January 03, 2021

Turn of the Decade Football Birthdays

Two world-class footballer players celebrated significant birthdays in 2020. Pelé turned 80 years old on October 23rd, and Diego Maradona, who sadly died on November 25th just two months after his birthday celebrations, reached 60 years on October 30th. The football world, who hold these legends aloft, celebrated with them, recounting the glory days as if it were last week. Fitting for players who inspired their teams, countries and generations of youngsters, some of whom will and have become the players of the future.

Pelé, real name Edson Arantes do Nascimento, is considered by many to be the greatest football player of all time - he was voted The Football Player of the Century in 1999. Indeed, Pelé was such a huge international star that when his club team, Santos, travelled to Nigeria in 1967, a 48-hour cease-fire in the country’s civil war was called so that everyone could watch him play. 

Joining the Brazilian National Team when he was just 16 years old, Pelé was particularly noted for his thrilling play, powerful strike and his prolific and spectacular goal-scoring ability. Throughout his career, he scored 1281 goals in 1363 matches. Pelé also played and won three World Cup tournaments – 1958, 1962 and 1970. When he retired in 1971, he was (and currently still is) the top goal scorer for his country with 77 goals in 92 appearances.

Pelé’s skill, popularity and personality inspired Santos, the Brazilian team and footballers all over the world for many years.

Diego Maradona made his name with his “hand of God” goal in Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against England in the 1986 World Cup. Of course, this was not the epitome of the man. He was first spotted as a prodigious talent at ten years of age. Throughout his career as a player, he has competed for eight clubs (including top-flight clubs Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli and Sevilla), and his country (for almost twenty years). Upon retirement, he continued his football career as a coach for numerous teams – not least for Argentina. In around 600 appearances he scored about 300 goals, and he played in four World Cup tournaments, winning one and captaining two. 

Though his career was blighted with controversy, Maradona was and still is regarded as one of the most skilful players in the world. He was super agile, with quick feet and superb acceleration. His ability to dribble and control the ball at speed, and change direction in a heartbeat, made him a tough midfielder to defend against.

In Argentina, Maradona is regarded as a hero and an inspiration to a country that has seen its fair share of problems over the years. His local nickname, D10S says it all – a mash-up of his shirt number (10) and the Spanish word for God.

But Pelé and Maradona aren’t the only influential football superstars to mark significant birthdays this year. 2020 sees a multitude of players turning a decade older, including:

Birthday Decade80 YearsDenis Law (Scotland)
Jimmy Greaves (England)
70 YearsRoberto Bettega (Italy)
Anthimos Kapsis (Greece)
Danny Mc Grain (Scotland)
Grzegorz Lato (Poland)
Carlos Caszely (Chile)
60 YearsRafael Benitez (Spain)
Joachim Low (Germany)
Franco Baresi (Italy)
Abdulkerim Durmaz (Turkey)
50 YearsAlan Shearer (England)
Edwin Van der Sar (Netherlands)
Cobi Jones (America)
Faustino Asprilla (Colombia)
Roberto Di Matteo (Switzerland)
40 YearsXavi Hernandez Creus (Spain)
Ronaldinho (Brazil)
Steven Gerrard (England)
Omar Bravo (Mexico)
30 YearsDavid de Gea (Spain)
Jordan Henderson (England)
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Miralem Pjanic (Yugoslavia)
Teemu Pukki (Finland)
20 YearsErling Braut Haaland (Norway)
Alphonso Davies (Ghana)
Jadon Sancho (England)
Loao Felix (Portugal)
Ali Saleh (Dubai)

Birthday Boys

Some of these birthday boys have had truly outstanding careers, consider:

Roberto Bettega (70), regarded as one of the greatest Italian football players and one of its greatest goal scorers, joined Juventus when he was just 18 years old. He played for them for fifteen years. He was instrumental in the team winning the Italian Serie A championship six times during the 70s and early 80s. During their 1979-80 Serie A winning campaign, he was the leading goal scorer with 18 goals. He also played for the Italian national team helping them to reach the semi-finals in 1978. During his career, he made 440 appearances in which he scored over 170 goals for club and country.

As a striker, his physical and technical skills, his immense goal-scoring ability, and his vision and intelligence when reading the game, made him one of Italy’s most popular and important players for over a decade. With his ability to play in numerous positions, to finish with either foot and his aerial skills, Bettega was the player that any manager would have loved in his team.

