Having once found a blood-spattered note titled ‘14 semi-literate football-writing fuckwits that must be killed in the most gruesome way possible’ sellotaped to The FCF’s fridge, I knew they were fond of an unusual list: Goalkeepers beginning with Z, an Apostrophe XI – nothing is too esoteric.
So, I thought about writing a list for the European Football Experts that was thematically linked to the Euros being held out there behind the old Ironic Curtain, in the land of hard liquor, neo-Nazi psychos, pornography, Stalinist carbuncles, stag-dos, bad roads, scant interest in male grooming products, dodgy wi-fi at hotels that frankly should know better, interesting vinegary food, dense bread, massively callous gangsters, and totalitarian nostalgia. Oh, and one-footed, left-footed magicians (OFLFMs) with a fitba at their feet.
Why left? Well one has to be cautious about drawing weak parallels with political left-wingers – since, frankly, it doesn’t quite fit with the notion that the East is like 28 Days Later, rabid neo-fascists hating their own hate, right-wingers galore – but this is the age of inverted wingers, so lefties can play on the right with success. Anyway, before I get lost in this mazy dribble of a metaphor, here are 10 players who may have used the right foot only for standing – and walking, I presume, perhaps jogging and swimming, too – but it mattered not. These men were geniuses…
10: ZLATKO ZAHOVIČ
The Slovene prima donna from was probably the greatest player ever with the initials ZZ. No, hang on… Anyway, he definitely came from Eastern Europe, and he definitely had a good left peg, which he put to use in the warmer parts of Europe (Porto, Benfica, Valencia, Olimpiakos) with mixed results, as well as ‘inspiring’ (being tolerated because he was half-decent) Slovenia to back-to-back major championships, in the second of which (World Cup 2002) his ass was hauled off in the opening game defeat by Spain, whereupon he had a punch-up with the coach and his ass was long-hauled back to Ljubljana. His hair in both tournaments was alice-banded to perfection.
09: GEORGI KINKLADZE
08: JOSEF MASOPUST
“Who?” you say. Who?!?! Call yourself a #europeanfootballexpert? Frankly, if you don’t know your Czech box-to-box midfielders of the 50s and 60s, his country’s UEFA Golden Player, scorer of the opening goal in the ’62 World Cup final, then you can do one. He even came 96th in the Top 100 Players selected by Football Pantheon (motto: mi research, su research) and had a dribble named after him: ‘the Masopust slalom’.
07: DRAGAN DŽAJIĆ
Instrumental in Yugoslavia’s semi-final defeat of England at the 1968 European Championship and voted in the All-Time XI for that competition, Red Star Belgrade’s chalk-heeled dribbling wizard of the sixties and seventies is, nonetheless, one of the unsung greats of European football, and he certainly had a Sweet Left Foot. He was also one of the club’s great administrators – as President, he stopped warlord Arkan buying the club – but in late 2011 he was arrested on corruption charges relating to various transfers on his watch. Imagine Trevor Brooking being outed as a people trafficker.
06: DAVOR ŠUKER
Tempting as it was to go with Aljosa Asanović, that languid sidekick of the plaudit-hogging Zvoni Boban (cop kicker) and Bob Prosinečki (bifter chugger), thus giving
representative here, I have instead to go for his colleague Derby
County Lyle Lovatt
Davor Šuker. No, he’s not a deep-lying playmaker. No, he’s not a floating trequartista
enganche number 10. Yes, he was a goalhanger. Even so, a goalhanger
whose left foot was the proverbial wand,
and who therefore qualifies as a magician.
05: GEORGHE HAGI
‘The Maradona of the Carpathians’ was a top-notch roaming playmaker, a legend at Galatasaray at the end of a career that took in both Real Madrid and, for a couple of years, Barça, sitting on his shooting stick somewhere on their Big Pitch when the oppo had possession, then strolling wherever the fuck he felt like strolling, socks down, when his team had it, generally looking shifty, like an ambitious second-rank gangster scheming to whack the boss. And what a schemer he was, swinging that little ham trotter through the pig’s bladder to score some preposterous goals, especially from dead balls. A genius who was more sinister than gauche.
