema, Paulo Dybala, and Sergio Agüero (all nominated for the award) last season, his omission from the list was certainly surprising. If he continues the form that he has shown during the previous two seasons then he will almost certainly begin to receive the acclaim he so rightly deserves.

Six League Cup ties that were actually pretty exciting

Milk Cup, Coca-Cola Cup, Worthington Cup, Carling Cup, Capital One Cup, The ‘Who-Is-He?’ Cup, The ‘It-Doesn’t-Count-As-Silverware’ Cup – call it what you like but the League Cup remains a presence in the football calendar. France still has two cups, so it’s not like England is completely alone. Besides, we know it starts to matter when our club makes it past the fourth round. With its current early season slot and shorter length, it could soon be preferable to target than its big brother the F.A. For whatever reason, the currently sponsorless League Cup has produced its fair share of upsets, comebacks and absurd scorelines over the years. Here’s six.

1. Aston Villa 3-4 Liverpool, Fourth Round, December 2002

Yes, okay I’m a Liverpool fan. How else would I remember this game? The Reds have a rich history in this second-rate competition and enjoyed a rollercoaster game away to Aston Villa in 2002. Villa led early on through a penalty before Danny Murphy – who would later be the night’s hero – levelled the score with a free-kick before half-time. Second half goals from Milan Baros and a young Steven Gerrard put the away side two goals up but momentum swung once more. Thomas Hitzlsperger hammered one home to rejuvenate Villa before Dion Dublin’s volley diverted off Stephen Henchoz and past Chris Kirkland. Deep into added time Murphy converted his second to prevent an additional half hour. Both teams would feature again in League Cup thrillers over the next decade.

2. Arsenal 2-1 Wigan (AET), Semi-final, January 2006

Whilst all other games on this list feature at least seven goals, Arsenal’s ‘victory’ over Wigan in January 2006 relies on a little bit of scene-setting. Two legged semi-finals can kill the magic of knockout football – but not on this occasion. An Arsenal side featuring classic cup names such as Philippe Senderos and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie had lost the opening leg 1-0 at the Latics’ home ground. They responded by fielding a side featuring lauded duo Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp for the second leg. Wigan, recently promoted to the Premier League, refused to roll over but were pegged back on aggregate by an Henry strike after an hour’s play. The match roared into extra time with Wigan showing plenty of spirit. They seemed to have missed their chance, however, when Robin Van Persie ripped in a free-kick to put Arsenal 2-0 up on the night.  Jason Roberts would have been left rueing missed opportunities had one extra not come his way in the 119th minute. He seized on sloppy Arsenal defending and fired home to give Wigan a precious away goal and an appearance in the League Cup final.

3. Aston Villa 6-4 Blackburn, Semi-final, January 2010

Blimey, this one was truly mental. If Arsenal’s Baptista-inspired rout of Liverpool in 2006 suggested the League Cup was not a showcase for defending, then this 2010 semi-final confirmed it. Heavily rotated squads and a lack of pressure can lead to goal fests but neither played a part in Aston Villa’s 6-4 victory over Blackburn with both teams desperate to reach a final. The first leg at Ewood Park produced just the one goal, and it was Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn who arrived chasing the tie. They dominated the Midlanders early on and perhaps scored their desired away goal sooner than expected.  By the 26th minute they led 0-2, but Villa fought back to 2-2 by half time. Frenzy took hold of the game and Blackburn were 4-2 down before the hour mark. Emile Heskey made it 5-2 but ten men Blackburn netted twice more. Ashley Young scored in stoppage time but by then the game barely resembled a football match. None of the goals were even that good.

4. Derby 5-5 Scunthorpe, First Round, August 2012

We often await a big name quarter-final to really tune into the League Cup but it starts way back in August with sides from the lower tiers slugging it out whilst we’re still admiring our fading sun tans. The crazy thing about this 5-5 draw is that all ten goals came inside regular play (including stoppage time). Steve McClaren’s Derby raced to a 3-0 half time lead and the game looked to have been put to bed. Scunthorpe found the back of the net in the 51st minute but Derby swatted them away with another of their own less than two minutes later. Scunthorpe rallied back to 4-3 but a Nathan Tyson header would again keep the visitors at bay. The clock read 94 minutes when Scunthorpe got what looked to be their final consolation but play continued. More pressure followed and a foul on Michael Jacobs resulted in a 97th minute penalty and an equalising goal. Scunthorpe would eventually progress on penalties. Not bad for August.

5. Chelsea 5-4 Manchester United (AET), Fourth Round, October 2012

It’s funny to think Alex Ferguson was knocking about as recent as 2012. Three days before this fixture the two sides had met in the league with United winning 3-2 and Chelsea left bitter by a Fernando Torres red card and a questionable refereeing performance. Whilst neither club really cared for this trophy the league game had left a hangover and it quickly became evident neither side had considered defeat. After a goalless twenty minutes Ryan Giggs put a much changed United ahead before David Luiz levelled. Poacher Javier Hernandez restored United’s advantage before half-time. Further goals were exchanged shortly after the break and Chelsea trailed 3-2 as the game reached its final half hour. The match grew feisty before substitute Eden Hazard levelled from the spot in the 93rd minute. Momentum stayed with the blues and goals from Daniel Sturridge and Ramires put Chelsea 5-3 up in extra-time before the match came full circle with a second Giggs goal.

