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Di Stefano the greatest

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Tim Vickery | 08:30 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Who is the greatest player ever - Pele or Maradona? It is a question I get asked all the time. It's a tricky one - and often seems to me a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb.

They were exceptional talents, to be enjoyed rather than compared, especially in the aggressive tone usually employed in the debate.

But the more I think about it the clearer my own answer, for what it's worth, seems to be. They ask Pele or Maradona. I say Di Stefano.

Real Madrid legends Raymond Kopa, Hector Rial, Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento

The comparisons on playing styles are always difficult, especially when dealing with different eras. But I think I'm on safe ground arguing that there has never been a footballer more influential than Alfredo Di Stefano.

He never played in a World Cup, but club football belongs to him. The world's two leading international club competitions bear his mark - one obviously and directly, the other indirectly.

Di Stefano was the last great product of the golden age of Argentine football, the 1940s, when he starred for River Plate. After the big players strike there in 1948 he was snapped up by Colombia's newly-launched league, and helped get the professional game off the ground there as the star of the great Millonarios side. And in 1953, at the age of 27, he went to Real Madridand changed the course of history.

When the European Cup, as the Champions League was then known, was launched in the 1955/56 season there was no guarantee of success. World War Two was still very recent, though the continent was rebuilding and starting to pull away from post-war austerity. The English authorities were sufficiently suspicious of the whole thing to discourage Chelsea from entering the inaugural version.

In hindsight, such an attitude appears ridiculous - because it meant that English crowds were missing out on the Di Stefano show.

Bobby Charlton got a close look in 1957, when he watched from the stands in the first leg of the semi final, Manchester United away to Real Madrid.
"Who is this man?" was Charlton's instant impression. "He takes the ball from the goalkeeper; he tells the full-backs what to do; wherever he is on the field he is in position to take the ball; you can see his influence on everything that is happening... I had never seen such a complete footballer. It was as though he had set up his own command centre at the heart of the game. He was as strong as he was subtle. The combination of qualities was mesmerising."

All of Europe was going through the same experience. Di Stefano took the game of football up to a level the continent had never seen before. He was not the driving force behind Real Madrid winning the first five European Cups, he was also chiefly responsible for the quick success of the competition. Everyone wanted to see his Real Madrid side.

Just as had happened after Uruguay won the 1924 Olympics in Paris, some South American talent had set off a fever for the game in Europe. If Leeds United wear white, if there is a club in the US called Real Salt Lake, and if the European Cup was an instant hit, then much of the credit belongs to Di Stefano.

Some would even argue that as the leading light in Real's galaxy, Di Stefano helped improve foreign perceptions of Spain, thus encouraging the tourist boom and consequently hastening the country's integration into mainstream Western European politics following the death of the dictator Franco.

That might well be going too far. But I don't think that it is excessive to argue that, without ever intending to, Di Stefano helped bring into life the Copa Libertadores, South America's European Cup equivalent.

There were serious impediments to launching such a competition in the continent of Di Stefano's birth - South America is huge, and transport structure, far from perfect even today, was rudimentary.

An attempt had been made in 1948 to gather the continent's best clubs for a tournament in Chile - Di Stefano played for River Plate - but although it was a success the timing was wrong; the players strike was about to erupt in Argentina, which had the effect of forcing the country into footballing isolation and driving Di Stefano to Colombia.

So there was no follow up, and no thoughts of a competition staged on a home and away basis - until an invitation arrived from Uefa.

Liga de Quito win the 2008 Copa Libertadores

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, the success of the European Cup was making people curious. Could there conceivably be a better team than Real Madrid somewhere out there? Did the continent that produced Di Stefano have any more where that one came from?

Uefa, then, proposed to the South American Federation that an annual game be staged between the champions of the two continents. All South America had to do was find a method of deciding its champion. And thus was born the Copa Libertadores, whose 50th version kicks off in earnest this week.

Without Di Stefano's exploits with Real Madrid it would not have got off the ground so soon.

Comments on this piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Since the mid-90s I have paid close attention to the Under-20 tournaments with a keen interest in Argentina. During many of these tournaments, we have witnessed the emergence of quite a few Argentine talents. This edition, however, doesn't seem to be as fruitful for them. Are there any underlying factors which have caused these below-par performances? Is it due to a lack of talent, or was the presence of Pekerman's vision that brought them so many talented players and titles?
Rene Seedorf

One win in nine games speaks for itself - it was a very poor South American Under-20 Championships from Argentina, and they can have no complaints about failing to qualify for the World Youth Cup.

On the other hand, I always think that this level is more about developing players than winning titles. The easiest way to win youth titles is to bulk up, to go with physically strong youngsters who may have this advantage tken away from them as other players fill out physically.

To their credit, Argentina don't do this. They look to develop small, technically gifted players - but without the likes of a Messi or an Aguero, this can be risky. It was clear why they were so disappointed that Chelsea wouldn't release Di Santo - it's hard enough for the senior side, with Messi, Aguero and Tevez, to play without a target man striker. For this team, without a really outstanding individual, it was all but impossible.

Some of the big name players - like Insua and Zuculini - had very disappointing tournaments. I'd heard so much about Benavides, but he didn't show much either. There are others - Salvio, Velasquez, Bella - who showed promise. Thee key thing, though, is that people learn from the experience.

I'm a West Brom fan and I was wondoring what you could tell me about our new signing Juan Carlos Menseguez. I'm aware he had a spell in Europe with Wolfsburg, how did he get on and how good is he?
Charlie Pellow

I'd love to be proved wrong, but I'll be surprised if he does much for you. He was one of those prodigies, whisked away to Europe before he'd made his mark in Argentine football - the fact that he moved back home at the age where you'd expect him to break through shows that he didn't live up to expectations.

I saw a fair bit of San Lorenzo last year, but very little from Menseguez that impressed. He spent most of the time on the bench, and looked a sluggish, heavy treading individual when he came on. The club have a spiky, aggressive striker in Bergessio who might be worth a look - I'd certainly have more faith in him than in Menseguez.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Another great article but I feel you have overlooked the player that I feel took over the mantle of the Greatest player and made it his own. Ferenc Puskas to me, revolutionised the game to such an extent that players still can not touch his level of play. Pele and Maradona had the medium of television to highlight their skills whilst Di Stefano and Puskas were broadcast really only in highlight reels

  • Comment number 2.

    George Best, for me was simply the best.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Your blog is one of the only good things about coming to work on a Monday...

