Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Guv'nor Says

HERE'S MY JOY OF SIX

Sorry, no Keano

THE BEST two players in the world will be on show this week and there's not a football fan around who isn't relishing the thought of watching Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi.

It got me thinking about the best players I ever lined up alongside over the years. I was very fortunate to have played with some of the best and it was a tough job narrowing it down to just six.

So with apologies to Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Pepe Bergomi and anybody else who didn't make the list...


1 PAUL GASCOIGNE

I first clapped eyes on Gazza when West Ham played Newcastle and he was just this cocky kid.

Billy Bonds was playing alongside me in midfield and went to tackle Gazza, only to have the ball slipped through his legs and Bonzo left flat on his arse.

Gazza just looked back over his shoulder and shouted, 'Get up, old man' with that cheeeky grin on his face. For the next 65 minutes, Bonzo chased him all over the park... and didn't get within a yard of Gazza. He wasn't the only one. I saw Gazza humiliate some of the greatest players in the world with his instinctive genius.

There were games he ran from start to finish in the way that nobody else could. Playing with him was a dream, playing gainst him an absolute nightmare. The great tragedy is that he didn't last long enough at the very top. If there was a category higher than world class, Gazza would be in it.


2 RYAN GIGGS

At 16 years old, Giggsy was breathtakingly good. At 26, he was untouchable. Ten years later, he's still world class in my eyes.

Only a very few are blessed with his natural balance, skill, pace and ability. Even fewer have the highest levels of professionalism. Only Giggsy has lasted so long at the pinnacle of the game.

He just has this brilliant mindset that he's been blessed with a gift and he wants to do everything in his power to ensure he makes the most of it. Simple as that.

When he was at his prime, he could have played in any team or country in the world and he would have been the star. It's just a shame he never got to play in a World Cup.


3 ERIC CANTONA

In training, Eric used to get a ball and lash it 40 or 50 feet straight up into the air. As it dropped, he'd cushion it and it would drop stone dead at his feet. I've never seen anybody else be able to do that.

When he was through one-on-one with the keeper, Keano and I used to just walk back to the centre circle because Eric NEVER missed.

He didn't say much off the pitch but he had this presence which inspired. I was an experienced player but even I didn't want to ever let him down or fall below the standards he set.

When he was in the side, we had a confidence about us. You couldn't put your finger on it, he was just the player who made us tick.


4 JAVIER ZANETTI

Zanetti is still playing for Inter 16 years after he arrived from Argentina and that says everything.

I've never seen a player who could fit so naturally into any position without struggling. Right back, left back, right wing, centre midfield - he played all those positions when I was at Inter - and brilliantly.

Great composure on the ball, fantastic football intelligence, a brilliant passer and the kind of player you wanted alongside you for every minute of every match. The only thing that counts against him was his lack of goals, but for me to put him above Keano and Robbo shows just how highly I rate him.


5 ROBBIE FOWLER

At his best Robbie was simply the greatest striker I've played with or against.

Considering he was around at the same time as Alan Shearer, that says a lot. But Robbie was a better finisher than Shearer, had better technique in front of goal and was certainly an all-round better player, even if the record books suggest otherwise.

I'd watch him in training and it seemed he never missed the target, such was the accuracy of his finishing. He was also a great passer of the ball, saw angles that others missed and had an instinctive intelligence to be in the right place at the right time.

Injuries meant he didn't last as long at the top as Shearer but, given the choice, I'd take Robbie in his pomp every day of the week.


6 ALAN DEVONSHIRE

An unlikely choice but anybody who played with Dev will tell you the bloke was an amazing talent, the best one and two-touch player I've ever seen.

When I broke into the West Ham first team, Dev was 'The Man', the one we all looked up to, the one with such amazing skill and temperament that you just wanted him to have the ball all the time.

He suffered terribly with injuries which cut him down when he was still at the top of his game and meant that, cruelly, he only ever played eight times for England.

He would be worth about £30million these days.

liq