Soccer lists are ubiquitous and come in all shapes and sizes, types and varieties. We at O87 never settle for just doing another list. “Just another list” isn’t even in our vocabulary. So, when one of us decided that it would behoove our blog to have it’s own take on the “Best Of” phenomenon of modern sports, we decided that we couldn’t just list the best players in order of their relative merits, by their decades or eras, or even by their positions. We would try something marginally novel (we won’t be so bold as to claim to be the first to come up with this idea): let’s rank players by the number they wore, not by their position. Now obviously, this throws in some wrinkles. Players who might not normally be compared to each other will needs be. For example, Makelele, Hargreaves, Koeman, Zanetti, and Fabregas have all iconically worn number 4. Who to choose? It doesn’t matter! We’re trying to approach this question from a different perspective. We hope you enjoy it.
And so we arrive at last at the second most contentious kit number of the set (#10 takes the superlative, surely). The problem with the number seven is that it doesn’t have a concise identity in soccer. It is alternatively reserved for playmakers, for wingers, and for strikers – depending on where you go and whom you ask. Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United’s newest signing, turned down the number because he wants to make a name for himself. In other words, there’s a lot of prestige (and pressure) that goes with adorning this kit.
That makes it a bit of a challenge to name the best number seven in history. Along with nine and ten, it saturates our list of footballing superstars. But we’re in luck. Seven is also, in our culture at least, a very lucky number. And so in an effort to distill this debate into a conveniently creative exercise, we will define some of history’s best #7s by the good luck charm they embody.
Fighting over the wishbone at the table during Thanksgiving dinner with your little brother – oh the memories! David Beckham is the wishbone of the female sex. Most would rip him limb from limb just to have a piece. But beyond his undeniable sex appeal, Becks fits another wishbone metaphor – his dual role for club and country. There are few players in history who can claim to embody the spirit of both their professional and national sides. David Beckham is the archetype – he is England, just as he is Manchester. A master of the free kick as well as the incisive pass, Beckham remains a symbol of greatness, even now in his waning years.
There’s something a bit odd about carrying around a dead rodent’s paw on your keychain. Frankly, you have to be able to pull it off. And in the history of soccer, nobody better fits in the “able to pull it off” category than George Best. Having slept with more women than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a Barry Manilow concert, Best was the coolest cat in Northern Ireland in the sixties and seventies. Beyond that, he was a genius with the ball and despite the overestimation of British talent, probably deserves to be in the “best ever” conversation. Like a rabbit’s foot, there is something ultimately morbid and tragic about George Best. He suffered from alcoholism throughout his life and met an early end through the bottle.
It is said that the four-leaf clover is so precious because it is so rare. So it is with Garrincha. The bandy-legged Brazilian succeeded not only in spite of his physical hardships, but because of them. Among history’s footballers, perhaps only the diminutive Lionel Messi can also make that claim. The two players are different, however, in that while Messi will be remembered as the talisman of one of the best club sides ever, Garrincha is a symbol of the best national side in history – the Brazilians of the fifties and sixties. Like the clover, he was also tragically fragile, dying too young and unaware of the love the world felt for him.
Kung fu kicking a fan in the face. Portraying himself in a Spike Jonze-esque film as the spiritual guide of a fan in a mid-life crisis. Guiding Nike’s gladiators through one of the coolest soccer commercials in recent history. Is there anyone more colorful than Eric Cantona, the man so beloved in England that he’s second in line behind Charles for the crown? Part of the allure of a rainbow is not knowing where it begins and where it ends. Cantona was similarly mercurial, erupting into bouts of unpredictable madness on the field, to both the horror and delight of all. He was a singularly unique player (we wrote all about it last year, you know) and may have been the best number seven ever.
In 2005’s edition of El Clasico, a magnificent Ronaldinho received a standing ovation from the Madrid faithful for his two-goal performance in the blaugrana’s triumph. No small feat for soccer’s biggest rivalry. Raul may be the counterexample – the player that commands the most respect from Barcelona fans. Like a horseshoe, he is hardy and dependable. Few players have his consistency and lethal edge in front of goal. That factored heavily into guiding Schalke to their first semi-final appearance in Champions League history. Not bad for his only season at the club. Before that, he spent fifteen trophy-laden years with Madrid, becoming all-time top scorer in the process. He’s not done yet, and if I were a betting man, I’d say he’ll become football’s first octogenarian.
Kenny Dalglish is unique to this list in that he is the only player-manager featured. The pride of Scotland ranks somewhere above Ringo and somewhere below John, Paul, and George as the most successful celebrity to represent Liverpool. He also has the unique honor of being third to the crown behind Charles and Eric Cantona, although his fans call him king already. Dalglish is perhaps the shrewdest number seven on this list, favoring collective glory over personal fame. During his years as player-manager, he often excluded himself from the team sheet to give younger players a chance to flourish. He’s also dedicated time and money to charitable causes. Like Buddha, Dalglish was a true ascetic, eschewing materialistic gain for enlightenment. Plus, don’t you just want to rub his belly?
Six of the world’s greatest ever players compete for the title of “Best Number Seven in Football.” Where do we go from here? Since luck is the theme of the day, this competition can only be decided by a dice roll. We’re aiming for a roll of seven.
Beckham – 9
Best – 10
Garrincha – 7
Cantona – 6
Raul – 2
Dalglish – 5
There you have it! Garrincha, our four-leaf clover, is the greatest number seven in history. The dice don’t lie, people. Join us next week for our eighth installment in the series.