The nature of football is such that fans tend to put one star on the pedestal. And the passions run higher when players from two eras are compared. Can anyone step into the shoes of Brazilian legend Pele? Does the brilliant Eusebio deserve the sobriquet Black Pearl more than the genius in the yellow jersey? Was there a player more complete than Johan Cryuff or a better exponent of the free kick than Michel Platini? Does Zinedine Zidane come closest to the definition of the most complete modern-day player or can anybody even hope to dominate a World Cup than a certain Diego Armando Maradona? Having followed eight football World Cups in conscious memory, I have not seen anybody dribble better than or conjure up more magic with his left foot than Maradona. On the highest, World Cup stage, the heroics of an ageing Roger Milla from Cameroon, part of the Indomitable Lions of 1990 and his uninhibited Lambada celebrations gave me more joy than a lot of highly touted show ponies from celebrated European contingents. Interestingly, in 2004, Pele named Milla among 125 greatest living football players.
Among the European teams, the Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten from the victorious squad of 1988 remains embedded in my psyche for opening up the world of total football, with its stout defence, subtle passes and powerful headers to me.
Hearing about the exploits of ‘Little Bird’ Garrincha in the 1958 World Cup that Brazil won gave new meaning to Left Wing for me during the time I was playing mohalla games on the left wing with my Bengali teammates and Jyoti Basu was the reigning Communist chief minister. My friends and I loved to write Zico on our Flying Machine denims with an ink pen. That is the enduring magic of the Beautiful Game. For football fanatics, there are no half measures.
From HT Brunch, July 1
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