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Europe’s Best Goalscoring Partnerships

13 Mar

After writing about the Premier League’s best goal scoring partnerships a while back, I was inundated (one comment) with requests for something similar for other leagues. So, instead of signing up to do some accountancy exams that I’ve been putting off for 13 years, I decided the best way to spend some spare time would be to put together another list for absolutely no reward. I hope somebody somewhere enjoys reads this.

With the return to favour of partnerships such as Suarez and Sturridge, (#dare to) Zlatan and Cavani, and Negredo and Aguero, what better time to have a look back at some of the best partnerships before them. Having searched a whole two pages of Google without finding something exactly the same as this, I thought it was time to put together a combined list.

Rules and Workings

I’ve decided to go back 25 years to cover the 1988-89 to the 2012-13 seasons. Why 25 years? Well that just about covers my football watching memory and it’s a nice round number. I’ve decided to include just the Top four Leagues in Europe – the top divisions in England, Germany, Italy and Spain (based on European Trophies won).

A partnership is only considered so if both players (regardless of position)have scored at least 10 goals each. For this list, I’ve only combined those pairs with 30 goals or more, so sadly that would exclude van Wolfswinkel and Elmander’s herculean haul of 2 goals from this season. Tough break fellas.

A further blow to the Norwich duo’s chances are that this season’s partnerships are not included as they’ll instantly make this post out of date. Expect to see Suarez and Sturridge included in the next update in space year 2038.

Joking aside, as I type, Suarez and Sturridge have just hit their combined 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th goals of the season against Cardiff, so they definitely make it into the Top Partnerships list, but as the season hasn’t ended yet, their number is likely to change.

It’s worth noting that the German League has fewer games, and the other leagues have varied in number of teams.

And lastly, it’s league goals only.

The Stats

In all, there’s a whopping 221 instances of 30 goal partnerships in the Top Four European leagues over the last 25 completed seasons – actually a lot higher than I’d expected. Spain lead the way with 70, followed by England (61), Italy (49) and Germany (41). No real shock there as Germany has fewer games, as did Italy for a good chunk of the 25 seasons in question. In terms of clubs represented, there are a decent 61 (Spain 17, England 16, Italy 15 and Germany 13).

At the top end of the food chain are the mighty Real Madrid with a 30 goal partnership in 19 of the 25 seasons recorded. No wonder they win quite a lot. As you’d expect, anything they can do, Barcelona can almost do (that would make a catchy song), and the Catalans are second on the list with a healthy 17 partnerships represented. Aside from Spain, England have Man Utd and Liverpool in double figures (13 + 10), whilst somewhat surprisingly, it’s Bayer Leverkusen who lead the way in Germany with 10 partnerships making the 30 goal mark. For Italy, AC Milan are the team with the most deadly duos, featuring 8 times.

At the bottom end, there are 25 clubs with just one 30 goal partnership, sadly, my team don’t even have that. The likes of Coventry’s Dublin and Huckerby, are joined for their day in the sun by Villarreal’s Forlan and Riquelme (2004-05). And who could forget Bochum’s world famous Thomas Christiansen and Vahid Hashemian with their 31 goal haul in 2002-03. I know I certainly won’t.

The 50 goal club

As mentioned above, there’s a great deal of 30 goal partnerships, so many in fact, that I wonder why I used that number. So to get things going, here’s a list of those partnerships that scored at least 50 league goals in a season. Just to manage expectations – it’s a bit heavy with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Best Strike Partnerships (50 goals +)

In fact it’s basically La Liga’s greatest partnerships plus three others.

As its illegal not to mention both Ronaldo and Messi when speaking about the Spanish league, it’s worth having a quick look at their record in this list. Interestingly, both players have been part of a successful partnership as the second scorer – which is really what you’d have expected a few years back, with both players featuring out wide early on. Ronaldo’s first season in Madrid saw him form one of the most balanced partnerships on this list, with Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine banging in a decent 27 goals to the shy Portuguese’s 26. A pretty good debut season before the championship manager stats started kicking in. Messi’s season as the second scorer was in the 2008-09 season that saw Samuel Eto’o hitting 30 to Messi’s 23.

Man City fans may be surprised to see Edin Dzeko in 6th place with the wall decorating Brazilian Grafite (I’m sorry) making up the pair – the highest Bundeliga entry with 54 goals. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have combined for 30+ goals on two occasions, with the 2009-10 season seeing a combined 51 league goals for the Chelsea legends – albeit not a typical strike partnership. However, in first place for England are Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley with a whopping 55 – all for a promoted club too. Impressive stuff. Must have been before Cole needed five chances to score (Glenn Hoddle’s words, not mine).

Fans of 90s football will be disappointed not to see any Italian partnerships breaking the 50 goal mark but heartened to see the Original Ronaldo and (possibly the original) Luis Enrique with 51 goals in the 1996-97 season. Ronaldo who started the season aged just 19 would score 47 goals (all tournaments) in his only season with the Catalan giants. Damn you Gods of injury.

What is also interesting (depending on your definition), is that 11 of the 50 goal partnerships have been in the last five years – at a time when 4-5-1’s have become the norm. Although a lot of them are rather dependent on Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo being involved.

The number one partnership sees Ronaldo paired up with Higuain for the 3rd time to make a 50 goal mark. The winning season being 2011-12 when Mourinho’s men managed to break Barca’s dominance of La Liga. A phenomenal 68 league goals from just two players is quite frankly bonkers. Both Ronaldo and Messi feature in four 50 goal partnerships – Messi with 4 different partners, the big flirt.

Top 20 Partnerships By Country

I planned to show a top ten by country, but La Liga’s are already on show, and it would also mean leaving out the likes of Batistuta and Oliveira who thrived on Rui Costa’s assists in 1997-98. And because we haven’t featured much from Serie A just yet, now seems as good a time as any. So without further ado:

Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Serie A Top Scoring Partnerships

Premier League/Division One Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Premier League Top Scoring Partnerships

La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

La Liga Top Scoring Partnerships

Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships 1988-2013

Bundesliga Top Scoring Partnerships v2

I know what you’re thinking – where’s Vialli and Mancini? They were undoubtedly a great strike partnership, but they were also playing in the most defensive era of a league known for being defensive. They’re best season together came in 1990-91 when they combined to score 31 league goals (ranked 35th in the Serie A charts).

There’s three entries from before the Premier League began in England, with Barnes and Rush scoring a decent 39 combined goals in the triumphant 1989-90 season for Liverpool.

Spain’s list sees the crowd pleasing entry of Romario and Stoichkov, who notched 46 goals in 1993-94 whilst the Bundesliga entry reminds us of just how good Roy Makaay was. In fact the Dutchman is one of a number of players who feature across multiple leagues, with the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldo (not a typo), Ibrahimovic, Eto’o, Raul and Berbatov (along with others).

 

Other Notes of Interest

Top 10 Teams are:

Real Madrid 19
Barcelona 17
Man Utd 13
Liverpool 10
Bayer Leverkusen 10
Arsenal 9
Bayern Munich 9
AC Milan 8
Valencia 7
Juventus 7

Most Featured Players:

Only 8 players have featured in five or more 30 goal partnerships and top spot doesn’t go to Messi or Ronaldo, but rather Raul who has been involved in 10 great partnerships. Across two countries, he scored goals with Morientes, Zamorano, van Nistelrooy (2), Ronaldo (2), Guti, Huntelaar, Higuain, and Suker. That’s impressive.

The other compatibles are Cristiano Ronaldo (7), Messi, Del Piero, Makaay, Eto’o, Berbatov, and Rooney (all five).

 

So there you have it, it’s not just the big man-little man partnership (Quinn-Phillips), or the classic goalpoaching number 9 and playmaking number 10 (Romario and Stoichkov) that make great partnerships. It can be wide men with false number 9s, a lone striker with an advanced midfielder (Torres and Gerrard/Drogba and Lampard) or if you’re lucky, it may even be Toni Polster and Bruno Labbadia (FC Koln 1994-95).

This season will see entries from Suarez and Sturridge, Ronaldo and Benzema, and Messi and Sanchez. Tevez and Llorente also stand a good chance of joining the elite club along with a few others

I’ll chuck the full list up in the coming days.

Cheers,

Liam

;

Notable ommissions – maybe other countries/world cups

Near miss

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Player Comparison: Rio Ferdinand vs John Terry

23 Nov

Up next in the World Famous Player Comparison series is a slightly controversial one. England defenders and definitely not best friends, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. Two of the best defenders in Premier League history, this is the first comparison of defenders, and could be the last depending on feedback….

Given the recent disharmony between Terry and the Ferdinands, this may seem a bit on the reactive side, but I’ve had this request on more than one occasion (twice) so thought I’d give it a go. Both are entering the twilight of their careers (Rio has just turned is 34, JT, approaching 32), both have been League winners and Champions League winners. Both have played at one of the biggest clubs in the world for 10 years or more, and for a long time, the two were playing alongside eachother at the heart of the England defence. With that in mind, and the added spice of club and personality clashes/rivalries, they’re ideal candidates to compare.

The Rules

Usually I’m comparing goals and assists, but in this instance the focus is all about the dirty business of stopping them. So when looking at the range and average opponent, it’ll be by goals conceded and clean sheets. The primary focus will be on Premier League stats, but there will be a look at international and cup games. The calculations can be found in the rules and workings page on the top menu, but simply enough, it’s a look at their stats but by the level of opposition.

The time period is from when Ferdinand signed for Manchester United at the start of the 2002-03 season, up until the end of 2011-12 – 10 full seasons. In that time, Terry has played 311 Premier League games to Ferdinand’s 269.

Background

Despite being born and bred in South London, Rio Ferdinand began his Football career in the prestigious West Ham academy. Initially a central midfielder, Rio was taught the art of defending under the tutelage of Tony Carr, and was hailed as the heir to Bobby Moore’s throne for club and country. With his ability on the ball, Ferdinand also played for the West Ham first team in central midfield, wing back and even up front – scoring his first senior goal in just his second substitute appearance, after his debut aged just 17. Seen as talented but unfocused, eyebrows were raised when Leeds United paid £18m for the young defender in November 2000 – both a British Record transfer and also the World Record price for a defender. But Ferdinand excelled under fellow Centre Back David O’Leary and helped a young Leeds team to the Semi Final of the Champions League later that season. Another good season later, and Ferdinand was starting for England in the 2002 World Cup, as they got to the Quarter Finals. His displays for both Leeds and England were enough for Sir Alex Ferguson to pay over £30m – making him once again the most expensive British footballer, and regaining the title of World’s most expensive defender from Lilian Thuram.

John Terry on the other hand, has been a one club man. Despite also training with West Ham as a youngster, the Barking born defender signed for Chelsea at the age of 14 after playing for famous boys club Senrab, along with the likes of Bobby Zamora, Ledley King and JLloyd Samuel. During his early years around the Chelsea first team squad, he saw his chances limited due to Marcel Desailly and Frank Le Boeuf, and subsequently found himself at Nottingham Forest on a short term loan to get first team experience under David Platt. Despite making his Chelsea debut in the 1998-99 season, Terry didn’t become a first team regular until the 2000-01 season, playing 22 league games as Chelsea finished in 6th place. The following season, Terry further cemented his place as a first team regular, playing in 33 of the 38 league games, as Chelsea once again finished in 6th place. Seen as a typical British defender, Terry made a reputation for putting his body on the line for the cause, but it his ability to pass the ball was often overlooked as a result.

Premier League

Clean Sheets

And so on to the hard numbers. First and foremost, the appearances and clean sheets by season:

Both have pretty good records with close to a one in two clean sheet rate. Ferdinand’s appearances have been slightly limited due to injury and an eight month ban for forgetfulness. Over the ten years, Ferdinand has made an average of 27 league appearances per season, and in that time, has kept an average of 12.9 clean sheets per season. In total, he’s kept a clean sheet for every 2.085 games. John Terry’s 311 appearances work out at an average of 31 games per season, with a clean sheet rate of 15.9. So on the face of it, Terry is ahead, with a clean sheet every 1.955 games.

Terry’s high of 25 in Chelsea’s title winning season of 2004-05 dwarfs Ferdinand’s 19 in 2007-08, when United won the total. In fact, Terry has kept 20 clean sheets or more in three of the ten seasons. Surprisingly, neither player has completed a full 38 game season.

So Terry’s ahead on the overall defensive stats, but in reality, both keep a clean sheet every second game – a phenomenal rate over a ten year period. But what of their quality of the opposition? Step this way.

