Category Archives: Premier League Files

Premier League Files: Paulo Wanchope

Premier League Career: Derby County (1997-1999), West Ham United (1999-2000), Manchester City (2000-2001, 2003-2004)

Costa Rican Paulo Wanchope was an enigmatic forward who could do amazing things one minute, then completely frustrate you the very next. However, he will still go down as having one of the most amazing debuts in the Premier League.

He joined Derby County in March 1997, costing the club £600,000. His debut would come at Old Trafford against current champions and league leaders Manchester United. Unless you really knew your football, few would have heard of the name Paulo Wanchope at kick-off. It was a completely different story by the full-time whistle.

Derby were already 1-0 up when Wanchope took possession inside his own half. He went on to beat no fewer than four Manchester United players with a gangling, but decisive run through their backline before calmly placing the ball beyond the advancing Peter Schmeichel. It was a moment that Derby supporters would never forget and was actually voted the greatest goal in the club’s history during their 125th anniversary celebrations.

Part of an impressive attacking line-up under Jim Smith’s tenure at Derby, Wanchope combined brilliantly with the likes of Dean Sturridge, Stefano Eranio and Francesco Baiano. He scored another 21 Premier League goals for the club, including a goal to send Arsenal to their first defeat of their 1997-1998 title-winning campaign.

In July 1999, Derby decided to cash in on Wanchope as his form had started to dip in the final months of the previous season. He joined West Ham United for £3.5 million and formed a formidable partnership with the charismatic Paolo di Canio. Between them, they scored 31 times in the Premier League as West Ham United finished ninth. In 1999-2000, Wanchope scored 12 league goals but the Hammers faithful never quite took to him as the supporters did at Derby.

When Freddie Kanoute and Davor Sukur both arrived at Upton Park in the summer of 2000, Wanchope was sold to newly-promoted Manchester City for £3.65 million and made a swift impression for his new side, scoring a hat-trick in their 4-2 victory over Sunderland. This was in Manchester City’s first top-flight game at Maine Road in over four years. He added another six goals but couldn’t prevent Joe Royle’s side slipping out of the top-flight after just a single season back amongst the elite.

He stayed with the Citizens in the First Division and despite injury setbacks; he scored 12 times in just 15 appearances to help them to the title and an immediate return to the Premier League. Unfortunately, a knee injury was now hurting his career. He spent the entire 2002-2003 season on the treatment table and was a bit-part player on his return with Kevin Keegan having the services of Nicolas Anelka and Robbie Fowler on his books.

Nevertheless, Wanchope still scored six times in 2003-2004, including a crucial winning goal at home to Newcastle United that effectively kept the club in the Premier League after severe threats against relegation. He moved to La Liga in the summer of 2004, signing for Malaga. Further spells came in Qatar, Japan and the United States before retiring in November 2007, citing his knee problems as the decisive factor in not being able to demonstrate his best form.

He moved into coaching and even had a spell as national team manager of Costa Rica but resigned in 2015 after video footage emerged of him hitting a match steward.

When fit, Paulo Wanchope had an excellent goalscoring pedigree and Derby County supporters will never forget that incredible debut bow in April 1997 at Old Trafford.


Premier League Files: Gheorghe Popescu

Premier League Career: Tottenham Hotspur (1994-1995)

A former captain of Barcelona, Gheorghe Popescu was one of the key players from the bright Romania team that was one of the most thrilling international sides to watch in the 1990s. The brother-in-law of fellow Romanian great Gheorghe Hagi, Popescu featured in several top European leagues, including Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga.

He only had one season in the Premier League but it was an impressive campaign in north London with Tottenham Hotspur. Plus, he will always have a positive spot in the hearts of Tottenham fans for scoring a winning goal in a North London Derby.

Before his Tottenham spell, Popescu had reached the semi-finals of the European Cup with Steaua Bucharest in 1988 at a time when Romanian clubs enjoyed greater success in European competition. He was signed by Sir Bobby Robson in 1990 for PSV Eindhoven and spent four years of largely qualified success in Dutch football.

After his excellent performances at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States, he was signed by Tottenham’s flamboyant manager, Ossie Ardiles in September of that year for £2.9 million. Ardiles was known for his attacking flair and his lack of defending principles. However, Popescu’s signing was seen as a potential change in his thinking. His experience and tactical knowledge would see him operate mainly in a defensive midfield role, shielding central defenders Colin Calderwood and Sol Campbell.

On New Years’ Day 1995, Popescu scored the only goal as Tottenham beat Arsenal 1-0 at White Hart Lane. By now, Gerry Francis had succeeded Ardiles as manager and he helped maximise the potential of Popescu, who added another two further strikes as Tottenham finished seventh and above the Gunners in the table for the last time until the 2016-2017 campaign.

