The 5 Greatest Footballers You've Never Heard Of
Pele or Maradonna? We've all been asked the question, because it's actually there on all of our Bleacher Report profile pages.
There have been endless superlatives used to describe Van Basten, Bobby Charlton, Roberto Baggio but what about Arsenio Erico?
This is the Paraguayan striker which inspired the great Alfredo Di Stefano, bicycle-kick inventor Leônidas da Silva considered the best in the world and one of the first players to pioneer the fledgling sport of Association Football to the masses of South America.
There is a wealth of talent from the days before the mass televising and commercialism of the game. People which have been forgotten with shiny new players, but whose achievements served to inspire the legends we're used to, and more importantly, shape the game itself.
And in the unlikely event you have heard of them, you have my permission to feel smug.
5. Brian Clough
Everyone's heard of Brian Clough, Naveed Tariq is an idiot! I'm sure that's what you're thinking right about now. And it's not surprising.
After all, Old Big 'Ead is known as one of the finest football managers England has ever produced, best known for elevating Division Two outfit Nottingham Forest to the status of two-time European Cup winners; he is still a legend in both rival cities of Derby and Nottingham.
But perhaps it is his success as a manager which has taken the spotlight away from what a truly great footballer he was. A striker for Middlesbrough and Sunderland, Clough scored a total of 251 goals in 274 games, a post-war record. He was forced to retire early after a career lasting only nine years, suffering from a cruciate ligament injury.
Clough's goalscoring record ensured that if he hadn't gone into management, he'd still have been remembered as a legend.
4. Dragan Džajić
Widely unknown outside his native Serbia but widely hailed as a national legend within it. Dragan Džajić was a left-winger naturally gifted with an arsenal of ability, he quickly became famous for his precise passing and phenomenal dribbling, which coupled with devastating pace and eye for goal earned him a total of 346 career goals from midfield.
The player oozed class and was famous as a dead ball specialist.
Playing for most of his career in his relatively closed homeland, few ever got the chance to see him, until the 1968 European Championships. This proved to be the showcase that the player needed to prove himself against the world's best.
In the semi-finals, Džajić broke a stalemate against the then world champions, England in the 85th minute with a delicate lob over Gordon Banks, the only goal of the match. Leading the press back in England to christen him "the magic Dragan".
Dragan scored once again in the final with Italy, but was unable to win the cup for Yugoslavia, which was won by the Azzuri 2-0 in a replay.
Speaking about his stellar performances Pelé remarked, "Džajić is the Balkan miracle—a real wizard. I'm just sorry he's not Brazilian because I've never seen such a natural footballer."
3. Nándor Hidegkuti
Nándor Hidegkuti was one of the integral members of the "Magnificent Magyars" side which revolutionised football in the 1950s. The team, featuring the much more famous Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis, beat the English national team in a 6-3 rout at Wembley.
This was the first team to ever beat England on home soil, in a match which in Hidegkuti scored a hat-trick, playing in a slightly deeper role than a conventional centre-forward. His ability to distribute the ball from this position confused the English players and had never been seen before.
In other words, in addition to being a walking Brylcreem advert, Nándor Hidegkuti was the first second striker in the world. A tactical position which has since been occupied by Pelé, Maradonna, Baggio, Del Piero, Bergkamp, Totti and Rooney to name just a few.
Nándor Hidegkuti and the Magnificent Magyars reached the 1954 World Cup only to lose to West Germany 3 – 2 in the final (a team they had previously beaten 8 -3 in the group stages), finally breaking a then-record run of 33 games unbeaten.
As a manager, he also won the first Cup Winner's Cup in 1961, leading Fiorentina to a 4-1 aggregate win over Rangers.
2. Josef Bican
Josef Bican was an Austrian-Czech footballer with three great physical advantages. He was a tall man, he was equally adept with both feet and he was very fast—Bican could run 100 metres in 10.2 seconds (put in context, this is only 0.51 seconds slower than Usain Bolt's world record). The man was born blessed but boy, did he use it.
He made his debut for Rapid Vienna in 1931 and scored 108 goals in only 49 appearances. Then in 1937 he transferred to Slavia Prague where his strike rate fell to only 395 goals in 204 games.
He proved himself on the international stage too, scoring 14 goals in 19 games for Austria and 14 goals in 14 games for the Czech Republic.
His charisma was not limited to the football pitch either, at Slavia, crowds well into the hundreds would queue and pay just to watch their hero train. In order to please the crowds, it was said that he would balance empty bottles over a crossbar about a foot apart and knock them down one-by-one from a distance of twenty yards, missing about one in ten of them.
Bican was a true footballing great, scoring a total of about 800 goals in competitive matches, (not including friendlies). It is widely believed that the Austrian was the first man to ever score over a thousand goals.
Recently, those party animals at the International Federation of Football History & Statistics awarded Bican the "Golden Ball" as the greatest goalscorer of the 20th century.
1. John Charles
John Charles is a football player the kind of which has not been seen since. Charles is thought to be one of the greatest all-round players ever, he was a world-class defender. He was also a world-class striker.
The Welshman started off his career at Leeds United where he scored 150 goals in 297 appearances before transferring to Italian giants Juventus for a then British-record £65,000.
It was in Turin that John Charles probably reached the height of his popularity, winning three scudettos and two Italian Cups (including one double) as well as the Italian player of the year award in 1958.
Charles was never cautioned nor sent-off in his twenty-six year career, which earned him the title Il Gigante Buono—The Gentle Giant. never once flinching from his philosophy, "If I have to knock them down to play well, then I don't want to play the game at all."
The respect that John Charles earned during his tenure in Italy was first realised in 1997 when Juventus fans voted him their greatest ever foreign player for the club's centenary.
That same year Charles was also voted "the greatest foreign player ever in Serie A", beating the likes of Maradona, Michel Platini and Marco Van Basten and in 2001, he became the first non-Italian inducted to the Italian Hall of Fame.
Sir Bobby Robson has said that he considers John Charles "incomparable" and puts him alongside the more conventional footballing greats such as Pelé, Maradona and George Best. He also notes that Charles is the only footballing great to be world class in two very different positions.