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Introduction.
December 19th, 2003.

Have you ever wondered why people rant about the legends of world football? And what it is that made players such as Argentina's Diego Maradona, Brazil's Pele and the Netherlands' Johan Cruyff so great?

Recently, UEFA the governing body of European football invited fans to vote on the 50 greatest European players of the past 5 decades - ten per decade. It prompted me to think about who have been the greatest ever players in world football, so I made a list. And to avoid the inevitable biases of players still playing in top-flight football, I only included players of the past - players who have made a significant impact on the game.

When I finished the list, and revised it, pruned it and again revised it, I ended up with 72 names that are household words in the vocabulary of football fans, and undoubtedly national treasures in the countries they represented on the world stage. Players who are revered in the proud history of the clubs they played for, and adored by fans who marvelled at their skills and were inspired by their brilliance.

This is a list that excludes today's greats - so the players' careers can be reviewed in their entirety. And so accomplishments and potential would not be confused. In my list of 72 greatest players of all time, there were 54 Europeans, 16 South Americans and 2 Africans. Certainly this doesn't represent the power-axis of today's game, but it does reflect the state of world football of the second half of the twentieth century.

In the future, there will be many of today's great names to be added to the list. If I was to include today's greats and extend the list to 100, I would be adding names such as Zidane {pictured right}, Ronaldo, Henry, Bergkamp, Maldini, Baggio, Barthez, Raul, Figo, Shearer, Batistuta, Chilavet, Chapuisat, Davids, Vieri, del Piero, Keane, Kluivert, Nedved, Shevchenko, van Nistelrooij, Larsson, Ballack, Giggs, Bouffon, Roberto Carlos, Kahn and Rivaldo.

So how does a player make it to my top 100 of this exclusive club? It's their ability to turn a match with a flash of brilliance or to possess the determination to win at all costs. To take football to another level by producing moments of magic which people never forget.

In the next few weeks, I'll be featuring my tribute to the 72 legends of the past.

In part one, I'll focus on six of Argentina's finest ever players. And in the final part - I'll feature the three players who I think are the greatest ever.


Part 1 - A six-pack of Argentina's finest.
December 20th, 2003.

In Part One of Gunner's all time legends of world football, we travel to football's southern-most stronghold Argentina. Football in Argentina is governed by the Asociacion del Futbol Argentino which was founded in 1891 and joined FIFA in 1912.

Argentina dominated world football in the 1970s and 1980s winning the FIFA World Cup in 1978 and 1986, and their world-famous clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate have often won the World Club Cup. Along with their neighbour and football giant Brazil, they also dominate the powerful 10-country South American confederation CONMEBOL. Arguably, two of the five best-ever players came from Argentina - namely Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Football in Argentina is a religion. Its missionaries were the British, French and Italians, who founded the great old clubs Newell's Old Boys, Racing Club, and Boca Juniors respectively. From its humble beginnings in the 1860s when British railway workers introduced football into Buenos Aires, the sport grew and prospered into a national league by the 1890s with clubs from Buenos Aires, La Plata, Rosario and Santa Fé. And from the very start there has been intense rivalry between clubs in the capital that has ensured a passionate and vibrant domestic competition.

In 1901 Argentina played Uruguay in the first international match played outside of the U.K. And by the early 1930s the most intense and enduring local derby in world football emerged between Boca Juniors and its breakaway faction River Plate. In 1928 Argentina were runners-up to Uruguay at the Amsterdam Olympic Games and again at the first ever World Cup in 1930. They featured in 3 of the four World Cup finals between 1978 and 1990, winning in 1978 and 1986 and runners-up to West Germany in 1990.

Osvaldo Ardiles
Ardiles was born on August 3rd 1952 in Argentina, and he played as a midfielder for Huracan (Argentina), Tottenham Hotspur (England), Paris Saint-Germain (France) and Queen's Park Rangers (England), and was a key player in Argentina's World Cup win in 1978 under their legendary manager Cesar Luis Menotti.

Soon afterwards he transferred to Tottenham Hotspur, along with his compatriot Ricardo Villa, and instantly became a hero to the adoring fans at White Hart Lane. His transfer fee of £300,000 is surely one of the best bargains of all time.

Ozzie, as his Spurs fans knew him, was an outstanding midfielder and on-field leader. He guided Tottenham to their 1981 FA Cup win, but on the outbreak of war between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas he transferred briefly to French club Paris Saint-Germain. He returned to Tottenham shortly afterwards to a rousing reception by the White Hart Lane faithful, and helped Spurs to win the 1984 Uefa Cup where he marshalled his team with military precision.

Ardiles returned to Tottenham Hotspur in 1993 as their manager but he lasted in that role a little over a year.

Alfredo Di Stefano
Di Stefano was born on July 4th 1926 in Argentina, and he played as a forward for Los Cardales (Imam Buenos Aires), River Plate and Huracan in Argentina, Millonarios in Columbia, Real Madrid and Espanyol in Spain. He is thought by many to be the greatest footballer of all, and his majestic domination of European football in the 1950s and 1960s led Real Madrid to win the European Cup five times in 1956-1960. {See picture right, of Di Stefano with the European Cups of 1956, 57, 58, 59, 60 he won with Real Madrid.}

Alfredo Di Stefano is truly royalty among footballers - as an individual player and as a leader on the field in team organisation - and he inspired the great dynasty of modern football, Real Madrid to be the first truly international super-team.

He was born in Barracas, a poor suburb of Buenos Aires, learning his football skills on the tough city streets and on the family farm later in his childhood. As a player he possessed remarkable stamina and determination, and was a most imposing figure on the pitch despite him being just 172cm tall and weighing 70kg. He made his debut at the age of 18 with River Plate playing as a right-winger, but always wanted to be a centre forward. He returned to River Plate in that role after a loan period with Huracan, and applied his devastating attacking skills to the national team that won the 1947 South American Championship.

After a players strike in 1949 and a subsequent lock-out of professional players by Argentine clubs, he was lured to a "pirate' league outside of FIFA's control in Columbia along with the stars of Latin American football to play for Bogota's Millonarios. (Shades of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket here, but a quarter of a century prior). Following reconciliation between FIFA and Columbia, Millonarios went on a "final" world tour before disbanding, and Columbia was re-admitted into the FIFA family.

Real Madrid spotted Di Stefano while on this tour and during a special tournament staged to mark their 50th anniversary. Madrid agreed a transfer fee with Millonarios to gain the services of Di Stefano, but their Catalan rivals Barcelona had also agreed to sign him and paid a transfer fee to his "official" club River Plate. Enter the lawyers - and it was agreed that he should play alternating seasons with Madrid and Barcelona.

His first season with Real Madrid began quietly, and an unimpressed Barcelona decided to sell-out their share of his services to Madrid. Within days of this, Di Stefano scored a hat-trick for Real Madrid in a 5-0 thumping of Barcelona, and a legend of the game was born. Madrid won the Spanish Championship in his first two seasons there, and the European Cup in each of the next five seasons! He scored in each of the five successive winning European Cup finals, including a hat-trick in the 1960 final played in Glasgow against Eintracht Frankfurt which is regarded as the greatest game of all time.

Di Stefano was an incredibly versatile player, who within a single passage of play could defend down back, organise the play through the midfield and score up forward - the term 'total football' didn't arrive for another decade, but nobody told that to Alfredo Di Stefano. A former teammate and later Real Madrid coach Miguel Muñoz said of him, "The greatness of Di Stefano was that with him in your side, you had two players in every position".

Di Stefano's football career is unsurpassed:
Clubs: Imam Buenos Aires 1942, River Plate 1944, 1947-49, Huracan 1945-46, Millonarios 1949-53, Real Madrid 1953-64, Espanyol 1964-67
Playing Honours: Golden Ball (Ballon d'Or) 1957, 1959 runner-up in 1956. Copa America 1947. Intercontinental Cup 1960. European Cup 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960. Latin Cup 1955, 1957. Argentine Championship 1945, 1947. Colombian Championship 1949, 1951, 1952. Spanish Championship 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964. Spanish Cup 1962. Highest goalscorer in the Spanish League 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959. Highest goalscorer in the Argentine League 1947. Golden Superball 1989. Third-placed in European Player of the Century. Third-placed South American Player of the Century. Fourth-placed World Player of the Century. Runner-up Argentine Player of the Century.
International career: Argentina (6 matches, 6 goals, 1947). Colombia (4 matches, 1949). Spain (31 matches, 23 goals, 1957-1961).
Career totals 1126 matches, 893 goals (at Real Madrid 684 matches, 545 goals).
Coaching career European Supercup 1981; Cupwinners' Cup 1980; Spanish Cup 1982, 1990; Argentine Championship 1979, Spanish Championship 1971.

Mario Kempes
Mario Alberto Kempes was striker who was born on July 15th 1952 in Argentina. He played for Instituto Cordoba and Rosario Central in Argentina, Valencia in Spain, River Plate in Argentina, Hercules in Spain, Vienna and Austria Salzburg in Austria.

Kempes starred in Argentina's World Cup campaign in Germany in 1974, which earned him a transfer to Valencia in Spain. He was so successful there as a striker who mesmerised opposition defences, that Argentine national coach Cesar Luis Menotti recalled him to the Argentine national team for the 1978 World Cup.

He was the only foreign-based player in that entire squad of Argentina's first World Cup-winning team. It proved to be an inspired move, as he was the tournament's highest goal scorer with 6 goals, including two goals in Argentina's 3-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final.

Kempes was a big strong man who struck fear into any defender - he literally had legs like tree trunks. And his feats in the 1978 World Cup made him an enduring national hero in his home country. He again played at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, but wasn't again able to scale the great heights of his 1978 heroics.

Juan Manuel Moreno
Moreno was the greatest Argentine player of his day, playing most of his football as an inside-right. He was born on August 3rd 1916 in Argentina and played all of his football in Latin America. He started at River Plate and in 1944 moved to Mexico's España club before returning to River Plate in 1946. He also played for Universidad Catolia in Chile, returned to his homeland for a brief stint with Boca Juniors and then moved to Defensor in Uruguay. He again returned to Argentina briefly playing for FC Oeste, and ended his playing career in Colombia at Medellin.

Moreno began with River Plate's youth team and at the age of 19 was a major contributor to their Argentine Championship win of 1936. Altogether, he won four championships for River Plate as was part of the legendary forward-line of the late 1940s along with Muñoz, Pedernera, Labruna and Loustau. These forward-five formed the attack for Argentina's national team and were collectively known as La Maquina ('the machine') for their brilliant organisation and relentless attacking instinct.

Much of Moreno's latter career involved restlessness and a nomadic existence as he wandered all over the continent in-between short stints at Argentine clubs. He played for España in Mexico between 1944 and 1946 and returned to River Plate for more two seasons in the late 1940s. He then went to Chile, Uruguay and Columbia forging a reputation as an incisive play-maker and attacker.

Moreno played in 33 internationals for Argentina and scored 20 goals.

Daniel Passarella
Passarella was born on May 25th 1953 in Argentina, and has the honour of holding the World Cup trophy aloft after captaining Argentina's successful campaign of 1978 and truly leading his team by example. It doesn't get much better than receiving the World Cup as winning captain at your own club's home stadium at River Plate after guiding, controlling and commanding his team. He played as a central defender for Sarmiento and River Plate in Argentina, and moved to Italy to join Fiorentina and later Internazionale (Inter Milan).

It was the brilliance of Passarella powering his way out of defence and into midfield that guided Kempes and Ardiles in Argentina's legendary win over the Netherlands in that final. Passarella was a powerful right-foot kick and his dead-ball kicks were as vicious in his day as anything served up nowadays by the likes of England's David Beckham and Brazil's Roberto Carlos. He also possessed great skill and strength in the air and terrorised opposition defenders when his team was taking corners.

Passarella's latter playing career was as a goal-scoring opportunist coming out of defence at Fiorentina and then Inter. After retiring, he returned to Argentina to coach his beloved team River Plate. He later coached the national team and in the 1998 World Cup in France, he guided Argentina into the quarterfinals.

Jorge Valdano
Valdano was born in Las Parejas, Argentina on October 4th 1955, and was a teenage sensation as a left-side midfielder with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, but he played most of his football in the Spanish League. He is a remarkable footballer who is also is a renowned author and a young political activist during Argentina's dark days of military dictatorship in the 1970s. Alongside the great Diego Maradona, he was a star in Argentina's 1986 World Cup victory in Mexico.

Valdano left Argentina as a teenager for political reasons and built his playing career and awesome reputation as an attacking midfielder in Spain, where he played for Alaves, Zaragoza and Real Madrid. His success at Real Madrid winning the Uefa Cup twice in the 1980s caught the notice of Argentine national coach Carlos Bilardo who selected him for national duties. He possessed fabulous skills in positional and tactical play. In the 1986 World Cup campaign he was converted by Bilardo into a 'behind-the-striker' role where he played a superb roving link role between midfield and Maradona - much in the way that Zinedine Zidane plays today at Real Madrid where he links the midfield with Raul and Ronaldo in attack.

His career was cut short with a serious case of hepatitis at the end of the 1980s, and his desperate attempt to stage a comeback for the 1990 World Cup was sadly in vain. If only Maradona had a fit Jorge Valdano alongside him at Italia '90, Argentina could have won their third World Cup!

Of course there's a seventh great Argentine legend - Diego Maradona - who will be featured in a subsequent installment of world football's greatest ever players according to Gunner.

In Part Two if this series I'll pay tribute to eight of Brazil's finest ever exponents of the beautiful game.


Part 2 - The Best from Brazil.
December 26th, 2003.

In Part Two of Gunner's all-time legends of world football, we travel to Brazil - world football's unrivaled powerhouse. Football in Brazil is governed by the Confederacão Brasileira de Futebol which was founded in 1914 and joined FIFA in 1923.

Brazilian football has a style and romanticism that sets it apart. Brazil dominated world football in the 1950s and 1960s, and again since the mid-1990s. Brazil is the only country to compete in every World Cup finals tournament and has made the final on seven occasions. Between 1950 and 1970 they played in four World Cup finals, winning it in 1958, 1962 and 1970. And since 1994, Brazil have played in all three finals and won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002. Altogether, Brazil has won world football's Holy Grail an unprecedented five times. It is a feat they have achieved on all four continents where the tournament has been contested - 1958 in Europe (Sweden), 1962 in South America (Chile), 1970 and 1994 in North America (Mexico and USA), and 2002 in Asia (Korea/Japan). They gave the world its greatest ever football player Pele.

Football in Brazil began to develop in the late 1800s, when British migrant workers introduced it. Football leagues quickly sprung up in the two main cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The vast size of Brazil meant that football developed in a highly fragmented way in its large population centres and it was only in the 1970s that a true national league emerged. The derby matches played in Rio between Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco da Gama clubs at the massive 200,000 capacity Maracanã Stadium are legendary. Brazil played its first full international match in 1914 against Argentina at Buenos Aires.

Below is a tribute to nine of Brazil's best ever players. It's a tradition in Brazil for players adopt a 'stage name' - much like the gladiators of ancient Rome.

Careca
Careca was born on October 5 1960 in the Brazilian state of Campinas. He was one of the world's best strikers in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was a period where Brazilian football on the world stage had slumped and his majestic play went largely unnoticed in many quarters - he was also overshadowed by the brilliance of his South American contemporary, Argentinean Diego Maradona.

His playing career began with local team Guarani, where as an outstanding striker he helped them rise through the ranks of Brazilian football to win the national championship in 1981/82. This earned him a move to São Paulo. In mid-1982, Careca was injured at training and he missed the World Cup that year. Four years later at the World Cup finals in Mexico, he finally had the opportunity to show his talents on the world stage. He scored five goals in the 1986 tournament and became a national hero in Brazil, winning Brazil's coveted award for Sportsman of the Year in 1986.

Careca's feats in Mexico propelled him onto the world stage, and brought him to the notice of the ambitious Italian club Napoli who signed him as well as the other star of the 1986 World Cup tournament, Maradona. The partnership of these two at Napoli was devastating for opposing clubs and won the southern Italian club the Uefa Cup in 1989 and the Italian league championship in 1990. After Napoli, Careca moved to Hitachi in the Japanese J-League and later returned to Brazil where he ended his playing career at Santos.

