Category Archives: Remembering Greatness

Remembering Greatness: Ricardo Carvalho

Between the early 00’s and mid 2010’s the manager who running football was none other than Jose Mourinho.

Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid all hosted the Portuguese gaffer, and at three of those clubs he made sure that he had the great Ricardo Carvalho with him marshalling the defence for him.

From a period of having flowing locks to essentially going bald, Carvalho was a standout defender wherever he went and always shone, yet he never seemed to get the full credit that he really deserved.

Coming through the FC Porto academy, Carvalho was well known for his excellent tackling and dominant aerial ability. Positionally he was always flawless and he always had leadership qualities that shone through in a team full of quality footballers.

After breaking through into the Porto first-team, he found himself third choice behind the legendary duo of Jorge Andrade and captain Jorge Costa. It wasn’t long until he took the place of the skipper though and formed a tremendous partnership at the heart of the defence as Porto came second in the league.

He lost his place when Mourinho first came to Porto, with Costa earning his place back after Andrade left for Deportivo and partnering Pedro Emmanuel. He soon earned his place back once more though and as Porto went on to win the UEFA Cup by beating Celtic 3-2 after extra-time. His performances were so good that he even earned the individual honours of Porto player of the year and Portuguese League Footballer of the year.

The following year was when Carvalho became a true household name. A regular starter now under Mourinho, he led Porto to a second consecutive Primeira Liga title but also to a stunning win in the UEFA Champions League tournament. During that season he featured in every game during the competition, including the 3-0 final win over Monaco.

His performances were enough to secure him a place in the team of the tournament and earn him a call up to the Portuguese national team for Euro 2004. Once again he was deemed first choice there too as the Seleccao made it to the final, only to be beaten in the final by Greece on home turf.

Carvalho started all six of Portugal’s games, reuniting with Andrade in defence, and he made it into the UEFA team of the tournament, while also finishing ninth in the Ballon d’Or voting for 2004 and being the only defender to finish in the top ten.

He earned himself a big money move to Chelsea that summer, following Mourinho to his next destination. It was there where he formed his most famous partnership alongside Mr. Chelsea, John Terry. Together they were the mainstays in a defence that conceded just 15 goals across the entire league campaign as they won the title, a record that still stands to this day.

The following season they conceded just 22 times as they lifted the title a second time the following year, with Carvalho once again a star. He went on to feature 210 times for the Blues, winning three Premier League titles and two League Cups during his six seasons before opting for a move to Real Madrid – who were managed by Mourinho.

Once again he stepped into the team as a level headed, dominant defender and formed a great partnership alongside Portuguese national team colleague Pepe. In his first season with the club he was indispensable as Madrid won the Copa Del Rey, featuring 48 times across all competitions. In his second year he was first-choice until picking up an injury that kept him out of action.

During that spell Sergio Ramos moved to centre-back, where he would go on to become one of the best ever, and Carvalho lost his place at Madrid from that point onwards. Los Blancos won La Liga in record-breaking fashion that year, before he eventually moved on to Monaco to see out his career.

But during his time in France, he is more remembered for making a return to the national team to win Euro 2016. He started all three group games before being dropped for the knockout stages and his experience and leadership were credited largely within the squad, as the country won their first ever major international honour, beating host nation France in the final in extra time.

A phenomenal defender in his prime he was the perfect foil for his partners. Intelligent and dripping with technique and finesse, Carvalho was also always strong enough physically to never be bullied. He had pace to win foot races, a picture perfect slide tackle and a will to win.

Without a doubt one of the best defenders of his generation, Carvalho will go down as one of his nations best ever and a legend at two different clubs. Remember his greatness.

Remembering Greatness: Oliver Kahn

During my lifetime, when you talk about the greatest goalkeepers to play the game it’s often the same handful of names that crop up in conversation.

Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, Manuel Neuer, Peter Schmeichel and Petr Cech in particular are the guys that tend to be brought up the most, but there are always a couple of names missing. In my eyes, none are more overlooked than the big German shot stopper Oliver Kahn.

A Bayern Munich legend, Kahn ensured his name was written in stone when he won every trophy possible with the Bavarian club but was also successful with his national team.

After starting his career with Karlsruher, Kahn earned himself a move to Bayern in 1994 for a then-record of around €2.5m. He was immediately installed as the starting goalkeeper after some great performances for his previous side, including helping the side to get through to a UEFA Cup semi-final after battering a Valencia side 7-0 during the tournament.

He suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his knee which saw him miss six months of action in the campaign but still managed to make 30 appearances for the club and earned himself a call up to the German national team for his debut.

His first trophy came at the end of his second season, as despite finishing second in the Bundesliga they were able to beat Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup final 5-1 on aggregate with Kahn keeping a clean sheet in the first leg.

His third campaign was mightily successful, as he won his first Bundesliga title with a string of top performances earning him 14 clean sheets and the goalkeeper of the year award. In between the two campaigns Kahn was called up the German national team as part of the squad that won Euro 96, although he made no appearances his mentality was praised by first choice goalkeeper Andreas Köpke for keeping him on his toes throughout.