04: OLEG BLOKHIN
Learned his trade under another leftie sorcerer in Lobanovskyi, the unthinking man’s Jim Smith, and won the Ballon D’Or in 1975 – presumably for being shit hot, which YouTube can confirm he was. Wiry as a windurfing whippet and pacey to boot, Blokhin was not as one-footed as the others (thus possibly anomalous under the exigent criteria of this ‘ere list, which of course merits a shoeing…for YOU if you bother to make the point), but with his rigid parting and bouncy fringe, he definitely looked good in the old CCCP jersey (which, incidentally, is the abbreviation of the FCF’s one-word descriptions of the England midfield: P for prodigy or prick, depending whether Ox or Ashley Louganis is out left).
03: HRISTO STOICHKOV
As with Hrvatska and Asanović and Suker, so too the Bulgarians who preceded them as unlikely World Cup semi-finalists had their pair of OFLFMs: the lefty regista was sometime physics PhD and Fame extra Krasimir Balakov, while what some butterheaded pundit incapable of thinking beyond superficial resemblances would no doubt call ‘the Šuker role’ was filled by Hristo Stoichkov, a man whose wallet definitely said ‘Bad Mutherfucker’ on it and who was as similar to Šuker as an omelette is to Greenwich Mean Time.
He was a quicksilver, aggressive forward (not ‘striker’) with thighs like lutes who rarely used the right peg (and even more rarely had anyone question him over it). Of course, he became famous as part of Cruyff’s Barça Dream Team – where Fresian farmhand Ronald Koeman was respected, Michael Laudrup was admired, and Romário was enjoyed, it was the Bulgarian that the culés loved. And Cruyff rarely left him out in the era of the three foreigner rule.
Twice runner-up as World Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or winner in 1994, when he inspired Uncle Bulgaria to the World Cup last four with a famous victory over Germany en route to the golden boot, he oozed talent, passion and menace, and was for a while the world’s most charismatic player, especially when transliterated in Catalan: STÒITXKOV. (Incidentally, it might be worth someone doing a psycholinguistics doctorate to ascertain whether there’s a connection between Cyrillic script and callousness.)
02: DEJAN SAVIĆEVIĆ
Barça were not the only club with issues when it came to UEFA’s three foreigner rule. AC Milan also had an abundance of imported talent – including, when he arrived in 1992, van Basten, Gullitt, Rijkaard, Boban, Papin and later, Desailly, Weah and Brian Laudrup and – but perhaps the brightest creative star was the man known as ‘il genio’. He played with an almost childlike joy and innocence, an old-fashioned dribble-till-you-fall-over-exhausted sort of player who dropped more shoulders than players in a State of
final and was silkier than a barrister’s wardrobe. In the mood, unplayable.
01: FERENC PUSKÁS
‘The Galloping Major’ – no, not the nickname given our former cricket-loving Tory PM when engaged in horseplay-roleplay at Bullingdon’s déclassé Tuesdays, but the moniker of the most famous of the Hungarian ‘Golden Squad’ that went 50-odd games unbeaten at the start of the 1950s. Puskás also won a few trophies at Real Madrid, but it is his goalscoring record of 84 in 85 for his country (or 0.9882352941 goals per game) and over a monkey for his clubs that staggers, and is even more phenomenal when you realize every single one was scored with his left peg. Every. Single. One.
Feel free to suggest alternatives to The FCF on Twitter, using the hashtag #onefootedleftfootedeasteuropeanmagicians, which leaves you with a whole 99 characters for your polysyllabic Poles and tongue-twisting Tchecoslowhackians. For those among you who are thick as pigshit, these are the countries you can choose from: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia. Oh, and
Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and USSR.