Didi
Didi was born on October 8 1928 - real name Waldyr Pereira. His feats in the midfield are legendary, and he is renowned for his kicking skills. Didi's football career began at FC Rio Branco. He also played at FC Lencoes, Madureiro, Fluminense and Botafogo in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro league.

Didi's international career was outstanding where his exceptional skill in the midfield enabled Brazil to play a 4-2-4 formation and an all-out attacking style that won them the World Cup in 1958 and 1962. His creativity as a midfielder and his unrivaled ball skills and technique raised the standard of world football. According to his teammates, Didi was said to "make the ball talk". At training, he could kick a ball and land it on a coin from virtually any distance, and he turned free kick taking into an art form. He was the first player with the ability to perfect the curling dipping free kick, and scored 12 international goals with this "dead leaf" technique. In an international career of 85 appearances for Brazil, he scored on 31 occasions.

Didi played at Real Madrid briefly, but he was unable to settle into the team's style and play effectively alongside their two superstars of that golden era for los Galacticos, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. He moved to Spanish rivals Valencia before returning to Brazil to see out his playing days at Rio de Janeiro club Botafogo.

Dunga
Dunga was born on October 31 1963 - his real name is Carlos Bledorn Verri. He played as a defensive midfielder and was a controversial selection as an international player in his home country largely because his playing style was untypical of the attacking approach that modern Brazilian football is renowned for. He began his career at Rio de Janeiro club Vasco da Gama.

He was often criticised in the Brazilian sports media for his slowness and sometimes-clumsy ball-skills in comparison to Brazil's usual style, but his physicality and tackling skills were the best of his day. He made his critics eat their words in 1994 when he captained Brazil to their World Cup win against Italy - where the match ended as a scoreless draw before being decided by a penalty shoot-out. Dunga moved to Italy where his defensiveness was more in tune the Italian style known as catenaccio. He played for Pisa, Fiorentina and Pescara in the Serie A, before moving to the German Bundesliga for VfB Stuttgart.

Dunga possessed a powerful shot with either foot, and his tactical discipline was the key to Brazil's World Cup campaigns in 1994 and 1998 where they were disappointing runners-up to the stylish play of France in their 3-0 defeat in the final. Indeed Brazilian national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira built much of his team's make-up and game around Dunga's methods. Despite Brazil's loss at France '98, Dunga was named as part of the Team of the Tournament. He retired from international football immediately after the 1998 World Cup and followed the tradition of many modern Brazilian footballers by going to the Japanese J-league where he played for Jubilo Iwata, before returning to Brazil to play for Internacional.

Arthur Freidenreich
Born in 1892, Arthur Freidenreich was the son of a German immigrant and a Brazilian mother. He was the first of the great Brazilian football players and the first player to be officially credited with scoring over 1,000 career goals - his actual tally was 1,329 in a remarkable playing career that spanned from 1909 until 1935.

Racism was rife in the early days of Brazilian football and Freidenreich was the first black player to overcome the racial and cultural barriers that Brazil had created in its major football leagues.

Freidenreich was nicknamed 'the tiger' for his tenacious play and strike-power. He began his senior football career at the age of 17 in 1909 with the club Germania. In a great career he also played for Ipiranga, Americão, Paulistano and São Paulo FC. He completed his playing career with Flamengo in 1935 at the age of 43.

In an era where international football opportunities were rare, Freidenreich played in 17 internationals for Brazil between 1914 and 1930 and scored eight goals. His first representative appearance for Brazil was memorable for all the wrong reasons, when the Brazilians defeated a touring English club Exeter City 2-0 in July 1914, but Freidenreich lost his front teeth in a nasty collision with an English defender. He played in the inaugural World Cup tournament in Montevideo in 1930 at the age of 38.

Garrincha
Born in Pau Grande (a small city near Rio de Janeiro) on 28 October 1933 and died on 20 January 1983 in Rio de Janeiro. Garrincha, whose real name was Manuel Francisco dos Santos, was one of the brightest stars of Brazil's world domination in the 1960s, and the only Brazilian footballer with a greater reputation than his has been Pele. {see photograph right of international teammates Garrincha (left) and Pele.} Brazil never lost a match with these two in the team.

He was born in poverty, and childhood illness left his legs badly twisted. Doctors who carried out corrective surgery thought that he'd be fortunate to again walk - yet he become one of football's quickest and most dangerous right wingers ever. His legs were curved - the left bent inwards and the right was 6 cm shorter and curved outwards - yet he played some of the most beautiful football the world have ever witnessed. He was named as a member of the World Team of the 20th Century 1998. Garrincha (which means 'songbird' in Portuguese) is the greatest dribbler of the game's history.

Garrincha was a World Cup winner twice - 1958 and 1962. It took a deputation of players to persuade the national team manager Vicente Feola to include him in the Brazilian team for the 1958 World Cup tournament in Sweden. One he played for Brazil, there was no stopping Garrincha - he was there to stay! During the 1962 World Cup in Chile, when Pele was out after the second match with an injury, Garrincha played the major role in Brazil's victory {see picture left}.

He played 60 games for the Brazilian national team - in which Brazil won 52 games and had 7 draws - the first was in 1955 against Chile in the Maracanã Stadium. His only loss for Brazil came in his last international game in the 1966 World Cup in Liverpool, England, when Brazil lost 3-1 to Hungary.

He began his playing career for Pau Grande, then for Botafogo - his first professional team - playing 581 games and scoring 232 goals. His first match for Botafogo was in July 1953, and, he scored three goals in the 6-3 victory over Bonsucesso.

He was champion of the Carioca League in 1957, 1961 & 1962 and of the Rio-São Paulo league in 1962 & 1964. At that time there was no Brazilian national championship, and the Rio-São Paulo league was a tournament that brought together the best Brazilian teams. Garrincha's Botafogo {see picture right} against Pele's Santos presented fans with some of the best domestic matches in the history of Brazilian football.

Garrincha also played for Corinthians, then in Colombia for AJ Barranquilla, in France for Red Star Paris, then returning to Brazil for Flamengo and then Olaria towards the end of his career. His last appearance as a player was on Christmas day in 1982 at the age of 49.

His chaotic private life was besieged by marital and tax problems, and sadly Garrincha (the "songbird") died prematurely in January 1983 of alcohol abuse.

Leonidas da Silva
Leonidas as he was known in his spectacular football career, was born on November 30 1910 and was undoubtedly the brightest star of Brazilian football in the 1930s. As a teenager he rose to prominence with a succession of clubs - Havanesa, Barosso, Sul, Americao, Sirio Libanes and Bomsucesso. He was the inventor of the overhead bicycle-kick that he used to devastating effect.

In his international debut in 1932 for Brazil against Uruguay, Leonidas introduced the bicycle-kick to an amazed international audience, scoring twice. The wealthy clubs were so impressed that Nacional, Uruguay's most powerful team, immediately signed him.

After a short stint at Nacional, Leonidas returned to Brazil with Vasco da Gama. He also played for Botafogo, Flamengo and São Paulo FC later in his career.

Leonidas played for the Brazilian national team on 23 occasions, including the World Cup tournaments in 1934 and 1938. In the 1938 World Cup finals in France, he was the tournament's top goal scorer. He scored four times in Brazil's 6-5 victory over Poland on a muddy pitch at Strasbourg including the winning goal. He finished the tournament with a total of eight goals.

In one of the greatest coaching misjudgments in World Cup history, the Brazilians decided to rest him in the semi-final against reigning world champions Italy. (The 'official' position was that an overconfident Brazil were so sure of overcoming Italy that they 'wanted to rest him and keep him fresh for the final' against Hungary - although there is an alternative theory that they succumbed to a bribe from Italian fascist authorities.) Brazil lost the semi-final and Italy went on to win the tournament.

Romario
Romario da Souza Faria was born on January 29 1966 in Brazil. He was regarded as the finest forward of the 1990s and was a superstar on the international stage.

Romario was a sensational teenage player who was discovered by one of Brazil's top clubs, the Rio-based Vasco da Gama. Early in his career, he established a reputation for himself a magnet for controversy when he was sacked from Brazil's World Youth Cup team for breaking curfew. His rise to international fame came after his starring role for Brazil in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

He was signed in 1988 by Netherlands club PSV Eindhoven where he scored 98 league goals in five seasons there. He often clashed with teammates and coaches at the Dutch club and spent much of the 1992/93 in football limbo. Romario was transferred to the Catalan giant Barcelona in 1993 for a US$5 million fee.

Shortly afterwards he received a recall to the Brazilian national team. At the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Romario scored 5 goals and played a crucial part for Brazil to win the world championship for an unprecedented fourth time.

In late 1994, as a World Cup hero, he returned to Brazil to Flamengo. He made a final appearance in European football with a stint at Spanish club Valencia, before again returning to Brazil and Flamengo. He saw out his distinguished playing career at his original club Vasco da Gama.

Vava
Vava was born on November 12 1934 - his real name was Edvaldo Izidio Neto, became famous as an effective centre-forward despite lacking much refinement in his game. Vava' s game worked well in the Brazilian national team and complemented the stylishness of his compatriots Pele and Garrincha.

Vava began his playing career as an inside-left forward at Recife and then moved to Vasco da Gama. He first played international football for Brazil as a 20-year-old. Four years later, in the Brazilian national team for the 1958 World Cup, he was transformed into a centre-forward to make way for the 17-year-old sensation Pele into the team. Vava scored twice in Brazil's 5-2 win over Sweden in the final.

His performance in the World Cup tournament earned Vava a transfer to Atletico Madrid where enjoyed success on the pitch and the adoration of Spanish fans. His popularity and starring performances there weren't enough to keep him in Spain, and in 1962 he became homesick and returned to Brazil and played for Palmeiras.

Vava's return home was just in time for his to resume national duties for Brazil's defence of the world crown at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he again scored in the final - this time in a 3-1 victory over Czechoslovakia. He scored 15 goals in 22 internationals for Brazil between 1954 and 1964. He ended his playing career in Brazil with Rio club Botafogo.

Zico
Zico was born Artur Antunes Coimbra on March 3 1953, and was the youngest of three brothers who all played professional football. He was thought to be too small and lightly built by his first club Flamengo, who put him on a regime of weight training and special diets.

He became a clever attacker who specialised in scoring from free kicks with devastating consistency. This wirily-framed forward and dead-ball specialist was an instant hit with Brazilian fans in his international debut against Uruguay in 1975. He was frustrated by injury in the 1978 World Cup campaign and the football world outside of Brazil didn't see the best of Zico until the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

In 1981 he played a major part in Flamengo's win of the Copa Libertadores which made them South American champions. The following year he guided Flamengo to a demolition of Liverpool, the reigning European Cup winners, in the World Club Cup in Tokyo.

Zico also played in the Italian league in the 1980s for Udinese and then returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo. His 1986 World Cup campaign was marred both by injury and tactical disputes with the coach. He retired from football and entered politics where he was appointed Brazil's Minister for Sport before resuming his playing career with Kashima Antlers at the launch of the Japanese J-League.

Zico has been the most influential player and coach in the J-League and has played a major role in Japan's improvement on the world football stage since the early 1990s.

There is of course a tenth Brazilian to make my legends list - his name is Pele. I will feature the greatest Brazilian footballer of all-time and the world's best-known athlete Pele in a special edition later in this series.

In the next installment of this series, I'll take a look at the inventors of 'total football' the Netherlands and their finest ever players.


Part 3 - Total football and legends of de Oranje.
December 30th, 2003.

In Part 3 of Legends of World Football according to Gunner, we travel to Europe and the inventors of "total football" the Netherlands.

Football in the Netherlands is governed by the Koninklijke Nederland Voetbalbond or KNVB which was founded in 1889 and joined FIFA in 1904. Professionalism didn't reach Dutch football until the 1950s but when it did, it changed to balance of European football with the emergence of Dutch clubs onto the international stage - Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord.

The Netherlands never won a World Cup and only won the European Championship once in 1988, yet they were undoubtedly the power of world football in the 1970s. They were runners-up in the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 - both times pipped by the host country.

Due to their proximity to England, the Dutch were early adopters of football and had some of Europe's best clubs in the early part of the twentieth century. The Netherlands were semi-finalists at four consecutive Olympic Games from 1908 until 1928. After this period, their position in international football went into decline as professionalism gripped the game elsewhere in Europe, particularly in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. During the 1930s they were knocked-out of first round World Cup matches, and were consistently defeated by neighbours Belgium. After the Second World War, they had a dismal run of defeats, which prompted modernisation of domestic football.

In 1957 they introduced a professional national league in an attempt to keep their best players from going abroad to play. This led to the rise of the "big three" among Dutch football clubs - Ajax in Amsterdam, Feyenoord in Rotterdam and PSV Eindhoven.

TOTAL FOOTBALL
The golden era of Dutch football came in the 1970s - heralded by Feyenoord's win of the European Cup in 1970, followed by Ajax Amsterdam winning it in 1971, 1972 and 1973. The Uefa Cup was won by PSV Eindhoven and by Feyenoord, and the national team reached the final of the World Cup in 1974 and 1978.

There was a generation of Dutch players from Ajax and Feyenoord who were in this era among the finest in the world. The national team featured the talents of Johan Neeskens, Wim Suurbier, Arie Haan, Ruud Krol, Wim Jansen, Wim Van Hanegem, and the incomparable Johan Cruyff - best European footballer of all time in Gunner's humble opinion.

Rinus Michels - the architect of "total football" - coached this team at the national level. This was a system of play involving a team unit made up of highly skillful players who were interchangeable, and each comfortable in possession of the ball. It revolutionised the game, and the role that each player had on the pitch.

At the 1974 World Cup finals they stunned the world by abandoning the traditional 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 formations used in that era, instead introducing a concept of 'rotation play'. Unlike their opponents at the 1974 and 1978 World Cup tournaments, they provided welcome relief from the 'play not to lose' mentality epitomised by Italy and West Germany with an adventurous attitude that thrilled world audiences.

The Dutch game again went through resurgence in the late 1980's with the emergence of a new generation of exceptionally talented players including Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and Ronald Koeman. In 1988, they won the European Championship - their only international trophy - and Ajax and PSV began winning European club trophies.

The third wave of great Dutch players is still underway, and they were unlucky semi-finalists at the 1998 World Cup were they lost to Brazil on penalties, and at Euro 2000 where they lost the semi-final to Italy again on penalties. This current crop of Dutch stars includes Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank De Boer, Marc Overmars and Ruud van Nistelrooij - who will doubtless become legends of the game after they retire.

Here are five of the Netherlands' finest ever players - I'm going to feature their absolute best player Johan Cruff in a special feature later in this series of legends of world football.

Ruud Gullit
Ruud Gullit was born in the Netherlands on September 1 1962 and grew to be one of Europe's best players of the 1980s. He began his playing career at Haarlem as a sweeper, and then moved to Feyenoord.

When he moved to PSV Einhoven, Gullit became a forward with devastating effect and was part of the resurgence of this great club. In 1987 he moved to Italian giant AC Milan for a then world-record transfer fee of US$10 million and became an all-out attacker.

In 1988 Gullit led his national team to the European Championship - the Netherlands' only international trophy win - and scored in their 2-0 win over the Soviet Union. He also won the European Cup with AC Milan in the following year where he scored twice in their 4-0 demolition of Steaua Bucharest at Barcelona's Nou Camp. He was hailed as the best player in the Europe - rivaled only by Argentina's and Napoli's Diego Maradona at the time.

Soon afterwards, Gullit suffered a serious knee injury, which he never fully recovered from and his playing career was hampered from then on. He played for Sampdoria in the Italian League and returned briefly to AC Milan before again returning to Sampdoria. He left the Italy's Serie A to resume his playing career with London club Chelsea, where he excelled as a player and was appointed player-manager after one season.

Gullit was an instant success as a manager - who had won the respect and admiration of his players - guided them to win the FA Cup for Chelsea in 1997 in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough. The following year, Gullit left Chelsea mid-season under questionable circumstances to be replaced by Gianluca Vialli - it was never explained why and it left many of the players bewildered at the time.