First up (due to age and alphabet) is Ferdinand. A decent 27 clean sheets against the teams that finished in the Top 6, 65 against the Mid table teams and 37 against the teams struggling against relegation. An average ranked opponent of 11.21 over 129 clean sheets, his highest number of clean sheets against the big teams was five, which was achieved in three consecutive seasons between 2005-06 to 2007-08, with Man Utd winning the league in the latter two seasons. His highest average was in 2010-11, with 7.50 average from his eight clean sheets – of which, half were against the Top 6 teams, with Spurs (twice), Arsenal and Man City all being kept out. Tellingly, no clean sheets were kept against the Top 6 in the 2011-12 season as United lost the title on goal difference, with Ferdinand being part of the United team that lost 6-1 at home to Manchester City.

Terry’s best season was by far and away the 2004-05 season. Keeping a whopping 25 clean sheets against an average ranked opponent of 10.12 as Chelsea went on to win the league for the first time in 50 years, breaking, posting the best defensive record in the history of the English top flight. The season after also saw a stellar defensive display from Chelsea, and Terry was partly responsible for 20 clean sheets, including five against the Top 6 teams. Last season however, saw a drop in the number of clean sheets as he posted just 9 during his 31 league appearances. This could be down to a number of things, such as off the field problems, or defensive partners. Long gone are the days of Carvalho, who has been replaced by Luiz and Cahill. As a result, the number of clean sheets have dropped significantly.

So John Terry is more likely to play first and foremost, and he’s just ahead of Rio Ferdinand in terms of games per clean sheet. But……

If we take a closer look at Clean Sheets against the Top 6, taking into account Ferdinand’s appearances. Each player has finished in the Top 6 in each of the ten seasons, meaning there’s a maximum of ten appearances against Top 6 opposition. So here’s the clean sheets and appearances by player versus the best in the league:

John Terry’s clean sheet rate of one every 1.955 games becomes a clean sheet every 2.61 games, compared to Ferdinand’s clean sheet every 2.44 games. So Terry’s more likely to keep clean sheets overall, but Ferdinand did it more against the best in the league. In United’s last title winning season, he kept an impressive four in just six appearances.

Goals Conceded

Moving on to goals conceded. First up is Ferdinand again. Over the 269 Premier League games for United in the last 10 years, he’s let in on average 0.75 goals per game – comfortably under the magical 1 per game target. His best season, being the 2007-08 title win, where he let in only 21 goals in 35 games – 0.6 goals per game. The season before, he played 8 games versus the Top 6 teams, and only conceded 4 goals, whilst in 2010-11, the other Top teams only managed to score twice during his 6 games against. In total, he conceded 70 goals in 66 apearances against the best teams in the league – a number damaged by the 6-1 Manchester Derby.

Moving on to Chelsea’s Captain, on the same comparison, Terry conceded 83 goals in 81 appearances against fellow Top 6 teams – just ahead of Ferdinand’s rate. His best season against the Top 6 was in 2004-05 when just four strikes got past him and his team mates in 9 appearances. His overall goals conceded rate is 0.72 per game – almost identical to his rival’s 0.75. His best season was the phenomenal 2004-05 when just 13 goals were conceded on Terry’s watch – a phenomenal 0.36 goals per game. No wonder they won the league so comfortably.

Discipline

This isn’t taking into account the many off the field issues affecting each player, but a very quick look at the yellow/red card count in their last ten years. It’s fair to say that the records are like Chalk and Cheese in this regard. In just the Premier League games, they’ve shared 5 Red Cards – 4 of which were for Terry. Reds against Spurs (twice), Everton and Man City have cost his team as they managed just one win in the four games. Ferdinand’s one red was in the 4-3 defeat to Blackburn, that saw young up and coming midfielder David Bentley score a hat trick against United. A platform for great things…..

On the yellow cards, it’s pretty much the same story – Terry has 52 to Ferdinand’s 20 in what is in keeping with the general expectation of the players – Terry seen as a British Bulldog, win at all costs type, with Ferdinand seen as the cultured type. In all competitions, for club and country over the 10 years we’re looking at, it’s 31 yellows and 1 red for Ferdinand, and 80 yellows and 5 reds for John Terry, with the last Red costing him a place in the Champions League Final – not that he missed the celebrations.

Goals

One area where there really is no contest is at the other end of the pitch. Whilst Ferdinand scored 7 Manchester United goals in the ten years we’re looking at, John Terry scored a massive 43 in the same period. Whilst it has nothing to do with who is a better defender (Philippe Albert anyone?), it’s certainly an interesting angle, and some could use it when looking at the all round footballers. Terry can point to goals against Roma, Arsenal, Man City and Barcelona in recent years, whilst Ferdinand’s highlights in front of goal would be scoring against Liverpool in back to back seasons.

Champions League

Of course, both players have Champions League medals and both have tasted defeat in the final, so it’s worth comparing their records in Europe – both at a group stage and a knock out stage – where in theory, the opposition are better.

Once again, Terry leads the way with the overall number of clean sheets – posting 39 against Ferdinand’s 36, however, when you take into account the number of games, then Ferdinand has the fewer number of games per clean sheet at 1.94 from 70 appearances compared to Terry’s clean sheets every 2.23 games from his 87 appearances.

Champions League break down:

So in keeping with the Premier League stats, Ferdinand is more likely to keep a clean sheet in the bigger games. Terry has kept a clean sheet for every 1.7 group games in the Champions League, but just one every 3.42 in the knock out stages. Ferdinand on the other hand is pretty consistent – averaging a clean sheet every two games regardless of the stage.

Other big games

Both players have played in three league cup finals. Ferdinand has two medals, keeping clean sheets in two games, and conceding two goals in the three games, whilst Terry’s three finals have seen five goals conceded, and one win. Moving on to the FA Cup, Ferdinand has played in two FA Cup finals – keeping a clean sheet before losing on penalties to Arsenal in 2005, and the equally thrilling 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in 2007. Surprisingly, after ten years at Old Trafford, he doesn’t have an FA Cup winners medal (he was suspended when Millwall were beaten in 2004). Terry on the other hand has four winners medals in that time (to add to his 99-00 one), keeping clean sheets against Portsmouth (2008) and Man Utd in the aforementioned snorefest. Two 2-1 victories over both Merseyside clubs completed the set. So Ferdinand has three clean sheets in five domestic Cup Finals to Terry’s two in seven.

England

So we’ve established that both are great defenders in their own right, but how we’re they together, and did they fair better with or without each other for England? Ferdinand won the first of his 81 caps in 1997 as a teenager, and even made it to the World Cup the following year as a non playing squad member. Terry would have to wait another five seasons for his first cap, and up until his recent international retirement, made 78 appearances for the Three Lions.

In the last ten years, Ferdinand’s made 59 appearances to Terry’s 72 – playing alongside eachother on 34 occasions:

In terms of clean sheets, there wasn’t really much difference. Together they kept a clean sheet every 2.20 games, Ferdinand without Terry was 2.27 and Terry without Ferdinand was 2.17 – a slight edge to Terry. In terms of goals conceded, together they let in 0.82 goals per game, with Ferdinand keeping a slightly better 0.8 conceded without Terry and Terry keeping a consistent 0.82.

Once again, there’s not a great deal in it. In terms of highlights, Terry’s clean sheet against Italy in Euro 2012, compares with Ferdinand’s clean sheet against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup. In terms of goals, it’s a bit closer than their club appearances, with Ferdinand scoring three goals for England compared to Terry’s six. Interestingly though, all of Ferdinand’s have been in competitive matches, with five of Terry’s six being in friendlies (including Brazil and Germany).

The Makelele Factor

It’s hard to put an exact impact to the Chelsea clean sheets that John Terry kept, but from 2003-04 to 2007-08 Claude Makelele played the holding midfield role so well that it was renamed the Makelele role. During that time, John Terry kept 91 of his 159 clean sheets, keeping 68 in the five seasons without him. Ferdinand meanwhile had Roy Keane for his first three seasons at the club with his best defensive performances coming after the departure of the influential skipper. And it’s fair to say that he wasn’t quite as defensively disciplined as Makelele.

Conclusion

Shock Horror, I’m going to declare this one a draw. Terry was slightly more likely to keep a clean sheet, but Ferdinand was slightly more likely to do so against the best opponents. In the big games, Ferdinand had the edge in terms of both clean sheets and goals conceded (such as domestic Cup Finals and European knock out games) but Terry was much more likely to trouble the opposition by scoring. Looking at their England records, it was near identical with and without each other. There was only ever going to be one conclusion based on the stats.

So despite your view of each player as a person, no one can honestly say that they haven’t both been excellent players – perhaps two of the best in English history. Both are coming to the end of their careers now, but for those ten years, there are very few who can compare.

Cheers,

Liam

Big Game Youth Systems?

2 Nov

In the continued quest to understand what makes a big game player, I thought I’d look into the part that youth teams play in a player’s big game temperament, or more precisely, which Youth Teams are responsible for the big game players, or in fact just a steady flow of good players. I’ll be looking at World Players of the Year, Golden Ball winners and a few other bits and pieces. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Rules

For the sake of consistency, if the player has been at two youth academies, I’ll use the club that they made their professional debut with. So whilst Barcelona’s famed La Masia Academy helped produce Piqué and Fabregas, they finished their youth team education with Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively.

Each category is as per the official FIFA lists.

World Player of the Year

First things first, some lists. The first is the Worlds best players from 1991 onwards, complete with their youth team. Why 1991? Because surprisingly, that’s when the award began. From 2009 onwards, the award merged with the Ballon d’Or to become one global award. To widen the data a bit further and because there’s not always a lot in it, I’ve taken the Top three players for each year.

So is there an outstanding Youth Team that produces more World Class players (and that’s a pretty safe use of the phrase) than the others? Well yes and no. If you take Ronaldo as an example, he won the award three times and finished in the top 3 on another two occasions, meaning five entries for Brazilian club Cruzeiro. So to avoid duplication, each player is only allowed one entry. When that’s taken into account, there’s not really a run away winner.

In fact, only three clubs have had more than one representative from their youth team to finish in the top three players in the World:

  1. Barcelona – Lionel Messi (1st in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2nd in 2007, 2008) Andres Iniesta (2nd in 2010), Xavi (3rd in 2009, 2010, 2011)
  2. Sporting Lisbon – Luis Figo (1st in 2001, 2nd in 2000), Cristiano Ronaldo (1st in 2008, 2nd in 2009, 2011, 3rd in 2007)
  3. Ajax – Dennis Bergkamp (3rd in 1993, 1997), Marco van Basten (1st in 1992)

It’s not a massive surprise that those three clubs are where they are. A large chunk of the current Barcelona squad have at one time been graduates of the famous youth system. Aside from the trio above, you could point to Pedro, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes, Puyol as well as those that left before returning – Fabregas, Alba and Pique. There’s also players that went elsewhere like Mikel Arteta, Bojan Krkic, Thiago Motta, Oriel Romeu and Giovanni Dos Santos. Going back further than that and the list goes on – Pep Guardiola anyone? It’s impressive.

Sporting Lisbon aren’t exactly slouches either. Aside from the lads above, there’s Paolo Futre, Simao, Nani, and many others. Though they can’t compete with Ajax. The team that won the 1995 Champions League contained 11 youth team graduates from a match day squad of 16. And that’s just one batch. Add in the 60s-70s graduates and it’s easy to understand why they have a reputation of being the best in the World.

Other than that, there’s 28 other clubs that have produced one of the best three players in the last 22 years, ranging from AC Milan (Maldini) to West Ham United (Frank Lampard Jr).

European Footballer of the Year

So applying the same logic, I thought I’d have a look at the European Player of the Year awards (Ballon d’Or). This award goes back to 1956, giving us a wider base to look at. Up untol 1995, it was European Player only. From then onwards, it was changed to players playing in Europe, regardless of their nationality. There’s been 6 South American winners of it, if you exclude Alfredo Di Stefano who was apparently Spanish when he won it in 1957. As mentioned above, the award merged with the World Player of the Year awards in 2010, so the below data is 1956-2009.

Does it offer us a better of view of the best Youth Systems for producing big game players? Well the greater pool of players (Top 3 and sometimes 4 players if level on points) numbers at 164, giving a greater scope. Surprisingly, there’s only 13 teams that have produced more than one player to feature in the Ballon d’Or awards:

The same three that featured on the earlier list are all present, though Barca lose one player, whilst Sporting gain another, in Paulo Futre. Ajax are the single most successful youth system on this measurement with five legends of the game, and that’s with the surprising omissions of Kluivert, Davids, and Seedorf from the lists. In terms of countries, both Spain and England have three clubs represented. There’s no suprise of the three English clubs, just of the players missing.

