You Gotta Know These Footballers (Soccer Players)
- Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) (1940–present; Brazil; forward) Also known as “the Black Pearl,” Pelé led the Brazilian national team to three World Cup victories in 1958, 1962, and 1970 (though he was injured for most of ’62 finals) and to permanent possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy. In his professional and international career, he played in 1,363 matches and scored 1,282 goals. He made his professional debut with Brazil’s Santos in 1956 and played with them until 1974. In 1975, he came out of retirement to promote the game in the United States by starring for the NASL’s New York Cosmos, earning him 1976 NASL MVP honors; his retirement game in 1977 at Giants Stadium against his old club Santos drew over 75,000 people, the largest crowd to see a soccer match in the U.S. before the 1984 Olympics. He later became Brazil’s Minister of Sport and, in 1999, the National Olympic Committees named Pelé the IOC’s Athlete of the Century, despite having never partaken in an Olympic Games.
- Franz Beckenbauer (1945–present; West Germany; sweeper) Nicknamed “Der Kaiser,” Beckenbauer invented the position of attacking sweeper, helping him to become the only man ever to win the World Cup as both team captain and as manager (1974 as a player, 1990 as manager). Beckenbauer’s first World Cup saw him help West Germany to the 1966 World Cup Final, where they lost to host England 4–2 at Wembley Stadium. 1972 saw West Germany win the European Championship and Beckenbauer named European Footballer of the Year. Two years later, Beckenbauer had one of the single greatest football years in history, captaining FC Bayern München to the Bundesliga (German First Division), European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) championships and West Germany to the World Cup, the nation’s second triumph. In 1976, he left Germany for the NASL’s New York Cosmos, where he teamed with Pelé and was named 1977 NASL MVP. He now serves as the FC Bayern München club president.
- Mia Hamm (1972–present; United States; forward) The youngest American, male or female, ever to play for a U.S. National team, Hamm was a member of both the 1991 and 1999 Womens’ World Cup Champions and the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal winning side. A UNC-Chapel Hill alum (BS 1994, Political Science), and two-time Hermann Trophy winner and Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year winner (1992 and 1993), her #19 was retired by the Tar Heels, where she won 4 NCAA titles. In international play, she holds the all-time international scoring record, for men and women, when she scored career goal 108 on May 16, 1999, against Brazil in Orlando. One of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 1997, the largest building on Nike’s Corporate Campus in Beaverton, Oregon, is named for her.
- Sir Stanley Matthews (1915–2000; England; winger) Known as “Wizard of the Dribble,” the winger debuted for England as a 19-year-old, and closed his international career in 1956 at the age of 41, when he was named the first-ever European Footballer of the Year. Though he played for unfashionable northern first division clubs like Blackpool and Stoke City, he was the most popular player of his era. In the 1953 F.A. Cup final against Bolton at Wembley, thereafter always called “The Matthews Final,” Matthews lead a rousing comeback from a 3–1 deficit with 30 minutes remaining, setting up three goals. He is also one of the most gentlemanly players in history, having never been sent off with a red card during his entire career. In 1961, he became the first English footballer to be knighted. In 1963, at the age of 48, he helped Stoke City back into the F.A. First Division by scoring the goal that clinched promotion. He retired, quite reluctantly, from the game in 1965 at the age of 50.
- Diego Maradona (1960–present; Argentina; forward) The oft-controversial strike helped Argentina to the 1986 World Cup Championship with two amazing goals against England in the semi-finals, including the infamous “Hand of God” goal, in which Maradona directed the ball into the net with his hand illegally, undetected by officials on the pitch. A two-time South American Player of the Year (1978 and 1979) before joining FC Barcelona in 1982 after the World Cup in Spain, in 1984, he moved on to FC Napoli, where he would help his side claim two Series A Championships and a UEFA Cup win in 1989. He was banned for failing a drug test in 1991, and by the time he returned he was no longer his old playing self, though he did lead a stirring performance for Argentina at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., before being banned again for failing another drug test during the tournament. Maradona finally retired in 1997 from his original team, Argentina’s Boca Juniors.
- Johann Cruyff (1947–2016; The Netherlands; midfielder) A stringent believer that “the game should be played beautifully,” Cruyff helped usher in the system of “total football” into the world game, in which all positions should be equally willing and adept to play all portions of the game. Despite being both gawky and a chain-smoker, Cruyff helped Ajax Amsterdam to three European Cups (now known as the UEFA Champions’ League) as well as being named European Footballer of the Year in 1971 and 1973. His greatest international success came in 1974 when he helped the “Orange” to their first appearance in the World Cup Final, where they lost to West Germany in Munich. “The Orange” would also make the 1978 World Cup Finals, this time without Cruyff, who retired from international play after the qualification stage. This was followed by a brief stint in the NASL, where he earned 1979 NASL MVP honors. In 1984, at the age of 37, he helped Ajax’s archrival Feyenoord to its first Dutch league title in a decade before moving into coaching at former club FC Barcelona, where he led the team to four Spanish League titles and a European Cup in a nine-year stint.
- Michel Platini (1955–present; France; midfielder) Arguably France’s greatest footballer, this midfielder won three straight European Footballer of the Year Awards beginning in 1983. He led Italian side Juventus FC to success in both Series A (Italy’s First Division) and UEFA (European) competitions. In 1985, he led Series A in scoring for a third straight year, a unique achievement, as well as leading Juventus to its only European Cup triumph, the tragic game at Heysel (Belgium) against Liverpool in which 39 Italian supporters were fatally crushed in the stands. He also led his French national side to triumph in the Euro 1984, setting the Euro scoring record. After his retirement in 1987, he was instrumental in organizing France’s bid for the 1998 World Cup.
- Ronaldo (1976–present; Brazil; forward) Ronaldo was twice World Footballer of the Year, winning those honors in 1997 (while with FC Barcelona) and 1998 (with Inter). While he was on the Brazil squad that won World Cup ’94 in the US, he was expected to star in the 1998 World Cup, where he helped Brazil to the finals, winning the Golden Ball Award as tournament MVP. That MVP performance was tarnished slightly by a poor showing (one blamed by the media on a supposed all-night session of Tomb Raider on PlayStation) that kept Brazil from its fifth title.
- David Beckham (1975–present; England; midfielder) Midfielder for Manchester United FC, known as much for his talent as his marriage to Victoria Adams, better known as “Posh Spice.” One of the FA Premiership’s finest midfielders, he was named runner-up for both the 1999 European Footballer of the Year and the 1999 World Footballer of the Year. He also helped guide Manchester United to the rare 1999 “Treble,” helping the Red Devils secure the FA Cup (Open Cup competition for all English sides), Carling FA Premiership Title (regular season champion of England’s top division) and UEFA Champions’ League (championship for national league champions of UEFA countries). These three titles made ManU only the fourth team (and first English team) to accomplish the feat. His results with the English national side have been mixed, including his now infamous booking against rival Argentina in World Cup ’98, and his obscene gesture to English fans at the opening game of Euro 2000.
- Zinedine Zidane (1972–present; France; midfielder) Known the world over as “Zizou,” the 1998 World and European Footballer of the Year as an all-around player is France’s midfield. Zidane was a critical player in the World Cup ’98 (he scored a pair of header goals in the final against Brazil) and Euro 2000 (a game-winning overtime penalty kick in the semi-finals against Portugal), both triumphs for the French national side. Like fellow French legend Platini, Zizou played for the Italian team Juventus, where he has helped it win two Series A titles.
In 1998, FIFA named its Team of the Century.