6 Men Who Changed the Course of Football History
This article profiles six men who changed the course of football history.
These figures may not enjoy the profiles of today’s stars, but each deserves a spot in our affections due to their innovations, imagination and courage—qualities which have shaped the game that we love today.
Read on to unveil these characters from the past—these fathers of the game who have done so much to establish the sport that today enjoys such a major global status and international reputation.
Henry Charles Malden
Back in the mid-1800s, football was a different ballgame—no, no literally, it was.
The sport was popular across the globe and in various guises, but with little in the way of uniformed rules and approaches. Within England, there were two particular types of "football."
One was particularly popular at Rugby school, for example, where players preferred the use of hands—among other rules. Malden, on the other hand, represented those who favoured the "Cambridge Rules."
He realised that football required a unification of rules and organised a meeting at Trinity College, Cambridge, to settle on a skeleton for the sport. A number of influential figures gathered in order to draw up the official instructions for the sport—the origins of the game we love and enjoy today.
While these early rules didn’t include notions of set-pieces, for example, they established features such as goal sizes, the offside rule and goal kicks.
I think we all owe Malden a huge "thank you"!
By no means influential on the pitch, Jean-Marc Bosman was a fairly unremarkable midfielder who operated for various Liege clubs during the '80s. Unlike many other alumni from RFC Liege, however, his name is unlikely to be forgotten.
Bosman was responsible for changing the complexion of player-club relationships and the way transfers and contracts were dealt with within football.
Unwilling to sign a new contract with RFC Liege, which were only offering him a risible extension, amounting to a quarter of his existing salary, Bosman was placed on the transfer list. The only fly in the ointment, however, was that the club were demanding an extravagant fee for the player—over two times what they had initially paid for him.
The midfielder thus found himself in limbo—unwilling to sign on, but unable to secure a move.
He eventually took his case to the European Court of Justice, appearing in 1995 to challenge both the ability of clubs to demand transfer fees once players reached the end of their contract and a lift on the previous limitations concerning foreign players registered at clubs.
Bosman won on both counts, and, while the initial apocalyptic predictions following the ruling have not quite been realised, his actions have caused the vast—and often reprehensible—player power that exists today.
The Belgian, it seems, has not benefited from the change in laws quite like his successors, men like Fernando Llorente and Florent Malouda who moved on Bosman deals this summer. After some failed business ventures and a battle with alcoholism, he serves as an example to footballers naïve to the realities that may face them once they leave the sport.
In the mid-1950s, English champions Wolves, led by their iconic skipper Billy Wright, defeated European heavyweights Honved and Spartak Moscow. This prompted British paper, The Daily Mail, to crown the Black Country club with the title “World Champions.”
Journalist Gabriel Hanot and his colleague Jacques Ferran, unhappy with and unconvinced by Wolves’ newly bestowed title, decided to devise a tournament which would truly discover the finest team on the continent, if not the world.
Thus, they came up with the European Cup, the ultimate measure of the continent’s finest.
Today, the tournament has grown into a major global spectacle, the most visible domestic club competition of them all. Even Hanot and Ferran could not have imagined this scale of success.
The Frenchman is also the mind responsible for the Ballon d’Or.
What is it about France and football administrators?
As Hanot’s European Cup came to reality in 1955, Henri Delaunay devised the European Championships—the tournament that would commence in 1960, offering victorious nations the prospect of winning the trophy that bears the Frenchman’s own name.
Neither man can quite claim the achievement of Jules Rimet, however, who built a concept upon his own vision of football as a means of bringing people together. His idea was to succeed far beyond his wildest dreams.
Rimet was to become the architect of the World Cup—today, the ultimate expression of football’s global appeal and the sport’s power. He, too, had a trophy named after him, the descendent of which will be lifted aloft in the Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, next summer.
The men who genuinely contributed to the development of the game are those who introduced elements that it would be hard—if not unfathomable—to do without today.
The English referee Ken Aston is the man responsible for introducing yellow cards for a caution and red cards for a dismissal.
Now, you may ask the question of how things operated before the colour card system to "reward" infractions. There were certainly some issues to iron out!
Argentina’s feisty captain Antonio Rattin once ambled through a game menacingly before realising that he had actually been dismissed. Similarly, the Charlton brothers, Jack and Bobby, were cautioned during their 1966 clash with Argentina, but both played on blissfully unaware.
Both situations resulting from language difficulties and the absence of a distinct, universal system of visual punishment.
Aston was inspired and sought out a solution. The answer came to him during a drive through West London, when stopping before the traffic lights on Kensington High Street.
Rattin would never be able to get away with his typical misdemeanours again!
Legendary English manager and pundit Jimmy Hill was a visionary who influenced various corners of the sport.
As a player, he led the initiative for the abolition of the £20 maximum wage, a decision which was confirmed in the early '60s—just as Hill ended his playing career.
As a manager, he redesigned Coventry City, introducing (or rather, reintroducing) the all-Sky Blue strip at the club, becoming a legend as he guided them from Division Three to the top flight in three years.
However, his greatest introduction probably came in 1980 when, as Coventry chairman, he proposed the idea of three-points-for-a-win to his peers. Despite facing a great deal of initial resistance, Hill’s suggestion was approved, and the league began to reward teams with three—rather than two—points for a victory.
This encouraged attacking football, compelling teams to seek outright triumph rather than merely settle for draws. It was an idea that eventually travelled the world, and by the mid-90s, had become the norm.