2014 World Cup: Top 30 World Cup heroes

World Cup heroes.

These are the footballers who have made history in the world’s greatest sporting event.

The 30 players distinguished on this eminent list have all written themselves into the World Cup archives with performances and feats worthy of heroic recognition.

To clarify, ‘hero’ is preferred to the word ‘legend’ because legendary status cannot apply to a player whose career is still ongoing.

So, administration aside, who tops this marathon list of World Cup heroes?

30. Pak Doo-Ik – North Korea, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966

In an extraordinary game at Ayresome Park, minnows North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, knocking the then two-time world champions out. Architect of that famous win was Pak Doo-Ik, a serving member of the North Korean military, whose goal after 42 minutes is still talked about as part of one of the greatest World Cup shocks in history.

29. Lucien Laurent – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1930

The late Frenchman is famous for having scored the first-ever World Cup goal in a 4-1 win against Mexico at Uruguay 1930. When France became world champions on home turf in 1998, Laurent was the only surviving member of France’s 1930 squad to witness them lift the World Cup.

28. Papa Bouba Diop – Senegal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002

In Senegal’s World Cup debut against reigning champions France, few pundits offered them hope of scoring, let alone beating their decorated opponents. When Bouba Diop scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 1-0 win it was a moment that reduced Senegalese fans to tears. They eventually lost 1-0 to Turkey in the quarter-finals.

27. Roger Milla – Cameroon, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1982, 1990, 1994

Famous for his eccentric goal celebrations, Milla was a star of Italia ’90 when his four goals propelled Cameroon to the quarter-finals – a record for an African team. They eventually lost to England 3-2 after extra-time, but he returned at USA ’94 to become the oldest goalscorer in a World Cup.

26. Oliver Kahn – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006

Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win the golden ball as player of the tournament in 2002 and he is renowned for his disgust at a mistake during the final which allowed Ronaldo to score in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil. Kahn would not be able to exorcise those demons as Germany finished third on home soil in 2006.

25. Gary Lineker – England, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1986, 1990

Lineker shot to fame at Mexico ’86 after netting a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Poland and went on to win the golden boot as top scorer with six goals. At Italia ’90 he added four goals to his World Cup tally but, after Lineker had equalised, England lost on penalties to West Germany in the semi-finals.

24. Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010

Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers ever to play at a World Cup. The peak of his career came when Italy won the World Cup in 2006 after a penalty shoot-out. Though Buffon didn’t save a spot-kick in the final, he kept five clean sheets throughout the tournament.

23. Miroslav Klose – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010

With five goals at the 2002 World Cup, five goals and the golden boot in 2006 and a further four goals at South Africa 2010, Klose is tied with compatriot Gerd Müller at second on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list with 14 goals. A strange quirk to his goals in 2002 was that they were all headed efforts.

22. Dino Zoff – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1974, 1978, 1982

Zoff became the oldest player to win a World Cup at 40 when Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final. He also joined countryman Gianpiero Combi as the only players to have won the World Cup as goalkeeping captains.

21. Zico – Brazil, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1978, 1982, 1986

One of the greatest players never to have won a World Cup, Zico was part of the 1982 Brazilian side which was hailed as one of the best Brazilian squads ever to grace football’s biggest stage, scoring four goals before being knocked-out by eventual winners Italy.

20. Andres Iniesta – Spain, World Cups won: 1 (South Africa 2010), World Cups: 2006, 2010

Perhaps overshadowed by Xavi at Barcelona, Iniesta wrote a dramatic chapter in World Cup history by scoring the winning goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands. His shirt-wheeling celebration was one of the greatest images of that World Cup and the goal is the pinnacle of his career to date.

19. Fabio Grosso – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2006

Italy owe much to the charismatic full-back. In his first and only World Cup he scored an instinctive goal with one minute of extra-time remaining in the semi-final against Germany before netting the winning spot-kick to end an enthralling penalty shoot-out in the final against France, giving Italy a fourth World Cup triumph.

18. Eusebio – Portugal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966

The late Eusebio won the golden boot at the 1966 World Cup in England with nine goals. That proved to be his only World Cup appearance but it was one littered with jewels. He scored a brace against Brazil, four goals against North Korea and one against England in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss which became known as the ‘game of tears’ in Portugal after Eusebio broke down post-match.

17. Jürgen Klinsmann – Germany, World Cups won: 1 (Italia 1990), World Cups: 1990, 1994, 1998

Scoring at three World Cups for a total of 11 goals, Klinsmann is one of the greatest World Cup strikers of all time. His West Germany side won the World Cup in 1990 and he would go on to manage his country to third place on home territory in 2006.

16. Paolo Rossi – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1978, 1982

Rossi’s World Cup career mirrors a rollercoaster ride. In 1978 he scored three goals before being implicated in the infamous 1980 Totonero betting scandal, receiving a two-year ban. He was selected for the 1982 World Cup but was exposed early on by a severe lack of match-fitness. However, Rossi recovered to score a hat-trick against Brazil, a semi-final brace against Poland and a goal in the final against West Germany. His performances earned him the golden ball and the golden boot with six goals.

15. Mario Kempes – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Argentina 1978), World Cups: 1978

Kempes only played in one World Cup – Argentina ’78 – but he was imperious throughout it. His tally of six goals helped Argentina to a home World Cup win, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory against the Netherlands in the final. His display won him the golden boot and the golden ball.

