It's a big season for...
Ahead of the new Premier League season, ESPNsoccernet puts together a selection of ten players who need to deliver.
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Arsenal have been disproportionately blighted by injury problems in recent years, and in the cases of Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky have seen star players condemned to an eternal convalescence. A third name threatened to be added to the list when, in February 2010, Ramsey suffered a broken tibia and fibula.
He was back in action in November of the same year, on loan at Nottingham Forest, but although his natural ability was still evident, he looked to be bearing serious mental scars as well as an inevitable lack of physical fitness. But time offered progress. He improved during a loan spell with Cardiff and, having made his first Arsenal start of the season in March, he gave a glimpse of his best when inspiring a victory over Manchester United in May. A fine goal in this year's Emirates Cup offered further encouragement.
Such a brutal injury will certainly have had a psychological impact and has set his development back over a year, but in Ramsey's case there is a renewed optimism that he has not been hindered physically. Arsene Wenger felt sufficiently confident after his showing against United to insist history will not repeat itself - "Eduardo had a little limitation of his ankle; Aaron has no limitation of his joints" - and, given the uncertainty over Arsenal's midfield, it will be important he is proven right this season.
Stephen Ireland (Aston Villa)
Though still a couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday, Ireland has already endured a calamitous fall from grace after being named Manchester City's player of the year for the 2008-09 season.
It does not help that he seems to struggle to earn the lasting trust of his managers. In November 2008, he had hailed Mark Hughes as the best manager he had played under; by February 2010, Hughes was being blamed for his loss of form because he was "being played out of position". He said then that it was only under Roberto Mancini that he had rediscovered his form, but in August 2010 he was critical of the Italian for failing to "build relationships with players".
He left to join Aston Villa but, with Gerard Houllier replacing Martin O'Neill, things did not go to plan. Houllier said Ireland needed to work harder at his game; Ireland later countered that, on one of the rare occasions he played, he was "man of the match against Chelsea, but that didn't seem to matter to him".
He went out on loan to Newcastle - "For once I now have a coach who really wants me" he said in March - but Pardew decided he did not want him at the end of a loan spell that brought just two appearances due to injury.
New Villa boss Alex McLeish readily admits that "his game hasn't gone the way you'd expect", but he has hailed his performances in training and is hopeful that he will find his form and fitness and finally realise his undoubted potential. The fear remains that another false start is not long away.
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
A World Cup winner with Spain in July and the most expensive British signing of all-time in January, Torres still managed to endure perhaps the most difficult 12 months of his career. For his country, he was a passenger in South Africa, a tournament summed up when he came on in the second half of extra-time of the final before being stretchered off through injury.
Signs of the Torres of old appeared later in 2010, but after his switch to Chelsea he again looked lost, shoehorned into a partnership with Didier Drogba and starved of service, lacking the confidence and fitness to shake off his shackles. There were distinct echoes of the Andrei Shevchenko deal of 2006, itself a British record, when Roman Abramovich provided Jose Mourinho with a munificent but ill-advised gift.
Torres is already a proven Premier League player and, having had a pre-season to shake off his fitness problems along with the arrival of a new manager, there has been cause for optimism. Even so, Andre Villas-Boas does not yet appear to have found a system to get the best out of his most expensive striker and reports suggest he will start the season on the bench.
Jack Rodwell (Everton)
Although only 20, Rodwell is at a critical stage of his career. Long touted for a move to Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson instead opted for Phil Jones this summer after the Everton man endured an injury-hit and largely uninspiring season.
By his own admission, the 2011-12 season will be "massive" for Rodwell, who has failed to make any position his own. A defensive midfielder capable of playing in a more advanced role or at centre-back, he threatens to become derided as the Jack of all trades unless he can find his place and master it. "I've got to try and establish myself," he said. "I'm not a kid anymore and I want to be a regular."
Stewart Downing (Liverpool)
"He has pace, tricks, a great left foot, he can score, make assists and create a lot of things. Maybe others have missed it, but we have got a player who will excite the fans with his technical ability, and that is exactly what we needed as team."
Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli was quick to praise Downing after the completion of his move from Aston Villa, but his description does not entirely tally with the popular perception of a man who has lacked the kind of explosive ability that marks out the very best wingers.
