One club men are hard to find – George Cohen, England ’66 and West Germany

GEORGE COHEN’s passing is another reminder that time is getting on, leaving us with just Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton from the triumphant 11 and five from the England squad of 22 from that glorious summer of 1966.

Cohen’s football career is well documented, his cheery disposition very notable in all media discussions about England’s World Cup victory. Fulham was his only club, Cohen may have been one of the less celebrated figures at the time of England’s success, but at Craven Cottage, he remained a club icon. Full backs are rarely in the spotlight, but his name rolled off the tongue in every attempt to name the “boys of 66”- Banks, Cohen, Wilson… and so on.

Cohen was a one club man, not unusual in 1966, but nevertheless, a stable, reliable and determined footballer. In that 1966 squad, there were other similarly loyal figures: Bobby and Jack Charlton, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan, Terry Paine, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Norman Hunter, Ron Flowers and Peter Bonetti. Not all were one-club men by the time their playing days ended, but most spent peak career with a single employer. Sadly, his later career was plagued with injury and he had to retire before he was 30. The only medal was the World Cup winners’ medal of 1966. At club level, he won nothing. He was not alone in the England squad – Ron Springett, Jimmy Armfield and Terry Paine all ended their careers without a medal from domestic football, but only Cohen played in the final.

The most decorated player in Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad of 1966 didn’t line-up in the final against West Germany. Ian Callaghan of Liverpool won 11 major prizes, including five league titles and four European trophies. Between them, the winning side of 1966 won 28 top prizes with their clubs, but because some played for relatively unfashionable clubs, their trophy haul was modest. This underlines how football has changed in the years since 1966 – top players are supposed to win prizes, as evidenced by the medal cabinets of the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others.

Only five of the England team that lifted the Jules Rimet trophy won the Football League title: Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball and Roger Hunt. Legendary players like Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Gordon Banks and Geoff Hurst won surprisingly little in their club careers. Furthermore, few members of the 22-man squad – Jack Charlton, Jimmy Armfield and Alan Ball – made a mark in management.

In recent years, time has caught up with the boys of 1966 and 10 have died in four years. Their opponents at Wembley in July 1966 have fared much better. While there are five members of the squad still with us, there are 14 West Germans still enjoying their autumn years, including seven of the starting 11. Perhaps this is due to lifestyle or the difference in social conditions in Germany. Possibly it has something to do with the way elder statesmen are treated after their playing time is over. According to some professionals from the 1960s and 1970s, they were kept playing by dozens of pain-killing injections and as a result, they become riddled with arthritis or rheumatism in old age. Was that any different in West Germany? Perhaps they simply lead healthier lives? Cohen battled illness after his career finished, eventually being given the all-clear on bowel cancer in 1990.

He remains one of only 11 Englishmen to play in the World Cup final, a feat that has eluded countless groups of England hopefuls. He was also an outstanding footballer, rated England’s finest right back with an attacking style that proved to be very influential. His name will live on. He may have won just one medal, but what a medal that was.

CR7 is a product of the age of celebrity, but we created him

CRISTIANO RONALDO has been a great footballer, one of the finest ever seen, but he is in danger of ruining his reputation at the wrong time of his career. His behaviour in recent months has resembled a petulant child with an inflated opinion of his – admittedly substantial – worth. Footballers have their time, but they have to know when they should accept a peripheral role when the grey fleks appear.

Portugal could win the World Cup, they are that good. But they are that good without Cristiano Ronaldo. The vibrancy of the Portuguese has arguably been liberated by the absence of their talisman and young players are performing with a joie de vivre that can be restricted when the team is being structured around a veteran maverick.

If CR7 was a golfer, a tennis player, a sprinter or a formula one driver, he could be excused for being so single-minded. Football is a team game, as we all know, so it should never be about one player. Unfortunately, the media have fuelled this unhealthy obsession with the star man, as seen with Neymar and Lionel Messi as much as Cristiano Ronaldo. The overwhelming focus on a single player feeds the ego and bolsters the image. CR7, allegedly, can have a restaurant to himself in Lisbon if he so wishes, the management happy to close the establishment so he can enjoy his meal. We create our own heroes.

Footballers are generally uncomplicated and excessive fawning can actually warp their sense of reality. Cristiano Ronaldo, like so many, is from a humble background and his career is a testament to his determination, sheer talent and his value to his team. It is so easy for anyone who is idolised to lose sight of who they really are. He is adored by so many, seen as an aspirational figure and an example of what can be achieved. He is part of the cult of celebrity that has plagued the 21st century. His admirers go way beyond the club he plays for, there are millions of people who are simply CR7 fans and many refuse to see any shortcomings within their hero.

CR7 is not the first footballer to become a celebrity; David Beckham will probably be remembered more for his brand-building and appetite for attention than his career as a player. CR7 resembles a carefully sculptured mannekin with good skin with an extraordinary ability to score goals. He could almost be computer-generated.

But in all walks of life, the march of time eventually catches up on everyone. In sport, there is always the dilemma facing the iconic footballer when he or she is no longer as effective as they once were. Cristiano Ronaldo may be a fine specimen in terms of his fitness, his vitality, his general appearance and dedication, but in a physical sport like football, a manager cannot tailor his approach to accommodate someone whose physiology might be 15 years older than his team-mates. For the good of the game, this should always be so and there is nothing more undignified than someone refusing to acknowledge the baton has to be handed on.

CR7, ideally, should be acting as a form of elder statesman encouraging his colleagues as they try and bring Portugal their first World Cup. He may have to concede that he may only have a cameo role to play, but such is the air of drama that surrounds him, you wouldn’t bet against him scoring a World Cup-winning goal.

In all probability, there is not a member of the squad that doesn’t worship him or cite him as the biggest influence on their careers. That should be seen as Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatest achievement, leaving an almost unrivalled legacy that will stand for ever – it is doubtful his statistics will ever be surpassed by a Portuguese player. Will that be enough for someone who enjoys the bling of medals, trophies and accolades? He’s got all of those, he’s got more money than any of us could ever hope to earn and he’s got legions of fans. He needs no more, but if he is to be seen as “CR7 great guy” he needs to stop harming his image, especially at this late stage of his glittering career.