46. Michel Platini
One of the greatest playmakers in the history of the game, Michel Platini typified the player wearing jersey #10. He was the orchestrator, top scorer, free-kick specialist and in charge of every attack his teams built up both at club and national team level. His unique ability to read the game enabled him to stay a split second ahead of everyone else at any given time. This combined with his superb passing skills made him open up even the tightest defences with amazing ease. Going forward was natural for him and he contributed with enough goals to make even world class strikers envious.
He began his career in little Nancy as a teenager in the early 1970s. He quickly made a name for himself in French football and was the poster boy and big star when the club won promotion and later established itself on the upper half of the table in the French premier division. Platini was rewarded with a place on France’s 1978 World Cup squad, but the team failed to reach the second phase drawn in a tough group with hosts Argentina and Italy. Platini scored a goal against Argentina and came away with credit.
Things didn’t take off for real internationally until after the next World Cup, in Spain, 1982. By then Platini had grown too big, not only for Nancy, but also for Saint Etienne, the club where he spent the last three seasons and won the French championship at before Juventus signed him up.
In Italy, Platini blossomed and lead Juve to win two league championships, one European Cup (scored the winning goal in the infamous Heysel-final ’85), one Cup winners Cup, one European Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup title. On the personal side he became Serie A topscorer three times and was voted European Player of the Year three times. All this in the space of four glorious seasons.
Platini didn’t have the same fortunes in the World Cup. Twice ousted in the semifinals – both times because of West Germany – France played some fantastic football in a number of games. In 1986, Platini’s cool chip against Italy in the second round laid the foundation for advancement, and his equalizing goal against Brazil in the very next round was side footed into the open net after a smart run into the box. In the eventual penalty shoot-out, Platini missed his attempt, but was saved as France won anyway.
The highlight of his career instead came in the European Championships held on home soil in 1984. He went on to dominate that tournament like no player in history has ever done before or after. Nine goals in five games and they came from everywhere; free-kicks, diving headers, after combination play, long range shooting, he appeared to score every time he attempted to. Even the bad free-kicks, like against Spain in the final, went in. France had never won anything in international football, club or national team level, before this triumph, so it was a very special victory.
Michel Platini retired from the game, still a young man, just shy of his 32nd birthday in 1987 after 680 official career appearances and 368 goals of which 72 matches and 41 goals were with France. Both Juventus and France fell in quality in the wake of his retirement as there was no available player on the planet who could fill his boots 100%. Juve had to wait eight long years before they won another Serie A championship and France didn’t qualify for a World Cup again until they hosted the event in 1998.