It’s certainly a proverbial topical hot potato, and it has been discussed many times in many places, however, not yet in this blog, so this will be Stretford-End.com’s attempt to analyse that most divisive of conundrums – how do we decide football’s elite on a historical basis?
Is it a generational impossibility – old timers and long time terrace stalwarts swear that talents in the shape of Pele, Puskas and Best will never be matched, today’s fanatics tend to hold up Zidane as an unparalled majestic of the modern game, while those inbetweeners staunchly believe that Maradona was simply untouchable by any of his sporting contemporaries.
After an extraordinary couple of days where the British transfer record added a couple of names to the top of its list in Manchester – with United’s acquisition, Dimitar Berbatov, humbly conceding he is far from the most talented player in the Champion’s squad, a sense of perspective is called for, but also perhaps appropriately, a sense of assessment.
City’s deadline day signing of Robinho has a feeling of the West Ham Argy-Bargy in 2006, but as the record transfer to these shores, it is still unlikely that anyone you meet, even the most staunch City fan, would say their new super signing is the best player or talent in Manchester, let alone the Premiership, or the world. A little harsh considering the lad hasn’t kicked a ball in anger yet, but a sign of the times – the fluctuating transfer market gives as little credence to historical transfer fees as it does to the current economical credence, but perhaps a more accurate approach for the purpose of this blog would be to analyse the impact of the rise in popularity of the game against the historical standings and judgment of the standard of player.
Few would argue that United’s record breaking £115,000 transfer of Denis Law way back when bears any significance to Monday’s £32.5m City capture of Robinho, simply because of the economic shift, even in these times of the dreaded credit crunch. However, Robinho was one of many to be dubbed “the new Pele” – a curse that has struck generationally, and internationally. Robinho was the next in line after Ronaldo, whose injury problems were probably compounded by the psychological burden of expectancy after a thrilling start to his career. Pele, for his fantastic goals tally – even taking out the ‘mythical’ ones – he still scored more goals than made appearances for Santos, his ability to do it at the highest level, and his achievements with the national team (even though the retrospective decision to award him a World Cup medal for a final he wasn’t even on the bench for is a little too pandering for my liking), make him a real icon for the national prodigies to live upto.
In Argentina, Saviola, Aimar, Tevez and Messi are all expected to be the “next Maradona”, and closer to home, Wayne Rooney at 18 was declared by many to be “the white Pele” – his susbequent transfer to Manchester United quickly shifted public opinion despite his career progression, which is superb by comparison to anybody’s standards, but this only leads to a telling open statement – were the players of yesterday really as glorious as they were made out, are the players of today so far from comparison that they aren’t worthy of being described in the same breath?
In 1993 Ryan Giggs was hurled into the spotlight. A young winger making a living out of taking the p*ss out of defenders, scoring fantastic goals and a pin-up the match. The comparisons to George Best were inevitable – today, anyone you ask will probably place Best as the best (pardon the repetition) player in the history of the club.
I believe that this simple comparison is probably the most compelling in terms of the point I’m trying to make.
Georgie’s success was magnificent and iconic for the club – but who says Ryan’s isn’t better? Indeed, the argument of whether today’s game is harder than that of the golden era of the 60′s and 70′s is perhaps fundamental to the entire point. Maybe natural talent in that time was ‘better’ because of the standard of pitches and the notoriety of hardman defenders. Maybe with more structural defensive discipline as the game advanced, with the concentration drummed into players that make simple mistakes unforgivable, and the fantastic diets todays players are afforded, the quality of all players at the top level is far advanced in the modern game. I’m a fence sitter on this argument, but I can certainly see both sides of it. Ryan will probably never score as many goals as George, certainly he won’t better his ratio, but I would argue he has given us a greater number of magical moments. As the most accomplished player in English football, and given the spread of his medals has lasted throughout his career as first choice left winger for 16 years in, generationally, the most successful club side ever, there’s a fair argument to say he’s even the best player in British football history. To that point, too, is the argument for Paul Scholes. He may not have given as many individual thrill moments as Giggs or Best but his on the ball quality and intelligence place him comfortably alongside any of his career peers.
It’s an argument I know would get laughed out of any pub or football debate but one I would argue staunchly.
Equally, though, it could be argued for so many other players. Wayne Rooney is often described (since the unfair “white Pele” comments) as the “best English talent since Gascoigne”. Well, alongside Scholes, I would say his achievement and career development rank him favourably against any England player since our World Cup winning squad. Cristiano Ronaldo, should he continue to accelerate his stunning career, should have every hope of becoming the best player of all time. Why not? Zidane was not recognised as one of the leading players in Europe until his later years but is now thought of as the best of this generation, despite Giggs’ and Scholes’ careers and achievements spanning further and greater than the Frenchman’s – at least at club level.
It is with this point I bluntly ask the question – what qualities do YOU take into consideration when you form your opinion of the greatest ever players, and by those standards, who do you believe is the greatest?