6. Reading 5-7 Arsenal (AET), Fourth Round, October 2012

The fourth round of the 2012 League Cup was pretty special. A day before the drama at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal visited Reading for a game of football which was always going to appear on this list. You can understand why most League Cup games get relegated from memory but this one deserves a second watch for the farcical way it unfolded. Arsenal – perennial Premier League challengers and masters of their own downfall – arrived at Championship side Reading with a reasonable looking squad. After twenty minutes Reading were 3-0 up, and Noel Hunt soon made it four. The opening blitz was shocking but it was the fourth goal that underlined Arsenal’s embarrassment. It’s the fourth goal that kills off hope; three goals up is a dominant display, four is game over. Except it wasn’t. Walcott netted before half time and Gunners fans were left hoping for a miracle. Arsenal needed a quick second goal but they didn’t get one.  It was the 63rd minute when Olivier Giroud scored and their third goal came just two minutes from time. Reading remained the underdog but everybody likes a comeback and Walcott tucked one away deep into stoppage time. Arsenal took a 5-4 lead in extra time but Reading fought back through Pavel Pogrebnyak (remember him?). Walcott claimed his hatrick in the 119th minute before Maroune Chamakh added a twelfth goal.


Mike Franchetti

Six of the worst Joey Barton misdemeanours

Joey Barton has had a chequered career to say the least. In fact, it was difficult whittling down his list of indiscretions to just six. The much travelled midfielder has been caught up in rows, fights, and Twitter arguments with many of his peers. Now plying his trade in Scotland with Rangers, Barton has, surprise surprise, yet again managed to find controversy. Here’s six times that Joey Barton got it wrong.

 

1. Chill out, have a cigar!

To kick off we thought we’d go back to Barton’s Manchester City days. Work Christmas parties always have some form of controversy; who kissed who, so-and-so cried, Jamie Tandy got a cigar stubbed in the eye. Hang on – what? Yes that last point did indeed happen during City’s 2004 festivities.

Barton stubbed a cigar in Tandy’s eye after taking offence at the youth team player’s attempt to set fire to his shirt. Tandy’s indiscretion was daft, if not dangerous, yet Barton, the more ‘grown-up’ of the two, should have known better.

An eye for an eye is rarely justifiable, and neither is an eye for a failed attempt to set fire to a shirt.

Barton did apologise, but the damage was already done. He was fined £60,000, equivalent to six weeks’ wages.

2. Blue Moon to Full Moon

On September 30th 2006, Barton and his Manchester City teammates visited Goodison Park. Barton, an Everton fan, managed to rile the Everton faithful by unceremoniously pulling his shorts down to reveal a rather pale backside.

Whilst Barton would have been familiar with Blue Moon ringing around The City of Manchester Stadium (as it was then called), the midfielder decided he would treat Everton fans to a full moon.

Barton’s bottom landed him with a hefty £2,000 fine, a police investigation, and he was warned over his future conduct. A warning he sadly did not heed.

3. The Dabo incident

Just nine months after ‘bumgate’ Barton once again found himself at the centre of controversy. Ousmane Dabo, a teammate at City, felt the full swing of Barton’s now notorious temper.

Instead of giving Dabo a light dab, he decided to go full-whack. Dabo was allegedly knocked unconscious and had to go to hospital after injuring his head in the fracas.

The Frenchmen decided to press charges, and Barton eventually pleaded guilty to the assault.

Barton was fined £100,000 by City, given a six game ban and £25,000 fine by the FA, a four-month suspended prison sentence, and 200 hours of community service. This sorry incident paved the way for his exit from City.

4. McPrison

Seven months after the Dabo incident Barton again found himself in trouble. Now playing for Newcastle United, Barton went on a post-Christmas night out in his hometown of Liverpool. In the early hours of December 27th he became embroiled in a fight outside McDonalds.

CCTV showed him punching his victim 20 times, before also attacking a teenager. This time there would be no reprieve and no suspended sentence. Barton served 77 days in prison before being released and being allowed to resume his career.

5. In for a penny, in for a pound

Barton now found himself playing for Queens Park Rangers. His former club, Manchester City, were on the verge of claiming their first title in 44 years.

Barton and his QPR team visited The Etihad on the final day of the 2011/12 Premier League season. This game will be remembered for many things, including Barton’s outrageous sending off.

City needed to win in order to prevent their Manchester rivals, United, from claiming yet another title, whilst QPR needed at least a draw and results elsewhere to go their way in order to avoid relegation. With the score finely balanced at 1-1, Barton saw red – literally. First he elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face. A red card was promptly shown. Not content with this, the ex-City man kicked Sergio Agüero, attempted to head-butt Vincent Kompany, and finally tried to square off with Mario Balotelli.