The lure of Barcelona though was too much for Popescu and he moved for £3 million in the summer of 1995 to replace the ageing Ronald Koeman in the team. He was reunited again with Robson, who made him his captain and helped Barcelona to a Copa del Rey and Cup Winners’ Cup double in 1997.

Deemed surplus to requirements by Louis van Gaal, Popescu’s next move was to Galatasaray. He spent four years in Istanbul, winning more trophies and the UEFA Cup in 2000, when Galatasaray defeated Arsenal in a penalty shootout. Further spells followed with Leece in Italy and an eight-game stint with Dinamo Bucharest in his homeland. He retired in 2003 after one season in the Bundesliga with Hannover 96.

He won the Romanian Footballer of the Year award six times and won over 100 international caps for his country.

However, in 2014, Popescu was sentenced to a three-year sentence in jail after being found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering in connection with the transfers of football players from Romania to other countries. At the time, he was the favourite to become the next president of the Romanian FA.

It was an unsavoury conclusion to a life in football which made him an idol in his home country and a key figure for some of Europe’s most senior clubs.

Premier League Files: Dane Whitehouse

Premier League Career: Sheffield United (1992-1994)

Dane Whitehouse was a one-club man throughout his career. He figured for Sheffield United in the very first two seasons of Premier League football and continued to play for them until 1997. A committed left-winger, Whitehouse also filled in regularly at left-back and often gave sterling performances.

He signed professionally for the Yorkshire side in July 1987 and a year later, made his professional debut against Blackpool aged just 18. It wasn’t until the 1991-1992 season that Whitehouse became a regular figure in the starting XI at Bramwall Lane. He scored three goals that season in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, injuries restricted him to just 14 appearances in the very first season of the Premier League. His debut came in a win over Liverpool FC in September 1992 and he still scored five goals, including a double on the final day in a 4-2 victory against Chelsea.

Despite collecting 10 yellow cards in 1993-1994, Whitehouse was one of the Blades’ key players that season. He only missed four league matches, scoring five times including in a crucial win against relegation rivals Oldham Athletic. In March 1994, Dane struck a genuine contender for Goal of the Season against West Ham United. Trailing 2-0 early on in a game they needed to win to stay in touch with the other relegation scrappers, the ball dropped to Whitehouse outside the penalty area. He launched a blistering drive that flew into the net from nearly 30-yards out. Sadly, that was to be his last goal at this level. An agonising 3-2 loss to Chelsea on the final day sent Sheffield United crashing out of the Premier League as results went against them.

Although several Premier League sides were interested in recruiting Whitehouse, he stayed loyal to the team he had supported from birth. In November 1997, Whitehouse’s career came to a shuddering halt against Port Vale. He was victim to a crude challenge from Gareth Ainsworth which left him with a serious knee injury. Despite attempting to regain full fitness, he had to admit defeat in his battle to return to the pitch and retired at the start of the millennium. Ainsworth has since admitted: “I sent him a letter when I knew it was a serious injury. There was no reply. Obviously, I do feel bad it was me in the tackle. But you never mean to end anyone’s career.”

Premier League Files: Mikael Forssell

Premier League Career: Chelsea (1998-1999, 2001-2002, 2005), Birmingham City (2003-2004, 2007-2008)

Still playing in his home country for HIFK Fotboll, Mikael Forssell didn’t win any major honours in the English game but he was a talented forward who knew where the back of the net was. He was an example to how fruitful the loan system can be when he scored 17 goals for Birmingham City in the 2003-2004 campaign.

Although he was born in Germany, Forssell came through the youth ranks with Finnish team HJK Helsinki and he made his professional debut for them in 1997. Just when it looked like he would continue his education in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea were quick to bring him into their team a year later. Managed at the time by Gianluca Vialli, he was the perfect mentor for Forssell to learn his trade, given Vialli’s experience at the highest level. He made his Premier League debut in January 1999 against Arsenal as a substitute and scored his first top-flight goal later that season away to Nottingham Forest.

Vialli’s expensive purchase of Chris Sutton for the 1999-2000 season pushed Forssell down the pecking order. He would go out on-loan for the next two seasons to Crystal Palace, scoring 16 league goals in just over 50 appearances. He returned to Chelsea and figured around their first-team squad in 2001-2002. Now managed by Claudio Ranieri, he featured 22 times that season and scored four Premier League goals. However, he was still largely a substitute with the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Gianfranco Zola often selected ahead of this raw talent.