    I always feel guilty about this argument as for me the best player I've encountered is Zidane or Ronaldo (the original) This is because I was too young for Pele or Maradonna.. and with footage of them at times fairly scarce, I think it would be jumping on the bandwagon.. As football fans you are almost instructed to name these players as the best but I think 'your' best player should be one who has affected you or your team the most in your life..

  • Comment number 5.

    Great players are defined by silverware won. It's hard to ignore Pele! Which other player won 2 World Cups?

    But if i had to choose a player I'd go for Gianfranco Zola!

  • Comment number 6.

    People will always disagree but it's nice for someone to finally recognise Di Stefano as the outsatnding influence that he was. Fantastic read Tim as ever....

  • Comment number 7.

    Although i agree with most you said, for me, Bobby Charlton is the greatest player to ever even look at a football, let alone grace the worlds biggest footballing stages.

    I found it amusing that you used a quote from the great Bobby in a way to discredit his own case for the "greatest ever footballer" tag.

    Now some may say i am biased because i am a United fan but one of the reasons i became a United fan was bacause of their history and Bobby Charlton is embedded in the history of United.

    You only need to watch this years Sports Personality ceremony to be persuaded

  • Comment number 8.

    Shortofideas.....are you serious? George Best the best ever?
    I don't see how you can justify that claim, he doesn't even have a case, based on achievements. He has special talent but no more so than at least 25 other players through history. He consistently gets rated top 3 of all time by people in the largely uneducated British media but one respected football show in Italy recently didn't even have him in their top 50 of all time. I know which end of that scale I would be on.
    Tim - Berseggio flopped at Benfica in the weak Portuguese league didn't he? Has he improved since then? By the way, are you fluent in Portuguese?

  • Comment number 9.

    Steve Bull- the greatest player to have graced the game.

  • Comment number 10.

    It is quite the shame Di Stefano(Not Stafano) never got the chance to play in the WC. Being Argentine I take much pride in him. Granted he did play for Colombia as well as for Spain( A bit strange but I guess something quite normal in those days). I feel he( Don Stefano) falls in the equation of the greats that never really won the WC i.e Puskas, Yashin(But those plays played in WC's). I am far too young to recall any of those players but many greats such as Pele, Maradona pay homage to them. But I think that is the difference, the Di Stefano's, Eusebio's, Best, Yashin, Puskas never won a World Cup. I love my club teams but my national team is a whole different story. I have said it many times before, it is Country over Club. If a River Plate player scores in a game winning goal in a WC final I can promise you all Boca fans give honor to him. My money is on Diego Armando Maradona as the greatest ever. He won that WC by himself for Argentina. Pele does come in second but Pele had a lot of great players around him and some people do forget that. And the greatest to never win a WC has to be Cruijff, if he went to Argentina in 78 at the game of 31 that Netherlands team could of had a much better chance of winning the WC.

    1-Maradona
    2-Pele
    3-Cruijff
    4-di Stéfano
    5-Puskas

  • Comment number 11.

    I always said that no one is greater than the game (soccer).

  • Comment number 12.

    Great Read Tim.

    I live in New Delhi, India. While the coverage of most elite European leagues is great and sometimes rather too overwhelming, especially that of the BPL (where is it not?), we get to watch only highlights of some spectacular goals from the leagues of South America.

    Sad when you think that India boasts of the 2 oldest footballing clubs in the history of the sport, and the first ever professional football competition. I hope we get to watch more football from South America. Still it's always nice to hear what's going on through your articles.

    As far as this debate is concerned, I don't think one can ever coin one player as the greatest in the world. But, one can definately see who the greatest in each position is.

    If that is the debate, where would you put Pele, Maradona and Di Stefano in your team if you did have all three of them in your playing 11?

  • Comment number 13.

    Good article as always Tim.

    For me too many people only consider players who have once played not those still playing as the best ever.

    Obviously Pele, Maradona, Di Stefano were fantastic players but for me Ryan Giggs is the greatest ever. Someone as dedicated and honest as him deserves credit (not saying that the others didnt have this, well exclude Maradona from that statement!) and with his pure talent alongside a genuine personality he is an absolute credit to football. He also has never played in a World Cup and i consider him the greatest to never play in one. Many would say Best, Di Stefano as obvious choices but this is my opinion.

    However there are so many exceptional football players i believe it is impossible to judge the best ever, simply because of different era's, opposition, players around them, clubs etc...

    also Tim, i was wondering if you had any views on Guilherme from Cruzeiro? ive heard he is a decent prospect, do you think he will move to a European club soon?

  • Comment number 14.

    More Good Interesting stuff Tim,

    I feel you may have opend a nice little debate here to rage on all day over who is the best player etc.

    Undoubtedly Di Stefano was a tremendous player, quite often forgotten how good he was, as all the light always seems to fall on them 2 very special players because they have won world cups, but come on people look outside the box?! I like how you have related the facts how Di Stafano not only influenced on the pitch but of it also?!

    As for my twon pennies worth.......... best player to ever playe the game.......

    George Best

    - so mesmerising, not ever to be tainted in by mind by his off the pitch antics, always rememberd for the joy he bought on it

  • Comment number 15.

    at last an article that takes into account the sustance of player rather than the myth.
    Alfredo di Stefano came before media intrusion and overinflated hype .
    A master who could basically win a game on his own , although he just before my time his legacy was such that when I was growing up in the 60,s his name out done all arguments about who was the best .
    Only Maradona could get near him but his off feild activies cloud any judgement making it impossible to reta him as the best .
    The oldies live on and di stefano was the king along with Garrincha and Didi

  • Comment number 16.

    If zidane had not had a rush of blood to the head in the last world cup, he would surely be, in my opinion, the 1st player to break into the pele/maradona best player ever bracket, look at what he won, he was truely amazing, its just a shame he will be remembered for that crazy moment, especially when he single handly carried the french team to that final.

  • Comment number 17.

    Although other players of note who come close for me.......

    Feranc Puskas

    - i urge you to look him up, phenominal scoring record, second to none, absolutely unbelievable how many goals he scored in the amount of games he played?!

    also....... a bit out there but

    Lev Yashin

    - Wot a keeper, a true great, again look him up, unbelievable how many clean sheets he kept and how many penalties he saved?!

