Category Archives: Premier League Files

Premier League Files: Mustapha Hadji

Premier League Career: Coventry City (1999-2001), Aston Villa (2001-2004)

Currently assistant manager of the Morocco international team, it has been over 20 years since Mustapha Hadji made his impact as a player, scoring a brilliant goal for his country on the opening day of the 1998 World Cup finals against Norway. Hadji tried his luck in the Premier League in 1999 with Coventry City and remained on these shores for five years, having also represented Aston Villa. He still remains as one of the most successful players to represent his country in the Premier League.

Born in Ifrane Atlas-Saghir, Hadji left his homeland for France at the age of 10 and began playing football shortly afterwards at youth level. He made his professional debut with AS Nancy in 1991 and remained with them for five years, scoring 31 times in 134 league appearances. He was part of the Morocco squad that played in the 1994 World Cup finals, although they would lose all their matches in the group stage. He came on as a substitute in two of these matches and setup a goal for his teammate Hassan Nader against the Netherlands.

In 1996, Hadji moved to Portugal but had an unhappy year at Sporting Lisbon and also struggled to make an impact during a two-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna where he was limited to 31 appearances. So, the 1998 World Cup finals was a chance for him to make his mark. He duly delivered in that opening game against Norway which finished in a 2-2 draw. Hadji was also exceptional in Morocco’s victory against Scotland. However, Norway’s late win over holders Brazil meant the Africans were eliminated in the group stage again. Despite this disappointment, Hadji was named African Footballer of the Year.

In 1999, Gordon Strachan took him to the Premier League, bringing Hadji and his international colleague, Youssef Chippo to Coventry City. A goalscoring attacking midfielder, Hadji scored 12 times in 62 appearances for the Sky Blues and quickly became a cult hero at Highfield Road. He raised his levels when the higher-profile clubs visited Coventry and his best game for the club arguably came on Boxing Day 1999. He scored a brilliant curling effort from distance in a surprising 3-2 victory over Arsenal.

He was the club’s joint top goalscorer in 2000-2001 alongside Craig Bellamy but Coventry were relegated at the end of the season. That was despite Hadji’s best efforts in the game they went down as he scored twice at Villa Park against Aston Villa. His goals in the game put Coventry 2-0 up but they squandered that advantage and Paul Merson’s late winner, coupled with a Derby victory at Old Trafford sent the Sky Blues down to the First Division.

John Gregory was impressed by Hadji’s form at Coventry, so kept him in the Midlands by signing him for Aston Villa in the summer of 2001. He scored in a UEFA Cup tie against Varteks and twice in the Premier League away at Southampton and Everton. However, Gregory’s departure in January 2002 was a disaster for Hadji’s English career. He became a sporadic player for Graham Taylor and was barely used by David O’Leary too. In 2004, he was released and joined Espanyol on a free transfer.

He ended his playing career in July 2010 after periods playing in the United Arab Emirates, as well as for 1. FC Saarbrucken in Germany and CS Fola Esch in Luxembourg. He scored 25 goals in 44 appearances for the latter before hanging up his boots.

Hadji made the move into coaching in 2012 as an assistant for the Qatari club Umm Salal before being appointed assistant manager for Morocco before the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. He is also involved in partnership with plans to invest in Morocco, providing opportunities for local people to help reduce poverty from his homeland.

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Premier League Files: Benjani

Premier League Career: Portsmouth (2006-2008), Manchester City (2008-2009), Sunderland (2010), Blackburn Rovers (2010-2011)

Benjani became only the third Zimbabwean player after Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu to play in the Premier League. He played for four clubs in the top-flight between 2006 and 2011, though it was his spell at Portsmouth for which he will forever be associated with.

Benjani began his career playing in South African football before moving to Europe in 2001, joining Swiss outfit Grasshoppers Zurich on-loan. A year later, he moved to a talented Auxerre side and made the most of an injury to Djibril Cisse, settling down and scoring goals quickly for Guy Roux’s side. He scored seven times in his debut season and experienced UEFA Champions League football for the first time. 11 goals followed in the 2004-2005 campaign but when Jacques Santini succeeded Roux as manager, he tweaked the formation and Benjani was made surplus to requirements.

Marseille expressed an interest to sign him but Benjani liked English football and went to Portsmouth instead. The south coast club paid a club-record fee of £4.1 million to sign him in January 2006. Harry Redknapp made the purchase after receiving a recommendation from Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.

Benjani was instantly ridiculed by pundits for his lack of goals but the fans loved him at Fratton Park, impressing with his high work-rate and setting up chances for his teammates. It took him 15 games before he found the back of the net for Pompey but it was a crucial goal in a 2-1 victory away at Wigan Athletic, helping Portsmouth to avoid relegation from the top-flight.

His best season undoubtedly was in 2007-2008. In the encounter against Reading in September 2007, Benjani scored a hat-trick in a thrilling 7-4 victory for Portsmouth which remains the highest scoring match in Premier League history. In January 2008, he scored another treble as Pompey came from behind to defeat Derby County 3-1. That took his tally to 12 goals for the season, surpassing his target of 10 that he’d personally set. However, it would be the last goal of his first spell at the club.

Sven-Goran Eriksson was interested in signing the player and on transfer deadline day, Portsmouth accepted an £8 million bid from Manchester City. Benjani was reluctant to leave but Pompey had already agreed to sign Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur and planned to finalise the transfer by selling Benjani. Despite missing two flights to Manchester for a planned medical, the move did eventually go through.

He made a great debut, scoring a header to win the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford for his new club. He added further goals against his former club Portsmouth and Fulham. However, Eriksson left in the summer of 2008 and along with injuries and added competition from the likes of Robinho and Craig Bellamy, Benjani’s amount of game time became seriously limited.