He went out on-loan again in the spring of 2003, scoring seven times for Borussia Monchengladbach in just 16 matches and keeping them clear of relegation danger. He returned to England that summer and made another temporary move, this time to Birmingham City. It was here where Forssell really sparkled. He scored 17 times in the Premier League and only Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Louis Saha and Ruud van Nistelrooy managed a higher goal tally that season. Birmingham finished in the top 10 thanks to his predatory instincts infront of goal. One criticism was his lack of team play at home to Leeds United in March 2004. Birmingham were already 3-1 up and Bryan Hughes had scored twice. When the Blues were awarded a penalty, Hughes wanted to take it to complete the first hat-trick of his club career. Regular penalty-taker Forssell was not interested and Hughes was seen storming away in frustration at not being given this opportunity. Luckily, Forssell converted the spot-kick.

He returned to Birmingham for another loan campaign in 2004-2005 but sustained a serious knee injury away at Middlesbrough in September. Steve Bruce had little choice but to cancel the loan agreement due to the lengthy spell he was going to experience on the sidelines. He returned to Chelsea to recuperate and even played a part in the club’s final home match of the season, a 1-0 victory over Charlton Athletic. Although he could take part in the team’s celebrations of winning their first top-flight title in 50 years, this was his solitary league appearance for Chelsea, so he didn’t qualify for a championship-winning medal.

Jose Mourinho decided the forward did not fit into his long-term plans and when Everton withdrew from a potential deal because of concerns over his fitness, Birmingham paid Chelsea £3 million to sign him in the summer of 2005. Unfortunately, more knee problems meant he was never quite the same player that scored all those goals in his first loan season in the Midlands. He did score his first hat-trick at club level against Tottenham Hotspur in March 2008 and scored nine times in 2007-2008 but couldn’t stop Birmingham sliding to a second Premier League demise in just three campaigns.

He has since played for Hannover 96, Leeds United and VfL Bochum along with two separate spells back at HJK Helsinki. He won 87 caps for his country, scoring 29 times between 1999 and 2014.

There was talent in Mikael Forssell’s game and it is impressive to see him still playing at the age of 36 but his career could have gone better if it hadn’t been for his constant knee problems.

Premier League Files: Emmanuel Petit

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1997-2000), Chelsea (2001-2004)

Arsenal’s first Premier League title success in 1997-1998 was built around a strong defensive core unit. Whilst Arsene Wenger might have been slightly fortunate to inherit the famous Arsenal defence of Seaman, Bould, Adams, Dixon, Winterburn and Keown, his signings of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit was crucial in helping the Gunners get the better of Manchester United.

Some of Petit’s game wasn’t pretty. He would often break play up, foul players to stop counter-attacks and ensure referees got a hard time from him too. Nevertheless, he was still an excellent player whose partnership with Vieira remains one of the best central midfield combinations in Premier League history. He also was part of the French squad that won back-to-back major international competitions, scoring the third goal in the 1998 World Cup final.

Petit’s connections with Arsene Wenger went back before their link-up at Arsenal. He was signed by Wenger when just 18. Arsene was the manager of AS Monaco at the time and he would spend nine years in the Principality, appearing 222 times, scoring four goals. During his time with Monaco, he captained them to the French league title in 1997 and also played in the 1992 European Cup Winners’ Cup final when Monaco were beaten by German side SV Werder Bremen.

It was Jean Tigana who was manager when Petit won the league with Monaco and it became clear that he would move on to pastures new in the summer of 1997. Scottish champions Rangers were interested in signing him but the lure of working for Wenger again was simply too hard for Petit for ignore. He joined Arsenal for £2.5 million and Wenger immediately switched him from a box-to-box to defensive-minded player. It was a shrewd move.

Despite being red-carded in a goalless draw with Aston Villa in October 1997 for shoving referee Paul Durkin in an unsportsmanlike manner, Petit was one of Arsenal’s heroes of the season. He settled in very quickly into his new surroundings and his partnership with Vieira was a real plus point for all supporters. As the season wore on, he got stronger and stronger as Wenger’s team erased an 11-point margin in the New Year to be crowned champions at the beginning of May. Petit helped Arsenal on their way with a vital home winner from outside the area against Derby County a few days before the title crowning.

1998 was a golden year for Petit. Not only did he win the Premier League title, he also won the FA Cup and then, he played a significant contribution to France’s success on home soil in the World Cup finals. Emmanuel scored a winning goal in the group stages against Denmark, before starting and finishing a swift counter-attack in the final moments of the rather one-sided final in the Stade de France against Brazil. It had been a memorable 12 months for the Frenchman and he showed his caring side later that year when he was fortunate enough to win £17,000 worth of francs on a fruit machine in a Monte Carlo hotel and gave it all to a local charity. Later in 1998, he even played himself as a special guest in the Christmas episode of ITV police drama “The Bill,” visiting parents of a young girl who was recovering from injuries in hospital with flowers and a match ball signed by the team.