Gullit re-emerged as a manager for Newcastle United and led his new team to the FA Cup final in 1999 where they were defeated 2-0 by the all-conquering Manchester United. Poor results with Newcastle followed and he was replaced there too in 2000.

Ronald Koeman
Ronald Koeman was born in the Netherlands on March 21 1963, and first played for his father's old team Groningen as a defender, along with his brother Erwin.

He moved to PSV Eindhoven where he became known as one of the world's best sweepers and a lethal free-kick taker. Koeman had an exceptional year in 1988 when he was a member of the all-conquering team at PSV, which won the European Cup against Portuguese club Benfica, the Dutch league championship and the Dutch cup. He was also a member of the national team that year, which won the 1988 European championship in Munich against the Soviet Union.

This triumph earned him a transfer to Catalan giant Barcelona in 1989 where his exceptional sweeping skills and thundering free kicks were used to devastating effect. He scored the goal from a free kick that won Barcelona the 1992 European Cup 1-0 against Italy's Sampdoria played at London's Wembley Stadium.

After a stellar career at PSV and then Barcelona, Koeman returned to the Netherlands in 1995 to play for Rotterdam team Feyenoord.

Johan Neeskens
Johan Neeskens was born in the Netherlands on September 15 1951 and grew up to be a midfield player with exceptional tackling skills complementing the technical brilliance of his Ajax and national team captain Johan Cruff. His approach to playing was an embodiment of the "total football" style of national team coach Rinus Michels.

Neeskens was an aggressive and sharp midfielder with superb tactical prowess and unsurpassed tackling and dispossession skills. His career began at Haarlem, but he came to world prominence as an important part of the rise of Dutch powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam in the early 1970s.

Along with Cruyff, Van Hanegem and Keizer, he was part of Ajax's hat-trick on European Cup wins in 1971, 1972 and 1973, and he provided the steely determination and support for his more technically-gifted teammates. He played a vital role in Ajax's Dutch league championships and Dutch Cup wins of the early 1970s.

His international career was stellar with 17 goals from 49 international matches. In the 1974 World Cup final against host nation West Germany, Neeskens played a major part in the most dramatic opening in the history of the tournament when he played the ball from the opening kick-off to Cruyff inside the German penalty area. Cruyff was viciously fouled and Neeskens calmly converted the resultant penalty - the first ever to be awarded in a World Cup final. He thus recorded the fastest goal ever in a World Cup final and the Germans had yet to touch the ball! Neeskens also starred at the 1978 tournament in which the Netherlands lost 3-1 to host nation Argentina.

He moved to Barcelona in 1974 after the World Cup tournament and helped the Catalan club win the Spanish Cup in 1978 and the European Cup-winners' Cup the following year.

Neeskens ended his playing career in the North American Soccer League with New York Cosmos. He later attempted an ill-fated comeback to European football in Switzerland.

Frank Rijkaard
Frank Rijkaard was born in the Netherlands on September 30 1962. He was a versatile player either as a midfielder in club football or as a central defender in internationals for the Netherlands. His talents on the pitch made him one of the most-admired players of the 1990s.

Rijkaard is a product of Amsterdam's renowned Ajax academy and first played for the club at senior level in 1979 at the tender age of 17 under the guidance of Johan Cruyff. In 1981, at the age of 19, he made his international debut for the Netherlands despite the protests of his club that he was too young.

After Ajax, he moved to Portugal briefly with Sporting Lisbon then to Spain with Zaragoza. But his best football was played in Italy with AC Milan where as a midfielder he won two European Cups in 1989 and 1990, and also twice won the World Club Cup. He scored the goal in AC Milan's 1-0 European Cup win over Benfica in the 1990 final in Vienna, and twice scored at the 1990 World Club Cup win in AC Milan's 3-0 win over Olimpia.

Rijkaard was also a key part of the Netherlands' European Championship win over the Soviet Union in 1988 where he played as a central defender.

In 1993 he was part of AC Milan's European Cup final 1-0 loss to French champions Marseille (who were subsequently stripped of the title for alleged match fixing). He played in the World Club Cup that year but AC Milan lost 3-2 to Brazil's São Paulo.

He returned to the Netherlands and his original club Ajax in the following season and won the Dutch championship in 1994 and 1995. Also in 1995 he played a vital role in Ajax Amsterdam's European Cup win over his old club AC Milan, and then went on to win the World Club Cup for a third time.

After retiring as a player, Rijkaard became national team manager where he guided the Netherlands to the semi-final at Euro 2000 where they unluckily bowed out to Italy in a penalty shoot-out. He was recently appointed manager at Barcelona in the Spanish League.

Marco Van Basten
Marco Van Basten was born in Utrecht in the Netherlands on October 31 1964. It may well have been an omen that he was born on Halloween - he grew up to struck terror into the heart of international defenders. He became known as 'Marco Goalo'.

Van Basten scored one of the great international goals when he volleyed a long looping cross from an impossible angle into the net in the 1988 European Championship. At that time he was just reaching his peak. He was powerfully built player with explosive pace and athleticism. His trademark was scoring spectacular goals with volleys and overhead kicks. Van Basten was the complete forward - dangerous with both feet, sensational in the air and equally adept at creating goals as well as scoring them himself. His performances in big matches, particularly finals, were truly outstanding. Arguably, he can be regarded as the greatest striker in the history of football, and unquestionably one of the greatest players of all time.

Marco Van Basten was the greatest goal-scorer of his generation. It wasn't just that he scored lots of goals, nor that many of them were outstanding. What made him the most feared striker in world soccer was a rare ability to perform when it was most needed. Pressure seemed nothing to him. It brought out his best.

It was Van Basten who scored one of the best goals seen in international competition - and that it won the only football honour ever achieved by the Netherlands is the true measure of his ability. To understand the significance of that goal in the 1988 European Championship final, you have to go back to the Dutch side of the 1970s - the masters of "Total Football". That team, led by Johan Cruyff, captivated everyone who saw them. It was football as artistry - they were the best in the world. And they won nothing - they had just two losing World Cup finals to show for all their supreme talent. After Cruyff retired the Netherlands went into demise, failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1982 and 1986. In 1988 the 23-year-old Van Basten and the new generation of Dutch players including Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard competed in the European Championships against a backdrop of thwarted ambitions and cruel disappointments.

Van Basten was only third-choice striker in the squad, but he scored five goals in the tournament and returned home as his country's greatest hero. First he scored a hat trick to see off England, and then he grabbed a last-gasp winner two minutes from time to overcome hosts West Germany in the semi-finals.

As the Dutch team prepared to meet the Soviet Union in the final in Munich's Olympic Stadium, the expectation that a nation's dream was about to be fulfilled was immense. To play under that burden is an enormous strain. Clearly, nobody told van Basten. The Netherlands were leading 1-0 through Gullit when, from a seemingly impossible angle, Van Basten struck a long, looping volley into the Soviet net. It was a classic strike, and it ensured that first and only Dutch international triumph. {see picture right}

Van Basten's career, like that of many of his country's stars, began at Ajax who had spotted him playing with Elinkwijk. He joined Ajax as an 18-year-old, at a time when this famous club were struggling to regain the glory days of the 1970s when Cruyff set the standard with three successive European Cup wins.

He made his international debut in the 1983 World Youth Cup, but his instinctive brilliance was undermined by a vulnerability to injury that was to plague him and ultimately ruin his career. By 1986 he was the top marksman in Europe, winning the European Golden Boot award. With Van Basten leading their attack, Ajax lifted two Dutch Championships, two Dutch Cups and the European Cup-winners' Cup.

That 1987 victory against Dynamo Dresden was Van Basten's last game for Ajax. He had scored 128 league goals in just 143 games at an unprecedented strike rate. But the goals came at a heavy price. In that triumphant year, he injured an ankle that required surgery. But the operation was put off because Ajax couldn't spare him for vital European games.

The following season he joined AC Milan who were re-emerging from bankruptcy. AC Milan won the European Cup in 1963 and 1969, but fell upon hard times by the mid-1980s. AC Milan had been a foundation member of the Italian league in 1898, but were living in the shadow of rivals Internazionale with whom they share the San Siro stadium. The media magnate and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rescued them from liquidation in 1986. He invested US$30 million in the club, and some of that money was spent on Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. He also brought in leading coach Arrigo Sacchi, who was later in charge of the Italian national team during Euro '96.

Results came quickly, as AC Milan won the Serie A for the first time in 9 years. They did it, however, without much help from van Basten. The ankle injury flared up again and he played only 11 games. It was feared, at first, that he might miss the European Championships, but not only was he the tournament's leading scorer, he was voted World Footballer of the Year, just ahead of Gullit and Rijkaard - an unprecedented sweep of the honours by players from the same club and country.

He was already European Footballer of the Year, an award he was to win three times (1988, 1989 and 1992) to equal the record of Johan Cruyff and France's Michel Platini.

European Cup glory beckoned for Van Basten in 1989, AC Milan destroying Romanian Champions Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the final in Barcelona. Van Basten scored two of the goals, as did Gullit. They were to retain the trophy a year later with a 1-0 defeat of Benfica in the final in Vienna. The Netherlands performed poorly at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. They failed to win a game, drawing all their matches in the group stage before losing 2-1 to Germany in the second round. Following that disappointment. Van Basten had a public falling out with AC Milan coach Sacchi and was banned by Uefa for four games after violently elbowing an opponent in a European Cup game. His form suffered in the 1990/91 season and he scored only 11 goals in 33 games.

The following year, he was back to his brilliant goal scoring best with 25 in 31 games. The 1992 European Championships followed, and the Netherlands reached the semi-finals where they were beaten by (eventual winners) Denmark. In a rare lapse, Van Basten missed a penalty in that match, but it did not prevent him being named FIFA World Footballer of the Year for a second time.

At AC Milan, in the lead-up to Euro 92, Van Basten played some of the best football of his career - scoring 13 goals in 15 games against the tightest defences in club football. It was a remarkable run, but he then had to endure 2 more operations on his damaged ankle. The condition of his injury was becoming chronic. His last competitive game was AC Milan's 1-0 defeat by Olympique Marseilles in the 1993 European Cup Final - a match that left a bitter taste. Marseilles, owned by Bernard Tapie, were later discovered to have paid three Valenciennes players to take it easy in a French League game shortly before the European Final. They were stripped of their French title and their European Cup win.

Van Basten spent two years trying to overcome his injuries but in the end he had to face the inevitable, and he announced his retirement in August 1995. He had scored 90 goals in 147 games for Milan, twice being the leading marksman in Serie A, and had set a European Cup record of 18 goals in 23 matches for the club. He won the last of his 58 international caps in October 1992 in a World Cup qualifier against Poland. He had scored 24 times for the Netherlands.

He had played for 10 glorious seasons, but the punishment he received from defenders had brought a gifted career to a premature end. Van Basten had it all. He was graceful, yet powerful, two-footed with tremendous close control, and was quick on the turn and supreme in the air. "Marco always played football like a ballerina, but his ankle eventually couldn't take the strain," said Rene Marti - one of the doctors who treated him.

Since retiring, Van Basten has led calls to clean up the game, advancing the view that football should adopt the basketball rule of personal fouls which, after a player has committed five, means he is substituted, even if none of those fouls was bad enough to earn a caution. "I really believe that only red and yellow cards are not enough anymore," he said. "Defenders have become so subtle nowadays, that a lot of fouls are disguised."

However, he does not see himself as merely the victim of cynical hard men. "The most frustrating thing for me," he said, "is not the way I hurt my ankle, but the way I have been treated by some doctors. The person who damaged my ankle most was not a player but a surgeon."

Since Van Basten's retirement, there have indeed been changes to the game in an attempt to prevent the cynical fouling that occurred in the early 1990's. Dangerous tackles from behind and fouling the last man going forward are now instant red card offences, and persistent fouling is a yellow card offence.

Despite calls for him to go into management, he distanced himself from the game before returning in 2002 in a coaching role with Ajax.

Marco Van Basten's career highlights
Team Honours: European Championship: 1988. European Cup: 1989, 90, 94. Cup Winners Cup: 1987. World Club Championships: 1989, 90. European Super Cup: 1989, 90, 94. Dutch Championship: 1982, 83, 85. Dutch Cup: 1983, 86, 87. Italian Championship: 1988, 92, 93, 94.
Individual Honours: FIFA World Player of the Year: 1992. World Footballer of the Year: 1988, 92. European Footballer of the Year: 1988, 89, 92

The greatest Dutch player of all time is undoubtedly Johan Cruyff - he also happens to be Marco Van Basten's idol. A feature on Cruyff will appear later in this series.

In part 4 of this series, we travel to the Netherlands' southern neighbours to feature three-time World Cup winners Germany and the seven best German players of all-time.


Part 4 - The masters of German efficiency.
January 11th, 2004.

In part 4 of The Legends of World Football …according to Gunner we visit Germany. It must be said at the outset that not everybody is fan of Deutscher Fussball because of their "play not to lose" approach to the game, but due credit must be given to the Germans' record of winning the ones that matter.

Germany's approach to football is not always pretty but it is highly effective. Their game is characterised but tight running defence and powerful and penetrating attack. Germany has produced more than a handful of the world's best players and continues to do so with the likes of present players Oliver Kahn, Jens Lehmann, Miroslav Klose and Michael Ballack.

Football in Germany is governed by the Deutscher Fussball-Bund which was founded in 1900 and joined FIFA in 1904. Professionalism didn't reach German football until the 1950s after its readmission into FIFA (as West Germany) and it began an unparalleled success story in European football. Germany's most successful club is the Munich-based Bayern München, yet in the 1960s when the Bundesliga were formed, Bayern were a minor clun languishing in the lower divisions. At international level, only Brazil with five World Cup wins surpasses Germany.

Germany's major achievements on the international stage
FIFA World Cup finals
Germany has reached the World Cup final on seven occasions - winning three times and runners-up four times. Often they were pitted against national teams who appeared more technically gifted and played with attacking flair and style. Yet they succumbed to the defensive efficiency and persistent attack of Germany's finest. Below are the results of the seven finals contested by German teams: -
1954 in Switzerland: West Germany 3 - 2 Hungary
1966 in England: England 4 - 2 West Germany (after extra time)
1974 in Germany: West Germany 2 - 1 Netherlands
1982 in Spain: Italy 3 - 1 West Germany
1986 in Mexico: Argentina 3 - 2 West Germany
1990 in Italy: West Germany 1 - 0 Argentina
2002 in Japan: Brazil 2 - 0 Germany

Olympic Games
During the Cold War years when Germany was split in two, the Communist DDR won gold and then silver medals in successive Olympics. During this period, the state-sponsored national teams of the eastern bloc countries of Europe dominated Olympic football: -
1976 in Montreal: East Germany 3 - 1 Poland
1980 in Moscow: Czechoslovakia 1 - 0 East Germany

European Championships
Germany has played in 5 of the 11 finals of the European Championship and won 3 times: -
1972 in Brussels: West Germany 3 - 0 Soviet Union
1976 in Belgrade: Czechoslovakia 2 - 2 West Germany (5-4 on penalties)
1980 in Rome: West Germany 2 - 1 Belgium
1992 in Stockholm: Denmark 2 - 0 Germany
1996 in London: Germany 2 - 1 Czech Republic (golden goal)

German clubs in European Cup finals
German clubs have reached the European Cup final on 12 occasions and have won it six times. Three clubs have won the European Cup with Bayern München winning it four times from seven finals.
1960 in Glasgow: Real Madrid 7 - 3 Eintracht Frankfurt
1974 in Brussels: Bayern München 1 - 1 Atletico Madrid (after extra time) Bayern won the replay 4-0
1975 in Paris: Bayern München 2 - 0 Leeds United
1976 in Glasgow: Bayern München 1 - 0 St. Etienne
1977 in Rome: Liverpool 3 - 1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
1980 in Madrid: Nottingham Forest 1 - 0 Hamburg
1982 in Rotterdam: Aston Villa 1 - 0 Bayern München
1983 in Athens: Hamburg 1 - 0 Juventus
1987 in Vienna: FC Porto 2 - 1 Bayern München
1997 in Munich: Borussia Dortmund 3 - 1 Juventus
1999 in Barcelona: Manchester United 2 - 1 Bayern München
2001 in Milan: Bayern München 1 - 1 Valencia (5-4 on penalties)

German football - a brief history
German football's success didn't start until the 1950's. Its pre-WW2 record was poor and football's profile was not as high as that of their fascist counterparts Italy and Spain. The preferred sports of the German fascists were gymnastics and athletics. The height of Germany's football achievements in the first half of the twentieth century was their third place at the 1934 World Cup where they lost the semi-final 3-1 to Czechoslovakia, then defeated the aging Austrian "wunderteam" in the third-place play-off.