Thankfully for Barton, QPR avoided relegating despite conceding two last-minute goals. Barton tried to justify his actions by saying that after elbowing Tevez he wanted to provoke a City player into reacting and also being sent off. His ingenious little plot failed quite spectacularly, and once the dust had settled, Barton was hit with a mammoth 12 match ban and a £75,000 fine by the FA.

QPR also punished him; stripping him of the captaincy and fining him six weeks’ wages totalling an eye-watering £600,000.

6. Complete Nonsense

After his Etihad meltdown, the following four years were relatively quiet for Barton. Bar the odd Twitter dispute (something that is obviously inevitable), and a couple of red cards, Barton’s behaviour had looked to have drastically improved.

Playing for Burnley in the Championship, the 2015/16 season was a successful one for both him and his team. Promotion to the Premier League was achieved, and Barton received the Player of the Year trophy.

Despite this Barton chose to head north and sign for newly-promoted Rangers in Scotland. As soon as he arrived in Glasgow he was up to his old tricks. He deliberately tried to antagonise Celtic captain, Scott Brown, and accused Celtic’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, of going through a midlife crisis.

All of this preceded the first Old Firm game of the season. When Rangers arrived at Celtic Park many neutrals were relishing the Barton vs Brown midfield battle. On the day Barton was useless; slow, off the pace, and poor with the ball, his Celtic counterpart completely outplayed him in a 5-1 win for The Hoops.

The fallout from this defeat was a throwback to Barton from years gone by. After having a heated discussion with Rangers teammate Andy Halliday, Barton was banned from the club for 3 weeks. At the same time, he was publicising his new book, No Nonsense.

It remains to be seen whether this episode will spell the end of Barton’s Rangers career. Whatever happens, we can be almost certain that this won’t be the last we hear from Joey.


Sam Simmons

Six times Francesco Totti was an absolute top boy

Totti is the ultimate one-club man and the epitome of a club legend. He’s never left A.S. Roma – not for the twinkle of the Premier League nor the challenge of another Italian side. Never one to make up the numbers, he has continued to prove his worth to the club writing stories usually reserved for Roy of the Rovers. He has scored in 23 straight Serie A seasons and turns 40 this month. Here’s six times he was an absolute top boy.

1. When he dinked a penalty in a Euro 2000 shootout

Chipped penalties aren’t necessarily cool. If they go wrong you look like a complete fool and they’re more common now than in days gone by. Back in the year 2000, however, we had just pioneer Antonin Paneka to reference (not counting Gary Linekar’s failed friendly attempt) and the idea of a dinked penalty was enough to make a manager strut nervously around their technical area.  With Italy leading 2-0 in a Euro semi-final shootout against the Netherlands, Totti arrived at the spot with his usual swagger. Sporting a haircut only cool in Italian borders, he produced a memorable moment when nonchalantly arching the ball into the centre of the goalmouth and past a falling Edwin van der Sar. At the time it was amazing and, if we’re honest, it’s still cool now.

2. When we all laughed at him – for a good cause

Young Totti had the hair, the hairband, the adoration of the capital, a Scudetto and the cover of Italy’s edition of Fifa 2002.  He played with flair and had plenty of friends both in and out of the game. It was easy to peg an unhealthy ego to his character but in the summer of 2003 he proved he was also a master of humorous self-deprecation – especially towards his intelligence. Working as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Totti released a joke book of sorts following discussions with some national teammates. Every joke poked fun at Totti – “a journalist told Totti “Carpe Diem” to which he replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English” – and the book sold at a rate far beyond expectation. Profits were split between homeless children in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a charity for the elderly in Rome. Top boy.

3. When he was ‘Scusate il Ritardo’

You’re sometimes left to wonder how long Totti has spent planning a celebration. Although, on the other hand, maybe he just makes sure he scores as soon as he has an idea. He was certainly on a schedule when ‘giving birth’ to a football in honour of his pregnant wife in 2005. She’s also been the subject of two lovey-dovey undershirt messages over the years. The other great relationship in Totti’s life is his one with the Roma fans. The 2012 season would ultimately see Totti score just eight league goals and end his extraordinary double-digit run. At the start of the winter break Totti had yet to score – something which could well have ruined his Christmas. On January 8th he launched a penalty into the top corner against Chievo before revealing a message which said ‘Scusate il Ritardo’ translating to ‘Sorry for the delay’. He looked genuinely apologetic but hasn’t stopped scoring since. The jury is still out as to whether Totti’s most recent celebration– taking a selfie with the fans – was cool or not. He’d just equalised in the Derby della Capitale, so it probably was.

totti-message

4. When he chipped Julio Cesar

Returning to 2005 and long haired Totti, we find one of my favourite goals of all time. Roma would eventually finish second to Inter Milan, but won a great encounter 3-2 at the San Siro to get their season on track after a slow start. Roma stunned Inter by racing to a 3-0 first half lead with Totti scoring twice. His first was later voted Serie A goal of the season, delicately lofting the ball over Julio Cesar from outside the box following a mazy run across the pitch. Picking up the ball inside his own half, the Roma captain navigated past two lunging tackles into an area of space. With ease rather than electric pace, he first went wide before drifting into a central position. He proceeded to chip the ball from 20 yards perfectly lobbing a despairing Cesar.