No more trophies followed at Arsenal but Petit added another six league goals to his tally, including another cracking goal against Derby County, this time in a 2-1 win at Pride Park in August 1999. He also made the PFA Team of the Year in 1998-1999. However, he moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2000 alongside his club teammate Marc Overmars in a £7 million transfer. That was after helping the French to victory at EURO 2000. His time in Spain was disappointing, as he suffered a number of frustrating injuries and he often played as a makeshift centre-back, something ‘Manu’ was never comfortable with.

After just one season with the Catalans, he returned to English football and London in the summer of 2001, joining Chelsea for £7.5 million who beat Tottenham Hotspur to his services. Petit played 55 times in the Premier League for the Blues. His best time with the club was the 2002-2003 season where he and Frank Lampard were among the core of a settled squad that finished in the top four and secured Champions League football just before Roman Abramovich came in to buy the club. There was also a rare goal away at of all places, Highbury in January 2003 although this did come in a losing cause.

The 2003-2004 campaign was one of immense disappointment for Petit. He was restricted to just four Premier League appearances all term due to a long-standing knee injury. His final appearance in Chelsea colours came in February 2004 in a 3-2 away win at Blackburn Rovers, where he set-up a goal for Lampard in the first half. He was released at the end of the season.

After turning down a summer approach from Bolton Wanderers and realising he wouldn’t return to his peak fitness levels, Petit announced his retirement from the game in January 2005, with the knee problem that was similar to the ones that ended the playing careers of Glenn Hoddle and Marco van Basten. He often appears today as an analyst on French television and is a brand ambassador for online trading broker

When Petit made the decision to retire, Wenger said: “He was fantastic. I feel his home is at Arsenal Football Club. We were lucky at Arsenal to have Petit at the peak of his career. He was a tremendous player.”

Most Arsenal supporters would agree with that.

Premier League Files: Marc Albrighton

Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2009-2014), Leicester City (2014-PRESENT)

Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title triumph in 2015-2016 saw plenty of heroes. Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante stole most of the headlines, there were plenty of unsung players who played such a vital part in the greatest story ever played out in Premier League history.

One of those unsung heroes was Marc Albrighton. The Tamworth-born player figured in every single match that campaign and put in the best performances of a career which has flourished in the colours of the Foxes’ after a frustrating end to his time with Aston Villa. He is also in the Premier League record books for scoring the 20,000th goal in the league’s proud history, achieving this feat against Arsenal in December 2011.

Albrighton could have actually started his career out at West Bromwich Albion, who offered him a trial but ultimately rejected him. Aston Villa took him into their academy at the age of just eight and he would spend the next 17 years within their surroundings. His Premier League breakthrough came in 2009. After featuring prominently in pre-season, he made his debut in the top-flight on the opening weekend at home to Wigan Athletic. Wigan might have won the match 2-0 but this was a proud moment for Albrighton when he came on as a substitute in the second half. A month later, he extended his contract at Villa Park by three years and Martin O’Neill admitted he was impressed by his rapid rate of development.

O’Neill left abruptly before the start of the 2010-2011 campaign but reserve team coach Kevin McDonald had every confidence in Albrighton’s abilities and handed him his first start in the Premier League for the opening day match against West Ham United. Villa won 3-0 and Albrighton caught the eye, setting up two of the goals. His first goal at this level came in a 2-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur two months later and he also found the target with a clinical finish at home to Manchester United when the home side produced one of the best counter-attacking moves of the season.

He returned impressive figures of five goals in 29 appearances in 2010-2011 and would make Premier League history the following season. In December 2011, he scored the equaliser at home to Arsenal and therefore, scored the league’s 20,000th goal. Albrighton won a £20,000 cheque from the league’s sponsors, Barclays which he donated to his chosen charity, the Acorns Children Hospice.

Although Arsenal did end up winning the match 2-1, Albrighton knew the significance of his strike. He told talkSPORT: “It’s something to tell the kids and the grandkids. It is a massive thing; the Premier League is one of the greatest leagues in the world, if not the greatest, so to score the 20,000th goal is definitely special to me.”

Unfortunately, his form started to fade at Villa and a throat operation in the early weeks of the 2013-2014 campaign didn’t help matters. He had a brief one-month loan at Wigan Athletic to help regain match fitness. After returning, he figured 19 times so it was a surprise that the club decided to release him at the end of the season. Leicester City wasted no time in snapping him up from their Midlands rivals.

Initially, he looked like a spare part at Leicester too and struggled to break into the starting XI on a regular basis. That changed nearer the end of the season when manager Nigel Pearson started to integrate wing-backs into his formation. Albrighton was used frequently in this position and he scored twice towards the backend of the campaign as Leicester rallied from bottom of the table at the start of April and seven points adrift of safety to finish 14th, winning seven of their last nine matches.