After the war Germany was a divided nation and the Soviet-backed East Germans formed their own football league in 1948. But football and other team sports took a backseat under the East German régime which preferred to sponsor individual sports. The DDR's two football triumphs were its 1-0 win over West Germany at a group game in the 1974 World Cup tournament (the only match ever played between the two Germanies) and its gold medal at the 1976 Olympics.

It was a vastly different story west of the Berlin wall. Germany was banished from FIFA after WW2 and readmitted as West Germany in 1950. For a while they were shunned by other European teams due to lingering hostility and had little exposure to international football. Germany's "away" strip in international tournaments is green as a tribute to Ireland, which was the first country to agree to play them after their post-war banishment.

Four years after their FIFA readmission, West Germany under their coach Sepp Herberger won the World Cup over the highly fancied Hungarians - prior to the 1954 World Cup final the "magic Magyars" had only lost one match in the previous five years. This stunning victory was a springboard to Germany becoming one of the world's great football nations. They were semi-finalists in 1958, quarter-finalists in 1962 and runners-up in the 1966 tournaments.

German football was dominant in the 1970s with Bayern München winning a hat-trick of European Cups in 1974-75-76, and providing the players which saw West Germany win the 1974 World Cup and play-off in the final at three successive European Champions in 1972-76-80. Franz Beckenbauer was the epitome of German efficiency as he re-engineered the role of a sweeper into an art form - playing both as a defender and an attacker. And Gerd Müller was a goal-scorer of unprecedented effect - incredibly having scored 68 goals in 62 internationals.

The next generation of German football stars occurred during the 1980s when they reached the World Cup final in three successive tournaments 1982-86-90. It was followed by two consecutive finals of the European Championships in 1992-96 after the reunification of Germany. Their stars of this prolonged era of international success included Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus, Karl-Heinz Rumminegge, Rudi Völler, Matthias Sammer and Thomas Hässler.

Germany uncharacteristically crashed out of the 1998 World Cup and finished last in Group A of Euro 2000, but their stocks of new-generation quality players saw them bounce back in 2002 as runners-up in the World Cup final to Brazil.

Below are seven of Germany's greatest footballs legends.

Franz Beckenbauer
When you talk about class, talent, defensive reliability, aggressiveness on the attack, elegance on the field and wide vision from the bench, the only player in the world that comes to mind is "The Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer.

Franz Beckenbauer was born amid the ruins of post-war Germany on September 11 1945 in Munich, West Germany. He is the only man to have won the World Cup both as a player and as a manager. His record is unique - captain of West Germany when they won the World Cup and the European Championship as well as captain of Bayern Munich when they won three successive European Cups and the European Cup-winners' Cup.

Dubbed "The Kaiser", he is remembered for his style and genius - he moved with elegance and always looked to be in command. Beckenbauer is one of the game's great thinkers and he revolutionised the way football is played by inventing the role of the attacking sweeper. Before Beckenbauer, the role of the sweeper was to stay in the back half of the pitch as a support between the defenders and the goalkeeper. Yet it was his long runs out of central defence and scoring through the element of surprise that are his everlasting legacy to the modern game - undoubtedly he was "the puppet master, standing back and pulling the strings which earned West Germany and Bayern Munich every major prize".

Beckenbauer joined the youth team at Bayern when he was 14, and three years later he quit his job to become a professional footballer. At the time Bayern weren't even in the Bundesliga when it was formed in 1963, but they were soon promoted when Beckenbauer made his debut in 1964 as an outside-left. He was switched into a midfield role and within a year he had made his international debut for West Germany in a crucial World Cup qualifier. The cool-tempered 20-year-old Beckenbauer helped West Germany qualify for the 1966 World Cup.

In the group matches, Beckenbauer gave a glimpse of what was to become his trademark by scoring two goals as the Germans demolished Switzerland 5-0. They drew 0-0 with Argentina then beat Spain 2-1 to reach the quarterfinals where Beckenbauer came from deep in midfield to score in a 4-0 victory over Uruguay. He again scored in the semi-final against the Soviet Union with a stunning left-footed shot from outside the box which he bent round the Russian wall to beat legendary keeper Lev Yashin at the far post.

In the final against England, Beckenbauer was given the job of marking Bobby Charlton and he followed him all around the park in a battle of wits. Charlton was the player the Germans feared most and Beckenbauer said years later, "England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me." England won 4-2 in extra-time. The result was a huge disappointment for the young Beckenbauer, but it was to be only the first of three World Cup Finals he was to play.

Back at Bayern, he helped win the West German Cup in both 1966 and 1967 and in 1967 won the first of their European trophies, the Cup-winners' Cup after beating Glasgow Rangers 1-0. By this time, Beckenbauer had become Bayern's captain and was part of a talented team about to launch itself towards European domination. Two of the other outstanding players in the side were legendary goalkeeper Sepp Maier and prolific centre forward Gerd Müller.

In 1968 Beckenbauer had his first taste of revenge for the World Cup Final defeat, scoring the goal that gave West Germany victory for the first time over England. Success continued at club level as he led Bayern to their first Bundesliga Championship in 1969.

It was during this period that he began to experiment with mounting attacking raids from the centre of defence. This tactic succeeded because the role of sweeper appeared a perfect launching pad, since the sweeper was never marked and lurked deep at the back, so he could pick his moment to surge upfield. Bayern were quickly convinced of its value, but the West German manager Helmut Schön was more cautious. Despite Beckenbauer's requests he was not allowed to play this way for his country until the European Championship Finals of 1972.

At the World Cup in Mexico in 1970, West Germany was involved in one of the most dramatic World Cup matches and once again the opponents were the defending champions England. West Germany qualified for the quarterfinals winning all three group matches, beating Morocco 2-1, Bulgaria 5-2 and Peru 3-1. England, on the other hand, had lost one match - to Brazil.

In the quarterfinal, England led 2-0 and looked to be coasting towards the semi-finals. Then the game was turned on its head, thanks to Franz Beckenbauer as he went forward to pick up a rebound, and sent a low, right-footed shot towards the left-hand corner. English goalkeeper Peter Bonetti went down too late and the ball ran under his dive. Then Uwe Seeler headed an equaliser. In extra-time, England had a goal disallowed before Gerd Müller - the tournament's leading scorer with 10 - completed their torment with a thundering volley to win the match. It was sweet revenge for Beckenbauer, but it didn't last.

West Germany was 1-1 at the end of normal time in the semi-final against Italy. In the first period of extra-time Beckenbauer was chopped down and injured, but carried on with his arm strapped to his side. Without their sweeper and inspiration, the Germans went down 4-3.

In 1971 he was made captain of his country and at last succeeded in putting his theories into practice. By the following year's European Championships, Beckenbauer personified the modern sweeper, the player around whom everything revolved. It paid off handsomely, West Germany winning the trophy by beating the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final and Beckenbauer being voted European Footballer of the Year. This was the start of an exceptionally successful period for Beckenbauer. Under his leadership, Bayern won three successive Budesliga Championships and three successive European Cups - thrashing Atletico Madrid 4-0 in 1974 in a replay after a 1-1 draw, defeating Leeds United 2-0 in 1975 and beating St Etienne of France 1-0 in 1976. Bayern also won the World Clubs Cup in 1976 with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Cruzeiro of Brazil.

The pinnacle of achievement for Beckenbauer was captaining his country to the 1974 World Cup victory on his home ground in Munich. West Germany finished runners-up in the first group stage, losing their only ever game against East Germany 1-0. They made no mistakes at the second group stage, winning all three matches. But in the other half of the draw was a team everyone was talking about - the "Total Football" of the Netherlands, captained by the great Johan Cruyff captured the world's imagination. The Dutch team scored 14 goals while conceding only one in six games on their way to the final, and was ready for the showdown against the "Total Football" of the Germans - and with the world's two best players, the match was inevitably promoted as Beckenbauer v Cruyff.

The game would be decided on whether the Germans could stop Cruyff, but rather than Beckenbauer the job to stop the Dutch master fell to Bertie Vogts. The start was sensational as Cruyff raced forward with the ball, went past Vogts and was tripped in the penalty area. Johan Neeskens took the penalty kick and West Germany were 1-0 down without having touched the ball. For twenty-five minutes the Dutch did as they pleased against a stunned German team, rolling the ball about, making pretty patterns, but creating no real opportunities. It was a dangerous tactic against a host team; and West Germany this got off the hook. They equalised though a Paul Breitner penalty and then Müller got the winner just before half-time as the Dutch defence began to wilt. Beckenbauer had achieved one half of his unique double.

He was voted European Footballer of the Year for the second time after the hat-trick of European Cups in 1976, even though West Germany lost that year's European Championship Final to Czechoslovakia in a penalty shoot-out.

Beckenbauer played a record 103 times for West Germany when, in 1977 he accepted a US$2.5 million contract to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League and played with Pelé. He played at Cosmos for four years and Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl three times. He briefly returned to Germany playing for Hamburg winning the Bundesliga championship in 1982, and then played out a final season with Cosmos before retiring in 1984.

That year he was appointed the West German national team manager. Beckenbauer had no coaching experience but he had served his apprenticeship gaining qualification for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where he astonished everyone by taking a fairly ordinary team to the final where they lost 3-2 to Argentina. The 1990 tournament was different, as Beckenbauer had a German team capable of going all the way. They drew 1-1 against England in the semi-final and won a penalty shoot-out. The final against Argentina was a sterile affair, with a penalty being enough to ensure the win for the Germans. And Beckenbauer made history with a unique World Cup double.

Beckenbauer moved into club management as coach at Olympique Marseilles for a brief and unsuccessful period. He returned to Bayern as coach in 1994, guiding them to the Bundesliga championship before becoming their club president. The Kaiser's golden career has left an enduring legacy, as an innovator and an emphatic winner.

Paul Breitner
Breitner was born on September 5 1951 in Munich, West Germany, and began his playing career with Bayern München.

As a flamboyant left back, he was noticed by West German national coach Helmut Shön in 1971 and first played for the national team aged 19. This was an era where the West German team was dominated by a generation of Bayern München players - Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeness. Breitner was a big-match player, cool in a crisis. He demonstrated this at the 1974 World Cup final when he calmly converted a penalty to equalise against the Netherlands.

Breitner felt he was being held back at Bayern as a defender, and he soon moved to Real Madrid to play as a left-sided midfielder. He was a thinking man's footballer who was frustrated at the restrictions placed upon him in the German game. As a result, he had a falling out with the national team and this caused him to miss the 1978 World Cup tournament in Argentina.

In 1982, he returned to Germany playing for Eintracht Braunschweig. He made his way back into the national team as a midfielder and scored in West Germany's World Cup final against Italy played at his old Real Madrid home ground at the Santiago Bernabeu. It wasn't enough as they went down 3-1 to Italy, but Breitner remains only one of four players to have scored in two World Cup finals.

Jürgen Klinsmann
Jürgen Klinsmann was born in Stuttgart, West Germany on July 30 1964 and began his brilliant career as a striker with Stuttgart Kickers before moving into the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart he became West Germany's top goal scorer and also won the German league's Footballer of the Year.

Klinsmann was a deadly marksman who struck fear into the hearts of Europe's best defenders. In 1989, he led VfB Stuttgart to win the UEFA Cup final where they lost the first leg 2-1 away at Napoli, but won the second leg at home 3-0, for a 4-2 aggregate.

He moved to Italian Serie A club Internazionale in 1990, where he spent three successful seasons before moving to French club Monaco. In 1994 he played a season with English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, and returned to Germany in July 1995 to join Bayern München. The following season he won the UEFA Cup with Bayern over French club Bordeaux. Klinsmann holds the record for 15 goals in a single season in European club competition from that UEFA Cup campaign.

Klinsmann took his consummate skills to a variety of European clubs, negotiating his own terms without the use of an agent. He returned to Italy with Sampdoria and then to England for a second spell with north London club Tottenham Hotspur.

In his international career, he won the World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and the European Cup in 1996. He scored 3 goals in the 1998 World Cup in France before announcing his retirement.

Sepp Maier
Josef "Sepp" Maier was born in Germany on February 28 1944, and is remembered as one of the game's greatest ever goalkeepers. He began his career at TSV Haar and in 1960 went to play for Bayern München at a time when they were a lowly regional team.

His stint at Bayern lasted 19 years until 1979, and he was part of a generation of star players (including Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller) to raise Bayern to become Germany's glamour team. During their golden era, Bayern was the backbone of West Germany's national team, and Maier was their talented man in goal.

Noted for his all-black playing strip and unusually long shorts, Maier played 473 league matches, including an uninterrupted run of 422 matches in the Bundesliga in his career with Bayern. Maier was also a talented tennis player, who ran a tennis school in the 1980s after he retired from football.

He first played for West Germany in 1966, and was part of the World Cup squad as a reserve goalkeeper in that year. He was also a member of West Germany's 1972 European Championship team when they defeated the Soviet Union in the final in Brussels.

At the age of 30, Maier reached the pinnacle of his football career when his club Bayern won the European Cup - their first of a hat trick of European Cup wins. A few weeks later, as West Germany's goalkeeper, he was part of the 1974 World Cup win on his home ground at Munich's Olimpiastadion.

Maier won the European Cup three times in 1974-75-76 with Bayern München and also won the World Club Cup in 1976 against Brazil's Atletico Mineiro.

Lothar Matthäus
Lothar Matthäus was born in West Germany on March 21 1961 and grew up to become one of the world's greatest midfielders. In the late 1980s he commanded play from midfield, and later in his career he played as a sweeper in the style of the great Beckenbauer.

His international career began in 1980 when as a 19-year-old he came on as a substitute to become part of West Germany's winning team at the European Championship in Rome where they defeated Belgium 2-1 in the final. Matthäus came to world prominence in the 1986 World Cup tournament when he scored the winning goal in spectacular style against Morocco in their second round match. West Germany went on to play Argentina in the final.

His most triumphant moment in international football was 10 years later, in Rome at the same stadium, when he captained West Germany to the 1990 World Cup 1-0 win over Argentina in the final. He was the tournament's third highest scorer, and was voted Player of the Tournament.

In club football, Matthäus began with Borussia Mönchengladbach the season after their defeat to the all-conquering Liverpool in the 1977 European Cup. He transferred to Bayern München in 1984 for what was then a large transfer fee by German standards. He was part of Bayern's team that lost the 1987 European Cup final 2-1 to Portugal's FC Porto in Vienna.

In 1988, he moved to Italy on a transfer to Milan's Internazionale. The rigorous tackling of Italian football caused him to miss with injury the 1992 European Championship tournament - where Germany made the final but lost 2-0 to Denmark. He later returned to Bayern where he won the UEFA Cup in 1996 and the Bundesliga championship the following season. Matthäus then moved to the United States to play with the NY-NJ Metrostars in America's MLS.

At the age of 37 Matthäus again played international football at the 1998 World Cup tournament. Two years later, he played for Germany at Euro 2000, commuting between his home in New York to the German training camp. In all, Lothar Matthäus made 150 international appearances for Germany spanning 20 years - a world record. Since retiring, Lothar Matthäus has taken on the manager's job at the famous Austrian club Rapid Vienna.

Gerd Müller
Gerd Müller was born on November 3 1945 during the post-war allied occupation of Germany. He began his playing career with TSV Nordlingen, and at the age of 19 he joined Bayern München. This was in 1964 and the now-famous club was yet to establish its reputation as one of Europe's super-powers.

