Before we get too involved in the new season, I felt it necessary to remember the last, and for a trio of top players, their last at football’s highest level.
During the last campaign, it was announced that Edwin Van Der Sar would hang up his gloves, fittingly in the Champions League Final, a competition he has won with two different clubs and in which he now holds the record for the oldest ever player to appear in the competition’s finale. And the Dutchman’s career records don’t stop there. Holland’s most capped player is also the first player to keep 50 clean sheets amongst Europe’s elite, along with holding the record for the longest time without conceding during the 2008-09 campaign. The list goes on, and goes to fuel the thought that this was one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation and possibly the history of the game. His loyalty is unquestioned given that he spent almost a decade in Holland with Ajax, in which he wrapped up honours in the league, cup and in both the then UEFA Cup and Champions League. Along with that VDS has also received the European GK of the year award four times, first in 1995 when the likes of Seaman, Schmeichel, Peruzzi, Koepke et al were all playing, and then again in 2008/9/10 seeing off the Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon’s of the world, only adding to how highly regarded the Dutchman is. It would have been only fitting for such a great keeper had he won the World Cup last Summer with Holland, or had made his last appearance on the winning side in the CL final, but then he has become a victim of the times, with Spain and Barcelona steamrolling through everyone. That however, does not take away from his career in which he played for the top teams in every country he went to, albeit a slightly odd restbite in West London for Fulham, making one think that may have been the end. But he made the move nonetheless citing the ‘warm and friendly atmosphere’ as the biggest reason for the move, and Fulham will be glad he did having helped to provide the experience and quality between the sticks, that enabled the Whites to remain a top flight club. And having pretty much honoured his 4 year contract there he was off to United for the modest fee of 2m (who wouldn’t take that nowadays?!) where he provided the backbone for more Premier League and European success. One of the games likeable characters, it is with great pleasure that I witnessed almost his full career, making him without doubt one of the best players of my generation.
But the Champions League Final at Wembley was not just the last game for the lanky Dutchman, it also said goodbye to one of its nation’s great players in Paul Scholes. Say what you like about the ginger maestro but he was part of the Old Trafford golden generation and the fact Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, possibly the finest players in the world at present, all wanted his shirt at the final whistle, shows the influence Scholes had on the game. Part of a dying breed, Scholes only ever played for the one club in his professional career, and won pretty much all he had to with them, notching up 10 PL titles, 3 FA Cups, 2 CL’s and a FIFA World Club Cup to boot. Much like Edwin, mentioned previously, his international honours didn’t quite match that, although if some England fans are to be excruciatingly desperate they may mention the Le Tournoi victory in 1997, although that tournament was remembered more for the spectacular bending free kick talents of Roberto Carlos against France. Unfortunately Scholes didn’t play much of a part in the England set up in recent years, having been constantly played out of position, which is a shame given that the reputation rather than the performances of Gerrard and Lampard were picked ahead of him. Asked to come back for South Africa last year, Scholes rightfully declined and he was asked way too late, and like the rest of the squad, would not have seen his reputation benefit had he gone. The one criticism of Scholes? The man couldn’t tackle. But to me that’s a moot point. That wasn’t his strength. That’s not why he was picked. It’s like questioning why Zidane didn’t produce more slide tackles, or why Messi isn’t dominant in the air, or why Van Der Sar’s strike rate is so poor. He was picked because of his vision and creativity, and that is what he will be remembered for… along with some stonking goals.
And now the most recent player to hang up his boots is 2006 World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. One can be forgiven for not knowing much of the Italian’s recent exploits given his spell in Dubai for Al Ahli (for the footballing history no doubt) although I still think he is worth a mention as one of recent history’s top defenders. Unlike the previous two, despite playing for Real Madrid, Inter and Juve, the Champions League eluded Cannavaro although he was decorated with football’s highest international honour, leading the World Cup winning Italy squad of 2006; an added triumph to the country given the controversial match-fixing scandal that plagued the national league at the time. Not one to be detached from scandal, Cannavaro was linked with suspicion of drugs in 1999 before being cleared, as the substance he was ‘seen’ to be injected with was not a banned substance. He also failed a drugs test in 2009, although charges were again dropped following backing from his club at the time, Juventus stating it was an exceptional case, and that the player had not taken performing enhancing substances. Controversy aside, Cannavaro is undoubtedly one of the great defenders in Italian history, one which includes greats such as Baresi, Costacurta, Nesta and Maldini, with Cannavaro actually taking over from the latter as the most capped Italian player of all time.
So whilst we mull over whether David De Gea may make the grade at United, or Scholes can be replaced at Old Trafford by Modric/ Nasri/ Sneijder, or how Italy can rebuild an ailing side, it is only right to pay tribute to those players who have created these conundrums, influenced the game at the highest level, and have now played their last competitive matches. Thanks for the memories guys, so long, and farewell…