On the basis that Monday evening is football pub quiz night, Tuesdays will often bring some sort of countdown or top 10 feature, on the basis that it will generally have been argued at length the night before.
This week is no different, and the topic of debate was playmakers, or trequartista for those of a cultured disposition.
First up for debate is the definition itself (it was a long night). We settled on “a player that is neither an out-and-out striker nor simply a midfielder, who is in the team as much to create goals as score them” (perhaps not the most catchy).
Essentially, this ruled out Pele and George Best in my mind.
Honourable mentions go to Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Luis Figo and Michael Laudrup, and no apologies go to any other English players. Sorry lads, the rest are just better.
Not a Brazilian playmaker of any considerable fame or limelight, but a legend nonetheless. His low-key status is principally due to his desire to see out his domestic career in Brazil, but on the international stage he showed true class.
Gerson is renowned as one of the greatest passers of the ball in history. His golden moment was the 1970 World Cup Final, where he was man of the match against Italy, scoring one and providing another.
In total played 70 times for Brazil, and scored 14 goals.
9. Lionel Messi
D’Alessandro, Saviola, Aimar, Riquelme. Many have tried and all have failed in the quest to be the new Maradona. The search is over.
The only reason that Messi is not higher up this list is age. He is the holder of the World Player of the Year title, and has wowed the Nou Camp for four years. His ability to keep the ball under control at speed is unrivalled, and his progression from a child with a growth hormone disability unbelievable.
If the little Argentinian stays fit for the next five years, he could be regarded as one of the top three greatest players ever.
There is a feeling, perhaps just within my own brain, that Ronaldinho has slightly disappointed. His tenure at AC Milan has not been seen as glittering, and even towards the end of his time at Barcelona his star was almost waning.
But this is a man who has been World Player of the Year two years consecutively, European Player of the Year once and has won the World Cup. Even last season, Ronaldinho contributed to 32 goals in 43 games through his goals and assists.
Perhaps it is demeanour as a man who would rather be doing kick-ups by himself than passing to team mates, but it would unfair to describe a man whose goals and assists tally combined for Barcelona was 175 in 207 games as anything but a great.
7. Roberto Baggio
It is a comedic tragedy that one of the greatest players of the last thirty years is known for a penalty miss and a haircut over everything else (although the rat tail was his fault).
Throughout a career spanning three decades, Baggio scored at a rate of a goal every two games, finishing with Brescia as late as 2004. World and European Player of the Year in 1993, Baggio was the first Italian player to score in three World Cups.
His penalty miss in 1994 was horrific, but should not mask the fact that the Divine Ponytail scored five times in the knockout phase.
Now a Buddhist, he’s probably calmed down about the penalty.
And so to the third Brazilian in our list.
Quite simply a complete footballer. Known for being a rugged player and on-field tactician, Socrates was also two-footed and provided assists on a frighteningly regular basis. Now add to this 22 goals in 60 caps at international level, and his genius is evident.
Socrates is also known as a working man’s hero of the game. Early in his career he protested against the treatment of footballers in Brazil, and was known to be a big smoker and drinker.
Finally, probably the best player to sit on Garforth Town’s bench.
5. Johan Cruyff
Holland was the team that brought total football to Europe. Cruyff was the player. Although officially a centre forward, his playmaker status is ensured by his consistent linking of play between attack and defence.
Aside from the obvious innovation of skill, Cruyff won the European Player of the Year award three times in four years and scored 33 times for his country. In addition to this, in an astonishing eight year period Cruyff won ten domestic trophies and three European Cups.
Sports writer David Miller describes Cruyff’s talent as such: “Few have been able to exact, both physically and mentally, such mesmeric control on a match from one penalty area to another.”
4. Michel Platini
It can be argued that what sets the greatest playmakers apart is the impression that they simply have more time than the mere mortals sharing the pitch. Platini was the representation of this rule
He may come across as an arrogant, self-centred arse in his current standing, but this was a player that truly defined the role of the number 10. His free-kick and passing skills were enough to elevate him to greatness, but Platini combined this with an incredible goalscoring rate for an attacking midfielder, scoring 368 goals in a career ended at 32.
1984 was the golden year, with Platini scoring nine goals in the European Championships. He also won World Player of the Year consecutively. A true great, and it is a genuine shame to see his talent eroded by the constant shambles that is his tenure at UEFA.
Slightly controversial inclusion, as many see him as a forward, but I offer no apologies: one of the greatest ever.
Quite simply the greatest free-kick taker of all time, Zico scored 52 goals in just 72 international games, and is the greatest player to have not won an international honour. His skilful dribbling can be beaten only by Maradona, and his goalcoring record is evidently better.
Truly deserving of his nickname of “the white Pele” (no Wayne, not even close).
2. Zinedine Zidane
In my opinion (and it often doesn’t count!) the third greatest footballer to ever play the game.
Zidane lacked pace, lacked outlandish flair, and often lacked charisma; but none of this matters. His ability to have time on the ball at the highest level was astounding, and he is perhaps unsurpassed in terms of all-round technique (Disagree? Just watch that Champions League final goal once more).
The records speak for themselves. Five goals in the semi-finals or finals of major tournaments and eight European finals were combined with an amazing set of individual honours, and I list a mere sample:
Ballon D’or – 1998
FIFA World Cup Final Man of the Match – 1998
FIFA World Player of the Year – 1998, 2000, 2003
UEFA Club Footballer of the Year – 2002
UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match – 2002
World Cup Golden Ball – 2006
At times playing with Zidane was akin to having a child two years older in an under ten’s team, summed up by Bixente Lizarazu: “If we don’t know what to do with the ball, we always give it to Zidane! He can always handle it!”
1. Diego Maradona
On sheer natural talent alone, the greatest player that has lived. Pele scored more goals, worked harder and above all was a greater role model, but Maradona was the brilliance.
True footballing genius, and the word is overused, cannot be defined by honours, nor by statistics, but simply by words.
It does not matter to many (and indeed may be seen as more impressive) that for a proportion of his career the magician was heavily drugged. This was the definition of flawed genius, a man that played with a passion and skill that converted the uninterested.
“When I wear the national team shirt, its sole contact with my skin makes it stand on an end,” said Diego. For the rest of the world, simply watching him play did that.
Finally, if there was anything that summed up the state of our tabloid newspapers, it is an article written by the Daily Mail entitled Top 12 playmakers who made the game beautiful, which, I sh*t you not, includes Jamie Redknapp, Gary McAllister and a picture of Michael Carrick. Jesus.