Beckham, Best, Henry or Cantona: Who were the coolest footballers to ever live?
We would all like to be footballers, right? The money, the women, the cars. Oh, and the playing of football. That’s pretty good. But some are cooler than others. Too cool, even. So cool they make everyone else look like silly, awkward, emasculated chumps. So who were the 10 coolest footballers to ever live?
Here are my top 10. Remember, these are not in any order.
We begin with a Frenchman. Sublime, elegant, deliciously batsh*t insane – Cantona was all these things. When he spoke about pigeons or doves or whatever he was, you didn’t think, ‘oh this guys just a total arsehole’. Well, you did, but you still were kind of intrigued by the underlying, peculiar, bizarre arrogance of such a talent. That chip he infamously scored must go down as one of the greatest goals ever to be scored, mainly because of the ludicrous levels of self-belief he exhibited in his celebration. Chest puffed out, shoulders rigid. It was a defining image.
Cantona played with such an extraordinary ego that you were made to feel like a mere field-mouse next to this humongous manifestation of charisma. A skilful talent; a kung-fu specialist. The thing is, King Eric knew he was cool. And, cringe you might, but he made sure you knew it as well.
Garrincha is expected to have fathered 14 children . . . with that figure potentially rising to 36. That’s 36 children, ladies and gentleman. In between drinking heavily and leading a party lifestyle, Garrincha was also an extraordinarily talented footballer, being a pivotal figure in the two Brazilian World Cup wins of 1958 and 1962. Famed for his imagination, dribbling skills, powerful shot and bullet-proof armour for all things un-cool, Garrincha was actually voted player of the World Cup in 1962 and is undoubtedly etched in the minds of every Brazilian football fan in existence.
It did, however, end sour. Garrincha eventually died partly due to his alcoholism and wild lifestyle as a mental and physical wreck of a man. But, let’s not dwell on the final chapter of Garrincha’s book, but the whole brilliant story. His grave stone, after all, coolly reads ‘Garrincha, thank you for having lived’.
Oh go on then, laugh. But when I was a kid this man was gold. Things like cheese strings, the TV show Robot Wars and Top Trumps were the rave when I was growing up and Beckham was part it. The free-kicks, the ridiculous hairstyles, the fame the way he seemed to pop with a goal at the most crucial of moments and of course, the status as a national hero (as always is with England before major tournaments). From a personal standpoint . . . Beckham was cool.
Hair. Lots of hair. Lots of screaming when scoring goals. That was Gabriel alright. An absolutely prolific goal scorer, Batistuta really made his name in Serie A, scoring 198 league goals during his 12 year stint in Italy’s top division. Should we all be honest and admit that if we could be a player it would most likely be Batistuta? You can take our Smiths and Coles and Lampards, and can we have a name like Gabriel Batistuta and score ludicrous amounts of goals and have really cool hair? That would be brilliant, thanks. Oh, and I’m forgetting his insanely good 56 goals in 78 appearances for the Argentine national side.
Blessed with a powerful shot, Gabriel looked insanely cool and warranted the praise of any football fan after every one of his running, sweating celebrations after scoring from something like 100 metres out. Sometimes it even looked as though the guy was crying. There were of course rumours that United were going to sign him way back in the early Noughties . . . but let’s be honest, he’s too cool for Manchester.
The Dutchman is known for having no sense of humour these days and launching attacks on the Dutch national team, but he’s kind of earned the right to that. For Cruyff was a magician – a genius – when in control of the ball. Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Cruyff was a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker and a cool cucumber on the field. Long hair, glinting eyes . . . he was more rock star than man. He also brilliantly exhibited the philosophy of ‘Total Football’. Yet infamously he never won a World Cup despite reaching the final twice in a row. Vision, touch, goal-scoring and technical ability were his strong points and even as a manager he was hugely successful with Ajax and Barcelona. Don’t think of the grumpy old bastard that roams the streets today, but the young whippersnapper who invented this piece of pure magic . . .
Sorry, I simply refuse to believe he was a footballer. A rock-star, an Argentinean rebel, a slick fraudster. But footballer? Christ. The giant, ridiculous hair, the generously painted stubble and of course the sublime football talent make Kempes one of the coolest footballers to ever live. In 537 club appearances Kempes scored 290 goals, and obviously that’s the mark of an extraordinary marksman. But it was in the 1978 World Cup where Kempes is etched in our minds forever. He scored six goals overall in the competition and netted two in the final against a Dutch team that will forever be known as probably the most naturally gifted set of footballers never to win the grandest prize of them all. They don’t make matches like that anymore. Tika-tape, absurd and short shorts that would make Angus Young from AC/DC blush and electric football, the final had it all and Kempes had it all. What a man!
Pace, electric pace and shooting skills. That effortless lob which left Barthez stranded. That goal against Real Madrid. That backheel goal. In reality, most people would want to be Henry or at least be like him, but miserably fail at the first hurdle when they realise, ‘ah, I’m just not cool enough. A World Cup, Euro championship and Champions League winner – as well as being part of the ‘Invincible’ campaign – Henry had (still has it) all. A cool appearance, a control of the ball mere mortals can only hope for and those Va Va Voom adverts make Henry one of the coolest players ever to grace the modern game.
Did you really expect him not to be here? The Belfast boy; Georgie Best. The ‘fifth Beatle’ as he was commonly known, when Best was at his best he was simply the best. United scout Bob Bishop telegrammed Matt Busby saying ‘I think I’ve found you a genius’ when the 15 year old Best was stumbled upon in Belfast. He wasn’t wrong.
It’s important to remember just what a great talent Best was, especially when his memory is often tainted by tales of drunkenness and violence. He scored 179 goals in 490 appearances for Manchester United; astonishingly, he only won two first division titles and a European cup in a career that was surely worth more. But his football was fast paced, skilful and accurate. So many goals, so many moments of precise skill, playing as an attacking midfielder or winger. He was a superstar and boy did he know it – but not just on the field.
An integral part of the Sixties in Great Britain, Best was famed for his womanising, gambling and drinking problems. We all know how his struggles ended. Still, the iconic image of a side-burned, long haired Best ripping the turf on the flank of a muddy pitch, expertly controlling those giant orange balls will live long in the memory. Bobby Charlton looked like he could have been his dad!
Lean, bearded, laid-back, cool hair and an even cooler name . . . good God this was a man who took cool to another level. Sadly, he is no longer with us, assigned to drinking spirits, giving views on politics and smoking like an absolute maniac up in the clouds. And of course, playing football. Socrates was a memorable figure in the World Cups and especially because of not only his immense football talent as a midfielder, but those insultingly suave headbands he used to don. He was an iconic figure of coolness and we all know those no-run-up penalty kick techniques will live long in the memory.
Watched that volley in the 2002 Champions League final? Watch it again. And again. And again. I can bet you won’t get tired of it. Zidane was an artist; a graceful footballer who would chisel out attacks and take the ball down like it was glued to his feet. A scorer in two separate World Cup finals (three goals) he left the field the last time with that insane headbutt on the chest of Marco Materazzi. Come on, that’s cool. Who cares right? Caution to the wind and all that . . . BOOSH. Down Materazzi goes. A wonderful midfielder and probably the most graceful man I have ever seen play football. And thank God he shaved off that thinning hair before he was too old.
So there you have it, that is my top 10, but who do you think is the coolest? Have I missed anyone off the list? Whatever your views I'd love to hear from you.