Best of the lot!

Brian Glanville, who has watched 11 World Cups, picks the best of the lot in the world of soccer.

ASKED recently to nominate, having been present at the last 11 World Cups and preparing then for my 12th, a best ever team, the problem seemed formidable. Squaring the circle, you might say. Or evoking the old saying that comparisons are odious. The World Cup has after all been going since 1930, during which time the face of soccer, its tactics, its pace, have radically changed time and again. Plus the fact that such a notionally best ever team would have to have some kind of a tactical shape, and how would one ever choose that?

Over the decades, even the generations, patterns have changed from the era of the mobile, ubiquitous centre half deployed by the Uruguayans and Argentinians in the first ever Fibal, and by the Italians in 1934 and 1938 under Vittorio Pozzo, through the third back game, the birth of 4-2-4 and its subsequent modifications with Brazil in 1958, catenaccio and the sweeper in Italian football, Total Football and the fluid sweeper in the 1970s, the 3-5-2 formation eventually deployed by Argentina when they won the trophy in Mexico in 1986.

Moreover, by the time I began reporting World Cups, five of them had already been played; and I am not ashamed to admit that in my team I picked two superb Uruguayan defenders whom I had never watched at all.

They were the all-round powerfully dominant and inspirational centreback, Obdulio Varela, and his splendid adjunct, the wing back, Rodrigues Andrede, heroes of that amazing 2-1 win against Brazil in the decider in Rio in 1950, and just as impressive when Uruguay gave the Hungarians such a tremendous run for their money in the 1954 version in Switzerland.

Certain players seem automatic choices. One who surely would have been cannot be since he never did play in a World Cup; the incomparable Alfredo Di Stefano, practitioner par excellence of Total Football long before the name was known, the centre forward who could cover the whole field, the inspiration of Real Madrid and their five successive European Cup victories. He left his native Argentine for Spain, where he was naturalised, before he could play for them in a World Cup. In 1962 he might have played in Chile but insisted he was injured. Some thought he just didn't want to paly for the manager, his fellow Argentina Helonic Herrera, whose ego was as great as his own.

For me, Di Stefano was the second finest player of all time, surpassed only by Pele, glittering star of the 1958 and 1970 World Cups both of whose finals I was lucky enough to see. That in Stockholm in 1958 when he was 17 saw him score two majestic goals against Sweden, the first a small miracle of cool command, when in the midst of a crowded penalty box he caught the ball on his thigh, hooked it over his head and drove it into the net. The second goal came from a soaring header, during matches in the early stages of the 1970 final against Italy in Mexico City.

Garrincha would be my chosen outside-right, a simple almost primitive fellow, star of two World Cups, making those two goals for Vava in the 58 Final with two glorious bursts down the right flank, and two pull backs, astoundingly versatile in 1962 in Chile when he also headed a goal against England from a corner and scored in the Santiago semi-final against Chile from outside the box with his left foot!

Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff, those great rivals in the 1974 World Cup, had to be chosen, too; the inspiration of Total Football. Beckenbauer, who more or less invented it as a youngster with his club. Bayern, Munich, as an attacking libero, Cruyff with Ajax and Holland, a centre forward who could cover the face of attack with his skll, his acceleration, is irrepressible flair. Though while Beckenbauer figured in three World Cups and could have played in a fourth had he not preferred to make money with the New York Cosmos, Cruyff appeared only in one, refusing to participate in Argentina in 1978.

More controversial, perhaps, was my choice of Italy's Silvio Piola at centre-forward. Piola I saw play only once and that was hardly a typical performance. He was 39 years old by then and was unexpectedly recalled to play in Florence in 1952 against England. The team against whom in 1939 in Milan he had scored with a punched goal allowed by Dr. Bauwens the German referee. But there were 29 other goals for Italy which couldn't be dismissed, and in just 34 matches. He was top scorer in the 1938 World Cup in France where, power complemented by skill and speed, he was outstanding in a tournament where the likes of attacking Leonidas were playing: for Brazil.

Diego Maradona was one more obvious choice, even if his World Cup appearances, no fewer than four in all, were blemished by his Hand of God goal against England in Mexico City in 1986 and his expulsion from the 1994 American tournament for ingesting stimulants. Yet his explosive bursts, his magnificent left foot, his deft control, his playmaking intelligence, made him a supreme attacker. In goal I would have Gordan Banks of England, a World Cup winner in 1966, mysteriously ruled out of the 1970 quarter-final in Leon versus West Germany when he alone, as he recently emphasised to me, went down with a stomach bug just before the game. Dirty work at the crossroad? Calm and commanding, I'd have his England captain of 66 and 70, a wing half in 62 Bobby Moore. And behind him, at left back, the strong, elegant, unruffled Brazilian Nilton Santos who strolled even as a veteran throughout 1958 and 1962 tournaments.

Should Hungary's Ferenc Puskas and his own fine left foot have been included? Perhaps, but injured Puskas had such a disappointing 1954 World Cup.