What makes a great player, a footballing sage once asked. He proceeded to list the qualities. "Superb control. When he passes the ball, he must make the minimum number of mistakes over any distance. He must have an accurate and powerful shot. He must be agile, strong in the tackle and able to get through a tremendous amount of work. He must be able to dribble and hold the ball against fierce-tackling defenders, and have great courage and great speed."
The old game may have changed, arguably much for the better, in the almost half a century since the football chairman, manager and broadcaster Jimmy Hill penned that testament to the attributes of his then Fulham team-mate, the late Johnny Haynes, who through his work as a union leader in removing the maximum wage in 1961 (at the time it was £20 a week in the season, £17 in the summer) became the first £100-a-week footballer. Hill concluded: "In any of these skills, except possibly the last, I would put Johnny on a par with, or ahead of, any player in the country."
Though football has evolved, in many ways immeasurably, since Haynes' days – and not merely in the multiplication of salaries way beyond natural inflation to the point where players earning a hundred a week now refers to thousands – it is remarkable how the demands placed on what we then knew as inside-forwards but now describe as attacking midfielders remain essentially the same. Hill's words, contained in a recent lovingly produced, diligently researched biography, Johnny Haynes – The Maestro, came to mind at Anfield on Tuesday as today's Haynes counterpart, Steven Gerrard, sought to exert his influence on the Champions' League semi-final first leg.
Haynes was the ultimate visionary No 10, an inside-forward whom Pele deemed "the best passer I've ever seen... as if he has his own internal guided missile system". Always impeccably turned out on the pitch and off it – Haynes succeeded Denis Compton as the "Brylcreem Boy" – he was the first footballer to employ an agent. He was also the most talented English footballer never to gain an honour. It was a disgraceful omission. Already Gerrard has an MBE. His England caps number 65. Haynes accumulated 56 in his career, although he wouldalmost certainly have earned more had he not been involved in a serious car crash in 1962.
This is not about to degenerate into a comparison of footballers at least two generations apart. That is a fashionable but fatuous activity, particularly when the icons of yesterday are judged against those whose reputations are still in the process of creation. All one can suggest is that if he had been around today, Haynes would have relished not having to perform on some of the mudheaps that made what he did achieve even more remarkable; but, unlike Gerrard, he did not have a guard dog like Chelsea's Claude Makelele yapping at him.
In fact, one thinks more of the qualities shared by the Liverpool and sometime England captain and Haynes, who was England skipper on 22 occasions. The latter was a one-team man, whose 18-year career at Craven Cottage concluded in the Third Division in 1970. He was the heartbeat of the side – and he had to be to help maintain Fulham's First Division status for almost a decade. "Haynes sometimes felt he was responsible for taking on the mantle of all 10 outfield players," says one of the book's authors, Martin Plumb. "He wanted to start the move, provide a winger with a through- pass, and then be on the end of the cross. Haynes was a player who wanted to be in the thick of the action from the first to the last whistle – a player who would fight everyone's battles." Does that remind you of anyone? A man who has represented Liver-pool for a decade, for example?
Haynes, famously, was also a perfectionist. If he missed a penalty in a reserve game he was inconsolable. And he possessed a low tolerance thresholdtowards his team-mates' failings. Though it would be unfair to suggest that Gerrard's desire for excellence runs too deep, he constantly exhorts his team for more and, earlier this season, decried the failure, again, to challenge for the League title. That is why, for all his war cry that "we have pulled it out of the fire so many times in the Champions' League", and his emphasis on Liverpool's prowess away from home, Gerrard will not have been content with Tuesday night's display.
Commentators did Chelsea a disservice on Tuesday. Avram Grant's side looked the likeliest for much of the first half and at the end of the second. For all Xabi Alonso's input, Liverpool did not create a host of chances by their own home standards. Petr Cech had three saves to make. Maybe John Arne Riise's own goal was more than Chelsea merited as an attacking force, but as Arsenal would confirm after their quarter-final exit, no one said justice is always served in the Champions' League.
Crucially, Gerrard has been here before. That is the one great contrast between him and Haynes who, for all his 740 games for club and country, died in 2005 at 71 without a legacy of medals. Gerrard boasts those garnered in two FA Cups, two League Cups, a Uefa Cup and a Champions' League final. To supplement that collection this year, it will require a considerably greater stamp of authority from him in Wednesday's second leg – not to say a more brutal exhibition of finishing from Fer-nando Torres. Together with a reversal of fortune from that found at Anfield. But then that is something that rarely betrays Rafa Benitez in Europe, isn't it?
Cricket in the pink and will not go into the red
We have seen cricket's future, and it is coloured pink. Not just balls, but the outfit worn by Brett Lee, of New South Wales, Australia and currently the Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League.
On Friday, under floodlights and amid a frenzied atmosphere, the Aussie pace bowler, clad in a colour and style which we thought had gone out with Seventies discos, bowled with great economy. He also dismissed Mumbai Indians' opener Sanath Jayasuriya, caught and bowled, into the bargain and after victory was complete received a hug from his team's franchise owner, the Bollywood star Preity Zinta.
Nice work if you can get it – $900,000 (£450m) was bid for Lee's services in the auction for the players competing in the IPL, the eight-team Twenty20 tournament. It is easy to become a touch Hyacinth Bouquet about the loadsamoney, vulgar new neighbours who have moved into cricket's Traditional Street, particularly as New Zealand have turned up for their tour of England without five key players, who are all still involved in the IPL. The Black Caps coach, John Bracewell, speaks of "the realityof the landscape we live in".
At the moment the IPL may be considered by purists to be a blot on that landscape. But cricket here is wise to embrace it, even at an eventual cost to the County Championship and 50-over cricket. The ECB hope that the English Premier League will be up and running by 2010, following discussions with the Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford, who claims that it could become the world's biggest team sport. Football may have something to say about that. What can be said is that there's no danger of cricket, or its leading performers, ending up in the red.
Helen may prove to be Bolton's best signing
Finally, a mention of an astute off-field acquisition; Bolton Wanderers have signed Helen Wood as their head of communications. It may be a formidable challenge to create a positive image of a club who, according to a Premier League fanzine survey, most want to see relegated, but if anyone can it is the resourceful 34-year-old whose CV includes similar roles with Portsmouth and Chelsea. For a woman who worked at Stamford Bridge, it should be a breeze.Reuse content