Every four years a World Cup will come along and occupy a football fan’s thoughts and time for weeks. Game after game, the best footballers in the world will parade their skills in front of thousands at the stadium and millions watching on the TV back in their homes.
Players generally make the World Cup what it is. If there were not great players we would certainly not be watching this tournament in the vast numbers that we do. In previous World Cup finals we have seen the emergence of some great talents, talents that we would not normally be able to see.
Which players did the world discover after displaying their skills in previous World Cups? There would be far too greats many to be able to list in detail and there has always has always been heated discussions about who is the greatest player of all time, with two players always at the forefront of the debate.
Lets look at these players’ credentials.
Diego Armando Maradona [Argentina]
[World Cup Honours : 1982, 1986 (winner), 1990 (2nd), 1994]
Maradona is a flawed genius, no-one has ever had his sublime talents and been able to hit the self destruct button with such great effect. Never before has a player been credited with winning the World Cup trophy single handed as he did in Mexico 1986. Even in the infamous 1986 quarter final and scoring what is widely regarded the best goal that has ever been scored in the Finals. After picking the ball up in his own half he managed to dribble hi way through a quality England side before slotting the ball past Peter Shilton, the England keeper on the day.
The Argentinean team that he played with in this tournament were all excellent players but possibly not quite good enough to lift the trophy. However, with Maradona at the height of his powers there could only be one team that could possibly win.
Maradona also helped his nation to the final of the World Cup in 1990 in Italy and only lost to a German penalty scored by Andy Brehme.
However, after failing a drug test in 1991 his career was on a downhill path and then came his final appearance on the greatest stage in the game of football.
In 1994, the World Cup in USA when he scored in Argentina’s first game against Greece anyone that watched his celebration knew that it was not only adreneline that powered the little magician. Eyes glaring into the camera, the hearts of all Argentineans knew that drugs were fuelling their talismanic captain. A drug test followed and the inevitable positive result ended Maradona’s tournament and effectively his career.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele
[World Cup honours : 1958 (winner), 1962 (winner), 1966, 1970 (winner)]
The only similarity between Pele and Maradona is that they hail from the same continent. Pele was the original World superstar, enjoying a career that can be regarded as a being a model professional.
Pele’s credentials are there for all to see, he set up goals, he was an instrumental leader on and off the field and he also scored goals. In fact the amount of goals that he scored is a substantial feat in itself.
His record is phenomenal, scoring five goals in a game six times, four goals 30 times and three goals 90 times. These are numbers the modern player can never dream of matching. In his illustrious playing career he scored a stunning total of 1283 goals. In his international career he scored an amazing 77 goals in 92 appearances. However, there was much more to Pele than ‘just’ goals.
He will also be remembered as being the only player in history for winning the world Cup on three occasions, a feat that is unlikely to ever be repeated. Only an injury in 1966 in England stopped him from possibly winning the World Cup on four consecutive occasions, allowing a fine England side to become World Champions for the first time.
He was captain of the greatest team of all time, the 1970 Brazil side that won the tournament so convincingly in Mexico. Anyone who has watched the final game of that tournament, which Brazil defeated Italy by four goals to one, will be amazed at the skill and vision of the original total footballing side.
Given that Pele hung his playing boots up over 20 years ago and is still revered by football fans that never saw him in his prime is testament to the great man’s passion and skill for the greatest game of all.
Many others have graced the greatest tournament that is the World Cup, but both of the players named above are by far heralded as the greatest two. But who would make the top ten complete?
Gordon Banks, Eusebio, Puskas, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer, Garrincha and the Johann Cruyff to name but a few. In fact many modern day critics may have Cruyff as the greatest modern player, a player who helped to mould the game into the style of play that you see today.
Then there are players that did not manage to show their talents in the World Cup, the most notable being the late, great George Best from Northern Ireland. The other most notable absentee is Alfredo Di Stefano. There are actually many Latin Americans that would hail the ‘Blonde Arrow’ Di Stefano as the greatest player that the world has ever seen.
Among those still playing, Czech Republic playmaker Pavel Nedved, of Juventus, Manchester United’s Dutch predator Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ukrainian goal-machine Andrey Shevchenko, of AC Milan, would top the list. But all three will appear at Germany 2006, barring late injuries, and will probably write some new headlines too.
We look forward to this year’s event with great enthusiasm and hopefully it will be remembered as being one of the greatest tournaments of all time. Let us all hope!