Feature https://footytimes.com football's changing times Mon, 14 Dec 2020 16:54:25 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://footytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/cropped-FT-011-32x32.png Feature https://footytimes.com 32 32 162644655 The Inevitability of Icarus https://footytimes.com/the-inevitability-of-icarus/ https://footytimes.com/the-inevitability-of-icarus/#respond Mon, 14 Dec 2020 16:54:25 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5878

In Mythology, as in football, appear heroes and antiheroes whose actions become symbolic and open to interpretation. And given the unpredictable turns that English Club Football takes, we see personas emerge and evanesce all too quickly.  From The Special One to The Madman, the Premier League has the perfect embodiment of everything from precipitous egos […]

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In Mythology, as in football, appear heroes and antiheroes whose actions become symbolic and open to interpretation. And given the unpredictable turns that English Club Football takes, we see personas emerge and evanesce all too quickly. 

From The Special One to The Madman, the Premier League has the perfect embodiment of everything from precipitous egos to pure genius, that leaves the world stunned.  And of course, the strategies and stories that go behind their successes and defeats, are often open to interpretation.  

Talking about stories that are, in such ways, open to interpretation, when you take a peek at Greek Mythology, the image of Icarus stands out. He was the boy who flew too close to the sun. 

As the story goes, Icarus was a child of Daedalus, the master architect and craftsman who was exiled to the very same Labyrinth the great architect built as his masterpiece under the command of King Minos of Crete. 

Once imprisoned into the giant maze with his son, knowing his only escape lay in innovation, Daedalus crafted two sets of wings made of wax and feathers for himself and his son to strap on and fly their way out. Whilst Icarus put on the pair of wings carefully designed by his father, he received a clear directive to maintain a middle ground while in flight. Icarus, however, decided to go beyond the level he was instructed to maintain. 

He dared to breathe the air above what he was meant to. Making him the only person to have flown as close to the sun. The man who reached the greatest height possible, quite literally. 

But flying as close to the sun had its consequences: Almost too suddenly, the heat melted away the wax that formed the foundation of what gave him flight. In consequence, from that great height, he crashed to death. 

Thus, Icarus is often a metaphor for peaking right before plummeting into nothingness. A story of trying to achieve something that was never meant for you in the first place, and facing failure, rather miserably. 

The story of Premier League, too, is littered by stories of many an Icarus who wished to rub shoulders alongside the top dogs, The Manchester Uniteds and Chelseas and Liverpools. Their rise was heady, eliciting a feeling of soaring hopes, that filled viewers like us with belief, that we could also be gods, that we could also pull off something so outrageous. But the collapse is inevitable, the fall from grace too steep for the architects of desire to handle, burning not just their wings of destiny but also the foundation of the very project they nourished and nurtured for years.

Chris Wilder is the latest exhibit of the Icarus phenomenon. Wilder inherited a Sheffield United team middling it out in the second division. He transformed the team into a defensively secure, uber-confident side in possession and took the Premier League by storm last season with previously unheard tactics(overlapping center-backs). But the wings have given out for Sheffield United this season. The heights they conquered last season look enviably far and a drop back to the Championship is almost written in stone.

 

Cast your mind just a season back and we can set our eyes on another Icarus impersonation. Eddie Howe, the man who single-handedly took Bournemouth from the depths of English football structure and for a brief while made them believe that they were in and among the gods. His electric Bournemouth side put fear in the minds of titans, that their thrones might be usurped by a barely 40-year-old from a neverland called Bournemouth. But the script never fails and Icarus has to come back crashing to the earth where he came from, else the myth becomes redundant. Howe’s Bournemouth collapsed spectacularly, its bejewelled warriors picked off one by one by the Titans and Howe is left in exile reminiscing the rarity of air he breathed whilst he was up there, flying where no one thought he would.

Claudio Ranieri may be the least qualified of this lot to be fit into an Icarus narrative. And it is not just due to the fact that he flew so high and so far and for the most glorious while sat at the very top of it all, briefly lording over them all. His under spoken nature and general lack of enthusiasm don’t help us to view him as an overly ambitious Icarus and the sheer unexpectedness of the whole thing creates an illusion that it was probably just an incredibly heady dream. Nevertheless, his time out in heaven was also brief, a flailing and damning crash happened and normalcy was returned.

Mauricio Pochettino’s journey has a longer arc than the other Icaruses. His sojourn in the clouds was longer than the others, for he was forged into the manager he is by the ultimate footballing Daedalus, Marcelo Bielsa, the Architect. His wings were made of sterner stuff, the journey to heaven less steep and better structured than others. The tools were sharpened, the path chartered out, but the plot stayed true to itself. Pochettino’s collapse was as inevitable as a Liverpool win at Anfield and the Titans sadistically looked down at yet another fallen hero who wished to take down their thrones.

The story of Icarus is not just a simple myth. It is a reminder of the hierarchies we live by and the unwritten rules it imposes on us, the mere mortals. The desire to touch the skies, to push beyond all limits set on us is embedded in our genes and Icarus is a reminder of what’s on the other side, an unending strata of deep-rooted unfairness and ruthlessness which melts the feathers of your wings, one by one until you head back where you belong to. And yet we root for them, with a passion we might not have for our own team, for within them lies our own aspiration of rising above from the dirt to becoming something greater than what we were supposed to be.

And this season we have probably the greatest Icarus story in the making. A man who has made a living out of bucking the odds, the man who loves to wear the garbs of an anti-hero with such panache that it has almost become a second nature to him – José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix. The Special One.

Armed with a team that’s willing to jump out of a plane without a parachute if he commands them to and propelled by the twin wings of Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, Mourinho is taking Spurs to seemingly unseen heights. Here is a man with the whole package – A motive to prove he is still relevant, a desire fuelled by a collective hatred he alone can absorb, and an unmatchable skill-set acquired from decades of attrition in Europe’s top leagues. His propensity to self immolate himself and his team due to the intensive and inflammable nature he works puts him closer to being an Icarus than anyone else I have already mentioned. But still, we hope, and root for the ultimate embodiment of the human spirit- Icarus.

Will he be another Icarus or will he put an end to the myth, shattering the glass ceiling of ambition once and for all? Another reason for you to follow the craziest Premier League season we’ve had in a long time.

