There is no doubt David Beckham has had an enormous impact during a career that revolves around kicking a football on grassy fields.
He has, after all, played more times for England than any outfield player in history (goalkeeper Peter Shilton holds the overall record). He has also amassed a wealth that is more than double that of any other English player through his on- and off-field activities.
Despite his obvious talent, his glittering career with some of the biggest clubs in the world (and Preston North End) and his undoubted style, the question remains: is – and was – Beckham actually very good?
David Hanson – Sports Editor at football betting tips website FreeBetsFreeTips.com – presents below twenty English soccer players who he believes were (or are) better than ‘Golden Balls’ ever was. They are in no particular order and this is far from an exhaustive list, so apologies if any of your favourites have been omitted.
1. Bobby Charlton
A legend, pure and simple. Widely recognized as the greatest player England has ever produced. His career was as dramatic as it was impressive. He survived the 1958 Munich air disaster that cost the lives of so many of his Manchester United teammates. After almost
giving up the game in the wake of the air crash, he returned to forge a career in which he helped his club win the European Cup and was pivotal in England winning their only ever World Cup in 1966.
Still England’s all time leading goal scorer (with 49 goals from 106 appearances), his demeanor on and off the pitch has been respected by all who have come into contact with this great player.
2. Bobby Moore
England’s captain marvel during the aforementioned successful World Cup campaign, Moore was a classy defender who exuded calmness. He was renowned for fairness and the timing of his tackles, as exemplified in the 1970 World Cup match against Brazil in which he very much held his own against the great Pele and other Brazilian stars.
Moore played 108 times for his country and the West Ham defender was years ahead of his peers in his ability to link play from defense to attack, never appearing to panic. Many a defender since has watched recordings of Moore when learning their trade.
3. Paul Gascoigne
A career blighted by serious injuries on the pitch and personal problems off it did not stop Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne making our list. He was one of the few English players in history who had the natural talent, intent and gumption to take players on, and usually beat them.
Like previous greats George Best and Diego Maradonna, the ball seemed to stick to Gazza’a boot as he nipped between bewitched defenders, who often ended up on their backsides while he slotted home a goal or set up a teammate.
Had he not been blighted by injury and alcoholism, he would surely have won many more than his 57 England caps. Despite that, he could have run rings round Beckham and had a comparable free kick in him too (see the one he scored in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 1991 for instance).
4. Jackie Milburn
Scoring 200 goals for Newcastle United, the Geordie hero Jackie Milburn arrived at his club during Second World War with his boots wrapped in brown paper. He is officially second in Newcastle’s all time scorer list behind Alan Shearer (who scored 206, but including European matches that didn’t exist in Milburn’s day).
To aid the war effort he worked in a coal mine during the week and turned out for Newcastle on a Saturday to help boost morale of the nation’s people. Could anyone see Beckham getting his hands dirty like that? He’d certainly need an emergency manicure after going anywhere near a coal mine!
5. Tom Finney
Tom Finney played 433 times for Preston North End, scoring 187 times. Beckham played five times for the same club, scoring twice.
Despite already showing his talents on the pitch for Preston in early war time tournaments he was called up in 1942 to serve in the Eighth Army in Egypt. He survived, going on to become the first player to win the Footballer of the Year award twice.
6. Peter Shilton
Having played more than any other man for England, Peter Shilton might have crept onto the list even had he not been an outstanding goalkeeper. For two decades Shilton was the England stopper on whom many managers relied, and he rarely disappointed.
He had an outstanding club career, especially under Brian Clough (and others) at Nottingham Forest, winning the League title, two European Cups and the European Super Cup. As a youth, his dedication to becoming a goalkeeper was such that he would reportedly hang from the banister of his stairs for hours in order to stretch his arms. Well, I guess it worked.
7. Stanley Matthews
One of the true greats of football, Stanley Matthews was renowned for his speed and skill and could take the ball past players as if they were simply not there.
He was a true professional and took his fitness regime so seriously he maintained his professional playing career into his 50s and played competitively until the age of 70! So even though Beckham has no plans to retire, he’s still got a way to go to compete with this legend of the game.
8. Dixie Dean
Before the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring 60 goals in a single season was unheard of. Or was it? In fact William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean managed that outstanding feat way back in the 1927-28 season. And they were all league goals, with no European matches to bump up the figures.
This goal-machine scored an immense 390 goals in just 447 matches, mainly for Everton – a goal every 0.87 games. Not many can live with those figures, and certainly not Mr Beckham.
9. Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney has been a little hit or miss for England in major tournaments, but his talent is undisputed. On his day he can grab games by the scruff of the neck and change them in an instant.
Like Beckham before him, his temperament has been questioned after too many bookings, but his ability to create chances out of very little puts him in a great position to challenge Charlton’s all time England scoring record one day.