Fantastic performances and standards continued with Bayern Munich as they won the title again in 98/99, while also reaching the UEFA Champions League final. During that European campaign, Kahn played in all 13 fixtures and conceded ten goals before the final which was famously lost because of two injury time Manchester United goals.

Kahn was famously distraught after the game, laying on the ground in tears surrounded by his defenders, but it was his famed mental strength that helped him to get back up again and continue to succeed in his career. Later that year he was named as the World’s Best Goalkeeper by the IFFHS.

He even managed to redeem himself just two seasons later when Bayern made it to another final, this time against Valencia. In a game decided by penalties during the game and after it, a 1-1 draw led to a shootout where Khan stood victorious by saving three Valencia penalties to win the game for his side.

Remembering his defeat in 99, the iconic image of Khan consoling a distraught Santiago Canizares while his teammates celebrated on the pitch to this day shows the magnitude of the man that the German was.

‘Der Titan’ perfectly summed up his style and persona too, as he won eight Bundesliga titles throughout his career and six DFB-Pokal cups to go with his Champions League title.

Oliver Kahn of Germany wins the adidas Golden Ball award during the 2002 FIFA World Player Gala at the Palacio de Congresos on 17th December 2002 in...

His aggressive approach demanded quality and focus at all time and Khan was well known for letting his defenders know his feelings if things didn’t go as they were supposed to. But it was that clamour for perfection that made him the first and only goalkeeper to be crowned UEFA’s Best Goalkeeper for four consecutive years.

His international career as a starter never quite hit the heights of winning a tournament, but he was still absolutely influential in the success Germany did have.

At the 2002 World Cup, Khan was captain and a starter in every game conceding just one goal en route to the final. Coming up against R9’s Brazil, Kahn demanded to play in the final despite having torn ligaments in his finger. His error led to Ronaldo’s opening goal, as he fumbled a Rivaldo shot into the striker’s path as Brazil won the final 2-0.

Despite that, Kahn refused to blame the injury and his performances earned him the honour of being the first and only goalkeeper in history to win the Golden Ball – ahead of Ronaldo. In 2001 and 2002 he finished in third place of the Ballon d’Or too and was named in the FIFA 100 list by Pele back in 2004, such was his standing in the game.

Tremendous reflexes, great power, a great throw to start counter-attacks, unrivalled leadership and mentality and one of the most commanding goalkeepers of all-time. The next time there is a conversation about the best goalkeepers ever, remember Oliver Kahn’s greatness.

Remembering Greatness: Alessandro Nesta

Behind every great winning team is a world class defence. Within that world class defence, there is usually one stand-out defender in the team holding it all together.

In every team Alessandro Nesta was in, he made up a large chunk of that solidity with his brilliance. Yet despite winning everything there was to win he’s often overlooked when we discuss the absolute best defenders that we’ve ever seen.

I’ve made it my personal mission to remind everyone just how good Nesta was once upon a time and why he is my personal favourite central defender of all-time.

Nesta’s career started at Lazio, where he played through the youth system as a striker and then a midfielder before eventually settling down as a centre back. His place in ‘The Eagles’ academy came after an offer from Roma was rejected by his father, a lifelong Lazio fan.

He made his debut in the back end of the 1993/94 season as a substitute, but by the time 1997 rolled around Sven-Goran Eriksson had appointed the 21-year-old as the captain of the side. After two full seasons, Lazio were now ready to push for trophies and it was him that was entrusted to lead a pack of players including Roberto Mancini, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Pavel Nedved and Alen Boksic.

That season Lazio were in the race for the treble but they lost their last six games in Serie A to finish fourth, ten points behind eventual winners Juventus. They also made it to the UEFA Cup final but were beaten 3-0 by Inter Milan, although Nesta earned the first trophy of his career by scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final.

He’d go on to be crowned the Young Player of the Year in 1998 as an honour to his performances and his time at Lazio would only bring more success. Despite a serious knee injury picked up during the 1998 World Cup meaning he missed half the season, he returned to captain the side through a title race that would see them miss out on the crown by a single point on the final day.

They did however earn the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup with a win over Mallorca and then go on to beat treble winners Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the following season, thanks to a Marcelo Salas strike.

That campaign would be the best of Nesta’s Lazio career, as he would lead the team to victory in the 2000 Coppa Italia final over Inter as well as becoming Serie A champions for the first time in his illustrious career thanks to a final day victory over Reggina. Lazio would win the next edition of the Italian Supercoppa as Nesta won the final trophy of six during his spell in Rome.

Financial troubles and stellar performances would see him picked up by AC Milan in 2002 for €31million. He’d join a defence alongside Paulo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta to form one of the most feared back lines in Europe and earned instant success.

The Rossoneri finished third in Serie A but were successful in winning the double, trumping AS Roma 6-3 on aggregate in the Coppa Italia before winning the UEFA Champions League on penalties against Juventus, with Nesta scoring the fourth penalty. He was named the defender of the year and named in the UEFA team of the year, highlighting his performances.

The following year his performances alongside the addition of Cafu to the side helped the team to be crowned champions of Italy. Nesta made 38 appearances across all competitions as he was named in the UEFA team of the year for a third consecutive season ahead of Euro 2004, where Italy were eliminated at the group stages following some disappointing displays in front of goal.

