In our regular Sunday feature, FIFA.com presents you with some of the biggest names from Planet Football who will be celebrating their birthdays over the coming week.
25. Olivier Dacourt (37) enjoyed a frontline role as France won consecutive FIFA Confederations Cup titles in 2001 and 2003, and was also called up to serve his country at UEFA EURO 2004. A talented midfielder, he showcased his ability in a number of Europe’s leading leagues, starting his career at Strasbourg and also representing Lens in his homeland, where he won the French League Cup in between spells at Everton and Leeds United. Dacourt later returned to England to play for Fulham, but it was in Italy that he experienced the most success, winning a pair of Serie A titles and the Italian Super Cup after signing for Inter Milan from Roma. He eventually retired from the game following a final adventure at Standard Liege, where he lifted the Belgian Super Cup.
26. Alfonso Perez (39) is a respected figure in Spanish football, having turned out for La Roja at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ and two UEFA European Championships. Perez first made a name for himself by helping his country win gold at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and he went on to enjoy stints with some of the biggest names in the Spanish game, clinching a La Liga title, Copa del Rey and two Spanish Super Cups at his first club Real Madrid ahead of a move to Real Betis, where he won another Copa del Rey and, in 1998, earned plaudits as Spanish Player of the Year. Those performances attracted the attention of Barcelona, who brought the striker on board for two seasons, and after he ended the 2001/02 campaign at Marseille, he finished his career back at Betis. Though he never turned out for Getafe, he was born in the Madrid suburb and the club honoured his achievements by naming their stadium the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
27. Claudio Gentile (58) will long be remembered as a rock at the back during some of Italy’s greatest triumphs. The central defender put in sterling shifts as La Squadra Azzurra celebrated their third global title at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain, keeping Diego Maradona quiet, stifling Zico and the rest of Brazil’s magicians and ultimately frustrating West Germany’s finest in the final. At club level, he took his first steps in the game with Arona and from there joined Serie B side Varese, but it was not long before Juventus came calling. With La Vecchia Signora, Gentile amassed an impressive array of trophies, claiming six Serie A crowns and two Coppa Italias, a UEFA European Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Cup. He then moved to Fiorentina and saw out his playing days at Piacenza, after which he took up coaching, leading Italy’s U-21 side for a year and guiding them to continental glory in Germany in 2004. Despite his combative style, the formidable defender can pride himself on never having picked up a red card.
28. Andres Guardado (25) may just be starting out in the game but he has already won plenty of admirers during his time at Deportivo La Coruna. The Mexican midfielder made his professional debut aged 19 with Guadalajara outfit Atlas and has represented his national side with distinction, appearing at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 before winning the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup courtesy of a victory against USA in the showpiece.
29. Per Mertesacker (27) is without doubt one of the most accomplished defenders Germany has produced in the last ten years. He has been a regular for his country since the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, in which Germany finished third, and helped the host nation to another podium finish at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, when their superb run was finally ended by eventual winners Italy in the semi-finals. Four years later, Mertesacker and Co experienced similar heartbreak as they succumbed to Spain in the last four, and although they once again picked themselves up to seal third spot, the loss brought back painful memories of their EURO 2008 final defeat at the hands of the same opponents. Mertesacker started out with Hannover as a youngster before spending several years and lifting a German Cup with Werder Bremen. This summer, he opted for a fresh challenge by signing for Arsenal.
30. Frank Rijkaard (49) is an icon of the modern game thanks to his performances for both club and country. Most notably, he was a key element in the Netherlands team that claimed its first major title by winning the European Championship in 1988. Rijkaard never hit the same heights with the Oranje after that, however, experiencing a Round of 16 exit at Italy 1990 and failing to reach beyond the quarter-finals at USA 1994. He and his team-mates fell to the eventual winners on both occasions, losing out to West Germany in Italy before Brazil ended their dreams four years later, but his record in the club realm provided plenty of consolation. The midfielder began and ended his career at Ajax, with whom he racked up five Eredivisie crowns, a European Champions’ Club Cup, a European Cup Winners’ Cup, three Dutch Cups and two Dutch Super Cups. The silverware flowed at AC Milan too, where not only did he win everything but did it twice, experiencing repeat successes in Serie A, the Coppa Italia, Italian Super Cup, European Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. After retirement, Rijkaard turned his hand to coaching and led the Netherlands to the EURO 2000 semi-finals in his maiden assignment before tackling the professional arena with Sparta Rotterdam and Barcelona. At Camp Nou, he built a solid team that claimed two consecutive La Liga titles, two Spanish Super Cups and more importantly put the club back at the forefront of the European game by winning the 2006 UEFA Champions League final against Arsenal in Paris. From there, the Amsterdam native left for Galatasaray in Turkey, and at the end of his contract this summer he took over the reins of Saudi Arabia’s national side. He now hopes to lead the Sons of the Desert to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
1. Julio Baptista (30) can look back on several unforgettable moments with Brazil, having lifted the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005 and 2009 as well as claiming the Copa America in 2004 and 2007. The bustling forward first set out in the professional game with Sao Paulo and excelled during his time with Sevilla in Spain, notching no fewer than 47 goals in two seasons. That form earned him a move to Real Madrid, though after a disappointing campaign he was loaned out to Arsenal in 2006/07. Back in the Spanish capital a year later, Baptista won the La Liga title and, following a move to Roma, he returned to Spain earlier this year to lend his skills to a Malaga side full of ambition.