Some Of The Greatest Of Any Time

There is always this morbid fascination that sports fans have with trying to denigrate the great players of an earlier era by stating, categorically and undeniably, that these great players could not exist in the “modern” era.  That, of course, is pure bollocks.

It fails to take into account that the same nutritional and physiological training would be available to these athletes.  Qscar, Kareem and Bob Cousy would be immense if they played in the NBA now.  Dick Butkus would be more than a monster of the Midway.  And football my way (soccer) is filled with legendary players who would dominate today just like they did in their eras.  Here are a few of my favourite players.

Gordon Banks

Every great team needs a keeper and the best ever is Gordon Banks.  He was also the first tragic sports figure that I can recall.  His car wreck and subsequent loss of the sight in one eye ended his career in 1971 when he could easily have played another ten years of top flight football.  His save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup is the greatest save of all time and is amazing to see.

Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union or Dino Zoff of Italy were both amazing goalies, but out of pure patriotism I have a man-crush on Gordon Banks.  And I also believe that if he had played a full career, then there would be no doubt as to who the greatest goalie of all time is.


The ultimate authority on all things football (my late father) maintained that Eusebio was more skilled than Pele.  He watched Eusebio throughout the 1966 World Cup and always raved about Eusebio as a player and my dad got to play against him as well and said that there was no way to stop him.  And on top of all that, Eusebio is a wonderfully humble man.

Eusebio paved the way for many of today’s amazing African players as he went from Mozambique to Portugal to play for Benfica, one of the great Portuguese and elite European teams.  Like many of the other players on this list, he lifted trophies continually throughout his career.

Ferenc Puskas

No list of the all time greats of football would be complete without the mightiest of the Mighty   Magyars.  84 goals in 85 internationals is a phenomenal record in any era.  My granddad took the UAOATF (my dad) to see Hungary play England at Wembly in 1953 and saw the England team played off the field as Hungary won 6-3.

While the entire Hungarian team (and the Honved club team that most played for) of that time is considered to be the genesis of modern football and perhaps the greatest team of all time, Puskas was, like Messi at Barcelona, the focus point of all of that skill.  And then he took his talents to Spain and with another legend, Alfredo di Stefano, created the first “Galcticos” Real Madrid team.


Is he the greatest player ever?  I love Pele and he is still relevant today.  But it would be nice to see him dial down the rhetoric on his views of Maradona and Lionel Messi.  He cheapens himself so much that he sounds like a Brazilian version of Paul Heyman as he shills for Neymar.  My dad saw Pele play in 1958 and in 1966 live, and of course Santos was touring like the Globetrotters to make money off of Pele’s international appeal.

That appeal is undeniable as he was named Athlete of the Century by multiple sources and was also named as Footballer of the Century by just about everyone; but to me there are still questions about his records as Santos only won two Copa Libertadores in his eighteen year tenure.  And all of his scoring numbers reflect many goals scored in non –counting friendly matches against European opposition.  It would be nice to have some competitive games for a European team against his contemporaries to judge him against.

Lionel Messi

Or is this player going to be the greatest to ever play the game?  I watch “the flea” play for Barca and my jaw drops.  There is so little of him, but he does so much with it.  Let me put it into perspective for everyone:  last year he scored 71 goals in a sport where you are a superstar if you score 20 and a god if you hit for 30.  And he is not the focal point of his teams attack either, just a platinum cog in one of the greatest attacking forces ever fielded in football.

Now while he gets to play against some absolute dogs in La Liga, he also scored at will in Champion’s League and the World Club Cup.  He scores consistently against all teams and he creates many more goals than he scores.  And now he is beginning to take his World Player of the Year Barca form to the international level…

Franco Baresi

And is there any reason that a central defender could not be the greatest player to ever play the game?  In a league that placed a premium on the art of defending, Milan’s Franco Baresi was the absolute master.  But it was by brains rather than brawn that the Italian national team captain dominated world football and held aloft every trophy on offer.

I used to watch him play just to see what I could pick up on to improve my game and my understanding of the game.  He was a chess master playing against thugs, a matador laughing at bulls.  He was a better center back at 40 than anyone else playing the position at that time.  And he did everything better than anyone else at only one truly great club for twenty years, where he is their player of the century and one of the few footballer anywhere to have their number retired.