Dutch centre half Jaap Stam then joined and former a formidable partnership, as Milan won the Italian Supercoppa before making two Champions League finals in three years between 2005 and 2007.

Unfortunately for Nesta he will be remembered for being part of the Milan side who blew a 3-0 lead to Liverpool in Istanbul, but he was also instrumental at the heart of the defence as they avenged that defeat two years later in Athens.

That final would come a year after Nesta won the World Cup with Italy in Germany. Nesta was first-choice alongside Fabio Cannavaro but picked up a knee injury in the group stages that would rule him out of the remainder of the tournament. As Italy went on to win the tournament, his partner Cannavaro would end up winning the Ballon d’Or following Juventus’ title that went with it, showing just how much extra work he needed to put in without Nesta.

Injuries began to affect the tail end of his career, but that didn’t stop him having one more top class season in 2010 and 2011. Milan won the league once again and then won the Supercoppa at the start of the following season as Nesta continued to be a regular in the side.

Alongside Thiago Silva the club conceded just 24 goals in 38 Serie A games on their way to the title, with Nesta postponing his planned retirement by a season and being named in the team of the year. His added title took his tally up to 326 games for the club with ten trophies won in ten seasons.

Sport, Football, FIFA World Cup Final, Berlin, 9th July 2006, Italy 1 v France 1, , Italy won 5-3 on Penalties, Italy's Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro...

He ended his career playing in the MLS with Canadian outfit Montreal Impact, winning the Canadian title in 2013.

His career is one of the best, with trophies at all his clubs but also a legacy. He is one of the most artistic defenders the game has seen, with brilliant tackling and raw power to match his gazelle like speed and agility. He was also brilliant in the air at 6ft 2 but unlike the defenders of today he didn’t care for being a threat in the opposition box, it was all about stopping goals going in against him.

Nesta led the way for defenders from a young age and for my money is the best Italian centre-back of his generation, despite the accolades some others may have. Remember his greatness next time there’s a debate happening.

Remembering Greatness: Lilian Thuram

When you think back to the legendary French national team back in the late nineties and early 00’s, one thing they were built off was a solid defence.

Along with the elegance of Zinedine Zidane in midfield and the explosive technique of Christophe Dugarry and Youri Djorkaeff in attack, in addition to the youthful energy and skill of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, they were able to field a defence that was complete with everything you’d ask for.

One of the stand-out performers of that golden generation was right-back and absolute unit Lilian Thuram.

Standing at 6ft tall, Thuram was a physical defender who used those gifts to great effect constantly. He had fantastic pace, excellent strength, a brilliant football brain and was a leader throughout his career, winning a trophy at every club he played for as well as at international level.

He started off with AS Monaco in Ligue 1 as a teenager and after a couple of seasons as a back-up squad player, he finally broke into the team as a regular in the right-back position. In that first season with Monaco he won the Coupe de Ligue, although he wasn’t selected to play in that game by a certain Arsene Wenger.

He would go on to make 193 appearances for the French giants, while making his international debut in 1994. He also competed in Euro 1996, starting four out of five of France’s fixtures as they went out in the semi-finals on penalties after conceding just two goals throughout the tournament.

Those performances would earn him a high-profile move to Parma in Serie A, as he became part of their legendary team filled with talent such as Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo.

PARMA TEAM SHOT, NESTOR SENSINI, FABIO MUSSI, ALAIN BOGHOSSIAN, LILIAM THURAM, GIANLUIGI BUFFON, JUAN SEBASTIAN VERON, FAUSTINO ASPRILLA, ANTONIO...

He made over 200 appearances for the club and won three trophies during his time in the famous yellow and blue shirt, all of which came in 1999. An excellent campaign saw Parma do the double, winning the Coppa Italia on away goals after drawing 3-3 with Fiorentina over two legs, before lifting the UEFA Cup thanks to a 3-0 win over Marseille in Moscow.

Thuram became a stalwart of the team and was a leader of the changing room as they went on to win the Supercoppa Italiana with a 2-1 win over league champions AC Milan, with Thuram captaining the team as one of the three centre-backs.

While he never lifted the Serie A title with Parma, many regard that period of his career as the best despite the trophies that would follow at club level. Not only did he do brilliantly with the Italian side, but he was magnificent as France dominated the international scene too.

Continuing in his right-back role with the national team, France won the 1998 World Cup with Thuram starting six out of seven games and the team conceding just once with him in the team. That goal came in the semi-final against Croatia, where Thuram played Davor Suker onside to allow them to take the lead. He made amends for losing that perfect record however by scoring twice to send Les Bleus through to the final – his only two international goals.

At Euro 2000 he was just as influential and important, starting five out of six games and completing every minute of each of those games. In fact, the only minutes he missed during the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 were when he was rested in the third group game of both tournaments with France already qualified, such was his importance.

The following season with Parma would go on to be his last as he led the team to a fourth place league finish and a Coppa Italia final, where they were beaten by Fiorentina 2-1 on aggregate.

His phenomenal reputation and ability earned him a move to Serie A heavyweights Juventus, who took him and Buffon at the same time for a deal that would be worth around €41million today.

