Medals not required – why some greats simply don’t need them

WHEN Harry Kane was in dispute with Tottenham Hotspur a year or so ago, people pointed to his lack of medals as a Spurs player. The club hasn’t won anything in Kane’s time, indeed you have to go back to 2008 for their last trophy. Players often claim their desire to leave a club is based on the desire to “win things” and as Kane headed towards 30, you can understand his anxiety about ending his peak years without some sort of bauble to place in his cabinet at Chez Kane.

But not all great players have boxloads of medals when they want to recall their football career. In fact, some of the game’s outstanding names have very little silverware to show for a glittering career. Much depends on who they play for – if you are Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the statistics of their careers match the plaudits they have received, because they have played for great, successful clubs. Messi has won 11 league titles and Ronaldo seven, but CR7 has won five Champions League medals to Messi’s four.

Zlatan Ibrahomovic has 12 league titles to his name, from the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. Bayern’s Thomas Müller has 11 Bundesliga medals, while Paco Gento of Real won 12 La Ligas with Real Madrid. Johan Cruyff won 10 league titles, along with seven domestic cups and three European Cups. He was a league champion with three different clubs: Ajax, Barcelona and Feyenoord. Kenny Dalglish won 23 major medals in his playing career, including 10 league titles with Celtic and Liverpool. Play for the top clubs and you win medals.

Some players, unfortunately, play the role of big fish at a club less equipped to winning major honours on a regular basis. Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews, two of the wizards of the wing, won praise week-by-week and were mainstays of the England team. Finney was a Preston North End player from 1946 to 1960, he won 76 caps for England but never won a major honour. Matthews won 54 caps during a career that saw him play for Stoke City and Blackpool. His only honour was the FA Cup in 1953. Both these players earned their place in football history because they were truly great at what they did.

Similarly, there were members of the England 1966 winning team that didn’t enjoy incredible success as club players. Gordon Banks, for example, had to wait until the back end of his career for his one and only medal with Stoke City, the Football League Cup in 1972. George Cohen, a fine full back with Fulham, never won a major prize with his club. Ray Wilson won the FA Cup in 1966 with Everton, but injuries prevented him winning more. The Charlton brothers were the most successful, but Bobby’s trophy winning days ended two years after 1966 as Manchester United entered a period of decline. Big Jack was part of Don Revie’s ultra-professional unit that went close to winning everything, but invariably failed at so many final hurdles. Jimmy Greaves, who missed the World Cup final and then drifted away from the England scene, actually only won three medals in English football, the last in 1967.

George Best, for all his brilliance and headlines, won his last medal in 1968. His career was strangely anti-climatic – he won three medals and 37 caps for Northern Ireland. The man who became the face of British football when Best’s star waned, Kevin Keegan, fared much better in his tangible assets haul – three league titles with Liverpool, one with Hamburg, one European Cup, two UEFA Cups and 63 caps for England. It is fair to say Keegan made the most of his career.

Not so players like Best and even Diego Maradona, who won six medals at club level, although lifting the World Cup eclipses most other pieces of objet d’art. Pelé, because he was limited to appearing for Santos for most of his career, also had few items to show for his wonderful skills.

But did this really matter in times gone by? Arguably not. Today, the football world expects the top names to continually grace the big occasions, but given we are talking about a team game, an individual can only do so much. Hence, Messi and Ronaldo have never won the World Cup, even though their fans continually will them to be crowned champion. While the likes of Matthews and Finney were clubmen of the highest order, they were never likely to win the League Championship with their long-time employers. Bobby Moore, another legendary figure, stayed with West Ham for most of his career, a club that was respected and won the occasional cup, but were never contenders for the title. In the modern game, great players gravitate towards the clubs with money and trophy-winning potential. They might start with a West Ham or a Fulham, but they will surely end up with a Chelsea, a Manchester City or Liverpool.