He was allowed to leave in the summer of 2009 but failed to agree personal terms over a transfer to Hull City. He remained at Eastlands until a loan move to Sunderland in February 2010 which didn’t materialise into a permanent switch. Released by Manchester City in summer 2010, Benjani joined Blackburn Rovers in August 2010. He did score twice in a 3-1 victory over Liverpool FC in January 2011 but although Blackburn were interested in keeping him beyond 2010-2011, he turned a new contract down and made an emotional return to Portsmouth, who were now playing in the Championship.

However, he couldn’t replicate his form from his previous spell at Portsmouth and was released after just a year. He finished his playing career in 2014 after a spell back in South African football.

Premier League Files: Claus Jensen

Premier League Career: Charlton Athletic (2000-2004), Fulham (2004-2007)

Claus Jensen spent over a decade playing in England and had seven seasons playing in the Premier League solely in the capital. The midfielder, who had a strong eye for goal played for four seasons at Charlton Athletic, playing a big role in their best-ever Premier League finish of seventh in 2003-2004. He also spent three years playing for Fulham.

On the international stage, Jensen won 47 caps for Denmark, scoring eight goals. He played for the Danes at the 2002 World Cup finals and the European Championships in 2004, reaching the quarter-finals in the latter.

Jensen made his breakthrough in Denmark, playing for Næstved BK in November 1995. Næstved BK were relegated at the end of his first season in senior football but he earned himself a move to Lyngby in the summer of 1996, joining Dennis Rommedahl at the club. Rommedahl would play alongside Jensen for Denmark too and would ironically turn out to be his replacement at Charlton in 2004.

After 14 league goals in 62 appearances, Jensen left the Danish club game behind in July 1998, joining Bolton Wanderers who were attempting to rebuild after their Premier League relegation a few months earlier. Bolton paid £1.8 million for his services and Jensen became an immediate regular in their midfield, only missing six league games across two seasons. In that time, Bolton made the play-off final but lost to Watford and therefore, missed out on an immediate return to the top-flight. Claus also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup before the Trotters lost on penalties to Aston Villa.

In July 2000, he moved down south to Charlton Athletic for £4 million. Charlton were looking for a bit of playmaking quality on their return to the top-flight and he became a very popular figure, featuring in every single game in 2000-2001, scoring five goals as Charlton finished in a very impressive ninth position in the table. His best season at Charlton and in the Premier League was in 2002-2003. Jensen scored six times in 35 appearances, including a couple of impressive goals against Manchester United although both goals came in losing causes against the Red Devils.

One of his last main acts for Charlton was being involved in the most dramatic finish to any Premier League game in the 2003-2004 season. Charlton were at home to Blackburn Rovers and had let a two-goal lead slip which had seen Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel scoring the equaliser! Seconds later, Friedel had conceded a late winner thanks to one of Jensen’s trademark long-range specials.

It was slightly surprising to see Charlton sell him to London rivals Fulham for just £1.25 million in July 2004. Claus spent three years in west London but was unable to replicate his form from his Charlton days. Across three seasons, he made just 35 appearances, scoring four goals. When Lawrie Sanchez replaced Chris Coleman as Cottagers manager in April 2007, his long-ball tactical approach didn’t suit Jensen’s game so it wasn’t much of a shock to see Jensen not included in Sanchez’s Fulham plans going forwards. He was released days after the 2006-2007 season concluded and in August 2007, elected to retire from the game due to the niggling injury problems he had suffered with throughout his time at Craven Cottage.

He returned to Denmark after retiring and is now a match analyst and commentator for Danish TV on their Premier League coverage.

Premier League Files: Eyal Berkovic

Premier League Career: Southampton (1996-1997), West Ham United (1997-1999), Manchester City (2002-2003), Portsmouth (2004-2005)

Having made 78 international appearances for Israel across a 12-year career for his country, Eyal Berkovic is often considered as one of his nation’s greatest-ever players. Berkovic played for four Premier League clubs during his career and was most productive for West Ham United, helping the Hammers to a fifth place finish in 1998-1999. He also won promotion to the top-flight with Blackburn Rovers in 2001.

Eyal started his career at Maccabi Haifa in 1989 and remained at the club for seven years. During that time, Maccabi Haifa were a regular title contender in Israel and won the championship in both 1991 and 1994. His strong influence on their squad was quickly noted by his country who capped him for the first time in 1992. Although Israel failed to qualify for a major tournament during his international years, Eyal went on to win 78 caps before retiring from duty in 2004. He scored nine times.

English football was waiting for him at the start of 1996-1997 when Graeme Souness took him to Southampton on a season-long loan deal. He made 28 appearances for the Saints and scored four times. Berkovic’s best game in a Southampton shirt definitely came in the amazing 6-3 victory over Manchester United. He scored twice and set-up three goals for his teammates, Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier.

Souness’ summer departure meant Berkovic didn’t complete a permanent transfer to The Dell. Instead, he moved permanently to West Ham United for £1.75 million in the summer of 1997. On his home debut, Berkovic immediately became a big hit by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 success against Tottenham Hotspur – a club West Ham have always enjoyed beating during the Premier League Years.

Berkovic was the perfect creator for John Hartson, who enjoyed his best-ever Premier League scoring season in 1997-1998, helped by Berkovic often being able to pick out the tall striker with key passes and telling crosses. However, the relationship off-the-pitch wasn’t so sweet between the pair. There was an ugly training ground bust-up early in the 1998-1999 season. After a tasty tackle in a routine training drill by the Israeli, Hartson took exception to it and kicked Berkovic in the face. Captured on camera, it was an awful moment for manager Harry Redknapp to witness. Hartson was banned for three games and fined £20,000 for the incident.

