Football

Football's most underrated players of all-time

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30 years from now, when football fans turn the pages of dusty annuals that have recorded the history of football, they shall read about all the great names that we worship today. 

They shall read about how a 17-year-old boy from Brazil conquered the world in 1958, how another Brazilian with the most severe physical deformities went on to be called "The Joy of the People" and became known as the best dribbler in the history of the game. 

They shall marvel at the sheer genius of Zinedine Zidane, the behemoth-like Franz Beckenbauer, who let nothing stand in between him and total world domination, the mind-blowing physicality of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the God-given talent that is Lionel Messi. The irrepressible Diego Maradona, the tactically astute Johan Cruyff, the indefatigable Bobby Charlton and the unplayable Luis Ronaldo shall continue to draw "ooohs" and "aaahs" from football fans of all the generations to come for as long as their names are spoken of with undying admiration. These names, and so many more, will be assured of immortality.

But what of the rest?

What of the players who, over the course of their fleeting but timeless contributions to the development of the history of 'The Beautiful Game', captured the imaginations of millions around the world? 

Almost every fans' list of the greatest players ever is restricted to the same few names, just a handful compared to the hundreds who have excelled at the sport. Admittedly, only a few reserve the right to be labelled legends, but like grains of sand falling from between the fingers of a fist, a few deserving names will have slipped under the radar, running the risk of being condemned to ageing memories. 

This article turns back the hands of the clock to take a look at some of these names, and discusses the reasons for which these players should be held in just the same high regard as their more famous peers.

They may be considered legends by supporters of the clubs they played for, but this article is an attempt to justify their right to be considered legends of the sport itself, independent of club loyalties, national differences and other factors that blind us football fans time and again.

Michael Laudrup

There are some players who are, truth be told, simply not human. What they bring to a football game cannot be expressed in words, and their genius cannot be understood despite the most thorough examinations.

Laudrup is the perfect example of this breed of footballer. What he did on a football pitch defies logic, defies tactics, and it defies all that we see playmakers today do. Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, even Xavi Hernandez will all go down as great passers and playmakers, but Laudrup was, quite literally, visionary. He could see things on a football pitch that no one else could possible fathom the meaning or existence of. 

While Xavi and Guardiola could see two passes into the future, Laudrup could see five. He could pick out passes that no one else in the history of the game could. It is frankly astounding that almost none of the lists of the greatest players of all time place him in the top five, let alone at the very top.

Romario once said that the Laudrup was one of the five greatest ever, and although we have seen the likes of Messi since then, it is still tough to argue with that. Laudrup may yet go on to have an excellent career as a manager (you wouldn't expect any different from as astute a reader of the game as him), but he will always be remembered for his extraordinary, and truly unique talent. He was one of the greats.

Dennis Bergkamp

If you were to name the most graceful and technically gifted footballers of all time, your list would contain the names Zidane and Laudrup, but would be incomplete without the Dutch genius, Dennis Bergkamp.

He will probably be most fondly remembered for that outrageous goal against Newcastle - need one say more about it? A look back at his career reveals that that goal was just the tip of the iceberg. 

It is very difficult to describe in words the innate technical talent that Bergkamp had, but try and imagine the most beautiful ballet adagio, with the most stirring Italian opera playing in the background, and you wouldn't come close to painting a picture of Bergkamp with the ball at his feet.

He was the creative core of one of the most successful club sides in recent memory, and scored -and created- some of the most exquisite pieces of football you shall ever see. He was art on a football pitch.

Thierry Henry/Ruud van Nistelrooy

Two very different strikers, two very different legacies, yet the same problem: under-rated without a doubt. When one talks of the greatest strikers of all time, Pele and Ronaldo lead the chasing pack by a country mile, and then follow the likes of Baggio, Muller, Batistuta, Romario, van Basten and the rest.

The names Henry and van Nistelrooy rarely feature in a list of the absolute elite, which is scarcely believable. Despite offering two very different skill sets, these two strikers were the scourge of Premier League defenders for several glorious years in the early 21st century. 

Over the eight seasons he spent at Arsenal, Henry became the club's highest ever goal scorer, while van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals in 219 games at Old Trafford. Henry scored some of the greatest goals the Premier League has seen in its 20-and-something years, and could run with the ball like very few have before or since, while Van Nistelrooy will be remembered for his unique ability to turn up in the right place at the right time, all the time.

Most of his best work was done in the penalty box, and he should be considered a legend -possibly even Gerd Muller's equal - for that extra second he managed to create in crowded penalty areas.

