I’m just going to start this off by saying 2017 was the year of goodbyes in soccer. So much talent left the pitch and moved onto the next stage of life. We saw players who’ve given their heart and life to soccer and their teams retire this year and the soccer world will forever be changed because of them. In this blog, I’m gonna talk about some of the day one homies I grew up watching and what they brought to the sport and fans worldwide.
I had to start with Totti because his retirement fucked me up. Before I tell you about what Totti brought to the field, I want to tell you what he meant to me as a kid and now as a man-child. Totti represented something I could never explain until he retired. I always watched him play and knew he wasn't the best, he wasn't the fastest, he wasn't the strongest, but that man had more love for his team than i've ever seen. Totti came to Roma in the late 1990s after his mom refused to let him train with AC Milan. Since then he has worn the Roma Crest on his shirt with pride and honor. He gave everything to this club, he gave his love and his body to the club and its fans. I have never in my life seen a player so committed to their fan base and I think that's why his retirement made grown men (me) cry in their bed after watching his retirement video. I don't think my words can ever do Totti and how much he meant justice, so I'm gonna link this jawn just so y'all can cry one tear for Totti.
Totti's presence on Roma was shown in so many different ways. He started in the midfield and eventually moved to a "false 9" striker role. In 2007, he would win the Golden Shoe in both Serie A and in leagues across Europe. He was known for his technique and vision, but my favorite part of his skill set was those damn chip shots. Totti could chip a goalie from the outside of the eighteen and manage to make it look like a piece of cake. Just look at how badly he embarrassed Julio Cesar; this goal would go on to win goal of the year in Serie A. HE HAS A FAMILY, TOTTI.
But Totti brought more than just skill to his game, he was renowned for his leadership and role on the team. This was a trait that couldn't be taught or learned, he possessed this natural ability and it showed on Roma and Italy. He was able to talk to his teammates as a player-coach, often bringing motivation or suggestions that would help generations to come. Totti meant so much to both Roma and Italy, and I really don't think they make soccer players in the mold of Totti anymore.
Totti represented a different kind of soccer than the players today. Like I said, his mom refused to let him play for AC Milan. He was Rome's son and could only ever play for one team. He was committed to this club for his entire career - no, his life - and the club repaid him for his loyalty. Look around the soccer world today, how many players have stayed with their boyhood club, the club that let them grow and flourish? There aren't that many players anymore, and that's not to say that players are wrong for leaving or shouldn't leave, it's just remarkable that a man played for one team from 16 years old until his retirement. He is the figurehead of Roma, and will be welcomed to the management staff with open arms. So lets all take a second to remember what he's given this sport. Totti is now 40 and finally hung up his iconic No. 10 shirt for good, so cheers to the legend of Rome. Thank you, Totti, for everything you've given to the soccer fans around the world.
I remember when I first saw Kaka play in 2005. Watching Kaka play with defenders and take the ball up the entire pitch felt like I was in a dream, I couldn’t be watching real soccer. Kaka had this unnatural ability to coax the ball in any direction he wanted and saw the entire pitch in front of him. His passing and vision were unlike anything I saw before, and after watching him for a season or two, I decided Kaka was my favorite player in the world. Hell, Kaka’s name is still part of my passwords to my emails and random accounts. Probably shouldn’t say that. Whatever, we’re here now. But, this is coming from a Manchester United fan. A Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs fan. Kaka never looked like he was running around pointlessly; he’d glide up the pitch and pull some alien shit that left the entire defense stunned. Don’t believe me? Take ten minutes of your life and learn.
Kaka’s ability to run with the ball was just insane, he never looked like he was putting all of his effort into the run or keeping the ball at his feet. He was calm, and he knew what he was going to do before the ball even got to him. He was able take the ball and run through the entire defense or rocket the ball into the back of the net or play a pin point 50 yard pass. And that’s what made him so dangerous. He could hurt you from anywhere, and the scariest part…he was surrounded by a supporting cast that would make William Shakespeare cry. At AC Milan, he played in front of Seedorf and Gattuso, and behind Shevchenko. This allowed Kaka to wreak havoc in the midfield, finding outlet balls to the forwards and linking the counter attack from the defense to the attack. After his transfer to Real Madrid, he was plagued by injury and fell out of form, but you could always see glimpses of what he brought to the field. When he played for Madrid at the top of his game, no one could stop them. I have to throw this in real quick...I don't think I ever saw Kaka play without the biggest smile on his face. Maybe it's just a Brazil thing to enjoy every part of the game, but Kaka always looked like he was having a blast ruining defender's livelihoods and smashing the ball in the back of the net.
All of his attributes paid off as he won the Champions League in 2007 after their crushing loss in 2005, and he won the Balloon D’or. He was the last human to win this award, and damn I can’t think of many more deserving people.