5. When he scored a screamer against Sampdoria

There are plenty of gems hidden in European club football which don’t get the recognition they deserve. If Marco Van Basten’s angled volley is the pinnacle of first time hits, then Totti’s vs. Sampdoria can’t be far behind. Whilst the Dutchman’s had a certain marvel and near perfect connection, Totti’s had a typical coolness. The ball was floated over to the far side of the box where Totti had been lurking beyond the full back. He began to move towards its destination and met the pass with a swing of his left boot. The shot was hit hard, but with exquisite control, and arrowed towards the bottom corner beyond keeper Gianluca Berti. At first this goal may seem underwhelming – but consider how hard it would be to replicate. Totti went on to score 26 that campaign earning himself the Golden Boot. Sadly, Roma would finish second and Totti would collect the fourth of his eight Serie A runners-up medals.

6. When he proved he’s still got it.

Old Totti is probably even cooler than young Totti. As far back as 2011, people have been questioning ‘Il Re De Roma’, quick to point out any sign of diminishing effectiveness. He responded in 2011 by showing off a t-shirt (yes, another one) displaying the words ‘The King of Rome is not dead’ and a number of fine years would follow under managers Zdenek Zemen and Rudi Garcia. His greatest struggle undoubtedly came last season when a returning Luciano Spalletti relegated an injury-hit Totti to the subs bench. Spalletti, who was the first to install Totti as a centre forward in 2005, was more a pantomime villain than hater but a rumoured spat had soured the situation. Totti was left playing minutes rather than games but decided to write a new chapter in his career as the world’s greatest super-sub. It started in April, when he entered the fray against Torino in the 86th minute with Roma 2-1 down. 22 seconds later he had diverted a flick into the back of the net. A revitalized Roma were spurred on and the inevitable followed; they won an 89th minute penalty and Totti tucked it away.


Mike Franchetti

Another classic from Totti’s joke book:

“Ilary (Totti’s wife): Honey, will you take me to dinner tonight?

Totti: I can’t, love, I’m doing this really difficult puzzle. It’s full of small pieces, and there’s a rooster on the box. Why don’t you come and help me?

Ilary: Francesco, leave those cornflakes alone and take me out to dinner”

 

Six reasons Juventus might not win Serie A this year

Serie A featured highly in this transfer window with Manchester United capturing Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuaín upsetting the entire population of Naples in a move north. Juventus start as overwhelming favourites for the new season. Their squad has tonnes of experience and a winning mentality to rival any side in Europe. Nevertheless, all good things come to an end and could the sale of Pogba disrupt the happy camp? Anything other than a sixth straight title will require a serious dip in form, or the likes of Napoli and Roma to overachieve and amass nearly 90 points. Here’s six reasons it might just happen.

1. Their desire for European success

Juventus have won five straight Serie A titles and have been the main Italian flag-bearers in elite European competition. They’ve not done badly either, making the Champions League final in 2015 and having a pair of wonderful games against Bayern Munich last time out. It’s easy to assume the likes of Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will never get bored of winning Scudettos but the squad seemed to suffer from a bout of the ‘lack-of-ambitions’ at the start of last season and were supposedly put back on track by the words of Buffon prior to the Derby della Mole. Napoli had waltzed to the top of the league and a sleeping Juve were rudely awoken. It’s not out of the realms of possibility that Juve will wobble again as they target a return to the latter stages of the Champions League.

2. Improvements lower down the league

One of the biggest factors in the Serie A title race will be the performance of the teams outside last year’s top three. When Napoli were chasing Juventus at the end of last season they found no favours from Inter, AC, Lazio and Fiorentina. In fact, against that quartet of Italian giants Juventus dropped just two points (a draw with Inter in October). Both Milan clubs made hard work of their seasons whilst Lazio were inconsistent and Fiorentina won just twice in the last three months. All four will be expecting better from 2017. Milan are in dire needed of a return to European football and will be hoping the talent packed into their squad can start performing on a regular basis. Lazio would love new man Ciro Immobile to get close to 20 goals having lost star player Antonio Candreva this summer. The Italian international will now ply his trade under new Inter manager Frank De Boer. Whilst none of these sides will likely surface as title challengers, stronger and longer patches of form will make for a tougher division and less chances for Juventus to disappear over the horizon.

3. Hell hath no fury like an ‘Ultra’ scorned

The first of two big summer stories involving Juventus saw last season’s record-breaking goalscorer Gonzalo Higuaín arrive for a staggering fee. The sometimes underrated Argentinian bagged 71 league goals in three seasons at Napoli and (surprise, surprise) scored on his league debut for Juventus. However, when the three-time La Liga winner was prized by league favourites Juventus he caused an uproar of Neapolitan proportions. The stories immediately began to fly out of Naples – a pizzeria offered free food the first time Higuaín gets injured and toilet paper was printed bearing his face. A coach arrived spelling out ‘core ‘ngrato’ (search it) and an exchange was set up for unwanted Higuaín shirts. The lethal finisher has the talent to respond to his haters but perhaps their unrelenting feeling of betrayal – combined with his lofty price tag – is enough to make him buckle.