He would move to Wimbledon in January 1999 and before the year was out, Berkovic also moved on. He went to experience Scottish football with Celtic. Signed by John Barnes, Berkovic scored nine league goals in 32 appearances but was unable to achieve the rapport he’d enjoyed with supporters at his previous clubs. It was a difficult time in his career and he was subjected to religious taunts by Hearts supporters during a match between the teams at Tynecastle in December 1999.

Discarded by Martin O’Neill when he became Celtic boss, Berkovic moved back to England, reuniting with Souness at Blackburn Rovers who signed him on-loan. Two goals against Queens Park Rangers and Grimsby Town in his 11 appearances for the club helped Blackburn achieve promotion back to the top-flight, two years after their relegation. However, he stayed in the First Division and was signed permanently in July 2001 by Kevin Keegan for Manchester City, who were coming down in Blackburn’s place.

He scored on his debut in a 3-0 home victory against Watford and played a key role in helping City regain their Premier League status with a record 108 goals and 99 points gathered on their way to the title. He linked up well with Ali Benarbia in a 3-5-2 formation that seemed to suit Keegan’s side very well. That form continued into the 2002-2003 season as Manchester City finished ninth in their last-ever season playing at Maine Road. Berkovic was voted Manchester City’s Player of the Season in the club’s official magazine and was instrumental in their first victory in 13 years over city rivals Manchester United in November 2002, playing some role in two of the three goals the Citizens scored in a 3-1 victory.

Competition for places increased in 2003-2004 with the arrival of Steve McManaman and Claudio Reyna plus the growing emergence of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Berkovic fell out with Keegan and in January 2004, was sold to newly-promoted Portsmouth for £500,000. In his first game for Pompey, he helped them beat of all clubs, Manchester City 4-2 at Fratton Park. A few weeks later, he netted his first goal in a 4-3 loss at Tottenham and was one of the driving forces towards Portsmouth’s survival in their maiden Premier League campaign.

The move to the south coast saw him link up again with his manager at West Ham, Harry Redknapp but he was unable to hold down a starting place in 2004-2005, despite an early season goal in the 4-3 win over Fulham. He left Portsmouth and the Premier League in January 2005, signing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv after a planned return to Maccabi Haifa was rejected. He was unable to win any more silverware and in May 2006, announced his retirement from professional football.

He moved into management straight after retirement but struggled to hold down decent relations with his owners, both at Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Tel-Aviv. So in May 2015, Berkovic moved into an ownership role himself. He is now chairman of Hapoel Rishon LeZion, a club in the Israeli Second Division.

Premier League Files: Hector Bellerin

Premier League Career: Arsenal (2014-PRESENT)

Injury in January 2019 in a 2-0 home victory over London rivals Chelsea curtailed Hector Bellerin’s 2018-2019 season. Still only 24, the Spaniard has more than enough time to make up for the setback he currently has which means he is very unlikely to return to the Arsenal first-team before October 2019. Bellerin is considered as one of the quickest players in the Premier League and is always among the best full-backs when it comes to creating chances and making assists for his teammates.

He started out in the youth academy at Barcelona but Arsenal has been his only senior club on a permanent basis, arriving in 2011. Two years later, he’d signed his first professional contract with the Gunners and his competitive debut came like many other Arsenal youngsters looking to try and make the grade, in the League Cup. In Bellerin’s case, it was a third round tie in September 2013 against West Bromwich Albion. An eight-game loan period during the 2013-2014 season at Championship club Watford was useful and meant he was more than ready for the breakthrough into the Arsenal first-team for the 2014-2015 campaign.

There was luck about his chance. Regular right-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers were both unavailable through injury for the home match against Hull City in October 2014. Arsene Wenger’s hand had been forced but he put Bellerin into the team and he was one of the better players on the day in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Tigers. With Debuchy a long-term injury absentee, Bellerin went on to make 20 appearances in the Premier League and his first goal was a popular one with his teammates to crown a 5-0 win over Aston Villa in February 2015. The same opponents met Arsenal in the 2015 FA Cup final and Bellerin was selected to start the showpiece event which they won 4-0.

He signed a new long-term contract ahead of the 2015-2016 season and was now one of the regulars in Wenger’s team selections. He was the sole Arsenal player to make the PFA Team of the Year and came in third place in the club’s Player of the Season voting. He missed just two league games, creating 28 chances and eight assists alongside his outstanding defending responsibilities.

The 2016-2017 campaign was less successful, despite featuring 33 times. Bellerin had a difficult night in a 3-3 draw away at Bournemouth, being caught horribly out of position for the Cherries opener scored by Charlie Daniels and also being bamboozled by some of the skills from Ryan Fraser. The season had a happy ending though with victory over Chelsea meaning a second FA Cup for Hector.

He was back on-song in Wenger’s last campaign as Arsenal manager, scoring a capital cracker in the 92nd minute to salvage a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in January 2018. Bellerin played a big role in the Gunners’ run to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, scoring in the group stages against Bundesliga side 1. FC Köln.

19 league appearances had been achieved before the devastating rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Chelsea. Leaving in pain on a stretcher with 20 minutes left to play, it was clear that this would be a lengthy absence from the game. However, Bellerin has already received praise on his rehab from his new club boss, Unai Emery and is bound to still be a serious player for Arsenal when he returns to full fitness.

Premier League Files: Steed Malbranque

Premier League Career: Fulham (2001-2006), Tottenham Hotspur (2006-2008), Sunderland (2008-2011)

Steed Malbranque might have started his professional career with Lyon and would finish his footballing playing days in France but he spent the bulk of his time in English football. He became a firm favourite with fans of the clubs he represented in the Premier League; Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland. He also was liked by a certain British Prime Minister too.

