Sports special: soccer expert lists the best players, games, and goals ever

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):

Pelé (from Brazil; Santos). Video.

Diego Maradona (from Argentina; Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli). Video.

Bobby Charlton (from England; Manchester United). Video. Seamus was at this game, which he considers Charlton’s greatest day of glory.

Alfredo Di Stéfano (from Argentina; Real Madrid). Video.

Ferenc Puskás (from Hungary; Real Madrid). Video. A rare left-footed player.

(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.

Johan Cruyff (from the Netherlands; Ajax and Barcelona). 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.

Cristiano Ronaldo (From Portugal; Real Madrid). Video.

Falcao (Radamel Falcao García; from Colombia; Athletico Madrid). Video.

Andrés Iniesta (From Spain; Barcelona). Video.

Xavi Hernandez (From Spain; Barcelona). Video.

Iker Casillas (goalkeeper, Real Madrid). Video.  The only goalkeeper on this list.

Neymar (Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, from Brazil, Santos). Video.

Zlatam Ibrahamovic (From Sweden; Paris St-Germain). Video.

Wayne Rooney (from England; Manchester United). Video.

Andrea Pirlo (from Italy; Juventus). Video.

Robin van Persie (from the Netherlands; Manchester United). Video.

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.

122 Comments

  1. Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Jerry, please stop using the “s” word. For we football fans the word is an abomination.

    Anyway, everyone has their own opinion, of course, and mine is that it would be pointless to include any players from the British Isles because it’s impossible for them to adapt to anything other than their club formation.

    I only remember football from 1963 onwards so I can’t speak for di Stefano or Puskas or the like, but I propose the following as the best-ever team from the last fifty years.

    (4-1-3-2)
    Buffon:
    Thuram; Beckenbauer; Cannavaro; Maldini:
    Makalele:
    Pele; Zidane; Cruyff:
    G Muller; van Basten

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I don’t take well being told what to say. I used the word “soccer” because “football” means something else to Americans, and I wanted the post to be intelligible to everyone.

      Let me note as well that the word “soccer” for the game was invented (and is sometimes still used) by the Brits.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

        I guess that the quasi-religious reference fell on stony ground. Oh, well…

        • harrystarkus
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:38 am | Permalink

          we call it soccer in Ireland too as we have our own version of Football (Gaelic Football) as they do in Australia with (Aussie Rules) … its just for convenience. Actually every few years a hybrid of the two games is played called “International Rules Football” – a usually violent affair! Here is a little clip of our football in action – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slm5od5youg&feature=relmfu

          In regards to the list of players I have to make a plea on behalf of Gerd Mueller of Germany. He scored 68 goals in 62 international matches – a goal scoring genius!

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      I’m British / English, and, personally, I don’t see anything wrong with using the word ‘Soccer’. The word is not American, but has the same origin as ‘Rugger’, for Rugby, when British public schoolboys would differentiate between the two games ‘Assocition Football’ – ‘Assoc’ – ‘Soccer’ and ‘Rugby Football’ – ‘Rugger’. There even used to be a couple of TV programmes, back in the day, on British TV called ‘Star Soccer’ and ‘Sunday Soccer’, or something like that. Look upon it as another proud example of British English, at last, having an influence on American English. Or would you rather take a rubber (!) and remove all mention of the word?

      The Americans, after all, have to differentiate between between Association Football and their own, rather soft, version of Rugby Football.

      I am, however, having great difficulty understanding why and how Seamus, who must have Irish roots, could possibly omit the great George Best from his list of best non-active players. Even Pelé, a contemporary, considered him to be the best player of his day. Or Johan Cruyff, for that matter.

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        You are totally right about “soccer”. The fake indignation that people have about it stems (I think) from the perceived arrogance of the USA in calling a sport that has almost no traction outside of their country “football” instead of the proper term “American football”.

        My problem with the use of the term “football” is that there seems to be almost no use of the feet at all except for one person on each side who isn’t even on the pitch most of the time.

        You’re right about George Best and Johan Cruyff too.

        • OlliP
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Might I point out that not only is there almost no use of the foot, but also never a ball in play in that sport that for some strange reason is called “football” in North America.

          • PauloJabardo
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

            The “foot” part refers to playing on foot instead of on horseback.

        • Notagod
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          I don’t know why people keep referring to it as American football, IT’S USAian handball.

          • teacupoftheapocalypse
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

            We call it American Football for the sake of convenience and to avoid confusion. “Handball” would just add further confusion. For one reason or another, the Septics call their soft rugby derivative ‘Football’ (and, for that matter, the full title of Rugby is Rugby Football, while, when the game is played properly, there is little contact with feet). And “USAian” just does not trip off the tongue.

            • Notagod
              Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

              Say it a few times, you’ll get use to it.

              • Notagod
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

                USian handball, if you prefer.

      • TJR
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        On the contrary, that is exactly the point IMHO. The reason many of us hate the word “soccer” is precisely because that is what annoying middle class rugby fans call the game.

        Hence it chafes a bit when USers borrow a term from the egg-chasers. We wouldn’t mind if it was just USers using it.

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          Good grief! The list has been amended from “The five best nonactive players” to ” The seven best” and still George Best isn’t there. Or Duncan Edwards.

          And Maradona is way too high up the ranking as, in my view, every one of his achievements was diminished by the Hand of God, as he put it. He cheated, and cheated deliberately. Not a true sportsman.

          • blitz442
            Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

            I’m in total agreement about Best. If a British or Irish player must be included on the list, then it’s Best over Charlton any day of the week. Better player, better hair, better drinker.

            Maradona should be in the top 3 in any list. His cheating aside, he stood out as a goalscorer and creator in the most defensive era of soccer. That iconic picture of him in the 1986 World Cup, with the ball facing half a dozen Belgian players all fixated on him, says it all.

      • Dominic
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Best was Northern Ireland not Republic of Ireland.

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          Does that make him any less of a player or any less Irish, really?

          The Irish Rugby team is made up of players from The Republic and Northern Ireland.

          • Dominic
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            No – but perhaps Seamus is does not rate him as highly as he never got to play at the highest level, that is a World Cup? Making a simple statement does not mean I am making a judgement on a thorny international issue.

          • Dominic
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            …& come to think of it, rugby has been seen as foreign by some Irish nationalists who prefer Gaelic football which is the most popular spectator sport in Ireland it is said.

            • teacupoftheapocalypse
              Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

              Not to mention Hurling. Not a game for the faint-hearted!

  2. Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    Soccer/Football doesn’t matter. It is a terrible game with worse fans. Rugby is the only game for real persons.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      That’s unkind.

      • George
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        Do any of those soccer highlights compare to this:

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

          Probably the best try ever scored in one of the best games ever. But, had it not been a Ba-ba’s game, it may never have been scored, as the ref would probably have given a penalty for the high tackle on JPR Williams, early in the sequence.

          • Jeremy Pereira
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

            Which high tackle? I saw two. The referee might have played advantage for the second since the Barbarians had the ball, but I didn’t see him signal it. High tackles are so dangerous, that nowadays you wouldn’t let them go even in a Barbarians match. They were different times then.

            Anyway, it looked to me like the Ba-Bas also knocked on in the line-out, although that could have been a foot, I suppose.

            • BilBy
              Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

              Yep – a high tackle in 2012 probably wasn’t regarded as a high tackle in 1973. Ouch.

            • teacupoftheapocalypse
              Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

              Not for the first – Sid Going caught the ball from the kick. the second was high, but nowhere near as bad.

              Agreed that current views on high tackles are different, but they still happen all too often, but high tackles and straight-arm tackles were outlawed in Rugby long before 1973.

        • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          While that was undeniably impressive, I would say that yes, the Maradona one is rather similar. Messi scored a similar goal, which I was surprised to see was not included in the video Jerry included (I think the finish is, but not the run that got him to the goal).