  • Comment number 18.

    shadur10 wrote:

    "Obviously Pele, Maradona, Di Stefano were fantastic players but for me Ryan Giggs is the greatest ever"

    I will take a massive shot in the dark and say you are a Man United fan. I understand for you love for Giggs I have the same feeling for Pupi Zanetti but I will not call him the greatest ever. Lets not get foolish now.

  • Comment number 19.

    i obviously agree with the players mentioned with pele and maradona and di stefano but wee jimmy johnstone was a fantastic player for celtic and im not sure if he should be considered greater than these players but i do believe he deserves a mention

  • Comment number 20.

    Zola!!!! Come on - let's be serious. He couldn't even crack the Italian first team.

    I think Beckenbauer redefined his position like no other.

    Pele will always be the remembered as the worldwide icon of football.

  • Comment number 21.

    Ah almost forgot

    Johan Cruyff

    - phenominal player, what a talent, the things he did with a football were amazing, all be it he was outrageously arrogant, but nevertheless top players quite often are?!The Football that his dutch team played, just was "Total Football", some of the best ever seen and I dont think we will ever see anything close to it ever again?!

  • Comment number 22.

    Tim, Di Stafano was an exceptional player, and it's good you acknowledge that, obviously as you, i'm too young to have watched him playing on live, but you have ignored several, well known, facts in his career, first, how did join Real Madrid when he previously had an agreement with Barcelona, together with his previous club, Millionarios.

    You don't mention Di Stefano was injuried in the WC 62, when he was selected to play for Spain, by the way Pele was also injured for most of that tournament.

    Di Stefano helping to Spain,s integration following the death of Franco? Sorry, but here you have been found out, Franco died on 1975, Di Stefano have been retired for nearly 10 years by then, after his retirement barring a couple of odd, bad, films he was pretty anonymous, not sure of his political inclinations, but if any, he was friendly with the dictatorship.

    I don't know what to say about your comments on his influence on the boom of tourism in Spain, i suppose the tourist then, as now, they were more interested in sun and cheap drinking than the remote possibility of spotting Di Stefano in Marbella.

  • Comment number 23.

    Excellent article, as usual. As perceptive as ever.

    I am just about old enough to remember Di Stefano & Puskas as they neared the end of their glittering careers. I saw both of them play for Real Madrid in Glasgow in the early 60's and they were a class apart.

    You make a convincing argument for Di Stefano particularly in view of the influence he had on the development of the 2 great continental club competitions and in the method and style that Real Madrid played. However, at Real Madrid he was surrounded by many excellent players - Puskas, Gento, Santamaria, Herrera etc.

    I would put Di Stefano in the top 10 certainly, maybe even the top 5. But he falls short of Maradona. In my time no one player so dominated his team and dragged them to success as did he.

    He made Napoli champions of Italy, something that they had never been before. This is done by being consistently "the best" week in week out.

    We are all aware of the 1986 World Cup Finals but if you watch the video of the final, you will see a man totally in control of his team and the match. If their forwards had been a little better , Argentina would have won by 3 or 4 more given the number of chances he laid on a plate.

    4 years later, he led and dragged a desperately average Argentina side to another World Cup Final.

    How I wish that Scotland could just get through to the knockout stages.

    I saw him play at Hampden as a 19 yr old and will never ever forget that day.

  • Comment number 24.

    It is very difficult to compare players from different eras, now the best players are studied, man marked and generally unable to show the element of surprise they did many years ago.

    I suppose if a player has a few good games and shows a few tricks, these are repeated "ad infinitum" and the mantle of great player begins to stick. One example of this is Roberto Carlos. He has a few stunning free kicks and he was seen as a footballing god, but if you get 10 free kicks a game and over 5 seasons you score 20 goals, this is not in any way a good ratio.

    I'm not 100% convinced by Cristiano Ronaldo, but Giggs and Gerrard would bet my vote.

  • Comment number 25.

    foolish?
    His talent is exceptional.

    How many modern day players could play for one of the world's biggest and most successful clubs for 18/19 years, achieve more than any other british player, have a very good disciplinary record and be an inspiration for a generation of aspiring footballers? (just too name a few things)

    No british player will achieve what he has in the current game, football has changed and young players do not get the chance to succeed like he did anymore.

    I do not want to try and put his career into words on here, because if you have watched him his talent speaks for itself.

    But as i said in my first post, this is my opinion. everyone is entitled to there own so we should take into account what these certain players have done without arguing about it just because we do not like the choices ourselves.

  • Comment number 26.

    You have to laugh at these people (I presume Man United fans) coming on here claiming guys like Charlton, Giggs or Best are the best ever.
    Absolutely clueless stuff so typical of United fans, and an insult to Diego Armando Maradona, who was as close to a 1-man team winning a World Cup and Serie A titles as you will see. Granted he had some very good players around him like Careca but they were probably a mid-table team without Maradona.
    In my opinion he's the best ever and Pele is not a lock for top 3 by any means. These things can be argued about however, some things like those aforementioned Man United players as the best ever you cannot even entertain as legitimate arguments.

  • Comment number 27.

    Maradona

    The most gifted player ever to step out onto a football pitch. At his peak he was sick. Just sick. There are arguments for about 5 or 6 other players throughout history but Diego was the only one who came from a different planet and was about 5 levels above others on the pitch, rather than 1 or 2 levels like other greats.

    My favourate player is Ryan Giggs. He inspired me to play the game in a way I enjoyed. There is no getting away from the fact though that Maradona is the greatest ever. It scares me to think someone can be blessed with that much natural talent.

  • Comment number 28.

    For me, Maradona is the greatest to ever play the game. I don't consider it an over-exaggeration though to say that Lionel Messi might just be even better than him when he reaches his peak, he's scarily good.

    I noticed someone pressed the claim for Puskas on the basis of his goals scored. By that logic, you need look no further than William Ralph 'Dixie' Dean. 60 goals in a season, 349 goals in 399 games for Everton as well as 18 in 16 for England. There will never, ever be anyone even comparable to Dean in the goalscoring stakes.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think it is important to distinguish between best player and favourite player.

    At 25 the best player I have ever seen is Zidane and he is my favourite player of all time, but it is hard for me to make a case for him being the best ever, as I have not had the opportunity to compare him to the likes of Pele, Maradona or De Stefano.

    All I can say is Zidane was the best in my lifetime, (in terms of medals, influence and talent,) and i think thats all anyone can say.