Paolo Maldini

How great was AC Milan in the 90’s?  The two greatest defenders of all time played alongside each other.  And then when the legendary Franco Baresi finally decided to retire, Paulo Maldini, son of Milan defensive stalwart Cesare Maldini, moved into the center defender role with the grace and style that he had exhibited as a left back.

I firmly believe that all great teams are built left to right and back to front – so a great left back is the cornerstone of a great team.  This man was the greatest attacking full back of all time, and at the same time he was the greatest defensive left back of all time.  When he retired a few years ago at the age of 41, he was still the best defender in the world.  Like his mentor, his shirt number was also retired, the only caveats being that should one of his sons make the Milan team (and they are moving through the system rapidly) then the number will be made available.

Johan Cruyff

Cruyff was the first player who I really studied growing up, as demanded by my uncle, and looking back now I still find him to be mind bogglingly brilliant (YouTube is my friend when it comes to studying the greats).  The Cruyff turn is still one of the greatest moves in all of football.  But the real magic of Johan Cruyff was his ego was such that no matter what position he played (and in the Dutch system he could play every field position in the space of about ten minutes) he believed that he was the best player in the world at that position at that moment in time.

That is called constructive ego and it is a good thing in a professional athlete.  Even when I saw him play in the NASL at the end of his career with no knees, he was better than any other player on the field by miles.  And then to top it off, he became a great manager and then a great director.  His greatest legacy to football may well be the Barcelona football academy that is churning out all-world players like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas every season.

Georgie Best

A better player drunk than almost every other player in history sober … a very sad, but oh so true, epitaph for the original “modern’ player and all around Flash Harry.  My conservative Glaswegian granddad hated him and loved him at the same time.  The Belfast side of the family worshipped him.

What I remember most about him were the models he dated and the fur coats he wore and his sideburns and long 1960s hair:  and the goals, lots and lots and lots of goals.  The Northern Irishman was British football’s Joe Namath.  His goal, at the end of his career when his legs and his liver were gone, is still considered the greatest ever as he beat eight players over about ten feet with hip swerves and feints and changes of pace … brilliance.

Glenn Hoddle

The ”Divine Glenda” is on here as he was the English player of my generation who inspired me to become an all round player and who showed that passing the ball is an art in and of itself: I could still pass the ball like a pro when I stopped playing at the age of 42.  Passing and trapping is still the focus of all things that I teach as a coach.

I had the Glenn Hoddle mullet and the Glenn Hoddle shorty shorts and the extra long short sleeved shirt hanging over those shorts and I was left heartbroken and bereft of purpose when he left Spurs for Monaco.  There is even a photo of me somewhere in my daughters’ blackmail box of me in that attire.  He epitomized everything going bad in English football at that time, but in a good way:  he was a multi talented player with flair, guile, power and imagination who was ignored by a succession of England managers for exactly those reasons:  and this remains true to this day.

Franz Beckenbauer

There is something about him that just rubs me the wrong way:  arrogance perhaps?  It might be that this man started the German domination of England in 1970, scoring when West Germany knocked the defending world cup champions out of the1970 World Cup – something that now seems to happen on a regular basis.

“Der Kaiser” has to be on this list as one of the supremely talented players of all time; but personal issues of mine aside.  And he wrote the book on the libero position in football and brought style and elegance (and arrogance) to a position that was more famous for how many legs could be broken in a season.

Now with a few positional issues to work out, there is one hell of a team here – figure playing a 3-4-3 formation.  Baresi, Maldini and Beckenbauer would be a strong back three especially with Gordon Banks behind them.  With Puskas prowling the box and with Pele to his left and Eusebio to his right, it would be a powerful attack.  Cruyff would be the “holding” midfielder with Messi in front of him and Hoddle and Best would be prowling the flanks and providing service to the strikers as well as creating some mayhem of their owm.

There was also a list of players who I really like who could have made this team to:  Beckham, Zidane, Bobby Moore, Christiano Ronaldo, Carlos Alberto, Billy Wright, Gerd Mueller, Georgi Hagi, Romario, Zico, Maradona….and the list goes on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: