Some people are simply born at the wrong time – as our XI of footballers who were better suited to other eras demonstrates beyond doubt.
Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive. The same is true of some footballers, although van Gogh’s paintings did pretty well for themselves after his death. Dead footballers don’t score goals.
We’re intrigued by football players who are better suited to a different era — maverick number 10s forced into conventional, Brit Pop era British 4-4-2s; brilliant traditional wingers smashed into an inverted nightmare — that kind of thing.
Our intrigue led us to come up with an XI of players born in the wrong footballing era. A van Gogh XI, if you will. Let’s get to it, ey?
GK: Jorge Campos
Modern goalkeepers are essentially just midfielders with big hands. It’s a matter of time until ‘goalscoring goalie’ is a positional role alongside sweeper keeper on Football Manager.
Campos was 5 feet, 5-and-a-half inches tall, occasionally wore number 9 and played up front, and got into the fashion game, designing his own kits.
This short king doesn’t even belong in 2024, he belongs in 2050.
Bit of a bold shout, this, considering Cafu was arguably the greatest right-back of his time.
Think of him now, though, on the right side of Inter’s 3-5-2, or given full licence to fly as far forward as he likes in the age of inverted forwards and overlapping wing-backs.
We just want Cafu back, basically.
CB: Lisandro Martinez
A real nasty b*stard of a centre-half. Never seen a defender more suited to the golden age of Serie A. James Richardson doing a skit with him in which Martinez is actually the nicest guy in the world, subverting the public opinion of him.
Grazie e buonasera.
CB: Phillippe Albert
Cult hero of The Entertainers of mid-nineties Geordieland, Albert was more interested in striding out of defence. Also had a class moustache and scored that chip past (and over the top of) Peter Schmeichel.
Made for the modern game.
Philippe Albert chipped Schmeichel on this day 1996pic.twitter.com/SR0zZsppbr
— Vintage Football Shirts (@VFshirts) October 20, 2021
LB: Graeme Le Saux
Le Saux was mercilessly bullied by the media, journalists, and fellow footballers in the 1990s, for the crime of reading the Guardian and not getting involved in some of the more toxic elements of 90s football culture.
Bring him into 2024, get him in at left-back, Hector Bellerin at right-back, and let him enjoy his career.
RM: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Imagine Trent on the right side of a four-player midfield, pinging long balls and crosses like prime Beckham. Thousands of assists whipped onto the forehead of a big striker. Making ourselves drool, here.
CM: Scott Parker
Blatantly sent here from the laboratory of a 1950s mad scientist. Get this man in a post-war midfield, kicking people’s shins to splinters in his hobnail boots. Pint of bitter and a ciggie at half-time.
CM: Paul Scholes
Yes, Scholesy was a generational talent, we’ve all read the quotes attributed to Xavi about how good he was.
But Scholes was often forced into a 4-4-2, even playing from the left for England to accommodate Gerrard and Lampard. A waste.
Scholesy would have thrived in a three-man midfield, pulling the strings and with someone next to him doing the dirty work. Paul Scholes belongs in 2024.
LM: Pat Nevin
Nevin, known as Weirdo to his Chelsea teammates, was well ahead of his time. He wore cool clothes (actually cool, not footballer cool), listened to shoegaze and indie music, was culturally engaged and didn’t care what his mates thought of him.
He wasn’t just the coolest baller of his era, he was a jinky winger who would’ve torn it up cutting in from the left onto his favoured right foot in the modern game.
CAM: Mesut Ozil
Born too late. Was in his prime as high pressing surged in popularity. You don’t ask Mesut Ozil to press. You build your team around him and let him do whatever the f*ck he wants.
He should have been playing as a number ten, coasting around the field and feeding a prolific striker at Sampdoria in 1992. It just makes sense.
ST: Marco van Basten
One of the greatest of all time, retired at 28. Had it all — technique, finishing, movement, heading, first touch, the lot. If only he could’ve been born a little later, had his body looked after by modern medicine and coaching methods, and played another ten years.
A case of what could’ve been…