  • Comment number 30.

    shadur10- Yes thinking Ryan Giggs as the best ever. I mean are you serious? Get your head out of Man United you know what. You love your club and I get that but the best ever. Giggs in his prime would not even make a Argentine, Brasilian, Italian nor German squad. Remember one thing, COUNTRY OVER CLUB! Seems that you have more love for your club team then your national team because you can really think that he is the best ever. I just shake my head and smirk at that quote.

  • Comment number 31.

    The greatest player from era has got to be Zidane but there have been some other unbelievable players, Maldini (to play for so long at that level), Scholes (massively underrated), Bergkamp (a joy to watch, that goal against Argentina in the world cup was unbelievable) but the one performance that sticks in my head is Ronaldo’s hat trick against Man Utd for real Madrid in the champions league, he truly was an amazing talent and it’s a shame things didn’t work out as they could have otherwise he would have truly been spoken of as a true great of the game.

    Not wishing to comment on something out of my era, I always here things about Duncan Edwards who was tragically killed in Munich, Bobby Charlton said he was the greatest player he ever saw… does anyone have any thoughts or views on him?

  • Comment number 32.

    Interesting article and comments. The best footballer is probably Garrincha. The second best is probably Maradona. Pele, Puskas, Di Stefano, Best, et al all are honourable mentions - but there is a slight 50s/60s bias to these lists. (Ditto with Boxers, Golfers, Tennis players etc)

    There are many possible reasons for this, but I think it comes down to 3 things:
    1 - Sports writers tend to be in their 40s and 50s
    2 - Overall standard was lower, and much less athletic - so easier to be a standout player then
    3 - Hindsight and misguided memories.

    On the topic of Ryan Giggs. An exceptional footballer, no question. Had he been playing for Liverpool and England rather than Manchester United and Wales for the past 17 seasons, I would be a much happier man.

    Duncan Edwards was arguably Britain's best ever footballer - better than Charlton, ask Bobby. Though others may tip a nod to Sir Stanley.

    On a personal note, I would like to tip a strong nod to Marco Van Basten. Unfortunately his career was cut short. But probably the finest marksman of all time.

  • Comment number 33.

    Garrincha best ever for me!
    Underrated and overlooked every time!

  • Comment number 34.

    Di Stephano was a great player. If you want to see how good he was, get a copy of the 1960 European Cup Final. There ia another player in that game who stands out as well, and he was better in my opinion.

    So it has to be Puskas for me, followed by the great Fritz Walter, who was the main reason the brilliant 1954 Hungarians last the World Cup.


  • Comment number 35.

    Pele once said that the goal he scored against Wales in the 1958 World Cup was the most important in his life and that he thanked the stars that John Charles wasn't playing. Juventus also voted him their greatest ever foreign player. I've seen him play, he's in the same mold as Di Stefano - big, strong, subtle and commanded every game he played in.

    Just a thought...

    Also, Pele was simply outstanding the way in which he destroyed the england national team single handedly in 1965 was breathtaking - simply unstoppable. just because the TV was on him doesn't make him any less of a player, and to stand out in a Brazilian squad, you simply have to be the best, don't you?

    Standing out in a poor or average squad is easy (Steven Gerrard does it every week, and the team are poor without him! Maradonna did it with Napoli, brilliantly). Pele did it with other players who were fantastic - Didi, Vava, Carlos Alberto - the list is 11 players strong. Pele also won them the 1958 title against Sweden and scored twice in the final... most people would also argue that Brazil would have won in 66 except pele was kicked out of the competition by Portugal in a nasty old game. he's simply accomplished more than anyone else in the game, and that for me, makes him the best...

  • Comment number 36.

    Im not by any way disparaging Ralph 'Dixie' Dean but as for Puskas' record -

    Ferenc Puskas

    Born: 2 April 1927, Budapest, Hungary
    Nicknames: The Booming Cannon and The Galloping Major
    Clubs: Kispest Honved (354 apps, 357 goals) and Real Madrid (528 apps, 512 goals)
    International: 84 Caps, 83 Goals
    Honours: Hungarian league (5), Spanish league (5), Spanish Cup, European Cup (3), Intercontinental Cup, Olympics

    - I mean come on he scored more goals than games he played for Kispest Honved .......... how many players have ever achieved this?????? And also as near as damn it ........ he averaged a goal per game at international level ! ! !

  • Comment number 37.

    Well the greatest I ever saw was Maradona.

    It makes me laugh though when I see comments like lordSUPERFRED's saying his off field comments mean he can't be rated as the best, but then goes on to mention Garrincha as one of the best.
    Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Brasilian/ South American football knows about Garrincha's tragic off field life, alcoholism etc. One of his wives Elza Soares (great Brasilian singer by the way) left him because he beat her.

    Too many people are hung up on the hand of god thing because it knocked precious England out in '86.

    Like you're telling me Maradona is the only player ever to have scored a handball goal?
    Would you have expected him to go over to the ref and tell him to disallow it, like Lineker would have done the same?

    Maradona, greatest ever, hands down

  • Comment number 38.

    Tim, what did you do???

    Please, do not ever, start a debate about best footballer ever.

    There is no way of answering it.

    It's not worth reading the replies to this blog.

  • Comment number 39.

    Zidane > Cruyff

    I agree with howdyneeber, post 16. I still get upset when I recall that match - oh what if he had scored that header..

  • Comment number 40.

    Just Fontaine has to be talked about as a great player as well. Scored 13 goals in the 58 WC. 13 GOALS!!

  • Comment number 41.

    lol@ mention of Giggs..

    It's Maradona for me.

    Di Stefano & Pele fine alternatives. Beckenbauer, Puskas, Cruyff, Garrincha and co in the tier just below and also good shouts.

    lol ..Giggs?!

    heh

  • Comment number 42.

    Excellent article Tim, always good to see suitable praise going to the people who’s career highlights pre-date the birthdates of most of us, I hope football crowds never forget the legacy players like Di Stefano, Puskas, Matthews and Garrincha left us to enjoy today.

    You’re a braver man than me picking someone as the best player ever, I’ve always thought it’s one of life’s unanswerable questions along with who’s the best artist or where the best holiday destination is to be found. I’ll happily have a stab at answering the question in the pub but inevitably the stumbling block is always the same, the lack of an agreeable yardstick.