4. Replacing Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata

Regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba was worth the money dropped by Manchester United, he will be sorely missed in the Juventus midfield. There is nobody else in the squad – perhaps the world – that can make the same offering as Pogba; fast yet tall, skilful yet strong, equally as likely to rifle the ball home from 30 yards as he is to win possession and dispatch a pass across the pitch. This isn’t to say Juventus can’t replace the sometimes misfiring Frenchman, but their midfield will surely have a different feel. Juve sent another message to the south when pinching Miralem Pjanic from Roma, and the Bosnian looks the likely replacement in their starting XI. Real Madrid further proved Juventus’ transfer dominance is bounded by Italian borders when activating a clause to re-sign Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard settled better than ever away from his home club, striking strong friendships with a number of Italians in the squad. He was Juve’s most willing runner and had an eye for important goals. On the brightside, Juventus made over €100 million sending players back ‘home’.

5. Ridiculously high standards

After a rocky start to last season Juventus lost just one of their last 28 games. Frighteningly, they racked up 26 victories from October to May with a 15 match winning streak across the winter ended by a 0-0 draw against Bologna. Realistically, this form will not be replicated throughout the 2016-17 campaign. Games at the Juventus Stadium will continue to shower the home side with success, but no side has left with so much as a point since last September (respect to Frosinone) and I expect this to change before Christmas. Napoli, Roma and Sassuolo will be visiting Turin in the next few months and won’t want to leave empty handed.

6. Blooding new stars

The Juventus academy has seen plenty of graduates go on to have international careers – Alessandro Del Piero, Claudio Marchiso, Sebastian Giovinco – but ‘The Old Lady’ have often relied on signing established players from other clubs and nurturing them into the next champions of Turin. A prime example is Andrea Barzagli who, despite winning the World Cup in 2006, has seen his best year’s post-Wolfsburg and post-30. He is now 35, the same age as Patrice Evra and a handful of years older than Giorgio Chiellini. This season’s transfers have suggested more of the same with Dani Alves arriving at the age of 33 and €90 million being thrown behind the 28-year old Higuaín. There are a number of hot prospects in the squad but those brought into the first team will need time to adjust to the 3-5-2 formation established by Antonio Conte. Daniele Rugani is Juve’s centre-back heir apparent whilst Marco Pjaca arrives from Zagreb to offer some dynamism to the frontline. ‘Juventus’ translates to ‘youth’ in Latin and the club will hope the passing of the torch goes as smoothly as possible.


Mike Franchetti

Six European transfers you might have missed

Mike on six European signings he’s excited to see in action

Forget Hummels, Higuain and Pogba. Let’s take a closer look at the European transfer market. Who’s gone where and for how much?

1. Gianluca Lapadula (Pescara to AC Milan, €9million)
Van Basten. Shevchenko. Ibrahimović. And now… Gianluca Lapadula? You could argue that Milan’s signing of Pescara’s Lapadula says everything you need to know about their fall in the pecking order of both European and Italian football. He’s 26, never scored a goal in Serie A, and will be expected to offer something lacking in the game of Carlos Bacca. In other ways it’s a fantastic signing – or at the very least fantastically Italian. Lapadula was the top goalscorer in Serie B last year with 27 goals. It’s a bit like if Arsenal signed Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to ignite their attack back in 2009. Or if Manchester United sought Jordan Rhodes in the summer of 2015. Lapadula has played in many of Italy’s threadbare lower leagues and his story provides an element of intrigue to the new season. Despite his free scoring last campaign he is comfortable coming deeper to collect the ball and is an asset anywhere across the final third. At 26 he should be approaching his peak – but he’s Italian so he’ll probably peak in around six years’ time. The signing is just crazy enough to work out. Pescara has played developmental host to some fine international footballers in the last decade including Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti.

2. Ganso (Sao Paolo to Sevilla, €9.1 million)
No, this isn’t our list of Six Football Manager signings who never fulfilled their potential’ Paulo ‘Ganso’ Henrique really has arrived in Europe.  Ganso to some, Paolo Henrique to others, the Brazilian playmaker was the one you plucked from Santos on Football Manager 2011 that wasn’t Neymar. Last month Sevilla completed a €9.1 million signing from Sao Paolo and, in a window of dizzying headlines, this transfer borders on shrewd business. Whilst Neymar quickly became the archetypal Brazilian poster-boy, Ganso struggled with media attention and his form dipped soon after. This lead to a number of mediocre seasons and, ultimately, a far more low-key move to Europe than anybody would have previously expected. It’s not all doom and gloom however; Sevilla could be the perfect club for Ganso to make his mark. The club sit behind Spain’s ‘big three’ in almost every department but are proven winners in European football and have a crisp, balanced style. Ganso may find himself sitting deeper than his previous ‘number 10’ role, asked to dictate play rather than produce his trademark final balls. A new look midfield includes Palermo’s Franco Vazquez and the on loan Luciano Vietto.