A couple of points of note. Firstly, Raul is down as a Real Madrid youth product but actually spent a number of years on the books of Atletico Madrid. Ouch. Secondly, Luis Suarez from the Deportivo youth team isn’t the current Liverpool striker (his youth team was Nacional), but rather Barcelona, Spain and Inter Milan legend Luis Suarez Miramontes.

South American Footballer of the Year

Like the European equivalent, this award has been running for longer than the World Player of the year, dating back to 1971 when Brazil legend Tostao picked up the first award whilst playing for Cruzeiro (his youth team was America MG). In all, there’s been 130 players to finish in the Top 3 positions, from 54 different Youth Academies. Unlike the European award, there’s actually quite a lot of repeat achievers, meaning that I’ve restricted it to teams that have produced three players or more.

The award was initially for any player from South America (Mario Kempes won it whilst playing for Valencia), but after 1986, it was restricted to those players playing their football in South America and Mexico.

And so to the list:

River Plate do well – appearing on both lists, and contributing a whopping eight players to the European or South American player of the year awards. And it’s easy to see why with some of the names listed above. When you also think that they also produced Pablo Aimar, Claudio Caniggia, Gonzalo Higuain and many others, it’s easy to understand why they’re the best represented club in the lists above, but it also makes it hard to understand how they were recently relegated (before a quick promotion).

Their bitter rivals, Boca Juniors don’t do too badly either. Current Argentina Internationals, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago both began their careers at the club, as well as World Cup winner Oscar Ruggeri, whilst surprisingly it was Argentinos Juniors that produced Boca legends Diego Maradona and Juan Roman Riquelme. So River Plate may be more prolific, but Boca can point to one of the greatest players of all time. Which leads nicely to Pele and Santos.

Along with Pele, Santos also began the careers of Diego, Ganso, Robinho and the latest flavour of the month, Neymar, who’s the current holder of the South American Player of the Year title. Not a bad list to be fair.

Other

I was going to include the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ball awards for the three best players at the World Cup, but after reviewing the list, I decided it wasn’t as useful as first thought. For a start, Zidane (Cannes Youth Team) didn’t feature in the 1998 awards. After that, in 2002 Oliver Kahn won the award despite a massive howler in the Final, and South Korea’s Hong Myung-Bo took the Bronze Ball. I’m a pretty avid Football fan, but I have no recollection of this player, but do recall Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Rivaldo having a pretty decent tournament before having to miss the Final. Furthermore, in 1986, there was no Silver or Bronze awards at all – with just Maradona and no one else – which given his impact on that World Cup, is probably fair enough, not that it was a completely one man team, although a little harsh on Top Scorer Gary Lineker (Leicester Youth Team) and one or two other decent players.

Conclusion

Well going through all of the lists and background research, there’s three clubs that have really stood out as having the best youth systems in the World, Ajax, Barcelona and River Plate. There’s been several clubs that have produced great batches of youngsters – The Man Utd youth team of the early 90’s produced World Class players – Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and to an extent (as a Right Back), Gary Neville. That same batch also produced the likes of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage and whilst not World Class, they all won several caps for the their countries and had good careers. This is the same Youth System that produce the likes of Charlton, Best, Edwards back in the 50s-60s.

Similarly the famed West Ham Academy had a batch of similarly talented players from 96-99, including Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermaine Defoe. The current team includes Tomkins, Noble and Collison, whilst going back the most famous batch of the early 1960’s included World Cup winners Geoff Hurst (Hat trick in the final), Martin Peters (goal in the final) and Bobby Moore (two assists and captain in the final). It’s a running joke that West Ham won the World Cup, but it does say a lot for their youth system to have produced three players that had such a large impact on the biggest game of all. Moving on, Trevor Brooking, Paul Ince, Alvin Martin, Tony Cottee and somewhat surprisingly Ray Houghton (amongst others) all came through the Youth Team before going on to good careers for club and country.

There are strong cases to be made for Liverpool (click here for more), Arsenal and Southampton in England, with the Saints recently producing several talented wide players – Bridge, Bale, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dyer, as well as going back a bit further to Le Tissier, Shearer and Flowers.

But in terms of the truly top players in their continents and in the World it’s Barcelona that currently lead the way. Currently lauded as the best team in the World, and some say of all time, they’re matchday XI regularly contain upto 7 or 8 form youth team players as listed above. There’s several more promising youngsters making their way in football as well, some still with the club, some looking to advance elsewhere, but the La Masia academy is currently the most prolific youth system in World football. And well it should be, as Barcelona spend an estimated £15m a year on it – dwarfing every other club in the World. And it’s clearly money well spent.

River Plate have suffered recently, having been relegated the season before last, but the list of players mentioned above only tells part of the story. Other notable graduates from the River youth team include Almeyda, Gallardo, Hernan Crespo, De Michelis, Cavenaghi, current Roma starlet Erik Lamela and somewhat surprisingly, Colombian super star Radamel Falcao. Not too shabby.

And with Ajax, there’s not really much more I can add to the thousands of articles already written about them. It’s not just a football academy, it’s also an education system that they run, a culture. The 1995 European Champions were years of academy work paying off. From van der Sar in goal, Blind, de Boer, Reiziger and Bogarde at the back, Davids, Seedorf and de Boer in midfield and a teenage Patrick Kluivert up front. All heavily involved in the run to the final, and with some help of some others (Rijkaard, Kanu, Litmanen), were able to emulate the great 70’s team of Cruyff et al – again, heavily represented by youth team graduates.

There’s a lot more to investigate in terms of what makes a big game player. The example of the De Jong brothers in Holland proves its not just the club environment as both brothers scored regularly against Top 6 Opponents last season, but the youth team education undoubtedly helps. I’ve no doubt missed several great youth systems (Monchengladbach anyone?) but I think I’ve covered the main ones, certainly from a big game player point of view. Missed some other good ones? Leave a comment below.

Cheers,

Liam

th team by World Players, Golden Boots, Recent Big Game players, Top 50

Other Findings

Good youth team academies

West Ham

Man Utd

Liverpool

Southampton – Dyer, Bridge, Bale, Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlain, Le Tissier, Shearer, Flowers

Everton

Youth teams with speciality in positions – Southampton, Sporting Lisbon, lack of Man Utd strikers

Further Reading:

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Top 50 Big Game Scorers: 5-1

24 Sep

Here it is, the Top 5 Big Game Scorers in the history of Football. All are well known superstars, and after taking thousands of goals and matches into account, the top player is revealed. To see numbers 10-6, click here

5. Zinedine Zidane (France) 1988-2006 / 33 points – 10 goals

In at number 5 is the man that many believe was able to break the Maradona/Pele stranglehold on the best player of all time title. And part of that can be attributed to his performance in big games. Although an attacking midfielder, he wasn’t in the Maradona, Platini and Lampard gang of prolific scorers. In an 18 year professional career, he got double figures on just six occasions, with his highest season total being 12. However, as you probably know, he stepped up on the biggest stages. The most recent player to score in two World Cup Finals, Zizou scored a headed double in 1998 and then a pretty much perfect penalty in the 2006 Final against Buffon, which also had added pressure as he’d announced it would be his last game as a professional. What a great way to bow out….

And it wasn’t just the World Cup that he excelled in. The successful Euro 2000 campaign for France saw Zidane put his country through in the Semi Final against Portugal (who must have a deep dislike of him after he repeated the trick in the 2006 World Cup semi final). In club football, he was equally adept at stepping up in the biggest games, most notably in the 2002 Champions League Final where he did this:


A perfect volley into the top corner from a looping cross on his weaker foot? Not a problem. That goal also won the trophy for the Madrid. And whilst that was his most notable goal in a great club career, he also scored plenty of other significant goals. Many forget the semi final goal against bitter rivals Barcelona at the Nou Camp (seen here), whilst his time at Juventus was also memorable, if a touch unlucky as he lost two finals with the Turin giants. In the 1997 Champions League Semi Final, Zidane scored against Ajax, before scoring against Monaco at the same stage a year later, before going on to lose the finals to Dortmund and Real Madrid respectively. In fact, his Champions League campaigns involving Juventus generally didn’t end too well, with his former club knocking out Real Madrid at the same stage in 2003, despite Zidane’s goal in a 4-3 aggregate loss.

He was of course much much more than about goals, but the fact that he stepped up with so many high pressure big game goals, only added to the high regard he was held in. There’s a great article that makes a pretty good case for comparing Rivaldo to Zidane, and rightly so, however, doesn’t quite match Zidane’s achievements and ability to impact the very biggest games so consistently – surely something that warrants the Frenchman’s placing in the history of football.

Cesare Maldini when manager of the 1998 Italy World Cup squad said that he’d give up five of his players for one Zidane, but perhaps Franz Beckenbauer sums up Zidane the best:

Beckenbauer on Zidane “Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player…….Zidane is unique, The ball flows with him. He’s more like a dancer than a footballer

4. Ferenc Puskas (Hungary) 1943-1966 / 40 points – 15 goals

Yet another one of the dominant Real Madrid team of the 50s and 60s, Ferenc Puskas holds the distinction of scoring two hat tricks in the finals of the European Cup, in fact one of them was actually a four goal haul. He also had the distinction of playing for different countries at the World Cup – firstly Hungary and later on Spain. But more on that later.

A dominant part of three great teams, Puskas first came to prominence playing for the Hungarian military team Honved where he earned the nickname “the Galloping Major”, whilst playing alongside fellow Hungarian legends Czibor and Kocsis. He won five titles in his time with them and the golden boot in four seasons – including a 50 goal season in 1947-48, which was the highest in Europe. But it wasn’t with Honved that Puskas became known and feared around Europe, it was with his national team – the Mighty Magyars. He would eventually go on to score a massive 84 goals in 85 appearances for his (first country) and in that time they beat England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 away (unheard of then) as well as going on a 32 game unbeaten run that saw them win the 1952 Olympics (with Puskas scoring in the Final) that ended at the worst possible time – the 1954 World Cup Final. In the Final, Puskas showed his big game temperament once again as he put the favourites 1-0 up after just six minutes. That lead became 2-0 before West Germany managed to turn the game around and win 3-2 in a match that came to be known as the Miracle of Bern.

After leaving Hungary in 1956 on a tour around Europe, Puskas was one of many who refused to return to Hungary. As a result he received a 2 year ban from FIFA. Once the ban had ended, he was turend down by clubs in Italy and was denied a move to Manchester United before Real Madrid took a gamble on the overweight 31 year old. And it didn’t end too badly for him. In his first season, he scored two goals in the European Cup semi final against neighbours Atletico as Real went on to retain the trophy. The following year he really made his mark. In a semi final against rivals Barcelona, Puskas scored three goals over the two legs to put Real in their fifth straight Final – and it was in this Final that his legendary status at Madrid would be cemented. Facing Eintracht Frankfurt, Puskas scored four goals in a 7-3 win:.


And of course, he wasn’t done there. After a year off, Madrid were back in the final in 1962, and juts to prove it wasn’t a fluke before, Puskas scored another hat trick in the final – although unfortunately for him, he was facing a Eusebio inspired Benfica who scored five to his three. Not to worry though, him and Real Madrid won the trophy again in 1966 with the big 39 year old striker scoring four goals in one game against Feyenoord along the way.

So a World Cup Final goal, an Olympic Final goal, and two European Cup Final hat tricks. That pretty much settles any debate (if there was any). He went on to manage several teams, most notably taking Panathinaikos to the European Cup Final in 1971 (the only time a Greek club has ever reached that stage) and in 2002, the Hungarian national team stadium was renamed in his honour.

3. Pele (Brazil) 1956-1977 / 40.5 points – 13 goals

Where to start with Pele? How about some modest words from the man himself: “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele”. Well he is the only man to have won three World Cups, but personally, I wanted to be Tony Cottee. Even still, he is generally considered to be one of the holy trilogy of the greatest of all time. Scorer of over 1,000 goals, Pele will be judged by some due to never playing in European leagues – though this wasn’t necessarrily his fault, like Eusebio, Pele was banned from leaving Brazil – certainly in his prime anyway. As you’d expect, 3 World Cups + Brazil’s all time top scorer (77) = some big game goals.