    Sports like cricket or tennis have the advantage here, cricket is hugely statistics based, and in tennis all the top tennis players play each other in the same tournaments with no reliance on team-mates. So you have the benefit of judging players on their batting/bowling average or the number of Grand Slams in their trophy cabinet. With footballers the problem is that we lack a Don Bradman, someone who doesn’t have a single question mark over titling them the best player ever. Pele was masterful and owned the World Cup but never played at the highest club level, Cruyff re-designed how football was played but his creation stumbled at the final hurdle in the World Cup and Best could weave magic with his feet like almost no-one else but never had the chance to try his hand against Brazil or Italy in a tournament, as for Maradonna the drugs and the occasional handball just make him an uneasy choice for many (perhaps unfairly.)

    I have seen two videos of games featuring Di Stefano, both of him playing for Real Madrid and his skill level was immense, amazing considering the pitches and weight of the ball in the 50’s, it looks a bit like someone has superimposed Zidane into an old movie. That Madrid team undeniably changed football and if he was the mastermind behind it on the field then that is an accolade indeed. But I confess I can’t say that makes him the best and equally nor does it rule him out against a more worthy individual; it just leaves you with the same old stalemate. The fact he didn’t play in a WC is arguably the one reason people put George Best on a rung below Pele and Maradonna and should apply equally to Di Stefano. The historical context which he played in is indeed a credit to him, a Europe being rebuilt but I don’t think we can mark down players like Zidane (solely when compared to Di Stefano) because they were born into vast wealth and political stability. For example I marvel at Garrincha’s ability when you look at his life, I am shocked at how well Best could play with a hangover and one boot, but it doesn’t make them better players but rather different characters.

    One day a player will come along, they will win the World Cup more than once, dominate European club football, invent a new style of football that all teams will adopt and on top of that this person willl be kind to his mother and donate half his wages to charity. Until then I think you’ll struggle to convince me that any one man can fight off all challengers in this argument.

  • Comment number 43.

    I believe that di stefano was friends with franco, who ever was mentioning it, thats why he ended playing at real rather than barca, cos real was franco's team. But that doesn't stop him being a great footballer or even sharing the same politics as franco.

  • Comment number 44.

    its always going to be an argument with maradona and pele surely.

    Its like they could see the pitch from above when they were playing...they almost played with another dymension...i cannot get my head around some of the stuff they did in a split second....

    for me tho....

    PELE

  • Comment number 45.

    Can anyone at the BBC proof read?

    If so why has Di Stefano's name been misspelt in the title when it is correctly typed many times in the article?

  • Comment number 46.

    Your perception of who the best footballer is will always depend on your age.

    The older ones think its Pele

    You say it is Di Sefano who never won a World Cup

    Others say its Maradona

    British people think it is one of their own - Best or Charlton

    I would say it is Zidane!

  • Comment number 47.

    Reply to #28:

    Pele scored over 1,000 career goals, and Eusebio scored 301 goals in 317 games for Benfica, as well as 64 goals in 41 games for Portugal... both are streets ahead of Dixie Dean.

    Pele also won THREE World Cups, not two as someone earlier claimed.

    Pele is the king, Maradona a close second.

    Finally, Fontaine had a very average career apart from that one World Cup...

  • Comment number 48.

    My top 10:

    1. Maradona
    2. Pele
    3. Cruijff
    4. Best
    5. Zidane
    6. Di Stefano
    7. Puskas
    8. Beckenbauer
    9. Platini
    10. Ronaldo

  • Comment number 49.

    35. At 10:15am on 09 Feb 2009, Sbaggo wrote:

    Pele once said that the goal he scored against Wales in the 1958 World Cup was the most important in his life and that he thanked the stars that John Charles wasn't playing. Juventus also voted him their greatest ever foreign player. I've seen him play, he's in the same mold as Di Stefano - big, strong, subtle and commanded every game he played in.

    Just a thought...

    Also, Pele was simply outstanding the way in which he destroyed the england national team single handedly in 1965 was breathtaking - simply unstoppable. just because the TV was on him doesn't make him any less of a player, and to stand out in a Brazilian squad, you simply have to be the best, don't you?

    Standing out in a poor or average squad is easy (Steven Gerrard does it every week, and the team are poor without him! Maradonna did it with Napoli, brilliantly). Pele did it with other players who were fantastic - Didi, Vava, Carlos Alberto - the list is 11 players strong. Pele also won them the 1958 title against Sweden and scored twice in the final... most people would also argue that Brazil would have won in 66 except pele was kicked out of the competition by Portugal in a nasty old game. he's simply accomplished more than anyone else in the game, and that for me, makes him the best...

    -------------------------------------------------
    outstanding argument!

  • Comment number 50.

    Edit:

    I meant Eusebio scored 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal, and 317 goals in 301 games for Benfica.

  • Comment number 51.

    Not one mention of ROBERTO BAGGIO in 48 posts...

    I know he might not have been the best but he was damn near up there. Pele says it himself(even though he is extremely naive at the best of times).

  • Comment number 52.

    @ post 20. YankJohn, Zola wasn't eligible to play for Italy. They didn't want non-Serie A players in the national team.

    Zola would've walked straight into the starting XI of any club & International team

  • Comment number 53.

    No surprise that Vickery only mentioned South Americans as the greatest players ever - going native, as ever. Cruyff, Platini, Charlton, Beckenbauer and Best would all be in the same league for me. However, I admit that the case for the great Europeans is belittled a bit by the idiots (above) mentioning names such as Zola and Giggs, which is surely a joke?!?!

  • Comment number 54.

    Samwell2804, On Giggs:
    Maldini won 5 European Cups, lost three EC finals.
    Is the most capped Italian player of all time, and the most times capped as captain.
    AC Milans most capped player of all time.
    Won seven league titles, five domestic cups, seven miscellaneous (intercontinental, super cup and world club cup).

    Eight European cup finals, a world cup and european championships final, winning thirteen other cups whilst being the most capped player in italian football... Well, whoeevr is the greatest, its not Giggs.

  • Comment number 55.

    I tend to get slated for my opinion on this subect, but I'm prepared to stand by it.

    I genuinely do not believe that players of 40-50 years ago would look half as good in the modern era.

    The advances in the game, the focus on athleticism, diet and speed make comparing someone like Charlton to someone like, for example, Messi an essentially pointless exercise. It is a contentious point of view but footballers of the older eras would struggle with modern football (if you were able to magically timewarp them here), nor would they stand head and shoulders above the best today.

    That's just the way things are though and it is why 100m sprinters today would demolish 100m sprinters from only ten years ago, let alone 50.

