Euro 2016: England’s search for their "Pele"


Alan Shearer.  That’s the English name most of us football fans grew up hearing in the 90’s. He was a prolific goalscorer for England and Newcastle FC. As he got close to retirement you could sense that the English supporters and media were in the hunt for another “Pele.” It’s so paradoxical that for a place that claims the invention of the beautiful game their history accounts for so little of world football. The football legends are from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, and Africa.

When one thinks of the greatest football players, no English player readily comes to mind.  I think this has led to an over sensationalism by the British media about any new English goalscorer/player that comes to the fore. For its place in world football history, England needs a “Pele.” I suppose some may see it as a right. They invented the game, they have one of the best run, most loved leagues in the world and by far one of the most popular sports league on the planet. Surely they need to have one of the greats.


Enter Wayne Rooney. £25.6 million. That was the price of his transfer fee when at 24 years old, he moved from Everton FC to Manchester United in the summer of 2004. This stocky, red headed boy from Merseyside was catapulted to instant stardom. He was their next “Pele.” At the club level he definitely is “Pele-esk.” Rooney is extremely prolific for the Red Devils, scoring over 200 goals in all competitions.

However, for him to be truly great he would have to shine on football’s greatest stage – the World Cup. Unfortunately, here his stats are woeful. In three appearances (2006, 2010, 2014) he has scored all of one goal. By 2018 he’ll be 33. Draw your own conclusions.


Next up was the speedy winger Theo Walcott. To the surprise of all English supporters and tabloids, Theo was called up to the England World Cup squad of 2006. Then, no more than a lad of 16 years with absolutely no premier league experience, he was seen as the “future.” He’s yet to start at a major tournament for the three lions. He was omitted from the 2010  WC squad and injury kept him from Brazil 2014. As for club, he thinks he should be leading the line at Arsenal, seeing he’s heir apparent to Thierry Henry. Everyone else thinks otherwise.

Jack Wilshere. It was February 17, 2011. Arsenal FC faced Barcelona FC in a mouth watering clash at the Emirates stadium in the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal won 2-1. According to the pundits then and now, this Barca team was one of the greatest ever assembled. Boasting two of the best midfielders the modern game has seen, Andres Inietsa and Xavi Hernandez. They also had Messi. Lionel Messi. Still yet, the standout player that night was the diminutive playmaker Jack Wilshere. He turned in the type of performance that had all the journalists and even some players hailing him as the “next big thing.”

He achieved quite a lot at a very young age. By the time he was 17, he had already played for Arsenal in the Premier League and Champions League. At 18 he had played for England’s U16, U17, U19, U21 and the Senior team. But it seems there is a curse with these pronouncements about being great. Since that night against Barca, Jack has struggled for any real consistent form, being plagued by injuries. He had another stellar performance against Brazil at Wembley in England’s 2-1 win back in 2013. As for World Cup appearances, there’s just a footnote from 2014. He’s definitely my favourite English footballer. I really hope he manages to do well at Euro 2016 and Russia in 2018.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, son of former England international Mark Chamberlain. Here’s another prodigy who was signed by Arsenal and seen as the next big thing. Having scored 10 goals in 41 appearances for the Saints (2010-2011) while being only 17, it was written in the stars for him to be a “a big hit.”

Alex scores against Brazil in the Maracana 

The British media lauded the praise on him after a memorable night in the Maracana when he scored against Brazil. There hasn’t been much to celebrate from his career since. A few blips here or there for Arsenal but nothing major. Sadly he has been plagued by injuries as well. Maybe it’s the Arsenal curse.

In the last three years we’ve seen Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy rise to prominence in English football. Surprisingly, there’s no shout from any of the media houses stating that either is the next “Pele.” Could it be that they have resiled themselves to being hosts of stars and not so much producers? David Beckham remains their greatest footballing “star”. Some may argue that he’s this popular for less than footballing reasons.

In the meantime, Brazil gave us Ronaldinho and Neymar. Argentina has given us Messi, Di Maria and Tevez. Spain birthed stars such as Xavi, and Iniesta. Germany produced Klose and Mueller. England continues their search for their “Pele.” Will Rashford be the one? Or is it a case of “here we go again”?

Dele Alli you’re on their radar too. Alas! The search turns up another prospect. Will it ever end? Maybe not. One thing is certain, any English youngster who displays even a little quality, will be cast into a limelight way before he’s ever ready. Maybe this intense pressure from anxious expectation is causing these players to flop. I put it to you, maybe it’s the curse of the English press.

Somewhere, there’s an old, retired, used-to-be famous journalist saying:
“Bloody hell. By George, we need a Pele!”

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