One of the reasons that I shy away from picking 'all time XIs' is that I have seen the difficulties that it has got other people into. 
Here is an example. 
The Royal Mail issued 11 stamps to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the  Football Association. All 4 Nations of the UK were represented. Here is the XI:
Back row: Jimmy Greaves, John Charles, Gordon Banks, George Best, John Barnes.
Front row: Kevin Keegan, Denis Law, Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Dave Mackay, Bobby Charlton. 

11 great players- their international careers spanning the years 1950 (John Charles) to 1995 (John Barnes). That's 45 years out of 150 (or 139 years of international football).
There's my first criticism.
Secondly, of course, selection. Here a re a few names to think about: Kenny Dalglish, Ryan Giggs, Stanley Matthews, Dixie Dean, Geoff Hurst, Peter Shilton, Pat Jennings, Cliff Jones, Steve Bloomer, Bob Crompton, Alex James, Cliff Bastin and on and on and on...
Thirdly, a team is not just 11 great players one of whom is a goalkeeper. There's only one defender in the XI, although John Charles was a formidable centre back as well as a centre forward. Brian Clough converted the older Dave Mackay into a sweeper... so at a push we could have a back three of a sweeper and two centre backs... Barnes and Best had many qualities, but they wouldn't be likely to do too much defensive work. 


Sir Bobby Charlton

Early in his career when the WM formation was still prevalent, Bobby Charlton featured at inside right, inside left, centre forward and even outside left . Wherever he played, he scored goals. He had a devastating shot and was a powerful header of the ball.
In 810 first class appearances he scored 263 goals.
He remains England's highest scorer in internationals with 49 goals.
During Charlton's career the formations employed moved away from the WM. At the height of his success Manchester United used a 4-3-3 formation with Charlton playing in central midfield, albeit wearing the number 9 jersey. England's famous 'wingless wonders' was actually more of a 4-1-3-2, (in which Stiles played in front of the back 4 and Charlton played deeper than the front men). His powerful acceleration and ability to unleash unstoppable shots from 35 yards made him particularly dangerous in this position. 

In the technicolour age when footballers became playboy soccer stars there was a traditional familiarity about Charlton's anti flash muscularity- he seemed to represent a link with a bygone era. 

Sir Bobby Charlton was manager and then player manager of Preston North End 1973-75


El Flaco

Your obligation isn't to be world champion, your obligation is to know what the game is about.
César Luis Menotti


Hasan Salihamidžić

Your first season at Bayern has gone well. 43 first team appearances, 5 goals . You win the Bundesliga. You play in 30 of the 34 matches. 
You're on the bench for the Champion's League Final.You are 1-0 up. In the 90th minute the coach brings off Mario Basler and sends you on, in the 90th minute of the final. The Champion's League Final, in the 90th minute, when you are 1-0 up...


Crvena Zvezda

Red Star Belgrade with the European Cup.  In the 1991 final they beat Olympique Marseille 5-3 on penalties.


Rodney Marsh

Rodney Marsh joined Fulham in 1962. He made 68 appearances, scoring 22 goals.

In March 1966 Marsh signed for 3rd division Queens Park Rangers.
During his time at the club they climbed into the 1st division and won the League Cup (1967).
Marsh made 242 appearances for Rangers and scored 134 goals.

March 1972- QPR were back in division 2 and they sold Marsh to  Manchester City for £200,000. Marsh reckons that he cost City the championship that season. 
Marsh scored 47 goals in 152 appearances for City, but won no major honours and found him self increasingly at odds with the establishment.  He was transfer listed after criticizing manger Tony Book.
Marsh played briefly in Ireland for Cork Hibernians  before moving to the USA where he played for Tampa Bay Rowdies. 

The Rowdies owner had said  Rodney Marsh was known as the white Pelé. Marsh turned this around and said that Pelé was known as the black Rodney Marsh.

Marsh returned to Fulham, then in the second division , in August 1976. He made 22 appearances and scored 6 goals before retiring and returning to the USA. 

Marsh was never going to be the sort of player to fit into the England set up. Sir Alf Ramsey gave him 9 caps, and he scored 1 international goal. Don Revie's appointment as England head coach ended his chances of international football.


Legends of Ukrainian Football...

In 2011 Ukrainian Football Patriots selected 4 Legends of Ukrainian Football-  3 players from the Soviet era...

Vitaliy Starukhin (1949-2000)
Shakhtar Donetsk 
Soviet Union 19801 appearance 
Master of Sport of the USSR 1983

Oleh 'Oleg' Blokhin (b.1952)
Dynamo Kiev  
Soviet Union 1972–1988- 112 appearances 42 goals
Ballon d'Or 1975
Merited Master of Sport of the USSR 1975

Igor Belanov (b.1960)
Chornomorets Odessa & Dynamo Kiev
Soviet Union 1985–1990- 33 appearances goals 
Merited Master of Sport of the USSR 1986

The fourth Legend of Ukrainian Football is Valeriy Lobanovskyi, of whom more later...


