When people from around the world ask which nation the most expensive player in the world comes from, the answer may surprise a few.
They won’t say he is from Brazil, they won’t say he is French, he won’t be Argentinian and he won’t be Italian either. The answer will be his is Welsh. He comes from a country that has a population of just 3.1 million people – give or take a few.
When Gareth Bale sealed his world record transfer to Real Madrid, it highlighted how the three small countries that make up the United Kingdom, alongside England, continue to produce great players. Whether Bale is worth the fee or not is irrelevant. What is certain is that a Welshman has been the talk all across the globe.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s combined population is just over 10 million yet those three small countries have produced some of the best players in the world. All three have struggled when it comes to qualifying for major international tournaments, with Scotland the only country out of the three to have appeared in a World Cup or European Championships since 1988, but they continue to make stars.
Firstly starting with Norm Iron – Northern Ireland. When discussing great football figures from this country, you can only start with one person and a quote.
“Maradona good; Pele better; George Best”
Most around the world will know it and it shows how good he was. George Best, Northern Ireland’s prodigal son and their greatest ever footballer is known by everyone.
He scored 137 league goals in 361 league games for Manchester United and in a world where stats dominate a lot of discussions; those figures are mightily impressive. Best hit double figures in six consecutive league campaigns for the Red Devils and scored over 20 goals each year in all competitions between 1967/68 and 1971/72. You wonder how much he would cost in this day and age.
Pele once dubbed Best “the greatest player in the world” and that, as George Best famously said, is good enough for me.
Without sounding disrespectful to Northern Ireland, it is staggering a country of their size can produce a player so unbelievably good. They haven’t qualified for a major international tournament since 1986 and they have never appeared in a European Championships, yet every so often they produce superstars. George Best isn’t the only great Northern Ireland have made.
Pat Jennings and Danny Blanchflower are two other that spring to mind. Whilst Northern Ireland might not qualify for a major tournament in the near future, they might, just might, produce a player who is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Best. Scotland know how to make a player as well; Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law, Jimmy Johnstone and Dave Mackay would make a decent five-a-side team, add in a good keeper, say Jim Leighton and you would struggle to beat them.
Dalglish is probably Scotland’s greatest player and was fortunately afforded the opportunity to perform on the highest international stage. He played in the 1978 World Cup and scored against the Netherlands in that famous 3-2 win.
He scored at the next World Cup too, this time against New Zealand and finished his international career with the most appearances and joint most goals for Scotland. King Kenny was an outstanding player and his record at Liverpool; a European Cup winner three times, enhances his pedigree as a great. Denis Law shares the record with Dalglish for most international goals for Scotland and he was an unbelievable goalscorer. He also shared a similar nickname to the Liverpool star as he was called ‘The King’ by United fans.
In 1964 he become the first and only Scot to win European Player of the Year, an award more commonly known as the Ballon d’Or, this confirms him as a world star. So whilst Scotland have only qualified for the 1998 World Cup and 1996 European Championships over the last 17 years, they still continue to conjure geniuses. You can bet that the new Kenny Dalglish or Denis Law won’t be too far away for the Tartan Army, because Scotland creates superstars.
Now what would the answer be if I asked who the Welsh Wizard is? Wales fans are lucky, in a sense that, as they said goodbye to the original Welsh Wizard, Ryan Giggs. They are able to watch a new superstar come through the ranks.
Gareth Bale is the new Welsh Wizard and although Wales fans might be cursing their luck that as Giggs gives up, Bale blossoms, they at least get the chance to see a world-class player represent Y Dreigiau. Like Northern Ireland, Wales have an abysmal record when it comes to qualifying for major international tournaments but like their United Kingdom neighbours, they have produced some of the best the world has seen.
The talent of Ryan Giggs should not be understated. He isn’t just longevity, he is star quality and although he retired from the international scene six years ago, when he did play, he was very good. Former Brazil coach Dunga once said he would like Giggs in his Brazil team and Alessandro Del Piero also commented on the Manchester United winger, saying: “This is embarrassing to say but I have cried twice in my life watching a football player. The first one was Maradona and the second was Ryan Giggs.”
That is the high esteem Giggs is held in and Bale will most likely be attributed similar compliments in years to come.
Those two aren’t the only players Wales have crafted that have had supreme talent and the likes of Ian Rush, John Toshack and Cliff Jones all deserve honorable mentions, whilst John Charles was a phenomenon. So whilst three of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom continue to disappoint their fans in terms of reaching major tournaments. The world stars they continue to produce should not be forgotten.
Some of the footballers mentioned are worthy of appearing for the most successful countries in the world but instead it has been Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that have made them. That is something natives from those countries should be immensely proud of.
Viva United Kingdom.