3. Denis Suarez (Villarreal to Barcelona, €3.5 million)
In a ‘homecoming’ nowhere near as ridiculous as Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester, Barcelona opted to take advantage of their buy back clause and bring 22-year old Denis Suarez back to the Nou Camp. The Spaniard’s had a solid few years since leaving Manchester City with just a handful of cup appearances. He was an integral part of Villarreal’s Europa League semi-final run last season and possesses all the traits of a typical Barcelona winger. Whilst donning the Catalan red and blue can represent the pinnacle of Spanish football, Suarez will face serious competition to even get a game. Lionel Messi and Neymar are certain starters, as is his namesake Luis Suarez. There’s not much room to breathe beneath that trio’s talent but the new man could end up in the role once filled by Chelsea’s Pedro. He’ll have fewer opportunities to make his mark than at Villarreal but could still fit seamlessly into the hierarchy of the La Liga champions.

4. Nicola Sansone (Sassuolo to Villarreal, €13 million)
Denis Suarez out, Nicola Sansone in. Last season Sassuolo built on their previous campaign by upsetting the Serie A apple cart and taking the final Europa League spot. Their success was built on great performances all through the squad but two men – Sansone and Domenico Berardi – stood out as regular scorers and the providers of spark. Sassuolo are no strangers to losing star players and whilst they fought hard to keep Berardi, Sansone left for Spain for €13 million. The Italian’s 24 years old, capped once, and nets goals from wide positions. He should fit nicely into the La Liga ethos and could be upgrading Europa League football for the Champions League should Villarreal progress through their group stage qualifier.  Villarreal have been busy this window recruiting fellow Italian Roberto Soriano and the enigma that is Alexander Pato.

5. Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg to Borussia Dortmund, €30 million)
For the first time in a while, Bayern Munich may find Dortmund a serious league threat. They’ve always had handfuls of top talent to go with their excellent set-up and wonderful fans but this year they’ve responded to Munich’s movements by flexing some of their own financial muscle. Mario Gotze returns, Raphael Guerreiro and Marc Bartra have been brought into the defence and teenager Ousmane Dembele chose Signal Iduna Park as his new home. On top of these they’ve brought in Andre Schurrle for 30 million. This almost feels like a luxury signing – but it’s about time Dortmund treated themselves. Schurrle is well known in Germany following spells with Leverkusen and Wolfsburg and offers very few surprises. The flip side is that he guarantees a level of performance and can fit into a number of systems. Describing the World Cup winner as a utility forward doesn’t do him justice. He might not bag you twenty goals but Schurrle will combine a boyish eagerness with years of Bundesliga experience. He strikes me as the perfect guy to have on the pitch when you’re trying to upset the giants of Munich.

6. Jeremy Menez (AC Milan to Bordeaux, undisclosed)
When will Jeremy Menez have that one big season? He got close in 2014-15 when scoring 16 goals in a fruitless Milan campaign – but he reversed any progression with a scrappy and injury hit final season. The skilful Frenchman has a succession of good goals – including this one vs. Parma – but exists awkwardly between a central striker and natural winger and his career has never really taken off. A perpetual frustration in his home country, he now finds himself back there having signed for Bordeaux. His glimpses of class remain too good to dismiss and he’ll once again start the season with a weight of expectation. Finishing 11th last time around, Bordeaux need a nudge up the league and a forward to score more than ten league goals – in an ideal world, Menez provides both. The early signs are not good but in no way Menez’s fault; he lost the top of his ear after being accidentally struck by the boot of Lorient’s Didier Ndong. Bordeaux will have to wait before seeing a return on their undisclosed fee.


 

Six players you signed on Football Manager that never fulfilled their potential

Following a split with Eidos Interactive, the Championship Manager we loved turned into spiritual successor Football Manager. The playful font and iconic footballing backdrops were replaced by stronger branding and a polished look. One thing that never changed was the franchise’s yearning to uncover football’s ‘wonderkids’. The series has got it right so often that their emphatic failures (or sometimes just drastic exaggerations) are as legendary as they are hilarious. Each Football Manager keeps in line with tradition and icons of the early 2000s such as Tonton Zola Moukoko and Cherno Samba have been superseded by a new crop of pixelated legends.

Mike’s selections…

1. John Fleck
John Fleck played 40 times for Coventry last year grabbing four goals. He’s not doing that badly, right? But it’s not quite the same as guiding Malaga to a La Liga title and nestling into Team of the Year alongside Lionel Messi as he did on my Football Manager 2010 game. This virtual fairytale wasn’t exclusive to the 2010 edition either and he could be polished into a star winger as far back as FM 2008. In fact, the whole time he was at Rangers he maintained near-wonderkid status and it was only following a loan move to Blackpool in 2012 that his potential began to fade. The Scotsman was a favourite of hopeful attribute searches with high dribbling, crossing and technique stats backed by those of creativity and off the ball. It was strange that FM chose to stretch Fleck’s potential to the moon and back; Scotland haven’t produced anybody near his programmed ability in the last twenty years. To be fair, expectations were eventually adjusted and Fleck can still be signed to drag your side through a League One campaign.

