My Perfect Player #13
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Brain – Ronaldinho
In his prime, this guy was just unbelievable. Genuinely unbelievable. As in you would not believe he had just pulled off the outrageous piece of skill that had just passed before your eyes. In a unprecedented move I will now bring together the worlds of football and Bush-era US politics to further illustrate my point. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney infamously categorised facts into three groupings – known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. At the peak of his powers, Ronaldinho had them all. Known knowns – you knew he was capable of playing inch-perfect through balls, and yet all too often you were powerless to stop him and watched as Samuel Eto’o, for example, latched onto a beauty and slotted home. Known unknowns – you knew there would be times when ‘Dinho would pull off one of the aforementioned tricks, leaving your best centre back statuesque as he waltzed on into the penalty area. And finally, the unknown unknown – you didn’t know when, where or how, but every once in a while the joyful genius would create, ex-nihilo, something so outrageously good that you simply had to sit back and applaud.
Head – Alan Shearer
As a Newcastle fan there was only ever one candidate here. Shearer really was quite magnificent in the air. On those long Saturday afternoons, listening anxiously to 5 live’s commentaries as the Magpies lurched from European adventure to relegation battle and back again, the mere mention of a cross, corner or free-kick would have me twitching with nervous anticipation. Such was Shearer’s aerial prowess that I almost expected him to power home a header every time the ball was lofted in his direction. I could have chosen him for a number of body parts here, but for me Shearer’s heading stands out above all else as truly world class. I may only have been watching football for just over fifteen years, but that’s still a fair few games to have clocked up and I’m fairly sure I can honestly say that Shearer is peerless among headers of the ball.
Eyes – David Beckham
“David Beckham? Eyes? What?”, I hear you say – but wait, there is a reason behind this one. One of my favourite footballing memories is of a chilly Spring evening at St James’ Park, watching England face Azerbaijan back when the national team’s fixtures were spread around the country. After a frustrating first half, the deadlock was finally broken when Beckham collected a chipped pass, controlling it beautifully on his chest, before turning and firing home into the bottom left-hand corner. This is where the eyes come in. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “he did him with the eyes”, or some variation thereof, and this was as clear an example as I have ever seen. Even from the opposite end of the stadium you could see Beckham glance to the ‘keeper’s left, and the poor guy bought it. With his opponent wrong-footed, all that was left was for Beckham to slot the ball calmly into the net. Now this probably isn’t what you were expecting, but whenever I hear mention of eyes in association with football, this is the memory which springs to mind!
Mouth – Roy Keane
I won’t labour the point here, as Keane’s mouth seems to be a very popular body part for the perfect player, but again this was an easy, almost unconscious decision. When I recall the Manchester United sides of my childhood, two images are foremost in my mind. One, a red-ribbon-adorned trophy being raised, and the second, Roy Keane screaming, red faced, either at an opponent, a team mate or an official. Keane must have been one of the most vocal footballers in recent history, and to have a player on your side more than willing to give you a public and vituperative dressing down if he deemed your performance level inadequate can only have been an advantage – albeit a rather terrifying one!
Lungs – Daniel Alves
Anyone watching Barcelona for the first time in recent months (these people do exist, believe me) could be forgiven for wondering when Dani Alves became an out-and-out winger. They would be wrong; however, to make such an assumption. Alves does play as a winger in Guardiola’s current set-up, but he is also a wing-back, a full-back and, on occasion, a trequartista – often filling all of these roles over the course of a single match. While such a feat requires a wealth of technical ability and vast positional awareness, it also required lungs like hot air balloons. In one Barcelona attack Alves will often begin inside his own half, perhaps exchanging passes with Pique, or even Valdes, and then moments later tear in off the right touchline, make a mockery of a rigid offside trap and square for one of his team mates to score. As alluded to by an earlier ‘perfect player’ writer, the stats will back this up, with the tattooed tormentor almost invariably a fixture at the top of the distance covered charts.
Left foot – Laurent Robert
Here, once more, my black and white leanings are evident. That said, it amazes me that this name is yet to crop up. One of the idiosyncrasies of a list of individual body parts for a perfect player is that you don’t have to take the full package of any of the constituent parts. This means I can take Laurent Robert’s howitzer of a left foot, but leave to one side his anaemic work rate and apparent inability to cross back over the half way line once he enters the opposition half. I will always remember Newcastle’s 4-0 victory over Tottenham in 2003. Always. Laurent Robert scored a disgustingly good long range volley, and then Laurent Robert scored an obscenely good long range drive. Each one of those strikes would have been enough, but he rattled them both in. Sure, there were times when I screamed at the radio in frustration as the flamboyant Frenchman blazed a free kick into the upper tier, but for the most part, those moments have been obscured by the good times. The Tottenham game. The free kick against Liverpool in the FA Cup. The list goes on.
Right foot – Ronaldo
The day Ronaldo announced his retirement from football was a sad day, but it had its benefits. I cannot recall the number of times I watched the awe inspiring clip showing all of his goals from that sensational season at Barcelona, but I’m pretty sure it went into double figures over the course of a day. I didn’t specify that this is the ‘Brazilian Ronaldo’, because for me there is only one – Cristiano Ronaldo is a wonderfully gifted footballer, but he will never capture hearts in the way his predecessor did. El Fenomeno had it all – pace, power, technique, movement, work rate… but ultimately it was with his trusted right foot that he worked his magic. At PSV he was a revelation, at Barca he was a god among men, at Inter he refused to be cowed by a series of terrible injuries, at Real he was the jewel in the crown. Even as the inevitable decline hastened he continued to score goals at Milan and Corinthians, and my only hope is that for years and decades to come he will be remembered as the ultimate goalscorer, and not the bloated, injury-ruined husk of the player he once was.