Malbranque made his professional debut in 1998 with Lyon and would play 96 times in all competitions in his first spell with the club. This included 19 appearances in European competition, scoring twice in the UEFA Champions League. It was clear that there was talent in Malbranque’s game and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent scouts to look at him. However, no move to the Gunners materialised.

In the summer of 2001, he did move to the Premier League and also to London but it was to top-flight newcomers, Fulham for a fee in the region of £4.5 million. He made his debut in the exciting 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford against reigning champions Manchester United and went on to score eight goals in his debut Premier League campaign.

Fulham fans loved Malbranque and he would score 44 goals in all competitions for the Cottagers during an impressive five-year spell with the club. One of his finest displays came in October 2003, when Fulham pulled off a brilliant result to defeat Manchester United 3-1. This was among a string of productive performances that saw him called into the full French international squad by Jacques Santini in March 2004 for a friendly against the Netherlands. However, he remained an unused substitute during the goalless encounter and he would never win a full international cap for Les Bleus.

In November 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came onto the BBC’s lunchtime magazine show, Football Focus and was asked to name his favourite Premier League players. He picked Teddy Sheringham, Arjan de Zeeuw and Malbranque. Possibly boosted by having such a high-profile fan, Malbranque would score both goals later that afternoon in a 2-1 victory for Fulham over Manchester City. This would be his last season in west London. Despite having extensive talks over a new contract, these discussions broke down and with just one year left on his current deal, Fulham elected to cash in on his services.

There was plenty of interest in the summer of 2006 for Malbranque. The likes of Everton, Reading and Middlesbrough all made bids for him but he elected to stay in London and join Tottenham Hotspur on transfer deadline day for around £2 million. A groin operation delayed his debut for the Lilywhites until November 2006 and he would score 12 times in his 18 months with Tottenham in all competitions. Part of the last Tottenham squad to win silverware (the 2008 League Cup), Malbranque’s work ethic was also widely praised by Spurs supporters. In 2007-2008, he ended up in the top five for tackles made and tackles per minute across the whole Premier League.

In July 2008, he surprisingly followed Pascal Chimbonda and Teemu Tainio to Sunderland, signing a four-year contract. He struggled to replicate his Fulham and Tottenham form during his days on Wearside, although he did play in a different position as a winger. He then dropped into a deeper role in the 2010-2011 season to accommodate Danny Welbeck into the team. Welbeck was on a season-long loan from Manchester United. He featured prominently that campaign and his work ethic was again clear to see. He made his 100th appearance for the club in February 2011 against Chelsea but manager Steve Bruce decided to make him surplus to requirements at the end of the campaign. It was decided that removing him from the wage bill would help fund new summer signings too for the Black Cats.

Malbranque joined Saint-Etienne but made just one appearance for them before asking for his contract to be terminated. After a year away from the game, he returned to Lyon for four seasons before winding down his playing days with SM Caen and Monts d’Or Azergues who play in the Championnat National 2.

A tireless worker, Steed Malbranque won’t feature on the list of greatest French players to have played in the Premier League but he is fondly remembered by the clubs he played for and his best spell on these shores was definitely at Fulham, where he had a canny knack of scoring crucial goals.

Premier League Files: Graham Dorrans

Premier League Career: West Bromwich Albion (2008-2009), (2010-2015), Norwich City (2015-2016)

Graham Dorrans has divided his career between the English and Scottish leagues. He started his professional journey at Livingston and has also played for Partick Thistle north of the border. In England, he represented West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City before returning to Scottish football, signing for Rangers in 2017. Dorrans has won 12 international caps for Scotland, making his senior debut for the Scots in October 2009.

Graham came through the ranks at Livingston alongside a fellow colleague who would move into the Premier League later in his career in Robert Snodgrass. During this time, he also had a 15-game loan stint at Partick Thistle, recording five goals for the Glasgow side. After impressing at Livingston and winning the Scottish First Division Player’s Player of the Year award in 2007-2008, Dorrans agreed to move down south, linking up with West Bromwich Albion in a move that was initially agreed for £200,000 in January 2008.

Dorrans joined up with his new teammates that summer but had to wait until December for his Premier League bow, arriving as a half-time substitute in a victory over Manchester City. His 30-minute cameo was impressive, playing a big role in Luke Moore opening the scoring and he received praise from his manager afterwards who said: “He’s outstanding on the pitch with his ability to manipulate the ball, create and play clever disguised passes.”

He made another seven appearances that season in the Premier League but West Brom were relegated and he broke his metatarsal towards the end of the season in a fixture against Liverpool FC.

He was outstanding on West Brom’s return to second-tier football, scoring 13 times and ensuring it was a swift return back to the Premier League. Widely praised for his control, skill and readership of the game, Dorrans signed two new contract extensions during the 2010 calendar year to stave off interest from a number of interested suitors, including West Ham United who saw bids rejected for the Scotsman.

Dorrans was voted into the Championship Team of the Year but couldn’t sustain the goalscoring form he’s shown in the Championship on West Brom’s return to the football elite. Nevertheless, he still made 52 Premier League appearances combined in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 as Albion became a consistent finisher in the mid-table positions.

After being left out of a matchday squad by Steve Clarke for the New Year’s Day clash with Fulham in January 2013, he was made available for transfer. Clarke insisted that discussions between manager and player were still cordial and he would only leave if there was an interested party willing to pay a respectable fee. No offers were forthcoming and Dorrans actually stayed with the Baggies through the rest of Clarke’s reign, plus that of Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine.

