FIFA Ultimate Team Legends was released on Xbox One last week, so I’m using this column to look at some of my favourite legends of the game. “Legend” isn’t all about technical ability and skill, it’s about impact. Obviously skill has a big factor but achievements, longevity, success, impact upon individuals around them, leadership, whether they’re captains… all those things gets thrown into the mix to bring together the word. But the three players I’ve named, I am very comfortable using the word “legend” in describing: Bryan Robson, Zico, and Paolo Maldini.
If you asked me what constitutes a hero, when you’re younger it’s always that person that makes you want to follow in their footsteps. The person who you want to be like. Growing up I was a huge Manchester United fan and, at the time Bryan Robson was captain of England and Manchester United. He was the best player, and the most important player, in the country.
Every single challenge he went in for was as if his life seemed to depend on it. He seemed as though he cared all the time, he was a huge driving force for his country and his club. When I went to watch Manchester United I could see he was giving his all every time I looked down on the pitch. That’s what I aspired to be as I got older, someone who was committed to the cause, somebody who gave their all on the football pitch and had a great attitude to the game. For me that opitimised Bryan Robson. He obviously had a high level of skill and intelligence to his game as well, but it was that commitment, drive and energy in his game that, at that time, made him my hero.
From the other players, I suppose Zico is a strange one. When you are a kid growing up in Manchester you think very locally about Manchester United as your club but the 1982 World Cup was my first experience of a World Cup and watching it properly at the age of seven. I just remember watching this flamboyant Brazil team with this player called Zico and it was like football from another planet, it was like something you dream of.
You grow up as a local boy in Manchester, you play on muddy pitches, it’s cold, everything seems tough: the games are tough, they’re physical, and then you go and watch a player like Zico who’s playing this carefree, wonderful skillful sport and it presents a different outlook on football. He was just incredibly talented, and to watch him in that Brazil shirt in the 1982 World Cup always stands out. It’s one of my childhood memories that stands with me. Every football fan remembers their first World Cup and it was the 1982 World Cup for me. Again I remember one of my heroes Bryan Robson scoring one of the quickest goals in World Cup history. Zico and Brazil captured everyone’s imagination and, even though they didn’t go on to win it, they played utopian football.
The third category is almost my professional role model, the player you would always look up to and think “that’s how to play full back”. He gets forward well, he sets up goals, he defends brilliantly, he’s adaptable, he can defend one on one, he’s physically strong. I suppose that player was Paolo Maldini. He absolutely deserves to be the second highest rated player in FUT Legends with an overall score of 92, and scores of 85 for crossing, 99 for standing tackles and 94 for sliding tackles.
It’s very rare for me during my career, in fact I think it was the only time after a game, I went to get an autograph of a player. When we drew with Italy in Rome in 1998 I went and swapped shirts with Maldini. I didn’t get his original shirt, but one of his spare shirts after the game and asked him to sign it to me after the game. I’ve still got that shirt to this day. I was never really one for autographs, and, at that stage, I was 23 years of age and had never got an autograph growing up as a kid. I just felt as though playing against him in those two games in 1998, I was in the presence of greatness, in the presence of a legend of the game and really wanted to mark that.
He was such an important player. The standards he achieved consistently over 24 years as a football player were incredible and his longevity playing until he was 40. He’s just an absolutely sensational footballer and I think every full back, every defender, looked up to Paolo Maldini. He was the bench mark, he was the one who everyone aspired to be. He was even good looking! I was never going to compete with him on that front!
The game has moved forward and is quicker than ever, but you have to say the talent and ability of individual players in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, with modern techniques of fitness and professionalism and science would be able to compete because they would be like for like. I don’t particularly like the argument about competing era to era, it’s an invalid argument in my view, the reality is you can only be the best in the era that you play. It’s like turning around and saying the first computer wasn’t good 25 years ago, it was, it was fantastic 25 years ago, it may be passed by now, but the reality is you can only be what you are in the era that you are and there will always be advances in technology, science, medicine and fitness regimes and the game will get quicker and quicker. That’s all we’ve seen in football, we’ve seen quicker players, faster players. Ronaldo is a light heavy weight boxer!
What we’re talking about is could Zico, with the ability he had, compete now. He’d be brought up to the grade physically if he was performing in this day and age. Then he would be able to compete, I have no doubt about that. That’s why it’s great to see Maldini’s overall score in FIFA Ultimate Team is 92, the same as Ronaldo. I’d love to see Zico and Bryan Robson in EA SPORTS FIFA Ultimate Team next year!