The Best Footballers in the World… in 1966. Who comes top?
The wide boys
19-year-old George Best was dubbed ‘O Quinto Beatle’ by the Portuguese media after scoring twice in the European Cup against Benfica in March
Although England’s World Cup winners were hailed as ‘Wingless Wonders’, 1966 was actually a kind of golden age for wizards on the wing.
Real Madrid’s European Cup winners had Paco Gento on the left (still effective as he turned 33) opposite Amancio, who was so tricky on the right he would, if playing today, inevitably be nicknamed Harry Potter. In Italy, Mario Corso, aka ‘God’s left foot’, defied critics who accused him of “hiding in the grass” and was instrumental as Helenio Herrera’s Inter won their third scudetto in four years.
And in Britain, wingers flourished. 19-year-old George Best was dubbed ‘O Quinto Beatle’ by the Portuguese media after scoring twice in the European Cup against Benfica in March. In Scotland, Jimmy Johnstone’s ability to jink through defences had won Celtic’s first Scottish title in 12 years. By the end of 1966, the future Lisbon Lions had cruised into the last eight of the European Cup.
Jose Torres, who, despite playing alongside Eusebio for club and country, was one of the most effective centre-forwards in the game
Up front, even in an off-year when he was quite literally kicked out of the World Cup and Santos underperformed, Pele remained one of the world’s best forwards. Geoff Hurst came joint-14th in the Ballon d’Or voting, scant reward for becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final (a feat unmatched in the subsequent half-century). Even more remarkably, he wasn’t in the tournament’s all-star XI, losing out to West Germany’s Uwe Seeler, who had returned to form after tearing an Achilles tendon a year earlier.
On as many Ballon d’Or points as Hurst was Georgi Asparuhov, reductively tagged ‘The Bulgarian George Best’ because he was talented, good looking and drove an Alfa Romeo. A skilful inside-forward or centre-forward, Asparuhov scored Bulgaria’s only goal at the World Cup and, the year before, had inspired Levski Sofia to victory against Benfica.
Other strikers in contention would include: Jose Torres, who, despite playing alongside Eusebio for club and country, was one of the most effective centre-forwards in the game; Nantes’ hero Philippe Gondet, Europe’s most prolific league scorer in 1966 with 36 goals in 37 matches; and Belgian idol Paul van Himst – tracked by Barcelona and Real Madrid as the top scorer in an Anderlecht side in the midst of a record-breaking streak of five successive league titles.
All these players would have deserved their places in the upper reaches of FFT’s Best 100 Players of 1966. But who would make the Top 10?
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