He signed a three-year contract extension in July 2014 and made 21 appearances in 2014-2015, scoring in a commanding victory over Burnley. However, he left West Brom on the final day of the 2015 winter transfer window and moved on-loan to Norwich City for the remainder of the season. He helped guide rookie manager Alex Neil through the navigation of a competitive division and the Canaries triumphed via the play-offs to return to the Premier League at the first attempt of asking. With promotion secured, Dorrans’ move to Carrow Road became a permanent one.

He made 21 Premier League appearances in 2015-2016 but failed to score and Norwich were relegated at the end of the season. After another season in East Anglia, he was attracted to the revival Rangers have embarked on in Scottish football. Dorrans has currently scored five goals and created four others for teammates but has only managed 23 games due to persistent injuries in his first two campaigns at Ibrox. Often on the sidelines because of this, it remains doubtful if he is going to be part of Steven Gerrard’s long-term plans as the Gers look to close the gap on Glasgow rivals Celtic.

Premier League Files: Steve Finnan

Premier League Career: Fulham (2001-2003), Liverpool FC (2003-2008), Portsmouth (2009-2010)

Republic of Ireland right-back Steve Finnan has a unique feat of being the only player to have played in the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, UEFA Intertoto Cup, all four levels of English league football and the Conference. Known predominately for his tremendous ability to cross the ball and flying forward to help out attacking situations, Finnan was a quality defender and a fans favourite at both Fulham and Liverpool FC. He was often one of the unsung heroes, especially during Rafa Benitez’s tenure at Anfield.

Finnan began his career in the youth system at Wimbledon but was released by the club at the age of 16 and had to work his way up from non-league level with Welling United. It was Birmingham City who helped him turn professional in 1995, paying Welling United a fee of £100,000 to sign him. Steve would move on to Notts County in March 1996, initially on-loan where he helped them reach the Second Division play-off final, losing to Bradford City. His impressive loan period with them was enough for the club to offer Birmingham £300,000 for his services in October 1996.

After a relegation to Division Three and an instant promotion at County, future England boss Kevin Keegan took Finnan to Craven Cottage in November 1998 for £600,000. Fulham’s promotion to Division One meant he enjoyed back-to-back promotions and in 2001, this became three promotions in four years when he appeared in 45 of the 46 league matches under Jean Tigana’s stewardship.

In his debut Premier League season, Finnan impressed both Fulham supporters and his peers who voted him into the PFA Team of the Year for 2001-2002. He was also the club’s choice as Player of the Year. Victory in the UEFA Intertoto Cup that summer meant he got his first experience of European club football in 2002-2003 as Fulham played in the early rounds of the UEFA Cup. By the summer of 2003, many of England’s top clubs were scouting and showing interest in Steve’s services.

Fulham sold him to Liverpool FC for £3.5 million but it was a rocky start. His first campaign on Merseyside was disrupted by injury and when Benitez arrived to succeed Gerard Houllier as manager, Finnan’s time at Anfield looked like it would be brief. It wasn’t helped when Rafa’s first signing was a right-back in the shape of Josemi. Hard work, determination and proving a point helped him win over any doubts the manager might have had.

In September 2004, he would score his one and only goal for the club against West Bromwich Albion, meaning he shares a record with Jimmy Willis of scoring in each of the five highest divisions of English football. He saw off the threat of Josemi and established himself as Liverpool’s first-choice right-back for the next three-and-a-half years. In January 2006 after producing another fine cross for Harry Kewell to smash home a winner against Tottenham Hotspur, Benitez admitted: “Finnan is a player who will always play at a consistent level. He will be seven, eight, nine or even ten out of ten every week. This is really important for the team. Some players find a good level for individual games, but don’t do the same every week. Finnan does it for a whole season.”

The 2004-2005 season ended with Liverpool FC’s unbelievable comeback in the UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan. They trailed 3-0 at half-time but scored three goals in six second half minutes and the heroics of Jerzy Dudek in-goal saw the Reds triumph in the penalty shootout. For Finnan, it was bittersweet. A thigh injury forced him to be substituted at half-time.

He was an ever-present in Liverpool’s 2005-2006 Premier League campaign as the Reds finished third with their highest points tally at the time for a Premier League season of 82. He claimed more medals with the UEFA Super Cup and the FA Cup both heading back to the club by the end of the season. With Josemi gone, Jan Kromkamp arrived for competition but he was another player who failed to usurp Finnan from the right-back role.

It looked like Alvaro Arbeloa would head in the same direction when he arrived midway through the 2006-2007 campaign. It was Finnan who got the vote to play again in another UEFA Champions League final. This time, he lasted 88 minutes before being subbed, this time in a 2-1 defeat to AC Milan in Athens. That summer, he agreed a two-year contract extension to stay on Merseyside.

He featured 35 times in 2007-2008 and took his total appearances for the club past the 200 mark. However, a few niggling injuries saw Arbeloa get his chance and when the Reds went on a winning run with him in the side, Steve couldn’t force his way back into the team when he recovered from injury. When another full-back arrived in the summer of 2008 in the form of Philipp Degen, Finnan knew his time at Liverpool was coming to an end. It looked like he would join Aston Villa as part of a deal that would see Gareth Barry go to Liverpool. However, the clubs couldn’t agree a fee on Barry’s transfer which meant his proposed switch to Villa Park collapsed. Instead, he moved to La Liga to join Espanyol on transfer deadline day in September 2008.

His time in Spain was a wretched experience. He made just four league appearances before his contract was mutually terminated after a succession of injuries. This also saw a potential move to Hull City collapse. In July 2009, Finnan returned to English football, signing a one-year contract with Portsmouth who were in severe financial peril. He made 21 Premier League appearances for Pompey who went into administration during the campaign, guaranteeing relegation at the end of the season. After playing in the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea, Finnan was released and never played professional football again.