14. Just Fontaine – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1958

Fontaine holds the record for the most goals scored in a World Cup – a staggering 13 in six games – which puts him fourth on the all-time list. Despite only playing at one World Cup, the Frenchman is considered to be one of France’s greatest players having won the golden boot in 1958.

13. Romario – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (USA 1994), World Cups: 1990, 1994

Romario’s World Cup story is blighted by injury and high-profile exclusions. In 1990 he played one game against Scotland, but returned in style to claim a winner’s medal in 1994, scoring five goals. He suffered an injury just before the 1998 World Cup and was also left out of the 2002 squad despite a blistering season in his native Brazil playing for Fluminense.

12. Johan Cruyff – the Netherlands, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1974

A leading exponent of ‘total football’ Cruyff bamboozled defenders with his famous ‘Cruyff turn’. He played at just one World Cup, leading the Netherlands to the 1974 final where he won the penalty which gave his side a 1-0 lead over West Germany after two minutes. Though the Germans eventually won 2-1, Cruyff’s consolation prize was the golden ball.

11. Ferenc Puskas – Hungary, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1954

Puskas was part of the feared Hungarian side of the 1954 World Cup. Favourites for the tournament, they were beaten in the final by West Germany as their opponents executed a fine tactical plan to win 3-2, despite Puskas opening the scoring after six minutes. The diminutive striker received the golden ball and scored four goals in the tournament.

10. Sir Geoff Hurst – England, World Cups won: 1 (England 1966), World Cups, 1966, 1970

Hurst became the first and only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final as England won 4-2 against West Germany to win the World Cup on home turf. Hurst scored five World Cup goals in total but will forever be remembered as the man who won England’s only World Cup.

9. Rivaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002

The Brazilian winger was famous for his partnership with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho at the 2002 World Cup. He went on to score five times and netted eight goals in his World Cup career and is held as one of the greatest Brazilian players of all-time.

8. Gerd Müller – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1970, 1974

Müller played 11 World Cup games and scored 14 times. His immense record places him joint-second with Klose on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list. In the 1970 World Cup he notched two hat-tricks as West Germany finished third, but he would claim a winner’s medal in his home country by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Cruyff’s Netherlands in the final.

7. Franz Beckenbauer – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1966, 1970, 1974

‘Der Kaiser’ is an integral part of the German footballing fabric. He scored five World Cup goals from the sweeper position and also managed his country to victory at Italia ’90, becoming one of only two men to have won the World Cup as both a coach and player.

6. Cafu – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (USA 1994, South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006

Cafu is one of a handful of players to have played in four World Cups. He has two winner’s medals and is considered to be one of Brazil’s greatest players. Despite never scoring at a World Cup, Cafu has played 20 World Cup matches, recording ten clean sheets in the process.

5. Ronaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006

Ronaldo has amassed 15 goals in World Cups and is the all-time leading goalscorer. His brace in the 2002 final against Germany helped secure Brazil’s fifth World Cup crown and he also finished with the golden boot after claiming eight goals. He broke Gerd Müller’s record with a simple finish against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup and is rated as one of the greatest of all-time.

4. Garrincha – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966

Ever worthy of a place on the all-time World Cup XI, Garrincha is one of the most decorated players in World Cup history. Having won the 1958 final 5-2 against Sweden, Garrincha played a starring role in the next Finals with Pele out injured. The man dubbed ‘little bird’ scored five goals in his World Cup career and won the golden boot and golden ball in 1962.

3. Zinedine Zidane – France, World Cups won: 1 (France 1998), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006

Zidane’s World Cup career is one of the greatest. He scored twice in a home World Cup final against Brazil, winning 3-0, and then scored in the 2006 final against Italy. However, that performance was marred by an ugly headbutt inflicted upon Marco Materazzi. Even after that ill-discipline, Zidane collected the golden ball as player of the tournament.

2. Diego Maradona – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Mexico 1986), World Cups: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994

Maradona’s World Cup tale is even more controversial and successful than Zidane’s. His ‘hand of God’ goal against England led many to label him a cheat and, at the 1994 World Cup, he was disgraced and sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine. Despite these misgivings, Maradona is held by some as the greatest World Cup player of all-time. His jinking run against England at Mexico ’86 is one of the best World Cup goals ever and he captained his side to World Cup glory in the same tournament while also winning the golden ball.

1. Pele – Brazil, World Cups won: 3 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970

Easily the greatest World Cup player of them all, Pele’s three World Cup wins prompted the Brazilian public to deify him. He has scored in every World Cup he has played in, including a brace in the 1958 final and the opening goal against Italy in the 1970 final. His 12 career World Cup goals place him in exalted company on the all-time goalscorers list, but it is for his magic that he earns top spot on this list. There have been many majestic World Cup players, but none as majestic as Pele.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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Who are the best and worst Premier League chairmen and owners?

As Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, once said, “It is in men as in soils where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not.”

Worryingly, this quote could apply to several Premier League chairmen this season after a series of controversial and seemingly unwarranted sackings.

Latest of them all is the fiasco at Cardiff City, where manager Malky Mackay was finally put out of his misery by the oblivious Vincent Tan.

However, Tan is just one of a number of Premier League club owners to have shown little remorse in pursuit of good results and ‘better’ performances.

How long will it be before the Premier League’s managerial environment mirrors the Latin American one?

Only this year, Mexico employed four different managers in six weeks to get them to the World Cup finals.