A truly innovative player who’s near misses are almost as famous as his goals (this is the best one, but there’s also the halfway line shot and the Banks save), Pele burst onto the global scene during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Aged just 17, Pele scored six times, all in the knock out stages. First up was the winner as Wales were defeated 1-0 in the Quarters. From then, things really took off. Facing Just Fontaine’s France (the only player to outscore him at that tournament), Pele scored a hat trick in a 5-2 win – proving to be the difference on the day. And the momentum kept going as in the Final the teenager did this:

One of two days that day, Brazil won their first World Cup and a legend was born. He played and scored at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cup’s but injuries (fouls) robbed him of playing the full tournament. In fact the “attention” he was receiving from opposition defenders in 1966 led him to declare that he’d never play in the World Cup again. Luckily for us, Brazil and the 1970 World Cup, he changed his mind – spearheading the Brazil team considered to be the best in history. Scoring four goals along the way, including the opener in the Final, Pele also racked up five assists, including two in the 4-1 win over Italy to win their third title and the Jules Rimet trophy for keeps. It was his crowning performance in what was a glittering career:


He also did pretty well for his club team Santos as well. Although not quite as prolifc as Alberto Spencer, Pele did end Penarol’s dominance in the tournament as Santos became just the second team to win the tournament in 1962. With the two legged final ending level on aggregate, Santos had the returning Pele for the Play Off, and he didn’t disappoint with two goals in a 3-0 win for the Brazilians. A year later he was even more deadly, scoring a four goals in the two legged semi against Jairzinho’s Botafogo (including a hat trick in the away leg), before scoring again in the second leg of the final against Argentina’s Boca Juniors to claim his and Santos’ second title. In what was a good tournament for Pele, he also won the golden boot in the 1965 season.

Since retiring from football, he’s made a good career in comedy by getting into very public arguments with Maradona (who doesn’t?), saying that Nicky Butt was the player of the 2002 World Cup and doing adverts for viagra even though he made it very clear that he never need to use one. As entertaining as that’s all been, very few have or will ever be able to entertain on the pitch the way Pele did. A complete original, a genius, prolific in front of goal, provider of great goals, and inventor of iconic moments. He’s best summed up by Italy’s defender in the 1970 Final, Tarcisio Burgnich:

I told myself before the game, ‘he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else’ — but I was wrong

2. Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina) 1945-1966/ 45 points – 19 goals

Much of what was said for Puskas can be repeated for his strike partner Di Stefano – apart from serving for the Hungarian Army that is. It’s more the games scored in then, and the fact that like Puskas, Di Stefano wasn’t particularly bothered about his nationality – also appearing for Spain as well as his native of Argentina, and also for one time home, Colombia. He also qualified for Italy.

Di Stefano spent 11 seasons with Real Madrid after playing for River Plate of Argentina and Millonarios of Colombia, despite not signing until he was 27. But it could have been very different – Di Stefano was destined for Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona until complications allowed Real to nip in at the last minute to at first share him with the Catalan club before eventually owning him outright. At one point there was a scenario where he’d play alternate seasons for each club – it’s hard to imagine that’d work out too well today. And Barcelona’s loss was certainly Real Madrid’s gain as the capital club went on to win the first five European Cups in a row, and whilst Puskas’ input was instrumental, no one had a bigger hand in the era of dominance than Di Stefano. Of the five European Cup wins from 1956 to 1960, Di Stefano scored in every single Final – including a hat trick in the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

And it wasn’t just the Finals that he excelled in. Starting with inaugural tournament in 1955-56, where there were just 16 teams competing, Di Stefano scored in the semi final win over AC Milan (5-4 agg) before going on to score Madrid’s first goal in the final against Stade Reims as they won 4-3 against Hibernian’s conquerors. A year later he repeated thhe trick with a semi final strike against Matt Busby’s youngsters before going on to score the first goal in the Final win against Fiorentina. And his knack of scoring important goals would continue into the next season. After a hat trick against Hungarian’s Vasas in the semi final, Di Stefano scored Madrid’s first goal for the third conscutive Final – this time an equaliser against AC Milan, in a 3-2 win. The 1959 Final saw him score against Stade Reims who would no doubt be sick of the sight of him, this time in a 2-0 after he scored both home and away in the semi final win against city rivals Atletico Madrid. And the fifth and final consecutive European Cup win was arguably the best, with a famous 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Di Stefano once again scored Madrid’s opener and in fact their second as well, on the way to a hat trick in a match considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. Perhaps just as importantly, he scored a brace in the semi final win over Barcelona. In what was a recurring pattern, not only would he score important goals, but he’d also step up in the games against rivals – with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on the end of his goals.

So there you have it, the Alberto Spencer of the European Cup and undobtedly a big game player. The only disappointment was that he only did it in one competition. Everyone else in the Top 10 scored in multiple competitions, with most impacting the World Cup. Unfortunately for Di Stefano, Argentina refused to participate at the 1954 tournament, Spain failed to qualify in 1958 and he was injured for the 1962 edition – meaning Di Stefano would join a list of greats never to play on the biggest stage with the likes of George Best, George Weah, Ryan Giggs and Julian Dicks.

And it wasn’t just his playing career that was eventful, moving into management, he memorably led both Boca Juniors and River Plate to national league titles, whilst in Spain he won the League, the cup and European Cup Winners Cup with Valencia. However, he couldn’t quite replicate that success with his beloved Real – finishing second in the league, the Copa del Rey, the Cup Winners Cup, Supercopa de Espana and the Copa de la Liga – five runners up medals!

Eusebio described the Blonde Arrow as “the most complete footballer in the history of the game”. Not a bad way to be described if you’re a footballer.

1. Gerd Muller (Germany) 1963-1981 / 51 points – 16 goals

And at number one is a player that scored 68 goals in 62 Internationals for his country, and who scored in the Final and Semi Finals of the three biggest tournaments possible. Gerd Muller, known as ‘Der Bomber’ was a prolific striker for every team he played for and in every competition. In total, he scored 655 goals in just 709 games – and these don’t include the types of goals that Romario counted, these were real goals. He was top scorer in the European Cup, The World Cup, the European Championships, the Bundesliga, and probably in training too, yet he’s never seriously considered when talking about the second tier of greats – after Pele, Maradona and Zidane, people tend to discuss Cruyff, Best, Charlton, Di Stefano and plenty of others, but never Muller (certainly not in England anyway). Yet he was the most reliable and devastating player of his generation.

He won the Bundesliga four times, the German Cup four times and the European Cup three times (in a row), among other trophies. You could point out that he was playing for Bayern Munich but when he joined them (in 1964), they were still in the second division having won a single title in the 1930s. It’s fair to say that he played a massive part in the history of Germany’s super club.

So on to the goals, the first of his big game strikes was in 1970 World Cup. Aged 25, Muller scored a double in “The Game of the Century” – not a bad way to introduce yourself to a global audience. Unfortunately for Gerd, it was in a 4-3 defeat to Italy. He scored two goals in extra time which in any normal circumstances should have been enough to win a game, not in that game though, as Italy scored three. He did at least finish the tournament as the Top Scorer with 10 goals, including the winner in an epic quarter final against 1966 conquerors, England. Regarded as a better team than the 1966 champions, Muller capped off a comeback from 2-0 down to put West Germany through. He wasn’t to be denied though, and four years later, on home soil he would have his moment of glory. After scoring in the Final Group stage games against Yugoslavia and then the winner against Poland in what was effectively a semi final, this happened:

Although he didn’t quite get the golden boot, he did score the winning goal in the final against Johan Cruyff’s much fancied Holland, and in scoring his 14th World Cup goal, he became the top scorer in World Cup history – a record that stood for 32 years until Ronaldo took the crown (it took him an extra World Cup). That made it an impressive double as Muller also top scored as West Germany won Euro ’72, including two goals in the Final against Russia. Before that he’d scored a double against Belgium to put his country through.

For his club team, Bayern won three consecutive European Cups from 1974-1976 and Muller was once again instrumental in all three wins. The 1974 tournament saw him score in the semi final against Dozsa of Hungary before they faced Atletico Madrid. After the Final ended 1-1, Bayern won the replay 4-0 with a brace from our man Muller. And to prove that he wasn’t just the poacher he was made out to be, he scored two brilliant goals, one from a van Basten-esque angle after a great first touch, and the second a classy lob that he really should have taken more time on:

A year later, he and they faced Don Revie’s Leeds team led by Billy Bremner in France. Despite only finishing the German league in 10th positon, Muller and his team mates managed to shake off their poor domestic form to win 2-0 – Muller scoring the second. It was a game remembered for some unusual refereeing decisions, but Muller didn’t care as he and his team mates won their second successive European Cup. And a year later, they were celebrating again – this time beating Saint Etienne. This time Muller didn’t score in the final, instead saving his impact for the semi finals against Real Madrid – scoring once away and twice at home as Bayern knocked out the one time dominant force in the competition.

He was also known mistakenly as “Short Fat Muller” after a hilarious lost in translation moment, but what was never in doubt was his ability to influence the biggest games in football. Pressure was not an issue for him.

He was quite simply the most prolific big game scorer that’s ever played football.

Cheers,

Liam

Top 50 Big Game Scorers 10-6

11 Sep

Finally into the Top 10, and the big guns are out, with seven World Cup Final goals between the next five players, plus a Copa Libertadores legend. For 20-11 see HERE

10. Eusebio (Portugal) 1957-1979 / 23 points – 9 goals

Mozambique born Portuguese legend, Eusebio was one of the most prolific scorers of the 60’s. With a reported 727 goals for Benfica, the lightening quick frontman dominated the Portuguese league, winning eleven titles in his stay with the Lisbon giants. However, it was his performances in the European cup that first brought him to the World’s attention. Playing in four finals and scoring in two of them, Eusebio lifted the trophy just once in 1962. The previous year had seen Benfica end Real Madrid’s reign as Kings of Europe as they beat Barcelona in the Final, and the 1962 Final paired the two of them against each other. Despite Madrid storming into a 2-0 and then 3-2 lead (thanks to a Puskas hat trick), Benfica stormed back to win 5-3 thanks largely to a brace by Eusebio. The man known as the Black Pearl had done this aged just 20 in his first full season with the club.

A year later, he was in the thick of it again as he scored against Feyenoord in the semi before notching another Final goal, this time against AC Milan who overturned Eusebio’s goal with a brace by Altafini. He’d suffer further Final heartache to Inter Milan in 1965 and Manchester United in 1968, scoring two semi final goals in both seasons.

His stay with Benfica wasn’t always so smooth though. When he signed for them, he alledgedly had to go under an alias to avoid kidnapping, whilst after the 1966 World Cup, Portugal’s dictator Salazar passed a law stating that he wasn’t allowed to leave Portugal after Inter Milan bid a massive $3m for him. In 1966. And whilst on the subject of the 1966 World Cup, Eusebio top scored with nine goals, including a memorable four goals haul versus North Korea. Portugal would eventually bow out at the Semi Final stage where Eusebio’s goal wasn’t enough to stop hosts England progressing to the Final.

 

 

9. Mario Kempes (Argentina) 1970-1996 / 24 points – 6 goals

It’s fair to say that the 1978 World Cup brought the best out of Mario Kempes, and especially the big games. Kempes won the golden boot much like Paolo Rossi after him, with all his goals scored in the final stages. Argentina finished the first group stages behind Italy, but in the Final Group stage, Kempes would burst into life. He scored the only goals of the game in a 2-0 win against Poland, before hitting another brace in the 6-0 win over Peru, a result that put them in final ahead of Brazil on goal difference. And of course, it was the Final that would be Kempes’ greatest moment. On home soil, Argentina faced the mighty Dutch who were contesting their second successive Final. Kempes opened the scoring in the 38th minute, only for the Dutch to equalise late on. In extra time, Kempes put the hosts ahead for a second time before it was made safe by Daniel Bertoni. Argentina had won their first ever World Cup, and Kempes had finished top scorer with six goals. You might want to put the video on mute:


In what was a prolific career, Kempes will be best remembered for his time with Valencia which saw him win two Pichichi trophies, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup (versus Arsenal) and the Copa del Rey in 1979, when he scored both goals in a 2-0 win against the mighty Real Madrid. He became something of a journeyman in his later career (that saw him scoring goals into his 40s), taking in spells in Austria, Chile and Indonesia, where he still remained prolific. He went on to play twelve more times for his country, but the extra time goal in the World Cup Final was his last for his country. A big game player when his country needed him most.