The move saw him final claim some of the many titles his ability deserved, as he racked up four Scudetto’s (although two were later revoked due to the match-fixing scandal) and two Italian Supercoppa’s in five years at the club.

Once again playing as a right-back under Marcelo Lippi and then Fabio Capello, Thuram showed the world that while he was known as a no-nonsense central defender that had shone as one of the best around in the toughest defensive era, he could go both ways.

He continued to use his pace and intelligence to overlap and cause problems for opposition defenders in a team that dominated the bulk of possession and he was able to adapt brilliantly.

French players Christophe Dugarry, Lilian Thuram, and Robert Pires celebrate with their trophy after winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup 3-0 against...

Thuram was an ever-present in the team that made it all the way to the 2003 UEFA Champions League final, where they were beaten by Serie A rivals AC Milan on penalties at Old Trafford.

After the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football, Thuram was coming to the end of his career at 34 years old. That didn’t stop the top clubs wanting him however, as European champions Barcelona paid €5m to bring him to Spain.

There he would act largely as back up to Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito at centre-back with his pace now not what it once was. It was a transitional period for Los Cules and while they didn’t win La Liga during his time at the club, he was part of the club that won the Super Cup in 2006 – playing one half of the second leg in a 4-0 aggregate win.

Thuram would retire at the end of his two year spell as the third player to hit 100 international caps and most capped French player every with 142 caps to his name, with a record of having won everywhere he went.

Without a doubt one of the best pure defenders the modern game has ever seen, but also one of the most underrated attacking full-back to play the game too. One of France’s greatest ever exports, remember Lilian Thuram’s greatness next time you’re talking about all-time great defenders.

Remembering Greatness: Denis Irwin

Think about the current world of football and the full-back position. How demanding it is, how much quality is needed both defensively and going forward, how fit you need to be to play it at a high level, how much quality you need on the ball.

Now look at the most successful team in England over the last 30 years and look at who their starting left-back was and appreciate just how good Denis Irwin was.

The Republic of Ireland international was the man on the left for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side throughout the nineties and early 00’s but is so often overlooked when it comes to conversations about great defenders.

After playing for Leeds and Oldham through the eighties, Irwin joined Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson in 1990 as a 25-year-old in the prime of his career for just £625,000.

Over the next 12 years with the club Irwin would lock down the left-back position despite being naturally right-footed for the entirety of his Old Trafford career. He would make 529 appearances for the club across all competitions, averaging 44 appearances per season.

One of the greatest, most underrated attributes that a player can have is availability. Irwin was rarely injured and other than this his first ever season as a senior professional he only made less than 25 appearances in all competitions twice throughout his entire career, despite retiring aged 38.

Irwin was part of United’s legendary back four that won the first two instalments of the Premier League, alongside Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Paul Parker. His ability to get up and down the pitch was especially key to the way the team played, with Ryan Giggs often in front of him needing support against opposition defenders but also not the best going backwards.

The Irish international’s ability on the ball is also understated, but it should be remembered that despite being in a team blessed with the talent of the likes of Roy Keane, Giggs and Eric Cantona it was Irwin who was given free-kick and penalty duty by the manager.

He retained that starter role as the rest of the team around him evolved, as the Class of 92 became more prominent and United signed the likes of Ronny Johnsen, Jaap Stam and Henning Berg to play in central defence too.

His brilliant performances and unmatched consistency saw him keep the younger Phil Neville out of the team as United won seven out of nine Premier League titles during his time at the club.

26th MAY 1999. UEFA Champions League Final. Barcelona, Spain. Manchester United 2 v Bayern Munich 1. Manchester United's Denis Irwin lifts the European trophy. : News Photo

His trademark season was obviously the 98/99 season as Manchester United captured the treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in a single campaign. Irwin would make 48 appearances across all competitions that year, showing his importance to the side.

He would leave Old Trafford in 2002 after yet another title, moving to Wolves to be reunited with former United teammate Paul Ince.

Despite dropping down a division and being 36 years old, Irwin was a key cog in the team that won the First Division and were promoted to the Premier League. He was so important in that team that he was voted in to the PFA team of the year, making it the fourth time in his career that he was voted in.

A true professional on and off the pitch, Irwin was the definition of an unsung hero. Always ready, a steady 7/10 performer week in and week out, who could do the exact job required of him no matter the opponent.

Whether it was to bank up and defend, man-mark a tricky winger or go on the front foot and bomb forward he had it all in his locker and is without a doubt one of the best full-backs in Premier League history.

Remembering Greatness: Gilberto Silva

Look back at all the greatest teams in history and they all have one thing in common, a dominant force in midfield to glue everything together.

The same can be said for both Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ from the 2003/04 season in the Premier League and the 2002 World Cup winners Brazil. Both teams shared the same man in that key position and have unrivalled success – Gilberto Silva.

A beast of a central midfielder, he had all the attributes you crave as a defensive stalwart in your team but also had the athleticism to chip in going forward when needed.

Interestingly enough, Silva’s rise to prominence came at the 2002 World Cup. He was still playing in his home country for Atletico Mineiro when he was called up to the national team as cover for the captain and star defensive midfielder Emerson.