          Also, to say it’s a terrible game is clearly subjective. I don’t happen to like much about rugby. Scrums, rucks & mauls are all rather ugly to me, and the inability to play a killer pass forward (sure, you can kick it, but it usually just bounces awkwardly at the other end) makes it inferior to football *in my opinion*.
          As for the claim that the fans are worse, that would be a direct insult to me as a football fan, when dcm0001 doesn’t know anything about me, so I agree with Jerry – I hope it’s a joke, but it was a little hard to tell.

          • teacupoftheapocalypse
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

            I don’t think that it is possible, or wise, to compare individual events or achievements from the two sports – or any two sports, for that matter – and say that one is more impressive than the other. The rules, tactics, skill sets and physiques involved, tending to be totally different.

        • pktom64
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          Or the “Try from the End of the World”
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTwTi-UeQ7s

        • eddie
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

          HANDBALL!!!

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        And I hope it’s a joke.

      • teacupoftheapocalypse
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        Rugby, as they say, is a hooligans’ game game played by gentlemen, and Football is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans (stand up, please, Joey Barton, et al.).

        A bit like American football and Ice Hockey :)

        • Aj
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

          Actually it used to be the other way around, i.e. “Rugby is a game played by hooligans and watched by gentleman, while football is a game played by gentlemen and watched by hooligans”.

          However since that original coinage the behaviour of football fans has generally improved, while the players’ behaviour has declined hugely.

          Meanwhile the rugby clubs I know of are still composed almost wholly of alcoholic lunatics.

  3. Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    One worthwhile application of time-travel – comparing footballers in different eras.

  4. Eddie Janssen
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    The five best non-active players:
    No Johan Cruijff???
    As a Dutchman, I consider this an insult. We Sir, are almost at war!

    • eddie
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      well said.

  5. Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    I think Maradona is the best individual that’s played the game, although Messi has a chance to eclipse him – he needs to win at international level. Pele is close though.

    Other non-actives that are worth a mention are three Dutchmen: Cruyff, Van Basten and Gullit. All fabulous players. Germans Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. The Portuguese Eusebio and the Northern Irishman George Best. And let’s not forget the genius of Zinedine Zidane.

    If I could open up another category for neglected geniuses, I would nominate Matt Le Tissier. Check out the video; he only scored brilliant goals!

  6. Endre Kovács
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    No offence to Seamus, and with no intent to diminish Maradona’s greatness, but how can a goal scored by hand can be characterized as part of the best individual performance ever?

  7. Nick Evans
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    It’s pretty generous to the English to say it’s unclear whether their 3rd goal crossed the line!

    • Jeremy Pereira
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      From 14:39

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      That issue is moot, as England scored a 4th.

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Indeed, have a listen to the YouTube clip i posted 14:39 on, although the preceding five minutes are also relevant.

  8. Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Where is Man Utd and Northern Ireland’s own George Best? Even his team-mate Charlton would admit he was the better player. Sadly, he burned brightly, but briefly.

    As he said himself “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Dare I mention Duncan Edwards? Bobby Charlton, a Manchester United team-mate asaid he wasn’t even fit to lace Edward’s boots. Sadly, his particular falme was snuffed out all too soon in the Munich air crash. Sadly, only one short snippet of grainy film is all the record there is of the great man in action.

    • transientreporter
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

      I also recall that he squandered a second liver…

  9. Pete UK
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Whether or not he has a place in this august list is moot, but if you want to see some of the most extraordinary skill (and vision) every displayed on a football pitch, there’s another Dutchman to include: Dennis Bergkamp.

    True, he and his national team never quite clicked in World Cups, but his individual ability isn’t in question, for Holland, Arsenal or Ajax.

    There’s a good compilation at

    and the soundtrack ain’t bad, either…

  10. jose
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Sad to not see a single German player. Also surprised Puskas and Charlton made it over Cruyff and Beckenbauer.