    But I would not take anything away from Tim's blog. In terms of impact on the international game, people like Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Di Stefano definitely stand tall. But are they actually significantly better footballers than the superstars of today? I would have to say no.

  • Comment number 56.

    By the way to those classing Giggs and Zola in the same bracket, stop it.
    Zola's statistics (wiki):
    A.S.D Torres Calcio

    * Serie C2: 1986-87

    [edit] S.S.C. Napoli

    * Serie A: 1989-90

    [edit] Parma F.C.

    * Serie A: (Runner-Up) 1995
    * Coppa Italia: (Runner-Up) 1995
    * UEFA Cup Winner's Cup: (Runner-Up) 1994
    * UEFA Cup: 1995
    * UEFA Super Cup: 1993

    [edit] Chelsea F.C.

    * FA Cup: 1997, 2000, (Runner-Up) 2002
    * FA Charity Shield: 2000, (Runner-Up) 1997
    * Coca-Cola Cup: 1998
    * UEFA Cup Winners' Cup: 1998
    * UEFA Super Cup: 1998

    [edit] Cagliari Calcio

    * Serie B: (Runner-Up) 2004


    * FWA Footballer of the Year: 1997
    * Chelsea Player of the Year: 1997, 2003
    * Chelsea top goalscorer: 1999, 2003
    * Order of the British Empire: 2004
    * Chelsea Centenary XI: 2005
    * English Football Hall of Fame: 2006


    Manchester United

    * Premier League (10): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08
    * FA Cup (4): 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
    * Football League Cup (2): 1991–92, 2005–06
    * FA Community Shield (7): 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008
    * UEFA Champions League (2): 1998–99, 2007–08
    * UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991
    * Intercontinental Cup (1): 1999
    * FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008

    [edit] Individual

    * PFA Young Player of the Year: 1992, 1993
    * Bravo Award: 1993
    * BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year: 1996
    * Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award: 1997–98
    * Intercontinental Cup Man of the Match: 1999[31]
    * Premier League Team of the Decade: 2003[32]
    * English Football Hall of Fame: 2005
    * Wales Player of the Year Award: 1996, 2006
    * FA Premier League Player of the Month: September 1993, August 2006, February 2007
    * PFA Team Of The Century: 2007[33]
    * PFA Team of the Year: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2007
    * Only Manchester United player to have played in all ten Premier League-winning teams and only player to win 10 league titles.
    * Only Manchester United player to have played in both League Cup-winning teams
    * Only player to have scored in eleven consecutive Champions League tournaments
    * Only player to have scored in thirteen different Champions League tournaments
    * Only player to have scored in every Premier League campaign since its inception

    [edit] Orders and special awards

    * OBE for services to football.[1]
    Awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Salford University on 15 July 2008 for contributions to football and charity work in developing countries.[34]

    Which also overlooks the fact that he also scored the greatest goal in the most prestigious domestic cup in the worlds history.

    Not comparable, not in the same bracket at all.

  • Comment number 57.

    Pele - Best footballer
    Ali - Best Boxer
    Woods - Best golfer
    Taylor - Best darts player
    Steven Gerrard - Best Diver.

  • Comment number 58.

    Perhaps to qualify as the Greatest, we simply have to agree that the player needs to have won a WC plus either a European Cup or Copa Libertadores ? And for those who never had the chance to play at a WC, through no fault of their own, they cannot be the Greatest because we can only guess how they would have performed on the biggest stage.

    If we dont agree on that condition then as per the previous poster - what about John Charles, two world class players in 0ne, plus a true gentleman ?!?

  • Comment number 59.

    #54

    I wasn't gonna mention Maldini, but when you put it like that!

    re Giggs: As good as he was/is, you'd have to be a one-eyed Manc to believe Ryan Giggs sits comfortably amongst these names.

    IMO

    1. Maradona
    2. Maradona
    3. Maradona

    ... with 'Fat' Ronaldo being the next best thing.

  • Comment number 60.

    oh yeah and of course Dalglish!

  • Comment number 61.

    #42

    "Pele was masterful and owned the World Cup but never played at the highest club level..."

    You could not be more wrong! The highest club level at that time was not just to play in Europe. The brazilian league had all of its stars so Santos was actually the best team in the world at one point.

    Pelé played at the highest level throughout his career except during his spell in the NASL.

  • Comment number 62.

    Maldini - excellent point GodSonAcross !!

  • Comment number 63.

    55 - but you would have to presume that the footballers from the past would be given the same physical regime and diet of today's footballers if they played today in order for the comparison to work.

    So if say Bobby Charlton had access to all of today's nutritutional and physical training advances, I do believe he would be as good as today's best.

  • Comment number 64.

    Tim, if you would ask Di Stefano who was the best player he had ever seen, he would tell you the paraguayan Arsenio Erico.

    Case closed.

  • Comment number 65.

    63 - Absolutely, unfortunately we only have facts and hypothesis is no basis to form a conclusion.

  • Comment number 66.

    By the way, I am an Arsenal fan, and as such Henry, whilst admittedly not the greatest of all time (i think he has a record of something like 7 finals and 0 goals) I am still embittered that he didn't win World Player of the Year when goofy did. 42 goals, 23 assists, that makes Man United last year look like a well rounded team that didn't rely on one player. Henry is 100% the most rounded player I have ever seen. He scores spectacular goals, easy goals, he is incredibly quick, incredibly skillful, passionate, can play in any attacking position, tracks back and tackles, can finish with his left, right, his head, his chest, volleys, half volleys, wonder free kicks and sets up almost as many as he scores. Name any of the greatest goals in history and I'll show you one of Henry's thats at least similar, if not better. If it wasn't for his terrible record in finals, he would 100% be the greatest player of all time for me.

  • Comment number 67.

    I believe the greatest players are the ones that win and make it look simple. Whilst I acknowledge that Puskus and De Stefano were something a bit special they only achieved there greatness playing for Club Sides. While for me the level of greatness has to be judged on what they achieved at international level as well. Pele had to be amazing but he won 3 World Cups playing for a Brazil team that was full of talent; in fact they probably would have won without him. For me Zidane is the greatest player he made the beautiful game a reality, he won everything at club level, he won the World Cup and a took a team that almost never qualified without him to the final, although it ended in tradegy. While Maradona cheated his way to winning it and then was kicked out in 94 for drugs.

  • Comment number 68.

