By Francis Langbein
Soccer greats Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Charlton recounted old stories and discussed young players in the modern game at the recent Laureus Sports Awards. Always part of the conversation was the place of Brazilian soccer, back when Beckenbauer and Charlton competed in the World Cup and looking ahead to next year's World Cup Brazil will host.
The German Beckenbauer and Englishman Charlton recalled their match-up in the 1966 World Cup final.
"My coach," Beckenbauer said, "instructed me to focus on Bobby. I had to run with seven lungs to guard him. Helmut [Schoen] was actually criticized later because he didn't let me play free."
Germany lost the final to host England, 4-2, in overtime.
"Playing against Beckenbauer was marvelous," Charlton said. "My coach [Alf Ramsey] told me, 'You have to play like him.'"
"Later in life," Beckenbauer added, "Bobby told me that his coach said the same thing to him before the World Cup final: 'Watch out for Beckenbauer.'"
While England won in 1966 and Beckenbauer's West Germany team won in 1974, Brazil took home the World Cup trophy in 1970. Beckenbauer and Charlton defined Pele's 1970 Brazilian team as the greatest of all time.
"Back in those days," Charlton said, "we had to watch every game on television to make sure we knew what to do when we played the other teams. If we were going to win the World Cup, we'd have to beat Brazil. They set the standard."
The 1970 Brazilian national team epitomized the Brazilian style. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has suggested that in the modern game, the Brazilian style might be more of a crutch.
"Brazil maintains its flare," he said, "but struggles because of it. We have globalized soccer now." He added that Brazilians are the "parents of football," suggesting that their style remains relevant.
"Young players," Charlton said, "are always compared to how they play Brazilian."
Rising star Neymar still plays with Brazilian panache. He is fast into space with the ball at his feet, knows when to pass and how to create opportunities to score beautiful goals. At only 21, Neymar has been compared to Lionel Messi, 25, who has already won the FIFA Player of the Year Award four times.
"Today the young players," Marcel Desailly said, "are coming up much quicker at the top level. Also on their earnings. But they don't stay in the game because they don't respect the game. If you don't respect the game, you pay for it."
Charlton thinks Neymar will avoid making the mistake of disrespecting his sport under the right circumstances and with enough passion.
"As long as he has a good coach," Charlton said, "and he loves the game, he will reach the next level."
When asked how to guard fast players like Neymar and Messi, Desailly, the former French defender, said, "You have to double up."
"I wouldn't like it very much," Charlton answered. "Right now, they hold onto the ball very well and they don't give it up."
"But there are little cracks in their game," he added.
Charlton wouldn't speak on the cracks and explained he only shares those details exclusively with Manchester United.
"Coaches will figure it out."
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No one is perfect, but that players like Messi, Neymar, etc. are wonderful to watch, there is no question; if you are playing against a good team, and you just concentrate on one player (double up), you'll free up others, moreover they will explore their freedom. How about if instead of in trying so hard to stop these wonderful players, show what they can do; how about we use our resources to encourage more players like them, who add so much to our beautiful game?