    • jose
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      On the other hand, wonderful he picked Messi as the greatest ever! Many times we’re told we just say that because we’re youngsters with no memory who never saw the good ol’ days… take that naysayers :-D

  11. sigh
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Van Persie disappears when he plays in a tournament (EURO or World Cup) with the Dutch team. Mesut Özil deserves his place on that list. Anyway I am a big fan of boxing, a lonely sport with some amazingly talented unrecognized guys & girls who earn diddly squat compared to these soccer princesses.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      Mesut Özil? Are you kidding? He’s a very, very good player, granted, but he is not even a guaranteed starter for Real Madrid.

      • sigh
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        He was Germany’s motor in the last worldcup and eurocup at age 21-23 (two consecutive semi-finals). One of the best passers in the world (wiki: In 2011, he ranked first in assists in major European and domestic competitions with 25. In 2012, he ranked first in assists in La Liga with 17). Van Persie makes the Netherlands, who are usually very good in international tournaments, historically bad.

  12. GrahamH
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Maradona is, quite simply, a cheat and undeserving to be included in this list.

    The reason ‘soccer’ grates is that it is redolent with class issues. In Britain ‘soccer’ is a middle class term for football. When I was growing up in south London and very few people I go to football matches with now would ever refer to it as ‘soccer’.

  13. Petu W.
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Maradona’s goal against England in 1986(the honest one…) is hugely overrated. It is quite obvious that the englishmen defend their goal lazily.

    • TJR
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Awful defending by Fenwick (how did he ever get near the team??) and Shilton (well past his best by then) should have saved it easily.

      • blitz442
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        If Shilts was past his best in 86′, what was he in Italia 90’? Either he was still near his peak or the English had no depth of talent at that position in the 1980s.

  14. Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Although Pele scored 2 goals in a World Cup Final at the age of 17, Messi is easily the best player I’ve ever seen.

    He is so good that often defenders can’t even get close enough to foul him.

    It’s like having a running back in the NFL who doesn’t just shrug off tackles, but scores touchdowns untouched. Messi has a Barry Sanders like ability to make defenders look like they are just clumsy and slow.

    • blitz442
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Could it be that they call fouls a lot closer today that in Pele’s day?

      Pele was bullied and literally kicked out of the 1966 World Cup. I doubt that the same treatment of attacking players would be tolerated today.

      • Robert
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        In fact that treatment was sort of symbolic of what was happening in the 60s and led to a lot of changes.

        The thing is fouling and diving are both parts of contact sports – certainly they will be as long as they are refereed by humans – and the evolution of the game is in many ways the evolution of fitness and the ability to foul/not be fouled.

        It’s impossible to directly compare different eras.

  15. peter
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I agree strongly with those advocating for George Best. Also I would add to the list Eusabio, the Portugese national player (actually from Angola I think, but maybe Mozambique). He was not far behind Pele in those days.

    If I may ‘brag’ a bit: I saw Eusabio live at Old Trafford in the 1966 World Cup, and Best many times early in his career, so maybe am not so objective. Not a Brit, but did grad studies there, and got dragged off to Old Trafford my first weekend there. So I have been a Man U fan more-or-less forever, not just because they are so good (always negative towards the Yankees despite their success—actually, surely a yankee is someone suffering from the effects of a yanker, perhaps one from Detroit recently!) My future and present wife used to accompany me up the road to the Seymour Hotel for a few pints of bitter, and that’s where the likes of Charleton, Best and Dennis Law used to show up for a drink occasionally, in the good old days when people at that level in sports could live more-or-less normally.

    I think Messi is already better than Pele or Maradonna ever were. On the other hand (and this is a joke), for males, it seems to almost be a statistically significant fact that there is a significant correlation between speaking portugese and being a top-notch footballer.

    • transientreporter
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Eusebio vs North Korea in 1966 is well worth another look.

    • transientreporter
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Yes, just think – Charleton (arguably the greatest English footballer), Law (arguably the greatest Scottish footballer) and Best (undeniably the greatest NoIrish footballer) playing together on the same club. Yet, they couldn’t play together for their country.