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The Grass Is Greener Where You Water https://footytimes.com/the-grass-is-greener-where-you-water/ https://footytimes.com/the-grass-is-greener-where-you-water/#comments Sat, 05 Dec 2020 11:14:11 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5862

At 18, I was introduced to football (Yes, the same age Messi signed his first contract as a senior team player). My short-lived experience in football was not of great achievements or awards, but a one that made me fall in love with the game and left me wanting to spread this love among many […]

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At 18, I was introduced to football (Yes, the same age Messi signed his first contract as a senior team player). My short-lived experience in football was not of great achievements or awards, but a one that made me fall in love with the game and left me wanting to spread this love among many other young women like me.

My first two years of football was during my undergraduate days. We were all amateurs and all that mattered to us was to enjoy playing the game. The university was dedicated to languages and hence populated a close-knit student community. We had equal representation in tournament organizing committees and everyone spoke for their game, women and men alike. Even in that space, getting more women to register for the tournaments was hard. Most women judged it to be not their cup of tea even before trying. Yet we managed to form four teams while men had eight. This was bad, but not the worst.

©Ajeesh Babu

The following two years of football was on a different campus. Though the general impression I had was that the quality of football was better there, I was in for a surprise when it came to women’s football. While the men’s team had forty-plus teams registering for the bi-annual football tournament, the women’s tournament barely managed to register five or six. There were several amateur clubs with their own legacy, history, and pride. And some of them had a women’s team. Not all were successful in maintaining the team every year. As part of a team that has successfully been able to sign players and appear for every tournament since the women’s team was formed a couple of years back, I was able to get closer to this problem of getting girls to join football.

For us, the recruiting criteria was mere interest to learn football. While the men had to scout and recruit players before other teams swooped them up, we had to start from scratch- by training and teaching players right from the basics. We had to begin from the roots and build a team every year. Half the team graduated and left every year leaving behind newbies. And out of all the new players in all the women’s teams, we would be lucky to find one or two who have ever played football before.

In these four years, on two different campuses, I saw that the struggle for a lot of these women was the fear of embarrassing themselves and being ridiculed by their friends. To start long after our insecurities have taken their root is a real struggle. And this is why the university shouldn’t be the first ground for most of these women.

Smirks and jests are universal to women’s sports, not just football. Both men and women in our community are brought up to be conscious of their bodies and to be embarrassed about failures. Thus, the older we are, the harder for all of us to step out of our comfort zone. Among our signings, we had people who struggled with body image, parental support, and whatnots. It was beautiful to see them fight these and prove themselves, probably not as another Messi or Alex Morgan, but as a person who is more confident in their identity than yesterday. Football liberated them.

It is time that we gift our kids with both Barbies and balls and let them choose for themselves. We need lesser women feeling that they found their love for football too late or wishing forever for a chance to play. We need to make sure the women in our lives had the same chances at this sport as the men in our lives. While grassroots academies, in number and quality, are the key to the growth of football, in women’s football it should start along with your words of support.

To all my fellow players who had to hide from their families about football practice, who was told that it’s not your place and still made it yours, who was shamed and ridiculed for missed penalties or wrong passes, I respect your courage. I’m happy to have helped at least a few women try football in my time, to find their happiness, to be more confident in themselves. Football is not merely a sport, it’s a new life and a new world. And while we hear and share inspiring stories of women athletes every day, let us make sure that we give the ones around our space and support to discover themselves. For me and many others like me, the grass got a lot more greener on the football pitch. And there are many more out there, deserving the greens.

This article is third in the series ‘Women in Football’ by Footy Times. If you are a woman in football or know a woman whose footballing story holds the power to inspire, write to us at: footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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A First of its Kind: Mountain Girls Premier League https://footytimes.com/a-first-of-its-kind-mountain-girls-premier-league/ Mon, 30 Nov 2020 17:40:49 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5680

The league itself is representative of the change that ignites a passion for the game at a young age– creating opportunities, and breaking barriers– one game at a time. 

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On August 21, 2020, Pir Faraz Ali, a travelling photographer from Pakistan manifested to football fans around the world a series of images from Gulmit, Hunza, capturing an unprecedented sight in the valley. The images showed young girls from Northern Areas of the country battling it out in the first-ever Mountain Girls Premier League (MGPL), an exclusive football tournament for women. 

The league, the first of its kind, was organized by Gulmit Young Stars Club & Students Welfare Organization in collaboration with Gilgit Baltistan Tourism Department. 

Faraz Ali had a favour to ask from his followers on social media– to get the word out. 

“Throughout the tournament, I saw immense talent & passion for football amongst the girls… Playing a sport which requires a lot of stamina at an altitude of around 2500m is very challenging due to lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, there’s not much encouragement and support for women in the field of sports, hence, I decided to make this post so that these talented girls get global recognition and get opportunities to pursue their passion for football professionally. I would like to request everyone who reads this to share this post on your stories and help them get recognition. I really hope some national or international organisation gets in touch with them and help/sponsor them to pursue their careers in football.” he wrote on Instagram. 

Thanks to Faraz Ali’s post, the league caught the attention of FIFA Women’s Football World Cup and was retweeted wildly among the admirers of the game around the globe.

The tournament hosted 10 teams of young women from Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan, and 19th August 2020, Gulmit Young Stars faced off Shah Talib FC in the finals of the tournament with the former winning by a score of 2-0.

The following is an excerpt from the interview our correspondent Aajma Manoj had with Neha Aly and Asdaf Aziz who played as the centre midfielder and goalkeeper respectively for champions Gulmit in the league. 

Left: Neha Aly, Right: Asdaf Aziz

Aajma Manoj (AM), Footy Times:  How were you introduced to football?

Neha Aly (NA): We used to play as kids when I was 13 years old, there was like a mini-tournament that happened in our area called Mini-GPL. And That was the first time most of us were introduced to the sport. 

AM: What kind of training did you receive before the tournament?

Asdaf Aziz (AA): Our club organized a training camp for us so that we’d be able to prepare for the tournament.

AM: Do you think the Mountain Girls Premier League has helped girls gain confidence and given them an opportunity to express their passion for the game?

NA: Yes, of course, I think MGPL is a new beginning for many girls among us. It was truly a life-changing experience and the confidence we gained from it has been immense. I hope we’ll be able to keep up with and continue with our passion for the game. 

AM: Are you looking forward to next year’s tournament?

AA: Yes, we’re even more passionate about football since MGPL began. Right now, we’re training, specifically to improve our skills to come back stronger next year. 

AM: What kind of support did you receive from everyone? Were there any difficulties, for you personally or for other girls to be a part of the tournament/to play football in general?

