Mike Gibbons

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 this event.

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Golden Booty - An assorted history of the World Cup top scorers, Part I

    There is an exclusive club with a history that stretches back over decades, all of whom have held the prize. Twenty three men alone hold a place in the elite – eight have had a share of the prize, fifteen have claimed it as their own. Every four years a month long contest takes place at a pre-determined venue where more hopefuls aim to claim the prize and enter the pantheon of the greats. It can be the key to untold riches for the prize-holder or strike upon them a curse that…sorry I was getting a bit carried away there. Those of you who thought you were reading a synopsis of some appalling Dan Brown novel can rest easy. I will drop all the pretence of grandeur and cut to the chase – 'the prize' I am talking about is the World Cup golden boot, awarded to the top scorer at the World Cup Finals.

    I have always had something of a fascination with what is essentially a contest within a contest, and I'm not sure why; probably because in the first World Cup I remember, Mexico 86, it was won by Gary Lineker of England, and therefore in my country received a lot more media attention than it would had either Careca or Emilio Butragueno come out on top. I've always wondered what it means to strikers – do they think about it before a tournament? Forwards are renowned for being selfish, but does it increase their selfishness during the tournament, to the detriment of their team? Anyone who witnessed Rivaldo in the 2002 semi-final spurn a number of easy through balls to Ronaldo (like himself on five goals for the tournament) in favour of a pop at goal himself will not need convincing of that.

    Does the Golden Boot actually mean anything? Well, it doesn't make you the best striker in the world – Pele has never won it, Marco Van Basten doesn't even have a World Cup goal to his name. Only three of the outright winners have ever won the World Cup and golden boot in the same tournament – all other winners would surely trade their boot for a winners' medal. And yet it continues to fascinate. The currency of football is goals and what the golden boot does mean is that for one summer, should you have been lucky enough to win it, you were in the right place at the right time more than any other player, which is exactly what being a striker is all about. On top of all this, it's at the highest level of football the game can offer in front of a global audience of hundreds of millions. When we think of Italia 90, do we think of Klinsmann, Caniggia, Vialli or Voller? No, we are more likely to think of a balding little Sicilian with one cap to his name that came off the bench for Italy to transform their tournament and, ultimately, his life.

    So here they are, the great, the good, the unknown, the controversial, the lucky, the unlucky and the incredibly unlucky in all their glory.


    The Edmund Hilary of our list, the man who got there before everyone else, is Guillermo Stabile of Argentina, scorer of eight goals in that legendary summer of 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Like many of the later winners, he wasn't even the first choice forward for his team when the competition started, but an injury to Argentine captain Manuel Ferreira opened the door for him and on his World Cup debut he scored a hat-trick against Mexico. Some believe this to be the first ever hat-trick at the World Cup, but there are several claims that Bert Patenaude scored/didn't score a hat-trick two days earlier for the USA. However with two goals in his next game, two in the semi-final and one in the final (in which Argentina lost to their hosts and bitter rivals Uruguay) Stabile ensured his name would forever be remembered. The fruits of his summers' work became a transfer to Napoli and later Red Star of Paris, where he even played in a handful of internationals for France.


    Scoring a bucket load of goals at the World Cup guarantees instant legendary status. Eusebio was already European Footballer of the Year when he took to the pitch in 1966, but he cemented his place in history with a nine-goal haul at the finals in England. Two games in particular stand out – the 3-1 humbling of Brazil in which Eusebio scored twice (nearly tearing the net with his second) and the 5-3 quarter-final win against a North Korean team who went 3-0 up in twenty minutes. Eusebio triggered a fantastic comeback by scoring four times. As individual performances go, these two matches by Eusebio rank alongside any in the history of the tournament, Maradona included.

    In 1970, on the eve of football going down the defensive-minded route that still pervades today, Gerd Muller landed the Golden Boot in the searing heat of Mexico. After two-hat-tricks and one other in the first round, one of 'Der Bomber's' most famous goals came with a flying volley that knocked champions England out of the tournament and haunted them for the entire 1970's. Two more poached efforts as West Germany succumbed to Italy in that 4-3 epic in the Azteca took Muller to ten goals, the last man to reach double figures. His shoe cupboard was pretty full that year having also top-scored in the Bundesliga which in turn won him the European Golden Boot as well.

    The first man to rattle up double figures at the World Cup was Sandor Kocsis of Hungary, netting eleven in the free-scoring World Cup in Switzerland in 1954, two years after scoring six goals en route to Hungary winning the 1952 Olympics. Dubbed 'The Man With the Golden Head' for his aerial ability, Kocsis would go on to score an immense 75 goals in 68 games for Hungary, the most important two against Uruguay in extra-time in the 1954 semi-final. His total is all the more impressive in that it was achieved in just five World Cup matches.