Rather than change system or set up, Luiz Felipe Scolari trusted the 26-year-old to plug that gap. Gilberto played every minute of every game as Brazil won the tournament for a record fifth time, with his performances described as “carrying the piano on his back that Ronaldo and Rivaldo played their tunes on”.

Brazil's forward Ronaldo (C) and midfielder Gilber : News Photo

The performances were enough to see him labelled as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and that convinced Arsene Wenger to spend £4.5million on bringing him to Europe.

He immediately settled into the team ahead of his international compatriot Edu, forming a formidable partnership alongside Patrick Vieira. Between them, they could physically dominate opposition while also covering ground to help in both directions and being technically tidy enough to keep possession and carve through teams.

Gilberto’s job in the side was simple, beef up the protection in front of the back four and get the ball forward to the more talented attacking players as quickly as possible.

His first season ended with a FA Cup win and runners-up in the league, five points behind Manchester United. But the following season was a historic one in English football.

In 2003/04 Arsenal went the entire season unbeaten, becoming the first English side to do so. Gilberto was key in that run, playing in 32 of 38 league games as well as all eight Champions League games they played that season. Unfortunately for Arsenal, they didn’t win any cup competitions so had to settle for that league title – which would end up being the only title Gilberto won in his career.

The following year he struggled with injury after fracturing his back and only featured 17 times in all competitions before returning the following season. His important to the side was shown, since despite the exit of Vieira to Juventus that summer, Gilberto’s partnership with Cesc Fabregas led the Gunners to a Champions League final against Barcelona.

Although they lost, they played very well and it was two late goals against ten men that won it for Barcelona and meant that Gilberto went trophyless once again.

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Aside from those classic performances for the Gunners, he will also forever go down in history for the club. After they moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, it was the Brazilian who scored the club’s first ever goal at the new stadium in a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.

Following on from there he lost his place in the Arsenal team as a regular, but for Brazil he was still key. He wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Lucio during the 2007 Copa America as Brazil won the tournament, beating Argentina 3-0 in the final. While Gilberto was suspended for the final itself, he played every game up to that point and was key under his idol Dunga.

After a spell with Greek side Panathinaikos he returned to Brazil to finish his career in his homeland where he spoke of winning the Copa Libertadores with his former side Atletico Mineiro. In 2013 he achieved that dream before retiring.

‘The Invisible Wall’ was the glue for all the successful teams he played in. Dominant aerially, a tough tackler, a great reader of the game and a leader. Arsenal wouldn’t have gone unbeaten without him and Brazil wouldn’t have won the World Cup without him. Without a doubt one of the best and most underrated defensive midfielders of his generation. Remember greatness, remember Gilberto Silva.

Remembering Greatness: Cesc Fabregas

It’s not often a player’s greatness is forgotten while they’re still playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues, but that seems to be what has happened to Cesc Fabregas.

The former Premier League, La Liga, European Championship and World Cup winner has got one of the greatest resumes in football, and yet is so often left out of the conversation when it comes to discussing who the best of his generation are.

When it comes to box-to-box midfielders or just outright playmakers, there aren’t many better than the former Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona man.

After signing for Arsenal from the Barcelona academy as a teenager, Fabregas broke into the first-team at the tender age of just 16. He made his debut in the League Cup during the ‘Invincibles’ and scored in a later round in the tournament to become the club’s youngest ever player and goalscorer.

He wasn’t given a league winners medal that season, but in his second year in England as a 17-year-old he established himself as a senior first-team player and an established member of the squad.

He made 46 appearances in all competitions, including 33 games in the Premier League. He became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in a league game and was praised for performances where he was filling in for the injured Patrick Vieira. His performances were enough to earn him a regular place in the side by the end of the season, rotating in and out and he even started the FA Cup final win over Manchester United to earn the first trophy of his career.

His importance only grew along with his reputation, and when Vieira left the club for Juventus Arsene Wenger placed his trust in the young Spaniard. In the first season of him being the first-choice central midfielder, Fabregas took on the famous number 4 shirt at the club and inserted his own style of play on the team.

As a less physical and imposing player than Vieira, Fabregas used intricate passing and incredible technique to dictate the tempo in midfield alongside Gilberto Silva which greatly impressed many especially in Europe.

Fabregas scored and assisted as Arsenal defeated Juventus and Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages en route to reaching the final, where they were beaten by Barcelona thanks to two late goals. His importance, if not already clear, was evident when Jens Lehmann was sent off early on and Wenger decided to take off the experienced Robert Pires instead of the 18-year-old diminutive Spaniard.

Fabregas would go on to become the captain and talisman of the club during his time at the Emirates before a long, drawn out transfer saga with his boyhood club Barcelona saw a move take place in the summer of 2011.

Barça paid £30million while Fabregas agreed to pay Arsenal just under £1m-a-year from his wages to help fund the deal such was his desperation to return.

He came at the end of Pep Guardiola’s run of dominance, but was only used as a bit-part player for the most part. When playing in a central midfield role he didn’t provide the quality that Guardiola was used to from Xavi and Andres Iniesta, which led to Guardiola often using him in one of the more advanced positions as a false 9.

