Friday, December 19, 2008

Africa News Today (AN/Today): Top 50 British footballers of 2008 - You won't find Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard or John Terry here.

Top 50 British footballers of 2008

Nikki Bull - Aldershot Town

( Paul Harding/Action Images)

No 50: Nikki Bull

You won't find Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard or John Terry here. We've tried to give the little-known and the under-rated their due by concentrating on those who have enhanced their reputations this year. The kind of footballers who took their game to the next level in 2008, no matter what level it was before.

Gareth Barry, Aston Villa

(PA) - No 1: Gareth Barry

Aston Villa's Ashley Young celebrates his goal against Bolton Wanderers

(IAN KINGTON/AFP) - No 2: Ashley Young

Arsenal's English striker Theo Walcott is pictured during their Premier League match against Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium

(Glyn Kirk/AFP) - No 3: Theo Walcott


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(PA) - Fraizer Campbell




Click on the blue links to see the players in action

50. Nikki Bull

That Aldershot secured their return to the Football League at a canter last season was in no small part down to their excellent goalkeeper, the non-league player of the year, even if the spelling of his first name suggests he should be in a boyband.

49. Jamie Ward

The diminutive 22-year-old Chesterfield forward is bang in form, having notched 15 goals already this term, bettering his total from last season by three. Linked with a move to greater things.

48. Rickie Lambert

Archetype of a lower-league hit-man, the 26-year-old Liverpudlian has scored 27 goals in the calendar year 2008 for little Bristol Rovers, including the winner in the FA Cup against Southampton.

47. Freddie Sears

There was genuine excitement among West Ham fans at the 19-year-old's debut in March: a local lad, from Hornchurch, brought up through the club's academy. And he scored the winner on his debut against Blackburn to cement the bond, though no goals since.

46. Leon Osman

It's hard to praise the Everton man without seemingly patronising him: a hard worker, reliable, solid – the definition of an unsung hero. Unless there are any Leon Osman songs out there that I'm not aware of. Became a Goodison essential in 2008.

45. Fraizer Campbell

Juande Ramos appeared nonplussed when the striker arrived at Tottenham on loan as part of the deal that sent Dimitar Berbatov the other way, but Hull fans appreciate Campbell, whose goals last season were a key reason why they are now in the top-flight.

44. Jose Baxter

This Everton kid has a marvellous Spanish meets British name, the equivalent of a paella-and-chips supper. More to the point, his performances in the reserves and in a handful of first-team games suggest that Arsenal don't have a monopoly on talented youngsters.

43. Jack Rodwell

The tall defender or midfield player is a prodigy. He made his Everton debut aged just 16 at the end of 2007 and has since made five starts and four substitute appearances in the league for the club.

42. Chris Gunter

Nine caps for Wales aged just 19, the full back was so good in just 20 league starts for Cardiff that Spurs paid £2 million for him.

41. Ched Evans

Fulham v Manchester City, December 6: Benjani is substituted. On comes a 19-year-old Welsh striker with a handful of appearances, while £18 million-worth of Brazil international in the shape of Jo is left on the bench.

40. Rory Delap

The Stoke City midfield player makes the list for his delicate first touch, his step-overs and his Cruyff turns. Oh, alright then, for his throw-ins. Let's not do him a disservice, though, he has 11 caps for Ireland.

39. Ross Turnbull

Perhaps the lowest-profile goalkeeper in the Premier League, but he must be doing something right for Gareth Southgate to have entrusted him with the goalkeeper's jersey after Mark Schwarzer left Middlesbrough for Fulham in the summer.

38. Chris Brunt

Tony Mowbray paid £3 million to Sheffield Wednesday to sign the Northern Ireland international last season and the creative wide-man, capable of scoring spectacular goals, had a fine year, even if, in common with his West Brom teammates, this term is a bit of a pain.

37. Jamie O'Hara

Born in 1950 in Toledo, as half of The O'Kanes he enjoyed seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country chart. Wait – that's the wrong Jamie O'Hara. This one's soon going to be more famous, because on this season's evidence the young midfield player has a lovely left foot and a tenacious attitude.

