What, no Carlton Palmer??
10) Valentino Mazzola
Although this is the player on the list that many will never have heard of, Valentino Mazzola was one of the true greats of the game.
Mazzola played for Torino for seven years from 1942, scoring 118 in 195 games. He was revered by the Italian public as the complete footballer, playing as a forward but also known as a hard tackler and good defender (sort of like Kevin Davies??). Would have undoubtedly played in the 1950 World Cup, but on May 4th 1949, a plane carrying the entire Torino squad crashed on the way back from Lisbon, killing all on board.
9) Ian Rush
Simply a goalscoring machine. Almost perfected the art of poacher, fox in the box, whichever other idiosyncratic phrase you want to use. Like Giggs (keep on reading), struggled simply because of the lack of support from elsewhere within his national team, although still managed 28 goals in 73 internationals. Highest FA Cup scorer of the modern era with 44 goals and European Golden Boot winner in 1984, Rush was the finisher in Liverpool’s dream team.
In his career on Merseyside he won an astonishing five league titles, three FA Cups, two European Cups and five League Cups. Mightily impressive.
8 ) Bernd Schuster
The “blonde angel”, as Schuster was known, had a painfully short international career. After winning the European Championships with Germany in 1980, Bernd looked likely to appear at a World Cup Finals.
However, a combination of personality (he fell out with teammates and coaches at both domestic and international level) and the ridiculous demands of the German FA (no sterotypes intended) meant it never happened. His international career was over at the age of 24 when he was ostracised for wanting to see his second son be born (come on mate, you’ve already had one, and this is footy!).
His retirement didn’t adversely affect either party, the individual forging a career with Barcelona and Real Madrid and the country reaching three consecutive World Cup finals, culminating with the 1990 triumph (he says through gritted teeth).
7) Ryan Giggs
There is nothing to say about Giggsy that hasn’t already been said. You can hate Manchester United (and many do), you can hate Wales (and many do), you can hate football (and people shouldn’t) but you have to respect Ryan Giggs.
Despite the age-old rumours that he could have played for England, this is not the case. Some how this makes us feel better. The fact that he played with players such as Gareth Taylor, David Phillips and Paul Evans (nice Forest connection) hints as to why he never even came close to World Cup football.
In a sport where the term ‘legend’ gets banded around like a hooker at a Rooney house party, Giggs is precisely that. And he got to do Dani Behr in her prime.
6) George Weah
A genuine challenger of Abedi Pele’s for the greatest ever African footballer title. It is a shame that Weah never played in the World Cup, but it cannot be described as a surprise. Liberia are currently ranked 156 in the world, and have only qualified for two African Cup of Nations tournaments.
Weah was, however, a ray of sunshine in a bleak football existence. At his peak with AC Milan won World, European and African Player of the Year awards. It’s a dreadful cliché, but Weah was quick and strong.
After a career taking in Manchester and London, Weah retired into politics, and even ran for the presidency of Liberia. Somehow can’t imagine Rooney treading quite the same path.
5) Eric cantona
Yes he was frustrating. Yes he was moody. Yes he was at times an angry man. And yes his quotes are frankly bonkers. Despite these things, he was also a damn good footballer. You could write a Premier League great goals video with Cantona finishes alone.
Unfortunately for Le King and France, through mismanagement and player personalities, France contrived to miss World Cup football between 1986 and 1998.
Defined the new breed of Premier League football. The French coming of age was achieved without him.
4) Abedi Pele
That he is so widely known by the above nickname (his real name is Abedi Ayew) says all that it needs to. Quite simply Africa’s greatest ever player (although Drogba may supercede this).
Although Ghana never reached the world’s greatest stage, Abedi sculpted a reputation as an incredibly talented player, gaining success in Germany, France and Italy. Highlights included a European Cup with Marseille, becoming the record appearance maker in the African Cup of Nations and being named African Footballer of the Year in 1991,1992 and 1993.
As an aside, two of his sons played in the World Cup this year, and Andre was reportedly the subject of a £5million bid from Arsenal in August.
I am scanning over his bribery allegations. Dangerous ground and something for another day.
3) Duncan Edwards
Sport controls lives, but life sometimes overwhelms sport. On the 21st February 1958, 15 days after the Munich Air Disaster, Duncan Edwards passed away after a battle with kidney failure.
It was a tragedy for football. It was a tragedy for England. It was a tragedy for the dream of a working class generation that had found its new superstar.
By the age of 21 and as a defensive midfielder, Edwards had become the youngest player to appear in the First Division, had played 150 league games for United and 18 times for his country, and was expected to take over from Billy Wright as the lynchpin of his national side for years to come.
Edwards deserves this quote from Tommy Docherty to be laid out in full:
“There is no doubt in my mind that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in British football, with United and England, but the best in the world. George Best was something special, as was Pelé and Maradona, but in my mind Duncan was much better in terms of all-round ability and skill.”
2) George Best
Icon. Legend. A (flawed) genius. If George Best had been Brazilian, it is likely that he would now be talked about as the greatest ever player.
Played for his country 37 times, and if proof were needed that one man cannot make a team, this was it. In truth Best saved his best form for Manchester United, but one suspects that the World Cup may have suited George to a tee.
There was a chance of him being taken to Spain ’82, but in all fairness it was possibly a blessing in disguise that he did not. At 36, and with a body increasingly warped through drink and sex, it was not the Best the world demanded.
1) Alfredo Di Stefano
I can do nothing more here than list facts (it’s just ridiculous):
Won 14 league titles
Won 5 European Cups
Won 8 League Top Goalscorer awards
Scored 49 goals in 58 European Cup matches
Scored 374 goals in 521 league games
Named by Maradona as the greatest player ever
1950 World Cup – Argentina refused to compete. Di Stefano missed out
1954 World Cup – Argentina did not enter. Di Stefano missed out
1958 World Cup – Spain failed to qualify. Di Stefano missed out
1962 World Cup – Hamstring injury. Di Stefano missed out
That the watching world never got to see the man play in its showpiece event is one of the tragedies of football’s last century.