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Is Every Soccer (Football) Player Unique?
Comparison 60s – 2011 (Pele)
There is no doubt that Brazilian striker Pele was the best player of the 1960s. Pele and Maradona are two players who are always mentioned when the common question is asked, ‘Who was the greatest player who ever lived?’ Pele will often be the answer. So what was Pele like? Pele was a natural goalscorer, striker Santos was incredibly athletic and his combination of dribbling and balance was unstoppable for defenders. His ability to move past defenders at such speed and maintain such balance earned him many goal-scoring opportunities, which Pele was most likely to score emphatically. Pele had the technique, passing ability of a central midfielder, the engine of a marathon runner and the power of a steam train. His statistics are sensational, 1281 goals in 1363 games.
None can live up to Peleus’ name; George Best of Manchester United in the 1970s was a similar type of player to Pele, but was a winger rather than a striker. Few people have been compared to Pele in modern times, but none lived up to the reputation that the Brazilian Pele had. AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato has been tipped as the Pelé of this era, but has yet to show any phenomenal form to even mark him as one of the best strikers of today, let alone ever. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is the closest this decade we have to Pele. Rooney has the same strength and build as Pele, the same ability to pick out a 70 yard cross field ball and the same vision and technique. England striker Rooney just doesn’t have the speed of Pele, which is compounded by the fact that Rooney doesn’t particularly go past players with skill and talent.
Wayne Rooney has scored goals you wouldn’t have thought possible with a stunning volley against Newcastle and a recent potential goal of the season against rivals Manchester City. Pele scored stunning goals in the 1960s and 1970s for Santos and Brazil, one “almost” goal that would be one of the greatest goals of all time. His dummy against Uruguay that left the keeper dead as the ball went one way and Pele went around the other but his shot was off balance and wide from a tight angle.
Comparison 70s – 2011 (Johann Cruyff)
Johann Cruyff was part of the Ajax team that inherited the “total football” philosophy introduced by Dutch coach Rinul Michels. Former Barcelona and Ajax frontman Johann Cruyff’s playing style was influenced by the overall footballing approach he took to his game. His natural position was as a center forward, but because of Ajax’s tactical way of playing, he roamed around and ended up more often on the wing and in central midfield. The Dutch forward spent half of the 1970s at Barcelona for Rinus Michels, where he was crowned European Footballer of the Year in consecutive years during his time at Barcelona.
Cruyff was nicknamed ‘Pythagoras in Boots’ due to his ability to break down passes from angles that seemed impossible. Not only did he have an eye for a pass, but he had tremendous speed and the ability to accelerate away from defenders, aided by the ‘Cruyff turn’ named after the Dutch maestro, which is still associated with football 40 years later.
I don’t think any striker can better Cruyff’s ability to play in multiple positions to maximum effect, so I’ve chosen a playmaker and merchant of speed to give Cruyff his technical and physical attributes, Ryan Giggs. Both players in their prime had the ability to beat players with flair and tremendous pace, creating goal-scoring opportunities. Giggs isn’t as prolific as Cruyff as a finisher, but Giggs certainly lives up to the playmaking abilities that Cruyff had. In his prime, Ryan Giggs lit up 5-10 yards and could keep up the terrifying 40-50 yard pace he shared with Cruyff.
However, as football has changed a lot over the years since Cruyff’s successful days at Ajax and Barcelona, so has the style of play, and there aren’t many players of Cruyff’s caliber who can play naturally forward and drop deeper and still be extremely effective.
Comparison 80s – 2011 (Diego Maradona)
Maradona or Messi? There is no doubt that in today’s game, Lionel Messi is the closest, if not the potential candidate to surpass Maradona’s skills as a footballer. Former Barcelona striker Diego Maradona, along with Pele, are one of the best players to ever grace this planet. He wasn’t as clinical as Pele but he didn’t take anything away from Maradona, he still had a very good goal record for club and country. The style of play on the ball for Maradona and Messi is identical. Both dribble with extreme pace and a very low center of gravity; both have extreme dribbling skills with the ability to have 5-10 touches in a matter of seconds to make it impossible for defenders to attack. Many wonder if Lionel Messi has done what Maradona did in Napoli. Maradona won what is now the Italian ‘Serie A’ with Napoli with what was a very average team, Maradona was a key part of the Napoli team and without a doubt they would not have won the title without Maradona on their books. Could Messi meet a similar fate at Blackburn in the English Premiership, Udinese in Italy’s Serie A? Many doubt whether Messi could do it.