      Think of all the great players who had to play on second-rate Scottish, Welsh, No. Irish sides – Law, Best, Toshiak, Dalglish, Souness, Rush…

      I’m not British, but I’ve always maintained that 1966 was the worst thing that could have happened to British football, because it’s the single major factor preventing the establishment of a unified British side.

      You think England could’ve used Ian Rush in 1990?

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Oh dear. You don’t understand football in the British Isles. The supporters of the home nation teams would never countenance a combined Great Britain team. Many a Scotland supporter, when viewing matches involving England will always support whoever England is playing, regardless of who they are.

        Yes it means that there are four mediocre teams instead of one not quite so mediocre team, but that’s the way we all want it.

        • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          I’d like to see a UK team. So not quite all.

        • eddie
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

          No. There are three mediochre teams and scotLand :-)

      • transientreporter
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        Yes it means that there are four mediocre teams instead of one not quite so mediocre team, but that’s the way we all want it.

        Well, if you settle for mediocrity, that’s what you’ll get. I’m surprised that, as a Briton, this doesn’t drive you insane. Unless “Britain” as a political construct is not meaningful (which, I suspect will come as a bit of a surprise to the poor sods serving in Afghanistan).

        Yes, yes, I understand. The Scots aren’t going to support an English side. But will they support a GB side? It’s not as if a “GB team” is, ahem, a foreign concept – e.g. every other international sporting event. But then, I suppose an Englishman’s breast did not swell with pride when the GB football team took the field at the Olympics, unlike the last World Cup (in which, IIRC, they fielded a team with no goalkeeper and a hobbled, overrated midfield).

        • Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          I think the main barrier to a GB team is that currently, England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland get their own votes at FIFA meetings (not sure about NI), and uniting them under a GB team would likely see these 4 (or 5) votes (which usually go the same way) reduced to 1.
          Personally, I’d be quite happy to see a GB team. But then you might have issues if, say, 10 English players are chosen & 5 each from the other nations for a squad – it might cause a bit of conflict. Artificially selecting equal numbers from each nation may not be the best strategy either.

          • teacupoftheapocalypse
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            The FIFA votes issue is a barrier, but a greater one is the fact that, in order for a Breat Britain team to take the field, FIFA insist that there be a Great Britain league, too. And that is never going to happen.

            • transientreporter
              Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

              I’d pay good money to watch Rangers and Man U vie for the British Premiership title. Move over Barca/Real Madrid! Here comes the Devolution Derby!

          • Nick Evans
            Posted October 31, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            Northern Ireland and Ireland each have their own votes, as they are different FAs, albeit with overlapping jurisdictions.

            I don’t see the big urgency in an GB team. We can have one of those for the Olympics, then go back to our own countries for the other competitions, just like we do in most team sports we’re interested in. Generally speaking, if we started competing internationally in a sport before the rest of the world then each of the UK’s countries gets its own team, and the rest of the world joins in on that basis. If the rest of the world started first, then we send along a GB team in accordance with their rules.

            And, as for the point that England could have used Ian Rush in 1990, well they could probably have used Zico in 1982, but he wasn’t English either.

  16. revjimbob
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    My father was a spectator at the 1960 European Cup Final in Glasgow. I remember he had a Real Madrid pin as a memento.

  17. Dominic
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I really think it is meaningless – relatively – to compare players from different ages. It is like saying Mozart is better or worse than Bach. They were different, these players were all different. I like different virtues such as tackling rather than always goal scoring – those things are as integral to the game. Why only one goalie on the list – most important player!

  18. Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Messi is a god in this household.

  19. david
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Where’s George Best?

    Very few people (if any) in the UK would place Bobby Charlton ahead of George Best, and since they played in the same team (Man. Utd.) at the same time the ranking is, rather odd.

    I guess the explanation is that George Best never played in a World Cup, since his team (Northern Ireland) were never that good, so those outside the UK don’t realise that , within the UK, he is generally considered the greatest player ever to play on UK soil.

  20. transientreporter
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Can I get a whoop-whoop for Garrincha?

