Note: This idea for this article was unashamedly taken from a Wired Magazine story with the same idea, but for cinematic fighters.
The reason I can attach a title as vitriol-inspiring and inaccurate as the one above is because no such person can exist, by any standard. Pele? Zidane? Maradona? Cruyff? What about Clint Dempsey (kidding…sort of)? The debate rages, without any hope of ever coming to a consensus. So instead of casting my lot with the rest of despairing humanity, I’m sloughing off the bounds of biology and physics and building my own footballer, Mary Shelley style. Selecting eleven factors that I believe to be the most important when building a great player, I set to work in a virtual Gothic mansion, shrouded in storm clouds and ringing with echoes of my own maniacal laughter.
Footballer: Tim Cahill
Affiliations: Everton, Australia
The Why: Despite being constantly referred to as diminutive (he’s a decidedly average 5’11’’ ft.), Cahill is the best header of the ball in Premier League history. As of October 2010, he scores with his head once every 6.30 games (his next closest competitor, Dion Dublin, is at 6.93). This is especially impressive, given he is known almost exclusively for this skill, and lord knows defenders spend hours preparing for him.
2) Left foot
Footballer: Roberto Carlos
Affiliation: Real Madrid, Brazil
The Why: Although lately Gareth Bale’s left foot has come into much popular acclaim, it’s hard not to choose the man singularly responsible for two of the most impressive goals of all time. You know you’re something special when a major news network takes three minutes to tell its audience how what you just did should be impossible according to the laws of physics.
3) Right foot
Footballer: David Beckham
Affiliations: LA Galaxy, England
The Why: With so many right feet to choose from (Cristiano Ronaldo, Juninho, Zidane), it’s very difficult to make a confident choice. But considering the cultural heights to which he has climbed (very few pundits claim his fame for free kicks is unmerited), Golden Balls gets the nod. He has scored the second most free kicks in FIFA history (Juninho is no. 1). Without such a prodigious talent for them, does Beckham become the most famous footballer in the world?
4) Right hand
Footballer: God… Erm… Diego Maradona
From: Napoli, Argentina
The Why: The right hand of God would be Jesus, though, right? Anyways, if I mention the year 1986, what do you think of? World Cup quarterfinal? Argentina/England? That’s what I thought. As such, this is a no-brainer. From the dog-scarred Argentinian himself: It was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” With God on your side, what else do you need?
5) Left hand
Footballer: Thierry Henry
Affiliations: Arsenal, France
The Why: In the most precarious of situations, a spot in the 2010 World Cup on the line, Thierry Henry used his head. Hand. Clearly moving the ball with his left hand to keep it from going out of bounds, he then crossed to Billy Gallas for the berth-ensuring extra-time goal over Ireland. I was watching in a bar in France when this happened. After ten seconds of cheering, when the misdeed became clear, everyone squirmed uncomfortably as Henry’s reputation took a major hit.
Footballer: Rory Delap
Affiliations: Stoke, Ireland
The Why: Let’s play Guess Who. Clue 1: He was a prodigious javelin thrower as a teen, a skill that saw him nearly represent Ireland at the 2008 Olympics after his rise to fame; Clue 2: His throw-ins have led to (a staggering) 40+ English league goals over the course of his career; Clue 3: He takes throws from both sides of the field, no matter how much it holds up the game for him to sprint to that side; Clue 4: Almost no one knows what position he really plays, and yet he starts every game. Give up? No? I already gave you the answer? Damn.
7) Center of Gravity/Height
Footballer: Lionel Messi
Affiliations: Barcelona, Argentina
The Why: Many of the great dribblers in history have been small. George Best a smallish 5’9”; Maradona a dwarf-like 5’5”. Messi is 5’7”, but with his ridiculously low center of gravity and ability to plow through slide tackles like a hurdler who forgets to hurdle during a race, the little maestro’s height is the ideal one for our footballer. The assumption, of course, is that anyone who’s short can dribble well. This isn’t necessarily true (does anyone remember 5’3” Jose Dominguez? No.). However, we’ll give our Greatest Player Ever the benefit of the doubt.
Footballer: Cuauhtemoc Blanco
Affiliations: Chicago Fire, Mexico
The Why: Our Greatest Player Ever will need to be able to pass with literally every part of his body. Who in world football was known for an ass pass? You got it.
Footballer: Joe Hart
Affiliations: Manchester City, England
The Why: This wouldn’t be a true O87 article without a selection from left field. Yes, Joe Hart does not have a lot of physical evidence on which to base this selection. Yes, he is a keeper, and as such, remains largely immobile for most of any match. Yes, he is not the first person to come to mind when thinking of speed (Theo Walcott, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen). And yet, there is this video. On the basis of which, it’s impossible not to choose him.
Footballer: Carlos Valderrama
Affiliations: Montpellier, Colombia
The Why: His ‘do had the spunk of Richard Simmons mixed in with the length and breadth of Kenny G. The glamor of all the members of Poison added to the sangfroid of Darryl in Coming to America. Sure, Valderrama was a great soccer player–but he is instantly recognizable for one reason and one reason only. They even built a 22-foot statue of him in his hometown with golden hair.
Footballer: Johann Cruyff
Affiliations: Ajax, Holland
The Why: I am thinking of Cruyff the player here. Really, I could wax poetic. Most soccer authorities agree that the Flying Dutchman is one of the game’s greatest ever thinkers. David Miller called him “Pythagoras in boots.” Barcelona’s own tactician (and Cruyff pupil) Pep Guardiola once stated: “Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barca’s subsequent coaches must merely restore and improve it.” When Cruyff was on the field, he had a knack for knowing where everyone on the pitch was at all times. He understood the pitch like Gretsky understood a hockey rink. Cruyff’s position was more puppeteer than midfielder–his brain provides a fitting final addition to our monster (on the field and off).
Disagree with me? Suggest alternatives in the comments…