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  1. Better than all the rest, better than anyone Pelé was the best footballer ever for me. He cemented my love of football at the 1970 World Cup. I was 12 years old. The Brazil team that won were extraordinary, and he was accompanied by such flair as I have never seen before or since. It was a magical time, watching Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and the illustrious squad play a different type of football than I had ever seen. When we played football in our local fields we all chose our favourite Brazilian, often not Pelé, they were so good that we would have loved to be any of them. The ball just seemed to move like sorcery and I wish all my readers today could have been alive at that time to see the majesty of a team that for me will always be the best of all time. An unprecedented collection of players The kids that were good footballers would adopt a name of a Brazilian and we would all call him that, and sometimes the name stuck for a long time. I want to put that into perspective, English football was king when I was growing up, we watched British television and read British newspapers and magazines. Irish football was popular too and we would watch Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians but generally the top players would migrate over to England. It was a restricted worldview with a very Anglophone media. The players of Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds and Celtic were worshipped. When I was young I knew no Arsenal supporters. But all of us cast that aside in favour of the magnificent Brazilians, led by the astonishing Pelé. He made football If he had that impact on a small island on the edge of Europe, you can only imagine what impact he had on the whole of football and the kids to come. He was one of the key elements to football being the biggest sport in the world and the huge salaries paid today owe a gigantic debt to the man who made so many love football. The 2 greatest He could head the ball as if with spring heels. He could shoot with right or left, he could dribble, lead the line, inspire, find an astounding pass or a wizardly interplay, had an amazing twist to his body that bewildered opponents, and most crucially, he could score tons of goals. And except for an occasional dive, was no cheat or kicker of men. He was a gentleman then and he became much more of one when he retired. Everyone’s greatest day was meeting Pelé He is, I feel, the most admired and respected man ever in football. He would turn up everywhere, and the special qualities he would bring to any occasion meant that everyone had a smile on their face matching his wonderful one. They had met Pelé, their life was complete. I will not do so now, and that is sadness for sure, but at least I got to see him play live at Dalymount Park, the crumbling home of Bohemians, as his Santos team played a team made up from Bohemians and Drumcondra. Santos won 3-2 in a match played in a great atmosphere. You could see the players were thrilled to be on the same pitch as the man who made football. He made everyone happy Celebrities from all walks of life say their greatest delight was in meeting him as he became football’s greatest ambassador, traversing the globe backwards and forwards, greeting, enhancing and sharing that special charisma he embodied. Muhammed Ali shared a similar sporting timeframe and the 2 of them were for sure the major sporting superstars of my life. We don’t have now, nor have we since, such greatness that transcended their game to become so recognised, respected, admired and loved by those that cared little for sport. I guarantee you that if you showed a photo of say, Lionel Messi or Roger Federer, there would be a lot of people unable to put a name to them. Not so with Pelé, everyone knew who he was, and I reckon most soccer supporters today who grew up a long time after his playing career know all about him. He was football, and you know little if you don’t know about Pelé. And hey, his real name always stuck in my mind and it got me a guaranteed point at any pub quiz that asked it, which happened a few times. Sometimes we only won by that one point. Thank you very much., Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Some people really are irreplaceable He never stopped appearing at football events, even turning up at the Arsenal in the 80’s to create an enchanting and never to be forgotten day for all of Highbury. It would stay forever a highlight of your life and yet, for him, as everyone says, he was just as happy to see them. John Devine's biggest achievement in football, holding Pele's leg One thing is certain, the world is poorer for his passing. So few ever manage to rise above their profession as he did to encompass the whole planet in his arms. Muhammed Ali was another and it is hard to think of anyone else. I have lived through special times, that their times were my times, I saw them when I was very young and their sporting achievements made my life exciting whilst connecting me to the entire globe. Maybe Jack could have been the second greatest number 10 And so Pelé’s smile is gone. I owe him a massive amount for lighting up my life and all of my little area of Dublin - Whitechurch and Ballyboden. We grew up wanting to be Pelé, every time we kicked a ball we imagined we could mimic his movement, his grace, and if we slammed in a goal then we could, for an instant, be the entrancing Brazilian who defined football. Tchau, tchau Pelé e muito obrigado.
