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Is Every Soccer (Football) Player Unique?
1960 – 2011 Comparison (Pale)
Brazilian striker Pele was undoubtedly the best player of the 1960s. Pele and Maradona are two players who are often mentioned when asking ‘Who was the greatest player who ever lived?’ Pele will often be the answer. So how was Pele? Pele was a natural goalscorer, the Santos striker was incredibly athletic and his dribbling/balance combination was unstoppable for defenders. His ability to get behind defenders at such pace and maintain such balance has led him to many scoring opportunities, which Pele is unable to capitalize on. Pele had the technique, the passing ability of a central midfield maestro, the engine of a marathon runner and the power of a steam train. His statistics are sensational, 1281 goals in 1363 matches.
No one can live up to Pele’s name; George Best of Manchester United in the 70s was a similar player to Pele but was a winger rather than a forward. In the modern era, there have been few comparisons to Pele but no one has lived up to the name of the Brazilian Pele. AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato was said to be the Pele of the era, but he has yet to produce any breakthrough form to be named one of the best strikers of all time. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is the closest we’ve been compared to Pele this decade. Rooney has the same strength and physique as Pele, the ability to lift a 70 yard cross field ball and the same vision and technique. Rooney, the England striker, does not have the pace that Pele did, which means that Rooney does not particularly outshine players with skill and flair.
Wayne Rooney has scored goals you wouldn’t think possible with a stunning volley against Newcastle and a recent potential goal of the season overhead against rivals Manchester City. Pele scored amazing goals for Santos and Brazil in the 60’s and 70’s, an ‘almost’ goal that will go down as one of the greatest ever. His dummy against Uruguay which left the keeper for dead when the ball went one way and Pele went the other, but his shot was off balance and went at a tight angle.
1970 – 2011 Comparison (Johann Cruyff)
Johan Cruyff was part of an Ajax team that inherited the ‘total football’ philosophy introduced by Dutch coach Rinul Michels. Former Barcelona and Ajax forward Johan Cruyff’s playing style was influenced by the total football approach he took to his game. His natural position was center forward but with Ajax’s side playing tactics, he moved around and was played on the wing and in central midfield. The Holland striker spent half of the 1970s at Barcelona for Rinus Michels, where he was named European Footballer of the Year at Barcelona in consecutive years.
Cruyff was nicknamed ‘Pythagoras in Boots’ for his ability to pick off passes from seemingly impossible angles. Not only did he have an eye for a pass, but he possessed tremendous pace and ability to get away from defenders aided by the ‘Cruyff turn’ named after the Dutch maestro, a turn still associated with football 40 years later.
I don’t think any striker can maximize Cruyff’s ability to play in multiple positions so I’ve chosen a playmaker and speed merchant who compliments the technical and physical attributes of Cruyff’s game, Ryan Giggs. Both players in their prime had the ability to outrun players, creating scoring chances with agility and tremendous pace. Giggs is not as prolific a finisher as Cruyff but Giggs certainly lives up to the playmaking ability that Cruyff possesses. Ryan Giggs in his prime was lighter than 5-10 yards and could maintain the fearsome pace of 40-50 yards he shared with Cruyff.
However, as football has changed a lot since Cruyff’s successful days at Ajax and Barcelona, the style of play has changed and there aren’t as many players of Cruyff’s caliber who can naturally play up front and drop deep and still be extremely effective.
1980 – 2011 Comparison (Diego Maradona)
Maradona or Messi? There is no doubt that Lionel Messi is the closest, if not the most likely candidate to surpass Maradona’s abilities as a footballer in today’s game. Former Barcelona striker Diego Maradona and Pele are one of the best players to ever grace the planet. He wasn’t as clinical as Pele but, taking nothing away from Maradona, he had a very good scoring record for club and country. Maradona and Messi have similar styles of playing on the ball. They both dribble with great speed and a very low center of gravity; Both of them have extreme dribbling skills with the ability to take 5-10 touches in a span of seconds making it impossible for defenders to tackle. Many have wondered if Lionel Messi can do what Maradona did at Napoli. Maradona won what is now the Italian ‘Serie A’ with Napoli who were a pretty average team, Maradona was a key part of the Napoli team and there is no doubt they would not have won if Maradona was not on their books. Could Messi have the same fate at Blackburn of the English Premiership, Udinese of the Italian Serie A? Many doubt whether Messi can do it.