    How desparately tedious the 'greatest player ever' debate is. Good article though. Di Stefano is one of those names from the dim and distant (at least to me) history of football that I'm vaguely aware of without knowing anything about.

    As an aside, I found it a bit depressing that you felt the need to point out that the Champions League used to be called the European Cup!

  • Comment number 69.

    The best player of my lifetime would have to be Zidane. However, i'm sure i'd be saying Ronaldo if he hadnt had the awful knee injuries. He was on a different level for 2 or 3 years.

    I've seen Franz Beckenbauer come top of similar polls/debates such as this one, although i was never lucky enough to see him play so i couldnt judge.

    Some great goalscoring stats mentioned above - the records of the likes of Puskas/Eusebio are amazing. I may be wrong but i think Gerd Mullers goalscoring stats are almost as good as these? He was surely one of the best poachers of all time? Along with Romario.

    I wonder if Messi will be mentioned up there with the all time best if he contunues his current form over the next 5 years, wins a european cup or two and leads Argentina to glory in South Africa next year? He is without doubt the most exciting player i've ever seen.

  • Comment number 70.

    To people comparing Best to Maradona and saying that calling Maradona the best feels uneasy because of the drugs: why does everyone still think its alright to be an alcoholic, like theres something loveable about it, but take recreational drugs and its the worst think in the world.
    The recent rugby episodes of Tindall and Stevens illustrates this double standard frighteningly perfectly.

  • Comment number 71.

    if you go on the notion of great players being ones that have won the WC and another major trophy that is completely ridicuous... for example is Juliano Belletti better than Nedved, Scholes, Figo, Cruyff, Best, Eusebio, Redondo, Bergkamp, Weah etc... I think not!

    I think that winning World Player of the year is a must (for the modern generation having only started in 1991) ... but having a player not being described as a great simply because the country they play for does not have the talent to win the World Cup is Ludicrous

  • Comment number 72.

    Zidane, Best, Zola, now Henry? They could not even tie Maradona's shoelaces. Give me a break!

  • Comment number 73.

    Strong as an ox, two footed, brilliant in the air, deceptively quick, great vision, superb passer clinical finisher – I could go on: It has to be Pele.Sure the 1970 Brazil team had great individuals, Rivelino and Jairzinho especially, but I always go back to a story Bobby Moore told about that squad. A member of the Brazilian back room team told him that Pele was the best player in the squad in any position – including goalkeeper. That says it all for me.

    Yes Pele never played in Europe, but that wasn’t really an option at his peak. Racism in Italy and Spain is bad enough now, can you imagine what he would have suffered? Also, the hatchet men would have ended his career early. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

  • Comment number 74.

    @ #55 - Cassadegas


    I agree with you about modern athletes being more physically developed, athletes of old couldn't compete on the same level

    fitness wise, diet and other reasons

    but i think the main thing is natural human development

    Look at 100 metre sprint, the record is always being broken, yes because training is becoming more advanced as is nutritional info and injury prevention but the other side of this is the humans are evolving, becoming strong, taller, faster and smarter

    the entire olympics is a testament to man physically evolving

    for this reason, i'd say maradonna is the best,

    he is the one player in the all time best bracket that everyone agrees on (including pele) that would be able to cope physically with the modern game

  • Comment number 75.

    #61

    I can't agree with you in principle because this whole question is one of perception. I entirely bow to your better knowledge of the South American leagues and I wouldn't pretend for a second to know anything about the strength of Brazilian domestic leagues in the 50's and 60's so if Santos were amongst the better teams in the world then that is entirely my ignorance.

    But I think my point still stands because it's all about ticking the boxes. This questions isn't an exact science as which is more important, a world cup win or three european cup wins is a subjective one. At the same time it just can't be a purely subjective discussion or we'd have 150 posts and 130 different names. If it's purely down to personal opinion then as silly as they sound to me these mentions of Giggs and Zola are as valid as any.

    Whether its down to the fact that Europe dominates world football so European opinions have an unfair weight advantage or perhaps its just genuine ignorance of the facts but I think the percept is, has and always probably will be that if you aspire to be considered the best then you must come and play in Europe for a time.

    It's hard to see how we'd look at Messi, Ronaldo (Brazil striker) or Romario in the same way if they'd spent their career in their home country or had gone to play in an inferior league for the money.

    That's not fair on Brazil players from the 50's, I completely aknowledge that but this was never going to be an entirely even handed debate was it.

  • Comment number 76.

    Willem Van der Ark, without a shadow of a doubt

  • Comment number 77.

    People forget Charlie Nicholls was a great player for arsenal and celtic. A true funisher of the ball. Ok modern but still world class. Agree?

  • Comment number 78.

    Tim, I also love your articles. As an Australian who came to Soccer late when in London in the 70's, I am a Georgie Best man. he was fantastic and probably the first marketing superstar of the game. From my reading of the history of the gane there have been a number of real stars. I feel from reading the statistics of the game, there are 2 men who stand out. One is Dixie Deans who no one alive today would have seen live, He must have been a scoring machine when he plyed in a much tougher and rougher day. The absolute no 1 for me ahead of Dixie Deans and Georgie Best would have to be Ferenc Puskas. When you read of his record in another tough time of life, he was an absolute star and scoring machine. Later in life he also put his football brain to Coaching / Managing and he came to Melbourne and coached a local team to the Australian title. What a great debate to start.

  • Comment number 79.

    #75

    I agree with you about the subjectivity in this issue, but I had to make a point about your earlier comment. While nowadays you have to play in Europe to be considered, in those days you could had been the best playing in Brazil or Argentina alone.

  • Comment number 80.

    Charlie Nicholas? What have you taken today? The guy isn't even Arsenals best ever player.

  • Comment number 81.

    Any older person rufuses to name a modern player as the best (eg Zidane, Ronaldo);

    Any younger person won't name an older player (as they've never seen them play)

    And I thought last weeks debate was pretty heated

  • Comment number 82.

    For sheer entertainment genius, how can anyone overlook Francis Benali - the Todd Carty of Premiership Football! And he scored goals (once!) We all "walked in a Benali Wonderland!" and just LOVED IT!!!

  • Comment number 83.

    Charlie Nicholas ?!? No way ! In this company he is average. What did he win at club or international level ??

  • Comment number 84.

    Van Basten without any doubt. Genius!

  • Comment number 85.

    Sternbutfair - I can be persuaded that there might be a couple who will forever transcend time.