  2. Jesus, Martinelli Brazil World rank 1 Paddy Power 4/1 Saliba, France World rank 3 Paddy Power 6/1 Saka, White, Ramsdale England World rank 5 Paddy Power 8/1 Xhaka, Switzerland World rank 14 Paddy Power 90/1 Turner, USA World rank 15 Paddy Power 125/1 Tomiyasu, Japan World rank 23 Paddy Power 300/1 Partey, Ghana World rank 60 Paddy Power 300/1 No Saka in the picture? Why is that? Arsenal come out on top And so can Arsenal win the World Cup? Of course, I don’t mean the actual trophy but an Arsenal player or players get a winners medal? Judging by various metrics it is certainly possible. Above are the players going and their countries ratings according to 2 different metrics – World ranking and betting odds. By those guides we have a chance. I suspect it is fair to say that only the first 3 countries have a chance, for the others it would be as big a shock as if Arsenal win the Premiership. Ah, only joking, Arsenal are, however, a massive 11/2 to win despite being clear at the top. That figure would put us ahead of France and England winning the World Cup as possibilities, though. But we do have 3 teams rated in the top 5 by ranking, and in betting. Argentina at 11/2 are 2nd but 4th in world rankings and Spain at 7/1 are in 4th but 7th in rankings.. Amazingly Belgium are ranked 2nd but are way higher in the betting at 18/1. We don’t have any Belgian players at the World Cup unless an injury brings Lokonga in late. A new winner? I have to say one thing here now and that is we rarely get a new winner and that is reflected in the betting. Belgium have never won it and are banished to the outer regions but all of the winners at some time were new winners so do not let that put you off if you fancied them nor even the team I regard as our best Arsenal outsiders, Switzerland at 90/1. If Xhaka’s team come through their group, which I expect although Brazil, Serbia and Cameroon will provide strong opposition, they will then avoid Brazil in subsequent rounds. They could be a good each way bet although it is very hard to see them winning it. Croatia almost did last time out, though, and there is often a surprise team in the semi’s. There definitely was in the USA in 1994 but I can’t remember the name of the team. Just joking! Only 8 teams have won it and Italy are not here. Uruguay have been eclipsed by Brazil and Argentina and do not look likely to win but the other six are the top six in the betting – Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, England and, perhaps surprisingly Germany are the final one at 10/1. Could be good value but we don’t have any Germans any more BFG or not. A non-playing medal? Jesus and Martinelli then are our best chance. Will they play? It is hard to say but it doesn’t look good. They would need to get a chance and take it. They may get a go as a sub if Brazil are struggling and if they come on and help them to win, well you never know. But the competition is strong and it doesn’t look very good. A non-playing medal is of course more likely. Saliba: Our top chance? France and Saliba have to have a great chance. Saliba has already played 7 times for them this season and I feel he will play. Their group looks winnable with Denmark, Tunisia and Australia and Mbappe, Griezman and Benzema always give you a chance. I reckon Saliba is our best chance of actually playing in the final and winning. England? Surely a big shocker if they fail to get out of their group with the USA, Wales and Iran. They have been stuttering, though, and it will definitely be the end of Southgate if that happens. Can they win it? I just don’t see it, to be honest, they have too many players with mistakes in them. However if they do, Saka will most likely play and possibly Ben White if he is given a chance and shines. Verdict – a maybe but I believe if they do, Saka will be on the pitch for the final. None of our players get a chance for the big teams? France are my tip to win it. Strangely enough, for the big teams, all our players are doubts, even Saka and Saliba. The competition is strong. This does not apply to the rest of our players as they will certainly play if fit. Can the lower players win it? The betting and their rankings say no. The lowest ranked team to ever win it was France in 1998 at 18 but look at that side, full to the brim of extraordinary players including several Arsenal legends. Their ranking was a joke as they often are. Many teams are in there now beyond 32 in the rankings with Ghana at 60 the lowest. Does not look good for Partey, does it? Still, Portugal might implode with Ronaldo, and Uruguay and South Korea look beatable. Get through the group and you never know. But a quarterfinal would be a surprise. Partey's Ghana could surprise As it would be for Tomiyasu’s Japan. Spain, Germany and Costa Rica stand in their way and it seems a mountain too high. We won’t see him lifting any medal. The USA could be dark horses Turner will play as he has cemented his spot with the USA and I think they have a good chance of getting out of their group as England could well stumble, Wales are unpredictable and Iran are well lower than them in the betting at 500/1 to the USA 125/1. Wales are also 125/1. The USA have often done well in World Cups and could be a surprise package. I feel that quarterfinals are their best hope, though. I don’t see Turner holding a medal but you never know. They do have players such as Pulisic of Chelsea who are playing at the highest level. Turner - Can the USA win in an airconditioned stadium? My conclusion is that Saliba represents our best chance of playing and winning. Jesus and Martinelli our best chance of winners medals and probably not playing. England probably won’t make it. Xhaka as our best outside chance. Brazil- always a great chance It would be great to see England or Brazil do it with all our boys playing, and World Cups always throw up players who shine though not going there as first choice, it could be Arsenal’s turn to have such players for Brazil or England. I really hope our 10 players play and show the world what it is to be Arsenal, to play with skill and abandon and that we have at least one player a winner in the final. Then Arsenal would be on top of the world. Let’s do it, Arsenal!
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