I’m staying with friends in Cambridge who have another visitor, too: Seamus Malin. You soccer fans might recognize the name, since Seamus was a soccer announcer for 40 years, working at ESPN, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Altogether he covered soccer in seven World Cups and three Olympic games, and watched or broadcast thousands of games, both live and on television. He’s in the National Soccer Hall of Fame for his broadcasting.
Although I’m a soccer neophyte, I took advantage of Seamus’s presence and affability to ask him, since he’s seen so much soccer, to tell me what he considered the best players, games, and goals. Here is his list, divided up by category. Players are ranked in order of quality, with the best at the top. For each player I provide a link to his Wikipedia entry and to a YouTube video of his performance. And for each player I give his nationality and the clubs he’s most commonly associated with.
Seamus has seen every one of these guys play.
The seven best nonactive players (again, in descending order of greatness):
(next two added later)
Franz Beckenbauer (from Germany; Bayern Munich). Video. Seamus says he’s the only player in the history of the game to have won World Cups as a captain (not just a player) and later as a coach. Video.
As Seamus told me, “Nobody can argue with any of these choices.”
The eleven best active players:
Lionel Messi (From Argentina; Barcelona). Seamus considers him the best player of all time, better than Pelé were the latter to be fast-forwarded to today’s game. I’m embedding a “best of” video for Messi; this guy is fast! Note: turn the music off before watching; it’s offensive and I noticed it only much later.
Seamus notes that people may argue with his choice of Pirlo.
Seamus’s “best game”:
Seen live in person, as a fan. The 1966 World Cup Final in London, which England won 4-2 in overtime against West Germany. Germany scored in the 90th minute to send the game into overtime. England, however, made a controversial goal (the ball bounced down after it hit the crossbar, and it’s unsure whether it crossed the goal line). And, according to Seamus, existing video isn’t capable of settling the issue. Video of the highlights is here.
Seen live in person, as a broadcaster: The 1992 gold-medal Olympic game played in Barcelona. Spain beat Poland by a score of 3-2, with the winning goal coming in the 90th minute. According to Seamus, 90,000 people were in the stadium, providing a rousing atmosphere that carried the Polish team to their best. Further, King Juan Carlos arrived at halftime, which is the first time the Spanish national team had played in hostile Catalonian Barcelona. Seamus was broadcasting the game for NBC, though only the highlights were shown on American television. Some of the highlights are shown on this video.
Viewed on television: The 1970 World Cup semi-final between West Germany and Italy, played in Mexico, which the Italians won in overtime by a score of 4-3. The score at the end of regulation time was 1-1, but then 5 goals were scored in a thrilling free-for-all overtime. Sadly, Italy went on to lose to Brazil in the final. The video is here.
Best team ever: The Brazil national team in 1970, which beat Italy 4-1 in the World Cup final. Seamus considers this the benchmark for any cup final game. This video shows some highlights of Brazil’s World Cup performance.
Best individual performance in a game seen live: Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final game against England. (Argentina, which won the game 2-1, went on to win the final.) Maradona made one illegal goal using his hand (the infamous “Hand of God” goal) which wasn’t spotted by the referees, and then made another fantastic and genuine goal dribbling by a half-dozen defenders. Seamus was the NBC studio host of this game, and the studio technology was able to show the illegality of the first goal much more clearly than the referees were able to discern. This video shows both goals:
Seamus has amended this to add Cruyff’s performance for the Netherlands against Argentina (4-0 for Netherland) in the 1974 World Cup. Cruyff was brilliant, scoring one goal, setting up the other, and completely dominating the game. Video highlights are here.
Seamus has also added a special category:
Best performance by a duo seen live: This occurred in the 1960 European Cup Final, with the final score Real Madrid 7, Eintracht Frankfurt 3. Puskás scored 4 goals for Real Madrid and Di Stefano scored 3 (see list of top five non-active players). This combination of talent, according to Seamus, produced one of the most thrilling games he’s ever seen. As Wikipedia notes, ”It is widely regarded as one of the greatest football matches ever played,” and was watched by 125,000 people in the stadium. The highlights, showing all the goals, are in this video.
Many thanks to Seamus for imparting this information to me. Here’s a photo of him I took yesterday afternoon:
It’s almost unnecessary to add that because I know I have many soccer-loving readers, you’re welcome to agree, disagree, and add your own opinions in the comments. Seamus might weigh in himself if you ask him questions or take issue (politely, I might add!) with his judgments.