So this is a weird way to start a goodbye to Lahm, but I'm going to start with how I first found out about Phillip Lahm. Did anyone else used to get Sports Illustrated Kids? Well back in 2006, they had an issue all about the World Cup and compared 4 players to the Fantastic Four. Give me a break, I was a kid and thought it was dope. Anyways, Lahm was in that article and I was shocked that a left back was in a magazine. It wasn't until years later when I started watching soccer seriously, I understood why he had an entire article dedicated to him.
Lahm has seriously won it all. He's won the Bundesliga many times, the World Cup, the Champions League, the DFPK Cup. He's one of the most inspirational leaders and captains the Bayern Munich and Germany have ever had. Originally a midfielder, he was converted to left back in the early 2000s. And god damn, thank god for the coach who did that. Pep Guardiola called him one of the most intelligent footballers he's ever met. That's no small compliment when you look at some of the players Pep coached. Lahm was a vocal leader of the Bayern and Germany teams during his time there and played a crucial role in their trophies. He gave defenders lessons and invaluable knowledge. Just take a second to think about who replaced him at Bayern. Kimmich. One of the better talents on that team and a player for the future. He even plays like Lahm.
He was known for being able to think ahead of the attack. He had the ability to read the play as it developed and shut it down before the attack even reached the target man. And if he was a split second late, Lahm wasn't scared to lay out for the ball. Some of my favorite memories of Lahm are seeing this little german come flying out to the flank and sliding into forwards like it was his f*cking job...well I guess it was, but he made it look easy. We haven't even talked about his attacking prowess. He was rock solid at defense, rarely making a mistake, and leading that defensive wall Bayern and Germany are known for, but he was dangerous on the attack too.
Lahm had the speed to keep up with Robben and provide overlapping runs and passes. He was able to feed players from his own half and then go support the attack. His most beautiful goal came in the 2006 World Cup against Costa Rica . I was that 12 year old screaming and running around my grandma's house with my brothers after I saw that goal. Holy shit, a tiny defender can rip it like that....my world was shattered right there. Lahm, at the end of his career, has won every trophy he could win, mentored the future generation of soccer, and made a 12 year old piss off his grandma with a ridiculous goal. Thanks for everything you've given the soccer world. Mia San Mia.
Where do I even begin? This man is an Italian hero. He is the James Bond of the soccer world. He is the Becks of Italy. He's the king of every team he plays for. He is Andrea Pirlo. He is the most interesting man in the world? I think the best way to describe Pirlo is that he's a pianist in the middle of a metal concert. There is all this chaos sorrounding him and enveloping him, but he keeps playing his game, and its his game that people will not be able see at first, but the more you watch him, the more you realize how important he is to that team. The pianist is the most important part of the metal band? Really? Okay maybe that analogy wasn't rock solid, but his skill is usually overlooked at first, maybe because he's the one instigating the attack or finding that perfect ball to let a player score or assist. But plays start with Pirlo, the whole team is held together by Pirlo. I want you to think about the two teams he played for (I'm not talking about his time at MLS. Go fuck yourself, MLS, until you don't sell Columbus Crew), and the role he held at each. At AC Milan and Juventus, he was a playmaker, a maestro, able to link with any player on the pitch to start an attack or end a move.
His passes were so deadly accurate, he was able to start an attack from his own half with one pass. Just look at this. We see the Brazil team coming out of their box after stopping an attack from Italy, and the ball falls to Pirlo who's almost to the half way line at this point. In less than 5 seconds, he's able to control the ball and send a pass into the 6 yard line, right on the foot of his forward. RIGHT ON THE FOOT OF HIS FORWARD FROM 40 YARDS AWAY. No mortal can do that while looking as relaxed as Andrea. He seemed to play with this nonchalance, this air of royalty and casualness... that's what made him so impressive. He would hit these passes like it was nothing. He would hit screamers like it was a penalty shot. Nothing Pirlo did seemed to exhaust him and he kept playing beautiful soccer until he retired.
I've talked about his passes and his attitude, but I want to end with his shot. I'm not gonna say he had the best free kicks in the world, but I'm gonna put him up there. The way he was able to curl and control each shot he took was un-f*cking-real. He was able to put the ball exactly where the goalie couldn't get to it and it didn't matter if he was right on the 18 or 35 yards out. Check out his top ten free kicks and you'll get why i'm fangirling right now. I haven't even mentioned his most disrespectful play ever...The Chip. I won't even talk about it. Just watch.
I know I only brought up four players and so many legends retired this year, but I would have written for hours and possibly had a book deal if I included everyone. The players I wrote about are some of my favorite players that I grew up watching and still can't believe they're not playing anymore. Totti, Pirlo, Lampard, Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Kuyt, Xavi and Lahm have all retired or will at the end of this season, and that just blows my mind. I mean, these guys are legends without any doubt and I can't believe I'll only be able to watch them on YouTube now. Thank you for everything you've given the soccer world, fans around the world, and your teams.
- Martin Frasier