    The all-time record of thirteen goals in a single tournament was set by Just Fontaine of France in Sweden in 1958. The Moroccan born Fontaine was only in the squad as a back up, but an injury to first choice Rene Biliard on the eve of the tournament presented him with his opportunity, and he went on to score in every game, finishing with a flourish of four goals against West Germany in the third placed play-off. A year later he would play in the European Cup Final for Rheims against a Real Madrid team containing Raymond Kopa, the midfielder who supplied many of the assists for his goals in Sweden. His career came to an end at 27 when a badly broken leg left him unable to play again.


    Just what would the World Cup be without Eastern Europe? The region has provided so many great teams, players and coaches that are part of the legend of the World Cup – Puskas, Czibor, Masopust, Stojkovic, Boniek, Bene, Yashin, Blokhin, Schroif, Belanov, Hagi, the list goes on and on, and yet none of these great players have had their hands on the World Cup. Thankfully, they do have a healthy representation amongst the golden boot winners.

    In 1934 Oldrich Nejedly hit five goals for Czechoslovakia en route to the final of the competition in Italy. Unfortunately for his team they would have to face Italy, then under the control of Mussolini, so winning the final would be tough and they eventually lost in extra-time 2-1. If many written accounts for those finals are believed, the name of the winners was so pre-ordained it made Argentina 78 look like a fair and level playing field. Nejedly played in his second finals in 1938 in France and scored in the first round before suffering a horrendous broken leg against Brazil that his career would never recover from. With the Nazis closing in on the Czech doorstep, that was probably the least of his worries.

    Croatia made their first appearance in the World Cup in 1998, and their eventual third placed finish was largely due to the inspired form of Davor Suker. The Real Madrid forward had already shone at Euro 96 but excelled himself in France by scoring six times. One of these came in Lyon in the revenge quarter-final against Germany, who had eliminated Croatia at that stage two years earlier. Collecting the ball wide on the left he chipped the ball past one man, then another, before shooting through the legs of Andreas Kopke for a goal easily as good as the infinitely repeated efforts of Bergkamp and Owen that summer. Suker also put Croatia ahead in the semi-final against France before a suicidal defensive error allowed France back into the match and ended their hopes of glory.

    The finals in West Germany in 1974 would mark the one and only time the golden boot would be won by a player resembling a character from the Hobbit. 1972-82 were the greatest years in the history of Polish football and involved in every single aspect was the short and balding figure of Gregorz Lato. Used only as a substitute in their Olympic win in 1972, Lato came to the fore two years later scoring seven goals, four of which were the decisive winning strikes for his team. His seventh came in the third place playoff against Brazil where he sprinted sixty metres with the ball before placing it in the corner for victory. Lato would score twice in Argentina 1978 and once in Spain 82, by which time his influence was not as strong and the team looked more to Boniek for inspiration. No matter – with ten goals in twenty World Cup appearances, his place in the all-time pantheon of greats is assured.

    Two players from Eastern Europe shared the golden boot in America in 1994. Russia, now without many of the states that when combined as the USSR were such a force in football, had a terrible World Cup and went out in the first round. One player could go home with something to smile about, and that was Oleg Salenko. Having already scored in their defeat to Sweden, Salenko put five goals past Cameroon (and also claimed an assist) as Russia won 6-1, and claimed the all-time scoring record for most goals in one game. On a bizarre day, the record for the oldest scorer of a World Cup goal was also claimed by the 42 year old Cameroon legend Roger Milla, scoring one minute after coming on as a substitute.

    Sharing the golden boot with Salenko (and it's a safe bet this really got under his skin) was Hristo Stoichkov, the charismatic, maniacal forward from Bulgaria. After a 3-0 hiding off Nigeria in the opening game, it looked like the Bulgarian campaign would be a continuation of their miserable and winless World Cup history. Stoichkov had a thirty-yard free kick disallowed in that game, but composed himself to score two penalties against Greece and then a sweet toe-poked effort against an Argentina team still reeling from the suspension of Maradona. This put Bulgaria into round two, where the Barcelona star scored against Mexico with a shot that the word 'thunderbolt' was invented for. Having prevailed on penalties, Bulgaria were now in the unknown waters of the quarter-finals against Germany.

    Everyone remembers the Letchkov diving header that eventually sealed one of the great underdog victories of all time. Three minutes earlier though, the catalyst had been provided by Stoichkov, who dropped a delicate free-kick over the wall and past a flat-footed Illgner to equalise. This stunning victory in Giants Stadium, New York earned Bulgaria the right to stay there to face Italy in the semi-final. Stoichkov scored a penalty, but a combination of some very dubious refereeing and the genius of Roberto Baggio knocked out Bulgaria 2-1. Stoichkov still had it all to play for in the third placed match with Sweden though, as he was on six goals and one more would win the golden boot outright. As it turned out he missed enough chances to equal Salenko's individual goals record, and vented his fury at anyone and everyone within earshot as Bulgaria went down 0-4. Despite this, he was a well-deserved European footballer of the year in 1994.

    Well, that's it for part one. Part two will be along shortly, containing the legendary, the lucky and even the sainted ones whose goals have actually helped win the World Cup.



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