It’s a sad trait of human nature that for the all the great moments in life we remember the one bad moment above them all. In football this is just as pertinent as in any other walk of life, it has the ability to give us the ultimate highs but it’s the breathtaking lows we remember the most.
Look back at the great players over history, almost all are defined in history not for their achievements but for the one moment of gut-wrenching despair, a near-miss or even the moment they let their guard of greatness slip and did something a little naughty.
Take the almost immortal Pele, scorer of 1,281 goals in 1,363 games according to Wikipedia, although I’m pretty certain nobody actually has a clue whether those figures are even slightly true. Widely regarded as the greatest player to ever grace a football pitch yet take a poll of his most memorable moment and what answers will you get? Running around the keeper without touching the ball only to miss the target, the save from Gordon Banks and the advertisement of gentleman pills will most likely top the list.
Start thinking on a wider scale and the same theory applies. So many of the footballing greats will be remembered for moments other than what they should have been:
Roberto Baggio – One of the best overall World Cup tournament perfomances from an individual player in 1994 but that penalty miss and those tears will be his defining moment forever.
Diego Maradona – Let’s just save time. I know, you know, everybody knows so that should be enough.
Rivaldo – A truly phenomenal footballer, that overhead kick in the dying seconds in the final game of the season for Barca is one of my favourite all time moments. His legacy however? Dropping to the ground holding his face like he’d taken one of Tyson’s finest, having been hit by a ball on his knee against Turkey. Hardly befitting of such a great.
Ronaldo (the real one) – Best striker I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Will be remembered for becoming one of the fattest men I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like he ate himself.
Zidane – that headbutt. His last ever game in a World Cup Final finishes with a moment of utter madness.
Thierry Henry – One of the best players to never win World Footballer of the Year yet will be remembered for his ‘reflex action’ (or blatant, calculated cheating) against the Irish.
Frank Rijkaard – Spitting at Rudi Voller.
Rudi Voller – Being spat at by Frank Rijkaard.
I could go on but by now you get my point. All that genuine world class ability and yet the most prominent moment in their history is something entirely different, a moment which they’d much rather forget (fortunately for Maradona he probably doesn’t remember most of it).
So how will we remember this generation’s greats once their distinguished careers are over? What one incident will occur that means we remember Leo Messi in a different way altogether? Will Cristiano Ronaldo’s head get so big it will actually explode? Will Xavi be found wandering around retirement homes muttering to himself that each resident has ‘Barca DNA’ and should immediately be allowed to return to the Nou Camp? Will Robin Van Persie finally tell Arjen Robben to “f*ck off and just pass”?
All questions for another day.