In contrast, Messi has achieved much more than Maradona at this age, having already won the Spanish La Liga 4 times and the Champions League 2 times. Messi is only 23, Maradona won the treble with Barcelona in 1983 and the Argentine title with Boca Juniors in 1981 at 23, but that was it. So Messi has had the better career in terms of silverware so far, but Maradona’s successes in Napoli and on the international stage have put him aside from Messi. Infamously, Maradona also has a World Cup to his name in 1986, which Maradona made his name.
There’s no doubt that Barcelona winger Messi scores goals from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of scintillating runs, but Maradona’s second goal against England at the 1986 World Cup was considered by many to be the goal of the century. Maradona took the ball 60 meters, taking on six England players in the process, rounding England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and scoring from a tight angle to beat England 2–1 in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, which they won. The former Napoli striker also scored a highly controversial ‘hand of god’ goal in the same match that has been talked about ever since. Messi hasn’t particularly shined on the international stage, and if he does, that might be what takes him past his boyhood hero status.
Comparison 90s – 2011 (Ronaldo)
He was a natural goalscorer of his era and by far the best striker of his generation, simply scoring goal after goal. Ronaldo played at the highest level throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, representing PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan in an illustrious career marred by serious knee injuries.
Brazilian striker Ronaldo was a natural goalscorer, possessing the ability to go past players with his skill and power, but defiantly his threat was in the box. He scored 62 goals in less than 100 matches for Brazil and was voted by numerous judges as the best Brazilian striker since Pelé. Former Real Madrid striker Ronaldo was indestructible, if he got into the booth it was inevitable that he would score.
With Ronaldo still playing until recently, it didn’t take long for someone to potentially replace Ronaldo’s prowess as a renowned goalscorer. However, there are a few players who have started to make a name for themselves in world football this season. Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez is one striker who could have the potential to match Ronaldo’s ability in front of goal. In his first season, he has already scored 16 goals for Manchester United and is a predator in the box just like Ronaldo. It is doubtful that Mexican striker Hernandez will have the same impact on world football as Ronaldo, but the Mexican is very much like the striker that Ronaldo was in his prime.
Barcelona’s David Villa is another forward known for his potential in the box. Spanish striker David Villa earned his keep at Valencia for several years and finally sealed a move to Barcelona, where he already has 21 goals to his name. Villa has also lived up to Ronaldo’s international reputation having already won the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup, with Spain being a key member of the winning side in both tournaments with his goal contributions.
Comparison 2000–2011 (Zidane)
One of the most gifted players of this century was French midfielder and former Juventus/Bordeaux midfielder Zidane. One of the most natural players to play the game, Zidane glided through the game in a nonchalant manner that saw him become one of the most compact footballers ever to grace the game. Zidane, an outside central midfielder, had the ability to score goals from midfield as well as the ability to spell in midfield to attack his side.
Zidane joined Real Madrid from Juventus in 2001 for a then world record fee of around £50m. Zidane was successful at Real Madrid, winning the Champions League and Spanish La Liga during his 6 years at the club. Not to mention he won the World Cup with France in 1998 and runner-up in 2006. Zidane was a tall, strong midfielder at 6’1, no fool in defense and not afraid to call for an aerial battle, but Zidane came. lively in the attacking half and his deft touches on the ball and he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head at times with an awareness of the space around him.
There are not many footballers who have poise as a skill in their game because of the extreme pressure footballers are under and now with all the money at stake. However, Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov is one of the few footballers who has excellent composure on the ball, which is a very kind skill. Bulgarian striker Berbatov and French midfielder Zidane also share the same style of control and first touch, with Berbatov having one of the best techniques in the world, similar to Zidane in his prime. Although former Tottenham striker Berbatov is a forward and Zidane has never played up front, the skills they both possess are very similar. Even their mental approaches are very similar, both are very quiet and don’t talk much when competing. Both have tremendous ball control, both have the ability to go past players with skill on the ball rather than speed or power.
Great players are easy to find; they are magical players that are hard to come by. Who will replace Barcelona’s Messi or Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in a few years? Soccer has the ability to produce stars that can prove themselves on the world stage, which is what makes soccer such an amazing sport to watch.
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