Category Archives: Player Profiles

The golden memory of watching Johan Cruyff.

If you get the opportunity to see a legend in the flesh, you do it. Back in 1978, I was 21 years old, and since the early years of that decade had been an unashamed adherent to the doctrine of Dutch Totaal Voetbal. I was seduced by the poetry of the Ajax team that dominated European club football, lifting the European Cup three times in succession. The love deepened with the extravagant beauty, and ultimate fragility, of the bright flame of the Netherlands national team as they scorched the pitches of West Germany in the 1974 World Cup, before the fire became too fierce and their wings of wax melted. Football’s Prometheus. Icarus in Oranje. Continue reading →

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Gianfranco Zola – “It was a love story between us and him, the fans and him.”

Of course, prices have gone through the roof in the intervening time and yes, he was 30 years-old when the deal went through but just 15 years ago, when Chelsea paid the princely sum of £4.5million to Serie A club Parma, and in return secured the services of Gianfranco Zola, it must count as one of the best pieces of business in the history of the West London club. Continue reading →

Martín Palermo – A spot (or three) of bother and more than ‘one more’ miracle.

By almost any measure you choose to evaluate a player’s worth, Martin Palermo was an exceptional striker. The Argentine played in both Spain and Argentina netting 249 goals in 592 games across a career spanning almost 19 years. Slightly worse than a goal every other game, it’s a strike rate to be proud of for someone who, for most of his career, played at the highest level. Even in his international career for La Albiceleste, at a time when his opportunities were stymied by the presence of such luminaries as Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo, he delivered a highly-creditable nine goals in 15 appearances.

For all that success though, and even taking into account the occasion when he suffered a double fracture of his left leg after a wall collapsed on him whilst celebrating a winning goal for Villareal, the thing that most football aficionados will remember about Martin Palermo is when he had a spot – or perhaps more accurately three spots – of bother in a 1999 Copa América game against Colombia. There’s more to this story than that though. Continue reading →

Doble Ancho – The tale of a unique Oriundo

Quiz time! How many players can you name that have played in consecutive World Cup Finals. Ten? Come on now. Twenty? Now you’re trying. Any more? In fairness, to play in successive World Cup Finals is not as unusual as you may think. In international football, teams have tended to dominate for a period of a few years and, in such times, many of their established stars will have seen their time in the team straddle two of the four-yearly tournaments, with the best hitting repeated Finals. The Italians did in 1934 and 1938 for example, Brazil in 1958 and 1962 – plus in 1998 and 2002, the Dutch in 1974 and 1978, Argentina in 1986 and 1990, before the Germans went one better and contested three successive finals between 1982 and 1990.

With so many occasions of countries playing in consecutive finals, it’s really not that difficult to think of players who would have also done so. Membership of that particular club may will be limited, but it’s hardly exclusive. If we tweak the question a little though and enquire instead about players who have played in consecutive finals, but for two different counties, we’re in a totally different range of numbers. We’re talking one. Continue reading →

The ‘Little Witch’ and his spell among the Red Devils – Juan Sebastian Verón at Old Trafford.

It’s questionable whether there are many transfers involving expensive foreign imports to the English game that have evoked so much varied opinion as when Juan Sebastian Verón joined Manchester United from Lazio in July 2001. The deal was reported as being worth a then British record transfer fee, of around £28million. Continue reading →

From struggling reserve to record breaking goalscorer – The incredible story of Joe Payne.

Going back a few years or so, outlandish results and scoring feats were not that unusual, especially during the Boxing Day fixtures when any number of players may have been turning out in less than top notch condition. That to one side though, the feat of Robert ‘Bunny’ Bell still merits mention. On 26th December 1936, Oldham Athletic visited Bell’s Tranmere Rovers side and went back home with a 13-4 defeat and tails between their legs. Bell had netted nine of his team’s ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of goals, and should have added a tenth, but missed a penalty. Nine was pretty good though and constituted a Football League record for the most strikes in a single game. That missed penalty hardly seemed to matter, the game had been won, and it would surely be a long time before anyone would anyone would challenge Bell’s scoring record. Well, actually, not so much. Continue reading →

Jan Tomaszewski – The ‘Clown’ who had the last laugh.

