My sweetheart has already posted her World Cup piece here in her usual warm and inclusive way. So I’ll just add a long-ago memory of my own, about the first World Cup I remember. The year was 1958 and the tournament was taking place in Sweden. Host countries can do quite well, and the continent where it takes place often secures ultimate victory- at least if it’s Europe or South America because we’re still a long way off anywhere else even having a sporting chance of lifting the trophy.
So in 1958 one might have expected a European country to win and for Sweden to do well. Sweden did do well; they got to the final but there was to be no European victory. Brazil were just too good then, even if playing in Europe. They were phenomenal and I loved watching them. The star of their side, the star of the tournament, was the inside right, Didi. Back then football teams formations were written in a 2-3-5 plan- the fullbacks, the halfbacks and the forwards although it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Didi would probably be a midfielder now, a playmaker. He was phenomenally skilful.
And yet in retrospect it’s rather odd that he got most of the attention. Because just the other side of the centre forward (striker in today’s parlance) was the inside left and even if you haven’t heard of Didi you’ve probably heard of him. His name was Pele and he was just 17. Didi was snapped up by Real Madrid, the best club side by far of the era (so nothing much has changed!) But sadly it didn’t really work out. Real’s forward line was already brim full of talent- Di Stefano, the Hungarian exile Ferenc Puskas, and the lightning fast super-exciting Gento on the wing. Didi didn’t seem to fit in and was quite soon replaced.
Pele on the other hand was only just starting. Brazil won the World Cup again four years later and this time he was definitely the star. For many years it was taken as read that he was the greatest footballer the world had ever seen. As memories fade, others are being put forward for that title. These are all matters of opinion but World Cups show us all the talent around, whether established or about to break through. Let’s hope Moscow 2018 gives us another Pele or another Cruyff or another Maradona.
By Ian Craine