A good way to measure this is to consider the England World Cup squads. In 1966, Alf Ramsey’s 22 players came from 14 different clubs of which nine were playing for the top six of 1965-66. Four years on, the needle had shifted and only 10 clubs were called upon and 11 were from the top six. In more recent times, the World Cup squad of 2018 was drawn from 10 clubs, but 18 of the 23 were from the so-called “big six”.

Other nations have different squad compositions. France, the 2018 World champions, had a squad that was drawn from across Europe, 15 clubs from five different countries. Croatia, the runners-up were even more diverse, 23 players from 21 clubs in no less than 10 countries. This shows that while overseas players tend to ply their trade across the European landscape, English players are more likely to stay at home and the most successful ones move in the direction of the richest and most successful. It is likely, then, that the top players can collect far more medals than their predecessors from past decades.

It would be inappropriate to talk of medals and not recognise some of the most celebrated players. Liverpool’s Phil Neal, for example, won eight league titles and four European Cups while Celtic’s Billy McNeill was Scottish champion nine times and won 23 medals. Ryan Giggs, in a career that spanned 24 seasons, won no less than 13 league titles. And yet, Alan Shearer won a solitary league title with Blackburn and Gary Lineker waited until he was 30 for his only prize in English football with Tottenham, although two years earlier, he did win the European Cup-Winners’ Cup with Barcelona.

Although some players may feel that a career without official recognition may leave an empty feeling when they retire, consolation can be found in the way they are remembered by the people paying to watch them. While medals can be sold to boost the pension pot, the memories of the fans will never fade. It is not always necessary to wear garlands to be identified as a football legend.

72 Classic: Clough, Allison, Keegan and co. – why it was special

MALCOLM Allison, one of the pivotal figures of the 1970s, once said that the period between 1967 and 1972 was one of British football’s golden ages. Anyone who lived through that half decade of action will doubtless recall some outstanding players and personalities, memorable teams and the outlandish fashion and hairstyles of the age.

This was, after all, a period that desperately clung to the “swinging Sixties” and introduced the excesses and decadence of the early 1970s. It was played out against an economic background that was deteriorating weekly, culminating in the candle-lit days of power cuts in 1973-74 and the three-day week. From a footballing perspective, England still had enough self-confidence to believe that Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad was still capable of competing at the highest level. 1971 was just five years after the 1966 triumph and some of its key figures were still stubbornly hanging onto their place in the national team.

But if the end of the Sixties, from a cultural point of view, was signalled by the break-up of the Beatles, 1971-72 really killed-off the period with the decline of England, the ageing of some of its icons and the conclusion of the post-66 attendance boom. 1971-72 was two years on from the last football season of the 60s, but football’s two standard bearing groups of the decade – Best, Law, Charlton and Moore, Hurst, Peters, were coming to the end of their time of influence. By the end of 1972-73, the Manchester United trio were no longer at Old Trafford, for various reasons, and only Moore was still at West Ham.

The 1971-72 season looked like the final flourish of the man that epitomised the 1960s, George Best. He scored 26 goals in domestic football and provided some brilliant football, but it was the last we saw of the genius that was the Irishman. As Manchester United declined in the second half of the season, Best lost heart and by the middle of 1972-73, he had retired.

United’s fall from the pinnacle of the game really started in 1970 and their impressive first half of 1971-72 merely papered over the cracks. Within two seasons, they were relegated, although in hindsight, it was the short, sharp shock the club needed to acknowledge that things had changed since the days of Sir Matt Busby.

Even without United, though, English football served up an exciting championship race, possibly the most tense and open for years. Arsenal went into the campaign as double winners in 1970-71, but they were never really involved in a bid to retaining their title, although they returned to Wembley for the FA Cup final. However, Arsenal’s pursuit of European success suggested that there was a degree of stagnation settling in across English football. In 1970, when the Gunners won the Fairs’ Cup, they beat Ajax over two legs with some ease. Two seasons on, Arsenal were beaten twice by the Dutch team, who were holders of the European Cup. Something had changed and the spirit of progressive football wasn’t to be found in England, it was across the Channel.