His relationship with Lionel Messi was breathtaking though, as the two La Masia graduates were seemingly always on the same wavelength. Fabregas’ preference for playing the killer ball in behind or through the lines as opposed to Xavi and Iniesta’s way of breaking a team down seemed to suit the Argentine to a tee as he enjoyed the two best goalscoring seasons of his career playing with Fabregas.

When Barcelona brought in Neymar under Gerardo Martino, Fabregas played more times than in any other season at the Camp Nou. Despite all the game time, and finishing the season with 13 goals and 17 assists the Spaniard was unhappy.

He sought a move back to Arsenal but when the club turned down the chance to re-sign him, he ended up signing for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea after asking Barcelona to let him go.

At Stamford Bridge he was used as a more deep-lying playmaker and formed a sensational partnership with striker Diego Costa as he registered 24 assists in all competitions. That season Chelsea won the double as Fabregas won his first Premier League title and League Cup.

At 27-years-old, Fabregas’ body was starting to slow down. He struggled in the next season as Mourinho was sacked and then wasn’t high energy enough for Antonio Conte’s midfield in the 3-4-3 system he deployed. That didn’t stop him securing 15 assists in all competitions that season as Chelsea won the title again, with Fabregas often called upon to unlock tight games from the bench.

His career has dwindled since then, but let it not be forgotten just how good he was.

Fabregas was a key member of the Spain team who pulled off an unprecedented three-peat of international tournaments, winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. It was he who played the killer pass in to Iniesta for the World Cup winning goal, something that will forever go down in his nation’s history.

His tremendous vision, expert passing, wonderful technique and determination despite his diminutive frame made him one of the best central midfielders the Premier League has ever seen. To this day he remains one of just four players to have over 100 assists in the Premier League, but when you break it down his numbers are astonishing.

Ryan Giggs sits top of that chart with 162 assists in 632 games. Frank Lampard is fourth with 102 assists in 609 appearances and Wayne Rooney is third with 103 in 491 appearances. Then you have Fabregas, who sits second with 111 in only 350 appearances in England’s top flight.

The only thing missing from his honours list is a Champions League trophy but that shouldn’t take away from just how good this guy was. For my money, the greatest playmaker the Premier League has ever seen.

His career at the top level started early so also finished early, but Fabregas is a player who should remembered for generations to come.

Remembering Greatness: Edgar Davids

Football in 2021 is defined by statistics and roles on the pitch more than ever before in the past.

There is no such thing as just being a defender, or just being a midfielder any more. Now you’re either a ball-playing defender or a no-nonsense centre back, you could be a box-to-box midfielder who excels defensively or a technical wizard going forward.

It’s all more specific now, but one player from the 90’s and 00’s that fits into any central midfielder role that you want to put him in is Edgar Davids.

A combative defensive midfielder, with the flair and personality of a number ten, Davids represented some of the biggest clubs in Europe and won everything at club level there was to win.

With his flowing dreadlocks he was always a stand-out player on the pitch. He had an ability to make everything look simple and easy. Despite being a defensive midfielder by nature, he had that aura about him that struck fear into the opposition. He was fleet of foot, creative, expressive and an absolute joy to watch.

The best comparison I could possibly give to anyone that hasn’t watched him would be to say he was N’Golo Kante mixed with a bit of Riyad Mahrez. His left foot was special and his attacking skills were great, yet it was defensively where he pulled up most trees in his career.

Football. UEFA Champions League Final. Vienna, Austria. 24th May 1995. Ajax 1 v AC Milan 0. Members of the Ajax team celebrate with the trophy as photographers take their picture. L-R: Finidi George, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen and Nwankwo Kanu. : News Photo

He broke into the Ajax team back in 1991 after joining the club as a 12-year-old, overcoming two previous rejections from the club. His fierce style of play in the middle of the park saw him nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ by Louis van Gaal during his time in Amsterdam and the energy he displayed in the infamous 3-4-3 system helped bring the club a UEFA Champions League title in 1995.

The following year in 1996 when Ajax reached the final once again, Davids missed the first penalty of the shootout as the club went on to lose but he never let that affect his career. It was almost a pillar of what he stood for on the pitch for the rest of his career – keep going, never stop going.

He also helped the Dutch side to three Eredivisie titles, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup before he decided to move on at just 23-years-old having already been part of so much success.

It wasn’t all roses for him when he made the move to Italy initially, joining AC Milan under Oscar Tabarez. Milan struggled and Tabarez was sacked in December, replaced until the end of the season by the legendary Arrigo Sacchi. He made 25 appearances in all competitions as they finished in 11th place, then after just ten appearances under new boss Fabio Capello he was allowed to join rivals Juventus.

The legendary Marcelo Lippi referred to him as “my one-man engine room” and often used him in the centre alongside French playmaker Zinedine Zidane, with the two striking up a super partnership and friendship. Even after Zidane left for Real Madrid, Davids continued to have great success with the Turin side.

He won three Serie A titles, two Supercoppa Italianas and even an Intertoto Cup, while also reaching yet another UEFA Champions League final which he lost on penalties.

Following that loss, Davids found himself on the fringes of the Stadio Delle Alpi and in January 2004 he joined FC Barcelona on loan for the remainder of the season. At this point Frank Rijkaard was under immense pressure, with Los Cules sitting in fifth in La Liga.