    People like Maradona and Zidane, who possessed natural abilities that have no relation to fitness or training such as touch, technique or vision of the game definitely pose big question marks over my theory.

    I suppose the only way to measure it is by seeing whether they would walk into the (alleged) best club in the world, Man U.

    Would they find a space for Zidane at his peak? Almost certainly. Same probably goes for Maradona (but who would they sacrifice.....).

    Unfortunately though I think the acceleration of the ability of footballers will continue. You need only look at the sheer size of defenders these days to wonder how sensible Lineker was to get out when he did!

  • Comment number 86.

    1.Pele
    2.Maradona
    3.Di Stefano
    4.Cruyff
    5.Zidane

  • Comment number 87.

    Charlie Nicholas? He's not even the best player on the Sky Sports pundit panel!

  • Comment number 88.

    Thanks for the always-interesting blog Tim,

    As others have mentioned, the problem with this debate is that nobody can agree on how to compare players.

    Do you pick: the guy with the most impressive medal collection; the best set of admiring quotes from other great players; the biggest influence on the game (as you have done) or whatever...

    I like to imagine chucking them at their peak through a time machine into a modern team and seeing how they get on. This discounts a lot of the older players as they are constantly getting sent off for chopping people from behind and can't get their head around the pass-back rule.

    Even more fun is chucking modern players back into the past and seeing how they cope with water-sodden balls as heavy as a brick and defenders with nicknames like 'Chopper'.

    I'll let you borrow the latter fantasy the next time you see Drogba (etc.) on the verge of tears as someone nudges him on the pitch.

    As a menchie for my team, there's Jimmy McGrory (who I believe has the best scoring record in British football) and Patsy Gallagher.

  • Comment number 89.

    Jan Molby

  • Comment number 90.

    #30's way off the mark. In his prime, Giggs would have strolled into the starting line ups of any of those teams. Even past his prime, three years ago, Dunga claimed Giggs would have graced a Brazil shirt, and given him real problems should he have been eligable for the Brazil squad then - http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/internationals/5320010.stm.
    Obviously he's not the best footballer of all time. He's in with a real shout for best British player, but, in the end, he's not up to the same level, nor has he accomplished what some of the previously mentioned players have.
    One thing there is no question of, Giggs and Di Stafano are the greatest players never to have graced the world stage.

  • Comment number 91.

    Tim,

    Great article again.

    I agree that Di stefano was better than pele, but what about garrincha? Surely the mark of the greatest is their ability to single handedly tip the balance, like maradona in 86 and for napoli, or garrincha in 1962, or di stafano for madrid. How do you quantify who has had the greater impact? trophies won? Or does the individual's feeling upon witnesing a moment of magic sway you heir way?

    Again, your the best blogger on the beeb by a mile. most other blogs comment sections turn into slanging matches.

  • Comment number 92.

    Maradona probably edges it - considering his achievements in Italy (winning the title with THAT Napoli side over THAT Milan side?)

    Also, if we're mentioning players with great goalscoring stats, let's not forget Gerd Muller. Outstanding.

    Duncan Edwards!

    Cherno Samba?



  • Comment number 93.

    #54 - U13822740 -

    Sorry mate, u have me confused, i have made no argument for Giggs ! ! !

    Please check again and redirect your argument?!

  • Comment number 94.

    All this because Giggs scored yesterday, ha ha

  • Comment number 95.

    Scholes or Giggs?
    Scholes.

  • Comment number 96.

    Geroge Weah, any takers for him

  • Comment number 97.

    Of course, there's more than one way to define 'the greatest player ever'. If as your critieria you include sportsmanship, loyalty and humility I'd make a case for Tom Finney getting at least a mention. If you asked me to name the one player who gave me more pleasure to watch than any other I'd have to say the late Robin Friday. But I couldn't let this debate pass without a mention for the one player I saw who was able to stop Pele leaving his mark in a game without his doing it illegally. Bobby Moore was without doubt the finest defender I ever saw. I'll always remember Jimmy Greaves telling of after a training session when he quizzed Moore, always last in sprints, about how he kept up with quick players. Moore's reply:

    "First 10 yards are in your head".

    Now there was a great player.

  • Comment number 98.

    Anyway Ian Rush one of the greats never to play on world stage

  • Comment number 99.

    Tim Vickery congratulations on your attempts to crash the BBC ancient servers with this article.All the people calling names like Giggs,Scholes etc are obviously joking or deluded.
    I always thought whatever Di Stefano did at Real Kubala did at Barcelona in spades.I belived he is as great as Di Stefano but somehow is always overlooked.He was actually crowned the club's greatest player in Barca centenary in 1999!Camp Nou was actually increased in capacity because of people who wanted to see Ladislao Kubala.I think its time we recognised this great footballer!

  • Comment number 100.

    Good blog, sparks great debate.

    Maradona for me was probably the player I most associate with the greatest ever tag.

    But that has a lot to do with nostalgia, I was 13-20 when he was in his heyday.

    Zidane was superb, his combination of touch, balance, strength and vision, put him head and shoulders above the rest of his generation.

    I think in these debates we tend to ignore a lot of Italians I have witnessed some sublime skill from Baggio, Zola, Del Piero, Roberto Mancini etc, not to mention those less spectacular like Baresi.

    I would urge those younger readers to search for a Ryan Giggs highlight reel online, to see the skills that make Ronaldo (Cristiano) and Roooney look pedestrian. Giggs was once described by Del Piero as being 'beautiful' and 'his football makes me cry'. In Europe he is regarded much higher than any other british player of the last 30 years.

    The best individual one-match performance I ever saw at first hand was by Ruud Gullit, when he first went to Chelsea. He seemed to have so much more time on the ball than anyone else and I was surprised at how big and powerful he was. His passes with either foot were superb. He looked like a man joining in a 12 year-olds game.

    But who was the best ever?

    Pele was undoubtedly a player of great skill whose career spanned a golden age of football, but he was surrounded by other great players so he doesn't make my top three. Brazil would have been successful without him.

    For pure skill, mesmeric talent and god given ability I have to stick with Maradona.

    For influence and all round ability I would be stuck between Beckenbauer and Zidane.

    Honourable mentions for Charlton and Cruyff.

    I cannot comment on Di Stefano as I have not seen enough footage of him, his lack of international success would seem to to advocate against him, strike or not. However, I will concede that if he was as you claim the heartbeat of the first great team of modern European club football he certainly is worthy of consideration.

 

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