Dept. of great players you've probably never heard of: Magico Gonzalez, Vassilis Hatzipanagis & Elias Figueroa

David N unearths a few hidden gems from the neglected corners of world football.

Pity the ludicrously talented footballer not born in a traditional football power.

A short but telling list: George Best (Northern Ireland), Ryan Giggs (Wales), Dejan Savicevic (Montenegro), Michael Laudrup (Denmark), Enzo Scifo (Belgium), Hugo Sanchez (Mexico), George Weah (Liberia), Gheorgi Hagi (Romania), Kenny Dalglish (Scotland), Teofilo Cubilas (Peru). I could go on and on.

But if those gentlemen were somewhat unlucky to be denied the chance to ever earn the rank of undisputedly great – I’m assuming greatness comes through a combination of talent and achievement – by originating from nations unlikely to ever contest a World Cup final, at least most of them played at World Cups or for major clubs, winning major honours, playing in cup finals or scoring legendary goals in famous games.

Magico Gonzalez

Fans of Cadiz, a smallish club from a lovely city in Andalucia in southern Spain, still claim that the greatest player they ever saw came from an even smaller football nation, and never won a single major title in his career. His name was Jorge Alberto González Barillas (above). They shortened that to “Magico” Gonzalez. He came from El Salvador.

He would spend his peak years as a footballer at Cadiz, playing there for almost a decade between 1982 and 1991, with only a brief and ill-fated spell at Valladolid in 1985-86 interrupting his time there.

His problem, aside from his Salvadorian nationality, was his love of nightlife, clubs and drinking, which meant he was sometimes in no condition to play in games.

When he did play though, he was a dazzling, Maradona-esque talent, his exquisite touch and dribbling combining with surging acceleration. Cadiz fans worshipped him, and he was similarly adored in Salvador, having led the national team to their first World Cup finals appearance in 1982.

Don’t believe the hype? Just take a look at him in action:

Vassilis Hatzipanagis

Another player revered by fans at his club, but largely unknown to the rest of the world is Vassilis Hatzipanagis (right). Born to Greek political immigrants in Uzbekistan in the USSR in 1954, he played first for Pakhtakor of Tashkent before returning to his parents homeland to spend the next 16 years of his career representing Iraklis of Salonica, for whom he played 281 times, scoring 62 goals.

His long, curly hair and spectacular dribbling ability earned him Maradona comparisons, and such was his popularity with Iraklis supporters that the club were afraid to sell him despite interest from Europe’s more glamorous leagues.

He had represented the USSR at Under-21 level, and after choosing Greece as his senior international side and dazzling Athens in a solitary appearance in the white shirt in a friendly against Poland in 1976, FIFA informed him that he could no longer play for Greece.

Despite this, Greeks still regard him as their greatest player of all time, and he was part of a World XI which played the New York Cosmos in 1984, alongside the likes of Keegan, Beckenbauer and Kempes, which gives some idea of the respect those in the know had for him.

So, was he the Greek Maradona? Perhaps:

Elias Figueroa

The player Chileans regard as their greatest of all time is a central defender, Elias Figueroa (left).

He was captain of Chile for almost 16 years, played in three World Cups (1966, 1974 and 1982), won numerous individual awards (South American Player of the Year three years in a row from 1974 to 1976) and dozens of titles and cups with the likes of Penarol, Internacional of Porto Allegre and Palestino.

Most often compared to Franz Beckenbauer, he was a supremely modern defender: he read the game expertly, was hard in the tackle, dominant in the air, and superbly composed and skilful on the ball.

Many South Americans rate him as perhaps the greatest South American defender of all time.

Defenders are harder to make montages for, but here’s one anyway:

More of David N’s musings on world football can be found on his Twitter page and his diversity knows no bounds, as he also writes excellent capsule film reviews.

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