Davids’ arrival sparked an upturn in Barca’s fortunes that season and while they didn’t quite make it to the title they did end up finishing in second place behind eventual champions Valencia.

FUSSBALL/HOLLAND - TUERKEI 0:0 : News Photo

Davids completed the trifecta in Serie A by joining Inter Milan after his loan wasn’t made permanent. He only stayed there for a year before joining Tottenham and succeeding in the Premier League during his 18 month stint at the club, finishing in fifth before returning back to Ajax and ending his club career with Barnet as a player-manager.

His international career was also tremendous, representing the Oranje 74 times over 11 years. He was known for being outspoken, once saying in a radio interview that manager Guus Hiddink “had to take his head out of some players’ asses.”

He was named in the team of the tournament at the World Cup 1998 as Holland finished fourth, as well as at Euro 2000 and then in 2004 he was named captain of the national team by the legendary Marco Van Basten.

There are some players that will always be remembered for what they do on the pitch and some will be remembered for reasons nothing to do with football.

Davids is one who will be remembered for skill, tenacity and ability, as well as his trademark dreadlocks and glasses. If there was ever a footballer that defined the ‘streets will remember’ moniker it’s him.

Remembering Greatness: Rivaldo

When you think Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is flair and their legendary number 10 shirt. From Pele and Zico to Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar the famous yellow and green has been filled with greatness since forever.

But one man who is often overlooked when it comes to the greatness of his career and achievements both at club level and international level is the great Rivaldo.

With a wand of a left foot, incredible upper body strength, sublime skill, finesse and brute power to go with his athleticism, Rivaldo is without a doubt one of Brazil’s greatest ever.

At 6ft 1, he was not your average diminutive creator. He was powerful, able to compete in physical battles in an era where defenders got away with a crunching tackle as a “warning shot” early in the game. Much like the legendary winger Garrincha, his bow-leggedness never caused him an issue or stopped him reaching greatness.

He first broke onto the scene in Europe after signing for Deportivo La Coruna from Palmeiras. He wore the blue and white stripes of the La Liga outfit for just one season, but he immediately put everyone on notice by scoring 21 league goals in 41 appearances to be the fourth-highest scorer in the division.

Those performances were enough to seal him a move to the Camp Nou, after Barcelona agreed to pay around £19million for the then 25-year-old with manager Sir Bobby Robson convincing the club to sign him ahead of Liverpool’s Steve McManaman.

He had an immediate impact for Los Cules scoring 19 goals in 34 games in La Liga as the Catalan side claimed a league and Copa Del Rey double. The following year he bettered his league goal tally and matched it in all competitions despite playing in less games as they retained the title.

That 1998/99 season was a special one for Rivaldo as he had played a part in helping his national side to the 1998 World Cup final, only to be beaten in the final by France. He bounced back brilliantly, going on to win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999.

As the best player in the world officially, he was now the proud owner of Brazil and Barcelona’s number ten shirt but that didn’t stop Louis van Gaal trying to move him around on the pitch.

The Dutch coach tried to put him on the left wing rather than his preferred central playmaker role and despite playing a lot of games his own individual performances struggled. That still didn’t stop him from scoring ten Champions League goals en route to the semi-finals but ultimately he ended the campaign trophyless.

That season saw him linked with moves all over Europe, including Manchester United with then captain Roy Keane naming him as the player that he would most like to see come to Old Trafford.

Instead he opted to stay and produced the best season of his career, scoring 36 goals in 53 games in all competitions but that year is most remembered in Rivaldo’s career for the final game of a long campaign.

With Barcelona and Valencia battling it out for the final Champions League spot, the Brazilian took it upon himself to overtake the opposition with a hat-trick that to this day is widely regarded as the best hat-trick of all time. A stunning, swerving free-kick was his first, before some individual skill and his trademark power found the top corner for his second.

Then in the final minute, Rivaldo received the ball with his back to goal on his chest. His first touch flicked the ball upwards rather than to kill it dead and from the edge of the penalty area he hit a jaw-dropping bicycle kick into the bottom corner to secure the vital three points. If you ask the original R10, that is the greatest goal of his career – and he scored plenty of scorchers.

The following year would be his final with Barcelona, scoring 14 goals in 33 games before the return of Louis van Gaal saw a now 30-year-old Rivaldo was allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.

He joined Italian giants AC Milan, who were still in their pomp with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm as boss. Rivaldo wasn’t as explosive or influential as he was during his heyday anymore, scoring just eight times in 40 appearances across a season-and-a-half in which he broke his European hoodoo to win the Champions League as well as the Coppa Italia.

For all the trophies he won at club level, you cannot overlook his international status.

As previously mentioned he reached the final of the 1998 World Cup, being named in the team of the tournament along the way to a runners-up medal. He scored three times in the tournament for Brazil, with only Ronaldo scoring more for his country.

He bounced back from that disappointment the following summer however, helping the Seleccao to retain their Copa America title in 1999. He scored a tournament high five goals, tied with Ronaldo, and was voted as the tournament’s best player having scored twice in the 3-0 win over Uruguay in the final.

