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Barren midfielders, Arsenal's Invincibles

August 1, 2013
By Richard Jolly
(Archive)

If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to ESPN FC's team of football anoraks at askespnfc@hotmail.com and they will try to answer as many as possible.

Another season ended and John Obi Mikel still hasn't scored a goal for Chelsea. Just wondering, has there been any outfield player in his position that has gone this number of seasons without scoring a goal? Oscar from Nigeria asked.

John Obi Mikel celebrates with his Chelsea team-mates after netting against Nottingham Forest.
GettyImagesJohn Obi Mikel celebrates with his Chelsea team-mates after netting against Nottingham Forest in 2007.

Mikel hasn't scored a league goal in seven years and 182 games for Chelsea. He does, however, have two in the FA Cup, against Macclesfield and Nottingham Forest, which came in an unusually prolific month, January 2007.

Excluding footballers who scarcely played because of injury or selection, no midfielder has gone longer without a Premier League goal. Indeed, his total of 182 Premier League games without scoring is a record for a midfielder or forward. The overall record among outfield players — the subject of an earlier question — belongs to former Birmingham and Wimbledon defender Kenny Cunningham, with 335 goal-less games.

Andrea Pirlo has now played for Inter, Milan, and Juventus (the three biggest clubs in Italy in terms of Scudetti won), my question is: is there any other players who have played for the three biggest teams in other leagues (or even other players in Italy who have played for those three teams)? The term "biggest teams" here is based on the championships won. So for English league, it'll be Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal, Hansen Jayadi Kosasih asked.

To use the last example first, the answer is that no one has played for Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Pirlo, meanwhile, is the eighth man to play for Italy's three most successful clubs. The other seven are Giuseppe Meazza, Aldo Serena, Roberto Baggio, Christian Vieri, Edgar Davids, Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The three most successful clubs in the history of La Liga are Real Madrid (32 titles), Barcelona (22) and Atletico Madrid (nine). Only two players have completed a hat-trick of playing for them all: the German Bernd Schuster, who won the Copa del Rey with all three clubs, and Miquel Soler, who only spent one season at each of the Madrid clubs.

The situation in Germany is a little more complicated: Germans, our Bundesliga expert Uli Hesse says, include the national championships that preceded the formation of the current league system when assessing their most successful clubs. By that system, Bayern Munich, Nurnberg and Borussia Dortmund are their three most decorated outfits. The contingent to play for them all, Uli said, is headed by World Cup winner Stefan Reuter and also includes the Croatia international Robert Kovac and current Nurnberg midfielder Markus Feulner.

In Italy, there's a curious pattern of putting the last two digits of your birth year as your jersey number, with Stephan El Shaarawy, born in 1992 with the jersey number 92, just one of the many examples. Has this trend reached the shores of England yet? Aidil Suffian from Singapore asked.

Thankfully not. The highest shirt number ever seen on a Premier League pitch is 62, worn by Manchester City's Abdul Razak. But, as Aidil points out, players picking the year of their birth for their shirt number is much more common in Serie A. Ronaldinho wore 80 during his time at AC Milan and Cristian Zaccardo (81) joins El Shaarawy in continuing the trend.

Lazio's Diego Novaretti (85) and Antonio Candreva (87), Napoli's Valon Behrami (85), Fiorentina's Neto (89), Udinese's Matej Vydra (92), Genoa's Antonio Floro Flores (83) and Roma's Alessandro Crescenzi (91) are other prominent examples in Serie A.

I want to find out where all the Arsenal Invincibles of 2003-04 are today. How many are in football management? Also how many have left the club for another and returned as players? I am hopeful Cesc Fabregas will return, Ezekiel from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, wrote.

Robert Pires and Thierry Henry parade the Premier League trophy in May 2004.
GettyImagesRobert Pires and Thierry Henry parade the Premier League trophy in May 2004.

Of the 20 men who made ten Premier League appearances in Arsenal's unbeaten campaign of 2003-04, thus qualifying for a medal and giving themselves the right to be called Invincibles, none are still in their squad. Gael Clichy, in 2011, was the last to leave. Two have returned as players: Sol Campbell made 14 appearances in the 2009-10 season while Thierry Henry scored two goals in seven games on loan in 2011-12. Others have been back — Robert Pires trained with them before joining Aston Villa, for example — but without re-signing for Arsenal.

None are actually first-team managers but three are involved in management: Dennis Bergkamp is assistant to Frank de Boer at Ajax, where they have enjoyed considerable success; Edu is Corinthians' director of football; and Patrick Vieira was Manchester City's Football Development Executive but has now taken over as manager of their Elite Development Squad (or the reserves, in layman's terms). In addition, Jens Lehmann is also studying for his coaching badges while seven Invincibles are still playing. Fabregas, who did not play in that league campaign, belongs to a younger generation.

Jeremie Aliadiere — playing for Lorient.

Dennis Bergkamp — assistant manager of Ajax.

Sol Campbell — retired.

Gael Clichy — playing for Manchester City.

Ashley Cole — playing for Chelsea.

Pascal Cygan — retired.

Edu — director of football at Corinthians.

Thierry Henry — playing for New York Red Bulls.

Nwankwo Kanu — retired.

Martin Keown — television pundit.

Lauren — retired, occasional television pundit.

Jens Lehmann — television pundit.

Freddie Ljungberg — retired.

Ray Parlour — retired, radio pundit.

Robert Pires — retired.

Jose Antonio Reyes — playing for Sevilla.

Gilberto Silva — playing for Atletico Mineiro.

Kolo Toure — playing for Liverpool.

Patrick Vieira — manager of Manchester City's Elite Development Squad.

Sylvain Wiltord — retired, consultant for television company.

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