Lineker’s on the BBC, Ronaldo works in advertising and Buffon’s still going strong. But whatever happened to the biggest World Cup heroes in living memory? Julie Welch investigates
1974 Jan Tomaszewski, Poland
Wembley Stadium in 1973 was the scene of one of England’s darkest nights of the soul as Alf Ramsey’s boys of ’66 were denied a place in the 1974 Finals by Jan Tomasewski. Before the qualifying match, Poland’s goalkeeper had been labelled “a curious clown in gloves” by Brian Clough but on the night he turned in a man-of-the-match performance.
The 1-1 draw took Poland to West Germany, Alf Ramsey to the Job Centre and England into an era of truculent mediocrity from which it has never quite recovered. Tomasewski is now a politician, commentator and sports journalist in Poland, where his anti-gay comments and outspokenness – two years back he described the national squad as “a pile of shite” – have seen him kicked out of the Polish FA.
1978 Archie Gemmill, Scotland
Ally MacLeod’s Army reached the finals in Argentina with such verve that they were tipped as possible winners. It was going to be world domination by tartan. Instead, everything went hideously wrong in the qualifying matches and the campaign is remembered for two things: Ally Macleod holding his head in his hands, and a prolonged, defender-fooling run culminating in a wonder goal by Archie Gemmill against Holland. It nearly, so very nearly, took them into the knockout stage after all. Unfortunate, Scotland conceded two minutes later.
Gemmill, a Nottingham Forest midfielder at the time, later enjoyed a modest career in management . He coached alongside Brian Clough in the early 1980s, had a couple of years in the mid-90s managing Rotherham and more recently managed Scotland U-19s.
Archie Gemmill wasn’t Sean Connery – he was a short, stubby-legged guy with wispy blond hair – but his bloody-minded tenacity was everything Scottish and he remains responsible for Scotland’s greatest (some would say only) World Cup moment. The goal is part of Scottish folklore; it even gets a mention in Trainspotting.
1982 Norman Whiteside, Northern Ireland
When Norman Whiteside took the field against Yugoslavia in Spain, he was the youngest player ever to appear in a World Cup final; at 17, he had played just two games at club level for Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United. But what a 17-year-old: aggressive and physical, a big, cold-eyed boy you’d not want to annoy late at night in a bar; a player described variously as “the new George Best” and “the new Duncan Edwards”. Close to genius, even.
But after a string of knee operations plus a dedicated adherence to United’s boozing tradition of the time, things went downhill with the arrival of Alex Ferguson. Offloaded to Everton, Whiteside retired at 26 and studied at the University of Salford to become a podiatrist. He has his own clinic and the PFA uses him to work with youth team players and League sides too impoverished to afford their own foot doctor.
1986 John Barnes, England
By rights the star of 1986 is Diego Maradona, but that ‘hand of God’ goal for Argentina in the semi-final in Mexico still sticks in the craw, frankly. We all know what happened next: Maradona scored a Goal of the Century and – though John Barnes came on as sub with 20 minutes to go and dramatically changed the tide of play, providing cross after cross till Gary Lineker got on the end of one with nine minutes to go make it 2-1 – it wasn’t enough.
So let’s offer an alternative scenario, in which the Hand of God goal was disallowed and Argentina were only hanging on to a 1-0 lead when John Barnes arrived on the scene and helped make it 1-1. In real life, with three minutes left Barnes sent over another of those crosses for Lineker but a last-gasp block by Olarticoecha thwarted him. In our parallel version, Lineker scores with it and England are in the final.
Jamaica-born Barnes, the diplomat’s son who played for Elton John’s Watford and subsequently Liverpool, was one of the finest wingers of all time, so yah boo, I’m making him my star of 1986. These days he’s a commentator and pundit for ESPN and a few years back bossed the floor in Strictly, becoming the first celeb to receive a perfect 10 from the judges (for his salsa).
1990 Roger Milla, Cameroon
Roger Milla came out of retirement at the behest of his nation’s President to play for Cameroon. He was 38, geriatric in footballer years, but his pace, jinking runs, clever passing and goals took Cameroon to the last eight, the furthest of any African nation since the tournament began.
What made him the star of Italia 90, though, was that hip-wiggling dance round the corner flag that turned the humble goal celebration – traditionally a quick snog with your mates then jog back to the centre circle – into an art form.
Four years later in the USA, this footballing Lazarus became the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history when he put one past Russia. Now he’s an ambassador for African causes including UNAIDS, the joint HIV/AIDS programme against the HIV epidemic. A good man.
1994 Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria
The USA World Cup was the heyday of belligerent, bearded Hristo Stoichkov, the world’s most famous Bulgarian and worst-tempered footballer. He was once given a life ban, later reduced to a month’s suspension, for a fight in the Bulgarian Cup.
His goals took Bulgaria to the semi-finals and made him joint winner of the Golden Boot, with Oleg Salenko. Later he celebrated his first season with Barcelona with a two month suspension for stamping on the referee’s foot, and was described by Barca’s coach Johann Cruyff as being “nurtured with an evil milk”.
Later still, as manager of the Bulgarian national team, he carried on where he left off. Three players refused to play as long as he remained, and he was sent off against Sweden for insulting the referee. He quit his most recent managerial job, in 2012, after a month and now works as a pundit back in Spain.
1998 Franck Leboeuf, France
Leboeuf was there as a benchwarmer, a long shot not scheduled to feature in any meaningful way for the host nation. Then, in the semi-final against Croatia, Laurent Blanc received a red card after a scuffle with Slaven Bilic, and Leboeuf was deputised to man-mark Ronaldo in the final against Brazil.
The original cultured centre back turned in an almost flawless defensive performance, with Ronaldo manacled to the extent that he was able only to make a couple of his trademark runs. “You either stand up or collapse,” he said recently. “I stood up.”
Leboeuf was on Chelsea’s books at the time and with them he won two FA Cups, a League Cup and the European Cup-winners Cup. These days he is an actor and producer, currently filming the Second World War movie Allies, in which he plays a leader of the French Resistance.
2002 Ronaldinho, Brazil
Brazil’s Three Rs – Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho – a trio formed of the most skilful, phenomenal players of their generation – formed such an irresistible attack unit in Japan that it’s hard to choose between them. Ronaldhino shades it on the star quality of his hairstyle.
Little Ronaldo, with the toothy smile, diamond stud in his left ear and braids flapping behind him like a cat o’nine tails, was not just a fast, brash, brilliantly inventive playmaker but the ultimate assist man.
A 23-foot fibreglass statue of him was erected back home in Brazil to celebrate his first FIFA Player Of The Year award. Four years later in Germany he was so rubbish that fans trashed it. He’s still playing, though, for Atletico Mineiro, and hasn’t cut his hair yet.
2006 Zinedine Zidane, France
The final, France vs Italy. There’s no point pretending Zinedine Zidane didn’t do A Bad Thing that night in the OlympiaStadion when he celebrated his last ever game by headbutting Italy’s Materazzi in the chest in front of a global audience during extra time.
Deprived of their imperious midfielder, France went on to lose to Italy 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out. But pretty much everything else Zidane has ever done is awesome and this icon and national hero was quickly forgiven. These days he is assistant coach and sporting director at Real Madrid.