Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist
from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
Searching for an heir to Maradona's throne
Most people can remember where and when they first fell in love with the game of football. For me, it was the 1986 World
Cup in Mexico. Although my interest was to begin with based solely on the progress of England, I quickly broadened my
horizons to take in the games of other nations – Denmark’s 6-1 demolition of the thuggish Uruguayans is a particularly fond
memory, as is the epic France-Brazil quarter-final. However as the tournament progressed it was becoming clear that
something very special was unfolding in front of me, and it emanated from the magical feet of a very special player.
It appeared to me that Diego Armando Maradona had dropped in unannounced from another planet to play in the World
Cup. With my knowledge of the game only a few weeks old, it looked to me like Maradona had just exploded onto the
scene, and I assumed that was the same for everyone. Of course I now know that the truth is somewhat different – the early
promise, his vow to win the world cup at the age of ten, the junta using him as a propaganda tool, the huge transfer fees, the
hero worship in Naples. Mexico 86 was when all the hype became a glorious reality. Never has a player so single-handedly
dominated a competition, nor so inspired such an ordinary set of team-mates with his sheer brilliance. As a first taste of
football! , it was perfect. Football would always be played like that, by players like that.
Of course, it never has been since. One of the main gripes many people have about the three world cups that have followed
since is the failure of any single player to lift himself above the rest and set the tournament alight. Maradona himself has been
particularly critical, dismissing all the players at France 98 as “robots” with no flair or imagination. If all future world cups are
to be won by well drilled teams erring on the side of caution, with their most notable asset being a sound defence and making
tactical substitutions at the right time, the World Cup will overnight lose a lot of the magic that had me and millions of others
so enraptured in the first place. It is the ability to raise their game and their team-mates to a new level at the World Cup that
sep! arates a good player from a great one. It makes all other achievements pale by comparison. Even though he played his
best football in Ajax’s three European Cup winning campaigns, Johan Cruyff will forever be etched in the memory as an
immortal for his performance in West Germany in 1974. This also counts for Eusebio in 1966, Puskas in 1954, and Pele….
well we all know about Pele.
Since Maradona, no player has even been close to having anything like the same impact on a World Cup. In Italia 90 two
players who stood out were Lothar Matthaus and Paul Gascoigne, but Matthaus shone only briefly in the group stages and
Gascoigne showed quality in flashes but was anonymous for long periods of matches. In fact it was Maradona, a battered
shell of the man so superior in Mexico, that provided the tournament with its most eye-catching piece of skill, surging past
three defenders before playing in Caniggia for the goal that sent Brazil home early.
USA 94 produced four players half a notch above their peers – Gheorge Hagi, Hristo Stoichkov, Roberto Baggio and
Romario. All shared the limelight but none could steal it. The Brazil-Italy final that was supposed to produce a
Romario-Baggio showdown never materialised, Romario was surprisingly ineffective and Baggio was virtually playing on one
leg. It is Baggio lifting his penalty high over the crossbar in Pasadena that is the enduring image of that World Cup.
This trend of sterile World Cups was supposed to end at France 98, as the world waited for Ronaldo to shine. At 21 he was
already the finest player of his generation, and was expected by many to dominate the tournament and prove himself a worthy
successor to the throne previously occupied by Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and all. There was even ludicrous talk, fuelled mainly
by Nike, that he could break Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals in one tournament. He was subjected to a weight of
expectation not seen since Maradona in 1986 – and what followed was an almighty let down. Right from the beginning he
looked unsure of himself and his team-mates (his strike partner for the previous two years had been Romario, who was
dropped before the tournament, leaving Ronaldo to play with the ageing and near useless Bebeto) and although he scored
four goals, he was a shadow of the player who had set the world alight at PSV, Barcelona and Inter Milan. On the day of the
final he suffered a panic attack hours before kick-off and took to the pitch in no condition to play the most important game of
his career, and Brazil sunk without trace 3-0 to hosts France. That incident has been followed by career threatening injuries
that have limited him to 8 minutes of football in two years. The game that should have been the defining moment of his career
now appears to have sent it into irreversible decline.
We are now less than a year away from Korea/Japan 2002, and it is hard to imagine any of the current stars of world football
taking our breath away next June. Ronaldo has started training again, and how Brazil need him at the moment, but there are
quite obvious concerns that he can never be the same player that looked destined for greatness just a few years ago. So will
we ever see a truly great player light up the World Cup again? Of course we will. Football is cyclical and every generation
throws up at least one outstanding player. It is just a shame for the current generation that if Ronaldo was the one, at the
moment he looks like being the one that got away.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.