Former Arsenal, Huddersfield Town, Barcelona, Ajax, Aston Villa and Sunderland greats feature, alongside the Hull born founder of the FA.
Association football, or ‘soccer’, can be dated as far back as the late 1200s, but didn’t officially become codified until the FA did so in 1863. There is very little in the way of information on the very earliest founders and innovators of the game from centuries ago, meaning the earliest entries on this list can be dated to around the mid-1800s and the codification of football and the paving of the way for the modern game.
Football is the world’s most popular sport. It is an industry worth hundreds of billions annually, played by 250 million people in over 200 different countries and watched by billions. Given the sports quite incredible reach, power and history, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have had gargantuan influences upon the sport, and sadly a very many miss out.
Notable omissions who simply have to be mentioned include Franz Beckenbauer, Rinus Michels, Gusztav Sebes, Vic Buckingham, Jimmy Hill, Nilton Santos, Amadeo Carrizo, Santiago Bernabeu, Alexander Watson Hutton, James Richardson Spensely, Jean-Marc Bosman, Jack Reynolds and Jose Andrade, all of whom made seismic contributions to the game. Here are our 7 most influential men in football history:
7. Charles William Miller
England may be the traditional home of football, but Brazil has become something of its adopted home over the years. The most successful team in World Cup history with five wins to their name, Brazil have often played with a sensational and flamboyant style of play, as well as giving birth to sheer greats such as Pele, Garrincha, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. Charles William Miller, whose father was a Scottish railwayman and his mother Brazilian but of English descent, brought two footballs and a Hampshire FA rulebook to Brazil in 1894 before helping create a league system in the country, which has led him to be widely considered the father of Brazilian football.
6. Herbert Chapman
Herbert Chapman had a fairly unremarkable playing career, but as a manager he redefined the English game. He created the WM formation which was considered the best formation around for the best part of half a century until England’s annihilation at the hands of Hungary in 1953. As a manager, he won four First Division titles and two FA Cup’s, split between his time at Arsenal and Huddersfield. Chapman revolutionised tactics, training techniques, introduced floodlights, numbered shirts and helped create European competitions. He is a genuine titan of the game.
5. Matthias Sindelar
Football in the 1920s and 30s was a very different game to the one played today. There was a heavy influence on physical prowess, particularly size and power. Likewise, tactics tended to be very rigid, but all of this began to change with the arrival of Matthias Sindelar. The Austrian forward was the finest player of his generation, yet he was nicknamed ‘the Paper-man’ due to his slight build.
Sindelar was not big or strong but his technical abilities made him the best player on the planet and paved the way for a whole new type of footballer. He also essentially invented the number 10 role, playing as a withdrawn forward, a position so common in the modern game.
4. Jimmy Hogan
Jimmy Hogan is far from a household name and in his native England the vast majority of people are unaware of the quite incredible impact the man had upon footballing history. Born in 1882, Hogan had a respectable but not awe-inspiring career before moving into coaching. As a coach he was a pioneer almost without peer in the sport. He changed the way in which the game was played in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany, creating a philosophy of dynamic, fluid and attacking possession-based football.
He took Switzerland to the final of the 1924 Olympic Games, the greatest footballing achievement in the countries history, before teaming up with Hugo Meisl to lead the Austrian Wunderteam in the 1930s, one of the finest national teams ever assembled. When Hungary dismantled England 6-3 at Wembley and the inquest began, the English were surprised to hear it was one of their own who had pioneered this style of play. “We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters,” said the Hungarian coach Gusztav Sebes.
3. Johan Cruyff
By far the most influential man in football of the ‘modern’ era, it is far more difficult to be a pioneer and an innovator in an age when everyone is aware of everybody else, making the achievements of Johan Cruyff even more impressive. One of the greatest players of all time, Cruyff had an extraordinary career. Despite still being a player, he and coach Rinus Michels created ‘Total Football’ together at Ajax and with the Dutch national team, now regarded as two of the most exciting teams to ever take to the field.
Following retirement, Cruyff carried this philosophy into his coaching career. Having already inspired a generation of footballers with his grace, skill and technique on the pitch, Cruyff had a more direct impact at Ajax and Barcelona, where his focus on youth development led to golden generations at both clubs. The success of Ajax in the 1990s, Barcelona over the last two decades and Spain from 2008-2012 can all be attributed in a big way to Johan Cruyff.
2. Ebenezer Cobb Morley
The simplest entry on this list, Ebenezer Cobb Morley’s influence upon the game of football is undeniable. Born in Hull in 1831, Morley was a sportsman and a solicitor. He left Hull for Barnes at 27, where he formed Barnes Club, a founding member of the FA. It was Morley himself who was the pivotal figure in founding the Football Association in 1863, football’s first ever governing body. As such, Morley was tasked with penning the official rules and codifying the game of football. Over 150 years later and the basic principles by which the game is played across the world remain the same as those drawn up by Morley in 1863.
1. William McGregor & Charles W. Alcock
A combined entry at top spot, and they are both also of Morley’s era. While the Barnes captain Morley had founded the FA, McGregor and Alcock created the first league and first cup competitions in the history of the game. McGregor was a footballer and draper from Scotland, whose work led him to become involved with Aston Villa. At the club, McGregor grew frustrated with the football program and the cancellation of games. His solution was to talk to England’s leading clubs and create a Football League, which came into existence in 1888.
Alcock meanwhile was a Sunderland-born centre-forward and administrator. Educated at Harrow, Alcock gained a reputation as a fine sportsman, notably in football and cricket. He would go on to change the course of both sports forever. In football, our focus of course, Alcock was instrumental in arranging a game between England and Scotland in 1870, the first ever international match, which he played in and captained England, as well as creating the FA Cup, the first ever cup competition.