Ten footballers that changed the game forever

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Lionel Messi provided a genuinely ground-breaking moment with his hat-trick against Malaga which helped him break Gerd Muller’s record for most goals scored in a single European season, which stood for almost 40 years.


Earlier this season Messi established himself as Barcelona’s greatest ever scorer, while he also broke the record for most goals scored in a single Champions League campaign.


Messi’s exploits on the pitch are moving the game forward once more, but who are the men that have helped shaped football as we know it? GMF investigates…


Johan Cruyff


While Cruyff didn’t come up with the notion of total football – that honour falls to Rinus Michels – it was the iconic number 14 that helped turned Michels’ vision into a beautiful reality.


Voted the European player of the century in 1999 and the second greatest player of all time, Cruyff missed out to West Germany in 1974 World Cup final.


Pep Guardiola’s recent success with Barcelona can be traced back to Cruyff and in turn Michels, while he is a successful coach in his own right having won trophies with Barca and Ajax.


How did he change the game? His technical brilliance on the pitch was matched only by his perceptiveness in receiving the idea from total football from Michels that still resonates today and implementing a version of it later as a manager.


Alfredo di Stefano


When Pele admits that there once existed a footballer greater than him, then the search to find the best of all time can be called off.


Di Stefano was a revolutionary at the heart of the iconic Real Madrid side of the 1950s that won an unbelievable five consecutive European Cups.


It remains one of the greatest tragedies that the Argentinian born player was robbed of a chance to play in the World Cup by a combination of Argentina’s absence from the 1950 and 1954 tournaments and administrative red tape.


How did he change the game? Known as the most complete player the game has ever seen, Di Stefano’s success in Europe is unlikely to be replicated.


Diego Maradona


‘El Diego’ was a maverick on and off the pitch, but it was his skills in the blue and white of Argentina that made him one of the game’s great revolutionaries.


While he is revered at Napoli it was his exploits at the 86’ World Cup that make him stand out, scoring the Goal of the Century as voted for by FIFA in the process of carrying Argentina to glory.


His dark side reared its ugly head at the ‘94 World Cup, but Maradona is a regular candidate for the title of 'the greatest player of all time'.


How did he change the game? By proving it was possible for one man to carry a nation on his shoulders and deliver a World Cup almost single-handedly.


Gerd Muller


As the man whose record Messi beat to inspire this list, Muller is perhaps the deadliest striker in the history of the game.


His record in front of goal is remarkable; 398 strikes in 453 games for Bayern Munich, while his tally of 68 in 62 games for West Germany in front of goal included efforts in the 1974 World Cup final and the 1972 European Championships final.


How did he change the game? Muller took goal scoring to a new level and set records that never looked like being beaten.




Is there any more that can be said about Pele? Regularly voted as the greatest player of all time, Pele’s tally of three World Cup victories between 1958 and 1970 put him head and shoulders above the rest.


He remains Brazil’s leading goalscorer of all time, while his scoring record, including non-competitive fixtures, is reported to be 1280 goals in 1363 games.


How did he change the game? Pele’s place as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, means he is a game-changer through his natural abilities alone, but he is also heralded as the man who bought a new level of professionalism to football.


Jean-Marc Bosman


Another footballer whose name has entered common parlance because of his actions, in 1995 Bosman changed the way football operated forever.


The Belgian footballer won a landmark case against the Belgian Football Association that gave players the freedom to chose a club of their choice once their contracts expired with their previous employers.


Prior to the ruling clubs could prevent players from moving even if their contracts were up, with a transfer tribune usually used to resolve any disputed before the case.


The ruling in the case also banned quotas on foreign players from non-EU states.


How did he change the game? Bosman’s actions changed the landscape of the transfer market forever.


Justin Fashanu


Fashanu played for numerous clubs during his career which stretched from 1978 to 1997, most notably with Norwich and Nottingham Forest.


His move to Forest to play under Brian Clough made him the first £1 million black footballer, but a large part of his career was overshadowed by the fact he was the first English professional footballer to be openly homosexual.


Often subjected to horrendous abuse from supporters and his fellow professionals, Fashanu committed suicide in 1998 after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old having moved to America.


How did he change the game? Homosexuality in football is still taboo, but Fashanu’s coming has gone a long way in making it acceptable in the game. Until 2009, he was the only openly gay player in the history of the game.


George Best


Best is rightly known as one of the greatest ever footballers Britain has produced thanks to his exploits with Manchester United.


A European Cup winner in 1968, he also won the First division title with the Red Devils twice and the Ballon d’Or in 1968.


But the Northern Irishman didn’t just have an impact on the pitch, his antics off it were legendary.


How did he change the game? Known as the 'Fifth Beatle', Best was one of the first footballers to introduce the notion of celebrity into football, an aspect which dominates the modern game.


Arthur Wharton


Wharton is widely considered to be the first ever black professional footballer in the world.


Born in what is now known as Accra, Ghana, Wharton moved to England in 1882 and soon began a career as a full-time athlete.


A talented goalkeeper, Wharton became the first black player to play the game professionally when he turned out for Rotherham in 1889. In 2003 he was inducted into the English football hall of fame.


How did he change the game? Wharton paved the way for every single black player who went on to become a professional footballer


Helenio Herrera


The name may not mean much to many people but the Catenaccio defensive system he helped pioneer became the fashionable tactical approach for most teams in the 80s and 90s.


His system made heroes of of iconic Italian defenders such as Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, and was a vital step in the tactical evolution of the game.


It also helped add one more phrase to football’s growing list of jargon – the sweeper.


How did he change the game? His defensive tactical system which he modified from Austrian coach Karl Rappan helped take Herrera to 16 major league titles in his career and changed the game forever.

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