The Greatest Forgotten Footballers, Pt. 1
The history of football is littered with legendary names: Greatest ever lists usually include the likes of Pele, Maradona (pictured), George Best, Ferenc Puskas, Franz Beckenbauer, Eusebio, Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff and, in the interest of fairness, Lev Yashin, the legendary USSR goalkeeper. In more recent times, the likes of Ronaldo, Zidane, Oliver Kahn, Rivaldo, Cannavaro and many others, will surely share a similar fate.
In truth, all of these names rightfully deserve their place in history. All possessed undoubted ability, showcased their talent consistently, and achieved great things for club and country alike, usually as the stand-out performer. There is no questioning their places in footballing history; they have all earned them.
Yet footballing history is also littered with once great talents, who also achieved plenty of success, yet find their names forgotten, discarded by the wayside, hardly known when compared to those mentioned beforehand. Who knows, maybe some of the more recent names mentioned above may end up like this.
Some have been forgotten simply with time, while others seem to have been forgotten far too quickly. The purpose of these articles is to introduce fans of football to players that they may have never heard of, and the remarkable achievements and stories that went hand in hand with their careers.
Hopefully you enjoy this list of lesser-known players. Feel free to comment and add your own forgotten players, maybe to add to a future list!
Manuel Francisco dos Santos is a name that will mean very little to anybody, as is the case with most Brazilian players and their birth names. However, the exploits of the man more commonly known as Garrincha seem to be constantly overlooked outside of Brazil.
Garrincha was the original modern day winger, playing at a time when the position was considered inferior to other attackers, mainly because of the constrictions of formations of the day. The most popular formations in England and much of Europe at the time usually contained five strikers, either playing 2-3-5 or 3-2-5.
Wingers were commonly crowded out of games simply due to being forced to stay out wide.
However, this notion began to change during his career, partly due to the sheer talent of himself and other wingers, including Stanley Matthews, and partly due to revolutionary new 4-2-4 tactics being used by the great Hungary side of the late 1950's.
In any case, Garrincha had impressed in Brazil for Botofogo from the moment he made his debut in 1953; he went on to make his international debut just two years later. Having missed out on the 1954 world cup squad, though, it wasn't until 1958 that the world learned of his unique talents.
In fact, a month before the 1958 finals started, Brazil played a friendly in Italy against Fiorentina, where it was reported that Garrincha had stolen the show. He scored a goal that has become legendary, and sounds incredible just reading about it: he would beat 4 defenders, one after the other, then feint past the Goalkeeper, leaving an open goal. Then, rather than tap it into the open net, he would wait for an opposing defender to recover, only to dribble past him again before scoring.
For his reward, he was dropped from the opening two games of the World Cup by his upset coaches.
For the third game, Brazil was up against the USSR, who were widely considered one of the best sides in the world. Brazil was nervous about playing them, so the coaches instructed their players to attack from the start.
They needn't have worried though: that game marked the world cup debut of both Garrincha and Pele. Brazil won 2-0, and went on to win their first world title, with Garrincha named in the best XI after the competition. He would also go on to lift the 1962 world cup, whilst being named player of the tournament.
In Brazil, Garrincha is regarded so highly that the home dressing room of the Maracana stadium is named after him, whilst Pele only manages to have the away dressing room named after him. Should Garrincha have managed a better goalscoring record, maybe he would have been remembered in the same breath as Pele.
In my opinion, he should be, purely for everything written above. However, take into account that he was born with a deformed spine, a right leg that was bent inwards, and a left leg that was 6 inches shorter than the other and bent outwards, and you have a truly remarkable player, someone who today would be classed as disabled, who surely deserves to be considered as one of the best ever.
William Ralph Dean, better known as Dixie Dean, is a name that everyone on Merseyside, whether Red or Blue, will recognise. A player whose goal-scoring exploits deserve to be mentioned alongside the best ever, he holds a famous record that still stands to this day, 83 years after setting it.
Dean began his career with the Tranmere Rovers between the age of 16 and 18, scoring 27 goals in 30 games, and amongst other things, losing a testicle during a reserve game from a bad tackle (such was football in those days). Maybe that helped in some freakish way, but in that very same season he impressed enough that Everton, his boyhood club, spent £3,000 to sign him.