2. Franco Zuculini
Okay, so this one’s even more personal – but I defy anybody to play a couple of seasons on Football Manager 2009 and not gasp at Zuculini’s stats. Playing as Wigan, it took a while for Zuculini to surface on my game and I was very nearly beaten to his signature by Manchester City. He was remarkably well suited to the DM role; good physical stats, high work rate and levels of marking and tackling you’d look for in your centre back. Though this isn’t consistent over internet screenshots, I remember my Zuculini having an insane pair of passing and creativity stats. I pictured every match unfolding with Zuculini effortlessly winning the ball and sliding through 30-yard passes. In FM 2009 he started at Hoffenheim and would often remain there for his initial development. In real life, however, he played just seven league games for the Germans before three loan moves and a permanent switch to Zaragoza. After a spell back in Argentina recovering from an operation, Zuculini was handed another chance to crack Europe in a move to Bologna. As with many FM wonderkids, the game has never fully demolished his attributes.

3. Alberto Paloschi
At eighteen years old Paloschi scored for AC Milan with his first touch as a substitute vs. Siena. Somebody from Football Manager must have been watching and the rest is history. He was difficult to prise away from a Milan/Parma co-ownership in the 2009 game and it took a few years for him to become FM’s coded world beater. An understated gem on his first few appearances, it wasn’t until the games of 2011 and 2012 that Paloschi really took off. The Italian seemed to infatuate most Premier League clubs and I lost count of the number of times I saw ‘Chelsea sign Paloschi’ among my generated inbox messages. Paloschi’s merits may have snuck passed the untrained FM eye with good finishing paired with great anticipation. By numerous accounts he was an unrivalled goal machine and would achieve feats beyond his wildest dreams. The real Paloschi’s not been a total disappointment scoring goals for Chievo over the last five campaigns and even getting his Premier League move; a modest spell with Swansea at the back end of last season. Nevertheless, Paloschi will go down as having failed to live up to Football Manager’s monumental career arc.

Sam’s selections…

4. César Delgado
An absolute Football Manager legend; he scored goals galore on FM 2007. Now 34, he’s back in his home country of Argentina plying his trade for his hometown club, Rosario Central. Despite being prolific on Football Manager he never really replicated that sort of form in real life. However, to date, Delgado has won an Olympic Gold medal, a French League title as well as a French Cup. Back in 2007 he was playing for Cruz Azul in the top tier of Mexican football. At that point he was playing the best football of his career and was catching the eye of several of Europe’s biggest clubs. During the noughties, French football was dominated by Olympique Lyonnais. Les Gones, as they’re affectionately known amongst their loyal fans, won 7 titles between 2000-2010; an unprecedented feat in the modern era. Lyon were impressed enough to fork out €11 million for the diminutive winger. Having fought off competition from some of Spain’s top clubs, Delgado’s move to the Rhône based club was seen by many as seismic show of strength. Sadly, his time in France never really lived up to the success of his Football Manager avatar. He scored just nine goals, one of which was a last minute winner against Liverpool in front of the Kop. After two and a half years in France he returned to Mexico where he spent a further three years before re-joining Rosario.

5. Gai Assulin
Where do you start with this nomad? This is a player who looked destined to become a real world superstar. He made his Israel debut 2 weeks before he turned 17, however it remains his only cap to date. This lack of international acclaim is indicative of a career that has never really materialised. Back in his Football Manager heyday (2008), he was a jinking winger who also provided a menacing goal threat. On Barcelona’s books between 2007-2010, he scored and created goals for fun in the B team. In October 2009 he made his full-debut for the 1st team in a Copa del Rey match against Cultural Leonesa. He played just shy of an hour before being replaced by Eric Abidal. This would be his only appearance for the Catalan giants. In 2010 he joined the oil rich blue side of Manchester. He never made an appearance for City, yet did play 7 times for Brighton and Hove Albion whilst out on loan during the 2011-12 season. After leaving City at the end of that season, he returned to Spain where he had unproductive season spells at Racing Santander, Hércules (on loan from Granada) and Mallorca. Assulin can now be found playing in the Segunda División, Spain’s third tier, for CE Sabadell FC.

6. Joe Mattock
One of the great bastions of the Football League. This was a player of who so much was expected, yet sadly, Mattock never really fulfilled his Football Manager potential. Back on Football Manager 2009 Mattock was winning numerous England caps. In real life he was joining West Bromwich Albion for £1 million. Leicester City were reluctant sellers; he had joined the club as a schoolboy and worked his way up to the first team. By the time West Brom came calling he had already played over 70 games – Mattock was still only 19. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Mattock probably wishes he could wind back the clock. Whilst Leicester have gone on to lift an unlikely Premier League title, Mattock has moved around very clubs in the Championship. Personal, as well as injury, problems have blighted his career. After one season at the Hawthorns he was sent out on loan to Sheffield United. West Brom got promoted and Mattock briefly re-joined them in the Premier League, albeit without making an appearance. Over the following two seasons he was sent out on loan to Portsmouth and Brighton (where he played with Gai Assulin). Despite a successful loan spell on the South Coast he decided to join Sheffield Wednesday. At Wednesday he had moderate success, playing over 60 times in three seasons. In the summer of 2015 Mattock was on his way again, leaving Hillsborough to join another Yorkshire club, Rotherham, where he remains to this day.

