Will Anyone Ever Compare to the Legends of Years Gone By?

illya mclellanSenior Analyst IAugust 13, 2009

As the years go by, mist grows over the edges of memories of greatness and skill that were seen from the terraces and stands around the world, not to mention listened to on radios and seen in grainy broadcasts on ancient televisions.

It is with increasing nostalgia and reverence that the great players of the past are given almost mythological levels of skill and talent.

But then for anyone who wishes to see the amazing skill and strength that players such as Pele, Garrincha, Cruyff, Best and Maradona to name but a few, it is actually a mouse click away at sites on the world wide web such as YouTube and others.

A hugely noticeable skill that these players had that is seen less and less in today's game, due to tactical shifts and other factors such as ego and self importance, has seen the desire to score and finish a chance replaced by the desire to win a free kick or a penalty.

If you are lucky enough to look up video of past greats you will often notice them riding two or even three heinous tackles on the way to scoring sumptuously and enjoying every minute of it.

Now here is the rub, the type of fouls that used to exist and that players were often able to get away with were not just nightmarish but often criminal.

The outlawing of certain types of play and the protection of skillful players is more of a blessing than a curse as it has in many cases enabled us to see the talents of players for increased amounts of time due to the new longevity of particular careers given to us by stricter controls on cynical play and tactics.

But the downside to this is that players now will often fall at the slightest hint of a physical challenge, even in certain situations where the goal seems to be almost at their mercy.

A telling example of this was seen in last season's EPL when Manchester United entertained Blackburn at Old Trafford and Morten Gamst Pedersen decided a challenge he received in the area warranted a penalty and duly fell to the floor in apparent agony.

Strangely enough it seemed that if he had carried on with his run he may have been able to score or at least lay a goal on for one of his team mates.

A terrible example of something that blights the modern game, robbing us all, including the players, of potential moments of greatness.

The adverse to this was witnessed in none other than the so called "soft" La Liga last season in a match between Barcelona and Real Betis.

The Argentinian Lionel Messi was on a run toward goal in a game where he had terrorised the opposition with his skill for most of the 90 minutes and was again leading the Betis players on a merry dance.

He was fouled three times by two different players before finally being brought down and duly awarded a free kick.

The best was yet to come as rather than writhing in agony on the turf he quickly got to his feet and took the free kick without the theatrics we have become used to from many of the game's current stars.

So it seems that in some quarters that skill coupled with strength is still very much a part of today's football.

The worrying thing is that the option to fall on the merest contact is becoming more prevalent than the option to use strength to punish opposition indiscretion with the ultimate riposte in sticking the ball in the back of the net.

The big question is how many skillful and potentially awe-inspiring moments are we missing out on because of the apparent unwillingness in players to attempt to carry on under duress?

As a junior football coach I have noticed several times this season that youngsters are falling more often than ever before because of the example set them by their footballing heroes around the world.

Perhaps it is time that coaches, players and fans around the world start to remember that football is a game encompassing many different variants of talent, whether it is strength, timing, ball skill, power or even hard-hitting tackling ability, these things are all a reason why the game is at the place it is today as the world's premier sporting pastime.

Long may physical strength coupled with skill be something that inspires awe in followers of the beautiful game.

The greats of years gone by must look on in horror on occasion, seeing the play-acting that has taken over around the world, whether they be still with us or in the great stadium in the sky.

In the season to come and the years that follow, hopefully the old grit that formed so much a part of the game and gave us all moments of skill and athleticism like the world had never seen will still be a part of this great game.

If it is not, then it is an uncertain future ahead in terms of what we will come to expect from the stars and players of the future.

To those who have gone before us, we salute you, may we emulate the gifts and talents that you have shown us and never forget the magic that burst forth in certain moments, where the glory was more important than the paycheck and the physical challenge was just as much a part of the game as the deft flick or sleight of foot.