Cruyff, Messi, Zidane: The Impossible Task of Breaking Down the Greatest
The death of Johan Cruyff has left a huge hole in European football. His grace on the pitch was matched by his philosophies off it. If it wasn’t for the man, we probably wouldn’t have even heard of Messi, Ronaldo, and a host of others who have studied Total Football and graduated with first-class honours.
The press has unanimously declared the Dutchman the greatest to every play in Europe. Perhaps quite rightly, he was the Godfather of how football should be played. The inventor. But in many cases athletes go on to better their parents, whether they be biological or metaphorical.
Of course that’s all down to opinion. After all, that’s what makes football great. We are all wired to think differently, that couldn’t be more evident from the great Messi vs Ronaldo debate. But look a little deeper and opinion can be even more divided.
Yes, it’s mainly strikers who take the plaudits; they put the ball in the back of the net, wheel off in celebration, and have a tally by their name. But those goals come through the midfield, they craft it, have the vision to pick the right pass, and calmly assist.
Then again, it’s the defenders who break down play. They are strong and reliable, allow the attack to play without fear, and break up play to send their men forward.
Of course, the goalkeepers’ union would no doubt have something to say about that too.
The glamour of the game often means the latter two are overlooked, often even midfielders, but why can’t the likes of Paolo Maldini sit up there alongside Messi and Zidane. He notched up over 900 appearances for Milan and won five Champions League medals, yet is rarely uttered in the same sentence as them.
The same goes for van der Sar, Buffon, Moore, Beckenbauer. True greats that can’t sit alongside Messi or Maradona because they aren’t part of the end product.
Which begs the question, why not?
In the European Cup there has been vital contributions from players at both ends of the field. European Knights has shortlisted 24 of the greatest to play the game, and need the opinions of you – the fans – to decide which player stands above the rest in the Champions League.