 

 

8. Vava (Brazil) 1949-1969/ 27 points – 6 goals

And coming in at number eight is Brazilian great Evaldo Izidio Neto, known more widely as Vava. Despite winning just 20 caps for the national team, Vava won the World Cup twice, in 1958 and 1962 and scored nine of his 15 national team goals along the way. Nicknamed Steel Chest (not quite as cool at Zico’s nickname), Vava was known as a goalscorer first and foremost. And he did that very very well. The first man to score in two World Cup Finals (only three others have managed this), he first came to International prominence in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. With Brazil looking to make amends for finishing runners up at home four years earlier, Vava, along with a 17 year old Pele and the mercurial Garrincha, won Brazil’s first World Cup. Aftecr just four minutes, they found themselves 1-0 down in the Final to the hosts, courtesy of a goal from AC Milan’s Nils Liedholm. cometh the hour, cometh the man – Vava stepped up to make sure there would be no repeat of the 1954 disappointment. And despite all of Brazil’s beautiful football, it was two poachers goals from him that firstly equalised, and then put them 2-1 up. Brazil went on to win the game 5-2 and in doing so, would begin a legacy that has seen them become the greatest footballing nation in the history of game.


And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he also scored in the Semi Final win against France – once again an important goal, with Vava scoring the opener. And he wasn’t finished there. Four years later he was even more instrumental. He top scored with four goals despite the fact that his first goal wasn’t until the Quarter Final win over England. In the Semi final win against hosts Chile, Vava’s goals were the difference as he scored a brace in a 4-2 win (along with player of the tournament Garrincha). And once again, he was at it again in the Final, scoring the third and final goal as Brazil retained their trophy with a 3-1 win over the Czechs. Once again, it wasn’t a classic Brazilian strike, with Vava this time pouncing on a goalkeeper mistake as seen here.

He enjoyed spells with Vasco da Gama, Atletico Madrid and Palmeiras (among others) before moving into coaching, where most notably he was the assistant manager of the 1982 Brazil squad – generally regarded as the best team never to win the tournament.

 

7. Alberto Spencer (Ecuador) 1953-1972 / 27.5 points – 13 goals

After a few World Cup specialists comes the King of the Copa Libertadores, Alberto Spencer. After spending his whole career in Ecuador and Uruguay (he also represented both countries), he’s somewhat unknown in Europe, despite his prolific scoring record. Even now, he’s the all time Top Scorer in the history of the Copa Libertadores, and it’s his 13 goals in the latter stages of the tournament that warrants his inclusion in the top 10. In total he scored 54 goals in the tournament from 1960 to 1972. Internationally, despite never appearing in a World Cup, he does have the distinction of being the only player to have played and scored simultaneously for two countries. In fact, he swapped between Ecuador and Uruguay no less than four occasions. Nicknamed the Magic Head due to his heading ability, Pele once said of him “Someone that headed better than me was Spencer. I was good, but he was spectacular heading the ball“. He didn’t however, mention problems in the bedroom.

And so onto the goals. Spencer scored in four different Copa Libertadores finals, and has a whopping eight Final goals. It should be remembered that Finals were played over two legs, but that’s still an incredible record and the epitome of a big game player. On top of that, he also scored five goals at the Semi Final stages. In 1960, after Spencer scored two goals in the semis, Penarol were facing Olimpia of Paraguay. In the first leg, he scored the first Final goal in the history of the now prestigious tournament – a fitting start for what he’d go on to achieve. That goal proved to be the difference as Penarol won 2-1 on aggregate. A year later, and the opponents had changed (Palmeiras of Brazil) but the outcome was the same. Spencer scored the only goal of a 1-0 first leg win, as Penarol went on to defend their crown with another 2-1 aggregate win. Penarol found themselves in a 3rd successive final in 1962 as they looked set to dominate the tournament the way Real Madrid had done with the European Cup. But it wasn’t to be. Spencer scored three more semi final goals against fellow Uruguayan’s Nacional. In the final, they faced Pele’s Santos, and despite Spencer’s goals in both legs of the Final, the Brazilians went on to win the play off 3-0. Injuries and form meant that Spencer didn’t get to play in another Final until 1966, and once again, he was pivotal. Scoring in the second leg of the final, this time against River Plate, Spencer decided the playoff game with the first and third goals 4-2 win to win his third and final winners medal. Pele wasn’t lying about his heading ability:

6. Ronaldo (Brazil) 1993-2011 / 32 points – 9 goals

It’s probably easiest to just start with the goals for Ronaldo, as they tell a pretty clear story:

He’s played in the Final of four different major tournaments and scored in all of them. Some correctly point out that he never scored in the European Cup Final, to which the simple answer is that he didn’t play in one. The closest he came was with Real Madrid in 2002-03. They ended up losing to Juventus 4-3 on aggregate, with Ronaldo playing and scoring in the 2-1 first leg win, but missing the return match which meant both he missed the chance to play in the Champions League Final, and also that the rest of us had to watch what is one of the worst Finals in the history of the competition. But I digress. This is all about Ronaldo. In my eyes, the pre injury Ronaldo was the best player I’ve ever seen, and had the potential to be the best of all time. Quite a statement I think you’ll agree but when you compare him with say Messi at the same age (19-20) Ronaldo scored 47 goals for Barca whilst Messi scored 17. I know there are plenty of variables to that, but it does tell a story.

Unfortunately though, the injury did happen, and football fans of the World had to put up with a bulked up but watered down version of the Brazilian striker, and he didn’t do too badly. Pre injury, he played and scored the only goal in the Cup Winners Cup Final for Barcelona against PSG in 1997. A year later at Inter, he played and scored in the UEFA Cup Final win over a Lazio team containing Nesta, Casiraghi, Nedved and Mancini. The goal showed his trademark rounding of the keeper, something that he seemed to take great joy in doing (as seen here). For Brazil, by the time of his first injury, he’d dazzled all before him with goals and assists in the 1998 World Cup, including a goal in the Semi Final against Holland. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in the Final, though at the same time, we all know what was to come four year later. He’d also scored in the Final of both the 1997 Copa America verus Bolivia and the 1999 Final against Uruguay with this effort – highlighting his ability to finish equally well on his left foot as his right. Pace, Power, Technique and accuracy:

After the injury (November 1999), he was visibly different, but he adapted to great success and fulfilled his greatest dream by winning the World Cup in 2002 (after recoevring from a second career threatening injury). And how. Ronaldo scored 8 goals in his 7 games (the highest total since 1970) including the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Turkey in the semi final, before his moment of redemption – the 2002 World Cup Final against Germany. Sure, he had a crap haircut, but look at the hunger for the first goal – winning the ball back (after losing it to be fair), and following up on Rivaldo’s speculative effort. The second was a thing of beauty though.

To be the all time World Cup top scorer, to have scored in two Copa America finals, and two European club finals, and to be the only man to score on both sides of the el Clasico and the Milan derby tells you all you need to know about his big game credentials. Ronaldo was a man for the big occasion. The fact that he did all this and people still talk about what might have been also shows you what a player he was, especially before the injuries. When Zinedine Zidane was asked who was the best player he ever played with or against he didn’t pause when he replied “without hesitation, Ronaldo”

The Top 5 will be up next week.

Top 50 Big Game Scorers – 30-21

20 Aug

The countdown continues from 30 through to 21. This ten feature four players still active(ish), and some all time greats. For 40-31, click HERE

Cristiano Ronaldo makes the Top 50 Big Game Scorers – ahead of Lionel Messi…..for now

30. Sandro Mazzola (Italy) 1960-1977 / 15 points – 6 goals

Son of the great Valentino Mazzola of Torino and sadly the Superga air disaster, Sandro Mazzola was a great in his own right. Part of ‘Le Grande Inter’, he had a massive impact on the golden era of Inter Milan under Helanio Herrera. Despite the defensive tactics employed by the team, Mazzola was a regular scorer from the outside right position and especially so in the European Cup. An integral part of Inter’s run of three finals in four years from 1964-67, he scored some of the most crucial goals in that time. Facing European giants Real Madrid complete with Di Stefano, Amaro, Gento and Puskas in the 1964 Final, Mazzola was the difference with two goals in a famous 3-1 win, coming after his two goals in the Semi finals put Inter through against Borussia Dortmund. A year later, it was Mazzola’s away goal in the semi final away to Liverpool that made the difference on aggregate as the Italians defended their crown. Fast forward to 1967 and Mazzola scored in the final again although this time it would end in defeat to the Lisbon Lions of Celtic.

29. Pieter Robert (Rob) Rensenbrink (Netherlands) 1965-1982 / 15 points – 6 goals

Eagle eyed readers will have noticed Kurt Hamrin’s pretty impressive four goal tally in UEFA Cup Winners Cup Finals – in fact it’s the joint highest in the history of the competition. Joint with Rob Rensenbrink. The left winger took an unusual career path, when you see a Dutch player from the 70′s featuring on this list then there’s a good chance he was part of the great Ajax team. Oh no. Rensenbrink played for AFC Door Wilskracht Sterk in Holland from 1965 to 1969 before moving to FC Brugge in Belgium. Surprise number two is that he joined big rivals FC Anderlecht after just two seasons. And it’s with Anderlecht that he shone – winning the Belgian league twice, as well as the Belgian Cup, and most importantly for this list, two Cup Winners Cup medals. In the 1976 Final, it was Rensenbrink that scored twice to deny West Ham their second European trophy in a 4-2 win. A defeat the following season in the Final was forgotten just a year later as they defeated Austria Vienna 4-0 with Rensenbrink scoring the all important first and second goals. His other big game entries came in the Final Group stages of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups where he scored against East Germany and Austria respectively. He could however have been a lot higher up the list and in the list of greats had it not been for a few inches. The 1978 World Cup final was stuck at 1-1 with hosts Argentina competing with Holland. Resenbrink was able to play in his preferred wide left of the front three due to Cruyff’s absence. With just 30 seconds left, this happened:

A few inches to the right and Rensenbrink would have scored the winning goal for the first time in Holland’s history and finished as the tournament’s top scorer. Instead, people talk about how they would have won it with Cruyff. Football can be a cruel game. In the words of Jan Mulder, his Holland and Anderlecht team mate “Robbie Rensenbrink was as good as Cruyff, only in his mind he was not”.

28. Hernan Crespo (Argentina) 1993-Present / 15 points – 6 goals

Now onto someone a bit more current – just. Hernan Crespo is currently a free agent (at the time of writing) after leaving Parma, though aged 37 it’s just a matter of time before he hangs up the boots. Perhaps, understandably compared to Argentine team mate Gabriel Batistuta, Crespo was once the holder of the World Record Transfer fee when he moved to Lazio for £35m in 2000. Famous for his off the ball movement, he was a clinical finisher and especially in the big games. Most notably in the 2005 Champions League Final, scoring two goals to put AC Milan 3-0 up. That didn’t end particularly well for him and his team mates, but his second goal was one of the best finishes seen on the big stage:

The previous year also saw him score in the semi final stage against Monaco for Chelsea, whilst in 1999 he scored the opening goal in the UEFA Cup Final as a star studded Parma team demolished Marseille 3-0. And to confirm his big game credentials, 1996 saw Crespo’s brace in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores Final to win the tournament for River Plate, for only the second time in their history. Final goals in three major competitions leaves his place in the list unquestioned.

27. Marcelo Delgado (Argentina) 1990-2010 / 15.5 points – 6 goals

Very much a Copa Libertadores specialist, Marcelo Delgado was not prolific striker (his 18 caps for Argentina produced no goals), but he was very much a man for the big occasion. Only two men in the history of football have scored more Copa Libertadores Final goals – Uruguay’s Alberto Spencer (more on him later) and Coutinho of Brazil (#42). Delgado’s first came in the 2001 Final when Boca Juniors faced Mexican side Cruz Azul. Delgado scored the away goal as the Argentines won in Mexico, only for the second leg to end in a reverse. Penalties ensued, and as befitting of a big game player, Delgado scored what would prove to be the winning penalty to give Boca their 4th title. Two seasons later he was at it again, this time scoring in the semi final win against Colombia’s America de Cali before an all Argentine team beat Santos 5-1 on aggregate. Alongside Carlos Tevez in attack, Delgado scored three final goals (two at home, one away). He then briefly left the club for a one season spell with Cruz Azul where he formed a partnerhip with Delgado (Cesar) before returning to Boca for 2005-06. In all, he won three Libertadores medals with the Buenos Aires team, who have won the trophy six times in their history.

