A footballer’s life is not easy. After numerous hours of painful training sessions and discouraging failures, they get few chances where they have to make a mark on the game so as to become an established name in the footballing fraternity. While they do not lack potential, the right time, right form and one successful game is what they need to shoot themselves into the limelight.
A jaw-dropping display is what turns them into a star from just another young aspirant. One moment of pure magic, one match of absolutely stunning display of their potential makes them a wanted man.
In this segment, we bring to you games which helped define the career of players in the over the course of the last 2 decades.
#5 Gareth Bale
Tottenham Hotspurs vs Inter Milan – UEFA Champions League (20/10/2010)
Gareth Bale was an exciting prospect when he was signed by the ambitious Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2007. The youngster had impressed with his performances at left-back for the Saints and Spurs had to beat competition from the likes of Manchester United to acquire his services.
However, it was in the 2010-11 season that Bale truly evolved into a world class attacking threat. Initially deployed as a left-back, the Welshman was moved to left-wing to accommodate Benoit Assou-Ekotto and the decision would prove detrimental to the credentials of one particular Brazilian legend, Maicon.
In their group tie against Inter Milan, Spurs had their goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off for a professional foul in the 10th minute and were already down by four goals in the 35th minute. While others would have tried to contain the damage, Bale decided to take matters into in his own hand and it was one of the most brilliant individual performances of the UEFA Champions League.
His first two goals were the result of his incredible pace as he left the Inter defenders on their heels and slotted home at the far post. For the third goal, he beat the Inter goalkeeper with a powerful shot.
While his side did not win the game, it truly propelled Bale into the spotlight and there was no looking back thereafter. The once talented kid from Cardiff now forms one of the most lethal partnerships in the game of football alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
#4 Steven Gerrard
Liverpool vs Olympiacos – UEFA Champions League (08/12/2004)
Steven Gerrard was already a revered figure at Anfield. The midfield general had established a reputation for himself with his ability to knock in goals and was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve from very early on in his Liverpool career.
Perhaps, the game that defined his career was his side’s final game in the UEFA Champions League group stages of the 2004-05 season. Liverpool needed to win the game against Olympiacos in order to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
However, a win alone would not suffice with the away goals coming into the equation and that is what precisely unfolded.
Brazilian Rivaldo scored in the 26th minute and Liverpool needed to score 3 goals to proceed. If there was one man who drove the Reds it was Gerrard as he constantly set up his teammates in advantageous situations on the pitch, only for them to come up short.
With just 5 minutes left on the clock and with the side still looking for their third of the night, Neil Mellor cushioned a header in the direction of his captain and the Anfield roof broke when Gerrard thumped it into the back of the net.
Having scored 3 goals Liverpool proceeded into the next round on the basis of their superior goal difference and rest, as they say is history. If Steven Gerrard did not find the back of the net that late in the game, Istanbul, one of the most beloved moments in the memories of Liverpool fans would not have happened.
#3 Wayne Rooney
Everton vs Arsenal – Premier League (19/10/2002)
The first five years in the current century truly belonged to Arsenal. Under the aegis of Arsene Wenger, they had established themselves as a side to be feared and had the right proportion of skill and bite to be the team, the mention of which would send shivers down the spine of the opposition.
For a 16-year-old, the very mention of featuring against them would be termed as immense and a reward for his abilities and hard work. But what happens when the 16-year-old comes on and scores one of the best goals of that season and in the process becomes the youngest every player to score in the Premier League.
Rooney had shown immense potential even as a youngster and when Everton decided to hand him his chance against Arsenal, he grabbed it with both his hands and has since gone on to become a modern day legend.
The striker unleashed a shot very few seasoned players could have and in the process imprinted himself in the memory of millions of fans worldwide.
Rooney moved on to greener pastures in the summer of 2004 having joined Manchester United and despite being afforded a bit-part` role under Jose Mourinho at the moment, would be very proud of his achievements as a footballer.
#2 Lionel Messi
Barcelona vs Real Madrid – La Liga (10/03/2007)
If you are a Barcelona player, there is one thing that will forever make you a revered figure in Catalonia, and that is scoring against arch-rivals Real Madrid. Lionel Messi was a talent that had grabbed footballing headlines as he rapidly rose through the ranks at Camp Nou between the years 2003 and 2005
The Argentinian magician was handed his first professional contract on his 18th birthday in 2005 and despite impressing in bits and parts for the club, it was only in the late 2006-07 season that Messi truly showcased why he was amongst the best in the business and did so with aplomb against Real Madrid.
While his first two goals were Messi applying finishing touches to the moves of his attacking colleagues, although not the easiest of opportunities, the third goal was pure Messi magic. He received the ball outside the box and beat three Real Madrid players as he darted into the box and unleashed a powerful shot that beat Iker Casillas at the far post.
At 19 years of age, Messi had become the first player to score a hat-trick in El Clasico after 12 years and in the process announced his arrival on the international stage. There have been several glorious moments and few heart breaks as well for the Argentine legend but it cannot be argued that Messi is in the same legion of players as Pele and Diego Maradona, owing to his magical performances for club and country.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo
Sporting CP vs Manchester United – Pre-Season Friendly (07/08/2003)
While there is nothing which suggests animosity at a personal level between the two, the mere mention of Messi always brings along the comparison to another modern day legend Cristiano Ronaldo. The rags to riches story of the Portuguese superstar has inspired millions and has already achieved a status of demi-god.
However, it was not all easy for Ronaldo as he had to work on several aspects of his game to truly become the complete attacker that he is today and it cannot be denied that Sir Alex Fergusson played a crucial role in his development. If there was one game that Ronaldo would look back upon and thank for his success it was Sporting Lisbon’s pre-season friendly against Manchester United.
The occasion was special with Sporting officially opening the gates to their current stadium Estadio Jose Alvalade and if there was one man who lit up the game it was Cristiano. He constantly probed the gritty Manchester United defence and caused them a lot of problems with his pace as well as skill on the ball to help his side beat Manchester United 3-1.
Sir Alex Fergusson who was in attendance as Manchester United’s manager wasted no time in signing whom he described as “one of the most exciting young players” he had ever seen and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Portuguese superstar soon established himself as Europe’s premier attacker and has gone from strength to strength to become one of the most beloved figures in not only Portugal but worldwide.
Negative – Steven Gerrard
Liverpool vs Chelsea – Premier League – (27/04/2014)
If there is one regret that Steven Gerrard will carry with him throughout his life, it would be his inability to win the Premier League title. The England and Liverpool legend came close to winning the title in two seasons, first in 2008-09 and then in 2013-14, and it is perhaps his inability to do so in the latter season that will continue to haunt him.
It was against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea that Liverpool had a chance to strengthen their grip on the title with the season in its final stages. However, the man who had been an inspirational figure in the side’s challenge, tragically slipped in the process of receiving a pass, thus allowing Demba Ba to latch on to the ball and give his side the lead in a crucial tie.
Liverpool were then served a Mourinho masterclass as the Portuguese orchestrated one of the greatest games of his life and subsequently fell short of Manchester City in their pursuit of the title.
In an interview with the Guardian, Gerrard revealed that the ghosts of that slip still haunt him to this day. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about what if that didn’t happen. Would things have been different? Would it have turned out different? Maybe it might of, I don’t know,” he said in the interview and we can only feel sorry for the English legend.