If you’ve clicked on this blog then you have come here expecting one of two things. It could be that you have a fascination with crap superheroes, and you are under the misguided impression Marvel has a niche caped crusader, and you think I have the inside track. Or you understand the acronym (Greatest Of All Time), and have your own opinion, and are fully prepared to pick apart my argument. Well, superhero fans, see y’all later.
Ok, so the rest of you are eagerly awaiting my flawed argument, which you will then pick apart in the comments. Or perhaps you will agree wholeheartedly, and defend my honour like a Knight from Arthurian legend.
There’s really no need for either.
Firstly, you have no idea which GOAT I am referring to, it could be the best TV Chef, and I’ll see your Ainsley Harriot and raise you a Keith Floyd any day of the week, but I digress. This is after all a sports blog, and yet I have managed to include Camelot and Ready, Steady, Cook.
Which sport should we attack first, well, football is the mainstay of this discussion, and the two main protagonists are Messi and Ronaldo, but before we race headlong into a barrage of vitriolic opinion, let’s stand back and evaluate our options?
Attacking players always get the plaudits, let’s face it none of us watch football for a great blocking tackle, no, we are after that 30-yard screamer that smashes into the top bin… or of course Paolo Di Canio pushing the Ref over.
But we have a moral obligation (if we are going to do this properly) to look at all positions on the pitch, why isn’t Peter Schmeichel in contention, after all, how many other Goalkeepers completed a treble? What about Beckenbauer, nicknamed The Kaiser because of his masterful control of the defence, what about Zidane who scored that left-footed volley (and headbutted that dude in the final). There are few players on the planet that can pull that one off. The playmaking genius that is Pirlo, I have watched many clips on YouTube of him controlling the midfield as if the ball was on a string. Honestly, the list goes on and on, we haven’t mentioned Pele, Maradona, Puskas, Bobby Moore, George Best et al.
Now here’s the news probably none of you are going to like… there is no correct answer… I can feel the comments filling up already…
Hear me out, I’m not trying to prevent you having your own GOAT, just that there can never be one unified answer.
Football has changed a lot since it first became a professional sport back in the 19th century. The laws have evolved (let’s not get bogged down with offside… because of VAR) over 100 years or more. The most important change I feel is that of substitutions which were allowed from 1965 onwards. I have already mentioned Puskas, who’s playing career ended in 1966, so for much of his career subs were not a thing. What if he could have been rested after he has bagged a hat-trick by the hour mark, would he have been fresher the next game, and scored more?
If like me you’ve strutted your stuff in the local Sunday morning league, come rain, snow, hail, hurricane Katrina etc., then you will have experienced some of the worst surfaces for kicking a ball on. So, don’t tell me the carpet at Old Trafford that Beckham used to score those free-kicks was in any way comparable to what Sir Stanley Matthews had to contend with.
Pick your favourite sports outlet and gaze upon their wares, the footwear is multicoloured, light as a feather, carbon fibre, half the fat, double the minty freshness wonders. Now compare that to the hobnailed, lead soled, workboots that the like of Bobby Charlton had to use. Not to mention the cannonballs that passed for kicking fodder… and he still smashed them in from his own half.
Again, if I refer you to our Sunday morning brethren, there’s generally a few rotund centrebacks, a guy in the middle with great feat, and an even greater appetite, plus the old lad up front, whose day job must be drinking Guinness. Indeed, I remember seeing a clip of George Best dance through half a dozen players for Manchester United, round the goalie, slot the ball into an open net and then go and rest up the goalpost. Was he knackered from his twisty dissection of the opposition… no… he later admitted he’d been out on the lash the night before and had a bad case of the beer sweats. These days it’s chicken and pasta washed down with a kale smoothie… fuck that!
So, when you take into account all of the above, you simply cannot be comparing apples with apples, George Best doing what he on a pitch whilst being half-cut almost makes him the GOAT by default.
So how do we decide on our own personal GOAT?
Well, I bet I can probably explain why some people will pick either Messi or Ronaldo for this. Cristiano Ronaldo is a force of nature, first on the training pitch, last to leave, and he has become such an amazing player he has bagged many League titles and several of those large golden Ballon D’or thingys. Supporters of Ronaldo will point you to the statistics, more championships in more countries, more clubs etc.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics
Benjamin Disraeli (attributed)
Now, whilst I will concede that statistics are a good way of evaluating players, if you have ever watched a film called Moneyball (and I recommend it), you will know that is exactly what they do to build their team… spoiler alert.
For me, if you reduce the beautiful game down to mere statistics, you are doing it a great disservice. Which is why I am in the Messi camp, and the reason for picking him is that whilst he has spent his career at Barcelona, he has also amassed trophies and goals, but the way in which he plays the game is sublime, his touch is effervescent and there are few that can rival that left foot of his.
And that is my argument for any sport, the GOAT has to be that player that (is very successful) makes you want to watch them ply their trade. In Snooker it’s Ronnie O’Sullivan, Tennis is Roger Federer, Formula 1 is Lewis Hamilton, and I know that some of you will disagree… and that’s fine.
These are the people I have watched, these are the people that make me want to watch sport, and therefore I have to name them as my GOAT’s.
Who’s my football GOAT… Maradona didn’t expect me to go there did you? Yes, I hate him for Mexico 86, but I’ve never seen a player do what he did, I’m not old enough to compare George Best to him, and as I’ve pointed out, it was a different era.
These are the things we debate when we have quaffed too many ales down the local watering hole (and yes I wish I could do that with you all, damned COVID!), and there are many answers, but there can never be one correct resolution, sorry.