Supporters of that cut-throat strategy will argue that it worked as Mexico made it to Brazil this summer, but opponents to it will point towards an apparent culture of ‘short-term’ gains where good results coincide with spiked player performances – brought about by a need to impress the new manager and therefore gain a regular starting slot.

Either way it’s clear that long-term stability, reputation building and familiarity are the best recipes for club growth – certainly in English football. With that in mind, who makes the top five best and worst Premier League chairmen/owners?

I’ll hit you with the good first:

5. John W. Henry, Liverpool owner and chairman

Liverpool fans across the country rejoiced when Henry made a bid for Liverpool in 2010. He was eventually successful and replaced the embittered and faltering Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. as owner shortly afterwards. A billionaire businessman, Henry built up a rapport with Reds fans when appointing club stalwart Kenny Dalglish in 2011. He then backed Dalglish by granting the £57.8m spent on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll after Fernando Torres’ £56m sale. The Suarez transfer is undoubtedly the best of his reign so far, and plans to renovate Anfield rather than move to Stanley Park are also proving popular. It seems he has no intention of enjoying the headlines and has the club’s best interests to mind – which is perhaps the ultimate sign of a good owner.

4. Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City owner

Love him or despise him, Sheikh Mansour’s billions have overseen a huge change in fortunes for the club historically seen as the second-biggest in Manchester. Rival fans have offered jibes of ‘can’t buy class’ and ‘Man-cash-ter City’ but the transformation of the club has been so comprehensive that they have usurped United as the giants of Manchester on current form. Mansour has also funded an investment in young talent and a symmetry with Barcelona’s youth academies which will benefit them in decades to come. Overall, it’s hard to see how else City could have reached their current level if Mansour had not delved into his pockets.

3. Bill Kenwright, Everton chairman

Kenwright has gradually increased his involvement with Everton, which peaked in 2004 when he became the club’s majority shareholder. He has been on the board since 1989 and supported the Goodison Park club as a boy. He is also an astute and loyal chairman in terms of managerial appointments, having enjoyed an 11-year stint with David Moyes at the helm and replacing him with Roberto Martinez, himself a loyal and passionate boss having stayed with Wigan through good and bad spells. Everton have not always had the budget to spend on transfers, but that is not a concern when wise purchasing and faith in young talent are among Kenwright’s beliefs.

2. Huw Jenkins, Swansea City chairman

Swansea are in safe hands with Jenkins as chairman, not least because of his tight purse strings. This summer he admitted that the idea of spending £12m on one player – Wilfried Bony – made him uncomfortable, but a recent history of transfers suggests he likes to pay little for more. Michu for £2m and Pablo Hernandez for £5.5m are cases in point, while manager Michael Laudrup could also be included on that list having done a superb job since taking over last summer. But Jenkins should be credited with saving the club from failure in the Football League, having cleaned up the club’s finances. Swansea now boast multi-million pound profits and also won the league cup last season under Jenkins’ guidance.

1. Peter Coates, Stoke City owner and chairman

It’s not often that a Premier League chairman has two bites at the cherry, but in the case of Peter Coates that much is true. A lifelong fan of the club, even having trials with them as a player, Coates will always have their best intentions at heart. His first tenure as owner lasted eight years until 1997, when he stepped down after protests from fans. However, Coates then set up bet365.com in 2000 and took ownership of the club again in 2005, showing loyalty and support to Tony Pulis who managed the team for seven years – a rare tenurial stint. Coates clearly knows how to run a big operation and his preference for British managers must also be welcomed in the modern game. His absence in the headlines is also good news for the club and, taking everything into consideration, Coates has done an extremely good job.

Now the bad:

5. Malcolm Glazer, Manchester United owner

Possibly the least-popular man in the red side of Manchester, Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of the club piled hundreds of millions of pounds worth of debt into the Old Trafford outfit. In his defence he has always committed the necessary funds for big transfers, but that is largely due to the club’s ever-expanding sponsorship portfolio. Fans continue to worry over the rumours that the Glazer family is withdrawing funds from the club. The bottom line is that Glazer’s incumbency has been a shady one and fans are reluctant to trust him.

4. Ellis Short, Sunderland owner and chairman

One of the motifs of bad ownership is the regularity with which managers come and go. In Ellis Short’s case, since he assumed full control of the club in 2009 he has sacked three managers which is a healthy – or unhealthy – ratio. In particular, the appointment of Paolo di Canio caused a stir given the Italian’s constant flirtation with controversy, but in Gus Poyet he seems to have finally made a decent change. Short has also been criticised for his handling of Martin O’Neill, who was widely considered to be a success at Sunderland having saved them from relegation in his first season in charge. It is that type of impatience which earns Short a place on the bad side of this blog.

3. Assem Allam, Hull City owner

Another hugely controversial owner, Allam has done little to enamour himself amongst Hull’s home support. His proposal to Americanize the club’s “common” name of Hull City to Hull City Tigers has been met with widespread anger in the footballing community but Allam is showing little sign of relenting. It is effectively a marketing tool, but Hull’s hardcore support continue to resist by singing ‘City til we die’. Allam, in typical mood, suggested that they could “die as soon as they want.” Has there been a more charming owner?

2. Mike Ashley, Newcastle United owner and chairman

Ever since downing a pint in amongst Toon fans during a trip to the Emirates, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has been a figure of fun in the footballing world. His popularity was initially high after appointing Kevin Keegan as manager, but his decisions ever since have proved extremely unpopular. Notably, his friendship with Joe Kinnear – who later became manager – and Dennis Wise, who worked closely with Keegan, were negatively received. After Keegan resigned, he put the club up for sale but never enticed a buyer. Other recent controversies include changing the name of St. James’ Park and reappointing Kinnear in a director of football role. Ashley’s tenure is a fine example of how not to run a football club.