When Müller joined Bayern alongside Beckenbauer and Maier, few would have thought they would lead their club and then their country to glorious victories on the international stage. Indeed when Müller arrived at Bayern, their coach Tschik Cajkovski was not at all impressed with his new centre-forward - he was short and stocky, looking nothing like a typical attacker. The coach was said to have remarked, "I can't put that little elephant in among my string of thoroughbreds!"

Yet Müller became the world's most prolific goal scorer and it earned him the nickname "Der Bomber". Both at domestic and international level his goal-scoring record is truly astonishing. Once he got his chance at Bayern, he set them on a remarkable path.

Müller was one of those successful strikers that opponents and their fans tend to loathe. He was an opportunist and possessed a powerful header - overall he was lethal in front of goal. Soon his ability to score goals on cue set Bayern on a meteoric rise - from a club that in 1964 was in a Bavarian regional league onto the 1967 European Cup-winner's Cup in their 1-0 victory over Glasgow Rangers played at Nuremberg. All in the space of three seasons!

He scored an all-time record of 365 goals in the Bundesliga, and over 600 goals in all - averaging almost one goal per game. His international record is even better - having scored an astonishing 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany.

Müller won the European Cup three times for Bayern in 1974-75-76, scoring twice in the Cup final replay in 1974 against Atletico Madrid, and again in the 1975 final against Leeds United. He also scored in the winning final of the World Club Cup against Brazil's Cruzeiro in 1976.

On the international stage, Müller scored twice in West Germany's 1972 European Championship victory over the Soviet Union. He once scored a double hat trick (4 goals) for West Germany in an international against Switzerland.

Of his 68 goals scored for West Germany, it was Gerd Müller's last-ever international goal in 1974 that must be his most famous. In the World Cup final the Netherlands stunned the home crowd with an opening goal in the second minute of play from a penalty. And the Dutch team had the Germans running around chasing shadows for much of the first half, until a penalty from Paul Breitner leveled the score. Then two minutes before half time, Müller slammed home the winner, to win West Germany its second World Cup.

Karl-Heinz Rumminegge
Karl-Heinz Rumminegge was born in West Germany on September 25 1955. He was world-renowned striker who took over the mantle from Gerd Müller at Bayern and in the national team. He became an inspirational captain who twice took his country to the World Cup final.

Rumminegge began his playing career as a right-winger with Lippstadt and was transferred to Bayern München in 1974 for a bargain-basement fee of US$6,000. In his ten years at Bayern, he won the World Club Cup and the European Cup in 1976 and was twice voted European Footballer of the Year.

In 1978 Rumminegge came to world prominence when he represented West Germany at the World Cup tournament and scored a hat-trick against Mexico. He moved into a central striking role, but injuries hampered his game on the early 1980s.

Rummenigge captained West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and was the second-highest scorer of the tournament with 5 goals. In a dramatic semi-final against France, the Germans trailled by 3-1 ten minutes into extra time, when an injured Rumminegge came on as a substitute and within 60 seconds scored and then assisted in another goal 5 minutes later to level the match 3-3. West Germany eventually won 5-4 on penalties and were set to play in the final thanks to Rumminegge. But he was carrying injuries and played in the losing final to Italy at the insistence of national coach Jupp Derwall.

In 1984 he moved to Italy and played for Internazionale, who had been trying to win his services from Bayern for over 6 years. Finally, Bayern agreed to a transfer fee of more than US$5 million.

He again captained West Germany to the World Cup finals in 1986 in Mexico where they lost the final to Argentina 3-2. Argentina led 2-0 in the second half when Rumminigge inspired his team with a brilliant goal, which was followed by another by substitute Rudi Völler to level the score. Argentina eventually scored the winner to deny West Germany a second time under Rumminegge's leadership.

Rumminegge finished his playing career at Swiss club Servette.

In part 5 of this series, we travel east to look at six legends of central and eastern European.


Part 5 - Stars of the East.
January 17th, 2004.

In Part 5 of The Legends of World Football …according to Gunner we look to central and eastern Europe and some of their most legendary players.

Czechoslovakia and Hungary played in World Cup finals - twice each. Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary have all won Olympic gold medals, and eastern European countries have major roles in the shaping of World Cup and European Championship tournaments.

Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia and Steaua Bucharest of Romania have won European Cups, and Partizan Belgrade and Panathinaikos of Greece have been runners-up.

Hungarian club Ferencvaros has won a UEFA Cup and their compatriots Ujpest Dosza and Videoton have been runners-up, as have Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb, Austria's Salzburg and Red Star Belgrade.

Georgia's Dynamo Tblisi and Ukrainian club Kyiv Dynamo have won the European Cup-winner's Cup, while Hungary's MTK Budapest and Fernecvaros, Austria's Rapid Vienna and FK Austria, Slovakia's Slovan Bratislava and Poland's Gornik Zabrze have been runners-up.

The former Austria-Hungary Empire was an early adopter of the beautiful game, and early in the twentieth century great teams from cities along the River Danube emerged. Austrian clubs FK Austria and Rapid Vienna, Czech clubs Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague, and Hungarian club FTK Budapest all featured in the Mitropa Cup - a central European forerunner to the European Cup - contested from 1927 until 1991.

Below are some of the most notable players from central and eastern Europe - the outright champion among these is Hungary's "Galloping Major" Ferenc Puskas.

Josef Masopust (Czechoslovakia)
Josef Masopust was born in the old Czechoslovakia on February 9 1931. He began his playing career at Czech club Union Teplice as an inside-forward. He moved to the Czechoslovakian army club Dukla Prague and played as a left-half. This team rose to become one of Europe's best teams during Masopust's time there, and it formed the backbone of the national team.

In his international career, Masopust filled the role of a centre-half. He captained the Czechoslovakian team that finished third in the first-ever European Championship in 1960. They were also silver medallists at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, losing the final 2-1 to Hungary.

Until 2003 when Juventus star Pavel Nedved won the accolade, Masopust was the only Czech to have won the European Footballer of the Year, which he won in 1962 following Czechoslovakia's World Cup campaign that year in Chile.

The Czechs, who were the surprise package of the World Cup that year, ended the tournament as runner-up to Brazil. Czechoslovakia had held Brazil to a goalless draw in their earlier group match, but the South Americans defeated them 3-1 in the final. Masopust scored the opening goal in 16th minute of the final - threatening one of the World Cup's biggest upsets.

Masopust ended his career playing for Belgian club Crossing Molenbeek.

Zbigniew Boniek (Poland)
Zbigniew Boniek was born on March 3 1956 in Warsaw and began his playing career as a forward for Zawisza Bydgoszcz. His best football in Poland was played as a forward for Widzew Lodz where his reputation as a striker led to him being widely regarded as the best-ever Polish football player.

The Polish national team was already a highly successful outfit in international tournaments in the 1970s. Boniek joined the likes of Grzerorz Lato and Jan Tomaszewski in the national team, and they were semi-finalists at the 1982 World Cup tournament. During this tournament, Boniek gained international acclaim when he scored a brilliant hat trick in their group match against Belgium.

With the collapse of communism in Poland during the 1980s, state sponsorship of football clubs ceased and Polish clubs were forced to sell their best players to stay afloat. After the World Cup, Italian club Juventus paid a then-record fee of almost US$2 million for Boniek's services.

In 1984, Boniek scored the winning goal for Juventus in their European Cup-winner's Cup 2-1 victory over FC Porto. The following year he won the European Cup in Juventus's 1-0 win over Liverpool in the tragic shadow of the Heysel stadium disaster in Brussels.

Boniek also played for Italian club AS Roma in the Serie A. His international career ended with 24 goals in the 80 matches he played for Poland.

Gregorz Lato (Poland)
Gregorz Lato was born in Poland on April 8 1950. He began his career as an outstanding striker for Polish club Stal Mielec, and later moved into midfield.

Lato made his international debut in 1971 in a match against Spain. In 1972, he was a member of Poland's gold medal team at the Munich Olympic Games, where they defeated Hungary 2-1 in the final. At the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, Lato was the tournament's top scorer with 7 goals. Poland finished the tournament in third place, beginning an outstanding decade for the national team. A silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal followed, where Lato scored in the final in Poland's 3-1 defeat by East Germany.

He became a permanent fixture in the Polish national team and played as a striker at the World Cup in 1978, alongside Wlodzimierz Lubanski, Kazimierz Deyna and Jan Tomaszewski. And again at the 1982 World Cup where Poland were semi-finalists - this time as a midfielder making way for Zbigniew Boniek in attack.

After the 1974 World Cup tournament, Lato moved to Belgium where he played for Lokeren. He later moved to Mexico and finished his playing career at the Atlante club.

In an outstanding international career, Lato played a record 104 times for Poland scoring 46 goals.

Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)
Ferenc Puskas is one of the greatest of all European-born football players. Born in Budapest, Hungary on April 2 1927, he was a brilliant young footballer and made his senior debut for his father's old team Kispest at the age of 16 as an inside-left. Then known as "Ocsi" meaning the little man due to his short stature, he became an international at the age of 18, appearing for Hungary in 1945 in their 5-2 win over Austria.

Hungary had a significant soccer heritage before the Second World War, losing 4-2 to Italy in the 1938 World Cup Final. Afterwards, Hungary had fallen behind the Iron Curtain as the Soviet Union colonised most of eastern Europe under Stalinist communism. In the wake of this, Hungarian football was restructured to conform to the Soviet way of life - with military teams established to emphasise the supreme power of the state. Yet for the decade following WW2, Hungary's "Magnificent Magyars" were undoubtedly the world's best team - and arguably the best team ever to have not won the World Cup!

In 1948, Puskas's club Kispest and all its players were transformed into a new team called Honved - the Hungarian Army's team. The state enlisted talented football players into military service as a pretext to recruiting the best players. This made Honved the most successful club in Europe before the inception of the European Cup, and the Honved club formed the backbone of the Hungarian national team.

In his first season with Honved, Puskas scored 50 goals and won his first of 4 Hungarian championships. He had a powerful left-foot shot that was to terrorise opposition goalkeepers for over two decades. Puskas rarely used his right-foot, but he rarely needed to since his left-foot was so lethal.

Since communist sports teams were technically amateurs - the players were in the military - they could compete in the Olympic Games. Puskas was captain of his country when they won the gold medal at Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952, defeating Yugoslavia in the final.

From 1949, the national team went undefeated in all but one game for 5 years! Known as the "Magnificent Magyars" the team was formed around 7 players: Gyula Grosics in goal, Joszef Bozsik at halfback, wingers Zoltan Czibor and Jozsef Toth, and forwards Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskas. They revolutionised attacking football in international games; with the inside forwards (Kocsis and Puskas) forming the main thrust of the attack, Czibor and Toth playing wide, and centre forward Hidegkuti playing deep. (Arsenal's legendary coach Howard Chapman originally developed this "WM" formation in England with great success in the 1930s - but given England's isolationist attitude towards international football, it had not been seen outside of English domestic football.)

On November 25 1953, Puskas {pictured right} led his Magnificent Magyars onto the pitch at Wembley Stadium in London in an international friendly against England - in what was to be later dubbed as "The Match that Changed the Game". England, in the first half of the century, saw themselves as invincible - their arrogance and xenophobia meant that they never cared much for opposition from the European continent - and they regarding the match as little more than a training exercise against inferior opponents. Yet Hungary went into this match with a record of 25 wins, six draws and just one loss in their previous 32 internationals, having scored in every match of the previous six years!

As the teams strode out onto the pitch, one of the English players was heard to remark, "This will be easy, they've all got carpet slippers on". Compared to the big heavy boots worn by the English at the time, the Hungarians' footwear looked unsuitable. And in one of the greatest misjudgments among England's many in the history of sport, their captain Billy Wright upon seeing Ferenc Puskas was heard to say, "Look at that little fat chap. We'll murder this lot."

Ninety minutes later Hungary had slaughtered England 6-3. They were the first foreign team to inflict defeat on England at Wembley. And what a defeat! It wasn't just the score - it was the style of football played by the Magnificent Magyars. In the opening seconds of the match, Hungarian centre forward Hidegkuti shot from outside of 20 metres on an angle - it flew past the stunned English goalkeeper like a bullet and into the net. Compared to the English game, it might as well have come from another planet. The self-styled and self-deluded masters of the game, England were humiliated.

That "little fat chap" was Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarian captain. Indeed, he was an odd looking footballer - short, stocky, barrel-chested, overweight, couldn't head and only used his left foot. Yet no one in Britain had seen ball skills like his as he inspired a performance that completely demolished England's reputation as a world football power.

The Hungarians played in tight little triangles drawing in their opponents, and would suddenly break with a 30-40-metre pass to a sprinting teammate. Nobody in England had imagined that football be played this way! England's centre-half Billy Wright was a player of formidable international experience, but he had no idea how to cope during the massacre. The tactic confused England and turned their defence inside out. The third goal, scored by Puskas, had them completely bewildered. He changed direction by rolling the ball back with the sole of his foot, swivelled and hit the ball past the hapless England goalkeeper.

Tom Finney, an accomplished player for Preston watched England's woe from the stands and later said, "I came away wondering to myself what we had been doing all these years." A few months later he found out the hard way when he was selected for England to play the return match in Budapest. Puskas's team did it again - this time by a 7-1 drubbing.

This experience was a wake-up call to England, and they fundamentally re-engineered their game in the seasons to come.

Puskas was known as the 'Galloping Major', referring to the fact that he was an army officer playing for an army team. Later, when he was exiled in Spain, he became known as "Cañoncito Pum" the little booming canon. His left foot packed such a thunderbolt shot that he scored 83 goals in 84 internationals and he remains the only player to have scored four goals in a European Cup Final.

By 1954, Hungary was the hot favourite to win the World Cup in Switzerland. They hadn't lost for four years and scored 17 goals in their first two games when the finals began. First they beat South Korea 9-0, them handed out an 8-3 hammering to West Germany - one of the more fancied teams in the competition. Puskas was injured and missed the quarterfinal against Brazil - a spiteful match that became known as the 'Battle of Berne'. Hungary were 4-2 winners.

Puskas's damaged ankle kept him from the semi-final against Uruguay, which Hungary won 4-2 in extra time. And they booked themselves into the final - against West Germany, the team they had annihilated 8-3 in the early rounds.

Puskas declared himself fit, but it was a controversial decision. Puskas was clearly hampered by his ankle injury and was uncharacteristically slow. Hungary led 2-0 after just eight minutes, the second goal coming from Puskas. But their game then began to falter. Germany pulled back to 2-2 then took the lead through Rahn. The turning point came when Puskas found a gap and slid the ball past the German keeper. But the linesman had his flag up and the goal was disallowed for offside - a decision that is till this day argued. West Germany had won 3-2 and caused one of the football upsets of the century. Hungary, having conquered all before them, had lost the one that really mattered - the World Cup Final.

Back at his club Honved, Puskas became even better known in western Europe as his club travelled playing exhibition matches. In December 1954 they came to Molineux where they were beaten 3-2 by a Billy Wright-led Wolverhampton Wanderers team in its prime. The victory led Wolves to announce they were "champions of the world."

Changes in eastern Europe soon saw the break-up of that great Hungarian side. They were on a par with the Brazilians who succeeded them as the world's best team. But by the next World Cup, Hungary had disintegrated and was never to achieve their rightful status. The cause was the Hungarian uprising of 1956, when the rebels revolted against their Soviet masters. There was bitter fighting, with tanks and bloodshed on the streets. Puskas was with his Honved teammates in Spain when the revolution took place. They had been playing a European Cup-tie against Bilbao, and Puskas along with Kocsis and Czibor defected.

Puskas spent a year in Austria, but failed to get a playing permit. He wanted to play in Italy, but he piled on the weight as he drifted aimlessly around Europe. He was now 30 and many considered him too old and too fat. His former Honved manager Emil Oestreicher, now in charge at Real Madrid rescued him. The "royals" had been turned into a club that dominated Europe by their visionary president, Santiago Bernabeu.