NA: We got an incredible amount of support from our families, friends and society. There were huge turnouts at the games and there was a constant appreciation of our game. Personally, I feel this was a perfect environment for girls our age to explore our skills, and the support we received added to our courage. So, I think on behalf of the girls who participated, I am grateful to thank everyone who’s helped us remain motivated throughout.

AM:  Did you face any gender bias before, during or after the tournament while playing football?

AA: Not at all! There’s so much equality where I come from. A son and a daughter are the same to our families and most of the girls’ parents have expressed to us how proud we’ve made them through this league. 

AM: How would you describe the passion you witnessed among the girls who played in the league? Do you think this has opened up opportunities for younger girls who love the game as you do?

NA: There is so much talent in our younger girls. In fact, the passion they have for the game exceeds ours. If given the right training and opportunity, I can confidently say they are going to crush it!

AM: What was your favourite moment/experience from the league?

AA: The moment when our youngest player, our ‘lil champ,  scored in the finals and then seeing a smile on the face of our coach as our captain held the winning trophy in her hands. It was an inexplicable feeling. 

AM: Do you have a message to other girls your age who share a similar passion for football as you do?

NA: I’d like to say, if you’re really passionate about something and you really want to do that, go ahead, and be confident and do what you love. 

AM: What does the success of Mountain Girls Premier League mean to you and the other girls?

AA: I think this tournament was a huge success for us. And I don’t mean this personally or just for my team. I feel the success of this tournament represents a success for our society. It reinforced the ideas of equality and passion in the minds of everyone who participated in the league or witnessed it. And at the end of the day, that’s a huge win for both women and football.  

Both Neha and Asdaf, still a part of Gulmit Young Stars, train with their team regularly and hope to take their team to victory again in the second season of MGPL which is scheduled to happen in 2021. 

The success of MGPL is a huge leap forward in how women’s football in South Asia is perceived by the world. The league itself is representative of the change that ignites a passion for the game at a young age– creating opportunities, and breaking barriers– one game at a time. 

 

This article is second in the series ‘Women in Football’ by Footy Times. If you are a woman in football or know a woman whose footballing story holds the power to inspire, write to us at: footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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Flick- The Bavarian Magic Stick https://footytimes.com/flick-the-bavarian-magic-stick/ Sat, 28 Nov 2020 17:19:40 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5848

Hansi-Dieter Flick! The big-name shall remain a nightmare for most of the Culers worldwide including me, at least for some more time. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 belongs to Hansi Flick in the footballing world. Who would have thought a man from Heidelberg in Germany was destined to unleash shockwaves across the serene coastal town of […]

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Hansi-Dieter Flick! The big-name shall remain a nightmare for most of the Culers worldwide including me, at least for some more time. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 belongs to Hansi Flick in the footballing world. Who would have thought a man from Heidelberg in Germany was destined to unleash shockwaves across the serene coastal town of Catalonia on the night of 14th August  2020! 

Yes, La Liga giants FC Barcelona were humbled by Flick’s Bayern Munich in UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at Lisbon with a humongous scoreline of 8-2. The always-bustling Barceloneta beach might have been shilly-shallied, unable to withstand the choking Catalonian atmosphere. The defeat had its own domino effect. It opened the Pandora’s box leading to an outbreak of dramatic events at Blaugrana – sacking of manager Quique Setien, relieving sporting director Eric Abidal, Lionel Messi dispatching a Burofax to leave the club, departure of Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, Luiz Suarez, and the recent resignation of the entire board headed by infamous president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Hansi Flick’s operation Lisbon sealed Barcelona’s gradual decline from glory to the gutter and signalled an omen for a new beginning at Camp Nou. Danke, Flick!  

Bayern Munich under Niko Kovac was limping in the Bundesliga towards the end of 2019, stationed at fourth in the point-table. Recurring inconsistent performances coerced Bayern to sack Niko Kovac in November. Snared in the middle of a highly competitive season, Bayern had no choice but turn towards Hansi Flick to take over the mantle for an interim period, who then was assistant manager under Kovac. It didn’t take long for Bayern to reincarnate in a new avatar. Bavarians ran a blitzkrieg whacking their opponents like a mighty Goliath. Everything Flick touched turned into gold. Bayern marched to glory clinching the Bundesliga title in a majestic fashion. It is with this rekindled vivacity and zest, Flick brought his team to face Barcelona at Estadio da Luz. Thanks to the vision of the board, Bayern boasted a terrifying squad depth with the likes of Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantra, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski adorning the field in a double pivot 4-2-3-1 formation. Flick’s style of play was characterized by man-to-man gegenpressing, popularized by Jurgen Klopp during his stint at Borussia Dortmund. 

However, Flick added his own signature by enabling the team to quickly switch towards 4-4-2 whenever the pressure tactic failed to win back the ball and towards 4-3-3 when on the offensive mode in the opposite half. 

Furthermore, the use of super high-line defence pulverized the opponents in their own half denying them space and time to construct the play. To my interest, I found Flick’s strategy bearing close resemblance with Persian warfare technique of Tulguhma – effectively utilized by Babur to win the first battle of Panipat. That aside, it is evident that Flick is adroit in discovering the highest potential of each player, which could be best-substantiated with the examples of Thomas Muller, Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho. Muller was almost forsaken by Niko Kovac, a decision that Flick invalidated by passing the reins of attack to the German. Perisic and Coutinho on loan from Inter Milan and Barcelona respectively after a poor spell, resurrected under Flick’s system. Not only did they score against Barcelona but taught their parent clubs how to effectively use them on the field. What more! A quick glimpse through Lewandowski’s stats before and during Flick’s era says it all. 

It was just a trailer to the ensuing show. 

Flick guided Bayern to win UEFA Champions League by defeating Paris Saint Germain in the finals. There was enough room left on the Bayern’s shelf. Flick brought DFB Pokal, DFL Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup to Allianz Arena thereby sealing off a season with quintuples. I would have construed Hansi Flick as a one-hit-wonder had I not realized an astounding truth. While innocently crediting Joachim Low with Germany’s world cup triumph in 2014, we often miss seeing the dexterous hands of Hansi Flick behind the tale of indomitable Germany. 

It wasn’t surprising to see him with the UEFA Best Men’s Coach of the Year 2019-20 surpassing Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann. For time being, Bayern’s chariot seems unstoppable with Flick as their charioteer. 

Why shouldn’t I admire him? 

My rationale struggles to find an answer.              