10. Paul Scholes
The midfield maestro who played alongside Beckham at Manchester United, Scholes is that rare animal in today’s money-driven game: a one-club man.
He is underrated by many due to his no-nonsense approach and efficiency on the ball, but those who matter – most importantly his Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – rate him extremely highly. Indeed, Fergie even persuaded the player to come out of retirement to help his side’s fight for the league title not so long ago. And he’s still going at age 108 (or whatever it is).
He is one of the greatest midfielders of all time, whether picking passes, breaking up play or hitting unstoppable shots. If you don’t believe me, ask Cristiano Ronaldo who said Scholes was, ‘the best I’ve played with. Some accolade from the second best player in the world.
11. Alan Shearer
As the aforementioned Jackie Milburn, here is another Geordie legend who was prolific for Newcastle, but also other clubs Southampton and Blackburn. He has scored more Premier League goals than any other player (260), but despite this has an intriguingly boring goal celebration (considering the amount of practice he’s had).
Considered a more rounded player than Gary Lineker, his 30 goals in 63 England appearances could have been a lot more had he not decided to retire early from international football to extend his playing career at club level.
12. Jimmy Greaves
An explosive striker with unerring finishing ability, Jimmy Greaves scored a total of 366 goals in 528 club-level appearances as well as 44 in 57 matches for England.
Despite being the first choice striker going into the 1966 World Cup, a minor shin injury kept him out of the quarter-final against Argentina. His replacement, Geoff Hurst, retained his place from there on in, scoring a hat-trick in the final. Still, Greaves was undoubtedly the better player of the two.
13. Billy Wright
Effectively a Wolverhampton Wanderers saint, Billy Wright spent his entire career at the Black Country club, making his debut at the age of 15 (though it was unofficial due to it being war time). As an old-school ‘wing-half’ he was adaptable, dependable and as tough as
The first player to win 100 caps for England, he was captain of the national side for three World Cups, 1950, 1954 and 1958.
14. Nat Lofthouse
Another one-club man, this time for Bolton Wanderers, Nathaniel Lofthouse also made his debut at the age of 15 during the Second World War.
Between 1950 and 1958 he had an immense scoring record for England, notching 30 goals in just 33 games. He also netted 255 times for his beloved Bolton in 452 matches.
15. Gary Lineker
England’s goal-poacher extraordinaire, Lineker scored an impressive 48 goals for England in just 80 appearances, just one short of Bobby Charlton’s record. He was also the top scorer in the 1986 World Cup with six goals from five matches.
One of the best natural finishers England has produced, his knack of being in the right place at the right time earned him plaudits, and no little abuse from rival fans who dubbed him a ‘goal-hanger’.
The stats speak for themselves, however, and Lineker was simply one of the greatest goalscorers of all time, of any nationality.
16. Vivian Woodward
The earliest player mentioned on the list and not necessarily a household name, but Vivian Woodward deserves the place because he held the England goalscoring record (jointly or alone) for 47 years.
He scored an outstanding 29 goals in just 23 games for his country between 1903 and 1911, which was no mean feat in those days. He also captained Great Britain to Olympic glory in 1908 and 1912. Sorry Becks, you didn’t even make the Team GB squad for London 2012.
17. Ashley Cole
Not everyone’s cup of tea due to his antics away from football in the form of his explicit greed and alleged poor treatment of his wife. But this is a football list, and he is one hell of a footballer.
Cole is one of the few England players of recent years who can be relied upon to put in a performance time and time again. Playing at left back he doesn’t get the headlines he deserves (for his on-field play, anyway). Gives Beckham a run for his money in terms of tabloid column inches as well as his consistency on the pitch.
18. Tony Adams
A footballer who wore his heart on his sleeve, he was immense for his club (Arsenal) and country at centre back. He was an excellent tackler, header of the ball and reader of the game, often snuffing out attacks before they became problematic.
Had he not suffered from alcoholism during much of his playing career he might have been lauded as one of the greats of all time. Either way I’d still rather have him in my team marshaling the backline than Beckham prancing up and down the wing.
19. Johnny Haynes
An inside-forward of some repute who was the first footballer to appear for England in every class of football available in the era in which he played: school, youth, under 23, the B team and at full international level.
In some ways he pre-empted the endorsement culture of sport embodied by Beckham in that Haynes was one of the first footballers to appear in commercials. Like Beckham, he helped advertise Brylcreem. Unlike Beckham, he didn’t shave his head and lose the contract. Doh!
20. Duncan Edwards
Killed in the Munich air disaster in 1958 aged just 21 years old, Duncan Edwards was already the best player in England and was tipped to become one of the greatest the world had ever seen.
The great Bobby Charlton described Edwards as ‘the only player that made me feel inferior’.We can only imagine the impact he would have had if tragedy had not struck that fateful night.
What do you think of our list? Is there anyone who shouldn’t be on here? Got any players who should be on the list? Let us know in the comments!