Peñarol 1960


Copa Libertadores de (da) América was first contested in 1960
7 teams took part:
Bahia  (Brazil), 
Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia),  
Millonarios (Colombia), 
Olimpia (Paraguay), 
Peñarol (Uruguay), 
San Lorenzo (Argentina) 
Universidad de Chile (Chile).

Peñarol faced Olimpia in the final. Peñarol won the first leg at Estadio Centenario 1-0, with a goal from Alberto Spencer. The return leg finished 1-1, Luis Cubilla getting Peñarol's goal in the 83rd minute. 


Nottingham Forest

One of those things that I just can't imagine happening ever again. Not just to Forest, just the notion of any newly promoted team challenging for the title is unlikely enough , but to go on to win and retain the Championship of Europe as well. Unthinkable.  
The 1976–77 season saw  Nottingham Forest finish 3rd in Division 2, claiming promotion to the top flight after a 5 season absence.
1977–78- Forest won the League Championship.
1978-79- Forest won the European Cup.
1979-80-retained the European Cup.

The European Cup was then a straight knockout tournament- home and away legs until the final- meaning Forest played 9 games to become Champions of Europe. (In 1978-79 6 wins 3 draws. In 1979-80 6 wins 1 draw  2 defeats).


Dadá Maravilha

There's no such thing as an ugly goal said Dario José dos Santos, known as  Dadá Maravilha. 
When Brazil's first national championship (Primeiro Campeonato Nacional de Clubes) was played in 1971, Dadá  was top scorer , netting 17 times for Clube Atlético Mineiro (coached by Telê Santana), including the winner in the play off final vs Botafogo.
The President of Brazil, Emílio Garrastazu Médici had instructed Zagallo to take Dadá to the 1970 World Cup, but he was never a regular and made only 6 international appearances. He is however, the 4th all time highest scorer in Brazilian football,behind Pele,Friedenreich and Romario. 


Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard graduated from West Ham United's youth set up. Between 1967 and 1985 he played 660 games for West Ham at left back, scoring 22 goals.


Former national teams...

The Soviet Union- European Champions 1960, runners up 1964, 1972 & 1988.

The Commonwealth of Independent States succeeded the Soviet Union, competing at the 1992 European Championship. 

Czechoslovakia- World Cup finalists 1934 and 1962, European Champions 1976.
In the 1994 World Cup qualifiers they were known as  Representation of Czechs and Slovaks.

Yugoslavia-  European Championship runners up 1960,1968.

And 3 German teams...

East Germany (Democratic Republic)- competed at the 1974 World Cup finals.

West Germany (Federal Republic)- World Cup winners 1954, 1974,1990- 
runners up 1966,1982 & 1986. European Champions 1972, 1980 runners up 1976.

Saarland - managed by Helmut Schön,  played in the qualifiers for the 1954 World Cup and were eliminated by West Germany. Saarland was a region of western Germany occupied by France until 1956. 



Brazil's entire 22 man squad for the 1970 World Cup played for Brazilian clubs.
In 2010 Brazil sent a 23 man squad to the World Cup. The players' clubs were drawn from the following countries:
Italy 8, Spain 4,Brazil 3, Germany 2,  Portugal 2, England 1,Turkey 1, Greece 1, France 1.

In 1978 Argentina selected a World Cup squad that featured 21 players from Argentine clubs and 1 who played in Spain. 
In 2010 their squad was composed of players with clubs in the following countries:
Argentina 6, Italy 6, England 4,Spain 3, Germany 1, Portugal 1, Netherlands 1, France 1.

1982 Cameroon went to the 1982 World Cup with 16 Cameroon based players, 4 based in France and 1 each from clubs in Cote d'Ivoire and  USA.
In 2010 the selection was based as follows:
France 6, Germany 4, Spain 3, England 3,Turkey 3, Cameroon 1, Netherlands 1, Scotland 1, Italy 1.

In 1986 21 of Korea Republic's squad were based in their home country, 1 played in West Germany.
In 2010 13 of the squad were based in Korea Republic. The rest played in:  Japan 2, England 2, Germany 1, France 1,Scotland 1,  PR China 1, Saudi Arabia 1, Russia 1.


Salif Keïta...

France Football magazine introduced an award for the African footballer of the year in 1970. The first winner was Salif Keïta. He was a 24 year old forward from Mali who played for Saint-Étienne. Keïta scored over 120 goals for Saint-Étienne (1967-1972) including 42 in the 1970-71 season. The club won 3 consecutive league championships and were double winners twice.  Keïta later played for  Olympique de Marseille, Valencia and Sporting Lisbon.