Pearson was sacked by the club’s owners in the summer and in came Claudio Ranieri. This could have put another stumbling block in Albrighton’s career in a summer where he was hit by a personal tragedy. His partner, Chloe Fulford suffered the terrible loss of her mother in the terrorist attacks in Tunisia in June 2015. This was a dreadful shock to the entire family and was a reminder that football was a secondary matter. It did seem to inspire Marc onto even greater levels of performance and he scored on the opening weekend in the 4-2 win over Sunderland. He pointed straight to the sky in his celebration. It was clear who he dedicated that goal to.

In 2015-2016, Albrighton was part of a regular four-man midfield alongside the energy of Kante, the world-class talents of Mahrez and the revival in the form of Danny Drinkwater. Ranieri later said: “He is a great worker who embodies the spirit of Leicester.”

Even when he was scarified from the start of the game at home to Swansea to combat with a Vardy suspension, Albrighton came on and made a big impact, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory which took Leicester closer to Premier League paradise. He became a title-winner a week later after Tottenham failed to beat outgoing champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Albrighton richly deserved his place in the realms of Premier League winners.

There was more personal success for Marc in 2016-2017. He scored Leicester City’s first-ever goal in the UEFA Champions League, scoring inside six minutes of their Matchday 1 3-0 win away in Belgium over Club Brugge. He later scored in the round-of-16 home leg over Sevilla as Leicester reached the quarter-finals in their maiden Champions League adventure. League form did dip though and reports emerged that Albrighton was one of the main figures to meet the Leicester owner after the first-leg defeat to the Spanish side which ultimately led to Ranieri’s shock sacking as manager.

Albrighton was furious and upset. He put out a strong statement, denying his involvement in Ranieri’s downfall. Part of it read: “At the worst time of my family’s life, the manager helped me achieve something I didn’t think in my wildest dreams would be possible. It helped us to be positive about something when everything was negative.

“The first day I met the manager he told me he believed in me; before the last game of his LCFC reign, he told me the same.

“I will never be truly able to thank him for everything he has helped me achieve and the faith he has shown in me and he knows that I always did my best for him.”

Albrighton has rediscovered his title-winning season form in 2017-2018. He set-up two goals on the opening night in a narrow 4-3 loss to Arsenal and has scored for new manager Claude Puel in positive results against West Ham United and Huddersfield Town.

Marc Albrighton has had to work hard for his success. He had to endure some tricky challenges and always come out of them as a tougher person for these experiences. No-one should forget his role in the 2015-2016 Leicester City fairytale and still only 28, he has plenty more football ahead of him.

Premier League Files: Gunnar Halle

Premier League Career: Oldham Athletic (1992-1994), Leeds United (1996-1999), Bradford City (1999-2001)

Born in Larvik, Norway, Gunnar Halle spent the bulk of his playing career playing in England. He was one of the few foreign players who featured in the opening season of the Premier League and was a constant attacking threat from full-back.

Halle moved into the English game in 1991, joining Oldham Athletic for £280,000. He is often considered as one of the club’s finest players during their two-season spell in the Premier League era. In total, Halle played 212 league games for the Latics and scored 21 times. One of his goals came in the thrilling 4-3 victory over Southampton on the final day in 1993; a victory which saw Oldham protecting their Premier League status at the expense of Crystal Palace.

In the winter of 1996 and with Oldham’s decline well underway, Halle moved down to Yorkshire and joined Leeds United for £500,000. One of George Graham’s first signings, he would compete with the long-serving Gary Kelly at right-back and became a very useful addition to the squad at Elland Road. He played 83 times for Leeds, scoring four goals as they finished fifth and fourth under the stewardship of first Graham, then David O’Leary.

By the summer of 1999, Halle was 34 and Leeds decided to move him onto Yorkshire rivals Bradford City, allowing them to go and sign Danny Mills from relegated Charlton Athletic. Halle cost Bradford £200,000 and turned out for them 70 times, leaving the club one season after their relegation from the top-flight in 2002.

After a short spell with Wolverhampton Wanderers, he returned to Norway to finish his playing days with Lillestrøm. On the international stage for Norway, Halle scored a hat-trick against no-hopers San Marino in the qualification for the 1994 World Cup finals. Gunnar would feature at that World Cup in the United States and also at the 1998 edition in France. He won 64 caps for Norway, retiring in 1999.

Since retirement, Halle has moved into coaching and has served as assistant manager at several of the bigger sides in Norwegian club football, including Molde FK, Viking FK and Lillestrøm. He has also worked alongside former Manchester City forward Uwe Rosler, who is currently the manager of English League One side Fleetwood Town.

Halle is currently the assistant at Strømmen IF, a role he has held since 2013.