Messi on the other hand has achieved more than Maradona at this age who has already won the Spanish La Liga 4 times and the Champions League 2 times. Messi is only 23, Maradona is 23 won the treble with Barcelona in 1983 and the Argentine title with Boca Juniors in 1981 but that’s it. So Messi has had a great career on silverware success so far but Maradona’s achievements at Napoli and on the international stage put him right next to Messi. Infamously, Maradona also had a World Cup named after him in 1986 which Maradona named after himself.
There is no doubt that Barcelona winger Messi scores from all kinds of angles and makes all kinds of brilliant runs but Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup is regarded as the goal of the century. Maradona traveled 60 meters with the ball and faced six English players in the process, beating England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and winning the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup with England beating 2–1. The former Napoli striker also scored a highly controversial ‘Hand of God’ goal in the same game that has been talked about ever since. Messi hasn’t really shined at international level and if he does, it might just take him back to his boyhood hero status.
1990 – 2011 Comparison (Ronaldo)
He was a natural goal scorer of his time and the best striker of his generation by far who just scored goal after goal. Ronaldo played at the highest level in the 90s and early 00s, representing PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan before being interrupted by serious knee injuries.
Brazil striker Ronaldo was a natural goalscorer, with his skill and power to outrun players but his danger was in the box. He scored 62 goals in less than 100 appearances for Brazil and was voted Brazil’s best striker since Pele by several judging panels. Former Real Madrid striker Ronaldo was indestructible, it was inevitable that if he got into the box he was going to score.
Since Ronaldo was still playing until recently, no one has been around long enough to replace Ronaldo’s prowess as a known goal scorer. However, some players have started to make a name for themselves in world football this season. Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez is one striker who has the ability to live up to Ronaldo’s ability in front of goal. He has 16 goals for Manchester United in his first season and is a predator in the box just like Ronaldo. It is doubtful that Mexican forward Hernandez will have the impact on world football that Ronaldo has, but the Mexican is a striker just like Ronaldo was in his prime.
Barcelona’s David Villa is another striker known for his ability in the box. Spanish hit man David Villa has plied his trade at Valencia over the years and has finally sealed a move to Barcelona where he already has 21 goals to his name. Villa are also riding on Ronaldo’s international reputation, having already won the European Championship in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, and his goal contribution was a key member of Spain’s winning sides in both competitions.
2000 – 2011 Comparison (Zidane)
One of the most talented 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 reckless manner that saw him become one of the most composed footballers in the game. An out-and-out central midfielder, Zidane had the ability to score goals from midfield and create magic in midfield to launch his side’s attacks.
Zidane joined Real Madrid from Juventus in 2001 for a world record fee of around £50 million. Zidane enjoyed 6 years at the club, winning the Champions League and Spanish La Liga at Real Madrid. Not to mention becoming World Cup winners with France in 1998 and runners-up in 2006. Zidane was a tall, strong midfielder at 6’1 he wasn’t stupid in defense and wasn’t afraid to challenge for an aerial battle but Zidane came. Lively in the attacking half and with his quick touch on the ball, he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head at times as he was aware of the space around him.
Many footballers do not have patience as a skill in their game because there is a lot of pressure on footballers and now all the money is 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 a similar style of control and first touch, with Berbatov possessing one of the greatest techniques in the world today as Zidane in his prime. While former Tottenham striker Berbatov is an out-and-out forward and Zidane has never played upfront, the two have very similar abilities. Their mental outlooks are also very similar, both are very quiet and rarely speak while competing competitively. Both have tremendous ball control, both have the ability to outplay players with skill on the ball rather than speed or strength.
Great players come easily; These 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? Football has the ability to produce stars to perform at the global level which makes football an amazing sport.
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