24 April 2012

England's ten most gifted footballers of the last 50 years: Number 9, Stan Bowles

The 1970s was a fallow period for the English national team, even though club sides began to make inroads into European competition. Much of the blame for England failing to qualify for four major tournaments in succession was laid at the door of the 'system' which dictated that flair players, genuinely talented and unpredictable, should be treated with caution or disdain and cast as 'mavericks'. Stan Bowles, mercurial and troublesome in equal measure, was such a player. His lack of impact on the England coaching system in the mid 1970s, even while running rings round defenders with a left instep that could undo a bra, let alone control a football, was as indicative of the insular attitude of the game's generals as anything. The best player in the best team never to win the league (QPR, 1976), he was only trusted once on a really big international occasion - versus Italy in an all-or-nothing qualifier for Argentina 1978 - but was let down by tactics that isolated him completely, as well as a lack of faith which meant the England campaign had been based on pragmatism ahead of anything else. But on his day, and during his era, few could come close to matching his first touch, his finishing prowess and his eye for a science-defying pass.

Back with number 8 tomorrow...

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