This article is third in the series ‘Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Ignore Them- What I admire most about my rivals’ by our readers. To get your perspective published, write to us at footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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Soraisam Bidyabati: Keeping It, One Shot at a Time https://footytimes.com/soraisam-bidyabati-keeping-it-one-shot-at-a-time/ Fri, 27 Nov 2020 17:23:27 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5830

Being a goalkeeper in the beautiful game of football is something I absolutely cherish.  I had never played football before in my life, but I was an athlete, so when I got an offer to play as a goalkeeper and to represent my own state, Manipur, for our university tournament, it was such an honour […]

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Being a goalkeeper in the beautiful game of football is something I absolutely cherish. 

I had never played football before in my life, but I was an athlete, so when I got an offer to play as a goalkeeper and to represent my own state, Manipur, for our university tournament, it was such an honour for me. I had no prior knowledge nor any experience with the game, so I started by watching different goalkeeper tutorial videos on Youtube and began to grasp the basics of the game.

The first match I played, our team lost, that too horribly. Everyone was laughing at us for our poor performance but by then there was a hunger in me to reshape the team and to bring us back to where we were supposed to be. Thus began my journey as a goalkeeper in which I have come across many moments- some priceless, some heartbreaking. But my tryst with football has been truly amazing so far.

To be honest, I never practised that hard. So far, I have never followed any strict rules or techniques as such. Because to me, goalkeeping is about just one thing- saving the ball no matter what the position is or how you do it. The rules of goalkeeping never mattered to me, in a way. What mattered to me was protecting my goalpost and thereby my team. 

The most important quality a goalkeeper must have, in my opinion, is to have unwavering focus, they should always stay alert throughout the match, with an eye always on the ball and your opponent and your teammate. As long as you have your eyes on the ball, nothing could beat you, trust me. 

With my teammates’ support and commitment, I have had the privilege of winning the ‘Best Goalkeeper’ award seven times at the University of Hyderabad. Our team went on to win many tournaments, we have lost, as well, but that’s all a part of the game. Winning is not the only priority- enjoying the moment by giving your best makes you feel much better than winning, as per my experience. Regardless of this, I have noticed many times that the goalkeeper has been always ignored and neglected after the match despite their contribution towards the game.

All I want to say is, each and every player contributes equally, that is why positions are made separately. If one position is left open then it would make a great impact on the rest of the team. We should treat all the players equally, not just the goal scorer. Without the goalkeeper, there wouldn’t be a match.  

The mental pressure a goalkeeper has to go through is tremendous. It feels like the end of the world when you concede a goal and you know everyone’s gonna hate you and curse you if your team loses because of that particular mistake. I have experienced the pain myself. It has disappointed me many a time. I have faced many such situations where I had to embrace all the odds even though it broke my heart. 

From my experience, I have learned that to be a goalkeeper, you need to be tough-minded with a strong heart because, at the end of the day, it’s the goalkeeper who is the pillar of their team, a constant and unrelenting form of support upon whom everything depends, the one who saves the team when everything seems lost. 

The last hope!

-Soraisam Bidyabati

This article is first in the series ‘Women in Football’ by Footy Times. If you are a woman in football or know a woman whose footballing story holds the power to inspire, write to us at: footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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An Ode to a Myth https://footytimes.com/an-ode-to-a-myth/ Thu, 26 Nov 2020 10:54:16 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5825

A man who not just single-handedly ran past almost the entirety of the English team, but also managed to wipe away almost everything and everyone who was involved in the 1986 Mexico World Cup and to carve out an illusion of memory - The Maradona’s World Cup.

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Football is probably the simplest of all sports, thus lending it a universalistic appeal. Anyone can play the game, but only a few are good enough to extract a profession out of it. And among those few, only a smaller group can be truly considered the best, the greats. To subsume Maradona to that group would be a disservice to him and to others in that group. This was a man who conjured an illusion of immortality by merely shuffling the ball in and out of spaces and past opponents with an ease that was almost ethereal. For a generation, Maradona was no mere footballer, he was a living, breathing symbol of a time of untethered imagination and a world of opportunities.

Maradona was never an emblem of perfection or even decency. His actions off the pitch might even border eccentric or even illegal. He never shied away from controversies nor controversial personas. With a tattoo of Fidel Castro’s face on his dominant left leg, Diego Maradona was someone who wore his opinions on his sleeves, someone who took no prisoners when it came to an issue. But the halo of his capabilities on the pitch was so overpowering that it blinded everyone who witnessed it into kneeling before this diminutive genius. 

Fans in Argentina mourning the loss of Diego Maradona

Was Maradona the greatest footballer of all time? Some might argue it is Pele. Was he the most influential footballer of all time? Some might push the case for Cryuff. Away from all these binaries and perspectives, out on a football field, nobody could have definitely sparked as much joy in the hearts of the spectators as much as Maradona did. His legacy lies not just in the incredible number of goals he scored or the trophies he won but in the intensity of emotions he evoked within the soul of a viewer. For that reason alone Maradona is eternal in his own right. A man who not just single-handedly ran past almost the entirety of the English team, but also managed to wipe away almost everything and everyone who was involved in the 1986 Mexico World Cup and to carve out an illusion of memory – The Maradona’s World Cup. If this is not how a man elevates himself into divine proportions, what is?

With Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, not only did Argentina advance to the semi-finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, but the day also witnessed how Diego Maradona rose from the ranks of a footballer to a God himself for his countrymen. For Argentina, it was more than a mere match of football, and ‘mere’ isn’t an adjective an Argentine would ever use in the context of football even otherwise. 

Argentina, a country that had only recently succeeded in overthrowing a dictatorship was badly in need of a unifying force, and, football emerged, as it had many times before and after, to be something greater than the game itself. The national identity as represented through football in 1986 for Argentina is perhaps unmatched in the rest of the history of the game for the nation. 

The quarter-final match between England and Argentina was a single shot at redemption of sorts the country had against the British after their defeat in the undeclared war over the ownership of the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina), wherein hundreds of Argentine soldiers were killed and their bodies were thrown off in the middle of the ocean by the English troops.  

From 1982 to 1984, the Malvinas remained a disputed area between England and Argentina and only ended after 74 days of fighting which truly epitomized the paucity of resources the latter had. Naturally, the British crushed the inexperienced, undertrained argentine army of young-adult soldiers. 

With the stakes that high, 22nd June 1986 was a crucial day. Two second-half goals from the Number 10 put Argentina in the lead, and after much dispute, led them to the next stage of the World Cup. The English may have brought the game of football to Argentina, about 200 years before the day of the face-off, but that day the whole world stood to witness as the erstwhile colonizers knelt before the Hand of God. 