    • Fernando
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Absolutely! And, as a brazilian, I would like to include Romário (the best I’ve seen) and Ronaldo.

    • transientreporter
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Never mind individual players. How about the greatest TEAMS? My mind immediately turns to the 1982 Brazilian squad – Zico, Socrates, Eder, Falcao, Junior…

      A frightening, breathtaking, magnificent team. Pure poetry. Football at its best…

      • david
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        A great team, going forward, but a terrible defence. That’s why they never won the’82 World cup.

        The greatest team ever was the 1970 Brazil team, or, the old Real Madrid side. In terms of sheer creative flair, these two are the best. And Holland (’74 & ’78) is the best team never to have won the World Cup.

        But other teams soon realised that since they couldn’t compete with the most skillful teams on equal terms, they resorted to increasingly defensive formations, and an increased emphasis on fitness. As a result the game became increasingly negative, defensive and tactical, with teams more concerned with not conceeding rather than scoring. That’s also why we have more major tournaments now decided by penalties!

        As a result the game became so dull and negative that the rules were changed. The tackle from behind was outlawed and now a winning team would get 3 points rather than 2. This was done to incentivise teams to adopt a more postive approach. Those not old enough to remeber the old, more expansive, free-flowing game, often don’t realise this.

        e.g. the 1970 Brazil team played with 5 forwards, a formation totally unthinkable nowadays. The current Barcelona team (currently the world’s best team) often play with no out-and-out forward at all, but instead have a handful of attack minded midfielders.

        • PauloJabardo
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          Brazil in 1970 didn’t finish any first half winning. Either losing or a draw. In the altitude, the 4 months of exclusive training and 1 month training in the altitude in Mexico really did make a diiference. This was only possible in a dictatorship that was using the world cup to gain popularity.

          I think the best team ever was Brazil 1958. Pelé still a boy and almost unknown playing with Garrincha…

        • Robert
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          You could argue the 1970 team played with 0 forwards. It’s really not a black and white transition from offensive game to negative defensive game. Skill is far more important and widespread today than it was in the 1950s for example when players would basically rugby-tackle forwards if they could and get away with it.

          That to me is far more negative than any defensive tactic I see today.

  21. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I have asked Seamus about George Best. He sees Best as certainly in the top ten, but not in the top five (or seven). Seamus said he might have been bending over backwards to avoid giving preference to the Irish!

  22. Miles_Teg
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I despise Maradona. He’s a cheat and a druggie. Sure he was a good player, but his opening goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final was deliberate handball.

    I always call soccer soccer so as not to confuse with that weird American game called gridiron, and the greatest game on Earth: Australian Rules Football.

  23. OlliP
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The top-7 players are some of the greatest, but the list is a bit too much an old-times-special for my taste. Zidane deserves a spot in the top-3, and would probably be widely considered the greatest ever if Buffon was a bit shorter and had not blocked this one (2006 world cup final deciding block)…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOxRFU155M4
    Zidane’s always made it look like it was dad playing against the kids.

    Also Ronaldo (Luís Nazário de Lima) should be considered seriously, as he is probably the best pure blooded goal scorer ever.

    The top-11 is almost a top-of-strikers list. Messi and Ronaldo are so far ahead of the rest today that it might make more sense to pick the other 9 from other positions. Other strikers just don’t compare. I can’t see why a fairly good striker (read Neymar, Falcao) would be better than the wolrd’s best defenders and midfielders. Pepe, Puyol, Xabi Alonso, De Rossi, et al are more deserving of a spot in the top-11.

    Selecting the best 11 footballers is usually equal to selecting a dream-team-type starting eleven. Otherwise why 11?

    So a starting 11…
    Casillas
    Arbeloa-Pepe-Pique-Lahm
    Alonso-Xavi-Toure
    Messi-Rooney-Ronaldo

    • jose
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Arbeloa? You’re joking. That’s Alves’ place.

      Pepe is a public danger worse than Materazzi. Why anyone would want him on their team is mystifying to me. Give Vidic a chance.