36. Carlton Cole

Seriously? Carlton Cole? OK, in the scoring stakes he makes Emile Heskey look like Gerd Muller, but Cole merits inclusion for the way he recovered from vitriolic abuse from "his own fans" in the first part of last season to win over the Cockney critics at Upton Park.

35. Michael Johnson

Common name, uncommon talent: Johnson broke into the Manchester City side last season and impressed to such an extent that he was linked with a move to Arsenal, though injuries have hampered him in this campaign and at 20, he's probably too old for Arsene Wenger.

34. James Morrison

The former Middlesbrough midfield player, now with West Brom, represented England for every level except the senior side, and well and truly burnt his bridges with the Three Lions when he pulled on a Scotland shirt for the first time in May.

33. Ross McCormack

The 22-year-old Glaswegian, signed by Cardiff on a free from Motherwell, has had a brilliant start to his Ninian Park career, with 13 goals in just 17 league starts this season.

32. Steven Taylor

The defender is that rare thing, something for Newcastle fans to be optimistic about. The England under-21s mainstay, now 22, has been a lynchpin at the back even as all tumbles around him.

31. Kevin Thomson

Tipped by Mark Hateley as a future Rangers captain, the midfield player made his Scotland debut in August and formed an effective partnership for his club with Pedro Mendes, but a knee injury suffered in November has ruled him out until next season.

30. Paul Robinson

After a nightmarish couple of years, the goalkeeper enjoyed a mini-resurgence in 2008 and returned to the England squad, even though he had to move from Spurs to Blackburn to start rebuilding his belief. And my, hasn't he been busy lately.

29. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Memorable name, memorable player: the former Manchester United trainee, only 22, banged the goals in at Plymouth, securing him a £1.5 million move to Wolves in January. And 27 goals in the calendar year 2008 is not too shabby.

28. Fabian Delph

Top-flight scouts are queuing up to take a peek at this versatile, energetic, committed attacking midfield player - the best young player to emerge at Leeds United since Aaron Lennon.

27. Adam Johnson

Real Madrid tracking Middlesbrough winger? Must be Stewart Downing. But no, apparently the Spanish giants are keeping an eye on the progress of Johnson, a 21-year-old from Sunderland who has only a handful of starts for Boro.

26. Christophe Berra

The 23-year-old Hearts defender with French ancestry got the call from George Burley rather than Raymond Domenech this year, winning his first two Scotland caps. His reputation is growing and he has been linked with a £3m move to the Premier League.

25. Joe Ledley

Signs are that Cardiff will struggle to keep hold of the £6 million-rated Wales international midfield player, 22 in January. He scored the goal against Barnsley at Wembley that sent Cardiff to the FA Cup Final.

24. Chris Iwelumo

Let's put aside his comical miss on his Scotland debut and say: Iwelumo, Scotland debut? He must be doing something right. And he certainly is. The Wolves striker is a target man in the Emile Heskey mould – except he's prolific!

23. Jack Wilshere

Lewis Hamilton, Ashley Young, the ginger kid from the Harry Potter films - sons of Stevenage are enjoying great success. The 16-year-old midfield player has already featured in the league and Champions League for Arsenal, as well as, naturally, the Carling Cup.

22. Joe Lewis

At the start of 2007-08 the young goalkeeper went on loan to Morecambe to find first-team action. He did so well that Peterborough signed him from Norwich for £400,000, and, remarkably, he was called into the full England squad for last summer's friendlies. A future star.

21. Aaron Ramsey

The child from Caerphilly cost Arsenal £5 million. And it looks well spent at this stage, with the versatile 17-year-old (18 on Boxing Day) already playing his part, even starting in Europe.

20. Scott Brown

The former Hibernian man has become a regular in the Celtic midfield, with his defensive attributes to the fore, also featuring frequently for Scotland.

19. Joe Hart

The 19-year-old is already Manchester City's first choice and made his England debut against Trinidad & Tobago last summer, even though it is clear he has a fair bit to learn if he is to dislodge David James as the country's number one.

18. Mark Wilson

Bizarrely uncapped for the senior Scottish side despite representing the country at all junior levels and captaining the under-21s, yet the left or right back has just been awarded a new contract by Celtic as recognition for his fine year.

