By Joe Behan
At the recent 2000 FIFA gala award ceremony, the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano accepted Real Madrid’s award for FIFA team of the 20th Century. Di Stefano was part of the great Real sides of the 1950s and ’60s that dominated European football. Mr. Di will for sure let Madrid know about a team in the EPL called Liverpool, who beat Manchester United and Arsenal just before the holidays.
There is no getting away from the FIFA ratings, their experts, and the big picture, it does indeed tell a tale. Manchester United for now represent the EPL in Europe. But Real won the award with 42.35 percent of the vote, way ahead of United, in second place with 9.69 percent. This poses the question, Are Real that good? Taking Utd.’s current form, there is not a lot between the two sides. Though over the century one has to admit that Real are out there and somewhat of an elite club. Real’s Di Stefano has also been hailed as the best player in the century, but that title is probably the toughest debate in the game.
Best Player of the 20th Century
The gap is closer, comparing the players rather than clubs, bringing up the biggest question of them all: Who is the best player in the world? Known as the fifth Beatle, George Best was the player for Manchester United. He is the man to compare to Di Stefano. Many would debate that Bobby Charlton is up there, but Charlton vs. Di Stefano does not look or sound right. Best vs. Di Stefano does. The Belfast boy was without doubt the most gifted of them all, but it is difficult to say he was the best.
Nonetheless, while Real Madrid gets the team vote hands down, the player issue is far from even started. On an internet survey for best British player, Best is leading with popular votes ahead of Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore and Kenny Daglish.
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While Franc Beckenbaur and Johann Cruyff would lead a huge litter of names, it is Pele who brings the vote nearer its end. The Brazilian played for the best International team ever and his club team, Santos, were voted fifth for Team of the 20th century, with Bayern Munich third and Barcelona fourth. The FIFA team awards was all about respect, but the player vote still holds onto much intensity, jealousy and of course player ego.
Pele vs. Mardona
The Pele vs. Maradona debate is still up in the air. The controversial Argentine football player walked out of the FIFA awards ceremony before his great rival Pele got up on stage to receive recognition as one of the two greatest players of the 20th Century. Maradona obviously felt he and he alone should have been up there. The reason why he walked out is immaterial. Perhaps only Maradona can say if Pele is the number one.
"I would have liked to have had Maradona up here on stage with me, but it looks like he’s already gone," the great Brazilian said.
Pele declined to name the Argentine as the best player of the past century while Maradona only named Pele alongside a host of other players. When asked who he would have chosen as the century’s greatest player, Maradona said that as an Argentine he would be tempted to choose Di Stefano.
"But I would also have to admit the merits of Platini, Pele, Cruyff and Rivoldo," he said before leaving the stage and the hall.
Pele seemed little inclined to praise Maradona when he arrived at the gala.
"We’re not great friends, but I admire him," Pele said. "If he thinks he’s the best player of the century, that’s his problem."
If the old boys are going to carry on like this, both of them may have to be removed, which will give players like Paul McGrath, Liam Brady, Pat Jennings and Ronnie Whelan a place in the ratings. Given all things equal, these Irish home-grown players could hold their own on the same field as the greats, at least as team players.
Even the great Johnny Giles, who tried to do things to Irish soccer that they are doing now in European soccer, must not be forgotten. The current players must not be overlooked, time will tell. Euro 2000 gave the next era of players and teams a great platform to build another century of soccer. Comparing 20th century players to 21st century may finally answer the question, "who ‘was’ the best?"
The best players in the world are the Brazilians, without doubt. In fact, there are players in Brazil who we really do not know of who would give most of the top Europeans a run for their money. The more famous have work to do. Rivoldo is up there and the world awaits with much expectation for the return of Ronaldo. In the meantime, the player who dedicates his endeavors to the children of Brazil is the rejuvenated Romario, who is stealing the show at the minute at club and international level.
Romario in form
The Brazilian veteran Romario is proving he is still one of the best strikers in the World. He hit yet another hat trick for his club, Vasco da Gama, who beat Palmeiras 4-3 in Brazil’s Copa Mercosur final. Brazil were struggling a bit up top in the South American World Cup qualifiers until Romario got a recall. After slotting three against Bolivia he stuck four away against Venezuela, making him the competition’s leading goal scorer.
FIFA did not include Romario in their player of the year award, even though he has now scored 71 goals. The magic forward danced on everybody in the 1994 World Cup but lost out on world ratings due to injury in ’98. His participation in the 2002 World Cup (given that Brazil make it, of course) may throw him right back in there with the best. Very few in the game show up like he does to deliver the killer goal, which is his trademark. Very few have his speed in the box, even though he is only two weeks short of his 35th birthday. No player, however, is bigger than the event itself, and the end of the century saw France put that cliché on equal terms with Zinedine Zidane.
Euro 2000, Champions League
Euro 2000 was the main event of the year, in which France secured first place in the competition and in the world after winning the World Cup in 1998. Zidane was at the center of it all for France, and the silky playmaker proved to be the best player on the planet for the duration. The competition itself was outstanding, just as well, because soccer fans were crying out for more attractive football, and did they get it at Euro.
Real Madrid won the Champions League again and they showed real class when beating Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford in one of the best games of the year. Roberto Carlos came up trumps that night even though David Beckham scored a great goal. The Brazilian fullback kept the best crosser of a ball ever seen in the game quiet. Rodondo and Raul outclassed Roy Keane, which brought the Irishman’s rating definitely below Zidane for the midfield title.
FIFA’s Brazil, France and Argentina are good for top three, but Czech Republic in fourth ahead of Italy, Germany and Holland may well be the luck of the draw. Ireland are seeded in 33rd place with the company of Ukraine, Egypt, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The Irish could do with a few wins to move up with the cream. Way down the ladder at the 200th rung are Guam, Montserrat and American Samoa.
The AFC rate Japan and Saudi Arabia as its tops. Cameroon are relegated to fifth by CAF, as South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt lead the pack. CONCACAF stay with Mexico as its top choice, while the USA hold a strong second, with Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica making ground. The OFC still await newcomers to upset Australia and New Zealand.