1. Vincent Tan, Cardiff City owner

The king of the worst Premier League owners, Tan’s every action has been divisive and infuriating for Cardiff fans. Changing the club crest and kit colour was viewed as heresy by Bluebirds fans, but Tan’s ill-advised moves have not stopped there. He removed the respected head of recruitment Iain Moody and hired Alisher Apsalyamov – a friend of Tan’s son who, embarrassingly, had no previous footballing experience and worse still, was placed on work experience with the club at the time. Up until today Malky Mackay was in charge but, after a tumultuous public row, he was sacked. Mackay’s sacking was the end of a two-week conflict which came about after an email sent by Tan ordering Mackay to ‘resign or be sacked’ was leaked to the media. Despite great support from colleagues and supporters, a 3-0 loss to Southampton spelled the end for the affable Scot. Cardiff fans will be wondering when Tan’s spell at the club will end, too.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

The lowdown on BT Sport’s free weekend

As battles go, this was as one-sided as they come.

BT Sport certainly picked a good weekend to open up their channels to everyone in what they billed as their ‘free weekend’.

By comparison, their archrivals Sky Sports, the other protagonists in this war of the sport broadcasters, had a meek splattering of goods on offer for their customers – who at £60 per month are being stripped of £720 per year. That sum would be sufficient to buy a season ticket at most Premier League grounds.

Even so, for at least a decade Sky have held the throne as the Kings of all things sport in the UK, but this season the tide looks to be turning.

BT Sport have them worried, and why not?

They’re offering free viewing to all customers with BT Broadband and, for those without the broadband deal, a fee of just £12 per month to view 38 first-pick Premier League games, an array of top Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 matches, plus comprehensive coverage of the Aviva Premiership.

That’s just for starters. If you’re a self-confessed sport addict then BT Sport could prove to be the perfect place for you.

Allied to the sport mentioned above, there’s football action from the MLS, A-League and Brazilian top flight plus other bits and bobs such as tennis, UFC, Major League Baseball and a generous helping of some innovative, interactive and engaging panel shows – the best of which is fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Matt Dawson on a Saturday morning.

On Saturday, BT Sport trumped Sky with their coverage of Crystal Palace against Arsenal. They also delighted in showing Inter Milan’s entertaining 4-2 win over Verona, while there was also a very watchable 3-0 victory for Wolfsburg against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

If Sky can’t match the variety of BT Sport, then they can certainly pack a big punch of their own with the most anticipated fixture in La Liga – El Clasico.

It was rather unfortunate for Sky then, that the match was under-par by El Clasico standards – a 2-1 win for Barcelona failed, judging by various social media outbursts, to get the pulse racing.

Gareth Bale was largely anonymous and Lionel Messi was overshadowed by Neymar. That said, the goals scored by Barcelona were of high quality, particularly Neymar’s opener in which he embarrassed two Real Madrid defenders before finding the net.

The fact that the match disappointed wasn’t Sky’s fault, but what is evident is that if you put all your eggs in one basket – as Sky have done with their lack of variety – then the occasional anti-climax will inevitably happen.

But Sky’s tonic to that frustration is their Formula One coverage, which this weekend encompassed Sebastian Vettel’s title-clinching victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

Sky also screened the fifth one day international between India vs. Australia – or would have done had play not been abandoned because of rain.

Aside from that, Sky had very little to offer last weekend. Various repeats were screened and events like the CIMB Classic golf tournament from Kuala Lumpur did little to wrestle the attention away from BT Sport.

Sunday was slightly better for Sky, with the Tyne and Wear derby preceding the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City – once again their ability to show the top football matches in the Premier League proved the main draw to their coverage.

The second NFL London game between the Jaguars and the 49ers was also available to Sky customers, but they lost out on millions of spectators as it was also on offer to terrestrial viewers over on Channel 4, who have maintained their growing grasp on the sport in this country.

It was, at this point on Sunday teatime, as if BT Sport had their opponents on the ropes. It wasn’t long before they delivered a final blow.

France’s two cash-rich clubs, Monaco and PSG, kicked off one after the other – enabling viewers to gorge themselves on Ligue 1 action that is quickly being elevated to a higher level thanks to players such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If that wasn’t enough, then a brilliant panel show featuring top football journalists from France, Italy and Germany, presented by the insuperable James Richardson, gave viewers a comprehensive and informative round-up of the best Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 action.

In critical terms, Sky’s service to sport fans has been bettered by BT Sport – and by some way.

The diehard Premier League fans will always flock to Sky, but BT Sport are slowly cranking up the pressure in that department as they bid to show more and more games per season.

Then there is the issue of costing. Would you pay £60 per month for Sky or £12 per month for BT Sport? True, Sky will have autumn international rugby Tests and the Ashes coming up soon, but when they’re all done and the viewers are sat down in February, what else is there to watch?

BT Sport will always be there with a good variety of sport, and it’s a strategy which is intrinsic to their quest to surpass Sky as the country’s leading sports broadcaster.

On the evidence of the last weekend at least, BT Sport have won the battle. Give them a few more years and they may well have won the broadcasting war.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Sebastian Vettel – A true F1 ‘great’?