The Dutch, with Johan Cruyff in his pomp, may have been leading the way in club football, but the West Germans had emerged as the team to beat on the international stage. There were signs that an irresistible force was in the ascendancy in Mexico in 1970, but in 1972, the Germans were European champions and they had signalled the end of Ramsey’s England in the quarter-finals, winning 3-1 at Wembley. West Germany had their own dynamic playmaker to rival Cruyff in the form of Günter Theodor Netzer, and he made England’s own midfielders look very pedestrian. That tie was, effectively, the end of Geoff Hurst – he left West Ham in the summer of 1972 – but also struck at the heart of English confidence.

Derby County players show off their League Championship medals aas they pose with the trophies won by the club during the 1971-72 season: (back row, l-r) ?, John McGovern, physio Gordon Guthrie, trainer Jimmy Gordon, Ron Webster, John Robson, Terry Hennessey, Alan Hinton, John O’Hare, Colin Boulton, Alan Durban; (front row, l-r) Peter Daniel, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector, ?; (trophies, l-r) Central League, Football League Championship, Texaco Cup Photo: PA

In terms of self-confidence, Derby County’s outspoken manager, Brian Clough, had few equals, although his style wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Nobody predicted that Derby would become genuine title challengers, although Clough had assembled an exciting team at the Baseball Ground. Leeds United, who had become serial bridesmaids in 1970 and 1971, were most people’s idea of champions, although they remained unpopular. Don Revie had instilled in his squad something of a siege mentality, largely built on the “us and them” philosophy and the desire to create intense loyalty and togetherness. It worked, but Leeds never had the strength in depth required for a campaign fought on multiple fronts and accompanying their intensity was high drama – a Leeds defeat was invariably greeted with schadenfreude by the rest of English football, which only served to bond Revie’s troops even closer. This often clouded the fact that Leeds were a extraordinary footballing team and in 1971-72 they produced some of their best performances. They won the FA Cup and were beaten at the death by Wolves in their final league game when the double was at stake. Once more, they had fallen short at the final hurdle.

Returning to Malcolm Allison, his Manchester City team had the title within their grasp, but to some extent the signing of Rodney Marsh, the coveted Queens Park Rangers forward, cost City the title. Signed in March 1972, for a record £ 200,000 fee, March joined a team that was four points clear at the top of the table. Marsh himself admitted that the transfer was a mistake and that it had been detrimental to City’s championship credentials.

While Marsh, despite his skill and charisma, upset the shape of Allison’s team, a new and relatively unknown forward had injected fresh impetus into Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. His name was Kevin Keegan and he would become British football’s hottest talent and the successor to George Best as the face of the game. Keegan was a different proposition to Best, though. He didn’t have Best’s natural virtuosity, or his maverick tendencies, but he made the most of his attributes and he knew his worth. Keegan was wholesome, reliable and energetic and Liverpool’s Kop loved him.

Liverpool were one year away from beginning their ruthless pursuit of silverware, but in 1971-72, they had enough to finish painfully close to the top spot. That belonged to Derby County, but not before no less than four teams stake a claim to the title, right up until the final week. Derby were, perhaps, the least likely to finish in first place, but there could be no denying the quality of their football. Players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector and John O’Hare would become household names, while Clough, with his emphasis on skill and hard work, would go on to prove that his success was no fluke.

The party was not quite over, but the guests were gradually leaving. Within a decade, attendances in division one had fallen by 10,000 per game. Clough left Derby in 1973-74, Allison resigned from City, Revie took on England in 1974 (after a second title with Leeds), Shankly retired in 1974. United were relegated, Chelsea followed them in 1975 and Tottenham lost that doyen of managers, Bill Nicholson. And to cap it all, England failed to qualify for World Cup 1974 and Ramsey was sacked. In 1971-72, who would have predicted such a chain of events, even in the unpredictable world of football.

Coming soon: Chapter 2 – Lifting Leeds