FIFA World Cup 1986: The rise of a true national hero- Diego Maradona

Looking back, it’s difficult to separate emotion from the game to actually see it for what it was. The romanticization of the game and the implications of its result vis-à-vis the political status of the two countries, especially the triumph of the otherwise fallen Argentines, earning a tribute for their war heroes doesn’t still take away from the footballing miracle Diego Maradona pulled off that day on the field.

George Orwell once said, “Football is war minus the shooting.” As a regular football fan, you understand the sentiment behind it, of course. Despite Britain’s efforts to keep the word ‘war’ metaphorical in the figurative field of football,  Maradona, being the man he was, gave official statements of how the game was indeed a tribute to the argentine heroes of the war. “This was our revenge”, he said. 

What Argentina, as a country took away from the game was the pure pleasure of seeing the collective enemy’s defeat, and with it, the bustling feeling of nationalism and the rise of a true national hero- Diego Maradona. 

He might be hated, admired, abhorred, or adored, at the end of the day, the fact remains- Diego Maradona herded his nation to a victory that surpassed anything previously known to the space between the two posts.

For as long as a football rolls around in any part of the world, the myth of Maradona will stay alive. The story of how a mere man was elevated into the pantheons of god. A story that gives us all faith in the religion that is football.

The story of Maradona.

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The Great Zinedine Zidane https://footytimes.com/the-great-zinedine-zidane/ https://footytimes.com/the-great-zinedine-zidane/#respond Sun, 22 Nov 2020 16:49:19 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5704

2015 was indeed a special year for sports. Australia won their fifth Cricket World Cup. New Zealand won their third Rugby World Cup. Novak Djokovic had perhaps had the most dominant season in the history of tennis, steamrolling one opponent after the other. But, the one I personally enjoyed the most was the dominant season […]

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2015 was indeed a special year for sports. Australia won their fifth Cricket World Cup. New Zealand won their third Rugby World Cup. Novak Djokovic had perhaps had the most dominant season in the history of tennis, steamrolling one opponent after the other. But, the one I personally enjoyed the most was the dominant season which FC Barcelona had!

Barcelona was invincible in 2014. With the deadly MSN in full flow, they dominated everyone to a historic second European Treble. This dominance continued well into the 2015-16 season. On the other hand, Real Madrid was in absolute shambles. After having sacked two coaches in less than a year, they appointed Zinedine Zidane, a rookie with little experience as a manager. However legendary a player he was, I was among those who thought that he will flop spectacularly and will be sacked before the end of the season. I could have never been more wrong!

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“To see Zidane in action was to witness poetry in motion. The skills, the vision, the goals, he was a sublime performer. He was unquestionably the finest player on the planet.” This quote from Paul Scholes epitomized Zinedine Zidane perfectly. His elegance and class with a ball in his feet were surreal to watch. He never had to exert himself on the pitch. He glided past opponents with effortless ease to the point that the Frenchman was footballing perfection. But, I was never able to enjoy this because he played for Real Madrid. Each time he did something extra-terrestrial, I jolted in frustration. Zinedine Zidane, the player is undoubtedly one of the Greatest Footballers of All Time. Zinedine Zidane, the manager is on course to become one of the Greatest Managers of All Time. 

The Ascension 

2015-16 was a pretty weird season for the Blaugrana. They won their 7th La Liga in 10 years and secured yet another double. But our failure in the Champions League hurt. Barca was defeating one opponent after the other, barging their way to an unbeaten streak of 39 matches. After Madrid snapped the streak in the 40th match, our season went downhill in a flash. By the end of the season, the lead in La Liga dropped from 12 to 1, and Madrid won their La Undecima in a season they were supposed to crumble.

Almost everyone had written Zidane off when he was appointed as manager. For someone who had little managerial experience, being the manager of the biggest club in the world seemed too big a bite to chew. At the start of the 2016-17 season, I thought to myself  “Yes, how we ended last season was disappointing. What Madrid did was a fluke they cannot do it again. We’ll dominate again.” I was wrong, yet again! 

The Summit

2016-17 was the season where Zidane cemented his status as one of the world’s best as Real Madrid hit a peak. They were in a scintillating form that season. It was a complete team. They had the best goalkeeper in the world, the best defensive duo, the best full-back duo, an absolutely dominant midfield trio, and a GOAT upfront in god mode! There was no stopping them. The Blancos bludgeoned their way to a first league title in 6 years and a  second Champions League triumph in succession with a 4-1 shellacking of Juventus (the team which supposedly had the best defence of the tournament). Real Madrid was at the top of the world, with Zidane weaving magic from the sidelines. 

Zidane has never been a revolutionary among the managers, unlike his contemporaries Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola whose style of play has defined generations to come. What the Frenchman excels in is man-management. Real Madrid was and is a squad brimming with big personalities like Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo. He extracted the best football out of the team and at the same time, managed to keep egos at check  He inherited a world-class squad so close, yet so far from glory. He was the catalyst that changed the Blancos from an underachieving squad to an invincible one. 

The Decline

After their dominant 2016-17 season, Madrid was poised to dominate both the league and Europe. Barca, on the other hand, was at the initial stages of a now overblown crisis. Neymar stunned the world by leaving the Catalans for PSG and  I had scant expectations for the season.

However, something had changed. Real Madrid was not the same team anymore. With Cristiano misfiring, they were anything but a shadow of their former self. The ageing squad was showing signs of wear and tear. In the first Clasico of the season, the Blancos were spanked 3-0 by a resurgent Barca, who had a surprisingly good start to the season. But, after two miserable seasons of watching Madrid dominate, I knew that it was folly to write them off. And unfortunately, I was right about this time. 

A sensational victory at home against PSG helped Madrid regain their panache during the second half of the season. Cristiano hit form at the right time and started to score for fun again. Their midfield was looking like a cohesive unit once again. I hoped that Juventus would defeat them and then  Medhi Benatia happened. I hoped Bayern Munich would defeat them and then Sven Ulreich happened. I hoped Liverpool would defeat them and then Loris Karius happened. Just like that, Real Madrid won their third Champions League in succession. I had to resist the urge to plunge my head into the toilet. 

The Fall

Zinedine Zidane resigns!

When I saw this headline in The Hindu one sunny morning, I froze. I was shocked that Zidane had left Madrid but at the same time, jubilant as it was good news for Barca. 

Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid!

When I saw this headline in The Hindu another sunny morning, I knew it was the end. Real Madrid was just broken in half. They were finished. I was right again. The Blancos had a car crash of a season. Under new manager Julen Lopetegui, they were tonked 5-1 by Barca. Sacked in the morning. Under new manager Santiago Solari, they were thrashed 4-0 by Ajax. Sacked in the morning. Their next manager, none another than Zinedine Zidane. The return of the prodigal son! 

The Resurgence

Currently, Spanish Football is the weakest it has ever been in decades. Barcelona, the club which won the Continental Treble twice in 10 years is now in shambles. Atletico Madrid has gone stale under Diego Simeone. But, Real Madrid is going through a phase of growth. They are a pale imitation of what they were at their peak but still remain a competent presence. There has been a drastic change in their transfer policy, over the past few years. Gone are the days where they piled in one Galactico after the other and rather, the focus is on young and upcoming talents. For every Eden Hazard, there is a Marco Asensio and Vinicius Jr. The Blancos have started the long road back to the top with Zinedine Zidane version 2.0 at the helm and with it, my love-hate relationship with Zidane unfolds into a new chapter.

This article is second in the series ‘Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Ignore Them- What I admire most about my rivals’ by our readers. To get your perspective published, write to us at footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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Askarali Vadukunnera- A Tale of Undying Human Spirit https://footytimes.com/a-tale-of-undying-human-spirit/ Thu, 29 Oct 2020 13:09:04 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5545

The story of Askarali Vadukunnera is inspiring from its very core. Born to Aysha and Kunju Muhammed on October 8th, 1979, a young Askarali was proficient in many fields. Starting from his school days, Askarali proved his adeptness in studies and sports equally. He efficiently led the role as the head boy of EMEA Higher […]

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The story of Askarali Vadukunnera is inspiring from its very core. Born to Aysha and Kunju Muhammed on October 8th, 1979, a young Askarali was proficient in many fields. Starting from his school days, Askarali proved his adeptness in studies and sports equally. He efficiently led the role as the head boy of EMEA Higher Secondary School, Kondotty from 8th to 10th grades. However, his true passion always lay in sports. He was a part of the school football team, a district level champion in the high jump, long jump, discus throw and in shot put. More than once he was adjudged the school individual champion, a matter of great honour among his schoolmates at the time. 

Being supremely talented and famed at a young age, Askarali was definitely a household name in the area. Mainly because football is a frenzy for people in Malappuram, where clubs and sevens football seasons feed the drive of players and fans alike. Askarali was one of the best players who represented EMEA college. It was in his second year of club football that the tragedy struck Askarali which left him with a big question mark on the future.

The footballing prodigy was clipped off his wings by an odious foul, in 2006, while playing for Akshara Club in Arimbra. He was elbowed by an opponent and suffered a severe injury to the spinal cord which left him with one side paralyzed and a permanently damaged vocal cord. 

In the years that followed, he was even diagnosed with a brain tumour, but being the fighter that he is, he survived, and till this day lives by the motto “A winner never gives up.” 

Despite the tribulations, even fate folded its knees before this resolute and ebullient man.

Soon Askarali started his own football academy, called KFM Club, which even laid the foundation for many renowned football players like Anas Edathodika, who plays Centre Back for ATK Mohun Bagan FC and the Indian national team.

Football is undeniably an interplay of energy, effusiveness and uninhibited enthusiasm. Askarali’s character would never waiver from these very principles. Askarali could never go back to playing football, but he never gave up, let alone brood over his shortcomings. 

“If we have a dream and truly believe in it, work hard for it, and never give up- nothing is impossible.” says this sanguine Askarali Vadukunnera.

Currently, Askarali leads a satisfying life with great support from his wife Sabna and his four children, Fahma, Adnan and twin sons. He hopes to fulfil his dreams through his son Adnan who is equally passionate about the game as his father and is presently training under KYDF Club, Malappuram, Kerala. 

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Confession of a Madridista https://footytimes.com/confession-of-a-madridista/ Fri, 23 Oct 2020 08:49:43 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5532

The Messiah. The Little Genius. The Flea. Names are many for this phenomenon from Nou Camp, Lionel Andres Messi. As a Madridista, when you are prompted to write on a rival player you admire the most, you will have no choice but to write about the best player of your eternal rivals, who just happens […]

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The Messiah. The Little Genius. The Flea. Names are many for this phenomenon from Nou Camp, Lionel Andres Messi. As a Madridista, when you are prompted to write on a rival player you admire the most, you will have no choice but to write about the best player of your eternal rivals, who just happens to be the best player in the history of the game. Now, my friends, please don’t get me wrong, and before you go all Goswami on me, let me make this clear. Cristiano Ronaldo was, is, and will be my most favourite footballer, the reasons for which will be kept aside for another piece of paper.
I was about 14 years old when I got really close to the ‘beautiful game’. The name Lionel Messi was already a stock term in the soccer circles by then. In a classroom full of fanboys, it was inevitable for me to have to pick between the iconic blue&red and the royal white. The moment I chose Madrid, little did I know the kind of influence this 5’7” guy would be having over my fanboy life. Just like any other Madrid fan, I followed the norm, to keep track of the games of Barcelona and Lionel Messi, sometimes a bit more eagerly than I would like to admit. Even while my hopes rested on the unlucky side of Barcelona, seldom did they come true, thanks to this little genius from Rosario.
The Messiah. The Little Genius. The Flea.
The effortlessness with which he manipulates the ball, nay, the entire field, that wry smile after those cheeky curlers, and the humility mixed with the tinge of that signature shyness often left my emotions confused, to choose between disappointment, awe, envy, or admiration. From vaguely following Barcelona to watching their game on a regular basis, all thanks to Leo, marked my evolution from a hardcore Madridista to a football fan. I could not believe it when I found myself tearing up at his bad moments, from the 2014 World Cup final to the recent interview after the row with the club management. While the Madridista in me prayed for him to lose every single game he plays, it broke my heart to see him with his head bent down.
But if you know Messi well enough as I do, you will know better than to stay sad and worried about him. He is the Messiah. He is bound to rise. Hopefully, not in your home ground.
So yeah. Love him, hate him, can’t ignore him.
Lionel Andres Messi for you.

 

This article is first in the series ‘Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Ignore Them- What I admire most about my rivals’ by our readers. To get your perspective published, write to us at footytimes.com@gmail.com.

