27 April 2012

England's ten most gifted footballers of the last 50 years: Number 6, Bobby Charlton

Statistics sometimes don't tell a complete story, but in the case of Bobby Charlton, they tell pretty much all you need to know. He won 106 caps which was an England record of the period, and his 49 goals for his country remain the top tally to this day. Throw in his long career at Manchester United and the numerous trinkets won in pushing 20 years at Old Trafford, and the argument could close right there. However, what were his actual gifts as a footballer? Charlton's key attributes were his power to devastate opponents but majorly via his running and shooting rather than with his influence on a game's pace and direction. A lot of the time it was tough to establish exactly what his role was - in the days of strict formations and numbering, he was a number 9 who never played as a centre forward and yet outscored all those who did. Charlton's priority when given possession of a football was to run with it, to hold off opponents, body swerve his way into space and then, more often than not, let fly. But if surrounded by frightened man-markers, he was a safety player, not prone to nutmegs, heel-to-toe bits of magic or any other brand of innovation, even at a time when the first great Brazilians were beginning to influence the world game. Charlton could pass sideways, could maintain possession and was seldom matched in terms of his running with the ball and shooting, but more intricate, cultured players - if not more decorated players - have come along since. If it were just about the stuff he won, the appearances he made or the goals he scored, he'd be at the top.

We'll count down the Top 5 from Monday...

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