17. Darren Bent

To think that in the summer of 2007, Bent cost more than Barcelona paid for Thierry Henry. At least this season he has begun to justify some of that £16.5 million price tag, as Spurs discovered that the striker they were forced to play because of a lack of alternatives is not so bad after all.

16. Danny Murphy

After moving from Charlton to Spurs in 2006, the former England midfield player looked washed-up – at the ripe old age of 29. But since joining Fulham and playing regularly he has been quietly effective. And he scored the goal that kept the Cottagers up at Fratton Park in May.

15. Boaz Myhill

With Hull roaring high up the Premier League this season, Myhill making some fine saves and there being a dearth of non-dodgy English goalkeepers, isn't it time Capello looked at Myhill? No, actually, he's Welsh-American. Oh well.

14. Glen Johnson

With Micah Richards injured or inept and Gary Neville out of action for most of the year, is the toilet-seat thief now the best English right back in the nation? Improved vastly from his early days at Chelsea, when he was frankly useless.

13. Michael Turner

If he wasn't playing for Hull, chances are there would be more of an England buzz being generated by the 25-year-old centre back's performances this term. But with each good performance by the Tigers, more praise is heaped on him.

12. Jermain Defoe

Has hotted up since he stopped warming the Spurs bench, with 19 goals since he moved to Portsmouth in January, three of those for England. Looks a bona fide international-calibre striker again.

11. Gary Cahill

Cahill is what Arsenal need: an old-fashioned, tough, commanding centre back who eschews nonsense in any shape or form. The £5 million Gary Megson paid in January to bring him to Bolton Wanderers was a huge factor in keeping them up.

10. Dean Windass

Scoring Hull's winner in the Coca-Cola Championship play-off final was the worst thing he could have done for his playing time, as Phil Brown appears to think that the Premier League isn't much of a place for 39-year-old strikers. But what a winner and what a story for the local legend.

9. Emile Heskey

Expected to be hotly pursued in January, yet how many goals has the forward scored in 2008? Six. But his value to England and Wigan as a big bloke who distracts defenders and wins headers is evident - so that 2007 international recall was not a freak moment of Steve McClaren madness after all.

8 James Milner

"He's the future, my future," Capello said this week of the most-capped player in England under-21s history, so expect the Villa winger to make his first international appearance before long - reward for some lively displays this year, though he may only be England's fifth-choice right winger after Walcott, Wright-Phillips, Bentley and Beckham.

7. Jimmy Bullard

Football's favourite fisherman and cheeky chappie even earnt a call-up to the England squad this season, though a man with the sartorial elegance of Fabio Capello is very unlikely to make someone with hair like Bullard's a mainstay of the midfield.

6. Robert Green

Given David James' erratic nature and the generally average performances of most his compatriots you could make a case for the West Ham United man being the best English goalkeeper of 2008. Unless you were Fabio Capello.

5. Gabriel Agbonlahor

His remarkable off-field adventures, as detailed in the Sunday tabloids, did not distract the Aston Villa forward this year. He won his first England cap thanks to some devastating examples of the pacy striker's art.

4. Matthew Upson

Arsene Wenger, make a mistake? Selling Upson certainly looks like one. That said, the defender is far more accomplished – and less injury-prone – than he was in 2003 when Arsenal let him go. Rightly called into the England squad by Capello.

3. Theo Walcott

Underwhelming for the first half of 2008, but all that was forgotten as the teenager devastated Croatia in September with a brilliant hat-trick. Remains inconsistent, and presently injured, but this was the year that Walcott proved himself as a bona fide star.

2. Ashley Young

"World-class," his manager called him after the winger-cum-forward scored twice against Everton. And now, with four England caps to his name, the 23-year-old is well on the way to proving Martin O'Neill right.

1. Gareth Barry

For a player who spent nearly four years out of the international reckoning between 2003 and 2007, the Aston Villa midfield player is suddenly indispensable: he appeared in all ten of England's games under Fabio Capello. And rightly so, as he is one of the Premier League's best players, eh, Rafa?

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