      • OlliP
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Pepe is not there to get sympathy but to win games. Hard to deny that he has been one of the best centre backs of the last 4 years. Arbeloa is the best defensive right wingback at this time. And Alves is one of my least favourite players ever. Can’t stand him, so no place for him. Besides Arbeloa is far better defensively.

    • Lotharloo
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      I’m not a soccer expert but I used to watch Barcelona’s games when Ronalo was playing there. This is a rather long highlights of him but watch at least the first five minutes. It’s amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bgYXwxCv24

    • Robert
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      The notion that Zidane is even close to being the greatest ever, never mind “widely” considered the greatest ever, is laughable.

      I have a soft spot for Ronaldo, but overall I’d put Romário ahead of him. Ronaldo is often rated too much on his potential or his peak. He was a privileged phsyical specimen and if only he had had a couple more seasons unhindered by injury (well… as early as 1997 that was already impossible) we might~ve seen something we can barely even imagine.

  24. Sunny
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I am no soccer expert but I am not sure why Rooney is on the list.

  25. Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I hate football! I hate its players with their entitled, spoit attitude, I hate the constant moaning about referees and how that are picking on the poor sad billionaires. I hate the flagrant cheating, the diving, the lifting of arms to receive the throw in ball even though they know it is not theirs. But most of all I hate its pervasiveness. We had a month off for the olympics but it is back with all its whining and mewling and worst of all it is here on WEIT! NOOOOO!

    • Posted October 31, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

      What, exactly, is the purpose of this comment?
      I suggest, since you don’t like football and because it will appear here occasionally, that you frequent another website.

      This is exactly the kind of petulant, nonconstructive comment that I don’t want to see here; it not only complains about what I post, but says basically this: “I don’t like what is being talked about and I’m going to kvetch about it.”

  26. Nom de Plume
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Jerry, that Messi video was very entertaining, but I have to wonder if you listened to the music on it before posting it? LOL.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I didn’t listen but just did and it’s pretty offensive. I’ve added a warning note; thanks!

  27. Gareth Price
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I am surprised to see no spot for Zinedine Zidane and not much mention of him the comments either.

  28. pilgrimpater
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    When Pele was asked who was the greatest player he said “George Best” and he was right. GB was phenomanal and on top of his all round skills had the ability to ride the “lets’try to break your legs” tackles that nowadays are deemed downright dangerous. No bias from me since i don’t support Man U but Best was simply the Best. Shame his talent got wasted due to the booze and women.

  29. david
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I think Seamus is simply wrong in claiming that the validity of England’s 3rd “goal” in the 1966 World Cup remains uncertain.

    Apologies to England fans, but it’s been shown plenty of times that the ball, quite clearly, never crossed the line. I don’t currently have a video at hand to prove it, but those of us in the UK have seen footage of this incident, from various angles, literally hundereds of times on television over the decades and there is NO doubt: it never crosses the line.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      As I said before, the issue of England’s 3rd 1966 goal is moot, as they scored an undisputed 4th and the score was 4-2, not 4-3.

      • david
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Not true. Because the (non)3rd goal was given, Germany had to then chase the game, committing everything to attack in the little remaining time. They would not have over-exposed themselves at the back were it not for the faulty decision.

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          Are you that you don’t mean “perhaps not true”? It is not possible to say what would have happened, had the 3rd goal been disallowed. Germany piled forward, but failed to score. Had they not risked all in attack, would they have been more likely to score? Would they have been less likely to concede? Nobody can say for sure.

  30. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Paul Scholes might be a candidate – he’s just come out of retirement and regularly gets played at the age of 37 for Manchester United.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree that Scholes should be in the second list, although I don’t quite agree with a lot of the comments that he is ‘the most complete player’, as, if he has a flaw, it is that he has never learned to time a tackle as well as some do. Don’t get me wrong; I have been a Manchster United fan since 1958. I have seen Scholes play in the flesh quite a few times and he is a joy to watch when he has the ball, but some of his tackles…! You only have to look at his career tally of yellows and reds to realise that. He missed the 1999 Champions League final because of a yellow in the semi.