Alan Shearer (50), born in Newcastle upon Tyne in England, was one of the best strikers of his generation. He scored some 320 goals in around 620 appearances for club and country. 260 of those goals were for Newcastle United, making Shearer the Premier League's top goal scorer to date. Indeed, as captain of the Newcastle team, Shearer was top-scorer in all competitions, in every single season, over the ten years that he spent with the club. While Shearer did not win any World Cup titles with England, his goal-scoring prowess for the team is undeniable. Joint 6th all-time goal scorer for England, he scored 30 goals in just 64 appearances.

Shearer was the classic centre forward – strong and physical with the ability to hold onto the ball, head and shoot. He was first called for penalties and free kicks, scoring 50 of his goals this way. Shearer’s career was filled with awards, nominations and records reflecting his achievements. Indeed, when he joined Newcastle, the transfer fee was a world record at the time - £15 million. He was the ideal captain, leading from the front, powering his way up the field, scoring goals and creating opportunities for his teammates.

Xavier Hernandez Creus (40), known as Xavi, was born in Spain and played the majority of his career at Barcelona before moving to Qatar’s Al Sadd in 2015 and retiring in 2019. He made over 640 appearances for Barcelona and over 130 for his country. He is considered to be one of the greatest midfielders of all time. With his club, Xavi won eight La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles. With the national team, he won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA EURO (2008 and 2012). And, during his time at Al Sadd, he helped his team to win four league trophies.

Xavi’s selfless style of play was admired far and wide - his impeccable precision passing and goal creating skills, as well as an ability to virtually never relinquish possession made him a real playmaker.  He was awarded the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) playmaker of the year award four times. In addition to his playing ability, Xavi was also known for his leadership skills, which he put to good use as squad captain at both Barcelona and Al Sadd, and as vice-captain for Spain at the 2010 World Cup. 

David De Gea (30), currently Spain’s starting goalkeeper and keeper for Manchester United, is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the World. De Gea spent his earlier years with Atletico Madrid before being transferred for £18.9 million – a British record fee – to Manchester United. He spent his formative years playing futsal which gave him some of his unorthodox goalkeeping skills. At 1.92 meters (6ft 4in) tall, he has developed into a keeper with a considerable goalmouth presence. 

De Gea is known for his athleticism, reflexes, agility, aerial abilities and handling, as well as his speed in coming off the line to act as a sweeper-keeper (playing the ball with his feet and starting attacks from the back). His acrobatic dives and saving the ball with his feet (futsal style) have changed the modern face of goalkeeping. A team with an exceptional goalkeeper as their last line of defence can play with an enhanced amount of confidence. And with David De Gea, that's what you get.

Erling Braut Haaland (20), representing the new and up-coming generation of footballers, is currently being tipped as one of the best young footballers in the World. He was first spotted when he was just 5! As striker for Borussia Dortmund, he has, at only 20 years of age, played at all junior and senior levels for his country. In just seven appearances for the senior team, he has scored 6 goals. In only twenty appearances for his club, he has scored 19 goals. 

Haaland is known not only for his prolific and versatile goal scoring but also for his break-neck acceleration and pace. Coupled with a quickness to read the game, the strength to hold off and turn opponents, and the intelligence to make the most of any advantage make him a force to be reckoned with.

Influencing 2022

Each new decade seems to produce a host of new, outstanding football talent. The impact that each of these players has on football cannot be understated - their style of play, flair and tactics have influenced and will continue to influence football players and team development. And, judging by the talent coming up through the ranks in 2020, the turn of the century has been no exception. Nowhere will that be more obvious than at the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar. 

During November and December that year, the best of the best and a host of new, talented young guns, most likely including Haaland, will represent their country on a world stage. Their influence will be felt, not just at the tournament, but on football, in general, for decades down the line.

One of this year's birthday boys, who will have influenced the Qatari National Football Team is Xavi. For the last five years, he has been sharing his skills, experience and expertise with the country and with Al Saad FC, for whom he played and now manages. Al Sadd Football Club is one of the most successful sports clubs in Qatar and has an unusually high number of its star players in the country's national team. So, it stands to reason that the Qatari team will have a chance to shine on the 2022 global stage and that Xavi's boys will bring skills passed on from one of the greatest midfielders of all time to the table.

Main image: A.Ricardo/Shutterstock

2020 saw its fair share of losses from the football field, from legendary players and managers to the games youngest up and coming talents. Read our 2020 Football Losses article to find out more.

Published: January 03, 2021
Last updated: January 03, 2021
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