Premier League Files: Elano

Premier League Career: Manchester City (2007-2009)

Before Manchester City enjoyed their bounty of richness following the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008, one of their main superstars was the passing expert Elano. The Brazilian wowed City fans with some storming performances in the 2007-2008 season and had an excellent reputation for causing havoc from direct set-pieces. Capped 50 times by Brazil, he had a successful playing career, winning two league titles in Ukraine and several honours in his homeland.

Elano joined the Citizens in August 2007 for £8 million. He arrived after winning the league in both his seasons in Ukrainian football with Shakhtar Donetsk. Allocated the no.11 shirt after this was vacated by current incumbent Darius Vassell, he started life as a Manchester City player in fantastic fashion. He scored a netbusting free-kick against Newcastle United in September 2007 and followed it up with a similar strike at home to Middlesbrough eight days later. He scored eight goals in his debut Premier League season and showed his versatility too, even playing at right-back in a home win over Portsmouth in April 2008.

He started 2008-2009 also in fine form, striking twice in a 3-0 win over West Ham United. However, the acquisition of Shaun Wright-Phillips and fellow compatriot Robinho in the closing days of the summer 2008 transfer window restricted his dominance on the City side. His only remaining goals came from penalties during the season, ending with figures of six goals from 28 appearances.

With the money now pouring in and clearly not a Mark Hughes signing, Elano moved to Galatasaray in July 2009, spending 15 months in Turkey before returning home to Brazil. He stopped playing in 2016 and was most recently the interim manager of former World Club champions, Santos before being sacked on New Years’ Eve 2017.

Premier League Files: Paddy Kenny

Premier League Career: Sheffield United (2006-2007), Queens Park Rangers (2011-2012)

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Paddy Kenny is still operating in the game, now at semi-professional level with Maltby Main, currently playing in the ninth tier of the English league system. He featured in the Premier League for two campaigns with Sheffield United and Queens Park Rangers and was a popular favourite with the current Cardiff City boss, Neil Warnock.

Born in Yorkshire, Kenny began his career with Bradford Park Avenue. He was playing semi-professional at weekends and earning his income in the working week as an engineer. His impressive performances for Bradford PA saw him earn trials at Birmingham City and Bradford City. Warnock eventually snapped him up at Bury as those clubs dithered on signing him in the summer of 1998. His career would be twinned with Warnock’s movements for the bulk of his prime years in football.

After four years at Gigg Lane, he was signed by Warnock again, who was now in charge of Sheffield United. In his first full season at Bramwall Lane, he played a significant part in the Blades’ run to the FA Cup semi-finals, the final four of the League Cup and a spot in the play-off final which ended in a 3-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Promotion was finally achieved to the Premier League in 2006.

In just his fourth Premier League appearance, Kenny saved his first penalty in the top-flight, keeping out an attempt from Lucas Neill in a goalless draw between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers. In the same match, his opposite number, Brad Friedel made two penalty saves. Despite some unsavoury off-field headlines including requiring 12 stitches following a drunken brawl in Halifax in November 2006, he was a key figure in their season back in the Premier League. Despite his best efforts though, Sheffield United were relegated on the final day of the season after losing 2-1 at home to relegation rivals Wigan Athletic.

He stayed in Yorkshire despite Warnock resigning from his position as manager. 2009 would be a real low point in his career. He failed a drugs test following a play-off victory over Preston North End. He admitted later in an interview with the Independent: “I looked back and realised I’d taken these tablets (ChestEze) for a chest infection. I seriously didn’t think about it. In hindsight it was so stupid and clumsy of me. It is a lesson for everyone that you have got to be careful.”

He was banned from all professional football in September 2009 for nine months and had to train in parks rather than training fields. Sheffield United stuck by him and agreed a new contract with the player but he opted to join Queens Park Rangers in the summer of 2010 – managed now by…Neil Warnock!  During his first season at Loftus Road, he achieved promotion again to the Premier League and a Championship title winners’ medal in the bargain. He remained as first-choice goalkeeper on the Hoops’ return to the Premier League elite, keeping seven clean sheets in 33 appearances. QPR retained their Premier League status on the final day of the season despite losing that epic 3-2 clash at Manchester City. For the record, Kenny was the goalkeeper beaten by Sergio Aguero’s dramatic injury-time heroics.

Mark Hughes had replaced Warnock during the 2011-2012 season and he elected to sign Robert Green that summer on a free transfer from West Ham United. That meant Kenny would be deemed surplus to requirements. Warnock was now in charge of Leeds United and guess who he signed…Paddy Kenny! He stayed at Leeds for two years and has also had brief spells with little success at Bolton Wanderers, Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town and Bury for a second time. He won seven caps at international level before retiring in 2007.

Premier League Files: Kevin Doyle

Premier League Career: Reading (2006-2008), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2009-2012), Crystal Palace (2014)

Kevin Doyle retired from football in September 2017 on medical advice after complaining of persistent headaches. During his career, he did give many opposing defenders headaches with his sharp movements and instinctive finishing.