England had won the World Cup in 1966, and offered up a more than reasonable defence of the trophy four years later, before heat, fatigue and an absent Gordon Banks did for them in Mexico. In 1974, the tournament would be back in Europe, in West Germany. Conditions would be much more akin to the climate in Britain, and England would have a chance to reassert themselves.

There was, of course, the somewhat irritating matter of a qualifying process to negotiate first, but in a group alongside Wales and Poland, to many fans it didn’t look like a problem. As it panned out, thanks to a ‘Curate’s Egg’ of a series of group matches, the final fixture would decide all. Poland were to visit Wembley on 17 October 1973. Should Sir Alf Ramsey’s charges prevail, the tickets to Germany would be booked, if the Poles could win or draw however, it would be sufficient for them to go through and England would fail to qualify for a World Cup Finals for the first time since they entered the fray in 1950. Continue reading →

Magyar Renaissance – The cherry red flame of Flórián Albert.

The Magnificent Magyars of Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis et al, who bedazzled and bewildered the pride of England’s Three Lions back in 1953, may well have been the greatest team in the world for the best part of a decade. Had they won the World Cup on a rain-sodden Berne pitch in 1954, there would even be less room for debate. When they were odds on favourites to adorn their glory with the Jules Rimet Trophy though, they squandered a two-goal lead to a West Germany team wearing boots fitted with revolutionary screw-in studs that allowed them to better adapt to the conditions, and the ultimate prize slipped through Hungarian fingers. By the time the next World Cup came around, South America’s Brazil and Pelé, the starlet who would become one of the greatest players ever to grace a football field had claimed the mantle. Hungary’s time in the sun had passed, the bright flare of their football dampened down by the aging of their Golden Generation, and a rain soaked Swiss pith. Now their accomplishments sat in the shadow cast by the, ironically, sun-yellow-shirted Brazilians and their exile initiated by Soviet tanks in 1956 precluded any return to their greatness.

As fires burn out though, just before their energy is spent, there’s often a late, last flaming of life, perhaps not as powerful as when in its hot and burning intensity, but still warm enough to give off a pleasing glow. For the Hungarian national football team, that late glow, arising as the embers of glory from the magical team created by Gusztáv Sebes were dying away, came from a new cherry-shirted hero; one that may even not have looked out of place amongst the luminaries of the mid-fifties. Continue reading →

“And then the tears fell from my eyes.” Jorge Burruchaga – Argentina’s unsung World Cup hero.

As World Cup Finals go, the one played out between Argentina and West Germany in 1986 would take some beating for drama. The game seemed won, before being cast into huge doubt, and then a late winner decided the issue in favour of the South American passion play. Although he didn’t score in the final, the tournament will, for a variety of reasons, be largely remembered with Diego Maradona as the star. That said, even the great Argentine icon would surely concur that others too warranted great credit and acclaim. Standing alongside giants can often mean that a shadow falls across others, obscuring their brightness, but they too have a tale to tell that can throw light on events. Jorge Luis Burruchaga is one of those oft-perceived-to-be lesser lights, but as the scorer of the late goal that ascended La Albiceleste to the heavens, his is a story crying out to be told. Continue reading →

Roberto Bettega – The Old Lady’s favourite son.

No mother likes to see their son move away, and those that choose to stay at home, looking after their nearest and dearest are very much the favoured offspring; the ones most cherished. For Roberto Bettega therefore, child of Piedmont, born in Turin just after Christmas in 1950, there will always be a special place in the heart of Turin’s La Vecchia Signora.

The young Bettega was not yet a teenager when he first fell into the Old Lady’s embrace, joining the Juventus Primavera squad in 1961. Despite brief journeys away, he would remain faithful to the club, always giving of his best across a half century of years of dutiful service as player and then administrator. If any player of the recent era had white and black blood in his veins, it was Roberto Bettega. Continue reading →