26. Juan Alberto Schiaffino (Uruguay) 1943-1962/ 16 points – 6 goals

The Uruguayan and some time Italian international (that sort of thing was a lot more common back then) was part of the Maracanazo final of 1950. With Brazil leading it was Schiaffino that struck the equaliser in the high pressure Final against the hosts. Uruguay would go on to claim their third crown, much to the World’s surprise, with a goal from Ghiggia (51st on this list). For his club teams the forward excelled for Penarol in Uruguay but it was after a move to AC Milan in the mid 50’s that he’d score more high profile goals. He hit one in the 1956 European Cup semi final defeat to Real Madrid who were taking their first step to becoming the greatest team in competition’s history. Two years later he hit two more at the semi final stage to knock out a Manchester United that were tragically weakened by the Munich air disaster. In the Final Shiaffino actually put the Italians 1-0 up, but it wasn’t to be as the game ended 2-2 after 90 minutes and 3-2 to Madrid after extra time, thanks to Gento.

25. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) 2002-Present / 16 points – 7 goals

Ronaldo has an unfair reputation of being something of a flat track bully. But fear not Cristiano, you’ve made it into the Top 50 big game scorers, which is one of, if not the biggest achievement in football. He’s specialised in the Champions League with a semi final goal against AC Milan in 2007, followed by a brace at the same stage in 2009 against Arsenal, and then another two in this year’s semi final against Bayern, this time for Real. The biggest goal came in the 2008 final against Chelsea as United completed a memorable double when Ronaldo scored one of his famous headers. A year later, he didn’t score in the Final, but was Man Utd’s best player and the only one that put any real pressure on the Barca goal. For his country, a semi final strike for Portugal on home soil in Euro 2004 is the biggest goal he scored as they qualified for the Final, and if you point to the winning goal in the Copa del Rey Final (2011) against Barcelona and an FA Cup final goal against Millwall, then you have a case for the defence. In short, he’s not a bottler.

24. Juan Roman Riquelme (Argentina) 1995-Present / 16.5 points – 8 goals

Despite spending a large chunk of his career in Spain with European regulars Barcelona and Villarreal, all of Riquelme’s big game goals have come in South American games, for club and country. A gifted if slightly lazy number 10, Riquelme specialised in dictating play and set pieces. A legend at Boca Juniors where he’s sometimes been seen as a disruptive influence (it is rumoured that team mate Martin Palermo retired instead of playing another season with him), the talented number 10 and Scarface impersonator brought back the good times to Boca. Scoring in the semis on the way to Boca’s first title in years (alongside Delgado), he would go on to do so again on his return to Argentinean football with semi final goals in both 2007 and 2008. But it was for his contribution to the 2007 final that would result in a statue being erected in his honour. Facing Brazil’s Gremio, Boca won the first leg 3-0 with Riquelme scoring the second. In the second leg, the playmaker scored both goals to give Boca a 5-0 win. Impressive. For his country, he often played second fiddle to Veron and Aimar but was on target in the Copa America semi final of 2007 against Mexico on the way to defeat in the final against Brazil.

23. Hector Rial (Spain) 1947-1964 / 17 points – 7 goals

Another of the great Real Madrid side of the 1950’s, Rial joined Real from fresh from winning the Uruguayan championship with Nacional. Born and bred in Argentina (although he played for Spain), the front man spent seven seasons in the Spanish capital from 1954 to 1961 – neatly coinciding with the five straight European Cup wins. And he had a pretty big part to play in them too. In the Semi Final of the first ever European Cup in 1956, Rial scored the first goal as Madrid knocked out Milan 5-4 on aggregate, and in the final, would score both an equaliser and the winning goal as they defeated Stade Reims 4-3. Not content with being the man to make the difference in the biggest club game ever played, he scored two semi final goals the following year – this time home and away against Matt Busby’s Manchester United before Real would claim the trophy against Fiorentina. In the 1957-58 competition he scored a 79th minute equaliser as Real came from behind to beat AC Milan to win their third successive trophy. He was scoring not only in the big games, but decisive goals. By the time the 1958-59 season had come around, the tournament had grown from 16 teams to 28, not that it made any difference to Rial and Madrid. He scored the equaliser in the semi final stage against city rivals Atleti before claiming another winners medal in the final. Sure, his international career wasn’t much to write home about (5 caps and 1 goal for Spain), but when it came to performing in the big matches, Rial was a man to rely on.

22. Alessandro Del Piero (Italy) 1988-Current / 17 points – 7 goals

There’s always been a feeling of Del Piero going missing in the big games (regular readers may remember these stats), but that’s only when taking his ability into account. The fact that he’s still 22nd on the all time list of Big Game Scorers suggests that maybe he has been a man for the big occasion. Hi first big game goal came in the 1997 Champions League Final against Borussia Dortmund as Juventus lost their crown as the Champions of Europe. Fast forward to the 1997-98 competition, and Del Piero was top scorer with 10 goals. In particualr, he absolutely dominated the semi final stage – hitting a hat trick in the first leg at home to Monaco, before soring his fourth against them in the return leg. Unfortunately for him and Juve, despite reaching their third successive final, they’d lose 1-0 to Real Madrid and a goal from Pedrag Mijatovic. He wasn’t quite done there though, as he scored in the semi final of the 2002-2003 tournament, getting revenge on Real as they were defeated 4-3 on aggregate. In the final, despite scoring his penalty in the shoot out with AC Milan, he ended up with his third runners up medal in seven years. Even more disappointing is that Juve had finished a massive 16 points ahead of their conquerors in Serie A. For the natioanl team, Del Piero famously missed two good opportunities as France came from behind to win Euro 2000 in extra time, but he would have redemption in the shape of World Cup semi final goal against hosts Germany in 2006.

21. Romario (Brazil) 1985-2009 / 17.5 points – 6 goals

World Player of the Year? Check. World Cup Golden Boot? Check. Scorer of 1000 goals? Check. All things point to a natural inclusion for Romario on this list. His most important goal came in the 1994 World Cup semi final win against Sweden to Brazil in their first final for 24 years. He also scored his penalty in the World Cup Final shoot out better known for Baggio’s miss. Aside from 1994, Romario also popped up with some valuable goals on the way to winning the Copa America in 1989 and again in 1997. The 1989 edition saw final group stage goals against bitter rivals Argentina, Paraguay and then in the final group game to decide the winners against Uruguay. Eight years later and with the tournament back in a knock out format, Romario scored a double in the semi final as Brazil scraped past Peru 7-0 on the way to winning the tournament. Big game scorer then?

Well maybe, but if you’ve claimed to have scored 1000 goals (including youth matches and presumably headers and volleys in the back garden), surely you should have scored more than six goals in the Finals and Semi Finals of major tournaments? Especially when playing for the likes of Brazil and Barcelona. In fact, when you scrapte the surface, he played in the Finals of the 1994 World Cup, the 1994 Champions League, and the 1997 Copa America, but didn’t score. Fair enough, you can’t be expected to score in every match, but when you say that you’re better than Messi, and equal to Pele, Maradona and Zidane, then you should probably be able to back it up a bit better. More on Messi vs Romario (and Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho) here.

Top 50 Big Game Scorers – 40-31

12 Aug

The next 10 players to feature include the World’s best player, a few Ajax legends, England’s first entry and the odd Brazilian here and there. For numbers 50-41, click HERE.

40. Andreas Brehme (West Germany) 1978-1998 /13 points – 3 goals

I think people dwell on that penalty in 1990 a little too much. We deserved to win. Argentina didn’t play well enough in the Final and that is the long and the short of it

Well Andy, the reason people dwell on that goal is because a left footed player took a penalty in the final of the World Cup with just five minutes left, on his right foot. That is ballsy.

In reality, Brehme was pretty much both footed, he took free kicks on his left foot and the odd penalty on his right. That’s all well and good, but to do it on the biggest stage to win the game is something else completely. There’s a big game temperament and then there’s showing off. Even Ibrahimovic would think twice before trying a stunt like that. His other two big stage goals were at the semi final stage of both the 1986 World Cup and then four years later against England in Italia ’90 – both were free kicks on his left foot. He scored 8 goals for his country (pretty good for a left back), five of which were in either the World Cup or Euros. Quite simply, he was a big game player.

39. Lionel Messi (Argentina) 2005-Present / 13 points – 5 goals

Strange as it may seem, there were still question marks over whether or not Messi was the best player in the World as recently as 2009. They said that Ronaldo could do everything Messi could but could score headers as well. Then in May 2009, Messi scored his first Champions League final goal – a back post header that was expertly directed back across goal and over van der Sar. The arguments stopped pretty soon after that. The dominant force in the recent history of the Champions League, Barcelona have won titles in 2006, 2009 and 2011, with Messi also scoring in the 2011 final, as well as two semi final goals against Real Madrid. Sure, he hasn’t quite been as devastating with his national team, but a recent hat trick against Brazil has hinted at a change there as well. To date, his biggest goal for Argentina was in the semi final of the 2007 Copa America. There’s still a lot of time to go though.

38. Jari Litmanen (Finland) 1987-2011 / 13 points – 6 goals

If Messi has been the most consistent scorer in high profile Champions League games of the past few years, then Jari Litmanen was his equivalent in the mid 90s. A winner with Ajax in 1995, the diminutive forward scored two in the semi’s that year. He went a step further a year later, repeating a semi double but also notching in the final against Juventus which won him the Golden Boot. Ajax lost it on penalties though Litmanen did score his. In 1997 he scored once again in the semi’s but it wasn’t enough to take the Amsterdam club to their third successive final, and brought to an end a great team. He went on to play for Barcelona and Liverpool, and is the only player to play international football in four different decades, with the 90s being the high point.

37. Jonny Rep (Netherlands) 1971-1987 / 13.5 points – 4 goals

Something of a troublesome character at Ajax (daring to question Johan Cruyff’s tactics when still a youngster), Rep was never short in self belief, and to be fair, he could back it up. Although his Ajax career was a lot shorter than it should have been (41 goals from 97 games), he did manage to score a pretty famous goal. In the third of three successive European Cup wins, it was Rep that scored the only goal as they beat Juventus 1-0 in Belgrade. He left Amsterdam in 1975 for spells with Valencia, Bastia, and St. Etienne (among others), but never again reached the heights of that night. For Holland he also performed well in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups as they lost in the final of both. He’s still the Netherlands top World Cup scorer with seven World Cup goals, and three of those came in the final group stages (no knock out games in either tournament), against Argentina in 1974 and a brace against Austria in 1978

36. Zico (Brazil) 1971-1994 / 13.5 points – 5 goals

When you have the nicknames “God of Soccer” and “The White Pele” then you know you’re a pretty good player. In fact Pele himself once said “throughout the years, the one player that came closest to me was Zico” which was both pretty arrogant but also not really worth much based on some of his previous quotes (“God gave Freddy Adu the gift to play soccer” – really?). Either way, Zico was the mutt’s nuts. The heartbeat of the 1982 side thought to be the best team never to win the tournament, he was prolific from midfield, scoring 52 goals for Brazil in just 72 games. He bagged four in the 1982 World Cup alone, but as Brazil didn’t get past the Quarter Final (damn you Paolo Rossi!), his only national team goal to make the list was in the Final Group stages of the 1978 World Cup where he scored against Peru. The rest of his entries were down to his biggest success as a player – the 1981 Copa Libertadores. In the first leg of the final, Zico scored a double against Cobreloa of Chile to give Flamengo a 2-1 lead. The second leg ended 1-0 to the Chileans, meaning a one off final was to be played in a neutral venue (Uruguay). Once again Zico scored two goals, this time without reply, to win the trophy for the Brazilians and finish the tournament on 11 goals.

35. Johan Neeskens  1968-1991 (Netherlands) / 14 points – 4 goals

Known as “Johan the Second”, Neeskens played alongside Cruyff for Ajax, Barcelona, and Holland. Initially a right back in his early Ajax days, Neeskens matured into a centre midfielder of high work rate which was equalled by his ability. A regular scorer from deep, Neeskens could be counted on for the big occasion. He scored the third goal in the 1971 European Cup semi final against Atletico Madrid as Ajax went on to win the trophy for the first time. For his country, he also delivered on the big stage, scoring in the 1974 Final Group Stage against East Germany on the way to a 2-0 win before facing Brazil in what was effectively the semi final. Neeskens put Holland 1-0 up in the 50th minute before Johan the First finished off the World Champions. In the Final, Neeskens continued to show his big game prowess by opening the scoring once more against West Germany. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Dutch, they lost to their bitter rivals 2-1.