Formula One drivers come and go. Some may win races but most won’t. Others shrink into obscurity after a career spent hidden in the midfield. But there are an elite few, those who are recognised as ‘greats’.

Undeniably, after clinching a fourth consecutive title following victory at the Indian GP – his third in succession – Sebastian Vettel now joins a pantheonic group of F1 drivers who are freely regarded as ‘great’.

But sadly this historic achievement, for a significant proportion of F1 fans throughout the world, is being devalued with claims that he has had it all too easy during his short but illustrious career.

True, the 26-year-old has benefitted from an Adrian Newey-inspired Red Bull car for the past four seasons.

Red Bull’s rise from midfield runners to all-conquering world champions has coincided with a change in regulations in 2009 that mixed the ‘normal’ grid up.

The struggling Honda effectively forfeited their 2008 season, concentrating on the 2009 regulations and inventing the ingenious double diffuser.

Despite knowing the potential of their cars, the Japanese giant pulled out of the sport citing high costs and sold their operation to Ross Brawn, who promptly guided the rebranded ‘Brawn GP’ to a world championship double, with Jenson Button taking the drivers’ championship.

Since then, Newey has worked his magic, developing the Red Bull cars into a force so strong they have swept away all before them. It has been a Vettel stampede across the subsequent four championships.

To undermine Vettel’s ability during this period though, is to flirt with grave ignorance.

F1 bosses had long been aware of the German’s potential ever since an astonishing performance in 2004, when driving for Mücke Motorsport in the German branch of Formula BMW.

His team was not the fastest in the championship, but that did not stop the immensely talented Vettel winning 18 out of 20 races. To underline his brilliance he finished second and third in the two races he didn’t manage to win, amassing a staggering 20 podiums.

In fact, that title remains the last drivers’ title that Mücke won, further illustrating just how special Vettel is.

These are not the achievements of a man who has zero ability, or who would later rely on a superior car to win four F1 world championships. Moreover, it was a telling sign of the domination that was to come.

After progressing to Formula Three in 2005, he drove a so-called inferior car to fifth place in the standings, before earning the F1 test driver role with BMW Sauber in 2006.

The following season, Vettel was leading the Formula Renault 3.5 Series – a platform to F1 – when BMW driver Robert Kubica suffered a huge crash at the Canadian GP, sustaining concussion and forcing BMW to promote him to a race seat in the next race.

In another sign of his talent, Vettel qualified seventh and finished eighth, scoring his maiden point in F1 at the first attempt.

Four races later he replaced Scott Speed at Toro Rosso. The Italians, Red Bull’s sister team, were perennial backmarkers but Vettel took an outstanding fourth place finish at the Chinese GP.

This convinced Red Bull enough to place him in a full race seat with Toro Rosso in 2008, where he again surpassed expectations.

Bouncing back from four retirements in the opening four races, he took the slow Toro Rosso to five points finishes before a breakthrough moment set his career on a fast upward curve.

A wet Monza qualifying session was the stage on which Vettel needed no second invitation to demonstrate his capabilities. He surged to pole position – the first of his career and, to date, the only one during Toro Rosso’s short time in F1.

On race day, his achievements rocketed even higher. Despite his lack of experience and a wet start to the Grand Prix, he showed extraordinary skill to guide his Toro Rosso to victory.

It was the type of lights-to-flag win that would become gut-wrenchingly familiar to his opponents over the next five seasons.

He went on to finish eighth in the 2008 championship, ahead of established names such as Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.

Red Bull came calling after the retirement of David Coulthard, and suddenly Vettel was winning races again.

In a season where Brawn were dominant, Vettel managed to outperform team-mate Mark Webber to take second in the championship behind Button. He took four victories in amongst a total of eight podiums.

His record since then is scary.

He has won 31 times more, taking his career race win tally to 36 – the fourth-highest ever.

With 43 pole positions, he has started over a third of the races in his career from the front.

He has also been on the podium 50 times in his four title-winning seasons, recording 59 in total.

That means that of the 117 races he has started in F1, he has been on the podium in 50.43% of them – a mind-boggling display. Additionally, over 30% of those races have been victories – hardly an example of a driver who relies solely on his car.

These are the kind of statistics that remain unchallenged in modern F1. Nobody even comes close to the achievements that Vettel has carved out.

His meticulous approach to everything F1, including a unique visit to the Pirelli tyre factory, is a trait of a winner, a champion with a fierce desire for success – and success he has grasped.

It is clear that his unpopularity this season largely stems from the ‘multi-21’ incident with Webber in Malaysia. The team had instructed the drivers to respect track position after the first pit stop, but Vettel relentlessly chased the Australian – who had dialled his engine power down – before passing him for victory.

Webber, himself a popular figure in the paddock and with fans around the world, was incensed. Nevertheless Vettel, although sheepish in victory, displayed a ruthless streak compatible only with that of a champion.

He has since been booed on the podium during victory, something which has been on the wane in recent races – particularly in India where it was perhaps non-existent and if not, inaudible.

Unfortunately, the fans have also attacked the sport because of his dominance, claiming it to be boring – whether that would be the case if ‘greats’ Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton were to have been as dominant is extremely unlikely.

His driving style may be win at all costs and some may frown upon that, but out of the cockpit he is as personable and friendly as they come. His cheeky and fun personality is always engaging and makes him a wonderful ambassador for the sport.

It is doubtful too whether the steadfast Alonso or the cocksure Hamilton would show as much humility as Vettel has done in the wake of four consecutive world championship triumphs – if they even get there.