He won 53 caps for The Republic of Ireland between 2000 and 2008, playing a prominent role in Mick McCarthy’s squad at the 2002 World Cup finals, scoring his penalty in the shootout defeat to Spain in the round-of-16. Since retirement, Steve worked in The Gambia, providing irrigation for impoverished children before moving into property development back in the UK.

Premier League Files: David Wheater

Premier League Career: Middlesbrough (2006-2009), Bolton Wanderers (2011-2012)

A product of the youth system at Middlesbrough, David Wheater hasn’t played Premier League football since experiencing relegation with Bolton Wanderers in 2012. He remains with the Trotters now, captaining the side in very difficult financial times for the club with relegation to League One recently just confirmed. However, he is a wise experienced head which is just what the club needs at this time.

Wheater’s youth days saw him part of the successful Middlesbrough team that won the 2004 FA Youth Cup; a year after losing the same event to Manchester United. Promoted to the Boro first-team at the age of just 17, he was given his Premier League debut by Steve McClaren in the 2005-2006 campaign. Loan spells did follow at Doncaster Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Darlington which produced mixed fortunes but Wheater was ready for a more regular role in 2007-2008, starting the club’s opening day defeat to Blackburn Rovers.

David’s form in 2007-2008 was so impressive; his manager Gareth Southgate was more than happy to sell the more experienced Jonathan Woodgate to Tottenham Hotspur in the 2008 January transfer window. He would score four goals in that campaign and won the North East Football Writers’ Association Young Player of the Year for his efforts.

He made another 32 appearances in 2008-2009 but Middlesbrough were relegated at the end of the campaign. Nevertheless, he stayed with the aim of getting the Teesiders back to the top-flight at the first attempt. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out for him and for the club. That summer, injury meant he missed out on the 2009 Under-21 European Championship after playing a prominent role for England and manager Stuart Pearce in the qualification period. He was called up a couple of times into the senior squad during Fabio Capello’s reign but never managed to make it onto the pitch to win a maiden senior international cap.

Southgate made him captain at the start of the new club season with Middlesbrough despite being just 22 but he was sacked early into the 2009-2010 campaign and when his successor was named, Gordon Strachan, he elected to give the armband to the more experienced Gary O’Neil.

Wheater continued to concentrate on his football and this actually made him a tougher player. Bolton Wanderers were impressed with his shrewd displays in the Championship and in January 2011, a deal was concluded for David to return to the Premier League, joining Bolton for an undisclosed fee. His Bolton league debut came a month later, coming on as a first half substitute for Zat Knight in the 2-0 home win over Everton.

The 2011-2012 campaign was not a good one for Wheater as he received two red cards in the first half of Bolton’s testing campaign. His first dismissal came in a defeat at Arsenal in September for holding back Theo Walcott. This was in his first league start of the season. In November, a foul on Everton winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov was adjudged to be dangerous by Michael Oliver, who gave him a straight red card. Consequently, Wheater missed the next four Premier League engagements.

His last Premier League appearance came later that season in Bolton’s 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. In what was the Trotters’ final home match of the season, they threw away a two-goal lead and ultimately, it proved very costly as they were relegated a week later. It had bigger repercussions for Wheater though. He ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was ruled out of action for nine months.

He returned in February 2013 and extended his contract at the end of the 2012-2013 season as the Lancashire side narrowly missed out on landing a play-off position in the Championship. At the end of the 2015-2016 season, Bolton were relegated to League One. Naturally, as he was on higher wages than most of his teammates, Wheater wasn’t offered a new deal and was subsequently released. However, he continued to train with Bolton that summer and after appearing as ‘a trialist’ in first-team pre-season friendlies, the club offered him a new deal with a significant pay cut, something Wheater was more than happy to accept.

He scored an impressive nine goals from centre-back as Bolton were promoted back to the Championship at the first attempt. He was voted as the club’s Player of the Season and was voted into the PFA League One Team of the Season alongside his defensive colleague, Mark Beevers. He signed a contract extension that summer and his only goal in 2017-2018 was a massive one for Phil Parkinson’s team. It was an equaliser in the final day 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest which kept Bolton in the second-tier at the expense of Barnsley and Burton Albion.

He was appointed skipper at the start of the 2018-2019 season, succeeding the departing Darren Pratley. It hasn’t been a joyous campaign for anyone at the club, with constant threats about administration and unpaid wages to players and staff. Wheater though has been one of Bolton’s more senior pros and done a good job in difficult circumstances.

Premier League Files: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Premier League Career: Wolverhampton Wanderers (2009-2012)

Now 32, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake still plays football in the lower reaches of the English pyramid. He is currently in the Midland League Premier Division, which sits at level 10 of the system, playing for Walsall Wood. They are actually his eighth club since his most productive spell came to an end in 2013 at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Ebanks-Blake’s youth days saw him have spells with Cambridge United and Manchester United. He actually turned down a scholarship with Cambridge to join the Manchester United Academy in 2002. Two years later, he played his first senior match which was a League Cup tie away at Crewe Alexandra but towards the end of the season, he fractured his leg and fell down the pecking order in their reserves setup. He never made a league appearance for Manchester United although he was an unused substitute in several UEFA Champions League games.

After a brief nine-game loan spell at Royal Antwerp in Belgium in 2006, he moved to Plymouth Argyle that summer on a three-year deal. The Pilgrims were in the Championship and managed by the charismatic Ian Holloway. He was Holloway’s first signing and scored 10 times in his first season at Argyle. He struck another 11 goals in the first half of the 2007-2008 campaign and that form attracted the attention of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolves activated a buyout clause in his contract and signed him in January 2008 for £1.5 million. He would go on to play 177 times in league football for the Midlands club, scoring 61 times. Ebanks-Blake made a brilliant start to life at Molineux. He scored seven goals in his first eight matches for the club and actually ended up winning the Championship Golden Boot for 2007-2008, finishing with figures of 23 goals for the season between the two clubs he represented.