34. Chico (Brazil) 1939-1956/ 14 points – 4 goals

Francisco Aramburu, better known as Chico, was part of the great Vasco de Gama team of 1947-52. Known as the Victory Express due to five title wins, Vasco had the lightning quick Chico up front (wide left) forming a deadly partnership with national team mate Ademir. And it was the Vasco pair that would dominate the Final Group stages of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil walked through the first group stage, undefeated and scoring 8 goals along the way. And things would get better. Chico scored a brace in a 7-1 demolition of Sweden, and repeated the trick in the next game – a 6-1 trouncing of Spain. Going into the final group game, in what was essentially the World Cup final, Uruguay had only drawn with Spain, and snuck past Sweden with an 85th minute winner. Brazil were heavy favourites, with the media claiming a victory on front pages of that day’s newspapers. People were having street parties in anticipation of Brazil’s first World Cup. But Uruguay had other ideas. In front of a world record crowd at the Maracana (200,000+), it wasn’t to be Chico’s time, nor Ademir’s for that matter. In a game that would go on to be known as the Maracanazo (the Maracana Blow), Uruguay run out 2-1 winners with neither of the prolific Vasco boys on the scoresheet. No pressure for 2014 then….

33. Kurt Hamrin (Sweden) 1952-1972 / 14 points – 6 goals

If you think about early Swedes in Serie A, then it’s more than likely that you think of Gre-No-Li, the AC Milan trio of the 1950s. That however, would be doing a disservice to Kurt Hamrin. The lightning fast winger had a pretty impressive career in Italy with Juve, Padova, AC Milan, Napoli and above all, Fiorentina. He scored over 150 goals for the Viola including goals in the final of the European Cup winners cup in both 1961 and 1962 (beating Rangers and losing to Atleti). In fact that seemed to be his favoured competition as he also scored a final brace for AC Milan in 1968’s 2-0 win over Hamburg – only Milan’s second European trophy. To cap things off from a big game perspective, he also scored the decisive goal in the European Cup semi final in 1969 to knock out holders Manchester United, on the way to lifting the trophy. And for his country he also performed well in the 1958 World Cup on home soil – scoring in the semi final against West Germany.

32. Geoff Hurst (England) 1959-1979/ 15 points – 3 goals

The only entry that scored all of his points in one game, (Sir) Geoff Hurst is known the world wide as being the only man to score a hat trick in the biggest of all games – the World Cup Final. Not just that, but it was also a perfect hat trick. Bouyed by the home Wembley crowd, Hurst and his West Ham England team mates won the nation’s only trophy (excluding 1997’s famous Le Tournoi). And yet it was almost so different for Geoff. If it wasn’t for the last minute equaliser by Wolfgang Weber for West Germany then Martin Peters would have been the match winner after his 78th minute goal. In fact, had it not been for injury, Jimmy Greaves would have been England’s centre forward for the latter stages of the tournament. It’s a funny old game. Its easy to forget that Hurst’s England career aside from the 1966 World Cup (where he also scored the winner in the quarter final) was pretty good – 24 goals in 49 games. Just to prove that ol’ Geoff wasn’t a one game wonder, he also scored in the 1964 FA Cup final for the Hammers.

31. Sandor Kocsis (Hungary) 1943-1961 / 15 points – 5 goals

To give a rough idea of just what a great Goalscorer Kocsis was, there’s a few stats that tell the story. He was the first man to score two hat tricks in one World Cup. His strike rate of 1.1 goals per game for Hungary is the best in the history of international football for those with 43 caps or more. And lastly, he was the highest scorer in the top leagues of world football in both 1951 and 1952. Prolific doesn’t really do him justice. Yet the 1954 World Cup was a bittersweet experience for him and the magic Magyars. Whilst he scored a massive 11 goals in 5 games, the only game he failed to score in was against Germany in the Final. A team they’d beaten 8-3 in the earlier rounds defied the odds and the Olympic Champions, unbeaten in competitive games for four years, lost at the worst time.
By 1958, Kocsis was at Barcelona, trying to counter Puskas’ influence at rivals Madrid. The European Cup would elude them until 1992 but the Hungarian striker did score in the 1960 semi final and again a year later as well as scoring in the 1961 Final defeat to Benfica.

Numbers 30-21 tp follow

Top 50 Big Game Scorers – 50-41

6 Aug

And the countdown begins. 1071 scorers, 62 years, and 1,931 goals. This is the countdown of the Top 50 Big Game Scorers. To see the other pages with rules and workings, click HERE

Treble Dutch – All three of these players have scored in major finals, but only two make the Top 50

50. Karl-Heinz Riedle (Germany) 1983-2001 / 12 Points – 4 Goals

To kick things off is the first of many German players to feature in the list (see the stats section later). Riedle enjoyed spells with Werder Bremen, Lazio, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool before finishing his illustrious career at Fulham in 2001. Not someone that would jump out as a big game player to fans of the Premier League, the Germany International popped up with some notable goals in his career. The most memorable being his brace in the final of the 1997 Champions League. Playing for Borussia Dortmund against holders Juventus, complete with new signing Zidane behind Vieri and Boksic (a frontline so good that Del Piero was only on the bench), Riedle put Dortmund 2-0 up after just 34 minutes. Del Piero got one back before Lars Ricken’s classy lob sealed the win for the German team to give Rielde and new Aston Villa manager, Paul Lambert, winners medals. His other big game goals came in the Semi Final of Euro ’92, when his brace was once again the difference as Germany beat hosts Sweden 3-2, which was enough to see him share the golden boot with three strikes overall, though they would lose famously to Denmark in the final. He also scored in the 1989 German Cup Final for Werder Bremen in a 4-1 defeat against future club Dortmund. Sadly for Riedle, he’s not even the highest ranked Karl Heinz on the list.

49. Ruud Gullit (Netherlands) 1979-1998 / 12 points – 4 goals

Not an out and out striker, he was once described as the Dutch Duncan Edwards due to his versatility and quality. He eventually settled as a number 10 and certainly delivered on the big stage. The former PSV Eindhoven and Chelsea star is best remembered for his time in Italy with AC Milan where he linked up with fellow Dutchmen Rijkaard and van Basten. And it’s with Milan that he scored a brace in a 4-0 thumping of Hagi’s Steaua Bucharest in the the European Cup Final of 1989, after scoring in the Semi Final demolition of Real Madrid (5-0). However, the goal he’s most famous for, and on perhaps his biggest stage was in the Final of Euro 88 with that iconic header (before an even more iconic volley by his strike partner). The fact that such a great footballing nation has only won one title (I’m not talking about England), makes this goal even more important. The dreadlocks also made it look a lot cooler.

48. Horst Hubresch (Germany) 1971-1986 / 12 points – 4 goals

Not quite the household name as Gullit (unless you lived in the Hubresch house), the tall West Germany Centre Forward was known for his aerial prowess, and it was with his head that he scored two of his biggest goals, winning the Euro 1980 final with a 2-1 win over Belgium. The second goal was in the 88th minute, to win the whole tournament for the Germans. The surprising thing is that he’d never been capped before 1980, not that nerves seemed to have affected him. Just a few months earlier, he also scored two semi final goals in the European Cup as Hamburg made the final against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, only to get injured on the way to defeat. Described as The Monster, the big frontman also showed his big game temperament with the winning penalty in the 1982 World Cup Semi Final with France, a game famous for Harald Schumacher’s assisination attempt on Patrick Battiston.

47. Fernando Torres (Spain) 2001-Current / 12 points – 4 goals

The first current player to feature on the list, El Nino hasn’t had a good time of it since his £50m move to Chelsea in January 2011, but the green shoots of recovery started to show near the end of the 2011-12 season. Torres’ big game goals have a neat symmetry to them, scoring a Champions League Semi Final goal for Liverpool in 2008, followed that summer by a goal in the European Championships Final. Four long years passed without any other big game goals, including a miserable 2010 World Cup, but a change in fortune came in the Second Leg of the 2011-12 Champions League Semi-Final away at Barcelona. Ten man Chelsea were under immense pressure from the European Champions, with the score level on aggregate at 2-2 but Chelsea ahead on away goals. This was a big game, and this was big pressure – then came the moment of redemption, after Torres lost the ball on the left wing, he found himself out of position, just in time for a clearance to fall at his feet with half the pitch and no opponent between him and Victor Valdes. If he’d missed then you would have feared for his future and mental stability, but Torres went round the Barca keeper to confirm Chelsea’s progression to the final, and give Gary Neville a man crush. Just a few short months later, he became the first player to score in consecutive European Championships Finals, as Spain brushed Italy aside 4-0. That made it three tournaments in a row for the Spanish national team, but only possible with Torres’ winner in the 2008 Final against Germany.

46. Amancio Amaro (Spain) 1958-1976 / 12 points – 5 goals

Moving on neatly from the man that revived Spain’s fortunes to a man that had a big hand in their first International title. Amancio Amaro had the bad luck to join Real Madrid in 1962, just after they’d won five consecutive European Cups. He had to wait until the 1965-66 season before the club won ‘their trophy’ again, scoring the equaliser in the final against Partizan Belgrade in a 2-1 win for the Madrid giants. Three semi final goals in the same competition cement his inclusion, and for his country, it was the extra time winner in the 1964 European Nations Cup (effectively Euro ’64) that proved the most decisive. Playing against Hungary, Amancio struck in the 113th minute to give Spain a 2-1 lead and put them in the final.

45. José Águas (Portugal) 1948-1964 / 12 points – 5 goals

An essential part of Benfica’s golden era alongside Eusebio, Águas scored in both the finals of the 1961 European Cup and the following year’s tournament. A prolific scorer ( 290 goals in 281 games for the Lisbon club), he won the golden boot in Portugal on five occasions. The first big game goal that he scored was in the first leg of the 1961 European Cup Semi-Final, in a 3-0 win over Rapid Vienna. He repeated the trick again in the second leg, this time ending in a 1-1 draw. In the final, Benfica would face the mighty Barcelona, who were hungrily looking for their first European Cup (they’d have to wait a while longer). Containing the legendary Hungarian trio Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor, the Catalan’s went 1-0 up, only for Águas to show his big game mettle once more and equalise, and take his tally to 11 for the tournament – wining him the golden boot. Benfica went on to win that game 3-2 to win their first European Cup. And the following year he was at it again. He scored Benfica’s goal in a 2-1 defeat to Danny Blanchflower’s Tottenham to put Benfica through to the final on aggregate (4-3), where they’d face another Spanish giant – this time it was Real Madrid, and they wanted their trophy back. Despite a hat trick by Ferenc Puskas, Benfica won 5-3 with Águas once again scoring his team’s first goal. The following year Benfica reached the final for a third successive time, but without an injured Águas, they would lose to AC Milan.

44. Santillana (Spain) 1970-1988 / 12 points – 6 goals

In what appears to be a tribute to Iberian footballers, the next up is another Spanish striker. Similar to Amancio in terms of unlucky timings, Santillana (Carlos Alonso Gonzalez) played for Real Madrid for 17 seasons, only to miss out on the European Cup. Not that he’ll be too worried after 9 league titles, two UEFA Cups and four Copa del reys. It was in the UEFA Cup Finals that he scored two of his biggest goals, with the second in a 3-0 Final win over Hungary’s Videoton (me neither) in 1985, followed a year later with the final goal in a 5-1 lesson for FC Cologne. Of course his lack of European Cup medals wasn’t for the want of trying, with Santillana scoring in two semi final goals in 1980, one the following year, and then again just before retirement in 1987. It wasn’t to be for the talented front man (8th in the all time Spanish league goalscoring list), but it wasn’t a bad career to be fair.

43. Jairzinho (Brazil) 1959-1982 / 12.5 points – 3 goals

The first entry from the legendary 1970 team was arguably their most important player. One of only three players in history to score in every game in a World Cup, Jairzinho stood out, even in the team considered by many to be the greatest of all time – certainly the most entertaining. And it’s from the 1970 World Cup that he scored two of his biggest goals, firstly in the Semi Final against Uruguay, and then he scored the 3rd for Brazil in the final against Italy. Whilst he hero worshipped Garrincha (whom he replaced for Brazil), he wasn’t short of his own confidence, claiming that FIFA had awarded him the ‘Best Body on the Planet’ prize – an award that doesn’t exist, at least not in FIFA (as seen here). I’m not sure whether or not he was a comedy genius or very arrogant but no one can deny he was one of the best of all time. His other major goal came in the 1974 World Cup Final Group stages – a winner against bitter rivals Argentina no less. He wasn’t much of a coach, getting sacked by Gabon in his only Managerial role, he did however make up for this by spotting a 14 year old Brazilian lad by the name of Ronaldo, recommending him to his old club Cruzeiro.