They had won the first European Cup in 1956 and had retained it the following year. Among their star players were centre forward Alfredo Di Stefano and Francisco Gento, the flying winger. In 1958, 31-year-old Puskas joined them.

The player rejected by the Italians struck up a sensational partnership with Di Stefano and was four times leading scorer in the Spanish league. Partnering the great Alfredo Di Stefano up front, they formed the most feared duo in international football. {See picture left, Di Sefano and Puskas}. The climax of this outstanding Real side was the 1960 European Cup Final played before 135,000 at Hampden Park. In one of the truly memorable matches, Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. Di Stefano scored a hat trick. Puskas went one better, with four goals. Real had won the European Cup five times in a row!

Their period of supremacy was coming to an end. In November 1960 they lost their first European Cup tie - going down 4-3 to rivals Barcelona. It was the end of an era. Puskas was to play in one more European Cup Final for Real Madrid against Benfica in 1962. Benfica won 5-3, and Puskas aged 35 scored all 3 goals for Real! In 39 European matches for Real, he scored an amazing 35 goals.

He was picked to play for Spain in the 1962 World Cup Finals in Chile. The team was packed with talent - apart from Gento, there was Luis del Sol and Luis Suarez. It made little difference as Spain won just one of their 3 matches and finished bottom of their qualifying group.

Puskas continued to play for Real until 1966 when he retired to concentrate on coaching. He had only mediocre success until 1971 when he took the Greek champions Panathinaikos to the European Cup Final where they lost 2-0 to Ajax at Wembley. But perhaps the sweetest moment was in 1993 when Puskas, the star who had defected to flee the uprising, was allowed back home to became caretaker manager of the Hungarian side during the World Cup qualifiers. The Hungarians didn't make it to the finals in America, but a great national hero had been forgiven.

Ferenc Puskas's playing record: - International matches: Hungary 84, Spain 4
International goals: Hungary 83
Teams Kispest, Honved, Real Madrid
Hungarian Championship: 1950, 52, 54, 55
Olympic Gold Medal: 1952
European Cup: 1959, 60, 66
World Club Championship: 1960
Spanish Championships: 1961, 62, 63, 64, 65
Spanish Cup: 1962

Gheorghe Hagi (Romania)
Gheorghe Hagi was born in Constanta, Romania on February 5 1965. He began his career at FC Constanta and was an outstanding junior footballer. He played for Romania's national youth team at the age of 15, and moved to Bucharest to join top-flight league club Sportul Studentesc in 1982 at the age of 17. A year later, he made his international debut for Romania.

Hagi was an inspirational playmaker anywhere on the pitch - he had sublime ball skills and a powerful shot. He had flair and cheek about his game that has rarely been seen. And he was one of the most entertaining characters to grace the football field.

At the age of 19, Hagi played at the 1984 European Championship finals. In 1985, he scored 20 league goals for Sportul Studentesc, and followed it up with a staggering goal tally of 31 the following season - when he stunned the football world scoring 6 goals in a single match! He transferred to the Romanian army team Steaua Bucharest where the ruling Ceaucescu family were its strongest supporters and were instrumental in his poaching from Sportul Studentesc for no fee.

Hagi took Romania to three successive World Cup tournaments 1990, 1994 and 1998 - and to the 1996 and 2000 European Championships. In spite of Hagi's brilliance, Ireland eliminated Romania in a penalty shoot-out in the second round of the 1990 World Cup tournament. At the 1994 World Cup, Sweden eliminated them in a penalty shoot-out, this time in the quarterfinals. In the 1998 World Cup, Romania finished top of their group under Hagi's leadership, and in a show of solidarity all the players turned up to their second round with their hair dyed bright yellow! But it was all in vain as Croatia eliminated them, losing 1-0.

At Euro 2000, Hagi led Romania into the quarterfinal after finishing ahead of England and Germany in their group. In the quarter final against Italy, Hagi earned himself a red card and Romania were eliminated with a 2-0 loss. It was an inauspicious way for Gheorge Hagi to end his brilliant international career.

After the 1990 World Cup, Hagi moved to Spain to play for Real Madrid, and then to Italy for Brescia. In 1994 he moved back to Spain, this time to play with Barcelona, but was only there for a little over one season.

Hagi ended his playing career at Turkish club Galatasaray, and was part of the UEFA Cup-winning team in 2000, which defeated Arsenal in a penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately for Hagi, he had already been red-carded during the match and didn't take part in the shoot-out.

Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
Hristo Stoichkov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 2 1966. He was an outstanding striker with a blisteringly powerful shot. He began with Bulgarian army club CSKA Sofia as a teenager, and at the age of 19 he won the 1985 Bulgarian Cup final against CSKA's fierce rivals Levski-Spartak. In a match that was marred with controversy and violent play that earned the striker a six-month suspension - this was later to be overturned.

Stoichkov impressed Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff who paid a Bulgarian record transfer fee in excess of US$3 million for him in 1990. In his first three seasons at the Catalan club, Stoichkov scored more than 60 goals in the Spanish league. And in 1992, he led Barcelona to their European Cup win, winning the final in London's Wembley Stadium over Italian club Sampdoria 1-0.

In 1994 Stoichkov was the inspiration for Bulgaria's fourth place at the World Cup tournament in the USA, where he was equal-top scorer with 6 goals. Bulgaria eliminated France in the second round with a 2-1 victory and then defeated Germany in the quarterfinals, largely thanks to the brilliance of Stoichkov.

Stoichkov was named European Footballer of the year in 1994.

He later moved to Italy with Parma before moving back to Spain and Barcelona. He moved back to Bulgaria with his old club CSKA Sofia and played in the 1998 World Cup tournament but neither he nor his aging Bulgarian teammates had much impact this time.

Afterwards, Stoichkov played in the Japanese J-League for Kawisa Reysol and finished his playing career in the USA's MLS club Chicago Fire.

In Part 6 of the Legends of World Football, we'll take a look at the former Soviet Union and their best ever players, featuring the greatest goalkeeper in the history of football, Lev Yashin - "The Black Panther".


Part 6 - To Russia with Lev.
January 25th, 2004.

In part 6 of Legends of World Football …according to Gunner we examine football in the former Soviet Union and four of its greatest ever players, with a special tribute to the world's greatest ever goalkeeper, Lev Yashin.

The Soviet Union won 2 gold medals in football - in 1956 at the Melbourne Olympic Games defeating Yugoslavia 1-0 in the final, and in 1998 at the Seoul Olympic Games defeating Brazil 2-1 in the final.

NOTE: The gold medal deciding match at the Melbourne Olympic Games was played in early December 1956 at the MCG before a crowd exceeding 120,000. All reports of this match describe it as a capacity crowd. I can prove that this is untrue because I have an unused reserved ticket from this match (in the Northern Stand section D2, row L seat 4) that belongs to my mum. Mrs. Gunner paid 11 shillings for it but wasn't able to attend! According to my calculations, the Games organising committee owes her a refund with compound interest of $194.03 - so how about it Harry Madden, Minister for Things Done on Turf? You're blowing half a billion bucks OF OUR MONEY to knock down that stand and build a new one with the same capacity, so what's a measly $194 to you?

The Soviet Union won the first-ever European Championship in Paris in 1960 defeating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final, and was runner-up in 1964 in Rome to Spain, in 1972 in Brussels to West Germany, and in 1988 in Munich to the Netherlands.

Countries of the former Soviet Union nowadays are more closely linked to UEFA and many players feature in the top European leagues. Ukrainian nationals such as current-day players Andrei Kanchelskis, Andrei Shevchenko and Oleg Luzhny continue to enjoy fine careers at the highest level.

FOOTBALL IN RUSSIA
Football in Russia is governed by the Russian Football Federation which was founded in 1922 in the former USSR and admitted into FIFA (as the Soviet Union) in the same year.

Russia's football achievements as closely linked to the former Soviet state - and its highest honours in European, Olympic and World Cup competitions have all been earned as part of the USSR. Indeed the last time a Soviet team appeared at the European Championships, in 1988, they were runners-up to the Netherlands losing the final 2-0 in Munich.

But football actually emerged in Russia under the old Tsarist régime, with regional leagues in most major cities. The major league was centred on the old imperial capital St. Petersburg. By 1912, an all-Russian league emerged and it entered a team in the Stockholm Olympic Games, where Finland eliminated them in the first round. In a match against Germany in the same year, Russia was defeated 16-0.

Following the Bolshevik revolution, the Communist authorities reorganised football to more closely reflect the 'Soviet way of life'. The Soviets shunned individual flair, with the emphasis on teamwork. The football epicentre shifted to Moscow - the Soviet capital. Moscow had five powerful football clubs that emerged - based on trade-based workers' clubs who had sports teams. The clubs were Dinamo representing electrical trades, Spartak for producers' co-operatives, Torpedo for car and machinery manufacturing, Lokomotiv for railway workers, and CSKA for the army. This model was replicated on other major population centres and by 1936 a pan-Soviet league had been formed, although football was dominated by the Moscow clubs until well into the 1960s.

Until the 1950s, the Soviet national team had barely existed, but they began to venture out with the formation of their Eastern-bloc satellite states in Europe, and later in the decade they began to compete in major international tournaments. So in 1956 they won the Olympic gold medal, and in their first attempt at the World Cup tournament in 1958 they reached the quarterfinals. With the likes of some of the greatest stars of Soviet football, they had made an impact on the world stage. Stars of that era included their inspirational captain Igor Netto, along with Nikita Simonian (an Armenian who grew up in Georgia), Valentin Ivanov, and the greatest of goalkeepers Lev Yashin.

The Soviet Union entered the inaugural European Championship in 1960 in Paris and they won it - so they were reigning Olympic and European Champions in the lead-up to the Rome Olympic Games. It hailed what looked like a promising era for Soviet football. Yet with all the talent at their disposal, they didn't win another major tournament for 28 years until the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

They lost the final of the European Championship in 1964 to Spain, reached the semi-finals in 1968, and in 1972 lost the final to West Germany. After their quarterfinal appearance at the 1958 World Cup, they again reached the quarterfinals in 1962, and the semi-finals in 1966 where they finished third.

In the 1970s the Soviet Union went into decline on the football pitch, failing to qualify for the World Cup tournaments in 1974 and 1978. Strangely during this period, they had a player widely regarded as their greatest-ever, Oleg Blokhin (who is in fact a Ukrainian). In the 1980s they re-emerged into international contention, but could not get beyond the World Cup second round in either 1982 or 1986. But in 1988, they made the European Championship final and won the Olympic gold medal in the same year - although much of this Soviet team comprised players from Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv.

No Russian team has ever won a major international tournament, in spite of their dominance in domestic Soviet football. However, two Soviet teams have won. Ukrainian team Dynamo Kyiv won the European Cup-winners' Cup in 1975 and again in 1986, and Georgian team Dynamo Tbilisi won it in 1981.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, they played off in the 1992 European Championships as the transitionary 'Commonwealth of Independent States'. Soon afterwards the 15 former Soviet republics reorganised themselves into separate independent nations each joining FIFA in their own right and the majority been accepted into UEFA.

Russia qualified for the 1994 World Cup tournament, and even though they failed to get past the group stage, their striker Oleg Salenko scored what remains a tournament record 5 goals in a match against Cameroon. They failed to qualify for the 1998 tournaments and fared poorly finishing third in their group in 2002. Similarly, they failed to qualify for Euro 2000, but will be in Portugal for Euro 2004.

Below are four of Soviet football's best ever players, ending with a special tribute to the great Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin.

Oleg Blokhin
Oleg Blokhin was born on November 5 1952 in Kiev, Ukraine and is regarded as the best Soviet player of all time. He began his playing career as an outside-left with Dynamo Kyiv. He is renowned as much for his blistering pace as well as his deadly striking capability as a central attacker, and was instrumental in the Soviet Union's resurgence in European football in the 1980s. He could well have been a star of the athletic track such was his sprinting talent.

Blokhin was European Footballer of the Year in 1975 following his brilliant domestic and international season with Dynamo Kyiv. His electric pace and superb striking skills guided them to a 3-0 win over Hungarian side Ferencvaros in the European Cup-winners' Cup final that year, scoring one of Dynamo's three goals.

Blokhin's international career with the Soviet Union saw him become the first Soviet player to surpass 100 appearances. By the end of his international career he amassed a record 109 appearances and a record 39 goals for the Soviet team. He played at the World Cup tournament in Spain in 1982, and again in 1986 in Mexico, as a central striker.

Blokhin won a second European Cup-winners' Cup with Dynamo Kyiv in his final season there in 1986. He scored in the final at Lyons, France in their 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid. Following this magnificent career of service to both his club and country, Blokhin was "freed" by the Soviet authorities to play in the west, where he joined Austrian team Vorwärts Steyr.

After his retirement, Blokhin took up the position of manager at champion Greek club Olympiakos Piraeus.

Igor Netto
Igor Netto was born in Moscow, Russia on September 4 1930 and played his entire career at top Moscow club Spartak Moskva. As a left-half, he captained the national Soviet team between 1954 until 1963 - a period in which they emerged from isolation to become one of the most successful teams in world football.

Netto represented his country a then record 57 times and scored 4 goals in his distinguished international career. His play in midfield provided a vital link between defence and attack, and he possessed outstanding leadership skills that saw him lead by example.

Netto led the Soviet Union to their gold medal win at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 in their 1-0 win over Yugoslavia in the final. He led his national team to their first World Cup campaign in Sweden in 1958 where they finished in the quarterfinals, but injury restricted him to play just one match in the tournament.

His greatest success was to lead his national team to their win in the inaugural European Championship in 1960 where they defeated Yugoslavia 1-0 in the final in Paris. He returned to the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile four years later and played in all of the USSR's four matches where they again reached the quarterfinals.

In his club career, Netto played 367 games for Spartak and scored 37 goals. He played there for his entire career and led them to five pan-Soviet championships.

Nikita Simonian
Nikita Simonian was born on October 12 1926 in the southern Soviet republic of Armenia. He began his playing career in western Georgia on the coast of the Black Sea, and moved to Moscow in 1946 to join Kiliria Sovieta.

Simonian was a small and devilishly quick centre forward, whose prolific goal scoring set records in the Soviet Union's domestic league. He was part of the first generation of players in the early 1950s who emerged from the Soviet Union's international isolationism to launch them into international prominence. He was a highly skilled attacker who scored 12 goals in an international career of 23 matches.

Three years after moving to Moscow, he joined Spartak Moskva in 1949. The following season, he scored 34 goals in the Soviet Supreme league - a season record that stood for over three decades until Oleg Protasov broke it in the 1980s. He scored a then-record 142 goals in a career of 265 league matches in the 1950s, and was the Soviet league's top scorer three times. During this period, Spartak won two Soviet cups and four league championships.

After Simonian's retirement, he coached Spartak and in 1982 he was appointed joint-manager of the Soviet Union team that contested the World Cup in Spain.

Lev Yashin
Lyova Ivanovich Yashin was born on October 22 1929 in Moscow, to a family of factory workers. In 1942 and still 12 years of age he went to work as a turner at the "Krasnyi Bogatyr" tool factory in Moscow. His first football coach was Ivan Shubin from the factory's junior football team where he started playing in 1944. In 1949 football coach Arkady Cherenyshev invited him to the Moscow Dinamo club, were he eventually played 22 seasons. Yashin maintained that as a child he wanted to be a forward but since he was always the tallest kid in his team, the coach made him play in goal.

Lev Yashin {pictured right} played his entire career for Dinamo Moscow sports club (from 1949 to 1971) winning the football league championship of the USSR five times and the Soviet Cup three times. He first appeared in the starting line-up of Dinamo on July 6, 1950, and spent his entire career there - transfers between the top clubs were greatly discouraged, especially for Dinamo since it belonged to the Soviet Interior Ministry. (He was officially listed as a police officer.)

While he played his first senior match in 1950, he didn't become the regular goalkeeper for Dinamo until 1954. In the meantime he represented the Dinamo workers club's ice hockey team and won the USSR ice hockey championship in 1953 as goalkeeper. Yashin was unable to break into the football team ahead of his mentor Alexei 'Tiger' Khomich, the then goalkeeper of the Soviet national team.

