For as long as I’ve been watching soccer (and yes, I refer to it as football a lot), I wasn’t able to compile a definitive list full of my favorite footballers; it’s insurmountable to come up with absolute favorites. But I’ve been wanting to write about a few of my favorite footballers for awhile now (I totally forgot about it because other emotional stuff has been hitting me hard lately).
The definitive favorite footballer conversation is actually a dilemma with any sport you engage in conversation about. For example: With baseball, I say that David Wright is definitely my favorite Met of all-time, but then on the other hand, Doc Gooden steps into David Wright’s way as my favorite Met of all-time, forcing me to like both of them with equal love.
Baseball will always be the game I grew up, as that is the case with the preponderance of the American people, but soccer is the first sport I ever played as a kid in elementary school, then baseball followed in suit (emotional side note: I might start bawling while thinking about my past and elementary school).
I played (and still play) as a goalkeeper, by far the most onerous position on and off the field. Whether it’s the hell-bent training sessions or just screaming at defenders in the vicinity, goalkeepers have it the hardest (I know, I’m biased), especially after a goal is scored. Thankfully, I started playing it again religiously (or have tried to play it religiously) with the awesome friends that I have and because of the constant playing, I want to almost play every single day. The feeling is certainly great when you’re out on the pitch playing at nonstop levels.
Although I love playing the beautiful game, watching it is just as enjoyable. I can’t even begin to tell whoever is reading this how much more I’ve learned by watching games rather than having some authoritative coaching figure telling me what to do.
With all of that being said, here’s the list of some of my favorite players.
Thierry Henry/Robert Pires/Dennis Bergkamp:
I’ve been a proud Arsenal gooner since 2002, the year I first saw glimpses of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp on some illegal Internet stream doing moves on the ball that got me hooked. And from that year on, my soccer fandom has stuck with me ever since.
The triumvirate of Henry, Pires and Bergkamp being on this list as one player is not a revelation whatsoever, but hey, that’s fine with me, because I don’t think anybody realizes the mammoth amount of importance these guys brought not only to Arsenal, but for me as an Arsenal fan and a soccer fan in general.
It’s safe to say that these guys, particularly Thierry Henry, are the reason why I love soccer. There are an abundance of other class players from back in the day, but thank the higher power for those guys, because if it wasn’t for them, then soccer wouldn’t have been an amusing viewing experience for me. I wouldn’t have begged and pleaded my parents to buy an Arsenal jersey (surely enough, an Henry jersey) off of eBay back in 2002. Every time I think of myself in 1st grade in my Henry jersey desperately trying to channel his superb skill moves, I actually almost cry. Running in the backyard failing to do Bergkamp flicks and trying to chip the ball over a trash can like Pires did to Peter Schmeichel (take a bow son), I remember those days like it was yesterday.
People talk about three-pronged attacks, like Barcelona’s that consists of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar and pretty much any other high-powered, surefire offensive attack (go ahead keep naming them), but Henry, Pires and Bergkamp were just unbelievable on every level you can imagine.
The trident made sure you paid the price every time possession was given up. They would steamroll backlines on counter attacks and they kept possession like someone holding on to their most prized mementos while running out of a house blaze. If Henry wasn’t there for the finish, then it would be Pires. If not Pires going wherever he wanted to, then Bergkamp would unleash his supernal, exquisite technical ability and set somebody up or would slot the ball into the net like nothing happened. His mindset was basically “hmm…I think I’m gonna shoot now…nah, I’ll do the converse…damn it! I can’t make up my mind! I’ll do all of them at the same time!” Actually, come to think of it, that’s probably what Henry and Pires were thinking as well.
As I said above, that illegal Internet stream I accessed on my Windows 98-ran computer changed my life as a soccer fan (I wish I remembered what team they were up against). In the days of when soccer was a colossal hassle to access in America, the slow piece of crap my computer was was the only source of soccer viewing, except, the occasional Metrostars (yes, before they were the Red Bulls) game that would be shown on a channel named FSNY, which was the local sports station (and Islander games). Now, it’s never been so easy to watch soccer; NBC Sports Network bought the Premier League rights for the next three years and beIN Sports is a La Liga, Serie A and Championship warehouse. Woot!
In 2006, Bergkamp retired at 37 years old and Pires left for Villareal, which kinda did break my heart (although, that sounds over exaggerated to the max but you know what I mean; everybody says it). Two guys part of the most important soccer trio to me were gone. Pires did play very well in La Liga, but nowhere near first-rate when he was with Arsenal. The year after that, Henry went to Barcelona, which as cool and all, because that 2009 Champions League team was one of the best I’ve watched ever, but at the same time, all of my footballing heroes departed for different places.
It’s great to see that Henry is still thriving with the Red Bulls right now; I hope one of my childhood heroes will continue to shred the pitch until he’s at least 40. I’m so proud to have the same birthday as the man that made me want to watch soccer. Quite frankly, the day he retires, I’ll be shedding many, many tears.
When I was a little kid, I liked to roll on the ground; I still do now. It sounds like one of those “don’t ask me why” things, where you feel that you don’t have the need to give an explanation to something that sounds really weird, but I’ll tell you why: The Jets are my favorite American football (not the band) team. I used to play lots of tackle football with my family friends in their colossal backyard. Also, it was my fascination about playing as a soccer goalie.
Scoring goals looks a lot better than conceding goals. Pulling off a 50 yard run, while spinning away from defenders doing flashy skill tricks does seem a lot more fun and pleasing, like Ryan Giggs in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal.