In his first full season at the club he went on to score 32 goals, although a motorcycling accident after that successful first season almost cost him his career. Sustaining a broken skull and jaw, doctors were unsure whether he would play again; although in typical fashion, he would score in his returning game, with his head, no less.
He would go on to play for Everton for 12 years, leaving in 1937 after an impressive record of 349 goals from 399 league games, and captaining the club to a second division title, a first division title, and an FA cup win in consecutive years between 1930 and 1933. He would also play for England on 16 occasions, scoring an impressive 18 goals.
That alone would be enough to merit a place in the history books. However, as I stated before, Dixie Dean holds possibly the most famous football league record, a record that has stood for 83 years, and that will surely stand forever. 60 goals in a single season seems impossible, yet Dean achieved exactly that, from just 39 games.
The year was 1927, just one year after the career-threatening motorcycle accident. Dean would score in all nine of Everton's opening games, including all five goals in a 5-2 win against Manchester United. This would be a precursor to his incredible end of season run.
With nine games remaining, Dixie needed 17 goals to break George Camsell's record of 59 goals, set only one year before, playing in the Second Division for Middlesbrough. It seemed impossible, but by the final game of the season, against Arsenal, he needed a hat-trick to achieve the unthinkable. A header and a penalty equalled the record, and then just five minutes from time, a glancing header would send Dixie Dean into the record books forever, by the age of just 21.
Alex McLeish supposedly had a tough job winning over Aston Villa fans, after moving from arch rivals Birmingham this summer. He had it easy, and if he wants proof, he should look no further than Bernhard Carl Trautmann. Upon arriving at Manchester City in 1949, the club where he would enter folklore, a 20,000-strong protest took place in opposition of his signing, as well as season ticket holders threatening to boycott games, despite it being his first professional club. Why, you ask?
The fact was, less than five years previously, Trautmann was the enemy, not just to Manchester City, but to everybody in Britain, even in Europe. In 1941, he had joined the Luftwaffe, serving as a paratrooper. In fact, he earned five medals for his actions on the Eastern Front, reached the rank of Sergeant, and was captured on three occasions, escaping from the Russian and French Resistance, but choosing not to attempt escape from the British.
During his time as prisoner, he was classified as a Nazi, and interrogated, before being moved to a Prisoner-of-War camp until 1948. It was here, during a football match, that he played in goal for the first time, through injury, and continued to from then on.
Trautmann declined an offer of repatriation once the POW camps closed, opting to stay in England, where he worked in bomb disposal in Liverpool, alongside playing for amateur club St. Helens Town. During his time there, his reputation grew, until Manchester City decided to sign him.
Fan protest from City fans started to quell after his first match, once his talent started to show. Away fans continued to hurl abuse, however, and some disappointing performances understandably followed, including conceding seven goals against Derby County. Upon his first visit to London, heavy press attention accompanied the chants of "Kraut" and "Nazi". City were expected to lose heavily, but a string of saves prevented this.
Once the final whistle sounded, despite losing 1-0, Trautmann received a standing ovation, and was applauded by both sets of players. Maybe he didn't achieve the same glorious feats as others on this list, but he had achieved something that went far beyond football: suddenly, his nationality, and his past, didn't matter.
This alone should be enough to be remembered: to my knowledge, he was the first German to overcome the aftermath of the war in a volatile and very public environment. His career would contain another, maybe even more incredible story though.
City would be relegated that same season, but would bounce straight back up the following year, and would find an upturn in fortunes during the mid 1950's, with Trautmann at the heart of the revival. They would reach two successive FA cup finals, in 1955 and '56, and it is the 1956 cup final where Bert Trautmann would create one of the greatest stories in football.
He had been named Footballer of the Year that season, the first goalkeeper to win the award. City were leading 3-1 by the 75th minute, and Birmingham were attacking ferociously. Trautmann had produced a number of fine saves, and dived at the feet of Peter Murphy, as you can actually see above. He would be knocked out moments after that picture is taken from this collision, and since no substitutes were allowed, he had to carry on. He produced more stunning saves in the final minutes of the match.
