It has been almost 16 years since I started following football. My first memory of a match is the 1994 World Cup semifinal between some random team and Sweden, which is also the first time I heard of Sweden and somehow the name stuck. The day after the final, my teacher asked me who won the world cup and I enthusiastically replied Sweden. The Goan that she was, my teacher looked suitably scandalized, before informing me that Brazil had won the world cup. This was the first time I heard of Brazil. And they were the random team who had defeated Sweden in the semis.
But after that my interest soared thanks to ESPN and my father’s encouragement and I usually watched the Euro and the World Cup before discovering the Premier League, Sirie A and La Liga. At times, I listen to my father and other uncles talking about famous matches and players they had the privilege of watching live and I feel I have missed a lot. But I realize am also blessed to have seen some truly brilliant players live for so many years now. Here is a list of 10 footballers I am proud to have seen playing and maybe 50 years later when I am sitting with my grandkids, I can regale them with stories about these greats. So in no particular order, here goes:
1) Paolo Maldini
One of the greatest defenders in the history of the game Maldini is the epitome of loyalty. He spent his entire career at A.C. Milan and was a brilliant leader. He captained Milan to glory countless times and remains the best defender I have seen. When he finally retired at 37, he left behind some big boots to fill and I fear football will never see a player like him again.
2) Dennis Bergkamp
He was not the main striker at Arsenal or Holland. The role never really suited him. But as a supporting striker he was deadly. He had an impeccable first touch and great ball control. My abiding memory of him is when he scored that goal against Newcastle United. There can only be one Bergkamp.
3) Thierry Henry
France, Arsenal or Barcelona, Titi has always been brilliant. Always a prolific scorer, he has turned so many games around with his skill. Though he will be missed at Arsenal, he will remain a Gunner forever.
4) Christiano Ronaldo
He may be a complete cunt and a diver but never for a moment can anyone question his talent. He wreaked havoc on the opposition in the premier league and continues to do so in La Liga. His pace and skill are enough to win any game and he has done so on more than one occasion.
Not in his prime right now but around 2005, he was as good as a player can ever get. He danced around the pitch and the ball seemed to be attached to his feet. His cheeky free-kick against David Seaman in the 2002 world cup still brings a smile to my face.
6) Zinedine Zidane
7) Lionel Messi
There have been so many Argentinians who have been called “The next Maradona” but Messi is the only one who seems to deserve the title. 2009 was his season and the fact that Barcelona will probably not sell him for a 100 million pounds, says a lot about him.
8) Cesc Fabregas
Messi’s midfield colleague from the Barcelona youth team and Arsenal’s second youngest captain ever, he has admirably filled the void left by Patrick Viera’s departure. Though not quite as successful as Viera, Fabregas has been a delight to watch with his wonderful passing and vision. And he is only 23 so it will be wonderful to be able to watch him for the next 10 years he is at his best.
9) Ryan Giggs
Perhaps the biggest regret is that like the great Alfredo Di Stephano, giggs has never played in a world cup. Easily the first choice left winger for any national team, the Welshman has enjoyed enormous success with Manchester United. On his day he was unstoppable and I am happy to have watched him tear teams apart on a regular basis.
10) Peter Schmeichel
530,000 pounds is what Manchester United paid for the Danish goalkeeper, and they could not have had a better bargain. He is the best goalkeeper I have seen and for me he surpasses even Cassilas and Buffon. If it were not for him, United could never have won as many titles in the 1990s and even if those two goals were scored by Sherringham and Solskjaer, the real star of that game was Schmeichel. If it was someone else, United would have been 4 goals down with no hope left.
I could probably name a 100 more names but I think I will end it at this. All said, I feel it is these men and others who make the beautiful game what it is and yes, we are lucky……