Paul Scholes/Ryan Giggs

These two names will be remembered by United fans for all eternity, for their immense longevity and unwavering loyalty to the club. The number of games they've played, the records they've broken and the titles they've won all add gloss to their overflowing list of achievements and laurels, but they also steal the spotlight from an undeniable fact: Scholes and Giggs were very good footballers! 

Giggs was recently voted United's best ever player, and the list of world-class footballers and managers who have waxed lyrical about The Ginger Assassin, Paul "Goals" Scholes, is endless. Both these legends started from the very bottom, but made there way to the headiest heights of glory, not least due to their ability on a football pitch.

Giggs spent the best part of his career marauding down the left flank at Old Trafford (although his best work was probably THAT goal at Villa Park in 1999), while Scholes could control the momentum of a football game like no other (and had a fierce shot on him, again something Villa Park will testify to).

When Giggsy finally does hang up his boots and join Scholes in retirement, the world will see the end of one of the most successful periods in the history of Manchester United Football Club, a period that owes a lot to these two players.

Alan Shearer

I mentioned my disbelief at the fact that van Nistelrooy and Henry aren't considered to be among the greatest strikers ever, and therefore I cannot begin to explain the existence of the void in that list that should be filled by Southampton, Blackburn and Newcastle legend Shearer.

Scorer of 260 Premier League goals - 73 more than nearest rival Andy Cole - Shearer was far and away the best striker in the Premier League during his time. He became a dear fan favourite at Ewood Park and then St. James' Park thanks to his dogged and unrelentingly determined approach to the game (opposition defenders will maintain that his elbows were as dangerous as his right boot, as Shearer was never afraid of getting his way the dirty way). 

He was a scorer of spectacular goals, tap-ins, right-footed goals, header, free-kicks, volleys; you name it, Shearer could do it. Maybe it's the fact that he turned down the chance to play for Manchester United to play for boyhood club Newcastle (which meant he ended his career with just one league title) which separates him from the likes of Pele and Ronaldo in the eyes of football fans, but those who have seen him in action will remember him as a truly special striker.

And that goal celebration of his, the one hand raised in acknowledgement of the crowd's adulation, will forever be one of the lasting memories associated with St. James' Park.

George Best

"Maradana good, Pele better, George Best", doesn't even begin to sum up the unparalleled genius that was Belfast Boy George Best. That he was recently voted Manchester United's third-greatest player of all time in a poll doesn't begin to tell the story either.

With George Best, you had to look past the "fast cars, birds and booze" to see that this man was not from this planet. Fans of United will never stop singing praises of "el Quinto Beatle", the man who could do anything with a football.

Even in the internet age of today, we don't have nearly enough footage of this genius. 

One look at the way he played, the goals he scored, the way he left defenders flummoxed with graceful nonchalance and the fans he left dizzy with amazement will make you believe that Best was truly one of the greatest talents ever to have played the game, and that when judging him, we should not look at his flaws, but at his perfection on the pitch. George Best should be treasured by the world of football, and not just the Old Trafford faithful.

Some other names that you might think deserve to be on this "list" of legends: Duncan Edwards (who knows what he could have achieved had he been allowed to have the career people expected him to; he could play in every position on the football pitch!).

Robin Friday (the greatest footballer you never saw, just ask any fan of Reading FC or Cardiff City), Paul Gascoigne (what might have been, we shall always wonder), Nemanja Vidic (in my eyes one of the greatest ever).

Roy Keane (21st April, 1999, will justify his status as a legend), Claude Makelele (they named a position on the pitch after him, and Zidane had some very eloquent things to say about his transfer from Real Madrid in 2003).

Juan Roman Riquelme, Gianfranco Zola (he should be immortalised for the Norwich backhee, his exquisite free-kicks and THAT dribble against Liverpool), Lothar Matthaus.

John Terry/ Franco Baresi (legendary defenders who will unfortunately be remembered more for their misfortune from the penalty spot than for their stellar defensive capabilities), David Beckham (in the midst of all the attention of the media, people tend to forget that Beckham was the best dead ball specialist and crosser of the ball the world has ever seen, and a truly under-rated footballer).

The list goes on...

Now, I am more than aware that readers will agree to disagree - disapprove is probably the more apt word - with the names I have mentioned, and will have their own opinions regarding this matter, which is exactly why they are encouraged to comment about this list, the players on it, and the players that I have missed (NOT left out). 

There have been so many truly, truly great players who have dazzled us down the years, and one article does not come close to doing them justice.

However, the sheer scale of the task at hand does not mean we cannot attempt to collectively revel in the genius of these players, no, Gods. So let's do exactly that.

 

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Topics:
Premier League
Manchester United
Paul Scholes
Football
Ryan Giggs

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DISCLAIMER

This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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