Richard Brook pays homage to twelve retirees who could probably secure a top six spot if forged together for a final flourish.
With the football season, for Football League clubs at least, mere days away it is a fitting time to pay tribute to some of the top players, to have played in the English game, and retired, or left a club after long service, in the last year. Since July 2012 there have been some absolutely huge retirements – the biggest of all being Sir Alex Ferguson who has managed Manchester United almost all my life. It also includes two players who like retiring so much they decided to do it twice. Hopefully this makes up for the one who did not retire after all.
From out of these players, for whom the 2012/13 season marked a new chapter in their professional lives, it is possible to construct a very useful side, that if the players were at the peak of their powers I would back to have considerable success. Here is my ‘End of an Era XI’:
This selection is the reason it is a ‘End of an Era XI’ not a ‘Retirement XI’. At the end of the season it appeared that Harper’s playing days were at an end following his emotional departure from Newcastle United. Recently he has, of course, extended his career by signing for Hull City.
Harper battled with the likes of Pavel Srnicek and Shay Given for the number one spot. The competition with Given was arguably at its closest in the 1998/99 season, with Harper playing in the FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United. Harper has been linked with transfers to both Glasgow clubs and Liverpool in his time and it is a shame that a goalkeeper of his quality only appeared 199 times for the club over a 20 year career.
Stephen Carr represented Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Birmingham City before his retirement in May 2013. The defender made his Spurs debut in 1993, winning the League Cup in 1999. Carr missed out on the Republic of Ireland’s trip to 2002 World Cup due to a knee injury.
Carr moved to Newcastle in 2004 helping the team to a mid-table finish, the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup semi-finals. However over the next few seasons Carr’s knee injuries returned, leading to his retirement in 2008.
Carr mounted a comeback with Birmingham City in 2009. Carr’s spell with Blues saw them promoted to the Premier League and their League Cup triumph against Arsenal in 2011. A further knee injury led to his retirement in 2013.
Phil Neville left Everton in June 2013, with the express intention to pursue a career in coaching. He did not have to wait long as his former manager, David Moyes, appointed Neville as first team coach at Manchester United. Neville began his career at United. Neville made his debut in the 1994/95 season, but faced stiff competition with Dennis Irwin well-established. Neville helped United to six Premier League titles, Three FA Cups and a Champions League win picking up 59 England caps along the way.
Neville’s move to Everton came about in 2005, at a fee of more than £3.5 million, eventually becoming club captain. Indeed in 2006 the Neville’s became the first brothers to captain their respective teams against each other, in the Premier League.
Former Tottenham centre-half Ledley King retired in July 2012. King’s career was plagued by knee injuries that, towards the end of his career, saw him unable to take part in full training. Despite this King amassed 268 appearances for Spurs and was respected as amongst the very best defenders in the Premier League.
King made his Tottenham debut in 1999 and by 2000 King was featuring regularly for the first team. 2006 was the beginning of King’s injury woes first a knee injury then a broken metatarsal severely limiting his appearances. In 2008 King played just ten matches, though he did captain Tottenham to League Cup victory against Chelsea. Although his international career was restricted by injuries, King featured in Euro 2004 and the 2010 World Cup.
Jamie Carragher is a Liverpool legend having served the club for 17 years. The defender racked up an incredible 737 appearances for Liverpool across all competitions. While at the club Carragher won an incredible haul of trophies.
Carragher made his debut in 1997, in a League Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough, as a substitute. By 1998/99 Carragher was voted the club’s player of the year. It was at left-back that Carragher earned his place in Liverpool folk-lore by being part of the 2000/01 side that won the League Cup, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Community Shield and the Super Cup within months of each other. Carragher switched back to centre-half, as Liverpool won the Champions League in 2004/05, with Carragher making some vital contributions in the final.
Fabrice Muamba was a gifted young midfielder who made over 200 appearances for Arsenal, Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers; he also played 57 times for England at various junior levels.
Muamba’s career famously ended following an on-field cardiac arrest during an FA Cup tie between Bolton and Tottenham. Muamba’s heart stopped for 78 minutes. Muamba was emotionally received when returned to White Hart Lane in November 2012 having retired in August.