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An All Time Real Madrid Best XI With No Two Players from a Country https://footytimes.com/real-madrid-best-xi/ Fri, 09 Oct 2020 13:51:07 +0000 https://footytimes.com/?p=5444 Real Madrid XI

Formation : 4-4-2 Keylor Navas (GK) – Costa Rica “He’s spectacular between the posts, he’s brave, skilful and very agile. He maintains his concentration and he’s also intelligent. For me, he deserves all the respect he gets for what he’s done.” – Manuel Almunia Everything could have been so different for Keylor Navas if it […]

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Real Madrid XI

Formation : 4-4-2

Keylor Navas (GK) – Costa Rica


“He’s spectacular between the posts, he’s brave, skilful and very agile. He maintains his concentration and he’s also intelligent. For me, he deserves all the respect he gets for what he’s done.” – Manuel Almunia

Everything could have been so different for Keylor Navas if it wasn’t for a dodgy fax machine. Before the start of the 2015-16 season, David De Gea was poised to join Real Madrid in a swap deal with Navas going to Manchester United. But, the move fell through in dramatic fashion as United were unable to submit the required papers in time because their fax machine was “damaged”. While De Gea had to marshal a defense of Smalling and Jones in the following years, the Costa Rican went on to establish himself as a club legend in Madrid.

Keylor Navas is a ridiculously good shot stopper. His lightning quick reflexes have saved Real Madrid from the jaws of defeat countless times. Also, he cemented his reputation as a “Big-Match Player” in Madrid’s Champions League run . The goalkeeper of the Blancos during one of their most successful eras, Navas made 104 appearances in 6 years, winning a La Liga title and three consecutive Champions League titles.

Iker Casillas is one of the greatest goalkeepers football has seen. His contributions in both club and country level, is outstanding. His legacy and achievements with Los Blancos remains unmatched to date. But boy, Keylor Navas came close!

Sergio Ramos (RB) (C) – Spain


“Sergio Ramos is my heir.” – Paolo Maldini


It was an intense night. After 90 gritty minutes, Diego Simeone’s resilient Atletico Madrid was in the driving seat to lift the “Big Ears” in Lisbon. At the other end, Real Madrid was struggling. As Luka Modric took the 92nd minute corner, one man rose higher than anybody else and headed the ball into the net, saving the Blancos from the jaws of yet another heartbreaking defeat in the competition. The man was Sergio Ramos. His goal won Real Madrid the La Decima, ushering in an era of dominance.

Captain. Leader. Legend.

Sergio Ramos Garcia has been at the centre of Real Madrid’s success, the previous decade. He has excelled in Madrid as a right back and especially, as a centre back. His goals were decisive in securing the La Decima and the La Undecima. He is a born leader. The bigger the occasion, the better his performance. With five La Liga titles, four Champions League titles and numerous other laurels, team and individual, he is one of the most decorated players to ever play for Real Madrid.

He is reckless. He is impulsive. He may have the worst disciplinary record in all of football. He is Sergio Ramos, the best defender of his generation.
(PS – I had to include Ramos at right back rather than at centre back because of the lack of quality foreign options in the position.)

Raphael Varane (CB) – France


“He’s already one of the best centre-backs of all time.” – Eden Hazard

Considering that Raphael Varane is only 27, what he has managed to achieve is nothing short of ridiculous. He has made over 300 appearances and won 18 major honours at Real Madrid. He won his third Champions League title at the age of 24! Add a World Cup triumph with France to this, and you’ve got a near perfect football career and the Frenchman can play at the highest level for at least another 6-7 years.

Varane was a crucial cog in the Real Madrid squad that won three Champions League titles in succession. Unlike Sergio Ramos, his loud and haphazard partner, Varane is an unflashy, no-nonsense defender with a near perfect disciplinary record.( He has been at the receiving end of just two red cards, while Ramos has a staggering 26!)

Although his form has dipped in the last couple of years, on his day, Varane is undoubtedly among the best centre-backs in the world. He is a rather underrated player. His career peaked in 2018, the year in which he won both the Champions League and the World Cup. I personally feel that he should have won the Ballon d’Or that year.

Jose Santamaria (CB) – Uruguay


“Jose who?” Few must have heard of Jose “The Wall” Santamaria. He was the defensive juggernaut of the legendary squad boasted by Real Madrid in the 60s. While the likes of Di Stefano, Puskas and Gento hogged the limelight, Santamaria’s authority and leadership ensured the presence of a watertight defence.
Santamaria was a late bloomer.

He signed for the Blancos in 1957 at the age of 28. He was a rock solid and technically proficient defender. He never shied away from a tackle or two and was very strong in the air. He earned the nickname “The Wall” as he started to put in one excellent defensive display after another. Santamaria ended his highly decorated career in 1966 having won five La Liga titles, four European Cup title, a Copa Del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup, amassing more than 300 appearances on the way.

Roberto Carlos (LB) – Brazil


“He’s a fantastic player, with amazing skill, and does things at left-back that no other player in that position would contemplate.” – Henrik Larsson

Offence or More Offence?
Bullet Shots or Exquisite Dribbling?
Roberto Carlos or Marcelo?
While writing this piece I had this huge selection dilemma. One Brazilian was part of the dominant Madrid side of the late 90s and early 2000s while the other Brazilian was part of the dominant Madrid side that won three Champions League titles in a row. But Carlos was better. No Marcelo is better. No Carlos was. After hours of comparison and self contradiction, I chose…Roberto Carlos!

To sum it up, Roberto Carlos is one of the greatest full-backs of all time and perhaps, THE greatest. Although a bit slack defensively, he made up for it being a dynamic presence at left back, making surging runs forward. His explosiveness, strength and desire to go forward made him a constant offensive threat. He was renowned for his super powerful shots that often defied the laws of physics. One of his shots clocked a ridiculous 105 miles per hour speed!

For Real Madrid, Carlos made over 370 appearances, winning the La Liga four times and the Champions League three times, not to mention the various other individual laurels. He was an absolute joy to watch!

Hugo Sanchez (RF) – Mexico


“When a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it.” – Leo Beenhakker (referring to Sánchez’s overhead kick goal against Logroñés in 1988)

Widely regarded as the greatest Mexican footballer of all time, “The Pentapichichi” Hugo Sanchez was an absolutely dazzling footballer. The Mexican oozed charisma whenever he entered the field. A delight to watch, Sanchez was known for his acrobatic, gravity-bending screamers.

