It’s a very subjective question which can only conjure up subjective answers from everyone. I was sitting at a bar with some friends and we got into a discussion about Lionel Messi; and I said that he - for all his undoubted talent, riches, fame and eventual legendary status in the game - seems like a very dull character. I repeat this is very subjective (also the key word here is character. Not footballer). There’s no question about Lionel Messi’s ability as a footballer. He is currently the best there is out there and it might be debated that he could go on to become the best there’ll ever be (very debatable). But what Messi has in talent, he lacks in character. I believe that he doesn’t have that persona that’s going to make him remembered as an immense character on the pitch. So I asked them, and I’m asking you, if you had the chance to be any professional footballer, who would it be? And why?
When I’d said that about Messi, I was then asked about Paul Scholes in comparison, a player I admire but who seems exceptionally private and quiet. In comparing both characters, there lies a telling difference. Both are very silent, but I can guarantee you that if Scholes was on the receiving end of a nasty challenge he’d look at the offender and say “F*** off” or ramble some other insult (possibly even chuck him back with his own special type of "tackle"), whereas Messi, to his credit, stays quiet and goes on doing his job on the pitch. Perhaps that is the right way to behave, but it’s not the one I’d choose. I like those who’ve got a devil in them. Messi is too much of a good boy for my liking. He rarely insults anyone on the pitch. He doesn’t kick back when he’s kicked. He doesn’t react much. He doesn’t have that temper, that fire, that edge which makes football supporters love some individuals who, had they not been footballers, would be very easy to hate. We’ve never heard stories of Messi being in any sort of trouble. He does the business on the pitch, which is what he’s supposed to do, and that’s it. He’s the model professional. Everything you could possibly want for the world’s most perfect player. But there’s nothing fun or intriguing about his character. I wouldn't want to be him. Personally, there are two types of footballers that I’m fond of…
On one hand, I admire the rare one-club footballers who give their all for the teams they play for, yet still have an urge to fight and are also capable of losing their minds at times. Players who have been in trouble before, seen it all, done it all, won it all. Players who fume when they see some of their own team-mates slacking off during a game. Players like Giggs, Puyol, Del Piero, Maldini, Gerrard, to name a few. Legends on the field, men with some troubles off the field, but above all of that, leaders in the eyes of their team-mates and opponents. On the other hand, I have a huge weakness for talented nutcases who also possess all the traits I’ve just mentioned. Those special few that are blessed with a gift to play but also who step out of line quite often. Eric Cantona, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, Paolo Di Canio…men who’ve proven themselves on the pitch, but gone mental on it too. Characters. Personalities. Legends. Players you wouldn’t want to mess with because their sheer presence means that you’re already intimidated by them.
So the question I’m asking you all is – if you could be professional footballer past or present, who would it be and why? Leave your answers on Facebook, Twitter or even on this article.
(If I had to choose, it always has been and always will be Eric Cantona).