1972 – Football’s Annus Mirabilis

From Wikipedia: “Annus mirabilis is a Latin phrase that means wonderful year, “year of wonders” or “year of miracles”.” This is a term more often used for Isaac Newton’s amazing 1666 year, or Albert Einstein’s astonishing 1905 year. But yeah, we can definitely apply it to football as well. After all, “Football is not a matter of life and death… it’s much more important than that” – Bill Shankley.

Growing up as a sports fan and sports stats fanatic, I couldn’t not notice that there seemed to be these magical cohorts in sports. These wonderful years, in which a disproportional number of great athletes were born. Like the magical 1963 in basketball, a year which gave the world (let’s take a deep breath) – Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Hakeem Olajuwon, Joe Dumars, and those are just the major stars. One can also mention Charles Oakley, Detlef Schrempf and Spud Webb.
It seems un-fucking-believable that all of those players were born in the same year, within 12 months of each other. I mean, one can produce an all-time great team just based on this cohort alone. A starting five of Hakeem, Malone, Sir Charles, Michael and Dumars/Mullin – are you fucking kidding me?! Is there any other year that can compete with that?!

And the same goes with football. Only in football I was really lucky to witness in real-time what is probably one of the greatest cohorts of all-time, if not THE greatest – the cohort of 1972. Being born in 1986, I did manage to catch basketball’s 1963 cohort, but it was in the latter stages of its members’ careers. I never watched the young Jordan, Dumars’s bad-boys, or Hakeem’s early collaboration with Ralph Sampson in real-time. But football’s 1972 cohort rose to fame during my years in middle-school, and ruled the football world when I was in high school. Which means I accumulated a lot of real-time watching its players in action.

I noticed it pretty early, when during my youth it seemed that an unproportional number of really great players were born in 1972. And now it turns out that it wasn’t all in my head. As it turns out, the year of 1972 produced more Ballon D’Or winners than any other year! Four winners of the most prestigious prize in world football were born in 1972, when n
o other year produced more than two! This is really amazing.

And just look at those names, the players born in 1972, who managed to win the Ballon D’Or:

zizou figo

“Hey bro, 1972 for life, yo!”

Zinedine Zidane


Luis Figo

Pavel Nedved

Damn, that’s one hell of a midfield quartet! True, each of them won the Ballon D’Or only once (and Rivaldo should never have won it over Beckham in 1999), which causes 1972 to lose to 1955 in terms of total wins. But 1955’s 5 wins are shared by only two players – Michel Platini and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, thus making 1972 greater in terms of overall talent spread across players. And for those of you who are shouting – “1987! Messi!” Yes, I’m well aware of his exploits. But Messi is the only player born in 1987 to win the award, which was later merged with FIFA’s “Player Of  The Year” to create the abomination known as “FIFA Ballon D’Or”. I don’t like that crap, and I have several issues with the winners in the last 5 years. It’s a really fishy award. But hey, It’s not a “Hey! Let’s rant about what’s wrong with FIFA!” post.

Anyway, I didn’t mention the other very good players who were also born in 1972 but who didn’t manage to win a Ballon D’Or: Lilian Thuram, Steve McManaman, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Karel Poborsky, Rui Costa. I apologize for whoever is offended by me including McManaman in a list alongside Thuram and Rui Costa. Indeed, it seems that the football gene pool in 1972 was very deep. It’s like 1972 is the love child of Pele’s and Maradona’s relationship, and Johan Cruyff was its babysitter when it was growing up…

In a really awesome coincidence (or is it a coincidence? I can believe anything right now), 1972 was also a very great year for Israeli football – three of Israel’s all-time (let’s say 20) greatest players were born in 1972: Eyal Berkovic, Haim Revivo and Avi Nimni. These names might not say much to you, but to Israel Berkovic and Revivo are pretty much the equivalent of Zidane and Figo in terms of greatness.


The two most important years in Rome’s history: 753 BC and 1976 AD

Anyway, yeah, it’s weird. The only other year from recent times which I believe can give 1972 a race for the money is 1976, which can also be called “The Year of the Strikers”, due to an abnormally large number of very prolific attcking players being born in 1976: Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who were actually born on the very same day (what kind of sorcery is this?!), Nuno Gomes, Ronaldo (the original), Francesco Totti, Andriy Shevchenko. And that’s not to mention the non-forwards who were born in 1976: Mario Yepes, Alessandro Nesta, Patrick Viera, Michael Ballack, Mauro Camoranesi, Torsten Frings (I have no idea what he’s doing here, but it seemed logical to include Frings after I already let Yepes be on this list. Anyway, now McManaman seems pretty much in place in the 1972 list, eh?. A really great year as well, which produced two Ballon D’Or winners – Ronaldo (who won it twice) and Shevchenko.

So, it remains to be seen – will there be a year in the future that will break 1972’s amazing record of four different Ballon D’Or winners? Are there some kids running and kicking the ball now, aged 13 or so, who will together make the next great cohort? We can only hope so…

For example, as we already mentioned – great as Leo Messi is, he is still the only member of the 1987 cohort to win the Ballon D’Or (or the FIFA Ballon D’Or). Now, 1987 has some very good players, such as Luis Suzrez, Gerard Pique, Edinson Cavani, Joe Hart, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Marek Hamsik, Pedro, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema. But of all those, only Suarez strikes me as the type of player who can win a Ballon D’Or one day.

So no, 1987 won’t be our savior. We must wait for some future great cohort. And it has to be truly great to surpass 1972’s record of four different Ballon D’Or winners. But if there will be one – it will surely be a wonderful experience to follow it in action…

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