Top Ten Current Favourite Footballers
hree caveats: 1) I know none of you know anything about football (or care for that matter) but I still refuse to refer to it as ‘soccer’, because that’s a bloody stupid word; 2) I make no pretence towards this being a list of the best players at all, because that’s impossible and silly, it’s merely a list of the players I most like to watch; and 3) I’ve only covered players actually still kicking footballs professionally right now, as I see there being little or no point in eulogising David Hirst’s official ‘hardest shot in the premier league’ or Chris Waddle’s magnificent drunken-looking step-overs, because they’ve both retired, and short of finding old Sheffield Wednesday videos you’re never going to be able to actually see the players I’d talk about (should you want to), but, I imagine, anyone with half-decent cable can find a Roma or Arsenal or Barcelona game and take in the skills of some of the players listed…
Oh and, as ever, this list is in no particular order.
PS. I didn’t pick any Inter players because they’re all rubbish, eh Dom?
Francesco Totti / Antonio Cassano
AS Roma’s ridiculously gifted strikeforce and creative hub, Totti and Cassano count as a two-for-one deal because they’re essentially the same player in two bodies; gifted, aggressive, cheeky, powerful and with the kind of cocksure awareness and arrogant vision that cleaves defences into tiny little bits. They’ve been starring upfront together in Serie A this season mainly due to Vincenzo Montella’s prolonged injury, causing Totti (who would normally play just behind the two main strikers) to be pushed forward alongside the young acolyte who joined Roma from Bari three seasons ago for some £18m. Totti as a player is somewhere between the silky skills of Roberto Baggio and the never-say-die aggravation and determination of Roy Keane, which is why he wears the captain’s armband—leading not only by example but also by cajoling, encouraging, shouting at and inspiring his team mates. His ejections are almost as spectacular as his many goals and his intuitive passing (I remember one incident a few years ago where he shoved over the referee). Cassano is Totti Mk II, only madder—supposedly he walks out of training in a huff most days when Fabio Capello, Roma’s manager, fails to agree that he is “better than Maradona”. Plus he’s tiny, covered in tattoos, and built like a brick outhouse. Stick the two together and the result is a barrage of near telepathic movement, passing, mazy runs on the ball and audacious feats of cheeky skill. Marvellous.
Henry is, simply, the best attacker in the world. Mercurial, insanely fast, with exquisite technique, able to score off either foot, plus tall, dark and handsome as well as stylish (one of the only players ever to look good in white boots), when combined with the next player he’s the key to Arsenal’s recent success.
Vieira is the best midfielder in the world, bar none. Failing to make an impact at Milan as a teenager, Arsene Wenger has, at Arsenal, nurtured him into the complete player; strong, skilful, intuitive, athletic and inspired. His early temper lead to a succession of red cards and disciplinary problems, but over the last couple of years he has matured into a cool, calm leader for the team, dictating the pace of play from midfield and acting as both defensive rock and attacking catalyst. And occasionally sticking the boot in and swearing at the referee. Arsenal are undefeated in 32 premiership games this season, and Vieira’s influence in the centre of the park has a great deal to do with that.
Milan’s Brazilian wonderkid is pure potential; tall, quick, incredibly skilful and with immaculate timing, he’s undoubtedly a star in the making. And very cute, too.
Gerrard is the only ‘great’ player at Liverpool right now, and one of England’s best players too. A dynamic midfielder with an exceptional range of passing, he finally appears to be emerging from the back pains his gangly frame caused him as a youngster, allowing him to (almost) fulfil his potential. However, as long as he stays at Liverpool (and as long as Gerard Houllier is manager) he’ll never really achieve as much as he should. Tough tackling, fast, strong and with tremendous vision (as a passer of the ball he is every bit as good as Beckham is reputed to be), he’s a natural leader, and would form the dynamic heart of any team in Europe.
I’ve kept tabs on Ronaldo’s career since the 94 World Cup, which he spent on the bench for Brazil, and his audacious skills and prolific goals remain undimmed despite serious injuries and the fact that he’s now an enormously fat bastard and much slower than he was as a 20-year-old with Barcelona. Aside from the Frenchman and two Italians listed above, I don’t think there’s a better attacker to watch in the world. Allegedly Carlos Quieroz, Real Madrid’s manager, has taken to phoning Ronaldo at 1 AM two or three times a week to check that he’s not out dancing at nightclubs instead of resting his ample frame in preparation for the following day’s game of football, and that kind of behaviour deserves respect, and points towards him being Romario’s heir in more ways than just one. I don’t believe in fate, but it was almost undoubtedly destiny that lead Ronaldo to score the winning goals in the 2002 World Cup final.
He may be a bully, a dissenting and negative influence, a borderline psychopath, he may be the wrong side of 30 and past his best, he may play for M*nch*st*r Un*t*d, he may have never been the most technically gifted or flamboyant of players, but by God you’d still have Roy Keane on your team ahead of almost anyone else. Never mind Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and the rest—aside from Eric Cantona, Roy Keane was the most important player in terms of establishing Man Utd’s domination of the Premiership throughout the 90s.
When Roma allowed Cafu to leave on a free transfer at the end of last season they expected him to head for Japan and a two-year financial pay-off to finish his illustrious career. When he actually signed for Milan it was an act of betrayal that smarted badly. But us Roma fans needn’t have worried, because in Mancini we now have a Brazilian on the right-side of midfield who looks every bit as good as Cafu, if not a little bit better, at this early stage of his career. Quick, skilful, and fit enough to maraud up and down the flank all day, the only one of Cafu’s attributes he lacks is experience, and currently he makes up for that by being a damn site better in front of goal—this season he has scored 8 in Serie A already, more than Cafu managed in 6 years as a Roma player.
Chelsea may have spent £100m plus on new players last summer when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over the club, but money can’t buy the commitment of their young captain John Terry, who rose through the ranks of the club’s youth system to become one of the best defenders in the country. Now past the off-the-pitch disciplinary problems that seem to trouble most young English players these days, if he doesn’t partner Sol Campbell at Euro 2004 then something is wrong with English football.
The bastard lobbed David Seaman with a freekick from 40 yards to put us out of the 2002 World Cup. I thoroughly believe it was intentional. Prior to that he’d cleaved the midfield and defence in half with a great run in order to set up Rivaldo for the equaliser. Now he’s leading the Barcelona renaissance after the Catalan club’s last half a dozen year wane while the Real Madrid star ascended. Plus he has stupid hair and a goofy grin. Respect is due.