Vettel’s record alone is worthy of the ‘greatness’ tag. Add to that his almost limitless talent and ability – displayed with crushing victories in junior and senior formulae – and you have a driver who should unquestionably be lauded as a true F1 ‘great’, joining names of the calibre of Schumacher, Fangio and Senna.

He really is that good – and the scary part for his opposition is that he is improving all the time. Are title numbers five, six, seven and eight feasible? For Vettel, anything is possible – and with the talent at his disposal, it is entirely probable.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2013 Vuelta a Espana preview – Nibali bids for rare Giro/Vuelta double

Vincenzo Nibali will be riding for an historic double when the Vuelta a Espana starts at Vilanova de Arousa tomorrow.

The Italian, 28, won his home Grand Tour, the Giro d-Italia, in convincing style earlier this season and is the bookmaker’s favourite to take his second career Vuelta win after his 2010 success.

A win in the General Classification would propel the Astana rider into cycling folklore as he would become only the fourth man in history to have won the Giro and the Vuelta in the same season.

Standing in his way though, is a terrifying parcours. Over half the stages (eleven) in the 2013 Vuelta will be summit finishes, while 13 of the 21 stages are classified as mountainous.

The Vuelta may be the youngest Grand Tour, but it is without doubt the most brutal because of the fierce heat experienced in late August, with temperatures rising to 40C on occasions.

If the riders thought the 2013 Giro was tough enough with sharp gradients peaking at close to 20% on some stages, the 2013 Vuelta’s queen stage is even more demanding.

Step forward the Alto de l’Angliru, a fearsome climb on the penultimate stage that kicks up to around 23% in the closing kilometres.

L’Angliru’s reputation proceeds itself. Some have called it ‘barbaric’, others have simply had their races wrecked by it.

If you are sitting here now and wondering what it is like to ride up it, search for a clip on YouTube of the stage ascending to its summit in the 2011 Vuelta. The severity of the steepness is mindblowing.

In the build-up to the Vuelta, Nibali has suggested that l’Angliru could be the defining climb of the race. It would, however, be surprising if this comes into fruition.

With 12 other mountainous stages sandwiching a time-trial on stage 11, fans can expect the race leader, whoever that may be, to arrive at the foot of l’Angliru with a healthy lead – as seen in the Tour de France this year which featured a notably hilly parcours.

Big time gaps are expected then, but for the GC contenders winning the final Grand Tour of 2013 will be a monumental battle.

With so many mountains to navigate, attacks will be frequent as the riders fight for any advantage they can.

Nibali’s greatest rival for the win seems to be Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who so agonisingly missed out on Tour de France contention after the combination of a puncture, crosswinds and an attack by Team Belkin off the front put paid to his chances.

He eased off for the remainder of the race as a result and is expected to be fresh ahead of an assault on his home Grand Tour.

His compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez, by contrast, started poorly in the Tour but rode himself into good form and an eventual podium place was no less than he deserved.

If he has recovered from the Tour and built upon that form he will be a significant threat to Nibali and Valverde. Currently rated as the world’s best rider, his combative style is backed up by a dazzling burst of acceleration on the toughest climbs.

Another Spaniard, Sami Sanchez, will be making a first appearance in his home race since 2009, when he finished second.

The popular rider, whose Euskaltel-Euskadi team recently announced failure in their bid to save the team from folding, has finished on the Vuelta podium twice, with his other podium finish coming after claiming third in 2007.

The 2008 Olympic road race gold medallist will be looking to give his team the perfect send-off with an emotional win in their home race after he skipped the Tour to concentrate on elevating his level to coincide with a tilt at the Vuelta.

Other GC contenders of note include Team Sky’s Colombian duo of Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran.

Henao has been handed the team leadership role, but if he cracks along the way Uran, who finished a tremendous second to Nibali in the Giro, will assume control.

As far as British interest in the Vuelta goes, there is not much to get excited over – there are just two Brits in the race.

Andrew Fenn, who rides for Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma – Quick Step team, is an exciting all-round cyclist, or rouleur, and at 23 will be riding his maiden Grand Tour.

The other is Sky’s Luke Rowe, who will also be participating in his first Grand Tour.

Rowe, who won a stage of the Tour of Britain last year, is regarded as a sprinter who can also aim for one-day classic races, and could later convert himself into a GC contender.

With many of the riders in this race looking to use the Vuelta as a springboard onto the subsequent World Championships, it is possible that a good proportion of them might drop out.

Yet, with the parcours in Tuscany also deemed hilly, a few of the GC contenders for the Vuelta may abandon to focus on the rainbow jersey if they have lost too much time.

Mountains, though, are what this year’s Vuelta is all about. The route could obliterate the peloton early on stages which traverse the Pyrenees and the infamously mountainous north of Spain. The climb up the l’Angliru is just the crowning glory on what promises to be a spectacular race.

All the signs point to a Nibali win when the riders roll into Madrid on the final stage three weeks from now, and with his Astana team looking immensely strong with quality riders such as Janez Brajkovic, Jakob Fuglsang and Tanel Kangert to work for him, it will take a rider possessing extraordinary form to beat him.

Who are the best and worst football presenters?

The pundits and commentators have had their turn and now, in the last instalment of this three-part blog, the presenters are now in the spotlight.

Arguably the most important part of any live or recorded transmission of a football match, the presenters come under the most scrutiny, so it will be interesting to see whether you agree with my top five best and worst.