Finishing his career in the MLS with Colorado Rapids, Doyle’s final career total of 128 goals in 490 league appearances is impressive statistics for a player who was plucked from the Republic of Ireland Premier Division into the Premier League limelight with Reading.

Doyle signed his first professional contract in September 2001 with St Patrick’s Athletic as a free agent before joining current Irish champions Cork City 17 months later. He scored 25 goals for Cork and even had a spell playing on the right-wing rather than his usual central position in attack. His impressive performances were noted by Reading and Steve Coppell and they signed him in for a paltry £78,000 in June 2005. It has to be considered one of the finest bits of transfer business in the first decade of the new millennium.

He scored 19 goals as Reading soared to the Championship title and promotion to the Premier League, winning the club’s Player of the Season award and being named as the Fans’ Player of the Year by fellow Championship supporters. The step-up to the Premier League could have been very difficult for Doyle but he took to the new challenge with flying colours. He scored in just his second top-flight appearance in an away defeat to Aston Villa and finished with 13 Premier League goals, including scoring in a run of four successive matches during November 2006. His final tally could have been even greater but for a torn hamstring in mid-January which kept him out of action for two months. Doyle’s form saw him earn a nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year but he ultimately lost out to Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas.

2007-2008 was less successful for player and club. Kevin only found the back of the net six times in 36 appearances and after finishing a fine eighth in their debut Premier League campaign; Reading were relegated on the final day of the season. Despite being heavily linked with a move to Aston Villa in the summer of 2008, Reading held onto Doyle as they seeked an immediate return to the top-flight but they were pipped to automatic promotion by Birmingham City. Play-off defeat to Burnley would ultimately bring down the curtain on Doyle’s career at the Madjeski Stadium.

In June 2009, newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers paid Reading £6.5 million for Doyle’s services. Although he missed pre-season with a hernia, he made his Premier League bow for them in Wolves’ first away game of the campaign; a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. He scored nine times in his debut season at Molineux and his performances saw him voted as the club’s Player of the Season. He managed only nine further league goals across another two seasons as Mick McCarthy often rotated him with Steven Fletcher. One moment that stands out for him was a header to beat Manchester United in February 2011; ending the Red Devils’ 29-match unbeaten run.

Wolves suffered back-to-back relegations and were in League One for the start of the 2013-2014 season. With a dramatic cut in the club’s wages, Doyle was considered too expensive to stay but he stuck around for the first half of the campaign in League One. He eventually left in January 2014, first for a loan spell with Queens Park Rangers, then a final fling in the Premier League with Crystal Palace. Neither club signed him permanently. He would eventually run down his contract with Wolves before departing in the summer of 2015. He was to leave English shores to have a crack playing in the United States with the Colorado Rapids. He would score 16 times in 71 appearances for Colorado. On the international scene, he won 64 caps for the Republic of Ireland and was part of the squad that reached the European Championships in 2012, although they lost every single match in Poland.

After suffering problems with concussion during 2017, Doyle had to make the difficult decision to stop playing. He said: “This year it has been clear to me that heading the ball was becoming problematic and causing me to have repeated headaches. I’m sad to announce that after listening to medical advice I will play no further part this season and will be retiring.”

Lively, energetic and a real pest on his day, Kevin Doyle represented his country with great dignity and was one of Reading’s finest Premier League players.

Premier League Files: Damien Francis

Premier League Career: Wimbledon (1998-2000), Norwich City (2004-2005), Wigan Athletic (2005-2006), Watford (2006-2007)

Jamaican midfielder Damien Francis might have only figured prominently in five Premier League campaigns but he shone at several of his clubs, especially Norwich City and Watford.

Francis’ first Premier League experience came at Wimbledon. He was a supporter of the club as a boy and even operated as a ball boy at Selhurst Park. He began in the Dons’ youth teams as a defender before eventually moving into midfield. One of Francis’ best traits was his versatility. He was a genuine box-to-box midfielder and could cause damage at both ends of the penalty box.

Damien made his Premier League debut with the ‘Crazy Gang’ in 1998 and experienced the Premier League life 11 times before Wimbledon’s demise from the top-flight in 2000. Having continued to shine at First Division level, Francis moved to Norwich City in the summer of 2003. It gave him the chance to escape the clouds that were gathering around his former side. By now, Wimbledon were in administration and in the midst of an unpopular move from south London to Milton Keynes where they would eventually reform as MK Dons.

The £260,000 fee Norwich would pay was a fabulous piece of business. Francis was an integral part of Nigel Worthington’s side that won the Division One title in 2004 and ensured the East Anglian side would return to the Premier League after a 10-year absence.

