Monday, November 19, 2012

The Greatest Soccer Player of All Time

Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?  There are certainly many candidates, and many different opinions on this matter.  Perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time hasn't even been born yet.  I am no expert on this topic, but I will admit that I have derived much satisfaction from playing, watching and talking about the great sport of soccer.

Before outlining some of my answers to the question posed above, allow me to provide a background to my exposure to the game of soccer.  Soccer was not my first love, but I did play in leagues when I was but a wee lad, and I did enjoy it from a young age.  Not until high school, however, did I understand that soccer actually had enough value to merit the attention of the whole world.  I wasn't planning on playing soccer as a freshman in high school until a young lady who was a couple of years my senior encouraged me to try out.  My best friends (and my brothers, who are also my best friends) were all great soccer players, and we had an excellent coach who had played soccer on the collegiate level.  We were a small school, but we won the state championship four years in a row.  This experience is what first kindled my love for the game.

Then I was called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southern Italy.  As you may know, soccer in Italy is almost a religion.  We played a soccer, or calcetto, almost every week.  A great way to start a conversation with an Italian person was simply to ask about soccer: "Per quale squadra tifi?" ("Which team do you root for?")  We collected soccer cards and met soccer players.  Needless to say, this only increased my enthusiasm for the game.

In college, my brother and I tried out for the team.  Even though we didn't make the team, we continued to play intramurals and indoor soccer.  We also played in other leagues.  I have played soccer in France and in Israel as well.  One of the most exciting matches I have ever seen was between an Israeli and a Palestinian team.  

There have been many great soccer players, and I couldn't possibly begin to list them all.  There are many great players that I have probably never even heard of.  But that won't stop me from beginning to compile a list of some of my favorite players, with highlights of their football prowess.

Let us begin this list with a player whom many consider to be the greatest soccer player of all time, namely Edison Arantes de Nascimento, also known as Pelé.  His soccer accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but if there is any question as to how well he played (or to the soccer tradition that he engendered... such as Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr. ... check out these skills), perhaps it will suffice to watch some actual footage (no pun intended) of his skills:

1. A brief montage of Pelé highlights
2. Top 20 goals video (#10 is particularly beautiful, as are also #7, #3 and #1)
3. Juggling (I love this old-school video)
4. A longer video (Pelé Part 1, with interviews) ("Football is a gift from God")
5. An animation of Pelé's "best" goal
6. and of course, the bicycle kick (although Ibrahimovic's more recent goal is lovely as well)
7. and this is what Pelé thinks of modern soccer

Amazing.  Pelé was simply an incredible player who transformed the game of soccer.

Another of my favorite soccer players is Yossi Benayun.  I first saw Yossi play in Israel, his native country.  By the looks of this beautiful goal, he may have learned something from Pelé.  He has an impressive highlight reel as well.  Not to be outdone, watch what Iranian superstars Ali Karimi and Ali Daei can do too

Near the top of my list you will also find Lionel Messi.  If you ignore the "music" on this clip, you can appreciate some beautiful goals.  This guy is incredibly talented.  Watch this fun little collection of highlights, for example.
Next on my list, though not in any particular order, we find the Irishman Mr. George Best.  According to a couple of British friends with whom I play soccer every week, Best is the greatest soccer player of all time.  These friends taught me that his place in soccer history is explained by the saying, "Maradonna good, Pelé better, George Best".  Ever the entertainer, of his career Best said, "I spent 90% of my money on women, drink and fast cars.  The rest I wasted".  Here is a short tribute to this athlete-celebrity and prolific goal scorer.  And be sure to check out this beautiful goal before we move on to the next player.  (Don't forget that Best even has a charitable organization named after him).

No list of great soccer players would be complete without at least mentioning Zinedine Zidane, the French superstar of Algerian descent.  In spite of his unfortunate encounter with Materazzi, Zidane is indisputably a soccer legend with an incredible combination of power and a soft touch on the ball.  This has a lot of the same highlights, but it is a good collection (set to a Coldplay song).  Here is someone's interpretation of his top ten best moves.  This is a spectacular left footed volley.

Ok... Ok.  Let's include the Argentine phenomenon as well.  Diego Maradona certainly developed highly advanced dribbling skills, as this video clearly shows.  You've probably seen this goal, which is one of the best in World Cup history.  Of course, we must forgive him for his mano de Dios goal.

Johann Cruyff was also a great soccer player who embarrassed many defenders.  He is given credit as the originator of the "total football" philosophy.  This is a great goal, and I really like this goal that Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have imitated later on. Well done.

The list could go on and on, including players such as Klinsmann (this is a beauty), Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima (check out these sweet moves), Cristiano Ronaldo (here are few sample goals, and here are some more, and some dribbling skills too), Ronaldinho (the last goal in this highlight video is worth watching), Beckenbauer, Gareth Bale, Stephan El Shaarawy, Eden Hazard, and others.  I would also like to look up some clips of Piola, Shearer, Weah, Jairzinho, Socrates (what a great name for a soccer player), Ian Rush, Jimmy Greaves, Eusebio, Garrincha, Giuseppe Meazza, etc.  Recently I have enjoyed watching Pappis Cisse (here are some goals).  Landon Donovan certainly deserves at least an honorable mention.

As you have probably noticed, I've left out a lot of great defenders and keepers, but this is only the beginning.  Who are your favorite players?  Who would you add to the list?  What are their greatest goals or plays?