He retained the Golden Boot in 2008-2009 with another 25 goals, helping Wolves reach the Premier League as champions of the second-tier. This was the season where he scored the first hat-trick of his professional career, achieved in February 2009 against Norwich City. Wolves rewarded this form by offering him a new four-year contract.

Having excelled in the Championship, there was excitement that he could reproduce the form in the top-flight but it didn’t quite materialise. He scored just twice in 2009-2010 against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers in a pair of 1-1 draws. With Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher now amongst the competition, Ebanks-Blake was no longer a guaranteed starter but in 2010-2011, he did chip in with seven goals in 28 matches including a goal at Old Trafford against his former club, although that came in a 2-1 defeat.

Knee ligament damage early on in 2011-2012 restricted him to 23 appearances and just one goal against Norwich City. Wolves were relegated at the end of the season. He regained some goalscoring form in 2012-2013 but despite his 14 league goals, Wolves struggled back in the Championship and suffered a second consecutive relegation. He was released at the end of the season.

A broken fibula and sprained ankle meant Ebanks-Blake remained a free agent until his full recovery from injury and in December 2013, he signed for Ipswich Town, linking up again with Mick McCarthy. He made only nine appearances in the Championship, failing to score and was released at the season’s end.

Since then, Ebanks-Blake has operated at a level no higher than League One. He has played for Preston North End, Chesterfield, Shrewsbury Town, AFC Telford United, Halesowen Town and Barwell.

Premier League Files: Hayden Mullins

Premier League Career: West Ham United (2005-2009), Portsmouth (2009-2010)

Hayden Mullins is like many other former professionals in the game who is now experiencing the side of coaching and management. Since his playing days ended, he has been doing his coaching badges and now manages Watford’s Under-23 team. His time as a Premier League player was predominately with West Ham United before playing for Portsmouth for 18 months before their relegation in 2010 from the top-flight.

He came through the youth system at Crystal Palace, joining as a trainee in 1996 and signing professional terms two years later. It was ex-England manager Terry Venables who would give him his first-team debut and Mullins impressed at a young age, scoring in only his second league game in a 3-1 loss to Birmingham City in August 1998.

He admitted later that Venables played a major part in his career, saying: “I learnt a lot from him. He took a lot of time with us on the training pitch. He made me feel totally comfortable and didn’t pressure me into it at all.”

He would make over 200 appearances for Crystal Palace and with financial difficulties surrounding the Eagles; they had to rely on youth prodigies like himself and Clinton Morrison to excite the supporters. Crystal Palace made the semi-finals of the League Cup in 2001 and he won the Player of the Year twice for the club including in his last full season at Selhurst Park in 2002-2003. He was even made captain that season by Trevor Francis.

Birmingham tried to sign him in January 2003 but a £600,000 bid was rejected. However, when he decided to turn down a new deal at the end of the season and with his contract running into its final year, Palace had to sell him to recoup some form of transfer fee. He moved to West Ham United in October 2003 for the same fee Birmingham had offered nine months earlier. Mullins became Alan Pardew’s first signing as manager.

He helped the Hammers reached the Division One play-off final in his first season but they lost 1-0 to his former club Crystal Palace and consequently, missed out on promotion to the top-flight. No mistake was made in 2005 with promotion achieved via the play-offs and Mullins was a pivotal figure in the Hammers midfield. He made 37 appearances from 46 league matches and the club were back in the Premier League.

He had a fantastic debut Premier League campaign too as West Ham finished ninth in the table and reached the FA Cup final. However, he missed the showpiece event after being red-carded along with Liverpool FC winger Luis Garcia in a Premier League fixture between the two finalists a few weeks before the cup final. West Ham appealed the red card but like Liverpool, were unsuccessful in getting the dismissals overturned.

The signing of Javier Mascherano at the start of 2006-2007 put Mullins on the bench in the opening weeks of the season but West Ham’s worst run of results in 74 years saw him back in the starting XI towards the end of October and he scored his first top-flight goal in a 2-1 triumph over Blackburn Rovers. He remained at the club through Alan Curbishley’s reign but when Gianfranco Zola took over as manager in September 2008; he wanted to give younger players a chance in the first-team such as Zavon Hines, Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas.

Despite this, Mullins was still a regular in the side, so it was a shock even to him to see Zola allow him to move to Portsmouth in January 2009. He admitted: “I trained on (Sunday) with West Ham and then it all happened very quickly, but I’m very pleased to have joined. It was a great experience to have worked under Gianfranco Zola but it’s a great challenge here to come and work with some really talented players.”

Mullins made 35 Premier League appearances for Pompey but their dire financial position led to administration, a nine-point deduction and relegation from the top-flight in 2010. He did get his chance though to feature in the FA Cup final, having missed out because of suspension four years earlier. Hayden played in an unfamiliar left-back role in Portsmouth’s narrow 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.

He stayed with Pompey despite relegation and was voted Portsmouth Player of the Season for 2010-2011. After a loan period at Reading which ended in promotion to the Premier League, Mullins finished his career with Birmingham City and Notts County. He retired from football at the end of the 2014-2015 campaign.

After hanging up his boots, Mullins returned to Reading, overseeing the development of young academy players who were getting their first experiences of playing first-team football whilst out on-loan. In July 2016, he joined Watford as assistant to Harry Kewell in managing the Under-21 side and was promoted to manager of the Under-23s when Kewell left to take the managerial position at League Two Crawley Town. It is a role Mullins still holds down today.