      Having said that, his overall ability to influence games even at the ripe old age of 37 is all the more remarkable when one realises that he has suffered from blurred vision since 2005. One of the greats, that’s for sure, but a bloody awful tackler :)

  31. phar84
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    *sigh*
    Almost no mention of our man of the hour, Seamus Malin (Harvard grad, did u know?)

    Thank you Mr Malin, for your wonderful service to the game of football/soccer.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Indeed! Seamus took a LOT of time to talk to me and to help me with this post, and nobody but you has even offered a word of thanks to him. Everybody just jumps in and whales on what he said.

      Come on, people, at least give him some gratitude before you start questioning his judgement!

      I have to say that people seem to be getting ruder around here. . . .

      • jose
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        “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.”

        …so that’s what we did. Sorry. :-/

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 4:23 am | Permalink

          Yeah, but without any gratitude to Seamus, the guy who started the discussion!

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

        Apologies, and thank you to Seamus for sharing his professional opinion.

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

        It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if anyone, however knowledgeable, offers an opinion on footie, everyone else will find fault in it. Sadly we all think we know it all – I remember having a heated discussion in a pub with Bruce Grobbelaar about the best Liverpool players! Just as many Americans intimately understand all those baseball stats, I’ve been steeped in football and cricket since before I could walk, played them all my life, and cannot help but feel an intimate bond with their elite performers. No such bond actually exists, of course, and the elite players are operating on a very different level to the fans and amateur players.

        Thanks to Seamus Malin, but I think he would expect many pointless debates to be born from his wise words, and that will surely be thanks enough for him!

      • Aj
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

        Well, as far as I can see, no one’s actually called into question Seamus’s sanity, parentage or eye-sight; so by the usual standard of “greatest players ever” conversations this one has been incredibly civilised.

        None the less, it’s always good to hear an informed perspective on these things, so thanks Seamus.

      • Lotharloo
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

        It’s a great post Jerry but you know what they say about making lists, that everybody whines about omitting such and such and nobody says thanks.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

          I don’t at all mind an absence of thanks when I make my own lists, but I do when somebody else takes the trouble to do so. And from now on I would appreciate more politeness in that respect!

  32. happyheretic1962
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    While it can be difficult to make an impact as a defender I think that Bobby Moore (West Ham United & England) deserves a mention.

    • peter
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      He, along with Charlton and Banks (in goal), made the ‘all-star’ team at the ’66 WC.

  33. eddie
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Unbelievable that Henrik Larsson is not on the list, let alone Kenny Dalglish.

    Especially so that Henrik as Sweden international taught Ibrahimovic all he knows:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ9v5oMAXhU&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K9schV5wug

    • blitz442
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Henrik Larsson??? He played for Sweden, a mediocre national side, and spent a good portion of his career at Celtic, a (very)mediocre club side. Larsson would be lucky to get in the top 100.

      A case could be made for Kenny however. At his peak, he probably could have walked onto just about any team in the world.

  34. harrystarkus
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Yes – Fair play Seamus, a fantastic list spanning many generations of players. Its also great to know that he was actually present at many of these great events too – not your usual armchair fan ( like me ).

    One last mention for Gerd Mueller though – would have to push for inclusion on any list. What a legend!

    • blitz442
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Der bomber!

      Upon viewing his rather stout lower body, one of his early coaches reportedly said something along the lines of, “I need a football player, not a weightlifter.”

      • harrystarkus
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Thats right – he wasn’t in his plans until he threw him into a few pre-season games! Der Bomber soon showed him how good he was.

        He must have been a nightmare to try to contain, and his record shows that.

        Is his the greatest goals-to-games ratio in top class football?

  35. marksolock
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  36. carlostakeshi
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The goal that Cambiasso scored against Serbia that was the culmination of a 26 pass play deserves consideration as best team goal ever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5W6vBI3mGE


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