As always, I’ll begin with the best:

5. Gary Lineker, BBC

Lineker is perhaps the most prominent presenter on our screens as host of the long-running Match of the Day. He has an affable demeanour on screen and is one of just a handful of ex-players to have successfully made the transition from the pitch to the studio. Lineker rarely makes errors and delivers unbiased judgements on controversial topics – unlike some of his impulsive (and repulsive) colleagues.

4. Ray Stubbs, ESPN

A veteran of football broadcasting, ‘Stubbsy’ is well-known for his calm and engaging presenting style. His on-screen manner is such that he allows the pundits to do their work – rather than cut them off with barbed and empty opinions. Stubbs is almost flawless in his delivery and maintains a time-honoured professionalism throughout his broadcasts, making him a highly-respected football presenter.

3. Mark Pougatch, BBC 5live

It’s perhaps a shame that Pougatch is largely restricted to the airwaves (with an occasional appearance on MOTD2), because he is one of the finest presenters around. At home covering either live matches or phone-ins, Pougatch has a crisp and listenable style that has earned him plaudits from many 5live fans. The BBC would do well to promote him into the MOTD2 slot on a regular basis after Colin Murray’s departure.

2. Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports

Who doesn’t like Jeff? Animated, humorous and always worth a watch, he is the star presenter of Sky’s football coverage. He’s forged a reputation of almost legendary proportions on the hugely popular ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’, and is also responsible for presenting live league cup games. While it’s a little mysterious that he isn’t given Premier League games on Monday Night Football, he will continue to shine on a Saturday afternoon with Messrs Merson, Thompson and Kamara.

1. James Richardson, BBC & ESPN

Something of an enigma these days, Richardson can be found presenting BBC South’s Late Kick-Off show, with seamless class. Always interesting to watch and with a unique presenting style, Richardson carved his lofty status as presenter of Channel 4’s popular Gazzetta Football Italia where he often seen filming at an Italian cafe gazing at a Gazzetta Dello Sport with an ice cream sundae. These days, his presenting of Italian football extends only to ESPN’s Serie A coverage, but he would be more than capable of presenting on Match of the Day or at other high-profile jobs.

The bad:

5. Dan Walker, BBC

Like BBC commentator Steve Bower, Walker is being groomed for the top by the Beeb. Many viewers will wonder why, when Walker has barely earned praise for his plain and naive presenting style. Currently presenting Football Focus, Walker is also heard on 5live irritating listeners with an over-friendly and boyish approach. Has the potential to be a top presenter, but his sudden rise has raised a few eyebrows – perhaps he’s seen as a natural replacement for Jake Humphrey?

4. Colin Murray, BBC

Too chummy with fellow colleagues, possessor of an annoying voice and user of tumbleweed gags – just a few reasons why Colin Murray should take his rightful place on the list of bad presenters. It seems the BBC agrees, with Murray being demoted from the hot seat on Match of the Day 2 to his everyday radio commitments from the 2013/14 season onwards.

3. Matt Smith, ITV

Matt…Smith…has…a…very…distinct…style. If you hadn’t already guessed from my sarcasm, Smith has a strong and irritating fondness for the artistic pause. In fact, his pausing is so obvious you can pretty much predict what he’s going to say before he’s even said it. Despite this, his presenting is largely undramatic and mostly error-free, although many critics have pointed out that his knowledge of the game is lacking in some departments. If he were to iron out the pauses he wouldn’t be on this list.

2. Mark Chapman, BBC

There’s not much that Mark Chapman cannot do when it comes to annoying football fans. Blessed with a voice more akin to that of the Milkybar kid than a front-line football presenter, he is guilty of a series of uninspiring presenting displays. Some elements of Chapman’s presenting are fine – including his thorough knowledge of the game – but he lets himself down with some glaring errors and, like Murray, is often too chummy with pundits on-screen – notably Robbie Savage. With Chapman at the helm, it’s not difficult to see why Final Score looks amateurish in comparison to Soccer Saturday.

1. Adrian Chiles, ITV

Don’t get me wrong, I find Chiles’ sense of humour fairly inoffensive having been brought up by and spent time with several Midlanders in my life, but for the majority of football fans he infuriates rather than delights. Twitter is always a hazardous place for football presenters, but the horrific abuse Chiles gets from fans on the social networking site is sometimes unbelievable. That said, criticisms are not without justice, mainly due to his proneness to big gaffes and his dour, dead-pan style. His most recent error, and perhaps the most amusing, was when he left his backpack on the ITV sofa during the half-time break of the Brazil vs England game. When ITV came back on air, his backpack was in full view. While this is mainly his fault, the ITV producers should also be criticised for not noticing. ITV really could, and should, do better.

The Forgotten Footballers

OK, so we all remember footballing legends’ careers when they’ve finally hung up their boots, but what of the once-famous players still plying their trade in modern football?

Below is a list of ‘forgotten footballers’ that I have compiled. See if you agree with my top 20 countdown.

20. Milan Baros

Still only 31, and fresh from a successful spell at Galatasaray, Baros gets onto the list by virtue of the fact he now plays for Banik Ostrava in his native Czech Republic – who knew that? I certainly didn’t, but Baros is again amongst the goals for what was his first ever club, scoring five times in nine games thus far.

19. Luca Toni

The World Cup-winning Italian striker has been something of a journeyman in his career so far – like many of the players in this countdown – but his stint at Bayern Munich will be remembered as his most successful. Toni left the German giants in 2010 for Roma, and has since played for Juventus and UAE side Al Nasr before returning to current club Fiorentina.