The crowning moment of his Brazil career however came in 2002, when he was a key part of the team that was able to claim victory in the World Cup final to give the country a record fifth title. He scored the winner against Turkey in the group stages, a game where he is more remembered for getting someone sent off for feigning injury when a ball was kicked at him.

He also scored the fourth in a 5-2 win over Costa Rica, at a point where the game was swinging in the minnows favour having just come from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 and also scored the second of four in the win over China. He then scored the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Belgium in the round of 16 before equalising for Brazil in the quarter-final game against England after Michael Owen had put the Three Lions ahead.

The semi-finals and final belonged to R9 as he scored all of Brazil’s goals from then on, but without Rivaldo it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have even got that far. Even in the final it was Rivaldo’s shot that was saved by Oliver Kahn to allow Ronaldo to tap in the opener before he dummied the ball and allowed it to run through to Ronaldo for the second too.

Because of the greatness of R9 at the same time as him as well as the greatness that followed with Ronaldinho and Kaka both winning Ballon d’Or’s also before Neymar became one of Brazil’s all-time greats, Rivaldo’s brilliance is often forgotten.

Don’t let him be forgotten, because he is truly one of the absolute best Brazilians to ever grace the game of football.

Remembering Greatness: Deco

In a generation where the best Brazilian born players were almost exclusively top level creative midfielders, Deco is probably the one who got away.

The former Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea man represented Portugal at international level eventually and he made a name for himself on the European stage at club level and also with the national team that he played for strictly through FIFA’s citizenship rules.

A gifted playmaker, Deco had it all and won it all during his time in three of Europe’s best leagues. League titles in three different top European countries, two UEFA Champions League titles as well as several domestic cups.

Deco’s early career was plagued with injuries. After moving from Brazil over to Portugal as a youngster, he was in the Benfica academy and hailed as the eventual successor to the legendary Manuel Rui Costa.

His dribbling and passing range were similar, but he never quite had the mobility or pace of the the winger, and thus was instead used centrally in a midfield role rather than as a forward. After struggling to overcome fitness problems and being released by the Lisbon club, he spent one year at lowly Salguieros before signing for FC Porto.

This transfer was eventually labelled as a “historical mistake” by fans due to the success he had with the Dragões. The player himself blames Graeme Souness for his departure, telling former striker Nuno Gomes in an interview, “Benfica decided, it wasn’t my decision. They didn’t want me. The coach was Graeme Souness at the time. I was young and Benfica needed some players.

Once arriving at FC Porto in 1999, Deco was installed as a regular starter in his second season but it was in his final three seasons where he became a legend at the club.

In 2001/02 he scored a career high 19 goals from midfield as Porto came third, seven points behind champions Sporting CP. The following two years were the most successful of his time in Portugal though and where he gained the name and reputation that would follow him for the rest of his career.

He would win the next two Primeira Liga titles but in 2003/04 was when he really became a star. At 26-years-old, he would score four and register 29 assists in 45 games as Porto won the title but also shocked the world by winning the Champions League.

Ten of those 29 assists came in the 12 Champions League games that season, and he also scored in the final as they defeated Monaco. He would follow manager Jose Mourinho out of the club that summer, but while Mourinho went to Chelsea as ‘the special one’ Deco joined the Catalan side to go up to the next level in a £15m + Ricardo Quaresma deal.

Once again the deal was met with scepticism, with Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho the main man at the club and Barcelona not really tending to play with a natural number ten.

Manager Frank Rijkaard opted to use Deco as the most offensive player in a three-man midfield and it was the Portuguese man’s work rate and willingness to press that shocked worried fans the most. His performances were exceptional as he formed a wonderful partnership with Ronaldinho and striker Samuel Eto’o that powered his side to two La Liga titles and a Champions League during his four years with the side.

He accrued 20 goals and 45 assists in 161 games for the club – numbers that don’t exactly jump out at you. But that’s exactly why he’s in this series; to be remembered for his greatness.

Let us remember that in 2004, the year he won the Champions League final with Porto and made the final of Euro 2004 with Portugal that he finished as the runner-up to Andriy Shevchenko in the Ballon d’Or and ahead of new teammate Ronaldinho in the voting.

Once Pep Guardiola arrived at the Camp Nou and placed a greater emphasis on youth with the promotion of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to the first-team, Deco eventually did move to Stamford Bridge.

He joined up with former Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari and made an immediate impact, winning the Premier League player of the month at the first attempt. When Scolari was sacked later that season, he lost his place and asked to leave but once Carlo Ancelotti joined – he was able to become a regular once more.

Under Ancelotti he was used as a number ten once again in a diamond formation and also in a three-man midfield once again in a squad full of options. He played a big part in winning the double that season, with 28 appearances in all competitions before returning to Brazil to finish his career with Fluminese.

In an era now where an attacking player’s impact is seemingly only recognised because of their numbers when it comes to goal involvements, Deco is not that man. 74 goals and 150 assists in 482 career club appearances don’t exactly shine through.

Despite that, he is fondly remembered at two European giants for his role in their success during his time at the club and is arguably the best Brazilian-born playmaker to never wear the famous yellow and green.