Even though the Canaries’ struggled and were eventually relegated on the final day of the 2004-2005 campaign, Francis sparkled. He was the club’s top league scorer that season with seven goals. They included a double in the club’s first win of the season at home to Southampton and a winning strike in a 3-2 victory over relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion.

Interest in Francis after Norwich’s relegation was strong. Charlton Athletic, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth were all rumoured to be interested in the player’s services. Only Pompey put in a reported offer but when they couldn’t agree a deal, newly-promoted Wigan Athletic swooped in to sign the midfielder.

His time at Wigan was ultimately a disappointment. He scored just one goal which was a winning strike to defeat Everton at Goodison Park. As the 2005-2006 season progressed, Damien was struggling to even make the bench at the JJB Stadium. Despite Wigan’s top-half finish and run to the League Cup final, he knew he needed to get away and he moved to Watford for a fee of £1.5 million at the start of the 2006-2007 season.

Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd was delighted to be reunited with Francis, who he had worked with at Norwich, saying on his arrival: “I knew Damien from my time at Norwich and he’s a professional right to the end. Things have not happened for him at Wigan and that sometimes happens at some clubs, but I think we’re right for him and he’s right for us.”

He thought he’d scored on his debut at Everton but the Dubious Goals Panel eventually chalked it off and gave it as an Alan Stubbs own goal. Francis was one of Watford’s best performers, scoring four goals and helping the club to the FA Cup semi-finals. However, they always looked like fighting a losing battle against relegation and a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City in April 2007 sealed the club’s fate. It turned out to be a shattering day in Francis’ professional career. He injured cruciate knee ligaments which would keep him out for six months. Several setbacks followed and after further medical advice, Francis was forced to retire professionally in October 2008, aged just 28.

He stayed in football, beginning a different journey as a football agent and consultant. He has worked with several talented prospects especially in Belgium such as Julien Ngoy who is now on the books at Stoke City and just recently joined Walsall on-loan for the rest of the season.

His career ended far too soon but Damien Francis has shown great character to go down a different path and we might be hearing his name again in the future helping conduct transfer business rather than being the subject of a player transfer.

Premier League Files: Gary Breen

Premier League Career: Coventry City (1997-2001), West Ham United (2002-2003), Sunderland (2003-2006)

Centre-back Gary Breen spent the whole of his footballing career playing in England. However, his story could have taken a totally different direction if he’d made the move to Inter Milan in 2002. The Serie A giants were seriously interested in Breen’s services after a stellar 2002 World Cup finals for the Republic of Ireland. Ultimately, three Premier League relegations on his CV might indicate his career wasn’t the best but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Breen was often a shining light in teams that would always struggle against survival in the top-flight.

Breen started his professional career at Charlton Athletic but never made the first-team grade with the Addicks. He would then join Maidstone United in 1991 and then followed a season with them with spells at Gillingham and Birmingham City. Gordon Strachan was impressed by his mature displays at Birmingham and it was the Sky Blues who would bring Gary into the top-flight, paying Birmingham £2.5 million. There was an embarrassing own goal in one of his first appearances for the Midlands side at Old Trafford but Breen settled down quickly and would form a strong partnership at the centre of the Coventry defence alongside Richard Shaw.

He would spend five seasons at Highfield Road and won Coventry’s Player of the Year in 2001, despite their relegation from the Premier League. Still one of the club’s top-earners in Division One, he was released to balance the books before the 2002 World Cup. His dependable performances were noted by several club teams. Breen played every single minute and even scored in the Republic of Ireland’s 3-0 victory over Saudi Arabia that sealed their place in the knockout stages. No fewer than nine clubs made offers for the free agent and it was Inter Milan who led the queue. Heartbreak though would follow for Breen. He admitted in a 2016 interview: “Prior to the Spain game, I had agreed a deal with Inter Milan. When we got back to Dublin, I flew out to Milan, I had the medical, failed the medical, and I still haven’t got over it.”

A knee injury was to blame and perhaps Inter were sensing what would ultimately happen in 2002-2003 to Breen. He was snapped up by West Ham United but injuries restricted him to just 18 appearances in all competitions. Glenn Roeder’s side were relegated and he became a free agent again.

Having knowledge of his tactically astute ways from the Republic of Ireland days, Mick McCarthy wasted no time in signing Breen for his Sunderland side in the summer of 2003 and made him club captain. He made over 100 appearances for the Black Cats’ and helped them win promotion in 2005 but that was followed by being part of a team that managed just 15 points in 2005-2006 and instant relegation back from the top-flight. Breen was signed again by McCarthy at Wolverhampton Wanderers but this time, their relationship turned sour. He left abruptly in 2008 after an altercation with McCarthy. He would finish his playing career at Barnet in 2010.

Gary Breen was a dependable defender for all the teams he played for. However, his story could have taken a completely different turn if only he’d passed that medical at the San Siro.