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Transfer Rater: Nkunku to Liverpool

Football Whispers
 By Nick Miller

Top Tenner: Hometown Heroes

Rickie Lambert has finally signed for his hometown club some 17 years after Liverpool released him as a teenager. Here, we pick out ten of the best hometown heroes ...

10. Charlie George

Watching football in the 1970s carried with it a certain amount of risk. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could find yourself on the receiving end of some unpleasant treatment by some handy-looking chaps. Chaps who, quite frankly, looked like Charlie George, and there was a good reason for that, as the boyhood Arsenal fan almost jumped straight from Islington to the Clock End and onto the Highbury pitch, making his debut aged 18. George would score the goal that won Arsenal the double, against Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup final, but that proved to be the high point of his career, a series of injuries and a falling out with manager Bertie Mee leading to his departure to Derby in 1975. He never really settled after that, bouncing around from club to club, always with the sense that he should have been an Arsenal lifer.

9. Robbie Fowler

An Everton fan as a boy Robbie Fowler may have been, but by the time he became a man and a professional footballer, there was little doubt where his loyalties lay. Fowler scored 120 goals in his first spell at Anfield, winning the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup, before leaving to join the slowly collapsing dream at Leeds, then moving on to Manchester City. Then in January 2006 he came "home," re-signing for Liverpool four years after departing, and it's safe to say he was pretty happy about it. "I'm not sure I've ever seen a player quite so happy to be joining a club before," said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, while Fowler described himself as "ecstatic" and "like a kid waking up on Christmas morning every day." Said Fowler: "Since I have left, deep down I have always wanted to come back and it has been a long time but I'm glad to say I'm back now. Leaving was probably one of my biggest regrets I have had in football."

8. Manuel Sanchis

There have been better players, there have been more skilful players, and there have been players who have scored more goals in Real Madrid's illustrious history, but there can't be many who understood the club quite as much. Madrid born and bred, Manolo Sanchis made his Real Madrid debut aged 18 in 1983, and by the time he retired some 18 years later he had made 710 appearances, winning two Champions Leagues and six Spanish league titles. Indeed, the defender was merely continuing a family tradition by turning out for Real, after his father -- also called Manuel -- won the European Cup with them in 1966, making them one of three father-and-son duos (the others being Sergio and Carles Busquets, and Cesare and Paolo Maldini) to win the continent's top prize.

7. Alan Shearer

Given Alan Shearer's rather tedious ubiquitousness on British TV, it is occasionally easy to forget what an astonishingly good player he was. Born in Gosforth, just outside Newcastle, Shearer took his football education about as far from his home town as it was possible to be in England, signing as a schoolboy with Southampton, from where he would leave for Blackburn and win the Premier League, before his beloved Magpies loomed back into view. Shearer almost signed for Manchester United both when he left Southampton and Blackburn, and indeed on the latter occasion United agreed a fee and terms with him, but sentiment proved too much. "Alan told us he'd met Man U but he wanted to 'come home,' as you would," said former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd this year. And despite not winning a thing with Newcastle and watching the team he could have joined lifting five Premier League titles and one Champions League title, Shearer was happy with his decision. "Of course I was tempted to join Manchester United, but I do not regret either decision," he said shortly before he retired in 2006. "I had a magical time at Blackburn, winning the league. And I completed my own dream of playing for my home town club of Newcastle. I have memories I will hold forever and a goalscoring record that makes me extremely proud."

6. Jimmy Armfield

Man and boy, Jimmy Armfield was Blackpool. And he still is really, his avuncular commentary presence on the radio almost always punctuated, whichever game he's covering, with a reminder of how the Tangerines are getting on. Often regarded as one of the first overlapping full-backs, Armfield spent his entire playing career at Bloomfield Road, which is perhaps one of the many, many reasons that he's regarded as one of football's good guys. "In my playing days, people used to call me Gentleman Jim," Armfield wrote in his autobiography. "Probably because I was never sent off in 626 games for Blackpool, 43 appearances for England and nine Under-23 internationals. I was booked just once, for two successive fouls in an FA Cup tie against Norwich. I had played more than 500 League games by then and the referee was almost apologetic."

Paolo Maldini played his entire career at Milan.

5. Steven Gerrard

Twice Steven Gerrard has nearly left Liverpool (that we know about), and twice he hasn't been able to bring himself to actually go through with it. Gerrard was, of course, on the verge of joining Chelsea, most closely in 2005, not long after lifting the Champions League trophy with Liverpool, but changed his mind, quite literally at the 11th hour. "The satisfaction of one title with Liverpool, no matter how long it took, would always eclipse three or four at Stamford Bridge," said Jamie Carragher about the aborted move. "Ultimately Stevie realised that." Gerrard came so incredibly close to that this past season, but will he ever get there again?

4. Jimmy Johnstone

In truth, you could have picked any of the 11 Celtic players who won the 1967 European Cup for this list, of course all born within 30 miles of Parkhead, from Bobby Murdoch to Billy McNeil to Bobby Lennox. Nicknamed the "Flying Flea" after one particularly superb performance against Nantes in 1967, but more commonly known as "Jinky," Johnstone was a key part of the team that not only won that continental title but nine straight Scottish titles between 1966 and 1974, and was voted Celtic's greatest ever player by their fans in 2002. And if that weren't enough, a series of Jinky Johnstone Faberge eggs were manufactured that year. Not many footballers can say they had their own egg.

3. Jackie Milburn

They do enjoy a hometown hero in Newcastle. There's a school named after Jackie Milburn -- or "Wor Jackie" as he's known by Geordies old and young -- in Newcastle, which gives you some idea of the impact he had on not only the football team, but the local community as a whole. Milburn started out as a winger, but moved to centre-forward early in his 14-year Newcastle career, in which he scored 238 goals in just under 500 games and was quite rightly regarded as a hero, but such was his modest nature he remained humble to the point of insecurity. "I was worried to death that no one would turn up," Milburn said about his testimonial, granted a decade after he retired. "Ten years is a long time. People forget." Needless to say, over 45,000 fans turned up to watch, and Ferenc Puskas turned up to play. You don't forget a player like Jackie Milburn.

2. Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini wasn't quite so much a brilliant player (although he obviously was that), as he was a Milan institution, and that was even before he played a game for the Rossoneri. Paolo's dad Cesare had already played for, captained and won the European Cup and five Serie A titles with Milan when his son made his debut in 1985. Twenty-four years, 900 games, seven league titles and five European Cups later, it's fair to say Maldini lived up to his father's legacy and them some, and he retired as perhaps the greatest one-club man of all time. The Maldini legacy lives on -- Paolo's sons Christian and Daniel are currently in the club's youth setup, and if they make it to the first team they will be the only players ever allowed to take their father's No. 3 shirt, retired along with the man himself in 2009.

1. Tom Finney

Such was Tom Finney's impact on Preston North End that the season after he retired, they were relegated from the old First Division, and the closest they have come to returning is losing in the playoffs a couple of times in the early 2000s. Finney was born only a street away from Deepdale, signed for the club aged 14 but didn't make his debut for 10 years, his development delayed by World War II. However, he would go on to make 433 appearances before his retirement in 1960, leaving the game due to a persistent groin injury as perhaps the greatest player never to win a major medal. In his autobiography, Stanley Matthews wrote of Finney: "To dictate the pace and course of a game, a player has to be blessed with awesome qualities. Those who have accomplished it on a regular basis can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- Pele, Maradona, Best, Di Stefano and Tom Finney."