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DEBATE: One Club Heroes, or travelling legends?

Football has a rich heritage. Countless players have tried their hand and excelled at the highest echelons of this beautiful game. And yet even the most knowledgeable of football fans can name but a fraction of the men who have dazzled crowds with their skill and mastery on a football pitch.

So what makes a footballer memorable across generations? The most obvious and indeed, difficult way is to astound people on a football pitch. To regularly deliver moments of magic at will shall ensure that your name will stand the test of time and the Pele’s, Maradona’s and the Di Stefano’s of this world will always be held at the highest regard. But this is possible for a select few. So how does a footballer make his mark in the ever changing world of football?

One way is to play for one club throughout your career and make sure that you are an integral part of a club’s history and not just a footnote. Another diametrically opposite way is to achieve success in multiple clubs make the footballing world notice you for the sheer size of your trophy cabinet. So which would you rather be?

The following points have formed the basic framework of the debate:

  •  Global Appeal
  • Test in Different, tough environments
  • Win and collect trophies




Global Appeal

Football fans are notoriously fickle. Players can go from having God-like status one day to being the arch villain of the drama we call football, the next. Thus while players can be fleetingly loved by fans during their tenure at a football club, to win the undying appreciation from generations of fans is no mean feat. In modern day football, loyalty is heading down a one way road to becoming obsolete. Contracts just serve as bargaining chips during prospective transfers. It is true that a player who has succeeded in a number of clubs in different countries have more of a “global image” but at the end of the day what is the use of such popularity? The player is looked at fondly by fans of a number of clubs but in no club will he have unconditional love and gratitude owing to the simple fact that despite whatever he accomplished with and for the club, he decided to move on to what he considered greener pastures. In stark contrast, footballers who stick to one club for the lengths of their careers are subject to enormous amounts of adulation from fans. Why? Because we football fans are essentially a tribal lot. One club footballers are more than just players. They are the symbols of the club. People that have had the very essence of the club ingrained into their systems. And One Club Heroes are universally respected. Even grudgingly so, by the fiercest of rivals. For example, Ryan Giggs is called a plethora of names by Liverpool fans but despite this, even the staunchest of supporters have to admit that his career has been astounding. And speaking of Giggs, he was recently applauded when he came on at the Bernabeu. How’s that for Global Appeal?

Win and Collect Trophies

This is one point of the debate where I see no option but to concede to an extent. Football players and fans alike are fiercely competitive and in such an atmosphere settling for second best is just not an option. In an ideal world, the player would win his fair share of trophies with the club he’s grown up at and continued to play for. However such cases are few and far between and quite often ambitious players are forced to leave their childhood clubs in search of greater glories. And the flip side is also possible. To be considered a valuable asset throughout your career at a club regularly vying for top honours is an unenviable task. This just enhances my point that One Club Heroes are a special breed.

Test in Different Environments

One of the biggest myths of modern day football is that a player cannot be considered a great unless they have proved their worth in a number of different leagues. I fail to see why exactly. Yes each league has their own style of football and present their own set of inherent difficulties. Yes we have seen top quality players take time to settle in new leagues. But the bottom line is they do. And this is not characterized by a complete overhaul in their playing style. I don’t think players who move from league to league radically change their games in order to best serve their clubs. Would Lionel Messi really struggle on wet windy night at Stoke? No. Would Paul Scholes have less of an impact playing for a top team in say the Serie A? No. Thus I fail to see why players have to prove their mettle in different environments. And it’s not as if players that stay in one club stagnate. Throughout the course of their careers they model their game not only to cater to the team’s needs but also to how best manage themselves so that they maximize their impact to the team.


Ronaldo Barcelona


Win and Collect Trophies

As a footballer, the most important aim of your career, from day one, to the day you hang up your boots, is simply to win trophies, and collect silverware. There are a lot of distractions along the journey, but the sole measure of a player’s greatness is the amount of silverware he has collected. This is not to say that a less decorated, but great, player will not be respected, of course he will, but history only remembers the winners. A good example would be that of Gerd Muller. The player won a truck load of cups with Bayern Munich. He was a key player there, and is well regarded as a legend, one of the greatest forwards of all time across the world, but not too many realise that he isn’t Bayern through and through. He left his native club 1861 Nordlingen for FC Hollywood. Of course he spent a long time there and won a lot of silverware, but this probably wouldn’t have been possible if he stayed at Nordlingen, and we may not have hailed him as one of the greatest strikers of all time. The same would apply to players like Ronaldo (Brazilian) and Ronaldinho. In an age where attention is paid only to the leagues which fetch a lot of money, the likes of them would never get the attention they currently get had they stayed at their first clubs.

Test in Different Environments

It is true that champions are forged in the fires of adversity. As a well established player at a home-town club, most have it relatively easy in terms of respect from the fans, position in the team and at the club. Maintaining one’s status in such a cozy environment is not something that’s very difficult. Moving to a completely different set up, and succeeding, building a reputation from scratch all over again is a tough trick to pull off. A true legend of the game will always be recognised for accepting such challenges, and overcoming them. To cite the example of Luis Ronaldo once again, he is so widely loved and respected because he managed to win silverware, and score goals in so many different leagues and for so many different teams. He was a success at the international level, in the Dutch league, for both the Milan teams (not so much at AC Milan) and at Real Madrid and Barcelona. This is why he is spoken of in the same breath as Pele, despite the fact that Pele won 3 world cups and has scored over a thousand goals. This is also why Pele is sometimes undermined by many, including Diego Maradona, as Maradona achieved success with Napoli as well, whereas Pele stayed away from Europe.

Global Appeal

Football has grown into a truly global sport over the years. Earlier, it’s popularity was confined to Europe and South America, but now, the beautiful game is truly the world’s most loved game as well. Fans are springing up in new markets like Asia and Africa at a tremendous rate. In such an atmosphere, a legend, i.e. one who is recognised and known as such by the fans and the people, is one who can appeal to a global audience. Over the years, players like Beckenbauer, Muller, Raul and Henry have moved across the globe to ply their trade. Doing so has only entrenched them in the hearts of supporters throughout the world. The fans of their new clubs obviously love them and idolise them, but even fans from their old club love them, as their absence only makes the heart grow fond of them. Compare David Beckham and Francesco Totti. The former has travelled the world and played for some of the most popular teams in the world, and some on the fringes of world football. There’s no arguing the fact that as a footballer alone, Totti was at least as good as, if not better than Beckham, and would certainly have cut it at teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid if he chose to move. However, he chose not to, and today, David Beckham enjoys legendary status across the world, while Totti is worshipped only by half of Rome, and a few knowledgeable fans.

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