I don’t know about whoever else is reading this, but in all seriousness, who wouldn’t want to be a goalkeeper (neat freaks won’t like this)? By looking at scintillating images of full-extension dives, the whole kit being dirty as if the goalie were in a pigsty after diving and falling all over a shitty ground; it just looked incredibly convincing and inspiring.
Then along came an Italian godsend named Gianluigi Buffon.
Arsenal is, and always will be, the team I’ll support for my whole life, but Serie A, although, my Serie A watching mode has been on standby, unless a Serie A team is playing in Champions League football, back in the mid-2000s was, to me, the best league around, all because of a couple of teams: Juventus and Milan (to an extent, Inter, because of Francesco Toldo and Javier Zanetti). Juventus will be the Serie A team I’ll always support alongside Arsenal.
Of course, the Premier League was always conflicting Serie A for that label, but for me, during the same time Arsenal won 3 FA Cups in a span of four years, Serie A was so awesome.
Yeah, I know, I may not follow Serie A as much as I used to, but Juventus back in the early-to-mid-2000s was the best thing to happen to Serie A for many reasons:
- Gigi Buffon
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Gigi Buffon
- David Trezeguet
- Gigi Buffon
- Mauro Camoranesi (just cause of his last name)
- Gigi Buffon
- Alessandro Del Piero
- Gigi Buffon
- Pavel Nedved
- Et al. particularly the likes of Gigi Buffon
Not including Gianluigi Buffon on my favorite footballers list would be absolute sacrilege. It’s comparable to when somebody gives you a generous gift and you end up not giving back. But here he is on this list a million times, so I don’t have to consider myself sacrilegious.
Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp are the reasons why I started watching soccer, but Gigi Buffon is the reason why I started playing soccer, along with fully elevating my spectating interests. He’s also the reason why I chose to take on the goalkeeper position back in third grade, ending my everlasting fantasies to finally play the position.
Never has there been a more cooler and honest footballer than Buffon (that I know of, at least). Before the World Cup started, James Horncastle (such a great writer) interviewed him about what it’s like to be a goalkeeper and the art of being one. The stuff Buffon said made me admire him even more. One of my favorite quotes from the article:
“In the end, you need to be a little masochistic to be a goalkeeper… A masochist and egocentric as well. A masochist because when you play in goal, you know the only certain thing in life is that you will concede goals. And you also know that conceding goals is not something that brings you happiness.”
Gigi’s going all existential on everybody, but when you think of it, masochistic and egocentric traits are embodied in a goalkeeper.
Take Artur Boruc for instance, one of the most maniacal goalkeepers I’ve ever watched in my lifetime. Back when he was with Celtic (and still with Southampton, although, Fraser Forster is starting over him at the moment), he probably had the most shit fits in the SPL and throughout any league worldwide, Lee Naylor being the subject of one of his most infamous incidents. And, most recently, last year against Arsenal, he failed miserably trying to pull off flair around Olivier Giroud. And people wonder why his “eccentricity” attribute in Football Manager is 20 out of 20…
Boruc is just one of the many embodiments of Buffon’s statement. He pretty much does pleasure himself via pain on the field, (who knows about what he does off the field) allowing a pretty cheap goal that was given to the opposing team and he has a ballooned ego that has popped (maybe a pun intended) on many occasions. I’m sure if Boruc ever reads that Guardian article, he would agree wholeheartedly with everything Buffon has to say.
Buffon’s modesty and honesty are exposed throughout that whole article, which is what I love so much about him, aside from his influence to all future goalkeepers, regardless of experience level. He also noted in the article that Andrea Pirlo is “the best talent that Italian football has produced in the last 25 years,” aside from Roberto Baggio and his hair. What a good soul.
The 2006 World Cup was where Buffon grew onto me the most back in the day. His save on Zinedine Zidane in the final is one of the best saves of all-time. Watching that at my local pizza place was a sight to see, not only because of the fake and real Italian people calling Zidane a stunad a shit ton of times, but also because it felt like I was in a bar as a 10 year old kid. I always have to (well, I don’t have to, but I choose to) watch his saves from that World Cup, because he made so many outstanding saves, especially the save on Lukas Podolski. Best thing about that game? Italy scored two goals in the last two minutes of the second extra time period, winning 2-0. Also, he only allowed two goals throughout the whole tournament.
See what I mean? Look how epic that is.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers of all-time, definitely on the same list as guys like Iker Casillas, Edwin van Der Sar, Petr Cech, Peter Schmeichel, Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Neville Southall, Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff, even Manuel Neuer at this point in his career.
Peter Shilton played until he was 47 years old, and is the most capped England player of all-time with 125 caps in a span of 20 years with the English first team. Buffon is the Italian Peter Shilton, with 142 caps in a frame of 17 years with the Italian first team. I’m just hoping Buffon plays with Italy until he’s 40.
What would be absolutely amazing is if Buffon replicates Dino Zoff’s World Cup winning campaign in 1982, in which Zoff won at 40 years old. I really wanna see Buffon in the World Cup one last time. Yes, there’s Euros and Champions League play, but my admiration comes from his ‘06 campaign. Hopefully he’ll be a Juventus loyalist, unless he goes back to Parma as a courtesy thing. I don’t think he’s going anywhere from the game anytime soon.
A goalkeeper’s prime is often times near the cutoff of their careers, because
You’re the best, Gigi. Never stop.