Lev Yashin made an unprecedented contribution to the game and set the modern standard for goalkeeping. He was a courageous player and a great athlete - and was among the first goalkeepers to command the entire penalty area, which he did with unmatched confidence and reliability. He was equally impressive on the goal-line with stunning reflexes and agility which made him peerless in his era. He is credited with saving a staggering 150 penalty kicks.

In 1954 Yashin debuted for the Soviet national team (which he represented 78 times), and with which he would win the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games and the 1960 European Championship. As a member of the USSR team he played in three World Cup finals (1958, 1962 and 1966). He even made his fourth trip to the World Cup finals in 1970 as the third-choice back up and an aide. Yashin is credited for four clean sheets out of 13 games played in World Cup finals. In 1971 in Moscow he played his last match for Dinamo Moscow against a team of European stars.

One of his most memorable performances was the 1963 FA Centenary match when he appeared in the 'Rest of the World XI' against England at Wembley Stadium and made a number of the breath-taking and almost unbelievable saves. He was known all over the world as the 'Black Panther' for his distinctive all-black strip, acrobatic saves and agility, and was feared by his opponents. He was also called "Black Spider" and "Black Octopus" because of his long limbs, his amazing reflexes and agility. He is described as "the most famous Soviet sportsman ever".

In 1963 Lev Yashin became the only goalkeeper to win the European Footballer of the Year Award. Eusebio, who is Portugal's greatest ever player and a contemporary of Yashin's, described him as "the peerless goalkeeper of the century".

He was awarded Order of Lenin in 1967 (the highest award of the USSR) for his outstanding service. Yashin's FIFA testimonial match was held at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow with 100,000 fans attending, and a galaxy of football's superstars played, including Pelé, Eusebio and Franz Beckenbauer. For a short time he coached minor league and youth teams in Finland. But he was enticed back to the USSR and was made head of the Ministry of Sport's football department, and later he became vice-president of the Soviet football association.

A bronze statue of Lev Yashin stands at Dinamo Central Stadium in Moscow. In 2000 FIFA polls placed Yashin in the "Century XI" team, and also named him 'World Goalkeeper of the Century'.

Off the pitch, Yashin was a keen fan of modern jazz music and he was proud of his extensive record collection. He was also a keen film archivist of his travels around the world.

Lev Yashin died in March 1990 of complications caused by surgery. He is remembered as a brilliant goalkeeper and a true sportsman. On his death, the Soviet news agency Tass described him as "the most famous Soviet sportsman ever". As a tribute to his outstanding goalkeeping skills, FIFA established the 'Lev Yashin Award' for the best goalkeeper of the World Cup finals.

"What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future." - Lev Yashin.

Lev Yashin's career statistics
326 games played for Dinamo Moscow main line-up
78 international matches (72 goals conceded)
13 caps at the World Cup finals (4 clean sheets)
FIFA 'Rest of the World XI' appearances (1963 vs England, 1968 vs Brazil)
FIFA testimonial match (1971)
270 career clean sheets
150 career penalty kick saves
Domestic Awards
USSR ice-hockey championship
5 USSR football championships (1954, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1963) and 5 times runner-up (1956, 1958, 1962, 1967, 1970)
3 times Soviet Cup winner (1953, 1967, 1970)
Order of Lenin (1967)
International Awards
1956 Olympic gold medal
1960 European Championship winner
1963 European Footballer of the Year "Golden Ball" Award
1964 European Championship runner-up
Olympic Order (1986)
FIFA Golden Order of Merit (1988)
FIFA 'World-Keeper of the Century' title
FIFA 'Century XI' team membership (2000)

In Part 7 of Gunner's Legends of World Football we take a look at seven of northern Europe's finest players from Scandinavia and Northern Ireland, with a special tribute to Peter Schmeichel - the Great Dane.


TRIBUTE: David Seaman - 'Safe Hands' hangs up his gloves.
Frbruary 4th, 2004.

Former Arsenal and England goalkeeper David Seaman announced his retirement from football last month. The 40-year-old, who left Highbury to join Manchester City at the end of the 2003 season, decided to end his illustrious 1,030-game career after a shoulder injury in his last game against Portsmouth on January 10.

Seaman, pictured right with the FA Cup in his last game for the Gunners in May 2003, leaves behind a long goal-keeping legacy at Highbury. Between 1990 and last season he played 564 games for Arsenal including 235 clean sheets. During that time he won 3 League titles (1991, 1998, 2002), 4 FA Cups (1993, 1998, 2002, 2003), the European Cup-Winners' Cup (1994), the League Cup (1993) and 75 England caps.

After his announcement, tributes flowed in thick and fast. Gunner would like to thank David for his outstanding contribution during his 13 years with the Gunners and wish him well for the future, which hopefully will include a role as the next goal-keeping coach at Arsenal.

"David Seaman is an Arsenal legend and deserves only the highest recognition for everything he has achieved for both club and country over the past 13 years," said Arsenal manger Arsène Wenger when Seaman left Highbury.

In his prime, Seaman was a peerless last line of defence for the Gunners. He was far from flamboyant but utterly reliable, and part of the defence that brought Arsenal so much success during the 1990s. The last decade or so is littered with magical moments from the man they dubbed "Safe Hands". His greatest moments include his penalty shoot-out heroics against Sampdoria in the 1995 European Cup-winners Cup semi-final where he saved 3 penalties! The virtuoso display in goal for England at Euro '96 and that magnificent gravity defying save against Sheffield United in last year's FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford {see picture left}. He again produced an equally amazing save in last season's FA Cup Final against Southampton.

Fans marvel at the glamorous strikers of the beautiful game, clubs reward them handsomely, and football associations mete out individual awards to them. But it's the goalies who simply take our breath away with their heroics and diving saves that often defy belief. The list of Seaman's great saves goes on and on. And while he will be remembered for those dazzling saves and performances, it was his consistency which set him apart from his contemporaries. Week in, week out, for 564 games at Arsenal, Seaman produced the goods.

When rumours of Seaman's arrival at Arsenal surfaced in 1990, the vociferous North Bank fans at Highbury urged then Arsenal manager George Graham to keep faith with the incumbent goalie, John Lukic. "We all agree, Lukic is better than Seaman," they chanted. Graham believed that Lukic was one of the top five 'keepers in England. "But David Seaman is the best," he concluded. And he was proved right, to the extent that the sight of Seaman trotting towards the North Bank or Clock End at Highbury, acknowledging the supporters, became part of the Highbury match day ritual. See picture right for Seaman's first Arsenal game in 1990.

Seaman transcended the respect shown by supporters of his own club. His displays at Euro '96 sparked standing ovations wherever he played the following season. An MBE followed for services to football, but Seaman still had plenty to offer. See pictures below of David Seaman in action for England at Euro '96 (below left), and with Tony Adams in the Gunner's 1998 Premier League championship win (below right).

Seaman was as authoritative as ever as Arsenal won the Double in 1998 and 2002. And last year, Seaman proved that if you're good enough, you're young enough with yet more heroics as Arsenal won the FA Cup again. During the 1,000th appearance of his career, Seaman produced a breathtaking save - one of his finest ever - to deny Sheffield United a late equaliser in the semi-final at Old Trafford. Another fine stop kept Southampton at bay in the final last May and ensured that Seaman would end his Arsenal career in a fitting manner - with yet another trophy in his arms.

Seaman may have hung up his gloves but the song which best sums up his contribution still has plenty of mileage. 'One-nil to the Arsenal' was homage to the Gunner's inpregnability as they marched towards European glory in the 90s. That song gets an airing whenever Arsenal takes the lead these days. But without Seaman's influence, the chant may never have seen the light of day!

Career highlights
After 23 years in the top-flight of English football and 1,030 senior games "Safe Hands" at the age of 40 has finally called time on a distinguished career.

David Seaman has been one of the Premiership's top goalkeepers, has served his country well (despite the costly error against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals) and has always been a consummate professional.

After failing to make a single appearance with Leeds United in 1981/82, whom he supported since boyhood, his journey took him to Peterborough United (Aug 82 - Oct 84 for 106 games), Birmingham City (Oct 84 - Aug 86 for 84 games), Queens Park Rangers (Aug 86 - May 90 for 175 games) before he settled at Arsenal in May 1990.

At Highbury, Seaman struck up a close relationship with former Arsenal goalkeeping legend Bob Wilson. The pair have endured the highs and lows of Seaman's career at club and international level. Perhaps it is only the mistakes that stick in the mind for some, like Nayim's audacious lob from the half-way line that eluded Seaman and cost the Gunners the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1995. Gaffes against Germany and Macedonia in qualifying for the 2002 World and Euro 2004 respectively also seem easy to remember.

But it is not hard to recall the extraordinary save Seaman made in last season's FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United. His sensational one-handed stop from Paul Peschisolido was hailed at the time as one of the best ever saves in footballing history.

Seaman played over 1,000 club and international matches and was awarded the MBE in 1996, the year he emerged as a hero for his penalty saves - most notably against Scotland and then Spain in a memorable shoot-out during the European Championship. His penalty heroics during Euro 96 when he helped England reach the semi-finals after saving Spain's Miguel Angel Nadal's spot-kick in the quarter-final, elevated him to national hero status.

His last game for Arsenal was last May's FA Cup final when Arsène Wenger's side beat Southampton 1-0 with Seaman - captain for the day - making a stunning save in the match's closing stages.

He ended his career at Manchester City where he made 26 appearances between August 2003 and January 2004.

This year saw Seaman launch a television career by becoming a panellist on the sports quiz show They Think It's All Over.

Tributes flow thick and fast
Manchester City manager, Kevin Keegan said of Seaman, "His record is incredible and his achievements unbelievable but most importantly I will remember him as an ultimate professional who cared about others."

Seaman's mentor and former coach Bob Wilson at Arsenal delivered a glowing tribute of his glittering career, saying, "I think it's an absolute certainty that he will become a goalkeeping coach. I think his main aim will be to give back to the game what he got out of it - and that is of course an enormous amount, nine winning medals at major levels and seven runners-up medals. He wants to give back to youngsters at a time when the goalkeeping art is more difficult than it's ever been. He will be a fantastic ambassador for goalkeeping."

Wilson felt Seaman was right not to retire after the 2002 World Cup, which ended in disappointment for the England goalie when he was caught off his line by Ronaldinho as Brazil progressed to the semi-finals. Wilson said, "I think back on the way he performed in Arsenal winning the FA Cup last season, where he was instrumental in two truly amazing saves, one from Sheffield United's Paul Peschisolido and one from Southampton's Brett Ormerod in the final.

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson also paid tribute to Seaman, saying, "David has been a tremendous professional in a career spanning three decades. His name is recognised and respected all over the world. I am glad to have had the pleasure of working with David and I know he has earned a place in England's history and he still has much to offer the game in the future."

Seaman was one of the world's best at his peak and will be remembered as a great sportsman. FIFA and UEFA acknowledged him as the top keeper in the world after Euro '96 and he had a spell of two or three years when he and Peter Schmeichel reigned supreme throughout the world.

The final word - Seaman on Seaman
Quotes from "Safe Hands: My autobiography" by David Seaman.

On being released by Leeds in 1982 - "I could not take it in. They were not renewing my contract. A month short of my 19th birthday I was out in the cold. It looked like my dream was over. I went back home and cried my eyes out. What was I going to do now?"

On signing for Birmingham in 1984 and having his first training session in front of the television cameras - "After putting me through that ordeal, [Birmingham manager Ron Saunders] turned around and said to the camera, 'That lad will play for England in three years'."

On moving to Arsenal from QPR in 1990 - "I talked to Ray Wilkins, who was at QPR then, and he told me to choose Arsenal as I would win things straight away with the team they had. As it turned out he was right on the button. And that is what it was about - winning things, not money."

On winning the title with the Gunners in 1991 - "Liverpool had lost 1-0. When we came out of the tunnel for our usual pre-match warm-up [at Highbury for the game against Nottingham Forest played later that day] the crowd gave us a tremendous reception. I can remember running out with clenched fists raised. It was a tremendous feeling."

On playing through the pain against Parma in the Cup-winners Cup final win of 1994 - "Zola has such quick feet and can hit the ball early to surprise goalies. This time he fired in a typically quick, fierce shot. I had to go full stretch to tip it over the bar. It was on my right side too where the ribs were cracked so it proved the injections worked as well as keeping us in the lead and on our way to winning the cup."

On saving three penalties in the Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final in 1995 - "Against Sampdoria, I just watched the way [their players] ran up to the spot. I focused on guessing the right way and not moving too early so that I make the taker's mind up for him. After that it is just a case of trying to get something on the ball. A hand, foot, knee, elbow - it does not matter as long as it keeps the ball out of the net. My theory worked in this game, I saved three penalties."

On saving penalties again, this time the winning one from Nadal of Spain at Euro 96 - "Ironically the save was a fairly comfortable one to my left. I was not even at full stretch. And when I'd made it I was not absolutely sure we had won. Watching the video later I could see myself hesitate for a moment but then spot all the other players coming towards me like that scene in Zulu when the warriors come over the hill towards Rorke's Drift. At that moment I knew it was all over - and it was too."

On Arsène Wenger's arrival at Arsenal - "We did not know much about him although we had heard players like Glenn Hoddle, Mark Hateley and Chris Waddle all saying fantastic things about their experience of playing for him at Monaco."

On celebrating at Islington Town Hall after winning the Double in 1998 - "[Those trips] are always a big thrill. One of my favourite photos is Tony [Adams] out on the ledge holding up the two trophies with thousands of fans in the background."

On getting personal honours - "When I went up to receive my MBE, the Queen said, 'You're the footballer aren't you?' Arsenal had played the night before and she was obviously well-briefed because she mentioned it. We must have lost because I can remember saying, "Just don't ask me the result". She had a chuckle at that and there is a picture of us both laughing."


LEGENDS: Part 7 - Northern stars shine brightly.
March 25th, 2004.

In part 7 of Legends of World Football …according to Gunner, we examine football in some of Europe's northernmost countries - Denmark, Sweden, Wales and Northern Ireland - and ten of their greatest ever players. Special tribute is paid to three players - George Best of Northern Ireland, John Charles of Wales, and Peter Schmeichel of Denmark.

Football in the British Isles and Scandinavia has a long tradition. Given that they are among England's nearest neighbours, it didn't take long for the English game of the 19th century to spread there.

Northern Ireland
Football in Northern Ireland is governed by the Irish Football Association (IFA) which was founded in 1880 - the fourth oldest football association in the world. As well, Northern Ireland has a league which is the world's third oldest - only the English and Scottish leagues predate it. The IFA joined FIFA in 1911 but withdrew in 1920 as part of a British-bloc that disagreed with the inclusion of former WW1 enemies. It rejoined FIFA briefly between 1924 and 1928, and has been a member since 1946. The IFA comprises one of the eight members of the International Football Association Board, which governs the Laws of the game.

While Northern Ireland has been involved in 'international' matches since 1889, it was not until 1951 when France played them in Belfast that they played against a non-British country. Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup finals in 1958 and reached the quarterfinals. Despite the presence of George Best in the 1960s and 1970s they failed to again emulate their 1958 feat. They again emerged as World Cup finalists in 1982 and 1986, largely due to the brilliance of their then goalkeeper Pat Jennings

Wales
Football in Wales is governed by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) which was founded in 1876 - the third oldest football association in the world - only the (English) FA (1863) and Scottish FA (1873) predate it. The FA of Wales joined FIFA in 1911 but withdrew in 1920. It rejoined FIFA between 1924 and 1928, and has been a member since 1946. The FA of Wales comprises one of the eight members of the International Football Association Board, which governs the Laws of the game.

Football is secondary to Rugby Union as Wales' predominant football code, but football has been growing since 1992 when a national league was formed and its champion qualified for Uefa club football. Despite this, Wales' two biggest clubs - Cardiff and Swansea continue to play in the England's league. Wales was a football power in the 1950s and reached the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup when John Charles was their leading player. Since then, it has produced a number of champion players including Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs.