He is considered to be the creator of the iconic Scorpion Kick.
Sanchez joined Real Madrid in 1985. In the subsequent five years, Sanchez went on the establish himself as one of the best forwards in the world and the best in Spain. His flamboyancy on the pitch garnered him universal praise. He played an instrumental role in one of Madrid’s the most successful periods.

The club won five consecutive La Liga titles from 1985-1990 and Sanchez won the Pichichi trophy in four of these years. Along with this, he reached the semi finals of semi finals of the European Cup four times, won a UEFA Cup and a Copa Del Rey, not to mention the numerous individual awards he raked in. He left the Blancos in 1992 after more than 200 appearances, imprinting his legacy as one of the greatest ever forwards to play for them.

Toni Kroos (CM) – Germany


“He does everything right. The pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.” – Johan Cruyff

Looking back, it is flabbergasting that Bayern Munich let a once-in-a-generation talent Toni Kroos go for a paltry 25 Million Euros. I would not be far-fetched in saying that for Real Madrid, it was perhaps the “Steal of the Century”.
There might not be a better passer in world football right now than Kroos.

Since signing for Real Madrid, Kroos has had more than a 90% pass completion rate in every single game he has played for the club. This is ridiculously good! He may not have the grace of Luka Modric or the bite of Casemiro but, the game flows through the German. Few players have the ability to single-handedly dictate the tempo of a game. Kroos is one of them.

Kroos was unveiled as a Real Madrid player in 2014. Since then, he has been a part of the most dominant midfield of the last decade, along with Casemiro and Luka Modric. He has made over 190 appearances for the club, winning the La Liga twice, the Champions League thrice and the Club World Cup four times. When he leaves Madrid, he will go down in the history books as one of their greatest, if he has not gained that status already.

Luka Modric (CM) – Croatia


“He’s a complete player. Good in defence, good in offence. It looks like he was born with the ball at his feet” – Slaven Bilić

From 2008 to 2018, for 10 long years, no one but the duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won the prestigious Ballon d’Or. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer provided tough competition but the dominance was not broken until 2018, when a boy from the war torn regions of Zagreb, Croatia beat the duo to win the award. The boy is Luka Modric.

Modric is an absolutely wonderful footballer. He is a complete midfielder. He can be deployed in a box to box role, as a holding midfielder or as a number 10. He has got the grace of an Andres Iniesta, the passing of a Xavi Hernandez and the workrate of an Ngolo Kante.

Words fail me, to describe how mesmerizing a player he was at his peak.
At the end of 2012, Luka Modric was voted as the “Worst Signing of the Season” by Marca. In 2020, he is considered as one of the greatest to ever play for the Blancos. Over the span of eight years, the Croatian went from being a “flop” to being the “Gold Standard”.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – LW


“He is the best. The best in the world, yes. Probably the best ever. I saw Maradona a couple of times. I never saw Pele. But Cristiano is amazing. This man is the best. Cristiano is a goal machine. He is an incredible player.” – Jose Mourinho

At Manchester United, as I mentioned in the previous article, we saw Cristiano Ronaldo, the enigma. At Real Madrid, we saw Cristiano Ronaldo, the Assasin. During his period in Madrid, the kid from Madeira evolved from “The Best in the World” to “The Best in History”.
I don’t know what to say about Cristiano. Everyone knows how phenomenal a player he is. His ludicrous stats, absurd longevity and sheer talent all speaks for themselves. But, a rather underrated facet of Cristiano’s game is his adaptability.

During his tenure in Manchester United and first 3-4 years in Madrid, he was a dynamic presence in the wing, with astounding pace and mind-boggling footwork. But, since the 2014-15 season, as age caught up with him, something changed. The Portuguese drastically altered his football. From a dribbling winger, he transformed into a ruthless, goal scoring machine.

Nowadays, even though he starts from the wing, he is more of a centre forward and dribbles much lesser than he used to. This way, Cristiano has made himself more effective for the team and rather than slowing down after crossing 30, he improved and has become a better footballer. This is evident by the fact that since this transformation, Real Madrid went on the win three consecutive Champions League titles.

450 goals from 438 games is an utterly bonkers record. The Greatest Footballer of All Time? Probably.

Alfredo Di Stefano (CF) – Argentina

“People argue between Pele or Maradona. Di Stéfano is the best, much more complete.” – Pele

If someone asks me what the biggest “What If” moment in the history of football is, I’ll reply “What if Alfredo Di Stefano played for FC Barcelona?”
In the summer of 1954, Catalan businessman Domingo Valls Taberner ensured that he did everything in his power to bring Alfredo Di Stefano to Catalunya. FC Barcelona struck a deal with River Plate and the transfer was a rather complicated one.

However, with all procedures done, Di Stefano was officially unveiled as an FC Barcelona Player. But fate had other ideas. But, due to reasons unclear to date, and involvement from the infamous General Franco, the Argentine became a player for another club. Real Madrid CF.

Don Alfredo was footballing perfection. Talent, pace, vision, you name it, he had it. He could defend, he could attack, he could score, he could assist. To sum it up, he had everything. Literally everything!
With Don Alfredo, Real Madrid skyrocketed to the pinnacle. He spearheaded the greatest Real Madrid side of all time. Over the span of 10 years, from 1954 to 1964, this side won eight league titles and the first five European Cups in succession. Club football has not had a side that is this dominant since.

Other than Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no other player who can challenge Don Alfredo’s claim to be the greatest Blanco ever. Simple as that.

Ferenc Puskas (CF) – Hungary


“Ferenc truly was just a wonderful player. He had a roly-poly physique but a wonderful left-foot and he was a brilliant finisher. I would put Puskas in any list of all-time greats. A wonderful player and a wonderful person and he really enjoyed playing the game.” – Sir Tom Finney

Ferenc Puskas averaged more than a goal per game throughout his career. “The Galloping Horse” had lightning quick pace, great vision and a cannonbolt of a left foot. When joined Real Madrid in 1958, he had not played football for two years and was 31 years old.

He was supposed to be “past his peak”. But he was as lethal for the Blancos as he was in Hungary. He scored goals for fun. One of his best performances came in the 1950 European Cup final, as he smashed four in a 7-3 thumping of Eintracht Frankfurt. He had an outlandish 242 goals from 262 appearances at Real Madrid along with five league titles and three European Cups.

During the 50s and 60s, Real Madrid boasted an attacking line of Alfredo Di Stefano, Paco Gento and Ferenc Puskas. Has there been a more fearful attack in football than this one? I seriously doubt it.

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