A flash of brilliance, a moment of madness or a sensational impact, a player’s career can be defined in many different ways. After much deliberation I have listed my personal top 15 career defining moments below. Amazingly two of them happened at Selhurst Park. Enjoy.
Liverpool won their fourth European Cup following a night of high tension at the Stadio Olimpico in 1984 courtesy of a penalty shoot-out victory over Roma. Full-back Phil Neal fired The Reds into an early lead before striker Roberto Pruzzo levelled with a header just before half-time.
With neither side able to break the deadlock, the match had to be decided by penalties. Step forward Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar whose finest moment comes acting like a clown and doing his best to put off the Italians with some antics on the goal-line. Grobbelaar pulled out his now famed ‘spaghetti legs’ routine which resulted in Francesco Graziani blazing his spot-kick over the bar. Polish stopper Jerzy Dudek recreated the routine 21 years later against AC Milan as the club added another European Cup to their collection.
In some cases players will be remembered for a moment of madness as well as their genius on the football pitch. After being sent off for Manchester United at Crystal Palace on 25 January 1995, French maverick Eric Cantona delivered a kung-fu kick to an away fan in the stands who had used threatening language towards him.
Cantona’s outrageous behaviour only seemed to add the player’s allure as ‘a flawed genius’ over the years and Cantona is considered a legend at Old Trafford after four league titles in five years at the club. In 2007 he said:
“I have a lot of good moments, but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan.”
Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos defied the laws of physics with his sensational free-kick against France at Le Tournoi in 1997.
Despite making over 350 appearances for Real Madrid, Carlos is primarily remembered for his audacious free-kick, 40-yards away from Fabian Barthez’s goal. Seemingly heading for the corner-flag, Carlos’ shot suddenly swerved at the last minute and into the corner of the net, much to Barthez’s bemusement. The Brazilian allegedly practised the free-kick all the time in training and a recent study showed that Carlos’ shot was certainly no fluke.
Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler was just 19-years-old when he scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier league history.
The natural finisher bagged himself three goals in four minutes and 33 seconds against George Graham’s Arsenal in Liverpool’s first home match of the 1994/95 season. The Reds won the game 3-0 and Fowler went onto to score 25 goals in 42 games for the club that season.
Despite picking up a yellow card which ruled him out of a potential Champions League final, Irishman Roy Keane inspired Manchester United to come back from the dead at 2-0 down against Juventus to snatch a 3-2 away win.
Keane headered a goal on 24 minutes to drag his side back into the tie before receiving the booking which ended his final hopes. The midfielder then went on to deliver an exhibition in passing football as he dominated both Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane in the centre of the park. Dwight Yorke levelled the score on the night before his partner Andy Cole scored the winner which sent The Red Devils through to THAT final at the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich.
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10. Gordon Banks’ miraculous save, 1970
England goalkeeper Gordon Banks pulled of what is widely regarded as one of the greatest saves of all time in a group game against Brazil at the 1970 World Cup.
With legendary Brazil forward Pele already shouting ‘goal’ after directing the ball into the corner post with a powerful header, Banks managed to scamper across the goal in time, throwing himself to the ground, and tip the ball over the crossbar. Pele later described it as ‘an impossible play’.
With Manchester United chasing an unprecedented Treble they had to overcome Arsenal in an FA Cup Semi-Final replay at Villa Park. With Roy Keane sent off it looked as though United’s hopes would be dashed as The Gunners piled on the pressure with the scores level.
Welsh wing wizard Ryan Giggs had other ideas though after picking up a loose pass from French midfielder Patrick Vieira inside his own half before waltzing through the entire Arsenal defence and rifling an unstoppable shot past David Seaman. His celebration was less elegant however, whipping off his shirt to reveal the hairiest chest ever seen in football.
Despite having already made over 30 appearances for Manchester United, David Beckham became an instant household name with his sensational goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon on the opening day of the 1996-97 Premier League season.
Beckham spotted keeper Neil Sullivan just off his line and launched a spectacular effort which sailed in from 50 yards. Within two weeks Beckham would make his debut for England. Other notable Beckham mentions are his red card at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina and his free-kick against Greece which booked England a place at the 2002 World Cup.
Five days before his 17th birthday, a relatively unknown young striker from Croxteth called Wayne Rooney announced himself to the rest of the world with a match-winning goal against reigning champions Arsenal to end their 30-match unbeaten run.
In the last minute of the game, substitute Rooney unleashed an unstoppable thunderous shot from 30-yards past David Seaman. In doing so, Rooney became the youngest scorer in Premier League history and prompted the commentator to declare:
“Remember the name, Wayne Rooney”
After scoring 23 goals in 44 matches as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in the 1997/98 season, Liverpool’s Michael Owen was picked by Glen Hoddle for the 1998 World Cup in France. Despite his goal-scoring feats, Owen was left on the bench for England’s opening two games, before impressing as a substitute against Romania.
Hoddle threw him in from the start against old enemies Argentina in the second round knock out stage and Owen delivered with a sensational solo effort which finished with him scoring from just inside the penalty area.
One moment in French maestro Zinedine Zidane’s career perfectly sums up his technical brilliance and just why he is regarded as one of the greatest player’s of his generation.
Zidane chose the 2002 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayern Leverkusen to deliver one of the most outstanding goals of all-time. The French master delivered an exquisite volley of perfect timing and technique past the hapless Hans Jorg-Butt, one which fittingly secured another European Cup for Los Blancos.
As far as late impacts go, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in 1999 was one of the most dramatic. With Manchester United losing 1-0 to German side Bayern Munich after 90 minutes had elapsed, the Red Devils went onto score two injury-time goals to complete their unprecedented Treble.
Substitute Teddy Sheringham got the first, before baby-faced assassin Solskjaer bagged the winner, striking his partner Sheringham’s downwards header into the roof of the net. Ironically the Norwegian forward damaged his medial ligaments in the frantic celebration which followed, considered by many as the trigger for his knee problems which would eventually finish his career.
As one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation Holland international Marco van Basten chose the 1988 European Championship Final to deliver the greatest goal of his career.
A clip which has over half-a-million views on Youtube, Van Basten struck a looping volley from an impossible angle to ensure The Flying Dutchmen victory over the Soviet Union. It remains the only tournament Holland have ever won.
Argentine Diego Maradona, regarded as one of the finest player’s of all-time, is equally remembered for his infamous “Hand of God” goal in a World Cup quarter-final against England in 1986.
A failed clearance from midfielder Steve Hodge looped back into the path of 5ft 5” Maradona who punched the ball into the net past goalkeeper Peter Shilton with his left fist. Four minutes later Maradona waltzed through the whole England side from inside his own half to score what is now known as ‘The Goal of the Century’. Maradona later described his controversial goal as, “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”
Sir Geoff Hurst remains the only player in history to score a hat-trick at a World Cup final. Hurst was only playing because of an injury to Jimmy Greaves, and the West Ham striker wrote his name into the history books with a stunning display in England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany to lift the Jules Rimet trophy.
As supporters streamed onto the pitch, Hurst fired in his final goal leaving commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme to utter those immortal words.