Initially part of Arsenal’s youth set up, Muamba made two first team appearances for the Gunners. Muamba joined Birmingham initially on-loan in 2006 then permanently in 2007. Muamba featured in 37 games as Blues suffered Premier League relegation. That summer Muamba moved to Bolton and the following season won the Bolton News Player of the Season.
Stiliyan Petrov retired from the game in May 2013 due to acute leukaemia. Thankfully it was announced in August 2012 that Petrov was in remission, having been diagnosed in March. Aston Villa fans applauded in the 19th minute of each game to show support for their captain and number 19.
In 1999 Petrov joined Celtic who won the League Cup, from CSKA Sofia. The next season Petrov starred in the treble winning team. Petrov won a further three league titles, two Cups and a League Cup.
In 2006 Petrov joined Aston Villa. Petrov will be remembered for a couple of special goals. He scored a wonder-goal from the halfway line against Derby in 2008. He also marked his 200th appearance for Villa with a spectacular 20 yard strike against Sunderland.
Paul Scholes broke into the Manchester United team in 1994/95. Scholes scored both goals as United beat Port Vale in the League Cup, on his debut, and scored on his league debut mere days later. The midfielder was twice unlucky to see his efforts in the 1995 FA Cup final repelled by Neville Southall, as United lost 1-0 to Everton. The next season was a happier one as Scholes found himself with more first team opportunities and scored 14 goals as United won the double.
By 1998/99 Scholes was a vital player in the famous United side that won the treble. Scholes went on to make over 700 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions. His career yielded eleven Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Champions League titles.
David Beckham holds the record for outfield England caps having won 115. Beckham won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, one La Liga title and one Champions League title. Beckham finished runner up for FIFA World Player of the Year on two occasions.
Beckham announced his arrival, in the Manchester United side, with a floated lob that beat Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan from the halfway line.
In 2003 Beckham joined Real Madrid. It did not take Beckham long to find his stride scoring within three minutes of his La Liga debut. From 2007 Beckham flitted between LA Galaxy and loans to AC Milan. During one such loan Beckham injured his achilles, resultantly missing the 2010 World Cup. Beckham signed for PSG in January 2013, helping them to the Ligue 1 title before retiring in May.
Andriy Shevchenko won the Ukrainian league in all five of his seasons with Dynamo, scoring 28 goals in 1998/99 before his move to Milan. After winning the 2002/03 Champions League, Shevchenko scored 24 goals to fire Milan to their first Scudetto in five years, and was named 2004 European Player of the Year.
In 2006 Shevchenko joined Chelsea for £30 million. The move was not as successful as Shevchenko or the club would have liked. His best season in England yielded 14 goals from 51 games and the club won both cup competitions and a Community Shield. A loan back Milan was unsuccessful and he saw out his career back at Dynamo before quitting football for politics in July 2012.
Michael Owen played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City and won all three of England’s top trophies, as well as a UEFA Cup and a Super Cup. He is England’s fourth highest all time goal-scorer.
Owen scored on his Liverpool debut, in May 1996, against Wimbledon and used the next season to stake his claim for a starting birth, with Robbie Fowler injured, by winning the Premier League golden boot. Owen was part of Liverpool’s famous 2001 treble winning team.
Owen joined Madrid in 2004 and started slowly, but eventually scored 13 goals. His 2005 move to Newcastle was blighted by injury. Following Newcastle’s relegation Owen signed for Manchester United in 2009. From then until his retirement in May 2013 he made less than 40 league appearances.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson managed East Stirlingshire, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Scotland and between 1986 and 2013 Manchester United.
During his extraordinary career he won: the Scottish First Division, three Scottish Premier Leagues, four Scottish Cups, the Scottish League Cup, two UEFA Cup Winners Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, thirteen Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, ten Community Shields, two Champions League titles, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup.
Whatever club you support and the rivalries that might exist with some of the names mentioned above, the players and managers above have had notable careers. Their collective achievements within the game, in terms of their performances, attitudes and their collective honours list are a tremendous credit to them. Football and the clubs that they represented will be poorer without them. Here’s to the next set of heroes.