Six players you won’t believe won Premier League Player of the Month

1. Paul Robinson, November 2000
Remember Paul Robinson? Remember how he let Gary Neville’s back pass deceive him against Croatia in Euro Qualifying? Long before he began grinding the years away at Blackburn, Paul Robinson was Leeds United’s number two goalkeeper and a highly exciting prospect. His Player of the Month award is slightly curious as Leeds, with Robinson standing in for Nigel Martyn, won just two of their four games that November and one was a 4-3 home victory over Liverpool. Robinson’s only clean sheet came in an impressive 1-0 victory over Arsenal at the end of the month and this, along with his tender age of 20, would have stuck in the mind when voting came around.

2. Marcus Bent, March 2002
Sandwiched between a pair for Premier League heavyweight Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Marcus Bent claimed the Player of the Month award from January 2002. At first this may seem a questionable choice. Bent was playing for the Ipswich side hit hard by a ‘Second Season Syndrome’ of sorts. Following their stunning fifth place in 2001, Ipswich had the most peculiar of campaigns. They won just nine league games in total and seven came in an eight game period from December to the end of January. There were just two victories before Christmas and one after February 2nd. Bent was signed in the mid-season window and was instrumental in the side’s temporary upturn in form. He earned his award by finding the net in four straight games and helping the Tractor Boys to nine important points including one-goal victories over Tottenham and Fulham. Ipswich were eventually relegated and Bent would be nowhere near as influential for the rest of his career. Nevertheless, for a short time at the start of 2002 he was the Premier League’s most important striker.

3. Mikael Forssell, March 2004
Birmingham City fans will hopefully remember Mikael Forssell for the 17 goals he scored on loan in the 2003-2004 season, rather than the 13 he bagged in the next four combined. Fresh from picking Arsenal’s Edu the previous month, the mystery panel went for another underdog pick with the (occasionally) prolific Finnish striker. In all honesty, there was nothing surprising about Forssell’s selection that March; three in two games against ‘Boro (how the fixture list worked that season I’m not sure) plus a brace against Leeds and one more at home to Bolton. With six goals in the month he was an obvious candidate for the award. Unfortunately, he scored just one in the next eight games and Birmingham failed to win, falling four places to tenth.

4. Phil Jagielka, February 2009
Finishing 5th under David Moyes, Everton fans may look back on the 2008/09 season and wonder how they’ve ended up flagging in the mid-table for the last two campaigns. Liverpool took Manchester United to the wire that season and Everton plugged away for a fifth place finish, losing just five games from October onwards. Over the winter Everton went on an extraordinary run keeping nine clean sheets in twelve games. An integral part of that backline was 26-year old Jagielka who was delivering on his potential and had not yet become Captain Fantastically Average. Conceding no goals and helping to earn seven points, Jagielka was awarded – and probably deserved – February’s Player of the Month. In a season starring Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo, it was nice to see good defending recognised.

5. Johan Elmander, November 2010
Bolton Wanderers had one of those seasons in 2010-2011. The ones where you lose just two of your opening fifteen league games and then eight of your last ten. Back that November Owen Coyle’s side were pretty electric scoring fourteen goals in their five league games (W3 D2). They were a front-loaded side with Kevin Davies supported by Martin Petrov, Ivan Klasnic and Johan Elmander (later joined by Daniel Sturridge). Elmander’s the sort of player that would end up at Real Madrid on your only game of Championship Manager 2002 that lasted longer than one season. In real life, however, he wound up a European journeyman who, to his credit, scored a handful of goals at each of his clubs. I’m still not quite sure how he ended up Premier League Player of the Month but it would likely have something to do with his two goals in a 5-1 romp of Newcastle United.

6. Peter Odemwingie, September 2010, April 2011 and February 2012
This one hits hard. Whilst buzzing around the final third for a middling West Brom side, Peter Odemwingie took home three Player of the Month awards. That puts him level with Gareth Bale and Ruud Van Nistlerooy, one ahead of Fernando Torres, Ryan Giggs and Robbie Fowler. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard and Riyad Mahrez have none (as of the start of the 2017 season). Odemwingie scored thirty goals for West Brom in clusters of good form. His first award came after scoring in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal with WBA taking a 3-0 lead and hanging on for back-to-back league wins. It’s worth noting Dimitar Berbatov had scored a superb hat-trick against Liverpool the week earlier. Odemwingie did go on to have a good season and when scoring in four straight games in April 2011 he grabbed his second award. His form in February 2012 was undoubtedly impressive featuring a hat-trick against rivals Wolverhampton and two more against Sunderland. In the three months the Nigerian won the award he scored eleven goals in twelve games. He got 19 in his other 75 for the club; a true master of both finding and losing form.


Mike Franchetti