18. Asamoah Gyan

A controversial figure in Sunderland after leaving them on-loan for Al-Ain, Gyan has torn apart the UAE Pro-League for his new club, scoring 58 goals in 43 games so far.

17. Lucio

The big World Cup-winning centre-back made his name in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and then Bayern Munich, but after moving to Italy he has drifted into relative anonymity after high-profile moves to Inter Milan and subsequently Juventus. The 35-year-old now plays for Sao Paulo.

16. Kevin Kuranyi

Famous for his immaculately-trimmed beard, Kuranyi has not played for Germany in international tournaments since his 2008 retirement. Prolific spells at Stuttgart and Schalke have been followed by an equally-good stint at Lokomotiv Moscow, where he has bagged 32 goals in 83 games – making his move to Russia all the more mysterious.

15. Adrian Mutu

Goalscoring, contractual issues and drug-taking are all chapters in Mutu’s career, but the Romanian striker has struggled to re-build it after testing positive for cocaine in 2010. Now playing for AC Ajaccio in France’s Ligue 1, Mutu’s 11 goals this season steered the Corsican side to safety – but only just.

14. Ricardo Quaresma

Once a player with dazzling pace and skill, Quaresma has failed to live up to the hype surrounding his potential and, after stints at Barcelona, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Porto, now finds himself playing for Al Ahli in Dubai. Quaresma still makes himself available for Portugal, but with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani preferred to him on the wing, he has drifted into the tail-end of his career without creating much fuss.

13. Deco

Chelsea fans will likely remember the talented Brazilian playmaker, who is now 35 years old. He has previously played for Barcelona after winning the Champions League with Jose Mourinho at Porto in 2004. Deco now plays in his homeland for Fluminense.

12. Mido

Once highly thought of, Mido has gone off the radar – largely due to battles with his weight. After racking up his eleventh career club following a move to Barnsley, Mido has played just one game for the Tykes – all this for a striker who counts Ajax, Roma and Spurs amongst his former employers.

11. Junichi Inamoto

Junichi Inamoto was labelled a Japanese heartthrob after starring for his country during the 2002 World Cup which they co-hosted alongside South Korea. Now, after numerous spells at European clubs, the ex-Arsenal youth midfielder has moved back to Japan where he plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League.

10. Juninho

Famous for his free-kicks, Juninho has had to endure heavy criticism for moving to the Middle East for money. He was one of the first big-name footballers to do so and has barely been mentioned since. His tally of 75 goals from midfield in just under 250 games for Lyon remains impressive, but after joining Al-Gharafa in Qatar he has not played to the same level. He now plays for New York Red Bulls in the MLS.

9. Rivaldo

It didn’t seem so long ago that Rivaldo notched a hat-trick for Barcelona against Manchester United with a spectacular overhead-kick. Even fresher in the memory is his goal against England en route to winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. Rivaldo still plays at the age of 41, and has chased big-money moves to Uzbekistan and Angola before settling at current club Sao Caetano in his homeland.

8. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie

Perhaps a striker more known for his name rather than his goalscoring ability, the ex-Arsenal man went on loan to five different clubs in ten years before signing a three-year contract with Panathinaikos in 2011 where he currently averages a goal every 10 games.

7. Rafael Marquez

A Barcelona and Mexico legend, Marquez was a rock at centre-back during the height of his career. A two-year link-up with MLS side New York Red Bulls has now finished, but Mexican side Club Leon tempted him back to his homeland, and he has made 13 appearances for them so far.

6. Michael Johnson

Dubbed “The New Steven Gerrard”, Johnson’s promising career has been blighted by mental health issues, serious knee injuries and drink-driving charges. Recent pictures of Johnson show his weight to have ballooned, and at the moment he is a free agent after being released by Manchester City.

5. Kleberson

Another 2002 World Cup winner, Kleberson moved to Manchester United in 2003 where he was berated for a series of lamentable displays. He mustered just two goals during his two-year stay, and now plays for Philadelphia Union in the MLS.

4. Amr Zaki

Described by then Wigan manager Steve Bruce as being “as strong as an ox”, Zaki has disappeared from the international footballing eye. The Egyptian striker was a goalscorer with strength and pace – in much the same mould as Alan Shearer – but now finds himself a free agent after problems with his commitment, injuries and professionalism. Zaki did sign a deal with Egyptian club ENPPI in 2013 but his contract was terminated by mutual consent after a heated disagreement.

3. Alex Manninger

The Austrian stopper boasts Arsenal and Juventus among his former clubs but he has opted to continue his career with FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga after lengthy and impressive spells in England and Italy.

2. Dani Guiza

Having spearheaded a devilish Spanish attack with David Villa for several seasons, Dani Guiza’s career has been steadily disintegrating. A big-money move to Fenerbahce ended after three years when he scored just 23 goals. A strange move to Malaysian side Darul Takzim, where he netted six times in 10 games, is the latest chapter in his career. He is still owned by La Liga side Getafe where his clinical finishing will inevitably still be in demand.

1. Angelos Charisteas

The final man on the list, and perhaps a footballer with the biggest fall in notoriety ever. Charisteas became a hero in his native Greece when he scored the only goal of the game against Portugal in the 2004 European Championship final. Since then he has played at Ajax, Feyenoord and Schalke without much success. He currently plays in obscure surroundings for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia’s Professional League.