My Perfect Player #16
I imagine i’m a little older than most of the people who contributed to this excellent idea (except Simon, he’s old too, but far less fuddy duddy). When I was a young’un Sky was a luxury and t’internet streams didn’t exist, as such my football watching was limited to the Champions League and Football Italia, as a result my perfect player includes just two players still playing. Ah well, if you haven’t seen them, look them up, I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
Brain – Eric Cantona
Le King’s ability is often overlooked by those of a non-red side of Manchester persuasion, but ask a Manchester United fan which player it is who defines the success they have enjoyed since 1992 and almost every single one will say Cantona. His ability to read and control a game was second to none, though Bergkamp certainly would have given him a run for his money. When Cantona was on song, United were on song and if he had stayed fit/ever been fit he would have went down in history as one of the true greats. I still dream about that ball down the line, with the outside of his right boot, for Andy Cole to run onto and set up Ryan Giggs in the game against Porto in 1997. Absolute perfection.
Head – Henrik Larsson
I thought long and hard about who might be considered the best header of a ball I have ever seen and was desperate not to choose Alan Shearer (even though he was fantastic at it), then suddenly a very specific goal popped into my head. Sweden – Bulgaria at Euro 2004, Erik Edman bursts down the left wing and sends in a ridiculously early ball that nobody would expect Larsson to get to. The Celtic hero threw himself through the air like a bullet, without doubt the best diving header I have ever seen and that memory rekindled memories of him slamming headers home time and again for Celtic, despite being just 5 ft 10 inches. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give him is that I consider him one of the best professionals I have ever had the pleasure to watch and I say that as a Rangers fan.
Eyes – Paul Scholes
No such wondering about whose vision I would want when creating my perfect player, Paul Scholes is the greatest footballer I have ever seen. You can have your Messi’s and your Zidanes, Scholesy was the player I longed to be. Calm and considered, he knew where everyone was on the pitch, it was as if he had eyes in the back of his head and when it came time to dispatch the ball he had a right foot to die for. I’ve never been so upset about losing a player than I was when Scholes announced his retirement, just don’t mention slide tackles.
Mouth – Roy Keane
A recurring theme and perhaps I’m biased, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pick anyone other than Keano. Not the best footballer in the world, not even the best in his position, but his leadership qualities and ability to rouse a team when it’s head trailed the ground will be remembered for generations to come. That header against Juventus, United staring elimination in the face, it was Keane who changed everything that night and gave them the belief that they could win it. Until that point Juventus had been the best team I had ever watched, by the end of that game they had been humbled by the eventual champions and it was all down to Roy Keane. No star, big or small, escaped his wrath. That video of him in the tunnel with Vieira (2005) epitomises the man, United went on to destroy Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury (sorry folks) with Keane leading from the front.
Lungs – Javier Zanetti
Football Italia focussed on two teams when it aired on Channel 4, Internazionale because of Paul Ince and Lazio because of Gazza, neither side was particularly good, it was all about Milan and Juventus back then, but there was one player who could have walked into any team in the world at that time. Unfortunately for him he was in love with the wrong side of Milan and usually finished up in a runners up spot. His team’s failings didn’t detract from his ability though, Inter’s very own Caca, but in my opinion far, far better. He paraded the right flank non-stop for 90 minutes, every single game, never tiring and always willing to chase the lost cause. 16 seasons and 539 league appearances for Le Grande Inter later and still going strong, he’s one of the greatest athletes i’ve ever seen.
Left foot – Sinisa Mihajlovic
I never particularly rated Mihajlovic as a player, not that I rate him much as a manager, but there was one thing that set him apart from everyone else and it was what he could do with a dead ball and his left foot. Every other Football Italia seemed to include a Mihajlovic screamer rocketing into the top corner from well outside the area. One of those players that genuinely had you on the edge of your seat as the free kick was about to be taken, especially during his time at Lazio. 20 goals in 126 games is impressive for a midfielder, nevermind a left back.
Right foot – Alessandro Del Piero
It feels like i’m doing Alex a disservice by focussing on his right foot, let’s face it his left foot and head aren’t half bad either. Touted as the new Baggio when he burst onto the scene in the early nineties, he has gone on to play almost 500 games for Juventus and nearly 100 for Italy. I’d love to mention that goal against Borussia Dortmund, but I think that might have been scored with his left. No, I picked him because he was just as adept with his right as Mihajlovic was with his left. I only caught one Juve game this season and surprise, surprise ADP curled a right footed free kick up over the wall and down into the bottom corner. Drool.