As he went to collect his winner's medal, people started to comment on the noticeable crooked state of his neck, with even Prince Phillip mentioning it to him. He attended the post-match banquet, and tried to sleep off the pain, despite the fact that he couldn't move his head. A day later, a hospital told him that it would go away on its own.
Three days later, x-rays at Manchester Royal Infirmary would reveal that he had dislocated five vertebrae in his neck, cracking the second into two. Only the position of the dislocations had saved him from being paralysed, or even losing his life.
It was there that the legend was born. Bert Trautmann, the ex-nazi who had won over the nation with perseverance and dignity in a post-war environment, had just produced a match winning performance in the FA cup final, despite playing with a broken neck for a full twenty minutes.
Top that, McLeish.
In Italy, this man is one of the greatest heroes, yet outside of Italy, not many will have ever heard of him. Some will recognise the name, yet I'm sure that some will not know that the official name of the San Siro is in fact, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza: named so as he has the honour of being one of the few players to be remembered fondly by both sides of Milan. In truth, this is the only way that I learned of him, as his name is rarely mentioned when when it comes to greatest players lists.
Giuseppe Meazza, also known as Peppino, was an inside-forward, a position that doesn't really exist any more, but closely resembles a supporting striker. He made his debut aged 17 in 1927, for Internazionale, replacing senior player Leopoldo Conti, who was not impressed at being usurped by a youngster, proclaiming: "Now we even take kids from kindergarten!" Meazza went on to score twice, leaving Conti embarrassed.
He would go on to receive great praise for his ability; he became known for his dribbling and shooting, as well as deadly free kicks. In fact, he became known for scoring a particular goal, which would involve dribbling past a number of players until through on goal, where he would wait for the goalkeeper to make the first move, fake a shot, then simply walk into the empty net. A number of sayings are still popular in Italy: "Gol alla Meazza" is used for a goal where a number of players are dribbled past, for instance.
Meazza is also regarded as the first world-famous footballer, the original superstar, despite what people say about George Best. He was the first player to have official sponsors, he was the only player in the national side allowed to smoke, he was notoriously vain about his hair, he would often drink the night before matches, and as a result, turn up late. Often though, he would score, or produce match-winning performances, which would allow him to avoid disciplinary action.
Meazza is mostly remembered in Italy for his performances in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups. He would play in every game of the 1934 World Cup, held on home soil in Italy, scoring twice on the way to the final, creating the winning goal despite playing with an injury, and was the recipient of the Golden Ball, the award for the best player of the tournament. For the 1938 World Cup, held in France, Meazza captained the side to a second consecutive World Cup win, the first side to do so, still the only European nation to achieve this, and the first nation to win away from home soil.
To put into perspective his influence on those Italian sides, two quotes seem to put it perfectly.
Vitorio Pozzo, manager of both sides, is quoted as saying: "Having him on the team was like starting 1-0 up", whilst Silvio Piola, Italy's top scorer with five goals in the 1938 world cup said that "At the FIFA world cup, I lived mainly off Meazza and Ferrari"
Rightly remembered in Italy, sadly forgotten elsewhere.
Leonidas Da Silva: Top goalscorer in the 1938 World Cup, Golden Ball winner, widely regarded as the creator of the bicycle kick. Scored 21 goals in 19 games for Brazil.
Guillermo Stabile: The first ever top goalscorer in a World Cup, scoring eight goals in four games in 1930. Those were the only four games he played for Argentina.
Francisco Gento: Played in eight European cup finals for Real Madrid, a record held jointly with Paolo Maldini for A.C Milan. Gento, however, won six cup finals, more than any other player since.
Just Fontaine: Scored 13 goals in a single World Cup in 1958, a record that still stands to this day. Scored 30 goals in 21 games for France.
These are only players that I know of, I'm sure there are many others that deserve a mention. If anyone knows of any others, then feel free to share them in the comments below.
Also, please note that for this article, I've tried to include only players from before Pele's time, since for some reason, players from before then seem far too readily forgotten, probably due to the lack of television and world exposure. I may do another on players from more recent times, so any suggestions for that would also be welcomed. I hope you enjoyed reading.