What would we make of our legends of days past had they played in the present, a time of media exposure, constant fan interaction, in both positive and negative extremes. Johan Cruyff with his outspoken views, both political and sporting, would see him vilified from sections of the supporters and his belief in his own ability would win him little admirers. How would modern fans react to the iconic Alfredo Di Stéfano as he represented three different nations at international level? Would an 18-year-old Franz Beckenbauer be able to bounce back now, as he did in 1963, when criticised and dropped from the national team for refusing to marry the mother of his unborn child. How about George Best, a legend on the pitch but off it a man who partied often and partied hard, with drink and beautiful women in tow, how would this and his belief in his own legend go down with today’s public? Then there is Diego Maradona, the man that Lionel Messi is always compared with, a man of cheating, political viewpoints and drug taking, all of which is swept away to reward his quality on the field. This would not be the case in the modern day, he would become one of the most controversial figures in the sport and never held up to legend status.
Now if we flip the argument what would we see, imagine Lionel Messi in the 1980’s, a gentleman on and off the field, and outstanding ability. He would be regarded as the best of all time for sure, there would be no debate as to his stature in football history. We would talk of the great Brazilian Neymar who wowed fans with his tricks and skill, the powerful pacey Cristiano Ronaldo, a player capable of anything on the pitch. The Spanish stars of Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol and Casillas would be fawned over by the La Liga players of modern times, World cup winning legends to one day aspire to. In England we’d discuss the Champions League winning midfield greats of Scholes, Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard and the no nonsense defensive displays of the iconic John Terry. The players haven’t really changed that much over time, the change is in how we view them in the modern climate.
It’s hard to talk about legends when they are already here, but as players retire like Rio Ferdinand, Raúl and Alessandro Del Piero, their departure from the game has come with no great farewell. With achievements that go down in history they’ve disappeared from the limelight with minimum fanfare, hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come. We are in the midst of legends, the players who should be spoken about in a century from now as some of the greatest of all time. Messi, Ronaldo, Pirlo, Iniesta, Totti and Schweinsteiger. We can only hope that the current trend of denouncing our heroes as a cultural habit comes to an end and we can stand back and fully appreciate the masters before our very eyes. These are our modern heroes, we can’t cheer on a Puskás or Baggio, a Neeskens or Breitner, we have our current crop and they deserve our respect and admiration. We have some of the greats of the game, record breakers to a man, they are legends of our time and we will miss them when they are gone.