The Bulgarian Georgi Asparuhov (1943 – 1971) was one of few 'Eastern Bloc' players to attract the attention of western clubs. 

Following impressive displays against Benfica in the 1966 European Cup, there were attempts to sign him, including a bid from Benfica themselves. The Bulgarian Government intervened to keep him in Sofia.
Known as Gundi, Asparuhov played for Levski Sofia from 1960 to 1961 and 1964 to 1971, and for Botev Plovdiv from 1961 to 1963. He played 245 matches and scored 150 goals in the Bulgarian first division. He represented Bulgaria 50 times (and at 3 World Cup Finals) scoring 19 goals. He was awarded The Order of Labour.
Asparuhov was killed in a car crash in June 1971, and his funeral brought crowds estimated at 500,000 to the streets of Sofia. The Levski stadium is now named in his honour.

For a study in finishing see the goal that he scored against England at Wembley in 1968- it's on You Tube.


Heavy going...

 Here's one for the nostalgists, George Best would have played a considerable proportion of his career games on frankly dreadful pitches.  Week in week out even the top first division teams turned out on quagmires or sandpits. How the players were supposed to demonstrate any ball skills in these conditions is beyond me. Even accurate passing and keeping the ball on the floor were fraught with peril. 

Wembley was supposed to be special, showcase Cup Final pitches chequer board mown, flat as bowling greens, the famous energy sapping lush turf...this was not always the case, as we can see above (Swindon Town vs Arsenal 1969) and below (Chelsea vs Leeds United 1970).

The levels of individual skill and control on show these days would have been considered otherwordly back then. The average player has more mastery over the ball and the pitches are generally far superior on a week in week out basis to the very best of surfaces of even 20 years ago. Even the lush green Azteca was bumpy- look at Carlos Alberto's 1970 World Cup Final goal- the ball bobbles up nicely for him.


Cruyff - Barcelona

There will be times when this blog might get dangerously close to being a memoir. Memoirs being notoriously unreliable and frankly often uninteresting, i will try to veer away from purely personal nostalgia.  I am however, going to explore my own understanding of football. 
West Germany versus The Netherlands wasn't the first game that I remember. I was 8 years old when it was played, and I was already interested enough. There was something profoundly influential about the match though.
My mother, 34 and thin as a corner flag, dark and with Kitty cat eye glasses...she was also a Zionist. And so on that wet Sunday afternoon we were supporting hippy Holland. I was happy enough with the arrangement. I've no idea where my father was.
I liked Johann Cruyff. I just checked myself there- in 74 we would have had a black and white TV, so the orange didn't come into the equation. 
My understanding of football exploded phenomenally in the years 1974 and 1975. 
When 1978 came around I simply couldn't understand Cruyff's absence. How could you choose not to play in a World Cup? 
But years before, closer to the 74 Final, something had puzzled me even more. Cruyff of Barcelona. I had a card- not the one above, but a colour card, showing Cruyff, looking like an ordinary boy, in the extraordinary blue and red of Barcelona. Barcelona in Spain...why would a Dutchman be living in Spain, playing football in a foreign country? It was left to my mother to explain. It was all about money. I didn't like the sound of it.  


What many people believe...

England v Rest of the World 1963

One of the reasons I kicked off this blog with a photograph of Mane Garrincha is because many people believe he was the greatest player ever... the key phrase here is many people believe. The late Sergei Melville (writing under the nome de plume Joao Kartoshka) put it in a nutshell with his 'regarding football there is no right or wrong, only opinion'.
We can never definitively select the greatest footballer ever, we can never decide which was the greatest team, we can never pick the ultimate XI. We will never tire of speculating, debating and arguing these points , championing our favourites and the ideals that they embody. This is a good thing, a great thing. It makes people happy. And yet how many of the opinions, how much of what many people believe is in fact an expression of their own opinions, drawn from their own experiences? How much is received wisdom? A great deal, I would argue.

Pelé played his last game 37 years ago. Maradona 16 years ago, and yet people continue to debate which was the greatest of the 2. People who maybe never saw, even on TV,  a game in which they played- the whole 90 minutes. Lev Yashin is still often cited as the greatest goalkeeper of all time- what evidence do we have? The opinions of others handed down, snippets of film seen out of context.
These were great players, skillful to a degree that marked them apart from their contemporaries. Being men, they had other qualities as well, qualities that could endear them to people, or make them unpopular.
This blog will never attempt to answer the unanswerable- who was the greatest player, team etc. We'll just look at some great players, some not so great players, some famous teams, achievers and underachievers, and we'll have some fun along the way. I hope it will make us happy. Most of all though, we have to question the received wisdom, we have to challenge what many people believe. I sincerely wish that I had seen Mane Garrincha play. And many others too...