Premier League Files: Kasper Schmeichel

Premier League Career: Manchester City (2007-2009), Leicester City (2014-PRESENT)

Kasper Schmeichel’s place in Leicester City history is already secure. The Dane has been a huge part of the Foxes remarkable journey in the last few years with the peak being that unbelievable Premier League title success in 2016. Kasper is still one of Leicester’s best players and rarely misses a match. His achievements with Leicester mean he is the only son of a father to have won the Premier League title so far. His dad, Peter was of course a major part of Manchester United’s dominance on the English game in the 1990s, winning five league championships.

Schmeichel’s breakthrough in the Premier League came 12 years ago at Manchester City. He was handed his Premier League debut in August 2007 by former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and made a fantastic start, keeping clean sheets in his first three outings against West Ham United, Derby County and Manchester United.

Schmeichel was competing alongside another young talent in Joe Hart for the goalkeeper berth at Eastlands and ultimately, it was Hart who won the battle. Schmeichel made only another six first-team appearances before leaving Manchester City permanently in 2009. During that period, he’d experienced first-team football on temporary loan periods at Cardiff City and Coventry City.

He joined an ambitious Notts County outfit who were in League Two but aiming high with the shock arrival of Sol Campbell too that summer. He played 43 times and was far too good for the standard of football he was playing in. Schmeichel made PFA Team of the Year in the division and County were promoted to League One at the end of the campaign.

His stay at Meadow Lane would be just a solitary season as Championship club Leeds United snapped him up on a free transfer in summer 2010. Again, he was a solid presence and made 40 appearances for the Yorkshire side. However, like at Notts County, his time at Leeds was restricted to a single campaign.

Keen to find some security after plenty of club movements, Kasper moved to Leicester City in 2011 and it is a relationship that has delivered plenty of joy and success for both parties. His outstanding form in his first campaign with the Foxes saw him named the club’s Player of the Year and he was called up to Denmark’s squad at the 2012 European Championship as a back-up goalkeeper.

An ever-present campaign followed in 2012-2013 and in February 2013, he became the second Schmeichel to win a full international cap for Denmark, making his debut in a friendly match against FYR Macedonia. Although there has been competition over the years from the likes of Jonas Lossl and Frederik Ronnow, Schmeichel has rarely looked under threat in the Danish international setup ever since.

Voted into the PFA Championship Team of the Season in 2013, Schmeichel achieved similar accomplishments in 2013-2014 and this time, there was club success too as Leicester finally returned to the Premier League after a 10-year absence, storming to the Championship title.

The 2014-2015 season started well for Kasper and the team with a memorable 5-3 victory over Manchester United among the highlights. In December though, he broke his metatarsal in training and missed three months of the campaign. The experienced Mark Schwarzer was signed in the January transfer window from Chelsea as suitable cover but there was little doubt in manager Nigel Pearson’s mind that Schmeichel would return to duty when fit. He returned just in time for the Foxes’ amazing escape from relegation. Seven points adrift of safety with nine games left to play, Leicester won seven of their last nine games and Kasper kept five clean sheets in that period to ensure their Premier League survival. What happened next was absolutely extraordinary.

Schmeichel was absolutely outstanding in 2015-2016, barely putting a foot wrong and featuring in every single Premier League match. Leicester did struggle defensively in the early weeks under Claudio Ranieri but once he’d settled on a more defensively-minded full-back pairing of Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs, clean sheets started becoming a regular occurrence. Schmeichel finished with 15 and only narrowly missed out on the Golden Glove award to Arsenal’s Petr Cech. However, that personal disappointment was easily overcome by the team’s incredible achievement.

On 2nd May 2016, Tottenham’s failure to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge meant Leicester became Premier League champions. Amazingly, it was exactly 23 years after Manchester United and Peter Schmeichel’s first title success which that season was also achieved by other results going in the Red Devils favour. The Schmeichels became the only biological father and son to win the Premier League, as well as being in the same position to do so.

Despite rumours of a move away after Leicester’s success, Schmeichel stayed loyal and signed a contract extension in August 2016, even though Ranieri had brought in stiffer competition for him in Ron-Robert Zieler who had arrived from German side Hannover 96. Leicester’s form completely vanished but Schmeichel’s didn’t and he was voted Players’ Player of the Year at the club’s 2016-2017 awards evening. He kept clean sheets in his first four UEFA Champions League matches and the only games he missed were down to groin and hand injuries – the latter keeping him out for six weeks during the winter months.

Ranieri was controversially sacked in February 2017, less than 24 hours after defeat in the UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 first leg tie to Sevilla. Schmeichel was very vocal on both social media and in television interviews in the days afterwards, saying there was no plot whatsoever involving the under fire players wanting to get Ranieri dismissed.

In 2017-2018, he kept eight clean sheets, making an important penalty save in an away win at Brighton & Hove Albion when the score was 0-0 and despite missing the closing five matches with an ankle problem, he was Denmark’s first-choice goalkeeper for their 2018 World Cup effort in Russia. Schmeichel kept clean sheets in the group stage games against Peru and France and in the Round-of-16 match against Croatia; he saved three penalties during the match and penalty shootout. It ended in defeat for the Danes but Schmeichel’s reputation as a great and classy goalkeeper had been enhanced.

2018-2019 has been a tough season for everyone connected with Leicester City Football Club and Kasper witnessed the horrific helicopter crash outside the ground in October 2018 which killed five people including the owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Former manager Claude Puel confirmed his goalkeeper had seen some terrible things which didn’t need description.

Despite the overwhelming sense of tragedy, Schmeichel has continued to deliver on a regular basis for Leicester and is still one of the best goalkeepers currently in the Premier League.