Sports can be such a different career in a lot of ways. Sports persons peak at an age when young men and women take baby steps in their careers. They retire in an age where every other professional attain their peak powers. The moment their bodies don’t respond to the mind, they call it quits. Yet in such a short career span, sport can be so satisfying and fulfilling. As a professional sport, dominated by club games, football can be so demanding on a player’s body and mind. Yet with their endurance and skill set, they manage to illuminate our hearts as well as the stadiums they play in. This particular season in English football, many players who would be branded as greats in the not so distant future and one manager who is probably the greatest of them all, chose to call it a day. Here is a look at those amazing people.
He was the most naturally gifted striker that England has ever produced. Fast as a blur, boyish charm and with the kind of instinct inside the box, he was a nightmare for defenders around the world. But post his explosive start and prolific scoring for Liverpool, Michael Owen never really found that gear at Real Madrid where he found his chances limited among the galaxy of stars at the Bearnabeu. His career hit rock bottom after a plethora of injuries he sustained during his stay at St James’ Park. But that did not stop Sir Alex Ferguson from signing him (Being a Reds fan, I was livid to say the least). Though he played fewer matches during his time at Manchester Unted, he did make his mark with a signature last minute goal in that amazing Manchester derby. Despite his move to United, he is still my favorite striker. Two moments still stays fresh in memory, that amazing goal at the ’98 World Cup game against Argentina and his brace in the FA cup final against Arsenal in 2001 where the Gunners did not lose to Liverpool but to Michael Owen.
He would probably go down as one of the last one club player in the premier league. The great wall of Liverpool, Jamie Carragher’s legacy lies in his loyalty, commitment, using maximum use of one’s potential, fighting instinct and most of all, being the ultimate team man. He was the bedrock of Liverpool’s defense for the past 15 years and every time I see his name on the team sheet I feel secure and assured. Images of an exhausted Carra fighting cramps but still throwing his body around against a marauding Serginho in 30 tiring minutes of extra time at the Champions Trophy finals in 2005 still stands out. Wonder if anyone can replicate that.
He retired a year ago only to come back at his boss’ request. Though he had a very ordinary season by his high standards, one can’t take away the fact that Paul Scholes is one of the strongest pillars on which lies the museum of those glittering trophies that United won in the Ferguson Era. United will sorely miss and will need a midfield general that was Scholes. Who is going to deliver those killer passes from deep in the midfield? Who is going to dictate the game? Can Michael Carrick step it up?
He is a superstar in more ways than one. Despite not being an exceptionally talented player, with his dead ball skills and that precise, defense splitting pass, he was such a potent weapon in any team’s midfield. But David Beckham’s footballing legacy lies beyond the pitch. He was an icon, a poster boy who drove people, especially women to watch the game. Though the game is much bigger than him, he became the reason why a lot of people watched football. That is something very few people can do. You can talk about Dennis Bergkamp’s technical acumen, laud Steven Gerrard’s leadership or wonder how cool Alan Shearer is every time he puts it past a keeper. But you always need a Beckham to make people watch all that in the first place. He was football’s brand ambassador.
The English Premier League has indeed lost its sheen a bit after the decline and retirements of so many greats in recent years. When I first started to watch the game seriously, I remember the great battles between two amazing quartets. Sir Alex Ferguson’s trump cards Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelroy for Manchester United against Arsene Wenger’s invincible geniuses Robert Pires, Patrick Viera, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry for Arsenal. When will we ever get to see something like that again?
And now the biggie, the actual reason why most of you are reading this article. Being a Reds fan it is such a difficult thing to talk, let alone praise someone from 40 miles away, especially one who vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch and did that successfully. But of late, Sir Alex Ferguson is held in such high esteem that it’s okay to do so. Looking at him from beyond my mental borders, I have to say, “Thanks Fergie”! I remember my time in Manchester when I used to work at the Theatre of Dreams as a bartender, interacting with the club’s long standing members. They spoke so fondly of Sir Alex and how he is the source of all the glittering trophies that begs for space in the Museum downstairs and that no matter who comes and goes, as long as he is there United will be fine. I wonder if they can still say that next season. Yes they do have a credible replacement in David Moyes, handpicked by Sir Alex himself, but it remains to be seen how the Red Devils play from here. Of course in all those interactions, I had to put up with a lot of RED faced poking, making a mockery of Liverpool’s current form and I had to endure all that with a straight face. Damn me and my dignity! I also vividly recall the aura that he carried. I remember this one time in the 1969 Suite inside Old Trafford where I was working, suddenly there was a buzz around the place. It was strange because I already saw Christiano Ronaldo, Nemaja Vidic and Ryan Giggs walk into the suite a while back and it was all normal. But this time there was a lot of buzz and this time it was Sir Alex himself. In a flash, the whole place transformed into some sort of a hypnotized magic hut. Everyone, including the players themselves was looking at him and only at him as he moved from table to table greeting the members. That aura is carried only by one other sporting icon that I know; a little man who got the most British of all crowds in Brighton buzzing when he walked in during a tour match, a certain Sachin Tendulkar. Very few personalities justify this increasingly over used term, but from the next season “Football will never be the same again”.
This season significantly closes the chapter of the end of a beautiful era in EPL. With only the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Cole & Ferdinand left, let’s hope that the Suarezs, the Carricks, the Matas, the Hazards, the Wilsheres, the Bales and the Walcotts will step up and become the next set of greats to have played the beautiful game. There certainly is talent but it also needs careful nurturing. This is where I hope the Rodgers’, the Villas-Boas’, the Martinez’, the Ladrup’s and the Mourinho’s will step it up.