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The GOAT debate – it is one of the most popular and contentious topics in sport, and it can be a discussion that goes on without end. In part, that is because there is no “right” answer. Is Lewis Hamilton faster than Ayrton Senna? Would Red Rum have beaten Tiger Roll? We’ve all got an opinion, but nobody has the definitive answer.
Comparing footballers is, to a certain extent, even more of a fool’s errand. Not only are you looking across different eras, you also have to compare players from different positions. Still, that doesn’t prevent people from having an opinion, and so duly caveated, we bring you the top five Irish players of all time according to data gathered by the people at Bleacher Report.
To most, he’s best known for his punditry on RTL and as the man whose opinion you want to hear if you’re planning on betting on football before you even look at the bookmaker odds. But in the 1970s, Brady was a giant among men. He represented his country more than 70 times between 1974 and 1990, and it’s no slight on his teammates to say he was usually the most talented player out there. With elegance, technical skill and a great football brain that has served him well in his later career, Brady had it all. The fact that he enjoyed success at Juventus and Sampdoria after seven years ruling the roost at Arsenal speaks volumes.
Here was a man who put country before club, a rare phenomenon in professional football. Manchester United, Arsenal, Ajax, he played for some of the biggest teams in Europe, but at every one of them, he insisted on a contract clause that would release him to play for Ireland whenever they were playing – and his employers all agreed to it without question. By the time he retired from international football in 1990, he’d found the back of the net 20 times in 71 appearances, which at the time was an Irish record.
His outspoken views and controversy off the pitch mean that Roy Keane will not necessarily be remembered as the most popular footballer of our times. But make no mistake, his was a rare talent that is only seen once in a generation, something that even the great Pele acknowledged. His uncompromising style of play ushered in a new era of “hard” football that was a world away from the white suits and coiffured hairstyles of the 90s. That alone should be reason enough for even his detractors to give him a break.
Who else? Of course we saved Best till last. The term “flawed genius” is thrown around like confetti in the world of sport, but Best was the dictionary definition. Yes, we all know about the personal demons, but out in the middle, there was nothing but the game. 470 appearances for Manchester United, including more than 100 with the youth team, meant the lucky English fans had well over a decade of seeing one of football’s unique talents when he was at his most sublime.