Football is a generation game.
We’re always talking about definable eras, whether it be the past, present or future.
It’s apart of the vernacular to discuss this generation or the next generation and so it seems appropriate that with the current decade drawing to a close, we take stock of the supreme talents to have flowed through the game, while looking at who could be set to dominate in the years to come.
From the 1980s through to the 2020s, we’ve examined the stars who shone and will shine brightest during their respective decades.
He broke records, hearts and his own bones in the 80s, but Maradona’s enigmatic legacy was created during this period.It started with his ugly side where he left Barcelona in disgrace after igniting a horrific brawl against Athletic Bilbao, but ended with worship at Napoli.
The Argentine departed one of the world’s best teams to join one of Italy’s worst, then with all the poise of renaissance art, sculptured his iconic status in Naples by inspiring their most successful period, winning the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and two Scudettos in 1986/87 and 1989/90.
Oh and there’s also the 1986 World Cup, a tournament he singularly guided Argentina to victory in while producing his most defining match, the 2-1 quarter-final victory against England.
Platini the player and Platini the administrator are two contrasting forces, but ignore the latter and appreciate the former.
He had a doctorate in geometry such was the angles he could manipulate to find a team-mate, and his understanding of the game, oozing confidence to attempt the audacious, either from open play or from a free-kick, was rarely seen in French footballers.
It was with Juventus and France in the 80s Platini gained heroic status, rejuvenating a faltering national team at the 1982 World Cup before claiming three straight Ballon d’Or successes from 1983-85.
His goals and playmaking inspired two Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and Juve’s first European Cup.
He lifted France’s first major honour, the European Championship in 1984, a tournament he finished top scorer in. When he retired in 1987, he did so as France’s greatest ever exponent.
Matthaus can be slotted into four different decades depending on which version is appreciated most.
Germany’s most-capped player, adaptation is arguably his finest trait as he featured in practically every midfield role and dominated in each one, first as a box-to-box player, then as a deep-lying playmaker and finally as a sweeper.
He’s one of the most complete players to have graced the game, a pristine passer, an accurate shooter off both feet combined with a gliding ability to race away from markers and the mentality to run straight into them defensively, too.
In the mid ’80s, he won a hat-trick of Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, reaching double figures for goals in each season.
He powered West Germany to a World Cup final in 1986, captained Bayern in the 1987 European Cup showpiece before moving to Inter Milan a year later where he would produce his best football, winning the Serie A title in 1989.
Individual recognition arrived at the beginning of the next decade, but his reputation was built long before then.
Marco van Basten
Van Basten elicited only one emotion – happiness. Watching him in action was pure joy and if smiles were a currency in football, he would be the game’s richest man.
His career was brutally cut short by injury, but when we talk about complete strikers, they all pale in comparison to the Dutchman.
For a player so tall, he could contort and twist his body like gymnast, prise open space as if mathematical genius and score goals closer to art than sport.
During his first season with Ajax in 1982-83, he scored nine times in 20 games. The four subsequent seasons saw him lead the league in goals and in 1985-86, all of Europe as well.
He left for AC Milan the following year, but not before capturing the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup through his match-winning strike.
The Swan of Utrecht became the Saint of Milan, and there he collected three Ballons d’Or, two Capocannoniere titles, one Fifa World Player award and 16 more trophies as a collective.
For club and country, he scored many goals and many great goals – maybe even the greatest ever against the Soviet Union to claim Euro 1988 glory, a tournament where he was the leading scorer.
It wouldn’t be the 80s without an iconic defender.
Baresi didn’t need to talk because he could read the game so well. He didn’t need height because he leapt so high and didn’t muscle when he was so strong.
A natural leader through action rather than words, Baresi was a warrior without the ball, a picture of elegance with it.Known as “Kaiser Franz” in homage to the game’s other great defender Franz Beckenbauer, Baresi captained Milan from Serie B to one of their most successful eras.
His tenacity inspired a star-studded Milan team to a Serie A title in 1987/88 – a season in which they conceded just 14 goals – and two European Cups during the late 80s.
There was success on the international stage as well, with a World Cup winners medal in 1982 for the Azzurri.
His efforts saw him finish second Van Basten in the 1989 Ballon d’Or but a decade later he was recognised as AC Milan’s Player of the Century.
For more perspective on his standing, Baresi is one of two Rossoneri players to have his shirt number retired, his No6 joining that of Paolo Maldini’s No3.
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