Sweden
Football in Sweden is governed by the Svensk Fotbollforblundet which was founded in 1904 and joined FIFA as a foundation member in the same year. Sweden has long been Scandinavia's top football country with a national league formed in 1925 and dominated by Gothenburg clubs GAIS, IFK and Orgryte, and Stockholm clubs AIK and Djurgardens. The national team began in 1908 and in the ensuing years they had their best-ever striker Sven Rydell who scored 49 goals in 43 international appearances.

Sweden again emerged as a power in the late 1940s under the famous forward trio of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (known collectively as Gre-No-Li). They won the Olympic gold medal in 1948 defeating Yugoslavia 3-1 at London's Wembley Stadium, and soon afterwards the famous Gre-No-Li trio joined Italian club AC Milan. Sweden's strict amateur code barred them from playing for their country, yet without them Sweden still managed third placed in the 1950 World Cup with the emergence of a new star, Nacka Skoglund.

The professional ban was lifted in the late 1950s and with a full contingent to choose from Sweden were runners-up to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup - losing the final 5-2. Sweden re-emerged as a power in the 1970s with appearances at three successive World Cup tournaments and a new star - Bjorn Nordqvist.

In 1979 Swedish club Malmö reached the European Cup final in Munich, losing 1-0 to England's Nottingham Forest. And in 1982 IFK Gothenburg won the Uefa Cup defeating Hamburg SV 1-0 at home and 3-0 in the away leg in Germany. IFK again won the Uefa Cup in 1987 by defeating Scotland's Dundee United 1-0 at home and drawing 1-1 away.

In 1992 Sweden were semi finalists in the European Championships and in 1994 they were third-placed in the World Cup. Nowadays Sweden boasts many top players in Europe's élite leagues including Henrik Larsson at Celtic and Fredrik Ljungberg at Arsenal, as well as the coach of the English national team Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Denmark
Football in Denmark is governed by the Dansk Boldspil-Union which was founded in 1889 and joined FIFA as a foundation member in 1904. It is one of the first countries outside of Britain to embrace the world game and has some of the world's oldest football clubs. From great beginnings - it was Olympic champion in 1906, and silver medallist in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games - Danish football fell into decline when the rest of the world adopted professionalism. Denmark again won the silver medal at the 1960 Olympics - losing the final in Rome 3-1 to Yugoslavia.

Denmark's policy until 1976 of adhering to a strict code of amateurism and barring its foreign based players from the national team held it back considerably. Danish players in the 1970s were enjoying great success in the top European leagues, yet the likes of Allan Simonsen (1977 European Footballer of the Year), Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjaer, Morten Olsen, Jesper Olsen and Soren Lerby were not in the national team. After the ban was lifted, these players formed the nucleus of a team that reached the semi-finals of the 1984 European Championship and performed well at the 1986 World Cup.

Nevertheless, from the land of Hans Christian Andersen comes one of the greatest fairytales in the history of football - the European Championships in 1992. A new generation of Danish stars featuring Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel were part of a national team that were last-minute replacements for the expelled Yugoslavian team at the 1992 finals. They ended-up winning the tournament!

Below are ten of the best players from northern Europe.

George Best (Northern Ireland)
George Best was born in Ulster on May 22 1946. He is arguably the best British footballer of all time and was a world-renowned player in the late 1960s even though he never appeared at a World Cup tournament.

Best {pictured right} joined English club Manchester United as a teenager, under the management of the legendary Matt Busby. He was part of the league championship team in the 1964-65 season - a championship winner before his 19th birthday!

He was also part of the Manchester United team that won the championship again in the 1966-67 season, alongside the great Bobby Charlton.

The following season Busby's Manchester United side with George Best won the European Cup - beating Portuguese club Benfica 4-1 in the final at London's Wembley Stadium. The Red Devils became the first English club to win the coveted trophy, and Best scored one of their four goals that day.

Also in 1968, George Best was named European Footballer of the Year, and by this stage had just turned 22 years of age. He was a talented football player who had ascended to a status usually reserved for a rock musician, movie star or cult hero.

Best, as a football player, had everything. He was a slightly framed player who skillfully played with remarkable poise and balance on the pitch. He had a surprisingly high leap for a short man, an opportunist's eye for goal and an unsurpassed finish. He could kick equally well with either foot and was able to cut through a team's defence with apparent ease. Simply, George Best made it look easy.

Without doubt, Best was a genius on the football pitch. But the temptations of the fame and fortune that were deservedly heaped upon him from an age began to take their toll. Best was often described as a 'wayward genius' - which seemed to be an apt description. The distractions of the world outside of football saw him retire prematurely while still in his 20s.

Best made a comeback with English club Fulham, then again retired before yet another comeback with Edinburgh club Hibernian. By this stage Best was unable to focus on his football and the accolades of his youth and the temptations that come with them were too much for him to regain the sparkling form he exhibited in his days at Manchester United. Best made one more comeback in the American league with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Pat Jennings (Northern Ireland)
Pat Jennings was born on June 12 1945 in Ulster. He is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in British football. Jennings made a record 119 appearances in the Northern Ireland national team - the last being against Brazil at the 1986 World Cup on his 41st birthday.

He played over one thousand senior matches beginning with Newry Town in Northern Ireland, before moving to England to join Watford. He later moved to Tottenham Hotspur, and won the FA Cup in 1967, beating Chelsea 2-1 in the final. In the following season, in the traditional English season opener - the Charity Shield usually between the League champion and the FA Cup-winner - Jennings remarkably scored a goal for Spurs against reigning league champions Manchester United from a clearing fly-kick.

Jennings moved from Spurs to north London rivals Arsenal, and he played in three more FA Cup finals in 1978, 1979, and 1980 with the Gunners. Jennings's second winners medal came in the 1979 FA Cup final when Arsenal defeated Manchester United 3-2.

John Charles (Wales)
John Charles was born in Sawnsea, Wales on December 27 1931. In his playing career, he was known as 'the Gentle Giant' due to his awesome physique and his outstanding fair play. He was a powerfully built man, truly a gentle giant, and was loved and admired by all who saw him play. Charles had the remarkable record of never having been booked or sent off in his entire, illustrious career. For many he was the most accomplished player of his time.

Without doubt, he was the finest player to have come out of Wales, and arguable the best British player to have played in a foreign league. He was held in the highest esteem in his native country as well as in England and Italy where he played for Leeds United, Juventus and AS Roma.

Charles left school at 15 to join Swansea Football Club's ground staff. Three years later - in 1949 when he was only 17 - he was talent-spotted by Leeds United. He quickly broke into the first team and made his debut playing against Blackburn.

His initial career with Leeds was as a defender, but it soon became clear that his future was in the forward line. Charles scored more than 150 goals in eight years for Leeds, including 42 in 39 appearances in the 1953-4 season. In that season at Leeds United, when he scored a club record of 42 goals as a centre forward, at the same time he played as a central defender in the Welsh national team.

In 1957, Italian club Juventus paid Leeds United a then-record £67,000 for his transfer. The famous bianconeri of Turin got a bargain for their investment. Charles became a legend of the Italian game - helping Juventus win three 'Serie A' championships in 5 seasons. In 155 games for the Turin club, Charles scored 93 goals - an amazing record for Italian football that's renowned for it's watertight defensive tactics.

Dubbed "il Buono Gigante" (the Gentle Giant) by Italian fans, he also scored 15 goals in 38 appearances for Wales. He played in the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup, starring in the 1958 finals. A painting of John Charles hangs on the walls of the players' lounge in the Juventus club's Stadio delle Alpi.

In August 1962 he returned to Leeds but his stay only lasted until October. He played in just 11 games and scored only three goals. He wanted to return to the winning form, which had made him such an asset in Italy. So in November 1962 he moved to AS Roma who paid £70,000 for him.

A year later he returned to his native Wales, where he joined Cardiff City (who are part of the 92 teams in the English league) and played alongside his brother Mel. He retired from league football in 1966. Between 1966 and 1971, disillusioned with the top-flight of football, he became the player/manager for non-league club Hereford United.

In 1971 he took over the running of a pub on the outskirts of Leeds. In 1999 he was awarded the MBE in recognition of his contribution to the world of football. He was awarded the CBE in 2001. Further recognition of his achievements came in March 2002 when he was given the freedom of his home city of Swansea.

In 2002, he was made a vice president of the Football Association of Wales. John Charles died on 21 February 2004, aged 72. Such was the esteem in which he was held as a player, that memorial services for him were held in Leeds, Turin and Cardiff.

Leeds issued a club statement expressing their sadness at the death of Charles. "He was widely regarded as one of the greatest players the game of football has known," it read.

Former Leeds United legend and England centre half Jack Charlton remarked how he was overawed by Charles when he arrived at Leeds as a player. "I had just arrived at Elland Road and they were all talking about John Charles," said Charlton. "He was quick, he was strong, he could run with the ball. He was half the team in himself. He was tremendous."

Gunnar Gren (Sweden)
Gunnar Gren was born on October 31 1920 in Sweden. He was an astute forward who captured international attention when Sweden won the gold medal at the London Olympic Games of 1948. He was known in his playing days as "the Professor".

Gren began his playing career with Swedish club IFK Gothenburg, where he won the Swedish league championship in 1942. He moved to AC Milan at the age of 28, after a drawn-out struggle among Italian clubs to secure his transfer. Along with Gren, AC Milan gained the services of his compatriots Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, collectively known as the legendary "Gre-No-Li" trio. They took Italian football by storm.

Gren also played briefly for Fiorentina in Italy. He returned to Sweden in 1955 to play for the Orgryte club and then with GAIS Gothenburg. At the age of 37, Gren represented Sweden in the 1958 World Cup tournament and was a major reason for their appearance in the World Cup final, which was the last of his 57 international matches.

Gren ended his playing career with his original club IFK, and later worked for the club as an administrator.

Nils Liedholm (Sweden)
Nils Liedholm was born on October 8 1922 in Sweden. He played as a forward for Norrköping in the Swedish league, winning two championships. He was also part of the Sweden national team that won the gold medal at the London Olympic Games of 1948. He played 18 internationals for Sweden in the 1940s as an outside-left.

Along with his compatriots Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl, he moved to Italy and AC Milan in 1948. Liedholm scored 60 goals in 367 league matches for AC Milan. He began as a forward and later played as a wing-half for the famous rossoneri. Later in his career, he became a highly effective defensive sweeper.

In 1958 he captained the Swedish national team that were runners-up in the World Cup to Brazil. He retired after the tournament and returned to AC Milan as the coach of their youth team.

Liedholm took charge of the AC Milan senior team in 1964, and later managed Fiorentina and AS Roma.

Gunnar Nordahl (Sweden)
Gunnar Nordahl was born on October 19 1921 in the northern Swedish town of Hornefors. Nordahl was a prolific goal scorer throughout his playing career. He began his football as a centre forward with local club Degerfors where he scored 77 in just 58 games.

This brought him to the notice of Norrköping. At one stage, Nordahl was one of five brothers playing in the Swedish first division. At Norrköping he won four consecutive league championships and scored 93 goals in 92 matches.

He was part of the Swedish national team that won the gold medal at the London Olympic Games of 1948. Along with Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm, Nordahl was lured to AC Milan where he was the centrepiece of this attacking trio. At AC Milan, he was the Italian league's top goal-scorer for five seasons.

Nordahl later moved to AS Roma. He retired in 1957, aged 35. In 257 matches in the Italian league, Nordahl scored 225 goals.

Bjorn Nordqvist (Sweden)
Bjorn Nordqvist was born on October 6 1942 in Sweden. He holds the record of 115 international appearances for the Swedish national team between 1963 and 1978.

Nordqvist began his playing career at IFK Hallsberg. He later moved to Norrköping where he won two Swedish league championships and one Swedish Cup. In the 1970s, the Swedish league still comprised part time players who were either amateurs or semi-professionals.

So in 1974, Nordqvist decided to turn full-time professional and was lured to Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. He was part of the Dutch league championship team in his first season at PSV. In the 1970s he was part of the three Swedish World Cup teams in 1970, 1974 and 1978.

He later returned briefly to Sweden with IFK Gothenburg, and then moved to the North American Soccer League to play for the Minnesota Kicks. Nordqvist ended his playing career in Sweden with Orgryte.

Michael Laudrup (Denmark)
Michael Laudrup was born on June 15 1964 in Denmark, the son of Finn Laudrup - a former Danish international player. His younger brother Brian Laudrup also played for Denmark. Michael Laudrup was a champion forward at Brondby in the Danish league and attracted plenty of interest from the top European clubs.

He was eventually signed by Italian giant Juventus, but first played in the Italian league with Roman club Lazio - on loan from Juventus. Laudrup was later recalled by Juventus when they traded their Polish star Zbigniew Boniek to AS Roma at the end of the 1984/85 season in the shadow of the disastrous Heysel Stadium European Cup final where Juventus won 1-0 over Liverpool.

This gave Laudrup the opportunity to play alongside the great French player Michel Platini. Laudrup enjoyed instant success with the biaconeri, scoring in their 1985 World Club Cup victory over Argentinos Juniors in Tokyo.

Laudrup eventually moved to Barcelona and was part of their European Cup win in 1992 at Wembley Stadium in London.

His international career with Denmark earned him the reputation as one of Denmark's best ever players. He was a star at the 1986 World Cup tournament in Mexico. Sadly, he missed Denmark's greatest moment of international glory when they won the 1992 European Championship. He had fallen out with then Danish national team manager Richard Moller Nielsen and wasn't selected for the tournament.

He was again in the spotlight of international football at the 1998 World Cup tournament in France and was named in FIFA's team of the tournament.

Laudrup later played for Real Madrid, then moved to Japan to play for Vissel Kobe. He finished his playing career in the Netherlands with Ajax Amsterdam.

Brian Laudrup (Denmark)
Brian Laudrup is the younger brother of Michael Laudrup. He was born in Denmark on February 22 1969. He starred in Denmark's 1992 European Championship triumph.

He began playing with Danish club Brondby as a teenager in 1988 and was part of their Danish Cup-winning team at the end of that season. He then moved to Bayer Uerdigen before a brief time in Germany with Bayern Munich. From there he moved to Italy's Fiorentina and then to AC Milan, but with little personal success.

Brian Laudrup's move to Glasgow Rangers put his career back on track, and he became the first foreigner to win the Player of the Year award in Scotland. He then moved to London club Chelsea, before returning home to Denmark with FC Kobenhavn.

In his playing career in the Danish league, he won the Player of the Year award in Denmark for a record three times. Brian Laudrup eventually joined his brother Michael in the Netherlands with Ajax Amsterdam.

Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
Peter Schmeichel was born in Gladaxe, Denmark on November 18 1963. Known as the 'Great Dane', he made his name as a world-class goalkeeper with England's Manchester United. He began his playing career with Denmark's Hvidovre IF club, before joining Brondby.

In 1987, Schmeichel was almost recruited by English club Newcastle United but they considered him too inexperienced for the English league.

He was eventually signed by Manchester United in 1991 for a transfer fee of £600,000 - a bargain! He immediately made an impact at Old Trafford. {See picture right}.

Schmeichel was internationally capped for Denmark 128 times, and he was the star of the tournament when Denmark stunningly won the European Championship in 1992.

His saves at critical times in the semifinal against the Netherlands and against Germany in the final elevated him to the status of best goalkeeper in the world.

He also starred for Denmark when they reached the World Cup quarterfinals in 1998.

At Manchester United, his shot-stopping skills and authoritative presence between the sticks helped the Red Devils become the dominant force in English football. Schmeichel collected five league championships and three FA Cups during his eight-year stint at Old Trafford.

But his finest moment came when he captained United in their 1999 European Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona. That dramatic victory in the Nou Camp at Barcelona sealed a historic treble in his final game for the club. {See picture left}.

He then joined Sporting Lisbon in Portugal for two seasons, and won a Portuguese league championship there in the 1999/2000 season. Schmeichel returned to the English Premier League in 2001/02 with Aston Villa, and played his final season in 2002/03 for the newly promoted Manchester City.

In Part 8 of the Legends of World Football series, we examine the African game and six of its greatest legends, with a special tribute for Mozambique's legendary O Reithe great Eusebio Da Silva Ferreira - the king of Portuguese football.