Pele’s team set standards that stay tough to beat

It would be Brazil’s famous 5, Spain 0 as far as NORMAN GILLER is concerned, as he struggles to keep score with an old football reporting colleague

You need to be 50-plus to make a proper appraisal of how the 2012 Spanish European champions measure up to the 1970 Brazilian World Cup-winners, yet every Tom, Dick and Harriet has been reaching conclusions based on sentiment rather than knowledge, fancy rather than fact.

Those of us lucky enough to have been in Mexico 42 years ago have no doubts that the Pele-propelled Brazilian team was the greatest international side ever to grace the football field of dreams.

Fernando Torres, the Golden Boot winner in Poland and Ukraine, scores in the Euro2012 final against Italy. But he is no Pele

The Spanish team that passed with honours in Kiev at the weekend is very special, but take it from this ancient observer: they would have been blasted to defeat by the 1970 Brazilians.

The Beautiful Game is alive and well at the feet of the Spanish masters, but they are far too elaborate and continually make one pass too many rather than going for the jugular.

They have nobody with the finishing accuracy and venom of Rivelino and the unparalleled Pele, nor with the silken touch of schemer/striker Tostao. How these three would have fed off those Spanish passes. Rivelino and Pele would have filled their boots, and Tostao would have had defenders on toast.

Throw into the mix the pace and power of Jairzinho on the right wing and the masterly string pulling of Gerson and you have the Famous Five, any one of whom was more potent and productive than the current Spanish forwards.

This is not to put down the Spain of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas. Their feat in winning Euros/World Cup/Euros is fantastic, but anybody from my generation will I know maintain and preserve the legend of Brazil 1970. They were simply The Greatest.

Let us not forget that going into the final on Sunday Spain had to run the gauntlet of criticism from thousands saying they were boring, predictable and toothless. I promise you nobody every reached for such descriptions when Pele’s Brazil were in full flow.

It is an indication of the state of international football that Roy Hodgson’s England have this week been rated fourth best in the world by FIFA. The current team would not have lived with Alf Ramsey’s England side of 1970 that many believe was stronger than the winning 1966 squad.

Just to get you stirred up, these are what I consider the top 10 international teams of my lifetime:

1 Brazil 1970
2 Hungary 1950s
3 West Germany 1970s
4 Brazil 1950s
5 Holland 1970s
6 Spain 2012
7 Argentina 1986
8 England 1966
9 Argentina 1978
10 Italy 1982

Let the arguments begin, but base your opinions on eye witness accounts not on sentiment … or the blurred memories of old dinosaurs like me.


Harry Harris 68, Norman Giller 94 … no, not the ages of two veteran Fleet Street sports scribes, but the number of books we have each had published.

Ten years my junior, Harry tells me with his usual modesty that he is out to catch and overtake me. As he has two books coming out this month, it is not an idle boast.

He is launching The Roman Conquest and Mancini’s Diary during the build up to the Community Shield match between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Harry Harris: writing books and making the news

The difference between Harry’s output and mine is that his are exclusively football books, while I feign omniscience with books on all major sports.

While few can equal us for prolificacy, neither of us are in the same league for writing skills as masters such as McIlvanney, Keating, Glanville, Lawton, Collins, Samuel and a few dozen others. But you have to admire our energy. Quantity over quality, some might say.

In an earlier life, Harry was the ace of football news reporters. I cannot think of anybody who could match him for exclusives, and all got in the old fashioned, hard graft way rather than by hacking or bribing.

Harry is a great role model for all you young journalists out there. To get anywhere near his achievements you have to abide by the three Ds: discipline, determination and diligence.

I have watched Harry progress from his early days as a reporter on the local Tottenham weekly, then arriving at the London Evening News via the Newcastle Journal and later filling acres of space on the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and then the Daily Express, where he famously became the highest paid football reporter in the history of Fleet Street.

He has a contacts book thicker than Bob Diamond’s skin, and he beavered away at getting stories by often making a pest of himself. Managers would be worn down into giving him an interview by his persistence and perseverance.

His mantelpiece is weighed down with awards galore for his reporting achievements, and now he has taken his atomic energy into the freelance world.

Harry is now virtually a full-time author as he tip-taps away on his computer keyboard in his posh Sunningdale home, driven by the desire to become the most published football book author in history.

His telephone contacts are so good that it is alleged his phone was hacked by rivals not in his class at story gathering the legitimate way. Watch out for an upcoming court case,

Harry Harris could be making the news.


Tue July 24: Olympic media service and reception, St Bride’s Church. For more details click here.

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza. Note the date in your diary now. Details to be announced soon.

One thought on “Pele’s team set standards that stay tough to beat

  1. I agree with Norman’s list of teams although I think I’d move the 1950s Brrazil team above the 1970 West German team.

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