The strange case of...

After failing to play his way out of Scottish Division Two, the midfielder looked set for the scrap heap in 2002. But as Neil Forsyth writes, he found an unlikely second wind

Generally speaking, football careers tend to arc in achievement. For some the peak comes achingly early: think Norman Whiteside, Lee Sharpe or Peter Marinello. More fortunate are those who delay the dip until late in their career, leaving earlier achievement undiluted. Kenny Dalglish, Alan Shearer and the  1997-98 Arsenal back four ease into this category.

Good enough for the World Cup, but not for the bench of a struggling Premiership side? Jules Brandon  wonders what has gone wrong for Wolves’ star  buy from Nigeria

On the evening of July 7 last year, Wolves called a press conference for the next morning, pro­m­­ising to unveil a new mystery signing. The club had just signed Oleg Luzhny from Arsenal, but there was a sense that this next deal might be bigger and better. If there was a slight air of anti-climax, not to mention baf­flement, when the latest acquisition was revealed as Isaac Okoronkwo, it set the tone nicely.

While the Czech Pavel Nedved celebrates being named European Footballer of the Year, Ian Farrell  remembers the rapid decline of a previous winner, from slightly further east

Such is the general view of football in eastern Europe today, it takes some effort to imagine teams from there electrifying the sport and win­ning admirers across the world. But in the mid 1980s, Dynamo Kiev, together with the virtually interchangeable USSR side also coached by Valery Lobanovski, took football to another level with a conception of the game as a living machine. Total Football meets applied mathematics. This lent itself easily to Cold War stereotyping – collectivised football played by faceless automata – but the play was a world away from the drabness of the Eastern Bloc, thanks mainly to Oleg Blokhin, Alexander Zavarov and, foremost among them, Igor Belanov.

The eternally controversial former Rangers goalkeeper took the high road to Elgin in the autumn – but, as Dan Brennan relates, the low road would have led, amazingly, to Brazil

For all its merits, Elgin is not Rio. Ask Andy Goram. This summer, the 39-year-old former Rangers goal­keeper appeared close to an improbable move to Brazilian top-flight side Botafogo, after a chance encounter with the club’s representatives in Selkirk, where he was organising a six-a-side tournament.

At the end of this season, the Spanish midfielder will no longer bask in the affections of Scunthorpe's support on a weekly basis.  Steve Askew pays tribute to an unusual import

When Scunthorpe United’s Alex Calvo-García an­nounced his intention to retire and return to Spain during a local radio interview in August, I stuck my head out of the window to listen for gasps of dis­belief echoing through the steel town’s streets.

Just another Arsene Wenger defensive failure? Or misunderstood man? Damian Hall tries to get to the bottom of a player who has impressed some influential coaches

Though much lauded for his astute transfer acquisitions and alchemist’s touch, there’s a theory that Arsène Wenger is act­ually a pretty poor judge of defenders. Gilles Grimandi, Pascal Cygan, Oleg Luzhny and Igor “fawn on ice” Stepanovs collectively con­spire to let Frank Sinclair sleep easy at night, while Silvinho, Lauren and Ashley Cole all play like wannabe wingers. It seems the Pro­fessor shops for stoppers like most of us shop for Christmas presents for the in-laws – search around reluctantly for a bit, wearily realise whatever you buy probably won’t be deemed good enough and plump for the nearest bargain. And then there’s Nelson Vivas. It’s difficult to decide whether or not the Argentina right-back fits the thesis.

David Beckham wasn’t England’s only footballing export this summer. Neville Hadsley looks at why Jay Bothroyd has attracted both scorn at Coventry and a transfer to Perugia

When Jay Bothroyd left Coventry City for Serie A side Perugia, he was, perhaps understandably, magnanimous. “I will miss Coventry,” he wrote on his personal website. “I hope the club get promoted this season because the Coventry fans really deserve Prem­iership football. The support at the club both home and away is fantastic.”

From Bolton’s bright spark to Tranmere reject and retirement aged 30, Helen Duff charts the downward spiral of a footballer who wanted to make love not war

Hope and disappointment were the competing themes of Sasa Curcic’s football career, but in the end the latter won decisively. By the time the Yugoslavia midfielder opted for early retirement two years ago, he had convinced football fans across a broad span of the planet that he was one part virtuoso to two parts woeful lummox. Remembered with fondness for his lud­icrous comments, he’s still reviled by those supporters who once saw him as a saviour and remains, in at least two English boroughs, the man least likely to be invited back to switch on the Christmas lights.

Ever heard of a player ageing four years overnight? Paul Virgo reports on the remarkable tale of Chievo’s Brazilian star who admitted to faking his own identity

Luciano Siqueira de Oliveira is not the man he used to be. The man he used to be was Eriberto Silva da Conceição, a classy 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder who played for Chievo of Verona in Serie A. The man he is now is also a skilful footballer, but is four years older and doesn’t fill his pants every time a police car passes by.

After playing in front of thousands, having a first date watched by millions didn’t seem too strange to Celtic’s former Portugal star, as Dan Brennan reports 

Jorge Cadete is remembered at Celtic as one of the Three Amigos, the forward line that bedazzled and delighted the Parkhead public during 1996-97. He and his two compadres – Paolo Di Canio and Pierre van Hooijdonk – also had manager Tommy Burns and chairman Fergus McCann reaching for the valium. It was McCann who first coined the epithet – more a sour reference to their fanciful wage demands and antics off the pitch than their buccaneering exploits on it.

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