The Mavericks of world football

Football Mavericks

By Adwaidh Rajan

With the 21st edition of the World Cup looming, we take a look at some of the great footballers who have revolutionised the game with their out-of-the-box thinking and unorthodox playing styles.

Egocentric, narcissist and without a modicum of humility — these are how Portugal and Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo have been described over the years. Hey, we might as well be referring to Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic here — after all Zlatan is someone who refers to himself in the third person.

However, these are not necessarily qualities that make a sportsperson or anyone for that matter likeable. But Ronaldo is THE most popular athlete in the world beating the likes of basketball star Lebron James and the other football great Lionel Messi. And Zlatan isn’t far behind too. So, what is it that makes them so likeable to football fans.

The answer is might be that football has always accommodated and cherished personalities like this modern duo. The Beautiful Game has had its fair share of mavericks over the years. Frenchman Eric Cantona, Brazilian Romario and England’s Paul Gascoigne are to name a few and they are one of the major reasons that spectators horde football stadiums.

These are the players who love taking risks and perform the unthinkable. The failures can be disastrous as they skate on thin ice, but their skill and conviction mean that they succeed more often than not. The fans adore them, their achievements exalted and their mistakes forgotten in no time at all.

Take the case of Deigo Maradona who scored with a blatant handball against England in the 1986 World Cup. Rather than the whole world turning against him, that goal is now remembered to have been scored by ‘the Hand of God’. Though scoring one of the greatest goals ever in the history of football shortly after scoring one of its ‘ugliest’ helped!

“Maradona good; Pele better; George Best” read a banner at Old Trafford during the days of one of the sport’s earlier mavericks. Alex Ferguson hailed him as “the greatest talent football has ever produced” and he had a character to match his on-field exploits. He drove to matches in his flashy cars and was surrounded by women as his playboy image took off with his game.

Germany’s Manuel Neuer might be hailed as football’s first real sweeper keeper, but it was Colombian Rene Higuita, another of the unconventional minds in the game, that laid the foundation for the trend decades before Neuer. His style of play of venturing far away from his goal and playing with his feet was considered insane those days. But it nonetheless led the football authorities to ban the goalkeepers from handling the ball from a back pass and changed football forever.

“By the end of my career, there were more positive things than mistakes. But it was only after people saw Rene Higuita play that way that the rules were changed. It was decided that goalkeepers had to play with their feet. Not even Pele, Maradona or Messi have achieved that. Along came a Colombian and he more or less said to everyone: This is Higuita’s Law. This is how keepers have to play,” he later said in an interview.

Czech Republic’s Antonin Panenka who had the habit of chipping the goalkeeper from the penalty spot to create the ‘Pananka’, Paraguay’s shot-stopper Jose Chilavert who mastered scoring from freekicks and Johan Cruyff who made defenders look silly with his turn all made their fame with some out-of-the-box thinking.

With another World Cup on the horizon, it is time for some new mavericks to announce themselves to the world and prove they have arrived in the grandest of stages. And football aficionados across the world will be waiting to welcome them with open arms – the new Bests, Maradonas and Higuitas