42. Coutinho (Brazil) 1953-1972 / 12.5 points 5 goals

Antonio Wilson Vieira Honorio (better known as Coutinho) is the football equivalent of Buzz Aldrin. Sure, a lot of people know his name, but a lot more don’t and should do. Because Countinho’s Neil Armstrong was a fella by the name of Pele. Coutinho was voted Santos’ best ever player – if you exclude Pele. He scored over 370 goals for the team, and was one of the most important players in their team during their golden era of the early 60s. And few had more impact on the team. Of the two Copa Libertadores titles they won in 1962 and 1963, Coutinho scored a whopping five final goals (two in 62/three in 63). It’s a slightly misleading stat as there were three finals in 1962 and two in 1963, but he was certainly a big game player. Just to put it into context, Pele scored three goals in the same five games.

41. Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina) 1988-2005 / 13 points 4 goals

One for the fans of 90’s Football Italia programme next. Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta was arguably the most complete centre forward of his era. Comfortable on either foot and handy in the air, he had a cannon of a shot on him. He spent the best years of his career with unfashionable Fiorentina, who somehow kept him for ten years, resulting in him not playing in the biggest European club games. One of the very few modern era footballers to play for both River Plate and hated rivals Boca Juniors (in that order), his biggest goals came in the blue and white of Argentina. Although he was a regular scorer in World Cups, he never scored in the last two rounds (he was at least the first player to score a hat trick at two World Cups). As a result, his big game scorer entries are all down to Copa America goals. In 1991, the tournament was decided by a final group table instead of a knock out round. Batistuta’s Argentina beat Colombia and Brazil along with a draw against Chile. Batistuta scored the winner against Brazil in a 3-2 victory, and the winner in a 2-1 win over Colombia – a goal that both won the tournament for Argentina, and the golden boot for the talented striker. Skip forward two years and it was Batigol that scored the decisive goals again to win the title for his country, with a brace against Mexico in a 2-1 win.  Those aside, he also scored in both legs of the 1996 Coppa Italia Final to bring glory and silverware to Florence. They repaid him with a statue.

Numbers 40 to 31 to follow

The Top 50 Big Game Scorers of All Time

6 Aug

When I started this site, it was with the aim of separating the Big Game Players from the Flat Track Bullies as I couldn’t find it recorded anywhere else on the Internet. By tracking the average ranked opponent that a player scores against and tracking the range (Top 6/Middle 8/Bottom 6) I’ve been able to to determine this, but it’s limited when looking at tournament football when there’s no league ranking. That’s where my system is flawed.

Until now. Sort of.

In an attempt to sort out the ultimate Big Game Scorers, I’ve researched what I regard as the biggest and hardest tournaments in the history of World Football to find out who were the best scorers in the biggest games. Each goal is awarded a points weighting, and their accumulation of these points will decide where the player is ranked. I have 1071 different scorers, but have chosen the Top 50.

Tournaments:

International: World Cup, European Championships, Copa America
Club: European Cup/Champions League, Copa Libertadores, UEFA Cup/Europa League, European Cup Winners Cup

Years:

When I say “All Time” I really mean from 1950 onwards, basically from the 1950 World Cup. So it’s the Top 50 Big Game Scorers of the modern era. So the list doesn’t include the scorers from the first three World Cups. Why? Well partly it was due to the reliability of the data, and partly for comparison purposes.

Exclusions:

Why not include domestic cups? Well there’s a lot of countries that play football and I am but one man doing this as a hobby. One man that has just become a first time father, so time is not something that lends itself to me at the moment.

Why only South American and European tournaments? Well I was trying to pick the highest quality tournaments, and in my (possibly blinkered opinion), the other tournaments aren’t quite up to the same standard, and whilst they are still big games, the pressure and audiences are nowhere near as high. There is of course the argument about what makes up a big game – for example, Man City beating QPR to win the league was a massive game, but on paper it’s a game of 1st place at home to 17th place.

Weightings:

This is probably the area of the biggest discussion points. I’ve started off with the World Cup Final being the biggest game in World Football, and have awarded any goal scored in it 5 points. Dropping back a round, I take off a point for all semi-finals. So as the European Championships Final is worth 4 points, the semi final is worth 3.

The Champions League Final is worth 3 points as although it’s seen by many as the highest standard of football, it’s only European based players, and it occurs every year, meaning that the pressure is nowhere near as high as a World Cup Final that only occurs every four years.

As you can see the points change for Final Group stages. The World Cup of 1950 for example was decided on a final group table rather than the knock out stages. Similarly, the Copa America tournaments of 1989 and 1991 were also based on a final table rather than Semi Finals and a Final. The Copa Libertadores Final is rated at 2.5 instead of the European version’s 3 because of two legged finals, and quality. Each weighting was given careful consideration.

What Else?

I’ve deliberately called it the Big Game Scorers instead of Big Game Players as I’m well aware that a player can dominate a game without scoring. Unfortunately, aside from trawling through all of the man of the match records of all time, this data isn’t readily available or accurate. There’s no doubting the goalscorers – that’s fact (unless you go into the mirky waters of controversial goals – I’m looking at you Hurst), but the assists information, and non-goalscoring big game performances just aren’t possible to track.

Format:

Inspired by the awesome Football Pantheon lists (which I’d highly recommend), I’ve tried to avoid imitation but due to the nature of the list, it’s been difficult. So the format takes place in the shape of a countdown, beginning with 50-41 and working down from there, with special focus on the Top Ten players to score in the biggest games. And at the end of it all, I’ll keep in the tradition of the site and throw some statistics in and have a quick look at those to miss out.

Links:

50-41
40-31
30-21
20-11
10-6
5-1
Statistics
Notable Exclusions

Any questions can be posted in the comments section of this page or the page in question, or if you’re shy then e-mail me on lpcorbett@hotmail.com

Thanks,

Liam

Player Comparison: Thierry Henry vs Robin van Persie

29 Jul

Not a full blown player comparison as Henry has already featured (and come out on top) against van Nistelrooy here, but a quick look at the two Arsenal strikers that hit 30 league goals – who they did it against, and how important they were

With it looking increasingly likely that van Persie has played his last game for the club, now seemed as good a time as any to compare the two prolific strikers on their most prolific seasons. Each had a massive impact on the team and essentially where they finished, and below i’ll try and illustrate who was most important, and who was the better man for the big occasion.

The seasons in question are 2011-12 for Robin van Persie and 2003-04 for Thierry Henry. Whilst Henry’s Arsenal famously went the season unbeaten in 2003-04, van Persie’s Arsenal looked like relegation contenders at times, before steadying the ship and finishing a very respectable 3rd.

Before each season started, Henry had 82 league goals in 136 games for the club, whilst van Persie had 66 goals in 156 games. these were the Arsenal league stats for each by career and previous season. And so onto the stats:

Goals

So moving onto the numbers, at first glance it’s pretty even. Both started 37 games, with van Persie also making a substitute appearance to make the whole 38 game season. That he appeared in every game is borderline miraculous given his past. Both hit 30 goals at a rate of 0.81 goals per game for the Frenchman and 0.79 for the Dutchey – we’ll call that a draw. Similarly, both scored in 20 games.

Where the differences start to show is in the range of opponents scored against. Whilst van Persie had a very decent 7 goals in 10 games against the Top 6, Henry had an even better 10 in 10. Nice. More on that later.

Aside from the big games, van Persie specialised in punishing the mid table teams resulting in an averaged rank opponent per goal of 11.77 compared to his former captain’s 11.93 – driven by 14 goals against the Bottom 6. Once again, based on the average, they’re pretty much neck and neck.

Assists

Moving onto assists, there’s not much difference there either, with both setting up 9 goals for their team mates. Van Persie mainly did this against the teams at the bottom end of the table, though he did pop up with assists in wins against London rivals Chelsea and Spurs.

Henry on the other hand only managed the one assist against the Top 6 teams, a decisive one too, in the 2-1 win over a Chelsea team that would go on to finish second in Abramovich’s first season in charge. Most of Henry’s assists came against the teams in mid table, leading to his better average of 10.77 compared to van Persie’s 12.89.

Big Game Player? Records vs Top 6:

The main measure I use to single out who the big game players are on this site is looking at how they do against the best opposition. When looking at league performances only, that’s the Top 6 teams who are generally that bit better than the rest. So how did each do against them? Both played in the maximum 10 games against the other teams alongside Arsenal at the top end of the table:

Last season saw a very impressive 7 league goals against the top teams for van Persie, including that memorable hat trick in the 5-3 win at Chelsea, a game that also saw him provide and assist, in what turned out to be a season changing performance for the 2011-12 Gunners. Those seven goals were second only to Wayne Rooney’s eight strikes against the Top 6, although based on position at the time of play, van Persie was top.

As good as 7 goals in 10 games against the league’s best opposition, it’s here where Henry really shines through. He had a goal per game record versus the Top 6, also scoring a memorable hat trick – at home to Liverpool in a 4-2 win that Jamie Carragher still has nightmares about. It wasn’t just Liverpool that suffered though, Henry scored against every team in 2nd to 5th place, showing a consistancy that drove the team on to the unbeaten season. Both manage plenty of shots against the decent opposition, although the Home and Away split predictably shows a significant difference.

Importance to team

Okay, they’ve both scored 30 goals and set up nine others for their team mates, but what about their importance in terms of the over team stats.

Firstly is the percentage of team goals that each scored. To my surprise, I recently discovered that the great Invincibles team of 2003-04 only scored 73 league goals. Also surprising is that van Persie’s Arsenal team actually outscored them (albeit by one goal) despite winning 20 less points and finishing 19 points behind the teams in first and second.

Of the team goals, it’s pretty even – Henry scored 41% of the team’s goals in 2003-04, whilst van Persie also achieved this, with a bit of rounding involved. Once again, the two are incredibly equal.

Where van Persie outshines Henry though is the points won from his goals. It’s not a perfect science but if you take away each players goals from the final scoreline then you’re left with the difference they make. Henry has a very decent 20 points from his 30 league goals, which worked out to be 22% of Arsenal’s 90 points that season, whereas van Persie’s 24 point haul is not only better, but it’s more crucial to the team, being worth a massive 34% of 2011-12 Arsenal’s points tally. It’s fair to say that both made a massive contribution, Henry in winning the title, and van Persie in keeping the team in the coveted Champions League places.

Other Considerations

Obviously Henry did it in a better team, not only were they champions, but they went the season unbeaten in the league. He had the likes of Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Reyes and others around him, helping him score, and also scoring the chances he created. That’s not to say that it was an unfair advantage on van Persie though. The Dutchman got to play as the lone striker, or the central point of a 4-3-3 depending on your interpretation of Arsenal’s line up. As a result, most of the play and chances went through him, making it appear as though Arsenal were a one man team for large parts of the season.

In terms of the opponents, Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, yet only finished 6th in the Premier League, whilst Manchester United and Manchester City both went out in the group stages. Henry’s Arsenal face a Man Utd that reached the last 16, and a Chelsea that beat them on the way to the Semi Final. The difference between 1st and 6th in 2003-04 was 34 points, compared to just 25 points in 2011-12. In short, the van Persie season was more competitive.

In Conclusion

I honestly don’t write these pieces with the intention of declaring a draw everytime, but it’s very hard to avoid that conclusion when looking at the above data. I know stats only tell half of the story, but on this occasion, I think it’s a fitting result. Henry inspired his team to win the league title, whilst going the season unbeaten. That team has since been named the greatest in the history of the Premier League and it was very much Henry’s influence that was the biggest factor. Robin van Persie on the other hand dragged what has widely been described as the weakest team of Wenger’s era, into 3rd place and the all important automatic Champions League spot. Both proved essential in their teams outcome.

In terms of big game performances, Henry just about edges it, but will always have a slight cloud hanging over him for the biggest of games – the finals of major competitions, but in just comparing their league seasons, he comes out on top, only for van Persie to lead on the points won.

So all in all, whilst there’s no real comparison on their full Arsenal careers (especially with van Persie’s behaviour after the season), it’s fair to say that they were both instrumental in their teams fortunes. As van Persie has decided to leave, we’ll never know if he could have maintained that level for more than one year, but for one season only, he could live with the King.

Cheers,

Liam