FourFourTwo’s 100 most influential people in football right now: 80-71
Words: Alex Hess, Jeff Kassouf, Michael Yokhin, Seb Stafford-Bloor, Amit Katwala, Mike Holden
80. Gareth Southgate
Part of the intrigue around Southgate’s recent appointment to England manager lay in just how influential he would prove to be. Time will tell whether he is indeed the thinking man’s England manager, given scope to cultivate a coming generation of talent, or simply the next patsy to be sacrificed once the national game’s top-down deficiencies are laid bare in another tournament humiliation.
Either way, Southgate earned his promotion through many years of diligent background work at the FA – first as head of elite development, then as manager of the under-21s. This has led to questions over whether he had the ruthlessly critical head required to turn around the oil tanker that is the senior team, though such questions are tinged with cynicism and presumption.
For now, Southgate’s coaching career has rather neatly mirrored his time as a player: assiduous, unassuming, unspectacular – but quietly and impressively authoritative. AH
79. Diego Maradona
Whenever Diego Maradona has an opinion, we usually get to hear about it. And when that opinion concerns Lionel Messi, we usually read between the lines of what he’s actually saying to get to what we think he means. In short, his words make great copy, no matter how paltry the offering.
At the crux of it all is a perfectly natural desire to protect his own status as arguably the greatest player of all time, serving Messi’s best interests for the sake of the national team only up to a point.
Earlier this year, Maradona – ever the angel during his playing days, of course – emerged to refute claims that he had privately supported Messi’s four-match ban (later reduced) for a foul-mouthed tirade at a linesman during the World Cup qualifying win against Chile.
However, his indignation at the accusation wasn’t entirely convincing and it came with a comparison to "Portugal losing Cristiano", thereby perpetuating the idea that today’s little No.10 isn’t one of a kind. MH
78. Diego Simeone
The bond between Simeone and Atletico Madrid is more than just any manager-club relationship. Given where Atleti were when the former midfielder returned to the Vicente Calderon in December 2011, there’s no other coach in the world today so inextricably linked with a club and its success.
So plenty of hearts are going to be broken in the Spanish capital at some stage in the next year or two – there’s simply no other way to interpret Simeone’s decision last summer to reduce his current contract by two years. In the wake of a season that hasn't quite lived up to the previous five, his departure might well happen this summer.
Inter, another former club, is the most obvious destination. The Italian giants are struggling to make the impact desired by their new Chinese owners and Simeone has made no secret of his desire to manage them one day. MH
77. Xi Jinping
The Chinese Super League may commonly be presented as a vanity project, but it’s really the visible part of something much textured. China has real intentions to become a global player in the sport and president Xi is that movement’s standard bearer.
During his reign, football has found a place on the national curriculum that Xi is personally invested in. He has a trio of ambitions: to qualify for a World Cup, to host the tournament and then eventually win it.
That’s not as outlandish as it sounds either, especially not after glancing at images of the Evergrande International Football School in Qingyuan (the world’s largest of its type), and learning about the impressive infrastructure that China is rapidly building underneath its flagship league.
Xi wants to be a visible figure in the game and it will be foolish to bet against him or his country doing just that. SSB
76. Javier Hernandez
It’s hard to overstate just how popular Mexico’s national team is in the United States. In many of regions, particularly near the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s the more popular team of the two, and why you see El Tri play so many Stateside friendlies, consistently filling NFL stadiums with fans.
For those reasons, Chicharito may well be the most influential player in Mexico and the U.S., a grip that will only get stronger should a rumoured move to MLS come to fruition in the next year.
Chicharito is already Mexico’s joint-top scorer of all-time before turning 29 years old. His time in Europe has proven that he is capable at the highest levels, and it has only increased the reverence for him among Mexico fans. Unofficially, he’s North America’s most popular player. JK