Few would doubt that a player with his potential to deliver quality crosses is indeed necessary if they are to get the best out of Andy Carroll, but if he fails to deliver, questions will be raised, particularly in light of his £20 million price-tag. His value was inflated as a homegrown player, but fans who had been holding out for a young, foreign talent like Marko Marin or Juan Mata will feel Downing still has everything to prove.
Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
A player of undeniable ability, Balotelli has nonetheless seen his early career marked by endless controversy. His on-field indiscretions have been overshadowed by his eccentric off-field behaviour - including, but by no means limited to, his unscheduled trip to a women's prison and a bout of dart-throwing involving some City youth players - but his issues as a player should not be disregarded.
At Inter, he was insulted by Jose Mourinho and attacked by Marco Materazzi for his behaviour at the end of a Champions League victory over Barcelona; at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini hit out at his "stupid" red card after a Europa League defeat to Dynamo Kiev. In April this year, Silvio Berlusconi finally ruled out a dream move to AC Milan when, with a startling lack of self-awareness, he said: "There is a Milan style of behaviour that I don't think is very close to that of Balotelli."
Talk of a move resurfaced after Balotelli spoke of his homesickness but, after he was criticised again following the Community Shield, it is not clear which club would be willing to gamble on his signature. With City now in the Champions League, Balotelli has the opportunity to prove he deserves the hype, but further negative publicity could most certainly have a serious impact on his career trajectory.
Anderson (Manchester United)
Though he is still only 23, Anderson is preparing to start his fifth season at Old Trafford. Porto received over €20 million when they sold the player in 2007, but though he has shown signs of quality, he has yet to establish any real role for himself within the side.
Anderson arrived claiming he wanted to play at left-back but has become almost a bit-part holding midfielder in his time in England, showing glimpses of quality while struggling with form and fitness problems that are not helped by a propensity to have an ample frame. He was a flair player during his time in Portugal and recently suggested he could take on more creative duties following Paul Scholes' retirement, but the time has come for him to find a role and make it his own.
Jonathan Woodgate (Stoke)
Though Woodgate's career has persistently been overshadowed by injury problems, he had commanded substantial fees for each of the four transfers in his career. His latest switch, though, sees him join Stoke on a free: in his final two years with Tottenham, he made a total of four appearances, and the club decided not to renew his contract. At 31, it is a surprise his top-level career has not already ended, but Tony Pulis believes there is hope it can be prolonged by prioritising match-days at the expense of regular training. "If we can get them through the games and manage them through the week, that's what we're going to have to do," Pulis said. "I think our medical team are first class. They have a system of working that might be different to other clubs but it works for us." As Tottenham managed to coax 32 appearances out of Ledley King in the last two seasons operating under a similar principle, there are serious doubts over Woodgate's physical capabilities, but Pulis remains hopeful that he may have one of the signings of the season: "I think if we get him fit then we've got one of the best centre-halves in the league. He's got an opportunity and a chance to play on a regular basis."
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
It has been a swift fall from grace for Defoe. Having scored 18 league goals in the 2009-10 season, he managed just four in 2010-11. His efforts were hindered by an injury suffered four days after scoring a hat-trick for England against Bulgaria in September, but even when fit he looked a pale shadow of his brilliant best.
In May, he said he would have to consider his options after just 14 Premier League starts the previous season but Harry Redknapp delivered the obvious riposte: "If he plays well, he'll be in the team; if he doesn't, I can't pick him."
The absence of a prolific striker cost Spurs dearly last season. With aspirations of a Champions League return and Euro 2012 on the horizon, the onus is on Defoe to deliver.
Matt Jarvis (Wolves)
Jarvis enjoyed his greatest season to date with Wolves, winning both the Supporters' Player of the Season and Players' Player of the Season awards, and in March he made his England debut when he played the final 20 minutes of the friendly with Ghana.
However, his form dipped in the aftermath of his international bow and he was on the bench for two of Wolves' final three games of the season. Mick McCarthy said in May that the issue came down to his motivation: "He has beaten most of the full-backs in the Premier League this season and given them all a tough time but, when you get that upgrade in your status, you have to upgrade yourself because people treat you differently."
He has little still to prove to Wolves fans, but as an England player who has been linked with a move to one of the top clubs, it is telling that he is by no means certain of a place in the starting line-up at Molineux. After a breakthrough campaign, he needs to maintain his best form.
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